Summary: Albus and Rose find an old stone bowl at Grimmauld Place and decide to try a little fortune telling at Halloween. Written for the Reviews Lounge Halloween Challenge "Something Wicked This Way Comes."
The Crying Bowl
by Cassandra's Cross
Dad is always a bit moodier than usual around Halloween. Of course it's also the anniversary of his parents' murders, so it's hard to blame him, really. If anything like that had happened to my parents. . . Well, I don't think I'd ever get over it either, but it does cast a slight pall over the whole holiday feeling.
It's even worse this year because Mum's been doing a lot of sighing over the fact that this is the first holiday my brother won't be with us. James himself is unlikely to be too fussed, what with the Halloween feast at Hogwarts to look forward to, but Mum and Dad haven't quite got over missing him yet. I hate to admit it, but the first day or so, I missed James quite a lot myself. The house was so quiet without him and it felt downright unnatural. But then James's owl arrived with a letter that rambled on forever about how cool it was that he'd been sorted into Gryffindor and closed with another dig about me being sorted into Slytherin next year, and somehow missing him flew straight out the window for me. Not for Mum and Dad, though, nor for Lily who has always hero-worshipped James, which is a bit nauseating, but little sisters are weird that way.
So as Halloween approached we found ourselves tiptoeing round Dad, as per usual, and listening to Mum moan about James who probably hasn't spared her a second thought since he left home, the git. I took refuge with my cousin Rose, who thrust a book under my nose one afternoon and demanded that I read it.
"The whole book?" I asked, feeling a bit daunted as it was a fairly thick tome.
"No, silly, just that one paragraph," said Rose. "It's all about Halloween."
I took the book from her and read aloud: "Halloween originated with the Celtic festival of Samhain. . ."
"'Sow-en,'" Rose corrected me when I said it wrong. "It's pronounced 'Sow-en.'"
I frowned. "Why do they spell it that way then?"
"It's Gaelic, Al," Rose sighed, as if I should know already, and snatched the book from me to continue reading:
"The celebration of Samhain marks the end of the harvest season in Gaelic culture, and is sometimes regarded as the Celtic New Year. The ancient Gaels believed that on 31 October, the veil between the two worlds dissolved, making it possible for the living to communicate with the dead. The festival involved bonfires and various rituals meant to honor the dead, including offerings left at the graves of ancestors. Also, because Samhain separated the old year from the new, it was considered an especially auspicious time for divining the future."
My cousin's eyes, I had noticed, had a distinctive sparkle and that made me nervous. She looked like her dad all of a sudden, and I felt compelled to remind her, "We're not allowed to use magic, Rose. Not that we know enough about it to use it anyway. . ."
"I know that," Rose said. "And I wasn't thinking about using about magic. Not real magic anyway."
"What were you thinking then?" I asked warily.
Rose peered at me from the corners of her eyes. I knew what that meant and rued the day I'd shown her the black stone bowl I'd found in an old cabinet at Grimmauld Place. It couldn't be anything dark or dangerous, because my parents had purged the house of Dark objects years ago, and no one objected when I carried it up to my room. I just thought it would be a handy receptacle for my Chocolate Frog cards, but Rose had taken one look and immediately recognized its true purpose.
"What's a crying bowl?" I asked her when she told me what it was.
"Not crying, Al," said Rose with a dramatic roll of her eyes. "Scrying. It's a form of divination. You fill it with water and stare at it until you see a vision."
"You don't believe that, do you?" I scoffed, but apparently she did because she insisted we try it. So far we hadn't had a smidgen of success, but Rose's mother disapproved of divination, which was a virtual guarantee Rose would keep trying. They're actually a lot alike, Rose and Aunt Hermione, but maybe a little too much so because they're always butting heads. Also, Rose can be very stubborn and once she gets the bit properly between her teeth, it's difficult to talk her out of anything.
"We've never tried it at Halloween," Rose said now. "It's 'an especially auspicious time for divination,' remember? Don't you want to know your future?"
"Not especially," I said, which was a lie, because what if James was right and I did end up in Slytherin? I had cousins in Gryffindor, Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff, but no one in my family had ever been sorted into Slytherin. What if I was the first? It was a daunting thought.
"Come on, Al!" Rose persisted. "Why do you always have to be such a stick-in-the-mud?"
It wasn't such a bad place to be stuck, I thought. Mud felt wonderful when squished between the toes. It beat racing headlong into the fire anyway, which is where my cousin seemed determined to lead me. The idea of seeing my future was intriguing, but all that stuff about the dead walking amongst the living just seemed. . . . I dunno, creepy. I wasn't afraid of death. Well, not much, but I was certainly no stranger to the subject. Death, after all, had been a constant theme in my family since before I was born.
