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Return to Prince Manor by Snapegirl
Chapter 40 : Sirius Misconceptions
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 12


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"What do you two do for fun around here anyhow?" asked Dudley after Harry and Draco had shown him about the orchard and pointed out the fae merlinna trees, though the fruit was not blossoming at this time, and led him to the lake as well.

"Draco fishes in the lake," Harry answered.

"Oh. Catch anything edible?" asked the other. Though he was no longer obese, Dudley still liked to eat and enjoyed food of whatever kind.

"Yes. There are trout and bass in there," Draco replied. "Usually we fry them for dinner."

Dudley licked his lips. "Sounds good. What else do you do?"

"We play Quidditch," Harry answered.

Dudley's brow wrinkled. "Quidditch?" Before Harry could explain, he exclaimed, "Oh, right! That's the magical sport Siri told me about. The one where you fly on brooms and score into a goal like you do football, right? Or maybe it's more like basketball."

"Actually, it's a lot more complicated than those sports," Harry began.

"It's also better than any Muggle sport ever invented," Draco stated haughtily.

Dudley bristled. "Hey, just because you magic people think you're better than normal people—"

"What are you saying, Muggle? That I'm not normal?" Draco snapped, his gray eyes glittering. "You're the one who's not normal by my lights—"

Dudley glowered right back at him, a pugnacious expression upon his face. "Where I come from, we call people like you weirdoes and freaks."

Harry grabbed Draco's arm before he could do something rash, like draw his wand or slug Dudley in the mouth. He glared at his cousin angrily. "Dudley, stop it! And you too, Draco! Comparing Quidditch to any Muggle sport is like trying to compare merlinnas and oranges. There is no comparison. They're two totally different things. It's stupid to quarrel over them. What are you, primary school babies?"

He had wanted them to realize how juvenile they sounded, and when they both scowled at him, he realized he had also done one other thing—gotten them angry at him instead of each other.

"Who died and made you King of England, Harry?" his cousin snapped.

"Yeah, last time I looked, your name wasn't Severus Snape, lord of Prince Manor," Draco reminded him icily.

Harry didn't back down. He stared at his cousin and his brother in disapproval, his arms crossed over his chest, reminiscent of his father. "I'm the Heir to Prince Manor—"

Draco snorted, rolling his eyes. "Well, la-de-da!"

Dudley chortled. "I can remember when you were prince of Nothing, Harry, and your kingdom was the cupboard under the stairs and your subjects were mops and brooms and toilet bowls."

Harry stiffened, his hands clenching into fists. He hated being reminded of those days.

To his surprise, Draco came to his defense. "Real funny, Dursley. I wouldn't be too proud of the way you and your family treated my brother. I thought there was a law banning slavery in the United Kingdom."

"Shut up, you smart-arsed toff! I heard lots about you and your family, Malfoy! Like how your dad and mum were criminals and ended up in jail for life! And Siri told me all about how you were a big git to Harry at school, made fun of him and cast curses on him, so who are you to talk, huh?"

"I am nothing like my parents, you bleeding prig!" snarled Draco. "Severus Snape is my father now, and he was never a Death Eater, and neither was I! You don't know a damn thing, you Muggle clot! At least I never pushed my cousin down the stairs or sniggered while my father beat him over something you broke!"

"You lied and got him in trouble at school though!" Dudley cried. "So don't act so bleeding innocent, you sodding twit!"

"SHUT UP!" Harry bellowed, furious at the both of them. "You both were arseholes to me, okay? You want to keep on fighting over who was the bigger one, go right ahead! But I'm not going to stand here listening to it." With that, he turned on his heel and stalked away. He couldn't believe they had the nerve, not to mention the insensitivity, to bring up his former life that way. That was not something he wished to think about any longer, he wanted to put the past away and start anew, but both Dudley and Draco had now made that impossible.

"Stupid bollocks-licking turds, the pair of them!" he swore roundly as he stomped away towards the forest, where various wild animals, including the runespoor lived. "I should have hexed their tongues still." He was so angry at them he was practically breathing fire. Suddenly he wished he had never written that letter to Petunia. He and Draco had bee n getting along fine until Dudley showed up. I thought he'd changed—ha! I'm such a dolt! He's still the same old Dudley, only difference is he knows more about wizards and magic now. Harry was also angry at his godfather, for telling Dudley about how Draco and Harry used to be rivals. Why in Merlin's name had Sirius gone and told him that? It was none of Dudley's business what Draco had done. That was between Harry and his brother. Another one who can't keep his yap shut! Dad was right, a dog barks loudest over another dog. He wasn't exactly sure what that meant, but he thought it had something to do with Sirius being unable to keep a secret.

