Someone To Run To (15/32)

Chapter Fifteen, In Which I Rage Against the Dying of the Light

As I left Transfiguration about two weeks after Easter, McGonagall asked if I'd kindly meet her in her office. Once there I grabbed a handful of Ginger Newts and examined the pictures on her walls, surprised when I found one of the team after the Quidditch Cup third year and more surprised still when I saw an obviously Colin-taken picture of me about to start the third task last spring. I don't know why she was surprised, she was my Head of House after all, but it still shocked me into sitting down by her desk and wondering what I'd done to have so many people care about me and my wellbeing. I wasn't used to that and was fairly uncomfortable with the implication. I didn't need another parental figure in my life telling me that I shouldn't worry about the war, it'll come to me in time; that I'm crazy for loving Severus like I do and I should enter a convent or a nice arranged marriage with some guy I don't care about instead, all because maybe he and my father and my father's friends didn't get along when they were all in school together all of twenty years ago; that The Prank War of 1996 I've started, fashioned from the DA (minus Marietta, who was pressured into coming by Cho I know now and never really truly believed in our cause) plus those trustworthy ones who want Umbridge out too, is silly and useless. To them I say that, firstly, it is my life, and if Voldemort wants to end it that, yes, I should worry; secondly, for some reason McGonagall approves, and so Sirius shouldn't have a problem with a man who's reformed and risked his life for people like me and him; and, lastly, we are students and cannot fight the Ministry the way it fights, and so we must fight in a way that they do not know or understand: pranks.

I was somewhat concerned, though, about what McGonagall wanted to talk to me about. I was sort of hoping that it'd be something about my rebel forces using the skiving snackboxes in her class even though I've strictly ordered (by means of Paracelsus delivered orders or meetings held under invisibility cloak) them not to be used on any teacher whose place in the school is just. Knowing my luck (which is to say, I use up the good, I'm-not-going-to-be-murdered-today kind during the almost annual attacks Voldemort orders on me, leaving me with the bad, oh-my-God,-my-Head-of-House-has-figured-out-I'm-sleeping-in-the-same-bed-as-my-Potions-Master,-am-I-in-for-it-or-what sort to deal with the rest of the year), my Head of House has figured out I'm, er, sharing Severus's bed, if my luck (which is, as noted above, likely to be nonexistent until late May or June) holds, without the key piece of knowledge that he refuses to actually, er, sleep with me until I'm officially no longer his student. As this is likely to be the end of this term, as I'm likely to flunk potions despite my proficiency at removing them from almost any surface, I'm not too much more then peeved about it. Maybe it's a good thing in a way, 'cause rushing into anything is a bad idea as life will tell, but still. There are certain times when he's touching me that I just can't bring myself to care about his silly rules and I'm sure there are similar times for him, but, again, I see the point. It's become hard not to be visibly happy around him in potions. I half expected that, if I allowed myself to look as comfortable and cheerful as Severus made me feel in one of his classes, I'd be burned in effigy by my classmates. Only half certain, understand, because the other half of me thought they might burn me in actuality on the Quidditch pitch and invite the press.

I sighed, resigned to my fate, and helped myself to another Ginger Newt. I wondered briefly if she'd any chocolate biscuits, doubted it, and wrote a mental note to myself to buy a confectionary or three over the summer. Hey, if I'm as rich as they say, I might as well get some use out of all that gold; does no one but goblins any good as it is now. That makes my summer planning list something like this:

1. Buy more stock in The Daily Prophet News Network. It makes my life happier

2. Find a way to convince Sirius that my relationship with Severus is a good thing and, should it lead to anything more, I'd like his blessing in it so I might actually be able to have a Christmas dinner with the two of them and the rest of the family without anyone ending up in St. Mungo's.

3. See if there's a "Potter Manor" or something in France; possibly visit Calais.

4. Get Paracelsus to stop singing "The Macarena."

My life is so special. I mean, have you ever heard a snake sing "The Macarena?" It's like a nightmare, that's what it is, and I've decided that I must either smash all radios in existence or else glue my ears shut. The Runespoor in question had come out of my pocket and was starting to ask why we weren't doing something useful, like being at lunch or charming all the chairs in the DADA classroom to turn into frogs at random intervals, when McGonagall finally showed up, placed a pile of scrolls on her desk, and offered me a macaroon from her desk drawer.

"Well, Miss Potter, I decided to hold your career advisory meeting on the spur of the moment, so Professor Umbridge," (she said these two words together in a way that made me think it was the closest to swearing McGonagall had ever come), "who has expressed an interest in sitting in on the sessions, will not overhear. I hope you do not mind."

Paracelsus slithered out of my pocked and into the tin of Ginger Newts. "Er, sorry about him; I've not managed to school him in any form of manners quite yet." I'd not been prepared for this line of questioning. I was on the defensive, not at all ready to decide what to do with my future quite yet.

"Well, quite alright," she said with amazing dignity. "The purpose of this meeting is to talk over any career ideas you might have, and to help you decide which subjects you should continue into sixth and seventh years. Have you had any thoughts about what you would like to do after you leave Hogwarts?"

