Chapter 24 : BETTING DEBTS
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Leonor sought an answer, but instead she couldn’t stifle a yawn. “It’s night already, about time to dream.”
“Tired, cold, distracted … I still like to know the reason of Mika’s food poisoning, but I’m failing.” The pasty mixture flowed slowly into a large container. Severus finished the cleaning of the cauldrons. The steam vanished in the gloomy study and the air cleared.
“Can the boy not tell what he ate?”, snorted the potions master with disdain.
“Meatballs, likely garlic meatballs have been the reason. Rotten meat creates other symptoms.”
“What else is added to meatballs?”
“I don’t know, onion, salt, pepper, herbs …”
“And the symptoms?”
“Heavy heart rhythm disorder”, said Leonor still clearing out the cauldron.
“Ask Koskinen for the recipe!”, ordered Severus.
“If you want to sleep tonight …”
“Poppy kills me!” Leonor woke suddenly from the drowsiness. She wouldn’t be able to rest without following the new lead. “You calm Madam Pomfrey”, she snapped and led the way to the hospital wing with the first aid bag over her shoulder.
“As if that would work”, answered Severus more to himself.
The wood cracked, and the large door of the hospital wing opened, not noiseless, but reasonable quiet in the total silence of the late hour. The gate crashers stepped into the ward, but Madam Pomfrey glanced immediately around the edge of the nurses’ office.
“It’s the limit! I just told Minerva you are finally working according to the rules. See, it’s an hour before midnight!”
“I need to question Mika, once more. Please!”, begged Leonor when Minerva McGonagall poked her head round the same corner of the office.
“You’ll wake all the patients”, shrieked Madam Pomfrey.
Severus pushed Leonor on her shoulder down the aisle, a sneer curled his lips. “It will be quick”, said Severus with a no-nonsense tone.
Mika rolled himself in the white bedclothes. “You are not asleep?”, asked Leonor gently. He only shook his head.
“Can you tell about the ingredients of the meatballs?”, whispered the healer.
“Meat, salt, pepper, breadcrumbs and Keisa’s secret spices”, came the monotonous answer. “Aunt Keisa’s meatballs were the best. I stole them from the kitchen otherwise my family would have eaten it. I wanted them for myself. She was old, almost blind. It’s my punishment for stealing after her funeral; I was nearly death. I shouldn’t have taken them!” Leonor took the boy’s hand.
“Your aunt would have loved to know about your favourite meatballs.”
“Did she use real garlic cloves?”, asked Severus quietly.
“No, it stinks to high heaven. She swore on wild garlic from the local woods.” The boy fell powerless back to the pillows.
Severus crossed his arms, a winning glance in his eyes. Leonor frowned by the expression and looked to the angry faces of Poppy and Minerva. Both couldn’t decide whom to reprimand first without being too loud.
Minerva moaned: “Is that all? Can everybody rest now?”
Severus fixated on Leonor’s stern face. “No clue?” She shook her head astonished. “Think of the flowery smell of your perfume!”
“Severus, save us outrageous details!”, hissed Minerva with a confused intonation.
Severus continued to taunt Leonor. “Wild garlic can …”
“… be mixed up with Lily of the valley!”, shouted Leonor and she smiled the first broad smile of the day. She saw for a split second the self-satisfied grin on Severus face before it returned to the unfathomable expression and his robes swished back into the dungeons.
“Mika, you will indeed be fine tomorrow, no more treatments. Your aunt mixed the leaves of the white flower with the wild garlic. It’s toxic. You couldn’t save your aunt, but saved your family with eating all meatballs. I think there’s no need to worry anymore. Sleep well and tomorrow we write a letter that everything is fine!”, Leonor hugged the boy quickly and turned. On the way out, the listening girl with the sour throat gave herself away when she couldn’t contain a dry cough. Leonor walked over and handed her some pastilles.
“They’ll help”, she smiled and pressed the girl back into her bed. “Sleep fast, good night.”
Madam Pomfrey started a protest, but Professor McGonagall stopped her. “Poppy, the sweets won’t do any damage.”
“Well … that’s the recipe of the cough drops. Use it at school, but no selling. It’s liable to a patent fee.” Leonor smirked, flicked her wand at a spare piece of paper and handed it together with more pastilles to Madam Pomfrey before literally running into her room and curling up under the soft bed sheets. It had itched her all day to give the cough drops to Poppy to stop the girl’s barking dry cough a little quicker.
Professor Flitwick’s well-organized classroom provided a relaxed atmosphere. The students sat in a circle on cushions. There was no dress code for voluntary lessons. Most participants and Leonor showed up in jeans to learn about household remedies. The students sniffed at several potions, tasted herbs and tinctures with camomile, mints and other interesting flavours. In the middle of the lesson she took the Swiss Army Knife from her pocket and made a small cut to her finger.
