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Someone To Run To (29/32)


Chapter Twenty-Nine, In Which I am Visited by the Ghost of Valentine's Day Past


 

It took me until February to find a way.

It was Valentines Day, less then a ten-day until I was due, and I was once again cursing the Romans and their goat-fixation. It was, conveniently as one might imagine, on a Friday. And, try as we might to ignore the holiday, the first hour-and-a-half of our morning classes would be spent in a potions classroom, surrounded by hormonal seventeen-year-olds who were both acutely aware that not only were we the only married couple residing in the school, but we were also the only ones who could say they'd "taught" the entire pubescent population "Sex Ed."

Blushing madly as I dug in my dresser for a uniform shirt that didn't make me look like beached whale or feel like a beach ball, I remembered that terrible, terrible day…

…Mortified, I had made it through the purely reproductive aspects of "sexual intercourse" without blushing, trying to get done in as professional manner as possible. Id est, without scarring them too deeply with the details of childbirth while not seeming to condone unsafe sex, which, to be fair, might have been easier if Paracelsus hadn't decided to sing "Let's Do It, (Let's Fall In Love)" from his sheltered perch atop the projector screen.

"Birdsss do it, beesss do it; even educated fleasss do it. Let'sss do it: let'sss fall in love," Par sang just loud enough to annoy me as I tried, for the life of me, to answer a Hufflepuff Third Year who asked, so innocently that it should made illegal to be that naïve, how such a big thing as a baby came out of such a small opening. Even if I hadn't known poor Eunice was a Third Year, I could have told by her expression: whereas the Fourth and Fifth Years had been humiliated at having to attend this "class," the Third Years were openly appalled.

Acel, not to be outdone, "In Spain, the best upper setsss do it, Lithuaniansss, and let'sss do it. Let'sss do it: let'sss fall in love!" Sus asked the good lord why no one had smited his brothers yet. The first head, always the most pragmatic of the three, had told the third that, if they were struck down by some divine thunderbolt, surely the aim from the heavens couldn't be that specific, and so Sus would go down with them. Dreamy Acel sung the next verse in its entirety over the both of them: "The Dutch in old Amsterdam do it, not to mention the Finnsss. Folksss in Siam do it – think of Siamese twinsss."

I'd have given anything to smite the Runespoor myself as I answered little Eunice with a bit too much detail about cervical effacement and dilatation for a thirteen-year-old girl. It probably, in retrospect, hadn't helped that I'd put air quotes around such words as "effacement" and "parturition." Merlin help me, some of the Seventh Years were older then me. What did you expect?

One of the Sixth Year Ravenclaws – damn sixteen-year-olds - whispered something to her Slytherin friend beside her. Dinah and Judith Ainsworth. Cousins. Evil, in the teenage girl sort of way. Judith, the Ravenclaw, lazily raised a hand into the air after Eunice assured me she'd have no more questions for me, possibly ever again.

Acel had finished Cole Porter and dived right into his next choice of evening's entertainment: "I don't care who you are."

"Who you are!" Par went shrilly.

"Where you're from."

"Where you're from!"

"Asss long asss you love me."

"I don't-!"

I spared a glare towards the Runespoor, heads entangled in battle as Sus tried to murder his brothers for our own sanity. "If you don't stop singing that song right now, I am going to incarcerate you in a bubble and anchor you to the bottom of the lake until old age hasss made me too senile to convince the merpeople to keep you down below," then, sweetly, "You have a question, Judith?"

As innocently as Eunice, the bitch had asked, "How old were you, Professor, when you lost your virginity?"

Desperate, I'd wished I'd been eating something so I could have coked on it and saved myself from this torture. My face probably shown like a tomato, but, gods above and devils down below! "Er… fifteen." I'd promised to be honest, and it wasn't like people couldn't figure it out. Subtract my age from Claudia's…

"With Professor Snape?"

"Naturally."

"But I thought you were dating Philipp von Neipperg your Fifth Year?"

I'd groaned then, trying, unsuccessfully, to ignore Paracelsus, and tried explaining. "No, that was just something Sirius – my adoptive father – started up. When he found out I was, er, seeing Severus he rather, er, overreacted and tried to arrange a marriage on the continent for me rather then see me with his childhood rival… He actually tried to trick Fred Weasley into marrying me when he first- Sus! Where do you learn these words? Stop it now, all of you!" I probably wouldn't have said near that much if Acel hadn't been distracting me with something I thought was impossible – something worse then the Backstreet Boys:

"I'll make love to you, like you want me to."

"And I'll hold you tight, baby, all through the night."

"Why won't you mongrelsss die?"

"I'll make love to you when you want me to."

"And I will not let go 'til you tell me to."

"Do you two have any idea how bizarre two brothersss singing that noise soundsss?"

Dinah chose to ask the next question, "So how long have you two been together?"

Too busy trying to ignore the hell my Runespoor was putting me through, I didn't pause to think of a way to make the answer not sound bad for Severus. "Er, since the Third Task. I'm warning you; if you don't stop singing this instant…" Dimly, I registered Hermione torn between trying not to hear this and berating me for not having told her that detail. Ginny, beside her, flipped through her magazine idly, quite bored, but beginning to pay more attention as her yearmates asked some very… informative questions.

"One…"

"Girl relax, let'sss go slow. I ain't got nowhere to go. I'm just gonna concentrate on you."

"Two..."

"Girl, are you ready? It'sss goinna be a long night. Throw your clothesss on the floor; I'm gonna take my clothesss off too."