His temper was still simmering, and he decided to take a long walk to cool off, because the last thing he needed was to punch his brother or cousin out. That would only end up with him getting the rough edge of his father's tongue and possibly a good smack with Snape's wooden spoon as well.

:Harry, is something wrong? You seem upset. What has happened?: Smidgen's mindvoice interrupted his brooding. :Have you and Draco been quarreling again?:

Harry turned and found the shimmerling hovering in the air. But the fae cat couldn't do so forlong, her wing was too damaged, and she landed gracefully upon his shoulder. "Hi, Smidgen." He gently stroked her with a fingertip. "My brother and my cousin were acting like gits. They made me really angry, so I left before I did something I'd regret. You know how my dad is about fist fights and dueling."

:A wise decision, Harry. Your father would be proud of you for thinking before you acted.: the shimmerling praised.

Harry permitted himself a small smile. "Yeah, well, after what he did to me over the leprechaun and the green beer**, I've learned not to be so impulsive. Merlin, have I learned that!" He continued walking, Smidgen perched upon his shoulder. "Have you seen Dudley yet, Smidgen? Or my Aunt Petunia and my godfather . . .though I guess he's my uncle now too . . .Sirius Black?"

The shimmerling purred an affirmative. :I have. One could hardly miss them.:

"Are you going to let them see you?"

The dreamweaver slitted her violet eyes and sent, :Perhaps. It depends. Shall I go and see what your brother and cousin are up to?:

"Would you mind?"

:Not at all.:

Then she blinked from his shoulder, returning to where Dudley and Draco were still standing beside the pond, each one blaming the other for Harry leaving.

Smidgen sniffed, then sat down upon a low-hanging branch and sent to Draco, :It was both your fault, now stop quibbling and go and apologize. Boys! Any excuse to quarrel and you'll keep right on arguing till the sun falls out of the sky.:

Draco halted in mid-insult. Smidgen! You've spoken with Harry? Where is he?

"Walking off his temper near the forest verge. He is very upset with you both. It was very insensitive to bring up his past that way.:

Oh. Thanks, Smidgen. I guess we'd better catch up to him and tell him we're sorry. Or at least I am. Draco admitted, feeling ashamed of how he had upset his brother over a stupid disagreement of Muggle versus wizard sports. He bit his lip and turned to Dudley. "Look, Dursley. I don't really like you much, and I'm sure you don't like me either, but we need to go and apologize to Harry. We acted like insensitive gits and hurt him. What do you say? Truce?" He held out his hand.

Dudley hesitated, then took Draco's hand. "Truce. Do you know where Harry went?"

"Yes. Up by the forest." Draco replied calmly.

So the two went to where Harry waited and they both apologized for their hasty and nasty words. Dudley even went so far to tell Harry that he was sorry for what Uncle Vernon had done to his nephew. "Dad was unfair in a lot of ways to you, Harry. Especially in the way he treated you and me. Sirius says it turned me into a spoiled brat. But I . . .I don't want to be like that anymore. I'm sorry. Dad never should have—"

"—Don't, Dudley. I don't want to talk about it."

"Okay. Then we won't." Dudley looked about him. "So . . .what kinds of animals do you have around here? Any magical ones? Anything dangerous?"

Harry and Draco exchanged glances. Should they tell Dudley about the runespoor?

In spite of his tactlessness, Harry almost felt sorry for his cousin. He knew the other boy must feel sort of out of place in a household full of wizards, rather the same way Harry had felt out of place at the Dursleys. Harry supposed he shouldn't feel that way, considering all the misery Dudley had caused him over the years, but the fact was he didn't want to treat Dudley like a pariah, even if the other boy might deserve it. He wanted to try and have peace in his family, even if it meant being nice to Dudley.

So Harry said, "There's a whopping big snake that lives in the forest. It has three heads and it's venomous, like a viper."

"How big is it?" Dudley asked, looking slightly fearful. "As big as that python you set free at the zoo that time?"

