Chapter 7 -- Edge of a Dream
Candide came running when called and found Snape unceremoniously tugging an unconscious Harry to the center of the drawing room floor.
"Get a Healer, quickly," he said, spritzing Harry's head with a water charm. The noxious scent of burned hair tainted the room.
Candide closed her mouth on the question she was about to ask and ran out. When she returned, Snape was gripping each of Harry's hands in turn.
"He is frozen nearly stiff, what the devil was he doing?" Snape aimed a heating charm at Harry's chest, but the yellow-orange spell wavered with a buzzing sound and burst before it could reach him.
"What was that?" Candide asked breathlessly.
Snape rubbed his hair back, long fingers clenching. "I do not know. Get a blanket. A heavy one. We'll charm that instead to warm or he will likely freeze to death."
Harry roused to wakefulness from deep within a cocoon of heavenly warm, but scratchy, blanket. The first sight he had was of an out-of-context familiar face in pale blue robes.
"Didn't you used to play Beater?" Harry asked the Healerwitch.
"Yup. That's why I know that someone thought your head was a Bludger."
Harry tried to rub his aching head but was stopped from doing so. "That why it hurts so bad?"
"He'll be fine. His core temp is normal now," the witch said to someone else in the room.
Harry raised his head and found Snape's concerned gaze. "What happened?" Harry asked him.
"That's what I was going to ask you," Snape said, sounding angry with a hint of distraught.
"Oh," Harry said, again restrained from rubbing the bump on his head and this time the Healer added an admonishing slap on the hand. Harry insisted upon sitting up and no one stopped him from doing so, but his head tried. The drawing room was not the location he thought he should be in, but that did not mean he did know where he expected to be.
The Healer departed after final instructions were given and Harry finally got to feel how bad the bump was. It felt like his skull was trying to grow a spike out of it, or a horn. "Ow."
Snape leaned close and looked him hard in the eyes. "You do not remember what happened? You were nearly frozen when you crawled in here. What spell were you attempting?"
Harry rubbed the rest of his head as he thought about that, glad to find it unharmed otherwise. "I wasn't doing any spells. I don't know what happened."
Snape rolled his eyes and huffed in disgust.
"Sorry," Harry said, wincing as his head pounded momentarily, in rhythm with his heartbeat.
- 888 -
Harry was kept home from training the next day, and he wandered the house like a caged animal. He still had not talked to Tonks, but today he felt embarrassed about having followed her while she was on duty and very grateful that she had not told anyone. Well, he expected that he would have received a visit and a good talking to by Rodgers or an owl from Mr. Weasley had they been informed. Harry wandered into the drawing room, badly in need of a distraction and wishing he were at the Ministry.
Candide, before rushing to the office, had delivered Elizabeth's wand, the now-vaguely-dreaded object that had started his argument with Tonks, so Harry had nothing to do.
"I thought you had things to take care of at Hogwarts?" Harry asked his guardian.
Snape looked up from the musty old book he had open and said, "Remus offered to do them."
"You're staying home to babysit me," Harry accused grumpily.
"If you wish to drop the façade, then yes," Snape stated.
Harry rolled his eyes and tapped his toe against the doorframe in frustration. "Want to practice some spells with me?"
"I'm not hurt really. Why not?"
"My ego cannot take the hit at this time," Snape stated, returning to his reading.
"Hmf," Harry muttered, inclined to belief because of the unlikelihood that Snape would offer that as a diversionary excuse. Harry dropped into one of the other chairs in the room and propped his chin on his palms. His bored mind flittered from one thing to another restlessly, but it kept coming back around to an incongruous vision of Snape answering the door to let Bellatrix Lestrange in. No meaning could be attached to this memory.
"I had the strangest dream last night," Harry said, excusing the vision the only way he could. Snape was not one to prompt and he did not do so now. Harry went on, "I was trying to protect you from Bellatrix . . . and Voldemort too." Harry rubbed his eyes and tightened his shoulders at the memory of Voldemort's poisonous and unyielding power snaking into his inner vision. He wished his dreams would not chose to torment him so; he had had more than enough of the evil wizard and dearly wished to be left alone by memories or imaginings of him.
"I assume they are both still incarcerated," Snape said levelly as though to reassure Harry.
"It wasn't Lockhart. It was the real thing."
Snape sat straight and steepled his hands over the book. "You think this dream means something more than that you still have stressful events involving him that you need to recover from."
"I don't know," Harry said. "I certainly don't feel Voldemort now. I could in the dream."
"Was there anything in your dream not reminiscent of recent events?"
Harry sat back and said, "You were in this strange house and . . . you didn't know who I was. Well, that's not quite true. You kept expecting me to try and attack you. And you said something about Dumbledore and how long it took me to understand that he had died when he wanted to." Harry shook his head and let those thoughts repeat themselves. "I've accepted that," he added, slightly defensive.
Snape paused before suggesting, "Maybe you have not truly."
Harry sighed. "I still miss him. Maybe I haven't completely accepted it."
Snape moved as though to return to his reading. "Dreams are just the subconscious working things out when the conscious is out of the way and cannot prevent it from doing so."
Harry smiled lightly. "So what does it mean that I found you living in a hovel in a half-abandoned town. Interpret that for me," he challenged, teasing. "You called it 'Weaver's End'."
