"I'm not a child. I'm a monster.
Grace curled up on the bench hidden in the back garden by a vine-covered arbor, wrapping thin arms around her knees. She could feel the tug of the moon overhead, waxing towards full, making her blood sing with a sensation she'd never felt before. She whimpered, pressing her face against her knees, wishing she had Niobe sitting next to her like she had for so many years, to chase away the demons. To comfort her, and tell her that everything would be all right, no matter what the world thought of her.
But Niobe got to go to Hogwarts, had left almost a month ago while Grace sat locked in the room the twins had shared since their mother had brought them to the north country. Locked away from the world, and told she would never have the chance to be a normal witch, to see the wonders of Hogwarts. Even more than being barred from the parties, from shopping in Diagon Alley, the separation from her sister had driven the loss home.
She froze as something moved in the hedges, raising her head just enough to look out into the darkness, her whimpers stifled by a sudden surge of irritation at whoever had disturbed her. A chuckle came from the darkness to one side, and Grace shifted, crouching on the cold stone of the bench with her hands curled into fists.
"Who's there?" Her voice trembled slightly, though she couldn't tell if fear or anger was the greater cause.
"You're a brave child to be out this late, so close to the full moon." The voice rumbled from the shadows, distinctly male, and gravelly. "Shouldn't you be safely tucked into your bed, dreaming of your Hogwarts letter?"
"You're trespassing on private property. And I'm not a child, I'm a monster." Grace glared in the direction of the voice. "What are you doing out so close to full moon?"
"A monster?" The man chuckled again. "Not a very frightening one, from where I'm standing. All blunted claws and milk-teeth, pup."
Grace growled, baring her teeth. "I'm not a puppy!" She stood straight, lowering her head to tuck her chin against her chest. "I am a daughter of the Avery house, and you are trespassing on my lands. I demand to know who you are!"
"Well now, a daughter of the Avery house, are we?" Something shifted in the shadows, moving along the path in the hedges, coming closer. "And if I say I don't believe you, pup?"
"Than you are a fool." Grace fixed her gaze on the movement, baring her teeth again, refusing to back down. "This is my land, my garden, and I did not invite company."
"You don't really have a choice, pup." The moving shadow resolved itself into a hulking form of a man, his eyes on level with Grace's, even with the bench boosting her height. "And I don't plan to leave."
Grace scowled. "Who are you? No one comes here, not at night. Ever. They know there's a monster here that will tear out their throat if they get too close."
"You won't tear out my throat, pup." The man's voice came out in a growl, and Grace jerked away instinctively. "You can't hurt another monster. Especially a bigger monster."
"You.. A bigger monster? You're a werewolf, like me, aren't you?" Grace felt the fear and anger flow away, to be replaced by a sense of curiosity. "What's your name? Why are you here?"
"Who are you, pup?"
"I asked first." Grace lifted her upper lip in a snarl, meeting the man's eyes in a silent challenge. Her territory here, not his.
The man chuckled again, and reached out to grab her by the arm, lifting her from the bench to set her on the ground. "Amusing, pup. I might even let you live."
"The last werewolf I met is dead, you know." Grace continued to give him a boldly challenging look. "The one who bit me. Who made me what I am now."
"You have protective parents, then."
"My parents were at a party."
"Were they now?" The man raised an eyebrow. "You're a strong little girl."
Grace smiled proudly, ignoring the twinge of guilt for leaving Niobe out of the story. It felt nice to have someone admire her, even a little, for a change, instead of the scorn and wary fear she got from her parents, or the pity she sensed from Niobe.
"Fenrir Greyback is my name, pup."
"Honoria Grace Avery." Grace waved a generous hand at the bench. "And since you have introduced yourself, I invite you to join me in the garden whenever you wish."
"Even on the full moon?"
"I'm never out on the full moon." Grace sat on the bench once more, the buoyant feeling from finding someone who approved of her fading under the gloomy reality that in two more days, she'd be locked into the basement, to claw herself bloody trying to leave, to run free under the moon.
Fenrir crouched next to the bench, bringing his eyes level with hers once again. "Do you want to be outside when the moon is full?"
"I always do. But mother won't let me. She doesn't want a monster in her garden then. She doesn't even want a monster out here, where it can't bother her." She scowled, shooting a glare at the manor house that stood on the hill above her.
"Why don't you leave?"
"Because I have.. had a sister. She left for Hogwarts on the first. She left me behind because you don't let monsters go to school. You don't take them out shopping, you don't take them to parties. You lock in them a room, and you never let them out when someone outside the family can see them."
