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Chapter 37 : Errand Day, Part Two
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You won't believe this but I saw your father's car the other day. I was in the forest at Hogwarts and it came driving across my path. Totally bizarre. I have so many questions like, what is it running on? How does it just go around by itself? You know these things are not normal in the Muggle world. I'm glad your father doesn't want it back because I think the teenage centaurs are using it for target practice.
Thanks so much for the crack in your last letter about me being perfect for Percy. I suppose by that you're acknowledging our intellectual superiority to you. You may be right about that part but I'm not attracted to red haired men in the slightest --- I think they're ugly.
Okay, that's mean. I know you were in a bad mood when you wrote that letter. How are your parents doing? I hope things are better. I feel like I ought to go see them but you know me, I'm always busy.
I hope you had a good Christmas. Mine was okay but fairly boring. It's good to be back here where I have friends. The only reason I ever go back home at all is because my mother is there and I suppose I'll have to keep going back and forth forever. Hogwarts is home and always will be. I couldn't imagine ever leaving there forever.
To answer your question, Tonks and Gideon aren't engaged yet and she seems sort of surprised that people have been speculating about it. I still think it's just a matter of time before he asks. I'll bet he asks sometime around graduation. But guess what --- she has an interview this month with the Auror office. He's not going to like that.
One of my band members likes her but she won't really give him the time of day. It aggravates me but I don't talk to her about it much because she just gets annoyed and won't listen. He's a real goofball, not the knight-in-shining-armor type that Gideon seems to be (to her at least). He's poor, he's a werewolf, he's uneducated, but I think he really does care about her. You can't buy things like love and loyalty, you know? I think she's just been with Gideon for so long that she doesn't want to waste the time invested in him. I just hope she doesn't end up wasting her life on him.
I think he's a total jerk. He's constantly trying to get her to kick me out of the house lately because he's afraid that Fenrir Grayback is going to come after me. There are obviously nasty people like the Goyles and that stinking Franklin McNair who don't try to hide the fact that they're cowardly, prejudiced jerks. Then there are people like Gideon who are sneakier about it and know how to hide their predjudices within words that sound reasonable. I think his problem is that he just doesn't like werewolves. Or maybe he doesn't like the negative connotations they have and doesn't want it rubbing off on the future Mrs. Gideon Elmcroft. And of course she's too stupid to see it. I hope I never get stupid like that over Remus.
When are you leaving for this expedition of yours? Before I graduate, right? Let me know before you go -- and don't let anything eat you.
My third errand of the day took me to Hogwarts. I skirted around Hagrid's cabin as I headed for the woods, crossbow in hand. It was nearly twilight and I wanted to hurry, not especially wanting to be caught in the forest late at night. That wasn't the reason I avoided Hagrid though. I avoided him because I wasn't sure yet exactly what to say to him about the situation, if anything at all.
I haven't often gone into the woods alone without Hagrid or Fang. I was glad that I had both crossbow and wand though I kept the wand out of sight knowing how centaurs feel about magic. I might not have been nervous ordinarily but the nature of my mission kept putting in mind the time last year I'd been in the woods with Quirrel. Voldemort had been asking me direct questions through him at the time, though I hadn't realized it until later.
Actually, now that I thought of it, Voldemort had spent quite a lot of time in the forest last year. He'd been chasing down unicorns and drinking their blood after all. Was he perhaps lurking nearby now? If there was an entrance to the Chamber of Secrets from the forest, then that could be how he was getting into the castle. If that was the case, then whose body was he using this time?
It was cold and most of the trees were missing leaves. Even so, the denseness of the brush made it difficult to see more than a few yards ahead into the forest from any one spot. Nothing felt out of the ordinary at least. Last year the woods had just felt creepy. The few animals that had been about had all been skittish but everything seemed fine now. Surely that was a good sign?
I wondered if it was worth talking to Aragog about the current thing with the basilisk. Spiders are terrified of them, after all. If one was loose in the woods, surely Aragog's family would know about it. On the other hand, they would be staying as far from it as possible. If they knew about an entrance to the Chamber, they would have made their home as far from it as possible and would avoid it like the plague. That in itself gave me a vague idea of where to look for the entrance...or where not to look. So did I really need to talk to Aragog?
