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Chapter 35 : Zanni Price
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"Me too," said Remus Lupin with a grin, pushing back his hood. "I thought I left plenty of time to get here, but it was harder going than I thought."
"Remus!" Her voice rang with gladness.
"Hello, Zanni." He took the hands she offered, forgetting himself as she smiled up at him.
He had given her name to Tonks and Moody, and they had turned up nothing bad and plenty of pleasant things on her. She had no family ties to Death Eaters or Dark wizards, and no other ties to them either, no romantic liaisons or known associations, none of her old friends from school; she was gifted in research, and had discovered two medicinal potions, had made several discoveries about dragonís blood that often got her name mentioned with Dumbledoreís, and had made the bulk of her business the care of werewolves, both magical and Muggle. An only child, daughter of a Muggle-born father (Ravenclaw) and a fourth generation witch (Hufflepuff), she had stayed in the village where she was born, even though St. Mungoís pleaded with her regularly to come and do research in their laboratories. She was the only certified Potioner for miles. But heíd already known that.
"I was getting worried about you!" She stretched up and gave him a kiss on his wet cheek, which seemed to surprise them both. "You should start taking your potion immediately," she went on as if nothing unusual had happened. She glanced at her wristwatch and moved to lock the door. "Itís after five, now, I can lock up in good conscience. Iím so glad you came, this stormy weather has been bad for business and worse for company. After my Wolfsbane deliveries were finished two days ago, Iíve not seen a soul except Dennis, to get his motherís potion."
"Still taking it? Whatís she got?"
"Sheís a werewolf, too, but sheís very private, and doesnít like deliveries, sheíd rather pick up. Come in, take off your wet cloak and come sit by the fire! Youíll catch a cold in this weather, if youíre not careful." She turned off the shop lights and led the way back to the comfortable kitchen, where she settled him with a cup of tea and a pair of dry socks, his feet on the hearth, his boots and socks steaming in the heat. After his tea, she made him take a dose of his potion, all the while cooking a lovely meal and talking back and forth as if they were old friends.
"Iíve been saving this roast, hoping youíd come, and I knew if you didnít come this evening, you werenít going to, so I put it in earlier. Iím so glad you did come."
"I have been trying to get here all week, but thereíve been many distractions, complications, all sorts of things. I finally had to put my foot down, and people still had the nerve to tell me I have twenty- four hours before the full moon, why did I have to refuse the extra shift?"
"They simply donít understand, do they," she sympathized, waving her wand at the sink, where potatoes skinned themselves and a knife cut them up to be boiled while she went on to wash lettuce and dry it by hand.
"I wish youíd let me help," he said, watching her.
"You can help wash up, but for now you get warm and dry. Except for those socks, I havenít a thing in the house that would do for you to change into, so there you sit."
He smiled wryly, picturing himself in a long white flannel nightgown like Red Riding Hoodís wolf. "I feel lazy if I just sit here."
"Be lazy. You have a very difficult week ahead of you, and youíve just walked a very hard walk. You did walk, didnít you? No car?"
"No car. Never learned to drive."
"I did." She laughed at his expression. "I thought it would help me with the Muggles who had to have the potion, you see. Some of them are quite a distance from here. So I have a van. Iíll drive you back, later, so you donít get soaked again."
"I canít let you."
"Of course you can."
"No, I really canít."
"Well, then Iíll drive near it, and you wonít have to walk as far. Oh, Remus, just let me do something for you, will it kill you?"
"Youíre doing plenty for me," he pointed out reasonably. "Youíve lent me these wonderful socks, youíre feeding me supper, youíre making my potion, which I could not begin to manage, youíre treating me like a normal human being."
"Thatís because you are. Or as normal as anyone else. And those other things are as much for me as they are for you. I wonít take no for an answer, so there." She turned her back on him to tend to the potatoes, now cooking in a pot on the stove.
"I really canít have you drive me home, Zanni. I canít begin to tell you how to get there."
"You donít have to tell me how to get there, if itís some big secret. Iíll just take you to the cross-roads nearest--" she tried again, turning back to him.
"No." He said it so calmly and sternly that she relented with a slump of her shoulders.
"Then Iíll worry."
"I will anyway. Iím always worrying where thereís no need."
He laughed suddenly. "I bet you are," he agreed.
She blushed, but she smiled at his laugh. "Tell me what itís like to teach at Hogwarts. My niece was only a first-year, but she thought you were an excellent teacher."
