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07 June 2005 @ 09:31 pm
.:part ii:.  

.:continued from above post:.

“Terry! Terry mate, c’mon, wake up.”

“Five more minutes, Mum,” pleaded Terry, through a mouthful of pillow.

“You’re raving.”

The voice was amused, male and certainly not Charlotte Boot’s -- unless she’d undergone some radical hormone treatment of recent times. Terry shuddered awake.

His cheek had formed a close and personal relationship with the blanket; when Terry pressed a hand to it, he felt the wrinkle-indents tattooed in to his skin. Every muscle in his body protested and threatened to call its union as he struggled upright, heaving most of the bed-coverings along for the ride.

Michael was sitting on the edge of the bed, regarding Terry with a resigned expression. In his scramble to manoeuvre himself into a respectable position, Terry had managed to tie the sheets around his left ankle. Some of them had crept up around his neck, so the end result resembled nothing so much as a toga gone terribly wrong.

“What -- what are you doing here?” Terry was as yet clad only in his pyjama bottoms. An excellent choice for bed-related couture in general terms, but he preferred to team them with the shirt for a really dashing combination. When he was alone, moreover. His mammoth efforts of the past week were rendered Sisyphean in face of the fact that the person for whom they were brought about had seen Terry shirtless twice in the span of a few hours.

And -- a few hours? How had that happened?

Michael was wearing his blue Quidditch robes, with grimy, grass-stained Muggle trainers underneath. His face was wind-burnt and his hair less volumised than usual; high altitude sweat had slicked it back so that, for once, it wasn’t falling in his eyes. If he could be summed up in a word, it’d be “positively insalubrious”, or “in need of a shower” -- but it was clear that that couldn’t, in fact, be done.

“You said you’d show me your Redolence Charm?” Michael reminded him. “Twelve o’clock, common room? Any of these words having any implication in a sequential sense?”

“Uh, yeah.” Terry managed to unwind the sheet from around his foot, although it put up a valiant struggle. “Twelve o’clock. I’ll be there.”

Terry.” Michael was exasperated, Terry could tell. He always pronounced italics when he was. “It’s half-past twelve now.”

“What?” yelped Terry. He threw off the yoke of his sheet-shaped oppressor and fumbled for his watch. It did, indeed, read twenty-seven minutes past twelve. “Bugger, I fell back asleep!”

Michael coughed. “Are you feeling okay? I mean, are you ill?”

Terry was feeling anything but “okay”, but there was nothing medically wrong with him. “No, no, I’m fine,” he assured Michael, shoving his unruly curls out of his eyes in a distracted manner. “I just -- that is, sleep. It ambushed me.”

“Yeah, I noticed it has this tendency to do that.” Michael paused, pursing his lips. “Perhaps I should leave this for another day --?”

He sounded reluctant, which was only natural considering how many other demands he had on his time. Quidditch, for example. Or hair tossing. Terry had once calculated that Michael spent about an hour and a half doing that every day.

“No, it’s fine.” Terry knew he was blushing. It was another thing the army sergeant couldn’t seem to whip into shape. Terry was starting to seriously doubt his qualifications. “What time is the DA meeting, four o’clock?”

Michael nodded. Terry did some rapid computation. An hour to take Michael through the initial stages of the Charm, up to the point where he’d be able to go solo with it. Half-an-hour for lunch -- no, he didn’t have time and, anyway, it would be over by then. That left about two hours for his Potions work, so long as he didn’t mind starving to death.

Terry half-rolled out of bed; it was a operation of extreme difficulty, considering that he needed to bring the blanket with him so as not to expose anything that shouldn’t be exposed. Or, at least, any more than had, most unfortunately, already been uncovered. “I’ll just get dressed,” he said.

“Good idea,” said Michael, who was grinning. Again. Terry freed the blanket from the sheet and draped it more fully around his shoulders. As he did so, Michael hopped off the bed and started rooting through Terry’s trunk with careless abandon.

“Here, start getting undressed,” said Michael, his voice muffled by the lid of the trunk. “I’ll pass you out something.”

“You what?” Terry was not getting changed in front of Michael, whatever the other boy might think. “No! I’ll do it, you go down to the common room and get a table.”

“But --” began Michael. He was holding the robes Terry had been planning to put on earlier; he’d picked them up in such a way that the toothpaste tube had squeezed open, all over one of the sleeves. Terry sagged; he’d have to Vanish that.

“You’re only wasting time now.” Terry’s voice was firm and rather exasperated. “Two minutes. I’ll be two minutes.”

