Chapter 35: Best-Laid Schemes
The next morning the entire school arrived early to breakfast. Hermione had followed her housemates with interest: Gryffindors were never up this early, and they certainly weren't so awake. Even Ron was bright eyed and bouncing as they made their way to the Great Hall, joining throngs of students jockeying for preferred seats and looking around for the boy savior. She noticed most of the other Houses sending curious looks their way, perhaps assuming that the Boy-Who-Lived must have already been sorted into Gryffindor. They would be disappointed, of course.
There was only one student who appeared to have missed the message about bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.
"What's wrong with Brie?" she asked as she sat down across from Ginny, next to Neville. Brie sat on his other side looking positively ill. He was usually up as early as Hermione, sharply dressed and prompt to breakfast. Not this morning. Unlike their chattering housemates, Brie was slouching – something she couldn't recall ever seeing him do – with his elbows on the table as he pushed otherwise untouched oatmeal around in a bowl. Even his curls lacked luster today.
"I don't think he's feeling well," said Neville. He wouldn't look at her, which was a sure sign that he knew more than he was willing to share. "He was like this last night, too."
"I know he's been ill for awhile," Hermione replied, leaning forward to inspect Brie more carefully. "But I thought he was getting better. Is this normal for wizards? I don't think I've ever seen any magical person stay so sick for so long."
It was even stranger that Brie wasn't speaking up for himself. It wasn't unusual for her to talk to Neville like this in his hearing, but he usually smirked and made snide comments. Today he didn't even seem to notice they were talking about him.
"It's not," said Neville. "Normal, I mean. Usually we see a healer who gives us potions and we get better."
"Should we talk to Madam Pomfrey?" asked Hermione, frowning. "I know he won't go himself. Maybe she can call his sister, since he doesn't like strangers getting near him while he's vulnerable."
Neville finally turned to look at her, a strained expression on his face. "What do you mean, Hermione?" he asked, breaking eye contact immediately.
Hermione was distracted from worrying about Brie and started to worry about Neville. Was he sick too? Was it catching? She noticed that he hadn't touched breakfast either, which was out of character for Neville.
"Are you okay?" she asked, ignoring his question. She tried to feel his forehead for a fever, but he dodged away.
"I'm fine," he insisted, "just tired. It was hard to get to sleep last night."
Hermione opened her mouth to follow up, but closed it again as Dumbledore walked into the Great Hall and headed straight for the front of the teachers' platform. The hall quieted with preternatural speed as students hushed each other.
"Ladies and gentlemen," the Headmaster began, looking far too serious for a man bearing good news. "I am sure you are all desperately curious about the scene we witnessed last night. I regret to inform you that it was a prank."
A whisper skittered through the hush of the hall, then died.
"Any knowledge of how and why this prank came about should be brought to my attention immediately."
The silence held as the Headmaster took his seat among the gathered professors and then shattered as everyone started speculating at once. Ron was louder than most, continuing what sounded like a very heated discussion with Dean and Seamus. Hermione turned back to Neville.
"Well, that's an interesting turn of events," she said, since it seemed only fitting that she comment on the subject everyone was discussing. "A prank. I wonder how they accomplished it. How did they know what Harry Potter would look like?"
"Those scars were pretty wicked, too," said Ginny, turning away from her brother's escalating shouting match to face her friends across the table. "Who thought of adding those to his face? I wonder if that's what he actually looks like."
"Well, they might have used Polyjuice," said Hermione, pointing out the obvious. "If they knew where Potter was, or had some of his baby hair, that would definitely be the easiest way to go." By the way Ginny and Neville stared at her, it hadn't been so obvious to them. She shrugged. "At least that's how I would do it. Any other potion would take skill way beyond what we're capable of. Even Professor Snape might have trouble brewing a potion that projects a created image like that. And the brewer would have to be in on the prank, which doesn't really make sense. Who would do that? What do you think, Brie?"
But when she turned to the only Gryffindor she could rely on to keep up with her in potions, he was still staring blankly into his oatmeal.
