Updated: Saturday 2nd July 2005
Disclaimer: Still not mine…Chapter Ninety Six: Home
Collapsing face-first into a heap on the cool, dewy grass of the Quidditch Pitch, Estella heaved a sigh of mixed relief. Both from the pain she endured, the lack of food, and the dizzying effects of the Portkey itself, Estella's head spun; and the Ravenclaw girl had difficulty determining her surroundings. A quick look at Harry, and she could see he was suffering from the same sort of disorientation.
A torrent of sound deafened and confused her. There was noise everywhere: voices, footsteps, screams… the sounds assaulting her senses in a jumble of incoherence that unnerved her. Estella lolled back on the grass, her eyes unable to focus on the bright stadium lighting and the shadows that emerged around them. In one hand she held a fistful of Cedric's robes and her wand, and in the other, she had somehow cast aside the Cup and found Harry's hand. Together, they were anchored, Estella knew; but at that moment all she wanted to do was to close her eyes and rest.
Hands were suddenly upon her, seizing her up roughly and turning her over. With what little strength she had left, Estella flinched and recoiled from the unidentified contact.
"Harry! Estella!" Through the haze in her mind Estella could recognise the Headmaster's voice. Then again, a more wary part of her mind warned her that last time she'd believed someone to be who they said they were it turned out to be Malfoy. Estella groaned in protest, no longer able to form words. She was fading fast, the events of the day and ineptitude of Malfoy's potions, taking their toll.
Dark shadows of a crowd of people pressed in around them, pushing nearer, the ground reverberating with their footsteps. For a moment, Estella was not sure if they were even back at Hogwarts at all, or if they were the shadows of Voldemort's victims and she had passed out in the graveyard. Panic began to overcome her, and her stomach lurched in fear as she struggled to convince herself that she truly was back at the school, and therefore, safe.
"He's back," She could hear Harry whisper, the reassuring squeeze he gave her hand bringing her back to her senses; and she began to relax. "He's back. Voldemort."
"What's going on? What's happened?"
A new voice entered the fray as the pompous face of Cornelius Fudge appeared upside down over them; bowler hat and all, though looking quite white and appalled.
"My God – Diggory!" He whispered. "Dumbledore – he's dead!"
If Estella had a ounce of energy left, she would have slapped the Minister upside the head and congratulated him on his uncanny ability to state the obvious.
Following from Fudge's dumbfounded exclamation, the news spread through the crowd like wildfire; the words repeated over and over like the rustling of trees as the shadowy figures pressing in on them gasped it to those around them. Shouts rang out as alarm set in, and screaming rang cut through the night. "He's dead! He's Dead!" "Cedric Diggory! Dead!"
"Let go of him," Voices said, fingers trying to pry her grip from the boy's body, as likely they were also trying to do to Harry. She could faintly hear the headmaster tell them that it was over, and to let go. Estella complied groggily, her fingers not wanting to release their death grip and flex at first.
Hands on her again, and Estella was hauled up to stand alongside Harry, whose hand she had not let go of. Leaning against her god-brother, the bones in her own legs boneless, Estella could feel the deceptively strong hands of the Headmaster behind them, holding them both up. For the first time that day, she was overcome with a sense of calm… it was as though she could feel the power of the revered wizard behind her, and his presence was assuring her protection.
The crowd around them jostled, fighting to get closer, pressing darkly in on all sides. "What's happened?" "What's wrong with them?" "Diggory's dead!"
"He'll need to go to the hospital wing!" Fudge said loudly, denying the reports that Cedric was dead despite the cold, hard evidence staring lifelessly up at them all. "He's ill, he's injured – Dumbledore, Diggory's parents, they're here, they're in the stands…"
"I'll take the children, Dumbledore, I'll take Harry…"
"No, I would prefer –"
"Dumbledore, Amos Diggory's running… he's coming over… don't you think you should tell him – before he sees?"
"Stay here –"
The voices came so hard and fast to Estella she could barely keep track of who said what and to whom. All she knew was that in one sudden instance, the life force behind her, keeping her on her feet, was gone, and both she and Harry were stumbling to their knees, exhausted. Just as quickly, Harry was yanked from her grip, and she could hear him being half carried, half led, half dragged away; but in the furore of the crowds of people and the white nothingness that plagued her mind, luring her into unconsciousness, Estella could not see who took him.
Rising to her feet shakily, Estella called out to Harry in a choked, weak voice, the effort of breathing alone difficult enough without giving her breath song. Without Harry there to anchor her, or the protective aura of the Headmaster to console her, the dizzying panic that lingered on the edges of her mind threatened to close in. Around her, girls were screaming, sobbing hysterically… or was it her making those noises? Estella didn't know anymore. To borrow from a Muggle analogy, it was as though she had been swept up in a wind storm and deposited in the Land of Oz… only this time without any ruby red slippers or yellow brick road to find solace in.
Taking an experimental step forward, Estella tumbled to the floor, her balance lost to the inertia in her mind. Sucking in dirty gasps of air as her face landed heavily in the dusty earth, Estella realised that she was the one sobbing hysterically. Between the hiccuping sobs she now recognised as her own and the lung-fulls of dust she was inhaling – her body no longer able to bear the weight of lifting her head – Estella began to see dots in front of her eyes. She suddenly felt very alone… very exposed… and as shock began to set in, her body shuddered uncontrollably with cold, exhausting her wrought frame and causing pain to blind her senses.
