Severus looked up at the sound of a throat being cleared awkwardly, expecting to see a student in his office with some request or question. Instead he saw Hagrid, looking hale and hearty after his near brush with death. "Hagrid! Are you well now?"
"Aye, professor," the big man said quietly. "Madam Pomfrey said I was better now and could go back to my duties and let me an' Silvanus go this afternoon. But I wanted t'come an' thank ya and yer boys for helping me out with my thestral foal an' the other critters. An' also t'say sorry that ya got attacked too helpin' me—"
Severus was startled. "Hagrid, what happened was not your fault."
"But if not fer me, you and the kids would have never been where the dragonelle could get ya." Hagrid began apologetically.
The Potions Master held up a hand. "Don't be foolish! We agreed to help and were simply in the wrong place and time. It could have happened to anyone, and better it happened to me than someone else, like a student or another professor who didn't possess my knowledge of Defense."
Hagrid heaved a huge sigh. "I suppose yer right, Severus. But—"
"No, Hagrid. Don't go getting a guilt complex. What's done is done. Just watch yourself until I return to the school, all right?"
"Aye, sir. Where are you going?"
"To do research on a potion," Severus replied evasively. "I should be back sometime Sunday evening."
"D'ya need someone to keep an' eye on Harry and Dante?" Hagrid wondered.
"No, thank you. They will be coming with me," Severus answered.
"Awright, sir. Just thought I'd ask." Hagrid coughed. "Thank ya again."
"You are most welcome." Severus replied. "Now, if you will excuse me, I do need to get back to my grading."
"Okay, professor." Then the gamekeeper departed, leaving the Potions Master to return to marking homework and praying the weekend came swiftly.
After making sure his son and his ward had all of their clothing and a few magical texts packed, as well as their brooms, the Potions Master looked over at them and repeated softly, "I trust you two are old enough to know how to behave with decorum and decency as guests of the Society without my having to spell out rules?"
"That goes for your feathered brood as well, Skull." Severus eyed his raven.
"Don't have an anxiety attack, Sev," soothed his familiar. "The fledglings and I won't harm your precious dignity . . . much."
Snape rolled his eyes. "Just try not to insult anyone that doesn't deserve it."
"Very well," the ravens acquiesced.
The professor sighed. "Sometimes I wonder why I bother."
"You know you love us, Sevvy!" crooned the raven.
"Humph!" was all the black-robed wizard replied. Then he turned back to his charges. "If you are all ready, then let's walk down to the gates and then we shall Apparate to Ravencrest Castle."
As they walked towards the gates, Harry asked, "Dad, do you think you'll be able to find out how to recreate the Dragon's Tear potion?"
"The library at Ravencrest will hopefully have the recipe I need, since it is extensive and filled with ancient and eccentric spells and potions that the library here at the school would not bother to have." Severus explained. He too prayed that he could find the potion Dobby had mentioned so they could put paid to the dragonelle once and for all. The danger was too great to allow the beast to continue stalking the students and staff with impunity.
"Will there be other potioneers to help you research?" wondered Dante.
Severus nodded. "Most likely, once I explain what I am searching for." He held out his hands. "Take my hands, boys. Skull, Loki, Callie, find somewhere to perch on us."
The boys and the ravens obeyed, with Skull alighting on his bonded's shoulder and his fledglings each landing upon and Harry and Dante.
Then they all Apparated away in a flash of blue-green light.
Ravencrest Castle looked like something out of a legend, thought Dante when they appeared on the path leading up to the castle courtyard. Its three high spires were wreathed in mist and from the tallest flew a blue flag with a raven sigil in front of a gold circlet. The castle itself was formed of a glittering jet stone which Severus said was called midnight marble. "It is only found here among the Welsh hills and is said to have magical properties of repelling lightning, fire, and freezing cold. It's one reason this castle has stood for so many centuries."
"I think it looks awesome," Dante praised. "I've never seen any stone like that in the US."
"Nor will you," purred Skull. "I believe that stone is native only to here."
