A post Order of the Phoenix, pre-Half Blood Prince story.
Please consider this a replacement of the sixth book, since it was begun well before the release of the Half Blood Prince. I will not be changing this to accommodate the HBP plotline, since I feel that the Order of the Phoenix leaves a greater degree of flexibility for fan-fiction writers.
Thank you to all of the readers who have supported me throughout the writing of this piece.
I cannot express my gratitude enough to all of you who have made me the Number 1 Favorite Author, and this story the Number 2 Favorite Story, the 7th Most Read Story, the Most Reviewed Story Ever in the site's history, and for several months between August and early November of 2005 the Number 1 Favorite Story.
"Energy. It permeates every living and non-living thing. Without it, the world would cease to exist."
~ Vincent VonStolburg ~
Chapter 1 ~ Lightning Strikes
Remus' eyes narrowed, peering through the thick onslaught as rain pelted the Earth. He continued walking, not breaking formation even as water sloshed about his mud-soaked ankles, chilling him to the bone.
Moving was becoming increasingly difficult and the thick wool of his cloak clung awkwardly to his icy skin. He wished he had possessed the foresight to don a lighter one, for moving certainly would have been easier.
But there had been little time to think on such details.
His eyes burned, the stinging sensation growing until painful tears streamed down his face, his salty tears mixing with the rain before they reached his lips, leaving the taste of salt water upon his tongue.
The stinging sensation grew worse. It happened whenever his rod cells multiplied, and right now the frenzy going on just behind his retinas was aiding him, bringing into stark focus the destruction of the night.
Cloaked images came to life, the moonless night no longer a factor as gray images danced before him with unearthly clarity. It was the one small gift his monthly burden afforded him.
His eyes turned from the world around him, flicking towards the blackened sky, noting the new moon. He had a couple weeks before the pain in his bones returned.
Tonks fell into step besides him, giving an involuntary shudder, and he caught her arm, helping her over another of the dead before she could trip. Her eyes were still bloodshot from the last time it had happened.
She nodded thanks and they continued their stealthy search. They dared not light their paths for fear of giving away their positions. Lingering Death Eaters could be anywhere.
She, unlike so many of the others, had volunteered for this. The others had been afraid, but he did not fault them.
A Reach had not been found in England for centuries. And the foul and loathsome Death Eaters would go to any lengths to find one. The evidence lay at their feet, and he was thankful that the deep darkness spared Tonks from seeing the full extent of tonight's destruction. Only he could bear witness to its full horror.
Five Muggles had been slain this night. Their torn and mangled bodies long since passed. There was nothing even the best of healers could do. All that was left was to pick through the carnage, hoping against hope that a soul had survived.
He picked up the pace. They had to complete their search before the ministry officials arrived. By then they were to be gone, mere ghosts to have passed through, unseen and unheard.
The past weeks had brought a slew of murders. No... Butcherings...
This was his seventh such search that month alone, and still the stench of charred cloth and burnt flesh reeled him.
Muggle families were being polluted with the foulness of Voldemort. And despite the Order's best efforts, they had been powerless to stop it.
"Six..." Tonks whispered, barely audible. Her slender form was bent down, her shaking hands checking for a pulse on a young man, his once golden-blond hair matted thickly with coagulated blood.
Remus bent down, grasping her around the waist as he helped her rise. In the heat of battle she was fiery, unaffected by the horrors of fallen comrades. He had seen her ability to block such things out firsthand in the Department of Mysteries. But now, in the aftermath of something she had no control over, the steely glint was gone from her eyes, her purposeful stride lost.
He pulled her forward, feeling her eyes linger upon the crushed skull of a man barely younger than herself. He could feel its effect on her as she quivered in his arms. He wished to spare her further torment, but they had to continue.
"Do you think when he is at the gates of Hell he will still believe it was worth it?" She whispered shakily.
He wound his arm tighter around her shoulders, squeezing her arm gently. No words of reassurance were forthcoming, but he felt her still, calming under his touch.
The sick bastard would pay. God did not let someone get away with such atrocities without retribution. And he would see to that.
The Dark Lord had a new strategy. Snape had informed the Order weeks ago, but even now he still found it unfathomable, for the vile being was no longer content to experiment with magic.
No... Now he was experimenting with magical creatures.
His plan was to harness the powers of every magical being for himself. So he could channel them into his one acrid being.
If the thought of an even stronger Dark Lord wasn't enough to frighten someone, Remus didn't know what was. But that fear did nothing to quell his barely contained fury.
It was common knowledge that when emotions ran high, witches and wizards often lost control. Hell, he had lost count of how many times Harry had done exactly that.
Only now the Death Eaters were using a Reach's emotions against them. The hooded figures had crept in the shade of night from home to home over the past weeks, killing each candidate's family right in front of them. Their aim was to elicit an emotional reaction, one strong enough to reveal the Reach's true potential.
It sickened him, how the Dark Lord could kill so many innocents, just to flush the Reach out of hiding.
But what was even more sickening was the Dark Lord's plans for the poor soul once they were found.
He was planning on utilizing their blood, granting him their power to kill. And the means through which this would be accomplished…
He could only hope that if there were a Reach, that they would find them first. Because while magical ability was now understood, a Reach was not.
Most witches and wizards developed magical ability at a young age. Though there were always the few destined to become Squibs, and there were always a few who developed it later on in life, in their teens. It had turned out that magical ability stemmed from a dominant gene, linked to the genes specifying blood type. And the genetic code Muggles possessed only differed by a few nucleotides, so it was easy for the mutation to arise randomly in Muggles, thus Muggleborns.
But a Reach was not a witch or wizard, they were not a Squib or a late blooming magician.
They were something different entirely.
When their magical prowess came to fruition, the same system that alerted the Headmaster to the presence of a new witch or wizard would go off.
Tonight that system had gone haywire. It had been slowly registering readings for the past five months.
Now it was going off again.
There was a person out there holding more power than they could properly wield.
And if Dumbledore was right, that meant there was a Reach out there who had finally struck out.
The poor bastard.
Instinctively his arm shot out, halting Tonks roughly in place, his dilated eyes roamed, scanning the ground of what had once been an ordinary home set far away from the major roads. Now broken floorboards littered the muddied ground, while smoke from the doused fires curled up in snake like tendrils, shrouding the world from view. Yet his eyes penetrated its veil, searching for the flicker of movement that had frozen him in place.
He clenched his fingers tighter around the familiar worn oak of his wand, bracing himself for whatever attack would come.
It was then that he heard it. A soft choking amidst the storm's howling winds.
He withdrew his arm, placing a finger carefully over Tonks' icy lips, signaling her to be silent. The only sign of her confusion was the light crease of her brow. She would, of course, have no idea what he was looking for. Her hearing was not as refined as his.
But werewolf bites did things like that to a person.
It came again, a low, strangled moan, and he took off, rushing towards the source. No attacker could feign that kind of pain.
He skidded, flinging rocks in the air as he bent down beside her. The puddle she was feebly pushing herself out of was a deep black, filled with the blood of her and the lifeless man besides her. Her body spasmed with each choking hack as she coughed up inhaled water, her eyes glazed over from what he recognized as shock.
He pulled her up, speaking in low, reassuring tones as she flailed against him. She was too weak to do much damage, even of the other sort...
Tonks reached them, murmuring soothing words as she smoothed the girls mud caked hair away from her face, brown water emerging from her lips as another round of spasms racked her body violently.
He took her appearance in, another involuntary spasm shaking her. Torn shards of what had once been clothing hung lightly from her, and the debris and dust sticking to her wet face made her features impossible to discern.
He didn't know whether to praise the heavens or curse them as he and Tonks exchanged a meaningful glance. They had to get her back to headquarters before something worse happened. Her shoulder was in desperate need of suturing, and God only knew what else the bastards had done to her before leaving her for dead.
He let her cough up the rest of the water before stunning her. He hated doing it as he lifted her limp form from the ground, but only one thing could have survived this.
And as weak as she was, he wasn't eager to get on that thing's bad side. There was no sense in taking chances.
* * * * *
The rain poured down in cold torrents as Harry shouldered his broom, sprinting after Kingsley through the fast forming puddles of London's city streets. It was coming down in buckets now, and if he had thought flying through the torrential downpour had been bad it was nothing compared to the pounding of his feet on the slick pavement.
Moody's guttural growl sounded off to his right, not that he could see him, the rain was too thick to see much of anything. Thunder clapped, shaking him to the core, and the lightning flashed shockingly, illuminating the area to reveal Order members running in rank around him, splashing water as they went.
Five of them had shown up at the Dursleys barely an hour ago, reminding him of that night, barely a year ago, when an escort squad had shown up in the Dursley's kitchen to whisk him away to Grimmauld Place.
Only this night was different.
Promises of meeting with Tonks and Lupin in London were hissed quickly as Kingsley and Moody levitated his things, cramming them hastily into his trunk, and he had not missed how McGonagall's eyes had roamed the room guardedly. Even stern, steadfast McGonagall was frightened.
Tonight truly was different.
He blinked rapidly, trying vainly to extract the water cascading into his eyes, but it was to no avail. His glasses were too thickly coated with rain droplets, and he desperately racked his mind for the spell Hermione used to repel water. For his wand was out, and he could use it. The Ministry had removed the Decree for the Restriction of Underage Wizardry that summer. Dumbledore had headed up the motion, arguing that the return of Voldemort endangered witches and wizards of all ages, and that in the event of an attack, students should be free to defend themselves without the fear of repercussions.
The empty lot materialized between two run down houses, and he looked quickly at the small slip of sopping wet paper dripping from his hand, hesitant to ignore his surroundings for even a second when the foreboding fear of attack hung so thickly about him.
He read it silently before looking up. The run down magical home, in the midst of Muggle London, now stood revealed to him.
Lupin materialized at the top of the creaky wooden stairs looking worse for the wear. His normally threadbare clothing was now ragged and blood stained, his eyes hollow and sunken, holding the look of prey that knew its predator to be near.
Harry stepped through the doorway, stomping his feet on the shaggy carpet, slinging mud everywhere as the others piled in. He swallowed the lump in the base of his throat, pulling his eyes from the muddy floor, forcing himself to take in his surroundings. A man named Dorbert Cheeks could be heard triggering the complicated locking spell on the front door.
A loud boom reverberated through the house, shaking the walls as indistinct voices argued in the distance. Yet this did not bother him. Even his curiosity as to why he had been pulled so untimely from his bed could not best the despair that had hit him like a bludger. In the heat of the race they had ran he had forgotten one thing.
That they were taking him to Sirius's…
This house had never been joyful, but now it seemed a hollow shell of what could have been. It stood as a painful reminder of the scrapings of a life that he and his godfather could have salvaged. But that life was gone now.
War brought casualties, casualties brought pain, and pain brought emptiness.
That was how he had felt since that night. Empty. There was nothing that could fill the void. Not even the impending terror of facing Voldemort in years to come could make him feel anything but despair again.
Mundungus cleared his throat, turning all heads towards him as he beckoned for everyone to quietly make their way to an adjoining room. He followed, his sopping wet clothes weighing him down with every step he took. But nothing could weigh him down as much as the memories... As much as the burden haunting him... The one they should have told him...
Realization hit him hard, like sudden submersion into the icy waters of the northern artic, as he wondered what they were not telling him tonight.
He glanced towards Lupin who stood protectively next to him, opening his mouth to speak, to ask, but he let it flap shut. He remembered all too well that Dumbledore would not allow them to tell him anyway. They never told him anything when it could actually make a difference...
But even if they had told him, right then, it wouldn't have mattered. There was no way any of them could have known what would happen from that night's events. At least not yet... None of them were seeing past their need to get him to a safe location, so they could not have known that the night marked a turning point in his life, as well as in the life of the only survivor of Voldemort's first wave of attacks.
The war had begun.
* * * * *
Throbbing pain...Blood...Cries of pain....
"It's a miracle she survived...." "Ah...but was 'hat really a good thing Professor?"
Dim voices filtered into her thoughts, her sleep befuddled mind protesting strongly as it failed to comprehend a single word.
"...has a chance."
Flashes of light....flame... Coughing smoke...squeal of tires....Sean....
She awoke jarringly, her painful moan drowned out by the voices.
Voices that were oblivious to her awakening. Voices oblivious to the way her body recoiled in pain. Voices oblivious to how her eyes teared from the bright sunlight pouring in from the windows of the doomed room. Voices oblivious to how she clawed like a frightened animal at the thick comforter wrapped around her battered and bruised body.
Everything she loved was now gone. No explanation would be needed for her to understand what they had done.
What she had done...
A new despair hit her like a thousand hot knives, slicing her skin in a way the worst of the fired spells could not have.
She had done the unthinkable....
New waves of pain poured forth, her vision swimming dangerously with each pulsating pain her body dealt. She would have cried out, but the effort would have been too much for her frail form. Instead she drew in ragged breaths until her body gave out, the sound of a door creaking and a large, dark form standing over her vaguely registered before she once again slipped into merciful oblivion.
* * * * *
The dreams were always the same....
For nearly a month she had refused to succumb to the nightly torments. She was stronger than that. She would not lose herself to the world of nightmares, even if the books she had read on such things deemed that a more merciful fate than the one the wizarding world would bestow upon her.
But they did not yet know. Dumbledore had assured her of that. It had been nearly a month since she had come there. Nearly a month since Dumbledore had explained everything to her. Nearly a month since she had vowed to regain some semblance of a normal life. She wanted that more then anything, so bad she could taste it. But she would never be normal.
No...since the day she had regained consciousness she had discovered that she had been, and always would be, a freak. Hagrid had jokingly told her that she was a freak amongst freaks.
Thanks Hagrid... She thought bitterly, rolling in bed. She was in a hut not unlike Hagrid's own, just outside of the school. It was safer this way... At least for now.
She drew in a shallow breath, letting her sobs subside slowly before Hagrid could hear. She had dreamt about it again. About that night. Visions of blood and shrill screams had filled her mind's eye each night since as she dreamt about their deeds...
She wiped the lingering tears that clung to her eyelashes, swallowing her own self-loathing. She would not fight it, for she deserved every bit of pain bestowed upon her. She would stew in it until it had permeated every fiber of her being. That much was the least of what she deserved.
But the others...They had not deserved it. They had been innocents caught up in something bigger than all of them.
And the ones who had started it all...
They deserved so much worse.
Everything good and pure in her life had been gone for weeks. It was with a cold clarity that she realized this. For now she lived for one purpose, and one purpose alone.
* * * * *
Harry lay on the top bunk staring at the ceiling, watching the way shadows played across it as light from passing car headlights shone in through the window. Ron's loud snores drifted up, breaking the silence like a bullhorn with every breath, and it was taking every inch of the willpower he possessed, to not lean over and smack his friend senseless with his pillow.
He sighed loudly, wondering when it was all going to end. Each day the Daily Prophet brought news of more killings, more unexplained disappearances, and of more war. For several weeks he and Ron had been catching tidbits of information, slip ups by the adults in Grimmauld Place, and right now it sounded like the Ministry was in absolute mayhem. Not that he minded that fact. Anything that made Fudge's job harder amused him immensely. What he did mind was the reason for the mayhem, and that was Voldemort.
Voldemort. It was odd really, how one person could be the cause of so much death and destruction. No one should have that much power, he thought bitterly, thinking of the toll that the Muggle deaths were taking on Mr. Weasley, Ron's father.
Mr. Weasley was the soul employee in the Misuse of Muggle Artifacts Department, and recently, with the strain on resources in the Ministry, it had come to double as the Department of Muggle Relations. Now Mr. Weasley spent half his time performing memory charms on Muggle law enforcement, to cover up the deaths of Muggles who had been murdered by Death Eaters. Now every time Harry saw Mr. Weasley, all the man could talk about were different possible strategies for protecting the Muggle population.
Now if only a good strategy actually existed.
He rolled restlessly, spying Hedwig's gleaming eyes in the darkness. She hooted softly in acknowledgment, and he smiled in the dark despite his dark thoughts.
Memories plagued him every time he closed his eyes now. The Department of Mysteries... It was why he now lay awake.
He had willingly, foolishly, led them all into danger. Ron, Hermione, Ginny, Luna, Neville...
Hermione had nearly been killed.
He shoved the thought aside, re-vowing that it would never happen again.
The trick was in figuring out how.
To protect them, he had tried to blatantly push them away, but they had seen right through that. He had refused to write, and his self-induced isolation ended when both of them showed up at the Dursleys while his relatives were on holiday. The two of them set up residence there the entire week, Order members circling the premises like hawks for security, while his friends had infuriated him to no end. However, he had finally realized that they weren't going to go away. If he was going to distance himself he'd have to do it slowly.
Yes. A gradual drifting would be best.
It was with these thoughts in mind, that he drifted off into another night of fitful sleep. If only he could have known then what the next few years would bring.
Disclaimer: The characters, places, names, and events mentioned in this story, that coincide with the characters, places, names, and events mentioned in J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series, do not belong to me, but to that literary genuis, JKR. Thank you so much for allowing so many of us to pursue writing through fanfiction JKR, we really appreciate it.
The fabulous banner is by SticksN'Stones.
Artwork of Kalliandra by agirlnamedbob87.
"One may never know how long their candle of life's wick is. What they can know, is how well it burns."
~ A.K. Lovell
Chapter 2 - First Impressions
Her eyes flickered over the lake's glassy surface, taking in the shimmering reflections of the early morning dawn. The sun was barely risen and the birds still slumbered, but this had become the norm for her over the past weeks. She simply no longer saw the use in sleeping when guilt plagued her even there.
