Severus Snape looked out over the dining room. There were very few students left. Many parents had appeared at the very mention of Dumbledore's passing, others had been persuaded to wait until after the funeral to take their children home.
What was left behind was a strange combination. Elizabeth, of course, Hermione, whose parents didn't know enough to be worried, assorted other Muggle-born students, Ron and Ginny Weasley who were avoiding the fray of their parents dealing with Bill and… almost all of the Slytherins.
It had taken two days for Draco Malfoy to be liberated from Azkaban. That most certainly meant that the Death Eaters had infiltrated the prison's administration. The fact that most of the Slytherins remained in their seats after he'd taken the Headmaster position led Severus to believe that the fact that he'd cast the killing curse on Dumbledore was well known in that community.
The fact that he hadn't been arrested led him to believe that Voldemort had also infiltrated the Ministry. The problem still remained as to why the Dark Lord was allowing him to be in power in Hogwarts at all. It was unlikely that killing Dumbledore had earned him any kind of trust among a group of people he'd betrayed over and over. In fact, they had obviously tried to kill him after Dumbledore's death.
Severus was unsure of what the game was, but in the meantime, he settled into a job that he'd never wanted. He'd never actually wanted to be a teacher, let alone the head of a school. The only advantage to tolerating an endless string of dunderheaded brats was the proximity it allowed him to his daughter. Merlin only knew what kind of trouble she would have gotten into at school with no supervision.
As if on cue to his thoughts, there was a screech from the Gryffindor table, and Elizabeth shoved Ron Weasley off his seat and onto the floor.
"Miss Evans!" Severus barked, rising from his chair. Usually, he would allow a prefect or even a Head of House handle a disturbance in the Great Hall, but there were few prefects left, and Minerva was elsewhere.
By the time he reached the Gryffindors, Elizabeth had Ron pinned to the ground with her foot and was preparing to pour her glass of pumpkin juice on his head. Severus snatched the goblet out of her hand and grabbed her by the scruff of her robes, pulling her off Ron. "My office, immediately," he ordered, releasing her and pointing toward the door.
"Go," Severus said firmly, as the younger wizard scrambled to his feet.
Elizabeth left the room, her shoes clicking angrily on the stone floor. Severus turned to Ron. "What is the meaning of this, Mr. Weasley?"
"It was just a joke, sir, I swear," Ron said, dusting off his robes and looking at Hermione for help.
"Ron put the nosebleed end of Nosebleed Nougats in everyone's sausage," Hermione explained, gesturing to Ginny, who was cleaning her robe and munching on the cure end of a Nosebleed Nougat.
"Usually she thinks it's funny," Ron defended. "And she didn't even eats hers yet."
"Detention with Mr. Filch tonight, Mr. Weasley. Finish your breakfast." Severus gestured sternly to the young man's seat and turned on his heel, striding out of the hall to his office.
Elizabeth was sitting behind his desk when he arrived. Severus crossed his arms and regarded her silently for a moment.
"So, you assault a young man in my Great Hall, then you have the nerve to sit in my chair?"
"Sorry," Elizabeth mumbled, kicking the edge of the desk. "I guess it was stupid."
"Quite," Severus agreed. "Especially sitting in my chair." He came around the desk and leaned against it, stilling her foot with his. "Would you like to explain why you violently overreacted to a childish prank? Mr. Weasley created those nonsense candies, did he not?"
Elizabeth shrugged. "Yeah, they're from the shop. I just… I saw the blood…" she unconsciously covered her stomach with one hand. "And Ron was laughing… I wanted to hurt him."
"I'm certain the pumpkin-juice bath would have shown your wrath," Severus said lightly, though he was relatively certain, in looking back, that Elizabeth had not been ready to pour the liquid on Ron. She'd been ready to club him with the bottom of the goblet.
"She needs to talk to someone," Remus said, stirring his tea.
"She didn't want to talk about it," Severus shook his head.
