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The Final Battle Begins

 

“Keep him warm, all he needs is body heat and if he calms down a bath, nice warm water,” spluttered Caryn wrapping the baby in a second blanket before putting a thumb into the bath.

 

“The water is too cold — well it took long — born right before midnight — tough little boy — still a bit blue around the nose,” she stammered hastily.

 

Caryn wiped vernix from the tiny face and pressed the bundle with the crying boy in Severus arms.

 

“Take him and remember — an early baby needs warmth. Come upstairs if he looks clean and rosy.”

 

“How’s Leonor …,” whispered Severus having only eyes for the little face and the quivering fists of his son.

 

“I patch her up,” called Caryn and hurried again to the upper floor. Then she turned and uttered, “She named him Marcus Severus.”

 

Severus was thrilled, a strong name although he liked of course to discuss ‘Severus’ doubting that Leonor gave it up. It didn’t matter in that beautiful moment when he stood in the potion kitchen next to the baby bathtub and held the new-born in the crook of the arm, touching the black hair and the soft cheeks gently with a finger, swaying back and forth and whispering gentle words. It took a while until the baby stopped crying from the effort coming to this world; two very small hands ceased shaking. The birds closed in nudging the blanket in greeting and the Phoenix began a low musical melody.

 

When the little one opened the eyes looking at his father, Severus said with deep lines in the worn face, “It’s time to prepare for your mother. She’ll love you as much as I do.”

 

XXX

 

When the room divider finally dropped, Marcus sucked his fingers feeling well while pressed to Severus’ chest. Caryn collected a heap of used bedsheets and carried them away.

 

“Are you satisfied with your little boy?” she called over her shoulder to Severus. “He’s about twenty inches and seven pounds, more than his sister and that three weeks early.”

 

Severus didn’t listen, he just wanted to know if his love was alright too. “Can I see Leonor?” asked Severus at once.

 

“She’s asleep, be quiet.”

 

The new mother slept in the middle of the bed under a thin blanket, the room again overheated like the cottage last year. Severus sat carefully down, talking to the awake little boy and moving some sticky strands of hair from his love’s face. Leonor looked worn out, a little better than he expected in his worst thoughts. The skin was warm and sweaty like fading fever. Caryn bustled in and out checking pulse and temperature. She looked stern and brought eventually a little bottle with baby food.

 

 “Do you want to feed little Marcus?”

 

Severus nodded and took it asking nervously, “How’s Leonor?”

 

“Not bad, considering the circumstances. I gave her a sleeping potion; she’ll wake up, no worries, and then we know more.” Caryn patted Severus’ shoulder. “I make us something hot, and then we grab a bit of sleep.”

 

She returned a bit later with a bowl of steaming hot soup and took the baby boy who drank slowly and with frequent pauses.

 

“You need patience with the early babies. They need to learn everything also how to drink. He tries hard emptying that bottle,” smiled Caryn and put the bundle back in Severus arms when he finished eating.

 

“I leave you alone and have a nap in the armchair downstairs. You’ll know where to find me. Go to rest; it’s been a long day.”

 

When the footsteps of the midwife died away, the silence closed in. Severus watched Leonor’s steady breathing. His yawing son fell asleep. Severus’ lids closed too, and he sat against the headboard of the bed, willing to last out, the baby in his right arm and Leonor’s fingers in his left hand. He kissed them both on the top of the heads and spoke in an overwhelmed whisper, “I love you.”

 

XXX

 

The day dawned, a pink sky covered the landscape and created a mild contrast to the green meadows and fields in between the rolling hills. The owl flap creaked and announced Pauline’s and Hugo’s return from the nightly hunt. Everything was quiet in the apothecary, only the new-born awoke. Fragile cries reached the ears of the sleeping parents.

 

Severus stretched slowly, eyes unwilling to open, the baby firmly in the crook of his arm. His back and shoulders ached from the stiff position. He was stirred from sleep by that soft noise. Somebody turned and huddled against his left side, warm fingers enclosed his hand. He needed a moment to remember where he was. Leonor moved subconsciously towards him, her heavy lids opening reluctantly.

