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Chapter 5 : Don't Look Back
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She'd arrived back at the campsite fully expecting Jenn to jinx her with a unibrow or three-foot fingernails for her stupidity, but got off with a light scolding, instead.
“That's what you get for telling me to fuck off!” Bernie bluffed, wagging his finger and swinging his hips in imitation of Jenn before delivering a gentler than usual noogie.
Sara set her bruises right, marveling over how lucky Clio had been as she drew the swelling from her knee with a poultice that smelled like a foul mixture of green tea and garlic.
They had no time to linger over goodbyes, and so before she had time to process the events of the past twelve hours, Clio found herself stumbling up to her grandmother's door; her head fuzzy from a lack of sleep and multiple Apparitions.
She didn't bother to tell her Gran about her escapades, and only blurted out something about an impromptu game of quodpot to explain her filthy condition. Of course, that day's Prophet, complete with animated photographs of the riot, was already spread over the kitchen table.
“What is that awful odor?” Gran asked.
“I don't smell anything,” Clio lied, pushing Nox's quivering black nose away from her knee. Gran's pinched expression showed that she didn't believe her. Clio sighed. She might have skipped visiting Gran's cottage altogether if failing to retrieve her dog wouldn't have caused her further suspicion
Once cleaned up and dressed in proper wizard clothes, Clio tiptoed down the hall from her room toward the cabinet where she knew Gran kept all of her grandfather's papers. Perhaps anticipating nosiness, Gran had locked it with some combination of spells that she hadn't been able to break. Not yet, anyway. Clio held her breath for a moment to listen to her grandmother. Hearing her voice rising up from the kitchen (talking to the cat), Clio braved the last three steps to the cabinet and tried the door once again. One by one, she whispered every unlocking spell she knew. The handle rattled at last, filling her with an elation that was dashed as soon she realized that the action was only a side effect of her wand's frustration.
“I'm frustrated too,” she muttered to it, then wondered when she had begun talking to things that didn't talk back. “Don't answer that,” she told Nox. The dog winked one of her wide brown eyes. Clio tried to shake the fog from her head. Sudden footsteps in the hall directly below convinced her to give up, and she slumped down the stairs to grab her bag, broom, guitar and politely kiss her Gran on one papery cheek, all without ever meeting her gaze.
A moment later she was passing under the winged boars that guarded the gates to the school, Nox at trotting at her heels. Clio must have Apparated them both there, but she couldn't remember doing so. Her feet crashed like elephants across the grounds to the castle, while ghosts conjured by fatigue flitted about the edges of her vision.
She hoped she might sneak into Hogwarts and up to her room undetected. Unfortunately, Poppy was on high alert.
“Stop right there young lady!” she yelled as she pounced. “Let me get a look at you. She pulled her wand and a magnifying glass from a plain black bag and began a head-to-toe inspection, clucking her tongue as she prodded Clio's arms and legs and peered closely at her eyes.
“I don't see any signs of spell damage. How's your head feeling?”
“Professor Snape said you should have your head examined, and I'm inclined to agree,” she said.
“I'm fine, really.”
The healer ignored her, shining her lighted wand into her ears, nose and mouth.
“How has your appetite been?”
“I'm really, really, really fine. There's nothing wrong with me,” Clio insisted.
“You look a bit thin.”
“That's because I haven't been stuffing my face with chocolate,” Clio muttered, anxious to get away.
“Clio! There you are!” Charity shot down the corridor, rescuing her from Poppy's scrutiny with a hug. “Minerva and I stayed up all night in Dumbledore's office. We didn't leave until Snape reported back that he'd found you!”
Poppy, clucking her tongue but apparently satisfied that Clio wasn't about to fall over, packed up her instruments and left to consult with Pomona about the current bubotubor crop. “Hopefully there's some ready to squeeze, I could use the stress relief today,” she said as she stalked out.
“What happened?” Charity asked, as soon as they were alone in the corridor.
“What did Snape say?” Clio asked, imagining that he'd fabricated some story about singled-handedly fighting off a dozen Death Eaters in order to rescue her.
“Hardly anything. He found your wand in an alley and then went to return it and you threatened him with a rock.”
Clio scoffed. “I didn't threaten him. Well, maybe I did. It made sense at the time.” Truthfully, she could barely remember anything either of them had said that morning.
