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Someone To Run To (23/32)


Chapter Twenty-Three, In Which I Develop a Very Acute Case of Run Away Train Syndrome


Though it was nearly Valentine's Day – which, as before, went unmentioned and uncelebrated in the Snape household, Severus because he was, nominally, not a sentimental fool willing to waste his time on a holiday designed by Muggle companies to make money after the Christmas rush and before its too early (even for them) to start readying the world for Easter et cetera et cetera et cetera, and I because I, this year at least, was boycotting any holiday which evolved from hitting pregnant women with strips of rawhide taken from recently slaughtered goats – before I was able to get the memory out of Slughorn, I'd filled mental volumes with thoughts, running one after another until I was at a place I'm not even sure existed before or after.

The diary was his first Horcrux, holding one half of his soul, at a time when he was not un-powerful but still far from his future strength. It was the weakest, though it held the most of him. But it was also the most sentimental. It was him, or him as he was as a sixteen-year-old boy. Not un-handsome, I must grudgingly admit, or un-dangerous but still Tom Riddle.

The ring was his second, with a fourth of his slightly-more-powerful soul inside. It was sentimental too – not because it was created with the death of his father, Riddle Sr., but because it was a Gaunt family heirloom, and the Gaunt's were his mother's people, and they could trace their linage back to Salazar Slytherin and, since the stone on the ring had the Peverell coat-of-arms, probably the Peverells too. It was his heritage, which was important because he had only ever loved people who were dead – his dead mother (once he realized she was the witch), his dead ancestors – if that could be called love at all what he felt for bodies cold in the ground, rotting away as time moved on.

From what Dumbledore had said, it was probably the cup that was next, the one stolen from Hepzibah Smith, as Voldemort probably wanted to vet the locket before putting an eighth of his yet-more-powerful soul in it. A sixteenth would go into the locket as he learned its true history and grew more powerful still. And this is the most telling, because these two items showed his sentimentality in a way he would not wish had he known because, not only were they priceless, museum-quality pieces that would never, ever be destroyed – like Rasputin's – even if they were ever found – probably here like Méléagre, – they were both objects of the founders. Hufflepuff's cup. Slytherin's locket. And both were important to him, as well as trophies of the kill.

Voldemort was a megalomaniac. That we already knew. But the extent of his megalomania was this: he thought he was on the same level as the founders. To put bits of his soul into Hufflepuff's cup and Slytherin's locket as well as the diary of his Sixth Year self? Why, it seemed to me that it said more about him then anything else could. He thought he was on that level. And only that level would be good enough for his soul, as broken as it was by this point, and scattered across the isle.

And that was another thing. One would think, if one was making seven, as we eventually assumed from Slughorn's memory, that one would scatter them across the world in various deep and hidden places. If it was me, I'd put one, say, in a cave in the Himalayas, another in a pyramid in Egypt, the third somewhere in the Yukon, maybe the fourth in the Yucatán or the Moskva Museum of Wizarding History – you get the idea. Spaces far apart, hard to get to, and you'd actually have to know what you were looking for – id est, not the gilded cup in the locked chest the dragon's clutching, but maybe an iron link in the dragon's collar. Riddle could have done that but, to the best of our knowledge, he didn't. The ring was in a spectacularly gold box under a floorboard in his mother's childhood home. The diary was in Malfoy Sr.'s possession (a moment of queasiness thinking of the man I'd slaughtered) and, like most British Wizards, the Malfoys rarely left the nation of their birth. The Potters had considered themselves Brit, even if their homestead was on the continent and they'd a French holding, for centuries after the Muggle world had resigned Calais to the Bourbons. No, Lucius had hid his share of his master's soul domestically. The rest were probably in the country too, because Britain meant something to Riddle, if not to the same degree Hogwarts.

Which, when you boiled it all down, probably meant that his other Horcruces were things of the Founders and hid somewhere between Thruso and Falmouth which, considerably, narrowed down what we were looking for.

The why of it all was a little fuzzy, what with the prophesy and the free-will question and all of that, but the fact remained that Voldemort had tried to kill me, had killed my parents, and had done a lot of not-so-nice things, so I generally kept that out of my mind and just did the research. I'd real notebooks full of what I could gain from books about Ravenclaw and Gryffindor, in particular, what else I could find about the other two, which was substantially less useful as he already had one each of their belongings and wasn't likely, in my opinion, to go back for seconds. Dumbledore had, likely, covered all of this, but a fresh look at things probably wouldn't do any harm and, besides, he was rarely around after the wedding. The world was, after all, falling apart, and people looked to him to help put it back together, mostly because he'd done it before. And I thought he was trying to rustle up some more stuff on Voldemort's life, particularly his time after graduation to when he emerged as the most recent incarnation of the Dark Lord.

I only told Severus about the Horcruces, and he got real white when I did. His eyes widened then, so you could almost here him say in a tone that succeeded very well in pretending he wasn't surprised, "Well, that explains quite a lot," and he sat staring at the fire most the rest of the evening, holding me tightly.

The others, if they wondered what was going on when I spent the copious amount of time I had between classes in the library, searching the Restricted Section on tangents that I hoped would lead me to something I could use, or else started getting scores similar to Hermione's own, not just in Potions or Charms, the latter of which I'd always been good at and former which I'd the benefit of cribbing from Severus, but in the rest of my classes, I didn't know. Things went on much as usual. I mean, yes, I couldn't fly now, but I still hosted Quidditch practice and spent hours talking strategy with Alycone, who replaced me on the team as Seeker for the Lions/'Puffs match and nearly drove her brother, the 'Puff's Seeker, into the ground with a feint. I still did my homework with Hermione and Ron, though Neville (and, thusly, Hannah Abbott, whenever she wasn't studying with Susan Bones, who, quite naturally, had hard feelings towards me as her parents had been tortured to death because of my wedding and was now living with the Abbotts until her older brother, who'd also been there and had some quite serious spell damage, was well enough to take care of her, which, as it was March already, might be quite some time), Ginny (and whatever boy she was dating this month), Oliver, and, occasionally, Alycone had joined us. And the DA had restarted, this time as a school-sanctioned club open to third-years and above, though Alycone came anyway, under the good auspices of Severus so long as I didn't teach them anything that could be used to maim or cheat.

