Chapter Two: Deep Into the Forest
Someone was shaking his shoulder. Harry jerked out of a dream where Hermione was being branded with the Dark Mark and found himself looking up at Snape. This sight was only marginally better than the nightmare. The man had untied his hair from the ponytail and it was back to hanging over his face in a greasy curtain, and he was wearing the familiar black robes of a Hogwarts professor. Harry discovered he must have fallen asleep on the couch. "Wha'...?"
Snape stepped back, looming against the lantern light and casting his shadow over Harry. "Put your robes on."
"There is a ceremonial introduction to be performed."
"Do I need to do anything?"
"Wear your robes. Oh, and you'll want to wear warm clothes underneath as well as good walking shoes."
It was getting dark quickly. Snape handed Harry a lantern. "Remember: no magic."
Harry followed Snape outside into an evening cold and smelling of snow. A three-quarter moon was rising over the trees. In one hand Snape carried a second lantern; the other hand was tucked into his robes. Their breath hung in the air and was turned silver by the moon. They walked along old sheep tracks that wound through stringy grass and tussock that held bits of wool. Snape's path took a sudden turn downhill, and Harry found he had to walk carefully unless he wanted to take a nose-dive. Not a good idea, as wool wasn't the only thing the sheep had left behind.
Tussock turned into scrubby trees that smelled damp and even colder than snow. The trees also had some strongly alien, resinous smell that made him wrinkle his nose, unsure that he liked it or not. Harry brushed up against one of them and something crawled onto his shoulder.
"Aaah!" Harry brushed at it but it clung. Then it stung his hand. "Aa-ow!"?
Snape hurried back up the path. "What the —?"
"There's a giant insect on me!"
"Hold still." Snape grabbed Harry's wrist and peered at the boy's upper arm. "Stupid boy," he spat. "No — leave it alone. You've frightened it enough already."
"Careful — it stung me."
"It did no such thing." He gripped Harry's shoulder while the insect crawled up Harry's arm and onto Snape's hand. He carefully lifted it off Harry. The insect seemed to calm down, and waved its long feelers in the lamplight as Snape lifted his lantern to examine it closer. "It seems unharmed," he murmured, more to himself than to his student.
"I'm telling you, it stung me!" Harry protested, ready to squash the bug.
Snape pointed a long finger at the brown insect's back legs. "It kicked you. Those barbs are its chief defence."
"Then what's that big stinger thing?" Harry demanded, pointing at the insect's rear.
Snape smirked. "That's called an ovipositor. Meaning that this is a little lady whom you have been mishandling."
Harry found himself blushing and wasn't sure why.
With the utmost care Snape replaced the bug in one of the trees with the tiny leaves and strong smell. "Now keep up, keep quiet, and stop wasting my time."
Harry kept his dark thoughts to himself as Snape turned in a swirl of black robes and stalked off down the track.
The track got steeper. No self-respecting sheep came this way, it would seem, because there were masses of ferns covering the track as they went deeper through the tall, thick-trunked trees. The ferns looked soft in the lamplight, but when Harry brushed his fingers along a frond it felt harsh. Then he tripped on a tree root and fell into a bed of bracken. He lay there for a moment, his head spinning, angry at Snape for leading him here, Dumbledore for sending him here, Sirius for not having the time to look after him, the world for...
"Mister Potter? Are you still alive?"
Snape sounded like he didn't care much either way, Harry thought bitterly. Well, what's new? And I've been in worse messes than this and dealt with them with more maturity. He picked himself up and checked the lamp. By some miracle of Muggle technology it hadn't gone out. "Sorry," he said. "I think I'm over tired."
Snape paused. "It has been a long day for you," he admitted grudgingly. "But we're nearly there. Can't you hear it?"
Harry cocked his head, listening. "I... I think I can hear running water."
"Yes. The stream will be low at this time of year — all the water is trapped in snow and ice. But the thermal pool is fed from underground and is never empty."
