A/N: Sorry for the shortness of this chapter, and after so long!
Harriet awoke Saturday morning with chattering teeth. A storm had blown through in the night. Frost caked the windows, and icy wind played round the tower in the shrieking, rattling way that only winter could call "play."
Harriet would've liked to have stayed in bed, beneath the extra blankets that had appeared overnight. . . but she dearly wanted to know what Snape had learned from his visit to Remus last night.
"G-good thing the h-house elves got us extra b-blankets," Harriet chattered to Hermione as she pulled on the wool socks Mrs. Weasley had knitted for her. "We'd have woken up G-gryffindorsicles otherwise."
Hermione's expression darkened. Harriet's cold, Remus-occupied, sleep-logged brain was enjoying a leisurely moment of failing-to-deduce-why when Hermione saved it the trouble.
"What I wonder is when they get to sleep." Hermione jerked a brush hard through her hair, glaring at her reflection. "Have you ever noticed that the common room is always tidy when we wake up in the morning? And the fireplace is never dirty? And someone makes our beds when we leave them to go down to breakfast—and they must clean the entire castle—in the times when everyone's sleeping, or we'd see them, which we never do—have you ever wondered, do they ever get any rest at all?"
"Maybe you should talk to Dobby," she said as she pulled on a second jumper.
Hermione turned to blink at her, arm paused in the act of brushing her hair. "Dobby?"
"You know—the elf I know? Works in the kitchens?"
"Yes," Hermione said slowly. "He works in the kitchens. You took me to the kitchens once. Yes."
She reached for her trousers. The hairbrush was still stuck in her hair, caught in her curls. Harriet gently reached over and untangled it. Hermione was so immersed in whatever plan she was concocting that she didn't even notice.
A stout fire was blazing in the hearth when she and Hermione reached the common room, and what few people had dredged themselves out of bed were huddled near it, Gryffindor-patterned throws tucked over their knees. Harriet wondered if it would be possible to shake Ron and Hermione straightaway and find Snape, or if he might murder her for bothering him first thing in the morning.
"Morning," Ron said, round a yawn. In deference to the cold, he was wearing the maroon jumper that he hated.
"Mm," Hermione said vaguely, walking on by without glancing at him.
"What did I do now?" he asked Harriet, resigned.
"It's the house-elves," Harriet said in a low voice, eying Hermione as she climbed through the portrait hole (missing it on the first try). "Best let it run its course."
As they followed Hermione at a discreet distance down to breakfast, Harriet and Ron were careful to talk about nothing they thought could reasonably linked to house-elves, in case Hermione decided that they ought to join her on whatever mad crusade she was plotting. Harriet wondered how likely it might be that they would sit down to dinner that evening only to find the house-elves had gone on strike and Filch was dishing out tinned beans.
Harriet did her customary inspection of the staff table upon entering the hall and wasn't surprised to see that Snape wasn't there. Did he ever eat? All he seemed to ingest was coffee (and cigarettes, if that scent she'd caught a few times meant anything). No wonder he was so skinny and wound up all the time.
She turned back to the table to find Hermione scarfing down her toast and porridge at such a speed that Ron, in his amazement, had even forgot to start eating.
"Right," Hermione said, swiping a napkin across her mouth. "I'm off. I'll see you two later—try not to get into trouble."
And she sprang up and dashed off. Harriet and Ron watched her go.
"What trouble does she think we'll get into at the breakfast table?" Harriet asked eventually.
"Dunno. Maybe she thinks we'll eat a canary cream and get stuck as a giant bird?" He dug into his bacon. "Or whatever else Fred and George have got planned." He dropped his voice so no one would overhear; Harriet had to lean in. "They're working on something new, won't tell me what. So don't eat anything they give you."
"I'd eat Sirius's food first." Then she winced, before realizing no one could possibly have heard his name. The Great Hall was rowdier than usual that morning. With the snowstorm, nobody could go outside—although the Durmstrang students had turned up for breakfast, snow frosting their hair and robes, looking quite cheerful. The presence of Viktor Krum only made things noisier.
Ron scowled over at the Slytherin table, where Krum was once again tucked away. This time, he was sitting next to Tracey Davis, who seemed to be holding a calm enough conversation with him.
"Why does he always sit with those slimy gits?" Ron growled.
"Maybe he likes the girls over there?" Harriet guessed. It was hard to tell. Krum always looked rather surly, and whatever Tracey was saying did not seem to be having a good effect on Daphne, at least. She kept shooting her friend icicle-barbed looks as she regally cut up her eggs. "Although Pansy's there, so yeah, on second thought they're probably using Dark Magic to get him over there."
Ron snorted with laughter. Harriet buttered a piece of toast to buy her some time to figure out how she was going to shake him so she could meet with Snape.
"Mail seems late," she said.
Ron squinted up at the snow-crusted windows. "Guess the weather's too bad for the owls to get through."
"Right," Harriet said, though her stomach clenched in disappointment. No letter from Anaita, then.
She just wished she knew if that dream had anything to do with Remus. She had no idea what golden sand could symbolize, or what it had to do with poisoning. . . but that's why Anaita was the expert and Harriet was begging her for help.