I don't know if they felt it, the surreality of our situation. I mean, on one hand everything was going on between us as it always had, and we were friends as always, even during that uncomfortable first week of November where Hermione thought I had gone quite mad, and things were quite good. We talked. We laughed. Fleur came up one weekend with Tonks in early December and dragged me to London to get maternity clothes and new uniforms, and with Ginny's help we brought Hermione along and made a girl's day of it. Until it got too cold, we studied out on the front lawn after classes, and when it snowed we played out in it like we normally would have.

Yet, there was the other, and it was so heavy that I was surprised we could function around it all because, truth was, there was a week in which Hermione had thought I was insane for marrying Severus and another separate few hours when Ron went into near catatonia upon told about the baby, which I still refused to have sexed, even though I was deep into March now and the baby's room – a cleared out storage room off of the Severus's laboratory, painted a cheerful sky blue by an over helpful Dobby and with all sorts of charmed clouds and stars on the ceiling that, while they didn't reflect the sky overhead like with the great hall, did a nice back and forth between a sunny day and a moonless night with the tap of the wand, for ease of naptime. I'd even moved a nice, old Carlton House desk into the room, and it was there that I'd a disturbing combination of books on Dark Arts, child rearing, and the four founders, as well as all my notebooks – was readied. I mean, with the sole exception of Ginny, my friends grudgingly accepted that there was nothing they could do about it, but were far from happy about it, though they really did try.

Things were better by March. Merlin, even Christmas was better than it was the first week or so, in which all the news was breaking and I was being constantly assaulted by owls and had sent Draco to the infirmary with a face full of boils (and was sent by him with a nasty accipicrines – Hair-Loss Hex – that, though Madam Pomprey grew my hair back just fine, caused my eyebrows to randomly fall out several times over that week). And Christmas was something.

So now I sat with a fresh notebook (three others in my bag, and a book I wouldn't dare let any of my friends knew I had) and doodled a giant, curly, "R," in the centre of the page. There was very little about her in this existence, but it was better then nothing. She was smart. But smart women did things that did were not so smart sometimes.

Take her daughter. The history was pretty clear that Rowena Ravenclaw was the daughter of Vortigern Ravenclaw, King of Briton, and his queen Ionwena. And that, sometime in her youth she was cast out of her home by her father, who did not believe in witchery, and from then on out she disguised herself as a boy, working her way across the country. Eventually, in her late twenties or early thirties, she met a teenage Helga travelling with her brother Hengest to be married to the local lordling. Rowena was going, I'd discovered in some very old books with the help of some translation charms and some major guesswork, by the name Faolán then and had self-taught herself most the magic one could at the time, and she was engaged to be young Helga's teacher by the Lord Hufflepuff. Some time passed, and the Lord Hufflepuff died, leaving Helga widowed after fifteen, maybe as many as twenty, years and quite surprised to find the man who had taught her and, later, her children, with child. No one knows who the father of Rowena's child was, only that she bore a daughter and that, before her daughter was ten, she and Helga had joined with Slytherin and Gryffindor and, sometime later, Hogwarts was founded. She died very young for a witch, and quite possibly of a broken heart.

So you have an intelligent witch who was cast out of the lap of luxury (for those times, at least) and able to survive despite it, spending nearly half of her life disguised as a man in result. What object would a woman like her value that a) might have survived and b) be singularly enough Rowena Ravenclaw – as the cup was for Helga Hufflepuff and the locket for Slytherin – to warrant being made by Voldemort into a Horcrux?

I doodled a girl wearing a wide skirt and one of those over-large, cone-shaped hats with an ineffectual veil that all storybook princesses wore in one corner and charmed it to walk about the page. Hermione was switching back and forth between her Arithmancy homework and helping Ron with his Potions essay across from me, and Alycone had a new shipment of Sino-Japanese comics from her supplier and was now deeply immersed in something called PuchiComi or something, so she wasn't paying any attention to me either. I'd finished my homework ages ago, which, I must add, is one of the fun side effects of all the studying I've been doing – homework is easier, probably out of practice or something like that. Oh well. I grimaced a little, and shifted in my chair as my very large stomach protested the position it was in, picking my quill up and deciding I might as well try again.

If I were Rowena Ravenclaw, what would I value? What would be so important to me, others would, centuries later, associate it with me and vice versa?

Books, but no one book had all the answers and, if she made one herself, it was not extant. Besides, Riddle already had the diary by this point, and he was not the type to repeat himself, just as he wasn't the type to make another Horcrux out of something of Hufflepuff's or Slytherin's after he had the cup and the locket. And not something necessarily to do with her intelligence. Possibly especially not to do with her intelligence. Riddle thought he was the smartest, the strongest; the best thing since Merlin, if not better. His diary, not anyone else's, even one might have existed. The cup, that made Helga seem like a drinker, or at least someone more interested in food than magic strong and lost. The locket was… sentimental, something Salazar Slytherin gave to his daughter, Madalen, whom he doted upon. Sentimentality was not something one generally expected or found in sly, pureblood-loving, Muggle-hating men generally remembered best this generation for leaving a Basilisk under the school. Riddle loved – well, loved, I suppose, is the closest thing to it – Hogwarts. He loved its history. It loved the strength and solidarity of the magic, and all it stood for.

He thought himself stronger than the founders. So, if given the choice, he'd choose something that'd make them look weaker still.

So, something important to Ravenclaw that mightn't be the first thing you'd associate with her – not like Gryffindor's sword. Swords were strong, no matter which way you swung them. Not a weapon. Not a book. But something.

