A/N: My apologies for the many typos and mistakes in chapter 15. Thanks to my friend badgerlady who gave it a thorough -post-publishing SPaG scrub. I'll post the corrected version this weekend. I tried to do better with this chapter but my eyes are so tired I can hardly keep them open. Bed time!
Chapter 16: The Demand
"Regulus Black was my friend." Severus sipped the drink Reuben had pressed into his hand a few minutes after he had revealed that Regulus Black was the father of Estelle Smith's baby. "I don't remember that he was seeing anymore special, though I admit that it was a bad year for friendships what with N.E.W.T.s study and..." He frowned and looked at Reuben. He still marveled that he could now speak so openly. "I joined the Death Eaters that year. I was … preoccupied."
Reuben fiddled with a framed picture on top of the bookshelves. "According to Flitwick, Smith's parents found out she was pregnant when she was home for half-term break. They hauled her back to school and had a confrontation with the Headmaster and the heads of Ravenclaw and Slytherin and demanded that the father be expelled. The boys' parents got involved, of course, and insisted on paternity tests. The girl was adamant that Black was the father. And the boy readily admitted the child was his."
"What was the family's objection to Regulus Black?" asked Severus, puzzled. "The Black family was one of the old families – wealthy and respected in pure-blood circles."
"The girl was already betrothed," answered Reuben. "Flitwick said she was supposed to marry that LePonte fellow – the man she eventually did marry. He's from an old French family – attended Beauxbatons, not Hogwarts."
Severus shook his head, remembering his old friend. "Well, it would be just like Regulus to go after what he absolutely could not have. He didn't think anything was impossible." He swirled his drink. "I imagine you've sent someone to St. Mungo's to find out what happened to the baby?"
Reuben straightened the picture frame and dropped into the seat across from the sofa. He took a biscuit off the plate he'd brought in with the drinks. "Parker's down there now."
"Do you suspect…?"
"No." Reuben shook his head. "You never know, and I've certainly been wrong before, but Flickwick recalled that the baby had a heart defect of some sort. Congenital. We'll confirm it, of course."
"I started working toward my Potions Mastery the summer after Hogwarts," Severus said. "I don't think I saw Regulus for another year – not until he left Hogwarts." He didn't tell Reuben that the next time he'd seen Regulus had been at Regulus' initiation, when he'd taken the mark. It was not a pleasant memory, despite it having occurred before he turned spy for Albus.
Reuben stood. "Are you going to tell Harry?"
Severus nodded. "Yes, I think he should know. It will explain quite a bit."
But he didn't tell Harry at midnight when he woke him to administer the eye drops.
Harry woke up readily enough, taking a moment or two to get his bearings in the unfamiliar room, in complete darkness.
"I need to apply the eye drops," Severus said quietly. He slid off the gauze holding the bandages to Harry's eyes and lifted the padding over the left one.
"Do not try to open your eye," he warned.
"How are you going to put drops in if it's closed?" Harry asked sleepily.
"I am going to gently lift the lid with my thumb, apply the drops then immediately reapply the padding," explained Severus. He brushed Harry's unruly hair back from his forehead. "This is likely going to hurt."
Harry tensed, gripping the sheets.
"Relax,Harry. I don't want to force the eye."
He waited until Harry relaxed marginally, then, with the drops in one hand, he pushed open Harry's eyelid and quickly administered the drops. He was thankful Harry couldn't see himself. The whites of his eyes were almost completely red, and his lids were swollen and bruised.
In the brief moment that Harry's eye was open, he protested the dim light, flinching and biting his lip to keep from crying out.
Severus quickly recovered it, glancing over at the single oil lamp burning on the bedside table. He had not thought the meager light would affect him so, but was glad for the proof that Harry could see. He repeated the same treatment in the right eye, then wrapped the gauze back around his head and secured it.
"What time is it?" asked Harry.
"Midnight," answered Severus. "Are you sleepy?"
"I feel like I've been sleeping all day," answered Harry. He shifted, trying to push himself up against the headboard.
"Not yet," Severus said, easing him back down again. "Are you thirsty?"
He brought Harry water, and helped him drink it, then settled down on the chair beside the bed.
"I brought a book up from downstairs. Would you like me to read aloud?"
Harry's face stretched into a tired smile. "As opposed to reading quietly to yourself?"
"Brat," said Severus, glad that Harry felt well enough to tease.
"You're not planning to read Hogwarts, a History, are you?" asked Harry.
"I should. It will lure you directly back to sleep. But no, I've brought something else. Albus loved tales of King Arthur. I am not about to start Le Morte d'Arthur so have picked up another of his favorites, The Once and Future King."
