Thank you to everyone who took the time to read and review the last chapter. As always, I appreciate all of your time. I promised I wouldn't make you wait as long, so here it is: the newest chapter that's a little longer and a little more intricate. Thank you again to Little Old Anonymous Me for her quick and wonderful work with editing!
Chapter 94 – Boils and Bristles
"Have you ever taken time to find yourself? I don't recommend it, honestly. You don't find out anything about yourself that you don't already know. I found out that I've always hated being second best, for example. Always. I don't know why, but once it started it became all consuming, you know? I started doing a lot of things with that competitive streak in me. For instance, when my brother stopped Riddle from getting the Philosopher's stone it was only because I thought that calming Fluffy down would look better.
"But then I was petrified by that basilisk and missed the entire rescue mission for Ginny — who, by the way, was one of my close friends far before Harry even noticed her. Ginny is basically my Gryffindor-doppelganger, so why did my brother have to go and snog her? It's repulsive.
"Oh and don't even get me started on when he broke into that tower and—and time traveled? Are you serious? I didn't get to experience time travel? I feel like I would have done much better than he would have and not let Pettigrew get away.
"Then he roped me into that bloody tournament where my soon-to-be boyfriend died.
"All of fifth year he resented me even though everything I was doing was for him and the one thing — the one, tiny thing — that I wanted he absolutely ruined. I don't understand why he can't just leave my dating life alone; I specifically don't want to know anything he does with Ginny. It makes me sick to even contemplate.
"Then there was sixth year...well, everyone knows about the Death Eaters in sixth year, don't they? I guess that was more about me. Finally something was. Not that I liked a lick of it, mind you. But then there was the whole invasion at the wedding and going into hiding while constantly trying not to be ambushed but also attacking Death Eaters...I guess you know that part, that is the story of why you're here."
I finally came away from my musings and looked upon Dulcier with a sigh. He was gagged and tied up to a chair that honestly didn't look strong enough to hold him, with its feeble little wooden legs. I was keeping a close eye on him and he had no idea of all the protection spells around the area, though. I had not been alone in making this area safe for me and a prison for himself — it had taken Kingsley and Lupin hours.
Dulicer lurched forward in his chair to show his frustration about my ranting. I gave him a deep frown — I did not care about his feelings.
"Are you uncomfortable?" I asked, the sarcasm dripped from my words. "That's a surprising reaction. Don't you know where you are?"
He gave a shuffle forward again and made a little bit of a sound behind the material shoved down his throat. I didn't understand whatever cursing he was likely doing.
"Well, you'd be a little more respectful if you did," my tone was light as I tried to imitate the formal, awful tone of Dolores Umbridge. I avoided his eyes and began pacing around the room, as I had done many times since we had started renovating this shithole. "It doesn't look familiar, then? Why, Dulcier...this is the place it all began. This is where the mother of your favourite evil dictator came from."
Dulcier didn't move this time. Now he took a wide-eyed look around himself, as if realizing that I may not have been lying to him. What place was better to hide a deviant, than a deviants' own home? I had figured. It's not like Voldemort was likely return now that the entire Gaunt family line ends with him.
"No one comes 'round anymore," I tapped my wand against my palm for emphasis. The skin there still tingled from the heavy lifting of a body and two large sized pewter cauldrons. "See, everyone loves what Tom does nowadays, but no one ever likes to dig into his roots — that's his real name, by the way. Tom. Tom's inheritance isn't that grand, is it?"
Dulcier huffed around his gag, his eyes sharp against my own.
"Well, that's rude. It's still kind of impressive: this is the actual house of Slytherin. You should be respectful." I explained to him. "When Albus Dumbledore showed this house to me, I was impressed. Even when it had a snake nailed to the door."
He continued to glare at me. He likely didn't understand much of my little side-thoughts, but it was nice to have someone arguing with me about morality. I didn't have anyone I could speak to so frankly; every one of the Gryffindors I was around nowadays couldn't see things from my perspective. Every hard decision I make, adventure I miss, and person I have to hurt are not respected by them, after all. Because they didn't understand the need for it - and I was sick of explaining every damn step of a plan that I can come up with off the top of my head.
"Albus Dumbledore taught me a lot. It's too bad he was killed by one of your superiors," I paused, stopping my pacing and harshly hitting my wand against my hand — it's not like it would work. I looked from my hand to my wand with a frown as I chose to myself. "One of my superiors, even."
I hated talking about them. I had a feeling I'd be thinking of them a lot during this whole process because there was no denying that they had been the catalyst to my 'taking action'. I didn't want to think about them, though. It felt like Snape and Draco clogged my mind and made it so that other thoughts couldn't get through the mess they made. Once I started thinking of them, it was hard to stop. I had other more important things to consider...like turning into my fox form, for one.
"Dumbledore really wanted me to understand what being a Slytherin was," I continued, hoping he hadn't noticed my moment of hesitation. "And how being sorted into that house affected me as a person. Deep down and all that rubbish. Tell me, Dulcier...do you think about that rubbish?"
Dulcier did not move when I addressed him, so I shrugged animatedly as I made my way over to the door. Through the door was the kitchen (at least, I thought it was the kitchen. It was too dirty and rundown to know for sure). It was now my potions room, considering I had spent an hour setting my cauldrons up at the start of my day.
"I feel like this past year or so has really been about me finding myself," I explained to him, circling back to the first topic I'd offered him. "I've been figuring out who I am and what's important to me...Snape was important to me."
I kicked a little at the wall, making Dulcier jump in his seat.
"Then again, Dumbledore was important to me, too." Another kick and another jump from Dulcier before I rounded back to where he would be able to see me. "Being a Slytherin was important to me...but then all you Death Eaters or Sympathisers or whatever you want to call yourselves took that away from me, too."
Dulcier let out a low groan, his eyes now wide. He seemed to realize that I was no longer on some tangent without some sort of meaning. He was starting to understand that I was leading up to something and that I was more than just some annoying girl who had detained him.
"That's not very nice of you."
Dulcier knew he was in trouble.
"So when you took away Dumbledore and Snape and my friends in Slytherin house, it really made me dig deeper. I know I need to be more than that now. I'm out of school and I'm a wanted witch. I'm away from all the people who made me feel like myself, who keep me sane. So now that I've had to figure out who I was behind all the labels, I found something interesting...do you want to know what I've found?"
