Chapter 12: Farewell to Billy
Hermione spent that Saturday with her parents and their work family, including many small children. Her mind was back in town with Severus the entire time. Her parents passed her off as a relative visiting on holiday, a cousin's daughter. Hermione was grateful to be in public where her parents could not pepper her with further questions, but she quickly grew tired of making small talk with strangers.
Her mother sent her home with leftovers. Hermione was anxious to get back to Severus and see if she could convince him to let her help with the potion. He was also brewing for Mr. Wright that day and she could be of assistance with that task.
Hermione managed to avoid Ms. Willie on her way up to the flat.
“Severus?” she called, after knocking on the door. It was locked and heavily warded. He did not answer. Hermione sighed and pulled out her wand to begin lifting the spells.
“Harmony?” came Ms. Willie's voice from down the hall. Hermione quickly put her wand away.
“Hello, Ms. Willie,” she said. “How's your day been?”
“Oh, I'm a mess,” said Ms. Willie, coming fully out of her flat and shutting the door behind her. “Billy's over at the Tiller's saying goodbye. Poor Mary is so upset to see him go.”
Hermione nodded and said, “I'm sure she is.”
“We never did get to take you to Persmille,” said Ms. Willie. “Billy was so excited to show you the school.”
Hermione smiled and said, “I know. I wish we had been able to find time. Our work has kept us too busy lately.”
“Well. I've got to get back downstairs. You'll come to dinner, won't you?”
“Ah, perhaps we'll come over for dessert? Severus will be working late tonight,” said Hermione.
“We all need to eat,” said Ms. Willie. “Tell him work will wait while he takes a break.”
Hermione smiled and said, “We'll see you later tonight.”
Ms. Willie went downstairs, mumbling to herself. Hermione wondered how the woman was going to handle the loss of her son once again. Not well, most likely.
Hermione knocked on the door again and it swung open.
“Quickly,” Severus said, stepping aside to let her in before shutting the door again and locking it.
“What's going on?” she asked.
“You've returned at just the right moment to be of some help,” he said, walking to the kitchen.
Hermione followed him and saw a bubbling cauldron with pale blue steam rising from the surface.
“What's this?” she asked hopefully.
“Another failure,” he said, vanishing it. “I need your help getting Mr. Wright's order together before the end of the day.”
“Oh,” she said, disappointed. “Okay. What shall I make first?”
Severus handed her a list of ten potions, four of which were already marked off.
“I'll start with the All-Purpose Vanishing Potion,” she said.
He moved his cauldron to the far side of the kitchen and bent over the table, scribbling in his journal. Hermione kept an eye on him as she gathered her ingredients and began preparing them for brewing. He continued to write for some time, occasionally pausing to rub his temples or pinch the bridge of his nose.
“Perhaps I should make a Headache Potion first,” she commented.
“Already done,” he said, writing a few more lines down.
Hermione got started on the vanishing potion. After a while Severus began gathering more ingredients, divided them into three groups, measured out the amounts with exacting precision, and then carefully cleaned his cauldron with silver solution.
“Are you trying again today?” she asked, noticing that he had stopped moving and was staring at the ingredients before him. She was nearly done with the Vanishing Potion.
“No,” he said after a moment. “I have no new theories to pursue this evening. At least, none for which I have the necessary ingredients.”
“Oh,” she said.
Another silence followed, and he still did not move.
“We'll have to go back to Britain,” he said. “There are certain ingredients I can get there that may prove to be the answer to the formula.”
“Expensive ingredients?” she asked.
“Very,” he said. “As well as illegal.”
“Oh,” she said. “How will we procure such things without being found out? Polyjuice Potion?”
He nodded, “That would be the best disguise.”
“So, you're brewing Polyjuice Potion?” she asked.
“We will leave Australia when it is finished,” he said, after nodding in reply. “If that is... acceptable to you.”
“Of course. Actually, I thought we would leave sooner,” she said.
“Do you not wish to spend more time with your family?” he asked.
“Ah, I don't know,” she said. “I suppose it will be nice to see them for a few more weeks. I doubt I'll be going over everyday, though.”
