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Chapter 4 : A Rat in the Kitchens
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A/N: An enormous thank you is extended to indyheart for being my splendid beta-reader! She has been of monumental assistance!
Albus was falling.
He always fell, floating toward the ground in torturous slow motion. His eyes were always devoid of light as he drifted lifelessly through the air. Every time, right before he hit the ground where his body would crumble against the unforgiving terrain in a pool of robes, he returned to the window whence he would fall, and it would start all over again.
Grace never knew why he was falling, or why he was dead for that matter, but it startled her out of her sleep again, as it had always done.
She frowned, blinking into the darkness. She was mildly considering pulling the covers over her head and allowing herself to go back to sleep. Her stomach was still heavy from overeating the night before. She had been particularly hungry by the time dinner had arrived after having refrained from eating since before she'd arrived at Hogwarts. Her full stomach made her feel lackadaisical and groggy, but she willed herself out of bed anyway. She had skipped her training on Saturday in her excitement to be close to her Servator. After dinner would have been out of the question, too, as she paid for her overeating in the form of extreme, bloated discomfort.
Being a Trucido, Grace had to maintain her physique. She needed to be agile and strong, she needed to be able to control her magical abilities.
Typically, she would train in the forests surrounding Noctars Institution. She had always savored a forests' attributes that ambushed her senses, giving her the resolve to push herself further and harder even when she believed that she was at her peak. Albus, however, was wary of letting Grace loose in the Forbidden Forest. His logic unreasonable in her opinion, she could certainly handle anything that would prove dangerous in there. Instead, despite her protests, he had shown her what he called the Room of Requirement. It proved adequate, but was nothing in comparison to the thrill of running through the forest.
Grace decided that she would start her day out right. She would hone her skills, shower, enjoy a cigarette that she was sure would steel herself to face the day, and make her way down to breakfast.
It was very important that she went to breakfast, according to Remus. This was when they would be given their timetables, he had told her. He was a prefect, he had to make sure the new student received her timetables, else the system would surely crumble.
Lily had felt the same way, ambushing Grace as Grace had entered her dormitory in desperate search for her bed to sooth her aching stomach.
Gods forbid she did not receive that schedule.
As promised, Grace sat down beside Remus at the Gryffindor table, offering the four boys a friendly smile as she greeted them.
"You're late," Remus said matter-of-factly, using a fork to poke a fried tomato on his plate with indifference.
"You're late," Sirius mirrored primly from across the table. He had an amused smile on his face as he propped his head up with his hand, leaning on the table.
James snorted, continuing to eat his eggs with fervor.
Grace brought her eyebrows together in confusion, looking between Sirius and her brother and then back to Remus, who continued to stare at his tomato. "What?" she asked, still unsure of what he was saying. Breakfast did not end until eight o'clock during the weekdays, she knew it was well before then.
Remus set his fork down on his plate. "You're late," he said again while turning to face her. "They've handed out the timetables already."
"Oh," Grace muttered, feeling a like a small child under his gaze.
Remus reached into his pocket and retrieved a folded piece of paper, offering it to her. He returned a soft smile when she flashed him a sheepish grin as she accepted her schedule.
"You're taking Remedial Potions with me," Peter said offhandedly from somewhere beyond Remus. Grace could not quite see the boy around her Servator.
"Remedial Potions?" she asked, unfolding the paper.
Albus had taken the liberty to sign her up for classes, as the institution she'd graduated from simply did not offer classes like Potions or Herbology. She knew she could trust his decisions in the matter. He was, after all, Headmaster of the school.
James laughed, causing Grace to peek up at him over her schedule. "Not so good at the 'art of brewing potions'?" he asked, exaggerating the last part airily.
"I wouldn't know," Grace muttered, stuffing the paper into her pocket. Her attention, however, was drawn away from James' inquiry as Severus swept into the Great Hall, a book clutched in his hands. She watched him carefully, his movements purposeful and stiff, much like a spider as it tread across a quivering web.