"Youíve discussed me with your niece?"
"Not recently, no. She always tells me who her favorite teachers are, though. She comes to stay the first week of August, so Iíve not seen her since Iíve seen you. Whatís wrong?" She grew serious at the sight of his face, sensing trouble.
He sighed. "This isnít a good idea. I shouldnít have come here."
"What is it, Remus?" she insisted gently, crossing to where he sat. She laid her hand on his shoulder, pulling a chair from the table up beside the rocker. "Donít say that. Of course you should be here. Iíve been looking forward to this for a whole month."
"Have you talked about it with anyone?"
"No, not a soul. I donít have anyone Iíd say things like that to."
"And your grocer, when you got your roast, you didnít tell him you were having company?"
"No, I always buy a roast, once a month. I cook it up and then make stew and sandwiches the rest of the week. Whatís wrong?" Her fingers squeezed unconsciously, her eyes insisted.
"Itís just that I need to remain somewhat anonymous to the neighbors."
ďThatís no answer," she persisted. "Why do you need to? It isnít the werewolf thing, no one would think twice about it around here. What else is it?"
"I canít tell you, Zanni." He became aware that he had taken her hand again, or that she had taken his, and he could hardly bear to look into those blue eyes, but he certainly could not look away.
"Are you married?" she demanded suddenly.
"No, never. I would never doom someone to such a life."
She made an impatient noise. "Living with someone? What is it, Remus, why canít you be seen here, why canít people know I know you?"
"Think about it. Who were my friends at school?"
"James, Sirius, Peter."
He gazed at her while she thought. She was reasoning it out, he could see.
"Voldemort is after you?"
"In a manner of speaking, yes. If he could get me, heíd like to have me."
"Youíre working against him. Oh, Remus." She seemed to deflate with relief, her forehead dropping to his shoulder. "Is that all. Goodness, I thought-- never mind what I thought, you arenít that sort, just as I thought you werenít. What can I do to help?" She lifted her face again and smiled at him. "I should think I could do something."
Remus could barely breathe, much less think. "Er, I-- Iíll try to find out."
"All right." She got up and went to the stove again, leaving him with his head spinning.
Remus drank the rest of his potion and sat shuddering at the taste, but his mind was working again. He had been asked to see if she was a potential Order member, but he was loath to think of her there, laying down her life. Now she was asking what she could do. He was going to have to have Moody come and meet her. GraŪnne would be a good one, too, she was a Legilimens, and she had good sense about people even when she wasnít picking their mental pockets. Had GraŪnne met her?
"Zanni, back in August, when all those Animagi were arrested, what was that about?"
"Gems. Billy Mahoney owns a digging operation for stones, principally rubies and sapphires. This family came in from the continent, I think Eddie said they were from the Netherlands. First just a few men, brothers or cousins or something, came and rented a house, and then within a month there were about fifteen, all related one way or another, three brothers in their fifties and a bunch of others. They lived here, oh two years, before things started going missing at an alarming rate. Eddieís wife Kezia is a witch, and she suggested that it could be Animagi, so she sent an owl off to the Ministry, to see if any had gone bad or something. Everyone suspected the foreigners, just because theyíre foreign, you know, but Eddie couldnít get them at anything."
"Who is Eddie?"
"Eddie Smith. Constable. Heís a Muggle, but heís in, heís married in, so he understands. And he was all for calling in Magical Law Enforcement, because he wasnít making any progress. Well, Iíd never heard of one, but the Ministry sent in a Discerner, and she spotted fourteen Animagi, all in this one family."
"Discerner. They can see Animagi in either form?"
"Apparently. Have you ever heard of such a thing? I see you have."
"James and Sirius and Peter were all Animagi, and they were all unregistered. We had never heard of them, either, but they were in no danger, because theyíre very rare, Discerners."
"This one was barely more than a child. Sweet girl. American, by her accent. We talked a long while, through the night. Uncommon name, it was Scottish, I think. Yes, GraŪnne Cameron."
"Really? Why were you there?"
