Chapter Ten, In Which I Am Assaulted by Middle-Aged Mutant Bureaucratic Frogs
Let me say it again: Tonks is totally the coolest person on earth and, while she says she won't take me to get a tattoo, it's only because she's been working days for the Ministry and nights for the Order, meaning that none of the good places are actually open when she's awake and available. That, and Sirius has forbidden me from leaving the house, which isn't exactly hard because there's nowhere to go and I'd have to have an armed guard or something, but is still totally annoying. I've told him that there's nothing but friendship going on between Snape and me, but that's, "bad enough," according to him, though maybe he can sense I'm lying to him, because there is something more then friendship going on between the last member of The Most Exalted House of Prince and myself. Granted, I don't know what it is, but when you make-out with a professor in your escaped convict godfather's house, there's something going on.
We were tackling the ghoul who was living in the upstairs bath together – metal colanders on our heads (hers was tangerine today), wand in her hand, kitchen tongs and spatula in mine – when, out of nowhere, she asks, "So, you and Snape, huh? I always thought he'd have a thing for one of his students one day."
My tongs, naturally, clattered onto the tile floor, both of us struggling to sit on the box we'd forced the ghoul into to stay shut long enough for Tonks to close the catches. The trunk bucked a little beneath us, and a hand managed to sneak out, scratching my arm in the process. "It's – er – nothing." I supplied frantically.
"You don't just tell a room full of Weasleys and my cousin that I've the hots for a certain werewolf if it's nothing."
"Yeah, er, sorry about that."
She shrugged it off, stinging the hand that had scratched me enough to get one of the clasps shut. "It got Remus to notice me, at least. He's been meticulously avoiding me since Thursday – no, that's a good thing. It means he sees something he thinks he should avoid. I just have to wear him down."
"Good luck with that," we managed the second catch with a grunt and slunk off the trunk in relief. "They can be quite persistent in protecting us from themselves," I offered then. "'Brilliant but damned,' or something like that. I think their mothers read too much Brontë when they were pregnant."
"Ha!" she yelled, possibly because she'd just managed to padlock the trunk to the sink pedestal, tripping only twice over her own feet. Way cool, yes, but dead clumsy. She's the kind of person you'd think would have a collection of all the lost ballpoints and socks-lost-in-the-wash hiding under her bed and would never know it. "I knew it! Éléonore and Snape, sitting in a tree K-I-S-S-I-N-G."
At least, I thought wryly, removing my colander helmet and chasing after the auror, she was using my proper name.
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ArietisCauldwell, though, could give her a run for her money. Before the trial she was all business, reminding me how the judge had to know as well as I did that the charges brought against me were frivolous, stupid, and generally an over-reaction based off of Fudge's slanderous claims about me being an attention-seeking, mentally-unstable fifteen-year-old. This was after, of course, that I'd spent half-an-hour explaining to Sirius that, yes, I thought it might be a good idea to be present at my disciplinary hearing and that, no, I wasn't going to sneak off and meet Snape. I swear, for a guy who (so I've been informed) serial dated in a way that could make some American movie stars cringe, he's a downright prude when it comes to the thought of his (god)daughter – for he's recently taking to dropping the first syllable, which makes me wonder if I'm suddenly going to receive an owl from Ari informing me that I've been adopted, which I'm not sure a criminal on the run can do. I must look into this – in a romantic entanglement with anybody, let alone his most-hated enemy.
He's begun talking to me about nunneries.
My bodyguards today are Tonks (who keeps on teasing me, but in a big-sisterly way that I rather wish everyone else would adopt if we have to talk about it at all) and Fleur. Yes, I know, Fleur. She's found herself a job at Gringotts and is like so totally going out with Bill this Friday. I'd tease her about it too, but she seems to really like him, especially since she had to work to catch him as he just didn't tumble over himself to ask her out once she turned on the old Veela charm. Of course, Fleur keeps telling Tonks that that colour yellow and that shade of magenta don't go in any sort of pleasing combination together, but I don't think Tonks will consent to being a project as easily as I did. It's hilarious to watch though.
