Chapter One: Numinousity and Nuisance
The Hall of Monuments was not particularly grand, but the simplicity of its architecture suited its purpose well. A long, wide corridor of polished tan stone in which benches of the same were placed at intervals, the hall was the final resting place for many notables of the Wizarding world. Minerva McGonagall was among the luminaries who rested within its walls, her "monument" a hammered copper plaque bearing her name. This metal sheet was affixed to the stone behind which her remains lay entombed, and lit by the discreet phosphorescence of a convenient sconce.
The illumination flared with deceptive brightness as a lone mourner leaned toward this identifying feature, drew a fingertip over the cold letters of the name it bore, and whispered, "Vita."
The spell activated a disembodied voice which dispassionately recited the known facts of the late witch's life.
Albus Dumbledore lowered himself onto the bench in front of Minerva's sepulchre and sighed.
"Well, dear girl, I think it may take more time than I had hoped to put things to rights. The children seem to be sorting each other out; however, I am receiving reports of a disquieting nature about the Orkneys. When he drew too deeply on the power of the Ley and destroyed the Lace Islands, Salthus sent many objects of power to the sea's floor. Alas, it seems that there are those remaining in the world who remember this fact, or have discovered it, and now, now I fear that these people seek to relearn our old king's mysteries."
The wizard stood slowly, and paced before the bench.
"My thoughts have been turning on this problem for years, yet I am no closer to learning the identities of these . . . historians. You can appreciate how this frustrates me, I know. . . . Or you would, were you still with me."
Wiping a tear away, Albus sat again. He knew it was silly of him to speak of these matters, but indulged himself freely. All words spoken in the Hall of Monuments were for the ears of the dead--even if the dead were not present to hear them--so there could be no discovery. As he had no one with whom to discuss his situation except the dead, Albus felt he could excuse himself for his sentimental lapse. He so wished for Minerva.
In truth, the wizard knew that there were at least a few souls with whom he might discuss the disturbing renewal of interest in the archaeology of Britain's first Wizarding settlement. Unfortunately, two of these individuals would be pained to remember the events in question, and one was better left out of the discussion altogether, lest it give him ideas. In any case, Albus did not believe that Rosantha, Papavera, or Salthus had anything at all to do with these matters.
And I believe that because I am growing old, and it is what I wish to believe.
Tancredo had told Albus once that a trusting nature was an inherent arrogance, an irresponsibility that leaders and guardians could ill-afford. Given that the Old One had survived in the Wilds against an evil plague so ancient that it bled back to a time before all of the stars that now composed the night sky had been born, the wizard had accepted the vampire's creed without reservation.
But now I think I may be forced to admit I was . . . mistaken in this policy. I am weakening by choice; I cannot stop the process of my death. Those who will remain to fight must be told where the new field of battle shall be. "May they forgive me for my wanting to protect them from this knowledge."
Abruptly, the hall was plunged into darkness. Almost immediately, the sconces rekindled to a gloaming state. With the light came a presence.
"Minerva, I did not think you would come."
"I didn't think I would, either, but you did sound as though you might continue in this maudlin vein for some time. Go and unburden yourself where it might do some good, man!"
"It does me a great good to see you, my love."
The expression of irritation on the ghost's features lessened, only slightly, and she replied, "But it does the Greater Good no service for you to be waxing nostalgic with stone and bones. Do what you must, and then come to me, Albus. You know where to find me when it is time."
"You were ever the mistress of your priorities, my dear."
"Tempus fugit, Albus. Tempus fugit!"
"Indeed, time does fly--too fast, yet too slowly."
"If I had a broomstick, I'd be beating you in the head with it."
"Actually, I apparated here."
The wizard chuckled, and replied, "Thank you, my dear. I shall leave you in peace."
In a tone of voice that held laughter and the promise of rest, Minerva whispered, "So you say, yet there you stand."