Yet as soon as she began to spiral into a dangerous pit of despair, so suddenly did the feeling of safety pull her back from oblivion. One moment she was inhaling mouthfuls of dirt in the grass, and the next, she was smothered in a firm embrace, her nostrils bristling against soft, dark material, flaring with the soothing scents of loam and spice, and everything else that was her uncle. It had all happened so quickly, she hadn't even acknowledged his approach, let alone heard a single word he'd said. Realising then that she was not only in his embrace, but in his arms as he moved briskly across the grounds, his long, sure strides carrying them up the hill towards the castle with a power Estella's own did not possess, Estella went rigid in his arms.
"Hush child, you're safe now." He said softly, his breath tickling her ear as he spoke.
Estella croaked, her mind vehemently trying to warn her Uncle of his 'role', but her body uncooperative. Like so many times before, however, her Uncle anticipated her distress and reassured her justly.
"Do not concern yourself with that now, Estella." He assured her. "You are the priority."
Forcing her eyes open to seek out the telling gaze of her Uncle, Estella could only see him staring straight ahead. Around them, the hallways were conversely devoid of life – a stark change from the frantic crowds outside. When Estella noticed they had overshot the passage that lead to the infirmary, Estella shifted in her Uncle's arms and looked at him in question.
"Infirmary?" She questioned, her mind finally of sense again to manage the one, simple word.
"I can smell the potions on you, Estella." Her uncle said gravely, and Estella became distinctly aware of the stains on her robes as she consciously inhaled the scent for herself and was immediately overcome with nausea. "The Infirmary cannot help you now."
Estella sighed and lolled her head back, her eyes sliding closed as oblivion claimed her… before she lost all sense of awareness, however, she was aware of her Uncle calling out her name sharply and quickening his pace.
"Fetch the bird." Severus gasped breathlessly as he had literally tore up the spiral staircase and into the Headmaster's office where Sirius paced wildly like an animal caged.
Seeing his brother-in-law enter with a unmoving body in his arms, Sirius' heart flew into his throat. "Estella!" He cried out in panic. "Estella!"
Handing the nearly unconscious child to its unresponsive father wordlessly, Severus crossed the room to Fawkes' perch and coaxed the bird over to the child; which happily flew over to perch itself on Sirius' shoulder.
Laying Estella out on the chaise by the fire, Sirius dropped to his knees by his daughter's side while Fawkes went to work, singing a sorrowful tune and shedding crystal tears over Estella's mouth and face. Severus, meanwhile, stood rigidly over the other side of the chaise, each breath coming in controlled bursts as he struggled to maintain control over his resolve.
Slowly, but surely, colour slowly begin to return to Estella's face, and her breathing became deeper and more even. After three minutes of no response, the rousing child smacked her lips together as though sucking the last of the phoenix's life-giving tears from her mouth. Stirring some more, she then opened her eyes slowly.
"Dad!" She recognised her father first, her uncle still outside her line of sight. "Uncle Sev!" She added as he came into view.
"Shhh, don't talk." Sirius said, smoothing the hair from her face and sending a silent prayer of thanks to Fawkes for erasing the horrible look of pain that had formerly been etched there. "You gave us quite a scare."
"I'm sorry." Estella said quietly. "I went off…"
"Don't apologise." Sirius assured her firmly. "It wasn't your fault. Even Dumbledore was fooled. Do not worry about such things right now, just rest."
"No." Estella said defiantly, forcing her eyes to stay open as one hand shot out, reaching for her Uncle's sleeve. Grabbing a hold and pulling the man down to his knees, level with her father, she slipped her hand up the cuff of his robe and recovered the wand she knew he kept there. With a meaningful look then at her uncle, she handed the man his wand and nodded.
"Estella…" Her uncle asked, bewildered by the display of deep trust the child was showing him by inviting him into her mind.
"Please?" She asked. "I know you want to know, both of you… but I don't think I can say it."
Catching on, Sirius stroked his daughter's hair lovingly. "We'll find us a pensieve when you've had some rest."
"Now." Estella insisted. "Will forget… details… and I know you want to know…"
Fawkes' tears had brought her back from the brink lasting injury, but she was still too tired to form complete sentences.
"Uncle Sev?" She pleaded.
Severus looked reluctantly at the child's father for permission before continuing. Seeing how much his daughter wanted to do this, Sirius could not help but to nod his assent.
"I will put what I find in Albus' pensieve." Severus assured the worried father before levelling his wand at the child. "Let me in, Estella. Fight that instinct to block me."
Estella nodded, looking at him strangely as though to say 'Like I have the energy to do that at the moment if I wanted to!'
"Legilimens." Her uncle whispered softly, and Estella's mind was pulled back automatically to events that had occurred earlier that day.
"What is it? Why did you stop? What happened?" Sirius' worried outcry roused Estella's mind back to the present. Her body was trembling uncontrollably, drenched with sweat; and she was breathless. At some point, her father had climbed onto the chaise, pulling her into his arms; and her Uncle was now resting back on his heels, his hands shaking as they held on to the sides of the lounge wearily. His head was bowed and his shoulders heaved as he struggled to catch his own breath. His wand lay discarded on the floor.
