Chapter Fourteen, In Which I Have Dreams of Things That Will Be or May Be Only
I spent most of the day after we returned to Hogwarts – we being the admitted odd grouping of myself, the youngest four members of the Weasley clan, Oliver and Alycone Cauldwell, and Hermione heading for Hogwarts who'd been "chaperoned" by Bill (who, even I have to admit, looked hot in his dragon-leather coat), Fleur (who was rather busy with Bill towards the front of the bus, Tonks (whose hair was bubblegum pink), and Remus (who was not-so-unfortunately on the receiving end of most of Tonks's trips, falls, and slips from the wildly moving Knight Bus) – worrying about the next night.
I met him in his office, but we flooed to his – locked, warded, and what-not-ed – room from here. He was taking no chances, he told me, with someone following me again or my safety. "I don't get it," I told him, taking a seat on the couch in his main room, "I've done some reading on Legilimency and everything I can gather says you need eye contact, and all that's really moot because there are enough spells on Hogwarts to keep anyone safe from mental attacks, even me. So why does the Headmaster want me to learn Occulmency?
You'd not believe me when I tell you he smiled at me from his seat next – yes, next – to me on the couch. His arm was draped in that possessive way of male arm-draping that extends around your shoulders and just invites you to lean against them. I didn't, but only out of great willpower, figuring that we had to maintain some semblance of a professor-student relationship here. Though this was after I'd given him a kiss in thanks for his present. Honestly, I'd no idea there was a romantic bone in the man's body. It overjoyed me to know that I'd brought it out in him, even if it was smoothing as simple as a Christmas present or a smile. "Éléonore, the usual rules have never applied to you. Somehow, when The Dark Lord failed to kill you, a connection was forged."
"The parseltongue," I said in understanding.
"Amongst other things we may not know about, yes, in essence. The evidence suggests that when your mind is most relaxed and vulnerable – when you are asleep, for instance," I blushed a little, as my mind, like the rest of me, had been at its "most relaxed and vulnerable" in his bed, "- you are sharing The Dark Lord's thoughts and emotions, and he yours."
"So I get visions of things Voldemort is doing, like attacking Mr. Weasley."
I straightened a little and turned more towards him. "This is great. Don't you see? I can spy inside his head, and save you from having to risk your life to spy on him-"
"It's too dangerous, Éléonore-"
"No more dangerous then you having to go to those meetings of his, and without the risk of a crucio if you think the wrong thing," I countered. But he'd not been summoned to a meeting in weeks, and, if Voldemort was planning anything, it was nothing he knew.
His hand came under my chin and turned me, a tad forcibly if I do say so, to face him, and the man's black eyes burned into me, so much so I wondered if he was using Legilimency on me. "I've done many things in my life I'm not proud of, Éléonore Potter, but I'll be damned to perdition's most searing flames before I let you endanger your life to do the same."
"If I recall," I said to him, wondering exactly what he'd done that he so hated himself for and what had brought this conversation about, "Dante sent manufacturers of discord to the eighth circle of Hell, and it was as if the dead of winter there."
"This isn't a joke, Éléonore," he said more seriously still.
"And I'm not making one. The only thing I'm saying is, if there is a God, or if it is Merlin who judges us, or God is as dead as Nietzsche claimed and we must then judge ourselves, it is not to any hell that anyone would send you but yourself. You… converted, dare I say? And converts are loved, and the lovers of justice too sit close to the zenith of heaven." I kissed him gently then, crossing the ineffable distance between us to touch those lips which may have spoken curses that had maimed and killed, tortured and destroyed once upon a time, but now with their very existence championed the Light and the destruction of all he'd once held dear.
He pulled away, whispering, perhaps to himself, a line from The Aeneid, and I wondered before quickly killing that line of thought if he too had been hid away somewhere and escaped into the land of others' imaginings, into Shakespeare and Homer, Dante and Virgil, or whatever other authors whose books he could get his hands on, people with newer names but dreams no less grand in their scope. I would not think to myself how many books, any of them, some designed for a child's mind and other's that I still struggled over, had been my escape when I could get them. But I was escaped from Azkaban South now; HQ, unlike my aunt's home, was becoming a shrine to my achievements with pictures I'd never seen of myself and my parents on its walls and told of my existence to the world with newspaper clippings and legal documents. I'd not have to think about Azkaban South again until I turned seventeen and could legally hex them for everything they've done to me. How I relish the day. "Easy is the descent to Hell," his voice was less sharp then usual and sotto voce, and I could feel his breath against my face as he spoke; "the door of dark Dis stands open day and night. But to retrace your steps and come out to the air above, that is work, that is labour!"
"And if any can do it," I encouraged, with a small smile, "it would be you. Though I still don't see how long-distance spying could endanger anyone."
