In the Land of Magic
- Story Summary:
- There were rumors about the reclusive potion-makers who lived at the outskirts of Glastonbury.
The pale blonde girl stood near the back of the Chalice Well, contemplating bottled essences and packages of herbs. Noting her frown, the proprietor of the Chalice Well -- an elderly woman in a loose caftan -- rose from her seat at the register to make her way over, clucking softly under her breath.
"Not finding what you need, miss?"
"She don't know what she needs," laughed the young man who had come in with her, though it had been difficult to say whether they were together, shopping in tandem or whether it was mostly coincidence that they had entered the store at the same moment ("mostly" because Brighid, the aforementioned owner of the Chalice Well, did not believe in coincidences, at least not so far as random encounters between strangers). The man was British, whereas even before she spoke it was apparent from her clothes and teeth and something indefinable in her posture that the woman was American, and a tourist, not a student nor immigrant, but that didn't rule out the possibility that the two had known each other for a week or a year.
The woman was smiling sadly, and Brighid put a hand on her shoulder. "What is it you're looking for, dear?" she asked in a confidential tone. "Gateway to the spirit world? Tranquility at home? I'd be happy to make some suggestions, if I can help..."
The young man had wandered off to look at the swords, mostly commercial affairs such as a full-size reproduction of one of the Lord of the Rings movie props from several years back, and the girl cast a glance in his direction before turning to speak in a low voice to Brighid. "What I really need," she admitted, "is a love potion. Not the kind to make someone notice you -- something to make it real. How do you know if someone is your soulmate if he doesn't even believe in soulmates?"
Poor lamb, Brighid wanted to say, but she held her tongue and studied the young woman, whose bright clothing and crystal necklace did not disguise the weariness on her face. It wasn't unusual for couples to come to Glastonbury with conflicting beliefs and to come away with opposing impressions: many a time Brighid had overheard an enchanted visitor claim that she felt she had found her spiritual home, while a skeptical partner scoffed at the occult stores and New Age mumbo-jumbo. This girl was carrying other purchases -- a collection of postcards from the Abbey, a package of carved runes from the Crystal Cavern two doors down, and the well-worn Rider-Waite deck sticking out of her bag was newly wrapped in a cloth and tie from Merlin's Magickal Shoppe a block away.
"Come looking for the Holy Grail, did you?" asked Brighid sympathetically. "Well, you aren't the first to come on such a pilgrimage here. I expect you know that true love is a gift from the Goddess -- you won't find its secrets in a jar or a book. But if you want someone who can help you, I suggest you skip the tour group's trip up the Tor and go past the edge of town instead; there's a man who might be able to help you."
The boyfriend had wandered back over, and caught Brighid' last words. "Warlock, is he, then?" he asked with a cocked eyebrow. Brighid would have offered a firm retort, but she sensed no malice from the young man, merely the cynicism of the young who had grown up with television's promises of false satisfactions; she only shook her head.
"He's not part of any group. Doesn't even sell his potions here in town, though he'd make a pretty penny from the tourists if he did. He's something of a recluse, and it's rare for anyone to see his partner at all in the house...only sometimes in the fields, looking for ingredients, I'd imagine. They say he doesn't like people much."
"Couple of poofs, eh?" said the young man, again without any real hostility, though the words brought him glares from both Brighid and the girl and he held his hands up peaceably. "All right then, I didn't mean any harm by it. But do they have some kind of license or something, to be selling dangerous chemicals? Doro, how do you know swallowing all this stuff isn't going to mess with your medication?"
So the girl was ill; that explained her pallor. Or perhaps the medicines were meant to treat depression; a lot of very unhappy people came to Glastonbury, looking for instant solutions to problems that Brighid knew would take years and hard, painful work to resolve. "You should always tell your doctor before you start to take any remedy, even a common herb like St. John's Wort," she reminded the young woman -- Doro, perhaps Dorothy. "And if you do visit the gentleman, you should tell him of any medications you take, as well. He seems quite knowledgeable, though he isn't a doctor...professor, I think, though I've never heard where he taught. He's retired now."
"He's an old man, then?" asked the boy.
"No, younger than I am, I should think. There are some children who visit sometimes, teenagers or perhaps your age. He moved here a couple years back, right after..." Brighid glanced from the boy to Doro. "There had been some sort of a crisis, something that affected both the people and the weather. I'm sure you remember reading about the unexplained fires and the bodies they found, but that was only the surface. All of us who are sensitive to the magickal world could feel it."
