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In the Middle of the War

 

The flames billowed Severus’ cloak, ash fell on the hearthrug and Severus stepped from the fire in the headmaster’s office, still elated from visiting Leonor and Eileen and strangely well rested after only an hour in Leonor’s arms.

 

A familiar silly cackle greeted him and then he saw the victorious expression of Alecto Carrow who stood in the middle of the room with the door handle in the left hand. In an instant, he drew his magic wand and pointed it without hesitation to her chest. She flew backwards and crashed to the wall.

 

Amycus stood in the broken door snickering madly about his sister’s defeat.

 

“Did I ask for a visit?” said Severus coldly turning from Alecto to Amycus who’s grin froze under the headmaster’s unfaltering gaze.

 

“There’s a new slogan in the second floor,” stammered Alecto defending herself breathless.

 

“We seek permission to punish the students now,” said Amycus with a calculating and equally provoking look.

 

“Allow us to search the Gryffindor dormitories first. I’m sure we catch them red-handed,” demanded Alecto.

 

“Any evidence?” drawled Severus menacingly.

 

“We heard footsteps on the seventh floor when the brats run for it,” sputtered Alecto while her brother gazed wickedly at Severus. His wish had been denied several times already.

 

“I expected a bit more devotion in tracking down the scum. The traitors are mediocre children at best, aren’t they?” hissed Severus threatening Alecto with his wand. “Or are you not quick enough to follow upstairs?”

 

“Leave her alone,” smirked Amycus without really caring about Alecto. “You scold us, but you are too soft, headmaster.” Amycus emphasized the last word with disdain.

 

“Indeed,” said Severus dangerously calm and challenged Amycus with an indifferent look. “The Dark Lord wants to raise the pure-blood offspring well and in his favour. They’ll all learn who’s the master soon. Gryffindor’s need naturally a bit longer.”

 

Amycus continued insulting Severus by changing the topic, “I heard the healer is back. Did she let you fuck her or where have you been?”

 

Alecto grinned in delight and Amycus sneered as if he scored a spectacular goal.

 

“Since when I’m accountable to you?” answered Severus calmly after a loaded silence. Severus’ thin lips twitched, and the eyes narrowed.

 

 “Anything else?” drawled Severus intimidating.

 

“The Dark Lord won’t be delighted hearing that you are not able to cast a Crutiatus C—”, started the new DADA teacher again.

 

In that moment Amycus and Alecto keeled over, writhing in pain on the floor. The unspoken curse hit them unexpectedly and Severus released the spell very slowly. He was livid, his eyes mad and wild.

 

“Please can you repeat that?” asked Severus coldly. “I should answer to it promptly,” he scoffed.

 

When the two Death Eaters hunched up to a pathetic position, their faces pale and shocked, Severus roared, “Leave my office! Now!” That scared them finally away. The Carrows crept panic-stricken through the door and tumbled down the narrow stairs.

 

Severus sent another spell after them that both tripped over their feet and landed on the hard stone. Amycus got up with a bloody nose and looked cowardly back at Severus then he run down the long corridor as fast as he could. Alecto called after her brother and followed equally frightened.

 

Severus repaired the broken door and heard Phineas cheer behind him for putting them to the flight. Others murmured of betrayal and breach of law. Severus didn’t mind. It had been past due, and Severus felt much better now.

 

He reset the password to one that neither the Carrows nor the other professors would find without making more effort to unravel his true alliance. He nodded briefly to Dumbledore before closing the door with a bang. Severus walked determinedly to the second floor removing the letters from the wall as every other day.

 

XXX

 

March 1998

 

Severus watched the fine marble mantlepiece in the headmaster’s office when Hattie and a black clad witch with an eight months old baby appeared within the flames, spinning as fast as a top.

 

Hattie curtseyed and held her head low in anticipation or perhaps fear of the coming. The filthy rag around her gaunt body was grey and smelly and the crestfallen elf made no effort to wipe the ash from it. Hattie was always clean and cheerful whenever helping Leonor but returning to Hogwarts changed that acting in self-defence. The elves learned to use pretence to their advantage and improved the situation with the Carrows at least slightly. The Death Eaters sensed meanwhile that mangled elves were poor servants.

 

“Thank you. You may go,” addressed Severus the elf curtly and Hattie left with a snap of her fingers.

