Harry had braced himself for what awaited them inside the hut, but was still shocked by the sight that greeted them.
Draco Malfoy was slouching against one of the posts that help up the roof, fluted glass in hand, casually pouring himself what had to be yet another glass of champagne. He looked as he had the last time Harry had actually come face to face with him, after the trial which had sentenced him to house arrest rather than ship him off to Azkaban, where he'd belonged. Arrogant. Smug. Self-satisfied that he had beaten the death penalty.
No longer a wonder, that, considering the other man in the room. The one elegantly garbed, not a hair out of place, who, wand in hand, was slowly circling the third, as though inspecting his work.
Harry spared only a glance for Severus Snape, arms out-stretched over his sagging body, kept semi-upright by the ropes of Magic suspending him from a beam. His head had dropped to his chest and there were lines of blood dripping onto the ground. Harry knew if he looked too long, his temper would get the better of him and he might act too rashly, allowing one of Severus's torturers to get away.
He sensed Sylvester move so close as to be practically touching him. Harry could feel the coldness radiating off the wizard. At a nudge, Harry gave him part of his attention. Sylvester gestured to one side, nodded his head to the other. So they were to split. Harry was pleased that Sylvester had assigned him Malfoy.
"You know, Draco, I do believe that the design is finished. To add more to it would only be tampering with perfection."
Malfoy grinned and Harry silently promised Malfoy that he would regret that. "Then there's no reason to delay any further. Cut the bastard down and let's get him to write out that confession while he's still able to hold a quill."
"After which, who, of the two of us, gets to kill him?" Osegood strolled up to Malfoy, took the glass out of his hand and sipped.
Malfoy raised his hand and snaked it across Osegood's shoulder, up his throat to cup his jaw. "Please," he cooed, "let me. I promise you'll enjoy it."
"Well, just so long as you don't damage the skin."
Unfortunately, Severus picked that moment to jerk sluggishly in his bonds and vomit. As the two wizards turned in response, Malfoy averted his head in disgust and caught sight of Harry. His glass bounced on the ground as he whipped out his wand. Osegood, his already in hand, quickly found Sylvester approaching him.
"Well, well, well. What have we here?" He aimed his wand at Sylvester, a delighted feral smile harshening the lines of his face.
Malfoy's grin brought out the ferret in him. "Why, it's the Boy Who Live To Kill Voldemort. And he seems to have arrived, already stripped to participate in one of our little games. How considerate of him!"
Osegood kept his attention on Sylvester. "Ah, Black. You have no idea how long I have been dreaming of this day, having you totally within my power." He laughed gaily. "And to think we thought our fun and games were going to be restricted just to our little toy."
Harry never took his eyes off Malfoy. He slowly rose to his feet, more than satisfied to hear his voice remain so calm in the face of his enemy. "Malfoy."
"Well, Potter," Malfoy was extremely condescending, "you surprise me. Putting your life on the line for our former Potions instructor. Tsk, tsk, tsk. Do you know, Cousin, I think I'd like to have a skin of my own. I know that you intend hanging Snape's on the wall of your office at home. Don't you think Potter's would look just as fine in my office?"
Osegood laughed as Sylvester also rose. "And maybe we'll gift our soon-tobe Minister Dumbledore with Black's. Just as a little foretaste of things to come."
Harry shook his head. "I'm so sorry to disappoint you, Malfoy."
Malfoy smirked, wriggling his wand. "And just how are you going to do that, O Boy Who Lived?"
Harry stretched out his hand. "Avada Kedavra, Malfoy."
As Osegood, eyes wide with shock, screamed, "NOOOOOOOOO!", Sylvester stretched his hand out and spoke some words in a language Harry had never before heard. Not that he could be bothered right now. Now, he watched as Malfoy, eyes wide in disbelief, was unable to avoid being hit by the deadly green line of the Killing Curse. As he dropped to the ground, Harry was filled with a sense of cold satisfaction. Then he merely stepped over the body on his way to Severus.
To the other side of the hut, Osegood was lying on the ground, screaming in agony.
Sylvester stepped around him to go assist Harry. Solfeggio darted out from wherever he'd been hiding and came up to try and hold Severus's legs as Sylvester picked up Osegood's wand to unspell the ropes. They gently lay the unconscious man down on the ground.
"Harry, use Malfoy's wand to take down the wards, will you?"
Harry stooped to pick up the wand lying by the dead man's hand. "I thought you wanted Osegood dead."
Sylvester's smile made Harry take a step backwards. "Oh, I do. He is. He's got about six hours of life left in him. Long enough for Decourcy to get whatever information he wants before Osegood screams himself to death."
"Like before," said Solfeggio, his voice vindictive, as he crouched next to Severus, placing a hand on his chest.
"Like before," agreed Sylvester.
Harry went out to allow the others in.
"Will he be all right?"
Marguerite de Navarre looked from the man who lay silently in his bed to the one who'd spoken.
She knew that Sylvester had been dealing with Decourcy, who had been anything but happy with the events that had taken place in the hut. She hadn't asked for details, though Ariette had been both pale and approving after a short, private meeting with Solfeggio.
She'd had enough on her hands, first dealing with a severely concussed Parlante, praying to Hippocrates that it wouldn't set him back. The little elf had been doing so well. Then, when Severus had been apparated home in Harry Potter's arms, unconscious, not even moaning, she'd wondered how much more these people who had become so dear to her would be able to endure.
With Ariette by her side, she had healed more of those deeply spelled injuries that would scar forever. Assuming that Severus actually survived this attack. Would he? She had no idea. She'd waited until she'd been certain that he hadn't suffered a head injury, well, any that she could ascertain, before spelling him into healing sleep. Now only time would tell.
She gently tucked his hands, wrists once more bandaged - the skin there would be raised scar tissue - under the covers and smoothed the sheet across his shoulders.
"Honestly, Sylvester, I don't know. I have no idea how his mind is dealing with what Osegood did to him this time."
"His injuries don't seem that..."
"No, they aren't. In a normal, healthy wizard, they would be the matter of a few days in bed under proper care. But we both know that Severus is not that. So far, all that he's accomplished has bordered on the miraculous." She stood up and shook her head sadly at the man who was now sitting on the other side of the bed. "Maybe.." her voice caught, "maybe, this time, he's run out of miracles."
Sylvester looked incredibly tired all of a sudden.
Marguerite felt an incredible anger rise in her. How dare anyone attack this man or his people? Why was the fact that they had cared for a man abandoned by his own people something to be punished?
Damn it! She startled herself with the vehemence of her anger. But yes, damn it, Sylvester had only accepted responsibility for a man so damaged that most would have simply turned his care over to some organization, like St. Mungo's. That Severus had improved, had blossomed was due not only to his own will-power, but to the fact that Sylvester had fostered an environment where he had been able to do so.