"I sense a great disturbance in the Force, Luke," the boy muttered with a laugh, but Doro was studying Brighid seriously.
"What happened?" she asked.
Hesitating, Brighid returned the girl's somber gaze. "They say there was a war," she said finally. "They say there was a man -- a wizard -- who had been gathering power to himself, and all the evil he did was reflected out into the world. And they say he was defeated by a child. But, you know, a lot of myths are similar. I suppose it might only be a fairy tale."
"Do you think it's a fairy tale?" Doro asked. Tapping his foot impatiently, the boy rolled his eyes and she grew animated, snapping, "Just ignore Tom. What do you think happened?"
"I think..." Brighid paused. Many years in Glastonbury, meeting its pilgrims, watching them fighting the pull of the moon over the tower, had taught her not to say too much. "I don't suppose it's for me to know," she finished finally. "But something happened -- something that thinned the veil between the worlds. That man past the edge of town might be able to tell you, though I'm guessing he won't talk to anyone if he knows." There were stories about him, too, some outlandish; despite the Rede there was hatred even among Wiccans, as Brighid knew all too well. Yet she could feel that this girl meant no harm, and a strong intuition told her that Doro and the potion seller were meant to meet.
Werewolf. It was a ridiculous fib, of course, and proof that small-minded bigotry could erupt even in the vicinity of Glastonbury, where no one took notice of people who shut down their businesses on the full moon and where a pair of quiet-living men would be left to themselves. Still, if one was a werewolf, mused Brighid, he could hardly find a better place to live.
She gave the girl and her doubtful Tom directions, hoping that this Dorothy would find the true Emerald City of her dreams.
At the edge of the village was a great, rolling field that trailed off into boggy wetlands. The shabby house which stood in the uncut grasses in the midst of a few old trees did not look very hospitable; there wasn't even a paved way from the road through the grasses to the front door, though tumbled stones marked out a winding path. But Isadora could smell the sweet smoke from the chimney, and she made her way to the splintering wooden door to knock while Tom waited in the car flipping through a book on church conspiracies he'd picked up in town.
The man who answered was nearly as ragged as the house, dressed in a threadbare cardigan and unfashionable corduroy trousers, but he gave her a smile and led her into a dim, cozy room lined with shelves of potions and herbs in unremarkable brown bottles. Unlike the well-lit, decorated shops of Glastonbury, there was no sense that she had entered a place of commerce, though she could smell cloves and other spices in the air and the wall sconces held candles rather than lightbulbs. What books the room contained were on shelves above the counter and sink, clearly the work area; there were no altar stones, no fancy pewter goblets, just a well-worn mortar and pestle and a few dented measuring cups and spoons.
"Remus," said the man, extending a hand. His blue eyes looked tired yet attentive, despite the distracting scars that swirled across his face, and Isadora felt perfectly at ease. "Would you like a cup of tea? I've only just made some."
For a moment Dora shivered, recalling Tom's concern about mixing herbal remedies with the drugs that made her suffering manageable. Steeling herself, she nodded: "Thank you, if it's no trouble, I'd like that." Remus stepped from the room and she heard a quiet murmur; then, more quickly than she would have thought possible, he was back holding two cups, one of which he offered to her. Perhaps, she thought, the other man -- his lover -- had been in the kitchen getting the tea ready.
Gesturing at the round wooden table in the center of the room, Remus pulled out a chair for her. "Now, what brings you to these parts? From your accent I'm guessing that you come from America."
"Yes, I do," she nodded. "I'm Isadora. From New York. Have you been there?"
"No, but my -- " Smiling, Remus tilted his head toward the door, reinforcing Dora's sense that there was someone else just beyond, in the living area of the house. "I've never left Europe. But I have a friend who spent time in New Orleans. You have a lot of cities with 'new' in their names," and they laughed together softly. "Did you climb the Tor?"
"Not yet." Hesitating, she studied the intricate pattern carved into the table. "I met a woman in town, at one of the shops. She suggested that I come and see you instead."
"And what can I do for you, Isadora?"
"Just Dora, please," she requested, and was startled to see a flicker of grief pass over Remus' face. "I -- oh. Do you know another Dora?"
"I did," he replied sadly, his eyes following her fingers as they traced the wooden maze of the tabletop. "She's gone now. But we were talking about you. What was it that you were hoping I could do for you?"
