A/N: Hello everyone! We are officially resuming weekly updates, with the post between Weds and Fri of each week (might nail down a specific day again in the near future, but lets be flexible till I get back into the groove of my normal schedule).
This chapter is more fluff than anything- I've had the idea for it in my head since I started writing this fic, and while it does go right along with our plot I really used it to ease my way back into writing.
Thank you for all of your feedback to date (your comments the past month have kept me going through even the most stressful portions of my assignment), and have a wonderful weekend- Cheers!
January 14, 1982
The Rook, Ottery St. Catchpole
Infanthood, it should be noted, has often been considered the single least dignified point in any individual's existence. Being reduced to screaming tantrums for the most basic requirements? Nappies? Horrid baby voices cooing at you at all hours of the day and night?
Wizarding infants bore the slight no better than their muggle counterparts (accidental magic did tend to be quite imprecise).
But infantile seers, such as one Luna Lovegood, certainly had it the worst.
"Little love, mummy absolutely must work in the lab today. What do you say to staying with Molly Weasley for a few hours since Papa had to go to the city?"
Pandora Lovegood's face softened and she smoothed back the fine white blonde hair growing in tufts across her oldest child's head. "Are you hungry? Well, we can certainly have a snack- then you can nap with little Ginerva perhaps."
Luna's wailing intensified as she tried her best to convey something to the effect of: No mother I am in fact not even remotely hungry and am, instead, increasingly distraught by the vision I am having of you blowing yourself up today!
Slipping her specially tailored nursing robes over one shoulder, Pandora bounced the 11 month old on her lap until Luna (driven by infantile instinct that she found personally insulting) latched on. "There you go, little love, all better now isn't it?"
It is absolutely not all better now, Mother.
"Pandora! Pandora, dear, are you home?"
Madam Lovegood raised a single eyebrow in surprise. While that was undeniably Molly Weasley's voice, Molly Weasley had not visited without a week's notice since the twins were born (it did take quite a lot of work to organize the ever-growing Weasley clan).
"Come right on up, Molly- Luna and I are on the back balcony."
Luna squirmed discontentedly as the rapid footsteps on the stairs heralded Molly's appearance. "Pandora, you will absolutely not believe what has happened!"
The friendship between the two witches- one a consummately reckless Gryffindor, the other a dangerously ambitious Slytherin- had formed shortly after Pandora's arrival in Ottery St. Catchpole. The only other magical family in the area were the Diggorys, and in addition to being a much further trek to visit, Madam Diggory had managed to completely alienate and offend her neighbors within thirty minutes of the trio's first tea.
Mutual dislike and proximity clearly made for interesting bedfellows.
After several months of warily exchanging potions recipes and suffering Madam Diggory's presence together, Molly had decided to pretend that she had no idea that Pandora was a Slytherin (at least they hadn't been in school at the same time!) and Pandora had allowed herself to be merely amused by the older witch's lasting school yard prejudices.
Luna, despite being rather young to understand the intricacies of this adult relationship, could still sense the near-amusement rolling off of her mother as Molly, voice increasingly shrill, conveyed her husband's Malfoy encounter the day prior with incredibly colorful commentary.
"A knut that Narcissa doesn't let this go without taking the opportunity to capitalize on it," Pandora finally murmured, moving Luna to her shoulder to pat her back.
"That's what I was afraid of- but, really, I don't see how she could possibly benefit here. I've told Arthur as much, but my gut tells me otherwise."
"There's a few options I can think of offhand- though of course, political scheming is a Malfoy specialty, not mine."
"Such as?" Molly prompted, ceasing her endless pacing in favor of setting into a wicker chair across from Pandora's own.
"Oh, they range in dramatics, I suppose- but they could offer to help Arthur get the promotion he's working towards, and then pocket him. Or offer little Ginerva a marriage contract. Or they could invite you back to the Sacred 28 social circle, where you'd be hard pressed to speak out or work against their politics. Or they could offer to apprentice one of your older children, which has its own unfortunate ramifications." Pandora paused. "Of course they could just publish their appreciation in the paper, to make themselves look honorable- it would go in hand with the little PR campaign that Xeno is completely convinced they've embarked upon."
Stuck on one particular suggestion, Molly paled. "A marriage contract? Those are archaic!"
Pandora shrugged. "They've not been forgotten."
"Surely Narcissa would never- I mean- Morganna, I wish there was a way to get ahead of this."
(Molly was, in this instance, quite correct- Narcissa would never engage her child to a Weasley.)
"Perhaps if you-,"
A delightful chorus of airy bells rang through the air, a tune described by all who heard it as 'oddly familiar, but not quite familiar enough to name'.
Luna stopped squirming for the first time since the early hours of the morning.
