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Blessed Christmas

 

 

The heavy gate of Malfoy Manor fell into the lock. Severus run literally away from the house, not that he ever stayed longer than necessary. He’d been the ‘chosen-one’ tonight, the one to torture a nameless informant under the eyes of the complete inner circle. The Dark Lord made them all watch, dictated the run of the play, studied their cheering, measuring the degree of faithfulness dependent on the malicious glee. Narcissa’s disgust was such that she looked away, barely preventing herself from vomiting.

 

Severus’ mind raced. His muscles ached with an imaginary pain, like the torture he brought to that fellow who lay now barely alive in the cold and damp cellar of the manor; locked up by Pettigrew who whimpered the applause. Severus hated the unforgivable curses and the ability to perform them; he hated himself tonight more than the rat, more than the day when Lily Potter had been killed. It nauseated him to see the satisfaction in the snake-like face of Lord Voldemort and the other Death Eaters. Severus ranked now higher in the inner circle and kept the cover, for Dumbledore, for Potter, as a redemption of the miserable choices in his youth and nevertheless a crime in the wizarding world. Severus created no mistrust on the part of Voldemort.

 

The wizard turned on the spot under the whitish glowing streetlamp. His concentration drained away by the horror-stricken screams echoing in his ears. As a result, he landed somewhere in the countryside, tottered over furrow slices, the lights of Hogsmeade glinting faint in the distance. He sweated; and his shoes became heavy with the wet clay. The physical exercise calmed the nerves, the apothecary’s garden was now close, a harbour of peace and ordinary life.

 

He cleaned the shoes on the mossy grass, collecting his thoughts, searching for distraction. Severus met Leonor often in the last weeks; he became used to her body easily. She wouldn’t mind receiving him. Dumbledore paid little attention when Severus left or returned to Hogwarts; the headmaster busied himself with more important matters unfazed by planned activities of the Death Eaters. It appeared recently as if a spy was expendable in the old man’s plans to save the world — except the request for mercy killing. Severus was loyal to Dumbledore, reluctant to prepare himself for killing the headmaster on request when the time was right and still steadily improving the relationship to the Dark Lord.

 

The weeks in December had been intense, and Severus was on a good way to make up for the wasted time after Halloween. Leonor’s newfound obsession of adventurous sex pleased him; despite being still puzzled by that behaviour. The powers she put into those nights dispelled the worries about her health again and again. They often drifted off to sleep, exhausted and no energy left for long talks. It was as if the relationship was in a hurry — they both sat in an hourglass and waited to stream through at any moment. But today, he wanted slowness, warmth, maybe kissing. Severus just wanted to be held and hold Leonor in return.

 

A distant thunder rumbled through the night when Severus climbed the stairs to the upper floor. The ink black sky swallowed every natural light. Leonor’s windows were dark. It smelled like snow; the silhouette of hills around Hogsmeade would likely be white in the morning. A few watery flakes melted on the front of the travelling cloak. The door swung open before Severus touched the handle. The anticipation overpowered the guilt, just for a moment. Leonor knew it was him. She wasn’t asleep yet.

 

Before Severus sensed what was happening, Leonor kissed him fervently. When he didn’t react, she opened his cloak and dropped it down.

 

“Not tonight.”

 

Severus growled in frustration, when Leonor demanded to be touched, moving his palms to her sensitive spots.

 

“Why not?”

 

She dragged him further into the room, halting at the table and leaning against it.

 

“Not tonight,” repeated Severus and pressed a fleeting kiss to the soft lips, hoping it was enough to make her stop.

 

Leonor continued, opening the tight collar, unbuttoning everything with magic. She kissed his neck and massaged crotch and thighs with her knee. The bodily contact allured him; there was no denying. Still, Leonor’s advances held no mental satisfaction when she offered herself like Zora. It angered him, reminded him of all the witnessed violence instead of the good experiences in that home. He walked a tight robe between yielding to the sexual arousal and the simple need of being with a trusted person.

 

He captured her hands coarsely, snarling, “Stop it.”

 

“Come on, you want it as much as I do.”

 

She was right. His penis throbbed; and he restrained the feeling back into the inside. He focused on wandless magic and succeeded. The lights went on; it wasn’t yet too late to get control. Severus pressed Leonor backwards, and she lifted herself to the table, escaping the sharp edge quickly.

