The journey to St. Mungo’s was quite quick, as there was very little traffic on the roads. A small trickle of witches and wizards were creeping furtively up the otherwise deserted street to visit the hospital. Everyone got out of the car as Mundungus drive off around the corner to wait for them; they strolled casually toward the window where the dummy in the green nylon stood, then one by one, stepped through the glass.
The reception area looked pleasantly festive; The crystal orbs that illuminated St. Mungo’s had been turned to red and gold so that they became gigantic, glowing Christmas baubles; holly hung around every doorway, and shining white Christmas trees covered in magical snow ad icicles glittered in every corner, each topped with a gleaming gold star. They found Mr. Weasley propped up in bed with the remains of his turkey diner on a tray in his lap and a rather sheepish expression on his face.
“Everything all right, Arthur?” asked Mrs. Weasley, after they had all greeted Mr. Weasley and handed over their presents.
“Fine, fine,” said Mr. Weasley, a little too heartily. “You-er- haven’t seen Healer Smethwyck, have you?”
“No,” said Mrs. Weasley suspiciously, “why?”
Heather grinned at Mr. Weasley has she handed him her present which was a book on Muggle tools. Heather knew Mr. Weasley was hiding something, Mrs. Weasley of course knew, she knew something was up. Mr. Weasley had just leaned over to shake Harry’s hand when Mrs. Weasley peered under his nightshirt.
“Arthur,” she said, with a s nap in her voice like a mousetrap. “you’ve had your bandages changed. Why have you had your bandages changed a day early, Arthur? They told me they wouldn’t need doing until tomorrow.”
“What?” said Mr. Weasley, looking rather frightened an pulling the bed covers high up his chest. “No, no-it’s nothing- it’s-I-”
“Well-now don’t get upset, Molly, but Augustus Pye had an idea…He’s the Trainee Healer, you know, lovely young chap and very interesting in…um…complementary medicine…I mean, some of these old Muggle remedies…well, they’re called stitches, Molly, and they work very well on-on Muggle wounds-”
They left hearing Mrs. Weasley’s muffled shriek of “WHAT DO YOU MEAN, THAT’S THE GENERAL IDEA?” through the door. They walked along the corridor through a set of double doors and found a rickety staircase lined with more portraits of brutal-looking Healers. As they climbed it, the various Healers called out to them, diagnosing odd complaints and suggesting horrible remedies. After tugging Ron away from a Healer claiming he had spattergroit they found themselves on the fourth floor.
Heather then stopped in front of window that Harry had passed, he was staring too. A man was peering out at them all with his nose pressed against the glass. He had wavy blond hair, bright blue yes, and a broad vacant smile that revealed dazzlingly white teeth. Heather looked up to the sign above the ward and read ‘spell damage’.
“Blimey!” said Ron, also staring at the man.
“Oh my goodness,” said Hermione
“Professor Lockhart?” Kira gasped.
“What happened in the Chamber of Secrets?” Heather asked.
“Well, hello there!” he said. “I expect you’d like my autograph would you?”
Soon they were greeted by a motherly looking wizard who thought they were visitors and lead them inside with Professor Lockhart. This ward bared unmistakable signs of being a permanent home to its residents. They had many more personal effects around their beds than in Mr. Weasley’s ward; the wall around Gilderoy’s headboard, for instance, was papered with pictures of himself, all beaming toothily and waving at the new arrivals.
Heather felt thoroughly depressed in this ward, a sallow-skinned, mournful-looking wizard lay in the bed opposite, staring at the ceiling; he was mumbling to himself and seemed quite unaware of anything around him. Heather then looked to the end of the ward, two curtains were pulled around two beds. The shadows of a boy and woman could be seen inside, talking quietly.
“And look, Broderick, you’ve been sent a potted plant and a lovely calendar with a different fancy hippogriff for each month, they’ll brighten things up, won’t they?” said the Healer, bustling along to the mumbling man.
Heather looked back to Lockhart who was still signing photographs, but was brought back to the curtains again by: “And-oh, Mrs. Longbottom, are you leaving already?”