“O--kay,” said Michael, slowly. He draped the robes across the trunk and headed for the door. He turned to shoot Terry one last, mystified look and Terry was grateful that he had waited for Michael to leave before pulling off his pyjama bottoms.

That had been close. Too close.

Terry was starting to think he should give the wearing-robes-to-bed strategy further consideration. He didn’t know why all of this freaked him out so much, but he was aware that, due to sharing a dormitory with three other boys, it wasn’t an ideal state of being.

For once, he couldn’t think his way out of this predicament, for the simple reason that he didn’t know what it was.

*~*

In the light of a new day, Evan Rosier stretched his long fingers, caging them and pressing them against each other. The knuckles popped, one by one. The other person in the room twitched a little at the noise.

Evan didn’t appear to notice. He was standing by a window, watching sky blush. “Red sky in the morning, shepherd’s warning,” he murmured.

“Sorry, I didn’t catch that?”

Evan smiled without humour. “You weren’t meant to. Now, I’m a busy man, Peter, so if you could just spit out what it is you’ve been quivering to say since you came and then piss off, I’d be much obliged.”

Evan dropped into a faded brocade chair and swung his long legs across the arm. There were no candles in the room, which was shrouded in gloom and grime. Peter advanced a few feet with the utmost reluctance. He rubbed his silver hand, for reassurance.

“The Dark Lord -- the Dark Lord says --” he stuttered. All at once, the sun lit up the room with a suddenness that vied with that of the light advancing the burial passage of Newgrange during the winter solstice. Given that Newgrange was a tomb, it was a particularly apt metaphor.

The illumination coalesced around the insolently casual figure in the chair; it gave his hair, which was the colour of dried apricots, a momentary and inappropriate halo.

Peter’s curiosity got the better of him. “Why aren’t you dead?” he burst out.

Evan swivelled his long neck, regarding Peter with an unblinking stare. It seemed to go right through Peter, as if he were nothing more than the dust and ashes he one day would become. However, when Evan spoke, his tone was mild and rather incredulous. “The Dark Lord says why aren’t you dead?” he repeated. “Why, that is rather incoherent, even for him.”

Peter shook his head, dread making him obstinate. The fear that the Dark Lord would kill you, for sport or revenge or idle boredom, was always present. Evan -- wasn’t like that. Peter couldn’t imagine what he’d do for sport or revenge or idle boredom, or if he even knew what those feelings were. That was even more terrifying.

“No,” said Peter, “I’m asking. Why?”

Evan stretched a hand out before him, twisting it and appearing to admire it. It reminded Peter of the way his father would finger poison vials, his fingers running over the gleam of the dark liquids encased in smoky glass. Joshua Pettigrew had died of accidental arsenic poisoning in 1974. Accidental. That’s what Peter’s mother had said.

If Peter concentrated, he could see the light almost going through Evan’s hand, and coming out the other side darker. But of course, that was impossible; Peter dismissed the errant thought.

“Why am I not dead?” Evan cocked his head, looking quizzical. Peter nodded, gulping. “Because I am still alive, I presume.”

“But -- Moody --?” Peter attempted to qualify his question, but something in Evan’s eyes stopped him, the eyes so pale a hazel they were almost gold. No, they were gold, why did Peter think they were hazel? But they had to be hazel -- humans didn’t have gold eyes, not real gold like the colour of Galleons -- there was only hazel, like James’ eyes --

“Moody?” Evan rubbed his chin with one hand. “Was he one of ours? The name is not -- familiar to me. A pure-blood?”

Peter stared at him. “He was an Auror.”

Evan raised his fine, arched eyebrows. The light was pouring out of the room once more, as a mass of clouds obscured the sun. His eyes were half-lidded, their colour now indistinguishable. “Why are you troubling me with old Aurors, boy? They view the world in such black and white terms -- Dark Wizards, I ask you. There is no wizard that is not dark, no wizard that is. Wizards are human; humans are, by nature, grey.”

Peter was feeling itchy with all this philosophy. It was something he’d never had a head for. He’d preferred solid, objective subjects like Ancient Runes. He supposed that was black and white, not grey.

“Little fish, your mind is too small for me,” sighed Evan. “Run back to your master. Ask him your questions, and see if you do not get an answer you prefer.”

Peter looked at him in mute horror. Evan was a Death Eater; surely he knew the consequences of asking the Dark Lord a question like that.

Peter pulled his cowled robe closer to his body as Evan resumed staring out of the window, sighing faintly. Evan was garbed in most unusual clothing for a pure-blood wizard, and even for a Muggle. Peter was sure that those kind of shirts and, well, he wasn’t sure what they were -- they looked like pantaloons -- had gone out of fashion in the eighteen hundreds. They were so white that even in the dankness of their surroundings, Peter’s eyes hurt after looking at them for too long.

