Breathing hard, Snape, Ron, Harry, and Hermione – still on the ground – looked between one another. Snape pointed his wand at Harry. "Don't move; not until we've sorted this out. Sit where you are, and if you move, I stun you." Harry nodded once and slowly lowered himself to the ground. The wyrven had settled itself on the ground near the stunned figure of the other Harry, its eyes fixed on him. Sirius padded over and lay down next to it.
Snape turned to Hermione. "Granger…what were you saying? That rat is Peter Pettigrew?"
Before she could respond, they heard shouts and saw the flickering of torches and wandlight approaching. The screaming and all the wyrven's screeches had awoken the castle.
"Don't move!" a voice from the other direction bellowed, and they turned to find Hagrid stumping along toward them, his cross bow loaded and ready. "Stay righ' where yeh are – Harry! Ron, Hermione! Professor Snape! What's goin' on?" Then he saw the wyrven and his eyes widened.
The second group arrived then, and the shouts turned to panicked gasps as everyone caught sight of the wyrven; they all stopped dead in their tracks. The wyrven, for its part, raised itself up slightly and moved over to cover Sirius protectively, hissing softly, its unblinking eyes watching every move made.
Professor Dumbledore approached with Professor McGonagall at his side – she looked as white as a ghost.
"Severus, what has happened here?" Dumbledore asked quietly.
Snape began to recount the events of that night, starting with the discovery of Ron and Hermione. "We followed Miss Granger's cat out into the grounds, where we heard screams. We followed the sound and came across what appeared to be two identical Potters fighting. The wyrven and that big black dog arrived shortly after and assisted us in subduing the imposter."
Just then, there was a booming growl from the dog and everyone's attention was focused on the figure on the ground. His features morphed and changed, his body grew, and his untidy black hair was replaced by smooth blonde strands.
McGonagall found her voice first. "Lucius Malfoy!!"
Dumbledore raised his wand and cords shot out of it and around the unconscious form of Lucius Malfoy. "Minerva," he said, turning to Professor McGonagall, "please escort Mr. Malfoy up to my office and send a message to Cornelius Fudge at the Ministry. Take Hagrid with you – Hagrid, I would like you to stand guard over Mr. Malfoy until I return."
"The pleasure's all mine, Professor," growling Hagrid, shouldering his crossbow.
Dumbledore then turned to the small crowd of teachers who had arrived with him. "The situation is under control – I would appreciate it if you would go back and inform the students that the danger is past. Professor Flitwick, if you would be so kind as to see to the Gryffindor students, as Professor McGonagall is otherwise engaged; Mr. Filch, if you would attend to Slytherin House, I would appreciate it. And, Argus, when you have done that please bring young Draco Malfoy to my office and leave him in Professor McGonagall's care."
The group nodded and started back towards the castle; Professor McGonagall magicked the stretcher into the air and she and Hagrid followed behind.
Finally, Dumbledore turned to Snape and the others. "Severus, I would like you, Ron, Hermione, and Harry to come with me up to the hospital wing." He looked at the wyrven. "Rebekah, when you return from getting Snuffles home safely, if you would join us?" The wyrven nodded its serpentine head, picked up the dog in its front legs and soared into the air with one powerful stroke of its huge wings. It rose up above the treetops and soared off into the night.
Ron and Harry were helping Hermione to her feet; she was still rather unsteady on her legs after enduring the full force of the Cruciatus Curse. Snape strode forward, bent down, and scooped her up into his arms.
"Professor!" Hermione gasped. "Oh, no…you don't have to-" she was red with embarrassment as he carried her across the field.
Snape shook his head. "On the contrary. You pushed me out of the way of that curse, and took the brunt of it yourself. The least I can do is carry you up to the hospital."
The walked in silence for a few moments, then Harry spoke up. "Ron, do you still have a hold of Wormtail?" he asked, feeling a moment of panic that perhaps the sneaky little rat had gotten away again.
Ron pulled the limp figure out from his robes and held it up proudly. "Yep, here he is! I stunned him so he'd stop biting me."
Snape frowned. "You said that the rat is Pettigrew?"
Ron nodded, and shot a look of disgust at the rat. "Slept on my bed for years…" he muttered.
"He is indeed, Severus," said Dumbledore. "But he is safely stunned at the moment, only keep him close, Ron, in case he should wake up. We can force him to show himself tomorrow, when Cornelius Fudge arrives to question the Malfoys."
Once they were all settled in the hospital, with Madam Pomfrey fussing over Hermione and Harry, Dumbledore asked for a more detailed account of the night's events, and Harry got a chance to relate what had happened to him after he was abducted.
"There's one thing I don't understand," said Snape, "how did you know, Miss Granger, that the wyrven was Professor Black? I am running off the assumption that it indeed was her, as Professor Dumbledore addressed her as Rebekah."
"Well," Hermione started, "Professor Black did some lessons on wyrvens last fall. She made some silly comment about the statue of the wyrven being a statue of her before she had her first cup of coffee. What she said stuck with me – I guess because it was so funny. But then, when we were looking for you outside, Harry, she disappeared. That struck me as odd. I mean, why would she just up and leave us? Then, when there was that horrible screeching sound, right before she appeared, I was worried it was something that You-Know-Who had cooked up, and the first thing I thought of was, 'I hope Professor Black is all right.' Then, when she appeared, she looked just like that statue she showed us in class. It just hit me in a flash – it really was a statue of her, and not just a joke."
Dumbledore smiled. "Well done, Hermione – and you are correct, she is indeed an unregistered Animagus; she told me when she was first hired, but asked me to keep it a secret. I agreed, with a few stipulations." He got up out of his chair. "Now, Ron, if you would be so kind as to give me Pettigrew, I'll lock him up safely until tomorrow. The rest of you, get some rest – you, too, Severus. I'll send Rebekah up when she returns."
"Where did she go, Professor?" asked Harry.
"I would assume she returned Snuffles to Remus Lupin – which will take a while. Good night, and sleep well, all of you."
