"We've got to plan something for Halloween," Charity said that night at dinner.
"What kind of something?" Clio asked, as she sculpted her mashed potatoes into a castle surrounded by a broccoli forest.
"A staff party, after the feast."
"Okay," Clio said, then frowned. "Doesn't it feel a little odd to celebrate a day when people died?"
Charity sighed, as if she'd struggled with this dilemma herself. "That's not what we're celebrating. Halloween came first. And it's also the day that He-who-must-not-be-named was overthrown. Plus, if we banned celebrations on every day when people died, then there wouldn't be any left."
"Yeah, I guess."
"Speaking of celebrations, we should do something for your birthday."
"Hmm, okay," Clio responded, then airlifted a broccoli tree into her mouth, pulping it with her teeth.
"Don't tell me you're one of those non-birthday-celebrating types," Charity groaned, "We don't have to go to the Broomsticks again, we could go anywhere."
"Yes, seriously, we should go to Edinburgh some time. It's got haunted castles, plenty of bars, a decent live music scene," Clio's eyes went a bit dreamy as she thought of her last visit to Edinburgh. Her vision of the city was a bit romanticized because her grandmother hadn't actually allowed her to go into any of the bars to listen to the live music.
"Okay, you don't have to sell me on it, but that's too far to take a group with school in session. Dumbledore would never approve it," Charity said.
Clio shrugged, lopping the tower off of the castle and shoveling the wreckage into her mouth. "How about the Hog's Head, then?"
"Oh, you don't want to go there for your birthday.”
Charity wrinkled her nose. “It's so dirty, and it's a magnet for creeps. Hags and vampires and sketchy characters trying to sell black market potions."
Clio's eyes lit up. "Are you trying to scare me away from the Hog's Head, or convince me of it's awesomeness?"
"You know Remus won't be able to go, right?"
"Full moon that night."
"Oh." Clio frowned. "Right, I keep forgetting. Well, then, if it's as nasty as you say then he won't be missing anything." She smashed her potato castle into a shapeless mound, then leveled it.
Halloween arrived crisp and clear, the perfect kind of fall day that Clio had missed during her time in Egypt. She scarfed her breakfast early, then returned to her room to change into her wetsuit. Remus accompanied her down to the lake, betraying anxiety at letting her go in the water alone.
"I know, you're perfectly capable. I'll just be here in case you need anything," he said, fidgeting with his pockets. “Watch out for those spindly little fingers, their grasp is shockingly strong. You know how to send sparks up with your wand? They'll work under water, too.”
"All right. If I get myself in trouble, then I fully expect you to jump in to rescue me," she said teasingly, knowing that his presence was of the purely social variety.
He smiled thinly. “Don't worry if you can't catch one before the gillyweed wears off. I can always trap one. It will take some time to rig up the nets and catch the proper bait, but I could always push the grindylow unit back to the spring.”
“If I don't catch one today then I'll just try again later,” she insisted.
They walked to a sunny, level spot of grass about 50 yards from the grindylows' main territory, figuring that it would be much easier to sneak up on one if she didn't jump in right on top of them.
"Watch my clothes for me?" she asked, kicking off her sneakers and sliding out of her cloak. Her wand was already belted to her hip.
"Of course," he said, setting himself down on the grass and folding the cloak into a neat square. He handed her the slimy ball of gillyweed and clear bag that he had carried for her, careful to keep his eyes directed at her face and not at anything covered by skintight rubber.
"Thanks," she said, tucking the bag into her belt.
"You're doing me a favor," he said, pulling a book from his robes, but not opening it.
She smiled crookedly, "This is fun for me," she said, the last words out of her mouth before swallowing the gillyweed and plunging into the cold, clear lake water.
He watched the widening ripples she left behind, and continued to scan the surface even after they had disappeared. Finally, he opened the book, flipping idly through the pages and alternating between staring at them and at the lake.
Beneath the surface, Clio kicked smoothly toward the weedy patches where she knew the grindylows liked to congregate. The giant squid zoomed up to her, but she waved it away. It blinked at her, then scooted off through the water like a chastised puppy. So far there was not a grindylow in sight. She dropped down closer to the weeds, then hung motionless to watch and wait.