Longbottom, Heather’s head nearly got whiplash from looking so fast back to the end of the ward. Kira looked with her, the two visitors were walking back down the aisle between the beds; a formidable-looking old witch wearing a along green dress, a moth-eaten fox fur, and a pointed hat decorated with what was unmistakably a stuff vulture, and trailing behind her looking thoroughly depressed- Neville.
Heather hoped to Merlin that no one else had noticed, as she tugged on Kira’s shirt, but she was wrong. Ron had looked up at the sound of the name “Longbottom” too, and before she could stop him had called, “Neville!”
“It’s us, Neville!” said Ron brightly, getting to his feet. “Have you seen? Lockhart’s here! Who’ve you been visits?”
“Friends of yours, Neville, dear?” said Neville’s grandmother gratefully, bearing down upon them all.
Neville looked as though he would rather be anywhere in the world but here. A dull purple flush was creeping up his plump face and he was not making eye contact with any of them.
“Ah, yes,” said his grandmother, looking closely at Harry and sticking out a shriveled, claw-like hand for him to shake. “Yes, yes, I know who you are, of course. Neville speaks most highly of you.”
“Hi, Neville,” Kira said quietly.
It was then, Neville seemed to have noticed that Kira was actually there, the purple became a deep maroon as he smiled back at her.
“And this must be Kira,” she said, turning to her and shook her hand as well.
She greeted them all in turn, it was then they came to the topic of his parents.
“What?” said Ron, looking amazed.
Heather really wanted to kick Ron and drag him out of the ward, but in the public eye it wouldn’t seem-well-fit.
“What’s this?” said Mrs. Longbottom sharply. “Haven’t you told your friends about your parents, Neville?” Neville shook his head. “Well, it’s nothing to be ashamed of! You should be proud, Neville, proud! They didn’t give their health and their sanity so their only son would be ashamed of them you know!”
“I’m not ashamed,” said Neville very faintly, only looking at Kira sadly.
“Well, you’ve got a funny way of showing it!” said Mrs. Longbottom. “My son and his wife were tortured into insanity by You-Know-Who’s followers.”
Both Hermione and Ginny clapped their hands over their mouths. Ron stopped craning his neck to catch a glimpse of Neville’s parents and looked mortified. Kira was still looking at Neville understandingly, until she took a few steps to him and discreetly took his hand.
“They were Aurors, you know, and very well respected within the Wizarding community,” she went on. “highly gifted, the pair of them. I-yes, Alice dear, what is it?”
Neville’s mother had come edging down the ward in her nightdress. She no longer had the plump, happy-looking face she had seen in the photograph. Her face was thin and worn now, her eyes seemed overlarge, and her hair, which had turned white, was wispy and dead-looking. She did not seem to want to speak, or perhaps she was not able to, but she made timid motions toward Neville and Kira.
“Go on, introduce your girlfriend,” his grandmother said now noticing them holding hands.
“uh…mum,” Neville said quietly, Kira smiled at him. “This is Kira,”
His mother’s attention turned on her, Kira looked her strait in the eye, looking as though she was trying to cry. Then upon her pale and weak face broke a smile, though small and feeble is was a smile. She turned back to Neville and frigidly kissed him on the cheek before tottering back to the ward.
“Well, I never…” said Mrs. Longbottom in astonishment before presuming her normal personality. “Very nice to have met you all. Let’s go now Neville,”
“Bye,” Kira said
“Bye,” Neville said and kissed her cheek.
The door closed behind them.
“I never knew,” said Hermione, who looked tearful.
“Nor did I,” said Ron rather hoarsely.
“Nor me,” whispered Ginny,
“I did,” Heather and Harry said glumly.
“Dumbledore told us, but we promised not to mention it, that’s what Bellatrix Lestrange got to Azkaban for, using the Cruciatus Curse on Neville’s parents until they lost their minds.”
“I-I knew-” Kira said, she now had tears streaming down her face and broke into a weak sob before she could finish her sentence.
