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Someone To Run To (18/32)

 

Chapter Eighteen, In Which I Underestimate the Ingenuity of Complete Fools


 Though still cursing Sirius for his idea of cooking, I made my way quickly out of the Great Hall. Not for a moment did I think of heading for the tower, where Ron and Hermione, talking quickly about this latest development, were heading. I'm not even sure they noticed I'd ducked off towards the dungeons, where I could only hope the House Elves had delivered my things. Because, honestly, I'd liked last year's set-up and would very much like to continue with it. If he wouldn't be too much of a blockhead, a Snake with a Lion's morals.

Archimedes was expecting me when I got to his floor. Arc and Edes were playing, oddly enough, backgammon while Him stared at the wall behind his statue. With a movement I took to be a snake's shrug, Arc spat out the piece he held in his mouth and gave me a once over. "He's been waiting for you, Speaker."

Speaking to the wall, "Yessss…" Him drawled, "He isss very anxiousss, or isss it restlessss?"

"Isss that the move you're going to make? Humph," Edes informed the first head. "Scale-lessss onesss, what do you expect, Him? They bring politicsss and preditorssss into their nestssss."

"Politicsss isss stupid."

"Snakesss learned long ago that pair-bonding isss one thing, politicsss another, and not to confuse the two. And, yessss, that's the move I'm making. If you haven't noticed, Sussss, I'm wining by five."

"Gamesss are stupid."

"You're the stupid one, Him."

I so did not need this. "Let me in?"

"Sure," Arc shrugged again.

"I like you, and he likesss you too."

"The password is 'Pala."

I didn't bother to ask, as they melted out of the way, why I might need a password if I could just ask them nicely to let me in, but what can you do? "Thanksss guysss."

Severus was pacing, a half-drunk glass of cognac resting on the mantle, and his hands, normally so perfectly controlled, betrayed him. He looked like a man determined to say something, something resolute which he does not really want to do, and as if, if paused, he might not ever be able to make himself say it.

I knew what he wanted to say, the Éléonore,-I-simply-can't-allow-myself-to-take-advantage-of-you-while-I'm-your-professor,-never-mind-that-I-found-out-I-was-going-to-be-the-DADA-teacher-two-weeks-ago-when-previously-we-thought,-rightly,-that-you'd-not-have-the-gades-to-continue-on-as-my-NEWT-Potions-student-and-therefore-have-no-conflict-of-interest-like-I've-created-now-by-accepting-this-position-I've-wanted-since-I-started-teaching,-which,-problematically,-was-when-you-were-still-a-toddler speech I'd been dreading… Instead of asking the question I most wanted to know – why he hadn't told me that this wonderful, wonderful thing had happened at last for him, I sat down on the couch behind which he was pacing and curled into a ball upon it.

"I'll do self-study Defence again."

With the sigh of one at the end of long battle, "I can't ask you to do that. I was-"

"I don't feel like fighting, Severus. I'll just continue my self-study; maybe take my Defence NEWT this year. And we can just continue on as we are, no problems, no questions asked, and that'll be the end of it. Besides, what use have I for essays when there's a homicidal maniac after me?"

"Éléonore," he began.

Without pause, I continued, a slightly possessed tone creeping into my words, "I mean, I did well enough at the Department of Mysteries, didn't I? I didn't die. That's always good. And we caught several Death Eaters, several bad, bad people who will surely escape before long and do more harm, but, at this moment, can't hurt anyone but themselves in their cages – if we should be so lucky," I said, growing both frenzied and dysthymic the longer I spoke, remembering Dianica, the werewolf girl I'd never met, and her possible son Raul. "That's a good thing right, that evil is stopped, however briefly… and, if we keep stopping it, again and again and again, maybe, just maybe, we'll stop evil forever, by pushing it back a little every time it gets a hold… Voldemort's just the current Dark Lord. It was Grindelwald before him, Shalace before him… Telchine… Curum Lan… Eternity's got to end sometime, doesn't it?"

"Éléonore," he tried again.

But I was shaking now the with emotion, perhaps a bit too overwhelmed to be, after two months, with my lover in a place that was safe and smelled of the mint that was him. "I mean, evil can't win can it? That's not the point of it all, is it?" I felt tears well, and my stomach ache. I changed trains to keep them from falling, "And Lucius is dead, that's … good… isn't it? Isn't it?" That wasn't working. It'd only made things worse.

With piercing concern, "Éléonore, I think you should lie down."

I moved to fight him that, but, before I could say anything more, I found myself rushing past him to the loo, and felt last night's dinner reassert itself. "I'm going to… I dunno, something bad to Sirius for insisting he cook last night." A realization hit me then. "Merlin, they're all going to die of food poisoning or malnutrition without me there."

Severus, who'd witnessed some of my homemaker summer, pulled a vial of antiemetic potion out of somewhere and gave it to me with a wry smile. I swear, if I didn't already love the man, things like this would make me irreparably his. "They managed to survive before you came along."

"On corned beef sandwiches and crisps," I muttered grimly, deciding, yes, the nausea was passing as the potion took effect and I could get to my feet once more. So I did and barefacedly began shrugging out of my grimy-feeling school robes as I searched for my trunk, only to be surprised that everything was already put away. Even my pyjamas were in the drawer were I'd kept them last term. I climbed into the warm, soft bed that I'd begun to think of as my own, and closed my eyes in relief.

It was only a bit later, when Severus was joining me, I thought aloud, "And now I don't have a book or ingredients for Potions, thank you very much."

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I squinted my eyes to read the writing on the back cover of the copy of Advanced Potions-Making Severus had handed me as I gathered my bag for the morning (the advantages of dating a Professor: the copies of the professors' schedules they have lying around), understanding now what he meant when he'd said, "Kindly do not add to it without checking with me first; the same goes for any of the spells you might find in there." I was even tempted to whistle, for seemingly everywhere in the text were notes, comments, and corrections in either his own cramped handwriting or a looser, more curly hand that I assumed was his mother's – why, I don't know, but the whole book screamed that it was something precious to him, and, perhaps, not a little dangerous. Tables and meaningless calculations covered the back flap, but I could see in the corner the words: This Book is the Property of The Half-Blood Prince. That time I could not help myself from snorting, "Pretentious much."