Snape froze. "What?"
"What does it mean-"
"I heard you the first time," he snapped.
Harry shut up while Snape stood and paced once, disturbing the rug as he passed the corner of it. Impatient, Harry finally asked, "There is such a place?"
"Yes. I have an old hideout there."
Harry's stomach clenched faintly. "You do?"
Snape considered Harry. "I have not been there in rather a long time." After thinking longer, he gestured for Harry to stand, Accioed their cloaks, and said, "Come, let's pay a visit and see if it is the place you dreamed. We can then add clairvoyant to your already long list of skills."
Harry hooked on his cloak but held back on raising his arm to be Apparated. "I don't want to be clairvoyant."
"Wise young man. Take out your wand, just in case. And give me your arm."
Before Harry could protest further, they arrived at the edge of a ramshackle village. An old mill works leaned above the trees, ready to fall into a heap of bleached wood and rotting mortar. Snape led the way, tossing detection spells to each side every now and then.
Harry swished to a stop in the long grass when the familiar little house came into view.
Snape turned when he realized Harry no longer followed. "This is the place?" he asked.
Harry nodded. "It was in slightly better shape," he observed of the tenuously leaning walls and nearly hammock-like, sagging roof. "Not tough for that to be true."
Snape circled the house once before pushing open the door. Harry, gut heavy, followed. The bookshelves were empty and the furniture had been consumed by rodents, but it was the same.
Harry pointed and said, "The bookshelf there is a secret passage up," making Snape spin on his heel to stare at him again.
Snape strode that way and had to forcibly pry the hidden doorway open. Harry said, "Peter Pettigrew came down that way."
"Pettigrew?" Snape confirmed. "Hm, I was sometimes put in charge of him since he feared me enough to behave for a few hours at a time."
Harry's teeth tightened together as thought about his dad's old 'friend'. He stepped around the small house, finding no evidence of a major fight. "Maybe it wasn't a dream," Harry said, wanting to understand. "Voldemort vaporized the door, but it's intact. One of the few things that is."
"I am at a loss to explain," Snape said. "I am certain I have never mentioned this place to you or anyone in the Order. Anything else from the dream that you remember?"
Harry shook his head, but then said, "I think I took you to a pub for something to eat. You were in really poor shape." After looking Snape over, Harry said, "In contrast, you are getting a tad plump, there, Severus; I now notice."
Snape feigned insult. Harry shook his head again and winced when he forgot about the bump before rubbing it. "So, if I am clairvoyant then I would be seeing the future, but that doesn't make any sense. You would know me better than you did in the dream." Harry steered his thoughts away from an incident just recently when he threatened to attack Snape over the revelation about the prophecy that killed his parents. He could not bear to imagine the level of betrayal necessary for him to reach that state permanently.
"I don't know what to say, Harry. Perhaps you unknowingly captured memories of this place from me using Legilimency."
Harry grabbed hold of that, feeling great relief at a rational explanation. His voice came out slightly desperate. "That could be it. I hope that's it."
Snape approached and said, "You seem to be in need of a chocolate ice cream."
Harry was not finished, though and said, "I don't want to be clairvoyant. I don't want any more prophecies. I certainly don't want to be making them, let alone living them."
"Like I said," Snape said, taking Harry's upper arm with authority. "Chocolate ice cream is definitely in order."
Minutes later they were sitting in a small shop with Harry facing an opposing bowl containing three oversized and gloopy scoops, armed only with a spoon. His eating slowed periodically as his thoughts wandered.
"You are dwelling. Stop it," Snape admonished.
Harry laughed lightly. "I was thinking that the dream was my subconscious reminding me how far we've come."
"Hm," was Snape's only reply.
"I certainly wouldn't want that version of you around the house, jumpy, wand out all the time." Harry ended up grinning.
"Finish your ice cream."
- 888 -
The next day, Harry was relieved to return to training, until the third time he had to explain what had happened to necessitate a day off. Lamely, Harry replied, this time to Rogan, "I'm not certain. I hit my head and I don't remember exactly."
Even Rogan, the lowest-ranking Auror and on probation to boot, gave him a doubtful noise in reply to this. Harry wondered what the response would be if he failed to edit his explanation to include the hallucinatory Scrying. The only upbeat part of his day came at lunchtime when Tonks pulled him aside. She appeared chastised, which made Harry hopeful.
"What'd you do to yourself?" she asked, concerned.
Harry tugged off his glasses to rub his eyes. "I wish I could answer that. I don't know. I was angry at . . . angry that I couldn't argue with you properly."
Her next question knocked him back a bit. "You carry an invisibility cloak with you all the time?"
Harry hesitated answering, not understanding why she asked that. She went on. "I mean, I know you own one, but I never saw you using it around the Ministry before now. I'm sure Rodgers told you it's preferred that you not use one as a trainee. Makes you sloppy. You need to practice and re-practice your other stealth techniques."
For lack of a better response, Harry said, "I don't use it for field work."
"That's fine then," she said, patting him on the arm. "You disappeared on me, and it wasn't clear how."
Harry understood then. He had unwisely slipped away from her without a sound and she had come up with the best possible explanation for that. Harry felt worn down by his necessary deceptions with her. But there were more important things to work out. "Do you have time to talk this evening?"
