A New Definition of Family
Chapter 25: Submerge
Disclaimer: I do not own any of JK Rowling's characters or any portion of the Harry Potter universe. Any characters, places, situations, ideas, charms and spells (or anything else) that you don't find in her fabulous books, well, they belong to me.
"It's no good, Harry." Hermione looked at the stopwatch in frustration as Harry and Ron broke the Bubble-Head Charm, gasping a little. "Twenty minutes is the best any of us has done." She cast Ron a worried look.
"You'll just have to come up for air is all." Ron tried to sound heartening.
"Except we don't know if Harry will even be in a position to do that!"
Harry looked around the empty D.A.D.A. classroom where Rinna had allowed them to practice for the last two weeks. She had stayed at first, demonstrating and practicing right along with them, working on strategies to increase the sustainability of the charm. But after a few days she'd regretfully told them she had something she was working on for Dumbledore that she really could not put off longer, and had left them to it.
"I don't have any other hints to give you three; I've taught you everything I can about it. Now you have to practice and see if you can modify it to your own magic."
Hermione tried to protest.
"Listen," Rinna said, "You have to remember that it is like any other skill. Practice can get you so far, but if you don't have the innate ability to go along with it—"
Harry made a sound of objection. She turned to him. "Take for example, Harry, a distance runner. There are a few people who can run a 5K in fifteen minutes. That is amazingly fast!" She paused as Hermione explained to Ron what a 5K was. "However, I will never be able to run five kilometers in less than twenty-five minutes; even when I was in my best shape, I couldn't. I have neither the body type nor the inborn ability to run any faster, no matter how much I train. There is a barrier I cannot push past." She studied each of the students in turn. "Do you see what I'm saying?"
Harry sighed. "Guys, I think we need to come up with a Plan B."
"Thank you, Ludo, for that thorough explanation of all the Second Task will entail," Albus Dumbledore said smoothly.
It was the evening of the twenty-third of February, and the entire staff of Hogwarts and the visiting schools was gathered in the staff room. Most were still absorbing the details that had just been set forth, but Dumbledore noted one teacher in particular was glowering quite fiercely. He smiled to himself, recalling Ludo Bagman's bafflement over Professor Dunlevy's continued disapproval of the Triwizard Tournament. He cleared his throat.
"Madam Pomfrey will, naturally, be on hand to administer restorative potions to the participants and the 'hostages,'" he paused at Rinna's derisive snort, "and the merfolk have agreed to assist if any of our champions run into trouble. However…" His countenance became quite serious. "I feel that it is important that we have a human in the water as well, because the merpeople, not being terribly familiar with human beings, may not recognize signs of distress right away."
Several people nodded in agreement.
"So," Ludo Bagman said brightly as he clapped his hands together, "which of you can swim?"
Much discussion took place all at once, but it soon came to light that there were few in the room who could be considered adequate swimmers.
Professor Dunlevy was completely and thoroughly incensed and was too busy wallowing in her fury to take part in the current debate. The Ministry had gone too far! The risks were enormous: hypothermia, attacks by squid or grindylows or Merlin knew what, not to mention drowning! And how was Harry to manage? He wouldn't be able to come up to the surface for air several times if he was to go to the bottom of the lake, would he? Just how deep was the lake, anyway? Fear for her godson gripped her heart and made her even more irascible. She was only dimly aware that Dumbledore had stopped next to her chair and placed a hand on her shoulder.
The scowl on the redheaded woman's face made Bagman take an involuntary step backward. Dumbledore did not appear to notice it. "I seem to recall, Arinna," he noted in a casual voice, "a dare that once inspired you to swim across the lake one June." His lips twitched slightly as he added, "That escapade resulted in one of the more interesting group detentions in Hogwarts history if memory serves me right."
Rinna looked up at him incredulously. "You can't be serious."
"We need someone in the water," he said gently.
"That was swimming on the surface, not diving to the depths, Albus! And it was almost twenty years ago."
Blue eyes bore into her angry ones. "You are, arguably, the person with the most athletic prowess in the room, Arinna."
He was resorting to flattery, she knew, and it irritated her more. "I can't stay under water for more than twenty minutes," she snapped. And only that long thanks to practicing with the kids. "The Bubble-Head Charm is not one of my strongest skills."
"I may be of some assistance in regards to that minor obstacle," a smooth voice insinuated itself into the conversation. Severus Snape leaned forward to capture the Headmaster's attention, and Rinna was convinced she saw a smarmy, smug expression on his face in reaction to her admission of weakness. The git.
At Dumbedore's nod, Snape continued, "I have some gillyweed in my stores; enough to be adequate for your needs, I'm sure." He turned to Rinna. "I believe that answers all your objections, does it not?"
Her eyes narrowed. "Why the hell don't you do it, then?"
His black eyes snapped; he did not like admitting to weakness any more than she did. "I cannot swim more than a few feet. I sink like a stone."
Rinna glared daggers at him. "I will certainly file that tidbit away for future reference," she hissed quietly for his ears only. She stood up and slapped her hands on the table. "Fine! I will be in the water for this thrice-cursed, idiot-inspired misadventure." She turned on her heel and stalked like a wet cat from the room, slamming the door behind her. Snape's eyes followed her, a slight smirk touching his lips as he observed her discomfiture.
"That went well, wouldn't you say?" Dumbledore smiled to a wide-eyed Ludo Bagman.
Eight-thirty the next morning found Rinna pacing the far shore of the lake where the stands from the first task had been set up. She hadn't slept a wink, but professionalism had regained the upper hand; her face bore a veneer of calm detachment. After her embarrassingly immature display of temper last night, she determined she would be nothing but calm, cool and collected this morning.
