TMI_kiss-closeup

Someone To Run To (19/32)


Chapter Nineteen, In Which The Banns are Called


 

Sunday night, I took a shower.

I had not seen Severus since the night before, but the clothes press was hanging open when I returned from Old Slugy's party and my unplanned stop at the hospital wing. I knew he'd returned though, for I had spent the better part of the day sitting on the roof of the astronomy tower staring out over the expansive forest and endless sky that seemed to both cradle me and exert upon me the magnitude of my own existence, I found the robes I had reason to fear so much stained and bloodied across our bed. He was no where to be found, so I assumed he'd been dragged to the hospital wing. I would not go looking for him there, however much I worried; I avoided places like that if at all possible. McGonagall would know to find me if it was necessary, though why she'd look to find me on the roof of the astronomy tower I didn't bother informing myself.

On the astronomy tower, it was hard to believe that an All Hollow's Day nearly sixteen years ago, a prophesy was made regarding my fate. It's hard to believe, from this distance, that anything I do can possibly matter. I am an ant, a dust mote in the universe, tiny and unimportant. And yet… a nargle flaps its wings in Cambuluc, and on the other side of the world, there's a hurricane. I am minute, miniature, irrelevant to the world… But, from this great height, I am as if a giant; it is the world, not I, that is minuscule. I am fated. My life irrevocably was bound to one Tom Marvolo Riddle, aka Lord Voldemort, before I was even more than a collection of cells in my mother's womb. I am large, I am great – The Chosen One, bound by prophesy and my own desire to destroy my parents' killer or be killed by him – and a begetter of things. I am powerful. I can change the world.

But creating the currents or being moved it them, it does not change the fact that this thing called life is something that happens while you're too busy planning other things. Because the simple fact of the matter was, yes, I was "with child." Something – someone, half Severus and half me, was growing inside of me, to appear suddenly in seven months and change my life irrevocably. Because, you see, even if I acknowledged that it wasn't right to bring another life into this world, filled with war and Darkness that never ceased, wherein the child was likely to loose at least one parent, at least one member of the extended family I had acquired of blood-traitor cousins, an ex-con adoptive father, a lawyer and her children… The fact was, however, that, when I sat atop the roof of the highest tower in the castle, I tried to think about the logical choice of actions – asking Madam Pomprey to help me get rid of it, – I couldn't. I tried to imagine drinking the potion and shuddering at more than just the taste as it felt it course into me, tried to imagine without a horrified trembling it being pulled apart in my womb, torn into a thousand tiny, bloody pieces and dripping from my body; tried to even imagine going through with it, not ever telling what I'd done until, maybe one day, if we somehow managed to survive and he still loved me, telling him on my death bed that we'd another child, a little baby I'd gotten rid of when I was sixteen because I was too afraid to bring a child into this world of suffering and hate (even if, like he had told me, hate was a human emotion and thus worth cherishing and, so I supposed, was suffering too) and too afraid one or the other of us would die and too afraid that I would be sent away and forgotten because, for some reason, the contraceptive potions I'd been given had not worked…

I tried and I couldn't. No, instead my hands made that automatic, instinctual cupping motion around my belly, where beneath the flesh something else, something not me but part of me was growing, and decided almost before the words formed in my head: I was going to keep it. I was going to give birth to this thing inside of me and raise it as I'd done Paracelsus (hopefully better), love it, and watch it grow and reach the age I was at how, and fall in love, and do everything for it that my parents had been unable to do for me. After everything that fate has put me through and still continues to throw at me, aren't I owed some sort of happiness as compensation? Don't I deserve happiness?

And this baby, though I'd not known it until I had it in me, would make me very happy. A gift of life to make up for all those I'd taken…

Oh, Merlin, that sparked a thought in me that I had months – until late March actually – to think about: baby names.

It was at that point I climbed down from the roof and, thinking I'd have to acquire a book of French baby names, headed towards the dungeons. About the fourth floor, I ran into Oliver, who was overjoyed for the first time in months, caring two large boxes under his arms. "Ely! Guess what!" he cried from the stairs a little below me, making his way awkwardly to me, setting the boxes down when he stopped.

Ever hopeful it was something that didn't involve me, "They're sending Umbridge to Azkaban for taking inappropriate liberties with a bowl of tapioca?"

"No, silly. I owled Mum about trying out for the team, and owled me back!" That was a surprise given her current state of mind. Could this mean that she was beginning to get better? "Not only that, she sent me a whole set of new Quidditch things and probably some new manga for Alycone," he inclined his head towards the more shoebox-shaped box. "Hey, I was going to give it to her at dinner, but could you mind running it up to her common room for me? I would, you know, but… Only if you're going that way, of course."

I smiled at the boy. Ah, thirteen. Fourteen next month. The wonderful years of puberty and social awkwardness, I thought in a way that took me a moment to remember that I was only sixteen myself. "Sure. Wanna walk with me?" He instantly brightened. Merlin knew what I would do if this turned out to be the early signs of a crush. Especially when he found out…

I blocked that thought out of my mind and accepted the box from him. "When do the 'Puff's have tryouts anyway? They weren't on the list yet when I booked the pitch." Oh, the advantages of being Quidditch Captain. God, Quidditch, I'd not even thought about what I'd do about that. With how tiny I was naturally, I probably could fly for another two or three months, but did I want to risk bludgers? I'd have to hold another tryout for Seeker, to replace me, but the only decent one was Ginny, and she made a far better Chaser… I'd have to think on that.

