Chapter 3 : Impatient Hope
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Arthur spent more time at his friends’ houses to keep himself from obsessing over a reply he expected would be days away. Making a potion sounded like a complicated affair.
“He’s getting as strange as his dad,” Roger said to Allen one day when they were playing Magic: The Gathering at Arthur’s suggestion. “How did your little scheme go, anyway?”
“Fine. Thanks for the advice. It worked great,” Arthur replied, hoping his friend would drop it.
“Need any more advice . . . you know where to come,” Roger said in a voice of knowing too much.
“Leave him alone,” Allen said.
“Just trying to be helpful,” Roger said as though pretending insult.
Arthur made his play just to shut them up.
“You can’t play an equipment—the permanent is an artifact,” Roger pointed out.
Arthur huffed at that and put Abu Ja'far down in the graveyard.
“What did you do that for?” Allen rolled his eyes. “I only have 4 life points anyway. I give up.”
“If we played 11th edition . . .” Roger began.
“No.” Allen said. “Double enhancement is just a gimmick. Let’s go out and kick a football around instead of this.” He stood up and since it was his house they followed his lead.
Seven long days after he had sent off his package, the owl returned one breakfast. It simply flew straight in the window and settled on the back of the chair in the dining room beside Arthur. Elsa was preparing her breakfast in the kitchen. Arthur failed to even feel panic as he took the letter from the owl’s grasp. It fluffed itself and bobbed its head, which was a very endearing behavior.
On a whim, Arthur offered it a rasher of bacon from his plate. It snatched it up and took off through the window.
“What was that?” Elsa said as she stepped into the room.
Arthur, not certain whether she saw or heard the owl, said, “Just one of my friends at the window.” He put the letter in his back pocket extra casually.
“Oh,” she said, as she apparently lost interest.
Arthur finished breakfast quickly and went to his room to tear open the letter. Dear Mr. Potter, You are clearly more methodical than your father ever was—what you sent was more than sufficient. We need to work out the remaining details in person. Come to the address on this envelope at 11am this morning. Speak the words “Spanish Moor” before you mount the steps. Lack of a reply will be taken as acceptance.
He had just sent the owl off no less. A glance at his watch showed it was only half past eight. He took out his school backpack and loaded the robe and wand into it, not certain if he would need them. After that he changed into something a little nicer than his jeans, but not so nice as to make Elsa ask what he was up to.
At ten he told Elsa he was going to Roger’s house. Out on the road, he called Roger on his mobile and told him to cover for him. Roger found this amusing as Arthur had never requested this before, but he agreed amiably with a hint that it might cost later. Arthur kept the video off as he wasn’t sure if the fear of what he about to do was staying off his face.
Arthur rode the underground with a serious air. He was going to meet a wizard he knew nothing about except that he and his father used to hate each other. Oh and that he teaches at a school for witches and wizards. That helped. A lot. He swallowed hard and watched the flickering windows with a new intensity.
After two changes and two stops, he finally stepped out of the underground. The clouds had covered the sun while he was traveling leaving the breeze chilly. He navigated to the correct street and stopped before the number on the envelope. An ordinary house, in a row of ordinary houses with ordinary steps, faced him. Two older ladies stepped past, chatting about their grandchildren. Arthur waited for them to move out of the range of hearing. When he was alone, he said, “Spanish Moor.”
With a sizzle the steps and the facade transformed into something stranger and just a little grander. Arthur stepped up the now black granite risers to the porch. Two children passed, bouncing a rubber ball between them. They didn’t give him a glance. Arthur waved at them and they still ignored him. A young woman towing her groceries followed half a block behind. Arthur again waved to no effect. With a glance over the facade again, he used the knocker. A moment later, a small man or creature with very large pointed ears pulled open the door. His ears were so large they actually bobbed a bit when he moved. Arthur stepped back in shock. “You is wanting to see Master Snape?” the thing queried.
Arthur nodded after a great deal of effort. The thing’s large hand gestured for him to enter. With a hard swallow, Arthur did, thinking that this was some kind of cosmic payback for believing Elsa about his dad needing shock therapy. Inside, the house was dark and musty with a hint of locker room.
“This way, Master,” the thing said as it tried to lead him inside. If this were Tomb Raider 9, he would have considered dropping a shock grenade behind him. Inside the room at the end, a library, a man with shoulder-length greying hair, wearing long black robes stood behind a desk.
“Right on time, Mr. Potter,” a deep voice said, and with a quiet swish the figure came around the desk. The man considered him with steepled fingers. “How unlikely it is to hear myself say that,” he said softly.
“Are you Mr. Snape?” Arthur asked in disbelief. Of all the things he had pictured, a cross between Dracula and The Shadow wasn’t it.
“At your service, I would say. If I were one to say that.” He stepped away suddenly. Arthur never saw him move, just saw the result of the movement. “Have a seat. Please,” he invited, but it was more a command.
Arthur espied a chair before the desk. He moved quickly to take it and, from his hunched position, considered his host with a mixed expression while the man paced.