Professor Black returned late that night, but Harry had not gone to sleep yet and saw her come into the ward. He sat up in bed and smiled at her, and she went over to him and sat on the edge of his bed. Everyone else was asleep.
"Hi, Harry – boy, what a night, huh?" she said quietly, smiling.
"Yeah," he said, "what a night. Where's Sirius? Did you take him back to Lupin's?"
She nodded. "Yes, the full moon is tomorrow, and he wanted to be there with him for his transformation. But enough about me or Sirius…how are you?"
"I'm fine. Really I am," he said at her concerned expression. "I think Hermione got it worse than me – she'd never been hit by the Cruciatus Curse before."
"Is she going to be all right?" asked Black.
"I think so," he replied, the grinned. "Professor Snape carried her all the way up here from the edge of the forest; I think the embarrassment made her forget the pain."
Black smiled, but it had a hesitant quality to it. "Well, as long as everyone's OK…where's Dumbledore?"
"His office, I think. Hagrid, McGonagall, Mr. Malfoy, and Draco are up there too. Oh, and Wormtail."
Black looked puzzled. "Who's Wormtail?"
"An Animagus – a rat – he's the one who betrayed my parents and framed Sirius. With him caught…your brother's a free man." Harry smiled delightedly at the thought.
Black did too, but it melted away. "Well…I'll celebrate when the official Ministry pardon comes through. Until then….well, you get to sleep now, or Madam Pomfrey will have my hide. I need to go see Professor Dumbledore."
Early the next morning, Harry was awoken by a squeaky little voice, "Harry Potter, sir!" He sat up, reached for his glasses, and found himself nose-to-nose with none other than Dobby the House Elf.
"Dobby!" he cried. The elf responded by hurling his arms around Harry's neck and squeezing him like a boa constrictor. "Dobby is so glad to see that Harry Potter is well, sir!"
Everyone else by that time was awake, sitting up in bed. Professor Black was back, and it looked like she and Dobby had brought breakfast up for everyone. The smell of pancakes, sausage, and bacon made Harry's stomach growl; he was hungry.
"Tell me about last night," he said to Hermione. "What happened to you after we were stunned?"
Hermione shrugged. "All I remember is waking up to see Professor Black and Professor Snape kneeling next to us. I think Crookshanks must have alerted them. We followed Crookshanks outside and he led us to you."
Ron leaned forward and dropped his voice to a whisper. "Just after we got out of the front doors, Professor Black took off running and told us to stay with Snape. I think she must have gone to get Snuffles – and talk about making an entrance! I nearly wet my pants when she dropped out of the sky!"
As they were finishing up, Dumbledore came into the room and pulled up a chair. He accepted a cup of tea and piece of toast from Dobby and began to talk.
"We questioned both Mr. Malfoy and Draco, and learned a great deal about the events of the past year. Lucius was indeed responsible for the destruction of your office, Rebekah" – she scowled – "as well as the attack on you that one night. He has been hiding out, off and on, apparently, here in the castle, using his invisibility cloak avoid detection. Apparently, he enlisted the assistance of Draco to procure some of your hair, Harry, so that he would be able to pin the blame on you should he have been caught. Draco was also responsible for one of the secondary break-ins of Rebekah's office, it seems."
Dumbledore sighed, obviously pained that a student at his school could stoop so low. "When Severus began protection Rebekah, Malfoy realized that another attempt on her life would be difficult, so he devised a scheme in which Wormtail – Peter Pettigrew – would sneak into the castle disguised as a rat to inflict minimal, but consistent, damage on your office. Did you notice, Professor," he said to Black, "that the items that you lost due to rodent damage were all Muggle artifacts? It was intentional. Wormtail was the cause of your infestations problems."
"What's going to happen, Professor?" asked Harry, and everyone listened eagerly.
Dumbledore sighed again. "Cornelius Fudge is on his way here, to question both Malfoys and Pettigrew." He looked pointedly at them. "I have informed him that under no circumstances is he to be accompanied by a Dementor. I will not have a repeat of last year's blunder. I have promised that he will have you, Rebekah, and Severus, Professor McGonagall, Hagrid, and myself present during the questioning to ensure his safety. He was not happy about that, but he has no choice in the matter – he has to come, since the accused used an Unforgivable Curse on Professor Black, Harry, and Hermione."
Snape and Black nodded. Dumbledore looked at Harry again. "Harry, I would like you – and Ron and Hermione if they are feeling up to it – to be present at the questioning also. Fudge will no doubt want to hear your account of things, as you were responsible for capturing not only our invisible attacker, but also Pettigrew. Also, I suspect that you would like to be there, for your own reasons."
They nodded. Dumbledore smiled and stood up. "Fudge will be here this afternoon. Classes for today have been cancelled, so everyone is excited about the long weekend. I would prefer if you did not speak of these events to anyone until after tonight. I will make the announcement to the school then."
Things very quickly got back to normal, as the end-of-term finals were fast approaching and the fifth years had their O.W.L.s right around the corner. Hermione seemed none the worse for her brush with the Cruciatus Curse, though she did confide to Harry that it was one of the most terrifying moments of her life, and she was having some nightmares.
They heard nothing else about the Malfoys or Wormtail, and Harry had not had any contact with Sirius since the night of the abduction. This worried him some, as he was concerned that Fudge, who most likely learned of his Animagus ability and whereabouts from Wormtail, would decide to just execute Black now and ask questions later.
The O.W.L.s were hard, but they got through them. Ron got five, Harry, six – it was, of course, no surprise that Hermione got them all. Exams following right on the heels of the arduous O.W.L.s was exhausting, both mentally and physically, but they persevered and emerged feeling like an enormous weight had been lifted off their shoulders. Which, of course, it had.
The weekend after the end of finals, before the final week of the term, was a Hogsmeade weekend. Harry, Ron, and Hermione spent the day poking through every store in town – Professor Black had told them that Sirius was staying hidden at Lupin's until he got word that it was safe to come out again, which, as they all hoped, would be when his name was cleared and his sentence commuted.