I shifted position again, but it didn't really seem to help.

Rowena Ravenclaw was a princess. Did she keep any of the jewels or whatnot she might have had in her childhood, or did she leave those behind when she was kicked out? Probably not another ring, but a necklace (unless that was too like the locket?) or a bracelet or a pocket watch (did they have watches, pocket or no, back then?) or, Merlin, even one of those silly, conical princess hats?

This was getting me no where, and my back was really starting to hurt from all this sitting. I was three days past due now, and it as getting more and more worrisome each time I thought about it that I hadn't given birth yet. I mean, why hadn't I? Was I just going to get bigger and bigger like this until I burst, or had Madam Pomprey (I didn't know if I could ever call her Poppy, though she'd told me that, as a staff wife and her best patient, I might as well. The Slughorn made such a fuss every time I called him "Professor" or "sir," I ended up calling him Horace, even in class, just because it annoyed me so to listen to him tell me to) just guessed wrong and I was due later than she thought? I mean, besides a girl's name, I'd – finally – decided on a boy's name I liked that was by far better than Tonks's suggestion of Nigel, – Julien-Sévères –and just sort of wanted to get the whole thing over with. Because every time I thought about the actual labour part of childbirth, my stomach clenched in a painful promise of the future pain.

Severus said I was being silly, and maybe I was, and that the baby would come when the baby would come. So, at his urging, I'd gone on with my usual schedule and gone to meet Ron, Hermione, and Neville to study for our Potions test tomorrow, never mind the fact that I was married to a Potions Master who could have been oh-so-very-helpful if he didn't have DADA work to grade. As much as he enjoyed DADA, I think he was discovering that it wasn't as fun teaching – meaning that he couldn't just put the instructions on the board and correct as needed. A laconic man like him, he should have known he'd dislike any class where lectures were more or less frequent. Though he'd told no one but me, he was thinking of going back to Potions next year, if Horace left. I wondered who they would get next year for DADA. It was so… well, almost cool, that the position was cursed, excepting the part where two professors in recent memory were dead, two more in the secure ward of St. Mungo's (where idiots like Umbridge belonged), and Remus quite lucky not to be either one. Maybe they'd get someone decent, an Auror like Tonks or Shacklebolt, to teach after him. I'd almost take the class – almost – if Tonks was teaching it, even if I'm all set to take the NEWT this year. One of the advantages of having people try to kill you and two years of self-study, early NEWTing.

And this was getting stupid. I'd no idea if I was even on the right track, or if anything of Ravenclaw's had survived and, if it had, why I'd be the one to find it after, oh, a thousand or so years. What I was going to have to do is, if Voldemort loved Hogwarts so much, just make some sort of Dark Detector divining rod and go through every inch of the school, piece by piece, until I was sure it was nothing here (the most likely pace for the founder's artefacts to be; who knew, there might be places like the Chamber of Secrets hidden in the school by the other founders had placed for their descents to find. If there were places like that, Ravenclaw's had never been opened, unless Rowena had showed it to her daughter, Helena, who'd died when she was only my age, oh, fourteen hundred years ago… Which meant that anything Rowena valued enough to hide would have been safe in said chamber or room or whatever for the same fourteen hundred years, unless Helena had taken something out without her mother knowing, or Voldemort had found a way to trick the room into letting him in…

My head was hurting now, like my back, and trying to figure how to make something akin to a metal detector into something that discovered dark and/or hidden things was not something I was feeling up to. We had a deal, Dumbledore and I, that he would continue to search for the two we knew about – the cup and the locket – and I would look for those we did not know – something of Ravenclaw's and something of Gryffindor's; the things with a thirty-second and a sixty-fourth of Riddle's soul. If things worked that way, and the soul didn't regrow after splitting like cells meaning each Horcrux had a half of his soul within it… which meant like seven halves of it were out there, which made no sense at all.

Is it sad that I traded the notebook, now covered with nonsensical drawings and the phrase "here be dragons," for a text on inheritance law? I think it might have been. But the law was simple. The law made sense. It was very easy to see why Ari had found refuge in it. I wished, some of the time, that Ari would leave the offices of Dunn, Hastings, and McGully a little more often and, I dunno, take up a sordid affair with Sirius. Sirius certainly needing the mellowing, or, at least, the distraction a "girlfriend" would offer, and it wasn't like the Caudwell's didn't already live at HQ. I'd have to suggest the idea to Fleur, if she'd drop her own wedding plans for an instant (she's very angry that I've not given birth and therefore not yet slimmed back down to my original size, because she "needs" to get her bridesmaids fitted for their costumes, and if I'm to be the dame d'honneur come June, I better be "normal" sized soon and, so help-me-God, she was going to see that I was). Not to Tonks – now that she had gotten Remus to "understand" (ick!), the time she had formerly spent meddling in other peoples lives and turning random household appliances into small waterfowl in protest of the pictures of her on the wall was not mostly spent with Remus and turning random household appliances at The Sleeping Dragon into small waterfowl, having decided this was a better way of annoying her mother. Over the Easter hols, at least, I was going to have to elicit someone's help in finding Sirius a girlfriend, 'cause Merlin knew if he got some he might back off my case just a little.

Oh my God, I cannot believe I just thought that. I'm going to have to rinse my mind out with soap. The icky red kind that gave you soap poisoning.

That was it, I was too tired, even at eight o'clock at night, to do anything more. I'd exhausted myself cleaning all morning (Severus laughing at my "nesting," as he called it, in the nice way he was starting to do more and more often, and taking time out from his grading to give me a very nice snog that in no way lessened my "nesting" activities until I left to study for the blasted Potions test. Which I still hadn't properly done. Evil tests. Evil teachers. What was I supposed to say, I'm sorry, I didn't get around to studying last night because I was too busy trying to figure out what this season's Dark Lord might have hid his soul in so I can, if I ever figure out how, destroy it? Yes, that would go over real well. At least I had tomorrow morning to study…) and I didn't even want to think any more, except, if I stopped, I feared I might not start up again.

