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Chapter 33 : Chapter 33
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I am very glad you brought up this subject as it is something that I have often wondered about of late, considering my current preoccupation with Quirrel. What exactly did I walk in on that day? For some time I had been hearing rumors that you had been sneaking around with him and locking yourself up with him in unused classrooms. Well, you must understand my concern. I acted that day not as a teacher, but as a brother. Was there something going on between you?
Speaking of which -- when I visited on my birthday you mentioned being interested ina man of your acquaintance. Has anything ever come of that? But then judging by your sour sentiments about Valentine's Day, I suppose it is safe to assume not.
Valentine's Day around this place is torture. The girls have all gone silly and scatterbrained and the boys (rightfully so) are terrified out of their minds. The girls are stalking them like prowling manticores. Needless to say, grades are suffering. I am not going to go easy on them because they have raging hormones.
I agree that Valentine's is a useless holiday. Most people don't have the faintest clue about it's origins or what they are celebrating. Materialistic women mistake gifts for love and desperate men fall for it. Every sales flyer in Hogsmeade insists that a man is not a man unless he buys his intended diamonds, flowers, and candy. I can do without that sort of shallow affection, thank you. Romance is highly overrated -- you have missed nothing.
To your accusation that I am 'mean' -- maybe I am, but why shouldn't I be? Why put on a silly grin and walk around pretending to be happy when I am not? Aside from my career (which I hate) my life is a wreck. What do I have to be happy about and why should I pretend that I am? Isn't that dishonest?
There are no pretenses with me. People know exactly where they stand in my opinion. I may be 'mean' but I am honest and I do not play games. Isn't that preferable to deceit? And why does it bother you anyway -- I am not 'mean' to you am I?
Now, I was not necessarily referring to unforgivables in my last letter -- exclusively at least. It certainly wouldn't hurt for you to know them. Even if you don't plan to use them, it is always useful to make sure that your enemies know you can. There are other spells I wish to teach you too; vicious, diabolical things that would give the headmaster heart failure if he knew I was contemplating teaching them to you.
I followed your suggestion and questioned the portraits. Most of them were on nocturnal visits on the night in question, but one, a nun, was in her frame at the time. She reported clearly hearing disembodied footsteps running down the hall. I am almost certain that the culprit is a student now, but I don't have proof.
I have another problem close at hand. There is a Quidditch match coming up soon between Gryffindor and Hufflepuff. Naturally I am concerned for Potter after the attempt on his life at the last match. I've tried to talk the headmaster into banning him from playing but he refuses. That boy gets to do whatever he wants, after all.
The other option is to try to land him in detention and set it up for the same time as the match. A tricky operation as Minerva McGonagall would have fits of hysteria. Ordinarily I might find that entertaining, but the situation is too serious. I am trying to keep the vexing little brat alive, after all. The match is at the end of the month and I need to come up with a solution soon.
Perhaps I could slip Quirrel an undetectable poison, though that may be going a bit too far. The headmaster has an uncanny awareness of everything that goes on in this school and I seriously doubt I would get away with such an act. An amusing idea nevertheless.
And do not worry about me --- I've always known how to tell the Dark Lord exactly what he wants to hear when he wants to hear it. Look out for yourself instead.
Letter from Rubeus Hagrid to Cerridwyn Howard : January 25, 1992
How are you? I am fine.
I'm so proud of how you're doing at Merlin. I knew you'd be the best of them all. Told you so. Told you there was no reason for you to be nervous. You're going to be famous one day. Hogwarts is lucky it'll get you as a teacher.
Always kind of wished I could've been a teacher. I guess that's why I liked having you here -- I got to teach you lots of things. You know lots of people don't like interesting creatures and are afraid of them, but never you. People don't understand them I expect or see what good they are. It would have been nice to be a teacher and teach people to love animals like we do . Still I don't complain. I like my job fine.
Things are cozy here in the cabin now. It's me, Fang, the salamanders, and four mice now. The mice come in real handy for cleaning up crumbs. Fang doesn't mind them as long as they stay out of his bowl. I like them. I think they're cute.
Fluffy is okay but bored. Ron and Harry haven't asked about him for a while. Maybe when Fluffy finishes his job I can let them play with him as special treat. It's never to early to learn to love interesting creatures after all.
I don't believe I've let myself be talked into going to the Valentine's Ball. I've lost all sense of practicality and self control. When they invented the phrase 'fall in love' they chose the words well. I'm falling alright...and I know I'm going to splatter all over the place when I inevitably hit the ground. There's romance for you !
It was NYMPHADORA'S big mouth again that got me into this. It started on Saturday afternoon when Remus came by to practice driving, with plans to stay over for dinner. It went very well. He's a bit rusty, but he drives better than many wizards do. He actually knows how to obey traffic laws. We drove up and down the lane and around the yard before venturing onto the street. I'm sure that when the time rolls round for me to go home, he'll be able to do the route on his own.