Kira had composed herself by the time they returned to Mr. Weasley ward, they went home shortly after that. Kira remained quiet and out of the way for the rest of the day, Sirius however had been scouring the house for Kreacher. He had been lurking in the attack, covered in dust, no doubt looking for more relics of the Black family to hide in his cupboard. Unlike Sirius Kreacher was in a better mood since his reappearance, his bitter muttering had subsided somewhat, he submitted to order more docilely than usually.
Sirius’s good mood was evaporating fast now that Christmas was over. As the date of their departure back to Hogwarts drew nearer, he became more and more prone to what Mrs. Weasley called “fits of sullens,” in which he would become taciturn and grumpy, often withdrawing to Buckbeak’s room for hours at a time. His gloom seeped through the house, oozing under doorways like some noxious gas, so that all of them become infected by it.
Kira wrote Neville every once in a while, she was much quieter than usual, it was eerie. Heather sit downstairs on the couch with Isaac, in front of a warm fire, trying to pass the time.
“I guess she didn’t expect it to be that bad,” Heather said, leaning back on his chest.
“She’ll swing back around, it seems that she brought out something in Mrs. Longbottom that no one had seen before.” Isaac said, wrapping his arms around her.
“Maybe, I just worry about her.” Heather said.
Heather was looking forward to returning to school somewhat, they had the D.A. to look forward to, but with no Quidditch and more rules on the way it was looking bleak. The main thing was Heather didn’t want to leave Remus mostly, knowing that he would be over enemy lines with werewolves scared her. It was then at that moment, interrupting there blissful silence Mrs. Weasley walked into the living room.
“Heather, dear,” she said, “could you come down to the kitchen? Professor Snape would like a word with you.”
Heather sat up, “What?”
“Professor Snape. In the kitchen. He’d like a word.”
Heather stared at her incredulously, she looked to Isaac who was gaping at her and shrugged in confusion. Getting off him and the couch she met Harry a the bottom of the stairs and they walked into the kitchen. Inside sat Sirius and Snape across from each other at the long kitchen table, glaring in opposite directions. The silence between them was heavy with mutual dislike. A letter lay open on the table in front of Sirius.
“Er,” Harry said after a glance to Heather to announce their presence.
Snape looked around at them, his face framed between curtains of greasy black hair.
“Sit down, Potter, Smith.”
“You know,” said Sirius loudly, leaning back on his reach chair legs and speaking to the ceiling. “I think I’d prefer it if you didn’t give orders here, Snape. It’s my house, you see.”
An ugly flush suffused Snape’s pallid face. Heather sat down next to Harry who sat beside Sirius, facing Snape across the table.
“I was suppose to see you two alone,” said Snape, the familiar sneer curling his mouth, “but Black-”
“I’m his godfather,” said Sirius, louder than ever. “and I agreed with Remus that if either one of us was absent when either Heather or Harry needed us that one of us would step in.”
“Touching, I am here on Dumbledore’s orders,” said Snape, whose voice, by contrast, was becoming more and more quietly waspish, “but by all means stay, Black, I know you like to feel involved.”
“What’s that suppose to mean?” said Sirius, letting his chair fall back onto all four legs with a loud bang.
“Wait,” Heather said, “where’s Remus?”
Sirius looked to her, his face had changed from a glare to no feeling. “He had to leave early, but he will be here to escort you back to Hogwarts.”
“As I was saying,” Snape sneered. “The headmaster has sent me to tell you, Potter, Smith, that it is his wish for you to study Occlumency this term.”
“Study what?” said Harry blankly.
“The magical defense of the mind against external penetration.” Heather said to him,
“Quite,” said Snape, not showing the shock on his face.
“Why do I have to study Occlu-thing?” Harry blurted out.
“Because the headmaster thinks it a good idea,” said Snape smoothly. “You both will receive private lessons once a week, but you will not tell anybody what you are doing, least of all Dolores Umbridge. Am I understood?”
“Yes,” Heather said
“Yes,” said Harry. “Who’s going to be teaching me?”
