Chapter Four: Here to There
By shading his eyes against the rising sun, Harry made out the approaching pony. There was one — no, two people riding it. They crossed the river in a foam of white-gold spray with Helen circling over their heads. Chad and Eru were up early. Heedless that he was still in his dressing gown, Harry tugged on his boots and ran to meet them.
No, one of the figures was too tall to be one of the boys. Squinting as he they drew nearer, Harry was surprised to see Rona being doubled by Chad. The pony plodded over to Harry and stopped, heaving an almighty sigh, its bottom lip drooping. Rona slid off. "Morning Harry!" she exclaimed, ruffling his hair. "Been up long?"
"Just had breakfast. Hi Chad, you're up early."
Chad grimaced. "Tell me about it. And on a Saturday, too. Mum, I'll go and put the rug on Solly."
"Ta, sweetie." She tucked her arm into Harry's as they strolled back to the house. "Look at you — doesn't Sev let you have proper clothes?"
Harry grinned back at her. She was about the same height as he was now that he was finally starting to shoot up. "Nah. This builds character."
Rona laughed, holding up her arm to Helen, who landed on it and shuffled up to Rona's shoulder in order to start preening her long black hair. "'Builds character'? That's not something I've ever heard Sev say." She checked herself before saying something else, and her face took on more serious lines. "So how is he today? He looked bloody awful when he left last night."
Harry stared at her, open-mouthed. He hadn't noticed anything wrong with Snape until this morning. "How did you know? Uh, he's running a temperature."
"Hmm. He's been overdoing it lately," Rona mused. "He's meant to be resting up and instead he decides to go charging over the landscape. Oh, hey, it's not your fault, sweetie," she added to Harry, who must have been looking as guilty as he felt. He was the reason Snape had been busy, after all. But what had been wrong with Snape, anyway?
"He's meant to be a grown-up," Rona added, "which means that in theory he's meant to be able to take care of himself." She snorted in a manner disturbingly similar to Snape. "Not that he does, the silly bugger."
"What was wrong with him? I noticed that he wasn't around for classes much last term, but I hadn't known he was sick."
Rona ruffled his hair again. "Oh, it's just been a bit of flu. Nothing serious."
Harry didn't quite believe her. Something about her made him suspicious that she knew more than she was letting on. "It wasn't anything to do with Voldemort, was it?"
Rona nearly jerked her arm free. Helen squawked in anger that her perch wasn't giving her a smooth ride. Then Rona patted Harry's hand. "Look, it's nothing for you to worry about, hon'. He's back home now, that's all that matters."
Harry got the feeling she didn't intend to let Snape leave anytime soon, either. He sneaked a cautious look at her. The rising sun added a reddish tint to the strands that Helen had gone back to pulling at, and there was a firm set to the jaw that reminded him fiercely of Hermione on a moral crusade.
"Severus Obadiah Snape, what are you doing letting this boy run around in the middle of winter in PJ's and a dressing gown?" Rona demanded as she walked through the door and planted her hands on her hips.
"Trying to kill him off, of course," Snape replied from the table where he was still making notes, as if astonished she could have suspected him of anything less.
"Oh, that's all right then." She went and kissed him on the forehead. "You're burning up. You should be in bed. Gumboot, Helen; gumboot. Gumboot tea, Helen. Good girl," she added as the bird flew up to the cupboard. "And you," Rona said to Harry, "should be dressed. Go on. Put something warm and loose-fitting on — Chad wants to teach you how to snowboard."
Harry went up the ladder like a charging unicorn. Cool! So that was the weird stuff Chad had had slung over Solomon's shoulders. As he got dressed, careful not to disturb Hedwig's sleep, he heard Snape and Rona bickering downstairs. She seemed to be trying to order him back to bed, he was adamant that he was staying up. Harry caught the word "Wolfsbane" and felt relieved that Snape was taking Dumbledore's request seriously. He wouldn't put it past Snape to leave Remus to his misery.
When he climbed back down, Rona was crossly supervising the dishes magically washing themselves in the sink, while Snape's black eyes glittered mutinously from behind his greasy hair. Helen looked ruffled at the tension and kept preening Snape from her perch on one of his slumped shoulders. Harry could have told her not to bother — according to Sirius, Snape hadn't washed his hair for anyone so he wouldn't for a parrot, no matter how smart it was.