"Visitors? Oh, Pandora dear, you should have said!"
Madam Lovegood frowned down the stairs towards the front entry. "No- I hadn't invited anyone over."
The bells rang again- whoever the unknown visitor was, they were apparently impatiently tugging on the chord most excitedly.
Dropping Luna into her swing, Pandora flicked her wand from her pocket to the front door. Behind her, Molly raised her own wand.
The war was barely over.
One couldn't be too careful, not even in their own home.
But when Pandora swung open her front door, she was rather more surprised by the two women on the front porch than she would have been by Death Eaters.
"Why, Andromeda- this is certainly unexpected."
Madam Tonks smiled easily at the younger woman. "I do believe the last time we were acquainted was shortly after you received your Hogwarts letter, Pandora- or should I say Madam Lovegood now?"
"I believe so- at the summer festival, I believe," Pandora murmured, eyebrows arched as she glanced over the no longer cast out Black sister. Andromeda's defection from the Sacred 28 had been the most gossiped about topic of Pandora's first year at Hogwarts- the Slytherin common room had been brimming with indignation over the entire story.
"May I introduce you to Madam Cassiopeia Black, the Black family Head? Aunt, this is the advanced spell developer I told you about."
"Pleasure, I'm sure." Pandora wasn't quite certain why Cassiopeia Black's assessing gaze was so intimidating- perhaps the resemblance to Bellatrix?
"The pleasure will, hopefully, be all mine," Madam Black said, and Andromeda cast her gaze briefly heavenward as Pandora's lips twitched with amusement.
"We're so sorry to pop in without notice, but my Aunt thought it best we speak with you directly… she wasn't convinced by the idle gossip that you were the right person for the job."
"The right person for what job?" Pandora shook her head firmly once, stepping away from the door. "Where are my manners? Please, do come in. I'll have the elf put a spot of tea on, and we can talk on the terrace."
It had been a risk to bring Cassiopeia to the Rook to meet Pandora Lovegood for herself.
Andromeda had been very aware that the Longbottom's next step to recovery was going to require a bit of rather innovative spellwork for some time now- and that neither she or Cissy were capable of it. It had been with some reluctance that Narcissa herself offered up her husband's cousin's wife.
"Lucius tells me that Pandora has been working with ritual magic…. Converting the old stuff into something that a wand can handle to see how far a wand can go, exactly."
"Isn't that terribly dangerous?" Andromeda had wondered, eyes wide at the very idea.
Her younger sister shot her a particularly humorless look. "Of course it is- it's insanity. But Lucius' cousins do seem to thrive on… questionable ideology."
The sisters had spent weeks fretting over the best way to get Pandora to agree to work with them, their suggestions a clear example of their standard problem solving skills: Narcissa wanted to bribe her with sponsorship, Andromeda wanted to appeal to her emotionally - after all, the Longbottoms' child was near the same age as Pandora's own.
Upon overhearing this debate, Cassiopeia had called them both foolish.
"Is this woman not actually interested in her…. Experiments?"
Narcissa snorted. "Interested? Besotted, more like- I think the only thing she cares more about are her husband and child. And to be honest, Great Aunt, I believe an argument could be made for her equally valuing all three."
"Then stop playing with her purse and her…. Heart? Honestly- No good academic would tolerate it, young ladies."
Narcissa had sighed and said at least gold was a good backup option. Andromeda was less convinced- But her protests did not move her family Head, and it had been with a good deal of exasperation that Andromeda finally threw her hands in the air and declared that if Cassiopeia was so confident then the older woman could handle obtaining Madam Lovegood herself.
"You thought I wouldn't?" Cassiopeia's amusement was palpable. "Niece, I would not abandon you when faced with a fellow researcher."
Andromeda paused warily, suddenly aware of what she had suggested.
"Besides- I can hardly trust another researcher with such an important project before I've taken their measure for myself."
It had certainly been a risk taking Cassiopeia to the Rook unannounced, letting the older witch introduce Pandora Lovegood to their plans.
But it had been the right choice.
Because when Cassiopeia was done speaking, Pandora's eyes were shining brightly and her smile nearly split her face. "I'm in. Should we go straight to my lab?"
Molly Weasley was beginning to regret leaving the children with her Aunt Muriel and running off to the Rook in a moment of panic.
Firstly, Pandora's response to the Malfoy incident had left much to be desired- Molly felt decidedly worse having considered the ways Narcissa Malfoy could 'repay' her son's debt.
Secondly, Pandora's unexpected visitors had not only interrupted the very beginning of Molly's impromptu strategy session- they'd also been Blacks. The Weasleys had been around enough Dark old families for one week!
