Grazhir :: Harry Potter :: Crumbling Pedestal :: 06 :: Life’s Little Surprises

06 • Life’s Little Surprises

Arrival +5: A small gathering was held at the end of July that year, a small honoring of Heru’s twentieth birthday. He might have enjoyed it more—and he usually did—had it not been for the fact that on the next day he was to wed Regan. It continued to annoy him that his brother had been and was so damnably insistent on this, whereas his other friends—the remaining founders—hadn’t even started looking for themselves.

He still worried about what would happen if he were called back to his own time. Would Regan even care? Would she be relieved that she was free of an arrangement of convenience? Should he even mention it? It was bad enough that Heru had adopted a son—not that he would change that if he could—but marriage implied more children, and that meant more people left behind.

In consequence he drank perhaps a little more than he should have, and went to bed feeling rather giddy when he wasn’t morose. When he awoke the next morning, rousted out of bed at an abominably early hour by a disgustingly cheerful Salazar, he was surly and ready to snap at everyone and everything. His head ached and his stomach was queasy, though he honestly wasn’t sure if it was the mead or his feelings about the day which brought them on.

His brother chivvied him about like a mother hen, chattering away brightly as Heru bathed and got dressed, and adjusted his clothing as though Heru were a life sized doll of some kind. It was with a great deal of self control that Heru nobly refrained from socking his brother in the teeth as he blathered on about the benefits of having a wife to warm one’s bed and be available to do his bidding and any number of other domestic things that Heru had been managing on his own quite comfortably for years.

The ceremony was held at the top of one of the towers, providing a brilliant backdrop of cloudless blue sky and a gentle breeze to flirt with their clothing and hair. Heru was too preoccupied with not stumbling over his lines to appreciate the setting though, keeping his eyes on Godric the entire time.

Regan spoke in a calm, clear voice, seemingly indifferent. In an odd way that served to help settle Heru’s nerves. Once the final vows were spoken and Heru had given his new bride a chaste kiss, they repaired to a room inside the tower for a light meal. Gifts were displayed off to one side long enough to be noticed before a house-elf delivered them to Heru’s quarters for later investigation.

When they were finally able to escape the tower, Heru bade his son to go find something to amuse himself with and led Regan down to the dungeons and into his quarters, giving her a non-Parseltongue password with which to gain entrance. Inside they settled into a pair of comfortable chairs by the fire, which had been lit in anticipation of their arrival.

“Regan?”

“Yes, husband?” she replied calmly, gazing into the flickering flames.

Heru winced. “Er, please don’t call me that. It sounds so . . . formal.”

“As you wish.” She gave him a placid look.

“I know I’ve already asked you this before, and it’s a little late to be asking it again, but are you really all right with this? We barely even know one another.”

“I was not forced. From all that I have seen you are a good man, and a kind one. While I was not actively seeking a husband, I could do far worse than to be married to you, and well know it.”

“And you could possibly have done far better.”

“That is irrelevant now, is it not? Conversely, you may be trampled by a hippogriff tomorrow and I left a rich widow.”

Heru was startled enough out of his anxiety to chuckle. “All right. I’m sorry.”

“Do not apologize to me for speaking your feelings, Heru. I think that both of us would prefer honesty over sweet little lies designed to accommodate rather than reveal.”

He nodded and looked at his hands for a moment. “Yes. Does it bother you that Caedryn is almost as old as you are?”

“He is a delightful boy. You took him in, I presume, out of the kindness of your heart and because you felt some sense of kinship with him. I would be a fool to disdain such an action. If it is easier for us to be as mother and son, so be it. Else, if sister and younger brother, that is also well.”

“I think,” said Heru slowly, “that you are likely far wiser than I am.”

She gave him a faintly impish smile and replied, “Some say women always are.” Then she sobered and looked at him quite seriously. “Heru, speak your mind. You sit there so uncomfortably, perched at the edge of your chair. I would be blind to still not see that you did not want this, but I am not offended by it. I do not feel it has anything to do with me, and I would like to at least be your friend.”

Heru slumped in his chair. “That would be nice. It’s true, I didn’t want this. I didn’t think I was ready for it. And it’s true that it has nothing to do with you. I just—I see my brother, and how he is, and I think—that isn’t me.”

“And you are not. Had you been, I would not have agreed to this.”

He brushed the hair out of his eyes to study her for a few seconds. He thought that perhaps this would not be so bad after all. After a moment he pulled out his wand and summoned the table over to them, then returned it to its holster.

“We might as well see what presents we got,” he said with a faint smile for her.

They took their time opening each offering, pulling away the wrappings to be set aside for later use, and reversing the miniaturization used to keep down the sheer size of some of the gifts. There were bolts of silks and velvets for Regan, a set of manticore-skin clothing for Heru, and a portrait of Regan to be placed in the study.

There was a phial of re’em blood, which Heru carefully set aside for later. He only vaguely recalled what it was for and thought it wiser to wait before availing himself of it. And there was a cradle, which caused Heru to flush uncomfortably as Regan looked on in quiet contemplation.

