Chapter Nine: Changes on the Board
Hermione Granger received an unexpected visitor at ten o'clock in the frantic form of a disheveled-looking Ree Potter. The witch was more upset than the haruspex had ever seen her.
And that's saying a lot, she thought, drawing Harry into her tiny front hall, taking her broomstick away, and pressing her gently into the next room to sit by the fire.
"You can't tell anyone," Harry said, sharply.
"You know that I would never--"
"Hermione, promise me!"
Sweet Merlin! Their relationship hasn't even really begun, and she's this disturbed. "Of course I promise, Ree."
Inexplicably, the witch replied, "Don't call me that anymore."
"All right. Re--Harry. Did something . . . were there reporters?"
"At the Gryphon's Foote? I would have thought that Pro--Severus would have prepared him--"
"This isn't about him! Remus . . . Remus is--he killed Alastor Moody!"
"Rubbish!" Hermione exclaimed, drawing a calming hand down Harry's arm to clasp her friend's fingers--her bloody fingers.
The haruspex found herself surrounded by the scent of copper and a wound of red, sliding over bits best left unexamined as she saw Harry wrapping someone's remains in what she sensed was a conjured sheet.
Somewhat shaken, as always she was after a vision, Hermione said, "Yes, I do see. . . . But you've blood on you."
Striding from the room, Harry went into the hall to cast a "Scourgify!" on her broom and her hands, and then returned to her dazed friend.
"I'm sorry, Mione. I thought that I'd gotten it all."
Thank the gods that Viktor isn't here to hear this, Hermione thought. "Tell me what happened."
"Remus and Sirius . . . they fought, and then there wasn't time to take the potion, and I don't know what to do now," Harry said, throwing herself down on the sofa.
That would explain it, Hermione thought. She knew very well that recent brewings of the Wolfsbane draught had been so successful that Professor Lupin had been able to communicate in wolf form, and that he did not need to be locked up at the full moon any longer. Professor Snape had been so pleased by his results that he was planning to exhibit them at the Assembly's forum on potion making. So why wouldn't he take--"Who else knows?" she said, rather than follow her own thoughts.
She realized that there truly was not time if what Ree--Harry--had said was true.
"No one! I told you--you can't say anything!" Harry exclaimed, sitting up to grab at her friend's hands.
"Harry! You secured the students, didn't you?"
"Of course I did--house elves!"
This was enough to let Hermione realize what steps her friend must have taken, but it still did not answer her most pressing question. "You didn't tell anyone?" she asked, scandalized.
"Tell them what? That we needed to form hunting parties?"
"Of course, not! But--"
"Hermione, that doesn't matter. What do I do now?"
Both women were startled as a voice from the kitchen door answered Harry's question. "You find a witness."
Hermione recovered herself first. "What are you doing here, Ginny?"
"I had thought to get away from Mum's nagging, but my evening's proved a little more exciting."
"What happened to you? Are you all right?" Hermione asked, suddenly worried.
"Oh, gods! Don't mother me, Hermione. I'm fine. I've just come from helping Madame Rosmerta subdue a vampire, is all."
"What?" Harry asked.
"I don't think she's going to turn it in, either, which means she might agree to allow us to use it as an explanation for Remus."
"Ginny, we've got to report this," Hermione said, scandalized once again.
The redheaded curse-breaker looked at her equably. "Exactly."
"Vampires don't come to Hogsmeade," Harry said.
"Well, this one did--and it would have exploded into fiery bits if I hadn't aimed so widely, but Rosmerta managed him well enough. She put out his clothing and dragged him into her stable. I'm not sure I understand what spell she used to do it, but it was an impressive piece of work."
"You didn't hear the spell, or you don't think she used one?"
"Well, of course she used a spell, Harry," Ginny replied as if to a young child. "This is Rosmerta we're talking about. It just got lost in their scuffling. But it was pretty powerful."
Rosmerta must be 'pretty powerful', Harry suddenly realized. And old.
"Why didn't she call the Aurors?" Hermione asked.
"She said, 'Ginevra, this unfortunate business is my own. I would be grateful if you'd forget about it', so I did. I certainly didn't feel like discovering what other spells the woman knows. I am on vacation, you know."
The haruspex now looked thoroughly exasperated. "I don't believe either of you--all three of you! These things need to be--"
"Reported," finished Ginny. "I know, and something tells me that Madame Rosmerta won't mind if we use her vampire to explain Master Moody."
