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Harry stared at Severus and Sirius, feeling a helpless sort of rage rising within him. He couldn't help but feel this was somehow his fault, but he couldn't have stood there and let Sirius hunt down the runespoor and kill it. It was wrong. Dudley had instigated the runespoor's attack by stealing its egg, and Sirius should have understood that. His eyes met those of his brother, who stood behind Sirius, looking equally troubled and fearful. Harry's jaw clenched. Neither of them wanted an open conflict between the two adult wizards.

Smidgen, we have to stop this, Harry sent desperately to the fae cat, who was upon Draco's shoulder. If we don't, something terrible could happen. But I also need to warn the runespoor, just in case. It's my fault Dudley stole the egg, I showed him the cave.

Smidgen replied, :You are right, Harry. If those two get to fighting, it shall not end well at all. Their animosity runs too deep.:

Draco, who could also hear Smidgen in his head, added, Yeah, even though I wouldn't really mind Dad kicking cousin Siri's arse, he could lose control. Draco knew how easy that would be for the volatile Potions Master. It had been easy for Harry and him to lose control when they started squabbling back over the summer, and they had only known each other three years and been more rivals than enemies. But how much worse was the bad blood between Sirius and Severus, who had nearly been killed by a werewolf by the Gryffindor? Then he had an idea. It was very suicidal, but it just might work. Harry, go and find the runespoor, you're the only one who can speak to it. I'll make sure things don't blow up here.

Smidgen relayed his thoughts to his brother without being asked.

Okay. Just . . .be careful. Harry said, then began to back away. When he had gone about three feet beyond his father, he turned and sprinted for the forest.

Draco wished fleetingly that he could follow. Then he refocused his attention upon his father and cousin.

Sirius had his wand drawn and pointed at Severus, his face a mask of determination. "Just remember, Snape, you asked for this."

Severus' lip curled in a sneer. "If that isn't just like you, Black, to blame your poor decisions on me. You brought this on yourself." His ebony wand was pointed unerringly at his old nemesis.

Draco had only moments in which to act. He knew if spells started flying there was a real chance one or both might become seriously injured. He couldn't risk it. Besides, both of them were acting like . . .like children, he thought disgustedly. He recalled a spell Lucius had once shown him. He cast it as quickly as he dared. "Aerius Solidarius!"

Funnels of air suddenly dropped down upon the two combatants and separated them from one another by making a shell of hardened air about their bodies. The shell encased both wizards so tightly they couldn't move, not even to use their wands.

"What the bloody hell . . .!" both men shouted.

Draco was amazed it had worked so well. He was simultaneously horrified that the spell had also managed to effect Severus as well as Sirius. Oh, Merlin help me! But I just hexed my own father. I am so dead!

"I can't move, Snape!" Sirius yelled.

"Nor can I," Severus replied, scowling. He had recognized the voice that had cast the spell though. "Draco, what the bloody blazes do you think you're doing? You dare to hex your own father?"

Draco gulped. As he had feared, Severus was livid. He could see the obsidian eyes flaring with temper and for one moment he trembled. But then he recalled that Severus was no Lucius, and any punishment Snape meted out would never be as bad as what he had suffered under his Death Eater sire. And he had not done this arbitrarily, but to stop a quarrel that might have grown out of hand. Gathering his courage, of which he had plenty, despite being as Slytherin as they came, he spoke.

"Sorry, Dad. I didn't mean to catch you, but now I'm glad I did."

"You what?"

Sirius whistled and thought, Kid's got balls, to admit that. And he's Slytherin!

"I can explain, sir." Draco said, then went on, his indecision vanishing with the conviction that welled within him. "But you kind of brought it on yourselves. I mean, you started this whole thing, Sirius, by not listening to reason, and Dad, you were going to finish it with violence, something you've told me and Harry a thousand times to never do. So I froze you both. I figured better I end up dead than you two kill each other."

"Kill each other?' Sirius laughed humorlessly. "Kid, it never would have gone that far."

"No?" Draco bristled, irritated at his cousin's attitude. "You were all lunatic over the runespoor biting Dudley and Dad was defending Harry. And you two detest each other for various reasons. Once you started fighting, which one of you would have had the restraint to back off? Both of you have terrible tempers, plus Dad's a combat master. Most any spell he casts could be lethal."

"And you don't think I could defend myself?" Sirius asked indignantly. "I used to be an Auror, kid."

"That was a long time ago. I've seen Dad fight, Sirius, and he would have kicked you a new arse." Draco said confidently. "And anyhow, the two of you are family, and you're not supposed to be fighting. Not over something this stupid."

