"NO!!!" screamed Harry, hearing a combined roar of denial from Snape and Draco behind him.
Time slowed to a crawl.
The Auror holding Helen held his eyes on her face and his expression was avid and a little curious.
Jasper smiled as he looked over Harry's shoulder at Snape. His wet lips were parted slightly.
As the spell sunk into her neck, Helen's eyes rolled up in her head and she sagged.
Harry heard an animal sound of pain -- and if it could have come from a person, he thought it came from Snape.
In the space between heartbeats, the world stopped.
Then the black light erupted out of Helen's heart and washed over all of them in a noiseless explosion. It filled Harry's ears and eyes and left him both blind and deaf; tumbling his senses over and over each other until he lost track of which way was up.
When it fell back like a wave exhausting itself on the shore, Harry was on his knees and the Aurors had fallen. Other than Snape, the only person still on their feet was Helen who was standing with her hands over her abdomen and her brown hair falling wildly over her face. She was shaking, but otherwise it was as if the spell had never touched her.
She looked up. Her pupils were so huge her eyes were almost as black as Snape's. They glistened as they fastened on her husband's eyes.
"They threatened our baby," she whispered. A tear rolled down her cheek. "They tried to kill our baby, Severus."
Harry staggered up to go to her, but was brushed aside in a flurry of black robes as Snape swept through the doorway and wrapped his arms around his wife. He pulled her close, rocking her slowly.
"She's protected, Helen," he breathed into her hair as Helen leaned into his embrace. "Our baby is protected. Grandmother won't let anyone harm her."
"I want to go home." Her voice was muffled against his chest.
"I know. Solly will take you home. Solly will take you anywhere you want to go." He kissed her hair.
"I want to go home with you."
Helen sniffed and looked up. Harry saw her face. It was white except for a few freckles. All the laughter was gone. "You have to take Draco home, though, don't you?" she said, and it wasn't quite a question.
Using the heel of her hand to wipe her eyes dry, Helen said, "I know you do. And I understand. I just wish..."
"That you didn't understand?" Snape whispered.
"Yes!" Helen chuckled a little, but it sounded cynical. "I hate having to be a rational creature. It sucks. I thought that now I'm pregnant I wouldn't have to bother with all that stuff."
Snape rubbed his thumb along her jawline. "If it's any help, most humans don't bother at any stage in their lives. You're ahead in the game."
Helen bit her lip. "I guess I'm not a real human," she said in a tiny voice.
Harry had heard enough. He hurried forward to put his arms around Helen, barely noticing the tingle of the protective barrier in the doorway, and not even that he was forced to sling one arm around Snape's waist too. "Don't say that," babbled Harry.. "Never say that, Helen, because it's not true. Look -- I'd take your brand of being human over those idiots any day."
"Thanks," Helen said, the smallest smile hovering in the corners of her mouth. "I appreciate it, Harry, but I'm not blind to the truth..."
"The truth is that you're the only human outside of my foster family I can stand spending time with without thinking up slow and painful ways of killing them," growled Snape. "Now will you stop worrying about whether you're human or not? Grandmother Taniwha will get someone to issue you a certificate if you have some desperate want for one. And if I care about you enough to participate in a group hug with Potter then you're furlongs ahead of the rest of the species. Satisfied?"
"Well, be satisfied. Potter, if you don't stop hugging my wife and I, I'm going to vomit."
Harry let go with alacrity and not a little alarm. Snape looked in the mood for damage.
But the evil glint in Snape's eyes wasn't focussed on him.
"Would you like me to kill them, dear?" he asked conversationally, eyeing the two Aurors who were flat on their backs and groaning as if the Cruciatis curse had hit them instead. Maybe it had.
Harry frowned uneasily. This was Snape as he'd been in his Death Eater days.
Mind you, maybe he had a point. But...
"That's not a very rational thing to do, dear," said Helen, although she paused to think as well as blow her nose on a hankie she took from one of Snape's pockets before she said so.
"I'm not feeling very rational," said Snape silkily. "Rather the reverse, actually."
There was a worried whine from the Ice Dragon, who had crept up behind Harry. <sunonice> could sense the continuing throb of malice in the room. He poked his head through the doorway and wrinkled his nose as the taniwha's magic rippled over his skin in little rainbows. Harry put a hand on the Ice Dragon's neck in an effort to soothe the creature -- if the ortho became too unsettled Harry and Snape could lose control over him and at this point, with the Ministry sending out Aurors after the two wizards and the Ice Dragon, that could mean disaster. Draco shook his head as if the magic was irritating him, and withdrew back into the bedroom.
"Well, if you killed them it would be setting a bad example for the boys..." Helen said, sounding like she was thinking aloud and trying to remember something she'd read a long time ago in a book.
"They're old enough to get their own morals."
"The Headmaster would be angry."
"I'll claim self-defence." Snape twirled his wand as he gave the two downed Aurors a hungry look.
"Think of the paperwork."
"Damn." He lowered his wand. But, at a slightly louder groan from Jasper, raised it again. "Petrificus totalis," he said, and repeated the spell on the second Auror.