He was not particularly good-looking, Grace noted. His hair was too lanky, too greasy. His nose was a bit too long, crooked slightly at the end. His eyes were a bit too sallow, his skin a bit too pale, and his build a bit too thin. There was something, though, that Grace could see, past the emotions that were bubbling from within her, in those dark eyes.
Grace was in not in love with Severus Snape. She would be, she knew, in time. For what else could she feel for her true love? Their souls were meant for each other, despite the differences in them. So he would come to love her in return, right? Why else would she be able to sense her true love, if she was not supposed to fall in love with him? The protective, territorial feelings that had risen in her when she first met him proved that.
"Earth to Grace? You in there?"
As Sirius' voice registered in her mind she shook her head, refocusing her attention to his gray eyes. He was smirking at her, his head cocked to the side.
"Are you listening to us," he pressed.
"Oh, sorry." Grace grinned at him. "Got distracted."
She grabbed a piece of toast, glancing around at the boys. "What were you saying?"
"You know..." Grace began, interrupting Remus from his reading. She found herself outside, once more seated beneath the large tree she had found the boys under the day before.
James, Sirius and Peter were chatting about the upcoming Quiddich tryouts. James was the Captain of the Gryffindor team and an exceptionally good Chaser, whatever that meant. Sirius was a Beater and Peter had not had enough 'skill' to join the team in the past but was going to try out again this year. Sirius had suggested that he not try for the Seeker position because Peter had no luck with the Snitch. Grace had long abandoned attempting to follow that conversation.
"If I were to come with you next Saturday," she offered, "I'll be able to make the transformation significantly less painful, at least."
Remus seemed to blanch a bit, despite already having started to pale with the upcoming moon. "Absolutely not." He stated sternly, regarding her with an astonishment that she would have expected if she had asked him to turn her. "That's way too dangerous."
Grace raised an eyebrow, shaking her head. "Remus, you can't hurt me...I-"
"No, Grace," he said. "Promise me you wont try to come and see me then. You can absolutely not be there." He was staring at her intensely, critically, almost frantically.
She had not noticed the silence that overcame the other three boys as they had stopped their conversation and begun listening to Grace and Remus' until James patted her on the shoulder.
"Listen to Remus, Grace," he sighed. "If he doesn't want you there, then you should respect that."
Grace scowled. "If that's what you want," she muttered, sinking back against the tree.
Remus glanced at James, who shrugged. Slowly, the boys picked up their conversation again and Remus returned to his book. After a moment, either out of boredom or curiosity, Grace peeked over Remus' shoulder at the text he held in his lap. The passage had a picture of a spiky green vine with the name Venomous Tentacula written beneath it. The passage mentioned the potential dangers of the Tentacula's venom and its possible fatality.
He was reading a school book, Grace mused. The idea of reading one of her books prior to classes starting never crossed her mind. The closeness to him allowed her to pick up on something, however. She was unsure exactly what it was, but something was wrong.
Hoping that physical contact would cause a stronger connection, she leaned her head into his arm, inhaling deeply and closing her eyes, disregarding Remus' reaction as he stiffened. She was right, he was feeling a bit ill, most likely due to the impending full moon. There was discomfort in his stomach, he must have been feeling a bit nauseated.
Grace frowned. He would continue to suffer from the side-effects of his lycanthropy if he refused her help, and they would only worsen as the moon grew nearer. Grace reached across his body so that she could lay her hand on Remus' ailing stomach. Hoping to make him feel better, she began to move her hand in slow, comforting circles.
"What in the name of Merlin are you doing now?" Remus demanded, gently grabbing hold of Grace's hand and pushing it back towards her.
"Uhm," Grace uttered, leaning back from him. She glanced up at him, a bit taken aback with the expression that he wore. "Rubbing your belly?"
"Why?" he asked incredulously.
"...You aren't feeling well..."
He sighed in frustration, standing up. "You can't do that," he informed her rigidly.