"The Dark Lord was processing Nagini's mind at the time you entered, shall we say, his. Perhaps it was because of this different space, one not his own, he realized you were there – or so the Headmaster believes. And, if you can share his thoughts…"
I finished his sentence, suddenly very anxious to start, "…then he can share mine. Make me see things, do things – like procession, only not, because the connection is not forced."
"And that brings us back to Occulmency."
After the first lesson, I felt like I'd gone through the wringer, and fell into my usual dazed stupor on his couch, and woke hours later, having been moved to his bed, filled with a dread fear that I could not name but had me clutching my chest like the dead do – arms crossed, clasping shoulders, feeling empty inside – and panicky, though Severus's arm was a comfortable weight around my waist. I'd love to say that, when I turned to face him, noticing as I did my shoes and winter robe had been removed and that he was once again sans shirt, that I fell straight back into sleep. I can't, though, and buried my face in his chest instead, and worried about whose dreams I was dreaming and whether or not I was going around the deep end, even as my curious fingertips traced patterns on the sleeping man's skin, wondering that I'd been allowed close enough to enter this man's hidden world and forgetting how I could ever have lived without him. I was safe with him and he could make me smile… even when I was filled with dread thoughts about the War we were both a part of.
The Daily Prophet, Smoke and Mirror, and International Wizarding Post each answered my fears the next morning with the black-and-white photographs of eight angry, insolent men and a single witch, sallow now and sullen, but with the remnants of patrician beauty that reminded me sickly of my first encounter with Sirius in the Shack not even two years ago, and boldfaced type. I stared wide-eyed at the pictures, all but quaking as Hermione read aloud from the Smoke and Mirror:
9 Escape, 6 Die
The Ministry of Magic announced the successful escape of at least nine known Death Eaters from Azkaban Prison early this morning.
Work crews, which have been stationed around the clock since it was revealed in Sirius Black v. DMJ that Mr. Black, 35, escaped three years ago from the prison by use of animagery, noticed that the prisoners grew unusually rowdy as the night wore on. Concerned, they flooed in for additional security from the Auror Division, which arrived just in time to see the rubble fly from what remained of the Maximum Security wing, where all nine escapees were housed.
A pale looking man with short, matted locks and a long, twisted face leered up at me from the first picture. Antonin Dolohov, the legend read. He and four others had brutally killed Mrs. Weasley's brothers, Fabian and Gideon Prewett, and hung their corpses side by side in The Atrium of the MoM in the darkest hours of the First War. The man whose picture was next to his in the Prophet was pockmarked, greasy, and obviously bored with the whole proceeding was Augustus Rookwood, the Death Eater spy in the Ministry who'd probably helped with the murders of Ron's uncles.
Hermione continued: …during which Antonin Dolohov; Sebastian and Elijah Mulciber; Augustus Rookwood; Bellatrix, Rastaban, and Rodolphus Lestrange; Thorfinn Rowle, and Justinian Travers were able to escape, while a tenth, Julius Yaxley, was killed in the struggle as Aurors tried to contain the situation…
That was where I had seen the woman before: she Bellatrix Lestrange. Somewhat aquiline, pale and dark both, with eyes heavily-lidded and a pouter's mouth, you couldn't deny that she was Andi's big sister, or that Andi could have been her after fourteen years surrounded by Dementors, or that Bellatrix, had she not, could have been her twin. I had never seen Bellatrix a day in my life, but I had seen her features in Andi and Sirius, and Tonks's too when she shifted her features in a way that made me think it was the face she'd been initially born with, and for some reason this filled me with a deep, unreal dread.
… one Auror was killed in the struggle and three other maximum security prisoners – Cassius Anderson, 57, sentenced to life in 1988 for the murder of his wife, three children, and nephew; Lev Tonio, 88, sentenced in 1932 to life for the rape and murder of at least four pureblood girls; and Ina Tepes, 50, convicted for her part in the 1972 "Black Widow Affair" – were also killed as a result of damages to the prison. At least three Aurors suffered minor injuries, including, on an interesting note, the niece of the infamous Bellatrix Lestrange, Jr. Auror N. Tonks. Mrs. Lestrange, 44, was convicted alongside her husband, brother-in-law, and Bartemius Crouch Jr. for the torture and permanent incapacitation of Frank and Alice Longbottom in November 1981. It has been suggested by some that Azkaban's first and previously only escapee, Mr. Black, who happens to be Mrs. Lestrange cousin, may have played a hand in the attack upon the prison.
"I'd sooner be sent back to that place then help Bellatrix out of it," Mr. Black told reporters early this morning. "If anyone in the family got her out it was [Lucius] Malfoy on [He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named]'s orders. Now leave me to eat my eggs in peace!"