"What's so pretentious?" asked Hermione, letting her monstrously heavy book bag hit the ground as she sat across from me and began to load her plate with toast and eggs.

Ginny answered for me as I closed my text, "Her book." She'd been watching me peruse the book with great interest for the last five minutes.

"Has hell frozen over? Harry is reading a Potions book of her own volition. Besides, I thought you weren't taking Potions."

I did not remind her that, per The Divine Comedy, the deepest parts of hell were an icy wasteland, or that the name I chose to go by was Éléonore, not some computer screw-up, thinking it too early. After last night's strain of emotions, I was feeling tired and headachy, but at least the worst of the food poisoning was past. After classes today, I was going to have to owl Mrs. Weasley and ask her to feed the three at HQ if the Order was to survive at all.

"I wasn't – and then I discovered Slughorn was going to be teaching it, and I suddenly could take it," I shrugged. My plans for my Sixth Year weren't overwhelming: just self-study DADA, Transfiguration, Charms, CoMC, Herbology and now Potions. Not an overwhelming course schedule, but I'd still to figure out how to protect my mind from Voldemort, figure out how to carryout the prophesy so that no more little Muggle-born boys, who should have been sitting somewhere in this hall, excited about his first day of classes and not a little nervous, would have to die; that no more girls no older than me should have to kill their brothers and their sons to keep them safe… I nibbled at my toast, glaring daggers at the eggs, sausage, and anything else that might be the least undercooked and worsen the damage Sirius's cooking had done.

"And you bought the book anyway?" Hermione looked distinctly proud.

Distractedly, as I saw the morning post coming, "Er, no, Severus lent me his old copy."

Hedwig landed with my copy of Smoke and Mirror, as well as my monthly addition of Star and Stave, and I passed her the entire platter of bacon, anxious to get it out of my sight. Without noticing the look my two friends were giving me, I scanned the headlines (Raids in Knoctern Discover Dark Weapons Cache and Stocks Plummet in Wake of YKW's Return) before flipping to the obituaries. It wasn't until I'd confirmed that no one I knew had died did I look up and see Ginny's gapping mouth and Hermione's wide, almost protuberant, look. "What?"

"You…" said the red head faintly.

"I what?" I was confused, that's all I can say. Folding the paper carefully and sticking it into my bag, I regarded their expressions and tried to figure out if I'd been transfigured into something bizarre without my knowledge or my robe had started flashing pink hearts. I found both of these things to be a negative as far as I could tell, I resigned myself to the fact they'd enlighten me, sooner or later, on what was going on that was causing them to look like fish. So, finishing off my toast, I flipped my magazine open to the first page without cosmetic adverts and tried to figure out who the papers had me dating now that I was proved to be a brave, truth-telling, Maquis-leading "Chosen One" rather than just the plain-old rich Girl-Who-Lived and five-time winner of Teen Witch's Most Influential Teen Star award. I think those were on display in the formal dining room, with the Triwizard Vase and a few other random awards Andi had salvaged from the Owl Post's VIP offices, where all the fan mail, presents, and random, non-personal nonsense I'd received over the last fifteen years had been mercifully collecting dust until Andi discovered it. On the opposite wall were commendations Tonks had received in her line of work, which carried fancy titles for the smile act of hexing and capturing people. The night I'd acquired my food poisoning, said commendations had been hopping around in their frames, followed by an intrigued Paracelsus.

I was on page four's "Six Beauty Tips Every Witch Should Know" when Hermione hissed at last: "You've been staying with Professor Snape."

My eyebrow raised itself in what I hoped was a Snapish way, "So what if I have?"

Poor Ginny looked about to hyperventilate. Every time she managed to get her breath under control, she'd sneak a look up at the Head Table, where said professor was now enjoying a blissfully uninterrupted breakfast before having to pass out class schedules, and she'd start hyperventilating again. My Runespoor, having sensed the nearby distress, poked his heads out of my pockets and slithered up Ginny's arm, until Acel was peering in her ear. In his typical way, he decided that singing would be the answer everything. "Here'ssss a little song I wrote; you might want to sing it note-for-note," the middle head began.

"You didn't write it at all, you fool. Now shut up!" Sus snapped.

That didn't stop Acel. "Don't worry, be happy. In every life we have some trouble; but when you worry, you make it double."

"Ooo-oo-hoo-hoo-oo hoo-hoo-oo-oo-oo-oo-ooo," Par sang in the background.

"Don't worry."

"Woo-oo-woo-oo-woo-oo-ooo."

"Why won't you two ever shut up?"

Eyes only now beginning to recede into her skull, "You were sleeping in a professor's rooms for two months…"

"Be happy."

"Woo-oo-oo-oo-ooo."

"Don't worry, be happy."

"You're idiotssss, the both of you!"

"That's where you were last night too!" with sudden realization. "That's why there were only three beds in the dormitory." That was interesting, I had to admit. "Please, please, tell me I'm wrong!"

"Ooo-oo-hoo-hoo-oo hoo-hoo-oo-oo-oo-oo-ooo."

"Don't worry."

"Woo-oo-woo-oo-woo-oo-ooo."

"Be happy."

"Mère! Make them stop it!" demanded the third head. Not wanting to explain what was going on with my three-headed snake now that Ginny seemed able to breathe, I picked him up by his tail and stuffed him in my pocket without a word. With a sigh, I noticed it was getting a little small for him and cast an enlargement charm upon it, and turned back to Hermione. The mumbled protestations of, "Hey!" and "That'sss mean!" could be heard a moment later from with in.

