A/N: A longer chapter than usual, with my apologies for the delay. I've tried to give a bit more background about the characters in the text of the story - please refer to my "story notes" chapter if you're lost. Thank you!


Chapter 18: Captured

"Your eyes are healing well, Mr. Potter."

Harry fidgeted as Poppy carefully replaced the pad over his left eye, pressing it down gently. The brief glimmer of light, even as subdued as it was so early in the morning, had been tantalizingly hopeful.

"Do you think I can take the bandages off early?" he asked.

"No."

That was Severus. His voice came from the end of the bed, where he was standing, carefully watching Poppy's examination. "You have three more days – you've made it more than halfway through…hey! Catch that blasted thing and out it in the drawer, Harry!"

He'd brought Harry a snitch on Tuesday, and Harry had passed quite a few boring hours listening for it and plucking it out of the air when it got close enough for him to hear it and grab it.

Somehow, unbelievably, Harry had gotten to Thursday – four nights and four days gone by already since he collided with the post owl on the Quidditch pitch and ended up here at Shell Cottage with Severus, recuperating. The owl had managed to scratch his eyes with its talons, and they were insisting he keep them covered and closed for an entire week so they could heal.

Three days had passed since Severus had read him the letter the owl had been bringing him – the letter from Estelle Smith's apparently self-appointed caretaker, "LP," the letter that demanded that they – that Harry – send ten thousand galleons so that LP could care for Estelle. Auror Peace had asked Harry to respond to that letter, and Harry dictated a letter to him, and Peace had owled it on Tuesday, but as of the night before, they hadn't heard a word.

Ginny had come to visit Tuesday after school, and Severus – probably thrilled that Harry wasn't complaining for the first time in two days – had left them alone on the porch for two hours. She'd gotten him all caught up on what had happened at Hogwarts since his accident, and they swung together slowly on the hammock, shoulder to shoulder.

He told her about the letter Severus had read to him, and what they'd found out about Estelle's baby, and about how the man who she apparently was with now, had been betrothed to her sister Hazel, the girl who had died at Hogwarts when she was sixteen and whose body had been pushed out of the lake by the Giant Squid.

For the moment, he was just glad to be there with Ginny, relaxing and rocking in the hammock together as they had so often over the summer, when the grief over the losses – Remus, Tonks, Fred – was still so fresh and raw, and the ocean air felt so healing, calming.

"So she had Regulus Black's baby." Ginny was holding his hand now. He loved to hear her voice, soft and low near his ear, and wished he could see her as well. In the near-blackness of his imposed blindness, the loss of his sense of sight made him crave it all the more. "And she was just my age. Seventeen. I can't even imagine going through that – all that time pregnant, worrying about it, being scared, living with your parents' anger and disappointment, then after all of that - losing the baby."

"Yeah," said Harry. What else was there to say? He squeezed her hand.

"And then having to come back to Hogwarts and finish school like nothing happened," she added sadly.

"From what Professor Flitwick said, she hid the pregnancy. Her parents didn't find out about it until Easter break and there was a big row. I doubt anyone else knew except maybe her friends."

"Betrothal contracts are serious business," Ginny said with a frown. "Her parents would have been really angry to find out she was so serious with Regulus Black – even if she hadn't been pregnant. The family of the man she was betrothed to could have cancelled the contract – even made her family pay them something for their public humiliation."

She slipped her hand under the hem of Harry's t-shirt and ran it lightly over Harry's stomach. He groaned and turned on his side, facing her, then kissed her chin.

Ginny laughed.

"That was my chin, you know," she said.

"You're a tease and I'm blind," he said. He reached out with his left hand and managed to connect with her ear.

She pressed down on his chest until he was lying more or less flat and leaned in to kiss him properly.

"Severus will have my head if you move around too much," she said.

"He worries too much," said Harry, returning her kiss and running his hand through her hair.

"Get used to it," Ginny said. "At least in our family there are seven of us…" She trailed off and Harry tightened his arm around her and pulled her in closer.

"It's alright," he said. "There are seven of you, aren't there? It's just that they only have six to worry about now."

"I guess that's one way to look at it," said Ginny. She snuggled down next to him again and he led the conversation back to Estelle.

"So, let's say you were betrothed to someone when you were a baby – hmmm, let's say Malfoy…"

"Let's not say Malfoy," said Ginny. "Let's say Dean."