"Too bad. You could probably make a fortune importing it," Dante murmured.
"Perhaps," Severus replied. The flagstone courtyard was smooth beneath their feet as they passed beneath the archway, all the wizards felt the silent thrum of active magical wards. There were poplar and trim whispering pines bordering the courtyard, gold and green in the light of the setting sun.
Severus approached the tall doors carved with ancient runes and the raven sigil and they swung silently open to welcome him and his young apprentices.
They were met in the entryway by a tall man of about thirty wearing a black tabard with the Raven on his left breast, gray trews tucked into black boots and a cloak that sported a silver Society clasp. His curly hair was cut short and he had friendly blue eyes. A wand was in a holster on his belt, as was a slender sword. "Greetings, Brother Severus and Apprentices Harry and Dante. I am Steward David Morgan. On behalf of Lady Arianrhod I bid you welcome to Ravencrest." He gave them a pleasant smile.
"Thank you, Steward Morgan," Severus responded. "You may call me Severus, no need for such formality."
"And the same applies to me. I am David. Might I interest you in some supper? We have just been served in the refectory. I believe we are having chicken and wild rice soup, green salad, and fresh bread with butter and honey tonight as well as blancmange."
Harry felt his mouth start to water, especially because they had left Hogwarts before dinner. "Sounds delicious."
"My son speaks for all of us," Severus said quietly. "Supper would be most welcome."
"This way, Severus." David beckoned, leading the way across the entryway and down a short hallway to the right.
Harry noticed, that unlike Hogwarts, this castle was lit by shining globes attached by silver sconces to the walls. They provided a bright unwavering light, similar to electrical lights in the Muggle world, and the midnight marble gave off a slight sparkle as they passed by.
There was a slight smell in the air that reminded Harry of freshly cut herbs, like mint and some kind of fruit. David led them to two large doors with etchings of fruit, bread, and a goblet on it. Like the doors to the castle, these also swung silently open at his touch.
The refectory was lit with the same sort of bright globes, running in lines across the ceiling, and instead of long tables and benches like in the Great Hall at Hogwarts, Ravencrest had round tables grouped about the room with soft cushioned chairs of crushed blue suede. Each table had a kind of earthenware bowl in the center which had colored water bubbling up from it like a mini fountain.
The Society members were sitting and eating or discussing projects animatedly with napkin rings and silverware or studying quietly at tables in the corners with small wooden screens half surrounding them for privacy.
Through some swinging doors came and went apprentices dressed in similar livery as the steward, bearing platters with soup, bread, cheese, and drinks.
Upon a raised dais with steps sat a medium sized table of inlaid wood with eight chairs, one of which was larger than the rest. In them sat the members of the Council and Lady Arianrhod.
The steward gestured. "You may sit with our other guests, at that table there," He indicated a round table beneath lamps that gave a faint violet cast, where a woman in her late thirties was sitting, along with a girl who looked close to Harry's age. "They arrived an hour or so before you."
Severus nodded and said quietly, "Very well. Come, Harry and Dante. Let us go and introduce ourselves."
As they approached, the witch looked up. She was a few years older than Severus, with dark hair in a French braid and cornflower blue eyes that reminded Harry of a cloudless sky. She wore a green robe over matching pants and a tunic with the symbol of the crossed bone and wand of a Healer. Her Society pin was displayed prominently at the collar of her robe.
Her eyes lit up with recognition. "Merlin's Starry Robe! Severus!"
Harry gaped and stared over at his father, who was usually so reserved. To his astonishment, the professor was smiling one of his quiet smiles, obviously glad to see this unknown witch.
"Jaycee! I wasn't aware you were a member of the Society."
The witch laughed, standing up to embrace the taller wizard. "I have been ever since I got my Healer greens. All of my family are."
"I should have known. All of you Madleys are known for your eccentricity," Severus replied, his dark eyes glinting teasingly. He withdrew from her embrace. "It's been too long since I last saw you."