Dulcier looked terrified now as he wrestled with his bonds. He was screaming incoherently, knowing the inevitable outcome of my visit to him.
I took a vial of the thick, muddy potion that I had been storing on the table in the corner. His eyes were darting around for any sign of escape when I turned to him with my concoction. He wouldn't find any escape. It didn't matter how much Lupin didn't agree with me, they would never leave me without making sure I was 100% safe. If they could have planned for more than 100%, they probably would have stayed to give me that good-luck too. As it was they had left a large black dog out in the overgrown gardens to give me any warning of visitors.
I took the gag out of his mouth, his scream filled the house and made me cringe at the decibel he was hitting. While his mouth was wide open, I shoved the vial toward him. It was in his mouth before he could do anything and the gag was put in right after it. I heard him gag, making me think that some might have gotten down his throat without me having to hold his nose. I wasn't supposed to toy with Dulcier, as the Order said. So the less aggressive I had to be, the better my reputation for 'the good guys' would remain.
There was a long pause after his gagging where Dulcier seemed to wait and see if his body felt any different. It was like he was trying to find his bearings while he checked every patch of skin he could see through his clothing. He wanted to know the harm I'd inflicted, he wanted to understand what I had given to him.
After a moment, he laughed. "Potions Mistress, eh? Not much of one, are you!"
"For your sake, I'd hope otherwise," I told him, giving a slight head-nod back towards him. His laughter died in his throat as he checked himself over once again. On his knee, where his horribly tattered pants had split, sat a boil. It was giant and red, bubbling beneath the surface of his ashen skin like a dormant volcano. There was a long moment where I thought the potion may work, when I realized that the bubbling of skin was exactly how Polyjuice worked. More boils began appearing on the skin that I could see. I could see his clothes growing too tight as the boyles began to take over every inch of body...
My prisoner began to scream, cursing me for doing this to him. He moved against the restraints and the angry lumps began to burst and run with thick, green sludge. I couldn't help but watch the transition of his skin from ashen to rouge.
He began to cry flinging his head around with barely a sound — it almost looked like he was trying to spit out the gag. Knowing he had no hope of being heard outside the house and knowing that he was certainly in no shape to even try escaping, I pulled out the material.
"What have you done to me?" He articulated that he had ended trying to struggle with a sob.
"Don't worry, I'll change you back." I rolled my eyes. "Boils are an easy fix."
"Why are you doing this?"
There were so many answers. Clearly I couldn't tell him that I wanted to find out his spirit animal: I didn't want the enemy to have the information of what I was trying to do. I was doing this so I could sneak in and see my friends. I was doing this to get intel. I was doing this to prove that I can still handle things, even with my magical limitations. So what could I tell him that he'd believe, that made a statement, and that didn't give away my plans?
Only one answer came to mind.
"I'm doing it for the muggleborns."
"No! No, don't leave me!" He cried out as I turned on my heel to head toward the kitchen. "You can't leave me like this!"
"Well, I can't stay if you want me to change you back," I crossed my arms. "Which do you want then?"
He let out a long groan, his voice cracked with agony. There was a part of me that acknowledged that I should feel bad for what I was doing to him considering he was in a great deal of pain...but as much as I felt bad for his circumstances, I couldn't make myself feel guilty for the little Death Eater wannabe. I was glad that at least one of Voldemort's followers was getting what they deserved. And there was a thrill in my stomach seeing that I was the one who had dealt the punishment out.
I moved from the dining room area where I had set him up over to the kitchen where my cauldron sat ready to undo whatever damage the potion would have done. Beside the small pewter cauldron sat another, this one with the muddied potion that had caused the initial reaction. I let out a long breath as I readied myself to get to work. This whole thing was going to be an exhaustive process. Not only did I have to fix the potion so that it would work as it should, I also had to cure each of the reactions along the way so that there wouldn't be any cross-contamination of samples. It was all more work than I cared to put up with, even as the boiled figure in the other room moaned for motivation.
I just had to remember the reason for all of this work. I would be an animagus at the end of this all — I would have a dosage of 'Fox-now' and this man would be the pioneering potioneer of whatever animagus form he would become. He would be the first of his kind to undergo something like this; this could be something revolutionary. He just didn't realize it yet. Perhaps he would even be impressed when he realized what I had done, just like the rest of the world was bound to be. Then his pain would be for something, rather than nothing.
And that pain would end the sooner I got on top of whatever the hell I had done wrong in the first place.
I frowned when I realized I didn't have enough porcupine quills to be able to finish the potion to take his boils away and I didn't want to have to contact anyone else because I knew no one approved of what I was currently doing. I knew I would have to, particularly because of the pain Dulcier was in. They thought this potion-work was torture — torture a lot nicer than what the Death Eaters were doing to anyone they ran into, mind you. It upset me how much the Gryffindors didn't want to end up like the Slytherins and so they would jeopardize their own movement forward just to avoid it. It was nonsensical. This man deserved no better than what I was doing to him. Not after all the dead and missing Muggleborns I have to talk about each week on Potterwatch.
Dulcier probably deserved worse.
After lifting up the hood of my cloak, I walked over to the very specific corner away from my test subject and turned on my own heel. With a nauseating and familiar tug on my navel that rang with a loud 'pop' in my ears, I arrived right on the doorstep of Shell Cottage. I nearly lost my footing as I balanced myself on the precarious step, considering I couldn't apparate anywhere other than here to go without being seen.
"Who's there?" Bill's voice called from behind the door. The alarms he had set up to protect the house must have fired off when I'd arrived.
"It's Audrey Potter, the potion's genius that you just deciphered that letter for who everyone is currently mad with because I'm also a brilliant torture artist."
When the door opened, Bill's face only read with frustration. I smiled at him and walked under the arm he held out to open the door. "Do you have any porcupine quills here?"
"Porcupine quills?" I could have winced when I heard Mrs. Weasley's voice float above Bill's own question. "Whatever do you need those for?"
"Potion," I said simply, trying not to look her straight in the eyes. Mr. Weasley was beside her as well, but his glare was not trying to keep the secret that he did not agree with the steps I was taking.
"I was meant to find you, actually," Ron started slowly. He had been sitting at the large kitchen table with his parents but was careful about how he drew my attention towards him. It was wise of him to know that at any minute I may decide I'm tired of listening to him. "George said that he can get some potions ingredients for you if you want."
"George shouldn't be offering that much help," Mrs. Weasley murmured, not taking her eyes off of her knitting. Ron rolled his eyes.