"Saturday. Cadwaller is a good captain; he's just the type who puts the 'pro' in procrastination. He's already behind on his homework; seems to think that Snape is giving the Seventh Years so much homework as some sort of personal vendetta against them…" I doubted that. Severus was a hard teacher, yes, but after six years of transitory and oft (non-spying) Death Eater DADA teachers, there was much to be taught to those who'd managed to make it that far, and, for Seventh Years at least, not much time to do it in.

Still, it was to my thoughts, mostly, I listened to on the way to the tower I'd so little visited. A couple of corridors from the Fat Lady, I bid him farewell, only to realize as I got there that I'd no idea what the password might be.

Par, from a hole nearby which opened as needed to let the pets of the tower out, offered "The pink painting'sss."

"Password," came Acel's voice, muffled and somewhat strained, as if he was trying to push the first head through, "isss dilligrout." Shortly, Acel succeeded in pushing Par through the bizarrely tiny hole, only to tumble out himself and have Sus scrambling for purchase as they fell the two or so feet to the ground in a jumbled, knotted mess.

"Ouch," Sus finished succinctly as I picked the tangle up cautiously by his tail.

I turned to the Fat Lady, who was watching this all with some mixture of confusion and feigned disinterest, and offered her, "Dilligrout," before proceeding to ask the Runespoor just what it thought it was doing.

"Nothing, Mère."

"For you, Paracelsussss, 'nothing' usually qualifiesss assss something. You weren't trying to tune Lavender'sss wirelessss to Muggle stationsss again, were you?" Ignoring the strange, weary looks of my housemates as I passed through the common room, I headed up to the Second Year girls dorm.

The first two heads answered too quickly, "No," while Sus added, "They broke it."

"Did not!"

"Did not!"

"Did too!"

"Did not!"

"Did not!"

"Did too!"

"Did not!"

"Did not!"

"Did too!"

"Did not!"

"Did not!"

"Did too!"

I banged the Runespoor against the wall, then paled a bit. What kind of mother would do something like that? I made it up to him by letting him wrap around me like a necklace, which he was barely large enough to do, even after his last moulting. It didn't matter, 'cause I'd not even made it to the First Years' landing before Par and Acel retaliated the only way they knew how: The UK's Number One (Muggle) Singles' Chart.

"Strumming my pain with hisss fingersss."

"Singing my life with hisss wordsss."

"Did not!"

"Killing me softly with hisss song, killing me softly."

"With hisss song, telling my whole life with hisss words."

Sus, rather unsuccessfully the way Acel was writhing out of time to the music, tried to bite his brother-head, then, realizing the futility of it, began spitting curses as the first two heads joined together for a loud and quite annoying duo, "Killing me softly, with hisss song!"

I did the only thing I could and banged him into the door of Alycone's dorm room to knock for me.

"That wasss."

"Just mean."

"Mère."

Demelza (for who could not recognize her deep Irish lilt?) called for me to come in, so I pushed the already cracked door open to reveal a scene not foreign to me in of dorm life: Demelza, my newest Chaser, was busy towelling her hair by her bed, The Jasmine Fire's latest hit, "Surviving Salvation," belting out of her radio. One of her dorm-mates was, probably with liberal use of silencing spells, was sleeping through this on the bed in next to her, arm dangling out from under one side of the blankets, leg sticking out from another. Alycone lay on her bed, nose in the latest copy of Witch Broomstick? with her wand tucked behind her ears and several pages displaying post-it-like tags. I set the box down atop her trunk and, when this failed to get her attention, rapped on the side of her bedpost. "Alycone," I said, rather hoping she'd heard me, "I ran into your brother – your mother sent you these." She still did not move, or give any sign she'd heard me at all, just recrossed her legs in the air and flipped a page.

"Here, let me try," my Chaser told me, shouting, "Hey, Al!" as she threw something glass from her beside table towards the bed. "Catch!"

Surprisingly, Alycone looked up, spotted the bottle of perfume, and caught it quite deftly. I repeated my earlier statement and tacked on a, "Why on Merlin's green earth didn't you try out for the house team?"

She shrugged and pulled the shoebox towards her, all but squealing in delight (the greatest reaction I'd yet to see from the girl, including when she was told her father had died three days before her twelfth birthday) at the sight of several brightly coloured and bizarrely animated comics inside, some translated into English, others in their original Sino-Japanese. "You could play for England and I'm not that great."

I snorted. "Have you seen the number of times I've been too injured to play? The team could always use a second-string Seeker."

Collecting her perfume bottle from the mess of comics that now spread across Alycone's bed, "I was in there last year to get something for my allergies, and I saw a bed in there with your name carved into it."

"I did that myself Third Year, after my hundredth day in there…" I smiled grimly at the thought. My poor, poor Nimbus.

