Author's Recipe (note):
Hey, it's autumn! And it's the time of year when I really love wood ear mushroom salad. What's that you say? Well, it's my personal adaptation to the Chinese recipe with a bit of an Okinawan twist. I'll share the recipe in case you're curious.
I added quinoa to it to add a bit of healthy alternative with an ancient grain, and my doctor tells me that the typical Asian white rice addiction is still bad for me LOL— dangit.
Togarashi-miso Wood Ear Mushroom and Quinoa Salad
Quinoa, cooked according to package instructions or
1 cup quinoa to 2 cups water brought to a boil, stir in quinoa, turn the heat down to low, cover, and simmer until the liquid is absorbed (about 15 minutes) and then fluff with a fork
½ cup of dried wood ear mushrooms (or a handful if you are in a hurry)
1 tablespoon abura miso or miso of your choice.
2-3 garlic cloves, grated (or a tablespoon of garlic/parley mix)
1 teaspoon of togarashi chili pepper mix (to taste) (if you happen to have a dragon pepper or half of a serrano pepper, you can chop that up instead) I use the Shichimi Togarashi from UsimplySeason because the mixed flavour is perfect for me, my second choice is Nanami Togarashi (Japanese Mixed Chili Pepper) both of which can be found on Amazon if your supermarket doesn't have it)
1 tablespoon of tamari or your favourite soy sauce
1 teaspoon rice vinegar (some people like black rice vinegar)
1 tablespoon of sesame oil
2 tablespoons canola oil
1-2 green onions, chopped finely
Sprig of cilantro chopped
Sichuan pepper oil to taste (you heat an oil like peanut oil (1 tablespoon) in a small skillet until it's warm and add the peppercorns. Cook them until it has a strong fragrance (2-3 minutes) and then take it off the heat. Remove the peppercorns with a slotted spoon, and use the resulting oil to season to taste)
½ teaspoon sugar
Soak the mushrooms in water ahead of time (can take an hour up to 3 hours). You can put them in a bowl of water and stick it in your fridge overnight to have them ready in the morning. Rinse the mushrooms once they are rehydrated with water. Cut off the pithy ends when you find them, and slice the mushrooms into manageable pieces of your choice.
Boil mushrooms for about 3 minutes, drain, rinse with cold water, drain again, and set them aside
Combine oils, garlic, togarashi, soy sauce, rice vinegar, green onions, and miso in a small bowl. Mix well
You can set the mixture aside for a half hour for the ingredients to fuse well.
Combine sauce and mushrooms in a bowl and toss well a few times to everything is coated.
Add quinoa and mix it in, then toss again to make sure it's coated too.
Garnish with cilantro to taste.
A/N: A Halloween story! (So warning against gore and evil and… stuff)
Beta Love: The Dragon and the Rose, Dutchgirl01
One Tiny Detail
The wild, cruel beast is not behind the bars of the cage. He is in front of it. Axel Munthe
"Liddle, widdle, Mudblood," Bellatrix hissed as she cut into Hermione's skin with her cursed knife. "Scream for me."
Hermione screamed and screamed and screamed, her voice echoing through the halls of the Malfoy's home as her blood stained the floors.
"Tell me the truth! HOW DID YOU GET INTO MY VAULT?!"
"I've never been in your vault!"
"HOW DID POTTER GET INTO MY VAULT?!"
"He's been with me. We've never been there!"
"YOU STOLE IT!"
"It came to us!"
"LIAR! LIAR! LIAR!" Bellatrix screamed. "I'm going to make you suffer! I'm going to make you bleed until your muddy blood is all over the floor where it belongs! I'm going to siphon your magic and give it to my Lord to dispose of as he wishes!"
Hermione whimpered and cried, tears streaming down her face as Bellatrix continued to carve into her flesh. Her wild hair was writhing like angry snakes upon her head as the sadistic witch was losing control of herself in every possible regard.
Bellatrix abruptly backhanded her, slamming Hermione's head to the marble with a sickening crack. "I'm going to give you a gift, widdle Mudblood. I'm going to give you the honour of dying in honour of our Lord by using one of his most glorious objects."
Bellatrix grinned. "Objects that we all know better than to actually— touch."
The unhinged witch pointed her wand at a bookshelf and the books flew out and a small ornate box floated toward them. She grinned with an unholy sort of expression, caught between ecstasy, rapture and something beyond perverse. Hermione stared fearfully at the crazed witch as Bellatrix shoved a candlestick into her mouth to keep her mouth open. Hermione squirmed, cried, and tried to scream, but Bellatrix only echoed her screams with her own joyous giggle.
Bellatrix opened the box exposing an ornate amulet made of onyx and goblin silver covered with countless etchings of magical runes and circles and a glowing red gem as the focal piece. "This is probably going to hurt," Bellatrix cooed, stroking Hermione's face with perverted pleasure. "Be sure to scream for me, ickle Mudblood."
She dropped the amulet into Hermione's mouth, and Hermione choked, turning blue.
"Oops!" Bellatrix said, giggling insanely. "Can't scream if you can't breathe!" She used her magic to forcibly shove the amulet all the way down the young witch's tortured esophagus.
And Hermione screamed.
Ron and Harry ran into the main hall of the Malfoy home to find…
"Bloody hell," Ron whispered.
Blood and gore literally dripped from the walls and random body parts were scattered across the floor.
Harry's expression twisted into a look of fear and horror. "This is why Hermione stopped screaming."
"That lunatic… this is sick. SICK!" Ron looked like he was going to vomit everything he'd ever eaten since the day he was born.
