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Someone To Run To (11/32)

 

Chapter Eleven, In Which I Become an Unwed Teenage Mother to a Three-Headed Snake


 

I sent Hedwig off with an owl-order for rainbow-striped lingerie to deliver to one N. Tonks with the assurance my dear owl would deliver it only when Remus was in the same room. Vengeance, oddly enough, didn't seem as sweet with a Runespoor egg tucked into my pocket.

How does one raise the hatchling pets of supposedly Dark wizards anyway? It's not like there are exactly a plethora of books on the subject, and even in most Bestiaries (and I think I looked through them all my third year for Buckbeak) have only a paragraph or so saying they are, "orange with black stripes," and the, "familiars of the Darkest of Wizards," another three or four talking about the various known Parselmouths to have conversed with them, and then a brief mention on the curious personalities of each head, and that's it. Runespoors are either too Dark to mention, too rare, or, in the odd case, not dangerous enough to bother with.

My journey from the dungeons to the owlery to the tower, I thought back over the entire conversation I'd had with the statue. For some reason giving me a Runespoor egg would have me around the statue, at least, for several, "cycles" – something to do with, "nestlings," but, from the way the various heads put it, I was given to thinking that they meant each head of the Runespoor was to be counted as its own, individual, nestling. I mean, even talking Runespoor statues don't try to set you up to get in the position to be impregnated by your older Potions Master.

And how, exactly, am I supposed to tell Sirius that I have a baby Runespoor to take care of? I'll have to tell him sometime – they tend to become quite large, I'm given to understand – and that of course leads the question of, "Éléonore, where did you get that usually-considered-Dark snake?" Lies, in this case, tend to lead to, "What were you doing in Knocturn?" or "Why were you drinking with a pair of hags and a vampire on a school night?" and so, at some point, my godfather is bound to find out that I was having a conversation with the statue in front of Severus's door. I mean, I only just got him to stop sending me pamphlets on that Himalayan monastery. I can just see myself telling him and suddenly I finding myself engaged to be married to His Royal Highness, the eleven-year-old Prince Henry Charles Albert David of Wales. Or Louis XX, King of Magical France, if he doesn't want to wait for Harry to come of age. Stupid patriarchal men. According to Ari, she dated Sirius for a week in her Fifth Year and at least three separate times her Sixth – one among many of his string of girlfriends those years – and he seemed to have no problem then ignoring the societal demands in which he'd grown up. It had been the '70s, though, but still.

All I wanted to do, I tell you, was see Severus, and now suddenly I'm about to become the unwed mother of a Runespoor hatchling. How, I ask you Fate, is that right? Is there a sign on my back that I can't see that says, "Hey, I'm down again, why don't you just kick me one more time?"

Okay. That was melodramatic. I must stop that.

I wish I could say I was fast asleep when I returned to the tower – usually, I must say, I'm dead on my feet by midnight, but ever since the graveyard I've been barely able to sleep. My nerves won't let me and are more then a little frayed, which is probably why I thought it was a good idea to try to see Severus in the wee hours of the morning. I can't recall ever feeling so tired or so old.

The fact that it's three in the morning and I'm still, reluctantly, awake when I return to the tower has ceased to surprise me. The fact that Ron and Hermione were waiting for me, a bowl of murtlap essence to one side, and a cuppa to the other, did. Just when I think my friends have gone off the deep end, they do something nice.

The blood had ceased flowing an hour or so before from my injured right hand, but it still felt nice – and not a little painful, to remember that Severus had done the same for my feet almost a year ago – to soak it in the slippery liquid. It wasn't their fault that I wished that someone else had provided the relief…

"I reckon you've got to complain about it this time – how many hours did she make you stay, mate? Nine?"