Perhaps the girl who asked the next question (and I never did figure out who) hadn't realized the seriousness of my anger at the snake now gracing the top of the projector screen, or maybe she thought it'd be funny to ask what she did just then. For, next thing I know, as I'm preparing to cast my spell, she asked a question that I can't even repeat in my mind without becoming light-headed from all the blood rushing to my skin. Let's just say it had to do with the specifics of how Claudia was conceived. Damn, I feel woozy now.

Needless to say, my arm had then jerked of its own accord, my spell letting loose and hitting the projector screen, still displaying its latest "helpful" diagram, causing the entire screen to shake and Paracelsus, unprepared, to fall to the ground with a thud. Which had stopped him from singing, but…

Finding a shirt, I tried to force those memories out of mind. I pulled it on as best I could, and waddled out to the living room. Severus was there, slipping a book back onto the shelves, and, noticed, wearing slightly more black then he usually did. Perhaps because of the redirected blood flow my memories had caused, I couldn't restrain a giggle at that. He lifted an eyebrow, and tried managed to gasp, "The one good thing about today is that, thankfully, all the Valentines Day chocolate is going to be half off tomorrow. I think that's the only thing keeping me going right now."

"I do believe we are quite wealthy enough to afford as much chocolate as you would like, whatever the cost. And the dentistry that will no doubt be required afterwards."

He was still too far away for me to easily hit him, so I settled for an innocent, "What? No lectures on how I should be eating healthy? You've given up on me, haven't you?" I put a hand to my mouth, as if to restrain false sobs.

I would have continued – though I'd no idea where I was going – but Severus instead closed the space between us and, with a not-so-gentle push, saw us both on the couch. "If you continue with that thought process, Éléonore, and force me to say anything that could be construed as belonging in a Harlequin novel, romantic comedy, or, Merlin forbid, a Valentine's Day card, I assure you teenagers with their thoughts circling the gutter will be the least of your problems."

Torn between amusement and rolling my eyes, I settled for kissing him, feeling the warm, smug note of surprise as my lips pressed hard against his. Then, pulling back suddenly, "God, I feel hot. Does it feel hot to you?" without waiting, "I don't honestly know what's worse: the first trimester, with the nausea; or the third, with the discomfort. I don't think I'm ever going to let you touch me again."

I didn't move, and our bodies were still touching as he commented, "Seems awfully unfair to you."

"You just don't want to going back to living like a monk again." I'd honestly no idea if there had been others before me, for him, and by all the gods and angels, I never wanted to know. According to the boys, he'd not answered Judith's question for them, and there was money on whether it was because he was too embarrassed to tell a group of teenagers that he'd been thirty-six or because he hadn't been and didn't want to face my wrath when I found out. Ginny had pestered me for the answer, having won forty-five galleons from Rodmilla that day before I snapped and told her that, over my dead body, no one was going to know but Severus.

"If our places were reversed, you'd not be able to fault me."

After a moment, "I love Claudia-Éléonore, and this one here, but I don't want anymore. Not for a while, at least… That won't be a problem, will it?" I was nervous, for no reason I could name, and as acutely aware of his dark, snatch-your-breath-away presence as I've ever been. My husband, my love, who'd given up so much for me; who felt guilty, at casual mentions of things like this (unplanned, unintended, accidental), for stealing my childhood, although I didn't think it stolen, not by him, and making me all these things to him when I should have been nothing more then his student, taking his NEWT Potions class because Slughorn was an idiot, one mildly hated for being my father's daughter, Sirius's godchild – words couldn't explain how he was all things to me: my only love, my most trusted friend, the man who I wanted before I knew what my want was, and who I honestly believed had saved me from despair and Darkness. Well, maybe not Darkness – Light Ladies don't have such thoughts as mine about the ingratitude and stupidity of their Seventh Year students, or entertain thoughts of torture on family members who they'd poisoned but had yet, even now, eight months later, to drop dead – but from the deepest Dark. I might be a monster, but at least I knew love and passion and his impossible, impractical grace. That had to make me better.

Concern bleeding from him, though I doubted anyone else in the world would take his tone as anything worried or even loving, "Why would it be a problem, Éléonore? You're my wife, not my whore. I'll not force you to anything against your will."

"Except Potions homework," I muttered barely loudly enough to be heard, frowning at the memory of the essay I still had to do before beginning maternity leave. A moment later, "It could be… problematic though, considering our problem with contraceptive potions," – how they didn't seem to work, - "and what some would probably call a 'sexual addiction'…"

He guffawed – actually, literally, guffawed – at this. "We'll find something," he promised, and then told me how, if we didn't get to breakfast soon, people would begin to talk.

Not liking where this teasing had gone, I sulked as he stood up. "Tonks is pregnant," seven months, more or less, and going through mood swings faster then Paracelsus could change radio stations, largely because the only people she could morph into while pregnant were other pregnant people, which were in limited supply in the places she would have otherwise, spied and, thusly, felt rather useless, "make fun of her instead." And then, only pausing long enough to tell him I'd forgotten something and follow him up in a minute, imitating a penguin, I headed back into the bedroom.

Lying back on the comfortable, familiar bed, I tried to get my emotions back in order. I don't why his comment, innocent enough, had irritated me so. Everything was irritating me, a hormonal side effect, I figured, fuelled by stress and fear. Months had passed since I'd recovered the Sword, but still I was no closer to learning its secrets then I'd been that first day, and as each day passed, the familiar tang of hopelessness had sunk back into my weary bones.