That afternoon, when they got back to the school, they ran into Professor Black in the hallway. "Hi, guys!" she said cheerfully as they drew level with her. "Congratulations on your O.W.L.s, you really did well."
They thanked her, and walked for a short distance in silence before she spoke again. "Say, Harry," she said thoughtfully, "I'm so keyed up these days, I'm having problems concentrating – I'm worried about Sirius, anxious for news on the Malfoys and Pettigrew, just tense in general. I think I'd like to blow off a little steam, and I have an idea for how to do it. You up for a little stint on your Firebolt?"
Harry looked puzzled. "Sure – what do you have in mind?"
She flashed him a wicked grin. "How 'bout a game of 'Capture the Flag'?"
The next day the stands of the Quidditch field were packed with students and teachers. Word had spread quickly about the game that Professor Black and Harry were going to play; in fact, a handful of other House team players had signed up for their own turn.
The premise was simple: Harry and his Firebolt versus Professor Black as a wyrven. Each had a brightly colored flag attached to their backs. The goal: get your opponents flag before he gets yours. The teachers were as excited as the students – everybody knew, of course, that Black was an Animagus, and she had agreed at Professor Dumbledore's insistence (though a little reluctantly) to register with the Ministry of Magic.
A hush fell over the crowd (somebody pick that up! :D ) as the opponents stepped onto the field. Though everyone knew she could morph into a wyrven, only Harry, Ron, Hermione and the teachers had seen her actual transformation. And so, one moment there was a petite, auburn-haired woman standing on the field; the next instant, a huge reddish wyrven. The people screamed.
Madam Hooch blew the whistle, and they were off. Smaller and leaner than a true dragon, the wyrven was much more maneuverable than the Horntail Harry had flown against the previous year. Still, with his Firebolt, the two were fairly evenly matched as they swooped and soared and zipped around each other like two little birds, each trying to catch the other's flag. Black had promised, before hand, that she would not use her mouth, only her front claws, nor would she breathe fire. This was just a friendly competition.
Five minutes later, they were at opposite ends of the field, hovering in midair. They had gotten a measure of each other, and it was now little more than a face off. Warily, Harry edged sideways, waiting for her to make the first move.
But she didn't move, so he did; a quick burst of speed rocketed him to the corner opposite her, but she circled around, keeping the front of her body toward him. Harry went into a series of tight, fast loops that were simply impossible for her with her larger mass to follow. In a flash, he had circled around her and snatched the flag off her back. She roared, landed on the ground with a thud, and gracefully acknowledged her defeat with what was very obviously a deep bow.
A few other players tried, but without a Firebolt (or Harry's quick reflexes), Black caught all of their flags in a matter of minutes, to the tumultuous cheers of the crowd.
The last week of the term flew by and before Harry knew it, it was time to pack up for summer holidays. He still had not heard anything from Sirius, but he figured that if the Ministry hadn't found him by now, it pretty likely that they wouldn't.
Gryffindor House had won both the Quidditch Cup (after a stunning victory over Slytherin) as well as the House Cup, and Harry was looking forward to the camaraderie and celebration at the Leaving Feast.
When they entered the Great Hall, they noticed that an extra chair had been set out next to Dumbledore's seat at the head tables. Harry wondered briefly who else was here.
They didn't have long to wait. Dumbledore arrived in the hall with Cornelius Fudge by his side; they sat down, Fudge taking the extra place by the Headmaster. Professor McGonagall struck her glass with her spoon, and an expectant hush fell over the students. Dumbledore got to his feet.
"Here we are, another year older, another year wiser…and perhaps a few pounds heavier…though if you are not yet, I assure you, you will be after the feast." There was some scattered laughing. "I have an important announcement to make," he continued. "The Minister of Magic, Cornelius Fudge, is here tonight to dine with us, but also to make several announcements of importance. Mr. Fudge?" He extended a hand to the Minister, who rose with solemn dignity.
"Good evening, students…teachers," he began. He cleared his throat. "As I am sure you are all well aware, the events of the past year here at Hogwarts – attacks on a teacher, destruction of her personal property, the abduction and attempted murder of a student…I am here tonight to inform you that we have the suspects in custody. They are, of course, Mr. Lucius Malfoy, his son, Draco, and one Peter Pettigrew." There were whispers and a low murmur of voices; Fudge waited until it faded away.
"It saddens me that two members of such an upstanding and noble family such as the Malfoys would descend to such lengths as they did this year. Young Draco was responsible for some of the office break-ins here, and his father has been convicted of using the Cruciatus Curse against not only a teacher, but two students as well." This time, the murmur was a loud buzz. Fudge held up his hand to quiet them.
"Mr. Lucius Malfoy is currently serving a sentence in Azkaban Prison; his son has been remanded to his mother's care, but as punishment for his crimes, he has been expelled from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and his wand has been broken."
The buzz was now a torrent of sound, loud talking, shocked and excited whispers. McGonagall had to bang her goblet again to restore quiet in the hall.
"The third person in connection with these attacks in Mr. Peter Pettigrew. Many of you may not know the name, but he was believed to be dead, killed by Sirius Black when he confronted him with the betrayal of Lily and James Potter to You-Know-Who. However, Pettigrew is not dead, as we have most recently found out. I should beg the pardon of Mr. Harry Potter and Miss Hermione Granger – and Professor Dumbledore – for not believing them two years ago when they first told me of his existence." He looked rather abashed.
"Pettigrew is now also serving time in Azkaban; it is likely that he will serve a life sentence. Now, these apprehensions were made possible though the efforts of two Hogwarts teachers, Professor Black and Professor Snape, and three students, Harry Potter, Ronald Weasley, and Hermione Granger. In recognition of their service to the school and to the Ministry, I hereby present Professor Rebekah Black and Professor Severus Snape with the Order of Merlin, First Class!"
Black and Snape looked shocked, put very pleased indeed, and flung their arms around each other in a tight embrace. The great hall erupted into cheers, whistles, and stamping feet. McGonagall banged her goblet again, and the students quieted down.
