Chapter Two: Observing the Proprieties
There did not seem to be a door to the room in which he found himself, but there was a window, such as it was; it did not show him anything through the shimmering inside of its frame.
If he concentrated, the shimmering seemed to emit a pleasant humming. He listened to this "music" while he exercised and waited for one of the nuns to appear with his meals.
Just as he finished his umpteenth round of stretching, a soft-featured woman appeared before him bearing a tray.
"Good evening. Are you hungry?"
"No--I mean, yes--but . . . ."
"But you would like to see."
"I beg your pardon?"
"You would like to see something more than your room, would you not?"
"Yes," the boy answered quickly, taking the tray from the lady and setting it on the room's one table.
"Very well. Go to the window and look out of it," the nun instructed him.
"I've done that. All I ever see is the shimmer."
"That is because you did not know to look through the shimmer."
Great. Everyone sounds the same here. No one makes any bloody sense! the boy thought, but he did as the woman told him anyway.
And suddenly, he was looking through the shimmer onto an unexpected scene.
"I wouldn't want to have to clean that up!"
After having banished Peeves from his workroom when he discovered the ghost vandalizing it--under the direction of another one--Severus had initially intended to see both specters permanently exorcized from Hogwarts.
But then the Bloody Baron had done something completely unexpected: he had spoken.
The man's story had taken some time to tell, but his parting words rang yet in the Potion master's ears:
"A proper wizard does not impose his amorous attentions upon the witch whom he intends to wed without the benefit of the knowledge and consent of that lady's family. To do otherwise is to subject the object of one's affections to sordid scandal."
Chastened, Severus was forced to concede this point: although Harry had not been raised to understand or expect the traditional steps taken toward the commencement of an honorable courtship, such codes of conduct would be familiar to the Wizarding world, Remus Lupin, and Sirius Black.
I have treated her shabbily, and must make it right before Harry becomes enmeshed in a greater scandal than the mere fact of our . . . romance shall cause.
Questions would have to be answered before they were asked, which meant that now he must entreat permission to pay his addresses in the old fashion. Once this was done, no one of any decency would dare intrude too deeply into their relationship, for to do so would be to risk the censure and ostracization of society.
At least, that is my profound hope.
With some understandable difficulty, Severus ruthlessly crushed his natural cynicism so that he might hold onto this new and welcome sensation.
"What is he doing out there?" Sirius asked Remus, who was standing just inside of the door to the sitting room.
Remus inhaled, testing the air for emotional notes. "I believe he's just standing there. He smells nervous."
"I imagine he does," Sirius said, an air of amused indignance infusing his tone. "He was just molesting my goddaughter in public!"
"I would hardly call it that, love. It's not as though--"
"Sirius is correct. My behavior was inappropriate, Remus."
Neither man knew what to say in response to this startling announcement.
"Merlin's beard--you're ill!" Sirius exclaimed.
Remus laid a gentle hand on the Potion master's arm and guided him to his customary chair by the hearth. He then moved to stand next to Sirius' chair.
"Oh, here," Sirius said to his lover, moving to allow Remus to sit down.
As Severus witnessed the tender expressions with which his guests favored each other, his tension eased somewhat. These men knew love, and what was more, they were his . . . friends. Perhaps they would understand him.
"Would you care for tea?" he asked automatically.
Remembering themselves, Remus and Sirius chuckled softly.
"Yes," said Remus. "We'd love some tea."
"Especially if it's Scotch."
A small tray holding a bottle of Lagavulin and three glasses appeared without warning, surprising the wizards.
"Dobby," Severus commented.
Arriving at the Quidditch field, Harry did not have long to wonder: Marazelle had not elected to keep secret her newly discovered intelligence regarding her professors' canoodling.
"Good morning, Mrs. Snape," a gleeful Wenda Watlings greeted her to the snickers of several of the players.
"That will do, Miss Watlings," Harry said, resolutely ignoring both the teasing looks of her players and the fact that, increasingly, she seemed to channel Minerva McGonagall in her dealings with students. "Those of you who are not here to practice either go to the stands, or return to the castle. We've a great deal to accomplish this morning."