"Indeed, and last time was in a cemetery," agreed the Healer. "Not really a place good for talking over a cuppa and some biscuits." Smiling, she beckoned to the girl. "Sev, you remember Laura, my niece."
"How do you do, sir?" the girl said politely, her brown curly hair held back by a blue headband, which matched her blue and green plaid skirt and white blouse. She had the same blue eyes as her aunt.
Severus took her slender hand in his own, clasping it gently. "You may use my given name here, Laura, as your aunt does."
"Okay, Severus." Laura agreed with a pixie grin.
"Jaycee, Laura, may I introduce my son, Harry," he indicated Harry. "And my cousin and ward, Dante Prince." He nodded at the two witches. "Boys, this lady is Jocelyn Madley and her niece Laura. They are related to my old mentor, Joseph Madley, who was one of the best potioneers I have ever known."
Harry gasped. "Wicked! I didn't know Professor Madley was your old teacher, Dad! He invented the Decongestion Draft and the Lung Repair Cordial and Dreamless Sleep. . . um . . . lots of other potions."
"Do you like potions too?" queried Laura. "Like my grandpa and your dad?"
Harry smiled then. "Potions is my best subject." Then he frowned. "But I've never seen you at Hogwarts yet."
The girl chuckled. "That's because I go there next year. I'll be eleven in the summer." She held out her hand to Harry and then Dante. "Nice to meet you."
The boys shook hands and then they all sat down at the table.
"I'm sorry I didn't have time to visit last year like I planned, Sev," Jaycee apologized. "But we were very busy at the hospital with that outbreak of pyromantic flu and I was working double shifts and then Tim came down with a case of it and I was taking care of him too."
"You needn't apologize, Jaycee. Last year was a busy year for all of us, especially with the goings on at the school," Severus grimaced.
"I heard that Hogwarts had to close due to a revenant that was later discovered to be . . .He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named," Jaycee remarked.
"That's true," Severus admitted. "The Headmaster was forced to send all the students home while he stayed behind along with me and the librarians Irma Pince and Lena Rosario to try and stop it."
Jaycee's eyebrows rose into her hair. "Merlin have mercy! You faced off against that . . . that horrible thing, Severus?"
"He did indeed, my Lady Panacea," Skull croaked, flying down to alight upon his wizard's shoulder.
"Hello, Skullduggery!" laughed the Healer. "I was just about to ask where you had gotten to." She reached over to scratch the raven on the head.
"And a fair evening to you too, Jaycee," the familiar purred, a roguish gleam in his eyes.
At that precise moment, Loki and Callie also landed upon Harry and Dante.
"Oh! More ravens!" gasped Laura, her eyes sparkling with curiosity. "Are they your familiars?"
Harry shook his head regretfully. "No. They haven't bonded with a wizard or witch yet. They're Skull's fledglings."
"I'm Loki," said Skull's son.
"And I'm Callie," the pretty female introduced herself.
"They're amazing!" Laura grinned. "I wish I might bond a raven someday," she said wistfully.
"The raven chooses," Skull said quietly. "So you never know, child."
"Skull, this is my niece Laura," Jaycee said, introducing her to the ravens.
"How do you do?" the girl said politely.
"Quite well, thank you," Skull purred, preening Snape's hair leisurely.
As they began to eat their supper, Laura turned to Severus and asked, "How do you get chosen by a raven, sir?"
Severus paused, sipping on his goblet of lemon water before replying. "Only the ravens know, Miss Madley. It's one of their secrets. But Skull will tell you that one of the requirements is that you possess some of the old magic."
"Oh!" Laura gave him a searching look. "Do you, Severus?"
"Yes," he answered quietly. "As does Harry. I am an Occlumens and Harry is a Traveler."
"That's so cool!" Laura exclaimed. "How do you know if you have some of the old magic?"
"I can tell you," Skull answered, peering at the girl intently.
Laura looked hopeful. "Umm . . . do I?"
After a few moments, the raven bobbed his head. "Indeed, youngling. You possess one of the rarer Gifts."
