Chapter Eleven: Learning the Consequences
"Dobby?" Harry asked sleepily as she woke at dawn to the sounds of the house elf building up the fire.
The witch had slept in her chair, and the sense of emotional numbness that had prevented her from leaving it to go to her bed after Albus had left her had lifted enough so that she could appreciate the soreness of both her heart and her body.
"Harry Potter is awake," the house elf said tartly.
"Don't house elves ever sleep?"
Wiping his hands and turning to look at the witch, he replied only, "Yes, yes, house elves sleep, Harry Potter."
He's mad at me, she realized, straightening in her chair to observe her friend closely. "Are you all right?"
"Harry Potter has become a very powerful wizard," the elf spat.
"You aren't all right, are you?" Could my spell have . . . harmed him in some way?
"Yes, yes, very powerful," was his only response.
Harry stood up, very worried now. "Dobby, please tell me what I did to make you angry."
The diminutive being shrank a little from the witch, his ears quivering with an unidentifiable emotion.
"You're not afraid of me, are you?"
"Dobby is thinking that Harry Potter may wants herself a new house elf since Harry Potter does not trust her Dobby. Yes, yes, and maybe she would not like any elves at all!"
"What do you mean? You're not 'my' elf!"
"Dobby knew it!"
"You're your own elf, Dobby! My friend! I don't know why--"
The elf hopped up on the mantle over Harry's hearth so that he could look the witch in the eye, his usual eager expression now one of wary discontent. "Dobby is not having many wizard friends, Harry Potter, but Dobby is not stupid! Dobby is knowing that friends is trusting each other always!"
Oh, no! Harry thought, understanding at last what the elf was indignant about. Apparently, one can't obliviate house elves.
"Milkie is furious at the 'Malkinniny' man she is working for, Harry Potter. Milkie is asking for a Hogwarts' job, she is. But Dobby is not knowing if even Milkie will serve the great and powerful Harry Potter after what Harry Potter is doing to Dobby and the other house elves," he said quickly, pacing back and forth along the mantle.
"Let me explain, plea--"
Large, unshed tears were welling up at the corner of the elf's eyes as he stopped to regard the witch, and seeing how much she had hurt the loyal being stilled Harry's tongue.
"But Dobby will ask, Harry Potter. He is knowing someone is needing to look after even very powerful witches."
"Do the others know?" Harry asked, thoroughly ashamed of herself.
Some of the house elf's ire faded as he saw how upset his tirade had made his favorite person. "They is not knowing, Harry Potter. They is too dear to Dobby to be knowing. Milkie is free. Dobby is free. We is knowing, and only we is knowing."
"I'm sorry for what I did, Dobby. I was only trying to protect Remus."
"Yes, yes, Dobby is knowing that--Dobby is wanting that, too. But Dobby is not serving the great Harry Potter any longer. Dobby is thinking he likes to be trusted. Milkie is going to be serving Harry Potter, or Harry Potter is going to be serving her own great and powerful self! Dobby is not wanting the other elves to have Harry Potter's kind of friendship!"
With that, the sad and wrathful little being vanished from Harry's chambers.
The witch sank heavily back into her chair, wondering how she was going to survive the rest of the day.
Sirius woke with a start and flung himself off of the unmade bed. "Remus?" he called.
"What?" growled a voice from the next room.
"Remus!" Sirius cried, running into the sitting room and slipping ungracefully on the papers that still littered the floor. "Ouch!"
His lover favored him with a balefully look before flipping over to face the back of the sofa. "You ought to try walking," he said grumpily, trying to Sirius, who was sprawled on the floor.
The other wizard picked himself up and approached the sofa cautiously. "I ought to try apologizing," he said emphatically, leaning over Remus and touching his shoulder.
Sirius chuckled softly and pushed the recumbent man over a bit with his hip as he joined Remus on the sofa. "I apologize, love. I was totally out of line last night."
"Try harder, you loutish beast," Remus whispered, snuggling a little against his lover's body in spite of himself.
Sirius bent down to kiss Remus' neck, nipping at it playfully. "I'd love to," he said, breathing the words over the rising indentations in his lover's flesh.
But the other wizard was not to be placated so easily. He pulled away from Sirius, sat up, and staggered off the sofa, a bit unclear about the events following their spat, but sure of one thing. "It's always about sex with you, isn't it?" he groused, pulling down his jumper and glaring down at the other man.
"Don't be like this, Remus. I said I was sorry!"
"It's a nice change, but it doesn't explai--"
"Love?" Sirius asked, following Remus' gaze to the little table situated by the attached foyer of the sitting room. A goblet of Wolfsbane Potion was sitting atop it.
