The Dark Mark seared its summons into the veins of those it called. Amycus and Alecto Carrow visibly winced, Alecto squeezing her left fist shut as if to block out the pain, turkey-stuffing falling from her gaping mouth as she gasped. Amycus glowered in annoyance, his meal being interrupted, as Severus stiffened at the head of the table. There would be three less at the Christmas luncheon in a few moments. Professor McGonagall’s head rose from her plate while Poppy and Professor Slughorn stopped their conversation to gaze at the trio. The few other teachers present paused whatever they were doing, furtively glancing toward the Headmaster. The chattering students were oblivious to the scene about to unfold, but I could feel the tension mount from the adults in attendance. Severus rose sharply pushing his chair back and folding his napkin neatly beside the half empty plate. The two minions followed suit, while everyone now looked on.
“Going somewhere?” Professor McGonagall tersely inquired, her eyes piercing, her lips tight.
Severus’ response was a glare that would have frosted the warmest heart. Jerking his head toward the others, he silently signalled that they proceed. Then, chancing a brief glance at me, he sent, This may take a while. Go to Colin’s, if you like.
My entire body became rigid in fear. Be careful, I returned.
The glasses clinked, and laughter rose above the crowded table. Extended family as well as several friends had joined Emily and Colin on this joyous occasion. The younger children were set in the archway between the dining room and the living room with a miniature version of the main table replicated to their delight. Party crackers and paper crowns had been broken open, and the meal was winding down. This was a true family Christmas, and Emily had outdone herself with the preparations. It was fabulous. Once pudding had been served, the children were dismissed to play while the adults leaned back, resting in their seats, some of the men loosening their belts, all of us laughing at the amount of food that we had consumed. Coffee was served, and the conversations began in clusters.
Colin shook his head. “Too bad Stavros couldn’t make it,” he aimed at me. “He seemed nice.”
I struggled not to snort at the comment. “Nice” was not a word usually associated with my husband. It was funny to think that Colin genuinely thought so.
“Regrettably, he had to work tonight,” I replied.
“Colin was quite impressed with him when he came back from…um…seeing you guys last,” Emily stumbled as she noticed others following the conversation. “What does he do anyway?”
My mind rapidly processed possible answers. I could say that he’s a teacher, but then why would he have to work on Christmas day? I could say that he’s Headmaster of a school, but the same questions would arise. “He’s a scientist,” I finally announced. Well, he is a Potions Master, I justified to myself. “His boss called this afternoon demanding his attention.”
“On Christmas?” one of the relatives chided. “How unfair. It couldn’t wait a day?”
“If he’s in the same business as Daniella, time is usually of the essence,” Colin pointed out with a grin. “Daniella tends to save lives.” He was beaming now. I gazed at him curiously, and he quickly winked in return.
As the men shifted from the dining room to the living room, the women began to clear the table. The kitchen was too small to hold everyone, so I persuaded Emily to shoo them out so that we could work more efficiently. Colin stepped into the doorway to see if he could lend a hand, and I had him stand guard as I swung my arm over Emily’s shoulders.
“My Christmas gift to you,” I grinned as I swept my hand cross the kitchen: dirty plates, pots, roasters and all. “Scourigify. Now, where does it all go?” I asked a wide-eyed friend. She pointed and instructed, and with a flick of a wrist and a point of a wand, the dishes were put away in less time than she could imagine.
Giving her shoulder a squeeze, she wiggled her fingers in the air and asked amusedly, “Can you teach me that?”
We bid Colin to turn around. “Wow!” he exclaimed. “I have a workroom that needs a bit of help. Care to have a look?” he laughed, gently pushing me down the hall and into a spare room. Emily nodded knowingly.
“It worked,” Colin could barely hold it in any longer as he shut the door. “It’s being called a “Christmas miracle”. It took a while, like you said,” he shook his head in disbelief. “but when Sara woke up early this morning, she walked out of her room and into the corridor. The attending nurse was flabbergasted and immediately called for the doctor on duty. Sara described a blue light and said that an angel had stroked her forehead and that she had fallen back to sleep. Her headaches are gone, and she’s responding in ways that she hasn’t in months. The doctor called me, and tests were run. The tumour is gone. Completely gone. Like it had never been there. Geez, Daniella. That’s incredible.” His grin beamed from ear to ear, his excitement overflowing.
