Chapter Ten

Released

The chime from the clock broke the silence between the three of them.

"Harry! 'Ponine!" said Hermione. "We have to go."

They ran up the stairs towards the castle. Eponine heard the chimes, sweating and worried that they wouldn't make it in time, but she decided to push those thoughts out of her head. They would make it! Her dad would be gone and they would be back at the hospital wing.

They heard voices: it sounded like Fudge and Snape. They were walking quickly along the corridor at the foot of the staircase. They hid in the broom closet.

"…only hope Dumbledore's not going to make difficulties," Snape was saying. "The Kiss will be performed immediately?"

"This whole Black affair has been highly embarrassing. I can't tell you how much I've looked forward to informing the Daily Prophet that we've got him at last…I daresay they'll want to interview you, Snape…and once his young daughter's back in her right mind, I'll expect she'll want to tell the Prophet how you saved her and her friend, Harry…"

Eponine clenched her teeth. She caught a glimpse of Snape's smirk as he and Fudge passed their hiding place. Their footsteps died away. They waited a few moments to make sure they'd really gone and they started to run in the opposite direction towards the hospital wing.

They had reached the end of the corridor of the hospital wing entrance. They saw Dumbledore with his head stuck in the door, speaking to the other Harry and Hermione inside. Soon, he closed the door and walked towards them.

"Well?" said Dumbledore.

"He's free," Eponine said. "We did it."

"Well done. I think…" he listened intently for any sound within the hospital wing. "Yes, I think you've gone too…get inside…I'll lock you in…"

Harry, Hermione and Eponine went inside and saw themselves disappear.

"How'd you get there?" said Ron. "I was talking to you there. And now you're there."

"What's he talking about?" said Hermione.

"I don't know," said Harry, shrugging.

"Honestly, Ron," said Eponine, laughing. "How can somebody be in two places at once?"

As the lock clicked behind them, Harry, Hermione and Eponine crept into their own beds. A moment later, Madam Pomfrey came striding in.

"Did I hear the headmaster leaving? Am I allowed to look after my patients now?"

She was in a very bad mood. Harry, Eponine and Hermione thought it best to accept their chocolate very quickly. Madam Pomfrey stood over them, making sure they ate it. They could hardly swallow; they were waiting, listening, their nerves jangling…and then, as they both took a fourth piece of chocolate from Madam Pomfrey, they heard a distant roar of fury echoing from somewhere above them…

"What was that?" said Madam Pomfrey in alarm.

Now they could hear angry voices, growing louder and louder. Madam Pomfrey was staring at the door.

"Really—they'll wake everybody up! What do they think they're doing?"

Eponine was trying to hear what the voices were saying. They were drawing nearer…

"He must have Disapparated, Severus. We should have left somebody in the room with him. When this gets out…"

"HE DIDN'T DISAPPARATE!" Snape roared. Eponine trembled slightly, knowing how angry Snape could get. "YOU CAN'T APPARATE OR DISAPPARATE INSIDE THIS CASTLE! THIS—HAS—SOMETHING—TO—DO—WITH—POTTER AND BLACK!"

"Severus—be reasonable—Harry and Eponine have been locked up…"

BAM!

The door of the hospital wing burst open.

Fudge, Snape and Dumbledore came striding in the ward. Dumbledore alone looked calm. Indeed, he looked as though he was quite enjoying himself. Fudge appeared angry. But Snape was beside himself.

"OUT WITH IT, YOU TWO!" he said. "WHAT DID YOU DO?"

"Professor Snape!" shrieked Madam Pomfrey. "Control yourself!"

"See here, Snape, be reasonable," said Fudge. "The door's been locked, we just saw…"

"THEY HELPED HIM ESCAPE, I KNOW IT!" Snape howled, pointing at Eponine and Harry. His face was twisted; spit was flying from his mouth.

"Calm down, man!" Fudge barked. "You're talking nonsense!"
"YOU DON'T KNOW POTTER OR BLACK!" shrieked Snape. "THEY DID IT, I KNOW THEY DID IT!"

"That will do, Severus," said Dumbledore, quietly. "Think about what you're saying. This door has been locked since I left the ward ten minutes ago. Madam Pomfrey, have these children left their beds?"

"Of course not!" said Madam Pomfrey, bristling. "I would've heard them."

"Well, there you have it, Severus," said Dumbledore, calmly. "Unless you're suggesting that Harry, Eponine and Hermione are able to be in two places at once, I'm afraid I don't see any point in troubling them further."

