Said trip to hell had been, of course, my own fault. I had said to Severus the week after Dumbledore's funeral, when we'd moved into HQ – because, a) Hogwarts itself seemed to be in mourning, which meant that it would not have been a happy place to be even if we didn't have memories from that night haunting us; b) The Order needed us nearby because, as Severus had mentioned, I had managed to collect more then a few of the finer points of Dumbledore's plan using everything from snooping to overt questioning to knowledge that Voldemort had Horcruces and would, likely, be trying to overcome death at any given turn; and, c) the very real worry that Sirius would start up cooking again and kill half the Order with a roast one night, which might land him in the Guinness Book of World Records but would do nothing to destroy evil, - blood magic was a very helpful thing for not getting killed, and if any part of my continued existence could be attributed to said magic, then that made about three weeks of my life at Azkaban South worth it. I had also found some interesting books on blood magic in the Restricted Section looking for ways to destroy Horcruces, some very interesting books on wards while searching for ways to find and get Horcruces, and a curious book with one, constantly updating, page about curse-breaking that came together in such a way as to suggest a means to transferring blood wards from one individual to another and mentioned this fact. It was also made perfectly clear that I'd do anything for my little daughter, who was three months old today and, if you listened closely enough, said things that might, just might, be the beginnings of "muma" and "papa."
In short, we were going to that region of Kokytos, the Ninth Circle of Hell, known as Caïna, where traitors to blood kin are said to dwell. Looking on a map, it can be found in Surrey, about an hour on the A3 out of London, in the town of Little Whinging. Of course, our journey, conducted the Muggle way to avoid attention from Death Eaters or the MoM in Sirius's latest purchase – a Rolls-Royce Corniche – took closer to three hours, and was quite Moody-esque, in that we took the M20 then M26 to Speldhurst, where we dropped Hermione off at her parents' house and changed the colour of the convertible with a press of the cigarette lighter from "Duck Egg Blue" to "Taffeta White." From there, with Sirius, Remus, and Tonks in the expanded front row of seats and Fleur, Severus, myself, and Claudia in the back, we took the A264 to Petworth, having changed the car to "Admiral Blue" near Horsham for some reason I'd still yet to discern. It was a straight shot north Number Four Privet Drive from there, in its suburb outside of Little Whining, where we could pull the now "Semaphore Yellow" Corniche in front of the house whose manicured flower beds and whose very-much-less-expensive SUV I'd tended to many a time.
My hand ached on my dear holy wand, trying to restrain myself from wishing goosegrass on their lawn and blight on the roses. I think the only thing that kept me from doing just that was the fact that, as we piled out of the Corniche, I was forced to pocket my wand so I could both slide from the middle of the expanded back seat to the door and hold on to Claudia, who seemed to be sensing how much I didn't want to be here and had begun to wiggle in my arms.
"Cloudy," said Sirius, plucking the girl from my arms as tried to hold her still with one hand and fix the skirt of my dress with the other. I'm not sure how he came upon the nickname "Cloudy" only he and some of the Order had picked up on it, "I know this is an evil place, which is why we're going to see your great-aunt and -uncle get the punishment they deserve. What do you think, Cloudy, boils or-"
Severus gave one of his looks to Sirius and, in a professorial way that so many years of having been lectured by professors for this that or the other had been instilled in my adoptive father as something to avoid, "Kindly do not speak of torture in front of my daughter."
This caused Sirius to make a face that Claudia found extremely funny, and cooed at, her steel grey eyes glittering with mirth. It was the face Sirius routinely made when he remembered that the precious child he held in his arms, with a thick tuft of black hair atop her head and a face that must have reminded him so much of the last baby he'd held – me, – was not just my child, his granddaughter, but Severus's child too. He only tolerated Severus for my sake, and even that tolerance didn't extend to not glaring at Severus in his rear-view mirror whenever he caught his reflection there. Azkaban had done funny things to my father, I decided. One of them was fact that he sometimes had trouble remembering (or so I thought) that I was myself and not a black-haired version of Mum and Claudia was herself and not a baby me. He usually only had trouble with that after he'd spent a long time with Remus or imbibed a bit to much, both of which he'd done today, and had little sleep as well. Another was that he'd named the Corniche. Its name was Fulvia. The Ecosse was Sandrino, his motorbike Ariah. Sometimes he spoke of them like they were people with distinct personalities which, again, mostly happened when he'd forgotten where and when he was. Usually, if he thought such thoughts at all, he remembered to keep them to himself. I indulged him as best I could, but sometimes I worried about him, and other times I was so annoyed with him I could do nothing but scream in frustration. Severus, better then I, did no worse then dark glares.
Fleur un-knotted the scarf she'd tied around her head and let her platinum blonde hair fall free, casting a contemptuous look upon the brick-façaded, picture-perfect, and slightly-grey street. Mimicking her expression perfectly and looking utterly ridiculous doing so with the turquoise bob she now wore, Tonks did the same, causing Remus – her new husband, it was hard to remember – to have to fight to control his laughter as Fleur spun around and narrowed her eyes at the metamorphmagus. "So," she said instead after a moment, "'ow do we want to do this?"
