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Someone To Run To (13/32)


Chapter Thirteen, In Which I Have a Good, Old-Fashioned Family Christmas


I hate my life.

Let me rephrase: I don't hate my life. In fact, I rather enjoy my life most the time. I just hate it when all the parts tangle together into tight, annoying knots of confusion and anger. Mr. Weasley was going to be alright, they told us. But that didn't stop Nagnini from having bit him, or myself from having dreamed I was Voldemort's snake. And I'd had a quite pleasant evening, apart from the whole Michael Corner incident and the cramps and the vision. Well, the part where, however unknowingly, I slept in the same bed as Severus was nice. That's the sort of thing in life I do enjoy, as is spending the holidays with my godfather for the first time in fourteen years, with my friends all around me. It's the part where I arrive at my godfather's house shortly after sleeping in said bed under curious circumstances with my friends that I really hate.

I was sort of planning on explaining everything after seeing Sirius had gotten quite a lot to drink and was sitting in a dazed stupor in front of the fire, the lights on the tree twinkling in a merry way that would make no one think of disembowelment or convents. I was also planning on having Remus, Tonks, Fleur, and possibly a cat in the house to help calm my godfather down, restrain him, or distract him if worst came to worst. I would sit him down and tell him, "Sirius, you're my favourite godfather in the world," and then pause while he made a joke that he was my only godfather. Then, after he done that, I would tell him I loved him very much and that I'd… found something very interesting, that it wasn't evil, in fact, it was just a baby and couldn't have been evil if it tried, well, unless you counted what it did to Ms. Norris, and I think that is only a professional rivalry, school pet to school pet. Probably at this point he'd ask me what I was talking about, because Hedwig was a she and got along well with cats besides. So then I'd show him Paracelsus, explain the whole three heads with three different personalities, overly interested in human sexuality (so don't mind if you can't him if you find him sneaking in on you if you're doing anything I don't want to know about), and its not important where I got it from.

My plan for telling him that I've been sort of, er, seeing Severus is the same. It involves a lot firewhiskey in particular, and a shield or three between us.

It's more of the fact that I shouldn't even bother to plan anything and just let the chips hit me wherever they want, because it seems like a waste of time and energy to bother getting up when I'm knocked down anymore. Yes, I know it's melodramatic, but I frankly don't care anymore. I just want the thing that everyone wants, I guess: a loving family and a happy home, no more Dark Lords or tournaments or mutant frog-women. That doesn't mean I'm not going to stop teaching the DA, or learning spells as fast as I can, but that's not my primary reason for existence anymore, and I don't think it's been for a long time.

When the tea kettle Ginny, Ron, and myself had been latched onto landed in my godfather's front room, I released it immediately and, seeing a hideous urn to one side of the room, ran towards it, upchucking into it. I hate them, and not just because of the third task. Now, in addition to having a quickly returning headache and cramps, I have nausea. Its things like this that cause me to say things like, "I hate my life," because, right now, I kind of do.

"Mère," said Par as the Runespoor glided out of my pocket and into my hair, extending his tail as if to check my temperature. "Are you sick?"

"You can't be sick," Acel insisted, raising his head up to examine those who were surely concerned about why I was violently ill into a Sino-Japanese urn and why there might be a vibrantly orange snake with three heads tangled in my sleep-tousled hair.

Sus quickly agreed, though his tone distasteful as he too surveyed Ron, Ginny, Sirius and The Twins, who'd now arrived with our luggage. "You need to get not-sick very fast, Mère. The scale-less onesss are looking at usss strangely, and we might have."

"Bitten the broom- and-"

"-mop-manssss'ssss Cat.

"She wasss sniffing usss."

"Like we were food."

"And wasss very ugly."

I projectile vomited again into the urn. It looked old. I hope it was a favourite of Walburga Black, er, née Black. Actually, I hope it was a wedding present from her parents.

"Mère?"

"Is this dog-man?"

"Grand-père?"

I banged my head against the wall as I slid down it to the floor. Luckily, Sirius was too concerned to notice either the dent in the wall I surely left or that there was a snake on my head, and reminded us all why we were at HQ in the first place, "What's going on? Phineas Nigellus said Arthur's been badly injured-"

"Ask Harry," Fred told him, eyes pinned to the orange head that was surveying the world around my head.

