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Brighter Morning by greengecko
Chapter 4 : Emerald City
 
Rating: 12+Chapter Reviews: 4


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Chapter 4 — Emerald City

The next morning, right at seven-thirty sharp, the doorbell chimed. Elsa put down her third suitcase and opened the door. Arthur had dashed stealthily into the dining room to peer out the door as it opened. A plain woman in a cream beret and waist-length cloak stood on the porch. She smiled brightly and shook Elsa’s hand. She had a cockney accent when she said, “Mornin’ ma’am, name’s Nina Token.” Elsa stepped aside and let her pass, their respective bags clashing in the narrow hallway. Nina walked in, inspecting as she went. When she looked into the dining room, she gave Arthur a hard double-take before her expression went neutral again and she continued on her way to the kitchen. Arthur’s heart beat fast as he thought she looked like she had seen a ghost.

Elsa bustled behind her, showing the new woman everything rapidly. Apparently once the notion of a holiday had taken hold, she couldn’t wait to start it. “And the master of the house is here,” Elsa opened the end bedroom door before bustling back to the kitchen to put away the breakfast food. “Doesn’t need much care, really. Sleeps all the time.”

Arthur watched Nina step over to the door in curiosity and peek in. He squinted at her, certain her hair had been red a moment ago. It was definitely black now. As she looked in, her shoulders fell and she closed her eyes with a pained expression. Arthur really wondered now who the hell she was. Her eyes came up to Arthur’s down the hallway—they were full of sad sympathy as they shared a long look. Elsa broke their gazes as she scuttled past.

“You have my mobile number. Good bye dear. Be good for Ms. Token,” she chided as she brushed past him. A car horn honked out on the road. She opened the door as a cabby came up the walk to help with the bags, then she was gone.

“’Arthur,’ right?” Nina asked.

“Yeah.”

She let out a breath. “Let’s wait thirty minutes, be certain she’s gone.” After another glance at his dad, she approached Arthur. “Merlin, look at you,” she breathed in amazement.

“Are you a witch?” Arthur asked.

“Oh, yes.”

“Are you more powerful than Mr. Snape? Because I want to know who’s side to be on.”

“There is only one side,” she said. She held out her hand, “Name’s actually Tonks.”

Arthur shook it, “Arthur Potter.”

She smiled so wryly sweet at that, it startled him. “So you know my dad?” he asked.

“We go back a ways. How old are you?”

“Thirteen.”

“I met him when he was fifteen. About your size though. Rescued him from his aunt and uncle one summer.” She glanced down the hallway again and looked sad. “Let’s sit down to wait. You have any chocolate?”

“Ice cream.”

“Let’s have some.”

They sat and talked. Tonks told him about fooling the Dursleys with the fake lawn award ceremony. Arthur took an instant liking to her, even though she seemed to be a blonde now.

"Your hair changes a lot," Arthur dared comment.

"I do that to tease Muggles." She winked at him. "They always assume they saw it wrong a moment before. Keeps me amused."

When twenty minutes passed, she said, “My partner in crime should be here momentarily. You do know what Apparating is?”

Just as Arthur nodded, a pop! sounded and a middle-aged black man in a long black cloak appeared in the kitchen. He pulled off his gloves and looked around. When his eyes found Arthur, he said, “Hobgoblins! You are clearly Harry’s boy.”

“Yes, sir.” Arthur put out his hand.

“Kingsley. Pleased to meet you.” To Tonks he said. “Weasley wants me in some awful meeting at nine, so I have to get moving.”

“Weasley?” Arthur asked. All these names, all these people who knew his dad; he felt a little awkward. “Someone related to Arthur Weasley?”

“His son, Percy. Assistant Minister of Magic.” Kingsley took a breath to control himself. “A bureaucrat in the truest sense of the word. Drives me mad. Fortunately he doesn’t have enough creativity to make it to Minister. Besides, since he lives solely for the Minister’s praise, where would he be if he were Minister? Anyway.” He waved his hand to change the topic.

“Let’s get moving then. All packed?” Tonks asked.

“I had to use my backpack and two grocery sacks because Elsa used all the luggage. But they’re in my room.” He went and fetched them and started to carry them to the door. Tonks held out a hand to stop him. Arthur dropped them and pulled out his mobile. He had better turn off friendtrack so Allen and Roger couldn’t see where he ended up.

“Just wait here,” Tonks said. “Can you handle him?” she asked Kingsley, gesturing with her head at the open bedroom door.

Kingsley stepped over there and into the room. Arthur, feeling protective, followed. Kingsley crossed the room and stood beside the bed. “Merlin, how did we ever let it come to this?”