It was undrunk.
"Oh, Merlin!" the two wizards said in a tandem exhalation.
How is it possible? Remus thought, feeling a cold finger of horror trace his spine.
"You didn't take your potion?"
"I didn't take my potion. But how . . . how?" Remus asked, unable to form his racing thoughts into a coherent expression.
Suddenly, Sirius was holding him so tightly that he found it difficult to breathe. "It's all right, love. It must be all right. You're here, aren't you?"
But the werewolf was unconvinced of the soundness of the situation. Snape's potions had improved his response to his transformation to an amazing degree--
"But I still have to change."
"Well, maybe you did, but there was enough left-over potion in your system to let you control yourself."
"No, Sirius. It doesn't work like that," Remus said faintly. He broke away from his lover to regard him solemnly. "We need to check the . . . castle."
Without further discussion, the two wizards rushed from their rooms.
Viktor Krum was not usually a nervous man, but on this particular Wednesday morning, he found himself deeply concerned as he made his way toward the home of Hermione Granger.
I am fooling myself, he thought. Aren't I?
He and the medi-witch had been getting along splendidly, and Percy doted on his "Unky Krum," but Hermione had never responded in kind to his romantic overtures. She stubbornly treated his regard as if it were only a friendly consideration on his part, despite his every attempt to impress upon the witch how much he loved her.
As the Assembly drew closer--it was to begin the first of the new year--Viktor had been thinking that he might persuade Hermione to attend the festivities with him--the Courtship Rites in particular. If only she could see how well we would suit, perhaps then she would--he stopped his thoughts as he reached the door to Cottage Granger, as the locals referred to his intended's home.
Viktor often breakfasted with the witch and her son before going to Hogwarts where he had been assisting Madame Pomfrey since the end of his apprenticeship to her. He did not require the income he received as Poppy's assistant, or from his remuneration as the school's flying instructor, but he enjoyed the atmosphere of the castle very much--and working there gave him an excuse to be near the woman he loved.
Childish laughter broke his reverie--adult childish laughter--as well as the familiar giggle of young Percy. Damn! Viktor cursed inwardly. Fred and George are here. The Weasley Twins had always been civil enough to him, but the medi-wizard knew that they disapproved of his attentions to their brother's "would-have-been" wife. Perhaps I should go.
"Viktor?" Hermione asked tiredly from behind him.
"Vhat are you doing out here?" the wizard asked, as the witch, whose darkened eyes peered out from under and unusually untidy mass of curls that spilled out of her pointed red hat, walked up to stand in front of him on her little porch.
"I was called out early this morning. Haven't you heard? There was a vampire attack at the Shrieking Shack last night. Alastor Moody--"
"Is dead, and the Aurors found two wounded victims near the Toll Booth, as well."
"Zhat is dreadful! Are zhey all right?"
Hermione sat down on the swinging bench she had hung to rock Percy to sleep when he was a baby and sighed. "Yes, thank the gods. John Coachman was a little shaky, but he and his passenger, a rather rough-looking man named Erasmus, managed to fight off the creature with eldritch sticks. I patched them up, and they'll be fine."
Viktor sat down next to the witch. "You seem upset, zhough. Vhat is it?"
Hermione snorted. "Besides the fact that there was a bloodsucker in my town last night?" she asked through a tight smile.
"You saw somethink in zhe blood, did you not?"
"Yes, I did, and I don't understand it."
"Images of monsters--not vampires--and they were everywhere."
"Vhat do you mean, 'everywhere'?"
Hermione gazed at her friend through worried eyes. "Viktor, these creatures, they were here, in Hogsmeade."
Luna Lovegood was overwhelmed by the sheer volume of owls that had been arriving at her office of the Quibbler since just after dawn when the first run of the paper had gone out. Her father said that response to an article had not been this intense since the story they had run defending Harry Potter and confirming the reappearance of Lord Voldemort years ago.
I'm glad I wasn't around to see that nightmare, the ombudswitch thought fervently as yet another owl bag of responses was delivered to her from the mail room by four bedraggled-looking brown birds. She checked her self-pity at once, however, for her day was going to be a pleasant dream in contrast to what awaited Ree Potter and Severus Snape.
Perhaps the vampire incident will draw some of the interest away from what happened at the Gryphon's Foote, Luna hoped. But glancing down at the rigid smile of Professor Snape as he tapped Draco Malfoy's shoulder--over which Ree's pained face was clearly visible--Luna knew that she was wrong.
Albus sighed heavily over his toast at the High Table. The students were chattering discontentedly to themselves about the lack of mail delivery. I'm going to have to make an announcement, he told himself resignedly. Glancing at the other professors, most of whom received their mail in their rooms, he knew that the scandal involving Professors Potter and Snape was already common knowledge.