Thermal pool. That sounded warm. Harry liked the sound of that. Maybe he could come out here tomorrow for a swim.
"Careful. The track gets slippery and if either of us breaks a leg we can't risk magic trying to rescue ourselves."
They slithered down what seemed to be a fern-covered cliff. Harry fell the last few feet, landing with a bump.
Everything went black.
He pushed his robes back over his head and stared around in wonder.
The light cast by the Muggle lamps was almost magical. Bluebells that gleamed like stars were scattered under mossy trees that had been old when Hogwarts' foundations were being laid. The ferns whispered softly in the glade, but there was no wind. Everything was still. The only noise was that of a trickling stream running over gleaming black rocks. Harry lifted the lamp higher to see where the stream went.
Steam rose from a pool in the centre of the glade, turning lazily in the yellow light like one of those dreams that are lost as the dreamer wakes. The water was as black as Snape's eyes. It looked like a hole into the Earth; a gateway.
Snape waded through ferns to the edge of the pool opposite the stream where there was a large slab of creamy rock. He motioned Harry to follow. Snape knelt on the rock, facing the centre of the pool. Harry did the same after an impatient glare from Snape.
"Grandmother." Snape's voice was low and soft, but it started the mist swirling into new patterns. "Grandmother, I have brought the boy for you to see. He is here under my protection. I ask for your acceptance of him and what he means. I do not ask for me — I ask only on his behalf." He bowed his head, his face completely shadowed by his hair, and reached into his robe. "A gift for you, Grandmother," he said as he drew out a wreath. "The new; bound, framed, strengthened and graced by the old. As it always has been. As it shall always be."
He gave the wreath to Harry. "I ask that you accept it from the boy's hands."
Harry fingered the wreath. Roses — he could smell them — the white roses Snape had bought, twined into a circle with ivy.
"Put it in the water," Snape whispered.
Harry obeyed silently, not daring to say a word. He leaned forward to place the wreath flat on the black water that lapped against the stone. With a gentle nudge, he sent the flowers towards the middle of the pond where the steam was thickest. As it neared the centre the water began to ripple. Steam gathered, hiding the flowers. Harry thought he saw the roses glimmer once, briefly, like stars through clouds; then they were gone.
The mist cleared.
The water was flat, black, and empty as Snape's eyes.
Snape sighed in relief. "You have been accepted." He stood up. "We must leave now, and quickly."
"Is it dangerous here?"
"It will be soon. Look."
The first snowflakes were falling.
Harry was later to remember the hike back as one of the worst walks of his life. He was so tired that he kept tripping over his own feet when the ferns and clumps of grass weren't already doing their best to break his ankles. The snow fell thicker and colder and tightened his circle of lamplight to only a few feet around him. He kept his eyes on the tall, thin, black-clad figure before him, half-frightened it would disappear and leave him, half-wishing it would so that he could lie down and get the sleep he so desperately craved.
At long last the wards around the house caressed his mind. He stumbled inside the door and fell into a chair. Just half a minute to rest his eyes and he'd get up again—
When he woke up there was sunlight. It hadn't been the sun that had woken him — Harry could have sworn he heard something sliding down the steep roof directly over his bed. But when he listened all he could hear was the distant song of a blackbird. It must have been a dream. He was in bed up in the attic, dressed in the new flannel pyjamas Snape had bought for him. However he had got to bed was a brief worry — Harry could smell coffee, baking bread and frying sausages. Breakfast was much more important.
Snape must have heard him moving around, because by the time Harry, yawning and attempting the impossible task of combing his hair into order with his fingers, came out of the trapdoor and down the ladder from the attic, Snape was putting breakfast on the table. "It's lunch, actually," Snape said conversationally. "You needed your sleep. I would have woken you soon, however, as I'm expecting visitors."
