August 24th, 2002: Level Four, Ministry of Magic (noon)
“Move along, the lot of you! Make way for the Minister! This way, Minister Shacklebolt—h—! Hello, you there, step aside!”
Remus was led along by the elbow in the wake of the Minister’s entourage. Hermione tutted agitatedly, glaring at the various stools and lackeys hopping to cut in front of them. Pressed close to his other side by the smothering crowd, Ron had Remus by the forearm, ushering him to follow as he tottered down the hall, legs threatening to give.
All the closed channels to the embassy had been pried open, undamming the swell of indignant bureaucrats. The corridor, once quarantined in wizard space to leave Hermione and himself to their “unsavory” work, had in his opinion kept them in some sense of peace.
Remus squeezed his eyes shut, weathering the return to clamor. This new unleashing of publicly funded fracas was worth either seeing or hearing, but not both.
Objections were shouted over the Minister’s shaved head as they passed, some going so far as to accuse Magical Creatures of treason. Remus felt the fury pouring out of his former students and, stepping a bit into himself for their sake, he gripped both their wrists.
“We’ve got Kingsley. Just keep on ahead, keep toward the office,” he breathed. This quelled them, if barely.
“You’ll be watching your mouth over there, Spitz! Accusations of treason are above your pay grade!” A man lost in the sidelines scoffed, affronted. Remus jolted, recognizing the precise tones of the Minister’s former secretary.
“Yeah, check ‘em, Perce,” Ron grumbled beside him, tense with self-restraint.
Remus squinted and there in front of them posed the orderly Weasley, hair combed neatly parted down the middle, shoulders narrow and straight above the mob. The hobbled man took reprieve from the battering thrum of panic and outrage in a defiant tickle of pride. He’d make sure to thank Molly for her sons on his next visit to the Burrow.
The cluster of five carried on, shelled in executive aides and a security detail pushing apart the crowd. Fresh-faced junior officials stepped back respectfully seeing the silver-haired seniors be ordered and pushed aside. Soon the many reopened veins to the greater Ministry sealed themselves behind those fleeing the scene. Corridors returned to plain, smooth walls with a hurried zip.
Hermione spat, “Cowards,” and pushed on, cheeks slashed with color. He leaned on her shoulder as they walked, ironically trying to lend her his support. He caught her swiping at her face and let his eyes shutter again, beyond exhausted.
A third of the mob remained by the time they reached the embassy office. They swarmed to the Minister, yelling over each other in what Remus was positive they felt was a justifiably concerned consensus. They in fact resembled preschool children rushing to tattle to teacher.
The werewolf swayed to a roughly independent gait, pallidly smiling away Hermione and Ron’s worried looks. He appreciated the help to the door, but would rather stumble inside on his own than continue to show himself to the mass of conservative idiots.
Janice lowered her arms and greeted them with a harassed, “Minister!” She patted her updo and attempted to tuck down her flyaway fringe. She and Percy shared a nod of recognition before she moved aside and showed them the door.
“This farce of a department has gone on long enough! Give us the funding! We can—!”
“Anyone to follow me into this room besides these four,” Kingsley announced, presenting the Weasleys and the two ambassadors, “will be suspended for bypassing priority clearance. You’ll be escorted off the premises and can twiddle your thumbs with the reporters out on the sidewalk.”
The black man bore down on the ashen faces of his delinquent officers. “And trust that the person to leak a security breach to the press will be dealt with extensively. An investigation is already underway.”
At this, the last stuttering secretaries and department heads shuffled out of the hall. The scant few corridors still open zipped closed and returned them to quiet. Kingsley cracked his back and sighed, massaging his sides. He bade them to enter ahead of him, “Miss Granger, Remus, please.”
The werewolf thanked him and puffed out his chest, trying to seem at least a little self-possessed. Hermione pulled a little ahead and Ron behind, muttering to his older brother. Percy whispered heatedly in reply, “I wouldn’t know! The damn thing’s probably broken. It’s decades old besides.”
“That’s not how it works and you know it!,” Ron shot back, screwed up and flushing. He pushed in, bickering with his brother chest to chest, forcing Remus to intervene. The older man wormed a heavy arm between the reddening Weasleys and cleared his throat.
“I know you’re both worried. Let’s discuss it inside,” he coaxed. The brothers passed on either side of him, shoulders squared as if readying for a scrap. Remus shook his head.
He looked back and paid Janice an apologetic wince as she properly scowled at her overturned desk. He gasped—all of her files, the innards of her purse, and her telephone were scattered on the ground.
“Thank you so much for everything you do. Of course we’d be a ruin without you, but this was absolutely too much. Do forgive us, please.” He fumbled for his wand to help her right herself.
The desk floated back upright, its many books and binders returning to their designated piles and drawers. Her phone settled again by the sign book, unmarked as it had been, with its cordless case and dated rotary dial. She demurred and then thanked him resignedly, attending to organizing her papers and setting her odd phone flush against the desk edge. She put the receiver to her ear and Remus heard the line click, connect, and begin to chatter.
“You can clock out early today, if you’d like,” he offered. She peered at him unblinkingly, hand white around the receiver’s neck, before shaking her head.
“I’ll stay on in case Miss Granger needs me,” she intoned. “At least until the street is less…”
The werewolf understood and left Janice to her listening. He was now the last into the office, closing and locking the door behind him. He hoped to hear her knock soon to signal she’d gone home to rest.
“Remus, come look at this.” Kingsley and Hermione were bent over her desk, shuffling papers. He approached, swearing as his legs began to stiffen. He arrived to their conversation pointing ruefully at Hermione’s chair.
“Oh! Yes, please do,” she permitted, urging him to sit. Remus sank down, knees snapping, pain shooting up through his hips and chest such that it left him breathless.
“Merlin, you shouldn’t—,” started Kingsley but Remus shook his head, making the other man straighten to really look at him, arms crossed, crinkling his fine, embroidered robes.
“Harry. And Ginny, please. What’s happened?”
“Mum, show him the bloody clock! N—sorry...well, I don’t wanna yell! Gods, woman, just show him Ginny’s hand!”
Remus shivered, trying not to shout. Off to the side, Percy knelt with his half his body in the Floo, with Ron folded over shouting into the call. The tidier Weasley was just a backside and two gangly legs stretching out of the fireplace. He heard, “won’t stop spinning,” and “danger,” and “can’t find her!,” in Molly’s high cant.
“Ron came back from the Burrow and neither Harry nor Ginny had been there in weeks. Well, Harry hadn’t since, you know,” Hermione explained, face a tablet of worry.
Remus, who could fathom his friend’s son’s reclusion, pushed her to go on. What he needed to hear was if the young man was safe. “What’s this about a fire?”
“While Ron was there, Molly said she’d been trying to get in touch with him. The Weasley clock—you know the one—Ginny’s hand had been on ‘Mortal Peril’ since yesterday afternoon. Then it was ‘In Transit,’ but to where, we don’t know. After that—.”
