A/N: Love to reviewers and Countess Black

After 2000 pages,over half a million words and ten months, part one is finished. Ending a book is always bittersweet, even when the story isn't done yet.

First, my many debts:

Countess Black, for her continual support on and off the page

My friend K for the same

The works of George RR Martin for inspiration

The many fictional and non-fictional works I used as research; truly, I stood on the shoulders of giants

My father and stepmother for their love and help during a profoundly difficult time in my life

My grandparents, for being my heroes and my rock in the lowest moments

St. Therese for giving me courage in the darkest dark nights of my soul

The many readers who honoured me with feedback and encouragement

Therefore, I dedicate this book, with love and gratitude:

AMDG and my grandparents, R. and J. E.

The Death Eaters prepared to leave Bulgaria just after Christmas. Robed and masked, they gathered in the courtyard, flanked by an honour guard of werewolves. They waited, splayed in a fan, for the new Lord Proctector and Vicereine to come and see them off.

With Draco beside them, they came with their own honour guard, a small corps of senior Durmstrang students whom Desmond Feathering had, using his privilege as Head, graduated on Christmas Eve.

At their head, Paavo Kask limped proudly. He had been graduated, and was the new head of security at the Ministry; he and Scabior worked well together, and shared an interest in Quidditch and drinking beer.

They nodded companionably and gave the area a quick visual sweep, nodded to one another, and then the others as the group made their slow way to the carriages.

The students (former students, now) stood at attention, heels clacking briskly in the snowy courtyard as Tamm announced them. The lord and lady were well rugged in furs, came forward and embraced the group.

Under her mask, Bellatrix was crying a little. Her daughter, got up in a sable lined cloaked sent by the Russians, hugged her hard, and Bellatrix hugged back, not knowing whether she would ever get the chance again.

'Mother, we'll come and see you soon, all right?'

'You'd best. And be careful. Be safe, Hermione.'

'We will, Mother. You too. Promise?'

'I promise. Don't fall...you know.'


'I mean it, girl.'

She released her daughter and stepped back, letting Rodolphus have a turn. He bent and whispered something and the girl nodded, eyes damp. She flew into Cissy's arms as well, and then Malfoy's a bit less enthusiastically.

The boys were hugging as well, and she gave her son in law the same hissed warnings. He nodded English style and then bent his head to her ear. 'Portkeys.'

She nodded back. 'Yes. Perhaps.' She wouldn't. He knew it and so did she, but he had to try and she let him.

Behind them, Avery, envoy of the Dark Lord, cleared his throat, and the groups parted in the middle. The Death Eaters saluted the Lord Protector and Vicereine and embarked, and the Bulgarian aurors tasked with taking them to the border ascended on brooms as one, fifty of them wearing sharp tunics. Bellatrix watched as her children became smaller and smaller, and disappeared. She shoved down her premonition of disaster and made herself stare rigidly ahead, saying nothing.

Across from her, Avery was watching with the bland malice of a crocodile. She tightened her jaw. Let him. She'd killed men harder than he. She was Bellatrix Black Lestrange, and that was all she had right now.

Draco watched them go, and knew, just as Aunt Zhivka's death had done, his life had been cleaved in two again. Once he'd been a schoolboy and then a general, and now he was second in command to the leader of Wizarding Bulgaria, and his former school mates saluted him as he went by. And he had Vaike. He sometimes found himself musing on the graceful curves of her wrist or remembering the soft, ghostly swell of her breast in his hand, and feeling his body temperature rising. Was this love? Was it lust?

He looked up as subtly as he could and saw the carriages were gone. His heart squeezed; would he see them again? The promise of the snake would doubtlessly sweeten the deal in terms of calming the Dark Lord. The official visit wasn't for months, but the Dark Lord had demanded the Death Eaters come home the day after Christmas for no real reason, despite the sure knowledge they would want to help their children.

Ahead of Draco, Tamm was easily navigating the corridor, wearing a tunic on which was halved the dog and maunch of House Krum and the eagle of Albania, flanked by Salazar-Sirius.

