Daphne couldn't hold back her pained sobbing anymore. She no longer saw Rabastan nor were the repeated mantras of devotion to the Dark Lord helping. She barely remembered who and where she was.
Her womb was torn apart and the small scaly creature that had finally made its way out writhed helplessly.
The pain receded slowly now that the creature was outside of her body. She opened her bloodshot, pained eyes and struggled to sit up.
Breathing heavily, she peered over her bloodied thighs, seeking her child.
Her jumbled mind wondered if the creature had completely taken over her child when the Dark Lord had fed her the potion so many months ago. After all, the Dark Lord did call the child the one who would signal the beginning of the end for their enemies.
She trembled when she saw the dark, scaly creature lying between her legs on the blood soaked sheets.
It was roughly shaped like an infant but she knew it was not her child. Her child had been scarified for this thing in front of her.
A surging wave of grief threatened to overwhelm her but she forced herself to put it away.
She had done the right thing.
She carefully turned the creature around, to look at it properly and the scream that broke loose was unearthly.
If there were demon children, this is what they would look like. She had known this was dark and frightening magic and that the child would not be human. She had been prepared for that.
What she hadn't ever imagined was that the inhuman child, with scaly skin and ropes of veins threaded around its body and the two small horns protruding from its temples, would have her face and Rabastan's eyes.
She screamed and screamed and screamed and the child began to echo her. Daphne fell back on the bed, lost to invading horror. The child continued to scream. And the castle awoke to the sound.
Julius advanced on her, a terrible expression of murderous intent on his face. She could hear a shrill screaming in the background that made her head pound. It took her a few seconds to realize to that it was erupting from her own throat.
Seven year old Rosalyn continued backing away from her twin, till she hit the wall behind her. Hot, unbridled panic gushed through her veins and her brain shut down and her throat was hoarse from screaming.
No one came to her aid. And if she had paid attention, the screams echoing around the castle would have made her realize that no one could, even if they wanted to.
"Jonathan!" she sobbed between her screams, instinct directing her to the older boy who had practically adopted Julius and her. Something was wrong with her brother and she didn't know what and why couldn't she stop screaming?
Julius reached out and wrapped his hands around her throat and her voice was cut off.
"Stop it, Rosie!" he shouted. His eyes were wild and oddly faraway.
She tried to tell him she couldn't but his hand tightened around her throat even more and when did he get this strong? Her air supply was cut off and her brother's grip was tight, too tight.
She scratched and kicked until she went blue and then her body stilled. He let go and she fell down limp, eyes still wide and devoid of light.
"Stop screaming..." he hissed, his face still murderous and his gaze far away. "Stop screaming, Rosie."
She would never scream again and but the screams around the castle made him turn away from his dead sister.
His senses still not his own, he began to make his way to the source and stop them too because oh how he hated screaming.
Ron was on his knees, gasping for breath as he fought the mad, irresistible urge to scream and scream and scream. The sense of terror and panic that possessed him was overwhelming and he grit his teeth and held it in.
His instincts which had his body coiled in stress for weeks were telling him to fight it, that it wasn't him because something was terribly wrong. He could feel it in his bones.
'Don't scream! Don't make a sound!'
And then, the same nagging voice that had been playing in head for weeks played out what he knew all along.
'Daphne Greengrass! She's behind this, whatever this is!'
He stuffed his clench fist into his mouth and bit hard. The pain kept him chained to reality and he staggered out of the office and began sprinting. He could hear screaming all around and fear threatened to overwhelm him again.
'No! No! No! Not now! Find the Greengrass bitch! This is her doing! Don't scream!'
On the fringes of the madness that had taken over Hogwarts, Ron rushed to the stairs to the basement. Two flights in, he stopped dead at the sight that greeted him.
Hannah Abbot had her wand out and Ron almost passed out in horror at the sight in front of him. Justin Finch-Fletchley was lying on the ground, twitching violently. A rancid fluid was spurting from his mouth and he gasped and muffled screams seemed to come from his mouth. Every time they did, Hannah would slash her wand again, her face wild with fury, and he would choke on his own vomit some more.
"Shut up, Justin! Just shut up!" Hannah snarled.
Ron bit down a howl of fear and whipped out his wand.
"Petrificous Totalus!" he rasped through his bleeding fist stuffed in his mouth. Her arms snapped to the side and she fell back. Ron rushed to her side and tugged her wand away. Her face was twisted in a frozen mask of hate. Shuddering, Ron turned to Justin and pulled him up to a sitting position, forcing his head forward. In seconds, he spat out all puke.
"Justin, mate, are you alright? What the hell is going on?" demanded Ron.
Justin looked up at him, his eyes wide and terrified and let out a blood curling scream. Ron immediately let go of him and attempted to pacify him but Justin kept screaming and backing away, his expression indicating he wasn't quite there.
Ron backed away faster and turned back to the stairs.
He had no idea what was going on but he suddenly realized that whatever was happening, it was making people insane and murderous. He ran back to the office, fumbling for the penny Leila had given him.
He grasped it tightly, trying to block out the screaming that he didn't realize was his own. He held out his wand and managed to gasp the incantation to activate the portkey between his screams. It momentarily glowed a bright blue before he vanished with it and it was just in time. His screams had drawn Anthony Goldstein down to the DADA office, filled with a murderous instinct, an incapacitating curse on his lips.
On finding the office empty and the screams gone, Antony paused, his head throbbing and angry whispers filling his head.
He heard them all over the castle
'Find them! Make them stop!'
And he set off, this time with every intention of putting out the noise himself.
Leila didn't dare glance their way again, but her initial cursory look was sufficient to inform her that only some of the Order members were here.
"You should have warned me that you had the Order here tonight. As usual, you've gotten me into trouble. Great time you've picked to be conciliatory." she said in a low, biting tone to Scrimgeour.
He snorted quietly. "Conciliatory? Hardly. I did not request their presence, Potter. The Order members who are here are those who have a high standing in the wizarding community and were invited by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. They are here for the same reason we are - to gather support for the Order."
Leila tried to quell the rush of anger. "You knew they'd be here. You got me here to prove a point, by making it look like I'm on your side."