I smiled, pleased that it had been successful. “As I said before, magic has its limitations. This was a combination of several things. We were lucky, but I’m so glad it worked.” I reached out to touch his arm.
“I know it took a lot out of you to do it, and I’m very grateful. Did it take you long to recover?” Colin asked with concern.
“Let’s just say, I got to stay in bed for a while and be pampered.” I wagged my eyebrows at my friend.
He laughed heartily and swung his arm over my shoulder, opening the door, and leading me back to the living room and the other guests.
The pendulum swung over the map that was laid out on the desk of the headmaster’s office, and we watched as it circled and pointed to yet another location. The Dark Lord had been furious with his loss of the Potter boy on Christmas Eve and had summoned all of his followers on Christmas Day, punishing several publicly for their lack of vigilance. There would be no more errors. Potter had been careless, and this time, he had been left injured and wandless. With this, he was pleased, but more would suffer if mistakes occurred again. Severus took mental note of the first location on the map, and we began the pendulum again with a second question. Again, it rocked, circled, and then pointed to a location on the other side of the map. We shook our heads. We would have to split up for this one.
Young Mr. Weasly had not returned home as we had suspected when he left his friends several weeks ago, but had gone to his brother Bill’s, near the village of Tinworth. I had been watching Arthur’s son for a few days, his irritation and impatience growing in leaps and bounds. He desperately wanted to find his friends, but because of their constant movement, he had been unsuccessful. It was time he got a little help.
Inside his ground floor room of the quaint, seaside cottage, young Weasley sat on the bed looking solemn and fidgeting with an object that appeared to be a small lighter. I secretly stood outside the small paned window, watching, having circumvented the Protective wards set on the house and grounds. Sending small empathic impulses that called his name, trying to draw his attention toward my direction, he finally responded. He stopped fidgeting, looking curiously at the object in his hand as if the sound came from it. Opening it and flicking the top, he brought it to his ear as if to listen. I snorted lightly and rolled my eyes. How had this boy lasted so long without injuring himself? I cast a blue ball of energy outside the window in a last ditch effort to get him to look my way, and as I did, he flicked the lid of the object again, and the room lights went out. Finally noticing the glow, he curiously shifted his gaze between the lighter and the light. His mind was so simple to read, and I chuckled at the coincidence. Follow me, I sent. I’ll take you where you want to go. The boy leapt to his feet, shoving all he could into his rucksack and pulling on his coat. Racing through the kitchen, he quickly bid his brother and sister-in-law “good bye” and ran into the garden. It’s about time, I thought to myself. Dodging around the corner of the shed and under cover of a Disillusionment Charm, I let the ball of energy hover in the yard, waiting for him to follow. When he rounded the corner of the small shack, I focused on the last known location of the Potter boy and Miss Granger, pushed the ball of light into the boy’s chest, sending him on his way. I followed to make sure that he’d be all right.
How this boy ever got on in life was beyond me! He bumbled through the woods, calling loudly, making such a racket that I’m surprised that he and his friends had managed to stay alive this long. However, Potter and the girl were nowhere to be found. Their protections were very strong, and it was possible that they had already have moved on. Young Weasley waited patiently, huddled on a nearby hill, staring at a spot that probably held their last camp. It was early evening, and the sun was just beginning to set. I could tell that this was a blow to the boy, and he didn’t know what to do next.
Quickly Apparating back to the castle, I raced to the Administration Tower and burst into Severus’ office. Severus sat behind his desk, hands folded across his stomach, staring into space, thinking. I startled him, and he grabbed for his wand.
“Bloody Merlin’s balls, woman! Don’t ever do that!” he spat as he resettled himself.