Despite the fact that I was now thinking about the future, which was something I'd rarely done in times past, all my hopes and dreams were just that – hopes and dreams. Oh, I have this really stupid idea that Severus would wholly romantically propose to me at the end of seventh year, that we'd get married that summer, and live happily ever after in the Wizarding style, taking the first few years after Hogwarts to raise our children (invariably in my dreams a son and two daughters or vice versa), and then go into something after the youngest had started Hogwarts, perhaps something at the reconstituted Ministry. Then I also have this less stupid but equally impractical idea that Severus and I will just go on as we are now until, at some point, one of us dies, and while he continues being an spy and teaching at Hogwarts, I continue being a leader of a rebellion based more on the Maquis-of-Star-Trek then the Maquis-of-WWII-France, only instead of leading children to war with Wildfire Whiz-Bangs and Decoy Detonators, I'm leading Wizards twice my age into real battle with Hellfire Curses and Dissection Spells. Neither of these is conducive to a society-approved, Galleon-earning job. "Er," I said eloquently, "not really, no."

"I find that surprising, Miss Potter."

"Well," I admitted hesitantly, "I mean, I have thought about it, Professor, just not that seriously. I mean, I suppose there's Quidditch, 'cause everyone tells me that I'm better then Charlie and he could have played nationally, but, as much as I love Seeking, I just can't see myself playing a game my whole life. I've thought about being an Auror too, but I just don't know. I'm tired of fighting already, and the War's barely begun. And I've talked to Tonks," well, I sort of had, between prank gifts, me keeping her up to date with my progress with Severus, and her keeping me informed on her goings on with Remus (he'd kissed her once, about a month ago, and promptly apologized, not trying anything since. Tonks said it was good headway), we'd written of serious things as well. How her mother was driving her crazy redecorating HQ, taking the whole let's-have-a-wall-of-family-pictures so much to heart that Tonks had felt it necessary one day to transfigure all the pictures of her in the house into chicks, and since then there'd been an escalating battle between Tonks and Andi about warding the picture wall and breaking said wards. Bill, possibly under Fleur's influence, was siding with Andi and the end result was the most warded set of photographs this side of the Moskva Museum of Wizarding History's photo history of the fall of the House of Romanov at the end of WWI, as well as Grand Duke Alexei's escape from the those who murdered the rest of his family and his reclamation of the Russian Wizarding Throne in 1921. I hear his grandson, Aleksandr IV, regards the place like a shrine. But, whatever, that's neither there nor here at the moment, "and so I know it's not all like Moody would have it, chasing after Dark wizards and fighting for your life all the time, and mostly paperwork, but I don't like fighting and I don't care for paperwork. Honestly, Professor, I doubt I'm going to live to be twenty, let alone have a career."

"Éléonore, we both know that that's not true," she said light-lipped.

Her use of my name surprised me, calmed me even. "Okay, well, maybe that's a bit histrionic. Still, that doesn't mean I've given any thought to what I'd seriously want to do with the rest of my life."

"Well, if this 'renegade study group' you led is any indication, I do think you should consider teaching."

I about laughed at her. "Teaching? Me?"

"You're quite good at it, it would seem. You inspire a certain desire in your students to learn – and that is a rare and valued quality in a teacher. As Head of Gryffindor House, I have access to the grades of those students whom you taught, and I must say they are drastically higher then those who did not attend your class. And not just in Defence Against the Dark Arts, Éléonore, but in every subject. If I could have a dozen teachers like you, we'd not have gotten into all this 'Hogwarts High Inquisitor' mess to begin with."

"But that's not something I can do straight out of school; I mean, I can't come back to Hogwarts after I graduate to teach the next year – it'd be ridiculous, even if there was a position for me to take."

"You could be an apprentice until another professor retires or teach at a grammar school until such a position became available. Or you could concentrate on this mess we're all in now and, when the time comes, start working then. The Potters were quite wealthy; money will never be an issue for you."

Blandly, "So I hear."

She seemed to sense the problem then. "Éléonore, you may have never known Lily and James, but they would have wanted you to be happy. James was all about fun – having it, causing it, being at the centre of it – and Lily was the type of person who it was hard to be anything but vibrant around, she was such a live and vivacious person. Even if you choose never to work a day in your life, so long as you're happy, I doubt either of them would have objected. Why do you think I've not made a fuss over you staying in Severus's rooms-?"

I grimaced, "You know about that, huh?" I'd bet my entire vault that he'd told her.

"Yes, Severus told me a few days ago." Damn that weird nobility of his. Won't sleep with me, tells the closest thing I have to a grandmother where I'm sleeping; if he ever does follow my romantic dream, he'll probably risk important body parts to ask Sirius for my hand. Are all Slytherins so strange, or is it just their prince? "Normally, mind, I'd not condone this sort of behaviour from a fellow professor, let alone a student, but there are two things I know that the both of you don't." I raised my eyebrow in a very Snape-ish way (or so I hoped). She gave me one of the smiles she reserved for times like this, when I though she might have actually been happy to say what she was about to say and was looking forward to seeing my reaction to it, "Firstly, you're happy. You cannot lie to me that when you came to Hogwarts five years ago you had the happiest childhood. I told Albus the night he left you with Lily's sister that they were the worst sort of Muggles. But you turned out just fine, and being with Severus makes you happy. You're parents' wouldn't have complained about that, I imagine, not even James, so who am I to judge?" McGonagall paused while I digested this.