"That's it," she muttered. "I've had it. I told you if you didn't get better I'd call your sister," she said, raising her voice. "And you aren't getting better. So get up. We're going to the Infirmary."
When he didn't follow her to his feet, she stared at the back of Neville's head until he turned around to look at her. She jerked her head toward their lethargic friend, crossing her arms and tapping her foot impatiently.
"What if he doesn't want to go?" asked Neville, following her dark look.
"Neville, the most exciting thing to happen all year just turned out to be a prank, and Brie is more interested in not eating his oatmeal. I think he's lost his right to have an opinion about this. If you're not going to help me, I'll go find that Defayne kid."
"Alright, alright," grumbled Neville, getting to his feet. "Come on Gabriel, Hermione wants to call your sister."
Hermione watched as Brie finally reacted, turning to look at Neville. She shivered. Usually his eyes were incredibly expressive, bright and full of energy and intelligence. Now his eyes were blank and empty. He must've understood, though, because he stood up and followed Neville without much prompting - which was weird, since he hadn't responded to her at all this morning. What was up with the sudden closeness between those two?
She turned toward Ginny, who was watching them with a small frown.
"Sorry, Ginny," she said with a helpless shrug. She didn't invite the other girl along, and Ginny didn't volunteer to come. But she did force a smile, which did little to make Hermione feel better. Their relationship was still strained, but it was getting better. She wasn't sure how the younger girl would react to this new development, though: now both Hermione and Neville were getting buddy-buddy with Gabriel and excluding her. Hermione resolved to make it up to Ginny as soon as possible.
Nothing good ever happened at 4am.
Ami grumbled as she rolled out of bed, summoned by the soft chime of an incoming call. She'd briefly considered kicking Audric awake and making him deal with it, but she had a feeling it was for her. It was usually for her at 4am, because that's when nothing good was happening.
She quietly shut the bedroom door behind her and padded barefoot out into the living room. To her surprise, it wasn't a frightened apprentice with an emergency.
"Monsieur Longbottom." She put her hands on her hips and gave the boy her most impassive stare. He turned a gratifying shade of red and looked away, though that might be because she hadn't bothered with a housecoat over her nightgown.
"Sorry to bother you, Hr. Sinclaire, but there's something wrong with Gabriel. He's been sick for a week or two and not getting any better, and today he seems a lot worse."
Ami's kept her worried grimace purely internal and instead raised an imperious eyebrow. Aunt Geni had explained what was going on and had given some recommendations for improving the situation. She'd even suggested pulling Brie out of school until things were fixed. If they had known the Dark Lord would be making a comeback, they never would've agreed to let Brie go to Hogwarts in the first place. The situation had become entirely too volatile in Ami's opinion.
"He's, um, really confused and can't seem to stay focused. I think it would be best if you could come, ma'am."
Ami did a brief mental calculation. "I can be there in twenty minutes," she told him firmly. "Make him lie down, but otherwise don't touch him or talk to him. I am on my way."
Longbottom looked strangely grateful, and she wondered whether Brie had managed to patch their relationship. Uncle Shay would not approve, of course. Friends outside the family were tolerated but not encouraged. It was bad enough that Brie and Skylee were so close – and Sky was useful to the family. Though Longbottom had potential political connections, she assumed.
She decided it was not her business as she went back to the bedroom to change. Not wanting to wake her husband, she grabbed the first clean clothes she could find. She needed to Floo to the hospital in order to use their International connection, and preferred not to wear her Healer Greens. If she wore her robes, the damn apprentices would descend en masse with all of their emergencies. In jeans and a t-shirt, she might just escape their notice.
The trip went faster than she'd anticipated. One apprentice saw her Floo in, had opened his mouth – no doubt to beg for help – and then closed it immediately at her cold expression. Or maybe it was the Hello Kitty t-shirt. He'd stared as she walked by, but had remained blessedly silent as she'd stalked past.