“Do you . . . want children?” he asked softly.

“I would be lying if I said otherwise,” she replied with equal softness. “But I do not consider such to be my life’s sole ambition.” Regan reached out and lifted his chin with her fingers, gently making him meet her eyes. “I do not claim to fully understand your reluctance on some things, but rest assured that I will ask no more of you than you are capable of giving. I do, though, find it in my heart to yearn for a few.”

“Very well. I would prefer you not be unhappy, Regan, so I will do my best.”

“That is all I could ask for.” She smiled and released him, then picked up the last gift, which was revealed to be a set of cloak pins with the Slytherin family crest.

A short time later as they were sipping tea and cautiously feeling each other out on various topics, Caedryn dashed through the door and skidded to a stop.

“Is it all right if I stay in the village with Carsis and Clanar for a few days, father?” he asked breathlessly, then blushed and gave Regan a sketchy bow of greeting.

“Their family does not mind?” Heru asked.

Caedryn shook his head. “Not at all, and it would be ever so much fun. Do say yes, please, father?”

“Hmmm.” Heru finished his tea, swirled the cup, and flipped it over onto a service tray to drain.

“Oh, father, really! Not that again,” whined Caedryn.

Heru silenced him with a stern look, waited a bit, then flipped over the cup and peered into it. After mumbling unintelligibly for a few moments and making some odd noises, he looked up and smiled. “Very well. But I trust you will comport yourself properly during your stay.”

“Of course, father.” Caedryn looked positively scandalized at the idea of acting up, though they were both well aware that he was no more saintly than any other boy his age.

Heru gave him an incredulous look and waved his hand. “Off with you, then, and don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.”

“Thank you, father,” Caedryn said with a bounce. “I’ll just go collect a few things and see you both in a few days.” He sketched another bow to Regan and dashed out.

She gave Heru an amused look and said, “You really do care about each other.”

“He’s one of the best things that ever happened to me,” he replied, then rinsed and re-filled his cup.

*

Heru was, to put it mildly, discomfited. He had at first tried to recall how he’d felt when he’d see Cho in the halls or at meal times, to remember exactly what sensations those encounters had produced within him. But those memories were fleeting and unreal, as difficult to grasp as mist and as hard to hold on to as a fading dream.

Kissing Regan made him feel as though something was out of kilter, or missing. While her body was finely formed, it did not incite him to any particular action, but rather left him indifferent. And when he joined with her and began the slow but steadily quickening dance of lovers, he could not help but feel curiously detached from the process.

He did not know if it was because she was nearly a stranger to him, or if it was that she had a way of unintentionally making him feel so much younger. He was not even sure if his breakdown in the graveyard and the subsequent events had somehow shattered a part of him that might never be mended. All he knew was that this act, supposed to be one of pleasure and joy, left him as unmoved as he had ever known.

That knowledge weighed heavily on his shoulders, even as they came together more quickly and strived for that pinnacle to be sought after. And yet . . . there was a soft song that reached his ears, a song that cleared away the worry from his mind and allowed him to continue where he might have faltered. The song of what could only be Praecino, soothing away his inadequacies long enough for them to cry out and collapse.

Some few minutes later, Regan’s quiet voice sounded out of the darkness. “Is that normal behavior for a phoenix?”

*

September found Salazar strutting through the castle well pleased with himself. Ethelinda was expecting again, and Heru’s brother was the type to think that showed how manly he was. Heru privately wondered how on earth Salazar had become such good friends with ladies like Helga and Rowena given his rather muggle-like views on the proper place and duties of women. He also wondered how it was that his brother still had his own teeth given the frequency with which he invariably infuriated someone over the course of any given day.

While Salazar had not been the easiest of men to begin with, marriage had had the effect of solidifying certain views he held. And, while it was not clear why it seemed to strengthen some and not others, Heru and everyone else was made exceedingly well aware of Salazar’s increasingly demanding recommendations that muggle-born children not be allowed into the school.

He went out of his way to cite examples of the barbarism that muggles appeared to revel in, and shared each and every report of muggle activity anywhere near Hogwarts as though it were a crowning piece in his arguments. And yet, Salazar had so many admirable qualities about him; his generosity was legend, his breadth of talent astonishing, and his mind blazingly intelligent. He would no sooner snub one of the muggle-born students under their care than he would slap Rowena for a joke at his expense.

Heru knew what would eventually come. He just did not know how, or why, or when. That partial knowledge ate at his insides and caused him to ignore much of the unpleasantness that Salazar brought into their lives. However it happened, he knew he would fiercely miss the man who made him brother.

But that, it appeared, would not be for some time yet. The castle seemed to sparkle, and inhabitants within its walls moved about with a quiet confidence that bespoke safe and happy lives.