"I don't lock monsters up. I can show you how to run free, like you should, pup. Free under the moon, where your real sisters, and brothers, are always there for you." He held her gaze, scrutinizing her. "If you're not too human to accept it."
Grace looked up at the house again, hesitating slightly. "Why did you come here tonight? Mother isn't a blood traitor, and there aren't any Muggles for miles. Nothing for a werewolf here."
"Except a pup who wants to run free."
"You didn't come just for me. Unless you know father. He's a Death Eater, you know. And he hates me, because I'm a monster. He wouldn't care if I died, or disappeared."
"Call it a favor he owes me." Fenrir's lips curled up in a smile that looked almost frightening in the moonlight, and strangely comforting.
Grace looked up at the manor house again, briefly. "They'll miss me in the morning, when they check on me. They'll look for me. And mum will write an owl to Niobe. She's my twin. She'll know what happened. She'll know I'm alive."
"Why worry about the humans, pup? They'll never find the pack, never find you." Fenrir's eyes narrowed. "Or are you just a tamed dog, a little puppy that begs for table scraps?"
"I'm no puppy!" Grace glared at Fenrir. "And I don't care what they want." She stood, looking down the path, then up at Fenrir, redirecting her anger towards the house and its occupants. "A monster doesn't listen to anyone but another monster."
"Your daughter never stood a chance."
Grace stretched and yawned, blinking sleepily as she woke up. It took her a moment to recognize her surroundings, the smells in the dark cave very different from those she was accustomed to. She sat up more as she heard someone shift, sniffing the air to catch a whiff of the person moving.
"Go back to sleep, pup." The rough voice of Fenrir came out of the darkness, moving as he moved around.
"Where are you going?" she asked curiously, getting to her feet to follow him, ignoring his command.
"None of your business, pup." Fenrir paused, waiting for her to catch up to him. Grace felt his hand fist in the front of her nightgown. "And I told you to go back to sleep. Don't follow me."
Grace scowled, glaring up at where she thought his face would be. "I'm not going to stay here all the time, even when the moon isn't full. And you can't tell me to stay if I don't want to stay."
"You listen to a bigger monster, pup, and you stay here until I come back." Fenrir shook her roughly, rattling her teeth in her head. "Safer for a pup like you with the pack."
Fenrir could smell the defiance on the child, her small jaw clenched as she tried to wriggle out of his grasp. He liked it, and wished he had the time to indulge in the ideas that floated up at the edge of his mind. Perhaps later, once he'd dealt with the idiot who'd thought he'd set a werewolf on another, particularly the one who dangled from his fist.
He gave her another brief shake as he sensed her preparing for a lunge, probably to bite his hand. "I'll be back soon enough, pup." He crouched down, letting her feet touch the floor, bringing her close to his face, drawing a breath through his nose to fix her scent in his mind. Sweet, young, and just starting to ripen towards maturity. "Go back to sleep, and dream about what you'll do when the moon comes up, and lets the monster inside of you free to run."
Grace went still a moment, and then he felt a small hand touch his wrist, delicate fingers curling around him tightly. The gown still clenched in his hand shifted, tugging downward as he heard her feet shuffle on the ground. Her weight leaned against Fenrir for a brief moment before he let her down, her knees thudding on the stone. She didn't whimper, and Fenrir twisted his lips up in a mockery of a smile.
"I'll wait here, then, until you come back." Her voice had that same haughty tone as it had the night before in the garden. Assured of her right to command, to control, no matter that she'd never had the chance to take that position. As if she did as he told her because she was granting him a favor.
Fenrir snarled silently, releasing Grace's gown to settled his hand at the base of her throat. "Watch your tone, pup."
Fear sharpened her scent, and he waited a moment for it to build before standing, and leaving her to think about what he might do when he came back. If anything at all.
Outside the cave system that served the pack as a den, Fenrir glanced up at the sun, judging the time from where it rested in the sky. He nodded to himself, preparing to Apparate, appearing in a dingy alley that ran along the back of several buildings. He followed the scent trail from his last visit to these streets to a blank stretch of wall, rapping on the section where the tingle of magic alerted him to the current position of the door to the Avery town house.
A long moment later, he heard the faint creak of wood, stepping forward through the opening door into the dark entryway. The house-elf looked up at him fearfully, shuffling its feet against the stone floor as it closed the door behind him.
"Master Avery is in the study, sir. He says he does not want to be disturbed, sir."