For some reason my 'hearing' ended up held before a full gathering of the wizengamot. I was fully acquitted, of course, but not before Ari got in some wonderful verbal blows. At one point a woman who looked like a cross between Uncle Vernon and a frog with a voice that reminded me of the "questioning" The Twins had given me on Thursday, accused, "I'm sure I must have misunderstood you, Mrs. Cauldwell. So silly of me, but it sounded for a teensy moment as though you were suggesting that the Ministry of Magic had ordered an attack on this girl!" With that one statement she rubbed me the wrong way enough to make me wish she'd slept her way to the top so no one would ever have to say they honestly thought she deserved in her own right to be the Minister's Undersecretary.
"Why, Madam Umbridge, I'm claiming no such thing. What I meant to say is that somebody in the Ministry of Magic ordered an attack on Miss Potter on He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named's request." She then brought into evidence a transcript of he interview (which is appearing in The WNN's Smoke and Mirror, International Wizarding Post, and their wireless broadcast "Who's Saying What?" tonight) of me on what happened the night of the third task. She then went on to laude me as, "The brave messenger who refused to be shot," nominated me for an Order of Merlin, and claim that the entire Fudge administration was allowing the Dark to win by not preparing while there was still time.
Like I said, I was naturally acquitted, and so the four of us girls laughed over the whole thing with lunch at a place Tonks knew on Diagon.
"I don't understand," I shared with the group after our food had arrived and the waiter (having gotten over the fact The- Girl-Who-Lived was one of his customers) disappeared, "is why Fudge thinks he can just pretend Voldemort hasn't returned. It's not like they can hide the evidence forever. I've tried to watch the Muggle news and there hasn't been anything that looks like him yet, no funny deaths or anything-"
Fleur was quick with a proximity charm and a cone of silence about our table. I wish I could have gone with her to France for the start of the summer.
"There's been nothing suspicious yet, that we know of," Tonks offered, passing me a basket of rolls.
"And we know quite a lot. More zen 'e knows, anyway."
"Been lying low, you see," Ari said then, looking by far younger then she'd in the courtroom. She was younger then Remus and Sirius and Severus, I suddenly realized; younger then my parents would have been, if only by one year. Yet in some way I could not describe she always seemed older to me, despite my werewolf friend's unseasonable grey hairs, in that way that almost said that, while she had loved my parents very dearly, she had moved on, had created a life for herself out of the ashes of that Halloween. She was just now delving into the war which, for these three men, had never ended. It made her seem terribly young to me at that instant, as young as Tonks and Fleur, and, possibly, quite younger then myself. I was ancient in my own mind, for while I understood that, yes, Ari had two kids near my age and, yes, Tonks was an auror and probably had seen some nasty things in her line of work and, yes, Fleur had been a champion with me and faced a dragon and grindylows and that horrid maze, but… But I had killed (and possibly maimed) at least one person, I had seen the bastard return, I had seen a boy, a handsome boy who would never age and who I would eventually grow older then as he remained a stagnant memory in his poor parents' minds… I wanted to be young and clasped at moments like these, but I knew already that there was something they were not saying, something they feared to share… something that, because I had been the fool who'd let him take my blood, I'd have to see him dead. "His comeback didn't come off quite the way he wanted. Only his Death Eaters were supposed to ever know he'd returned."
"You escaped, Alexandrie-Margaux, and within ze 'our ze Order was reformed."
"And, if there's one thing old Mouldy-Pants can't stand, it's seeing his plans foiled. He's quite like Fudge that way, actually."
Ari glared at Tonks's nickname, but, with a sigh as she speared a steamed carrot with rather more force then was necessary, "They both have a temper of a two-year-old."
"I think that ez being too kind to two-year-olds: Gabrielle was quite a well-behaved baby."
"Still," I tried again, trying to imagine what a well-behaved part-Veela might be like, "He's gotta be recruiting – it'll have to come out eventually. I understand he's not hosting dinner parties or handing out leaflets on Diagon, but he's gotta try recruiting the wrong person at the wrong time, or something."
"'E's got other plans, Alexandrie-Margaux-"
"Right big nasty ones," Tonks interrupted.
Only Fleur could look as haughtily at a person as she looked at Tonks then. Tonks, obligingly, changed her hair from pink to the silvery-blonde that the French girl sported, shaping her nose and colouring her eyes grey at the same time. "As I was saying… 'E is after something dangerous, something worse and more powerful zen 'e 'ad before. I don't know what," she added quickly at my questioning glare.
