"I'm sorry," I said quietly, watching as Severus sat down on a chair next to me. I could practically feel the anger radiating from him.
"For not telling me or for getting caught?" Severus asked, glowering at me. "By Potter of all people."
I looked away. My insides were churning, both with anger towards Harry and myself. "I should have told you," I murmured.
"Yes, you should have!" he snapped. "I cannot begin to express to you how appalled I am that I had to find out such a thing from Potter, Armilla."
"I'm sorry," I said again, looking back at my brother.
"Yes, so you've said," he said, his eyes narrowed. "I do wonder if you fully comprehend the danger you have been placing yourself in-"
"Of course I-"
"Do not interrupt me!" he said harshly. "What if someone who did not have your best interests in mind had come along? What if it had been a child of a Death Eater? Even petty tales from the halls of Hogwarts can make their way to the ears of the Dark Lord, Armilla."
I winced, feeling a lump in my throat. I felt so selfish.
"I'd rather not endure you being a topic of discussion at the Dark Lord's gatherings." Severus shook his head. "I had thought you more mature than this. What of your own health? Does it concern you that whoever is behind this is intent on taking away your magic? Have you truly stopped to calculate the risk each time you've set out to meet Merle or have you acted in a purely Gryffindor fashion?"
"I have thought about the risks," I said, looking away again. I pressed the icepack more firmly into the lump on my head, which was throbbing with pain. "I am not entirely stupid."
"You know how I feel about that sort of talk," Severus said, giving me an irritated look. "We are speaking of your actions."
We were both silent for a moment. I felt so stupid. Why hadn't I told Severus about collapsing? The last person he'd have wanted to hear it from would have been Harry Potter. I felt terrible. I didn't think I had ever disappointed even Merle this much, let alone Severus.
"Look at me, Armilla."
I raised my eyes to meet his dark ones, and felt the lump in my throat grow bigger as I saw the mixture of anger and disappointment in them.
"Tell me what I have not already heard about these episodes, every little detail." He pronounced last three words with an expression laced with mocking.
"It's not just a curse that follows me around," I said quietly. "Someone waits for me to be on my own…and when I am, he or she is doing non-verbal magic to make me collapse before Merle appears."
Severus' eyes flashed as he looked away, shaking his head. "I am astounded that you would keep such information from me."
I opened my mouth to apologise again, but my brother held a hand up. "Go on," he said gruffly.
"If I couldn't retaliate, Merle was free to drain my magic all she liked."
"You mean the curse drains the spell," Severus put in. "I really dislike the fact that we call this curse Merle."
I shrugged, wincing as I shifted the icepack. "I cannot help thinking of the curse as Merle, seeing as it has her appearance."
"Even so," Severus muttered, taking out his wand. He summoned a potion and glass, which landed neatly on the desk in front of him. I recognised the pain relief potion straight away. "Here," said Severus, after he had poured some into the glass.
"Thank you," I said gratefully. I heaved a sigh of relief as the pain left my head the throbbing in my ankle eased.
Severus nodded as he took the glass and placed it back on the desk. "Continue."
"I started mentally sending messages to the emerald on my charm bracelet to defend me, which didn't seem to work at first."
Seeming to forget his anger, Severus leaned in slightly, interest very evident on his face.
"My magic from Merle didn't come back at me like it had before though," I continued, thinking back to the first time it had happened, two months earlier, on Ron's birthday. "It didn't have that same magnetic force as before. Instead, when the sheen was pierced, the substance came out but it seemed to float about in midair."
Severus let out a huff of annoyance at this, but I continued to speak.
"An emerald beam finally shot from my bracelet, as before, but just as it happened, a black beam shot from where Merle had been pierced. The two beams collided and it became like a battle as to where my magic would go."
"This has happened several times now?" Severus asked, his stern gaze fixed on me. I had the feeling he was forcing himself not to lose his temper.
I nodded. "Merle screams and before long, someone appears. I can always move again after she disappears."
Severus sneered. "That gives me such comfort, Armilla."
There was a tense silence between us. Severus stilled looked furious and I felt miserable.
"I don't like disappointing you," I said quietly, looking at my knees.