 

Leonor caught a last glimpse of the miserable looking little creature and sighed while cleaning her sleeves and collar. She gave Severus a sharp look to decipher the reason for the urgent call at an unusual time. The sun shone golden through the windows announcing a mild evening in spring. Dinner started soon at Hogwarts; the corridors were still full of students.

 

Finally, she said deliberately cheerful, “Hi Sev.”

 

Severus replied rather formal and then remained silent. Leonor looked into eyes that were hard and unfathomable. Severus whole body straightened and tensed; then he put his hands to the back and started to pace in front of the fireplace as if in search for the right words.

 

Leonor knew the office by now and Severus’ mostly distant behaviour. She visited it several times in the past months, though Severus preferred to come to the apothecary for private reasons. She recalled that she first stepped into the office to examine the results when Severus copied the real Sword of Gryffindor under Dumbledore’s instructions and sent a fake to Bellatrix’ vault in Gringotts. They had not been mistaken that Gringotts accepted the fine artwork of transfiguration and stored it unremarked in the deep secluded catacombs of the wizarding bank.

 

Later Severus called her to observe tedious detentions for which he feigned to have no time. Leonor set the ‘right measures’ for ‘naughty’ children that required punishment. She’d used the hospital wing for it. Poppy screamed in furious panic and Leonor fought her off until the matron became aware that the students were well treated. They just looked troubled. Amycus was delighted to see that. But neither the sick looking faces nor the injuries were real. When Madam Pomfrey gained trust again, Leonor retrieved the Crutiatus potion from the stocks and gave advice on how to use it. It helped to overcome the inevitable. The Carrows, Grabbe and Goyle incanted the Crutiatus Curse whenever feeling unmonitored and Severus fought a lost battle against it.

 

Leonor mended several situations when Severus needed to show undue harshness keeping the cover. No child left the hospital wing under Leonor’s tutelage that looked recovered, though most of them cheered quietly that they played a prank to the hated Death Eaters. Leonor instructed Poppy not to tell a thing about the cheat and therefore most teachers addressed the witch with utmost genuine hatred. It was the best cover and just the risk remained that a child opened the mouth too wide. Leonor walked a tight robe in displaying alliance to the Dark Lord and taking advantage of the healer status demonstrating hidden humanity.

 

Severus still paced the office, stopping now and then to watch the sinking sun and Leonor’s thoughts spun round more memories of the recent past; the time passed fast without many possibilities to contemplate over anything. Eileen snored lightly in her arm and was all set by the adventures of the day. The little one had never been at Hogwarts before.

 

Leonor was unaware how much Poppy anticipated about the ongoing relationship with Severus. Everybody in Hogsmeade knew about the baby and meanwhile the next pregnancy was clearly visible and more obvious than the first. The gossip erupted in the village again and run dry after a short while. So far, only Aberforth and Richard addressed their observation of the fatherhood aloud; Aberforth deeply disappointed and Richard frustrated with the thought to lose two brilliant potioneers. Everybody else cared little; a new-born gave hope and the matters of the war retreated in the background for a moment.

 

Eileen had not only Hattie as a playmate; Alma and her daughter Ashley dropped in frequently. Eileen enjoyed the company of Ashley’s two-year-old very much; she gurgled enthusiastically whenever the little boy hugged her in delight. The pleasure was mutual. Right before Christmas, Heather and Thomas asked for a visit and Leonor opened the Floo connection to ease the travel. After all it had not been difficult for them finding the only healer in Scotland. Leonor enjoyed their visit, she felt well in their pleasant company and Eileen became very attentive when Thomas spoke intriguing about fishermen’s fairy tales, a true habit of a lovely grandfather for a far too young child to understand in detail. Leonor harboured still the idea to name her children Snape; though she kept that to herself and Thomas was the key once the evil was defeated.

