This chapter's first scene was written for the fabulous Ellie Mae, so enjoy it. Huggles to one of the best fangirls an author could ever have!
Beta'd by ElissandrAnne, thanks dear. ~~ juls
Mariah sat by Charlie in the kitchen, a cup of coffee sitting next to the map they poured over in the flickering lights the candles gave off in their sconces on the wall. “This is the Forbidden Forest.” His finger pointed to a spot on the map, and then trailed down a winding path. “This is Hagrid's hut, he's the half-giant caretaker that teaches Care of Magical Creatures.” He tapped the map with his finger, and the spot enlarged briefly to show the brown thatched building and the pens that surrounded it.
Mariah followed his finger with interest, trying to learn all she could from what he was saying and pointing out. “Why is the forest so close to the school if it's so dangerous?” she asked him, and shifted in her spot on the bench to get closer to the map.
“The creatures stay inside the forest, and the students unless accompanied by a professor are not allowed in it,” he explained, and began to point out other things on the map. Charlie hoped she'd given up her plans on looking for a way to get through the wards. His own attempt had failed, and Snape's warnings still rang through his head.
“The Lake has mermaids in it?” Mariah asked, looking at the enchanted map, as it focused on the pool of rippling water. As far as she knew, there weren't any mermaids or such near where she grew up. They'd died out from the pollutions created by industries, if there had been any.
“Oh yes!” Charlie turned to look at her, his grin wide. “There is also the Giant Squid,” he laughed at her puzzled look, “He lives deep in the middle, and on clear days you can see his tentacles waving. Be wary of throwing things at him though, for he pitches them back.” His shoulder bumped into hers, and the cough at the doorway had them both looking towards it.
Severus Snape had stood in the doorway unnoticed by them for a few minutes. He'd come up from his Potions room to get a glass of milk and a bite to eat before continuing on his work. His time at Number 12, Grimmauld Place, grew increasingly shorter as the days passed. Voldemort's calls became increasingly frequent, and he had so much to get ready for. Potter and the others now knowing where the last Horcrux lay had him preparing for the upcoming conflicts. Soon he'd be free to live his life- if he was given that chance again. In all ways, he was ready to finish the task set before him by Albus Dumbledore.
Charlie's laughter died a bit at the look in Snape's eyes, and he nodded his head towards him. “Hello, Severus,” he said, and his hand left the map.
“Hello sir,” Mariah said, her eyes focusing back on the map. The man that was her birth father was still an enigma to her, but the fact of it and all she'd been told as a child still rang true in her head. The past few months had given her a clearer picture of the man in front of her, and his 'good' deeds far outweighed the 'bad' ones.
“You both aren't planning another try at breaking through the wards, are you?” Snape asked them, heading briskly towards the cabinets. He reached up to grab a glass from one and a pitcher of cold milk from another. “For I will caution you that it's a bad idea.” He poured some milk into the glass, and tapped it with his wand and a quick incantation to heat it.
“I was just showing Mariah around the school grounds,” Charlie replied, watching Snape carefully. “Eventually she'll be there-”
“Miss Sanders will-” Severus interrupted with a quick turn to look at them.
“It's Mariah,” she reminded him, her eyes looking from the map up to him. He met hers with an unfathomable look, and she sighed.
“Miss Sanders will not be going anywhere near Hogwarts at the present time,” Snape continued, “It's too dangerous-”
“It's Ma- rye- ah,” Mariah said slowly, her hands restlessly playing with the edges of the map. Charlie's hand on her knee made her look away and she shook her head slowly. “The name I was given when I was born by my father,” she reminded him after looking back at Snape. “And it's dangerous everywhere, even here.”
“Miss Sanders, you're too young-” Snape's lips pressed together as he looked at her, his black eyes gazing into her silver gray ones.
“Mariah- and I'm older than Harry, Hermione, Ginny and Draco, so you can throw that argument out the window.” Her eyes sparkled back at him, refusing to drop her gaze.