"It wouldn't be Dean," said Harry. "He's not a pure-blood."

"Michael Corner then," said Ginny, giggling.

"Malfoy," said Harry, poking her in the side.

"Fine. Malfoy. My parents could move into their servant's quarters and take a big step up in the world."

"Their servants are house elves," Harry pointed out.

Ginny gave an exaggerated sigh. "Your point?"

"Actually, we need to get you betrothed to someone older – someone not at Hogwarts the same time as you. Let's say Lucius Malfoy."

"Git," said Ginny, squeezing his hand. "Fine, Lucius. He's actually nicer looking than Draco anyway, not that Draco isn't…hey!"

Harry had tickled her this time and she grabbed his other hand and held it still.

"Fine," he said, in feigned resignation. "Right – so you're at Hogwarts, and you're promised to Lucius Malfoy. Can you date anyone else? Is he supposed to come to Hogwarts and be your date for the Yule Ball? Meet you on Hogsmeade weekends at Madam Puddifoots?"

"Oh, you can go to a dance with someone else," Ginny explained. "But there's an understanding that it will never be serious. Other boys will know that – they'll stay away from anything serious at all, knowing you're betrothed. And it's your responsibility to tell them, of course, though most would know. So it doesn't make sense that Regulus would have gotten anywhere close to Estelle. His family would have murdered him."

"Maybe he didn't know," suggested Harry. "Maybe she didn't tell him."

"How could she not?" said Ginny. "Everyone would know."

"But she and her sister were promised to boys that didn't go to Hogwarts – their families weren't even in the UK," said Harry. "And they were older, too. Isn't it possible that no one knew?"

"Hmmm." Ginny appeared to consider. "It is possible, actually. You're right. There wouldn't be that obvious connection. But still – what was she thinking?"

"Maybe that you sometimes can't help who you fall in love with," said Harry, squeezing Ginny's hand.

"Harry Potter – hopeless romantic," teased Ginny.

"Love is blind," Harry quipped.

He couldn't see Ginny roll her eyes, but he knew she did so.

/

Ron had come Wednesday. Severus had Harry settled on the sofa before he got there, and Harry's school books were stacked up on the table.

"I've reviewed your professors' class notes for the week and left Ronald instructions on what to cover with you," Severus told him. "Two hours – solid – and then I'll have Kreacher bring you supper. You can catch up with all the Hogwarts gossip then."

"I caught up yesterday," said Harry.

"In between all that snogging, I imagine," Severus said.

Ron had Flooed in just then, and had gamely picked up their Charms textbook and started right in. It was a very long – and boring – two hours, but they got through it and over dinner, with Harry's plate balanced on his stomach and food ending up all over his clothes, the sofa and the floor, they caught up on everything else. Ginny had already told Ron and Hermione the newest details of the case, and Ron added his own two knuts about purebloods and betrothal contracts.

When Ron left, it was with the promise that both he and Ginny would come after classes the next day.

But shortly after Poppy left on Thursday morning, just after Severus got Harry settled in the hammock on the porch, all hell broke loose.

It apparently started with an owl from LP, addressed to Harry. The Aurors had handily intercepted it, and, in a stroke of good fortune that hadn't been with them on this case so far, they were able to trace the return owl to the point where it disappeared inside the Fidelius-protected property.

Which, if the Aurors research could be trusted, was a country cottage owned by the family of Prudence Carson, Draco Malfoy's former nanny, the woman the Aurors already had in Ministry custody. It had been Prudence who delivered the warning note to Harry in Hogsmeade via the Ravenclaw girl Emerald Williams.

After they identified the owners of the property under Fidelius, the Aurors found the weak link within an hour.

They started with Honor Carson.

Honor was Prudence's younger sister, and had been one of Hilda Smith's good friends at Hogwarts. She had been interviewed by the Aurors after the Hogsmeade incident and had cooperated fully. They brought her back in.

It was evident immediately when they asked about the cottage that she was under Fidelius as well, and couldn't speak directly or voluntarily about it, but now that they knew of its existence, they were able to ask around it and get the information they needed.

By noon, they were inside the property.

With Prudence and Honor's father – the secret keeper.

He had been guaranteed his daughter Prudence's release in return for access to the property.