It struck her, and not for the first time, how ridiculous her volunteering for this mission had been. It was true that she had longed to get back in the water again, and now that she was submerged (feeling the current flow through her gills and over her webbed toes) she felt at home. Still, she'd never attempted to catch a grindylow before, so what was she trying to prove?
After several minutes, she noticed some of the tall kelp-like plants sway and bend as they were pushed aside by small bodies. She ducked down behind one of the spreading fronds, and a moment later spied a group of about a dozen grindylows swimming her way. They didn't seem to have noticed her, so she tucked herself deep into the plant cover, waiting for them to get close enough for her to grab one.
The group took their time, swimming aimlessly, almost playfully, it seemed. She noticed a couple of more lethargic ones trailing the others just a bit. If they continued on their path, then the smallest one would pass within a few feet of her hiding spot. Grabbing it may turn out to be easier than she'd imagined. She tensed up as it drew even with her.
I'm doing this for Remus, she thought. She sprang just as it passed her by, grabbing one spindly leg with her right hand and bringing the bag over it's head with her left. For one glorious moment she had it, but before she could pull her arm from the bag, it twisted around, grabbed on to her wrist with both hands and started to haul itself up her arm. It took all of her self-control to not let go of the bag. Instead, she commanded the bag opening to seal itself around her right arm, freeing her left, and began kicking hard for the surface.
As soon as the grindylow, latched to her arm inside the bag, realized what she was doing, it opened it's mouth and began to wail. She noted the razor-like teeth filling its mouth. All the other grindylows turned on a dime and rushed her. The giant squid was nowhere to be seen. She regretted shooing him away now that she could use some cover.
The runt she'd captured was now trying to fight its way out of the bag. It tried biting through the clear fabric, but the enchantments held strong. The only thing blocking it's escape through the opening was her arm. It changed tactics and sunk its surprisingly sharp little fangs into her hand. Clio screamed (the sound muffled by the water) but didn't try to pull free. She was almost to the surface. The other grindylows were coming up fast, arms outstretched and teeth bared. She grabbed her wand and sent them tumbling backward with a stunning spell, then shot to the surface before they could regroup.
Remus was watching the lake when her head popped up. He waved, and she waved back with her wand hand. She tried to call out, something witty like, "There's a grindylow on my other hand," but her gills couldn't fill her lungs with air out the water. She swam rapidly for the shore, imagining the other little demons grabbing hold of her legs. The lake bottom sloped up sharply so that soon she was standing in chest deep water.
Feeling herself suffocating, and fighting the urge to submerge herself once more, Clio stuck a finger into the back of her throat just the way Archie had taught her when he'd introduced her to diving two years ago.
“It's a pity to waste even five minutes of dive time,” he'd told her. “But sometimes it can't be helped. Better to toss your weed then to suffocate or drown.”
The gillyweed surged up her throat on a burning wave of acid. She flung the rubbery mass back out into the middle of the lake, hoping that any grindylows that might still be following her would be distracted by the splash. She waded toward shore, the rapidly plummeting waterline frightening the captured grindylow into letting go of her arm. Not fully comprehending the existence of the clear bag, it turn itself around and shot toward the bottom, attempting to swim back down to the depths of the lake. Clio withdrew her bloody hand and resealed the bag, then lifted it in triumph.
"Ta da! He's kind of a runt, but he put up a hell of a fight," she said, brandishing her battle wound.
Remus had already realized that something wasn't quite right, and was on his feet and by her side the moment she stepped out of the water. He took the bag from her, wincing at the sight of her bloody hand. The grindylow, which had calmed down momentarily, suddenly started thrashing again.
"That looks ugly. You should have Poppy put some dittany on it right away."
She appraised the dark red line of perforations running along her palm and middle finger, then shrugged. "It's actually barely bleeding, now. I never bleed much, see?" She held her hand closer to his face, showing that the punctures from the demon's teeth had already begun to close up. He shied away, and Clio realized too late that the blood made him uncomfortable. She dropped her hand, curling her fingers into a fist. "I'll have Poppy take a look at it," she said.
"I'm sorry. I shouldn't have let you do this," he sighed. The concern etching his creased brow, and the guilt pouring from his eyes cut through her more deeply than any weapon could.
"I'm fine, really," she said, reaching out for his shoulder with her good hand. She wanted to embrace him, to reassure him that he'd done nothing wrong, but punched him lightly instead. "I know how not to catch a grindylow, now."
