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Challenges

 

The bracelet tickled on Leonor’s arm as usual when it became dark outside. The purpose of that was still not clear and Severus had been determined not to tell her anything except that she would understand one day. Leonor looked melancholic at the beautiful piece of jewellery, played reflectively with the charm on the necklace and then her gaze moved to a sleepy Eileen, but her thoughts were somewhere else.

 

Moments later, Leonor walked to the sales room of the apothecary and peered through the window. A few strange men patrolled the street and behaved odd that even an untrained witch or wizard hardly overlooked the Imperius Curse. The village lost most of the lively character and an awkward dark mood spread over houses and inhabitants, the uneasy situation difficult to miss even at a first glance after weeks. She removed the ‘Closed’ sign on the door and Aberforth Dumbledore exited the filthy tavern opposite the apothecary with a besom. He spotted Leonor at once. The windows of the Hog’s Head Inn were covered with a thick layer of dirt and the sparse light inside appeared gloomier than ever. Leonor waved and forced a smile to her face while Aberforth crossed the street fleetly squeezing himself through the gap between Leonor and the door. The ill-tempered face studied her gravely.

 

“Had a good holiday?” he snarled disapprovingly.

 

“Yes,” replied Leonor unsure of what came next.

 

“I believed you wittier than returning here after two months of absence.” He pointed to another strange figure observing the apothecary thoroughly from the outside. The news about the re-opening spread certainly soon.

 

“It was always planned to return, Aberforth,” said Leonor curtly without explaining any detail. The cottage was a beautiful place to live but with the Fidelius Charm in place it was impossible to work as a healer. It was a good retreat for her, Severus and Eileen if needed.

 

“Sure, you are so brave! Didn’t it teach you a lesson that Snape returned to Hogwarts? We are in a war —” he raged.

 

“— keep quiet or do you want them to listen more closely?” Leonor gestured to the street and walked in the potion kitchen switching on the lights. The daylight faded quickly in September; the autumn spread its draughty wings and began to immerse Scotland in a permanent drizzle.

 

Aberforth followed and roared again, “Pomfrey and McGonagall are already cracked up after two weeks into the term. The Order is incapable of acting.”

 

“I cannot just watch. I’m obliged to do at least something and have been away long enough,” said Leonor matter-of-factly. Inwardly she hoped to help as much as possible despite Eileen and a new queasy feeling in her stomach that haunted her so often these days.

 

Aberforth grunted something about Snape and Death Eaters what she couldn’t understand in detail.

 

“Some things are different than it seems,” replied Leonor nervously and glanced upstairs.

 

And as if she’d guessed right, an anxious wail came from the upper floor. Eileen got through her first travel with the Floo Network unscathed, asleep and carefully concealed by Leonor’s thick travelling cloak. No crumb of ash touched the little one, and she could have slept at least another hour before becoming hungry.

 

Leonor gave Aberforth an angry look and said, “Excellent, you woke her up.”

 

Eileen cried louder, and Leonor left Aberforth dumbfounded on the ground floor.

 

The bell chimed again and then Leonor heard a familiar female voice. The little secret of being a fresh mother was about to be revealed and Leonor felt satisfaction and pride of doing so soon, despite all the gossip that followed and the warnings from Severus.

 

“Aberforth, is she back? I saw you running and then the lights went on.”

 

The old grump gnashed the teeth, “She is.”

 

“And I feared the worst,” breathed Alma in relief.

 

Leonor walked downstairs; Eileen safely wrapped in her arms. She decided to use the moment of surprise and said nothing but put the small package directly into Alma’s arms.

 

The grandmother of one gazed back and forth between them and squealed, “It’s yours?”

 

“Her name is Eileen,” said Leonor proudly and gave the little finger to her daughter who wrapped it immediately with the fist and tried to move it into the mouth.

 

Alma rocked the baby slightly and even Aberforth’s careworn face brightened a bit.

 

“I thought you gained weight at last after looking so ashen and thin for a while. That explains it,” smiled Alma and began asking questions which Leonor answered politely but with the carefully prepared white lies.