Tonks sat on the doorstep watching, I suspect, with morbid interest. I thought it was unfair as she can't usually take a step without falling over her own feet. (Should be fun seeing her in a ball gown). I should have known by her thoughtful expression that she had more than Remus's driving skills on her mind.
"I see a dent." she teased when finally stopped.
"If so, it was there before I got in." Remus assured her as he tossed me the keys.
"I'm going to go start dinner. Don't pay her any attention, Remus." I warned him as I headed inside.
"Come on in, Remus." said Tonks cheerfully. "Tell me what Gryffindor was like when you were there. I'm sure it was the best house back then too. Much better than those stuck up, egghead Ravenclaws. Of course the team sucks, but theirs is worse. How was it back then? Were you on the team?'"
"Quidditch, quidditch, quidditch." I groaned over my shoulder. "I tell you, Remus, if those Gryffindors spent less time obsessing over sports, their grades would be better. But then I guess that's why they aren't Ravenclaws -- all brawn and no brains."
"Thanks a lot." said Remus with a laugh.
"I don't mean you personally, I meant in general. I think you were sorted into the wrong house -- you're way too smart for Gryffindor."
"But he has the nobility and chivalry that Gryffindor is known for." Tonks protested. "Unlike you Ravenclaws. They never take their noses out their books long enough to display anything but eggheadedness."
"See what I mean?" I called from across the counter that separates kitchen from living room. "That isn't even a word."
"Well, Gryffindors are not known for following rules." Remus pointed out with a straight face. "We think outside the box. We're more inclined to make rules than to follow them. And no Tonks, I wasn't on the team. Let's just say that my health prevented me from it."
"Oh right. I suppose it would. That's a shame. I'd have been on the team myself but I had other things I was involved in."
"Like detention." I called from the kitchen.
"Pay her no mind." said Tonks haughtily. "She's just jealous of our superior Gryffindorishness."
"That's not a word either." I pointed out.
For the most part I was too busy concentrating on cooking to join in the conversation. I like to cook by hand whenever I can because there's more of an art to it and I take more pride in the finished product than I would if I'd done it by magic. I could hear what was being said though and it seemed to me that Tonks was purposely steering the topic toward the subject of the ball with studied care. I had a feeling I wasn't going to like the result of whatever she was planning. "Nymphadora...oh Nymphadora dear..." I called sweetly, but she ignored me.
She was laughing about Remus's story about his buddies setting him up with three girls at his graduation ball. Her eyes met mine briefly before she took a deep breath and said, "...and then there's Kerri who has never been to a ball in her life. Isn't that horrible?"
"I've heard something about a Valentine's Ball at Merlin." said Remus, twisting in his seat to look at me. "I told her she should go."
I think that what Tonks said next took both Remus and myself by surprise. "Why don't you be her escort then, Remus?"
"Nymphadora Tonks!" I exclaimed, slamming the oven door. I went into the living room, fingers itching to wrap themselves around her neck. "I can get a date myself if I want one."
Remus's face had taken on an oddly closed look and his eyes had gone dark and hazel, a sure sign of some sort of emotional conflict. Horror over the idea? Or interest? "I'm certain Kerri is indeed capable of getting a much more suitable date." he said quietly.
"More suitable?" I asked.
"I'm well past college age. I have questionable physical health which makes me a social pariah, and what on earth would I wear? You'd never hear the end of it.
"Remus, I'm tired of hearing you put yourself down." I said sternly. "What would you wear? What would I wear? I don't own a ball gown."
"We can fix that." said Tonks impatiently. "And who cares about the age difference and all of that? It isn't a date-date. If anything, it's good that you're older than she is Remus, because then she won't have to worry about being hit on."
Remus laughed. "You're right. I'm far to old to be 'hitting on' anyone. Once you hit thirty it all goes downhill."
"That's not what I mean." Tonks protested, coloring a bit. "You've never been to a ball, Kerri. That's horrible. I know you have an aversion to dating...."
"Studies show that the smarter you are, the less likely you are to reproduce." I said wickedly.
Tonks ignored me and plunged on. "...but I know that you and Remus hang out together now and then outside of work and practices. You're friends. It's the perfect solution."
"I could just picture myself in a crowd of teenagers and twenty year olds." said Remus with a slightly twisted smile. "Don't you think I'd be slightly out of place?"
"Basil is right." said Tonks stubbornly. "You worry too much about what people think about you -- and so does Kerri."
"Basil has a big mouth, second only to yours." I flashed. "I need to go check dinner."
Tonks looked stung and I was too annoyed to care. Remus quickly diffused the situation by saying brightly. "So tell me about your Auror training, Tonks. I'm sure it's fascinating. They work you quite hard, don't they?"
Remus has a sixth sense for knowing just the right thing to say in any situation. Tonks takes great pride in her chosen career and loves talking about it. After one frustrated glance in my direction, she turned back to him and began animatedly telling him all about her classes.
I took a long time in the kitchen to calm myself down. I was furious with Tonks for making such a suggestion, and furious with myself for liking it so much. An image of myself in a sparkling gown on Remus's arm played through my mind like a movie; a scene straight out of those 'when I grow up' fantasies that you have as a girl. I felt a pang of regret for all the things I've missed out on. I don't want to end up as miserable as my brother.