"Veritaserum. The Law Enforcement wizards donít carry it, itís Class A in restriction, and there were only five Aurors and this girl. And she couldnít do any regular magic because sheís still underage, but she did disarm several and they allowed her to Apparate, go figure. But between the lot of them, seventeen officers and Aurors, and a Discerner, they only had two small vials of serum, only enough to do about eight. So they needed some from me. They were fortunate I had some, I donít usually make extra, and I had shipped a fresh batch to Lancaster the week before, thatís the seat of Law Enforcement for the county, of course, and they keep three Aurors there. Iím not allowed to sell it to anyone but Aurors or Healers or Dumbledore, I canít even sell it to Fudge, but I had an extra bottle, so I just kept it. The one called Garreton took it, paid the London rate, too, which is higher than it costs out here." She came over and bent to feel his pant leg, and dumped another log on the fire. "I may get to finish my research on dragonís blood and blood pressure after all."
"I thought St. Mungoís would finance some of that sort of thing."
"Oh, they probably would, but who wants to live in London? St. Mungoís is great, donít get me wrong, but they want to control the research they fund, they only give you so much and no more, and youíre supposed to find out why seven percent of patients who are given potions with dragonís blood in them end up with partial or total blindness due to high blood pressure, no matter what disease or injury they were originally treated for, all for the measly four thousand Galleons they give you to fund your study. Well, the dragonís blood ends up half of that, even at wholesale researcher prices, and then you have to pay study subjects and lab technicians and genetic researchers and the rent and the grocer, and I canít be bothered. I fund my own research, and if it takes ten years, it does."
He was gazing at her admiringly.
"Itís esoteric and academic, I know," she added with a wry smile, "but itís the sort of thing my brain dwells on."
"Why werenít you in Ravenclaw?"
She laughed. "Because the Sorting Hat put me in Hufflepuff, of course!"
Remus laughed, too. "I think itís good that you donít let them bully you just because theyíre a big name with lots of gold."
"Oh, they donít have nearly enough gold to cover decently all the research theyíre doing. Thatís whatís frustrating. Other things have priority, of course, there are side-effects to lots of different things that have a much higher percentage and are more debilitating as well, and blindness is bad enough, but the percentage is relatively small, you see, so my piece of St. Mungoís research gold-pie would be small, too. Iím going to write Dumbledore, though, to see if he can shed some light on this. He understands dragon blood so well, maybe heíll have time to give me some ideas."
"Thatís a good plan."
She flashed a smile at him. "Here I am, talking shop, and you canít possibly be interested."
"I am, though. If Iíd had a Potions teacher like you, I might have done better."
"Flatterer. So tell me what youíre doing now."
"I could tell you, but Iíd have to kill you."
"Ah, secret agent stuff," she laughed. "No, really."
"Right now Iím house-sitting. Not much money in it, but I eat regularly. Iím also taking care of the family pet."
"Light work for a man your age."
"It is whatís available."
"I know," she sighed. "The bloody Werewolf Code. Itís disregarded in Dorling, but you donít live here, apparently."
"Apparently," he agreed.
"You were a Hogwarts professor, did you like that?"
"By far the best work Iíve had, ever. In a perfect world, I think Iíd like that best. Auror would be pretty good, too."
"Oh, Iíd like that, itís the ultimate cool career, isnít it? Much better than stuffy Ministry jobs. But Iíd always be afraid I would make a mistake."
"You arenít afraid of making a mistake with your Potions," he pointed out.
"Theyíre fussy, some of them, but if I do it wrong, I just pour it out, and no one gets hurt."
He nodded. "Working against Voldemort, people get hurt, Zanni."
She put the roast on the platter and turned to gaze at him. "Yes, but not everyone is on the front line, right?"
"You canít count on not being on the front line, though. Last time, half the killings that happened were never reported, and those who were working against Voldemort werenít doing the bulk of the killing. In fact, it rarely happened that they were able to get a Death Eater at all, brought to justice or just dead. It wasnít until Harry Potter survived that there were any significant inroads made on the Death Eaters at all. People like Lily Potter thought theyíd serve by making sandwiches and passing on information to those who could do the battling, and she died just like so many others."
"I canít imagine Lily Evans just standing by with a plate of sandwiches when there was real work to do." She turned to mash the potatoes. "Lily was too strong to stand by."
He watched her shoulders as she mashed violently, and realized she was shaking too much to be just mashing potatoes. Hesitatingly he crossed to her, gently took the masher out of her hands. Her face was screwed up tight, desperately trying not to cry. "Zanni," he breathed, putting his arms around her. She buried her face against his neck, her arms sliding right around him. She fit there, and they both knew it, but she was busy crying at the moment, sixteen years of unshed tears for her friend.