He silently started the flame beneath his cauldron and began preparing the base for Polyjuice Potion. Hermione finished her own potion and bottled it neatly into the set of vials waiting on the counter.
“Hand me your other cauldron and I'll make the Cough Banisher and the Pepper-Up Potion at the same time,” she said.
Hermione made quick work of both potions. Severus finished with the Polyjuice Potion and left it sitting over a low flame. After tidying up his work area he leaned against the kitchen counter and watched Hermione work. As soon as she had set the potions to cool, he reached out took her hand.
“Take a break,” he said, pulling her toward him.
She welcomed his embrace, and then yelped in surprise when he spun and lifted her up onto the counter.
She wrapped her legs around him and pressed her hand into the base of his neck as they kissed. It was some time later before they resumed brewing, Hermione carefully putting her hair back up into a tidy bun.
“Okay, I'll do the Scrubbing Bubbles and then the Fire-breather, if you do the Warming Draught,” she said.
They were soon finished with their work and had everything packed up to take to Mr. Wright. Hermione walked across the street with Severus, but let him go in to speak with Mr. Wright alone. She did not particularly enjoy dealing with the man.
She leaned against the railing on the porch of the shop and looked around the street. Mary and Ella Tiller were walking toward her, a fair distance away. Their parents had probably sent them to pick up something from Ms. Willie.
The girls stole glances at her as they neared the shop, and Hermione smiled.
“Hello, Mary. Hello, Ella,” she said.
“Hi,” the girls mumbled back, as they turned and entered Ms. Willie's store.
Hermione was still waiting for Severus to emerge from the Apothecary when they came out again. She watched Ella insist on carrying the bag by herself, to which Mary finally agreed. Then, Mary looked over at Hermione again before leading Ella across the street.
“Harmony, you'll never guess what happened today!” she said, with more excitement than she'd ever had in Hermione's presence before.
“I'm sure I couldn't,” said Hermione. “What is it?”
“Mum and Dad have agreed to send me to Persmille at last! Billy has convinced them.”
Hermione smiled and said, “That's wonderful, Mary. You must be so excited.”
“I am!” she said, grinning. “I suppose you won't be seeing me here much longer – we're going to visit the school on Wednesday! I only wish Billy could come with us.”
Hermione gave her a sympathetic look.
“I can't wait to learn all about Britain!” exclaimed Mary. “Mum's been there and she loved it. Perhaps one day I'll go too... or perhaps I'll go to America like Billy.”
Hermione smiled again and said, “I'm happy for you, Mary! It is a great opportunity. I hope you enjoy your visit to the school.”
“I will,” said Mary happily. “Well, goodbye. We have to take this home for dinner.”
“Goodbye,” said Hermione, watching them go. Not too far down the street, Ella gave the bag back to Mary. The two of them soon were soon out of sight.
Severus joined her on the porch, the bell of the shop door clanging as it opened and shut. He came to stand beside her silently.
“We definitely have to leave soon,” said Hermione. “Mary's going to Persmille, and she's dying to learn about Britain.”
“I see,” he said. “How soon will she start classes?”
Hermione chewed on her lip.
“I don't know.”
They walked back across the street.
“Ms. Willie wants us to have dinner with her and Billy,” said Hermione.
“As expected,” said Severus.
“It'll be the last one,” said Hermione.
“Yes, and then we will be forced to take meals with just the miserable old woman herself,” said Severus.
“The free hot meals are worth it,” Hermione said. “Most of the time.”
Severus grunted in reply as they returned to their building and went upstairs. Ms. Willie poked her head out of her door as they passed.
“Ah, Harmony and Silvius! Have you finished with your work for the evening? Dinner is ready.”
Hermione glanced at Severus and said, “We can take a break for dinner. We'll be right over.”
Ms. Willie's face brightened and she disappeared inside her flat. Hermione and Severus took a few minutes to prepare themselves for their last meal with Billy.
Hermione grabbed Severus' shoulders and kissed him after closing the door to their own flat.