"I'll find a way to make it up to you," he said, looking her intently in the eyes.
"Careful, I'll hold you to that," she answered, feeling a familiar heat bubble in her stomach. She probably would have walked back to the castle barefoot, and in nothing but her wetsuit if he hadn't handed her her cloak, then. She threw the cloak around her shoulders, tucked her hands into the interior pockets, and stepped into her shoes.
The grindylow was still squirming violently within its bag. She cocked her head sideways to look into its panicked eyes.
"I kind of feel sorry for the little bastard. You're sure the tank is big enough?"
Remus shook his head, brow unfurrowing. "Of course. He'll probably eat better in there than he has been in the lake. We'll fatten him up a bit so when he goes back he won't be such a runt."
She nodded, heart beating a little faster than normal. They walked back to the castle together and parted ways on the second floor, where Remus took the still squirming demon to his office while Clio proceeded up to her own office on the fifth floor to change.
"Have that bite examined," he called after her as she trotted up the stairs.
Clio nodded. "I'll be back later to check that the little bastard is properly housed," she called back over her shoulder.
"I'd expect nothing less," he replied, and she could hear the smile in his voice.
She meant to go straight to the hospital wing after changing into jeans and her favorite flannel, but when she was halfway down the stairs she remembered some prints she had left in the photo lab the day before, and (since her hand had stopped bleeding on its own) continued on down to the dungeon.
Strange smells floated along the corridor to the lab. The door to Snape's office was cracked open, and she could see flickering light and wisps of smoke emanating from within. Her pace slowed as she lifted her nose and sniffed at the sharply scented smoke. It wasn't anything she recognized. Curiosity piqued, she approached with caution.
"What can I do for you Professor Callimachus," Snape said in a bored voice, as the door opened wide. Clio backed up a step, startled that he seemed to know she was there before she'd even peeped in. He wasn't even looking towards the door, but staring thoughtfully into the steaming cauldron on his desk, steadily stirring the contents, his face partially obscured by his long black hair.
"Nothing. I was just passing by. It smells very … potiony in here," she said. He nodded, saying nothing and still not looking up.
"So, what is it?" she asked, taking a couple of furtive steps into the room. She'd never seen the inside of his office before, and looked around now at the jars of strange slimy creatures and potion ingredients, gaze lingering on one labeled Gillyweed.
"So, which one of these jars holds your heart?" she asked, mouth quirking up on one side.
At last he looked up at her, his expression unreadable. She got the feeling that she was being appraised. Unconsciously, she crossed her arms and attempted to rub some warmth into them with her hands. Her right hand had begun to throb from the grindylow bite, and rubbing it against her arm made it worse.
"It's wolfsbane potion," he said.
"Oh," she said, then, "Oh," again as understanding sunk in. "That's nice of you."
"Nice? No. I'm not making it to be nice. Not to him," He stared at her pointedly, lip curling in an unpleasant smirk. "My only motive is the safety of the castle's other inhabitants."
"Well, it's good of you then," she insisted. "Does it taste as wonderful as it smells?"
"Slightly worse, I'm afraid," he said, dark eyes gleaming as if he was pleased by this fact. "What happened to your hand?" he asked shortly, continuing to stir the cauldron.
"My hand?" she asked, tempted to stuff both hands into the pockets of her jeans, but realizing that it was too late to hide.
"Your right hand. It's red and swollen," he said.
"Oh, this?" she said, holding it up and pointing to the bite, which just happened to mar the base of her raised middle finger. "It's a grindylow bite."
He raised an eyebrow, but said nothing.
Unable to leave it at that, Clio continued, "I went into the lake to catch it, and it didn't want to be caught, apparently."
"Imagine that," he said, gaze returning to the smoking contents of his cauldron once more.
"Yeah, it preferred it's freedom," she said. "The nerve."
Clio thought she caught his ghost smile flit about at the corner of his mouth for the briefest of moments. He gave the wolfsbane potion another stir, examined it closely for a moment, and then stepped around his desk.
"Let me see your hand," he said. She offered it hesitantly. Her middle finger had begun to resemble an uncooked breakfast sausage. He grabbed it roughly, pulling it closer, and she winced in pain. "It's stopped bleeding on its own," he said, brow furrowed.
"What are you doing?" Clio asked, tensing at his grasp.