"Don't be so dramatic. I merely requested your aide. It's not as if they asked you and I made you choose me instead." said Scrimgeour calmly.
Leila bit her tongue. It was simultaneously a jab at her own dismay that the Order locked her out, even if it was to protect her while at the same time, absolving himself of his role in pitting her against them. Whether or not she had a role to play in the Order and Ministry's ongoing spat, now the public perception would be that she had taken sides.
'A dangerous game.' thought Leila glumly, remembering her mother's warning a few months ago. 'Turns out I'm not as smart as you thought I was, Mum.'
"Come now, Potter." chided Scrimgeour. "Smile. The only order members here are Dumbledore, Lord Black, the Longbottoms, Shacklebolt and your parents. They're your family or just as close. I'm sure you can explain it to them and they'll understand. They know I'm more than capable of roping you into this. You'll be off the hook."
'Hardly.' thought Leila with a sigh. She dared a glance her parents way and quickly looked away on catching her mother's face, her lips pursed with disapproval.
"Let's just get this over with." said Leila, forcing her face into a bland smile. "What do I have to do, chief?"
"Be polite, inquire about their work casually, talk about the weather..."
"Seriously? No thrusting sign-up sheets at them?"
"Kindly refrain from doing so."
"You want me to talk about the weather when people are being murdered?"
"Tonight, I'll be giving you a master class on how politics works."
"Swell. Best night ever." intoned Leila in a monotone.
"Smile a bit more. And follow my cues."
"Say that only if we're really desperate."
"What? Ew! No! I didn't mean- that's disgusting! And inappropriate!"
"You better get used to it. An old room full of mad old geezers with power and stature. You're fair game, even if you are Leila Potter. You better learn to deal with it and ward it off diplomatically."
"I hate you and your sad little world."
"Yes well, not all of us have the luxury of being Boolean about the way we do things. I'm a former Auror too, Potter. I'd rather be out on the streets. But this is what I have to do now and all I ask is you put up with it for a night. You know we need international cooperation to sustain our battles. Our spy network is collapsing even as we speak..."
"Alright, alright. Stop with the guilt trip. A deal's a deal. I'll play nice."
"Thank you. And stay close by. You can be sure Voldemort's supporters are here as well and they'll be playing politics as well. They won't try anything in front of so many important foreign delegates or when security is so high, but I'd feel better if you didn't leave my side. Is that clear?"
A hush fell on the entire dinner party when Scrimgeour and her entered the hall. After a moment of stunned silence, whispers and mutters broke out, all eyes on them.
"You'd think I'd be used to this by now..." she sighed softly.
Scrimgeour smiled slightly but otherwise didn't acknowledge her statement.
They swept through the halls, Scrimgeour in the lead and they began stopping at intervals to talk to various dignitaries. Leila's caginess at being paraded around was only made worse by the fact that everybody seemed to want to speak with her.
Over the next hour, Leila learned that politics wasn't as boring as she had made it out to be. Between her own perception and Scrimgeour's muttered whispers of information and salacious gossip, Leila found that people around her had suddenly taken on a whole new light, albeit often disturbing.
She started to recognize the real undertones that the frivolous conversation acted as a cover for and began to recognize a negotiation in progress. After speaking with a few other Prime Ministers and officials from other countries as well as others in the British ministry as well, Leila began to feel a substantial level of pity for Scrimgeour. While she had always been annoyed with his political leanings, she started to see that he too was quite rough around the edges in this circle. Leila realized he hadn't been merely paying lip service when he had said he's rather go back to being an Auror as well.
But his forthright, brisk manner seemed to be his winning feature and combined with a sense of diplomacy that Leila sorely lacked, he seemed to be making more headway than Leila expected him to. 'Or so I think. I don't have a clue what anyone really means to say...'
But it was still tedious and her face was starting to hurt from the fixed smile she had on. Her feet were starting to hurt as well and she wished she hadn't borrowed Lavender's golden stilettos. The things were torture to stand around in.
Shifting on her feet as gracefully as she could manage, she gently tried to wrest her hand away from the smooth, insistent grip of the Spanish Prime Minister, wondering if there was a way she could tell him that she was not interested in spearheading a Quidditch campaign to promote the Spanish league in the UK without letting her anger show at his order of priorities.
"But why?" he persisted, his grip firm on her hand, making it difficult for her to pull away without seeming rude. "I hear you're an excellent Quidditch player! Surely, Miss Potter, you would like to consider doing something aside from all this war business?" He let out a tinkering laugh.
Leila fumed internally. 'War business?'
The nonchalance with which the impending war was spoken about stunned and angered her, even if she understood by now that it would be dangerous for anybody to show outright interest or concern as nobody knew whose side anyone was on in the room.
"Indeed! A waste of talent, Miss Potter, if you don't mind me saying." agreed Warren Wiles, a former Puddlemere Chaser who had replaced Ludo Bagman as the Head of the Department of Magical Games and Sports. "What say you, Mr... er... my apologies, young man. May I ask what your name is?" he said with a quizzical expression to the young, well built Spaniard accompanying the Prime Minister.
Everybody in the group winced at Wiles's words and the young man looked annoyed. Warren Wiles's entire life had been Quidditch but the combining realities had done quite a number on him. Now, with a over a decade worth of stats and events from two very different realities jumbled in his head, he often forgot names and confused sporting events and players. But he was a capable administrator who managed to keep the Quiddictch League Games going even in the midst of all the chaos, just as he had in the other reality. It earned him the British sporting fraternity's respect and most players and coaches allowed the occasional confused observations or inability to identify people slide. 'And nobody wants to work for the Ministry anymore, so slim pickings...' mused Leila.
Being an ardent Quidditch fan, Leila knew exactly who he the young Spaniard was. Allowing herself a small fangirl moment, she held out her hand to him and said, "A pleasure, Mr Montoya."
Tiago Montoya was the Spanish National team's star beater. His affronted expression at Wiles's inability to recognize him melted away on being addressed by Leila Potter. He immediately engaged her in an enthusiastic conversation about Quidditch.
She flashed him a genuine smile and let herself be roped into the conversation, glad to be speaking about something that didn't make her feel out of her depth or nervous or angry. They were immediately joined by Ladislaw Zamojski, the Polish national team's chaser and Bastien Janvier, the French Keeper as well as Jonny Nuhaka, the Australian Keeper.