 

Leonor grinned when Alma finally stopped the interrogation; not before long Rosmerta, Helen and some other villagers would turn up here. She was sure everybody needed something from a healer in the next days to calm the curiosity.

 

When Alma left in direction of the ‘Three Broomsticks Inn’, Aberforth stayed behind.

 

“Hope he’s safeguarding you well and better than the students in Hogwarts. I do not believe the bollocks about a man in a tavern. We’ll see one day how much she looks like him,” he added with contempt and was gone.

 

Eileen puckered when the door crashed into the lock. Aberforth had been right and Alma undoubtedly expressed her surprise too. Leonor put up the safety spells for the night. It was completely dark outside; the houses closed the curtains more carefully now and Leonor did the same. For a moment she agreed that she was indeed a bit mental returning here in the middle of a war.

 

Then the bracelet tickled agonizingly as it never did before, and Leonor liked to draw her wand to make it stop, fighting hard against the painful itching and pressing Eileen closer to her chest. Moments later green flames erupted in the fireplace and a small figure spun round and emerged smothered with dirt and ash.

 

“Hattie,” called Leonor, kneeling to brush the soot from the wobbly skin and the unclean tea towel around the elf’s waist.  The filth appeared aged and dry and was certainly older than the recent travel. Leonor drew her wand and incanted ‘Tergeo—’ before the elf braced herself to stop her.

 

“Mistress, you must not do that, the elves are not allowed to wear clean cloth anymore,” stammered Hattie and continued staring bewildered at Leonor and the baby.

 

The two looked at each other, surprise and fondness in the eyes until Leonor found the right words to break the astonished moment.

 

“Well, why did you come here,” helped Leonor along, eager to hear from Severus who hardly replied more than a few words to her notes if at all.

 

“Are you alone?” asked the elf and walked a little around to peer through to the other rooms.

 

“I am,” replied Leonor truthfully.

 

“The headmaster asks for a visit.”

 

“Of course, I wait.”

 

Hattie wrung her hands as she always did when she was flustered. “Mistress has a baby?”

 

“Yes, a baby girl.” Eileen kicked delighted in the air and tried to grab the elf’s nose. “You can hold her, if you want,” encouraged Leonor.

 

Hattie hesitated and said, “Master wants me to return quickly. He’s very busy.” She flicked her long fingers and jumped back to the flames and disappeared.

 

Leonor put out the light looking at the fire and hushing Eileen. The tension grew with every minute and Leonor could hardly wait until the green flames burned up and Severus stepped out in his black robes, his hair longer and a bit messy which gave him an expression of fierceness.

 

Leo,” he breathed after a moment of careful observation and scooped his two girls in the strong arms, kissing Leonor lightly on the mouth and Eileen on the little nose.

 

“She has grown taller,” he muttered incredibly mild, a twisted grin around his pale lips.

 

“She develops just fine. How are you doing?” asked Leonor apprehensively, watching Severus’ occluded expression.

 

“Pauline arrived after dinner,” he said. “I had to wait until Minerva and the Carrows finally left my office.”

 

“Come upstairs,” whispered Leonor and tiptoed to press a kiss to Severus’ forehead stroking his cheeks with the free hand.

 

“I don’t have long.” Severus took Eileen from Leonor and sat to the armchair in the sales room, looking stern, laden with thoughts and silent. He caressed the baby’s cheeks gently and engrossed by the moment.

 

“It’s not going well,” observed Leonor cleverly, speaking out loud what Severus would not admit voluntarily without advertising the fact.

 

“No,” sniffed Severus and his face hardened visibly. “Longbottom, Ginny Weasley and the Lovegood girl smear hate slogans on the walls. The Carrows are already mad because they don’t know who offers the open resistance. I’m not sure how long it takes before Amycus uses the Crutiatus on the students to find the brats faster.”

 

“That’s not true?” said Leonor anguished under her breath.

 

Severus gave a mirthless laugh and took a false bracelet from an inside pocket. He tapped it lightly with his wand and Leonor’s bracelet itched again.

 

“A copy with a Protean Charm. Tap yours!” encouraged Severus.