I frowned at the house, "I think I'll go in first, with Claudia. See if I can get Petunia to cooperate. If not, the rest of you can follow as necessary," my frown deepened. "Better be ready, I doubt she'll even let me in the door."
Tonks pouted for a moment, "I don't like this plan. I want a better one." She then affected a twinkle in her suddenly baby blue eyes as her put, too quickly, turned into a smile. "I've a better idea: we go in there, wands blazing, get what we came for, and leave before police show up."
"Why would the police show up, Tonks?" Remus asked curiously.
"I doubt I know even 'alf of the things these Muggles 'ave done to Alexandrie-Margaux, Monsieur Lupin, and I am certain, if not 'eld in check, la police will most certainly be interested in finding out what 'as 'appened to the inhabitants of this… house."
"Oh, yes, I agree," he said causally now. "It's just I thought that Jr. Auror was something equivalent to Chief Inspector or something like, and that you could shoo all responding offices away."
"I suppose, but then I'd have to fill out a lot of paperwork, and then I'd never get to come on fun outings like this again."
I blinked at Tonks, decided I should be grateful she'd changed that awful shirt some "old bird" up in Consett had made for her into something out another one of those medium brown bags, then turned resolutely back to this demonic house. The day was unusually chill, which probably meant that either Dementors were breeding in Woking and one or another of my guard, as it were, would shortly be called away to deal with that, or that Dante had gotten the word to Lucifer how his inferno was supposed to be arranged and said demon was making the necessary changes now. "No time like the present, I suppose," I tried to rally myself, took Claudia back from her grandfather, and settled her on my hip.
I went to the door, and knocked, very aware of Tonks and Remus lounging against the side of "Fulvia" while Sirius insisted that Fulvia was not meant to be lounged against while the other members of my party looked on with vague amusement at the goings-on. For a moment, I try to remember where this all started, three or so years ago, on a hot October day in Potions, when I didn't yet know Fleur or Tonks, and Sirius was still on the run, and Severus… well, I don't know what you could have called Severus back then. It's a futile task, though, for I've long ago decided that it's best to just deal with the days as they come and worrying about the future or the past or whatnot is just a pointless endeavour bound to insight pain and suffering. Not that I take my own advice to mind, however, but that's my decision. I'll deal with tomorrow when it comes.
At great length, the door opened, and, still looking over her shoulder at the TV, "I'm a good Anglican and am tired of you people pounding on my door during Gen-"
"Hello, Petunia. May I come in?"
Eyes wide, not taking in anything more then my presence, she extended her long neck out the door just enough to make sure none of her neighbours were watching and then hissed through clenched teeth, "I thought we were rid of you once and for all."
"This is the last time I'll ever come to this… place, believe you me, unless you ask me to re-"
"Then leave us alone. We don't want anything more to do with you or you freaks." She began to close the door on me, but Severus, who appeared as if he'd apparated from the road, placed his hand solidly on the door, and kept it from closing with scarcely any effort.
"Mrs. Dursely, if you would?"
She wouldn't, so I ducked under her arm and entered anyway. Dudders was visible through the door the kitchen, eyes bent on his TV while his mouth chewed endlessly, moving up down, up down over and over again in a repeated rhythm that made me sick to remember. Slipping into the all too tidy living room and turning the hospital-themed drama off with a wave of my wand, I did my best not to hex everyone in sight, beginning with Big-D and his constant, smack-smack-gulp-smack-ing from the other room. My hand tightened on my wand, but I restrained myself, trying not to wish food-induced death on my cousin. As my husband, aunt, and various other degrees of almost-relatives came at various levels of volition into the room, I heard Dudley choke and sputter; immediately, I slid my wand away and shifted Claudia onto my other hip.
Turning to face Petunia, now seated on the couch opposite Sirius and Fleur and looking like she was waiting to be turned into a budgie, I steadied myself and tried to act like a Baroness of Calais and Countess of Dover ought to act. Briefly, I couldn't figure out what that out to be, so I settled for doing the best I could remember out of a conglomeration of half-remembered books. "You've met everyone here before, but I don't suppose you remember them." Well, that's a start at least, I figured, and waved my hand at Sirius. "Sirius Black, my adoptive father," said adoptive father gave a smile that was more akin to a dog baring teeth to an intruder (Severus, I noticed, pinched the bridge of his nose at this. "Fleur Delacour, who's to marry Bill tomorrow, so I suppose you should remember her as Fleur Weasley," she gave a curt nod of her head, and visibly looked to be holding her Fury side under her Siren. Tonks was leaning against the banister of the stairs opposite the door to the living room, just to the left of my cupboard, "Jr. Auror Tonks Lupin," Remus was standing in the doorway, looking slightly wolfish in his professorial way, "and her husband, Remus Lupin. And this," I inclined my head towards Severus, who was standing to the side of the electric fireplace, and tried to begin there, but Petunia seemed to have found her voice.