It was just as well she had made this resolution because it wasn't long before she saw Dumbledore and Snape approaching. "Arinna, my dear, Severus has informed me of a rather unfortunate situation."
"It would appear that there is no longer any gillyweed in my stores," Snape informed her with a carefully neutral expression.
"You told me you had enough gillyweed." Snape nodded. Rinna made an exasperated noise. "Really, Severus, I thought you were much more meticulous about keeping inventory of your cupboards."
"I know precisely, to the ounce, every ingredient," he snapped. "The item in question has obviously been pilfered!"
"You don't have any at all?" Rinna was appalled as the news sunk in.
"That is what I have been saying," was the short reply.
She looked at him. "Well, now what am I going to do?"
Snape sneered at her. "I hope you have brushed up on the Bubble-Head Charm, Dunlevy. I have no other suggestions." He turned and walked away.
Dumbledore cleared his throat. "I'm sure you will be fine, Arinna. Just come up for air whenever you need to."
Rinna watched as the Headmaster returned to the gold-draped judges' table. She shook her head. The problem with the Triwizard Tournament, she decided sourly, was: it wasn't being run by women.
By nine-fifteen, three of the four champions were on the shore, preparing in various ways for the task ahead. Rinna had transfigured her shoes into diving fins and was now pacing and slapping them against her thighs as she craned her head to see if she could spot her godson making his way around the lake.
By nine-twenty she was more than a little concerned. After all, neither Hermione nor Ron had been available to wake him, as both were at the bottom of the lake as hostages.
At nine-twenty-six, she was striding purposefully toward the gilded judges' table when she heard someone shout, "There he is!" Sure enough, a dark-haired figure was sprinting pell-mell along the shore. Rinna breathed a sigh of relief, and started casting the warming charms she would need in the water. While all eyes were on Harry as he was doubled over, catching his breath, she quietly waded into the water and slipped on her fins. As Bagman lined the champions along the shore, she cast the charm she was quite heartily tired of, and slipped below the surface to wait.
The trill of the starting whistle pierced the morning air at nine-thirty-one. Rinna silently cast her final spell, one to enhance auditory faculties, so as to allow her better hearing under water. She watched the students wade in and cast their various charms; Fleur and Cedric used the Bubble-Head Charm, and Viktor transfigured himself into a shark—well, the upper half of him anyway. Although incomplete, the transfiguration appeared to be effective. The three older champions swam away.
Only Harry's legs were visible, standing still up to the knees in the cold water. What was he waiting for? Suddenly, he flopped gracelessly face forward into the water, and began to kick. His feet had become strangely longer, resembling Rinna's transfigured diving fins. He turned around once to stare at them, and his now webbed hands before haring off after the others at more-than-human speed.
Rinna snorted; the mysterious disappearance of the gillyweed had been solved.
Rinna estimated that roughly thirty minutes had passed. She'd already surfaced once and fervently hoped that all would go well so once more was all she'd need before the task was over. She'd spent the time swimming from the spot on the lake bottom where the hostages were held (to her pleasant surprise, one of the merfolk, a young male, had led her there just after the task had started) to the water weed beds where she'd seen the grindylows, and back.
She had seen one student-sized shape swimming in the right direction, dark and indistinct in the murky water, and was expecting to see more when she heard odd sounds. Although not accustomed to listening in the water, she was sure something was wrong and swiveled her head to determine what direction the sounds were coming from. She began to swim quickly as she could toward the weed beds.
Visibility became worse, so she was practically on top of the scene of the trouble before she even noticed it. Fleur Delacour's long blonde hair had been pulled from its plait as she struggled with the grindylows; it was flashing pale green in the murky light of the lake as the girl twisted and thrashed in her attempts to stun and strike the attacking creatures. Never had Rinna seen so many of the water demons in one place, nor so riled. She pulled her wand from the sheath on her forearm and cast several spells before realizing the viscosity of the water was distorting the magic and would force her to move closer. The grindylows sensed a new presence and several turned to investigate, their wicked teeth flashing.
Rinna cursed mentally, and threw more spells even as she kicked her finned feet, before locking gazes with Fleur. There was panic now in Fleur's eyes and Rinna knew why; her struggle against the water demons was rapidly using her oxygen supply. And Rinna was now in exactly the same situation. She'd been under the water at least ten minutes already, perhaps more… Several grindylows nipped at her legs while others grabbed her arms. She needed to end this, now.
She absently kicked at the creatures near her legs as she mentally rehearsed the wand movement needed; it had been a long time since she'd cast a stunning spell as strong as this one and how much the water would hinder it, she didn't know. Still, she needed to hit all the demons at once, even if it meant knocking the French champion out as well. "Attonitus!" A large yellowish-orange jet of water and light erupted from her wand. She was flipped arse over heel backward, but when she righted herself, she saw her ploy had worked.
Although she was unconscious, the Bubble-Head Charm around Fleur's head remained, to Rinna's relief. She grasped the limp form of the girl and kicked swiftly upward. Rinna's lungs were burning; she had no time to waste. She saw movement out of the corner of her eye and turned to see several merfolk flanking her as she kicked and pulled with her free arm. Now they show up, she thought sourly.
She broke the surface, sucking air deep into her chest. The blonde was looking pale—Rinna needed to cancel the spell, quickly. "Finite Incantatum." It did not work. She repeated it, this time pointing her wand directly at Fleur's face and focusing her power on breaking the protection the French witch had woven into her charm. The girl began spluttering and gasping as Rinna kept her afloat.