My parents would want me to be happy? Even with my fathers' (natural and adoptive) archnemesis? That I supposed I could understand, in a twisted way. McGonagall, my teacher, knew more about my family then I did. All I knew was that Zacharie-Richard, my grandfather Henri-Gabriel "Gabe" Potter's grandfather, had given up the Baronnie de Calais sometime after the revolution in Muggle France and that, while everyone had called him James, my father's name was Jacques-Henri Alexandre Potter. Dad was good on a broom and, while only a Fifth Year, like I am now, became a Stag animagus so that he could help Remus with his werewolf transformations. He loved my mother very much. Mum, Lily Evans, was the Hermione of her generation and spoke perfect French. I had her green eyes and her compassion, or so people told me. Her sister, Petunia, hated me. That was what I knew about my parents. It was more then I'd once known about them, but I still couldn't say if they were religious or not, traditional or nonconformist, morning birds or night owls or testify as to what they'd have wanted me to do with my life. I suppose its every parent's wish their child is happy. But still, it felt nice to hear it from someone who'd actually known them, had watched them grow up and fall in love. It made it more believable, not just some orphaned child's pipe dream.

"Secondly," she continued, "he's happy. I've known Severus for a long, long time. His mother, Eileen Prince, was not an unkind woman – just very disinterested, I would say, in anyone but herself – and, though I never met his father, Tobias, I can only imagine that he was the same. He was a recluse when he was a student, much worse then he is now, and even though he wasn't one of my Gryffindors I always wished I could do something about it. I suppose it was a blessing that both his parents died before he came of age… I think that made it easier, in a way, for him to come back to spy for us… I don't know what you've done to him, nor do I care to know, only that I've actually seen him happy for the first time since Horace told him Tobias was dead. And he's only taken away half as many points from Gryffindor as this time last year."

Ah, the important things in life, I thought dimly, still absorbing. I made Severus happy, and she could see that. That was why she'd not said anything to us that day she'd walked in on us making-out in his classroom. That was why she'd not thrown a fit (at least, not to my knowledge) about me staying in Severus's rooms.

"If you chose to become a professor, not is really required but a NEWT in the subject you intend to teach in. It is, however, recommended to get at least three other NEWTS amongst the core subjects – Potions, Transfiguration, Charms, Herbology, Defence – for your application to truly be considered."

I continued looking at her blankly. I had enjoyed teaching the DA and, indeed, felt a sorrow that I was teaching them to survive a war. That sorrow had now become even more acute since Dumbledore had failed to go peacefully with Fudge but did that mean that I wanted to teach forever, something more then one night a week for a few hours? Something where there'd be homework to assign and grade; classes of every level to teach, Monday through Friday; people calling me Professor? Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera? That was something I was going to think about.

"I can see," my Head of House continued blithely, in a way that seemed quite annoyingly to indicate she thought she'd already won, "that I won't convince you of your aptitude as a teacher today alone, but you cannot deny that aptitude is there. There are other options, of course; Arietis Cauldwell has mentioned in passing how interested you are in the law," was there like some bizarre magical forum in existence so that various people could talk to each other about me? Tonks, from some source, knew all about the goings on at Hogwarts and teased me mercilessly about all the boys asking me out. Fleur, presumably from the same source or Tonks herself, routinely asked me in her own letters about Severus, queried my motives for liking him, and demanded to know if I'd done anything with my hair yet. Remus, from either the original source, Tonks, or Sirius (who'd become fairly certain during the second term that I'd given up on Severus and was more interested in dating a nice, Gryffindor, Marauder-ish boy like Fred, who in turn entertained me with the 'dating tips' Sirius sent him and called the whole thing the best joke he'd heard in a while), sent his own letters along these bizarre lines, as did Mrs. Weasley, Ari, and, of course, Sirius himself. I was receiving more mail then I'd ever had in my entire life these days, and most of it concerned what other people had been told. Maybe there was just a corkboard somewhere in HQ where everyone posted the letters they'd gotten from me, just so everyone would know what was going on. McGonagall bulled out a pale blue leaflet, the same colour of papers you've been served, and examined it cursorily, "There are no specific requirements for the profession – only five NEWTS, any subject – and the knowledge you'd have a least a three year apprenticeship at a firm before the Ministry would sanction you to practice."

I own 33.7% of Dunn, Hastings, and McGully, so I suppose finding a law firm to apprentice at wouldn't be hard if I so chose. I only know this 'cause I asked Remus, who knows these money things. I also own 6.2% of Nimbus Racing Broom Company, which had been a gift to my father from my grandparents the day he got his OWL results. Strange, I know, but, again, neither here nor there. To my Head of House, I responded, "Oh."

Setting the pamphlet down, "You've really not thought about a career, have you?"

I considered telling her of the years I'd spent in a cupboard-under-the-stairs, my only wish that Family Services would come and take me away or, better yet, I'd wake up and be fourteen or fifteen or sixteen – some age when I'd be old enough to strike out on my own, an unmissed runaway – and be able to end the nightmare I was living. I considered telling her that I'd almost believed all those years that I was worthless and how, if Hagrid hadn't saved me, I don't know what I would have become out there in the wide, uncaring Muggle world where I wasn't "Alexandria Potter, The Girl-Who-Lived," but tomboyish, hidden Harry Potter, whom no one saw and no one cared for. The world is full of enough unheard stories not to need me to repeat what I so easily become to long numb ears. I considered telling her of how, after coming to Hogwarts, I was first too young to dream of the future and, by the time I was old enough, I'd made the foolish mistake of not fighting hard enough, and let Voldemort have my blood so as to rise again. So, no, I'd never thought of a career. Not seriously. "Like I said, I never seriously thought I'd live long enough."