Arthur’s eyes narrowed. Kingsley had just spoken aloud the twisted feeling that he had been trying to track down in his gut. How had they? he wondered. He swallowed hard to keep a fearsome anger at bay. Kingsley grabbed the dressing gown off the hook on the wall and took out his wand. A wave of it made his dad hover in the air above the bed. Kingsley quickly put the dressing gown on him and tied it.

“I’m ready,” he said to Tonks.

Tonks stepped up beside Arthur and put an arm through his. Air smashed his eardrums and he was standing in the dark. A pop! sounded nearby. A familiar rich voice came from behind them. “A little early even.”

Arthur turned around. As his eyes adapted, he recognized the style and high ceilings of Mr. Snape’s house. The wizard stepped over to them with a confident stride. “Mr. Potter,” he said in greeting.

“Sir,” Arthur replied.

“Put him in there. On the desk if you would.” He gestured across the hallway. “There is a room upstairs for you,” he said to Arthur as the boy had moved to follow the floating form of his father. “I will show you.”

Arthur looked behind him as his dad’s bare feet disappeared silently into the laboratory. His heart was pounding again; he was really getting tired of it doing that. At the end of the first floor hallway his host opened a door and gestured for him to enter. Arthur bolstered himself and did so. A small room, with a high canopied bed and garish wallpaper in fuzzy maroon, assaulted him. He put his bags down before the wardrobe and stepped back over, intending to see how his dad was settled. His host stepped back and gestured with a sarcastic lilt of his hand for Arthur to pass in the other direction.

Back downstairs he found Tonks and Kingsley standing at the end of the desk upon which his dad now rested. They were talking in low voices. Kingsley looked up as they entered. “I really have to go.”

“Thanks for your help,” Tonks said.

“Just owl if you need anything else.” He disappeared.

“How long has he been asleep?” Tonks asked.

“Seventeen days,” Snape replied. “We can’t do anything until he awakens again. Which should be two days hence.”

Arthur stood beside the desk with them for a while then grew bored and began exploring the room.

“Be very careful, won’t you?” Snape sneered at him.

Arthur considered making a retort, but then thought better of it. He nodded instead and peered into a jar full of eyeballs. Wrinkling his face, he looked at the shelf below at tiny brains floating in green liquid. Arthur made a slow circuit, gradually becoming inurred of the bizarre things he was finding. He stopped before trunks stacked one atop the other in the corner of the room.

“Sleeping beauty stuffed in one of these?” he asked. No response was immediately forthcoming. When he turned he found Tonks grinning and Snape looking dark.

“He has to torment you, doesn’t he?” Tonks asked.

Snape crossed his arms. “Apparently.”

- 888 -


Dinner was a quiet affair. Tonks and his host had run out of discussion topics once gossip, politics, and a technical discussion about what Snape was attempting on his father were exhausted. Arthur had picked carefully at his meat pie, looking for anything odd in it, which was hard even in the best of meat pies.

Finally Snape commented, as he rubbed the fingers of one hand across his thumb slowly, “Potion ingredients rarely, if ever, make it into dinner.”

“Breakfast though,” Tonks said to Arthur knowingly. “That’s where you really have to pay attention.”

Arthur ate without care after that, flushed with embarrassment.

Tonks left at eleven for some kind of nightshift for her job. Arthur sat backwards in a chair watching his dad and trying to imagine wizards and witches with jobs. He thought that if he had been dropped among the pygmies he would feel less confused.

“You are not intending to spend the night there?” Snape said from the doorway

Arthur wasn’t certain if that were a question. “What if he wakes up in the night?” Arthur really was worried about his dad waking up in this bizarre place.

Snape gestured for him to come over as he pulled out his wand. Arthur, eyeing it cautiously, obeyed quickly. “I will spell the floor.” The wand waved and the floor glowed red with a line connected to the wand. “And link it to the clock.” He pointed at the chiming clock in the hallway and the line zipped to attach itself there before the glowing faded. “We will hear if he steps off the desk. Satisfied?” he asked.

“Sure.” Arthur eyed the setup. “I think I see how you get by without electricity.”

“To run machines that break and do only what the designer intended? Why would we bother with that?” Snape asked.

- 888 -


Arthur woke the next morning to the early sun filtering through the gap between the thick curtains. His first thought was that the bed felt a lot harder than he was used to. He sat up suddenly as he remembered where he was. His watch said six-thirty. Rubbing his eyes, he thought he should check on his dad.

Changed out of his pyjamas but with a borrowed dressing gown over his t-shirt and jeans, he headed down the stairs. Snape was already in the laboratory, adjusting some of the equipment.

“I assume you would like breakfast. Go into the dining room and it will be brought to you,” the man said without otherwise acknowledging him.