 

“Sev? You are here,” she said, the voice drowsy and gentle.

 

“Yes, I’ve been here all the time,” he confirmed, moving slightly to a better sitting position, kissing her forehead, inhaling the familiar smell, still not fully awake.

 

Then Leonor leaped up and called, “How’s Marcus?” Her eyes searched and found the new-born next to her. She caressed the rosy cheeks, bliss in her eyes.

 

“Alright, I think,” said Severus, and they both looked at their son who wept more frantic with the minute. “What’s wrong?” reasoned Severus.

 

“A wet nappy, hunger, perhaps. Can I have him? I’ve just seen him briefly, haven’t had the possibility to say hello.” Leonor took the boy from Severus and pressed a fleeting kiss to the little nose, rocking him carefully. Leonor looked up, fearful and insecure, obvious to Severus that the second birth took more strengths than Leonor would admit.

 

“I love you, Leo,” he whispered, catching her lips for a deep short kiss. “No more children. I don’t want to lose you.”

 

She nodded and Leonor began to unwrap and undress her little son for the first time.

 

“Marcus is a nice name,” whispered Severus a bit embarrassed with the idea to pass on the own first name too.

 

“I thought so too. I always liked it, my favourite boy name.” Leonor smiled busy with the baby.

 

Severus got up getting a nappy and finding out how to prepare a baby bottle, but Caryn came already upstairs with her wand and the baby food.

 

“You had a good night?” huffed the midwife walking past Severus without caring much about an answer. Then she rushed towards Leonor gasping out, “How are you, my dear?”

 

“Is my son alright too?” she countered.

 

“Sure, handsome and tall for a premature baby. He’ll make up quickly for the lost weeks.”

 

The women delved now in details and Severus who listened a while felt out of place. He walked downstairs, made a coffee and decided to check on Eileen; she had to meet her brother too. He missed the daughter, wanted them all together in one place before making plans for the next days and bringing them away from Hogsmeade.

 

Severus took the Floo to the study in the Hogwarts tower and according to the immediate report of the headmasters’ portraits everything had been quiet in that night in April, except the two nanny-elves and Eileen who obviously couldn’t get enough. Eileen rested only a bit; she was hyped up by all the new experiences and the unknown surroundings. Dumbledore’s bedroom was littered with colourful elf-hats and the little girl sat in the middle. Hermione Granger would have been devastated about the misuse of the artefacts of freedom. Eileen yawned and swayed slightly with tiredness, looking for another hat to grab and squeeze it. A smile appeared in the little face, and she stretched her arms when she saw her father, delighted that the exhausting excursion came to an end.

 

Severus was very relieved to see her well, and he didn’t mind that the day broke all rules for a toddler. He scooped her in the air and said, “You’ve got a gorgeous little brother.” She giggled and nestled quickly to Severus’ chest.

 

When they returned, a sleepy Eileen cried and demanded her mother. Leonor embraced and kissed her; the world felt safe and complete and Eileen fell immediately into a deep slumber; any more excitement too much for the moment.

 

“She didn’t sleep much,” said Severus with a half-grin. “The elves kept her busy. She’s dead beat after playing most of the night.”

 

The three adults laughed: a family of four.

 

XXX

 

2nd May 1998

 

“Caryn,” said Leonor with a low shaking voice, “I want to go to Hogsmeade, just for an hour.” She paced in front of the kitchen stove, her hands twisting the long brown hair and releasing it again. Leonor made that request several times already since being locked up in the cottage; just her body didn’t let her do magic the way she wanted in the past days. It had to work now.

 

Caryn spoke calmly putting as many persuasions in her voice as she could, “You heard Severus. You must not go there; he blocked the Floo or somebody can detect the cottage easily. There’s a Caterwauling Charm in Hogsmeade; the dark wizard stationed all available Death Eaters in the village, Alma fled to her daughter and son-in-law, the ‘Three Broomsticks’ is closed for public.”