Lucius Malfoy, 41, when reached declared that it is, "a miscarriage of justice to have my family's good name slandered so," and that neither he nor his wife, Mrs. Lestrange's youngest sister, Narcissa, have seen or spoken to Mrs. Lestrange, "in ages." Ron snorted at that, but I kept on staring at Bellatrix and her maddened features, as if her picture alone bespoke of the horrors that were yet to come.
I delved into Occulmency with a furry after the breakouts that might only be described as a strong desire not to die, and a large bit of that borne of fear. I still continued with Quidditch practices three times a week, the DA (which had now moved on to shield charms with the notable absence of Michael Corner, whose rumour followed me around for two weeks, when the next addition of the Star and Stave claimed to have seen me at a performance of Candide in Paris with The Weird Sisters' bass player's illegitimate son, Andre Blatchford), and my visits to Severus's office. Only now, rather then cleaning cauldrons most the time, I was studying Occulmency for some portion of nearly all my visits. I was rather unsuccessful at it, or so I thought, and would have the worst headache afterwards, like someone had given my brain a hammer and it was trying to make its way out through my forehead in protest at having been used so much. I'd good reason to master the art quickly, but, the more I practiced, the more I felt dirtied, like something was creeping inside of me and taking over my thoughts. There would be times when, for no apparent reason whatsoever, I'd suddenly feel happy or angry or unbearably annoyed. By Valentine's Day it was driving me mad. I was having dreams not only of the hallway with the single door, but of Voldemort and the Death Eaters too…
"Severus?" I asked one night, when I actually was cleaning cauldrons in his classroom (Paracelsus playing the bubbles), and he was grading papers.
He looked up curiously. Such an expression is not one that normally comes to pass across his features, mostly because he knows too much to be curious about anything else. Satisfied with his lot in life, I think that's the best way to describe it, maybe not entirely happy, but satisfied, as if knowing it could be no other way. To see him curious is a real treat for someone like me who cares about such things, and usually, I dare to say, his curiosities involve me. "Yes, Éléonore?"
I set down my sponge and turned towards him then, leaning back against the counter and feeling the back of my (Fleur-bought) shirt soak up the splashed water, "I'm worried."
"About what?" His sharp quill was not for much longer in his hand.
"The dreams," I'd told him of those, and often he'd wakened with me when I had them in his rooms. I was staying nearly every-other-night with him, sometimes because we'd worked so late, and others because, at some point we'd start kissing… and the draw we felt to each other would have us making-out on his bed by some point, and before anything much more could happen Severus's atypical Slytherin morals kicked in and told him, while it was okay to put his tongue in my mouth, he should wait until he was no longer my professor to do anything more to me, despite my amiability to 'more' and all of its companions. It was very annoying, but did mean that I'd become very good at sneaking back up to Gryffindor Tower early in the mornings. "They're getting worse. Last night I heard Rookwood tell Voldemort he'd been lied to and saw Avery tortured. The more I practice, the more often I seem to have these visions. I half-think I'm going mad."
Severus frowned a bit. "You are many things, but mad is not one of them."
"Then what is it? What do you call it – processed? 'Cause I don't know, I just feel so confused. Like I'm missing a fundamental part of everything that's going on around me and, if I just knew what it was, I might be able to make sense of it all, but, right now the pieces just don't fit… and the more I try and force them together, the more they spring apart in my hands." Merlin above, tears began to prick at my eyes. "I feel like I'm just filling space until whatever needs to happen happens so I can do whatever it is I must do!"
"That isn't true."
"Isn't it? I'm sitting nice at school while others fight the war I reopened, unable to even do the one thing that would make me useful!"
"Éléonore, you fail to see it because you are too near the problem."
"Perhaps, but my accomplishments – whatever they may be – are nothing. I'm just waiting, it seems, to turn seventeen so I can be of use. I can't join the Order 'til then, can't do anything in my own right 'til then; probably can't even get you do more then kiss me 'til then," I added petulantly, "and it all seems just useless when I feel like I've not grown in ages, that's I've always been as I am now my entire life, and be that fifteen or fifty, and two more years isn't going to change anything about me, or change what Voldemort will do if he ever gets his hands on me."
"Be that as it may, all things take time."
"And every moment it takes makes me more fearful the next shall be the last."
He took my hand. "Come with me," he said, and Paracelsus hissed that, if we weren't going to be mating, he'd just stay in the bubbles until I returned. Runespoors, I tell you!
"Where're we going?" I asked, curious myself now.
"If Occulmency won't keep the Dark Lord out of your mind, there has to another way to do so. Minds are not meant to be shared – it goes against the grain of nature, and therefore magic itself – and so there must be a way to sever the connection. We must therefore find it."
Which meant books, and he'd a quite a bizarre collection of tomes. Of course, I was able to distract him at one point (oh, the advantages of shirts which button down the front), during which I managed to get us both at least partially unclothed, getting him to pin me to the couch in the most delightful way as I invited him to put his hands in places not usually considered polite for student/teacher interaction before he realized what I was trying to do and, with admirable self-control, went back to the books. But, still, it was a brilliant time while it lasted, as his tongue laved my mouth and his hands fondled my breasts and started to venture lower while my hands ran along his back and thighs.
