Nothing Else Matters


Story Summary:
Severus Snape once spied for the Order of the Phoenix because he had nothing to lose. Following the Dark Lord’s resurrection, he finds himself once more walking a knife edge, this time to protect everything he has gained. "Sequel to The Dream of One Night"

Chapter 01




"Not again, Char! How many times does Mummy have to tell you that Daddy's bookcases are not your roost!"

Hi. My name's Avrille, and I'm the mother of a baby dragon. Ok, he's actually an eighteen-month-old little boy, but for all intents and purposes, he might as well be a dragon for the amount of time I spend rescuing him from his own mischief. I don't know if it was the double dose of having an extra powerful witch and extremely well-learned wizard for parents, but I swore there couldn't have ever been a baby more attracted to trouble than my son.

His father and my husband, Severus Snape, is regarded by many to be one of the most powerful and educated wizards of his generation in England. He is currently wrapping up his fourteenth year as Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry's Potions master. We met nearly three years ago after I left my home in Nova Scotia to begin my own teaching apprenticeship under his tutelage-- which promptly ended a couple of months before its completion with the conception of Char. My own powers are certainly nothing to sniff at. Perhaps by some genetic anomaly, I was born with magical potential vastly greater than the average witch. However, trauma I suffered as a child suppressed my powers to the extent that I couldn't even use magic consciously until Severus helped me face the ghosts of my past right before I became pregnant. It was fortunate indeed that he had been able to restore my magic to me, for the night we made Char, Severus fell victim to a Death Wish curse that had been placed on him by his father years before. Severus barely escaped the ordeal with his sanity and came extremely close to losing his life. But that's another story. I was talking about my little firecracker of a child.

"Char" was actually born Armand Charles Snape after my own father, who was murdered when I was nine, and Severus's mother, Charlotte, who also tragically died far too young. However, a mere few days after his birth, Severus and I decided his name really didn't fit his personality. Both my father and Severus's mother were quiet, subdued adults, nothing like our tiny newborn son who spent every awake moment actively gazing around at his new surroundings with keen alertness. Within two weeks, baby Armand became so frustrated being stuck on his tummy during playtime that he rolled himself right over onto his back. He kept hitting all of his milestones early after that, giving us no peace since once he mastered one, he immediately began work on the next. Severus eventually had to cast a very mild Sleeping Charm on our son after three straight weeks of being woken up every hour by frantic yelling next to our bed from our overachieving baby pulling to stand in his crib and not being able to get himself back down.

His nickname came about when he was about six months old. For the past few weeks, he had begun some serious teething and was only somewhat happy when gnawing on his wooden teether rings. Hearing his ferocious growling as he gummed furiously at his toys, Severus remarked that he sounded like a newborn dragon he had seen once at a preserve. The name Char came up after that, and he's been lovingly called so ever since. Little did we know he'd also end up spending so much time flying through the air. Case in point, he was currently once more soaring back down to the ground as I levitated him off from the top shelf of one of my husband's many bookcases in his rooms in the dungeons of the school.

Char threw his head back and laughed uproariously as he gently glided through the air back down onto the carpet. I swear he climbed so high intentionally just so I would have to use magic to bring him down. Toddlers really shouldn't be allowed to be so strong, or so cunning, for that matter, but mine certainly was.

"Can we please get you dressed, now?" I asked him, trying very hard to keep my mounting frustration out of my voice. I knew Severus would be wondering where we were, and I hated to keep him waiting. He had already left the castle directly after dinner to escort his Slytherin students down to the school's Quidditch pitch. Hogwarts was hosting the newly reinstated Triwizard Tournament this year, and tonight the champions would be completing their third and last task. It would soon be nearing Char's bedtime, but I thought he might enjoy watching the final task since he loved being around the students (not to mention he always slept better after an outing, as well). I knew once I got him out into the fresh, summer evening air he'd stop being so fussy, but the universe seemed to be conspiring against me meeting Severus on time. A rare lapse in Char's potty training had meant a quick bath was in order. While I was distracted conjuring a clean outfit for him out of his room in our cottage in Hogsmeade, Char had thrown aside his towel and scaled Severus's bookcases, stark naked like a wild child from the Amazon.

Char giggled mischievously once more as his head popped through the neck hole of his robes, his long black hair, still slightly damp from the bath, messily tousled. To show school spirit, I had bought a set of student robes from Gladrags and shrunk them with a charm to fit Char. I knew there was no way his green and silver tie would stay on longer than two minutes, so I simply let Char swing it around while I tied his shoes. With my wand I quickly shot some hot air over his hair to dry it, then ran my fingers through it to help it lie flat again.

Finally we were ready to go. Hoisting Char up on my hip, I climbed the stairs out of the dungeon as quickly as I could and hurried out through the deserted entrance hall. As soon as I rounded the corner of the castle outside, a roar of sound washed over me across the grounds from the Quidditch pitch. It seemed like the final task was already getting underway. I could hear Ludo Bagman's magically magnified voice speaking to the crowd, though the distance muffled the words beyond comprehensibility. I swung Char over onto my other hip and picked up my pace across the immaculate lawns. It really couldn't have been a better night for the conclusion of the tournament. An unusually hot day had left the twilight air heavy with the scent of warm grass. A gentle breeze off the lake was gently rustling the leaves of the Forbidden Forest and teasing small strands of hair from my bun to blow around my face. The first stars were just twinkling to life in the magenta-splashed violet sky above.

Just as I passed through a side gate into the Quidditch pitch, another wave of exuberant cheering hit me. I looked up at the stands across from me and saw the Gryffindor and Hufflepuff students were all on their feet, waving banners in support of their respective champions. However, the sight of them soon vanished as I moved along the edge of the pitch, the towering leafy walls of the task's giant hedge maze effectively blocking the view of the rest of the stadium. From a herbologist's perspective, I noted with interest that up close the maze hedges themselves were not as innocent as they had appeared from far away near the castle. A quick, cautious inspection revealed innumerable vines of midnight jasmine and climbing nightshade to be interwoven with the innocuous English ivy base. I wondered whether these plants had been chosen on purpose to add yet another element of danger to the final task or if they had simply been selected in ignorance on the basis of their beautiful, night-blooming blossoms. Either way, I made sure to keep well clear of them as I hurried onwards.

As I walked past the stands near the main gate of the stadium, where the entrance to the maze as well as the teachers' seats were located, I spotted Professor Moody slowly strolling along an outer maze wall, his wooden leg making his pace jerky across the uneven ground. Though he was in the dark shadow of the maze wall, the red star he was wearing on his hat signifying his role as one of the maze patrollers cast the rough contours of his scarred face in a garish light. He had had his wand out but was stowing it back into one of the inner pockets of his coat. He jerked his head curtly at me as I passed with Char. I politely returned his nod with one of my own, noticing and being slightly annoyed by the suspicious squint of his one normal eye.

Though I respected every teacher at Hogwarts and genuinely cared for most of them, having worked and lived among them for nearly a year, I had never taken to Alastor Moody. I knew he had done invaluable work as an Auror rounding up the followers of the Dark Lord years ago, but his continued distrust of Severus really rubbed me the wrong way. For his part, Severus still hadn't forgiven Professor Moody for daring to search his office when he began his tenure as Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher and lying that he had been given permission from Professor Dumbledore to do so.