"I don't have a broom or nothing," the girl continued, ignoring the side conversation.

"You can practice on my Firebolt until we can get you one of your own. Christmas is coming up, you know…"

She raised her eyebrow at me from the other side of the new comic she'd grabbed, "Cool. Just make sure Uncle Sirius stays out of the kitchen," and proceeded to ignore us entirely.

Demelza shrugged. "She's got the eye for a Seeker. Little crazy, but who isn't in this place. I told my parents – Muggles, the both of them – a little about last year over the summer, and I could've sworn they thought I made half of it up. I get the Daily Prophet, though, and showed them the articles in there about you. Couldn't believe you really locked Umbridge in a broom closet overnight – I framed that one."

Groaning, "Not you too," I fiddled with the locket Severus had given with me, trying not to worry about what was going to come next. I saw her confused look, so I explained, "My adoptive father and his cousin have newspaper cuttings all around the house. It's quite annoying, seeing my name in print all the time."

"Still, way cool. I wish I'd have thought of it. Hey, you scheduled the practices yet? And what about that Maquis thing? Is that going to go on again this year too, 'cause if what Snape's teaching is Second Year material, I don't know what we were supposed to be learning last year?"

"Er, I've not decided yet," that was true enough, "but I should have a schedule posted in the common room by Monday."

"Okay then," she smiled, and, finding a hair tie, pulled her curls back. "I still can't believe I'm on the team."

"Better believe it," and I took my jittery leave. As I made my way back down into the common room, tuning out Par and Acel's latest song and Sus's curses, I could not help but wonder if I'd missed something important in childhood like surrounded me here. But, equally, I could not help but wonder what whispers and shocked proclamations would come tomorrow or the next day or the day after, or whenever my "secret" was found out. Would these people still like me then, call me their hero and praise me for things that anyone in my position could have done? Or would they turn on me as they so often had, leaving me with no one but myself. Well, myself and this one inside of me, who could not easily leave…

So I did what I could. I curled my hair.

There was still no sign of Severus.

I chose a red, one-shoulder number from the back of my closet.

I hoped he'd be back soon. I had this vague idea that, if I could dress myself up, make myself look less sixteen and more not-a-student, this could work out for the best. I doubted it. I just wanted one nice, not secret moment with him before he got rid of me for having his child and possibly ruining his spy-image forever. At the same time, I dreaded his coming, for soon that would mean, as it inevitably would, the end of our glorious, happy time together. I would steal what I could of happiness… and then submit myself to the lifetime I'd be forced to live without him without complaint.

I was slipping on a pair of low heels when he walked into the room, the air of one who'd been recently patched up heavy upon him. "You look nice."

"Well, you know, word got around that I was looking for a nice vampire to meet up with and, what do you know, this charming vampire lad called Sanguini wrote me up and invited me for dinner tonight… Oh, fine then," I said at last, when it was clear Severus only found this minimally amusing, "Remember how, that week I was forced to stay with my 'relations,' I asked what we were?"

He nodded gravely, taking in my seventy-five galleon, twenty-sickle dress with a sense of foreboding. Personally, if he wants to worry, he should spend more time looking at my hundred galleon shoes; expensive shoes are always signs of trouble. However stupid it was, it pleased me inordinately that he liked how I looked. I knew he loved me, but, still, I needed assurances from time to time. Especially now.

Still, trying not to show my own anxiety – I was carrying his child I was carrying our child I was carrying his child beneath a layer of crimson silk and pale skin – I laughed off his worry lightly. At least, I hope it came off as lightly. "I just want, once, for us to do something that normal couples do. Just dinner. That's all I'm asking. Not even at a wizarding restaurant." I went to my chest of drawers and pulled a guidebook from my underwear drawer. It was pale blue and entitled So You're a Millionaire: Forty-Eight Ways to Empty Your Pockets (EU Edition), a gift I'd received from The Twins for my birthday, along with its fellow EU Editions, So You Want to Be a Lawyer: Nineteen Reasons to Change Your Mind and So You Don't Want to Live with Your Parents For the Rest of Your Life: Thirty Steps to Passing Your NEWTS. "It's in Oxfordshire! Who would possibly expect to look for us in an expensive restaurant," (and yet, oddly enough, a meal for two was slightly more then only one of my shoes – they were those kind of shoes, and when I said expensive shoes were a sign of trouble earlier, I mean the kind of you've-gotten-me-"in-trouble"-and-so-we're-going-to-discuss-whether-I'm-going-to-raise-our-child-with-or-without-you kind of trouble that, with any luck, a man only gets to go through once in his life. I mean, have you seen the current Galleons to Pounds Sterling rate? It's like one to five or something like that. These shoes and, by default, the meal of which we're shortly to partake could be a mortgage payment, for Merlin's sake! Okay, that's out of my system), "in Oxfordshire?"

"Do I want to know what brought this on?" he asked wearily.

With a kiss on the cheek, "I'll tell you later. Just, please, Severus, all I want is one night of something we don't have to worry about hiding. Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons is quite, secluded, has a very active policy against paparazzi-"

He did his raising of the eyebrow, "Should we worry about paparazzi?"