“We are going to train a simple spell to heal cuts and little wounds.” Leonor explained the wand movements until interrupted by the opening door.
Professor Snape entered. Everybody gaped, and the few Hogwarts students sniffed unkindly. Some couples used the lesson to work together undisturbed by their fellow housemates and they clearly didn’t like Severus’ snide remarks in case he found out.
“Go on!”, said Severus quietly and leaned against a desk, his arms crossed before his chest. Leonor continued. She repeated the demonstration still surprised about the visitor.
“So, you can start practising!”, said Leonor to the students. She made another cut to her arm and encouraged to take out the wands and start the healing. The teenagers hesitated and dribbled Dittany on the wound instead of using the spell. It needed courage to use a spell on a person on purpose. The cuts healed, but it took more time with using the potion.
“Use the spell on me!”, snarled Professor Snape suddenly. The desk shook slightly when he pushed away from it and everybody was alert. Severus answered the looks with a velvety voice: “I suppose you are aware to suffer in case you cannot master the spell. Mrs. Granger you will begin.” He took a knife from an inside pocket and showed the cut to Hermione with a cold sneer. She was nervous, but did well. Some students clapped. Severus said nothing. Hermione was obviously happy. Tuesday’s were reserved for the more advanced students. Wednesday’s for the younger boys and girls. It wouldn’t be so easy tomorrow thought Leonor when the door opened another time and all heads turned again.
“Good evening!” Professor Dumbledore strolled slowly into the room. “Healers at work”, he smiled friendly and patted some students on their shoulders.
The spell practise continued until everybody mastered to heal a small cut. Leonor said goodbye. “Thank you for coming, see you next week!” She was relieved to close the lesson under Dumbledore’s eyes without issues. Suddenly a hand of a Beauxbatons girl shot in the air. Before everybody noticed she spluttered in a girlish French accent. ”Professor Snape didn’t perform the spell himself!”
Severus narrowed his eyes and the girl turned pink. Everybody watched, and Leonor made a cut along her forearm. Severus grunted angrily when Leonor presented it. He run his wand over the wound without even saying the incantation. It mended. Severus pale long fingers removed the fresh blood carefully. “Any further questions Miss Poésy?”, said Severus coldly to the flushed girl.
“Well done, all of you!” Dumbledore applauded. “Good night!” The headmaster looked after the leaving group and winked when everybody left with light-hearted chatter.
Severus whispered through gritted teeth: “How can you cut yourself so often? Haven’t you got enough scars yet?”
“Be quiet”, hissed Leonor and the delighted smile vanished. “The knife cannot harm me. The incantation prevents it.” She continued to hex the cushions to a neat pile, but Severus shot her another angry look.
“Severus, I should recommend you to Madam Pomfrey. After Quidditch she doesn’t have enough hands to mend all the injuries at once.” Dumbledore was clearly amused and watched Leonor’s flushed face in contrast to Severus’ stony expression. “I’ve heard that healing spells can be performed wandless, unconsciously by children in the need of emergency”, stated Dumbledore questioningly.
“True”, answered Leonor and took the knife again. “Who volunteers?” Severus stretched his arm, but Dumbledore took the hurt instead. Leonor closed her eyes and moved the right palm across the cut. It healed, not as good as with a magic wand, but still reasonable.
“I used it as a child. It scared my nanny that she never needed plaster after tripping. She never really understood. I lost control over it after starting to work with a wand, but I think if trained some of the wandless magic comes back”, explained Leonor.
“Interesting, very interesting indeed”, said Dumbledore impressed. “I could do with a tasteful goblet of wine. Have you any plans for tonight?” Dumbledore gave an impish smile. Severus snorted defiantly. Leonor looked from one man to the other unsure if Albus was inviting or waited to be invited. Severus folded the arms one’s more, apparently unwilling to offer something.
“I planned to return to Hogsmeade. I’ve to catch up with some home visits in the morning”, answered Leonor cautiously and got the impression that both men looked suddenly sulky. “But I have an excellent ‘Châteauneuf-du-Pape’ upstairs if it will not be for too long”, she suggested quietly hoping to have at least a word with Severus afterwards. It was just one day after his birthday and she regretted to not have congratulated properly.
“That sounds promising … the French are fabulous wine-growers. What are you waiting for Severus?”, grinned Dumbledore and walked out into the corridor choosing the shortest passage to the seventh floor. Severus followed behind putting a hand on Leonor’s small of the back. She smiled and felt better with him than without.
