Chapter 28 : Skating on the Edge of Disaster
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Skating on the Edge of Disaster
Harry looked up in alarm to see a very angry Marlene bearing down upon him. Her eyes were burning with fury and she looked ready to throttle him with her bare hands. He slowly backed away from the book, his eyes wide. “Aunt Marlene!” he exclaimed. “I . . . I just wanted to have a look—”
The angry witch came to stand in front of the podium. “That book, young man, is a very ancient and dangerous spellbook. You had no business laying a finger on it! Didn’t anyone ever teach you not to touch magical objects you know nothing about? Or that belong to other people?”
“I’m sorry,” Harry apologized, hoping to appease her. He had a feeling he was on dangerous ground. “All I did was open the clasp. If the book shouldn’t be touched, why isn’t it locked up?”
Her eyes narrowed. “If I don’t wish to lock up a book in my home, that is my decision. Don’t be cheeky. You are never to touch this book again, am I understood? I don’t need your grubby fingers all over it, and I doubt if you will understand anything in it. I will not tolerate any disobedience, Harry James. I told you to stay in your room and here I find you wandering about, touching spellbooks that aren’t yours.” Her mouth narrowed to a thin cold line. “I’m going to teach you a lesson, young man. Hold out your hand.”
Puzzled, Harry did as she asked, holding his hand out with the palm facing up. There was a loud hiss and then a ruler came out of nowhere and smacked him across the hand three times with the ruler. Harry yelped, unable to help himself. “Oww! But I didn’t do anything to the book! I didn’t know I couldn’t touch it.”
“Don’t make excuses for yourself.” She said in a cold tone. “Like a coward Slytherin.”
“Slytherins aren’t cowards and I’m not making excuses,” Harry blurted before he could think better of it.
“How dare you contradict me? I’m your elder and your godmother!” she snapped.
Harry yelled in pain as the ruler promptly smacked him hard on the bum. He jumped and tried to turn about, but the ruler followed him and whacked him several more times, until his bottom was throbbing and he was sobbing softly.
“Are you going to answer me back again?” she growled.
Harry shook his head, tears streaming down his face. He was cradling his hand against his chest and his other hand was covering his backside, where the ruler hovered. He wasn’t sure which hurt more, his hand or his bottom.
“Good,” she purred. There was an odd light in her eyes, almost like satisfaction, when she gazed at him. “Have you learned your lesson then, child?”
“Yes,” he managed to say.
“Yes, Aunt Marlene.”
“Make sure you remember it, or next time you’ll get worse,” she stated, and her eyes were cold and merciless. The ruler vanished with a pop.
Harry shuddered at the look she gave him. It was a look one might have given a misbehaving dog or a slave. It was not a look one would have given a beloved nephew. Harry quickly wiped his eyes on his sleeve. He had never been beaten before, and to have gotten in such trouble over an innocent mistake and a cheeky remark seemed monstrously unfair. Even Snape at his worst had never harmed him so badly. Harry wondered what Marlene would think if she knew that she was more of a tyrant that the Head of Slytherin and more vicious in her punishments than even his relatives.
He looked down and avoided her eyes, but not because he was frightened of her. Well, he was frightened of what she might to do him and that she seemed crazy with hatred towards anyone who was Slytherin or who defended them. But he was not cowed by her viciousness, as she wished him to be. He also had no respect for her and certainly did not like her at all. She was obsessed and cruel towards anyone who didn’t see her viewpoint and his biggest fear was being stuck here.
Abruptly, Marlene placed her hand on his shoulder and said, in a mild voice totally the opposite of what she had been using before, “Come now, don’t sulk. That’s not the way a Gryffindor should behave. You should accept your punishment gracefully and learn from it.”
What am I supposed to learn from it? That you’re an unfair bitch? He thought defiantly. I already knew that! He struggled to keep his face neutral, and not full of defiance and anger. He thought of Severus, and somehow it calmed him. He prayed that Snape and Skull would find him soon. He didn’t know how much more he could take of this crazy woman.
Marlene tipped his chin up, forcing him to look at her. “I’m sorry,” he made himself say, his voice meek. “I’ll behave from now on.”
“I’m glad to hear it. Come, follow me, and I shall show you the rest of my home.” She beckoned him to follow her out of the den and down a short hallway. “Here is the dining room and kitchen. I don’t do much cooking, that’s why I have Prissy, my house elf. She’s served the McKinnon’s for generations.”
