The direful spectacle of the wrack, which touch'd The very virtue of compassion in thee, I have with such provision in mine art So safely ordered that there is no soul -- No, not so much perdition as an hair Betid to any creature in the vessel Which thou heardst cry, which thou saw'st sink. The Tempest, I.ii
Albus' bequests were waiting for me when Poppy finally released me to my rooms. They were very simple, actually: a scroll and a little casket of faded letters, carefully tied up with ribbon.
It took me several days before I could open and read Albus' last note to me. You've seen his writing before; this was even more spidery and disorderly than usual, written as it was in haste, and it took me a while to decipher it. I won't inflict your eyes with the writing itself.
Yes, I suspected that it would come to this. And I think you more than anyone else will understand why I have decided to pursue this course.
What Voldemort has never understood, what has almost been forgotten by both the Muggle and Wizard worlds, is the strength of the Old Magic. There are two pillars on which it rests: Love and Sacrifice. There is a third principle of Power, but though it is the more seductive entity to many and seems the strongest, it is greatly flawed when not yoked with the other two.
(Almost every woman who's held a child in her arms knows this by instinct, by the way, as you do. It is we foolish men who fail to recognize it and have allowed the Old Magic to fade and be forgotten.)
The bonds of blood are stronger than Power, too, even in the absence of Love, which is why Harry Potter was safe for so long with his mother's kin (as inadequate as they were as family). But now that Voldemort shares Harry's blood (for that was one purpose of the abduction last year) Harry is safer with Arthur and Molly, and I have arranged that he and Sirius may stay with them from herein out. Their capacity to love more than makes up for the lack of a blood tie.
I have explained these things to Harry, but if he should question my arrangements in your hearing, please remind him.
And speaking further of Harry... it worries you, I suspect, that Severus bears a grudge against him (I won't deny it). I shan't go into the specifics, though I know the story -- I have hopes Severus will tell you someday himself, and I suspect you'd prefer it that way as well. But I shall say that Severus has sacrificed much on Harry's behalf, and continues to do so. I hope Harry recognises this someday. If he needs a nudge in the right direction, I hope you'll be there to give it in my absence.
But enough of Metaphysics and my meddling in others' lives. The hourglass is running low, and I've many other things to set in order before I travel tonight (Minerva will not appreciate dealing with the current state of my desk, come next week). Just two more little points.
Firstly: that I do wish you'd been mine, though I couldn't love you any more if you had been. Any father worth his salt would be proud to claim you.
Secondly: there are two bequests you will receive under the stipulations of my will. You'll know what to do with the second when the right time comes. Until then, put it to use as you see fit. I suspect rainy days won't be long in coming, though, so keep most of it close to hand.
The first bequest -- which Alastor has, I'm sure, already given you -- is much more personal but will, I suspect, be more treasured. You may read them or tuck them away untouched as you will. I've not read them since they were first delivered to my hands many, many years ago. I haven't needed to, and Merlin knows one shouldn't dwell on the past. But it pleases me to think something of my Elizabeth will remain in loving hands, if only for my sake.
And now this sentimental and foolish old man must leave off and get packing. I think that our love and respect for others linger after us when we leave; know that mine is with you always.
P.S. There is a hidden chamber in the 3rd floor corridor behind the mural of Merlin and Nimue, and I've warded the door to recognise you. Keep it in mind -- it could come in handy.
P.P.S. Your Pixie plot would never have worked, you know. The Headmaster's Office has been warded against tricks like that for years, ever since my brother Aberforth pulled off a nasty little incident with the Headmaster's pet goat.
I had to laugh at that last bit, no matter how terrible and grave the rest had made me feel, and I sent a mental smack to the side of Snape's head: he had to have tattled on me. (I made it a gentle one, though: I could imagine the two of them, particularly Albus, enjoying my unlikely naughtiness and the affection behind it.)
I carefully rolled the scroll back up and tucked it in with the other, unread letters in the casket.
Neville and I had their official protection, it appeared. And there was a good reason for it: Barrett had been learning the Dark Arts from Milos Davocek.
While he hadn't actually performed Dark Magic himself, he evidently didn't feel tutoring someone else in it was included in the vow the Durmstrangs had taken. He'd felt badly for her as the butt of Malfoy's hostility, and she'd confided her father's supposed perfidy to him -- and probably manipulated his affections, as well.
He was on official probation for his hand in the matter, and God only knew what Krum and the others had put him through. He'd forgotten the first and third Slytherin Directives: 1) Trust No One and 3) Question All Motives.
(I'm not joking about the Slytherin Directives -- I've since learned that they really do exist. Rather pathetic, when you consider that the most the rest of us have to learn is Be Nice and Share Your Toys With Others.)
I had an easy time catching up on my work; Hooch had taken my classes, and she wasn't about to go through the Essay Hell I so willingly inflicted on myself, so she'd resorted to quizzes over the factual information. She taught that quite thoroughly -- another plus for the painstaking, detailed work that Albus and I had put into the syllabi. I vaguely wondered if we mightn't have got a decent textbook out of it all.
Soon it was time for another Leaving. I sat quietly in my chair -- having willingly passed the Announcing to Vector, as I couldn't comfortably stand for long periods of time -- and listened as McGonagall gave her first Leaving Speech as Headmistress.
She managed -- barely. It must have been difficult, after twenty-odd years of listening to Albus. She kept it short and brusque, with every ounce of Scots practicality in her nature. She did choke up a bit, however, at a mention of our collective privilege in knowing Albus.