He reached up and adjusted his eye patch absently. '*Make way for the Lord Protector and Vicereine!*' The crowd parted, bowing or curtsying as they swept by. It used to thrill Draco; now it just made him tired.

Tamm had come to him days earlier, brow furrowed. He'd still had his bandage then, but smaller, the reconstruction nearly finished. '*Malfoy?*'

'*Yes, Tamm?*'

'*I've got a father now, you know. Or had. He died.*'

To no one's surprise, Tamm's 'father' had been found to have been, far from a shepherd engaging in a blood feud, a high noble. The fact this man, who had otherwise died without issue, had done three years before Tamm could have been conceived was not remarked on. So Tamm, the bastard get of a shepherdess, was promptly recognised as sole heir and sent to see his 'grandfather', who had presumably been compensated somehow for his cooperation.

'*I heard, Anu.*'



'*If a thing never happened, but it makes everyone's life better, and it's not hurting anyone...?*'

Draco felt a yawning chasm under his feet. '*Then we know things have fallen right, don't we?*'

'*Isn't it...doesn't it hurt his-my... father's-besa to...?*'

Draco felt the ghost of the true meaning, same as Snape had. He wished Father was here. He felt like he would only muck this up.

'*Anu, in ordinary time, when a man takes responsibility for a child without being compelled, he does so because he is a person of honour. For a man to do so in circumstances as strange as these means people must have known him to be truly exceptional in those terms, don't you think?*'

Anu's eyes lit up. '*Yes! That's it!*'

'*I think, though, it would pain your mother to discuss it. So perhaps you'd feel better directing your inquiries to Viktor or myself?*'

'*Yes, I think so too.*' Anu looked terribly relieved, and slumped a little. He reached into his pockets and handed over a small pouch. Draco raised an eyebrow.

'*My grandfather gave me this. Would you buy Nene a house elf with it? I don't know how.*'

'*That's very generous, Anu, but surely the elves here will care for her?*'

'*Yes, but I want to get her something. She's got arthritis in her hands, Professor Snape says. It might make her feel better not to bother your elves.*'

Draco decided not to argue. '*All right. Is there anything you'd like?*'

Anu considered. '*Halva, please.*'

Draco had counted the money and found there to be a tremendous amount in terms of pocket money. Even after he'd bought a very nice elf for Sose, he had enough to open Anu, with Viktor's help, his own bank vault.

'*That*' Viktor had commented '*is quite a lot of halva, I would say.*'

Now they went directly to the family apartments and found the uncles already there. Uncle Rumen unfurled a map, and pulling up their chairs, they went to work planning their next step. Sirius-Salazar changed back and joined them as soon as Tamm had left the room, and the group fell to the serious matter of their foreign policy, starting with Britain.

Sirius-Salazar (now just Sirius) felt the matter perhaps a bit more keenly than most. He had got to spend a little time with Emmeline, at least, but he felt like sending them all into the very arms of that maniac was the worst sort of betrayal.

She had wanted to sit silently with him, not touching, just sitting side by side, and he had obliged, finally transforming into Salazar. That had done the trick, and he had sat patiently whilst she wept into his ruff, and then dried her eyes.

'Thank God for Cunegarde. She's kept him from Rowle at least.'

Sirius had transformed back and quietly resumed his former place. 'Em-'

'Don't call me that! She's dead!'

Sirius had pulled back and then she was in his arms. 'Sorry, sorry, I didn't mean to yell.'

'Course not. You're just stressed.' He rubbed her back lightly and she nodded, sniffling. 'Why don't we get some rest?'

She nodded, head still buried in his chest. 'How did your mother bear it?'

'Bear what, E-love?'

'Sending Regulus to Him. It's unfathomable.'

'Not to Walburga.'

He forced the memory of his brother away and transfigured a chair into a mattress for them and a tablecloth into a blanket. He'd held her silently for some time, glad to be of help even if he knew he really wasn't.