With a jolt of shock that was almost a physical pain, Peter saw that Evan’s shirtsleeves were rolled up to the elbow; and that, on both of his arms, the skin was white -- and bare.

Peter wasn’t able to suppress a gasp at this realisation. When he raised his gaze, Evan’s unnerving eyes were already on him. He was smiling.

“You never met me, the first time, did you?” mused Evan. “I think I recall Lord Voldemort talking about you -- a Gryffindor. Our only one.” His laugh was light and musical. “A core of pure, unadulterated lion you have in your soul, it is true. But no true Gryffindor would betray his friends --”

Peter bowed his head, wincing at the old pain. How many times had he told himself that? How many times had his fellow Death Eaters mocked him for it, even as the Lord congratulated him with veiled amusement in eyes that, then, had been mossy green and enchanting? Even Sirius, the boy he’d once worshipped above all others, had said it.

“-- and then doubt that what he did was right,” finished Evan. He got to his feet, stretching in a languorous manner, and walked over to Peter. Peter gaped up at him.

“You really are a fish -- a trout,” Evan informed him, putting a cold hand under Peter’s chin and tilting it up. Evan twisted Peter’s face this way and that, inspecting him. “Quite unattractive, in all honesty. Most Gryffindors have a core of self-righteousness that renders them unable to believe that they could do wrong, did you realise that? I don’t think you possess it. You have a crabbed sort of bravery, that is true. Perhaps I was wrong -- not a fish. A mongoose. What form does your Patronus take?”

Peter was startled. “I -- I don’t know.”

Evan ran a finger of his other hand across his thin lips. “Hmm. You are an Animagus, correct?”

“You’re reading my mind!” Peter’s voice was frightened and accusatory.

“Hardly, my dear boy.” Evan sounded preoccupied. “What form does that take, then?”

“A -- I’m a rat.” Peter tried to lower his head, again. He knew that rats were not noble creatures, or a dangerous ones. No matter what side you fought for, if you were a rat, you were just a scavenger -- reviled by all.

Evan’s fingers prevented him from moving. “If there were a House for people who felt utter uncertainty about almost every aspect of their lives, it would be full to overflowing,” he said. “Your uncertainty is so strong it is practically a certainty.” He laughed again and let Peter’s head drop. Bereft of the support, Peter forgot for a moment that he had his own neck to hold his head up.

“W -- What House were you in?” A spark of natural curiosity was provoking Peter tonight. He didn’t even know why he wanted to know; something primal and uncontrollable was doing the asking.

Evan only laughed. Pondering, Peter decided the music of it was cold; that of a glass piano, or an ice flute.

“Run along, little fish,” said Evan, and something that could have been a distant relation of fondness tinged his voice. His words seemed to leave after-traces of colour in the air; but that must have been the sun dazzling Peter’s eyes. “Tell the Lord to send me another, to amuse me. Lucius, perhaps; he was so amusing, with his temper tantrums. Or Jugson. Yes; my lovely, blunt-mouthed Jugson.” His hands floated over Peter’s robe-covered hair. “How is he, these long days?”

“Saul Jugson?” Peter tried to summon up the face, but all his brain put forward was the image of a mask.

Evan didn’t appear to hear Peter, though; his words continued as if he hadn’t. “Stirling. Abiona Stirling. Whatever happened to her? Did she die, on a journey, as she was born? Did Regis Wrede follow the path of fire? Did he take the crown?”

“Sir, who?” asked Peter, confused. “Are they new recruits? I’ve never heard of them.”

Evan seemed to recall himself, for his face tightened into the smooth mask it had been when Peter first entered. “How could you have heard of them?” His voice was almost sharp; Peter was struck by how at odds it was to his apparent character. “They were before your time. Long before.”

Peter shivered. If Evan’s words had left colour on the air before, now they left shadows. Peter tried to calculate when Stirling and Wrede, whoever they were, had been in the ranks of the Death Eaters. Perhaps when the Dark Lord had been at Hogwarts? Perhaps they weren’t very important, perhaps they had died -- been killed -- early on. Surely, if they had played vital roles, Peter would have heard of them.

All the same … the history of the Dark Lord’s rise was not exactly fodder for the History of Magic syllabus. All the same … the names stirred something in Peter’s memory. He had heard them before; someone had said them; a male voice. Was it Sirius’? James’? Remus’? The Dark Lord’s? Lucius’?