“Sorry, need to move fast,” I puffed, striding to the corner that held the rolled map. Bringing it to the desk, we unrolled it, and I held the pendulum above it. “Gracious Goddess, we’re so close. Where has Harry Potter gone?” I asked.
The pendulum swung and circled over a small forest in southern England. The area contained several lakes and ponds and was set up like a Muggle campground.
“Where is Ronald Weasley?” I asked again, and the stone swung to where I had left him. “Good,” I muttered. Turning to Severus, I instructed, “This is it. Young Weasley has been searching for his friends. We arrived too late to meet them today. They’ve moved again. Did you get the sword?” Severus nodded. “The boy has to find it himself, right?” My partner inclined his head again. “This is the perfect time and place, especially after what happened on Christmas Eve. This is where the Potter boy and Miss Granger are at the moment.” I pointed to a spot on the map. “It’s getting late. I seriously doubt they’ll move tonight unless they feel threatened.”
“I’ll go to them, hide the sword, and lure Potter to find it. You get Weasley and bring him there. I loathe to admit it, but they need each other, and we’re wasting far too much time. They’re stronger as a team. Try not to Apparate directly to my location when you bring Weasley. We don’t need him relaying how they got help.”
“I’m better than that,” I replied with irritation. “But I’ll have to use your empathic signal to locate you afterwards.”
I found young Weasley wandering the area where I had left him, feeling utterly hopeless, fingering the lighter once again. Well, if it worked once, I thought, and as he flicked the lid, and his eyes scrunched in concentration, I cast another ball of energy that floated to his chest. He looked at it with relief and dramatically spread his arms to the sides, his chin lifted in acceptance of the power. Once the ball made contact, I linked onto Severus and Apparated to the forest where the Potter boy was, careful not to land too close to my partner. Keeping the ball of energy focused, I led Weasley in the other direction, not too far, but far enough to let Severus do his part. I could tell that he was on the move. He must have been hiding the sword.
The darkness was thick. No stars shone in the black void to shed light for our eyes to adjust. Only the bluish ball of energy glowed, and young Weasley was getting tired of traipsing aimlessly after it.
Are you done yet? I impatiently sent to Severus.
There was a pause, and then a reply. Potter is following my Patronus. I’ve hidden the sword in the lake.
With that, I had my blue ball turn, and a white glow emerged to the right. Young Weasley saw it, recognized the shimmer, and bolted through the forest, blindly crashing through the trees until he reached the boundary. By this time, I had joined Severus at the base of two oak trees, and we watched as Weasley ran to the edge of the lake and dove into the frigid water. Severus’ forehead was creased with concern, a Doe Patronus grazed by the edge of the wood.
“Where’s Potter?” I asked, scanning the area.
“In the lake,” Severus hoarsely whispered. “He’s been down there far too long.”
Arthur’s son surfaced with a splash, his best friend supported by his arm, half naked and gasping as if being strangled. The redheaded boy hauled his friend to shore and ripped something from his neck, throwing it to the ground, then dove back into the icy lake. Emerging a second time, he held a gilded, gem-encrusted sword in his hand. The boys’ reunion was touching, but I could almost hear Severus’ teeth grind.
“That locket almost killed him,” he muttered. “It reacted to the sword. Gods, get on with it,” he whispered to himself as he watched the duo. “Pierce the Horcrux.”
The boys shivered and argued until Potter finally convinced Weasley to take the honour of destroying the artefact. After much taunting from imaginary images, Weasley finally sealed his courage and stabbed the locket.
Both Severus and I let out an auditable sigh of relief as the artefact screamed in its last moment, and it drew the attention on the boys. They cautiously headed in our direction, and it was with a quick motion that I grabbed Severus and Apparated us to the hill where I had landed with young Weasley. As we stood there, the boys sauntered into the clearing, and the Protective Shield around the hideout vanished. I was surprised to find that we had appeared in such close proximity to it. Hidden by the trees, Severus took hold of my arm, beginning to lead me away when we heard a shriek from the tent. We startled and stopped to listen. Miss Granger was raving mad, ranting furiously at the new arrival, and as dangerous as it was to stay, Severus changed course and pulled me a bit closer in order to eavesdrop. I think this was the first time in a long time that I had seen him truly amused. His lips pressed together withholding his laughter as we listened to Miss Granger’s wrath. It was going to take her quite some time to calm down. Finally touching Severus’ sleeve, drawing his attention, we eased back up the hill. As we prepared to Disapparate, I voiced one question that I could no longer hold back.