"Don't look at me – I only know we don't want him to get whatever it is. I think only Dumbledore knows what is there that we don't want him near." Tonks held one hand at table level and another near the top of her very blonde head. "This is the totem pole," she moved one of her hands underneath the table cloth, "and this is where I fall on it."
"Well, Nymphie dear-"
In her auror voice, "ArietisIphygenieCauldwell, if you call me 'Nymphie' again I will be forced to castrate your husband."
I don't know why Ari did it, but she called Tonks Nymphie again, and battle ensued. Fleur and I did our best to stay out of their way, but before long a spell went astray and caused her perfect blonde hair to stand on end, and, well, let's just say that, no matter how available I am according to Star and Stave (a Daily Prophet News Network printing) after breaking up with long-time beau Osiris O'Malley backstage at the Haz-Mat's Dublin concert, I'm not likely to be invited back any time soon.
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While the Smoke and Mirror and International Wizarding Post may have first printed the story, headlines such as:
Potter Tells It All
British Dark Lord Returned?
Ministry Cover-up Revealed
appeared over the next three weeks on every newspaper not connected to the Daily Prophet or its News Network reprinted my interview, editorials and columns discussing whether or not such a thing as Voldemort's return was possible or even probable were printed, Mental Healers and various other specialists were interviewed to establish or contest my mental health; and my exploits over the last four years published, lauded, critiqued, and dissected for possible Dark-entanglements. If it wasn't so annoying, it would have been amusing to see my name in print everywhere – correctly as it were – and hoping to Merlin that Snape was off doing something for Voldemort or Dumbledore that involved him having to walk past nearly every newsstand in existence. Also, because it seems unlikely I'd have expressed a desire to go into a Death Eater's custody, it seems the Ministry has been contacting Ari about settling Black v. DMJ out of court, making Sirius a free man at last.
There were, of course, several very unpleasant things about this. For instance, Sirius has been framing the most daring, most amusing, and stupidest articles from the various papers and hanging them in the stairwell where the elf heads used to sit. I feel kind of bad for getting angry with him as we prepared to leave for the station – with Wormtail on the Dark side, his secret was probably plastered all over Death Eater HQ – but I think he only wanted to come along in case Snape made an entrance.
"Merlin, Sirius! Can't you just trust me, okay? I fought Voldemort; I don't think fending off advances from unwanted suitors should be too much of a problem!"
"It's not the unwanted ones that worry me, Éléonore," he said darkly, extolling to me the virtues of a monastery in the Himalayas that a few of his squib relations had been sent to for Merlin-knows how long when they needed to be carefully gotten out of the public eye. "My Great-Uncle Marius spent the last sixty years of his life there, very comfortably I'm given to understand – it was a fact that annoyed my grandfather to no end; he'd always rather hoped his brother would die and get the whole problem over with – and only a couple days away by portkey."
"I'm not going into a nunnery, Sirius!"
"Well how about a nice arranged marriage? There are plenty of Weasley boys-"
"Sirius!" I shouted again, dropping my trunk (which I'd been trying to get out the door, a fact made harder since Sirius would not move out of the way) on his toes. "What is your problem? So Snape and I get along," and have exchanged saliva and he apparently cares enough about me to have studiously avoided me since my arrival even though he must know I'm not going to give in that easily. I mean, he'd never pull one of these things Sirius is doing to me now. So Sirius didn't like Severus? For all he knew she and Snape just got along, big deal. Okay, so maybe if he knew the truth I could see him being a tiny bit angry – the age difference is a little extreme on the outside, I admit – but this is a little extreme. "So help your magic, Sirius Black, if you try to marry me off to any of the Weasleys I- I- well, I don't know what I'll do, but it won't be pretty." I hoisted by trunk up and shoved passed him. "I love you to pieces, Sirius, but this obsession with yours is getting out of hand. Buy a chew toy or something."
"Are you sure? What about that second one, what's his name, Charlie? You got on with him at the first task, didn't you?" he continued unperturbed.
Blandly, "I'd just outflown his dragon."
"See, what did I say? What about him?"