Fleur's luminous eyes were watering when she turned to look at Rinna. "My sister. Eet is my sister that 'as been taken," she rasped, coughing. "I must save 'er!"
Rinna schooled her voice to a calm, impassive tone. "Non. The merpeople and I will retrieve her. No harm will come to her, I promise." The girl seemed to calm a little. "Rest now, and I will help you to shore."
The blonde nodded once and took several deep breaths. "I can swim myself," she said with quiet dignity.
"Fine," Rinna agreed, "but I will swim with you to be sure you get back without mishap."
Rinna was speeding back to the dwelling of the merfolk and was nearly there when the young merman swam up to her and indicated she should once again turn around and follow him.
Up ahead she saw many merfolk swimming, and she mustered more speed to catch up. She could just make out the shadow they were following, but it looked oddly misshapen. She moved closer, her legs burning from the effort of kicking with the long fins. It was Harry! Pulling two people? She stopped swimming, stunned. Ron's hair was a dull brown in the murky green lake-light, and the other body, smaller, had pale hair streaming back. She took a moment to allow pride to swell inside her before pumping her legs in an effort to keep the group in sight.
She broke the surface and was deafened by the sound of the roaring crowd. Belatedly she cancelled the auditory enhancement spell and observed Cedric and Viktor on the shore with Cho and Hermione, all wrapped in blankets. Percy Weasley was splashing into the water to help his brother wade in, and Fleur was pulling away from her headmistress to rush to her sister.
Everyone was safe.
She wanted to help Harry out of the lake, but found her limbs were quite leaden. She was kneeling chest-deep in the water, her legs pointedly refusing to support her weight. On the periphery of her vision, she could see several concerned faces with wild green hair. "I'm alright," she tried to say, but it came out faintly. She felt a tug on her legs and almost fell; she turned to see her young man pulling the fins from her feet. He grinned and handed them to her before tilting his head in a small bow. "Thank you," she rasped, and the merfolk left her.
She shifted her eyes to the shore where Dumbledore was crouched at the edge of the water, in earnest screechy conversation with the merchieftainess. However, the sound of someone wading toward her arrested her attention.
"Take my hand, Arinna."
Rinna looked up into the dark, sardonic eyes of the Potions Professor. He grasped her forearm and pulled her to her feet. His hand on her elbow steadied her as she stumbled to dry land. "Thanks," Rinna huffed out weakly. She smiled. "I'm surprised you chanced it, since I know your secret of how well you swim."
"Yes, well," he said dryly, "given that we were in less-than-waist-high water, I felt the risk was negligible." He conjured a blanket and draped it carelessly about her shoulders.
"Thank you, Severus." She pulled it tightly around her. He seemed about to reply, but she gestured abruptly for quiet; Dumbledore and the judges had just come out of the hurried consultation prompted by the merchieftainess' report. As Ludo Bagman's magically enhanced voice announced the scores, Rinna did the mental math and realized that Harry was tied for first place with Cedric Diggory. She grinned. Damn, she was proud of that kid!
She turned to her companion and her enthusiasm seemed to curdle under the regard of his sour face. "I suppose you are going to tell me I shouldn't give Potter detention." Snape's narrow-eyed glare clearly indicated his disgruntlement.
Rinna stared at him dumbly. "Why on earth would you give him a detention?" she wondered.
"For raiding my stores, that's why!" he snapped. "Where else would he have obtained gillyweed?"
"You don't know that for certain—" She conveniently ignored the fact that she had jumped to that conclusion herself.
He grasped her elbow again, more tightly this time. "You've gone soft—"
She yanked her arm from his grip. "I have not gone soft!" she hissed hotly. Then she lowered her tone. "He's Lily's son, Severus." She saw him flinch ever so slightly. "I can't help but care about—"
He cut her off, danger honing the edge of his words. "That boy is James Potter's son, through and through!" He turned abruptly and left her standing on the pebbly beach, the swirl of his black robes hampered somewhat by the damp hem.
It wasn't until he'd climbed the stone steps into the castle that Harry realized his godmother was among the blanket-clad people being shepherded by Madam Pomfrey. She had cuts all over her arms and legs, and a few on her face, as Fleur had. He turned to Ron. "What was Ri—I mean, what was the G.M. doing in the water?"
Ron glanced back and shrugged. "I dunno." They slowed to get closer to her, but Madam Pomfrey was chivvying the lot of them into the hospital wing, insisting on treatments for cuts and final doses of Pepper-Up Potion for all.
The medi-witch rounded on the redhead as she passed through the infirmary doors. "Why on earth are you still wet, Arinna?"
Rinna scowled. "Well, it didn't seem sporting, casting a drying charm when none of them," she indicated the damp students with her chin, "are allowed to use magic to get comfortable."
Pomfrey snorted as she made her way to a storage cabinet. "Always did have a Lion-ish streak in you, despite wearing the green," she said, then added softly so the boys had to strain to hear it, "You look exhausted; did you even sleep last night? Here." She handed Rinna a stoppered bottle. "Take this and go to your lover. Have him treat your cuts. I'm giving you medical leave for the entire weekend."
"What makes you think—"
The older woman rolled her eyes. "Oh please. I don't understand why it's such a secret, but if you and your rock-star paramour are not ready to go public, well that's your business. And don't try to tell me it's not serious."
Rinna's breath caught. She knew she was being ridiculous—Madame Pomfrey obviously had no idea who her real lover was—but she still couldn't help hearing "don't try to tell me it's not Sirius."
Pomfrey, of course, misinterpreted her small gasp. Her eyes cut to the ruby ring on Rinna's right hand, held in place with a sticking charm while in the lake. "Trinkets like that aren't bestowed by a mere weekend fling."
