Author's Note: This chapter title originally belongs to an Austen novel by the same name.
Chapter 21 - Sense and Sensibility
Albus Dumbledore was in the middle of a meeting with Professor McGonagall and the Weasleys, a loving couple who were part of the Order of the Phoenix, when a white spectral dog jumped onto the table. In Sirus's Black's distinct voice, it told of a request for Dumbledore's immediate audience by his most peculiar ex-student. The Hogwarts Transfiguration teacher was rather livid about the interruption during such an important discussion, for a matter not even elaborated, but the elderly Head Master knew better than to dismiss anything that came from Réatra Kandraka.
Apologizing to the three people in that gathering, he dismissed himself and made for the girl's house, leaving McGonagall a lot more than mildly perplexed. He hurried out of the hidden house and apparated.
Chilling cold struck him unexpectedly as icy winds blew right past him. He opened his eyes to see vast of ice and snow above white clouds. His nose nearly froze off in that split second it took him to realize he was atop the highest mountain on earth. Wrapping his arms around himself in attempt to salvage any remaining heat within his body, he apparated again. This time the sun warmed his freezing skin, but it soon turned scorching. His view was filled with dunes of endless white sand. High above the sky was the glaring sun, casting watery mirages over the blistering desert.
Realizing what went wrong, the old professor chuckled in amusement. Réatra's house was protected by a strong charm, and he knew he should have expected that after having experienced the same occurrence once before. He had momentarily forgotten that no matter how many times he endeavoured to apparate to the old cottage, he would end up in the strangest of places, miles away from his apparent destination.
Thinking quickly, he used his magic to transport himself to Hogsmead, the wizarding village near the school. From there, he hastily make his way to Hagrid's hut, so he could borrowed a thestral from the gamekeeper. Only indirect magic could ensure he arrived at the place.
It was still drizzling at the two-floor cottage when he got there. Dumbledoor left the magical beast inside the barn and went to knock on the door but found it already open. Upon being inside the warmth of the house, he saw Sirius pacing the floor anxiously. "Sirius," he called his former student to attention.
The worried man looked up from the floor and moved towards him. "Professor! I-"
The old man held up his hand to silence him. "It is fine. Where is she?"
Sirius led him up the stairs and into the same room they had found the girl that night after Dorcas Meadowes's murder. The young man knocked on the door gently and pushed it open. It was dim inside, for the lights were all off and the rainclouds blocked all sunlight to the room. There was a lump on the canopy bed that was at the centre of the bedroom. The translucent curtains fluttered eerily with the soft, cool breeze that blew in through the window. The old professor moved towards the sickly girl while Sirius went to shut it, muttering under his breath about having it closed before.
Though pale and frail, Rhea looked as if she was peacefully asleep with her pallid hands folded across her stomach. Tucked neatly under a thick blanket, she breathed slowly and deeply. He touched her hand lightly, whispering her name. Her eyelids slowly lifted to reveal a pair of golden orbs. They had been turning lighter gradually, so her friends didn't really notice it. She normally darkened them to a shade of brown with a magical brew. Dumbledore knew that the potion was failing her. The concoction, as she once told him, was meant to suppress her growing power until she could control them, power that was signified by the colour of her eyes; the closer it was to gold, the more of it was circulating within her.
He smiled warmly at her. "Sirius told me you needed to talk."
Her eyes lost its glaze and focused on him. Unsaid words passed between them, and the old man looked at Sirius with twinkling blue eyes from behind his half moon spectacles, "Sirius, could you give us a minute alone?"
Reluctant as he was to leave the sick girl, Sirius nodded and exited the room, closing the door behind him obediently. Once he was gone, the old man turned back to look at his former pupil, who now had her eyes closed again. Dumbledore sat patiently quiet.
"You seem troubled, professor," she stated in that hoarse voice.
The old man sighed and rubbed his temples. It was rare that he showed signs of his weariness to anyone. This woman before him was different, however. She knew what he was thinking or feeling despite all he did to mask it. "It has been a long day, dear."
Her eyes opened again. "Tell me. Perhaps I can be of help."
"You've helped enough."