Leaving Professor Moody behind and turning another corner to finally come out near the front of the maze, I quickly spotted Severus sitting in one of the first few rows next to my good friend Lavinia Sinistra, Hogwarts's Astronomy teacher. I noticed with exasperation that, as usual, they each seemed to be pointedly ignoring the other's proximity. I had hoped that my marrying Severus would make them at least cordial to each other, but Lavinia still thought Severus was thoroughly unpleasant and dull, while he considered her to be a downright flake.

Approaching the stands, I passed Professor Dumbledore, who was speaking with Cornelius Fudge, the Minister for Magic. The headmaster did not pause his conversation, but he did smile warmly at us and gave Char a little wave, which Char enthusiastically returned with one of his own. Professor Dumbledore chuckled then turned back to Mr. Fudge. Several other people were milling around the space between the stands and the gaping, shadowed entrance of the maze. Ludo Bagman, the tournament's Ministry officiate, was carefully eyeing a large clock situated in the middle of the arch spanning the maze entrance and comparing the time to a large, golden stopwatch he held in his hand with a jovial grin on his boyish face. The Heads of the other two schools participating in the tournament were standing by their respective champions. Madam Maxime seemed to be giving Fleur Delacour a rousing pep talk while Fleur stretched, her large, swarthy hands gesticulating sharply through the air as she spoke rapidly in French. Professor Karkaroff was going so far as to massage Viktor Krum's shoulders, though the pair of them were stone-faced and silent.

I climbed the few wooden stairs to the third row of seating and carefully picked my way past several Hogwarts instructors and the dozen or so Beauxbatons students who had remained at the school to support Fleur when their own names hadn't come out of the Goblet of Fire. Severus stood when I reached him and took Char from me so I could settle myself.

"What kept you?" he asked, sitting back down with Char on his lap. Char immediately began rummaging through Severus's pockets to try and find his wand.

"Oh, the usual combination of bodily fluids and inopportune moments," I replied, slightly out of breath from the long walk. Char was small for his age, but far from weightless. I could have easily lightened him with magic, of course, yet hadn't, figuring I could use a bit of exercise. Nursing for over a year had fortunately melted the baby weight from me with very little effort on my part, but that didn't mean I was in shape.

"I could have done without that, thank you," Lavinia said dryly, her hand paused in midair as she was about to eat a handful of popcorn.

"Just you wait," I replied, ominously gesturing to the small swell of her belly beneath her robes. Lavinia had finally married her boyfriend the previous summer, though she kept her maiden name to avoid sharing the appellation of Mrs. Hereford with her husband's first wife, who was so far refusing to relinquish it. The blissfully happy, newlywed couple was currently due to receive their own bundle of explosive bodily fluids in early October.

"Yes, but she won't be able to aim at me, at least," Lavinia said smugly, rooting around the bottom of her popcorn carton for another, kernel-less handful.

"Henry wasn't able to make it?" I asked her, looking around the stands for other familiar faces, waving when I made eye-contact with one. Lavinia shook her head, making her long black braid, even thicker than usual from her pregnancy, swing back and forth across her back.

"No, the shop received a rush order this afternoon for custom-cut dress robes. The amount he'll make in commission far outweighs the need for him to sit here and stare at a lot of hedges, in my mind."

I agreed with Lavinia on that part. So far, only the first task of the tournament had provided the spectators with anything to actually watch. I personally skipped the second task all together when Severus had informed me that it would involve sitting outside in February and staring at the surface of the lake for an hour.

"Did I miss anything important?" I asked Severus, pointedly removing his wand from Char's grabby hands and handing it back to him with a stern look after scooching our son back onto my own lap. Severus thought it was highly amusing to allow Char to play with his wand in the hopes he might do some magic by accident. However, knowing all of the magical mischief I had gotten into accidentally as a child, I didn't think that was something Severus and I needed to be actively encouraging with Char. To curb Char's instant sniffles at the removal of his "toy," I conjured his teddy for him to play with instead.

"Since Diggory and Potter were leading with points, they already entered," Severus said while stashing his wand into a deeper pocket of his school-robes. He looked up and gestured to the maze entrance. "Krum's going now."

Sure enough, with a trill of Ludo Bagman's whistle, Viktor Krum rushed into the maze with his wand at the ready. Once he was in, Fleur Delacour moved into position between the two ivy-laced columns flanking the entrance, jumping in place to keep her muscles warm. His champion having vanished into the leafy expanse, Professor Karkaroff returned to the stands himself and settled amongst his other students directly in front of Severus and me. Karkaroff's eyes met Severus's before he sat, though he quickly glanced away from my husband's narrowed stare. I unconsciously hugged Char a little tighter. I certainly didn't trust Karkaroff, not after Severus informed me earlier in the year of his role as a former Death Eater himself. The man had never spoken to me, and I was happy to keep things that way.

I conjured a few more of Char's toys for him, but at the moment he was happy looking around excitedly at all the new people and listening to the cheerful noise of the brass band. Even though the Hogwarts champions had already begun their task, the Gryffindor and Hufflepuff students had yet to sit back down on their benches and seemed determine to outshout Krum's schoolmates, who were chanting roughly in Bulgarian for him. The Beauxbatons students were the only ones completely quiet and several kept looking down their noses and sniffing disdainfully at the coarser Durmstrang boys.

"So, there's been nothing fishy at all?" I asked Severus quietly, leaning into him, though I probably needn't have bothered since the cheering of the Slytherins behind us for Krum on top of the Durmstrangs' rhythmic shouts made it unlikely we would be overheard. Severus had confided in me at the beginning of the school year that it was likely some other party had put Harry Potter's name into the Goblet of Fire in hopes of causing him harm. However, I wasn't sure how many of the staff members Professor Dumbledore had mentioned his suspicions to, like Lavinia for example, so I thought it best to be rather circumspect.

Severus shook his head, an eyebrow just the slightest bit raised in annoyance at the noise surrounding us. "All of the imported beasts were well within Ministry regulations, and no other obstacle should be beyond N.E.W.T. standard. Moody himself brought the Triwizard Cup into the center of the maze and for once seemed satisfied things were in order," he said with an irritated sneer.

A final whistle blast from Ludo Bagman brought my attention to the maze entrance in time to see the silvery tail ends of Fleur's hair whip around a leafy corner. All four champions were now inside. Now there wasn't much to do except sit back (though not literally or else you'd probably fall off of the bench) and wait until someone emerged victorious--or incapacitated. Their various duties fulfilled for the moment, the adults milling around the grass by the entrance wandered off into other areas of the pitch.

Perhaps unable to physically fit in the stands, Madam Maxime retired to a large, comfortable-looking chair she conjured slightly to the side of the area we were currently sitting with the rest of the staff to be near her Beauxbatons students. Professor Dumbledore had finished his conversation with Cornelius Fudge and moved to stand next to her, the top of his pointed hat just barely in line with her high, coiled bun even though she was sitting. The Minister meandered with a long-practiced, politically-serving nonchalance to where a group of reporters and photographers had gathered. Severus informed me that two of the reporters, a man and woman both smartly dressed in conservative business-robes, were from the Daily Prophet, while the two others, both men wearing robes that were certainly more fashionable but still in need of a good pressing, represented the tabloid rag, The Moon. Fudge pointedly ignored the two Moon reporters and immediately struck up a conversation with the Daily Prophet staff, waving to Ludo Bagman to come join him.