I could ask Dumbledore…

But no. I couldn't go that route. He wasn't real. He was just a shadow. Not real. A Perevell had died because he'd believed in such false dreams. I wasn't weak. I didn't need to give into such longing…

But I did! I did! (Those thoughts screamed so loudly, and with such force, in my mind that I couldn't control the emotion, and tears rushed unbidden to my eyes, welling there for no reason I allowed myself to believe was worth this show of weakness.) What else was I going to do? I had searched among books, tumbled upon word after word, seeking the secret knowledge – what Dumbledore knew, what he'd found this same way – that I was too weak or unworthy to find. But there was nothing! Nothing! Not a word, not a scrap, and with access to books no normal child had, it became almost certain to me that such knowledge, if it existed, was not written down. How did you destroy Horcruces when the only people in the world who believed in them were your husband, who might have only believed for your sake, and the bastard who'd made them? If you weren't willing to take a chance…

But could I? Should I? It needed to be done, but you didn't destroy jewellery by cutting it up with a poisoned sword. No, you pulled out the gems and broke them, crushing them beneath great weight and scattering the powder; you melted the metals, adding pure elements into the alloys until they burned clean… Hellfire could do the job, but not without great risk, and removing all the usual fuels from an area was no guarantee to stopping the spread of a magical fire. I couldn't risk Hogwarts, my home, that way. Saint Mungo's and HQ – the only other locals I could make it to without suspicion, especially when pregnancy by necessity excluded the easiest and most secretive forms of travel – I couldn't risk either, not with the war going on. I'd no other options, besides a blade that mightn't even be poisoned.

Merlin, if only I knew how Dumbledore had done it! Broken the ring, that is… the only flaw in it, before I'd broken it, was the crack through its night-black stone. Maybe just cracking one of the stones on the diadem – but there were several, which one? The central, maybe, but maybe Voldemort had learned some cunning between the diary and the diadem, and put it in another. Or maybe you couldn't control it, and soul clung to whatever was strongest. What jewel contained the most carbon? Were there any diamonds on it? I don't recall…

He could have told me! He should have told me. Maybe he would have, if Draco with his stupid let's-all-try-to-kill-Éléonore,-why-don't-we plan hadn't interfered! Damn him! Both of them, Draco to the lowest of the low; Dumbledore… he'd tried so very hard…

What was trying, in the end? Trying was well and good, but if you don't succeed, you don't live, and it's all for nothing. It can't just all be for nothing, this battle, this life, this world. There just can't not be a way to destroy them. There has to be one, but I've looked and looked and failed. I'm a failure! A disappointment! A teenage mother, a child bride, whose only worth is what I can do for everybody else and while Severus may love me, and may have saved me, and may have taken me into his arms and held me as no one in my life that I can remember has ever held me, making me safe, even for such a little time, even Dumbledore was using me in the end. To find the Horcruces, to fight his battles. He abandoned me!

Merlin, why did he abandon me? (Tears were streaming full now, and I was shuddering without making a sound.) …We have not been… picked out… simply to be abandoned… set loose to find our way… We are entitled to some direction… I would have thought… But what direction did I have? A diadem in my vanity, a Hallow in a ring, a cup somewhere on this isle I nominally ruled, and a stolen locket, too, and something else. Something unknown, possibly something of Gryffindor's, the last founder, if anything existed of his besides the Sword. Oh, yes, I'd a sword, which I didn't know how to use.

There wasn't a choice, you see. Time, it wasn't on our side. Oh, I know. I know, I know, I know what they say: …neither good nor evil can last for ever; and so it follows that as evil has lasted a long time, good must now be close at hand… But it was too long in coming and I'd Claudia to think of, and her yet-born brother or sister who I didn't know if I could love properly after all this hate, and Severus, and Hogwarts, and all of Britain. I couldn't just wait around anymore, waiting for something, anything to happen which might save us all. Waiting got us nowhere. I had to act.

I had to.

That thought clearly formed, I went to the apartment door and locked it with key and spell. No one could enter unless I let them. Pausing, the idea already beginning to ring stupid in my mind, I turned back to the door, hissing loud enough for Archimedes to know I didn't want anyone entering for an hour, not even Severus, I rushed to check the nursery. Winky had taken Claudia outside to enjoy the unusually sunny day before the teenage lovebirds got their hands on it, or so it seemed, and so the room was empty. No one to get hurt, if things went wrong…

No! Nothing would go wrong. It was perfect, my plan. Simple. And, if it went wrong, I was nearly full term; they could save the baby… and, if they couldn't, at least Claudia was safe…

Claudia-Éléonore Séléné Snape… she'd said her first word last week. It was "Mummy." I don't think I've ever been prouder, or happier. Severus, immersed with his potions in the next room, wasn't there, so I hurriedly called him from the next room and tried to get my baby to say it again. She did, and he'd struggled to maintain a straight face. To me, what had sounded like perfect English had been a clear and distinct hiss… at least Paracelsus wouldn't be without company, if…

I entered the bathroom and locked it before kneeling like the penitent before a shrine at the end of the vanity. Opening the cabinet, I pulled the naked Sword from its undignified position and, with the hem of my pooled skirt, polished its length. Along the blade edge were words, carefully translated, in old Gaelic:

Forged and Fated to Kill with Subtle Blade, Take Ye Damned Comfort: I am Eversharp

"I thank your maker for that," I whispered, its pummel with sleeping, ruby eye almost to my mouth as I cleaned its pointed end. I set it carefully beside me, not wanting to cut myself, having noting that even the light polish I'd given it had left parallel slices in the fabric, and reached in farther for the hidden treasure.

I ignored the useless locket with its false, leadless note. I even tried to ignore it, but my hands knew the desire I held and ghosted over it of their own accord, betraying my already broken and frantic mind. Its Dark coolness felt pleasant to my skin, as if I were running a fever and it was a moistened pad to place to my forehead.