Though, Rita Skeeter does say they've turned over a new leaf.
Molly did her best to remain pleasant as Madams Black and Tonks took their tea- a task she found relatively simple when she was cut out of the conversation after Andromeda's initial pleasantries. ("I hear congratulations are in order- a little girl! That's wonderful.")
Frank and Alice Longbottom- I never thought I'd see the day where the sister of the woman who ruined them fought for their sanity. Though, Rita Skeeter insists that even old Augusta has noticed improvement….
"I'm in. Should we go straight to my lab?"
Shaken from her thoughts about her fellow Order members' horrible fate, Molly swiveled in her seat in time to see Pandora's face absolutely light up with excitement.
"I don't see why we would wait," Cassiopeia Black said cheerfully, discarding her tea cup in favor of a final biscuit and sweeping out of her seat. "You can lead us there at once, my girl."
And herein laid Molly's largest cause of regret- because while manners dictated that she should accompany the rest of the party to Pandora's laboratory; good sense required avoiding any experiment of Pandora's with the same instinctual intensity that a mouse would a cat, or someone covered in gasoline would open flame.
Even Arthur- Arthur! Arthur, with his muggle-technology! Arthur, with his preposterously packed shed and hen house! Arthur!- had banned his wife and children from stepping foot in the basement of the Rook.
Mind made up, Molly carefully sat her own cup down and stood, glancing apologetically at her nearest neighbor. "I'd best be on my way- it wouldn't do for me to interrupt such an important meeting. I do so hope you'll be able to give little Neville back his parents."
"Nonsense, Molly, you're no trouble at all to have around. Besides, I've not had a chance to show you my working space in an age." Pandora's reassuring tone had rather the opposite effect.
Yes- and I would quite like to avoid it for another age if you please!
"I must insist that you not allow us to run you off, Mrs. Weasley- we've already been dreadfully rude in interrupting your own visit. Please, join us."
"If you insist," Molly murmured faintly, and thus found herself being led down the circling spiral staircase of the Rook towards Pandora's most sacred space.
The door into the basement lab, a ridiculously heavy piece of crafted elven metal, required a tiny prick of Pandora's blood before swinging open to reveal an absolute disaster zon. A half dozen tables were arranged around the room, spilling over with large reels of parchment, discarded quills, and several hundred vials of ritual ingredients. Books were stacked in haphazard piled from floor to ceiling, the towers swaying in a nonexistent breeze. Two potions were brewing unattended over a fireplace large enough to hold a small family at the back of the space, their undiluted fumes dousing the room with the unmistakable scent of shriveled fillywigs.
"Morganna- my dear girl, is this your actual work space?" Cassiopeia Black demanded, and Molly, herself having been about to demand the exact same thing only moments prior, bristled.
"It's hardly good manners to insult the woman who invited you into her home, Madam," the Weasley matriarch said coldly, quite ready to scold anyone who insulted her friend regardless of her own desire to do the same thing.
Cassiopeia shook her head slowly, eyes still wide as she looked around the room. "You misunderstand my concern- Madam Lovegood, do you have zero safety wards on this room?"
Pandora was shifting from foot to foot, her own expression guarded. It didn't take being a mother of 7 to catch the guilt in that expression. "I ward my areas as I work, when I see that something might be particularly problematic."
Irritation evaporating nearly as quickly as it had appeared, Molly mentally groaned as her husband's fierce warnings about Pandora's workspace rang through her head.
"My dear girl, as a fellow researcher, I must insist that that is absolutely not enough- rather circumvents the notion that most safety practices require preventative efforts, does it not?" Cassiopeia, expression unusually fierce, circled the room slowly, poking various piles with the tip of her wand and sending sparks shooting through the air. "This must be fixed at once- Pip!"
A sharp crack resounded around the room, the air rippling as a house elf stepped right through the Lovegood wards and into the basement.
Molly had been around plenty of house elfs before (the Prewett's had always kept them, even if the her current household had not adopted the practice) but she had never seen a creature quite like the one who had appeared, hands on hips and long nose in the air, at Cassiopeia's call.
"Missy Cassiopeia called for Pip?"
Pale, Pandora clutched her daughter to her chest. "How did you get past-,"
The house elf gave the mistress of the house a look that Molly would have described as dismissive had any other creature worn it. "Missy Cassiopeia called for Pip?"
Molly braced herself for the inevitable- no old family allowed their elves to speak to other witches and wizards in that manner, chances were this off little creature was about to be told to iron their ears or something equally unappetizing-
"Pip, this is an absolute crisis- would you please look at this appalling lack of safety?"
Molly's jaw joined Pandora's somewhere down on the floor. Behind them both, Andromeda sighed heavily.