Dobby appeared with a crack. "Dobby here to take—" The house-elf slipped, flipping across the liberally splattered gore to land flat on his back, staring up at the ceiling— a ceiling hideously decorated with bits and pieces of something or someone.
"H-h-harry!" Ron said, pointing his finger at something almost concealed by the dripping blood.
Deep swaths of marble had been taken out of the room's columns.
"Must get Harry Potter out of here!" Dobby said, slipping and sliding in the blood. He reached over to them.
"We have to find Hermione!" Harry cried.
"This IS Hermione!" Ron cried! "What do you think all this is?!"
Dobby tried to reach them both, and Harry tried to get out of Dobby's range, but the spattered biomass caused him to slip and fall into Ron who fell into Dobby.
Dobby's Disapparate carried them away.
"I trusted you, Severus!" Lucius snarled as he pointed his wand to the bound wizard. "I trusted you with my child. My home. My way of life! How dare you. How DARE you harm my family! Bella may not have been my favourite in-law but she was FAMILY."
"I have no idea what you're talking about," Severus wheezed, blood trickling down his many lacerations.
"You are a LIAR!" Lucius said. "Crucio! CRUCIO!"
Severus spasmed and cried out, dangling from the bonds that lashed him to the cellar's wine tun. Cracks in the tun's wooden sides caused dark purple wine to mix with Severus' blood, creating a stream of crimson down the Dark wizard's body.
Lucius' disheveled face was twisted with anguish and desperation. "I should never have let you into our Lord's service! I should never have supported your mastery. I let you babysit my child! I let you watch my wife!"
Severus hung limply.
A strange, echo-like clicking came from the shadows. A dull thudding came from inside the wine tun.
"Father! Let me out of here! FATHER!"
More thudding, frantic and desperate, came from inside, mixed with the sounds of choking and drowning.
Severus' face twisted in pain, but his dark eyes smoldered with disdain. "You're one to talk. You trapped your own son in a wine cask because he wouldn't tell you if a boy was Harry Potter. Where is your wife, Lucius? Does she still support you after your shoved your own son into a wine cask to drown?"
Lucius backhanded Severus, the sound of his jaw cracking echoed in the cellar, and a strange chattering of clicks surrounded it. "You have destroyed my family, you half-blood bastard!"
Blood streamed down Snape's face as his blood-matted hair stuck to his cheeks. His black eyes stared into Lucius' face.
"My family should be on top as we are meant to be!" Lucius spat. "We are better than the rabble! We are far better than— better than the likes of— YOU!"
He grabbed Severus by the collar and slammed his head hard against the tun-cask. The other smaller casks wobbled from the sheer force of the blow. "Bella always said you were a bloody traitor working against our Dark Lord," Lucius spat as he pulled out a curved knife that seemed to sing with an unholy desire for fresh blood. "You're a traitor to my family. To me. All that is left of her is right here. This!" He lazily glided the tip across Snape's tattered robes.
"Maybe she had the right idea all along," Lucius hissed.
A quick slash opened another vicious wound across Snape's chest. "I'm going to carve my entire family tree into your unworthy skin, traitor, but first— first, I'm going to make you scream."
Lucius pulled the knife back and thrust it deep into Snape's abdomen. His grip on the knife became slippery as he struggled to jerk it to the side to disembowel his "friend."
Flesh rending noises preceded as Dolohov's body fell to the floor. Lucius whirled, his pale eyes filled with an insane rage. He narrowly eyed the fallen Death Eater, his eyes darting around madly.
Antonin Dolohov's body lay in two pieces, slit neatly from groin to head as cleanly as it was done by the sharpest of swords or a perfectly aimed slicing hex. The cellar filled with strange clicking and an even stranger growl that hovered between beast and something alien.
Thorfinn Rowle rushed up from a hidden place between the casks, throwing curses and hexes randomly. He screamed, his voice cracking with panic and fear, but his spells bounced off something that wasn't even "there." A shape began to form under the onslaught of beams and magical ricochete. It was impressively large, and it was—
"WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT?!" Rowle screamed. He grabbed things out of the cellar and threw them. Bottles of wine, cheese, flour, vegetables, and everything in between went flying toward the area where "something" unseen was moving. Wine dripped from an enormous, very inhuman shape, accented by a splash of powder from the rind of the cheese rounds and random smears from some of the softer cheeses.
Wine dripped from a pair of transparent fangs as a blur of wine-soaked movement gave away the shape far too alien to be identified.
Rowle lunged forward, a rapid chain of Unforgiveables flying out of his mouth.
Something moved, and the spells bounced off a surface and slammed into Rowle's head. His head came clean off from his own slicing hex, rolling to a halt at Lucius' feet.
Lucius pulled the knife out of Snape, still slick with the other wizard's blood, and used his magic to propel it violently towards the dripping almost-shape.
There a dull thwack as the knife ripped into flesh. Crimson welled up, staining the shimmering shape with a more obvious tint. A strange clicking noise filled the silence just before Lucius spun back around, distracted by a loud cracking noise coming from the cask Severus was tightly bound to.
A blast of desperate magic shot out from inside the tun-cask, and rich red wine gushed out of the vessel as Draco spilled out along with the alcohol. He coughed and gasped as his magic had his hair standing on end. His face was extremely pale, almost blue, and his grey eyes were bloodshot.
"Beating me wasn't enough for you, father?" Draco spat furiously, his thin hands curling tightly into fists. Blood mixed with wine where his broken nails and bloody knuckles were evidence of how he had desperately tried to claw his way out from the inside of the wine cask. "I should have listened to Uncle Severus. He tried to help me. I defended you! I devalued him because of his blood, just like you always taught me, father, and still he kept trying to save my life. But not you. No, you kept trying to snuff my life out for disappointing you. You blamed me for being a failure. You blamed mother for coddling me, and then you'd come crawling back after you hurt her, begging for forgiveness with sweet words and tender touches, making us think you'd learned your lesson, but you never did, did you? You were always this— two men— one desperately in love with his family and one who only cared about appearances and blood purity."