They were arguing in whispers.
"I'm not a complete novice, thank you Severus," Rona said in a stiff voice.
Snape leaned back, causing Helen to scold him. "It's not that. The potion is incredibly complicated. I'm one of the few people who can make it, and if—"
"Oh, so I'm too stupid to make your damn—"
"If, as I was saying, it goes wrong by the merest degree of temperature or thickness of the sliced adder's tongue, it blows up in your face. And takes off your skin down to the adipose layer, at which point it begins turning you into soap."
Harry winced, and stayed by the ladder. He didn't want Snape or Rona transferring their anger onto him. Besides, he hadn't realised just what was involved with the Wolfsbane potion.
"But you're going to try it anyway,. Aren't you."
Snape sighed and ran his long yellow fingers through his hair. Helen bit at him as he interrupted her, then climbed around to his other shoulder. Snape ignored the bird. "I don't have any choice. There are children at Hogwarts. Also there is a werewolf who is occupying a vital position in the effort against Voldemort."
"Wasn't being tortured nearly to death by that sick bastard enough for your war efforts?" Rona hissed. "And I suppose this isn't the same werewolf who tried to eat you alive when we were sixteen? The one Dumbledore kept in spite of your nearly dying? I don't know who's more dangerous to you — that bloody werewolf you're about to risk your life for, Voldemort, or that Dumbledore who keeps sending you back for more torture sessions."
They heard Harry gasp.
"Potter!" Snape snarled, his voice low and deadly, his eyes flashing black sparks of fury.
"Uh, I'm just on my way out —"
"Then leave. Now, boy."
Snape looked ready to commit murder.
He nearly fell over Chad as he raced out the door. "What's up?" Chad asked as he steadied Harry.
"Later. Come on."
"Okay. You're wearing loose clothes... good. You've got to be able to move. Now, you take those, I'll take these."
Harry picked up his boots and board. "Eru's?"
"Nah. You've got my old stuff. You can muck about without worrying about the consequences," Chad said with a grin as they marched away to the hills and gullies upland of the cottage where the snow would be thickest.
"That'll be a first for today," Harry muttered.
"Wanna talk about it?"
No, Harry didn't. He was still upset by the whole day so far. They walked without speaking for several minutes until Harry unwound enough to exhale a thick plume of vapour that hung in the still, cold air. "Your mum and Snape were having a fight."
"So? Nothing new." Chad grinned encouragingly. "Everybody still alive?"
"Well, they were when I left." Harry kicked at a tussock. The snow shivered to the ground in a brief rainbow. "But Snape wants to make a really difficult potion and your mum's telling him not to."
"Ouch. Uncle Sev doesn't take kindly to people telling him how to live his life."
"No kidding. But your mum's right. He's got a fever and his hands are shaking."
"Hands have been shaking since he got back?" Chad trailed off at Harry's sharp look, aware that he'd said too much.
"Back from being tortured by Voldemort?"
Chad winced. "You know?"
"I heard a few things."
"Well, this time when he got back the shakes were worse than ever, and —"
"This time? How many times has he been 'recovering from an illness'?"
Chad hiked the carry-bag with his snowboard in it higher on his shoulder. He didn't meet Harry's eyes. "I don't know. I lost count sometime last year." Suddenly he threw the bag down angrily.
Harry blinked. Chad being angry was like being savaged by a bunny rabbit. But Chad was angry now. His cheeks were flushed and his mouth was set in a thin line as he spun to face Harry. For a moment the family resemblance to his mother in a rage was very strong. "What the hell is going on over there? Every time I've seen Sev lately it's only been because he's come back here to lick his wounds. And that's not the half of it..." He wiped his gloved hand over his eyes, which were wet. "Damn. Sorry Harry."
Harry put his bag down and sat on it, motioning for Chad to follow suit. "It's okay," he said softly. "I know what's going on is terrible. Voldemort killed my parents. He's been killing the family of other friends of mine just for being friends with me."