Scrimgeour noted her smile and their animated conversation and decided that she could use a break. He quietly excused himself and on catching the American Controller of Offensive Magic's eye, he headed in that direction to engage him in conversation. Leila was more than happy for the respite and turned her attention back to the four young men, completely unaware that most of the room had their eyes on her, either intrigued, fascinated, calculating, annoyed and in a few cases, hostile.
Her respite, however, was short lived. The minute Scrimgeour left her side, quite a few people began inching towards her, ready to capitalize on his absence, to catch her without his protecting and filtering presence.
Bastien was animatedly describing a game he played in Nigeria earlier that year when he stopped abruptly, his eyes on something over her shoulder. The other three players fell silent as well. Leila glanced over her shoulder and her eyes widened.
"Viktor?" she exclaimed, astonished.
Viktor Krum hadn't changed a bit from their last meeting well over a year ago.
"Hello Leila." he said in the same gruff voice, his Bulgarian accent thick as ever. And in his typical direct fashion, he said, "May I speak with you in private?"
"Of course." She smiled and gave Janvier, Nuhaka, Zamojski and Montoya a quick parting wave. All four of them looked rather put out but for some reason, stayed silent. Viktor held out his arm which she took and gratefully walked with him to the balcony that lined the entire enclosing, happy to have an excuse to walk. Her feet were throbbing from the pressure of standing on the thin, high heels.
They reached the balcony door and slipped out through it, away from the prying eyes, seemingly oblivious to the burning gazes at their back.
"How have you been?" she asked him quietly, looking up at his guarded face.
"Confused." he stated bluntly.
Leila didn't know quite how to respond to that. She was never really sure if it was inherently a part of Krum's nature to be so blunt or if it was his limited vocabulary in English that rendered him incapable of being more elaborate.
"The realities colliding?" she asked tentatively.
"Yes. I...I don't who I am any more."
"Huh. I have the same problem and I don't even have another life jammed into my brain. My sympathies."
Krum smiled a rare smile and he relaxed a bit. "It is good to see you. All is well, I trust?"
"As well as it can be, given the circumstances." she said, daring to step away from the polite script that she had stuck to all evening. She knew she ought to be a bit more cautious but she couldn't care. Even if she had no idea what Krum's political stand was, she longed to do away with the bullshit with him. She did sort of know him and it was a relief in the midst of strangers.
He nodded, his face inscrutable. He glanced in the direction of the Ballroom and said, "I am sorry to take you away from your friends."
"Hardly. We had just met. I didn't realize Quidditch and Politics were so deeply entwined."
Krum scowled. "Some people look for more than just the beauty of the game. Being famous... They want ... more. Power is the next step, yes?
She raised her eyebrows at him. He looked puzzled for a second before his expression flattened out. "I'm not one such player. I'm here with my father. He said I have no choice in the matter."
"He is an important man in the Bulagrian Ministry. Everyone in my family is."
"And you're here to learn how it's done?"
"Yes." His expression indicated he would've chosen to be anywhere but there.
Felling a surge of sympathy, she said, "I feel you. I got tricked into this. I'm counting minutes till I'm out of here."
Krum nodded and said, "You haven't changed. I thought..." he trailed off.
Leila stayed silent. She knew both of them were dangerously close to touching the very subject everyone was dancing around. Suddenly, with a flash of insight, she said, "Confused, you say? Your family... Your father isn't going to be thrilled that you are out here with me, is he?"
Krum's face darkened. "My family... they're different. I am.. was different. In the other world, I think like them. But now... Now..." he broke off, looking miserable. Leila waited, holding her breath. He looked her squarely in the eye and said, "I don't think it is right. I don't think my father or ... or the Dark Lord is right."
Leila exhaled slowly.
Krum continued, "We don't take sides, no. Grindelwald killed my grandfather and we promised... No more. But, but we still believe in ... I don't know what to believe. All wizarding families are superior, yes. But sometimes..." he broke off, looking torn.
Leila looked out into the night, stars invisible, a dark grey veil of clouds masking them.
"Igor was a friend. He is still a friend to my father." said Krum finally, looking at her in a very guarded fashion.
Leila let out a slow breath and said in a flat tone, "I'm sorry about Karakoff's incarceration."
"Not very sorry, I think. You caught him, yes?"
"It wasn't on my agenda. He went looking for me. It was his bad luck." said Leila, a bit coldly. She would never forget Russia.
Krum leaned closer to her and in an urgent voice, he said, "You must be careful. You have no friend in the Ministries of Eastern European countries. Igor Karakoff was an ally and-"
"And you all support Voldemort." finished Leila.
"Maybe, maybe not. We want no war. But support for you is not sure. Do you understand?"
Leila observed him and it dawned on her what he was trying to do.
"You're warning me... Why?"
"I don't want you in danger. You're... she thinks the world of you. It would hurt her if anything..." he broke off, looking uncomfortable and pained.
The laughter and strains of conversation from the hall reached their ears in the stifling silence.
"She's alright. Safe." Leila said finally.
"Who?" asked Krum, his expression carefully neutral.
"The reason for your inner conflict - Hermione."
Krum's shoulder's dropped. "Tell her she is in my heart. Now and forever."
"Show her yourself by doing the right thing." Leila said quietly.
Krum looked agonized. "I... I will try."
"Viktor?" called a commanding voice from the other side of the glass door they had walked through.
Krum straightened up just in time. A tall man, who looked like an older version of Viktor, came striding in. His gait was quick and powerful, in contrast to his son's awkward strides. The man threw Leila a sharp glance.
Leila returned his cool glance.
The man snapped at Viktor in Bulgarian and whatever he said made Viktor frown. But he made no protests. He nodded at Leila, his eyes desperately trying to convey something.
"Goodbye." he said softly.
"Bye. I will carry your words back to her."
His face sagged in relief and he gave her a small smile.
"You have one ally in my part of the world, Leila. Remember that."
Then he followed his father out, leaving her alone in the darkness. She sighed and leaned back, lost in thought.
