Chapter 31 : The Veil Reopens
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The Veil Reopens
September 1st, 2006
It was around seven o'clock in the morning, and all the professors and the Headmistress were busy getting their classrooms and the Great Hall ready in preparation for the arrival of the students on the Hogwarts Express. Filch was busy scrubbing the flagstones in the courtyard till they shone, and his cat, Mrs. Norris, was prowling the hallway beside the infirmary, searching for stray mice. Alby, Severus, Cory, Frankie, and the Lupin boys were walking together towards the Hospital Wing, as Poppy had volunteered to watch them and get breakfast for them, since their grandparents were unavailable. Molly and Arthur were away in York, as were Lucius and Narcissa in France, on vacation. Andromeda was sick with a bad sinus infection, and couldn't watch her three rambunctious grandsons.
Frankie skipped happily beside Alby and Severus, her brown hair tied in two pigtails. "Where's Rosie?"
Alby concealed a yawn before he answered. "She's home with Uncle Ron, he's back from travelling to Italy, and he wants to spend time with her. He's been gone for almost the whole summer, covering Puddlemore United."
Ron Weasley had once played professional Quidditch, like Ginny, only he had been a Keeper. He had retired once Rose was born, and became a sports commentator with the WWN, figuring it would keep him home more. But recently, he'd been given remote assignments, and this last one had required him to be out of the country for almost all of July and August.
Before Frankie could ask another question, or Alby wake up fully (he still disliked mornings, but he was slowly overcoming his aversion since discovering he was a Beast Master, and most birds and small creatures were awake at dawn), there came a pained yowl up ahead.
It was Mrs. Norris.
"C'mere, you rotten cat!" Sirius shouted, he had grabbed the unlucky feline by the tail. "You mangy snitch, I'm surprised you're still here. Thought somebody would have gotten fed up with you and turned you into a muff or a pair of catskin boots before now!"
"Siri, what are you doing?" cried Teddy. "That's Filch's cat."
"I know. And I don't want her skulking around here, the scraggle puss!" He dragged the struggling cat from the shadows. He hated the cat because she had gotten him and James in trouble more times than he could count, and in his former schooldays had made a practice to chase the cat up trees or into the forest when he was Padfoot. He wished he could become Padfoot now, but he knew transforming in front of the other kids was a bad idea.
Mrs. Norris spat and hissed, and whirled about, trying to scratch Sirius.
Alby's eyes narrowed as he heard the angry yowls. Release me, you wretched evil brat!
His green eyes, so like his father's suddenly blazed with wrath, and the usually mild mannered boy clenched his fists and ran at Sirius. "You leave that cat alone, Siri!" he growled. "She ain't done nothin' to you, now let her go!"
"She's done plenty to me, Albus, now but out!" Sirius snarled, then he yelled as Mrs. Norris' claws found their mark in his hand. "Oww!" He jerked the cat's tail harder.
Alby heard the cat growling, Take that, evil brat! It made him furious. "I said, let her go!" He kicked Sirius hard in the behind and pounded him on the back.
Sirius yelped and released the cat, his fist lifted to deal out retribution on the smaller boy. "You're dead meat, Potter!"
Mrs. Norris scampered away, and Alby glared at Sirius, too angry still to fear the older boy's fists.
"Touch my brother, Black, and I'll make you regret ever coming back a second time," came a soft silky voice. A hand closed over Sirius' wrist like a steel trap, and he came face to face with a very angry very determined Severus. "Got me?"
Sirius tried to pull his hand free, but Severus was stronger than he looked. "What's the big idea, Snape? The kid started it, let him fight his own battles."
"Not against you. Or anyone bigger than he is," Severus said through gritted teeth. "Now back the hell off!"
Sirius twisted free of Severus' hold. "He ought to mind his own business! Who does he think he is, the Protector of the Animals?" Sirius sneered. "I have a score to settle with that bloody cat, the evil beast!" He rubbed at his hand, which bore four parallel scratches on it.
"The cat's not evil, you are!" Alby flared. "Sevvy, lemme punch him in the nose!"
Severus put a hand out to block Alby. "Al, calm down. Mrs. Norris is fine, she knows how to handle herself."
Alby wore a mulish scowl. "You shouldn't have done that, Siri. It was mean. Next time I'm gonna belt ya in the mouth."
Sirius sneered. "Oh right. You and what army, pipsqueak?"
"Yeah, shrimp," Jamie chimed in, until Teddy elbowed him in the ribs.
"Quiet, Jamie! Sirius, why did you hurt Mrs. Norris? She's a familiar, my dad always says we're supposed to respect them," Teddy lectured.
"Respect that mangy thing?" Sirius snorted. "Ha! I wish she'd get eaten by Fang. Or run over by the Hogwarts Express. She spies on all the students and gets them in trouble."
"Only if they're misbehaving," Severus put in. Unknown to anyone, when he had served his term as Headmaster, the cat had helped him, alerting him to students who had been subject to the Carrows' tender mercies and allowing him to give Argus healing potions and salves to cure them.
"Yeah," Frankie put in, staring disapprovingly at Sirius.
Sirius, suddenly the focus of ten pairs of angry eyes, Jamie refused to look at him, felt his courage wither, and he turned and stomped away. "You're all idiots! That cat's evil, just like Filch. They both need to be kicked out of the castle."
"I think he needs to be kicked out of the castle," Frankie muttered.
Alby nodded, now that he could talk to animals, he felt a strong obligation to protect them. He walked quietly up the corridor a ways and called softly in felinese, "Pretty kitty, I'm sorry I couldn't help you more. Are you hurt?"
"Alby? Who's he talking to?" Frankie asked.
"Mrs. Norris." Severus replied. "He's a Beast Master, remember?"
"Wish I could talk to animals," Cory said wistfully.
There came a soft mew from up above, and they all looked up to see a bewhiskered striped face peering down at them from a crevice in the wall. Fear not, little Beast Master. The ill bred mongrel hurt my pride more than my tail. But I thank you for your gallant defense of me. You are your sire's son, Albus Severus Potter.
"You're welcome, Mrs. Norris," Alby said softly.
To their surprise, the cat jumped down and came over and rubbed herself against Alby, purring loudly. Just remember, young kit, to pick your battles. Don't bite off more than you can chew.
"I will," the neophyte Beast Master whispered, then he gently ran his hand down the cat's back, stroking her fur.
Mrs. Norris arched her back into his hand, a privilege she permitted very few people.
"Aww! May I pet the kitty, Alby?" asked Frankie.
Alby asked Mrs. Norris if she wouldn't mind, and the cat replied that they could pet her, but not too hard.
Soon, Frankie, Teddy, Cory, and Jamie were gently stroking her, and when Severus came to scratch her ears, she mewed up at him. Your scent is familiar, little one. I know I've smelled you before.
Alby looked puzzled. "Sevvy, she says . . . she remembers you. Have you been here before?"
Severus nodded. "A long time ago." He continued petting the cat. He wouldn't have thought the cat would remember him, but apparently he had underestimated the feline's memory for scents.
The cat purred and nuzzled his cheek. You always protected the small ones . . . Severus. That at least has not changed. Her eyes gleaming, she meowed farewell, then trotted off down the hallway, her tail held high.
"Sevvy, I don't get it," Alby said. "She said you always protected the small ones and you haven't changed. What did she mean?"
