Chapter 9 : The Changeling
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Chapter 9 -- The Changeling
The next morning, the trip to Hogwarts felt like a bad dream. At the breakfast table, Harry asked, “Did you enjoy the visit?” in a hopeful tone.
Arthur blinked at him and tried to pull his scrambled thoughts together. He wasn’t really a wizard, was he?
Harry shook his head. “You really don’t look like you enjoyed it,” he quipped with an edge of concern.
“I got a little overwhelmed, I think,” he hedged.
“I thought you’d be ready for it. But maybe not,” Harry said. “Are you going to be all right?” he asked, sounding certain the answer was ‘yes’.
Arthur managed to shrug and say, “Yes,” with as much casualness as was possible under the circumstances. His dad seemed happy with that as he returned to reading the Daily Prophet.
Arthur stared at his fried eggs and pretended that everything was normal.
For the next few weeks, Arthur studiously avoided uttering anything spell-like, especially when his dad was around. One night, in the wee hours, he needed to use the toilet. As he turned the light off behind him to return to his bedroom, the darkness of the hallway encompassed him. He actually raised his hand to utter a lumos spell before cutting himself off with a whispered swear word. He felt his way along the wall instead back to his room and his bed. If he ignored it, it would just go away, he hoped as he lay in bed, wide awake.
School went all right for Arthur. His dad wasn’t much more help with assignments than he had been when he slept most of the time, but at least he quickly admitted ignorance. Roger’s dad pretended to know what he was talking about, leading to confused answers on his friend’s assignment sheets.
Arthur started to relax and fall back into his routine. Having a dad awake and remembering made life a breeze. Elsa hadn’t been bad, but she didn’t preemptively look out for him as his dad did, by making sure he remembered to take his assignments, by reminding him he needed to ring someone, or most importantly, make sure there was ice cream in the freezer when he got home from school. A smile seemed to be all his dad ever wanted from him in return.
One day when he came home, Harry was more preoccupied. He had a lot of papers out on the dining room table.
“Everything all right?” Arthur asked.
“Yeah,” his dad replied. “Although, this foundation thing bothers me a lot,” he said as he rubbed his chin without looking up.
“Oh. Elsa wondered about that for a long time. She didn’t get it.”
“On one hand, I am very grateful you didn’t have to worry about money. But it is really hard on the pride, I have to say.”
“I’m sure they thought you were worth it,” Arthur offered.
Harry held up a sheet of parchment upon which handmade tables were written out. “The major donors list,” he said. “The solicitor in Hogsmeade made me a copy.” He breathed in and out. “It’s taken me down a notch, I have to say.”
Arthur put his bag on the floor. His dad’s tone made him worry. “You got rid of Voldemort. What is that worth? Put a pound value on that if you can.”
Harry stared at the sheet in silence.
“The Weasleys are a good example. Everyone was under the same threat. How much would they all pay to be safe? A lot more than that, I’m sure, if you made them come up with a number.”
Harry started putting the papers away in a large folder. Arthur found the silence hard to take. “You have to admit you deserved something.”
Harry frowned. “Something,” he said in reluctant agreement.
Arthur began to think that the headmistress at Hogwarts had exaggerated when she had warned him about untrained magic. He had had almost no trouble re-suppressing his new found powers. Fear worked very well for this.
When Arthur arrived home from school one Friday, Harry said, “I invited Severus over for dinner tomorrow. I assume you are all right with that.”
“He will be a little derisive about our lack of a house-elf, so lets try to run dinner smoothly if possible.”
“What are we having?” Arthur asked.
“I was thinking easy. Like spaghetti. Salad.” He shrugged. “Ice cream for pudding.”
“I think we can manage that, Dad,” Arthur said, amused at his concern.
The next evening, Snape arrived with a pop! in the living room. Arthur stepped down the hallway and greeted him. “Since your porch is not charmed, I didn’t know how else to arrive,” he explained.
Arthur then understood the invisibility shield Snape’s house had. “No troubles,” he said reassuringly. “Please,” he gestured for the wizard to follow him.