Without bothering to answer, he stepped to the shelves along the wall, running a long slender hand along the rows of bottles until he found the one he wanted, a small vial containing a brown liquid.
"Is that dittany?" she asked.
"Yes. Perhaps you should keep some on hand, if you're always going to be so reckless," he said, taking in the numerous small scars that criss-crossed her skin. She'd gotten herself into so many scrapes in her youth that she couldn't even recall the origin stories for half of them. He tilted the bottle just enough for a couple of drops to spill out onto the bite. The throbbing pain subsided immediately and her swollen finger shrank to it's normal size. He gave it a last cursory glance and let it go. Clio examined it herself, flexing it. The bite looked several days old and was barely visible now.
"Thanks." Suddenly conscious of how closely they were standing together, she stepped backward toward the shelf with the gillyweed. Snape backed away at the same moment, his attention returning to the smoking cauldron, his face hidden once again behind his hair.
Clio considered leaving during the long, awkward pause that followed. She didn't, figuring that if there was ever a time to try and talk to Snape about anything, then it was when he was feeling nice (or good) enough to heal her hand.
"So, I hear that you dive on occasion."
"And where did you hear that?" he answered coldly.
"So, do you?"
There was another pause before he answered softly. "On occasion. I dive to collect a few potion ingredients that are otherwise hard to come by."
"Oh, I see. Well next time you go, let me know and I'll come along."
"And why would I want you to come along?" he said, icily, frowning at her from between his curtains of hair.
Clio shrugged, deciding that bringing up diving had been a bad idea and wondering how else she could get in his good graces. "Because I could help you, and it might be fun."
"Fun? I dive for work, not for fun."
"Work can be fun," she said, doubting that doing anything with Snape could ever be described as fun. "And, come on, giant squid! It's not every day you get to see a giant squid up close."
He looked hard at her then, dark eyes glittering, and that hint of a smile pulled again at the corners of his lips. "I can see the giant squid any time I like," he said softly.
"Without diving," he said, looking into the cauldron as he stirred its contents.
He didn't answer right away, and the silence stretched on for long enough that Clio thought that perhaps he had simply chosen to ignore her.
"I can show you." He glanced at the clock on the wall. "Come back in an hour." Clio glanced at the clock herself before replying.
"I'm going to be working in the photo lab for a while. If you don't see me here when you're ready, then just knock on the door."
"Fine," he said, attention focused once again on his potion. She left his office, and heard the door swing closed behind her.
Over the next hour she bound several of her prints into a black portfolio and mixed up fresh developing potions for the students. Merlin's Beard played the entire time, the lead singer's reedy tenor ferrying her far from the dungeon on a river of jangling guitar chords. She lost track of time, but figured that at least an hour had to have gone by since she'd left Snape's office. She suspected that he'd changed his mind about showing her the squid. She lingered in the lab, straightening things that didn't need to be straightened and rehearsing the real question she wanted to ask in a dozen different ways, none satisfactory.
She felt some trepidation when at last he knocked at the door. It opened with a flip of her wand, and there he stood; a pale face framed all in black, cold eyes taking in everything and revealing nothing.
"I just finished up," she said, "Has it been an hour already?"
He ignored her question. "This drivel again?" he asked.
"They're one of my favorite bands, so I may just have to fight you one of these days."
"I'm sure they appreciate your devotion," he retorted. Clio stashed her music box in her shirt pocket. He strode off down the hallway, deeper into the dungeons, while she was sealing the door. She had to run to catch up with him.
"Where are we going?"
"To a place where one can see the giant squid, or have you forgotten already?"
She scanned the many dark, narrow corridors leading off of the main one that they had turned into.
"Do you know where all of these passages lead?" she asked.
"I have no idea," he muttered, turning down a narrow side corridor.
Clio hugged her arms to her body. Aside from the cold, the stones down here all imbued her with dread and despair. She shivered as they passed an especially dismal doorway.
Snape, who'd been staring straight ahead, turned toward her. He had lived in the castle long enough to realize that it was a sentient entity with memories and feelings, most of which he simply blocked out. She was sensitive to the castle; he could tell that by the way she shrank inward as they passed the Bloody Baron's favorite haunt.
"We're almost there," he murmured.
She nodded mutely. He stopped suddenly in front of a bare stretch of stone wall, and whispered something in a voice too low for Clio to make out.
