Chapter 42 : 41 - This Is Who I Am
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It was late, and I couldn’t sleep, completely frustrated with the Ministry’s new stand on progression…or lack thereof. It had suddenly taken steps backward, limiting research and development, which now threatened the present project. It had denied access of the Tridask Thouren into Britain once again, putting a hold on the work that needed to go forward. Tossing the covers off, I felt compelled to do something. Rising and getting dressed, I headed to St. Mungo’s in the dark, early morning, glad that, at least, the Italian Ministry had managed to step up and lift the ban on the plant, granted, classifying it as a highly restricted item for research purposes only. At least, I could acquire small amounts of what I needed in an official capacity and work on that phase of the project from Rome. So far, the combination of the Tridask Thouren and Magpie Mushrooms had worked quite well in the treatment of memory-impaired injuries, and there had been marked success with Frank and Alice Longbottom. However, I had to concede that, as with all Dark magical injuries, the victim would never fully recover. The couple had become more mobile, venturing into the hall and initiating basic, physical communication with some staff and their family, certainly more than the eye-blinking and facial twitches from a year ago. Watching Alice hand sweet wrappers to her son was emotional. She was trying to reach out. I would never completely give up hope.
Entering the hospital via the main lobby, I was unexpectedly pushed aside by attendants rushing to the Emergency Floo. Healers hurriedly disembarked from the lifts as the hospital came to frenzied life in the early hour. I pressed myself against the wall to stay out of their way. Something horrible had happened. As the Floo turned green, a large, black man half carried, half dragged another man in. The body and face of the injured wizard was bloody and torn, and attendants rushed to his aid. Healers gathered around him to determine the extent of the injuries, and as the crowd parted, I recognized the red hair, and my heart pounded in my chest.
“Snake bites,” I heard one Healer conclude as instructions were being delegated.
“Where was he found?” someone asked.
“The Ministry,” I heard another reply.
“Get him to the first floor,” was the order that had several attendants levitate Arthur’s limp body toward the lift that I was standing by.
“Is there anything that I can do?” I asked feeling helpless.
“No, we have it under control,” one attendant replied as I moved out of the way.
Stepping back into the main section of the lobby, I surveyed the scene, watching the tall, black man who had arrived with Arthur speak quietly to a portrait of a silver-haired witch. I only caught part of the conversation before he saw me within hearing distance. “…snake. I’ll wait for the others.” The witch disappeared from her frame, and I knew that the Order was on their way. I doubted that Albus would come to the hospital. He would remain at the school and send others to do what needed to be done. What was Arthur doing at the Ministry at this hour, anyway? This was the second serious injury at the Ministry in the past few months. How could a snake have gotten in? Was it Voldemort’s snake? It had to be. What was he looking for? I needed answers. Hurrying upstairs to an empty office by the lab, I dispatched an urgent message to Hogwarts.
I’ve seen Arthur at St. Mungo’s.
What can I do?
The reply came immediately.
Follow it home.
Follow “it”? Obviously not Arthur, he’d be in the hospital for quite a while. “It”, the snake. Follow the snake home, Riddle’s home. Apparating to my flat, I quickly changed into black jeans and a black leather jacket, tucking my wand up my sleeve and pulling a black cap over my pony-tailed, shoulder-length hair. Figuring that I would be dealing with snow in Northern England, I transfigured my low boots into something more suitable, and Disapparated from the concealed front step of the flat.
Landing with a heavy thump in a snow-covered clearing, I crumbled, heaving for breath as large hands grabbed hold of my shoulders pulling me to my feet. I was disoriented and could feel every muscle within by body scream as if being torn from the bone. I threw my head back, gritting my teeth, refusing to cry out as I was tossed over a broad back and carried off. Fumbling for my wand, I found that my fingers wouldn’t co-operate, and I almost lost it as I bounced against the wide expanse of hard muscle. Voices began to emerge in my semi-conscious: angry and harsh.
“How did she get here?”
“You should have left her where she was.”
“This is not the first time you’ve lowered yourself to serve humans.”
“This is not our way. You have shamed us.”
“She’s not like the others,” I heard rumble from my carrier. “She knows our way and is injured.”
“Do as you will, but you’ll receive no help from us,” a malicious voice thundered from a slight distance away, the retreating sound of hooves echoed as the blood rushed in my ears. I was carried further through the forest as another seizure coursed through my body nearly causing me to lose consciousness, but it wasn’t long before I felt myself being slipped from my upturned position and put unsteadily on my feet.
“You have my gratitude, Firenze,” a familiar voice sounded close by. “I don’t know what happened. She didn’t appear where she should have.”
“Venus is strong tonight. The power protects her,” the Centaur replied calmly, and as he turned to leave, another wave of pain struck. My knees buckled, but I never hit the ground. Strong arms wrapped around my torso from the rear, holding me up. The scream finally emerged, resonating through the dense trees.