“Would you mind knocking on Professor Flitwick’s room? He was so kind to give me the classroom tonight”, asked Leonor and opened her own door to let Dumbledore in. It took only a short moment until the friendly professor entered chuckling about a little shock to visit the dungeons tonight. Severus gave him an icy look for an answer.
“I’m sure Filius would like a demonstration of your wandless magic!”, suggested Dumbledore and toasted to Leonor.
“It’s not worth mentioning”, answered Leonor humbly.
“Not many adult witches and wizards can do wandless magic. I wouldn’t know any of the staff to perform it on a regular basis and without being in a threatening situation”, guessed Flitwick.
“Severus performs wandless magic too”, said Leonor grudgingly as if she needed to defend herself against being special. She bit her lip immediately considering the potion master’s flashing dark eyes. She couldn’t tell about the cove and the events at the lake last summer.
“That’s even more interesting”, exulted the little professor happily and gazed in disbelief from one potions expert to the other. “You are really gifted, if you can do it!” Flitwick showed genuine excitement now.
Severus put his glass to the rickety coffee table and walked round the sofa stopping at the window.
“It can be trained”, said Leonor and targeted her hand at Severus’s wine goblet. It wobbled a little and then it moved a few inches, toppled over the edge and broke on the floor.
“Sorry, not enough training”, smiled Leonor and she tried again with her glass. It floated carefully into her hand. Next, she showed the healing of a small cut on Flitwick’s finger.
“Well done. Your turn Severus!”, demanded Filius, curious to the brim.
“If you must see … another cut please!”, sneered Severus.
“It doesn’t hurt, it’s a special knife”, answered Leonor quickly after seeing Flitwick’s concerned look. She presented her finger to Severus and he pressed his palm around her hand. A warm feeling run through the injured limb and it was healed. Flitwick squeaked astonished and Dumbledore gave one of his ‘I-knew-it-all-along’ winks.
“Satisfied?”, snorted Severus and refilled the repaired glass moodily. Conversations about unspoken magic dominated the remainder of the evening. The bottle emptied rapidly, and the gathering finished.
“I’m going to sleep. It was a very pleasant evening Leonor. Don’t let yourself mould by our ill-tempered potions master!” Dumbledore glanced mischievously towards Severus whose goblet was still almost full. Professor Flitwick waited for Severus, but the same only circled the glass and concentrated on the dark red liquid. Leonor caught Flitwick’s worried look.
“Filius, let’s make some room for the young folks.” Albus shoved a perplexed Flitwick out into the corridor and in between the dying steps only the words ‘they are getting along’ were audible.
Severus still stared into the goblet. He frowned wordless sitting on the sofa while Leonor hexed glasses and bottle away. It was more a gesture of a flustered state than a real need to clear up. Yesterday had been stressful and the mixed feelings about Severus’s special day hadn’t vanished. Leonor couldn’t restrain herself when everything was tidy. She quickly embraced Severus from behind and whispered into his ear. “Happy belated Birthday! I hope you find the book interesting!” Leonor breathed small kisses down his neck. Severus trapped her hands softly and moved his thumbs along her skin.
“You want me to continue?”, asked Leonor playfully and he put up with it for a while.
“Leonor, you’ve to go!”, said Severus abruptly and returned to observe the Hogwarts grounds.
“And why so suddenly? By the way, the door is the other direction.”
“There are observers!”
“It cannot wait another five minutes? No ‘thank you’ or anything?”, hissed Leonor.
“I’m not celebrating my birthday”, snapped Severus.
“I see, and what about the cake, the whiskey and Filch?”
“Lower your voice or Flitwick will knock and come to your rescue! Then we only have seconds”, hissed Severus quietly.
“We?” Leonor walked over to the window.
Severus answered by removing the hairgrips from Leonor’s bun and the dark straight hair fell on her back. “I like to smell your hair … and the muggle cloth. That’s my gift.” There was an almost-smile in Severus’ dark eyes before they kissed gently.
“I’ll bring you home.” Severus pressed a last kiss on Leonor’s forehead, snatched the first aid bag and turned holding the door open.
“Thank you for the book. You knew I never had a possibility to read or buy it. It’s a rare edition. I don’t put much value to birthdays. I’ll return it after reading.”
“It’s yours, a present. It’s useful, the best of the series and if I remember right the one missing in your library. No need to be modest. Remember …”, she played evidently with the little diamond.
Severus gave her an incredulous side glance. “Is it really your book?”
“Not anymore, you have it now”, taunted Leonor, but when he frowned she explained further. “We spoke about it, last year. I told you that I read it in Italy. I wrote to my superior of the traineeship, only to borrow it for reading. Initially there was no answer, but last week arrived the package. He gave it to me and I pass it to you.”