Fudge cleared his throat again. "It is highly irregular to confer such an order on students, or otherwise unqualified wizards or witches…however, I am bestowing upon Harry Potter, Ronald Weasley, and Hermione Granger, the Order of Merlin, Third Class!"
The whole school erupted into a deafening roar. Harry, Ron, and Hermione were buried under a mountain of people hugging them, cheering and screaming. This time, McGonagall waited for about a minute before ringing for silence again.
"This award is not just for the capture of the three people; it is also for helping to exonerate a man who spent thirteen years in Azkaban Prison for a crime he did not commit." Harry looked up at Fudge, his heart pounding in his ears and hope blazing so hot he could hardly stand it. Fudge continued. "Sirius Black has been on the run for two years now, and it is my understanding that he, too, played a significant role in bringing the culprits to justice. Therefore" – Black was leaning so far forward in her seat she was practically on top of the table – "I am pleased to announce that the Ministry of Magic is granting a full pardon to Mr. Sirius Black; he is totally absolved of the crime for which he was imprisoned. He is now a free man."
Just then, the doors to the Great Hall banged open, and Remus Lupin walked in with a grinning Sirius Black at his side. Harry was too thrilled to do anything; words stuck in his throat, and he was rooted to his chair.
"Sirius!!!!!" came the shout from the teachers table, and everyone stopped to look. Professor Black had vaulted over the table and was flying down the length of the room, her arms out toward her brother, who had also started running. The met in the middle of the room, arms around each other, both of them crying tears of joy and happiness. Sirius spun her around, then set her down and hugged her again. Remus joined them, and she wrapped him a hug as well.
Harry finally found his voice. He let out a whoop of glee that made every head turn toward him. He didn't care who saw him, he leapt off his bench and flung himself at his godfather. Sirius had one arm around Harry, one arm around Rebekah, and was trying desperately to shake hands with Ron and Hermione, who had run up behind Harry and were standing there, beaming.
The group made their way up to where Fudge and Dumbledore were standing, a little awkwardly, because Sirius was trying to hold everyone at one time. The rest of the teachers, of course, were shocked at how Professor Black had run to greet Sirius and at how Harry had thrown himself at him. Of course, only Dumbledore (and Fudge, because Dumbledore had told him) knew that Harry, Ron, and Hermione all knew Sirius.
Harry, next to Sirius, was almost floating with joy. Gryffindor had the Quidditch Cup, the House Cup, Malfoy was expelled, his father imprisoned, Pettigrew also in jail, his godfather a free man. He didn't think the day could be any more amazing. He was wrong.
Professor Black suddenly let go of her brother. "Severus, what's wrong?" She hurried over to where Professor Snape was standing. He looked as if he had been trying to slip out during the commotion. "What's the matter?"
He did not answer immediately, just stared at her with an unfathomable look on his face.
Now she was really concerned. "Severus? Severus! What's wrong?" She put a hand on his arm.
He swallowed and looked down at her. "You love him." It wasn't a question; just a flat, emotionless statement.
She cocked her head to the side, looked back at the group, then back at Snape. "Remus?" she asked, not sure what he was talking about.
Snape's eyes flew open. "You love Remus?!?" It was almost a shriek.
"No," she said slowly, her eyes narrowing, her puzzled smile fading into a frown. "I don't love Remus – I like Remus, but I don't love him. Who are you talking about?"
"Him," he said, pointing at Sirius.
She looked back and forth between them again. "Sirius?" She said finally, a little disbelieving.
Snape nodded. She rolled her eyes. "Well, of course I love Sirius, you nitwit! Where have you been all this time?"
He gaped at her. "You love him? You love him and you never told me? You let me think that we…that we…" he didn't finish his sentence, but stood there, his face full of anguish. Harry had never seen him so distraught, not even the night he had eavesdropped on them in the corridor.
Professor Black stood there for a moment, completely bewildered by his behavior. Then, comprehension dawned on her face and she looked like she was fighting back giggles. "You…you think that Snuffles…er, Sirius and I…" she trailed off, chuckled, and shook her head in disbelief. "You really are impossible."
Professor McGonagall stared hard at Professor Black. "Rebekah – you mean that you knew all along that what we thought was Remus's pet dog…was actually Sirius Black?!?"
"Of course I knew! Sirius is an unregistered Animagus…and so am I. In fact, the main reason I became an Animagus was because of him."
"You…you know all along," Snape said to her. "You know that that dog wasn't just a dog. And you love him! And you never once said a word to me."
But she cut him off. "Severus! For goodness sake! How could you not know?!? Think about it: Rebekah Black! Sirius Black! Our last names are the same for a reason!!!"
His jaw hit the floor. "You're MARRIED?!?!"
Everyone was watching the exchange in amazement.
Black smacked her forehead with the heel of her hand. "Why is there never a two-by-four around when you need one?" she asked, more to herself than anybody else.
She stalked over to Snape and grabbed his arms. "YOU IDIOT!" she bellowed. "HE'S MY BROTHER!!!!!"
There was stunned silence. The watching teachers suddenly smiled as the pieces fell into place. "Your…your brother?" Snape whispered, barely loud enough for anybody to hear. "He's your…brother?"
"Yes, he's my brother. Now will you please calm down?" She was thoroughly frustrated with him and looked like she didn't know whether to hit him or hug him.
"He's your brother," Snape repeated, still amazed. "So you don't-"
"I love my brother, Severus," she said, "but not in that way."
He grabbed her hand and held it tightly. "I…I'm so sorry!" he said, looking thoroughly ashamed of himself. "It's just that I…well, I thought that…" his voice dropped to a whisper, and only the people closest to him could hear his next words, "I thought I'd lost you, too."
She looked at him tenderly. "Oh, for pity's sake, Severus. How hard-hearted do you take me for? Do you think I would really betray you like that?" she asked softly.
She beamed a great happy smile at him. "Oh, come on, it's supposed to be a happy occasion! Com'ere," she said, tugging at his hand to drag him closer to the rest of them.