Tonks was explaining the theory behind a particularly colorful curse when I called them both to dinner. I worried that she might still be mad at me, but she gave no sign. That's one great thing about Tonks, she's easy going and doesn't hold grudges against people she likes.
The rest of the evening passed without incident and I put it as much out of my mind as I could until Remus himself brought it up later on while were working, completely out of the blue.
"Kerri, would you like to go to that ball?" he asked.
I felt my completely out of control heart give an affirmative leap. "Why?" I asked cautiously.
"Because if you want to go and you feel comfortable with me taking you, I'd be pleased to be your escort."
"You would?" I asked in surprise. The vague hope was beginning to stir in my mind that maybe he was as interested in me as I was in him. Then I reminded myself sternly that Voldemort was my father and I'm nott good enough for someone like him whether he's a werewolf or not. It simply isn't possible.
"Of course. You and I are friends and Tonks is right...you should have the experience of going to a ball at least once in your life. When you get older, you'll regret it if you don't. I'm glad my friends bullied me into my graduation ball. Of course..." he said in a darker tone. "I completely understand if you don't want to be seen around campus with a prematurely graying werewolf in patched robes."
"Is that really how you think of yourself?" I gently scolded. "It's a controllable illness -- it isn't you."
"I suppose I know better if I think about it. But if you hear it said often enough, you start to believe it. And this is getting off topic. I had just asked you to the ball and was waiting for an answer. It isn't a date, you know. We both feel the same about that for our own personal reasons. It's just a friendly outing."
"No...what you essentially asked was if I was willing to be seen in public with you, and the answer is yes -- so I will go with you."
So there it is. Just like that I committed myself to going to a Valentine's Ball of all idiotic things -- when I should be home studying. I might have been able to keep my head and turn him down if he hadn't phrased it as he did. Of course I don't mind going out with a 'prematurely graying werewolf in patched robes.' Maybe going to this ball will be good for us both as long as I keep my feelings in check and don't say something stupid.
Tonks is just thrilled to death over the whole thing, bubbling over with pre-ball stress and excitement. She's blowing the entire thing out of proportion. It's so much easier to be a tomboy -- you have a lot fewer things to worry about.
"There are hundreds of things we have to do." said Tonks breathlessly when I told her that I had decided to go to the ball. "We have to get a gown for you --- maybe something red --- red would look good on you with those dark eyes and hair. Bright colors look best on you and I love bright colors. Do you have gloves? Black I think if you have a red dress. Maybe a pretty pair of red slippers. And you'll have to have your hair and nails done, of course."
"My nails?" I asked, when I was able to get a word in edgewise. "When I'm wearing gloves? What's the point?"
"If you feel good from head to toe then you'll look good too. I always feel good after a manicure."
"No manicure." I said firmly. "It would be a total waste of money and you know I don't have money to blow."
"Well what about your hair?"
"I can do it myself. I'll put it up."'
"But you'll at least get a dress won't you?" asked Tonks, sounding highly disappointed.
"I was thinking of going in jeans and a t-shirt."
"Now you're just being a smart-arse. Seriously, we need to take a trip to Diagon Alley."
"To the second hand robe shop." I said firmly. "Nothing too fancy because Remus won't be able to dress up and that wouldn't be fair."
"Well, we'll see when we get there. We don't have much time -- the ball isn't that far away. Let's go shopping tomorrow."
"I have to be home in time for practice."
"That doesn't leave much time after we get out of school but we'll have to manage." said Tonks fretfully.
"I hate shopping." I muttered.
"My father has this expression....I think it's a Muggle expression. Something about a silk purse and a sow's ear." said Tonks, lips twitching.
I smacked her hard upside the head with a copy of "Witch Weekly" and then went to study. I need to get ahead if I'm going to waste time at Diagon Alley. Do good grades mean nothing to anyone but me?
Author's Note : As always, I am eternally thankful for your reviews. And since (most of you) were all so patient about the last author's note I decided to go ahead and post this chapter a day ahead of schedule. By my calculations, the chapter with the ball should be posted next Thursday. Hey --- I'm looking forward to it too.
Next Chapter : Preparations for the ball continue but are interrupted when dementors attack the commune again.
A sudden disturbance caught our attention as someone rounded the far corner and burst into the hall. It was Streak, stark naked, jumping up and down to taunt two dementors gliding toward him.
I fought an unholy urge to laugh. Remus had warned me about Mel's habit of hitting dementors, but not Streak's habit of flashing them. "This is what werewolves do for exercise?" I asked Mel.
"That and howl at the moon."
Streak was now barreling in our direction with the dementors in pursuit. "Run like hell." he gasped as he passed us, running down the stairs two at a time.
Mel and I backed onto the landing as the dementors bore down on us. I couldn't see their faces beneath their hoods, but it was evident that they were more interested in catching up with Streak than us. Not that I blamed them.
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