I closed the law book now and slid it into my pack, groaning loudly as it stood. I pain seemed sharper now, more focused. As Hermione turned towards me as if to ask if I was going to have a lie down, I picked up the arm Ron wasn't writing with and turned it to see his watch. It was 8:09.

Sitting back down, I ruminated on how badly I needed to get a watch. My birthday wasn't that far off – three months, tomorrow. Seventeen is a pocket watch sort of birthday, I think, what with the coming of age and all. Not that, technically, I'd be coming of anything, as I've been legally an adult since the moment I signed the marriage licence, and could do handy things like cleaning spells and killing curses outside of Hogwarts without a fuss. Merlin knew it had come in handy over the Christmas hols, making wrapping paper (and the decorations Andi once again insisted we put up) so much easier to clean up and little things like killing Andi's sister not quite as big a deal as it should have been. The party for that was quite awful for me to attend, the first Saturday after my ribs were healed, but somebody had to see Sirius didn't get the keys to the kitchen cabinets from Remus again and poison half the order, and everybody else seemed to enjoy themselves. Andi had been there, in yellow, very death-of-Catherine-of-Aragon-y but still very sombre, because Trixie had been her older sister and been presumably decent enough once upon a time and her own cousin's adopted daughter had murdered the woman. HQ still needed cleaning, and there were whole bags of stuff removed from the shelves were just sitting in the attic waiting to be sorted through for Dark, Dark and Dangerous, or just plain old Dangerous, and Sirius sure as anything wasn't doing it. I should have spent this morning there, doing that, because, after all, there were only so many times you could clean the same set of apartments before it was too clean to see the point in doing it again.

Ah, there was the pain again, worse than any cramps. I picked up Ron's watch again; it read 8:17.

But yes, a watch would be real nice. I could just buy one myself, but what was the point in that. Subconsciously, I fingered the bracelet he'd given me last Christmas with the quote from Ovid's Amores engraved upon it. Like the locket I'd received for my birthday and my rings, they were special to me because they were from him. Somehow, I don't know why, it seemed wrong to even think about getting a watch for myself. But that could be the shadow of a girl who'd spent ten years in a cupboard talking. I still preferred to buy expensive things for my friends rather than myself. Merlin, I was even of half a mind to by something nice for the Dursleys and curse it so it caused them to, I dunno, loose their taste buds, but I tried to avoid vengeful thoughts. Just like I tried to avoid thinking about things like Bellatrix's death or Lucius's, yet here I was, having thought of both in the same night.

Malfoy really wasn't happy at me. I was surprised that nothing had happened since the week I'd the eyebrow trouble, but maybe he was just planning something big and terrible for when I was off my guard. That was a Slytherin type of thing. They generally preferred their revenge cold, and even Malfoy could learn subtly if it was necessary. Or maybe even he had morals about attacking a pregnant woman. Stranger things had happened.

8:25 now. Sixteen minutes after the first and eight minutes after the second. Either Braxton-Hicks were trying out patterns, or I was having contractions.

I stood up again and gathered my bag. "I'm heading up to the hospital wing," I told them. "One of you mind getting Severus and telling him I'm going into labour?"

Alycone, surprisingly, looked up from her magazine. All three Paracelsus's heads, which'd been looking at the pictures right along with her, rose too, looking like a weird crown on her head. "I'll go."

"Thanks," I smiled at her. If Ari and Sirius hit it off (and I was getting ahead of myself here), Alycone could be my adoptive stepsister. There were worse things. Someone was going to have to floo Sirius too… and Mrs. Weasley… and get Ginny from the common room and Oliver from his…

Ron and Hermione could handle that. I hoped.

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At 4:37 in the morning on 31 March, 1997, Claudia-Éléonore Séléné Snape was born. She was six pounds, three ounces, and perfect, with a tuft of black hair starting on her head and a nose that wasn't so much hawkish as slightly large for her face. Already her eyes were the most striking steel grey…

The moment I first saw her, I was helplessly wound around about her finger, and she could have started then and there hissing pop songs with Paracelsus (who'd fallen asleep sometime around midnight saying human egg-laying was stupid, which was all well and good because he had been singing "comforting" pop songs for me until then) and I wouldn't have blinked at it. I just held her, watching her feed and sleep and just be until I was too tired to keep my eyes open, falling asleep with her in my arms.

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I had the dreams again. I had gotten almost used to them – random flashes in dreams once or twice a month of Hogwarts, of Severus and that boy who might be our son but wasn't this child. Just flashes – a look here, a phrase there. Nothing as vivid as the first one, with the night on fire around them. I passed it off as dreams of fancy, caused by hormones and stress and maybe a little lingering magic from my tattoo of Niynhi. But this was different, no matter how much I wanted to pretend otherwise. It felt real, beyond myself, and very far from anything that I might imagine in my current exhaustion, marvelling at the workings of Claudia's tiny hands, so perfect and strong as they curled about my thumb as I'd fallen asleep.

The blackness dissolved into the shadowy, flickering light of torches in a drafty hall. The boy called Potter pressed his ear against a door and then, after a paused, pushed it open as quietly as he could. In my sleep, I gave a wry smile. Marauder, I thought.

What I saw next surprised me, for there, in what was very obviously Moaning Myrtle's bathroom (after so much time there, how could I not know it? And, besides, no other girl's bathroom in Hogwarts was ever that empty. Believe me; I had come to know them well over the last nine months. I wondered what this boy, whether he was mine or no, was doing in this bathroom. If it was anything like me, I could only suspect that something bad was going on, be this some strange dream or some glimpse of the future afforded me – I think, if I remember correctly, jaguars were considered psychic animals in most ancient mythologies. It was too much to think I was about to see a scene of my mum and dad's courtship, or that of a future son and a daughter-in-law? Or-?