It was cowardly of me but I decided that I didn't. I genuinely believe that he wouldn't have any information useful to my search. He'd probably just say, "We keep away from it" and then try to eat me. Maybe that's unfair though. He's never tried to eat me before, I've just always had the feeling that he'd like to. At any rate, there was no way I was going to go there without Hagrid
I turned down a centaur trail, obvious for what it was by it's height and breadth. It was an easy enough path to follow, centaurs being so secure in their supremacy that it doesn't occur to them to try to conceal the entrances to their village, or whatever it is that they have back in there. I suspect that they do at least monitor the trails a bit though, because I've never started down one without being stopped before making much progress.
I hadn't met with this centaur herd since the last time I'd been there as a student and I wondered how they would receive me. In the past my association with Hagrid has given me some privlidges. The spiders don't eat me and the centaurs don't shoot me.
I'm not especially fond of the centaurs either. They've never come out and said "we hate humans" directly but that's the feeling I always get. It's like when you're near someone who dislikes you for the color of your skin. The hatred fairly roils off them and you can sense it just as clearly as if they'd said it to your face.
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 made no sense 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.
"It means nothing to me." he said finally. "But then humans do not understand the movement of the heavens as we do. You often give significance to planetary events that are unwarranted."
"You're right about that." I agreed. "But this isn't a human thing -- it's a female thing -- so that's why it's eluding you. Andromeda and Venus sent me to talk to Athena."
"Why is Hagrid not with you?" he asked, as though suddenly just noticing. How obtuse can you get? I wondered if he'd noticed that I'd been absent for a couple of years or if that had gone over his head too.
"Because of the Big Dipper." I answered, my lips twitching.
His mouth turned down in disapproval. "Are you mocking me?"
"Yes, I suppose so. I'm sorry. Humans are naturally obnoxious."
"Yes." he agreed. "It is your nature." Again he looked up at the stars as though they were spelling out HUMANS ARE OBNOXIOUS --- AVOID AT ALL COSTS !!! His tail swished thoughtfully. "Very well. I will see if Athena will speak to you. Do not move from this spot." He turned around and began trotting up the path. "I do this only for the sake of our friendship with Hagrid." he told me over his shoulder as though determined to make it clear that it was not out of a desire to do me any favors.
"Oh she'll see me." I couldn't resist calling after him. "Andromeda and Venus told me so."
Time passed, the forest began to settle into true darkness. I wondered if Magorian had paused to examine the Big Dipper after all and forgotten my request. I settled my back against the trunk of a thick oak tree and listened. The last thing I needed was for one of Hagrid's spiders to sneak up on me.
Eventually I heard hoofbeats softly thudding somewhere around the bend in the trail. With a flash of white, Athena came into view, her white body and long blond curls standing out brightly against the night. "What sort of rigamarole have you been giving Magorian?" she wanted to know. "Venus -- the Big Dipper -- what?"
"I'm sorry about that but I knew it would get his attention. It's impossible to get through to the men unless you insert some astronomy into the conversation somewhere."
I wasn't sure but I thought I saw Athena's lips twitch slightly. "I'm here. Speak."
"I'm tracking a basilisk." I cut to the chase. "It's been getting into the school and I think it has an entrance from the forest."
"There have been odd creatures creeping about our forest over the past year."
"I know about that. You mean the thing that was killing unicorns last year, don't you?"
"I suppose 'thing' is an appropriate term for it. Though it was human once, it is no more." said Athena darkly, her blue eyes lifting to scan the trees.
"Is it back?" I asked.
"No." she sounded very certain on this point.
"And a basilisk?"
Athena took a deep breath, her eyes narrowing in thought. "We have never seen any such creature in the forest."
"Darn." I said in disappointment. "I was hoping you'd be able to confirm my theory."
"You humans are so impatient. You came to speak to me so let me speak. Just because we have not seen the creature it does not mean that we are unaware of the existence of such a one. " She reached up and removed the band that had held her curls out of her face and held it out for me to examine.
It was obviously snake skin but of a tough texture that was well beyond the capacity of ordinary snake skin. It was as strong as dragon hide despite the fact that it had the pale appearance of dry, shed snake skin which ought to have been crumbling to bits. "Where did you get this? Is there more?"
"More, yes. About twice a century we find it in the same general area. It is very supple but strong. We use it as humans use cow or dragon hide, but sparingly because it is rare. Owning large quantities of it and using it casually is a symbol of status among us." Athena explained as she put the band back into her hair.
"Could you show me where?"
"It's likely that you know the general place although you cannot reach it. There is a bog in the forest near the rear of the school."
"I know what you're talking about." I said, nodding. "I think there might be an opening to the sewers underneath the castle from there, but I'm not sure. It makes sense though. You found the skin in the bog?"