He'd woken her before dawn and she had gone to her husband, whilst he, as Salazar, went to Snape. The git was awake, sipping that black vinegar he called tea and staring into some part of himself that Sirius didn't want to hazard a guess at.



Sirius took the tea Mippy handed him and sat at the table. Snape hadn't risen to the bait, and Sirius, wondering whether he would need to transform for Snape was well, was relieved when the man said finally 'Something the matter?'

'You're never afraid, are you?'

'Yes.' Snape drank more tea and seemed disinclined to speak further, but Sirius pressed on.

'I am too.'

'Oh? Of what, precisely, Black?'

Sirius shrugged. 'Same thing you are, I daresay.'

'You presume to know what I fear?'

Sirius ignored the prickly tone. 'I see what I see, Snape.'

'And what's that, dog?'

'You don't want to lose them, and nor do I.'

Snape didn't deny it. 'When Hogwarts was taken, it fell to me to kill Dumbledore.'

'I know.'

'If I should see him again after I am dead, I should like to be able to tell him I did not fail the girl and the others.'

Sirius was being given rare insight. He nodded carefully, wondering if Snape would say anything else. The man was still pensive and quiet.

'You've always been a better man than most, Snape. Better than me, anyhow. Dumbledore knew that.'

'Dumbledore loved his Gryffindors, Black. I was a tool to him, nothing more.'

'That's not true. He might have loved Gryffindor, but he respected you.'

'Bollocks, dog.'

'No, it's true.' Sirius didn't know why it seemed important to him to defend the git to himself, but it did. He set down his cup to gesture more freely.

'D'you suppose Dumbledore would have ever asked James or I to teach? Remus, maybe, but one of us? Never. He might've liked us, Snape, but he asked you.'

'You might have remembered you were in prison at the time, Black.'

'He didn't work to clear my name, now did he? You, on the other hand...'

'He had no proof I had ever...'

'Nor I, but I rotted in Azkaban and you had a cosy little flat at Hogwarts. There must've been questions about your activities. I know for a fact you and Rosier were working on that brain embolism jinx at least six months before he died.'

Snape paled a little but said nothing. Sirius pressed the point. 'Not to mention that raid in Kent in November of 1979. You were there, at least. Not enough proof to convict you, perhaps, but you were.'

'How the hell do you know?'

'I was a trainee auror, remember? I read all the files. We had a dossier on you a metre thick.' That was a wild exaggeration, of course, but Sirius wanted to lighten the mood.

'You and Potter kept notes on me?'

'Yes, James and I.' Sirius pushed down the flare of pain he felt-a groove smooth worn in his brain-and pushed onward. 'Your hands might not have been dirty like some of them, but they were hardly clean. People knew that.'

Snape nodded convulsively, Adam's apple working. 'Yes.'

'He saved you. Because he thought you could fix this.'

'Because he needed me.'

'So? You saved me because you needed me.'

'Hardly the same thing.'

'How is it not?'

'Shut up, dog.'

'You shut up. I'm right and you're bloody well aware of it.'

'I am no such thing.'

'You needed me and respected that I could do what you asked of me, wasn't it?'

Snape glowered, and that was answer enough. Sirius grinned a little and was prepared to drop the topic-life with Snape had convinced him that sometimes discretion really was the best half of valour- but Snape himself took up the thread.

'I knew you were good, dog. Had I known you were this God-damned long winded, I might have saved myself the bother. And you snore.'

Sirius wanted to respond, but he was laughing too hard, and he decided that, having lucked into the right thing to say twice in one day, for once he wouldn't push it too hard.

So now, as a man, he sat and listened as the first official duplicity of this strange new regime was mapped out with Rumen's dry precision.

'*We'll need to send people to Grimmauld Place to check it periodically for Listening Charms and Peeping spells. Any thoughts?*'

'*Kreacher will, I'm sure.*'

'*It might not be enough.*'

Sirius put up a hand. '*I'll do it if you can get me in and out. I'll carry messages and things as well if you'd like.*'

Hermione suddenly frowned, scrunching her brow a bit.

