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Chapter One: The Latticework of Absence

She began in a place of battle, captivating spirits from their hosts so that those who lost them would die. At first, these wraiths writhed into a serpentine weapon that she could wield to rip through flesh. But then they asserted their individual wills and slithered everywhere. Around her. Within her. Through her. Black, blue, green, silver, gray--behind her eyes, they interfused into a miasma of fractured hues that formed a coruscating bolus of gore before bleeding into the whiteness of a scream in which drowned the echoes of voices she thought she should know.

She followed the shriek as if tracing a sharp vein of sound that jangled through her tendons and sinews. She felt confused treading on this decomposing screak. Did she walk on battered bones or sounds embattled? She knew for certain only that the fight was behind her, so she pressed ahead. Eventually, the blackened remains over which she had been stumbling dried and ground to powder under her feet, the horror-struck calls faded into an almost imperceptible hum and then were no more, and she found herself walking in a graveyard.

Only this necropolis had no markers, no mourners, no memories--the latticework of absence was its sole adornment.

Embracing the beauty of this emptiness, she stopped her progress and entered the Quiet.

There was ever the crunch of snow under her feet, yet she did not experience cold. Her bewilderment having ebbed into numbness, she felt weary without needing physical rest. In this place, nothing was expected of her, and she looked for nothing because she needed nothing. Because she asked herself no questions, her Self elected to sleep, and she became a shadow in the peace for uncounted moments.

It was when the edges of her form began to blur, began to blend into the rivulets of white that spread out from her as ripples in water, that her curiosity solidified into a coherent question:

"Who am I?"

She heard her voice sharpen even as her limbs focused, but the words fell like snowballs into the echoless void. She put other queries to her environs:

"Where am I?"

"Is there anyone out there? In here? With me?"

"Am I alone?"

The balls of thought collected at her feet as if a cairn for reminiscences never shared. She had retreated into her own tomb, one which she had carved herself, and now all it seemed she could do was create mysteries that died as soon as they were born.

Fear stabbed a hot finger through her heart; she felt it as sharpness, and it gave her courage.

"Good. I don't want softness," she said, and her vocalizations dispersed into the air, leaving no trace of themselves.

She glared down at the collected frozen queries.

"I don't want tranquility."

The snowballs melted into visible puddles, slightly blue, and further glaring caused them to boil. She smiled. As the water evaporated, the brown of muddied ground was revealed.

There was a freshness to her happiness that put her in mind of spring.

"Grass!" she shouted, as a green carpet flowed from the patch of earth she had created.

"Flowers!" she yelled, as the landscape became filled with tall stalks of lavender.

"Trees!" she commanded, and mighty trunks exploded from the earth and stretched powerful branches over her in a canopy of greens and yellows and browns.

She ran, arms outspread, laughing.

Abruptly, she stopped and hugged herself.

"This is joy," she said, "and I'm really waking up now, aren't I?"

Surveying her demesne and remembering that she was not a god, not even a little one, but not knowing for certain how she knew this, she realized her last question would be answered with a lie if she were to say yes. She could not possibly be conscious--not be so and create the strange meadow in which she found herself.

Perhaps she would find someone within these boundaries who could explain it to her.


But the echo of her own voice was her only answer.

"Well, perhaps I'd better just begin with fruit," she said quietly.

To her delight, plum-colored cherries popped by the cluster into existence all over the trees in her orchard. Trying some, she was surprised that they tasted exactly the way she thought sunshine should taste--a pure, juicy yellow.

She knew she'd need to spend some time "growing" fruit before she perfected the trick, but was not dismayed.

"I do like tomatoes, after all."

At this thought, her "cherries" transformed into golden globes, weighing the boughs so that they dipped toward her as if in offering.

"Don't tomatoes grow on bushes?"

A soft voice grated against the silence of the Infirmary, jarring Severus out of his slumber.

"Heirlooms. . . . Precious. . . . Grow on the ground. Don't fry . . . never stew them."

The Potions master had been waiting for hours to see if his latest concoction would help bring Harry back to the surface of her mind when he had begun to drift, but he had never expected that she would resume consciousness.

"Miss Potter? Harry?" he asked, grabbing her hand and squeezing it.

He received no response. Opening her eyes, he moved a candle back and forth to see if they would contract or dilate.

Nothing happened.

"Yellow Perfections? Is that what you mean?"

"Cherries shouldn't taste like sunshine. Cherries are tart."

"What about tomatoes? Harry?"

"Perfect the heirlooms. . . . Make more fruit," she mumbled before lapsing into silence once more.

"Was she just speaking?" asked Remus Lupin.

Severus looked flustered. "Can you stay with her? Remember what she says? I should make more of--"

"Snape, what did she say?"

"Tomatoes. She was talking about the kind of tomatoes we used to eat in the morning. I should get some--I should go make more of this," he said, picking up a tiny green bottle from the bedside table.

Lupin, whose attention had become fixed on the young woman's serene sleeping countenance, missed Snape's exit, but he remained with Harry for so long that at last he was joined by Sirius.

"Hey, I missed you."

Remus explained the situation, and his lover's face burst into happiness.

"This is tremendous! Maybe she's only asleep, now! Did Severus say--"

"Love, don't get ahead of yourself. Poppy said we might expect Ree to move occasionally, or speak--but this is a good sign."

"We need to talk to her. We need to--"

"Try these. Let her smell them," Severus interrupted, handing Sirius a fat yellow tomato.

The young war hero made no movement that would suggest she even knew the Yellow Perfection was being passed under her nose.

"Well, it is something. It is a start--her speaking--I had just given her another . . . purification potion," Severus explained.