“Her hand keeps spinning,” Ron finished, rubbing his nose. He smeared it with soot that Hermione absently smudged off. “Thanks—I’d never seen anything like this. It just kept going around, forwards and backwards. Percy, right it’s fucked?”
His brother crawled out and brushed himself off, face gone absolutely ghostly. “Yeah, y-yes. It must be broken. Even if it couldn’t...find her anymore, it’d be on ‘Lost.’”
Remus swallowed drily. “So, she’s not dead. That’s a good thing.”
Kingsley slid the papers across the desk for Remus to see. They weren’t on parchment, but rather thick, off-white stock, torn along one edge. They were charred black on all the corners, some with holes burnt through the sharp, slanted writings. The paper looked Muggle, but the plans on all seven of the sheets were most assuredly magical. Rushed, hand-penned illustrations of dark gods laid out over diagrams telling stories of protection and oneness and rebirth and redemption.
Some had curt instructions like, “Think of water,” or another which simply said, “Burn when you’re ready.” Others had incantations, maybe four or five lines as per any basic beseeching, although two of those asked to be read in Parseltongue. He broke out in wracking shivers and took a break to calm himself.
One page had the Norse wolf, Fenrir, an adopted patron to the werewolf camps further north. Chained to a rock for biting off the hand of Tyr, sword-gagged and imprisoned till the end times, he was an inevitable evil, a monster.
Just seeing the sketch made Moony turn over, so near the surface after the recent full.
For a second, Remus’s fatigue swanned into a craving in his marrow for freedom. It wasn’t human freedom, obviously—freedom from financial woes, freedom from work, from oppressions, to live sans obligations to self or others.
This was animalistic freedom, the cry of a chained beast. It wanted breaking. He felt his skin ripple and shoved the paper away, cursing violently.
“What the fuck is—I’m sorry, I’m sorry. But what in Merlin’s name are these?”
“These came through the Floo at the Burrow. We think Ginny sent them,” Hermione said tightly. Remus looked at her and she drew away. He inhaled deeply, tasting a trickle of fear.
Stop it!, he chastised the curse stuffed deep down into the recesses of himself. You’ll not be getting out any time soon.
Moony whined, and Remus mumbled an apology aloud. “Ahem, sent them from where? Or, right, you don’t know.”
“The fire turned purple, instead of green,” Ron interjected. He sat on the edge of the desk, seemingly oblivious to Remus’s plight.
Again, the werewolf thanked Molly for her durable children. He only hoped to bring Teddy up with that sturdiness, if a touch more sensitivity. “Purple? I believe some wealthier wizard families have access to a purple Floo.”
“You mean a calling card,” Kingsley supported. “We offer them to foreign dignitaries. I’d be inclined to agree with you, assuming they wound up in a manor house somewhere north of London.”
“Why would you assume North?,” Remus asked. The office went awkwardly silent as both the minister and Percy Weasley neglected to say.
“Ah,” he strapped down his simmering resentment— freedom, his blood called for freedom. “You’re tracking Harry.”
“What!?,” cried Ron and Hermione, both shocked and betrayed. Kingsley looked about their myriad reactions, visibly uncomfortable.
Good , Remus pressed. It means at least he has a conscience.
He’d learned from the last war that surveillance often meant punishment. When will they leave that poor boy be? Tracking a lonely twenty-something? Was hounding the creatures not enough?
“No, we don’t, at least not that I know of,” the Minister sighed, rubbing his head. “I know same as you not to ask you to trust the Ministry, maybe moreso, probably less.”
“Hmm.” He wouldn’t say a word, but he gripped his knees, buzzing with rage. He had to wonder what the Fenrir page had agitated. As an academic, he wanted to pull it closer. As a human being, he wanted it burned.
And what about as a prisoner?, whispered some sinister thought. Remus coughed, and began counting the seconds wherein Kingsley waited for a response.
I’m as free as I’ll ever be. He clamped down on the call to grieve how little that sometimes was. If he let it hurt, it would hurt forever. This meeting was about the kids.
“I can’t tell you the details, if we’re being honest,” Kingsley continued. “And I won't apologize for needing secrecy, what with the madness upstairs. I can owe you being upfront. But no, besides the basic measures around any subject of prophecy, we aren’t tracking Harry specifically.”
“Then what is it,” blurted Hermione. She added a quick, “um, sir,” only for Kingsley to shrug off the formality.
“That’s for them out there, not you all. I don’t need titles to know I have your respect.” He eyed Remus as he said this, who was unwilling to deny him that much. He nodded once, which Kingsley returned, knocking the edge off of his ire. “Mysteries—I’m sure we’re all familiar—them and the Auror Office, and a few more departments, keep tabs on various magical phenom.
“Early this morning, we had an alarm down below, then another after dawn up on Two, and another—you get it.”
“And the alarms all said, ‘fire,’ right? Ron said the Auror Office reported Fiendfyre,” the witch followed, worrying a curl into knots. “And if those two are—with the clock and the papers—.”
“Actually, the one in Transportation described, erm, sir?” Percy joined the circle, looking to Kingsley for permission. The man gave it with a tired smile. “Right. You probably don’t know, or could be only Ron doesn’t—.”
“But Transportation monitors the Hogwarts Express, the national Floo network, Portkeys, mass apparition points—the Quidditch World Cup is an eldritch nightmare, by the way. In any case, after dawn, our system reported a disruption to the Floo.”
“Which Floo?,” Remus followed. Percy took a moment to answer, having noticed the papers on the desk.
His eyes were trained on the drawing of Loki and her lover. They were intricately detailed, nude and entwined in an embrace, holding a tall flame in their locking arms. Hermione looked at it, blushed, and snapped Percy from his trance.
Remus felt for them. He could think of no two persons more forbidding of chaos. They could become enthralled. Whoever had drawn these plans had tapped into too deep a magic for polite company.
“Which Floo, Percy?,” Hermione repeated to the flustered aide. She did them a courtesy and flipped the page over to the blank.
“Oh, erm, which? All of them! Every Floo opened from the edge of Scotland to Cornwall. Even warded ones, as in estate homes and even Hogwarts, they all lit up and went out just before sun-up. Then once more after that, when I’m guessing these... portraits,” he said, fixing his collar, “were passed through to the Burrow.”
“Well, I suppose it is a type of fire, but not Fiendfyre.” Hermione rested a hand on her cheek, frowning. “Either way, any fire can get out of hand, especially a magical one.”
“Mysteries reports ‘flames newborn and ceaselessly ancient,’ so we can thank them for informing us in as vague a way as possible.” Kingsley pulled in the drawing of the ocean, grimaced, and pushed it away. “But whatever it is, if it can be confused for Fiendfyre, then it’s probably Dark.”