A light breeze ruffled the water, tousling her hair gently in its wake. She casually brushed her whispy strands back, tucking them carelessly behind her ears.
Her hair had always been a source of frustration, always in the way, hanging in front of her eyes, driving her instructors crazy. No ponytail ever held for long, for her thick, glossy hair had a way of worming its way out. It was as if it preferred to be free and untethered.
Kind of like me...
She swore silently, the rippling waves now running across the lake the only witness to her frustration as she stood. If she was not back soon Hagrid would awake and find her gone. Of course here would be the first place he looked, but with as late as he always ran he would not be pleased with her absence, particularly when they had places to go that afternoon.
Diagon Alley. The very name evoked so many emotions. It was hard for even her to choke them down.
Not that she was allowed to show sadness. Emotions were no longer a privilege she had.
She had been warned of the dangers of such things.
Her bare feet crunched upon the dewy grass, but the early morning chill did not trouble her. She reached into her pocket, fingering the cherry wooden surface of her wand before pulling it out, studying it appraisingly as she traversed her way across the grounds.
They were odd looking things really. Long and thin, and from the looks of it, easily breakable. She suppressed the sudden urge to do just that, knowing full well that nothing could be gleaned from such destructive measures.
It would not change anything, except her mood, but even that could not be improved measurably by the snapping of her symbolic hell.
Of course, seeing Hagrid's face when he found the snapped remains might be rather amusing. Especially with the huge deal he had made over how lucky she was, getting a specially made wand from Ollivander. It wasn't like she had wanted one, and the only reason the quirky man had fabricated it thus was because none of the real wands that he had brought to the school had so much as sparked.
So in what the odd man had called a stroke of inspiration, he had custom designed the one she now bore, forming the core with a lock of her own hair and a pinprick of her own blood. She couldn't even recall how many spells had to be woven into it.
It was funny, for her wand was the only thing she could cajole into working at least somewhat decently, and still she hated it.
Probably because it shares the same fate as you, she thought bitterly, glancing at the ever rising sun.
Jacob's ladders now streamed down from the clouds, forming pools of light on the vibrant grass, giving evidence to the warmth the day would bring.
It was a warmth that would never reach her.
A slightly stronger breeze bore the sound of approaching hooves, and she turned towards the Forbidden Forest, the outline of wings folding into a horse's skeletal body signaled Silverthorne's arrival.
Silverthorne would be pleased. Now he would not have to wait for her to change out of her nightly garments before getting his ferret fix for the day.
She stopped and waited, his gallop growing louder with his rapid approach, and a small smile graced her passive lips. Hagrid and Dumbledore had been as wonderful as they could be, but there was much they kept hidden from her. Intuition informed her of this with every fleeting look they exchanged around her.
Perhaps that knowledge could explain her hostility as of late. Hagrid was a good man and had not deserved the brunt of her anger the previous day. They had been arguing as of late. But then again, she deserved to be informed of everything regarding herself. Keeping her in the dark could only cause further harm. This she was convinced of.
Silverthorne let out a low, guttural grunt as he slowed to a canter, stopping to nuzzle her with his nose.
A creature of the dead. It was one of the more unseemly names Thestrals were referred to by, but it explained why she had felt an instant draw to them while the other animals screeched and howled in her presence.
His teeth glinted in the red hues of the morning and she smiled, pleased with the sight. It should have concerned her, but instinct again told her there was nothing to fear with him.
At least so long as he gets his morning snack, she reminded herself with some amusement, picturing how he would tear through the small creature's bones so eagerly.
She smiled again, letting the concerns of yesterday pass. She would apologize to Hagrid later before they reached Diagon Alley to get her 'school' supplies. She used the word fleetingly for while she was to attend Hogwarts, she was too far behind to be expected to actually turn in assignments with the rest of the sixth years. Instead she was to put up a worthy façade until she gained the knowledge that could help her.
Then there was the small factor of her being completely unable to incant in the first place.
No one would be the wiser to why she was really there. Dumbledore's concocted stories would not only check out, but they were even believable to an extent. He would back her if anyone questioned them. That was her only relief in this entire hell.
The hell that had become her life.
Kalliandra pulled herself onto Silverthorne and squeezed her bare heels around him, his bony ribs protruding into her skin in the process. He took off quickly, carrying them both towards Hagrid's hut at a pace unfathomable to any human, but not to them.
* * * * *
"I can't believe Fred and George, I mean they already got me one set of dress robes, they didn't need to do it again."
Harry laughed as he watched Ron squirm uncomfortably, the magical tape measure flying vertically around his friend's no longer gangly torso, magically recording the length of his arms, legs, height, and for some odd reason, the distance between his ears.
He knew exactly why Ron's brothers were getting him dress robes, but he wasn't about to share that piece of information. Not when he was actually enjoying himself for the first time in weeks.
"Well we didn't need them last year," He pointed out truthfully. "And we do this year. So maybe they just felt bad since your growth spurt rendered your other ones unwearable."
"Thank God for that," Ron grunted, slouching as the measure flew past his nose, only to be smacked atop the head since it no longer seemed to care about doing it's job peacefully. In fact, if Harry hadn't known better, he would have thought it was offended.
"Blimey! Watch it!" Ron exclaimed, ducking another near hit, his feet entangling in the long dress robes trailing past his feet.
"Ron…" Harry warned, but it was too late. Ron had already tumbled over backwards, arms flailing as he took a rack of robes with him, plummeting tumultuously to the ground.
Harry very nearly choked on thin air, quite a feat, had it not been for the loud peals of laughter he was trying to miserably suppress as he caught the rest of Ron's muttered profanities.
Of course, he thought lightly, his best mate might not be muttering the colorful metaphors if he could see the look on the sales clerk's face... Or the fact that she was storming over from where she had been attempting to size a first year for his Hogwarts robes, face alit, hands on hips, eyes narrowed vindictively at the mess Ron lay in.
Right then, with the impeccably bad timing that only Ron could master, his friend's red head emerged from the fray, a bright pink sheet wrapped around it like a shawl, and a sheepish expression on his face as he stammered apologies. The sight must have been too much for the clerk, because her mouth twitched, her serious expression faltered, and all pretense of anger vanished as she failed to be discreet about her own amusement.
"Oh heavens child!" She exclaimed in exasperation, clutching her side hard. "I dare say you might want to take that off before anyone else sees you in it!"
Ron stood up, disentangling himself from the various fabrics while Harry laughed.
"You know mate, I think Madam Maulkin's got it all wrong. I think that's an excellent look for you. Imagine what Hermione would think..."
Suddenly he was finding it impossible to discern Ron's ears from the rest of his tangled matt of hair.
"Oh shut it Harry!"
Harry grinned, enjoying his friends momentary discomfort. "Speaking of Hermione..." He said, calming down slightly. "She should be here any minute so perhaps you could ask her for her educated opinion..."
A bright pink satin blur flew across the room, and he caught it deftly, holding it out in front of him as he looked at it in mock appraisal. "Ron, I'm touched. But it's really not my color. You however looked absolutely spiffing in it."
"You sure bout that Harry? I'd be thinkin' that it'd be clashing with his red hair more than yers."
Now there's another welcome voice! He thought happily. Leaving the Durselys had been great, but he had sourly missed Hagrid.
It was possibly due to this, that he whorled around in his seat so fast that he nearly slid off, earning several loud snickers from a certain chuckling redhead tangled in fabric.
"Hagrid! When did you get here?" He asked, ignoring Ron's attempted reenactment. He took in his large friend standing awkwardly near the chairs.
They really should make stores more accessible for people his size... He thought, making a mental note to mention the idea to Hermione as Hagrid opened his large mouth.
"About five minutes ago Harry. And I stand by what I said." A mischievous grin formed under Hagrid's scruffy brown beard as his eyes landed on Ron. "Hot pink would be clashin' horribly with Ron's hair."
A loud tearing sound tore his attention back to Ron, and he stifled yet another laugh at the horrified expression on Ron's face. By all appearances, Ron had attempted to walk from the fitting platform to where he and Hagrid sat by the windows, only now Ron was staring down at the ripped fabric hanging raggedly from the hem of his new dress robes.
"Now that’s why you're supposed to stay put!" Madam Maulkin snipped, spying the new destruction and waving her wand. The fabric flipped up like a snake, a large needle zooming to mend it. Ron attempted to jump back away from it.
Ron did not look relieved at the thought. Of course, the agonized expression might have been from how Madam Maulkin grabbed him by the scruff of his collar and yanked him back to the fitting platform, where she immediately began to fuss over the dire state of his robes.
"Better finish you first since you can't stand still." She quipped in her high pitched voice. "And to think that this morning I would have sworn it was the younger students who gave me the most problems..."
Ron shot him a pleading look to which he grinned bemusedly, chuckling at how Ron reacted to being fussed over. The guy could hardly tolerate his mother's own tending, let alone that of the seamstress!
Probably why he's still squirming come to think of it…
He turned back to Hagrid, leaving Ron to fend for himself. "So did one of your creatures get a hold of your teaching robes or did Fang do it?" He asked, grinning knowingly. Hagrid's creatures were always tearing his clothes, which would explain why half his garments were covered in mismatched patching.
Hagrid grinned and shook his head. "Nah Harry, for once me robes are fine. Right now I'm 'ere with Kalliandra gettin' her some robes of 'er own. Speakin' of 'er, can't wait for yer two to meet 'er. She's an absolute doll she is."
He nodded, curiosity driving him as he wondered who this Kalliandra character was. Must be a first year or really young. He was sure he would have remembered that name at least.
But in the back of his mind he felt a twinge of pity.
Generally there was only one reason for why Hagrid took anyone to get school supplies, and he was all too familiar with such things.
At least Hagrid will show them a good time, he mused, remembering his first trip to Diagon Alley. He opened his mouth to ask if they were from a wizarding or Muggle family, concluding that it must be a first year from the way Hagrid was still babbling on about them.
"Ah there ya are," Hagrid boomed, cutting him off at the pass.
He followed Hagrid's gaze towards the fitting rooms, taking in the relatively busy store when a not unfamiliar sensation hit him like a bludger, his stomach twisting oddly as his eyes landed on a slim figure, glancing around the store hesitantly.
And I thought Hermione looked good in dress robes, he thought, swallowing hard, berating himself for being distracted. But this girl was stunning, in an offbeat sort of way. While her features were rather plain, her long, golden dress robes clung loosely to her slender legs, with her delicate hands lifting the hem, revealing tanned ankles as she moved towards them.
The hell of it was, she wasn't stopping. Ron's grunt was the only thing that kept him from outright gaping as she came to stand right by him, biting her lip nervously, eyes directed at Hagrid.
"So you found some eh?" Hagrid asked, shooting Harry a wide grin, failing to notice that he had become a mute.
The girl nodded slowly, her eyes glancing at him appraisingly for a second before flickering away. "If you could call it finding..." She said, a hint of sarcasm mixed into her otherwise pleasant speaking voice. "It was more like being attacked with this..." She lifted the hem of the robe for emphasis.
"And my assistant did a fine job young lady. That color suits you," Madam Maulkin chimed out, shocking him back to his senses. He silently thanked her, and glanced over to see that she was still indeed, judging by his friend's pained expression, torturing Ron.
He shook his head whimsically at the sight, glancing back at the girl in front of him, thinking that Madam Maulkin had a point about the color suiting her. Her dark golden hair cascaded loosely past her shoulders, several shorter strands framing her face, lightly brushing her collar bone. All of it was barely discernable from the silky robe material clinging to her willowy figure.
Briefly he wondered if it were a blessing or a crime to allow girls out like that.
He pulled his gaze back to Hagrid, loath to be caught staring.
Fortunately Hagrid had not noticed, and the girl was too busy bickering with him.
Spying that his attention was again re-focused, Hagrid shot him a strained grin. "Ah well... Harry, Ron, this 'ere be Kalliandra. She'll be goin' to Hogwarts this fall to."
"Youffa meanuh uh transforra?" Ron's muffled voice called out from under the cotton sheath Maulkin was vigorously forcing over his head. "Weff neffa haf uh transsfuh befuh."
"What?" Hagrid and him immediately shot out, not understanding one word.
"You have a very...large...head..." Maulkin muttered with each subsequent yank, and Hagrid's guffaw of laughter drowned out Ron's indignant retort. Harry glanced back at Kalliandra to see her watching the spectacle, a hint of a smile tracing its way across her lips.
"I asked..." Ron's slightly aggravated voice called out clearly, "If she was a transfer, because we've never had one before."
Harry turned back to Kalliandra, to see the slight smile that had seconds ago graced her features vanish.
The look she now bore stirred something within him... But what? He could not put his finger on it, but he now found himself staring at the top of her head, for she had begun pointedly looking down at the floor.
Maybe she had found Ron' question offensive, though he couldn't imagine why. He shot Hagrid a quizzical look, hoping he'd clarify things since Kalliandra didn't seem about to do so.
"Yev're had transfers, jerst fer other Houses."
Harry frowned, "Then why did we never see them sorted?"
"Yeamph, wuff weff neevah seen 'em..." Ron grumbled, his robe once again muffling his words.
Hagrid eyed Ron with no small amount of amusement. "Well that'd be cause they came in the middle of the yer. Can't have erm sorted at the sortin' when they've missed it already."
"Oof!" Ron grunted, extricating himself from the excess fabric. "So why the transfer? Did her parents move or something?"
"Yeah, somethin' like that," Hagrid said suspiciously, sounding rather similar to the way he had whenever he was keeping something from them.
Like a full grown giant in the woods...
Or a three headed dog....
Or a pet dragon...
Seeing a half giant squirm beneath one's gaze would normally be quite a funny occurrence, but it simply made Harry nervous as Hagrid continued shuffling his feet, mumbling about proper introductions, while the girl remained extremely quiet.
Harry feigned a polite smile, extending his hand to the girl at Hagrid's insistence. "Nice to meet you."
She hesistated for the briefest of seconds, before finally extending her hand as well.
"A pleasure..." She said quietly, her eyes flickering up to meet his.
It was a shock he had been ill prepared for, for her eyes held a trace of the familiar… So closely akin to the haunted look of Sirius' that he felt himself shaken to the core at the familiarity.
"Y-yes," He got out, releasing her warm hand quickly, chills shooting through him.
The polite smile she had shot him flickered and disappeared abruptly.
"Oh blimey!" Hagrid gasped hurriedly, startling him from his thoughts. "Kalliandra do ye mind if I leave ye 'ere with them for a minute? I won't be a tick. Just forgot to do somethin' but won't be long."
It was a wonder Hagrid had even asked, because he was already waving goodbye to all three of them, not waiting for a response. And from the malevolent glare that Kalliandra shot him, he really couldn't blame him.
"Like he gave me a choice?" She muttered, deflating, her eyes no longer holding the haunted quality of before. Maybe it had never been there. He really ought to have slept longer... With all his turbulent thought as of late running through his mind he simply wasn't thinking straight.
"It may have been important," He pointed out awkwardly.
"Yes, you're probably right..." She said faintly, her voice so soft he scarcely heard her. Though her surprisingly gentle intonations did nothing to stop the harsh quality of her glare as her narrowed eyes followed Hagrid's retreating form. In fact, she was still shooting daggers out the door as the assistant yanked her over to the open fitting platform besides Ron seconds later.
Harry decided not to dwell on the look he had seen, the one so painfully familiar to Sirius. It had probably been his imagination, so he contented himself with trying to decide which of the two looked more disgruntled. Kalliandra kept shutting her eyes, as if frightened by the enchanted tape measure flicking around her head, while Ron kept shooting scowls at Madam Maulkin.
"You know we've never had a transfer before. At least not one that I can remember, right Harry?" Ron stated, glaring down at Maulkin as she marked his cuffs with chalk, determining the length of his sleeves.
He was about to agree when Kalliandra cut him off.
"Well you've obviously had one now."
The assistant flicked her wand, shortening Kalliandra's robes slightly. It was all Harry could do to avoid cursing the assistant. Girl's robes should get no shorter...
"You know that won't bite?"
Harry found that oddly comical, considering that Ron had been ducking the very thing himself, but at least his friend had not been standing chalk still like a deer in headlights.
Kalliandra had though.
She opened her eyes, arching an inquisitive eyebrow at Ron rather than answering him, and Harry noticed her visibly flinch as the flying tape measure zoomed close again.
Ron's brow furrowed slightly at her lack of responsiveness. "The tape measure...That's what I meant." He stated awkwardly, looking at her as if waiting for confirmation that she had indeed, heard him.
She just nodded, turning her head to look out the door. Ron shot him an annoyed, 'Can you believe this?' look.
He had to admit Ron had a point, she did not seem very personable, and did not seem too excited about talking, so he wasn't about to force her. Yet something about her aroused his curiosity. If only he could put his finger upon it...
Several minutes passed, the awkward silence broken only be Ron's random outbursts of displeasure, and Kalliandra's quiet responses to the assistant's questions. Unsurprisingly she was the first one done, and he found himself having a hard time not staring at her now that the dress robes were completely fitted around her form. The thing was classy, elegant, and practically form fitting...
"Hey how come she got done so quick?" Ron asked indignantly, as Kalliandra made her way back to the changing rooms, the bottom of her dress robe gathered in her hands as she walked carefully. She seemed unused to walking in something of the sort.
"Because she, unlike some of my customers, actually held still while we measured her," Madam Maulkin quipped from where she knelt on the floor, using her wand to make minor adjustments to the hem of Ron's robe.