Stupid "you're my student I shouldn't do you" attitude. Well, that sounded a little crude to ever have come out of Severus's mouth. More likely he'd say something like, "Éléonore, while you know I have strong feelings for you, but I respect you too much to ask you to do anything that might compromise our relationship…." et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. He probably actually believes that too. Stupid men.
Admittedly, it's refreshing.
Refreshing compared to what, you ask? Isn't Severus the only man you've ever kissed, let alone the only one who you've let close enough to do so? Haven't you, in your endless wisdom, sent your only other suitor, dear Mr. Corner, age fifteen, off with a wave of your hand?
How I wish I could simply answer with a yes all these pressing questions! Oh, Severus is the only person I've ever kissed alright, and certainly the only one who've I've ever even entertained the possibility of doing anything like kissing with. But my 'only other suitor'? Hardly.
No, Michael only opened the floodgates. Even as Star and Stave announced me as "going" with Andre Blatchford, boys aged fourteen plus throughout Hogwarts began to notice that, hey, the (very rich and to some extent pretty) potential saviour of the wizarding world, Baronne Alexandrie-Margaux Éléonore Henriette Black Potter de Calais, was not dating Mr. Blatchford, his half-brother Mr. Antila-Delphinis, Mr. O'Malley, Count Philipp, or any other whose name the press had joined it with, which meant, in their minds, I was obviously up for grabs to whoever would care to ask me. This list includes, but is not limited to:
1. Roger Davies, who was amongst the first to ask me, coming up to me as I was leaving the library and asking me unnecessarily loud voice if I'd go with him to Hogsmeade, necessitating in the perpetuation of the vague non-falsehood that I was flattered (he was two years above me and had been Fleur's three-month boyfriend last winter) but seeing someone else. He was the first to ask who. I told him Ambrose Loveless, whose father is the editor of the Smoke and Mirror, but I don't think he bought it. On that note, note to self: with the repartitions I get from Sirius Black v. The Daily Prophet News Network, buy more stock in the DPNN. I'm currently up to 8.3% of the shares and already have (well, Sirius has, on my behalf) influenced the paper not to publish any more Potter-Snape stories, even if they're true now.
2. Anthony Goldstein, who apparently lives on the same street as the Lovelesses and knows for a fact that Ambrose is (his terms, not mine) a poof, and who also thought I only said that I was only to get out of having to go with Davies. Now, as Davies is the Ravenclaw Quidditch Captain, a Seventh Year, and handsome enough to have been one of Fleur's boyfriends, I think this is a little narcissistic of Anthony and tell him so. He promptly informs me that he is by far the better conversationalist in addition to being fairly well-endowed (as opposed, apparently, to just the latter), and I smile at him and (as this was during a meeting of the DA), demonstrate iaceo for the class on him.
3. Ernie Macmillan, while I was talking with Oliver at the Hufflepuff table. Oliver was asking me of all people what electives to take next term ("Anything but Divs," I told him, "and talking to a Muggle-born is probably better then any Muggle Studies class, but if you plan on going into the Ministry I hear it's suggested"). Ernie, while somewhat pompous, at least took my rejection with more dignity then either Anthony or Roger, though he too expressed interest in who I was seeing. This time I said it was none of his damn business, and he, at least, left it at that.
4. Cormac McLaggen, whom I personally call "Cormac the Annoying" and variations thereof, quite loudly (what is it with that? Do boys think the louder they ask the more likely girls are to answer in the affirmative?) in the Gryffindor common room as I was trying to finish my charms essay before having to go to practice. Of course, the common room was at its fullest when he asked and I was aware of more then a few quills pausing and conversations dying off as people waited for my answer. Looking straight into his arrogant and foolhardy eyes, I answered, "Not now, not ever, not in this lifetime or the next," possibly a little too harshly, then added superciliously; "not if you were the last man on earth," before going right back to my essay, though I must admit it was hard to concentrate after that scene. I gave up after a while and went down to the pitch to fly for a bit on my own before practice, but was too angry to really enjoy it or practice – in fact, practice seemed only to aggravate me further – so I did the only logical thing for a girl in my position to do: I ranted.
Katie, Alicia, and Angelina were the only ones, obviously, for me to rant to in the changing room, but I don't think they minded. In fact, I think they found it rather amusing, which was irritating in and of itself. And long after they'd dressed they listened to me as I furiously ran a comb through my wet hair, though no comb in the world could ever settle my genetically messy hair.
"Harry," said Alicia at great length, a laugh in her voice that made me want to pummel something, "you know what the simple answer is, right?"