'*Sirius, that's very kind of you, but don't you mind that we're using your house?*'

He shook his head. '*No. Always hated the old place.*'

'*Would you rather we sent someone else? If you won't be comfortable, I mean.*'

'*Not at all. I should go and see my darling Mother, shouldn't I?*'

The three young people looked awkwardly at one another. Hermione finally faced the proverbial hippogriff in the room, '*Sirius, I am so sorry to have to tell you, but your mother is...*'

'*Dead, I know. Her portrait is no doubt as shirty and snobbish as ever, so off I'll hie to see the old girl.*' He grinned rakishly, meaning to tease his cousins even as he was being quite serious about seeing Mother.

The three nodded, visibly relieved. '*Of course. And if there's anything you might like...some memento or something...do take it. Viktor, do you mind?*'

'*Not at all. We're guests in your home, cousin. Please, use it how you will.*'

They were such damned good kids, that was what got Sirius. He reached out and touched Hermione's hand a moment.

'*Thank you all. I'll show you some things about that place you might not have known, once you come for the visit. Mother's portrait is still up, isn't it? She would have put a permanent charm on it, I'm sure.*'

Hermione was frowning again. '*Is it? I hardly remember that time much.*'

'*We could always summon Kreacher. Kreacher, come here, please.*'

Sirius leapt up just as the ancient elf popped in, grinning dementedly. He took one look at Sirius and shrieked like a tea kettle, with anger or shock Sirius could not say.

'*Master Sirius? Master Sirius is being dead!*'

'*No, clearly I'm not. And that's a hell of a greeting, you little bastard.*'

'*Master Sirius is insulting Kreacher after everything being done to the Mistress?*'

Hermione stood up. '*Sirius, please, it's a terrible shock for poor Kreacher. Kreacher, it's quite all right.*'

'*Not all right! Not all right!*'

Viktor, rubbing his temples briefly, turned to his uncles. '*Could we meet a little later? You've clearly got this well in hand, and I'd rather sort out this issue right now.*' The uncles, both shaking their heads a little, bowed themselves out.

Hermione, startlingly, had her arms about the manky old elf. '*Kreacher, Sirius is awfully sorry he couldn't tell you before. It must have been terribly hard on you, losing everyone like you did.*'

The elf nodded creakily. '*Kreacher was good elf! Is good elf! Deserving better than that!*'

'*Yes, you did, and we are so, so sorry that happened. But Sirius is back now, and he knows how good and helpful you've been to us. So perhaps the two of you could begin again?*'

She was brilliant at this. It was like a fusion of Narcissa's tact and sensitivity and Bellatrix's resolve. Sirius forced himself to nod.

'*Yes. I, er, realise what a little gobsh-ah, brat I was to you, Kreacher.*'

'*Being very naughty, yes. Not listening to Kreacher.*'

'*I know. And I regret making you angry.*'

'*Not angry.*' Kreacher's great yellow eyes pierced his, making him feel all of seven again. '*Hurt. Master Sirius is making Kreacher feel hurt.*'

Hermione flinched, and the lads looked sympathetically at the vile creature. How the hell had it-he-ended up in the catbird seat this way?

'*I didn't...I'm sorry, Kreacher.*'

Kreacher sniffed. '*No. Kreacher is knowing when Master Sirius is being sorry. Not being sorry at all.*'

Sirius grunted with annoyance. '*Kreacher, be fair. I had to protect people.*'

'*Could have stayed and a been good boy.*'

'*I couldn't do both. I chose safety for the people I loved.*' Which was true, if not quite like he meant.

Kreacher screwed up his face suspiciously. '*Running around with fat Master Peter and bad Master James. Still being friends with them?*'

'*No. They're dead, Kreacher.*' God help the little son of a bitch if he said the slightest thing against James or Lily. Instead, the elf seemed to collect his thoughts.