She handed me the tin of Ginger Newts. "Don't be scared, brothersss," Par admonished.

"Look at yourselvesss, crawling all over each other like animalsss!"

"They are animalsss, Acel, like usss."

The Runespoor's left and middle heads turned towards Sus, glared, continued. "You're such a killjoy, Sussss."

"Freedom isss near, brothersss!"

I picked Paracelsus up by the tail and forced, somewhat difficultly, all three heads to look at me. "What are you lot doing?"

"Trying to encourage the tin-dwellersss to escape," sadly enough, Acel was completely innocent when she answered me.

"They are biscuitsss. They do not talk. They do not move. They, most especially, do not escape."


"Because they're made of dough."


"Because they're meant for eating."


"Because humans do not eat actual newtsss, only food shaped like them."


I turned, exasperated, from the Runespoor's heads to look at McGonagall. Paracelsus, who was still dangling upside down in my hand, turned his heads too. "Paracelsus wants to know why your biscuits are shaped like newts."

"I do not know, Miss Potter," she told me, "but if you would ask Miss Granger to meet me here shortly before dinner? I don't Professor Umbridge to catch on to what I'm doing."

I wondered the halls aimlessly, lost in thought. I was almost sixteen, after all. I was living with a man that I had every intention, at least, at this point, staying with for the rest of my life. But what I was going to do with that life, I'd never given it a serious thought.

I sighed, and went to meet up with the twins.

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

"I am not explaining to your mother why I allowed the two of you to quit Hogwarts scarcely a month before your NEWTS," I looked at The Twins angrily, unable to yell at them as I'd like because we were, rather oddly, meeting in a broom cupboard on the fourth floor. I continued in what I hope came across as a strident whisper, "I love the idea of your portable swamp, I really do, but our Prank War cannot continue without our bomb-makers."

"You flatter us, peach-"

"-you really do-"

"-but you need us on the outside." Fred finished. Fred, I presumed, because ever since Sirius's whole I-need-someone-to-marry-my-(adoptive)-daughter-right-this-instant scene over Christmas, he'd taken to calling me such annoying nicknames as "peach," "love," and, most annoyingly, "sex kitten." The last-most was reserved only for use in front of teachers.

I smiled at him in the light coming from the small bluebell flame I'd conjured in a bucket at our feet. "Why would I need that? I've got plenty of people on the outside. The DA needs you where you are. What do you need? Alihotsy leaves? Doxy eggs? Boomslang skin? I can get them without you having to go anywhere."

They gave me twin smiles, quickly gave me their list of restricted substances to commit to memory, and placed twin pecks on my cheeks. "Knew we could count on you, my lovely salamander sweetness."

"I'll get it for you – meet me in Myrtle's Bathroom an hour after curfew tonight?"

"Better make it tomorrow night; Fred and I are taking Angelina, Katie, and Alicia out tonight to charm all the suits of armour on DADA corridor."

"Do something like every third suit on the entire first floor instead – they'll be less likely to pin it on one of us then," and, with a nod, they slipped out of the broom closet first.

I counted backwards from a thousand and tried not to shake my head too deeply at their madness. I was almost to three hundred when the cupboard door opened, revealing a Lisa Turpin and Ernie Macmillan who most certainly did not expect to have their cupboard already occupied. "Hello Lisa, Ernie," I said brightly, extinguishing my bluebell, feeling they'd not be needing the light. "Wonderful day isn't it?"

As I walked off, wide smile on my face, I heard Lisa say, "She's loonier then Luna."

"Nah, she's brilliant," Ernie pontificated as I turned the corner. "Bit barmy, yes, but brilliant…"

And, with that, I headed to the kitchens to see if Dobby would sprinkle some wartcap powder in Umbridge's sugar bowl before returning to the place I thought of as home, to charm dangerous potions ingredients out of my – dare I even think it? – beau and, maybe, just maybe, finish my Charms essay before tomorrow. It was a strange life, yes, but I enjoyed it. I had always known, even when I was a child and thought running away was my only option, that I was not destined for a normal life.

Admittedly, I was more then a little mad for undertaking the formation of an underground, Maquis-esque movement, made up almost entirely of students (though Severus did provide me with some restricted and combustible substances to pass along to that Dangerous Duo, The Twins, that otherwise they would have done without and meant that we too would have had to do without a good number of Claxon Crabs, which scuttled around in the shadows and at random intervals released a pre-recorded sound for random durations and had caused the most delightful scene when one had made its way into the Divs classroom and played the cry of the Augury for two hours straight, during which Trelawney had shouted, "Death! Death, my children! It's come for us!" and had resulted in Umbridge, with quite futile effort, attempting to stun the shadows which Flitch cautiously poked his broom handle into every shadowed crevice; and What-Did-You-Say? Gummies, which once ingested, caused everything the eater said to be accompanied by a burst of non-burning fire), with the idea of supplanting the "legally" installed "Headmistress" of Hogwarts, even as far as the normal things in my life went. But too far?