"Oh? But I thought it was snowing last night? Can people travel through snow without magic? Thank you," he added, belatedly remembering politeness as he sat down at the table while Snape put a plate of fried sausages, tomatoes, eggs and French toast in front of him. Harry dug in.
Snape settled at the table with a cup of coffee and some French toast. Harry still found it disturbing not seeing Snape in his familiar robes. "It snowed, yes," Snape said. "But not heavily. A bit of snow keeps the river low, and curiosity does the rest. Besides, Chad and Eru have a pony to ride. Horses can go where cars can't, and the boys are very interested in meeting you."
"Oh?" Harry wasn't sure if this was good or bad. It was impossible to tell what Snape thought — his eyes where back to being dead black tunnels. They reminded Harry of... "What happened last night? At the pond, I mean."
Snape frowned, but not at Harry. "This country is... well, young and old, is the best description. Many of the ancient energies and genius loci associated with particular areas and phenomena are still very much in evidence. Humans — Muggles and otherwise — have made a great impact, but the land retains a multi-strata quality..." His frown deepened into annoyance at Harry's blank look. "Basically," Snape said acidly, "Humans live at one level of reality, and elemental creatures live at another. Occasionally there is interaction between the two levels, usually when a human does something stupid — and that's the lowest common denominator of what being human entails — or, and what is extremely rare, an elemental has a level of awareness that allows it to perceive the humans in its surrounds. That," Snape said after a sip of coffee, "is the situation with the elemental in the pool. She slowly became interested in humans over the course of several hundred years." He paused, thinking. Harry waited. "It took that long for us just to get her attention. And now we have it, it's not something to be squandered or lost through disrespect." He glared at Harry, and continued in a low, menacing tone, "And with elementals, respect is key. You will remember that while you are here. You have been introduced to her. She has noticed you. More than that, she has accepted you on my behalf. She has extended the aegis of her..." Snape paused, searching for a word... "her power, in a sense, over you. Those wards around the house you felt, she made those before I was born." He stopped as he coughed and poured himself more coffee, and Harry felt that somehow his Potions master was withdrawing further into himself. "Even I haven't been quite so stupid as to remove those," Snape muttered.
Harry began to feel quite uncomfortable with the tone of the conversation. He was used to Snape's anger being focussed outwards — at Harry in particular. Seeing the bitter rage turned in on itself was... disturbing. He needed Snape to be strong — right now Snape was the only person Harry had and here, in this strange land, he would have welcomed the snarky, slimy git of the Potions classroom. Well, maybe 'welcomed' was a little too strong, but... "You called her Grandmother." He very carefully did not look up, but the sudden look Snape flashed him was tangible enough to make him flinch.
Harry almost bit through his fork when there was a knock at the door. He got up, the tension over breakfast reminding him so strongly of the Dursleys that it seemed like his job to answer the door, but Snape reached over and clamped a hand on his shoulder, forcing Harry to stay in his chair.
"Stay there," Snape hissed. "You do not open this door for anyone while you are here." He stood up and whirled, not needing his robes to appear predatory, and stalked over to the door. Harry watched as the man pressed his palms flat against the wood, eyes closed. Then Snape nodded slightly and the tension seemed to drain out of the room.
It was Chad. "Hi, Uncle Sev." He peered past Snape into the room and grinned. "Hi, Harry!"
Harry waved back.
Snape stood in the doorway, arms folded in a posture that would have made Neville Longbottom wet his pants. "Aren't you meant to be at school?"
Chad's grin grew so wide it seemed like the top of his head would come off. "Snow's closed the roads. Try saying that ten times fast."
Snape refrained. "Yet you could still ride up here."
"Mum sent me to check on you and give you some messages. Breakfast?" Chad asked hopefully.
"Lunch for you, I suppose." Snape let the boy in. "Help yourself. I'll go and put a blanket on Solly."
"Cool. Ta, Uncle Sev."
Snape disappeared out the door.