"Bigger," Harry said. "And all three heads are intelligent and they can talk."

"For real? They can talk?" Dudley's mouth hung open.

"Harry means they can talk Parseltongue, not English," Draco clarified. "Which only he understands. Anyone else just hears a snake hissing."

"Oh." Dudley stared at Harry as if he had suddenly grown an extra head. "How come only you can talk to snakes?"

Harry shrugged. "I don't know. I just can. It's a rare ability."

"When you talked to the snake, what did it say?"

"A lot of things. It's called a runespoor and it was unhappy staying where it was. So I offered it a home and it took it. I haven't seen it though since I brought it here," Harry mused. "I wonder how it's doing?"

"Can I have a look at it? Just a peek?"

"Runespoors are dangerous," Draco said.

"Only if you hurt them," Harry argued. "They don't attack without reason."

Draco looked skeptical.

"I can take you to see it," Harry said obligingly. "But you have to do exactly as I say. You have to be still and quiet and don't frighten it."

"Me, frighten the snake?" his cousin squeaked. "Shouldn't that be the other way around?"

"Just don't scream or shout and you'll be fine. The runespoor won't even approach you," Harry soothed. Then he started off into the woods.

Draco ran to catch up to him. "Harry, are you sure this is a good idea? Because I don't. Runespoors usually don't care for anyone other than a wizard Parselmouth."

"I'll make sure Dudley stays away from it, don't worry. And we'll both be there, so what can go wrong?"

"You don't really want an answer to that question, do you?" His brother hissed before allowing Harry to lead the way. "How do you know where to go?"

"I just do," Harry answered. He was unsure whether it was the link to the land as the Heir Apparent that allowed him to feel where the runespoor was, but feel it he did, in the back of his mind. The snake was like a glowing presence and as he grew nearer, the presence increased, like a game of hot and cold.

Soon they were deep among the trees and Harry led them off to the left, where a small stream crossed their path and the trail was twisting up and down and back. Once they had crossed the stream and followed the three twist backs up into a small hill where several rocks had fallen to make a kind of cave, Harry halted. He could feel the snake was within the rocky cave.

He motioned for Dudley and Draco to stay where they were. "The snake is inside there. Be still and quiet and I'll see if I can get him to come out."

Draco and Dudley both froze. Harry stepped away till he was about five feet from the entrance and hissed in Parseltongue, "Azella, Ashterith, Azeal, come out please! It's me, Harry Snape, the Speaker."

There came a long low hiss from inside the cave. "A moment, young S-speaker. We have s-s-omething to s-show you."

Harry could hear the soft rasp of scales against rock and dirt as the runespoor moved about. He wondered what it had to show him. A shed skin? Some kind of rock? He didn't think runespoors collected treasure like dragons. But he could be wrong.

Slowly, the runespoor emerged, Azeal's head was leading, while Azella was curled about a scintillating gold and crimson egg. The egg was so brightly colored that when the sun struck it, it appeared to burst into flames. Ashterith was also hovering about the egg, hissing in warning when he caught sight of Harry's companions, venom dripping from each fang.

"Who have you brought to s-s-see us-s-s this time?" hissed Ashterith.

"Ashterith, this is my cousin, Dudley."

All three heads examined the slightly quivering Dudley with interest.

Then Ashterith sniffed and spat, "Humph! He stinks of fear-scent."

"Look, S-s-peaker, at the egg we have produced!" crooned Azeal, justifiably proud of himself. "Azella keeps it warm with her body during the day and then we bury it in the warm earth in the cave while we hunt at night."

"Is it not beautiful?" Azella asked, curling her neck about the gleaming egg, which was about the size of a small cantaloupe. "S-s-soon I shall lay another and then we s-s-shall be the only runespoor to lay two eggs in the same clutch."

"That's great, Azella. I'm happy for you." Harry said sincerely.

"Uh, can you translate now, Harry?" Draco asked plaintively.

"Oh, right." He quickly told them what the runespoor had said, all except for the part about Dudley stinking of fear.

"How long before the second egg hatches?" Dudley asked, his eyes glued to the egg wrapped in Azella's coils. He wanted that egg the way he wanted nothing else.

Harry turned back and asked the runespoor.

