Chapter 35 : The Planning Stages
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I think he's a little anxious right now too, about his father who he thought looked very run down on Christmas. "I'm sure he'll be fine though once winter is over." he said in a reassuring tone as though trying to convince himself it was true. "Anyway, I probably looked much worse than he did considering that there was a full moon just the night before. Between the two of us we're going to worry my mother to death."
We took turns talking about our Christmases and planning what we'd teach the boys next. When I suggested getting a wand for Mary Ann and starting work with her, he didn't even protest, though I knew he disapproved. Remus is such a kind, patient person. I really don't deserve him. I'm going to feel very bad if Voldemort really is walking around in the flesh somewhere and Remus gets hurt because of his association with me. I should either tell him or break up with him but I'm too selfish and cowardly.
So with all of this stuff on my mind, it's a miracle that I ever slept at all last night. I did though, but was roused entirely too early by what sounded like a large boot kicking the front door. "Damn it Kerri ! I know you're in there!" It was Mary Ann and she sounded very annoyed, to put it mildly.
To avoid another broken window either by magical outburst or a rock being hurled through the glass, I ran to open the front door before she got any more impatient. "You do know it's freezing out here, right?" asked Mary Ann, pushing past me. I was glad to see that she was wearing the hat and scarf I'd made for her and relieved to see that she looked none the worse for wear, if a bit skinnier. "Were you still in bed? Do we have groceries? I may as well eat dirt and twigs as what my dad has in that hell hole. I wish he'd go die."
And those were the last words for about the space of a half hour during which she stuffed herself with everything she could find in the kitchen.
"How did it go?" I asked, when she was finally done. Getting between Mary Ann and food is kind of like getting between a dog and a bone. Not a good idea.
"It sucked. What do you think?"
"Did Fenrir bother you?"
"Not much. I don't think he noticed I was back until about a week. He asked a lot about you. He wanted to know where you were, and about your family, and how much money you have, and what your usual schedule is like, and how friendly you are with Albus Dumbledork or whatever-his-name-is, and if your stupid moron boyfriend is living here or not. I tried not to tell him much. I think he's trying to figure out if you're worth biting. It depends on if he thinks you'd be useful, desperate enough to move into the camp, and easy to keep in line." Mary Ann snorted.
"Don't you think I'd be easy to keep in line?" I asked calmly, though I found some of this speech disturbing. I certainly would not be telling Remus any of it, that was certain.
"I think it would be interesting watching the two of you fight it out. Not that I want you fighting with him." Mary Ann added quickly. "Even if he didn't kill you he'd end up taking your face off or something."
"So you're okay then? No serious problems?"
"It was cold. Sometimes I went and stayed over at the werewolf commune. There's a spot under the stairs where I'd get. Once some guy tried to kick me out. One of your retarded friends -- the shorter one with the brown hair --"
"Augustus?" I asked.
"Whatever. He told them I had to stay. He said you said so and that if the guy didn't like it go to tell Royal about it. I guess Royal said to leave me alone because he did after that. Royal's wife brought me down some food. I thought about throwing it away but decided not to. Food's food, after all, but I don't like her or her jerk husband."
"You don't like anyone." I said dryly, although my faith in Royal and Celestia was beginning to recover. I'd have to thank Augustus too.
"I like some people. I like you. I like Tonks even though she looks like a freak with that hair. I like Jillian and Ryann too."
"Did anything else happen while I was gone?"
"When I was in the commune some guy came back from Azkaban."
"Probably Marcus Mandolin. They carted him off back in August." I remembered.
"Being a werewolf."
"Dammit. Why can't they ever arrest my dad for that?" Mary Ann wondered.
"I hope the ministry doesn't come back looking for someone else to arrest."
"Maybe your stupid boyfriend."
"I would take Azkaban apart brick by brick with my fingernails if I had to." I told her. "They'd either lock me up there with him or in St. Mungo's. Then who would feed you?"
"I could go stay with Jillian. She likes me. I think I amuse her."
"Speaking of Jillian." I said slowly, "Let's go see her. I have a job to do for 'Dumbledork' that's going to take me away from home for quite a few nights. I want to ask if she minds you staying with her."