"We weren't finished." Estella said, confused, the replay in her mind that her Uncle had sought out had ended at the point where Harry had deflected the killing curse meant for her with his disarming spell. "There's more…"
"No." Severus said brokenly, raising his head to look at her with more emotion in his eyes than she had ever seen before in her entire life. "No more."
Estella sucked in a breath. Had what happened been so terrible that her Uncle could not bear to witness it? Apparently, it had, for the man now had his head bowed between his outstretched arms again, the man fighting an internal battle with himself for composure. Then, equally aware of her father's arms around her, Estella relaxed into his embrace, willing the resurfaced memories from her mind as she forced her own body to wind down.
Eventually, her uncle stood and, placing his wand to his head, expelled a single silvery thread from his temple; letting it drop and swirl into the retrieved pensieve on the table. Without saying another word to them, the formidable Potions Master strode to the window, by Fawke's perch, and stared out of it, his back to them. In turn, Fawkes flew over and rested on her uncle's shoulder… the silhouette of the pair painting a rather unusual image as the bird sang softly to the man, willing the consummately rigid form to relax.
Seeing that the memories of his daughter's day were now free for him to peruse at his discretion, Sirius untangled himself from his daughter and set her back down on some cushions before making his way over to the innocent pool of thought; his curiosity getting the better of him. Before he alighted into the pensieve, however, he was vaguely aware of a small hand firmly grasping his, and a body leaning against him. Estella had risen from the chaise, reinvigorated enough by Fawkes' healing tears to do so, and joined her father in the memory.
While Estella watched the memories with fascination… with the kind of abstract indifference and analytical disposition one severely detached to the event might; Estella found it astonishing to believe that it was she who had endured all of that… and lived. Seeing it from such a third person perspective, it was not a surprise when her father collapsed to his knees, his body wracked with a mix of anger and grief, his mind unable to cope with the vision of watching his child being tortured.
Squeezing his hand gently and leaning into him more, Estella whispered words of assurance to him and asked him if he wanted to leave the memory.
"No. I want to see." Was his choked reply. "You lived through this, what kind of father am I if I cannot?"
After that he merely held her tightly, his eyes unmoving from the sights he was seeing.
At the end of the memory, father and daughter were expelled from the pensieve to find the room empty.
"What happened next." Sirius asked, choking back a sob as he hauled his daughter up and settled back down with her on the couch; his body rigid and eager to shed blood while at the same time reluctant to detach itself from her touch.
"We got away…" Estella said simply, cupping her father's face in her hands and kissing away his tears. "Harry can tell us that bit, I'm sure."
"Harry!" Sirius' body jerked. "Where is he?"
As though the castle had a innate ability to respond, the office door opened to reveal the Headmaster and Harry. In one swift movement, Sirius and Estella were on their feet and by his side. With the Phoenix Tears still at work in her system, slowly building up her strength, Estella threw herself into Harry's arms, while Sirius lingered back slightly, his face as white and gaunt as it had been when he had first escaped prison. As soon as Estella had pulled away, Sirius moved in, his hands shaking as he guided both children to sit either side of him on the lounge by the desk.
"Harry, are you alright? I knew it – I knew something like this – what happened?"
Dumbledore began to tell Sirius and Estella everything Barty Crouch had said.
There was a soft rush of wings. Fawkes the phoenix had left his perch, flown across the office, and landed on Harry's knee.
"Lo, Fawkes," said Harry quietly from his seat on Sirius' left. He stroked the phoenix's beautiful scarlet and gold plumage as Estella snuggled against her father's right side. Spying his pensieve had been used, Dumbledore looked questioningly at Estella who nodded. With a slowness of movement that betrayed the man's true age, Dumbledore excused himself to observe the memory, returning later visibly shaken as he sat down opposite Harry, behind his desk. He was looking at Harry, who avoided his eyes.
"I need to know what happened after you touched the Portkey in the maze, Harry," said Dumbledore.
"We can leave that 'til morning, can't we, Dumbledore?" said Sirius harshly. He had put a hand on Harry's shoulder. "Let him have a sleep. Let them both rest."
"If I thought I could help you," Dumbledore said gently, "by putting you into an enchanted sleep, and allowing you to postpone the moment when you would have to think about what had happened tonight, I would do it. But I know better. Numbing the pain for a while will make it a whole lot worse when you finally feel it. You have shown bravery beyond anything I could have expected of you. I ask you now to demonstrate your courage one more time. I ask you to tell us what happened."
The phoenix let out one soft, quavering note. It shivered in the air, and Harry took a deep breath, and began to tell them. As the phoenix began to sing, and Harry began his side of the story, Estella shivered and clung to Sirius, memories of the moment when Harry and Voldemort's wands had connected particularly coming to mind. At several moments during Harry's rendition of events, Sirius made a noise as though about to say something, his hand tightening on Harry's shoulder, but Dumbledore raised his hand to stop him. When Harry told of Wormtail piercing his arm with the dagger, however, both father and daughter let out a vehement exclamation; with Estella having listened to Harry's story up with particular interest as she had been unconscious in the graveyard until shortly after that point.