"Yes. You have the Gift of water-sensing." Skull replied.
"Once known as dowsing," Severus murmured.
Laura gaped. "Really? What does that mean?"
"Centuries ago, in the time of Merlin, dowsers were in high demand," Severus explained. "Many people, especially nobles, would hire them to search for springs and other sources of water on their estates. A dowser could also predict weather, like rain or thunderstorms, or even hurricanes. Often they would hire out on ships, and serve as a weather worker for the captain and crew, warning of storms ahead and giving the ship time to find a safe harbor. Or leading them to a place they could wait out the worst weather." He looked keenly at Laura. "Have you ever found yourself feeling when bad weather was approaching?"
Laura looked thoughtful. "Umm . . . once or twice I knew when it was going to rain and I told Uncle Tim not to water the garden. Like that?"
"Yes. But I believe the older you are, the stronger your magic will become, including that talent." Severus surmised. "Jaycee, perhaps you should see if you can find a teacher for her. I found one for Harry when his Traveling grew too strong for him to control himself. The shaman Ghost Walker."
Jaycee nodded. "I shall ask around the Society. They should know someone. Speaking of which, what brings you to Ravencrest, Sev?"
"I need to do research on a potion," he replied, telling her what had occurred after using Muffliato to ensure they were speaking privately.
While the two adults discussed the Dragon's Tear Potion, Skull and his fledglings amused the three apprentice wizardlings with funny quips and jokes.
Laura's eyes shone as she giggled at some witty remark of Loki's. Then she turned to Harry and asked, "How hard are the subjects at Hogwarts? I think I have a pretty good grasp of potions, but what about the rest?"
"I think Severus' class is the toughest, and after that it's Transfiguration with McGonagall, " Dante answered. "History of Magic is boring as hell."
"So boring kids fall asleep in it," Harry added and Skull began to snore realistically, making the kids giggle. "But that's because it's taught by a ghost."
"And Defense is boring too," reminded Dante.
"Really? I would think it would be interesting." Laura objected.
"That's because it's taught by an idiot named Lockhart," Harry sneered. "And all he knows is fashion and hair potions."
"And how to set pixies loose." Skull reminded.
"And bore people to death," chirped Callie.
"He should date old Binns," Loki remarked saucily.
"The two of them could talk each other into a coma," Dante smirked.
Laura stared. "Are they really that bad?"
"You have no idea," Harry told her. "But don't worry—we're trying to get Lockhart removed."
So Harry told her about the letters and the ravens recording what they saw in the Defense classes. "I just hope it works."
"No reason why it shouldn't," Dante said confidently.
"What Houses are you in?" Laura asked then.
"I'm in Gryffindor, but am an honorary Slytherin, because my dad is their Head of House," Harry explained.
"I'm not in any House yet," Dante answered, then explained why at her puzzled look.
"You can really do wandless magic?" Laura asked, awed. "That's really advanced over here. Aunt Jaycee can do some but not many witches or wizards can."
"Sev can," Skull informed her.
"It's what we're taught in the States," Dante said modestly. "But my dad still used a wand mostly." Then he abruptly changed the subject. "So is your aunt a Society member, like Severus and Lena and Irma?"
Laura nodded. "Yes, and so is her husband, my Uncle Tim. He's an Herbologist, specializing in healing plants and increasing crops."
"How's he do that?" Harry asked. "With a spell?"
"No, he does it with crop circles," Laura explained. "He traces a circle with sorcerer's sand and then it casts its magic across the field and increases the crops grown in it times three or four depending on how much is needed. He did that for villages in Africa when people were starving because of a draught."
"That's pretty cool," Dante said. "Hey, have you been to Ravencrest before?"
To his surprise, Laura nodded. "Yes. Aunt Jayce comes here a lot to speak with other Society Healers and learn new spells and procedures. It's why she's the best Healer in the Spell Damage ward at St. Mungos."
"What can you do here?" Harry asked. "Besides research in the library?"