"I need a -- a love potion." As soon as the words were out of her mouth, she blushed scarlet, but Remus did not smirk; he shifted, looking at her very seriously, and after a moment he nodded. "I don't mean I want to make someone fall in love with me," she added quickly. "I know that's not...I know it's not fair to try to use chemicals to force that, even if it was possible, which I doubt. But I was hoping that there was some way, you know, to be sure that it was right."
Remus glanced past her, at the wall facing the front of the house, and for a moment she had the impression that he was looking directly through the wall, watching Tom in the car. Then his eyes returned to her. "I'm sorry to pry, but I'm afraid I must ask what makes you think it isn't right."
"Maybe it is," she replied too quickly. "We're from different places, and sometimes I think he thinks he can't understand how I think...I don't know if that's important to him, maybe it's not, but I can't be sure he loves me the way I love him." Tears prickled at her eyes and she willed them back, angry at herself for telling this stranger so much, despite the kindness in his scarred face. "I just want...I want him to feel what I feel, so he understands. Can you do that?" Furiously she swiped at her eyes.
Reaching into a pocket, Remus passed her a paper napkin; something else crinkled in his hand, and a moment later he placed a half-eaten bar of chocolate on the table beside it. "Have some, if you'd like. It helps more people than any of my potions. Dora, I'm sure you must suspect this already, but there's no chemical that can guarantee what you're asking." He shook his head, a little sadly. "I can give you the means to heighten his interest, rouse his passions and associate the very sound of your name with pleasure. But real love, the kind that comes from within...there's no potion that can offer that, or even simulate it. I'm very sorry."
"Oh," she said, and looked at the chocolate, and then quite suddenly burst into tears. Distressed, Remus looked about for something to do; reaching across the table, he took her hand, shushing her and pushing the chocolate toward her.
"Here, have some. It helps, truly. Listen to me, Dora...you're young. You have many years before you to learn, and grow, and find the person you're meant to be with..."
"But I don't," she sobbed. "Or I might not...I've been sick. I had cancer. In remission now but it could come back...I could die, he knows I could die...you can't know what it's like, to know that any time, it could all be over, and what if you ruined your one chance..."
Remus, who was still holding her hand, slid his chair around to sit nearer to her; she heard the metal legs scrape on the floor. "Shh," he said again. "Dora, I'm so sorry. But I do know how it feels to know that at any time, it could all be over. Honestly, I understand."
With another sob, Dora picked up the napkin, blew her nose and tried to calm herself. "I'm sorry," she muttered, sounding ashamed. "Brighid -- the woman from the Chalice Well -- she said that something had happened, something terrible that affected all the people who practiced magick, and she thought you might be one of them."
"Yes, I was," replied Remus, eyes straying once more toward the door to the room, pressing his lips flat together. It surprised her; despite his gentleness, he seemed reserved, and the room, though homely, contained no personal items, nothing to give her a clue to the personality of this man nor the other one who lived there. "Much of our world was destroyed. We lost friends; we lost what had been our homes." Dora started to apologize again, but he held up a hand to forestall her. "But we have each other. And, do you know, when it was all over, that was the most important thing. I don't think I had understood until that moment how much, even though I owed him my life before that, more than once."
"I heard that you were a professor," Dora said, wiping her eyes with the back of her hand, distracted. "And that there had been a man...what did she say, gathering power, and a child stopped him. Is that true? Did you know the child?"
"I'm not certain precisely what she meant, but I was a teacher, once, and we did teach extraordinary children," he murmured. "It seems like a long time ago, and in a different world." Now Remus smiled a little. "And here we are. Listen to me; you came to me for help and I'm changing the subject. I'll tell you what, I can't give you a magic brew that will guarantee eternal love, because love is something that has to be remade, every day and every year. That's the only way to make it last -- to work at it, so that it grows and moves with you -- and then, if you get it right, not even death can end it. What I can do for you is this: there are some very simple potions that will make you calm and open to experiences, no stronger than herbal teas, and if you..."
A knock on the outer door interrupted him. With an apologetic shrug and a squeeze of her hand, Remus said, "I'll be right back." As he walked out of the room, Dora could see another door swinging open in the corridor and a thin, dark-haired man stepped forward, wearing traces of a frown. Remus spoke to him: "I'll answer it."