Reuben had come by at three o'clock to take Severus to the Ministry – they didn't give Harry all the details he wanted to know, only that they hadn't apprehended Leponte and that Estelle had been taken into custody. Severus waited for Ron and Ginny to arrive at three thirty before he Flooed out to meet Reuben.

"Are you sure that was Severus?" asked Ginny, walking on one side of Harry as she and Ron helped him to the porch and into the hammock. "He didn't give us any instructions."

"Or tell us not to do anything idiotic like take a swim in the ocean or shine bright lights in your eyes," added Ron. He'd nabbed a few biscuits as they went through the kitchen and chewed one thoughtfully as he looked out the windows at the breaking waves.

"They've got Estelle," said Harry. He'd been waiting for a break in the conversation to interject this small bit of news. "The Aurors – they found her this morning."

"What?" Ron whirled around to face him.

"Why didn't you tell us right away?" asked Ginny. "Is that where Severus was going? To the Ministry to press charges?"

"Press charges?" Harry repeated. He hadn't really given a lot of thought to why Severus was going.

"He won't have to press charges, Ginny," said Ron, giving her a look that told her to tread carefully. "Harry's an adult – they won't allow a statement from Severus to stand in for Harry."

"But he's the Headmaster," said Ginny, glancing first at Harry, who looked a trifle worried. "He'll represent all the students who were injured in Hogsmeade."

"Well, I guess I won't have to worry about cleaning out my vault and sending money to Leponte to take care of her," said Harry. He was clearly getting agitated. "You know, Severus is going to be gone for a while, I bet. Why don't we walk down to the ocean?"

"Oh, you're nutters, Harry," said Ron with a solid laugh. "We wouldn't take you outside if the cottage was on fire. Severus would expel us."

"After he killed us," added Ginny.

"Some friends you are," said Harry. "I'm either dying of boredom or burning up in a fire."

"Entertain him with some homework, Ron," suggested Ginny. She'd wiggled onto the hammock next to him and Harry looked decidedly less bored than he had. "How about Herbology? That chapter about acidic skin-eating fungi might perk us all up a bit."

"I wouldn't touch that mushroom with double dragon-hide gloves," said Ron, sorting through the books on the porch table. "It was purple. And slimy."

"And smoking," added Ginny, with a small shudder.

Ron began to read the chapter on the acidic skin-eating fungi aloud, much to the amusement of Harry and Ginny, since he read it in a fair imitation of Professor Sprout's voice. Harry couldn't swear that he actually retained anything from the reading, but it was entertaining, at least, and helped to pass the time while they waited for Severus to reappear.

Except that he didn't.

Harry was getting antsy by six o'clock. He'd asked Ginny for the time three times in twenty minutes. They'd abandoned studying at five, and Ron had found a bag of crisps and some old rhubarb and raspberry biscuits and passed them around .

At six thirty, Arthur Weasley, not Severus, appeared in the doorway that led from the kitchen to the porch.

Ron's voice faltered. He had been reading their Transfiguration review questions aloud, this time in Hagrid's voice. Ginny drew her arm out from beneath Harry's bum and shifted away from him quickly.

"Dad!" she exclaimed.

"Dad? What are you doing … ?"

"It's my Dad, Harry," said Ginny.

"Mr. Weasley? Where's Severus?"

Harry was struggling to get up and out of the hammock.

"What happened? Why are you here?" Ron was on his feet as his father approached.

Arthur Weasley held up his hand and smiled at his children, but addressed Harry.

"Severus is fine, Harry. There's just been a bit of a …" He faltered.

"A bit of a what?" Harry was sitting up now, head turned toward Arthur.

"A ruckus, I suppose. At the Ministry. Well, and at St. Mungo's too."

"Just tell us what happened, Dad," said Ginny, "before Harry tears out of here going after Severus."

"Oh, no reason to do that!" Arthur pulled a chair over and sat next to Ron. "Severus said that Harry will have told you about the break in the case." He looked at Ron and Ginny, who nodded unapologetically.

"Of course he told us," said Ginny.

Arthur shook his head, a small smile on his face. "Well, the Aurors took Estelle Smith to St. Mungo's. She was in pretty bad shape as I understand – roughed up quite a bit. She'd apparently been kept a prisoner for some time. The Aurors hadn't even had a chance to question her after she was treated before the hospital was crawling with reporters. Someone had tipped off the papers that there had been a major arrest in the Hogsmeade case, and that the woman arrested was Severus Snape's sister."