"Of course she doesn't want to talk to you," Remus said, fatigue making his patience for co-parenting short. "You know what she sees when she sees blood? You, lying in a pool of your own. Get it?"
Severus glared over his teacup. "You could be nicer to me, you know."
"I could, but it's late, and you're doing that annoying thing where you pretend not to know the answer to something in the hope that I'll tell you to do something else."
"Talk to her, then."
"I'm not a Mind Healer," Remus sighed. "But if you want I can take her home with me tonight."
"I'd appreciate it if you would. I have to be here at least another week, and there's no reason to be here, since there are no exams."
"You cancelled exams? Are you under the Imperious curse?"
"There aren't enough students left to make it worth our while," Severus said dryly. "Although students wishing to transfer to other schools for next year might have trouble without exam scores."
"Elizabeth said she told you that she wasn't coming back next year." Remus said carefully.
"She did," Severus said simply.
"And?" Remus raised an eyebrow expectantly.
"'And' nothing," Severus set his teacup in its saucer. "The first of September, she will be in school."
"And how do you imagine you are going to make that happen?" Remus tried to hide a smile. "Tie her up?"
"If necessary," Severus drummed his fingers on the arm of his chair.
"She'll be of age," Remus reminded him.
"I'm devising a plan to stop that from happening," Severus grumbled.
Remus laughed. "We could go with her, you know."
"Where?" Severus snapped. "On a mission to god-knows-where looking for god-knows-what?" He shook his head. "No. If she thinks she'll have my support in this, she's wrong."
"Are we going to have a Triwizard Tournament thing again? Where you swear you'll never support her, she does what she wants anyway, because, if you remember, she is your daughter, and you end up coming to your senses after she has a near-death experience?"
"This is not the same at all," Severus glowered. "She knows this isn't a game. The whole Order could be mobilized, she doesn't need to go anywhere." Severus shook his head. "This is Elizabeth being Elizabeth. She thinks it's up to her to save the world."
"It very well may be," Remus ventured, not meeting Severus' intense glare. "But I don't think this is a teenage-rebellion issue. You know Elizabeth doesn't take this situation lightly. She may be recklessly willing to put her safety on the line for other people, but she's not doing it to annoy you. She's doing it because she got the martyr gene from both sides." He stood. "I'll take her home with me tonight and see what I can find out, but I have to tell you that our super-secret-alliance-against-Snape thing hasn't been working as well as it used to."
"Where are we going?" Elizabeth asked as Remus started walking away from the gates.
"Home," Remus said putting his arm around her shoulders.
"I know, but aren't we going to Apparate?"
"We're going on the train," Remus explained, walking down the path toward Hogsmeade.
"Why?" Elizabeth skipped a little to keep up with him. "It takes hours. And it doesn't run now anyway."
"We're testing it."
"The train does a test run a few days before school ends. We will be on that run."
"Just us? That's creepy. The train doesn't need anyone to be on it, does it?"
"Not necessarily, but it's best if we keep our magical footprint to a minimum. Plus," he squeezed her shoulders, "it will give us time to talk."
"Whatever you want to talk about," Remus said, guiding her toward the platform. "Maybe about your plans for next year."
"I have stuff to do, I told you."
"What kind of stuff?"
"Stuff," Elizabeth shrugged, following him on to the train.
"Do you have people helping you with this 'stuff'?" Remus watched her nod, then pressed on. "I'm assuming Ron, Hermione, and Mr. Doesn't Value His Life?"
"Don't call him that," Elizabeth rolled her eyes.
"What do you call a boy who sneaks into a girl's bedroom when her father knows 93 different ways to kill him?"
An awkward silence followed until Elizabeth managed, "Well, he definitely has one."
Elizabeth shook her head and chose a car to sit in. "It's fine. He does what he has to do. So do I."
"The difference is that you're sixteen," Remus sighed, sitting beside her. "And if you're going to go looking for pieces of Voldemort—
"Dad told you!" Elizabeth accused.