Harry looked about, not seeing anyone. “Where is she?”
“Oh, you won’t see her, my servants don’t show themselves to anyone but family. A good servant should be invisible.” Marlene said in a somewhat condescending tone. “Had you been raised by your parents, you would have learned that already. Potter Manor had many house elves, and most you never saw, only the results of their handiwork, like a clean room or a meal presented or clothes cleaned.”
She moved onto another room. “Here is where I brew my potions, this is not to be entered by you at all.” She indicated a room that looked similar to the potions lab at school, only smaller and decorated in Gryffindor red and gold. “There are other rooms along here, empty ones now. Ah, here is one you may like. This was our playroom, my brother’s and mine.”
She opened the door to a rather large room with colorful pictures of mythical creatures painted on it. Inside were bookshelves with colorful books on them, a small table and chairs, couches and a box full of toys. On the table was a chess set, a deck of cards, and some parchment and quills with ink. There was rug on the floor patterned with several jungle animals.
“You may spend as much time as you wish in here,” she said, acting as if she were conferring a great honor on him.
Harry nodded. He thought he was too old for this room, but didn’t bother to point it out. There was a window here and Harry went to look out of it.
It looked over a broad sweep of lawn with some trees, but Harry recognized none of it. It could have been anywhere in England or Scotland. It might not have even been real, he thought, recalling how the Slytherins had charmed windows in their common room, which was under the lake. He turned to Marlene. “It looks nice out. Can I go take a walk?”
“No, dear. Not right now. Perhaps some other time.” She led him back down the hallway and into the dining room. “Would you care to have tea?” She clapped her hands. “Prissy! Bring us some tea!”
Harry felt more than heard something brush past him. But just as he turned to see what it could have been, Marlene said, “You may sit down, Harry. Tea shall be served shortly.”
He made his way gingerly to a chair with a plump cushion and eased himself down on it. It hurt, but he didn’t complain, doubtless Marlene would tell him it was his own fault. He couldn’t believe she expected him to just have tea with her as if she hadn’t beaten him for a mistake. But her face was smooth and serene, maybe that had been commonplace when she had grown up here.
The tea arrived on a silver tea service and there were also some small sandwiches of cress and ham and shortbreads with jam. There were gooseberry tarts and lemon curd custard. Marlene ate daintily and quickly. Harry ate too, the small sandwiches and tarts barely filled him up, but he was careful not to eat too much, and to hold his teacup with his left hand, since his right was still sore and had marks across the palm.
As she poured herself a cup of tea, Marlene tried to strike up a conversation with him. “Did anyone ever tell you about the first time your mum took your dad out on a date?”
Harry looked up from his perusal of the tea service, now why would she bring that up? “No. I . . . I don’t really know too much about them.”
Marlene gave a small smirk. “Well, I was there from the beginning, and I know more about them than anyone, except perhaps Sirius. Lily wasn’t too keen on your dad at first, because he used to hex stupid Slytherins like Snivellus, and once she had been his friend. But I convinced her to give James a try, I said there was no sense in her mooning over a slimy snake who would have turned dark with or without her. You see, at one point she was almost going to forgive that scumsucker, she thought she could save him from the darkness or some such rot!” Marlene laughed, a bitter brittle laugh.
Harry was silent, but inside he was cheering. Then he sobered, because obviously the reconciliation had never happened. “How did you convince her not to?”
“Well, I was her best friend, you know, besides Alice Longbottom. She trusted me. One night I followed some of those snakes across the grounds, they were all Death Eater sons, and I took a picture of them all huddled about some pentacle, I think they were trying to summon up a revenant, and there was one there that sort of looked like greasy Snivellus. And for all I knew it could have been. It probably was. But I wasn’t going to get close enough to get caught. So I took it and showed it to Lily. I told her Snape was there at the meeting, that he was a waste of her time.”
“Then she gave up on him?” Harry asked. He longed to shout that she was a lying piece of crap, but didn’t dare.
“No, she was stubborn and for some reason refused to believe there wasn’t good in him still. But I eventually convinced her he was nothing but an evil manipulative bastard that used her for her own ends. She was depressed at first, and wanted nothing to do with James. But then I brewed her some Calming Draughts and helped her put all her memories of Snivellus as her friend inside her mind and ignore them. Because who needed him anymore?”
Harry gaped at her, wondering if he understood her correctly. “You . . . you made her forget things?”