"But who would have done that?" asked Ron.

"Leponte," said Harry. He lifted his chin. "Right?"

"Apparently," said Arthur. "The evening Prophet ran a story already – they'll have plenty more by tomorrow."

"They'll probably run a special edition," said Ron.

"Does she know, then?" asked Harry. "Estelle , I mean. Does she know she's a Snape?"

"No one's told her yet, but they've asked Severus to break the news to her this evening."

"Severus?" Ginny, Harry and Ron all voiced the same surprised exclamation, more or less at the same time.

Arthur smiled. "I don't know all the details, but that seems to be the general plan. Someone has to tell her, and he seems the logical choice, I suppose." He stood. "Now, back to Hogwarts, Ginny. I'll Floo with you and have a word with Professor McGonagall, let her know Ron will be staying here with Harry."

"I could stay," volunteered Ginny, rather quickly. "Ron should get back. He'll want to check in on Hermione."

"Hermione will be fine. You can drop in on her when you get back and fill her in," said Arthur. "Ron can study here. Severus seems to trust him with Harry."

"And not me." Ginny's pout was entirely artificial.

"Of course not you. Though at least we'd be assured Harry wouldn't freeze to death if we left you with him." He looked pointedly at his daughter.

"When will Severus be back?" asked Ron, glancing at Harry worriedly. "Will he be back in time to put the drops in Harry's eyes?"

Arthur shook his head. "Possibly, but unlikely. He assures me that you are fully capable, and that Harry knows the dosage and the schedule."

Ginny kissed Harry goodbye, and Arthur followed her out through the Floo a few minutes later, leaving Harry and Ron alone in the cottage.

Ron made them sandwiches, and they ate on the porch, Harry with the plate balanced on his stomach, as always, and Ron lying back in one of the lounge chairs, pulled around to face Harry.

"This is weird," said Harry when they'd finished eating and Ron had just reached for their Defense Against the Dark Arts textbook. "He could have asked your dad to stay, or sent over Poppy. You know what this means, don't you?" He had his hands behind his head, on the pillow, and the hammock was swaying gently.

"I don't know – maybe he felt sorry for you – thought he'd give you a break for once," answered Ron. He opened the Defense Book and idly paged through to their current chapter. "Guess we should read Defense now," he said with a sigh.

Harry smiled. "See? He trusts you, Ron. Look at you – studying with me when there's no one here to check on us. Close the book. We don't need to read Defense. There's nothing in that book you don't already know."

He said it quietly, and his voice reflected both resignation and pride.

Ron stared at the book, then closed it.

"You know, you're right. Reckon we learned pretty much everything we needed to know about defensive magic last year."

"And then some," said Harry. He listened to the sounds of the cottage – the wind outside, the waves hitting the shore, the rustle of the grasses, the chirping insects. He wanted to say that being out here, on the porch, reminded him a bit of camping. But he didn't say it. Instead, he said something unexpected.

"So, are you in love with Hermione?"

He couldn't see Ron staring at him. There was no way for him to see the stunned look on his face.

"In love with her?" Ron managed.

"Yeah. That's what I asked," said Harry with a quiet smile. "Are you in love with Hermione?"

"Are you in love with my sister?"

Harry took it in stride. "I don't know. I like her – a lot. I like to be with her. I want to keep seeing her –see where it goes. I can definitely see myself with her in the future – and not just because she's a Weasley," he assured Ron, thinking about it as he spoke. "But because she's Ginny. She's great. She's definitely the smartest of all of you, and the prettiest…"

"Ha ha," said Ron. "I'd throw something at you but it wouldn't really be fair, seeing as you're blind and all."

"Well?" asked Harry, when Ron didn't volunteer anything else. "Hermione?"

"We're only eighteen," said Ron, sighing.

"You're eighteen. She's nineteen. I was born when my mum was twenty."

"My mum was nineteen when Bill was born," said Ron, smiling vaguely.

"So your parents knew they were in love when they were your age," said Harry.

"Well look at you and Ginny – why should we be any more serious than you two?"

Harry laughed. Ron stared at him. It was so hard to read Harry with his eyes covered. He'd never really realized how much of a conversation with someone was held with the eyes.

"What's so funny?" Ron asked, poking Harry in the leg with his foot.