"Of course he did. I'd like to know why you didn't tell me. What made you think that you needed to do this alone?" He crossed his arms and regarded her disapprovingly. "I thought we had a bond, Sevling, and here you are, acting like you're alone."
Elizabeth bit her lip. Somehow, disapproval from her beloved godfather was worse than disappointing anyone else in her life. "Albus said not to tell anyone… and then he died, and we were attacked…"
"Hmm," Remus said softly. "And?"
"And I just didn't tell you," Elizabeth said quietly. "I told Dad, but it was right before the battle—
"And after you disappeared for 67 hours?"
Elizabeth looked at him, surprised. "You counted the hours?"
"Of course I did," Remus leaned forward, his forearms on his knees. "I counted them as I did everything in my power not to go after you."
"Why didn't you?"
Remus rubbed on hand over his face. "Your father told me not to. He's desperately trying to trust you… but you aren't making it easy."
"I couldn't tell him then, I was still sworn to secrecy—
"He demanded a Unbreakable—"
"No," Elizabeth assured him.
"Then you have no excuse," Remus said firmly. "However, since that situation is finished, we need to focus on the future. You have to start letting us in, because you and your father are heading down a path I don't like."
"What?" Elizabeth looked at him. "I told him about the Horcruxes eventually—
"I'm actually thinking of another trust issue," Remus sat back in his seat. "Severus mentioned that your cloak was missing."
"Oh my God!" Elizabeth rolled her eyes. "How long has he been stewing about that?"
"Well, I suppose I don't know. Did you take it?"
Remus sighed, "I won't even comment on that. Where is it?"
Elizabeth glared. "In his wardrobe, I'd imagine."
Remus shook his head. "He says it isn't there."
"Not on the shelf, but it's probably hanging up," Elizabeth crossed her arms.
"So you took it, and then hung it up?"
Elizabeth made a frustrated noise in the back of her throat. "On the night the Death Eaters attacked, Dad told me to go and get you. But the stupid child lock was on the floo in our quarters, and the connecting door hadn't been updated to go to Dad's new office, so I had to go out in the corridor to get to a floo that didn't have an idiotic baby lock on it. So I took the cloak so that I wouldn't be seen. When I got to Dad's office, I didn't want to keep it, because I didn't want to lose it, or have a Death Eater get it, so I threw it in the laundry basket."
"Severus has a laundry basket in his office?"
Elizabeth rolled her eyes. "He has laundry baskets everywhere. Potion spills, you know. Anyway, the baskets are enchanted to clean whatever you throw in them and put them in his wardrobe, except the one in my room, that goes to my wardrobe."
"But the magic baskets didn't know that he folds the cloak and puts it on the shelf—
"So it's probably hung over a hanger," Elizabeth finished. "If Dad wasn't a floo-nazi, I wouldn't have needed to take it."
"You manage to disappear just fine, so I don't blame him," Remus said, drawing his wand. He cast his patronus and spoke to the tiger. "Sev, check your hangers."
It had been a long time since Elizabeth had slept well. Really slept, instead of waking at every noise, or rising every hour to check on Severus, even after Madam Pomfrey declared him out of the woods.
However, leaning against Remus' shoulder, as the train rocked, she slept.
"Talk to me," Remus had said gently, opening his arms after Severus had sent his doe, letting them know that he'd found the Cloak, and that he'd hear the story when he came home.
Elizabeth put her head on his shoulder and let him fold his arms around her. "What do you want to talk about?"
"Anything," Remus said openly, leaning back. "You and I haven't talked in a long time. You used to tell me all kinds of things."
Elizabeth sighed. "Maybe if you didn't tell Dad everything."
"I do not," Remus said, insulted. "Only when you tell me things that could kill you, and that would part of our initial deal."
"Hmm," Elizabeth closed her eyes. "So you wouldn't tell him if I told you that Fred wants to buy us a house?"
"Fred wants to live with me?" Remus teased.
"A house for him and me, comedian," Elizabeth looked up at him. "The shop is doing well, and he wants to have a place that isn't upstairs."