"Yeah, I want to hear this for myself," George said in turn, sitting down on one of the trunks and staring even more intently at me. All of them – the 'red-scaled clan,' as Paracelsus would call them – were looking at me expectantly. Why, oh why, do people look at me like that, like I'm a Prophet of the Light or Mammon's Priestess or something? It's so annoying. And these are my friends, I tell you. I don't really care. It's just a trivial concern. Like the fact that all Fleur's friends have S-names and that even Mrs. Weasley's hair is Weasley red though she's a Prewitt by birth.

"It was-" I began slowly, pulling Paracelsus out of my hair and deciding on the fly just how much I could tell them, "I had a – a kind of – vision…" I tried to explain.

"Never mind that, Mère. We've got bigger problemsss."

"I told you to leave Mssss. Norrisss alone after last time." I scolded it, "I – er – sort of – er – saw the whole thing," I tried again, detailing them – minus the snake's-eye-view part of it all – what I'd seen in my dream.

They continued arguing amongst themselves not seeing that they couldn't just storm St. Mungo's before they'd any logical reason to go there. And I mean the night could have gotten so much better too, I mean, I'd got my beautiful potion, and fallen asleep in Severus's bed and seen him shirtless, apparently having fallen asleep next to me, and there was just the whole open ended wonder of what might have happened that Voldemort and his stupid dreams had destroyed. I felt like an intruder on someone else's grief, the way I felt at holidays only reversed. I'd no reason to be pleased that I managed to save Mr. Weasley when he still might die, or that I managed to see Severus shirtless even briefly when everything could come crashing down upon us yet.

"I know it's hard, but we've all got to act as though we don't know anything yet. We've got to stay put, at least until we hear from your mother, all right?" Sirius was telling them. At least someone had a clear thought…But I just wanted my chocolate and a nice, warm bed.

He got the others butterbeer. Me, me he helped up, vanished the entire urn saying it had indeed been a favourite of his mother's, given to her by her brother Cygnus and his wife, Druella – Tonks's grandparents, – and pushed me into a chair. I wished there was another vase for him to disappear as well, it made him look so happy to do so. "You look exhausted, Éléonore."

"Mère'sssss not been sleeping, Grand-père."

"Shut up, Par," I hissed, and translated for curious, if slightly wary, Sirius, "He's trying to tell me about something naughty he did before we left the castle."

Acel looked at her curiously, "No we're not, Mère; why are you telling Grand-père otherwise?"

"Shut up, Acel," I hissed more angrily, "I think he bit her for saying he was ugly. Or maybe he bit her because she's an ugly cat. I'm not entirely sure – they've not been overly clear about it themselves."

"You're being weird, Mère. Even more so then usual. Is there a reason why you're lying to Grand-père?"

"Susss, shut up!" I turned to Sirius, who I think now knew I'd gone around the deep end. "Sirius, this is Paracelsus, my Runespoor. He wants to know if you have any chocolate." The heads looked at me in disgust (well, Par and Sus looked at me in disgust. Acel was still staring at Sirius curiously) and then slithered off to explore. Hopefully he'll get into less trouble here. I doubt it. Oh well, at least Krecher is the only small animal around here he can harm.

"Éléonore… why do you have a Runespoor?" It was a very, very careful voice.

"The question's more of why a Runespoor think I'm its mother," I said just as carefully.

Then, after a moment, during which I'd not tried to explain Paracelsus's existence to him. "Why does a Runespoor think you're its mother?"

"Probably because I, er, well, try to feed it – I've never exactly figured out what it is that they eat, besides the occasional beetle, but I'm not sure if that's exactly what they, er, eat – and I, er, sing it lullabies."

"You sing it lullabies?"

"In parceltongue," I clarified. I don't think he remembered that I could talk to snakes. He'd been in jail that year I'd discovered that talent and I haven't exactly had much use for it until now. I mean, hello, only other speaker homicidal maniac. He was blinking an awful lot. "Anyway, yea, that's probably why."

After a moment, "Éléonore, are you going to tell me how you got it or not?"

"You've got to promise not to get angry." He promised, though in a tone that didn't guarantee anything. "Well, you see, Archimedes gave it to me."

"And who is Archimedes?"

The Twins didn't even say any jokes about dead mathematicians. I shouldn't even be telling him without them not-worried-for-their-dying-father's-state-of-health to joke about that. "A statue…" I took a deep breath and just let it out, "ofaRunespoorinfrontofSeverus'srooms."

There was a very long, very cold pause. And then he exploded.