I was rich in dead relatives. There were my Potter grandparents, who had died when my dad was just a baby. Teddy's mum and dad, who died when he was just a baby, had been killed years later fighting for the same cause. So had our Uncle Fred, who looked just like Uncle George only with two ears, and Sirius Black in whose house we lived. And the two men for whom I'd been named, Albus Dumbledore, the wisest, best Headmaster Hogwarts had ever known, and Severus Snape who. . . Well, I'd never really understood why my parents named me after him. My uncles tended to scowl and mutter whenever my middle name was mentioned. I asked Mum about it once, and she told me Severus Snape hadn't been well liked, though apparently he did something very brave once. Bravery, however, wasn't enough to prevent him from being, in Uncle Ron's estimation: "A greasy-haired, hook-nosed, bad-tempered, slimy, vindictive git."
And my parents named me after him. Thanks a lot, Mum and Dad!
I used to dream about them when I was little. I put it down to the fact that everyone talked about them as if they were still around, which is probably why those dreams seemed so very real. Sometimes it felt like I was communicating with people who were invisible only in the waking world, and I even passed on messages from my "dream friends" as I tended to think of them. But I stopped talking about my dreams when my prat of a brother decided to take the mickey out of me, and it wasn't long after that I stopped having them. And that was a good thing, because even Teddy gave me a funny look when I told him about a dream I'd had about his mum and dad. Teddy is the one of nicest people I know too, so if he thought I was barmy, what hope was there?
It wasn't as if I needed anything else to make me feel like a freak. It was bad enough having the world's dorkiest name, not to mention a father who happens to be the wizarding world's greatest hero, and I happen to look just like him so people always expect me to be like him which is a laugh because I'll never be like Dad. Don't get me wrong, I'm proud of my father, but there are times when I wish I was just a normal kid with normal parents. There have even been times when I've thought I wouldn't mind being a Muggle, though to be totally honest, I'm not sure I'd ever go quite that far.
I didn't much fancy the idea of using the "crying bowl" again (I still called it that, mainly to annoy Rose), but because I have the backbone of a flobberworm, I let her talk me into it. And fate seemed to favor us, because our parents had decided to go to a party that night, so Rose and Hugo would be sleeping over. It turned out to be a very near thing, because Dad wasn't at all keen on going, but Mum bullied him into it with the help of Aunt Hermione and Uncle Ron who were determined not to allow Dad to brood the way he usually did at Halloween.
Teddy had agreed to babysit (even though I was ten years old and could hardly be called a baby), but Rose was confident he'd fall asleep early enough for us to carry out our plans. I thought she had a point there, as Teddy was in a particularly grueling part of his Auror training and lately tended to drop off in the middle of conversations. Still, I couldn't understand what all the cloak-and-dagger was about. If it wasn't dangerous or dark, as Rose kept assuring me it wasn't, then why keep it a secret?
"There's no point borrowing trouble, is there?" Rose said when I pressed her. "Besides, keeping it all to ourselves makes it more exciting." I shot her a skeptical look, but said nothing because, like I said, I'm a flobberworm.
After our parents had disappeared through the Floo in a flurry of dress robes, we played Exploding Snap with Hugo and Lily, even letting them win a few games to keep them happy, while Teddy's head nodded over a thick sheaf of notes he'd brought along to study for a written exam he was due to sit soon. He woke up long enough to help us roast nuts on the fire and supervised a messy round of cocoa making in the kitchen under Kreacher's baleful eye before declaring that our parents would have his guts for garters if we didn't get to bed straight away. Lily and Hugo kicked up their usual fuss, but Rose and I accepted his edict so docilely that he was instantly suspicious.
"We're just tired is all," Rose explained. "I'm always a bit more tired this time of year. You know, with the cooler weather and it getting dark so much earlier and all. . ."
She gave a huge yawn for emphasis. I thought she was pouring it on a bit thick, but Teddy nodded sleepily and said, "Off you go then. No talking or running back and forth between rooms, all right?"
Hugo was in James's room, but Rose was bivouacked with Lily, so she had to wait until my sister was asleep before coming to mine. While I waited for her, I stretched out on my bed and thought about Halloween. If it was true that the dead walked amongst the living on this night, wouldn't it make sense they'd seek out those they left behind? If so, my family was ripe for a haunting. Thirty-five years, I thought. Thirty-five years ago tonight. . .
I must have dozed off because the next thing I knew, I was staring up at a lot of bushy ginger hair and a pair of bright blue eyes that sparkled with excitement.
"Everyone's asleep," my cousin whispered. "Come on, get up! Where's the bowl?"
