Chapter 1 : Prologue: Hogwarts, January 1982
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Author's Note: (Revised June, 2012) Beta-read by the wonderful tydemans. Thanks for helping me smooth some things out!
You're going to want to read Unwritten (M) before you begin, as this picks up directly where that tale leaves off. I hope you enjoy the story, and as always, I really appreciate hearing from readers and often put your constructive criticism to use!
Hogwarts, January 1982
Fire-blackened timbers lay on the sodden ground, remnants of a burned house never rebuilt. Slush lay in the depressions between the logs, pasty gray in the dim winter twilight. A black grouse picked its way carefully through the fallen twigs and leaves, searching in the hedge for the remnants of last year's berries. Slipping between the henpecked feathers and the grouse's warm skin, feeling the down close in and the sweet thrum of the creature's rapid heart -- a push -- a constriction of awareness. The bird flapped its wings in idle confusion.
South, came a gentle suggestion, down from the mountain. Down where it's warmer.
The bird did not understand. Its head jerked backward and it squawked with fear, running on foot down the boulder-strewn slope, over heaps of snow-covered oak leaves, down to the humans' gravel path and the stone bridge over the wide, rushing stream.
"South," panted Melora Spring, the Druid's daughter.
Severus Snape removed his wand from the girl's temple. Her pale red hair was cropped nearly bald around the lightning scar. The cursed wound throbbed and seared, burning ten degrees hotter than the rest of her body.
Lily Potter bent down at his elbow. "What's she talking about?"
"I'm not sure. I believe she's having hallucinations." Melora's breathing eased at last. Severus rose stiffly with great effort; both legs had fallen asleep in the hours he knelt at the girl's bedside. Lily extended her hand to help him up.
"That's all she ever says: 'South.'"
"It has to mean something."
Lily turned to the sideboard, uncovering a silver dish of steak and kidney pie gone cold during their midnight vigil. She slid half the pie onto a clean plate with a fork and knife and pushed it at Severus. "You have to eat."
Severus's lip twisted, but he took the plate and sat at the end of a vacant bed, shoveling in sustenance without concern for appearances. Lily finished the other half of the meal herself, wiping the plate clean with a slice of bread. Condensation still stood on the cold surface of a pitcher of pumpkin juice: Lily hated pumpkin juice, but she was so thirsty, she didn't care.
With her stomach full and the lights dimmed in the Infirmary, Lily's eyes drooped where she stood. "You could go home," said Severus.
"I can't. I'm responsible for her."
"And why, precisely, is that?"
Lily bristled at Severus's professorial tone. Next, he'd be asking where she'd left her laboratory report. Sometimes she wondered whether he really saw her as a friend anymore, or as an incompetent assistant he'd taken on as a favor.
"Melora lost everything because of me… because of both of us. If you hadn't taken us to Wales, Myra would still be alive today, and Melora would be just fine."
"You can't tell me you actually regret knowing Myra."
"No, of course not. I regret being responsible for her death."
Severus raised his wand and Lily flinched, her hand falling to her wand pocket out of instinct. He merely Vanished the dirty dishes, sending them back to the house-elves' scullery with a silent puff of air.
"It's not even one hundred percent clear that Myra is dead."
"You and Dumbledore both!" Lily burst out. "What is the matter with you? I know she was like a mother to you, but honestly, Severus, can't you accept that she's gone?"
Severus turned away, striding across the Infirmary with little concern for the noise his heels made on the stone floor. Impulse dragged Lily after him, but she resisted, gripping the corner of a tightly made bed as she sat down. Her swollen feet ached and her legs trembled with exhaustion. She crushed the heels of both hands into her eyes and watched dim streamers of red and blue glide across her vision, bursting balloons in the midnight black.
Severus was right; she should go home. Her family home in Godric's Hollow lay in ruins, so she planned to care for Melora at the forest cottage in Wales. Lily needed to make sure Melora's house was ready for a toddler and an invalid; the Death Eaters had demolished the ancient oak door and part of the front wall. She didn't know whether she could reset the wards that made the house invisible within its spelled rowan hedge, but she wanted to try. Myra had reams of yellowing Muggle composition books in her library, each filled with mystic scrawls. Lily had only taken one term of Ancient Runes in school but she could muddle through with a syllabary.
Peter could have reset the wards in a twinkle; the rat-like little man was a genius with protective magic. James would have been able to master it given time. Lily gasped at the renewed shock of her loss. It was happening more and more often: the horrifying realization that James was gone, would always be gone, and that Peter, whom she had once loved like a brother, was responsible for his death. As Harry grew up, he wouldn't even remember his father except through snapshots and stories. That was the worst part -- knowing that James would someday be only a story, only a framed picture of a laughing man with crooked glasses.
"Lily, I'm sorry." Lily's hands fell away from her eyes and she blinked to clear her vision. Severus knelt before her on the cold stone floor. "I've been unfair to keep you here."
"I wanted to stay."
"I know." Severus reached forward and covered her balled-up hand with his warm, broad palm. What a betrayal it was that her body responded so quickly to his touch. She was a faithless wretch to feel this way for anyone with her husband barely three months in the grave. She hiccupped back a sob, which thankfully, Severus misinterpreted. "Go down to Minerva's and get some sleep. The crisis has passed for tonight."
"Aren't you going to bed?"
"I can sleep anywhere." Severus gestured to the empty bed beside Melora's. "I'll set a charm; if anything happens, it'll wake me. Poppy will be up around five anyway."
Lily rose slowly, staggering a bit with exhaustion. Severus steadied her. "Harry will be up early. I'll check in with you after breakfast if I haven't heard anything."
"It's going to be all right."
"I hope you're right."
Lily glanced back at the emaciated girl in the hospital bed, a shadow of the lively teen she had befriended in Wales. Melora appeared far older than seventeen; the Dark curse had drained her. Melora's dull strawberry-blonde hair tangled in sweat-soaked clumps where Lily had brushed it out only that morning. Something terrifying was happening to Melora Spring, and Lily and Severus were powerless to stop it.