A/N: I have removed and reposted this story for two reasons (all my reviews are gone!). #1, I re-read it and decided it needed a bit of plastic surgery to make it better. I hope this will help make this fic as good as it can be. #2, Some of it was out of line with the ending of OotP (most notably Lucius not being in Azkaban). I hope I have managed to fix it as well as possible in light of Ms. Rowling's refusal to cooperate with the events I laid out. :oP
Please let me know what you think. 167 reviews must be replaced! --Kite
We are the night
Dark ocean filled with glints of light.
We are the space
between the fish and moon,
while we sit here together.
Chapter One: Sorting Surprises
The word shook her from her own thoughts.
"Um, excuse me, Headmaster? Did you say 'noodles'?" The room had been silent so long that she had allowed her eyes to lose focus and her mind to float off of its own accord, examining the dark and dusty nooks of Headmaster Dumbledore's office.
"Yes, indeed, Ms. Lee," he replied, looking up from the bamboo-bound file on his desk with a warm smile. "I was just remembering my last trip to Zhong Mo Xue. The Headmaster there was a lovely man, uh, a Mr. Zhi I think. Made this remarkable dish with noodles. Never had anything quite like it. Really splendid."
She smiled. She had heard many stories from her father of Headmaster Dumbledore's eccentricities, but this had caught her slightly off guard. "Yes, um, chao mian, I think you mean. Headmaster Zhi always served it to guests."
"Yes, I think… yes." He seemed to lose himself in the memory for a few moments, pushing out a deep breath a sitting back. He looked haggard and, at the mention of the meal, a bit hungry. The lines in his face betrayed his age, but his eyes, sparking as they were, had a youth, a vigor, and a kindness she had never seen. Combined with the smile he had worn since their meeting that afternoon, she found herself able to relax and forget that she was now thousands of miles from the place she had so recently called home.
"Well, Ms. Lee, your record is very impressive," he sighed, gesturing towards the document that flowed off his desk and across the floor in bamboo cascades. "And, I must say, your Headmaster keeps painstaking records. This file of yours could be turned into an epic."
She smiled back, trying her best to look apologetic. It was true that Headmaster Zhi was renowned for his precision and crisp thoroughness; he'd even taken the time to translate all of her records in painstaking detail. It was somewhat amusing to imagine that Zhi and Dumbledore, two very different men, had once shared dinner and a conversation…
"I'm quite glad you were able to attend Hogwarts, Ms. Lee, even if it will be for only a single academic year. When your father wrote six years ago telling me you would be unable to attend due to his professional commitments, well, it was quite a disappointment."
She nodded. Her father, a specialist in the research of magical creatures and a particularly well-respected expert on dragons, had been sent to China for field study the very same year she'd been asked to attend Hogwarts. It had come as a blow to the family: the Lees had attended Hogwarts for more generations than could be remembered. "Yes, I'm glad. I'm lucky my father was called to take charge of the dragons for Azkaban. A bit too little too late in making the switch from Dementors, but…"
Dumbledore pursed his lips, fingers pressed together thoughtfully. "Indeed. Voldemort—"
She flinched, and he did not press further.
Yes, Even in China they had seen the signs. Her father sat down and explained things to her three years earlier when it seemed the Dark Lord had, once again, returned. You-Know-Who has a long grasp. You're not safe from the darkness anywhere…
And there were witches and wizards everywhere who were willing to follow—and to kill—in his name.
Dumbledore, seeming to regret the downturn of the conversation, took another elaborate breath and brightened the smile that had fallen away beneath his long beard. "Well, we're glad Fortune could bring you our way. Your father seemed quite pleased as well. He was practically bursting to see you wearing black robes and waving your little blue pennant at the Quidditch matches."
She didn't need to be told about her father's excitement. She had borne the brunt of it for the last four months. Oh, you'll be able to go to a Quidditch match, won't that be grand? None of this rice and austerity for you, gal. No sir. You'll be able to have a good pudding and-oh and the feasts- He'd gone on in that vein every day until today, when he had dropped her off at the castle gates, wishing her well. You'll wow 'em, you will. Be the Head Girl before they know it, won't ya? You'll do us Ravenclaws all proud.