She flashed Harry an inconspicuous wink, and he barely caught it, smiling slightly at her before glancing back to see Kalliandra disappear behind a changing room curtain. He couldn't help but feel slightly relieved. Between his curiosity about this girl and Ron's glares, he did not want to be caught staring at her. And he knew he'd be a lot less prone to doing that once she was out of that damnable robe.
Of course he was wrong, because when she re-emerged he found the short sleeved top she wore to be no better than the low cut lines the robe had bore.
He tore his eyes away from where she stood by the counter, to see a disapproving Ron shaking his head firmly. He appeared to be mouthing, 'No' at him.
Come to think of it, Ron seemed to be making disgusted faces as well.
Harry failed to have the chance to so much as shrug in response to Ron's repulsive like gestures in the girl's direction, before a quiet clatter broke the relative silence of the room. He turned to see Kalliandra squatting down on the floor, picking up tiny pins in her hands.
The bemused assistant stood behind the counter, bearing a slight smile. "Oh honey, thank you, but don't worry about that. I'm as clumsy as can be..." The assistant flicked her wand and the little pins scattered all over the place disappeared, reappearing into the pin cushion held in Kalliandra's hand.
"See, I'm knocking stuff over all the time," The assistant continued, while the girl stared at the now filled pin cushion, biting her lower lip, confusion etched into each of her features.
He didn't fail to notice it.
It's like she's never seen magic before...
There was no time to follow that absurd train of thought, for Kalliandra had already stood, thanked the woman, and disappeared out the front entrance with her bag.
"Wasn't she supposed to wait for Hagrid?" Ron asked after a moment's pause, brow wrinkled confusedly.
Ron was right, she was supposed to wait for Hagrid. Harry hesitated a moment, an internal debate waging until curiosity got the better of him. Wasting no more time he jumped from his seat and went after her.
He wanted to see where she was going.
"And after all, what is a lie? 'Tis but a the truth in masquerade."
~ George Gordon Noel Byron, Lord Byron~
Chapter 3 ~ Entangled Webs
Traversing her way through the swarming, cobblestone streets of Diagon Alley, she let out an unsteady breath.
To the core she had been undeniably, inexplicably, shaken. And all because of a scattered pile of pins upon the flooring of a garment shop, and her own miserable attempts to rectify a clerk's clumsiness.
Yet again it had been unceremoniously thrown in her face, for wizards and witches had it at their disposal.
The sooner she became accustomed the better.
She could not afford to be seen or discovered for what she really was, for in all her incompetence in the craft that made this veiled world of sorcery flourish, she would be left naked and exposed, the consequences of what had lain both within and far flung from her grasps unthinkable.
Butchered for who she was… The possibility was nothing less than she deserved, for one such as herself should not be allowed to walk upon the bustling streets, the feel of the most luminescent of the heavens' orbs warming her skin, the light clatter of pebbles being kicked askew and the laughter of children ringing within the recesses of her auditory senses.
No. There were others who deserved such privilege far more than she, though they now lay where the sun could no longer reach their frigid souls. And with them, lay the semblance of who she had once been.
She had died the same day they had succumbed, despite the rhythmic pounding within her chest.
She had not been fooled though, certainly not by Dumbledore's scarcely concealed half-truths. She knew the pulsating rhythm within her to be fleeting, it was simply the reasons for this that she was unaware.
She was going to find out.
It was why she had left, fleeing in hopes of traversing her way through the densely packed streets, making her way towards the looming marble building, the golden words Gringotts Bank emblazoned across its ivory surface.
After barely a hundred paces the pillar of the wizarding commercial society emerged over the heads of the crowd. Its supporting columns leaning in various directions, their haphazard support for the upper levels of the edifice strengthened with the sorcery filling the streets.
Though it was not there that she wished to go.
It was there, directly across from the goblin filled depository. That was where she desired to go to seek out her answers. Turning down the dark alley she noted a rickety sign suspended above it's entryway bearing the jaggedly carved words Knockturn Alley.
Yes, she had been forewarned of its shady characteristics. She had carefully listened to Hagrid's babbling about it, about how he hated to venture down it each time he found himself in need of Flesh Eating Slug Repellant, and about how objects of the illicit variety could be procured.
She was an object of the illicit variety, and if there was anywhere to find acceptance within the society that demanded swift execution for those of her nature, it would be here.
Hagrid had been none the wiser, content to answer her every question about the dingy alleyway. He had even inadvertently supplied her with the name of the man to whom she wished to speak, Mr. Borgin.
Kalliandra had a plan, and it would soon be set in motion.
* * * * *
"You know Kinglsey loosening up could do you wonders. I mean really, when was the last time you took an honest vacation?"
Kingsley Shacklebolt let out an incensed huff, raucously shoving his way through the thick crowd grunting about insubordination. Tonks only recourse was to roll her eyes, further darkening the reddened hue that her boss' face was beginning to take on.
"Nymp-ha-dora," Kingsley grunted, sounding strained. "If you ever…"
"Kingsley, Harry is perfectly capable of taking care of himself for more than five minutes," She said amicably. "And besides, how was I supposed to pick up Remus' birthday gift for hi.."
Casting a sidelong glance at the senior Order member she came to a halt in the center of traffic, ignoring the protestations of the witches and wizards around them, who were now being forced to walk a full two feet to the side to avoid them. For all their complaining one would think she was inciting a riot, not stopping for a chat with her slightly formidable boss.
Speaking of Kingsley, he looked like he was either suppressing the desire to throttle her, or in the beginning stages of cardiac arrest.
Frowning she regarded him concernedly. "Are you familiar with hypertension Kingsley?"
A large vein was beginning to pulse in the man's forehead, and he leaned low. "Damn't Tonks!" He hissed. "This is not a game!"
She nodded, squinting up at the taller figure in the bright sunlight. "A fact I'm well aware of," She said pointedly, her previous pretenses of humor vanishing. "But the Order is constantly hovering over Harry, convinced that he is an incompetent 16 year old. Yet I have never heard of a 16 year old who has survived as mu…"
A rather large hand clamped over her mouth, and she found herself being roughly drug away from the cobblestone streets into a back alley, away from the ears of passersby.
"Tonks you should know better than to…"
"Than to what?" She shot back in frustration. "Than to discuss what Harry has been through in the open?"
She did not even wait for his nod of affirmation before continuing on her tirade. "Why should we be silent Kingsley? Lord knows these ignorant people need a wake up call, not that the Ministry is giving them one with their censorship of the papers and…"
With an audible crinkling Kingsley shoved a copy of the Daily Prophet into her hands, watching her closely as she unfolded it, discovering it to be the latest issue that she had not yet read.
Twenty Seven Muggles Die Mysteriously in the Spanse of a Fortnight. Is He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named responsible?
Her mouth fell open, forming a small 'O' of understanding.
"That's right," Kingsley stated for her. "They are finally reporting the facts. Fudge can't censor them any longer, not with all the eyewitness accounts of the Ministry employees from…"
"That night," She whispered, knowing full well to what he referred. The scar tissue across her chest would forever serve as a striking reminder to her carelessness in dueling with her aunt. It had taken half of the summer, laid up in St. Mungos, for her to make a full recovery from the blows she had been dealt.
Remus had been her only source of sanity during that time, as he had been on the night they had combed through the grotesquely charred yard of an isolated Muggle home, searching for survivors.
The month old picture of that terrible scene was now burned beneath the front page's blinking headlines, the water pooling upon the pavement darkened with what she knew to be blood.
The poor souls had never had a chance.
Clenching the tabloid between her hands she met her boss' gaze. "Look," She whispered, forcing her voice calm. "I know the Order is concerned about Harry. But he has proven more than competent in situations that most Aurors have yet to face, and he's come out alive an…"
"And in the process put half the Order in grievous danger!" Kingsley boomed angrily. "All due to his impulsive, brash, ill-thought…
"Actions," She supplied, ignoring how his eye twitched. "But how does the Order expect him to learn to make decisions if we are always hovering over him?"
His eyes widened considerably, "In war there is no room for mistakes."
"Who said he was making them?"
Kingsley began pacing up and down the Apothecary's side alley. "No one, but you have to admit the child is…"
"Teenager," She corrected. "And after what he has experienced one can hardly call him even that."
"Is it possible," He said through gritted teeth. "For you to not interrupt me?"
"I'll take it under consideration," She replied, leaning against the dirty brick wall, content to bask in its shade for a moment of respite from the August heat.
Kingsley's next tirade was unintelligible, though she did catch the words 'irresponsibility', 'insubordinate', and 'damn't girl'.
Slowly she began banging her head against the brick siding.
"…and it was your job to watch over them today. But when I come to check on things what do I find? You! Alone! In the Quidditch shop purchasing some ridiculously pointless Snitch…"
"It is not just a Snitch!" She interjected, halting the assault on her skull. "It's a collector's edition! And Remus ordered it a month ago for Harry, special order! They had to make it to Remus' exact specifications, and we thought it would be a nice surprise to pick it up while out toda…"
"Oh grand!" Kingsley burst out, throwing his hands up. "Perhaps you explain your reasoning to the Order when Death Eaters attack and take them away!"
She groaned, resuming the thumping of her head. "Kingsley the Order would do well to realize that Harry is nearly of age. He's nearly an adult and nothing is going to happen while he and Ron are being fitted for robes."
Kingsley stopped pacing abruptly, "And what of the girl?"
"You mean Ginny?"
The man let out a sound oddly reminiscent of a hippogriff in heat, stomping the ground and sending a slew of dust scattering into the air. "Who do you think I mean!? What other girl were you to chaperone today?! Focus for just a second would you Nympha…"
"We ran into her boyfriend," Tonks hastened to inform, unwilling to hear that cursed name again. "So she is spending the rest of the afternoon with the Finnigans."
"And the boys?"
She smirked, "Being fawned over by Madame Maulkin."
Despite his fury Kingsley gave an involuntary shudder. It was a well known fact in his department that he hated all things related to formal attire, with a particular aversion to those who made such things their profession.
Tonks smile only widened further, her pupils narrowing into small ovular slits, eyes yellowing like a cats. "See Kingsley? They're perfectly safe. No self-respecting Death Eater would venture into there."
Kingsley just groaned, "Tonks because of you I am considering early retirement. Only I can't because as much as I hate to admit it, after me you have seen the most 'action' in the department and would be my successor."
Tonks jaw dropped at the admission, a bellowing laugh resonating from Shacklebolt's large form.
"Speechless are we? Well hell has indeed frozen over, either that or your nose of the day prevents proper breathing."
Her hand flew to her crooked nose, pondering what was wrong with it. She had spied a copy of Witch Weekly earlier that day, and while she was not one for fashion she had seen this weeks headline: Crooked Nose Curses, In or Out of Season?
Naturally she had spent the morning wandering around, telling anyone within earshot that Rita Skeeter had cursed her, just to see the mingled reactions.
The boys had at least found it entertaining.
Kingsley's loud cough drew her attention back, where he had adopted a rather exasperated glare.
"You do see my dilemma don't you?"
Eyeing his nose she nodded. "Yup, you've got a crooked nose too. I hear those Muggle nutters have some great techniques for remedying tho…"
Kingsley stomped his foot again. "See? This is exactly what I mean! Your attention span is bordering on the non-existent and you're always usurping authority in favor of whatever your whim of the moment is! In this case it's the, 'the kids can take care of themselves' whim! That's precisely why I can't retire early! You're nowhere near ready for such a position and there is no one else with enough combat experience to recommend!"
She grimaced as his tones went unusually high for a man of his girth.
"Are you even listening?"
"Don't call me that."
Kingsley's eye twitched. "Don't…"
"I'm just taking your advice. I thought authority figures liked to be addressed…"
"One more word and a 'Nympadora' sign is going to wind up with a permanent sticking charm on your front door."
She sobered immediately.
"And stop banging your head."
She stopped that to.
"And don't squirm."
Suppressing a groan she resisted the temptation, her discomfort level rising exponentially. Movement was the only thing sufficient for quelling her often frazzled nerves in Shaklebolt's presence. He knew this, and was intentionally depriving her of it.
Good God, if he was this bad with her she would hate to be a suspect for some abhorrent crime. No wonder they normally came out of questioning twitching.
Contenting herself with incrementally elongating and shortening her nails, the process concealed by the woven bag her fingers were curled around, she arched a questioning eyebrow to which Kingsley immediately responded.
"I'm going with you."
With an indrawn groan she turned, carefully stepping over the trash that had been carelessly tossed, missing the alley's garbage bin, and stopped dead.
Passing the opening where the side alley converged with Diagon Alley's bustling main avenue was a familiar head of dark hair, and Harry was sprinting along at a healthy gait.
"He can watch out for himself can he?"
Without a word she ignored the sarcastic jibe, taking off after Harry with murderous intent. Of all the ill fated timing that one could have, she had the worst. Harry just had to pick now to run off, and she had every intention of strangling him once she got a hold of him.
Of course she may have to stun him first, considering he had grown considerably to tower several inches above her, making him significantly faster.
Aw hell, she'd always been good at stunning.
As they shoved their way through the street, Kingley's golden loop earring glinting in the sunshine, she began ticking off the various ways to kill or torture him. For out of all the Order members she was his strongest proponent when it came to the degree of independence he should be afforded. After all, she had attested to Harry's ability to distinguish when it was or was not appropriate to wander off in public places. However, with Kingsley standing behind her, Harry was proving her wrong yet again. She could only imagine the self-satisfied smile crossing Kingsley's face, and after he mentioned this to the Order…
Her appeal to let Harry in on more of the Orders' activities would probably be rejected, yet again.
This little stunt of his was going to cost him more than he knew.
"I'm going to kill him when I get a hold of him," Kingsley grumbled behind her, wrinkling his nose at the mingled scents stemming from the apothecary.
"Not if I get a hold of him first," Tonks grumbled, thinking on how this little stroll of his would probably cost Harry his allowance into the Order, and he would never even know it.
She began muttering in dangerous undertones, for she'd make damn sure he found out.
Fixing her eyes to the back of his head, she shortened her hair up her neck, and began experimenting with noses. It wasn't until she spotted the old woman calmly perusing the selection of animal food on display outside of Eeylops Owl Emporium that she was struck with an excellent idea.
"Excuse me mam, I'm going to need to commandeer that cane of yours."
* * * * *
It was a marvel that he had managed to keep her in sight, considering the horde swarming around him, children screaming off items that would be needed for the start of term to frazzled parents, most of whom were doing admirable balancing acts with newly purchased cauldrons, books, and potions supplies. Though her hair color helped, for it was neither dark nor light, falling somewhere between bronze and gold, yet far from blonde. He had seen the color rarely, and he doubted ever naturally, before now. Regardless, it made her easier to keep track of her.
Thus it was that he was unable to miss her purposeful march into Knockturn Alley, his stomach churning uncomfortably at the thought.
It was not a situation he liked. In fact, he would much rather prefer to avoid it all together. Yet the way Hagrid had been treating this girl, it seemed she was new to the hive that was Diagon Alley, and she very well may have just made a grievous, and possibly life threatening, mistake.
He knew the consequences of such errors far too well.
Pulling his wand out he cast a glamour charm upon his head, watching the unruly strand of hair hanging on his forehead lighten to a muted brown. Quickly he brushed as much of it over his forehead as possible, not keen to be recognized within the disreputable area he was now traversing through.
The dark entrance was rather twisted, the space narrow and curving every few feet, thus she easily fell out of his line of sight. And it was not without incident that he made it through this, having to grunt at a haggard looking woman to drive home his point that he indeed did not want to buy the cadaver toes she was selling.
"Maybe next time young lad, next time…" She hawked after him, driving his pace to increase.
And increase it did, just in time for him to see Kalliandra disappearing through the entrance of Borgin & Burkes.
Making a hasty decision, and silently praising Fred and George for their generosity that day when they had visited the Weasley twin's establishment, Harry crept past the shaded windows displaying Borgin & Burkes on 'special' items, casting a surreptitious glance through the dirt covered panes.
The image was vague, distorted by the thick layer of grime coating the window, but Kalliandra's approach stirred the man knelt behind the counter, his hands rummaging through his glass display case like a rat in a hole.
An indistinct word fell from the girl's lips, and with a sudden jolt of movement the man stood, mouth spluttering indistinct words in a hoarse fashion.
It was an arranged meeting, or a meeting between two who were uncomfortably acquainted.
Neither prospect boded well.
It was suddenly obvious that she had entered here knowing full well what kind of place it was.
Making a decision as the man began pacing, Harry dropped to the filthy ground, allowing an overturned cart to conceal him from the majority of the scant traffic upon the alley.
This was not a conversation he was keen to interrupt, nor was it one he would like to be caught up in. Not in this place, not when the participants were so engrossed. The stirring in him though, the warning that her behavior was like Malfoy - coming into Knockturn Alley to get chummy with its proprietors - he could not ignore though.
Of all the times he'd thought to spy on Malfoy, he'd been right every time. And his gut was telling him the same now.
Pressing his ear to the thin, flaking wood paneling upon the establishment's exterior, he muttered a charm for hearing enhancement, bringing the ill-boded conversation to life.
Through the creaking of aged, rotting wood, Kalliandra's intonations mingled with the proprietor's pacing.
"…ank you. I appreciate your honesty."
"I have little use for honesty, and much for business," Rasped the man, whose voice Harry now recognized to be that of Borgin's Proprietor, Mr. Borgin himself. "Your correspondence was intriguing, and what you are offering in return…"
"Is something I'd prefer to not be discussed openly," She interrupted cooly. "There are those who would assume much."
The pacing of Borgin vanished, the creaking of ill-suited flooring ceasing.
"Of course," Borgin's rattled breath shot out. "Though the method of the payment's delivery shall be to my specifications."