"I've written to Ari Cauldwell about it. According to her daughter-" Ari's youngest child, Alycone, had been sorted into Gryffindor, and was an odd sort: reverently interested in Quidditch, Charms, and Sino-Japanese comics, but amazingly uninterested in almost everything else, "there's not much that can be done since, amazingly, it's not illegal for her to have one, or even have a student use, so long as it's not in excess. She'll take it to trial after she finishes her current round of high profile cases against the Ministry… at least, that's what the note Alycone gave me said. Besides," I finished glumly, "I've had worse." After a Dark Lord's crucio, almost nothing compared. That didn't mean I liked having my hand sliced open night after night, but at least it was an obstacle I could, in time, conquer. My thoughts, now returned to that starless night, were a harder chain still to break… Just the merest thought of it and I spiralled into that dreaded sea…

… Cedric, so cold already as I fell atop his dead body…

… the horror as, unable to move or even scream, I witness the unbearably pale form rising from the stone cauldron, seeming to suck the night into him…

… my horror as, one by one, the echoes of the dead poured from his wand…

Hermione's words snap me out of my dark reverie. "She's an awful woman. Awful. We've got to do something about her."

"Have you thought of poison?" The third head of a Runespoor was supposed to be very, very deadly. I could probably get this one in my pocket to give me some when it hatched. Who knew how long that would take, or how long it had been in the statue? Well, the Runespoors of course, but the one in my pocket wasn't sharing and neither was the statue it had come from.

"I did," Ron said grimly, "but apparently there are such things as antidotes."

"Besides, Ronald," she huffed, "I meant something, something about what a dreadful teacher she is – you've been right from day one, Harry, we're not going to learn a thing that we can apply to the real world."

"We've already raided the library for spells for me last year, Hermione. We can't learn what we need from books anymore – we need a proper teacher." I doubt Severus, even if he was being nice to me again, would be willing to teach two other Gryffindors along side me. Nor, probably, would they take some of the borderline spells as well as I had. Damn him for suddenly becoming noble!

"That was my thought too."

"Yeah, but who could we get to teach us. Lupin's been the only good professor we had, but he's busy with the Order…"

"Well, who, then?" Ron racked his mind as I did mine, searching for Hermione's perfect DADA teacher. Tonks was out, especially when she received the multi-coloured lingerie I'd just ordered her. Sirius, though obviously not busy, was still considered a convict…

"Isn't if obvious?"

"Uh, no?"

She looked at me in a very predatory way I knew immediately I didn't like, "I'm talking about you, Harry."

I laughed at her.

Ron, surprisingly, looked pensive. "That's an idea."

"But-"

"You're right, Harry – you were right last year too. Tests and rules don't matter, not when it comes to staying alive. I mean, look at what you've done."

I thought. Stone, Basilisk, Dementors, Voldemort… "I don't like this." They were smiling like the kneazle who caught the puffskien. I really do hate it when people smile at me like this. "I mean… I didn't survive all those things because I was best at defence or smartest or anything but lucky… You don't… You don't know what it's like, fighting them, trying to stay alive. It's not brain or spells or instinct…" I raged at them, suddenly angry for no good reason that they couldn't understand while praying that they never would have to, "It's knowing that, if you fail, you're going to die, or be tortured, or both, and that's running through your mind while its also screaming at you every reason you have to live, why you shouldn't die that way, and how every noise around you is both super-sharp and blunted to your ears, and you keep on thinking of everything you did wrong rather then what to do now…"

…Wormtail, bleeding and broken but coming at me with that knife and with no way to stop him…

… searching the summoned crowd for a figure I could pick out in a dark room, could know by scent and sense alone, and hoping to nameless deities that he'd save me and that he'd not come…

My voice fell, then broke entirely as memory overtook me, "…just flinging whatever spell you can and hoping to Merlin or God or whatever that they hit something…" I ended, somewhat lamely. I dipped my free hand into my pocket, where the comforting warmth of the egg brushed against my hand and comforted me. I should have known something from Severus – even if it was given to me only by the statue that guarded his door, and that he'd probably never known had existed – would hold that same aura of age and solidity that so drew me to him in the first place.

"See, Harry? Can't you? That… everything you've just said… that's why you've got to do it… You're the only one who knows what it's really like, in the real world… going against him, V-Vol-Voldemort." I acquiesced, beginning to understand how I got into these stupid, ridiculous, and generally unpleasant situations.

Slowly I pulled my right hand from the murtlap, dried it on the front of my robes, and transferred the Runespoor egg into it. The pulse the egg gave off served further to ease the pain of everything. All I'd wanted, setting out from detention, was to see and maybe make-out with everybody's favourite Potions Master, get a little revenge on Tonks for the lubricant in my school things, maybe charm some tapioca into the suits of armour by the DADA classroom… but, no, I don't even get so much as a, "Go away, Potter," from the man whose existence helped keep me alive while fighting his former master, and an egg from a statue.