"Don't worry about it, Al. You know I hate bullies."
"Sometimes I don't know what in hell gets into Sirius," Teddy sighed. "Come on, we'd better hustle to the Hospital Wing, before Madam Pomfrey gets ticked that we're late."
When they entered the infirmary, they found that Poppy had set a large round table with bowls, plates, and small cups. A large crock of oatmeal sat in the center of the table, surrounded by a pitcher of cream, a crock of brown sugar, and a bowlful of sliced bananas. There was a pitcher of pumpkin juice and another of chocolate milk. Sirius was sitting at the table, slouched and scowling.
"Ah, there you are! I was almost going to send out a search party," Poppy said, smiling at them.
"Alby was talking to Mrs. Norris," Frankie informed her. "He was making sure she was all right after Sirius pulled her tail."
"Merlin! Sirius Black, you ought to know better than that!" the mediwitch scolded. "You were naughty to hurt poor Mrs. Norris." She waved a finger at the sulky child, thinking that some things never changed.
"She's just a dumb old cat."
"That's as may be, young man, but you keep your hands to yourself, else you'll deal with me." Poppy said firmly.
"She scratched me," Sirius whined.
"I'm not surprised." Poppy said. "All of you, come and sit down and have some breakfast. Sirius, let me see your hand." She came and examined the small hand. "You were lucky, Mrs. Norris could have scratched you much worse." She summoned her medical satchel and pulled out two jars of salve and took Sirius on her lap. "Hold still, child. I can fix this quick as blinking."
Severus looked at the potions and recognized them as an antibacterial one and another that healed scrapes and cuts. Sirius sure wasn't going to like that purple potion, it stung like bloody hell.
Poppy shook some of the antibacterial potion onto a cloth and swabbed the scratches.
Sirius howled. "Oww! It stings!" He tried to jump off Poppy's lap, but the mediwitch was used to dealing with recalcitrant children and held him firmly.
"None of that, young man!"
"It hurts! You're doing it on purpose!" sobbed the former Marauder.
"Nonsense! These scratches have to be cleaned out, or else you'll get an infection," Poppy said. "I'm sorry it burns, but that means it's cleaning the bacteria from the wound."
Sirius continued to struggle, working his way to a full scale tantrum.
Except Poppy wouldn't put up with that, and she said sternly, "Merlin help you, child! But you're behaving worse than a three-year-old! All this fuss over a few scratches."
Sirius froze. He didn't like to be compared to a three-year-old.
"Crybaby," Frankie taunted, smirking.
"Shut up, Frances!" Sirius cried.
"Enough!" Poppy cried, frowning severely. "Frankie, eat your breakfast. Sirius, sit still, and this will be over in a minute. Remember, you've only yourself to blame for this predicament. Maybe next time you'll leave Mrs. Norris alone. Pulling a cat's tail is a sure fire way to get yourself scratched."
The mediwitch finished cleaning the scratches and then put healing salve on the scratches and wrapped them with a light bandage. "There! All done!" She pulled a selection of lollypops from her pocket. "Here, Sirius. Since you managed not to bite me, you may have a sweet."
Sirius flushed, certain Poppy was making fun of him, but he took a strawberry lolly.
"Eat your breakfast," Poppy urged.
Sirius felt quite put out and decided then and there he wasn't going to cooperate. "I don't like oatmeal."
Jamie stared at him. "But Siri, we had oatmeal yesterday and you ate it."
Sirius shot him a withering look. "Well . . . I don't want it today!" he snapped.
Poppy raised an eyebrow. "Seems like someone woke up on the wrong side of the bed. I think you're determined to be . . . difficult, Mr. Black."
Sirius crossed his arms over his chest. "I don't like oatmeal!"
"My dad says that when you're at someone's house as a guest, you should eat what they're serving and like it," Cory stated.
"Who asked you?" Sirius grumped.
"Very well then, what would you like for breakfast?" Poppy asked. She was in no mood to deal with a tantrum over food.
"I want . . . waffles with ice cream!"
"Waffles you may have, but no ice cream before twelve o'clock. Hogwarts rules. You can have waffles with sausage, bacon, ham, or fresh fruit. Take your pick."
Sirius huffed and looked put upon.
Until Poppy said, "If you don't pick something in five seconds, Sirius, I shall pick for you. And if you dawdle and aren't finished before school, you'll go to Miss Patil's class hungry."
"Okay . . . I'll have waffles and bacon."
Poppy clapped her hands and a plate of waffles and bacon appeared in front of him. "Eat, young man."
Sirius began eating.
Alby, who normally liked everything, whined, "How come he gets waffles? I want waffles, Sevvy."
"Hush, Albus!" Severus ordered, giving his little brother a poke. "You eat your oatmeal and quit being a picky brat. You know better than to act like that."
Alby sighed, and went back to eating his oatmeal. He did like it, but he just liked waffles more.
Soon it was time for Teddy, Sirius, and Jamie to go off to Miss Patil's primary school class. Alby, Frankie, Cory, and Severus were too young to attend, since you had to be six to attend. Poppy told the three younger children to remain in the Hospital Wing and to not touch anything until she came back from escorting the Lupins to class.
Once she had returned, Poppy said, "Since you were well behaved, you get to draw with my special crayons. They sparkle in the sun."
The four children cheered when she gave them big sheets of parchment and the sparkly crayons. They immediately set to drawing.
Severus decided to draw Mrs. Norris, but when he had finished, he walked over to Poppy and asked, "Are there any potions I can help you with?"
Poppy looked startled, but then she recalled who she was speaking to, and shook her head. "No, Severus. I've brewed all my drafts for this term, and I could have used your help a few weeks ago. But . . . perhaps you could roll bandages for me? It's boring but it'll pass the time."
"Can I help?" asked Frankie, coming over.
"I want to help too!" shrilled Cory.
Alby was still coloring, so he ignored what the others were doing.
"All right, you can all help," Poppy agreed. "I'll show you how to roll a bandage. Watch closely."
Once the children had seen her demonstrate, they were eager to copy her technique. Soon Poppy had several more bandages rolled, thanks to her little helpers.
Severus wouldn't have minded rolling a few more bandages, but soon the Sorting ceremony was finished, and some of the parents came to pick up their kids. Neville arrived first and hugged and kissed his daughter, before taking her down to the greenhouse, as he had no class that morning. Since Draco, Luna, Harry, and Susan were House heads, they were busy introducing their new students to the school, and couldn't come down to fetch Cory, Severus, and Alby. Ginny was also busy, teaching her first flying class of the term. Because of that, Remus had volunteered to take Alby and Severus for the rest of the morning, as he didn't have class till the afternoon.
Soon Astoria arrived to pick up Cory, since as the Astronomy professor, she didn't have class until late that night. She was a stunning tall woman with long flowing blond hair twisted into complicated loops wearing star shaped sparkling combs in her hair. She wore a deep midnight blue robe and suede half boots stamped with constellations in silver thread. She had an elegant face with high cheekbones and eyes the midnight blue hue of the night sky. She looked dignified and almost unapproachable, until she saw her son, and then she dropped to her knees and held out her arms. "Cory, come and give Mummy a kiss! Did you behave for Miss Poppy?"
Cory dropped the length of bandage he'd been rolling and raced over to her, throwing himself into her embrace. "Mummy! Mummy! I petted Mrs. Norris and colored a picture and I helped Miss Poppy roll up bandages and I missed you!" he said, practically in one breath.