“A Doe Patronus?” I grinned. Something so delicate was not what I expected from such a harsh man.
Severus’ smile dropped, and he scowled, turning his head away.
“Sorry,” I apologized for ruining his good humour, “Gods, what was Potter thinking?” I continued. “Does he have the brains of a Bowtrickle? Being lured like that. It could have been anyone.”
“He trusted it. You’re an empath. Could you not feel his need to follow it?” Severus’ words were hard.
“I was focusing on the other boy. How did you know he’d follow your Patronus? He hates you. He doesn’t trust you. Why would he trust your Patronus?”
Severus kept his head turned, refusing to look me in the face. I stepped around him to force a confrontation. “Look at me,” I demanded. He lowered his eyes to mine, Occlumency in full force, his eyes deep, empty pools as dark as the night around us. “Do I have to force it out of you?”
Severus snorted derisively. “You’re talking to a man who has faced Crucio numerous times. I’m in league with the Dark Lord. You could not “force” anything from me.”
“And you’re talking to a woman who cared enough to create a potion to ease the pain of Crucio, who has stood by you when everyone else turned against you, even when you pushed me away.”
He lowered his head again and our eyes met, only this time a flash of green flickered behind his lids before he looked away. I inhaled sharply. The empathic impression was so intense: the loss, the pain, the guilt, Lily.
“Severus,” I reached gently to the edge of his cloak. “I’ve always known there was someone else. I’d be a fool to think you cared for no one but me, but it was something you buried deep within. It was painful, so I left it alone.”
“Then leave it alone now,” he replied venomously as he brushed me off and strode forward, Disapparating abruptly, leaving me standing alone in the darkness of the forest.
The days passed endlessly. Severus had barred his office and clearly avoided me. Students returned from holidays and were met with a foul-tempered, malicious Headmaster and new rules. No one was safe from his mood, and it filtered like a noxious gas through the corridors. I tried to concentrate on the new modifications of the potion, but had difficulty keeping my mind on track. Even the most recent trip to St. Mungo’s did little to lift my spirits. Things were strangely stagnant. I desperately wanted to speak with Severus, but he had locked me out, both physically and mentally. Stark had flown to his chambers and was reluctantly admitted; relaying back to me later how much turmoil his Master seemed to be in. I suggested that Stark stay with him for as long as he was needed. He seemed to calm Severus once before, and I hoped that it would work again. There was something unbearable that Severus obviously couldn’t face, or couldn’t admit to me.
The sound of shattering glass didn’t have the appeal that I thought it would, but the liquid that had splattered on the far wall left an interesting pattern that looked rather like a large bat in flight, until, of course, it started to ooze down the stone and onto the floor. I sighed, casting Scourgify and Reparo, levitating the beaker back into my hand.
“Bad mood,” the voice startled me, and I spun to meet the intruder.
“I didn’t hear you come in,” I sputtered.
“Obviously,” a depraved grin spread across the twisted face.
“This lab is off limits to staff. How did you get past the wards?” I asked, cautiously stepping backward toward my chamber door, instinctively, silently, casting Protego over the workstation and myself.
“What wards? None were set.” The menace leered and stepped closer.
Had I forgotten? “Is there something you want?” I eased back, openly showing that my hands were empty.
The left side of his mouth sneered, and an evil glint shone in his eyes. He rubbed his crotch and leisurely drew his wand. “Nothin’ a little Imperio can’t satisfy. I see you’ve got no wand. Foolish. ‘specially knowin’ who’s in this castle.”