She stepped into the Hogwarts Infirmary to a much calmer scene than last time. Longbottom and the Granger girl sat next to Brie, talking softly. Brie was lying back, apparently fascinated by the ceiling. The nurse was a few beds down talking with a student whose smoking ears indicated a mild cold.
It irked her to wait, but she knew there wasn't any rush, so she waited politely for the nurse to acknowledge her presence. Madam Pomfrey had seemed like a capable school nurse. She ran a clean infirmary with an efficient layout and well-stocked cupboards. She might not be a Healer, but she knew her business. And she knew when she was in over her head, which was a quality Ami especially admired, and she had seemed interested in learning how to be better, another quality Ami liked in a nurse.
"Good morning, Hr. Sinclaire," Madam Pomfrey greeted pleasantly as she bustled over. "Thank you for joining us. I understand the time differences made the call somewhat inconvenient."
"Thank you for understanding the special needs of my brother," Ami responded, unbending enough to smile briefly at the other woman. "I know it can be difficult to let other Healers invade one's territory, especially a nurse as capable as you appear."
Madam Pomfrey beamed, and it was obvious that any ruffled feathers had been properly soothed. Ami liked this nurse much better than the one at Beauxbatons, but refrained from mentioning it. She wanted to get down to business so she'd be home in time to fix Tayce breakfast.
She walked over to Brie's bed and felt his forehead. He didn't even glance at her, which worried her more than anything Geni or Longbottom had said. She'd never seen her brother not react to physical contact before.
"Longbottom, Granger," she greeted. "Merci. Go to class."
Granger and Longbottom were both staring at her chest. She glanced down, wondering if she'd missed some soot when she came through the Floo, but there was nothing unexpected. She looked back over at the teenagers and raised an eyebrow. Longbottom caught the hint, grabbed Granger's shoulder, and tugged at her to follow.
"Thanks Hr. Sinclaire," Granger said as she stood up, meeting Ami's eyes. Ami raised her eyebrow a bit higher and Granger grinned before following Longbottom out of the infirmary.
Ami turned her full attention to her brother. He still hadn't acknowledged – or maybe even noticed – her presence. She waved her hand in front of his eyes, which finally caught his attention. His eyes tracked her hand, as though he wasn't sure what to make of the moving appendage. She brought the hand over toward her face, and finally caught his eye. He looked at her blankly.
"Good morning little brother," she said quietly. He stared at her for a long minute.
"Good morning Naomi," he said, as though each word had to be dragged a long distance. "Why are you here?"
"Your friends called," she replied, pushing him over so she could sit down on his bed. He didn't resist. She hated seeing him like this. For a moment it was like they were ten years in the past and he was a scared little boy afraid to move after the nightmares that were the legacy of his time with those people. "I'm going to torture and kill that bastard," she whispered fiercely in Hindi, gently reaching out to brush his hair off his shoulder. "I'm going to let you destroy all his Horcruxes but one, and then I'm going to flay him alive and make him eat his own flesh. He will beg us to destroy his soul."
Brie shook his head slowly, frowning faintly. "I just want him gone, Ami. I can't think. Why can't I think?" He spoke in English, and Ami glanced around to make sure no one was close enough to hear his hoarse whisper.
"It's the potions," she said, switching to French. "Aunt Geni's potions are keeping your mind safe from him, but it's making it hard for you to think."
It took nearly two minutes for him to process that. "Oh," he said finally.
"I think you should come home with me," she said, trying to keep her concern from leaking into her voice. Calm and collected. Cool and unaffected, that was the way to deal with patients, even family. Especially family.
"Home?" Brie asked, still stuck in English. She wondered if Geni could scramble his brain into another language instead of locking it away. Maybe if he were thinking in some obscure language… But the Dark Lord knew Latin and French, and Hindi would lead him straight to the mal Théas, which would be somewhat problematic.
"If only you'd been better at Russian," she mused, mostly to herself. "Yes, Brie, home. With me."
How to explain it so that he wouldn't have to think too hard…
"You need rest," she said, "and somewhere safe to be confused."