Harry nodded, smiling at the memory of Albus. "All right."
Severus opened the book. "Part One. The Sword in the Stone."
He read for nearly an hour before Harry's breathing evened out into sleep. And he read another chapter himself after that, then closed the book and placed it on the bedside table.
He stood and looked down at Harry for a long while, thinking that he was not at all the child he had been a mere two summers ago, when Albus had sent them here to Shell Cottage together. This Harry took up a lot more of the bed, because he didn't curl up onto himself. This Harry felt safe.
And he needed a shave.
Severus smiled and blew out the lamp.
Severus could not have been more astounded when Ron Weasley Flooed into his sitting room at eight o'clock on Monday morning.
Severus had had only five hours of sleep before Harry woke up at 5:45. He'd helped him to the loo and back into bed, then made him a very early breakfast and stayed with him while he ate, helping him when he lost track of what food was where. Harry was already frustrated. Severus knew it would be a very long week of forced rest for the young man.
He didn't feel too guilty – yet – about lacing Harry's pain potion with the sedative. He'd heal faster if he had real rest, and boredom would be the real enemy this week. By 6:30, Harry was sleeping again but Severus was, unfortunately, wide awake. He'd catch a nap later but for now would try to make headway in the latest stack of paperwork from Minerva.
He was on his third cup of tea when the Floo flared and Ron Weasley stepped out into the room, dressed in his Gryffindor school robes.
"Mr. Weasley." Severus pushed the papers to the side and stood. "I'm afraid Harry is sleeping. And I'd prefer that you schedule your visits in advance. Besides which…" he glanced at the mantel clock, "it is nearly time for your classes to begin."
"I found this," said Weasley, looking nervous as he held up a familiar-looking envelope. "I found it in my pocket this morning and Professor McGonagall sent me through to you."
"Where did you get that?" Severus was on his feet, holding his hand out for the letter. "Did you read it?"
"No." Weasley's hand was shaking. He sounded defensive. "I picked it off the ground on the pitch yesterday after Harry's accident. But Professor McGonagall sent me after you and I shoved it in my pocket and forgot it. I found it again this morning when I was getting dressed and went straight to Professor McGonagall and she told me to take it to you myself." He had handed the envelope to Severus and backed up toward the Floo. "How's Harry? His eyes are going to be all right, aren't they?"
"He's in a great deal of pain. I'm keeping him partially sedated." Severus was staring at the letter as he spoke. He looked over at Harry's best friend, realizing that he wasn't doing much to ease his real worry for his friend. "He'll be fine. His eyes will recover as long as he rests them this week. Why don't you arrange with Professor McGonagall to send someone over after classes for an hour or so to read Harry his homework? Starting tomorrow. It will be something he can look forward to."
The young man nodded. He looked relieved. "That'll be good. Ginny'll want to come. How many can come at once?"
"We will start with just one tomorrow," Severus replied. "You or your sister. I will consider having two visitors at once as the week goes on."
"All right." Ron turned toward the Floo then hesitated.
"Is there something else, Mr. Weasley?" asked Severus.
Ron turned back to face him. "That letter – it's different, isn't it? The handwriting, I mean."
Severus nodded, staring down at the letter. "Yes," he admitted. "The envelope is the same, but the handwriting is different."
"Different color of ink, too," said Ron. "What do you think it means?"
"I think it means the game has changed, Mr. Weasley," Severus replied, smiling wanly. "And that means the Aurors will be here when I open this letter."
"But it's Harry's letter…." He trailed off, cowed by the look on Severus' face. He blushed. "Sorry. Old habits," he muttered.
"Understood. You are accustomed to protecting Harry, to looking out for him. And I appreciate that." Severus held up a hand as Ron started to reach for the Floo powder. "Mr. Weasley-please."
Ron turned—again. He waited for Severus to speak.
"Thank you – for bringing the letter here, and for making it your business to look out for Harry. We are – all of us – in need of friends throughout our lives."
"I'm glad to have his back, sir." He straightened. "And to know he has mine, too."
He left then, in a swirl of ashes, and Severus fervently hoped that the business of looking out for Harry would get easier sometime soon.
By the time Reuben arrived, nearly two hours after Severus sent a note out with McKenzie asking him to Floo to Shell Cottage as soon as possible, Harry was awake, in pain and irritated.
Poppy wanted him flat on his back for forty-eight hours. That would coincide with Ginny Weasley arriving after classes tomorrow, but he doubted they'd make it that long. Harry had tried to talk him into letting him come downstairs to lie in the hammock. It was such a ridiculous idea all around – from the trip down the stairs to the motion of the hammock, that Severus said no without bothering to give an explanation.