"Come on, mum!" He whined, turning back to his mother like child he was. "She's trying to turn into a fox, that's bloody wicked!"
"You watch your language, Ronald Weasley," she mumbled back, giving him a cut-eye and making sure not to catch glances with me.
To say I was surprised that Ron Weasley was the one who was standing up for me would have been an understatement. But then again if there was anyone in the Order who would lack compassion for another person, Ron Weasley would be my first guess.
"You know," I said slowly, frowning when I made the realization. "It might be good if Dulcier saw the two of us together."
"What?" Ron looked like I had asked him out on a date. I tried to ignore the churning my stomach did when I thought back to last year when he had kissed me after that type of look. Gross. "You want me to come?"
"Want is not what this is about," I told him simply. "It's smart. If you stay out of my way, you can come too."
"Absolutely not," Mr. Weasley could no longer hold his tongue. Bill had been walking toward the table himself, but stopped when he heard the tone of his father's voice. "We aren't going to help you torture the poor man."
"I'm not torturing him," it took everything in me not to roll my eyes. You could only say the same thing so many times in so many ways before you gave up and I was well past that point with Arthur Weasley. I looked down at the dozen or so porcupine quills that Bill put into my hand and frowned softly. I'd need extra ingredients if I was adding into both potions. "Do you also have a couple handfuls of dried nettles?"
"Dried nettles?" Lupin turned his head to the side. It was almost comical and were I with a better audience, I would have acknowledged just how much it made him look like a dog. "Dried nettles and porcupine qui- Audrey, did you give him boils?"
"Audrey!" Mrs. Weasley gasped.
"I didn't give him boils, the potion did," this time I couldn't keep my eye roll to myself. "I'm here to fix it, aren't I? You should be glad I'm not just going out to find another victim-"
"What an appropriate word choice," Mr. Weasley frowned. I sighed heavily.
"Look, I'm here to fix it. There's not much more I can do. Besides, if I had taken it myself, I would be in boils and you would all feel horrible. At least I don't just plan to leave the possible muggle murderer that way. Hence why I hurried over here," I gave a slight glare towards the man pretending to read the paper just to avoid my eyes. "Now, if everyone else is done judging my moral fiber, I'd like to go help my test subject."
"Wait, wait, wait," Ron hurried forward, the sound of his scraping chair the only sound in the room until he was right in front of me. "You're right, I should be there too."
"I know," I said simply. "Will your parents allow you to come play with the big, bad wolf?"
Lupin gave an unamused snort at the style of joke. Considering I had made an effort not to make the first joke that came to mind, I didn't feel the need to take it back. My innocent shrug made him sigh.
"I would feel better if it wasn't just Sirius and you out there," Lupin was reluctant to speak, but when he looked around to see what everyone else thought, they seemed to agree. I wasn't going to lie, it was insulting. I was more than able to handle myself, particularly with one dog already looking after me. I didn't actually need to have Ron following me around like a lost puppy for protection. The reason he should be there was to prove that he and the rest of the Weasleys were working as separate entities now — less risk for the ones who couldn't leave their everyday lives as Ron and I were forced to do.
"Audrey," Mr. Weasley levelled a heavy look on me. "Remember: we do not torture, we do not stoop to their level."
"It helps that I'm on the low, horrible level you already consider all Slytherins then, doesn't it?" I smiled tightly. His face reddened a little bit and he looked like he wanted to splutter out some sort of response, but I interrupted before he could. "Come on, Won-Won, if we don't hurry his boils will pop. Wouldn't want the kidnapper to experience any unnecessary pain."
I moved over towards Bill, who was quick to hand me a full handful of dried nettles, many of them fell from around my fingers. I gave him another tight-lipped smile before heading toward the door. Ron followed behind me clumsily, making sure that he grabbed one of his maroon 'R' sweaters on the way.
"Can you side-along apparate with me?" He asked. I rolled my eyes at the ridiculous question, not pausing when I grabbed him and stepped onto the top step toward the cottage and turning on my heel.
I felt the familiar pull at my navel and another hard tug on the arm that was wrapped around one of my least favourite people. I just knew the rest of the experience was going to be dulled by this bright-headed baboon. We landed in the far corner of the living room at the Gaunt residence and I brushed myself off as if I could get Ron's cooties off of me.
"Wow," Ron said when he had caught his breath. He took his time looking around the dilapidated house. He took a few steps into the other room to look at the being in the chair. He let out a painful wince while he cursed under his breath when he saw him.
"Dulcier, Ron. Ron, I'm sure you remember Dulcier," I said simply while I moved over to my two potions.
"I don't remember him looking quite as...boily," Ron said simply.
"That's because he didn't and in about one hour he won't," I said simply. I counted out the nettles that Bill had given me and placed twenty of them into the cauldron with some water, giving it a low heat.
"Only an hour?"
"It's a first year potion, Ron," I raised my eyebrow at him from over my shoulder while I looked for my silver knife in my kit of supplies. "If it takes me any more than a half hour, I might as well hand in my cauldrons for scrap."
"Alright," he gave in, sticking his hands in his pockets so he could look around. "Did we really learn it first year, or was it just you?"
"We all did," I said simply. There was no need to brag about how easy it had been for me, compared to him — he knew the truth. I didn't want to talk more than I had to. It felt so uncomfortable to have to make small talk with him and while I could have brewed this potion with my eyes closed I wanted to busy myself so I wouldn't have time to say anything more to him than I needed to.
I put in the snake fangs and porcupine quills, heating the potion to a boil. Ron looked like he wanted to ask what I was doing, but luckily thought better of it. I turned heat on beneath the second potion — the muddy, horrible, boil-making one — so that I could begin making my modifications to that as well.
"Hear that, Dulcier?" I made my voice louder to ensure the man could hear me. "You're going to be cured and then we're going to try again."
In the other room, Dulcier let out another loud groan.
"What are you putting into the potion? The-the animagus one?" He stuttered, trying to look into the cauldron as I placed in some of the nettles.
"We don't have to pretend to be friends, do we? Because it wouldn't take a legilimens like the Riddler to see through that one."
"Right," he shuffled his feet as if he were nervous. "I'm just interested. I remember when we took Polyjuice in second year and Hermione accidentally put a cat hair in there and...I don't know, I just think it's pretty wicked."