And that Sylvester had finally lowered his own defences to allow Severus into his heart... Well, it wasn't fair. Whatever these two men had done in their past lives that might have demanded reparation, had been well and truly paid for. Why couldn't they have been left alone!
Marguerite came around the bed and placed her hands on Sylvester's shoulders. He leaned back into her, his head resting against her breast. They stayed that way for a couple of minutes then Sylvester slowly straightened and pulled back the covers at his side. He reached over and took Severus's hand in his, staring at it.
With a deep sigh, Sylvester moved Severus's hand to the shell he still wore around his neck. There were cuts there, indicating that someone - she supposed it would have been Osegood or Malfoy - had tried to remove it. For some reason, they hadn't been successful. Sylvester wrapped Severus's fingers around the shell and chanted a small spell that would keep them there.
"Do you think that will help?" Marguerite asked softly, interested, not critical.
"If he's never going to awaken, he should at least be in a place where someone will take care of him for us." He let go of Severus's hand and once more leaned into her.
Rubbing her cheek on the top of Sylvester's head, she wrapped her arms around him.
The Light was what finally penetrated his consciousness.
Light. After the Dark.
He was afraid to open his eyes, then even more frightened to realize that his eyes were open. Which was why, of course, he could see the Light.
He stared at it, finally wondering why this time it seemed so blue, this Light that had appeared in his once more Dark world.
Its brightness forced him to shut his eyes.
"No, dearling, it's all right. You're safe. You can open your eyes now."
The voice was a melody long buried. His eyes snapped open, unbelieving.
She smiled at him as her hand brushed the hair off his face. "That's better."
"Mamma? But how....?" He tried to sit up but her hand on his head kept him down on the soft pillow that he finally realized was her lap.
"It will be all right, Severus. It may take a little time, but you will be well. Your friend thought that a short visit would help the time pass more quickly."
He squinted up at the light of the day, turned his head around enough to realize that he was at the top of the butte where he watched his mother play with himself as a child.
"You...you're touching me."
She nodded, cupping his cheek with her hand. "Why shouldn't I be touching you?"
"You never have before. You've only ever waved to me. To send me away." Though that last had been said calmly, he wasn't able to hide the hint of pain and accusation in it.
She thought a moment before answering. He kept watching her, wondering that she looked exactly as he remembered her, not a day older than the last time he had seen her, the morning of the explosion that had irrevocably changed his life.
"Well, you haven't truly needed me before, I suppose."
Her words hurt. "I always need you. You always send me away. I've always needed you. You're the one who went away."
Her smile was sad. "I didn't do that on purpose, my Severus."
He caught the sob before it escaped his throat though it coloured his voice. "Doesn't matter. You still left me. Alone with them." Then he didn't have the strength to hold it back. "They hurt me so," he sobbed, not really knowing which `they' he meant.
"Oh, my baby!"
He tried to pull out of her arms. "They hated me. And I had no one who loved me."
She tightened her grip on him, bringing his head up to her shoulder so that she held him more easily. He turned and buried his face, inhaling her scent.
"I have always loved you, my son. I never stopped loving you. You only had to listen to your heart..."
"I couldn't hear you!"
"No, no, I suppose you couldn't." She sounded sad but hurt filled him too much for him to be able to deal with hers. "You carried such anger in you. I could have screamed and you wouldn't have heard me. But I did love you so, my son, my Severus. I still do. The difference is that now you can hear me."
And as he wept in her softness, Severus remembered the anger he had used - used up? - to send Parlante back.
"No one ever wanted me but you," he sobbed.
She rubbed his back, murmured soothing words in English, in Italian, and encouraged him to rid himself of his pain at not being loved.
"Is he ever going to stop weeping? This is making him more ill...isn't it?"
Marguerite found another clean handkerchief to wipe the tears streaking down her sobbing patient's face. "I don't know. From the depth of it, it may be something that he needs to purge out of his body. Out of his spirit. Maybe this will help him heal."
Solfeggio said nothing, only brought her another small pile of clean and dry handkerchiefs. Sylvester paced: she could sense his feelings of uselessness. There was nothing she could do about that: everything that could be done had been. It was all up to Severus now.
In the living area, Marguerite knew that three others who remained were waiting, no matter the outcome: Abby Decourcy, Alastor Moody and Harry Potter. Ariette was with Parlante, who was now safely under the influence of Healing Sleep.
"Maybe it would be easier if you waited with the others?" They might be able to help him deal with his frustrations.
Sylvester stopped pacing. He shook his head then came up to the bed. "No. I'm not leaving. I'm staying with him."
When he had no more tears left, Lucrezia wiped his face and held the handkerchief to his nose. He blew inelegantly, as he had when a small boy.
She held him close, rocking him in her arms as he calmed and, eventually, he slept a little.
Marguerite was pleased for Sylvester's sake that Severus had stopped weeping. He took that as a good sign. He'd turned to her for confirmation and she'd only been able to nod her head, not wanting to discourage him.
Still, Severus seemed to be more at rest. The weeping may have been therapeutic for him, but it had been hard for them both, Sylvester and her, to sit and listen to him empty himself of all tears.
Now she could only wonder if there was anything left to the man.
"Severus, my love, my sweet. You must wake up."
He wriggled in her arms, cuddling closer to her. She whispered into his ear. "Severus, wake, my boy. It's time to go."
He murmured, as he had when a child, "Five minutes more, Mamma, please."
She laughed softly. "Severus," she called, a little more loudly, a little more sternly.
"Mamma," he complained.
She pulled his ear as she had when she had wanted to indicate that he was pushing her limits of tolerance.
"Oh, all right." Even to himself he sounded peeved, but then he'd always hated mornings. He opened his eyes and smiled at her. "Awake now."
"Yes. Finally. You are a slug-a-bed, my son. I'm surprised you ever became the Potions Master you were with that attitude."
"Only with you, Mamma," he yawned and settled his head against her shoulder once more.
"No, you're not to go back to sleep. Wake up properly, Severus. There are some things I have to say to you before you go back."
That woke him. He looked at her, wary, hoping he wasn't hearing what she was saying. "Back? Back where? Aren't I staying with you?"
She shook her head. "No. No, you're not, Severus. It's not time for you to join me. There are people waiting for you, people who are worried about you. Who want you back with them."
He sat up, wrapping his arms painfully tight around her, burying his face in the crook of her neck. "Don't want to go!"
"Shh, my baby." She hugged him back, her arms equally tight around him, almost squeezing the breath out of him. "These people, they care for you, my Severus. They miss you."
He shook his head against her.