Fate is a vindictive witch and I love her.

"Harry," asked Ron as we walked to the stairwell, not vindictively at all, just curiously in his state of exhaustion, "what's that?"

What was the point of lying? "An egg." I was so tired.

"Odd looking, it. What is it, some strange tiger?"

"You'd think so, wouldn't you? Nah, it's just a Runespoor." Maybe if I don't make a big deal of it, it'll go away. And then I can get an hour of sleep before dreaming of odd hallways and nightmarish cackles.

Slowly, as if she were addressing a five-year-old, "Harry, where'd you get a Runespoor egg?"

"Archimedes."

"A dead mathematician gave you a Runespoor egg?"

I shake my head, resigned to the conversation, and move to my favourite armchair by the still-warm embers. "He's a statue of a Runespoor on the third level of the dungeons – well, they I suppose. Each head has a different name: Arc, Him, and Edes."

"So a statue named after a dead mathematician gave you a Runespoor egg?"

"Pretty much."

"Why?"

"Something about nestlings? I dunno. None of the heads were too clear on that." Talking to one was like being hung-over and trying to make sense of The Twins, only worse.

"And so you just took it? What if it's from V-Voldemort?"

I bristled at the idea. Not this egg. "I trust Archimedes. Things are copasetic between us." I held up two fingers and twisted them together in demonstration. "We're like this."

"You're 'copasetic' with a statue of a Runespoor?"

Why was she repeating everything I said? I closed my eyes and leaned back against the comfortable depths of the armchair. I'm so going to have to take this chair with me when I graduate. If I live that long. "I just think it's lonely. Gotta be tough being a talking statue that only so many people can understand…" Maybe there were cushioning charms on the chair to make it feel just that much better?

I shifted the weight of the egg in my hand and curled up tighter on the chair. I may not have known many things, but I knew, instinctively, this egg in my hand wasn't evil.

It wouldn't remain an egg forever. It would hatch at some point… and then I would have to take care of it… What do Runespoors eat, anyone? Anyone at all? And then each head would be like Archimedes, which meant that I would have another three insane people to deal with… and what would I name it, pray tell? These things just don't come with names – not that I know of.

Fate is a vindictive witch and I love her.

Oh, who am I kidding? I hate her guts. Least I know she hates mine.

) ( ) ( ) ( ) ( ) ( ) ( ) ( ) ( ) ( ) ( ) ( ) ( ) ( ) (

By next Monday the egg still hadn't hatched. The weekend had been a fervent mixture of meeting up with the (what, thirty?) people who wanted to, for some unknown reason, be taught DADA by me; searching the library for anything I could about Runespoors, and trying to get information out of Archimedes as well as get into the place he bared me from.

Our conversations every night that weekend had gone something like this:

"Let me in,"

"We."

"Cannot."

"Speaker. We have given."

"The nestlingsss to you."

"That isss enough, for now."

And then I'd ask about what I was supposed to do with the nestlings, and get the obscure answer from Him, "Love it," who never did seem to understand what it was I was asking.

Still, it was a comfort to have the egg, even if it was a weird, strange comfort that I almost didn't like having because, as much as I knew that very few things that were Dark were actually evil, and that I'd seen the Light itself bent to terrible purposes, it frightened me in a way I was no comfortable admitting that I felt any sort of reassurance around a thing that had once been the treasured pet of evil wizards. I hasten to say that, far from comfort, it was a maternal feeling, and even if my "child" were to turn out evil, I doubt I would ever have noticed until he slew someone right before me and couldn't come up with a reasonable answer why. How my aunt must have felt for my cousin, odd as that was. It helped with the dreams, of which a fifth had been added to the repertoire, one of a long, grey stone corridor with a single wooden door at the end, and made my waking less horrifying.

Still, on Monday I skipped HoM and went straight to McGonagall's office. "I'm dropping Umbridge's class."

She stared at me hard from underneath the wide brim of her hat. "You known as well as I, Miss Potter, why you cannot drop Defence." Yeah, the Voldemort thing. Not exactly forgotten that, you know. Kinda have his mark on my head and his people wanting to kill me – kinda hard to forget.