"You are," answered Harry. He turned on his side, folding his pillow in half and resting his head on it. "Ginny and I – well, we have to get to know each other all over again. Yeah, I know. We've been back together since May….but this summer – this summer wasn't about us, was it?" He spoke quietly now. "It was about Fred, and Remus, and getting to know Teddy. It was about getting to know Severus again, really, about him getting better. And me and Ginny – we'd each missed so much of what the other went through. It takes time to work through all that." He paused, considering his words before he spoke again. "But you and Hermione…" He smiled wistfully. "You were together for all of it – well, for nearly all of it, anyway. You saw what each other went through, nearly every piece of it. I just can't imagine you wouldn't come out of that either hating each other or…or in love."

Ron was staring at Harry.

"I don't think mates are supposed to have these conversations," he said slowly.

Harry laughed.

"You wouldn't believe the shite that goes through my head all day when I have nothing to do but listen to the waves break on the sand."

"We'd better get those bandages off soon or you'll be wanting to talk about your feelings," quipped Ron.

They were quiet for a long, drawn-out moment. The hammock rocked gently and Harry sighed.

"Well? Are you?" he asked at last.

"Yeah," answered Ron, smiling at the ceiling. "I am. Totally." He grinned, and shook his head as if he himself couldn't believe what was happening to him. "We want to move in together next year, when we leave Hogwarts. Mum won't like it, but we're going to do it. Figured you might want to share with us, make Mum think we're all just flat mates."

"Your mum won't be fooled," said Harry. "But yeah, I might like that. If you two can put up with me, anyway."

"Put up with you?" Ron laughed. "It will be like old times. Except that we won't be moving to a new flat every day, or having to put up charms to keep Muggles away."

They sat quietly for a few minutes.

"I'd suggest a game of chess but I have a feeling I'd trounce you," said Ron.

At eight o'clock, Ron got the eye drops and some fresh gauze pads and managed to get two drops in each of Harry's eyes without too much fuss.

"Tell me the truth – how do they look?" asked Harry, frowning against the burning sting.

"Right one's not too bad – bloodshot. Just looks like you're tired, really."

"The right one doesn't hurt anymore," said Harry. "So what about the left?"

"I'm sure it will be fine. Madam Pomfrey told us you'd get full use of your eyes back," assured Ron.

"That bad?"

"Yeah," said Ron, grimacing. "It's swollen and goopy. The eye itself is still really red – not much white on it at all, really."

"I can see out of it," said Harry. "Poppy was here this morning. She didn't seem worried."

"It's fine," said Ron. "You've had worse."

"So've you," said Harry, remembering how much blood there had been when Ron had been splinched.

They talked a bit about Estelle Smith, and what could be keeping Severus so long, and Ron wondered what it would be like to meet the sister you didn't even know you had. And they both wondered why Severus was the one who had to tell her. They questioned how much of the information in the letters was true. Maybe she already knew she was a Snape. Maybe she wasn't really being held against her will. Maybe she really was the mastermind behind the crime in Hogsmeade, and Hermione's accident.

They fell asleep on the porch, Harry first, wondering if Severus would wake him when he came home. Ron drifted off soon afterward.

It was late- very late – when Severus roused him. He could hear snoring, and it took him a minute to remember that he was on the porch at Shell Cottage, and that the snoring was coming from Ron. Severus helped him stand, the led him upstairs. He used the loo, then settled gratefully into his bed.

"'What time is it?" he asked.

"Nearly one o'clock," answered Severus.

Harry pushed himself up on his elbows.

"One? Where've you been all this time?"

"At St. Mungo's," answered Severus, speaking quietly even though Harry was now fully awake. "Arthur told you that."

"He told us you were at St. Mungos' and you were going to talk to Estelle," said Harry. "He said the media was tipped off that Estelle is your sister. But you've been gone for hours – were you talking with her this whole time?"

Harry felt the bed dip as Severus sat down.

"Ronald administered the eye drops?" he asked.

"Yes – of course. Eight o'clock. We're down to just twice a day now, right?"

"Right. Harry heard rustling as Severus checked to be sure Ron had put the drops back on the bedside table.

"He said my left eye looks horrible," said Harry. He was annoyed that Severus wasn't answering his question about Estelle.

"It looks quite a bit better than it did four days ago," answered Severus calmly. "It is healing well."