 

“I have to go there. The Caterwauling Charm does not notice me if I apparate inside the house,” said Leonor determined, wringing her hands, frown lines on the forehead.

 

“You acknowledge Severus’ efforts very little, my dear. He brought you and the babies safely out of the village right before the Death Eaters turned every stone, searched all the houses and emptied every drawer to find Harry Potter. Alma went almost crazy when they overturned shop and flat right after you left. She burst into tears and will need ages to restore the house. You haven’t seen her, but I have. Couldn’t even tell her that you’ve given birth to a son. Merlin knows if she’s safe!”

 

“And what if they searched the apothecary in my absence?”

 

“Then you don’t want to know that now. You must look after yourself. The house is not important. You lost a lot of blood and your body had no time to recover after giving birth to Eileen and breast-feeding,” grunted Caryn gloomily.

 

The sun dropped to the sea already a while ago. The last daylight faded, and the night enclosed the cottage ‘Above the Cliffs’ completely. The sea roared restless against the cliffs. Eileen and Marcus cuddled next to each other in the baby cot, a peaceful sight. Eileen gripped her favourite stuffed toy in one hand and Marcus his sister’s pyjamas.

 

“Caryn,” implored Leonor again and sat down next to the old midwife. “Severus’ information saved us. I don’t want to think about a visit of Greyback or the Carrows or any other evil man, seeing the babies and — well let’s not talk about that. You do more for me than you are bound to do. I wouldn’t have —.”

 

Caryn cut her words off. “— you wouldn’t have managed alone. You’ve been too weak to walk from the bed to the bathroom and back. That’s why I am still here. I help until a family is ready to master the daily routine. You are just recovered and now you risk everything to go to the apothecary in the middle of the night. Why do you want to leave the cottage?” Caryn gave Leonor an anguished look.

 

“It’s a gut feel. Potter escaped from Malfoy Manor. He broke into Gringotts, even the Prophet issued a newsflash and I’m sure he comes to Hogwarts now. That is Harry’s next move. The Dark Lord is right in waiting for him in Hogsmeade.”

 

“And what does it have to do with you?”

 

“Severus is in danger. I fear he gets crushed in between the two opposing parties,” whispered Leonor and a deathly silence spread over the cottage. Leonor clutched the bracelet. It tickled no more, hadn’t tickled the whole day. It made her mad.

 

Caryn shook her head bewildered and reluctant to believe that all had been said.

 

Leonor walked to the storeroom and filled a hexed neck pouch with potions for emergencies. The flasks vanished one by one in the depths of the magically enlarged bag. Then she dressed more suitable for a cool night and kissed the children a last time. Caryn gazed at Leonor, mumbling inarticulate words in a lack of understanding.

 

Leonor embraced the midwife who was now a motherly friend. “Thank you, Caryn, thank you for everything. Please remain with Eileen and Marcus until I return, please!”

 

Caryn was stunned and played the last trump. “You leave your children? Don’t do that! You’ll regret it.”

 

“I want them to live in a world without the Dark Lord. They need to grow up with mother and father. I must make sure that Severus is safe. I’ll return if I know he’s alive and out of trouble. It’s not lightheaded and easy to leave. But how can I look in the eyes of Eileen and Marcus if I didn’t even try to improve their future?” replied Leonor with wet eyes.

 

Caryn wanted to say more but Leonor turned and walked from the cottage straight through the kissing gate from where she apparated to the surroundings of Hogsmeade. Leonor landed on the outbound thoroughfare separating the Hogwarts grounds from the meadows outside the village. She glanced to the direction of the apothecary but saw only overgrown shrubs, all very well disguised. The village stood quiet in the darkness, but Hogwarts ached under distant explosions and red, green and blueish-white jets of lights. Leonor gaped and a feeling of being too late strangled her stomach.