When her form had shimmered into absence, Albus turned and left the hall. He knew he would see his lover again in good time. It was enough.
It was everything.
"Nothing is working! I don't understand it," Harry almost yelled in frustration.
Remus enfolded the young woman in his arms and held her for a moment. "It's going to be all right, Ree. We'll find him."
At first, Harry had believed she had taken a wrong turn in the dungeons in her excitement to return to Severus, but as the minutes passed and she still failed to find the door to his rooms, she had given up and gone to find help.
"I know the staircases change, but the doors have never moved before--certainly entire corridors haven't!"
"Actually, that isn't true," Sirius said, coming into the rooms he shared with his lover. "Your own chambers were formed by the reorganization of the castle."
"But that was intentional. Severus' part of the dungeons has just disappeared. Trust me when I tell you that he would not have wanted that to happen tonight!"
The two men let her words pass without comment, though Sirius looked as though he might speak before catching a warning glance from Remus.
A knock a the door startled them.
"Come in," called Sirius.
Filch, followed by Mrs. Norris, entered.
"Well, she's right. Snape's chambers seem to have vanished. Even the house elves can't find them."
"The windows!" Harry exclaimed. "We can go outside to the lower windows and get into the Potions classroom through them."
"I did think of that," Filch said, his mouth curling into a sour grimace. "There are no windows to his classroom anymore. I checked."
Harry looked almost frantic.
"Someone's hidden him. Someone's doing this on purpose!"
"Like as not, that's true," said Filch.
"Argus," Sirius asked, "can you remember anything like this happening before?"
"No. I don't like it--doesn't bode well."
"Thank you, Filch," Sirius said sarcastically. "You've been very helpful."
"I'll thank you to remember that--"
Remus made a conciliatory gesture with his hands in the caretaker's direction, and said, "Never mind us, Filch. We're all a bit concerned."
"There's no need to get on a man for doin' his job. I looked for him, didn't I?"
"And you've been very helpful. We appreciate it. But now I think perhaps you should go about your duties, and we'll let you know if we need any further assistance."
Filch went grumbling out the door, but Mrs. Norris remained behind. The caretaker was too upset to notice that he had left alone.
Harry stared a the cat.
"What do you want?"
"Mreoww'll thank you to show some respect to your elders, young lady," said the cat, who was suddenly standing on two feet, shedding, and then transforming into human form.
Sirius and Remus, having never seen Mrs. Norris transmogrify, were gobsmacked. Harry was unimpressed.
"Good evening, Ma'am," the young witch said.
"Manners. Odd--but welcome," the lady said, turning slowly to look about her. "Without the eyes, the cat's eyes, my eyes, it's all so strange."
"Would you look at that," Sirius finally managed to choke out, pointing at the eye situated high on the back of Mrs. Norris' head.
"No manners! Rudeness! Always, the rudeness," the odd woman said, rubbing one hand over her face as if to smooth the whiskers she no longer wore.
Sirius moved forward and offered his hand to Mrs. Norris, who hissed and batted it away.
"No! I won't! No shaking with dogs."
To Harry's chagrin, her godfather growled low in his throat, which caused Mrs. Norris to sprout two perfect cat ears.
"Please don't change back, Mrs. Norris! You don't have to shake hands with the . . . the dog," she said, throwing a pleading glance in Sirius' direction. "Please tell me what you were going to say."
Sniffing, the woman settled down a bit and said, "Room with the bad smells. With the tall and dark man who never steps on my tail. Room is not gone. Hidden."
"Do you know how?" Sirius asked.
"Stupid two-eyes can't see it. I can see it."
"Will you take us to it?" asked Harry, a hopeful expression on her face.
"You've been. You've not seen it. Same place. Same bad smells. Same tall and dark smell. But now tall and dark is angry."
"Severus hasn't been hurt, has he?" Remus asked, hoping that he would not worry Ree more by asking the question.