“You don't have to convince me, I'll take your word for it.” Charity hugged her again, then sighed. “Now I've got to try and compose a letter to Derrick that will explain about you-know-who.”
“Easy! Just say he's the wizard equivalent of Hitler. Or the Master.”*
“Hitler. Right, got it,” she said.
Clio thought McGonagall appeared slightly less stoic than usual when she floated by her a minute later. She nodded snappily and said, “Dumbledore would like to see you. Glad to see you're in one piece,” before continuing on to her office.
Clio trudged slowly up the stairs. Had there always been this many steps, or had they reproduced exponentially over the summer? She desperately desired to fall into bed, but stopped in Dumbledore's office on the way to brief him on what she'd witnessed at the Cup. Mercifully, he didn't inquire about exactly what had happened after she'd leapt on to Rowle. Not-so-mercifully, he was interested in hearing about her personal life.
“I trust you had a … productive summer?” he asked, bright blue eyes taking in even the most subtle of changes in her demeanor.
“Yes,” she answered, fighting to keep her eyes open and wondering what he meant. It had been an interesting summer, to say the least.
“And your family is well?” he asked.
“As well as they can be,” she replied flatly. Her mind had already begun to drift...
After Egypt, she had visited her parents just long enough to establish that her father was settling into his new job; remembering to set the alarm clock, for instance, and then remembering to deposit his pay check when it arrived. Even after nearly twenty years in the muggle world he was capable of forgetting simple things like that. Satisfied that her parents were going to be okay, she'd moved on to her sister's.
Calliope had eyed her recently shorn hair with silent concern while her niece and nephew had looked impressed, which caused her sister more concern. She'd ended up spilling everything about Remus that night after the kids went to bed.
“And your school friends?” he asked her.
“All hanging in there,” she said with a shrug. “Have you ever been to Maxwell Street, Dumbledore?”
He chuckled. “I haven't. I suspect it's a remarkable place if even half of the stories I've heard are true.”
Clio smiled. She had never experienced another wizard market like it. You could quite possibly buy anything on Maxwell Street. “A friend of mine just opened a guitar shop there. I spent most of the summer helping him out and bumming around with all the musicians who came by.”
“Sounds splendid,” Dumbledore said, eyes twinkling in a way that made her think that he guessed far more than she admitted. “I'd heard the market might be shut down,”
“It very nearly was. The city wanted it; eminent domain and blah blah blah. The local wizarding council ended up moving it to the space between buildings on the corner of Maxwell and Halsted. You access it from a Polish sausage stand. Just ask for a hot dog with ketchup.”
His shaggy eyebrows shot up. “What if someone really does want a hot dog with ketchup?”
She smiled. “You don't put ketchup on a hot dog in Chicago, it's practically a law.”
“Is that new?” Dumbledore asked. It took her a moment to realize that he was referring to the winged heart flying about her left arm.
“Yes, one of my friends did it,” she said. “It's our old house logo. If you look very closely, there are runes mixed into the design. They change depending on my mood.”
Dumbledore chuckled. “What did your grandmother have to say about it?”
“Oh, she doesn't even know it exists, yet.”
He nodded. “Long journey, from Boston to Galloway.”
She shrugged. Crossing the Atlantic through a combination of apparition and flying was not for the fainthearted. “It still beats flying coach.”
“I trust it was worth your while?” he continued.
“Oh, well, Galloway is lovely this time of year,” she said, then (suddenly remembering why she'd returned so early) dropped her voice. “I didn't make much progress in the matter I discussed with you at the end of last term, if that's what you mean.”
She'd had two weeks alone before her friends arrived for the Quidditch World Cup, and intended to learn as much about her grandfather's work at the Ministry during that time as possible. Getting into the Ministry had been easier than getting past her Gran, although twice she'd been caught snooping around the Department of Mysteries and booted out.
She had managed to familiarize herself with the basic layout of the department, and had even snuck into the Space Room for a mind-blowing three minutes. One unmarked room, tucked out of the way, securely locked, and apparently deserted each day she'd passed by, had moved up her mental list (ahead of Death and just behind Time) of those to explore.
She'd identified a few of the department employees, but had not been able to get close enough to any of them to ask questions.