She smiled softly. "No, I haven't, and I only wish I could do more."
"You're bedridden from your workload, and you still say you haven't done enough," the old professor smiled back warmly, though there was a hint of reprimand in his voice. "You've already done more than you've promised to do."
"I know. I'm just stubborn," her smile widened into something between cheeky and happy. "I suppose everyone thinks I'm in this condition because of what happened that night," she guessed, referring to the night of her housemate's murder. Her hand still twitched slightly from the mention of that moment.
"Well, since the wounds are almost healed and certain complications have been cleared up, I don't think I have to stay in this depressed state any longer. In fact, you finally talked me out of it." When the Head Master smiled knowingly, she continued, "Now, about my help offer..."
Dumbledore shook his head sternly. "Your matter first. What did you want to discuss?"
She sighed, and the old man knew it was not good news. "There will be three possible paths in the near future, regarding this 'war' with Voldemort," spoke she, breaking him out of any horrid stories that came when he let his imagination run. "We have no choice in the path that will be taken. Sadly... all three will result in numerous deaths either way, two of them less than the third. I cannot reveal any more than that. I cannot get any more involved in this than I already have. I cannot risk jeopardizing my original plans."
"I suppose you cannot," he admitted sadly. "But that is fine." He took her pale hands into his and kissed it. A show of gratitude to a girl he had always thought of as a daughter.
"I still have one more thing tell. I may be able to save precisely one life... and perhaps many more if that one life is destined to save others."
"But you are not to interfere," he reminded her.
"Don't worry. I will not directly."
"Through a very precious gift."
Sirius had been pacing the floor outside his housemate's room for the past half an hour. He had placed his ear to the door twice but could hear nothing. He had grunted his frustration aloud a few times, but it did him no help. Réatra had always been secretive. This was just another secret between her and someone else.
She asks me to bring Dumbledore, and I do just that. And what do I get? He thought vehemently. "I get locked out and kept out of whatever she's been so eager to talk about after giving me so much trouble!"
"Well, that's Réatra for you," a male voice made him jump.
Standing behind him was the tall, dark skinned friend of Rhea's. He was wearing something muggle for once— a plain tee and faded jeans— and his usually dazzling grin. His eyes however, had turned into a mixture of blue and green and his hair was blonde, confusing Sirius of his identity for the first few seconds of this reunion.
"What in bloody hell- How did you get in here?" Sirius exclaimed.
"Through the front door," this time it was a female voice from the bottom of the set of stairs. Both looked down to find a fiery red-head scanning the place thoughtfully, her hands grazing over various items in the living room without ever touching them. Upon one of those fingers was a large, jewel encrusted gold ring in the shape of some kind of beast. She was in something that looked like a black wrap-dress with tube-top neckline, a thick sash around her slim waist, and slits on either side of her legs from the hem at her platformed heels to just above mid thigh. Unlike the tall man, her appearance had not changed any. "It was unlocked."
Sirius was speechless for a moment as the red-head moved up the stairs towards the two of them. "Where were you, all this time?" he asked angrily, once he regained his wits.
"We've been busy," Toma replied simply.
Aka reached the top and leaned on the wall opposite the two men. "We only came because she called," she told him casually. "We can't exactly come without a reason."
"'Without a reason'?" The dark haired man was getting angrier at every word they spoke. "She's been miserable this whole time and you needed a reason to come?" asked he, his voice rising an octave, "How do you even call yourselves her friends? What if she had starved herself to death?"
Toma shook his head with an amused smile. "Takes a lot more than that to kill her."
"Whatever it is, she'll be fine," the red-head added with a shrug. "You people don't give her sense enough credit."
Sirius was getting more incensed by the minute from their seeming lack of care for their intimate friend. Before he could shout out his anger at them, however, the door behind the trio swung opened and the girl herself stepped out wobbly. Sirius rushed to her aid without a second thought as Toma looked from the pair to the red-head with a brief show of concern. Aka saw his fleeting look, and stared right back, as if communicating without words.
"Why are you out of bed?" Sirius asked the girl accusingly.