"In 1381, Aldyth Merle-" I began.

But this was all the confirmation that my oldest female friend needed. Voice squeaky, "Please tell me that it's just that his couch is exceedingly comfortable."

The silence in which I considered my answer was not particularly comfortable but, luckily, not long. Oliver, sliding into the seat next to me without noticing a thing wrong, "Hey, Ely." The Hufflepuff Third Year leaned across me, rescued some bacon from the platter Hedwig had been helping herself to, and poured himself a glass of pumpkin juice. "Feeling any better? Remind me never to eat Uncle Sirius's steak-and-kidney pie again."

I pushed my half-finished plate away. "A little. What's up with you, Oliver?"

"Nada mucho. Just wanted to see if you'd seen my Quidditch gloves."

"Decided to try out after all?"

"Yeah – I mean, I'm a Third Year this year, and Summerby isn't that great and all, so I've a fighting chance. "

"Of course you do. After a summer with me, how could you not? I could have sworn I saw them at the bottom of your trunk Saturday night."

"I looked – they weren't even in with my socks."

Pursing my lips, "Try getting one of the older kids to summon them for you. If you can't or they don't show, I'll let you use mine until we can order you a proper pair."

He gave me a Hufflepuff smile and, with a, "Thanks" and a blushing kiss on the cheek, he picked up his glass and took a seat across the aisle with his housemates.

To Hermione, who'd been waiting, "I've read nearly every book on youth law in existence, and I've yet to find any proscription against a student," I searched for the right word, "being involved," I decided at last, "with a professor. With the medieval and provincial laws in the Wizarding world, the statutes regarding 'marriageable ages,' 'age of consent,' and likewise, you'll soon find that, in turns, they are both antiquated and forward thinking. Until 1283, witches could marry at twelve and wizards at fourteen; afterwards, it became fourteen and seventeen respectively, with an age of consent established as thirteen-and-a-half for girls and fifteen for boys – and it's not changed since, except for an addendum that adds carnal relations between witches and wizards of twelve and fifteen permissible, so long as it is not per outside influence, i.e., brothels, strip clubs, et cetera. And yet, in 1548, laws were passed allowing same-sex marriage, (on the condition that, if either was Head of a House, there must be provided an heir to said House, either through adoption or a close relative, in his or her will) and homosexual age of consent at seventeen across the board. While some certain laws have been slightly modified since, no law has ever been passed – or even suggested – that would forbid student-teacher relations, provided that both are of age." Then, in retrospect, "Which I am."

Ginny just looked like she'd come from a Divs class where Trelawney had been burning something decidedly other than incense, whereas Hermione gave a thoughtful look at me and said nothing for a long time, but rather ate her eggs very slowly. I thought the whole issue dropped, and wished McGonagall would just pass out the schedules already, because I wanted to get out of here before either of my friends thought of anything else, or Ron arrived and could be filled in on the details. Luckily, she was only one or two seats down, trying to get Neville to take Charms instead of Transfiguration despite what his Grandmother wanted. Hermione was quickly cleared a few minutes later for all her classes; a quick comment to McGonagall got my classes like a wanted. It wouldn't be too bad this year. After all, if I wasn't taking Severus's DADA, then I'd only have Slughorn's Potions after lunch to deal with. I'd never have more than two on the same day, and only once go straight from one to the other – CoMC to Herbology on Thursdays. After this perusal, I slipped it to into my bag and stood. "See you at Potions," I told Hermione, and pulled my toothpick-sized Firebolt from Paracelsus's pocket (which contained, among my Runespoor's other toys, a piece of string, three mix-matched dice, and miniature statue of a red-hated gnome) and decided I'd fly for a bit, since I didn't have any classes to go to or homework to do. 'Sides, if I was going to be Quidditch Captain, I might as well be practiced after the summer.

I did not notice Draco – the Head of the Malfoy, thanks to me – stride up the space between Gryffindor and Hufflepuff's tables with Crabbe and Goyle (Jrs.) at flank until he was almost on me. His wand was in his hand, and the look on his face was more sullen and enraged than I'd ever been privileged to see it before.

For some reason – maybe temporary insanity was a symptom of food poisoning – I tried to be cordial. "Hello, Draco." I was sorely tempted, even, to use 'wotcher' like our cousin Tonks does, but I thought straying away from the subject of family would be the best for all involved.

Loudly and, sadly, frostily, "You killed my father," (I almost expected him to continue, "Prepare to die." Almost), "you bitch."

What is it with this family and that word? Still, I felt faintly sick at the memory. "Please, people are trying to eat here." The clammy, sticky feeling of sickness and blood washed over me

"Bitch," he said again. People were starting to look over at us now, not just at Gryffindor and Hufflepuff's tables, but at Ravenclaw and Slytherin too. The professors, for the moment, seemed blissfully ignorant of it all, "you think you can just kill my father without retaliation?"

"To be fair, he tried to kill me first."

Lowly, so I doubted anyone besides myself and Ginny, who was right behind me now, "And why shouldn't he have killed you, half-blood whore? You're nothing – nothing – special, just another uppity bitch that needs to be put back into her place."

I held Ginny back as she started forward. Calmly, and at a normal tone, "I am going to curse you if you don't start backing away slowly now." Surely the teachers had to know by now any interaction I had with Malfoy was bound to lead to trouble? Wasn't there some alarm ringing at the Head Table or the Headmaster's Office, warning them of the impending destruction of school property and body parts?

He didn't move accept to wave his wand arm. Not hesitating, I flicked a scutum shield around me and cast, "Caecio," the Blinding Spell, upon him. His minions, not thinking of magic, rushed towards me, but stunners dealt with them. "I've no quarrel with you!" I told him, vociferously. Blindly, he cast a charm in my direction that was reflected away by my shield; he took advantage, though, of my momentary distraction to perform the counter-curse that restored his sight, and take another step towards me.

"It took them three days to collect all the parts of him to return to us!"