But it was Draco Malfoy, head bowed and shoulders shaking, over one of the sinks, and the ghost comforting the boy. I don't know which was stranger. "Don't," she crooned. "Don't… tell me what's wrong… I can help you." If this boy was my son, or something like – which had to be, because it had to be someone related to me, because he looked so much like Dad, and it couldn't be the past because Severus was there, even if he looked the same age as he was now – what was Draco doing there? Unless it was Draco's son, which again brought up the question of why Severus looked thirty-seven and not in his fifties, as he would be when Claudia was my age, and what the likelihood of a child that looked like my father meeting up with a child that looked exactly like my present day school "nemesis." If that was the case, what were they doing here?

Draco spoke then, not with his normal arrogance but something small and frightened, almost child-like, "No one can help me. I can't do it… I can't… It won't work… and unless I do it soon… he says he'll kill me." Not a tryst then, I thought, oddly relieved. I mean, Draco had something of the Black praetorian look about him, but not enough to be considered handsome – I hoped any son of mine would have better standards, but weirder things had happened, I supposed. More importantly, who would kill him? – Draco, I mean, not my son, if that's who he was. Voldemort? Where was I then, and who was this kid? I ran through the list of he's – his father? But only if he was Draco's son, not Draco himself, because I'd killed Lucius last May. His uncle Rodolphus? But why? Rodolphus was back in Azkaban, and, despite an attempt in January to break the Death Eaters out again, he wasn't in a position for his death threats to have much practical meaning (though, according to the Azkaban guards, who'd passed the message along until it got to the auror members of the Order, Rodolphus was decidedly not happy I'd killed his wife). The male Carrow, whose name I could never remember which was which because both their names were so masculine? And what wasn't working? What couldn't he do?

With a shock that seemed pass from the Potter boy and into myself (who, I still had trouble remembering, was no longer a Potter but a Snape), I saw that Malfoy was crying. Actually, full-stream-of-tears, oh-my-God-this-can't-be-real crying. Even seeing him so angry at me over his father's, er, murder, and the more intended one of his aunt, I don't think I ever really had thought of Draco as… Draco. Not Malfoy, but the actual boy. If this was Draco.

Before I could think any further, Malfoy looked up and saw reflected there the unknown Potter, a heartbeat later sending an artafyrus his way. The boy who looked like my father stepped aside, but it didn't much matter because Malfoy's aim had been shoddy and it missed by inches, leaving little more than a wavy pit in a stone it hit. With a flick of the wand – yes, a silent cast at last – but Malfoy blocked it with a counter jinx and began another.

"No! No! Stop it! Stop! STOP!" Myrtle shouted, but neither paid the ghost any attention as her voice echoed and carried throughout the room and down the stone halls. The wall directly behind the boy exploded with a wonderful aboleo spell that brought the stones tumbling down upon my father's replicate. Not to be outdone, the replicate sent a Leg-Locker that missed, hitting a pipe that began to hiss water threateningly.

Menacingly as he pulled himself up from the puddle forming around him, "Cruc-" Draco began, not to finish, for the replicate shouted just a second quicker, "SECTUMSEMPRA," causing, much like my husband said it would, a deep slash mark from left shoulder to right pelvis. It was like a ribbon, the blood spurted and fell forward in an arc as Malfoy tumbled backwards into the sink and slipped onto the quickly flooding floor.

"No-!" the boy gaped and gasped, slipping as staggering across the floor to the quickly paling body, which looked so much like his father's in death, and put a hand to the blood-soaked uniform shirt. "No – I didn't –!" His face was wane. Didn't he know what the spell was – though how he'd learned this spell from Severus's Darker days was another question entirely – and, if not, why had he used it? Stupid; you never, ever use a spell you don't know the consequences of, never!

But Myrtle shouted, almost happy, "MURDER! MURDER IN THE BATHROOM! MURDER!" and I watched the body drained of life and the boy, so sad and desperate, trying to hold it in, as if a pair of hands and all the hope in the world could keep something so precious inside the body where it belonged. It stained his hands mercilessly and jutted forth into the puddling water, where it turned pale pinkish red and stained Malfoy's shirt back and the cuffs of the replicate's shirt. ("The Replicate" – how very azi did that sound? I must have read entirely too much science-fiction in the last few weeks for my thoughts to be working properly.) It made me proud for the boy and sadder for Draco, who didn't deserve to die, not when he'd not done any of the awful things I'd killed his (grand?)father and (great?)aunt for.

Then, quite suddenly, the bathroom door banged open and Severus – my Severus, as he was now, with the same, if you looked close enough, thread of silver starting to form near his face – entered in a storm, with his robes billowing in the way they did, like an extension of himself, and took control of the situation in the way I loved him for. Before a moment had even passed, he had pushed the boy aside and begun to mutter the song-like countercurse over and over again until it took. Pulling Malfoy to his feet as soon as it was safe, he spoke, not sympathetically, but concernedly. "You need the hospital wing. There may be a certain amount of scarring, but if you take dittany immediately we might avoid even that… Come…" Only now seeming to see the other boy, "And you, Potter… You wait here for me."

Luckily the boy did as asked – I was curious too, though I wished Myrtle would quiet her joyful moaning – and so was there when Severus returned. The boy tried to explain, but Severus didn't care – motives rarely concerned him, only actions. "Apparently I underestimated you, Potter. Who would have thought you knew such Dark Magic? Who taught you that spell?"

"I – read about it somewhere." The lie was evident on his face, if only because I'd seem my own features moulded into that self-same look of confusion, especially of late with the Horcruces.

"Where?"

"It was – a library book. I can't remember what it was call-"

"Liar. Bring me your schoolbag and all of your schoolbooks. All of them. Bring them to me here. Now!"

The boy didn't question. He ran full out through the halls to the tower, dripping water and pinkish, watery blood with every squelching step.

