Blaise Zabini reluctantly turned to face the caller, who was running to catch up with him in the corridor near the Charms classroom.
“Hi, Jaspine,” Blaise said nervously. “I’m sorry, I can’t talk. I'm going to be late to class.”
“No you're not. This will only take a moment,” Jaspine said, and she gave her friend a cautious smile. “We haven’t seen each other in a while. I've been getting the feeling you're trying to avoid me.”
Jaspine's friend looked away guiltily.
“Blaise? What is this? Have you been avoiding me?” Jaspine demanded, her smile disappearing.
“No, I haven't! I…” Blaise fell silent, and he chewed on his lower lip.
“Well aren't you at least going to come back to the workshops?” Jaspine asked, her face falling even further.
“No,” Blaise said, and he turned to leave. “I’m going to be busy preparing for my O.W.L.s and future career, and I can’t be bogged down with any extra work.”
“But, Blaise, I thought I was helping you prepare for your O.W.L.s and career! What happened? Was it something I said? Is there something I need to do differently in the workshop?"
Blaise slowly turned around, looked over his shoulder fearfully, and motioned for Jaspine to follow him. The two Slytherins quickly jogged down the corridor. Blaise stopped before a large closet, and again looked around before opening the creaky door and leading Jaspine inside.
"Lumos !" he said, lighting his wand. His face floated eerily in the halo of light that barely reached the brooms and buckets perched haphazardly around the two students. He then pointed his wand toward the door. "Disaudio!"
“All right, Blaise, what is this? I thought we were just friends!" Jaspine snapped testily.
"What? You think I want to snog…you?" Blaise queried with a half-annoyed, half-amused smirk. "You think too highly of yourself, Jaspine, and someday you're going to regret it."
'"Well if you're not making a play, then why are we standing in this broom closet with a Sound-Proof Charm on the door?" Jaspine demanded, now beginning to feel genuinely annoyed.
"Because I don't want people to know we are having this discussion!" Blaise snapped. "And if you're still a friend, you won't tell anyone about this!"
"If anyone sees us come out of here together, I won't have to. The grapevine will have it all over the castle before you can say Lavender Brown," Jaspine retorted.
"Then we'll have to make sure no one sees us leave. Or at least, make sure no one sees us leave together. Which means that we'll have to wait for the bell to ring, and I am going to be late for my next class, and it's going to be your fault."
"Blaise, you are starting to scare me,” Jaspine said with a nervous laugh. “What in the name of Merlin is going on? Why is all this secrecy so important all of a sudden? People know we're just friends, don't they?”
“It's Malfoy!” Blaise said. “He threatened me! And I’m not the only one…”
“Why are you so afraid of him all of a sudden?” Jaspine demanded angrily. “You know he can’t do anything as long as we stick together! Remember when he came to the workshop…?”
“This is different. He means it.”
“Look, if he tries anything in the common room or in class, I’ll back you up! And if he tries anything in the hallways, the teachers and security guards will stop him.”
“And can they also protect my family?” Blaise asked fiercely. Even in the dim wand-light Jaspine could see real fear beginning to grip the younger Slytherin.
“He’s a fifth-year student! What can he possibly do to your family?” Jaspine wanted to know. Most of her anger was fading now, replaced by a growing sense of unease.
“He’s a Malfoy, Jaspine! You know what they say about the Malfoys and…and You-Know-Who!”
“But that doesn’t mean…”
“Listen to me! Things are changing out there! The rules are changing! Draco isn’t just making empty threats! Haven’t you been reading between the lines of those stories in the Daily Prophet? Things are starting to happen, just like before, during the Years of Terror!” The younger Slytherin’s voice trembled with fear. “You don’t know about my family, do you? My parents were nearly taken from their home by a band of wizards who were dressed all in black. Death Eaters, Jaspine, just like the old days! My parents were attacked and hexed, and Mum had to go to St. Mungo’s. If it weren’t for the neighbors, my parents could have been killed or added to the missing list.”
“But how do you know Malfoy had anything to do with it?”