I grimaced at that and went slightly pale. I'd told him people were eating. "He was a Death Eater-!"

"No proof-"

Er, how about the Death Eater robes he was wearing? the Death Eater mask? That his body was found in the presence of other Death Eaters? "Whatever you say, Malfoy-" A writhing, electric-blue curse flew my way. I tried a disarming curse, but he held onto his wand still. It caught sight of Severus, McGonagall, and others advancing towards us. I'd not do anything drastic, I promised myself. They could handle him, make him pay… "Is your whole family stupid or something?" … I allowed myself a Tarantallegra as I ducked out of the way of a spell of his, not trusting even my shield to what he might send my way now. "Was it your plan just to kill me in the great hall, in front of all these people? No subtly at all – I thought Snakes were supposed to be cunning," (from my pocket came a muffled, "We are," from one head and an, "Ooo-oo-hoo-hoo-oo hoo-hoo-oo-oo-oo-oo-ooo," from another), "but I guess not."

McGonagall got to us first: "What in Merlin's name is going on here?"

Draco inserted, "Potter attacked me, Professor," as Severus and Sinistra joined us, followed a moment later by Sprout and an out-of-breath Flitwick. I rolled my eyes and, resignedly, lowered my shield charm.

"And I suppose she was just waiting here, at her table, for you to pass by, when yours is clear across the hall?"

Quietly, "I can explain," though I'd rather not do it here. The eyes of the professors and everyone interested turn on me, but I can't see them. I feel them, in a way a girl who is used to being stared at for one thing or another all her life can feel them. "Malfoy is attempting to challenge me to a duel for killing his father last June. However," I continued, "he is forgetting that, as both of us are not of age, and therefore cannot, legally, have an honour duel. Though," I mused, shifting my hold on my back pack, "with the year-and-a-day law and the ninety-day execution period, if he should wish to challenge me on the fifth of June next for a duel to take place in August, per say, he could do so if he got the courts to rule that it was not voluntary manslaughter but murder one… which might be difficult, considering Arietis Caudwell has filled an attempted murder in the first charge on Lucius Malfoy's estate…"

The Deputy Headmistress was, sadly, having none of it. "There will be no more talk of duels in the great hall."

"Aye, Capitaine," I smiled at them all, pulled out my toothpick-broom again, and marched out of the hall, determined to pretend the whole thing never happened as I flew.

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Wrapped tightly around the handle of my broom, Paracelsus was starting to get on my nerves now that'd I'd slowed enough for the wind not to carrying his hisses away. Still flying, even with a singing three-headed snake, it relaxing. Helps you forget that the son of the guy you murdered, who-happens to be your classmate and self-proclaimed archnemisis tried to attack you doing your attempt at breakfast and things like that.

"Don't worry, don't worry, don't do it."

"Ooo-oo-hoo-hoo-oo hoo-hoo-oo-oo-oo-oo-ooo,"

"Isss there a more annoying song you can sing?"

"Be happy. Put a smile on your face. Don't bring everybody down."

"Woo-oo-woo-oo-woo-oo-ooo."

"Don't worry. It will soon passss, whatever it isss."

"Ooo-oo-hoo-hoo-oo hoo-hoo-oo-oo-oo-oo-ooo,"

Sus was glaring daggers back at me for not stopping this long before. I barely noticed, for, as I did a finally loop, I noticed a crop of lurid pink hair walking towards the stands. "What about that one that one that wasss all over the Muggle noise-boxesss at the market, or-?"

But poor Sus never got a chance to finish is thought, for Acel and Par exchanged glances (well, as best as Acel ever looked at someone) and changed songs so fast it was dizzying. So, as I gently brought the Firebolt, the melody changed from '80s one-hit-wonders to a British pop hit that had indeed been tormenting me every time I went grocery shopping in the Muggle world this summer:

"Yo, I'll tell you what I want, what I really, really want."

"So tell me what you want, what you really, really want."

"Polyxena and Glykon!" Sus cursed. "I want earplugssss for Christmassss."

"I wanna, I wanna, I wanna, I wanna, I wanna really, really, really wanna zigazig ha."

"So here'sss a story from A to Z, you wanna get with me you gotta listen carefully."

"We got Em in the place who likesss it in your face."

"We got G like MC who likesss it on an."

When I was about three feet from the ground, the critic continued: "That doesn't even make any sense!" as I called out to Tonks, who was now waving at me.

"Wotcher, Éléonore!" she called as I circled to the ground, "You're a brave one, flying after Sirius's cooking. I've spent all morning taking anti-nausea potions like they were jell-o shooters." She shot bleary glance at me and, in her wise and worldly way, informed me, "Never, ever, do green jell-o shooters. They tell you they're apple, but, inevitably, they're lime, and who likes lime jell-o?"

I laughed. "Have you gotten any sleep since Saturday?"

"A little – I finally got to sleep with Remus, y'know-" My hands instantly clasped my ears, and I fell the last few feet to the ground, my Firebolt landing right in my face. None of this deterred Paracelsus or, sadly, Tonks, who, much experienced with clumsiness, pulled me and my broom to our feet. "He was conked out in the bathtub, and I was on a nest of towels on the bathroom floor. Now that we've slept the same night in the same room, more or less, I just have to convince him its okay to sleep with me. I'll have to do that when I get relieved. Remus should be finished locking up all the food and cooking implements by then – that's what he was doing when I left, anyway. I'm 'guarding' Hogsmeade, y'know, with Proudfoot, Savage, and Dawlish, but I don't think Dawlish, at least, believes it's in danger… He keeps on showing up late and popping out early… Anyway, I saw you flying and couldn't resist. Never seen you fly before, y'know. Sirius and Remus are right: you really are quite good."

"Merlin, Tonks!"