"I'm happy to be here as well, though, I admit, it's a little cooler than I'm used to." She had been wanting to summon her cloak from her trunk for some time but had thought it a bit too presumptuous to interrupt Dumbledore's thoughts…
He smiled, half-moon spectacles sliding down his crooked nose. "Good then. Well, if you're anything like me, I'd imagine you're about ready to get some food and have a nice nights sleep before classes start tomorrow."
In truth, it was almost all she had wanted for the last hour. She nodded.
"Well then, there's just one more matter to be addressed," he said, standing from his desk and walking across the room to a tall shelf. "The matter of your House."
The relief and hunger she'd finally allowed to flood her body froze. For as many generations as her family had attended Hogwarts, they had been Ravenclaws, every one of them. Her mother, her father, her grandfathers, grandmothers, aunts, uncles, most distant of ancestors: all Ravenclaws. "Surely, Headmaster, that is already apparent."
"Yes, I mean--"
But she wasn't precisely certain what she did mean. Her father had told her a hundred times that this Sorting Hat ceremonially placed each Hogwarts student into one of four houses. However, she had assumed…"I just thought I would be placed into Ravenclaw. Erm, transferred in."
"I see." The old wizard sat down at his desk once more, bemused. "Well, your family does have quite a history in Ravenclaw, don't they? And I know that your father was expecting…But don't you think you should give it a try?" He held the frayed hat out, blue eyes practically ablaze with twinkling. "You might surprise yourself."
She stared back, fidgeting with the ends of her robes. Surprising herself was the last things she wanted today. Just some good food and sleep: no surprises. Besides, wasn't she the Ravenclaw type? Bookish, clever, reserved: all qualities her father had said were associated with a Ravenclaw. She certainly wasn't some grand Gryffindor or bubbling Hufflepuff. And she wouldn't even consider Slytherin. What did Dumbledore think would happen?
She took the hat warily, and both the Headmaster and the hat itself smiled. With a slight sigh, she placed the bizarre hat on her head, letting it slide down over her eyes and plunge her into darkness.
Hmm, very interesting. Oh my yes. I'd recognize a Lee anywhere. Ravenclaw then, shall I?
Yes, she thought backJust get it over with. That's where I belong.
You think so, do you? Well, I'm not so sure. I never would have thought a Lee…but yes there is definitely some bravery here, isn't there? There are some morals on you girl! But I do detect an overwhelming ambition…
But I'm clever, she insisted. I'm academic. Ravenclaw would be right, wouldn't it?
You don't sound so sure, my dear. You are indeed intelligent. And clever, my. Yes quite clever. Hmm…but something else…yes, I know what it is, child. I've seen it many times before. Just perfect for a SLYTHERIN!
She tore the hat from her head and threw it on the desk in disgust. How could it have said that? It must have been a mistake.
But it said her name. It knew she was a Lee and still it thought she should be in…
No. Things had been different at Zhong Mo Xue. There, they had placed her in Long Bu—the Dragon's House—do to the rule of Fire elements in her body. Just some simple chiromancy, some diagnostic acupuncture…
And now she was supposed to listen to some silly old hat? She knew herself better than any worn-out piece of haberdashery ever could. It must have been a mistake. It was a mistake. She picked the hat up again and shoved it down onto her head.
Back again? Come now, didn't I already tell you?
You're wrong, she insisted. I don't mean to be rude, but you're very mistaken. I'm not-
Clever? Cunning? Headed for great things? Oh, tsk, I think you know better…
But I'm not-
SLYTHERIN! It bellowed again, interrupting her mid-thought.
There was a long moment of silence before she removed the hat, seeing Dumbledore staring back at her, his face somber, eyes dampered to a slow smolder. "I see. Very surprising indeed."
"I'll say." Her head was tingling, misfiring each time it attempted some rational explanation for the hat's choice. What could be so bad about her? Ambitious: yes, that was true enough. But that could be a good thing, couldn't it? Didn't everyone want to do great things?