"Yes, they do." She pushed him a little away from her and slipped her hand under his chin, forcing him to look at her. "I want you to listen to me, my child. There are things that you have left to accomplish. And I want you to accomplish them. There are people who love you and I want you to be brave enough to love them back. For my sake."
"No, please," he begged. "Let me stay here, with you."
But she ignored him. "And when you go back, I want you to thank Sylvester for me. For what he did. Will you do that for me?"
He painfully gulped air but finally nodded. He recognized that intractable expression on her face. She stroked the hair off his and held his face between her hands.
"Now that you can hear me, you will know that I still love you. No matter what. Isn't this so, Severus?" She used the tone she had when getting him to confess to some small crime. He sniffed, swallowed hard then nodded.
"Will what, my love?"
"Will I be allowed to come visit you here?"
"You mean as before? Yes, my Severus. Should you have need of me, I will be here. You have only to hold the shell and we will see each other."
"But you'll always send me back." There was discouraged acceptance in his voice.
"Yes. Because you don't belong here, my sweet. Not now. Not for a long time. But I will be watching for you. And you may come visit any time, for any reason. I would particularly like to hear of your victories from you. No matter how small."
He shrugged sadly. "If there are any."
"And of those who love you."
He closed his eyes and shook his head. "You're the only one who ever loved me."
She shook him hard, once or twice, enough for him to look at her. "Now you're just being silly." She raised her eyebrow in that way he recognized from his own mirror and shook her head as though she couldn't believe something so foolish had come out of his mouth. "Take a good look about you, my Severus. Why do you think Sylvester cares for you as he does? And the house elves? Even your Madame? And what about that witchdoctor who found a way for us to meet? And others you would see if only you looked well."
She pulled him into her arms and hugged him again. He wrapped his arms around her, not wanting to think that this might be the last time she'd allow him to do so. "Come tell me of your victories, my son, and your loves. My Severus."
He woke slowly.
Marguerite gestured to Sylvester, who was sitting in the chair Solfeggio had brought into the room yesterday when he had refused to sleep in his bed. Ariette stepped closer to her. She took the elf's small hand and held it between her own. Parlante, on the foot of Severus's bed where he'd insisted on being since waking this morning, leaned forward, eyes intent on the man's face.
Solfeggio was tiptoeing into the room, having gone to get the three others who were still waiting. Moody and Abby remained by the door though Harry came to stand behind her, one hand on the footboard.
They all waited in silence as the man moved slightly, yawned, brought a hand up to rub against his eyes.
Marguerite felt an overwhelming urge to giggle. She bit her lip to keep the nervous sounds from escaping. Dear Hippocrates, what would they have to deal with?
He pulled his hand down and opened his eyes.
Damn the man, why didn't he say something! Didn't he know they were all waiting? Could he tell... Oh, dear, this was what happened when one got emotionally involved, she reminded herself. Then, damn that, it wasn't as though she'd done so with any other of her cases!
Severus's eyes tracked around the room. He frowned when he saw Marguerite and Harry.
"Where's Parlante?" he croaked.
"Here," shrieked the little elf. "I is here!" And buried himself against Severus, weeping in relief. Severus raised his hand and gently patted the small, trembling shoulder. Parlante dug in deeper against him.
Marguerite nearly commented that Parlante's behaviour was not proper medical behaviour for either of her patients, then closed her mouth. Maybe not, but it was good medicine for both. Ariette's hand squeezed hers and she looked down to see her assistant's face was streaked with tears on either side of a smile that nearly split her face. Marguerite smiled back and dug a handkerchief out of a pocket, handing it to Ariette.
Sylvester moved closer to Severus. "Welcome back, lad."
Severus rubbed his cheek against the head of his small friend. "She...she wouldn't allow me to stay. She said that..." He sighed. "She said many things."
"Did she?" smiled Sylvester.
"She also said to thank you. For what you did."
Sylvester reached over and placed his hand on Severus's cheek. "The next time you see her, tell her it was my pleasure, will you?"
Marguerite accepted her damp handkerchief back and used it to blow her nose. Sylvester grinned up at her, his eyes wetly bright.
Moody stomped up into Severus's sight. "Well, you won't be bothered by those troubles of yours, Snape. The matter has been appropriately dealt with."
Behind her, Harry Potter snarled lowly, "Moody!"
Marguerite saw Severus blink then suddenly understand Moody's cryptic statements. She turned to frown at the old coot: really, it was far too soon to broach the subject! But all the old Auror did was grin at them all, totally unrepentant. Still, Severus didn't seem to be reacting negatively to that.
Though she didn't doubt that having come this far, he would surprise her, she still couldn't help but worry. How much battering could this man's psyche take? There had to be limits.
Solfeggio came up to the bed. "Well, are you hungry?" he growled. "I've got all kinds of food going to waste," he complained loudly though his eyes were suspiciously bright, "because we've all been waiting for you to join us."
Severus raised an eyebrow. "I'm surprised Harry didn't do you proud." He looked at the young man who now stepped into his range of vision. "I seem to remember you as a bottomless pit."
Harry grinned at him. "Not polite to start without the guest of honour."
Severus managed a shrug.
Marguerite released Ariette's hand and became once more the medi-witch she should have been all along. "If you would all like to leave me with my patients, I could give you all a better idea of when the celebrations could begin."
To Severus's obvious surprise, Sylvester bent and kissed him on the forehead. "Be nice to her. You don't want to spend more time in bed than absolutely necessary."
Sylvester laughed softly. "Trying to convince Moody that he needs a pirate's parrot on his shoulder."
Marguerite looked sternly at the two. "Please, Sylvester. I too would like to partake a little in the celebration feast. But I can't do so until I've checked both of them. Would you all please leave."
Sylvester grinned at her, looking almost like a boy. On his way out of the room, he tossed over his shoulder, "I guess, Marguerite, there are still a few miracles around."
She could only shake her head. Yes, it seemed there were. But she'd want them to keep a close eye on Severus.
She smiled at Severus and at Parlante who had fallen asleep after his emotional greeting. Before leaving, she would mention it to Sylvester, after she had discussed details with Ariette.
"I thought I might find you here."
Sylvester looked at the man who had pulled himself into a tight ball of misery. His arms were wrapped around his legs, holding them to his chest, his hands clenched. His head rested on his knees, his face turned to the lagoon.
Severus had had another nightmare. The Healing Sleep seemed to have very little effect and Marguerite didn't want the dose increased. She was sending something stronger the next day.
Sylvester restrained the urge to sigh aloud. Instead he pulled up a chair and sat in it, looking about the cove which shimmered by the light of the moon.
They hadn't been so lucky after all. Severus was not doing well. His body had recovered: they'd been fortunate that Marguerite had been there, ready to deal with the results of Osegood's torturing curses, knowing which spells to use to counter them.