"She's at work."
"I think we can catch her at lunch."
"Let me get a shower first. And can I still have those clothes you said I could have?" asked Mary Ann.
Waiting for Mary Ann to get ready to go somewhere is so much better than waiting for Tonks. We were out the door in about fifteen minute's time and with the miracles of apparition, were standing in front of the hairdresser's shop where Jillian works in less than a minute after that. It's a nice little shop on aptly named Primper's Row just off of Diagon Alley, which is full of hairdressers, manicurists, and dress shops. Probably that's where I'll go when I start planning my wardrobe. I need to talk to Tonks about that because I know she'll love going with me.
Anyway, as Mary Ann and I stepped into Magical Makeovers, Jillian was just finishing up with a client and spotted us right away. Her face broke into a smile at the sight of Mary Ann, and it seemed more than a little relieved. Mary Ann, seeing a jar of candy on Jillian's counter, immediately went over to help herself.
"You're just in time for lunch." said Jillian. "Let's go down the street to this little sandwich shop."
"I didn't bring money." said Mary Ann baldly.
"That's fine. I did. Come on."
Most of the eating establishments on that street are fancy little tea shops, but there there's at least one sandwich shop that I think probably cropped up as a place for nearby employees to go. The food there is much more substantial and you can smell the bread baking from half a mile away. Mary Ann sniffed the air appreciatively as we walked in the door. "I'm hungry."
"I know you are." answered Jillian patiently. "The full moon wasn't that long ago, was it? Let's get something for you to eat. What are you two doing here? How was Christmas?"
I watched Mary Ann and Jillian interact like best friends while Jillian ordered food. Surely Mary Ann was being more pleasant to her than I'd ever seen her be to anyone before. Jillian seemed to have a knack for saying all the right things without setting off her volatile temper, something that definitely takes talent. Maybe it comes from living with a vampire, which must be like walking on eggshells at times.
"It's nice to see you back." Jillian told us as we sat down. "Both of you, but especially Mary Ann. I feel much better now. I was worried while you were away."
"Oh, I'm okay. No big deal."
"Your hair is growing out. Maybe I'll trim it for you again one day."
"My mom noticed that it was fixed. She said it looked good." said Mary Ann after spectacularly swallowing a huge hunk of bread. "Did you get any good Christmas presents?"
"Ryann bought me the new bedroom set I've been wanting. Bed spread, pillows, curtains, everything."
"Does she sleep in a coffin?" asked Mary Ann with unabashed curiosity. I would never have had the guts to ask such a question but Mary Ann has never been especially delicate.
Jillian laughed. "Not all the time. Just every once in a while to sort of recharge."
"I've never seen a coffin at your house."
"Well we don't exactly keep it in the living room. That would really freak my father out. My parents were over for Christmas."
"How did that go?" I asked.
"Is Ryann home sleeping in her coffin now?" asked Mary Ann who seemed fascinated with the subject.
"Probably. The possibility of being vaporized by sunlight gives her a good excuse not to get up and clean the house."
"At least she's not walking around messing things up, though."
"That's true." Jillian agreed.
"I had an ulterior motive for coming to see you." I said, one eye watching the clock whose hand was steadily moving toward the end of Jillian's lunch break. "Do you mind Mary Ann visiting with you probably every night for the next three weeks? I hate asking but Professor Dumbledore called me in as a consultant on a...well...it's kind of a pest problem that Hogwarts is having."
"What? Giant rats?" asked Jillian.
"Werewolves?" asked Mary Ann. "They can be real pests."
"No. It's complicated. It's going to involve me tracking the animal in question and I don't know how it's going to take. They know that it's getting into the castle, but they don't know how. I have to find out and stop it."
"Don't they have someone on staff to do that kind of thing?" asked Jillian.
"Yes. I kind of think that Professor Dumbledore sent for me partly as a way to test my abilities."
"I'm curious about Dumbledore. You hear so much about him. What's he really like?"
"Dumbledore is just awesome. You'd think he'd be very serious and stuck up with him being as famous as he is, but he isn't. He has this quirky sense of humor. You never know what's going to come out of his mouth. He's also just the nicest person you'd ever meet."