"I would stay away from there, were I you. It is deep in places and there are dangerous things in the water."
"I know. But the skin was in the bog?"
"Stretched across it from hillock to hillock. It seems as though the creature uses trees to slough off it's skin."
"It's huge, isn't it?" I asked, already knowing the answer.
"Very large. Nearly our entire herd could line up together and the line would barely be as long as the skin we found last time."
"When was that?"
"When my mother was young. Has this information been of use to you? It is time for me to feed my son."
"Oh, have you had a foal?" I asked.
"Two years ago."
"Congratulations. I'm completely out of the loop these days. "
"Hagrid told me that you were away at university." said Athena. "I believe he misses you but he seems as proud of you as though you were his own."
This statement made me feel guilty for not going to see Hagrid when I knew he must be going through a difficult time. Although it was getting late I resolved that I would. "Well, thanks for talking to me."
Athena nodded. "You'll get back safely on your own?"
"Yes." I answered with perhaps more confidence than I felt. Nothing to worry about...just killer spiders....Voldemort....and a big basilisk. Well, at least I could reason with the basilisk.
Once there were no centaurs around to be offended, I pulled out my wand and lit the tip. It wasn't much, but it was something to go by. Ordinarily I might not have minded but the current situation at the school had me a bit unnerved. It seemed weird considering the times that I've left for work with Fenrir lurking nearby and not been especially bothered by it. Well, I think Fenrir is just a big blowhard but Voldemort is something else completely.
About halfway back I was startled by the sound of something heavy pushing through the brush, and two bright lights blaring out from the trees. I halted in shock, unable to imagine what on earth it could be. Basilisk eyes don't glow in the dark, do they? "Hello?" I asked in Parseltongue.
There was no response. If it was the basilisk, which I strongly doubted, it did not seem to be in a mood for talking. The thing steadily came closer, branches and twigs snapping loudly as it progressed. The odd lights were too big and too bright for torches. They looked a lot like headlights.
"Take that, human contraption!" I heard a voice shout. There was a sound of something hard glancing off metal, followed by several male voices laughing in triumph. Hooves beat heavily on the ground as the centaurs made their retreat.
I watched blankly as Mr. Weasley's car came into view, pausing at the edge of the path as though checking to make sure the coast was clear. Then it drove across the trail, giving me a good glimpse of the dents and scratches in it's paint job, and entered the forest on the other side. I stood dumbfounded for a few moments, watching as the red tail lights slowly disappeared from view. The wizarding world never fails to amuse and amaze me. Somehow the woods felt a bit less ominous after that.
When I emerged from the forest I ran into Fang who had apparently been let out to find a tree. His excitement to see me and the obvious way he was trying to lead me to the cabin was what made up my mind to go ahead and check on Hagrid to see how he was handling the current crises. I decided it would be best to not bring it up unless he did first. Which he did, in a way.
When the door opened I found a crossbow being pointed at my nose. "Hagrid !" I gasped in shock.
"I'm sorry!" exclaimed Hagrid, sounding close to tears. Then before anything else could be said, he tucked me under one arm and Fang under the other, and bodily lifted us into the cabin. As soon as we were secure he turned and bolted the door with a bar that had not been there on my last visit. I was reminded forcibly of my mother's post-burglary hysteria. "It was nice o' yeh to come but it's late out." he said distractedly.
"I know what's going on." I said quietly.
"Don' know what yeh mean. Have some tea." said Hagrid, pouring a glass of milk.
I accepted it without pointing out the error. "Dumbledore told me what's been going on. He knows it isn't you."
Those words seemed to be enough to get Hagrid to drop all pretenses. "I took the blame last time didn' I ?" he asked wildly, and Fang dove underneath the table."Dumbledore may know I didn' do it but the Ministry still snapped my wand in half. When they find out it's happenin' again, it'll be Azkaban this time."
"No. Dumbledore won't let that happen. You must know that."
"Dumbledore is a great man, but I still can' help thinkin'....he doesn' have power over the Ministry." said Hagrid glumly, reaching for a bottle of Ogden's.
I could hear every one of Severus's taunts about Hagrid in the back of my mind. "Don't do that." I said, grasping one of his huge arms in a motion that was half restraint, half hug. "It won't do any good."
"Ah, I reckon yer right." Hagrid sighed. "Yeh're a good girl, Kerri. If anythin' happens...if I do go away---"
"---yeh'd feed Fang fer me? And check on the house now an' then?"