The administration of the eye drops was as painful this second time around as it had been the first. This time, with the daylight filtering in the curtained windows, Severus had a better look at how the damage was healing. Reasonably well, he thought, given the extent of the injuries, and Harry blinked when he removed the padding, again indicating sensitivity to even the muted light.
He let out a breath he hadn't been aware he was holding.
After Severus refused Harry's request for a shower, despite agreeing with Harry that he could use one, he uncorked one of the special pain potions.
Harry took one sip then pushed it away.
"Look, I'd rather not be drugged out of my mind all day. I'll listen to the wireless, or revise in my head. I don't know – I'll meditate. Practice my Occlumency shielding."
Severus popped the cork back in the potion and placed it on the bedside table.
"That's actually a very good idea, Harry," he said. It was a wonderful idea. It would help Harry relax, reduce the pain and most importantly, keep him perfectly still.
"It will be easier with the water bed," suggested Harry.
"I won't risk dunking you. In a day or two, when we can get you down on the porch, I'll try to transfigure it."
"Fine," grumbled Harry, but it was a good natured grumble.
"I'll be back up in an hour to check on you. Do not get out of bed for any reason. Call for me if you need to use the loo. I'll make lunch then and we can spend an hour or two this afternoon reviewing where you are in each of your classes. Minerva was kind enough to send your books over last evening."
"I'd rather have the book you were reading last night," said Harry, but it was a weak and futile protest and he knew it.
"We'll continue that this evening, and again if you can't sleep through the night." He had every intention of making sure Harry had the potion at bedtime, however, even if he had to slip it into his pudding.
Severus stayed until he was reasonably sure Harry was tucked behind his shields, then made his way downstairs again. He had to devise some more activities to keep Harry busy – activities that did not require eyesight or walking. Perhaps he could have Harry work on one or two simple non-verbal spells until he could do them wandless as well? Opening and closing the bedroom window, perhaps?
He was still in the kitchen putting on the tea kettle when the Floo flared. Reuben came through a moment later.
"What's going on, Severus?"
Severus got out a mug for the Auror and set it on the tray.
"Minerva sent Ron Weasley by this morning. He picked up something from the Quidditch pitch just after Harry's accident yesterday – a letter."
"So the post owl had business on the field, then. I assume it's another letter from Smith?"
Severus shook his head. "I don't think so. Perhaps. Same envelope –but different handwriting. That's why I called you. I wanted you to be here when I opened it."
"Did you tell Harry yet?" Reuben asked as he followed Severus onto the porch and settled at the table.
"No. He's awake and already not too happy about not being able to get up. I tried the pain potion with the sedative but he took one sip then refused it – he's had plenty of pain potions in his life and could obviously tell it wasn't a standard one."
"He's got the makings of a good Auror, Severus."
Severus gazed past Reuben at the shoreline. "I know. He's tenacious, too. He never gives up without a fight."
"The letter, Severus?"
Severus pulled the pink envelope from his pocket and placed it carefully on the table between them. Reuben leaned over for a look.
"Different handwriting and a different quill," he said, glancing back up at Severus. "Didn't even try to pass it off as Estelle's writing. Blocky handwriting." He turned the envelope over. "You've checked it?"
"Thoroughly. But as benign as it seems, I would still suggest caution."
"I'm the Auror, remember?" teased Reuben. But he cast a protection spell on his hands nonetheless before he took the letter opener from Severus.
The parchment within the envelope matched all the other letters. Reuben laid it on the table and unfolded it. A second piece of parchment of a different color was folded inside. He set it aside. Severus didn't try to read it upside down. He watched the Auror's face instead. It stayed remarkably impassive, though his mouth tightened as he reached the end.
"Well then," he said carefully, looking up at Snape. "I'd say they've upped the ante."
Severus reached for the letter.
Dear Mr. Potter
He frowned. "Mr. Potter?"
Reuben Peace didn't comment, opening the other document instead, and Severus returned to the letter.
Dear Mr. Potter:
My friend 'Hilda' has taken great pains to communicate with you these last months, lauding you for the admirable job you did in disarming the Dark Lord…permanently. She has certainly been looking out for you – wanting the best possible life for the Savior of the Wizarding World, for the young man that she certainly looks at as a beloved nephew.
Yes, Mr. Potter. A nephew.
She does not know how close she is to the truth in that sentiment.
She does know, of course, that she was adopted as an infant, by parents who had long-tried to conceive and who found that not even magic could give them the child they desperately wanted. She believes her biological mother to be an unwed daughter of a Slytherin pureblood family, a family not wanting to sully the reputation of their daughter, who was undoubtedly betrothed, from birth, to a man of the family's choosing.