"Stupid? My son getting bitten is not stupid!" Sirius objected.

"No, but you going to hunt down the runespoor sure as hell is!" Draco flared. "This is Prince Manor land, and anything that lives on it is safe from persecution. It's like a preserve for magical creatures, don't you get it? Harry promised the runespoor it would be safe from harm, and you would have made him out to be a liar. Over something Dudley did that was wrong! He stole an egg, its only one, and that's why it attacked him. Harry said so, and my brother doesn't lie. But Dudley does, or at least that's the impression I got. The snake was perfectly within its rights to defend its baby, don't you see that? If someone had stolen your child, how forgiving would you be?"

Sirius frowned. "Not very."

"Exactly."

"But the runespoor is a dangerous creature, and if it attacked a person once, it'll do it again," Sirius argued, not willing to admit he'd been outmaneuvered by a mere fifteen-year-old.

"Like a certain werewolf of your acquaintance?" Severus growled.

"That was different, Snape! Remus was—"

"Also a dangerous creature, according to Ministry law," he pointed out chillingly. "Twice he attacked me, and yet you are willing to bend the rules for him and not for a snake that had far more cause to retaliate against a person. Where's the difference? Is the law only the law for some and not for others?"

"No, but . . .Dudley almost died . . .you can't just expect me to sit there and not do something . . ." Sirius began.

"The something you should be doing, cousin, is staying by your wife and son, helping him get better, not revenging yourself upon a snake," Draco said quietly.

"How dare you lecture me, you arrogant little snot? What would you know of it anyhow?"

"Plenty." Draco shot back, moving about so he faced the other wizard. He didn't know how much longer the spell would last, so he knew he had to get through to the other soon. "You know who you remind me of? Lucius." Sirius opened his mouth to shout a protest, but Draco snapped, "Just shut up and listen for a minute! Back in third year, I got myself clawed by a hippogriff named Buckbeak. It was my own fault, I was stupid, like Dudley, and thought it was just a dumb beast, so I didn't show it proper respect. And I paid for it. My father was informed and he came to the school to demand the hippogriff's execution. While I was in the Hospital Wing, hurting and afraid, he stayed away, and only Severus visited me and comforted me. Lucius only showed up after I was better and then only to demand revenge upon Buckbeak. Not for me. Revenge was more important to him, saving the family honor was more important to him, than caring for me. Yeah, he got his revenge, all right. But he should have been there for me. I should have been first, not some animal."

"I couldn't have put it better myself," Petunia interjected. She had come out to see what on earth was keeping her husband, and so had caught the tail end of Draco's little speech. Now she glared angrily at both men. "You're a pair of fools, fighting like some silly schoolboys while my son struggles for his life! Men! Why is it when something goes wrong, your first instinct is to kill something? Life is more important than death. Sirius, Dudley needs you to be there for him when he wakes up, I need you to be there with me while I stay by him, so I don't go to pieces, and where are you? Out here, picking a bloody fight with Severus! If Draco hadn't done some magic on you, I'd have whacked the pair of you over the head with my skillet. Maybe then you'd see sense! He's the only one of you who seems to have any." She pointed at Draco.

Sirius looked ashamed. "Tuney, I just . . .reacted, it's not that I don't care about Dudley . . .you know I do . . ."

Petunia sniffed. "You have a strange way of showing it." Then she whirled upon Severus. "And you! I thought you came out here to break up a quarrel, not get involved in one, Severus! What if Dudley took a turn for the worse and I needed you to give him potions or . . .or whatever? He might have died while you and my husband were dueling! And then what?"

"Petunia, I was defending my son from your irrational husband." Severus pointed out, flushing.

"Oh? And where is Harry now? I don't see him anywhere about."

Severus felt a frisson of fear crawl down his spine. "He's not back at the house?"

"No. That's why I came out here. To see what the blazes was keeping all of you," Petunia returned crisply.

"Draco, do you know where Harry is?" Severus asked sharply.

"Yes, sir. He went to find the runespoor."

Severus swore under his breath. Of course he had. Harry would never let an innocent creature suffer over a mistake.

"Good heavens! He's out there alone in the dark?" Petunia threw up her hands. "Why didn't you stop him, Draco?"

"Me? When Harry gets an idea in his head, it's sort of like trying to move a mountain with your bare hands."

"Humph! Like someone else I could name. Two someones," she amended, still glaring at the two wizards. "All this trouble over a snake, when it's your children you ought to be concerned about. All I want is for Dudders to get well, I could give a damn what happens to the snake. And now I've got Harry to worry about too!"