"I don't want to like drop it, not take the OWL or anything – Merlin, no. I'd like to do something of a self-study program. You know as well as I that Umbridge doesn't have any intention of teaching us anything then other then how to be good Ministry drones, and that I don't have any intention of going to her classes again. Every other word I end up saying to her lands me in detention, and let me just say, her quill is torture." I held my hand up to her, showing her where the words I must not tell lies have been permanently etched into my skin. "I've Ari working on it, but even with all of Dunn, Hastings, and McGully at my disposal, I've kinda got them swamped." I got a little worried then. "Maybe I should just buy another law firm…"

She gave a sigh and pinched the bridge of he nose. "You do have a penchant for making sure my life is never dull. Quite like your father and godfather that way."

"I'm nothing compared to Sirius," I insisted. "O, gingernewt," I saw in her tin of biscuits and helped myself.

"How's his trial going, by the way? I've been keeping up with it in the papers… but you know how they are."

"According to Ari, the Ministry's folding; they just haven't admitted it yet."

"I should've never-"

"From everything I've ever heard, Professor, the… the four of them were such good friends that it was all but impossible to imagine any one of them betraying the other. When Severus," she raised an eyebrow in that singularly professorial way some teachers have at my use of the name, but made no comment as she smiled softly, biting into her own gingernewt, "told you that someone was betraying Mum and Dad to Voldemort, it was so foreign, so bizarre, that I think it threw everyone for a loop. The fact that you never once thought it could have been any of them led you to suspect all of them when the betrayal was found with such a ferocity that all logic was lost in the process. Sirius… well, you know what his family was like, probably taught more then a few of them, and so it seemed to be possible that he could do something like that when my parents were found dead, even though it made no sense to suspect he'd bow before a master he'd eschewed long ago. Wormtail had the perfect cover, that gas line exploding thing he probably heard from Dad, and you'd no reason to ever doubt that he wasn't dead… Everything was so chaotic then, everyone just wanted to get it all over with, behind them, move on… It's not your fault. It's not anyone's fault, except Wormtail's.

"Now, granted, he should've had a trial, all the proper steps taken, but at least now it's coming to light. At least the truth is finally known."

McGonagall smiled at me then, one of those bitter similes I'm used to seeing on people who remember my parents when they look at me. My father's hair, my mother's eyes, the scar that won't stay covered by make-up or careful placement of hair – these things are superficial only. I wish that, for once, people would just look at me and see me. I've done some pretty extraordinary things mind, the Stone, Basilisk, Dementors… and the graveyard last year. I'd like someone to look at me and see that the fifteen-year-old witch in front of them is not ordinary, is not just another Lavender Brown or Hannah Abbot. Merlin above, when they look at me I want them to see a girl who had fifteen blissful months of life with parents the world worshiped before being shoved into a cupboard-under-the-stairs in Azkaban South and treated worse then a house elf; I want them to see the girl who made it out of that somehow alive enough to want to learn, caring enough to make friends and fight for them and risk everything for the world, though the world had long abandoned me. I want them to look at me and see Alexandrie-Margaux Éléonore Henriette Potter, who has lived through so much. Not my mother, or father, or The Girl-Who-Lived.

The only people who ever loved me, for me, were my parents. Sirius loves me – escaped an inescapable prison to save me – because I am his dead friends' daughter. Remus, too, because of dear, sweet Lily Potter and her dashing young prince, my father. My aunt hates me, because I am Mum's child. Need I go on? I won't. My thoughts depress me.

In all my life, only one man has ever seen that.

I am fifteen. Is it ridiculous to say that I'm in love?

Nevertheless, though, McGonagall gives me one of those smiles. She tells me that I'm my parents' daughter, and that I should be proud to be so. I am, truly so, but she's not the one who has to live with the knowledge that everything she ever does will be measured against them. Dad, she told me, worked for the Ministry. Mum was going to be a Mind Healer when she finished her schooling. How can I ever compare to them, no matter what I do?