One, she was sure of this, had looked at her, startled, as if he'd seen a ghost. She'd made a mental note when someone else shouted, “Bode!” and he turned his head. A few hours of research in the Ministry library (the librarian there watching her in a very Pince-like manner the entire time) had turned up a Broderick Bode who had started working in the department during her grandfather's tenure there. Perhaps she could write him a letter.
And that was all she'd found. She'd learned almost as much from Doge at the World Cup. Croaker and Bode: two names for her to contact.
“And what of the other matter we discussed,” Dumbledore said, with a knowing tilt of his head. It took Clio another moment to catch his meaning, and once she did felt her face grow warm.
“Oh, um,” she mumbled, “I think I found the answer I was looking for, there.”
Her research into Snape near the tail end of the summer had proved slightly more fruitful. She wasn't sure exactly why she did it. Maybe she hoped to find something she could hold over his head – not blackmail exactly, but revenge for outing Remus. Maybe she'd also wanted to know why Dumbledore trusted him.
First she'd confirmed her suspicions that he was a half-blood, then she'd tracked down the address of the house where he'd grown up. She might have left it at that, if her efforts to track down Remus's whereabouts hadn't come to a dead end.
“Well,” Dumbledore said, clapping her on the shoulder. “Your tattoo seems to think that it's time for a nap, and not more idle chit chat.”
“I am a bit tired,” she admitted, bleary mind fumbling back to the present as Dumbledore finally released her from his steady gaze. How much of what she left unsaid had he guessed on his own?
Clio woke up feeling well rested the next morning, and shuffled into her bathroom to get cleaned up for the day. That's when she discovered the withered brown leaves.
Every last one of the plants in her bathroom had died. Pomona had given her some special end-of-term instructions to see them through the summer, and apparently she'd forgotten all of them. She felt stupid for crying over plants, but blubber she did as she bathed.
After dressing, she rolled all the dead vines into a ball, shrunk them down to a size that would fit in her pocket, then carried them out to the compost pile behind the greenhouses and tossed them in. Nox got the wrong idea and returned them to her, so they ended up playing fetch until the dog grew bored and shook the vine ball to shreds.
Now all that was left of the formerly living wall was a tray of dirt and an empty wooden frame. It was a bit of a relief to not have to worry about killing the plants, anymore. They could only die once, thankfully. She had a blank canvas to work with, and though she was unsure of what to do with it, felt that adding new plants would be a terrible idea.
She needed to think, and so traipsed downstairs to the dungeon-level photo lab. She was greeted in the corridor just outside by several stacks of boxes: all of the photo supplies she'd ordered for the new school year.
Snape's door was shut and no light crept out; he was either out or still asleep. She glanced at her watch. It was nearly noon, so he would have no right to complain about her playing music.
She unlocked the lab and moved every last box inside with a few waves of her wand. She listened to Black Magic while unpacking and shelving everything, and brewing fresh developing potions. She was singing along when a shadow fell through the open door.
“Ah, Callimachus, it's only you. I thought that someone might be torturing a house elf,” Snape purred. Water dripped from the ends of his cloak, leaving a puddle on the floor; apparently it was raining.
“How can you not like funk?” she asked, crossing her arms over her chest. “How's it feel to have no soul?”
He stared coldly at her for a moment, and (as always) it was impossible for her to tell what was going on behind those black eyes. Surely, even he should be able to grasp that lame little attempt at a joke.
“Anyway,” she continued, “I hope you haven't forgotten the wager we made. I've got hours and hours of new music to introduce to you. Sooner or later we'll find something you like.”
“Dumbledore has called a staff meeting for two o'clock this afternoon,” he said, turning and sweeping off down the corridor. “Don't be late.”
“Thanks,” she said, and had turned back to her potion before realizing that she'd thanked him, again. She'd thanked him far too many times over the past two days. At what point would the scales tip far enough in his favor that she'd have to forgive him?
The meeting that afternoon proved to be unexpectedly emotional. Clio glanced around at all of the now-familiar faces, marveling at how last year's meeting seemed as if it had happened just yesterday and simultaneously a lifetime ago. Flitwick nodded and smiled, Hagrid gripped her in a scratchy bear hug, Pomona squeezed her in one of her warm, squishy hugs, and even Aurora hugged her in a polite, ladylike way.
“A'most didn' recognize yeh with short hair!” Hagrid exclaimed, ruffling the top of her head.