"That was very rational."
"They will carve those words on my tombstone," said Snape morosely. "'He was a rational man'."
"Yes, dear." And Helen gave the Auror who'd been holding her a strategic kick.
Harry winced -- as did Snape and the Ice Dragon, who must have had some residual memories of being a human male tucked away in there somewhere.
"There," said Helen with a great deal of satisfaction as Gordon curled around himself and made small noises in the back of his throat. "Now who's the one who won't be having spawn?" Before Harry could say anything she had delivered a kick to the other Auror.
"Ah, dear...?" Snape said in a higher-than-usual voice.
"Yes, darling?" Helen was surveying her footwork critically. "Rona said that was a good move. I'll have to write and tell her how good it is."
Snape rubbed at the bridge of his nose. Harry, who was managing to stand and cross his legs at the same time, wondered if the Potions master's eyes were watering in shared male sympathy too.
"Please don't tell Rona about this. And... I'm sure it won't be necessary to do this ever again."
"Hum. Well, I'll see, I suppose." She took a good look at her husband's face. "Honestly, Sev -- you'd think I'd killed them instead of just putting the boot in." She sounded absolutely astonished. "How can killing them be worse than this?"
"It's just..." Snape tried to say, and ended up waving the nose-rubbing hand helplessly. "Look. If you really want to incapacitate a man, try and gouge out his eyes first... but not today, please. I may have a use for their eyes in a minute."
"This seems to work okay." She gave Gordon another kick. "See? Or were you going to use these bits as well?"
Snape was having obvious difficulty finding words, so Harry tried to help. "You see, Helen... Um... it's just that... Um," said Harry.
Sometimes words were tricky beasts to find.
There was one single, pure moment of shared male consensus between Harry and Snape as they exchanged glances. It was a look that said: We shall never mention this again. Ever.
The look dissolved into one of mutual horror as Helen bent down and started rifling through the Aurors' pockets.
"What?" she demanded when she saw their expressions. "Oh, come on. I think I'm owed something!"
Harry tried to think of something to say that wouldn't have Snape sneering at him for Gryffindorish sensibilities.
Snape found something first: "They might have something dangerous in their pockets," he advised.
"Oh. Well, I've got some money... over a hundred Galleons, I think -- wow, who would've thought Aurors get paid so much? -- a silver hip-flask, a gold hip-flask I think I'll give to Remus seeing as how he can't use the silver one and you only drink beer, some suspicious vials you can have, dear, and two balls of string!" She sounded even more pleased about the string than the money as she flourished her booty. "I'll keep the string, I think. You never know when it'll come in handy. Can I tell Rona about this?"
"Seeing as how she's in advertising I'm sure she'll be proud of you," Snape said weakly as he plucked the suspicious vials out of his wife's hands.
"True. I'd better just check on Draco. Could you make sure Solly is okay?"
While Snape checked the pooka, Helen grabbed the still lightly stunned Harry by the arm and dragged him back to the Ice Dragon, who was very pleased to see her, rubbing his head against her shoulder and almost purring.
Harry relayed the information that Helen was safe, and Draco chuffed in relief.
"Harry..." Helen was scratching the ortho behind the ear.
"Can you keep an eye on Severus for me?" she said quietly. "I know it sounds silly, but I don't want him to kill those two. Killing them would just bring more trouble than it's worth. He really wants to do something bad to them and when he puts his mind to it he can be extremely nasty."
So Helen wasn't blind to Snape's bad side after all. Harry's respect for her rose another notch.
She put her hand on Harry's face. It was still trembling a little. "Don't let him do anything... stupid. You'll know stupid when you see it. And you, Harry-chick, remember that if he sees you or Draco in danger he'll stick his daft self between you and it. So be careful, and not just for your sake... I want to see all three of you safe back at Hogwarts -- or in New Zealand. You're my nephew just as much as Chad and Eru are -- remember that." She gripped his ear and tugged it lightly. "Keep yourself safe."
"I'll do what I can," Harry said solemnly, knowing that Helen wouldn't want some bland promise of "Of course I will." "I promise." He gave her a small smile, wishing he had some way of telling her how much it meant to him that she considered him family.
"Thank you," she breathed, and pulled his head down so that she could drop a kiss on his forehead. "I don't want any of you getting into any more trouble -- and certainly not on my behalf. My legal standing in the magical community is debatable, and although Sev doesn't talk about it, it makes him angry. I have very little legal protection, you see, and he can be a teensy bit defensive on my behalf." She chewed her upper lip. "Most people would regard me as a Transfigured animal. Technically, that's true. I'm not eligible to vote, and if someone killed me they would be charged with destruction of property rather than murder."
Harry was almost too angry to speak. "But... they can't... anyone who ever met you... how stupid can they be?"
"People can be incredibly stupid, Mr Potter," hissed Snape, who had glided up behind them unheard. He placed his hands on Helen's shoulders. "And I already told you I wouldn't kill them, Helen. Solly is fine, if a little nervous. He will be happier when he is sure that you are safe."
