Chapter Eight: Growing Up and Other Options
"Potter," a voice said over her. "Potter."
Harry felt herself being shaken, though not roughly.
"Merlin, Potter. Are you just going to lie there?"
When she opened her eyes, both the orchard and the boy were familiar to her.
"Neville, you're yourself again! Why?"
"It's nice to see you, too--what am I saying? No, it isn't. . . . . Really, Harry, you've got to stop doing this to yourself."
"What are you talking about? Oh, gods!" she exclaimed as she realized and remembered several things at once.
Cedric, he forgave me; there's a Parselmouth in the British Museum; I'm a godmother; Hermione was a haruspex; Severus is . . . some kind of vampire; they think I killed Lucius Malfoy; Draco is alive; Professor McGonagall is dying; and Ron . . . Ron's dead. "No, no, no, no," Harry chanted, curling up into a protective ball and attempting to push her thoughts away.
A pretty, faded looking lady with kind eyes walked out of a dwelling of gingerbread and thatch and sought the form of a tall, frightened-looking young man. He was clutching a candied post, glaring at it as it slowly took on rough bark over its red stripes.
Childhood never lasts as long as it should. "It's the pain that makes it difficult to reach her, son."
"I can't just watch her writhing like that, Mum. I've got to do something! Couldn't we try and find--"
"I told you to leave that idea alone. . . . Was it easy for you to watch your father and me suffer? Do you imagine what it would be like for the Potters to see their child like this?"
Neville lowered his head in shame and desperation.
"She's my friend. I can't abandon her. I won't abandon her."
"There are those who might help us beyond the Veil, but you risk losing yourself in undertaking the journey."
A flock of black birds abruptly descended around the young man. There were hundreds of them, and they all had hard, glittering, intelligent eyes.
"I'll have something better than breadcrumbs to help me find my way back to you, I think. Which direction is Out?"
Draco had refused to allow him to visit Malfoy Manor, but at least Blaise knew where the other wizard was staying.
Not that it really mattered, anymore.
"When I took your arm, I thought you'd finally understand that you could trust me completely," he read silently to himself. "No, that won't do. Damn it!"
"Perhaps, my Blaise, you should see him in person rather than littering the floor with these inadequate attempts to say what you mean. . . . What do you mean?"
"To reassure him of my friendship, Rosmerta, nothing more," he answered without looking away from the parchment in front of himself. I almost mean that.
The publican smiled bitterly and placed her hands on her lover's shoulders before saying, "Nothing more, Blaise."
Nothing was more erotic for Blaise than the sound of a beautiful voice lowered in a tone of threatening jealousy.
He abandoned his letter writing in favor of a more immediate activity.
Hermione had not known anything was wrong until Evie Toadhopple had shown up at her door and rushed to Percy's room.
"I had a vision--a visitation--hurry!" the witch told her as she rushed past the new mother. Half a breath later, they were levitating Harry to the sofa in the parlor.
"The first thing we should do is find the Beginning," Evie said.
"With a capital "b," dear. Beginnings are, in general, very important--critical, one might say--but the Beginning--which is different for each subject, but still the same sort of moment for everyone--is that shocking point of departure when one has realized that it is all now Different, and it is from that point that life takes a turn, precisely because all is now Different."
"Different with a capital "d"?
Evie smiled as her acolyte seemed to grasp the clarity of her explanation with perfect understanding, and said, "Exactly, dear."
"And for Harry, that moment would be waking up as a girl?"
"Let's find out, shall we?" the more experienced haruspex asked, placing her right hand on the prone witch's forehead, and her left hand over the girl's heart.
A woman was shrieking. She thought it might be Madame Pomfrey.
"--did this to you, child?" was all she managed to catch of the yelling.
I don't know, Harry thought, lying very still under soft covers. She tried to focus on what she knew without opening her eyes. She was certain that once she opened her eyes, Gryffindor was in for negative house points.
There was a really good smell emanating from the soft blankets--sort of like Earl Grey tea--and this was complemented by notes of bay--and something sharper and less defined.
She liked it.
The door closed and then, almost as quickly, it opened again, bringing with it a completely familiar voice.
"Oh, no! Harry, no!"
Is it really that bad?
Sirius was screaming about how it was that he now had a goddaughter, and then she remembered.