"In two days-s-s." Ashterith replied. He rubbed his head lovingly over the egg held by Azella. "We s-s-shall hunt long tonight, to give Azella s-s-trength to birth the s-s-second s-s-snakeling."

"How are you settling in here?" Harry asked.

The runespoor assured him that it loved the cave and also the plentiful supply of game to hunt. "There is s-s-o much that we all can eat what we like best."Azeal said.

"This-s-s is a good place," Azella said.

"Unless loud s-s-melly humans come by," Ashterith stated tartly.

Harry took the hint and said goodbye to the volatile snake and beckoned to his brother and cousin to come away and leave the snake alone for now.

"Come back, S-speaker and s-s-ee us again when the s-s-snakelings have hatched," invited Azella.

"Thanks!" Harry called. He wondered how long it took a runespoor egg to hatch.

Dudley kept glancing behind him as they made their way back through the woods. The egg was so beautiful, like a crown jewel. It's no fair! Harry gets to have all the cool pets and I don't have anything! I want that snake egg! I want a runespoor for a pet.

HSSSHSSS

Severus had spent the better part of an hour showing Petunia and Sirius his home. They were suitably impressed at the size and the elegance of some of the rooms. But Sirius grew curious when he saw the room where Severus and the boys practiced their kin-sa-dor. "You're teaching Harry and Draco unarmed combat? Why? They're just kids, what do they need to learn that for?"

Severus rolled his eyes. "Up until the end of the term, Harry had a homicidal maniac out for his blood and Draco had Housemates who would have cheerfully hexed or pummeled him into a grease spot. That would be reason enough for me to teach them self defense. But my main reason was so they could learn self-discipline and control over their emotions and magic. Kin-sa-dor teaches that very well, and also gives them an edge should they ever be disarmed or lose their wands in combat. Neither of my sons will ever be a victim because they're wandless." Like I was at school, Black. Severus added silently. He might have agreed to tolerate the other for Harry's sake, but he would never forget.

"Oh. I guess that makes sense. Where did you learn it? When you were in school, you never knew anything like that."

"I had a half-fae instructor once I turned seventeen and came to live here with my grandfather. You ought to thank your lucky stars I never knew kin-sa-dor in school. Otherwise you and Potter would have been mighty sorry."

Sirius actually had the audacity to laugh. "Oh, come on, Severus! You never could have taken us! Not even if you knew whatever it's called. We were bigger and stronger."

"And you fought unfairly," Severus reminded him sharply. "Hexing me from behind was not sporting."

"I never did that!"

"No? That day at the lake after OWLS? I seem to remember you attacking me with a wand when my back was turned, dealing with Potter."

Sirius blushed. "Okay . . .but it was the only time."

Severus snorted. "You have selective memory. Kin-sa-dor was designed for a smaller opponent to defeat a larger one, just so you know."

Sirius seemed amused. "So you say."

"So I know." Severus countered. "Care to test me?"

"Umm . . ." Sirius looked back at Petunia, who was rolling her eyes.

"Men!" she sniffed. "You'll never be satisfied till you have a go at each other. Well, what are you waiting for, Siri? Settle it once and for all."

"That's real encouraging, dear."

"Humph! You get any more encouragement and you'll be building yourself a monument." His wife stated tartly. She loved him dearly, but sometimes her husband needed taking down a peg. Plus she sensed that the rivalry between the two had been long in the making and maybe a sparring session would stamp it out for good.

"I love you too, Tuney," drawled Sirius, then he asked, "You going to watch?"

"No thanks. Two men pounding each other holds no appeal," she said dryly. "I'm going to go and read a book on the porch. Have fun, dear. Severus, don't damage him permanently." With that, she sailed out of the salle.

"Don't damage him permanently!" Sirius sputtered indignantly. "What does she think I am, some kind of milksop?"

Severus allowed himself a slight smirk. "She saw what I did to her late husband, the fat hog. Thrashed him till he howled, the brute."

"Oh, yeah? Well, I'm not Vernon Dursley, Snape!" Sirius stated, his dark eyes flashing. "I might not remember everything I was taught in the Academy, but I'll bet you ten Galleons I can still whip you."

"Only in your dreams, Black." He reached the edge of the mat and removed his boots.

Sirius eyed him askance. "What's with no shoes?"

"It's a safety procedure. So I don't cripple you," answered the master spy.