"I'm not saying it to butter you up, it's the truth-"

I sputtered at her and her pink hair, "No, I mean, I don't want to hear about your sex life, or Remus's, or Sirius's, or- or, I dunno, any one else's." I mean, it was like thinking of my parents having sex, and they'd been dead almost fifteen years.

Meanwhile, still wrapped around my broom handle, Acel continued, "Easy V doesn't come for free, she'sss a real lady."

"And assss for me, you'll see, slam your body down and wind it all around," Par sang, before, as one, "Slam your body down and wind it all around."

"Oh," I hissed at them in exasperation, "go catch Ari a beetle or something."

Par pouted, "Fine then."

"Trample our artistic expression," he slithered off towards the lake.

"Kill me now," the last head lamented, dragging behind.

To Tonks, "He was singing Spice Girls."

She shuddered appreciatively, her sunshine yellow shirt, proclaiming the superiority of a band called The Atomic Guillotine, saying all that was needed about her own musical tastes. Then, flopping gracelessly on the grass where I'd fallen, "So, anyway, I heard from Fleur today why she and Bill missed your party Saturday."

I joined her more tenderly, feeling slightly bruised. "Really?"

"Yeah. Apparently Bill took her to some five star restaurant in the wizarding section of Edinburgh and proposed to her."

"What?"

"Oh yes, apparently Molly's far from thrilled."

"Of course…"

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I'd been talking with Tonks so long, I was nearly late for Potions.

Hermione, who reminded me of Sus or Edes sometimes, "Where have you been?"

"Yeah, Harry," said Ron as I pulled out Severus's textbook and the ingredients he'd stocked me with. The set wasn't the basic stuff I'd used before, which was now collecting dust in my room at HQ, but appeared to me to be several of the knives that I'd replaced for him at Christmas and similar – things that he must have used for ages and were, while not quite so exorbitantly, expensive, Potions Master's tools. Not sure whether this was faith in my abilities, faith that I could improve my dismal abilities (though I had gotten an E, so I must have learned something throughout the years other then what an irritating bastard Severus could be when he felt like it which was, admittedly, most the time), or because this was the stuff he'd be most okay with me ruining, I set it out carefully. Hogwarts's resident genius noticed that they weren't my normal things – of course – but seemed hesitant to question me on this with Ron so nearby. "You weren't in Snape's DADA, or lunch."

"I ran into Tonks on the pitch, and neither of us was feeling all that well still after Sirius's cooking. If your mother doesn't take pity on them, I don't know what they'll do. All Sirius can cook well is breakfast, but he hates eating it more than once a day… and the others, well, its not worth mentioning. Oh, and your brother got engaged."

As he had five brothers, at least three of them with steady girlfriends, this required some clarification, "Which one?"

"Bill. Your mother is trying to talk him out of it. So, how was Defence?"

"Odd," said Hermione at some length. "Professor Snape clearly knows what he's doing, but…"

"He can be a bit snapish?"

"You're lucky to be doing self-study again, mate. You'd think he'd be happy he finally has job." Ron sighed, "At least he'll be gone next year, the curse and all."

My eyebrows went a little too high for normal, disinterested interest. "Curse?"

"Well, you know." I think he expected me to, "Think about it – we've had Quirrel, Lockhart, Lupin, fake Moody, Umbridge, and now Snape. The Twins had some chick named Grimes their First Year, and a guy named Harper their Second." He started ticking off his fingers, scrunching up his face to think, "Bill's first two were Kendra Witney and a chap called Soxael from Palestine – he was the reason Bill went into curse-breaking in the first place. Then, let's see… Rodgers, McNamee… Strangeglove… and Fitzpatrick. There's not been a Defence teacher that's lasted more than two terms. Witney got married, I remember; she doesn't live too far away from The Burrow, actually, now…. Soxael went on a spirit journey… Strangeglove had a heart attack during the Sixth Year exams when somebody's boggart got loose and retired… And, well you get the picture."

A thrill of worry ran through me. Ron was right, and I'd not thought about it until now, though, by rights, I should have been panicking about it last night… I mean, Remus had "retired" and Umbridge was "called back" to the MoM in disgrace, but Lockhart had lost his memory and the other two were dead, both largely because of me. What would happen to Severus?

No. Curses on jobs were just stupid. On places, yes. On families – who could forget House Atreides? – yes. But on a job? It was too unstable; there was no common thread. Places had foundations; families had blood ties. You'd have to be very powerful to successfully curse a job, and who could feel so strongly about a job for that?

Slughorn, who struck me in the light of his bubbling potions to be slightly bulbous, trying and not entirely succeeding at looking like favourite royal advisor, came out of the storeroom then. Perhaps if his tum was bit less round or his hair more white, he might have succeeded. "Now then, now then, now then," he said. "Scales out, everyone, and potions kits, and don't forget your copies of Advanced Potion-Making…"

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

That night I was sprawled on my stomach in front of the light-giving fire, the heavy texts On Warding the Schizoaffective; The Squib's Guide to Warding: Protecting Your Home and Assets from Neighbours, Trespassers, and Mum, and Tmesis of the Mind when Severus returned from one of the professor's meetings. I turned down the radio, to which Par and Acel were singing along to The Atomic Guillotine's latest ("(Put that Wand Away) Drinks and Guitars Don't Mean Anything") and asked them to shush for a moment. "Hey, Severus."

"How's it coming along?" the Potions Master asked, unbuttoning his robe and moving towards the liquor cabinet.

I'd stay here with you all night, girl, if it weren't for the old lady's chain

I just came out here tonight to sing my song and drink away my pain…

"I think I've finally got a formula I'm willing to give a try. That kind of day, huh?"

"Indeed."

"Well, you know, without the threat of their potions blowing up in their faces, kids tend to be a bit more unruly… I say try putting a something that you can set to spark in their faces every time they annoy you."