Snape stood there, seething, staring from Fudge, who looked thoroughly shocked by his behavior, to Dumbledore, whose eyes were twinkling behind his glasses. Snape whirled about, robes swishing behind him and stormed out of the ward.

"Fellow seems quite unbalanced," said Fudge, staring after him. "I'd watch out for him if I were you, Dumbledore."

"Oh, he's not unbalanced," said Dumbledore quietly. "He's just suffered a severe disappointment."

"He's not the only one!" puffed Fudge. "The Daily Prophet's going to have a field day! We had Black cornered and he slipped through our fingers yet again! All it needs now is for the story of that hippogriff's escape to get out and I'll be a laughingstock! Well…I'd better go and notify the Ministry…"

"And the dementors?" said Dumbledore. "They'll be removed from the school, I trust?"

"Oh yes, they'll have to go," said Fudge, running his fingers distractedly through his hair. "Never dreamed they'd attempt to administer the Kiss on an innocent boy and girl…completely out of control…no, I'll have them packed off to Azkaban tonight…"

"Before you go, don't you have something to give to the Minister, Eponine?" said Dumbledore.

"Oh, yes," she said. "Minister? Might I have a word with you?"

"Yes, yes, of course, Miss Black."

"My father has asked you to give you this. He gave this to me after I spoke to him in the tower." She held out the papers.

Fudge gingerly picked up the papers and read them. One was the birth certificate and the other was a note, which he read:
"I, Sirius Black, am the father of Eponine Amaryllis Jane Black and request that my daughter be released from domestic servitude. I, Sirius Black, request my daughter stay with Hermione Granger until further notice."

"Well," said Fudge. "Your father may be a criminal on the run, but nevertheless, he did present a written statement and proof of parentage, therefore we will honor his requests."

"You mean…I'm free?" she asked.

"Yes. You're free to go."

Eponine looked at Dumbledore who smiled as well. Eponine smiled back.

"Thank you, sir," she said.



Eponine went to Lupin's office to gather her letters and her music box. She saw that his office door was already opened and faint music from his record player was playing. He had already packed most of his things. The grindylow's empty tank stood next to his battered old suitcase, which was open and nearly full. Lupin's back was turned to her.

"Hello, 'Ponine," said Lupin.

Eponine's eyes were wide with surprise.

"I saw you coming," he said, pointing to the map. Eponine nodded her head as to say 'oh'. Eponine stared at Lupin's tired face, which looked terrible. "I've looked worse, believe me."

"You've been sacked."

"No. No, I resigned, actually."

"Resigned? Why?"

"Well, it seems that somebody let slip the nature of my condition. This time tomorrow, the owls will start arriving and parents will not want…well, someone like me teaching their children."
"But, Dumbledore…"

"He has already risked enough on my behalf," said Lupin. "Besides, people like me are…well, let's just say I'm used to it by now."

He waved his wand and his trunk's items went inside and it shut itself. Eponine looked rather sad.

"Why do you look so miserable, 'Ponine?" he asked. "You've been released and you will be going to school. Aren't you glad?"
"None of it matters," Eponine said. "Pettigrew escaped. I won't be with my father as I had hoped."

"Didn't any of it matter? It made all the difference in the world. You uncovered the truth. You saved an innocent man from a terrible fate. And what's more, you've finally found your father and he had you released. It made a great deal of a difference." He paused, bringing his briefcase towards his luggage. "Since your father owned this map, I will give this to you." He pointed to the Marauder's Map.

"Thank you," Eponine said. "But, no. I have no need for it. I've lived in this castle long enough to know every part of it. I insist that it goes to Harry. Maybe we'll share it, but he has more need for it than I do."

Lupin smiled. "You definitely have some of your mother in you," said Lupin. "She was a generous and kind young lady. I'll make sure Harry would get this. So now I'll say goodbye, 'Ponine. I'm sure we'll meet again sometime."

She nodded. She ran to him and wrapped her thin arms around him and hugged him. Stunned, but yet happy, he hugged back.

"Thank you," she said. "Thank you for being so kind to me and for finding my father."

Lupin could've sworn he felt tears well up in his eyes, but blinked them away.

"You're very welcome," he said.



Soon, Eponine packed all her things, which were so few that they all fit into one small paper bag: her father's letters, her music box, and the hair comb. She stepped down the stairs from the attic and walked towards the Great Hall. Harry, Hermione and Ron were there.