"There's a place I wanted to ride out to. We call it Grandmother's Pool," Chad said as Solomon cantered along the river bank. Harry kept his arms tight around the other boy's waist — being doubled on a pony was not like riding a broomstick! "Has Uncle Sev taken you there yet?"
"Unc- ah, he took me there last night."
"Roses or lilies?"
Harry clutched tighter as the pony took the curves in the river bank like a dodgem car. "R- roses."
"When Mum brought me and Eru back for the first time she got Uncle Sev to take us up to the pool with her. She put lilies in. That was to, like, say that she was back home. Lilies for girls, roses for boys. Dunno why. But apparently Grandmother has her quirks. She..." Chad wrapped his hands in the thick white mane as Solomon decided to charge up a bank. The pony stopped at the top, puffing and admiring the view down the valley while the boys pulled themselves back up towards the head end of the horse. "She likes the flowers to be white, that's all."
"How do you know all of this?"
Solomon shook his head and snorted great gusts of steam.
"Mum told me."
"Is it true?"
"Dunno. But if it is then the world's a better place, and I get to be one of the special people." Chad flashed his trademark grin back over his shoulder as he nudged Solomon into a walk. "You too, now. Grandmother Taniwha has accepted you, so that kind of makes you family, bro'."
"Cool." Harry grinned.
"Mind you, you would've been family anyway, seeing as how you're some sort of cousin to Uncle Sev."
Harry didn't know what to say to that. "Um..."
"...But you're not really, are you," Chad said with a shrug. "Don't worry, if he wants people to think that you're family then that secret's safe with me. I know he seems a bit weird sometimes, but Uncle Sev always has his reasons and they've always been good ones."
"You trust him?"
Chad tensed, his shoulders squaring — for the first time taking offence. Solomon tossed his head and snorted again. "You don't? Then what the hell are you doing here?"
"No, I don't trust him. But he's looking after me for... for a friend of ours." Although Snape and a friend of ours together in the same thought was enough to give Harry a headache. "I can't tell you why, Professor Snape'll get really mad and..."
"'Professor Snape?' Geez, now I know you're not related. If you call him Professor, that must mean you're from that weird school of his, um... something to do with pigs?"
"Hogwarts," Harry replied stiffly.
"Sorry, didn't mean to rubbish your school. I'm sure it's a great place and all..."
Harry didn't like the unspoken implication. "But...?"
"But Maman and Mum and Uncle Wirimu all say that it was the biggest mistake ever when Old Snape sent Severus away to school. They reckon it changed him. He used to be really quiet and guarded when he came back for holidays, even with Maman and Mum, and then one year... one year he didn't come back at all. Didn't come back for ages. Not until his father died about eight years ago. Then he came back and tidied up the cottage. Maman told me all about it — Mum was living up in Auckland at the time, you see, and I was just a boy. So what's your school like really?"
Harry shrugged. Chad obviously knew about Hogwarts and had a strong opinion on it. Not an opinion that Harry felt was justified, but he had spent enough time around Ron in a prickly mood to guess that Chad was being negative about Hogwarts as some sort of payback for Harry's subtle objection to Snape. That there were people here who took a bad word against Snape as a personal insult was yet another strike against any normality this country might want to lay claim to. Harry tucked that away for further consideration because he wanted to be friends with Chad. And he wouldn't make a friend out of Chad by insulting his friends and family.
Even though Snape had warned Harry against talking about his background, Harry decided that there wasn't that much more trouble he could get into. Besides, apart from the fact that Chad already knew quite a bit, he had the feeling he could trust the other boy, and he desperately wanted to talk to someone. "It's the best place in the world," he said truthfully. "What do you know about it?"
"I know that it's where Uncle Sev was sent to be a learn to be a wizard..."
"You know about... um...?"