"No hurt smells. Angry smells," Mrs. Norris responded before issuing a series of dreadful sounding coughs.
"Are you all right?" they all asked at once.
The lady looked embarrassed, and turned her mouth into her hand to cough something up into it.
"Mrs. Norris?" prompted Harry.
"Hairball. Hate them."
Remus shoved Sirius hard before he could laugh out loud.
"Stupid two-eyes," Mrs. Norris said, and it was clear that she'd heard the stifled laughter. "Go back to the bad smells and look for yourselves. No more talking."
With that, the lady reshaped herself into her feline form and stalked out the still-open door, hissing the entire way down the hall.
"Well," said Remus, "did you know that she could do that?"
"No," Sirius replied.
"Yes," said Harry. "But I really don't want to discuss how I discovered her."
"There's an image I'll have a difficult time removing from my mind's eye," Sirius informed them. "'Stupid two-eyes', indeed. . . . So, I suppose this means that, for whatever reason, Severus has hidden his chambers."
"No, he hasn't." Harry insisted. "I told you--Severus and I were going to . . . have a late meeting tonight. He knew that I was coming. He wouldn't have hidden his door."
"Is that what they're calling it these da--ow!"
"Just be thankful you don't have a tail, love," Remus said sternly to Sirius, who was hopping on one foot.
"Promise me that you won't tell Severus that you know . . . that we . . . he'd be--he'd probably hex a tail on you!" Harry exclaimed in mortification.
"Don't worry. Remus and I understand the efficiency of the 'late meeting'. So, how long have you been scheduling those?"
"Sirius!" Remus and Harry exclaimed as one.
"Well, she's my goddaughter. I'm entitled to know what's going on in her life, aren't I?"
Before anyone could respond, a shaft of morning sun penetrated the window and lightened the room.
"Oh, no. It's dawn," Harry said. "I've got Quidditch practice this morning."
"And we've got classes--but then again, so does Severus. Let's run back down to the dungeons and see if his door has returned," suggested Remus.
They all agreed to this, Harry hurrying ahead of them.
"Good morning, professors," called Argyle Slizer, who was in his Quidditch gear and heading toward the Great Hall with some house mates.
Passing the outer door to the Potions classroom, Remus and Sirius gave good-natured waves, and Harry managed a nod before practically running to where the entrance to Severus' private rooms should be.
It was present, open, and filled with the admittedly tall, definitely dark, decidedly furious form of Hogwarts' Potions master.
Harry stopped short when she saw the deadly look that overspread Severus' features. "What happened? You disappeared!" she exclaimed, clearly trying not to throw herself into the man's arms.
Her god- and heartfathers assiduously failed to notice her efforts.
Noting the presence of Sirius and Remus, Severus nodded before taking one of Harry's hands in his own.
"Gentleman, would you be good enough to wait inside?"
"We could wait out here if you like," Remus offered.
Severus shuddered. "No, I thank you. I would prefer the corridor. We'll join you in a moment."
When the two men had gone, Severus whispered a concealment spell, put away his wand, and drew Harry into his arms.
"Why are we standing out here? What happened? Gods, I missed you last night!"
"And I you. Unfortunately, our wishes ran counter to those of Slytherin's chief . . . ghost."
"I don't understand."
"I know. And we have not enough time for me to explain properly. Harry, Miss Potter, would you do me the honor of accepting my invitation to dine at the Gryphon's Foote this evening?"
Harry pulled a little from Severus so that she could see his face and asked, "You're asking me to dinner?"
"Well, but . . . ."
"You do not wish to accompany me out?" Severus asked, his mouth easing into the hint of a teasing smile. "I can assure you that we will have ample privacy to discuss the disquieting events of last evening. I have taken the liberty of reserving the Terrace."
We've never had much luck with terraces, Harry thought, but wisely kept to herself. She knew from the determined set of Severus' jaw that she would have to wait to discover what had happened. "I hate to wait, but yes, I would like to see you this evening--as long as you can assure me that you're all right."