"I'm not taking in another one of you freaks," she spat vilely. "I'm not running a bloody orphanage here. I was more then generous taking you in, though you never were anything but trouble, so just take your bastard and get out of… my… house…" She trailed off towards the end, faced by more wands then I could be certain of at the moment, several angry wand-wielders, and the threat of not one, but two different wizards trying to hold her up by the scruff of the neck.
Sirius was closer, though, and beat him to it, grabbing the collar of her shirt for a moment and saying, very lowly very close to her face, his eyes filled with rage I'd rarely seen him exhibit to this degree and more madness then was probably prudent, "How can you say that to her? Do you know who your niece is, what she's done?" he released her contemptuously and turned around, striding to look out the mirror and dart eyes up and down the street, as if an army of demented and sticky-fingered kids was on the march to destroy Fulvia and her magical paint job.
Severus, after taking a moment, contented himself to pointing a wand point-black her way.
Shaking with anger myself, "I'd sooner consign myself to Hell then let you raise a child, let alone my own." My mind flooded with the first memory I had of this place, the first clear feeling I had. I was three and had been shouted at for playing with one of Dudley's toys, one of the one's he never would have touched if it wasn't for me showing an interest in it. He'd cried for his mum and, before I could say we could share or play together or whatever my three-year-old brain might have been thinking, Petunia had grabbed me awkwardly and stuffed me into the cupboard-under-the-stairs, locking the door. I was too little then to reach the string for the bare bulb, or to know what it was for, really, and so I sat there in the dark crying for my own mum. Petunia had come to the door and told me, in no uncertain terms, that my good-for-nothing mother was dead and, if I didn't want to end up a bitch-freak-whore like her, I'd be quiet and be thankful they'd taken a worthless–waste-of-space–freak like me in. No child should have to listen to that, go through what I did, or even-
I stopped myself and tried to anger the fire burning within me. As calmly as I could, "The man with the wand at your jugular is Severus Snape, Earl of Dover-" she made a slight starting movement at that. "He's also my husband. Father of my daughter, Claudia. He has a bit of a temper, and really doesn't like people saying things about me."
"I also have a vial of nex ranae reginae – an indiscriminate poison," he added for Petunia's benefit. "Sometimes it kills like le grec buveur, slowly blackening the liver, like a cancer, giving you painful months or even years to suffer through before you die. Other times it will be quick, as if a nuvem pó, which will fill your lungs with noxious smoke, smothering you with the very breath you draw to call for aid. Or any number of a thousand other poisons."
With a tight smile, "You should be pleased, Petunia. It's a very expensive and very difficult poison to make."
She looked aghast, her equine face turning into a mask of horror and rage. One hand, instinctively, rose to her throat; the other, oddly enough, went to smooth her hair. Still, her mouth began, slowly, to form the shape of a word I'd heard so often: Freak.
But then, from the kitchen, Dudley called importunately, "Mum! Do we have any more pop?" and the whites of her eyes retreated with fear. I knew that fear, fear for one's child.
"Check the fridge, Duddikins."
There was silence for a moment as Dudley plodded to the fridge, opened it, and shifted foodstuffs to find what he wanted. "Oh. Found it," he said, his voice accentuated with a sharp pop! aaahh! of the can opening. Then, with a dull thud, it could be heard falling to the floor as he caught sight of Tonks and her turquoise hair. "Mum!" he shrieked. "Mum! Burglars've gotten into the house!"
Wanly, Tonks smiled and waved one of the wands she was holding his way. "Yes, Ducks, we are. So's Ely. Why don't you come join the fun?"
Shuffling, he entered as if his feet had been forced. My cousin was much the same as I remembered him: average height, blubbery, and generally porcine. Flabby arms struggled to protect his bulbous backside. "Mum? What's going on? Why're these…?" he, at least, seemed to have the tact not to call my friends "freaks" to their faces.
"I believe the word you 'ave forgotten, jeune Dursley, is 'wizards'," Fleur chose to speak at the moment, a little beaker then usual but still overtly beautiful, even if she made one's stomach clench with her anger. "As for the 'she,' to which you refer, surely you recognize your cousine, Alexandrie-Margaux Éléonore Henriette Snape, la douze Baronne de Calais; Countess Dover?"
Both my aunt and cousin blinked for a moment, before I appended to this, "She means me. And this is Claudia-Éléonore Séléné Snape."
"Dame de Calais," Fleur offered.
"Lady Dover," Remus, speaking for the first time since entering, added equally.
With a sigh, I continued, "My daughter."
"What?" Dudley, who seemed to be the only one of the two able to vocalize any of his thoughts at the moment, grunted. "You can't- you're not old enough."