“Malfoy told me that his father planned the attack, and he told me details that made me believe him.”
“And you think he intends to do something else if you don’t do whatever he says?”
“Yes! And Jaspine, it isn’t just me. A similar thing happened to Malcolm’s family. His mother and aunt were both attacked on the same night while his father and uncle were away. They had to be taken to St. Mungo’s, and were there for several days.”
For several moments, Jaspine was shocked speechless. After a long pause, she said at last, “What does he want? Why hasn’t he confronted me yet?”
“I don’t know. Maybe he’s afraid of you. But Malfoy told me…he said that if I keep hanging around you, there will be more attacks, and this time the neighbors won’t get involved. He told me that, after he did this...” And here Blaise slid his black robe off his shoulders, unbuttoned his collar, and showed Jaspine a hideous green and purple blob on his collarbone. It throbbed and pulsated in the dim light of his wand like some malignant creature with a life of its own.
“Merlin’s bane! What is that?” Jaspine whispered.
“Proof that Malfoy isn’t bluffing,” Blaise replied.
“You should see Madam Pomfrey for that!” Jaspine admonished sharply.
“No! I don’t dare! Malfoy will have my parents killed if I tell anyone!”
“But it looks horrible! You can’t just leave it alone!”
“I wasn’t going to. I tried putting Puralux on it, but it kept getting worse. Malfoy said it would go away eventually, but any attempts to treat it will prolong it.”
“Malfoy doesn’t know everything about Potions. I’ll find something…”
“No! Leave it alone, Jaspine, please! I’m only telling you this to warn you!” And the younger Slytherin re-buttoned his collar and hitched up his robe to hide the magical injury.
“Talk to Professors Dumbledore or McGonagall,” Jaspine implored. “You can’t let Malfoy…!”
“If I do that, he'll destroy my family,” Blaise said. “There’s nothing Dumbledore can do to protect them!”
“Dumbledore can take this to the Ministry! There are laws…!”
Blaise started laughing, but there was no mirth in the sound, only sadness and near hysteria.
“The Ministry?” Blaise said once he had regained some semblance of control. “What is the bloody, rotting Ministry going to do? The Minister himself is just a mouthpiece! He has no real power. I never thought of you as naive, Jaspine, but right now, I’m disappointed!” Blaise folded his arms across his chest, wincing as he did so. His next words came with intense bitterness. “Why would the Ministry help me, when the one running the whole sodding show is Malfoy himself?”
“Come on, now,” Jaspine scoffed, a little of her confidence returning. “Just because that pint-sized pureblood prat thinks he runs…”
“I’m not talking about Draco,” Blaise said quietly.
Jaspine snorted. “Lucius Malfoy? I don’t believe it! Didn’t he get himself sacked from the Board of Governors a couple years ago?”
“I told you. Things have changed since then. You-Know-Why. I’m not taking any chances anymore, not after what he did to me, and what he did to Nathan!”
“Nathan?” Jaspine realized that she hadn’t seen him since the Dark Cauldron game except in classes, and that he seemed unusually nervous and withdrawn. “Blaise, what has that toe-rag done to Nathan?”
Blaise shuddered. “This is just a rumor, okay? And I never told you this. Malfoy got his grubby hands on some really Dark potion. Draco's Wrath, he calls it, and he used it on Nathan.”
Jaspine exhaled sharply, as if she had been punched. “Draco's Wrath…wait a minute...Mortgona’s Wrath? Is that what he used?” Blaise nodded reluctantly. “Bloody hell! How did he manage to sneak that into the school? It’s one of the most dangerous and highly illegal potions I’ve ever heard of! You won’t find anything more than a footnote about it even in the Restricted Section in the library!”
“Don’t ask me how he got it past the trolls and goblins, but I know where he got it,” Blaise said coolly. “His father, of course. Oh, The Daily Prophet might be singing his praises these days, but everyone knows Malfoy Senior is into smuggling. You know -- illegal potions, restricted potion ingredients, cursed artifacts, you name it. Arthur Weasley would love to press charges, but so far he hasn’t been able to catch Malfoy doing anything illegal. Of course Weasley’s authority doesn't count for much, especially not lately.”