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I was shouting at him through my – locked – bedroom door. "I'm not going into a convent, Sirius!" As it was the holidays, I couldn't use magic – blasted RRUW stupidity, - and so instead I was busily moving furniture in front of the door to the hall. I knew it wouldn't stop him if he decided to use magic, but, as angry as he was and having been deprived a wand for so long in Azkaban, I doubt that would come to mind for a while.

"I'm not going to send you to St. Bernard's, Éléonore!"

"Oh? Really?" my voice got that squeaky hint it gets when I'm really mad. I shoved the dresser against the door already, as well as the desk, clothes press, three chairs, and the bedside table. I was rapidly running out of things that I could move. "Found a place even more isolated?"

"I actually was thinking the secure ward of St. Mungo's. What were you thinking, snogging that greasy-haired monster?"

"That I enjoyed it!" I shouted back, entering the attached bathroom (glad that Mrs. Weasley, in her infinite wisdom, had set aside one of the old suites for my sole use, probably figuring even then that this would become my home, however angry I was at my godfather at the moment; the room had been Sirius's younger brother's once, and during my summer stay the room had been decidedly masculine, dark-wooded and dreary-looking. Now I couldn't help but notice that the furniture I'm moving around is new and painted white, with a fresh coat of pale yellow paint above the wainscoting, with new red-and-gold curtains and bedspread… very nice… very much a room that was meant for me to enjoy. I would have been overcome with emption if I wasn't already) and searching for something in there to move. It was all screwed down, of course (though it was now a cheery sky blue and by far more modern then it'd been before), and went to find anything else.

There was an angry growl that taught me, yes, humans could make such noises, "He's old enough to be your father!"

"So are you!"

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"I'm not my mum or dad, Sirius. You may have hated him, but I don't. He's actually quite… pleasant."

"Pleasant!" he raged again, and I heard the angle of his voice change next, as if he was shouting down the staircase rather then at my door, "Fred! George!"

I did the math in my head, threw it out, and went on instinct. "Don't you dare!"

The Twins, who'd been worriedly waiting downstairs and probably tuning out all of what had been going on upstairs, trotted obediently upstairs. Or, at least, I thought it was them. There was none of the spring in their step that I was accustomed to; at least that I could hear.

"You're seventeen, right?"

Pounding on the wall by the covered door, I bellowed loudly, "Sirius Orion Black, you stop that this instant!"

"Yeah," said one sadly.

"Way to go us," said the other.

"I will have Padfoot neutered, so help you Merlin, if you so much as even think about it."

Sirius, of course, ignored me. "I was going to save this for Christmas," he said, unfolding something, "but I got Ari to push through the paperwork. Congratulations, Éléonore, I've adopted you, and, as your adoptive father, it is my right – nay duty – to keep you away from that no-good, good-for-nothing, cradle-robbing, lying, scum-of-the-earth bastard away from you!"

I honestly don't know what I was thinking, "Severus isn't like that! When I had that dream he took me straight to Dumbledore like… I… asked…" I trailed off. Yeah, I know. I out to be shot and hung sometime for the words that come out of my mouth.

Even though there were miles of furniture between us, I could easily imagine the colour he was turning. "So, which one of you will it be?" he asked the twins, "You, Fred? Or you, George?"

"Which one of us what?" an unlucky twin asked.

As if it was the most obvious thing in the world, "To marry Éléonore of course!"

"Er-"

"Fred it is, then."

"Wait!" I shouted at him, hastily moving aside the furniture in attempts to stop him.

"It's for your own good, Éléonore! I'll have Ari draw up the paperwork-"

"Er-" went a twin again as feet scampered downstairs

Then comes a heavenly voice ascending the stairs: "Sirius Orion Black, step away from those children and nobody will get hexed."

"I'm not promising anything, Ari!" I shouted to the woman, struggling to move the dresser aside now that it seemed someone who was still sane had arrived.

"As your lawyer, I must insist that you do. Come out of there this instant. Boys, you should be downstairs with your family. Ephraim is there too; he'll keep an eye on the lot of you until Molly arrives," I finally managed to pry the door open and was treated to the sight of Ari, who was no taller then me, her blonde head barely reaching Sirius's nose, staring my, er, adoptive father down, wand in hand. She turned to me, grabbed me by the hand, and pulled both of us into the kitchen, where we were ordered to sit across from each other. "What seems to be the problem here?" she asked as professionally as possible for a woman with a canary yellow robe thrown over her Muggle-style pyjamas was able to look. It was quite impressive, I noticed dimly while glaring at Sirius, who was leaning back in his chair, arms crossed, like he was the teenager.