"That is fine," She clipped back. "And my order?"
A racking cough shook the proprietor, Harry shuddering at the reverberations as the words a month's time were spoken.
Then there was silence, enticing him to slowly slide up the splintery siding, his eyes reaching the sill to peer inwards, just in time for the dilapidated door to be thrown open.
And so it was that Kalliandra stuttered to a stop at the sight of the half-crouching man, who had clearly been listening in.
"He who angers you conquers you."
~ Elizabeth Kenny ~
Chapter 4 ~ Seed of Distrust
Perhaps it was the shuddering weakness that had plagued her body so oft as of late, but seeing the messy haired Potter upon the ground was a sight for which she had been ill prepared, the sheer shock sending her insides reeling and curling into unnatural knots as she blinked at him, his own face adverted as if stalling for time.
Drawing breath between her teeth the pieces fell into place, forming an unpleasing pattern.
Choking back the sick sensation threatening to crawl from her throat, she spun on her heel, strewing grimy dust in her wake and hell bent on distancing herself from the meddling fool as much as possible.
Silently she thanked God, the one of whose existence she was still disbelieving, for her prudence at having said nothing more than necessary.
Tucking a lock of darkened gold behind her ear, effectively removing the wayward strand from her face, she rounded the first twist in the crooked alley, passing a street vendor selling ears of something that sounded suspiciously like 'house elves'. It was in this moment of distraction that a firm grip fell upon her upper arm, the calluses on the hand evident as she reflexively yanked her arm away, stepping away to distance herself from the prat bold enough to make such a gesture.
Unsurprisingly she was unable to even turn around before Potter was again upon her, ushering her to the other side of the besmirched area, away from the street vendor. She wasted no time in distancing herself from the Potter prat, fishing around for his first name, which she could not remember.
Casting a suspicious glance at the crinkled vendor she felt distinctly nervous, even with the man's crazy eyes 10 yards off, for he was clearly out of earshot. Dismissing the momentary concern that wizards could possibly have superior hearing she felt her eyes narrowing into darkened slits.
To Potter's credit, his mouth was already opening in explanation, but she cut him off.
"How much did you hear?" she hissed quietly.
His jaw clamped shut, an unsure look overtaking his features, as if he had no clue on how to answer her question.
Another moment passed between them in silence, the shadows cast by the looming brick walls of the alley traveling such a scant distance that their movement would have been indiscernible to the human eye, had either present paid the darkness any mind, though they did not.
Still the messy haired man before her did not speak, his silence allowing her the time she needed to collect her harshly shaken demeanor.
No one had been meant to know of her liaison with Borgin. No one.
As Potter's silence continued she was left only to nod, expressing her discernment of his actions.
"Listen," she whispered, being careful to keep her voice low. "I want you to stay away from me, and my conversations."
Potter's face was oddly contorted, as if unable to decide upon frowning or glaring in suspicion. "Why are you so alarmed about me overhearing that?"
"Why do you think?" she hissed scathingly.
"Couldn't say, but you're awfully concerned about that conversation remaining private," he stated pointedly, apparently having no qualms about keeping his voice down. "Why the concern if you have nothing to hide?"
She visibly bristled.
"Correct me if I'm wrong," she stated slowly, taking the time to enunciate each syllable. "But most people do not take well to having their private conversations listened in on."
"Most people don't wander down Knockturn Alley to speak in code with shady proprietors," he countered challengingly.
"I'm failing to recall any code," she refuted, her brow furrowing. "Though I'm also failing to remember how this is any of a complete stranger's business."
His dark, forest-like eyes met her staid gaze levelly, without apology, while a woman with a torn, tattered gray shawl limped around the corner, leaning heavily on a claw footed cane. Neither spoke as the woman shambled along, quietly croaking out a melody of sorts about bat wings and who-ding-its.
As soon as the woman neared the weave of the alley, becoming interested in street vendor's merchandise, Potter closed the distance between them, his shoes disturbing the deep claw marks that the elder's cane had left indented in the soiled ground.
"Look," he began, sounding much calmer, "I didn't follow you to overhear anything, I just…"
"You just happened to follow me," she cut in unapologetically, "And then you must have randomly decide to crouch down and eavesdrop?"
Potter took another step forward, eyes intimidating.
Sucking in a half frustrated, half furious breath she suppressed the urge to kick something, him in particular. "Alright Potter, if that’s the case, then why did you follow me?"
His look was nothing short of derisive, the look of one trying to explain a simple concept to a small child incapable of grasping it.
"Correct me if I'm wrong," he commented, his voice carefully controlled, "but weren't you supposed to be waiting for Hagrid back at Madam Maulkins?"
She arched her eyebrows. "Did it ever occur to you that I had places to go that Hagrid had no need to know about?"
In the dark shade of the alley, his eyes took on a suspicious, disapproving glint. "Why shouldn't he know?"
"What are you my keeper?" she snapped scathingly, finally losing her temper, brushing a lock of hair away from her eyes in frustration.
His eyes narrowed immediately. "You're avoiding the question."
"And you're being a complete…"
"A complete what?" he cut in, glowering as she lapsed into silence.
"Look," he finally said, "If your business here was harmless why risk venturing here alone? Why not tell Hagrid and have him come with you?"
She kicked the ground in frustration, scattering tiny rocks in his direction. "So you're telling me that you inform Hagrid about everything you do? Because if that’s not the case…"
"That's not the point," he interrupted, shoving his hands into his pockets.
"Oh I think it's very much the point," she snapped acidly, noticing his hands curling into tight fists within his pockets.
"Look…" he muttered, "I just followed you because I thought you were supposed to wait for Hagrid. And when I got here I could tell it wasn't a conversation I should be walking in on..."
"And spying was a better option!?" she shot out incredulously.
"That's not what I meant!"
"Sure sounds like it."
"Well I wouldn't have even been there if you hadn't walked out in the first place!" he shot out defensively.
"Don't you dare…"
"Now really, what discussion was so important that it required you to trek into Knockturn Alley to speak in hushed tones behind a closed door? Because seriously Kalliandra, I'd love to know," he snapped with mock seriousness, yanking his hands from his pockets and crossing his arms.
She glared harshly. "That is none of your business you miserable blo..."
"Miserable bloke?" he cut in. "You've got..."
Turning on her heel she shoved past him, brushing off his arm that attempted to halt her progress as she stalked away. Purposely dragging her feet enough to send a strew of grimy dust in his direction, she felt a detached sense of satisfaction at his indignant coughing.
"Will you…" he grunted. "Just stop…" She rounded a crooked turn, the light of Diagon Alley seeping into the dimly lit corridor. "Because…"
Continuing to ignore him she stepped out into the bright light, allowing the bustling, shoving, chattering crowd to swallow her whole.
* * * * *
Removing the shawl Tonks smiled maniacally, partly due to her relief at being away from the amazingly putrid odor of the house elf ear vendor, and partly because she was enjoying her old woman disguise too much.
"Out of me way!" she snapped in a scratchy voice, effectively clearing the area as people scattered in every direction. Anything to avoid getting whacked upside the head by the old lady with the sharp cane.
Grinning with sadistic pleasure she passed where Kingsley sat, casually reading the paper at Florean Forescue's Ice Cream Parlor. Wasting not a second she yanked him up with her, dragging him with her after the two teens.
Kingsley yanked out his ear piece, the one that had allowed him to hear everything she had.
"Tonks drop the old woman diatribe, you're mucking it up and sound like a pirate."
She threw her head back and cackled, sending a small group of children, first years by the looks of them, scattering.
"Oh being old is fun!" she related. "I should do this more often!"
Kingsley now appeared to be thumping himself in the head with the rolled up sports section.
Maintaining their ambling pursuit, she was having trouble grasping Harry's conversation due to the noise of the crowd. Knockturn Alley had been deserted in comparison, but fortunately they were able to stay relatively close due to her tendency to knock anyone unlucky enough to walk in front of them in the back of the knee with the claw footed cane.
"Remind me why we didn't just confront them?" Kingsley grumbled unhappily.
"Well one," she said cheerfully, "do you really think they'd be upfront about what they're little rendezvous was about? And two, this is just so much more fun!"
Kingsley groaned. "And here I thought you were the one against following Harry around."
"Details!" she shot back. "Besides, if I'm going to throttle him I at least need to hear that I have a good reason."
"I'd have a few for throttling you…"
Smiling cheekily she ignored him. "Watch and learn from the master Kingsley. Watch and learn."
Kingsley snorted. "I thought I was the master."
"Oh?" she questioned, "So I guess it is okay to refer to you as that."
"You're really aiming to get that personalized, permanently stuck name plate aren't you?"
"What makes you think not?"
Smirking she did her best to keep Harry's head in sight, walloping her procured cane against a man too busy posturing for a Veela look alike to notice the bustling crowd swarming around him.
She let out another cackle, turning to Kingsley. "If you put a nameplate on my office it'll…"
"You don't have an office."
She frowned. "Someday I might."
"Not if you keep this up."
Groaning she whacked her boss with the cane, appeased by the fact that a six foot plus man was now hopping up and down on one foot courtesy of her.
"Now that I've got your attention…"
"If you do that it'll permanently remind you of me, and you wouldn't want that now would you?"
Right then Kingsley looked very much like he would love to drown himself in the water basin outside of Eeylops Owl Emporium. It was a shame the owls drinking from it looked murderous.
It took another second for the information to process within her mind, for it was a relatively clear area, and Harry had just drug the girl over there.
Each and every single owl was glaring in their direction.
* * * * *
As she traversed her way amongst the moving sea of bodies, the heady pressure of commercial commerce hung heavily in the air. The mixing aromas from the apothecary, ice cream parlor, and owl emporium blended with that of the joke shop's scented smoke bombs, while candles burned mid-wick in every storefront window, lending the area a unique flavor.
In Kalliandra's frustration she noticed little of this. So fixated upon distancing herself from the messy haired man behind her was she, that she missed taking in the few sights that she had deemed worthy of a second glance when she had traversed in the opposite direction scarcely a quarter of an hour before hand.
Now it was taking all her reserves to avoid pulling violently away from the rough, calloused hand that had just shot through the crowd, grasping her firmly by the upper arm.
She knew full well who it was.
Hardly aware of the loose pebbling overlaying the cobblestone avenue, or of the continuous influx of patrons pouring from the shops into the street, pressing in around them on all sides in a way that encouraged one to not deter from the speed that the crowd had reached a general, non-verbal consensus regarding, she found herself whirling around to face him, halting.
"What?" she snapped, looking squarely into his dark green, and currently unhappy looking, eyes.
A voluminous man shoved past, cutting Potter off as he failed to take heed of the two individuals speaking a foot below his rather freakish height. In the process he smacked against them brusquely, their heads banging together hard, and she found herself kicking a spray of pebbles in the man's direction, oddly satisfied as the man halted, swore, and turned in place looking for the perpetrator of the attack on his calves.
"Making friends everywhere I see," Potter commented dryly, tugging her along after him until they had abandoned the street altogether. And the moment their feet reached the cement replacement Potter released her, eyes hard and serious.
"I wasn't done talking," he said pointedly.
"Well I was."
"Perhaps you wouldn't have been," he argued annoyingly as they set off, walking along their new path, which lay along the haphazardly constructed sidewalk that had a tendency to move, bend, and crack on a whim. "I tried to apologize, but you were too argumentative to let me finish."
"Oh was I?" she inquired with mock seriousness, hopping over a step that had spontaneously sprung from the path. "Perhaps you should learn what a proper apology entails, and forgive me for being argumentative, but I was the one tripping over a spying bafo…"
"Well you were acting suspicious!" he cut in, her unfinished insult hanging in the air.
"How in the hell was I acti…"
Her exclamation was cut off by his derisive snort, and her face contorted into an angry scowl.
Studying him carefully for a moment as a hoard of kids ran past, she gave a curt nod, indicating the top of his head. "Wasn't your hair a different color?" She spat it like it was a crime.
Again she found him regarding her as if she were a small child to whom a particularly simple problem proved daunting.
"I'm not sure," he mused. "Was it?"
She bit back an angry growl, and suddenly found her progress again halted. She threw a glare at him.
He smirked as if amused. "Well correct me if I'm wrong, but if you're trying to meet up with Hagrid this would be a good place to stay."
"Oh?" she snapped. "And why is that?"
Potter let out an exhausted sigh, dragging her to retrace their last few steps until they stood in front of a small drinking trough, a long stick extending over it, several owls perched upon it, and he gestured inside the storefront window.
Sure enough, through the window, Hagrid could be seen purchasing a ridiculously large bag of Boarhound Pet Chow.
Potter turned to her with a viper like grin. "So," he inquired. "Care to tell me what you were doing before or after Hagrid gets out here?"
Only she did not answer, for her eyes were drawn to the owls besides them. Slowly, instinctively, she took a step back, the slanted lines of the barn owls faces unnerving as a sharp clacking, the distinctive sound of powerful beaks snapping shut in succession, began.
It was the threatening, defensive behavior of an animal whose territory had just been breached, as was the fanning of wings, which the tawny and saw whet, side by side, were currently doing.
Potter's brow crinkled oddly, the owls territorial behaviors not ceasing until Kalliandra had backed away, her heels teetering off the edge of the sidewalk into the street.
* * * * *
He was still frowning when Hagrid came outside, Fang's food sack slung over his wide shoulder.
The Professor spotted them immediately.
"Heya 'arry. Madam Maulkin done torturin' Ron I take it?"
He shook his head. "Not exactly..."
"Eh well, it 'appens," Hagrid commented nonsensically, eyes darting beneath his thick scruff of hair between the two of them. "Ye two gettin' on well are ye?"
Not exactly… But he did not have a chance to comment as Hagrid clapped him rather hard on the back.
"Good to 'ear Harry, Good to 'ear."
It was clear that Hagrid was hardly paying attention, to him at least. To Kalliandra however…well, the half giant was observing her as if she were a sick hippogriff about to go off. Not that he could blame him, with the way she stood teetering on the curb away from them both, rubbing her shoulder, a slight grimace gracing her mouth.
The quiet, almost pained individual before him appeared to the be the polar opposite of the girl he had bickered with along the streets.
Something was extremely wrong.
"Yer okay there Kally?" Hagrid asked, apparently noticing the peculiarity as well.
"I'm fine Hagrid," she responded dully. Her hand fell from her shoulder quickly.
"Are you sure?"
"Yes, I just got jostled a bit in the crowd," she glanced up for the briefest of seconds, the forced smile she cast not reaching her eyes. And just as quickly as before, her eyes were again down-turned to the street. Very quietly, almost as afterthought, she quietly muttered, "I'm getting sick of everyone asking me that."
"Yes well, it will 'appen to yer…" Hagrid muttered, once again, the words meaningless and confusing, as if a part of a conversation in which he was not a participant.
"Ready to leave?"
Her question was pointed, as was her gaze, still directed at the cold ground.
"Well ye want ter get yer pet now er…"
"I don't think that's a very good idea," she muttered, her eyes still avoiding anything save for the pavement, her mannerisms bordering on frightened.
"Well ye 'ave to deal with it eventually."
Biting her lower lip she nodded, several long tresses falling to obscure the left side of her face. "I know," she whispered, eyes lowered to the ground.
Hagrid just nodded gruffly, glancing at him with the air of a concerned parent ready to pounce.
The entire exchange was perhaps his most confusing one to date, and he had thus far, not been a participant.
"Look, yer'll be wantin' a pet, and ya can't take Silverthorne to your dorm with yer…"
"Silverthorne?" Harry cut in, hoping to perhaps catch a smidgen of coherency.
"A thestral," Hagrid supplied absentmindedly, and at that word Harry couldn't help it.
He turned an incredulous look to the side of her head, the only part of her face still visible. "A thestral is your pet?"
He swore she nearly laughed. "No Potter. Silverthorne is no one's pet. I've just taken a liking to him."
Now he had to admit that they had been useful at the end of last term, but to take a particular liking to one? What the hell did that mean?
"So you can see them?" he finally asked, at a loss.
Turning her head towards them again, her eyes still avoiding the owls like a plague, she shot him an odd look. "Yeah, why couldn't I? I'm not blind."
Hagrid's sudden look of panic didn't escape him, nor did it Kalliandra as she shot him a questioning look, to which the Care of Magical Creatures Professor cowered slightly.
He decided to save him the trouble of answering. "Well not everyone can see the..."
"Why not?" she asked sharply.
"Because you can't see them unless you've seen someo..." he stopped short, seeing the look Hagrid was shooting him.
Her brow crinkled in annoyance, and Hagrid's voice came out, suddenly pacifying.
"Now Kalliandra yer know 'ow some things 're..."
This tactic only elicited a small noise of displeasure from her.
Frustrated, Harry supplied the information for her.
"You can't see them unless you've seen someone die."
There was no verbal exchange, but her eyes darkened, speaking volumes.
"Are yer alri..." Hagrid started cautiously.
"Yes," she whispered.
"We can get yer pet later," Hagrid stammered. "That'd be…"
"It's fine, Hagrid," she cut in, sweeping past them both into the store, her eyes remaining averted the entire time.
Hagrid let out a defeated sigh, rubbing his forehead with a large hand wearily, and the realization of what he had just done struck Harry like a lightning bolt.
She hadn't known, and he had probably just brought back whatever horrible memory her past had held.
* * * * *
Kalliandra quickly walked through the musty, noisy store, avoiding all the live animal displays, and she disappeared behind a large shelf stocked with rat feed, relief sweeping through her that no one was back there as her conflicted emotions threatened to rise to the surface. She had spent the past three weeks carefully building a wall of indifference around herself, and she couldn't afford to let it down now.