I stopped stirring the potion, making sure it had not separated since it was cooling, before I took a look at him. It seemed like he was being genuine, but I had never really known Ron Weasley to give a compliment. Particularly to me.
"Really?" I put down my ingredients and looked at him suspiciously.
"Well, yeah. It's brilliant really — especially if you can pull it off—"
"Of course I'll pull it off."
"—I was going to finish by saying that if anyone could make this potion work, it'd be you."
"Wow, Ron...that's big of you." I admitted hesitantly. I took a minute to add the porcupine quills into the boil-reduction and turned to Ron. "I still hate you but I have to say, you admitting my brilliance makes me hate you just a little bit less."
Ron gave me a bright smile, as if I had told him he and I could be best friends. I flashed a tight smile at him for as long as I could before I needed to tend to the two potions I had brewing. As I was moving between my potions and appreciating the silence between my least favourite Gryffindor and I, he decided to shatter it.
"Just a question. Do you know anything about why a wand would...burst into flame?"
I finished my fifth stir and looked over to him. "What?"
"Do you know why-"
"I heard you," I elaborated before narrowing my eyes. "I just don't understand you."
"Dulcier's wand," he explained in a hushed whisper. He dug into his back pocket and pulled out two wands to offer me. One was familiar enough to make me think it was his own wand, the other was notably charred up the hilt. Apparently Ron had not exaggerated. "The other day it burst into flame in my pocket. Lost my favourite trousers..."
"His wand just burst into flame?" I asked with a bit of cynicism. "It burst into flame in your pocket and you automatically assume it was the wand's fault, not yours?"
"Well I didn't do anything!" He frowned, shoving the wand back in his pocket as if he were embarrassed. "It was in my pocket, how could I have done something?"
"I doubt a wand would spontaneously combust for no reason," I snorted, turning back to my potion. "Maybe next time you should wear looser trousers."
"My trousers aren't tight—-"
"Well, they're not loose," I quipped back at him. Though he didn't say anything else on the subject I watched as he pulled at the leg of his jeans, just to test whether or not I was right. It was hard not to smile.
I gave a quick tap of my wand on the edge of the heavy cauldron, completing the first potion to get rid of Dulcier's boils. I tried not to think about how many times I would have to go through this process — hopefully just this once. Though admittedly, even I doubted it. I tried not to frown as I took a new glass vial, similar to the one I had shoved down his throat with the first test of morphing potion, and I headed back into the dampened living room.
The boils had gotten worse in my absence. He was now a mound of puckered skin and deformed features. Though I had been sure to gag him, the fabric had fallen out of his mouth. It seemed he couldn't properly hold it shut, allowing drool to pool onto his ripped jacket. His eyes, bubbled nearly to a close, tried to find me through his agony as I came forward with a flask. He flinched away and cried out.
"Oh, don't be like that," I admonished lightly. "This is clearly the antidote."
Dulcier looked over my shoulder, somehow watching Ron walk into the room. He looked to Ron as if the other redhead would be able to confirm whether or not I was lying. I'd like to think that Ron wouldn't have been stupid enough to say anything, but he gave a small grunt in response to the look. Apparently Dulcier took it as the truth, because he looked nervous as I walked forward but did not stop me from coming closer again. He almost looked like he was waiting for me to suddenly say 'surprise, I lied!' before he took a long, slow drink of the musky draught. Because he couldn't close it right, a little fell out the side of his deformed mouth and I grimaced.
"Well, they probably won't all go away now," I informed him as I moved the vial away. "But you'll be fine in a few minutes."
I headed back into the kitchen area, where my other potion needed stirring and a few added porcupine quills. Ron skittered after me, looking confused.
"You're just going to leave him in there?" He asked with a frown. "But...why?"
"Do you doubt the antidote will work?" I asked him lightly, counting out the porcupine quills I needed to use...seven felt about right, but I was wondering if I could perhaps add nine and see if it would need to boil for less time.
"No," he said quickly. "It's just that once the boils go away, he'll be all right again, won't he? Don't you worry he'll escape?"
"And run right into the jaws of the great, black dog outside? I think Sirius is counting on it," I smiled, dropping in only seven quills. Better to be safe than sorry. "But he's not going to escape."
There was a long moment of silence that I again relished for the minute that it was there. Ron was quick to speak up again.
"Is this how it was the whole time we were gone?" The mention of the Gryffindors having been gone without me was enough to make my blood boil more than my potion currently was. I clenched my jaw and tried not to glare.
"What do you mean?"
"You're just so...I don't know, active? Confident?" Ron jumped up onto the counter, luckily far enough away that it didn't disrupt or ripple my potion. I gave him a pointed look insinuating that I would kill him if he was detrimental to this process at all. "Being out there was horrible, you know."
"So you've said," I muttered lowly. "Can't say that I know though, can I?"
Ron sighed. "I know that you're mad — bloody hell I'm mad at me — but...you can't understand how it was out there..."
"Again. You've explained," I said firmly. "You wore the locket, the locket made you angry, you felt unimportant, so you ran away like the little weasel you are."
"I'm not a weasel!" He crossed his arms and kicked his heels against the counter. "You'll never understand."
"Probably not," I acknowledged, shrugging animatedly. "I certainly wouldn't be able to wrap my head around that horrible locket. Particularly after it burnt my palm to a crisp and made me want to die in agony when I ripped it off that fat toad's neck...seems impossibly difficult to understand your reaction."
Ron put his hands under his legs, looking down at the floor from his perch on the counter. He took a long moment before he rolled is head around his shoulders to stretch his neck.
"I've never liked you—"
I couldn't help but laugh aloud. "I'm well aware."
"-but Harry is my best friend. And Hermione likes you way more than you deserve..." He sighed. "They felt horrible when we left and I was the main one who encouraged it. So, I'm going to make it up to you. And if that means sitting here while you torture Snatchers or Death Eaters or pretty much anyone but my family...even if I don't agree with it or get it, I'll help you."
"You don't get this?" I asked, trying hard to keep myself from smiling about how frustrated the idiot was over how he had worded things and the fact he had to support me at all.
"Oh no, this I get," he said simply. I looked at him carefully and he suddenly was uncomfortable with my gaze.
It felt so strange to acknowledge that Ronald Weasley was the only one who had shown any acceptance of what I was trying to do. Were it not Ron I may have felt relieved.
"You don't think I'm being cruel?"
"Oh, you are," he said just as simply. "But it's for the greater good, right?"