"According to the Marriage Act of 1949, Part I Section 2, a marriage is void only if one or both of the parties are under the age of sixteen – that's the most recent Muggle Law I can remember. The Wizarding," Petunia cringed here, Dudley went glassy-eyed, "Marriage Act of 1283, called The Savoyards' Law, made the marriageable age for witches fourteen and wizards seventeen…" I saw I'd lost them both and blushed a little. "Er, no, I'm old enough. Married nine months, today."
With discerning eyes, Petunia looked at Claudia, who was all of ten pounds three ounces and twenty-two inches long. Claudia might not have looked her three months, but she certainly didn't look like a newborn babe either. Shotgun Wedding, the thought was clearly running through her eyes. You can't act so high and mighty now, you freak, you whore-
My own thoughts were mostly four-letter-words-I'd-not-use-in-public directed at her.
"Anyway, I know you hate me almost as much as I hate you, so I'll make this quick and simple. The man who killed my parents is back again. 'Cause Mum died for me and you two are her only other blood relations, I'm protected as long as I live here. Or, I was, as the blood protection will last until tonight. Until 11:48, to be specific," seventeen years to the minute I was born. "Since I can't use it any more, I want to pass it on to my daughter. As I don't want her anywhere near you again, I just need you two to – willingly – transfer the protection to me. Then I'll leave you alone, forever if you want it, and never bother you again."
I patted my dress to find the deed. For a moment, I couldn't find it and panicked before remembering I'd given it to Fleur to hold. Handing her Claudia, I took the tightly rolled scroll and undid the white ribbon that held it. An impossibly long (well, only ten or twelve feet) length of parchment unrolled at their feet, covered in very tiny, tight lines of words and runes. The centre held a very detailed drawing of a mitochondrion and two-inch high letters spelling:
The Covenant of The Matriline Blood-Trust of Lily Evans Potter
Expressing the Legal Conversion and General Easement
Of The TrustTonks, still by the stairs, quickly turned a laugh into a cough. Well, laugh all she wanted, I was taking no chances.
"Let's see…" The words rearranged themselves on the page so that the legal jargon came into a readable block above the heading, while the Latinate and Runic scuttled to the side. "Ah. Here we are… 'The Covenant of the Matriline Blood-Trust of Lily Margret Evans, hereafter to be known as The Trust, formed by the expiry of Lily Margret Evans Potter, daughter of Michael Valentine Evans and Margret Anne O'Neill Evans, henceforth known as TheTesator….' Budge over, let me see the meat of it, '…from which the recipient of The Trust's protection will pass from the initial cestui que use,' that's me, 'to the intended matriline descendents of the cestui que use until each comes of age, to be considered seventeen years of age, including but not limited to all currently living children of the cestui que use, which, as of 31 July 1997 of the Common Era, comprise: Claudia-Éléonore Séléné Snape, Dame de Calais, daughter of Severus Eteocles Snape, 7th Earl Dover, and the initial (prime) cestui que use, Alexandrie-Margaux Éléonore Henriette Back Potter Snape, 12thBaronne de Calais, hereafter to be known as The Secondary Beneficiary of The Trust, et sequens, provided that said non-prime cestui que use reside…'" I looked up to see blank stares all around me. My blush grew deeper. "Basically, I get a drop or two of blood from each of you and the blood protection breaks before tonight her, passing instead to my place, only protecting Claudia and not me."
They were still silent, Petunia with fear, Dudley with what may have been confusion. I turned to Severus, as if trying o draw strength from his presence. But he was radiating a cold furry it would be bad to tap into right now. I hated them, for all they'd done to me. I hated them, because I needed them now. I hated them, because they breathed and slept and wept things that were so inimical to my lifestyle that both could not exist… I hated them, because that was all I could do, and if it took really complicated legal jargon to get me thinking about something besides letting Severus dose them with the nex ranae reginae, well, they'd just have to deal with it. It was hard to keep my head, surrounded by so much anger on my behalf. And I'd used Unforgivables before… I'd spent ten years and five summers in an unforgivable level of torment that no child deserved… Maybe I deserved it now… I'd killed. Killers, yes, torturers and rapists and genocides, but men and women with families and children who were now orphans. It'd be just, yes, to avenge myself for four thousand days and nights hid away in a cupboard-under-the-stairs, told I was less then human and deserving of nothing, not even the clothes on the back and the food in my belly…. It'd be right, to even the score, to make them pay, in blood, for all the housework and cooking and pain and yardwork and the rest. Repartitions, or something of the sort. Entirely legal. Entirely just. A thou quid here, a thou quid there… until the only thing that could settle the books would be my aunt's death, and her husbands. I might even let Dudley go, blinded, so that the last thing he could remember seeing would be his parents' mangled bodies… Mayhap I deserved all the pain, then, for thoughts I was having now, and all the terrible, unforgivable things I'd done. But I was only one, two, three, five, ten then. I hadn't killed anyone then, and you can't punish someone for something they've yet to do.