"She's dallying with Snivilius!" he told her, as if it were obvious.

I, the adult here if it wasn't him, tried to be more reasonable. "He's trying to marry me off again."

She pinched the bridge of her nose and sat down. "You do know that most father-daughter arguments aren't resolved by law firms, right?"

"I was handling this perfectly well, thank you very much."

Shocked, "You were trying to get Fred to marry me while his father is, quite possibly, dying!"

"Like I said, I was handling it."

"Okay then: Éléonore, details."

"Wait-" my mother's friend held up a hand and silenced Sirius without even a glance. Yes, she obviously dated him in her time. That must have been an amusing couple. Pity she'd moved on an

"You'll get your chance after, Sirius. Go ahead, Éléonore."

"He's not happy that I'm surrogate mother to the Runespoor the statue that guards Severus's rooms gave me. Well, that and I, er, am, er, sort of involved with his 'archenemy.' To save my 'virtue,' he was trying to marry me off to the first person handy, which is the real problem."

"Sirius?"

"Snape has seduced her! Can't you see it? It may already be too late-"

"I see," Ari accio-ed a bottle of firewhiskey and poured herself and Sirius a shot that probably should have been called a glass-full, and a much smaller, shot-like shot for me. I ignored the beverage, but Ari downed hers and poured herself another, "Éléonore, how long have you been 'involved' with Severus?"

"Six months," I mumbled. Though Sirius had only just raised his glass, I could see the steam already pouring from his ears.

"And has he ever done anything untoward to you?"

Even more quietly, "I wish." And boy did I. Just not right now. Now I wished for chocolate and more of that beautiful muscle relaxant. And to generally forget this whole evening had ever happened, with the notable exception of the shirtless Severus.

"Well, there's no law against it: in 1381 Aldyth Merle, a Seventh Year Ravenclaw, married the fifty-three-year-old Hogwarts Arithmancy teacher, Galliard Dolton; and in 1526 Tristan Golden, a Seventh Year Slytherin, wed his cousin, the Charms Professor's nineteen-year-old apprentice, Faith Boyd."

My adoptive father balked, "Who's talking about marriage?"

"I believe you were. But, in short, no law against sexual relationships-"

"Sexual!"

"-between students and teachers, no law against romantic relationships-"

"Romantic!" He looked apoplectic.

"-so there's no problem-"

"No problem!" I smirked at Sirius. "The man is twenty years older then her!"

"-so long as the relationship is consensual, which it quite obviously is. Now really, Sirius, Ephraim is five years older then me, and I do believe McGonagall's husband was ten years her senior when he passed." Well, that surprised me. I didn't know McGonagall'd been married.

"That's not the point-"

"Isn't it?"

I interrupted before I needed to call a lawyer for the two of them, "How'd you know to come anyway?"

"Ginny flooed me. Said she thought you were murdering each other upstairs. So, you and Severus, huh?"

I shrugged. I so didn't want to have this conversation it wasn't even funny. "Well," I said as brightly as someone whose gotten hardly any sleep at all, been verbally attacked by the godfather-that-adopted-me-without-even-asking (not that I really mind, not really, just it would have been nice to have been asked about something to do with my life for once), and was possibly possessed by Voldemort's snake in my dreams can be, "I'm thinking breakfast. You better have chocolate in this house somewhere, because I'm thinking chocolate chip pancakes… bacon, eggs… tea, of course…" And, with that, I got to work. Ari jumped up to help me, though I quickly discovered the extent of her cooking abilities was the boiling of water for tea, as did Sirius after a moment.

I was just bringing a stack of pancakes to the table when Mrs. Weasley arrived and, taking the plate out of my hands, wrapped me in a hug. "Oh, Harry… The might not have found Arthur for hours, and ten it would have been too late, but thanks to you he's alive and Dumbledore's been able to think up a good cover story for Arthur being where he was, you've no idea what trouble he would have been in otherwise, look at poor Sturgis…" Personally I found her gratitude, like her hug, rather constricting. They had no right to thank me, I'd just told the right people, who did the real work. Still, it was a nice change from being yelled at, so I was quite pleased nonetheless.