Remus took the initiative to help Hermione cover the drawings. Banking on his intuitions, he directed the lovers, the wolf, and the world snake to rest facedown. He doubted chaos, rage, and destruction would serve the people present.
This left them with the god steed, Sleipnir; the unfathomably dark ocean; and Hel, the Hidden, goddess of the dead and the underworld. These were powerful, but not nearly so personal as to have them obsessed.
Who were these written for? Remus couldn’t figure it. He examined the casting circle beneath Sleipnir, upset that some of the runes were singed away.
But still, what he could read was in pagan Norse atop the biblical star. This altered the circles’ asks. The horse now carried swift judgements; the ocean baptized the lost in nothingness; the dead demanded redemption on pain of cold, unfeeling demise.
Bold of the architect to hybridize warring magic. Remus thought whoever had done it could be a limitless visionary in wardsmithing. Either that, or a complete amateur, high on hubris, with just enough knowledge, just enough skill, and dogged by a strange enough muse to make this: heartfelt anarchy.
“...to be done, right, Remus? Remus!” He dragged his eyes up to Hermione’s.
“Mhm...yes. Sorry, I wasn’t listening.” He moved his ponderer’s fist from his mouth to speak more clearly. “Repeat the question?”
The witch huffed, “Something needs to be done! It’s been hours and nothing we have is detailed enough to tell us where they are! If there is a fire raging somewhere up north, however disputed, it means people are in danger. Ginny is in danger, surely, and Harry’s probably right next to her!”
“And we can’t fine tune the hit on the Aurors’ alarm?,” Percy asked, “or the one down in Mysteries?”
Kingsley and Ron both shook their heads at the first. The Minister and former Head Auror let the younger officer explain, “Whatever is affecting the clock at home is jamming the Hot Box. It can’t spit out an address.”
“But if it’s Harry and it’s up north, he’s probably—.” Hermione stopped talking and gawked at Remus. He raised his eyebrows at her wordless urging, struggling with what she could mean.
“Naw, you don’t think! But if he has the m—!” Ron shut himself up and, also with wide, bloodshot eyes, stared at Remus. The two of them pleaded silently. Fanning himself with a new one of the pages, he started to shake his head, not seeing what they meant.
Then he realized something.
Remus pulled back the page to stare at it, waiting for the knowing to break through. Something about that page—Hel, the Hidden—struck a nerve. He scanned it and its summoning poetry, sparing a thought that the writer was talented but overwrought, when he caught it. The handwriting! He recognized it in a rush from schooldays and the notes on his potions, and other trifling things that made up knowing a person.
Snape! It was Snape’s spidery scribble, carving up the page, sinking into the slashes in the paper. Snape always wrote like he wanted the page to feel it. He did this!?
“Why am I not surprised,” Remus groaned.
He looked disparagingly at the two youngest in the room. Perhaps unfairly, he blamed them for not keeping better tabs on Harry if it would lead to this.
He reached for generous assumptions. No one could’ve predicted that whatever Snape cooked up with Harry presumably on hand would be this effectively mad. The two spiraled in opposite directions. They canceled each other out. If he were honest, Remus couldn’t think of how the two could knowingly work together.
“What do you all know that I don’t,” probed Kingsley, splaying both wide hands out on the desk. Percy tacked on, “What’s not surprising?”
Remus blinked, feigning ignorance while he took in the couple in his peripheral. Ron went particularly green, and Hermione hid in her hair. Honorably awarded in troublemaking, he knew the “Don’t tell teacher!” look, even among adults.
“I’m not at liberty to say.” He gave Kingsley’s balling fist a warm squeeze à la the late Albus Dumbledore. He resisted the urge to add, “I’m sure you can understand.”
It wouldn’t do snubbing their world leader. Hope Lupin would spin in her grave, a kindly woman till death.
“It’s not mine to tell,” he offered instead. The Minister fell short of happier having heard this. They did pass a moment in silence, however, where they each acknowledged the other’s hard won rights to privacy.
The Minister sighed.
“You understand that if this threatens the public, I’ll have to insist and only but so nicely,” Kingsley warned him. Remus promised he understood, now looking to Hermione—who loosed a thankful sigh—and Ron, standing at odds with his brother.
“Is this to do with why Harry’s been sneaking down here?,” Percy demanded. Ron kept his lips stubbornly sealed.
“Harry doesn’t need to ‘sneak’ except to avoid being hassled,” the witch hopped in. She distractedly stroked the picture of Sleipnir. She went red-faced, tone sharpening. “He was doing nothing wrong.”
“He entered a government building under false pretense. Some would call that ‘infiltration.’” Kingsley held up a hand to quell the outcry. “I only mean to speak accurately: this is a problem. But it’s a small one for much later when every bell in the Ministry quits ringing.
“Remus, can you find these two?”
The werewolf hung on his howling bones and grumbled, “I’ll need someone to nip up to Census, but yes.”
“Alright then. That’s all I need to know.” Remus watched Kingsley leave, motioning for Percy to follow. The older Weasley muttered, “He forgets I’m not his assistant,” before huffing and clipping after.
As soon as the two were gone, Hermione dashed down to Census, having no supervisor to answer to and thereby promising secrecy. Ron helped prepare Remus for a journey without being asked. He simply went about ordering Pepper-Up and hangover potions through Janice.
Four years with nothing major, all exploding within a week, Remus mused, fussing with Snape’s handiwork. One of these days, I’ll convince that boy to stay put.
Narcissa spent the rest of Friday like it was her last. After visiting the Black home and setting Harry Potter into motion, she returned to the Manor and took a bath. Rather, she soaked.
She had her favorite clawfoot tub filled—freestanding black porcelain with silver duchess fixtures. She washed herself without attendants. She worked her specially ordered soaps in a thick lather, luxuriating in knowing her own skin.
She treated her budding headache with steeping in rosemary and fennel oil. She hummed to herself, brow wrinkled, trying to remember a tune.
Narcissa toweled down and sat at her vanity, and brushed her own hair, as she’d always done. Supporting each lock on the heel of her hand, she soothed the wet tresses with boar bristle until they shone cremello pale. She took time twisting and pinning her hair into a dainty coiffure with a citrine comb.
Then she gathered her silk robe about herself and padded, slippered, from her private quarters to the master suite. Draco found her in the hallway connecting the two wings, him looking down from an unsmiling portrait of a Malfoy ancestor.
Her son hesitated under her reserved regard, tense with concern. It touched her that he cared to check the soil, water her roots, after her trying him all of yesterday.
She was within her rights, given what he’d done. Still, it was nice to see him keep the peace.
“You needn’t worry about me, Draco. I’m not as upset with you today as yesterday. And not nearly so upset with you as, hm. Others.
“Most importantly,” and she said this cooly, “I am not your father. You needn’t submit. We can be at odds, and you’ll still have every mean to happiness. I’d never dangle your fortunes over you hoping you’ll come to heel.”