"There isn't going to be a pile of dead bodies behind there, is there?" she asked.
He glowered at her as a concealed stone door slid open, revealing a long dark room illuminated by glowing green ceiling lamps and many tall, leaded windows that looked into the depths of the lake. A fire glimmered beneath an ornately carved mantle. Slytherin's emerald-eyed emblem adorned the chimney above. He stepped through the doorway and beckoned her to follow.
After a moment's hesitation, she did. There were many dark leather armchairs scattered about the room, but her eyes moved immediately to the windows. Soothing sunlight, filtered sea green through the water, scattered wave patterns across the floor. Apart from the two of them, the common room appeared to be empty.
"Where are all the students?"
"Outside, for now, hunting jobberknoll" he said. "Gryffindors aren't welcome," he added, implying that she should be gone before they got back.
"I didn't think jobberknoll came so far north this late in the year."
"They don't," he said, eyes gleaming wickedly. He gestured to a large picture window near the middle of the room. She followed him over to it. They stood in silence for a few moments, watching the gently lapping water. A school of strange silvery fish passed by, then a long black eel with hundreds of sharp teeth glinting within its gaping mouth. He watched her shoulders relax as she followed the fishes' movements.
His gaze shifted to the lake depths, where he'd caught a flash of movement.
"There," he said, pointing to an arrow shape in the distance that approached rapidly. She nodded, a smile blooming spontaneously across her entire face. The squid zoomed by, then turned on a dime and zoomed back to hover before them for a few moments. It stared at them with a great black and white doll's eye. Snape's eyes darted from the squid to Clio. The uninhibited pleasure in her eyes stopped him cold, and he looked away. When his eyes darted towards hers again she was grinning still, and this time she turned and met his gaze. Her smile faded, and he felt the question that had been festering for some time bubble to the surface of her mind. He answered it before it had a chance to form on her lips.
"I don't know anything about your grandfather."
Her eyes widened. "What? How did you know I was going to ask you that?"
"Lucky guess," he said; black eyes glittering, face a white mask.
Her face flushed. "Am I that obvious?" When he didn't respond, she plunged ahead with her next question. "Do you know who might know?"
"Not unless you care to visit Azkaban to chat with them."
She nodded mutely, troubled eyes returning to the water.
The squid moved on, and (not wanting to be caught lingering here with her when the first and second years returned from the fool's errand he'd sent them on) he turned and walked back towards the door. She looked longingly out at the lake for a moment before following him out.
"There's a short cut to the ground floor. This way," he said, not looking to see that she was following him. They didn't speak at all along the way and parted on the ground floor. He headed outside, and she headed upstairs, thinking vaguely that she would take Nox outside for a run.
"Thanks for the squid," she said, before he could disappear. He nodded and then slipped out the door.
Nox was eager to get outside. The day was still sunny, the sky an achingly beautiful electric blue with only a few clouds. That meant that the dementors were also nowhere to be seen. Clio supposed that they would be concentrated around the gate, where the older students were leaving and entering on their way to and from Hogsmeade.
She threw Nox's ball over and over again, the dog not tiring of chasing it. Presently, Fang came snuffling up from the pumpkin patch and joined in the chase. Nox grew bored of the ball then, and started chasing Fang, barking at him until he turned and chased her. Finally, both dogs dropped into the grass, tongues lolling as far out as they could possibly stretch. Clio plopped down next to them, stroking both dogs' fur and breathing in the musky smell of drying leaves and fading wildflowers. Relaxing in the cool air helped to make sense of the jumble of thoughts in her head, and the longer she looked up at the blue sky the harder it became to linger over her disappointment.
When the shadows grew long, she stood and shook the leaves and grass off her clothes, said goodbye to Fang and ran back to the castle with Nox flying ahead of her. The students were returning too, pockets full of candy, and filling the halls with excited chatter. Some of her students recognized her and called hello as she waded through them to the stairs and up to her room. Several wanted to pet Nox, and she stopped to accommodate them.
"Are those stink pellets, Weasley?" she called out to one of the red-headed twins. He blinked at her innocently, trying to palm them behind his back. She sighed, "Just keep them far away from my classroom."
"Will do, professor," he said with a grin, bounding up the stairs, "I've got big plans for these."