A good twenty minutes passed uneventfully. The novelty of the atmosphere having worn off for the most part, Char began to squirm on my lap and pushing away the toys he had until that moment been happy playing with. Lavinia offered to take him for a while since I wasn't about to let him run around on the grass when who-knows-what was currently slinking through the maze a dozen feet away. Fortunately Char was small since Lavinia didn't have quite the lap space she normally did. Taking out her wand, Lavinia delicately drew an illusory solar system in the air and set it to orbit around Char's head. I wasn't sure exactly which solar system it was supposed to be, since I was fairly sure ours didn't have any planets that were a pulsing purple or glowing gold with four silver rings, but it was stunning nevertheless.

Char instantly stopped trying to vault Lavinia's shoulders and sat quietly, completely engrossed by the twinkling dwarf stars and rotating moons as they passed in front of his eyes. With a sigh I took Severus's hand in mine, silently wondering if Char would ever be contented to simply sit reading a book when he was constantly being entertained by such powerful witches and wizards. Severus gave me a side-long look and a small, knowing smile as he squeezed my hand a little tighter.

"How did the final day of exams go for the--" I started to ask Severus when a shrill scream from within the maze silenced me. It had to have been Fleur, the shriek being much too high-pitched to have been made by one the boys. Everyone in the stands seemed to freeze mid-motion for a moment but then slowly resumed their former conversations or cheering when neither a second scream was heard nor the signal of red rescue sparks appeared. Had Fleur simply been scared by something, or was she truly in trouble? Severus and Lavinia didn't seemed concerned by it at all. Severus had let go of my hand to tell off several of the younger Slytherin boys, who had started to rough-house behind us, and Lavinia was busy concentrating on forming new and interesting constellations for Char. Maybe I was just extra sensitive to the thought of one of the champions getting hurt, being a relatively new mom and all.

Another fifteen minutes dragged by without any further disturbances from the maze. I wondered how much time this task was expected to take. Surely it couldn't be much longer until someone got to the center? I was growing rather uncomfortable sitting on the hard wooden bench, and mentally pondered if it would be silly to conjure a cushion or something. Thankfully, Lavinia was still keeping Char's attention firmly fixated by making several of the imitation stars supernova, my son clapping joyfully each time one of the gaseous orbs swelled with a nearly blinding light before disappearing with a sharp pop. A single, quelling glare of his earlier being enough to keep the excited Slytherins in order, Severus and I were at least able to catch up a bit with each other. I had barely seen Severus all week since he had been spending almost every evening shut up in his office grading exams and evaluating the final projects of his graduating N.E.W.T. students.

Our conversation was brought to a sudden halt by more sounds of distress from the maze. But unlike Fleur's single shriek earlier, these screams were obviously coming from one of the male champions, and they didn't stop. Hearing them, a rush of adrenaline shot through me, and my maternal instincts forced me to double check that Char was safe beside me, even though, logically, I obviously knew he was. This wasn't just someone crying out from being startled by one of the monsters. If I didn't know better, I would think one of the boys in the maze was currently being tortured.

"What the hell do you think is going on in there?" I exclaimed to Severus as the screams increased in intensity for a moment before abruptly cutting off.

Severus shook his head wordlessly. Like me, he had disapproved of the Ministry's decision to reinstate the Triwizard Tournament the moment it was announced in the annual staff meeting held the week before the school year resumed. For my part, I didn't see how a competition that involved pitting teenagers against full-grown, nesting dragons could ever be made completely safe. Perhaps it was just my more conservative sensibilities now that I was a mother, but it was my belief that the tournament had been banned in the past for a damned good reason. Severus's own motives for not supporting the tournament were rather different from mine. He was mostly annoyed at how the school-year-long event was going to interfere with his always carefully mapped-out lesson plans, now that he'd have to be teaching several dozen foreign students of varying proficiency of Potions work mixed into his regular N.E.W.T. classes. Of course he was concerned with the safety of the students as well, but he had commented to me that he would personally be utterly ashamed if the Hogwarts champion hadn't learned enough by his or her sixth year at the school to be unable to outwit a simple dragon.

A shrill whistling and bang preceded a sudden shower of red sparks above the maze. Char laughed and pointed delightedly as the shimmering dots of crimson light crackled into puffs of grey smoke against the darkening sky. As the smoke blew away, a single red star remained fixed and rotating slowly above the maze. I didn't share Char's excitement at viewing the impromptu fireworks, wondering with anxiety which student was in trouble. Lavinia seemed to share my concern finally, having dissolved her astronomy spell to instead stare up at the newest star in the sky with knit brows. I tried not to think the worst, remembering that whoever had sent up the sparks was obviously not so in danger that they weren't able to call for help. I just hoped one of the patrolling professors reached him quickly.

Tense minutes passed without any rescuer or student emerging. Finally, when I was just starting to wonder if whatever had given the desperate champion reason to send up sparks was perhaps so dangerous that the patrolling staff member could be in trouble as well, Professor McGonagall appeared, walking briskly out of the maze with Fleur unconscious beside her on a levitating stretcher. Professor McGonagall headed straight for the small medical pavilion Madam Pomfrey had erected to one side of the pitch, the nurse herself hurrying over to meet the deputy headmistress and tend to Fleur. Madam Maxime had leapt out of her chair at the sight of her student's reappearance, and she hurried over, forming part of a large swarm converging on the first defeated champion. Along with Madam Maxime, Professor Dumbledore, Cornelius Fudge, and Ludo Bagman all made their way to the medical tent along with, not surprisingly, all of the newspaper reporters and photographers. According to Lavinia, Fleur's uncommon beauty had made her a permanent fixture of the gossip columns lately. Not that I would know; I personally preferred the crossword.

Madam Pomfrey instantly enlisted the help of Professor McGonagall to shoo away any non-essential personnel, which meant everyone besides Madam Maxime and Fleur's parents--even Professor Dumbledore--was unceremoniously escorted to one side so the nurse would have room to work. Yet even though the crowd had mostly dispersed, Madam Maxime's ample figure was blocking my view of Fleur on her stretcher. I craned my neck slightly, though I knew there was no way I could see past her unless I put on a pair of stilts. I did notice, however, that the warning star was still rotating slowly in its fixed place above the maze, casting that section of hedges in a deceptively warm red light. Did that mean another champion had been in need of rescuing, and Fleur had been found accidentally as a by-product of that search? And why was it taking so long for Madam Pomfrey, who was an expert Healer, to revive Fleur? I felt the little sting of adrenaline shoot through me again as minutes ticked past without another set of patroller with champion appearing.

Severus was stroking the back of my hand with his thumb, drawing my attention to the fact that I was probably squashing him with my tensed grip. He was never overtly intimate with me when we were out in public, and certainly not while surrounded by his students, but I still loved it when he did little, hidden things like that when he knew I was worried or upset. Taking a deep breath to calm down a bit, I relaxed my hold and interlaced my fingers with his. Severus smiled at me slightly as I did so, obviously appreciating having the feeling return to his hand. Finally after a while, Madam Maxime stepped to a side, and I could see Fleur had finally been brought back to consciousness by Madam Pomfrey, who was placing a short wooden stool on the ground. Just as Fleur scooted unsteadily onto the seat, Severus suddenly squeezed my hand painfully with a sharp intake of breath.