We made our way down the stairs amidst glass-framed newspapers (in eight European languages and three from the Sino-Japanese Empire) proclaiming that I'd claimed to have witnessed a Dark Lord's return. "Okay then, no Weasleys. You went to the ball with that Longbottom boy, right? Frank and Alice's kid-?"
"I'm not marrying Neville either!" I shouted reaching the final landing, throwing my trunk down as best as one can throw a trunk and asking Ginny, who was sitting on one, where The Twins were.
Like the devil, they appeared. Pointing a dangerous finger at the pair, I asked, "You two have always wanted to know who made the map, right?" They nodded, confused. I admit I wasn't making the best sense, but Sirius had gotten me very angry. I swear, I was doing fine enough on my own for the last dozen or so years. Maybe not the best, yes, but I'd been doing it. I suddenly did not need godfather's showing up that wanted me to marry Neville Longbottom so he'd not have to worry about me liking Snape, even if it meant staying at Azkaban South for an extra summer! I turned an excusatory finger on said godfather. "This one here's Padfoot."
"Is it true, Fred?" asked the twin on the left wearing a hideous yellow "F" T-Shirt
The other was wearing an identical "F" T-Shirt shirt and responded, "I do think so. Ickle-Harrikins wouldn't lie to us about the Grandfathers of the Gag-"
"-the Ancestors of the Antic-"
"-the Sultans of the Shenanigan-"
"-the Fathers of the Fart Joke, would you Harry?"
I tried my best to look honest and failed, looking instead furious. "Sirius, Padfoot. Remus, Moony. Dad, Prongs."
The left twin leapt and Sirius and enveloped his legs in a strange hug. The right twin did the same to my legs and proceeded to kiss my shoes. Together they cried, "We are not worthy!"
At Sirius's feet, "Padfoot, Prince of the Prank!"
"Only spawn of Marauder!" went the one at my feet.
"-that we have-"
"-been sitting at the feet of-"
"-the fountain of knowledge all this time-"
"-and never knew it."
"Please, oh mighty Padfoot-"
"-and blessed spawn-"
"-bestow upon us your wisdom!"
It was into this situation Mrs. Weasley entered.
Okay, so I am a little sorry that I got him in trouble (he was giving The Twins ideas, you see), but he mostly deserved it. I wish I could say the same about the whispers that followed me – that I deserved it – but most of them were uncharitable for, like it or not, the DPNN was the most-read in England and contained such lofty publications as the Daily Prophet (today's headline: "Attempted Break-in at Ministry!"), Witch Weekly ("Can a Toadstool Change Its Stalk?"), and Star and Stave ("What You Missed at the 551st Annual Wizarding Music Awards"), and, despite the popularity of my interview, most people had only read the synopses of the editorials, at least among my classmates.
I don't know how I managed to make it through the Welcoming Feast and that wonderful discovery that the frog-woman is to be the new DADA teacher. I can't remember most of it, so I think I intentionally zoned out of the whole thing. I really did miss having Fleur and the S's there with me, though apparently the new scandal is that Sylvie ran off with another one of the Beauxbatons's delegation, Alain, and eloped in Tijuana. I could be enjoying a nice, homemade meal at HQ with whatever members of the Order plus Sirius have managed to show up in time and listening to Fleur fill me in with all the juicy details against my will, but no, I had to show Fudge up and not get expelled.
Granted, Sirius would probably be trying to figure out who he could marry me off to so he doesn't have to worry about having Snape as a godson-in-law. He suggests one of the Prince of Wales's sons – apparently the Blacks have "connections" or something – and that gave me pause, but still. It might be nicer then all these whispers I've had to deal with here. Besides, people are still calling me Harry. Can you imagine it? Prince Harry and Princess Harry? Oh Merlin. I hate my life today.
As the last member of the Most Dignified and Decorous House of Potier (per the French), my life would, in other times, I expect, have been filled with nice, pleasant things. Maybe horse riding and archery, maybe more annoying balls or more annoying arranged marriages to consider, yes, but it'd had to have gone better then today.
I mean, really. I had HoM first thing, which wasn't so bad as I was able to ignore most the whispers and reading one of Ye Olde Law books Ari gave me when she found out I was interested in it, law that was. The one I'm on now is on the legal status of non-human non-beasts, i.e. werewolves, centaurs, merpeople, and the like. A little dry, a little strange, yes, but not bad.