"Well, as you've so often pointed out, dear, I am la Baronne de Calais and," thanks to some handy detective work on my part, i.e., the purchase of a biography of myself while getting my school supplies, "seem to be fairly interesting to the Muggles as well, considering a majority of the family fortune comes, it appears, from wineries that, apparently made the sommelier who was near the main desk when I called from the single working phone in the Muggle Studies classroom to make the reservations near faint from envy. And then when I added that the second member of my party would be the Earl Dover-"

He was shrugging into the Muggle dress clothes I'd laid out for him by this point. "Book, or the signet ring in my desk drawer?"

"I was looking for a quill last week," I shrugged myself and perched on the edge of the bed. "Don't know why you didn't tell me."

"Didn't think it important."

"It's not, but it's interesting. I mean, if you're going to tease me for something I cannot help, you might give me some ammunition of my own." Suddenly overcome by what I was going to have to do, I jumped from the bed to pace a little frantically in the living room. I killed things. It was my destiny to kill things. My job – my only point in life – was to slay my parents' murderer or be killed in turn by him. It had nothing to do with children, or marriage, or happiness. It was just kill and hope to God and Merlin that it'd be over soon, so I could be happy and marry and have children in the order it was supposed to go and, if that was too much, if the war just continued on and on and on and I couldn't protect my mind (the ink-potion had to be done soon…. it had to be) from Voldemort or had to go back to Azkaban South or lost another loved one or killed or saw Severus leave me, I might just snap… I know it's supposed to be natural, hate, like love and suffering and hunger and apathy and boredom, but, by all the Gods above, the more I think about it, the more I see even Ari coming back to life and still loving her children, the more I remembered that Sirius broke out of an inescapable jail for me, that there is a whole squadron of people who would gladly keep me alive, their glorious Saviour of the Light, so long as I stay sweet and Light and innocent and bake them cookies in the kitchen of HQ… But if they could treat a child like they treated me, those bastards who conventions call my aunt and uncle and cousin, then they have no right to be treated as convention would dictate. Forget lawsuits and trials and jails! Those things are too good for wild, uncivilized animals like them! A good spell or three would have them all turn into hogs! Let them rut in their pitiless, porcine ways for all I care! That could be the greatest revenge, bringing their nature to the forefront for all to see – how literary! how fitting!

But could it not be a greater revenge to forget about them for the rest of my life after this night? to raise a child the right way, and continue on like they never would have let me, a vineyard heiress and hero and Black Princess for all I know, and prove to the world once and for all that I am my own person and will live and breathe and breed and whatever else I might wish, with or without their blessing, so help me God!

Severus came out the bedroom then, looking so very nice in his Muggle suit. Black suits him… So what if he has that dratted Prince nose or is twenty years older than me? I love him, and that is all that matters. If he's in the right mind, he'll see that too, and not cast me out, a pariah in the kingdom I saved… Merlin, that was a little biblical. Okay, must breathe. Breathing is good, for me and for the… baby within me. I have chosen to keep the baby, I must care for it. Must make sure to eat right, no more skipping breakfast because I'm tired of Hermione's take on my sleeping arrangements… And folic acid, isn't that important? Where do you find folic acid? Leafy things, I think, and bread… I like bread; that could work… God damn Voldemort, it's at times like these I need a mother! I can't just go up to McGonagall or Mrs. Weasley and… I'm going to have to owl Mrs. Weasley after I've broken the news. "I think I've got some cufflinks in the back room," he said, disappearing momentarily into his lab. It wouldn't surprise me. He probably had all the paraphernalia befitting the Earl Dover back there. Probably some of the really family jewels back there too: I'd have to have him dig some of those out for me sometime. They'd certainly be interesting to see. If he still is talking to me after tonight…

Oh Merlin, Herne, and Hecate, why oh why oh why did I think this was a good idea? I should have just told Madam Pomprey that I didn't want it, just to get rid of it, that it was impossible for me to have children when I was such a stupid sixteen-year-old girl that I let Voldemort almost trick me into rushing into the DoM without a plan and couldn't stop him from coming back in the firs place and probably forgot to take a contraceptive potion on some crucial night thus resulting in this "blessed miracle." How would I take care of it? How, tell me that? My school schedule was light this year compared to last, but, God above, a baby born in March would have to be taken care of the rest of the school year – and all of next. I mean, sure I could take my DADA NEWTS this year no problem, but I'm not a bloody genius! I don't know Seventh Year Charms or Transfiguration, except handy charms like the Awl Spell…

I'm going to make myself sick with worry, that's all I can say. I mean, who knows what trouble Paracelsus is going to get into while we're gone… Monopoly with Archimedes is one thing (one very dangerous thing), but I've returned to the rooms sometimes when he's stayed behind and found him listening to whatever Muggle station he can get on the wireless. You know how awkward it is to be sitting down to lunch, trying to hold a conversation with your friends, and then have to stop because your Runespoor decided to start singing "Material Girl" in your pocket for no reason that you can possibly think of and hiss at them to stop? And, if that's the trouble a talking three-headed snake can get into, what about a baby? I suppose in a boarding school full of teenagers, it wouldn't be so hard to find a babysitter, but they have classes too…

Oh God!