Regan’s parents arrived in the village one fine morning with a wagon piled high with their belongings, intent on settling closer to their daughter, and on getting to know their new son-in-law Heru. Everyone pitched in to construct a modest house on a quiet, though developing street for them, and lingered long hours when they had completed their welcoming gesture over mead and victuals laid out on tables that groaned from their weight.

Despite his nervousness, Regan was so clearly content with her life that Heru found he need not have worried about his reception with her parents. They were openly pleased to meet him, and her father stole away Caedryn almost immediately to explain to him all about their family business.

If it were not for the part of his life that Heru could not still fully embrace—that part that only Praecino could ease him through—one might have said he was the epitome of a happily married man. He had a son he loved, a wife he found to be an intelligent, witty companion and good friend, and a home and friends he frankly adored. And wonder of wonders, he got along splendidly with Regan’s parents. The only people who knew differently were Heru, Regan, and Praecino, and they never talked of it.

In October, when the temperature began to chill and the air took on a crisp quality, the people of Hogwarts began to notice that the staircases were often not in the same position as they were the day before, or the day before that. Since no one wanted to stay awake of a night spying on them, it was shrugged off and laughed about as an oddity, a quirk, and not anything harmful.

Midway through the month the students began to arrive, stopping in at the village to rest before making the final leg of their journey. As they wandered into the Great Hall in small groups, some paused to take in the changes that had been made, then turn back to their companions to speculate on what was to happen.

They milled around uncertainly until Helga took charge, bidding them to form lines according to their year groups and quiet themselves so that they might proceed.

“There are,” began Godric, “as you may have wondered, to be some few changes starting this year. Because we are so many, and expect to be more as the years roll on, we have decided to alter how we handle certain aspects of your life here, and our own.”

He swept his gaze out across the many upturned faces and continued. “You are to be sorted into houses, which will determine where in the castle you will reside, with whom you will sit at meals, and so forth. Each of you in turn will come up, and once your house is named will be directed to the appropriate table.”

After a quick glance at his fellow founders, Godric nodded and pointed at the first column of children. “We’ll start with you.”

In retrospect it was a good thing the students had arrived early that day, well rested and fed, for it took several hours to sort every child standing in the hall. Heru, who normally enjoyed sorting ceremonies, found himself stifling yawn after yawn and feeling as though his brains would leak out his ears if he had to listen for much longer. It was a shame, though, he reflected, that the sorting hat had not yet inspired itself to song. Perhaps it was too young in life to be bored enough to find ways to amuse itself.

When the last student had been sorted and taken a seat, Heru sat up a little straighter at the high table and tried to look more awake. Godric gratefully slumped into a seat and let Rowena take the floor.

“Now that we are all settled, I have a few announcements to make before we eat, so please bear with me. It will not take long,” she said.

“Thank goodness that’s over,” said Godric in an undertone. “Much more of that and I’d have had to hex myself senseless to relieve the sheer tedium.”

Heru gave him a quick look and choked back a bark of laughter, nudged Godric into an upright position, then turned to face the students with a perfectly composed face.

Rowena went on to explain about the increase in professors, and quickly introduce each and which subject they would be teaching. In mere minutes everyone was ravenously tucking into plates heaped with food, the prevailing mood throughout the hall being relieved appreciation.

When the students were as groaningly full with food as the tables had been, and the professors were quite willing to retreat for that one last evening sans children, the four founders stood. Each went to the house table they headed and bid the children to follow them to their new rooms.

It was around then that Heru realized he hadn’t even registered which house Caedryn had been sorted into.

November brought with it another change to the school. Heretofore, no one had ever actually caught the staircases in movement, though the evidence of their activity was clearly seen on a regular basis. Now, however, students could occasionally be heard shrieking with laughter over the rumbling noises of a stair swiveling from one landing to another, often delaying the children in their attempts to navigate the castle.

After the first few times, when adults had come running from every direction at what they perceived as the sound of a child in peril, they stopped bolting like frightened rabbits each time it happened.

They had only just become accustomed to this new facet of castle life when previously normal portraits—ones that had been placed in various spots for a bit of colour or to soften the stone walls—began to act just like their magically-created counterparts.

One might see a shy shepherdess peeking out from among her flock, or a strapping young man brandishing his sword to excite the fancy of girls passing by. Heru speculated with Regan that it could be that as the level of available magic rose, and with each and every spell that released that energy into the air, that the castle itself was coming to life.

She had taken to giving him odd looks over some of his theories, but that might have simply been because she, like Ethelinda, was now expecting. Heru had been mystified by the changes he’d seen previously in Salazar’s wife during those rare occasions that he spent time with her, and wondered very privately if his own wife would become practically another person over the course of the months ahead.

On the other hand, when Regan had come to him with a smile of restrained pride and announced that she was with child, he had experienced a deep wave of relief that he could for a time ignore that particular portion of his life, like a poorly fitted costume tucked back into the dark depths of a seldom used closet. Because of it, he was able to be tenderly solicitous about her health and needs, even if he wasn’t sure he was ready for the end results.