“On second thought, maybe we don't need dinner...” she trailed off as she kissed him again. Then, her stomach growled.
“It would seem that is not an option,” he replied, pulling away. They stared hungrily at one another. Hermione's stomach growled again. The smell of dinner wafting across the hall was the likely cause.
“I suppose we've stalled long enough,” she said, turning the door knob.
They were met with a teary Ms. Willie when they arrived in her flat. She was sitting on her sofa with a photo album. Billy was in the kitchen.
“Billy's cooking for us tonight,” said Ms. Willie. “He insisted. Come, Harmony, look at this photo of Billy when he was just four years old.”
Hermione obliged, and Severus disappeared into the kitchen. Ms. Willie reluctantly closed the album and led Hermione to the table.
“It smells wonderful, Billy,” said Hermione.
Severus appeared with two glasses of wine and handed one to Hermione.
“Oh! Thank you,” she said.
Ms. Willie almost never drank wine, but she took a glass as well after helping Billy complete the table.
“I didn't know you were a cook,” said Hermione to Billy, who grinned.
“It's something I picked up at Persmille,” he said, then cleared his throat. “Assisting in the kitchen was often one of my – er – punishments. In my, ah, younger, more foolish days, of course. Later, I often volunteered for kitchen duty.”
“I heard you got Mary Tiller's parents to agree to send her to Persmille,” said Hermione.
Billy laughed and said, “Yes, and I'm sure she couldn't help telling everyone in town. I hope they follow through on it. She's a bright young witch.”
“How soon could she enter the program?” asked Hermione.
“Well, if they get everything together in time, a new term starts next week,” said Billy. “Otherwise, she might have to wait until after the holidays.”
“I hope for her sake they don't waste any time,” said Hermione, though it would be better if Mary did not go to Persmille the next week.
Ms. Willie cleared her throat and said, “I just hope Mary sees fit to come home regularly. Her parents will miss her terribly, and so will sweet little Ella.”
The rest of the evening went in the same vein, with Hermione and Billy holding up the conversation, Ms. Willie interjecting every now and then to remind Billy how much he would be missed, and Severus saying nothing if he could help it.
After dinner, Ms. Willie returned to her photo album, insisting that the others join her in perusing the memories it held. All but a couple were regular, non-moving pictures.
“This was taken by a traveling photographer who used to come through town every year – his name was Mr. Perry. Billy was seven.”
Ms. Willie indicated a moving portrait of herself, her husband, and a young Billy. They waved and young Billy tried to sneak out of the frame. He was quickly pulled back by his mother and made to smile at the viewers.
Billy patiently endured his mother's recounting of nearly every page of photographs without comment. Severus endured the endeavor with far less patience, but remained silent as well. Hermione nodded and managed to make a kind comment here and there whenever Ms. Willie seemed in danger of crying again.
“Well, Mum, I think our guests will be wanting to get to bed soon,” said Billy as she finally finished the album. “As I should, since I have a flight to catch in the morning.”
“Yes, I know, dear,” she said. “You're right. It is late.”
Ms. Willie stood, as did everyone else.
“It was nice getting to know you Harmony... Silvius,” said Billy, extending a hand to Severus. “I'm glad Mum will have good company here after I'm gone.”
Hermione smiled as they shook hands and said, “It was a pleasure, Billy. Best of luck in the states.”
Billy looked over at his mother and said, “Perhaps one day I'll convince Mum to come join me.”
“Oh! You know I don't want to live over there!” she said grumpily, then reached for her handkerchief.
“You must at least visit,” said Billy. “You've never been out of Australia.”
“We'll see how you like it first,” said Ms. Willie, wiping her eyes. “And then I might consider it.”
Their final goodbyes said, Hermione and Severus left Billy to console his mother, a task Hermione did not envy him.
“I wonder what she'll be like tomorrow,” Hermione said after they were back inside their own flat.
“I do not intend to find out,” said Severus. “I shall be gathering ingredients all day. There are many things I'd like to have stockpiled in my stores before we leave – things not easily acquired back home.”
“Then I'll come with you,” said Hermione. “I need a break from my parents and Ms. Willie, and I don't fancy staying here keeping the Polyjuice company.”