“Maybe I should talk to Ron Weasley about this before Draco does anything else.”
“No, Jaspine! Don’t get involved! You’ll only make things worse! Besides, I thought you and Weasley were enemies...”
“Bloody hell!” Jaspine spat. “This is bigger than some schoolyard quarrel! Someone’s got to do something!”
“Jaspine, you have to be careful,” Blaise urged. “Things have changed since Professor Snape left. Malfoy has a grudge against you, and he’s become dangerous, and there’s no one who can stop him."
Just then the bell rang, indicating that afternoon classes were starting, sans the two Slytherins in the broom closet.
"I’m sorry, but I can’t take any chances, not with my family in danger. I have to go now.”
"Finite Incantatem!" And with that, Blaise threw open the closet door and ran out into the corridor, leaving a hurt, confused, and worried Jaspine behind.
“Oh, Ariiii,” Remus sang out as he knocked on the door to her quarters and then walked in. “I have something for you.”
“Hey, big brother, what have you got there?” Aurellia asked as she looked up from one of the Druidish Watcher books she had been reading all morning. One eyebrow was slightly arched in amusement and her smoky blue eyes shone with warmth and curiosity.
Remus held up his right hand, which clutched a fused mass of rose-colored crystals. It was roughly the size and shape of a softball.
“Are those Scattershards?” Aurellia queried skeptically, thinking of her last encounter with the vicious little objects.
Remus nodded and grinned. "You'll never guess how I got them."
You wouldn’t be grinning right now if I told you about what Snape pulled when he introduced me to those horrible little things, Aurellia thought. “Ummm, no, where did you get them?” she asked skeptically, hoping that Remus was not going to say that he’d received them from Karkaroff, who almost certainly would have been eager to get rid of them after finding them among Snape’s things.
“Filius was kind enough to give these to me. He said that the new set he ordered about two months ago finally came in, and he doesn’t need these anymore. I remember what you said about wanting to practice your precision casting…” Remus trailed off into an awkward silence and gave the elf a searching look. “What is it, Ari?”
Should I tell him? Aurellia looked away briefly and brushed a strand of hair from her face. No, Remus wouldn’t understand. He had been angry enough as it was when he’d heard about the duel, and Aurellia had thought it best not to tell him about the Scattershards incident. He would only get angry with Snape all over again, and angry with Aurellia as well for pushing Snape too far.
“Sorry, Remus, I zoned out for a minute there,” she apologized instead, with a shaky laugh. “I think I need to take a break from reading, or my brain will explode.” Her book closed with a snap. “I need to practice as you said, and I think a little diversion will help me process this all this information. Right now, the print is looking like jumbled letters on the page.” The elf Summoned her wand to her hand and faced the werewolf, who was grinning from ear to ear. “All right, let me at them!”
Remus tossed the crystalline ball lightly into the air, and it hovered inches in front of his face. He drew his wand from his robe pocket and pointed it at the glittering sphere.
"Quassare," he said, and the crystal split into about a half-dozen pieces.
Aurellia planted her feet and braced herself.
"Activo Excercitatio! " Remus ordered, then he pointed his wand from the shards to the elf. "Adoriri, Aurellia Deveroux!"
The shards sailed lazily through the air towards Aurellia, who targeted them with well-aimed, pinpoint Stunning Spells from her wand. The red shafts of light dropped six of the shards, but missed the seventh. Aurellia ducked too slowly and was rewarded for her efforts by a very light tap on the side of the face by the last shard. It was almost as though it were laughing at her. Aurellia huffed in exasperation at her embarrassing failure, but at least these Scattershards had a sense of humor, unlike Snape's.
“Not bad,” Remus said appraisingly while the surviving shard hovered lazily in the air awaiting Aurellia's next move, “considering this is the first time you’ve practiced your spell-work in over two weeks.”