And though Severus had been able to sit up in bed that first day, seemingly able to deal with the small celebration they had held, that had proven to be an illusion.
By evening, when all their guests had finally portkeyed back to their lives, Severus was less able to hide the consequences of his having been kidnapped and tortured.
That first nightmare was not unexpected: Sylvester had not believed for one moment that Severus would get away scot-free. But they had, over the days that followed, grown in intensity to the point that Solfeggio was once more giving Severus Healing Sleep before bed. And even that was not as successful as it had once been.
Awake, Severus was even more worrying. He was losing weight, once more only pretending to eat, which worried Solfeggio to the point of his being barely tolerable. Sylvester had had a snarling argument with his senior house elf that morning that had left them both exhausted and finally admitting aloud that they were both terrified by Severus's deterioration. He spoke less and less each day, had trouble with his reading, and did things only if he were told to.
Penaia couldn't seem to reach him either. Severus had gone with him one morning to return white-faced and silent. He had spent the rest of the day sitting cross-legged under a tree, staring at his wrists.
Most worrying of all was the fact that not once had Sylvester seen Severus's hand reach for the shell around his neck.
He had, of course, sent for Marguerite who had carefully examined Severus, then come out of his room, shrugging, looking older than her years. "It's more than severe depression," she informed him. "It's regression. I need to consult some people, Sylvester. Until I can come up with a plan of treatment, see if you can somehow connect with him emotionally."
And that was another problem. If anyone touched him, Severus trembled. Even if it was Parlante or Solfeggio, both of whom had always been able to touch him. He would stare at the floor and shake for long minutes after the one who had touched him had moved far away.
Damn, had they won only to lose?
Well, nothing ventured, nothing gained. Things were so bad that worse might be an acceptable chance. Sylvester snapped, "Severus!"
A reaction. A small one, a little shudder, but a reaction nevertheless.
Sylvester wondered suddenly if they hadn't all been too accommodating. He pulled out his CEO's voice and barked, "Severus!"
Well, what did you know! The head rose and the face turned towards him.
"Enough. It's enough, Severus." Sylvester kept his voice calm yet authoritarian. "I am tired of the silent treatment. You will speak to me and you will do so now."
No additional reaction, though the face was still upright and watching him.
"I am not a mind-reader, Severus. I need to know what is bothering you. Yes, what happened to you was crap. It was bloody hell. But you've survived worse and this time you do so with the knowledge that neither Draco Malfoy or Wyman Osegood can ever touch you again. So just what the fuck is the problem, Severus Snape?"
By the scant light, Sylvester could see Severus's mouth open. Nothing came out.
"Severus!" he snarled.
There were words, so faintly spoken, so fragmented, that Sylvester had to lean forward to catch the few he did.
He closed his eyes and wondered if Solfeggio could be convinced to kick his arse into the next day. So simple. Why the bloody hell hadn't any of them thought of it?"
Careful not to touch the man, Sylvester slipped off the chair to sit on the top step near Severus.
The man's eyes were shadowed behind a fall of hair, but Sylvester caught the anguish in them.
"No. No, Severus, I have no intention of sending you away. I told you once that your home is with me, with us, for as long as you want. Yes, I know that there's no longer any reason to keep you here. Malfoy and Osegood are dead and can't threaten you any more. But that wasn't the `deal', Severus. The deal had nothing to do with your staying here only until they were caught. Your staying here has to do with the fact that..." He looked into the eyes that were watching him with resignation and loss. He put his full feelings for Severus into the words he spoke, hoping they would be believed. "That we love you, Severus." He sighed. "Solfeggio, Ariette, Parlante and I all love you, Severus. You're part of us now. If you want to go away, if you have somewhere else you would rather be, well, that's one thing. But it's completely another if you want to stay with us. Because that's what we want as well."
Damn, what more could he say that would make Severus believe? How many times...
He sighed and shook his head. Did all this have something to do with... It had been bothering him.
"Severus. After we rescued you, you spent some time with your mother."
"Severus, you used to visit with her once every day or so. It's been three weeks and you haven't. Why not?"
The face turned away and Sylvester knew that if he didn't force Severus to deal with whatever had happened, they would lose him.
He reached out and grabbed Severus's chin with his hand, holding his head steady, not allowing Severus to evade his eyes. He leaned in a little closer, ignoring the small tremors that had begun. "Severus. Answer me. Now."
Severus tried hard to avoid his eyes, but finally muttered, "Doesn't want me."
Sylvester cocked his head. "What do you mean, she doesn't want you?"
Severus shrugged but Sylvester wasn't accepting any evasion. "Severus! I asked you a question. I want an answer."
Severus began chewing on his lower lip. Sylvester restrained himself from yelling. This was more than they'd gotten out of Severus in ten days.
"She sent me back."
Sylvester heard the pain in those words, but he knew there was more to it than that. "Yes?"
Severus tried to pull his chin away from Sylvester's hold but Sylvester held firmly. He almost hoped for a small battle, something to indicate that the Severus he knew was in there.
Severus's eyes closed then he whispered, "She didn't want me either."
Sylvester used his most incredulous voice. "She didn't want you?" He ignored that hurtful "either". One thing at a time. Severus's eyes opened. Sylvester allowed his eyebrows to rise high. "Severus, how the hell did you ever come to that conclusion?"
This time he allowed Severus to pull away. His head went back against the post and he loosened a little the grip he held on his legs. "When you sent me there, she talked to me. Really talked to me. She held me and..."
Sylvester guessed, not that it was that hard. "And you wanted to stay with her."
Severus nodded slightly.
"But she sent you back to us."
Nothing. Sylvester pushed. "Because why, Severus?"
"Because," his voice was barely audible, "she said I had things yet to accomplish and she wanted me to accomplish them."
Thank you, Lucrezia, thought Sylvester fervently. "Yes, you do, Severus. And I think she also sent you back to us because she knew how much we care for you, how much we love you. I don't think she sent you back as a form of punishment."
He could hear Severus swallow in the darkness. "Severus, what else happened? Severus."
"She said I could continue visiting her."
"Yes? But you haven't. Why not?"
The face dropped to the knees.
"Severus, lad. I can't hear you when you speak to your knees. Turn your head at least."
It ached to see Severus obey. Would this be the only way he would react from now on, only in response to direct orders?
"I did go to see her."
"And?" Sylvester had time to note how much more patient he'd become since knowing Severus. He was having to pull each little bit of information out of the man, word by word. It was like being back in the old days, watching for a shred of information that would help him attain his goal. He hadn't had to be this patient in far too much time. But this was Severus and he was willing to wait.
"And I thought it would be like it had been. When she'd held me. Instead..."
"Instead, she was with the boy. She didn't see me. She was teaching him about plants and..."