'*Why Master Sirius is not telling Kreacher before now?*'

'*Because I had to help some people with keeping the family safe. I didn't do a very good job the first time, did I? It killed them, my efforts to help.*'



Kreacher shook his head, ears flapping. '*Broken hearts. Broken heart killed Mistress. Killed Master Orion. Killed Master Regulus.*' The elf moaned, burying his face in his hands.

Sirius looked to his cousins, hoping they'd stop this. Hermione blinked tears and took the elf's hand in hers.

'*Kreacher, are you upset because you feel abandoned?*'

'*Yes.*' Hearing it so baldly was sort of a relief. At least this stupid guessing game had ended. Sirius thought about his childhood with the elf and what his mother had always said of elves.

'*Useful, stupid creatures, Sirius. They haven't feelings as humans have. They're sly. They manipulate.*'

He had rejected every premise she'd ever drummed into him. Why not this? Why had it not occurred to him that Kreacher might have been hurt by what had happened? He'd lost Reg and Sirius, Mother, Father, his whole family. And he'd doted so on Reg.

'*Kreacher? Do you know what happened to Regulus?*'

Kreacher pulled himself up straighter, his humped spine creaking. His mouth was trembling.

'*Master Regulus is being dead.*'

'*I-I know. But Kreacher, did he...what happened?*'

Kreacher slumped. '*Kreacher is promising not to tell.*'

Sirius felt the maddening closeness of the thing. He made himself press forward. '*You and he were so close...he wouldn't want you to suffer this way. Help us help Reg, Kreacher.*'

Viktor stood up and approached the little elf, who was hovering above the table, just in front of Sirius. '*Sirius tells us Regulus was quite a brave man. That is true, Kreacher, isn't it?*'

Kreacher's face worked. '*Master Sirius is saying that?*'

Draco too. He came on Sirius's other side and smiled at the elf. '*Everyone says that. He died defying the Dark Lord, didn't he?*'

'*Master Draco is being honest?*'

'*We all are. But first we need to know.*'

Kreacher looked ready to say it and then stopped. '*Why is Master Draco wanting to defy the Dark Lord?*'

They summerised recent events, ending with the meeting they'd called off. The elf listened silently, head bobbing slightly with age. When they got to the part about the wedding, the elf stopped them.

'*Married now?*'

'*Didn't anyone tell you, Kreacher?*'

'*No, Mistress. Not telling Kreacher. But, oh! Babies for Kreacher now!*' The elf grinned toothlessly, and even did a small shuffling dance to show how gleeful he felt.

Just as quickly he stopped. '*Master Sirius, telling Master Viktor and Mistress Hermione they are too young! No babies yet!*'

The group broke up laughing. It helped with the tension, and Sirius immediately agreed. '*Not until they're older, Kreacher.*'

'*And then Kreacher has babies to raise?*'

In deep consternation, Hermione and Viktor studied one another and then started to laugh again. '*Yes, Kreacher, babies.*'

'*Mistress is being very young.*'

'*Not for a few years, all right?*'

'*Well, all right, but Kreacher is not dying until he is having last baby to raise. Raising eight generations of Blacks.*'

'*We aren't Blacks, Kreacher.*'

'*Mistress Hermione is the great niece of Mistress. That is enough for Kreacher.*' He turned a gimlet eye on Sirius.

'*Master Sirius is getting married soon.*' It wasn't a question.

'*Well, err, I'm really not the marrying sort, Kreacher.*'

Kreacher looked stern. 'It is what is best for the family.*'

'*There's a war on.*'

'After the war, then. Lots of babies for Kreacher.' He crossed his arms, making it clear that his foot was well and truly down. The three cousins were all grinning at him. He tried to look Snape-like and suspected he merely looked dyspeptic.

'*Could we talk about what happened now?*'

Kreacher nodded slowly. '*Master Sirius?*'


'*A promise?*'

'*Is it about getting married?*'

'*Later. It is this promise: Master Sirius is bringing Master Regulus home to Kreacher.*'

'*You mean finding his...his mortal remains, Kreacher?*'

Kreacher nodded solemnly. '*Kreacher will wash his body and sit vigil. There is time now for grief.*'

Kreacher no less than all of them had never had the chance to say good bye. Hermione's eyes were bright, and Sirius watched as she enfolded the little elf again in her arms.