With another frustrated noise Remus turned from her and headed in the general direction of the castle. She watched him for a moment, wondering what she had done that would cause him to flee. Perhaps she shouldn't have rubbed his stomach, although she did not understand what had caused such controversy.
From the silence came a quiet snigger of laughter, presumably from Sirius. It must have been infectious because soon the other two joined in. They seemed to taper off a bit when Grace turned to look at them curiously.
"You have got to learn boundaries," Sirius said, still chuckling.
James sighed, running a hand through his hair. "Hey, so, me 'n Padfoot are gunna go find Moony," he said, offering her a half-hearted smile. "Uh, Wormy why don't you keep Grace company for...a bit."
Grace frowned as they departed, leaving her and Peter beneath the tree to sulk. James might as well have said, 'Hey, Peter, can you keep my stupid sister out of our hair for a while?'
After a few moments, Grace banged her head backwards against the trunk of the tree. "Balls."
Peter shot her a look.
"Peter...?" She asked, giving him the most pathetic look she could muster. "What the fuck is wrong with me?"
He looked around him for a moment, as if there was another Peter standing near him that Grace was talking to. Finding no such person, he offered her a shrug. "Well...you do come off a bit strong."
"What do you mean?"
"Well...I-I mean that you've only known Remus for a little while and you're kind of, well...." Peter stopped, appearing to be choosing his words carefully. "Overbearing?"
Grace glowered at him. "How so?"
Peter's cheeks turned pink and he sighed. "Well, it's okay if you have a crush on Remus, but he doesn't even know you yet and you are all over him all of the time. And he doesn't like that you know about...you-know-what."
"I do not have a crush on Remus!" Grace asserted forcefully. She leaned in closer to Peter, lowering her voice to just above a whisper. "He thinks I have a crush on him?"
"Well," he sighed. "He thinks you're a bit...stalker...ish."
"What? I've been here all of two days, I don't think that anything I've done to him in that time can be taken to be 'stalkerish'!"
"Maybe you need to back off a bit, anyways?" he offered.
Grace groaned, falling to the ground in defeat. "How do you do it, Peter?" she asked, her voice muffled by her hands that were now covering her face.
"Be friends with him. It seems so complicated."
"It's not complicated. But generally we don't rub each others stomachs, so maybe you should start there...ow!"
She kicked him.
He stared at her, offended, for a moment, before sighing at the pouting girl. "You know what you need?"
Grace answered in silence.
"A peanut butter butty. They always make me feel better."
She propped herself up on her elbows to look at him, frowning. "I don't need a fucking sandwich, Peter."
He gave her a little smile, his large teeth protruding from his lips. "Come on, to the kitchens!"
Grace grumbled incoherently but allowed herself to be dragged away by the boy.
"D'yu wan tawk but ti?" Peter mumbled through his sandwich.
Grace, fluent in the language of talking-with-your-mouth-full due to her years spent with Anne, shook her head at him. "Nope."
She took a bite of her sandwich. It was not working. She wanted to throw it at Peter.
He swallowed, frowning at her. "If it's any consolation, he doesn't hate you."
"You've got an issue with your attitude," he snapped, turning his attention back to the peanut butter.
Grace sighed. She was supposed to be being nice to the boy. "I'm sorry. I guess I'm just not very good with people. It would make it easier with Remus, though, if he didn't have so many rules!"
"You know, like not modifying people's memories, or rubbing his stomach...."
"Those aren't rules, Grace. They're just things that normal people...don't do."
Grace frowned. Maybe he was right. Perhaps she was not a normal person, or at least did not act like one. "Peter!" she gasped, an idea striking her. "Show me how to be a normal person!"
Peter blinked. "I'm an illegal animagus who turns into a rat and runs around with a werewolf once a month...."
"But you're his friend," she pressed, eyes gleaming.
Shifting uncomfortably in his seat, Peter pressed his lips together. "I don't think that normalcy is something that you can actually teach somebody...."
Her face dropped and she glared at him. "Fine."