She pushed a sprig of red from her face absently. She had dreams of greatness: but that didn't mean she wanted to become You-Know-Who's right hand wizard or anything. Clever. Of course she was clever, and, at times, had crossed over the fine line into what some might call "cunning" or even downright "mischievous." In fact, she had even, she admitted to herself ruefully, studied a few old books on Hac Dao, the black arts. But it wasn't that she wanted to use it. Just… curiosity.Hmm…but something else…
She frowned. Her father had warned her about indulging curiosity in the Dark Arts. She should have listened.
"Well, I imagine the faculty will be most surprised," Dumbledore said, trying to regain at least his earlier tone if not his smile. "You're the first Lee in--well, as far as I know you're the first Lee ever to be put in--" He stopped, seeing the frown on her face deepen. "To be put anywhere but Ravenclaw."
What will Father say? He wanted so much to envision me in that common room, in a blue stole at graduation…What will he think of me? "Yes," she muttered, beginning to dread sending an owl home. She couldn't help but look down at her hands, examining them through weary eyes, wondering to whom they now belonged. Obviously, she wasn't the person he thought. She wasn't the person she thought.
Dumbledore swept up from his desk once more and replaced the old hat on his shelves. With a slight grin at Fawkes the phoenix, he placed a hand on the young woman's shoulder.
"Well, Ms. Lee, I daresay Slytherin house is quite lucky to count you one of their own." His eyes still peeked over his half-moon spectacles, attempting reassurance, but even she could see the break in twinkles, the split-second hesitation. "It's a fine house and I hope you will be happy."
She nodded, beginning to accept the numbness in her limbs and skull. The numbness helped.
"Now, the Sorting Feast has finished, I'm sure, but if you'll follow me down to the Great Hall, I'm sure we'll be able to scrounge up something of a meal for you before you get to bed."
She followed the Headmaster through winding corridors and down staircases she was sure had been in different places when she'd arrived. Zhong Mo Xue had been so different, filled with gardens and fountains and open-ceilings. Fresh air. This place was closed and dark—not to mention befuddling.
The Great Hall, though—that was different. It was empty, save some faculty still straggling at the head table, and their chattering voices echoed off massive yet elegant stone walls. Above, the ceiling churned with clouds and stars, mimicking the uneasy night sky. For a moment, the tingling in her limbs was not numbness but awe.
"Ahh, Albus. We thought you'd never make it back."
While she paused, eyes up, Dumbledore was already walking towards the head table, smiling at the rather severe-looking witch who addressed him. "Yes, I'm sorry. I'm afraid I was-- reviewing Ms. Lee's file for quite some time. It was extremely-" He searched. "Extensive."
The severe woman's face cracked into something of a smile. "I see. Well, glad you could finally make it. I saved you a small plate--"
But Dumbledore had already begun to shovel a rather large spoonful of peas into his mouth. "Ahh, Minerva, you are truly one of the great witches of the age. I'm absolutely starving," he was barely able to mumble through an odd mixture of carrots and beef. "Oh, and Severus," he added before an admirable draw of pumpkin juice, "I'm afraid you'll have to look over her file as well, sometime. I've got it just here."
Suddenly, the only sound at the table was that of Dumbledore's enthusiastic chewing. The Headmaster didn't stop chomping, even as he fumbled through his robes, producing the bamboo file.
"And why, sir, would I need to do that?"
This voice, calculated and rigid, owed itself to a lean wizard whose hair hung lank and dirty about his face.
"It appears, Severus, that Ms. Lee will be in your house this year. I thought perhaps you would be so kind as to keep this in the Slytherin files for me."
All eyes darted, sidelong and wide, attempting to speak without a word. Only his eyes remained on her, and she felt, suddenly, as if she earnestly needed to pull her robes closer.
"Well, I must say that's surprising," the thin wizard said at last. His breaths were long and slow, his body rising and falling like a lion ready to pounce. He had turned and the entire weight of his shadowy figure was square on her shoulders. "The Lees are a Ravenclaw family, are they not?"
She fidgeted: it was precisely the reaction she expected. Even he knew she wasn't really a Slytherin. He knew she didn't fit. She wasn't Slytherin material, that's what he was thinking, and she certainly wasn't inclined to disagree…
"Yes, well, apparently Ms. Lee has defied the tradition."