"Is he gay?" asked Jillian, catching me completely off guard.
"Isn't Dumbledore like, a hundred years old?" asked Mary Ann. "He's too old to be one way or the other."
"Why do you ask that?" I said to Jillian, ignoring Mary Ann.
"I've heard rumors."
"Well, it's probably not the kind of thing that they talk about to the students." said Jillian shrugging. "Sometimes outsiders know more than insiders do."
"I guess I've just never thought about Dumbledore that way before. He's the headmaster. I guess he has to have a life outside of that, though. I've always just thought of him as being married to the school."
"I've seen pictures of him." said Mary Ann thoughtfully. "He has long hair and wears a lot of purple, now that I think about it. Can I have that scone?"
"Go ahead." answered Jillian. "So do you want to come keep me company while Kerri's at Hogwarts?"
"Sure. And I want to see the coffin. Hey --- it's interesting." she said, noticing our expressions. "How many times in life do you get to see a vampire's coffin?"
"I see it every day and its not really that exciting." Jillian assured her. "Actually, it's kind of a pain having it around. I'm always banging my shins on it."
"Is it true that she has to have dirt from her hometown in it?"
"Maybe you should ask her that."
"I will." said Mary Ann confidently. "I'm not scared of her. After living with my parents I'm not scared of anyone."
"Any luck finding a place for her yet?" asked Jillian focusing back on me.
"I wish. I was just so busy last term. Remus has been quietly looking around but it's not that easy. I'm really going to settle down and work on it now that I'm back. You'd think there'd be a nice family somewhere, wouldn't you? A nice couple with a decent house and enough resources to give her a normal life."
"And someone stupid enough to take in a werewolf." Mary Ann added.
"Not to be discouraging but you're going to have a hard time finding the perfect, traditional little family." said Jillian. "That family doesn't exist. Are you looking at werewolves only?"
"I know the perfect couple. They're the best parents in the world but they have seven kids and a lot of money problems." I said wistfully, thinking of the Weasleys.
"Money isn't everything."
"I know, but I couldn't unleash her on them. She'd take their youngest son apart. Even if she was in human form he'd be no match for her."
"What's that supposed to mean?" asked Mary Ann, sounding offended.
"That you're a strong, capable girl who is able to make all the boys toe the line." answered Jillian easily. "I meet a lot of people on my job, Kerri. I'll keep an eye out for you too. I know a woman who's been trying for a long time to have a baby, but I think it's mostly her husband's idea. He sounds like my mother. She won't let go of the 'I want a grandchild' thing." Jillian rolled her eyes and then glanced at the clock. "I'd better be getting back to work. I'll see you tonight, Mary Ann."
"Yeah. And I want to see the coffin."
Jillian laughed and didn't seem at all annoyed. I'm really going to have to do something nice for her one of these days for giving up so much of her time and being so patient.
As I rounded the corner of the corridor leading to Severus's chambers tonight, I almost collided with him. "Miss Howard, will you kindly watch where you are going?" he snapped, apparently for the benefit of any nearby students. Youthful voices were emanating from behind a nearby door. "What are you doing here?"
"Professor Dumbledore sent me on an errand to your office." I answered automatically, suddenly feeling like a student again. Whether he's being serious or not, Severus does have a gift for making people feel about eight years old.
"Very well. Go to there and wait for me." he snapped, and then set off down the hall in the opposite direction. From his prowling gait and the set of his shoulders I suspected that something was up.
Outside his office I found what looked like a smashed teacup and teapot along with a lot of liquid. Oh, so the mysterious student who likes levitating objects outside his door had struck again. No wonder he looked so irritated. Laughing, I wished the culprit luck in escaping, and entered first the office and then his living quarters beyond.
For being down in the dungeons, the room always has a cozy, homey feel to it. It's always warm and alight with golden firelight glinting off all the green and silver Slytherin insignia. The table was a bit on the messy side, strewn with papers lined up for grading. Half hidden beneath was a brown leather portfolio that I recognized as the one in which he'd been compiling his research on my mother's family. What looked like a bit of yellowed newspaper stuck out slightly from the rest. Surely...it hadn't made the newspaper, had it? No wonder my mother had left.