Rinna let out a rueful chuckle. "It's a good thing you are not a gossip, Poppy." She held up the bottle. "Thank you."
"And when I say medical leave for the entire weekend, I mean starting now. No locking yourself up in the dungeons for a few hours first!" Poppy Pomfrey's stern look would have made even Hagrid quail.
Rinna glanced at her sharply. "You don't miss a trick, do you?" But Madam Pomfrey was already striding over to her other charges.
Rinna looked around and saw Harry and Ron, trying to act like they hadn't heard a thing. "Good show, Harry," she said quietly. "I'm very proud of you."
"What were you doing in the lake?" Harry wondered. "And what was she talking about, locking yourself in the dungeons?"
"I was playing lifeguard," she replied. "Listen, I really should go before she comes back and makes me swallow some noxious-tasting potion. We'll talk Sunday after dinner, yeah? And be sure to celebrate this weekend, Harry. You deserve it."
"Don't worry. I'll make sure he does," Ron assured her.
"Good man." She smiled at them and left the infirmary.
Harry and Ron shuffled forward at Madam Pomfrey's imperiously beckoning hand. "Ron," Harry whispered, "did you notice? She didn't answer my question about the dungeons."
"Blimey. You're right."
Harry gave a long-suffering sigh. "Typical," he muttered as he accepted the mug of Pepper-Up and submitted to the Hogwarts medi-witch's ministrations to his cuts and bruises.
Sirius and Remus registered the subtle change in the wards almost simultaneously as Remus pushed open the door to let his Animagus friend in. "Rinna's home," Remus noted in surprise. Sirius gave a yap and cocked his head, one ear lifting slightly to listen, before tossing a doggy grin over his shoulder and bounding down the hallway. Remus chuckled.
Sirius stepped quietly into the bedroom, listening and testing the air with his canine-enhanced senses. He smelled shampoo and soap, and heard the deep even breathing of slumber. Rinna was lying prone diagonally across the bed, wrapped in a bath towel. He wasn't really conscious of changing back to his human form until he felt the frown crease his face at the sight of the lacerations on her arms and the backs of her legs. Unease rippled through him. What could have possibly gone wrong today that she'd look like this? Is Harry all right?
He perched on the edge of the bed and ran his fingers softly through her still-damp hair until he felt her stir. "Hey, Ruby," he said softly. "What in the hell happened to you?"
She opened the eye on the side of her face that wasn't pressed into the pillow and mumbled, "Grindylows."
"Is Harry—" Apprehension made him hoarse.
"S'okay," she said into the pillow before groaning a little and rolling onto her back. She smiled up at him. "He was brilliant, Blackie. Not only did he—"
Sirius held up his hand to forestall the tale. "Harry's not hurt?" he clarified.
"No. A few scratches. That's all."
He gently stroked her arm. "Like this?" His expression indicated he thought the number of cuts on her arm did not fall into the category of a few.
She shook her head. "Not as bad as all this. He's fine."
His fingers traced their way up to her chin and cheek. "Are you all right?" His voice was deep with concern.
She reached up and fisted her hand in his shirt. Sirius found himself pulled firmly to her lips, and he couldn't help but grin as he returned the kiss. "I am now," she whispered before tugging him to her mouth again.
Fresh from a shower and ready for work, Remus entered the kitchen. The sight of the forearms and the one crossed leg poking through the split in his titian-haired friend's dressing gown brought him up short. Frowning, he studied the many scratches that had been daubed with a purple tincture. "Grindylows, by the looks of them," he concluded. "How many were there? How did you get away from them? And how did this happen in the first place?"
Rinna put the sandwich she'd been hungrily devouring down on her plate. "There were dozens. I stunned them with the Thunder-strike Spell, which has an interesting effect underwater, I must say. And as for how this all came about, I was just in the middle of telling Sirius…" Rinna returned to the beginning for Remus' benefit, telling both men about the events of the last twenty-four hours as Remus made himself lunch.
Remus shook his head and smiled. "First to get there, but had to make sure all the hostages were safe. He has a chivalrous streak in him, our Harry."
Rinna snorted. "Far more chivalrous than you boys were at that age, to be sure."
Sirius appeared affronted. "I beg to differ! At his age I was a paragon of maturity and a complete gentleman."
Rinna rolled her eyes. "Merlin's knickers, how can you say that with a straight face, Blackie? For your information, at the age of fourteen, you were pulling my braids and putting Peruvian Itching Powder in my seat during Potions—"
"And don't forget that he jinxed your quills to break while you were taking notes," Remus added helpfully.
"Actually, it was Tasmanian Itching Powder," Sirius corrected her with an impish grin. He turned to Remus. "Just what are you smirking about, Moony?"
The werewolf laughed. "Trust Dumbledore to remember that dare at the lake."
Rinna harrumphed. "Dumbledore remembers things when it is most convenient for him, and least convenient for anyone else," she said sourly.
"But how in Merlin's name did Harry figure out to use gillyweed?" Sirius wondered. "And more to the point, how did he get his hands on some?"
Rinna shrugged. "Dunno. Gillyweed isn't covered until Advanced Herbology, so sixth year at least." She ignored the affectionately mocking of course you have every syllabus at Hogwarts memorized look from her fiancé. "As to how he got it, well… Severus thinks Harry broke into his storerooms. Although how he could have done without being caught, Invisibility Cloak or no, I'm not sure. Severus is always lurking about in the dungeons."
She did not miss Sirius and Remus glancing at each other, nor the looks on their faces. "What?" she demanded.
Sirius cocked an eyebrow at Remus, who nodded imperceptibly, before turning to Rinna. "Harry has the Marauder's Map," he said simply.