"I know," my brother replied. I could feel his eyes on me, waiting for me to look at him. When I did, he spoke again.
"You mean a great deal to me, Armilla," he said, his black eyes fixed on mine. "This serious lack of judgement on your part reminds me just how much I would suffer if anything happened to you."
The lump in my throat suddenly grew larger.
"Not everyone in this castle wishes us well. We take every precaution we can to ensure our safety and it disappoints me that you made a conscious effort to walk straight into danger...on more than one occasion it seems."
That did it. Tears prickled in my eyes.
"I am not trying to upset you, Armilla," Severus said quietly, his gaze still stern. "I am merely trying to highlight what's at stake by pointing out the truth of our situation."
I wiped a tear from my face, feeling a little embarrassed.
"You may be of age next month, Armilla, but that doesn't mean I will stop caring about the decisions you make, whether they be sensible ones or not. I do not wish to dwell longer on this particular error, as I am fairly certain you will not do it again. I do wish you to promise me that if you find yourself in such a dangerous situation again, you inform me of it. On most occasions I trust you to make rational decisions; this time, I believe your emotions guided you instead of your head."
I nodded, taking the handkerchief my brother held out to me.
"Promise me, Armilla," he repeated.
"I promise," I said, fervently meaning it. I felt so small, but I knew I deserved to. Merle would have been just as furious in this situation.
"Right," Severus said, standing up. He took the icepacks from me and examined my ankle. He conjured a bandage and wrapped it expertly around my ankle. "I am going to cast an invisibility charm over us. I will heal your ankle and head as best I can in our own quarters." He waved his wand over us before pausing, looking down at me. "Seeing as you cannot walk, how do you wish to get there?"
I let out a shuddering breath. "I don't mind."
Severus sighed, pocketed his wand and then reached down and hoisted me into his arms, kissing me on the head at he did so. "Apart from desiring you to spend the next week in our quarters straight after classes as a reminder of what happened, we shall say no more about it."
I nodded, wincing from the pain in my ankle.
"I also do not wish for you to be alone in the castle. If you must go somewhere, ensure you are escorted."
Again, I nodded. I had expected that.
We were silent throughout the short journey to our quarters. Though we were invisible, I was glad that we met no one along the way. Once we were in the sitting room, Severus deposited me on the sofa and went into his lab to retrieve a few things.
I sighed, rubbing my eyes. It had not been a stellar day. While I had initially been sorry that I'd been caught, I now felt nothing but guilt. I had been wrong. Very wrong. I supposed being wrong was hard for anyone to take, but as a Ravenclaw who prided herself on rational judgement and a good understanding, I was incredibly disappointed in myself. I wiped my eyes, imagining what Merle would have said.
Merle. It wasn't fair that this stupid curse had to look like Merle. I had loved Merle so much and seeing her in the form of a curse had me so conflicted. It wasn't fair. These thoughts brought on fresh, angry tears. I wanted to find the person responsible and cause as much pain as I could. If the person responsible suffered as much pain as I had over this, it wouldn't be enough.
"Don't make yourself uneasy, Armilla," Severus said, as he came back into the room carrying a few things. "I thought we were going to say nothing more about it."
"It's not that," I murmured, not looking at my brother.
"What then?" Severus sat down on the sofa next to me. I watched as he opened a small jar containing a healing salve. He put some on his fingers and then lightly rubbed it into the lump on my forehead. I felt a tingling sensation, but felt the lump begin to go down.
"Armilla?" he said, looking at me questioningly.
"It's immature," I said, wiping my eyes.
Severus shook his head slightly. "Let me make up my own mind about that."
"I keep thinking how angry Merle would have been about this and what I've been doing...and it makes me think how angry I get when I see her as a curse. It's not fair...I just want to cause pain to the person doing it."
Severus considered me for a moment, looking thoughtful. "What's immature in that?" he asked. "It sounds fairly logical to me, though you must refrain from engaging in anything that might get you in trouble with the law." He reached for my foot and I sat with it in his lap as he took off the bandage. "Leave causing the pain up to me."
I smiled. "That's not sensible advice."
He smirked. "I know, it's honestly how I feel."