A tactful way to put it indeed. A very nice way of saying that she was the rotten apple.
"Uh, forgive me, Ms. Lee," the Headmaster said quickly, dabbing with some finality at the corners of his mouth. "I seem to have forgotten myself. Desperation of hunger, you know. This is Professor Severus Snape. He is the head of the Slytherin house and will be your Potions Master as well."
She nodded, keeping silent. He was still burning into her, eyes as bad as dark coals on pale skin. She allowed herself only a quick glance in return. A gray halo of cloud swirled just above his head.
"Pull up a chair, Ms. Lee, and have a bite," offered a plumpish woman, thick hands warm on her back. "You must be quite hungry."
She tried again to feel soaked with the numbness, but the thin wizard's sneering eyes seemed to have raised her defenses. "Actually, I'm—tired. I'd prefer to get to my room, if that's alright." It wasn't a lie. Not only had she completely lost her appetite, but she was now feeling rather ill.
Dumbledore smiled. "I understand, my dear. Nothing will do you better than a good sleep. Severus, if you would, show her up to the Slytherin common room, give her the password, and find her a suitable dormitory."
The gaunt wizard looked about as eager to do this as she was to have him do it.
"I don't want to trouble you, Professor. If you could just tell me the way-"
"Follow me." He swept up from the table and, taking the thick file from Dumbledore, tromped from the Great Hall in a whirl of black robes.
Well, he certainly knew how to make an exit: dramatic if not polite.
She looked over once more at the Headmaster, wanting to see that mysteriously reassuring twinkle once more. The old wizard swallowed hastily and gave her a little wink, but the twinkle still betrayed something. "Good night, Miss Lee." He seemed to consider this something for a moment longer and then silently mouthed the words "good luck."
With a sigh, she steeled herself and took off after Snape. She could feel him lurking just outside the grand hall doors, batlike and sneering. It was as if his sallow aura seeped even through those great stone walls.
And indeed he waited, thin lips pursed, his entire form blending into shadow. Without a word, they walked spiral staircase after spiral staircase, always descending. Lili couldn't help feeling lost again, moving always lower and lower underground.
"There seem to be several instances of rule-breaking and tardiness in here," he said at last, frowning but never turning his eyes up from the file. "I hope those things are behind you now." He bit off the sentence, letting her know she needn't reply.
"And where is this place 'Zoong Moe Zoee'?"
"Zhong Mo Xue," she corrected, trying to sound respectful but only managing to croak slightly.
He kept her gaze for a moment, then returned to his mulling. "Your academics, on the other hand, are quite exemplary. In the top of your class?"
"Yes, sir." She kept the reply simple, still trying to keep track of all the staircases they'd taken and suits of armor they'd passed. She swore they'd turned left at the same statue of Serafina the Squalid at least four times.
And on top of that, it was freezing. She breathed out to see her own breath. Well at least it isn't that cold. She pulled her robes as close to her goose-pimpled skin as she could, and mentally marked down a right turn at the strange statue of the goblin standing on an anvil.
"Your Potions marks are quite impressive."
This time, in his severe tone, the statement became a question. "Yes, um, it's my favorite subject, actually. I did quite a bit of extra work with my Potions Mistress as Zhong Mo Xue."
"I see. Well perhaps you will be a more pleasant surprise than I'd anticipated, Ms. erm, Elizabeth Lee, is it?"
She wanted to ask him what that was supposed to mean, but decided against it. "Actually, sir, I go by Lili."
The Potions Master stopped, taking a moment before he allowed his sunken face to turn toward her, ever so slightly. His eyes, oblique, wavered. "Lily?"
"Y-yes, Lili. It's the name I was given in China. Sort of sounds like Elizabeth Lee." She was unsure whether to continue, but, seeing his eyes falter a moment, she pressed. "Something wrong, sir?"
"No, but perhaps we best stick to Ms. Lee."
He let the file fall to his side and didn't examine it again. They walked down the remaining two staircases in silence, passing more paintings and suits of armor that she was sure she wouldn't remember, before they stopped at a bare stone wall.
"Here we are," he said, and, when she said nothing in return, he gestured towards the stones as if explaining things to a slow child. "The password is Parseltongue."