"He—what?" Rinna looked amazed. "Sweet Circe, how did he get it? I thought for sure Filch would have burned it or destroyed it somehow. Especially after that botched attempt we made at retrieving it!"
"Happily, Filch did not destroy it," Remus explained, "and as to how Harry came to possess it… well, let's just say that there are members of a new generation that uphold the spirit and custom of the Marauders."
Rinna's eyes narrowed in thought. Then her mouth opened slightly in surprise. "Fred and George?" Remus nodded. "They nicked it from Filch?" Sirius joined Remus in nodding. Rinna snorted. "Well, that took balls."
"Those two have plenty of that, as you well know," Sirius pointed out. "And the brains to figure out how to activate it."
"If Harry had the map…" Rinna mused. Then she shook her head. "I'll need to talk with him. He cannot get careless; Severus Snape has it in for that lad."
Sirius growled. "That greasy-haired git had better watch himself…" He trailed off when he saw Rinna's eyebrows lift. "What? Even now, after all you know about that tosser, are you still going to—"
"I have nothing to say, Sirius. I have to work with the man. So please, do not put me in a position where I have to defend him; I don't really want to have to work that hard this weekend." Remus stifled a chuckle at this. She glanced at him, then back to her fiancé. "Besides, I would much rather spend my time doing other…things." Her lips slipped into a sly smile, and her eyebrows twitched suggestively.
Sirius snorted and appeared somewhat mollified as his eyes traced the line of her leg that peeped from between the edges of her dressing gown.
Remus cleared his throat. "Well, look at the time," he noted pointedly. "I'd best leave for work." He shifted his gaze from one to the other. "Play nice, now, kids."
Rinna snickered even as Sirius replied mockingly, "Yes, Mum."
Rinna finished her sandwich and took her plate to the sink. She turned and found herself facing her lover, who wrapped his arms loosely around her. "I've fed you, and tended your wounds. I think I deserve some of your undivided attention now," he suggested.
"What did you have in mind, Blackie?" she smiled.
His face softened, grew serious. "Honestly? I miss just sitting with you. Talking. Holding hands." He took one of her hands and kissed it. Then his ruffian grin started to take over his face again. "And if that leads to more, well… I think I'd be okay with that."
She laughed, and let him lead her into the living room. "So, where were you lads?" she asked casually as she settled down next to him on the couch. "When I arrived," she clarified.
"Ah. We were out running."
"Yeah," he shrugged. "Moony and I have been bitten by the fitness bug. We try to go every morning before Remus goes to work. And I have to say, it's a damn good thing that whatever I do in my Animagus form carries over to my human form." He slapped his stomach twice. "Rock solid, or at least getting that way." He grinned. "We are going to be the two most fit misfits in your life, Ruby! You know, I was surprised at how much attention of the feminine variety a bloke can garner when he is out running with his dog. I swear, every bird's head turns as Remus and I go by. If he wasn't so besotted with my chameleon cousin, he could have his choice of fit, health-conscious women…" His voice trailed off as he noticed the odd look on her face. "What is it, love?"
The thought of dozens of people taking notice of Sirius, out in public, morning after morning, made her queasy. She tried to keep her voice neutral, although she wasn't sure she kept out the note of disapproval entirely. "You go out every day?"
"Well yeah." His tone was matter-of-fact.
"Even though you are wanted by both magical and Muggle—" Censure was most definitely evident now.
Sirius was exasperated. "Hell, Rinna. I only leave the house as Snuffles! No one knows I'm an Animagus—well except for a few whom I trust. You make it sound as if I'm waltzing around with a glowing arrow above my head pointing and saying 'Catch me!'"
"Peter knows," she said quietly.
"Peter knows you are an Animagus."
His mouth hung open for a few seconds before he snapped it shut. "Well, Wormtail is—"
Rinna shot up from the couch, angry. "Where, Sirius? He's where? Do you know?" She clenched her fists in frustration and began pacing. "He could be anywhere, whispering secrets to anyone!"
Sirius crossed to where she stood, her back to him, and placed his hands on her shoulders. "You are forgetting that Peter Pettigrew cannot show himself without revealing the lie of his death. He's no threat—"
Rinna whirled. "Do not underestimate him, Sirius! You did before!" She dropped her head. "We all did," she added sorrowfully.
Sirius wrapped his arms around her and held her against his chest for several long moments. "What do you want from me, Rinna?" he murmured finally. "Do you want me to promise to stay here all day and night, like your pet owl in a gilded cage?" There was no rancor in his words.
She pulled away with a start and looked up into his face, horrified to realize that that was exactly what she wanted.
"I spent twelve years locked in a hole carved from the rock," he explained softly. "And while the accommodations you offer are infinitely better than those of Azkaban… You are hardly ever here, and Remus is often gone, too. I start to climb the walls, and what should feel like my home starts to resemble a prison."
Her fingertips on his lips stopped him. Sirius watched a tear slip down her cheek and catch on the corner of her mouth before he brushed it away with his thumb. More took its place.
"I'm sorry." Her words seemed to catch in her throat. "I know it's horribly selfish of me to want you to stay inside all the time, even knowing that you spent so many years in that awful place…I know it makes me appear that I only see you as some precious object to keep hidden in a treasure box." Her fingers were still on his mouth, forestalling any reply he might make. "It's just that… the thought of losing you again—" she gave a shuddering breath and his arms tightened around her, "that thought terrifies me."
He buried his face in her neck. "If I could promise you that you would never lose me, I would."