It really was that bad.
The angry sound of Professor Snape's voice grew louder as he moved from the outer room into . . . his room, Harry realized with a start. Merlin has a sick sense of humor.
"Black, if you insist on having hysterics, pray do so away from the child."
I am not a child! Harry thought, stiffening in indignation as the general mood descended into chaos.
Oh? asked a voice in her head. What are you then, an ogre?
Maybe that would have been better, Professor Snape, she thought back.
"Don't be so dramatic, Potter."
Albus had almost finished his tale when the images had begun to pull his focus from entertaining Minerva.
"Really, Albus, that's quite a tale."
"But Minerva, my dear, you do believe me, don't you?"
"I expect that I will believe you. Eventually," the witch said primly. "It's a lot to take in, you know."
"Indeed, I have often felt it so," the man replied, trying to repress his concern for Harry, Severus, and many others.
"Yes, my love?"
"What happened to Salazar Slytherin?"
But before he could explain that, his lover fell asleep.
Severus' potion has done her a world of good, Albus thought, as he left Minerva.
He needed to speak to the haruspices before going to see Severus, who he knew would probably blame him for Ree's current condition, as well as everything else. But after his visit to Hogsmeade, Albus elected to have Hermione contact Severus.
I'll speak to him tomorrow.
It was the next evening, however, before the old wizard found the time to visit the Potions master.
"You mustn't overtax yourself," he admonished Severus as he entered that wizard's laboratory.
"Headmaster," Snape acknowledged, without turning away from his cauldron.
"Miss Toadhopple has informed me that all proceeds smoothly with Ree's memory reintegration."
"Thank you for keeping me informed."
"Come now, my boy, why not go to her?"
"Albus, with respect, I do not require your assistance to sort out my affairs."
I'll leave that comment alone. "Of course not, but--"
"Forgive me, but the next part of this potion requires my full concentration. If you would spell the door locked as you leave, I would be grateful."
Feeling unneeded and rather put-out, Albus returned to his rooms. It's not as though I wished to meddle, anyway.
Fawkes gave a reassuring chirrup before bursting into flames.
Quite right, old fellow. Quite right.
A memory burst into Severus' mind like one of the big, bubbles popping in the cauldron over which he was standing.
He was a boy, and his Granny Jasper was visiting. Severus loved his granny because, although she was contrary and quick to anger, she always had interesting stories to tell--stories that she deigned to tell him--and what was more, she always taught him something new about magic. Severus loved magic. He could not wait to be a grown-up wizard.
He saw himself rubbing his left eye as he sat curled up in one of the large leather chairs by his hearth. He was reading Quidditch through the Ages, which his granny had brought him. He had thought that there was nothing so noble as a Quidditch player when he was a boy.
He remembered promising himself that he was going to do great things, and knowing that he could because his granny told him he would, but then he had fallen into a deep sleep; beatings had always made him tired.
Some hours later, he had awoken to the cold air and freezing worry that something was wrong. Granny had not come to kiss him good night. She always did that when she was visiting.
In spite of the risk, the boy had decided that he would go to his grandmother's room and see to her.
Seven is too old to be worried about a beating, he remembered himself thinking.
There were raised voices just on the other side of her door--Granny Jasper's and his father's.
"You will not tell me how to rear my son in my own home, old woman!"
"Darling, please don't--aah!"
"Lay hands on your wife, do you? Lay hands on your son? You are a coward and no wizard."
"I am the head of this family, and you will respect that fact!"
Granny Jasper threw back her head and laughed. "The power in this family flows from the loins of women, pater," she spat with some vehemence, "and the right to wield it may only be retained at their sufferance."
"You can do nothing to me, and you know--"
Severus opened the door and was watching wide-eyed as his father began to turn a curious shade of purple.
"Rotten. You are rotten in your core, just as was my own useless man--choke on yourself," Granny Jasper said, turning to Trillare. "I don't know what your excuse is, girl, but if you cannot protect your own children, stop having them."
His mother said nothing.
"Son," the old witch said, turning to glare at Severus' father, "I want you to understand that I will always love you, but I can no longer trust you to handle our family's affairs. Purgare!"
Purge? Severus thought, feeling concerned and then fascinated as a stream of darkly colored smoke issued from his father's mouth while that man struggled ludicrously to grasp the wisps.