"Oh yes, that is definitely something I will keep to myself," Remus grinned. "Unless we suddenly have a need for your father's blood pressure to rise." He looked down at her. "You don't sound as happy as a girl who is staring in her own romantic comedy right now."
Elizabeth sighed. "Romantic tragedy, I suppose. Watching Dad bleed out on the floor… I guess I always assumed I wasn't going to live through this. Voldemort hates me, and no one has ever escaped that kind of hate from him. But it didn't really occur to me that we might all be dead by the end of it." She turned so half of her face was hidden in his robes. "I don't like it."
"Is that why you were so upset with Ron?" Remus asked, risking her being upset with him for talking about her with Severus.
"Yeah," Elizabeth mumbled. "It's the blood, I thought I was going to have a heart attack." She played with the fabric closest to her hand. "And it's a different feeling every time. When I saw Dad, it was bad. Every dream and vision I have of other people is bad… but it's different. When I saw Ginny bleed…" she trailed off.
"You saw Fred," Remus said quietly.
Elizabeth nodded. "It was more pain than I've ever felt."
"You love him," Remus said seriously.
"I love you and Dad too."
Remus shook his head. "It's different. It's intense." He grinned. "And it's something else we won't mention to your father."
"Like you feel for Tonks?"
Remus cleared his throat. "Can you keep a secret?"
"Not so far," Elizabeth grinned. "Tell me."
"I'm really very fond of her."
Elizabeth rolled her eyes. "That's not a secret."
"Maybe not to you," Remus laughed, "but it's a bit difficult to say aloud."
"Are you going to marry her?"
"We shall see," Remus shifted slightly. "We shall see."
The next morning, Elizabeth wandered down the stairs to find Sirius lying on the sofa. He woke when he heard her enter the room, and sat up slowly. "Good morning, beautiful."
"Hey," Elizabeth sat on the footstool. "Why are you sleeping here?"
"Well, I was sleeping in your room," Sirius grinned, "but there is a lot of girly in that room, sweetheart."
"I meant why aren't you sleeping at home?" Elizabeth laughed.
"I'm homeless," Sirius said dramatically, throwing a hand to his forehead and leaning back on the sofa.
"Shut up," Elizabeth rolled her eyes.
"I'm perfectly serious, chickadee," Sirius sat back up. "You are the heir of the Black estate, remember?"
"But you're not dead," Elizabeth's forehead wrinkled.
"Well, kiwi, the magic jumped into effect a little too soon, and apparently, it doesn't go backward." Sirius grinned. "So it looks like you're my landlord."
"Can't I give it back?"
Sirius laughed, "I'd take the money and run if I were you, sugar-cake."
"Okay, what's with the weird nicknames?" Elizabeth narrowed her eyes.
"Nothing at all, buttercup," Sirius stood. "I'm in the mood for pancakes."
Elizabeth mock-groaned, "I suppose that means, 'Elizabeth, make pancakes'."
"First of all," Sirius said, in his best aristocrat impression, "I could cook just fine if I wanted to. Second, I believe the translation would be, 'Elizabeth, darling, light of my life, would you do me the extreme honor of gracing me with your wonderful pancakes?"
"Well, when you put it like that," Elizabeth said sarcastically, heading toward the kitchen. "But don't mention the estate to Dad, okay? I'll be of age in July, I'll transfer it back then."
"You'll do nothing of the sort," Sirius said, more seriously now. "I have no need for it, though I'd appreciate it if you'd change the wards so I could stop sleeping on your sofa."
"Okay, but you have to do the magic."
"Your father, probably."
Elizabeth shook her head. "It's not his."
"You're not of age," Sirius looked confused.
"Well, whatever crack legal authority you used forgot that," Elizabeth put the kettle on for tea. "There's no custodian. I've nearly spent all your money on butterbeer."
"Don't let your father hear you say that," Sirius summoned the Daily Prophet through the post slot.