Equally stilted and nervous as he, she said, "Yeah. I'll come over to your place when I'm through here."
Harry felt formal around her all of a sudden. "I have to scare up lunch," he said, gesturing in the direction of the break room.
"Go on," she said, sounding friendly but also formally stiff.
- 888 -
That evening when Tonks appeared with a bang! Harry stood from the table where they had been lingering after the meal and excused himself. He expected a piercing glance from Snape, but Snape remained fixated on the drink he held in his fingers as Harry passed him.
"Let's go out for a walk," Harry said, collecting his cloak with the expectation that Tonks would follow, and she did.
They stepped out into the late evening light that barely reached over the wall of the garden. Tonks asked, "Are you all right?"
"Yeah, I'm fine," Harry said.
"I heard that Severus brought in a Healer for you."
"Yeah, I'm fine," Harry repeated, bristling at her concern, even as another part of his mind told him it was a good sign.
On the road, Harry immediately said the thing he most dearly wanted to get off his chest. "I'm sorry I followed you. Thanks for not reporting it."
Voice normal and chummy all of a sudden, Tonks said, "I figure you won't do it again, so there's no reason to get Arthur or Reggie involved."
"I wasn't . . . I shouldn't have done it," Harry said, face flushing. The low light hid this, he assumed with relief. He sighed, feeling pained all over again. "I just couldn't believe you didn't trust me."
Tonks hesitated responding. Their fast pace brought them to the edge of the village where they stopped. Harry sat on the top rail of a stout gate that led to a fenced field, which had been left to grow waist-high, ungrazed. The last of the orange sunlight just brushed the tops of the dark green plants. Tonks sat on the other half of the gate and swung it back and forth.
"It's not that I don't trust you, it just hurts to think other women get to do things with you that I don't. Really, it's other women I don't trust. You're famous and everyone wants to be with you."
Harry puzzled that. "But that still means you must not trust me."
"Well . . . maybe, but I wasn't thinking of it that way."
Harry swung his side of the gate, making the hinge rumble. "I didn't mean to make you jealous. You're on duty all of the time. I'd take you out on the motorbike whenever you wanted . . ."
"Yeah," Tonks dully acknowledged. She sighed into the evening air. A breeze rustled the leaves of the trees and made the tall grass bow around their feet. "That's the way it goes every time," she said quietly. "I don't have enough time and they find someone else who does."
Harry frowned, feeling for her. "I'd like to think I wouldn't do that to you."
Still dull sounding, she said, "I'd like to think that too, but it always happens."
"I don't plan to have it happen. I understand why you're always busy." Harry wished he could confess his other powers to her, just to square things with his own conscience, but he held back. "Want to go for a ride right now?"
She smiled and laughed lightly. "I have a broomstick if I feel like flying around. It wasn't really the ride, per se." She sighed again. "Just that you weren't giving rides to someone cute and in need of rescue."
Harry stood as a car roared by, much too fast for the small road. He stepped over to Tonks, gave her a hand standing up, and immediately pulled her close. Lights came on in the house adjacent to the field. A door banged and young voices could be heard calling out playfully.
Tonks felt lithe within his arms against his front, but he knew her seemingly delicate body held magic sufficient for an Auror and skills a chameleon could only dream of. Harry said, "What I like about you is that you don't need rescue. The one time I tried to come rescue you, I needed to be rescued. I've learned my lesson about that."
Sounding professionally concerned, she said, "You don't remember what you did two days ago, between leaving me and going home?"
Harry shook his head and tightened his hold on her. "I had an odd dream." He laughed lightly at admitting that was possibly what had done him in.
"It didn't involve Voldemort, did it?"
"Well, yes," Harry reluctantly replied. "I think I was just reliving recent events. In the dream I was trying to save Severus from him. I don't think it means anything."
She huffed worrisomely. "I hope you're right that it's nothing. I don't like worrying something bad happened to you that you don't remember." Harry felt her paw around in her pocket suddenly and knew what that meant. He let her go. She used a Lumos to read the slate board. "I haveta run."
"Any chance you need me?" Harry had to ask.
It was her turn to laugh lightly. "I'll be certain to let you know if we do." Then she was gone.
Harry waited for a string of cars to roll by. They accelerated one by one out of the nearby turn. The village fell placidly quiet with their passing. Harry took a step towards home and stopped. That old familiar tingle of being watched had returned.
Harry bit his lip and glanced to each side, but saw nothing. "You again?" he asked aloud and with grave confidence that he was correct.
After a moment, a figure emerged from under a cloak and Alastor Moody was eyeing Harry with grudging appreciation. In the dim light, his scarred face had an unusual swarthiness and he moved with unusual speed as he approached.
"Where have you been?" Harry asked. "The Canaries?"
Moody snorted. "Somewhere no one would know me, so farther away than that." He hobbled faintly over to Harry. "Getting along all right without me, I see."
"Why wouldn't I be?" Harry asked, trying not to sound rude just yet.
Moody strode in a circle around Harry, footsteps crunching in the gravel. "You don't think you owe me?"
Harry crossed his arms, trying for haughty. "For what, pray tell?"
"You still think you managed a block with a borrowed wand good enough for an explosion that took out half a click of earth?"
Harry froze, remembering the panicked moments when Vineet struck the spelling vessels to destroy Merton's cohort, Svaha. "You were there?" Harry asked.