Sylvester winced at the heartache in Severus's voice.
"And I wanted to kill him."
Sylvester nodded. "Because he was where you wanted to be." He gentled his voice. "That's understandable, Severus. But not doable. The boy after all is you."
"I know," he continued, voice heavy with unshed tears. "I wanted to yell at him that he shouldn't be so happy. That he was going to lose her as I had. That there would be no more joy in his life. That... That he was going to be an idiot and do things that no one, no matter what they said, would ever truly forgive or forget."
"Is that what you think, Severus?"
He nodded, his breath hitching.
Sylvester materialized a handkerchief and handed it to Severus who had trouble releasing the grip on one of his legs to accept it. Sylvester waited until he'd managed to blow his nose to continue.
"All right. Who do you think has not truly forgiven you, Severus?"
Severus only blew his nose once more then he stared at the bunched up material in his hands.
Sylvester sat back so that he rested against the other post. He wished Wyman Osegood hadn't died so quickly. He should have lingered as long as the pain he had caused so many people, most especially this man. But Sylvester had wanted him dead so that Severus could know that he was truly safe from him.
"Let me see," he offered in a contemplative tone, "there's your father. But he's a first class bastard, so what does it matter that you didn't turn out to be the son he wanted? If you had, you'd be a first class bore. So thank Merlin you didn't follow in his footsteps."
"Your grandmother?" A flinch. "She was a bitch." More than you'll ever know, thought Sylvester. "Do you really care about what she thought? No, I didn't think so."
Severus raised his head a little, his eyes firmly on his knees as far as Sylvester could tell.
"Then there's the fact that you were an arrogant prat at school." Hmm, that had gotten a reaction, head snapping up as though Severus had taken insult with his words. "Well, you weren't the only one. Nor the first. And, unfortunately, for all those in a teaching profession, not the last one either.
"As for your going over to Voldemort." The head bent forward again. "Well, Severus, you were young and he dangled the right bait in front of you." Sylvester pulled out his understanding yet slightly condescending tones. Severus seemed to respond to that as well, almost - he hoped he wasn't reading something that wasn't there - angrily. "The young are notorious for doing the wrong thing. It's how they learn. It's how you learnt." He dropped the condescension. "And you did, Severus. And when you did, you stopped being young and you grew up and made an adult decision. You acknowledged what you'd done and were willing to accept your punishment. And, when all was said and done, even the Ministry had to acknowledge that without you, without your particular knowledge of Voldemort, Harry Potter could not have eliminated Voldemort."
Severus seemed to be paying much more attention.
"Frankly, in my mind, and in the mind of many, that balances out the evil that you did under Voldemort."
For a moment, Sylvester thought Severus was going to argue, but he still remained silent.
"Yes, I am aware that it didn't in all minds. And you paid hard for that, Severus. But in the minds of those who count for you, I think you have to admit that it did and does."
Then Sylvester held up his hand as though he were forbidding Severus to speak. "And before you bring up Dumbledore, yes, I know it hurts that he didn't trust you enough to believe in you, and you have the complete right to be hurt, but the failing is with him, not with you."
Sylvester lowered his hand as Severus's teeth clamped down on his lip yet again. Damn, he'd better not gnaw that bloody or Marguerite would have Sylvester's hide.
"Let's see who else might not have forgiven you. Harry Potter? No, he's more than forgiven you for being the curmudgeonly taskmaster you were because you kept him alive."
Severus had grimaced at that "curmudgeonly".
"Remy? Well, you two seem to have worked that out between you. Same goes for Rus."
A small shrug of agreement.
"Now, as for your mother."
The head stiffened and the eyes looked haunted again.
"Penaia gave you the ability to see her love for you, and I understand that you want more than that, but, well, Severus, you of all people have to acknowledge that Magic has its limits. For her to talk to you, to hold you, to send you back to us, that took some powerful Magic. And she did show you how much she really loved and does love you. You've had that."
Severus finally nodded, a little dejectedly.
"She didn't send you back because she didn't want you, Severus. She sent you back because she knew we did. She knew you belonged to us now."
Severus sighed loudly. "Even if I have no Magic left in me?"
Sylvester cocked his head. So there was more to this than just Severus's fear of not being wanted.
"Is that what Penaia told you?"
Severus slowly allowed his legs to straighten. Sylvester winced in sympathy at the twinges Severus must be feeling as the blood recirculated.
"No. No, he told me the Core was still there, but when I tried to access it..."
Sylvester moaned, a little exaggeratedly, capturing Severus's full attention.
"Severus Snape." He shook his head sadly.
Sylvester hid his delight in hearing the slightly irritated tone. "If one of your students had ever behaved like that in the classroom, I have no doubt that the walls of the room would have reverberated with your response to such a comment."
Severus chewed his lower lip again. Sylvester reached out and tugged the lip down. He leaned into Severus's personal space and stared into his eyes.
"Are you going to tell me that you tried once and then gave up? Tell me, Severus, when Harry tried to master one of your esoteric spells to help him combat Voldemort, did you allow him to give up after he'd tried it once and it hadn't worked?"
"I thought not." Sylvester dropped his hand onto the nearer knee. Though there was a tremble, it was quickly gone.
"So let me see if I have this right. You are an admitted novice at Island Magic. You and Parlante are kidnapped. You use an enormous amount of your Magic to...for want of a better term, to apparate Parlante to safety. You are subjected to torture, which uses up more of your magical resources. And you are surprised...surprised!...that the first time you try to use your Magic, it doesn't respond as you would like it to?" Sylvester did not have to exaggerate by much the incredulity he felt. "And so you decide that you will no longer even try? Tell me, Professor Snape," now he allowed sarcasm to colour his words, "what kind of detention would you have handed out to a student who acted in such a foolish manner?"
It delighted him to no end that Severus suddenly looked both sheepish and defensive.
"Severus!" Sylvester put all of his aggravation into that one word. Severus almost cowered.
"You, my lad, have too much time on your hands, that's the problem." Sylvester rose to his feet, fists on hips. "The deck of the sloop needs work. Non-magical work. Parlante will show you want to do. Once he and I are satisfied with the work you've done, we'll discuss your future."
Severus looked askance. "Syl..."
But Sylvester continued as though Severus had remained silent. He made himself sound schoolmaster stern. "We've been far too lenient with you, lad, putting up with your moods. Idle hands and all that. You've had far too much time to mope. No more. Now I think it may be a good idea for you to find your bed for the few hours left until morning. I know that you're going to need your strength."
All Severus did was stare up at him, his mouth open. His eyes...alive.
Sylvester resisted the urge to crow. Far too soon yet for that. He scowled down at the man who hadn't moved. "Well, what are you wanting for? Bed!"