I felt curious, but hesitant. I had a lot of questions but there were still many details that I didn't think I wanted to know. On the other hand, with all this "Slytherin's Heir" crap buzzing around Hogwarts, it makes me want to know more about the other side of the family more than ever. It might be nice to have some family members that I don't have to be ashamed of.
I turned away from them even as I knew I'd probably ask Severus for them by the end of the night. I occupied myself by looking at the books on the shelf and playing around with the upright piano in the corner that had belonged to Severus's mother.
"Ugh. Spare yourself the humiliation and confine yourself to guitar." said Severus, walking in the door.
"Gee, thanks. Did you catch them?"
"No. It's no longer a laughing matter either with this basilisk slithering around the castle. I'll put the culprit in detention for a year when I find out who it is."
"Maybe it's another teacher." I facetiously suggested. "Maybe it's McGonagall. Maybe you should sneak into her chambers and fill her toilet with shaving cream or something."
Severus ignored this as I knew he would. "Hagrid?" he asked intensely. "Tom Riddle --- services to the school? What?"
"Evidently you looked it up." I laughed, amused at how disconcerted he looked.
"How is it that you knew about this and I didn't? I thought I knew most of the details of the Dark Lord's life."
"I knew because of Hagrid."
"You must be one of the few people who does know." said Severus, sounding annoyed that he had been kept in the dark.
"Dumbledore kept it as quiet as he could."
"Well, obviously the oaf was framed."
"Severus, if you don't stop insulting Hagrid I'll refuse to work with you." I threatened.
"Why Hagrid? If you had to choose a father figure, why did it have to be him?"
"Because you weren't there."
"You're right. I wasn't." he agreed.
"I think I want that information on my mother's family." I said, deciding I'd go ahead and get it over with. "I've had some questions lately and all of this 'Slytherin's Heir" crap is making me wonder more about what the other side of the family is like. Normal, I hope."
"Completely noble and upright. Not a...what was it that you called the Gaunt family? Crazy inbred freak in the lot. I would prefer to go over the information with you but tonight is not a good night for it as we really do need to lay plans for a course of action in finding the basilisk."
"How about on your birthday? We'll have dinner like we did last year." It would give me a few days time to prepare myself for whatever horrors were in the innocent looking binder on the table.
Severus nodded. "That will be fine. And now we should get to work. I've been reading everything I can find on previous searches for the Chamber of Secrets."
"I think we should focus on finding the basilisk, not the Chamber itself. Maybe that's where people have gone wrong before. An animal, especially of that size, has to leave evidence of its presence. It needs food, water...it has to be leaving behind tracks, and waste, and shed skin. There has to be evidence somewhere. If I can find just one clue I can probably track it from there."
"Where is the evidence then?"
"A large animal like that needs a lot of food and it hasn't been getting it inside the castle or students, teachers and pets would have been disappearing right along." I explained. " It must have a source of prey outside the castle which means that there must be an entrance that no one else knows about that leads to the chamber. I'm guessing that it probably opens into the forest, which would explain why no one has seen it coming or going."
"Assuming your theory is correct, the chamber is most likely either on the ground floor or at dungeon level, and on the side of the castle facing the forest."
"And near a heat source. Snakes can't regulate their body temperature. It needs to be able to move back and forth from warm to cool as needed."
"Perhaps near the kitchens." said Severus.
"The wall behind any fireplace might do."
"I've been prodding and poking at every fixture in these rooms, searching for a hidden latch to an unknown passage." said Severus, glancing with some frustration at a sconce hanging beside the fireplace. "It would make sense for it to be here since these were Slytherin's private rooms."
"Do you ever hear odd sounds in the walls?" I asked, my eyes scanning them at random for any minute irregularity. "Moving or hissing, or anything?"
"No. What about you? Have you ever heard snakes in the walls here?"
"Sometimes, especially in winter. I never heard anything that made me think there was a monster lurking around. They just sounded like ordinary snakes. You'd be surprised the things I hear sometimes. Back home we have a lot of snakes and people don't realize how close they really are. I don't tell my mother either."