That was all it took, and I broke, taking it into my curved palm once again. Suddenly it didn't matter that I was trying to be strong, that it was madness to indulge in what I was doing, only that I had him there, to help me, and so help me God I could stop before it became too much. I could stop whenever I wanted – this was magic, not an addiction, and, besides, I'd Severus to run to when it grew to be to strong. It was my own choice… I pressed it tight into the sensitive skin and tried not to feel the tingling lightness, the ease of relief that loosed itself from somewhere between my lungs. I tore off the loosened hem of my skirt and used it to tie, brace-like, the stone into my clutching palm.

The diadem came as almost an afterthought, placed on the titled floor a few feet from me, turning around to see him not quite there, caught shade-like between man and ghost. "Hello, Grandfather," I breathed, words not reaching my own ears. They were too busy searching the silence, probing out as far as their mortal might could, finding fear in the whisper of water through pipes; in the high-pitched ring that, had I not known better, I would have called electricity streaming along shining wires. To my eyes, too, the tiles seemed over-white, my skirt too dark.

"Éléonore," he said in greeting, disappointment colouring his words.

"Don't be like that, please don't. I need to know if this will work. And, if not, what will. It's February, Albus. He's not a patient man. He'll come for the Wand soon. The murders of Muggles and Muggle-borns have picked up, too. St. Mungo's is filled to the brim with refugees and the injured. France and Russia are sending us medical supplies, but it's not going to last forever. He's gained more followers, and whether it's those who followed him before and were smart enough to hide, or those following because others follow, or those spelled into compliance, he's growing more powerful. I don't know what else to do, but this. I've got to do this."

"Are you sure about what you are about to do, Éléonore?"

"Not at all, but what other choice do I have?"

"You could not do this."

Suddenly angry, "Why the hell not?" I shouted, my voice echoing off every available surface, hurtling back at me – at him – like daggers. "You left me here. You told me what I had to do. He took everything from me, Albus. Give me a moment, and I'll find a way to blame him for cancer and rising oil prices too. I'm going to take such twisted pleasure in killing him I might use the Stone to bring him back and do it again. So don't the hell tell me I can't do this. Just tell me if the Sword'll work… Tell me how to kill the thing."

"Godric Gryffindor's sword, when you slew the Basilisk, took up its poison-"

His blessing halfway given, my free hand snatched up the blade, with strength of the wrist hereto unknown quickly snapped it into position above, then through, the centre of the diadem. It was silver, made of filigree, with several tiny, blue stones set into it. A dark, deep blue sapphire graced this central point and the blade, which had sank as if through butter the silver decoration above, jagged on it. Blackness, darker then a moonless night, billowed as, with sheer force of will, I willed the blade downwards. A sick, nails-on-the-chalkboard shriek ripped from the sapphire, growing louder and louder with each second, until it seemed that the noise, however horrid and discordant, was all that existed. I wanted to clasp my hands to my ears, rip them off if necessary, anything to block the sound. But I knew I couldn't. I knew if I stopped now the Sword would clatter free, and I'd fall, and I'd not be able to find it again the growing darkness. The sound would block everything, until I couldn't think couldn't see couldn't breathe from the pain of it all. I'd struggle to stop it, clawing anything and everything in hopes of silencing it, I knew I would, and in the end succumb to madness. I couldn't let that happen. I had to hold on, as tight as I could, and not let go. I wasn't strong enough, but I had to be… Perhaps I should have cast an augmentative spell on myself before beginning, to give me strength- but no. It was going through the stone, feeling the consistency of wet cement to my poor hands. The noise grew worse… and the coldness, so like that of the cave, making me shiver with both fear and, disgustingly, delight.

It moved of its own accord, the blackness. Not cloud or haze, I could only think of it as drawn from some patch of starless sky. It pooled in the middle of the diadem, then seemed to form the shape of feet, then legs, and both fear and sick anticipation put new strength into weak muscles. The sound was pitching lower, less of a shriek then a scream. It burned my ears, my eyes; my throat. And yet I found myself fighting the urge to laugh, the sound catching in my throat and becoming animaline, the sick and feral growl of the hunter finding its lethal prey joining the monster's howl-

-and then it was through, the unexpected lessening of pressure on the blade shocking me, and it dipped into the tiles below – a rough, gouging sound that stung me far less then the sudden silence that immediately preceded it.

The legs were fully formed now, more and more darkness coming forth from the depths of nothingness and taking shape – thighs, torso, pale hands. There was no thought, I was beyond it at this point, just instinct.

I could handle instinct.

The Sword was heavy and embedded in the tiles, and my hands weak, not accustomed to this peculiar burden. I couldn't pull the Sword free, it was stuck fast, and the creature of blackness was nearly fully formed. My grip was awkward, unpractised, and further hindered by the Stone bound to one hand and the ringing silence in my ears. Giving a final tug, I knew I'd failed, and powerlessness threatened to overcome me. I'd been foolish, and knew it-

But I could still fight.

I loosened the hilt, hands sweaty and fumbling as they dug in my robe for my wand. I could see the face now – Herne and Hecate, that unforgettable face, those red slits of eyes, those thin, cruel lips. His nose was humanoid enough, but oddly flat. A twisted, Dark smile began to contort the face still further-

And then I found it, and whipped it out. The curse came before I could make a choice on what I needed – some type of light, to defeat the darkness? Fire? Ice? – the Killing Curse flew from my lips and I saw the sick light flashing and the rush of wind or wings-

Then it was gone. The bathroom was just that, a bathroom. Sure, a sword was stuck into its floor and an ancient, now tarnished, crown lay broken amidst the tiles, tiny sapphires falling out of crumbling settings, but it was a bathroom again. Not a battle field.