“Remove all your spells Release your charm. Save your energy,” the familiar voice firmly instructed as the figure behind gently lowered me to the frozen earth.
I struggled to breath, gasping in cold air, shivering but needing to speak.
“You were right. He Apparated the snake in. He was there, too, hidden. Possessed the snake maybe. They’re looking for something but can’t get it. He’s getting desperate. He’s angry. He’s been trying to lure the boy.” Another wave of searing pain hit, and I pressed hard against the force at my back, nearly knocking it over. “Crucio,” I explained. “He’s casting at whoever is present. It’s Yule. He was at the party. When was he called? Why is he there?” I panted through the spasms.
“How can you feel it?” the curiously concerned voice asked, ignoring my question.
“I was there when it began. I got too close. Bonded…remember,” I said through clenched teeth, willing the pain to stop.
“He was called right before Arthur’s attack. Can you break the connection?”
“No,” I gasped and slumped against my supporter, “but it seems to be easing,” I breathed slowly, steadily. “Everyone seemed to taste the frustration tonight.”
I sat on the ground between a pair of long legs, sturdy arms still wrapped around my upper body, keeping me warm as well as secure. My vision finally began to clear, and I looked into the worried, wizened old face kneeling before me. “I’ll be alright,” I reassured weakly, shifting as my backside started to feel the cold.
Albus stood and began to pace, shaking his head and stroking his long beard. I shifted again and tried to rise, losing my balance and tipping sideways into the arms of my supporter, my face landing in a heavy, woollen coat. I knew this coat. I knew the scent. Tilting my head back to meet apprehensive eyes, I inhaled sharply at the realization.
His brows furrowed. “Dani?” He glanced between Albus and me. “I don’t understand.”
I stood and took a shaky step back, struggling to remain standing. With the Vagueness Charm gone, he would be able to remember the past, even though it had been twenty years. Recognition slowly began to dawn. “Alicia? No,” he denied, “…but…how?” He was left speechless.
“It was the only way to keep me alive,” I explained rubbing my temples.
“Daniella’s existence must be kept secret, Remus. Too much depends on it,” Albus stated resolutely.
“Who are you bonded with that you would feel their Crucio? A Death Eater?” he questioned in distress.
“That is not of your concern,” Albus’ remark was curt. “We must determine a way that it doesn’t happen again. Was this the first time?” he directed toward me.
“Yes,” I replied weakly.
“Does he have his potion?”
“In his room.”
Albus nodded, gazing at Remus again. I could almost see the wheels turn in his brain as he tried to formulate a plan. “Well, what’s done is done,” he finally said. “This may act in our favour. The two of you will have this additional support,” he indicated between Remus and me. “Now that you know who she is, understand that discretion is crucial. We’ve managed to keep Daniella alive all these years by keeping her involvement with the Order secret. We need her skills.” Albus’ intent gaze penetrated Remus. Understanding was clear. His silence was critical. He nodded in agreement.
The Shrieking Shack had fallen into further disrepair over the years. It’s unkempt rooms thickly covered with dust and grim, more broken furniture and shredded linens, certainly in worse condition than it had been when Remus and I used to meet here.
Under Albus’ order, Remus escorted me to the ramshackle structure, a firm hand helping me walk the cold, icy path. I needed to rest, and Apparating in my condition was too risky. An effective “Scourigify” from Remus’ wand had the upper bedroom cleared of dust, and the bedding changed. Another wave of his wand had a roaring fire blazing on the hearth. Remus kept his distance, a look of betrayal on his creased face. I gingerly removed my jacket and boots, stuffing my hat and gloves into a pocket. Padding to the fire to warm myself, I silently stood beside my friend feeling the chill from his presence, rather than from the room.
“Was it all a lie?” he finally uttered staring into the fire. “You knew who I was all along, didn’t you.”
“There was no lie,” I responded just as quietly, “but yes, I knew who you where.”
“All that time we spent together…we were lovers, for Merlin’s sake…you could have said something.”
“No, I couldn’t. Remus, there are many jobs in my repertoire, but this is who I am.” I took a deep breath and began the story. “When we met at Hogwarts, Voldemort had just killed my parents. They worked for Albus, and he felt a responsibility to me. He also knew that I had undeveloped skills that would be useful in the future, but had to determine exactly what they were and how to deal with them. I was only there for six months, hardly enough time to really get to know anyone, but Professor Slughorn saw my ability in potions, and when the year finished, Albus saw to it that I was privately tutored. He hired top minds in the Wizarding world to finish my education and hone my other skills specifically to serve the Order. I worked for a number of years for him but, when I was betrayed,” I paused, closing my eyes, willing myself to move forward, “I was badly beaten, tortured with Crucio and raped. I lost all of my powers, everything that I had worked so hard for. I was near death, but someone took a huge risk to save me. Albus saw this as an opportunity to have an invisible force on the outside, someone no one would suspect. My name was changed, and I moved back to Italy. I was isolated, and for the most part, still am. It took more than a year to recover, but I did it. I continued with my studies, gained an apprenticeship and subsequent Masters and worked for the Italian Ministry of Magic in the Department of Experimental and Medicinal Potions. All of this is true and real and can be verified, and no one ever made the connection between Albus and myself. It was my Ministry who initiated the push to get me into Oxford. I wanted to further the study in lycanthrope that Belby had abandoned. If it weren’t for you, that would never have happened.” He turned to give me a puzzled gaze. “I made the Wolfsbane for you, because I cared for the boy that I remembered from school. I never forgot our friendship, never forgot that you didn’t cross my circle. That kind of friendship and trust went beyond consciousness. My other accomplishments are merely an extension of who I am. I was always good at Potions and Herbology, and wanted to help people, to make their lives better, but I’m also at the command of the man who gave me a second chance at life.”