"And I'm Circe's lover," he retorted, "No, you are not fine. We have to get you back in bed immediately."
"I will," her reply caught him off guard, "but only after I attend to some matters."
"What matters? You can barely walk! And where's Dumbledore?" he asked after having a peek at the empty room.
She struggled against him as she spoke. "He left. I'll be fine. I haven't exactly moved much the past two months; that's why I can't walk properly."
"Stop squirming and let me get you back into bed!"
"Let me go before I throw you down the stairs."
"I don't care. I want you back in bed and resting where you belong!"
"Ahem," Toma reminded the pair of his presence with a knowing smile on his face.
Aka, however, didn't seem quite as happy. The frown on her face was becoming more obvious. "Sirius, she'll be fine. Bring her downstairs. We need to talk," was all she said before she moved to the living room in a rigid manner. It was very unlike the usually graceful walk that made her look as if she was gliding across the room.
As soon as all four were down in the lounge, Toma pried Sirius off Réatra and half dragged him into the kitchen. He didn't even bother to respond to the dark haired man's protests. When he made to return to where the girls were, the taller man stopped him with a warning look. After letting loose a frustrated sigh, he took the stool next to Toma and stared at the two figures in the other room. They seemed to be talking quietly, but their volumes increased gradually as time passed. Soon, both women were shouting at each other with full force. This was the first time in all the years he had known her that Sirius had ever heard her shout out in anger. Sensing trouble, he ran out to them before Toma could stop him, just in time to hear a resounding slap of flesh against flesh.
From behind Aka, Sirius could see the red-head shake with anger, her breaths short and hard. Both her hands were clenched by her sides as she kept her posture straight and stiff. Red liquid escaped from between the fingers of her right fist. Her form, being shorter than Rhea by a whole head, did nothing to screen the latter from the guys' view. The dark haired woman looked calm and collected with her hands hanging loosely on either side of her, her eyes closed and her face turned to one side. From the light of the bright lamp above them, they could see a long and thick scarlet line across her cheek. The line dripped and a few crimson droplets spilled from her jaw line onto the wooden floor.
Aka hissed something foreign at her. After a few long minutes of silence, she turned to face the red head and replied stoically in that same language. Calmly, Réatra walked past the two men and into the kitchen. With a swift whoosh, Aka disappeared into thin air. Toma and Sirius followed the other into the kitchen where they found her washing her face at the basin. She deftly wiped away the excess water with a hand towel, the red line already gone, as if it the white skin was never even touched in the first place. In swift, silent motions, she set a kettle of water over the stove and set a teapot, six cups, and a large plate of biscuits ready on a metal tray.
"Shouldn't you be going?" she asked in a quiet voice, never looking away from the heating kettle. When the dark skinned man was about to ask if she was going to be alright, she added, "I'm fine. Go calm her down." Nodding, he left through the door without a word.
When the water was boiling hot, she shut off the stove, added some tea leaves into the teapot and poured the steaming water into it. Refusing help from Sirius, she carried the large tray out to the living room just as several pops sounded. He rushed out after her. Standing huddled in a group were Professors Albus Dumbledore and Minerva McGonagall, Arthur and Molly Weasley, and Riley, the first-year from Hogwarts Sirius remembered running into often. Dumbledore introduced Rhea to the couple and ushered everyone into their seats as Rhea served them tea. Even Sirius received a cup, but the host herself had none. Riley was sitting beside Réatra, staring sadly at the china in his hands. She had an arm wrapped around his shoulders comfortingly.
"As I have explained earlier," Dumbledore spoke after a sip of his tea, addressing McGonagall and the Weasleys, "Réatra, here, has offered to take young Mr. Thomas in."
"That is very kind of her, really it is," began Mr. Weasley and then with a nod to the host, "but professor, Miss... um..."
"Just call me Rhea."
"Yes. Miss Rhea," Arthur cleared his throat and continued, "Miss Rhea may be of legal age and has already graduated from Hogwarts, but I can't say I agree to this. She's just starting life as an adult, are you not Miss Rhea?" When she didn't respond, he went on, "I can't say this is such a good idea to have her take care of Riley, even if he will be at Hogwarts most of the time."