 

Leonor touched the bracelet with her wand and Severus’ copy vibrated slightly.

 

“If the painful itching is too much then put it inside your robes. Though, I thought it is an improvement compared to the burning hot pain of the regular incantation.” Severus’ left arm jerked unconsciously. “I’ll inform you when I come for a visit. And if it’s not safe you tap your bracelet and I stay at Hogwarts.”

 

“You modified the spell?”

 

“I did several spell-works recently. I should not speak about it, not yet,” said Severus reflectively.

 

“It tickles every evening and sometimes during the day. What do you do with it then?”

 

Severus frowned and reasoned why. Then he concluded that he held it in his hands whenever being alone and in a need of a hopeful thought in between all the nightmares of the schoolwork, unspoken magic wriggled itself free.

 

Leonor pressed on, “Can I come to see you too?”

 

“Well, better not if you can help it,” snapped Severus. “Minerva recognizes your birds easily. The bracelet is more private than an owl. The fireplace is again connected to my office, just in case. I can send Hattie whenever you need help. Did you really need to come here?”

 

Severus sounded slightly downcast.

 

“I keep the cottage a secret retreat but cannot work from there or it will be revealed in next to no time. Thomas and Heather told me about their suspicion where I live when I registered the birth certificate. The cottage and the area around are known as wizarding location to the older locals at least. Their guess is right though I didn’t confirm it. It cannot be good parenting Eileen in isolation. She needs to see people,” explained Leonor.

 

Severus spluttered nervously about the choice of the last name and Leonor confirmed that it was Eileen Scott, born in Hogsmeade and registered at the ministry without a father.

 

“Good,” said Severus with a heartfelt relief, but then he continued distraught and angry, “Hogsmeade gets observed. It’s not a safe place. You should really be prepared to escape via Floo quickly.”

 

“Nobody is after me. You do not write, and I miss you. I thought that I pay you a visit instead. At least I’m nearer here than in Wales,” said Leonor defiantly. There was something she had to talk through with Severus soon.

 

“Give me Eileen,” she demanded, conjured a soft blanket and put her daughter down who listened intently to her parents.

 

Severus leant back and frowned, eyes closed for a split-second, the pressure of the whole situation evident.

 

“You are tired.”

 

Severus didn’t reply. He had not slept a lot in the last four weeks; he was a foreign body in Albus’ private chambers and found no rest staring to the embroidered ceiling in a room full of the man that made him a murderer. Severus soul had been whole; he often escaped from tight spots before taking a life — and then it shattered. He regretted obeying Dumbledore and if he couldn’t stand it anymore, he sneaked to his old room in the dungeons, but mostly he got called back quickly to decide a controversy between the Carrows and Minerva. And if that wasn’t the reason for the disturbance, he patrolled the corridors to chase off Dumbledore’s Army before the Carrows tracked them down. He had been successful with that so far and forestalled at least some sprayed graffiti.

 

Leonor put her hands on his shoulders and kissed the top of Severus’ head, embracing him from behind and snuggling against him. He didn’t fight it, taking her hands in his.

 

Soon Severus said, “I have to go back before Dumbledore’s Army writes again on the walls and pudgy Alecto breaks into my office out of sheer density. She’s got the habit of nightly visits and if I do not open her annoying noise wakes the castle.”

 

“I have to tell you something first,” said Leonor and sat to the armrest before Severus could jump up and leave.

 

“Alright,” he whispered conscience-stricken pulling Leonor to his lap. “It’s not that I don’t want to be with you.”

 

“I know,” she said.

 

“The staff and students make it worse with resistance. I cannot protect them if they provoke the Carrows to the bones. It is a nightmare.”

 

Sev,” said Leonor with such a low shaking voice that he looked alarmed. Their eyes locked.

 

“We have conceived a child,” she whispered quivering slightly with a weak smile on the pretty face.

 

“What?” asked Severus in his deep calm voice as if he misunderstood the importance of the sentence.

 

“I’m expecting a baby — again,” repeated Leonor as if she couldn’t believe the own words.