I gave him a watery smile, watching as he rubbed more salve into my ankle. I watched as the swelling reduced a little, grateful that the pain eased further.
"Try to stay off this foot as much as possible this evening," said Severus, as he bandaged my ankle once more. "I believe it will be better in the morning and alright to walk on."
"Thank you," I said quietly, as he released my foot.
"Come," Severus, standing up and offering his hand. "Go and wash for dinner while I order it through the Floo."
Taking his hand, I got up, gingerly testing my foot and wincing a little as I put too much pressure on it. Severus supported me to my bedroom and from there I hobbled about, feeding Morag, who was sporting a ghastly shade of purple that evening, before washing my hands and face.
Severus was already sitting at the table when I went back out to the sitting room. Dinner had already arrived, courtesy of the house elves' magical delivery, and Severus was ladling it onto plates.
We ate quietly for several minutes before Severus started asking about my classes that day. I did not feel equal for conversation, as my mind was still on Harry and Merle. Finally, Severus changed the subject.
"I've been meaning to ask you about your birthday," he said, as he placed his cutlery on his plate and pushed it away.
"What about it?" I hadn't even thought about my birthday lately. I would be of age in a few weeks.
"Well, coming of age is an important time," Severus said, interlacing his fingers on the table as he leant forward. "We should mark the occasion in some way. Hopefully we can make it more special than last year, seeing as you won't have your OWLs."
I grimaced, thinking of the exam week around my birthday last year.
"It's a school day," Severus went on, "but is there anything you would like to do in the evening? I may be able to manage doing something on the following weekend."
"Do you think we could go home on that weekend?"
He nodded. "If the headmaster will spare me. I am sure Docky will be delighted to see you."
I smiled. "I'm sure he makes excellent birthday cakes."
Severus narrowed his eyes. "Oh good. You do realise that when Docky bakes, he consumes almost as much sugar as what's in the cake?"
I shook my head. "I think he's just naturally perky."
Severus gave a derisive snort. "He's taken you in. Back to your birthday, is there anything you'd like for a present?"
I shook my head. "Nothing."
My brother gave me an exasperated look. "Well, that's helpful, Armilla. Now, seeing as it's customary to give a watch when a wizard or witch comes of age, would you like me to choose your new watch, or would you like to?
I looked down at my old watch, which Merle had given me when I had received my Hogwarts letter. It was a basic watch, a little scratched, but was still perfectly good.
"You don't have to have one, of course," Severus said, following my line of sight.
I shook my head, thinking that a newer, more elegant one would highlight a new era in my life. "No," I said softly. "I'd like a new one. You can choose it." I trusted him to, seeing as he hadn't gotten any of my gifts wrong yet.
He nodded, regarding me thoughtfully.
"What?" I asked.
He shook his head. "Nothing."
"Did I get you in a lot of trouble?" Harry whispered, as he sat down next to me in Defence class after morning break on Monday.
"What do you think?" I whispered back, watching Slughorn converse with Hermione, who had her homework in her hand.
Harry gave me an anxious look, watching as I took my book from my bag. "I'd say I'm sorry," he said in a low voice, "but..." he showed me his hand where there was a faint scar. I must not tell lies.
"I know you're not sorry," I replied. "You said you'd tell my brother and you did."
"So how bad was it?" Harry asked, also taking out his book.
I shrugged. "I know I was in the wrong."
"No detention then?"
"No..." Well, technically I did, seeing as I was confined to our quarters for the whole week after classes. I wondered if this meant that he was going to give me irksome jobs to do. He hadn't mentioned the words detention or punishment, but he had certainly reminded me that morning that I was expected to be in our quarters that afternoon.
"How's your ankle?" Harry asked. "Snape healed it?"
"Yeah, it's a lot better today than it was on Saturday night."
"And what are you going to do about the collapsing?"
I raised an eyebrow at him. "My, we are inquisitive today."
Harry gave me a look. "Armilla."
I returned his look. "Harry."
He sighed. "I'm not being nosy. I actually care." He suddenly smirked. "After all, you and I might be related one day. Family is important you know."
I stared at him, bewildered. "What?"
Harry looked around him before whispering, "Ginny and I, you and George."