“Have you lost weight?” Pomona asked, looking her up and down after a second squeeze.
“Maybe a little,” Clio said, looking down at herself. She actually had no idea how much she weighed. “I just haven't been able to stuff my face over the summer like I do here,” she said.
“You and Charity both,” Pomona added.
“Clio doesn't even need to lose weight. Her ass isn't threatening to pop out of the top of her jeans like mine is,” Charity muttered.
“Oh stop!” Pomona said, pinching her cheek. “You've got a lovely hour-glass figure.”
“Let's get this meeting underway,” Dumbledore said then, rescuing Clio before the conversation could turn to the topic she really dreaded: her dead plants. “You've no doubt all heard about the riot at the World Cup,” he continued, “some of you were actually there.” He looked at Charity as he said this, and Clio watched with interest as most of the eyes in the room turned toward her friend. Out of everyone there, McGonagall met her eyes for a moment before looking sharply away. And Snape, of course; she felt his black gaze press down on her for a moment, as well.
“While these events were unfortunate, they will not prevent rose from the staff, although Clio noted that none of the heads of houses expressed surprise. McGonagall's temple began throbbing, and her lips pressed tight. Snape scowled. Flitwick tutted to himself, and Pomona shook her head.
“What's the Tri-Wizard Tournament?” Clio whispered to Charity.
“It's a competition. I'll explain later,” she whispered back.
“I understand everyone's concern,” Dumbledore continued. “The timing of the Ministry's request to revive the tournament is … intriguing to say the least. Extra precautions will be taken of course, to ensure the students' safety. Only students who have come of age will be allowed to participate, and Barty Crouch himself will serve as a judge.”
A few skeptical murmurs buzzed about the room despite his reassurances.
“Also, my good friend Alastor Moody will arrive later this week to take over Defense Against the Dark Arts classes,” Dumbledore added.
Clio looked down at the floor. Hold yourself together, she thought, gritting her teeth. When she looked up again, she caught Snape's eyes darting away, his mouth still pulled into a scowl.
“Out of all the Aurors, there's never been anyone better at sniffing out Death Eaters than Moody,” Dumbledore said.
“He also makes Trelawney look well-adjusted,” Charity whispered to Clio.
“It took some begging on my part to get him to accept the position, so please make him feel welcome. He's agreed to one year, only. He's a bit paranoid when it comes to curses, and has decided not to tempt fate.”
That's interesting, Clio thought.
Dumbledore talked on, “Our guests from Beauxbatons and Durmstrang will arrive in October. We've obviously got a lot of work to do before they arrive, to reinforce our security measures. Mr. Filch, Professor Callimachus, you know what that means.”
Clio looked over to where Filch stood, grumbling, by Madam Pince's side. Clio nodded to him, and he nodded back.
“Once they do arrive, I'll be counting on all of you to enforce our safety rules. We don't want any of our guests to attempt to climb the whomping willow or go walking in the forest and wander into the giant spiders' territory, for instance.”
“Ol' Aragog is peaceful!” Hagrid insisted loudly.
Dumbledore laughed, “Yes, you're quite right, Hagrid, but he does have a great many hungry children.”
“How many extra students will we have this year?” Poppy asked, perhaps already thinking of the injuries she'd soon be treating and wishing she had a ripe bubotubor to squeeze.
“That will depend on how many the Headmaster of Durmstrang and Headmistress of Beauxbatons bring with them. They'll only be bringing sixth and seventh years, and only those who wish to put their names in for the tournament, so it shouldn't be too many for us to handle.”
“I'll need to stock extra everything,” Poppy muttered under her breath.
"Birth control," Charity whispered to Clio with a snicker.
“Off you go now, we've all got work to do,” Dumbledore said, shooing them all out of the staffroom with a wave of his hands.
Pomona, Charity and Aurora collectively cornered Clio before she could escape. Perhaps they had noticed her looking at the floor when Dumbledore mentioned Defense Against the Dark Darks.
“Clio, it's too rainy to enjoy the lake, but how about we come up for tea, and I can help prune and fertilize your plants. I'm sure they'll need it after your summer away,” Pomona suggested.
“I'll bring the tea things,” Aurora said helpfully.
“Oh, that's nice of you, but … the plants are all sort of … dead,” Clio said, her face flushing.