 

They stared at each other, insecure about the crudeness; Leonor’s lips were painted red, standing out against the pale skin.

 

“Is that really what you want?” spit Severus, yanking the belt from the pants despite better judgement. It clashed to the floorboards. The reaction surprised him as much as his vis-à-vis. Uncontrolled actions developed as a result of his role in that war, when he was free and under not threat. Leonor wasn’t the reason for it, she was just the trigger.

 

Leonor froze, whispering apologetic, “No, of course not. You look shaken, worn out. I’ve never seen you so ghastly before.”

 

She touched his face, removing the loose shirt from the shoulders and looking for any injuries. Severus brushed her off, he was livid.

 

“You are not yourself since you returned from France. You cannot get enough, can you?”

 

“I thought you like it.”

 

“Do you want to argue?”

 

“No, I want to know what happened to you,” she asked more determined, touching his cheeks.

 

“The Dark Lord.”

 

“Tell me,” she said taking his slim fingers into her hands, brushing over the skin ever so slightly that it made him shiver.

 

When he neither spoke nor moved, she circled her legs around him and moved his hands to her waist. Her body pressed against him; her gentle lips searched his mouth.

 

The red lip colour was not so important anymore. Breathing became difficult, the pants suddenly too tight. Severus’ fury vanished; he was blinded by desire. He broke free from her touch, pulling the night dress over Leonor’s head. He was choked by surprise; she was already naked, no bra, no briefs. Her breasts stood out white against the fading suntan. She was now afraid, it turned him on, and he was ashamed by himself. He forgot that he came for rest and peace.

 

Severus slid the pair of trousers down his legs, watching her apprehensive face and concentrating to kiss Leonor deeply. She hesitated a little until he pulled her close. They held each other a long moment, skin on skin.

 

“I only came to hold you, to sleep next to you.”

 

“Do you want to tell me about the Dark Lord?”

 

“No. I promise not to hurt you,” he said, inwardly unsure if that had been true minutes before. The evil crossed the good too often and he wandered in between.

 

She let him go. Her fingers run down his spine before she sat back allowing him to look at her in the shine of the unromantic light above the table.

 

“You drive me mad,” whispered Severus, the voice very soft.

 

Fingertips brushed over the lips before perfecting that one kiss to continue the journey downwards. He grazed over the silky skin, drew large circles around the breasts, as gentle as she did it before. It created goose bumps on her skin. He kissed the middle of the cleavage, working his way down to the centre of her stomach and towards the navel. He circled it with the tongue. They were both strained, tense.

 

“Put your legs around me, please.”

 

She obeyed; her warm skin enclosed his cool. He was strong enough to hold his love with one hand. The other found his way to her sex, grazing the sensitive skin; he had not done that before. She answered in pressing her legs tighter around, moaning softly into his ear, searching the stimulating touch of his fingers.

 

“Do you prefer the bed, or the sofa, or the rug in front of the fire,” he teased with all the places they’d used so very recently.

 

“I don’t know,” she breathed, shaking slightly.

 

“The table would do too,” he suggested, the feelings undisguised.

 

She leaned back, allowing him to grab her butt with both hands, he set the pace, entering slowly. They watched each other; brown eyes locked with the black. It was an almost hypnotic look. It was the first time in bright light, eyes open and not closed, frightening and intimate at once. Their bodies found the rhythm, picking up speed, everything wet and sweaty and quick. They pulled closer, one last time and it drove them over the edge.

 

Minutes later Severus gave Leonor the nightshirt. He was satiated, but not a bit relaxed. Something wasn’t right about the night, maybe it was simply too much, agonizing torture first, distressed lovemaking last.

 

“Are you alright?” his voice sounded hard and stern; it lacked empathy, and he knew it.

 

“Yes.” The answer was weak, suspicious.

 

“I don’t want you to jump at me like that again. I may not be in control.”

 

There was a tense pause.

 

Severus had already dressed, unable to admit that Leonor was innocent. He needed fresh air and isolation to mull things over.

 

“You are always in control,” she teased, but it sounded more like a statement than a joke.

 

“The Dark Lord made me torture a man tonight. I cursed him as short as possible; he may still not survive. I deserve no pleasure. I bring pain. I’m able to hurt you. Maybe you consider that before offering yourself like Zora.”

 

The name slipped from his tongue, unwanted. He left. The guilt was back.