By now both men looked chastened and worried.

"They're right," Severus admitted.

"Tell me about it," Sirius grimaced. "Truce, Severus?"

Snape nodded. "Truce, Sirius. I may not like you, but you're family now. Draco, cancel the spell. I need to go and find your brother. And tomorrow morning, we are going to have a very long talk, young man." He said ominously.

Draco flinched. "Yes, sir." He waved his wand. "Finite."

The binding columns of air vanished, and both Sirius and Severus were freed. Severus immediately concentrated, grasping his amulet, and headed off towards the woods, guided by his mysterious connection to the land and its heir.

Sirius, Draco, and Petunia headed into the manor, Sirius murmuring apologies to his wife, who still looked as though she wanted a go at him with the skillet.

" . . .really sorry, Tuney, I just lost my head . . .seeing him half-dead like that . . . I'm supposed to protect him and I couldn't . . ."

" . . .Sirius, how could you know he would do something so foolish . . .I don't understand it myself . . .but I do know that he needs his father there when he wakes up . . .I can't deal with this alone . . .it's too much . . ." she trailed off into a choked sob.

Sirius put his arm about her and hugged her.

Draco blushed and looked away. He could never recall Lucius ever being so openly affectionate with Narcissa. Cold fishes, the pair of them, he thought scornfully, before leaving the anxious parents to sit beside Dudley and retreating to his room. He supposed he had better get some sleep, because tomorrow wasn't going to be pleasant. But I did the right thing . . .I think. Except now Dad's going to kick my arse. Groaning, he threw himself on his bed. I think Harry's rubbing off on me. I can't believe I hexed my own father! Merlin, what the hell was I thinking?

SSHSDMSS

Harry raced through the orchard and into the forest, his sense of the land allowing him to run unerringly through the trees as if it were brightest day. As before, he could sense the runespoor in his head, and he allowed its presence to draw him onward. He was a mass of conflicting emotions, fear for the runespoor, anger at Sirius' pure stubbornness and also Dudley's stupidity in stealing the egg, frustration that his idea of getting together with Petunia and Sirius and Dudley had gone so terribly wrong, and sorrow that he had somehow made the rift between Sirius and Severus worse by quarreling with his godfather.

Panting, he crossed the small stream and made his way up the trail to the runespoor's cave. In spite of the dark, he could sense the snake was within its lair, hissing and crooning to the fiery egg, which luckily had been undamaged and was soon to hatch. Another egg had just been laid, Harry could hear the runespoor's heads discussing what a marvelous thing it was to have laid two eggs in the same season.

Harry would have smiled if the situation hadn't been so grave. He approached the cave, halting several feet from the entrance. Now was not the time to draw too close to the volatile snake. He called softly in Parseltongue, "Azeal, Azella, Ashterith, can you hear me? It's Harry the Speaker. I've come to see how you are."

There came no reply for a few moments, just the rustling of scales across stone. Then Azeal called back, "We hear you, S-s-s-peaker. We are unharmed."

"And your egg?"

"It is fine!" hissed Ashterith. "No thanks to that lump of s-s-uet who tried to s-s-teal it. What have you to s-s-say to that?"

"I'm sorry," Harry apologized. "Dudley was so stupid . . .he's my cousin . . .I never thought he would try anything like that. I'm really sorry."

"You promised we would be s-s-afe here!" Azella snapped angrily. "I don't want my eggs to be in danger from s-s-smelly human poachers!"

"I know. I promise, it won't ever happen again. My cousin didn't understand that you're . . .well, you're not a dumb beast . . .that you can talk and think."

"Of course we're not dumb! The very idea!" Azeal spat. "Where does your cousin come from, that he does not know about runespoor intelligence?"

"Umm . . .he's a Muggle . . .an ordinary human." Harry explained.

"A mundane?" Ashterith sounded scornful. "No wonder he dared to become a thief! I daresay he has learned his les-s-son now."

"He has."

"Is he dead?" asked Azella, sounding mildly curious, though not regretful at all.

"No. But he won't be coming after you ever again. Listen, I came here to warn you, you're in danger from my cousin's . . .father. He's angry that you bit his son and he wants . . .to hunt you down. So you have to . . .get away from here."

"Where s-s-hall we go?" cried Azella. "We have two eggs to look after!"

"I think I know a place. I can take you there if you want." Harry offered.

"No!" argued Ashterith. "I like it here, it is the perfect place to raise our young. Why s-s-hould we be driven from our new home like cattle? If this s-s-ire comes to us, I s-s-hall s-s-how him how quickly a runespoor bites!"

