Chapter Seven: Warning Signs and Lullabies
Remus had suspected that it was too late the night he and Sirius had arrived at Snape's quarters to have their first meal cooked by Ree. He had not known if the Potions master would be joining them, or not; he had hoped so, if only to help his lover grow used to the other man's presence in his godchild's life.
"Is that fighting?" Sirius demanded as they knocked on the door to Snape's rooms.
Through the door, the sounds of an argument could be clearly heard. Remus uttered the temporary password, which Ree had given them through the fireplace barely above an hour before, and he and Sirius walked quickly toward the kitchen.
"--and if you actually measured your ingredients after ascertaining that they were the correct ones, perhaps these things would not happen!" Severus sputtered, the remains of what looked and smelled like a spiced wine sauce covering him.
Sirius would have burst into laughter but for Remus' hand suddenly clamping over his mouth.
"And if you kept your potion ingredients out of my pantry, I know they wouldn't!" Ree spat back.
"How dare you take that tone with me?"
"How dare you insist that I cook, give me the responsibility of the kitchen, and then interfere with my ingredients?"
Oh, no, thought Remus. Severus'll shred her.
"Potter!" Severus exclaimed, dabbing at his hair and coat with a dish towel, "I have already informed you many times since you tried to smother me with this middling sauce of shiraz and eggs that Blue-Bile Demon Toad claws are considered a delicacy by those chefs with the sense to make proper use of them. You clearly do not possess the skill or the temperament to work with an ingredient of this quality."
Harry's mouth had formed an angry moue, and her eyes narrowed.
"Fine then, if you don't want my cooking, don't eat it!"
She reached into her back pocket for her wand, pointed it at the pan, and yelled, "Scourgify!" before racing down the corridor to her room.
Severus started as the sound of Harry's door slamming met his ears.
Remus dragged Sirius back to the door of Snape's chambers just in time to avoid that man as he stormed down the hall to slam his own door.
"Red's a decent color on him," Sirius allowed with a mischievous smirk.
"You are an idiot."
Sirius' mood, as it often did, suddenly changed.
"He cannot talk to her that way!"
"She held her own."
"You know that we can't interfere. You said it yourself, Harry needs to learn to live with him."
Sirius sighed heavily.
"Let's take a walk and let them cool off. . . . I've always wanted to see the Slytherin common room, you know."
"Sirius . . . ."
When they returned, the scene in the kitchen was quite different.
"--just like that," Severus was telling Ree in a gentle voice, one hand over hers.
The two men watched as the Potions master guided Ree's blade over a knobby grain of Blue-Bile Demon Toad claw in the precise way needed to slice it open without allowing its outer coating to mix with its inner fibrous membrane.
"When prepared fresh, rather than used in powdered form, the explosive properties of the claws are better controlled."
"I still think that Hungarian hot paprika would do just as well."
"That is because you lack my expertise."
"Expertise? In the kitchen?"
"Easy, Potter . . . ."
"Forgive me, Professor Snape, but we'd die if not for the house elves'--or my--cooking!"
"It was unintentional!"
"Of course it was. Everyone uses poisonous herbs to make omelets."
"Fire Fax and oregano are very similar in appearance."
"Again, if you'd stop storing potion ingredients in our kitchen--"
Remus felt his lover stiffen at the "our" and braced himself for a scene.
"Good evening!" Sirius aggressively sang from the doorway. "What smells so good?"
Severus and Ree had been completely taken aback by the interruption of their guests.
Their guests, Remus thought, brooding in his own kitchen. I should have realized it sooner. I should have done something!
But he had not, and now Ree had run away because Severus had done the same.
Idiots. "This is a nightmare."
"Not quite," Sirius replied, walking into the room. "I've been to the restaurant. Tonks tells me that Malfoy hadn't time to add anything to Ree's drink. She watched him constantly."
"But where is Ree? And what was Blaise doing there? And how the hell is it that Draco Malfoy is still alive?"
"All excellent questions, Lupin. What has happened?"
Now that's exactly what I've been waiting for you to tell me, Severus.
Harry stood before an exhibit on Egyptian life in the British Museum. She was dimly aware of a tour guide answering the questions of a group of half-interested school children there on an educational excursion. The boys were shuffling their feet, the girls were giggling, and the teachers were paying more attention to the displays than to their charges.
"[Cleopatra was a Parselmouth, you know]," murmured a gentleman beside her in a sibilant whisper.
"[Indeed]," the man replied, pressing on with no further introduction, "[she spoke so elegantly that the Romans who loved her never understood that they were being cursed]."
"Have we met, Sir?" Harry asked the man, who she understood, though she was certain he was speaking in a foreign tongue.
"[And they think the witch poisoned herself by the sting of an asp, do they, these foolish Muggles? Ridiculous]."
"What's a Parselmouth?"
"[Usually a great hisser]," he replied, with a dry chuckle for Harry's confusion. "[Do forgive me. I never could resist a pun. You're an improvement, though you'll have to look a little less pale and slightly more plump if you ever hope to compare to the ancient queen herself. Well, perhaps not. She has been dead long enough that even the best mummy makers couldn't have preserved all that hennaed flesh--not that I had the privilege, you understand. I'm not that old. Oh, quite right. Perhaps I am that old. But we didn't travel quite so much in earlier days, you know]."