"Ouch! What is it?" I asked, turning to him. I was shocked to see that his face had gone frightfully pale. He did not meet my look of concern but instead locked eyes with Karkaroff, who had moved to stand near the entrance of the maze, presumably waiting to see which champion next emerged from under the red star. While Severus's face was grave, Karkaroff's had taken on an expression of sheer terror, his complexion blanching to the same sour-milk white as his hair. They continued to study each other for a beat until Karkaroff suddenly turned on his heel and began walking very quickly away from the stands back toward the gates I had entered earlier. I got the impression that he would have been full-out running if he wasn't seemingly worried about attracting too much attention.

His eyes still set hard on Karkaroff's fleeing back, Severus said quietly aside to me, barely moving his lips, "Do not return to the house tonight. Stay in my rooms in the castle and do not leave the grounds, no matter what." I had never heard him speak in such a terrifying monotone before.

"What are you talking about?" I asked full of confusion, trying to make him look at me.

He finally whipped his gaze back to meet mine, his storm grey eyes flashing dangerously as he hissed fiercely, "Do as I say!" He pulled his hand from mine, stood up, and began pushing his way roughly past the Beauxbatons students, who shot him surly looks once he was through.

"What was that about?" Lavinia asked with a raised eyebrow, still bouncing Char on what little lap she had left.

"I have no idea," I replied, shaking my head as I saw Severus take the few stairs down as one and hurry across the grass so quickly his robes billowed out behind him. However, he didn't head after Karkaroff as I had expected him to. Instead, he veered toward the entrance to the maze and stopped in front of Professor Dumbledore, who was kneeling with Madam Maxime next to Fleur as she sat on her stool while Madam Pomfrey held an icepack to her forehead. Severus touched Professor Dumbledore on the shoulder and muttered something in his ear. The headmaster then stood with a worried expression on his face and followed Severus to a more secluded area so as to not be overheard. I watched as Severus whispered something to him, after which Professor Dumbledore took Severus's shoulders in both his hands and asked him a question with his eyebrows furrowed. From his body language, it seemed like he was asking Severus if he was sure about what he had just reported. Severus nodded grimly. Professor Dumbledore turned to look after where Karkaroff had fled from, then bade Severus to follow him as he walked over to Professor McGonagall. The three of them then dissolved into an intense discussion, Professor Dumbledore seemingly issuing several instructions to the other two.

My attention was pulled back when Char tugged on my sleeve saying, "Mama! Mama!" I reached out to take him back into my arms and tried to hide my worry with a big smile for my boy. A small group of seventh year Slytherin girls clambered down behind us and two of them plopped down into the space on the bench Severus had just vacated.

"Can we please play with little Char, Madam Snape?" Katrina Shepherd, who was this year's Head Girl, asked me. I guessed that they'd wanted to see him for a while but had been too intimidated by Severus's presence to ask, even though he was their Head of House.

"Of course," I replied with a smile and tentatively held Char out to her in case he was shy and didn't want to go. But apparently Char was feeling flirty, since he jumped right into Katrina's open arms.

"Oh, look at his cute, teensy robes!" the other girl, Anya Sorensen, squealed in delight.

Char still seemed happy with the hand-off, and Katrina started to amuse him by charming his teddy bear to skip rope with his Slytherin tie on his lap. I was actually glad of the extra sets of hands so I could focus once again on what was going on with Severus. He was still listening with rapt attention to whatever it was Professor Dumbledore was telling him and Professor McGonagall.

"I don't like this," I said quietly to Lavinia, shaking my head. Lavinia made a small noise of agreement, and our thoughts were solidified a moment later when we saw Hagrid emerge from the maze carrying the limp form of Viktor Krum. Nearly every Hogwarts student jumped to their feet cheering and waving banners at Viktor's apparent disqualification; a win for Hogwarts was in the bag now. However, the sight of another unconscious champion simply reinforced my growing belief that something sinister had happened with the third task, without anyone seeming to notice.

Hagrid laid Viktor down gently on the grass and looked around, presumably for the boy's headmaster. Of course Karkaroff was nowhere to be seen, and Hagrid let out an audible sigh of relief when he saw Madam Pomfrey leave Fleur's side and hurry toward them. Professor Dumbledore broke away from Professor McGonagall and Severus to also attend to Viktor, who was just waking up when the headmaster reached him. Viktor sat up on the grass and jostled his head several times as though trying to shake water from his ear. Professor Dumbledore asked Viktor several questions, each of which Viktor replied with a simple shake of his head. His eyes looked glassy and unfocused, and he didn't seem to quite know what was going on. The Durmstrang students in front of me were muttering to each other angrily while shooting dirty looks at the still cheering Hogwarts students surrounding them.

When she saw Viktor was conscious, Fleur jumped up off of her stool and strode furiously towards him, Madam Maxime following closely behind trying to get her to sit back down. Fleur's normally perfect complexion was blotchy with rage as she descended upon her fellow champion, screaming at him in French. After a moment she seemed to realize Viktor had no idea what she was saying (though, judging by his appearance, I don't think he would have understood her at the moment even if she was speaking fluent Bulgarian), and she switched to English. She was screeching so loudly that I had no problem hearing every word.

"'E cursed me! Behind my back! Eez this 'ow zey teach you at Durmstrang? We would never stoop so low as to use Unforgiveable Curses at Beauxbatons! Our honour eez everything to us! 'Ow dare you!" She looked about ready to punch Viktor in the face, so Madam Maxime reached out one large arm and pulled Fleur to her and away from Viktor. He still seemed completely out of it and didn't react at all to Fleur's outburst. He simply lay back down on the grass and pressed the heels of his hands against his temples. I wondered if what Fleur had accused him of was true. Had Viktor really attacked her in the maze? He had always seemed like a decent kid, but who really could tell with Karkaroff for a headmaster?

Madam Pomfrey had now conjured a potion and was trying to get Fleur to drink it, presumably to calm her down. She refused and strode back over to her stool to continue her angry dialogue with Madam Maxime. Madam Pomfrey shook her head and resumed ministrations on Viktor instead, shining her wand tip into his eyes to try and make him follow the light.

I kept attempting to catch Severus's eye, hoping he'd come back and tell me what the hell was going on. I knew the Triwizard Tournament was dangerous, but it seemed like the events unfolding tonight were worse than what should be expected. I also wondered when Karkaroff was going to return and tend to his student and perhaps answer the accusations against him. Madam Maxime seemed to be wondering the exact same thing, for she had left Fleur's side and was loudly and passionately demanding Professor Dumbledore tell her where Karkaroff had gone.

At least Char was happy and content, even though his bedtime had long ago come and gone. He was greatly enjoying the attention being showered on him by the slowly growing swarm of cooing Slytherin girls. One of them had shrunk a "Support Cedric Diggory" badge and had pinned it to the front of Char's robes while he happily waved around a small flag with the Hogwarts crest on it.

As the minutes ticked by, each of the teachers near the maze began to look increasingly anxious. The only person who didn't seem concerned was Ludo Bagman, who was jauntily rocking back and forth on his heels with his hands clasped behind his back while avidly staring at the maze to see who would next emerge in failure or triumph. Having calmed Madam Maxime, Professor Dumbledore was once more conferring with Professor McGonagall and Severus, though now he was attempting to bring Mr. Fudge into the conversation. Fudge seemed too busy dictating to one of the Daily Prophet reporters to pay much attention to the headmaster.