"So," Ron said as he cleaned up the last of his kippers, "what are we going to do while Hermione's—doing whatever she's doing? What is she doing?"
"I think she's planning to liberate all the house-elves. Just a guess, though."
"Great," Ron said gloomily. "We'll all be stuck eating canary creams, that'll be a laugh. How does she plan do to that?"
"I haven't a clue. But I have. . . I have a meeting." She didn't even bother with trying to ignore the guilty wriggle her stomach gave. I just hate all the sneaking and the cheating and the lying, Hermione's voice whispered.
"Oh," Ron said, face falling.
"It's about Remus," Harriet blurted. "He's—been sick, and I'm going to—to find out what's been wrong."
Somehow, this blending of lies and truth made her feel worse, especially when Ron looked sympathetic.
"Sure. Come find me when you're done?"
She nodded and waved goodbye, trying not to look like she felt scummy inside.
"Is Remus going to be okay?" Miss Potter asked, twisting her hands together.
She'd turned up quite early, when breakfast in the Great Hall wouldn't even have finished, looking as if she'd slept badly, with hair wilder than was usual (even for her). Her air was anxious—distracted as she came in and glanced about his chambers, intensely focused when she turned imploring eyes on him—and she kept pushing at the too-long sleeves of her overlarge jumpers.
"That remains to be seen." Severus finished filling the teacup and pushed it toward her. Instead of picking it up, she gave him a look that was two thirds-panicked, one third-exasperated.
"Has he been poisoned?"
"It's aconite poisoning in part." Severus picked up his own teacup so he'd have something to do with his hands—Miss Potter's hand-wringing was making his itch—and because one could never have too much caffeine before ten in the morning. "Which suggests that it's the Wolfsbane Potion itself that's to blame and not any single ingredient."
Miss Potter picked up her tea—which was still steaming—and swallowed a mouthful without even blowing on it to cool. She yelped and clapped a hand to her mouth.
"'M fine," she mumbled, her cheeks as red as if she'd splashed the tea on her face.
Severus decided, for once in his life, to be gracious. "I left Lupin still unconscious, with a potion to compensate for his arrhythmia, should your godfather deign to give him anything I've provided." Well, gracious about the tea incident.
Miss Potter (still blushing) stopped blowing on her tea and grimaced. "But Professor Dumbledore went with you, right? Surely he'll make sure Remus takes it."
"One can only hope," Severus muttered. That the might of Dumbledore prevails against the rank stupidity of Sirius fucking Black.
"Last night, you said—you said making an antidote for Wolfsbane might be impossible."
"Yes." He knew that she wanted him to say something comforting, but he had nothing of comfort to offer. He wished she wouldn't look at him like that, with wide, desperate, searching eyes.
"Do you—do you really think. . ."
"I am not a werewolf expert, Miss Potter." As I keep reminding everyone.
She finally stopped staring at him in that terrible, pleading way, but the way she hunched her shoulders and stared into her tea turned out to be worse. He tightened his fingers on the bone china of his cup, to avoid throwing it into the fire. The problem with Miss Potter was that she wanted things from him that he could not give—attention, kindness, reassurance. If she'd just stop asking the impossible of him, she wouldn't continually look so diminished.
She'll curl up even smaller if the werewolf dies, said his Inner Ravenclaw.
At least she won't be dead, he replied.
Square mile upon square mile of dense forest and open land lie between Lupin and Miss Potter, said his Inner Ravenclaw.
Black and Lupin cannot be trusted.
"I wish I could see him," Miss Potter mumbled. Now she was tracing her finger along the rim of the cup, slowly, round and round.
You can't, Severus was fully prepared to say. But what he did say was, "If you mention it to the Headmaster, he'll likely oblige you."
Miss Potter blinked up at him. "Right," she said a moment later. "I'll. . . I'll try that. Thanks."
She did not exactly look any perkier, but she did take another sip of her tea. Then she grimaced. "Now it's gone cold," she complained.
The teapot was enchanted to keep warm, so Severus banished the tea from her cup and poured another. "Let this one cool," he said when she pulled it back toward her.
She went pink again. "I know how to drink tea," she muttered. "Not that you'd know it today," she added almost under her breath.
Say something kind, his Inner Hufflepuff suggested, its voice rusty from misuse.
Like what? he asked irritably.
There was a long silence. I don't rightly know, his Inner Hufflepuff admitted, because it was his.
"I believe the Headmaster called Madam Pomfrey to see Lupin after I'd gone," he said a few moments later.
"That's. . . that's good, right?" Miss Potter asked, like she wanted to be hopeful but—perhaps—couldn't believe he'd say something reassuring. Clever girl.
"She probably has the most knowledge of Lupin's physiology. She has been Hogwarts' healing matron since we were in school, she's treated him since the beginning."
"Oh." Miss Potter did look relieved. "That's—good. I hope she'll be able to help him." It wasn't a platitude; he heard the weight of her whole heart behind it.
Now she was back to staring at her tea and fiddling with the cup. "I was wondering if my dream—the one I told you about, you know, with the golden sand?. . . if it had to do with—with Remus."
