A/N: Dun, Dun, DUNNNNNN. (See the last chapter was not a cliffhanger.)
A/N: This chapter has been edited to match earlier chapter plots that were mixed up with other stories in my head. This is what happens when I have too many stories in my head. Apologies to the confused.
Beta Love: The Dragon and the Rose, Dutchgirl01, Flyby Commander Shepard
Time for a Change
Right actions in the future are the best apologies for bad actions in the past. Tryon Edwards
Hogwarts came alive with winter decorations as the land started to freeze, the air chilled, and breath puffed out from children as they rubbed their hands together in the cold. Snow spread out from Hogsmeade, covering the land in white, and many children enjoyed the toboggan rides in stead of the regular carriages.
Many snow figures, some more skillfully done than others, dotted the Hogwarts green, which had becomes a snowfield of fantastic animals or at least what could be a fantastic animal if your imagination was high. Upperclassman crafted detailed beasts, animated to growl and move, if but a little to scare and excite the younger students. They rode around on enchanted polar bears and flying snow reindeer, even if it was under the stern scrutiny of Madam Hooch to make sure they didn't dump themselves into the almost-frozen lake.
The centaur did a festival to celebrate the coming of winter and the end of the season of harvest, and they roasted a large elk over the spit, centaur style, to share with centaur and Hogwarts in mutual thankfulness for the shift in blessings. They, too, had felt the gift of the shift of power. The Dark Forest seemed to be healthier and less ominous— less dark. Huge golden birds the size of the long-extinct Pelagornis sandersi started to move into the forest, feasting on the Acromantulas that were invasively inhabiting the place, threatening the staff and students of Hogwarts, as well as the native centaur herd. Wherever the golden birds nested, the forest grew even more lush, and the area that had once been dark and gloomy due to the Acromantulas became grand and beautiful, even in mid-winter when snows surrounded.
The Eyrie Spiders seemed relieved that the golden birds hungered only for the species much bigger than they were, but they never went far from the eyrie and Hogwarts grounds unless they had larger and more capable backup. Even with their ability to seemingly teleport in and out, large spider-eating birds made the little arachnids mighty nervous, but it wasn't like they had less to do at Hogwarts, safe within the grounds.
Their biggest project was helping Severus in his instinctive, driven need to build his eyrie, and he flew far and wide to get the perfect branches, vines, and living moss to line the nest. The spiders assisted by binding the nest in silk so it was flexible and even taking the giant leaves and weaving them into a shelter over the top.
The eyrie itself was perched way on the highest ramparts over the arboretum, and Fawkes and Imogen assisted in decorating the nest with living plants, shiny things, and the softest nesting material they could find. Imogen turned out to be quite the weaver, making the sturdy nesting bowl that would harbour a family of phoenixes and their collected chicks, helpful spiders, and whatever else cohabitated in the huge nest.
The wintertime festiveness infested even the eyrie, and the spiders decorated it with miniature pine trees, snow, icicles, and some kind of strange glowing fungus they had harvested from somewhere. No one was exactly sure. The trees glowed softly at night, and when the phoenix family cuddled together in the nesting bowl, they sang softly over Hogwarts, putting everyone into peaceful dreams.
People seemed happier, more friendly, less troubled, and even— against all odds— able to accept that being in a different house didn't make another person pond scum. The gnarled hands of the Dark Lord and his whispers into the ears of youth seemed to fall on deaf ears, for who could complain when their magical school was truly and undoubtedly the best place to live in remembered history.
Dumbledore came to visit the Snape apprentices and seemed to take in the Hogwarts' blessed quarters with the giddiness of a new first year. He and Fawkes took a walk together, and when they returned, Dumbledore gave them a scroll, signed by all the governors, officially blessing their residence at Hogwarts "for as long as the sun rises and sets." It seemed as though the governors, too, had realised just how much better their school was with both magic and phoenixes in residence— a family of them being the kind of blessing many a school would have gone to war for. In fact, many schools were sending ambassadors to visit, hoping both to foster goodwill and get a peek at the phoenixes.
Strangely, most people didn't connect the phoenixes to the Snapes, thinking the Snapes were merely caretakers. Severus found this highly amusing, and Hermione thought it perfect. Letting them believe that Fawkes and Imogen were the mated pair amused Fawkes and Imogen both. They would lead the curious on long, merry chases around the school, leaving Hermione and Severus with considerably less time under the spotlight.
Hermione, feeling as though she were missing something from her future past, realised that while the Founder's pieces had been restored to their former glory by the return of the school's true wards, there had been one thing that had not been from the founders: the diary. In her time, she realised Ginny had been the one victimised by it, and in that time it had been Lucius Malfoy that had given it to her by slipping it into her cauldron.
Severus sent Lucius a detailed letter by owl, and Lucius had sent back word that he would look for this diary amongst his father's old things from the war. About a week later, Lucius arrived at the Auror's Office and handed Alastor Moody a silver-cloth wrapped and red-ribbon bound leather diary.
Lucius' only comment was, "Roll in your grave, father."
Moody consulted with Amelia Bones from the Department of Mysteries, and proceeded to borrow "a few things" that he would need to make the diary "go away right proper."
A stab from a unicorn's horn (from a live, borrowed unicorn) and a soak in a bucket mixed with kirin tears and blessed water from some place no one could pronounce correctly and—the diary had exploded in black-clouded fury as the face of Voldemort came out screaming. As the pages rippled and burst into blackened steam and corruption, the cloud was sucked into the nearby, hastily activated Veil Gate as if it were a Muggle vacuum set on high. Alastor kicked the bucket and the diary into the Veil Gate too, for good measure.
He did not, however, attempt to kick the unicorn, much to the unicorn's relief.
"Someone thank Amelia for lending us her Veil Gate," Moody barked as he wiped his forehead, his eye darting around wildly.
"When did we even GET a Veil Gate?!" Auror Dickenson babbled in shock.
"We've always had one, idiot," Moody said, slapping the Auror upside the head from the back. "We just don't keep it HERE, usually."
Dickenson continued to babble on incoherently for a few minutes but finally settled on a large cup of extra strong tea spiked with a liberal dose of calming draught.
A few of the non-fighting Aurors proceeded to piece the office back together with magic, and conjured up a few cushy resting couches for those who had just watched the soul piece being sucked into the Veil Gate.
Whether the Wizarding world knew or not that the true threat of Voldemort was finally well and truly gone, no one knew. There were no announcements or tabloids that proclaimed it had been done.
The Ministry seemed to breathe a sigh of profound relief, the situation having bought them an actual chance to bring Voldemort to justice and not have him come back to life— provided he didn't make another Horcrux. All seemed quiet, at least until…
Ministry Hides Destruction of You-Know-Who's Instruments of Immortality, Hopes No One Will Notice!
I know what you're thinking!
HE can't be dead!
But I know the truth! YNW's Dark instruments of immortality were destroyed in secret hoping that no one would notice so that our good wizarding public could go on believing him still alive!
What better way to scare magical citizens into continuing to pay extra taxes and fees to feed the coffers of a war that never ended!
And it's all being kept so secret at the Ministry, but I, Rita Skeeter, your intrepid girl reporter, know the truth! I have ways to find all the dirt they try to sweep under the rug. I know they are hiding a Veil Portal in the Auror's Office to dispose of people they want to simply disappear.
I think there never was a Dark Lord, YNW, He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named. No. I think they just made him up and threw some poor unlucky sod through that Veil Portal like he was yesterday's news, then let the crime rate rise to blame it on some supposed master villain. I think that his is all some dastardly plot to keep our discerning eyes away from that wily old goat, Albus Dumbledore, who looms over Hogwarts like a dragon on its hoard. I think that he really took out that supposed Dark Lord and then made up some cock-and-bull story to make it look like he's still the lily-white Lord of the Light side.
Let's not forget about Dumbledore's little phoenix breeding program that he quite conveniently set up to make it look like a greasy-haired Slytherin nobody and some random Scottish waif (who got her own parents killed, no less) somehow 'saved' Hogwarts.