 

“Wait, stay. We can talk.” Leonor took the dressing gown from the hook and run after him.

 

“You are right, Sev, about France.”

 

He stopped, unable to let her pray in the cold. Shiny snowflakes settled on the dark hair in the pitch-black night.

 

 “I’m afraid of losing you,” she panted.

 

He just nodded, “I don’t want to lose you either, Leo. It is better I let you alone. I should not have come here, not tonight.” His language accepted no protest.

 

They kissed hesitantly, carefully measuring where to go from here until Severus slowly retreated and prepared to apparate to Hogwarts.

 

Severus whispered finally, “I meet you at Slughorn’s party.”

 

“Yes.”

 

Leonor smiled now, the first time this evening and Severus was gone. He left an empty place inside her. Whenever he returned to Hogwarts, she felt like left on the shelf, last minute panic got the better of her. She knew that she behaved strange. Most of the day the nausea shook her body; and when it was over, she was too tired to eat. She had to pay a visit to St. Mungo’s hospital, or she wouldn’t make it well to the Christmas celebration.

 

XXX

 

A lime-green liquid in an ordinary vial stood beside the washbasin. Leonor glanced at it suspiciously and got out of the hot shower to towel the red skin dry. She took three drops of the ginger-based potion; she would need training to make no face when swallowing the bitter substances.

 

It was an old household remedy, not failsafe, but helping in most cases against repeated nausea. She got it from a designated employee of the hospital, old and heavy with experiences. The woman retired a years ago and lived secluded somewhere in the Scottish Highlands, not far from Hogsmeade, but hard to seek out. A gleam of hope germinated in Leonor. Was that witch the right one to help when the time will come and without involving too much public?

 

Tonight, Leonor only begged, that the light greenish liquid did what it was supposed to do. She looked forward to some canapés and nibbles as promised by Horace Slughorn. The nausea was even worse when she cooked, smelling the meal before it was ready. Even if she was not allowed to take the medicine daily; it would be a relief to eat properly at least now and then. Anticipation was half the pleasure.

 

Leonor looked at her reflexion in the large mirror. She was slender and pretty; the dark circles under the eyes and the sunken cheeks carefully concealed under make up. Slughorn’s guests certainly paid attention. It comforted her, though she cared only for Severus, hoping that he waited to meet her after their last visit.

 

Nevertheless, the whole situation was also like swallowing a bitter pill that left a harsh aftertaste on the tongue. The retired witch advised Leonor to speak about it, to tell it to her family and friends. She said that it would make everything ‘easier’. If Leonor had to give the information to somebody than it was Severus, only him. If she was honest to herself, she spent the time since Halloween in self-doubt about his love, desperate for a touch and all kind of mood swings between love and hate. Leonor surrendered inwardly when she realized the mention of Zora. Maybe she wouldn’t be eating anymore after experiencing Severus’ reaction to the disclosure.

 

Minerva McGonagall was about to close the heavy oak gate at Hogwarts and startled when Leonor slipped through the remaining gap into the brightly lit entrance hall. It was mealtime, clattering noises came from the Great Hall.

 

“Good evening Minerva, I’m sorry that I startled you,” said Leonor honestly. “Nice to see you.”

 

The older witch frowned, looking Leonor up and down. “How did you get in?” she asked half curious, half suspicious.

 

“I’m invited to Professor Slughorn’s Christmas Party.”

 

“Oh, how can I have forgotten about that! Even Severus goes there and refused patrolling the corridors tonight. If I’m not mistaken, you are the first guest to arrive. Horace will be pleased and obviously some other Professor too. Good night, Leonor.” Minerva nodded curtly and swept away, looking as if something dawned in her mind.

 

“Good night,” called Leonor and walked down the passageway, passed the potions classroom and knocked on Severus’ office.

 

“Hello Severus,” said Leonor subdued. She had not been waiting for him to ask her insight. He looked caught off-guard, even more when she closed the door and leaned against it.

 

His face enlightened a short moment before he put the book in his hands down on the desk.

 

“Hello Leo. You are very early.”

 

He got up and walked to the door taking long strides.

 

“Can I get your cloak? There’s more than an hour before Horace expects us upstairs or do want to be first,” he sneered, concentrating carefully on her appearance.

 

Severus added quietly, “You look better, gorgeous.” He stroked with his thumb over her cheek, breathing a kiss to her forehead.