"He said that my blood would make him stronger than if he'd used someone else's," Harry said as Dumbledore rose suddenly to inspect the wound that Peter had inflicted on Harry's arm. "He said the protection my – my mother left in me – he'd have it, too. And he was right – he could touch me without hurting himself, he touched my face."
"Malfoy said something to me about my blood being important for the night's festivities if the third task did not go as planned." Estella mused absently. "I don't think he truly believed that Moody… I mean Crouch, would be able to deliver."
Her father tightened his hold on her impulsively, the thought of Wormtail anywhere near his daughter sending his blood cold. It was bad enough that his canine senses could still smell the rat all over her.
Suddenly, as though remembering an obscure fact for the first time, Estella jerked in her seat, her hand flying furiously to a pocket in her robes.
"Estella? Estella, what is it?" Voices asked her from all sides.
"I don't think tonight has been a complete waste." Estella said, a genuine smile on her face as her fingers closed around something she normally would not dream of touching if her life depended on it. Watching her curiously, three mouths were sent equally askew when she pulled out her hands to reveal a rat. And not just any rat… a certain silver-footed rat.
"Pettigrew!" Sirius and Harry spat.
"Headmaster?" Estella looked at the man questioningly, beckoning the stunned rat towards him. "I don't particularly want to be touching this filth any longer…"
"Oh, of course not, child." Dumbledore said once he had recovered from his shock, and he flicked his wand disdainfully at the rat, encasing it in a small Muggle like hamster cage complete with anti-transforming wards. "Now do we wish to continue with Harry's explanation of events or shall we call for an immediate meeting of the Wizengamot?"
"Wizengamot." Three voices replied insistently, each eying the oblivious rat with disdain. Peter had already slipped through their fingers before justice could be served once… they were not about to take any chances.
To say the Minister of Magic was shocked to answer a call to the Headmaster's office to find Sirius Black having a cup of tea with the saviour of the Wizarding world by his side eating a crumpet, while the entire Wizengamot crammed into the Headmaster's office and watched on in awe was a massive understatement.
"If you're not careful, Minister, the wind will change." Estella smirked at the gob-smacked Minister victoriously, the man for once at a loss for words.
A revived rat and testimony under Veritaserum later, and Sirius was a free man, with Fudge even going so far as to issue a public statement of apology to the Black family and provide both Estella and Sirius with the promise of considerable damages.
"It will be a positive spin to the news of Diggory's death." The pompous idiot gloated in relief, happy to be able to weigh 'good news' with the bad in his pursuit to ensure the satisfaction of the voting public.
"I'll pretend you didn't just say that, Fudge." Sirius gleamed, hardly forgiving of the man's ineptitude "or else I will likely do something that will land me in Azkaban."
The man positively cowered, before prattling on in a nonsensical monologue about how the Dark Lord couldn't possibly be alive and that something else must have happened to explain the night's strange turn of events. For instance, Peter was officially charged with the kidnap of Estella and the murder of Cedric, even though none of the statements made under Veritaserum alluded to that fact!
To save another murder taking place that night as both Harry, Estella and Sirius fumed at the Minister's reluctance to pursue proper justice (i.e. by going after Malfoy with the testimonies of not only Harry and Estella, but the recovering Benson Ollerton in St Mungos as evidence), Dumbledore quickly ushered the Minister away to make his speeches and announcements to the public; citing the need that the children needed rest. The Minister's departure incidentally timed spectacularly well with Remus' arrival.
"Moony!" Estella lost herself in her Godfather's embrace as the man held her in his arms, refusing to let go. "Air! Breathe!"
At that, Remus reluctantly released Estella before exchanging less-fierce embraces with both Sirius and Harry.
"I came as soon as I could!" Remus said, breathless. "It took a while to debrief Tonks and have her assume my disguise. She sends her best."
"Well you're getting the short version for now because I don't want to hear or see the grisly details again tonight." Estella yawned, leaning into her father's side. Beside her, Harry nodded furiously.
"Let's hear it then." Remus said, an anxious look in his eyes.
Estella took a deep breath. "Malfoy kidnapped me, Moody was a Death Eater in disguise, Triwizard Cup was a Portkey to Death Eater reunion, One of the Hogwarts Champions was killed, Wormtail resurrected Voldemort, Harry and I were cursed with unforgivables, but when Harry stopped the killing curse with a disarming spell, Voldie and his wands connected and brought the ghosts of James and Lily out of Tom's wand, they helped us to escape… and… er… oh yeah, Malfoy really sucks at potion making."
Four heads looked at her curiously for that last comment.
"What? He sucks! He does!" Estella maintained, still struggling to recapture her breath. Remus smiled mirthlessly at his goddaughter's valiant attempt at levity and sank into a chair heavily. That was the 'short' version?
"Voldemort's returned?" He asked, sucking in a breath… his mind not even wanting to fathom what his beloved cub had endured that night – the distinct, lingering scent of pain still permeating from her potion and bloodstained robes. With a violent start he could tell that it was all her blood, and he pulled the child onto his lap to assure himself she was all in one piece.
"Nothing a good sleep can't fix, Uncle Remus." Estella said, reading his mind. "Uncle Sev brought me straight up here and Fawkes healed me."
"Thank Merlin!" Remus cried, burying his head in Estella's shoulder as he inhaled deeply, reacquainting himself with her scent of contentment.