Severus stood there silent and just looked at the two of them for a moment. For close to twenty years he'd lived without her in his life, wondering how she was and if her adoptive parents would treat her as their own. From seeing her and Caleb together, his hopes had been realized and she'd been raised with love and security. Unlike his childhood, Mariah had a basis of hope and not despair. Her eyes though made him remember a young Cissa, and he looked away.
“This war has nothing to do with you,” he said finally, sipping from his glass.
“This war has everything to do with me,” Mariah reminded him, and felt again Charlie's touch on her knee. “It's the very reason my own parents couldn't raise me themselves, both of my brothers are in danger because of it- and my own father, whether he cares or not to call me by the name he gave me- is also!”
Mariah stood up, walking over to where Snape stood against the counter. “This war is the reason my mother died- so don't tell me I have no reason to fight.” Her fingers brushed at his dark shirt sleeve, her mind willing him to turn his head and look at her. Time seemed to tick silently by as she waited.
Snape's head turned and looked down at the hand Mariah touched his arm with. His eyes traveled back up and met hers, “Mariah,” he said, watching her eyes widen slightly as he said it. “I want you safe- I always have. Your mother and I gave you to Dumbledore for that reason.” His fingers tightened over her hand slightly, “She'd be proud of you, you know? You're a lot like her.”
“Thank you,” Mariah said simply, a small smile widening on her lips. “From all Draco has told me about her- about you,” she watched his eyebrow arch, “I have reasons to be proud myself. I've had two sets of loving parents. Not many get to know just how much they are loved.”
Snape's eyes narrowed suddenly, a grimace passing briefly across his face before he pushed Mariah away. Her eyes looked at him in confusion, but he turned away. His hand fisted tightly, and the glass of warmed milk wobbled and sloshed when his arm jerked.
“Sir?” Mariah's eyes narrowed slightly, trying to think of what she could have done or said to create such a reaction in him. She glanced at Charlie, who stood up from the table and went to stand by her. His hand reached for hers, and he held it firmly to keep her steady. He watched as Snape tugged at the cuff of his sleeve, the hand flexing in anger.
“I have to go,” Severus said in calm firmness, turning back around to look at the two young people in the room. There was a minute amount of anger that gleamed in his eyes before they settled totally on Charlie. Pressing his lips together, he nodded at him, “Please make sure Mi-Mariah is comfortably acquainted with Hogwarts and its grounds.” His eyebrow arched at the question in the boy's eyes, “As well as a map can do it anyhow.”
“But of course, Severus. Happy to do it, you know that,” Charlie replied, realizing that Snape had just left him in guard of his daughter. The 'call' couldn't have come with more worse timing, and the wave of anger that past through the dark wizard washed through the kitchen.
Snape walked towards the archway that led to the hall, his steps sure as he crossed through towards the way that led towards his rooms. The anger he held inside kept his back and shoulders straight, but then he stopped and turned once more to look at the two standing. A small smirk ran across his face before fading, “I don't want you leaving this place alone – ever. Do you understand that, Mariah?” he asked her, his eyes piercing deep into her, willing her to understand and accept.
Mariah's face paled at the harshness of his tone, and the gentle squeeze from Charlie's hand on hers made her nod in answer. Anther gentle squeeze and she sighed, “Yes sir,” she replied, an unsure nod of her head towards him.
“Good,” Severus replied, his eyes focusing on Charlie again briefly before turning and disappearing from their sights. It could have been worse, he thought with a snort, It could have been one of those insufferable pranksters or that prat of a prefect.
“Charlie, what just happened?” Mariah asked, her eyes looking into his with confusion.
“Cor Mariah, He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named called him by his Dark Mark,” Charlie told her, watching as her expression changed from confusion to horror. His hand held hers tight as she made to walk from the room, pulling her back to his side.
“He shouldn't go-” Mariah exclaimed, turning from the doorway to look at Charlie.