Arthur looked his dad’s still self over, then did as instructed. As he sat down at the table in the now cool room, grateful for the gown, a plate materialized before him followed by utensils and a napkin. He wouldn’t have believed it if it hadn’t been for the scent of bacon wafting off the plate. A poke of the fork seemed to indicate it was real. Shaking his head, he took a bite. Hungry from yesterday’s stress, he ate quickly.

As he soaked up the last of the egg yolk with a corner of toast, a voice beside him said, “Would master like something more?”

“Yah!” Arthur exclaimed, startled. The halfling was back, blinking at him with huge eyes full of question.

“Coffee, master? Or another breakfast?”

“No,” Arthur said sharply, then more calmly, “No, thanks.” The creature bowed and backed away. Arthur caught his breath before he stood up to go back to the laboratory. He spent the morning half-watching the man reading a long parchment and brewing something off to the side of the elaborate setup.

At lunch, Snape and he ate together. Arthur didn’t jump this time when his plate appeared. Snape set his scrolled parchment down beside his and took up his fork. “Are you settled in?” he asked drolly

Arthur shrugged. “Sure. Thanks for letting me stay,” he added uncertainly.

The man didn’t respond. Arthur’s mobile rang. He pulled it out of his pocket quickly then took a deep breath. “Hello?” he said in as normal a voice as possible. It was Elsa. “Everything’s fine here,” he assured her. She asked to speak to the replacement nanny in dutiful tones. “Ms. Token, uh, just a sec. I think I hear the water running.” He put his finger over the mic. “She wants to speak with Tonks,” he said to the man.

“Stall her,” he said quietly.

Arthur put the phone back to his ear. “Yeah, she was . . . cleaning and now she’s in the shower.” Elsa insisted she would ring back in ten minutes. She sounded a little doubtful. Arthur collapsed the mobile. “She’s ringing back in ten.”

The man stood up and took a handful of something from a tin above the hearth. He bent down on one knee and tossed it in. Green fire flared around the empty grate. “Auror office, Ministry, restricted,” he spoke distinctly. Arthur nearly fell off his chair when the head of an old man appeared in the flames. “Please send Nymphadora Tonks to Ealing,” Snape said to the floating, burning head. The head nodded, pulled back, and disappeared. His host stood up and came back to the table.

“Nymphadora?” Arthur asked, distracted from notions of disembodied heads.

“I would not call her that to her face, if I were you,” Snape commented.

Two minutes later the hearth flared and a figure spun into it. When the flames diminished, Tonks, dressed as she was the previous day, stepped out, bending to clear the mantel.

“Hey, Arthur,” she said affectionately. “Oh, lunch. Boy that looks good. Work's been nonstop since four this morning.”

Snape flicked his wand and something silver shot out of it and directly into the floor. Arthur looked at the floor for any sign of it. “Thanks,” Tonks said and took a seat beside Arthur. “So, what’s up?”

Snape spoke factually as he picked at a chicken wing. “The boy had a call from his nanny. She is ringing back in seven minutes or so to speak to you. You have been in the shower.”

Arthur set the mobile on the table between himself and Tonks. “What did we do yesterday?” she asked him.

“Uh . . . we went down to Charlie’s for ice cream after dinner and I showed you Rum Runner Community Version.”

Tonks took that in a long moment. “All right. And this morning?”

“Roger and Allen came over. Say you didn’t want me leaving while you were in charge, because usually they don’t like to ‘cause dad creeps them out. We played Settler’s of Catan 4D until lunch.”

“Tell me about your friends.”

Arthur picked up his mobile. “This is Roger,” he said as he played the hunting video Roger had sent him last week then showed her his homecard. “He would have told you you were cute and hit on you, I’m sure. Allen doesn’t have a card, but I have a pic of us.” He fiddled with his mobile a few moments, rapidly pressing keys and using the side wheel. “Here.” He held up the screen to show her a picture of the three of them. “He’s usually quiet around people he doesn’t know, so he probably wouldn’t have said anything at all to you.”

The mobile rang then. Arthur flipped it open and said hello. “She’s right here.” He handed the unit to Tonks who handled it clumsily.

“Ms. McGovern? Yes, this is Ms. Token. How is your holiday so far? Sorry, yes, you caught me in the shower. No, Arthur is just fine, his friends were over this morning—I wouldn’t allow him out. You think that is all right, then? Well, if you insist. No, they were well-behaved—his friend Roger got a little cheeky, but other than that. Leaving for Majorca tomorrow, then? Well, you have yourself a fine time. Greetings to your sister. Bye then.”

She handed the mobile back and Arthur flipped it closed. A plate materialized before Tonks and she growled in pleasure as she picked up her fork.

After she slowed down halfway through her plate, Arthur asked her, awkward with the phrasing, “So you work for the Ministry of Magic?”