"Ah, Estella?" Harry asked pointedly. "Aren't you forgetting to tell Professor Lupin…" Remus shot him a look. "I mean Remus, something?"
"Oh yeah." Estella said with an air of mystery as she looked at her father. "Dad? You want to tell him?"
Sirius smiled. "Estella caught Wormtail."
"What!" Remus almost dropped Estella off his lap in shock.
"The Minister just left." Estella said, her lips twitching as she watched the pieces fit together in her Godfather's mind.
"Moony… I'm a free man!" Sirius exclaimed, unable to keep the news to himself anymore.
After surpassing the shock, Remus sank back in his chair. "Well, it certainly has been a long day, hmmm?" He said, hugging Estella tightly before smiling widely in happiness at his friend. "Merlin, I need some chocolate."
Estella smirked and waved her hand behind Remus' ear, bringing back with it a small block of chocolate.
"Oh, would you look at what I found?" She smirked.
Remus' eyes bulged. He sniffed her sleeve for any trace of the chocolate's hiding spot but could find none. "Estella… how did you?"
Estella grinned, not giving anything away. "Always told you if you'd eat that much chocolate it'd start coming out of your ears!"
"Estella! How did you do that?" Her father asked her, intrigued. From where he was sitting next to Remus, he had seen no tricky hand movements at work… the chocolate had simply appeared!
"Oh, nothing really." Estella leant back, smiling smugly. "Just a little something I've been working on." They stared at her quizzically. "OK, OK… I made a deal with the House Elves, all right? Every time I shake my hand behind someone's ear, they pop chocolate into my hand."
"How'd you manage to get them to do that?" Sirius and Remus asked her, astonished.
"I asked." Estella shrugged. "They seem to think it's amusing. That and they have developed a taste for Muggle Music and I charmed a wireless to pick up Muggle radio stations for them in the kitchens."
Werewolf and Animagus shared a nostalgic look. Ravenclaw and bookish though the object of their affections may be, it was becoming increasingly evident that she was the daughter of a Marauder… with a distinctly Slytherin penchant for subtlety.
Spying the curiously proud looks on her father's and Godfather's faces, Estella shrugged and yawned widely. Then, as though it were contagious, Harry mirrored the action. Dumbledore rose to his feet.
"I will say it again," he said, gesturing them all to stand. "You have both shown bravery beyond anything I could have expected of anyone tonight, even those who to those who died fighting Voldemort at the height of his powers. You both have shouldered a grown wizard's burden and found yourself equal to it – and I will not expect anything more of you tonight. Come, now, both of you, to the hospital wing. Neither of you will be returning to your dormitories tonight. A Sleeping Potion, and some peace… Sirius, Remus, would you like to stay with them?"
The men nodded, and stood up, a child braced against each of them as they followed Dumbledore out of the office and down a flight of stairs to the hospital wing.
When Dumbledore pushed open the door, they saw Mrs Weasley, Bill, Ron, Hermione, Elsie, John and Reginald grouped around a harassed looking Madam Pomfrey. They appeared to be demanding to know where Harry and Estella were and what had happened to them. All of them whipped around as Harry and Sirius, Estella and Remus, and Dumbledore entered, and Mrs Weasley let out a kind of muffled scream. "Harry! Oh, Harry!" before recognising Sirius and gasping in shock.
She started to hurry towards them protectively, but Dumbledore moved between them.
"Molly," he said, holding up a hand, "Please listen to me for a moment. Harry and Estella have been through a terrible ordeal tonight. They have just had to relive it for me. What they need now is sleep, and peace, and quiet. Furthermore, Sirius Black is innocent. The Minister has just left my office and will be making the announcement momentarily."
Mrs Weasley nodded, her mind in shock as she struggled to process all the new information. She was very white. She rounded on Bill and the students who had gathered as though they were being noisy, and hissed, "Did you hear? They need quiet!"
"Headmaster," said Madam Pomfrey, eyeing Sirius warily, "May I ask how -?"
"I have been aware of Sirius' innocence for quite a while, Poppy" said Dumbledore simply. "The evidence has only just come to light. I will explain everything in your office to all who would like to know the details before the press release comes out."
Several heads nodded, eager to hear the Headmaster's explanation before they accepted Sirius' presence as safe.
"I would like for you both to remain here tomorrow, until I have spoken to the school." Dumbledore said to the two children, before leaving. "Ladies and Gentlemen, if you'd like to accompany me to Poppy's office for a moment, we'll leave the children to ready for bed."
While everyone was in the nurse's office being filled in on the details of Sirius' innocence, Estella's uncle swept into the infirmary, his hawk-like gaze looking around the room searchingly.
"You're in here!" Her Uncle stated dumbly, a brief look of relief crossing his features. Rushing over to help her climb into the bed; he promptly transfigured it into a much softer, and wider bed complete with her favourite down comforter and pillows. Though by principle he did not appreciate the finer arts of wand-work, transfiguring things for his niece's needs was a skill he had become quite efficient in over the years. "When I returned to the Headmaster's office and you were not there…" His voice trailed off. "Why are you here alone?"
"Dumbledore's in the nurse's office explaining to the Weasleys and my friends about Dad's innocence." She yawned. "Dad and Remus are in there too. Harry's behind the screen there."