Chad shook his head and grimaced sympathetically. "I've heard a little bit. Just Mum talking to Uncle Wiri when they thought I wasn't listening. They don't want me to know in case I suddenly decide to get involved like Uncle Sev. As if I would..." He managed a shaky grin. But his expression turned sombre again. "Mum's protective of Sev — keeps calling him her little brother." He snorted. "Sev's what, a foot taller than her and at most half a day younger? Anyway, we always know when he's going to be coming home because Mum gets the worst nightmares. She always knows when he's in trouble, y'see, and so when I wake up 'cos she's screaming in the night I know that some heavy-duty shit is going down."
Harry bit his lip. "Rona senses this?"
Chad nodded. "That's why she came up with me. She didn't really want to leave Eru while he's sick, but he's got Maman to fuss over him. Mum knew that if she didn't get up here pronto something really bad would happen."
Harry thought back to the argument he'd heard earlier. "I think she was probably right."
"Oh well. She's just as stubborn as he is. Which means that she'll demand to help him and he'll eventually see the sense of it — she's great with potions — and they'll take care of each other."
Harry thought Chad sounded like he was trying to convince himself, but decided it would be cruel to push the issue. "You're right. Your mum seems like she can take care of herself."
Chad laughed. "You'd better believe it. When Old Snape died and Mum heard that Sev had come home for the first time in years, she finally decided to call it quits with Eru's and my dad. Called him an anal retentive mummy's boy when he said that she had a nerve leaving him. So cool."
Harry didn't know whether to laugh or not. "Don't you like your dad?"
Chad shrugged. "Mum's part French, part Maori, and part Scottish. We've got some shit-hot wizards in her family line, but Dad's family are English pure-bloods and didn't like the idea of him marrying a mongrel girl from the sticks, let alone begetting children with her. She told them where they could stick their attitude — Mum was pretty wild when she was young and she's always been good with words — and although Dad thought that was really cool at first, eventually he realised that he couldn't go up against his own mum, who's a real old battle-axe. Met her a few times. She's of the old school 'children should be seen and not heard', which completely sucks in a grandmother. So when Sev came back to the cottage she decided enough was enough in Auckland, told Dad to shove it, told her boss to stick it, and opened her own advertising business in Christchurch. She's done well, too. I'm really proud of what she's done and I don't miss Dad. Eru does sometimes, but he'll grow out of it when he realises what kind of tosser our father really is. I did."
Harry wasn't sure what to say about this. Chad's bluntness was almost shocking. "I never met my grandparents. Never really thought about them much, to be honest. I spent more time thinking about my parents."
"Potter? were you related to James and Lily?"
Harry froze. "How do you know about them?"
Chad shifted uncomfortably. "Something I heard once when I probably shouldn't have been listening..."
"Okay, definitely. But the only way to achieve anything around here info-wise is to listen in on your elders. For God's sake, don't tell them, though."
"I won't. But how come everyone knows more about my parents than I do?"
"Well, when they died it was an important event —"
"Sorry, sorry, sorry." Chad spread his hands contritely. "That came out completely wrong. Um. Down this part of the world we're not too interested in what goes on in other places. We have our own magics and charms. It's not quite the same as Europe, even though we've imported a lot of the spell lore. Australia's similar, too, in that it's got a different magic to the rest of the world. But Aussie magic gets really wild... Anyway. We weren't particularly worried about Voldemort affecting us. Some people — Dad's mum, for instance — thought old Mouldy-Wart was onto a good thing. Others, like Mum's side of the family, realised what a psychopathic piece of tutai he was. Either way, everyone noticed and went into various stages of 'surprised' when your mum defeated him— Harry?"
Harry had bent his head forward. "It's the first time anyone has ever said that it wasn't me who defeated him, that it was my mum," he mumbled.
"Sorry, was that wrong?"
"No," Harry declared fervently. "It's completely, absolutely right. She died defending me and no-one other than you has ever said out loud the truth. I can't defeat Voldemort. No one can. Only my mum could've, and she died so that I could live."