Snape slipped off his cloak and put it over his arm, making Arthur realize he should take it. He hung it in the hall closet after urging Snape to take a seat in the dining room. He exhaled nervously as he shut the closet door; he really wasn’t used to this hosting thing.
Back in the dining room, Harry was pouring something sweet and alcoholic for himself and the guest. Arthur hoped that didn’t mean the conversation was going to get weird already. He took a seat across from the professor, since he expected his dad would take the end seat.
“How are classes going, sir?” Arthur asked. He had mentally prepped a bunch of questions and that was the safest one.
“Fine,” was Snape’s even reply. He took a sip of the dark red liquid Harry had poured out. “Several of my students have asked about you, though. You haven’t told anyone you were sorted into Slytherin, have you?”
“No,” Arthur insisted.
Harry brought out warm bread at that moment. They all took a piece. Arthur spent a lot of time spreading garlic butter on his, hoping the subject moved on. His dad started up a conversation and Arthur just rode out the bread and pasta courses. Harry disappeared again to make the salad, leaving Arthur to make conversation.
“You teach Defense, Dad said.”
“Defense Against the Dark Arts, to be precise. I used to teach Potions when your father was in school.”
“Oh, that’s why you are good at that,” Arthur said to fill in his side. Their guest took this as a compliment, which was okay with Arthur.
“I don’t think your father liked my class very much. Not enough wand waving for his taste, I think.” He studied Arthur. “You could even do it, I should think.”
“Really?” Arthur said. “What kind of potions do Third Years make?”
“Brew, is the word you are looking for,” Snape said. He then went on to describe a variety of really bizarre mixtures that could revitalize, quiess, or transform people or animals. Arthur really wanted to not believe him. Before he could ask more, his dad returned with salad.
His dad and the guest chatted through the salad course. Arthur tried to imagine sitting in a class cutting up pickled rat brains to mix with gum root and mint tea. He ate far more of his salad than normal to have an excuse for not talking, which took effort with rat brains on his mind. Too soon though, his dad disappeared to scoop ice cream.
Snape sat back and crossed his arms. “You look appalled at the concept of Potions,” he said.
“It does sound pretty off,” Arthur said honestly, playing with his napkin ring.
Snape shook his head. “It is amazing to consider that Potter of all people managed to sire a Squib, I must admit,” he said.
Arthur met his gaze, mostly to judge whether he was stating this off the top of his head. Snape’s eyes went wider as he did so and then his look went positively knowing. Arthur looked at him in alarm, not sure what had just happened. It was clear, that somehow, Snape knew.
“Don’t tell him,” Arthur whispered.
With a sneer Snape said quietly, “You have a good reason for keeping this to yourself, I presume.”
“I don’t want to get sent to Hogwarts,” Arthur said as though that were obvious.
“You wouldn’t at your age.”
“Headmistress McGonagall said I could stay,” Arthur came back.
“Did she?” Snape said as though this were very interesting news.
“She didn’t tell you?”
“By no means.”
“Then how did you know?” Arthur challenged him.
Snape, with a crooked mouth, leaned back in his chair. “There are a few things your father has not told you, apparently.”
Arthur tried to read him as his father appeared with bowls of chocolate ice cream coated with chocolate sauce.
“Thanks,” Arthur said when his was placed before him. His father and the guest again became engrossed in some conversation. Arthur ate his pudding without tasting it. He moved to clear the plates, only to be cut off by his dad. Frowning a bit, Arthur retook his seat.
When they were alone, Snape said, “If your concern is being sent away to school, rest assured that cannot happen anymore. The year is too far advanced.”
Arthur considered that. Somehow bigger things loomed even when he put that one aside, but he couldn’t have identified them if pressed. Snape crossed his arms. “If you do need advice, your owl knows where to find me, or McGonagall for that matter.”
Arthur gave him a pained look as his dad reappeared to urge them both to the living room. As he walked down the hallway, he rubbed his eyes.
“If you are tired, Arthur, you don’t have to stay up with us,” Harry said.
“Oh.” He glanced at Snape who raised a brow before looking away. Arthur decided he could trust him to keep the news to himself. “I think I’ll turn in, then,” he said. “Good night, sir,” he said to Snape, garnering a small nod of the head in return.