Potions is vile, Umbridge asking a question a minute of Severus as she "inspects" his class. She makes it a point to inspect the other teachers during Fifth Year Gryffindor classes, with one of her sycophantic Ministry junior undersecretaries taking her classes while she does this. I hate her for it, the mutant frog. The truth… the woman would bury me for bringing her the truth.

Normally, I'd spend this time thinking of ways to turn her into a frog, but today I am distracted by Severus. I cannot bear the thoughts of what he must be going through, spying for Voldemort. I cannot bear the thought that he's risking his life with every meeting he attends and I'm sitting here in school, looking pretty and being ignored by those who should worry the most (because the innocent and ignorant are always in this world the first condemned), and not even being able to comfort him. Not that he probably needs much comforting, Severus being who he is, but patching him up and seeing him safe would be enough for me. I don't care if it's wrong of me to want to be near him just because I sense he knows me as I know me, I want to be with him.

Blasted Runespoor, why can't it just let me in! Why won't he let them? I'll make all see I'm not going away that easily, that I won't throw away my first chance at happiness that easily.

Hermione saves me from completely destroying my potion time and time again, though it is still something orange and sticky looking rather then the pale yellow antidote we were supposed to be making. He looks into my eyes as he vanishes it with a sweep of his wand. I think I'm the only one who saw him pause a bit mid-spell. Maybe he was reading my mind with that legi-something and saw what I was thinking, or maybe he just saw the pain I'm sure my emerald eyes (my mother's, you know) are full of.

I linger. Lunch is next; I can linger without missing another class. He notices, but pretends not to. The classroom is empty of but the two of us for the longest moment, when I think of things to say, of every dream I have had of the next when we would be alone, and he is in that mind-place of his where he is pretending what he feels for me doesn't exist like I know it does, because he wouldn't have ignored me and left me detention-free for as long as he has if he didn't have something that needed hiding. He admitted it to me, for Merlin's sake! He admitted he loved me more then he hated the man who'd branded him like cattle, then was loyal to the man who'd helped him redeem his troubled youth! Why can't it just be so simple that two people who love each other be allowed to love each other without anything getting in the way?

Fate is a vindictive witch and I love her.

Well, screw fate. I'll throw myself into his arms if I have to, fall at his feet, whatever it takes. Even Archimedes admitted that he was happier when were well, if not together, then orbiting fairly close to one another.

But I turn around, and he's gone.

Somehow, skipping out on DADA doesn't seem as fun after a trial of a Divs (Bug Eyes: "Oh, Miss Potter, you're going to die." Me: "What else is new?"). All I can think about, sitting in the library with On the Historie of Magyckal Serpentes in Europe lying uselessly in front of me, is how I've got to get Severus to stop being noble and act more like a Slytherin and take advantage of the situation fate's afforded him. Id est, falling in love with wonderful little me. I may not be Fleur or anything, but I'm not that bad looking. I'm relatively intelligent and good at fighting off evil-doers. He knew that mind-occluding thing and, if worst came to worst, than he could just stop spying altogether. He's had to have redeemed himself by now…

As his last class of the day (Second Year Hufflepuff/Ravenclaw) is slinking dejectedly from the heart of all Hogwarts evil, I slip into the classroom and begin to scrub the cauldrons within. The Runespoor egg is warm and comforting at my side, but his presence even across the room causes me to shiver. He doesn't say anything to me, or I to him, but he knows I'm not going anywhere.

We do the same Tuesday after his Seventh Year NEWT class (whose occupants looking like they'd just come out of a vivisection), me cleaning and him ignoring me but no going anywhere. Wednesday after First Year Gryffindor/Ravenclaw is the same. Thursday after the Hufflepuff/Slytherin First Years pass he says, "Afternoon," to me. I'm breaking him down.

And then comes Friday.

I wake up that morning with a peck of owls at the dorms windows, and it is barely four in the morning by my wand when their noise, at last, gets too loud for me to ignore. I open the window where Hedwig is trying to remain as dignified as possible when surrounded by so many screeching, incessant owls, intending to slam it shut after she's through. That, of course, is not possible, and six or seven barns and scops make it through before I can snap the window closed.

