Severus was staring at me as though I was completely barmy. Perhaps I was.
"Goldilocks. The Three Bears."
No response from him.
"Porridge... too salt, too sweet, just --? Oh, sod it, never mind."
The Brothers Grimm et al were evidently persona non grata in the Wizarding World. (Who needs mundane Muggle fairy tales when you live with boggarts and garden gnomes -- and when the Magicals in those Muggle stories are almost invariably wicked?)
Severus was absolutely flummoxed. He simply turned his attention back to the rat and stared at it, and then raised his wand and tried Cruciatus.
The rat's ears twitched and it looked mildly annoyed.
"Bloody hell," Severus breathed, and raised shocked eyes to mine. "I never.... I knew that theoretically it could work, but...."
Suddenly he leapt to his feet and went back to the Elixir, grabbing several flasks and gently decanting the potion into them.
"Almeida needs to see this now," he muttered as he stoppered the flasks, and then set about destroying the remaining potion in the cauldron.
"Oh, Severus, you're not -- you're exhausted, you can't Apparate all that way --"
"Have to. I'll do it in stages," he assured me as he sprinted to the other counter and hastily gathered up his research journal and notes. "He needs to start working on the modifications as soon as possible -- assuming we can duplicate these results."
He paused only long enough to replace and ward his dark wand, and then shooed me out of the lab before him, extinguishing the lights and flipping the tapestry back down over the door when he stepped through.
"But the rat -- the rats -- who cares for them when you're --"
"Don't worry about them, there's an automatic feeding system, and they've plenty of water," he said. "And they've served their purpose, in any case." He pulled a thick cloak from his wardrobe and slung it over his shoulders, carefully stowing the flasks in its voluminous pockets.
Then he pulled me to him roughly and kissed me with all the considerable passion in his nature.
"Get some sleep," he instructed me sternly, lips brushing against my temple, "and see Poppy first thing for some Pepper-Up and willow bark -- you're going to need it. Tell Minerva I'll be gone for a few days. And stay on the grounds."
And then he released me and turned abruptly, striding into his sitting room; unwarded a hidden door tucked in beside the fireplace; and was gone.
Oh, fecking hell.
There was no way I could get a message to him -- Patty wasn't up to trans-Atlantic trips -- so unless he took the time to contact me, I'd no way of knowing that he was all right. And if his reaction was any indication, he'd be totally immersed in working with Almeida. I might as well not exist.
I returned to my rooms and took a very short and grumpy shower, and went to bed; it was nearly two-thirty.
And all the willow bark and Pepper-Up that Poppy dosed me with the next morning couldn't totally cure my excruciating hangover.
I only knew he'd returned the day she suddenly shot to the window and impatiently cawed for me to let her out. He'd made it back to this side of the ocean, at least. But it was another six hours before I got a floo-note.
Of all the.... I'm only your wife, for God's sake, you'd think you'd have the decency to let me know in person....
If I'd been thinking straight I'd have considered that it must have gone well, or he'd be in my rooms taking out his frustration on my ears and patience.
I'm afraid I wasn't thinking straight. I'd worried constantly, and hadn't gotten much sleep. (I didn't stop to consider that he'd probably felt much the same in December, when I'd gone haring off to Lancashire and London. That was an entirely different situation, I'll have you know.)
But I dutifully reported to his sitting room -- via the corridor, not our doorway -- after supper. He called out an "Enter," not moving from his desk or pausing in his scribbling away at a parchment; Lenore was perched on the back of his chair, shifting impatiently, waiting to take the missive.
He noticed my pointed choice of entrance, but confined his commentary to an arch of his eyebrow.
"Back in one piece, at least," I noted coolly.
He didn't appreciate that.
"Not," he said dryly, "the welcome I anticipated."
"You're not the only one with a right to worry," I retorted. "I had the decency to send Patty back to you when I'd made it to Lucy's safely."
"You know I couldn't do that," he said through gritted teeth. "It wasn't --"
He tossed the quill down and glared at me -- not the more restrained one, either -- the "you're treading on very dangerous ground," one.
"If you hadn't noticed," he said very deliberately, "you are bound to someone with a rather less straighforward job than tending a shop or milking cows. I should have thought a woman of your intelligence would have considered that."
"I did," I said icily, ignoring the insult. "It didn't help me sleep any better, unfortunately. Even Lenore was upset, and she nearly drove me mad."
"Lenore, at least, does not hold grudges," he said, returning venom for my ice, and returned to his parchment. "I take it my presence won't be welcome. I shan't inflict it on you for a while."
"I wouldn't go that far," I said (grudgingly -- he was quite correct on that point). "I know I'm behaving badly, but I'll have calmed down in a bit."
He snorted. I nearly turned around and left.
"But it went well?" I asked, to mollify him.
"Yes," he said tersely. And volunteered nothing else.
"Well?" I asked indignantly, and plopped down in one of the easy chairs. "What now? How is Almeida going to fiddle with it? How are you going to deliver it to Voldemort?"
"I can't tell you that," came the laconic reply; he didn't even look up. "Or more accurately, I won't."
He finally glanced up and noted how outraged I looked.
"You already know too much," he said, obviously mustering every ounce of patience, and speaking to me like I was a particularly dense First Year (probably justified, given my emotional state). "I shouldn't have involved you in the brewing to begin with -- my fault, but I needed the extra pair of hands. Frankly, if I thought you'd ever forgive me for it, I'd Obliviate you."
I nodded jerkily and rose to leave. I only made it as far as the door.
It was undoubtedly a demand, and invested with every bit of arrogance and command at his disposal.