My eyes widened. "How-" I spluttered. I suddenly had a vision into the future. If I ended up marrying into Weasley family, I might gain many extra family members that would simply delight Severus.
Harry waved a hand aside dismissively. "Just a hunch and you just proved me correct." He gave me a boyish grin.
I glared at him. "Are you sure you're not a Slytherin at heart?"
Harry glared back at me, though there was a trace of humour in his face. "You never know who we are at heart."
I shook my head. "How many others know?"
Harry shrugged. "I haven't said anything to anyone except Ginny and she seems to have little interest in the subject."
"That's because she knows," I said.
Harry frowned. "Hm," was all he said.
I looked over at Slughorn. The class should have started a few minutes ago, but he seemed deep in conversation with Hermione.
"You still haven't answered my question," whispered Harry. "What are you going to about the collapsing?"
"Try to avoid it, of course," I whispered back.
Harry rolled his eyes. "Well, you've been doing a smashing job so far."
I ignored him.
"I have something that might help, you know."
I looked over at him. "How can you help when you know so little about it?"
"I said might help, Armilla. Honestly, you're very Snape-ish today."
He snorted. "I have a map, the Marauders Map, actually. It can tell me who's in the castle and where they are."
"Really?" I said, curiously. "So I could find people who are near me, even if I cannot see them?"
Harry nodded. "I'm surprised Snape hasn't thought of it. He knows about the map. He tried confiscating it in our third year."
I smiled. "How surprising."
"You're being cursed, right?"
I sighed, exasperated at Harry's forwardness today. "Harry-"
"Well, it's obvious, isn't it? Someone means you harm." He shrugged. "I suppose it's not surprising, considering who your brother is, but it seems like they've gone to an awful amount of effort."
I didn't answer, which seemed to encourage Harry to continue.
"Anyway, the map would be useful for finding out about the curse."
"I don't think curses show up on a map, you know," I said dryly. It was pointless to deny the curse now. Harry seemed to understand too much.
"And what about the person casting it?" Harry said, raising an eyebrow. "My map shows where everyone is, unless they're in the Room of Requirement."
"Don't you think it would be a little difficult to follow me around the castle constantly and never be caught?" I shook my head. "I am far more inclined to believe that a curse is being renewed to find me in moments when I am alone."
To my annoyance, Harry looked more exasperated. "You're getting too much like your brother."
I raised an eyebrow. "Meaning?"
"You're so accustomed to more complex magic through your study with him, so you naturally think that something as simple as a person following you around is ridiculous."
"It's nothing to do with that!" I sighed. "It just doesn't seem plausible, Harry. The idea of someone following my every move all year without me noticing-" I paused. Suspicion was starting to grow in my mind. Had I been a little too focused on the curse and not the caster? Getting my magic back had been the priority after all.
I hadn't exactly become paranoid when walking about the castle alone. It wasn't unusual to hear noises around in an old castle full of many people. A shiver ran up my spine as I thought of a person sneaking down corridors without me noticing. It was a very unsettling feeling.
"We've got that Defence project to work on," Harry said, as Hermione finished her conversation with Slughorn. "I'll bring the map to the library with me tomorrow night."
I nodded. "As long as we're not found in the corridor together again. I don't want to give Ruby Parkes anything more to gossip about."
Harry rolled his eyes as he glanced at Ruby, who was sitting on the other side of the room, looking a little sullen. "Odd girl," he muttered.
I returned to our quarters after classes that afternoon as Severus had instructed. Lisa and Terry escorted me down to the dungeons, though nether were inclined to linger. Lisa still feared that Severus was angry with her about Saturday night and was trying to avoid him at all costs.
Severus wasn't back yet, so I went to feed Morag instead. She was sporting a rather striking ice blue colour today and hooted in greeting as I entered my bedroom.
"Yes, wonderful," I said dryly as she fluttered her wings to show off her colour. As I fed her, my mind focused on the conversation I'd had with Harry earlier in the day. Would the map really help? If a student was behind the curse it wouldn't really prove anything by looking at the map. I had to be escorted everywhere now, so it was not like the person casting the curse would be obvious now.