"Then Avery will have to be disappointed." Fenrir curled the corners of his mouth up in an amused smirk, ignoring the squeaking protest of the house-elf as he sauntered down the hall. The door to the study stood cracked, as if the owner hoped that hearing the happenings outside the room would give him the edge over anyone trying to disturb him.
Fenrir pushed open the door, staying to the side of the entrance, chuckling as a curse came flying out to impact the far wall. "You know I'm not stupid enough to step in the path of whatever you care to throw at me, Avery. I'm not letting you wriggle out of paying me."
"Is it dead?"
"Your daughter never stood a chance." Fenrir leered to himself. She'll make the perfect little bitch. You won't recognize her when you see her again, if you are that lucky.
"What did you do with the body?"
"Took it home. You never said I had to leave it there."
An irritated sigh came from the study. "You could have at least left something for them to find. The mother thinks it just ran off. Not what I wanted."
"Should have said that when you hired me to kill the girl," Fenrir snarled, his temper fraying. "She's dead now, so pay up."
"Bring proof it's dead, and I'll pay you the rest of the fee."
"Proof?" Fenrir nearly laughed. All this for a child Avery said he didn't care about. Two hundred galleons, and something to show that he'd done what he'd been paid to do.
"If you haven't devoured all of the body, a hand or a foot. Or whatever it was wearing when you killed it, if there's nothing left of the body."
"Fine. I will bring you your proof." Fenrir's lips curled up in a smirk as he sauntered away, towards the front door. "And don't even think about trying to hex me when I come back, Avery," he called out over his shoulder. "Or I'll rip your son's heart out before I kill you."
"No one can know."
Niobe looked up as the owls delivered the morning post, a smile breaking out on her face when she saw the familiar tawny feathers of her mother's owl among those of the school owls.
"What do you think she's sent you?" Andromeda Black lifted an arm for the small barn owl she owned to land on, feeding it a bit of her bacon after taking the Daily Prophet from its beak.
"It looks to be a letter. Oh, I do hope Grace hasn't thrown another tantrum." Niobe took the creamy envelope from the owl, mimicking Andromeda in her choice of treat. "It's really not mother's fault she's not allowed to go to Hogwarts."
"Strange, though, that your twin is a squib." Andromeda leaned in as Niobe broke the heavy red seal on the back. "And doesn't your mother usually use blue for her seal?"
"Red's for the family," Niobe murmured as she scanned the short letter, her face going pale. "I'm sorry, Andromeda, but I really must go." She folded the letter quickly before the older girl could see it, scrambling from the bench. Ignoring the calls from her friends, she fled the hall, tears blurring her sight.
"Salazar's promise," she choked out when she reached the door to the Slytherin common room, hurrying past the startled faces of some of her house-mates in favor of the silence of the sloping corridors and empty dorms. She bit back an angry sob as she closed the door to the room she shared with three other girls.
"How could you, Grace!" Niobe threw the letter onto her bed, clenching her fists as she struggled to rein her temper in. "How could you do this to us? Could you not for a moment think what running away from home would do to mother, or to me?"
She shook her head, her hands curling tighter, nails biting into her palms. "Who else was there, Grace? Who lured you away from the only home you know? Away from your family, away from the safety of our home?"
"Niobe?" A tentative knock on the door accompanied Andromeda's voice. "Niobe, what happened? What did your mother write that has you so upset?"
"Nothing!" Niobe bit her lip, hurrying to hide the letter in the bottom of her trunk.
"It's not nothing, Niobe!" The handle turned, Andromeda sticking her head in. "What happened?"
"Nothing." Niobe met Andromeda's eyes with a steady gaze. "It's none of your business what mother wrote to me."
"Niobe..." Andromeda gave her a pained look. "You're my friend, and if there's anything I can do to help.."
"No." Niobe shook her head. "There's nothing you can do. It's a family matter."
Andromeda sighed, the fifth year sitting on one of the other beds. She knew well enough what those words meant, but she couldn't just leave the younger girl to work herself into a state. "So you need someone to cover for you for a couple of days? Go home, find out what's going on?"
Niobe shook her head violently. "No. I can't. Not now. It's too dangerous. Tomorrow's the full moon, and there have been werewolves spotted on the moors. I'd never get home." She sighed, sitting on her bed, her shoulders slumping. "I can't do anything, and I hate feeling like this."
Andromeda shifted, resting a hand on Niobe's shoulder. "There are some things money and family can't change, no matter how much you wish they could."
"They can get you anywhere, if you know how to use them. And they can destroy you if you don't." Niobe shifted away from the comforting hand, trying to think of a change in subject she could attribute her sour mood to. "I wish my sister was here," she murmured softly, turning her head to look over at Andromeda. "Nothing kept us apart until I got my Hogwarts letter, and she didn't."