“Yes. I’m an Auror,” she replied between chips dunked generously in mayonnaise.

“That’s what my dad was training for when he was hurt.”

“Yeah,” she replied. “I always felt a little responsible. I think I was part of the reason he decided to become one.”

“What does it mean to be an Auror?” Arthur asked, realizing he wasn’t clear on this point.

“Aurors catch dark wizards,” she replied as she wiped her hands.

“Lot of them about, then?” he asked worriedly, studiously avoiding a glance at his host.

She grinned. “They make more than their share of trouble, so they get extra attention.” Tonks stood. “I really have to run. Thanks for lunch, Severus. If you need cover again, just shout.”

When she had disappeared into the hearth, Arthur stared at his plate wondering why it had to be his dad to not make it through training. His host’s hand slammed onto the table hard, making Arthur jump severely, heart stuttering through several beats.

“Don’t,” Snape snapped harshly. At Arthur’s alarmed look, he added sternly, “You clearly have your father’s penchant for feeling sorry for yourself. It will not be tolerated.”

Arthur held his breath and gaped at the man. He watched in stunned silence as he stood and waved the table clear of dishes, silver, serviettes, and table cloth with a sweep of his wand. As he started to step away, Arthur said darkly, “Guess the fact that you have dark wizard hunters over for lunch means I was wrong . . . that you aren’t one.”

Snape turned sharply back, his robe flashing around him. “Don’t bet on it,” he retorted. “What you don’t know about me would curdle your intestines and send you back to Little Whinging, even if you had to crawl to get there.”

Arthur looked him over. “Yeah, like what?” he asked sarcastically.

The man raised a brow and considered him as he stepped slowly back over. Arthur held his ground, and the back of his chair, his only concession swallowing hard against his fear. When Snape stopped, Arthur looked way up at him from his seat. “You are a foolish Muggle, Arthur Potter. But that isn’t surprising.”

Arthur stood up then, although this didn’t cut the height difference nearly enough. He struggled for a comeback for almost a minute, fear warring with his pride, before giving in and looking away.

Snape spoke in a low voice. “You’ve already had one demonstration—do you truly need another?”

“No.” Arthur admitted.

It took another long moment before Snape turned and stalked away. Arthur followed, worried what he might do to his dad if Arthur really had made him angry. In the laboratory, Snape returned to reading the long parchment he had out earlier. Arthur went over to the desk beside his dad’s head and looked him over. His dad barely breathed and he never moved when he was like this.

“Why do you owe him?” Arthur asked, thinking that understanding this would make things much easier. It might also make him feel better.

Snape considered him with a level expression. He rolled up the parchment and tucked it between two jars of mysterious liquids on the work table before stepping over to stand at the far end of the desk.

“That dark wizard your father defeated, whose name you banter about so casually, what did your father tell you about him?”

Arthur thought over the disjointed stories. They were hard to remember sometimes because his dad’s own distaste of them made him stop or gloss over parts of them. “He was very evil. He killed a lot of people and he was hard to kill, living without a body, for years even, he was so powerful.” He waited for an assessment of that. Snape merely silently considered him. Arthur plowed on, speaking things as he recalled them. “He killed Dad’s parents. He attacked Dad at school a bunch of times. No one believed him when he told them this. His godfather was fighting with one of his followers when he was killed.”

“Did he tell you about the Dark Lord’s followers?” Snape asked evenly, as though to give nothing away.

“Um, he said there were a few dozen of them at the end. They were called Death Eaters. They were always hooded and masked.”

Snape persisted with an intense look. “Did he say how the Dark Lord bound his followers. Summoning them to do his bidding like slaves. Bending them to his twisted will when they did?”

Arthur resisted taking a step back at the man’s expression, tempted even though the long desk separated them. “Uh,” he stalled. That sounded familiar, from the story with the graveyard. “They came . . . because they were marked somehow. Um, the dark mark. A skull symbol. They had it on their arm.”

His host pulled up his sleeve and whispered something. A black brand flared on his forearm in the shape of a skull with a snake. Arthur stepped backward with a jerk, hitting the shelves and bottles behind him with his back. Heart racing, he wondered what the hell his dad had been thinking. His host tossed his sleeve back straight and recrossed his arms.

Back in his level voice, he said, “Just so we both know where we stand.”

Arthur reached out his shaking hands and stepped forward to grasp the table edge beside his dad’s head. “I don’t get it,” Arthur said, more confused than before.

“Think about it,” Snape said before he turned and stepped out of the room.

Arthur sank down in the chair where he usually sat, his mind running in fearful circles that didn’t generate any explanations at all. His dad lay unmoving. Arthur really, really hoped he woke up soon.






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