Astoria hugged him to her, smiling delightedly, her smile lit up her face. "Goodness, you've been busy, haven't you?" She looked up at Poppy. "Poppy. I need to ask you for a favor."
Astoria kissed her son and then set him down. "Go and play a little with Alby and Severus, Cory. Mummy needs to ask Miss Poppy about some medicine."
"I don't want no medicine, Mum!" Cory said, alarmed. He quickly ran over to where Severus and Alby were.
Astoria drew Poppy off to one side, and they conversed in low voices for a time. Poppy drew her wand and cast something, then nodded and smiled. Astoria looked radiantly happy, then she hugged the older woman. Still beaming, she called Cory over and whispered something in his ear.
Cory then turned to his friends and yelled, "Alby, Sevvy! I'm gonna be a big brother like you! Mummy says she's gonna have a baby like Aunt Ginny."
"Really? Cool!" said Alby.
"That's great, Cory," Severus congratulated him. "Maybe we'll all end up with sisters."
Cory grinned. "I wouldn't mind a sister."
Astoria laughed. "You'll see in about eight months. Come on, Cory, let's go tell your daddy the good news." She picked Cory up and they exited the infirmary.
Severus and Alby waited for Remus, but ten minutes went by and there was no sign of him.
"That's odd. Remus usually is on time," remarked Poppy.
"Maybe he forgot about us," Severus speculated. "I mean, it's not like we're his kids."
"Why, Severus!" Poppy exclaimed, shocked. "Remus is very responsible, he would never just forget you."
Severus stared up at her and said, "He wasn't very responsible when he was a prefect at school. When he ran with the Marauders."
Poppy put a hand on his shoulder. "Sev, that was a long time ago. Remus has changed since that time, he's grown up and mended his ways. You can trust him, Severus."
Severus looked uncertain. Out of the Marauders, Remus had been the least confrontational, and the smartest, as well as the nicest. Severus had not hated or feared him until the werewolf incident. Still, if Poppy was willing to vouch for him . . . as she had defended Severus long ago. . . .he supposed he could give Remus the benefit of the doubt. "If you say so, Poppy."
"Have a seat on the bed, dear. Maybe you'd like to take a small nap while you wait?"
So Severus and Alby relaxed on the bed and five minutes went by, Remus appeared soon after, looking rather apologetic, towing a rather sulky Jamie with him. "Sorry I'm late, guys. But I had to make a detour and pick up Jamie, seems he's been misbehaving in class today."
Jamie hung his head. "But Dad . . . Sirius tol' me to . . ."
Remus spun around. "I don't want to hear it, James. This is the second or third time I've had to come and remove you from her class for being naughty and disruptive, and I've about had it." The werewolf's eyes were a feral gold. "But we can discuss that back in my quarters. Alby, Sevvy, you all ready to go?"
"Yes, Uncle Remus," Alby said, hopping off the bed. He walked over to stand by Jamie. "You in trouble, Jamie?" he whispered.
The youngest Lupin sighed. "Yeah, what do you think?"
"Don't know yet."
Severus was a bit more hesitant. When he saw Remus' eyes shift, it made him suddenly wary and frightened. Last time he had seen Lupin's eyes that color, he had been transformed into a ravening beast, intent upon ripping Harry, Ron, and Hermione's throats out . . . and his own, because he had placed himself in front of them. He slowly slid off the bed and walked quickly past Remus and stood next to Alby, suppressing an atavistic shiver as he did so. He was suddenly grateful that he wasn't Lupin's ward. He still had nightmares of huge fangs gnashing and burning fiery golden eyes, from that glimpse he had caught of the werewolf in the Shrieking Shack. He swallowed softly.
Remus led the way back to his quarters, which weren't far from the Hospital Wing. The children were quiet, Jamie because he didn't want to make his father even more angry with him, Alby because he was tired, and Severus' silence was that of prey crouching beneath a bush and hoping the predator would not notice him shuddering. Remus was quite angry with his son, and so didn't really notice Severus' reaction.
Once they had reached the Lupins suite, Remus told Alby and Severus to have a seat on the couch, which was a large plushy tan suede affair, and make themselves comfortable. "Meantime, I need to have a talk with Jamie. Come with me," he said to his son, and opened the door to his bedroom. When Jamie hesitated, he propelled the boy into the room with a firm hand to the boy's bottom.
The bedroom door shut with a click.
Alby looked at Severus, then said, "Guess he's in real trouble. I'm gonna take a nap." He stretched out on the sofa and in moments was asleep.
Severus envied his small brother that ability. He remained bolt upright on the couch, and so heard the whole scolding Remus gave his son.
" . . . doesn't matter what Sirius told you to do, James, you know what's acceptable behavior and what isn't by now. You need to learn to think for yourself, and not just follow another's lead blindly, even if he happens to be your older brother," Remus lectured. He knew full well how persuasive Sirius could be, but he didn't want Jamie following in his footsteps, the way he had done as a student. "I'm going to have a talk with Sirius about thinking before he acts also. But right now my concern is you, James Sirius. When Sirius told you to stick the prickly patch on Miss Patil's chair, what should you have done?"
"Umm . . . told Siri no."
"B'cause . . . it was a mean kinda trick," Jamie sniffled.
"And what's my rule about mean pranks, young man?"
"We don't do them to other people," Jamie said, his voice low and shamed.
"Right. Next question. If you knew all of that . . . why did you listen to Sirius?"
"I . . . don't know . . ."
"Don't you? There must be a reason, Jamie." Remus prodded.
"I . . . I . . . didn't want Siri and Teddy to think I was a . . . scaredy-cat. And Sirius said . . . he said I was the best at sneaking up behind her and getting away."
"I see. So you did it because you wanted to impress your brothers, correct?"
"Uh huh. Dad . . . they always say I'm too little and I can't do things . . . I just wanted to show them they're wrong . . . I'm sorry I hurt Miss Patil . . ."
"You're going to apologize to her as well, young man." Remus cleared his throat. "Now, you know what punishment you earn when you play nasty pranks on someone, don't you?"
Jamie began to cry. "Nooo! I don't wanna spanking!"
"Sorry, but those are the consequences," Remus said firmly.
The next thing Severus heard from the bedroom was the sound of smacking and the loud wailing of a small boy. He winced and put his hands over his ears. Even though the punishment was deserved, Severus did not like listening to it, and he huddled into the couch.
A few minutes later, Remus came out of the bedroom, leaving Jamie inside to cry himself out. Jamie preferred to be alone after being punished, though later he would come and snuggle with his father, once he had forgiven Remus for punishing him.
The werewolf shook his head. "Kids!" he muttered to himself. "Sometimes I just want to . . ." he trailed off when he smelled the terror coming off of Severus. "Severus? What's the matter?" He looked at the small boy and saw to his consternation that Severus was huddled in a ball at one end of the couch, looking at Remus as if he were the devil incarnate. "Severus?"
"Leave me alone! Don't touch me!" the boy's voice went shrill in panic as Remus reached out a hand to him. "Go away . . .!"
Suddenly he was back in the tunnel of the Whomping Willow, he was sixteen, and trapped while the werewolf howled and lunged for his throat, fangs glistening with saliva, eyes bloody gold as the lycanthrope sought his tender flesh . . .
