“It was rich, warm and…” Maeve hesitated. Trying to describe the sound of the honeyed laughter was proving difficult.
“And happy.” Harry finished the sentence for her. “It sounded happy.”
“At first we thought it might have been one of the ghosts, or even Peeves playing a trick, but it wasn’t a ghostly laugh; it was a real one,” Maeve said. “And after what happened to Harry this afternoon we thought we should come and tell you.”
“Ah yes,” said Dumbledore thoughtfully. “We are back to dreams again. Which is worrying because it means when you are unguarded, Harry, you are vulnerable. What makes you think that the laughter is connected with the dream?” He looked at Harry closely.
“I don’t really know, Professor,” Harry mumbled. “The man in my dream just, well, he looked happy. If he had laughed that is how I would imagine the sound of it.” Harry glanced quickly at Maeve before continuing. “And he looked like Selene. I mean, he looked like Maeve.”
Dumbledore frowned. He was mildly concerned that there was a presence in the castle that couldn’t be immediately explained. Whatever, or whoever, it was didn’t sound like a malignant force, but with things the way they were in the wider world, you could never be sure.
“Is there anything else I should know?” he asked, anxious to leave no stone unturned.
“There was something in my classroom yesterday,” Maeve said. “At first I thought it was just a trick of the light or my imagination, but now it seems maybe I did actually see something.”
Dumbledore closed his eyes. He kept them closed for so long that Maeve and Harry thought he had gone to sleep. As they debated whether to attempt waking him or not his eyes slowly opened again.
“Sometimes it’s better to think slowly and let the decisions make themselves,” he said gently. “I think, perhaps, this is not someone who wishes you harm, but I do think you should be careful. There is always a reason for everything. There is a motive for this that we, as yet, aren’t privy to. I want you to avoid being alone. Certainly do not leave the castle alone unless it’s unavoidable. You must inform me if you see or hear anything else, especially you, Harry.”
Dumbledore had every confidence that Maeve could look after herself, but despite the fact that Harry had already displayed a degree of courage and ability far beyond his years, Dumbledore still had reservations about his ability to withstand a concerted attack.
“I agree that this presence is not trying to harm us, Professor, on the contrary. Both Harry and I had the feeling that it was some sort of a protective force. We were having a conversation when the room lit up. I rather got the impression that whoever it was was happy with what we were saying.” Maeve had been thinking about this since it happened. She remembered exactly what they had been saying; it was as if the presence was pleased they had resolved their differences. She explained this to Dumbledore who nodded as if he understood what this could mean.
“I think I shall have a talk with Firenze,” he said. “This sounds like something he might interpret better than I could. Just be careful, both of you.”
They knew this was a dismissal so they both stood to leave. As they reached the door Dumbledore asked them one final question.
“Does anyone else know about this?”
“No, Professor, we came straight to you,” Maeve said quickly.
“Good, I think for now we should keep it that way. I wouldn’t want the students to think the castle was that easy to penetrate, by good or dark forces.”
The term progressed quickly, the school settling into a happy routine of sorts, although they still heard the occasional snippet of bad news from the outside world. It seemed the deaths of the two wizards had not been the start of a sudden onslaught, but they had prompted a campaign of whispers and unfounded rumours. This vicarious gossip was spreading fear and suspicion throughout the wizarding world. Lurid headlines screamed from the front page of The Daily Prophet, predicting dark deeds and planting kernels of discontent in the minds of many. The Ministry was being cautiously optimistic in tone, issuing pamphlets entitled “What every Witch and Wizard should know to protect themselves” and “How to distract Dementors”.
Amelia Bones had been promoted by the Wizengamot from head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement to Minister for Magic. She had brought some much needed calm and order at the Ministry although there were some who had resisted her appointment in the top role. Some felt she hadn’t enough experience whilst other older, and more prejudiced wizards, thought that appointing a woman to lead the fight against Voldemort was a foolish mistake. Dumbledore had been the one who had fought most vociferously for her appointment. His arguments had been so convincing the motion had been passed unanimously despite the occasional uncharitable comment about her personal style.
Life still went on pretty much as normal though. Despite all the fears, there were no more murders. Azkaban remained secure because of the vast amount of Aurors and Hit-Wizards that had been deployed there, and of the Dementors, there was no sign. Voldemort was not sighted nor was the Dark Mark seen in the skies. By the time Halloween approached, the wizarding world had been lulled into a false sense of security that meant the leaflets issued by the Ministry were lost behind the mantelpieces of many homes. People ceased looking over their shoulders as they stopped expecting something disastrous to happen.
At Hogwarts, however, things were still very much on a war footing. Dumbledore was under no illusions. He knew that this quiet time was merely Voldemort gathering strength and numbers. He was pleased with the way Maeve had taken on Dumbledore’s Army and helped Harry continue with his lead role. The students were gaining in confidence from the constant practice they received at the meetings and from the fact they felt they were actually doing something constructive. He was also pleased with the way Harry seemed to be maturing under Maeve’s guidance. She had had a calming effect on most of the students, but Harry in particular had become much more patient and accepting of his position. There had also been a marked difference in Neville Longbottom’s behaviour. Freed from the tyranny of Potions with Professor Snape, and with a new wand in hand, he had begun to lose some of the fearful nervousness that had previously dogged him. He had even been given a detention for placing a particularly good Jelly Legs Jinx on Goyle, much to the amusement of the other Gryffindors.