A door concealed in the stone wall rolled open, revealing a quiet room glowing in firelight. As she entered, she was given to wonder if all the common rooms had the same eerie feel, the same dim chill. The room was long and narrow, green lamps hanging from the ceiling, casting an uneven, sickly tint on the walls. Several tapestries covered the rough stones, one of a coiled serpent, one of some sort of crest, and one of a thin, stern man who, while he bore little resemblance to this Potions Professor, stared back at her just as flatly. Across from the door was a tall fireplace, mantel elaborately carved from black marble. As she approached it, she could see that what at a distance had appeared to be intricate flourishes were, rather, serpents, intertwining, staring back from above the roaring flames with glimmering, emerald eyes. The high-backed chairs around her were empty, covered in plush green and silver velvet cushions.
"That's some Freudian obsession with snakes," she mumbled low enough not to be heard. She ran her hand over the smooth back of a chair and stepped closer to the fire.
"Meet with your approval?"
The fire had immediately suffused her shivering body with a delicious warmth. She felt her muscles loosen, all at once sleepy and more herself. "It's much more comfortable than our rooms at Zhong Mo Xue, thank you, sir," she said, finally working up the courage to raise her eyes to his.
Manic shadows were dancing across his already unnaturally pale features, causing his skin to flicker between extreme light and dark. She might have easily dismissed him had it not been for the slight curve tugging at the side of his whitened lips. It was the idea of a smile, and she could see it clearly, even if he was trying to conceal it. She felt, for a moment, as if his eyes could see clear through into her head.
His own body had relaxed a bit it seemed, and he was leaning lazily against the fireplace. "Why are you in Slytherin, Ms. Lee?"
The question seemed to hang, palpable in the air, almost visible in the sickly green light of those ceiling lamps. She should have known he wasn't relaxing: he was coiling, like a serpent, before a strike.
"A good question, Professor," she sighed, too tired and weak to return the challenge. But she kept smiling. His bluntness somehow satisfied her. If nothing else, she respected that. She had expected something more covert, more sly and sideways. More serpentine? Oh Merlin, even she was getting caught up in this snake obsession.
"I suppose we'll just have to wait and find out."
He straightened up and stood looking down at her, an intensity in his eyes that she couldn't understand. Somehow she felt he was testing her, and she musn't look away, no matter how unnerved those black eyes made her, deep and inscrutable as tunnels, flashing in the firelight…
"Ms. Bulstrode, Ms. Morrighan," he said loudly, without moving his eyes.
Lili turned away.
Two girls had appeared from behind a high-backed chair, looking a bit embarrassed and red-handed. One was dumpy, with ruddy cheeks and dull eyes. The other stood tall and bone-thin, skin white and thin as paper. "Yes Professor?"
Lili was quick to note that, now, she would have to watch her back. There were no words that were not heard…
"There is a bed free in your room this year is there not?"
"Yes, professor," answered the heavy girl, shadow of her angular jaw jutting monstrously over her neck.
"Very well then. Miss Lee here will be staying in that bed this term. She's been transferred here from a magic school in China, so try and—" He paused. "Accommodate her a bit."
The sweet looks the girls had worn dissolved. Their eyes twinkled, a mockery of the twinkle she'd seen in the Headmaster's eyes earlier.
Break her in, that's what he'd meant. See what she's really made of.
Well, if that's what he wanted, she'd give it to him. Pulling herself up to her full height, she gave a curt, emotionless nod. Warm and challenged, she found her voice strong and firm for the first time since her arrival. "Thank you, Professor. I look forward to your class tomorrow." She met his dark eyes once again, this time with greater force.
If this reaction surprised him, he didn't show it. He simply nodded back, shooting the other two girls one last look between scolding and collusion. As he exited, silently, his shadow raked across Lili's feet, as if, for a second, the darkness was beginning to swallow her up.
It was a frustrating illusion, she told herself, but only an illusion yet.
Letting out a heavy sigh, she picked up her trunk and, whipping her eyes between the two girls, forced what she considered must be a Slytherin smile; --both a grin and a sneer. "Shall we?"
The two girls finally, and without a word, led her upstairs.