No. Never. This is my life they're messing with. If Alexandrie Moretti and Henri-Gabriel Potter are dead, if Lily and Jacques-Henri Potter then I will build myself a family from what I've been given. And that means my chosen grandfather is Headmaster Dumbledore, and nobody – nobody – is going to break this family up. Even if we weren't a family.

I'm getting melodramatic again. I've really got to stop that. But it's like, look at it from my position. The only blood-family I have is Aunt Petunia and her whale of a son. I don't care if Dumbledore doesn't care about me as anything other then someone who is valuable only because Voldemort wants to kill me, or whatever, all I know is that it seems that he cares about me and that can make him a pseudo-grandfather to me in my book. 'Cause the thing is, no matter how stupid it is, how impractical and implausible and choose-your-own-negative adjective (or maybe its adverb?), I want a family like the Weasleys, where everyone likes each other and they'll gather together for special occasions around the world's largest table and not hex each other into next week.

Maybe that's expecting too much. But I have Sirius now, and Severus, and with the former at least comes a pre-packaged case of pseudo-family – "Cousins" Andi and Tonks, and "Uncle" Remus – that I can springboard off of.

I should have known things were going too well to be true. Things never turn out well. Not for me, not for anyone.

I mean, granted, I did finish my Charms essay, which I had been putting off, albeit unintentionally. I like Charms almost as much as DADA, when we have a competent teacher, and more so when we do not. It's just, last week, when the essay was assigned, I was either "helping" Ron and Hermione on their prefect rounds by convincing Moaning Myrtle to open all the taps (which I accidentally froze into the on position after unintentionally knocking off all the spigots) in her bathroom and aide me in gumming up all the drains on the second floor, or else placing headless hats on all of the statues in the library, or providing Peeves with several cases of Deflagration Deluxe to set off at his leisure. And then, over the weekend, when I wasn't at Quidditch, I was discovering a very enjoyable new type of lie-in, which involved waking to a good snog, the kind that really made me wish the end of term was here already and wonder if I'd brought any of Tonks and Fleur's Christmas presents with me and simply forgotten about them. It was probably a good thing that I wasn't meeting up with The Twins until tomorrow night, or else I'd never get anything done.

It's just, when time was edging its way past curfew and Severus still wasn't back yet, I began to worry. I'd not seen him at dinner, but that wasn't an unusual thing as he sometimes brewed straight through the meal, and when I didn't find him in his laboratory I just took it to mean he was in his office or patrolling the corridors or something. I don't pry, or try not to at least, and give him some space. I mean, I did move in on the guy, start cleaning his apartment at random times, and, hopefully, tempt him on a regular basis into doing something it was against his morals to do. There have to be some limits, however self-imposed: don't try to join him in the shower, don't interrupt his brewing; don't let the Runespoor crawl into his sock drawer. But this was ridiculous. It was unlike him.

Voldemort had to have called him at long last.

That thought alone made my stomach plunge fathoms. I should've done the rest of the homework I'd been neglecting, but once the idea that that rot bustard had my Severus put me on edge. Instantly, all my nerves were aflame with dreadterror that I could only liken to the fear that had overcome me when I realized where I was at the end of the Triwizard Tournament, tied to the gravestone of Voldemort's Muggle father, the one whose existence had been responsible in so many ways for the war that had cost me my parents.

Queen of Light took her bow and then she turned to go.
The Prince of Peace embraced the gloom and walked the night alone.

It was such a strange thought – a single man, who had perhaps one failing in that he could not accept Magic, could give rise to so much hatred. Could it really be so simple a thing that, if Riddle's father had loved him, had accepted his magic and his mother's magic, that none of this would have happened? That my parents, who had so much more to give the world then me, would never have died, and Neville's parents never would have been driven mad, because there was no Voldemort, just Tom Marvolo Riddle. And if a man could create so much tragedy, could he not have created an equal amount of contentment had things gone differently?

Maybe it was wrong to place so much blame upon one man. After all, even if my parents – brilliant and beautiful Lily Evans and charismatic transfiguration protégé James – had to die, I could have lived from Sirius from the start, or Remus could have taken care of me, or my custodianship could have passed to someone like Ari… Or Azkaban South could have been something other then a hellhole. There were a thousand other possibilities, but this one was the one Fate had chosen?

Why was it my parents' fate to die?

Why is it my fate to suffer and suffer and suffer again? Had I not lost enough for one lifetime? Fought hard enough? Shed enough tears?

Why had fate seen it fit to call Severus away now, when the light was so near now, and happiness was within our sight? Why had that devil I'd set loose upon the world called him back into the fold now? I could struggle through my titanic burden for an age and an eternity more, but only if he was at my side…

Oh, dance in the dark of night, sing to the morning light.

The Dark Lord rides in force tonight and time will tell us all.