The three young witches thought about it for a moment, and then Hermione said, "Well, don't just stand there. Go ask her."
Blaise was approaching the Three Broomsticks at just after eleven when the two official-looking wizards stepped outside of the pub.
"Bad business, that," one of the men said to the other, who had stopped to light a pipe.
"Indeed," his colleague replied, taking a few puffs from the stem. "Shocking."
"To think that one of those vile creatures would dare attack a man--in Hogsmeade."
"Forgive me, gentlemen," Blaise interrupted smoothly. "I'm Zabini from Novitiate One, and I couldn't help but overhear you."
"Ah, Moody's second-in-command!" the wizard who wasn't smoking said, extending his hand to take Blaise's proffered one. "I'm afraid we've some terrible news for you, young man."
The other wizard also shook hands with Blaise.
"What's happened?" the Auror asked.
The wizard with the pipe exhaled. "You've just been promoted."
Harry had known the identity of Rosmerta's vampire immediately upon seeing the being. She had sent Ginny to fetch the publican and gone directly to the woman's stables. She was not as convinced as was Ginny that Rosmerta would agree to their plan. Harry had cast a disconcealment charm to find Tagliaferro dangling from his ankles from one of the stall beams, his naked body full of red, weeping gouges. He was being bled dry into little floating dark blue bottles.
"I told him not to return to me," Rosmerta said from behind Harry.
But the witch had "seen" the publican coming, so she did not flinch. She knew what came next. Now that she had embraced her Gift, she could appreciate its benefits.
"You've obliviated Ginny."
"That isn't a question. My, Albus was right about you, wasn't he?"
Harry did not respond. She was perversely fascinated by the trails of blood twisting down the vampire's body.
"You needn't worry about Ginevra. I'll be certain to place some Pepper-Up by her bed, and all she'll remember is a night of drinking alone at the tap. You'll see to Miss Granger's memory, I trust?"
"Won't Mrs. Zabini miss her servant?"
"For Zoroastrid to have sent him at all is a sign that she was finished with him. I shall await one of her signature thank you notes."
Harry laughed, a hollow sound. "You've no objection to the plan, then?"
"None. Miss Weasley is quite thorough, but I believe we must also consider your heartfather."
Without reacting to the vampire's use of her name for Remus, Harry turned to look expectantly at the woman.
"In about twenty minutes, you'll enter the pub with your news. By then, dear Remus will be in my cellar, and an unpleasant tableau ready for viewing at the Shrieking Shack. I am certain that those fools from the Ministry will be delighted by the carnage."
"Thank you," Harry had forced herself to say, feeling vaguely ill in the face of Rosmerta's cheerful efficiency. "Why . . . why are you helping me?"
Sometime later as she slipped into the cellar of the Three Broomsticks to see to Remus, the witch did flinch to remember the publican's sardonic response to her question: "It's just that people talk, dear, and the tale I've had of your early evening from Terpsichore Toadhopple-Thompson this night was as satisfying a tale as any I've heard in a long time."
I'll never feel the slightest qualm about hating you again, you vindictive, murderous, bi--"Oh!" Harry gasped, as she saw Remus.
He was lying in a heap of clean fur and warm blankets, a protective ward shimmering around him.
She cleaned you so that you wouldn't know what you'd done.
"Damn. I can't hate you, can I?" she whispered, thinking of Rosmerta and remembering the last thing the woman had said to her: "Good night, Miss Potter--and congratulations."
I'll never understand her, Harry thought. "Good night, Remus."
"Good evening, Harry," Albus Dumbledore greeted the witch as she entered her chamber to the chime of the clock.
It was seven minutes to midnight.
"Headmaster," she acknowledged the man, closing her mind.
"I must admit," the wizard said, looking perplexed and somewhat disappointed, "that I was surprised to find you not in Severus' quarters."
"Was he there?" Harry asked before she could stop herself and without registering how odd it was that the wizard would posit such an opinion.
Albus considered her. "No, he wasn't."
Can't face you, yet, I expect. "Well, you've found me. What is it?"
"Would you care for a cup of tea? I can see that your evening must have gone badly."
Only you would think it proper to entertain someone in her own quarters. Harry thought, sitting in the chair opposite the one Albus had taken and shaking her head. She had accepted a cup of tea from a rather confused-looking Dobby only moments before. "No, thank you."