"Eponine," said Hermione. "This came for you."
Eponine saw the letter and recognized the handwriting. She opened it:

My dearest Eponine,

Buckbeak and I are in hiding. I won't tell you where, in case this owl falls in the wrong hands. I have some doubt about his reliability, but he was the best I could find, and he did seem eager for the job.

I believe the dementors are still searching for me, but they haven't a hope of finding me here. I am planning to allow some Muggles to get a glimpse of me soon, a long way from Hogwarts, so that the security on the castle will be lifted.

There is something I never got around to telling you during our brief meeting. It was I who sent you the music box for your birthday and the hair comb for Christmas. Lupin took the orders for me. I used your name but told them to take it out from my own Gringotts vault. Since I will be on the run, I have asked Gringotts to give you full access to my vault since I trust you well enough to know you are a responsible young lady.

I am enclosing something else for you, which I think you will make sure your new year at Hogwarts more enjoyable. I've written to Hermione Granger, asking if you could stay with her. Naturally, she agreed and she's also agreed to help you tutor you over the summer so you are all caught up. I'm sure you'll do fine and I hope you do. You are indeed an intelligent, young lady and I am very proud of you.

Also, I've written to Dumbledore about seeing each other so we can have a relationship. He will make sure that our meetings are secret and secure. We will meet on the weekends in Hogsmeade. If you ever need me, send word. Your owl will find me.

Dad

Eponine looked inside the envelope. There was another piece of parchment in there. She read it through quickly and felt suddenly warm and contented.

I, Sirius Black, Eponine's father, hereby give her permission to visit Hogsmeade on weekends.

Eponine smiled, unable to speak. She was the happiest girl on the planet.
"What is it?" Hermione asked.

"I'll be going to Hogsmeade on weekends," Eponine said.

"That's great," said Hermione. She held up her books. "Are you ready to start catching up?"

"Oh, yes!" Eponine said. "We can start on the train when we're going home!"

Hermione smiled, happy to see that her new student was so eager to learn. While they sat on the train on the way back to London, Eponine absorbed herself in the books, shutting out the world around her. As soon as they reached London, they got off Platform 9 ¾, everyone was staring at the thin, dirty, ragged girl with grey-blue eyes and blonde hair. Hermione's parents were already waiting there.

"Hello, Hermione," said Mr. Granger. "How was school?"
"Just fine," she said.

"So, you must be Eponine, Sirius Black's daughter?" said Mrs. Granger.

"Yes, I am," she said, smiling.

"Oh, dear," said Mrs. Granger. "What a terrible state you're in! What happened?"

"I was in servitude for a while," Eponine admitted.

Mrs. Granger only smiled. "Not to worry, we'll get you some new clothes, dear."

"Thank you," Eponine said, gratefully. "Do you want me to do anything else? Do you want me to cook and clean?"

"No, no," said Mr. Granger. "That's not necessary. You're a guest in our house."

"Perhaps we should stop for a bite to eat," said Hermione.

"Of course!" Mrs. Granger said, smiling. "You must be terribly hungry."

Eponine nodded silently, smiling. As they walked down the streets of London, everyone stared at her. Eponine didn't mind; she got stares all the time. She just followed the Grangers down the street and they shopped for new clothes for Eponine. . Eponine liked how the new clothes felt on her skin; she had been so used to wearing tatters for so long that the new feel of clothes felt a bit strange, yet in a good way to her. They were soft, clean and warm…a feeling she hadn't felt in so long. Once they were done shopping, the lady who rung up her new clothes was kind enough to let Eponine wear her new clothes.

After they were done shopping, Mr. Granger took them to a fancy restaurant and Eponine ordered a steak and ate until she was full. It was nice to have a large, hot, filling meal for once.

Soon, the Grangers drove home and Eponine took a bath; it felt so much nicer to be clean since she seldom took a bath while she was at Hogwarts. Her skin felt like it could breathe at last after all the filth and dead skin was scrubbed off; the soap smelled like roses. After her bath, she noticed that her skin was glowing with the sheen of a pearl and her hair shone brighter.

The Grangers set up Eponine in the guest bedroom, which had a large mattress that had feather pillows and comforter, which smelled fresh and clean. All of it was too nice that she was sure this was a dream. She lied in bed, looking at the ceiling, enjoying the softness and cleanness of the sheets that she was sure to die from all the niceness that was surrounding her. She sighed as she closed her eyes, looking forward to a new day…