"And Sirius, I'm so grateful, watching the kids for me… The think he'll be there a little while and it would be wonderful to be nearer… Of course, that might mean we're here for Christmas…"

With a happiness I'd not seen on his face since the summer, my, er, adoptive father beamed at Mrs. Weasley, "The more the merrier! We'll just have Christmas dinner at The Burrow next year," which caused her to take the spatula from Ari, save the burning eggs, and smile the whole time with the sort of painfully happy smiles I see on people who come to visit me in the hospital wing after I've not-died again. Which is to say that she was so happy there were tears glittering in her eyes and she didn't even try to offer cooking lessons to Ari, who was, shortly thereafter, to be found dozing in a chair, robe half-open, and muttering in her sleep about flea-ridden dogs.

Then came slithering into the room from under the oven (how he got there I don't even want to know) Paracelsus, who was hissing proudly, "Mère, look!"

"We found."

"A grasshopper!" and spit it up proudly onto my shoes.

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"God rest you merry, Hippogriffssss, let nothing you dismay," Acel sang along with Sirius as he and myself worked tirelessly (and, I think, just to have something to do, as neither of us felt comfortable intruding on the Weasley family, be it in their shared sorrow over their hospitalized patriarch or their shared joy he'd soon be joining them) to make HQ more festive and enjoyable then anything the house elves might have at Hogwarts. Sirius, of course, couldn't understand what the Runespoor was saying, but I could and it was beginning to annoy me.

"For Mer-er-lin the Sorcerer was born upon thisss day," Par joined in, "To save usss all from the Dark power when we were gone astray."

Sirius looked at me. He'd been trying very, very hard not to say anything to me about Snape, Paracelsus, or St. Bernard's. I respected him for it. That didn't mean it was easy for either of us. I also thought he'd sent a few Howlers to Severus, but that was Severus's issue to deal with.

I shook my head at him, looked at Paracelsus, and then continued to string the tinsel on the tree. The Runespoor, which had stolen a piece of tinsel, wrapped its tail around one end and had Sus biting the other to make a necklace of sorts around, er, my neck, continued on to the stunning conclusion: "O tidingsss of comfort and joy, comfort and joy, O tidingsss of comfort and joy!"

"What is…?"

Tonks, who was conjuring fairy lights on the table behind us, hair currently as candy-striped as her robes, reminded him helpfully, "Paracelsus?"

"What is Paracelsus doing?" he asked, actually curious as we moved on to the garlands.

"Par and Acel were singing along."

"That was the sound of a snake singing?"

"Of two, yes."

Sirius shook his head, albeit it with a pained look, and handed me another garland. Par and Acel treated me to another few verses of "God rest you merry, Hippogriff," until Sus hissed at them to shut it, upon which the 'necklace' slipped from around my neck and down my shirt. "Okay. That's it. Bedtime for Runespoorsss."

"But Mère."

"It's not even."

"Lunchtime yet."

I pointed them towards the door as they slithered out from under my shirt, down my pants leg, and onto the floor. "Time is irrelevant – lunchtime even more so," before joining Tonks on the coffee table. "I think being a 'mother' would be easier if my 'child' couldn't talk back to me already."

Life, though, despite the adoption-that-I-had-no-say-in-but-am-still-pleased-about and Sirius's unpleasant feelings towards my, er, boyfriend, is pretty nice. Granted, Paracelsus knows too many Christmas carols for a snake's own good (I was woken to a rousing wizarding version of "The Twelve Days of Christmas" on Christmas morning by Par and Acel, while Sus used wider variety of swear words to curse them then I thought I'd shared with my Runespoor), but it was an enjoyable break. I was with Sirius – with family – for the first time that I could remember for the holiday, and I cooked Christmas dinner not because I had to but because I wanted to, and I had the help of Mrs. Weasley, Ari's much more cooking-capable husband Ephraim Cauldwell (a shortish, balding man with some Middle Eastern blood in him – a Lebanese mother, I later learned – who'd a wild sense of humour and worked for the MoM's Ludicrous Patents Office, so I guessed that was necessary. A Hufflepuff during his time, he'd not been a member of the original Order, but now worked as most members in the Ministry did, subtly recruiting and trying to find Voldemort's spies), and Fleur, who was still, surprisingly, dating Bill. Remus was there, most the hols (and had, at last, been conned into drinks with Tonks, who'd returned late in the evening with a very embarrassed-looking Remus) at least, as were Ari and Ephraim's kids (thirteen-year-old Oliver, who was, sadly enough, evenly matched with me in chess, and First Year Alycone, who spent the whole time in the library reading her comic books), Tonks and her parents, and Hermione.