The others dropped their burdens and found perches throughout the room, making enough noise that Hermione, Lavender, and Parvati were starting to stir, as my dear owl gave me the simple note tied to her leg:

– Ari did it. Sirius

was all it said, and even if I hadn't the slightest clue what he meant by that (and in my drowsy state, it was a near thing), the headlines of the papers the other owls had deposited, like

Black Name Cleared!

from Smoke and Mirror, and, presumably, the various other languages of the papers in question. (Though The Canal Street Journal reported that, with the stocks I apparently have in Dunn, Hastings, and McGully as well as in their Muggle sister-corporation, Clifford Chance, I'd experienced a 0.5% increase in my wealth overnight as a result of this.)

I admit it, I squealed like a little girl at the thought, which made the owls in the room take flight, and jumped on Hermione's bed as she pulled her curtains back. "'Mione," I gushed, suddenly full of energy, "he's free! Sirius is free!" I bounced on her bed, then to mine, where I grabbed a quill, wrote a few, hopefully coherent, congrats on the matter to Sirius on the back of his note, and sent it off with Hedwig (letting in The Beijing Chronicle, The Damascus Sun – "English Ministry admits Miscarriage of Justice," – The Byzantium Philosopher, and the Nous Logos – whose headline, "Battlefield or Courtroom? How Duels are Progressing out of the Field and into the Realm of Law," was printed on three sides of the border while the article spun outward in a circle from the centre; as well as three requests for interviews) before going back to Hermione's bed.

My friend had, by this point, picked up the Smoke and Mirror and was blearily reading the front page, while Lavender and Parvati had cast a silencing charm on their beds and gone back to sleep. "This is g-great," she yawned deeply. "What time is it?"

"Four thirteen in the morning," I extolled gleefully.

"And owls can't arrive at a decent hour of the morning?" Ever since the whole time-turner incident, my dear friend can't function without coffee. Do not try to get anything from her before she's had at least a cup-and-a-half. I know this, but do not care, I'm so excited! No more Azkaban South! No more Dursleys ever again! Merlin, I'm higher then a kite. I want to run screaming through Hogwarts proclaiming the joyous news. "I know they're nocturnal… but really." I wasn't even listening. I was halfway through pulling up a pair of jeans underneath my nightgown while simultaneously trying to put on the first clean shirt I saw.

"H-Harry," she managed around another yawn. "Where you going?"

Realizing my shirt was on backwards, I paused on my way to the door to correct this. "Out," I said, trying to fix the mess of sleeves.

"Oh. Take the owls with you?"

I nodded vigorously – well, shook the hair out of my eyes, but it managed the same thing – but she was already asleep. "All right gang," I called, picking up the closest English-language paper and my egg, "fall out."

It wasn't until I'd left the tower and the owls that had been following me had found other exits, I realized where I was going, and who I was in such a hurry to tell the joyous news.

Severus.

My feet paused halfway to the stair it was searching for, and I, as did my spirits, crumpled to the floor. Severus would certainly not be relieved to hear that Sirius had been cleared of all charges – God, the man had almost got an Order of Merlin for his capture Third Year, until I helped him to escape. And if he ever heard – as he surely would, now that he was known to be an innocent man once again – of Sirius's desire to marry me off to a Weasley or any member of the Magical royal families, be it French, Austro-Hungarian, or Ottoman, mostly because a high profile marriage, he figures, would be bound to keep Snape away… well, let's just say the end result will not be pleasant, whatever it may be. He'll likely go that noble route again and forbid me near him.

Well I for one don't like it. Stupid patriarchal rules that haven't changed since 1283 that allow for girls to marry at fourteen and boys at seventeen. Stupid anachronistic rules that allow for arranged marriages. Stupid backwards rules that have allowed the Muggle world to totally bypass the revolutions of the eighteenth century and everything since, and allow there to be kings over a section of a population that doesn't recognize the title or even the kingdom anymore.

That and, hello, Slytherin. They don't do noble. He wants me and I want him and that should be all that matters.

I pick myself back up but can't bring myself to cry, or go to him. Merlin, who'd ever would have thought there'd be a day that I'd want to go to him? My parents must be rolling in their martyrs' graves. And that's the problem. Maybe it's just so typically teenage rebellion of me, but the last words he said to me – the last words in the last sentence he ever said to me when I could be sure of his affections – keep running wildly through my mind: Don't love me.