 

“They are battling in the school,” breathed Leonor into her hands that were firmly pressed over her mouth. She closed her eyes for a second, thinking what to do next and decided to take a few minutes to get some more potions brewed recently for exceptional situations. She spun on the spot, the destination firmly in her mind and landed in the middle of the potions kitchen and hit her head against the table in the darkness.

 

“Damn,” she hissed and rubbed the back of her head until the pain faded.

 

Leonor grabbed a few more flasks from a secret compartment of a cupboard and rushed through to the sales room peering to a deserted street. Everything was silent and dark. She hesitated to continue but ignored in the end the promise she gave to Severus to safe herself and the children first.

 

“Sorry Severus,” she murmured, wrapped the cloak tighter around her body, checked the contents of the neck pouch again before preparing for the mission. The pouch contained Veritaserum, Felix Felicis, Polyjuice, different antidotes and everything a healer might need for emergencies in a battle.

 

“It is a war. Who will know if I take a prohibited potion?” she said aloud into the eerie silence.

 

A flashback of the work at the FBI and MACUSA appeared suddenly. Alan, the harsh and tight-lipped former partner, crept through her mind, a conscience-stricken man who lost his family to a crime he tried to avert from others. He’d been minutes too late and never forgave himself for following the rules instead of a gut feel. She didn’t want to experience Alan’s fate. Leonor swallowed the half contents of the Liquid Luck and her idea to search for Severus got confirmed almost immediately; a confident warmth spread through her insides.

 

Then, Leonor spun on the spot landing in a thicket on the school grounds; for some reason she knew that it worked. The defences of Hogwarts had fallen; she stood right beside the ledge covered in ivy that led to the hidden sunlit bay she visited once with Severus. The area was quiet, and Leonor strode carefully along the lake and towards the castle, the wand at the ready, the sky illuminated from jinxes and curses, far screams echoed across the lake. Aurors in long cloaks rushed uphill and Leonor quickly retreated into the shadows of the trees. She chose a narrow path along the Forbidden Forest and remained thoroughly hidden and without having a clue why she chose the walkway instead of apparating closer to the castle entrance.

 

Severus either changed sides supporting Minerva, and then he surely fought in the building or grounds. If he kept the cover to control the Dark Lord, then he might be in the centre of command and difficult to approach. She wondered briefly if Potter received Dumbledore’s message and how Severus presented it to the boy. If, then it equalled a masterpiece of persuasion because Harry mistrusted, or — to be more precise — hated Severus more than Voldemort. The mutual dislike weighted heavily — a canyon too wide to bridge. More colourful flashes of spells and jinxes illuminated the ancient building bright as day. Leonor occluded her mind blocking out the vision of insured children or she would have forgotten what to do next. A volley of spellfire crashed to the forest behind. Fire pockets illuminated the area and Leonor ducked watching more orange glowing hot spots falling from the sky. More terrible thoughts wriggled through her mind when the spellfire missed her again and again by inches.

 

A rustle and a crack of dry twigs pulled Leonor out of the temporary stupor. She crouched deeper into the bushes. A black clad figure walked past the lawn and straight into her direction. Silvery white hair swayed by the brisk pace; it gave Lucius Malfoy away. That Death Eater was godsend! Leonor hesitated, waited just a moment until Lucius got by. Then she moved forward, pointing the wand threateningly to Lucius’s back and stopped him with an arm around his throat.

 

“Hello Lucius,” she drawled.

 

He frowned, holding up defeated hands and mumbling frightened, “Who are you? I know your voice. I’m on your side.”

 

Leonor strengthened her grip and bored the wand deeper into Lucius flesh. “Where’s Severus?”

 

“Scott, it’s you!” Lucius searched a chance to free himself, but Leonor didn’t let him escape, forcing all powers to hold him captive. A painful jinx ended the wrestling.

 

Leonor repeated, “Where’s Severus?”

 

“I should bring you to the Dark Lord, he knows,” replied Lucius with a sneaky undertone, searching for some advantage of the encounter.