“Not bad? I'd say it was appalling, Remus,” Aurellia grumbled as she finally dispatched the last Scattershard with little difficulty and prepared herself for a second, more dangerous onslaught of smaller, faster crystals. "If those had been enemy wizards instead of practice crystals, I'd be lying on the ground right now, incapacitated or dead." She balanced lightly on the balls of her feet, attention tightly focused on her exercise, wand at the ready, just as Remus and Dumbledore had taught her so many months ago at the A.L.E.E. when she first learned how to duel. She was determined not to miss this time!
But the second wave was a disappointment. The same seven crystals merely leaped off the ground and soared towards her again at the same relaxed pace as before. She made short work of them, this time using the Shatter Spell. But the crystalline slivers merely flew away from her, re-fused themselves into the original seven pieces, and floated towards the elf a third time at the same slow pace. Aurellia gave an exaggerated yawn as she dispatched the shards yet again and turned to her friend.
“What is wrong with these Scattershards, Remus?" the elf complained. "I thought they were supposed to move faster and vary their pattern of attack once in a while so they're harder to hit. These aren't even trying to dodge my spells! And aren’t they supposed to stay in pieces when you shatter them, so that your targets become progressively harder to hit?"
"Well, each set of Scattershards is different, Ari, depending on the intentions of whoever enchants them. Some are for students, and some are for dueling pros, and there are a great many levels in between. How did you happen to find out about Scattershards, anyway? I don't remember Dumbledore or myself bringing them to the Allee when you were training, since you needed more personal instruction at the time."
"I've learned a lot of things about the Wizarding World since I came here," Aurellia dodged. "But I would have expected better than this from Professor Flitwick."
“Well, I thought that they might be might be too difficult for you, so I had him remove his enchantment from them,” Remus explained.
The Scattershards regrouped for another attack, but this time Aurellia devoted only part of her attention to them. “Oh, I see," she said, the majority of her attention now on Remus. "And who put the new enchantment on them?" the elf asked, knowing what Remus would say.
“I thought so." The Scattershards quickly fell to another seven Mindcast Stunners.
“Aurellia, you've been ill. I don’t want you overdoing it…”
“This is a complete waste of time. I need a challenge. Couldn’t you at least crank up the speed on these things? I’m falling asleep here!” She impatiently brushed one of the slivers away from the side of her face, and the shattered shards flew away and re-fused into the original seven pieces.
“All right,” Remus capitulated. He pointed his wand at the Scattershards and made a zig-zag motion with the tip. "Separo! Accelera!" The Scattershards split into 21 pieces, which soared more rapidly through the air. "Better?" he asked.
“Much better,” Aurellia replied as she turned her attention wholly toward the crystals, which flew in dizzying circles around the room like tiny rose-colored bats. Her aim was flawless, now that she had warmed up, and the crystals fell like hail as she dropped them with various Mindcast spells. Within minutes, she had hit all of them, and they remained black and lifeless on the floor where they had fallen.
“What, that's it?" Aurellia asked after waiting for several moments in vain for the crystals to rise up and regroup.
“Yes. I think you’ve had enough for one day,” the werewolf said in a paternal tone.
“Come on, Remus, I’m not even sweating!"
“No,” Remus insisted. “Finite Incantatem. Accio!” He Summoned the blackened crystals to his hand where they returned to their original dull pink hue and fused themselves back into one piece.
Aurellia scowled and put her hands on her hips, her wand jutting out from her curled right hand like a shiny silver stiletto. “I could just enchant a set myself. Then perhaps I would feel challenged.”
Remus chucked. “I wouldn’t advise that, Ari. Scattershards tend to take on personality traits of the enchanter, and if they took after you--” He gave an exaggerated shudder. “-- oh, the horror!”
“And what exactly is that supposed to mean?” Aurellia queried frostily.
Remus grinned sheepishly. He knew Aurellia would be annoyed, but he couldn’t resist saying it anyway. “Well, they’d never give up the fight, no matter how many times you tried to stop them. They would always insist on doing whatever they pleased; they would fly around attacking relentlessly until the magic controlling them simply wore out…in about fifty years or so…”
Aurellia pursed her lips, whipped her wand around, and gave Remus a sharp mental shove. He stumbled backwards with a surprised look on his face and landed with an “oof!” on the couch.