Severus screamed, and threw up a hand to protect his throat.
Remus couldn't understand what had triggered Severus' flashback, but he had been through enough of them from the war to know that was what occurring. He carefully stepped back from the child and then went and Flooed Poppy. He asked her to bring a Draught of Peace and to help him calm Severus down.
Soon the mediwitch had come through the fireplace.
By then Alby had begun to stir, but after a gentle wave of Poppy's wand, the little boy fell back to sleep. She crossed to where Severus was cringing into the couch and sat down next to him. "Severus, you're all right," she began, in a firm yet soothing tone. "What you're seeing isn't here, it happened long ago. I need you to stop remembering it and come back here, to me. Severus, can you hear me? Answer me if you can."
For long moments, Severus remained silent. Then he whispered, "Yes, I hear you."
"Good. Now stop screaming and open your eyes. You're safe at Hogwarts, you're not being attacked by a werewolf. You're safe." She reached out an arm and gently pulled him to her. "Nothing will hurt you, little one. Nothing . . . I won't let it, Sev . . ." She hugged the fearful boy to her, running her fingers through his hair, reassuring him with the ease of long practice. Many children had been traumatized during the war, and she had helped as many as she could, those who were brave enough . . . or desperate enough . . . to seek her out . . . "You're safe with me, Severus . . ." she continued to croon, using her hands and voice to create a cocoon of safety about the youngster and so encourage him to come out of the flashback.
Finally, the flashback receded, and Severus found himself with his face pressed into a familiar gray robe, and when he lifted his head, he saw Poppy's familiar face. "Poppy? What . . . what happened?"
"You had a flashback, Sev," she told him, gently smoothing his hair.
"Yes, about . . . the time you almost got bitten by Remus . . ."
"When Potter and Black plotted to kill me?"
Poppy nodded. "But you're safe now, Severus. Remus is no longer a danger to anyone. Look," she gently turned Severus about so he could see Remus.
Remus was sitting on the floor, his arms in his lap, looking totally non-threatening. His eyes were his normal brown shade.
Severus blinked, then asked bluntly, "Have you taken the Wolfsbane?"
Remus chuckled. "Yes, sir. A week before the full moon every month. Draco brews it for me."
"Good. You . . . you almost killed me . . . back when we were in school . . ." Severus said, his tone faintly accusing.
"I know, and for that I am terribly sorry, Severus. I . . . you might not believe this, but I was not in on the bloody prank to throw you into the tunnel. That was all Sirius and James' doing. Peter too. I had gone into the shack to transform, like always, and I had no idea what they were planning. Had I known . . . I would have stopped them. They were stupid bloody jackasses, to do such a thing! Later . . . when I found out . . . I was so ashamed . . . I couldn't speak to you . . . and I was afraid you would go to the Aurors and tell them about me, you would have been within your rights to seek revenge on me, because I was a dangerous beast . . . and I had almost killed you. I . . . should have apologized long ago for that, but . . . sometimes I'm a coward. I didn't think you would forgive me, so I never said anything. Big mistake. And later, when we taught together, I was so busy trying to save Sirius' ass that I brushed your fears aside. That was wrong. We should have had this conversation long ago."
"I . . . wouldn't have talked about it then. I wasn't ready," Severus replied.
"Still . . . one of my biggest regrets after you'd passed the Veil was that I never apologized for nearly killing you that night. Well, better late than never, as they say. What brought this flashback on?"
"You did . . . your eyes turned gold when you . . . took Jamie in the room to punish him . . . and when you came out they were still like that . . . and I just remembered . . . that night." Severus replied.
"Oh . . . I should have known. Sometimes that happens, but I would never hurt you, Severus. I swear it on my wand. I'll try and control myself better. Okay?"
Slowly, Severus nodded. He could see the genuine remorse and regret in Lupin's eyes. The specter of the ravenous werewolf was fading. "Yes."
"Are you still scared?"
"No. Not anymore."
"Good. I'm sorry I scared you, Severus. Would you still like to stay here or would you rather go with Poppy?"
"I'll stay with Alby," he answered. Now that he wasn't suffering from the suffocating fear, he felt rather stupid. He couldn't believe he had flipped out over something so ridiculous as eye color. "I'm fine now, Poppy," he assured her, but didn't move off her lap.
Poppy smiled and held him a little longer. She hoped now that Remus had this little conversation with Severus that it had cleared the air between them, and Severus could let go of the nightmare that haunted him. "Why don't you take a few sips of this Draught of Peace? Just in case."
"Poppy, I'm not having a nervous breakdown," he protested.
"Humor me, Severus."
He acquiesced. He would do almost anything for Poppy, for she was one of his staunchest supporters, and always had been. The Draught of Peace slid down his throat, flavored like silky chocolate, and once he had taken it he felt much better—calmer, relaxed, and peaceful.
"How do you feel now?"
"Better," he acknowledged. He looked at Remus. For years he had been haunted by the specter of the werewolf, but now he saw the werewolf clearly, not as a monster intent upon destroying him, but a wizard forced to live with an irreversible curse. Like a patient with a chronic illness, Remus could not help what he was, he could only try to deal with it as best he could. He did not, like some, revel in the transformation from human to were, he dreaded the loss of his mind, his human emotions. "I know now that you couldn't help . . . what almost happened all those years ago, Remus. So I can . . . forgive you."
"Thank you, Severus," Remus heaved a huge sigh. Hearing those words pulled a great weight off his chest. "Please excuse me, I need to check on Jamie." He rose and went back into the bedroom. Soon he returned with a repentant six-year-old. "After you apologize to Miss Patil, you can go back to school, if your teacher still wants you there," Remus was saying.
"Aww, Dad! I don't want to go back to school. M' sleepy and my bum's still sore."
Remus concealed a smile at his son's bald honesty. "Never mind, scamp. We'll see what Miss Patil says and I need to have a talk with your brother too . . . after lunch." He looked up at Poppy. "Do me a favor, Poppy, and please watch Severus and Alby until I come back? I'm sorry to take you away from the Hospital Wing."
"Go on with you, Remus! I'm not complaining . . . I have nothing to do but boring old paperwork." The mediwitch said, waving him off.
Remus and Jamie departed. Poppy turned to Severus, who was slightly sleepy, and asked, "Severus, would you like me to tell you a story?"
"Yes, please," he said, and yawned.
Poppy smiled tenderly down at him and began to tell him a funny story about a wizard who always thought he was sick with a deadly disease, and the Healer who had to treat all of his various crazy ailments.
When Remus returned, he had Sirius and Jamie with him, both of them were on restriction, and made to sit at the table and do homework and they were also not allowed to fly this afternoon with Ginny, but had to watch only, and Remus read Sirius the riot act and gave him a swat for encouraging his little brother to mischief.
Severus and Alby were sleeping, but woke in time for lunch, which Remus had asked the elves to bring to his quarters. All of the children behaved themselves, for once, and when Ginny arrived to pick up Alby and Severus, she stared in astonishment.
"Remus, what did you do to them? They're so quiet and well . . . behaving like . . . like angels."
Remus started laughing. "Don't I wish!"
Harry had just finished helping a confused first year Hufflepuff find her common room and was on his way back to his quarters when he banged into Draco. "Oh, sorry, Draco. I wasn't paying attention to where I was going."