Bad was Potions that came after. And I don't just mean the usual Snape bad. I mean a downright evil, I've-been-tortured-using-the-Cruciatus-C
"Miss Potter," he asked about five minutes from the end of lesson, having already vanished something from Neville's cauldron and taken fifteen points from Parvati, "what is that supposed to be?" Obviously he was taking the whole I-must-hate-you-to-protect-you thing to heart. Men! If I didn't like them so much I'd say get rid of them.
Okay, the smoke was grey instead of silver. Ron's was green though. Pick on him instead! "The Draught of Peace, sir," I offered, doing my best Percy impression.
"Tell me, Miss Potter, can you read?"
"Usually, sir. My sight usually takes Friday nights off, but my hearing had a date and so they switched days."
Pity he wasn't amused. At least he didn't give me detention. We both knew what that would mean.
Divs was almost worse, believe that? We're talking about dreams now; have to keep a diary of them and everything. I'm sure I can make something up – it's have I've been doing Divination for years – but the very idea of keeping a dream diary is just ludicrous. I have about four standard dreams and they, in order of popularity, are: the graveyard, Halloween '81; a random Death Eater soirée in which Severus is tortured, murdered, and disassembled throughout London; and the more pleasant ones wherein said former Death Eater is doing very pleasant, unadvisable things for a professor to do with a student. I think the meanings are very straightforward, thank you Professor Bug-Eyes, and if one or the other for some reason means I'm going to be eaten by a giant bowl of tapioca pudding in revenge or something, I, frankly, don't need to know. I should never have taken the stupid class, but I was young and naïve then, and frankly thought that knowing the future might be helpful in my line of trouble-getting-into, but, as apparently it's an unteachable subject, all I've learned are some handy ways to lie and die.
Worst was DADA with Professor I'm-an-Overgrown-Frog. Hermione, about two seconds before I got to that point in the ridiculously long class syllabus (two weeks on the differences between jinxes and counter-jinxes, I swear), asked why there was nothing on using magic in a class on defence against Dark magic in a school that thought witchcraft and wizardry. Talking about using defensive magic in a "secure and risk-free" way was like saying Voldemort was only dangerous if you were a piece of toast: which is to say, the more time I spent around this woman, the more I thought about practising my list of spells to use on the Dursleys after I turn seventeen on her. Going on about how Remus was a "dangerous and unstable half-breed" and fake-Moody a "dangerous and unstable madman" and that the sun shone out of Lockhart's arse, yes, but he'd not been prepared for the rigours of teaching, I felt my fists clench.
I promised myself I wouldn't say anything. I promised myself I wouldn't attack her in front of other students. I promised myself I would-
Yeah, I failed. "And what good's theory going to be in the real world?" I asked at last, through teeth clenched and threatening to crack.
"This is school, Miss Potter, not the real world."
"Oh? Really? When did that happen?" I seemed to recall a number of things that had happened to me here that translated to the "real" world.
"Let me make one thing quite plain to you, Miss Potter, and the rest of you as well. You seem to think that a certain Dark Wizard is at large once more. This is a lie."
"We are thinking of the same Dark Wizard, aren't we? Red eyes, no nose, thinks killing Muggle-borns is nice sport?"
"I repeat: this is a lie-"
I lost my temper. "Tell that to Cedric Diggory and Edward Roiser. They didn't exactly drop dead of their own accords."
"If you have any information on the disappearance of Mr. Roiser-"
"Oh, I dunno. Last time I saw him he was splattered across half a graveyard."
A hush fell over the classroom. Some had read my article, yes, but still most of them would have given their right arms to hear the words from my own mouth. Not that I'd mentioned this tiny little fact to the papers. "I do believe that you have earned yourself a detention, Miss Potter."
A detention? For splattering a Death Eater across a graveyard? I blinked at her. "And I do believe you are the worst liar since Lockhart I've had the distinct displeasure of meeting, but what can you do?"
"I believe you can make that detention for a week, Miss Potter."
"How nice for you." This frog-woman was obviously mentally ill.