What he was looking for seemed to be in his room, and it had the familiar look of all boys' dorms. There was even a Weasley there, at the top of the stair, with the stark red hair and dusting of freckles. He looked almost unmistakably like Ron. What was the chance that a boy who looked like my father, another who looked like Draco, and a third who looked now like Ron, though he could, admittedly, have been Ron's own son, if he ever got his act together with Hermione? And with Severus looking the same age he did now?

"Where've you-? Why are you soaking-? Harry, is that blood?"

Harry. The Ron-replicate had called my father's replicate Harry. And I would never, ever name my child Harry. Or Harriett. Not when computers were stupid, name-bungling things.

"I need your book. Your Potions book. Quick…!"

"But what about the Half-Blood Pr-?"

"I'll explain later!"

But the boy, Harry, as smart as he was, whoever he was, didn't go straight back to Severus. He clearly didn't know that the "Half-Blood Prince" was Severus – though, another question, how could he have Severus's book without knowing it was Severus – and that the spell could only have come from that book. He thought he was being sneaky, or guarding himself and the book. Smart, almost, and the almost only because I knew it wouldn't work. A shame though.

Harry went to a place I knew well – the Room of Requirement – and, when he opened the door, it was as if he'd stumbled upon the world's largest storeroom.

Furniture of every style, paintings, portraits, statues, books – you name it, it was there. I didn't pay much attention to the junk, I just watched Harry as he moved. Who was this Harry? And why was he here? And why was it lifted and taken somewhere from the far end of town where the Grickle-grass grows? I'd watched him before, but now I watched him closer. The hair, wild and untameable, like my own until it let it grow, like what everyone said my father's was like and, maybe, what my little Claudia's would be like, unless it inherited the heaviness of Severus's. And the eyes – emerald. Not my father then – his eyes were hazel, an oddly specific detail I'd been told time and time again – but what of the rest of my family tree? I'd seen one, once, in a book of the old pureblood families. The Most Dignified and Decorous House of Potier had a chapter, as did the Most Exalted House of Prince and the Ancient and Noble House of Black. What about my grandfather, Henri-Gabriel Gérald Rémy Potter, 10th Baron de Calais? Or his father, the 9th Baron, Gabriel-Zacharie Daniel Gérald? Or his, with another of the long French names, Zacharie-Richard Héraclès Gérald? I knew their names from books, and those of their wives. I knew from that book both my grandparents were born before the turn of the last century, which said something as I was on the cusp of another now. I knew I'd an aunt, born just before WWII, twenty-one years before my father, who died in the womb. It didn't explain why there were all the Gérald's in their names. Nor did it tell me what colour their eyes were, or if they too would have scarified themselves for their children, or really anything besides the fact that we held the Barony of Calais and most of the family money came from some old vineyards on the Rivera, though Zacharie-Richard had done something in Algeria that'd bolstered the family after the Revolution.

My mother had the emerald eyes. So did I. And everyone had always said they'd never seen eyes like hers, that they'd know them anywhere… So it was impossible, right, that someone else could be walking around Hogwarts without anyone noticing that, hey, they looked like a replicate of my long-dead father and had my mother's eyes without saying something. I'd never seen anyone in my year like that…

Which meant Harry had to be something like my son – but again came the problems of the Draco-replicate and the Ron-replicate and Severus being, well, old enough to have a son that age but the wrong age for that son to be mine, looking like my family tree. But, if Harry was his son, why call him Potter, not Snape?

I think I've gone through this all before. I've been looping through thoughts of late, what with all the search for something of Ravenclaw's that might house a thirty-second of Riddle's soul.

Harry wedged his Advanced Potions-Making behind a birdcage in a cupboard and, with a pause, grabbed the most hideous statue of a warlock ever seen and placed it atop, so as to find it again, I supposed. With another pause, he placed a frizzing wig slowly blinking from lemon yellow to sky blue and back again with an old-fashioned tiara to identify it.

His fingers lingered for a moment on the tiara – and I felt the chill darkness of evil stun me out of my dreams. The distant roar of some great feline called me home.

I woke with a start that, luckily, did not wake the baby – my Claudia – in my arms. For a moment I floundered in her perfection, then I brushed a thin, wispy baby lock back with my finger and looked up, quite pleasantly amused to see Severus looking more haggard then I'd seen him even after a Death Eater meeting, dozing in a chair he'd conjured up for himself. Whatever my dreams, they were only dreams, and living one dream was enough for me.

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As might be expected, Claudia-Éléonore Séléné, called Claudia for convince, caused a bit of a stir. I spent the first week in our apartments, mostly, very tired but happy, and doting on my daughter. My daughter. I was scared to death when I wasn't holding her that I'd do something wrong and hurt her but, when I held her I knew I just knew that everything was going to be okay. Claudia would have everything I'd never had, I swore that. I wouldn't die on her. And neither would Severus. And we'd raise her, and she'd be happy, and there'd be no cupboard-under-the-stairs for her. There'd be family – I'd already found a very handy, old-school sort of naming ceremony that was popular amongst the Russians (handy thing, researching a strannik like Rasputin) that required four grandparents and three godparents, as well as, naturally, the two parents and the baby – however much I had to connive the stand-ins for our deceased parents: Dumbledore, McGonagall, Sirius and (in exchange for an interview with L'Officiel and Wizarding Motherhood) Ari, or convince those I wanted to be godparents (Fleur, Hermione, and Remus, which, by extension, included Bill, Ron, and Tonks) to be godparents.

The next Monday, however much I loved hanging about in the rooms, loosing sleep and entertaining the succession of professors and staff spouses (Flitwick's wife, Caroline "Carlie" Byers-Flitwick was a particular favourite, and very helpful with how-to-burp-a-baby, how-to-change-a-diaper, and all those things I'd never learned before – and I learned far more about the Flitwick's two grown children then even six years at boarding school had taught me), friends, and family like Sirius, the Weasleys, and Tonks, I was more then ready to get back to the normal swing of things. So I found a uniform that fit my reduced size, wiggled myself and Claudia into the baby-sling, and filled my schoolbag with emergency supplies of cloth diapers.