Normally such an admission would prompt the Potions Master to come back with a, "need new glasses, Potter?" But today Draco just shrugged and said, "Not a problem, Harry."
Harry frowned. "You seem awful . . . happy, Malfoy. You win that dream vacation to the Caribbean on the WWN? Or did you take fifty points from one of my Gryffindors for blowing up your classroom?"
"Even better. Astoria's expecting again. Finally!" Now Draco was grinning from ear to ear. He and his wife had been trying for what seemed like forever to have a second child without any success . . . until now.
Harry slapped the Slytherin on the back. "Congratulations, old man! What did I tell you? You were trying too hard. You had to relax and let nature take its course."
Draco snorted. "Shut up, Potter!" he mock-growled. "Not all women are like Ginny, able to have a kid by snapping her fingers." Then he laughed. "Oh, Merlin! Just think about it, Harry. We could have girls together, and maybe they'll grow up best friends and when they're in school we can compare notes about how crazy they drive us and how best to mangle their boyfriends."
Harry started laughing. "Uh, Draco, aren't you getting a little ahead of yourself? Our kids aren't even born yet. And what if they're boys?"
"They won't be. I have a feeling," Draco said with utter certainty.
"Don't tell me. You had a talk with God too, like Alby."
"I sure did. I prayed every night for Tori to get pregnant with a baby girl, and now it's happened." Draco whooped.
Harry gave him a look. "How many potion fumes have you inhaled?"
"Wouldn't you like to know?" his friend asked, smirking wickedly. He pulled a long brown object from his robes. "Cigar?"
Harry wrinkled his nose. "Ugh! Malfoy, you know I don't smoke. Disgusting habit!"
"It's chocolate, you idiot!" Draco sniggered, and shoved the end of the cigar in Harry's mouth. "See?"
Harry sucked on it, it was perfectly good chocolate from Honeydukes. It bore a pink ribbon around it with It's A Girl printed on it. "And how many of these did you have?"
"Who the hell's counting?" asked the soon-to-be father of two. "Let's go down to the Hog's Head and get a drink. I'll pay."
"Draco, you know we're not supposed to drink when we're teaching."
"I know, but we're done with classes for today. And I want to celebrate. C'mon, Harry, don't be such a wet blanket." Draco's eyes were sparkling.
"All right. But three's the limit. Agreed?"
"Yes, Dad," Draco mocked, cuffing Harry on the shoulder.
Harry couldn't help smiling, Draco's joy was infectious. He couldn't remember when the young Potions Master had been this happy, except when his son was born.
In order to keep Severus' and Sirius' true identities a secret, something which both families agreed was necessary both for their peace of mind and for the children's, given their miraculous resurrection, and also the fact that both children might still have enemies lurking (not all the Death Eaters were in Azkaban), Hermione, along with Astoria and Luna, had come up with a charm that would keep people from wondering where the two extra children had come from, it worked by misdirecting someone's thoughts whenever they started to wonder just who Severus and Sirius were, replacing that line of thinking with "oh, I remember now! They've always been part of the Potter or Lupin family." It was very subtle and very effective, though the charm did have to be renewed every three months. Of course it also helped that the boys were almost always referred to on a first name basis, and their siblings had no trouble saying they were brothers.
Not that the professors' children had much time to interact with students, given that the students had class and homework, and so did the Lupin boys. On odd days, Severus and Alby went to stay with Andromeda, and on even ones with Molly, and so did Rosie. Frankie also joined the three, on odd days she spent time with her Gran Augusta, who even at the advanced age of one hundred was still going strong. Cory, too spent time with Narcissa and Lucius, and also the Weasleys. It was Frankie who dubbed them the Ferocious Five, because they were all ferociously determined to read before attending school, and Severus was teaching them, and were also ferocious in defense of helpless animals, each other, and their families.
Cory kept everyone in touch with how Astoria's pregnancy was going. The first thing he did was to tell the small group as they were baking scones in Molly's kitchen about the reaction of his grandparents to the news. "So . . . Daddy says he's got an 'nouncement to make and then they tell Grandpa and Granny about the baby. Granny starts crying, why I don't know, and Grandpa claps and says excellent, Draco or somethin' like that and he opens a bottle of wine and next thing I know, Grandpa's dancin' on the table! Shakin' his bum and all! It was so funny, I fell out of my chair laughing!"
"Oh, come on, Cory! You're putting us on," Severus protested. "Lucius wasn't really dancing on the table."
"He was so! It was really funny,' cause I didn't know Grandpa knew how."
Severus erupted in a fit of helpless giggles, the mere thought of the scion and patriarch of Malfoy Manor dancing atop a table was simply too funny for words.
"Oh . . . oh . . . my Merlin!" Molly gasped, she was nearly prostrate with laughter over her rolling pin. "Cory . . . oh, I wish I'd been there with a camera . . .!"
"My mummy took a picture." Cory smirked mischievously.
"Where is it?" both Molly and Severus asked at the same time.
Cory shrugged. "I don't know."
"Find out," Severus urged. "One picture of him doing that is worth 10, 000 Galleons." He'd never seen Lucius drunk before and that alone would have been worth a thousand Galleons . . . but drunk and doing a tabletop shimmy . . . was priceless. Not to mention the perfect blackmail photo.
So Cory went home that night and asked Astoria where the picture was of his grandfather dancing on the table. Astoria smirked and asked why, and Cory explained that Sevvy, the rest of his cousins, and Mrs. Molly wanted to see it. Astoria made a reprint and gave it to Cory to show them. All of them nearly wet themselves laughing. When the Lupin boys came back from school and saw the photo, they fell on the floor howling.
By the time they stopped laughing, their sides hurt, and Teddy had come up with a scheme, as usual, to make some extra money. "We could sell the photo. People would pay lots of money to see Uncle Lucius dance."
But Molly nixed that idea. "No, Ted. The photo remains in the family. We don't want to embarrass Uncle Lucius."
"Aww, but Grammy!" groaned Rosie.
"No, Rose," Molly repeated and that was that.
On the weekends, all the children stayed at the school with their parents. It was then they did fun family activities, like picnics on the lawn and playing abbreviated Quidditch games, feeding the giant squid (one of Alby's favorites), gathering herbs and potion ingredients, and playing board games.
As September drew to a close, Ginny's belly began to grow and even Astoria showed a tiny bump. The two excited witches went shopping for baby clothes and began to discuss possible names for their new addition.
October blew in frosty and cold, prompting rounds of colds, Pepperup potion, and hot chocolate and apple cider before bedtime. Around the second weekend of the month, Severus developed a bad sinus infection, this usually happened every year, and was cross and grumpy as a result. He didn't want to be sick for Lily's return, or Halloween, yet the infection lingered.
That night he was curled up in Harry's lap in front of the fire, coughing and sneezing.
"Sevvy, time for your medicine," Harry announced, Summoning a few potions to him. There was a cherry-colored Decongestion Draft and a Sinus Solution, which came in the form of nose drops.
Severus grimaced and turned his head away. "I'm not taking it. It's not helping," he grumbled. He was sick of taking medicine, and sick of this horrible cold, which made everything taste like cardboard. He coughed again.
"Come on. You'll never get better if you don't take it," Harry coaxed.
Again Severus shook his head.