The simple scratching sound that was borne from a quill meeting a piece of parchment was one of Grace's new favorite things. It was the tranquil noise, the exquisite feel of rough paper beneath her finger tips and the dark curved lines as the quill delicately marked, that calmed her breath. It was the silky tickle of the feathered quill as she brought it to her lips in thought, the melodic rustle of parchment as it was folded. It was the hot liquidated wax that dripped from the looming candle down to the envelope flap with a nearly inaudible thud, sealing with ease, that stilled her racing mind.
Grace sighed, content, and gently tucked her letter to Anne in the roomy pockets of her track suit bottoms. If there was anybody that she could confide in, anybody that Grace could divulge her torturous, long, spectacularly defeating couple of days at Hogwarts to, it was her best friend. Anne would always be the one person that could turn her misery into opportunity.
She was about to make her way to the Owlery when the door to the dormitory opened. The girl who entered Grace did not recognize. Her dark hair was short and tactfully messy, pieces falling over her eyes. A genuine smile graced her face almost immediately when she noticed Grace. Her small frame did not hide the vivacious redhead who entered the room behind her, her face a vibrant shade of crimson that put her hair to shame.
"Grace," Lily said lightly, taking a deep breath to soothe herself. "How are you?"
In return, Grace smiled, only slightly wishing that she had modified the girl's memory before she had made her promise to Remus.
"This is Alice," Lily offered, placing a hand on the smaller girl's shoulder.
Alice gave Grace a small wave. "Hey!" she greeted, moving across the room to flop on what was presumably her bed. "So, have you been enjoying Hogwarts so far?"
With a defeated sigh, Grace frowned.
"Of course you haven't," Lily answered, tutting. "You've been hanging out with that pig-headed brother of yours! I'm not surprised you haven't requested a transfer out of this school." Lily huffed, her arms folded across her chest, and sat on the edge of her own bed. "And that idiotic side-kick of his who thinks he's Merlin's gift to women!"
"Tell me," Alice managed to say between the giggles brought on by Lily's outburst. "Has Black tried his charm on you yet--"
"--why would he do that?" Lily huffed, interrupting the other girl. "He wouldn't want to do anything to upset his precious Jamsie!"
"We've just had the delight of running into them," Alice offered helpfully. "James is starting his wooing early this year. He thinks he's in love with Lily."
"That arse wouldn't know love if it came in the form of a Quaffle and hit his extraordinarily large head!" Lily exclaimed. "He's already started tormenting Severus this year, you know?" she asked, her question directed at Alice.
"I thought you two weren't speaking?" Alice inquired, nonchalantly. "Besides, the git deserves it."
"We're not," Lily snapped. "But that's not the point."
Alice laughed. "What d'ya reckon they've done to upset poor Remus? He looked a bit huffy earlier."
"Poor Remus?" Lily interjected. "He is a big boy who is perfectly capable of choosing his friends. Just because he chose to be friends with the two biggest dunderheads to ever walk the halls of this school doesn't mean he deserves anyone's sympathy for being miserable with them!"
Grace blinked, her eyes moving between the two as they continued their conversation. She felt a bit uncomfortable, and her stomach dropped. Lily knew Severus, she'd seen them together in her visions. It seemed, however, that there had been some kind of altercation between the two. Grace decided it best not to press her for information just yet.
She would try her best not to be 'overbearing' to these girls. Then, perhaps, she would have an actual friend at this school.
The prickling warmth on her wrist knocked Grace out of her thoughts. She frowned, it was her charm. The Congressional Alliances of Cruor Terra were holding a meeting, finally. Grace extended to the girls her quick excuse and found her bag in her chest, swinging it over her shoulder before departing. Her letter to Anne and making friends would have to wait.
Grace had two charms on her bracelet. One, a gift from Anne, was a silver moon. This was her communicative device between her world and the realm of Cruor Terra. Through several long assiduous years, Grace had adequately developed a skill for Alchemy with the assistance of her handbook. She had been able to create a link through the portal between the two worlds, conveniently created by Grace's attempt to reach the realm that would need her the most. The handbook went into some detail about different known portals, several of which her predecessors had become well known in.