Sirius started to laugh. "Snape . . .you can't fool me . . .this is all an act, right? You can't really think you can beat me?"

"Take off your shoes, Black, and then meet me in the center. No magic, just plain sparring." Severus walked over into the center of the mats and waited.

"Be prepared to get knocked on your sorry arse, Snape!" Sirius blustered, then he closed with the other, fast and hard. He swung a roundhouse at Severus which should have broken his nose, but the Potions Master had melted away like a shadow and Sirius' fist connected with empty air.

Severus popped up right behind the other and swept a foot into Sirius' side, knocking him sideways. "You were saying, Black?"

Sirius scrambled to his feet. "How did you do that? You were . . .I didn't even see you move!"

"That is called the art of being a shadow. Come at me, Black."

Sirius charged, swinging two haymakers. He was sure he was going to get the smug Slytherin now. In school, Snape had never been much of a fighter.

But once more, Severus anticipated the move and stepped aside. As Sirius went by, he calmly reached out and flipped the Animagus over his shoulder. Sirius landed hard on the mats, gasping. "Again! What potion are you using?"

"Nothing. Save skill honed over years of practice. I did warn you, Black. I'm no longer the scrawny boy you teased." Severus said, his tone sharp.

Sirius rubbed his backside, grimacing. "You sure you're not using magic?"

Severus sneered. "I said no. I don't need magic to spar with you." Then he launched a high kick that Sirius deflected.

Around and around they went, and Sirius was starting to have a better respect for his opponent's skill, and his lethal swiftness. The former Auror was dripping with sweat and wondering how he could be so out of shape compared to his old rival, who in contrast barely had sweat beading on his forehead. He dodged a right cross, only to realize it was a feint and found himself flat on the ground, the wind knocked out of him. Dammit, but now I'm glad Tuney didn't stay. He's beating the spit out of me, the greasy git! Sirius thought resentfully. And the worst part was how easily the other was doing so, it was as if he weren't even trying.

Frustrated, Sirius began attacking even more wildly, determined to wipe the smirk off Snape's face (even though he wasn't smirking). But the angrier he became, the easier it was for Severus to 'read' him and counter every move. "You're cheating! You know what I'm going to do before I do it!" He panted after being knocked down for the fourth—or was it fifth?—time.

Severus glided back to a ready position, saying calmly, "Black, didn't your instructors ever teach you to control yourself? You're telegraphing every move you make to me because you're letting your temper rule you. Stop doing it and maybe you won't find yourself on the floor so much. I have no need to cheat, you're fighting like a sixteen-year-old. I studied under a master of the art every day since leaving school, do you not understand?"

"I don't need a lecture from you, Snivellus!" cried Sirius.

Snape's eyes narrowed. "Careful, brother-in-law. Don't forget, this is my house, and insulting me is the best way for you to get your arse kicked out of it." He dodged nimbly Sirius' kick to his knee.

Sirius lunged at him, tackling him to the mat. At last he had the slippery Slytherin down!

But Snape was not minded to stay there, and unlike when they were boys, Severus was both taller and stronger and not ready to concede a victory just yet. He brought up his knees and kicked out.

"Oof!" Sirius found himself flying through the air, to land on his back some three feet away.

Severus pounced, pinning the other to the mat and giving him a smart cuff to the back of the head. "Match, I believe. Your temper, Black, did half my work for me."

"Let me up!" growled Sirius.

Severus released him and began walking about the room to cool off. Sirius had managed to get in a few good ones and he knew he'd feel them tomorrow. He glanced sidelong at his former rival and noted the other sulkily copying him. Severus concealed a smirk. You're regressing, Black, back to sixteen. You remind me of my sons. I warned you and you didn't listen. He halted at the edge of the mat to pull on his boots. "You might want to take a hot shower so you don't stiffen," he said offhandedly.

Sirius made a noise like a grunt. He was still feeling humiliated at how easily Snape had defeated him. But then he asked, "Can you teach me that technique you were using?"

"No. Kin-sa-dor can only be taught to those with fae blood, and you lack it."

"Huh? But that's ridiculous!"

Severus shrugged. "Those are the terms the fae set. Only those with blood ties to the Other World may learn the art. Every student swears an oath when they begin training and I cannot break that."

"But we're related!"