"The balcony gives an illusion of privacy but it is as unsafe as the conversing in the presence of the men and women inside." said a quiet voice from her left, hidden in the shadows.
"Are you here to tell me off, Professor?" asked Leila tiredly, watching Dumbledore turn the corner and walk towards her. He chuckled and leaned on the railing by her side and stared out at the murky sky with her.
"No. I know you have no wish to be here. Scrimgeour played his cards well."
"No lectures, recriminations?" she asked in surprise.
"It would change nothing. And you're not the one to blame."
Then he looked at her carefully. "Is there anything you want to tell me?"
She straightened up and looked at him. His blue eyes seemed to see through her and his face was lined with concern.
She was transported back to her early years in Hogwarts, where the knowledge that Dumbledore could solve anything let her sleep peacefully. As she continued to stare at his gentle, concerned face, a lump formed in her throat. She wished she were in his office, sitting across the table from him, spilling her guts as he smiled in understanding.
"So, so much." she whispered, looking helpless.
The lines on Dumbledore's face deepened. "Why won't you allow yourself to be helped? You could change all of this..."
She shook her head frantically. "I can't risk going back on my words to Scrimgeour. If he pulls the plug, the children will have nowhere to go."
"How are the children?" he asked her and she saw genuine longing and worry in his eyes. Once a headmaster, always a headmaster. He missed Hogwarts just as much as she had.
"Fine... Or they were." she admitted. "Things aren't okay anymore."
Dumbledore's eyes narrowed for the briefest second. She almost missed the movement. Leila quickly interjected, "Professor Sprout, Flitwick and Snape as well as Madam Hooch will be with us from September. I think it'll make things better..."
Dumbledore nodded. "They all got in touch with me even before you reached out to them. They were concerned for you and the children. They were delighted when you finally asked them to return. You won't be alone anymore, Leila. They are all trustworthy people and come with good intentions and will protect Hogwarts with their life."
"Cheers to that." Leila said lightly, not wanting to talk about Hogwarts anymore. The nagging worry had been bothering her all evening and she didn't want Dumbledore to see how stressed she really was.
"Leila?" It was Scrimgeour. He had come looking for her and his eyes were narrowed to slits at the sight of Dumbledore and her together. "Your presence is required."
"Right! Back to work then." she said in a false cheery voice. She had caught the sight of the grim expression on Dumbledore's face and didn't think it was wise to let the Prime Minister and the former Headmaster be in such close proximity any longer than was necessary.
"Indeed." said Dumbledore. "A fine evening such as this must be made best use of."
There was no missing the chill in his voice.
"I'm glad you agree." said Scrimgeour, his voice equally chilly. He held out his hand to Leila. She quickly took it and let herself be guided to his side.
"So, Rufus, it has come to this. And to think you argued so ferociously with me a year ago, accusing me of shelving Leila's best interests in the face of my own needs." Dumbledore said, his expression and tone mild. But he seemed to radiate power and Leila instinctively knew he was not to be crossed.
"And I still stand by that." said Scrimgeour icily. "When the time is right, she will not be alone. But you don't like that, do you? You want her to be an image of you - always alone, pliable to bend to your wishes and do what you deem best."
"Is that your justification for using her?"
"What were your justifications for doing so all these years?"
Leila had been toying with the idea of interjecting and pointing out that she ought to have some say in all of this seeing as it was her they were talking about but she remained silent. Neither looked like they should be tested and something about their exchange left a bad taste in her mouth. She realized she didn't want to really know what either of them were talking about.
"Shall we?" she said quietly, breaking into the silence.
Scrimegour nodded at her and guided her out. Leila fixed her smile back on just as they re-entered the ballroom. Their entrance appeared to be a cue of some sort because the small orchestra that had been silent thus far, began playing.
"I hear you're quite a dancer. Will you do me the honour, Miss Potter?" Scrimgeour asked her formally.
Leila was more than happy to silently slip into the dance floor with him and not have to converse. She nodded her assent and he led her to the empty floor.
"Wait a minute!" she whispered in alarm. "Let it fill up first."
"Protocol dictates we open the floor."
Leila bit down a curse and instead inclined her head at him, her eyes fixed on his face to avoid looking at the people around them. She had been acutely aware of Sirius's presence in the room all evening and she had determinedly refused to pay heed to him or anyone in the Order, but the floor immediately brought back memories of the night they had kissed, dancing to a tune only they knew.
To her horror, she felt her eyes starting to tear up and she forced herself to blink away the sudden onset of moisture. She quickly caught Scrimgeour's hand and moved closer to him, placing one hand on his shoulder. They slowly moved in synchronization. Dancing was not Scrimgeour's finer talents and while he seemed to know how to do a basic waltz, he was stiff and it gave Leila the motivation to pay attention lest he accidentally step on her toes.
In a few seconds, the floor started filling up and Leila began to breathe easier.
"I hate this." muttered Scrimgeour grumpily.
"This is the only part of the evening I find bearable." she told him. "I like dancing."
"Good for you." he said sourly, moving back a bit to allow her to spin.
Leila wistfully thanked Blaise in her head as she visibly calmed down. She now chatted freely and the ball automatically became a little less tedious.
She managed to hold less terse conversations with men Scrimgeour deemed important and as she bowed to them at the end of every dance, she got the impression they seemed to think a little better of her now.
Her favourite dance partners turned out to be the Quidditch players Krum wrested her from earlier. Janvier and Zamojski were fantastic dancers but it was Nuhaka's company she enjoyed the most. The man couldn't dance and Leila spent most of their dance doubled over in laughter as he attempted to freestyle his way around the prim, stern couples around them.
"Ah well, I'll just have to fly you around to charm you instead." he said with a laugh, as he stumbled over the hem of his ornate cloak and fell onto her. He grinned cheekily, his mop of shaggy blonde hair falling over his sun kissed face. "You reckon we can get out for a bit?"
Leila grinned back, feeling strangely wistful. Nuhaka's carefree, flirtatious jesting made her wish she could indeed, get out for a bit and race him on her broom.
"I'm tied down here tonight." she said apologetically.
"Oh well. Another dance? I promise not to crush your toes."
She stuck out her feet and raised her eyebrows at him. "Are you kidding? You better pray I don't impale you with these things!"
