Disclaimer: See Chapter 1
Chapter 18: The Order of Merlin
The wizarding world was euphoric. Lord Voldemort (or, as everyone now began to call him, Tom Riddle) had vanished from the earth. After a month of investigation and recovery, the Ministry of Magic declared a three-day holiday, which was capped with a ceremony honouring those who had faced He-Who-No-Longer-Frightened-Anyone. The Order of Merlin, First Class, had not often been awarded, but Cornelius Fudge was in an expansive mood. The honour was presented to Harry Potter, Severus Snape, Lucius Malfoy (whose heroism in enduring Azkaban Fudge particularly lauded), his son Draco, Remus Lupin, and Hermione Granger. A witch had never been awarded a First, and Rita Skeeter and her colleagues described her courage in the most purple prose, while mercilessly dissecting the young heroine's background, possible romantic entanglements, and appearance.
For the fallen, there were Orders of Merlin, Second Class. Some thought the Ministry showed very bad taste in offering the second-class award to the grieving Zabini family, who refused to attend the ceremony. His name was announced with that of the mysterious Lily Jones, about whom there were so many fascinating rumours.
Other participants in the victory received recognition as well. The Order, Third Class, was awarded to Ronald and Ginny Weasley for their help in coordinating the attack from Hogwarts, and to their brothers Fred and George for their inventiveness.
It was a triumph of an ambiguous sort for the Slytherins. Of the eight who took direct part in the events at the Riddle House, five were from the House of the Snake. Two of their best had died fighting against the Dark Lord. And yet, for the most part, their adversaries had been Slytherins as well. Others tried to analyse the situation, and it was finally Hermione Granger who offered the most quote-worthy explanation: "Perhaps Slytherins will do anything to achieve their ends. Perhaps, though, those ends may not always be selfish."
Draco Malfoy was sullen and withdrawn. This victory was a bitter one. Although he now equaled Potter in public esteem, he had been robbed of what was rightfully his. Lily had died to save him, and he would cherish the memory forever; but he wished with all his heart it had not been necessary. If only that wretched mudblood had had her wits about her. She could have distracted the Dark Lord, and she could have fallen on to the broken stair rail. He looked at the assembled dignitaries, a tightly controlled sneer on his face. He had a mission now, to act on Lily Jones' theories as he understood them, and nothing would stand in his way.
The ceremony was over. Photographers pushed through the press of admirers to get the perfect picture.
"Let's have the students in the middle. That's right. How about the girl between Mr. Potter and young Mr. Malfoy?"
Draco pulled back sharply as Hermione was pushed against him. "I think," he said, his nose twitching, "that Potter should be in the middle. He's the Boy-Who-Lived, after all." He moved to Potter's right, putting him in between the mudblood and himself. His father put a hand on his shoulder. It looked affectionate, for the picture, but Draco felt the strong grip's warning pressure. He gave a brilliant smile, and the pleased photographers set to snapping pictures. He relaxed. He looked better standing next to Potter, anyway. They were good foils for each other's looks. Potter wasn't so bad in a tight spot. And it was immeasurably comforting to know that Lily had preferred Draco to him. At any rate, he was better than Granger. Father was right: it was a new world, and he would do his best to cultivate the great Harry Potter.
Lucius Malfoy, of all the recipients, was the one feeling the most unalloyed enjoyment. He was exonerated, he was vindicated, he was a hero. His son and heir was safe, his property restored, and his wife able to hold her head high in public. He knew that he was a different person now. He had seen an extraordinary feat of magic: a feat so extraordinary that it had changed his life, his views, and to some extent himself.
He was sorry, of course, for his friend's loss, and even sorrier for Draco's disappointment. But while it was a shame about the girl, there were many consolations in the new wizarding world order. Chief amongst them was the eternal banishment of Tom Riddle, the mad halfblood. Every morning and every night, Lucius admired the unmarred skin of his forearm. He had regained his seat amongst the Hogwarts Governors; and wearing his Order of Merlin, he had regained his influence in the Ministry.
It was useless to regret the mistakes of his youth. He had had time to think over the political situation now, with the patience of maturity. Draco might be anxious to get on with his Lily's work, but Lucius knew it would take time to educate public opinion. The girl, as Draco explained her ideas to him, though, had been right: the muggleborn were not the problem.
The great problem facing the wizarding world in the 21st century would be the Muggles, of course. The problem had always been the Muggles. It was the Muggles who bred like maggots, spreading over the land like a cancer, consuming natural resources, destroying vital species of magical plants and animals. The Muggleborn witches and wizards in that mundane world were a tiny, oppressed minority, looked upon with fear and hatred by the non-magicals. Tom Riddle's abandonment in a filthy Muggle orphanage was plainly at the root of his insanity and hatred of the wizarding world. He was not alone in his mistreatment.