Hearing his name, Harry cautiously poked his head around the screen, his body clad in soft cotton pyjamas not unlike Estella.
"Professor." He greeted, smiling slightly. "You alright, Estella?"
"Potter." Severus said stiffly, his eyes quickly travelling towards the door where his niece's other family were.
Noticing Harry eye off her much more comfortable bed, Estella smiled at Harry wryly. "Would you like my Uncle to transfigure your bed into something more comfortable?" She asked, her eyes dazzling with mirth. "I'm sure if you asked…"
Harry looked at his foreboding Potions Master with a horror stricken look on his face. "Oh no, it's alright sir. My bed is perfectly alright." He muttered while Severus regarded him with cool, glittery eyes before ducking back behind his screen in embarrassment.
"Harry, c'mere." Estella called after him before scolding her Uncle lightly. "Stop it, you're freaking him out!"
"The boy faces down the Dark Lord but hides from me?" Severus mused aloud, a self-satisfied smugness in his tone. Estella swatted him with a pillow just as Harry re-emerged from behind his screen.
"Come on, Harry." Estella said, smirking as she patted a space next to her on the widened bed. "Sleep with me?"
Harry watched Severus' eyes darken and blanched and kept his distance; but Estella pressed on. "Oh come on, Harry." She said, smiling fully now. "It's no different from the time you asked me to the Prefect's Bathroom to watch you bathe!"
Chancing a look at his most loathed Potions Master, Harry physically retreated from the murderous look the man afforded him. Estella, meanwhile, had grabbed Harry's wrist and pulled him on the bed; all the while laughing hysterically.
It was the sound of laughter that greeted the bewildered party as they returned from the nurse's office, Sirius in the lead as he didn't hesitate in returning to his daughter's side.
"What's so funny?" Sirius asked, "You tell your Uncle what we did to Wormtail?"
Estella shook her head. She could say no more on account of the fact that Harry had his hand firmly clamped over her mouth.
"You're… you're free then?" Severus managed, his heart sinking at the prospect of losing Estella forever.
"Yes." Sirius said simply, regarding his brother in law carefully as the man did not tear his pained dark eyes away from Estella. Following the Slytherin's gaze to the oblivious child who was too busy batting Harry's hand away to notice, Sirius took a deep breath and closed his eyes. Opening them again, he extended his hand firmly and offered his brother-in-law a peace offering.
"With Voldemort back, it's not going to pay for us to be at loggerheads." He said. Then gesturing his hand. "For Estella's safety?"
"For her happiness." Severus finished, grasping the former fugitive's hand firmly as he looked at his niece as she witnessed the exchange, her face truly lighting up. That she could even smile at all, after the day she'd just had, was the greatest gift of all; and that was one thing that both men could agree on.
"What did you do to this Wormtail?" Elsie asked resolutely, her inquisitive voice cutting through the companionable silence as the rather odd family unit of Severus, Estella, Sirius, Remus and, by extension, Harry, inwardly acknowledged that a time of great change and new beginnings was upon them.
"Well as Professor Dumbledore explained in Madame Pomfrey's office, Peter Pettigrew's Animagus form was a Rat…" Remus began the explanation, causing the lovesick Ravenclaw to blush and shy away under the attentions of her former professor.
"Let's just say Dumbledore's office has a new starring attraction." Estella said with an air of mystery. "Something that Professor Flitwick would be extremely proud of."
"You see…" Sirius said excitedly, sitting on the edge of his bed at his daughter's side so he could be at eye level with the young Elsie Carmichael as he gestured vividly. "Dumbledore charmed this glass cage so that Wormtail couldn't transform or escape…"
"The glass walls were my idea." Harry threw in. "It's what they keep rodents in at the Muggle zoo."
"But aha, this rodent's home doesn't just hold a rat." Remus grinned malevolently, sitting down next to Sirius. "Well it does, but Wormtail thinks he has company."
"And anyone who watches thinks that he has company." Estella said.
"What do we think we see in the tank with him?" Asked Ron, eyes wide in curiosity.
"Sid." Estella smirked, before elaborating with all manner of seriousness. "Sid the Snake."
"You're feeding him to a snake?" Hermione cried in shock, ever the humanitarian.
"No, there's not really a snake in there." Dumbledore smiled. "Though Estella's charm is pretty convincing to look at. It looks real enough."
"Wicked." Reg nodded in appreciation their ingenuity.
"I'd say." John agreed. "Never before have I found myself itching to go to the headmaster's office!"
Ron nodded in agreement, his mouth agape in awe. The adults around them laughed.
"You're all welcome up for lemon drops and a spot of tea." Dumbledore smiled at them invitingly. "I do so enjoy the company."
The students bristled uncomfortably at the idea of socialising with their headmaster, before Hermione broke the silence.
"Shouldn't he go to Azkaban, though?" she asked, her brow furrowed in consideration. "I've never heard of such an unorthodox punishment… and what about a trial?"
"Dad didn't get a trial." Estella said in a low tone, though she was not intending to be harsh towards Hermione. "Besides, it wouldn't work in Fudge's favour to give Peter a trial since the Ministry doesn't want to admit that Voldemort is back and has instead insisted that Peter is guilty of kidnapping me and murdering Cedric."
"But that's ridiculous!" Hermione cried. "Malfoy took you! Didn't you testify to that?"