"Right," I agreed. But then again, it was silly that I had ever doubted Ron would get what I was doing. If something undesirable was happening to someone he didn't like, Ron was not the kind of person to stand up for them. Part of the reason I hated Ron was because of how callous he could be...it was just sometimes hard to remember that callousness wasn't only directed towards me.
"On that note," he suddenly seemed uncomfortable by how I wasn't glaring at him. "When's the next dose going to be ready?"
"Is Dulcier still all boiled?"
Ron took a moment to go look in the other room. While he was gone I turned back to my potion and examined the new, different surface it had. I was right to have only put seven quills in; the potion was taking longer to brew but the dirty texture was smoothing and coming along nicely.
"Not really," Ron said as he came back in. "Just a few big ones left."
"Go give him another dose of this," I moved to fill another vial of my boil solution. Hopefully I wouldn't need to make anymore so I could clean the cauldron and get started on something new. "Then give him another vial of this..."
There was a long wait while he went back into the living room and I got to cleaning up the aftermath of my boil solution. I put the rest of it in vials for later — even though I doubted he would boil up again. It could never hurt to have a few doses on hand.
There was a howl to the other room. Ron ran back into the kitchen at full speed, eyes wide.
"Er — I don't think it worked."
I sighed. I knew that nothing I had done would be toxic, so I didn't rush as Ron did to get back to my patient. I took one look at the victim in the chair and growled - this is way too much work. Now Dulcier had sharp bristles sprouting out of his pores. It was mangling the skin around it, like it was a hard, claw-like hair that didn't fit properly.
"This is going to take more time than I'd hoped."
The longer it took me to make sure that my potion was right, the more persuading it took for the older and more conservative Order members to think that I was doing was the right thing. Now that we were closer to the beginning of week three during my potion trials rather than the end of week two, people were growing restless. In a pleasant contrast to the doubt, however, Dulcier had given up fighting me. He had given into the fact he was a prisoner of war despite the boils, bristles, rashing, hair loss, tooth decay (though that may have already been there), and extreme bloating that my stupid, defective potion had caused.
I was starting to lose confidence - something which unnerved poor Ron. It felt like no matter what I did to this potion something would backfire. I would balance out the acidity to avoid hair loss and then a rash would spread. I would even out the irritants and then his scalp retracted...I just couldn't figure out what the final straw was going to be. And as the adults grew more irritated with my method, I grew more irritated with their doubt.
Surprisingly, Ron had continued to be a great voice in my corner. While I knew that this camaraderie would not last and that he was only doing it because I had hexed him at the beginning — which he likely acknowledged I was fully capable of doing again — Ron had really stuck up for my process.
Then we would get behind closed doors, of course, and he would tell me just how much I was mucking things up with his older brother. I disagreed. First, I disagreed that the subject should even come up between the two of us — Fred would not want me talking to Ron about it just like I did not want Fred to talk to Ron about our issues. Of course, then I figured I should disagree because there was no way I was mucking anything up any worse than it already was. Fred had not come to speak to me, by choice, any time during this whole ordeal. In fact, other than retorting to things I said on Potterwatch, the eldest twin had not said anything to me at all. He did stare a lot though; every time I caught him his face would stretch with a dramatic frown before he'd stomp off and not come back. I'd taken to ignoring him just so he didn't feel he'd always have to leave the room during the radio show.
Just as I was adding horseradish powder to the potion to finish off this newest alteration, there was a loud pop from behind me. Quickly looking over my shoulder, just to be safe, I saw Ron had apparated into the Gaunt family shack with me. He brushed a bunch of snow out of his hair and off the shoulders of his thick, winter jacket and whined under his breath.
"I need mum to get me new shoes. These have holes that make my feet so wet..."
"Welcome back," my voice was too monotone to show excitement. "I'm just finishing up this last tweak now. Where were you?"
It was around the second week that I realized it was better for everyone if Ron and I weren't together all the time, whether or not he was the only one that agreed with me. There was only so much of people I could take. My patience with Ron, unsurprisingly, dwindled much more quickly than with others, no matter how kind he was being. After I had shown him the location of the Gaunt place, he popped in whenever he wasn't needed by the other Weasleys and left whenever the silence became too awkward. It was a near-perfect compromise.
"Grabbing some extra lemon from Mum, she was going to make it into a dessert or something." He explained, shrugging off the jacket and handing me the lemon that I had run out of two days ago. There was a moment where I thought I should tell him that I didn't need it anymore — but why get rid of him when he'd just arrived?
"And then you stayed to eat the dessert?" I guessed. It was the only reason he would be as late as he was. He scoffed, but his face went pink beneath his freckles. I rolled my eyes as I finished stirring the potion. "Come take a look at it now. This looks right, doesn't it?"
In the three weeks I'd been working on this potion, it had gone from a mucky, muddy consistency to a hazel concoction as thick as cold maple syrup. While it was nice to look at, the smell was oddly metallic and made my head swim. I rubbed my forehead on my sweater sleeve, the kitchen was extra warm because of the near constant fire under the cauldrons.
"Looks as right as when it was piss-coloured," he offered helplessly. He placed a handful of lavender flowers beside the main potion and quickly ducked into the other room to check on Dulcier. When he came back he was frowning.
"You know, I don't think the Death Eaters even know he's gone," Ron frowned to me. "No posters have gone up, no search parties. Fred said he's heard nothing about—"
"You talked to Fred?" I focused on taking a sample of my finished antidote, trying not to show just how interested I was in his response. "Is he alright, or is he still being stupid?"
"He's fine, I'll tell him you asked," when I sent a glare over my shoulder to him, he raised his hands. "Or not?"
"Not," I agreed. I took the time to hold my potion towards the light. If you looked closely enough you could see little things floating in the syrupy solution. It was probably a reaction of the sodium and the potassium, but I wasn't confident that it was a good thing to see in there.
"There's been a lot of talk about the last Potterwatch broadcast...seems the Death Eaters aren't quite happy with what they heard," Ron said slowly. "They've taken to the papers."
Of course they had. They had The Prophet under their control and since it had been such a great episode, they needed to make a mark against us too. Our episode that had a long, long segment on Pureblood family trees and how much they intermingled with one another. It was nice being able to finish my broadcast knowing that all my friends were related to one another and that if Malfoy and Greengrass marry, they would be marrying their own second cousin twice removed. Their children would be monsters. It was also nice pointing out that the only thing more disgusting than marrying your second cousin twice removed would be marrying someone who killed kittens, like Astoria Greengrass.