My nerves were not designed for sitting at home and waiting for my love to return to me. That was not how I was programmed. But, however much I longed to find whatever meeting place he'd been called to and fight, if necessary, to see him home safely, I forced myself to recognize (with hands that threatened to shake if I did not watch them closely) that I was, however self-taught, still only an almost-sixteen-year-old (and therefore unqualified) witch and in almost all certainty would not be of any help at all against a room full of Death Eaters and their master, all of whom wanted to kill me in an unhealthy way. The only person I could think to go to was Dumbledore, and I'd no idea where he was except that it wasn't here or HQ. Anyway, thanks to dear Marietta's mum at the Ministry's Floo department, I'm pretty sure the only Floo still connected to the outside world is Umbridge's, and even I'm not stupid enough to try to break into there.

So I did the only thing I could do: I cleaned. Cauldrons, floors, cabinets, closets…

Oh, throw down your plow and hoe, rest not to lock your homes.
Side by side we wait the might of the Darkest of them all.
I hear the horses' thunder down in the valley blow;
I'm waiting for the Angels of Avalon, waiting for the eastern glow.

It gave me a lot of time to think, which was painful, but at least keeping my hands busy kept me from eying the clock. I don't know how many hours passed, or how many sponges I went through, only that I failed to turn into a pumpkin at midnight, or, if I did, I was in too much of a worried cleaning frenzy to notice.

Why had Voldemort called Severus now? I was under the impression that, as part of his I'm-going-to-let-the-Ministry-think-I'm-not-back-so-as-to-better-reek-havoc-on-an-unsuspecting-public plan, that Voldemort wasn't calling Severus too often to the meetings. Under Dumbledore's nose, as it were, he didn't want to alert The Order further then necessary. But now, thanks to ungrateful, uncareful little me, Dumbledore was gone and, or so it appeared, The Dark Lord had no qualms about pulling my love away underneath Umbridge's and the MoM's unseeing eyes.

And that could only mean one of two things, and neither one was one I wanted to see, for it either meant that Severus would be a regular feature at the corrupted estbats Voldemort held, or whatever you wanted to call them, and, if so, the risk that his former master would find out that the person he wanted dead above all people, even Dumbledore, was crashing in his pad and for exactly what reasons; or, possibly less wonderfully, whatever "big nasty" Tonks, Fleur, and Ari didn't know about but knew Voldemort was after had either been obtained or a coherent plan to obtain it had been made, which meant "big nasty" on a scale no one, particularly I, was ready to handle. I, after all, as I think at some point I've mentioned, am all of fifteen years old. Granted, I know some post-NEWT level spells – The Patronus Charm; the scutum and praesidis shields; The Awl Charm, which was particularly messy (or so the illustrations suggested) when used on a person – and some out of an old Auror's Handbook sent to me with a box of Easter chocolates – glantius, The Rapid-Shot Spell; detruncare, The Decapitation Curse; The Spear Hex, clavus – but, for the most part, my arsenal contained spells that any Hogwarts graduate could use and counter. Maybe I could utilize them in ways that the normal witch wouldn't think of, and that level of cunning could work in my favour, but the fact remained that Jelly-Legs and cross-species transfiguration does little good against someone set to kill you.

Oh, dance in the dark of night, sing to the morning light.

Paracelsus tried to reassure me that the "dungeon-man" could take care of himself, but I snapped even at him and my Runespoor went to bother Archimedes instead, going on about how this was what his mère got for eating newts-that-weren't-newts-but-dough. A perfect example of why McGonagall is mad for thinking I should teach children: my temper gets the better of me. If I can't hold it back when talking to Paracelsus, for all practical purposes my own son, what does she think I'd do when confronted with classrooms full of eleven- to eighteen-year-olds? Well, perhaps they'd be better behaved then snakes who have a propensity for singing Muggle pop songs when basking in the steam of my hot shower, but children are children…

But it worked out fairly well with the DA, didn't it? I thought them and they learned, not only in DADA, but, apparently, every other subject, and there I didn't have any of the authority that a professor is granted – detentions and demerits, – only what they themselves had granted me. And it had gone so well… That, of course, couldn't be my own doing. All those who gathered had come because they wanted to learn, not because someone demanded that they take my class in order to graduate.

Still, weren't they following my leadership now, when I was in, quote unquote, hiding? Sure, they saw me in class and most meals, Quidditch practice even, but for everything else I stayed hidden. If I had to go to the library, I went early in the morning beneath my cloak. Ditto the tower if I had to see Ron or Hermione, and everything else. I stayed holed away here, in Severus's now immaculate quarters, the map spread out before me as I plotted our next moves. They could have ignored the notes I slipped to them in the halls, or the orders given from Hermione (who received notes from Paracelsus, who enjoyed the "exercise" up to the tower) and who obligingly told her detailed reports to my three-headed snake, who in turned shared them with me. In no way were any of those things binding contracts. Maybe they just wanted to get back at Umbridge for taking over the school, but they were my Maquis and rather then uncoordinated attacks from all angles, the mutant frog had to deal with synchronized attacks from all angles. Nothing could beat two Claxon Crabs set off simultaneously, one in the kitchens (which, of course, Umbridge herself has to deal with because you can't expect the house elves to know how to deal with such problems themselves, now can you?) and the Astronomy Tower (which Umbridge too must deal with, because how is Professor Sinistra to know the proper, MoM approved method for getting rid of one?). Did that mean that I could teach, though?

The apples turn to brown and black; the tyrant's face is red.

Oh the war is common cry, pick up you swords and fly.