Granny Jasper waited until the magic had been completely drawn by her wand, and then placed that instrument in her mouth, inhaled sharply, and took into herself every last trail of vapor. And then her eyes fell on her grandson.
"Boy! It's not polite to linger at doors. Get yourself off to bed!"
Severus ran to his room and threw himself under the covers. He waited, frightened, sad, and bewildered, for his grandmother to come kiss him goodnight.
It had been dawn when he realized that it was his fault that Granny Jasper had left without saying goodbye. She hates rudeness. I shouldn't have eavesdropped. Maybe if I had written her a letter of apology, she would have come back, the Potions master thought, ignoring the tears that stung his eyes.
"Cauldron fumes," he whispered hoarsely, feeling lost.
Granny Jasper never told anyone where she was going. She just went away.
She's always gone when I need her.
At that moment, not everyone was wishing to see absent family.
I don't care who she is, I will not allow her to breeze in whenever she wishes it. Protocol ought to count for something at the Ministry.
"Mrs. Zabini was most firm in her desire to speak with you, today, Shacklebolt. And I cannot imagine why you would be so rude as to make a lady wait."
"Secretary Croakes, I hardly see why I should interrupt my schedule for--"
"Evidence concerning the Lucius Malfoy affair?" asked a hard, cultured voice from the doorway.
I hate you. I truly despise you. Gods, you look well.
"Madame, please--" began Croakes.
"Good afternoon, Mrs. Zabini. What evidence?"
The lady handed the Auror an envelope, but he did not take it.
Insulting as ever, I see.
"Come now, Shacklebolt. There is no reason to be rude."
"Thank you for dropping by, sir," the wizard said with a pointed look at his colleague.
When the irritated, rabbity gentleman had left, Shacklebolt indicated the envelope in Mrs. Zabini's hand, and then the desk, with his eyes. She smiled generously, and slid several flat sheets of parchment from the sheath.
"Kingsley, you always were over-cautious."
An attribute that being married to you helped me to develop rather quickly, he thought, pointing his wand at the documents and murmuring a quick incantation before replying, "I note that you've retained the envelope, Zoroastrid."
"One never knows when one might need such a thing, does one?"
"And you assure me that it's perfectly harmless."
"Do read those at your leisure. I'm certain they'll be of interest to you," the lady replied as she was leaving.
If only she didn't own the building, Shacklebolt thought grimly, annoyed with himself for how much pleasure he took in watching the sway of his ex-wife's body as she waltzed easily away from him.
Their marriage had only lasted the six months following their Hogwarts' graduation, but Kingsley knew he would never get over Zoroastrid. He was, however, pragmatic enough to realize that the consistent application of booze and business were invaluable aids in getting on with things.
He spat a good sixth of his bottle across his desk as the words on the parchment formed meaning for him.
Harry Potter is innocent.
Of course she is, Albus thought before shifting his perspective.
Harry Potter needed help, she did. That Dobby knew to a certainty. She was moping all the time. She did not eat. She hid in her room. He did not like it. It would not do.
"Good morning, Harry Potter," the house elf said with loud cheer. "It is breakfast time, and you will eat what Dobby has brought you, yes?"
The girl sat on her bed, hugging her knees to her chest. Dobby had noticed that she tried to hide it, but he could not think why. As witches' chests went, Harry Potter's was quite normal. He did not think she should hide it. Of course, that was none of his business.
Oh, but Dobby is about to interfere, and perhaps Dobby should--no! Dobby must, he thought, angry with himself for almost weakening. Harry Potter needed his help, and Dobby was going to give it to her.
"Try a little cake, Harry Potter? Please? Winky made it special for Harry Potter, and Dobby has brought it to you."
This wasn't a lie. Winky had seemed keen to help Harry Potter, and had been pleased when Dobby had suggested it. "Now you is being a proper house elf, is Dobby," she had said.
Dobby hoped Winky would not take to her bottle again when she realized the truth.
Harry smiled weakly and took a piece of cake.
"I'll just have a few bites," she said.
"One is all you need."
"What?" Harry asked suspiciously, her mouth already full.
Repressing an urge to throw himself into the fire, Dobby smiled.
As the witch swallowed the bit of cake, the larger piece in her hands transformed into her broom. She stared at it in confusion.