Snape raised an eyebrow.
“I am.” he said.
Heather, who just movements ago was excited for these lessons and felt like she would finally get some answers felt sick. Extra lessons with Snape it was as if it couldn’t get any worse.
“I suppose because it is a headmaster’s privilege to delegate less enjoyable tasks,” said Snape silkily. “I assure you I did not beg for the job.” He got to his feet. “I will expect you both at six o’clock on Monday evening. My office. If anybody asks, you are taking Remedial Potions. Nobody who has seen you in my classes could deny you need them.”
He turned to leave, his black traveling cloak billowing behind him.
“Wait a moment,” said Sirius, sitting up straighter in his chair.
Snape turned back to face them, sneering.
“I am in rather a hurry, Black…unlike you, I do not have unlimited leisure time..”
“I’ll get to the point, then,” said Sirius, standing up,. He was rather taller than Snape who, Heather noticed, had balled his fist in the pocket of his cloak over what Heather was sure was the handle of his wand. “If I hear you’re using these Occlumency lessons to give Harry or Heather a hard time, you’ll have me to answer to.”
“How touching,” Snape sneered. “but surely you have noticed that Potter is very like his father?”
“Yes, I have,” said Sirius proudly.
“Well, then, you’ll know he’s so arrogant that criticism simply bounces off him,” Snape said sleekly.
Sirius pushed his chair roughly aside and strode around the table toward Snape, pulling out his wand as he went; Snape whipped out his own. They were squaring up to each other, Sirius looking livid, Snape calculating, his eyes darting from Sirius’s wand tip to his face.
“Sirius!” said Harry loudly, but Sirius appeared not to hear him.
“I’ve warned you, Snivellus,” said Sirius, his face barely a foot from Snape’s, “I don’t care if Dumbledore thinks you’ve reformed, I know better-”
“Oh, buy why don’t you tell him so?” whispered Snape. “Or are you afraid he might not take the advice of a man who has been hiding inside his mother’s house for six months very seriously?”
“Tell me, how is Lucius Malfoy these days? I expect he’s delighted his lapdog’s working at Hogwarts, isn’t he?”
“Speaking of dogs,” said Snape softly, “did you know that Lucius Malfoy recognized you last time you risked a little jaunt outside Clever idea, Black, getting yourself seen on a safe station platform…gave you a cast-iron excuse not to leave your hidey-hole in future, didn’t it?”
Sirius raised his wand.
“NO!” Harry yelled, vaulting over the table, Heather in tow and trying to get between them, “Sirius don’t-”
“Are you calling me a coward?” roared Sirius, trying to push Harry out of the way, but Harry would not budge.
“Why, yes, I suppose I am,” said Snape.
“Harry-get-out-of-it!” snarled Sirius, pushing him out of the way with his free hand.
At that moment there was a loud crack, both Sirius and Snape flew apart a few feet, the kitchen door swung open and Heather crashed into the kitchen table and chairs. In the doorway the entire Weasley family, plus Hermione, came inside, all looking very happy, with Mr. Weasley walking proudly in their midst dressed in a pair of striped pajamas covered by a mackintosh.
“Cured!” was his voice drowned out by the crack. “Merlin’s beard,” was said into the silence. “what’s going on here?”
Both Sirius and Snape lowered their wands. Snape was not glaring at Sirius anymore but had cast an eye on Heather, staring at her. Harry stood in the space created between them, looking from one to the other.
“Six o’clock Monday evening, the both of you.”
He was gone. Sirius glared after him, his wand still at his side.
“But what’s been going on?” asked Mr. Weasley again.
“Nothing, Arthur,” said Sirius, who was breathing heavily as though he had just run a long distance. “Just a friendly little chat between two old school friends…”
His voice trailed as he went to Heather and helped her up, giving her a curious look, like everyone else.
“I-I…” Heather said, not knowing what she had just done.
“So…you’re cured? That’s great news, really great…” Sirius said a firm grip still on Heather’s shoulder.