Peter looked up at the other man. Evan had retreated to the window. It was now full day outside, although the grey clouds blanketing the sky made it overcast and hardly worth the effort.

Evan had been part of the Dark Lord’s original coterie, that much Peter knew; one of his followers from his schooldays. Although -- follower? Some deep, rebellious, Gryffindor part of Peter’s mind baulked at that nomenclature. The Dark Lord’s followers wore his Mark on their arms: they answered his call: they did not wait to be fetched. They did not refuse the call.

The Dark Lord was old, but the countless experiments and spells had given him the ageless features of a serpent. Even the Death Eaters of Lucius’ generation were showing their age, in wrinkles and grey hairs and skin that was turning to the consistency of fine parchment.

Something in the pit of Peter’s stomach turned to ice as he looked at Evan -- really looked -- and realised that he had to be far older than Lucius.

He did not look a day more than twenty.

*~*

Terry tapped his quill against a paragraph he had marked with an asterisk, in pencil so that it could rubbed out once he had finished with the book. “So you see, the key to this Charm is transmutation combined with an advanced locking spell, to actually retain the scent.”

Michael was sitting on the chair next to him, tipping the legs forward so he could rest his chin in his hands with ease. His head was slightly tilted and his bright blue eyes followed the lead of Terry’s quill with unwavering attention. “Right, so it’s really that you’re adapting a locking spell to work on smell?”

“And then localising it so that it remains bound to the object, yes.”

“Hmm.” Michael shook his hair out of his eyes. It slithered forward again a second later. “Is there any particular reason why it needs to be a semi-precious stone instead of, say, a chip of granite?”

Terry cocked his head. It was an angle he hadn’t considered; but then again, he’d had the amber bead he needed. There had been no question of scrabbling around for a substitute, even though that would have been the more edifying scenario.

“I’m not sure,” he said, after a lengthy pause. He rifled through the pages of the book Professor Lovebright had loaned him, as a certain pertinent phrase strutted to the forefront of his brain. “Yes, it says here that there is a measured link between the colour saturation of the stone and the strength of the scent.”

“Grey’s a pretty strong colour -- and you can get granite with flecks of mica.”

“Yes, but although granite is a crystalline rock, it isn’t translucent. If light can’t pass through it, neither can the Charm.”

“You just made that up,” accused Michael.

Terry shrugged. “An educated guess. I don’t know everything about this Charm, just enough to put it into operation.”

Michael’s eyes were shining. “But don’t you find it intriguing, why it’s one way and not another? I -- well,” he subsided, his “cool” persona re-asserting itself, “I think it’s kind of fascinating.”

Terry, regarding him with impersonal consideration, thought that perhaps he’d discovered the reason why Michael didn’t do so well in exams, which tested what everyone knew.

Terry started when he realised that he and Michael had been staring at each other for at least a minute and busied himself tidying his books, willing the blush down. The army sergeant had now gone on bloody hiatus, it seemed -- or was it “AWOL” Terry meant?

“I think you’ve quite enough to be getting on with,” said Terry, stacking his notes in a haphazard manner, so that instead of lining up they slid across the desk. Michael leaned over and retrieved them.

“Thanks,” said Michael, making no move to return Terry’s notes. Terry noticed that to get out he’d have to wriggle between Michael and the wall and, if Michael decided not to move, the only option would be under the table. “If I come across any problems --”

“You won’t,” said Terry -- too quickly. Michael gave him the same perplexed look as he had in the dormitory. To distract himself, Terry tugged down the sleeves of his robes.

“Okay.” Michael’s voice was quiet as he placed the notes flat on the desk.

Michael had patches of red skin along the sides of his forefingers and thumbs, from gripping a broom-handle. They would break out in callus later in the year. Terry had once heard Padma and her friends discussing how erotic Quidditch players’ hands were, although they were referring to people like Roger Davies, or -- it had been a few years ago -- Cedric Diggory. It was something to do with both how rough and how agile they were.

Terry had cause to curse having that particular exchange in his memory-bank. Why it had been cashed right now, when he was sitting with Michael, Terry had no idea. He wondered if Michael and other male Quidditch players thought that similar callus on the hands of their female counterparts were equally sexy. Terry thought not. He felt a fleeting, insane urge to ask Michael what he thought, but managed to quash it in time.

“Great, I have to go then, see you,” babbled Terry, well aware that his words were running together like molten lava. He stood up. His focus was only on the urgent desire to be anywhere else but there -- although preferably not a place that was in Kevin’s vicinity. Terry was afraid that, if he spent any more time with Michael, he would actually ask him if he thought blisters were attractive, which Terry would never be able to live down.