“Forget things? Like a Memory Charm? No, nothing so drastic. I just helped her put the memories away somewhere in her mind and she threw away the key. From then on, she never mentioned Snivellus again, and when he tried to speak to her, she turned and walked away. But enough about that Death Eater. What’s important is your mum and dad . . .”
Harry listened as she recited a rather saccharine story about Lily and James’ first date at Hogsmeade at Madam Puddifoot’s shop. She made it sound like they were madly in love, but Harry thought it seemed rather sudden. Did one really fall in love that quickly? He would have thought it would take more time. Not that he didn’t believe his parents had loved each other, but . . . the way Marlene told it sounded rather like a fairy tale. Like when the prince woke the fair maiden with a kiss and she loved him instantly.
The other thing that kept going through his head was that Marlene had somehow convinced Lily to forget Severus. And that was scary. What if she tried the same thing on him? He knew he couldn’t let that happen, but how would he know she was even doing it, if he had forgotten the person he was supposed to remember?
Marlene prattled on and on about what a perfect couple Lily and James had made and how brave James was and how Lily was brilliant with charms and potions. Harry listened with half an ear, for he didn’t trust Marlene to tell him the truth. Not after what he had seen her do and she had done to him. He pushed his plate back. “I’m finished. Thank you.”
He would have tried to leave, he was hurting still and wanted to go back and lie down, but she insisted he stay and pulled out an old blue leather album, which contained pictures of Marlene, Sirius, Lupin, and the Potters. Harry would have enjoyed the pictures more without Marlene’s input. He tried to feel a connection between the people in the photos and himself, but he couldn’t. It was like looking at characters in a book, they had shape but no substance. He stared at a picture of Sirius, thinking he was a nice fellow, and it was too bad they couldn’t meet one day, but that was unlikely considering he was in Azkaban. He felt himself start to drift off, for Marlene’s voice was soporific
He heard the thunk of something being set down in front of him. He noticed it was a potion of some sort. “What’s that?”
“A pain reliever,” she replied. “Go on, drink up!”
Harry hesitated, but with Marlene here, there was no way he could pretend to drink the potion. He took a swallow and then another. It didn’t taste bad and it did numb the pain from him. He stood up and said, “May I be excused, please? I’m kind of tired.”
“Yes, run along and take a nap. I need to do some research. Dinner is at 7 and after we can talk more about your parents. I have lots of stories to tell from their schooldays and after you were born.” She waved him off.
Harry went gratefully. As soon as he reached his room, he looked for a quill and parchment. Then he began to write, leaning over the nightstand.
My name is Harry James Potter.
I am a Gryffindor at Hogwarts
My guardian is Severus Snape
He has a familiar named Skull, who calls me bran-boy.
I was brought here against my will
I need to escape this crazy woman who calls herself my godmother
Not all Slytherins are bad
I trust Severus, he is a good man
My mum trusted Severus, he was her friend
Marlene lies, she can’t be trusted.
I must get away, and remember this
Please Severus, find me soon!
He let the ink dry, the stuffed the paper into his pillow, where it would crackle when he lay down, reminding him that it was there. He figured he would look at it every night before he went to bed and so remember what he needed to.
He put his head down and soon fell asleep.
In his dreams he heard the voice of the book again, calling him.
Child of prophecy, come to me. You are the one destined to inherit me.
I can’t! She’ll . . . she’ll kill me.
Not if she does not know you are there. Come to me when the clock chimes three AM. There are things you must learn and only a limited time in which to do so.
Can you help me escape?
Come and find out.
Harry woke and felt a little bit better than before, though he was still tender. He recalled the strange yet familiar voice in his dream, and he knew it was the book. The book had called to him. But had it been real or just a dream? He walked down to the dining room after checking his watch, it was almost seven. As he passed the book sitting upon its pedestal, he thought he saw the emerald eye wink at him. He concealed a smile. He would return at 3 in the morning and see what the book wanted. Whatever it wished couldn’t be half as bad as what Marlene wanted.
Dinner that night was baked chicken with thyme and rosemary seasoning, mashed potatoes, and broccoli, plus small rolls with butter. The only thing Harry really liked about being here was that the food was good, as good as the food at school. But he didn’t drink the pumpkin juice, for he suddenly recalled that Marlene could put a potion into it. He would wait and drink some water from the tap in the loo before going to bed.