"This is Hogwarts," I told her, wandering the halls while everyone else was still at lunch. With her steel-grey eyes, she watched everything, listening intently to everything I said. Or it could only have been my imagination. I tended to attribute my own feelings to other people.

Paracelsus, who'd learned lullaby's for the occasion, was wrapped about my head like the world's strangest headband, offering commentary as we went. "Hogwarts is."

"A giant stone."

"Nest with many, many."

"Scale-lessss two-leggersss."

"Who say strange thingsss."

"And wave sticksss about."

"And don't appreciate."

"A good song."

With a sigh, I hissed back, "You've know idea if she can even understand Parseltongue yet."

"You don't know," Sus said fairly in return, "if she understandsss English either,Mère."

I continued anyway. "This is Hogwarts. It is our home. It is a school, and a fortress, and a museum, and the most beautiful and strongest and grandest place in the world. You'll always be safe here. The people who love you can always be found here. If you've ever a problem, it can be fixed here."

"Aren't you being melodramatic, Mère?" Par asked.

The centre head said back for me, "It'sss not melodrama if it's truth."

"Anyway, this is the Charms corridor. Professor Flitwick teaches here – that's Ms. Carlie's husband, Benjamin and Matthew's father. You remember Ms. Carlie, Benjamin, and Matthew, don't you?"

Sus again, "I'm not sure how good a week-old, scale-lessss potential-Speaker'sss memory isss."

"I found a mouse over there, once," Acel added, not entirely sensibly, and went back to humming what was either Fauré's "Pavane for a Dead Princess" or Haz-Mat's "So This is What Becomes of Us," I wasn't sure which.

I groaned and went through the castle like that, explaining little things to my little girl while the halls were empty, more than occasionally hissing back and forth with Paracelsus as his heads disagreed with something I said, added comments of their own, or talked amongst themselves about strategy for their next game of ultra-backgammon with Archimedes, which in some part involved moving the stars so Virgo was in the Fifth House and finding out if eggplant was fruit or vegetable. I didn't have the heart to tell him he couldn't make the stars move to suit his will, he was, like an older brother, having a difficult time having a younger sibling he had to share me with and he couldn't even talk to yet, if ever. Plus, the idea of him tying rockets onto the stars of the constellation Virgo was hilarious, especially as he was going to try to see this evening if Hedwig could fly him up there. I'd a brilliant smile on by the time I'd entered the DADA corridor, which was still empty but for a First or Second Year sitting on the floor with her nose in a book. I'd seen her in other halls at other times. A Ravenclaw, most defiantly, but I couldn't remember her name. It was either Abby or Amy, I was pretty sure. I waved as I entered Severus's classroom.

He looked up, not in surprise, but in well-disguised curiosity. For those like me who could read him, the pleasure he felt in seeing me was not disguised at all, and he actually let loose a smile when he saw I'd Claudia with me. Careful not to jostle our daughter, I kissed him in greeting and felt his hands go around my waist as he lifted me up and onto his desk, so we were at eyelevel. That, or he felt I shouldn't be on my feet yet and didn't remember there was a chair behind him.

"I thought I'd show Claudia the castle." I couldn't help my own grin as his eyebrow rose in query. "It's never too to learn the trick stairs and hidden passages." In eleven years, she'd be a student here, I was already thinking. I'd be twenty-eight that August. How far off that still seemed.

"Don't you think you should let her learn them on her own?" said his movement, his quiet, "Hmmm," as he finished writing the day's lesson on the blackboard. The stronger Shielding Charms and ways to break them; even Ron might find this class interesting, though he, like Sirius, still disliked my husband on principle. "It builds character," it looked like he'd continue if he'd said anything if the first place, "sharpens the mind."

To which I responded aloud, "Think of it this way: the more she learns now, the more things we don't know about she'll be likely to discover in the future."

He turned about, black eyes saying, "And that's a good thing how?" while he actually said, "Indeed."

Looking up from Claudia, a strand of hair escaping my boring but serviceable ponytail and falling annoyingly across my eyes, "I couldn't spend another moment 'in seclusion' if you paid me. If you want your wife sane, you'll just have to settle for your daughter potentially getting into mischief a decade from now."

With a derisive snort, he set the chalk down, crossed in two long strides the space between us, with chalk-dusty fingers (like rosy-fingered dawn, the thought came unbidden) gripped me with that way of his and kissed me hard. I could feel Paracelsus's weight shifting to get a better view even as my tongue ran along Severus's bottom lip. They parted easily for me, and I'd a very enjoyable moment before Paracelsus, tapping me on the head with one of his, saw fit to comment, "The pompousss he-badger."

"Isss fish-gaping at you."

"Asss isss the Lion-who-caresss-for-plantsss."

Surprised and blushing (but only a little; the blush was something I had learned for show. Never too sure of yourself – that made people call you haughty and arrogant and hate you – but never too mousy – people hated a mouse, unless it was in books where the mouse grew up to be strong. You had to make the people love you even though their love was tough because their hatred was tougher and their indifference impossible for once such as she), I disengaged myself, moving my hands to check Claudia, how yawning a little, hadn't been too jostled. "Hi Ernie, Neville," I said, now turning around. Their mouths hung open a little, like fish, though Neville seemed to shake this off the fastest. He set his books down and, seeming to forget Severus for a moment, came to me.

"So this is her, then?"

Moving the blanket a little so that her perfect face with their closing steel-grey eyes was visible, I nodded. "Claudia-Éléonore Séléné." I could already tell her nose might be a bit on the unfortunate side, and maybe, when she was older, she'd wish she'd my eyes, her grandmother's eyes, or a name that wasn't francified, but I knew I'd always call her perfect. It would probably annoy her, when she got to that stage when everything I did would annoy her. I'd be starting my thirties when she was in her teens. It should prove to be interesting.