Harry sighed and looked over at Ginny, who was asleep on the sofa. Lately she'd been suffering bouts of extreme tiredness and he tried to let her rest as much as possible. Alby was snuggled next to her, dozing, he hadn't been feeling all that good either. Normally, Severus was good about taking potions, but tonight he was being a stubborn brat.
Harry tried another tack. "Sev, you want to be well so you can go trick-or-treating, right? And come to the cemetery when Lily returns?" A nod. "Well, then you'd better take these potions, or else you'll be home in bed while we go there."
"No! You're not leaving me behind."
"I will if you're sick," warned Harry.
"I won't stay there. I'll follow you to the cemetery anyway," Severus declared mulishly.
Harry raised an eyebrow. "And as soon as I find you, I'll bring you straight back to the house, give you a spanking, and Stick you to the bed. Is that what you want?"
"No," Severus said sulkily.
"Didn't think so. Now turn around and take your medicine. Why are you giving me a hard time?"
"Because I feel awful, that's why."
"Severus, that doesn't make sense. The potions will help you. Now quit being stubborn. You're acting worse than Alby."
Groaning, Severus turned over. "Harry, you're mean," he groused. "And Slytherin clever."
Harry chuckled and handed the recalcitrant child the Decongestion Draft. "Drink up, Sevvy."
Severus drank, making a face. The draft wasn't nasty tasting, but it was thick and sickly sweet. He finished the vial and handed it to Harry.
"Good job!" Harry said, then he gave the boy a handkerchief. "Blow your nose and then tip your head back."
Severus obeyed, though blowing his nose didn't help that much. "I'm all stuffed up," he whined, he hated that feeling.
Harry uncorked the vial of Sinus Solution and gently tipped Severus' head back. He filled the dropper with the potion and gently put the solution in his ward's nose. "Breathe in."
Severus sniffed and the potion was drawn up his nostril. He coughed. "Ugh! I hate nose drops."
"Once more," Harry gently inserted the dropper in the opposite nostril.
Severus squirmed. He hated the drops, they burned and made his nose itch. As soon as he was big enough to brew by himself, he was going to alter the formula.
"There! Now was that so bad?" Harry asked, helping Severus sit up.
Before Severus could reply, there came a pounding on the door.
Harry looked up at the archway and saw the name Draco Malfoy appear. "Come in, Draco," he called, and the door swung open.
Draco burst into the room. "Harry, come quick! Tori . . . she fell . . . slipped on the stairs coming down from the tower . . . knocked herself out . . . brought her to Poppy . . ." There was a dazed look in his eyes, as if he couldn't believe this had happened.
"Dear Merlin! And the baby?" Harry asked.
"I . . . don't know . . ."
"Go back upstairs, I'll be along in a minute. Just let me wake Ginny."
"I can stay by myself," Severus objected as Harry set him down, but Harry was already shaking Ginny awake and telling her what had happened.
"Bloody hell!" she cried. "Poor Tori!" She sat up, cupping her own stomach protectively. "Harry, go with Draco. He needs the support. Just send back your Patronus and keep me informed. Draco, that's terrible, but hopefully she'll be all right."
Draco just nodded. He turned to leave, followed by Harry.
Severus went and climbed onto the couch next to Ginny. He curled up into her and whispered, "I hope nothing happens to the baby or Astoria."
Ginny hugged him. "Me too, Sevvy. That would be too horrible to even think of."
Draco paced back and forth in the infirmary while Harry sat in a chair and waited with him. Poppy had called another Healer to assist her, and they had been working on Astoria for over three hours. She had a bad concussion and assorted bruises, a cracked collarbone, and a sprained knee. No one mentioned the baby, so Draco continued to hope that the fall had not caused his wife to go into labor.
Draco clutched a tumbler of firewhiskey in his hand and snarled, "What the hell's going on in there? Why is it taking so long?"
"Draco, relax. They're doing the best they can," Harry soothed.
Draco whirled on him. "Don't you tell me to relax, Potter! My wife could be dying or . . . or something!" He drained the glass in one gulp. Then he turned and paced back to Harry. His eyes were haunted and fearful. "Harry, what if . . . God forbid . . . what if she . . . I couldn't bear it if I lost her . . ." He sat down in the chair next to Harry, his head in his hands. "She's my life . . . I need her with me . . . She can't die! She just can't."
Harry patted Draco's shoulder comfortingly. "Don't think about that, Draco. Just think about her getting well. That's all." He truly felt for the other man, he would have been a nervous wreck if it had been Ginny injured.
"I'm trying," Draco mumbled. He felt frozen, and the silence stretched endlessly in the Hospital Wing, as if the world held its breath.
The only sound that could be heard was Draco's and Harry's breathing.
After an eternity, Poppy emerged from behind the curtain pulled about Astoria's bed, still swathed in surgical garb, all save for her hands.
"Poppy! How is she?" Draco leaped to his feet and if he'd been zapped, his eyes pleading.
"Astoria's stable, Draco. We managed to bring down the swelling on her brain and mend most of the damage. She should recover in a week or so."
Draco started to smile. "Oh, God! Thank you, Merlin!"
"However . . . she lost the baby. We tried everything we could, but . . . after a fall like that, at this stage of the pregnancy . . . she began to hemorrhage and she spontaneously aborted . . .I'm so sorry, Draco. There was nothing we could do . . ." Poppy shook her head sadly, tears glimmering in her eyes.
"The baby's . . . gone?"
"Yes, it was too small to live outside the womb."
"Did you know . . . what it was?"
"No. It was too tiny."
Draco just nodded. "I want to see Tori."
"All right. Just give Healer Hadley a few minutes to finish up." Poppy said.
Soon a tall Healer with brown hair came out from behind the curtain. He came up to Draco and murmured condolences, then stepped back so the Potions professor could go to see his wife.
Draco fell to his knees beside the bed. Astoria lay sleeping, her face pale against the sheet. He grasped her hand and pressed it to his face. "Tori . . . oh, Tori . . . I'm so glad you're alive . . . " Tears were running down his cheeks. "But the baby . . . our baby's . . . an angel now . . ." His voice broke and he sobbed into the mattress.
Harry, stunned by the tragic news, just sat and watched Draco grieve for a few moments before gathering his courage and coming over to his friend. He laid a hand gently on the other's shoulder. "Draco, I . . . I don't even know what to say . . . except I'm so very sorry . . ."
Draco lifted his head and gave Harry a pain-filled glare. He stood, his body rigid with anger. "How could you know, Potter? Your wife's still pregnant."
Harry flinched. "You're right, I can't. But that doesn't mean I'm not sorry for your loss."
An instant later, Draco's anger evaporated and his face crumpled into grief. "Oh, Merlin! I didn't mean that, Harry. I'm so sorry, I don't even know what I'm saying. I just . . . it's so hard to believe . . . just when we thought . . . and now . . . it's all gone . . . how do I tell her, Harry, that our baby girl's passed on?"
His shoulders sagged and he began to cry again, harsh sobs shaking his frame.
That question brought tears to Harry's own eyes. He hesitated a fraction of a second before putting his arm about Draco and hugging him.
Draco clung to him, lost in his grief, knowing only that his long-awaited baby was gone, but that at least he was not alone.
Harry didn't say anything, he simply held his friend as he mourned, for there were some things that words could not mend, and this was one of them.