…I must have justice, or I will destroy myself. And not justice in some remote infinite time and space, but here on earth, and that I could see myself. I have believed in it. I want to see it, and if I am dead by then, let me rise again, for if it all happens without me, it will be too unfair. Surely I haven't suffered, simply that I, my crimes and my sufferings, my manure the soil of the future harmony for somebody else. I want to see with my own eyes the hind lie down with the lion and the victim rise up and embrace his murderer. I want to be there when everyone suddenly understands what it has all been for. All the religions of the world are built on this longing, and I am a believer. But then there are the children, and what am I to do about them? That's a question I can't answer. For the hundredth time I repeat, there are numbers of questions, but I've only taken the children, because in their case what I mean is so unanswerably clear. Listen! If all must suffer to pay for the eternal harmony, what have children to do with it, tell me, please? It's beyond all comprehension why they should suffer, and why they should pay for the harmony. Why should they, too, furnish material to enrich the soil for the harmony of the future? I understand solidarity in sin among men. I understand solidarity in retribution, too; but there can be no such solidarity with children. And if it is really true that they must share responsibility for all their fathers' crimes, such a truth is not of this world and is beyond my comprehension. Some jester will say, perhaps, that the child would have grown up and have sinned, but you see didn't grow up, he was torn to pieces by the dogs, at eight years old… No one understood "The Grand Inquisitor" better then I…
I, like Ivan, would be content to suffer for all eternity for what I've done – I've already (and felt the bile rise in my throat at this, making me want to be ill all over the flower-print rug) consigned myself to my fate, what I must become… however Dark, however evil, to destroy the Darkness that took my parents. But what did I deserve as a child? What does any child who suffers as the Dursleys made me suffer at Azkaban South do to deserve such punishment? I understand justice – I understand that something must be done to even the books, and that the movement of Mum's blood protection from me to my daughter might cover it – but I don't want it. Does that make sense? I want to tear them limb from limb and watch them burn, or watch as my friends and protectors here with me hex her a hundred ways from Sunday, but I don't want to want that.
I don't think it makes sense. 'Cause, you see, I shouldn't have to have justice. Not to forgive – forgiveness is a lie – but I shouldn't need justice in the first place. 'Cause I was only a child, you see, and I mightn't have grown up to kill and torture and wish torture upon my enemies. I might've been torn apart by Ripper at ten years old, and what would have been the point of all my suffering? What could would justice do then?
Dostoevsky's words continued, unbidden, in my head. …I believe like a child that suffering will be healed and made up for; that all the humiliating absurdity of human contradictions will vanish like a pitiful mirage, like the despicable fabrication of the impotent and infinitely small Euclidian mind of man; that in the world's finale, at the moment of eternal harmony something so precious will come to pass that it will suffice for all hearts, for the comforting of all resentments, for the atonement of all the crimes of humanity, of all the blood they've shed; that it will make it not only possible to forgive but to justify all that has happened with men – but though all that may come to pass, I don't accept it. I won't accept it…
I breathed deep and tried to release my anger, though Severus was cold with it to my right, and Sirius red hot behind me.
"What's in it for me?" Dudley asked suddenly.
Remus, poor boy, didn't have the way of Dudley yet. "You'd be doing a good deed," he said, as if that'd turn Dudley any which way. "You and your family won't have the blood protection after tonight anyway. You're loosing nothing."
I tried it the only way I thought it would work. "Five thousand pounds." That was, give or take, a hundred galleons. I'd spent more on shoes. At Fleur's urging, of course, but it was still spent. And it was still more then Vernon made in a month. "A couple drops of blood from each of you for five thou. I think that's more then a fair trade, don't you?"
"Ten thou," my cousin tried.
"Seven, and not a fiver more." I pulled out a cheque book – I'd prepared for this sort of thing – much to Severus's consternation, and wrote cheque for a thousand quid with silvery ink. Handing it over, "Sign and initial, I'll write you another. A bit of blood, you'll get half the rest in twenty pound notes. Same for your mum."