I hope Severus won't mind the gossip too much, Harry thought, refusing to believe she had just heard some student she did not identify for his own good whisper, "Yeah, I'll bet she and the ol' Slytherin accomplished a lot last night, as well!"
Harry made a show of drawing her wand, and the children went stock still, facing as they were the Professor Who Lived. In spite of their adoration and genuine respect for Professor Potter, they were all a little in awe of her. Thanks to Fred and George Weasley, who were themselves Hogwarts legends, they had heard of the Potter-Snape Duel, they knew of the Meeting in the Woods that had ended with the grisly demise of several Death Eaters, they had been talking about the Final Battle for years--and, what was more, they could feel the earth rumbling threateningly underfoot as their favorite professor glared at them.
"Good. I have your attention. . . . I certainly wouldn't want to give detentions so close to a Hogsmeade weekend," Harry remarked, pleased to see that her announcement had caused the desired silence, "but it's . . . disappointing to note the lack of respect with which you favor our Professor Snape."
Her words produced a satisfying ripple of unhappiness to roll through the group as the students realized that they might have gone too far: No one liked letting down Harry Potter.
"Professor Snape deserves your respect. He spent years of his life defending your lives. You will not rumor-monger about him. Is that clear?"
"Yes, Professor Potter," most of the students said.
Harry only heard one or two "Professor Snapes," which was better than she had hoped.
Practice continued with its usual eventfulness, and Harry was gradually able to relax, in spite of having to send two students to the Infirmary when they crashed into each other and then the ground after poorly executing the Weasley Checkmate Maneuver. The move was a variation on the Potter Rush, in which two players raced toward each other as in the Muggle game of "Chicken." In Ron's version of the move, however, the more aggressive rusher grabbed hold of the broomstick of the opposing player and forced him or her in whatever direction would do the opposing player's team the least amount of good. Ron had always targeted the strongest beater to give Harry a better chance at undisturbed snitch-hunting.
Seventh Year Quidditch was grand, Harry thought, scanning the students in the stands, as she purposefully floated a little farther away from them than was her habit so that they could pretend not to be gossiping in peace.
Later, as she was packing the equipment after practice, she realized she could expect talk from other quarters, and she began to fear for Severus' peace of mind.
If she had threatened students for their talking out of turn, what might the "ol' Slytherin" do to them?
Professor Potter shuddered to think of it.
Sitting through lunch was nerve-wracking. Not only did Harry find herself replaying in her mind the sly asides of the players from the morning's practice, she now found herself studiously ignoring the pointed references her colleagues were making about the upcoming Assembly, particularly those comments pertaining to the courtship rites. To make matters worse, Sirius, Remus, and Severus were conspicuously absent.
"I shouldn't worry about it too much, Ree," Professor Flitwick said. "It takes a bit of time to iron out the particulars."
"Beg your pardon?"
"Nothing to worry about there, to be sure. It's not as though it were a great secret. Snape is going about it in exactly the right way."
"But then, what else would one expect from our soon-to-be deputy headmaster?"
Now Harry was thoroughly confused. What was Severus going about in the "right way," and what did it have to do with his potential promotion? Before she could ask Flitwick what he meant, Professor Dumbledore placed his hand over hers to catch her attention.
"The Board has just announced the candidates for Minerva's replacement, and Severus has my full recommendation."
Harry turned to look at Albus. His expression was impassive, but she knew this subject must be difficult for him to discuss. "It was kind of them to wait this long, Headmaster."
She did not know what else to say.
"Yes, it was. And we have had many other matters to settle toward putting things to rights, haven't we?"
That was true, though Harry had not been part of the school's reorganization. Albus had spared her from administrative duties, in spite of the Ministry's desire to make public use of its greatest asset. As far as Dumbledore was concerned, Harry had done her duty, and now it was time for her to make a life for herself without having to struggle against the constraints of the expectations of others.