He didn't move, but he didn't let go of her hand, either. She tugged harder, and still he refused to budge, but she could see the tiniest of smiles on his face, and she realized he was playing with her. She stopped and stood where she was, and gave him a long, searching look. Then she smiled.
"A penny for your thoughts," she said.
He didn't speak for a moment. Finally, he took a deep breath, grasped both of her hands in his and looked straight into her eyes. "Rebekah," he said, "will you marry me?"
Jaws dropped all over the Great Hall. It was one thing for them to accept a relationship between two Hogwarts teachers – it was even feasible enough that one of the teachers could be Snape – but to hear him ask Professor Black, in front of the whole school, if she would marry him was more than most of their minds could fathom.
Harry, Ron, Hermione, Sirius and Lupin all looked at each other in amazement, then turned back to the scene before them. Sirius looked torn between happiness that his little sister was getting married, and horror that it would be to Snape. Harry suppressed a smile – it was quite amusing.
She didn't answer right away, but was looking at him with the oddest expression. When she did speak, however, it was not what anybody expected to hear.
"Well, it's about damn time!" she said.
His eyes popped. "About damn ti-? What do you mean – wait a min-…you knew?!?"
She laughed. "Of course I knew! You can't keep anything from me – I read you far too well. I've known for a while that you wanted to ask me. I just kept waiting for you to screw up the courage to do it. Took you long enough."
He looked like he couldn't believe what she was saying. "So…erm…will you?" he asked tentatively.
She smiled warmly. "Severus, you already know the answer to that question. Of course I will."
The surprise on his face quickly gave way to joy. "You will? You mean it? You really will?" He hesitated only a fraction of a second – then he pulled her to him and kissed her.
The roar of approval from the Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, and Ravenclaw tables drowned out the groans coming from the Slytherin table. But not all the Slytherins were disappointed with the turn of events – most of the girls were on their feet, clapping and cheering with everybody else, for just because they were in Slytherin didn't prevent them from enjoying romance.
The rest of the teachers were applauding; McGonagall had tears in her eyes. Harry laughed at the look on Sirius's face. The tugged on his sleeve. "Guess you'll have to be nice to him now, won't you?" he said over the din.
Sirius grimaced, then smiled. "Yes – but it will make it easier knowing that he has to be nice to me as well!" Harry, Ron, and Hermione laughed.
Now Snape had enfolded her in an embrace, and she was hugging him back as hard as she could, laughing. He looked down at her.
"Guess I'll have to really be on my toes, seeing as how I can't keep anything from you," he said.
She laughed again. "It's because you think on things far too long – that's how I can read you so well, because you stew and stew and fret and when you finally make a decision, I'd already figured it out long before." She grinned playfully. "If you want to pull a fast one on me, you'll have to start being more impulsive. Now," she stopped and tried to go back over to Sirius, but he was still holding her hand and wouldn't let her go.
She turned back, exasperated. "Now what?" she said, half sarcastically.
He grinned at her suddenly. "Now," he said.
"Now what?" she asked.
"Now," he replied, "let's do it now. Dumbledore can marry us, right here, right now!"
Dumbledore didn't look surprised at all, but he was the only one. It was now Black's turn to drop her jaw in amazement. "Now?" she whispered. "Right now?"
"And I won't take no for an answer!" he cried. "I got you this time – we're going to do it right now!!" He dragged her over to where Dumbledore was standing, pulled his wand out from his robes and waved it; suddenly, his robes changed to dark smoky-gray velvet with satin trim. He looked quite smart indeed.
She just stood there, staring at him. He raised his wand again and said, "Orchideous!" A beautiful bouquet of flowers burst out of the end of his wand, and he handed them to her graciously. She took them, still staring, wide-eyed.
"You're serious, aren't you? You're really serious about doing this right now!"
Dumbledore's eyes twinkled behind his half-moon spectacles; he clapped his hands and suddenly the air swirled with long white ribbons which formed themselves into decorations that lined the hall. Each student found himself with a yellow-orange rose pinned to their robes, and the wall behind the teachers' table was festooned with twinkling white lights and roses.
Then he turned to Black. "I think, Rebekah, that perhaps you should change into something slightly more…appropriate?"
She flushed pink, looked at Snape, then at Sirius, then turned to the watching students. She flung her arms wide. "OK, you all, tell me – should I?"
Through the cheers and screams and whistles, it was fairly obvious that the majority wanted the ceremony to go forward.
She grinned nervously. "Well, I guess that settles that!" She waved her wand and instantly her dark green robes shimmered and lightened into a dazzling silver-white gown the color of a unicorn. She looked over a Dumbledore.
"Severus needs a best man, and I need a maid of honor." She looked over towards where Sirius was still standing. "Hermione, would you mind?"
Hermione smiled, and with a wave of Black's wand, she, too, was wearing different robes the color of the dark midnight sky and holding a bouquet. She went over and stood slightly behind Black, grinning excitedly.
"Severus?" Black prompted.
He looked at her then bent down to whisper something in her ear. She looked somewhat surprised, but stood up on tiptoe to whisper a response. Snape turned to Sirius.
"Sirius, would you consider standing as best man at your sister's wedding?" Snape asked politely. Sirius's eyes flew open.
"Well, I, uh…sure! I would be…honored." The next instant he found himself wearing robes the same color as Hermione's. He approached the little group, but instead of standing next to Snape, he first went over to Black and gave her a hug.
"Congratulations, little sister," he said, then stepped back into his place.
As Dumbledore conducted the short wedding ceremony before the assembled students, something tickled in the back of Harry's mind, but he couldn't quite put his finger on it. His attention was brought back to the present as Dumbledore said,
"Then, I now pronounce you man and wife. You may kiss the bride."
Harry looked away to hide the smirk on his face when he saw Sirius's expression as the newly married couple kissed and the whole of the Great Hall erupted into applause.
Then, with a start, Harry remembered something, and turned to Ron.