Moody snorted again.
"Well . . . thanks," Harry said, not ungrateful.
"I'd give you a two out of five for how you handled that situation with the Indian husband and wife team," Moody grumbled.
Harry rolled his eyes and noticed for the first time that Moody's footsteps sounded oddly even. He no longer wore a peg leg. "Whose leg did you steal?" Harry asked.
The footsteps stopped. "I did a few favors for a Vodou priest in Haiti and he arranged the leg in return." Moody stared down at his foot while lifting it for examination in the gathering twilight. "Don't know whose leg it was before . . ."
Harry stared at him and decided to change the subject. "So, are you going to be following me around again?" he demanded.
"Miss me, Potter?"
"I'll be around," Moody ambiguously replied. "I have other things to keep an eye on," he replied grimly. "Seems you've been behaving yourself. Keep it up and you'll see less of me."
Suspicious, Harry asked, "Know anything about a giant sea urchin?"
"Why, didya lose one?"
He did not sound to Harry as though he were deflecting the question dishonestly. "No. I was given one unexpectedly."
Moody strode away, saying over his shoulder before flipping his invisibility cloak back on, which made less difference in the gloom, "I never went in the water at the beach; I don't know anything about sea life."
Harry mostly believed him, although his trust in the man was limited. Harry found a parting insult on his tongue, but taunting the old Auror was not wise if he wanted to be left alone.
When he reached the house, Harry found the energy he had stoppered up to keep his calm around Moody now demanded release and doing his readings would not suffice to burn it up. Snape still sat at the dining room table across from Candide. Harry pleaded, "Would you do some drills with me?"
Snape asked, "You do not get enough practice at the Ministry?" But he stood directly after speaking. "Drills I can handle," he said to Harry's questioning face.
Candide strolled in while the furniture hovered a foot off the floor during its journey to the wall. Harry lowered his wand from moving the lamps to the corner, remembering the sagging balcony in his dream with a spasm of distress.
"What is the matter?" Snape asked.
Harry did not want to explain in front of Candide, so he shook his head and raised his wand for drilling.
They did several sequences of Hogwarts-level spells and Candide, losing interest in the repetition, wandered back to the dining room before Harry said, "I want to try something. Can you use a nastier curse like a . . . er, something that won't hurt too bad . . . "
"Something that won't hurt you too badly?" Snape asked, lowering his wand.
"No, you. How about a Sponge Knees?"
Harry held his wand at his side and waited. Despite appearing doubtful, Snape raised his wand. Harry felt the prickles from the curse as it generated, but he could not squash it like he had with Shacklebolt, and his knees went soft and he toppled to the floor.
"Drat!" Harry said, trying to push himself up, despite it being impossible to put his legs under himself.
Snape strode over and neutralized the curse. Harry got to his feet and untwisted his robes. "Huh, it didn't work."
"What did not work?"
"You remember that I . . . that when Goyle tried to use a Killing Curse on me, I was able to block it from forming and it exploded inside of him instead of casting. Well, that worked the other day again when Shacklebolt cursed me and I only had the Ministry wand and I could feel this awful curse coming. I crushed it back into the earth and it hit him instead."
Snape tapped his wand against his robes. "What was the curse?"
"You can feel any curse, correct? But you cannot block them all."
"Shacklebolt's felt worse than ordinary."
"Of course it did, it was an Unforgiveable."
Harry raised his chin to stare at him in surprise. "It only works with Unforgiveables you think? Can you try tossing one at me?"
Snape stared back at him. The wand in his hand had fallen still. "There is only one I can use on you." He turned and took a few steps away but it did not raise his wand. "Are you ready?" he asked.
Something intangible passed between them, an unspoken acknowledgment of trust. Harry relaxed, but said, "Cast it slowly so I have a chance to feel it."
Snape nodded and raised his wand. Harry felt the spell, odious and tainted, as it ballooned from the floor. He had lots of time to notice that black, sickly tendrils hovered at the periphery.
"Stop," Harry commanded. He could squash the magic, he was certain and did not want it to strike Snape, nor did he want him to attracting those things. The spell faded and the room returned to its normal vaguely cheery self. Thoughtfully, Harry said, "Those spells really are different. I thought they were Unforgivable because of the effect they had, but the source of energy they draw on is inherently evil."
Snape stepped closer, studying Harry as he considered this revelation. When Harry remained silent, Snape offered, "One can make most any ordinary spell into an evil one through creative use. Just as one can use a knife for chopping stewing vegetables or stabbing someone in the heart. Unforgivable Curses have always been considered distinct and perhaps you are able to sense precisely why."
Harry said, "You're opening a conduit to the Dark Plane when you use one of those spells. That would make you very vulnerable if you didn't know how to protect yourself."
"It makes you vulnerable even if you do believe you know how to protect yourself," Snape stated sternly.
Harry heard a parental correction in that. "I don't plan on making it a habit to use them, if that is what you mean."
"That is what I mean."
"They feel terrible," Harry said. "Sickly, rancid . . . I don't know how to describe it."
"Like death?" Snape suggested, with lightness used perhaps as a shield.
Harry shook his head and stashed his wand away. "No. Death is neutral." Harry remembered feeling Munz slip away as he asserted this. "This is something else. Something worse than death."