Severus had let slip something of the Potter boy's background. It appeared that Dumbledore had hidden him with his mother's Muggle kin, and that those people were violently prejudiced against magic, even going so far as to imprison the boy in a cupboard. It was typical of Muggles, of course, to hate those superior to them. He intended to learn the whole story; and then the scandalous abuse of the Boy Who Lived would be a keystone of the legislation that he would sponsor to protect the Muggleborn by bringing them into the wizarding world in infancy; and to protect the wizarding world from being known to vicious Muggles such as Potter's relations. It would not do to attack Dumbledore's wrong-headed decisions while the old man was still alive: but Dumbledore would not live forever. Lucius would lay the foundations, and then in ten years—or not more than twenty—he would be free to openly pursue his agenda.
He sighed. It was great, important work; worthy of a Malfoy. Everything would be done openly. Everything would be legal. As early as the law allowed, he and Narcissa would set the example by taking an unfortunate Muggleborn infant into their home to foster in the ancient traditions of the magical world. They would need access to the book of magical newborns written by the Hogwarts Quill. It would not be impossible. In ten to twenty years, Minerva McGonagall would have become Headmistress of Hogwarts, and keeping the magical birth records would devolve upon the new Deputy Headmaster. Severus would be an essential part of his plans, and Lucius would see to it that Severus won the position he merited.
Some breaks with tradition might be necessary along the way. Allowing magical children to attend Muggle primary schools must stop. That sort of promiscuous mixing with the Muggle world was an invitation to disaster. Early on, he would promote the establishment of wizarding primary schools. A charming, wizard-built, cottage-like school in Hogsmeade, perhaps, would be the first. It was time, he reflected. And it was an idea that Dumbledore might even support. Surely among his recently graduated, there would be some nice, intelligent young witches who would enjoy teaching the young for a few years until they married: or there might be some mature witches, their own children already at Hogwarts, who would be glad of such a career. It was such a good idea that he would not propose it himself. He would discuss it with Severus, perhaps, who could then make some sort of snarky remark about unprepared students to his assistant, Miss Granger. Lucius smirked. He could picture the scene: the earnest, uncouth young witch, full of excitement over her scheme, bending Dumbledore's ear. When publicly proposed, Lucius would make a show of resistance to such a radical plan. He would be gradually won over, and then see to it that Narcissa sat on the board of the new school. She would like that very much, he decided. She always enjoyed doing things for children.
He smiled, genuinely happy. Certainly, their own little Lyra would be amongst the small pupils. That, too, would set a good example. The newest little Malfoy was to be a witch, the first Malfoy-born witch in three generations, and Lucius unreservedly proclaimed to all his acquaintance his very great joy and excitement. With her Malfoy blood, and her Black strain, she would a princess in the wizarding world, and the best of everything would scarcely be good enough for her. Narcissa had redone the nursery most exquisitely, and even Draco showed some interest in his new sister. Narcissa was talking about yet another child after Lyra; but perhaps if they could find someone suitable for Draco, she might be satisfied with grandchildren.
"Mr. Malfoy! Can we have another one?" Graciously, Lucius turned his good side to the photographers, who took some pictures of him alone, and then of Draco, and then of the two of them together: "Father and Son Heroes!" the headline would read tomorrow.
"Professor Lupin! Can we have the Gryffindors all together?"
Remus Lupin bitterly regretted Lily's fate, but was far more concerned for Harry. Lily had died before: many had died in the war against Voldemort, and he had learned to busy himself with the living. The boy had taken Lily's loss hard, but was greatly comforted by Remus' interpretation of events. He had told Harry that she had entered another universe, and not died in an ordinary sense. This way of thinking seemed to help, and Harry talked to him with growing enthusiasm, imagining her adventures with Blaise in a new world. Picturing her as alive and happy, even if they might never meet again, drew the sting from the wound. Remus sighed. The heartbroken Zabinis were not so easily comforted.
Harry managed a small smile. It was nice picture, and one that he always treasured: standing between Remus and Hermione, with their arms around him. There was a hurt inside him that could not even be publicly acknowledged. No one would ever know the truth about Lily and what she was to him. He knew, though: she had given her life for him yet again. He was proud of the Lily who had been his mother. He was equally proud of the Lily who had been his friend. Her sacrifice would not be in vain. The wizarding world was a better and safer place for her having lived, not once, but twice. He thought of her now, and wondered what she and Blaise were seeing, once they had passed through the pillared hall. He imagined a brilliant sun, and a vast, unexplored landscape. They would find their place there, and look after each other.
Another picture was taken, with the four Weasleys receiving awards. Ginny put her arm around his waist, and stood close. He felt a curious jolt of excitement. Being a lonely hero could be difficult, but being a hero amongst other heroes was pretty neat.
A little hot glow of satisfaction stirred in him. Two weeks after the departure of Voldemort, Bellatrix Lestrange had been found. Wandless, injured, and incoherent, she had hidden in the woods, living rough; until starving and half-frozen, she had wandered onto a roadway, and had been hit by a passing lorry. The driver, terribly upset, had called for help. Pitying muggles, ignoring her wild shrieks, had taken her to hospital and cared for her as best they could. In vain. She had died, under the ministrations of those she considered less than human. Confusion and mislaid paperwork had prevented the Ministry from noticing the report of the unidentified dead woman for a few days. It was an ironic, sordid end to a foul, wasted life. Harry could not know that Narcissa Malfoy was even happier than he.