Cruor Terra had been engaged in a series of wars first documented in 1732, subsequently deemed the Vampire Wars after the creatures they fought. Vampires were barbarous creatures whose blackened souls were cursed to remain within their bodies; keeping them living, unable to leave the world in death while every being they had ever cared about would grow old and wither away. It was first instituted as a punishment for those who had committed the most heinous of crimes; they would be securely sealed away in heavily guarded imprisonments to live out their tormented existence in darkness.
As their numbers increased, however, they would prove to be of greater danger than anyone could have imagined. The escapes happened slowly at first, a few vampires disappearing from their damp cells in the middle of the night, but increased with astounding vigor. Imprisonments were destroyed for weeks until, at last, they all were free. They had sought justice on the people who had cursed them, a mission that had swiftly become one of vengeance. Those who were not like them, those who were blissfully mortal, would either succumb to the fate of becoming a vampire or would die a painful death.
Shortly after the escapes, the attacks began. The escapees would come in the night while villages slept, defenseless. Always, they would capture their victims silently, taking as many as they could in a single foul swoop. The singular method in which they killed soon became a trademark for them, earning them the name of vampire. They would impale their victims upon pikes in the dooryard to their dwellings. They would use their victims' blood as warpaint to boast their triumph.
With an eternity to live, their souls would become ever darker until they eventually became demonic. With such a soul, the vampires' physical appearances would change. The darker the soul, the more demonic and beast-like they would become. Their skin would gray and ashen, their features leaving behind only traces of the human that they once were. In theory, you could tell how old a vampire was by how monstrous they appeared.
That was, until they began using blood magic. By killing innocent people—those of pure hearts and souls—and bathing ceremoniously in their blood, ingesting it before the victims died, the vampires could retain the resemblance of the humans that they once were. Blood magic is a very strong ancient magic with the downfall of expiring after a certain length of time, varying slightly with the skill of its wielders.
The only way known to stop a vampire is to destroy the brain, as that would render the rest of their body useless.
Grace preferred decapitation, which would sever the brain from the body. In that state, the brain would slowly die on its own.
The Congressional Alliances of Cruor Terra formed in the early 1900s as an attempt to stop the monsters from destroying the entire world. By that time, the Cruors were outnumbered by the vampires, but did manage to hinder their expansion, holding them back, until one of Grace's ancestors, Elizabeth, had found her way into the realm. With Elizabeth's help, the Cruors were able to eliminate much of their enemy force.
Grace had not arrived in Cruor Terra until she was thirteen years old. Reluctantly, they had accepted her help, although they did not assign her tasks or missions that were deemed dangerous at the time, due to her young age. Over the past three years, however, Grace had honed her skills, proving herself to be a quite valuable asset to the Cruors.
The other charm, a gift from Albus, permitted her to be transported, much like a portkey, anywhere within and outside of Hogwarts' grounds, since her portal could not activate within the grounds. Albus' gift had proven itself quite useful and Grace was certain it would remain so in the future.
According to her handbook, there were many known realms but creating portals was a painstaking and seemingly interminable process that could take as long as a year to become fully functional. The key to creating the portals was using something meaningful, something given in love or friendship. The silver moon, once a mere trinket given to her by Anne as a symbol of their friendship had proved to be a more than sufficient to create the linking device that she needed.
The wizarding world had obtained a portal of their own many years ago. They called it the Veil, and it was hidden within the Ministry of Magic, carefully studied by Unspeakables. The Veil served its purpose as a portal connecting the land of the dead, Regnum Silenti Etc, to the wizarding world. However, despite the Unspeakables' observations, they did not know how to properly use the Veil, deeming it a one-way trip to Regnum Silenti Etc with no escape.
"Thalavat's allavin sallavane...nallavot talavou mallavin shalavin illavin pallavoh salavelle!" Grace seethed, watching the Cruors' representatives closely from across the large table.