 

The most unusual visits however came from Narcissa Malfoy. She appeared at least once a month for the Sunday afternoon tea and brought either elf-made biscuits or Scones and always a small toy for Eileen. Narcissa spoke not much and if then only about little Draco or potion making. Leonor had the distinct feeling that it was all Lucius’ wife risked under the current circumstances. Narcissa finally bought some ingredients to prove the visit and left latest after an hour. She looked careworn and older despite being well groomed as ever. Underneath the arrogant façade surfaced something softer, a real mother perhaps fearing and caring for Draco and Lucius, but also for an old friendship. Narcissa mentioned just once how profoundly grateful she was about the help from Severus and it had been implicit. Peculiar had been one afternoon in the middle of December. Leonor’s bracelet tickled hotly but before she tapped it in return to announce that she wasn’t alone the green flames erupted already and Severus and Draco stepped from the fire. Severus brandished the wand at Leonor sending her outside. She eavesdropped of course but heard only that Draco needed to show more devotion towards the practical exercises of dark magic, or he failed his exams which was just what Amycus hoped to tell the Dark Lord. In the aftermath Draco found Leonor several times in the hospital wing pretending to visit a classmate, though the older Slytherins were seldom admitted to the hospital by the Carrows.

 

Alecto Carrow still liked to fix herself up with the Dark Lord’s first man. She showed open jealousy towards Leonor whenever they met. Her brother instead leered at the healer obtrusively. Amycus only stopped the advances to touch Leonor inappropriately when Severus knocked him off his feet with an uppercut and threatened again with the Crutiatus Curse. Phineas Nigellus Black, who often took sides with Severus, complained about ‘muggle methods’ while a satisfactory smile twisted his mouth.

 

Severus usually avoided any private contact in the castle and especially in that well-observed headmaster’s study and just invited Leonor once to the most hated sleeping chamber which still emanated the airiness of Albus Dumbledore. Severus considered it never again when a few portraits wolf-whistled and others remarked that a headmaster with a mistress was unheard of and certainly inappropriate to teach the students decency. Severus had snapped at them that he would ‘kick them in the shrivelled balls if they kept not quiet about his private affairs’. Leonor laughed out loud taking Severus’ hands and holding it against the already visible baby bump, and then she kissed him fiercely that most of the portraits shook their heads and Severus blushed.

 

Leonor knew the ticking and clicking noises of Dumbledore’s restless instruments. It was unnerving especially when nobody spoke. The cupboard with the Pensieve was closed and Fawkes’ abandoned perch stood on the small round table as usual. The desk was empty, no books or parchments or mail. Leonor observed the portraits and all headmasters slept and snored which gave Leonor a hint that something important was cooking.

 

“Why did you call me?” asked Leonor finally putting Eileen to one of the comfortable Chintz chairs. The baby grew heavy after a while. Then she twisted her long brown hair in a tight bun to look older and more severe.

 

“Hagrid hosted a ‘Support Harry Potter Party’ in his cabin. You may have heard it in Hogsmeade,” snarled Severus. “Well, he escaped the arrest of the Death Eaters and luckily no other person was found near that party.”

 

“Very unwise in the present climate,” sighed Leonor. “By the way, have you heard anything from the boy?”

 

Severus just shook his head, then he said hoarsely, “I need a new teacher for Care of Magical Creatures and the Dark Lord approved to employ you till end of term based on my suggestion.”

 

“I?” asked Leonor surprised.

 

“Yes.”

 

“Couldn’t you have asked first?”

 

“I’ve got summoned this afternoon,” replied Severus harshly.

 

“Sorry,” said Leonor subdued.

 

“You said that patient visits and mail orders decline.”

 

“Yes, they do. Everybody fears Hogsmeade meanwhile. But it’s not that I suffer from boredom.”

 

“I changed the timetables, reduced the number of hours. Lessons are only two days a week, no mixed classes, each house on its own.”

 

“And Eileen?” asked Leonor flustered. “Creatures are dangerous.”

 

“Talk to Poppy Pomfrey. I’m sure she’ll not deny the favour. I can instruct her, if you want. But it might not be wise when I force her the help.”

 

 “And what do you want me to do with the students, especially the Slytherins?”

 

“Stroke unicorns with them, tell about dragons, theoretical work in the classroom, owls and the Phoenix are a good topic too. The classroom you used once after the Yule Ball is prepared again. The Slytherins have never been fond of Hagrid; they’ll accept everything from you.”

 

Leonor sighed, feeling the strong kicks of the new baby. She thought briefly about taking Severus’ hand to let him experience it, but the moment was wrong.

 

Severus spoke more determined now, “Hagrid has no students above O.W.L. level. The Carrows still think that a trip to the Forbidden Forest is punishment; so, I and other teachers handed out detentions with Hagrid. We may have to do that again.”

 

“There was once a replacement for Hagrid,” said Leonor not quite happy with the idea to teach two months before their second child was due. She’d been in the forest with Hagrid but catching unicorns for a lesson or a walk in the forest was no appealing thought right now.