Not over such a trivial fact coming to light. Not when she had just spoken to the person who could give her the answers she needed.
Yet still…why hadn't they told her?
She knew the answer without asking, for to have been reminded of the reasons behind her presence here in any way…it would only serve to remind her of her own self loathing for all she had done.
A slight tremor coursed through her, and sighing sadly she listened to the soft hooting amidst the rafters. She would not look at them, for she had seen the reactions that elicited enough.
Yet the hooting continued, more persistent, and somewhere in the carnal recesses of her mind she knew her very presence there was a bad idea, a poor choice of both Dumbledore's and Hagrid's judgment.
Facing obstacles was apparently a healthy thing, even when it generally resulted in having irate owls attempting to bite oneself.
With a great degree of trepidation she found herself tilting her head up to peer through the dark, cluttered atmosphere of the shop, her eyes slowly adjusting, pupils widening in the dim lighting as the lower rafters slowly came into view.
Owl upon owl rested upon them, some peacefully sleeping, their heads carefully nestled into the folds of their feathers, while the rest had trained their alert, shining eyes upon her.
The menacing clacking of beaks being threateningly opened and snapped shut began to, once again, fill the room near her.
"So you think you'll get one of them?"
Cringing, though almost glad for the distraction, she turned her attention slowly to Potter, who now stood in front of her. To his credit, he at least had the common sense to look apprehensive.
"Look, Kalliandra, I'm sorry. I didn't realize..."
"It's fine," she muttered, forcing her voice level. She did not need his pity. She did not want it.
Despite this, she could not help but keep a furtive eye on him, as she pretended to peruse the owl selection, her eyes carefully avoiding all of the owls, and she was a bit surprised to see a downcast, yet determined, expression upon his face.
He followed her down the aisle. "I don't think it is."
"Like it matters to you," she whispered quickly, silently reminding herself of all the predatory behaviors to avoid.
Do not make eye contact… Keep your head lowered… No loud noises or sudden movements…
Like that would actually help in calming these poor woodland creatures, for it certainly had little effect on the one with the supposedly larger brain: Potter.
His expression had faltered at her last words. "In case it's escaped your notice, I'm trying to be nice here. I'm at least making an effort."
"You shouldn't have bothered."
Groaning he raised his hands, folding them behind his head. "You're right. I don't know why I did."
"Wonderful," she murmured sarcastically, traversing her way along the back wall.
"You know..." A raucous hissing cut him off as an owl nipped at his raised hands. Potter jerked away hastily, nearly taking a wooden shelf with him.
"Bloody owl," he grumbled, glaring up towards the offending bird, who by now had hopped down to the lowest rafter, where it screeched, its outstretched wings flapping vigorously.
For some absurd reason the situation struck her as funny rather than frightening, and she did not bother to suppress the laughter bubbling out while she observed the formidable looking owl. For once it was not aimed at her. And as if sensing her scrutiny its dark eyes locked with her own.
Its territorial behavior ceased, drawing a smile to her face, for she wasn't the only one to lash out at those who came to close.
She traced the Great Horned owl's outline, noting the black coloration speckling its reddish brown wings, its catlike face and highly pointed ears all swiveled curiously towards her.
Then she noticed the small shackle imprisoning it, one end encircling its twig thin leg, the other binding it to the rafter it sat so miserably upon. It was caged, forbidden to go wherever it pleased.
It was perhaps the most foolish thing she had yet done, but she held out her arm hopefully, and watching its wings extend it gracefully flew to her, its shackles clinking haphazardly as it landed gently upon her arm. She eyed its magnificent dark eyes, noting how it was careful to not dig its talons into her skin, and she turned away from Potter, walking to the front counter as the owl re-perched upon its rafter, waiting for her to re-turn.
"You'll need a cage for him," Potter pointed out.
"He won't be needing it," she replied curtly.
"You're awfully personable aren't you?"
"Well," she stopped at the counter wearily, speaking with an unusual amount of venom. "if you mean that I am able to converse with nosy individuals than yes."
Potter turned in a frustrated huff, storming out of the store. Watching his retreating figure she too late realized how wrong she had sounded.
And then Dumbledore's words came floating back to her. His one's about the need for her and the many, many others under his protection to keep some things quiet. Some things secret.
Something cold, restricting, and callous curled within her throat, for until this war, the one they all refused to tell her anything about, was over, she would be more alone than ever.
The wounds of a rain soaked night were still far too fresh.
It was better to push everyone away.
For their own good, and for her own.
Through the sun-glinting window she could see Potter talking animatedly with Hagrid. His stony features looked vaguely annoyed, and if she hadn't known better, she would have thought that he seemed insulted.
A cold shudder rippled through her. Potter was also dangerous, of that she was sure. She'd practically felt his suspicions rippling off of him, and he'd overheard something he ought not to have. She only hoped it hadn't been enough...
She'd talk to Dumbledore. She'd relate everything upon her return.
A light weight descended upon her arm, jarring her from her thoughts as two dark eyes met hers. She smiled, her first true smile in weeks, reaching out a hesitant hand and ruffling the owls feathers. They were soft, like those of a newborn hatchling, only she wouldn't know for sure.
She had never felt an owl before now.
A sense of peace filled her as it continued looking up at her, hooting softly. And for a second, just a brief moment she knew to be both fleeting and false, she could have sworn it silently understood.
* * * * *
Once again Harry was completely and utterly confused by the feminine species.
He simply did not get it. During their entire argument Kalliandra had seemed so indifferent, almost untouchable. It was maddening how his snide remarks rolled off her, so he had kept at it, wanting to unconsciously vent some of his own frustrations into her and to discern what her actual business in Knockturn Alley had been.
He knew it was wrong. And he knew his behavior was uncharacteristically Malfoy-like. But at the time, he had not cared.
That was until thestrals had come up. He had glimpsed a smidgen of real human emotion within her then, and it was startling.
Or at least he thought he had. He must have been mistaken, because whatever it was he thought he had seen, had gone as soon as it had come.
The she had been the one making snide comments like Malfoy.
A cacophony of sounds emerged as the shop's door opened, emitting Kalliandra and her horribly moody owl. He grimaced at the sight, even as a chiding voice reminded him how an animal's behavior could so oft deceive.
Buckbeat's certainly had.
That was all forgotten though, for right then she raised her forearm high, and gray wings spread wide, feet and claws hopping from her arm as the owl took flight, circling in wide arcs until it disappeared above the rooftops of Diagon Alley.
"Kalliandra what in the blimey are yer doing!? You just lost yer pet!" Hagrid exclaimed.
And to Harry's great surprise, she actually smiled. Her eyes seemed distant, as if she were looking into something that no one save her could see.
"Hagrid, he deserves to be free."
"Things alter for the worse spontaneously, if they be not altered for the better designedly."
~ Francis Bacon ~
Chapter 5 ~ A Professor of One
Remus yawned tiredly, his light brown eyes skirted across the train platform at Hogsmeade, searching for the familiar form that was nowhere in sight. A light smile crossed his weary features and he chuckled. Hagrid was not someone he would easily miss had he been there. No invisibility cloak was quite that large.
"Hagrid...." He said, shaking his head amusedly. He picked up his briefcase, crossing the deserted, outdoor platform in the direction of Hogwarts.
It wasn't far, and Hagrid would undoubtedly intercept him along the way, most likely in his own, frenzied hurry to intercept him. Hagrid was a bit forgetful at time, and Remus could not fault him. He would be to if he took care of such a hazardous array of animals for a living.
The train platform was on the outskirts of the small village, on the outer edge nearest Hogwarts, and a pebbled road led directly to the school's front doors. He would turn off it before he reached Hogwarts' massive, welcoming entrance, to traverse his way across the lush, green grounds to Hagrid's hut.
Remus had never been close to the game keeper, but he respected the man immensely for his work in the Order.
He also empathized with him, and recently Hagrid had mentioned that he was one of the few who could truly hope to understand him.
He started walking, thinking how right Hagrid was.
The sun beat down on his pale shoulders, warming more than his shirt. The sun was rejuvenating to him in a way few understood, because it was a full orb of light for which he harbored no fear. It was funny, that the lightest of nights filled him with foreboding and pain, when usually it was the absence of light that inspired fear. He sought solace in the darkest of nights, that was when he felt his best, but for now, when the moon was a quarter full, he would seek comfort in the warm afternoon sun.
It was because of this curse that he could empathize with Hagrid. The opportunity to become a fully qualified wizard had been stolen from the gamekeeper turned Professor, and it had nearly evaded even himself. Had it not been for Dumbledore's kindness Remus would never have studied magic. No other school would have taken him.
They had feared him.
The curse of being different, he thought bitterly. They were both labeled as dangerous by the wizarding community, and shunned. Their friends even suffered for their mere association.
A half-giant and a werewolf...two of the most dangerous magical beings on the planet, both seen as murderous, blood-thirsty beasts, and yet neither one of them possessed the inclination to harm another.
Weren't the painful transformations and premature aging enough? He shook his head, knowing the answer to that, because it wasn't.
No, he had to be shunned as well. Didn't they know he would change it if he could? And Hagrid...one of the most gentle, kind-hearted people he had ever met, yet the Ministry feared him and his giant heritage. They labeled him violent without even knowing him. He could at least understand why people feared him, but Hagrid was harmless. He at least was truly dangerous.
Several nights in his past stood in dark testament to that.
Because of his forgetfulness, Wormtail had gotten away on one of those nights. If he had only taken his potion, perhaps Voldemort would not have returned, perhaps Sirius would not have died...
Damn't Sirius! He had figured his friend's stubborn nature would have made him harder to kill, but in the end, he, just like James, had been as vulnerable as the rest.
He was the last now.
Peter was as good as dead, and if he ever saw him again... If he ever got the chance...
He'd make sure a finger really was all there was left of him.
He shuddered at the thought, remembering the words Lily had spoken to him, as he stood over his parents freshly dug graves.
"Even in the darkest of times, there are shimmers of light Moony. It's just a matter of finding them..."
It was something he had promised to show Harry. Harry was the only real family he had left, and he wanted the boy, who was quickly growing into a man, to know of the incredible strength his parents had held. He needed to know that there were things worth fighting for.
Lord knows he's already had his share of fighting...
We all have...
The thought sobered him, reminding him of his purpose today. He squinted ahead, shielding his eyes from the bright morning sun to look for any sign of Hagrid.
Today he would truly meet her.
He wasn't sure whether to be nervous, or to simply be exhilarated that the broken girl he had cradled had survived.
She had been thrust into their world unwillingly. Dumbledore, in all his wisdom, had felt Hogwarts to be the safest place for her. It would be a good way to help her adjust, by slowly exposing her to people her own age.
But unlike others her age, she lacked a prior five years of magical education, and any knowledge whatsoever of their world.
It would be his job to remedy that.
When Dumbledore had asked him, he had felt inadequate, poorly equipped for the task.
Dumbledore had set him down, much like he were once again the pupil and he the teacher, and told him he had never known another who he would trust more with her.
It was then that he had confided in him.
"When Voldemort was still the school boy, Tom Riddle, I feared what he may grow to be.
"When Harry came, I feared what loss may drive him to do.
"Now I fear what she may do to herself."
Not to mention what she could do to those around her. The memory of the night they had found her was still burned into his mind's eye. It was not something Remus would soon forget.
Doing his job right could mean the difference in this young woman's survival. Dumbledore had been very clear on that.
Now if only there was a witch or wizard out there equipped to deal with this. Only, there wasn't.
He knew the odds for her. He knew what she was facing, even if she did not. And he knew what so often happened to those with her ability.
By all rights he should be terrified and have run in the other direction.
Yet he could not bring himself to do so. Not when the image of her feeble body lying there, clad in mud and the blood of those she loved, kept coming back to him each night as he dreamt. He felt a note of discord at the thought of anything worse befalling her.
Deep down he knew what it was to be judged, and he'd be damned if he did that to another breathing person on this planet.
And that was why, despite knowing all of this, that he had accepted the assignment. Dumbledore wanted her to have the same chance as everyone, and he had full heartedly agreed.
Now all he had to figure out was how to give it to her.
"The most worthwhile things in life are never easy...."
Her words came back, hitting him as fresh as if they had fallen from her lips only yesterday, and never before had they been more appropriate.
A sad smile lit his face. Only she could say something that's meaning would last decades.
Just like the pain...
Always so fresh, so sharp...
He still marveled at how so many spoke of healing, and forgetting. Pain did not vanish. It did not go away. You could not deal with it, for to deal would imply to fix. Instead you just learned how to live with it, without losing your mind.
Of course, the same people had often spoken on how well he dealt with pain, but he did not feel very good at that. He was just logical enough to know that there was no good in dwelling on what could have been. Things happened…bad things...whether you wanted them to or not, and nothing one said or did could change that.
If it did none of them would be gone…
And after all these years, she was still right. A smile formed on his lips, the joyful memories coming back, flooding his vision as he remembered Padfoot's taunting about how she was 'always right', and they were 'always wrong'.
Her retort had been that it was about time they saw it her way.
He chuckled slightly, catching sight of Dumbledore making his way leisurely down the sparsely used road. He raised a hand in greeting, catching the Headmaster's attention, and was pleased to see an amused grin on the Headmaster's powerful face.
"Good Afternoon Remus."
"Likewise Albus," He said, shifting his briefcase to the other arm.
Dumbledore removed his half-moon spectacles, polishing them on his summer robes. "It's amazing, how the brilliant sun glare can make even the most tiny of smudges stand out, almost like the dark spot where the sun is supposed to be when a solar eclipse shields it."
The Headmaster held his glasses to the sun, studying them through his light, twinkling, currently squinted eyes, searching for any left over imperfections.
"But enough about the rattled musings of this grandfather clock's inner workings. How have you been? I trust the train's conductor wasn't too erratic with the speed for your young heart?"
Remus smiled broadly. Yes, in relaxed, social situations, Dumbledore was still the same.
"The train was fine, and I've been good. I was just thinking of some amusing arguments Cassilyda and Sirius had before."
Dumbledore replaced his glasses on his nose, looking off towards the sun as if seeing something far past it. "Ah...yes those two did have a penchant for arguments did they not? I seem to remember a certain James Potter walking in on one of them...it took Pomfrey all afternoon to get him straightened out. She was rather reluctant to change him back... Something about liking him better as a mute eel, unable to cause mayhem on an hourly basis, locked up in a tank...I believe Lily had been particularly amused."
Remus smiled fondly, remembering the faces Jame's the eel had made, pressing his slimy, snakelike body against the glass walls of the fish tank. They had scooped him off the floor and conjured a tank quickly, filling it with water as soon as they had seen him flopping around on the stone floor.
Whether Lily had seen James or not before stepping on him had been a matter of debate for weeks.
Not to mention, in the hospital wing, when James had started trying to form letters with his long, serpent like body...
He chuckled slightly. He still wanted to know how James had contorted himself into an R... He shuddered thinking of how painful that spelling out 'You’re a Dead Man Sirius' must have been.
"Quite an impressive bit of Transfiguration for fifth years... I gave Gryffindor House 20 points for that," Dumbledore mused aloud, turning his gaze on him, his eyes twinkling with amusement over the rim of his glasses. "I was sourly tempted to give out an award for Special Services to the School, since the Minister of Magic was visiting that day, and their "accident" rendered James incapable of doing something drastic, like turning the Minister's hair neon pink," Dumbledore grinned slyly at this. "Come to think of it I wouldn't entirely mind seeing that..."
Remus could only shake his head, suppressing the laughter threatening to come out. It was good seeing Dumbledore.
"Of course, in the end, no one could determine whose wand actually had transfigured young James at the time, so I couldn't give anyone the award. I was sourly disappointed by that."
"That was your only reason for not giving it?" He asked amused.
"Why yes Remus. Do you really think I would pass up a chance to encourage the propagation of good behavior when Ministry officials are visiting?"
"Not when Umbridge is the Ministry official," He replied, thinking of how Fred, George, Harry, Ron, and Ginny had described that impractical toad the year before.
"Ah yes...how is she doing in St. Mungos? I believe the verdict was temporary insanity?"
"It should have been permanent insanity and a life sentence in Azkaban. The toad was about to use an Unforgivable Curse on Harry!"
Dumbledore nodded curtly. "Ah, but the word would be 'unforgivable' and we are supposed to be forgiving. And speaking of forgiving I am taking it that Hagrid got distracted and was late meeting you?"
He nodded assent, finding the well known knowledge of Hagrid's quirk of untimeliness amusing.
Dumbledore grinned, "Well why don't we go see him together than Remus. I was just going to pay Madam Rosemereta a visit but my butterbeer can wait. Besides, if I am guessing his reason for being late to greet you...well...I may just be in need of some good, old fashioned fire whiskey."
He eyed Dumbledore curiously, "I didn't know you drank fire whiskey."
"But of course I don't..." He replied, winking mischievously. "I haven't had reason for such extravagant celebration since the Marauders graduation, granting me peace of mind and serenity again. Of course..." Dumbledore turned, waving for him to follow. "I'm not entirely sure I even have a mind left, with which to enjoy the serenity with."
Remus opened his mouth to reply, but no sound came forth. Instead he found himself following the Headmaster across the lawn, Hagrid's cabin quickly coming into sight as Dumbledore continued idle chitchat.
"....Now of course the key in those situations is managing the brew in reasonable amounts, a talent my dear brother does not possess," Dumbledore said, referring to his goat herder brother's drinking habits.