Snape dropped his voice. "One of the reasons I would much prefer if you left the Dark Plane alone."
Harry said, "Once you're there, it isn't so bad." To Snape's dubious brow, Harry explained, "It's as though the mixing of our world and the Plane is the actual trouble. Although the creatures there are not so pleasant; it's true. But they behave."
Snape shook his head but gave up the immediate debate.
- 888 -
The next day Harry came home from training and found Candide alone in the dining room. For once she did not have some kind of fabric, parchment, flower, or scent samples piled around her. Instead, a scrolled list of names bordered by Xs and naughts occupied her placesetting accompanied by a stack of open letters. Harry settled into answering his own post, only taking stock of Snape's absence when this was completed.
"Severus working on his brewing again?" Harry asked.
Candide nodded. Harry could not detect if she was growing dismayed or intolerant of this behavior. If she wasn't, then Snape had chosen remarkably wisely. His own troubles with Tonks solved, Harry felt quite good about things in general, even looking forward to meeting Candide's parents.
Owl claws grated on the glass before slipping inside the open window and over to Harry's hand. Harry recognized the Peterson owl and eagerly took the letter it held. He told the owl to wait, but it took off again without so much as hoot and Harry assumed that Elizabeth told it to return quickly so its absence could go unnoticed.
Harry read the letter, relieved that Elizabeth sounded upbeat about keeping out of her father's path and avoiding provoking him. She expressed gratitude for the wand and hoped that she had given Harry enough money for it. Harry's blood went from pleasantly warm flowing to painfully icy upon reading that femininely cursived sentence. He had not seen the money she had given him in several days.
Shaking slightly, Harry went through his robe pockets, once, twice and then more carefully a third time.
"What did you lose?" Candide asked after watching him do this.
"A bit of money," Harry said, distressed.
"Do you need more spending money?" she asked pointedly. "You don't have to go without anything. Severus told me you were used to doing that . . ."
Harry stood, thinking to check his other robes upstairs, even though he was quite certain he currently wore the robes he had on in Gringotts the other day. He mentally walked through rushing back to the Ministry after going to his vault, but he was certain he had left the money in his pocket. The only other memory he had of it was sliding it across a sticky pub table to the rather shabby Snape in his dream. Maybe a pickpocket had taken it, Harry thought, with queer hope, although he thought it unlikely given how much cheek that would require of someone.
Candide's concern ratcheted up as she asked, "Harry, what's the matter? Was it a great deal of money?"
"No," Harry said, trying to dismiss her worry, but failing. "It's more complicated." He considered interrupting Snape's brewing to tell him about this, but sat down instead, not wanting to run to him until his thoughts calmed. Sighing, he finished reading Elizabeth's letter without really taking it in.
Candide prompted him again, and Harry distracted her by asking about the invitation list she was working at. She huffed a laugh as though not wanting to let go so easily. She said, "It's going well. Looks like around seventy people." She considered Harry before asking, "Severus asked if you would be Superlatus Wizard, right?"
"No. What's that?"
"Hasn't got around to it yet, apparently." She shook her head as she rolled up the invitation list. "Muggles refer to it as 'best man'."
"I'd like to be that," Harry said.
"I'm positive he wants you to. Just doesn't want to ask." She absentmindedly straightened the sliced envelopes stacked beside her. "He's a tough nut to crack."
"You managed though," Harry said with no little compliment. Fixed in his minds eye was the image of the dreary and desperate Snape from his vision. The missing pounds made the disturbing vision clearer. The contrast alarmed him.
"It was more me who needed to change than him, I think," Candide said, pulling Harry back with her voice.
"I know what you mean," Harry said after a space. Brightening slightly, he went back to the previous topic, "I've never been to a wizard wedding before. What happens at them?"
She waved his question off, "All the same things as a Muggle one, I'm sure."
Harry thought about that. "I've never been to one of those, either."
Harry felt vaguely annoyed at her surprise. Without meaning to, his hand felt around in his pocket again, seeking the missing pounds. His empty pocket echoed in his worried gut. He stood and said, "I'm going to see how Severus is doing."
Harry rapped softly on the spare room door, responded that it was just him when asked, and entered when told he could. Inside, the room had been rearranged. Fewer tubes bubbled and on the upturned door rested a row of black rocks with holes drilled in the top. Snape worked over one of these, dripping what appeared to be mercury into one of them as a spell hovered it in a tilted spinning orbit as though to coat the inside evenly. Harry took a seat on a stool well out of the way of the hiss of noxious steam and the scent of baking rock.
Hands clenched between his knees to hold tight the ungraspable, Harry watched Snape work, alarmed by the notion that somehow his dream had left behind yet more material proof of its reality. A yawning gap separated him from the will to speak his suspicions, since like a spell, speaking threatened to make them real.
Snape glanced at Harry, then away, and then sharply back again. "What is the trouble?" he asked.
Harry realized that he had been sitting there waiting to be prompted, childishly perhaps. "Er, the money I had in my pocket the other day . . . it's gone." Snape waited for more, so Harry added, "I remember giving it away in my dream . . . to you . . . and now it's gone. It was the pounds Elizabeth gave me for her wand. I had them in my pocket," he repeated, avoiding feeling around said with his hands for a fifth time.