The photographers whispered together. One, a Ravenclaw of the class of '58, too old to have known Snape either as student or teacher, respectfully asked the professor if he would be so good as to allow them to take his picture. Snape stared him down contemptuously, but the photographers had their livelihoods to earn, and felt safer behind their cameras, anyway. The resulting portrait of Severus Snape, taken by the Daily Prophet staff photographer, was the best picture of Snape ever published. He had not had time for the sneer to harden, and in the picture he simply looked grave and dignified—perhaps even melancholy.
There was considerable sympathy, though muted and privately expressed, for Professor Snape. Lucius had confided his discovery about Lily's parentage to Draco, who was deeply affected. Draco had quietly shared it with his fellow grieving Slytherins. From there, it had gradually spread throughout the school, and from the students to their families, until everyone knew the tragic secret: Lily Jones was Professor Snape's daughter, raised in Canada for her safety, but then brought to Hogwarts when her mother died. He had tried to protect her, but she had been killed in the last battle that destroyed Voldemort. Hufflepuffs sobbed over it in their cozy dormitories, Ravenclaws drew wise morals, and the Gryffindors felt sorry and a little ashamed. Snape ignored the pitying glances as he ignored everything but his work. His thoughts were his own.
Much as it had hurt to lose Lily just as he had found her again, he considered that it would have hurt more for her to have married Draco. He would never know now, how Lily would have acted, but he doubted that she could have resisted the combined charm of the entire Malfoy family on their best behaviour. There were few who could. It was a bitter pill, but he suspected he would have never been more than a valued platonic friend. Lily would never have been his. In the darkest recesses of his heart, he admitted that he would rather cherish her memory as a friend who died going to his assistance, than see her the happy and pampered daughter-in-law at Malfoy Manor, her friendship for him gradually fading to an distant good will. Hardly a pleasant reflection on his nature; but he had few illusions about himself.
The ceremony was followed by a gala reception. The Ministry's Grand Ballroom was alight and decorated in the best taste—and perhaps a little beyond it. Hors d'oeuvres, so elaborate as to be hardly edible, circulated freely. More freely circulated was the champagne. The recipients themselves did not stay very late. Lucius, indeed, might have remained until the early morning hours, but Narcissa was looking tired, and Draco had had just a little too much to drink, and was becoming quarrelsome.
He had started muttering again. "I still don't see why she was pulled through the door with Riddle! The potion was designed for him! That mudblood was soaked with it and she wasn't hurt by it. It doesn't make any sense!"
Lucius hissed in his ear. "Stop it! You'll make a spectacle of yourself. There's the Minister! Give him a nice smile. Yes, that's right. I've told you, and Severus has told you. The potion worked because Riddle was not entirely alive. She and the Zabini boy were dying, and covered with the potion. There wasn't anything anyone could have done. If she hadn't been drawn through the door, she simply would have been dead in our world. It's all very sad, but there it is. Now come along. Severus will take you back to school. Your mother needs to get home and get some sleep."
Snape heard the exchange and nodded a sour acknowledgement their way. Lucius and Draco had swallowed his explanation, luckily knowing nothing about the real nature of the seba potion. Had they done so, the fact of Lily's blood relation to Potter would have become apparent. She had been dying, certainly. But it was the potion laced with Potter's blood –the very blood that had resurrected her in the first place--that had made her susceptible to the enchantment. Blaise had been lying underneath her, evidently with some open wounds that she had bled into, and that in turn had drawn him in as well. They had been drenched with the potion, as the Dark—as Riddle had been: but that was still not the crux of the matter.
The werewolf had explained it to him, as he lay in the infirmary. Snape himself had protested the outcome.
"But the incantation! It was for an evildoer! It had nothing to do with Lily—or Zabini for that matter! How could the incantation have applied to her?"
Lupin had sat in the visitor's chair by his bed, thoughtful and compassionate. Snape would have cursed him had he been strong enough to hold his wand. It drove him to distraction to know that Lupin had saved his life in his werewolf form, and that he owed him a Wizard's Debt. The DADA professor had looked at him sadly, and quoted:
"For the pure rise up to the throne of Isis,
But the souls of the wicked are consumed."
"That's it?" Snape asked incredulously.
"The ancient Egyptians were very wise folk," Lupin observed. "They knew how dangerous it is to curse someone as an evildoer—especially if it were to be a lie. In such a case, the curse would rebound very unpleasantly on the wizard doing the cursing. The incantation simply had a safety mechanism built into it. But the point is moot: if Lily had not gone through the door to whatever awaits the pure, she would have been dead here in our world, and we would be burying her body. As it is," he remarked mildly, "there is now no physical evidence that such a person as Lily Jones ever existed."
"That solves Granger's problem," Snape snorted. He had turned his head away then, implying that the conversation was over. Lupin took the hint and departed.
Hermione and Harry had spent most of the reception with the Weasleys and Remus. Ginny, Ron and Harry had never had champagne, and sipped it doubtfully. They dutifully admired their decorations, and all of them clinked glasses gravely. People came to gush over them, and were met with reserved smiles, and then were herded away by the tactful Mr. Weasley.