"A good curse in the-"
"The best way to keep people from asking you out when you claim to have a boyfriend already is to tell people who that boyfriend is," she finished.
I stared at her like she'd grown a second head and one of them, quite calmly, had offered me a bowl of tapioca. "Being seen with him might help," Katie offered, un-knotting the mess she'd left her shoelaces in so she could put them on again, "but the only guy anyone ever sees you with is Ron, or sometimes Fred and George."
"It is a boy, right? People talk, you know, you being so famous and all and without all the boyfriends like the papers say. I don't care what way you swing, I just want to know what page we're all on." I nodded at Angelina, somewhat surprised, "And it's not a Weasley?"
"Er, no," I admitted somewhat guiltily, as it were a betrayal of Severus just to say that much, "it's, er, something we'd both rather keep quiet for the moment."
The three chasers turned to look at each other in a simultaneous movement that made me wonder if I was missing key female pheromones or telepathic genes to know what I was supposed to do at this moment. At last Alicia, the brave one, "It's not Draco Malfoy is it?"
I was gagging before she even finished her question. "Ew, no!" I mean, gross! I'd sooner burke the guy then date him.
"Well, it's got to be some Slytherin if you're not sharing…" I made no move to deny, and they took it as an affirmative, and informed me that, so long as I wasn't selling Quidditch secrets to them, they didn't care if I was seeing a Slytherin so long as it wasn't Malfoy, and that they'd spread the word around (how, I don't know; obviously I don't have the female networking skills they seemed to have naturally acquired) not to bother me about who I was dating any more.
I dunno what they did, if anything, but the questions regarding my dating habits directed towards me, at least, died down some after. Not that I didn't overhear many a question regarding who I was dating, but at least they didn't ask me anymore, and that was all it took for me not to murder anybody.
Without Severus and the DA, I think might have been extremely unhappy as the term wore on. February turned bitterly into March, which, bearing spring at last, turned into April, and my days went on in a pattern that spoke of forced repetition. My Occulmency lessons with Severus had turned into research sessions, which at least left me with fewer dreams of corridors that I couldn't place, though I did find myself doubting my sanity as it continued on. If Occulmency wasn't working, the thought between us had gradually shifted to the point that we should treat Voldemort's intrusions not as an attack but a disease – the way the mentally ill hear voices and see things that aren't there. There were ways of what could best be called warding a mind to help keep the mentally ill from hearing or seeing what wasn't there, but there was a hesitation to do so between us until we found a way that was certain to work without ill effects. The DA was a similar love-hate relationship, wherein I felt immense pride in my students for leaning so well what I taught them as best I could but not a little fear as well, because I was a child teaching other children to fight in a war only some of them seriously believed was going on around us. By the week before Easter we were beginning Patroni. Everyone was keen to practice them, calling the glittering forms some managed to produce "pretty," and not understanding that it doesn't matter what they look like, so long as they protect you. Dementors don't exactly attack in safe, risk-free environments like the Room of Requirement provided. I wondered aloud where we could find at boggart, but people shushed me quickly, calling me a "killjoy." I was about to respond that it was my job as their drill sergeant to kill all joy relating to the "prettiness" of their spells and remind them that they were integral parts of my plan for keeping them alive, not enhancing their prom ensembles or whatever other lunacy they were thinking, when there came a great silence surprising for a group of so many teenagers…
"Mizz Éléonore Potter ma'am," the elf squeaked as I asked what was wrong, ignoring the curious eyes of my classmates, who'd probably never seen an elf like Dobby in their lives, "Mizz Éléonore Potter ma'am… Dobby has come to warn you… but the house elves have been warned not to tell…"
I grabbed his arms before he could begin to flail himself and forcing him as still as was possible, which was quite hard given his size, "What's happened, Dobby?"
"Mizz Éléonore Potter ma'am… she… she…"
There was only one "she" I knew of that could terrify Dobby… "Umbridge?" Nodding, he pulled himself out of my grasp and began to run headlong at the nearest wall. "What are you waiting for?" I asked the DA, which was staring motionless around me, "Run! Get back to your dorms!"
All at once, a dozen doors sprang up around the room, some with a house crest upon them, others with a picture of a book or one of those symbols you see on a lavatory, and, not questioning the room's occupants began rushing for the doors nearest too them.
"Harry, come on!" Hermione yelled near the door that had a picture of a Gryffindor lion on it.
But I couldn't just leave – no, Umbridge would know we'd been warned and come after us again. I had to put a stop to this now, and there was only one way I knew to do that. "Go ahead, I'll try to head them off," I told my dorm mates before turning to Dobby, who was now appearing to test the elasticity of one of the tables and the various Dark detectors on it with his head. "Dobby – this is an order – go back to the kitchen and, if Umbridge asks you anything about warning me, lie and say no! And I forbid you to hurt yourself!" And, with a grateful smile, Dobby disappeared in the way house elves have of disappearing, leaving me quite alone in the Room of Requirement.