"Well. . . . I've had some distressing news, Harry."
When did you start calling me Harry again? the witch wondered, somewhat disturbed by the change in spite of the fact that it was she who wished to make it. It's not possible that you see everything. I know you don't. You told me you didn't. He told you he didn't, you idiot, she realized. Shit.
Albus merely watched her, the skin between his eyes wrinkling as if in concentration.
That's right, you old bastard. Keep trying. "What news, Sir?" she asked without emotion.
"Alastor Moody was killed tonight."
"If you know that much, then you know I found him," Harry snapped.
"Then why not just say so?"
"Because it's a difficult thing to accept--a vampire attack in Hogsmeade--that such a creature could have so brutally taken the life of one of my oldest friends."
You feign sorrow well enough, don't you? "I'm sorry I wasn't the one to tell you, but I needed to . . . clear my head," the witch replied, affecting a look of loss and bewilderment. "Who told you?"
"Madame Rosmerta was kind enough to perform that service."
"I would appreciate it if you could tell me what it is that you saw, Harry."
I know my name. What is it that you really want to remind me of?
As much as the woman loved and admired Albus, her anger needed to be directed somewhere, and she was no longer willing to be treated like a piece on a chessboard--not when she had begun to move her own pieces.
"Harry? Would it be too much of a burden for you to--"
"I was in Hogsmeade. Flying. I wanted to . . . clear my head. And then I heard the screaming. I didn't make it to Master Moody fast enough, but I did destroy his murderer. You know the rest."
"All the rest that is going to be told, I am certain," Albus replied in a tone that did not convey conviction.
Feeling the wizard's subtle attempts to probe her mind, Harry spat, "Leave it, Albus! I'm not sharing the memory with you! I don't want to remember it!"
"Forgive me. I thought that if you talked about it--"
"You weren't talking just now."
"No. Old habits, best intentions--but these do not excuse the . . . invasion of your privacy."
"Attempted invasion of my privacy."
"As you say."
A lull fell in the conversation, and each interlocutor became lost in his and her own thoughts.
"I had not thought to attend a funeral again until my own," Albus said.
Harry looked at the headmaster accusingly. "Tell me something."
"What is a Declaration of Intent?"
"Ah," Albus replied. "It is a document given to the parents--or the family--of a witch a wizard wishes to formally court with the intention of wedding her. It is a mark of his respect for the woman and her family, and a gesture of his intention to adhere to Wizarding cultural standards."
"Which 'cultural standards' would those be? The ones designed to ensure the purity of blood?"
"There are those who look upon the Courtship Rites as such a protection, but this was not what motivated Severus, surely. In fact, though I am surprised that he did not immediately . . . consummate his love for you, I am not shocked to discover that he has sought to observe the other proprieties in his courtship of you."
"I expect you aren't."
"Do not misunderstand me, Harry. I did not encourage Severus to woo you in this way. You may verify my belief that you and he would have already . . . celebrated your love with Miss Granger."
"As much as I enjoy your euphemisms, Albus, I don't know how Hermione--"
"At the recent impromptu dance, Miss Granger and I had a brief discussion about the progression of your relationship with Severus."
"You and Hermione were betting on the likelihood that Severus and I would shag?"
"Indeed. Would you care to tell me why you and he haven't?"
"No! Perhaps you haven't noticed how out of charity I am with you, Headmaster."
"You are mistaken in that, as well, Harry. But I would venture to say that you are more angry with your Potions master than you are with me."
"Severus isn't mine. . . . He doesn't even . . . he doesn't love me."
"Certainly that reasoning would explain why he felt the need to spend half a year's salary on reserving the Terrace to secure your hand in marriage."
"Half a year's?" Harry choked out, suddenly feeling all of her anger flood out the soles of her feet.
Albus stood and approached the witch, laying a warm hand on her shoulder. "Severus loves you more profoundly than I suspect even he knows, dear girl. That he has difficulty expressing it comes as no surprise to me. . . . But I suspect that only he will be able to prove that to you."
Harry said nothing. Her evening's exertions had begun to tell on her strength, and now all she could think about was sleeping.
"Would you like for me to take your classes tomorrow?"
"No, thank you, Headmaster," she whispered. "I have detentions to assign."
"As you will. Good night."
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