"Why would you make that connection?"
Miss Potter didn't answer right away. When she twisted her cup on its saucer, the porcelain produced a scraping sound that crawled into his ears and bit.
"Miss Potter—" Stop that before I throw the cup in the fire.
"I felt like . . . like I'd lost something. Forever." She picked up the cup like she was going to take a sip, but stopped, staring into the tea like she was seeing something far away. "And it was. . ." She shivered, then said in a quick, flat voice, "Awful," and drank a long mouthful of tea.
A memory from the time disorder? Hadn't Anaita Patil said that might happen? That as Miss Potter drew closer to certain events, she would experience flashes of memory?
But what would golden sand have to do with Lupin's death?
"You're not a werewolf expert," Miss Potter said suddenly, but quietly. He glanced at her . "But you're. . . a Potions expert, right? You have a Gold Class . . . thing."
Severus blinked. "And how do you know that?"
She shrugged, though not quite in that annoying way of teenagers when they were pretending that interest in anything was beneath them; it was more an awkward shrug of not wanting to mention it. "Read it in a book. Gold Class of what?"
"What does this have to do with Lupin?" Though he suspected he knew.
"You might not know everything about werewolves but you know almost everything about Potions, right?"
There was a little curl of emotion in Severus' chest that felt like pleasure, and he ground it out. There was no merit to flattery borne of ignorance, even were it the ignorance of youth. Miss Potter knew so very little about Potions, and wasn't clever in the ways of accumulating knowledge; she likely never would be.
There were those imploring eyes again.
"It's impossible to know everything about anything," he said.
She pressed her lips together in a way that reminded him strongly of Minerva. Perhaps the Head of Gryffindor was giving her lessons in her Transfigurations review. "Last night, you said to Professor Dumbledore that you didn't know why the Wolfsbane Potion worked."
"Which rather proves my point."
"Why did anyone think it was okay to give it to werewolves, then? If you didn't know how it worked, then nobody could've, right?"
He felt the little curl of warmth trying to breath itself back to life, amidst a sea of confusion. Miss Potter wasn't mocking him, that was clear (he checked); indeed, she radiated earnestness, and he swore it twisted strands of her hair straight out from her head. But this steadfast faith in his supposed brilliance was baffling.
"The potion was not created to help werewolves, Miss Potter," he said at last. "It was created to help the rest of us by keeping them controlled."
She stared at him like she didn't understand what he was really saying. He supposed she didn't.
"You have only seen Lupin at Hogwarts, under Dumbledore's protection, surrounded by people who do not know what he is."
She was growing uneasy, he could tell: tightening in her shoulders, her fingers curling into her palms. Her eyes searched his face, not liking whatever they were seeing. He made his expression as neutral as possible, though he doubted it had little effect. He'd seen himself in the mirror enough times to know he looked mean.
"People who consider themselves good witches and wizards would spit on Lupin if they knew what he was."
She stared like she couldn't have heard right . . . and then color rushed into her face, the brightness of indignation, and a shade of horror. She didn't say anything, though, and her silence made Severus uneasy. It suggested that she believed him, and that thought was disquieting.
But Miss Potter knew what it was to be hated by those who weren't your kind, did she not? That innocence had never really been hers.
"The Wolfsbane is a potion to dampen the influence of the wolf," he said. "It does not reduce the pain of the transformation or lessen the toll it takes on the body. Lupin is in just as much pain as ever when he takes it." Perhaps more, since he does not lose his awareness to the wolf.
"Why doesn't anyone make something to help it hurt less, then?" she asked quietly.
"Werewolves . . . aren't like the rest of us. Their physiology is different, separate. Potions work differently on them. No one has ever studied them to heal them."
"But you could." She looked him full in the face, serious and earnest. "I know you could."
It was not a condemnation, not an affirmation of disappointment, but rather faith, pure and somehow damning. He felt his resolve to keep Lupin on the Wolfsbane waver, like a scaffolding swaying with a new wind.
If he dies, she will never place this faith in you again, whispered Slytherin.
Either you shatter her belief that you can do anything, or you destroy her faith that you will do the right thing, Slytherin said.
Everything she believes about me is wrong, Severus thought.
Do you want her to find that out?
"Gold Class, Miss Potter," he said, reaching for the teapot, "means that very little is beyond my means."
For the first time since she'd left him the night before, Miss Potter smiled.
A/N: Wow, look, an actual conversation between them! Awkward and difficult as it is, poor babies.
So yeah, that was a long space between updates. I'm sorry! I've not vanished or given up... I also know how the fic ends, the whole thing through the end of DH, I've just been really low on mental/creative energy lately. Blah blah, excuses excuses. I wanted this chapter to be longer, but it just wouldn't happen. So consider this the last stage in the... wait for it... pre-Yule Ball arc. That's right, faithful readers (there are still some of you out there, right? little though I deserve you!), the next chapter will fucking FINALLY bring the Yule Ball.
If you're wondering how I'mma get from here to there in one chapter, well... tune in next time! (There will be one! You have no idea how long I've been planning that damn ball, holy shit, what will I do with my life once it's written, seriously y'all.)
Love to you all.