It had to at least be three in the morning when I realized I could only make the bed so many times, and that the floor was clean no matter how many more times I chose to scrub it,

Oh Merlin! Oh God! Oh Herne and Hecate! It's wrong of me, isn't it, to panic like this? Severus can take care of himself – that strength is part of the reason I'm drawn to him – and has been doing it for much longer then I've been alive. He will make it back in once piece-

The sky is filled with good and bad that mortals never know.
Oh, well, the night is long; the beads of time pass slow,
Tired eyes on the sunrise, waiting for the eastern glow.

Unless they kill him. I cannot help but think names are fate, in a way. I've read Antigone; I know the story behind the Eteocles, which his crazed parents gave him as his middle name… He was Oedipus's son, the son and grandson of Jocasta. He and his brother, Polyneices, fought over the Theban throne. Both died. And don't even get me started on all the Severus's in Roman history who died tragic ends…

Oh Merlin! Oh God! Why were strange songs coursing through my head when all my thoughts should be focused on Severus, who might even now be dead in a meeting place somewhere, tortured to death for loving me…? Too much time spent with my mad Runespoor, that was certain…

The pain of war cannot exceed the woe of aftermath.
The drums will shake the castle wall; the ringwraiths ride in black, ride on.

I was on the verge of starting on the storage rooms, wherein who knew what strange and lurking dangers awaited me, when I started at a noise behind me.

It was not his usual whisper of cloth, but I could forgive him easily for scaring me when I saw him. His black robes were slashed and torn, bleeding in many places I noticed as he stumbled out of the floo.

"Good God, Severus," I whispered, rushing over to him but, out of concern for his wounds, stopping just short of touching him, though I longed for nothing more then to take him up into my arms and assure myself that he was alive and well. "What did they do to you?"

I'm not sure he heard me – on anyone else I'd call the strange, almost otherworldly daze he'd fallen into one of drink or similar – but I lead him to the couch anyway, murmuring over again in endless repetition, "What did they do? What did they do?" in a way that begs no answer, only that he say something, anything to me indicating he's hearing me. He lay down willingly, too easily, and it caused me more worry than if he'd brought his arm home separate from the rest of him. Severus has always been this, sturdy, stable force; for him to become so pliable now, it broke me almost as the waiting had. "Rest now," I said too weakly, tears in my voice if not my eyes, not caring that I was dirty from cleaning and he stained from his "visit" to Voldemort as I made sure he was comfortable on the couch I'd cleaned not hours earlier. "Oh honey, oh sweetheart," I cried, repeating it with my, "What did they do to you?" mantra.

However shocked I was, must say I did more than just sit there uselessly. No, I conjured a bowl of water and a rag and, removing his torn clothes, began to clean the wounds. None were deep, but the kind a coutea, a lesser culteris, would leave. The kind intended for slow torture rather then a quick death. I sobbed harder, unable to hide it, and leaned down to kiss his lips, his jaw, his chest before continuing. Whatever they did to him, I knew, was because of me. They found out about me…

There was a deep cut above his chest; thinner, longer ones elsewhere. If they had found out, he'd escaped before they'd gotten to release too much of their anger on him. Fumbling with my wand, I murmured a quick-and-dirty healing spell that can't have been all too much fun for him to endure, but got the job done. "Oh, Severus, what happened to you? And why didn't you go to Madam Pomprey?"

"If I'd of known you'd fuss over me like this, I would've," he coughed. I could have cried for joy if I hadn't been in tears already, but it was enough that he at least was conscious enough to answer me.

Sing as you raise your bow, shoot straighter than before.
No comfort has the fire at night that lights the face so cold.

"You bastard," I said, even as I leaned down to bury my face in his chest, "why did you have to go? You had to have known this would have happened." I kissed his chest, his jaw, his mouth with great and overwhelming desire, "Never go back there," I said between kisses, "never, you hear me? We've not come this far for me just to let you die on me."

"Die?" he said gruffly, tiredly, "Éléonore, this is nothing-"

"Bleeding is not nothing!" I insisted. "I can't let them do this to you because of me!" But it soon turned out this wasn't because of me – just normal Voldemort unhappiness for Severus not bringing him any good information on Dumbledore. The Dark Lord – yet – did not know about us.

Oh dance in the dark of night, sing to the morning light.
The magic runes are writ in gold to bring the
Balance back, bring it back.

And it was then, as we lay together on the couch, him to exhausted and in pain to sleep, and me still too afraid for him to sleep or do more then hold him through the long hours 'til daylight, that I realized just what it meant, loving a spy in wartime…

But what could I do? It wasn't like I could stop loving him, no matter how much Sirius might have wanted me to. I had willingly chosen to twine my life about his, and I couldn't end that now, not now, not when I loved his kisses too dearly and the way it felt when he held me close and how I could light something in his eyes no one else had ever lit.

I worried. The next whole month leading up to OWLS I worried. I worried that Severus would get himself killed before we ever had a chance to be happy, I worried that Voldemort had found a way to the "big nasty" Tonks had spoken of long ago, I worried about Dumbledore and the Order and everyone in it; I worried about everything but the examinations that caught me by surprise the second week of June.