Hermione began to be terribly tired, and wanted only to return to Hogwarts. She felt like a squashed cabbage leaf. Lily was gone, and very likely she would have never have a friend like her again: someone who understood every aspect of her life. During the ceremony, she had amused herself comparing Cornelius Fudge, as he stood there uttering his pompous fatuities, to Mr Collins in Pride and Prejudice. Lily would have laughed. No one else she knew would understand the joke. It was a great thing that Voldemort was gone, but it was cruel that he had taken with him Lily and the handsome, courteous Blaise. Almost angrily, she watched the happy celebrations of those who knew nothing of the dead. These were adults: the generation that should have settled Voldemort over twenty years before, and they had left it to a sixteen-year old boy, his friends, a pair of turn-coat Death-Eaters, a werewolf, and a spoiled, arrogant, upper-class twit. It had cost these cheerful party-goers nothing.
No, she admitted wearily, I'm not being fair. Many of these people lost loved ones in the War. I can't judge them. Each one of them has a story, and I have mine. I just wish---
"Mr. and Mrs. Weasley! Have the young people had enough champagne yet?" Dumbledore, splendid in purple and gold, approached them. Smiling, yes, but in a way that did not make light of their feelings. He noted Ron's glass, still half-full. "And how did you like it?"
Harry answered quickly, "Very much, Professor. Very—bubbly."
"Yeah," added Ron. "It's great. We're just a little tired."
"Well, then, perhaps it's time to return to Hogwarts. The Ministry has given us special portkeys for the occasion." He looked across the room, and caught Snape's eye. Snape then rounded up Draco, and headed over to the Hogwarts group. Lucius was leaving with a radiant Narcissa on his arm, making his way through the crowd like a Muggle rock star. He paused, and bowed courteously to Dumbledore, who returned the bow with an enigmatic smile. Draco swaggered up to the knot of Hogwarts students, a little more pink-faced than usual. Ron scowled, and Harry and Hermione kept their faces expressionless. Draco smirked as he surveyed their glasses.
"What's the matter, not used to champagne?"
Harry smiled tightly. "We were just toasting the end of Tom Riddle. There's that at least—no more Dark Lord."
"Ah, Harry," sighed Dumbledore, with a grave look. "The Dark Lord is indeed gone—for now. When you are as old as I am, however, you will realise that there is always a Dark Lord, or a wizarding plague, or a goblin rebellion. There is always something, and it's always something just different enough that one does not see it coming. Your lifetime, I'm sure, will have it share of challenges, as mine has." But," he said, more lightly, "They will be your challenges, and for now, we know nothing of them. So, therefore, back to Hogwarts, to Hogwarts! Where there's nothing more to worry you than this week's Transfiguration essay!"
He passed the second portkey to Snape, and Draco took hold of it along with his Head of House. There were too many to easily hold the other key, and Hermione found herself doing the polite thing and joining the Slytherins. Draco grimaced in distaste, and avoided touching her hand.
In a moment, they were jerked away and found themselves in the entry hall of Hogwarts, a good fifty yards away from the other group. Lupin and Dumbledore were talking something over with the Ginny and the boys. Hermione stumbled, and Snape reached out automatically to steady her. She smiled a surprised thanks, and was disappointed when a moment later, his concerned face became the usual forbidding mask.
"Well," she said, for lack of anything else, "Here we are again."
Draco was more than a little tipsy, and unpleasant with it. His anger had been growing all through the ceremony and the reception. Having to share a portkey with Granger was too much. "Yes, here we are! Back at Hogwarts, where you can go back to being the class know-it-all. Now that you've gotten rid of Lily, you don't have to worry about competition anymore. Pretty convenient for you."
"Mr. Malfoy--" growled Snape.
Hermione protested, "That's not fair! I miss Lily too! I was her friend as much as you were, and she—"
Draco exploded. "You were nothing to her! You couldn't have been! She was powerful—she was pure! A dirty mudblood like you could never understand a witch like Lily. I'll never forget her, never. All her ideas, all her plans—I'll see that they're followed through. Lily Jones will be remembered forever." He turned to the dungeons, and looked back, cold-eyed. "You were able to appreciate her on some limited level, I'll give you that. At least you were able to see what a superior person she was. But always remember that you should have died, not Lily."
He strode away with an air of finality. Hermione was still, thinking his words over.
She said, "Horrid as he is, I can't help feeling sorry for him. He did love Lily. What will become of him?"
Snape snorted. "A fate better than he deserves. He'll go through the world, looking for Lily; or at least, looking for a pureblood witch like her, and never succeeding, of course. He'll certainly marry, and sooner rather than later: Lucius and Narcissa will insist on him doing his duty. For the rest, he'll be wealthy, comfortable, and coddled: only unhappy to the extent he wishes to be."
Hermione wondered, "What does he mean about Lily's ideas? I can't imagine what kind of jumbled version of her theories he thinks he knows all about. She didn't have a chance to finish her research at all. Someone should certainly, but it's not exactly my thing. Anyway," she remarked, thinking about what it would mean to be married to Draco Malfoy, "I wouldn't want to be the witch he settles for."