"Through a common wizard ancestor, not a fae one."

"Who cares?"

"They do. I will not be foresworn, Sirius."

Sirius flushed, mopping sweat from his brow. "You just want to get back at me for all the times James and I pranked you."

Severus snorted loudly. "If I wanted that, you'd still be on the mat, getting the spit knocked out of you. Just for the werewolf incident alone."

"You'll never let me forget that, will you?" Sirius said resentfully.

Severus' eyes flashed. "Forget how you nearly got me killed? No. Your so-called prank could have resulted in my death and that isn't something that should be forgotten, Black!"

"James saved your hide, and nothing happened to you."

"And that makes it acceptable? Intent matters as much as results, and you deliberately put me in danger, both of you! Quit making excuses. Albus might have bought it, but not me. You planned for me to get bit."

"To teach you a lesson about following us around! We never meant it to go that far. You should have minded your own business!"

"Ah, so it's all my fault, right? Why didn't you mind yours, Black, and leave Lupin in the Shack?"

"They had him chained like an animal."

"For his own protection. Dumbledore knew what a werewolf was capable of. And what would happen if Lupin ever bit someone."

"Remus would have never—"

"Idiot! Do you not understand a werewolf's nature? They are never sated and always a predator. They cannot control what they are, not without the Wolfsbane. And Lupin had none back then."

"You don't know what you're talking about. After he hunted he was fine!"

"You played with fire and you're lucky you never got burned. Don't blame me for your stupidity." Severus turned on his heel. "And never call me Snivellus, Black." Then he strode out of the salle.

Sirius glared after him. So much for bygones.

HSSSHSSS

If the boys noticed the tension between the two men, no one said anything during supper. Petunia could feel it and see it in her husband's eyes, she wondered what old quarrel had been reopened now. Sirius had a faintly guilty look in his eyes that she knew meant he had done something wrong. Severus was cooly polite, with none of the warmth he had shown earlier. Petunia sighed. Whatever the quarrel was, it should be mended by now. Or perhaps they needed a good smack with her skillet to knock some sense into their heads. Men!

Dudley told Sirius and Petunia about the runespoor. Petunia shuddered and Sirius looked impressed.

"How did you get a runespoor, Harry?" asked his godfather.

So Harry spent supper and beyond filling his relatives in on the tournament.

Dudley listened with half an ear, his mind was on the runespoor and the covetous egg it had. He imagined himself watching the egg hatch and playing with the baby snake. He smiled to himself. Then he began plotting on how to get the egg. The runespoor would never miss it, he had another one.

Later that night:

Dudley half-ran through the woods, clutching the precious egg to him beneath his shirt. It had taken forever for the adults to go to sleep, but at last they had and he was free to slip out of the manor, armed with a Muggle torch and a magical compass Sirius had given him for a Christmas present, and make his way back to the runespoor's lair. It had felt like longer than fifteen minutes in the dark, but he had finally reached the cave.

He had carefully shone the torch into the cave and then cautiously crept up and looked inside. The egg had been half-buried in some soft sandy loam and there was no sign of the runespoor. What luck! The snake was out hunting. So he quickly snatched the egg and now he was making for the manor at top speed. He planned to hide the egg inside the big closet in the room he'd been given.

He broke out of the trees and raced across the lawn, the egg feeling warm and heavy against his stomach. Almost there. He could see the dark shape of the house drawing nearer and nearer.

He was so focused upon his goal that he never even noticed the shadow slithering behind him, not until he heard a deadly hiss.

"Thief!"

Dudley started to turn, to drop the egg, his face frozen in horror, as the enraged runespoor struck, sinking its fangs into Dudley's leg. Dudley gave a strangled cry and collapsed, Ashterith's bite causing his throat to swell shut and his face turn purple in two minutes.

HSSSHSSS

Draco pointed triumphantly to Dudley's empty bed. "See? He's gone. I knew he was up to something!"

Harry frowned. "Where would he go in the middle of the night?"

"Maybe down to the kitchens to stuff his face?" Draco surmised.

Just then Harry felt his amulet scorch his chest. "Ahhh!" he hissed, and pulled it out from under his pajama top. "Draco, get Dad!"

"Huh? Why?"

"Just do it. Something's happened to Dudley. My amulet . . ."