And she has only just begun to do that, really.
Albus knew, as Harry did not, that her physical recovery from the war had only been the beginning. Tending to her emotional scars would only occur when the young woman felt safe enough to contemplate them. In four years, the young witch had remained stubbornly blind to this necessity.
But I have seen how it begins, the old wizard thought ruefully, marveling to himself how the girl had also remained oblivious to her developing gift--a skill that would have served her well, had she cared to use it. I was not strong enough in the beginning to stop the Sight.
Of late, the wizard had not been strong enough to exercise this particular power, yet the last thing he had seen clearly was the unpleasant experience that was awaiting one of his favorite people, and this was hard to bear.
"Does Severus know?" Harry asked, interrupting Albus' thoughts.
"Yes, he is aware of my decision. He knows too that there may be some . . . objection to his taking the position; however, I intend to be most insistent on his appointment, as I'm of a mind to retire."
This was shocking news. It had never occurred to Harry that Dumbledore might leave. What will Hogwarts be like without you?
Whatever she might have said in response to the headmaster's news was forgotten as her family and her lover entered the hall and took their places at the table. The buzzing of student voices lowered slightly and then rose again as everyone's eyes turned from Professor Potter to Professor Snape and back again.
"Well, I see that everyone is behaving as they ought to do. Would you excuse me, Ree?"
Blushing, Harry nodded. She noted that Sirius and Remus were smiling broadly at her, and that Severus seemed . . . pleased, as well.
Abruptly, she rose from the table to walk toward her godfather to find out what was up, but Severus rose, too, and gestured toward the side door through which he had just entered the hall.
A loud "woah" vibrated though the chamber as Professors Potter and Snape exited quickly.
Rupert Skeeter was embarrassed by a great many things, not the least of which was his mother. His shame over her reporting practices had caused him to flee all the way to the United States to study at a university in Arkansas, not far from the home his father, Sheldon Skeeter, had made in Oklahoma upon the occasion of his divorce when Rupert was just a boy.
Neither man had made himself known to the local wizards in their new towns, and Bentonville, Arkansas, was not on the Floo Network. But a desire to remain out of society had not stopped Rupert's father from encouraging his son to return home for the Assembly.
"Look, boy, I know that your mother is a difficult woman, but she means well where you're concerned. As much as I am loathe to agree with her about anything, I think she is correct in her assessment of your love life: you need a girl to look after you."
The young man, taller than both his parents and graced with an arresting countenance, owing much to the one brilliant green eye and one deep brown eye with which he'd been plagued since an alarming childhood adventure, straightened to his full height of six feet, five inches. "Rubbish, Dad! There are plenty of girls here! I'm not lonely."
Rupert waited for an additional response, but knew it would not be forthcoming. His father had a knack for allowing other people to fill in the blanks in any conversation. It was one of the skills that made the man a successful journalist. Living as a Muggle, Sheldon Skeeter had incurred the ire of several Okie politicians after they had allowed personal information to slip through their lips in order to fill one of his disquieting silences. He was not well-liked at the state house, or in Rupert's at the moment.
"I've just graduated, Dad. I'm looking for work. My home is here. Why should I travel all the way to my old stomping grounds just to let mother try to push me into a career of her choice?"
"That's an excellent question, boy. Why should you interrupt your grand scheme for your future life and allow your family to look out for you?"
"But . . . but I don't have a 'grand scheme'. I just want to do something I'm good at!"
His father beamed at him. "Of course, you do, Rupert. Exactly. Go home, and you're bound to meet someone who shares the love of your kind of writing, someone who might be in a position to help you turn that love into a marketable skill. Spell crafting takes words, you know, and there are plenty of poets in the trade. Besides, you know you've been missing home--the Quidditch, the culture, the witches--everything a young wizard needs for his future happiness can be found at the Assembly."
"Sure, that worked for you, didn't it?"
The familiar disapproval of his father flashed across the other man's face. "I didn't raise you to be disrespectful, son."