"But you can't. We both learned a long time ago that there are no guarantees in this life." She brushed her cheek against his. "I would never try to curtail your freedom, Sirius, as much as I'd like to, and as much as I want you to be safe. I don't want you to resent me, or hate this place."
He kissed her. "I don't. I love you, and you've made me feel like this is a home. It's just that…" He looked deeply into her eyes. "I get restless, Rinna. And I don't know how to change that."
Her green gaze roamed across his face, once again learning his features by heart, before she returned to his eyes. "Just promise me you'll be careful."
"And remember what I said, about Peter. Don't get cocky or complacent, Blackie."
He raised his eyebrow. "Me?"
She smacked him lightly on the arm. "Oh, shut it, you."
He took her hand and brought it to his lips. "You are wrong, you know. About there being no guarantees. Because here is one thing I can promise you that will never change: I love you."
Tears welled again. "Merlin help me, but I love you, too."
Sirius began backing up, taking her with him, until he felt the couch press against the backs of his legs. "Shall I declare my love for you in a more—" He paused dramatically to cinch her hips up close to his and leer at her roguishly, "—demonstrative manner?"
She sniffled and smiled. "What happened to sitting, talking and holding hands?"
He sat down and pulled her onto his lap, her knees on each side of his hips. "Now we are sitting." He ran his hands down her arms to her wrists before lifting them up and around his neck. "Now we are holding hands."
She wove her hands into his hair and tilted his mouth up to hers. As he kissed her deeply, his fingertips skimmed the edges of her dressing gown off her shoulders and continued to trace her curves to her waist. Sirius wrapped his hands around each of her hips and hauled her close against him, leaving no doubt in her mind as to how eager he was to prove his affection for her. She released his mouth with a sigh and closed her eyes, tilting her head back as his lips caressed the skin under her jaw, down her neck to her décolleté. "Are we considering this talking, then?" she whispered.
He lifted his head to grin at her, and Rinna mentally kicked herself for giving him a reason to remove his mouth from her breast. "Dunno," he said teasingly. "How well am I communicating my intentions?" His fingers picked up where his lips had left off.
"Brilliantly," Rinna gasped.
"Good." He untied the knot at her waist and slipped his other hand into her dressing gown. "Here is what I propose: I make mad, passionate love to you now, and we talk later."
She shrugged out of the gown, seized the hem of his tee shirt, and pulled it over his head. "That's the best plan you've ever had, Marauder-Boy," she growled.
His lips curved into a smirk against the soft skin of her breast as he resumed his ministrations. "'Bout time you recognized my genius, Ruby." He chuckled when her only reply was to tug at the button of his trousers.
Hermione wound her way through the quiet castle corridors to the library. On early Sunday mornings she could get quite a bit accomplished when hardly anyone else was around and still meet her friends for breakfast, which was served later than on the other days of the week. She'd started this habit back in second year when she was taking extra classes using a time-turner, and she didn't see any reason to give it up. Especially since Viktor started joining her.
Hermione had endured no small amount of teasing that she was "the thing Krum would miss most" and she couldn't pinpoint why exactly it bothered her so. After all, she'd suffered far worse from her schoolmates, and usually she was able to shake it off and ignore it. By rote she took out her parchment and quill and ink, then opened her Transfiguration textbook, only to stare at it unseeing.
It had been disconcerting to discover the depth of Viktor's affection for her in such an awkward manner, and this had thrown her into confusion.
She'd spent the past two months since the Yule Ball warding her heart, telling herself not to fall hard for the charming Bulgarian, because, really, this had to be just a fling for him—a flirtation to pass the time while here in Britain. She knew he used his relationship with her to deflect the many, and often inappropriate, offers from countless schoolgirls, and she didn't mind that. She was happy to help make his stay as pleasant as possible, and those hussies could be positively pesky and annoying.
But now… She couldn't tamp down the rogue thoughts that kept suggesting there could be something more to this thing with Viktor. Not anymore. Certainly not since the second task, and if she thought back, there were signs she'd chosen to ignore. In the last couple of months as she'd spent more and more time with the Durmstrang champion, they'd discovered they had many similar interests, and they could talk and laugh for hours, and the kisses had gone from sweet and innocent to involving more tongue and teeth and hands—
She felt a blush creep over her face. Surely Viktor hadn't fallen for her—the bookworm, the—
Was she really the person he would miss most?
The library door opened with a creak to allow in a tall slouching figure. He found her eyes, and gave her a discomfited smile before walking toward the table.
Hermione's heart started flipping erratically against her ribcage. He asked me to go to Bulgaria with him! To meet his parents! Why would he do that, unless he—oh, Merlin!
"Herm-own-ninny." He was there, at the table, hands on the back of a chair, requesting permission to join her. Hermione swallowed nervously and nodded. He took the chair next to her and sat, turning to face her. "I haff been thinking—"
"Viktor, I—" she said at the same time. They both laughed uncertainly.
He inclined his head. "You first."
"No. You," she insisted.
Viktor took a deep breath and let it out. "I haff been thinking I have not done good vork explaining to you how I feel about you."
"Oh?" she replied weakly as her heart invited the rest of her organs to join the dance.
His eyes dropped to her open book. "Your reaction at the second task; you vere surprised to find yourself as hostage for me."
She watched his hand nervously playing with her quill. "I- I just didn't expect… the one you'd miss most…"
"Is vat I'm saying, mila." He dropped the quill to take her hand instead. "I do not speak English vell. I am sometimes, how you say, ashamed that I cannot find right vords to tell how I feel. I think I vill sound to you like idiot. I let pride keep me from being good napadnik—boyfriend—and you become embarrassed at second task—"
Viktor smiled ruefully. "You see? You do not effen know I vant to be boyfriend." He shook his head in irritation. "I am failure ven speaking to you."