"Really, Remus," Aurellia taunted. "You should have seen that one coming from a mile away. And don't deny that you asked for it."
"All right," Remus admitted reluctantly, "perhaps I asked for some retribution, but I was expecting a witty verbal rejoinder, not a punch in the stomach!"
"You exaggerate, big brother. That was just a light tap!" Aurellia protested with a superior grin.
"A 'light tap' that sent me reeling into the couch!" the wizard pouted.
"Oh, so it's my fault you can't stand on your own two feet, is it?" the elf teased.
"We'll see about that! Ventus!" Remus' wand moved like lightning, and a strong gust of wind burst from the tip with an invisible roar. But Aurellia was ready.
"Tempesta Quies!" and the screaming wind died just before reaching the elf, as though the turbulent air had suddenly had all the energy drained from it.
"Nice Storm-Stopper, Ari," Remus complemented. "You're getting better at keeping your composure while dueling, I see."
"Thank you," said Aurellia with a wicked grin. And with that she pointed her wand at the oriental rug on the floor. "Animare Stragulum!" she commanded. Then she pointed her wand at the werewolf. "Adoriri Remus Lupin!"
Obediently, the rug curled itself up from the floor in an S-shape, then flung itself at the wizard. Lupin raised his wand to counter the threat and started to say, "Finite!" But before the word got past his lips, Aurellia sent a cushion whizzing off the couch to knock the wand from his hand. Suddenly defenseless, Remus tried to dodge the rug's attack, but he was too late. The rug circled itself around him and wrapped him tightly in its embrace, pinning his arms to his sides, and leaving only his head exposed from the neck up. Aurellia tried to brag about having wrapped the 'Big Bad Wolf' up in his own hot air, but was laughing so hard that no intelligible words came out.
It was at that moment that her merriment was interrupted by a pounding on the door.
“I'm afraid you'll have to get that,” Remus said dryly. "I'm a little indisposed at the moment."
Aurellia went to the door and opened it to admit one Rubeus Hagrid.
“Evening, Remus, Aurellia,” Hagrid greeted with a broad grin as he stared at Remus, still imprisoned in oriental rug from the neck down. “Blimey, yeh seem a bit wrapped up in yer work tonight," he quipped in amusement. "Hope I wasn’t interruptin’ anything.”
“Not at all,” Remus said cheerfully. “We were just practicing our spellwork.”
"Apparently yeh should practice more," said Hagrid. "Or were yeh trying to imitate a mummy?"
“We all should practice more, Hagrid," Aurellia observed, freeing Lupin from the rug's tight embrace and returning his wand. "Because Voldemort could attack us here at any time, and we need to be ready."
"Well, that's why I came here tonight," said Hagrid.
"What is it?" Aurellia asked anxiously. “Has there been another major attack?”
”Naw, nothin' like that,” Hagrid responded, and his grin widened. “I only wanted yeh to know about summat just came in. I’d like to show yeh, if yeh got a few minutes. I think you’ll like it!”
“Oh?” Aurellia asked, curiosity piqued. "And what might 'it' be, Hagrid?"
“Can't tell yeh. It’s a surprise,” Hagrid said with all the enthusiasm of a child before his first show-and-tell. “But yer in for a treat, a real treat. They…err, I mean, the surprise jest got here a few minutes ago. Yeh’ll be among the first to see it. Follow me!”
Remus Summoned both his thin outdoor cloak and Aurellia’s warm, dove-gray winter cloak, and they followed the half-giant out of Aurellia’s quarters and down the long, winding halls until they reached a small wooden door that led outside. The mid-April air was still a bit frosty this evening, despite the mid-60 temperatures they had had at mid-day. The sun was just beginning its descent below the horizon, and the half moon hadn’t yet made its appearance.