"No!" Harry cried in alarm. "That will only make things worse."

"We are not permitted to defend ourselves, or our offspring?" demanded Azeal flatly.

"No, you are, but . . .look, sometimes wizards think that if a snake bites a human, even if they deserve it, then they're dangerous and need to be killed. It's wrong, but that's what some people think. So it wouldn't do you any good to stay here and fight. Please, just let me help you. I don't want you to die."

"Peace! We s-s-hall think on your words." Azeal said.

Then there was silence, and Harry sat down beside the cave with his knees drawn up and prayed the runespoor would see reason. The last thing he wanted was open war between the snake and his godfather. He hoped Sirius had been convinced that he shouldn't pursue his revenge by Draco and Severus and was not roaming the forest searching for the runespoor.

The minutes ticked by endlessly, and the moon had just started its descent when he felt more than heard another presence come into the clearing. His heart in his throat, he looked about, expecting to see Sirius.

Instead, he saw Severus emerge from the trees and approach him. "I figured I would find you here, son."

"Dad!" Harry exclaimed, relief coloring his tone. "Where's Sirius?"

"Back at the manor, sitting vigil with Petunia. Your brother and Tuney convinced him to start using his head for something other than a battering ram." Severus said dryly, coming to sit down beside his son. "He didn't follow me."

Harry was relieved. He quickly hissed a message in Parseltongue for the runespoor. "I'm glad you got him to see reason. I've never seen him like that before, Dad. It was like . . .like he went mad . . .he totally freaked out."

"That can happen sometimes, Harry, especially when your child is in danger or hurt and all you want to do is protect them. It's an instinctive reaction with fathers. Clearly your godfather cares very much about Dudley. Having him nearly die in front of his eyes really scared Black."

"It really scared me too," his son admitted quietly. "I really messed up showing Dudley the runespoor. I didn't think he'd ever try and hurt it or anything, he seemed. . . well . . .scared of it when he first saw it. How could he be such a dunderhead?"

Severus chuckled at Harry's use of his favorite word and the tone. "I don't think Dudley stopped to consider the consequences when he stole the egg. Much like his stepfather did at that age. Your cousin is reckless and willful, but I believe this will teach him the error of his ways, if anything can."

"Is he going to be in trouble when he wakes up?"

"That's up to his parents, not me." Severus replied. "I have no authority to discipline him."

Harry just nodded. "I'm beginning to think it was a big mistake inviting them here. I mean, look what almost happened. Dudley nearly dies and I almost ended up hexing Sirius. I didn't want to hex him, but he kept pushing me and I guess I reacted before I thought things through." His son shook his head in disgust.

"I was guilty of that as well, I'm afraid. I am so used to thinking of Black—Sirius—as a rival that my first instinct was to draw a wand and challenge him," Severus admitted ruefully. "I really should have known better. It was fortunate that your brother was there to talk sense into us . . .even if he did hex us both."

Harry almost passed out. "He WHAT? Draco hexed you? Why?"

"He claimed it was accidentally, but then said it was probably a good thing because he didn't trust me to keep my temper," answered his father, his lips pursed tight in disapproval. "He may have been right. At that moment, I was angry enough to turn Sirius inside out. However, Draco and I will be having a long discussion about his behavior tomorrow morning."

Harry winced. He sure was glad it wasn't him on the receiving end of Severus' displeasure this time. But he did feel sorry for his brother, who had been trying to do what he thought best.

Severus put an arm about him. "You've had a rough day, Phoenix. And I didn't make it any easier on you. I shouldn't have goaded Sirius this afternoon while I was sparring with him."

"You sparred with him?" Harry looked up, astonished. "Did you win?"

"All too easily, I'm afraid. I quite trampled his pride into the dirt. Much the same way he did to me once upon a time at Hogwarts. I knew I was a better fighter than he was and I made sure he knew it. While it was satisfying at the time, it did little to promote peace between us. It was a petty sort of revenge, unworthy of the Lord of Prince Manor."

Harry blinked, startled. It was rare for Severus to admit he was wrong, especially about his old rival. Yet here he was, acknowledging his fault to Harry, whom he knew loved Sirius like an uncle. "Sirius was wrong too, Dad."

"We both were, as your aunt so emphatically reminded us. Now there is one woman I do not want to have angry at me. She has nearly as bad a temper as Lily," Severus said ruefully.

"Tell me about it," Harry grinned. "Dad, is the runespoor safe now?"