Draco stood, shakily, staggering from his ordeal. "And which one are you, father? Which one am I talking to now?"
Lucius gripped Draco tightly by the tattered collar, slamming him violently into the broken body of Severus Snape. The cursed knife had somehow appeared in his hand and it seemed to giggle hysterically. "You're not my son," he spat venomously. "You're just the illegitimate son of my dear wife's desperate goodbye to Xenophilius Lovegood, that sodding halfwit cousin of mine. Fortunately for her, the blond hair bred true, and you were born looking the part of a proper Malfoy. Covering up both her shame and my own in that my own father cursed my seed to ensure I never bred with the witch I loved." Lucius' hands wrapped tightly around Draco's throat. "And if I could not be with the one I wanted, and your mother could not be with the one SHE wanted, then you shall never be with the one you want to be with either."
Draco's face, twisted with denial and shocked revelation, abruptly paled, and his mouth hung open as if on a hinge. "What?!"
Lucius' eyes were glazed, his mind having obviously gone on walkabout without so much as a hello or goodbye. Whether it was his mind crumbling from his own inherent insanity or if it was helped (or shoved) into its current chaotic state by the cursed knife he held, no one could really be sure.
A low clicking sounded off again, and Lucius whirled, slashing through the air wildly. Realisation dawned as Lucius remembered that there was something else in the room that had eviscerated his companions. His panic filled his e yes, and they seemed to bulge out from his face.
"WHO'S THERE?!" Lucius screamed, beginning to both slash with the cursed knife and became more and more frantic. He looked for anything— a movement, a shadow— but this time there was nothing. There was no tip to give away a target.
Only the strange, echoing clicking that seemed to come from everywhere at once, gave any clue at all.
"WHO ARE YOU?!" Lucius screamed, flinging curses in all directions. He turned to Severus. "You! You're doing this! You summoned something with your blood!"
Severus coughed weakly, blood trickling from his mouth and nose. "If I could summon something, do you really think I'd be hanging here, lashed to a wine tun, as you trapped your own son inside?"
"HE IS NOT MY SON!" Lucius screamed. His face twisted in rage, and he thrust the bloody knife into Severus' chest, aiming for the heart, but the knife slashed the ribs instead, clacking against the sternum and causing a river of blood to soak the front of his robes. "I'm going to carve the Mark off you. With your death, whatever it is you summoned will be gone."
"NO! FATHER!" Draco yelled, tackling him, causing the knife to go flying. Lucius' mad eyes blazed, and he wrapped his hands again around Draco's throat.
Draco coughed, choking as his "father" pinned him back against the pillar.
Lucius was lifted up off the ground as a shimmering, almost-shape suddenly materialised. Glowing red eyes hovered in the air as a huge set of jaws opened, exposing a fluorescent green mouth filled with eerily white crystalline teeth.
Lucius got a wicked, victorious grin on his face as he thrust his wand into the creature's mouth and shouted, "Avada Kedavra!"
The sickly green beam of magic filled the beast's mouth and then zinged back out again in a concentrated, deadly, laser of light that struck Lucius squarely between the eyes.
The blond wizard went rigid as the beast hiss-clicked, his breath changing to the rattle of the dying's last moments. Slowly, like the flow of ink across a page, its body shimmered and solidified into deep midnight scales. As the creature breathed, the scales undulated and moved, stretched across crimson membrane where blood, magic, or an eerie carmine energy flowed beneath like a raging river under ice.
The creature stepped towards Draco and Snape, and Draco stumbled backwards in terror when he saw the impossibly large claws—eagle-like talons that dangled from the fingertips of the twisted hands— slick with blood and pieces of flesh. There was no doubt that it had been the executor of the other Death Eaters in ways far, far worse than a mere rebounded Avada spell.
The Avada was, at the very least, instant.
Only the gods knew what being disemboweled by one of those claws would feel like.
Snape struggled weakly, attempting to remove the cursed knife that was embedded into his abdomen— Lucius' parting gift to his former friend.
"No!" Draco cried. "You'll bleed out!" He struggled to lunge forward and stop him.
Two things happened simultaneously. The beast growled menacingly and Severus un-shanked himself with a grunt, causing a stream of his blood to trickle even faster down his body. He attempted to say something in a half almost-song, but blood was burbling up from his throat as well.
The creature growled lowly, but its muzzle extended and delicately sniffed at the blood. Claws extended as the twisted pawpads brushed against Snape's skin. A long, black tongue extended, slowly sliding across Severus' skin and cleaning the blood from so many wounds— none so deep and angry as the one caused by the cursed knife.
The sinuous tongue slid into the wound, causing Severus to wince in pain, but then he gasped as the wrinkles of pain changed to a look of awe and wonder. The wound oozed black nastiness for a few seconds, turned red, and then sealed up. The skin was angry and red, turned pink, and then returned to a slightly flushed normal pale— at least whatever normal pale Snape was renowned for.
The creature growled, tending each bleeding wound like the first until it reached Snape's bloodied left arm, where the angry Mark combined with the telltale swath where the knife had been drawn a cross his arm and cut deep into his tendons, leaving it hanging limp and useless. The creature sniffed the wound, nostrils flaring, and its tongue plunged again into the angry wound. Again, Snape's expression went from pain to wonder. Black foulness poured from the wound followed by crimson, normal blood. Then that, too, ended as the wound closed and the skin returned to a pale, pristine state.