After they had eaten the strawberry trifle, Marlene took Harry into the den and began regaling him with all sorts of stories about Quidditch games James had played in and won, and pranks he had played with Sirius, and the rest of the Marauders. Harry would have liked her to go into more detail about the Quidditch games, so he could maybe pick up some tips, but Marlene only knew things like how many goals James scored and not strategy. Some of the pranks were amusing, but Harry didn’t like the fact that Marlene said Slytherins were their usual targets. At least when the twins pranked people, they did so to everyone, in all the Houses, even their own.
But Marlene seemed not to notice his disapproval, and continued her rant against Slytherins and Death Eaters. Her words were pure vitriol, and they sent shivers down Harry’s spine.
“Someday, I shall rid the world of the Death Eaters . . . all of them. I have the power now to do it. I have all the ancient might of the Codex Magicka at my command.”
Harry guessed that was the name of the ancient book. “Where did you get it?”
“From the Society of Ravens.”
“You’re a member?” Harry was in shock. Marlene was the last person he’d ever expect to belong to that!
“No, I was an initiate,” Marlene said, her lips pursed. “They told me I was too unstable and they refused to let me advance further.”
Harry could definitely see why. Of course, he wasn’t about to say that and risk a second session with her bloody ruler. So what he said instead was, “Oh, that’s too bad.”
“Yes, it rather was. But no matter, I have what I wanted now anyway. For all their knowledge and magic, they didn’t even think about countering an undead. Revenants are smarter than your average ghost, more powerful, and they can walk through walls and scan minds.” Marlene said smugly.
Harry didn’t know what she was talking about. But whatever sort of creature Marlene liked he was sure he wouldn’t. He changed the subject back to his parents, and asked if Lily had ever invented potions or spells. Marlene told him that yes, his mother had invented a potion or two with that worm Snivellus, and she had invented several spells in charms and won Flitwick’s Most Ingenious Student Award.
“How about my dad?”
“Your dad was excellent at Transfiguration. And he became an Animagus in his third year, which is exceedingly rare, since most students can’t even learn that spell until fifth year. His form was a white stag.”
“That sounds neat!” Harry said excitedly. He wondered if he would ever be able to change shape, and if so, what he would be.
“Indeed. I wouldn’t doubt you’ve inherited his talent as well. What subjects do you excel at, Harry?”
“Umm . . . I’m good at Defense, and Potions and Charms. I still have a bit of trouble with Transfiguration and History of Magic, and I’m okay in Astronomy and pretty good in Herbology.” Harry said honestly.
Marlene’s face twisted into a grimace when she heard Harry say he was good at potions. She knew quite well who the potions teacher was at Hogwarts and she couldn’t stand when Snape the creep was shown in a good light. “You must have inherited your mother’s aptitude for potions then, because I can’t imagine Snape being a good teacher,” she sneered. “Tell me, Harry, has he ever issued detention to you?”
“And I’ll bet it was an unfair one, wasn’t it?” she probed, malice in her gaze.
“Uh, actually, it was—”
“That’s what I thought,” she declared, not letting Harry finish. “Has he started spouting any propaganda yet about serving You-Know-Who? Or how magic is might? That’s their slogan, you know. If I were Dumbledore, I would sack Snape on the spot. It’s criminal, letting someone like that teach children! How good of a teacher can he be, with his background?”
Harry stiffened, wanting to tell her off good. But his backside twinged, and he shut his mouth. Severus would have told him that discretion was the better part of valor here. Besides, he knew she would never believe him if he told her that Severus was a good teacher, if a very strict one. So he said nothing, and let her draw her own conclusions, which she would have anyhow.
“Well, you won’t have to put up with his wretched instruction any longer, dear. Because now I shall teach you everything you need to know,” Marlene purred, she reached out a hand and trailed it through Harry’s hair.
He struggled not to flinch away in revulsion. “Yes, Aunt Marlene,” he forced himself to say.
She carded his hair for a few more moments, looking at him with a sickly sweet smile. “Poor child, you have had a hard life, but that shall change now that you live with me. I shall help you on your way to greatness, Harry. And be the mother you’ve never had.”
Harry felt like he wanted to vomit. Her sudden mood changes made his skin crawl. One minute she was a raving lunatic and the next she acted like she was all sweetness and light and concerned over his welfare. It made Harry even more desperate to get away from here. If only he knew where here was and how to escape without Marlene finding out. But he forced himself to act pleased at her display of affection, smiling woodenly and saying thank you then looking at his feet.
Marlene laughed, a tinkling eerie sound, and said, “Oh, Harry! Have I embarrassed you? I forget, you boys aren’t as comfortable with affection as girls are. But you are a son to be proud of, never doubt that.”