Sirius nodded. '*If I need to move heaven and earth, Kreacher, I will bring you something that you might put Regulus to rest with.*'

'*Thank you, Master.*'

Sirius steeled himself and waited to find out the horrible truth of how his brother had died. Kreacher did not disappoint him.

Severus Snape found Spinner's End too quiet now. He'd had house guests for so long that the fact that the only noise was what he made a bit disconcerting. It wasn't because he missed the dog, mind. But Mippy was too quiet, and he found he thought better with a little noise, so he invested in a cheap phonograph and some music and let it play as he worked.

It was a bit of a shock when the dog scratched on the door one night, dripping with autumn rain. Snape let him in, fearing the worst, and then had to restrain himself from thwacking the idiot on the head when it turned out to be a social visit.

'I've something for you.'

'Dear me, it's not lokum, is it? I should simply die of bliss.' Black was nearly manic with excitement, like a child locked in a sweets shop.

'I know what happened to Regulus.'


Black explained what had happened, and Snape, not precisely pleased the children hadn't consulted him before blowing Black's cover even more, had to admit, solely to himself, that it could have been handled worse.

'What does it all mean, though?'

Snape was pleased to have a chance to sneer a bit. 'Oh, the trainee auror is baffled, is he? Hasn't quieted your mouth.'

'What, Snape, have you sprained your wrist?'

'Vulgar cur. He's making horcruxes.'

'Well, obviously. It would account for his increasing instability, amongst other things.'


'Trainee auror, remember? We read all the primers on Dark Magic. And I'm a Black. I could have taught a course.'

'I doubt your parents discussed this sort of thing at dinner.'

'No. And I didn't say I would have made that leap without Kreacher, you know.'

'True enough.' Snape started to tuck the parchment into his waistcoat pocket and then stopped, handing it back.

Black, in turn, handed over a locket. Snape could feel Dark magic tingling in the thing. His Mark was burning, and he had an erection. He looked at Black. 'And you think this is...?'

'I know this is. We spent all yesterday trying to destroy it. Nothing.'

'"We"?' Snape glowered. Surely the idiot dog knew not to involve the children in such a dangerous enterprise?

Black met his eyes steadily. 'Kreacher and I. I refused to let the children touch it.'

'Kreacher has forgiven you?'

'You'd better thank me for this, Snape.'

'What did you promise him?'

'My very heart's blood!'

'You offered him that muggle picture of the woman in her small clothes?'

'Tosser. No, I promised I'd give him a Black to look after.'

Snape would have answered that, but he was laughing, and Black, that wanker, joined in. They were in terrible danger, trusting the word of a half deranged house elf, and so all they could, in the end, was laugh.

No one was laughing when Snape explained things to the others the next night, having visited Malfoy Manor on some pretext.

Lucius Malfoy lurched to his feet, looking ready to vomit. 'My God, the diary.'

'What diary, Malfoy?'

'He gave me His diary to hold. He said it was a powerful...a powerful...' He turned and swiftly walked for the lavatory. Narcissa looked very little better. She was shaking her head slowly.

Eugenia jiggled Edric. 'Then what's the plan?'

'We research, and we observe. This can be countered.'

'How?' Rabastan Lestrange raked a hand through his hair as he spoke.

'That remains to be seen.'

'We've come this far, Severus. If the children could do all that, we can do this.'

'It will be hard, Rabastan. It will be dangerous.' Snape found himself, obscurely, disturbingly, wanting to warn the girl, wanting her safe in Bulgaria, wanting her out of danger.

All of them, really, but the girl most of all. She was Lily, and she was the child he'd never father, and she was just the girl, who saw the good in him along with the bad and who trusted him-who liked him-despite himself.

Snape sat down in his spot next to the dog. How had he, Severus Snape, come to be here? He was part of these people. He was part of a family.