How surprised would she be, Mr. Potter, to learn that her mother was Eileen Prince Snape?
The knowledge would likely drive her insane – or even to suicide.
There is a reason she wants to save you from Severus Snape. She hates the Snapes – hates Eileen with a passion, in fact, for she has been told that Eileen Snape was the trollop that bedded her mother's father and then, later, along with her Muggle husband, attempted to blackmail him. The rift between her grandparents never healed. They died before 'Hilda' was old enough to remember them.
More's the pity. She even succeeded in being sorted into Ravenclaw to keep herself out of her rightful house at Hogwarts, all to avoid contact with Severus Snape.
Why Eileen Snape chose to give up her daughter is anyone's guess. Perhaps she feared bringing another child home to the hovel in which she lived. Perhaps her Muggle husband would not welcome a daughter. Perhaps the child was not his. Perhaps she feared having another child as pathetic and weak as the first. Perhaps she sold the child for galleons to put food on the table for her husband and son.
Or perhaps…perhaps…she feared bringing a daughter into the house with her lecherous husband.
But, Mr. Potter, the truth of the matter is that your correspondent is, in fact, Severus Snape's natural sister. She has had a hard and sad life, indeed, having lost everyone near and dear to her. In that vein, she lives vicariously through you, finding the lost possibility of family in you.
It would not be incorrect to say that her life is in my hands. She depends on me fully, but I can no longer care for her adequately with my limited means. I require assistance, Mr. Potter, and am sure you will do what is right to ensure your Aunt's continued health and well-being and will transfer the sum of 10,000 galleons directly from Gringott's to account 17778830, in their Swiss banking division. I assure you that this allowance will be used for your Aunt's needs. If the transfer is not made, I cannot say what will become of her. I am quite certain that a gift of this sort will not overly tax you, Mr. Potter, given your access to the sizable Black family fortune.
Please refer to the enclosed document for proof that Estelle Smith (you didn't really think Hilda was writing to you from beyond the Veil, did you?) was born Anastasia Snape.
I will look for the deposit by the Friday following the delivery of this letter. Return owls are not at all necessary.
Severus' hand was shaking as he reached out for the other document.
"The Adoption Certificate, I assume?" he said, his voice unnaturally calm.
"Yes. And it looks legitimate. Not that we had any question, of course."
They were both silent as Severus stared at it for a long while.
"What he says about my mother is untrue." Severus' voice caught slightly. He cleared his throat.
Reuben nodded. "Most of the letter is untrue, I'm sure."
"Who is this?" Severus let the certificate drop from his hands. It floated down to the table and slid across the surface. "He certainly has access to a good deal of information – the family's legal documents, at the very least. Didn't the father die recently? Could this be the solicitor in charge of the estate?"
"If there was an estate, why are they asking for ten thousand galleons?" asked Reuben. He picked up the letter again. "LP. Not much to go on."
"It means nothing to me," said Severus. "And this letter is not from a barrister – at least not a legitimate one. There is no letterhead, no seal, not even a real signature. A threat from a barrister would not be so…." He trailed off.
"Veiled?" finished Reuben.
"You do read it as a threat, do you not?" asked Severus. "He is threatening to harm Estelle if he does not receive this money?"
Reuben nodded. "I'd like to have one of our specialists read this, Headmaster."
"Of course." Severus scanned the letter again then pushed it across the table toward the Auror.
"We may be able to buy time, you know," Reuben said thoughtfully as he warmed up his tea. "You did see the Prophet article this morning?"
Severus rolled his eyes. "I did. The photographic reenactment of the accident using lookalikes was…unusual."
"It may work in our favor this time, though," Reuben answered. "Clearly, Harry can't get to Gringotts and authorize a transfer when he's confined to bed."
"Speaking of transfers, I assume there is no way to trace a Gringotts Swiss account?"
It was Reuben's turn to roll his eyes. "None. Trying to convince a Goblin that it's a matter of life and death is…futile. They play by their own rules, and their rules have everything to do with profit and nothing to do with the health and wellbeing of magical folk." He tapped his fingers on the table then shook his head. "Life and death – don't forget that the person that wrote this letter is responsible for Alex Sanders' death and likely for Hermione Granger's accident as well."
"Someone is going to extraordinary lengths – but to what end?" asked Severus. "Could it be as simple as extortion?"
"Money, power, lust, control, revenge…." Reuben ticked off the list on his fingers. "Our…." he trailed off and looked at the signature on the letter again. "Our LP could have…." Now he was staring at the letter. "LP…could this be Leponte?"