"And besides," added his wife, looking at the boy cautiously as if she was afraid to say something amiss in front of him, "during summer vacations, Riley will have to return here. We don't know for sure that the Death Eaters will not come to find him. And we'd love to have him in the family. We have a few boys ourselves, so he'll have plenty of company." Giving his hair a glance, "In fact, he'll fit right in."
Riley just clutched the teacup tighter, and Rhea squeezed his shoulder lightly, though she didn't give him a glance. Both professors were about to speak when she cut in. "I can see your point, Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, but I assure you that there will not be a problem to either of us. Riley will be safe with me." Before the couple could argue she furthered, "As for raising him, I won't be doing it alone. I have others at home who will be more than willing to help out."
At this, the Weasleys were momentarily confused before the professors explained to them about Réatra's heritage. Arthur nodded, "So that means your family will be willing to take care of him."
Rhea smiled enigmatically, "In a way, yes."
Molly looked relieved. "And during summer break, he will return here or go with you to your family?"
"No, ma'am. If I am to take him in, he will be taken to where my family are after he finishes his second year at Hogwarts. He will be registered as a citizen there and will be schooled there. Chances of him returning to England before he graduates will be quite slim. That is why I requested him to be here. This is up to him to decide if he wants to go with me or stay here."
The copper haired boy looked up at her meekly and then towards the caring couple.
"But why must he transfer there so suddenly?" McGonagall voiced.
"I do not intend to stay here long, nor do I intend to return after I leave. If he is to be under my care, he will travel back with me."
"I see," was all Molly said while the others kept their thoughts to themselves.
"Well?" Réatra urged, looking at Riley, "It's up to you to decide. You can either choose to stay here with Mr. and Mrs. Weasley or go with me. If you go with me, though, you won't get to see any friends here anymore."
"I-I..." he looked up at everyone for the first time and then back down at his feet, "I-I don't know what to do."
She gave him a brief hug with both arms and a peck on the forehead causing him to blush lightly. "You don't have to rush. You can think it over, can't you?" she gave the Head Master a glance for affirmation of her statement, and he nodded. "When you've decided, you can just tell either Professor Dumbledore or Professor McGonagall." She looked at the professors again. "Is he allowed to stay here for a few days before he goes back to school?"
"Of course," replied the stern professor, no longer sounding so stern.
Rhea looked at him with a warm smile. "You can stay here with me for a while then... if you want."
Riley nodded. "I'd love that."
"I hope you don't mind having Rye sleep with you. Your bed is larger and I think he'd very much mind sharing it with me," the dark haired beauty spoke to him as she closed the door to his room after tucking the distraught boy in bed. With no wish for further talk, she walked pass him without any indication of notice of his worried face and went into the kitchen. He followed.
"When will you be leaving?" he finally asked. The words she spoke earlier that day had plagued his mind ever since.
"I'm not sure." She took the leftover from their dinner to the counter and began eating nonchalantly. It seemed to him that her large appetite had returned since her talk with the Head Master. "Soon."
Sirius took the seat next to her and stared at the wall in front of them in the dim moonlight; they hadn't even bothered to turn on the lights. Silence ensued with only the clinks of the cutlery against plate as she ate.
"And you're not coming back."
"Because I can't."
"My time is up. Was up."
"I don't understand."
A small smile.
"Who set that time?"
"Does anyone else know?"
She put her fork and knife down neatly at the centre of the empty plate and pushed the whole away. Slowly, she shook her head, her eyes fixed on the wall as his.
"If McGonagall hadn't asked, I would never have found out, would I?"
A light chuckle.
"Are you planning on telling Lily at least?"
"You'll keep in touch, though?"
A sad smile.
Yes? No? Maybe? He couldn't comprehend what it meant. Secretly, he feared never seeing or hearing from her again. Deeply, he hoped she would eventually change her mind in whatever time was left.
He turned to looked at the girl next to him. She sat there stoically, staring unblinkingly at the cream coloured paint of the kitchen wall. Her hands were folded across her chest on the countertop as she leaned against it in her seat. Her jaw was relaxed, but her mysteriously golden eyes shone with a melancholy he could never understand. The sadness within them wrenched him.