Snape's gaze grew vaguely disturbed. Harry said, "I'd rather be prophetic than have my nightmares become reality. What if everything becomes a dream? How would I know what's real?"
Snape spoke lowly, "Tell me not in mournful numbers life is but an empty dream. For the soul is dead that slumbers and things are not what they seem . . ."
"What's that?" Harry asked in alarm.
"A nineteenth century American wizard named Longfellow said that." Snape carefully placed the vial of mercury he held back in one of several crowded racks and crossed his arms. "You are not the first to worry about such things."
Harry's brow furrowed, unappeased. Snape plucked up a pointed chunk of uneven silvery metal between metal pinchers and held it over a flame. White snow flaked off as it burned and he collected it with a tin plate as it fluttered downward.
"What are you working on?" Harry asked, vaguely aggrieved.
"It is almost finished. You will see soon enough." Snape smiled faintly then. "I have succeeded though." He stated this with unusual lightness, which shook Harry out of his own worries.
"Succeeded at what?" Harry asked, peering at the mysterious porous rocks, some broken open, some wrapped tightly with metal wire, as if reinforced to keep them from exploding.
"You will see," Snape said, sounding distant.
Harry frowned. Now that he had unburdened himself he wanted more concern but by some infinitesimally small chance, had caught Snape in a buoyant mood. Snape placed the tin saucer on the stained door and waved the flame away with his wand before facing Harry again. "Suffice to say, you are not living a dream at this moment. Or we are all suffering one together if you are, but I cannot believe that true."
As unnaturally philosophical as that was coming from Snape, Harry resisted it and stated, "I'd rather be prophetic. I like things the way they are. I don't want them to change."
Snape's smiled faintly, but purely, again. "Satisfying to hear you say that." Stepping closer with a challenging swish of his robes, he asked, "Truly nothing you would change?"
Harry thought over the imminent wedding, for which Candide's broad concern well-covered any needed from him or Snape. He thought of his unclear notion of an infant in the house. Even the dreaded dinner with the new in-laws felt dutifully acceptable. The past, however, still held stabs of regret. "I can't change the past," Harry admitted. "Everything else is good."
Snape made the unusual gesture of resting a hand on Harry's shoulder. It had the opposite effect from what was probably intended. It made it hard for Harry to take a breath. "What if I destroy all this. Without trying?"
Thoughtfully, Snape replied evenly, "Give us some credit, Harry. You are not the only one with power in this household." He fixed Harry with a level, unflinching gaze before releasing him and returning to his zinc and mercury.
- 888 -
The sky above Diagon Alley glared down with an unusually jewel-like blue as Harry walked toward Madam Malkin's. In his hand swung a sack containing his dress robes, still un-repaired after their last altercation with a public event. Even if they were serviceable, Harry thought them too formal for dinner at home and he had nothing besides his ordinary robes, which always seemed more worn than he remembered once he took a close look at them.
The shop was stifling in the heat, oppressive with new fabric scents. Even the bell chime on the door jangled mutedly in the robe-packed shop. Harry searched through a likely rack while the shopkeeper assisted someone else. Solid, bold colors dominated the robes in his size. Harry would have insisted before stepping in the store that he did not care what color robes he wore, but faced with saturated maroon and orange-brown, he realized differently.
The young shopkeeper bound over upon spotting him, pigtails bobbing along with her. "Can I help you find something?" she brightly asked.
Harry scratched his head. "Do you have anything in black?"
"What kind of event?"
Something about the way the scritching of hangers on metal across the shop stopped suddenly upon Harry's speaking, made him hold back on particulars. "Just a family dinner," he said, shrugging. He held out the sack with his damaged robes. "These need repair. And I need the robes for tonight."
She took the sack without peering into it and hovered it over her shoulder to the counter behind her. "Well, we have some greys . . ."
Harry tried to focus on the myriad robes held out for his inspection, but he could not keep his awareness away from the way the other customer happened to always remain out of sight when they moved about the shop.
The shopkeeper's voice was losing its perkiness without yet growing impatient as she held up a grey robe with light green decorative stitching. "The stitching would highlight your eyes . . ." she said in a practiced tone.
"I like that one," Harry said, dropping his shoulderbag to try them on.
Even before he had them pulled all the way over his head so he could see, she was leading him to the mirror. Harry tripped on the raised dais where he was supposed to stand for the fitting before stepping up onto it. He tugged the robes straight, while the shopclerk adjusted a curved, wall-mounted mirror to reflect the outside brightness on him. Harry had to agree that the light-colored stitching brought out his eyes. As he stared at his reflection, he wondered with a skip of his heart if his eyes had not become lighter still.
The shopkeeper prodded for a verdict, so he gave the robes a look. The spare and tasteful stitching evoked the right level of formality, he thought, without being stodgy. "They're good."
"Arms up, then," she ordered. "I need to pin them now for taking in if you want them tonight."
Harry held his arms out to the sides and waited while a tick tick sound emanated from taps of her wand along the side seams. The needles stiffened the fabric and pricked menacingly.
"So, important event?" the shopkeeper asked chattily.
"Just a family dinner," Harry said, squashing the urge to complain a bit about his new in-laws.
"That's all, really?" a new voice suggestively asked. Rita Skeeter, the source of the voice, slipped into view behind a tower of pastel pointed hats festooned with flowered ribbons.