"What do they sound like?" asked Severus curiously.
"Their speech is very soft. It's actually kind of relaxing to listen to it while you're falling asleep as long as you don't let yourself get distracted by the actual words. It's sort of like listening to white noise or ocean waves. What exactly is behind the walls of this castle anyway? I've never thought about it before."
"Plumbing. Considering that this is Hogwarts probably hundreds of passages, tunnels and secret rooms that have yet to be discovered. Obviously at least one has been overlooked."
"Well, we've narrowed it down a bit to the lower floors of the castle on the side nearest the forest. So the kitchens and possibly here. I'm starting to wonder....maybe it has been seen and we just don't know it." I said, an idea materializing in my head.
"And he was too drunk to notice."
"I told you to lay off Hagrid !" I snapped, turning toward the door.
"Don't be absurd -- we have a job to do here." said Severus, grasping hold of my elbow.
"Lay off of me too. I know some good curses now."
"And you do remember all of those times I knocked you flat on the floor of that cave, don't you?"
We glared at each other for a moment or two.
"Fine." said Severus at last, sounding completely exasperated. "You have no sense of humor."
"You have no tact."
"Well -- who do you think has seen the basilisk, survived, and not reported it -- while dead sober?"
"The centaurs." I answered, choosing to ignore the sarcastic insinuation." They may not have seen it directly but they know the forest better than anyone, even Hagrid. They may have seen signs of it. They may even know where the entrance to the castle is, assuming that I'm right and there is one."
"I suppose this means a trip to the forest."
"No. I'll do that. They know me and they might not want to talk around you. I'll try to get to the females. The males useless for getting information from but the females are much more practical and level-headed. I can be straight with them and they'll probably be straight with me."
"I'll go back through Tom Riddle's diaries from the time when he was at school here. Perhaps I may find information about the location of the chamber. I've read them before but that was before I knew that he'd found it. There may be something I missed, a code that might make sense to me now."
"You and those diaries." I said disapprovingly.
"Which may prove useful now."
"Maybe. So I guess we have a place to start."
"Before you leave, why don't you try calling the basilisk?" asked Severus. " If the chamber is nearby it might hear. I doubt we'd be that lucky but it seems worth a try."
"What should I say?" I asked.
"How would I know? I've never talked to a snake before."
Feeling stupid, I turned to face the room at large and asked in Parseltongue. "Is anyone here?"
There was no reply.
"Nothing." I confirmed to Severus who was waiting expectantly. "It was worth trying though."
"Well, I'll get to work on those journals. When will you go see the centaurs?"
"Soon. I wonder if I can do it without Hagrid knowing? I wonder if he realizes what's going on?"
Severus was silent, probably thinking of Hagrid insults that he knew better than to voice. I decided to leave before the temptation became too much....and before Mary Ann possibly outlasted her welcome at Jillian's. I wondered what Severus would think if he knew I was harboring a teenage werewolf at my house. I guess I'll find out if I can't find a home for her and I have to bring her to Hogwarts next year. He's the potions monster....I mean, master...I wonder how he'd feel about making wolfsbane potion for her?
Author's Note : Comments and reviews are always appreciated.
Next Chapter : Kerri has an eventful day running errands to Diagon Alley, to talk to Remus, to talk to the centaurs, and to check on Hagrid. (Sorry --- it's going to be another long one).
I hadn't been on the centaur trail very long before a hulking figure suddenly blocked my path. Magorian. "Hello Magorian, remember me?"
"What are you doing here, human?" he asked with no sign of remembrance.
"The moon is in the fourth house." I answered. This had no significance to me whatsoever but I knew it would give him pause.
Gravely, Magorian shook his hair back over his shoulders and stared up through the trees. Centaurs are so easy to mess with sometimes. "Yes," he agreed after several long moments. "But the position of Mars may negate that."
"I don't know. I think Venus might override Mars in the end. I'm here because I need to speak to Athena."
Magorian turned his gaze back to me, looking suspicious. "For what purpose?"
"Have you noticed the position of Andromeda to Venus?" I asked.
Again, Magorian looked up. He stared so long this time that I wondered if I might be able to sneak past without his notice.
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