"If it makes you feel better, I promise I will. But it isn't necessary. You're not going to go to Azkaban." I insisted. "You're just upsetting yourself for nothing. You know that Dumbledore is not going to let you be hauled away to Azkaban for something you didn't do. He didn't let it happen last time and he won't this time either. " Personally I don't have that much faith in Dumbledore since he let Harry Potter get so close to Voldemort last year. I knew that Hagrid did and that he just needed a little reminding. It was the only thing I could think of that could possibly give him hope.
"I know. But I'd jus' feel easier in my mind knowin' tha' yeh'd take care o' Fang."
"You know I would if I had to, but I won't." I told him firmly. I cast about for a positive change of subject. "You remember that Remus and I had broken up a while back? We're together again and we're going to go to Merlin's Valentine Ball."
"Tha''s good. I'm glad yeh have someone."
"I have you too --- and you're more like family to me than he is. And---" I had a sudden inspiration, "Since he's going to introduce me to his parents that night, could I bring him by here? I'm uncomfortable with this whole meet-the-parents-thing and I'd just feel better about it if I had someone to introduce him to. I know he knows you, but it's just the principle of the thing. It's not like I can take him to see my mother." I felt like I was rambling nervously so I decided it was best to just shut up. I knew that it didn't exactly make sense, Hagrid had watched Remus grow up and knew him quite well. But it's all of the unspoken implications that meeting the parents carries...I'll just feel better if I have someone to present to Remus too.
Hagrid looked like crying again. Really, I wondered if my presence wasn't making things worse. For having such vast physical strength, Hagrid is very fragile in some ways. His emotions can go from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows in a fraction of a second. "I'd be....sure...." he faltered, "I like Remus. It'd be nice to see him again. I'm glad yeh made up with him, Kerri. Werewolf or not, yeh couldn' do any better. And don' yeh be afraid o' his parents. They're good people."
"I'm not afraid of his parents exactly, just of meeting them. It's a big step. I think."
"My dad used to tell a story about bringin' my mum home to meet his parents fer the first time. O' course they jus' about had ---" Hagrid pulled up short as though deciding that this story might not help settle my nerves. "Well... Don' worry about it Kerri. There's no reason fer 'em not to like yeh."
Yes, there is. Thankfully, no one knows it. I wondered what Hagrid would think if he knew? He'd probably completely go to pieces. He's one of those people that cringes just at the sound of Voldemort's name, after all. I don't think he'd turn on me outright but I bet he'd never look at me the same way ever again. Maybe that's how Remus would react too. He'd stay my friend but all the while be stealing curious glances at me, looking for the monster inside. I don't think I could stand that.
"Don' worry about it, Kerri." said Hagrid, watching my expression.
"And don't you worry either." I said sternly, looking up from my clenched hands. "I won't worry about Remus's parents if you won't worry about Azkaban. I'll trust Remus and you trust Dumbledore --- and don't go breaking out the Ogden's when I leave either. Save it for a party sometime."
Hagrid's beard twitched. "Fer after yeh graduate then. Tha''ll be worth celebratin', won' it?" His eyes fell on my glass o' milk. "I thought I gave yeh tea."
"I asked for milk." I lied. "You know you can't get milk like this in the Muggle world. Not fresh like this. I don't suppose you have any cream?"
So I left for home, exhausted but a bit cheered up. Hagrid did indeed have some fresh cream on hand which I took with me when I went to pick up Mary Ann at the Tonks residence. After pausing to greet Leo I went inside and Tonks, Mary Ann and I indulged ourselves by whipping the cream and adding sugar and cocoa to it to make a sort of chocolate mousse. It's been a very full day and I think that for once I'm so tired that I'll sleep well despite all the things I have to worry about.
Author’s Note : Reviews are always appreciated...or send whipped cream and chocolate, that works too.
Next Chapter : “Kerri’s Family” Snape tells Kerri about the Howard family and the events that led up to Voldemort’s attack on them.
"Why were they attacked in the first place?"
"I'm almost certain that I know. Most of it is fact but some is speculation. Do you want the whole story?"
"Not really. But I guess it's time that I faced it, whatever it is. Let's just get it over."
"Very well." Severus leaned forward slightly, his dark eyes piercing mine. "The Howard family are an old pureblood line. They've all been Gryffindors and Hufflepuffs, if you'd like to use that to get a general idea about their temperaments. You come from good, decent people on your mother's side, so that should please you. They lived in Little Hangleton, which is where your mother grew up. Remember that you asked me when we were there if any other wizarding families lived in the area other than the Gaunts and I told you that none did anymore. The Howards moved away in 1971."
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