She tugged his hand so he would look at her. "No! No, you're not a failure, Viktor! It's just that…" She blushed furiously. "This is all so new for me," she whispered. "I've never had a boyfriend before."
He looked at her askance. "Neffer?" She nodded. "Vy not?"
She shrugged and looked away. "I'm not beautiful." Viktor made a noise of protest, but she continued, "I'm a bit too swotty." At his look of confusion she explained, "Nerdy, bookish." It was her turn to fiddle with the quill. "I'm not very outgoing, and I'm bossy, and—" He gently pulled her chin around so he could see her face. She gazed into his dark-hazel eyes and shrugged again. "I- I'm not the kind of girl that boys want for a girlfriend."
She was quite sure her voice hadn't wavered, that no hint of self-pity had come through, but Viktor probed her with his eyes for a long time before he cupped her cheek. "Herm-own-ninny, English boys are idiots. And blind." He leaned forward and kissed her, pressing his lips to one corner of her mouth, then the other, before covering it completely with his. When he pulled away, she was breathless and convinced her heart was staging a breakout right through her sternum.
Viktor took Hermione's hand in his and played awkwardly with her fingers. "I haff confession. I haff never had girlfriend before."
"Is true. Ven I vas younger, I haff school, and I haff training for Quidditch. I haff no time for much else. I made Bulgarian team, and vas effen more busy. There is no time to meet nice girl and start relationship." He blushed, and continued to fiddle with her hand. "Many girls, many vomen, they vant to meet me and give me attention. I am like trophy to them. They don't vant to know me, they vant only the fame. Did I say this right?"
Hermione squeezed his fingers. "I understand what you are saying."
"Then I meet you, mila. And you ask me qvestions, and you listen to my answers. You treat me like normal boy, and I say to myself, 'Here is girl who is kind. Here is girl who doesn't just vant to say she—vat is vord?— bagged Viktor Krum.'"
She knew he wasn't deliberately trying to be vulgar, but Hermione blushed anyway.
He continued, "And now I haff made mess of it by not telling you that I vant to be boyfriend to you."
"No," she protested. "You haven't made a mess of things. I was just surprised, that's all. You see, I didn't want to get too… involved if this wasn't anything serious for you." Her cheeks flamed even more. "I think— I think I could fall head over heels for you, if I let myself, but—"
Viktor tenderly framed her face with his hands. "Falling head over heels is good, yes?" He smiled hopefully.
She smiled back. "It is if the other person is falling with you."
He leaned his forehead against hers; his lips were very close, and his voice husky when he replied, "Herm-own-ninny, I haff been falling since the Yule Ball."
"Me, too." Her response was muffled by the touch of his lips to hers in a fiercely possessive yet incredibly tender kiss—but Viktor understood her perfectly.
Rinna caught Harry's eye as the student body of Hogwarts exited the Great Hall after dinner Sunday night. She gave an almost imperceptible jerk of her chin, indicating he should meet her in her office. He smiled acquiescence and leaned over to Ron to let him know the change of plans.
"Go on, mate. I'll catch up to you later," Ron told him absently before turning back to Seamus, Dean, Ernie Macmillan and Justin Finch-Fletchley. Ron was once again regaling them with the story of what had happened under the lake, and Harry had to smile; Ron's story was gradually changing with each retelling. Not that Harry would begrudge his friend the limelight. After all, it took the heat off of Harry for the time being.
He walked through the open door to the classroom and made his way to his godmother's office.
"Hullo, Harry." Rinna looked up with a smile. "Ron doesn't need you for crowd control, does he?"
Harry grinned. "Noticed that, did you? Nah, he's fine."
"You don't mind?" she asked casually.
"Me? No!" Harry shook his head emphatically. "I rather like having some breathing room for a change."
Rinna gestured to a seat. "Speaking of breathing, there is something I need to speak to you about right away." Something in her tone made Harry shift uncomfortably. "Where did you get the gillyweed, Harry?"
His mind kicked into high gear as he prepared to invent a plausible story. "Er—"
"The reason I ask—I'm not trying to get you or anyone else in trouble—is that Professor Snape is under the impression that you took it from his stores." She eyed him shrewdly. "I know you had the means, with your cloak and the Marauder's Map—"
"You know about the Map?"
She raised an eyebrow. "Please. With whom have I been all weekend?"
Harry looked abashed. "Right." He ran his hand through his hair nervously, deciding that honesty was the best policy when dealing with his godmother—at least in this instance. "I didn't take it, Rinna. I was given it, by a, er, a friend."
"I'd rather not say who. It's a house elf, you see, and I don't want him to get in trouble." Harry looked at her pleadingly.
She studied him intently. "All right. I believe you. And I didn't call you in here for a lecture on pilfering. I wanted to warn you that Professor Snape believes you to be a thief, and will be looking to make your life miserable. So regardless of whatever advantage your cloak and map give you, I recommend you lay low for a while."
She smiled at him, to Harry's relief. He was glad she wasn't upset with him. He wondered how she would have felt if he actually had taken the gillyweed from Snape. "Thanks," he said pensively, "but I don't have any intention of taking anything from Snape, and besides, I don't have the Marauder's Map anymore."
Rinna looked slightly alarmed. "You don't? What happened to it?"
"Oh, I gave it to Professor Moody. He kept it from falling into Snape's hands, you see, and then told me he wanted to borrow it. Said it'd be dead useful."
"Moody, huh?" Her brow furrowed. "Yes, I suppose he would find it quite useful, wouldn't he?" She tapped her lower lip thoughtfully before returning her gaze to Harry. "At any rate, watch yourself around the Potions Professor, Harry."