"You find them?" I asked, trying to keep my voice calm as he re-entered.

"No. I just transfigured a pair." Then, in his subtle way, he examined me as if hoping for an instruction manual to be chained somewhere. "Did your Order of Merlin come through today?"

Hissing at Paracelsus to be good and not to do anything Archimedes said, I paused and looked at him funny. "Why would I be celebrating that?"

We headed out the door and to the main hall, where it was closest to the nearest gate we could apparate from. "Most people would."

"There's nothing glorious in what I did. Others have done as much for less."

"Yes, but those people were aurors, trained and paid to do so. Very little in history does a fifteen-year-old witch lead others to turn an ambush against its perpetrators and capture several Dark wizards that society was protecting."

I blushed as we were coming up the final staircase. "You're going to give me a big head, Severus."

"I think I know by now that if I don't try to inflate your ego you'd be too humble to receive anything accorded you."

We both sobered a little as we entered the main hall, where others might see us. It was an automatic thing, something neither of us ever had discussed but did without little thought. It was fairly pointless now, though, considering dinner was being served in the Great Hall and it was unlikely that any students would be lingering around the hall while there was food on the table. Seeing the coast clear, we continued. "Not true at all."

He made a snapish sound that I had long learned signified humour, and changed the subject, "You never answered my earlier question."

Nervously, "Which one?"

"The paparazzi."

"I always thought," trying to hide my relief, "that they were little better than stalkers with contracts. And la Baronne de Calais and The Earl Dover eating at Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons? Together? Royalty magazine would pay a small fortune for that, and Star and Stave quite a bit larger one."

"It is that kind of-"

Then, storming out of the Great Hall as he was opening the main doors for me, came the explosive, "…just leave me the hell alone!" as Ginny, fuming, slammed open then shut the door to the Hall. Spinning back towards the stairs to the tower, she stopped mid-step and barely caught herself at the sight of us. "Anything you two want to add?"

I looked cautiously at her, then Severus, then Ginny again, and shook my head slowly, not knowing what was going on. Her boyfriend of the summer was my yearmate, Dean Thomas, but I've no idea of this had something to do with him, a new or old boyfriend, or even her brother.

More calmly, "You look good, Ely," she added after a quiet, awkward moment, and then proceeded to head up the main staircase. Weird. But what in my life isn't?

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

I leaned sideways to whisper in Severus's ear as they announced the eighth course. "I'll be right back," I told him, and slipped out of L'Orangerie into the main house. Taking a seat in one of the parlours, I looked over my shoulder to make sure Severus had not followed me and, once assured he hadn't, wrung my hands together, literally sinking into the chair. "I can do this," I whispered.

We were on to the desert courses – but I'd not gotten up the nerve yet. No, as the courses had moved on and on and on, the nerves just built and bubbled and frothed in me until I felt I might go mad from the press of it all. Maybe madness would be a good alternative for awhile…

"You look like you've the weight of the world on you," a voice standing somewhere nearby. "Might I help?

I didn't look up or open my eyes. "Only if you happen to have any idea how I tell my boyfriend I'm pregnant." Or defeat a Dark Lord – but that'd be asking too much from a Muggle.

"'N' I take it this's an unwelcome thin'?"

"Unexpected, at least."

A woman, maybe a little older then the age my mother would have been had she lived, was sitting on a chair across from me now in an aubergine-and-olive dress that I was immediately jealous of, as beautiful as it was. "It was somethin' like that with my Richard 'n' I." She smiled at me warmly, motherly, and more than slightly wistful. "We'd gotten engaged while we were still in college – how my parents hated that. 'N' then I found out I was pregnant with our son, Elliot… Wasn't how I'd have done it, certainly, given the choice, but I wouldn't change it for anythin'. I'm Catherine Bentley Aldington, by the way." She offered me her hand.

"Alexandrie-Margaux Potter," I said, taking it. "But please, call me Éléonore."

"Ah, so you're the one whose wine the sommelier has been praising all night."

I gave a half-snort, "I wish I could take credit for that. To be honest, I know nothing of the family business."

With a chuckle, "Who does anymore? Now, let an old lady give you a piece of advice: if he loves you, he'll do the right thin' by you, whate'er that may be for the two of you. He obviously loves you, whoe'er he is – you're here, aren't you?" She smiled at me again, and I was struck by so many things. Her white, white teeth for one; the just off-natural colouring of her hair for another. Not for the first time I wondered about my own mother, so much a stranger and more intriguing character in my unknown history than my father, who everyone knew and had vague stories of him and his rakish, charming ways. Was she religious or not? I knew the inhabitants of Azkaban South were Anglican in the Christmas-Easter way, but I did not know if that was something Vernon had brought to the table or was only for show or something inherent to the Evans. Was she traditional or nonconformist? She followed the Potter family way of French names… or maybe that was all Dad's idea and she'd no say in that, though I doubted it. Dad thought the sun and moon rose for Mum. Was she a morning bird or night owl? I know she was brave and beautiful and very much in love, but what would Mum have thought if I owled her from school and told her that I was carrying the DADA professor's baby (despite the fact I was self-studying his class) and had every intention to keep it, sixteen and unmarried and with a year of school more to go or not? I could only believe, as McGonagall had once said, she'd have wanted me to be happy, and that I made Severus happy too. "Come now, Éléonore; we don't want to miss the dessert course. I believe Chef Blanc has prepared his famous soufflé aux framboises, 'n' it is not somethin' anyone should miss."