"There was never anybody I could talk to about it," she said after a while, absently drying his neck with the sleeve of her robe. "I didnít know theyíd moved to Godricís Hollow, no one did, and theyíd been underground for months beforehand, so I had lost touch with her. No one else around here knew her, knew that I was friends with her, they were all busy setting off rockets, no one seemed to care the price that had been paid."
"I know," he answered.
She raised her wet eyes to look at him. "Of course you do," she said softly. "You, who lost all three of your friends in one day." She touched his face with the fingers of her right hand, just as if he was an ordinary person, her left arm still around his ribs, the tenderest expression on her face. She sighed and smiled a little. "Supper."
"Yes," he agreed, releasing her instantly, but her arms were reluctant. She turned to finish the mashing, and he leaned back against the counter beside her, watching. He couldnít speak any more than he had, for no one had ever understood what that day had meant to him.
"Thereís a bottle of wine in that lower cupboard, will you open it?" she asked quietly, nodding at the cupboard behind him.
"Of course. The merlot?"
"Yes, thatís it." She smiled as he tapped it with his wand and removed the cork perfectly. "Do you know, I canít do that? Iím probably the only witch in the world who canít. I always shred the cork, so I just use a Muggle corkscrew."
"Lots of witches canít. Wizards, too, for that matter. I have several friends who only drink wine when they have me to supper, because they canít do it. One of my few talents."
"You have lots of talents. The fact that you have friends testifies to that. Here, sit here, itís all ready." She smiled at him as he pulled out the other chair and seated her first.
It was a pleasant supper, good food well prepared, and a tenderness and intimacy between them that would have been marred by anything more physical than a shared hug. They talked about many things, and the wine lightened the atmosphere so that they could laugh together. It was after nine when they finished the washing up, and Remus checked his boots on the hearth.
"Still damp," he said, looking around at her. "Not that it matters, theyíll just get wet again on the way. I should go, and let you--"
"Sit up half the night in miserable loneliness? Wonít you stay for a while, Remus? Play a game of chess, or just talk to me some more." Zanni drew near and laid a hand on his arm. "Maybe it will stop raining soon."
"It would be very irresponsible of me to stay."
"Because I want very much to take you in my arms and kiss you, and that is the very last thing I should allow to happen."
She began to smile, taking one hand and putting it on her waist. "Why do you say that?"
"Because I am a werewolf."
"Only one night a month. You are a man the rest of the time." She placed his other hand on her waist, and stepped closer.
"Zanni, itís no life for you--"
"Remus, itís all my life. My work is about werewolves, my research-- that seven percent I was talking about are werewolves, thatís why St. Mungoís isnít fully funding me on my own terms. So donít tell me I donít know how it is, how hard it is, that Iím just not getting it. There isnít anyone else who gets it like I do." She had her arms around his shoulders now, and was looking him in the eye. "And it isnít even about the werewolf thing, for me. Itís about you."
"The guilt would kill me."
She searched his eyes. At last she nodded, but she didnít step away. She laid her head on his shoulder and rested in his arms, and Remus held her close, almost desperately, for such contact had always been denied him. He gloried in her softness, her pliant embrace, the very scent of her, even as he told himself over and over that he would not allow her to destroy her life this way. "Some time," she murmured, raising her head to lay her cheek against his, "you must believe me when I say there is no crime, and therefore no guilt."
He made himself let go of her. "I cannot believe that," he answered gently. "And I cannot bear the idea that someday you will look with fear at me, wondering if Iíd had enough potion and if you can make it to the door in time."
"I will never be afraid of you, Remus."
"It is easy to say," he told her. ďThereís also the fact that werewolves mate for life, and there just isnít room to make a mistake, to have regrets. Itís not like we could leave one another if it didnít work out.Ē He shook his head. "I must go. Thank you for a lovely evening." He went to the fire, yanked his boots on, and grabbed up his cloak, which was mostly dry. Now that he was moving again, he felt he had to move fast, or his resolve would fail.
"Please come, after the full moon," she said, catching his arm. "Please. Iíll worry that you got home safely, and whether youíre eating, Remus, please--"
"I will, Iíll come Sunday. I have no duties that day, Iíll come, I promise."
She nodded, suddenly unable to speak.
"Is there a back door?"
Another nod, and she swept aside a heavy curtain over an old-fashioned split door. She unlocked both halves and turned to him again. "Sunday."
"Yes, Sunday." He went out into the storm.
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