"Oh, Harry Potter!" exclaimed Dobby. "Yes, yes! You should ride your broom!"
Harry tried to drop the Firebolt, but it would not fall. "What did you do, Dobby?"
"Dobby thinks the icing may be sticking. But you is a good rider, Harry Potter," and with that, the house elf popped out of the room.
His going was followed by the simultaneous opening of every door in Severus' suite and the rising of the broom. Harry had to climb onto it quickly when she realized it was either do that or be dragged, and soon she found herself flying through Hogwarts at top speed.
"I say!" called Sir Nicholas. "It's good to see you about, Potter!" he said when she flew through him.
Harry could not respond. It was enough just to clutch her broomstick and pray she did not lose Gryffindor every house point it had so recently earned in the new term. And then she found herself in the Great Hall.
Just in time for lunch. In front of everybody.
"Suspendo!" ordered Professor McGonagall after the girl had circled the room several times. "What is the meaning of this, Potter?"
As the broom came to an abrupt halt, and then slowly lowered her to the ground, the students in the hall burst into amazed applause.
Harry stood before the teacher's table feeling both exhilarated and sickened.
That's it. It's House Elf Pie tonight. . . . Unless I'm wrong and it's Curried Seeker, she thought as she felt Professor Snape's disapproval rolling in a dark wave in her direction.
It's amazing to see how much his behavior toward her has changed, thought Albus, as he returned his full attention to Minerva.
She was awake again and complaining about the food.
"I don't see why we have to eat such spicy food, Albus. Wouldn't you prefer a lovely plate of simple mutton and potatoes?"
"My dear, I believe it will hurt the house elves' feelings if you don't at least try it."
"Well, I certainly wouldn't want to upset the ruddy house elves, now would I?"
"Merva, I believe you're feeling better!"
"Perhaps I am," she said, fondly patting the hand he had lain next to her.
The wizard was so happy at his lover's improvement that his thoughts were difficult to control. He fought with himself to remain in his true present, however, for he was beginning to realize that the world did not actually require his interference in order to continue to spin.
Evie won't know exactly what's happening to the girl, but she'll be better able than I would be at this moment in helping Harry to sort it out for herself. . . . It's not as though a scroll of instructions comes with the Gift.
"Albus, are you listening to me?"
"Of course, Minerva."
"Well, it doesn't look like it."
"Yes, dear," he teased, purposefully looking as abstracted as possible.
"Infuriating man!" Minerva scolded, though her eyes crinkled merrily. "Pass the curry."
Albus did not mind that he was being humored, or even that Minerva was simply playing with her food, for taking meals with someone who cared about you was important.
It held a kind of protective and bonding magic that nothing else could duplicate if consistently done over time. This was why the students ate with their houses at the same time each day, and the same house elves prepared food for particular groups of students. Albus liked to think of school policy on this matter as one of the more pleasant forms of magical inoculation.
I just wish that there was something more I could do.
While Dumbledore was trying to avoid Harry's memories, the chief haruspex of Hogsmeade was immersing herself in them. She focused herself on her task of mystical voyeurism, blocking out any knowledge of the world around her, until she was "in."
The sword glinted in the moonlight as Ree turned it this way and that. "It's amazingly well balanced, professor. And light enough that I think I might be able to make use of it!"
"I'm pleased you like it," Severus said.
The Potions master had not been certain that Harry would accept his gift, but it concerned him that she was leaving so ill-prepared. He knew the Wilds were not at all well governed, and vampires, no matter what they were contracted to do, were seldom trustworthy--unless one counted keeping the promise of a threat they had made. He did not wish for Harry to leave for her special training, but if she was determined to do it, then she would have all the protection he might bestow upon her.
"And the scabbard is gorgeous."
"I think you'll find that the intricacy of the metalwork serves more than aesthetics."
She winked at him. "Of course it does."
He tried to glare, but he knew he was being affectionately teased.
"It is enchanted."
"The scabbard or the sword?"
"Both, actually. The scabbard has the standard protective spells incorporated into it, in addition to . . . an offensive component."
"So, what you're telling me is that no one can touch the scabbard but me?"
"Indeed, no one should."
"And the sword itself?"
"Is invisible, once you know the activator."
"That should make fighting more interesting. . . . What do I have to do to learn the activator?"