"You know," said Hermione to me when she was helping me decorate the banisters the morning after she arrived, "I heard the strangest rumour Thursday afternoon, once it was clear you, Ginny, Ron, and The Twins were all missing from class."

Disinterestedly – I was too busy trying to get the magic snow Sirius had conjured to fall every few feet off my black skirt, having had to kneel in a pile of it to wrap the red, green, and gold ribbons around the balusters, - "Oh, really?" I looked up from my work to peek at her, "Education decree come out saying smiling between classes forbidden now?"

"Er, no," she told me, handing me a few boughs to twine with the ribbons, "something about you and Michael Corner, actually."

"Is the twit saying that I agreed to go with him, 'cause I told him-"

"That's actually rather the thing. He's saying that you, er, told him you were already seeing someone."

That wasn't too bad. I could handle that by saying he's lying or picking up whomever Smoke and Mirror has me dating this issue… I think I'm supposed to have started dating Simon Antila-Delphinis of the Glasgow Home for Battered Owls after meeting him at a Halloween party in Guilford. I told dear Hermione this and moved up the stairs to another set of balusters, taking the moment to glare at the framed headlines of The New Amsterdam Times and The Damascus Sun, which were of my article released over the summer; the front pages that declared Sirius a free man were on the next level. The hall, like my room and most of the first floor, had been redecorated as the result of the great boredom of being stuck at HQ alone while waiting for the court decision to come through and Tonk's mother, Andromeda "Andi" Black Tonks, wishing to remove the stain of her and Sirius's childhoods in the house. It was warm-wooded and painted a very Gryffindor Red as particular insult to The Most Ancient and Noble House of Black; the newel post was a Lion's head, and Sirius's pardon, signed by Fudge and the twelve Heads of Department, was in a place of honour on the wall opposite the stairs, surrounded by a few pictures of Sirius and Andi in their youth, a shot of Andi and Ted's wedding as well as one of my parents' at their own, and, followed by a fourteen-year gap, a few of myself and Tonks (who constantly removed hers). It was an ideological war against the house, and Andi was bound, set, and determined to win and, as I later learned, the provider of every un-conjurable decoration in the house. The manager of a hotel in Liverpool, The Sleeping Dragon also doubled as a hideout and infirmary for injured Order members; from what I gathered, she was not one to be crossed.

"Actually, er, Harry," why do people still call me that? Éléonore or Alexandrie-Margaux or Henriette or even Alex, I'm not picky, it's just I have like five dozen names as it is, and from what Ari says it would be a nice gesture of support if I were to add the Black name to the mix; I don't need any extra ones, "Michael sort of said he, er, sort of… followed you after DA the night you disappeared…" I about tied myself to the baluster. "… and he, er, claimed that, er, Professor Snape sort of, er, took you somewhere and that he stayed there for about an hour or so but you never came out…"

I put my head into a pile of freshly fallen snow. I should have just kneed the guy and been done with it. You can't just be nice to them, no, let them down easy – that was obviously a mistake – you've got to grind them into the floor and make them weep in humiliation to prevent things like this from happening.

Christmas was great, though. I got a whole bunch of wicked DADA books and all of that, and Sirius gave me this string of pearls that's been in 'the family' for years and took a week to get all the nasty charms off, and it would make him vindictively happy if I would wear it. While I considered that him doing something like that– rather like "Cousin Andi's" war on the house – seemed more indicative of him needing serious psychotherapy then anything else, I did like them, and so I did.

What really pissed me off though was the fact that, despite the fact I've seen the man semi-unclothed, he didn't even send me a rock like the wardens of Azkaban South did. I mean, I struggled long and hard to think of something to get him that was nice but practical, screamed that I liked him a lot but wasn't trying to force myself on him, that I recognized to a certain degree he didn't mind the clinginess as must as I thought he might but still not too clingy (something that a watch or a sweater would have failed to do), and that, while I we both liked each other, understood that I was still twenty years his junior and understood that he, at least, had made no commitments (mine, being I hoped somewhat apparent from our arguments for why I shouldn't like him, somewhat understood but not reinforced by my gift. I wonder if guys recognize the trouble we girls go to for them. Raising infant Runespoors, trying to find the perfect gift, not flying off the deep end at them even though our hormones scream it… So yeah, I bought him this set of potioners' knives. Really nice, expensive, knife sets that came in one of those leather deals that fold out to reveal the contents, handmade by some guy in Japan that makes like twenty of these things a year. Initials even embossed into the fold-out leather cover. I've no idea if he even has something like it, but there are apparently waiting lists for these knives that the Girl-Who-Lived can bypass by being, well, alive.