Chad placed a comforting hand on Harry's shoulder. "That's what parents do. My dad'd never stand between us and danger like yours did, but my mother would die for me. I know that. I'm scared sick that one day she'll be put into a situation where she'll choose the life of me, Eru, Wiri or Sev over hers. I really don't envy you, mate, but your mum did what she chose to do and she took out one of the worst Dark Wizards in this or any other century doing so. You've got to respect a staunch lady like that. I know Uncle Sev respected her."
Harry wiped his nose. "He did? He's never said so."
"He wouldn't, would he. But I heard him and Mum talking a few years ago. He's still upset that she died. Couldn't stand your father, from what I've heard, but he had nothing against your mum. Promise you won't tell anyone what I'm about to tell you?"
"You know what Sev was up to when Voldemort fell?"
"He was a spy." Harry knew that Chad already knew and was testing to see that he, Harry, really knew.
"Yeah. Well, Uncle Sev had heard that the person who was protecting you and your parents had sold out to Voldemort. He was on his way to tell them that they were in danger when he got caught by the cops."
"Huh?" Harry had a momentary picture of Snape being pulled over and given a speeding ticket. "Oh, you mean Aurors?"
"Magic police? Yeah. Well, because he was the closest source to Voldemort, hardly anyone knew what he was really doing. Maybe only Dumbledore knew. So when Sev was caught— and Mum remembers it because she felt shadows of everything he went through," he added, his eyes darkening "—they wouldn't believe that your parents were really in danger. Some Aurors kept him for amusement value for a while, testing out their skills with questioning suspects, et cetera, and then... well. You know the rest of the story."
"Damn," Harry breathed. He leaped to his feet and bunched his fists, glaring into the sun so that it was its glare which made his eyes water. "Damn, damn, damn."
"It wouldn't help your parents to go after them."
Harry whirled. "No? It'd sure help me."
"Maybe. But how do you think they felt when they learned the truth?" Chad asked in a level voice. "That because of them their friends and colleagues had been killed? Sev said that he never went after them because their own knowledge of what they had done was the worst revenge you could have on people like those."
"I can think of worse." And he could. It would be so easy to use some pretty little curse, spinning and levitating them while they cried out how sorry they were— if Death Eaters could do it, then surely Harry Potter could — No. He sat down, dizzy at the thought. No. Harry Potter had to be above these things, because Harry Bloody Potter had to be perfect. For the first time Harry realised how easy it could be to be a Death Eater. All you needed was just the right amount of hate and arrogance. Just a little of either and he could be much more formidable than some little pipsqueak like Draco Malfoy— Merlin, that thought shocked him back to reality.
"I'm okay. Just— not sure how to take it all. But I know I couldn't do anything to those Aurors. Just hate them with a passion, that's all."
Chad smiled sadly. "Some Death Eater scaught up with the couple responsible, anyway. Used the Cruciatis on them for so long that they went nuts. Apparently they're both locked up in some sort of funny-farm."
Harry's chest hurt. "Husband and wife?"
"Yeah. You know them?"
"I go to school with their son. Neville Longbottom. He's a good friend of mine."
Chad caught his breath. "And is he still a good friend?"
Harry closed his eyes. For a moment the world seemed to spin out of control, snow-white and sky-blue and grey-green.
"Ku-er? Ku-er?" came the call from on high. Then: "Kee-aa-aa-aaaa!"
Helen swooped down and landed on a lichen-encrusted rock. She hopped down and bounded through the snow to Chad and Harry. "Hello," Chad said, stroking the kea's head. "Get chucked out for making a nuisance of yourself?"
Helen pecked his hand and waddled over to see Harry, tugging on his bootlaces when he didn't respond.
"Harry?" Chad asked again.
Harry leaned back, feeling the snow cold through his hat and down the back of his neck. Helen jumped on his stomach and began to march up and down. "Hey! That tickles!"
Helen rolled onto her back and slid off him as he sat up, still chortling happily at finding the boys.
The world had stopped spinning when Helen flew out of the sky. "Yeah," said Harry. "He's still my friend. But it's going to be hard seeing someone and knowing that they're related to people who let my parents die."
Chad nodded. "I can only imagine. But if this Neville's really a friend of yours then maybe you shouldn't tell him what part his parents played in all of this."
Harry looked over at his new friend. Chad wouldn't meet his eyes. "Chad, thanks for telling me this."