He, eagerly, took the quill, and began to sign where I indicated:there, to indicate he understood he was the "…Dudley Nathanial Dursley, son of Vernon Todd Dursley and initial (prime) trustee, Petunia Michelle Evans Dursley, henceforth known as The Secondary Trustee…" referred to in the document; here, acknowledging that he would, "…accept as recompense an amount no less then one thousand three hundred ninety-nine galleons, sixteen sickles, twenty-seven knuts and not to exceed one thousand four hundred galleons, one knut to be delivered in British Muggle currency (pound sterling) in a manner benefiting the situation at the time of signing, 31 July 1997 of the Common Era, which stands at 1 galleon to 5 pound, in exchange for full and entire conversion of protection provided his dwelling and all members of his household with the formation of The Trust and easement to the initial cestui que use, hereafter to be known as The Tertiary Trustee, for the protection of The Secondary Beneficiary et sequens …" and finally, there, conceding that he knew, "… with the dissolution of The Trust concerning The Primary and the Secondary Trustees, all defences, fortifications, guards, guarantees, refuges, safeguards, safeties, securities, shelters, spellwork, protections, wards, et alii over the residence and household at Number Four Privet Drive, Little Whinging, Surrey, England as well as all dwellings, households, residences, et alii, maintained by the household of The Primary and Secondary Trustees in Surrey et alibi, will cease and return to as it was before the formation of The Trust by The Testator, at 11:48 post meridian 31 July 1997 of the Common Era, and be instilled in the dwellings, households, residences, et alii, of The Tertiary Trustee provided that The Secondary Beneficiary is in residence at the above stated time and continuing there et alibi until such time as The Secondary Beneficiary comes of age, the last Beneficiary in sequentia comes of age, or The Trust is legally and entirely converted to a Quaternary Trustee(s, in sequentia) eased onto a Beneficiary in sequentia of the matriline descent of The Testator…"
I'd just written out another thou quid cheque and watched Dudley greedily stuff it into his front pocket when Petunia, at last, spoke up. Perhaps it was because she was seeing I'd made good on my first two promises and she needed to lower me down a peg, maybe because she'd seen the birthday outfit Fleur bought be in Bloomingdales and assumed I couldn't have afforded it myself, I dunno. But she spat at me as Severus was getting a tiny, sharp silver knife from his pocket to prick my cousin's thumbs with. I still wasn't certain (though I was happier now that at least "The Secondary Trustee" had signed all the legal jargon, which was now budging aside a place for his bloody thumbprint in a circle of berkana, thurisaz and eihwaz runes that had once sat towards the bottom of the long roll of parchment) I didn't want to shove the knife between his ribs, but I thought I could contain myself. I'd scold myself for these thoughts later. "The only way, I'm sure, these cheques won't bounce is that one," she flicked her eyes towards Severus. "I remember this one, from last summer. You said he was a teacher at that freak school of yours. Got him to knock you up, I imagine, or slutted around and claimed it was his-"
Severus slammed the handled of the knife against Petunia's temple, and her eyes rolled up into the back of her head. "Won't keep her out long," he told Dudley, and handed the knife over to me.
But Dudley was looking up at him, wide-eyed, not with fear (well, not mostly), but rather a confused mix of, well, confusion and slow understanding. Then, turning to me. "I don't understand." I about screamed in frustration before he continued, equally slowly. "Where are you going to go?"
An interesting emotion flooded through me. I think it was something of sympathy for my cousin, which I'd never felt before. No, not sympathy, but some sort of Merlin!-he-actually-thought-about-someon
His thumb now pricked, he made his bloody stamp on the deed, remarking as he pressed it against the paper, "Oh," in his wonderful, intelligent, and thoughtful way. Then, his remaining quid in hand, he thudded his way out of the room and thumped up the stairs. When he was halfway up, and his mum coming round, he said in the saddest tone I'd ever heard him use (which wasn't saying much), "I-" he paused a moment, "I nicked the stuff you left behind from the bin, when mum tossed it all, last year. It's in your cupboard."
I was too busy trying to think what I might have left behind that Diddykins felt might be worth saving to notice the hush that descended on the room. But the temperature in the room seemed to have dropped a degree or three, and that alone alerted me something was not quite right. Quickly, I looked towards the door, well, the hall by the door, half expecting something to have gone wrong. The blood wards failing early, maybe, or some new kind of silent bomb made by the Death Eaters, that could stun discriminately without sound or light. The blue light that, at times, forms an aura around me burst forth from my skin, and I felt Niynhi growl low within me.
My wand was already in hand and I'd half-moved into a crouch when I realized that there was no silent bomb, that the blood wards hadn't failed early. No one was moving, certainly (at least not Tonks and Remus, the only two I could see clearly without moving), but eyes were rounding fast, and nerves beat with unheeded orders beneath taught skin.
Slowly, I reached to the floor, to pick up the deed that had fallen and rolled itself on the floor. I needed one more set of signatures, one more bloody thumbprint, and I'd be done here. I could buy the note for the mortgage from the bank that owned it, raze the house, and salt the earth. I could build a dog kennel here instead, or something that would annoy the neighbours. As I straightened, Remus found his voice.
"What, precisely, does your cousin mean by 'your cupboard'?"
I swallowed loudly and visibly, turning instinctually to Severus for strength. But he didn't know, and couldn't help himself sometimes. Niynhi wouldn't even have thought to stop Severus when I caught his eyes. The muscles in his jaw twitched. "Mrs. Lupin," he said, not one ever to call any of my friends whom he taught by their names, though I've asked them to – and they still call him Professor Snape, in mutual dislike – "if you please would open the door beside you?"