Let's not forget the vile love magic that someone cast upon Hogwarts and caused innocent children to set upon each other in fevered lust and unwittingly getting themselves married!
It's disgusting what is going on over there both in the hallowed halls of Hogwarts and in our own Ministry of Magic. Let's talk about the innocent witch Hogwarts framed with poisoning another student so she could take the fall as a witless Muggleborn idiot! All to make heroes out of a carefully selected pair of young apprentices.
I'm betting that if you cast a good, strong Protego on these supposed phoenixes, you will discover that they are nothing but overfed, transfigured chickens.
I think Dumbledore needs to be brought forth to answer for his crimes! Who knows what other horrible things he's done behind the twinkly-eyed mask of the doddering old fool.
I, Rita Skeeter, bring you the only news that matters: the unvarnished TRUTH!
Elphinstone threw the paper into the fire, happily listening to the inanely yammering paper screaming as it was reduced to silent bits of grey ash.
"You shouldna read such drivel if all your are going to do is get angry and burn it," Minerva said, giving him a kiss on the head.
Elphinstone sighed, patting her hand with his. "I want to know how she gets her information. She sensationalises everything and makes up everything else, but there is a grain of truth to what she writes. Just enough to make me suspect she's there during it. But how? I have my agents looking everywhere for her. We even have people looking to see if she goes into disguise, but she always, somehow, eludes every tail."
"She's been a treacherous sort ever since she was in school, that one," Minerva said. "For one so young, she has all the ambition, and even more talent with creative lies. She got in trouble for turning the Quidditch teams against each other by making up stories about the players and cheating. Almost got three students expelled due to dueling each other in the halls. She was kicked off the reporting team as well."
Elphinstone sighed. "That doesn't surprise me, love. But I want to know how she became a master of disguise or whatever in Merlin's name she's doing to get in these places. Mind you, that last article was a lot more rubbish that truth, but there was a touch of truth in it. So either she's a really good guesser, or— she has some way of getting in the know."
Minerva shrugged. "She is resourceful and determined. Had she been in another career, they would be far less annoying qualities."
"Well, she lacks the integrity to allow her to be under my watch, my love," Elphinstone said.
A loud buzzing caught Elphinstone's attention, and he shooed the insect off the vase of flowers he had brought Minerva. "However, seeing as we can't seem to find the leak, I have taken the liberty this morning of sealing down each room with wards. Nothing goes in or out without authorisation, so unless you're supposed to be at Hogwarts— well, let's just say they will have problems. If it walks, crawls, or flies their activity is going to a log to the Headmaster's office and to the Aurors, amongst other things."
"I suppose that will work, unless our culprits are students or— a teacher here at Hogwarts."
Elphinstone sighed. "Well at least we would know it wasn't outside at that point. Plus, I have my apprentice working on a rather interesting project that your daughter was most eager to assist with."
"Oh?" Minerva said, eyes narrowing in suspicion. "Just what are you up to, love?"
"Just assisting our dear apprentices with their mastery project," Elphinstone said cryptically.
"What sort of mastery project, Elph," Minerva prodded.
"Elph," Minerva said, prodding him insistently with one finger.
"Oh, just something that will get them promoted if it succeeds," he replied cryptically.
Minerva arched a brow.
Elphinstone drew Minerva's head down for a lingering kiss. "Let's just say the leys are whispering, and the caretakers are listening."
Minerva offered him tea. "So, what did you do to the wards?"
He grinned at her. "Oh, just… tweaked them a bit."
"When you say 'tweaked them a bit, love, I know big things are on the venue."
Elphinstone wore his very best polished halo.
Severus pulled out an ornate box and Hermione knocked gently on the lid before opening it. Myrtle's protége, Vesper, whinged on endlessly about how she didn't want anyone else in her toilet, that it was her place as she'd died there and all. If they really wanted to share it with her, then they'd just have to die too.
Hermione noted that no one save Myrtle had died in that particular toilet, and Myrtle had passed on, but Vesper wasn't taking that to heart at all. If ghosts could have complexes, apparently they could also have delusions— who knew?
"Get out of here, you freaks!" Vesper bellowed, making all the toilets explode. "Is it not bad enough people are always making fun of me? They have to send you here to make it seem like I can't even be the best at that? GET OUT!"
Fawkes, who had managed to have his fill of Vesper's caterwauling, used his long tail to whip Imogen at the ghost. The little phoenix burst into white flames, letting out a high-pitched scream, and Vesper covered her ears and fled through the walls as fast as she could, wailing in terror. Imogen landed on one of the stall doors, puffed up like a feather duster, flames wreathing her body to express her annoyance.
Fawkes raised his head crest and shook his head, perhaps thinking of the exuberance of youth.
As Hermione lifted the lid to the box, both she and Severus closed their eyes. A small serpent rose from the box, curling around their fingers, tongue flicking in and out. It rubbed up against their fingers and looked around, a tiny red feather on its head rising and falling. It hissed softly, and the ground quaked as the hidden entryway exposed itself.
The tiny basilisk rubbed against Hermione's and Severus' talons with clear affection and slipped back into the box, using its mouth to close the lid down back over its portable nest. Severus and Hermione opened their eyes and patted the box gently. "Who knew that baby basilisks could be so endearing?"
Severus tucked the box away. "As long as you aren't trying to look them in the eye, certainly."
Hermione smiled. "Technically, if we were in phoenix form, it wouldn't matter."
"Indeed. Yet being in phoenix form hardly helps us open doors." Severus eyed Hermione with an arched brow.
Hermione patted him on the arm. "Come on, let's go."
"Do we have any idea how we are going to survive a gigantic hungry basilisk?" Severus' eyebrow twitched.
Hermione grinned. "Bring a large food offering," she said cheekily. "Obviously."
Severus narrowed his eyes, hearing something oddly… familiar in her choice of words but not quite able to pinpoint precisely why.
Hermione pulled out a miniature cage filled with equally miniature saltwater crocodiles inside and— was that a bull hippo? Merciful Merlin! How the hell did Hermione—
Okay, well, he thought to himself. This was Hermione he was thinking about. If anyone could rustle up a cage full of African wildlife at some random moment, it would be her or any of her incarnations for that matter.
Hermione winked and crossed her arms across her chest and pushed off down into the darkness below, leaving Severus to question the sanity of his mate and himself for following her. Imogen settled on his shoulder as Fawkes flew down into the darkness after Hermione. Severus crossed his arms and descended after her, disappearing into the stygian darkness.
"This looks," Severus said dryly, "complicated."
Hermione stood before the great snake-locked doorway, looking wistful.
"What is it?" Severus asked, touching her shoulder.
Hermione turned, smiling slightly. "Memories. Thinking of Harry."
Severus touched her cheek. "I'm sorry things did not end well with him."
Hermione sighed. "In the end he had to make a choice. Loyalty to me, or the survival of his career and his ability to feed his family. His children, they were innocent, and he could not leave them alone like he was, and Dumbledore, well, he had his fingers wrapped around Harry's heart from day one. I didn't have a chance. And Ginny, well, she wanted what was best for Ginny, and that meant fame and untarnished reputation with a fat paycheck to remind her that she wasn't her mother. It seems to be a common thing for people. Apparently I missed that day in class."
Severus frowned. "I am glad you did. Do you really think one such as that could have ever found it in their heart to bond to a phoenix? To throw your soul into the winds of Fate to hear the Song? To sacrifice self for the many?"
Hermione looked thoughtful. "You have a way of saying things, love."
"To love me," Severus added in a whisper.
Hermione pulled his face down in a kiss. "Don't even," she chided. "Anyone who could not see the shining beacon of your worth just didn't have the patience to dig through that cynicism and snarkitude," she said cheekily.
"Snarkitude? Is that even a word?"
"It is now," Hermione said. "Problem with it?"
"No, just—" Severus snorted. "I'll take it."
Hermione smiled at him. "I just have to worry now, since you embraced your inner phoenix, that you'll realise how delectable you look with those broad shoulders and chiseled body— I may have fight off angry hordes of witch Mongols to keep you."