"That's what I told him, too," said Harry with a sigh. "So…Estelle?" He was bunching pillows up behind him to get more comfortable in his semi-reclined position.

"Don't get too comfortable," said Severus. Harry could hear how tired he was. The pillow on his right shifted as Severus, despite his insinuation that they wouldn't be talking long, helped arrange it for him. "I met my sister – yes. She is not well, Harry. I still don't know what to think – what to believe. The Aurors, at this point, have enough evidence to charge her for what part she played in the Hogsmeade incident. But she has confessed to something else. She made the confession freely – she must feel a great deal of guilt over it."

There was a deep sigh in his voice.

Harry almost didn't want to know. But he thought he already did – or might.

"Not the baby…?" he said.

"The baby?" said Severus, surprised. He obviously had not been expecting that response. "No, not the baby," he assured Harry, laying his hand on Harry's arm. "Estelle confessed to brewing a potion– years and years ago. A potion that lowers inhibitions, makes a person unreasonably brave – fearless. Makes him disregard consequences." He paused, watching Harry, waiting for Harry to put it together. "It was a potion often used by Death Eaters before a raid," he added, almost apologetically. "We used to call it the suicide potion."

"Suicide? What do you mean?" Harry asked.

"It was virtual suicide to take it before a raid," explained Severus. "You'd be on the front line, directly in the line of fire. You felt invincible – but certainly were not. No fears – and no inhibitions." He paused. Harry could not see the troubled look on his face. "The potion wore off over time, after a great surge. You felt drained and inevitably fell asleep. You'd wake with virtually no memory of the time you were under the potion's effects, feeling like you had a horrible hangover."

Harry made the connection instantly.

"Her sister – the boyfriend. Alex Sanders. She gave the potion to him, didn't she? But why? Why would she do that?"

"She claims to made the potion at Leponte's request – and delivered it to him."

"And he gave it to Alex Sanders…or made sure he got it. He knew Hilda was seeing him. He must have."

"Estella claims that Hilda was desperately trying to break the betrothal agreement," Severus said. "Their parents were having none of it, however."

"So he has his sister-in-law brew a potion for him," mused Harry. "Her husband – Leponte's brother – must have been in Azkaban already then. He somehow got the potion to Sanders and got him to take it. But what did he think would happen? Did he think Alex would kill himself and that Hllda would forget about him?"

"I suppose he hoped he'd humiliate himself," said Severus. "We can't really know – Estelle claims that she had no idea why he wanted the potion, but she made it for him nonetheless. But under that potion's effects, Alex Sanders could have – most certainly would have – done something that would have gotten him killed or expelled."

"But he didn't die," Harry said. "Hilda did."

"With that potion working in him, going for a swim in the lake might have sounded like a perfectly fine idea," said Severus. "Perhaps wrestling with the Giant Squid, or challenging one of the Merpeople. One of the potion's physiological effects is a huge surge of testosterone and adrenaline. But the real beauty of it, from Leponte's perspective anyway, is that the after-effects mirror an intense hang-over. Leponte would have had to have mixed the potion into alcohol – perhaps Firewhisky, or mead."

"But if it was in a bottle of Firewhisky, Sanders could have shared it with all his mates. It could have ended up with all the Gryffindors in his dorm thinking they could fly and jumping off Gryffindor Tower."

"It could have ended even worse than it did," admitted Severus. "From the evidence we have, the final result was that Hilda Smith died that night and Alex Sanders survived with little or no memory of what had happened. And from that point on, Leponte was able to control Estelle – by constantly reminding her what part she had played in her sister's death. That she had brewed the potion that had made Alex take her into that lake."

"I don't understand," Harry said. He drew his knees up under his chin and wrapped his arms around them. "I mean – I can understand how she blames herself. But brewing the potion wasn't a crime, was it? What did he have against her, really?"

"Guilt," said Severus. "Blackmail. She wasn't worried about being arrested for her part in her sister's death. But she didn't want her parents to know. They were devastated – as she was – when Hilda died. Knowing that their other daughter had had any part in that death, no matter how small, would have broken her parents all the more."

"How do you know all this?" asked Harry. "I thought Estelle hated you. Did she tell you all of this herself?

Severus laughed. The sound was rather raw, and hoarse, and Harry reached out and fumbled for his arm.

"What? What aren't you telling me, Severus?"