"I had thought that you were busy." Indeed, though she could not see his face, Dora could hear the scowl in the other man's voice, but Remus laughed softly.
"I was, but I know how much you hate greeting people, so rather than scaring away potential business, I had thought that I would take care of things." She heard a quiet harrumph, then the unmistakable sound of a kiss, a louder knock, and a moment later the sound of the front door opening.
"I'm, ah, looking for my girl," Tom's voice said.
"She's right through there. We won't be a moment. Would you like to sit down? I'll fetch you some tea..." Before Remus had finished speaking, Dora had risen to her feet, walked to the door of the room and pushed it open, finding herself face to face with Tom's uneasy expression, Remus' smile of apology and a long, scrutinizing stare from the third man, whose clothes were as dark as his shoulder-length hair. He looked straight into her eyes and she got the distinct impression that he was reading her mind. More curious than frightened, she stared back, and after a moment she felt something give way.
A series of irrational images flashed in her mind -- a striking snake, a child in glasses, a pouncing wolf, a wooden wand that burst into flame. Gasping, she reached to the doorframe for support, and another set of visions came -- images of Remus, younger, laughing, sleeping, licking chocolate from his fingers, reaching out to touch a scar on a man's arm. Leaning into the doorway, she rubbed at her own arm, seeing the dark-haired man's eyes widen in surprise before he broke the glance.
"Are you all right?" Remus asked her at the same moment that Tom stepped forward, face puckered in concern.
"I'm fine," she replied automatically, glancing again at the silent, stern-looking man whose love for his partner was still shining in her mind, an impression as vivid as a scent. "And, actually, I think we've finished. Thank you." Though she inclined her chin toward Remus, the words were actually for the other man. "I've no idea how much you usually charge, whether it's by the potion or by the client..." She reached for her purse.
"Don't be ridiculous," said Remus, looking dreadfully embarrassed. "I did nothing at all. I should be thanking you." He looked at her, and she had the sense once again that her mind was being touched, scanned by a benevolent yet powerful force that she didn't understand; then it was gone. "Listen, Isadora. You're going to be fine. I feel certain of it." Turning slightly, he included Tom in his smile. "You may think that I'm a crazy old man, but you agree, don't you?" Remus asked him.
"Sure," Tom said, hiding a smile. "We're going to be fine."
The dark haired man glanced from one to the other, nodding shortly. Then he spun on his heel, walked through a doorway and disappeared from sight.
Severus was behind the house gathering herbs when Remus found him, carrying chocolate biscuits fresh from the oven. "Perhaps you should sell these instead of potions," the dark-eyed wizard said without a trace of wit.
"You think we should open a bakery? Why, Severus, that's a charming idea," Remus smiled, putting his arms around him.
"It was meant to be practical. That young woman was offering to pay you, and as I am sure you are aware, our funds are extremely limited..."
"Then certainly we should sell biscuits and muffins on the side. Only if I'm to do the baking, I suppose that means you'll have to deliver and serve the customers. Imagine spending hours with them, listening to people talk about their parties and weddings and children's birthdays." At the expression of horror on Severus' face, Remus leaned in and kissed him.
"On second thought, we are living quite well on what money we have. I suppose that if circumstances ever became dire, we could hire ourselves out and perform parlor tricks for all the charlatans in Glastonbury who claim to be in touch with the spirit world." The scowl on Severus' face was the one he wore only for Remus, and only when they were teasing one another. "Besides, how would we explain a bakery that closed each month around the full moon? People would think that we were selling cursed scones."
"That might make them popular with some of the young people in town," laughed Remus, tugging Severus back toward their house. Their home: the wonder of that phrase had not diminished with time, and as he watched Severus' eyes flicker from him to the house and back, Remus knew that it was true for the other wizard as well. They had not expected to survive the war, and had not dared to wish that they would both emerge unscathed -- to hope for their own lives would inevitably have meant to condemn others to death, for they had known that there would be many losses, even among the children. Severus had faced the end with stoicism, but Remus had been terrified that his lover's willingness to die for their cause might, in fact, seal his fate.
"I suppose that if we could tell any of them our histories, those Goth creatures might make local celebrities of us," agreed Severus with a feigned shudder. For they had survived after all, remarkably whole in spirit though they were both terribly wounded and their world was in tatters. Hermione Granger had come to see them the morning following the first full moon, after; she had wept and begged them to go, insisting that the struggle belonged to her generation now.