Oddly bluntly, "I expected her to be wrinklier."

"Wrinkly?" Why on earth would my daughter be wrinkly?

"I dunno," Neville said, blushing a little (and this not faked at all) and pulling back. "I just think I expected babies to be wrinkly, like old people."

Snorting a little at this, I called over to Ernie, who, after all, wasn't one of my favourite people in the world, but he was still a decent bloke and hadn't sulked about after I turned him down and I still had to work beside him in Potions. "It's not like she's going to bite."

Severus, pleading off in his way, which was to say just leaving, no pleading or any warning being given, could be heard muttering as he busied himself away from the new baby fuss, "Only for lack of teeth." I put it to his not yet being used to any sort of positive attention.

Acel, however, seemed to find this fact disconcerting, hissing, "She hasss no fangsss?" with concern, slip-and-sliding down my pony-tail onto the collar of my robes, and from there down the sling. When Claudia next yawned, which wasn't long considering I'd been putting her down for a nap about this time, Acel poked his head into her mouth and took a look around, pulling out just before he could get gummed. "She hasss no fangsss! How do you expect her to catch her food, Mère?" he turned on me, as if it were my fault she was toothless.

"Human babiesss don't catch their food; their parentsss feed them."

"You've never given her a mouse, not that I've seen."

I looked helplessly at Neville and Ernie, and offered Paracelsus my wrist like I had when he was still a young Runespoor. Well, he was still a young Runespoor, but now he knew people had names instead of "the dungeon-man" and "the pompous he-badger," just didn't use them. He slid onto it a little too quickly to be casual and was now a distinct weight there, wrapped twice around my arm. He was big and awkward, still, in so many ways he was my son-who-was-not-my-son. There'd always be a tangled distinction between Paracelsus and Claudia as firstborn in my mind, I could already tell. "Human babiesss don't eat mice."

"Roachesss?"

I crinkled my nose, "No roachesss either. Humansss are mammalsss, and mammalsss give their babiesss milk."

If Acel had a nose – or Par or Sus for that matter – he'd have crinkled it. "Milk?"

"You've seen me breastfeed Claudia."

After a moment, "That'sss icky," Par added decisively. The other two agreed.

The rest of the class was beginning to file in now too – Ron, Hermione, Dean, Susan, Justin, all the members of the DA who'd been Fifth Years last year, as well as Nott, Zabini, Greengrass (Daphne, not her sister Astoria whom it must be admitted even Severus didn't care for), and Malfoy, of course, and a handful of Ravenclaws who'd made it on their own, - so I decided it was time to pack up. I wouldn't let Claudia near Malfoy with a thirty-nine-and-a-half-foot pole. "See you later," I resisted the urge to add, "Sev," just to see Ron cringe. I might save that for later.

Whatever he might have said, he didn't. "Care to demonstrate your praesidis?"

I conjured a bassinet – Carlie Flitwick had shown me that one; the advantages of being married to a Charms Professor – behind his desk, the furthest point in the room from Malfoy. Safest. There was a reason why Herod Antipas had all the infant boys killed, him and others like him in history: you leave one alive, and he, or she, is bound to want vengeance. It'd happened with me, hadn't it? I'd not give Malfoy the chance. "Love to," I said.

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It may sound if my life had turned all milk and honey, and, in many ways, that's because I had. Though I'd the sneaky gene, I'd never cared much for the actual keeping-things-that-shouldn't-be-a-secret part of sneaking, and not having any of those – things-kept-secret-that-shouldn't-be – of late was doing wonders for my complexion. Or something. That was the excuse I gave when people asked me why I was so happy when there was a war of sorts going on around us (this question came mostly from the DA quarter, and then from the members who hadn't belonged last year and joined this out of fear) and people were dying and what not. To them I said, "I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain." Hermione – and, surprisingly, Alycone – gave me a curious look at that. Then again, I'd caught her explaining to Paracelsus what a Cardassian, as well as most of the rest of the Star Trek universe, was after I'd told her one day that he still asked me about that when I brought up the Maquis. He, in turn, tried to explain it to me once or twice. I swore that I "[…] will never again mention love or death inside a house, and I swear I will never translate myself at all, only to him or her who privately stays with me in the open air." He'd sung the latest UK #1 Single at me, which shut me up for the most part. We were a strange family, but we worked.

So, here was me, with the happy front, which wasn't entirely a front, and a string of family members in case of emergency commandeered and Winky "stolen" from the kitchens (though I did ask her if she'd mind caring for a baby again, and she'd gone and done a Dobby on me, she was so happy at the prospect, so it wasn't as if she minded doing it) to be nanny at the times when I had classes. But I couldn't forget about the Horcruces that were still out there. I couldn't forget about Rowena, who'd gone by the name Faolán for the best part of her life, but had let one man in on her secret (at least) or been found out or something like, and had a daughter who died just after she did, leaving her without some grand Heir that might pop up. Helga had a dozen or so living that could reliably trace back to one of her three children, Slytherin's last was dear Mr. Riddle (whom I personally doubted could father any more in his current state), and Gryffindor's line was so muddled that anybody could be his heir or no one at all…

I don't know what I was searching for, Rowena's own "Chamber of Secrets" perhaps, some hereto unknown portrait of her wearing some bit of jewellery that might be extant and turned vessel for fellow Founder's somethingth-great-grandson?

And then it was early June, and I was investigating every inch of the school, leaving Claudia with Winky for an hour before breakfast or, maybe, after curfew, and sometimes, if the bug caught me, on my way back from Charms or Transfiguration, just opening doors. I'd forgotten all about the dream I'd had after giving birth, the way I'd forgotten about the others.

And then one day I opened the door to Myrtle's bathroom, and found the ghost comforting a crying Draco inside.

Chapter Twenty-Four.