"I will. Thanks for the warning, Rinna." He cocked his head curiously. "How did Snape—"
"Professor Snape, Harry."
"How did Professor Snape know the gillyweed was gone?"
Rinna's lips twitched. "Because he went to fetch it out of the cupboard that morning for me; I was to use the gillyweed during the Triwizard task. I had to resort to the Bubble-Head Charm instead."
Harry ducked his head so he wouldn't laugh at the ironic expression on her face. "Sorry. Rotten luck for you, wasn't it?"
"Believe me, dearest godson, I did not begrudge you one slimy tendril of it," she told him with a chuckle. Harry looked up and saw the twinkle of mischief in her eye, and joined in her laughter.
Sirius stood in the doorway surveying the bedroom before resting his eyes on the bed. It had been three long days since she'd been there; the last time she'd been on that bed she'd been tangled in the sheets, flushed from lovemaking, and annoyed he wasn't taking her latest news well.
"What do you mean, three to four weeks?"
"I'll try to slip away for an evening or an afternoon," she temporized.
"Bloody hell, Rinna! It's going to be six weeks before we can have Harry here for Easter hols, and now you're telling me I can't even see you for almost a month? What the hell am I supposed to do?"
She sprang from the bed, pulling the sheet with her and wrapping it around her body angrily. "I'm not exactly thrilled about this either, Sirius! I get lonely too, you know! I miss being able to sleep with you wrapped around me, or talking about Harry, or rowing about ridiculous things."
Growing contrite, he came up behind her and slipped his arms across her shoulders and chest. "Don't forget making up and shagging after we row about ridiculous things," he said softly.
She snorted. "Typical man. Is that all you think about?"
He could hear the smile in her voice taking the sting from her words. "Well, yes. Thinking of sex with you takes up quite a bit of my time when you're away, as a matter of fact." He turned her around. "I was denied that for too long, and now that I've had a taste of it again…"
She sighed. "It's bloody unfair." She rested her forehead on his collarbone. "I've been thinking. What if I return to Hogwarts with a new familiar? I could talk to Albus—"
"And have a big black mutt roaming the castle, frightening the ickle firsties into thinking they've seen the Grim? I don't think Dumbledore would go for that." He gave a big sigh. "And even if he did, you are forgetting about Snivellus."
Rinna's head snapped up. "What about Snape?"
"He knows I'm an illegal Animagus. He was standing there in the Shack under Harry's Invisibility Cloak while Moony and I explained everything to the kids."
She gritted her teeth. "Damn. He'll put it together right away. And he'd have no compunction about turning you in, either."
Sirius couldn't help looking smug. "I hear that he didn't take it very well—having the Order of Merlin for capturing me slip through his fingers at my untimely escape from Hogwarts. He might indeed be holding a grudge against me."
Rinna exhaled in frustration. "Why couldn't you two have settled your differences by having a pissing contest or whatnot like other normal teenaged boys did? You just had to go and make an enemy of him instead."
He stiffened. "I wasn't the one who made the enemy," he said fiercely, before shutting his mouth at her piercing glance. Rinna did not know—would not know, ever—about the words Snape had spoken that made Sirius angry past the point of caring that he was sending a boy straight to the jaws of a slavering werewolf. It had been an immature reaction, he knew, but even now the memory ignited a furious, irrational rage in him.
He raised a hand to her lips to stop her questions, and schooled his face to his charming smile. "If I'd known that the consequences were years later I would be looking at long weeks without sex or your smile, I might have acted differently." He saw her eyebrow quirk, and knew he'd deflected her—for the moment.
Her hand glided across his jaw and into his hair. "See? It is all you think about."
"Can't help it, love," he pointed out. "You're naked, and in my arms."
It seemed the entire weekend had been spent arguing. Small things, like how often the purple concoction needed to be applied to her cuts or whether the kitchen knives should be stored in the block sharp side up or sharp side down. Big spats over Snape, or Sirius leaving the house as Snuffles, and why she needed to be on school premises to brew her potion for Dumbledore.
Arguments, and sex. It had been brilliant. And Sirius missed it terribly. He missed her terribly.
He glanced down at the parchment in his hand—Harry's reply to his inquiry of the next Hogsmeade dates. He had just over a week; plenty of time to get there. He walked to the living room, made sure the letter for Remus and the letter he would ask his friend to mail to his fiancée were clearly visible on the desk, and shouldered the knapsack he'd shrunk to a manageable size.
The time he'd spent here at Rinna's house, following years of deprivation in Azkaban, had taught him that he really needed companionship. He needed his family. Harry and Rinna were his family, and if they couldn't be with him, well then, he'd just have to go to them, wouldn't he?
A large black dog (wearing something that looked like one of those packs one would see on a service dog for a disabled person) stepped out of the doggie door and took off trotting down the street, never once stopping or looking back.
A/N: (clears throat, nervously noting a big empty echo) Are any of my readers still there? Or have you given up on me? Not that I'd blame you. Merlin's baggy y-fronts! Real Life has been sucking all my time away and kept me from my writing. My WIP stories feel like a forgotten mistress. (Pets poor neglected stories) But if you are still here, please drop me a note telling me so and let me know what you thought of this chapter. I'm feeling the need for forgiveness and absolution of my lack-of-posting sins.
Attonitus: stunned or thunderstruck in Latin
Napadnik: boyfriend in Czech. Bulgarian is in Cyrillic alphabet, which I can't read. Czech is the closest I could get to Bulgarian, because I have some familiarity with it. If anyone wants to tell me the Bulgarian word for boyfriend, I would love to be corrected!