"Estelle wasn't only willing to speak with me, Harry. She demanded to. I don't for one minute doubt that she was used and ill-treated by Leponte, but she's not weak, and she's not entirely innocent in this whole affair." He shifted on the bed again.

Harry couldn't stand it any longer. He reached up and pushed up the wrap that held his bandages in place and carefully began to remove the eye pad from his right eye.

"Harry! What are you doing?" Severus reached for his hand, but Harry yanked it away.

"Leave it," he said. "I need to see your face – just for a minute." His voice was heavy with emotion. "Please, Dad."

When Severus didn't grab his hands again, Harry carefully opened his right eye. He blinked several times in the dim moonlight.

"Lumos," he whispered.

His wand, sitting on the chest of drawers across the room, glowed with a warm light. Harry looked up at Severus' face. Severus was eyeing him speculatively. His face was worn and drawn, and he had scratches across his left cheek.

"You look awful," said Harry, blinking some more. He stared at the scratches on Severus' face, beginning to understand. "Tell me what happened. Were you the one who told Estelle that she's your sister?"

Severus' mouth stretched into a thin line.

"I didn't have to tell her. Turns out she's known for quite some time."

"She knew?" asked Harry. Everything he thought he had known, that they'd deduced, suddenly made less sense.

"She knew," said Severus. "It's very complicated, Harry, and it's very late. We'll continue this in the morning."

"You can't just stop there!" protested Harry.

"I can. And I must. I'm tired, and there's quite a bit on my mind. Get some sleep – we'll have to get Ron up early to get back to Hogwarts."

There was something about the look on his face that gave Harry pause. He wanted to protest more, but he didn't. He simply nodded and watched as Severus left the room.

It occurred to him only when he woke up hours later with his right eye gummed shut that he'd forgotten to put the bandage back on his eye.

But as he rubbed it carefully to loosen his eyelashes, he was even more troubled when he realized Severus hadn't said a thing about it when he'd left the room.

Something big was on Severus' mind. He seldom – never – put Harry and his health and welfare second to anything. But this thing with Estelle had rattled him.

Harry needed to use the loo. He was awake, and he could see, so he stood carefully and made his way to the corridor.

Just outside the door to the loo, he froze. He heard voices downstairs.

"She says she'll cooperate fully if he agrees."

Harry was fairly certain that was Reuben Peace's voice.

"I can't allow it," said Severus. "What does she have to say to him that she can't say to you?"

"No idea. But she's even agreed to Veritaserum without a preliminary ruling – if she can speak with Harry first."

Oh.

"Alone."

That was Severus.

"She did request that she see him alone," said Reuben. "When do the bandages come off his eyes?"

"Sunday morning," Severus replied. "Though his left eye is healing slowly – it may need another few days."

Ha. No surprises there, despite what Poppy had said. He pressed his right ear against the wall, continuing to listen. The voices rose up the stairwell so well in this cottage.

He wasn't sure what he thought about speaking with Estelle.

"Will you at least ask him? We could really push this thing forward with carte blanche to ask her anything under Veritaserum."

"No." Severus' voice was firm. Harry bristled, almost forgetting he was eavesdropping. But Severus was continuing.

"You ask him. It's your case. He's eighteen, Reuben. He can give his legal consent. I don't want his decision colored by my wishes."

"Thank you, Headmaster. Really. I'll come back after breakfast and speak with him. I need to pick up the Prophet. Should I bring your copy?"

Severus laughed harshly. "Most certainly. I need to start working on my libel suit."

"It may not be that bad."

They both laughed.

"You will have ears in the room, Reuben?" Severus asked, going back to the original topic. "She's…wounded. She may seem sincere enough, but there is something unstable about her. I don't trust her with him."

"Yet you're not interfering with his decision."

"He's made plenty of important decisions on his own," answered Severus. "And he's going to be out of Hogwarts in six months. I need to stop hovering over him."

"I've spent quite a bit of time with him, Severus," said Reuben. "And honestly, I don't think he minds."

Harry ducked quickly back into his room, arranging himself in bed even though he really, really had to use the loo.

It was strange hearing himself talked about like that.

Stranger to think about leaving Hogwarts in six months. Being on his own. Maybe sharing a flat with Ron and Hermione while he started Auror training.

But for now, he really needed to use the loo. He found the gauze pad for his eye and slipped it back on, sighing as the dim light faded to darkness, and called for Severus.

To be continued…