Snape laughed: a dry, short sound. "There's little likelihood of that. I daresay his parents will go bride shopping at Beauxbatons. A pretty, pureblooded witch as spoiled as himself. He'll throw himself into the Malfoy family businesses, and in a few decades he's likely to be a power in our world." His eyes narrowed, and he said slowly. "I would walk softly around him. He's not likely to forget about you."
Snape had not visited the staff room in days, preferring the silence of his own workroom. He was not perfectly comfortable with the acclaim and sympathy that met him everywhere. Though he kept up his mask of indifference, the unwanted owls containing the sentiments of people for whom he cared nothing were grating. Lucius might bloom like a flower in the sun, but Snape was too unaccustomed to public admiration to accept it easily now. His Dark Mark was gone. He would never cower in a cold sweat before Tom Riddle again. He could pursue his work without distractions. It was enough.
Minerva McGonagall, wanting to discuss some schedule alterations, finally tracked him down in the dungeons, and breezily informed him of the plans. She was proud of her students, past and present. She was delighted that the shadow of Tom Riddle no longer hung over them. Hogwarts could be a school again, not a training camp for magical warriors. Perhaps Severus, no longer bowed under the pressures of his intelligence-gathering, could have a life of his own.
The nightly patrols would be reduced, she told him. They would include only the school itself, and with only half the staff previously involved.
"It is my custom to patrol on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays," he grunted, continuing to mince durian roots. "I see no reason to change my schedule."
"Really, Severus! Anyone else would be pleased to have less to do."
"I am not pleased to surrender the asylum to the lunatics."
Minerva was growing irritated. "Well, we can certainly take Miss Granger off your hands. I'm sure you're tired of her being about."
Snape glared at Minerva, a growing dread spreading through him. "Miss Granger is my assistant. Dumbledore turned her over to me for the entire year."
McGonagall waved an impatient hand. "Yes, yes, I know. It was important to teach the girl a lesson. But now, of course—" She saw the dark fury in Snape's face. "I would have thought you wanted to be rid of her."
Snape growled, his shoulders tightening as they did before a duel. "She is my assistant. I have work for her. Her services were promised to me for the entire year. I expect to see her Friday evening at the usual time, Order of Merlin or not."
The Deputy Headmistress huffed. "Just as you please, but I think it very petty of you to insist on continuing her punishment."
Snape fixed her with a frosty stare, and she left, rather offended. Snape brought the knife down on the inoffensive roots with a vengeance. How dare they? Did they wish to deprive him of everything? He had lost Lily. It was only fair that he keep Granger. They owed him that much. She was a great asset in the laboratory, and it was incomparable experience for her. And with whom else would he be able to talk about Lily, about the truth of the past few months' events? Who else would understand him?
He had been thinking with some consolation and considerable complacency about the future. Next year, she would continue her assistantship and her exploration of medicinal potions. Once her N.E.W.T.'s were successfully completed, she would be granted a full apprenticeship, and from the first could be entrusted with the tuition of the first years. It would relieve him of a considerable burden, and be a very fine opportunity for her. Even with the current number of students, it was nearly impossible to for him to teach every potions class. After her undoubtedly successful apprenticeship, it might be most judicious for the Headmaster to offer her a permanent position. She would be saved from decades of wage slavery as an entry-level Ministry employee, and more importantly, from the possibility of an unequal and unfortunate marriage. She would have important, respected work, and he would have a gifted colleague with whom he could collaborate and confer. For years and years and years. He had never before imagined a future so satisfactory. He dared not allow himself consciously to hope for more. Not yet, at least.
Remus Lupin was in the staff room when Minerva came in, tight-lipped and irate.
"You've been in the dungeons," he guessed with a smile.
"That man is impossible! He's actually insisting that Miss Granger serve out her punishment for the entire year!"
"Well," Remus observed mildly, "That was the Headmaster's decision. And as for me, I'm only too happy to know there's another expert out there who can make the Wolfsbane potion. And who gives it to me without all the sneering, " he added, returning to his book.
Minerva was not satisfied. "I shall ask the Headmaster to reconsider. Everything has changed. And now that the disturbing revenant she raised is gone, I think we can agree that she's been punished enough! One forgets how ignorant the Muggleborn can be. I understand now that she meant no harm."
Remus set his book down. "A disturbing revenant? Is that how you would describe Lily?"
"That thing was not Lily Evans!" Minerva regarded him fiercely, her accent as thick as Dundee oatmeal. "I knew Lily Evans, and the creature from the picture was not the student I remember! I'll grant you a physical resemblance. I'll even grant that there was some likeness in behaviour and that the creature had her memories, but she was not a real person."
"She seemed real enough to me."
"And to Severus, too, I'll warrant." She sat by Remus, looking sternly into his eyes. "I'm not a sentimentalist. I'm not one to be blinded by wishful thinking. For Severus it was a dream come true. I'm not ignorant of that. To you and to Harry she seemed a gift, the lost past returned to you in an attractive guise. But you were wrong. She was never more than a phantom, and she's better banished. Better for you, for Harry, for Granger, and above all for Severus, who can get on with his life." She smoothed her robes briskly, and stood. "I have the third years now." She gave him a sharp nod, and left.