I am too weary to make it all the way back up to the tower, so I settle for the kitchens instead. Dobby is, as always, overjoyed to see his, "Mizz Éléonore Potter ma'am," and brings me enough food to feed all the occupants of Azkaban South, let alone little old me. There's a wireless playing the WNN's "Albert and Thoth in the Mornings," in the background, and, of course, they're discussing the trial. Nothing like it has been seen since, well, I don't know when, but Ari would.

"…and the big news today, folks, is out of London."

"Yes, Al. In an ASTOUNDing press release late last night, the British Ministry of Magic admitted to – get this – 'gross negligence an' perversion of law' in the case of Sirius Black v. The Department of Magical Justice. The release admits to the illegal imprisonment of Mr. Black for twelve years in Azkaban Prison as well as the 'miscarriage of justice' that allowed the true perpetrator of the crime to go free to later be involved in, or so the prosecution claims, the return of the most famous Dark Lord in British history."

"Mr. Black, as you may recall, folks, was charged in November of 1981 with the murder of Peter Harvey Pettigrew, aged twenty-one, and twelve Muggles in Newham. Although never formerly charged, he was also accused of breaking a Fidelius Charm placed on Lily and James Potter of Calais and their one-year-old daughter to He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named."

"According to Mr. Black's testimony, Mr. Pettigrew, who was awarded the Order of Merlin, the Brit's highest honour, after his supposed death, was a rat animagus, which is how he has remained at large all these years. Mr. Black also admits to being an animagus himself, which aided him in his successful breakout from Azkaban Prison some two years ago, which has never been broken into or out of before or since. Higher security regarding this discovery is already being put into place. "

"The Potters' daughter Alexandrie-Margaux Éléonore-"

"What a mouthful that name is, Al."

"-Henriette, now fifteen years old, recently spoke out on the believed return of the Dark Lord she defeated fourteen years ago, a story which Persephone and Ralph covered on the WNN's evening news. Her spokesperson says that Miss Potter is 'overjoyed,' by the news that her godfather's name has at last been cleared. Legal actions are being taken to allow Miss Potter to reside with Mr. Black until she comes of age."

"So keep your hands to yourself boys."

"While recently Miss Potter's name has recently been tied with those of Haz-Mat lead singer, Osiris O'Malley; the eldest grandson of Austro-Hungarian Emperor Franz Joseph II, Count Philipp von Neipperg; as well as the seventeen-year-old son of recently divorced Weird Sisters bandmates Ara Antila and Eugene Delphinis, Simon Antila-Delphinis, according to her spokesperson, Miss Potter is currently not seeing anyone-"

"Meaning, boys, if you catch you without her godfather, you have a chance."

"-choosing instead to focus on her studies at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, where she was the champion of last year's Triwizard Tournament."

"What about that Skeeter thing last year, Al? The one that was all over the papers for a month?"

"Oh, yes, that. Well, Thoth, The Daily Prophet had printed that Miss Potter – heiress to over a four hundred million Galleons and considered by French legitimists to be the Baronne de Calais (a title renounced by her great-great-grandfather, Zacharie-Richard, after the Muggle Revolution) – was having an affair with one of her professors, Severus Snape, aged thirty-five, in effort to gain the Prince fortune – which, for those of you out there doing the math, was last valued at a measly hundred mil more then her own, folks."

"Aren't they suing about that?"

"Who isn't suing someone these days?"

"Al, what about that witch up near Kiev – you hear about her? The one suing her neighbour over – get this – 'indecent liberties' with her goat?"

"Wasn't the only thing the poor bastard was doing to it was milking it…?"

The rest of the day went something like this, with owls descending en masse at breakfast. Those of my classmates who got the paper, were informed by their paper-reading peers, overheard the gossip, or else got the gossip from family members in the Ministry were trying to wheedle more information then you thought a girl about half-a-foot shy of six could hold. I felt that I'd be carried off in the gust of whispers directed my way. "How long have you known?" "Do you honestly believe he didn't betray your parents?" or "I can't believe he's saying Peter Pettigrew did all those awful things. Great-Aunt Hilda always said he was…" Class was sufferable, but only because the teachers were forced to keep order, though they found odd ways to congratulate me throughout the day (Spout gave twenty points to Gryffindor for passing her the watering can, while Bug Eyes predicted I'd have six children, become Minister of Magic, and die at a ripe old age in my bed).