"Don't I have a say in this?"
Hermione said. "Does anyone who is the victim of witch-covet?"
Severus scoffed. "If they weren't interested in me before I sprouted feathers and apparently the look of a bronzed phoenix god, then maybe there would have been some merit to your supposition, however, seeing as a the only witch I give a shite about is right in front of me, I find it highly doubtful my gaze will wander for something as pitiful as a piece of arse."
Hermione laughed. "Severus, love, with the way you look now, it's not about whether YOUR gaze will wander. It's all of them, out there." She waved her hand around.
Severus looked down her nose at her. "Have you seen my beaky nose?"
"Have you seen yourself fly a mating flight lately?"
"We may not have eggs arriving soon, but it was not for lack of prowess on your part, lover," Hermione noted.
Severus flushed crimson. Imogen peeped proudly. Fawkes warbled with unmistakable amusement, shaking his head.
He pulled out the box again, knocking softly, then the pair closed their eyes. The little basilisk poked his head out, tongue flicking, and hissed something, and the door creaked and shuddered before opening. The little serpent retreated back into his house, firmly shutting the lid.
Hermione and Severus opened their eyes and after waiting for them to adjust to the darkness, gazed out into the heavily shadowed gloom of the adjoining room. Hermione nodded to Severus and pulled out the cage she was carrying, moved it into the next room with magic, and then hit it with a Protego just before raising up a circular shield to surround herself and Severus as four large saltwater crocs and an highly irate bull hippopotamus crashed madly around the room.
Something huge crushed a round one of the crocs and slammed it back and forth like a dog with a rag toy. The mangled reptile went flying in the air and then—
The jaws of a hungry basilisk crushed around it—
Hermione and Severus quickly closed the portal door, having seen enough to know that the rumours were true. They heard even more hissing, slamming, and bestial roars before silence followed with the low, disturbing sound of flesh moving against flesh, making a distinct ripping and tearing noise.
Something very big was moving against the portal door, hissing.
Severus placed the box down on the floor, giving it soft knock, and the two of them positioned themselves out of the way before closing their eyes.
The box opened with a click, and the little basilisk came out, feather moving up and down as he hissed curiously towards the door. Deeper, louder hissing came from the other side. The hissing went back and forth multiple times before the thumps against the door at last went silent.
The little basilisk hissed, tongue flicking. The door rattled and opened, clanking as the mechanism moved again. The huge basilisk on the other side lay nose to tiny nose with the miniature basilisk. Their tongues flicked in and out and up and down as they regarded each other from their side of the barrier.
"Cyriss says you can lower the barrier," Fawkes said with a warble. "She won't attack. She wishes to give you something to help you understand her."
Hermione and Severus tentatively reached out the the barrier, placing their hands on the shimmering surface. The barrier dropped, and the giant serpents tongue flicked over their talon-like hands, tasting their scents.
The huge serpent moved back and forth like a cobra assessing its target, hissing softly. The little basilisk, who had managed to weave his way up Hermione's robes to curl around her hair like an Egyptian headdress, hissed a response, his little red feather rising and falling much like Fawkes and Imogen's would.
"Be very still," Fawkes warbled.
Hermione and Severus set their jaws together, both giving a soft warble of nervousness, and who could blame them with the prospect of not seeing death coming for them? Phoenix or no, the prospect of being reborn from the ashes after being eaten by a basilisk did not seem like a particularly noble way to die. The pair felt a slight discomfort as something warm and wet moved across their closed eyelids and seemed in between the crack. There was a strange green glow that leaked out from between their eyelids, and green tendrils of magic flowed through their capillaries into their arteries, sending the strange serpent magic through their bloodstream until their entire body showed the strange glow of green. As the glow faded, both gasped loudly, their bodies shuddering together.
"Did it work?" a voice asked.
"Did what work?" Severus replied.
There was a soft chuckle. "It has been a long time since one had the courage to seek out the basilisk, even more rare to find one wise enough to bring food to sate my hunger before attempting to parlay— and you have brought me a gift beyond measure in returning my son to me, who I have not heard but for his voice through the shell of his egg, stolen from me so long ago by a boy who vowed that he would protect it. Open your eyes, beings of the feather and fire, for now you are also blessed with the venom of the scale— my gift to you in return for bringing me a most generous meal and the return of my son."
Fawkes pecked Hermione as Imogen pecked Severus, and they both jumped, opening their eyes to see the basilisk regarding them with sulfurous eyes. They gasped together as if waiting to turn to stone, but it didn't happen.
The she-basilisk hissed her serpentine laughter. "Salazar did the same, only he screamed and clutched at his eyes as though they were burning themselves away. He opened them to see me only to close them tightly, fearing he had sealed his doom."
"You knew Salazar?" Hermione asked, feeling her skin as if to confirm it really wasn't stone.
The great serpent nodded, her head waving back and forth slowly. "He is the one who bade me stay here to watch over his most valuable treasury of knowledge, hidden away deep within. It is here where I slept away in a magical sleep with my precious egg, waking only when one who spoke our tongue moved the lock upon the chamber's door. The last to come was a boy. A wizard child. Dark hair and cold eyes like stone. He did not seek the knowledge below, but he had my egg, and he said he could keep it safe if I would perform tasks for him, and I did— but he never returned. Nor did my egg. I lived upon the fatted rats and other things that crawled in the dark, biding my time to escape and reclaim my egg. But you—"
The basilisk tilted her head. "You have come not only with food but with my lost son and I am greatly in your debt. What would you ask of me, young ones?"
Hermione and Severus exchanged baffled glances.
Fabled Chamber of Secrets Found!
The hidden chamber of Salazar Slytherin, long thought to be nothing more than a myth, has been unearthed by two young apprentices as an mastery project from their respective masters, Professor Elphinstone Urquart and Professor Minerva Urquart (née McGonagall) from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
The chamber, guarded by none other than Salazar Slytherin's ancient creature— a basilisk—allowed parlay with Masters Urquart for the benefit of the school, revealing a treasure trove not in gold, but knowledge. The journals of the original founders of Hogwarts lay perfectly preserved within their sealed scrolls as if waiting for the time their knowledge could be shared with the world.
With the old myths now debunked, the true bonds of friendship between the four founding figures of Hogwarts have now been revealed, written with their very own quills. Even more amazing was the history of the she-basilisk, described by Salazar Slytherin himself, detailing the facts of the creature's life cycle and habits as well as their ability to serve as true familiars to the most brave and respectful of magical folk, and how Archibald McFawlty, his sworn rival from a family of renowned chicken farmers, cursed the basilisk line to be susceptible to the cock's crow in order to sell more of his chickens to the frightened magical folk— a curse he claimed would last "for a thousand years."
With such a profound and glorious discovery, the two apprentices of Masters Urquart and McGonagall are set to be highly sought after upon completion of their respective masteries, and their masters will also most likely be well sought after as well for aspiring apprentices everywhere. As for their plans, they aren't prepared to divulge them at this point.
Keep reading the Prophet for further updates on this fascinating discovery (and those involved) as they become available!
Rita Skeeter: Missing Person or Fugitive from Justice?
Aurors are investigating the disappearance of the well-known, notorious reporter, Rita Skeeter, who had made her name at the Daily Prophet for telling the "unvarnished truth" to the magical world. Regardless if you believe or not, she had gone missing in pursuit of what she could only tell her peers "something bigger than all of you."
Shortly after her disappearance, information came back to the Ministry that Ms Skeeter was practicing illegal, unregistered Animagery within the hallowed halls of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. While she hasn't been found yet, the trail of her magic has been logged at the Magical Trace Office, indicating she was not only not invited to visit Hogwarts but also practicing illicit magic while on school grounds.
It is unknown what her illegal Animagus form is, and many schoolchildren have become a wee bit paranoid, questioning everything from the castle cats to the castle's bats. As for what she truly is, the Headmaster has invited the Animagus Registry to come spend the week at Hogwarts to carry out an official investigation of this most perplexing matter.