As he raised the wand to cast, my projective hand flashed forward. “Expelliarmus”, and the wooden rod sailed across the room, sending the antagonist stumbling backward. “Get out!” I demanded ferociously as the unarmed man clumsily lunged in my direction. “Tarantallegra,” I called, dodging the dancing legs and summoning his wand.
“Wandless. Should ‘ave remembered the way you knock Snape on ‘is arse,” he cursed himself. “You’ll regret this, missy,” he awkwardly moved toward the door, skirting the heavy worktable. “My wand,” he obstinately held his hand out.
“You must be joking?” I snorted, keeping the weapon in firm grip. “Finite Incantatem,” was mercifully cast to stop the ridiculous Charleston. “I suggest you leave Mr. Carrow.”
Before I could react, he flew across the room, rebounding off my shield, and stumbling backward. I fell hard against the wall, winded and surprised, dropping the wand that he silently retrieved. Spinning to the right to avoid Impedimenta, I ducked behind my experiment. Strengthening my shield, I rose to the fight. “Stupify” missed its mark as Carrow ducked behind a storage cupboard casting Relashio in return. My notebook on the workstation caught fire with the spell, and I jumped to extinguish the flames. My research! Imperio harmlessly bounced off my shield as I angrily cast “Respingere”, violently pushing the attacker away from my work. As he raised his wand to cast again, the lab door crashed open, and Carrow was sent flying with an unspoken spell. My head shot up to view a fuming Severus in the archway, his curtain of black, greasy hair obscuring his eyes, his wand raised in my defence. In three paces, he had Carrow pinned to the wall, his strong arm across his throat.
“You’ve been warned,” Severus seethed into the man’s gnarled face. With a hard shove to emphasis his point, Carrow cracked his head against the wall and slid to the floor. Severus summoned Carrow’s wand from my hand, tossed it to the dazed man as he rose, ordering him out of the lab. Carrow’s head dropped as he scurried past he Headmaster. The lab door closed, and I could feel the wards instantly cast and secure. Severus stood with his back to me, breathing heavily, his fists clenching and unclenching.
“How did you know?” I quietly asked.
A slight shiver could be seen ride across his shoulders as he straightened and turned. He flipped the hair from his face and pointed to his heart. “I felt it. Here.” He gazed at me intently. “Like in Tuscany, when our home was attacked.” I could see him swallow hard. We were silent for a moment, watching each other. “The Patronus was Lily’s,” he finally uttered. “She was my best friend. I loved her deeply, but that love was never reciprocated, not in the way that I would have liked. And in the end, I destroyed that friendship with my …association with those she disapproved of. When we met, in sixth year, Lily and I had had a falling out. I was cold and foolish, letting others dictate my actions and behaviour.” He snorted. “ I guess it was to become a pattern. But, I never stopped caring for her. Even now, she’s a part of me.” He shook his head. “There is much you don’t know. You were here for such a short time. Albus saw what was happening and tried to entice me to his side, but I was already in with Malfoy and his crew. I tried to play both sides. Albus had every right to mistrust me. I did things. Things I can’t change. Things that will haunt me until the day I die.” His shoulders began to slump, and his eyes drifted down. “Lily is dead because of me, because of my recklessness. Albus had a plan, but I didn’t follow it. I tried to save her, but…” he couldn’t continue. I didn’t know what to do. My heart wrenched to the point where it hurt. I knew the depth of emotion required to reproduce or adopt someone else’s Patronus. Drawing my fist to my chest as Severus did the same, the dual thump reverberated off the walls of the small lab. He looked up, the sound drawing his attention. He knew what that sound meant. It was something he hadn’t shared with her. Tentatively, taking a step closer, I crossed the imaginary line that separated us and drew my husband into a compassionate hug. His arms wrapped around me in crushing force, clinging for dear life as his nose burrowed into the crook of my neck. “I love you, Daniella. Never doubt that. We have a bond that I cherish and would die to protect, but she was…” he stopped, the words choking in his throat.
“Your first love,” I finished sympathetically, and although there was a profound ache in my heart, I whispered soothingly, “It’s all right. I understand.”
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