The OWLS were my future, right? Without the requisite grade in them there was no hope for the NEWTS that I needed, whatever they might be. I should have studied for them, as Hermione would have me if I was still in the tower, but despite the fact that the idea I could be a professor like Severus and teach one day here with him was a delightful one, the fact still remained that Voldemort was out there. He wanted to kill me. He could get into my mind, and I could not keep him out. If he'd sent me a vision, however unwillingly, of Nagini attacking Mr. Weasley, then what was to say that the next vision I had wouldn't be of him killing Severus or Sirius or Remus or Tonks or Fleur?

Severus, I think, admired the way I threw myself into the dusty old books, even if it did cause him to worry a bit when I didn't mind the dust getting over the places I'd have cleaned the night before. I don't think he cared about the OWLS either, except so far that it was necessary I take them. I read on all the was wizards had created to block their mind from outside influences – talismans of enormous worth and power, medicinal tattoos that imbued the magical power of said talisman into the skin so it could never be forcibly removed, bondings and dedications to heroes and deities who might protect them, wardings placed around the mind; Occulmency, of course – and yet none of them seemed tailored to work on something interior, whereas all the things that seemed to exist to ward against voices and sights that no one else could see seemed designed for the insane, those whose delusions were nothing more than that – delusions.

There had to be something I could create, or clabber together, or use off-label to block exterior influences that acted interiorly, but I didn't know what it might be. There was only so much that I could do – I was no great mage who could play around with minds, nor was I in the position to want mine to be played around with – and it depressed me. Even my work with the Hogwarts Maquis didn't seem as enjoyable when I was faced for the first time with the knowledge that I'd always be connected to Voldemort until one or the other of us finally bowed to the other's wishes and died already.

I think I had some strange idea that, if I could protect myself, it'd make Severus safe too.

But that did not stop the rest of the world from turning. OWLS came and went – Charms, Transfiguration, Herbology, DADA the first week; the liberating Potions, CoMC, Astronomy, Divs, and HoM the next – and Hannah Abbot had her yearly nervous breakdown. I showed my Patronus off to the examiners, who were so thrilled by my knowledge of spells they might have kissed me if Umbridge hadn't been boring holes through them with her eyes.

Astronomy saw Hagrid run off the grounds and McGonagall so injured they had to send her to St. Mungos.

I was in my final exam – that final blessed exam – when the dream came. I'd scribbled some answers on my exam, not caring what I got in HoM, and scratched in the margins ideas I was mulling over about protecting my mind from Voldemort. I had some silly idea that if I could find a way to place the warding one would use on the mentally ill not on metal bands but metallic inks, combining it with the talismans-of-the-flesh used indigenously as a sort of doorway that allowed only good spirits to pass into the mind, that the unwanted visions might be prevented and, even if they weren't, I'd still have a wicked looking tattoo… I closed my eyes, feeling fuzzy warm in the golden light that was filtering into the Great Hall… I'd not slept properly in days, I was so worried, and I knew that, just as soon as I figured out how to protect myself I'd crash completely… But I could just see the form my talisman would take, right on the horizon… I was in a fuzzy warm, golden-lit dell, empty of anything but radiantly green grass for several yards before the black, dark forest swallowed everything… but in the small hollow I was safe; I could feel the warm presence of something, someone protecting me from the more sinister red eyes beyond… It was the feeling like I got from Severus, so warm and strong and understanding, so knowledgeable of the every-weaving roads through the Dark and able to guide me through…

… It was black as the Darkness it was born of, sleek and strong in a subtle way, with golden eyes that knew the unknowable… A cat? I thought but did not know. It was too large for something domestic…

Then the scene changed, and I was suddenly transplanted out of the warm glade and into the cold, damp hallway from my dreams. I walked, as I always did, purposefully down the hall and through the other, strange rooms filled with Dali clocks and floating planets, until I reached the church of the glowing orbs. I could see the numbers on the shelves clearly this time… ninety, ninety-one… and I was still far from the centre of the labyrinth, nothing but a spectral Minotaur in its depths… I turned at ninety-seven and saw the wounded, black mass huddled there.

A thrill of inhuman excitement and more human dread filled me, and from my own, lipless mouth that empty voice that had haunted me in childhood nightmares emerged, "Take it for me… Lift it down, now… I cannot touch it… but you can…"

When the huddled mass did nothing more than twitch, it was my own, long, white fingers clutching the long, dark-wooded wand that crucio-ed it. I laughed as I listened to his screams of pain, which I knew too well, for I'd felt that pain too…

"Lord Voldemort is waiting…" I told the mass when I finally lifted the curse. I fought to end the connection between my mind and his, but I had to know who it was, to save them. I was too curious… curiosity killed the cat, you know…

It was Sirius, bloodstained and near broken from the pain, that answered me. "You'll have to kill me."

"Undoubtedly I shall in the end. But you will fetch it for me first, Black… You think you have felt pain thus far? Think again… We have hours ahead of us and nobody to hear you scream… Besides, my meeting with your daughter ended so abruptly last summer. There were so many things I wanted to show her… You will, I suppose, just have to do…"

I was screaming when my eyes, at last, snapped open. The instant I awoke, I swallowed my yells with long-practiced completeness, leaving the Hall as I ran full tilt from it in a stunned, empty silence.

I had to save Sirius.

Chapter Sixteen.