 

“Professor Grubbly-Plank does not answer my owls,” admitted Severus grudgingly.

 

“Sev, even if I feel better than being pregnant with Eileen it’s quite a lot now. Eileen is teething, she starts to sit and crawl, and is often impatient if it does not work the way she wants, and then she summons close objects. I wrecked a simple potion recently, because I run several times away from the cauldron. A knife flew in Eileen’s direction, and she enjoyed playing with the shining blade. I’ve to be on the watch. And look at me!” Leonor gestured to her bodily shape. “I’m round and getting tubbier every day.”

 

Severus heaved a sigh. “You are right. It is too much. The Carrows will be delighted to hear that they can stand-in for Hagrid; they are already drooling to send students to the forest.”

 

Severus strode still up and down in the front of the fireplace. Dumbledore frowned, when Leonor looked at the portraits, obviously unhappy with the idea that the Carrows got another chance to punish more students. She felt a pang of guilt looking at him and thinking of the damage the Death Eaters brought over the school every day. The old man again! Leonor gasped.

 

Severus looked finally up, his face skinny, more pallid than ever, eyes and skin aged as if years had passed hastily.

 

“I’m sorry,” he whispered, squeezing Leonor’s upper arms gently.

 

 “The Dark Lord will chastise you for making a wrong suggestion. I don’t want to see Alecto victorious either.”

 

“There’s no need to care about that.” Severus’ expression darkened even more.

 

“Alright, I do it for now,” said Leonor suddenly. “But I’m not going to teach anything dangerous.”

 

“Are you sure?”

 

“It’s the best way for the students, isn’t it?”

 

Severus snivelled relieved, “It is, and you save my neck.”

 

“Do I?” smiled Leonor.

 

“You do,” agreed Severus gravely. Severus just took Leonor’s hands, holding them for a second. She pulled him into a non-committal hug, and it was a deal. The suddenly wide-awake audience of grim looking headmasters witnessed it.

 

“I fetch the deputy headmasters and Heads of House from the Great Hall. Bring Eileen to the bedroom, I don’t want to draw any attention to her,” spoke Severus matter-of-factly. “You can visit Madam Pomfrey when Minerva and the Carrows are informed.”

 

XXX

 

Leonor stroked the cheeks of Eileen gently before waving her wand activating some safeguarding spells in case her daughter woke up when the Professors still spoke in Severus’ study.

 

She just exited the adjoining room when she heard footsteps, then she placed herself in front of the mantlepiece and arranged the clothes. For a moment Leonor hoped that the Carrows were not amongst the Professors, but when the door opened a nosy and breathless Alecto burst inside right behind Severus. The Professors McGonagall, Flitwick, Sprout, Amycus Carrow and Slughorn followed. All looked mildly irritated by the unexpected call in the middle of dinner. Slughorn’s mouth was smudged with gravy and a napkin garnished his fat belly. Minerva appeared thin-lipped and her eyes got colder getting a glimpse of Leonor. Flitwick had trouble to see something at all because either Amycus or Alecto blocked deliberately his sight. Pomona Sprout's grey curls required a haircut and the always cheerful soul looked anxious and nervous. Severus walked round the desk and sat without a hurry, offering no seats to any of the Professors. He waited until the shuffling of feet and the swishing of fabric silenced. Then he put his black wand in front of him and leaned back.

 

Severus looked first at Leonor and when she nodded, he focused Minerva as if he wanted her to understand something. Then he said sharply without accepting dissent, “I appoint Professor Scott as the Care of Magical Creatures teacher till end of the term.”

 

Visible rage blazed in Alecto, she puffed red-faced, “How did she come here?”

 

“What do you mean by that?” asked Severus with a chilly friendliness.

 

“I haven’t seen her in the entrance hall doing supervision.”

 

“Then you missed something,” said Severus snidely.

 

Amycus sneered with a mean expression in the eyes. “Is she going to work as a gamekeeper too? She’s pregnant, a full-round female —"

 

Leonor shot him a dangerous look. Severus jaw twitched and he bit his lips.

 

Amycus spoke then with a velvety pitying voice, raising his palms up innocently. “Severus, she’s a light prey for the evil beasts.”