But do I even get a stupid card? No. I tried not to let my anger show, but Tonks picked up on it and teased me about it. She teamed up with Fleur to get me a whole carton-full of the underwear in those catalogues they sent me – I'm talking about silk-and-lace contraptions here – which is, of course, like the most embarrassing thing in the world to open when your, er, adoptive father is sitting right next to you, but at least I didn't discover the copy of the Kama Sutra or the phials of contraceptive potions hidden beneath all the lingerie until I was stuffing the things into my dresser, thankfully alone, much later. I swear I never should have introduced them.

Still, though I tried to hide it, I was pissy again, and was trying for the sake of everyone in the house to avoid human contact until I'd a chance to vent at Severus by hiding in my room, reading the law books Ari gave me. A week after New Year's I was doing just that when a knock came at my door. Mrs. Weasley poked her head in, and in a conspiratorial way, said, "Harry, dear, could you come down to the kitchen? Professor Snape would like a word with you."

It took me a minute to register what she'd said. When I had, I dropped the heavy tome to the floor, jumped up from where I lay on my bed, and nearly stepped on Paracelsus thrice in the whole process. "Severus is here? You know why?" I was both giddy at the thought of seeing him (stupid schoolgirl reaction) and ready to give him a piece of my mind (a reaction I cherished more) for forgetting me.

Only slightly admonishingly, "Professor Snape, dear. Now come on, quickly, he says he can't stay long."

"Of course not," I murmured darkly as I followed her down.

The two men were sitting across from each other at the kitchen table when I entered, both with their own versions of death-glares on their faces. The faucet was dripping again, and the splashes each drip made sounded impossibly loud as it hit the porcelain sink, as did the slight rattle of the glass panes of the windows in their frames, a winter's windstorm building outside. Sirius was in his habitual costume, a bit turn-of-the-century with its waistcoat and pocket watch to pass without notice in Muggle London, was sitting with his arms crossed to my left. Severus, looking as if he'd just come in from the storm, had the air of damp wool mixed with his usual minty smell, and looked severe in his all-black ensemble in the cheery kitchen Andi had made, with droplets of water falling from his hair onto the almost priestly jacket below. You could almost swim in the tension, it was so thick.

"Er, hi," I said, announcing myself.

Snape turned and looked at me, face framed between the damp black curtains of his hair, his eyes softening at the sight of me. I smiled a little at him. I was still angry he'd forgotten the first major gift-giving occasion since we'd been, er, together, but it wasn't that big a deal. Not now. He wasn't dead, which meant we were still in the free and clear with Voldemort, and that was all that mattered.

"I was supposed to see you alone, Éléonore, but Black-"

"I'm her godfather – and her adoptive father, Snape, and it is my every right to make sure you don't take advantage-"

"What I do in my personal time in no way involves-"

Sirius jumped to his feet, his chair clattering to the floor behind him, "It does when it's my daughter you're-"

Severus, whose chair at least only flew back several feet, "I resent-"

"I should have you arrested-"

"You would-"

"Gentlemen!" I shouted at the both of them, "Please, behave yourselves. Andi only just finished redecorating in here, and if you wish to kill each other you'll have to wait until the storm calms down enough to do it outside. So, please, both of you, sit." They both looked at me as if they'd forgotten I was in the room. Slowly, each took their respective seats, and I joined them, sitting at the head of the table so that neither could say I was favouring the other. "Sirius, one day you're going to have to accept that the little girl you left behind when they threw you in Azkaban has grown up, and you can't control who I choose to date." Across the table, the Potions Master offered my godfather a sneer. "And you, Severus, have to remember that Sirius is my godfather and has adopted me into his family; and, like it or not, he's important to me and I'm not going to stop caring for him just because the two of you didn't get along when you were in school." Sirius smirked back at him. "Now, what brings you to the dear Black homestead today?"