I turned to Dumbledore, laughing uproariously. I'd done it! I'd done it! I sounded hysterical, but I couldn't help myself. Do you even begin to understand how wonderful it was? I was Atlas, and I was free – somewhat – without having shrugged! I'd succeeded. I'd done it, defeated another part of Tommy Riddle-

And was still miles away from defeating the monster. There was his physical body, for one, the real locket and something else for another two, and the fact that I'd not the slightest idea where said locket and something else were just to round out the top five of my troubles.

I crashed from my cloud, then rose again, my emotions going haywire, laughing and sobbing at the same time, and Dumbledore, if he really was there, not doing or saying anything… Disgust joined the fray, and I found myself hastily pulling my hand from the bandage I'd made to hold the Stone to my flesh. I had to get out of here, and calm down, and- and-

-I could see him, the lines of his face growing deeper, worry cementing his features-

I heard the clock chime and, looking at it absurdly (my mind not quite realizing what it was, or why it would choose to chime this then), a different fear went through me. "Oh my God, I'm late for Potions," I sputtered, which was quickly followed by a peculiar, "Oh!" I felt my body go slack and my eyes roll back into their sockets, the whispering sound in my ears as I fell to the floor sounding so much like the rush of an Arvada Keravada

Paracelsus was resting on my chest, his right head poking at my nose, when I awoke sometime later. It couldn't have been more then twenty minutes, for no one had come looking for me that I could tell, and, as Acel was in the middle of singing the guitar solo of "Freebird" and not being accosted by some lucky, non-Parselmouth for it, I gathered that no one was around. A kind person would have stopped the racket the Runespoor had somehow made of Jimi Hendrix, thinking he or she was overhearing an axe-murder-in-progress. "Mère!" Par shouted over his brother's racket, "we were so!"

"…please don't take it badly, 'cause Lord knowsss I'm to blame…"

"worried about you. Now tell Acel to shut up and get better."

Par, who'd been beating Acel with the side of his head while Sus talked to me, spoke up then, allowing Sus to resume his attack, "Yea, Mère. You look like three-week-old hell warmed over."

"Why, thank you so very much Par. I'd have never have guessed that, given as how I feel like a slice of three-week-old hell. Thank you so very much for your helpfulnessss."

Gravely, "You're welcome," he responded, then gave a double flick of his head that I took to mean, "Well, get a move on."

"…if I stayed here with you, girl, thingsss just couldn't be the same. 'Cause I'm asss free as a bird now and this bird you'll never change…"

"I keep praying," I groaned, watching the Runespoor topple as I tried to sit up, each of his heads trying to keep from being the one to hit the floor and none of them succeeding, "that one day you'll moult and be lessss annoying."

"Yesss, of course, Mère. And then the dungeon-man will sprout wingsss and start speaking in rhymesss, and-"

"Shut up, Susss."

"Who're you telling to shut up, Par? Acel'sss the one being an idiot, and you only encourage him."

Holding his head high, "Someone shouldn't trample on his dreamsss, even if they're stupid."

"I'm right here guysss: I can hear the both of you."

They continued to annoy him, "You're just jealousss because I got the looksss and Acel got the talent and you got stuck with the short end of the ugly stick."

"Who you calling ugly? I'd ask if you'd looked in a mirror lately, but, asss I've not seen any broken onesss around…"

I groaned again, and this time not because of the aching protestations of my bones, though they were still unpleasant in the extreme. "I'm not so lucky asss to have missed classesss today, am I?"

"If you do not like classesss, do not take them, Mère."

"It'sss not that simple-"

"Why not?"

"Because."

"Because why?" I must be like fly paper for idiots or something – 'cause how else do you explain how I get put into these situations?

Still, it was too late for me to make an appearance at Potions, and the logical part of me (which resented having been so long ignored) realized Severus was probably not going to be happy I put myself in danger that way without telling him first. I'd tell him later, but not now, when it would just cause him to get retrospectively overprotective and cause no end of discomfort for the two of us, what with classes for each of us to teach… No, it'd be best to tell him later. Later, when we could both let our emotions reign over us, not now when to loose ourselves would open us to so many pains…

That first kiss was so vivid in my mind, still bubbling over from the intensity of my joy at being alive. The taste of his lips in my memory was more then I could take…

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…Sirius was sitting in the diver's seat of Fulvia, his Rolls-Royce Corniche, playing angrily with the radio when I came out of the house. I knew, from the set of his face and the anger in his movements, he was trying to calm down, but adoptive fathers, or so I've heard, didn't take well to hearing their daughters had spent the better part of ten years in a cupboard. I could hear the music from the door, loudly playing, jerking slightly as he jammed the radio presets, changing the song almost quicker then the sound could make it to me. At last, seemingly giving up and settling for what he'd found, he leaned back against the headrest and closed his eyes, hands clutching the bottom of the steering wheel tightly, and deep, forced breaths shaking his entire body.

The rest of our group wasn't much better. Tonks was angrily pacing by the car, probably wishing she could spell all Petunia's rose bushes into flamingos or something else idiotic as she tried to convince herself it wasn't worth the paperwork. Remus was sitting in the passenger's side of the Corniche, a growl trying to die in his throat, while Fleur was standing nearby, gentling rocking Claudia, as if to console her, though it was by far the Frenchwoman and not the baby that needed consoling.