“We leave before dawn,” he said.
“I assumed so,” she said, taking a step toward him.
“It's late,” he said, as she ran her hands up his arms and leaned into him.
“Yes, it is,” she said.
He placed his hands lightly on her hips and she looked up at him.
“We've got to shower,” she said. “I hope Ms. Willie and Billy didn't smell the potions lab on us. The steam from the Fire-breather alone is terrible.”
They showered, taking a fair bit longer than if they had done so separately, and went to bed. They slept soundly, if not for as many hours as they might have liked. Hermione woke up to the sound of Severus softly walking through the dark flat, illuminated by the dim light of a blue orb that hung just above and in front of him. He was already dressed. Hermione yawned and sat up.
“Where are we going first?” she asked, her voice sounding perversely loud in the early morning even though she was half-whispering.
He walked over to her, the light now illuminating both of their faces.
“The stream in the Knotted Wood,” he said.
“More Devil's Breath?” she asked. “Even though it didn't work?”
“It is a rare and useful herb,” he said. “Which is best collected before the sun rises. Are you ready?”
“Give me a minute,” she said, heading to the loo.
Soon they were standing in a thickly wooded section of what locals called the Knotted Wood, which was so named because of the way the magic of the native fairies bent and knotted the trunks and branches of the trees in which they lived in carved-out, intricate hollows.
The timing of their arrival was not only due to Devil's Breath preferring to flower in the early morning, but also because the fairies typically slept for just an hour or so before dawn. They were a pesky, often dangerous annoyance at any other time of day.
“I will stand watch while you collect all that you can find,” he said, handing her a large bag. It was already spelled with protective enchantments and preservation charms. He also handed her a silver knife and a pair of gloves.
“Take care not to – ”
“Remove the flowers,” finished Hermione. “I know.”
She put on the gloves and got to work. There was a large quantity of the plant scattered between the trees in the darkness. Snape's glowing orb appeared again, lighting her work, hugging the ground so as not to draw attention to their intrusion in the area.
When she had collected all she could find, Severus Apparated them to another spot with just as many plants to harvest, and this time he had to put on his own gloves and help her finish before the sun came up.
A quick trip back to the flat to deposit their harvest, grab a bit of breakfast and coffee, and they next went in search of a variety of wild Esposa Beans, which were not really beans but a flowering plant with bean-like buds.
“What's next?” Hermione asked, after they dropped off another three bags of harvested plants. “Lunch?” she asked hopefully.
They ate a hurried cold lunch and left again, though Severus did not tell her where they were going when he pulled her into a tight embrace and flew them up over the flat and out of town.
Landing in an empty field, he took a moment to steal a kiss from her.
“Okay,” she said impatiently afterward, “What are we doing here?”
“Turnatula Venom,” said Severus.
“What?!” hissed Hermione, looking around at the ground. “Are you mad?”
He raised an eyebrow at her and pointed his wand at a tree a few meters away. The tree lit up with a green glow, illuminating previously invisible layers of intricate webs.
“I am not going over there. Severus, this is insanity. Turnatulas are perhaps the most venomous and aggressive magical arachnids in the world.”
“Which is why,” he said slowly, “I shall be the one attempting to collect the venom, and you shall stand here ready to blast the colony with an Insta-Freeze Charm should anything go wrong.”
“That will kill them,” said Hermione.
“Indeed,” he replied. “I hope to collect at least one or two vials before it becomes necessary.”
Hermione shuddered again. Severus took a few steps toward the glowing tree and then froze when a bit of hanging web caught on his arm.
“Be careful, you idiot,” she said helpfully as he severed the strand with his wand and stepped away from the low branch from which it hung.
He then drew his wand and gently wiggled it at the tree. A spot on the webs in front of him vibrated for a moment, then stopped. He waited.
Seconds later, a black shiny spider nearly the size of his head emerged and pounced on the spot. Before it could retreat, disappointed to find no meal trapped there, Severus stunned it. He was already wearing his most protective gloves. He carefully levitated the stunned creature off the web and balanced it upside down in one hand.