Leaning into her mouth, he replied, "I am perfectly fine . . . now," and then he kissed her.
"Aww," they heard, and turned to see Marazelle Zabini standing in the corridor looking tremendously pleased.
"Go to breakfast, Miss Zabini."
"Yes, Professor!" the girl acknowledged before skipping down the corridor.
"I apologize, Harry. I should have set the charm for longer."
The Defense Against the Dark Arts mistress smiled. "I'm not sorry. I don't care who sees us."
Severus made a small noise at the back of his throat and pulled Harry just inside his door.
They were still kissing with great enthusiasm when Sirius asked, "Are you certain that you wouldn't prefer us to wait in the corridor?"
"Oh! I've got to get to the field!" Harry said, breaking the embrace and stepping back through the door.
With a last long look at the Potions master, she was gone.
"Don't forget breakfast!" Remus called.
Collecting himself, Severus turned to the other professors. "If you would be good enough to postpone yours, gentlemen, I would like to have a few words with you."
"Ginny," called Mrs. Weasley later that morning as she was coming into the kitchen with a basket full of squash, "have you given any thought to coming to the Assembly?"
Mr. Weasley smiled behind his newspaper, while his daughter--who was home for a brief rest before heading off on a new assignment, her brother spending his holiday with friends--grimaced.
"Mother, what you're really asking is whether or not I intend to enter any of the 'festival games', and you should know better than to even ask!"
Having placed her courgettes on the counter nearest the sink, Molly began washing vegetables with slightly irritated vigor.
"I don't know why you won't even consider it, Ginny. You're twenty-one, and that's a fine age to be considering matrimony."
The Assembly, despite its diminutive name, was in truth a grand affair held every thirteen years. Tradition held that it had been established in the Early Times by a great wizard of peaceful and scholarly ways as an opportunity for the magical folk of the British Isles to meet in safety, share their traditions and knowledge, settle disputes, and find marriage partners. With the foundation of the Ministry of Magic, some of the old purposes of the Assembly had been rendered obsolete; however, many would-be apprentices continued to look for masters at the meeting, advances in magic were exhibited and discussed, and those souls seeking to find their mates were afforded ample chances of doing so. There were also rituals in which one might participate that would ensure a strong match was made between interested parties. Because of this, Molly Weasley was not the first mother to encourage her child to seek companionship at the Assembly.
Unfortunately for her mother, Ginny Weasley had no desire to be wed--not with her career going so smashingly--and she said as much.
"Mother, I'm not going to go if you're planning to throw boys at me."
"Now you know quite well that I would never do such a thing!"
Arthur grunted a little from behind the Quidditch section of his paper.
"And what do you mean by that?" his wife asked.
Ginny answered for him. "'Oh, Ginny dear, I've met the nicest young man--he's in magiceuticals--you simply must come meet him when you're next at home'. 'Oh, my dear, were you aware that Colin Creevey was just promoted to the head of the Art department at Witches Weekly? Wouldn't you like to catch up with him? I could arrange--'"
"Enough, enough," Molly said. "If you're not interested in meeting a young man, that's your business. You know that I'd never interfere."
Ginny smiled as she watched her mother begin slicing squash into a baking dish. Eventually, she would bring home a boyfriend--eventually--when she found a wizard who was not so traditional. She was certain the man she dreamt of was not going to be found with the hidebound idiots likely to participate in the dreary, get-to-know-you games at the Assembly.
From the description of the affair she had received from Bill, she was not even certain she wanted to go. It would be impossible to remain anonymous there, and she knew that many "suitors" would be more interested in her for her name than herself. Bill had already warned her to prepare herself for that, as well as for snubs, given how their fortunes had fallen in the last generation or so.
Better not to go, I think. After all, I'd hate to have to cause a scene by defending the honor of my family.
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