And Severus rose awkwardly to his feet and slowly headed inside. At the entrance to the house, he stopped and looked over his shoulder. Sylvester only met that with a raised eyebrow. Severus nodded and went inside.
Sylvester waited until he heard the soft closing of the bedroom door in the still silence, then he released his breath and wiped his brow.
"You took a chance there."
He turned to see Solfeggio step out of the shadows. "Did it work?"
Solfeggio came up to him and looked inside the house. "Who knows? But it looks better than it has been."
Parlante reluctantly supervised Severus as he stripped and revarnished the "Silver Spray's" teak deck and fixtures. Fiji supervised Parlante to see that all he did was show Severus how to do the work.
It was slow, laborious work and by the end of it, Severus was eating properly, sleeping better, and was once more speaking, if only to curse the work, his sore muscles and the fact that no one, apart from Parlante, seemed to be particularly sympathetic.
Penaia laughed. "Well, it's not really funny, but I suppose we've been far too worried about him not to understand that he needs to be treated as though nothing's all that wrong with him."
Sylvester shrugged. "The work has helped on one hand; on the other, he seems truly to believe that he's lost the ability to do Magic. Has he?"
Penaia shook his head. "No, the Core is in him. It was in him the day he tried to access it but, as it turned out, it was too soon for him. You were not the only one fooled by what appeared to be his recovery. I should have known and insisted he wait a little."
"And now?" Sylvester frowned.
Penaia sighed. "Now? I expect he's hearing that voice again, the one telling him he can't do it, laughing at him."
"The last time, you found a way around that," reminded Sylvester.
Penaia grimaced as he thought. "The problem is more one of imagination than reality. Well, I suppose... It's not really part of our customs, yet... Hmmm, Severus wouldn't know that..." He shrugged and smiled at Sylvester. "An `imaginary' solution to an imagined problem. And it would probably boost his self-confidence, which is something he does need to access his Core properly. Yes, it might work. And it would show him that he is not alone in this world."
Sylvester tried his CEO look out on Penaia and only got a grin in return.
"Solfeggio!" the irritating man called out.
Penaia chuckled. "Do you think you can work with my wives without hexing them?"
Sylvester sat up straight and looked at his wizard friend. "Just what the hell do you have in mind?"
And Penaia laughed.
A purification ceremony.
Severus looked into the mirror as he wrapped the white sarong about himself.
Penaia had organized a purification ceremony to accept Severus back into the Magic.
"It's not difficult, Severus. All you have to do is stand in the stream and let me do all the work. Of course, you have to want it." He'd looked into Severus's eyes, far more severe than Severus had ever seen him. "Do you, Severus? Want it? Because if you don't, then this will be a waste of time."
And he'd allowed Severus a few moments to think about it. And to realize quite suddenly that he did indeed want it. With all his being.
"Then it will work," Penaia had said.
Severus examined the man in the mirror.
He had gained back the weight he'd lost. He looked slightly more muscular than he had. All that exercise, working on the sloop, was probably responsible for that. Parlante had finally admitted to him that Sylvester usually stripped and revarnished the teak twice a year with just a couple of spells. The matter of maybe five minutes' effort. Not the sweat and aches he'd endured for five days.
It had reminded him a little too much of that month he'd spent polishing the school plaques under Filch's eagle eye. He'd have to remember that Sylvester had his limits. For some reason, that reassured rather than worried him.
And Parlante, who had been assigned to keep him on the job, had filled in the time with a history of his family and their involvement with that of Sylvester's. Severus had learnt the reason behind the more than normal attachment between the house elves and the wizard, about Sylvester's work as an Unspeakable, about the nomadic existence they'd led since the deaths of Vania, Tully and Nicky.
Severus met his reflection's eyes. So, like him, Sylvester knew what it was like to be loved and to lose that love.
Penaia had insisted that he spend the next week after his "detention" in meditation. He was not to attempt any kind of Magic, nothing, not even the merest hint of anything magical. He was to concentrate on the chants that Penaia taught him, seeking once more to be one with Mother Earth, the Source-Of-All-Life.
It hadn't been easy. First of all, Sylvester had insisted that he remain in sight of the house. Which meant that his favourite spot was out of bounds. And that Sylvester was keeping him on a short leash. So he found some grass to the right of the porch, towards the beach, under a small cluster of palm trees. There, to the sound of the water lapping the sands, he had tried to find the focus that he needed, the focus that had once been his.
Not easy when the voices were there, laughing at him, mocking him. Not just those of Osegood and Malfoy, but Dumbledore's had joined them as well.
And, at first, there had been more, with Minerva McGonagall and others from Hogwarts. It had taken some effort for him to chase those away, reminding himself of the letter that Gerald Decourcy had sent him. He'd informed Severus that the Department of Mysteries was arranging a pardon for him, in spite of the new Minister for Magic and the Department for Magical Law Enforcement. But he'd also visited Hogwarts, reporting that the staff, the ones who had been his colleagues, after being sworn to secrecy, had been horrified to hear what had been done to him. That he'd gone there to ask Minerva McGonagall, as Headmistress, to organize a search for all his books.
Dumbledore's accusations were harder to deal with. Sylvester had let it drop that his former headmaster had thought him dangerous, a potential Dark Lord.
A Dark Lord! Him!
Severus still couldn't believe that. As if, knowing what he knew, it would ever appeal to him. Hell, if he'd been at all interested in the position, Harry Potter would not now be teaching at Beauxbatons: his head would be on a pike at the entrance to Snape Manor. As would Dumbledore's.
He'd explained that to his mother, while she'd been listening to his younger self read. She'd actually looked at him then and had laughed, shaking her head at the stupidity of it all.
And he'd never heard Dumbledore's voice again.
As for Malfoy and Osegood, they were still there, mocking his attempts to get rid of them.
He hoped the ceremony would help him find the strength to eliminate them once and for all.
Severus stood by the stream, at the point where it was its deepest, about hip depth on him. Penaia was already there in the water, waiting for him, along with Sylvester.
They were alone in the cleaning, under the dappled shade of the trees. Not a bird was there, the only sound being of the ripple of the water as it raced its way along the banks.
"Student, do you wish to join us in our Magic?" Penaia's voice rang out clearly.
Severus nodded and then answered the words. "Yes, Master, I do."
"To do so, Student, you must want it."
"I do, Master."
"And why are you here, Student?"
"To be cleansed, Master. To be worthy."
"Then enter and join us, Student."
Severus stepped into the water and, carefully, eyes on the two men who were waiting for him, ignoring the angry clamor in his head, joined them. Penaia nodded his greeting while Sylvester smiled at him.