I had just decided that I was going to go down and find out for myself what was going on, when out of nowhere Harry Potter and Cedric Diggory suddenly appeared on the ground in front of the entrance to the maze. Harry had been grasping the Triwizard Cup, which shone blue for a moment before rolling away from him as he collapsed on top of Cedric. Cedric was lying motionless beneath him, apparently knocked out like Fleur and Viktor had been. The nearby teachers and reporters descended upon the pair, and the huddle effectively blocked them from view. At Harry and Cedric's reappearance, the triumphant cheers of the Hogwarts students became so deafening that poor Char broke into tears. One of the Slytherin girls quickly held him to me, and I brought him back onto my lap where he buried his face in my chest with gulping, hiccupping sobs. I quickly cast a very small Silencing Charm around him, which helped calm him down almost immediately. Looking back up at the bustle surrounding the final two champions to appear, I saw Professor Dumbledore had dispersed most of the crowd and was on his knees next to Harry, trying to get him to his feet so Madam Pomfrey could reach Cedric on his other side. However, Harry kept pulling his shoulders out of the headmaster's grasp and falling back on top of Cedric and hanging on for dear life like the older boy was a raft in the wide open sea.

Professor Dumbledore spoke quietly to Harry and seemed to finally convince him to release Cedric so he could be tended to. Professor Moody, who had limped into view from the maze when the two boys appeared, bent down and none-too-gently hoisted Harry to his feet, clasping him to his side since Harry seemed unable to fully support his own weight. With Harry held firmly up with one arm, Moody began to lead him away from the maze back in the direction of the castle, no doubt to bring him to the hospital wing. No one else seemed to notice the pair limping away since the main focus had returned to Cedric, who had yet to reawaken. Severus, Professor McGonagall, and Professor Flitwick, who had just re-emerged from the maze himself, were trying to keep the rush of reporters and Cedric's Hufflepuff housemates back to give Madam Pomfrey room to work.

On the ground, Madam Pomfrey was still trying to revive Cedric with her wand. With an increasingly deepening frown, she finally placed her left hand shakily on Cedric's throat. With a horrified expression and wide eyes, she looked mutely at Professor Dumbledore, still kneeling beside her, and almost imperceptibly shook her head. Professor Dumbledore put down his own drawn wand and placed one hand on Cedric's chest and the other on his throat as well. With a mournful look, he turned towards the stands to where the families of the champions were seated, and his face fell further when he saw Cedric's mother and father were trying to force their way desperately past the celebrating hordes of Gryffindor students now on their feet and blocking the stairway down.

Lavinia seemed to have noticed Professor Dumbledore's and Madam Pomfrey's expressions as well, for she grabbed my arm and muttered, "Oh my God ..." The rest of the audience seemed oblivious to what was happening around Cedric. The brass band had resumed play once more, a cheery polka rendition of the Hogwarts' school song adding to the chaotic cacophony of celebration.

Professor Dumbledore said a few words to Madam Pomfrey, rose to his feet, and took several brisk steps in the direction of Cedric's parents before stopping suddenly. He looked around himself wildly, and I could just barely make out over the din his cries of, "Harry! Where's Harry?"

After a survey of the crowd with his piercing blue eyes failed to reveal Harry's location, Professor Dumbledore called Severus and Professor McGonagall to him, and the three of them broke into a run away from the crowd back towards the school. Severus shot me a brief look over his shoulder before he disappeared behind the corner of the maze.

A shrill scream of heart-wrenching agony cut through the celebratory sounds like a steel blade. Cedric's parents had finally forced their way through the crowd and fallen to their knees beside their son. Madam Pomfrey was speaking to Mr. Diggory with tears running down her cheeks while Mrs. Diggory shook Cedric's lifeless shoulders, screaming his name hysterically. I felt tears stinging my own eyes watching the Diggorys' incomprehensible grief and hugged Char more tightly against me. The Silencing Charm had helped lull him to sleep, and he snuggled his face into my neck.

"We need to do something," Lavinia said, jumping to her feet. The news that Cedric was dead was quickly spreading through the stands, and the growing feeling of panic amongst the students was increasingly palpable. Since no one knew the cause of death, many of the students were beginning to wonder if they themselves were in danger, perhaps from an out of control beast in the maze. The normally toughened Durmstrang students were looking around rather frantically. The absence of their headmaster left them with no one to take orders from.

I stood as well, conjured Char's baby carrier and carefully slung Char into it and around so he was on my back, arms draped over my shoulders. This time I lightened his weight slightly with my wand. Many of the students around us were now crying or holding each other mutely.

"Is he really dead? What should we do, Madam Snape?" Katrina asked me, her eyes wide with fear.

"I don't know," I told her as I tried to squeeze past the girls without bumping Char on the Durmstrang students in front of us. "Just wait here for the moment, and stay calm; the younger students are watching you. Gather the other prefects, and please try to keep everyone together until Professor Snape returns."

Katrina gulped and nodded nervously, but immediately turned around and began issuing orders to the two fifth-year prefects sitting behind her.

Lavinia and I took the couple stairs down and crossed the grass to where the remaining Hogwarts teachers were huddled together. I tried not to stare as we passed Cedric, but I saw out of the corner of my eye that Madam Pomfrey had conjured a white sheet and was trying to drape it over him. However, his mother was still clinging tightly to his body just as Harry had been minutes before and refusing to let her husband pull her away. Professors Sprout, Flitwick, Hagrid, and Vector were grouped around the Minister, who was blustering furiously.

"Where has Dumbledore gone?" he demanded of Lavinia and I as we approached, as though sitting in the stands away from the action we had any better idea than he did. We wordlessly shook our heads, so he rounded on Professor Flitwick instead since he was the most senior member of staff currently present.

"You need to do something with the students!" Fudge commanded, his face an apoplectic shade of puce under his lime green bowler hat. "And all of these reporters! If news of this boy's death gets out before we're able to find the true cause, it's going to look like it was the Ministry's responsibility." The faces of the professors turned ugly at his words. I knew several of them disliked Fudge and felt like he was usually more concerned with his own popularity ratings than what would best serve the magical community.

"Perhaps it would be best if we escorted the students to the Great Hall," Professor Flitwick suggested squeakily to the other teachers, with a slight, deferentially appeasing nod in Fudge's direction. "Professor Dumbledore might wish to address them and, as the Minister has said, until we know the cause of Mr. Diggory's ... passing ... it would be safest to keep the students in the castle together."

"Well, then, see to it!" Fudge shouted and hurried away, his pinstripe cloak flapping, to fend off the two reporters from The Moon, who were shamelessly trying to get photographs of Cedric's now white-draped body.

Professor Flitwick heaved a great sigh as he looked after the Minister and sadly reached up to the top of his hat to pop off the red star, which had still been glowing brightly. He stood thoughtfully for a moment, stroking his wispy moustache, then turned to Professor Sprout.