Professor Sprout caught Albus' eye and raised one curious eyebrow.
Oh, very well, Pomona, the headmaster thought in irritation. He rose to address the students. At least Harry and Severus are not here to hear this. "Good morning, children."
The interested silence that rolled over the students' tables to the teachers' hit Albus as a wall of "Well?"
"I realize that you may be wondering about the lack of mail this morning," he continued, furiously trying to decide what to say.
It was then that Severus Snape arrived through the staff door to take his seat. Albus felt his eyes slide quickly to Harry's empty chair--there was not even a plate before it, oddly enough--before turning to look at the headmaster expectantly.
"There was an unfortunate event last evening."
Albus paused. He wanted to gauge the Potions master's reaction to his words. The man remained perfectly composed in both posture and mind, betraying no response to the announcement. Except that something untoward has passed between himself and Harry, Albus thought, increasingly concerned. So much depended on the union between his two favorite people. He was well aware of the news of Severus' argument with Draco Malfoy, but he still did not know about what the disagreement had been. Abruptly, he decided not to remind the students not to gossip about the affairs of others, as had been his tentative plan. It will only make the situation worse.
"A vampire attacked Alastor Moody and two others in Hogsmeade last night, and I am sad to report that Master Moody did not survive his injuries."
The Great Hall erupted with the sounds of student exclamations.
"Please be silent!" Albus thundered.
The clamor ceased at once.
"It is highly unusual for such creatures to enter inhabited settlements without the express consent of the Unit on Non-Magical Creatures, as some of you may be aware. This being was, unfortunately, destroyed before it could be identified. A necessary step, given the circumstances, as our own Defense Against the Dark Arts mistress reported to Ministry officials after killing it."
The students burst into riotous applause to laud Professor Potter's heroism.
"But because of the lack of identification of the creature," Albus continued, "there is some cause for concern. It may not have been the only vampire to enter the town."
The implications of this information quieted the students again, allowing the clatter of the Potions master's chair to reverberate in the hall.
"Because of this state of affairs, I believe it would be the wisest course to cancel all outdoor activities until such time as the Ministry has completed its inquiry into the matter."
The headmaster paused long enough to permit the expected grousing of the students to this unwelcome news.
"I do not believe it will take long for the necessary search to be made, but until I hear from Blaise Zabini, the new master of Novitiate One and the liaison between the Department of Auror Activities and Hogwarts' Board of Governors, I am afraid that any trips into Hogsmeade must be canceled, and--" Albus announced loudly, "all students who are required to attend classes in outlying buildings will be escorted to them by their professors. You will please await your instructors in the entrance hall of the castle precisely ten minutes before classes are due to commence. That is all," he concluded, giving a signal for the mail to be flown in.
As the Daily Prophet found its way to the tables, the students promptly forgot their dismay and began gossiping furiously about the other goings on of Professor Potter. Watching the excited chattering children, Albus found himself wondering why Dobby had neglected to provide Harry with any tableware.
Perhaps he knew that she would not be coming to breakfast this morning.
In spite of his concern about Harry's involvement in the disquieting events of last evening, Albus found that he could hardly blame the witch for absenting herself from the initial flurry of speculation about the recent turn of events in her life.
--so stupid, Harry was thinking as Sirius and Remus paced her main room in distress. What have I done?
"Thank Merlin that no one was harmed," Remus was saying as his partner tried to comfort him. "But I simply don't understand how this is possible!"
Harry was relieved that she had changed her clothing before her god- and heartfathers had arrived. It wouldn't do to give them anything else to worry about. Although she very much wanted to question them about the Courtship Rites, she felt unable to do so when considering the cock-up she had made of her attempts to protect them.
A knock interrupted the scene of fretful pondering.
"Harry, open this door!"
Severus. . . . Shit!
"I'll get it," Sirius said.
Harry leapt to her feet. "No! . . . No. I will. Why don't you two go into the kitchen and put the kettle on? We'll all feel calmer after some tea."
Remus did not demur, but Sirius cast a suspicious eye upon his godchild as if only just noticing her state of mind.
BANG, BANG, BANG--"Open this door, now, or I'll--"
Harry crossed the floor and opened the door while forcefully gesturing toward the kitchen for Sirius' benefit, and the wizard hurried off, suddenly realizing that things had taken an unexpectedly bad turn between Harry and Severus.
He just missed the Potions master pushing into the room and grabbing Harry by the shoulders.