All of the students and staff mourned with the Malfoys over their tragic loss. Narcissa came to be with her son and daughter-in-law, trying to help them come to grips with their grief. She had gone through several miscarriages herself after having Draco and so knew what it was like to hope for a child only to have it snatched away before it had barely begun to live.
Astoria felt numb after her accident. Numb and cold, as if along with her baby dying, she had also lost her heart. Draco shed more tears than she did, mostly because she had not fully grasped the true extent of her loss. Oh, she understood the facts, she had miscarried, and the child within her was no more, the child she had so longed for, that she had planned to do so many things with. She felt so strange, cut adrift, wondering how the baby she had just barely begun to know could be taken from her so swiftly. Sometimes she woke in the infirmary with her hand on her belly, crying out for her unborn child, feeling it move inside her, even though it had been too small for her to feel movement yet.
Draco stayed beside her everyday, as did Cory, and she tried to take some comfort in her son and husband, but there was a part of her, deep inside, that called for the tiny life she had lost, that had glowed a brief spark and then flickered out.
Friends, students, and colleagues expressed their condolences and she accepted them graciously, as she had been taught. It was a façade. Her body mended, but her heart remained in some frozen half-life. She held her son, comforted her husband, did all that was expected of her. Save grieve over the baby she had lost.
Her apathy and false brightness concerned Draco, who spoke of his concern to Harry and Ginny late one night. "There's something . . . not right with her. She's better, at least physically, and she has her memory and all her faculties, but . . . she's not the same. When she smiles, it's brittle, when she laughs it sounds forced. She kisses me, but I can feel she's just doing it by rote, not because of passion. I feel like I'm losing her all over again. What do I do?"
"You need to give her time to grieve, Draco," Ginny said. "She hasn't even acknowledged the fact that the baby's gone. Oh, here, she has," she tapped her head. "But not here, in her heart. Has she talked to her sister? Perhaps Daphne could help?"
"Daph was here last night, She and Dennis tried everything to make Astoria talk about it, but she wouldn't. It's as if she wants to forget what happened."
"I would too," Ginny said sympathetically. She held out a plate of ginger snaps. "Have some. My mum baked them this morning."
Draco took one and wolfed it down. "I wish . . . she'd cry, or scream, or throw things, or hit me. But she just sits there, with this dreamy look on her face, like she's in another world. I keep hoping she'll come out of it."
"She will, eventually," Harry said. "I was like that after the war was over and we were counting up the bodies of the slain. All of sudden, I started bawling. It hit me with the force of a runaway train. They were gone and they were never coming back. And somehow we had to carry on."
"I don't know if she should go back and teach," Draco began hesitantly.
"You should let her make that decision, Draco," Ginny told him. "Work might be good for her."
"Maybe." Draco was skeptical.
The tragedy even affected the children, who were more subdued and quiet as Halloween neared, instead of boisterous. They all discussed quietly what they were going to be for Halloween. Alby wanted to be a tiger, Frankie decided on a fairy princess, Rose wanted to be a pixie. Sirius was going as a vampire, Jamie as a zombie, and Teddy was an executioner. Cory was going as an Auror. Severus wasn't sure what he wanted to be.
"You could go as a Death Eater," joked Sirius.
"Ha, ha, Black. You're so funny," Severus sneered. "Still singing the same old tune."
Sirius blushed. "Oh. Sorry, that was rude of me," the other boy apologized.
"Why don't you be an artist, Sev?" suggested Frankie.
Severus considered, then nodded. "That's a good idea."
Costumes settled on, they began to discuss the sweets they might get in Hogsmeade and what their favorites were and what they would trade for them.
Severus didn't care about the sweets so much as he did about what would happen after the Halloween feast. Once the feast was in full swing, Harry and Ginny would Apparate to the graveyard in Godric's Hollow along with Severus to see Lily return from the Veil. As far as Severus was concerned, that was the highlight of the night.
A few days before Halloween, Hermione found Cory in a corner of her classroom, crying.
"Cory, what's wrong?"
"It's Mummy, Aunt 'Mione," he snuffled. "She's always sad now, since the baby went back to heaven. I think . . . I think she loved the baby better than me."
Hermione pulled the little boy onto her lap. "Oh, Cory! Your mum loves you very much, you're her little boy, and she'll always love you. It's just right now, she misses the baby, and she's not thinking very clearly. Her whole heart is sad."
"How can we make her better, Aunt Mione?" he asked seriously. "Not even daddy makes her smile now. What if she had a new baby?"
"Well, she could, but . . .I don't think she wants to right now. But she has you . . . and I know one thing that always makes me happy when I'm sad."
"A great big hug from Rosie."
"Uh huh. She used to hug me all the time before." Cory said wistfully.
Hermione smiles. "Why don't you go and find your mum and give her a great big hug?"
Cory stood up, smiling. "Okay!" Then he ran to find Astoria.
Hermione watched him go. "Poor little thing!" she whispered to herself. "I hope it works."
The moon soared cold and bright overhead, illuminated with a bluish tinge, full and round. Back in his office at school Remus was shifted into full wolf form. Dora and her sons were enjoying the Halloween feast along with the rest of the Hogwarts staff and students, celebrating Jamie's birthday. He was now seven. In the graveyard at Godric's Hollow, five people stood around a double grave bearing the inscription The last enemy to be destroyed is death.
Severus lifted his eyes to sky, drawn to peer upwards at the silent moon. Once in a blue moon, he thought, and smiled. He could feel the magic in the air, it made his blood burn with its power, whispered its promise in his ears. Soon she would come. And then they would be together, as they were meant to be. His heart beat quicker, as he called silently, Lily, Lily, where are you? I'm waiting for you.
His eyes tracked upon Harry, who was standing to his left, watching the headstone, and then to Ginny, who stood holding her husband's hand. The wind picked up, blowing through the trees. Somewhere a clock bonged, striking out the hour. It was ten minutes to eleven. Severus stared at the other two witnesses to this rebirth, two unexpected watchers, that were Draco and Astoria.
Astoria, upon learning where the Potters and Severus were going that night, had insisted upon coming along. "I need to be there. Maybe then I can ask why."
"Why what, Tori?" Draco asked, utterly confused.
"Why it happened. And if there's a chance for us to . . . try again," she had responded, her eyes lighting with a sudden fire.
He had hugged her. "Tori, there's always another chance, we're still young. You don't need to go to a graveyard and question the reincarnation of Harry's mother for that. I don't think she could even answer that question anyhow."
"But she might. I'm willing to take that chance, Draco. And if she can't, well then, all I've wasted is time."
So there they were, standing in front of the Potters' grave, waiting for something extraordinary to occur.
A soft mist suddenly wreathed the ground, enveloping their feet in a bluish fog. It crept along the graves until it reached the Potters' then it climbed slowly up the headstone and hovered there.
The wind picked up, gusting along the avenues of headstones, causing the branches of the entwined aspen tree above Lily and James' grave to sway violently. The air suddenly became heavy and all five of the watchers could feel the magic surging in bursts through the air, like invisible lightning.
"It's happening!" Severus cried eagerly, glorying in the swift rush of power.
Ginny gripped Harry's hand hard. She had wanted to come to give her husband moral support, but had not expected to be caught up in the magical equivalent of a small tornado. Across from them, Astoria clung to Draco's broad shoulder as the wind began to spin, faster and faster, until a gray misty vortex was born, magical energy crackling within it, sending streamers of purple and blue lightning streaking towards the ground. In the center was a glowing vortex of light.