Arthur lay awake for a very long time. He couldn’t hear any of the conversation from the other side of the house. He assumed if Snape had said something that his dad would have charged into his room long ago. Still, he couldn’t find rest in his mind. He held his fingers up before him and whispered, “Lumos.” A ball of light formed between his thumb and index finger, making him jump in surprise. He shook his hand and it went away. He shouldn’t have done that, it only made him feel worse.
Sunday night, Arthur was trying to finish school assignments, when Harry came in and sat on the bed beside him. “Due tomorrow?” he asked. At Arthur’s nod he said, “Usually you don’t leave it quite so late.”
“I couldn’t get going on it,” Arthur explained. He yawned as he turned the pages of his textbook.
“Are you sleeping all right?” Harry asked in real concern.
Arthur shrugged, finding that he couldn’t outrightly lie to his father. Harry stood. “When you are finished, come to my room,” he said sternly.
Arthur finished, finally. It wasn’t the best set of short answers he had ever written. World War I probably deserved better, but he didn’t have it to give. He put his books and notes aside and stepped to his dad’s room.
“Sit, down,” Harry said, indicating the bed beside him. He put aside the book he had been reading--a history of the first decade of the new millennium. “I have to think that having professor Snape over upset you somehow since that is the only thing that has been out of the ordinary.”
Arthur fished around for some kind of explanation. “I’ve been obsessing over the notion of Potions class. Mixing picked rats brains into things.”
“Hey, you didn’t have to pickle those brains in detention,” Harry retorted. Then in more seriousness, “Really bothering you that much?”
“I don’t know,” Arthur replied.
“Anything else bothering you? Your school? Roger and Allen?”
Arthur shook his head followed by a shrug.
Harry touched his arm. “There’s nothing I can help you with?”
Arthur shrugged again.
“All right. Let me know if you think of something I can do.”
Arthur stood and departed, feeling bad in a very unspecific way.
Day school was usually a quiet affair. It had an interesting mixture of foreign children as well as English. Roger was probably the biggest troublemaker, and only because he tended to aggravate people. He had an ongoing tumble with another pair of boys, Will and David, which meant Arthur did as well, since he stood by his friend even when he wasn’t sure he was in the right.
They were walking from the underground stop one morning when the pair came up beside them, then blocked their path. “You told the teacher about the fake note from my mum,” David said to Roger.
“No way,” Roger scoffed. “What do you think I am?”
“A snitch,” Will said.
“Get off,” Arthur said, pushing past them with his shoulder. Roger followed. Will grabbed Arthur’s arm in a tight grip, pulling him up short and pulling his hand out of his jeans pocket. Annoyed and a little angry, Arthur jerked his arm away. A blue light flared between them and Will jumped back in surprise.
“What was that?” Roger asked.
Arthur shook out his hand, it stung rather badly. “Uh,” he stammered. The pain was now bad enough to make his eyes burn.
“Did you have a lighter in your pocket?” Roger asked.
“Yeah,” Arthur said, latching onto that. He looked at his hand, which was bright red and streaked with glowing blue stripes. He put it in his jacket quickly, against his abdomen.
“Let’s get to the nurse,” Roger said. He gave the other two boys a dangerous look and they stepped aside.
As Roger opened the door to the school, Arthur said, “I don’t want to go to the nurse. I’ll just get in trouble.”
“Don’t be stupid. It’s a burn. You should probably go to the surgeon’s.”
Arthur ignored him and stalked to the boy’s toilet. He ran his hand under the faucet. His skin was bubbling in spots, but the blue sparkling had stopped at least. What the hell had he done? he wondered. He wrapped tissue around it and gingerly put his hand in the front pocket of his hoodie.
Roger was waiting outside the door. “You’re being dumb,” he stated as they walked to their first class. He took Arthur’s bag, however, and carried it for him.
The day was a haze of agony for Arthur. Roger went and got aspirins for him from the school nurse, but it only made a fractional difference in the pain.
The day seemed to take a week, but finally it was over. Outside on the pavement, as they walked back to the underground stop, Roger said, “Let’s see it,” in a tone like his father would have used.
Arthur shook his head. He was afraid to look, really.