"I'm safe here," he insisted. Then a dark look passed over his face, as though he were remembering something he didn't want to talk about. She desperately wanted to ask what thought had crossed his mind, but she had a feeling that no good could come of it. It would behoove no one to get lost in the side trails of Brie's mind right now.
"No," she said, keeping it simple, "you are not." She walked away from his bedside before he could try to argue.
It took a brief conversation with Madam Pomfrey to secure her an escort to Professor Dumbledore's office. The student with the smoking ears led her along with a few curious glances, obviously dying to ask her why she was there.
"What," she said finally, using her most frosty baby-apprentices-are-a-waste-of-my-air tones.
"Are you here about Harry Potter?"
If Shay hadn't called her yesterday, she might've overreacted to the probably innocent question. As it was, the name still fell like lead in her heart.
"Non," she said, increasing the chill in her voice. "Pourquoi?"
"What?" said the student, confused.
She didn't bother to clarify, and the student didn't ask again. A few minutes later, she was left standing in front of a gargoyle. She glared at the stone sculpture. It stared back impassively for a few minutes, then stepped aside. She doubted it had been the power of her stare – more likely there was some kind of mechanism that allowed the Headmaster to see who was outside his office and allow them up when he was ready for them.
She was surprised to find someone already in the Headmaster's office. They'd never met, but she knew Sirius Black by reputation. He was Harry Potter's godfather, and that made him a threat. Ami was very careful to know her potential enemies whenever possible. It was times like this when it was nice to be a habitually cold, heartless person: staying cold and professional didn't take any thought at all.
"Ah, Hr. Sinclaire," greeted the Headmaster with a smile that looked a little forced. "What a pleasure to see you again. How can we help you?"
Black was looking at her strangely, and she glanced over long enough to establish that he was checking her out. He grinned when he saw her looking, but she chose not to react. His grin faded a bit, but he kept watching her. She turned back to the Headmaster.
"My brother is sick," she said, cutting straight to the chase. "I want to take him home with me for treatment."
"We usually care for sick children here," said the Headmaster, leaning back in his chair. "Is there a reason he cannot remain in the infirmary where he can more easily rejoin the student body upon recovery."
"Your infirmary is not equipped to handle Gabriel's unique health problems." She noticed Black perk up when he heard Brie's name. Why? He hadn't cared when she was just any old parent – he was specifically interested in Gabriel. Brie hadn't mentioned a particular relationship with a teacher, especially with his alter-ego's godfather.
"I was unaware that he had… unique health problems," replied the Headmaster. "I would have expected your parents to inform me of any special needs prior to sending him so far away."
"Yes," she said dryly, "as they informed you of his training needs."
The Headmaster did a poor job covering his grimace with a thoughtful tug at his beard.
"We prefer to keep family affairs within the family," she said by way of explanation. "Gabriel has special needs that must be addressed."
"What kind of special needs?" asked Black, apparently not able to take the hint. She turned her head to meet his eyes and attempted to stare him down. It was harder than expected, but after a minute he looked down. At her chest, she noted, pushing down the sudden spike of irritation. She turned back to the Headmaster.
"I'm curious as well," said Dumbledore, hand still stroking his beard. "What does young Mr. mal Théa require that Hogwarts cannot provide? It would be helpful to know for future reference."
"He needs me," she snapped. It was 4 in the morning according to her internal clock, and she had had enough.
Sirius watched the young Healer stalk out, admiring the way her strange blue pants clung to her assets. He knew Hr. Naomi Sinclaire by reputation, of course, but he'd never actually met the woman. She'd lived up to the hype, cold and fierce as anyone could ask for. She was also unexpectedly attractive in her shockingly muggle attire.
"So that's mal Théa's sister," he mused. "I admit, I hadn't put the pieces together until she said it."
"The timing is strange," said Dumbledore, almost to himself, but Sirius wondered if the comment might be directed at him. He was about to dismiss the thought, but then he remembered who they were dealing with. The mal Théa family was large and powerful, with ties to many influential families.
And the timing was strange.