Abashed, the young man quickly replied, "I'm sorry, Dad. That was wrong of me to say. . . . I guess that's Mum talking?"
"Hmph," Sheldon responded, feeling a little tickled, but all the same not liking that his boy would speak ill of his mother.
Rupert knew that it would be useless to cavil about the matter further. It was either go to the Assembly, which secretly did hold some not so slight appeal, or risk his mother's arriving to beard him in his den.
"All right then. I'll go."
Sheldon smiled. "That's my boy."
"If you'll go with me."
"Damnation!" That is my boy--just as tenacious as his mother!
It would not be too unpleasant, the older wizard knew. He and Rita had a routine they followed to the satisfaction of them both when they did have occasion to see one another. And they had not seen each other in a very long while.
"So long as it's a short visit, I'm for it," he agreed, chuckling.
Unnerved, Rupert ignored the possible implications of his father's low laughter.
Harry was thoroughly unsettled by Severus' odd behavior in the corridor. He had been rather restrained, pulling slightly away as she had attempted a discreet hug, and said, "I shall be at your door at seven, Professor Potter. . . . I am looking forward to our evening."
Sitting on her desk waiting for her afternoon students to arrive, Harry had her doubts. Severus didn't look like a man who was "looking forward to our evening"!
He had looked distinctly uncomfortable, withdrawing from her as he had.
Does he regret it? the witch wondered sadly. Does he regret that people are reacting to us in this way?
Fortunately, she was unable to indulge herself in her worries because class was about to start.
Where is everybody? The early birds are usually already here studying by now.
Screaming laughter issuing from the corridor answered her question.
A fight. "Oh, bollocks!" Harry exclaimed as she put on her "professor face" and went to see who had started it.
Miranda Frazier and Martin Finch-Fletchley were squaring off, wands drawn. Their peers formed a ring around the pair.
"Come on, Miranda!" Martin said. "It was only a joke. Hurting them won't find her any faster!"
"Get out of my way, Finch-Fletchley," the girl insisted coldly.
Someone well-mixed into the crowd called, "Don't take that guff from a mudblood, Martin. Let her have it!"
A crack reverberated through the hall as each student found him- or herself wandless and rooted in place.
"That kind of language is unacceptable!" Harry thundered, pushing through the frozen press of students.
None of them, of course, was able to respond, but most of them had seen that Professor Potter had bespelled them without the benefit of her wand.
"We're in for it, now!" was the single clearest thought of the crowd.
"Mr. Finch-Fletchley, be good enough to explain to me exactly what is going on."
While Martin gathered his courage to speak, Harry pulled the bespelled floating bundle of wands from the air and tucked it away into a capacious and secret pocket in her robes.
"Some of the lads were having a lark, professor, and Miran--I mean, Frazier--took offense. I thought she might hurt someone, so I was trying to stop her."
That's not like Miranda at all, Harry thought. "What was the nature of this prank, Mr. Finch-Fletchley?"
Martin looked at his feet in mortification. If he spoke of it, he would be getting his friends in two houses into trouble.
"It's Marazelle Zabini, Ma'am. Some of the kids who didn't believe her . . . her news this morning ambushed her on the way back to the castle and locked . . . and locked her into a closet."
When Professor Potter, who had gone white-faced and rigid, did not speak, Martin continued.
"When Frazier found out, she was steamed, and--"
"Enough!" Harry yelled, releasing her students from her spell. "Go directly to your common rooms and wait."
"Not you!" Harry said, seizing Martin and Miranda with invisible hands as the others fled. In a small, cold voice that promised frozen death if she was lied to, Harry asked, "Where is Marazelle, now?"
"I don't know," Miranda replied. "I was trying to hex Joseph and Carl into telling me when he," she flashed a disgusted glance in Martin's direction, "stopped me."
Harry thought quickly. Joseph Rosier was in Slytherin, and Carl Hudson was in Gryffindor. Both were "pure bloods."
"But Marazelle is, too," she murmured. Turning her attention to the two students before her, she said, "Go and control your house mates until I can deal with this situation properly."