Severus was waiting for me by the door. As I closed it behind me, an odd sense of déjà vu overcame me, one I couldn't quite place and found odd because nothing like this had, to my knowledge, happened to me before. I let go of the thought as quick as my frozen, unmoving mind would allow and buried myself in my husband's shoulder. I didn't like the monster I was becoming…

I didn't know what was going on around me, only that I was fighting the dual desires to go back and finish the job I'd left undone at Azkaban South or else break down at the thought of the monster I was becoming. How long until word came that my aunt was dead? One of the many interesting side effects of being married to Severus was knowledge of some intensely disturbing poisons. Then again, being married to me probably gave him some as equally interesting knowledge of some spells that only the more erudite Death Eaters had ever come across…

Her death could simulate a heart attack, a stroke; an ancient, long forgotten plague; there were others still that could make her body too bruised and broken to house her soul or slice her skin with internal knives; it could wait, lurking, and kill her years from now, like some lurking disease; it could be killing her now, her veins bursting, arterial blood spraying across the clean whiteness of her living room… My mind could play images that no one should ever see. Though Claudia was in my arms again and I was in Severus as we drove – I don't know how long for, only that it was seemingly a lifetime before I looked up and knew that we were still not at HQ, or even near London… But it couldn't have been that long, that song was still playing in the background, and Claudia had yet to make a noise…

I'd just murdered my aunt. Maybe she wasn't dead yet, but she was dying all the same. I'd taken what I'd wanted from her and Dudley and left her to die. I'd killed in self-defence, but never…

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…he moved with a fierce sense of possession over me, kissing me with an obstinacy that made it difficult to remember to breathe when our lips parted. All I wanted was him, and he, it seemed, had forgotten his self-imposed morals to allow himself this happiness in a world so full of death and war and pain…

My towel long forgotten, our bare bodies struggled to move even closer to each other. The sensations were so overwhelming… one moment it was all I could do to concentrate on his tongue, warm in my mouth, and the lust-stoked pressure on my mouth that I was trying my hardest to offer back… the next it was on his hand at my hip, or mine at his, or tangled in his hair… but then his mouth was no longer on mine, but devouring my neck, my breasts, the tender skin of my inner thigh, and it was all I could think of, except that I wanted him so badly… and then, with force I did not know I had, pulling my mouth back to mine again, and how that was all it took, and he was in me, and I could forget everything except him because he was my world and I was his and there was nothing outside of us and I didn't have to worry about life or death or prophesy or anything else…

I moaned his name – far more then once – and when he moved to pull back, I pulled him closer, and, this time, he did not let go…

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…I think I was hyperventilating. No, wait, I am. I am defiantly hyperventilating…

In a panic, I jump up, surprised to find myself caught in a tangle of sterile hospital blankets rather then, well, I don't know what, only that it wasn't what I expected. No winding cloth. No funeral shroud. I wasn't dead. I wasn't trapped somewhere. I was at Hogwarts – yes, Hogwarts. The slight, almost electrical buzz in the back of my head; the scent of antiseptics and potions – nothing else was like Hogwarts.

I'd just watched my parents' murderer rise from the dead and I was alone… and scared… not just for me, but Sna-Severus. It was all my fault that he'd come back, and now he was putting his life on the line to spy…

It was all my fault… I should have killed Voldemort on that field, should have died instead…

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…It was dark in the showers and the door was locked. The stream of water that fell over me, and I prayed I would drown. I'd turned on the radio to drown out the sound of my sobs, and it was playing loudly, echoing in the titled room but did nothing to calm me. For one beautiful, glorious half-hour, I'd believed that I wouldn't have to return to my prison. But like all things in my life, it was too good to be true…

I should have just let them kill Wormtail! Double jeopardy would have kept Sirius out of jail, and I'd have had a family at last – but no, I had to be noble. I had to let justice be carried out – when Sirius, my godfather, who could have saved me and loved me and so much more, had been banished to the real Azkaban in the name of justice. But how could I believe in justice now that I knew what justice had done to Sirius?

Justice! How had I ever deluded myself into believing in justice? What justice was there in my parents dying? What about the cupboard? What justice was there then, in all the years before I knew about Hogwarts? And what about now? Dumbledore knew Sirius was innocent but did nothing – nothing legally, that is, though I appreciate that he kept him from having his soul sucked out – where was the justice in that?

I was all alone again, and it hurt so bad…

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…So this is what dying was like… At least it didn't hurt… I always thought it must hurt, or else people wouldn't be so afraid of it. But this was nothing, just a heavy sleepiness, and, when I woke up, I'd be with Mum and Dad… It's no so bad at all…

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…but there was no such thing as magic… wasn't there?

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"…Paracelsusss…" I hissed faintly, feeling dizzy and nauseous as I struggled to find the bed, to lay down on its blissful softness, as if the memories wracking my mind against my will would somehow be lessoned if I could just rest upon it. My head pounded, worse then any time Voldemort had ever been in my mind, if that was possible, and I felt sick and confused and I couldn't figure out what was going on. Every time I seemed close, I'd fall back into my plethora of nightmarish memories. "…Get Severusss…"

"Why? Isss it the?"

"Baby? Human egg-laying isss so."

"Strange. Idiot, thisss isn't egg-laying: Mère'sss not well. Come on. Let'sss find the dungeon-man."

"Can we call him Père?" Acel asked as they slithered out of the room.

Before I could give him an answer, I fell into the memories again… There… there had to be a… a safeguard… on… on the… diadem! Some sort of… reason why I couldn't think clearly…

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I remembered the first time I'd been made to cook breakfast, when I could barely reach the cooker at all, and I'd burned my hand so badly I'd sacrificed my last decent shirt to make a tourniquet for it. Petunia had gotten so angry, because the blood wouldn't come out and she'd actually had to buy me clothes so the teacher wouldn't realize I was wearing the same thing to school every day.

