Chapter Seventeen: Silver Birds
A/N: I've decided to dedicate this fic to Flying Auk, my wonderful beta, who stuck with me through the entire trial of this story.I hope that you found the experience as rewarding as I did.
When Albus awoke for the second time in half an hour to find Minerva staring fixedly at the ceiling he relinquished all hopes of a decent night's sleep and rolled on his side to face her. "Minerva?" he asked softly.
His wife turned her face away. "Go back to sleep Albus," she whispered. The faint quiver in her voice betrayed her.
"Only if you tell me what's bothering you," he replied quietly.
A half-choked sob was his only answer. Albus reached out to touch her shoulder gently, and then raised himself up to plant a small kiss just below Minerva's ear. Her eyes were glued shut and a slow tear tricked down her cheek. Albus kissed that away and continued to place small kisses around her face until her body relaxed and her eyes opened.
He brushed a stray lock of dark hair away from her face; tear-filled emerald eyes followed his every move. She gave him a watery smile; his in return was gentle. "Tell me what's wrong. Tell me what I can do."
The shadows that clouded her eyes at his words fled at his touch, and his Minerva returned his gaze, battered but never beaten. "Nightmares," she said shortly, the tightly-controlled fear he sensed running around her mind underscoring her brave words. Albus offered a light kiss in thanks for her gift, brow furrowed as he thought furiously.
She already had too many potions in her body to take even Dreamless Sleep, lest it upset their magical balance, but he was a master Legilimens. He could manipulate her dreams if he wished, but he shied away from the thought of entering her mind again so soon, even if only to protect her from herself. Half-a-dozen scenarios danced though his mind in moments, each more fantastical than the next until he finally seized on one so simple he was surprised it had not occurred to him earlier. Real…it had to be real. He concentrated for a moment, and then waved his hand. A bright silver bird shot out from his fingertips and through the wall, disappearing from sight.
"A messenger?" Minerva asked weakly.
Albus nodded. "Rest, love." He could see the questions in her eyes, but her exhaustion eventually won out and she slumped against his side, eyes half-closed as she clung to him. Albus closed his eyes.
A few minutes later, the door to their room opened quietly and Diana and Severus entered both looking haggard. At his side, Minerva stirred.
"Are you all right?" Albus asked Severus gently. I am truly sorry for your loss, my boy.
There was a deep silence in the room for a long minute.
"I will be," the younger man replied finally. Severus's dark eyes met Albus's blue ones, and the elder man breathed a sigh of relief and renewal. I know.
"Severus," Minerva called softly, pushing herself up to see him better with a great effort. "Are you—I mean—I…"
He offered her a small but genuine smile. "I'll be fine Minerva." She relaxed visibly at his words but did not move. Severus looked down at her with a hint of his old mischief in his eyes. "Now if you would please stop being such a bloody Gryffindor and returned to worrying about your own recovery, we might all get some sleep around here."
They watched as Minerva batted around his words for a moment, and then shot Severus a half-hearted glare. "Slytherin."
"Gryffindor," he returned, almost fondly. "Really Minerva, you ought to rest more. You're hardly much of an opponent when you don't sleep, and the Slytherin-Gryffindor match is next week. I want you fully awake to watch your precious cubs lose."
The glare that she leveled at him this time was full force. "Five galleons my cubs crush your snakes."
"Done," Severus replied immediately, "so long as you're well enough to attend the match or I win by default." She glared at him again, and this time, Albus joined her. Severus sighed and looked directly at Minerva. Her green eyes widened, teared slightly, and then she nodded and allowed herself to slide back onto the bed. She did not attempt to sleep but remained relaxed against his side.
Diana appeared thoroughly impressed and deeply touched. Severus turned to Albus. Overly-sentimental Gryffindors, he grumbled. You don't pay me enough for this.
Thank you, Albus replied sincerely. Severus gave him a tiny nod and then retreated into the shadows.
"Diana," Albus whispered. His daughter stepped forward, a slight frown on her face.
"Is everything all right?" she asked worriedly. "Mum?"
"I'm fine," Minerva said reassuringly. Albus was both startled and unsurprised by the sudden strength in her voice, though she did not move from his side.
