Little had changed over the years on the dingy side street of Darjeeling, India: not the selection of dried herbs hanging in the often overlooked storefront nor the demeaning attitude of the male proprietor, although, I must admit, he now tolerated my infrequent visits and seemed to hold a grudging respect for my obvious knowledge of his assortment of plants. Making a quick examination of the new arrivals on display on the wooden shelves outside the shop, I stepped in, the pungent odour of sandalwood almost knocking me off my feet. My shoulder-length hair was neatly pulled back in a low snood that matched the dark red and white sari that I wore, both of which helped keep me cool in the mid-morning heat. The owner was busy with another customer, so I waited patiently by a tall bucket of interesting looking ferns that sat on the floor near a display of bright orange snapdragons. Both men lowered their heads and continued their transaction in hushed tones, occasionally raising their eyes to ascertain if I was listening. When the client left, tucking a brown paper package under his arm and furtively looking in my direction, the owner turned his attention to me.
“It’s been a long time,” he said with curious indifference, “Did you finally marry?”
I held his gaze for a moment wanting to empathically suggest that he slap himself, but I held my thought. “I’m here on business,” I replied with forced calm. “Something that may interest you greatly. Do you still carry the Tridask Thouren?”
“Occasionally,” he replied, narrowing his eyes in suspicion. “It’s been years since anyone has asked for it. I only order it on demand, and as I don’t advertise it, there has been little demand.”
“I need at least two,” I continued professionally. “Would they be difficult to get?”
“It’s a dangerous plant,” he warned. “What do you need it for?”
I remembered his caution and mistrust and proceeded carefully. “I believe I have discovered a medical use for it. I need to run some tests, and if the tests prove successful, it is likely that my Ministry will approve importation of this plant, which would mean a new business venture for you,” I shrewdly pointed out.
I could see the wheels turning in his head as he envisioned possible, future transactions. In either world, Muggle or Wizard, money was a powerful motivator.
“Medicine?” He eyed me with interest. “Only two?”
“For now. The potion is based from another plant, but I believe the Thouren’s properties will enhance the mixture, eliciting a desired response.” I spoke with expertise. India had become more accepting of women professionals over the years; however, this man was still unaccustomed to females speaking with such knowledge. He barely covered his chauvinism, but surprisingly, yet unenthusiastically, agreed to procure two fruits by the following morning. I had to return.
Bowing slightly, I thanked him and left the shop feeling that I had just begun an exciting new venture of my own. If my hypothesis was correct, the Tridask Thouren would act as a catalyst for the numbing agents in the Magpie mushrooms. With the Thouren’s ability to relax and repair nerve stems and the mushrooms ability to modify the coating of the neural pathway, the combination should allow rapid healing of the damaged brain cells, particularly the routes between the cerebrum and cerebellum and their assorted functions. Depending on the extent of the damage, the healing, theoretically, could be as quick as a few weeks or as long as a few years. Crucio-induced injuries were the worst as the Cruciatus Curse aggravated the nervous system to the point where it was difficult to return to normal. Such an injury was neurologically extensive, and Frank and Alice Longbottom were the perfect examples. Their exposure had been long-term, and the damage had been detrimental, leaving them in a perpetual state of neuron firing. Non-essential systems had reacted by shutting down to avoid overloading. As a result, the couple appeared to be nearly catatonic, their functions being as basic as possible. When we first met, I could sense a presence within them, but it was trapped, the path for release blocked by damaged neurons. I was determined to find their way out.
Returning to Pineto, I wasn’t completely surprised to find that the old woman who had the apartment below mine had passed away while I was in England. A newly married, young couple had moved in and cordially greeted me as I arrived home. We spoke briefly before I climbed the narrow wooden stairs to isolate myself for the evening; a quick stop at the corner grocer and the bakery gave me enough provisions for at least a day or two.
Sitting on the terrace, watching Stark bob and dive in the gusty breeze over the Adriatic Sea, I thought how peaceful it was here and how I wished my life could remain this serene. I wanted Severus here with me, away from the stress and aggravation our jobs, away from a position that he desperately hated, away from …everything. I wanted a life like what we had in Tuscany, but I knew that that would never happen again. Pinky nudged my elbow and offered a frosty glass of ice tea, placing a plate of biscuits on the side table. I thanked her with a weary smile and returned my gaze to the sea, sighing softly as the sky eased its way from blue to orange to scarlet and finally to indigo. My limbs felt so heavy, and I didn’t want to move, finally drifting to sleep on the wicker lounge as Stark lit on the balustrade for the night.
The weeks passed slowly but progressively, and with the help of a talented research team, I had several potions brewing simultaneously. My supervisor wasn’t pleased with my purchase and made it abundantly clear that, although he trusted my abilities, this better work, and only if it worked would he speak with the Minister about opening trade for the plant. Carmen, as always, was supportive, and the office hags, twittered about the supervisor’s displeasure with his “pet lab rat”. It had come to a point where I really couldn’t care less what they thought. If they relied on my life to entertain theirs, then so be it. There lives must be pretty darn pitiful if they needed to watch mine.