Severus frowned, his expression grim. "Leponte is dead. He isn't writing any letters."
"So is Hilda Smith," said Reuben. He got quickly to his feet, not trying to hide his excitement. He grabbed the letter. "I'll have one of our profilers analyze this, Severus. They'll have advice on how we handle the reply. And we'll dig into Leponte – see if he had family."
Severus stood to follow Reuben into the parlor. "Wouldn't Estelle's father have left a sizable estate to her? Ten thousand galleons is a considerable sum but would certainly not rival the estate of one of the old families."
Reuben stopped with his hand in the Floo powder jar. He turned, excited. "Another thing for my team to check out. We've been to that manor looking for her – it's not Malfoy Manor by any means but ten thousand galleons wouldn't buy a new chandelier for the ballroom."
"I recall you saying she's not been seen there since her father's funeral. Is it possible she can't get in?"
Reuben stared at Severus.
"Headmaster, you should have been an Auror."
Severus huffed. "I was too busy being a spy. And spies – good ones, anyway – think like Aurors. Why hasn't she been back to that estate? I suppose we all assumed she's in hiding. But if she's not the heir, she might be forced out. Even the house elves would refuse to serve her."
"Department of Records, then," said Reuben. "We can easily track inheritances." He grinned at Severus. "They're taxed, after all."
He turned again.
"Wait - what did you find out about the baby?"
The auror turned around. "It was like Flitwick remembered - the baby was born with a heart defect. They tried to repair it but the infant died during the procedure. He didn't respond well to the magic. It was too early to know, of course, but the child was likely a Squib."
Severus stared at him, then shook his head sadly. "Thank you, Reuben."
Reuben stepped into the Floo and whirled away.
Severus stared into the fireplace. He frowned.
He knew – he was absolutely certain now – that this was not a simple ploy to discredit or even harm him or Harry. It was more than that. Two different plots were at play, woven together just as his life and Harry's were woven together. Estelle hated his mother – and him by extension. She had legitimate reason to hate him as well, he knew. Her husband, a Death Eater, had been captured, tried, convicted, and sent to Azkaban where he had died. He, on the other hand, despite carrying the mark, had been cleared not once, but twice. And Harry. Estelle had lost a child who, had he lived, would be close to Harry in age. Who would have been heir to the Black estate. Just as Harry now was. Was she mentally sound? Had she, perhaps, come to think of Harry as her son?
And this man – this LP – he, too, was interested in Harry as heir to the Black estate. But while Estelle might see her son in Harry, LP saw galleons. Severus was sure he would not stop at ten thousand.
It was an intriguing puzzle, but a dangerous one.
Alex Sanders was dead. Harry and three of his friends had been injured.
Prudence Carson had been Imperiused – multiple times. She had insinuated that Estelle was not free to come and go as she pleased.
Estelle. His sister.
He had only a vague memory of her from Hogwarts. She had excelled at Potions, and he had half a memory of her in the Potions lab, dark head bent over a cauldron in the back of the lab while his N.E.W.T. study group met with Professor Slughorn. Try as he might to recall her face from memory, the only face he could dredge up was the one in the photos he had shown Harry.
Lies. All those lies about his mother. He couldn't fault Estelle, and imagined her adoptive mother had wanted to assure that her daughter's loyalties stayed with the Smith's and never strayed. What kind of parents had they been to her?
Had she had a better childhood than he had?
He closed his eyes. He had pleasant memories of his childhood, but most were sullied by the general unpleasantness of poverty, his father's hatred of magic, and his alcoholism. Most – but not all. For there was Lily, beautiful Lily, and the times his mother had taken him into the magical world, into Diagon Alley.
And of course, there was Hogwarts. He would never forget his first sight of the castle, sitting in that boat with Lily, the silhouette all lit up against a backdrop of shimmering stars.
Now that was a surprise.
He didn't think of Regulus often anymore. They had been friends at Hogwarts, and beyond, until he had gone to Albus, and Regulus had disappeared. Knowing that Estelle had been betrothed, promised to another, he had still pursued her. Had fathered her child. Had he loved her?
"Severus – I really need to use the loo."
He was jerked out of his musings by Harry's voice.
Harry's Patronus, fully corporeal, was in the parlor with him. He jumped to his feet and shook his head. He had told Harry to call him if he needed to use the loo. He smiled wryly.
But as he was climbing the stairs toward the bedroom, it occurred to him, suddenly, that Harry was flat on his back on his bed.
And his wand – his wand was on Severus' bedside table.