Until father told mother he'd divorce her if she tried to send Grace to Hogwarts. And every full moon since we were six, because mother couldn't bear the thought of both her precious daughters being werewolves, no matter how much I begged her to let me go to Grace.
"She's a Squib. There's nothing you can do to change that, Niobe. And she can't come to Hogwarts without magic." Andromeda gave her a small smile. "At least your parents didn't kill her when they found out she had no magic. Mine would have."
"Because they're uncouth upstarts." Niobe bit her lip, looking down at her hands, feeling the heat rising in her face at her rudeness. "Sorry."
"You're right." Andromeda shrugged. "Even though they're pure-bloods, they know they don't have the clout to hack it in the sort of circles your parents do. Which technically means you and I probably shouldn't be friends, should we?" She smiled, and Niobe giggled, a wave of relief rushing over her at the successful change of subject.
"Probably not. But if I had to associate with only those in my social circle, I'll be forced to talk to people like Lucius Malfoy and Rodolphus Lestrange!" She wrinkled her nose, shaking her head. "I don't like Cousin Rodolphus. He's irritating at the best of times."
"My sister would disagree with you." Andromeda shrugged, chewing on her lower lip. "If you want to talk later, you know I won't betray a confidence."
"Really, Andromeda, there is nothing you can do, and I don't want to speak of that letter again." Niobe stood, moving away from the other witch, keeping her back turned so she didn't have to keep the pain and anger that wouldn't subside out of her expression. "Leave it be, and let me deal with it on my own."
"Niobe..." Andromeda paused, a soft sigh escaping her. "Talk to someone, at least. To Professor Jemsen, if no one else." Her robes rustled as she stood, and Niobe felt Andromeda's hand touch her shoulder briefly before she left.
"I can't," Niobe murmured to herself, shaking her head as she curled up on her bed once more. "No one can know."
Andromeda looked over her shoulder a moment as she paused near the entrance to the common room, a frown creasing her face. She knew Niobe didn't like to talk about her family, and their internal dynamics, like any other aristocrat she'd met, but she didn't like this. Something felt very off.
"Andromeda, whatever are you doing?" Bellatrix interrupted her thoughts, black eyes meeting the grey of her sister's with a glint of curiosity in them. "You look concerned about something."
"Nothing that would concern you, Bellatrix." Andromeda narrowed her eyes as her sister opened her mouth to speak. "Nor would I recommend pressing the issue, unless you have a desire for mother and father to know what you and Rodolphus Lestrange make use of his dorm room for."
Bellatrix paled for a moment, before her expression twisted into a snarl. "Watch yourself, little sister. You may enjoy their favor now, but one of these days, you will be the one in disgrace, and I will have their regard."
"Think as you wish." Andromeda pushed past her sister, heading for the office of her head of house. She had to let someone know to keep an eye on Niobe. No matter what it was in that letter that bothered her.
"It's no longer of any concern."
Fenrir lazily licked his lips clean of the blood of the sheep, stolen off a Muggle farm, wiping his hands on the bloody gown draped over his knee. A quiet growl caught his attention, and he raised an eyebrow at Grace, the girl huddled on the far side of the carcass, glaring at him.
"That's mine." Her eyes darted to the gown briefly before returning to his, rage and fear mingled in the dark depths.
"It's a human conceit, pup." Fenrir lifted his lips in a sneer of contempt. "For soft prey behind their walls and wards, not monsters like you and I."
"You wear robes." Grace's eyes flared with challenge, and he growled quietly, watching her shift her weight, even though her gaze never wavered.
"Robes are for the day, for dealing with them. A nightgown is for hiding what you are at night, when they fear the darkness." He carefully worked a sliver of flesh from the carcass, smearing it on the gown where he'd ripped it earlier.
"It's still mine." Grace shifted her weight again, and Fenrir jerked the gown out of her reach as she lunged for it.
He closed his free hand around her throat when she tried to use his leg as a springboard to leap for the scrap of cloth, and Grace snarled, baring her teeth at him in challenge.
"Give it back!"
"I don't take orders from a pup." Fenrir used his hand around her throat to shove her to the ground, her cheek against the rough stone. "Do I have to remind you of your place?"
Grace stilled, and he caught the whiff of fear rising from her. A satisfied smirk crossed his face, and he held her in place a moment longer before relaxing his grip, returning his attention to the gown. It certainly looked as if it had been worn by a child being ripped apart by a wolf, now.