He laughed gregariously and she moved back to her position in front of him. She felt a tap on her shoulder and turned to find Scrimgeour behind her.
Recognizing the cue, she gave Nuhaka an apologetic look and excused herself from him.
"What? Missed me already?" she said archly.
"Sadly, Potter, you make for more interesting company than the members of the Wizengamot. And also, as my date, I do have to be seen with you occasionally or it'll become obvious I'm pawning you off to various people to intercede on my behalf."
"You sure know how to make a girl feel special." she drawled, but smiling all the same. Scrimgeour really wasn't all that bad.
"Minister!" exclaimed a balding, chubby man who was dancing near them, stepping away from the tall woman he was with.
"Barnabas." said Scrimgeour stiffly. He started moving a bit to the left and Leila got the impression he wanted to put some distance between them and the man.
But the man paid no heed. "Just the man I want to see! I've been trying to get hold of you all evening but you've been scurrying around."
"My apologies. I have been rather busy." said Scrimgeour in the same stiff way.
"Of course!" The man had given up dancing altogether and stood by them. His partner looked displeased. Scrimgeour looked in her direction in a very pointed way. Barnabas said, "Ah, so sorry Agatha. Please my lady, allow me to make up for my rudeness by insisting the Minister himself dances with you. Go on, Minister."
Scrimgeour snarled under his breath but reluctantly let go of Leila.
"Leila, this is-" he began in a terse voice but the man cut him off, nudging Agatha towards Scrimgeour.
"Don't worry, Rufus old man. I can introduce myself."
With that, he swept Leila into his arms and started dancing, leading her purposefully away from Scrimgeour.
"My, my, my! Leila Potter in the flesh! I'm delighted to finally make your acquaintance, young lady!" he said brightly. His steps were energetic and while he kept a respectful distance between them, Leila couldn't shake the feeling the man was doing his best to get into her personal space.
"Likewise. But if you don't mind me asking, perhaps that introduction is in order?" she said easily, keeping up with him
He threw his head back and laughed. He paused mid step, bent low, drawing her hand to his lips. "Barnabas Cuffe, at your service, Miss Potter."
The name sounded familiar and Leila frowned slightly, trying to place it. Cuffe smiled wider and said, "The Editor-in-Chief of the Daily Prophet."
Her slight frown was replaced by a deep scowl and Leila almost pulled her hand away. But she forced herself to remember where she was and what she needed to do. She forced a smile back on and let herself be pulled back closer to him. "It is a pleasure to finally meet you, sir."
"Call me Barnabas, please! And yes, it is a pity we haven't met before. Unbelievable, considering your close relationship with the Prophet."
Her blood pounded thickly in her ears. "That's a nice way of referring to the year-long slander campaign your paper had going against me."
"Oh come now, Leila!" he said dismissively. "Slander? Surely not! Rita has always had a flair for the dramatic and our readers enjoyed it. Now hardly anyone remembers any of it! You are the Chosen One after all!"
Leila suddenly realized what he was doing. He was looking for another story, to confirm the rumors of her being the Chosen One.
"If you say so." she said breezily.
"So what does it mean to be Leila Potter these days?" he asked, his eyes gleaming. "So young and shouldering such responsibility, with your destiny spelled out for you... I'm sure it gets very lonely, with no one to talk to."
Leila made a noncommittal sound, eyes desperately scanning around the crowds, looking for an escape route. Experience with the media told her that whatever she said or did or didn't would be twisted and blown out of proportion.
"But of course, you have your friends. And family... Oh yes, family! How often does one's family return from the dead? It must be overwhelming!"
"Uh huh." said Leila blandly.
"Quite exciting, having James Potter take center stage again." he continued. "Your father was a notable Auror even in the other reality but the media there had been reduced to its skeletal form. rather boring, really. I'm sure he would have been a public darling if we had the resources to shine light on his work." He sighed dramatically. "A charming, talented man from a renowned family. Your grandfather Charlus was quite impressive as well! It must run in the family." He winked at her.
"Thanks." she said flatly.
He leaned forward and it took every inch of her self control to stare him down and not move away. "And your mother too! A muggleborn to rise to such prominence! A talented Healer and marriage to a man of James Potter's heritage certainly helped, no doubt..."
Leila felt cold as she caught on to what he was implying. "I think my mother's marriage to my father had little to do with her capability. She is, as you just said, a talented witch." she all but spat.
Cuffe smiled broadly. He had found a button to push and Leila cursed herself for taking the bait. "Certainly, certainly.." he said softly, his face intent. "James Potter is not known for his propensity to mingle with the traditional circles-"
"And unlike these traditional circles, he has no patience for the gossip columns of your paper. Tread carefully with my daughter, Barnabas. She now has someone who won't hesitate to press libel charges against your paper if you so much as print her name."
Both of them turned around to find James standing there, mirroring Leila's bland smile. He held out his hand and said, "Leila?"
Cuffe stepped back and gave him a ridiculously low bow. "By all means, James! Leila, I hope to speak with you some day! Do stay in touch!"
"Yeah, right." she hissed under her breath, now safe within the folds of James's arms. "Great timing dad."
James looked down at her with a frown. "If you're going to play this game, play it properly although knowing you, I recommend you stay out of it."
"I'm not playing anything." she said crossly. "Does it look like I want to be here?"
James muttered something nasty about Scrimgeour under his breath.
"Shush! He's your boss. Someone'll hear you." Leila told him.
"Its nothing I haven't already said to his face." James said shortly. He sighed and rested his chin on top of her head, swaying slowly, not bothering to really dance. "Why can't you tell him to sod off?"
"I didn't see it coming." she said.
"That's very comforting." said James sourly.
"Where's mum?" asked Leila, looking around in discomfort. "I don't think its safe for her to be alone among this blood obsessed lot."
"Sirius is with her. He wanted to rescue you from Cuffe but he's also being targeted ever since he took over the Black family titles so I asked him to wait by mum instead."
"Right." Her stomach did an uncomfortable back flip when James bought up Sirius.
"And speaking of safe, this is the least safe place for you. Everyone's a danger and even Malfoy is here."