It was maddening. Only holding onto that securing presence, the Runespoor egg, did I kept from going into Azkaban myself. That would be headlines, I'll admit: Girl-Who-Lived arrested for murder day godfather found innocent of all charges.

I went to the sanctuary of the potions classroom as soon as the last bell rang. Merlin, the day I'd ever think of this place as a sanctuary. But this place is so full of him now, every inch of it imbued with his dark, protected essence when he is in it, and from across the room a look from his black eyes can make my skin tremble. I have run my hands, undaunted by such things as clothing, along the smoothness of his back and felt the heat there. My hands have tangled in the hair that falls like curtains on either side of his severe face.

I go to the cauldrons and run the water. "Éléonore," I heard like something coming out of a dream, only the pain in his voice was not one I'd have willingly conjured, "I- Congratulations on Black's trial." He spat the words like they'd made him physically ill. They probably did.

"I just bought the law firm. … At least now I don't have to wait another year to be rid of the Dursleys." I'd never have said that to any of my friends, or Remus, or Sirius. Ari knows, because she's my lawyer, and Fleur knows a little, and I think Tonks suspects because she's a lot smarter then she makes out to be. But not anyone like whatever Severus is to me.

I scrub in silence for a while, expecting nothing else to come out of today, when I feel the oddest thing at my side. I look about me, half-expecting a ghost to be floating through me, but nothing's near. I feel the thing again, and I reach a hand – gently – into my pocket.

The egg is stirring.

I give a giddy squeal and rush over to his desk. He looks at me like I've lost my mind, or, perhaps, imbibed a love potion. It is a weary look I've seen before. Then I deposit the wiggling egg atop the paper he's grading. He's a Potions Master, he knows what it is, even if he's probably never seen one before – they're handy in certain memory potions, I've read – they're so rare.

"Where did you get a Runespoor egg?" he asks with a half-awed, half-troubled raise of the professorial eyebrow.

"Archimedes – the statue in front of your rooms," I continue as his eyebrow goes further at the name of the dead mathematician.

"And what were you doing there?"

"Trying to convince the second head to let me in; you know what the middle heads are like, dreamers all. I was trying to appeal to the romantic in it, which is hard when the other two keep interrupting, but you'd, apparently, 'forbidden' it."

"So they gave you a live egg?"

I scooted closer to the desk, "I didn't say it made sense," I offered helplessly, and stared intently at the egg. "It's good it happened here. I wanted to make sure you got the shell – it might have some use – and I bet that gathering up little bits of eggshell and bringing them down a couple flights wouldn't work so well."

"You want me to have the shell?" his voice was a little tight, I thought, like he was shocked. Don't know why.

"Of course. You're a Potions Master and I know they're rare. Besides, in a way it's yours – it was your statue, after all, that gave me the egg." Strange hissing sounds were coming from inside it – snake baby-babble, I gathered – and little windows of shell were popping out from the main body. "It's taken me a while, but I like the name Paracelsus…" It had the right number of syllables, amused me in my own secret way, and I suddenly realized just how close I was next to Severus, who was still in his chair, and how he smelled of mint and potions ingredients today still, and he was so warm even from here… It's had to have been as hard for him as it's been for me – more so, because I've never had to hide even my thoughts – and he can't have gotten over me so quickly…

My eyes caught his, black to emerald, for a moment. He broke first and pulled me the small distance between us until I was sitting on his lap and our tongues were competing for dominance. It had been so long that I could have screamed with joy, but instead I moaned into his mouth as his hands pressed me close. I was intensely aware of everywhere our bodies touched, as if a fire was lit on my skin, already was letting my hands wander as best the chair would allow. The hatching of the egg made a strange background to the noises I was dimly aware we were making, but I was too lost in the sensation to care about anything, even that dear egg. It was just pure joy, to be held close by him again, to touch him as I'd wanted to all those times in class, and know that he'd let me even as I let him touch me…

I don't think we'd ever have broken apart this time if it wasn't for the distinctly Scottish, "By Merlin!" that came from the doorway an infinite amount of time later.

Fate is a vindictive witch and I love her.

Chapter Twelve.