"I'll return later. Be a good little pup, and I might bring you back a little something." Fenrir grinned as she looked up at him with a hopeful expression.
Fenrir chuckled, cruel amusement showing in his eyes as he shook his head. "A surprise, pup." He balled the nightgown up, pulling on the robe he wore to deal with the wizarding world. Too tight and scratchy, but sufficient to get him where he needed to go.
He could feel Grace watching him as he left, smell the longing for the fresh air outside the cave, for the sunlight that poured over him as he prepared to Apparate to the Avery's house in Bath.
Marion looked up from her needlework as the flames of the fireplace flared green, her husband's face appearing in their depths. With a sigh, she set the hoop and silks aside, settling with careful grace on the low stool in front of the hearth.
"What do you want, Malcolm? I've told you, I've no desire to speak with you if you are simply going to attempt to frighten me concerning the status of my daughter." She gave him a sharp look, annoyance mingled with disgust.
Malcolm smiled oily, triumph on his expression. "I promise you, my dear, I'm not going to attempt to frighten you concerning that worthless piece of trash. If you would be so kind as to give me a moment in your presence?"
"If you can give me sufficient reason to do so. I don't wish to have you in the same residence as I."
"I could merely insist upon it. The house does still belong to me, no matter that you reside there, Marion."
"Make it a very brief moment, and I might yet forgive you for disturbing the quiet of my afternoon." Marion stood aside as the flames flared higher, Malcolm stepping through. His house-elf appeared seconds later, bearing a box that it set on one of the end tables next to the sofa before vanishing again.
"I brought you a present, my dear." Malcolm unlatched the box, opening it to reveal a pile of blood-soaked rags. "It's dead. No longer of any concern."
Marion managed to keep on her feet, if barely, her face going cold as the blood drained out. "Salazar's blessed name, what did you do, Malcolm?" She glared at him, grateful that for once she hadn't decided to invite her friends for tea. "She is our daughter, no matter what happened to her. She is our responsibility, having neglected to ensure that she was safe then."
"It should have died that night!" Malcolm clenched his jaw, taking in a deep breath. "It would have died that night if you had any respect for the family name, as you ought."
"She would still be alive if you had any proper family honor, like any decent pure-blood," Marion shot back, keeping her hand away from her wand with an effort. She reminded herself that she could not, would not, resort to common brawling like a Weasley. "There is no cause for turning your back on a child incapable of caring for herself, no matter how ashamed you may be of that child. Your honor is sullied when you leave the defenseless without protection."
"It isn't a child, it's a monster, and ought have been destroyed when it was created. I have ensured that it is destroyed."
The crack of flesh meeting flesh sounded loud in the small parlor, and Marion closed her eyes briefly, reining in her temper. "Get out of my house, Malcolm. You are never to return here again."
"It is still my house, Marion."
"You return here, and I shall become a very wealthy widow." Marion held his gaze, pushing the fury down, summoning the iron control that her mother had taught her as a child. "Get out."
Malcolm sneered, grabbing the jar of Floo powder from the mantle. "You're still my wife, and I still have some measure of authority. You shall tell no one of what I have told you. Do I make myself clear?"
"Perfectly, Malcolm. Good day."
Only when the flames returned to their natural color did Marion snatch out her wand, banishing the box with its chilling contents to the basements, calling for the house-elf as she stalked to the main hall.
"I am going out, Tully. Make sure that the item in the empty cellar is burnt before I return."
"Of course, Mistress Avery." Tully nodded, her squeaky voice grating on Marion's frayed nerves. "Tully will burn it immediately, Mistress Avery."
"Go." Marion snatched her cloak from the stand, wrapping it tightly around herself as she stalked out the door.
This-wolf isn't in any pack, this-wolf is alone.
Free, running. The moon lighting up the landscape like daylight. Not alone, in the dark. Joyful, jubilant. No more barriers between the wolf and the prey. No more mewling, two-legged things keeping it caged when it wanted to run.
Niobe whimpered in her sleep, her heels digging into the mattress, pushing her towards the headboard.
There! Something to chase, a four-legged thing. Wooly and bleating, scared. Wait. Something's growling, whirl around to growl back. This-wolf is not a puppy, not a two-legged thing for the other to scare. The other isn't a wolf, not a thing to obey. It's a not-wolf, that follows after the two-legged things. Something to kill.
"No." Niobe trembled, reaching out blindly with one hand as if to stop someone. "Don't."