I let Catherine lead me back into L'Orangerie. Our tables were both by the left-side windows, mine closer to the front then hers. "Well," I said, taking my seat and smelling the raspberry soufflé she'd so spoken of, "it was nice meeting you Mrs. Aldington."

Though she may have been surprised that my "boyfriend," as I so called him, was by far closer to her age then mine, she was well schooled in not showing it, and begged me to both call her Catherine and introduce her to my companion.

He answered before me, polite when he chose to be, which, luckily, included this moment. "Severus Snape."

"Catherine Bentley Aldington. A pleasure to meet you. Now, I think I should be getting back to my Richard before he wonders where I've gotten off to."

As she walked off, I ate my soufflé and planned what I would say. "Aldington. I wonder if she is related to the Bristol Cars Aldingtons."

"Here? I wouldn't be surprised. I'm more interested in how you know the name of a Muggle car manufacturer, though, let alone who owns it."

In an embarrassed way that I rarely got to see on him (though, to my amusement, he'd been some degree of such throughout the whole meal, which just goes to show all those years of spying don't teach one to be comfortable in every situation after all), "I considered getting one after seeing how pleased you were with Black's."

I couldn't help but smile widely at this and lean over to (however impolite it was to do in public) kiss him lightly on the lips. His hand, which had travelled to rest on my thigh, squeezed my knee. The serveur coughed, and I blushed a little as he took away our plates. This was it. The coffee course was next and, if I didn't do this now, I didn't know when I would do it (though why, oh why oh why I had thought that taking him to a place like you might find on page one-hundred eleven of So You're a Millionaire: Forty-Eight Ways to Empty Your Pockets, all dressed up and eating food in the middle of Oxfordshire with pretentious French names, was the way to tell him, I don't know. It had just seemed like a good idea at the time, though I was also sitting on the roof of the astronomy tower at the time, so what do I know?). So I took a deep breath, turned towards him again, and said softly, with all the Gryffindor courage I could muster, "Severus, I love you." Another deep breath, "So I want you to know that I… I'm pregnant."

You could see the gears turning in his dark eyes, though his face, at first, gave no reaction. Why I'd been acting strange all day, why I had insisted that he take me to dinner despite arranging everything myself; why I had appeared nervous and slightly restless throughout this meal I had planned for us to attend and all of its ten courses and House-of-Potter-owned-winery Wines. For a moment, no emotion showed at all, only realization. Then, not at all the reaction I was expecting, "Oh," managed to escape his seemingly frozen lips. In fact, he appeared unable to move at all, a statue except for the rather frequent blinking of his eyes.

Not wanting to loose my nerve now, though it was quickly faltering, "I'm about two months along – and," I swallowed, feeling the clawing burn of fear trying to close off my vocal cords, "and I'm going to keep the baby." I swallowed again. What more could I possibly say? Oh, yes. "I'm due 27 March."

There was silence for a moment, and I think he was trying, like me, to breathe slowly and calmly. A different serveur placed our plates of pompous confections before us, while another served us expensive coffee. I mean, one hundred Galleon shoes – what else could he have been expecting? I wanted him to go against everything I feared, to tell me that I wasn't going to be packed up and sent home or, worse, to Quedlinburg Abby; to tell me that he loved me and would stay with me and acknowledge the child as his own. I wanted him to- God, I don't know what I wanted him to do, but it involved being my vocal than, "Oh," for Merlin's sake! My anxiety palpable, I turned to my plate and saw, in the centre of the offering of these tiny cakes, something I never, ever, might have expected to see in my entire life. I actually even looked over at Severus's plate to make sure it wasn't just some not-so-cheap decoration that one-hundred-Galleon-shoe-necessitating places like this used to scare witches like me during the final course.

It was my turn to blink slowly then, as, with equal slowness, lift the centrepiece from its place and roll it around in my fingers. Solitaire, emerald-cut, narrow-banded; it exuded a feeling of age and importance and not a little magic. On the band was written the inscription "Rut 1:16-17," not something, I thought, Severus would have engraved himself.

He'd arranged this before I'd told him. It had nothing to do with my "condition," just his love for me. Or maybe something else, I don't know, but… I'm not sure I can breathe.

Severus took the ring out of my hands and held it as if to put it on me. "This has been in my grandmother Jocaste's family since the Inquisition," he said slowly, slipping it onto my fourth finger. "It was the fashion to be seen as religious in those days. It stands for the Ruth's famous passage: 'Do not urge me to leave you or turn back from following you; for where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your god, my god. Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. Thus may the lord do to me, and worse, if anything but death parts you and me.' I intended it before and I intend it still. Éléonore Potter, will you marry me?"

And what could I say to that but, "Yes"?