"Magic?" Chad snorted, sounding briefly like Solomon. "Maman's a witch. Mum got a letter inviting her to Beauxbatons, and so did I — oh, and I got one for Hogwarts seeing as Dad's a pom — but she reckoned that after a foreign school turned Uncle Sev so sour there was no way any others in the family were going to go. Uncle Wiri went to Beauxbatons for a few months, but when he got home at Christmas my Gran took one look at him and said, 'Boy, you're going back to France over my dead body.' Eru and I have mostly been home schooled."
Harry opened his mouth, but Solomon started to walk again. How Chad was controlling the animal was a mystery. The reins were held loosely in Chad's hands and Harry had the sense that the pony was finding its own way. "You don't want to go to a magic school? Not even Hogwarts?"
"Nah. I'm happy here. The school we go to teaches normal stuff as well as a bit of magic stuff depending on what tutors are around. And I'm learning heaps. We have our own magic in this part of the world, and Uncle Sev tutors me and Eru when he's home."
"Isn't Eru too young?"
Chad threw a surprised look over his shoulder. "You mean you don't learn early?"
"How early is early?"
"Ummm... let's see... When I was Eru's age I could summon stuff — y'know, accio this, accio that? I was learning some chants to summon some of the basic land spirits — tell you what, those are great when you get lost, aren't they?" Luckily he didn't wait for a reply: Harry had no idea what he meant by 'chants.' "And I could make some of the medicines for the sheep — although Uncle Wiri won't use them, 'cos I made a batch that turned the flock purple — and I was resisting Imperio, and ..."
"It was an accident... well, maybe I just wanted to see how Uncle Wiri would react if I turned the sheep ..."
"No, not the sheep, the Imperious!"
"Can't you shake it off?"
"Yes, but who taught you to?"
"Uncle Sev, of course. Mum said he should do it. She said that if she ever started using Imperio on us kids she'd never stop when she wanted the dishes done."
Harry was shocked, furious and disgusted, all at once. How dare Snape use one of the Unforgivables, and on a child? He was also a little jealous. Chad had been learning magic years longer than Harry. "But Imperio's illegal."
"Really? Maybe where you come from. We don't tend to classify spells the same way down here. Our magic's a bit different, and you're damned well expected to cope with the crap it can send you. What are the other illegal spells?"
"The Cruciatis and Avada Kedavra."
"Can't do Cruciatis. I know about it, but I don't want to learn it. No point, really, as I'm not a sick son-of-a-bitch; and I can't see Sev trying it out on anyone just to teach them to get used to it. Not Uncle Sev, especially after... ah, what was the other one... I forgot."
Harry doubted Chad had forgotten, but respected his right to change the subject. "Avada Kedavra? The killing curse."
"Oh, really? Uncle Wiri can do that one. Green light. I saw him once after a sheep had been ripped up by dogs. Nasty stuff."
"Yeah. It's such a simple-looking curse..."
"No, I mean the sheep. It was in agony. Wiri's the best when it comes to vet magic, but this one was beyond him. It was dying anyway, so Wiri just... put it out of its misery. Avada Kedavra's nifty like that. Hey, what's wrong?" Chad gasped, finding it hard to breathe.
Harry loosened the hold that was suffocating Chad, but he could hardly speak to explain. "Um... that was the curse that killed my mum."
There was a brief but heavy silence. "Oh, hell. I'm sorry. Here I am yapping on about sheep and 'nifty' curses and you've... God. Sorry, Harry. I'll just shut up now."
"No. No, it's not your fault. You didn't kill them, it's just that..." Harry took a deep breath. "It's not considered a nice spell where I come from."
They rode on without talking. After a few minutes the silence became awkward; Harry was remembering things he didn't want to, and by the set of Chad's shoulders, Chad was feeling wretched. More to break the silence than from actual curiosity, Harry asked; "But you could learn Crucio if you wanted to?"
"I guess. I could ask Uncle Sev; but can you imagine the look he'd give me?"
Harry could imagine quite a few of Snape's darker expressions.