The two students went running in opposite directions without delay as soon as they were released from Professor Potter's spell.
The moment she found herself alone, Harry vomited.
After an awful moment, she picked herself up, uttered a cleaning spell, and removed her map, quickly activating it to find that Marazelle was locked in a janitorial closet not far from Professor Firenze's classroom.
Harry willed herself to run toward the staircase in spite of how shaky she felt. She knew that she had to hurry: Blaise Zabini had told her once that his cousin was a claustrophobe.
When Harry arrived at the janitorial closet, it was to find it open, and Albus Dumbledore standing on its threshold with an hysterical Marazelle in his arms.
He surrendered the girl to Harry immediately and without comment.
"Oh, Marazelle, I'm so sorry," Harry said, trying to hold back her own tears. "This shouldn't have happened."
The sound of Professor Firenze's door opening caught Harry's attention. She did not want anyone to see the crying girl, lest she become even more embarrassed than she already was.
"Close your eyes," Albus said, laying one hand on each young woman.
Both witches did so without thinking.
When they opened their eyes again it was to find themselves hovering in the middle of a starscape, Professor Dumbledore before them.
"Amusing trick, isn't it?" asked the headmaster.
Marazelle, impressed in spite of her earlier terror and relieved to find herself in so much open space, giggled through the last of her tears.
Sometimes being a show-off has its uses.
"You did magic, Professor Dumbledore!"
"Indeed I did, young lady."
"Alb--Headmaster," Harry said, attempting to regain her professorial demeanor, "how did you manage to apparate us to the planetarium?"
"I'm surprised at you. Surely Miss Granger impressed upon you while you were a student that one cannot apparate into, out of, or within the confines of Hogwarts?"
"Miss Zabini, it's time for you to return to your common room. Be good enough to remember only that I let you out of that closet, and that you are no longer afraid of enclosed spaces."
Slowly, the girl sank to the floor, shook herself a little, and skipped out of the room.
"I wish that I might do the same for you, Ree, but I fear that your distress was not the result of a common phobia."
"It was horrid to think of her trapped like that, Albus," Harry replied, ignoring anything else the headmaster might have meant.
"I know, dear girl."
"Things aren't any better. This wasn't Gryffindor against Slytherin. This was caused by blood prejudice," Harry spat.
Dumbledore sighed and regarded Ree sympathetically. "Did you truly believe that it would all disappear after Lord Voldemort's demise? The issue of blood is an old one, and Tom exploited it for his own purposes. . . . I'm afraid that Wizarding society is as full of bigots as ever it was."
"Too bad, that," thought the watchful young man from his room. "I'm glad I'm not having the day she's having, but gods I wish I was doing something useful!"
"Is that so?" asked a rather nondescript-looking man from the boy's now-open door.
"I didn't hear you come in."
"No, you did not. I repeat, is it true that you wish to be doing something useful?"
"Yes, especially if it gets me out of this room!"
The boy offered his hand to his guest. "I'm sorry, but I don't know my name."
"Ah. Well, you may address me as Master. I shall call you Apprentice. Will that serve?"
"Actually, I don't think it will. I'd like to know who you are and what you want from me before I agree to do anything for you, if you don't mind."
"And what if I do mind?"
"Well, I guess . . . I guess we'd have to fight?"
Smiling in such a way as to expose his teeth, the man said, "Perhaps nothing so drastic as that, young lion."
Fangs! He has fangs!
"My name is Tancredo, and I am the master of this keep and of the boundary between the Wilds and your own lands. I have kept your kind safe for many generations."
"'My kind'? You mean you're not human?" Of course he's not, you git. He has fangs!
"Boy, I have not been human since Isarat put her hands on me."
Right then. Avoid anyone named Isarat. "I see."
"No, you do not. But perhaps you will in time. . . . Now then, will you join with me in protecting your world while you are trying to remember your name?"
Don't just stand there, mate. He might change his mind. "Yes, Tancredo. I will."
Amused, the vampire thought, I may have to keep this one, Godrixibus.
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