"Under Veritaserum." Estella confirmed, her eyes darkening to a charcoal grey. "It makes no difference."
"Fudge is a fool." Harry scowled. "And frankly I am glad that Pattigrew is somewhere where we can keep a close eye on him. I don't trust Azkaban to keep him confined, and to give him the Kiss would ruin any chance of proving the Dark Lord's return."
"Fudge wanted to do it though… bring in the Dementors… give him the Kiss." Sirius scowled, shuddering at the thought of the Dementors being anywhere near him. "Just like he'd already brought them into the school to Kiss Crouch before anyone could question him for the record."
"It would not be advantageous to have done so to Peter." Dumbledore said. "At least not until we had more than the Minister's word that Sirius was to be pardoned. For now it is a temporary arrangement… though I could see it becoming a little more permanent."
"Professor McGonagall's animagus form has taken a liking to the display." Remus grinned wolfishly.
"And Padfoot wanted to tear him limb from limb." Estella added, elbowing her father in jest. "Insisted that he had a right to make the 12 years he spent locked up count for something."
"Double jeopardy." Sirius offered, grabbing Estella's poking elbow with his hand and tickling her in the ribs instead. "You can't serve time for the same crime twice."
The children around him looked at him in confusion, whilst the adults nodded in consideration.
"So this way it's like one big detention." John smirked.
"Now that is cruel." Reg snickered.
"And he has no means of escape." Estella's face took on a stony mask of seriousness.
"The charm Estella used." Remus explained. "Works by manifesting itself into whatever Peter fears the most… which, in his rat form is, of course, Nagini… Voldemort's snake."
"Very venomous." Sirius nodded.
"He even speaks Parseltongue." Harry confirmed.
"But he's not real." Estella assured. "And his name is Sid!"
"How positively Slytherin of you." Severus said appraisingly. "If you'd excuse me, I'd like to see this feint for myself."
Estella exchanged a quick goodnight with her Uncle before bidding him leave. Inwardly she knew that he would rather have stayed; but he just didn't fare too well in such crowded situations.
"Why Sid?" Ron asked, once the Potions Master had left and everyone began to resettle.
"After Sid Vicious." Estella smirked proudly. "Unlike what you'd guess from his name, he actually couldn't fight his way out of a paper bag… so I thought it was appropriate since Sid the Snake can't actually hurt the rat."
"Who's Sid Vicious?" Elsie squeaked.
"Aye!" Estella slapped her forehead dramatically. "Sex Pistols anyone? Muggle band from the 70s, people, get with the times!"
"Since when do you listen to Punk?" Sirius regarded his daughter with a frown.
"I don't." Estella shrugged. "But…"
"Estella Black, you better not have watched that movie!" Remus scrutinised her closely, while Ron, John, Reg and Elsie looked on in confusion, not quite sure what they were talking about.
"I didn't!" Estella assured him. "Q had a Punk special in the last annual."
"Wait, what movie?" Sirius asked, scratching his head. He'd heard of the Sex Pistols from the time before he went to Azkaban, but never knew about any movie.
"Sid and Nancy." Estella shrugged. "I'm not allowed to watch it, so I haven't seen it; though Moony said once that Sid and Johnny reminded him of you and James when you first graduated."
"I…I…I did not!" Remus said defensively. "You took it all out of context!"
"Now I really have to see this movie!" Sirius smiled.
Estella giggled softly, falling back onto her pillows and yawning. Next to her, Harry made himself comfortable on his side of the rather large bed, having the courage to do so without retribution in the Potion Master's absence. On his side, Ron, Hermione, Bill and Mrs Weasley sat on soft, conjured chairs; Ron and Hermione smiling happily at the news that Sirius was publicly free, while Bill and Mrs Weasley still looked a little shocked. On Estella's side sat, of course, Sirius, Remus and her three Ravenclaw friends… true friends, Estella realised, now that they had withstood the burden of truth and remained by her side. They fell into a comfortable silence.
"I'm all right," Harry told his friends, who were eying him as though he were fragile and might break at any moment. "Just tired."
Estella nodded in agreement. Mrs Weasley's eyes filled with tears as she smoothed away their bedclothes unnecessarily, taking to Estella like any worldly mother such as her self would endear herself to a motherless child. Madam Pomfrey, emerging from her supply cupboard, was wielding two goblets and a small bottle of purple potion.
"You'll need to drink all of this, you two." She said. "It's a potion for dreamless sleep."
Harry and Estella took their goblets and drank a few mouthfuls. The pair became drowsy at once, everything around them hazy; the lamps winking at them through the screens, their bodies sinking deeper into the warmth of the mattress. Before either of them could finish their Potion, before they could say another word, exhaustion carried them off to sleep.
Mrs Weasley sent Hermione, Ron, and the three Ravenclaw third years off to their dormitories shortly after, insisting that they too go and get some rest. Reluctantly, Bill and Molly soon followed, the Weasley matriarch eager to touch base with her husband, and Bill unwilling to permit his mother to travel alone, even if only by Floo. It was then that Remus and Sirius found themselves alone with the children.
Sitting side by side in close proximity as they sat vigil on Estella's side of the bed, Remus placed a weary hand on his friend's shoulder when he noticed the other man crying silently.
"Sirius?" Remus' voice cut through the silence.