As Lily fidgeted with discomfiture, Minerva poured the tea and distributed the biscuits from the nearby tin. Lily's face paled as a lavender and a lime green fluffy spider scuttled by, carrying tins of sweets. They plunked the tins down, squeaking a greeting to Minerva, and then disappeared off the table. Another spider scurried over and bumped into the table, a bucket obscuring its vision. It squeaked out a fluent chain of arachnid profanity, plopping down on its belly with a dejected sigh.
Minerva scooped him up and popped the silver bucket off his head, smiling as she placed a kiss on his head. The spider squeaked happily, hugged her cheek, and then plopped a sugar cube into her tea cup, stirred it and scurried away, taking the bucket of cubes with him. A smaller spider, perhaps younger but with short, orange, velvet-like fur crawled over to Minerva, extending its legs in greeting. She smiled, putting out her hand, and the spider crawled into her palm. She gave it a lift to the nearby shelf.
Lily tried to sip her tea and look neutral, but her expression was caught somewhere between horror and instinctive knee-jerk response.
After the pumpkin-coloured spider disappeared, Minerva tilted her head. "Afraid of spiders?"
"I dislike all bugs," Lily confessed.
"Technically, spiders are not bugs, Miss Evans. They are arachnids," Minerva said.
Lily shuddered. "Bugs are bugs."
Minerva frowned. "Sentient arachnids at that," she said.
"I don't like bugs," Lily said again. "I don't like rodents."
Minerva seemed to realise something more was going on than what she had first thought, thinking back to the trauma of being almost-infected by the Mark as well as finding out that Peter Pettigrew was a rat Animagus in secret. She regret that the young witch had such a trauma, but was unsure how to remedy it amidst the plethora of other issues the girl had. Young woman or no— Lily had problems with her emotions getting the better of her, and her magic both excelled and failed due to the influxations of her emotional backwash.
It was really nothing new with witches, but Lily's emotions were stronger than most. Usually such taints to magic resolved as the child grew older. Accidental magic was something young children had. Their emotions, unchecked, could do marvelous and horrible things, depending on the mood and whim of the child. Had Lily had a magical family, it would have been checked quickly with lessons from an early age, for one did not need a wand to make things happen or control the magic you had, it just made it easier. Some abilities, and Minerva's family called them wild talents, were best settled with a firm, assertive exposure to controlled magic to level it out early. So late, however, and you had to deal with a lack of respect for authority inherent in teenagers of any persuasion, Muggle or magical.
A chain of warbles came from outside the window as a bleached white and midnight black phoenix flew in, chasing two other silver-white phoenixes. The larger or the silvery phoenixes did a loop de loop, landing on a thick perch in the middle of the room surrounding an enormous bowl piled high with assorted fruit.
The phoenixes shared the delicious fruit between themselves, tearing into it, and taking turns stuffing Imogen's wide open, bright orange inner mouth. The little phoenix, still too fluffy to be considered an adult, at least in body, seemed quite satisfied with the results of her shameless begging.
Lily perked slightly, fascinated by the smaller phoenix, who still preferred looking more the fluffy chick than full-grown bird, despite her actual age. The larger almost blue-silver phoenix gave a merry warble, and the other phoenixes answered, making a resonant chord of music. They gathered around the larger, older phoenix and rubbed up against him before he launched off the perch and flew out the window, giving a happy warble that filled the air and hearts and souls of those listening.
The fluffy chick gave Lily the eye, her discerning black eyes staring a hole into Lily's skull. Fawkes pecked Imogen on the head, giving a stern warble before snatching her up and carrying her out the window, despite her peeping protests.
There was a flutter and blur of motion as Severus and Hermione suddenly materialised where the black and white phoenixes had been. For a moment, they looked slightly feral— their dark, fully black eyes glinting with a sort of preternatural glow. Severus' hair fell about his shoulders as a mixture of feathers and shiny long hair. The look of attentiveness, to Hermione's shining white-maned face caused Lily's stomach to knot in jealousy, even knowing the strength of her own visions.
"You wished to see us," Severus said, sounding perfectly formal. He took his mate's hand as he guided her to a seat so she could sit. The curve of his obsidian talons curled ever so lightly around Hermione's opalescent ones.
Lily gasped in shocked surprise as she saw the almost alien merge of feathers and scales. While their faces were undoubtedly human, they had a strangeness about them that seemed to blur between species, much like how centaurs were not-quite horses yet not-quite-men either.
Hermione whispered into Severus' ear, and they both closed their eyes. Their forms shimmered for a second, and then the alienness faded. Flesh replaced scales. Hair replaced feathers, and Hermione's shining mane turned into a duller, natural brown. "Our apologies. When family visits, we lose ourselves to the Song," Hermione said in a soft voice. "It is hard to remember what others are supposed to see."
Minerva poured them both tea, smiling fondly at them. "Tis fine by me, you two. I enjoy just looking upon you."
Hermione tugged at her collar, and Lily's eyes widened as her hand curled around what she thought was a choker, but it was, in fact, a snake. Thick coils moved around her neck, both tightening and loosening as Hermione stretched her neck and yawned. Her fingers traced the scales gently, and Lily saw what looked like a blindfold wrapped around the snake's head, covering the eyes. Severus, too, had the same, living choker around his neck. The serpent's tongue flicked in and out as Severus gave the snake a tender touch of his fingers against the scales.
"Are those— basilisks?" Lily asked, looking a little disturbed.
Severus nodded. "They have blindfolds to keep their gaze from harming people, and they do not desire to roam, save to hunt and eat— which they do in safer places, away from the curious gaze of students or staff. The one around my neck, is Cyriss. The one around Hermione's neck is Eilish, his mother. She allowed herself to be made smaller so she could be closer to us now that the Chamber of Secrets is no longer secret. The closeness seals the Covenant— the bond, which is why they are both allowed with us instead of being forced into hiding somewhere deep within the bowels of the Ministry."
"But— they are basilisks!" Lily exclaimed. "A type XXXXX dangerous, untamable magical creature!"
Hermione looked over with a slight smile. "There are many highly misunderstood creatures out there," she said. Eilish raised her head, hissing into Hermione's ear, and Hermione had to bite back a snicker.
"Eilish asks that you please refrain from hysterical screaming, as it's very painful to basilisk ears," she translated.
Lily paled and swallowed, nodding.
Severus extended his arm to Minerva, and Cyriss slithered down to visit Minerva, extending himself off the wizard's hand to seek Minerva's warm arm. Minerva placed her arm out, and he curled around it, moving up her arm to nestle under and around her collar, with just a little wrapped around her bun like a scaly hair ornament.
Severus smiled. "You spoil him so much. He loves how very warm you are," he said.
Minerva grinned. "I'm getting used to being a favourite heat rock for him, laddie. It's quite amusing."
The little basilisk's head feather rose and fell as he hissed serpentine laughter and snuggled closer into Minerva's neck.
"It's that uniquely feline aura of warmth," Hermione said with a wink.
They all turned to Lily.
"I know you've been wishing to speak with us for some time now, Miss Evans," Hermione said. "Please, what is it that you wish to say?"
"I apologise," Lily said, looking down. "I did a shameful thing in dosing your tea and trying to keep you away from Sev. I didn't mean for it to poison you, I swear it, but I know I shouldn't have done it anyway, regardless of my true intentions. It was a terrible thing to do, and— I felt awful when I realised exactly what I had done— and what I had almost done. I thought— I thought Sev was just avoiding me because of the horrid things all the portraits were saying about me. I was an idiot, and a fool. I— I want to make it right."
Severus looked sombre, his lips pulled into a tight frown, yet Hermione's hand went over his and she lightly squeezed his fingers.
"You may think, Miss Evans, that all the portraits do is speak of the ill deeds you may have committed, but they also tell the story of witch who defended a young Slytherin girl from the unwanted advances of an wizard who did not wish to take no for an answer. While still others paint a picture of a witch who helped Argus Filch with some cleanup without being asked, even helping him to furnish his room to be less stifling, and rescuing a kitten from a suit of armour to give to him for company."