The men eyed each other across the table, not turning to look at me as either spoke. It was rather annoying, not that they weren't looking at me, but that they continued to look at each other as if they were in a duel. Not for the last time, I wished I could do magic over the holidays so I could summon their wands away, tie them to their chairs, and force them to get along.

Slowly, "The Headmaster has sent me to tell you, Éléonore, that it is his wish for you to study Occulmency this term."

This confused me. "If I'm not being processed, why does he think I need to protect my mind?"

"How do you know what Occulmency is?" asked my adoptive father, "It's a very… uncommon piece of magic."

"Severus told me ages ago. But that doesn't answer why."

With a small smile, "Because the headmaster thinks it's a good idea, as none of the common rules seem to hold with you. You'll receive lessons once a week, but no one, least of all Dolores Umbridge, must learn what you're doing."

"Will you be teaching me?"

Severus nodded, Sirius exploded. "Why can't Dumbledore teach her? I'll not allow you to use this as an excuse to dally with my daughter."

"You know as well as I, Black, the headache the headmaster is dealing with between the Ministry's idiocy and the Dark Lord's plans; I've he'd the spare time, I daresay he might teach Éléonore, but, since he does not and I'm the only other capable teacher…" he let the words hang.

"If I hear you're using these Occulmency lessons to do anything other then teach Éléonore, you'll have me to answer to."

"Surely you've realized by now how much Éléonore is like her parents?"

Proudly, "Yes, I have."

"Then you'll know that she never does anything she does not wish to do."

Sirius pulled his wand, and I shouted at him to stop. He didn't, and Severus proceeded to draw his.

Was it really necessary for them to bait each other like bears? Neither of them had grown up, it was obvious, since the war last ended. I weighed my options. I could cast a good petrificus on each of them, receive two more warnings about my blatant disregard for the RRUW that Fudge would run with (Ari, I don't think I've mentioned, wants me to give an interview to a proper reporter even though no one's seen or heard from Rita Skeeter in almost two months; she told me this in the letter thanking me for the rare crucifix ground beetle Paracelsus caught for her). Or I could try to talk the two men down, but when had that ever worked? So, quite simply I thought, I told them, "I'll be in my room if you need me," and headed back upstairs, past the headlines of my previous article in Chinese, Arabic, and Italian.

The noise continued for several minutes downstairs, and I tried to pick up where I'd left off in The Every-Wizard's Guide to Injunctions, but my thoughts kept drifting back downstairs. I loved these two men more deeply then I would have ever thought possible I could love anyone when Hagrid liberated me from Azkaban South, in two very different ways. Sirius was the overprotective father I'd been denied the chance to have, and Severus was the man who was able to look past so much and love me for me. It'd be too much to ask them to get along… but, in a guilty sort of way, I wished Sirius would get a hex in for me, forgetting me at Christmas after I spent so much energy thinking of what to get him. Bastard. I should have listened to Paracelsus and gotten him "bubbly-stuff" to clean the cauldrons with.

Ah, who am I kidding? First chance I get I'll probably forgive him. Yell at him for a few minutes, but forgive him nonetheless.

I about jumped when there came a knock at my door. Before I could call, "Enter," Severus was already inside. He handed me a small package about the size of three CD cases stacked together, said quietly, "I must get going," and then closed the door behind him on the way out. In fact, if it wasn't for the plainly wrapped package in my hand, I would have sworn I imagined it.

For the second time that night I dropped my book to the floor and tore off the brown paper. Inside was a dark blue velvet box, the kind expensive jewellery comes in, larger then a box for earrings but smaller then a necklace case from what I remembered of commercials on the Dursley's telly or pictures in black-and-white in Sunday papers. With held breath I opened the box, revealing a thin solid-banded silver bracelet with three of what were probably actual diamonds set within it. I turned it around in my hands for a moment, admiring the present, taking back every evil thought I'd ever thought of Severus for forgetting Christmas – he'd probably not wanted to alert anyone to the fact he was sending me a gift, I thought, let alone one so obviously expensive. Or not wanted Sirius to blow up at me for getting something so fine from his archnemesis. It was then, as I was examining the bracelet in my hands, I caught the engraving on the inside:

Sic ego nec sine te nec tecum vivere possum.

It took me a long while in the library the next morning with a Latin dictionary and long sleeves that fell far enough to hide the existence of the gift from Sirius for the moment, but I was able to translate it. Roughly it said:

Thusly, I can not live either with or without you.

Chapter Fourteen.