"He'd be so disappointed that I'd just ask."
Nope, that wasn't a Snape-look Harry was familiar with. "Yes, I suppose so. Do you know Imperio?"
"It took me a while. Eru can do it — he's a really quick learner. We practise on each other. Such a laugh. You put the Imperious on your brother and make him do stuff and he's got to guess what or who you're imagining. Mum and Uncle Wiri love it when we imitate celebrities."
Harry was trying not to go into culture shock. "But you can fight it?"
"Sure! The trick to the game is to know that you're under the spell and go along with it until you can't be bothered anymore."
"So it's just a game?"
"Hey, don't sound so scandalised. It comes in handy."
Harry found that hard to believe, and said as much.
"Okay," said Chad, "Here's an example. Last winter Eru was riding Solly back from school alone because I'd come down with bronchitis, and some guy in a car stopped and asked him if he'd like a ride. Eru's not dumb, and he said no, piss off. The guy turns out to be a wizard, and puts Imperio on Eru to get him into the car. Eru had just learned to cast off the impulsion, luckily. So he acts like he's stunned. When the guy gets out of his car Eru spins Solly around and Solly kicks him back into the car. Guy gets knocked out and Eru boots it for home. He was too freaked out to say anything for days, but when he did, hoo boy. Mum hit the roof. She sent out Sev and Wiri to track the bastard down. Don't know what they did to him, but it must have been something pretty good, because Mum calmed down again. We were really proud of Eru, aye."
"I bet," Harry said softly. After a while spent in heavy thought, he added, "It's weird hearing about anything good to do with the Unforgivables, though. We're not allowed to learn them."
"No? Uncle Sev could cast all three before he went to Hogwarts. I don't think he was interested in the Cruciatis, but his dad made him learn."
Harry had never thought of Snape having a father. It was easier thinking of him emerging fully-formed from a bottomless pit. "That's a bit weird, isn't it?"
"His dad was a certifiable loony. That's what Wiri reckons. Sev never talks about his parents. Mum neither — I don't think she liked Old Snape much. Maman said that the most time Sev spent with him was at his funeral. Uncle Sev spent most of his time running around in the hills. Didn't you know that?"
"I... don't know much about his background, only that he came to Hogwarts knowing more about the Dark Arts than any other student and most of the teachers."
"Then I probably shouldn't be talking about him so much. He's pretty private."
"No kidding. But if he was running around wild, what did he eat? Raw sheep?"
"Maybe he did. Nah, look, that was a joke, Harry. He'd come to our house. Sometimes. Sometimes he wouldn't be seen for days. One winter Maman got really worried about him, and when she asked where he'd been staying when the snow fell, he said that he went and stayed with Grandmother."
"Yup. That's where we're going now. The only way to find the pool is to go there with either Uncle Sev or Solomon. They're the only ones that can find the place."
"I'm not sure. I think it has something to do with Sev's mum. His dad was English, of course; that's why he got packed off to your school after the police brought him back from the West Coast one year. His dad must of got sick of people noticing him being a crap father and decided to get Sev out of his hair the best legal way he knew how, so sent him off to boarding school. But Sylvia was a local, even if her ancestors were mainly English. She met Old Snape when she went to Hogwarts. Got married, came back here, had a baby, and she died. Old Snape was really upset. He sold her pony, but Sev tracked him down when he got older and got him back."
"Solomon?" Harry asked, grabbing at a sentence before he could get completely lost in Chad's topsy-turvy narrative.
"Yeah," Chad said, slapping the pony affectionately on the wither. "Solly used to belong to Sylvia, Sev's mum."
"He must be bloody ancient. How long do horses live?"
"Normally only to thirty if they're lucky, but this one... hold on..."
The pony in question slithered down a muddy bank. The ferns were growing to the height of its chest, and Harry and Chad lifted their feet away from the clinging snow. Tree branches swept at their hair and they ducked. Harry was a bit slow. "Ergh. I got snow down my neck."