 

“Liar,” shot Leonor at him and another hex brought Lucius to the knees.

 

Lucius raised his hands again and spluttered, “The Dark Lord ordered Severus to the Shrieking Shack.”

 

“Is Severus still there?”

 

“I suppose,” whispered Malfoy.

 

“Why are you not with him? Hasn’t Severus helped your son enough?”

 

“The Dark Lord threw me out. I’ve been sent to the forest clearing to wait for him. Please, let me go and find Narcissa there; we’ve lost our son in the battle, haven’t been able to find Draco,” shuddered Lucius covering the pathetic face with his hands.

 

“He’s a clever boy, keeps out of trouble,” answered Leonor curtly knowing for some reason that Draco was alright. She pushed Lucius forward that he landed on all fours. Before Malfoy got back into shape, Leonor had already vanished into the darkness under a disillusionment charm.

 

Leonor rushed downhill and along the edge of the village to the narrow path leading to the Shrieking Shack. A Mountain Troll crossed the way followed by two Death Eaters who tortured the troll with impatient spells. Leonor stunned the Death Eaters from ambush and the troll continued his way for some yards before noticing that he was free. Then he toddled off and away from the battle heading back to the Scottish mountains where he came from.

 

Leonor reached the Shrieking Shack, and everything was quiet. She felt her tired legs after the run and only hoped that Lucius was correct. She saw a sparse candlelight behind the cracks of the boards nailed against the windows. A shiver run down her spine; it was incredibly cold; the place felt hollow and false. The evil master had not left!

 

At that moment an inhuman figure exited the shack, clad in long greyish-robes and followed by the heavy body of the snake. Nagini was secured in a rolling cage. The Dark Lord feared for the snake’s life! The strong magical presence created goose bumps on Leonor’s skin. She watched from the shadows, unable to close the eyes despite the awful sight. The Dark Lord glided noiseless away, a satisfied grin in the gleaming red pupils, the nostrils flared with power. Then he lifted his wand and rose in the air, the dirty-grey robes billowed behind him and the snake coiled in the cage until both disappeared in the night.

 

He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named could fly! Leonor gazed and collected her thoughts. She climbed quickly up the stairs and moved fast through the door that stood open and vacated by the evil master. She saw black messy hair and knew immediately that Harry Potter lowered his body into the tunnel between the Whomping Willow and the Shrieking Shack. Then the fruit crate snapped into place hiding the tunnel again from view.

 

Potter met Severus! A wave of hope flooded through Leonor’s body. Then she was alone and the deathly silence filled her with a sense of foreboding. She called desperately ‘Severus’ but got no answer running instinctively to the next room on the same floor. She found Severus leaning against the wall, unnaturally sprawled on the floor, ghastly, blacked out, blood pulsed across the right shoulder and down the robes. It created a pool on the dusty floorboards.

 

Something snapped shut in Leonor’s mind; all the emergency training couldn’t have been wasted on her. She saw the puddle of blood and narrowed her eyes; it wasn’t yet enough to kill a full-grown man. She kneeled, rummaged in the neck pouch to put a blood clotting potion to a sterile gauze, staunching the slow flow with pressing one hand to Severus’ neck and searching the pulse with the other. There was a very faint heartbeat, a low breath behind the closed unmoving lids, the snake had not cut through the artery cleanly.

 

Then she took the strongest snake antidote from the bag and pleaded that Richard had been right in finding a healing for Arthur Weasley despite all the other attempts of wizarding and muggle medicine that had been tried on the man before. She forced the antidote down Severus’ throat, professional and fast, without accepting any possibility that it was too late. Leonor ignored the lifeless limp body; she just paid attention to the existing faint pulse. There was still time to safe Severus when she moved the wand along the perforated blood vessels and the bitten flesh murmuring incantations. Then she wrapped a compressor bandage around Severus’ neck impregnated with more healing potions and antidotes. She inhaled relieved when the pulse stabilized though on a very low level. The candlelight flickered and the dust on the floor raised when Leonor hefted Severus upright, staggering under the weight. He had to be treated somewhere else and not in a place full of bad memories, dirt and the unmistakable odour of death.