Hoping that the room would continue to be helpful, I closed my eyes and imagined something that looked like study carrel, filled with books that Umbridge couldn't take offence at, and hoped to all that was holy it worked. No one was more surprised then I when my eyes opened and I saw the room now looked like a tiny room you'd find off a large library, only with shelves full of reference books – everything from dictionaries and The Encyclopaedia Magica to legal books and 10 Things Every Witch Should Know: A Compendium of Not-So-Common Knowledge for the 20th Century – and school books. Not one to count my blessings, I ran to the desk, slammed myself into the chair there, opening the nearest book and pleased to see there were some notes in passably my own handwriting there to join me.
And then, with a silent prayer to whatever deity one prays to in times like these, I tried to calm my breath and look like I'd been doing nothing but studying.
) ( ) ( ) ( ) ( ) ( ) ( ) ( ) ( ) ( ) ( ) ( ) ( ) ( ) (
"Well, Miss Potter… I expect you know why you are here?" Fudge asked.
"You don't know why you are here?"
"Well, I assume it has something to do with Paracelsus scaring Malfoy, but last I checked Runespoors were only Level Four creatures and don't need a handler's licence. But, I mean, if anyone's qualified to care for one it'd be a Parcel Mouth like myself, and Paracelsus knows better then to hurt anyone. He was just curious, that's all. Probably wanted to sing him a song or something – he does that quite often, sing; somehow he's managed to learn every song on the Top 100 Countdown, including 'The Macarena'…"
Fudge looked at me incredulously, and I must admit the idea of a Runespoor singing (by necessity, in Parseltongue) Madonna or The Beetles is an astonishing and unwelcome idea to wrap one's head around, though I am keen to point out that "The Macarena" is, marginally, better then Christmas carols. Marginally. Still, his inattention allowed me a moment to sneak a look at Dumbledore, who was smiling a small smile at his moon-and-star patterned carpet.
"So you have ho idea why Professor Umbridge has brought you to this office? You are not aware that you have broken any school rules?"
"Nah – like I said, I never read anything about Runespoors not being allowed pets, but I'm sure Arietis Cauldwell would be willing to sort the situation out for us if you'd allow me to floo her…"
A vein in his temple, in a way oddly reminiscent of Uncle Vernon, began to twitch as he angrily added, "Or Ministry decrees?"
"Not that I know of – I've been limiting myself to three impossible, imprudent, and/or illegal acts a month per my adoptive father, Sirius Black's, wishes, and I'd hate to have gone over my quota already."
I thought that he might tear that ugly, lime green bowler of his apart in his hands, he was so angry. It was utterly amusing, despite the pulsing fear that somebody had tipped Umbridge off about the DA (for which I might as well go and pack my trunk, because there is no way in a cold hell that I am getting out of that), about my, er, relationship with Severus (in which case he's probably packing his bags now, ergo why he's not here at this moment, though usually they try to be more considerate to supposed victims), or whatever.
"So it's news to you, is it, that an illegal student organization has been discovered within this school?"
I don't think my I'm-so-innocent-it-hurts face fooled him.
And that's when they chose to bring in the informant. I pulled Paracelsus out of my pocket while we were waiting for Umbridge to bring the bastard who'd told on us to scold him while Dumbledore, sitting benignly behind his desk, offered everyone tea.
"Weasel-boy," Paracelsus informed me, wrapping around my wrist.
I glared at each of the heads in turn, "What have I told you about singing to strangersss?"
Par hung his head sadly, "Not to do it…"
"But I only wanted to-"
"Shut up, Acel! I told you that you and Par were being stupid."
Dumbledore handed me a cup of tea which Sus immediately dipped his head into in attempt to get the lemon from the bottom. I set both the Runespoor and the tea on the table beside me and shook my head.
A moment later, Professor Umbridge, trying and failing to sound like a concerned parent, entered with one of Cho's friends, Marietta. "Don't be scared, dear, don't be frightened." I thought I might gag at the Splenda sweetness of her voice. "It's quite all right now. You've done the right thing. The minister is very pleased with you." I restrained myself from snorting. Especially when they forced Marietta's hands away from her face, revealing sickly-looking pustules across her face spelling out, "SNEAK," in painful letters. Nevertheless, Umbridge managed to share the story Marietta wouldn't about the formation of the DA and that it was meeting tonight. "The purpose of Potter's meeting with these students was to persuade them to join an illegal society, whose aim was to learn spells and curses the Ministry has decided are inappropriate for school-age–"
"Wait a moment," I said suddenly, "I don't know what you're talking about. I was just studying in there – it's a lot quieter then the Library, and nobody to mind if I practice a spell in there. Professor Snape told me about the room; he helped me last year prepare for the Triwizard Tournament, and said the room was full of previous DADA textbooks. You know how we go through Defence teachers, there's practically a new book every year, so there're quite a lot of them. And as far as a secret society goes, we did think about creating a study group for our Defence OWL, but the lot of us decided it wasn't worth the bother after that decree back in September, whichever one it was, there've been so many."