"Ron!" he said, "Professor Trelawney's prediction! She said there was a wedding in my future – she was right! Professor Black – my godfather's sister!"
Ron smacked his head with his hand! "Bloody hell! You're right! She was right!"
Dumbledore had his hands up, signaling for quiet. "We now have one more reason to celebrate this evening – and so, without further ado – let the feast begin!"
Sirius looked between his sister and Harry. She put a hand on his arm. "Sirius, why don't you eat with Harry at the Gryffindor table? I'm sure his classmates would enjoy meeting you. Besides," she threw a glance over at her new husband and blushed slightly, "I think Severus and I might…slip off…a little early."
Sirius looked like he wanted to run screaming from the room, but he masked it and smiled at his sister. "Rebekah – as long as you're happy, I…" his voice dropped to a whisper, "I just can't believe you chose Snape!"
She giggled and blushed again. "See you later, Sirius," and she hugged him.
Then she and Snape, at a nod from Dumbledore, slipped out the side door and disappeared.
The next morning, Harry, Ron, and Hermione were waiting by the front doors with their trunks, and Ron with Pigwidgeon (covered in robes again to keep his quiet) and Hedwig in her cage. They were chatting amiably about nothing in particular and though the year had ended on a happy note, Harry was disappointed that Sirius had left so soon after the Leaving Feast – he had wanted him to stay, since he was free, but he gave a hurried apology, told Harry not to worry, he'd see him soon, then he had practically dragged Remus out of the castle.
They looked up at the sound of a familiar voice calling out to them. Professor Black was walking towards them, smiling.
"All packed and ready?" she said.
Harry nodded. "Say, Professor," he said, "why did Sirius leave so quickly last night? He hardly ate anything then ran Remus right out the door."
She gave a small smile. "He told me he wasn't going to stay long – something about how he wasn't going to stay in the same castle where his sister was going to…well, you get the picture."
Harry and Hermione snickered, but Ron just looked puzzled.
"What?" he said. "I don't get it…what were you going to do?"
Hermione shot him an exasperated look and rolled her eyes. "Oh, honestly, Ron, what do you THINK she did? What does anybody do on their wedding night?"
Ron looked puzzled for another instant, then comprehension dawned on his face, and he looked at her like she had just offered him a bowl of fried slugs for breakfast. "Eugh! You…you didn't!"
Harry and Hermione burst out laughing, holding their sides, tears leaking out of the corners of their eyes.
Black was laughing, too. "I assure you, Ron, that I most certainly did."
Ron still looked horrified as they laughed at him. Suddenly, a shadow fell across them and they looked up to see that Snape had come over, put his arm around his wife, and kissed her on the cheek. Ron looked like he was going to faint.
She turned back to them. "You three have a good summer, and keep in touch, though I'll be out of the country for a couple weeks."
"Out of the country?" said Harry. "Where are you going?"
She smile up at the man next to her. "We're going to the US for our 'real' honeymoon – leaving just as soon as you all do. I'm going to show Severus the highlights of American culture – baseball games, warm sunny beaches, the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone National Park." She sighed happily. "It will be nice to go back and see all that again."
Just then, the carriages pulled up to take the students down to the train station to board the Hogwarts Express.
Both professors waved at them as they boarded. "Have a great summer!" Black called out. The horseless carriages started moving, and soon the castle was out of sight.
The trip back to London was, for the most part, enjoyable, though Harry sorely missed Sirius. He had hoped that Sirius would ask him to come stay with him, but nothing like that was mentioned at all. The fact that Sirius was now free and could possibly come to visit him was the only thing that cheered him up.
The Dursleys were waiting for Harry at the Kings' Cross Station as they always were – tight-lipped, frowning, Dudley crouched petrified behind Aunt Petunia. Mrs. Weasley came over and gave Harry a hug and kiss on the cheek. She smiled at him.
"Have a nice summer, Harry – perhaps we'll get together later on during the holiday." She winked at him, and Harry smiled and hugged her back.
"See you," said Ron, giving him a wave as he trundled his cart behind his mother.
Hermione, in a fit of inspiration, dragged her parents over to meet Harry before they left. They both shook his hand and Harry had his own flash of genius.
"Come meet my Aunt & Uncle," he said, and led them over to where Uncle Vernon stood fuming.
After a round of introductions, Uncle Vernon looked puzzled and narrowed his eyes. "I'm sorry," he said to the Grangers, "but what exactly did you say you do for a living?"
"Oh," replied Mr. Granger, "we're both dentists; we have a little practice in Southampton."
Uncle Vernon looked somewhat surprised by this. "You mean…er…that is to say…you're not…"
Mrs. Granger laughed lightly. "Oh, no, we're not at all; it was quite a surprise to us when Hermione received her letter from Hogwarts. We are constantly amazed at the things she can do – we are so very proud of her. And we've heard so much about your nephew, Harry – such a wonderful child. I would be proud to have a nephew like him – you are so blest."
Harry had to fight down the laughter that was bubbling over at the look on the Dursleys faces. Hermione caught his eye and winked at him – she had obviously told her parents what a horrible home life he had, and they just couldn't resist laying on a nice thick layer of guilt.
Harry waved goodbye to Hermione and her parents, and wheeled his cart around to follow Uncle Vernon back to the car.
He sighed; it was the start of another summer at Privet Drive.
July the 31st dawned hot and dry on Privet Drive. Harry woke up on his sixteenth birthday, anxious for the owls he was sure to receive that day – Hermione, Ron, Hagrid, and Sirius always sent him birthday cards, cakes, and presents. With Dudley still on his diet, the cakes would be most welcome.
He stumbled downstairs, rubbing his eyes, and sidestepping in the hallway to avoid running into Uncle Vernon, who had gone to fetch the mail, and was looking at him with the utmost loathing. A day just like any other.
Harry spent the day reading and polishing his Firebolt. The morning dragged on, and Harry was surprised when he realized it was lunch time, and he had not received a single owl. He had half a mind to send Hedwig out to Ron's, but she was asleep and he didn't want to wake her.