“That’s...,” he struggled to respond. “I still...want to apologize.”
He folded his hands behind his back and bowed at the waist. Narcissa let him for a moment, amused. So formal, but then they’d raised him to be when it counted.
Except apology and keeping the peace: they hadn’t taught him that. This was the new girl, Astoria. How that busy miss Greengrass had tied Narcissa’s son to her skirts, the woman couldn’t bear to imagine. It was either a tactic too tawdry for the girl’s station or too soppy for Narcissa’s character.
“Enough. If you wish to make amends, keep me company.”
She carried on to her and Lucius’s former bedroom. Draco gave her his arm and she took it, gently, since he seemed so skittish, as if she’d snap it off. He learned to fear his parents from them, which was fast becoming her second greatest regret.
As they walked, warming up to small talk, Narcissa considered those regrets. Marrying Lucius could be one, except it gave her their son and an admirable lifestyle, even now. A little loneliness was worth the wealth.
Perhaps heeding Bella so closely, long past the point of her sister’s sanity. Anything that opened her home to the Dark Lord, she regretted, which she was finally freed to admit.
Her petty jealousy driving Draco out of doors—that, too.
“I’m...also sorry,” she managed, looking at her nails. They were clean, but overlong. Still, not at all like the nails that taught her the habit. Hers wasn’t the mouth that clipped nails to the quick. She never fidgeted mid-banter, picking the filth out from under them.
Later, she swore. He will have his time.
“It was silly of me to treat this girl you’re courting—.”
“Astoria,” Draco piped up, bright eyed. She took in her darling son with jaw clenched.
“Astoria,” she bit out, “as a threat. I drove you away. I made you think you needed others to convince me give my blessing. You don’t. If you claim to love her, it’s more than your father and I have, and so you might as soon treasure it.”
Far from a real treasure, she thought, like gold and land and jewels and a birthright.
The Greengrasses weren’t poor, but they certainly weren’t suited for the only Malfoy heir. They also held with integrating with Muggle cultures and owned stock in Muggle business and it was all mortifying to think of, really, but, well.
Love is precious, I suppose, in its own way.
She reached her former bedroom and excused the elf made to occupy it. The girlish thing bowed and popped out of sight, garish handsewn dress and all.
Only that year, the new Ministry had forced the proper houses to give their elves clothes and hire them to a living wage. Narcissa had thrown them anything of hers Lucius once liked. She favored what they crafted, surprised to see the creatures had individual styles. All atrocious, mind, but unique and quite funny.
“Well, now that we’re past that,” Narcissa sighed, gliding into the room. “You might make yourself comfortable while I vent, and then we can set about our day.”
Draco followed, aghast at the state of it.
Letters piled up in every corner, mostly unopened and gathering dust. Confetti covered the floor from Howlers long since self-destructed. The bedclothes, the drapes, and the carpet were picked over and dusty. A mountain of feathers and owl pellets sloped off the bed, from birds nesting in the unanswered missives.
They waded through a layer of paper two inches thick. The must of moldering paper blew in from the balcony, where forgotten letters were destroyed by the summer rain.
“Are all of these from Father?,” her son asked.
Narcissa smiled and, finding her wand in the belt of her robe, reduced the nearest pile to smoldering ashes.
“Sadly, he’s been difficult about the divorce.”
Draco winced. Before giving herself over to vexation, she held his chin and might have smiled. She couldn’t feel the expression on her face, so aware of her husband’s ravings surrounding them.
She laid into the next pile, and the next, until the room was hazy with smoke and papery ash. Draco cleared the balcony, forcing the glass doors open to let in fresh air, only for an eagle owl to swoop into the room screeching.
It dropped a new stack of letters, bound together with strips of bedsheet. It seemed Lucius had stopped Transfiguring the cotton scraps into ribbon.
Narcissa hexed the owl’s tail feathers and rejoiced in its startled squawk. She rolled the new stack over with her foot, and cursed herself when her slipper broke a deceptively fragile seal. A bright red envelope shot up toward her face.
“YOU PARASITIC WHORE,” it belted out. It had Lucius’ voice, and maybe his pitiful spirit, too, thin enough to slip in beside the letter “YOU’LL SEE WHAT YOU HAVE LEFT AFTER HE’S GONE. I PROMISE YOU.”
She glared at the letter as it tore itself apart. Her misstep irritated her, but at least she could remind herself that everything she did was with reason. Finished with the bedroom, she stared at the red scraps littering her feet. After a minute more, she left, contemplating another soak.
“Mother! How could he—!” She paused and turned to see Draco stumbling after her. That was right. She’d forgotten for a moment that he was in the room.
Suddenly: rage. Narcissa boiled. Berated in front of her own son! Treated like some back alley no one!
“Be ready to go out again in a few minutes,” she snapped. “We’ve an appointment at Gringotts to discuss your estate.”
“‘My’ estate? But Father is still alive.” Ah, another regret. She wished now instead of papers, she’d picked poison. It costed her to try for decency over results.
But then, as Draco came to her side and escorted her safely to her quarters, she wondered if the trade had been fair. How close would they still be if she killed his father? And he knew it? Not very, she could guess.
“Yes, unfortunately so. Luckily for us, he is also disgraced, imprisoned, and arguably in want of his senses. It is certainly no way to head a great house.
Narcissa exited the Floo in Riga and saw outlined the story of more regrets. The house was stripped to the studs, as Draco had said. Furniture, paintings, bedclothes, even wallpaper and paneling were scooped out, pared, and departed. Floorboards were pried up from some rooms, with stores of cash gone from underneath. Outside, she could see the enchanted garden gone to seed.
Severus had taken everything. Narcissa floated through the halls, making herself see and believe.
She’d never seen the finished house, having supervised the decorating via letter. Years back, they couldn’t afford too many visits to Latvia lest they be traced. So now, at the end of her plans and redesigns and waiting and arrival, she had a starved house, a skeleton.
Again, Narcissa boiled. She had given her friend everything she had left: her time, her money, her home, her hopes and fucking confidence. And he’d sold it and ran. She believed it when Draco first told her, and to see it made her more than angry.
She thought of her own, unanswered letters and it broke her heart. Weeks spent waiting by the window like some lovestruck girl, unknowingly used and forgotten.
She had asked one thing of him, and it was to play a part. To help get her safe, to keep herself and Draco settled. She warned him of the consequences, that danger was brewing; and she offered he return to the manor, despite both of them preferring the time alone.
Narcissa regretted visiting Riga. Her son witnessed the few tears run off her chin, and swore, and cried himself. She held him, fearing he’d seen something unforgivable, like how little she’d been loved.
Eventually rousing him, the pureblood refused to let herself dwell. She had her plans for these men. Lucius would take solicitors, signatures, tearfully told lies, and creative interpretations on words like “sanity” and “best interests.”