Chad looked up, not smiling. "Thanks? For telling you this kind of stuff? You're meant to be here being protected from Voldemort and here I am giving you all the horror stories behind your parent's death! Some friend I am."
"No," Harry said softly. "If your parents had died, wouldn't you want to know what had happened and why?"
"Does this mean you're going to tell your friend what happened with his parents and Sev?"
Harry looked away. "He thinks his parents were heroes. Would it help if I told him otherwise? Maybe I should tell him, but... I'm not that brave. Don't be mad with yourself, Chad. This was stuff I think I— I needed to know in some way. And everyone's always trying to protect me because I'm so young—"
Chad smiled a watery smile. "Don't you hate that?"
"Yeah," said Harry, managing a smile in return. "Come on. Let's try that snowboarding thing."
They picked up the gear again and set off up the slope. Helen followed them, flying from boulder to boulder, sometimes perching in a tree, once trying to ride on the tip of Chad's snowboard until Chad dislodged her with a loud "Oi!" for trying to take apart the silver covering. "They're buggers for taking things to bits," he commented. "Never, ever leave a car or a bike parked unguarded near a flock of keas. They've been known to strip the seals off until the windows fall out. When you put your boots on don't let her near them. She'll rip the laces and bindings off before you can say 'sod off'."
"She was pretty well behaved at Snape's."
"Best behaviour. If she acts up he throws her out the door and ignores her for a day. It's amazingly effective."
"Huh. Back at Hogwarts people would be lining up for Snape to throw them out of class and ignore them for a day."
Chad laughed. "Is he really that bad?"
"Worse. Don't worry, I won't give you all the gory details."
"Thank God. He's family, but I know he can be a bit funny with people he doesn't know."
"Well," Harry said thoughtfully, "given that he doesn't know most of the people in the world, I'd say he's quite restrained for someone who can etch metal with his tongue."
"The insults he works out with Mum can be quite imaginative. Has he used many on you?"
"I'm his favourite target," Harry replied gloomily.
"Don't take it personally. I never do."
"No," Harry said, still barely believing Chad's presumption in the face of Snape. "But if I was half as forward as you my House would be in demerit points for the rest of my life. On my first day at school he took points off for me being cheeky." Harry scowled at the memory.
"Well, you're against Voldemort. He's meant to be a supporter. He can hardly be seen as a benevolent father-figure to you."
At that image Harry laughed so hard he had to sit down. Helen flew back to sit on his knee. "Chrp?"
"I've got to admit, there's not much danger of that," Harry said.
The trio spent the rest of the morning playing in the snow. Snowboarding was much harder than Chad made it look. Harry didn't find it nearly as easy as the first time he'd ridden a broom, while Chad seemed to float over the snow, drawing long, lazy curves in the fresh snow of the gully they'd chosen to play in and sending up showers of ice crystals on the sharp turns. The first thing Chad taught Harry was how to fall over properly, fisting his hands so that he didn't break his wrists. Harry decided to keep that in mind for Quidditch. He certainly got a lot of practise at falling. Snowboarding was also hard work. After a while they took a break and built a snowman, wrote "Voldemort" on its big round belly, and then used it for marksmanship practice with snowballs. Helen did her bit — dropping twigs and rocks on "Voldemort's" head. Her aim was remarkable. Finally Harry knocked "Voldemort's" head off with a well placed snowball that had a rock in it, and they danced around singing "We won! We won!"
Helen rolled around in the snow before hopping over to peck out "Voldemort's" eyes and carrying them back and spitting them out at Harry's feet. "Good Helen," said Harry, very pleased. "Shame you can't come back to Hogwarts with me."
"She's a wild bird," Chad said.
"Nope. It happens sometimes. She showed up the first winter Sev was back. Must have been a late chick and lost her parents before she had a good idea about where the kea food was. Her beak was still mostly yellow, which shows that she was just a young thing. Looked a wreck, too. Skinny and half-frozen and jumping with fleas. Uncle Sev kept her in a shoe box near the fire and fed her until she recovered then let her go. She hung around. She's not stupid — she knows where the human food is. She comes down from the mountains every winter now when she should be part of a big kea flock, and makes a nuisance of herself." His actions made a lie of his scornful words as Chad poked a stick playfully at Helen, who grabbed it and started an eager game of tug-of-war that was resolved when Helen bit off her end of the stick. Harry had a new appreciation of the power of that beak when Chad showed him his end — it was cut as cleanly as if it had been severed by garden shears.