My lady, she's a troll, but don't let that worry your sweet head; me and you

We can have some old-fashioned fun tonight and part ways when we're through…

He gave me a wry smile and poured himself a glass of something warm and amber looking. "Want anything?" I shook my head. He came to sit next to me, leaning against the sofa beside me and picked up one of my notebooks. After a moment, "It looks sound enough. It'll take some time though, and I don't have this amount of mercury on hand."

"I figured that…" I sighed and looked up at him, rolling onto my side. Though it was only seven or eight – I couldn't see the clock on the mantle – I was already in the long Cannons shirt I wore to bed and was too hot to have bothered with the pyjama bottoms. That and I lived for moments like this one, where his eyes, however serious he was about whatever he was saying, would follow the line of my legs… "Is the Defence position really cursed?"

Snorting, "Where'd you hear that?" but his eyes were, yes, looking where I'd wished them. I suppose I make it sound that, since June, we've been hoping each other like rabbits. It's not really like that – I mean, sure we snog and have sex and all that, but it's not the central thing. We talk; we enjoy each other's company. If sex was what this was all about, I could have chosen an easier, more randy target anywhere in school that I could have told my friends about with the hope of them understanding.

Sure, I'll play my guitar and sing you my song and, before long

We'll be sitting real close, little girl, and I'll put away my ring

But, when the night's done, we've had our fun and we'll go back where we belong

Just put that wand away, 'cause fizzy drinks and guitars don't mean anything…

"Well, no one's stayed in the position for more than two terms in over a decade."

"That doesn't mean it's cursed."

I flushed a little. "I worry about you, okay?" To is eyes' interest, though the rest of him tried not to show it, I reddened all over.

"You worry about me – I'm just a spy; your the one who can't go a day without getting into some sort of trouble."

"That business with Malfoy wasn't my fault. Well, maybe it was just a little – I did kill Senior – but I didn't ask him to try and attack me in the middle of breakfast!"

"I never said it was," he said calmly, laying aside the notebook he was still holding and putting down his glass of whatever. "You did nothing wrong."

Quite small, "Didn't I?"

"Killing in self-defence – they'd have killed you if you hadn't, and I for one wouldn't want that, not to mention all your fans."

"It's still killing."

If we are real quiet in this back room, maybe we can meet here next time

Oh, forget your man tonight, girl, 'cause our love, it's not a crime…

He leaned down to kiss me, and I met his lips gladly. They tasked like amber; his breath of Amortentia's sweet mint. "Is that what's been bugging you all summer?"

If flushed deeper now. I thought I'd hidden it well. He was a spy. "You noticed?"

"It wasn't hard to miss." Maybe not for a spy. It was funny, at HQ, nobody seemed to notice anything odd. But the Caudwells were wrapped up in their grief, Tonks and Remus with each other, and Sirius had always been in his own little world. Maybe that was understandable. Severus was the only one who seemed to notice that things weren't all peachy keen with me.

"Well, it wasn't that." Severus's eyebrow rose. "Well, mostly wasn't that."

"."

His eyebrow went up further, and he backed away a little. "Pardon?" I wished he wouldn't. The Amortentia had smelled so nice, so much like him, that, now that the real thing was before me, I'd much rather be working on undoing his belt buckle than on making my thoughts coherent for once.

"Er… I have homicidal fantasies about getting rid of my aunt and uncle and am worried that I'll turn out like Voldemort. I mean, Riddle stopped his attacks on Muggle-borns in the hopes that he wouldn't have to go to back the orphanage he was raised in…" I began to fall into myself, the way I had the night before,

Just put that wand away, 'cause fruity drinks and guitars don't mean anything

In places like these, oh girl, where everyone's looking for somebody new

To drink to dream to hope to forget with in a guitar-spelled dream

'Cause, in bars like these, honey, drinks and guitars aren't what they seem…

Severus pulled me close to him then, gripping me by the shoulders, and lifted up my face to meet his dark black eyes. Roughly, hoarsely, huskily – like the words were coming from somewhere from deep inside of him that burned his throat as they escaped the Tartaros within him, and meant something more than what they were, - vehemently, "Never, ever think that, Éléonore. Never! You are nothing like him, nothing at all. The Dark Lord – he thrives off of others' misfortunes, revels in pain and suffering. You, Éléonore, the fact that you feel this pain, the fact that you don't want to turn out like him – these things make you human. If you could just kill Lucius without a second thought, you wouldn't be the woman I love, but another heartless, empty Bellatrix Lestrange, and one of those in the world is more than enough. You are so kind and caring, smart and driven, brave and understated – I can't understand how the Hat could put you in any one house; you embody them all."

Shifting a little until I straddled him more comfortably (though my eyes never left his coal-coloured eyes, so fiery with passion I'd never seen until I let myself see the person that hid so deeply underneath his tarnished surface), I tried to deny everything that he said. "But I cruciated Bellatrix – I held her under for like two minutes, at least, and she screamed in pain and, when I was done, she didn't say anything at all, just moaned… And Voldemort just clapped behind me, telling me how good I was…"

"Hate is human too. You can't be able to love without being able to hate as well."

I don't think he got it, and tried with great fervour to make him understand. "But it wasn't her I hated – it was me, Severus. I'm a terrible person! I awful, terrible, wretched person! I'm taken away my classmates' fathers! I allowed the bastard's master to come back in the first place! I didn't die fifteen years ago when I should hav-"

"If you think that, you are truly mad, Éléonore."

"Then I'm mad! I what right have I to be happy, here with you, to love you like I do, when I'm directly responsible for so much pain and misery?"