“He has to... or all the work he's done the past twenty odd years for the Order will be lost,” he reminded her, his arm slipping around her shoulder. “The call hurts his followers by throbbing and burning until they arrive in his presence,” he explained to her further, and her eyes widened as she understood.
“I thought I had said something to anger him,” she murmured, her eyes lowered. Charlie reached one hand up to cup her chin lightly, tipping her head up to look at him. Their eyes met, and she sighed softly.
“I don't think much of anything you could do would anger him,” Charlie told her, “Aside of walking out that door alone and getting taken by Death Eaters,” he added, his hand caressing her jaw slowly. The feelings that had perked in him when they met began to make his heart pound as he gazed in her eyes, and he wondered if she knew the emotions she created in him each time they talked. “From what I was told, he smiled when you hexed him that first day,” he chuckled, and his thumb brushed against her cheek.
“I hated him then,” Mariah admitted, a slight blush washing over her cheeks. “But now, putting it all together,” her eyes looked down, her head slightly turning into his palm. “What I was told was true about him,” her eyes looked up into his, a shy smile upturning her lips. “We all make mistakes, don't we? He's tried to rectify them, and most will never know what he's done, will they?”
“Just let him know you've forgiven him,” Charlie told her, pulling her close as she took a step towards him. Holding her thus, he was at a loss for words now as he breathlessly looked at her. It was much easier for him to deal with dragons and their bursts of fire than to deal with the myriad of emotions that flowed through him at this moment. What had started for him as a comforting motion towards a friend had opened a floodgate, but he couldn't pull away.
“I will, I promise,” Mariah said, her hand touching his shoulder and the soft red hair that met the collar of his shirt. Their gaze held and Charlie's head lowered slowly as hers raised to meet his. Their lips touched softly, a gentle brush before he deepened it. Her hands went from around his shoulders to wind around his neck. A soft sigh escaped her as she returned the kiss, both forgetting everything but what was happening between them.
Draco's arm jerked violently, knocking the blanket that covered him and Hermione askew. He sat up and grabbed at the burning Mark. “Bloody hell,” he exclaimed as he moved his hand to look at it. The snake seemed to dance menacingly through the skull, the black outlining thickening as he stared at it in the pale light of the half-moon.
“Love?” Hermione said, rolling over to look at him as she rubbed her eyes. Seeing the pain etched into his eyes, she reached over only to have him jerk away. The times this happened had lessened since that first time, but tonight's call seemed all that more menacing to her in its intensity that had his face grimacing.
“He calls everyone to him tonight, just not his chosen few,” Draco replied through gritted teeth, his legs rolling off the bed. He grabbed up a pair of pants laying on the floor, and slipped them on before standing and turning back to look at Hermione. “Get Potter and Ginny, we need to talk to Severus before he leaves.”
Hermione ran a hand through the fringe that covered her forehead, and sighed before she got out of bed to grab the robe that hung off one of the bedposts. “We can't just go barging into his rooms, Draco. Why does this one seem so important?” she asked him, shrugging her arms into the sleeves as she talked. Wrapping the robe around her, she tied the belt.
“Something,” Draco mumbled out, his eyes narrowing beneath his brows while he shoved his feet into his trainers, “Look,” he held his arm out towards her, the Mark seemingly doing a macabre dance. “This usually only happens when you've ignored his call. My father did it once,” he shuddered at the memory, “He almost went mad by the time he left the manor. This is just a start to it.” His hand grasped the doorknob and turned it, “He's angry- and something is going to happen.”
Hermione's eyes had widened when she saw the angry Mark. “I'll get them,” she murmured, heading out the door and across the hall as he ran down the stairs.
Draco's steps were quick as he walked the narrow halls towards the lower section of Number 12, Grimmauld Place. The few candles that lit the dark hallway flickered as he hurried, finally arriving at the door Snape had commandeered as his own when he'd left Hogwarts after Dumbledore's death.