 

When he reached for the fir green cloak over her shoulders, she refused to let him take it. She rushed away, circling the room several times with folded arms, her face stern, scared, insecure, a changing expression as if fighting with a conscience.

 

Severus narrowed his eyes, again puzzled by Leonor’s behaviour. His imagination tricked him once more; it made him believe that she was just early to spend time with him, kissing, touching, maybe something more. He had somewhat hoped for time with Leonor; a well-tempered red wine waited in his chamber. She looked splendid in the dark green dress. She wore it when they went to Francesco’s; Severus remembered that evening well. A golden belt with a large buckle and hairband woven into a low bun created the difference. It certainly had a very festive character. Slughorn and his guests would admire it. Jealousy crept through his veins.

 

“I’m not better. It’s just make-up,” hissed Leonor, walking another slow round through the office.

 

“It was meant as a compliment.”

 

Leonor stared at him, slightly in disbelief, slightly flattered. Then she said outright, “May I ask you something, something private?”

 

“We’ve been very private recently.”

 

“I’m not joking.” Leonor circled her wand, sending a silencing charm around the room.

 

Severus folded his arms too. “What do you want to know?”

 

“I want to know where I am in relation to …,” Leonor hesitated, “… in relation to Lily and Zora.”

 

Severus tilted his head as if he had not heard the words properly.

 

“You still see Zora, don’t you?”

 

“No, why should I?”

 

“Because you love her.”

 

“Don’t make yourself ridiculous!”

 

“It’s not ridiculous, it’s important,” implored Leonor. “I need to know.”

 

There was a long pause before Severus answered and Leonor could tell that he considered using Legilimency to figure out why she didn’t trust him.

 

“I met Zora after you’ve been attacked by the werewolf. It was almost too years ago if I’m not mistaken. Lily is dead. You said it yourself. You cannot hold that against me. Is that enough proof?” he whispered the last words, ashen with grief, the words uncomfortable if spoken out loud.

 

Leonor chocked, “I don’t want to bring up painful memories, but …”

 

“… you did!” finished Severus the sentence dangerously calm. He hated to turn the heart inside out, to be vulnerable. He lost Lily because of that, and certainly many people took advantage of it.

 

“Zora was never important to me, though I certainly felt responsible to save the house, despite the ill repute. They suffered a lot by the hands of the Dark Lord’s followers. Lily was my friend. She knew that I followed the wrong path in life, I didn’t understand. I cannot forgive myself that I sent her to death.”

 

“Am I important to you?”

 

“I safe Potter to make sure Lily did not die in vain. I care not more for that boy than for Draco or anybody else in the school. But Lily would have wanted me to protect her son and meanwhile I believe that it is right to fight Voldemort. I gave my word. I do it for Lily, for Dumbledore, for you. Maybe one day you are all free again. I would go away if I could — with you. But it is no option; we would be dead before enjoying a single moment. You are the only good what happened to me in the recent past. I miss you every moment. Didn’t I show it to you, didn’t I love you the way you wanted it? Don’t hold it against me that I was not myself last time we met. I tried to stop your advances.”

 

“Do you love me?”

 

“Are you happy to provoke me with your questions?” snapped Severus defeated.

 

“I’m just asking,” snapped Leonor back.

 

“I told that it won’t be easy, it may not be enough what I can give, but I love you.”

 

Leonor took her cloak off and closed the distance to Severus, looking into his eyes.

 

“You know, I get lost in your eyes. Today as much as on the day when we met. I love you too. Kiss me.”

 

“I thought you know that you are the only one,” he defied.

 

“Kiss me, maybe you want it for a last time.”

 

Severus hesitated, but Leonor caressed his ear, finding the way to his mouth, licking his lips with her tongue before diving into a deep kiss.

 

Embracing her warmly, he murmured, “I like to kiss you again and again.”

 

“Severus,” she began taking a step backwards, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to disappoint you. I know everything is difficult, I wanted it easier for you, but now I make things more complicated.”

 

Severus started to say something, but Leonor acted in advance, “Say nothing!”

 

Severus closed his mouth again. She looked at her feet, uncomfortable, pale.

 

“I am not supposed to have a child.”

 

“You said that to me. I love you the way you are, Leo.”

 

“But what if that was not true?”

 

“What is not true?”