I remembered that first Potions lesson with Severus, and how much anger he'd felt towards me, all because I was my father's child. He'd assumed… he'd told me so many things he'd assumed, and how I'd broken that delusion for him long before he ever came to Azkaban South. He was so strange, in that early memory, not my Severus at all, but something… other. Foreign. How strange the thought that five years time from then we would be lovers! How strange the thought that I'd once hated him… I could not imagine a life without him now.

I remembered our wedding, in more vivid detail then I thought I had of the blur that was that day. The rush of colours and sounds… the bizarre reception in L'Orangerie, everything so strained between my father and my husband, only Severus knowing then I was pregnant with Claudia, no one knowing why we wouldn't wait until after I'd graduated – or even Christmas – to marry. A few of the hotels other guests wondered who we were, this strange wedding party, and whispering from the more gossipy that the groom was the Earl Dover, a rather obscure noble given his family's holding, but rich enough to buy a small country; the bride (or so they would put it) was a young French thing, just out of school, from good stock and (as if this made up for any of my deficiencies) quite rich herself. A winemaker, or from a family of them. Rumour had it that she was somebody, at least, among whoever her people were. How odd they were all subdued – probably a shotgun wedding, or something of the sort. Her father didn't look to happy at all, did he?

I remembered my first day of school, when that awful teacher had given me that awful nickname that was to stick with me for years… It'd been so awful. I'd been so excited to get to go somewhere, and that I'd a backpack and crayons to call my own, even if they weren't new, and there was recess where I could play and not have to worry about chores… But, of course, I'd managed to wind up in the same class as Dudley, and he'd made them hate me so, and Petunia had gone up to the teacher and told her, loud enough for the other mum's to hear, that I was a little slow, and not to bother with me if I fell behind. The government was making them put me in school now, and she and Vernon were just waiting for a spot to open up at the grammar for the 'special' children so I could get the education I 'needed.' I didn't know what it meant at the time, only that it meant that I was alone, again, and I' always would be.

I remembered Voldemort's resurrection several times, my mind seeming to come back to that battle over and over again, until there was not a blade of grass that I did not know the movements of upon that cemetery field.

I remembered farther back still, to when I was a small child. I thought I even remembered that night, but it might have just been a dream… He wasn't one for sneaking in through cellars or back windows. No. He'd apparated a little down the road, just close enough for the crack to be heard – a car backfiring, though the cottage was the only thing down this road for miles? Sirius, coming to visit, despite it being so late? It was Halloween. It might've even just been some Muggle kids kicking tin cans; Voldemort was powerful. He didn't need to make a sound – and wondered about. There was a sharp intake of fear, a tightening of the chest, and then, after a long moment, when Mum and Dad realized what they were being silly – or so they thought – the relieved, almost uplifting release of breath. Oh, the betrayals of our bodies to our minds! They should have known better then to deny the instincts that had kept humanity alive for so many millennia… But I could play the "what if?" game better then anybody. They were in the living room, very country house but tasteful enough for that sort of thing (though the colours! I don't know if I'd ever grow to understand the pureblood wizard's taste for bright, clashing colours and flashing patterns, not if I live a hundred years), my parents and baby me when they heard the crunch of footsteps on gravel walk. He could have silenced them, but chose not to. He wanted that fear. He thrived off of it. Hearing that quiet, sharp shuffle of stones without a friendly warning call was enough… It was then my father called out, the unpleasant realization of his own imminent demise choking him not nearly as much as his worry for his wife, my mother, and myself. Dad told Mum to take me and run… but their own anti-apparition and –portkey wards were working against them – the irony of Death, that their murderer would not come barging in, wands and canons blaring, but silently. Though they had defied him thrice, I know not how, and defiance was nothing compared to battling such a powerful foe. Mum could run, but he would catch her. She knew this, and had only the hope that the alarm wards had been tripped by Voldemort's entrance that she and the baby that was me would survive. So she ran to my nursery, barricading us in with every charm and curse she knew, sobbing wildly to the sound of her husband being murdered downstairs… It was horrible. I didn't know him, but he was my father. Her husband. And she was trying to hide out the storm with baby me in my nursery. I think, for a moment, I hated her. If it had been Severus and I in their positions, I would have done everything I could to save him… maybe even at Claudia's expense. I do not know. I've never been put in that position. But, still, even when the sound of fighting subsided downstairs and she knew her husband was dead, and that the heavy tread upon the stairs was not that of salvation but Death that no Cloak of Invisibility could have saved her from that destiny, even if she'd had it, still she cast spells and wards at the doors. She wasn't a damsel to be saved, but Mum knew she couldn't stop him herself. Voldemort pounded on the door, once, twice – then it splintered violently as a hex blasted it in. Mum cradled baby me next to her chest, to protect me, and hardly made a sound even as shards inches long pierced her back. The metallic scent of blood pervaded memory as Mum fell down to her knees, stunned, but still cradling the baby I was to her, protecting me… "Not Ely, not Ely, please not Ely!" Mum begged the monster, forcing me behind her as she turned to face her assailant. Oh how well I knew what came next!

"Stand aside, you silly girl… stand aside, now…"

"Not Ely, please no, take me, kill me instead- Not Ely! Please… have mercy… have mercy…" But there was no mercy. A man who killed his own father did not know mercy. A boy who terrorized two Muggle orphans when but a boy did not understand compassion. The slaughterer of an old, lonely woman did not value kindness, or sympathy, or love. My poor mother must have known this, but hoped against hope – even as I, in a sick way, knowing I was the baby she fought to protect, wanted her to let him kill the baby so that she could go on and live and be the Mind Healer she wanted to be, have other green-eyed babies – that he would take the trade and leave me be after killing her. A laugh, a whisper of green light, and then the thud as cold body hit hard floor. The wand turned on me, the dark yellow wood hiding the core feather that would one day be the brother mine. Oh this man, this twisted remnant of a man! So much hatred! So much anger – and fear! Maybe if his mum had lived, maybe if his dad had stayed with for his sake alone, maybe if he'd been in a better orphanage then St. Giles, maybe, maybe… but no. This man had never known love or hatred, and so had lived in a sea of indifference until it was too late to save him from himself… All he wanted was life everlasting, a life which he'd never be able to live, soul so shredded, as anything more then a shadow of itself. He'd kill anything in his way. And I was in his way. The twisting, sick light again… and it hit the baby, it hit me. Right in the forehead. I should have fallen over, dead, eyes rolling into the back of my baby head as I fell back, cold, fat little baby arms to move no more.