:Hurry! Your foolish cousin has been bitten by a runespoor!: Smidgen sent frantically. :He tried to steal the egg and now he pays the price. Harry, he's on the lawn, come quickly!:

Harry raced outside, following both his amulet's and Smidgen's directions. Dudley was lying on the ground, the torch he'd used illuminating the ground, as he thrashed and gasped for air.

Harry heard the runespoor hiss and saw it dart over to the egg lying upon the ground and pick it up. "I'm sorry!" he called in Parseltongue before kneeling next to Dudley and examining his cousin.

Dudley's leg was swollen grotesquely and red and purple streaks radiated from his calf upwards. "Merlin have mercy!" Harry knew basic treatments for snake bite, but this was worse than he feared. He didn't know that runespoor venom worked so quickly.

He Summoned a sharp knife from the potions lab and prepared to cut into Dudley's leg to release some of the toxin when Severus Apparated onto the lawn, holding two vials of anti-venom and a large syringe.

"Dad! He was bit on the leg, I was just going to—"

"No time for that, Harry! Move out of my way, son." Snape ordered, unstoppering the vial and shoving the syringe in it.

Draco had gone and woken Petunia and Sirius as well, figuring if Dudley were going to die, they should at least be able to say goodbye. Based on what he had heard Smidgen say, he surmised that Harry's cousin wasn't long for this world. Runespoor venom was extremely potent.

Petunia and Sirius Apparated outside onto the lawn in their nightclothes. Petunia shrieked when she saw Dudley's bloated purple face. "My baby! My baby! Save him, please, Sev! My baby!" She wrenched herself from Sirius' arms and flung herself down across Dudley, sobbing hysterically.

"Petunia, move!" Severus shouted. "Sirius, get her off!"

Sirius, who had been standing there, shellshocked, went to Petunia and hauled her off Dudley. "Tuney, it's going to be okay. Once we get the anti-venom in him . . ."

"Siri, he's purple!" she wailed. "Purple!"

"Shhh . . .it'll be okay, Tuney. Severus will fix it." Sirius just continued talking to her, trying to relieve her terror.

"Harry, pull up his shirt," Severus snapped.

Harry was puzzled, but did as he was told. He glanced up and saw his aunt clinging to her husband and Draco standing a little ways away, his eyes wide.

Severus quickly knelt beside the gasping Dudley and plunged the large needle into the boy's chest, injecting the anti-venom in one quick shot. Dudley moaned and cried out.

Petunia screamed. "Snape, what are you doing? Are you mad! What are you doing to my poor boy!" She tried to wriggle out of Sirius' grasp, but he held her firmly.

Severus looked up and said, "Tuney, calm down. I'm saving his life. If the toxin reaches his heart, he's dead. So I injected the anti-venom straight into the tissues surrounding it, it's quicker that way and it'll prevent the toxin from getting to his heart. Now stop getting hysterical." He snapped his fingers and a vial of Calming Draught appeared. "Here, Sirius. Give her this, it should keep her nerves under control."

Harry gazed at his cousin and saw that Dudley's face seemed less swollen and the purple color was changing to a lavender shade. "Dad, look! It's working!"

Severus turned back to his patient and sighed in relief. He had been afraid he was too late, but it appeared he had neutralized the venom in time. Dudley's face was gradually regaining its normal proportions and his breathing was easier as his throat and bronchial passages opened up again. Soon he was drawing deep breaths and Severus tilted his head up and administered a second dose of the anti-venom, orally this time.

The lavender shade faded from Dudley's cheeks and he started to regain a more normal skin tone, though there were purplish black patches on his face that looked like bruises.

Petunia, after being coaxed into swallowing the potion, was now able to stop going spare and after a moment, she said, "He is going to be all right, isn't he, Severus?"

Snape nodded wearily. "Yes. His breathing and heart rate are back to normal," he ran a quick diagnostic. "The anti-venom will counteract the toxin in his blood."

"Then why is he still . . .knocked out?" sniffled the anxious mother.

"Petunia, that was a hell of a shock to his system, so I'm not surprised he's still out," Severus answered. "He'll probably be out the whole night. Why don't we take him into the den and put him to sleep on the couch?" Suiting action to words, he lifted the comatose Dudley into his arms and carried him into the den, where he made the boy comfortable on the sofa with plenty of blankets with a Warming Charm cast on them so he wouldn't get chilled.