Remus' face hardened. Despite the fact that he knew Ree had taken Snape's blood without realizing it was cursed--though details of said curse had not been forthcoming from either the Potions master or Dumbledore--he still wanted to blame the man for something. The depth of the girl's feelings for his old enemy--their old enemy, though Sirius seemed to have forgotten that--made him distrust the man. Sirius watched his partner warily.

"Yes, it is a start, Severus. Thank you. We both thank you for what you've done. Don't we, Remus?"

The werewolf made no answer. Whatever the Potions master had done for Harry, it had not been enough--it should not have been enough--to make the child of his heart, for such is how he had long thought of the girl, sacrifice herself for the man. He needed to hate Severus for what Ree had done. It was the only way he could bear the waiting.

Sirius sighed. "I think it's about time that we had it out, don't you?" he asked, looking into his lover's eyes.

Snape, although seemingly more collected than he had been a moment ago, glanced at Black with trepidation.

"What do you mean?"

"Don't do this, not here," Remus said, standing.

"Stop," Sirius said firmly, also rising. "Fine, let's repair to the antechamber, shall we?"

Once in the outer room, Sirius said to Snape, "Remus has developed the idiotic belief that you and my godchild were lovers, Severus."

The Potions master drew himself up stiffly and glared dangerously at the other wizards. "How--"

Sirius interrupted him. "I don't believe it. It's ridiculous--but I'd like you to put Remus' mind at ease."

"What you would like, and what I'm prepared to do to satisfy your desires, are two vastly different things, Black."

"After her letter, it's not an unreasonable assumption to make!" spat Remus.

"My . . . relationship with Miss Potter is none of your affair," Severus replied angrily.

He was not certain if he was more enraged by the accusation that he had taken advantage of Harry, for he knew that was what Lupin truly believed, or by Black's self-assurance on the score that it was impossible for the girl to have . . . esteemed him in that way. In any case, he would not humiliate himself for the comfort of either wizard, no matter that it put at risk the tenuous peace they had managed to construct over the years.

"I am most disappointed in you boys," Minerva McGonagall's precise voice cut through the black emotions swirling about the men.


"Hush!" she ordered the Potions master before turning to Remus. "Severus would no more take advantage of a child than you would, Remus Lupin. He spent a great deal of time caring for Ree when you could not, and you shouldn't allow your grief to overwhelm your common sense."

No one said anything.

"As for you, Sirius Black, I don't know why you feel it's outside of the realm of possibility that a young woman, thrown together with an older, striking, knowledgeable man with whom she has no small amount in common might develop a romantic attachment to him."

She held up her hand to prevent interruption.

"I am not saying that this occurred--Severus wouldn't have permitted it, nor would Albus or I," she lied, "but you shouldn't belittle Severus by making sly asides under the false presumption of calming your partner. You've always teased too cruelly, Sirius--too recklessly."

Black hung his head.

Minerva turned to the Potions master, saying, "And you, Severus Snape, you who should know better by now than to treat every perceived slight with vindictive verbal poison--these men are your friends! You don't employ misdirection in your dealings with your friends merely because you feel hurt by them. Remus' fear, though misguided, was grounded in some logic, after all. Ree's letter to you, her behavior toward you--not to mention yours toward her--has caused some talk. As someone who has stood in light of a parent toward the child, of course the man would want that behavior explained."

"Friends? You are calling them my friends?" Severus asked in an incredulous tone.

"If you cannot recognize a friend from an enemy at this point in your life, then Merlin help you."

"Merva," Albus Dumbledore's bodiless voice suddenly emanated, though no one seemed to hear it but the Transfiguration professor.

"It's time I was resting," she said testily. "I shall see you gentlemen later at breakfast. Do try to resolve matters amongst yourselves. Feuding professors are bad for the morale of the students."

After the witch had swept from the room, Sirius said, "Well, she still dresses a body down better than anyone--even you, Sev."

"Do not call me by that irritating diminutive."

"Now, now, friends call each other by nicknames, don't they?"

"Who says that we are--"

"Friends?" asked Remus. "I suppose it's not such a remarkable concept--I mean, in the past six months, we've been drunk together more times than I can count. We've fought together--against others--and we," he said, gesturing between himself and Sirius, "have trusted you with Ree--"

"Apparently not!"

"For years," Remus finished, as if he had not noticed the interjection. "Though, perhaps not so much, lately."

The man sighed heavily before continuing.

"I do apologize, Severus. I think the shock of what happened to her, of knowing that she had closed off part of her life to us--that we--that I couldn't help her . . . ."

I understand exactly how you feel, Lupin, Snape thought, feeling uncomfortable as the other man struggled to marshal his emotions. He allowed most of the scorn to ebb from his usual tone as he asked, "One lecture from Minerva and you realize your error?"

Unexpectedly, the werewolf laughed.

"We really are idiots, and I don't think we can truly blame it all on the . . . stress. But I apologize for my accusation. Can you forgive me for it?"

Sirius laughed at the stunned expression on Snape's face.

"Take what you can get, Severus. Remus is never wrong--at least, I've never seen any evidence of it before."

Severus snorted.

Remus glared.

Sirius clapped hands on both of them and said, "So, apologies and forgiveness all around?"

"I accept your apology, Lupin."

"Excellent!" exclaimed Black.

"But this does not mean that I consider either of you to be my fr--"

Remus extended his hand toward Severus, and said, "That's all right. We don't like you, either."

Snape took the other wizard's hand and shook it.

"Let us not reveal that fact to Minerva."

"We won't have to," Sirius replied. "Albus will tell her."

"Indeed, it seems as if Albus knows everything," Severus agreed.

Not everything, the headmaster thought, staring at Ree's prone form in the Infirmary. "I wish I could help you, dear girl. But I think it would please you to know that those closest to you are helping themselves. Perhaps this will inspire you to wake up and see the miracle of friendship for yourself?"


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