Harry wondered if now were a good time to ask where his wand was. He would need it before he left. “Umm . . . Aunt Marlene? When can I have my wand back?”
“When you need it for lessons. You know you’re not allowed to use magic without adult permission outside of school,” she declared, frowning.
Harry almost choked at the ridiculousness of that statement. First she claimed she wanted to tutor him herself, then she acted like she still had to follow Hogwarts rules, even though she didn’t want him going to Hogwarts! He wished he knew how that made sense. Maybe it only made sense to mad people. Perhaps when he visited the book, he could figure out where Marlene kept his wand. He feigned a yawn and murmured, “I’m really tired, Aunt Marlene. I’m going to bed.”
“That’s fine, dear. You need all the sleep you can get. Good night, Harry.” She pressed her cool dry lips to his forehead.
Harry froze. When she released him, he said a quick good night and scurried down the hall. He entered the bathroom and spent the next five minutes scrubbing his face ad trying to control the shivers that wracked him.
He crawled into bed and pulled the covers up to his chin, praying that she wouldn’t come in to check on him. He carefully reached under his pillow and read the list of things he’d composed to remind him of himself just in case she tried to make him forget. Then he slid the paper back inside and buried his face in the pillow.
He feared he would never sleep, but then he found his eyes closing, and the next time he opened them, it was because he heard the clock in the den chiming three o’clock.
He cautiously slipped from the bed and opened the door. The only light was a dim bulb in the ceiling, just enough to light his way to the loo. But it was enough for him to see to make his way to the den. Before entering, he peered around the corner, half-expecting to see Marlene lurking in her nightgown holding a paddle. But there was no sign of her and the book seemed to glow in the moonlight streaming in from the double window.
Harry approached, and his fingers closed about the cover. He felt a quiver of power race through him as the book stirred and woke. Good. You are here at last.
I am, Harry answered silently. Can you help me get out of here?
Not directly. I am only parchment and ink, I don’t have legs or wings.
You’ve got magic though. Loads of it. Mad Marlene thinks you’re going to give her the power to annihilate the Death Eaters.
She is very mistaken. I call no mad witch mistress. I would put no power in the hands of the insane, and she has a personality disorder.
Tell me about it. One minute she’s blistering my bum over touching something I had no idea I wasn’t allowed to touch and the next she’s calling me her son and petting me like the family dog. Ugh!
He felt a sudden surge of something rather like sympathy from the book. I am sorry you had to endure that. It is not meet for her to treat you so. Fear not, youngling, I shall teach you what you need to know to slip her leash. And all I ask in return is that you take me with you when you leave.
Thanks! I can do that. Uh, am I gonna need my wand? Because I don’t know where she hid it.
No. Because the power is within you, little one. You are a wielder of the Old Magic, and as such you possess powers that ordinary wizards do not.
I do? Skull always said I did, but . . .what are they?
One is instinctive, the ability to sense both good and evil in a person. The other . . . is the ability to project your spirit out of your body and into the ether between this world and the next. Some call it astral projection.
Umm . . . and how will that help me?
Once you learn how to do it properly, you can escape any attempt to control your mind and you may also lead someone or something to you.
How, when I don’t even know where I am?
Your actual location is irrelevant. Your spirit self will always be bound to your body, and it always knows the way back. Unless you spend too long out of your body and then the connection will fade and if that happens, you will die.
What happens to my body while I’m out of it?
It goes into a deep sleep.
Like a coma?
Yes, something like that. The answers to your questions are in here. The book suddenly flew open and flipped rapidly through pages until it stopped on a page titled, Out of Body Experiences and it contained answers to all the questions Harry had asked, plus several more he hadn’t.
I wish I had more time to study this.
You shall. Suddenly there was a viridian flash and Harry was holding a copy of the pages in his hand. Memorize the instructions and then destroy the copy.
Thanks! Harry said happily. For the first time since waking up in here, Harry had hope that he could escape and get help. Clutching the pages to him, he tucked them in his pajama pocket.
Behind him, the Codex shut itself and the sparkle of magic died from the cover.
Harry scurried back to his room, but found he was too tired to study the pages just then. It would have to wait till tomorrow when he was more alert. He quickly hid the book’s instructions under the mattress. Then he tumbled into the realm of sleep and dreamed of Skullduggery flying patrol duty in a strange forest.
So how did you like this one? Who's happy Skull is back?
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