"You've the most right in the world." He kissed me fiercely then, with all the blazing passion I saw in his eyes, and I kissed him back deeply. His mouth, though familiar, held new surprises for me every time I traced its outline with my own, probing its depths with my tongue… He broke away all too soon, planting kisses down my neck while one hand held me tightly to him, the other struggling to remove the Cannons' shirt. I would have helped him, but I was too busy dealing with all the annoying buttons he insisted on wearing. There had to be a spell for unfastening them, and for the undoing of the belt buckle. Admittedly, though, my actions would have gone quicker if I wasn't tracing the outline of his flesh with my fingertips every third or fourth button…

It's all just cheep liquor, and the misses never comes

The only thing that's real to me is the bartender, girl, and Billie's drums…

…At length, we managed to get properly disrobed, and nibbled at the tender flesh of my ear as I moaned in pleasure, both from this and the hand that was fondling me in places-that-should-not-be-mentioned-in-public. "Sev'rus," I managed at great length, burning with desire for him and alive in the scent of him, "promise me you won't die on me?"

The professor (who, per his Lion morals, was not mine) answered with a chuckled that reverberated through his chest and into mine, "I'll try."

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

Two weeks later, after a particularly exhaustive day of Quidditch try-outs (at which, to my horror, several of what Hermione was rapidly beginning to call my "potential suitors," had shown up, including the non-Gryffindor ones), you'd have thought Severus would have been kind enough to give me detention, so as to get me out of the Slug Club dinner that evening. Not so, though, even though I rather begged him to.

Not that I had particularly anything against Slughorn. He was just so exhausting. And I was exhausted. Really. This second bout of food poisoning had been hard on me, and I'd been unable to keep much down for the first week of school beyond toast. Now that the middle of September was upon us, I was feeling better, though a bit of a fatigue and a touch of headache lingered.

Forced into going, I used the opportunity to break out one of the outfits Fleur had "assembled" for me ages ago, and made my way there, surprised to find myself relatively early, with few other guests, Cormac McLaggen and Zacharias Smith among them. Just dandy. I love spending the evening sitting with a pompous jerk I denied the position of Keeper just this morning and a pompous jerk who, really, by the weight of his ego shouldn't be able to walk about. I could be in detention with Ron (I've no idea what he did to deserve it this time), embowelling horned toads, but noooooo, Severus has to have weird morals on giving such blissful punishments to the one he's sleeping with…

"Ely, m'girl," Slughorn said not seconds after I entered the room, "Come over here and meet Gwenog – you've heard of Gwenog Jones, Captain of the Holyhead Harpies, haven't you, Ely?"

"Ely," seemed to be my new nickname as far as people like oh, Dung, Oliver, and now Slughorn were concerned. While better than "Harry," I still preferred "Éléonore," but figured one battle at a time was key to success at any. So, giving Slughorn an indulgent smile – the only kind of smile it's possible to give collectors like him; I would have given the same if he'd been touring me through his wine cellars or showing me his collection of beetles – I went over.

Gwenog was a tall and severe woman of twenty-eight, with large shoulders, visible muscles, and tightly cropped dark hair that seemed to be moving even in this windless room. Her smile, while generous as well, was a geniality born more of appreciation and respect then of pure tolerance – she, unlike me (seeming to considered be a "self-made woman" in Slugy's eyes, which is to say, I was famous before I met him), owed a great deal to this man. "Of course, sir. How could anyone who knows anything about Quidditch not?"

Affably, "Of course, of course. I knew she was a right talent the first time I saw her fly, her Second Year, and I said to myself then, 'Horace, that one's going to go far,' and right-o… And, Gwenog, you, of course, know Éléonore Black Potter? As inventive a potioner as her mother – and is up for an Order of Merlin, Second Class." I tightened my smile. I, along with Sirius, Remus, Tonks, and the late Ephraim Cauldwell were all nominated by Ari (which is to say, through a petition Ari coaxed and cajoled five hundred or so people to sign, forcing the MoM, under Rufus Scrimgeour's new management, to take her nomination seriously) in her media blitz. She and Severus, by rights, should have been nominated as well, but Ari refused any recognition for herself, and Victor Talbot had been forced to stun her the last time he'd been able to bring her home just to get her to come at all, and Severus, of course, was a spy and not supposed to have been there at all. "Youngest person ever to be nominated for an Order of Merlin," he continued like a proud uncle. "But enough of that. Gwenog here was coming up this morning and saw your practice, and I promised her I'd introduce you. I'll let you two talk Quidditch – I was always hopeless at it."

"O Slugy, that's not true at all."

He jovially clapped us both on the back and moved the next guest, ignoring the glowering McLaggen, who, despite his dear Uncle Tiberius and his late, great (and very rich) Uncle Marcellus (Mrs. Zabini's second husband, a Potions Master who managed to become poisoned by noxious gas in a tragic storeroom accident after the couple had been married four years), had not made the team.

And so I made small talk with the captain of the Holyhead Harpies, who seemed to think I was the celebrity here. It was kind of interesting, even if her take on Quidditch was a little violent for my tastes. It was kind of weird, though, as I was placed on Slughorn's left, Gwenog on his right, for I noticed as the meal went on that, while Slugy was offering the two of us (and occasionally Blaise, product of Mrs. Zabini's third marriage, this one to an Italian who made millions in the opera business there, who sat on my other side) the best cuts of whatever the current course was, seconds and thirds, topping off our glasses, and generally behaving in a way that he was not to the others. I don't they even noticed it, or that I would have if I didn't keep having to tell him that I didn't want any more wine, I'd stick to water.

I think I could have enjoyed myself if it wasn't for one thing. Well, no, two. The other was that I'd left Paracelsus with Archimedes and I was very worried what trouble the Runespoor and the statue were getting up to, most of it involving gambling or the tormenting of caretaker's cats. The main worry was this:

While Gwenog and I were talking before dinner, she was telling me about the Harpies' preseason training. She felt the Chasers were on form, the Keeper excellent, and the Seeker the best money could buy. The problem, however, was with her fellow Beater.