“Where are you going now?” Michael leaned back in his chair to look up at Terry. He was sucking on the end of his quill. Kevin was the one who took Sugar Quills to class; Michael just sucked things. Quills, cutlery, grass stalks, bits of rolled-up parchment, his knuckles -- whatever he could get his mouth around, really.

Terry looked down at his feet; his hair obscured most of his face, which was how he liked it when he was blushing so profusely.

“The dungeons,” he muttered, shoving his books up into his armpit and hoping Michael would take the hint and move.

Michael was well-ensconced in his chair and seemed disinclined to shift. He was either ignorant of Terry’s craving to flee or was putting on a Bafta-worthy act of obtuseness. His eyes raked over Terry’s face; even as Terry calculated the area of the flagstones beneath his feet he knew, without looking up, that Michael was studying him.

“Professor Snape allows me the use of the Potions laboratory on Saturday afternoons, for experimentation purposes,” explained Terry at last.

It wasn’t a secret, per se. Slytherins were granted automatic access, but they weren’t the type to discuss their privileges with other, “lesser” Houses. Only a very few Ravenclaws, of whom Snape thought moderately well, were permitted to broach the inner sanctum on non-school-days. It was part of the deal that “closed-mouthed” counted among the stronger qualities of the chosen few.

“Really? Why?” Michael seemed genuinely interested, but Terry was stumped by the lack of clarity in the question. It was far too open-ended for his liking. Perhaps that had been Michael’s intention. Terry had to keep reminding himself not to underestimate Michael, like everyone else seemed to; it was quite an effort on Terry’s part.

Terry decided to answer the easier version of the query. “I’m interested in pursing further studies in Potions after Hogwarts,” he said. “There are plenty of private laboratories across Britain, as well as mainland Europe and America, that are always searching for new talent.”

“And you think you have talent?”

Terry blushed, sensing that he’d committed a faux-pas. “I -- that is, I don’t really -- but Professor Snape --”

Michael smiled -- a slow, lazy grin. Terry wished he hadn’t met Michael’s eye, but the shock of his last question had impelled him to do so. There was something about the way Michael’s face opened up when he smiled that made Terry feel queasy. His stomach was definitely rebelling, anyway.

“I think you’d make a great potion-maker,” announced Michael. “Probably come up with a bloody cure for spots, I daresay.”

Terry’s hand flew to his cheek, where he knew for a fact a fresh crop of pimples had just sprouted over the last twenty-four hours. He flushed darkly -- from anger rather than shame, for once.

He’d forgotten, of course. He shouldn’t have -- he should have been on guard, permanently. However, Michael’s attitude had -- relaxed Terry; lulled him into a false sense of security. Michael had acted almost friendly towards Terry -- but he wasn’t. Not at all.

After all, this was the same Michael Corner whom Terry had known for six and a half years. The same Michael Corner who, when on the first day of school Anthony had refused to sit beside Terry because he was a “total swotty git” -- this after six hours’ acquaintance -- had laughed along with the rest. The same Michael Corner who had participated on many occasions in kicking Terry’s books further along the corridor when Anthony knocked them out of his arms. The same Michael Corner who had helped sabotage so many of Terry’s potions in the first four years of school that, if Snape had not at long last caught them at it, Terry would have been thrown out of his class. The same Michael Corner who’d squirted ketchup in his hair without Terry’s knowing; that, and Kevin’s eggs down his back, had earned Terry his only ever detention: for poor uniform standards from McGonagall.

The list was far more extensive than that. Those were just the incidents that were stronger than the rest, had had more time to build up muscle in the bitter gym of Terry’s memory and, hence, swam first to mind.

Fair enough, Anthony and Co. had slackened off in the last two years. Their attitude towards Terry had, in general, faded from firing-on-all-cylinders cruelty to crippled ambivalence -- except in Anthony’s case. This was due to the fact that girls had proved far the more interesting prospect and also that, of said girls, few appreciated overt bullying in potential boyfriends. Making people laugh at other people’s expense was all right, though. None of it meant that Terry was going to forgive their treatment of him any time soon -- even if Michael had, for a wonder, made him forget it for a while.

“Excuse me,” said Terry, coldly. “Could you please let me through?”

“Oh -- sorry!” Michael jumped to his feet, his accommodating manner belying the fact that he’d been blocking Terry’s way for five minutes. Terry no longer believed Michael had acted unwittingly; for whatever nefarious reason of his own, he’d done it on purpose and now Terry was running late.

“See you later, Terry!” Michael called after him. Terry didn’t reply, only hugged his books to his chest and hurried out.

 

.:continued in part iii:.

 
 
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