Hagrid led them into the dark forest where Aurellia could occasionally see glimmers of white through the trees. Patrolling unicorns, she deduced, and she sent a mental greeting in their direction to Fedhamohsi, thinking he might be among them. After several moments of tramping on through the woods with no reply, Aurellia decided that Fedhamohsi must have urgent business elsewhere tonight, perhaps with the centaurs or the goblin patrols. He would surely have responded to her greeting, had he been present. This disappointed Aurellia, for she had been hoping to talk to Fedhamohsi ever since Remus had arrived and pulled her out of her funk. She wanted to apologize to the unicorn king for being angry with him and not coming out to visit with him, as had been her custom since the early part of the school year. She also had a few questions for him about her own past, which she hoped he would answer.
Presently the unicorns fell behind their little party and dropped out of sight. Now Aurellia began to catch glimpses of dark, skittering shapes of varying sizes darting in and around and among tree limbs and roots. Spiders! There must have been dozens of them, maybe even hundreds. The thought of them all being hungry and attacking her all at once filled Aurellia with a sudden sense of unease, and she was very glad that she had big Hagrid's company. Though she might be able to hold the predators off for a while with her magic, Aurellia did not relish the thought of a prolonged battle against such overwhelming odds. No wonder Snape's Scattershards were so vicious and kept multiplying after each round of battle! Perhaps he had had these spiders in mind when he practiced…
"Hagrid, are those your spiders?" Aurellia asked.
"Naw, not that lot," came the reply. "I don't know any of 'em. Only know a few by name anyway: Karalthe, Malina, Kumo, Horeth, Morath, and some of their siblings, the ones closest to Aragog and Mosag. They're friendly enough to me, alright, and probably wouldn't hurt none of the students if I tell 'em not to. But I wouldn't call 'em mine. They answer to Aragog, their father, before they'll listen to anyone else, even me. Fortunately, Aragog and me have been great friends since, oh, since he first hatched out, I reckon. I was the one kept 'im safe, taught 'im how to speak, taught 'im how to live with humans. Weren't no one else going to do it."
Aurellia had her own opinions about Aragog and his brood, but decided not to mention them, or Rent-o-Kill, or the big can of Raid she always pictured as back-up, should her wand prove insufficient to the task of exterminating them.
"I'm just glad they're on our side," Remus remarked. "Think of what they'll do to any careless Death Eater who trespasses on their territory!"
"I was thinking more of what they might do to us," Aurellia confessed. "I sent a fly to Aragog's lair once, and it was the most awful thing I've ever seen. All those furred and feathered corpses hanging from the ceiling, wrapped up like mummies, and bones all over the floor."
"Wahl, they gotta eat too, yeh know," Hagrid defended. "And they can't help what they leave behind any more than we can."
"We don't live in our sewers and garbage dumps," Aurellia retorted.
Hagrid shrugged. "Wahl we ain't spiders, neither. Maybe if we were, we wouldn't care what our den looks like or what humans and elves think about it."
"He's got a point, Aurellia," Remus said, grinning.
Aurellia huffed in disgust, but couldn't think of a suitable reply. Unbidden, a memory of Snape suddenly jumped into her mind. He had been angry one night, no, more than angry. He had been furious because of a simple request.
"Absolutely not! No watching when I am hunting! Ever. I mean it."
Now, finally, Aurellia thought she fully understood why. If an Acromantula had the capacity to understand and care what humans and elves thought about its feeding habits, perhaps it would have had the same reaction. Still feeling repulsed, Aurellia tried to see the spiders in a new light.
"You're awfully quiet, Ari," Remus remarked. "Are you sure you're feeling up to this little excursion? Do you want to go back?"
"Why is it that whenever I'm quiet for too long, people start asking me if I'm feeling all right?" Aurellia grouched.
"Well…" Remus hedged while Hagrid guffawed.
The werewolf was spared from having to answer further, as Hagrid spread his hands and boomed, "Well, here we are!"
They were standing before the base of a large red oak, a tree so large that Aurellia, Remus and Hagrid holding hands around the trunk could have barely circled it.
"It's a tree," Aurellia stated flatly. "Tell me this isn't your surprise, Hagrid."
"Jest hold yer hippogriffs a moment, Perfesser! It takes her a minute or two to get all the way down from that crow's nest o' hers up there."