"Half my year didn't possess that talent," He replied, thinking of the one time he, James, Sirius, and Peter had gotten a hold of a bottle of Firewhiskey their 7th year. That had not gone over well... Fortunately Pomfrey had bought the excuse that all of them had caught the flu from each other. His thoughts were abruptly cut off as a loud, deep booming noise, sounding oddly like a fire cracker going off, met his ears. His attention turned towards the source, which was immediately apparent upon seeing the sight in front of him.
Hagrid and a young girl with golden hair were having a row. Only Hagrid seemed to be doing most of the yelling, while the girl just huffily picked up rock after rock from the side of the hut, flinging them with unusual vigor and accuracy, at an unsuspecting tree trunk, which was taking the brunt of her very visible frustration.
"Why hello Hagrid! Hello Kalliandra!" Dumbledore called out cheerfully, as if nothing were amiss.
Hagrid's voice immediately died down and the girl waved slightly before walking pointedly off towards the woods, where she stood blowing into her cupped hands, an odd whistling sound emitting from them.
He found himself looking between the girl at the edge of the Forbidden Forest, Hagrid's angry, red face, and Dumbledore's happy one.
"Hello there Remus. How yer doing today?" Hagrid replied, sounding rather strained. He looked strained too, because at the moment he wouldn't have been surprised to see steam coming out of the Professor's ears.
"Better than you it seems. What was all that about?"
"Oh that," Hagrid said angrily. "That would be abou' Kalliandra bein' difficult. Seems she went er…snoopin' aroun' Knockturn Alley t'day."
Dumbledore seemed unperturbed. "Hrm…curious. I suppose it's only natural for her to seek out information though, and what better place than there? Wouldn't you agree Hagrid?"
Hagrid shook his head, sending his scruffy hair awry. "No sir. She shouldn' hafta be findin' things out dat way. It woulda bin all me fault though if she...if she had...."
"No use working yourself up about things that did not happen Hagrid," Dumbledore consoled, offering a reassuring smile.
Remus continued listening to the ensuing conversation, but his attention was elsewhere as he turned to see Kalliandra standing next to a thestral, which was profusely nuzzling her like a long, lost friend. Thestrals weren't exactly dangerous, but they weren't exactly friendly either.
One would never know how she had barely clung to life only weeks before.
He shook the images away.
"Hagrid what exactly is she doing?" He was having a hard time standing idly by with a thestral's sharp teeth nuzzling so close to his future pupil's neck.
"Oh," Hagrid huffed out, still sounding slightly annoyed. "That there be Silverthorne. He's a thestral."
"Well I can see that. I meant what is she..." He grasped for the right word unsuccessfully.
"Doing?" Dumbledore supplied amusedly.
"Yes," He replied embarrassedly. Sometimes the simplest word was what he was looking for.
"She bloody well talks to him more than she bloody talks to me," Hagrid grumbled. "Tells him everythin' from the looks of it and ye should see them, traversing' around at all hours of the day. Real spitfire that one is! Bloody well good luck teachin' her Remus! Bin havin' enough trouble gettin' Care of Magical Creatures down 'er throat and she actually likes that. Can't imagine how she'll be with somethin' like Transfigurwhatsitcalled..."
"You mean to say that she's bonded with an animal?" He mused, interrupting Hagrid's ramble.
"To hell with it! You'd think she actually understood what that one be sayin' half da time!" Hagrid muttered exasperatedly, a wounded look on his face. "She'll talk to that there animal and get to arguin' with me!"
Remus was thoughtful for a moment. "So she likes animals of the night..." He commented, turning to face both of them. "Well, then I won't have too much trouble then, now will I?"
Dumbledore nodded in agreement, smiling to himself. He couldn't have picked a more perfect person to tutor her. Now lets see if he can save her, he thought to himself, silently hoping for the best.
* * * * *
"She bloody set it free!?" Ron exclaimed in disbelief.
Harry nodded, chucking his newly bought school books onto his bed in Grimmauld Place. "That’s what I said wasn't it?"
"But....it's an owl!" Ron stammered, clearly not getting it. "You can't set an owl free can you? I mean...they like...fly..."
"Very good Ron. Glad to see you know that a bird can fly," Hermione interjected, rolling her eyes as she entered their room, setting herself down onto the corner of his bed.
Ron gaped at her, looking strangely like a fish with protruding eyes.
"You know with your mouth open like that you can almost pass for a goldfish," She clipped scornfully.
Harry cringed inwardly on Ron's behalf. Hermione had been short with them ever since the three had re-grouped in Diagon Alley, only for him to hastily recount his story to them, and for Ron to just as hastily agree that Kalliandra was an insufferable twit.
Hermione, forever insufferably logical, had insisted on having the entire afternoon recounted word for word, and while she had admitted that the conversation had sounded suspicious, she felt that they were both over-reacting. He had even been forced to endure a long lecture about how wrong of him it was to eavesdrop as he had.
He had immediately pointed out that she had had no problem whatsoever when Malfoy was the one he was eavesdropping on, which had earned him a sharp tut and another tangent about how he should have done more to make the girl welcome.
In her opinion, if Hagrid and Dumbledore trusted the girl, than they should too. End of story.
Ron had kindly pointed out that Hagrid also trusted Aragog, all dragons including Hungarian Horntails, and that he considered his little brother to be 'tamed.' End of story.
It was right about then that Ron had made the mistake of calling Kalliandra several choice names, including a plain, ugly witch, which earned an infuriated round from Hermione about how 'ridiculously superficial' they were being. He was unable to follow her entire tirade, but it ended with her concluding that both of them seemed to be 'blatantly misjudging' the girl on looks alone.
Yes…Ron had evidently hit a nerve, and at risk of further igniting her already roaring temper he avoided pointing out that he for one was definitely not prejudicing her on looks, because if he was he would be treating her like Ron did Fleur Delacour, rather than like the Black Plague.
Fortunately Harry did not mention any of these thoughts, got smart, and went quiet.
He wished he could say the same for Ron though.
"Still in a fine mood I see," Ron grumbled, shoving the bag with his new dress robes into the top dresser drawer.
Hermione's nose wrinkled in obvious disgust. "Aren't you even going to hang those up?"
"No. It's not like there are any girls here."
"So I suppose I'm a man is that it?" Hermione questioned icily.
"Unfortunately yes," Ron countered. "And a rather hot-headed know-it-all at that." Harry caught his friend mumbling.
"What was that?" Hermione asked, eyes narrowed dangerously.
"Oh nothing Hermione," Ron replied with exaggerated formalness. "I was just saying what a lovely job you did defending that uptight, Slytherin bound...."
"I highly doubt she is Slytherin bound."
"Is too! Mark my words she'll be in Slytherin! Sneaking off on Hagrid and having suspicious conversations! You heard what Harry said about her..."
"And from the sounds of it he was rather rude and made her feel unwelcome Ronald!" Hermione snapped angrily. He glared at Ron. He did not want to get brought back into this.
"And I met her for only five minutes and could tell she was...."
"Was what Ronald?! You can't tell anything about a person after only meeting them for five minutes!"
"You didn't even meet her!" Ron shot back, his face growing slightly red as he flopped angrily down onto the bed across from his, staring pointedly up at the ceiling.
"I...Well...At least I'm not passing judgment on her!"
"You are too! Just because it happens to be a positive judgment doesn't mean that it's not a judgment..."
"All I'm saying is that she's Hagrid's friend and we should at least give her a chance!"
"They didn't sound very friendly to me did they Harry?" Ron asked, directing his question at him.
Once again thank you for bringing me into this, he thought sarcastically, looking between Ron and Hermione's expectant expressions. He suppressed a groan, waiting for the retaliation that was about to come.
"They did at the robe shop..." Hermione's face broke into a triumphant grin, but he quickly added, "but not at the pet store." Hermione's face fell as Ron let out a triumphant woot.
"Yes, I do see Ronald. I see a carrot-topped prat who's way to eager to pass judgment on anyone but himself!" She stood abruptly. "If that closed minded brain of yours is actually capable of intelligence then try to remember that you passed judgment on me our first year and were wrong!" She spun on her heel, stomping loudly. "If you can remember that is. But hopefully the effort to think is not too taxing, it'd be a pity if your head exploded!" With that she stormed out, slamming the door behind her.
Only after the walls shook as her own door slammed across the hall did Ron sit up, grinning triumphantly. "And apparently I was right because she still think she knows it all!"
The door to their room flew upon, revealing a livid looking Hermione.
"I can't believe you!" She yelled angrily, looking ready to hex Ron at any moment.
Ron's grin vanished, his face gone slightly pale. "But...your door shut...How did you..."
"A door can be slammed by someone from either side, like from the hallway Ronald." She snapped, this time leaving the door wide open as she stormed off, granting them both quite a view as she vigorously flung her own door behind her this time.
Ron was right on her heels, like usual. "Mione come on....I said I'm sorry..."
"No you didn't!" Came Hermione's shrill, but muffled reply.
"Well I just...."
Harry tuned them out. This had happened three times just that week, all when something trivial set one or the other of off, and it always escalated into this melee. Usually Ron wound up standing outside her door, pleading for forgiveness, like he could now hear him doing.
He leaned back with a loud groan onto his bed. He sincerely hoped Ron asked her out soon, because he wasn't sure how many more of their bickering induced headaches he could take.
"We must die to one life, before we can enter another."
~ Anatole France ~
Chapter 6 ~ Power of Persuasion
"You'll have to be quicker than that."
Kalliandra coughed loudly from her position, flat on her back.
"If I didn't know better..." she rasped. "I'd think you actually enjoyed torturing me."
Remus Lupin smiled, extending his hand to haul her roughly to her feet. "On the contrary Ms. Kaylens. I don't enjoy rendering you unconscious at all."
She nodded, brushing the grass off the back of her jeans.
"I enjoy seeing your reactions once I revive you."
She stopped what she was doing, pulling her grass covered, green-stained hands back in front of her. "Don't you know it's not good to provoke someone who has been stunned nine times in a row?"
He shook his head, an expression of pure innocence crossing his features. "I have to get you angry enough to attack me properly somehow don't I?"
"Spoken like a true dueling instructor," she stated, groaning inwardly.
For the past three hours Remus had been teaching her the not so subtle art of stunning. As it turned out, stunning was one of the few things she could actually do.
Unfortunately being able to do something, and being good at it, were entirely different matters.
This probably explained why she had just woken up on the ground. Then again, the fact that Remus had become incontrovertibly determined to make sure that she could actually use stunning in a duel, if ever attacked, was also part of the reason.
The same paid instructor was not eyeing her critically. "You know Kally, if you manage to dodge my first attack you usually do quite nicely. Now just stop diving to the right every time. It's getting predictable."
She scowled. "Couldn't you have told me that a bit earlier?" she grumbled, feeling a bit queasy. The queasiness was not nearly as bad as the headache though.
Not that she would admit that to Lupin.
He had only become her tutor a little over a week ago, yet she had come to respect him. He did not pity her, or walk on glass with his conversations like Dumbledore and the others did.
Instead he talked to her like a human being, and somehow, when he was around, she found herself forgetting some of the pain she had brought down upon herself.
It almost felt as if he actually wanted her to learn. It was as if she were more than an assignment to him, more than a job that Dumbledore was paying him for.
For some reason the idea that the man may actually like her was calming.
"Shall we try again?" he asked, clearly unaware of her thoughts.
She trudged back to her starting position in response. She would not be the one to quit today. Of course, he should know that by now.
She had learned the importance of outlasting one's opponent a long time ago. Outlasting fatigue and pain could mean the difference between winning, and losing.
And somehow she did not think the bastards, who had taken everything from her, would go easy on her simply because she had a headache.
She closed her eyes, bracing herself as an onslaught of ash filled memories greeted her mind's eye. Almost intuitively, Remus allowed her these few moments of collection, and when the anger boiled hot within her blood, she opened her eyes, remembering what she had promised herself.
She would make the bastards pay.
But first she needed to learn to do a simple stunning spell without passing out.
"Ready?" Remus asked, stomping his feet on the ground almost impatiently.
"On three then. One," Remus started counting.
"Two," she supplied back loudly.
She threw herself to the ground before the hot streak reached her, mentally screaming the words.
The strange sensation flew through her, burning through her blood as it moved, jolting the spell towards its target. Her vision swam before she saw him collapse, and she fell weakly upon the ground, shakily breathing in the damp summer scent of mud and grass.
Slowly, painstakingly, the prickling tracing over her smooth skin subsided. Her hands, that had unconsciously dug into the damp Earth, relaxed, allowing the brilliant golden spots dancing before her eyes to fade.
Waiting for all of this to pass had gotten easier each time, but it made the experience no less painful.
The trick, she had discovered, was to remain conscious long enough for it to leave.
Several hazy moments later, her golden eyes flickered open, and across the short expanse of grass she spotted Remus' fallen form.
She smiled weakly, and stood, silently cursing the fragility of the human body. Success was sweet, but why did it have to ache so badly?
Retrieving her wand, she limped over to where Remus lay.
"Ennervate," she murmured, allowing the pre-programmed wand to do the work.
The look on his face was priceless. Only Remus could manage to look analytical right after being stunned.
"Nice one," he muttered groggily.
She shook her head, offering him a hand which he shook off, shooting her a reproachful look.
Gripping the small of his back as he sat up slowly. "I'm getting to old for this," he muttered.
"Lets hope not too old, because you still have the rest of the year with me." She allowed a rare grin to light up her features.
"And what a long year it will be."
"Any more comments like that and I'll do my best to make it seem longer."
Remus scowled. "Touché. So how long were we out?"
His question was answered by her silence.
This was the first time she had not passed out.
Hagrid's absence alone should have told him that, because on the other two occasions when she had stunned Remus, they had both lain there until Hagrid found them on one of his periodic checks.
Understanding became visible on Remus' face, and upon seeing his wolfish grin, she couldn't resist a small surge of pride.
* * * * *
Remus Lupin rewarded his pupil with a wide grin as he picked himself off the ground, ignoring his protesting bones.
It had been awhile since he had practiced dueling like this in a non-combat situation, and he wasn't entirely sure he missed getting stunned repeatedly.
"Think you're up for another?" he queried wearily.
Suppressing a groan, she walked back to her dueling spot in response.
It was amazing, he thought, but in so short a time, she had become comfortable, at least outwardly so, with the presence of magic. When he had first arrived she still looked surprised each time it was used in her presence, but now…
She was doing better. That was all that mattered. Particularly considering that in less than a day's time that Dumbledore was planning on throwing her in amidst students her own age.
The fact that her peers were light years ahead of her in education had mattered little. Necessity mandated it.
Kally hadn't been thrilled. She had already expressed her displeasure with the idea on more than one occasion. And truth be told, he was more than a little concerned for her housemates.
There was no telling when Kalliandra would go off, because she had to eventually.
It wasn't healthy to carry around that much guilt.
His only consolation was that they would be able to continue their lessons on the weekends. It would be a rather private arrangement, since her dorm-mates were to be kept in the dark about it.
She would have enough trouble feigning competency in her three NEWT classes, and sneaking out several times a week would just be another difficult thing for her.
But perhaps the most difficult thing for her would be keeping her inadequacies under wraps. For appearances sake she would be placed in NEWT level Defense Against the Dark Arts, Care of Magical Creatures, Herbology, and Astronomy so as to be with people in her year, but she would be placed in third year Anicent Runes and Remedial Potions. The DADA professor had already been instructed to send her on 'errands' whenever practical lessons were held, so that her inability to perform magic would not be called into question, so that at least was covered.
As for the other courses, Remus was being paid by Dumbledore, out of some miscellaneous school fund, to tutor her in the other subjects.
After all, there was very little magic involved in dealing with magical creatures and plants. And the memorization of the meanings of Ancient Runes and the movements of heavenly bodies had virtually no wand magic associated with it.
Watching her take her place, it dawned on him that they really might be able to pull this off.
He hoped so, for her sake. He didn't very much like the idea of something happening to her. While the concept wasn't as biting as the thought of an ill fate befalling Harry, it came oddly close.
Merlin! James and Sirius had been right. He worried like a mother.
The Marauders... The thought brought a smile to his face, for his old group of friends had left behind something that just might save him from fretting like a nervous parent.
* * * * *
Silverthorne let out a low, guttural grunt to express his displeasure at being tethered. The other thestrals were already following suit.
"Kalliandra can't yer do somethin' to hush them up?"
"What do I look like oh thestral tamer?" Kalliandra called, giving a final tug on Silverthornes reign.
"Yer look like the only one within earshot that'll help me," Hagrid yelled.
Despite herself she smiled, calmly running her fingers through Silverthorne's stiff black coat.
"You know..." she whispered conspiratorially, "He might kill me if you all don't calm down a bit. And then who would give you ferrets?"
Silverthorne's white, haunting eyes stared back in consideration, before his formidable head nodded. He nudged the thestral tethered next to him, and a cacophony of grunts followed as the message was passed down the line of carriages awaiting the students' arrival.
Her widened eyes took the exchange in, in muted shock. Thestrals really were so much more intelligent than people gave them credit for.
"Now that’s better!" Hagrid shouted a bit too exuberantly.
She shook her head ruefully, and with a final tug she snapped a belt into place on the thestral's harness, stepping back to view her handy work. She'd never ridden a horse in her life, but the harnesses the thestrals used were supposedly similar.
"Well," she said, to both herself and the thestral, "at least you are done now. Happy?"
Silverthorne merely blinked at her once, and she rubbed his head affectionately. "Of course you are," she murmured into his nose, the trace of a smile tugging at her mouth.
Hagrid's loud yelps of protest startled her, and both her and Silverthorne jumped slightly.