"Yes. But if you need confirmation, you ought to ask your godfather." Severus shifted upon the cold ground. "Harry, I will be honest with you. Sirius and I may never truly get along, the best you can hope for is an uneasy truce between us. There is much between us that can never be undone and may never be atoned for. The only thing I can promise you is to not allow my temper to rule me and to lift a wand or hand against him in anger. And I shall attempt to be civil."

"Okay." Harry murmured, wondering if Sirius would swear the same.

"However," Severus continued. "I think it best if we only see each other infrequently, such as during the holidays, and then only for a few days at best."

Harry agreed, knowing Severus was right. He could not expect the two to just put aside years of anger and bitterness simply because Sirius had now married into the family and Harry wished them to be family. Besides, many families had problems like this with their relatives. Harry suspected Petunia and Lily might have fought as well when they were together. "Will Dudley be all right, Dad? I know he's the biggest prat on the earth, but I don't want him to die."

"He won't. I arrested the venom in time." Severus reassured him. He rose to his feet in one graceful lunge. "Still, there may be complications, and I should be there, just in case. It's time to head home." He turned and headed out of the clearing.

Harry hurried to keep pace with him. "Dad, how come I can feel certain things when I touch the land? Like I knew where the runespoor was just by . . .feeling it in my head?"

"That is another legacy of Prince Manor, Harry. One of the more useful ones. The land is a trust, passed on from one Heir to the next. But the full story will have to wait until tomorrow. You need sleep and I need a Calming Draught. Come."

When they arrived back at the manor, they found Petunia sitting on the sofa nearest Dudley, who was still knocked out, and Sirius dozing beside the fire in his dog form. Padfoot sat up immediately as the two Snapes entered the house, then seeing it was only Severus and Harry, wagged his tail and then blurred into Sirius.

"Harry, you're all right!" Sirius said in relief. "When you ran off like that . . .I was afraid the snake would bite you too. Don't ever scare me like that again!" he scolded. Then he halted. "Err . . .sorry, it's not my place to lecture you."

"It's okay, Uncle Sirius." Harry said, trying out the title for the first time. "I'm sorry I scared you, but I'm a Parselmouth, remember? Most snakes love Parselmouths and won't ever harm one. The runespoor trusts me."

Sirius looked skeptical, but then nodded slowly. "You would know best, wouldn't you? Do you know where you got that ability?"

"No."

Severus spoke up. "It is a fae trait. Many descendants of the fae have unusual talents, speaking to snakes is one of them. Most fae can speak a few animal tongues. Unlike humans, they respect the animals who share their world."

Sirius allowed the barb to pass. "It certainly can come in handy." He coughed, then said, "Harry, I was out of line before, when I threatened to kill your snake friend. I can see that now that I'm calmed down. I won't lift a wand against it. I give you my word." He held out a hand to shake.

Harry clasped it solemnly, so relieved he nearly cried. The last thing he wanted was to make an enemy of Sirius. "Thanks."

"All right, now that's settled, you can go to bed," Severus ordered gruffly, shooing his too-smart son towards the hallway. "Good night, Harry."

"Night, Dad." Harry called over his shoulder. He wasn't tired, however. All he wanted was to be alone and to think about everything that had occurred. It had been quite an evening.

He quickly undressed and then crawled into bed, from the rug on the foot of the bed, Cafall woke and whined a greeting, then fell asleep again after climbing on the bed and lying on Harry's legs. Harry was grateful for the company and the warmth, but not for almost asphyxiating from Cafall's awful breath and the cut off circulation to his feet. He shifted a fraction and then supposed you couldn't have everything. That was something he had learned long ago. But Dudley never had. And thus the debacle with the snake.

Perhaps Sirius could manage to teach his impulsive cousin that important lesson. Harry drifted off to sleep still pondering why Dudley had stolen the egg. He could have never raised a runespoor, they required careful and experienced handling, and no Muggle could ever do so successfully.

In the den, all three adults kept vigil over Dudley. The boy snored loudly, unaware of the presence of his family, worrying and hovering about him. Severus said that was a good sign, a deep sleep was needed to heal. He also apologized to both Sirius and Petunia, then ran another diagnostic upon Dudley before going into his lab to brew more potions. The day had started out well, but quickly degenerated into chaos. He hoped that were not a sign of things to come.

Hope you all enjoyed this one. Sirius and Petunia will be vacating Prince Manor next chapter. Oh and Dudley too, after Sirius asks Severus for some advice.

What do you think Sev will do to Draco?

Or Sirius and Petunia to Dudley?

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