"Are you all right? What happened last night? Why were you in Hogsmeade? How is it possible that--"
"Please let go of me, Professor Snape," Harry said quietly, hating herself as the cold words left her mouth.
"As you wish, Professor Potter," the man replied with stiff formality. "Forgive my . . . intrusion, but I felt--"
"Please come in, Sev--Professor--I'm sure you have questions about the incident, and it seems I have something to ask of you, as well."
Neither professor noticed the other occupants of the rooms pressing themselves against the far side of the kitchen door, or the long, skinny, pink ribbon that snaked its way across the floor toward the hearth as they sat down.
"Where did you get Extendable Ears?" Remus whispered to Sirius.
"Confiscated 'em," the other wizard replied, raising an eyebrow toward the door. "Shh!"
Severus broke the awkward silence first. There were many things that he wanted to ask Harry, but he was uncertain of his footing, and decided that the most obvious question was the most secure way in which to begin their discussion.
"How did it happen?"
Gods, I hope you mean Hogsmeade, Harry thought. "I was flying--clearing my head--I found the vampire just after it had killed Master Moody. I trust you know the rest?"
Severus bridled. "No, I do not. How is it possible that a vampire could be--" but here, he stopped himself. Harry did not know how he had come to bear the "gift" of vampiric blood, and he was not about to betray Rosmerta. Damnation! he thought. I never told her that I no longer bear the taint in my blood!
"I don't know anything more than the fact that I toasted the vampire and reported Moody's murder, Professor."
Harry hoped that this would satisfy the man. She did not believe he realized that Rosmerta was a vampire, and she was not about to betray the publican. Especially after she . . . she . . . "She's the one, isn't she?" the witch demanded, suddenly drawing a conclusion that she felt would have been obvious to her but for the other distressing events of the previous evening.
She knows! Severus thought, alarmed.
"'She's the one', what?" Sirius asked Remus, whose face had suddenly hardened.
"Listen," his lover admonished him.
Harry stood and stared down at Severus. "How could you allow that woman to--"
"I hardly think," Severus said harshly, also rising, "that you are in a position to lecture me about the hazards of blood magic!" Much better, the wizard thought as his words caused Harry's mouth to snap shut.
"Oh, that's disgusting!" Sirius hissed to Remus, who clapped a hand over his mouth.
"Forgive my intrusion," Harry spat. "I'm certain you have your reasons for permitting the pollution of your bo--"
"My body is no concern of yours!" Snape spat back, truly angry now. "I apologize for burdening you with my concern over yours."
"Apology accepted!" yelled Harry, stepping closer to the man and putting her foot down on something that squished.
"Agh!" screamed Sirius and Remus in unison from the kitchen in response to the loud crackling that issued from the ear piece they had been holding between themselves.
Severus dove nimbly toward Harry's left foot and grabbed the eavesdropping device before the witch could register what he was doing, but the man noticed with something close to wry pride that she had reflexively drawn her hand back and up as if to unsheathe her sword.
"Bloody pranking Gryffindors!" raged the wizard, yanking hard on the cord of the Extendable Ears and drawing his wand to point it at the kitchen.
"Duck!" called Harry, throwing herself on top of the kneeling wizard and knocking him to the floor.
The freezing hex that he had cast shot wide, striking the ceiling over the door and causing a cascade of pebbles to rain down on the corner of the room.
"Damn it, get off me!" Severus demanded, as Harry rolled him onto his back and pinned him by grinding her hips into his.
The two professors were pierced on each other's shocked gazes, locked in mid-struggle when Sirius and Remus opened the door and stepped warily into the room in astonishment.
Surveying the scene, Remus placed a restraining hand on Sirius' wand arm and put his own away. "We'll just continue our chat another time then, shall we?" he inquired rhetorically, pulling his lover across the room toward the door with a strength he seldom employed.
The call of the kettle shrieked over the creak of the closing door, and Remus and Sirius collapsed into a pile of helpless, relieved laughter in the otherwise quiet corridor.
"Oh, gods! I'm glad she lives so far away from everyone else!" Sirius gasped, rolling over his lover to set a silencing charm on Harry's chambers for good measure.
He was not alone in having recognized the signs of the onset of an exercise of mythic reconciliation, either, for Remus had also cast a privacy spell of sorts.
"What was that?" Sirius asked.
Remus grinned wider. "Let's just say that it's a variant on the kind of spell that had to have been used to hide Severus' quarters the other day. I did a little research after the incident. Now, no one will disturb those two until they're ready to be found."
Sirius pulled himself up off of the stones and offered his hand to his lover. "Come on, let's go inform Dumbledore of the change in Harry and Severus' . . . schedule."
They were still laughing when they reached the headmaster's office.
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