"Problems Hagrid?" she yelled, slipping the thestral a frozen cube of raw meat. His tongue positively tickled her skin, leaving a sticky red residue upon her palm.
"AH HA! There you insufferable..."
"Hagrid!" she shouted, reclaiming her hand and stalking off towards the sound of his voice, with every intention of snapping at him for yelling at any thestral that way. She couldn't help her annoyed surge though. She had never had any pets growing up, and for some odd reason she had taken a liking to the animals.
But as she rounded the carriage obscuring Hagrid from view, all reprimands vanished the second she saw his predicament.
It was Hagrid vs. Thestral. The thestral, Monster, had managed to yank his harness completely off, and was gripping the thick leather strap between his sharp teeth, extending his wings menacingly while practically hissing.
Hagrid, to his credit, was putting up quite a fight. The half giant was bounding as close as he dared get, swatting at Monster with an oversized farmers hat.
Sweet Merlin... What the hell was he doing with one of those?
"Just...give it....ere ya...brute...ox..."
His disgruntled shouting shocked her into laughter. "Hagrid stop that!"
Several nicks, bruises, bumps, and twenty minutes later found her, and a rather bedraggled Hagrid, plopped upon the dirt road leading up to the school, entirely out of breath.
It was a shame that the peaceful evening would end in less than an hour, when the Hogwarts Express arrived.
"Remind me again why I have to be sorted?" It was a rhetorical question.
Hagrid answered anyway. "Because Dumbledore thinks it'd be best for yer to be aroun' people yer own age."
She shrugged, "People my own age tend to be a bit annoying if you ask me."
Hagrid snorted derisively. "I'll not be arguin' with that there logic, but not all of 'em are so bad."
She snickered, briefly wondering how much trouble she'd get in for jinxing Hagrid's prat of a friend in his sleep. Now that would be something.
Hell, maybe if she did that then Dumbledore would banish her from whatever house she wound up in. Then she could go back to sleeping in the other hut outside. She liked it there. No one bothered her. When the nightmares came only Hagrid was near enough to hear her.
Besides, there was something both routine and reassuring about the way that every morning Silverthorne would smack open her window shutters, letting light stream in as he began grunting until she was fully awake and functioning.
She smiled whimsically, thinking of the pillow she had thrown at the thestral this morning. For a change, her aim had been dead on. Of course, Hagrid hadn't been exactly pleased when he come in to see feathers and shards of fabric all over the place. But hey, it wasn't her fault that Silverthorne thought it was a ferret and tried to rip it limb from limb. And besides, Remus had repaired it. Heck, at least Remus had found the whole situation amusing.
Speaking of which where was Remus? She hadn't seen him since this morning and he was leaving with the return of the school train that night. Plus she still wanted to know what Dumbledore and him had arranged...
"Come over ere. It's the best spot for them first years to see me." Hagrid called, ripping her from her thoughts.
She stopped pondering the mysterious whereabouts of Remus Lupin long enough to shoot an incredulous look in his direction. "Hagrid they'd have to be blind to miss you."
He shook his hairy head vigorously. "No, can't afford to have any of 'em miss me. Not one! They'll miss the sortin' if they do that."
"And what a shame that would be," she muttered.
"What was that?" Hagrid asked distractedly, leaning out over the platform's edge to peer down the tracks.
She shook her head in amusement. "Nothing at all. I was just thinking about what a terrible tragedy it would be to leave a small, naive, and unsuspecting first year stranded alone out here."
Hagrid turned around so quickly he nearly slipped and fell onto the tracks. "What are you planning?"
Her brow instantly creased in geuine confusion. "Why is it that every time I say something with even the slightest trace of sarcasm, that you think I'm planning something?"
"Because you usually are."
She spun around to see Remus standing there, briefcase in hand, and a knowing smile across his pre-maturely aged face.
"Remus! And here I thought you were trying to sneak away without saying goodbye!"
"And risk offending you?" he replied all too seriously. "Skies above no!"
Hagrid's booming laugh resounded behind her. "Lupin you're cowering to a 16 year old."
The look on Remus' face was priceless, and she lunged at him in a vain attempt to smack him.
"I resent that!" she cried out, lunging again, eyeing his quick movements. "And you're pretty quick for an old man aren't you?"
Remus had dropped his briefcase in the effort to avoid her attack. "Old? I'll have you know that I'm thirty-seven!"
Looking at his indignant face, she couldn't help it. She laughed.
This time Remus lunged at her, missing by inches as she bounced out of the way. His exuberant nature was contagiours.
"Ah, spry as well?" she taunted.
Remus laughed deeply, years disappearing from his face as he smiled, shaking his head disapprovingly. "Suddenly I find myself looking forward to my break from you during the week. I'll be spared your unprovoked attacks!"
"Oh Remus, you know that hurts me. Right here," she touched her heart, doing her best to look as pathetic as possible.
"Do you honestly think I'm so old to fall for that?" he asked.
"In a word..."
"Never mind, don't answer that," Remus cut in. "And besides, I have something here that might cheer up that wounded heart of yours."
Her mischievous expression was replaced by one of puzzlement as Remus held up a small, circular, gray object. "What is it?" she asked, walking over to look at it.
"This..." he said mysteriously, "Is how you're going to contact me when I'm away." Upon saying this he snapped it open, revealing a small, round mirror on one side.
"Is that powder?" she asked, eyeing the thing that looked suspiciously like a compact.
"Right you are Miss Kaylens," he said, adopting a professor like tone. "Dumbledore's idea. One of his more ingenious ones from what he said, though somehow I doubt that." He winked, lapsing into his familiar tone again.
"Okay. So explain to me how powder is..."
"It's a two-way mirror Kally. See, anytime you want to talk to me. For any reason...." He shot her a meaningful look that she didn't miss. "Just look directly into it and say my name clearly. If I have mine..." He fished around in his robe pocket, extracting a rather large pocket watch. "Which I will always have on me thanks to Dumbledore's idea to hide it in this lovely Muggle invention..." He snapped the pocket watch open, revealing a mirror on the non-clock side as well. "And once you do that I'll answer. If I call you, yours will glow on the inside slightly, so it'll be noticeable to you but to not to someone just passing a cursory glance by it."
She nodded, tacking the small compact from him. "Brilliant. How'd you think of this?"
"Actually I didn't. For Christmas in my 4th year at Hogwarts..."
"In the Cenozoic?" she inquired curiously, laughing at Remus's flustered look.
"I knew I'd regret telling you wizards had extended life spans," he groaned, ignoring her serious nod and continuing on.
"As I was saying, in my 4th year James got all of us our own two-way mirrors for Christmas. These are mine, I just had them filed down a bit and inserted into these for concealment."
"Smart move," she commented, looking into hers. "Remus Lupin the Finicky WereWolf," she stated clearly, waiting to see if it worked.
"Finicky!" Remus bristled, but not before a thin sliver of light appeared in the crevice of the closed pocket watch.
She grinned triumphantly, "Well I guess it works. Hey can I ask you something?"
"Could I stop you?"
"Probably not," she confirmed, noticing how Hagrid had moved farther down the platform to give them some privacy. She made a mental note to thank him later. "It's just that you, and Dumbledore...everyone keeps telling me how afraid everyone would be. And if that’s true, well, then why aren't you?"
He paused a moment, his light brown eyes flickering up to the sky as if considering her question. She didn't need to follow his gaze to know that it rested on the quarter moon, barely visible in the dying twilight. "I think, Kalliandra, that to let one's life be even remotely governed by fear is foolish. Your never fully alive when your actions are limited by that. And fear, it comes from not knowing what's truly there."
She nodded, silently agreeing with him. It was uncanny, how alike he and her father could sound.
"And perhaps...Well, I know what it's like. And I know how unfair it is." He spoke these last words bitterly, his eyes hardening in an unfocused glare at the moon. And it was only then that she understood why Dumbledore had chosen him as her mentor.
He was as hated by the world as she was.
* * * * *
An hour later found her standing, smushed up next to Hagrid, as the mass of students pushed, shoved, and in truth, barreled their way over the platform towards the carriages that she and Hagrid had readied for their journey to Hogwarts. Why students needed the carriages in the first place was beyond her. The walk wasn't exactly lengthy. No, she figured Dumbledore had arranged them because if he didn't, the ingrates would wonder off ungratefully, never getting to school at all.
In fact, that didn't entirely sound like a bad idea.... But right then she spied the imbecile that she least wanted to see, making his way with the carrot top through the crowd towards them.
Carrot top waved vigorously, "Hey Hagrid. It's so good to see you!"
"And so hard to miss," she muttered, suppressing a laugh at the cold look Hagrid shot her.
"I see the past week has done nothing to improve your manners."
She turned, eyeing the guy's messy black hair and green eyes, which were presently narrowed and shining determinedly. Her first encounter with him had been far from pleasant, and judging from his greeting, it seemed the feeling had been mutual. "Nor yours. I still don't know your name."
The guy's jaw nearly dropped, but Ron interjected for him. "Well we were introduced. It's not his fault you don't remember."
She shrugged carelessly. It wasn't like she cared what his name was, she just wanted to put a name with his eavesdropping face. "My apologies. Not all of us are as good with names as you apparently are. But by all means don't re-introduce me, I just thought it might be nice to refer to him as something other than the nosy prat Potter."
"What!?" Both of the guys exclaimed. Hagrid, however, shot her a murderous look that stopped her smirk dead in its tracks.
Seeing that his glare had the intended effect on her, Hagrid stepped in, attempting to diffuse the situation further.
"That's enough all three of ya. Now again, this here be Kalliandra Kaylens, and that there be Ronald Weasly and Harry Potter."
She cocked her head to the side, wondering if the carrot top knew how easily his last name could be distorted to Weasel. She suppressed the sudden urge to ask just that, instead turning to Hagrid with a forced smile. "Thank you Hagrid. It's nice to know that some of us are polite."
"I hope you weren't referring to yourself as well," Potter stated pointedly.
"Why no, unlike you I harbor no delusions about my impoliteness." She nearly laughed out loud at the livid expression that crossed the guy's face. "Now if you excuse me I do think Hagrid has better things to do than listen to his friends fight."
"Friends!? Hagrid would never be friends with someone like you!" The weasel shot out, Potter smirking amusedly. Her mouth opened in angry protest, but Hagrid's booming voice cut them both off.
"Ronald Weasley how dare ye make assumptions 'bout me!" Hagrid boomed, making all three of them jump.
She glanced up, seeing his face redder than it had been after their row about her Knockturn Alley mis-adventure. She really would not want to be the weasel right now...
"Kalliandra is my friend, and you'd do yer best to stay out of her business. The both of ya!" He said angrily, his loud voice drawing the stares of several students sandwiched around them. "If I hear anythin' 'bout either one of ya nosin' aroun' in her business again..." He stopped, seemingly too angry to continue.
Hagrid drew in a deep, shaky breath, looking very close to exploding. "Now apologize to her Ron. And I mean now!"
Ron looked at her, his jaw agape, while Potter looked surprisingly abashed.
Despite herself, a sudden stab of guilt overcame her. Perhaps she was taking her hostile facade a bit too far.
"Don't worry about it," She spoke up quietly, avoiding the stares of Potter and Weasley. "I was just as rude anyhow. I'll see you later okay?"
She didn't wait for Hagrid's response as she spun on her heel, carefully making her way through the crowd to find an empty carriage. If she were lucky, then maybe Silverthorne had been particularly clever and scared everyone else away from his.
* * * * *
Harry stood there, half angry, half shocked at the sudden change in Kalliandra's demeanor. He hardly heard Hagrid still going off at them, considering that he was still staring after her.
That changed pretty quick though, because when Hermione Granger is mad about something, she makes it better known than Hagrid.
And Hermione Granger unfortunately thought they had pigeon holed the girl.
And Hermione Granger had overheard his and Ron's exchange with her.
Add in that she had seen Hagrid's explosion, and Kalliandra's sudden mood swing to normalcy, and he and Ron certainly did look like the bad guys.
Which was exactly how he found himself, amidst a crowd of onlookers, staring down a thin brunette, receiving the brunt of her fury.
"Harry I can't believe you! I'd expect behavior like that from Ron but you?" Hermione yelled, her voice shaking with angry disbelief.
"Hey!" Ron protested, clearly offended.
"Ronald if you know what's good for you you'll keep your mouth shut," Hermione snapped in a very McGonagall like tone.
Unlike Ron, Harry had no ulterior motive for keeping Hermione happy with him besides their friendship. So at that exact instant he didn't much care if Hermione was annoyed with him or not. She hadn't seen and heard everything, and if she had she would have realized how deceptive Kalliandra really was. Which was probably why he suddenly found himself taking a step forward to go after that insufferable head of golden hair, with every intention of giving her a piece of his mind, rather than paying attention to Hermione's verbal berating.
Too bad a rather large hand on the back of his robes stopped him from progressing any further forward.
"You better be going to apologize Harry," Hagrid said menacingly.
He shot an incredulous look up at his friend. "Hagrid you've got to be kidding me! She insulted you! She..."
"She did no so thing Harry. And you'd do yer best to stay outta her business and life if yer understand me."
"Hagrid what are you deaf?! She did to insult you!" Ron twirped, for a change not cowering under Hermione's fierce glare.
"Oh really, an' how so?" Hagrid asked, still looking between him and Ron as if he couldn't believe what was before his eyes.
"She was making fun of you because you’re a giant!" Ron shot out indignantly.
"No she weren't Ronald Weasley. We were jokin' earlier 'bout the best spot for the fers years to see me. If that's what you be referrin' to."
"But what about' Knockturn Alley?" He chimed in, coming to Ron's defense. "There's something suspicious about that Hagrid!"
Hagrid opened his mouth, but it was Hermione who answered. "I can't believe you two! You both know that Hagrid frequents that area of..." She paused, looking as if she were saying this against her better nature.
"Commerce," She finally ground out. "Frankly it sounds like she was annoyed that you had eavsdropped while talking to someone she knew. If the same had happened to me I'd probably be just as annoyed."
Harry stared at her contorted features in shock. Talking to someone she knew was certainly not all she had been doing. Hermione hadn't overheard the conversation he had.
"Hermione, you don't know what your talking about. You should have heard her..."
"Overhear!? What'd ya overhear?" Hagrid shot out suddenly, his voice low, a quiet note of panic in it.
He wrinkled his brow confused. "Well nothing that made sense but..."
"Then you best be keepin' that stuff that didn't be making no sense to yerself. Yer hear me?" Hagrid muttered, shaking his head. "I'm so disappointed in you two I don't know...Yer know I need to get the first yers. You lot get off to the castle, and so help me if any one of yer bothers her...."
The glare he shot them was more than enough to convince Harry. The last thing he needed was to be fed to Grawp.
Then again, feeding Kalliandra to Grawp could solve the whole problem...
"Harry! Come on!" Hermione hissed, grabbing him roughly by the arm to drag him to the nearest carriage. Most of the others were already rolling up towards the castle.
"So help me you two! I've never seen such rudeness..."
He knew better than to interrupt her at this point. After all, this was Hermione, and any argument with her was a losing battle. He had just managed to regain control of his tongue, which was threatening to snap at her for the reprimand worthy of a toddler that he was receiving, when he stepped into the last carriage, and suddenly re-lost control of it.
"I'm walking," He stated bluntly, turning to do just that.
"Harry you will do no such thing," Hermione grunted, grabbing his arm with surprising strength for a girl her size. He glanced down at the painful grip she had on him, and pondered how angry she would be if he broke free.
Before he had time to decide she had already drug him into the carriage behind her.
"Hermione..." He protested, refusing to sit as he stood, hunched over in the low compartment.
"Nice to know I'm not the only one displeased with this," Kalliandra muttered from the far side of the carriage, right as one of the thestrals let out an odd sounding grunt.
She then muttered something beneath her breath. Something that sounded strangely like, "Even the thestrals think you're a prat."
"I'm a what?" He hissed dangerously.
Her eyes darted up quickly, looking almost abashed. Her voice, however, was filled with disdain.
"Hearing things, Potter?"
He felt as if he had just been slapped, so contradictory were the emotions her face and voice conveyed. Shaking his head, he shoved the sudden hesitation to argue aside.
"I don't generally make a habit out of hearing things," He finally ground out, taking a seat next to Ron grudgingly.
She inclined an eyebrow disbelievingly. "Sure you don't," She responded, not bothering to mask her sarcasm.
He practically growled, knowing full well what she was referring to.
"You're having a really hard time letting that go, aren't you?" He spat out scathingly.
"I'll let it go when I get an apology."
He visibly bristled. "For what!?"
Kalliandra's expression instantly soured. "For eavesdropping on me, that's what."
He suppressed the sudden urge to shove her out of the carriage. In fact, the only thing stopping him was the fact that he'd have to reach over Hermione to accomplish it.
"Well forgive me," He hissed acidly. "Next time I see you wandering down an alley full of dark wizards I'll just leave you to them. I didn't realize how well acquainted you already were with..."
"So your name's Kalliandra?" Hermione cut in.
Harry gaped at her.
Hermione ignored this, apparently intent on starting a civil conversation.
Kalliandra just looked at her oddly, before nodding slightly.
"Yes," She replied evenly, turning to look out the window.
Hermione's brow creased, her lips forming into a determined frown at the girl's apparent lack of interest.
Harry smirked, leaned back, and crossed his arms, preparing for the show.
"Well Kalliandra, how was your last week of summer?" Hermione pressed.
Hermione shot him a look, to which he smirked like a jackal. Ron was far less subtle, and simply mouthed, So what now, genius?
Hermione's face hardened into one of grim determination.
"So what classes are you taking?"
The girl heaved a large sigh. "Too many."