"The things Malfoy did… Merlin… that she is alive defies logic." Sirius asked, his voice cracking slightly as he struggled to keep his voice below a whisper. "How'd she get to be so brave, Moony?"
"She is her father's daughter." Remus said simply, squeezing his friend's shoulder for emphasis. At his questioning look, Remus clarified. "A lot of people question how you managed to come out of Azkaban after so long remarkably unscathed."
"You think I am unscathed?" Sirius' eyes were downcast.
"Compared to the alternative?" Remus paused until Sirius shifted his eyes to look at him. "You do not realise your own strength, Sirius… just as we are so quick to underestimate hers."
"If only Selina lived to see how wonderful our child is." Sirius sighed. "I never even got to thank her…"
"Oh, I think you have redeemed yourself there." Remus said lightly, gesturing his head towards the door that Severus had vacated through previously. "She would be happy to see you two now."
"It's been a long day." Sirius mused, rubbing his palm over his stubble thoughtfully. "I thought I'd go insane being locked down there in the dungeons with Severus. The mere notion of confinement was enough to remind me of Azkaban…"
"…and the company the product of Dementors?" Remus offered, his lips quirking slightly.
Sirius nodded. "His quarters were not how I thought they'd be." He said slowly. "I mean, I never thought he would be the sort to let Estella have the run of the place."
"Her touch is everywhere, isn't it?" Remus smiled knowingly, having seen firsthand the transformation the dungeon quarters had undergone over the years.
"To… to pass the time, I asked after certain photos." Sirius' eyes adopted a far away look. "After a while, I began to realise…" he paused, bringing his eyes back into focus to stare at his friend intently. "He cares about her."
"You're only just reaching that conclusion?" Remus asked, one eyebrow raised in surprise.
"Yes… no… yes…" Sirius stumbled over his words. "I don't know what I was thinking. I guess I always assumed that he only ever took Estella out of obligation. Or some spiteful way to get at me." He bowed his head shamefully. "It was pretty self absorbed of me."
"Well, better late than never." Remus smiled slightly. "Now you're on the same page, you can work towards casting aside your differences."
"But that's just it, Moony." Sirius jerked in his seat as though saying it aloud physically affirmed it in his mind. "When it comes to Estella, there are no differences!" He looked down at the child on the bed and began to absently brush the hair out of her face with his hand. "Before you got to Dumbledore's office… when Severus first brought her in; I'd never seen him that way before. When she invited him into her mind and he – the hardened Death Eater who's seen it all – couldn't bring himself to recover the full extent of details about what had happened; I realised then that I could no longer hate him."
"I know what you mean." Remus nodded knowingly. "For me, that resolution came when I walked into his quarters to find him changing Estella's nappy the Muggle way."
"The Muggle way?" Sirius chuckled, thinking back to memories of Lily failing in her attempt to teach James and himself how to change Harry's nappy without magic. "Merlin, I knew Severus had an aversion to wand play, but isn't that a bit extreme? I'm surprised a pureblood wizard was even aware of how Muggles did things!"
"Believe me, the irony did not escape me either." Remus nodded to himself, decisively opting not to go into the reasons as to why Severus adopted such measures. "You may not think it of him, but Severus endeavoured to do everything right. From my observations, I don't think there's anything he would not do for Estella."
"I have him to thank, don't I?" Sirius sighed.
"Actions speak louder than words." Remus said cryptically. "If I know Severus as well as I think I've managed to do so, he's probably resolved himself to losing Estella to you forever now that you're free."
"I could never keep him from her." Sirius said. "Even if I still hated him."
"Ah, but will you permit Severus into your life out of obligation, or because he is family? He'd as soon as push himself away than feel indebted to your charity." Remus asked, letting the question hang as the two men sunk into contemplative silence.
"I'm going to go, Paddy." Remus said finally as the early beginnings of dawn crept in. "Dumbledore wants me to return…"
"It's alright, Moony." Sirius said brightly. "We'll see you in a week. Meet us at Kings Cross?"
"I wouldn't miss it for the world." Remus whispered, patting his friend on the shoulder in farewell, thinking how marvellous it would be to see the man standing honourably alongside all the other waiting parents as a free man. "Pass on my apologies to Estella and Harry for leaving?"
"I will." Sirius said. "They'll understand."
Remus leant over and kissed Estella's brow, and ruffled Harry's hair gently. "I'll see you soon, Sirius."
"Goodnight, Moony." Sirius called after his friend, his eyes never leaving those of his two children as they slept; his mind furiously going over all the things he was now able to do with his family now that he was a free man.
Tucking the pair in one final time, Sirius graced both their brows with a kiss before leaning back in his chair to watch them sleep. That day had bought with it much heart ache, much pain, much danger… the Dark Lord was back, and the risk to all of their lives had increased. But, Sirius looked out at the dawning sun reverently, and the new day ahead brought with it new life… a new beginning where he had the freedom to be with his family; and in that dawning of a new era, Sirius found that there was still hope.
End Chapter: Home
End Story: Black Light
A/N: OK, so that was it folks, the end! Now I am really very curious to know what you all thought of the story over all, so please, review! Any questions and issues that need clarification I will be happy to address by return email. Massive thanks to all who have taken the time to review… this story would not have become what it did without the driving influence of you all.