"Are you saying that I'm a Parselmouth?"
"[Oh, my--have you been eating the beef? I hear that's to be avoided these days]."
"[It's just that I don't know how else to explain your lack of spark--well, despite the obvious explanation, of course--and holes in the brain would do it]."
"Now you're calling me stupid?"
"[Ah! Not so spongy after all--probably the witch in you, or what's left of it--blood will out, you know. . . . Or perhaps you're merely hungry. I'm usually terribly peckish this time of day, myself. Could do with some of that beef, despite the risks]."
The room emptied and Harry edged away from the doddering old man next to her. He did not follow. He did not need to. His voice issued from her own head a moment later.
[Go home little girl].
"GET OUT OF MY HEAD!" screamed Harry, half-frantic as she realized that the old man was now nowhere in the room.
With a start, it occurred to her that the gentleman in question had been shadowing her through the galleries for weeks.
Why am I only now noticing this?
[Why, indeed? And who shall we blame for your inattention to pertinent details? Your professors? Your masters? Yourself]?
The clatter of her shoes crossing the tile sounded Harry's answer as she fled the exhibit, the museum, and then the city itself.
Riddle, Grindelwald, Grashthaten, the earlier failures--none of them would have made proper serpent food--and the latest little power house is looking decidedly unpromising, hissed a large green and black snake to itself as it slithered into a display of death masks. Why do the Dark Gods insist on gifting the unworthy with such power?
Fleeing, a memory came to Ree, one in which she was a boy.
"Where do you go?" Ron asked him.
He was lying on the other boy's bed in the dormitory, and Ron's question perplexed him.
"When you sneak out, lately--where do you go?"
Harry sat up and sucked his lower lip into his mouth a moment before answering.
"I just walk around, Ron. Can't sleep. Don't want to bother you guys. So I just walk around."
Cor, you're a bad liar, Harry "heard" the other boy think.
"That's what I thought," Ron said. "Care for a little chess before bed?"
"Nah, I'm still knackered from the new training regimen," Harry replied, concentrating.
Quidditch practice was cancelled today, Ron thought, not believing his friend. Is that what you call it? Training?
"I guess I'll have a game of Exploding Snap with Dean then. . . . Goodnight."
Harry closed the curtains around the bed before dawning her invisibility cloak. He hoped it would be enough to fool her friend when he returned to bed, but she felt Ron watching the portrait hole suspiciously as she left.
I hate lying to you, he thought. But you'd never understand about Malfoy.
The young woman stopped running. I don't think that I understand about Malfoy.
For she had just realized who the man to whom she had been speaking at the café was. But she wanted to know more about Ron.
More about myself, she thought, turning into an alley.
She needed to think.
Neville was helping Blaise to compose himself, and Ron was assiduously not noticing his training partner's distress, though he did not blame him for it. The blood was everywhere. Ron had given up his attempts to brush off the sticky bits because this only made them squish into his clothing or begin to feel almost . . . recognizable. Harry was standing by herself near the pile of bodies they had collected after Blaise had cast his unauthorized offensive spell. She was staring at the remains of two particular bodies with an expression that Ron knew pretty well by now. He joined her and laid a gentle arm around his friend.
"Where do you go?"
"Just--" Harry began sharply before stopping herself. "Just . . . inside."
"It's only killing, you know. Defense. You've done it before."
"This wasn't killing, Ron. It was butchery."
"Fifteen to four. We had to do something, or we'd be dead, and they'd still be Death Eaters."
No one had expected a fight when Master Moody had sent his alpha squad from Novitiate One to the Ministry to demonstrate their skills to various members of the new Department on Emergency Auror Development, headed by Percy Weasley.
"He'll really enjoy this," Ron grumbled--for the thousandth time in a week.
"Stow it, Weasley. Percy'll be fair," Neville insisted.
"And none of us want to hear it anymore," said Blaise.
Ree laughed as Ron flew closer to her and pulled on her brush's broom.
"I'll bet you agree with me, Harry."
Casting a surreptitious smirk in Blaise's direction, the witch flew above and back over Ron to quickly place herself behind him, and then yanked on his broom's brush.
"Hey!" Ron yelled, giving chase to Ree as she flew low and quickly away from her friends to skim the treetops beneath them.
"They're going to be seen!"
"I doubt it, Neville. The invisibility charm we cast should hold until we arrive."
"Yeah, well, they're still loud."
The masked figures had been making rather a lot of noise as they tortured a young wizard in the clearing in which Ron and the others found themselves. The surprising nature of their attack had helped the four Aurors-in-training free the young man, but his wounds had proved fatal.
"I tried to cast the Crumus charm on their brooms, not their bodies," Harry whispered in horror.
"Yeah, I know that--we all do. . . . You get that spell from your master?"
"Yes. In the old days it was a useful defense against staking."
"I imagine so," Ron replied.