Blood in the mouth, sweet. Not-wolf thing is dead. Still not alone. Other wolves. One larger, alpha, grey. Grey-alpha not happy, growls; growl back, not its kill. Not its prey. Its prey is two-legged things, little squealy two-legged things. The not-wolf and the woolies are for this-wolf.
Grey-alpha doesn't agree. This-wolf is in its territory, will be in its pack, or this-wolf will be a dead wolf for the two-legged things to find in the morning. This-wolf isn't in any pack, this-wolf is alone, grey-alpha does not rule this-wolf.
Niobe screamed, the pain burning along her nerves an echo of the dream, her room-mates jolted awake by the fear and agony of the sound.
Growl and lunge for grey-alpha. Not hurt this-wolf, this-wolf hurt grey-alpha! Teeth snap shut on air, grey-alpha is laughing. This-wolf is still young, has much to learn before it can hurt grey-alpha.
"Niobe?" One of the girls pushed aside the curtain, reaching out to touch Niobe's shoulder, trying to wake her. "Niobe, what's wrong?" When her only answer was a quiet whimper, she turned to the other girl. "Get a prefect."
Panting, tired. Grey-alpha is impatient for this-wolf to chose. This-wolf can't fight grey-alpha much longer, grey-alpha knows this. Grey-alpha is waiting, though, hasn't killed this-wolf yet, for all grey-alpha's threat. This-wolf is something grey-alpha wants.
"What's going on?" Andromeda followed Diana into the first-year girls' dorm, raising an eyebrow at the girl still trying to wake Niobe.
"Niobe woke us, she was screaming, and now she won't wake up." Ophelia gave Andromeda a panicky look. "I've tried shaking her, and talking to her, but she's just whimpering, and she won't open her eyes."
Andromeda sat on the side of Niobe's bed, lighting her wand to get a better look at Niobe's face. She frowned at the pallor, dousing the wand light to scoop up Niobe. "Diana, get Professor Jemson, and bring him to the hospital wing. Ophelia, you need to come with me, and tell Madame Pomfrey what you did to try to wake Niobe."
"Yes, ma'am." The two scrambled to grab robes to throw around themselves, glad to have someone else taking care of the problem, to worry about what was going on, and tell them what to do.
The not-wolf's body is left behind, this-wolf running beside grey-alpha. Hunting two-legged things. Not like the two-legged things that caged this-wolf. Smelling of dirt and metal. The two-legged things that caged this-wolf smelled like fire and water. This-wolf sneezes, pawing at its nose.
"Miss Black, it's after curfew..." Madame Pomfrey paused, looking at the blanket-wrapped figure in Andromeda's arms a moment. "What is wrong with Miss Avery?"
"Ophelia can explain it better, but I didn't want to try any magical means of waking her out of... I think it may be a bad dream. I didn't want to try waking her up with magic without knowing entirely what's wrong, if it's anything at all other than a bad dream."
"I see." Madame Pomfrey waved Andromeda in, directing her to one of the beds. "I really don't think this is something that would require my assistance."
"I disagree, Madame Pomfrey. I don't know what's going on, but I wonder if this might have something to do with the letter she received from her mother Wednesday." Andromeda held Pomfrey's gaze stubbornly. "I already sent her other room-mate to wake our Head of House and bring him here because I'm worried about Niobe. If it was just a bad dream, she should have woken up, should she have?"
"Yes," Pomfrey allowed, frowning slightly before she directed Andromeda to an empty bed, lighting a candle on the table beside it so that she could get a better look at the girl.
The blood of the two-legged thing the pack is hunting is sweeter than that of the not-wolf. Not like their smell, not like the smell of the others. This two-legged thing had hidden in a not-cave, and it had something that spat fire, and made one of the pack yelp. It screamed when grey-alpha hurt it before killing it.
Niobe whimpered, and shook her head violently, almost thrashing against the pillow. "Noooo!"
Pomfrey pressed her lips together, glad at least for the restraining spell that kept the girl from scrambling clean out of the bed, as she'd tried a moment ago, still firmly caught in whatever dream... nightmare had a grip on her sleeping mind.
"Poppy, one of my students..." Jemson cut himself off when he saw Niobe on the bed, raising an eyebrow at the medi-witch. "What happened?"
"Miss Black brought her up. She woke her friends out of their sleep with her nightmare, but she isn't waking up." Pomfrey moved away from the bed, closing the curtains around it for now. "I've already summoned Albus. I've not seen this before, and none of the solutions I've tried have worked."
Marion sipped at the cup of tea Dumbledore had offered, using the moment to gather her thoughts, and try to force her emotions to the back of her mind. She couldn't simply blurt out the details of what had brought her here. Despite her instinct to protect her daughters however she could, the proprieties had to be kept.