Hermione took a deep breath. "Such demonstrations mean a great deal more to me than apologies, as actions are so much more telling than words."
Severus exchanged glances with Hermione. "There is a boarding house for abandoned squib children and unwed teenage mothers in Hogsmeade. It is not commonly known, for the facade is a bakery that they run to provide funds for those in their care. They are, unfortunately, lacking in both sufficient hands and funds to expand their efforts— alas, there are many more such situations as of late than they can reasonably handle. If you truly wish to make your mark on the world, perhaps you can start there. In time, you may find that nothing erases a shameful past quite as well as acts of genuine kindness in the present."
"You may even find a new calling in it," Hermione said quietly, her curly tresses falling about her face like a frame. Eilish hissed something into her ear, and Hermione nodded.
"Eilish says poor reputations are not always easy to shake, but there are those that will always know the truth," Hermione translated. "Those are the people who really matter."
"But do not do this to prove to us," Severus said, as he cricked his neck to the side. "Do it for yourself or not at all."
"For once you leave Hogwarts, Miss Evans," Hermione pointed out, "it is not us you will have to live with."
"If this is something you wish to do, Miss Evans," Minerva said after a while, "then I will arrange it so you can do so on weekends, provided your class work does not suffer. Your N.E.W.T.s are coming up, and you should not forget how important they are to your future."
Lily bit her lip. "Professor, I would also like to start a study group for the N.E.W.T.s. Something where members of all four houses could come study together. Someplace neutral. The library, perhaps? In the evenings before curfew."
Minerva tapped her fingers to her chin. "I don't see why not. I will discuss the times with Madam Pince, and she will owl you with the details and when she can be there to supervise."
Lily, paling at the thought of the notoriously strict Madam Pince, swallowed hard but nodded in agreement. "Thank you, Professor."
Lily squeezed her hands tightly. "I would like to volunteer at the boarding house on the weekends as well."
Minerva lifted her head, seemingly appraising Lily. "Very well, Miss Evans. I will owl you the details once I have spoken with Mrs Callidora Featherwaite, the social worker in charge over there."
Lily nodded, and her eyes went round as saucers at the sight of a large puffball spider with fluffy lavender fur and pink spots putting sugar in her tea and stirring it for her.
"Would you like milk?" the spider asked.
"Nothankyou," Lily said in a rush that sounded more like a squeak.
"Okay!" the spider scurried off, hopping over to Severus, crawling up his arm and then leaping off it to silk-glide off to another space.
Lily slowly moved the teacup away from her, staring at her lap.
A pair of spiders tugged a sliced loaf of lemon cake over.
"Lemon cake?" they asked.
"We made it ourselves!" the other spider said excitedly.
Minerva plucked up a piece and nibbled. "Oh, my fuzzy little friends, you've really outdone yourselves."
The spiders spronged up off the table and disappeared in a puff of ether.
"Cake, my dear?" Minerva said, extending the plate.
Lily shook her head rather violently.
Hermione and Severus both took pieces of cake and rolled their eyes in pleasure.
"I think the house-elves are going to need to really step up their game," Severus commented.
"Well there is always elf wine," Minerva quipped.
"Spider cider?" Hermione suggested.
"Oo! Good idea!" a puffball said from her hair. It poofed into a cloud of ether and disappeared.
"Now you did it," Severus chuckled.
Hermione grinned sheepishly. "Oops."
Severus' lip twitched, then he pointed at Lily's left shoulder. "Miss Evans, You have a—"
Lily let out a panicked screech at the sight of a large shiny green beetle clinging to her sweater. She swatted frantically at her clothes and then grabbed the first thing she could find that was large and heavy. Snatching Minerva's logbook up off her desk, she started slamming it down repeatedly over the skittering beetle, yelling hysterically.
Hermione and Severus quickly scooched their chairs back as the fury of the witch seemed to go into the very physical instead of the magical. Minerva too, had wide eyes, as they were all totally focused on the scene like horrified Muggles watching an imminent train wreck.
Lily, on the other hand, was far too busy going completely crazy in her absolute determination to obliterate one terrified bug off the face of the Earth. She slammed the book down with such force that the jar of quills went flying off Minerva's desk. The next few slams missed the beetle by mere centimeters, and the next few sent the plate of lemon cake and the teapot flying in random directions. The teapot landed in a hastily spun web, the lemon cake landed on a frantic house elf, the quills ended up stuck in the ceiling, slammed into a portrait, whose sole occupant dove for cover, and all the parchments that had once lined Minerva's desk attempted to make their escape out the open window.
Lily, perhaps belatedly remembering that she was a witch, pulled out her wand and pointed it at the offending insect, screaming, "EXPULSO!"
A jet of blue light slammed into the offending insect and blew it into the nearest castle wall with an added explosion on impact, rocking the entire room and knocking everyone to the floor as the room was lit up with a flare of brilliant blue. There was a low-pitched whine as Elph's new wards abruptly slammed into place, shimmering with electrical current as his magic prevented any and all escape from those who were not recognised as rightful residents of Hogwarts.
Only the sound of a woman's high-pitched shrieking filled the emptiness after.
Lily blinked as the blinding brilliance cleared, yet the screaming did not end. As she looked around, black and white wings unfolded from Minerva, unwrapping like the wings of a dragon as Severus and Hermione stood, carefully extricating the Deputy Headmistress from the debris left in the wake of the blast.
A gaping hole in Minerva's office wall exposed them all to the elements outside. A startled-looking owl perched on the remnants of the stone wall, looking quite baffled. Its leg was wrapped with a message, but the owl looked ready to fly off and ditch its duty in favour of sweet survival.
Dumbledore stumbled in from the de-hinged door, staggering in to stare dumbfounded at the destruction of his deputy's office.
"Minerva? Dear Merlin, are you alright?"
Minerva shook her head. "Yes, Albus, thankfully I am in one piece. However—" She looked down at the floor. "I believe she will require emergency medical attention."
Dumbledore shuffled carefully around and over the overturned chairs, books, desk and assorted debris to find the crumpled form of Rita Skeeter, bleeding, broken and moaning in agony on Minerva's floor. His brows rose quickly before furrowing in thought. "Well, Ms Skeeter, had I known you were going to visit us today, I would have arranged for rather more comfortable accommodations than Minerva's office floor. There are some Aurors that are just dying to ask you some questions, questions I wouldn't mind hearing the answers to myself."
Dumbledore stroked his beard. "Would someone please tell me what, exactly, caused this?" He eyed the Snapes and their basilisks with frank suspicion.
Minerva, Severus, and Hermione all pointed to a red-faced Lily Evans at the same time, saying not a word.
Lily, pinned by the Headmaster's piercing blue gaze, swallowed hard. "I swear, Professor, I just squished a stupid bug!"
"Well," Dumbledore said with a strangely amused lightheartedness. "You may have that partly right, my dear." He waved his wand and sent his phoenix Patronus flying out the open wall. "Ms Skeeter, I fear I always knew you'd come to a bad end, however, this was not quite how I envisioned it."
Skeeter let out a pained wheeze. "I'll make you pay for this, you little ginger bint," she said, glaring as she pulled into a fetal position, grimacing in pain.
"Ah, Ms Skeeter," Elph said as he gave his wife a kiss on the head. "What a true pleasure it is to meet you at last." His eyes gleamed with satisfaction. "I will be happy to let the Aurors know what you truly think of our students here at Hogwarts as well as inform them of every single time you've passed through the tracking wards within the last month."
Skeeter's eyes were filled with undisguised hatred, but the moment they were, one of the enchanted censors that hung in Minerva's office (and had miraculously not been blown up) went off and doused the Rita with calming drought and tranquilising potion left over from when the contagious Mark was spreading through Hogwarts like a foul pestilence.
Rita's expression suddenly went slack and her eyes fluttered before she slumped onto the floor, drooling.