It was on my bureau where it usually was. Rose dumped the Chocolate Frogs cards unceremoniously into a drawer before tiptoeing out of the room to fill the bowl with water. She returned a minute later to find me sitting cross-legged on the floor, trying to stifle a yawn. Rose sat down across from me and lit a candle which she placed beside the bowl. Eerie, flickering shadows shimmered across the surface of the water and danced along the walls.
"All right," Rose said. "Let's get started, shall we? Place your hands on the bowl, Al, and concentrate."
I sighed. The sooner we got this over with, the sooner I could go back to bed. I placed both hands on the bowl, feeling my cousin's fingers brush against mine, and stared into the water. Minutes passed. My eyes grew heavy and my head began to nod, then I felt a sharp pain in my arm as Rose delivered a vicious pinch.
"Stay awake!" she demanded. "You're supposed to be concentrating!"
I swallowed my resentment and stared determinedly into the bowl whose murky depths revealed nothing but my own reflection staring owlishly back at me. My eyes began to droop again, but I forced them open. And then something odd started happening. The room began to swirl, making me dizzy and lightheaded. I opened my mouth to speak, but nothing came out, and I was floating, spinning through the air, there were stars and clouds, and the air grew cold, but the bowl remained between my hands. What was happening? What was going on?
I squeezed my eyes tightly shut against a freezing gust of wind. When I opened them again I was standing in a forest clearing. Fortunately, I wore a warm jumper and jeans, even a pair of trainers as I hadn't bothered to undress before getting into bed. I looked around. It wasn't anywhere I had ever been before and yet there was a reminiscent feel about the old, gnarled trees that surrounded me. I was, it seemed, quite alone. Rose had disappeared, but I still held the bowl. It was still filled with water too. Incredibly, I hadn't spilled a drop.
There was a rustling in the distance. Alarmed, I looked for the source, but could see nothing in the gloom. Then I heard something that nearly caused me to trip over my own feet as I whirled around.
A man stood before me, wrapped in a long, dark traveling cloak. He had sallow skin, a hooked nose, and shoulder-length hair that looked rather stringy. "I. . . I beg your pardon," I said, cringing at the sound of my own voice which seemed to carry a long way in the dense silence. "I didn't mean . . . I must have accidentally taken a Portkey or something and now I. . . Well, I don't know where I am."
I found myself fixed in the cross-beams of a pair of penetrating black eyes. "You are Albus Severus Potter," he said in a quiet, silky voice that seemed oddly familiar, though I couldn't quite place it.
I blinked. "I. . . Sorry, do I know you?"
His thin lips curved into a smile that looked more like a sneer. "I know you." He looked me up and down. "You look like your father. And your grandfather." He looked into the distance and the stern lines of his face seemed to soften. "But you have her eyes."
I shook my head, thoroughly confused. "I don't understand."
"I didn't think you would. You had a question, I believe."
I realized I must be dreaming. Either that or it had something to do with the scrying bowl. Whatever it was, I might as well get some answers. "I wanted to know about my Sorting. It's not till next year, but my brother. . ."
"That," he said, "is unimportant."
"But my brother. . ."
"There will always be those who try to goad you or hold you up to ridicule. That's part of your lot in life, but ridicule is like fear in that only destroys those who surrender to it."
He was speaking in riddles! "Where am I?"
"The Forest of Dreams. As to how you got here, you were the one who wanted to know your future."
I was even more confused now, but also afraid. All my other concerns had evaporated in the cold and dark. "Who are you?" I asked, past caring how rude I sounded.
"That's also unimportant. Though if you like, you can think of me as the Advance Guard." And his lips curved into another mocking smile.
I wanted my family. I wanted to go home. Wherever I was, I wanted to return to a place of light, warmth, and security, but I didn't know where it was and had no idea how to begin looking for it.
"Sir," I said, "I'm lost. Can you help me find my way?"
Again he looked into the distance, seeing something not visible to me. "I may not be the one to ask. I chose the wrong way."
I stared. "Sorry?"
"I could have had love, or at least friendship. Instead I chose power. I could have been kind. Instead I inspired fear. I could have asked for help. Instead I stood alone. The great tragedy of my life was that I created my own darkness, and it was a place where light could not abide. I lived to regret it. I regret it still.
This wasn't helping, I thought, but it seemed he hadn't finished. "There are two main paths in life," he said. "The path of selflessness or selfishness, but the first requires you to leave the world a better place while the second leaves you merely alone. You will face many choices, young Potter. Choose rightly and you will find the path that will take you where you need to go. Choose wrongly and you will end in darkness."
What path? What was he talking about? I felt another ripple of fear, but before I could ask anything else, he said, "Choose well," and with a loud "pop" disappeared.