And Severus, he would have her fury.
The pair arrived before dawn. Narcissa hoped to catch him asleep. During his stay, she’d found Severus pacing his room and traversing the halls, to later see him passed out in the library right as the sun began to rise. At the time, it made her feel stupidly safe.
She decided to be glad she knew his hours and only that. The line of his nose on the open page dissolved from memory.
They landed on the top of the nearly abandoned street. The body of the great, gutted mill threatened the horizon, a barely visible monolith against the sky. She looked over Draco, wondering if he’d need sending back. Her son had gone translucently pale and shivered in the cool night breeze.
He felt her measuring him and opened his posture—his chest out, his shoulders back, chin aloft. He still shuddered, catching a chill. Narcissa touched his arm, proud of him for trying, and led them along.
“Cloak yourself,” she whispered, tapping her own head.
Draco hesitated before melting into the night as well.
She wondered if confronting Severus would be hard for him. She didn’t know why the thought hadn’t occurred to her until they were already approaching the man’s home.
As they neared the last house on Spinner’s End, they suffered a gradual and then complete utter blindness. Narcissa heard Draco cry out and grab for her, his heels tripping on the cobblestones.
“I’m here!,” she shouted, throwing out her hands. She found his and held on. She asserted through gritted teeth, “It’s only a trick! All Severus has are tricks!”
Untrue, sung her unkind fears. Maybe he’s blinded you. Maybe he’s blinded your son. He could be so close, laughing at your flailing about. You should’ve known better.
What, so you’re hurting? And that means he’ll stand still, take your anger and not a single thing more?
Fear spiked and parted the dark. Slipping, she entered a current of double vision swirling in blindness. She called Draco into it. He gasped in relief at suddenly seeing the street around them. The leaning house’s face appeared as if down the barrel of a wave.
Narcissa fished for the invisible edge of her son’s robes and, snagging it, pulled them toward the color of a electric lights on behind a curtain.
They shook, numb to the waist in freezing void. Visibly, though, they stood before the home, now towering, with no piddling mill town around it, simply miles of black. She saw shapes, enough to tell her this was an illusion: some dark grew upwards, like the Muggle lampposts; other dark raised an edge suggesting a curb.
“Go around to the back,” she breathed. “We will attack from both sides to force him out.”
“Mother,” Draco wavered.
“Curse the first shadow you see!” She pushed him. She watched the boy struggle before he ducked his head and slid into the fence of woods. Narcissa heard the rustle of the unseen bushes.
She gladly followed his nearly white hair ghosting between the shapes of trees. Once he vanished behind the house, she withdrew well into the dark, praying her foot found stone on every backward step.
She decided on a safe distance in her higher mind; meanwhile, she begged her rage to broil, to roll, to spit and spill over. The street passed in and out of clarity.
But she ate the dark, she welcomed it. She prayed to her gods that Draco could find her after. Then she raised her wand to damned lit curtain, consumed with the thief behind it.
The moment her curse hit the window, the house rumbled. A tremor traveled up her legs and into her ribs, shaking her insides, jostling her stance. Glass shattered and the cold, creeping nothing blew away in a violent gust of wind.
Suddenly there was street, lamps and houses and forest behind and garden walls. Thunder pounded the pavement, pelting her in glass and stinging gravel. Narcissa fell back, screaming, and then grunted as she weathered a blow to her stomach.
She felt the charm tear off of her as she fell under the pummeling flurry. Dirt and dust flew into her eyes and mouth, and she hacked, arms thrown up, curling and protecting her head. Whatever spell to hit her came and went with a boom and a whinny.
Narcissa fought to stand, beaten and furious. Nothing broken, but everything aching and bruised. Her crystal comb swung tangled in her curls, plucking stray hairs from her scalp as it bumped against her shoulder. She staggered onto the sidewalk, fuming, incredulous.
Severus did this? To me? Contrary to the spirit of hunting him down, swearing vengeance, wishing for his damnation, she couldn’t help thinking: But we were friends...
“BASTARD!” She felt like an idiot! She would destroy him. She would tear down his house. She would drag him by his hair through the streets.
Narcissa loosed unholy fury on the house’s face. Every ravenous curse she could imagine, she threw at Spinner’s End. “COME OUT AND FACE ME. AFTER EVERYTHING I’VE DONE FOR YOU.”
She passed up freedom for him. She toiled in the night for him. She disinterred centuries old spells and played nurse despite never healing anyone and read to his venom-locked body and gave him a whole new life while she whiled away in England, hoping one day he’d think to visit or maybe send a gift.
She blossomed quietly for four years. And he took her kindness and left, although she thought they’d had an understanding. Now she needed help. Now she needed to escape. She thought Lucius would be against them together. But where was Severus? Arming his house against her. Stomping her into the dirt.
“IF LUCIUS CAN’T KILL YOU, THEN I WILL! I! You’ve made me—.” She teared up again, bereft, humiliated. She saw a shadow move behind the dingy curtain billowing in the leftover wind.
She pitched forward and screamed, “SEVERUS. SEVERUS! YOU WON’T LEAVE THIS SHITE HEAP ALIVE!”
She poured herself into destruction.
A crack of Apparition! She whirled around, looking for the source, thinking maybe she’d heard it from the roof. Then, over the top of the house, Narcissa heard Draco holler.
The witch staggered away, shaken, then bounded for the back of the house, through the woods brightened by shooting spells.
August 24th, 2002: Spinner’s End, Cokeworth (one hour left)
Zed read the bloody poem. Rev stomped down the stairs so seriously, she laughed at first. Reflexively, she cracked a joke about insulting his art. He just watched her from the foot of the stairs, watched her circle the basement and check the windows and snap.
“Quit lookin’ at me like I’m some fuckin’ animal!”
“Will you help with the spell or not,” he asked. He gave her pause. His whole energy came over frigid. She reared back to shout from her gut.
“Just answer: yes or no.”
She glared at the drawing he’d given her, angry that it upset her. She was thirty-five years old: she had no business fearing some sketch of a wolf, shackled to a scrubby island.
It wasn’t even proportionate. The wolf took up most of the island. It lorded over the scribbled pines. One paw covered a third of the rock, such that the front claws skimmed the ocean and a rear paw dipped beneath the surf.
She itched looking at it. Her fingers itched like they were sprouting claws. Her body itched as if growing fur. She felt closed into the tiny basement and stalked along all its walls.
Ever since she got the picture, she’d edged on panic, needing air. The windows didn’t help. She jimmied them open, open-mouth panting, and leapt away when she met with worm-filled dirt. Pebbled brown sprinkled every windowsill. Even while she heckled Rev, it caked the tough creases of her palms and under her chipped fingernails.
Buried, she’d been buried. Zed didn’t pretend to care about a random spell when she could hardly breathe.