Severus wasn't certain what Sylvester was doing here, his presence hadn't been mentioned when Penaia had explained the ceremony, but somehow it was reassuring. He trusted Penaia, but he trusted Sylvester to... The realization took him by surprise... He trusted Sylvester to be there for him.
He returned Sylvester's smile, a little shyly. The voices rose in anger.
He stopped in front of the two wizards and waited.
Penaia began chanting a Song of Greeting and suddenly there was a rustling from the trees as birds - mainly macaws - flew in to perch themselves on the nearer branches.
From the bank behind the wizards, people appeared. Villagers who had gotten involved in the search for him the night he'd gone missing. Men, women, children, all were dressed in their brightest colours, joining Penaia in the Song of Greeting.
From behind him, Severus heard other voices. He looked over his shoulder to find Solfeggio, Ariette and Parlante there, adding their voices to the Song of Greeting.
And there were others with them.
Marguerite de Navarre. Molly and Arthur Weasley. The twins with Remus Lupin and Sirius Black. Ron and Hermione. Alastor Moody. A man he had never met but who was standing next to Abby Decourcy and looked enough like her for Severus to be able to guess was Gerald Decourcy.
All dressed as were the islanders, not quite singing along. Some were just listening, some others had picked up the melody and were humming along.
And then, coming to stand with the house elves, Harry Potter, in a red and gold sarong. Gryffindor colours, thought Severus.
Stunned, Severus turned back to the two men standing with him in the stream.
"These come as witnesses to your worthiness of the Magic," said Penaia.
And as Severus turned once more to see all the people who were watching him, who were smiling at him, the voices in his head screamed their anger.
He turned back to the wizards.
In his hand Penaia held a bowl, a small wooden bowl, nothing special. He dipped it into the water and stepped up to Severus.
Severus stood very still and the voices in his head grew silent. He knew they weren't gone, only gathering for the next attack.
"We use water, the sign of Mother Earth's love for us, to purify this wizard so that he can hear the Source-Of-All-Life, so he can feel Her love for him."
Penaia tipped the bowl so that the water dripped onto Severus's head and along his shoulders, down his back to rejoin the stream.
The voices suddenly screamed so loudly that Severus winced.
Then Penaia handed the bowl to Sylvester, who also dipped it into the water.
With a smile that left Severus no doubt that this man cared for him... No. Loved him. Sylvester approached him.
"We use water, the sign of Mother Earth's love for us, to purify this wizard so that he can hear the Source-Of-All-Life, so he can feel Her love for him. And our love for him."
And as Sylvester tipped the bowl so that the water dripped onto Severus's head and along his shoulders, down his back to rejoin the stream, Severus finally accepted that he would always have a place in this man's life. "Thank you," he whispered, doing his best to ignore the voices. And Sylvester's smile grew even wider.
There was some noise behind him. Something was happening on the bank and Severus turned his head in time to see Harry Potter step into the water Eyes holding those of Severus, Harry came to a stop beside him.
"It's not enough, is it?" he spoke softly, so that only the men in the stream could hear him. "They're still there."
Severus cocked his head and listened to the voices. "Yes," he admitted. "They're not happy."
Harry smiled at Severus. "Then let's annoy them some more, shall we? Let's get rid of them forever, Severus. Out of your head. Out of your nightmares."
And he stooped slightly, cupping his hands and bringing up a handful of the water. He rested his hands on Severus's head and only then allowed his hands to open.
Out of the corner of his eye, Severus could see Sylvester shaking his head. He understood why. He still couldn't bare to be touched, not without trembling.
As he was now. Almost shuddering.
Harry ignored Sylvester, scooped up another handful of water and carefully washed Severus's face with it, brushing the water away with his hands.
"Every time you think of them, Severus, you will think of me. Every time you dream of their hands on you, you will think of mine as they touch you today. My hands, Severus, never theirs. My hands."
And with every handful of water that was released to wash over some small part of Severus's body, with his hands gently stroking the water away, Harry repeated those words, over and over again, "My hands, Severus."
Even when he knelt in the water to his shoulders, removed the white sarong and carefully "washed" his legs, his genitals, Harry never allowed his eyes to leave Severus's, never allowed those voices any kind of power to combat his spell. And even when he stood behind Severus, his voice never hesitated, never wavered in its determination.
Harry's hands stroked the water away, his fingertips slowly traced the white raised lines, easing the memories. Gradually, the trembling eased into a sensation Severus had thought he'd never again feel as not just the Core of him warmed.
The voices made one last attempt to retain a foothold but Harry's Magic was too strong for them. Their final scream faded into nothingness as Harry murmured in his ear, "My hands, Severus." And his hands stoked the back of Severus's head.
The final scoop of water slipped down his hair, down his back to rejoin the stream.
As the voices disappeared, Severus felt a growing sense of elation, of excitement...and, yes, even of purity. He felt that he had truly been cleansed of all that anguish he had carried within him for far too long.
With Harry still standing behind him, his hands on Severus's shoulders, his body against his, Penaia came up to them. "So, Severus," he smiled, "show us some of your Magic."
And Severus looked up at the sun, raising his hand palm out so that it looked as though he were balancing the sun in his hand.
He called upon the Magic in him, located his Core, happily greeting it like an old friend before he focused it.
"Come to me," he said.
And when he dropped his hand slightly, a ball of sunlight came along with it.
And his laughter filled the clearing.
ssS End of Part Eight Sss
Sylvester slowly roused himself. He was in his bed, that much he knew.
He reached out and felt for the person who had spent the early morning hours with him in this bed, exploring new possibilities.
He cracked open an eye and signed a little sadly. He hoped this didn't mean that morning sex was out of the question. He rather liked to dawdle in bed in the morning.
It would be his luck if he'd decided to succumb to his attraction to find that his new partner was a one of those who loved jumping out of bed at the crack of dawn.
He took a shower and wrapped around his hips the most colourful cloth he could find in his armoire, a mixture of brilliant blues, greens and yellows.
As he passed through his house, he realized that he was not the last one up.
In one of the makeshift beds that had been set up in the living area, Fred and Rus were wrapped up tightly in each other's arms. He smiled at his cousin, lightly snoring, as he passed by. Remy and George were also still asleep, Remy's head resting on George's stomach, his hand possessively wrapped around George's cock. Sylvester took a moment to drape a sheet over them, sparing them their blushes should they wake to an audience.
Out on the porch, Sylvester squinted in the late morning light.
He wasn't suffering from a hangover. Not really.
There'd been drinking at the celebration that had followed the purification ceremony, but most of the celebrants had gotten drunk on the joyfulness of the occasion. There'd been singing and dancing, a mingling of the villagers with wizards and witches. With house elves.
Sylvester found his favourite chair and dropped into it.