"You don't need to take him to a hospital to be checked over?" Petunia asked nervously.

"No. The hospital would have done the same as I did, and am doing. When he wakes, he'll probably feel sick and woozy, he might vomit as well." He gestured, and a bucket appeared next to the couch. "He's lucky that Harry felt him through the amulet. I did as well, but Harry seems to have a stronger connection to him, maybe because they're blood related."

"Felt him? I don't know what you mean." Petunia sank into the recliner and rubbed her eyes.

Severus explained about the medallions the Heir and Heir Apparent wore, then said, "What I don't understand is why he was roaming about outside when he should have been sleeping."

"I don't understand that either. He was never like this at home." Petunia sniffled. "Where did that snake come from, anyhow?"

"The runespoor lives in the forest, and it normally won't attack unless threatened." Severus said. "Maybe Draco or Harry know the reason why Dudley was wandering about in the dark, looking for trouble."

Before Snape could open his mouth to call his two sons inside, Draco rushed in and cried, "Dad, you better come out there and do something! Before Harry hexes Sirius."

Severus was on his feet immediately. "Bloody hell! What now?"

He rushed outside and saw that Harry was standing defiantly in front of his godfather, his wand out. "I won't let you do it!"

"Harry, get out of my way, now! It has to be done, a snake that bites a human has to be destroyed. Do as I say and don't make me hex you." Sirius' face was dark with anger.

"No!" shouted Harry. "The runespoor is innocent—"

"Innocent! The damn snake bit my son!"

"Because Dudley tried to steal its egg! I saw it, lying next to him when I found him. The runespoor attacked him because it wanted its egg back, not because it was mad or something!" Harry argued.

"A runespoor is a deadly creature, and allowing it to breed is asking for trouble, Harry. Best to let me deal with it and its egg now, before you have an infestation and you're overrun with the creatures."

"No! I brought it here and I promised it would be safe. You're not killing it, Sirius!" Harry had his wand out and was giving Sirius his best Snape glare. "It's not a monster, I talked to it, it has feelings and it doesn't deserve to die because it was defending its egg from a thief!"

"Harry, move before you make me do something I'll regret. Snakes lie, how could Dudley find its egg in the dark? It's a monster that has to be put down."

"You forget yourself, Black," Severus stated as he came out of the manor and joined Harry and Sirius. "This is my land and I decide what lives and dies upon it. Not you."

"Snape, you know I'm right. Any creature that attacks a human has to be killed."

"Dad, he wants to kill Azeal, Ashterith, and Azella because he bit Dudley! Dudley was stealing the snake's egg."

"Harry claims the snake told him so. Snape—"

"Dad, the runespoor didn't need to tell me, I saw the egg lying by Dudley. The snake came and picked it up and then left. It was protecting its young! You can't kill it. I-I won't let you! I promised it would be able to live in peace here."

Severus turned and said sternly, "Black, lower your wand. There will be no hunting here tonight or any night. The snake was defending its territory and offspring from a thief."

"You're crazy, Snape! Defending a snake over your own nephew!" Sirius' wand came up, until it was pointed directly at Severus. "Get out of my way. If you won't see justice done, then I will!"

Severus drew as well. "Go back inside, Black, and take care of your wife and child. You're not looking for justice, you're looking for revenge. But you're not going to find it by killing a snake that was only looking after its own. Not on my watch. If Harry said the snake didn't attack for no reason, then it must be so. I trust my son."

Sirius remained where he was, stubbornly ignoring Severus' orders. "I think he's been brainwashed. If you won't kill it, I will, and you can use the skin and eggs for potion ingredients." He advanced upon Harry and Severus.

Severus glared down at the other man. "Black, this is your only warning. Put up your wand and go back inside before you end up on the wrong side of my wand. I'll duel you if I have to."

Sirius halted. "If that' s the way you want it, Snape . . ." He brought his wand up menacingly.

Any guesses on whether Sirius will come to his senses or will he challenge Sev to a duel royale?

Did I not tell you the peace wouldn't last?
**for the inceident with the green beer, please read the one-shots Wizard's Luck and its sequel Unlucky.

For anyone who is interested, I have a new story in my Broken Wings series called Worth Saving posted here and also a new chapter of Irresistible Chemistry.


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