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

Banns, by Wizarding law, must be published in a visible, public forum for the three weeks prior to a wedding. It was an old holdover tradition, but it worked, for the most part. I chose the national newspaper with the smallest circulation and sent in a one-liner with only the pertinent details. On 11 October, between an advert for rain-proof plaster warts and a woman selling one-tailed Krups, was the announcement: "Seventh Earl Dover to wed Twelfth Baroness of Calais." It read the same in the 18 October edition, but, by then, I suppose someone who knew who the Earl Dover and Baronne de Calais were had read the article, for the next day I was returning with Ron and Hermione, joking about something ridiculous, when my only veteran Chaser was cursed by an opal necklace wrapped in the kind of pale blue and white paper that you see on wedding gifts and addressed to "La Baronne." The tag fell off in the mud when Katie dropped the package, and I slipped it into my pocket. It was enough for me to know that Voldemort, or someone working for him, knew and was sending something that caused a girl to spin out of control, like she was caught up in a tornado…

I told Severus, of course, but that was the extent of it all. We all already knew that Voldemort wanted me dead. I couldn't let anyone else know why I might be so terrified or why someone might be sending me an opal necklace in wedding paper.

Our plan was simple. Our plan was straight forward. We were engaged 15 September. It took three weeks for our request, sent and received in a plain brown envelope through the unknowing Andi's post box at The Sleeping Dragon, for a marriage licence to be processed, which, do to the joys of Calais, while belonging to the British MoM, was physically located in Muggle France and therefore legal. The day after it arrived, I sent out the banns to the paper – The Quibbler, which, with a little over a thousand copies daily printed, was the smallest national Wizarding newspaper. The first day we could, after the posting of the banns, marry was Halloween. I saw the irony. So we booked half of Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons for ceremony and reception for the day… The Weasleys, the Caudwells, Sirius, Remus, Tonks, Dumbledore, McGonagall, Hermione – in short, everyone who was to be invited – would be kidnapped the night before. Then and only then would we tell the world, and let the shoes fall as they may. Or is it chips? I can't remember the objects that we said would be falling, but they were heavy and not meant to be dropped. That way we could avoid minimal Voldemort interference. Then none of his old Death Eater buddies would be likely to try and kill him for defecting (for why else would "The Chosen One" like myself agree to marry him?) or me, well, because I was me.

I, personally, would have liked to have shouted it to the hills. Gods above, my dreams were coming true – something had to go wrong. Something besides an opal necklace that I never received. But I looked, and looked, and, by all the Gods above and the demons below, I looked. I pinched myself even, but, no, it wasn't a dream. I was marrying the man of my dreams and having his child. Things were going as I wanted them! The ink potion that Severus had started on was nearly done, and my mind would soon be protected too. And then all I need to do is vanquish Voldemort and we can live happily until the coming of the One-Who-Destroys-All-Happiness… It's so strange, to be so perfectly happy and so deathly afraid at the same time, to be singing Par and Acel's stupid pop songs with them as I walk down the hall and, the same time, start laughing with quiet hysteria to myself when, trying to butter my toast, the butter will not stay on the knife and the pats keep on falling all over the plate, not where I want them to go. It's insane, it's hormonal, but… but… As much as I fear something wrong will happen because fate is a sadistic paedophile with the inane thought that I might enjoy what she does to me, part of me can't help but think, however insanely, that things will finally be happy for a while. I mean, even Ron was starting to notice Hermione, and she'd invited him to Slugy's Christmas party, which he'd announced to us Saturday ago when we'd had dinner with the editor of the Daily Prophet, Barnabas Cuffe. Nice guy, despite the fact he works for that rag. Sell his own mother for a story, but decent enough otherwise.

I went to breakfast on the last Friday before the wedding, whistling the latest Muggle release with my snakes and receiving some very odd looks. Upon arrival, I found Coote and Peakes, the sadly non-Weasley Beaters fate had, in her infinite wisdom, foisted on me, and forced them to examine a large diagram I'd drawn this morning of what, precisely, they'd done wrong the night before. They already thought I was partly crazy for the rant I'd given them at practice about how they are never – ever – to hit a bludger at me, but I didn't care. It was Friday, I could spend the weekend doing all the homework I'd end up missing next week because of the wedding, and finally be able to give some thought to what Dumbledore had said on Monday about mouth organs being mouth organs but rings not being just rings (making me wonder, not for the first time, if he was truly a mind reader).

And then the morning post arrived, leading me to spit out the tea I'd taken when I saw the headline of The Daily Prophet in a very undignified and un-baronial way.

Wedding Bells for Girl-Who-Lived

By Barnabas Cuffe

I decided then and there I was going to kill the man and sue him for everything he was worth. I chanced a look up at the head table, where my fiancé (!) had become unusually pale, even for him, and already several of his colleagues were turning to look at him with wide, astonished eyes that swivelled between the pair of us like a tennis match or something. He squared his shoulders, and turned to meet their stares head-on. Most looked away, instead keeping their gazes on me or the paper they clearly believed to be lying. I'd have to thank him so very much for that later. I read on to see the damage done after checking to make sure my Beaters were still studying the diagram:

In the social coup of the century, we at the Daily Prophet have discovered Alexandrie-Margaux Éléonore Henriette Black Potter, known as The Girl-Who-Lived to the public and Ely to her friends, is to marry Severus Eteocles Snape this Thursday, the fifteenth anniversary of her triumph over He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.