"Pomona, perhaps it would be best if you were to stay here with Cedric's parents. They will need comfort from someone who knew him well." Professor Sprout nodded as she wiped at her eyes with a dirt-smeared handkerchief, stashing it away in her robes as she headed off towards the Diggorys. Her normally jovial face shot a look of pure venom at one reporter, who looked like he wanted to approach Cedric's parents for a comment. The reporter retreated hastily from her furious wake and turned instead to chase after Madam Maxime, who was already leading her students away from the pitch back to their carriage.

"Then, if you could go round up the Hufflepuff students, Pythagora, and escort them to the Great Hall, please," Professor Flitwick said to Professor Vector. She immediately took off back towards the stands where many of the Hufflepuffs were shouting angrily at any nearby adult at the lack of explanations headed their way.

Professor Flitwick also watched her go then turned back to the rest of us. "Now, if anyone usually knows what's going through the headmaster's mind, it's Severus. Did he give you any indication as to where Professor Dumbledore might have gone, Avrille?" he asked me.

"No, I'm sorry. He seemed to know something had gone wrong, he wouldn't say what or how, but he immediately went to Professor Dumbledore just as Professor Karkaroff left the pitch ..."

"--Karkaroff is gone?" Professor Flitwick interrupted, his tufty eyebrows disappearing up under the brim of his hat. Of course he had been patrolling the maze when the previous events had transpired and in the following chaos, seemed to not have noticed the absence of one of the other schools' Heads. "Then the Durmstrang students will need seeing to, as well, until he returns. Professor Hagrid, if you would be so kind. I am quite confident they will listen to you. To the Great Hall with the others for the time being, if you please." Hagrid seemed honoured by the suggestion, and his hairy face flushed bright red. I inwardly agreed that the Durmstrang students would have to be really stupid to disrespect a man about five times their size.

"O' course, Professor Flitwick, sir. Jus' lemme know when you find out how Harry is. He didn' look so good himself." Hagrid turned, shaking his great bushy head with worry, and lumbered back to where Lavinia and I had come from to shepherd the Durmstrangs.

"Speaking of our fourth champion, where has he got to?" Professor Flitwick looked around once more.

"I saw Professor Moody lead Harry away back to the castle," I said. "Immediately afterwards, Professor Dumbledore went after them with Severus and Professor McGonagall."

"I see ..." Professor Flitwick said, twirling his moustache again distractedly. "Well, we'll find out soon enough once we're all back up at the castle ourselves. For the rest of the students: Lavinia, if you could attend to the Gryffindors in Minerva's stead and Avrille, if it would be possible for you to gather the Slytherins, granted you are able to with the little one, of course," Professor Flitwick gestured with a smile up at Char drooling down the side of my neck. "If you could just get them to the Great Hall then feel free to head home yourself."

I shook my head. "Severus seemed adamant that I remain in the castle for the moment. I can stay in the Great Hall as long as you need me to."

"Of course, but see to your own family first, my dear," he replied. I nodded then turned back to the stands while Lavinia crossed the pitch towards the Gryffindors, and Professor Flitwick headed to address his own Ravenclaw students.

Sincerely hoping I wouldn't run into any authority issues with the Slytherins, not being an actual teacher myself, I climbed back into the stands and went directly Katrina's side. Even though I knew I had the respect due to me being their Head of House's wife, I wouldn't mind having the Head Girl backing me up, as well.

"We're all going to the Great Hall," I told her. "For now, at least. Could you help me pull together the younger students, please?"

"Of course, Madam Snape!" Katrina said, her auburn braid nearly whipping me across the face as she quickly turned to her housemates.

"Everyone, listen up!" she shouted in a surprisingly carrying tone. Most of the Slytherins quieted right down, though Katrina had to glare at Draco Malfoy and his friends until they fell silent as well. "Madam Snape's bringing us back up to the castle. If anyone gives her any problems, I will personally make sure Professor Snape hears about it," she said fiercely.

"Um, thanks, Katrina" I said out of the corner of my mouth.

"No problem!" she replied with a smile aside at me.

"What's going on? What happened to Diggory?!" Draco demanded at Katrina, trying to sound bored to cover the trace of fear in his voice.

"Like I have any idea!" she shot back. "Now move it!" Katrina clapped her hands together like a drill sergeant, and the Slytherins began to reluctantly shuffle their way along the benches toward the stairs. It took us a while to clear the pitch since the gates were bottlenecked with the other three Houses along with various spectators trying to go back up to the castle. I hoped everyone would leave the stadium quickly to allow Cedric's body to be moved peacefully and respectfully. The procession back to the castle was painfully slow. I was burning to find Severus and demand he tell me what was happening, not to mention my tired muscles were quite ready to deposit my sleeping boy safely in bed.

Finally everyone had crossed the grounds and noisily filed into the entrance hall. Though they had been instructed to continue into the Great Hall, some students from other Houses were still milling around the stairs to the higher floors, though Katrina had managed to marshal every Slytherin onward to their House table with her razor-sharp tongue. She flashed me another deceptively charming smile and waved before disappearing into the Hall herself. Now freed from the responsibility of overseeing Severus's students, I looked around frantically for any hint as to where he might have gone with the other professors. I was about to head up to the hospital wing to quickly check if they had followed Harry there, when I saw Severus himself come running up the stairs that led down into the dungeons and start to cross the cavernous foyer.

His face was still pale, and when he saw me standing near the Great Hall, he changed his trajectory and came walking hurriedly up to me instead.

"Severus, what--" I started, but he brusquely cut me off.

"--Forgive me, Avrille, but I don't have time." Looking around at the students still hanging around the entryway, he took me by the hand and pulled me into a deserted corner behind a suit of armour.

Once he was certain he wouldn't be overheard, he took hold of my arms and said quietly with his face very close to mine, "Go to my rooms. Put Char to bed, and wait for me there. Don't move until I come down to speak to you, and do not leave the castle." He seemed to be battling ferociously with himself whether or not to say more, even though he had just told me he couldn't.

"You're scaring me, Severus," I said. So far this evening, I was becoming accustomed to seeing panic in people's eyes, but to see a brief flash of it in my husband's normally cool and collected stare worried me even more than poor Cedric's dead body.

"I know, but I have to go. Just ... wait for me. Please." Severus squeezed my arms with his hands one more time and then turned and took off.

"Get in the Great Hall!" he barked at the loitering students, who immediately ran to obey his order before he docked them House points, then he mysteriously dashed down the stairs that I knew led to the kitchens and the Hufflepuff dormitories. Shaking my head in confusion, I knew I had no choice but to follow Severus's instructions if I was to have any chance of finding out what had happened tonight.

I turned and headed down the stairs to the dungeons that Severus has just emerged from. The silence the thick stone walls incubated was such a stark contrast to the frenzied noises of the evening that I found my ears ringing slightly. The only sounds I heard were the quiet howl of a draught of air threading its way through the cracked flagstone walls and the gentle sigh of Char's breath near my ear. At the bottom of the steps, I felt slightly lightheaded and had to hold onto the cold wall beside me to steady myself. I realized that I had been unconsciously holding my breath and forced myself to take several slow inhales of the damp dungeon air. Once the spots stopped flashing in front of me, I continued down the twisting hallways into the depths of the dungeons where Severus's rooms were located. It had been a while since I had taken this route back down into castle. When Char and I came here several times a week to visit Severus during his free evenings, I usually brought us directly into his sitting room through the Floo connected to our house in Hogsmeade.