"Don't worry, we'll be there soon. It always seems to be a different way, though, so... Ah-ha!"
They had arrived.
Across from them was the steep slope Snape had brought Harry down last night. Harry was glad the pony hadn't chosen that way down — they would have broken their necks. In the middle of the clearing, looking just as mysterious in daylight as at night, was Grandmother's Pool.
Harry slid off Solomon. Ouch. Riding a broom wasn't good preparation for riding a horse. Chad landed next to him. "Hey," Harry exclaimed, "what're you doing?"
Chad was taking the bridle off the pony. "What does it look like?"
"It looks like you're letting the pony go and we don't know how to find our way back from here!"
"Relax," Chad chuckled. "He's not leaving us. I'm just letting him have some kai — uh, that means food."
Indeed, the pony began scraping away the snow with a shaggy forefoot, uncovering the dry grass underneath.
"Come on, I've got to give Grandmother a present."
Any snow that had fallen here was a thin covering that disappeared as they reached the pool. The two boys knelt on the rock. "Here we go," said Chad. He took a folded piece of white paper out of his jacket pocket and pulled at it a little. It curled and shook itself into shape.
"It's a swan!"
"You like it?" Chad was ginning.
"It's cool! Did you make it?"
"Yup. I promised Grandmother that if it snowed just enough to get me out of school I'd bring Solly up to visit her." He leaned forward and gently placed the swan on the black water. "There we go. I hope you like it, Grandmother."
Small eddies drew the paper swan into the middle of the pool, where it swam around as if alive.
Harry dipped his finger into the water. "Mm, warm. Can we swim here?"
Chad looked shocked. "You've got to be joking!"
"No. Why not?"
"Um. It's... it's not something we do."
"Look, it's just not a good thing to do, okay?"
"But the horse is drinking from it." Harry pointed to where Solly's velvety nose was ruffling the waters.
"He's Solomon. He's allowed."
"What about Snape?"
Chad tucked his knees up to his chest and scowled at Harry. "I think I've said too much about him. And if you're calling him 'Snape' then I'm not sure how friendly you are to him."
"We're not best friends."
"Then why are you here?"
"Not by choice. Because I have to be. Because it's safer here than... um.... Harry felt like he'd suddenly become Hagrid: I prob'ly shouldn't'a said that.
"If he brought you here then he must really want you to be kept safe," said Chad. "You must have some powerful enemies."
"Um," Harry said miserably. He felt like he was losing his one friend in this weird country.
"Not that crazy old bastard... what's his name... Mouldy Wart?"
"Muh — Mouldy...?"
"Yeah. Some mad bugger who wants to take over the world."
Harry burst out laughing. "Mouldy Wart! I love it! It's so, so... it's so him."
Chad chuckled, and then everything was alright again.
Harry trailed his fingers in the inky water and watched his reflection. "This water is so dark. Last night I thought... well, I thought that it was just dark because it was night. But it's more than that."
"Uh-huh. It's always like this." Chad scooped some water up in his hands where it glimmered clear as crystal and let it trickle back through his fingers. "And it's always the same temperature. Uncle Sev says it's really hot towards the middle, so hot you feel like you're being cooked. But if you dive down it suddenly turns cold."
"He's swum here?"
"When he was a kid."
"So if it's okay for him to swim in the pool, why not us?"
Chad grinned slyly. "Say out loud: 'I want to go swimming here'."
"Well, I do. I want to go swimming here."
The waters rippled. There was the sense of an inhuman displeasure sweeping out of the mist. Despite himself, Harry couldn't help cowering down on the rock. Next to him, Chad was doing the same.
"Sorry, Grandmother," Chad called out quickly. "I was trying to teach Harry about you. We meant no disrespect!"
The mist swirled. There was a feeling like something had growled, and all the hairs stood up on the back of Harry's neck, then the pool stilled.