It wasn't as if I was outright lying. I didn't know for sure that she didn't kill kittens.
"I have no idea why," I smirked to myself, corking the sample I had taken and turning off the burner beneath the pewter basin.
"Like I said, they retaliated," Ron waved a tightly rolled up copy of the Prophet at me. I frowned. "It's ugly."
I raised an eyebrow. "Do I want to know?"
"No, probably not," he remarked simply. While I thought he might leave it at that, Ron decided to ignore my signal that I didn't care. "They're throwing a big engagement party for them now. When they get back for Winter break. Spending lots of money just to throw it in our faces, I'm sure."
"Wonderful," my jaw set itself harshly. I cleared my throat from the thick lump that wanted to sit there. "I'm sure there are more pictures of them tonguing plastered all over the front page."
"Which is why I don't think you should look," he made a face before deciding to roll the paper back up. I wouldn't be looking at it anyway - he was right, I didn't want to see it. As much as I knew this was a trap from the letter that the Slytherins had sent me, it was another thing to fall victim to the monster in my chest that wanted to scream when I saw more photos of them together. Fake or real, it was horrible to think that they were being forced into marrying one another. I mean they were related. And not only were they related, she was evil.
I could already feel myself getting worked up.
"Well, thanks for keeping me in the dark," the sarcasm was not lost on Ron.
"At least you can cheer yourself up by giving Dulcier some horrible new affliction," Ron's voice went up at the end as if it was a question. I turned to him with a frown.
"Or let him turn into his animagus form," I added. "You know, the purpose of this? That could happen too."
"Mhm," Ron mumbled to himself, looking away from me as if I wouldn't be able to tell he was being condescending. I huffed, capping a second glass vial of the potion and moving into the dining area where my guinea pig was sleeping.
Hopefully he wouldn't need too much work after this dose. I couldn't foresee any issues like I had with the potential for hair loss, so hopefully this dose actually worked. It had been a long process and as much as I liked brewing potions, I was done with this one. It didn't matter how many times I worked it out in my head or on paper, this potion should have been working by now. There was no reason that it should have been taking this long not only to brew, but to manipulate all these ingredients.
Unless it can't be done, Ron had said to me three days prior.
He'd had to apparate out before my spare cauldron had smacked him in the face.
"Hey, you," I toed Duclier's foot and moved back to be a safe distance away because he woke quickly, thrashing his arms around wildly. The Snatcher was no longer bound to the chair. Of all the things I had done to him, that had seemed the most unfair after the first handful of days. Dulcier now had a very specific zone in which he could walk, sleep and sit freely. We also pushed in meals for him. But if he crossed the boundary we had given him - a seven foot radius - he'd be paralyzed with a strong shock of magic. He'd only tried it for three days before he'd given up on that, too. It had taken a week to break his spirit entirely, even of escape.
Since the man had bloated to about twice his size with the last dose of Animagus potion, however, he had accidentally shocked himself twice with the hex. I had almost felt guilty until he had attacked me with slurs...then I had been all too ready to start on the next trial.
"What?" He snapped, his eyes going toward the two vials before darkening. "Already?"
"Do you want to leave here as you were?" I asked with a glare, rolling the vial with the grey potion toward him. Dulcier basically jumped at the glass — there was a moment I worried he would break it in his clumsy fingers before he swallowed it in one gulp.
It took seconds to watch as he started to deflate like a balloon. I didn't leave the room as I usually did, knowing that it would be a quick transition. I did, however, look away so he could cover himself properly with what clothing still fit enough to cover up his private bits.
"Better," he mumbled before whipping the vial over my head. I hadn't been looking to protect his modesty, but luckily his aim was awful. I rolled my eyes at him while I toed the glass that had splintered over my shoulder.
"That's the eighth vial you've shattered, you know," I moved forward. "The more you break, the more likely you'll have potion residue in the next ones and you'll have double reactions. Your choice."
Dulcier swallowed and nodded. Knowing that he was more likely to behave after his outburst, I rolled the second vial toward him. He didn't grab it as it rolled to hit his foot, but watched it wearily.
"What makes you think that this time will be better than last time?"
"Who said I think this will be any better?" I asked him. "Maybe I'm trying to poison you."
"You've come so close at this point, I know that can't be what this is," Dulcier looked down and picked up the potion sample, inspecting it in the light as I had done. When he saw the floating particles he made a face, but barely hesitated to pop the cork and give it a go.
I'd asked him last week why he was always so eager if he hated it so much - he said the sooner he knew the side effects, the sooner I could heal him. Sadly, the moron wasn't wrong.
The Snatcher fell into a fit of coughing. "It tastes like fish!"
"It's a fishy poison," I told him blandly. He didn't respond, likely feeling the first effects of the potion, so I crossed my arms to watch the show.
There was a long moment where it looked like his body was rippling before he bent at his waist. He held that strange 90° angle, even though he shouldn't have been able to balance himself. I moved back a little bit, not really understanding this new contortion, before he burst into a fit of laughter. It was loud and it didn't end.
"Dammit," I muttered. "I knew three teaspoons was too much horseradish."
Dulcier cackled in response.
"Could be worse," I told him, despite his wide eyes. "Your teeth could fall out again."
He only continued to respond with more laughter. It was so loud and sharp that I figured he didn't need any more of an audience, so I quickly moved back to the kitchen. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that Ron had taken the time to clean the cauldron I'd specifically set aside for my antidotes. It was strange when he did those little acts of kindness for me — but I figured he didn't know how else he was going repay 'owing me'.
"No luck, I take it?" Ron was sitting on the counter beside the cauldrons again. It continued to be his favourite perch.
"Not unless he's a hyena," I grumbled back, picking out all the ingredients I needed to quell uncontrollable laughter. I picked out the spring water and moved to measure out my rat tails, but as always Ron interrupted the process. He winced every time the knife cut through the tails — who could know what was bothering him now. Something about this boy made it impossible for him to sit in a comfortable silence.
"Er — I'm sorry about bringing the paper," Ron's words came out slowly. "If that's why you're so gutted."
"Who said I am?" I asked him, finishing the final chop of rat tails and counting them out for each cauldron. Ron made a sound of disbelief. "I'm not gutted. I'm frustrated I don't have a proper potion, that's all."