Arriving at his rooms, I unlocked the door with my wand and stepped inside. Waving the dozens of candles alight, I walked straight into the bedroom and deposited Char on the bed. Unfastening the baby carrier, I gratefully stretched my arms over my head then rolled my neck a few times to work out a kink. It had been much easier to wear Char in his carrier when he was a newborn. I knelt down beside the bed and pulled out Char's little trundle cot I stored under there for the rare nights we slept over in the castle. I briskly shook out the bedding to fluff it up, my mind only half on the tasks I was performing. I glanced up at the clock over the bedroom mantle to see that it was only just past ten. Pieces of the evening had passed so quickly while other moments had stretched out painstakingly long, so I hadn't had any idea what time it actually was.

Deciding not to risk waking Char by undressing him, I pulled off his shoes, straightened one sock that was threatening to come off, then sadly unpinned the "Support Cedric Diggory!" badge Katrina had stuck to his robes. It seemed somehow wrong to throw it away, so I simply placed it on the bedside table. Scooping Char up in my arms, I gently laid him down in bed and pulled his quilt up to his chin, making sure his teddy bear's head was above the coverlet as well. With a weary gesture, I extinguished most of the candles, leaving a single one alight to keep the darkness at bay with its small, flickering glow.

I pulled the doors to the bedroom closed behind me then dropped onto the couch in front of the fireplace after lighting a good blaze. Though it was almost summertime, that didn't keep the dungeons from being cool. At least the charms Severus cast on his own rooms kept the dampness out. I fell back against the firm back of the couch and pressed at my eyes with tensed fingertips. I wondered how long I was going to have to wait for Severus. I was slightly hungry, having decided to skip my own dinner in hopes of arriving for the third task on time, but I found myself with little desire to eat anything. My thoughts kept returning to the sight of Mrs. Diggory clutching the body of her dead son. I felt like I would never be able to stop hearing her screams of anguish echoing in my ears.

I opened my eyes in surprise as something the weight of a pony suddenly dropped onto my lap. Through small blotches of popping green and yellow brought about from too much rubbing, I saw it was not a small equine, but in fact my shamefully overweight Siamese cat, Caligula. Ever since Char learned to crawl, Caligula had taken to expertly concealing himself until he was certain the hunting baby dragon was in bed. Sometimes he hid so well, I was completely unable to find him. If I didn't know better, I would think he had learned to Apparate out of Severus's rooms. I ran my hand distractedly over Caligula's butterscotch fur, both comforted by his sudden presence and also guilty from the often reoccurring thought that I neglected him too much, being so busy with my other baby.

I gazed pensively upwards at the naked, vaulted rafters, the firelight not strong enough to completely penetrate the darkness of the cathedral ceiling. Severus was a master of his emotions. Something had happened tonight that frightened him so badly, he hadn't been able to conceal it completely from me. Even if he had somehow been prescient to Cedric's death, though disturbing, that alone certainly wasn't enough to trigger his almost violent adamance that I stay within the castle boundaries. Though, of course, he was protective of Char and me, he knew I was perfectly capable of protecting myself and our son if it came down to it. So what could have transpired that made him feel we would only be completely safe if we stayed within the reach of Professor Dumbledore's power?

I didn't want to sit there motionless since the wait was already driving me completely crazy, but Caligula's flabby bulk and pathetically needy purring rooted me to the spot. So I remained pinned to the couch, gazing around at Severus's possessions and very much missing the time I had spent living here with him last year when Sirius Black had been on the loose. Of course Professor Dumbledore had suddenly declared at the end of the previous school year that Black was innocent do to some confusing story involving several unregistered Animagi, a man faking his own death, and Black being the victim of a set-up. I knew, however, that even though Severus usually trusted the headmaster without question, the fact that the explanation had come from Harry Potter and his friends, coupled with the loss of a promised Order of Merlin for his own daring capture of Black, left my husband slightly incredulous and, frankly, incredibly pissed off about the whole thing. He hadn't spoken of the matter to me since and always changed the subject when I asked if Professor Dumbledore had any news on Black's current location. The only indication that he believed any of Professor Dumbledore's claims was that Severus finally grudgingly agreed the area safe enough to buy a house in the village the previous summer, so we could have our own space separate from the school. Though I loved living at Hogwarts, I still rather wanted Char to grow up having his own room with actual sunshine in it.

I won't deny, however, that living separately from Severus this past year had been very hard. Since the horrifying episode with the Revenant, we had barely spent a night apart from each other. Being a Head of House and all the various responsibilities that role entailed meant Severus couldn't live at home with us and commute to the school as many of the other teachers had the option of doing. But at least summer break was almost upon us, and as soon as the students returned home on the train, Severus would be able to pack up and spend the entire holiday with Char and me in Hogsmeade.

I heard some quiet whimpering from the next room. Caligula heard it as well and instantly leapt from my lap to streak under Severus's desk. I stood and shook each of my legs a couple times to try and restore some feeling into my thighs. Sometimes I wish Caligula would let Char chase him around a bit, if only to make the furball burn a couple calories. Crossing to the bedroom and peeking in, I saw Char was half-awake, rubbing at his sleepy eyes with small fists. I rummaged around in his designated drawer in one of Severus's wardrobes for some pyjamas that our son hadn't outgrown. I would really need to rotate out the smaller things once the new school year started. Finally finding a pair that would probably only leave a couple inches of bare leg, I sat on the floor next to Char's bed and helped him to pull off his Hogwarts robes. He looked up at me blearily as I buttoned up his top and was very happy to fall back onto his pillow, grabbing firm hold of his teddy bear once he was under his covers. I tucked him in again and kissed his soft black hair that was already so long again it was nearly in his eyes.

As I left the bedroom once more, I heard Severus coming in through the other door around the corner. I pulled the bedroom door silently closed then hurried over to my husband. Before I could open my mouth to berate him for keeping me in the dark for so long, he effectively sealed my lips shut by pulling me tightly against him and kissing me deeply. Not giving me the chance to really lose myself in his kiss, Severus pulled away suddenly and gestured toward the fire.

"We had better sit for this," he said cryptically. Holding my hand tightly in his, Severus led me towards the couch and sat down beside me. He seemed to know I was on the verge of giving him the fifth degree, for he raised the hand not holding mine to once again silence me before I even had a chance to start.

"I know you have questions, but once again, unfortunately, I have very little time. I'm supposed to be fetching the Minister for Professor Dumbledore, but I had to speak with you first because I don't know if I'll have another chance before ..." He let the sentence trail, and I was fairly sure I didn't want to know what he had almost said. After hours of dying for information, looking at Severus's grave face, I suddenly had the intense wish that he remain silent and simply go with me to bed.

"There's no easy way to tell this," Severus said, shaking his head. He quickly ran a hand through his own long hair, the same inky black as Char's, several times to brush it back out of his face. I knew Severus wasn't the type to pause for dramatic effect, so he must have truly not wanted to continue. But knowing he had no choice and was running out of time, he sighed deeply before admitting, "The Dark Lord has returned."

"What do you mean, 'returned?'" I asked, my stomach suddenly feeling like someone had just dropped a hunk of ice into it.

"I mean that through a fantastically complex set of circumstances, he has obtained a new body for himself and is alive: walking, talking, and killing once again."

"Killing?" My mouth was dry, and I felt dizzy once more. I forced myself to breathe deeply even though each slow breath took incredible effort.