 

Leonor transported a drunk man in Brazil and could do that again. Brian had certainly been heavier than Severus and apparition was the only means of transport to leave the place quickly and undiscovered. Leonor tumbled back and forth, enchained one hand with Severus waist, steadied her position and rotated on the spot without wasting one more second. She concentrated hard on the exact destination, and they landed with a loud crack on the stone tiles in front of the mantlepiece. Deafening screeches re-echoed in the kitchen of the cottage until Caryn and the birds recognized who arrived.

 

Leonor panted for breath, scanned Severus’ body for more injuries from the hard landing and searched the pulse again and there it was, just ticking but regular. She stood up and tumbled against the table with knees squashed from landing and the unmistakable elated feeling of Felix Felicis. ‘I cannot let him die’ she thought ferociously.

 

Leonor caught Caryn’s dumbstruck expression and declared, “He’s alive. I need warm water and clean pyjamas from the wardrobe next to the bathroom.”

 

Then Leonor ripped the bloody clothes from Severus body and levitated him to the bed, a conjured white screen separated the injured man from views. Caryn came running with a bowl of water and soft cloths. Leonor started to clean Severus’ face and chest slowly, speaking in a low hushed voice to Eileen who sat upright and woken from a deep sleep, too shocked to cry aloud. Marcus wept unconsolably, his desperate face reddened more and more and not even Caryn could comfort him.

 

“Put Marcus next to Severus, best put them both to the other side of the bed. The familiar smell is soothing, and I keep talking to them,” said Leonor and Caryn agreed in a loss of a better idea.

 

“What happened?” asked Caryn slightly hysteric.

 

“A snake bite, I need new dressings, please get them from the storeroom.”

 

Caryn hurried away.

 

Leonor finished cleaning and unwrapped the bandage around Severus’s neck; Eileen watched the divider transfixed and made a chuckling noise that sounded like ‘daddy’ pointing a little finger to Severus.

 

“Daddy will be alright,” said Leonor smiling at her daughter. Her heart made a somersault hearing her daughter’s first word in a moment of despair. It could only be a good sign!

 

Eileen repeated ‘daddy’ again and again and improved with every reiteration resolving every doubt about what she meant. Leonor praised Eileen and tears stung her eyes. That happy tension calmed Marcus too and then Eileen cuddled next to him, hugged her brother and pressed a proud kiss on the brother’s wet cheeks, both incredibly tired after the shock.

 

“Ar mhaithe le neamh!” called Caryn in her native language seeing the raw gush when she returned. “The snake’s bitten through his neck!”

 

“Looks like it. Good that it stopped bleeding. I hope the cervical vertebras are alright, cannot check it with the open wound. We can only wait and pray.” Leonor sighed, flustered and worried.

 

She was just about to begin winding a new dressing around Severus’ neck when Flint landed on the bed with a soft cry. He looked at the lifeless face and the deep wound; tears wriggled free from the black beady eyes and dropped to the damaged flesh.

 

Leonor wanted to say loads of things, but every word got stuck in her throat with happiness. She stroked the Phoenix until he completed the task of utter love and trust and flew back to the perch in the kitchen with a soothing melody.

 

Leonor finished the bandage under tears, watching how the Phoenix tears rebuilt the structures of the muscles, not perfectly healed but a good starting point for recovery.

 

“I love you,” murmured Leonor gently, kissing Severus’ blueish and cold lips. “It’s been a lucky day, frightful but lucky,” she concluded when the hall clock chimed midnight.

 

Worry lines returned on Leonor’s forehead when she retreated later to the storeroom to concoct more snake antidote; inside her stretched doubts if the worst was over. At least for tonight things were settled. Marcus and Eileen dozed off again in the large double bed and Leonor sent Caryn to the guest room upstairs. Nothing could be done except waiting until more and better antivenom was ready.

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