"Right," Ron looked away towards the wall, considering there was nothing else in this kitchen area to distract himself with. "'Cause you shouldn't be upset about that bloody knob anyway."
"I have no idea what or whom you are referring to," I hissed out, trying to ignore how aggressively I was cutting up the witches ganglion plant. Hopefully Ron wouldn't notice. "but I'm not upset to begin with. I just hate missing parties, that's all. Slytherins throw much better parties..."
The dull laughter reverberating through the wall of the shack made it even less convincing than it had sounded in my head. Ron made a face that let me know the lie had not held up.
"It's not like it's something you'd want to go to anyway," I think he was attempting to comfort me. As always, it wasn't working. "A party dedicated to Malfoy? As if that's not bad enough it's a bloody engagement party dedicated to Malfoy...it'd be shit."
I ground my teeth as subtly as I could. "That's exactly why I'd want to go. Who else would ruin it, if not me?"
Ron rolled his eyes, but I pretended like I didn't see it. I wasn't really in the mood to keep fighting about something we both knew I was lying about. Plus if I hexed him he might not clean the cauldrons again.
Using some of the fresh lemon that Ron had brought from his mother, I splashed it into the mash of potion that hadn't yet worked and waited for it to boil - the lemon would break down quickly and when it did, it'd help break down the rat tails too. It would cut the time it took the ingredients to boil down to half.
"Why Malfoy?" Ron suddenly asked me. Again, this boy apparently didn't appreciate any form of silence. "I hate him, Harry hates him, Hermione hates him, bloody hell you hated him at some point...so, er...well what happened?"
"He talked his way into my good books," I sighed. "It was a bad read."
"A bad read?" Ron looked confused. "Er — you don't actually believe that, do you?"
"I said," my words were clipped and he raised his brows. "It was a bad read. That's it."
"Okay, okay, it was a bad read..." he was quiet for a minute, before taking a deep breath. "So then what's your read on Fred?"
I turned on him, my eyes burning. I didn't know how many times he thought he could fit in talking to me about his brother, but I felt like it was every other day. Whether it was just an off-handed comment, or questions about our (now and forever nonexistent) relationship, Ronald Weasley could not let the subject go.
"Who's asking, you or Fred?"
"Bloody hell, woman. It was just a question," he raised his hands defensively and widened his eyes before he turned his body away from me, giving up on the subject.
I frowned as I stirred my antidote for Dulcier's giggles. Despite how often Fred wanted me to, I tried not to think of Draco and Fred pinned beside each other. Often when I did that, they fought against each other in my own mind, like they did in real life when they had both wanted my affection. It was all too complicated to contemplate — especially when I didn't have either of them around to reassure me anymore.
I had thought that I'd made a good decision with Draco, when the decision had been made. Draco and I understood each other in a way that Fred would never be able. Fred would never be able to see past certain issues that arose or questions that had to be answered. Draco had liked the good and bad parts of me, whether or not they were directed toward him. He even coveted those parts of me - the dark way I think and the bitchiness that no one else could handle. But that freedom I had with him translated to freedom he took too liberally. That's why he likely didn't feel bad when he left me to fight off the Death Eaters.
Then again, I thought I'd made a good decision with Fred and look what happened - now we didn't even speak. Maybe it wasn't Fred. Maybe it wasn't even Draco...Maybe they weren't the problems at all.
Maybe I was the problem.
"Fred just expects parts of my personality to pop up, he doesn't understand them when they do. He definitely doesn't agree with them...I never had that problem with Draco." I looked back to my potions, pretending to check on my potion's brew so that I wouldn't have to meet Ron's eyes. "I never had to pretend to be anything that I wasn't around Draco...I didn't even have to be nice."
Ron didn't respond, it seemed like he didn't know what to say about it and I was glad not to have to respond to anything he would have thought to say.
Besides the laughter from the next room, it was blissfully quiet while I finished up the potion adjustments for my Animagus potion and my cure for Dulcier's giggles. Ron busied himself by playing with the Deluminator that Dumbledore had left for him, flicking it on and off while his wand tip was lit. I had to admit, it was mesmerizing watching the light go on and off from even a wand tip. The clicking and the laughter oddly molded together well. The sounds were an irritating and yet accurate representation of all time I spent here in the Gaunt shack.
By this point, Dulcier's voice was hoarse from how long and how loudly he had been bellowing out his laughter. When I gave him a quick antidote, he took it greedily.
"Oh, it hurts," he rasped. His laughter dying after about a minute to reveal a frog's croak of a voice. He rolled the first vial back to me — he was always nicer with the antidote vials than the Animagus potion.
"Maybe this will help," I muttered, throwing him the second vial. He looked disappointed, as if he had thought he wouldn't get another vial or that I would have given up for the day.
"Yeah, right," Dulcier scoffed, looking at the new hazel colour and syrupy consistency to the potion. He looked as if he wanted to see more of the floating debris, but couldn't seem to find anything that made him grimace like he had the time before.
"It might," I shrugged. "As you can probably tell by now, I'm not really sure what each dose will do."
He huffed out a response before uncorking the vial and drinking the viscous portion down in one gulp. He smacked his lips together with a grimace on his face; it looked like this potion tasted even worse than the last fish-flavour had. He was going to throw it down animatedly again — the ninth vial gone — but as his arm cocked back to whip it, he paused. Then, he panicked.
Dulcier's eyes went wide while his body began to shake and his skin began to bubble. The hair on his arms thickened and became a much darker black than the hair on his head. He kept the arm with the vial raised as he examined the new hair growth.
"What..." he gasped, bringing the other arm up to see if the same thing was happening. I didn't have to look to know it was. It was happening all over his body — every pore opening for this new, foreign hair. He watched in horror before he could watch no more, as he bent forward and screamed.
The vial dropped on the floor beside him and slowly rolled back toward me, the hazel potion residue looking menacing as it dribbled on the ground. It left a trail from me to the hollering man who was crumbling before me. One more shriek, a little louder than the hysteria had been before, and his skin began to shrink away from the thickening hairs on his body. It was as if he were shedding his own mass and imploding on himself.
Before me stood a creature that was definitely not human.
"RON!" I screamed, my voice trembling. "RON!"
Ron was already running into the room as I called him. His wand was raised, but it fell to the side as he saw what was in the middle of the seven-foot-radius of Dulcier's new home.