"Yes. Sorry -- I didn't mean to worry Harry." She turned her head to kiss the backs of Snape's fingers.
Snape sighed. "I know. Helen... Your legal status is irrelevant. If you wanted to debate the finer points, then it could be argued that I am not fully human either. My ultimate ancestress is a goddess of night and death, after all." He shook her shoulders lightly. "Give me bird Helen over a fully human Helen any day -- I've had enough of those who laughingly label themselves 'humanity'. If you purged the world of those fully human -- barring Rona and her family, or course -- I honestly doubt I'd mourn."
"Harry's standing right beside you," Helen reproved.
"I'm aware of that."
Bastard, thought Harry. I bet you were aware of that.
Snape slipped an arm around Helen's middle to pull her backwards against him, and spread his fingers over where the baby rested. A look of concentration crossed his features, then he nodded in satisfaction. "Wasn't even touched," he said, twin notes of satisfaction and amusement mellowing out his voice. "Grandmother weaves her protections well."
"I don't remember her setting anything up," said Helen, staring down at Snape's hand for a moment before covering it with her own and slipping her fingers between his.
"Hmm. I think it was part of the marriage spell she cast." He smiled, and pressed a kiss to Helen's temple. "There's something to be said for an arranged marriage after all."
"Heck of a dowry."
Snape chuckled, an almost alien sound to Harry's ears. And... it was an arranged marriage? Harry had to stop to think about that, even after everything that had happened today. Whenever he'd ever thought about marriage, he'd never considered that they could be arranged in this day and age -- it seemed medieval! But, he realised, it made sense. For had Snape stopped to wonder if he should propose to Helen (or even been allowed to think about the wisdom of marrying someone who'd just been Transfigured from a parrot!), the marriage would have been doomed before it began -- Grandmother Taniwha had been wise indeed.
Snape pulled out his Muggle-style notebook and pen and was scribbling some notes in it. "Here," he said to Helen as he ripped out a page. "Give this to the Granger girl. It's for the project she's working on with Longbottom."
"You're not trying to keep your research going beyond the grave, are you?" asked Helen, shaking off his hold and turning towards him with her hands on her hips. Her eyes were narrowed.
"Of course not," Snape replied smoothly, although without making eye contact. He tucked the notebook back into his robes. "I merely thought she should keep herself busy while I'm away. I had an idea that needs some research done, and she should be just about competent for that."
"You should try hiding your pride in your students a bit more. You might give Hermione a swollen head if you keep praising her like that," Helen told him. She really was coming along well with her sarcasm, and Harry was pleased she used it in defence of his friends.
"I'm sure she gets quite enough praise from everyone else. Anything extra from me would turn her into some sort of raving egomaniac. Let's try again with Solomon, shall we?" asked Snape, before Helen could defend Hermione further. "Perhaps it will be second time the charm."
"Merlin, I hope so," Helen agreed fervently. "I don't need anymore shocks today, thank you very much."
Solomon was standing stock still in the hallway. If it was possible, he looked embarrassed at not having taken proper care of his master's wife.
Snape lifted Helen onto the pooka's back again. With a smile Helen leaned down again and kissed Snape. "You said 'she'," she whispered. "We're going to have a daughter?" The light was back on in her eyes.
"It would seem so."
Not losing that small, secretive smile, Helen reached out and touched his face. "Come back to me."
Snape took her hand and kissed the palm. "You know I will," he breathed.
Helen closed her eyes and took a deep breath. "Okay. Solomon -- get me home, please." This time, when Solomon walked down the corridor, he looked very much on the alert with his red-tipped ears flicking back and forth. Then the pooka and Helen turned a corner that seemed to be made from thin air, and they were gone.
Snape and Harry stared at the space where they'd been.
"Was that Apparating?" asked Harry, more to break the silence than out of any real curiosity. Snape had suddenly looked so sad -- and Harry was still uncomfortable associating Snape with any deep emotion other than homicidal rage.
Snape shook his head and shrugged. "It's a magic peculiar to some of the fairy creatures. I have no idea how it works -- Solly likes his secrets. For example, how he managed to transport young Mr Malfoy back and forth in time. Because I'm fairly sure that was what happened."
"Really? I mean, I had a dream that showed Malfoy at your birth, but... I didn't know Time-Turners worked for such distances."
"Lucius had one, but I doubt Draco ever did. However, Draco always seemed to be accompanied by Solomon when he appeared in each different time -- when I was born, and when..." Snape hesitated over the memory "... and when I was lost and needed to be taken to Grandmother Taniwha... But Solomon has never shown such tendencies to me. He may belong to me, but for a long time now he has been a tool or servant of Grandmother's. Perhaps a pet or even a friend. I suspect he still is, especially in light of his bringing Helen and sustenance to us today."
"How old is he?"
Again, a shrug. Snape's thin shoulders could be quite expressive. "He was old when Grandmother got him."
There was a groan from one of the Aurors and Snape's eyes sharpened. A curl of the professor's lip indicated that someone was in a hell of a lot of trouble and Harry found himself glad that for once it wasn't him. For once.
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