Getting the wizards and witches involved in the ceremony had been Ariette's idea. She'd insisted that it wouldn't be enough for the villagers to witness the ceremony. Penaia's idea of witnesses to make it more valid in Severus's mind was a good one, she'd said, but he needed confirmation from his own.
It had been the reason behind Severus's week of meditation. It had taken a few days to arrange it all, for the witnesses to find suitable excuses to leave their offices, to find someone to take over businesses for the time they would be gone.
Sylvester was glad that Ariette had insisted that people prepare to be absent for a couple of days at least.
As he watched, she and the other women came into view, walking slowly along the shore of the lagoon, laughing at something Marguerite was saying.
As though she felt his eyes on her, Marguerite looked over and lifted her hand in a wave. He waved back, wondering if she were going to join him. She didn't; she stayed with the other women who continued walking. He hoped she wasn't passing comments on his performance in bed.
Theirs would not be a relationship like he'd had with Vania: Marguerite had her own work and he wasn't certain that he wanted someone around fulltime. But once in a while, there would be occasions when she would need to get away, or he could join her somewhere in the world.
He grinned. Two strong-willed, independent people. It would make for a wonderful, if a bit explosive, relationship.
"You want breakfast?"
Sylvester looked at the house elf who pulled up a chair to the table and made himself comfortable in it.
"And if I did?"
Solfeggio grinned, closed his eyes and suddenly there was a tray on the table, with a large mug of steaming coffee and a plate of morning pastries.
Sylvester laughed. "Let me guess, something you've picked up from Penaia's wives?"
Solfeggio shrugged. "He wanted enough food prepared to feed an army. His wives had some good ideas."
Sylvester sighed as that first mouthful of coffee hit his bloodstream. "Well, there certainly was that. Thank you, Solfeggio. It was a feast fit for a coronation."
The house elf shrugged, snapped his fingers and a chocolate croissant appeared.
"Where is everyone?"
Solfeggio swallowed his mouthful, licked the melting chocolate off his fingertips.
"Ariette is with the other females, mocking us males."
"Both Decourcys left after an early breakfast."
Sylvester nodded. Not much of a surprise, that. "It was good of Gerry to use the occasion to present Severus with his pardon. It added to the celebration."
Solfeggio growled, "They were the ones who should have asked Severus for his pardon."
Sylvester shrugged, not disagreeing.
"Parlante," Solfeggio continued, "is on the sloop with Arthur, showing him how the GPS you had him install works. Moody is in the hammock at the back, with Fiji who is trying to persuade him that he needs a pirate bird on his shoulder."
Sylvester laughed softly. "Decourcy told me that he's assigning an emeritus position to Alastor. Can you see him, limping down the halls of the Department of Mysteries, with his wooden leg and Fiji on his shoulder?"
"Well, Fiji can. He says he wants to retire. I think that broken wing took a little more out of him than he lets on. He's recommending his grandson, Bali, as his replacement."
Sylvester thought a moment then shrugged, accepting that life changed. "Bali, it is."
"How is Decourcy taking Harry's participation in the ceremony?" Solfeggio wondered, a little too innocently to Sylvester's mind. He looked at his elf who was waiting patiently for his response.
"Abby finally convinced Gerry to let her join the Department of Mysteries. I was given to understand that she and Harry had decided some weeks ago that they were just two ships passing in the night."
Solfeggio rolled his eyes. "Please, leave the movie clichs to me. I'm the one who collects American movies, not you."
Sylvester grinned. Solfeggio's passion for early American black and white movies was a deep-dark family secret: mainly gangster films and something called "screwball" comedies. He had a collection of films, now videos and these DVD things, all squirreled away in the armoire in his room. It had originally taken Sylvester months to figure out a way of producing enough Muggle power for the elf to watch his beloved movies. He'd finally gone with an early experiment in solar energy. By the time computers had come along, he'd already had a steady power source.
"Gerry was more interested in Fred and Rus's ideas for his people. He was quite captivated by Rus's comment that camouflaging jokes so that they could pass Heads of House inspections was not all that hard. That anything could be camouflaged. If I remember rightly, before I went to bed, they had a meeting arranged to discuss such possibilities."
Solfeggio shook his head. "Well, at least someone will be keeping an eye on those two. Molly's been worried about them. She told Ariette that they were already growing restless at Wheezies."
Sylvester laughed. "Gerry will allow Rus and Fred all the freedom they need to provide him with what he wants, and he'll rein them in if they get too weird."
"Like he did with you?" Solfeggio asked innocently.
Sylvester ignored him. "Where's Ron?"
"He went off with Penaia. Who is giving him a lesson on plants. Weasley wants to take a few back to experiment with in his greenhouse."
There was a peaceful silence for a few minutes. Sylvester finished his coffee, Solfeggio demolished another chocolate croissant.
"You haven't asked about Severus," the elf finally said.
Sylvester set the mug down on the table. "I'm assuming that if he's up, he's with Harry."
"Severus is showing him the area around the house. Are we going to get used to having Harry around?"
"School starts again next week. And he's got a contract with Beauxbatons that will last several years."
Solfeggio shrugged. "So we're talking holidays then. And after the contract?"
"I think we'll see, my friend."
He'd been frankly stunned at the connection between Harry and Severus. That Harry had been the one to cast Severus's voices out. But when he'd thought about it, it made a sort of sense. The two of them had worked so closely together. Maybe there was something there after all. Something that he'd keep a careful eye on.
He grinned at the thought of himself, vetting his lad's sex life. Merlin, he'd have hexed his father if the old man had even thought of it!
Oh, well, they had time. Harry would return to his classes while Severus continued with Penaia and Amta. He didn't think that Severus was quite ready for a physical relationship, not yet. Not suddenly. But...well, who knew? He had never again thought that he'd find someone who would appeal to him as much as Marguerite did. He'd waited seventy years. He wondered how long Harry would be willing to wait?
Well, just so the lad didn't get hurt.
Solfeggio cocked his head. "Well, all I can say is besides adding some visitors' bedrooms to the house..."
"You make it sound as though you think we're setting down roots here, Solfeggio."
Solfeggio rolled his eyes. "Can you imagine a better place? We wouldn't have to move every ten years or so. And no one here thinks anything about our being what we are. As I was saying, we'd better think about getting a larger yacht. What with Harry joining us and your Marguerite. The rest of the family..."
Sylvester started. Then he had to admit that Solfeggio was right about the island. And about the family. His family was indeed growing.
"...is going to want to drop in whenever they feel like it. Hell, I expect if Fiji has his way, Moody is going to want to see if he can truly play the part of a pirate...
"Hey! I know! Give the `Silver Spray' to Rus and they can play pirates boarding the Spanish vessel...Errol Flynn in `Captain Blood' style...Parlante would love it!"
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