Shrugging, he put his Firebolt back in his trunk and picked up his Transfiguration book to do a bit of homework.
About two o'clock he heard the doorbell ring and Uncle Vernon's footsteps clumping along the hallway. Engrossed in his copy of He Flew Like a Madman (the biography of "Dangerous" Dai Llewellyn), he didn't even hear the footsteps on the stairs and the creak of his bedroom door opening.
In fact, he didn't notice anything until someone cleared their throat. He looked up; Uncle Vernon was standing in the doorway, looking quite irritable. "You," he barked, "downstairs. Someone to see you." With that he turned and marched back down the stairs.
Intrigued, Harry put away the book and went downstairs. Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia were standing near the entrance to the parlor with white faces and wide eyes; Dudley was nowhere to be found.
Neither of them spoke, but Uncle Vernon jabbed his thumb at the doorway. Harry went in the room and saw who the visitor was.
"Professor Black!" he said, surprised and pleased.
She smiled at him. "Professor Snape, Harry. Remember, I got married."
"Oh," Harry colored slightly, "right."
She got up and went over to him to give him a big hug. "Happy birthday, Harry! And you don't need to be so formal with me – it's summer holiday and I'm here on a personal call. You can call me Rebekah. Anyway, I came by to see you and meet your Aunt, Uncle, and cousin." She stood up and looked at the door, beside which Harry knew the Dursleys were standing quietly and listening. "Could you bring them in here?"
Choking down his own laughter, Harry poked his head around the door; they jumped at the sight of him. "Come in," he said to them, "and meet one of my Professors."
Reluctantly, the entered the room (Dudley was still conspicuously absent) and stood there nervously looking at one another.
Harry cleared his throat. "Uncle Vernon, Aunt Petunia, this is Professor Rebekah Black…er…Snape, I mean. She got married to another instructor just before the end of term. Professor, this is my Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia. I don't know where Dudley is."
Rebekah held out her hand, which they quickly shook. "It's a pleasure to meet you all. I apologize for intruding during your holiday, but I was wondering if you would mind if I borrowed Harry for the rest of the evening? I'll bring him back tomorrow."
Uncle Vernon looked like he wanted to tell her to not even bother bringing Harry back, but he was taken aback by Rebekah's very Muggle attitude and clothing, and he did not want to appear rude, especially since he thought she might turn him into a cactus or something equally insidious.
"Very well," he said at last, "go ahead and take him." He turned and stalked out of the room, Aunt Petunia right behind him.
Rebekah turned to Harry. "Now, we don't have room to take much," she said, "so you can only bring a few things. Pack a small bag with a change of clothing, bring your wand and your Firebolt, and – oh, yes – let Hedwig out and tell her to come find us; she'll know where to go. She'll probably get there ahead of us. Bring her cage, too."
"Where are we going?" Harry asked.
She smiled secretively. "You'll see when we get there. Hurry now, it's a bit of a ways!"
Harry dashed upstairs and grabbed his broomstick, wand, some clothes, and flung the door to Hedwig's cage open. She nipped his finger affectionately and soared out the window. He tucked everything else under his arm, grabbed the cage, and flew down the stairs.
She was waiting for him in the hallway. Dudley had made an appearance and was trying very hard to shield his rear end from her view. His aunt and uncle were standing there as well, looking relieved that they were leaving.
Harry thought of something. "Er…Rebekah…how did you get here?"
She took the empty birdcage from him to lighten his load, and smiled. "In my car."
"You have a car? You can drive?!" he said.
"Of course I have a car! I bought it shortly after we returned from the US. I was miserable the whole past year without one. Severus thinks I'm crazy – he won't even ride in it." She laughed.
Uncle Vernon stepped forward. "Let me get this straight. You're a…a…whatever you are…and you have a CAR?"
She frowned slightly. "Yes, I'm a witch, and yes, I have a car. Would you like to see it?"
She walked to the door and yanked it open, and Harry's mouth dropped open. Sitting there by the curb was a brand-new silver Jaguar XK8 convertible gleaming in the afternoon sun. It had already attracted a small crowd of passers-by who were admiring it.
"Like it?" she asked Harry.
Uncle Vernon looked between the car and Rebekah and Harry, stunned. His car was nowhere near as beautiful and expensive as that, and he was feeling properly ashamed at that moment.
"Come on, Harry," said Rebekah, "we've got somewhere to be." They went out the door and crossed the yard. Rebekah popped open the trunk and squeezed the things Harry had brought into it. "It's not bewitched yet," she whispered to Harry, "so it will be a bit tight back here."
She climbed into the driver's seat while Harry buckled himself in the passenger side. "Ready?" she asked him, and he grinned in response. "Off we go, then!" she cried; then she started the car, and with one last wave to the Dursleys, she roared off in a cloud of dust.
Harry was laughing. "The looks on their faces!" he said gleefully. "I won't forget that in a long time!"
She laughed. "They needed putting in their place. Just a side benefit of buying this particular car. I had a Saturn in America, and I loved it, but I wanted a convertible and this is as good as they come."
She pointed to a compartment between their seats. "There's some music in there, Harry, find something you like and pop it in…of course, it's all American stuff…"
They drove for several hours, laughing and talking. Harry was enjoying this, spending his birthday riding with wind whipping through his hair, in a car his Uncle Vernon could never even hope to afford.
"Where are we going, Rebekah?" he asked again at length.
She grinned at him. "You'll see," and refused to say anymore. Harry decided to just sit back and enjoy the ride.
She turned off the motorway and soon pointed out a sign on the side of the road. "Chittlehampton," she said.
She drove them through the town and Harry looked with interest and the quaint little houses and stores lining the streets. They were on the northern outskirts of the town when she turned onto a narrow lane and bumped along.
"This road is terrible," she commented. "It's going to destroy my alignment."
There were hardly any houses this far back, and most of the surrounding area was undeveloped. After about a half-kilometer, there were no more houses, just grass and trees and wildflowers.