But I didn't. I just cried in fright as the light hit me. And it was Voldemort who fell to the ground, body burning as it went (a sick smell of burnt hair and snakeskin catching in my memory's nose). The house, for no readily available reason, shook wildly, and began to burn too. Baby me cried and cried. But no one came, and I fell asleep in the rubble that had once been my home.

Sometimes I remembered it differently. Sometimes it was "Harry" and not "Ely" that Mum cried. Sometimes I thought it was Harry that I saw, not me.

But sometimes I broke through the haze. I saw reality, or very close to it, and thought I'd fallen off the bed. I thought days had passed, and Severus had never come for me. It was a scary thought, one I didn't like to believe in, but I couldn't stop myself, and with every worry the memories grew worse, until I watched my parents' murders over and over again, and knew every squeak of the stairs and every curse. There was a sense of inevitability in it. I should have died then, that I shouldn't have survived the un-survivable curse.

"I have many questions for you, Harry Potter," the monster asked, or seemed to, climbing the stairs to kill Mum once again.

The baby me, as the door splintered in, asked, "Like what?" or, again, seemed to. I was obviously loosing my mind. That was the only explanation. And I felt so weak… How long had I been out? A day, a week, a year? Even if Severus had found me, how would he know what had happened? He couldn't ask Paracelsus –well, he could, but he wouldn't understand the answer. The Runespoor couldn't write, and Claudia was too young yet to understand any of it. Would he guess, from the Sword in the bathroom, the broken gem around it? Would he know that I was… trapped in these memories, and couldn't break free? How could he save me? I felt so tired…

"Well," now calmly murdering my mother, his voice growing ever clearer, "how is it that you – a waif of a girl with no extraordinary magical talent – managed to defeat the greatest wizard of all time? How did you escape with nothing but a scar, while Lord Voldemort's powers were destroyed?"

The house fell down around baby me. The baby sobbed as it burned, "You're not. The greatest sorcerer in the world. Sorry to disappoint you, but Dumbledore was the greatest and, now that your goon murdered him, it's me. Not being vain or anything, it's kinda the truth. You've not killed me yet, not for lack of trying.

The cemetery now, his finger to my cheek. "How did you survive?" I shivered violently,

My first day of school, a scared little girl in an ill-fitting dress of pink polka-dots, I answered: "We've had this conversation before, Tommy. When I destroyed your diary. It gets old very quickly." My voice wavered, though, and I felt so cold…

We were in the chamber again, and I was sliding down the stone wall, pulling a fang out of my arm as I tried not to cry out in pain. Blood was everywhere, and Fawkes was not there this time. Fawkes was gone, to wherever phoenixes go when their master's die. "You're dead, Harry Potter," the Voldemort haunting me said from the shade of diary-Riddle, and my mind couldn't make out the logic behind that. It all seemed very… Arthur C Clark. I wondered suddenly if Riddle had been a fan, once, or if it was my own crazed, seriously damaged brain doing this to me. "I'm going to sit here and watch you die, Harry Potter. Take your time. I'm in no hurry… So ends the famous Harry Potter…"

The Basilisk fang weighed heavy in my hand, slippery with poison that was entering my body through a hundred tiny scrapes and cuts in it. No diary to destroy this time, I thought ruefully, my bones feeling so tired… "You really have to get new lines, Tommy boy," I sighed, letting my hands fall to the ground, my body sag. "You repeat yourself all too often." I'd fought hard… maybe this was just a dream? But my hands hit something as they fell, something cold and metallic… my eyes, blurry with, well, with everything, couldn't make out what it was, but I knew the shape well enough: Ravenclaw's diadem. How achronistic…

There was a sense of inevitability about it, as it slammed the fang into the central stone, and woke up screaming in pain.

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"Merlin! She's awake – somebody, go get- go get everybody," came a voice I didn't recognize.

Another, which, to my chagrin, took me a moment to recall, "Éléonore, you're alive!"

"Sev'rus?" I think I managed to cough-

A woman's voice then, "There'll be time enough for that later. I need you to push now, Ely-" She sounded all business. I didn't know why.

"Push?" An uncomfortably familiar pain rippled through me. I couldn't help it and cried out. I felt bruised and broken… I couldn't push if I tried. "The baby," I gasped in understanding.

"You're almost there-"

That's what they said when they saw the head, right? When had I gone into labour? What had happened? "How-?"

"It's been four days," Severus answered, knowing my question. "It's the eighteenth."

"What-?" Four days! Anything could have happened-!

"Quarter past eleven – at night – give or take a few minutes."

Not what I was asking, but close enough. I tried again. The room didn't seem like the hospital wing… I cried out as I pushed again, feeling the baby slide from me. "Where-?" I gasped at him, trying frantically to understand.

"Headquarters."

Another push, and then- "It's a boy."

I couldn't keep my eyes open to look on my son. I couldn't even try. "Henri-Auguste," I sobbed, falling into true sleep. I was safe now. "His name is Henri-Auguste Sévères."

Chapter Thirty.