Roger walked him to his house. He had given up cajoling Arthur in the middle of the underground ride, for which Arthur was grateful--it broke his concentration on ignoring the pain. Roger opened the door to his house for him and gave him a disapproving frown.
“Hi, Mr. P.” Roger said to Harry, who was sorting though newspaper clippings on the floor.
“Hello, Roger,” Harry said. He stood up. “Ice cream?”
Roger frowned. “I need to get going. Thanks anyway.”
Arthur stepped to his room to set his bag inside the door. When his back was turned, Roger pointed at his hand and then at Arthur. Harry gave him a quizzical look. “See you later, Arthur,” Roger said as he stepped back out the door with one last intent glance at Harry.
“You want ice cream, right?” Harry asked his son.
“Yep,” Arthur said and followed him to the kitchen.
They ate at the small table beside the window. Harry pretended not to notice that Arthur kept his hand inside his sweatshirt pocket. “How was school?” he asked, in the normal routine. When Arthur shrugged, Harry added, “Too bad it isn’t a little more interesting for you.”
“Interesting is harder,” Arthur said. He stood up and took the bowls away one-handed.
Harry glanced at that but didn’t comment. “Do you have school assignments to finish, or should we go out for the evening?”
“I don’t feel like going out,” Arthur said, trying to sound easy-going about it. A strain underlined his voice.
“You all right, Arthur?” Harry asked. Arthur didn’t reply, just rinsed the bowls longer than necessary. “Is there a reason you are keeping your hand in your pocket rather than using it?”
Arthur turned the faucet off. He exhaled hard. “It’s not a big deal,” he said.
“What happened?” Harry stood up and turned Arthur to face him. He gave Arthur’s left arm a very slight tug.
Reluctantly, Arthur said, “I had an accident with a lighter.” He let Harry take his hand out and began unwrapping the packed tissue.
“Arthur ” Harry admonished him. “That looks terrible. What kind of accident did you have?”
Arthur flinched as Harry pulled off the tissue that now clung firmly to the worst of his skin. “I topped up my mobile this morning and I think it damaged the valve on the lighter. I was just fiddling with it, like, and a ball of flame came out of it.”
Harry gave the boy’s shoulder a pull. “Come on, get your jacket.”
Arthur pulled free. “I’m not going to the doctor’s,” he insisted in a hard tone.
Harry turned slowly and considered him. “Why not?” he asked.
Arthur shifted on his feet and dropped his eyes. “’Cause they’re useless. They give you lots of drugs that make you sicker. They say they can cure things, but they can’t--it’s a lie.” Saying this seemed to deflate him completely.
Harry put an arm around his uninjured side. “Arthur,” he said. “Come on. I wasn’t intending to take you to the doctor’s anyway.”
Wary now in a new way, Arthur said, “Where are we going?”
“They couldn’t help you either,” Arthur pointed out petulantly.
“What I had was complicated. What you have is simple. Come on. This isn’t a choice.” Harry sounded unyielding now rather than sympathetic. Arthur followed with the next tug. At the hall closet, Harry pulled out a large fleece mitten. “Put this on to help keep it clean and we’ll take the Floo. Unless you want to take the underground.”
“All right. Put it on anyway.”
At an abandoned storefront, Arthur eyed the old dummies with a doubtful expression. During a gap in the pedestrians behind them, Harry said to one of them. “I have a patient.”
Arthur looked around them nervously then gaped as the dummy gestured with its chipped finger for them to approach. Harry grabbed him above the elbow and pushed him through the glass. They were suddenly in a waiting area. Arthur flinched in alarm at some of the maladies as they stepped along a row of chairs. Harry stopped before a guide sign. “Artifact Accident, I guess,” he said. “That’s here. Have a seat.”
With a dubious expression Arthur looked for a reasonable place to sit. He settled for sitting on the end beside an older man who’s ears were very large although Arthur wasn’t certain that was what he was here for. He tracked his dad as Harry went up to a desk and spoke with the witch there.
“Yes?” she said and then, “Oh ” when she recognized him.
Harry gave her a polite smile. “My son has a burned hand,” he explained.
“Magical, chemical, or heat?”
“Heat, I should think, although it was a flammable liquid.”