"No. The smarmy piece of shit is still a favorite in the political circles. And what the fuck were you doing with Bojan Krum's son? The Bulgarians are on the fence and Krum is running a campaign back in Bulgaria to offer asylum to Death Eaters on the run."
"His son was a fellow Triwizard champion, remember? And Viktor is an acquaintance. We were just talking."
"Talk inside, in the vicinity of other people. Dumbledore shadowed you to make sure you're alright."
"Viktor is no danger."
"Your judgement of people is really starting to make me nervous."
"Can we not do this here?" she said tiredly, struggling to keep her voice hushed.
"Where else am I going to do it? I all but have to make an appointment to see you these days."
Leila looked up and for the first time, she allowed herself to look as troubled as she felt. "I'm so sorry..." she said mutely. "It's just..."
"Just what?" coaxed James gently, looking worried.
She looked up at him, fighting the same internal battle she had with Dumbledore.
"Things are.. difficult now." she said finally. "It'll settle down soon and... I'll be home a lot more often."
"Difficult how?" persisted James.
"Everyone's getting a bit edgy." she said tiredly.
James looked like he wanted to say something but Leila cut him off. "I know, you want to help. I wish you could. But you can't. So just be nice to me today. I'm tired and my feet are killing me." she pleaded.
His face softened and he held her tightly and sighed. They moved in a small circle, her eyes closed and face pressed onto his shoulder, his arms around her and she almost forgot where she was.
The song ended and he led her out of the floor and to the corner where Lily and Sirius stood. Leila's sense of comfort vanished immediately and for a wild moment, she considered running back to the dance floor, preferring nameless, faceless men's requests to dance to Sirius's cold gaze at the moment.
"Why are you wearing those death traps?" asked Lily, her lips twitching as she gestured to Leila's feet.
"Let's just call it a moment of weakness and leave it at that." said Leila, trying not grin herself.
Lily pointed her wand at Leila's feet and murmured something. Instantly, the pain vanished and her feet felt comfortable. Leila looked at her in surprise and Lily winked at her.
"Wow! What did you just do? And more importantly, I can't believe you let me suffer this long when you knew there was a magical solution." said Leila, giving Lily a reproachful look.
"Consider it payback for being an idiot." said Lily airily.
Leila was about to retort when she caught Scrimgeour's eye from across the room. He was dancing with an elderly woman who looked important and giving her a dangerous look over the woman's shoulder and looked pointedly to his left where Adel Malak, the Moroccan Defense Minister was standing, looking bored. Leila sighed and squared her shoulders. "Alright folks. I'm back on duty."
She started towards Malak when her path was obstructed by somebody. A blonde haired, contempt laden faced somebody.
Leila felt James, Lily and Sirius move behind her. Malfoy smiled wider. He held out his hand and said rather loudly, "A dance, Leila?"
The volume of his voice made everyone in the near vicinity look in their direction, rendering any open unpleasantness impossible. Leila could see Scrimgeour give her a warning look that translated to 'Don't make a scene.'
Leila bit the insides of her cheek and looked at Malfoy squarely in the eye. "Of course, Lucius."
She reached out to take his hand but it was caught midair. Sirius stepped up to her side, his smile doing nothing to cover the dangerous glint in his eye. "Actually Lucius, I've already claimed her for this one."
"It didn't look like it, Sirius." answered Malfoy pleasantly. Leila struggled to keep her face impassive through the mind boggling drama of first-name-calling-threatening-subtext-sentences.
Now everyone was openly staring and even those people who were too far away to hear, were starting to look. Neither Sirius nor Malfoy budged, the grip on her fingers firm.
"And I'm sure Leila doesn't mind. The outside world sees so little of her. I'm sure, Sirius, you will forgive my rudeness and consent to my hijacking your dance partner for a single song. Leila?" he turned to her, his light eyes narrowed in malice that only they could see.
Leila knew there was no way she could say no without the entire party thinking she was being difficult. Besides, the thought of Barnabas Cuffe watching and taking gleeful notes was enough incentive for her to play along and stop the stand off she could see brewing. She gently pulled her hand away from Sirius and caught Malfoy's extended one. "Of course. I'd be delighted."
She could hear Sirius snarl under his breath and make a move to catch her arm but Malfoy laughed loudly and winked at a small group of people nearby and said, "They don't like sharing, the Blacks. But my wife's one so I've mastered the art of cajoling them, although my brother-in-law is bound to disagree." he nodded towards Sirius, directing indulgent chuckles and smiles his way, throwing the spotlight at him.
"Why, Lord Black!" exclaimed a wizened old wizard, making his way to Sirius. "I knew your father. In fact-" Leila used the distraction to lead the blonde to the floor, desperate to get this over with. She saw from the corner of her eye that there was a shift in the energy in the room. A good number of the people knew exactly who Malfoy was and she could see the subtle movements around the floor as Order members and sympathizers moved into the floor as well to stay closer to them in case they needed to intervene.
The music started and Leila kept her gaze carefully fixed over his shoulder and mentally braced herself for some passive-aggressive threats and remarks. But Malfoy remained silent throughout and danced with her, his face pleasant. It was worse than if he had chosen to be dangerously leery because this, she had no idea how to handle. She saw Scrimgeour watching them as he nodded absently at something an elderly wizard said to him. Malfoy stepped back to allow her to turn and she caught Lily's eye. Her mother looked calm but Leila saw her hands twitch by her wand as she and James hovered nearby, dancing without any real heart in it. Back in Malfoy's grip, she angled herself slightly to give her mother a warning glance and Lily nodded slightly in acknowledgement.
Unable to take the silence anymore, Leila said, "Well, this is unexpected. Do what do I owe the pleasure of your civilized company?"
"The pleasure is all mine." he replied serenely and Leila involuntarily twitched. She was really starting to despise the mind games being played in this room.
"Come off it, Malfoy. Why the theatrics?"
"Now, now Potter. You're going to have to learn to be a bit more patient and subtle if you're going to be Scrimgeour's battle flag in these circles. People here are those of stature and don't respond well to bullish mannerisms that is typical of you."
"Fake smiles and whispered riddles aren't my modus operandi. So if you're here to wrong foot me, get it done with or it's a waste of your time as much as it is mine."