The house elf spun slowly around the room, fingers snapping rapidly and already oversized eyes widening dramatically as she began muttering under her breath. "Missy Cassiopeia is to leave the premises at once! Pip is not finding this to be safe at all- it could be exploding at any second! Without any safety bubbles! There is not even being any structural support!"
Snapped out of her shock by this particularly critical analysis of her pride and joy, Pandora bristled. "Now see here! I've taken precautions as I've gone- and I can't have unnecessary spells or wards interfering with my experiments. If you don't approve, then that's your prerogative, however I will not-,"
"Madam," Cassiopeia was solemn as she turned away from the two brewing potions to meet Pandora's gaze. "Is it your intention to orphan that little girl? To never complete your work after you have been killed? Because this room, in its current state, will certainly accomplish both."
Pandora gulped, glancing down at her oddly still 11 month old before shaking her head slowly. "I am sure it cannot be as bad as you think."
An indelicate snort from the house elf. "Clearly you have not been exploding your lab before- Pip is not cleaning that up again!"
"You've agreed to work with us, for a cause of great importance to the family. Will you allow us to repay the favor by handling this?" Andromeda interjected gently, sending her great-aunt a rather leading look. When Cassiopeia did not jump in, the eldest Black sister rolled her eyes heavenward and continued. "We will handle all of the safety features and the organization of your work space in return for your time spent working with Frank and Alice."
Molly's eyes nearly popped out of her head when the house elf actually elbowed her mistress in the leg. "What? Oh, yes- we'd be more than happy to compensate you additionally as well, of course, and getting an area this large under control will only take a week or so."
"I'm not certain this is appropriate," Pandora murmured, looking shockingly unsure for the normally airy Slytherin. "I cannot work with anyone who would so quickly criticize my research, my process, and I-,"
"I would never condemn your research, Madam- my understanding is that your ability to work with converted rituals is unparalleled. But I have nearly killed myself a time or two, and I'd beseech you to learn from those who came before you." Cassiopeia shrugged as her house elf winced at some clearly unpleasant memory.
"I think you should accept, Pandora."
Molly would be hard pressed to tell who looked more surprised at the sound of her own voice- herself, Pandora, or Andromeda (who was now eyeing Molly as if she had not seen her before).
"Why should I?" Pandora asked, the barest hint of a challenge in her tone.
"Because can you even imagine what would happen if Xeno raised that little girl on his own?" Molly grinned fiercely, having fully committed herself to this particular bit of interference (if nothing else, Arthur would be pleased). "And would you really consign me to only have the Diggorys as neighbors? Really? I'd have to join you on the other side just for the respite."
Pandora glanced down quickly, her snort of laughter hidden behind Luna's head. "I suppose Ottery St. Catchpole might not take well to that particular family feud."
"Precisely. So you may as well agree to these little safety measures, and then we can all have a spot of tea and biscuits to settle us from this near misunderstanding."
The Black family creating a safety net for the Lovegoods- I never thought I'd have seen the day! Rita Skeeter was exactly right about their reformation. And with any luck, this will make it safer for Ginny to visit little Luna when they're a bit older as well. I'd never have let her come without me otherwise.
"Well… alright then. I suppose that will be fine. Madam Black, I suppose I appreciate your offer. Do you need anything from me to create these… safety protocols? Access to the wards, or supplies, or anything of that nature?"
Cassiopeia laughed, waving a dismissive hand through the air. "My dear, I assure you, Pip has it well in hand. In the meantime-,"
"Absolutely not!" The house elf yanked both bat-like ears in irritation. as she directed her fierce glare at her mistress. "Pip's mistress was apparently not hearing Pip- Missy Cassiopeia is not staying in this danger zone for a single extra minute!"
"Missy Cassiopeia is coming home and having a biscuit now. Pip has not scheduled time for Missy Cassiopeia's recovery if she got exploded in this…. Dungeon!"
("Excuse you, this is a basement, we aren't savages-,")
"Pip, we do need to at least discuss the basic principle of our plans for the Longbottoms. Tea upstairs would be perfectly acceptable, would it not?"
Molly watched as the house elf and her mistress stared at one another in a silent battle of wills. To Molly's near surprise- and wasn't that strange in itself!- the elf looked away first.
"Missy Cassiopeia is keeping her personal protection charms on the whole time, or Pip will be having to serve nothing but brussel sprouts for dinner," Pip muttered irritably. "And Missy Cassiopeia is coming home on time for her next appointment!"
Face brightening, the Black Materfamilias beamed towards her companions before linking arms with Pandora and heading back towards the stairs. "Come along then my dear- I would absolutely love to hear about the steps you took to discover the ninth principle of blood ritual conversion. And have you by any chance met…?"