“Yes, isn’t it?” said Mrs. Weasley, leading her husband forward into a chair. “Healer Smethwyck worked his magic in the end, found antidote to whatever that snake’s got in its fangs, and Arthur’s learned his lesson about dabbling in Muggle medicine, haven’t you dear?”
“Yes, Molly dear,” said Mr. Weasley.
Heather didn’t join everyone for dinner, she joined Kira up in their room, moping in the silence.
“It was probably just like Protego,” said Kira, flipping through a book. “you can separate people with it.”
“I knew I could do that, but I’ve just never done it.” Heather said, “I just want to be able to control it…then again I don’t, at least not with Snape.”
“I hear you, extra lessons,” Kira said closing the book.
“It’s for the best,” Isaac said, walking in with two plates of food. “Dumbledore wants to help you, he knows you can’t control yourself. Mrs. Weasley said to bring this up,”
“Thanks,” they said, Heather ate a few bites but not much.
They were to return to Hogwarts on the Knight Bus the following day, escorted once again by Tonks and Lupin, both of whom were eating breakfast in the kitchen when they came downstairs. The adults seemed to have been midway through a whispered conversation when the door opened; all of them looked around hastily and fell silent. The door of number twelve slammed shut behind them. They followed Lupin down the front steps. Heather followed Isaac in front of her without thinking, she felt dazed that whole morning; like she was watching herself live from above.
“Come on, the quicker we get on the bus the better,” said Tonks a nervous cloud hanging over her.
Heather jumped and looked up to see a violently purple, triple-decker bus had appeared out of thin air in front of them, narrowly avoiding the nearest lamppost, which jumped backward out of its way. A thin, pimply, jug-eared youth in a purple uniform leapt down onto the pavement and said, “Welcome to the-”
“Yes, yes, we know, thank you,” said Tonks swiftly. “On, on, get on-”
Heather climbed onto the bus after Isaac, she remembered the last time she traveled on this bus; she had toppled over backwards by the force of it. It was crammed with an assortment of mismatched chairs grouped haphazardly around windows. Some of theses appeared to have fallen over when the bus stopped abruptly in Grimmuald Place; a few witches and wizards were still getting to their feet, grumbling, and somebody’s shopping bag had slid the length of the bus an unpleasant mixture of frog spawn, cockroaches, and custard creams was scatter all over the floor.
“Looks like we’ll have to split up,” said Tonks briskly, looking around for empty chairs. “Fred, George, and Ginny if you just take those seats at the back…Remus can stay with you…”
Harry, Hermione, Ron, Kira, Isaac and herself proceeded to the upper levels. Heather didn’t follow Harry and Ron to sit down, she remained standing and held onto the iron bar above her; Isaac and Kira followed in suit. Heather chuckled as she watched Ron’s chair topple right over and Pigwidgeon, who had been on his lap, burst out of his cage and flew twittering wildly upon to the front of the bus where he landed on Hermione’s shoulder instead.
With a few more bangs they were rolling though a snowy Hogsmead, Heather caught a glimpse of the Hog’s head down its side street, the served boars head sign creaking in the wintry wind. Flecks of snow hit the large window at the front of the bus. At last they rolled to a halt outside the gates to Hogwarts.
Lupin and Tonks helped them off the bus with their luggage and then got off to say good-bye.
“You’ll be safe once you’re in the grounds,” said Tonks, casting a careful eye around the deserted road. “Have a good term, okay?”
“Look after yourselves,” said Lupin, shaking hands all around and reaching Heather last. “And listen…” he lowered his voice while the rest of them exchanged last-minute good-byes with Tonks, “Heather, Sirius told me what happened, I know you don’t like Snape, but he is a superb Occlumens and we all-Sirius included-want you to learn to protect yourself, so word hard, all right?”
“I’ll try,” Heather said
“Good,” he said and hugged her tight.
The nine of them struggled up the slippery drive toward the castled ragging their trunks. Hermione was chattering on about knitting, Heather looked back once they had reached the oak doors; the Knight Bus had already gone.