They had found that Morticaine, containing a highly dangerous neurotoxic agent, had been extremely effective in killing vampires. Morticaine was especially dangerous because it was nearly undetectable; colorless, odorless, while also maintaining potency when diluted in liquid, causing death within moments of consumption. Elizabeth had brought this poison with her from Grace's world; it was a magical concoction created from the pable shrub. They wanted to destroy as many vampires as they could with it at one time, to cause a vital blow to their remaining factions, weakening them.
The idea was plausible enough, in Grace's opinion. But they wanted her to collect the ingredients from her world and brew the poison herself, something Grace had no idea if she could do. She had discovered poison and antidote theories and instructions in her handbook, but never had a purpose to actually attempt to brew them. If Albus had placed her in Remedial Potions, then surely, at least he thought her skill at potions would be less than sufficient.
Once she had managed to concoct the poison, if that were even possible, she was asked to begin to build up an immunity to it. Then, she was to allow the vampires to 'capture' her—and take her to their leaders, for she was a Trucido, and a Trucido's blood held special properties that would allow their blood magic's strength to increase. They could change their appearance for a much longer period of time.
It was not that Grace's concerns lay in the piking process, her body would surely handle the impalement, although she was a bit skeptical of trying. She was worried because the wizarding world had deemed that there was no possible way to build a resistance to Morticaine. Merlin himself had met his fate attempting to do just that.
Agmund, a particularly large Cruor, leaned forward giving Grace what she had assumed to be a soothing look. "Grace, yallavou allavar ollavore alavoh nallavi halavope. Elizabeth wollavonce tallavold allavus thalavat thallava kallavie talavou dellavick allaving allavan illvan mallavous tallavis talavou alavan allavis tallavix allavin callavould ballave fallavah allavound allavin thallava Terra ollivov Vicis....”
"Terra ollivov Vicis?" Grace exclaimed. "Allivand hollivow dallavou yallavou ellavid allavin prolalo prollavose Iliva gallavet tallavou thalavat rallaelm? Callavant walavie jallavust, Iliva dalluvanalavoh, slallavip illavite ilavintallavo thallava wallavat tallaver ollovour alluvium tallying? Olivier falling slavish thalamus thallava ollivold fallavish shallavined wallalay, yalavoh kallavo...thwack!" Grace twirled her machete in her hands for emphasis.
"Grace, Iliva ilamind plallvore allavah yalavor tallavou alavat lallavie alavast traliva allivai," said another man, Erik the Viscount. "Illavit wollovuld mallean mulivuch lalivess dalleva allaleth fallavour ollovour pallave pallavo."
Grumbling, Grace crossed her arms over her chest and turned her head to look out of the large window. A winged serpent drifted by, it's vibrant yellow scales contrasting the dark sky. The sky was always dark in Cruor Terra.
After a moment of thought she sighed and turned her attention back to the men before her. "Falavine," she said with a deflated exhalation. "Ilavif Iliva mallavan allavige tallavou crallavie allavate allava lalavi ilavink tallavou Vicis allavand ilavif Iliva mallavan allavige talavou bralavou thallava Morticaine, Iliva walevill gallavet balavack talavou yallavou."(6)
It was at that moment that Grace wished she had her Servator more than ever.
Albus peered at Grace over his glasses as she closed the door to his office. He set down his quill and folded his hands in front of him, taking in her disheveled appearance.
"Is everything alright, Grace?"
"I've had a stupid day," she mumbled, flopping into a chair.
“That's insane...not to mention impossible!”
“Grace, you are our only hope. Elizabeth once told us that the key to developing an immunity to any toxin could be found in the Terra of Vicis...."
“And how do you even propose I get to that realm? Can't we just, I dunno, slip it into the water or something? Or finish this the old fashioned way, you know...thwack!”
"Grace, I implore you to at least try,"
"It would mean much less death for our people."
"Fine," she said with a deflated exhalation. "If I manage to create a link to Vicis and if I manage to brew the Morticaine, I'll get back to you."
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