Dumbledore poked the censor with his finger. "Well, I've never been quite so glad that those were around," he said. "Is there anything else you would like to tell me before the Aurors arrive?"
Elph and Minerva exchanged glances as Hermione and Severus did the same.
"No," they all chorused together.
Dumbledore stroked his beard. "Now that isn't suspicious at all."
Justice Served: Rita Skeeter Convicted
Exposed as Illegal Animagus
Rita Skeeter, self-titled bringer of truth to the wizarding media, was recently caught using her illegal, unregistered Animagus form to spy on staff and students at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
Hundreds of thousands of incidents dating back to her initial employment at the Daily Prophet came up in evidence, all of which Ms Skeeter denied until the Wizengamot authorised the use of Veritaserum and follow-up confirmation by Adept Legilimens obtained on loan from the Department of Mysteries.
The heroine who was instrumental in exposing Ms Skeeter's shameful illicit activities is a seventh year Gryffindor student, Lily Evans, whose previous notoriety came about when a botched withering potion prepared by Miss Evans endangered the life of a Hogwarts apprentice teacher, Hermione Snape (née McGonagall). Hermione Snape, wife of fellow Apprentice Severus Snape and daughter to Deputy Headmistress Minerva McGonagall had dismissed the incident as being typical school behaviour with the added misfortune of being very much emotionally charged, something often seen in cases of accidental magic in children before they receive appropriate training.
"We wouldn't blame a child for accidentally making the family dog meow, and we can't blame Miss Evans for not having been trained for something most magical families deal with early in a child's life. There is no screening for it, and many people simply assume that children grow out of it, taking for granted that children exposed to magic in their families learn control faster," the Deputy Headmistress stated.
"Perhaps, this is something we should screen for with incoming students to prevent such things from happening again. It is a school, and we do have many ages of children learning here. Emotions do often run high and low as they do outside of Hogwarts, but I think we all know that certain ages are more apt to be emotionally charged and unprepared to deal with the effect of such situations on their control of their magic. We must consider that not every accident was caused through malice, nor was every supposed accident an innocent occurrence. That is the judgement call every parent must make as well.
What is important here is that Miss Evans is truly remorseful and working hard to mend the rift caused by her inappropriate choices, and that is all we can ask of anyone who has ever made an error in judgment, however dire."
As for Ms Skeeter, her condition is currently stable but she remains under a healer's care after it was discovered that Skeeter is highly allergic to one of the active components in Skele-Gro. Her trial took place while Skeeter was bed-bound, for which she was specially Apparated in from St Mungos. Afterward, she was transferred to the Azkaban infirmary to serve out her sentence of one year for every single year she has been illegally using her unregistered Animagus form plus twenty additional years for trespass, illegally accessing confidential Ministry files, blackmail, use of her form for nefarious purposes, and multiple counts of bribery to gain access to confidential records.
As for charges being brought up against Ms Skeeter by the victims of her criminal activities, many have been lining up to add their own lists of personal grievances to the quickly-growing pile.
Those wishing to register possible incidents involving Ms Skeeter are being told to show up in person to the Department of Magical Law Enforcement between the hours of one and four p.m., Monday through Friday.
Strange Snake-faced Man From Travelling Circus Killed in Sudden Storm
Parts of Europe experienced extremely high winds reaching 144 kilometers per hour over the last week, stopping flights, toppling trees, halting trains, tearing off roofs, and blowing trucks of the highway. Falling trees killed a number of people by falling on the streets and onto houses while many more avoided death if only by sheer luck.
Traffic reports from around Europe from Britain, Netherlands, Germany, and beyond paint a dangerous picture of the perfect storm.
"It was like the Wizard of Oz!" Jeroen from the Netherlands stated in an interview. "Bicycles were blowing around with people on them, people were tumbling across the pavement, cargo shipping containers were falling into the sea, and the roofs were just taking off into the air!"
Alas, this was not the only incident.
While a number of deaths and near-deaths peppered the region, nothing was quite a bizarre as the discovery of a snake-faced man who was apparently impaled by a falling tree and then blown out to sea. A fisherman found the disfigured corpse caught in the remains of his tangled fishing net that had wrapped itself around the floating tree trunk and the unfortunate man.
No clue to the identity of the man has been found, but officials seem to think he was from a travelling circus, and they are hoping that in reading the news, the family or coworkers of the victim will recognise him and come forward.
"Whoever he is, he's had a lot of plastic surgery to make himself look like he did," the coroner reported.
The victim's only belongings were some strange coins, a carved branch shaped like a bone, and the tattered robes that had been ravaged by the storm.
Anyone who is missing a loved one or co-worker by this description are encouraged to speak with the Missing Person Unit or law enforcement officials nearest you.
People are warned to stay safe during these storms, and if you are living near high trees, to please take care to shelter safely.
"Lucius, you've truly outdone yourself," Severus said, his thin lips turned up into a smile.
The shop was filled with exotic trade items from all around the world, but none so bright and colourful as the local spider silk dressing gowns and scarves, and the kegs of now highly cherished "spider cider". Reams of other fabrics lined an entire shelf as colourful bottles of tinctures, scents, perfumes, and colognes took up another.
"Don't forget me, brother," Regulus said, grinning as he arranged a shelf of wizard grooming products that would turn even the scruffiest looking sod into a glittering peacock within mere minutes.
Severus snorted. "Not that you'd ever let me forget you, strutting around in such flamboyant colours and rich silks."
Regulus laughed. "It definitely catches the eyes of the customers," Regulus said with a laugh. "I'm sure mother is cursing over how well we're doing."
"A curse from her is a blessing to everyone else," Lucius said, his lips curling into a distinctive look of disdain.
"I'm just glad you weren't anywhere near that place when dear old mum found out about our successful business venture," Sirius said, "I'm sure she's burning us off the family tapestry every night just to be sure."
"Right after she finishes dying of mortification that her hero for pureblood supremacy died by flying into a storm and getting himself impaled by a tree and blown out to sea," Regulus said, eyebrow raising.
Sirius grinned. "I like that picture. Oy, I got a postcard from Moony! He's travelling the world learning how to connect to his inner wolf. Seems like it's working. He hasn't had to be in the hospital after a change in months."
"Good on him," Regulus said approvingly. "I'm glad his apprenticeship led to travelling opportunities. He was always a dreamer. Wanting to travel. Just be a normal bloke. He did so well with with Care of Magical Creatures, I think they are planning on asking him to come back and help teach once he's finished travelling. It would be really good having him looking over all the creatures of Hogwarts, I think. There are so many more fantastic beasts living around here now, not even including our mutual friends."
"I have no idea what you mean," Hermione said as she and Fawkes hung feathered hair ornaments on the display rack, Fawkes using his beak to move them into place.
"I highly doubt that," Regulus said, smiling.
Hermione chuckled. "Return the land to how it should be, and many other things return with it."
"Always so cryptic," Sirius bemoaned.
Regulus elbowed him in the ribs. "It feels good here, now," he said. "Better than it ever was. I am so glad of that. Even the forest feels much lighter, and Hogwarts seems more of the beacon it was truly meant to be rather than just a school. I felt like I graduated at the right time— when things were good."
"Pity our parents think we're worse than scum," Sirius said.
Lucius sighed. "Alas, people will always see what they want to see, and sometimes even the glaringly obvious can be ignored far easier than the subtle. Look at how Skeeter became so popular. Look how easily one of us could have walked right up and signed up to one Dark Lord, had the conditions been right and us just bitter enough, and blind enough."
Regulus seemed to think on this. "Do you really see us becoming a part of something as terrible as that?"
Severus exchanged glances with Lucius. "I think we all have the potential to do the wrong thing for the reasons that we think are right. We can act in anger, impulse, or neutrality and with lack of forethought. Look at Lily. She was and is a rollercoaster of emotional conviction, but deep down she is truly not a bad person."
"Even after what she did?" Sirius said. "I'm not sure if I could be so kind."
Hermione wrapped her arms around Severus and snuggled into his back. "Well, not everything that came out of that was so bad."