“Oh,” Pomona said, her face falling slack.
“I'm really sorry, I must have forgotten to do all the end of school year things I was supposed to. I did warn you that I'm bad with plants,” she said sheepishly.
“Oh, don't worry about it,” Pomona said. “Your mind must have just been occupied with other things, you know how busy things get at the end of the school year, with exams, and everything,” she babbled, dancing around the what they all knew had been the real distraction.
“Well, maybe we can take a look at what's left, and help you redecorate,” Charity suggested.
“I've been thinking of putting up photographs,” Clio said.
“That's probably safer than more plants,” Pomona said, suddenly unable to suppress a giggle.
Clio cracked a quarter of a smile. “Yeah, that's what I thought, too.”
It rained all that day and the next day as well, but Clio didn't mind so much. She had to spend her time indoors, anyway, laying security runes with Filch. She'd have thought that she would be able to find all of the secret shortcuts and entrances herself by then, but the castle had an odd habit of shifting itself around. Not just in obvious ways, like the staircases, but in subtle ways, as well. She swore that the corridor that led to the photo lab, for instance, used to be slightly wider than it was now, and took one less turn. The view from her bedroom seemed slightly different, too. Now she saw a little less lake and a little more of the grounds.
The rain continued all week, keeping her out of the lake and in the lab. She developed and scanned through all of her pictures from the Mediterranean and Maxwell Street, debating which ones to blow up for display. She placed an additional supply order for canvas sheets, thinking that she may as well teach the photo club how to make large-scale prints while she was at it.
She listened to new music exclusively as she worked; the old stuff recalled too many memories. She mostly played Black Magic and sometimes Monsters and Muggles, waiting for Snape to bang on her door just to tell her just how awful they sounded. She found herself falling in to comfortable patterns. She walked into Hogsmeade with Charity one night for a drink, and down to Hagrid's cabin the next afternoon for tea and rock-hard biscuits. He showed off the blast-end skrewts he'd bred over the summer and, as much as she detested killing, she was fleetingly tempted to burn the lot of them after catching a glimpse of the blood suckers protruding from their bellies.
The weather for the first day of school fit the very definition of dark and stormy. Professor Moody didn't arrive on the train with the students, and had yet to arrive when the feast began. The longer he remained absent, the harder Clio had to fight the intrusion of her first memory of Remus Lupin, and the desperate hope that he would once again stride i. Dinner was already through (Clio managed a half-hearted chuckle when Charity offered her spotted dick for dessert) and Dumbledore had just broken to the students that there would be no quidditch that year when the doors to the great hall burst open to admit what she could only classify as a close cousin of the Frankenstein monster.**
His face was a mess of mangled meat, out of which stared a gigantic glowing blue eye. He walked with a heavy staff, as well as a claw-footed false leg. The entire hall fell silent to follow his progress up to the staff table. This could only be Moody, Clio thought, as he clunked his way up to the one empty seat, taking a long pull from a hip flask as he sat down. Seemingly oblivious to the watching crowd, and even to Dumbledore's warm introduction, Moody began jabbing and devouring the sausages on the plate nearest him.
The oppressive silence that followed in his wake lasted until Dumbledore announced the Triwizard Tournament, and Fred Weasley broke it with one perfectly placed exclamation.
Clio exchanged a look with Charity as the blonde burst out laughing. Suddenly aware that she was hungry, she helped herself to a thick slice of pumpkin bread. Had she actually forgotten to eat over the summer?
The atmosphere in staffroom that evening was more subdued than usual. Clio listened to the ticking of the clock on the wall and the uncomfortable shifting of feet as the teachers congregated in small clusters, all observed by Moody's roving eye.
“That thing really creeps me out,” Charity whispered to Clio.
“Me too,” she replied.
She glanced at Moody, watching him clunk around the room, never touching the wine that had been opened, but drinking liberally from his flask. Clio nursed her own wine, wanting to make it last. She didn't fancy a repeat of last year, when she'd started the term with a massive hangover.
“Look at him look at Snape,” she said to Charity. Moody stalked by the low arm chair where Snape sulked with his wine, eye swiveling to watch him even after his body had passed by. Snape seemed as discomfited by his magical eye as she was, because he made a point of avoiding Moody's gaze, directing his glower at the opposite wall, instead.