There was only one thing on her mind when she returned to her room to feed Nox and change into proper clothes for the Halloween feast. She left early, running lightly down the stairs to the second floor and turning down the hallway to the DADA office.
The door was cracked open, but she knocked anyway. It swung open before her knuckles had finished rapping a second time. Remus leaned against his desk, smiling thinly. An empty goblet stood on the corner. She recognized the pungent aroma of the wolfsbane potion lingering on in the air.
"Here to check on our demonic little friend?" he asked lightly, trying to ignore the tension that she brought to the room.
"Maybe," she said, smiling in the crooked way that never failed to make his heart beat a little faster. He looked toward the large tank in the corner of the room, and she followed his gaze up. The grindylow was currently hiding in a patch of seaweed, but she could see its sharp horns and wide, shifty eyes peeping out.
"How's your hand?" Remus asked, still troubled over it.
"All better. I had it looked at," she said, holding it up so that he could see the tooth-marks that had completely closed up. She purposely didn't tell him that she'd never bothered to go to the hospital wing. Some of the tension lifted from his shoulders. She walked closer to the tank to get a better look, and felt Remus come to stand beside her, close enough for her to feel the warmth from his body.
"Do you want to feed it?" he asked, shaking her from a momentary thought of tracing her hand up his arm. She turned to look at him, and he was smiling warmly, eyes sparkling. She felt the heat wave roll up from her stomach to head.
"What does it eat?"
"They're omnivorous, so just about anything. I've got some scraps here from the kitchen." He handed her a cup of what looked like crumbled sausage and diced potatoes. She grabbed a pinch-full and stood on tiptoe to toss it into the top of the tank.
"Watch your fingers," he said playfully.
"Thanks for the tip," she said, letting the food drop into the water. The grindylow ignored it at first as it spread out on the water surface. She saw it's nostrils start to flare though, and soon it came darting up from the weeds to investigate. Before long it was grabbing a bite at a time with it's long thin fingers. It moved amazingly fast, and Clio felt foolish for underestimating it earlier. She turned to smile at Remus, and he smiled back, their eyes connecting for a beat before she looked down to scoop up and toss in another handful of food.
"Shall we go down?" he asked.
"Yes, let's go down," she purred, just to make him blush. He shook his head as he took the food from her and put it away, but he was smiling as they walked down the stairs together and into the hall for the feast.
"You're coming to the after party, right?" she asked.
"Oh, is it definitely on, then?"
"Charity says so. I have complete faith in her ability to make it happen."
"Then I'll be there."
"Excellent," she said, taking her seat by Charity while he continued on down the table to his seat by Professor Flitwick, who was putting the finishing touches on the decorations. Clio hadn't noticed them before, and she looked up at them now, especially taken by the orange streamers that slithered along the ceiling like snakes.
"What have you been up to all day?" asked Charity.
"I mostly bummed around the castle."
"With-" Charity bumped her head knowingly toward the middle of the table.
"Some." Clio said.
Charity considered her with narrowed eyes. "You must like challenges," she said.
Charity whispered into her ear. "I saw the way you were looking at each other when you walked in."
"Really?" Clio tried to imagine how she had looked. "That reminds me, remind me to go easy on the wine later."
"Oh, I will," Charity said, "and to pick up a few teabags if you haven't already."
Charity laughed as Clio gave her a playful shove.
"Hello ladies, I'm not goin' to have to separate yeh, am I?" Hagrid said, taking his seat at the end of the table. Clio was happy to see him in a good mood for the first time since the beginning of term.
“Why yes, Hagrid. Tell this bitch to keep out of my face,” Clio said.
The Halloween feast reminded her of Thanksgiving back in America, and she felt a pang of longing for both her biological and Salem families. The elves had concocted a few vegetarian pasta dishes and had even prepared a sort of hummus that wasn't half bad. Clio was pleased when she succeeded in convincing several other people to try it. Most of them took just enough to be polite, but Hagrid liked it enough to devour a large scoop and then go back for seconds. Of course, he ate everything in such large quantities that it was hard to judge how much he had actually liked it.
The ghosts' after-dinner formation gliding was amusing, but by that point Clio couldn't wait for the feast to end. Charity's comments had made her nervous for the party and what might come afterwards. She wished she'd brushed her hair a little more thoroughly, and hoped that her breath was okay.