"…we were bloody brilliant last season, the pair of us – been together since '85, when she made the House team; peanut butter and jelly, we are, right old fish and chips – and were only at the top of our game. I figured just whip Gertrude, the new Chaser, into shape, show her what it means to be a Harpy, and we'd have a right old chance at Nationals, maybe even making the Cup playoffs. But what happens? Irina goes and gets herself up the pole – doesn't even know who the father is, the right old bloody idiot. I've got no problem with the girls sleeping with the fans," though, or so the tabloids claimed, she did take issue with them sleeping with the male members of their fan base, "and I understand that accidents happen, no contraceptive potion is perfect, but, Merlin, she can play in October's match against the Arrows if she's carrying a Quaffle under her shirt? And, the nerve of her, she won't get rid of it. Not even that, she wants to take a few years off to raise the thing. So there go our chances for Nationals for a few years, until I can get one of the second-stringers trained up…" and, from there, she went on to talk about training Beaters, which was handy, considering Fred and George were pre-trained and the one's I've got to replace them are nowhere near as brilliant.

Still, it was with one ear I listened to her suggestions and responded with the appropriate, "Yes," "Of course," "Really now?" and the occasional, "I never thought of that before," but with her other ear and the rest of her available body, my mind realized one thing that, while seemingly obvious, isn't if you've been preoccupied with other things like, say, one of your fellow classmates attacking you in Potions over you killing his father and torturing his aunt or, say, being maimed by a bicorn in CoMC, or, of course, going to meetings in the Headmaster's office to learn how Riddle was conceived: I've not (as my former roommates, Lavender and Parvati might say) "trolled for any vampires" since OWLS had been sent.

Which means, for those of you without a calendar, that today was 14 September, and said letters had arrived, officially, 13 July.

Which means, in case anyone can't count, that my "Quidditch pitch" hasn't been "closed due to rain" in two months.

Which means (my mind finally landed on this during dessert, which I was fighting with every inch of willpower I had not to rush out of the room) that my food poisoning last week might not have been just food poisoning, that my exhaustion might be a sign of something more than needing more sleep…

Which means…

I'm not Sophie of Mecklenburg-Güstrow. I'm just a sixteen-year-old girl with an adoptive father and a lover who don't get along. I'm still in school, for Merlin's sake! I can't be you-know – not that it's physically impossible, but I've been taking the prophylactic potions like lime jell-o shooters. Maybe I just missed the "reassertion of my womanhood" last month because of overwork and malnutrition. Yeah, that's probably it. Even though I was better fed, even at Azkaban South, then I ever have been over the summer, and, though I was doing a lot, I could always break when I felt tired and had a high work-tolerance from my years as my aunt's house elf. Maybe it was something good, like cancer. Cancer would explain the extravagant delay of the "Russian train" and there'd be no terribly awful part where I get to tell Sirius (and everybody else) that I'm… I'm…

Oh Herne and Hecate, I can't even think it…

What if I am, though? What am I going to do? What will I do if I am? What should I even do if I turn out to actually be…?

Oh God and Merlin, I can't even think straight…

Should I rid myself of it, if I am? Do I want to? Should I tell Severus if I do want to and that's what I end up doing? Or do I want to keep it, if I am? Is that what I want? What do I tell people? Do I care what they think at all? But what do I do – I'm only a Sixth Year. How do I… how do I… go about caring for one if that's what turns out to be what's happening here and I chose to keep it? How would Severus take that? What would he do? Sure, I have a bracelet he gave me with lines from Ovid's Amores from last Christmas and a locket he gave me for my birthday, ovular and studded with a ring of tiny diamonds surrounding a central pearl, and quote from Carmina Burana inside, but what does that mean?

Ama me fideliter

fidem meam nota de corde totaliter

et ex mente tota

I'm sooo sure he meant, when he inscribed

Love me faithfully

taking heed of my loyalty, with all your heart

with all your mind

into the silver he fully meant to stand by me if I ever happened to get unwillingly and unwittingly storked me… Yeah, right. After all, I'm just a sixteen-year-old student, despite one that he doesn't teach. His bizarre morality would just kick into overdrive so badly that he'd either team up with Sirius to make me prioress of some place like St. Bernard's or Quedlinburg Abby, like Anna Amelia of Prussia. Or maybe he'll just send me back to the Tower and ignore me, wanting to forget his peccatum… I can just see him now, going penitently to Dumbledore, who is sitting old and wise behind his desk, some ancient priest in his star-and-moon robes and flowing white beard, on his hands and knees, saying, "Ignosce mihi, Magister, quia peccavi," and leaving me to do whatever I decide to do, forgetting our love and our (possible) life together… It seems impossible to me that I could, if I am, have both. I don't know what I'm going to do.

As soon as I dessert is over, I pled my farewells to Slughorn and Gwenog, claiming exorbitant amounts of homework, and with the greatest stealth possible – which is to say, somehow managing to avoid every prefect, professor, and random walker-by in the halls – and duck into the hospital wing, not caring if it's close to the nurse's closing time.

"Why, Miss Potter," Madam Pomprey joked as I entered the room and flung myself down on a bed near the windows that'd been labelled all but mine over the years, "I've not seen you here so far this term – two weeks, that's got to be a record for you."

"Madam Pomprey, can you… can you please…?"

"What is it child?" she asks concerned now, dropping her cheery manner for one of concern as she sits beside me on the bed. I'm her favourite patient. None have seen her as often as I have… Familiarity breeds friendship, I suppose.

"Do you have a… test or something…" just spit it out already. I can do it. I am a brave Gryffindor. I saved the Stone from Quirell-mort. I rescued Ginny from Slytherin's monster. I out-emotion-ed a flock of Dementors and saved Sirius's and my past-self's soul. I came out of the Triwizard Tournament alive, winning it through a combination of chance and stay-alive-ery. I led an underground Maquis movement, helped to oust Umbridge, and outwitted Voldemort's cunning plan to get the prophesy and kill me. I had killed men. I had tortured a torturer. I had helped to found a media campaign. I loved a spy. I could do this. These were only words – dangerous, terrible words, yes, but I would not die of them. I would not let myself. "I think I'm pregnant."

Chapter Nineteen.