Remus sat thinking, understanding Minerva but not agreeing with her. Was that being with Lily's face truly Lily Evans? It was beyond him to say. There had been differences, certainly; but they were possibly simply differences of time and situation. He was convinced that she had been a real girl—she had been too full of opinions, ideas, feelings—too full of life to be anything else.
For him, the events at the Riddle House marked a turning point in many ways. Necessity and the fierce desire to protect Harry had impelled him to attempt the unthinkable: to Apparate in his werewolf form, his wand clenched in his jaws. Unsure that anything else was possible, he had left the wand at the Apparition point and retrieved it later that night. He knew of no other werewolf performing magic at that level—ever. He would try more spells at the coming full moon. Those requiring vocalised incantations and precise wand movements would be impracticable; but a whole array of others might be feasible, and could somewhat normalise his life. It was an exciting prospect.
He fingered his Order of Merlin idly. Dumbledore insisted that he wear it. Receiving such an honour had subtly changed his situation. He was still a werewolf, but he was that werewolf—the good one. Strangers repeating their tired prejudices could turn and assure him that they did not mean him. Acquaintances could feel liberal-minded and pleased with themselves, knowing that they were not bigots—after all, some of their best friends were werewolves. Attractive witches were pursuing him, wanting to play at danger in safety.
He gave himself a shake. It was foolish to wallow in cynicism. The award would make his life easier. It would be a wedge against the blind fear of werewolves. Legislation against werewolves was stalled and in some instances being repealed. And who was he to complain? He had a respected position, that now appeared to be his as long as he liked. He had a comfortable home at Hogwarts, and enough money at last. Harry was alive, and Voldemort was gone. It was a new world.
Christmas was coming, and he would see that it was the most wonderful Christmas of Harry's life. Some time at the Burrow, some time at Hogwarts—even possibly some time at Hermione's house, so the boy could see how decent Muggles lived. There would be presents, of course, but above all there would be peace, and security, and closeness with friends now unthreatened.
Harry need never see the Dursleys again. This summer, he decided, he would take a cottage on the Cornish coast, and he and Harry could have a real holiday. Harry's friends could all come, and the boy could be a boy at last. Harry had never been to the seaside: he had never been anywhere, really. That would soon change.
Hermione sat in the reading room, studying the picture of the Hogwarts library. It was curiously static now, indistinguishable from a Muggle painting. A chair was pulled back at an odd angle. A few books cluttered the table. The Book of the Dead lay on the floor, dropped by Lily the night they had performed the ritual. It would remain there forever undisturbed, like the dust particles glinting in the painted light.
"What is that book in the middle of the table?"
Hermione started at the sound of Snape's voice. She wondered how he had gotten in. It was useless to ask him a question, if he did not wish to answer it. Instead, she replied, "Pride and Prejudice."
"Never heard of it."
Hermione could not resist. "By Jane Austen. The great 19th century novelist." She added, "It was Lily's favourite book."
He grunted non-committally.
"Like any really great work, it speaks to all times and all societies. It's about the difficulties of a clever, spirited young woman and her relationship with a proud and powerful man who considers her beneath him because of her birth and background."
"The Muggleborn and the Pureblood! Spare me your heavy-handed parallels!" He pulled up a chair and sat down, stretching out his long legs.
Earnestly, she continued. "There's a great deal more to it than that! Jane Austen was a writer of the most subtly-drawn and brilliant social comedy."
"But they marry and live happily ever after in the end, do they not?"
Hermione could not deny that they did.
Snape grunted again. "A romance. McGonagall thinks you should be let off your Fridays with me."
Hermione was horrified. "But I'm in the middle of some very important potions. It would put me back terribly if I stopped now. Surely Professor Dumbledore hasn't said I must stop?"
"Don't complain to me. I'm just telling you now that she's probably going to speak to the Headmaster. I can hardly command a award-winning recipient of the Order of Merlin to work in the dungeons against her will, when there is no evidence of a malfeasance that requires punishment."
"But I'm your assistant!" she protested, and then faltered, "Aren't I?"
He shrugged, still gazing at the picture. "I have no objection to your presence, but I can hardly overrule the Headmaster's decision. If you wish to continue your work, I suggest you speak to him yourself; and in addition, reassure your Head of House that it is your own wish to further your study of potions-making. You seem to be once again in favour."
Impetuously, she clambered to her feet. "Let's go see him right now, sir! We can explain how vital to my training the work is, and he'll see that I can't give it up!"
Snape raised a brow. "You are suggesting that I accompany you to the Headmaster's Office?"
"Yes, sir! I mean, please, won't you? If I go alone, he'll tell me he has to talk to you, anyway."
She waited, watching him expectantly. It put Snape in mind of an eager puppy, hopeful that people were glad to see her, but not entirely sure of it. He let her wait a bit, just until her face started to fall, and then he relented.
"Perhaps it is as well to settle the business at once. Come along." He led the way through the halls, making no allowance for her shorter stature. She found she was learning to match him stride for stride, and nodded in a pleased way at those they met in passing.