As pure and unblemished as the day he was born.
The blackness that had seeped from the wound pooled together with an angry hissing sound. It formed into a rising shape— a face rising to form a head connected to a neck. Then the face screamed.
"Traitor!" the snake-man face hissed. "I will kill you. Both of you.!"
Glowing red eyes formed in the black ectoplasm, as arms formed and immediately reached for Severus' neck. The creature snarled, slashing, but the goo seemed to move around it, eerily avoiding contact as if driven by more than base intelligence. The foul slime dodged and slithered and then tried to go for the creature's head and neck, wrapping around it like a mummy's wrappings to choke the life out of it.
Dribbles of saliva dripped onto the slime, and the blackened construct screeched as the blackness began to purify, turning the blackened goo into water, and it recoiled. It seemed to remember it had another target, and it launched itself at Severus with a roar, looking as though it was going to feed itself to Snape's throat and destroy him from within.
Draco let out a desperate cry of anger and pain. "You may have taken everything else from me, you son of sodding whore, but you will not take Severus too!" He grabbed the cursed knife from the ground and slammed it into the flying ectoplasm—
No, they screamed.
The knife and the goo met together in a mutual scream of anger. The slime stilled in one place, frozen as its mass solidified and burst into flames. Tom Riddle's voice seemed to crack even as cracks formed in the solidified slime.
"No! NO! I am immortal! I AM FOREVER!" his voice cried, almost as if he was having a temper tantrum. "I will take you ALL with me!"
The slime began to shudder violently.
The creature swiped out with its claws, but seemingly missed.
Snape fell to the ground, no longer pinned to the barrel. He half crawled, half staggered away from the shuddering slime, dragging Draco with him as they dove behind the other intact tun casks.
The creature roared as—
Heat, debris, and fire roared through the cellar, bursting tuns and sending wine and wood shards in every direction. Draco yelped as shrapnel from the explosion embedded into his exposed arm, and Severus hissed, pulling him closer with a curse when he saw Draco's left arm out in the open and exposed.
"You're lucky that wasn't your HEAD!" he hissed.
As the dust settled, Draco gave out a choking cry, his body shaking, shuddering, and spasming out of control. The Mark on his arm was seemingly spreading up his arm in the form of a great snake. His skin rippled as if something was moving under it— fingers pushing out of it, seeking a way out. Draco's eyes were filling with red, his face twisting into an unnatural expression.
Snape pinned him down. "Fight it!"
Draco's lips curved into a malicious smile as his hands wrapped around Snape's neck, his thumbs pressing on his adam's apple. "Hello, Severus," Riddle's voice said from Draco's body. "Goodbye, Severus."
Draco-Tom screamed as the creature's fangs clamped down on Draco's arm, digging into his flesh.
"You cannot kill me! I will just jump to a new body!"
The creature growled, teeth digging in deeper as its saliva moved into the wound.
The black ink-like vileness began to ooze and bubble violently, streaming out of the wound to avoid the creature's hazardous spit.
"No! NO!" Tom's voice cried out of Draco's mouth.
The blackness was trying to escape, fleeing Draco's compromised body— the last tattered taint of his touch via the Mark couldn't get away fast enough.
The creature's crimson energy pulsed under its scales. The scales shimmered and brimmed with energy and magic. A bright green glow gathered in the creature's mouth, and its jaws opened to expose a gleaming hot core of magic. Magic gathered up every scale from tail to head with an almost electrical crackle.
A plasma beam streamed out of the creature's mouth and consumed the blackened remains of the Mark— the last foothold of Tom Riddle.
Tom's scream of rage seemed to come from everywhere at once as the slime became but blackened ash.
As the cloud of black dissipated, Snape's eyes widened as he watched the creature slowly going over Draco with its blackened tongue. Draco's eyes fluttered as his hand oh so cautiously touched the creature's muzzle with wonder, gratitude, and puzzlement.
The creature licked Draco's hand and turned to Snape, and the dark-haired wizard slowly extended his hand to touch the creature's muzzle, surprised to find it warm and oddly comforting. The palpable wrath had been replaced with a more neutral curiosity, if one could consider anything that looked as alien and dangerous as the creature before them to be neutral in any way.
Snape frowned, the tingle of magic— the warmth— reminding him of something. He touched his abdomen and chest— where Lucius had plunged the cursed knife, the spot in which his and the monster's blood had combined. He boggled, his face twisting as he tried to make sense of what he was feeling— sensing. "I have no idea what you are," he said, his voice just a whisper
The creature whuffed his face, its warm breath moving his hair around.
There was a sudden clatter of booted feet as a squad of Aurors smashed through the closed cellar doors, some of them falling in over each other.
"Find what did— whatever the hell that was in the drawing room!" a stern voice barked.
The creature whirled immediately, black lips pulling back from a great many razor-sharp teeth.
Draco shook Severus. "We have to leave now! Father's wards won't let us Disapparate! I don't think they'll believe us if we tell them we're innocent."
Snape frowned. "Disillusionment isn't going to work with Aurors."
"I hear someone!"a voice called.
There was a crash as they slipped in the wine and debris.
"I swear to the gods, Tonks, you are a danger to yourself!"
"It's not like I could have predicted the door would explode into pieces and sent me stumbling arse over teakettle into the kegs!"
"I swear if Moody hadn't vouched for you—"
"Shut it and help me up, yeah? I think I landed in… oh MERLIN! I landed in someone's—" Tonks hurled violently at the scattered body parts that had once belonged to Rodolphus Lestrange.
Draco tried to pull Snape up, but he was heavy and weak despite his current emaciated state. "Severus!" he hissed.
"Leave me," Severus whispered quietly.