"Dad?" her daughter asked suspiciously, turning to him.
The men laughed. The women glared at them.
"Severus, do you have some of your Dreamless Sleep?" Albus inquired abruptly. Severus looked startled, but quickly Summoned a bottle and offered it to him. "No, just keep it," Albus said, handing the vial back to him.
Albus found himself the subject of more suspicious scrutiny. What sort of scheming are you up to this time, old man?
"I'd like for you both to stay here tonight, if you don't mind." Two pairs of startled eyes flew to him.
The Dreamless Sleep is for me, isn't it?
Yes. Severus had always possessed an extraordinarily quick mind.
A faint smile graced Albus's lips. And an extraordinarily quick temper to match, he noted wryly. Diana and I are more than capable of handling anything that makes it past those wards, he told Severus. You need the rest.
Consider it an order, if it will make you feel better, Albus told the younger man kindly.
With a growl and a muttered oath, Severus turned away. Albus watched in amusement as the man cast another set of wards around the room, conjured a bed by the doorway, and sat down sulkily. Diana watched the proceedings with confusion and then a matching amusement. Minerva, too, seemed to be hiding a smile.
"Have my actions met with your satisfaction, Headmaster?" Snape growled.
"Perfectly, Severus," Albus replied blandly. "My entire family is sleeping the same room for the first time." His victorious smile stayed in his heart as Severus caught his breath and blinked rapidly. His wife and daughter were smiling broadly, and rather than face three beaming Dumbledores, Severus simply downed the potion in one gulp and lay down in bed. Moments later he was asleep.
"Dad," Diana reprimanded him lightly. "That wasn't very nice."
"But ultimately necessary. He would not have slept otherwise."
She rolled her eyes at him. "You should have been a Slytherin."
"I'm sure when he's done being angry with me, Severus will appreciate it too," Albus replied easily. Diana.
Yes, Dad? He could sense her puzzlement.
I said that I'd like both of you to sleep here tonight. Would you mind?
No, of course not. Diana took out her wand and prepared to make herself another bed.
"No, not that way," he interrupted. Diana turned to him, puzzled. Your mother's been having nightmares. Would you mind sleeping here, where she can see you? he asked, gesturing towards Minerva's right side.
But— Some measure of his own anxiety must have crept past his shields, for Diana's expression abruptly hardened. What did he do to Mum? You've never been this worried about her before…she's never had nightmares you couldn't chase away…
No! Diana's blue eyes burned in a way Albus was used to seeing in green. I want to know. I need to know. Tell me.
Albus sighed. He used a projection of me to interrogate her, Diana. Her gasp, both mental and physical, shattered the silence of the room. I need you here because he never knew about you. She can't have any Dreamless Sleep—there are too many potions in her system right now—and I won't violate her mind again if there's another option.
Diana swallowed silently. Albus observed his daughter quietly as she processed the information. He could still hear her thoughts, faint and tinged with a raging fury he had not known his daughter had the capability to possess. I'll…I'll kill him for this. That bastard…I'll…I'll…
"Diana!" Albus said sharply. His daughter snapped her head around, her tear-filled, angry eyes meeting his. Your mother needs her rest. Are you going to help her or not?
Diana inhaled sharply, held her breath for a moment, and then released it slowly. Albus could feel her anger slipping away. Yes, Father. She turned away before he could respond and raised her wand. A few flicks, a twist, and a snap of her wand later and there were only two beds in the room—one for Severus, and an unusually large one against the wall. Diana transfigured her robes into pajamas and slipped into bed on the other side of Minerva.
"Diana? Are you all right?" Minerva asked softly.
Their daughter smiled at her mother warmly and snuggled as close as she dared. "I am now," she said honestly. "Go back to sleep Mum. We'll be right here," she said, glancing over at Albus and Severus, asleep across the doorway.
Minerva looked up at her, then at Albus, then over towards Severus and smiled.
Albus took her left hand. Diana took her right.
Then, together, they slept.
Tomorrow would come.
They would face the dawn together.
A/N: My most sincere thanks to everyone who reviewed this story for your support--hope you enjoyed reading!
until next time,