Tonks was the closest, and, perhaps, she'd thought it odd to see such a sturdy lock on a closet door. I don't know. All I know is, with a quick alohomora, she got the door open. I knew what she would see, the moment she turned for it. I knew I could stop her. I didn't want them to know. I wanted them not to know the extent of my awful childhood. I didn't want them to see the lumpy old mattress that surely still lay there, the drawings on the walls that the Dursleys probably hadn't bothered to paint over; maybe even a loose school paper, yellowed and caked with dust, sent home by the nurse asking about the frequency of my bruises that I knew better then to show my "guardians."
I couldn't bring myself to move; every fibre of my being seemed to be stuck with the shock of it. Only hen the door slammed open and she began to examine the small space in the cupboard-under-the-stairs did my feet find themselves again, almost tripping over each other in attempt to stop her from seeing my shame.
Severus's hand caught me on the shoulder. "Why didn't you tell me?" his black eyes asked, hurt, but only I could tell that.
"I didn't want anyone to know," my body answered, burying itself in his arms as my eyes struggled not to tear. I was sleep-deprived, hormonal, and being placed in a very emotional situation. I was lucky I didn't. "I didn't want to remember."
With his arms, "It's over now. Rest."
With mine, "Not yet."
Even as this silent conversation was going on, the others were quickly were coming to the proper conclusion. Fleur only restrained herself because she still held Claudia, who'd gone silent in our silence, but the others quickly turned on Petunia.
"You kept your own blood in a cupboard," Remus accused, a glimmer of yellow creeping into his soft eyes.
Coldly, Sirius, "Éléonore, how long…?" but he couldn't finish that thought without the words catching in his throat. I knew what he was thinking now: if only he hadn't been in Azkaban. If only he'd not gone after Peter, but stayed with me. If only my parents hadn't listened to him and not changed secret keepers.
I couldn't answer him. My husband did, holding my glowing form with one arm (which was good, as I doubted I could have held myself at the moment) and trying not to hex Petunia, who was now fully awake and had moved from afraid to stupidly proud, with the wand in his other. "Until she went to Hogwarts, Black. Ten years," he added unnecessarily, "they kept her there when there were two empty bedrooms upstairs."
The unasked question from Remus, the most sensitive of all those with us to this situation. Only he'd been hated for what he was, feared. Only he could guess at what I was feeling. "Why didn't you tell anyone?"
From Tonks, who knew a little of that fear herself and a little more of the desire for justice, for vengeance. It was a certain type of auror, no matter what the reason, who became a freedom fighter on her off time. Maybe because another word for vigilantes of that sort was rebel and a third traitor: "This is wrong. The Dursleys must pay."
From Fleur, silent as she held Claudia, who in turn was unusually quiet, even for her came a string of unspoken expletives as she tried to hold herself together.
And Sirius? He was a well of barely contained anger.
I couldn't look at them. I wanted to keep my face hidden in Severus, who at least could see all of it without me having to say anything, but they wouldn't let me. They assaulted me with unheard questions, left my ears ringing in slow and sticky silence, where every slight movement Petunia made seemed like the booming of a cannon or a roll of thunder across the heavy sky.
At last I turned, trying to ignore them, on Petunia. "Same for you," I said. "Just a signature and thumbpr-"
A hex blew past my face, fluttering my hair. Without thinking, I raised a blue-lighted hand and tried to catch it. It dissolved in the strange light.
I got angry. I got really, really, really angry. It was my bloody life people. I'd brought them along for comfort, for safety, not to attack and kill my aunt! Granted, she deserved it, but if anyone was going to be doing any murdering here, it would be me, who earned it! Why couldn't they just leave well enough alone? Why couldn't they trust me to handle it? I'd been handing it for sixteen bloody years for all it was worth, and nothing bad had happened yet. Yes, I was practically a house elf, but I wasn't seriously hurt. I wasn't maimed, or raped, or sold to child-stealers, or murdered. That was something. I'd stayed alive, which is more then what most people could have done in this situation. I could handle it, by Merlin's slipping stockings! I was seventeen bloody years old! I saved the Philosopher's Stone at eleven! I'd fought Riddle's Horcrux shade and his murderous Basilisk at twelve! I'd confronted a convicted murderer at thirteen, and saved more then his soul with my Patronus, which few full grown wizards could do! I'd survived dragons and Grindylows and every other vile thing my Fourth Year, and saw Voldemort return! Who'd led the Maquis in battle against Umbridge? Who'd killed Lucius Malfoy, even if only by accident, and kept the Dark from getting the prophesy? Who'd researched Horcruces and Tom bloody Riddle all last year to find a way to stop them? Who'd found Ravenclaw's long lost diadem, now hidden under my sink? Who'd gone with Dumbledore – who'd been, alone, trusted by Dumbledore enough to go – to find the fake locket? Who'd watched him die, die for them? Who'd stood, practically alone except for a handful of Hufflepuffs who wouldn't know real battle if it danced naked in front of them, at the doors of the school to trap the invaders? Not them, certainly! And who'd done it all while handling being married at sixteen (which, while to a man I loved, was still not the easiest of things) and having a bloody baby and killing Bellatrix Lestrange and-!