Malfoy suddenly altered his step, making her falter and almost trip over his foot but he caught her immediately and pulled her flush against him, his mouth almost at her ear. "Is that all it takes to wrong foot you? If I wanted to trip you up, it would take me a fraction of a second to do it."
Malfoy caught Sirius advancing on him and he let go of Leila and held her at arm's length, just as the song concluded. "But you, Potter, have a delightful habit of doing all my work for me."
"What the hell is that supposed to mean?"
Malfoy bowed and said, "Do keep a check on that temper, my dear. And I wish you a good evening. You do have a long, long night ahead of you, with those poor children under your care needing your constant presence."
He drifted off just as Sirius reached her side.
"Let's go." he said brusquely, catching her hand. "I've had enough of watching you prance around with fools and murderers."
But Leila stayed stock still, staring after Malfoy's retreating back. His words had pushed a panic button. There was no missing the malice when he spoke of the children at Hogwarts and while subtle political machinations weren't her thing, recognizing veiled threats certainly were.
"Leila!" Sirius hissed, as yet another song started and people began dancing around them.
She turned abruptly and started making her way to the door, absently dragging Sirius along as his hand was still locked around hers.
She got to the edge of the floor, distracted and jumpy.
"Are you done?" Sirius angrily. "Has the night been educational enough or do you have more foolishness lined up for-"
"Where's Scrimgeour?" she cut him off, her eyes scanning the crowds, growing progressively anxious as she looked for the tall, imposing silhouette of the Prime Minister.
"How the fuck would I know where your sugar daddy is?" snapped Sirius, letting go of her hand.
Leila blinked and looked at him, bemused, before her face morphed into an expression of contemptuous disregard. "Sugar daddy? Fuck you. I don't have the time for your bullshit right now."
Sirius loomed over her dangerously, "When do you ever?"
"Sirius, this would be a great moment for you to go back to ignoring me." said Leila, eyes still scanning the crowd.
Sirius spasmed slightly at her words but it shut him up.
"Potter? You alright?" demanded Scrimgeour coming up from behind.
Leila spun around and said, "I need to head back."
"Now? You can't-"
"I have to. Something Malfoy said..."
"He's pushing your buttons." said Scrimgeour irritably. "I told you-"
"It's not just him. I've been feeling off all day. I just know something isn't right."
Scrimgeopur scowled heavily. "You can't just go now because of some feeling. I still need you to meet-"
"I'm sure you'll find other opportunities to whore her in exchange for favours, Scrimgeour." snapped Sirius through gritted teeth. "Let her go if she wants to."
"Nobody asked you for your opinion, Black." snapped Scrimgeour.
"That's Lord Black to you." said Sirius darkly. "And I'm her legal guardian. You're already walking a thin line here, Minister."
Leila pulled away from both of them and started to the door, having had enough of this. Ron was alone and fear was starting to boil in her veins.
She ignored Scrimgeour and Sirius's calls and hurried down to the Ministry's entrance hall where she could activate the portkey back to Hogwarts when she ran into a very harassed Kingsley.
One look at his face made her stomach drop. "Hogwarts?" she whispered.
"Aberforth just alerted the Auror office." he answered. "I was just on my way up looking for you. We can't enter the grounds without you or Scrimgeour. The wards won't allow us."
Leila kicked off the heels, her heart slamming painfully against her chest and ran down, Kingsley sprinting after her, his wand out.
"Wait, we might need more people-" he called, running to keep up with her.
"Ask them to get to Hogsmeade. Tell Scrimgeour to come as well. He can get the other Aurors in."
They reached the fountain and Leila pulled out her silver penny and tapped her wand against it. It glowed bright blue. She held it out in her palm to Kingsley who touched it.
They appeared in the Great Hall and the sight that greeted them would haunt them both for the rest of their lives.
Blood droplets were scattered on the stone floor and the chairs were upturned. And lying on the ground, her limbs torn from her body, was Parvati Patil, her eyes blank in death.
Leila stood in utter shock as Kingsley leapt to the still body and checked for her pulse.
He looked up, aghast.
A scream tore down from the direction of the basement and immediately another reached their ears from the direction of the towers.
Leila's brain snapped back into action. "The common rooms!" she said urgently to Kingsley. Her brain was moving at an express speed now. She recalled that Kingsley was a former Ravenclaw.
"Head to the towers, you know where they are. I'm going towards the dungeons."
If Kingsley wanted to protest, she never heard it because a multitude of screams reached their ears from the towers. Kingsley turned without a word and ran up while she raced the other way.
Leila held out her wand and whispered, "Expecto Patronum."
The silver stag erupted from her wand and she whispered, "I'm going to the dungeons. Please be alive." Her silvery stag vanished in search of Ron and she continued all the way, by-passing the screams from the direction of the Hufflepuff Common Room. She knew where she had to go first. Her instinct, which she had ignored the last few months, now sounded loud in her ears.
She ran to the Slytherin Common Room where Daphne Greengrass would be, the beginnings of heart wrenching grief and guilt already forming at the edge of her conscience.
And her stomach boiled with fury and betrayal, the image of Parvati's torn body burned in her brain.
Ron and Snape were down the corridor from the DADA office a few minutes prior, their hands over their ears. Snape's occlumency was kicking in and he was already able to block out whatever effect the screams were having on him but he could see that Ron was struggling.
"Weasley, get out to Hogsmeade and alert the Aurors." he barked. Ron fled to the one eyed witch passage, more than glad to get away before he murdered or was murdered by his friends.
Snape made his way to the Slytherin Common Room, keeping tight control of his mental shield. He had barely discerned what Weasley had blabbed in his panic but Daphne Greengrass's name stood out.
But his path was waylaid by a group of angry, violent children with their wands out. Snape's felt a chill in his bones as he saw the empty expressions on their faces, their mouths either twisted in rage or opened in a scream. And their wands pointed at each other.
He watched in numb horror as the rage fueled ones hexed and cursed the fearful ones, their intent to kill shining through with unimaginable ferocity.
"Finite Incantatem!" he roared, the lights from their wand tips ceasing. They slowly turned to him, looked at him blankly. He held his wand tersely, waiting for them to attack, unwilling to hex children. They looked no older than twelve.