“Of course he hates him,” Charity whispered. “He's an ex-Auror; he's probably thinking he'd like to toss Snape in to Azkaban.”
Clio felt a chill run down her spine as the eye rolled around to examine her. If she sometimes felt naked under Snape's scrutiny, then she felt transparent under Moody's. It was as if he could look right through her skin to see her heart beating like mad against her ribs. The eye moved on.
“Let me refill that,” Charity said to Clio, as she drained her wine glass.
“No, I'm fine.”
“You're stopping at one?” Charity's eyebrows rose practically to her hairline.
“Yeah, that's all I want.”
“Yeah right,” she scoffed.
“What's that supposed to mean?” Clio asked.
“I've never seen you turn down a drink.”
“Well, I am now.”
Charity tried to laugh it off. “There's no harm in being a lush. Just don't end up like Trelawney.”
“I'm not a lush.” Clio glanced around the room to where Professor Trelawney was sucking in sherry as if it were air. “From now on, only one drink for me.”
“Oh come on, you'll never stick to that. What about birthdays? New Year's?”
Clio shook her head. “Only one.”
“I'll believe it when I see it,” Charity said, oozing skepticism.
“Fine. Watch me,” Clio was properly irked, now.
“So, what do I get when you inevitably fail?” Charity asked, waggling her eyebrows in challenge as she refilled her own glass and tipped the bottle toward Clio's.
Charity laughed. “Come on, there has to be a risk and reward involved.”
“Let me think on it.”
Hagrid approached tipsily, warming up his voice with a salty sea chanty. Praise Merlin, Hagrid seemed to be immune to the damper Moody cast over everyone else.
“Drunken singalong! How can we have drunken singalong while sober?” Charity wailed.
“I sing a lot better when I'm sober. I'll play whatever you guys want,” Clio said, setting her glass down and retrieving her guitar from the chair where'd she'd laid it. The beech wood glowed mellow gold in the soft fire and lamp light. The strings rippled under her hands, tuning themselves as she fit her wand into the notch in the neck.
I've got your wand, Snape said. She sighed. Was she doomed to remember the night that Snape had retrieved her wand every time she played?
“What'll it be? A bawdy ballad? A folk hero ballad?” She strummed a few idle chords while they debated, her eyes wandering about the room and settling on Snape where he sulked in his chair. A wicked thought came into her head, and before Hagrid and Charity could settle on a tune she launched into “Red Haired Mary,” an Irish pub song that everyone and their mother knew by heart.*** Half the room was soon singing along, drunk or not. Snape glowered at the wall, though whether he'd picked up on the significance of her song choice was a mystery.
Her two partners having settled their dispute, they segued straight into the ballad of a vengeful witch who enchants a river to keep her son from crossing over to rescue his pregnant lover from a wandering rogue. Things didn't end well for the son, his lover, the rogue or the queen; but tragic stories always made for the most compelling songs.
They followed that song with a ballad about a hapless sailor who's pursued by death across the seven seas before finally sailing into the Southern Pacific and disappearing from the earth. By now, Hagrid was listing rather precariously to the right, and Charity kept lapsing into Blur lyrics.
“Anyone have a request?” Clio asked, half in jest. Unexpectedly, McGonagall took her at her word.
“It's been ages since anyone's played 'The Two Magicians,'” she said. “I don't suppose you would know it?” she continued, her eyes looking rather far away.***
Clio nodded. The Scottish ballad about shape-shifting lovers was one passed down to her from her Gran. The usually stern assistant headmistress was singing alone, misty-eyed, by the end. Clio was so startled by her show of emotion that she immediately launched into the silliest song she could think of. There weren't many in her repertoire; she and her guitar seemed to prefer sad songs of late. By the time she reached the first chorus, McGonagall's eyes had recovered their flinty reserve.
It was close to midnight by then. Filch and Pince had already snuck away, and with a yawn Dumbledore suggested that they all head off to bed. She thought she felt Moody's electric blue eye burning into her back as she mounted the stairs toward her room. She figured she must just be paranoid.
* The Master is a recurring villain from Doctor Who created by Sydney Newman, C.E. Webber and Donald Wilson.
** Frankenstein is a creation of Mary Shelly.
*** "Red Haired Mary" and "The Two Magicians" are both traditional folk songs that have been recorded by multiple artists.
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