Severus purred, eyes sliding to the side to peer at his mate. "There were some positive outcomes."
Hermione smiled. "People tend to forget that young people or even adults can be petty and selfish, not all the time, but sometimes. And magical people can make such times very dangerous. People take for granted that in magical families, that sort of thing gets stamped down very quickly, but what can a Muggle family do when their child has a magical temper tantrum? Sister? Brother? Any family? A young child is almost always easier to guide than a teen. Look at what so many of us did as teenagers and tell me that magic isn't a wildcard for bad social choices."
Sirius sighed. "True. Gods know Prongs and I— even without Peter's help."
"Speaking of Potter," Severus muttered. "What is he getting his antlers stuck into now?"
Sirius had the decency to blush. "Erm…"
Severus' eyes narrowed.
Sirius flinched. "He and Lily are out on a real date."
Severus raised an eyebrow. "Is that all?"
"Probablymorethanadate," Sirius muttered into his navel.
Snape sighed, pulling out a galleon and handing it to his mate.
Hermione smiled, tucking it away with an aura of pure smugness.
Regulus nudged Severus. "What was that for?"
"She won the bet."
"What bet?" Regulus looked crestfallen that he wasn't included.
Lucius sighed, passing Hermione a sack of coins. "I should know better than to bet against a phoenix."
"Thank you, Lucius," Hermione said with a grin.
"What bet?!" Regulus whined.
Severus sighed. "She bet they wouldn't be able to keep their hands off each other after that benefit for the abandoned squib and pregnant witches out of wedlock home. The irony there is very, very thick."
Regulus, reading between the lines, eyed Lucius. "And why did you give her more coins than Severus?"
Lucius rolled his eyes. "She predicted someone wouldn't be able to help spiking the punch and they would end up having to be married by morning to prevent two families from killing their children."
Regulus and Severus seemed abruptly to realise something at the same time. Severus glowered at Sirius. "You SPIKED the punch?!"
Sirius turned into a dog and fled as fast as his legs could carry him, and Severus zoomed after him, pecking every bit of flesh off the retreating dog's bum that he could as he chased after him, then, as if for effect, he set himself on fire. Sirius yelped and ran out the shop's door and down the street, dodging curious people all the way through Hogsmeade even as Regulus gave chase by broom yelling something about stuffing his brother into a shipping crate and sending him to the Netherlands to await the next violent windstorm.
Lucius took Hermione's hand. "My lady, would you care to join me for lunch? I hear the Three Broomsticks is having a special on fruit salad."
Hermione gave a polite curtsy. "But of course, Lucius. I would truly enjoy that."
Fawkes and Imogen warbled in approval from the tree they were decorating.
Lucius rolled his eyes. "Of course, you two are invited as well."
"That is totally not fair," Lily whinged even as she oogled over the eggs nestled in the nest. She rubbed her swollen belly with a discontented sigh. Fawkes and Imogen eyed Lily as they turned the eggs and sat back down on top of them.
Hermione, chuckling, gave Severus a peck on the nose and smiled smugly.
"I get a big bump and horrible back pain with a chaser of extreme nausea every morning, and you get to just lay your eggs in a nest and wait."
"Phoenixes share everything when it comes to chicks," Ollivander said as he gave both Hermione and Severus hugs before lovingly helping to turn the eggs and settle them under Fawkes and Imogen so they were comfortable. "They must always be kept warm, sung to, taught their names, had their names woven into the Lineage, and to anchor themselves to a Time, all before they break the shell."
Lily's eyes went wide. "Oh," she replied, obviously reconsidering if laying eggs was really easier or just more work.
"It takes an orchard," Ollivander said as he hummed to the eggs in the nest, and they peeped back at him from inside their shells.
"Do you mean that as an actual orchard or the group of phoenixes?" Lily asked.
"Why, yes," Ollivander replied cryptically.
Lily raised a brow as she rubbed her belly.
"Humans are so endearing. They carry their children inside themselves for months. Some can't seem to wait until their children fledge while others grieve the loss of them. So unpredictable," Ollivander said. He gave a soft warble, and Lily felt her belly immediately.
"Ah! He kicked!"
Garrick smiled. "Perhaps he will be a flyer— as prone to be up in the skies as on the ground."
"He better not!" Lily cried.
"Yes! A born Seeker!" James crowed at the same time.
Lily glared at James, but James puffed up proudly.
"At least I didn't go elope with a flying biker witch from America," James retorted. "Just think of what their child could look like. Maroon hair, dark brows, sultry lips, and a leather spiked dog collar. Gah-RUFF!"
Lily rolled her eyes, and stomped away, muttering, "No child of mine, and you get the couch, mister. You keep Sirius Black and his poor life choices out of this."
James pouted, sprawling out on a nearby lounge chair.
A muffled squeak came from underneath his posterior.
James immediately jumped up and frowned as a dark purple spider with golden spots staggered off the chair, seemingly drunk from the experience. "Sorry, little guy." He scooped the spider up and gently rubbed its abdomen.
The spider puffed back into shape and squeaked, "Thanks!"
James sat down and cuddled the fluffy arachnid. "Guess it's just you and me again, friend," he said with a sigh.
"If you'd stop provoking your wife, you'd be able to sleep in bed instead of on our lounge chair," Severus said, one eyebrow cocked sharply.
"He just covets our spiders," Hermione said with no little amusement, watching James tickle the spider.
"I do," James said with a sad, mournful sound. "House elves are utterly ruined for me."
"Lily still afraid of spiders?"
"Anything that crawls or looks like it could and anything with, and I quote, 'too many legs,' James replied, groaning.
"Babies crawl," Regulus pointed out.
James shrugged. "The Wizengamot is still out on how that will go. Maybe if I can shrink them down to fit in my pocket—"
"We are not hosting you here for the rest of your life, Potter," Severus snapped irritably.
James stuck out his bottom lip in a pout. "You're no fun."
Hermione leaned in, grinning wickedly. "Oh, I don't know. We could have him chick-sit forever."
James flailed as the image of a hundred-some fluffy, peeping, ever-hungry phoenix chicks weighing him down flooded his mind.
"Argh!" he wailed, falling over in the chair, and the chair promptly turned into a guest bed, with enchanted bed linens and a duvet materialising and making themselves up on top of the wizard.
Regulus snorted a laugh into his hand.
"I hear Narcissa has passed her healer's checkup with flying colours after she was so worried about a miscarriage last night," Regulus said.
"That is a great relief," Severus said, nodding. "I know she was worried about her health due to her family's rather poor history with regard to the treatment of their witches."
"I think the Black family in general has a great deal to be ashamed about," Regulus said darkly.
Hermione shrugged. "It has a lot to be proud of too, Regulus. You and your brother fought against a particularly terrifying kind of possession, against your own family's antiquated views, and against your peers to put an end to a war against an invisible menace. That's not a small thing. Just as you said before, all of you could have ended up Death Eaters, enslaved to a twisted Dark Lord and his war against… everyone."
Regulus tilted his head. "You do have a way of putting things into perspective, my Lady."
Hermione snorted. "Hermione, please. We are all friends here. Even him—" She pointed to the lump on her guest bed.
"I heard that!" came a muffled protest as a spider chewed its way out of the linens and then mended it back up whole, skittering away.
"Male or female do you think?" Regulus speculated. "Lucius would adore a son, but— I cannot help but think Narcissa would be delighted with a little daughter to dote on."
Severus and Hermione exchanged glances, perhaps worried what was okay to say with so many outcomes in the Timestreams.
"Why not both?" Ollivander asked idly, walking by as he munched on an Asian pear. Fawkes and Imogen warbled jealously, staring at Garrick's fruit with clear longing.
Regulus, Hermione, and Severus stared at the elder phoenix, jaws dropped a little.
There was a knock at the door before Lucius drifted in, his face a little paler than usual as he dropped down into one of the seats and let out a long, shuddering breath.
"Lucius?" Severus asked, looking concerned.
"I may have miscalculated," he finally said.