"Lots of things," Laura smiled. "If it weren't dark right now I could take you to see the gardens. Or the stables, they have lots of neat creatures in there. But maybe we could go see the Observatory."
"I can show you," Laura said eagerly.
"Let's go," Dante said excitedly. He glanced over at Severus and Jaycee who were still discussing the Dragon's Tear potion. "Skull, can you tell Sergeant Snape that we're going to see the Observatory with Laura?"
The older raven bobbed his head. "Will do. Go on. Those two can talk shop for hours."
"We'll go too, Papa," Callie squawked.
"Go on, scat!" Skull trilled.
Grinning, the children rose and left the refectory, with Loki and Callie perched upon Harry and Dante.
Laura led them down a corridor and then up a spiraling staircase. The staircase was made of Florentine marble with hand carved railings and bore pictures of old Society members along the wall.
Laura greeted the portraits cheerily as they ascended, and they responded cordially to her.
She introduced the two boys to them. "Harry, this is Eustace Tibbs," she told the Gryffindor. The portrait was of a man with sallow skin and brown hair along with blue eyes dressed in a navy doublet and hose, like those worn in the fifteenth century. "He invented a spell to let astronomers see stars without a telescope."
Harry waved at him. "Hi."
"Good morrow, Mr. Potter-Snape."
"Well met again, Lady Laura," called a young woman wearing a pretty dress of rich brocade with a pattern of climbing roses on the skirt and bodice. The gown itself was colored a soft cream with the roses done in gold and pink embroidery. The woman had her auburn hair piled up on her head with seed pearl combs.
"Hello, Lady Amber," Laura called. "Dante, this is Lady Amber of Gwenllyon. She was a legend in her time, she could speak any magical creature and make friends with them, even ones that normally hated humans."
"Really? That's awesome!" Dante said admiringly.
Amber bowed. "Do you like creatures then, my Lord Prince?"
"Yes, my lady. And I'm not a lord, just Dante." Dante coughed, feeling awkward.
Amber raised an eyebrow. "Then you are not the heir to the Prince title and fortune?"
"Umm . . . yes, I guess so . . ."
"Then 'tis proper that I call you by your title, my lord," Amber smiled.
"Okay . . ." Dante sighed, thinking it was useless to try and explain he was an American and uncomfortable with titles.
They continued up the stairs and then Laura headed down the lefthand side of the hallway to a set of double doors made of beautifully carved golden oak. There were blocks of different constellations and a nebula and a comet.
At Laura's gentle touch, the doors swung open.
Inside they saw a round room of Tuscan marble with giant windows forming a bubble of clearest glass. On one side were large telescopes and across from the raised dais where they were mounted were six bookshelves filled with texts on astronomy, astrology, and other types of star charts, maps, and magical writings of ancient astronomers. There was a desk filled with quills, ink, and parchment for taking notes and drawing. A staff rested in a corner and there were plush black velvet couches with thick pillows situated along the wall beside the dome of the observation deck.
Low lights hung from the ceiling and another brass lamp shaped like a comet shed light upon the desk. Moving portraits of planets, suns, and other celestial bodies hung inbetween the shelves of books and there was a soft carpet on the floor with a star map that shimmered with silver and gold thread.
"Whoa!" Dante exclaimed in awe.
"Holy Merlin!" Harry echoed. "I've never seen anything like this! Not even the Astronomy Tower looks like this."
"It doesn't?" Laura asked curiously.
"No way! This is just . . . amazing!"
He mounted the short flight of stairs to the observation deck. "How do you use this?" he asked Laura, indicating the telescope.
"I can show you," she replied, as the ravens went and perched atop the bookshelf and the observation deck railing. "My Uncle Tim taught me about the constellations and how to spot a Witch's Moon. He likes astronomy and herbology."
She came up the stairs and began to show Harry how to operate the telescope.
"What's a Witch's Moon?" asked a puzzled Harry.
"You don't know?" she looked surprised.
"No. Haven't covered that yet in my classes," admitted Harry.