“You are . . . far too much like your father,” the man complained.
“I don’t mean to be,” Arthur said quickly. He looked around for the little creature and found to his dismay that he was alone with this man who moved way too much like a spirit. “It is useful though,” Arthur commented, half to himself. He normally didn’t have anyone to talk to about things. He held the man’s very dark eyes for a moment before looking warily around the room. In the letters, the man had seemed much more, well, normal.
“So, your father, dear Harry Potter, is continually reliving the past.”
“Yes, sir,” Arthur replied, pulling out politeness as a kind of shield.
“How ironic,” the man said.
“I don’t know what you mean.”
Immediately, the man leaned over the desk and challenged him, “He hasn’t repeatedly told you how much we all owe him?”
Arthur blinked in confusion. “No, sir.”
The man stared at him intently, then looked befuddled. “Amazing,” he breathed as he paced once again. He stopped in the corner of the room and stared at the top row of books on the shelf. “I have started a potion. But I need a few more ingredients. Some of which I have trusted friends procuring, but I also need blood from your father while he is awake. To that end I need him brought here, so as not to miss the next opportunity.”
Arthur dropped his eyes. “I don’t think I can manage to-”
Without turning, his host said, “Don’t be silly. I don’t need anything from you but your cooperation.”
After a long pause, Arthur said, “Oh.” Control of the situation had apparently been taken away from him.
Snape rubbed his hands together and paced again. “Your nanny could use a holiday, correct?”
“She hasn’t had one in-”
“Convince her to take one soon. Very soon. Tell her that at your father’s urging you’ve contacted an agency. A substitute will be stopping by on Monday to take stock of her duties. Convince your nanny to depart at the earliest she can manage—we must have leave to bring your father here soon. He will be reawakening on Wednesday, if my calculations are correct.”
Arthur caught up with that. “Who is coming?”
“One of my associates. Since she does not actually have to care for your father, it is no matter,” the man said offhandedly.
“All right,” Arthur agreed, relieved that this man was thorough if nothing else. He glanced around the room; it seemed much more depressing than their house. He wondered what his father would think to wake up here.
“Everything will be handled, do not concern yourself,” the almost hypnotic voice stated.
“I’m coming here with him, right?” Arthur asked sternly.
“Of course,” Snape replied dully, dismissively. After a moment of rubbing his hands together slowly, the man said, “Would you like to see the potion?” His dark eyes slid over to Arthur as though sizing a cauldron for him.
“Sure,” Arthur managed, thinking that if this were Merlin’s Realm, he would have hit pause long ago and ran to the store for the cheat book.
Across the hallway in another dark, high-ceilinged room, a set-up that Einstein would have been proud of occupied a large table in the middle of the floor. Bubbling glass containers with curling tubes led to other containers. It looked resembled a horror movie, one ancient enough to have been filmed in black and white.
“You did a very neat job collecting ingredients,” the man admitted, seeming reluctant to do so. He indicated a cauldron, an actual brass cauldron, on the end of the table. “The first stage of the potion came out highly activate.” The man sighed and seemed to deflate. “We’ll bring him here and see what we can do. We certainly owe him.”
“For Voldemort?” Arthur asked. The man jerked when he said it.
“At least,” he replied abruptly, then led the way back out of the room.
“Did I say something wrong?” Arthur asked. He almost told the man that he was his only hope as a kind of apology, but held back on instinct.
“That name was not spoken for many years before his demise and rarely since. I am not accustomed to hearing it bantered about so casually.”
“Why not?” Arthur asked with derision. “Is it a magic word?”
The man considered him at length before saying, “You cannot understand,” as though that were the end of it. The man regained his straight posture and haughty attitude. “Be ready on Monday, won’t you?”
“I will,” Arthur replied as though asking for verification were somewhat stupid.
“Be gone with you then,” the man said sharply.
Arthur stood where he was and said, “Are you really a wizard?” This turned out to be a mistake. The man had a wand in his hand in the space of a blink. Arthur swallowed hard and took a half step back.
“Am I really a wizard, he asks,” the man sneered in a very dark tone. “The difficulty is, if I turn you into a toad or a stout or a fungus, you will have a very difficult time returning home.” He stepped forward, his cloak billowing wide as it filled with air. It then swooped forward as he stopped before Arthur, threatening to engulf him. The man smiled in pleasure then, which was the most frightening of all. “Perhaps I shall just . . . “ His eyes narrowed as he held his wand out over Arthur’s head. “. . . return you home,” he finished in a light voice as his wand rapped on Arthur’s skull.
Arthur blinked once . . . and he was in his room. His legs gave way from shear surprise and it took some scrambling to manage to sit on the bed rather than hitting the floor.
“Okay, rule one, don’t insult a wizard,” Arthur said in a shaky voice. “Especially not a wizard who lives in a strange dark house full of halflings and horror movie sets.” He felt himself up and down with his hands. He seemed to be whole, even though he was fifteen kilometers from where he had been seconds before. A half-hour passed before Arthur was calm enough not to jump at the smallest noise, real or imagined.