"Lei deve scherzare! Lei è sicuro? Lei sa quanto questi costano? Galeoni! Mio marito sarà cosí felice. È tale ventilatore." Carmen was beside herself, stereotypical Italian hand flapping and pacing, her jet-black hair coming loose from the low bun at the back of her neck. She was always so quiet and soft-spoken, but now attracted the attention of those in nearby cubicles. I stood out of her way until she finally settled down, and then I was able to respond.
“No, I’m not joking,” I chuckled at Carmen’s gibbering and flushed face. “Yes, I’m sure, and yes, I know how much they cost, but I got them for free, a gift from the British Ministry. I know your husband is a fan. You said he’s been talking about nothing else for months. Take them. Make him happy.”
“Fan?!” she exclaimed, “He’s fanatical! Oh, he’ll be thrilled.” After a moment’s pause she asked, “Why aren’t you going? It’s the Quidditch World Cup. Everyone who’s anyone will be there, and these are premium seats.”
“Don’t tell your husband, but I don’t follow the game. I grew up in the Muggle world, and sports have never been my thing. Take them. Enjoy.” I smiled as I pressed the tickets into my friend’s trembling hand.
Truth be told, the only reason for wanting to go was because Severus was going, even though we wouldn’t be sitting any where near each other in such a massive stadium. But, my decision to give up the tickets rested with a brief note that arrived this morning by International Owl Post. It reinforced a meeting that I had with Albus before I left England a month ago.
Our friend may have company soon.
The Quidditch World Cup was still two weeks away, but it looked like I was off the Albania again. It was rapidly becoming my least favourite place in the world.
A quick trip to the Dark Forest proved unsettling. The defensive wards were as strong as ever, and there would be no penetrate them without sending some sort of warning to those inside. However, my empathic scan picked up no unnatural waves beyond the wards. Puzzling. Not the snake and the creature it bore. There was no human form to “help”, and this sent a wave of panic to my core. Why hadn’t Albus informed me sooner? He knew this could happen when Black escaped. Was I too late? Had Voldemort’s servant already come for him? Who was it? The questions reeled as I stood wondering what to do next. I’d have to inform Albus immediately. Stark had refused to return to the castle but may relent knowing that the “cold creatures”, as he had referred to them, were gone. Voldemort had been re-born, so to speak, and would need to go through the developmental stages of his life once again, but at what speed? Or, was there some sort of spell to regain his physical form more quickly? I couldn’t think of any off-hand, but then again, this was not my area of expertise. I’d have to ask Albus. My final question: where was Voldemort now?
An unenthusiastic Stark was dispatched to England while I headed to Spain, and while the Wizarding world converged on Britain’s largest hidden sports stadium for the most colossal Quidditch game ever held, I basked in the sun in the private, walled-in terrace of my favourite Spanish hide-a-way. I knew that Severus would be at the game, but he had confirmed, via a school owl, that he would join me immediately afterward, easily slipping away and disappearing in the crowd. I looked forward to our visit. It was August, and we hadn’t seen each other since last December. Our communiqués had been few and far between, and very brief, as always, and he had missed the June symposium at the Society because of the Black mess. My heart went out to him. He had been offered the Order of Merlin, Second Class for the capture of Black, but when Black had escaped, the reward was revoked. Albus said that Severus had been furious, even accusing the Potter boy of somehow being involved. When I asked if he had been, Albus avoided answering, and I knew that Severus had been right. His fury against Black perverted his judgement, and he took his anger out on another foe, letting it “slip” that Remus was a werewolf, thus, pressuring Remus to resign his position: the only one where he felt truly comfortable and accepted. I was livid with Severus when I heard. His grudge was intensified by his jealousy, and it cost Remus his livelihood. It was so unfair. Albus was, also, now convinced of Black’s innocence. Severus couldn’t let his anger go.
I rolled over feeling the setting sun warm my skin, trying to shake the growing irritation. I was anxious for Severus to arrive and didn’t want to ruin it by being in a “mood”.
Day turned into night, and the sun rose brilliantly the following morning. I paced the main room of the villa, grumbling to myself, dousing the candles that had burnt to nothing but a puddle of soft, scented wax. Severus was way overdue. I headed to the kitchen nook and made a fresh pitcher of orange juice and a toasted baguette with Gruyere cheese, taking it to the stone patio to eat in the cool morning air. Sitting under the pale umbrella feeling the light breeze, I wondered what could have kept him. Had there been a victory party afterwards? Had he met up with Malfoy and joined him in some activity? I knew they were still in contact. I tossed the bread onto the plate irritably. Our time together was precious, and he had been the one to suggest this rendezvous.
As the day wore on, my irritation turned to anger, and while I paced the tiny rented villa, occasionally heaving a throw pillow across the room in frustration, fuming that Severus had not arrived…again, and not sent a note…again, I was completely ignorant of the turmoil, fear and panic that had gripped the Wizarding world the night before. While I furiously ranted to the walls about Severus’ insensitivity and lack of regard for our limited time alone, I was unaware that he, along with many Order members were frantically trying to access the devastating situation at the Quidditch World Cup. While I was safe and secure behind wards and stone walls, hundreds of miles away, the Wizarding world had experienced its first taste of what was to come. This was just the beginning.
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