"There was a meeting tonight Miss Potter, you cannot lie to me!" Umbridge shouted, making a dash towards me.
"A meeting? No, it was just me in there as always. Well, me and Paracelsus. We were just getting ready to leave, though, so I suppose if anyone else was meeting there, they'd be there now – I usually leave about this time to meet up with Ron and Hermione in the common room and hang out for a bit before dinner."
It was of no use, and before long they were bound to tie me down as the DA's leader – and then, next thing you know, Dumbledore is asking if they want his statement. I wanted to yell at him, ask him what exactly he was doing, and inform him that Ari could get me out of whatever mess I'd created for myself, but Fudge was by that point overjoyed and had forgotten about me entirely.
"Then you have been plotting against me!" he said, the kneazle who caught the puffskin.
Cheerfully, "That's right," the Headmaster confirmed.
Well, I wasn't having this, and would have protested if I hadn't suddenly found myself under a silencing spell, one I could only guess had come from Dumbledore. The accused him – him, Dumbledore, the greatest wizard alive, who I knew had maybe made some wrong choices regarding me and regarding all of the wizarding world but had done it all only because he thought it was the best, who had to have been a stupid kid like me once but had grown into a wizard that had defeated the greatest Dark Lord of his generation and had helped to save another from its own, who may have been many things that I didn't know but was a greater man than Fudge would ever be and shouldn't have had to lie for me like this because I was stupid enough not to realize Marietta had betrayed us – of building an army to take over the Ministry.
"Listen to me, Harry," he said, releasing his spell on me after the rest of them were knocked out, preparing his escape, "you must study Occulmency as hard as you can, do you understand me? Do everything Professor Snape tells you and practice it particularly every night before sleeping so that you can close your mind to bad dreams – you will understand why soon enough, but you must promise me-"
"But," surprised that Severus hadn't told him, angry that he was leaving, and knowing all to well what would come when he was gone, I pleaded with him, "Professor Dumbledore, it doesn't work-"
His eyes widened a bit, but that could have only been my imagination, and he grabbed my wrist. "Close your mind, you've got to try – you will understand."
And, suddenly, because of me, Hogwarts was without its Headmaster.
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As soon as I was back in the tower, I started packing my trunk. "Hermione," I told her after relating what had happened, "keep it discrete, but make sure the right people find out what really happened." I wasn't even bothering to fold anything as I threw everything I owned into my trunk. Hermione, being the neat-freak she was, was spelling everything out of the trunk and folding it neatly on my bed.
"And just where do you think you're going?"
"I, my dear Hermione, am not at liberty to share that information. Suffice to say that we are starting a band of Hogwarts' own Maquis, and every great guerrilla-leader must go into hiding. That and I think Malfoy might try and have me murdered in my sleep."
"Kill you?" the heads informed me in turn, poking carefully out of my pocket, the lemon clenched around his tail, seeping into my robe thank-you-very-much.
Hermione and I both ignored them, and she followed me into the bathroom, where I was pulling by toiletries together, asking, "Are we talking about World War Two-style, rebelling-against-a-false-government Maquis, or are we going with a whole the-government-has-betrayed-its-own-idea
I blinked at her in a way I hope signified my entire feeling about OWLS at the moment. "I'm not planning on skipping out on class – I'm not that stupid, I'm just thinking we declare DADA and non-class time war against the overgrown toad and her lackeys. And I'm guessing, since its Fudge and not the entire Ministry I have a problem with, Maquis a la Star Trek – you'll have to explain that one to me sometime," I finished, heading back into our dorms.
"Well, after the Cardassians signed a peace treaty with the Federation, a number of Federation colonies were ceded to Cardassia…" she trailed off at my blank look. I lived in a cupboard for ten years and spent five more at a Wizarding school, neither of which, one might imagine, have cable. "My parents tape the seasons for me to watch over the holidays," she said with, oddly, something of a blush. "Anyway, let me get this straight: you want the DA, a handful of teenagers, to wage war against Umbridge, her Inquisitorial Squad, and whatever other Ministry agents may arrive, while you spend your time in an undisclosed location while somehow managing to go to class, and nearly everyone we know will face expulsion if we fail?"
I thought over it for a second, ignoring Paracelsus as he asked, "What?"
Before answering, "Yes, that about covers it. Get to The Twins as soon as possible – they've got to have something we can use in a situation like this – and work on something we can use to sent real messages to each other. I'll be in contact as soon as I can," I slammed my trunk shut. "This is what we've been working towards with the DA. We've got the know-how and the means to make Umbridge wish she'd never been born." I shrunk my trunk and stuck in the pocket with Paracelsus, who hissed in protest, and his lemon wedge, adding brightly, "See you in Charms tomorrow."