"Oh. Well, it's when a full moon turns blue and it can make a wizard or witch's magic increase for as long as it's in the sky," she explained calmly.
"Wicked! Can we see one tonight?"
Laura looked thoughtful. "Let's see," she calibrated the telescope and then pointed it at the night sky.
The three apprentices could just see the moon, ghosting pale and silent, through the trees as it rose.
Beside them, Dante also used a telescope and peered through it. "I see it!" he exclaimed. "Kinda hard to miss. But I can't really tell if it's blue. It's kind of gray to me."
"Adjust the spectra knob," Laura called, turning a golden knob on the side. "There!" She looked through the lens.
"What's it look like?" Harry asked impatiently.
"Here. See for yourself."
Harry did and he gasped. "It really does glow blue!"
Laura laughed. "Now you've seen your first Witch's Moon."
On the railing, Callie began to sing, "Blue Moon."
Suddenly a voice said from behind them, "And when a Witch's Moon is in the sky, all spells cast and any potion brewed has triple the power they normally would.
The three children spun about and glanced down to see a slight elderly witch in a silver and gold robe with her white hair piled atop her head in an old-style updo leaning on the staff that had been in the corner. She had laugh lines about her bright sapphire eyes, which gleamed like hidden gems in her parchment pale face.
"Hello," Dante greeted.
"Greetings, children. It seems the Society recruits them younger and younger these days." The old witch murmured.
"Uh, we're not Society members—not yet," Harry coughed. "We're still in school."
"I see," the witch chuckled. "And who might I be speaking to?"
"My name is Harry Potter-Snape, and this is my cousin Dante Prince, and our friend Laura Madley."
"Prince, you say?" the old witch raised an eyebrow. "Who are your parents, boy?"
"My parents have passed the Veil," Dante replied. "But my father was Sulla Prince and my mother an American witch, of the Makepeace family. Did you know my dad?"
"Indeed I did," responded the elderly witch. "He was the son of Antonius and Melina Prince. He had a sister Eileen also."
"Umm . . . who are you?"
"My name is Francesca Prince, formerly Greengrass. I married Antonius' younger brother Stefan. So I am your great aunt, young Dante."
"Oh. Pleased to meet you," the older boy said and came down the steps to shake her hand. He discovered the witch's grip was not as frail as she appeared.
"So have you gone to see the estate yet? I am told that even with a caretaker to oversee it, it has since fallen into disrepair because Sulla never bothered to keep up with it as he should have." She shook her head. "Though once Tintagel Manor was one of the jewels of Yorkshire."
"Tintagel?" Like in King Arthur?" Dante clarified.
"Aye, the Princes named their ancestral home that, after the famous keep in Cornwall during the reign of Arthur Pendragon," Francesca nodded. "And once it was one of the most beautiful estates, known for its landscaping and architecture. Your grandmother, Melina, was a well known artist and your grandfather was not only a good architect, one that specialized in stone magic, he was also an exemplary potioneer."
"Really? Maybe that's where my dad Severus gets it from," Harry interrupted excitedly.
Francesca looked at him shrewdly. "Your father is Severus Snape, young man?"
Harry nodded. "Yes, ma'am. He adopted me though. I'm formerly the son of James and Lily Potter."
"Ah. You're the one they call The Boy Who Lived," Francesca smirked.
Harry sighed. "Yeah. But I took my dad's name when he adopted me."
"As is only proper," the old witch agreed.
"Do you live here?" queried Laura.
Francesca chuckled. "Most of the time, young witch. I have been the Society Astromagius for over sixty years now."
"What's that?" Dante queried.
"I am the one who reads the stars and the portents within them, and tracks the movements of the stars and planets in the heavens. I also know astromancy—the magic of the heavens." She climbed the stairs, slowly with the aid of her staff, which was of white hawthorn with a brilliant blue and gold cabochon atop it. "Right now Arcturus is in ascendance. Come, let me show you."
Harry stepped back to allow her access to his telescope, watching in fascination while the aged witch adjusted the telescope, her hands sure and knowledgeable.