And he would do anything to protect them, he knew deep in his secret heart. Anything. And in the coming months, he did a good many things he had never thought possible in service to that, because he would not fail them, if he had to wade through an ocean of blood in order to keep them safe.

Other changes, too, some of them vast and some of them tiny. Draco found on his return to Durmstrang that the group of fighters he led had, with no effort, effected a coup. No one challenged them, and when they laid down the law, it stayed laid down.

Tamm, too, had had a change in status. Now the son of a high nobleman (and first cousin to the shocked and horrified Maripa), he was understood to be Malfoy's unofficial second. Only one person tried to pick on him-he found himself sprawled in the dirt, nose bleeding, and no fewer than thirty wands trained on his head. It never happened again.

Hermione and Alise bid goodbye to Yseult the night before term. The blonde had recovered a bit of her sparkle, but still seemed subdued. Her father was in talks with both the Bulgarians and the British. When it was announced that she would marry Wetherell Mcnair, no one was surprised, but a great many people were appalled. Snape could do nothing, but he promised the Vicereine that he would monitor the situation as best he could. And anyway, he had a few years to fix this, ideally.

As for the Vicereine and her assistant, it was decided by Olympe Maxime that their presence would be unsuitable for any number of reasons. They would finish their education by correspondence.

Alise's birthday was February fourth. She and Scabior were wed on the seventh, with her grandmother and the Krums in attendance, as it was held to be a bad idea for the two fiancés to be so much in proximity. It was only another year, anyhow.

The Lord Protector himself was Scabior's best man, and the Vicereine dressed the new Madam Scabior in the wedding costume her grandmother had made. They honeymooned in the rose valley, and Hermione had Yokov give Alise the same set of potions she was taking. It was...not so bad.

A month later, the bethrothal of Anu Tamm, natural son of Agon Pojani, and Yana Krum was announced. Being as the boy was now heir to a strategic stronghold and a goodly part of Tirana, the Krums protested less than one would expect. And he would be a good husband to Yana, they both felt, and what more could someone ask for a second child (a daughter, yet) of a second son?

Yana herself was philosophical. Draco and Tamm had come from Durmstrang for the weekend, and she approached Draco after dinner, still wearing her nice new dress and little circlet in her hair.

'*Drago, we need to talk.*'

'*All right, Yana.*'

'*You know, we can't get married now. I have to marry someone else.*' She clamoured into his lap and pressed her cheek to his, sighing deeply.

'*I do know that, Yana. I think Anu will be a very good husband to you.*'

'*He's only got one eye.*'

'*He's very kind, and very, very brave. He lost that eye saving my life, you know.*'


'*Why don't you ask him about it?*'

Anu, with his mother, was outside, sitting on a bench.



'You don't have to worry now. About having someone to help you, I mean. I've a fiancée now.'

'I didn't worry before. I always knew you were special Anu.'

'We both are. You and me. And Yana.'

Yana's little slippers slapped on the stones. She approached them fearlessly. '*Hello, Anu. Hello, Mother.*'

'*Hello, Yana.*'

'*You've just got one eye, Anu.*'


'*Did you save Drago?*'

'*Paavo did. I was lucky, was all.*'

She was still looking. '*Can I see it?*' She gestured to the missing eye, hidden behind the leather patch, which Anu oiled once a week like Headmaster had taught him. He knelt down and lifted it.

The flesh was smooth, the lid closed forever with a permanent sticking charm. Yana reached out and lightly touched it, and then, without self consciousness, went on tip toes and kissed the empty socket.

'*Is that better?*'

Anu blushed. '*Yes, much.*' And when they'd grown, and married, every day she would kiss his missing eye and ask. Decades after, she held off the ragged remains of Sepp's men as Anu dealt the final blow. They were lethal, and bold, and Europe would say of them that Krum had taught them his secrets, and call Yana the second Hermione, an amazon.

That was later. Now they were children, and he swung her up in his arms. Sose came and stood with them, and together they looked the stars. Of such moments, of such beginnings and endings, are the strange and invisible histories of our lives woven together, are the real stories of things made.