“Is that the big-headed guy with the light brown curls?”, snorted Severus.
“What?” Leonor stopped in her tracks nervously.
“I saw the bloke in your memories.”
“You believe him to be my superior?”
“He hugged you, or tried at least”, said Severus sheepishly. “You didn’t like it”, he added with a boyish grin.
“I’m not hugging my superiors! The original owner was head physician in Italy. He’s old, hoary, searching good hands for his valuable possessions. He found that it is save with me, save to use the information about dark magic for helping and healing.”
“… and then you give it to me!”, coughed Severus slightly.
“You trust yourself to do things right, but why not trust to do the right things as well …”, Leonor smiled, and Severus did not respond. The gates appeared in the distance. The forbidden forest whispered in the breeze of January. They walked in silence and left Hogwarts behind. Hogsmeade was nearly dark. A few candles illuminated the windows of Rosmerta’s tavern. An invisible cat mewed heartbreakingly.
“Sounds like Filch’s cat after enduring a prank with being strangled! You put value to Filch’s visit?”, asked Leonor curiously.
“He has useful information now and then. Whiskey and Burbage’s cake make him kind of happy. Don’t know why he always appears on that day.” Leonor tilted her head. The hatred of the embarrassing ritual created deep lines in Severus’ face.
“Burbage sends you a cake?”
“Every year it’s passed on to the weird caretaker together with the alcohol and a sleeping draught”, confirmed Severus defiantly and grumpy.
“Sometimes I have pity with him. He’s pathetic, but if you are an almost squib in this school … how could that be different?”
“I’m not worried. He gets his draught and turns a blind eye to the Slytherins. They leave Filch to the Gryffindors and that works. The Weasley twins have regular detentions, because identified by Filch’s cat.”
Leonor swallowed. The morose caretaker used Severus ambition for advantage. Charity meant well for Severus, but she just did the opposite to make Severus recognize it. Severus wanted to be self-reliant instead of being pitied.
“The Hog’s Head is closed, no observers here”, grinned Leonor, but Severus pushed her quickly inside the dark sales room of the apothecary.
“Leonor, you need to relax. Your work, the research, lessons and ...”
“I didn’t complain”, she interrupted gruffly. Thinking of Occlumency gave a painful sting in her mind.
Severus embraced her hips. He earnestly kissed her whenever they managed to be alone. “I know, but I owe you a dinner. Lupin resigned as you predicted. I’m free on Sunday and I would like you to organize a table in that restaurant of your friends.” Severus pulled Leonor closer. “Will you go with me?”
“Is it a date?” She regretted the question when the butterflies in her stomach flushed her face.
“Betting debts! See you Friday and Saturday, if you feel fresh.” Leonor heard the victorious sneer in the darkness.
Hermione climbed briskly through the portrait hole of the Gryffindor dormitories. She had a mission. She, Harry and Ron shared the same opinion, even though the boys would have held her back. Nevertheless, Hermione put her plan into action and knocked forcefully on Mrs. Scott’s door. The answer came promptly.
“A minute please!” The answer was friendly, a bit nervous or surprised maybe. The healer opened the door mere minutes later.
“Can I have a word?”, asked Hermione politely and Mrs. Scott gestured her inside. Hermione made herself comfortable on the sofa and took the offered tea with a small smile. The fruity oriental taste energized Hermione even more. The room was almost overheated. The teacher was clothed in a dark travelling cloak, the hair dressed in a twisted bun with playful strands and silver hair slides. Mrs. Scott was usually perfectly groomed and neatly dressed, but tonight there was a more attractive aura around. Hermione snooped for hints. The room did not confirm any suspicions. She found little personal belongings, no books or other things about Scott’s work.
“What can I do for you?”, interrupted Leonor Hermione’s thoughts.
“I’d like to learn about your profession. I’ve excellent marks and maybe I can become a healer too.”
“St. Mungo’s surely appreciates a clever student like you. A good choice. But what would you like to know exactly?”
“How is it to help other people?”
“Satisfying”, answered Leonor blandly. Hermione thought hard about questions. She’d expected that Scott would just talk about the greatness of her job and herself, so as most of the Slytherins boasted about their families and wealth.
“And if you cannot help?”
“Well, no success without defeat. Unfortunately, there are those poor situations too.”
“Isn’t it difficult to see somebody die?”
“Hermione, healers see many things coming. It’s hard to accept that there’s no remedy. It’s not easy to explain the inevitable to the families, the children. But for them it’s much more difficult. It changes their lives. It’s harder to see the loved ones die.”