Arthur was with his friends continuously over the weekend to force time to pass. They hung at the arcade, at the athletic gym Roger belonged to, or simply playing games, with Arthur cajoling them to pick up another immediately when they tired of the last.
“What is up with you?” Roger asked him. They were sitting in Roger’s living room debating what to do next. Arthur was pacing furiously. “You’re worrying me, mate, and that is hard to do. First the blood thing and now you are jumpy as a cat at a rocking chair festival.”
“What blood thing?” Allen asked.
Roger replied, “Arthur here wanted to put some of his dad’s blood on ice to clone him later.”
“Your dad getting that bad?” Allen asked in concern.
Angry at Allen’s reaction, Arthur said, “That isn’t it at all. You don’t know what’s going on.”
“Fill us in,” Roger suggested smoothly, leaning back on the couch in a suave manner, although on him it felt sleazy.
Arthur laughed mirthlessly. “I sent my dad’s blood off to an evil wizard.”
“Okay, you don’t have to tell us,” Roger said snidely.
Arthur laughed again. “You think I’m kidding.” The knots in his chest eased at even this much of a confession.
“You have to be kidding about that,” Allen said stridently.
“Yeah, I guess I do. Forget I said that.” He collected up the cards they had been playing with just to do something. “God only knows what would happen to me if they found out.”
“They? They?” Roger exploded. “What They is this? The government They? The Illuminati They? If you are going to sink into the same paranoia as my father, I want to know who you are worrying about before I hang around you any longer.”
Arthur gave him a long look. Phrases like Ministry of Magic and Department of Magical Enforcement played through his mind from old stories of his father’s. Surely they couldn’t listen in every time someone said the word ‘magic.’ Their afternoon of The Gathering would have made them gonzo otherwise.
“I don’t know which They. I just got mixed up in this two weeks ago. I’ll ask my dad next time he’s awake—it was his bonko idea.”
In disbelief Roger said, “You followed one of your dad’s crazy ideas? Are you a nutter?”
“He was right though,” Arthur said quietly. “Absolutely blasted right. Though he could have given me a little warning that the man I was supposed to find was an frigging evil wizard with a magic wand and a halfling servant wearing a tea towel.”
“You need a break, dude,” Roger said knowingly.
“I’m leaving tomorrow, so I guess that will have to do. I need you guys to cover for me.”
“What about Elsa?”
“She’s fallen for this story about a replacement. Some woman is coming tomorrow to pretend to take her place. God, I hope she doesn’t look like something from Macbeth—Elsa might refuse to leave.”
“Uh, Arthur,” Allen said. “Uh, where are you going? What if your dad wakes up?”
“I’m taking him with me. This whole this is to make him better.” Arthur stared at the stain in the carpeting where they had spilled paint years ago while making D&D figures.
“You’re just going to toss him into your backpack and take him on the underground?” Allen asked dryly.
“The bus,” Roger quipped. “That way he can avoid all those stairs.”
Arthur dropped his head and put his hands on it. He felt perilously close to the edge of something that scared him to death. Many somethings maybe.
“Where are you taking your father?” Allen asked, sounding much older than he should.
Arthur didn’t respond. This has to work, he thought, or I’m not going to make it.
“Isn’t it obvious?” Roger said easily. “He’s off to see the wizard.”
Arthur thought that he should have yelled at Roger for that, but couldn’t find the heart for it. “Just cover for me, will you?”
Allen said, “Look, Arthur, those little magic tricks your dad does are quaint but-”
“What magic tricks?” Arthur asked sharply.
“When you had pneumonia last winter and we couldn’t come into your room. Your dad was awake while we were visiting. Shouldna been there at all except that Elsa made everyone think you were on your death bed so our mums made us.” Allen shrugged. “He entertained us with these little tricks. You know: disappearing hanky, pick a card, rabbit out of a hat, except he didn’t have a hat, so it was rabbit out of a tea cozy.”
“Why the eff did he do that? He must be nuts,” Arthur breathed in anger and slammed his hands on the face of the couch.
“Uh, Arthur,” Roger said. “Calm down.”
Arthur couldn’t stop shaking. He stood up. “Just cover for me,” he said more vehemently.
“For how long?” Allen asked darkly. At Arthur’s look of confusion, he added, “How long before we call the cops and tell them you’re missing?”
“Give me two weeks. That’s what Elsa’s holiday is arranged for. She’s going to visit her sister and they both are going to Majorca.”
“Two weeks from tomorrow, then,” Roger said as though they did this every day. Normally Roger’s attitude grated on Arthur, but now he was grateful for it.
Arthur went to the sliding glass door to the back garden and opened it. “Don’t let him turn you into a frog,” Roger smirked from the couch.
“A toad,” Arthur replied. “He threatened to turn me into a toad. See you guys later . . . hopefully.”
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