 

Severus looked at her with a mix of unknown feelings and inner turmoil. The walls of Occlumency burst under the news of the unsuspected. Then he jumped up and Leonor staggered backwards. He paced the sales room nervously with hands in the dark hair and over his eyes. The last bit of colour left his face and his hands became clammy in a ripple of excitement and fear.

 

A tear rolled down Leonor’s cheeks, but she didn’t speak, didn’t know what reaction she had expected. She took Eileen and walked upstairs to breast-feed her. She was not able to wait for Eileen’s hungry cries now and it was about time to nurse the baby anyway. Leonor couldn’t abide a Severus who was devastated or furious or whatever the twitchy pacing meant though he had all reason for it. She asked for sex on the beach, knowing well that Severus could hold back. The idea of being in the centre of a light novel was too good and that was what she got.

 

Severus joined Leonor after a while. She didn’t look up, the cheeks still wet from tears. Leonor sat on the bed and it was just half relaxed as he knew the picture from the cottage. Anyway, Eileen did not mind and smacked noisily and content with her mother.

 

He’d seen Leonor’s breasts many times now, caressed them, and they both enjoyed it. But watching her and his daughter breast-feeding was always different, something special and peaceful in a time of confusion. It had no erotic touch, but something similar and equally strong, a mixture of unconditional love and responsibility perhaps.

 

“She’s gorgeous. You both are,” said Severus quietly. “I don’t know how you can see me in that lovely face. I see only you.”

 

Eileen had her eyes closed, suckling intently on Leonor’s right nipple.

 

“She’s got the colour of your eyes and I guess straight hair, no curls, though it might change. We see that later.”

 

“I do not deny that I’m the father,” he explained.

 

“I know,” smiled Leonor genuinely listening to the pride in his voice.

 

Eileen sucked now less eagerly and stopped soon clearly well-fed. Leonor put her fondly across the shoulder to make a burp and closed the front of the gown. Severus dark hair obscured his expression. It was good to sit next to him. She’d missed his woody scent with the refreshing bamboo in between a smell of faint mint and herbs. She was happy about the minute.

 

Severus put a hand to Leonor’s knee, caressing her thigh gently and remembering how easy his fingers trailed along the bare skin. Traditional wizarding robes made that impossible right now.

 

“Are you alright with the idea of having another birth soon,” he asked timidly.

 

“I think so,” said Leonor flatly, biting her lips with confounded angst. She never hesitated a moment to accept another child, just the circumstances made her fragile. Her body recovered well from Eileen’s birth and another nine months wouldn’t overstretch it either. She was determined to handle it as many mothers did before.

 

“When did you notice?”

 

Leonor blushed, “A couple of days after being on the beach. I think you just left for Hogwarts. I ignored the nausea, thought it cannot be true.”

 

“Is the sickness worse than when you were pregnant with Eileen?”

 

“Not worse, it’s mainly in the morning and then I have your lime green drops. I can deal better with it.”

 

“I thought, that — well you cannot conceive a child right after giving birth,” said Severus truthfully and guilty of all counts.

 

“The contrary,” replied Leonor giving a sincere laugh and moving a bit aside. “Caryn warned me several times. It’s quite easy to get pregnant again because of the hormons. I thought waiting four weeks was enough.”

 

“I believed that Caryn just warned of me, a violent Death Eater after all.”

 

“No,” said Leonor with fresh tears in her eyes. “She saw your care and your passion too. Perhaps she understood what would happen before we did. A year ago, I believed to live childless.”

 

Leonor sounded helpless and Severus had not been prepared to that either. He’d not even believed that a woman would sleep with him if it was not for money. They remained silent for a while, sitting on the bed with too much space between them though craving inwardly for the touch of the other.

 

Then Severus smirked, “I’d say we failed miserably in pointing the signs and brewing a contraceptive potion.”

 

“We didn’t even try,” moaned Leonor. “I’ve been so stupid, wanted you so much.” At least Leonor smiled relieved about the curious irony.

 

“I don’t want you to regret it. I mean, if another baby is too much —”

 

Leonor snapped angrily, “I do not regret a thing. It’s just that you have so much on your plate, and we cannot be together. Without the war —”, she stopped speaking when she noticed what she’d suggested. He always told her about the secrets; he built no hopes up for a mundane existence.