“You are good in the Dark Arts?”
“I’m good in healing the aftereffects of it.”
“But doesn’t it mean you can cast dark spells?”
“Indeed, dark magic often requires dark counter-spells and dangerous potions to be healed. Fighting dark magic needs to understand it.”
“Could you teach the Dark Arts?” Hermione flushed and stared nervously to the floor. She was convinced Scott would soon offer to talk about the Dark Arts and then it was just a step to find out more.
“I cannot, but why would you want me to do it?”, asked Leonor coldly.
“I thought I could learn things to defeat Voldemort!”
Leonor flinched at the last word. “It should be sufficient if you follow your lessons. I heard Professor Moody teaches the subject quite well. Is that all?”
“What are we going to learn on Tuesday?”
“You’ll see that the day after tomorrow.” Leonor’s business-smile returned. The astonishment about a Gryffindor with interest in dark magic settled slowly. The trio appeared at the outside rather like a good opponent of every dark spell even if used carefully against an evil reason.
“Thanks”, answered Hermione quickly and turned after leaving the room to wave casually. She caught a glimpse of the cloth below the cloak. She saw high heeled black boots and a dark short dinner dress. Hermione decided to keep watch of the door from around the corner. She didn’t need to wait long. Scott left her room soon, but Hermione was not rewarded with the sought information. The healer met nobody and hurried into direction of the gates. Hermione cursed, most teachers kept the private life a secret.
“Severus?” Leonor called with a cautious voice. She was delayed; she would have been late anyway. Hermione added only a couple of extra minutes. Gravel rustled under her feet. Leonor rotated a couple of times around herself peering hard into the darkness. She walked further into the direction of ‘The Three Broomsticks’ and stopped when the light of the tavern illuminated the path. She called again, no reply and went back.
It was silent. Somewhere in the distances cracked wood, it sounded like steps. Leonor’s wand was at the ready, pointing at the sound of crushing leaves and twigs. She was annoyed. Where was Severus? Somebody approached and there was a loud bark.
“Leonor! Is it you? I heard you calling”, shouted a familiar voice before a tall man came out of the shrubs.
“Remus?”, asked Leonor rolling the eyes at herself about shouting Severus’ name. “Good to see you!”
“Good to see you too”, replied Remus and turned verifying the surroundings.
“I’d like to bring you the Wolfsbane already three days before the full moon, long term therapy you know. I meet you in the Shrieking Shack, as agreed?”
“Yes, I heard about that ‘therapy’ already”, mumbled Remus after an awkward long moment.
“Is it fine after eight in the evening, then I come after school?” Remus only nodded and watched the path. The dog barked again, it turned into a baleful growl.
“Waiting for Severus?”, said Remus with a sniff and Leonor was thankful the cloak hid the shoes and dress.
“Yes”, she answered with a firm voice.
“Good night!” Remus looked disappointed and walked off to the village. The angry barking continued a while and Leonor returned waiting at the gates. She heaved a sigh and hesitated to return to the apothecary. A plop startled her, and she drew her wand again, by chance it pointed at the chest of the spinning person.
“Leonor, are you alright?”, breathed Severus and moved the wand quickly down and out of fighting position.
“I’m waiting”, she answered accusingly.
“Lupin is with the dog in the Shrieking Shack, I’ll come with you if you deliver the potion!”, stated Severus visibly annoyed.
“I can defend myself and if Black is clever he won’t show himself obviously. He didn’t today. I just heard the barking. But where have you been when you are so worried? Remus heard me calling.”
“I kept a safe distance, or the dog could scent out something.”
“… and then it’s two on one again!”, spat Severus angrily. “I’ve had enough fights with them! It ruined enough nights.”
“No, it’s two on two now, Severus. Can we go?”, Leonor frowned at the flaring temper and grabbed his hands to turn on the spot. Any further discussions about the shack drowned in the swirl of apparition. They appeared at the edge of a park.
“We are near Regent’s Park. My old house is into this direction.” Leonor pointed into a side street. “Francesco’s restaurant is down here, just around the corner. St. Mungo’s is only twenty minutes away.” They walked swiftly hand-in hand along the clean cobbled street. Leonor stretched already her arm to push the door handle of the friendly restaurant.
“Wait”, Severus pulled Leonor back. “Without wizarding robes ...” He removed the cloak from Leonor’s shoulders. A brief smile curled his lips. The small diamond glinted in the dark.
“The muggles won’t protest about decent clothes, will they?”, he said removing his own travelling cloak exposing a spotless ironed business shirt.
“They won’t”, answered Leonor grinning, both entered the bar with the mantles safely folded across Severus’ arm.
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