"Yeah. Some guy up at the local station caught a kea and put it in a wooden crate. It bit its way out like a hot knife through butter. So don't let her get hold of your wand."
"I don't have it with me."
"Sure you do. It's in your jacket pocket."
Harry blushed. "Um. I'm not meant to have it. Snape thinks it's with my godfather."
Chad grinned. "No worries. I won't tell. You have a godfather? I thought you didn't have any family left?"
"Sirius isn't family — he was a really good friend of my dad's."
Damn. Chad was a bit too quick at times. Harry had been putting him into the Hufflepuff category, when he should probably keep in mind that if Chad was Snape's 'nephew' he was probably as Slytherin as the next Malfoy. He shook away the thought. It was too easy to classify everyone in the wizarding world into a Hogwarts house. Chad mightn't be a Hufflepuff, but he was no Malfoy. "You know the name?" he asked cautiously.
"I think Uncle Sev mentioned him once or twice. He was meant to be the secret keeper for your parents, but gave the job to someone else to try and confuse everyone. Seems like he confused everyone but Mouldy Wart."
"He got locked up for murder, but he was really innocent."
Chad nodded. "Uncle Sev says that his name hasn't been cleared yet."
"So why doesn't Snape tell everyone that it wasn't Sirius if he knows the truth?" Harry said angrily.
"Hey, don't take it out on me. I don't know why Sev does what he does. I just know that he usually has a good reason."
"Sorry. I wasn't angry at you, not really. I just wish I could— I don't know—"
"Have a normal life?"
Harry smiled wryly. "Yeah." His stomach growled loudly.
Chad laughed. "Well, according to your stomach normal life starts now. That means we've gotta go and have lunch."
Helen rode the updrafts down from the hills and got down before the trudging humans. But she waited outside the half-open door for them, remarkably quietly for her. "She must've been chucked out when she came and found us," Chad laughed. He patted Solly, who had moseyed over to investigate the returning boys for apples or carrots. "Sorry, old fella. I'll bring you some sugar before we go home." Solly sighed, scratched his head on Chad's shoulder and leaving a smattering of white hairs on the black-and-blue checked wool swannie shirt, before wandering off to look for grass.
"Doesn't the horse run away if you don't tie him up?" Harry wondered. He hadn't seen any fences around.
"Solly? Nah, he always seems to know where he's meant to be. Sort of a knack." He pushed the door open and stepped over Helen, who peered cautiously between his feet into the cottage. "Mum! Uncle Sev! We're back!"
"Really?" came Snape's voice dryly. "Stop stating the blatantly obvious and put the kettle on."
"Right-o. Everyone still alive in here?"
"No thanks to that misbegotten parrot," Snape snarled. "She's not with you, is she?" Harry thought he heard a small note of worry in Snape's voice.
"She spent the morning with us," Harry called out. "She's here now."
"Well, keep her out of the workroom," Rona snapped. "This is difficult enough without onlookers trying to add extra ingredients—"
"Too many cooks spoiling the Wolfsbane, Mum?" Chad called out cockily.
Snape muttered something, then said, "Enough of the pseudo-witticisms. Make yourselves useful and make me some coffee. I want it in ten minutes."
Harry couldn't see beyond the shimmering blue light of the door to Snape's workroom, but he could hear the muttered conversation. Snape and Rona seemed intent on their work, but not so engrossed that they couldn't insult each other constantly. Hermione would have gone in and banged their heads together, Harry thought. "What's so funny?" Chad murmured as he cut and buttered thick slices of bread.
"Oh, just thinking about a friend of mine and how she'd be itching to go in and tell them to act like adults."
"I reckon. But to be fair they're only as bad as this with each other."
Harry wisely kept his thoughts on that to himself. "I think I saw some cheese out in the laundry."
"Excellent. I think there's some pickle somewhere, and I saw some sausages left over from your breakfast..."
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