“I didn’t really promise anythin’,” she rebutted. She dug her nails into the meat of her forearm, wanting desperately to scratch. “Christ, I can barely stand my own pissin’ skin. What’d you give me! Just—get away!”
Her CD ended with a click. It whined in the radio a few seconds into the sustained silence.
Without another word, Rev slinked back up the stairs. She waited to see if he’d start something, but his leaving plainly said, “Do what you want.”
The music changed. She hardly noticed.
Zed confronted the sketch, irritated that she accepted it, and twice over that she’d gone back on her word. She hadn’t explicitly promised to help. However, she also hadn’t flat out rejected that second time; she used the same noncommittal silence Rev had just done; and she couldn’t claim to read his quirks and their meanings as if it didn’t go both ways.
She read and reread the picture’s poem, and a noise built in her chest as loud if not louder. The radio howled and so did she. The noise crawled up her throat like vomit.
Her claustrophobia gave way to a driving pain in her gut. She mouthed the written words, then spoke them aloud, then yelled them, outpacing the coursing bay. But soon, it overwhelmed her.
She was all noise, all baying. She ripped from her skin and crashed back into it, pulsing. She stamped on the cement floor, shocking the stays on her bones, tearing.
Inside her, yellow eyes flashed. They danced. They set themselves on rending flesh, on spreading, on broken chains; busted metal, falling walls; out, running, free!
Zed stormed upstairs, unable to catch her breath. The basement more than tilted: it flipped, threatening to throw her down into the buried, starless sky.
The first thing she saw was Fox’s wide back. She dove into it, needing more give than cement to break upon. She wrapped him in flexing arms, grabbed her own wrist, and squeezed until she felt the burn in her tendons. It wasn’t a hug, more like amateur gravity, an attempt to anchor them to the ground. Nothing short of another planet could possibly pull him away.
She squeezed him, and the huge man wheezed. Zed gasped, struggling right along with him.
“If anyone ever laid hands on you,” she promised, “I’d kill them!”
He’d become a kid in her mind. All the panic forced abstract dream logic into her world which made her younger brother truly younger, not much more than three. Even she felt shrunken despite also feeling humongous, too big for the house, too big for her body.
She fought for control, shaking so hard her brother’s teeth chattered. Zed blinked away the boy she felt in her arms and squinted at the adult towering over her.
“You’d get ‘em first, okay? And then I’d find them all, and I’d—!”
“Yuh, I kn—!,” Fox squeaked.
“I’ll eat them. I’ll—!” He smacked at her arms.
“Stop! Rev!” She looked down and realized, under her foot, the spill of hair on the floor.
Zed hacked, “Gah!” Unthinking, she planted her feet and hauled her little brother to safety. Her spine popped. Her ropy muscles strained, but persisting, she lifted him off of his feet. In her mind, she’d traveled back to preschool days, chasing behind a toddler wobbling too close to the street.
“Shit!,” Fox cried, limbs wheeling. She started inching backwards with her brother hoisted over her head. It was work to keep her balance, unwieldy as he was. He fought her, and she cursed at him, sure he couldn’t properly see.
The thing on the floor unfolded, and only then could she pick out Reverend. But there were other, nastier things covering him—bodies in strange clothes, capes, robes, and Victorian dresses; starched collars and tall, pointed hats; odd leather shoes, like snakeskin with massive scales. They layered over and through each other like phantom photographs.
Under that, she saw his slack features played out on a dozen other faces: the same eyes as Fox’s, but devastated; her nose, more crooked; Rev’s mouth, but twisted in agony.
Ghosts. He was mobbed by ghosts. Zed stole her brother toward a door.
“Zeddie!” Her mother wavered over the writhing mess, rusty red spots on her nightie.
Zed objected when the woman kneeled beside Rev’s body. Gracie braved the flower of dead things growing from the kitchen floor.
“Well don’t touch ‘em! God, you’ve lost your fuckin’ mind!”
“He’s havin’ a fit! He started chantin’ and all this, so I nicked him a little to snap him out of it, and now he’s gone into this, uh—! I—he, it’s—dammit!”
Rev’s eyes were vein-streaked white. Color drained out of him, his skin going the same pearly grey as the ghosts suckered to him. Zed couldn’t imagine what her mother saw, but it was nothing compared to this.
The ghosts moaned either in victory or in grief as their collective grip on his throat coaxed a tight, bright orb from his parted lips.
Some hindbrain instinct choked her as if forcing down her own wispy glow. Visceral empathy closed her throat even more. Her body revolted, making her drop Fox and struggle again for air. Although she didn’t consciously know it, Zed was witnessing the taking of a soul.
“What’s that thing? What’s that!?” Gracie hovered like she planned to start breathing into his mouth. Zed shook her head and tried to pantomime, “Ghosts!,” “Stealing!,” “Don’t!”
“‘Wiggly,’ um, ‘take, grab, ta’—what the hell are you sayin’, woman!? Is it the spell thing? The glowin’ thingy part? You did his magic, so—.”
Zed nodded, pointing to say, “Yeah! You’ve got it!” Then she threw herself down by her mother and slapped a hand over Rev’s mouth. Static fizzed along her finger bones as the orb passed through the back of her hand, shocking her knuckles, and continued to rise.
Again, her body lurched. A transparent hand floated toward the glow. She pulled in a sliver of air.
“Not yours!,” she snarled at the greedy ghost, baring teeth.
The phantoms jittered and keened, but didn’t dare move closer. The orb, however, kept rising, beginning to arc away. Zed tried to grab it, and again, it slipped through her fingers. She could see it, even feel it, but not hold it or force it back inside its body.
The further it flew, the more Rev’s skin cooled under her palm. Zed suddenly needed to catch the thing.
“Fuck it, where’s—ha!” Zed looked to her mother, who rushed to the stove. The woman dug her fingers in the gap between it and the cabinets. Fishing out a sheet of white paper, she stood and started fussing with a burner.
“Damn thing won’t...light, arsehole!”
Zed leapt up, still snatching at the truant glow. She swiped at it uselessly, even ran in front of it to block its path outside. The orb simply passed through her, flickering as it sunk toward the ground. The ghosts were now bystanders who jeered as she dove to the ground after it.
She jumped when Gracie shouted, “Gimme a bloody lighter!”
Fox grunted. Something plastic hit the countertop. A tick and a crackle later, Zed smelled butane and burning paper.
Under the black soil outside, the loam, and the dead people, she smelled everyone’s sweat, a tang of copper, and of all things, salt—seawater—and pit fire, not just lighters; sour and honey, pine resin; wilderness, and ash.
The ghosts hushed. Zed, half in the yard on her belly, mocked their twisted, gobsmacked faces. And then they blew away like smoke.
The cold stopped. The orb bobbed at the tips of her fingers, strobing bright as a lightning bug. Its descent arrested, she managed short, quick breaths.
“Oh. Oh, that’s different.”