Overhead came rustling and clicking sounds, then a large, black multi-legged shape came chittering, skittering down the great tree trunk. Chitinous limbs splayed widely in eight directions, hugging the bark as a great spider with a body the size of a large wolf lifted its head and fastened its multi-faceted gaze on the arrivals. The spider's antennae twitched and probed the air, and its many eyes whirled and glittered, reminding Aurellia vaguely of the sonoroball Snape had once used to taunt her in one of her classes. “Rubeus Hagrid,” a rough voice whispered, accompanied by a clicking, insect-like sound. Aurellia knew that Acromantulas could talk, but it was still surprising to hear human speech come from a creature that looked so alien.
“Evenin’ there, Karalthe," Hagrid replied warmly. “All right, sweetheart?”
“All is quiet, but I hunger,” the spider answered in a plaintive-sounding voice, and she clicked her mandibles. Aurellia couldn’t quite repress a shudder.
“Figured on that, so I brought yeh something,” Hagrid said enthusiastically, and he tossed something at the spider from one his numerous pockets. Whatever it was, it was still alive. It screeched pitifully and attempted to crawl away, but Karalthe nimbly dropped from the tree and seized it with her forelegs.
Unable to watch the carnage, Aurellia turned her head away. She tried to ignore the crunching sounds and disgusting noises of pleasure coming from the spider as it consumed its meal, and she wondered if Karalthe would be offended if she plugged her ears. Undecided, she turned to Remus to ask him and was surprised to see that he looked pale and almost physically ill.
"Remus?" she queried.
With horror in his eyes, the werewolf slowly turned his head away from the gruesome spectacle. "What?" he replied in a hollow voice.
Again a memory of Snape's words came unbidden to her mind. "Didn't you ever stop to consider what might happen to you if he *didn't* sleep through the transformation?"
"I…er…Remus, are you all right?" Aurellia queried, suddenly realizing that watching Karalthe eat had to be very hard for a werewolf who loathed the lurking monster inside him.
"Define 'all right'," Remus said in the same flat tone.
“Isn't she a beauty?” Hagrid crowed, oblivious to Remus and Aurellia's discomfort and beaming at the spider as if it were his own child. “She’s one of Aragog’s oldest living daughters. She’s agreed to guard the entrance for us, yeh know…" He trailed off and then addressed the spider. “We’ve come to see the…you know what,” he whispered conspiratorially, and he waved a meaty hand toward the trunk of the tree.
"Do you want to talk?" Aurellia asked.
Remus shook his head sharply. "Nothing to talk about," he said stiffly, but Aurellia was inclined to think otherwise.
"Are you sure?" she persisted. "I promise I will never think less of you no matter what the wolf may have done."
"No, Aurellia," Remus insisted wearily. "No. I don't want to talk about it. I don't want to think about it. As much as possible, I want to put the wolf to sleep and forget that it exists."
Aurellia looked away and thought that maybe Severus and Remus were not so different after all, and that maybe Remus did not cope with his inner monster quite so easily as he pretended. She filed the thought away for further consideration on the walk back to the castle and turned her attention back to Hagrid, who was actually patting the spider on the head and scratching between its antennae.
“The prey was most excellent tonight, Hagrid,” Karalthe chattered as she patted the half-giant's hand with one of her antennae. “Malina was foolish to reject your offer."
"She has her pride, that one," Hagrid agreed ruefully.
"My sister is, as you would say, wild and reckless. Mother still worries about her even though the horrid dhampire no longer trespasses on our hunting grounds."
"Now Karalthe," Hagrid scolded, "yeh can't still be carryin' that old grudge! That was goin' on twenty years ago! And besides, yeh know he can't trouble yer siblings any more. Yeh seen with yer own eyes what happened that night."
"Do not expect any pity for him from me, Hagrid. I am pleased that the forest is safer with his absence."
"Oh!" Aurellia gasped with indignation, thinking of a dozen different ready insults and a giant fly-swatter. It was only Remus' comforting hand on her arm that kept her silent.