Maeve had settled well into her new role. She was enjoying teaching the students, who were for the most part a good bunch. She still struggled to give Malfoy unbiased attention, but somehow she managed it and there had been no repeat of the incident on the first day of term, although she was aware he still constantly sniped at Harry.
Two days before the Halloween Feast, she was teaching the sixth-years how to recognise and overcome a Kelpie down by the lake. This was causing a great deal of grumbling and shivering. It was late October, the water was freezing and they were standing around in swimming costumes. The Kelpie in question was a foaming, flailing horse, which pranced prettily through the water trying to lure them onto its back. Ron and Seamus were both in the water as Maeve showed them how to manoeuvre a bridle made from seaweed onto its head with the use of a particularly advanced Placement Charm. Ron was having trouble with the wording though and the bridle kept slipping down onto the Kelpie’s back. On one occasion he had succeeded in placing it upside down on Seamus’ head, which gave the rest of the class a moment’s merriment.
Maeve had just waded into the water to help him out when there was a mighty commotion from Hagrid’s hut. The sound of smashing crockery and splintering wood could be clearly heard. The students looked at each other in alarm, while Seamus and Ron quickly splashed to the side of the lake. Maeve immediately let the disgruntled Kelpie loose. It gave her a haughty toss of its mane as it disappeared below the water. She swam to the edge, emerging dripping wet with alarm on her face.
“Lavender and Parvati, please go fetch Professor Dumbledore at once,” she said to the two girls. They stood shivering in their swimming costumes so were only too pleased at the excuse to escape the lesson. She flicked her wand; instantly the two students were dry and wearing their ordinary clothes as they pelted off towards the school. “The rest of you return to the changing rooms at once and get dressed. Do not under any circumstances approach Hagrid’s hut.”
Most of them looked at her as if she were mad to even think they would go within a mile of the violent noises; they were only too happy to run off at top speed. Maeve had already magically changed herself back into her ordinary robes and was striding across to the hut when she heard footsteps behind her. Harry was half running and half attempting to wave his wand over himself, which resulted in his swimming shorts turning into bright purple bloomers.
“Oh, for goodness’ sake!” Maeve said. She snapped her wand at him, restoring him to normal clothes. “Harry, please go back to the castle right away.”
“You shouldn’t go alone,” he argued.
“And you shouldn’t come with me… go back.”
His face took on a stubborn look and he shook his head.
“I’m coming with you,” he said. There was such finality in his tone that she heaved her shoulders in a gesture of defeat and set off again in the direction of the hut.
The noises had abated somewhat, but they were alarmed to find the door was hanging from one hinge and looked in great danger of falling off. There was a quiet groaning coming from inside, and as Maeve peered cautiously into the gloom she could see the shuddering shoulders of a huge figure that had crammed itself into the hut. Harry gave a little gasp as he recognised the tattered clothes and round head of Hagrid’s half-brother Grawp. Maeve made to step inside, but Harry put a hand on her arm.
“I really wouldn’t if I were you,” he warned her grimly. “I know exactly who that is and I don’t think you’re going to be too pleased.”
She turned to look at him with a raised eyebrow as he shifted his feet around uncomfortably. He knew that he should have told Dumbledore about Grawp, but with Hagrid still gone and Grawp himself running off into the depths of the forest he hadn’t seen the point. It would only have caused trouble for Hagrid. No one would have been able to find Grawp anyway. He knew that Maeve wasn’t stupid and would be able to tell from the fact that the creature was filling the whole hut, even with its bent stature, that this was a giant, albeit a bit of a runty looking one.
“Well?” she asked. Her eyes suggested that Harry had better get on with it.
“It’s a giant. He’s called Grawp and he’s… well he’s… he’s Hagrid’s half brother.” He couldn’t meet her eyes because he didn’t want to flinch at the anger that would be simmering there.
“Does Professor Dumbledore know about this?” she said sharply.
“Umm… not exactly.”
“Not exactly or not at all?” she asked, her perception reducing Harry to a shamefaced child.
“Not at all,” he said with his head down.
“So, a giant has been running round the school grounds.” Her anger was bubbling up inside her, building up a good head of steam. “You knew about it and didn’t think to inform Professor Dumbledore?”
“Hagrid would have got into trouble,” he said. “And I did promise to look after him.”
“Look after him!” she exclaimed, her voice rising and the tone getting sharper. “Harry, he is a giant… how on earth could you even think about looking after him?”
“I promised Hagrid,” he said in a flat voice. He wished he had never made any such promise. Harry had already resolved in future to ask before making such rash declarations.
“Well, Hagrid should have had more sense than to ask you. Do Hermione and Ron know?” She lowered her voice, conscious that she may antagonise the upset giant.