Remus continued to stare into the fire, his face gaunt, his eyes unseeing as the shadow of the flames reflected on his features. “That’s why you had such faith in me, because I hadn’t hurt you before,” he thought aloud. “The first time we made love, it was… aggressive, and you cried. I thought I’d hurt you, but when you said that there’d been someone else, who were you referring to, the rapist or the person you’re bonded to?”
“The person I’m bonded to,” I said flatly. “I was telling the truth. I had been involved with someone but something horrible happened, and it drove us apart.”
“But you’re back with him now?”
There was silence for a few moments, and I reached to touch Remus’ sleeve, to reassure him of my sincerity. He turned his head to look into my eyes. “You call him Albus. Why?”
I shrugged. “He wasn’t my Headmaster for long, and he never was one of my professors. What was I to call him? Mr. Dumbledore?”
Remus smirked. “Doesn’t sound right, does it?”
I smiled back. “No.” My smile faded. “For the most part, the only time he ever gets in touch with me is when he needs me. Rather has a one-track-mind.”
Remus snorted slightly, as if he could relate, and changed the subject. “You must be sore and tired. Are you hungry?”
“Yes, but I don’t think I can keep anything down at the moment. The Crucio may have been secondary, but it still wreaks havoc with the nervous system.”
Remus nodded and draped his arm over my shoulders, turning me toward the bed. “Sleep, then,” he said softly as I sat on the edge of the rough covers. He took position on the old lounge chair near the fireplace, settling down as I drew my feet up. “I hope he treats you well,” he spoke to his hands.
“He does,” I replied as I snuggled into the blanket, “but that doesn’t mean I can’t care for you, too,” I whispered as I drifted off to sleep.
The dim sunlight struggled through the frosty windows defying whether it was morning or early evening. The room was comfortably warm, the fire crackling low on the grate. I shifted onto my back prying the sleep encrusted lashes apart and rubbing my fingers over my eyes. It was quiet except for the odd snap of heat-splitting wood, and I wondered whether I should get up or stay where I was. The bed was cozy.
There was a light creak of the downstairs door opening, and my senses were suddenly alert. Quiet footsteps trod up the worn, wooden stairs and made their way to the half-opened bedroom door. I sat stiffly, wand ready to strike. The door eased open slowly and Remus snuck in sideways, his tattered coat pulled tight and a shopping bag tucked under his arm. He shifted to close the door to keep the heat in, and I waited silently for him to turn around. When he saw me sitting up, he startled, grasping hold of the tumbling bag.
“You’re awake. Good. I was afraid you’d sleep through Christmas,” his gentle smile filled the room.
“Sleep through Christmas? That’s days away,” my brows creased as I looked out the window at the lightly falling snow.
“Hardly,” he said. “You’ve been asleep for thirty-four hours. Christmas Eve is tomorrow.” He placed the bag on an overturned crate by the fireplace and began to pull out a few items. “You’ve got to be hungry by now,” he said as he stirred the fire and prepared a slab of meat to be roasted.
“Definitely,” I replied as I joined him, rifling through the grocery contents, examining his purchases.
Together we prepared a luscious meal over the open fire, devouring it without shame, talking and laughing, enjoying the comfort of the special friendship that could not be destroyed. We may not be bonded as lovers, but our bonded stretched all the way back to Hogwarts and the uncrossed circle, reached through days and nights of Wolfsbane trials, and the intimate relationship that ensued. Regardless of what was to come, we rested in the fact that our friendship would endure.
Orders arrived by a speckled barn owl on Christmas Eve, interrupting our tea. Remus was to escort the Weasley family to St. Mungo’s the following day. I was strong enough to leave and had promised Emily and Adrianne that I would visit for Christmas dinner. Finishing our meal and cleaning the remnants of our presence from the hideout, a warm hug was our parting gesture before stepping into the bitter cold setting sun. Neither of us wanted to let go. I was so relieved that he finally knew who I was and accepted the reasons for the secrecy. Kissing his worn cheek, we parted, hoping to see each other again soon.
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