Severus stepped a little further into the clearing in the trees behind the castle where he and Harry routinely practiced her blade work--something at which the young woman was not particularly proficient--and drew his own sword.
"Ah, so your plan is to kill me, rather than to allow me to go to the Old One?"
"Do you think so little of your abilities, Potter?"
"I'm ever the realist, professor."
"How unfortunate," he replied.
And then he rushed her.
Unnoticed by either sparring partner--or Evie, for such was impossible--Alastor Moody sucked grumpily on the mouth of his flask. The haruspex imagined him to be thinking something like, "Just give me a reason, Snape," as the man stooped in his hiding place within one of the larger trees.
From the ground, where she had just been knocked, Harry yelled, "Hey! No fair!"
"Constant vigilance, Potter. Isn't that what Moody is always saying?"
"Master Moody hasn't yet consented to teach me anything, sir," she responded, climbing to her feet.
"Who could blame him--why teach the irresponsible or the stupid?"
"Professor Dumbledore approves of this, you know. It was his idea!" Harry yelled with a lunge at Severus.
She missed him, but when he laughed, the young witch pointed her sword-tip at the wizard and yelled, "Don't you laugh at me, damn you!"
The arc of green light shooting from her weapon surprised all three of them. Moody cast a displacement spell on Snape in barely enough time to move him out of harm's way, and the magic sank into a bank of moss, causing it to wither, blacken, and ignite.
Oh, dear, Evie thought.
"No," Harry murmured.
"Yes, dear," Evie thought. "You did that. You must forgive yourself for it, you know."
"But I almost killed him," the witch said, accepting the haruspex's presence.
"True, but it was unintentional."
"That wouldn't have mattered if Severus had died."
"I know. But he didn't die, now did he?"
The younger witch made no reply.
Evie sighed and straightened up and Out to look at Hermione.
"Well, then. It's definitely time for tea."
"How is she?"
"Rather more interesting than I would have imagined a hero to be, you know. Oh, don't be offended, dear. It's just that one does deal with heroes a great deal as a haruspex, and I don't always like the way they think. There is a lot of bluster and bloody single-mindedness in your average hero, you see. No, I have never found stubborn people attractive. Not as a rule. Well, there may have been exceptions--but then I was younger, and it was university . . . ."
"Evie, did you ever study with a witch named Trelawney?" Hermione asked, summoning the tea things as they sat down on the young woman's front porch.
"Sybil? Sybil Trelawney?"
"Oh my, well--one doesn't like to speak ill of the dead, dear."
"Of course not."
"But then, I had it from Sybil that 'leaving the earthly coil shall not be the end', so I suppose it won't count if I speak of our old school days, now will it?"
Rosmerta watched from her little place in the Edge and wondered if she was still capable of bringing someone out of it. The Edge--the Quiet, or whatever else one might call it--was a confusing place to someone who preferred staying in one location and on one plane.
"I quite agree," Poppy whispered. "I never could understand all this excitement over possibilities at the expense of the present."
"Well, what are you doing here, then?"
"That woman is an amateur, and haven't I looked after the girl perfectly well without any interference?"
"Toadhopple is very capable, thank you."
"Oh, yes--she's one of yours, isn't she?"
"Yes, she is."
"And quite good at her job, leaving to take a tea break!"
"What a splendid idea. . . . Perhaps you can tell me one of your wonderful stories, dear."
"Don't patronize me, you strumpet."
"I wouldn't dream of it, my doxie."
Slytherin watched the two women leave with a nostalgic gleam in his eye. He could not follow them, of course, which was an irritant. He had not been able to follow any of them since the old sign on the Four Broomsticks had come down. And he did not dare speak to them. Not that he felt he was weaker than they, of course, but because he was certain they wouldn't talk to him.
Rejection was not something he had ever tolerated well.
"You aren't welcome here, old man," a voice interrupted his thoughts, and before he could respond, those blasted birds descended again to chase him out of the Quiet.
"Yar!" Neville called after the fleeing wizard. "Avast!"
I should have paid you more attention when you were alive, brat, the ancient wizard thought as he passed over the Edge into a wall of his museum nest and slithered into a tight coil.
There was a lovely heater on the other side of the wall, and mice used this particular passage rather frequently.
Of course, mice never do have much to say.
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