Okay, that wasn't so bad. I forced myself on:

Miss Black Potter, aged 16, is the only child of the late Lily Margret Evans, formerly of Canterbury, and Jacques-Henri Alexandre Gérald Potter, the 12th Baron de Calais, and currently a Sixth Year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Widely known for her defeat of You-Know-Who on Halloween of 1981, Miss Black Potter has since gained notoriety during The Triwizard Tournament of 1994-5, where she won the cup despite being the youngest contestant, and for her nomination for the Order of Merlin, Second Class, for her actions at The Ministry of Magic last June…

She has since been adopted by her godfather, the exonerated Sirius Orion Black, 36. Mr. Black was, at the time of this printing, unavailable for comment.

Hopefully Sirius would wait until after breakfast to send his howler. Already the few students who took the paper and those directly next to them were beginning to do the same dance the professors had done a moment before. I risked a look at Hermione, who was still in deep conversation with Ron about God knows what, apparently not having heard my earlier sputter or seen the paper that caused it. If I was lucky, Ron would kiss her here and now and she'd never notice. But, if wishes were fishes…

Mr. Snape, aged 36, is currently Defence Against the Dark Arts Professor at Hogwarts, having served as school Potions Master for the better part of the last two decades. Son of the late pureblood Eileen Octavia Prince, 6th Countess Dover, and Tobias Justinian Snape, Mr. Snape has-

Hermione turned to say something to me and all but screamed when she saw the paper in my hands. This, naturally, caused those around me to look at her and, thus, the paper she'd now wrenched out of my hands and was reading in a shrill whisper for their benefit. " is to marry Severus Snape-" Ron took the paper out of her hands in turn and blinked rapidly at it. By this point all available copies of the Prophet were being passed about, whispers and stares coming my way. "Harry, please, please tell me that this is just another one of the Prophet's lies." She looked so desperate, it almost hurt that she thought this might be a bad thing. I knew it. I knew that there was a shoe or die or chip or whatever that was going to fall… I knew it… knew it was too good to be true.

"Now, Hermione," I said slowly, reaching into Paracelsus's pocket and pulling slowly slipping the ring, which I'd kept with me at all times, onto my finger. When it emerged and Hermione saw the diamond, she went a unique shade of plum that I'd rarely seen outside of Surrey and its small Wizarding prison.

"What in Merlin's name are you thinking?"

That I loved him and wanted to be happy and that people would be happy for me. Obviously that was too much to ask and… and… Ron joined in, "You're actually marrying that slimy git?" the disgust in his voice was oppressing. And it was coming from all directions as my friends assailed me and the whispered clouded me and they all wanted to know if I'd lost my mind. I put my hand to my stomach, where our baby was growing, and tried to take calm in that, but I was still in my first trimester and there was little to notice there now. I tried to be calm for the baby. I tried to be cool and rational and everything that I've been to make a man my adoptive father's age fall in love with me, but I couldn't. I just couldn't. Could you have been, if they'd been calling you mad for loving the person you loved? You can't just decide who you love or what happens to you in life, only what you choose to do with it… Why couldn't the world understand that I wasn't its plaything? Why couldn't they understand that this was my life and I would do what I wanted with it, all of them be damned. So what if I was their supposed hero? So what if there was a damn prophesy and fate and all that Dumbledore had told me in our meetings together? I could just let them die, it was what they deserved! They called Voldemort bigoted and small-minded! At least he was honest about his prejudice! They were like devils, the public. They may say that they were good and kind and pro-Muggle and pro-this and pro-that, but it was all a lie to cover up that they were just as dogmatic and spiteful as Death Eaters! Sure, they didn't go around killing people, but that was only because they had lawyers do their dirty work for them. All this talk about happiness and happily ever after and soul mates and whatever you read in books or see in movies or whatnot, its all lies, because the moment someone's happy in real life people seek to destroy it. Vultures! Can't they just be happy in my happiness? Can't they see that at last something good as finally happened to me, the one who let Voldemort return, good and innocent people like Dianica and Raul and Emmaline Vance and Amelia Bones and so many, many others die…? Didn't I deserve that? Was that too much? What had I done to them that I couldn't be allowed to be happy? What, I ask you? What?

I felt the magic bubbling and frothing beneath my skin, fuelled by anger and rage and fear. What right had they? What right? I closed my eyes and tried to imagine that calm place in the forest of my mind, where the cat watched with amber, almandine eyes – anything at all to calm down, but imagining that sacred glade only caused the magic to burst forth from me like a wave, a sphere of raw and violent power that flung everyone and everything within five yards of me away, breaking dishes and banging heads, and then let the darkness take me into its warm and welcoming arms as it diminished back into myself, weakened and very much drained…

I dreamed of dark-haired children just outside my vision and a black-furred jaguar that lay next to me while I slept.

Chapter Twenty.