The Veil hung poised over Lily's grave, and then a shape stepped through it and floated lightly to the ground in front of them. The Veil closed itself with a sharp crack, leaving a small girl behind.
She straightened, her fiery hair still crackling about her from the Veil's magic. She looked to be about five, and had a sweet heart-shaped face and the biggest pair of green eyes, eyes that were luminous with magic and an otherworldly knowing. She was wearing nothing save a sheer kind of drape and her feet were bare. She turned and gazed at Severus. "Hello."
Severus' breath caught. She was finally here before him . . . alive. "Lily?" he gasped. "It's really you. Do you . . . do you remember me?"
Lily studied him for a brief moment. Then she smiled. "Of course I do! You're Sev, my best friend."
Severus grinned, his face alight with joy. "Always." He took one step towards her.
Then she ran to him, and threw her arms around him and hugged him. "I missed you, Sev! I was in a strange place . . . a lovely garden . . . I liked it there, but . . . I was lonely. I wished you could be with me, but it wasn't time yet. So I had to wait. Until now. Now we can be together again." She laughed, her laughter pure and sweet, filled with joy.
She hugged him hard, then drew away, though she remained holding his hand. She glanced around, her green eyes suddenly confused. "They said I would remember . . . some things. The things I needed to." She bit her lip. "I . . . remember being at school . . . and there were four rude nasty boys there also . . ." She shook her head, the memory was fading. "I can't remember everything . . . not yet." She gazed at her hand, which began to glow softly with eldritch light. A small blue flower appeared in her palm. "I'm still a witch. Look, Sev! I can still do it."
Severus smiled at her innocent joy in her magic. "I know. You're a witch and I'm a wizard, Lily. Do you remember that day in the park? When you jumped off the swings and flew through the air?"
"Yes. And Tuney was such a sourpuss about it. Then you came over and showed me how you could change a rock into different colors and told me about magic and that I was a witch. That's how it all began. And Tuney was all jealous."
"That's right. How much can you remember, Lily? If you remember being at Hogwarts, do you remember . . .being Sorted into Gryffindor? Do you remember . . . the Marauders?"
She nodded. "We ended up in different houses, but I never cared about it. Some of my other House mates did though. Especially the Marauders. They were mean to you . . . they hexed you and hurt you." Her green eyes flashed. "Nasty brats! James Potter was an arrogant toerag and his pal Sirius Black wasn't any better, or that slimy little rat, Pettigrew. The only halfway decent one was Remus Lupin. Why are we talking about them, Sev? Are they here too? I don't really want to share my second life with them."
Severus chuckled. "Well . . . Pettigrew is dead. So is James . . . in a way. But Sirius is here, like you and me, to get his own second chance. And Remus . . . Remus is grown up and married with kids."
Lily's eyebrows rose. "Really? That's good, I guess. What about you, Sev? Are your parents still around? Not that I care much about your dad, but . . ."
"No. They're both dead."
"Mine are too, aren't they?" she asked, though a part of her already knew the answer.
"Yes. But not your sister. She's married now too and has a son, Dudley, who's the same age as my guardian here." Severus turned around to point to Harry and Ginny. "Lily, meet Harry Potter and his wife, Ginny. They're professors at Hogwarts, Harry teaches Defense and Ginny flying. I live with them and their son, Albus Severus."
Lily walked forward and held out a little hand. "Hello, I'm Lily Evans. Pleased to meet you."
Harry clasped the small hand in his own, marveling at the fact that he was really speaking to and touching . . . his mother. Who didn't remember him, or James Potter, it seemed. "Hi. I'm Harry. I'm . . ." he almost blurted out your son, but caught himself and said instead, "—pleased to meet you too, Lily."
Lily stared at this tall stranger, the dark-haired handsome man with green eyes, and she felt an odd connection to him. "You know, I have the strangest feeling that . . . we've met before." She giggled suddenly. "Isn't that silly?" Abruptly she threw her arms about Harry's neck, hugging him. "And I missed you too."
Harry knelt and gathered her into his arms, his heart filled to bursting with love. "I missed you too," he said, his voice hoarse with emotion. Tears filled his eyes and trickled down his cheeks. He could not really remember Lily, but when he held her in his arms, he felt an instantaneous connection to her, a bond so deep and so strong that it transcended mere words. And he knew she felt it also, even if she couldn't remember why.
Lily held him tight, she could not explain the deep love that filled her when she hugged the tall wizard, only that it was there. It was pure love, a love that was not romantic, but almost . . . the love of a mother for a child. Which was the silliest thing she had ever felt before, but she couldn't deny it. Blinking back tears, she finally drew away and said, "Well, that was . . . unexpected." She gazed up at her son and said, "Are you, by chance, related to James Potter? You look like him, but you certainly don't seem to be the arrogant toerag he was."
"He was my father," Harry said, concealing a smirk.
"Oh . . . goodness!" Lily put a hand to her mouth. "I'm sorry . . . that was rude of me . . . but I just remember him as being . . . well . . . something of a spoiled brat and well, just because you're his son doesn't mean you're like him that way . . ." she trailed off awkwardly.
"Harry looks like James, but he behaves more like his mother," Ginny put in.
"Oh, good! I'm sure she was a wonderful woman . . . she had to be to put up with Potter's attitude . . ." Lily said bluntly. "Oh, dear, I've put my foot in it again!"
Harry, Ginny, Severus, and Draco burst out laughing.
"No, Lily, you pretty much hit the nail on the head," Severus said, smirking. "I know the memories must be confusing, but you'll sort them out eventually, like I did mine." He took her hand and led her over to Draco and Astoria. "This is Draco Malfoy and his wife, Astoria. Draco teaches potions and Astoria teaches Astronomy at Hogwarts."
Lily looked up at them and smiled gently. She grasped Draco's hand and said, "And you're nothing like your father either, are you?"
Draco laughed. "No, not much. Pleased to meet you, Lily." He found the child's honesty refreshing.
Then she turned to Astoria, whose eyes were luminous with tears, and she clasped both her hands and said quietly, "You've suffered a great loss. And you think your heart shall never be whole again. But it will be."
"How? How can you know that? Do you know . . . why my baby was taken from me?"
"It was an accident. You weren't . . . being punished or anything," Lily answered, her eyes filled with ancient wisdom. "I was sent back because I regret what I did before . . . but also because I'm needed." She placed a tiny hand on Astoria's chest. "Your heart can heal . . . when you let it love again. I can help you . . . if you'll let me."
"Are you here to replace her then?"
"No. One child can't replace another. But I do need a mother." She turned to Draco. "And a father. Would you . . . be my guardians?"
Astoria swept her up into a hug, laughing and crying, her sorrow and joy intermingling. She had found the answer to her questions. She picked Lily up and held her tight, tears falling into her auburn hair. "Yes, child. Welcome to the family, Lily." She looked over at her husband, who was looking rather stunned. "Draco, quit gaping like a fish out of water and come say hello to your new daughter."
Draco, being a wise husband, did as he was told, enveloping both Astoria and Lily in a great big hug. "How did you know, Tori?"
Astoria smirked. "Oh, call it . . . women's intuition."
A/N: I would like to thank Paola1991 for her suggestion that Severus might also have issues with Remus due to the werewolf prank.
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