 

Severus just looked at her and carried Eileen to the baby cot.

 

“Don’t care about that. There will be enough money even for three of you. I made arrangements already.”

 

“I want to be with you, Sev, and our children. The money is not important to me; I earn enough with the apothecary,” complained Leonor.

 

Severus only sighed and pinched his nose.

 

Leonor was at a loss and asked, “What do you suggest?”

 

“I’ve got no idea except to be patient and waiting for — Harry Potter. If Dumbledore is right —”

 

She knew how much Severus disliked being dependent.

 

“Two children are a gift. Eileen is already one. Did you ever consider being a parent? I didn’t, wiped the idea thoroughly from my mind that it still feels unworldly,” whispered Leonor with a shaking voice.

 

Severus pulled Leonor from the bed in his embrace, and then they kissed passionately. “I’m so proud,” he whispered when they gained some breath.

 

“You want another baby?” she suggested desperately in between another series of hungry kisses.

 

“I never considered it a possibility and hoped to be no burden, but I cannot contradict the facts. Yes, I want you and Eileen and the new baby,” whispered Severus devoutly without breaking the contact and one of the rare smiles on the face.

 

He held Leonor close and her head rested against his chest.

 

“I’m strong because of you. You are an amazing man,” said Leonor, kissing Severus with grateful passion.

 

“It’s not forbidden to love you now,” he said mischievously, his hands already unbuttoning Leonor’s dress, his stare heated and with dark need. It had been four long weeks.

 

“No, it’s not. But why don’t you allow magic to save us some time?” said Leonor with a seductive undertone.

 

Without hesitation Severus followed the suggestion and a heap of dark clothes landed on the floor except Leonor’s white lace undergarments. He looked at the transparent fabric that revealed Leonor’s full breasts below a shimmering veil. He couldn’t say if the innocent white or the adventurous black aroused him more. Just the sight of the naked skin stimulated him to the boiling point.

 

“It’s not going to be slow tonight,” moaned Severus, grasping after the sensual body in front of him.

 

Severus refused to supress the obvious reaction of his body; then he moved his hands over her hard nipples that bra and briefs blew into thin air just by the very touch. They stood bare in the dim light, entangled and entwined, kissing and touching until the passion tolerated no further delay. He pushed her back to the bed, straddled the legs and lay on top finding easily the warm and moist middle. He welcomed Leonor’s soft hips pressing against his moves and making him feel better and desired. Thank heavens that felt so good! Leonor moaned and dug her fingers in his back. It turned him on, and their bodies moved in the same rhythm. With the sweaty skin sliding against each other Severus kissed Leonor slowly. His eyes darkened like an unleashed ocean.

 

“Did I scare you?” he murmured knowing that he’d not been in control tonight. It had been an overflow valve for all the stored anger and longing.

 

“I’m not scared about you, but about the things going on in Hogwarts. What did they do to you?”

 

“Just the expected,” he answered evasively. “I never thought that it’s easy but living in Albus’ study to keep the cover is unnerving. It’s the worst besides the looks full of hate from Minerva and the other professors.”

 

“I see,” said Leonor. It couldn’t have been different.

 

“Do you fear the Carrows?”

 

“No,” said Severus quietly. “I’m the better wizard. The Dark Lord trusts me.”

 

He embraced Leonor and kissed her forehead and eyelids before saying, “I’ll send you Hattie every day. She’ll help with Eileen or whatever you want. I need to do something against the frequent torture of house elves by the Carrows anyway. She’ll like it, I’m sure. Hattie deserves it the most. She has the whole mad house of Slytherin on her shoulders.”

 

Leonor nodded and said, “When will I see you again?”

 

 “It won’t be long. I’m the headmaster and don’t need to ask for permission to leave whenever I want.” A special determination and power resonated in Severus’ words. Then he got up, summoning his clothes from the bunch on the floor.

 

They both dressed and kissed a last time before Severus rushed downstairs and the green flames swallowed him, and then he was gone.

 

 

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