Now I was really alone and darkness enveloped me. The hoot of an owl almost caused me to jump out of my skin. Beads of sweat formed along the edges of my hair. I began to tremble, not from cold which I no longer felt, but from fear. Solid, unwavering fear that came from somewhere within and froze me where I stood. I stood there for what felt like years, clutching the bowl as to a lifeline and for a moment it seemed not so much filled with water as tears. As a matter of fact, I felt real tears slip from my eyes. Maybe it really was a "crying" bowl.
"Help!" I shouted, hearing my voice bounce off the trees. "Somebody please help me!"
The words no sooner passed my lips when a light flickered in the distance. My feet began to move, leading me toward it. I broke into a run as the light grew brighter, welcoming and drawing me near. And then they came, apparently out of nowhere. A silver wolf stepped out of the trees and I shrank back, startled and fearful. But the wolf strode along the path with a gentle swish of his tail and I knew he was there, not to harm me but for my comfort. A smaller wolf soon joined him, tripping over a tree root as she came, and a great black dog bounded up, tongue lolling, tail wagging, gamboling in excited circles around the pair. A shower of autumn leaves made me look up. A silver squirrel was hopping from branch to branch, seeming to laugh into my startled face as he sent another cascade of leaves down to join the first. A low, musical cry sounded overhead and a majestic, brightly plumed bird soared past. And on the path ahead, surrounded by light, a stag with a magnificent rack of antlers stood next to a doe with soft, gentle eyes. I knew them somehow. They were old friends, all of them, and they'd come to lead me home. They moved in closer, filling me with warmth, and I drifted into their loving embrace.
"Al! Al, wake up!"
It was Rose and she sounded agitated. My eyes flew open. I was lying in bed, still fully clothed, even down to the trainers which I'd apparently forgotten to take off before I fell asleep. "I'm so sorry, Al," Rose said. "I fell asleep! And now Halloween is over. We missed our chance!"
"What are you talking about?" I said, rubbing my eyes as I sat up. "We did it, Rose, and it worked! It was like a Portkey, I think, and . . . ."
"Al," said Rose, shaking her head. "You must have been dreaming. I fell asleep and so did you. And look, see? The bowl is still on your bureau. I guess we were a lot more tired than I thought."
I looked at my bureau. The black stone bowl was exactly where I had left it. It was still full of Chocolate Frog cards too. Maybe I had dreamed it all.
"Well, come on," Rose said. "Mum and Dad are here already. We're having breakfast with you lot before we shove off."
I followed my cousin down to the basement kitchen where Kreacher had laid out a full English, complete with sausage, kippers, eggs and tomatoes. Everyone else had already finished by the time Rose and I appeared, and Mum greeted us with, "Good morning, sleepy heads! Decided to have a bit of a lie in, did you?"
"Something like that," I mumbled, pulling the sausages toward me.
"Teddy said you went to bed early," said Aunt Hermione, looking worried. "You're not coming down with anything are you? It's not like either of you to sleep so late."
"It's not that late, Mum," Rose said. "What time is it anyway?"
"After ten," said my father.
Rose and I looked at each other, startled. We'd both thought it was much earlier. And we had gone to bed early. It seemed best to change the subject. "Er," I said. "How was the party?"
"Good," said Uncle Ron, then gave my father a sideways glance. "Though stopping by a cemetery on the way home does tend to put a bit of a damper on an evening."
"We went to Godric's Hollow," Mum explained. "Your father wanted to leave some flowers."
"It didn't feel right not to," Dad grumbled, and his eyes took on the same sort of distant look I remembered from the man in my dream. "It's been thirty-five years."
Mum reached over to clasp his hand. He gave her a grateful smile, then looked at me and said, "Al, why are there leaves in your hair?"
"Your trainers are all muddy too!" said Mum, peering under the table. "What on earth have you been doing?"
I looked at my trainers, which were indeed caked with mud, and raked a few autumn leaves from my hair. Leaves that cascaded from a tree where a squirrel chattered as I walked along a forest path toward a bright, warm, welcoming light. Rose stared at me, dumbfounded, while my parents, aunt, and uncle wore identical inquiring frowns. I had a lot of questions, but those would come later. Now was a time for answers and I was the only one who could provide them.
I swallowed hard a few times before saying in a voice that came out a lot squeakier than I'd intended, "Mum, Dad, Aunt Hermione, Uncle Ron. . . Have you ever heard of a crying bowl?"
A/N: This is probably the start of what will turn out to be a longer story, but hopefully it also works as a stand-alone. For background on Albus Potter's dreams read 'Great Expectations.' Thanks to Kerichi, by the way, for giving me the idea of the squirrel Patronus for Fred. Happy Halloween!