Severus nodded solemnly. "He murdered Cedric Diggory. The Triwizard Cup was a portkey. Diggory and Potter decided to end the task as a tie and took the cup at the same time, it transporting them far from here. The Dark Lord needed Potter but not Diggory, so he was disposed of."

I held up a finger to make him slow down so my exhausted brain could catch up. "But how could the cup be a portkey? You told me Professor Moody himself--"

"That man was an imposter, a former Death Eater we all believed to be dead pretending to be Alastor Moody the entire school year with the use of Polyjuice Potion. Once again, I'm sorry, but I just don't have time to explain everything to you. But I need you to understand what this means." Severus looked at me desperately, but I was trying to turn off my mind to avoid understanding just that.

"But ... how can you be sure he's back?"

"I'm sure," he replied, looking away from me into the fire. "I felt my Dark Mark burn during the tournament. That's why Karkaroff fled. He felt the same thing and knew what it meant. He knew that when he didn't immediately appear at the Dark Lord's side, he became a marked man."

"But you didn't appear, either!" I said, feeling true panic spread through me.

"Not yet," Severus replied simply, still avoiding my gaze. I stared at his profile, it taking me a moment to comprehend the implications of what he had just said.

"No!" I grabbed his shoulders and forced him to face me once more. "You can't possibly be considering--"

"--I have no choice, Avrille!" Severus removed my hands from his shoulders and held them so tightly in his that it actually hurt a bit. "It's a job no one else can do, and if I don't return to face him, he will find me."

So many words welled within me, desperate to break loose and make him see reason. We could run away, tonight. We could go to some obscure part of the world and hide. Let someone else be a spy. Severus had already risked his life in the past, he had done his service. Why did he have to do this again? Why now, when he had a child?

But I didn't say any of these thoughts. I knew deep down that if I asked him, truly begged him from the bottom of my heart, to flee with me, he would. Severus loved me more than his own life and couldn't deny me anything. But I also knew that to do so would destroy a piece of him, even if we somehow managed to escape the Dark Lord's wrath. Severus simply would not be able to live with himself if he saved his own skin and turned his back on his friends and colleagues, who would certainly be fighting with everything they had. And though it made me nauseous to even think it, he was right; there simply was no one else who could do the job and possibly obtain the information he could become party to.

Severus seemed to understand why I hadn't replied yet, so he said, loosening his grip on my hands slightly. "I have to go very shortly. If I don't return ..."

A stifled sob broke free from me, and I turned my face away. I couldn't let Severus see me cry when he was being so brave and needed my support. But he turned my face back toward him with a hand on my cheek, and I was unable to stop several hot tears from spilling from my eyes to run down between his fingers.

"If I don't return tonight, leave everything and take Char to your mother's house. Tell her what happened, then find some place to hide all three of you. Once you're safe, contact Professor Dumbledore, and he will make sure that our account at Gringotts is transferred to where you can access it. Do not come out of hiding until you are certain the Dark Lord has been defeated again, no matter how many years it takes."

I shook my head, trying desperately to control myself, but the tears kept flowing, and I was having a very difficult time not hyperventilating. "I can't do this, Severus, I'm not strong enough."

"Yes, you are!" he said sternly. "You have to be! I can't go do what must be done, I can't face him, unless I'm certain that you and our son will be safe."

I nodded reluctantly, roughly wiping the tears from my face with my sleeve. Severus forced me to look him in the eyes once more.

"Swear to me, Avrille!"

With one last hiccup, I stuttered out, "I ... I swear."

Severus stroked my hair and said, more gently, "I'm confident I'll be back before long. I worked very hard in the past to make myself valuable to the Dark Lord, and now with fourteen years of supposed information on Professor Dumbledore, I'm even more so. Though the Dark Lord may be inhuman, he isn't stupid. He won't let whatever anger he feels towards my late arrival get in the way of possibly obtaining that intelligence. Please try not to worry too much." I let a mirthless laugh serve as response to that absolutely ridiculous request.

Severus kissed my forehead and made as though to stand, but I pulled him back down and fiercely kissed him. Severus allowed us a moment of sweet surrender then forcibly separated himself from me. It might seem odd, but all I could think of at that moment was that it had been weeks since we had made love. Whenever we had been alone together, I had just been too exhausted or too frustrated with some trivial matter like Char throwing his dinner on the floor for the hundredth time. Now Severus was possibly going to his death, and he probably couldn't even remember the last time he had been with his wife. Before I could wallow too deep in the thought, Severus stood and hastened to the door.

"Wait!" I called after him, jumping up. "Don't you want to see Char?" Severus stopped just before reaching the door.

"I can't," he said simply, refusing to look back at me. "Tell him 'goodnight' for me." With that, he pulled the door open briskly and was gone. I pressed the fingers of one hand to my lips and dropped back onto the couch. Though I wanted to finally allow myself to cry, I found that Severus's leaving had driven me so past the point of terror and grief that I simply felt nothing. I conjured a blanket and wrapped myself up in it. Sitting silently on the couch, I stared into the fire and began to wait out the longest night of my life.

Author's Note: Well, I finally was able to nail down my resolve and post the beginning of the story (this being the sequel I swore I would never, under any circumstances write!) I've never posted a work in progress before, so this should prove to be a novel (no pun intended) experience for me. While I expect this story to eventually be around the same length as The Dream of One Night, at this time I only have the first four chapters completed (but I'm working on a couple others). I wrote most of the material this past NaNoWriMo (I was able to get 30,000 words which I was very proud of) and have been able to do a little bit of writing here or there. However, I have no idea when this story will ever be finished. It took me four years of on again/off again writing to finish TDoON, and that was before I had a toddler of my own to take care of. So please be patient with me. I have most of the plot worked out in my head, but finding uninterrupted time to write is incredibly difficult at the moment. But I hope whoever decides to start reading this story at least enjoys what I've managed to do so far :) Because this is a work in progress, please feel free to leave me constructive criticism! Even just a few words of encouragement are so incredibly appreciated and really help drive me to push through my exhaustion at the end of the day and write something, even if it's only a couple hundred words.

All that being said, I just want to say how incredibly honored I am by the overwhelmingly positive response I've had over the years to this story's predecessor. I was petrified of putting my "baby" up online over four years ago, and I'm so glad I bit the bullet and did it. Every single review I've received is so precious to me. But enough rambling from the author! Thank you again, and I hope you enjoy the continuing story of Severus and Avrille.

(Just one more quick reminder: some aspects of this story will most likely not follow canon 100% since I had to deviate slightly from canon in TDoON, having written the plot before "Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince" came out [an obvious example being that if I end up delving into that particular book, Severus will need a different nickname, being a pure-blood in this series :D]. At the very least, rest assured that in the future, Severus is certainly not going to be left to bleed out on the floor of the Shrieking Shack. But besides a couple slight deviations here or there that are bound to arise with the introduction of an OC main character [any action of hers potentially creating a butterfly effect to ripple through certain set events] this story will also run very close alongside canon like its predecessor.)

A final, HUGE thank you goes out to my wonderful beta, Clover Bay. Thank you so much for your support in the past as a multiple-time reader of TDoON and for your invaluable insights, ideas, corrections, and time now.


Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended. All original characters are products of the author, as is the premise and plot.