"I'm not leaving you!"
"You're no good to anyone dead!" Severus sneered.
Suddenly a long, prehensile tail wrapped around Draco, knocking him off his feet and holding him aloft as the creature grabbed Snape's tattered robes between its jaws—
They disappeared in a wisp of smoke.
Roll, roll. Thud.
"What the bloody FUCK is that?!" Ron screamed shrilly.
Ron had his wand out, pointing it shakily as Harry frantically tried to snatch up Hermione's wand from the table.
Bill and Fleur came rushing down the wooden steps so fast, they almost busted the railing going around the stairs. The slid across the abused rug, tipped the lamp off a table, and slammed into the back of the couch that Harry had been lying on. The pair saw the looming shape of the half-cloaked beast— part of it resembling the gauzy curtains of the shack and part of it blending in with the bright blue sky outside— and the immediate dropped their wands and held their hands out, fingers spread.
"Whoa, easy now, easy—" Bill soothed.
Fleur shook the couch and jerked her head, her eyes looking meaningfully from Harry's borrowed wand to Ron's extremely shaky one.
Harry shook his head, pointing at the creature.
Fleur glared, her eyes fiery.
"Nuh-no!" Ron said.
"Ronald Bilius Weasley, you drop that wand right now, or that Crux-eater is going to rip you to pieces starting with your hand," Bill said steely. "Drop it!"
"No way, Bill! Do you see that thing?"
"Obviously," Snape said with a cough. He lay crumpled against the creature's legs where its tail had wrapped around both him and Draco.
"FUCKING SNAPE! YOU FUCKING MURDERER!" Harry screamed, jumping up as he pointed Hermione's wand at Snape's heart, his face twisted with rage. "You murdered Dumbledore!" But even as he stood up, he winced, clutching at his head. He tried to sit back down, but he staggered, brushing against Ron.
Ron, spurred on by his hair-triggered paranoia, pointed his wand more steadily and screamed, "Confringo!"
The bright red beam hit the creature straight between the eyes. Its head whipped around as dark red energy shimmered under its scales.
Wnnnngggg. Wnnnnggg. Wnnnng.
Energy pulsed up and down its scales as a green radiance formed in its mouth. Its jaws opened, green-tinted drool dripping from its fangs.
Snape's hand reached over to gently touch the creature's arm. "No, please don't vapourize him."
The creature's glowing eyes narrowed, and it was in that moment that Snape suddenly realised there were far more than two eyes running up and down the creature's head. All of them narrowed at once, looking from him, to Draco, to Bill and Fleur, and finally to Harry. It growled, but the wrinkles on its muzzle relaxed as the glow emanating from its mouth faded.
"Y-you control this THING?!" Ron blurted. "That means taking you out takes it out!"
"Ron, no!" Bill yelled, leaping over the couch.
But Harry leapt up getting in Bill's way. "No! You don't understand! Snape is a MURDERER!"
"Get out of my way, Harry! That's a Crux-eater, you idiot! They EAT fragmented souls!"
Harry looked confused, denial written clearly across every wrinkle of his screwed-up face. "You're wrong!"
"Expulso!" Ron yelled. "Reducto!" Ron kept yelling spell after spell, hitting the beast on the face, eye, mouth, and chest. Each spell spread across the creature's body as a hum built up again, sending the flow of concentrated energy back up to the creature's head to gather in the throat and mouth.
Ron seemed to realised who the "real" enemy was, and he pointed his wand at the enemy he had known throughout all of his school life. "Decrusto!" he screeched, and a blaze of bright green and red came zinging out of his wand.
… and it bounced off a fiery barrier.
Fleur screamed, her hair blazing with fire as her face seemed to light up and twist with magic. She was inhuman, increasingly avian in appearance. Yet she was beyond gorgeous, and she was wrath incarnate. The deflected spell hit the bay window, blowing it to pieces, sending pieces of curtain and wood, glass, pictures, and the unfortunate windchime flying, leaving a gaping hole in the wall of the cottage.
Wnnnnng. Wnnnnng. Wnnnng.
The creature's jaws opened, and a forceful blast of power blew outward and flung Ron arse over tit out the opening in the wall.
Ron landed in the sea, sputtering water as a bevy of sea otters eyed him somewhat suspiciously before diving under the water.
Bill slammed Harry down onto the couch and wordless, angrily, charmed the cushions to restrain him before standing up. "Easy now," he said, holding his hands out to the creature. "I'm Bill, this is Fleur," he said, extending his hands out, fingers spread unthreateningly.
The beast's nostrils, seemingly many, flared and sniffed his skin and then the energy hum eased and faded, the threatening glow that surged under the scales dulled.
"Now," Bill said calmly, "If she brought you here, then there is more to you two than what the rumours say, yes?" He eyed Snape and Draco carefully.
The pair nodded solemnly.
"She?" Draco repeated questioningly.
"The two rows of eyes instead of one," Fleur explained. "Females see trouble coming and going. Males the eyes are in a row in front— they rush forward, ask questions later."
Bill made an odd gesture to his back. "Males have spinal crests that store energy like a battery. Females— absorb it and, erm—" he trailed off, slightly confused. "They, uh— assimilate it."
"What the bloody hell is that thing?" Harry blurted.
The creature's head jerked around, multiple eyes glowing.
"She's a Crux-eater," Fleur said. "Dark magic eaters. Soul hunters. Grandmother taught us that they were created when a witch or wizard tries to make a Horcrux from something that defies being corrupted, it becomes dangerous to the very one that made it. It unravels the very magic of the one who tried to use if if they have kept it close. But they cannot touch it. They cannot destroy it, so they must bury it deep or else have someone carry it away."