“Severus!” Draco called out as he knocked on the door with a sharp rap. The Mark still burned, and he closed his eyes briefly to block out the pain. Time seemed to tick slowly with his impatience, and he only could hope that the older wizard hadn't left yet.
Finally, the door swung open abruptly, Draco's hand raised to knock once more. “I haven't much time,” Snape said, his voice filled with irritation. “Come in while I ready myself,” he added, leaving the door wide open for Draco to follow in as he turned.
“Nice to see that you dressed before coming down here,” Severus smirked with a raised eyebrow at the jeans and untied trainers that Draco wore. He walked quickly to a cabinet and pulled it open. “No matter, I needed to see you anyhow,” he added while pulling a black robe and white mask from it. He dropped the garments on the writing table. “Potter should be here also, but there's no time to fetch him.”
“Hermione's bringing him now,” Draco informed Snape, his eyes turning to look at the still open door. This calling had raised an urgency in him that he still didn't understand. While the burning had calmed for the moment, small bursts of pain would erupt to make him realize the anger the Dark Lord was feeling.
“Fabulous,” Severus said with a snort, unfolding the long black robe and shaking it. “I'm still not sure where Lucius has placed the necklace for safekeeping.” The tails of the black robe swirled as he furled it out and around his shoulders before tucking his arms through the long sleeves. The cuffs hung loose around his wrists as he did up a few buttons.
“When will you find out?” Harry asked from the doorway, the two girls beside him. At Snape's nod, the three entered the small room.
“I'm hoping this visit will give me the answers,” Snape shoved the white mask in his pocket, and tucked his wand up his sleeve. “If it's on his person, it will take a devil of a plan to get him away from the Lestranges to get it off him,” he sighed and tugged at the cuffs before folding his arms across his chest. “I'm hoping he hid it away at the Manor- his amateurish wards will be easy to break through.”
Draco nodded his head, knowing the wards at the Malfoy Manor well. No matter his status, his blood signatures would get him inside anyhow. He knew the place like the back of his hand, and could lead the others past the dark traps set inside. “He'll have to be kept away while we go there,” he said with another nod of his head. The thought of going to his childhood home repugnant to him now.
“Potter,” Severus turned towards the other boy, “I want you to let go for a bit, and let Draco lead you through Malfoy Manor if it comes to that,” he raised his hand when Harry's mouth opened to speak, “Things you will see there will horrify you in some aspects- maybe,” He arched his brow, “You'll understand him better.”
Snape turned towards the door, but stopped as Harry spoke. “I planned on that, sir.” He looked back, his head nodding in understanding. His gaze landed on Hermione and Ginny, and his head tilted slightly in thought.
“It's best if only Potter and Draco actually go when the time comes. That is a suggestion,” Snape added, knowing more about the way the girls worked now than he had when they all had first arrived. Their looks back at him confirmed his suspicions, “The Manor is a dangerous place- avoid the dungeons.”
With that warning Snape left the room, the door closing quietly behind him. The four young wizards looked at each other, Draco shrugged his shoulders, and looked at the two girls. They were both stubbornly staring back at the boys, and Harry nodded to him.
“You don't really think you can leave us behind, do you?” Ginny asked first, her arms folding across her chest.
“I somehow doubt you'll allow that,” Harry said, a smile flitting across his face as he looked at his fiancée. He knew Snape offered up that warning because of his and Draco's feelings for the girls. It brought up a whole manner of questions about Malfoy Manor and Draco's childhood because of it.
“That's so right, love.” Ginny's arms unfolded and her finger poked into Harry's shoulder. He placed his arm over his shoulder and looked at the other two. His finger reached up to push his glasses back up his nose before quirking a brow at Hermione.
“I'm not getting left behind either,” Hermione replied to his questioning look, her eyes going to Draco. She had a few thoughts on what happened in that house while he was growing up, from just a few of the things he'd said- and not said.
Thanks for reading and patiently awaiting this update. Tell me what you think in that little box below. ~~juls