I'd like to tell you I resisted, but I didn't. I surprised him, though, by deliberately walking over to the desk; he hastily pulled a fresh sheet of parchment over the one he'd been writing upon.
"I am not so much worried about the Death Eaters," he said quietly and deadly calm, "as I am the Ministry, at least so far as you are concerned. If this goes wrong I won't have you involved and brought up on conspiracy charges. As it is, if you're called on to testify you're to tell them you had no idea what the potion was: I doubt Protheroe would allow them to administer Veritaserum, given what happened last year. Understood?"
I nodded. As I couldn't keep my tongue on a leash it was the best response I could make.
"I'll tell you later, when this bloody mess is over with," he conceded, and tiredly rubbed his forehead as a silence stretched between us.
There wasn't anything else to say, and I knew I'd angered him to the point of his rejecting any offers of apology or truce. So I left so he could finish his work -- through our private door, at least, hoping he'd take it as a conciliatory gesture.
I got as much work done as I could -- berating myself for behaving like a shrew all the while -- and then took myself to bed. Alone.
Good God, this marriage thing is tough.
He wasn't asleep, and wasn't in the mood to allow me to snuggle. But at least he groped for my hand and kissed it tiredly, before rolling over and finally drifting off. And when his usual nightmare woke both of us a couple of hours later, he reached for me and curled up against me, his ragged, panicked breath heating my neck until he calmed down and fell back to sleep.
Minerva announced "Jonson's" leave-taking one morning at breakfast -- a family crisis, apparently: I shot an uneasy look at the Gryffindor table, to gauge Harry Potter's reaction. Expression still guarded, as it had been since the run-in with Ron Weasley, but no alarm or surprise.
Oh, well. Probably exactly what Minerva says, then.
And I thought no more about it, other than to note Minerva's tension and strain.
Black's replacement arrived that afternoon -- a stocky woman with iron-grey hair and a distinctly no-nonsense air: Arabella Figg. She looked me over with sharp, shrewd eyes when we were introduced -- it was rather unnerving, a feeling very like that I'd felt at Severus' first assessment of me -- and then she relaxed marginally, seeming to approve of my sensible shoes and non-witchly trousers, and murmured the bare minimum courtesy before turning away.
I guessed she was about Minerva's age, and I was proven correct: she, Minerva, and Alastor chatted together, forming their own little clique within the faculty.
(All right, I admit it: I asked the Deputy Head, who -- after deploring my curiosity -- consented to consult the Alumni Rolls, and informed me she was two years ahead of Minerva and Alastor.)
"I should stay away from her unless approached first," he said flatly. "She'll guard her privacy well, and she's nearly as paranoid as Moody. She won't appreciate your interest, and will make no bones about it."
"Are you telling me she's an Auror as well?" I asked.
"Worse. And no, I shan't tell you -- it'll only get you in more trouble if you slip."
Damn it. I hated it when he flatly refused like that -- there was absolutely no possibility of prying even a hint out of him. It wasn't even worth trying a sulk.
"Unspeakable," Goyle grunted out around a mouthful of chocolate biscuit, and I started and slopped tea over the edge of the saucer, smearing the ink on the scroll in front of me.
I hadn't realised I'd mused aloud. Severus was right: I'd make a lousy spy.
I cursed as I mopped at the scroll (by now Goyle was used to my occasional swearing over the essays), and then asked, "What did you say?"
"An Unspeakable." And with that helpful comment, Goyle crammed the last two bites of the biscuit in his mouth and studiously went back to marking the quiz in front of him (suspiciously -- Goyle could never be characterised as studious, under any circumstances).
I couldn't blame him for the cramming. Sweets were now few and far between from the Hogwarts kitchens: these were from my private stash, thoughtfully sent by Lucy (she would send Kimberleys too, however, which I detested). But Goyle had already polished those off last week with no complaints, and now we were working on the chocolate digestives. (I was and am a firm believer in saving the best for last.)
"And what's an Unspeakable?"
He glanced at me sidelong.
"I'm not supposed to know," he muttered.
"D'you think I'd grass on you?" I wheedled.
He shot me a pointed look of disbelief.
"Well, not since the beginning of this year, at least," I amended. "I mean, you are my assistant, now, and you've behaved yourself admirably this year." And I unsubtly pushed the biscuit-plate closer to him.
He considered this, and snagged two more biscuits before elaborating.
"They're like Aurors, but... worse. They can do things the Aurors aren't allowed. Kill people, if that's what the Ministry wants."
My jaw dropped.
He stared at the wall for a moment, and then shrugged.
"Yeah." And shoved one of the biscuits in his mouth, effectively stopping the conversation for a moment.
"You're telling me," I said in horror as he finally washed the biscuit down with a gulp of tea, "that the Ministry uses paid assassins?"
"Sure. Don't Muggle governments?" he said.
Well, he had me there. Jokes about 007 aside, they probably do.
"It's a secret branch of Magical Law Enforcement," he actually volunteered before he demolished the second biscuit. "'S not all they do -- they guard people, too, stuff like that. Why'd you ask?"
"Something I read in A Brief History of the Wizarding World," I said vaguely. I doubted he'd read it, and probably wasn't intrigued enough by my curiosity to bother to do so.
He dropped it, fortunately, and we returned to our marking.
Holy Shite. So it's possible, if I take Severus' description at face value, that Figg is a government assassin. Holy Shite.
That chubby little woman is --
Holy Fecking Shite.
I'd have no difficulty staying out of Arabella Figg's way.
Back to BNW Index
I've had Kimberleys, and I must admit I think they're awful. Chocolate digestives, however, are luverly.