"Lemon drop, Mrs. Avery?" Dumbledore offered the tin, his blue eyes watching Marion intently despite the banality of the scene.
"No, thank you, Headmaster Dumbledore," she demurred politely, inclining her head in thanks for the offer. She took a sip of her tea before speaking again. "I apologize for arriving so abruptly; I didn't intend to disrupt your evening."
"I am always delighted to take the time to meet the parents of my students, Mrs. Avery." Dumbledore set the tin of candies down once he'd popped one into his mouth, picking up his cup of tea once more. "I hope nothing has happened which would cause you to be concerned for your daughter."
"I trust that you have the means to adequately protect the students within your walls. I am not concerned for Niobe's safety." Marion pursed her lips a moment, watching Dumbledore. "I do worry after her health, though, with some recent events concerning our family."
"I see." Dumbledore paused, sipping his tea. "Might I inquire as to what you could tell me of these concerns?" He knew the moves to this delicate dance better than Marion expected from someone not raised in the circles of the elite, but perhaps she should have thought he'd learn them. After all, he would need to play politics of this sort with the parents of the more pure-blooded and high-society students.
"It is a delicate matter, Headmaster. You will recall some years ago some speculation on my husband and myself?"
She expected nothing less, remembering the minor scandal it had caused. "I shall only say that something of the events of the time have had consequences since that are... difficult for the family." Marion pressed her lips together. "It is not something which I find easy to speak of, and I am afraid that there may be some trouble for Niobe should anyone hear of this."
"I cannot give you my word that no one outside of this room shall discover this secret, only that I will tell no one." Dumbledore watched her carefully. "Would you care for more tea, Mrs. Avery?"
"That would be acceptable, Headmaster." Marion automatically held out her cup for him to pour as she thought over what she could tell him, and what she would tell him. And how she might allow Dumbledore to know about what Malcolm had told her without telling him herself.
"I would assume that Niobe is aware of the events which concern you?" Dumbledore offered her the tray of biscuits once more, and she inclined her head slightly.
"I have of course sent her a letter informing her of the news, but I suspect she is more aware of the details than I, or at the very least, can discover them more readily."
Dumbledore raised an eyebrow, and Marion glanced down at her tea for a moment, sighing.
"Niobe's sister, her twin, has vanished. Grace... is not well. And I am afraid someone might well have recently added to her burdens, though how, I am uncertain." Marion carefully skirted her word to Malcolm, sipping at her tea once more. "I am, therefore, concerned for Niobe's health. I am certain you understand."
"Of course, Mrs. Avery." Dumbledore paused. "If you would forgive an old man prying, might I inquire as to the nature of Grace's illness?"
"You may inquire, but I am disinclined to speak of it." Marion glanced out the window at the rising full moon. "I should be concerned for the welfare of any who might encounter my daughter tonight, yet I find myself more concerned for her well-being."
"Ah." Dumbledore munched on a biscuit. "Would you care to speak with Niobe?"
"No, Headmaster. I have stayed too long as it is." Marion set her cup on the edge of his desk, standing to take her leave. "I apologize once more for disturbing your evening, Headmaster. I should not have burdened you with my concerns for a child not in your care."
"Albus told me I might expect you."
Niobe stared around her as she waited in the comfy chair Madame Pomfrey had directed her to when she brought her up to the Headmaster's office. She'd been surprised when she woke up in the hospital wing, with Professor Jemsen sitting watch at her bedside. He hadn't said anything to her, except to ask her how she felt.
She shivered slightly as a scrap of half-remembered dream floated across her mind, with the immediate feeling of something recent. She wondered what had happened last night once more. Her dreams on the full moon had never worried her mother enough to take her to St. Mungo's, so why had she ended up in the hospital wing here after the full moon?
"Ah, Miss Avery." Dumbledore came up behind her, smiling as he walked to his desk, picking up a tin. "Would you care for a lemon drop?"
"No, Headmaster, thank you." Niobe shifted, fighting the urge to pick at the robe Andromeda had left for her the night before. "Sir, why am I here?"
Dumbledore sat in the other chair, watching her over his glasses as he spoke. "Your mother came to speak with me last night. She mentioned you have a sister, Grace. Would you know why she would do so?"
"Sir?" Niobe met his gaze, her eyes wide. "Mother told you about Grace?"
"Only that she is your sister, and that she is ill." Dumbledore's expression was kind, inviting her to confide her worries.