 

“I got pregnant. The midwife cannot say if the baby will survive, because of my injuries and scars. It is likely better to terminate the pregnancy. It is still time.”

 

“What are you telling me?”

 

“That I’m expecting a child and prefer an abortion. I will not trouble you any further, except telling you my decision.”

 

When Severus just stared at her, Leonor continued. “I have a very strong morning sickness. I can just eat a bit every night. My body is changing. It stops me to do my work properly. I’m always tired. I feel sick when I apparate. My reactions are not fast enough anymore in case I need to defend myself. It makes life complicated in a war. I don’t want to die in case I need to fight in a battle.”

 

Severus paced the office now with brows furrowed.

 

“Who told that all to you?”

 

“A magical midwife and a muggle doctor. I did not want that to happen. We could have used contraceptives.”

 

“Certainly,” said Severus and the last bit of colour drained from his face before he sat behind the desk, resting his head in his hands.

 

After a while, Severus whispered, “How risky is it for you? Are you in danger to survive the birth?”

 

“According to the healers it’s the baby that may not survive the first fifteen weeks.”

 

“When, did that happen?”

 

“The Sunday before Halloween.”

 

“You’ve been pregnant when Bellatrix tortured you?”

 

“Yes, the midwife doesn’t know the toll on the unborn life. I don’t know either, it has never been my area of expertise. The nausea can be an indicator that the foetus is not alright.”

 

“And you want to terminate it, now?”

 

“It is the best solution. See, everything is easy and early; it is the smallest risk.”

 

Leonor’s voice was cold, distant, as if a foreigner spoke.

 

“Are you really sure? Come here.”

 

Severus pointed her to sit on his lap, his face grave.

 

“It’s our child, isn’t it? That’s why you tell me.”

 

“It’s nothing yet.”

 

“Didn’t you tell me that all work with infants pained you?”

 

 “I’m simply not interested in obstetrics and practising as a paediatrician.”

 

Severus cupped Leonor’s chin, forcing her to look in his eyes.

 

“Is that true?”

 

She turned away.

 

“Have you looked into this muggle machine; the one that made Ashley so happy?”

 

“The muggle doctor did that.”

 

“Have you seen the heart?”

 

“Faintly. It is still very early, the seventh week only.”

 

“Look at me,” demanded Severus firmly. When she did, Leonor’s eyes shone wet. “And you still don’t want to try it?”

 

“No,” she snivelled.

 

“You want to pass up the chance to void everything what your family did to you?”

 

“You don’t need an extra burden and I don’t need it either.”

 

“That is not about me, Leonor. It’s about you. You can care for two alone. You loved to work with the kids in the school, why should that be different with your own child?”

 

 “What should I do now?” Leonor sobbed quietly in Severus’ shoulder.

 

“Take good care of you and our child. You promised me to safe yourself first and that is even more important now.”

 

Leonor looked up.

 

“You want that child?”

 

“Our child, yes, I want it for you, for me. I never wasted one thought in becoming a father. You surprise me again. It is hope, a good thought.”

 

Leonor gave him a weak smile.

 

“Potter, Weasley, Lupin — they give you all heartfelt sympathy if it gets my hooked nose.”

 

“You are joking about it?”

 

“Do you give it a try? It may be the only opportunity for you to become a mother,” said Severus with a low voice.

 

Leonor hesitated, before she whispered, “Sometimes I think the nature will straighten it for us. The baby survived the Crutiatus already; isn’t it a start?”

 

“It is. I may not be a good father; I may not be there at all. The child needs his mother.”

 

Severus’ fingers brushed her tears away, holding Leonor close. Leonor tried to get up, but Severus held her back. He put one hand to the still slim belly, massaging it gently.

 

“When is it due?”

 

“End of July.”

 

“So, I can see and feel something in spring?”

 

“Yes. You are excited,” concluded Leonor with a warm smile.

 

“It’s something positive in all the darkness around, isn’t it? I will protect you two.”

 

Leonor spread her legs more comfortable over his lap, kissing him full on the mouth. Her thighs were warm against his body.

 

Severus’ hands travelled up her soft skin, it was so easy to get under the short dress. His fingers found her hips and added soft pressure to the small of her back. She moved further up his lap without breaking another passionate kiss.

 

“We need to stop,” moaned Severus, pulling Leonor a last time close. “We need to go to that party before we undress. You’ll sleep with me tonight, won’t you?”

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