Krum was leaving, headed for professional Quidditch (Ireland had snatched him up, I was gratified to note), and he'd managed to win an honour in Charms. He'd promised me he'd look into wizarding universities on the Continent and in the States during the off-season, but in all probability he wouldn't need to -- Ireland had ponied up an exhorbitant yearly amount for him. Angelina Johnson was moving on to professional Quidditch, as well -- though in the States. We wouldn't see much of her: the U.S. had its own league, and the British and Continental teams only played them once every four years.
Fred and George were going, of course, to the unanimous relief of the faculty and staff. Including me. They were good fellows, but they had far too much energy; the new business would keep them out of trouble. Or at least out of our collective hair, and hopefully their mother's as well. They'd already found a cramped little space off Diagon Alley in which to experiment and invent: I hoped the building owner was insured -- for a lot.
It was an even more somber and upsetting occasion than the last, and, all in all, it was a thoroughly depressing end of the year.
"Poppy says you're coming along nicely," she noted as a preamble.
"Much better. And St. Mungo's didn't find any more problems, and thought the weakness would improve."
"Good. I needn't mince words with you, then. This," she said, flourishing a scroll, "is your contract for next year, and I want your signature on it before you leave. You gave Albus the fidgets last year," she grumbled, "and I've neither the time nor patience to worry about it."
"So I haven't persuaded you I'm too much trouble to keep around?" I retorted, amused.
"No. Although it would be comforting if you would confine yourself to teaching and leave the heroics to others."
"That sounds suspiciously like Severus' attitude."
"It's mine as well," she said primly, "although I understand your motivation. And I'm gratified for your personal concern for the students. As you've completed two years you're officially off probation, though you won't be tenured for another five."
Tenured faculty: the rise from junior to senior status, with a commensurate rise in benefits. Presuming there was still a Hogwarts in another five years.
"How is he doing?" I asked with a nod to Fawkes as I slid the contract back over to Headmistress. His head was tucked firmly under a wing, and his usually brilliant tail-feathers, now dull, drooped.
"Not at all well," she said worriedly. "He looks as though he's ready for another burning, and I know he's not due for another two months."
I rose and limped over to his perch, and cautiously ran a finger over his crest. He usually preened at that, but today he merely cracked open a weary eye and gave a short, disconsolate little trill.
"I know, Fawkes," I said softly. "I know."
"Good." He grinned. "Thought we might have finally scared you off. Theatre's got to be less hazardous than teaching."
"True. Little chance of going back to that, though."
"Couldn't you?" He took my arm and helped me down the corridor toward my rooms.
"I could if I wanted to, but it's like anything else. If you're away for too long, it's tough to get back into it. Your contacts move on, you have to market yourself all over again... explain why you've been away...." I shook my head. "Doesn't seem worth it, somehow -- not when this is just as fulfilling."
"In a different way, though."
"Not necessarily. I always gravitated to projects that were more thought-provoking than pure entertainment. I'm just trying to help people understand themselves more directly, now."
"What would you say," he offered, "to a trip into Hogsmeade? Rosmerta's butterbeer can't quite compare to a celebratory glass of champers, but --"
"You want me to sit in the Three Broomsticks drinking butterbeer with a dog?" I laughed.
"She has a back room," he said with dignity, "and she knows I'm around. She's a good woman, knows how to hold her tongue."
"I can't make it down to Hogsmeade in this condition, Sirius, but thanks," I said.
"I've got that covered, too. Just need to borrow that cloak of yours, and we're home free."
"The nose knows." He grinned. "Even the best models don't have a scent-dampening charm."
"And you will note that I haven't commented that I tracked you to the dungeon."
I gave him a sour look, and he grinned again, unrepentantly.
"All right -- on two conditions. Cider -- I hate butterbeer."
"Done. And second?"
"This is not a date."
"Agreed. Just a collegial outing. We can invite Hagrid, if you like -- we have to visit his shed, anyway."
I shouldn't do this. I really, really shouldn't do this. If Snape catches us, he'll kill us both, if for vastly different reasons --
"Oh, what the hell -- all right."
We stopped by my rooms for the invisibility cloak and then made our way to the hut, popping our heads in the door to invite Hagrid (who quickly agreed: Hagrid liked his butterbeer). He'd meet us there. Then we detoured 'round the back of the hut to the shed.
"Well -- what do you think?" Sirius asked, pulling a tarp from his pride and joy.
"Oh, Good God -- what is it with you and Arthur and Muggle technology?"
"She's a beauty, isn't she?" he said reverently, running his hand along the fusilage.
"She" was a vintage motorcycle.
"Yes, she is. It's a long time since I've been on one."
"Bet you haven't been on one like this," he challenged with a gleam in his eye.
"What... oh, Sirius, you haven't -- oh, no," I backtracked. "You're not getting me on some bloody flying bike."
"Look, you know if you hang around here long enough someone's going to get you to take a ride on a broomstick. This is much more solid and reassuring, and if it really bothers you once you try it, we can always come back on the road," he said reasonably.
"But the cloak won't cover --"
"The cloak's to cover me. You sit front, I'll hold the throttle, and you cover my hands so it looks like you're steering. And if we come in from the lakeside and then touch down, no one will see you flying it in any case."
Which is how I ended up taking a joyride into Hogsmeade on a magically-charmed motorcycle.
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