…I understand, of course, what an upheaval of the universe it will be, when everything in heaven and earth blends in one hymn of praise and everything that lives and has lived cries aloud: 'Thou art just, O Lord, for Thy ways are revealed.' When the mother embraces the fiend who threw her child to the dogs, and all three cry aloud with tears…
…'Thou art just, O Lord!' then, of course, the crown of knowledge will be reached and all will be made clear. But what pulls me up here is that I can't accept that harmony. And while I am on earth, I make haste to take my own measures. You see, Alyosha, perhaps it really may happen if I live to that moment, or rise again to see it, I, too, perhaps, may cry aloud with the rest, looking at the mother embracing the child's torturer, 'Thou art just, O Lord!' But I don't want to cry aloud then. While there is still time, I hasten to protect myself, and so I renounce the higher harmony altogether…
"Enough!" I screamed, not knowing 'till later it came out as a Parcel hiss, and my light pulsed outward for a moment, growing a good half-foot from my body before sinking back in.
I hate Petunia. That's all I know. And maybe she deserves death. Maybe some of the dead deserve life. I'm not a judge. It's not for me to decide. I'm just a wanna-be–Chosen-One–Maquis-leading–pseud
Pen shaking, the "…Petunia Michelle Evans Dursley, daughter of Michael Valentine Evans and Margret Anne O'Neill Evans, henceforth known as The Prime Trustee…" signed, same as Dudley, not even waiting for or asking of the pounds I'd given Dudley. Her thumbprint, in its own circle of runes, looked wobbly. When she was done, I rolled up the document and tied it with the now plum-coloured ribbon. She tried to escape soon after. They wouldn't let her, by spell and force.
I couldn't watch their anger, though I knew it wouldn't come out in torture and death, like the Death Eaters. We weren't like them. Not quite yet, anyway. I took Claudia out of the room and went into the kitchen, conjuring myself a Gala apple when I couldn't find anything fresh and crisp and green in the fridge.
Anger abated, I didn't know what to do. I wanted to cry, partly, mostly because life shouldn't be as screwed up as this. You graduate school, then you get a job, get married, and have kids. You don't have your parents murdered because of you when you're but a baby. Your parents' murderer doesn't come back to finish the job sixteen years later. You didn't stay up late at night, waiting for your friends and family to come home alive from a night that might be riddled with attacks, a map of the United Kingdom marked up in a barely sensible way behind a painting of the white cliffs of Dover, and pies baking in the Russian oven because I needed something to do with my hands (…the Sea of Faith was once, too, at the full, and round earth's shore lay like the folds of a bright girdle furl'd. But now I only hear its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar, retreating, to the breath of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear and naked shingles of the world…). You didn't just become Proxy Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement at age seventeen because one Mrs. Hopkirk of Islington had washed up dead on Southend-on-Sea and no one wanted her deputy, Pius Thicknesse – an utter tool if there ever was one – to be named Head of DMLE with her death, because, if something happened to Scrimgerour, the Head of DMLE would become Minister until an election could be held.
I didn't want to be Minister. No more then I wanted to be the people's "Chosen One". Not even Proxy, just-in-case, Minister. I could barely handle my own life, let alone the "Sovereign State of England and the Suzerains of Scotland, Wales, and Ireland!" Because, if that happened, I'd be the leader of a government that would, by that point, be inevitably in exile. You don't just do that to girls with a year more of school to go, despite having already taken their DADA NEWTS, and a baby of their own to take care of, let alone Horcruces to deal with.
I could walk out to the car and wait for my "guard" to come along. Let them lecture and threatened Petunia until they were red in the face, and then take me back to HQ, where I belonged with my law books and maps and bassinet.
…It's not worth the tears of that one tortured child who beat itself on the breast with its little fist and prayed in its stinking outhouse, with its un-expiated tears to 'dear, kind God'! It's not worth it, because those tears are un-atoned for…
It would be so easy to walk into the living room of this prison and cast an AK on my aunt. To go upstairs and do it on my cousin. To lay in wait until my uncle came home from work and do the same to them.
…They must be atoned for, or there can be no harmony. But how? How are you going to atone for them? Is it possible? By their being avenged?…
Or to cast a demitimens – The Mindbender Hex – on any one of them, to make them think they were trapped in a dark, dank, dusty cupboard-under-the-stairs, slowly worked and starved to death.
…By what do I care for avenging them? what do I care for a hell for oppressors? What good can hell do, since those children have already been tortured? And what becomes of harmony, if there is a hell?…
Or really trap them in dark, dusty cupboards. Or give them the nex ranae reginae Severus had brought along, the poison in its phial clear but opaque and glittering like a prism in the least of light.
…I want to forgive. I want to embrace. I don't want more suffering. And if the suffering of children go to swell the sum of suffering which was necessary to pay for truth, then I protest that the truth is not worth such a price…
But what then, Ivan, do I do?