Harry stiffened but sharp needlepoints bristled at him through his clothes, so he held still, arms tiring so that they drooped. "Almost finished?" Harry asked.
The shopkeeper was crouched, undoing the hem. "No, needs to be lengthened," she mumbled around the needles held between her lips. Harry sighed and held his arms up again. This at least removed the threat from the metal points in his armpits.
Skeeter slipped her notebook out of her handbag and after stopping to examine her red nails flipped it open. "Come on, Harry, if you give me something of value, I'll go away and leave you alone. If you make me dig, you don't know what I might uncover."
Harry had no desire to help her. "Go ahead and dig, then."
She pondered him and scratched something down with a quill made of a feather the same blood red as her nails. The scratching aggravated Harry who wanted to know what she was writing. As though filling him in, she said, "Grey is such an appropriate color for you, isn't it?" With a glance up at Harry's fixed form, she returned to writing, commenting, "Those eyes of yours are heading for diamond, aren't they? Green must be out this year."
Harry weakly bit at his top lip wondering what magic he had done now to further that. Other related worries about his powers tumbled out behind that thought as though loosed from a gate. The shopkeeper was halfway around the hem with her pinning.
Skeeter pondered aloud, "There is a major family event coming up for you, I hear. I sadly did not receive an invitation. I do so love weddings. So what could be this evening that would make the most famous of wizards have to rush out for a new robe?"
Harry's stomach flipped at the notion of seeing his extended family issues spread out for all to see in the newspaper, right before the big event, which promised to be sufficiently complicated on its own. Bolstering himself with a dark look, that at least put a halt to her incessant scratching, Harry asked, "Why do you want me as an enemy?"
The question appeared to catch her off guard. Her nails were due again already for further inspection. She did this while saying, "Leaving aside that you are more profitable as an enemy, I personally don't buy the innocent routine. You spread it especially thick."
Harry's leaden arms had tilted lower again, garnering a rebuke from the shopkeeper. He sighed and raised his arms straight again, finding strength in the notion that she was almost finished. Pins glittered in a circle around his feet, brighter than the light green thread of the pattern along the hem.
"So your plan is to annoy me until I prove myself dark enough that it is safe only to leave me alone?" Harry asked Skeeter.
She closed her notebook and said soberly, "Oh, you've probably already done that." She turned while stashing her notebook away, and stepped out of the shop. The door squeaked closed with a jangle of the bell and the shopkeeper announced, "Done."
Harry dropped his arms in relief and got poked in the side for it. He had to raise his arms all the way up to have the robes safely hovered off him. She hung them on a rusty pipe behind the counter suspended from the ceiling by an even rustier chain. "I'll have them in an hour." She handed him a slip.
She leaned forward and with a hand beside her mouth said, "My brother bought an elf so our mum could have nights off. He's really fast, the elf is, even if he doesn't speak much English, and not a stitch out of place." She waved at the otherwise empty pipe. "See, nothing waiting. We're going to go custom next month: bespoke robes while you wait and everything. That's why Rita was in here, to write an article." She accepted Harry's Galleons and gave him change, still chattering. "You should have told her all about your plans. She'd lap it up and then all your friends would get to read all about it. We were thrilled when she agreed to come do a piece on us."
"Yeah, I'm sure," Harry muttered.
Outside on the alley, the conversation with Skeeter still circled in Harry's mind as his eyes checked to make sure she was not around, in obvious human form. He was just considering heading home and coming back to fetch the robes rather than dragging Ron out of work early to keep him company when another voice stopped him short.
"Hello, Harry," Belinda said, appearing chipper in the fine weather, which startled him into uttering something unintelligible in response. "Would you do me a favor?" she asked.
He was so pleased to see her happier that he instantly said he would. She led the way down the Alley, explaining how the Minister needed a special, certain liquor for a visiting dignitary and the only shop that carried it was on Knockturn Alley and she hoped he would keep her company because it was more crowded that day than usual. Harry thought crowded better than empty from a safety perspective, but he agreed, knowing it would give him a chance to talk to her.
Her light footsteps floated her along Diagon Alley, Harry beside, until they reached the turn. Harry asked her how the Minister's office was treating her; the best small talk he could come up with in a hurry. She shrugged and gave a version of her standard answer about working too late every evening, but it being worth it.
They ducked together under the crooked bay window that blocked part of the narrow entrance to the less-than-savory side alley to Diagon. The sun here fell on dusty wide-brimmed hats pulled low and hoods pulled far forward, leaving features in inky shadow. The scent of old smoke and bromide leached from the age-darkened walls. A group of witches slid aside grudgingly to let Harry and Belinda pass. The witches hum of conversation fell still, eyes tracking even though heads barely moved.
Harry fell silent too, needing to concentrate on watching the denizens of Knockturn observing them in return. Belinda continued to talk, until Harry said, "I'm glad to see you so upbeat."
Oddly, this set her lips into a purse and Harry regretted speaking. They neared the end of the alley. Cracked and aged signs hung lower here outside the shop doors, varnish darkened, obscuring the print. Belinda stopped before a newly painted sign depicting a curly eye surrounded by the words Cellar ObscurI.