"Bloody hell..." he gasped, his eyes as wide as dinner plates. "It...Audrey, it worked."
Ron and I could not meet eyes as we examined the scene before us. I circled around the silhouette of the small creature in front of me. Another woodland creature - who'd have thought? - had joined us in the Gaunt shack. The creature's dark hair was littered with long, sharp bristles; quills, to be exact. Quills that I could have used many a time before today.
Dulcier was a porcupine.
"Drea," Ron said again, this time when I looked at him he was beaming. He shook my shoulders, shaking in the realization so that it settled properly in my mind. "You did it!"
I had done it. I had finally done it. I had finally completed my damned potion. Dulcier had turned into an animal — his spirit animal, likely. It had taken months...but I had finally overcome all the obstacles I'd faced and I had proven everyone wrong.
I had created my own, brand-new, never before seen Animagus Potion.
"Merlin, Drea," Ron gasped again. "What are we going to do with this?"
I knew. I knew without question exactly how I wanted to use this potion on its first big mission. The first time I could sneak and hide in plain sight, the first time that I could really be a spy without getting myself murdered. I knew exactly what I wanted to do, how I wanted to use it, and who I wanted to make a scene with. No one knew what I could do and with a little memory modification on a soon-to-be-released Snatcher, no one would know what I was capable of.
I looked at Ron, calmly. My face twisted into the first bit of joy I remember feeling in a very, very long time.
"To start? I'll need to get in touch with your sister," I looked at him boldly. "And then you're really going to have to trust me."
Ron already didn't look like he did.
That was wise. No one should trust someone planning to walk straight into the snakes' den.
From now on, I'm going to respond to reviews from people with usernames personally and the ones who sign in as guests, I'll respond to here. I know people were annoyed by how much room it took up, so I hope you don't mind the change.
As always, thank you for taking the time to read the chapter. I hope you liked all the drama that has been set up for the next chapter...as those who are on my Twitter know, the next chapter is going to be a big one. As always, if you'd like to have sneak peeks and conversations with me, my twitter name is EgyptsLegend. I try to check it much more often than my account.
For (some of) my incredible reviewers:
(Various) Guests: Thank you so much for your reviews, everyone. There were quite a few people who just logged on as 'Guest' without an individual indicator, so I just wanted to say that I'm very grateful to everyone who took the time to leave me a review. You are all absolutely wonderful! I can promise that reviews like the ones you sent me were missed and I loved hearing that you guys were still hanging in with me and enjoying the story. I hope you liked this newest chapter :)
SparrowLilies: Thank you, I'm keeping a close eye on my health. I'm glad that you were able to continue following the story, even after such a long break. Thank you so much for your review and I hope you liked this newest chapter!
anon: Aw, thank you! That's super sweet of you to say. I hope that you liked this newest chapter and that it's still as exciting as it was in the past.
: I know, this story has sadly been updating for a long time. It's great to think that you still think about it randomly and want to read it though! I know I'm still a little rusty, but hopefully this newest chapter was still easy to follow and exciting. Thank you so much for reviewing :)
Anon: Honestly, I'm really glad that I was able to continue updating too. I know it sounds cheesy, but Audrey never really left my mind and I always felt like I was doing this story an injustice by not continuing on with the plot. I hope you liked this newest chapter and thank you for the kind words :)
Emily: Thank you! I am so glad that I was able to get this chapter out to you and I'm sorry that you've had to check it for so long, considering the story should be finished by now. But I promise I won't stop writing until Audrey has her epilogue!
Guest (who can't login to their username): Hopefully you're able to differentiate your review from the other guests, just because your response to the chapter was so long and in-depth. Thank you for taking the time to leave a review, I understand what it's like to forget your passwords. It's crazy that you aren't the only person who just happened to come back and read the story again recently, just before I updated for the first time in forever. It's so sweet that you say this was a part of your youth; honestly it made me tear up. I hope that you liked this newest chapter and thank you so much for taking the time to review!
Mo: It's so touching that you come back to this story every Christmas. I also wish I had Audrey's tenacity and wits, but honestly I'm not the type of person to speak my mind as openly as she does. To think that you consider Drea basically cannon is so wonderful and I feel honoured that she's such a figure in your life. She certainly is a constant companion in my own mind. Thank you for your kind words about my health and about returning to this story; I'm so glad I did. I wish I wouldn't have gone on hiatus in the first place, but I feel a little bit more whole after being able to write down Audrey's story once more. Thank you so much for your kind review, I only hope that this newest chapter shows my gratitude.
Stephanie: Thank you! It feels good to be back and updating. I hope you liked the newest chapter :)
Big Fan: Thank you, it's crazy to think that you would recommend this once upon a time. It's nice to think that you have grown to liking Audrey's character and her relationship with Fred, even if you like it more than her relationship with Draco. Who knows what will happen in the end, after all? Draco certainly isn't around lately...or will he be? Thank you so much for your review, I hope you liked the new chapter!
Royalteeeya: Thank you for following the story and my twitter, I like to keep people updated on there (it's much easier to keep in touch there, that's for sure). I'm glad you don't think I feel rusty; maybe it's just that I know my abilities and that's why I can see it. Is this the top Draco/OC? I honestly didn't know! I did recently hear that there is a Draco/OC that took a lot of my plot points, that's kind of awkward, but I'm not insecure about this story. I think I've done enough to prove that Audrey is one of a kind. I'm glad that you're enjoying the story so far, whether it be during Draco based, Theo (letter) based, or Fred based drama. I promise more of that drama is soon to happen. It was honestly difficult to make Audrey difficult in making this potion; I had to do a lot of research to make it as accurate as possible (I used to spend hours researching for each chapter I wrote) but I had to keep telling myself that she was doing something that had never been accomplished before...even though many have tried. Anyway, I'm sorry for rambling but I loved your review. I hope that this newest chapter gave you something else to be excited about!
PLEASE FINISH: Don't worry, I promise this story will be finished and that you won't have nearly as long of a pause as before. I hope that you liked the newest chapter and that it answered some of your questions so you don't have to keep tearing yourself up with curiosity. Thank you for your review!
mich: Thank you, this is so sweet! It's honestly so humbling to hear when people didn't give up on this story. I knew I always planned to finish it, but to know that you stuck by me is really heartwarming. Thank you so much for your review; I hope this newest chapter kept you smiling :)
I hope you enjoyed the new chapter, everyone! Thank you for all of your patience.