"Now don't yeh say things like that!" Hagrid chastised sharply with a quick, concerned glance in Aurellia's direction. "Yeh gotta be nice when yeh got visitors! That's part o' guard duty too."
"You are bringing many others by tomorrow, is that correct?” the spider queried smoothly as though it hadn't even heard the rebuke.
“Yep, and, wahl, yeh know…" Hagrid began to look uncomfortable. “The headmaster asked if you could, well, yeh see not all the students…”
“They fear me,” the spider finished for him. “And it is better if they do! It will make my job easier if they see me, for they will not dare to come here without you."
"Yeah, I know, Karalthe, but yeh see, it's better if they don't know yer up there. All the easier for you to sneak up on trespassers and tie 'em up with yer webs if they don't see yeh comin'."
"There is logic in that too. Very well, if it is your wish, I will hide myself in the treetop. I will not challenge them when they come…so long as you are with them.”
“You’re swell, Karalthe,” Hagrid said. “I’ll be sure to bring something extra for yeh next time.”
Karalthe’s mandibles clicked in pleasure as she climbed back up the tree and watched her visitors with intense interest. Hagrid pointed his wand at the base of the tree.
“Open, Sesame!” Hagrid said.
Remus and Aurellia looked at each other and snickered.
“T’were the Headmaster’s idea,” Hagrid explained. “Everyone laughs, though. What’s so funny?”
“We’ll explain later,” Aurellia said. She did not want to take the time to explain about Ali Baba. Not with that spider staring at her with a decidedly predatory gleam in its eight eyes.
The elf suddenly noticed that the gnarled roots at the base of the tree were shifting to the side to reveal a sizeable round tunnel, large enough to accommodate even Hagrid if he stooped a little.
“Right this way, then. Come on, we've got a long walk ahead of us,” Hagrid invited cheerily. Then he lit his wand in the entrance to the tunnel, and squeezed himself through into the blackness beyond.
Aurellia and Remus exchanged looks, then started to follow. Suddenly they heard a loud clattering right behind them that made them both jump and whirl around to see Karalthe standing there.
“Did I startle you?” the spider asked in an amused tone, eyes whirring and antennae dancing.
“Yes,” Aurellia replied curtly. She did not like the fact that the spiders seemed to be taking a more active role in the security at Hogwarts. How could she be sure she could trust them after what this Karalthe said about Snape?
“You don’t like me, do you?” the spider observed.
“We barely know you,” Remus said diplomatically before Aurellia could let fly with a more scathing remark.
“Friends of Hagrid,” Karalthe said in a wheedling tone. “Be friends of Karalthe as well. Shake?” She extended a hairy foreleg out to them.
“Karalthe!” Hagrid scolded, poking his head out of the entrance to the tunnel. “You behave yerself, now! And yeh can't be playin' tricks on visitors tomorrow, either!”
The clicking, chittering reply from the spider sounded rather threatening to Aurellia, and she reached for her wand out of habit, but Karalthe merely lowered her foreleg and backed away disappointedly. Remus and Aurellia hastily joined Hagrid in the tunnel.
“Are you and Dumbledore going mad?” Aurellia spat out. “Letting that…that monster come this close to the school?”
“What, er what was…Karalthe going to do?” Remus asked as he cast a nervous glance backwards.
“Aw, don’t yeh worry about her none,” Hagrid said. “Her sisters can be mean and capricious; might bite yeh just fer fun if they took the notion, but not Karalthe. She only likes to tease. She would have grabbed your hand, pulled you close and sprayed spider silk in yer hair. Does it to me all the time 'cause it's her little joke since she was a hatchling. But she wouldn'a hurt yeh none, not so long as I told her yer allowed to be here, I promise.”
Aurellia cast a dark look back at the tunnel's entrance. “I don’t think I like her idea of a joke.”
"Ah don't be sore 'bout a lil' joke," Hagrid wheedled. "Her brand o' humor takes a little getting used to, but I guarantee you'll like her if you give 'er a chance."
"Charming," Aurellia said acidly.
To be continued…