Belinda pulled open the door, revealing not a shop but a long wooden staircase curving downward. A small lamp hinted at a landing somewhere in the depth. Harry stared down at the tiny light until his eyes adjusted and then around at the hunched and gritty old wizards and witches loitering near this end of the alley, slitted eyes slipping over to fix on him. A sharp glare at the closest renewed their walking.
The stairway appeared far more like a trap than a place of business, even if Harry's curse sense gave him only the usual distress of Knockturn Alley in general.
"How long will it take to buy the bottle?" Harry asked, torn between stepping into a trap and letting her step into one alone.
But her concerns had evaporated now that they had reached the shop. "Oh, just two minutes or so."
"If you aren't out in five, I'll come in after you," Harry stated, hand checking for his wand, obediently in his pocket where it was supposed to be.
Belinda laughed, believing he was joking, apparently. She slipped quickly down the steps while Harry held the door open to give her more light. After she had made the turn out of sight, Harry scanned around him and backed up to the far wall where he could keep watch on the whole alley and the shop. He noted the time on his watch and stood, waiting.
Hunched shoppers shuffled by, tattered robes dragging. Shop doors here did not have chimes but low foghorns, or even screams. Harry waited, thinking time must have run out, but a check of his watch repeatedly told otherwise.
When Belinda slipped out the shop door, sack-wrapped package tucked under her arm, Harry felt a bit silly about his worry.
"Thanks for waiting. Minister gives me these errands and its nice to have company."
"Where's Percy?" Harry asked. Forethought told him not to, but curiosity overruled.
"He wasn't around today. So I couldn't ask him to come with me," she added. "Normally, he would," she then added in a tone of defense.
Harry did not like Percy, but he did not want Belinda back. Sandwiched between those two zones, he could not find anything to say.
Belinda glanced at her own pocketwatch. "I'll Apparate back from here, if you don't mind. I hate to break the incoming rule, since our office wrote it, but we have no plans to regulate outgoing."
Harry barely nodded before she had gone with a last, "Thanks again." He stared momentarily at the shop door and the brand new sign. He turned to go and was run into by someone walking quickly and not watching where they were going.
Harry disentangled himself and said, "Candide?" in surprise at recognizing the person he helped right.
Flustered, she blurted, "Harry!" Then covered her mouth and said, "Oops, was I not supposed to give you away? Or, you're not in disguise are you?"
This all came flowing out so quickly, Harry needed a second to catch up. By the time, he did, she was tugging on his sleeve and moving down the alley.
"No, it's all right. What are you doing here?" Harry asked. Even with her head bowed, he could see her flush. On the return trip out, the alley's occupants moved aside more deliberately, eyeing Harry's companion and him alternately. Harry sent sharp Auror-eyed looks back. A particularly pointy-bearded, tall wizard standing in front of Best's Beastiary Provision seemed amused by this.
"I shouldn't have, I know, The boss was gone, so I slipped out," Candide said, sounding guilty. She took his arm in a tighter grip and whispered excitedly, "But I know what I'm having now."
Not understanding, Harry said, "What?"
"I went and asked Grisley--you know the old augerer--what I was having; you know a girl or a boy."
"Oh," Harry said. They were passing through the narrows leading to Diagon. Harry ducked so Candide would not have to. "So, what did she say?" he asked, suddenly intensely curious and jarringly on hold until he heard the answer.
"It's a boy, she said," Candide recounted.
They stopped in the intersection of the two alleys, shoppers veered around them, packages rustling.
"That's excellent," Harry said, not sure what difference it really made, except that just knowing made a kind of major difference. He stared beyond her hair down Knockturn Alley and the robed figures skulking about there. "I'd not mind seeing Severus' reaction if you could hold off on telling him till I was there."
She smiled. "I'd like you to be there when I tell him, of course. But I have to get back to work for a bit, just in case the boss comes back." She moved off in a hurry after patting Harry on the arm.
Harry watched her negotiate the crowds to reach the door leading up to the accounting office. It swung closed and Harry felt strangely disconnected and unsure why that would be the case. The evening held the promise of even more interesting encounters and he now felt vague dread about it, even as he felt more determined to make things work with Snape and his new in-laws.
Shaking himself as a group of children passed, one of them turning back to wave excitedly at him, face aglow with recognition, Harry Disapparated for home.
Next: Chapter 8
Snape harmlessly crushed the bundle together and slipped it under his arm. "Yes. Minerva kindly reassigning my teaching and even Head of House duties, but failed, suspiciously enough, to find another deputy. His words came out clipped, having wrapped himself in disdain already in preparation for the dinner, Harry figured. Candide minced over while this conversation went on and Snape took wary stock of the two of them. "What is it?" Snape asked, put on alert by what must have been the pensiveness they exuded over Candide's news.
"I, uh, went to see Grisley Teaberg today . . ." Candide opened.
"Why? No, don't tell me," he added quickly holding up his hand. "You fetched a beauty potion for your cousin . . . an excellent plan," he asserted, turning to stride away.
The delay was due to my travelling around too much to write. If you follow my author link to my lj blog you can track what the heck is distracting me. It takes a lot to distract me from writing, but lately life has managed.
Also, the misnaming of the village is intentional. Spinning is what one does to generate one story, but with this story I'm making a metaphor for fanfiction, and the multitude of stories that make it up, hence a weaving. Plus timelines are now seriously off from canon, so I can only peg it as close as I can to the books and the renaming is also an acknowledgment of that.