Violet light flooded the kitchen. Besides that, Zed, Fox, and even their mother stood panting. There were no spirits, no wailing, no blaring music, just the three of them around Rev’s body. Them and the orb, which wafted over to rest on the stove.
Gracie scooped it onto her pinkie. It swirled and shrunk till it was pea-sized and solid, searing white. It spun so fast it whistled faintly while her mother appraised it.
“Are my ears fucked? Is there an echo?,” asked a disheveled Fox. He tugged sheepishly at Gracie’s nightgown. “Y...you alright?”
“I’m seein’ doubles and everything I look at’s on fire, so no, not bloody likely. What’s this I’m holdin’?”
Fox gestured to Zed. She shook her head, “I dunno, man. Mum, what floated outta him,” she explained, standing, slapping dirt off her clothes.
“These ghosts were mobbin’ him and squeezed it out.”
She scanned her mum for changes.The older woman seemed normal, just sweaty, stained, and rumpled. When she spoke, however, Zed heard her mother’s trembling midtones once, and then again as if from on high.
Her words rang together like twin bells in a church steeple. It was a bit of a trip, like the voice she’d always felt the woman should have finally coming out. Zed’s mother weighed the whistling glow with a finger wriggle. It warbled.
“Ain’t you a heavy bit a somethin’.”
The ball of something rolled onto her pinkie nail. Gracie huffed, “Want back in, do ya?,” and flicked.
It streaked white as it flew down, past Rev’s crooked teeth, and disappeared down his throat like the light of a diver’s headlamp swallowed by a deep-sea cave.
The man shot upright with a barking, “Shit!,” just as a crack split the quiet in the yard. Zed jerked away from the screen door, dreading more frigid ghosts. She only just recognized one of the new kids’ bright red hair.
“Damn, Gina, relax!,” she snapped over the girl saying, “We found your daughter! Harry’s bringing—um. Why’s Snape on the floor?”
Rev refused anyone’s hand, grunting. He picked himself up, and unbuttoned and rolled his sleeves, unbuttoned his collar, pulled stringy hair from his mouth.
“He tripped,” quipped Fox, rubbing his tailbone after having picked his way off the floor, same as Rev. “We’re all takin’ a spill today, I think. Laney’s okay?”
“Yeah, uh, yes.”
Zed glanced at the girl once, then stumbled to the stove. Fox took her place and kept on their conversation through the screen, asking after the baby’s health. One could just see Gina’s leg lean along the door frame while she answered. She seemed unsure of if to come in as she described where they’d found the ickle duck.
Rev and Gracie huddled around the light casting big shadows on the rest of them. Zed joined them and realized they attended a gorgeous fire, lit up in shades from lavender to burgeoning almost-black. Impossibly hot with how contained it was, hovering over a half-torched drawing on the burner. It drew the cold from her skin, and fluttered when she came closer.
She felt it welcoming her, which made no sense. People helped themselves to cozy firesides, not the other way around. It was grand to give up sense, however, if it meant she could get warm. Panting, she inhaled the sour and honey, sea salt, pine.
“Oh, is that it?,” asked Gina.
Rev massaged his neck and answered, sounding parched, “Yes, hmm.” His throat clicked, it was so dry. “The hearth flame is nearly finished. Once Potter and Fred have done their part...”
He eyed Zed. She returned his wary look on a silver platter: “I don’t like this magic. This fire’s good, but, Huh,” she wheezed, “trash the rest. It’s dead clear it’s for more than stoppin’ hitmen.”
“We need the ‘rest’ to create the hearth fire? I high does the stopping,” Rev sniffed. “This will serve us for years to come. I’ll concede that some of my part escaped me.”
“‘Some,’ he says,” she snorted. “Y—,” but she didn’t finish the thought, entranced by how the fire swayed. It curled like it’d been tickled. She cursed at it. It wriggled.
“You prick, can it hear me?”
“It is you,” was all Rev managed when red sparks lit up his features and their peculiar zeal. None of them moved from the fire. Gina finally made her decision and ran inside to safety.
They were under attack, apparently. Finally, these hitmen showed themselves.
“Pity for them,” their resident wizard said.
Zed cut their group a look and laughed. They were doing fine wearing themselves down to nubs, but sure, she could greet a hired goon or two. Strangers shot funny, stinking spells at them from the woods. Wizard or not, they were each one a person, same as her.
She could fight them. They could bleed.
She inhaled, finally filling her chest with a long, burrowing breath. The werewolf scented morsels of more sea, and faded cologne, and cold dirt, and hand cream. A hint of cut fabric and real leather in the garbage and cigarette woods.
Someone with money attacked their happy home.
Her hearing wasn’t as good as days before. But if she strained beyond just heartbeats, she heard a posh twat stammering nonsense words. Zed couldn’t place the accent with its perfect “t”s and breathy highs. She knew, though, that Rev spoke like him but slower, heavier, like he was holding down his tongue.
“Your spooky hitman sounds rich.”
“No, you can’t hear him from here. He’s hidden back in the trees,” insisted the redhead.
“You can’t hear him. I can tell you, he’s a rich boy who just tripped on his own damn feet,” Zed clarified, hitting a hard “t”.
Rev’s lip twitched, and she thought he looked powerfully pleased. He radiated approval at the fire in Gracie’s hands and then at Zed, who glared suspiciously.
“It’s working,” he praised. Then he whirled and strode outside, head held high.
The screen banged and exploded again in red light. It was almost like the shooter wanted to miss. None of his red magic hit an actual person. It only succeeded in showing Rev’s outline in the dark.
The man stood in defiance of the forest.
“Bit stupid to ask to be shot,” Gina mumbled. Zed silently agreed.
Just then, an awful stench snuck up on her from behind. She gagged, overtaken by traces of savory herbs on hot, noxious metal. It was so potent even the witch girl recoiled, although Fox only seemed focused on the yard.
He only noticed when the house shook and they heard glass breaking. There was a whining buzz and a pop, and the living room lamp lost a bulb. Startlingly cool air whooshed over them, blowing away the stink, like a window was suddenly thrown open.
“Is the other guy out front?,” Fox yelled over the ongoing rumble. Zed shouted yes. “Alright, then, if we’re doin’ this, then let’s really do it!”
He pulled out his own folded up sketch.
The house continued to quake. It sounded like a stampede, thrilling when it parted around them and drove down the hall. Their shadows rippled around the growing handheld flame, which sparked blue and red-orange as it withstood the wind.
Fox, using the fire as a reading light, started to hiss. Zed had déja vu. He had made those sounds before, although she couldn’t recall exactly when. They were distinct, like they meant something, and she remembered—was it recently? Or in a dream?
No! Fox used to hiss in his sleep. They hadn’t shared a room in decades, but she was sure. She could see it now, with her baby brother snoring, belly out, spread eagle on top of his quilt.