"I don't talk about that money at all in front of Dad."
"Why?" Sirius sat at the kitchen table, watching her cook.
"Because he went mental when…well," Elizabeth smirked, "when you went mental."
"How nice," Sirius put a hand over his heart. "I'm feeling the love."
Elizabeth laughed, "He lost it when he found out about your will."
"Who did he think I was going to leave everything to?" Sirius asked. "I don't have any children. That I know about."
"Classy," Elizabeth rolled her eyes. "I think he thought you'd live until I was of age, is all. He thought I would take the money and run off."
"With Fred Weasley, no doubt," Sirius grinned. "I'm sorry. I should read the fine print on the parchment next time."
"Well, you owe me," Elizabeth said, flipping a pancake. "And Remus, and Grandma. Apparently, his crazy was far reaching."
"He wouldn't be Snape if he couldn't freak out," Sirius looked at the pan with interest. "Yum."
"Actually, I was wondering if we could go to the London house today."
"Well, we don't use it like that anymore, remember," Elizabeth said. "But I… left something there."
Sirius raised an eyebrow. "Could it have been your ability to lie?"
Elizabeth glared. "Are you calling me a liar?"
"I'm saying you'd better tell me the truth straight away," Sirius adopted the stern demeanor he usually reserved for their sparring practices.
Elizabeth sighed and put the pancakes on a plate and handed it across the counter to him. "Okay, how much do you remember about the night you… snapped out of it?"
"It's kind of foggy," Sirius admitted. "I remember you, and that photo album."
"Well, I wasn't supposed to be in your room," Elizabeth admitted. "I'd gone once before and Dad was hacked off about it. But I had to ask you a question, and I'd hoped you could answer it, even if you were off your nut."
"Did I?" Sirius asked. "Answer it, I mean."
"No," Elizabeth shook her head. "Stay here." She went upstairs and rummaged in her school bag, sprinted back down the stairs with the necklace clenched in her hand. She sat across from Sirius and gave him a surprised look. "Where did the pancakes go?"
"To a better place," Sirius grinned. "What's that?"
Elizabeth held it up. "Do you recognize this?"
Sirius squinted at the locket. "I don't think so."
"Oh," Elizabeth shoulders sagged a bit.
"But that doesn't mean anything," Sirius said quickly. "Don't notice jewelry, really."
"How about this?" Elizabeth opened the locket and pulled out the folded piece of parchment.
Sirius unfolded it and read the contents. "It's Reg's handwriting."
"Are you sure?"
Sirius nodded. "Yeah," he said softly. "Where did you get this?"
"I was trying to find the real Horcrux," Elizabeth explained. "But this was in its place."
Sirius was silent, looking at the note.
"I thought that if Regulus took it, maybe the real one was in the house."
There was no response from Sirius, who was still staring at the parchment.
"Sirius?" Elizabeth dipped her head a bit in an attempt to see his face, obscured by his dark hair.
"Do you think he suffered?" Sirius said softly, not taking his eyes of his brother's writing.
Sirius swallowed hard. "When they killed him?"
Elizabeth wasn't sure, for a moment, how to answer, and, in the pause, Sirius spoke again. "He developed an conscience too late… He was obviously not the double agent that Snape was."
Elizabeth looked at the locket, then, slowly, "There's no way he could have gotten it by himself."
Sirius looked up questioningly.
Elizabeth pressed on. "It was encased in some kind of awful potion you had to drink. The only reason Fred and I survived was because there were two of us. There's no way Regulus went there, drank the potion and made it out alive."
"Maybe that's where he died," Sirius rubbed a hand over his face.
"He still had to be with someone," Elizabeth insisted. "The Horcrux wasn't there. Someone took it. Maybe destroyed it. But I can't take that chance."
"Maybe he sent it somewhere."
"And risk it falling into the wrong hands?" Elizabeth shook her head.
"Maybe not," Sirius agreed. "But who would he have been with? What are the chances that he got another Death Eater to turn?"