Bill frowned. "And if someone were to say— feed that object to a living, compatible, being— it would create a Crux-eater: a creature that exists to unravel unnatural soul-magic or even unnatural magic of any kind, really. It's really complicated. I'm probably failing at explaining. They're incredibly rare. The existence of an anti-Crux is rare enough. The process of becoming a Crux-eater is— well, you can see why people aren't lining up to become one on purpose."
The creature clicked, pressing into Bill's hand when he stopped stroking her muzzle.
"I think we're lucky. Somehow, maybe you two, calmed her down after her change. The first, violent, angry transformation, is where all that matters is to destroy the lines of magic that went into creating her." Bill smiled a little as the beast's tongue slowly licked his palm, healing the cut on his skin.
"Lucky? How is— the wall is gone!" Harry blathered.
"Oh, well, the ventilation in this house is much better now," Luna said as she calmly walked in through the obliterated front picture window. She carried a basket of wild-harvested plants, and some large fish, yet just how she had managed to catch them without a fishing pole remained to be seen. "It's a good thing I caught a few crabs in case we had company.
Luna pulled out a large crab from the basket, walked up to the beast—
"Open wide, Hermione!" she said.
The beast opened its mouth and she plunked the crab in.
"They're probably more tasty for you with all those teeth, yeah?" Luna said, clasping the beast's maw together as it chewed and swallowed noisily. "Like that? Here's another. Killing an entire line of the Dark Lord is hungry business. Have another."
The beast chewed obediently. Luna continued to feed the creature her entire basketful of assorted foods. Luna smiled, giving the creature an affectionate pat. "I never got to thank you for not hurting my dad— he was a right mess when I was taken. I'm sorry it got you caught. He really didn't mean it. I'm all he has, you see? He can't really hug the Nargles, even though he truly believes in them. Bill sent word to him so he knows I'm alive, but I think he understands that it's safer anywhere but back home right now— well, normally. I'm not sure if anyone's left now. I'm pretty sure all of them are dead. Did you know that people who die from a Crux Eater end up coming back as enchanted jack-o-lantern pumpkins? Daddy told me that story when I was a little girl. Cool, huh?"
Luna gave the creature a warm hug, which was made slightly comical by her small size and the beast's rather gargantuan form.
"You should come watch the sunset with me, Hermione," Luna said, taking one giant talon in her hand as if it was the most natural thing in the world. "It might just let you change back a little— or a lot— it's pretty hard to say when it involves Crux-magic."
Luna skipped away through the obliterated wall and window, tugging the monstrous beast along with her. The beast followed behind her like a baffled puppy, leaving Snape and Malfoy sitting on the floor where they had first Apparated in.
Bill and Fleur exchanged glances, shrugged, and extended helping hands to Snape and Draco.
"Care to tell us the story?" Bill mused, eyebrow arching.
"WHAT DID SHE MEAN HERMIONE?!" Harry wailed from the couch, still restrained by the cushions.
Snape pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed. "Do you have any strong tea?"I'm going to need a lot of it."
"Tea, we do have," Bill chuckled. "I think we should all share our stories, mainly— how you both lost your Marks."
Snape nodded grimly, but Draco grasped his arm suddenly. He patted it up and down and pinched his skin. The blood rushed to his head and then drained completely as his face went as pale as milk.
Draco collapsed onto the floor in a dead faint.
"Huh. Didn't notice that, did he?" Bill asked with no little amusement.
Snape just sighed. "Kids." Severus eyed his own pristine arm. "To be fair, it's been a very long day."
"Well, I have a portable Pensieve tucked away in the attic," Bill said. "Shall I dust it off?"
Snape nodded grimly. "I think it best. You'll never believe it otherwise."
Bill looked outside to see his brother being chased by angry otters and pecked by equally miffed seagulls as Luna happily decorated the beast with beach flower leis. "Oh, you'd be surprised what I'd believe at this point, but I'll get the Pensieve all the same."
They all shuffled out to kitchen, leaving Harry still pinned helplessly to the couch.
"Little help here?"
The wind whistled through the destroyed front of the house.
Harry slumped. "Well, fuck."
"So, Dumbledore actually bound you to kill him?" Bill said with a little disbelief. "I saw it. I mean. I believe you, but—"
"He worked hard for that doddering old man image," Snape said, sipping his tea. "I fetched his things, healed his accidents, and did the dirty work for his 'Greater Good' rubbish. In the end, he wanted me to kill him to save the agony of the curse that was already killing him. He justified by claiming he was saving Draco from committing murder, and maybe he even believed it too— but I can almost guarantee that he never intended to die by his own hand, his own mistake."
They looked up to see Harry and Ron trying to rebuild the front wall and window with a rather astounding lack of success.
"OW! STOP IT, you bloody—NNNGH!" Ron yelled at the sea otter that was repeatedly bouncing up to bite him on the arse.
The partially rebuilt wall tumbled down, and the two young wizards cursed at the wall and each other. The sun had long since fallen below the horizon, but the sky was still an ominous purple. The colder night air had the boys shivering miserably, their fingers starting to turn a little blue. They repeatedly blew on their hands, trying to keep them warm.
"You could have simply asked for help, Harry," Luna pointed out calmly. "That's what people do when they are in need of assistance."
Luna stepped in carrying a large basket of edibles, and the she-beast was there too, arms laden with lobsters, crabs,pilchards, and a huge cluster of chicken of the woods. "We have enough for dinner. We'd have had more, but I got a little peckish."
The beast licked her muzzle in clear approval.
Ron stumbled back from the wall, knocking down the part they had managed to put back together. "Bloody hell! Luna, what the FUCK!?"