But they didn't attack him. Instead, they turned back to their fellow students who were screaming and raised their wands. Snape understood in a flash what was going on.
before they could cast a curse, he stunned them with expertise. He then turned to the covering screamers and gagged them magically. With one more sweep of his wand, he knocked them out as well.
His heart clenched as he turned and sped towards the Slytherin Common Room. He knew exactly what was going on and fearless, contemptuous Severus Snape was hit by genuine terror.
He stormed through the Slytherin Common Room's stone walled entrance and froze in his tracks. A little boy looked at him murderously, his bare hands forming fists. Next to him, lay a young girl of around the same age. Snape's sharp eyes caught the bruising around her throat. His own throat tight, he pointed his wand at the boy and whispered, "Dormiam."
The boy's eyes fluttered shut and he crumpled to the floor, asleep.
That was when he heard it. It was a low, keening sound, like a muffled scream. He felt it push against his shield. It was coming from the girls' dormitory.
'It looks like Weasley was spot on.'
Ron knew he probably shouldn't go back but after conveying his hysterical message to Aberforth, he found that he couldn't stay. He realized that however weak, his resistance to whatever was permeating the castle was unique and he knew, safe or not, he had to help. He rushed back to the castle, trying to force his mind to behave. He jumped out of the passageway and ran down, trying to focus on the screams. He ran up towards the Gryffindor tower, praying that they had somehow managed to escape the horror that was destroying all of them.
He ran into two different groups of younger children, both filled with the category that were murderous and out to get the screaming ones. He immediately bound them, grateful that Leila hadn't gotten around to really training anyone younger than fifteen as of yet. He continued to run up when a silvery stag appeared in front of him.
Hearing Leila's voice made his knees buckle in relief. He sagged against the wall gulping large breaths of air. Then he forced himself up, torn between the decision to either continue on to the Gryffindor Common Room or go down to help Leila. Then a split second decision to go to the Gryffindor tower sent him running down the passage to the left as he reached the fork that divided the route into the corridors that led Gryffindor and Ravenclaw Common Rooms respectively. His decision would save lives by means of his intervention in the Gryffindor Tower and it also saved his own life as a blank eyed, enraged Kingsley made his way up to his former Common Room, his mind victim to the screaming in his ear and his wand out to kill.
Snape thought he had seen it all, but he knew he shouldn't have tempted fate by ever thinking that. He held himself stiffly by the entrance to the dorm, his eyes squeezed shut tightly, partly to try and wipe away the image he had just seen and partly to steady his faltering mental shield.
He vaguely heard footsteps behind him and he struggled to turn around and defend himself. The sight of Leila Potter, her face pale and her eyes tight filled him with unusual fear.
"Potter, get out of here!" he snarled.
She pushed her way in and stopped, frozen by the sight in front of her. Daphne Greengrass was pushed back against the head rest of her bed, her eyes red and wide, her screams muffled by her hands. Between her legs, on the bloodied sheets, was a creature that writhed and emitted a low, grating sound that threatened to break through Leila's occlumency trained mind. She hissed and slammed back against the wall next to Snape and struggled to steady her shield.
"The Panarien curse." Snape chocked out.
"It's an ancient curse, derived from Magiks that were outlawed centuries ago." continued Snape, his eyes still shut, as he struggled to get the words out. "It was a war weapon used to cause destruction in the enemy's camps."
Leila grabbed his arm and they stumbled out of the room. "What the hell is it?"
"A pregnant woman is cursed so that her child would be infected by the dual traits of the gods Pan and Aries."
"Aries? The god of war?" whispered Leila, her still shut even as her mental shield reformed and patched up.
"And Pan was the God of Dionysus. When he screamed, he would cause chaos. That's why the term is called panic."
"This is not the time for a mythology lesson!" shouted Leila.
"I'm telling you all I know!" shouted back Snape. "I've only read about it during my study of advanced Dark Arts! This curse is deadly and has not been used in over a millenia! It's too dark!"
"It's combing the effects of Pan and Aries-?" asked Leila, her mind struggling to collate the data.
"It affects people with either panic or rage. It turns them into mind addled fearful hysterics or senseless killers!"
The enormity of what he was saying finally dawned on her. Parvati was murdered by one of the children. It wasn't a Death Eater. It was the children themselves, being driven to insanity, killing each other.
The revulsion and the horror forced her feet to turn and go back into the room, Snape right behind her. She pointed her wand at the demonic child but Snape caught her wrist and shook his head. "It's not working. I tried everything. It doesn't harm the thing. It only makes it scream some more."
'Thus making it worse.' thought Leila desperately. "So stun her!"
"I tried! Nothing is working on her either. The child and mother are equally protected!"
"How do we stop it?"
"I don't kno-" Snape stopped abruptly. The child's umbilical chord was still attached and it disappeared between Daphne's thighs, under her robes.
Leila followed his line of sight and understood instantly. If the mother died, so would the child and vice versa. It was the connection that was keeping them alive.
She held up her wand, ignoring Snape's sharp intake of breath. "Potter..."
But her mind was lost to reason. She stared at the pale, terrified girl and the hatred that filled her was infinite. This girl-nay, woman- had played her and had heartlessly used their kindness and killed young, innocent children in the worst, most dreadful manner possible. And Leila allowed the fury to cloud her senses. She wanted to hate, to be angry.
Snape caught her wrist again and looked at her with an inscrutable expression. She turned to look at him and he saw the hate in her eyes. It was a stark contrast to the lack of emotion in his own.
"Together, on the count of three." he said calmly. Her eyes widened and a shadow of a protest formed in her tongue but it died as the child let out another wail.
They blanched at the sound, their shields threatening to shatter. They looked at one another again, knowing that neither could afford to argue now.
"Avada Kedavra." they whispered together. In a flash of green, Daphne Greengrass was dead, struck by the light from Leila's wand. The child stilled and shuddered till it slumped in death as Snape's curse struck it.
They stared at each other, a girl with the last of her innocence dissipating into the still, dark silence and a man, who was a killer once more, now firmly bound by their choices and their destinies and guilt and retribution binding them together in mutual understanding till the very end.