Between the map and the cloak, I managed to make it down to the dungeons avoiding everyone between the tower and Severus's rooms. I got Archimedes to let me in and, failing to find Severus actually in them, set my still shrunken trunk on the nightstand and proceeded to scrub down the countertops in his laboratory. He, with the other Heads of House, was probably on DEFCON 3 or something dealing with my latest blunder in some Fortress of Solitude-esque gathering point as McGonagall filled them in. I've no idea what he'd been brewing when he left earlier, but whatever it'd been had made quite a mess, and by the time I managed to scrape the last of it off the marble I was covered so much in it, sweat, and Mrs. Scower's Magical Mess Remover that I was forced to admit that the next dirtiest thing in Snape's quarters was myself, and that I should clean me next. My time was not spent in vain, though, for I'd already thought of a half-dozen Wheezes that could be used in the war against the establishment that was, even now, surely falling into place. There would tapioca in every inkwell Umbridge sought to use, spiders in every desk drawer, and at least one snackbox-ill student in every class she taught and proctored, so help me Merlin or my name wasn't Alexandrie-Margaux Éléonore Henriette Black Potter, Éléonore for short.
I enlarged my trunk and pulled a pair of pyjama bottoms and a Chudley Cannons shirt I'd inherited from Ron that was far too small for him but fell halfway to my knees. Peeling my uniform shirt off, I came to the conclusion that it would have to be burned to get the smell off. I was just coming to this conclusion for the pants I was slipping off as well when I heard the faint sound of Severus entering his bedroom, clearly not expecting to find me so (un)dressed there.
"Hey, Severus," I said, walking past him to grab a bath robe, which I tied around me before pulling off the last of my clothes from under it. "What was that mess you were making in your lab? I swear it took me at least two hours to chip it all off."
Seemingly not hearing my questions, he took a step into the bathroom after me, where I turned on the shower, riffled through the small cupboard within for a towel, and tested the temperature with my foot before delving into its relaxing spray. "Éléonore," he said at great length, "not that I'm not pleased to see you, what are you doing?"
"Taking a shower." I sniffed his shampoo distrustfully. It wasn't my usual gardenia, but it would have to do for the moment.
"And why are you taking a shower here as opposed to Gryffindor Tower?"
"Because I'm on the lamb from the overgrown frog."
In a tone that clearly indicated that a key piece of information was missing, "I see."
With a sign, I give in, "I'm starting a Maquis-cell in Hogwarts and, frankly, am bloody-well scared now that Dumbledore's gone. You- I-" I lather and try again, "I feel safe with you. I'll sleep on the couch if you want, or even go back up the tower, but I'd rather stay as close to you as possible. You're the only good thing left here and I'm going to try my damnedest to keep it that way."
"Why the Maquis? Why not die Weiße Rose or the IRA?"
"I'm open to other suggestions," I poked my head out from behind the curtain, "if you'd care to join me." That, of course, was too much to ask, and I was left to finish my shower and dress in my second-hand shirt (a repugnant, Runespoor orange with the black double-C of the Cannons on the front and their latest motto: Let's all just keep our fingers crossed and hope for the best splayed across the back) before joining him in the bedroom. I think he realized when I sat down next to him on the bed and began to finger-comb my damp hair just how serious I was.
"I'm not asking you to marry me or anything, Severus; I'm just looking for a place to sleep at the moment, a place where I can feel safe. I've not ever met anyone with whom I've felt so safe, with who I can imagine myself being happy with, and being with forever. I never dreamed of what I might do next month or next year or with the rest of my life until I learned to love you, and I'm too God-damned fond of the idea you spawned in me that I might find a way to make it through this all to give it all up now. I know I'm not perfect – that I let the bastard get reborn in the first place, and that Dumbledore's gone because of me – but you're not perfect either, and I can live with that. I know I'm too young and too Gryffindor to really have a chance for this to work between us, but I'm willing to give it a shot if you are."
"You're an idiot for wanting to be with me, Éléonore," he informed me succinctly, cupping my face in his hands, "and doubly so for thinking we could never work." One of his hands travelled warmly from my cheek to my neck, dallying around my breast, and pulled me closer once it had fully embraced my waist; the other held my mouth firmly in place as he lowered me backwards onto the bed beneath him, and loved me as best a man who'd not make love to me could. And, despite the War and Voldemort and the coming of Educational Decree Twenty-Eight, all the boys that wanted me for their own trivial reasons and the not so trivial matter of my dreams of a long, dark corridor that ended with a basilica of eldritch glowing orbs, I was happy, and could not remember what my hands did before I held him, the most enigmatic man in the world.