Luna frowned. "You should be more careful, Ronald. You could get a nail in your hand from all this debris." She walked by casually, pulling the she-beast along with a slight tug. The beast clicked a reply, dutifully carrying the seafood as if that was the most normal thing to be doing when you were a huge, alien-looking beast.
"Why are you looking so calm, Harry?!" Ron half-squeak-yelled.
Harry shook his head. "You should at least try to be respectful to Luna. She's trying to help Hermione."
"Hermione is dead," Ron stubbornly insisted. "Just because Loony Lovegood says she's one of her fantastic ruddy beasts does not mean that Hermione is that… thing."
Harry looked dubious. "She may be a little— off, but Luna sees things—"
"Yeah, she's seeing things all right," Ron muttered snidely, slamming a stone down in an angry attempt to help with the wall. A few loose shells came tumbling down from the outer edge to land on his head.
Ron shoved the wall over again and stormed off, leaving Harry alone with the rubble.
Harry sighed deeply. "I would really appreciate some help."
A dark tail looped around Ron's forgotten wand and offered it to Harry. He looked up. "Oh, um, thanks, Hermione."
The she-beast rumbled, looking somewhat more solid. Her form shimmered from looking like she matched the rubble to a more uniform obsidian colour.
"I,um," Harry said suddenly. "I'm really sorry that I tried to curse you."
The creature huffed, her warm breath ruffling his hair wildly.
Harry and the she-beast worked on the wall together, with her using her powerful tail to hold up the beams so Harry could move the bricks in place. "Funny how the charms on this place allows magic to destroy the walls but not to rebuild them," Harry muttered.
Hermione huffed, nostrils flaring as she shook her head.
Draco placed a larger brick in place. "Potter."
Harry's eyes widened. "Malfoy."
Draco's head shook as he gave a dry laugh. "Haven't you heard, Potter?" Draco looked weary but oddly relieved. "I'm not a Malfoy."
Harry blinked. "I think I missed school the day that was announced."
Draco snorted. "Apparently, my mother was in love with another man before fa— Lucius arranged to be married to her. Old families like to do that, arrange marriages. Keeps the lines pure and all that rot. Well— let's just say that mum was already pregnant with me when it came time to consumate the marriage. So, technically a bastard child."
"So all those years when I called you a bastard—"
"Ha, ha. Rub it in, Potter."
Harry shook his head, seemingly realising a lot of things didn't matter anymore. "I'm sorry. Really."
Draco's face twisted in anger, and then he slumped. "I've been a right mess, haven't I? Thinking myself so great and I wasn't even my father's real son."
"Do you know who your father is?" Harry asked, placing the last of the bricks as Draco cemented it together with the others.
Hermione's tail thumped Harry upside the head.
"What, ow!" Harry exclaimed, rubbing his noggin. As his hands wove through his black hair, he frowned. "Oh— it's Xenophilius."
Draco sighed. "Seems so obvious when the Malfoys are taking out of the picture, huh?"
"To be fair, you looked the part. Even Sirius called me my dad sometimes. Thought I was… Prongs. I know what it's like for people to think I'm someone else. I never knew my dad, and everything I thought I knew— I think the only person who told me the truth of it was someone I hated because he always bad-mouthed my father."
"The truth is a mixed bag, Potter," Draco said as Hermione dropped a tray of food between them. Fleur and Luna had apparently been busy in the kitchen, having made some sort of French-inspired lobster and mussel dish that they were pretty sure they didn't know the name of even on a good day.
The she-beast licked her chops, apparently still hungry.
Draco, surprisingly, broke off one of the lobster's claws and held it up, and Hermione's long, prehensile tongue wrapped around it and carried it back into her mouth. She crunched it and then licked Draco's hand clean.
Draco stared at his hand and cracked a smile. "The scar where fat— Lucius slammed his cane down on my hand so it burned over the cooking fire is gone."
"Your what?" Harry blurted, chewing on a mussel.
Draco snorted and rolled his eyes. "Lucius believed cooking was house-elf work. I tried to pick up a cooking pot, and he caught me. The scar was to teach me a lesson that being in the cook's area would bring nothing but pain."
Harry blinked. "Now I'm really sorry, Mal—"
"Draco," Draco said grimly. "Might as well call me by my name."
Harry smiled awkwardly. "Harry, then." He rubbed his forehead, his fingers gliding over the place the scar was, or rather, where it had been if but a day previous.
"No more scarhead," Draco mused.
"Yeah. No more Death Eater," Harry replied, staring at Draco's arm.
Draco sniffed. "I made a lousy one anyway."
"Turned out for the best."
The two former enemies regarded each other with a strange calm.
"We're both a right mess."
Hermione grunted, clicking.
Draco offered Hermione a piece of his dinner. "We can be a right mess with each other, yeah?"
Hermione rumbled, licking Draco's fingers clean.
Draco frowned. "This would be creepy if I thought about it any more deeply."
"Huge, Horcrux-eating she-beast just licked your fingers clean?" Harry asked.
Harry scratched his head. "That is… you in there, right Hermione?"
The she-beast whuffed, sounding a little too close to Hermione's huff of exasperation that always came just before, "Honestly, Harry, don't you read?" She exposed her teeth as her muzzle wrinkled, showing off her shining teeth.
"Will you be able to change back?" Draco asked, frowning slightly.
The beast shrugged, a ripple of scales and energy.
Draco stared at his feet which had at some point been adorned with a pair of ornate shell-sandals. "Thanks, erm, for saving my life."
Hermione grunted softly. Then she snuffled Draco's hair and gave it a long wet lick, gifting him with a cowlick of epic proportions.
Harry tried not to laugh but failed utterly.