Hermione's mouth opened, as if appalled at the girl's lack of interest in schooling. And just as Harry began an internal victory jig, flashing a celebratory smirk at Ron, the girl surprised them.
"One of them is Ancient Runes. I haven't had that before so I'm going to be getting tutoring for it." Kalliandra paused, sounding uncertain. "At least, that's what the Headmaster mentioned."
Hermione's agape mouth slowly closed, a slow smile creeping across her face.
Flashing them a smug look, she started talking. "Ancient Runes is actually pretty fascinating. It's a lot like learning to read another language. In fact, it's my favorite subject."
At this proclamation Kaylens actually looked thoughtful. "I think mine will be Care of Magical Creatures. Hagrid's been showing me a lot of the animals he works with over the past few weeks. The thestrals are my favorite so far..."
"Thestrals?" Ron snorted derisively, earning a reproving look from Hermione. "What are you, a sadist?"
Hermione's mouth opened in protest, apparently too shocked for words as her inevitable retort failed to come forth.
Kalliandra's expression immediately grew stony. "Perhaps you should learn a thing or two about them before you start flinging insults."
"And how exactly did I insult them?" Ron asked shortly.
Kaylens was now looking at Ron as if he had sprouted antlers. "Generally when one implies that you have to be a sadist in order to like something, I'm pretty sure that's derogatory to the something in question."
Ron waved a hand dismissively. "As if thestrals would care."
"You'd be surprised. They hate being insulted."
"That's Hippogriffs you idiot."
Hermione made a choking noise.
"No, it's Hippogriffs that react violently," Kalliandra said placidly, flipping the lid of a compact shut. "Though I wouldn't put it past a thestral to do so."
"Thestrals are not violent," Harry cut in with annoyance. Why in the hell did Hermione have to pick this carriage...
He gazed longingly out the open door hatch. He knew perfectly well that if he got out and walked, that he would miss the sorting, and he had already learned the hard way what happened to people when they walked into that late.
Too bad. The ride up to Hogwarts was usually so enjoyable. "So who on Earth taught you that rubbish?"
"Hagrid," She hissed dangerously.
"Screw this," Ron suddenly announced. "I refuse to remain in the carriage with her."
He stood, only for Hermione to yank him down. Ron opened his mouth, an angry protest already forming, when Kaylens cut him off.
"Do you honestly think that I'm any happier about being stuck here with you and your eavesdropping friend?"
"Just. Let. It. Go." Harry growled, hating the disappointed look Hermione shot him each time the incident was brought up.
She glared at him. "Gladly."
Right then the carriage moved with a mighty lurch, and not another word was spoken by any of the carriage's inhabitants.
Harry stared out the window, contemplating. No one would get as angry as Kaylens had over the incident. Not if it had just been a conversation about something trivial...
What was she hiding?
Not soon enough for his liking, the convoy came to a halt outside the castle's enormous entrance. And without a word, he and Ron jumped out, dry dirt stirring around their footprints as they met the crowd of students rushing to the Great Hall.
* * * * *
"Well, that certainly could have gone better," Hermione stated, rueful gaze following her two friends out the carriage door.
Letting out a tense breath she had not even realized she was holding, Kally felt herself nodding in assent. "No kidding," she remarked dryly. Still, she couldn't help but feel a tiny, justified surge of indignation. That girl's friends had jumped into the carriage right as she had been trying to contact Remus.
Being in the magical world, knowing next to nothing about it, had felt overwhelming before. But now, on her way to being surrounded by competent witches and wizards twenty four - seven, that overwhelming feeling was beginning to erupt into something far closer to panic.
She wasn't sure she could pull this off. She wasn't sure at all.
Hermione released an exhausted sounding huff, breaking her from her thoughts. "Please know, I'm not trying to criticize you," she said carefully, "but you could have made things a little easier. Particularly since this whole misunderstanding seems to be over something extremely trivial."
Rising from her seat and stepping out of the carriage, her feet sinking into the loose dirt, Kally heard herself saying very quietly, "You're right."
And even though she was not looking at Hermione, she could practically feel the eye rolling going on behind her.
Silently they joined the throng of students making their way up the castle's entrance. That was until Hermione began asking questions again.
"Do you know if you are being sorted with the rest of the first years?"
Nearly tripping over a kid small enough to have been a first year, Kally nodded mechanically. "Unfortunately."
A pensive frown crossed the brunette's face. "You don't sound excited."
Throwing a wayward glance the girl's way, Kally asked, "Would you be? I'm going to stick out."
Mounting the entryway stairs simultaneously, she saw the corner of Hermione's mouth crook up in her peripheral vision, as if hiding silent amusement. "You are twice their height, so I suppose that is an accurate assessment."
Instead of responding, Kally began grumbling something indecipherable under her breath.
Hermione responded by allowing what may have been a smile to cross her features. "They really are nice if you give them the chance."
Somehow she felt severely doubtful about that, but something of her thoughts must have shown on her features, because Hermione was interjecting before she could even formulate a response.
"We didn't get along at first either," Hermione said, their feet reaching the top. "To be blunt, it took a troll trying to take my head off for us to begin getting along."
Kally stumbled, her hazel eyes darting over to the girl with something akin to horror dancing with them. "What?"
Now there was no mistaking it. Hermione really did look amused. The girl smiled at her, chuckling slightly. "Like I said, give them a chance."
She couldn't help it. Despite all her efforts to the contrary, a strangled choking sound emerged from her throat.
Hermione simply grinned harder, shaking her head. "Honestly," she laughed, glancing around the rapidly emptying entry hall, "do you want me to wait with you until the first years get here so you're not..."
"Ms. Kaylens is quite capable of waiting alone Ms. Granger. And if you delay any longer it will be 20 points from Gryffindor."
The voice had come from directly behind them, the forcefulness of it muted by the echoing of excited chatter from students trying to cram through the Great Hall's looming doorways.
Instantly Kalliandra recognized it. She had met the man on a few occasions, and he had seized the chance to remind her how absolutely impossible it would be for her to ever gain competency in Potions.
As such, she stopped immediately, spinning on her heel. Hermione simply quirked an eyebrow before continuing off to join the rest of the students.
Snape's dark eyes lowered, eyeing her appraisingly. "I trust you are remembering discretion. Particularly where students like Ms. Granger are concerned. Some tend to be too nosy for their own good."
Heaving a sigh, Kally nodded. "I'll remember."
He glowered at her for another second, before nodding curtly. "Remember, I'll be seeing you in detention all this week."
She heaved another sigh. Upon their initial meeting she had had the unfortunate luck to inadvertently insult the man, by asking if he were a vampire. In fact, all she has said was that he looked like one of the creatures of the night from her Defense Against the Dark Art's textbook they had given her to read. And considering that Hagrid was a giant, another species mentioned in the book, she hadn't thought it too unreasonable to assume that a vampire could be teaching at Hogwarts as well.
Unfortunately Snape hadn't taken her question lightly, and had immediately began ranting and raving about how he most certainly did not harbor a deep-seeded blood lust for the living.
And for some unfortunate, and suicidal reason, she had found his anger ridiculously funny.
Which probably explained why she had wound up in detention.
"I'll be looking forward to it," She replied quickly, finding herself suddenly surrounded by several dozen kids, all twittering loudly with no signs of stopping.
She groaned, barely hearing Professor McGonagall's speech. Somehow she found herself following the Deputy Mistress through freshly polished oak doors into the Great Hall.
The eyes of every first year immediately turned upwards, to the left, to the right, and in every other plausible direction, unable to resist taking in their new surroundings.
The pressure of a hundred pairs of eyes burrowed into her, and she stared pointedly forward, looking over the crowd of midgets to where Hagrid sat, flashing a warm smile in her direction.
Maybe he can help me escape afterwards, she thought hopefully, coming to a halt at the front of the enormous room. Several of the midgets around her tensed up, scattered whispering passing through the crowd about fighting a troll...
What on Earth is that about, she wondered curiously, spotting the hat Remus had told her about.
McGonagall turned to face the entire room.
"When I call your name, step forward, place the hat upon your head, and the sorting will begin."
With that, she sat the hat upon a battered old stool, the sorting hat's brim opened wide, and the singing began.
* * * * *
"Ron if you say that one more time..."
"Hermione you saw how vile she was!"
"She is not vile!" Hermione hissed back dangerously, being careful to keep her voice lowered. "Nervous, yes. Vile, no."
"You cannot tell me that there is not something inherently sinister about her," Ron challenged. "Something's not right there. She's going to wind up an evil Slytherin, probably waiting to..."
Before Ron could embark further along his psychological road trip, Hermione cut him off tiredly. "Just because someone is in Slytherin does not make them inherently evil, Ronald."
"Hermione how can you say that!" He bristled, clearly having trouble keeping his voice down as the first years and the subject of their argument walked past.
Hermione's face visibly tensed, and Harry could tell she didn't fully believe what she was saying. "You can't pidgeon hole an entire house. Besides, Slytherins are goal oriented and strong willed. They might be a bit abrasive, but it's because they won't let anything get in their way of getting what they want."
"Which makes you a slimy git like Snape!" Ron exclaimed triumphantly.
At least Ron's exclamations were hushed enough so no one not in the near vicinity could hear, Harry thought, suppressing a groan. He should have known the peace between those two couldn't last longer than the train ride there. It was astonishing enough that they hadn't killed each other in their compartment as it was. Had he really expected that peace to last?
"Will you two knock it off! The hats about to sing and I actually want to hear what it says." Ginny cut in. Harry made a mental note to thank her for distracting their disputing friends later, and quickly turned his attention to the hat. He had always enjoyed the sorting, but after last year...Well, knowing that the hat was sworn to forewarn the students and teachers of danger made him a bit more attentive this year.
The had opened it's brim wide.
Divided, but once united,
That’s how our story begins,
Four houses founded by four friends
Yet I fear that such division shall bring about our end.
In ancient times the best of friends
Came knocking on the door,
Of Ravenclaw and Slytherin,
Then Hufflepuff went to Gryffindor.
Lets build a school of learning,
For all those of magic to attend,
Yet somehow the approached three could not agree,
On what qualities to defend.
Lets teach only those of wit and learning,
Possessing the most ready minds of all.
Those had been the poignant words,
Of once fair Ravenclaw.
Proud Slytherin prized ambition,
Possessing purity of blood and cunning,
His pupils would stop at nothing,
Until they got what they saw fit to their coming.
And then were the bravest,
Those brash with noble daring,
Bold Gryffindor chose them,
As most worthy of magical learning.
Hufflepuff loved her friends,
And accepted them as they were.
She let them each create a house,
In which their prized were taught and nurtured.
And as for sweet Hufflepuff,
She agreed to take the rest,
Yet somehow division did not set well,
Unity to her, seemed best.
So when the founders sewed me,
And left me on my stool,
She stole me in the dead of night,
And bestowed me with a tool,
Of knowing when the time was right,
For the sorting ritual to end.
She said one day division may cause strife,
And she feared for the magical world.
For all her life,
She had feared the division in sight,
But never more,
Than when the friendships failed,
Of the Founding Four.
Slytherin was the first to leave,
Purity of blood his choice,
I'm disgraced by teaching Muggle borns!
He yelled, conviction in his voice.
Next left bold Gryffindor,
He felt the calling of adventure,
Rather than the desperate plea,
Of failing loyalties in need of suture.
Last left once-fair Ravenclaw,
Who once prized justice and learning,
She left because she said,
That teaching the other pupils had got too boring.
And alone stood sweet Hufflepuff,
The wisest of them all,
Because she never would heed,
Alluring temptations call.
I see the wisdom of her choice,
Why she chose to accept them all,
And now understand,
That its fruitless to divide you at all.
So while it deeply saddens me,
To see my end in sight,
The sorting ceremony ends,
Right now, Right here, This night.
Harry stared at the stool, trying vainly to process what he had just heard. At least he had been right in thinking it was important to pay attention this year, because apparently that was the last song the sorting hat would ever sing.
He cast a cursory glance towards Hermione, sitting next to him on the bench, but her brown eyes were wide and fixated up front. He could just imagine what was going through her head right then, because chances were she was going through each page of Hogwarts a History, trying to find any other incident even remotely like this one. He had a sneaking suspicion that she had the whole book committed to memory.
The unnatural silence filled the Great Hall like a thick fog, so thick he could almost feel it closing around him.
McGonagall seemed caught between slapping the hat and looking to Dumbledore for instructions, and her hand moved cautiously towards the hat's brim, only for it to quickly recoil as if the hat had grown fangs. This odd, twitching motion was punctuated by sharp turns of her head as she looked right at Dumbledore, who to Harry's surprise, looking genuinely amused.
Snape on the other hand looked quite inconvienced, his mouth had puckered so tightly that his lips seemed more translucent than Nearly Headless Nick's.
Apparently, they had not been expecting this.
Snape however, didn't seem to want to accept it, and he had already stood and started storming from his place at the teacher's table, clearly headed for the sorting hat's stool itself.
"Excuse me Minerva." Snape muttered, his low tone clearly audible in the unearthly silence. His long fingers snatched the hat up and onto his head in a single fluid motion, his face contorted in concentration as if conducting some clever argument.
Clever argument from Snape? No...Impossible, he thought, watching his Potions teacher with interest for the first time in five years.
Apparently he was right about Snape's inability to conduct an effective argument, because a moment later Snape had flung the hat back onto it's stool, muttering about how it was a dirty, trash-ridden piece of fading fabric destined for a Muggle garbage dump.
It was a mark of how serious the situation was, that not a soul at the Gyffindor table laughed.
Harry couldn't help but notice how Snape was testingly running his fingers through his greasy black hair, looking at his hands after each swipe, as if searching for proof of something.
Every Gryffindor had a sneaking suspicion that the hat had just called him a greasy slime ball.
Ron Weasley was just the first to say it.
"Chalk one up for the sorting hat for insulting Snape!" Ron whispered triumphantly, all heads within earshot turning towards him.
Apparently that was the signal everyone had been waiting for, because suddenly a frenzy of activity broke out at the Gryffindor table, and a chain reaction of noise spread until the nose level was almost deafening. The unsorted first years looked positively terrified, as if frightened of being sent home if unsortable, and they alone seemed the only ones still rendered speechless.
"I mean did I just hear that right?" Ron asked, eyes alight with excitement he did not share.
Harry just nodded, watching the Professor's re-group.
Professor Flitwick slid from his seat, and every so often Harry could catch a glimpse of the top of his head over the teacher's table, as the small man jumped up and down, vying for Dumbledore's attention.
"Oh my God did the sorting hat just quit?" Squealed Parvarti. One would think she had just realized what had happened.
"Brilliant that one..." Ron muttered sarcastically.
"Think it has anything to do with the war going on?" Seamus asked excitedly. "Don't you remember? How it warned us last year?"
"It didn't warn us that it might go on strike Ireland man!"
"Who you calling Ireland man?"
"Chill Seamus, Dean's just kidding, aren't you Dean?" Ginny's calm voice somehow filtered through the ruckus.
"I can't believe this! Never, in all of Hogwarts a History did it ever report the Sorting Hat doing anything even remotely close to this..." Hermione was in her element, and he silently congratulated himself on how well he knew his friend. "I mean don't you think Harry? This is monumental!
But Hermione was too worked up to notice whether he responded or not, and she was so engrossed in her dictation to hear what he heard.
"Do you think we should just try sorting them anyway, Albus?" Professor McGonagall asked, casting an almost pleading glance at the group of first years, who seemed to shrink away from her gaze.
Professor Dumbledore, looking vaguely amused, patted Professor Flitwick on the head as he mulled this over. For his part the Charm's Professor stopped bouncing around like a firefly on speed, and his small head disappeared beneath the staff table.
"We'll be needing a volunteer though..." McGonagall stated rhetorically, scanning the list of student names with an uncharacteristic look of uncertainty, talking out loud but absently. "If any of the first years would like to try to get sorted..."
His Head of House was too preoccupied, and she missed what he did not fail to notice.
A certain golden haired girl had overhead the Professor's question, and after casting a glance at the distraught children around her, had woven her way through the cowering first years. She now stood besides the stool, her delicate hand grasping the top of the hat as she lifted it from its chair, plopping it upon her head. The teachers around her were completely oblivious to her actions.
Her soft, angular features relaxed, as if immersed in quiet conversation. And as she sat there, immersed in a silent conversation to which only she was privy to, Dumbledore pointed a wand to his throat, muttering, "Sonorous".
A second later the Headmaster's magically amplified voice echoed throughout the Great Hall, as it had on only one other occasion.
Every person who had been excitedly talking, including several of the nervous looking first years, who had started to cry, stopped and turned their attention to the front of the hall.
So of course, that was when everyone's attention suddenly became drawn to the rather ordinary girl, standing by the stool, the offending hat placed atop her head.
"Apparently the sorting hat has decided that it is no longer able to, in good conscious, function as a house sorter. However, we shall have this sorted out." Dumbledore winked, the pun on words sounding almost natural coming from him. Yet Harry just stared in fascination at Kaylens, who seemed to be nodding quietly to herself. "Now I would like the upper years to remain here for dinner, and I would like the first years to come with...."
Dumbledore stopped mid-sentence, apparently just catching sight of Kaylens, even though she had been right in front of him all along.
Kaylens nodded one last time, her hazel eyes flickering open as she removed the hat, placing it back upon the stool. All eyes were upon the hat except his, so he was the only one to see the rare smile cross her features as the sorting hat opened its brim for the second time that night.
"Let the sorting now begin."
Photograph courtesy a public domain site for photographs. The accreditation for this website may be found on my personal website.