"Is something wrong with the store?" Regulus asked. "Do we need to order more—"
Lucius stopped him with a hand. "No, the store is fine." He shifted, trying to get comfortable.
"You know how my family, the Malfoys that is, have struggled with successfully having children," he said.
"Much like most of the Blacks, though you wouldn't know that by my parents or even Narcissa's branch of the tree," Regulus said.
Lucius rubbed his head. "Our family normally uses a family potion we brew when we are to, erm, bed our wives," he said. "We keep brewing it until we have a firstborn child and then the rest we leave up to fate."
Severus arched a brow. "You never mentioned this before."
Lucius sighed. "It is a secret thing. Our family does not like to admit that we have any issues with having children, and even less do our males like to admit that they require— assistance in this area."
Severus raised his brows but nodded.
"Well, I did not consider the rather startling degree of difference between moondew and sundew from the recipe," Lucius said. "I collected it at dawn so it could brew during the day and be finished by that night."
Severus' eyes widened. "So it was neither sun or moon dew, it was both."
Lucius winced. "I wasn't worried until Narcissa had such pains and worried about miscarriage—"
"Is she well?" Regulus asked, worried.
Lucius winced. "As well as any witch would be with the news that she's having triplets."
Regulus and Severus sat down hard.
Hermione grinned from ear-to-ear. "Congratulations, Lucius!"
Fawkes and Imogen warbled Brahms' Lullaby, filling the room with joy and celebration, while Lucius continued to look quite pale and rather frightened of what the future might bring.
Baby Boom Hits St Mungo's
The waiting room in the Witch's Health Clinic adjacent to St Mungo's was working overtime this year as a great many magical couples seemed to synchronise the timing of their births, breaking a record of deliveries all within the last few months. Overworked midwife witches as well as delivery medi-witches have been and are still in overwhelming demand.
A record number of births have been recorded, and even Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry is wisely planning ahead for what will happen in eleven years to accommodate what will be a sharp rise in their number of students. As for the following years, we can only guess as to the continuing impact on our magical schools as many couples decide if it's finally safe to have a family.
"Mum!" a pale-faced but radiantly orange, red, and yellow feather-haired child pounced her mother and rubbed noses with her.
"Well, hello, Aithne," Hermione said with a laugh. "Are you ready for your big day?"
"We were born ready!" her brother crowed, his black feather-hair with a small crest of white rose and fell like in his phoenix form.
"Aaden, you broke out of your shell ready to take on the world. I think you get it from Imogen."
Imogen warbled approval from Severus' shoulder as the basilisk hissed theirs from around Hermione and Severus' necks.
"And where are Hala and Rivin?"
Her two children pointed over to where three bright and blindingly blond heads were gathered with a pile of moving trunks.
One girl, her hair a mass of moonbeam curls and feathers, was helping the triplets make sure all their books were bundled "properly" as her brother was grinning at the cages for the familiars. Each of the Malfoy children had disgustingly pristine familiars—a grey owl, a pure white half-Kneazle, and light gold and white barn owl.
Severus rolled his eyes as Lucius approached. "You spoil them silly."
"I was not the one to purchase them," Lucius said. "That was Narcissa."
Hermione laughed. "Either way, you probably have the most pristine-looking familiars on the planet."
Garrick rubbed his chin. "Familiars choose the witch and wizard, much as wands do— at least the ones that truly are familiars rather than just pets. I fear the children do not always know the difference."
Severus tilted his head. "Hn."
Hermione smiled. "Well, at least Minerva has worked into the Board that familiars chose the witch and wizard, so those with verified familiar bonds can be permitted at the school. I'm just glad Dumbledore agreed to it."
"Thank the gods she specified verified—" Severus muttered. "Can you imagine any eleven-year-old picking something stupidly uncontrolled and calling it their familiar?"
Hermione tilted her head. "To be fair. Felines and owls have been standard for centuries. Not sure where the toad came from though. Considering they live 10-12 years for a common toad, 15 for a cane toad, and maybe fifty years or so in Muggle captivity where their every need is taken care of with no stress. Even then, they aren't like felines that sense what you need or owls even."
"Teenagers… stress… " Severus shook head. "And you can stop spouting random toad facts, if you please."
Lucius chuckled, pressing his lips to Hermione's knuckles. "My darling wife has invited you all to lunch. For us to celebrate a much quieter house until the holidays and for you to at least celebrate they will be living in quarters not shared by you for at least part of the year."
Hermione laughed. "How could we not accept such gracious invitation?"
"Harry James Potter, you put that fire out right now, young man!"
"I didn't do it, mum! It was him!"
A wide-eyed carrot-top child stared up at Lily, petrified.
"Ah, Lily," Severus said, eyes sliding to the side as his lips puckered. "Striking fear into the hearts of children by the sheer decibel range of her voice."
"I think she gets that from hanging out with Molly Weasley, to be fair," Hermione noted. "They've become fast friends in repopulating the Wizarding world."
"Three is quite enough for me," Lucius said with a sniff. "We have no plans for more."
"Planning rarely had anything to do with it," Garrick noted, causing the tall blond wizard to flush.
"I am greatly happy that phoenixes share nesting responsibilities and the chicks, do not feel that we love them any less," Hermione said with a chuckle.
"We simply have much love to spare," Garrick said sagely.
"Love is all fine and well," Lucius noted, "but the triplets almost burned down half the estate with their temper tantrums."
"Glorious," Severus stated. "I look forward to seeing them all in detention, Lucius."
Lucius slumped. "Please do try to restrain yourself on the first night, at least."
Severus narrowed his eyes. "We shall see."
Hermione snorted and poked Severus. "Speaking of setting things on fire, you did tell Sirius and Regulus not to burn the business down while the children were being seen off?"
"I don't worry about them quite as much anymore," Severus said, "not nearly as much as their children."
They need more phoenixes around to peck them into proper shape, Imogen said, fluffing her feathers out into a puff before soothing them back down.
"Contrary to popular belief, child," Garrick said, rubbing his finger along Imogen's beak. "Phoenixes are not the solution to everything."
Lots of things, Imogen said, looking away, refusing to be wrong.
Fawkes pecked her, and they both chased each other around for a few minutes before deciding to help the children with their luggage hauling.
Severus looked with concern to where Lily and James were standing, surrounded by a disturbing collection of mop-haired children ranging from flaming red to black. All of them seemed to defy the rules of genetics and gave them all those same piercing green eyes and their father's facial structure.
Molly's gaggle had already dissipated, her elder sons having tromped onto the train like practiced professionals. Having survived Molly's tongue lashing, the youngest school-aged Weasley was dragging his own stuff onto the train with Harry Potter's help.
"Mam is going to have her hands full," Hermione said, frowning. "Hogwarts is going to need to expand just for the children boom."
"She should let Albus actually do his job," Severus muttered. "Since he is the one actually getting paid for it."
Hermione leaned into her mate. "Don't be a grump, love."
Severus muttered something that might have been a verbal thundercloud trapped in a jar.
Hermione wrapped her arms around his slim waist from the back, snuggling into him, and the scowl on Severus' face melted away.
"I love you," she sang into the Timestreams.
Severus looked at his children sitting in the train car, all of them waving as the train took off. He turned and gathered Hermione into his arms and held her tightly. "And I you, my love," he sang as their glamours fell away, if but for a moment, in a rush of heat and feathers. He placed his palm to her face as he watched a small trickle of her tears flow down her cheek. He gently pressed a crystal vial to her cheek, capturing the tears of his happy mate. "Always."
As the Hogwarts Express disappeared into the distance, Fawkes and Imogen flew over the train, singing joyous songs together, filling every heart within with the shared joy of life.
A large clutter of Aerie spiders draw the curtains closed.
A/N: It's been a while since this one was started, but here lies the end… and the beginning of a new life for characters. Many thanks to my ever loyal betas, The Dragon and the Rose, Dutchgirl01, and the Flyby Commander Shepard, who poke my squirrel-obsessed brain and drag it back on track in the midst of my mental thunderstorm and life. Despite all the distra-SQUIRREL!