"I was so angry. When these two put their hands on Blaise, I was so angry that--"
Harry stopped talking. She knew that Ron did not like or trust Blaise any more than he did Draco, but also that he thought Zabini was a tremendous improvement over the "King of Ferrets," as he called Malfoy. She knew that he had tried to be supportive, remembering how he had asked "Tall, Dark, and Disturbed" to be his battle partner. She was aware that Ron had also done this because it allowed him to keep an eye on her, for she had not been herself of late.
And this shit's not going to help her any, is it? she heard Ron think.
The young man turned his friend toward him and tilted up her head with a gentle hand.
"You listen, okay?"
"It's okay that you got mad. It's okay that you killed them. Zabini was angry, as well, and you don't fault him for his spell."
"That's because he was in control of his magic."
Harry remembered now how badly out of control her magic had been before her additional training with the Old One, and her thoughts scattered a bit before she returned to the memory she had conjured.
Ron drew Harry into an embrace, and held her until her heart stopped hammering, held her until the threat of tears had passed, held her until the medi-witches and Aurors arrived to deal with the dead and debrief the living.
None of them missed the look in Hermione's eyes as she made a perfect landing without seeing the ground, focused as she was on the tableau presented by her best friends.
Been there. Felt that, Harry heard Blaise think bitterly.
"Oh," she whispered, rubbing her arms against the chill of the evening--and the feeling of unease that she was experiencing. "How could I have missed that?"
It dawned upon Harry then that the answers she sought, and the peace for which she wished, could be better found at home.
At Hogwarts, someone else was sifting through memories and thoughts.
"Where do you go?" Ron asked Hermione. "When you die, I mean."
Screaming, the frightened young woman had missed her lover's question, Albus remembered, feeling the guilt of it, even now.
He knew that Ron felt the warmth slide along his skin in places, felt the wetness, knew that it was blood, but that the boy did not understand what he was chanting over him.
He heard Ron think, Is that music? Is it singing? I'm certain it must be . . . .
Surfacing from his memory, the wizard wondered, Do you like their song, my boy?
He wished that he could bring Ron away from the music, but it was not yet time.
"--and where you go when you sleep is a warm, safe, place of pixie peace--just so long as you don't pull their wings," Hermione crooned softly to Percy, who was nestled securely in her arms.
"Molly taught it to me. She says that it was Ron's favorite until he was old enough to understand the words."
Ree smiled. "Marazelle was telling me how horrid the garden pixies were to her before she and her cousin arrived the other day."
"Marazelle is a sweet girl, but mischievous. I'm sure she's told me before that she teased those pixies of hers. When did you see her?"
"Her cousin brought her to see the school. She's starting there in the fall."
"And what did you think of Blaise Zabini?" Hermione asked, laying the baby in his crib and turning to lead her friend quietly out of the nursery.
The little cottage in Hogsmeade that the young haruspex had rented for herself was snug, dry, and close to the home of Evie Toadhopple, the witch from whom she was receiving the last of her divination training.
No one ever mentioned the fact that it overlooked the spot in which Ron had died.
The two friends sat down and Hermione summoned tea.
"He's very charming," Ree replied guardedly.
"I used to date him, didn't I?"
"'Date' is really an insufficient term in this case."
"Merlin knows I hate not knowing! It's like wandering about in a fog!" Ree exclaimed, wondering if she should tell her friend about her memories, which seemed to rise unbidden--and in which she thought she might lose herself.
Sometimes, it felt as if she were two places at once, and the witch was not sure how to deal with the odd, frightening feelings this situation engendered in her.
The sound of Percy fretting could be heard in the next room, and Hermione made to rise from her chair.
"No--please. I'll go. I'm the one who unsettled him."
Leaving Hermione to her tea, Ree wrapped Percy into a blanket and lifted him onto her shoulder.
He drooled in greeting.
"Where does all your spit come from?"
Percy burped his reply.
"Oh, gods! What is Hermione eating? Don't worry, Butter Tummy--I don't blame you," Ree told the baby, turning him so that he lay across her left arm.
She sat down in the rocker and considered him in the soft light of the baby-safe, no-drip, odorless, candles that floated sparsely about the room. It was a source of unexpected comfort to be holding a baby, and she had spent as much time with baby Percy of late as was possible.
The fluttering of light lashes over sleepy blue eyes was the only response she received, which suited the amnesiac just fine.
When Ree was certain he was asleep, she placed the baby back into his bed, trying not to touch the bird mobile that floated above their heads.
"Sleep tight," she whispered, certain now that he would.
But the sound of bird song and baby giggle reached her at the threshold of the door, and turning, Ree saw Percy kicking the feathered, spinning, chirping toys with enthusiastic and chubby feet.
"Naughty boy! It's past time for you to be dreaming!" she admonished in amusement as she noticed a feather floating to the floor.
Kneeling to pick it up, she glanced at Percy through the slats of his crib only to find that he was gazing directly at her as if he wanted to communicate something of dreadful import.
"Waiting," she breathed, feeling hot and panicked and cold and prickly.
Just as she managed to stand, Harry's memories welled up around her from the void in which they had hidden themselves with such force that she thought she would drown in them, and then the shock of sudden enlightenment plunged her into darkness.
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