At the entrance to the office, there was some confusion. Snape thought the password was Mars Bars (which he considered oddly astronomical for one so devoted to sweets), and Hermione thought it was Cadbury Crème Eggs. Neither was correct, and they named half a dozen more tooth-destroying dainties before the staircase suddenly admitted them.
Dumbledore had heard them squabbling below, and prepared himself for a most interesting interview. As the two of the them swept into his office, full of protests, plans, ideas, and suggestions, he smiled benignly, knowing that this was only the first of many times he would see them thus.
Really, the Headmaster reflected, one of my more brilliant ideas. He offered them chairs, cups of his favourite Earl Grey, a silver tray of particularly fine sherbet lemons, and settled back to watch them striking sparks off each other.
New note: 07/07/06--If you have read the story to the end, I would appreciate it if you would leave a comment. In the past few months, this story has had over ten thousand hits, with hardly a peep. Please, if you took the time to read, please take just a second to review! Thanks, AdB.
Notes: A final thank you to my reviewers: your kind words have been a great support in completing this story. When HPHBP is published, this, like so many other stories, will be forgotten like yesterday's news; but I will never forget your encouragement, or all I have learned about writing in creating The Prefect's Portrait.
Pigeonsfromhell—Thanks for the review!
Pimpilidimpi—Thank you. Yes, it is sad to finish a story that I've invested so much of myself in, but at least it is finished!
BaskervilleBeauty—One word: Thanks!
Kismet0116—As you can see from the above, Snape does not blame Hermione, though someone else does. He is moving on with his life, in his very Snapish way. Glad you liked the battle—it took many notes and a lot of planning.
GeekGoddess1—Nobody expected the battle so quickly either, but Voldemort offered more provocation, and to more enemies than he realised. And since I don't have to suspend resolution through two more books like JKR, I can follow the logic of the situation as I set it up. Thanks for your support.
Southernwitch69—Thanks very much! Hope you liked the final chapter.
JOdel— Glad you enjoyed Hermione's know-it-all triumph. As to Voldemort, the idea possessed me from the beginning that Voldemort should be the first and only person who recognised Lily. Thank you for your support. I hope you find my characters in the last chapter in character as well!
LadyJenilyn—I had always planned for Lily to die: she really didn't belong in Hermione's timeline. And the symmetry of her defying Voldemort again and sacrificing herself was just irresistible. No, alas, I'm no Jane Austen, and no JKR:I just read them all the time! But in a way—Lily and Blaise are together—Hermione and Snape are together—Draco, like Wickham or Willoughby or William Eliot, or perhaps most like Henry Crawford, does not get the girl he really wants, and settles for someone else. Thank you for all your reviews!
Adrienne Drusilla Daae—So glad you caught my parallel with Blaise and Lily! Ten points! Yes, I agree that the twins must have some vital role to play before the end of the books. Thanks for liking my take on the destruction of Voldemort. And I'm sure there will be a confrontation between Peter and Remus. I did not have the silver hand play a role (which I am sure JKR intends) because Peter was in rat form and was grabbed too quickly to defend himself with it.
Alarase—Glad you liked it. Thanks!
Risi—Yes, it's always hardest on those left behind. Not so much "poor Blaise," as "the poor wizarding world," which is now bereft of everything he could have become! I had set up the "Lily as Snape's daughter" early on, and it was the logical conclusion for outsiders to reach. It's safest for everyone in the know, as well. Thank you for your reviews!
Strega-in-progress—Thanks for all your reviews and your interest. I like the simile of "plot thick as chocolate!" It is heavily plotted, I know, but I had such fun.
Duj—Yeah, both Draco and Snape are hard hit, but their ultimate reactions are quite different. Snape is accustomed to loss and loneliness: Draco is not. As the last chapter shows, Draco now has the highest honour offered by British wizardry, but he's terribly unsatisfied by it all. Thank you for all your reviews.
Foodie—Yes, Lucius had a Gryffindor moment, but, as you say, it was paternally inspired. There's not much else he would risk himself for, other than Narcissa. He would sneer, and deny it, and point out that he had an immense amount of time and money invested in Draco, and that he would have been a fool not to protect such an investment, but some of that would have been a fib. Thanks for your remarks about the battle: I made a floorplan of the house that helped me keep things clear. Thanks for your reviews and catching the Heathcliff and Peter Pan references!
Delayed Poet—"Life is a comedy to those who think: a tragedy to those who feel." Even in the most heart-breaking moments of life, absurd , ridiculous things will happen. I thought the disasters at the end of the chapter would be in sharper relief if I had some comic lines in the beginning. I'm glad you felt they worked. Thanks for your support.
Lana Manckir—Thanks for all you reviews. I thought about Snape blaming Hermione—and I won't say that he didn't have his moments, in the first weeks after the battle. But he is older than Draco, and his relationship with Hermione is complicated by his growing satisfaction with her as an assistant (and the fact that she was Lily's friend and so can be a Lily-by-proxy, to some extent). He has had so little pleasurable interaction with others that he is not going to let go of her easily.
Hope—Thank you! Your review shows exactly the reaction I hoped to produce, and makes me feel great. I did have a floorplan, so the times and movements would make sense. I tried to write as vividly and sensuously as I could, so readers would smell the change from the perfumed claustrophobia in the Riddle House, to the freshness of the out-of-doors.