 

“The centaurs report to me about happenings — until the ministry finds an appropriate gamekeeper. I take care of any issues if they arise and I don’t want anybody to interfere with it. Rubeus Hagrid did enough damage by false testimony. I’m glad that I won the centaurs over. The Dark Lord appreciates it.”

 

Amycus drawled gazing at Leonor through narrowed eyes, “Greyback would be delighted —” but Minerva stopped him in the middle of the sentence.

 

“How dare you to suggest that! He bites children!” she screeched and raised her wand pointing it at Amycus. All other Professors did the same and in next to no time two hostile fronts glared at each other. Leonor thanked Minerva to stop Amycus in detailing Greyback’s attack, the purpose of the mention imminent.

 

“How childish. Put your wands away!” commanded Severus, still sitting composed in the headmaster’s chair. His wand hadn’t moved an inch. The troubled waters cooled a bit.

 

Severus spoke now in a low voice focusing on Amycus. Everybody listened. “The Dark Lord does not wish to spill magical blood. Further he has evidence that a new teacher for Defence against the Dark Arts is required next year.”

 

“He got a teacher,” blurted a disgruntled Amycus immediately.

 

“Of course.” Severus bowed slightly, sneering. Then he flicked his wand. Several scrolls of parchment flew into the hands of the Professors and out of the room nailing the changed timetables to the notice boards.

 

“Please inform the staff in due course tonight. You are dismissed,” said Severus with a brisk tone and waited impatiently until the footsteps vanished. Then he gestured Leonor to sit, the expression still occluded and impervious.

 

“Do they always attack each other?” asked Leonor bewildered who saw Minerva and the Carrows never in one room together.

 

“Not that often anymore; on the surface it’s more civil since Luna and Ginny did not return to Hogwarts. Some Gryffindors hide in the Room of Requirement and the open resistance became less. The Carrows think they achieved something,” muttered Severus, the hands on the desk.

 

Then Leonor wanted to know why he threatened Carrow with losing his position.

 

“I didn’t. Amycus just doesn’t listen to his master. The Dark Lord does not expect him to return after the summer as so many predecessors.”

 

“You mean that curse is still active?”

 

“That’s the Dark Lord’s guess. He looks for a new candidate and is fully aware of your skills in the Dark Arts as well as the more personal situation.”

 

All colour drained from Leonor’s face. “You didn’t tell him, did you?” said Leonor agitated.

 

“No, he has informants in Hogsmeade and the ministry. What he knows about you is no disadvantage if the Dark Lord gains more power and if Potter needs more time hiding in the woods.” Severus frowned at Dumbledore who inclined his head, muttering something about patience.

 

Leonor panicked, leaning forward in shock. “Will he come to do something to Eileen?”

 

Severus stood up and turned towards the window. The last rays of sunshine vanished behind the mountains. Thestrals spread their wings to circle the Forbidden Forrest. He understood well why Leonor was troubled by the idea. The Dark Lord took the useful bits and pieces but showed no mercy. Personal situations didn’t matter.

 

Severus answered deliberately calm, “The Dark Lord is pleased to get a talented young generation. I’m sure he’s aware that I’m the father, though parentage matters little. The prospect of young followers raised under his reign is more important.”

 

“Please stop pretending that it means nothing! You don’t even look me in the eye!” bellowed Leonor. Red spots appeared in the white face, and she gasped for breath. The baby kicked her painfully, and she pushed herself up easing the pain.

 

Severus continued to stare into the beginning night biting his lips that he told her, that he needed her so much in every sense of the word.

 

Leonor walked slowly to the bedroom, supporting each step by holding on to the furniture. Her head swam and she was terrified. She stood in the second line if something bad happened to Severus, like Narcissa and Draco. The fellow Death Eaters appreciated Severus’ success very little; they thirsted for his position. Rise and fall were close together.

 

 The peaceful sight of a sleeping Eileen gave a small comfort but just for the moment. What if she had to raise the kids under the Dark Lord’s supervision? What if the rumours about the ‘Chosen One’ were only the flower of hope and Dumbledore followed the wrong path? What if the high expectations crashed Harry before the Dark Lord vanquished? Harry was just of-age and not a battle-tested warrior after all, the weight on the young shoulders incredibly.

 

The idea compressed Leonor’s heart and the dizzy feeling increased. The room blurred; a strong pain shot through her womb and the knees became weak. She lowered herself to the floor, clutching her belly and then there was only darkness.

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