I grabbed my bag and headed out of the room, with no intention of ever entering it again so long as she taught here. McGonagall, whose office I proceeded to march up to and demand what exactly they thought they were doing, hiring an overgrown frog like Umbridge, seemed to think DADA was an important class for me to take, and told me I had to report to those detentions and keep my mouth shut because, apparently, things weren't about truth or lies but keeping my temper or something as idiotic at that.
I wished Severus had given me detention instead. Even in the mood he was currently in, he'd be better company then scratching I must not tell lies into my hand night after night. I was rather torn, whether to tell or not, not wanting to appear weak to this ranine woman.
Whispers followed me around the halls for that entire week, and the entire week after during which I obtained another round of detentions for insisting Quirrel had been Voldemort's puppet and, therefore, like Junior a rather bad teacher. Snape continued to be vitriolic and I kept on having strange dreams of a dark corridor and high-pitched laughter and I couldn't sleep for more then an hour straight without fearing something was going wrong, that Remus or Sirius or Severus or Fleur or Tonks or a Weasley was going to be hurt in this war I could have prevented if only I'd been smarter or faster or died that Halloween. I was receiving almost daily owls from Sirius reminding me to behave myself, join a nunnery, or marry Prince Harry even though he's a little more younger than me then William would be.
I gave in one Thursday morning, intending to use my hand as an excuse. I go to the Runespoor that guarded his door, invisibility cloak tight about me, map in hand, butterflies in my stomach. I can see his dot in there. For some reason I have the idea if I could just see him, everything will be better. This is probably just another one of those dreams being in his presence will break. But I've really tried. I mean, I've tried to keep my temper with the frog-woman and failed, I've tried to look at other guys to get my mind off of him and keep on comparing everyone I think of to him, I've tried just to get through the night, but I can't, and so help me Merlin he's either going to break-up (is break-up the proper term for this? Were we ever really together?) with me properly or kiss me again. "Let me in," I demanded of it.
"He," said the first head, untangling from the rest.
"Forbidsss," said the second in a voice that reminded me of Luna Lovegood, darting upwards to look me in the eye.
"It," finished the critical third. "Were it not for that, Speaker," it continued, and I dimly remembered from my last, frantic visit, this head was called Edes.
Him, the second, picked up the thread again, "We would allow you accessss, but,"
"Even we cannot break an edict for a Speaker," finished Arc, the first head.
"Why has he forbidden it? I've got to see him-"
"He likes it when you visit," Him noticed dreamily, now staring at my left earlobe. "I'd let you in. You made him happy for a while."
"I think it was only the potionsss making him decent," Edes inserted with the air of one who is examining his fingernails. "Arc and Him have too much faith in his humanity."
"Venusss significat humanitam." Love shows humanity.
"Him and Edesss and myself will work on him."
"He cannot understand ussss, Arc."
"Arc meanssss we will send thoughtsss of kindnessss to him, Edesss. Wouldn't they make the darlingist mating-pair?"
I try to break into the conversation, but having one with a Runespoor, even at two in the morning (yes, I know, my hand excuse will never hold at this hour), is like having an argument with three different people all at once. Arc, Him, and Edes might share the same torso, but Arc is the planner of the group, Him the dreamer, and Edes the critic. It's enough to make my head spin, but I won't give up. I need to get in, and I won Him over last time. Only it would think Severus and anyone would be part of a darling anything.
"I think Arc and Him are both daft."
"I have dreamt of this one. I want to give it to her."
"Look here," I try again, then ask, "give me what?"
"It would be a plan, yessss. If we give it to her, we will see the Speaker many, many cyclesss."
"And there will be nestlingssss. Proper nestlingssss, not scale-less ones on two legssss."
"I do not like it."
"Edesss never likessss anything."
Arc was insistent, curling around the second, "It will work."
"I'd hope it will work," Him shared.
"It never will," Edes said darkly, glaring at me even as he wrapped around the middle head, who was now coughing with a vigour that I worried would call Filch to my position. I drew my cloak tighter around me.
Him spat a leathery, tiger-striped ball into my hand. "It isss for you, Speaker," he said, slowly curling around its fellows into a knot of snake-limbs. I looked carefully at what I held, snitch-sized and slowly pulsing with heat, and almost dropped it in alarm: a Runespoor egg.
Sirius was not going to like this.