With the help of her Muggle relatives, they had changed their knuts and galleons to pounds and retired to this corner of the world where a little magic earned very little notice. "Imagine the popularity of sweets concocted by a werewolf and a onetime Death-Eater," added Severus, warming to the subject. "We could sell to wizards and Muggles both. Perhaps I could even teach potions classes. Brews to shock your friends, torture your enemies and give you the virility of a hare in season..."
Chuckling, Remus kissed him again. "Have you grown bored already with our quiet little life here?" he asked with a glance out over the muddy marsh toward the River Brue. When they had first come to the house, he had feared that Severus must have found it dull and tiresome to be alone with him after so many years among the faculty, students and staff at Hogwarts and the urgent work of Grimmauld Place; he had said so, and Severus, staring at him as if he had gone mad, had proceeded to enumerate in a straightforward voice all the pleasures of their quiet life together until Remus had silenced Severus' mouth with his own to stop himself from weeping.
Since then it had become a routine: Remus would ask his scowling partner what he was unhappy about, and Severus would protest, in his dour, scornful voice, revealing a capacity for joy in things so small that they astonished Remus. "Then again, if we were to run a better organized business, I would have little time to work on the serum to eradicate your condition," the potions master said now, tracing a finger over a scar. "You wouldn't want me to give up research in favor of brewing that dreadful stuff they call beer in town? And I know nothing about beginning such a venture; we would have to ask advice from the Weasleys."
This last was said with feigned horror as well. The unconventional pranks of Fred and George had saved many lives, and with Arthur running their shop, now visible to and focused on Muggles, Severus did not even object to an occasional visit. The war had changed them both, but while Remus sometimes found himself swallowing back bitterness, mourning all those who had died too young and so needlessly, it had had very nearly the opposite effect upon his lover. For the first time in all the years Remus had known him, Severus seemed content simply to live with the cycles of the months and the seasons. He was standing calmly within the circle of Remus' arms, lavender and sage sticking haphazardly from a pocket, waiting for the riposte.
"I wanted to let you talk to that woman about love and hope, but I was certain you'd refuse," Remus said softly. "Except you did do something, didn't you? I saw the look on your face, and on hers. You were using Legilimency. You know we promised not to do that."
"I assure you that it was not intentional," stated Severus. "She surprised me -- a Muggle, yet somehow she was able to pry into my thoughts."
"Some of them are sensitive. It's what draws them to this place, to the Tor. She was ill, she told me -- cancer."
"I did not sense disease in her, only depletion -- the Muggle treatments are often worse than their ailments. We could cure most of them, you know, were we allowed to interfere."
"But we're not. We can only try to teach them what we know that won't cause too much trouble in their lives." Since the war, Remus had taken to studying the history of magic with an attentiveness he had never shown while at Hogwarts, trying to understand the circumstances in which the magical world had disappeared from the consciousness of Muggles, slipping into separation and secrecy which he believed had damaged them all. When Harry visited, they all discussed it, but Harry had been scarred by the non-magical relatives who raised him, and did not believe that anything would be safe if magic could be practiced by the Muggle heads of state and military leaders -- he insisted that the power would not be used to feed starving children and to repair the polluted rivers, but to support the rise of a hundred Voldemorts.
In this Harry and Severus were in rare, perfect accord. Though the two would never be close, grudging respect had replaced outright hostility -- and Lupin knew, with gratitude that humbled him, that this was in large part because they both cared for him. His arms had tightened around Severus, who was looking at him intently, making Remus wonder how many of his thoughts he had just inadvertently shared with his lover.
"It's getting colder. Let's go inside," suggested Severus, keeping him close. Though he was a much more skilled Occlumens than Remus, his mind was open now, and Remus could hear desire-passion-love as if the words were being whispered into his ear.
Ducking his head, he leaned against Severus, whispering, "We've been so lucky."
"Most would not envy us the lives we have lived." But Severus was holding him tightly, nodding against him. "I have found that there is very little I need, and I have it here in abundance."
As they turned to go into the house, the mist was rising over the land that had once been part of Avalon, its mysteries and enchantments lost to the past, even for wizards. Remus could feel the pull of the Tor, and if he concentrated he could feel the combined yearning of all the souls in Glastonbury seeking the world he had once known. With a wistful smile, he looked up at his home, solid as the man beside him.
"So do I," he said to Severus, who pulled him inside.