Hermione's stomach was in a knot as she watched him, one eye on the tree in case the spider's friends decided to come to its rescue.
With a lot of wand flicking and tedious repositioning of the vial he was using, Severus was at last successful. Just as he began levitating the spider back to the web, it woke from being stunned and started flailing aggressively in Severus' direction. Hermione took a few hurried steps over and pointed her own wand at the massive, angry creature, stunning it once again. Hermione retreated back to her post as Severus placed it gently back in its home.
They waited with bated breath. After a moment, Hermione sighed in relief, but Severus was not done. He backed away and slowly moved to another spot, where he began the process again. Hermione kept her eye on the stunned spider. The spell would wear off more quickly the second time, and she was prepared to stun it again at the first sign of a twitch.
She glanced back at Severus, who was not having luck enticing a second Turnatula out of the nest.
“Severus,” she whispered. He didn't reply, of course. The vibrations from the sound of his voice would alert the entire colony to his presence. Hermione kept one eye on the still-stunned spider and tried to force her voice to work.
“Severus. Look. Up,” she said, a bit louder.
The web around the spider she was watching shook, and she stunned it again as Severus slowly looked up to see the dog-sized spider curled up around a large branch near the middle of the tree. Hermione could not breathe. Severus took a step backward, his eyes fixed on the massive crouched spider. He took another step back and Hermione's wand moved faster than her mind, which was still processing the sight of hundreds of palm-sized baby Turnatulas teeming over the body of the nesting mother.
“Frigidus instanti!” she shouted, as a few spiders jumped from their mother. They fell just in front of Severus and shattered into black, icy bits on the ground.
Hermione screamed as Severus flew away just in time to escape the pounce of the angry, half-frozen mother, covered in her dead children. The tree's branches began breaking off, the frozen webs attached to them turning to fine dust that hung in the air like glittering confetti. Severus landed by Hermione's side and pulled her backward. He sent another spell at the struggling spider who was still making her way rather quickly toward them. She froze, her front legs held threateningly in the air.
Severus insisted on collecting her venom. He was upset that the colony had been destroyed. Hermione figured there were enough others in the outback that it hardly mattered.
They took a long break after that, which included a nap and then a late dinner in Sydney. Their last task of the day was to be undertaken just before midnight.
“This should be far more enjoyable than our last endeavor,” Severus said, as they prepared to leave the flat once again.
He took them to a small lake, standing on a small rocky ridge over-looking the water. The moon was waxing, nearly full, and it was a clear night.
“What are we collecting?” Hermione asked curiously.
“Negoda nymphs,” he said.
The Negoda was a tiny magical insect that looked a bit like a frog with wings. The adults had poisonous magical exoskeleton that glowed a variety of neon colors in the light of the moon. If something attempted to eat them, their poison would paralyze the mouth and slowly kill the predator. Meanwhile, the Negoda would lay its eggs and then attempt to escape.
The nymphs were not yet poisonous and could be found resting in swarms on top of calm water in the moonlight. They looked neon gnats, and gave off a faint pink glow.
They were able to collect the nymphs from their spot on the rocks, as they were easily levitated in fist-sized clumps from the lake. They were being fed on aggressively by the lake's inhabitants that evening, since the bright light of the moon caused them to give off a stronger glow than usual.
When they were finished, they had seven bottles full of pink glowing insects that would soon be dried and magically preserved.
Severus held out a hand and pulled Hermione to her feet.
“That was far better than the spiders,” Hermione said, looking at the glowing bottles. “They're so pretty.”
She looked up at his pale face in the moonlight.
“I'm glad you weren't eaten by spiders earlier,” she said. “I hope you'll never do that again.”
“Most likely not,” he said. “It may be impossible to collect Turnatula venom without killing the entire colony.”
Hermione shuddered once more, remembering the encounter.
“I didn't travel back in time to save your life, only to watch you die for some potions ingredients,” she reminded him.
He kissed her without comment.
“I am glad you listened to my future self,” he said. “I promise to avoid all Turnatulas in the future.”