Presently, they came around a bend and Harry saw a medium-sized two-story house sitting on a huge plot of land. Harry recognized it at once as a wizarding house – it had the same rambling quality as the Weasley's house, The Burrow, did, and the same antique charm.
"Is this your house?" he asked Rebekah.
"Nope," she replied simply. "Leave your things in the trunk – you can bring them in later." She led him up to the big wooden front porch.
"If it's not yours," Harry said, "who lives here?"
"You'll see," she said, smiling. "Now, this is a surprise, so I want you to cover your eyes, and I'll lead you inside. No peeking!"
Harry obediently put his hands over his glasses and squeezed his eyes tight. "I'm ready."
He heard her open the door, and felt her guide him gently over the stoop and into the house. The door clicked shut behind him. Then –
He uncovered his eyes and blinked to clear his vision. Grouped in the room were Mr. & Mrs. Weasley, Ron, Fred, George, and Ginny, Sirius, Hermione, Snape, Hagrid, Remus Lupin, McGonagall and Dumbledore all wearing silly party hats (even Snape) and holding noisemakers and kazoos. And there was Hedwig, sitting on Hagrid's shoulder – she had gotten there before they had.
"Happy Birthday, Harry!" bellowed Hagrid, waving his noisemaker around.
"Happy Birthday!" the rest of them cheered.
He looked around, enthralled. The room was clean and furnished, but lacked any decorative items like mirrors or pictures. There was an enormous pile of presents by the stone fireplace, and a delicious aroma was wafting into the room from another door, which presumably led to the kitchen.
Harry was delighted. "Now I know why I didn't get anything from you guys! You had planned this party!"
"Of course, dear," said Mrs. Weasley, hurrying forward to give Harry a hug and a kiss on the cheek. "And what a great birthday surprise, don't you think?"
"Come on, Harry," said Ron, "open your presents!"
"Ah!" said Rebekah, "not yet! First, we eat! Molly – let's get the dinner set out."
Harry followed them into the kitchen, while everybody else headed outside to set up the tables. The kitchen was packed tight with various dishes of food. Harry helped them carry the bowls and platters out while Hermione and Ginny set out the plates and utensils.
They seated themselves around the long tables in the back yard and dug into the marvelous feast. Talk turned to the upcoming school term.
"Finally," Hermione said, "we've managed to keep a Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher for more than one year!"
Rebekah cleared her throat. "Actually…no, you didn't."
Everyone – even Snape – looked surprised, except for Professor Dumbledore.
"I thought you were going to continue to teach, Rebekah," Snape said, concerned.
She flushed. "Well, I am…I'm still going to teach Muggle Studies, but I won't be teaching Defense Against the Dark Arts next year; I've already told Professor Dumbledore."
"Why not, Rebekah?" asked Sirius next, his eyes worried.
She flushed. "I haven't told anybody yet, but…well…it would be awful hard for a Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher to teach…while pregnant…"
Snape's eyes flew open. "Pregnant? You're pregnant?"
She blushed again. "I think so."
He flung his arms around her while everybody else cheered and clapped. Sirius got up and rushed to his sister, pulling her up from her seat and hugging her just as hard.
"My little sister – pregnant!" he shouted. He let go of her and turned to Snape. Chuckling, he held out his hand; Snape took it and Sirius pumped his hand up and down.
"Congratulations, Severus – you can be the father, and I'll be the uncle that spoils your kid." Everybody laughed.
When they had finally laughed and congratulated themselves out, Rebekah showed Harry the back yard.
got spells all around the property and a big huge back yard. Which means," she said "you're going to get
your Firebolt and get out here for some Quidditch!"
Harry was beside himself as he kicked off on his broom – a birthday feast away from the Dursleys with all of his friends, his godfather was going to be an uncle, and a Quidditch match. He didn't think he could have asked for a better birthday gift.
Or so he thought.
After they had tired themselves out sufficiently (and it was too dark to keep playing), they returned to the parlor and pushed Harry into a chair to open his presents. As it turned out, the presents weren't just for Harry. It seemed that Sirius had purchased gifts for just about everyone, in thanks for their help in clearing his name. He even gave something to the Weasleys "for having such a wonderful son like Ron," he said. Fred and George slipped Sirius a Canary Cream, which he took without thinking and suddenly found himself covered in yellow feathers; everybody laughed.
And Harry was surprised to discover that even Professor Snape had bought them gifts: he, Ron, and Hermione each had a brand-new golden cauldron for Potions. Hermione, who had lost pretty much all of her reservations and dislike for the man after he had carried her up the hospital that year, flung her arms around him, while Harry and Ron contented themselves with a handshake and many thank-yous.
But Sirius had saved the best for last. When the whole pile of boxes was gone, he handed Harry a small box tied with a red ribbon.
"This is from me, Harry – actually, it's from all of us, because everybody here helped in making it possible," he said, smiling. "Go on, open it."
Harry pulled off the ribbon and opened the box. Nestled inside was a large golden key. He looked up at Sirius, but it was Dumbledore who spoke.
"It's a key to this house, Harry," he said, smiling. "I think it's about time you had a better home life…one that doesn't include your aunt and uncle. You can live here from now on, with Sirius, your rightful guardian."
Harry stared at Dumbledore and Sirius. "Do you mean it?" he asked, afraid they'd change their mind. "Can I really live here?"
Sirius smiled. "Yes, you can – we'll go back to your uncle's tomorrow and pick up the rest of your stuff – as long as that's what you want."
Harry flung his arms around Sirius and, for the first time that he could remember, he felt tears spill down his cheeks. The joy he felt at the prospect of living with someone who actually cared about him and treated him well opened the floodgates on all the emotions he had kept inside, all the pain and heartache and horrible things he had witnessed in his past, and it was too much for him to bear.
Sirius knelt down and held him tightly, letting him sob out his anguish as his own tears fell; Dumbledore quietly ushered everyone out into the kitchen to let a young boy experience the love of a father, and let a man recapture a long-lost friendship.