He didn't know when it had begun, but he cared for her more than he ever thought possible. He wouldn't mind if she didn't care in the slightest for him. But she did, if only as a friend. Of that he was sure. It was only with great effort in observation that he could see past the indifference, and sometimes cruelty, which shrouded her kindness towards him. To him, now, she was an angel of heart; caring more for others than herself and expecting nothing in return. How he, or anybody, had not seen that before is still a mystery to him.
Her dark tresses were fluttering gently around her as the cool breeze blew by from the open window, shining against the light of the crescent moon. It had grown past her shoulders now, always looking as soft as a cat's fur.
He wanted to find out if it was, but kept his hands still on the counter. He didn't know why there was a sudden fancy to play with her hair.
Her cheeks were still rather pale, though no longer as white as paper. One side was still slightly red from the slap Aka had given.
He resisted the urge to touch them; to see if they were as smooth as it looked. It was a silly thing to want. He already knew them to be very smooth. And soft. It would have been like the rest of her skin. He'd felt it before, the many times he had grabbed her wrists or caught her as she collapsed.
She blinked slowly, seemingly rather oblivious to his blatant stare. Long lashes reached the end of her cheeks as her eyes closed for that split second.
He wanted to touch them. And the rest of her face; to feel its structure with his hands.
Then his grazing eyes met her lips. They were a shade lighter than was healthy, but looked as soft and moist as ever. He couldn't count the times he'd wanted to kiss and nip them. And more than once, he'd imagine what the taste of the breath hidden behind them would be like.
Those little fancies and urges puzzled him greatly. They had been there even when he had believed himself to hate her. At the beginning, he thought it only natural that a woman with such alluring beauty as hers would be able to unknowingly spur such physical desires in a man. After all, hers was almost like a Veela's, and she knew it, too. He had seen her use it to her advantage many times, and it had disgusted him. And though she never directed her charms at him, except that one time she played a trick on him, he had nevertheless sworn to himself to resist those urges to touch and kiss her. Still, he felt them despite his conscious revulsion for her, and unbelievably strong those urges were, too. Aside from the physical, he also longed to understand her. She was the very embodiment of enigma and that aspect of her drew him in as much as every other. Everything he ever felt for or towards her was felt powerfully: if he hated her, he hated with a passion, if he cared for her, he did with all his heart. He never believed it possible that one woman could spur on such sensibility in him. However, until that afternoon, he never realized how strong those feelings were, how drawn he was to her.
Perhaps it was because he had always assumed she would always be there; even when she disappeared for days, she would always come back. He assumed she would always be there to cheer him up when he was down, though as rudely and as seemingly aloof as possible when she did so. He assumed she always would be there to quarrel with him, even though each time he would secretly want to smile at her for doing so. He assumed she would always be there make sarcastic comments and laugh at his expense, though somehow he felt unexplainably happy and relieved whenever she did. But with the announcement of her leaving and never to return, his want to touch, to kiss, to understand, and simply to be with her was turned to need. That was when he realized it.
He loved her.
It may not have been from the first sight nor was it from first acquaintance, but it was love grown from long overlooked attraction to her mystery. In parallel to this strong attraction was a repulsion that came with as much force. He understood, for the first time, that the hate he had ever felt had never been truly for her but rather for the never-ending mystique and ambiguity that surrounds her character, always leaving his curiosity of her nature unsatisfied and frustrated. The more he observed her, the more feeling he had for her.
As if hearing his private epiphany, she turned to face him with a puzzled look, her head slightly tilted to one side. Right there and then, he wanted nothing more than to declare it aloud to her, to just grasp her adorably puzzled face and kiss every inch of it.
He didn't. He had more sense than to try that. Without knowing how he knew, he was certain she would reject him without even an explanation.
She looked away and shook her head lightly as if to rid herself of some thought, a small, tight smile on her lips. Slowly, she slipped off the stool and disposed of the long-neglected plate in the sink. "I'm tired," she announced with a soft voice. "Goodnight, Sirius."
And then he was alone.