"I don't want to say what she would not. It's family." Niobe looked down at her hands in her lap again, chewing on her lower lip slightly.
"Ah." Dumbledore paused, and then she heard the chink of china, the scent of tea filling the room. "Would you care for some tea?"
"No, thank you, sir." Niobe twisted a corner of her robe a moment before looking up once more. "Headmaster, can I go? I don't want to miss classes."
"Madame Pomfrey would like you to come back to the hospital wing after lunch." Dumbledore avoided her question, offering a plate of biscuits. "She's worried your nightmares might have some lingering effects."
Niobe frowned, tilting her head slightly. "Why?"
Dumbledore sighed softly a moment, looking over his glasses at her. "Your mother is concerned that your twin's illness could effect you, Miss Avery."
Niobe drew in a deep breath, sitting up straight. "Sir, I told you, it's family. Please, I want to go to class, and I don't want to talk about it."
"You may go, then." Dumbledore stood as she slid out of the chair onto her feet, his expression troubled. "If you wish to talk about it, you may always come to my office."
"Of course, Headmaster." Niobe hurried for the door as fast as she could without running. She bolted as soon as she was out of the room, barely feeling the stairs beneath her feet as she pelted for the dungeon.
Marion drew in a quiet breath as she read the letter from Dumbledore, tapping one neatly manicured finger against her writing desk before setting the parchment aside, and summoning her house-elf.
"Yes, Mistress Avery?"
"I shall be visiting Hogwarts again this evening. Miss Niobe was poorly last night, do make her a proper package for her recovery."
"Would Mistress Avery require anything else from Tully before her visit?"
"Lay out my green robes for this evening, and bring up a bottle of the Sauternes." She pursed her lips a moment, thoughtful. "The 1901, I think. Do make sure the desserts for Miss Niobe will do well with it."
"Yes, Mistress Avery."
"That will be all, Tully. Ah, and I shall take my lunch in conservatory." She carefully refolded the letter, tucking it into a drawer before locking it. "Have the rest ready for just after supper."
"Will Mistress Avery be wanting Tully to accompany her, or shall Tully prepare a basket for Mistress Avery to carry?"
Marion flicked a hand dismissively. "I am quite capable of carrying it myself, Tully, no need for you to come all the way to Hogwarts with me."
"Very good, Mistress Avery." Tully bowed before vanishing with a quiet crack, leaving Marion to brood over the contents of the letter.
"Good evening, Mrs. Avery." Leopold Jemson smiled politely as he opened the door of his office wider to invite her in. "Albus told me I might expect you. Is there anything I might offer you? Tea? Sherry?"
Marion settled into the comfortable chair he offered before she responded, setting a small basket at her feet. "I would appreciate a cup of tea, thank you, Professor Jemson."
"Of course." He busied himself with a pot of tea, settling into the chair opposite her after handing her one of the thin china cups. "What can I do to help you this evening?" he asked after a brief moment, watching Marion.
Taking a sip of her tea, Marion met Jemson's eyes briefly before looking down at her cup. "I had hoped to speak with my daughter, as I am concerned about some information I have recieved. I understand she was taken to the infirmary early this morning?"
"Yes, by one of the prefects, Miss Black." Jemson took a sip before continuing, "She woke up this morning, and has refused to talk about it since. Albus informed me that you had mentioned Miss Avery has a sister?"
"She does." Marion took a sip of her tea, her gaze focused deliberately on her cup. "It is not something we speak much of, particularly not with those who are not of the family."
"I do understand, Mrs. Avery." Jemson paused, watching her shrewdly a moment. "If I might suggest, that as Miss Avery is a part of my house, I am in effect a surrogate parent whilst she is at Hogwarts, and therefore a part of her extended family. That what I am told in confidence, no matter how one views the arrangement of Head of House and student, will never be mentioned without the express permission of the one whose confidences they are should go without saying."
"Of that I am aware, Professor Jemson. Your reputation as a man of his word is well enough known." Marion gave him a small, polite smile. "Unfortunately, I am not at liberty to say anything of Niobe's sister. If she were, however, to confide anything to you, I should think it a good and proper thing for her to have someone aware of all the issues should something akin to last night occur again."
"Of course. Shall I send for her to come to my office?"
"I should like to speak with her briefly, yes. As well as deliver the basket which our house elf has made up for her to speed her recovery from what it was that ailed her last night." Marion took another sip of her tea. "You are welcome to keep the Saurternes should she not care for it."
"Of course, Mrs. Avery." Jemson smiled politely again before summoning a house-elf to deliver the summons to Niobe.