ElfFlame—No, the secret couldn't have kept well. But now a new, false secret overlays it, and will protect the participants. The resemblance that Dumbledore created was meant to mislead everyone in just that way, though only Dumbledore fully understood all the ramifications at the time. He saw farther than Severus, and had his own reservations about the likelihood of Snape and Lily getting together romantically. Perhaps he remembered better than Snape the reality of the James/Lily relationship. As to Narcissa's pregnancy, as I indicate above, Draco is mildly interested, but the child is practically a different generation. The fact that it is a girl is good, though: it keeps him from feeling he is being replaced. Instead, he pretty much feels that his Mother has just gotten a new, expensive toy to play with.
Vickie211—Yes, Harry and Draco aren't going to be bosom buddies or anything like it, but there is a foundation of mutual tolerance and respect there. They are going to have to work together in the adult wizarding world, and their experiences at least make it possible. Severus and Lucius have a lot of history together, and I had to show them in action. In an earlier review, you suggested that I have Harry and Lily discuss why Petunia hates him. I never was able to work that in smoothly, but for your information, they did discuss it, and Lily simply didn't know. The real reason involve things that happened after the original Lily left Hogwarts. Harry will never know either. Thanks for your support.
Kiss-of-cuteness— Thanks, no, it's not pompous—it's pretty much what I was aiming at. Voldemort, Lily, and Blaise did not die in our world, in the sense that they left no physical remains. They went before the judges and Voldemort—well, the Devourer of Amenta had a good meal. Lily and Blaise were judged and went on to a different kind of existence, which I do not pretend to imagine—other than it was pretty neat.
Grey Grim—Thanks for liking the way I did Lucius. What I was searching for was a compartmentalised personality: a person who could do horrible things, and then come home and play with his little son. As to Lily—I always intended for her to die. She was the same brave, self-sacrificing person she had been in her prior life, and the symmetry of it seemed beautiful to me. Besides, Lily remaining in the wizarding world was bound to cause intense rivalries and upheavals. Had she lived, she would have made choices that might have been catastrophic. Hermione could never be secure with Lily in the picture (!), however much she loved her as a friend.
NebulaBelt—Thank you so much! Yes, I wish I could have fit more about the Slytherins into the story (I did originally, but it padded the tale awkwardly.). I've never liked the idea of one group of children being painted as villains because they happened to choose their parents poorly. In fact, Jodel has pointed out to me how little we actually see of all those children at Hogwarts, except for the few directly involved with Harry. We never know the names of the Head Boy and Girl when he's in fourth or fifth year (or did I miss that?) Very picky readers will know that I never included Tracy Davis, who is supposedly a Slytherin in Harry's year. That was deliberate. (She was the one dumped because I didn't find her name interesting.) I had enough inventing to do just to flesh out Daphne, Millicent, and Pansy a bit.
Alliekiwi—Thanks! Yes, they all will miss her! I wrote the story partly so I could use that dialogue: it was always in my head. Perhaps there is such a thing as fate, and Voldemort was Lily's.
June W—I very much appreciate your reviews. Harry shared blood with Lily, just as he did with Voldemort. Remember, it was Harry's blood that was used to resurrect Lily (and it worked because of their relationship). Lily bled all over the bleeding Blaise, and some of her blood got into his wounds. Neither Hermione nor Snape was affected, but Harry would have been had the potion gotten on him: that was why Remus tackled him. Telling the Malfoys that the potion worked because they were dying was a big fib. Even if Lily had been unharmed, getting splashed with the potion, followed by the door and the incantation would have sucked her in. Blaise was a classic innocent bystander. Had she not gotten blood in his wounds, he simply would have been dead on the floor. As it is, he thinks what happened is pretty cool. And he is a prince. And Snape may not find romance in this story, but I will not answer for what happened a few years later. However, he would have disdained to describe it as romance himself: rather, it was something rational and mutually beneficial.
Cecelle—Thanks for the review! No, there's no way for Lily to return. No adequate image of her exists now in Hermione's world. "The pure rise up to the throne of Isis!" which is not such a bad thing. Draco thought about that sentence for some time. His interpretation was not so much that she and Blaise were pure of heart, as that they were pure of blood.
Deeble—Well, you know that picture of Mrs. Granger you had? Yes, that's right. I leave it to you to imagine the perpetrator. It could have been a straying husband, an incorrigible trickster, a vain charlatan, a lonely and brilliant old wizard craftsman, a Death Eater manqué or full-blown. It could be that Lucius may not be telling the whole truth (nothing unusual there) or may not be able to precisely identify the actual father. It is not Snape, however. Nor Dumbledore, Flitwick, Cornelius Fudge, Remus Lupin, Alastor Moody, nor Rubeus Hagrid. Mrs. Granger is very happy to have Hermione: she and her husband had tried so hard to have a baby, and with no success at all; until one day it just happened. I'm glad you enjoyed the battle. It was hard, but very exciting to write. Snape's regard may be grudging, but it is nonetheless lasting and sincere. Thanks.