A/N Thank you for all the wonderful reviews. Here's another taste. I hope you enjoy.
May 1, 1998
Miranda entered the house where she had been known as Miriam. It had a neglected air about it, and she shivered as she walked through the shadows of her former life. "Lumos," she said while holding her wand in front of her. Light illuminated the hallway as she walked toward the parlor. Reaching the fireplace, she muttered, "Incendio," and stood silently as the house warmed. It was such a small abode that the fire was able to light most of the house, all except the three small bedrooms, two off the parlor and the third off the kitchen.
Noticing the pot of floo powder, she decided no reason existed for her to wait any longer. She took a handful and stated firmly, "Hogwarts, Headmaster's Office," before placing her head into the fire. It was odd, placing one's head into a hearth. She mused that as a witch, she did not feel any sense of self-preservation, some instinct warning her that she would feel pain, that she might feel if she were a Muggle. Shrugging, she noted that she didn't feel anything other than a faint tickling sensation.
She scanned the office for any sign of her brother. "Sev?" she said, spotting him at his desk. His head jerked up, eyes widening in surprise. "Come to Spinner's End so we can talk." She stepped away from the fire, fully expecting Severus to join her. She was not disappointed.
As soon as he stepped out of the fireplace, he enveloped Miranda in a tight hug. "Miri," he muttered into her hair. Once the familial embrace ended, Miranda took inventory of her brother.
She hadn't seen him since Dumbledore had died nearly a year ago. He had told her what had happened, how he had reluctantly agreed to end Dumbledore's life in order to prevent the Malfoys' son from committing murder while also saving Dumbledore from a painful death due to a Horcrux curse he'd triggered when he donned the ring that housed the evil magic. Everyone saw Sev as a monster, when in fact he had been fulfilling a promise extracted by a man he revered.
He looked exhausted. Gaunt. Defeated.
Shaking his head, he sat in an overstuffed chair. "He believes Potter will come to him. I fear he is correct. The Golden Trio," Sev sneered, "are hunting Horcruxes. They will soon realize that they must return to Hogwarts to finish their quest. To face their destinies."
"You know where the other Horcruxes are?" Miranda gasped, wondering why he didn't destroy them himself.
"No," Severus sighed. "Well, not all of them. The Dark Lord has not revealed all of their locations, and I have neither the time nor the privacy to search for them since the Carrows trust me about as much as I trust them. Nonetheless, he has indicated many times the importance of Hogwarts during his formative years." He shrugged. "It is the only logical conclusion."
"You are toeing the line of death, Sev." Miranda whispered. "Why won't you leave? You can come with me tonight to New York. They won't be able to trace you."
"You know I cannot," he replied softly.
"Cannot or will not?" Miranda snarled, glaring at him.
"I made a promise," Severus began.
"To a dead man to help a dead woman's son!" Miranda interrupted heatedly.
"To protect Lily's son!" Severus replied, jumping up.
"At the expense of your life?" Miranda said. "She never loved you, would never have loved you. You watched her fall in love—"
"While they bullied you and patronized you—"
"She did nothing to help you. Never objected to what they said or what they did—"
"And if she were still alive—"
"I would still protect her son, even if that meant forfeiting my life, my happiness, my very soul!" thundered Severus.
They glared at each other, panting, emotion flushing their porcelain skin.
"She never asked you to do that, to sacrifice your happiness for hers," Miranda said softly.
"It doesn't matter. I do so willingly," Severus said sadly.
"That isn't love," Miranda said, scowling. He was going to get himself killed for someone who never reciprocated his emotions.
"And you know because you are such an expert," Severus said drolly, sarcasm dripping off each word like thick honey off a spoon.
Grimacing, Miranda sank into the sofa. "Oh, yes. Just ask my ex-husband. I am the ultimate authority when it comes to selfless love." She tilted her head and smirked.
The answering smirk reminded her of how well they understood each other. They sat in silence as their emotions settled down.
"Severus, how can I help you?" Miranda asked softly.
"You cannot, Miri. This is my battle, my onus. You must leave. If Voldemort finds out you are here, he will use you as leverage to control me, as would those who believe me to be their enemy."
"I don't want you to die," Miranda said.
Severus smiled sadly. "You are the only person in this world who feels that way."
Grimacing, Miranda thought about how alike they were. She doubted anyone would care if she died. Oh, sure, her children would miss her, but they wouldn't really understand what death meant. They were so young, so sheltered from the brutalities of war.
Out of the corner of her eye, Miranda noticed the fire in the hearth changing to a green color. A female face formed in the middle of the flames, and its maw opened.
"Severus, the Carrows are looking for you," the face said. "You have about five minutes before they reach the office."
Severus looked annoyed. "Thank you, Andrea. Come here for a moment," he directed as Miranda raised an eyebrow.
Under the impression that Severus allowed no one into their familial home, hovel that it was, Miranda watched with interest as a beautiful witch dressed in ebony robes entered the room. She wore her long brunette hair loose, and deep, soulful eyes latched onto Miranda immediately. Miranda's lips parted in surprise as the younger woman gasped.
"This is my sister, Miriam," Severus said.
"Miranda," Miranda and Andrea corrected him simultaneously.
As if they hadn't said a word, Severus continued. "Andrea has been my apprentice for the last two years."
"Why am I just hearing about her now?" Miranda demanded.
"No one knows. Due to her youthful appearance, most believe her to be just another annoying student. I have tried to protect you and her as much as possible by keeping her true role a secret." Severus paused before continuing. "She knows everything about me, our family, my role in the wars. I wanted someone to know the truth in case anything happened to me. I trust her implicitly."
Shocked, Miranda turned toward Andrea and studied her closely. Her dark brown eyes reflected wisdom and experience not usually seen in one so young. She looked to be in her late twenties. Now she wondered if perhaps her first impression was erroneous. Was she older? Their age? Had she attended Hogwarts?
Miranda admitted to herself that she was extremely curious. Severus was never one to trust others. Typically, he was a loner. What was it about Andrea that invited such a level of intimacy? Are they lovers? Miranda winced internally at the thought. And why should that bother me? She looked over at Severus and saw him shake his head subtly. She smirked, recognizing that he had guessed her thoughts.
"I must get back. How long are you staying?" Severus asked.
"A few days," Miranda answered distractedly, her eyes once more trained on Andrea, who returned her gaze just as intensely.
"I will contact you tomorrow as soon as I can get away," Severus said. Miranda blinked as he stepped in front of her, cutting off her view. "Good night, dear sister," he drawled.
Flicking her eyes upward, she noted with irritation the teasing look in his eyes. "Sleep well," she answered in a bored voice. His smirk just irritated her more.
"Good night," Andrea said, her hand touching Miranda's arm, branding her. Miranda barely managed a civil nod before she watched them leave through the floo system.
She had quite a bit to think about. Her brother was obviously in a precarious situation. And Andrea had hidden depths Miranda was determined to explore. For now, though, it would be best that she rest. Tomorrow promised to be quite interesting.