Arthur listened in on this and frowned, hoping that mistaken explanation didn’t matter too much. Harry came over and sat beside him when the old man was called up. It was a half-hour wait. Arthur was very grateful that something was going to happen for his hand . . . the pain had begun to make him a little crazy. Sitting in this spot, across from a woman whose eyes spun like pinwheels, didn’t help the impression that he was losing his grip on reality.
They were called up finally and led down the corridor and into a small room. A small, middle-aged wizard, with salt and pepper hair that stood straight up from his head, bustled in after them. “Hello, hello,” he said in a singsong. “What do we have here?” Arthur sat down on the hard bed and held out his hand. “Ah,” the man said. He went to a cabinet and took out a bottle and a wooden cup. He poured out an amount measured with his eye and handed it to Arthur. “Drink that.”
The liquid was blue and fizzy and immediately after he swallowed it, he couldn’t feel his body, let alone his hand. Dazed, he watched as the man poured a clear, oily liquid into a pan and pushed his burned hand into it. Pink threads floated away from his fingers. Arthur feared deeply that it was his skin. The man pulled his hand out. Apparently this fearful assumption was correct. Arthur whimpered at the sight of his hand and wrist which were now no more than a science demonstration about muscles and tendons.
“Maybe you shouldn’t watch,” Harry offered, sounding a little queasy himself.
Arthur closed his eyes since he felt very faint. As more things were pulled from the cabinet he opened them and watched the wizard mix something orange and gloppy. With a wooden stick like something from a frozen pop, he spread it over the face of Arthur’s palm and up his wrist. Arthur wished he could feel something. Feeling nothing was stranger than the pain was intolerable.
The man finished up. “We’ll let that set. I’ll be back.”
When he was gone, Arthur stared at the glop on his hand and said, “Uh . . .”
“Burn plaster. I’ve had that before,” Harry reassured him.
Arthur swallowed hard and propped his hand out in the air to keep from getting the stuff on himself or the bed. By the time the wizard returned it had formed into a rubbery coating.
The Healer said, “Now, don’t peel that. Let it fall off on its own.” He used a tone that admonished preemptively. He handed Harry a small parchment slip and another bottle of blue potion. “Here you go and you are all set,” he said with a patent smile.
Arthur put his hand back in his front pocket for the trip home. Walking without being able to feel his feet was much harder than he had imagined it might be. Harry put an arm through his as they walked to the station. By the time they were back on their street, Arthur could at least feel his toes as they touched the ground.
Evening was descending when they opened their side door. “I’ll make a little dinner. Why don’t you take it easy,” Harry suggested. Arthur dropped down on the couch and leaned his head back. He was utterly wiped out. From the kitchen at the other end of the hall, Harry asked loudly, “Do you have assignments due tomorrow?”
“Yeah,” Arthur shouted back.
“I’ll call the school and explain. Tomorrow’s Friday so you can catch up on the weekend.”
Arthur mulled over the stuff adhering to his hand. His dad’s consideration made him feel pretty bad.
The next morning, Arthur held up his hand. “I can’t show this around school,” he said.
Harry went to the medicine cabinet and took out a roll of gauze and tape. In short order he had covered the wizard plaster with a Muggle one. “Take the tape,” Harry said, slipping it into Arthur’s pocket. “In case it starts to fall off.”
At school, Roger gave Arthur a questioning look but didn’t comment until they were walking home. “How much trouble are you in?” Roger asked.
“None, I guess. He just seemed very disappointed.”
“Mrs. Marple didn’t complain when you didn’t turn in your problem set.”
“Dad rang this morning to explain.”
“Man, you have it so easy,” Roger breathed.
Yeah, I’m an effing wizard who almost blew his hand off. That isn’t messed up at all, Arthur thought. He remembered his promise to McGonagall with that and decided that he had only hurt himself and that didn’t count, really.
By the following Tuesday most of the rubber glob had sloughed off. Arthur was very relieved to find normal hand beneath it.
“Not bad, eh?” his father asked him.
“Better than Muggle medicine, that’s for certain,” Arthur agreed. He wore the gauze over his healed hand a few extra days so no one would be suspicious.
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