Finally, dessert was cleared and the students began filing out to their dormitories. Clio lingered behind in the hall with Charity to try and convince Aurora to stick around for a while. By the time they'd convinced her to join them in the staffroom, the students had completely cleared out. Hagrid and Pomona were already there, sunk into adjacent armchairs. Poppy and Madam Hooch were not far behind. No sooner had they started the music and cracked open the first bottle of wine when Professor Flitwick burst in.
"Party's canceled! There's been a break in! All the students are returning to the great hall. We need everyone here to help search the castle." The music shut off with a wail. A collective chorus of consternation rose up.
"A break in? How? Who?"
"Apparently, it was Sirius Black. We don't know how, yet. All right, everyone pair up. Aurora, come with me. Clio you go with Hagrid."
"I'll go with Charity," said Professor Sprout. Flitwick nodded, "Rolanda and Poppy then. The others are already searching. Wands out, let's go."
Clio and Hagrid were assigned the ground floor including the kitchens and the owlry. Clio followed Hagrid, wand in hand. Although he carried no wand, Clio thought that his great size and formidable fists carried their own advantages. He also carried a rather curious umbrella, almost like a security blanket, that Clio supposed might do for a weapon in a pinch.
They crept silently down a narrow corridor, and she marveled at how such a large man managed to move carefully enough to not knock the paintings off of the walls. At the kitchen entrance they lit their wands to penetrate the deep shadows gathering in the seemingly endless pantries. They searched each darkened corner, finding nothing more sinister than strings of drying peppers and racks of smoked hams.
They retraced their steps back to the main stairs, meeting up with Professors McGonagall and Lupin there.
"There's no sign of him in Gryffindor tower," McGonagall said sternly. "No sign of the Fat Lady, either."
"The Fat Lady?" Clio asked, confused.
"The one from the painting that guards the tower entrance," Remus explained, looking shaken.
"Black slashed it to ribbons," McGonagall said.
"Oh," Clio said, wishing she had something more intelligent to say.
"We didn't find anythin' down here, either," said Hagrid.
“The hams are secure,” Clio interjected.
"We're movin' on to the Owlry, nex'," Hagrid finished.
McGonagall nodded briskly. "Very good, I'll report to Dumbledore. Remus, can you check on the students?"
"Of course," he answered, peeling off without meeting Clio's eyes. She looked after him for a moment.
"Ready?" Hagrid asked.
"Yeah, let's go," she said.
Their search of the owlry was similarly uneventful. They quickly determined that Black was not there, and then spent some time peering out the many windows, thinking that if he was still on the grounds that maybe they'd catch a glimpse of movement from this height. Hagrid pointed out Harry's owl, Hedwig, a beautiful snowy white bird who was impossible not to appreciate.
"Well, thanks for the tour," Clio joked to Hagrid as they returned once again to the staff room. There were so many hidden shortcuts and odd little doors and passageways leading down from the owlry to check that it was after 2:00am when they returned to the staffroom.
Except for Dumbledore, who was interviewing paintings to find a replacement for the Fat Lady; Filch, who was searching the dungeons; and Snape, who was making a second pass of the third floor, the search of the castle was complete. Everyone else stood huddled in a circle, too riled up to sit down.
"It's the anniversary tonight, isn't it. Is that why he broke in?" Clio asked.
"We believe so," McGonagall answered her.
"I just don't understand how Black could have gotten past the dementors without them stopping him," Charity said.
"The dementors didn't stop him getting out of Azkaban," Remus said softly.
"What's the point of even having them here, then?" Charity demanded.
"Dumbledore would like to be rid of them," Pomona responded.
"As would I," Flitwick shuddered. "What I want to know is how he got past all of the protective enchantments on the castle!"
"He's obviously learned from his master," Remus said, sounding pained. "He was always very clever."
Snape returned from his search of the third floor just before 3:00am, reporting that it was clear. Clio noticed that his eyes kept sliding toward Remus. If Remus was aware of Snape's scrutiny then he didn't acknowledge it. He seemed too wrapped up in his own troubled thoughts to acknowledge much of anything. Filch returned soon after, and Snape volunteered to check in with Dumbledore.
"We never even drank the wine," Charity said, as they shuffled off to bed.
Clio snorted, doubling back to fetch the deserted bottle. "Want to split it now?"