Draco gave him a lopsided glare, but shook his head. He shivered, rubbing his hands on his arms. Harry did the same, and they looked over to the hearth that had miraculously not been obliterated from the earlier battle.
They fumbled around for wood to put in the fireplace, and then they looked at each other, dumbfounded.
Hermione's tail lowered, holding her poor, abused wand.. She clicked softly, shaking her head.
"Are you a wizard or are you not, isn't that right, Hermione," Harry chuckled, taking her wand. "Thanks."
She seemed to shrug.
"That isn't—" Draco started.
"It's Hermione's wand," Harry said. "Mine was broken when Nagini tried to eat me alive in Godric's Hollow." He pulled out the shards of his wand from his tattered pocket and set them down next to the hearth. "Worthless now."
He pointed Hermione's wand at the wood and set it ablaze. The warmth radiated pleasantly.
Draco picked up the wand pieces. "I'm sorry," he said.
"You shouldn't be sad, Harry," Luna said, appearing out of nowhere, an octopus tentacle partially sticking out of her mouth as she chewed on it. "We have the best magical glue on the planet right here."
"I don't think glue is going to work," Harry objected. "Spell-o-tape did really bad things to Ron's old wand."
"Not tape, Harry," Luna said.
Both Draco and Harry looked at Luna with a skeptical eye.
Luna didn't even seem to notice them as she plucked the pieces of Harry's wand up, pried open Hermione's maw, and put the pieces under her tongue. "There you go. Let her give them a good soak and it'll be good as new. Might smell a bit like crab for a week or two, though. Can't really be helped."
Harry and Draco just stared stupidly, a sort of glassy look in their eyes.
Snape's pale fingers placed a wooden goblet down in front of Hermione. "I've spoken with Bill about your condition. This may assist you in returning to a rather less cumbersome form, if that pleases you. Fluid change will require some practice and— peace of mind."
The beast unfurled her tongue, extending the damp wand to Snape.
Snape picked it up, his face wrinkling as he grimaced slightly. "Hn." He dropped the offending wand into Harry's lap.
Harry grasped the wand in shock, gaping at it in amazement. "It's whole again!"
Snape raised an eyebrow. "Obviously."
"Glue," Luna said rather airily. "I told you so."
Snape moved his shoulder and his bones cracked the joints tried to realign despite his pained protests.
Hermione crooned with concern, ignoring her goblet to gently nudge Snape with her warm muzzle.
"Do not fuss over me," Snape muttered, but she nosed him again.
"I am not cold, you're imagining things," Snape groused.
Hermione clicked and growled.
"I am not," Snape answered, seemingly to nothing.
Harry and Draco exchanged curious glances.
"Professor?" Harry asked.
"Uncle?" Draco said at the same time.
Severus snapped his head around. "What?"
"Who are you talking to?" Draco asked.
"Hermione, of course," Luna said. "Who else would he be talking to?"
The two young wizards stared at Luna then Snape then Hermione and then back at each other.
"Uhhh," the both said together.
"You can understand all that growling and clicking?"
"What growling and clicking?" Severus snapped, glaring at the two wizards.
Harry and Draco swallowed hard, neither of them wanting to point out anything that might get themselves into more trouble.
"It's okay, Professor, they don't hear her like you do," Luna said giving Hermione an ear rub that almost caused the beast to tip over into Luna's lap.
"Mmrrrffff," Hermione grunted, leaning on Luna's shoulder with a thump, her rear leg twitching.
"You're welcome. I rather like a good scratch behind the ears myself," Luna said.
Luna pulled out a giant pillow out of nowhere. "Sleep? I could use a good bout of it myself."
Hermione tilted her head as Luna fluffed the pillow and patted it.
Snape tapped the goblet, grunting pointedly.
Hermione clasped the goblet with her talons and lifted it, sniffing. Her nose wrinkled and she bared her teeth— oh so many row upon row of teeth.
"Don't look at me. It's not like I've had to make that potion often and carry around essense of strawberries for situations like this."
Hermione eyed Snape somewhat suspiciously, curled her muzzle, and then lapped it up, grimacing and hissing as the vile liquid went down her throat. She clicked at him.
"I will attempt to make something more palatable in the future if it works to your liking," Snape said with a slow shake of his head. "Provided I haven't just poisoned you."
Harry and Draco's heads snapped up abruptly, but Hermione snorted and flopped down on the pillow. Luna, without any fanfare, snuggled up to share the pillow, pulling a quilt over to make herself more comfortable. Snape stood and turned to walk away, but Hermione's tail looped around his wrist and tugged him onto the nearby sofa.
The sofa had apparently been charmed to be extremely comfortable, and it sucked him in with a happy squeak.
"Damn you, Weasley twins," Severus muttered into the cushion that had practically devoured his face whole.
The charmed duvet floated off the top of the sofa and curled around him like a friendly cat, purring.
"Do remind me to show Messrs Weasley what I think of their… inventive handiwork," Severus mumbled.
Hermione rumble-clicked, her tail corkscrewing around his arm as she let out a contented sigh. Luna was already snoring away obliviously.
Harry and Draco would about to get up and sneak away when pillows and a flying quilt tackled them both, wrapping them up like wizard burritos and flopping them onto the other sofas.
"Victory," Severus mumbled, taking a deep breath and surrendering to the charms of an overly jubilant enchanted sofa and duvet.
A/N: It's October! Yay! (Not for the fall allergies, no, but the cooler weather and the autumn colours!) Many thanks to The Dragon and the Rose for putting up with my horse-hockey, distractions, life, SQUIRREL! (cough)
The goal is to have this story completed before Halloween. We'll see if school allows for that!