Chad mimed wiping sweat off his forehead and grinned. But his face was pale under his freckles and the grin was a bit shaky. Harry felt just the same.
"So why do you call it Grandmother Taniwha?" Harry asked as they rode away from the pool. The two boys had spent most of the early afternoon trailing sticks in the water and talking about soccer, which Chad loved, and Quidditch, which Harry loved. Harry had had to explain about how to ride a broom, Chad never having ridden one. After the earlier scare from the mist Harry had been pleased to talk about sports. But now, with the sun shining down and sparkling from the ice crystals in the trees, it was easier to talk about strange creatures and mysterious pools. "What does 'taniwha' mean, anyway?"
"A taniwha is a water monster. Usually. Sometimes they can live in the air or the rocks or even in a volcano. There are lots of them in this country."
"Sna- Pro- ah, Severus—" now that felt really wrong, calling Snape by his first name "—he said that it was an elemental."
"Yes. Elementals, fairies, monsters— all boils down to the same sort of stuff. Non-human intelligences or beings with emotions that predate human colonisation."
"Wow. That sounded technical."
Chad grinned back at Harry. "I've been reading books. Me speak good England."
Harry laughed. "Me reckon."
"Now you're getting the hang of it. Anyway, a taniwha is a particular kind of elemental. You get good ones and bad ones, but mostly you get ones that don't really give a stuff about us so long as we leave them alone. Then you get the curious ones."
"Like Grandmother Taniwha?"
"That's right. We call her Grandmother because there's a legend about how she decided to become human once. She turned into a beautiful woman — of course, I mean you never get stories about a good person who looked like a dog's bum, do you? — and went for a walk. She walked over the hills and through the valleys until she got hungry. Then she sat down and lit a fire and cooked some pigeons to eat. A man saw the fire and went to see who it was. He tried to talk to her. I guess if you saw some gorgeous naked chick who could cook you'd stop and say hi too. Anyway. She didn't know any human words, so he spent the night teaching her to speak. Not all they were doing, though, 'cos by the next morning she was pregnant." Chad snickered. "Luckily the bloke was really keen on her, even if she was a bit weird, and they got married. They lived together happily to the end of his days. When he died, she went back to her pool and turned back into a taniwha. Legend has it that she still looks after the people she chooses to, like my family."
"Of course. His mum's people lived in this area for generations. Kind of shy about their wizardry, though. Tended to keep themselves to themselves. Sev's the last of that line, which is a shame, as he's pretty powerful. My family's been around for years — French and Maori blood, as well as Scottish. More French than Scottish, I guess, or Mum'd have been sent letters from Hogwarts instead of Beauxbatons."
"The families must have been pretty close if you call Snape — uh, Severus, your uncle."
"No, that's because him and Mum are sort of like brother and sister. Mum's only a few hours older. After Sev's own mum died, my granny was his nurse. Mum calls Severus her milk brother and Wiri her stupid brother. Uncle Sev lived with my family until he was about three, and then his dad took him away. Granny was really upset. Mum still remembers her crying."
"That was a bit mean of Old Snape."
"Sour old bastard by all accounts. Glad Uncle Sev takes after his mum. She was a sweetie, Maman says."
Harry wisely changed the subject before his tongue could get him into trouble. "Who's Maman?"
"My mother's mother's mother."
"Wow! You have a great-grandmother? That's so cool!"
"Don't you? Wizarding families usually live for yonks."
"My family's all dead."
Harry felt Chad tense up again. "Geez... me and my big mouth... again. Sorry Harry. Um... if it's any help, my family's always keen on having new honorary members...?"
Harry blinked away tears. Chad reminded him so much of Ron. "Thanks. I've already kind of got one, but I'm always open to more offers."
"Cool. Tell me about your honorary family."
Chad was a good listener. The rest of the ride was spent with Harry talking about the Weasleys and Hermione.
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