“ Ssstshsthhhssaaaaa, haaaasaaa…”
Gracie flinched. The fire nearly took off her eyebrows as it doubled in size.
“That’s not a man.”
Gina shouted at the echoing voices. Her mother gave them all a stern glare as she carried the fire down the hall, flame tip waving just under her chin.
Zed understood the implicit, “Stay put.” She watched Rev disappear past the tree line and kept vigil of her brother while he read.
Harry landed on the roof, seeing no safer ground anywhere else. He held fast to Laney’s wrist as he urged her off of the broom. The shingles were damp from yesterday’s rain, so he watched their feet closely, terrified of a fall.
“Careful! Here, you can use my arm.” He played the bannister while the girl got her legs under her.
“Yeah, don’t slip. We’re going to Apparate, like, erm, what Ginny did. You’re just gonna want to hold on. Close your eyes, or you’ll get dizzy.”
They spun away and cracked into Freddy’s snake room, it being the clearest image in Harry’s mind. Laney wobbled and he checked her over, glad for no Splinched skin or fingernails. Toes and tips of noses accounted all for, he let her go and gave her a second to steady herself.
The little witch staggered like a drunk and flopped, arms spread, on the cot.
“I feel sick,” she whispered. While he sympathized, he couldn’t leave her behind alone.
He urged her to sit up, put her head between her knees, and breath long, even breaths. She made it through the first breath, hiccuped, and swung her head back up before bothering with another. Her eyes watered and she scowled at him betrayed.
“I know, it’s terrible. I’m sorry,” Harry said, crossing his fingers. “From now on, that’s for emergencies only. Right now, though, we need to get to everybody. Are you cool with—,” she nodded sickly. “Brilliant! Let’s go.”
They stole down the hall and peeked out the bookcase, only to find themselves trapped. Mrs. Malfoy drew from a limitless well of rage-fueled Dark magic. Books and furniture rotted, turned to mold and ooze before their eyes. The floorboards, the carpet, warped and blew mostly shreds.
In the midst of the destruction, Grace, hardly seeming to notice the carnage, stared out the busted window. She held a miniature bonfire in her hands that grew taller and taller by the second, seeming to feed off of the calamity. Its edge teased the ceiling, threatening to give it a lick.
Harry snuck the secret door shut again and treated Laney to a preemptive apology. With a sigh longer than her years, his sister gave him her wrist to grab and squeezed her teary eyes shut.
They cracked into the kitchen in time to see Freddy vanish. The second before he’d been standing by Zed, reading from a sheet of paper. Harry couldn’t finish, “Don’t!” before the man faded away.
Laney and Zed both cried out, rushing to the now vacant spot by the pantry, grabbing at empty air. Ginny, who’d turned to Harry, spun around, shocked by their sudden shouts. He cursed, and absolutely livid, searched the kitchen for Snape, the maker of all this chaos, needing to hit him, needing to know why he ruined everything.
Except Snape was gone. Grace courted her fire, Laney was in tears, Zed started tossing the pantry looking for any scrap of her brother, and Snape was gone. Harry ran to the pantry, ready to help tear down the shelves—
And then, in a wink, Freddy reappeared. In the same spot, no longer reading, but blinking at Harry owlishly, Snape’s drawing held loosely in his hand. The young wizard plowed ahead on momentum. He crashed into the man’s torso, bounced off and landed on the...ground?
Merlin, no, he begged, seeing the impenetrable black underneath him.
Freddy was here, but at the expense of everything else. The kitchen and the people in it became only the ceaseless night. Again, Harry had entered the dizzying nothing, Laney’s forever sea.
It boasted the dark of deep sea trenches, tge kind so pressing and blank that bones and eyes were optional. He looked up and saw the moon again. It lit nothing and the two of them, marooned.
“We have to get out of here,” he told Freddy.
The larger man muttered, “It’s what I get, fuckin’ with this shit.”
He seemed to be talking to himself. Then he motioned over his head and body, then Harry’s, mumbling nonsense.
“Hmm. See, I don’t know any proper spells, but if it were up to me, that’d work.”
“If it were up to me, we wouldn’t be in this mess!” Harry leapt up to pace, but when he turned away from Freddy, he only had the trench, and his stomach dropped instantly. Without a point of reference, he lost every sense of being or direction.
He spun back and gave Freddy his full attention as he spat, “I never learn! Snape is trouble. Don’t trust him. He only lives to ruin people—.”
“Harsh! Who said that?”
“Everyone who’s ever met him, I guess. At some point! I mean, really! There’s a lady out there attacking your house. She literally saved his life and now she wants to kill him! It’s just what he is!”
“Yes! Destructive and evil and, and unlovable! I can’t believe I really almost gave him a chance! I was starting to, I was this close!”
Harry sat back down, cross legged. He pulled a Laney and flopped down on the ground, arms wide. He closed his eyes, hoping he’d open them and see the kitchen ceiling. He quailed to see that domineering moon.
“So, did you do your part?”
Harry bristled.”I’m not responsible for an adult not having his shit together! Snape spat on us knowing each other on day one! One! I was a kid! I’m still kinda one now, y’know—I’m still young!
“And all this time he could’ve reached out to me and maybe thanked me for covering his arse? Or apologized for how he treated me, or done anything decent but no! He wants to do all this and disappear again!”
He pulled at his hair, fed up with trying and giving and bad advice. “But sure, I’m expected to know how to solve everything, because I’m the Chosen One, when fully capable adults could just do their bloody jobs and leave me alone!
“I wanted to have tea with my bloody mother, not fight demons! God!”
Denim scuffed on denim as Freddy sat across from him. “I meant, this part.”
He grinned bashfully and showed Harry the paper. Harry flushed, seeing the giant serpent wrapping around the little shack, and deflated, embarrassed by his losing his temper.
“I mean, all that sounds important. Quotin’ Duck here, ‘I want to validate your emotions.’ Just so happens, I was talkin’ about the spell thing, that part. The snake bit. I think I pronounced it wrong when I did it, I dunno.”
Harry sighed and frowned at the moon. “I’m not reading that.”
“Okay, I mean, yeah, you don’t have to. Thing is, I don’t wanna die here or live here for eternity or whatever, so. We kinda left things in a bit of a shambles. What’re our other options for gettin’ back?”
Harry stayed frowning. He wasn’t just going to read from some page Snape pissed together for him. He didn’t know the rituals, or anything really about wards. The only thing that stuck with him was Ginny’s excitement in the woods. She was certain that somehow he needed this, that had Snape attempted to embody them, or make a house out of them, or something he didn’t understand.
In any case, he knew he didn’t need Snape deciding what part he played in anything. Harry could devise his own parts. He dug in his clothes for wherever he’d put—yes!
Harry pulled the crushed piece of paper from his jeans. The same snake as Freddy’s winded around the tiny house on the page.
“If it doesn’t work, oh well, but I’m not reading his words when I can think up my own.”