I sighed, reaching out to stroke Morag. "What do you think?" I asked softly.
She hooted in response and fluttered her wings once more.
"I can't be alone, even to experiment with the map," I said. I shook my head. "Far too risky, Morag." Severus would be far more furious if I did such a thing.
She blinked at me before soaring around the room twice and settling on my desk.
"You're no help," I muttered, sitting down at my desk and pulling out my homework.
I worked steadily through my Charms essay and half an hour passed before I heard Severus arrive.
"Good afternoon," he said, stopping in my bedroom doorway. "Good day?"
"Okay," I said, looking up from my homework. "Nothing exciting."
He nodded. "I trust your friends escorted you here?"
"Yes, they did," I said, looking back at my homework.
I frowned, looking back at him. "What about him?"
Severus narrowed his eyes. "He didn't bombard you with questions?"
I considered him for a moment, thinking of Harry and the map, which Severus knew about. "He was curious," I said casually, "but then, I expected him to be." I wanted to ask Severus about the map, but I was worried that he'd take it from Harry to examine it himself. If the map proved to be useful, perhaps I could convince Harry to let Severus take a look, all in the name of putting a stop to dark magic.
I was jolted out of my reverie to see an impatient look on my brother's face. "Sorry."
He merely shook his head and turned to head to his own bedroom down the hall.
I waited to see if Severus was going to give me jobs to do around our quarters, but I didn't hear from him until he called me for dinner. By then, I had completed my Charms essay and had made a good start on my Transfiguration essay.
"I cannot find out anything of Rougier's whereabouts," Severus said, as he sat down at the table. "I've continued to make inquiries, though it's difficult to carry them out discreetly."
"And you don't know Draco Malfoy knows more?" I asked, taking my place at the table.
He shook his head. "No," he said simply. "I do not wish to ask Arian Bletchley about it either, as that would be far too forward and would obviously create a great deal of suspicion."
"I don't think Arian Bletchley would be in the mood to do you any favours," I said.
"Perhaps not," he agreed. "In any case, I do not believe Bletchley would not assist us if we needed it, despite what his mood instructs him to do. Until you marry, I daresay Bletchley believes he's in with a chance."
I made a noise of derision, making Severus give a slight smile.
"So Rougier's our main suspect in causing Father's death?" I asked as I reached for the bread.
Severus nodded. "I still believe she was heavily involved. If there's a connection with Marcel Rougier and his own financial issues, it's been well concealed."
We ate in silence for a few minutes before another thought suddenly struck me. "I have a Defence project to work on with Harry." I was confined to our quarters for the week. "We're able to work on it tomorrow night, but how can I meet him at the library?"
Severus' face darkened. "I see Horace Slughorn still insists on the two of you working together." He sighed, looking irritated. "Very well. I will escort you there tomorrow night and come back for you and hour and a half later. You are not to leave the library with Potter though."
I nodded. "Thank you."
He scowled in response.
"So Snape's escorting you around now?" Harry asked pleasantly as we walked to a table in the library. Severus had just left, but not before aiming a well meant scowl at Harry for daring to work with me.
"Shut up, Harry," I muttered, taking my bag off my shoulder.
He grinned in response. He sat down at the table and pulled out his wand. "Muffliato!" he said as he waved it.
I frowned. "My brother invented that spell."
Harry nodded. "It was one of the spells I managed to get from that book before Snape confiscated it."
I shook my head. "Well, lets see this map then."
Harry reached into his bag before pulling out a shabby piece of parchment. He looked around before tapping the parchment with his wand. "I solemnly swear that I am up to no good."
Please leave a review!
Finally! I've been working on and off on this chapter for ages. I ended up doing most of it at Sydney airport before my holiday, as well as on long train rides. I've now seen The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando, The Harry Potter Exhibition at Leavesden Studios, the Whomping Willow tree at Blenheim Castle (quite by accident – I didn't know it was there until a guide pointed it out), the dining hall in Oxford that was the inspiration for the Great Hall, and the stairs the First years use when they arrive at Hogwarts in Philosopher's Stone. A holiday with lots of Potter perks! I am ashamed to say that I could not finish a butterbeer as it was just far too rich and creamy.