Harry nodded and Maeve couldn’t help tapping her foot in frustration. The low moaning had now shifted to gentle sobbing. The floor of the hut groaned in protest as the huddled, monstrous figure began to rock gently backwards and forwards, its head touching the walls as it did so, making anything that was unfortunate enough to be nailed to the wall sway alarmingly.
“I think he’s lonely,” she said with a touch of sympathy in her voice.
“You think he’s lonely?” Harry’s eyes rolled. “You’re as bad as Hagrid. That thing’s the most violent thing I have ever seen. You should see what he did to the forest when Hagrid had him tied up.”
“I can imagine,” she said wryly. Grawp raised his head as he heard their voices; slowly he lumbered to his feet, cracking the roof with his forehead as he tried to stand up fully. They both backed away from the door as he looked them up and down with eyes that were still watery from crying.
“Hagger?” he said pitifully, waving his arms hopelessly around the hut, sending pots and crockery flying in all directions. His breath fanned the small fire that burned in the grate and the sudden rush of flame almost set fire to the thatch. “Hagger?”
“He wants Hagrid,” Harry whispered helpfully.
“I gathered that much,” she replied, watching the creature scrutinising them. “But we haven’t got ‘Hagger’, have we? What’s he likely to do if he doesn’t get what he wants?”
“I’m not sure,” Harry said. “But I’ll bet it’s not pleasant.”
“HERMY!” This time Grawp sounded a little happier, his sad face bursting into life. He was focusing on something behind them.
“Hermy, Grawp wants Hagger. Grawp sad.”
Hermione had reached the hut having hurriedly changed, and was fully aware of what must have happened. She pushed past Maeve and Harry, walking straight up to the disconsolate giant.
“Hermione!” Harry hissed at her. “What are you doing?” He clearly thought she had gone mad, but Maeve was watching in amazement as the giant bent low and attempted to hug Hermione. This resulted in the girl being swallowed up by huge, tree-trunk thick arms.
“Hagrid isn’t here, Grawp,” she said clearly, in a very loud voice. “He will come back soon though.” She glanced back at the other two and made shooing movements with her hand. Maeve pulled Harry away from the door with a whispered instruction to let Hermione get on with it. Harry had no intentions of letting Hermione get on with it alone and told her so in no uncertain terms.
“Harry, clearly she has built up some sort of relationship with Grawp since she has been back at school. He is displaying affection for her and for us to interfere at this stage might upset him,” Maeve said insistently, but Harry wasn’t at all convinced. He was about to go back in to the hut when Dumbledore appeared with Severus in tow.
Maeve quickly explained the situation in hushed tones. Dumbledore listened intently to the conversation that was going on inside the hut. Hermione had obviously spent some time with Grawp since returning to school because his vocabulary was expanding to include words such as friend, book and, strangely enough, homework.
“Are we going to stop this, Professor,” Snape asked, “before the girl starts inviting him to classes?”
“Hmm, in a moment, Severus. It is quite remarkable to observe the friendship the young lady has managed to forge with such a wild creature. Of course, Hagrid was wrong to bring him here, but all the same… it is interesting, is it not?” Dumbledore looked quite excited by Hermione’s control of Grawp. It reinforced his opinion that Hermione was one of the brightest students in the school, as well as having a level of intuition that could be quite startling.
Severus sighed, folding his arms across his chest in a vexed manner.
“Shall I escort Potter back to the school or do you need me here?” he asked brusquely.
“I’m not going anywhere,” Harry protested. He resisted the temptation to add ‘with you’ to the end of the sentence.
“Silence, Potter. Just because you no longer take my class doesn’t give you the excuse to speak out of turn.” He shot a pointed look at Maeve, as if she had somehow stolen something from him by agreeing to teach Harry Potions. He had felt this was his chance to foil Harry’s attempts at becoming an Auror yet somehow Harry had managed to obtain private tuition from someone as skilled in the subject as he was. It was intensely galling.
“You may all go,” Dumbledore said calmly. “I think Miss Granger and I have this situation under control.”
Both Harry and Maeve were about to open their mouths to protest, but Dumbledore held up a hand.
“Now, now. I think Miss Granger and I are more than capable of handling this delicate matter. Too many wizards spoil the potion and all that, so off you go.” He was smiling, but they could see by the determined look in his eyes that he meant it. Reluctantly they turned away. Severus was already moving across the grass in long, steady strides, putting as much distance between himself and the situation as he could.
“Did you know Hermione was seeing Grawp?” Maeve asked Harry as soon as they were out of earshot of the hut.
“No, of course I didn’t!” Harry said indignantly. Secretly he was very disappointed that Hermione hadn’t let him in on the secret. It seemed to him that they might be growing apart a little and he wasn’t sure why.
The wind suddenly whipped up leaves from the trees, blowing them across their path. The recent spell of rain had left the ground smelling of decay and rotting vegetation. It was worse on the edge of the forest, as if here not just the leaves were rotten. They followed the line of the trees, taking the opportunity to discuss the next meeting of D.A. and Harry also saw his chance to ask her some more questions about his mother. He did this frequently, which Maeve really didn’t mind. It gave her great pleasure to discuss her school days and talk about Lily freely. Harry had been particularly interested in the circumstances that surrounded his mother’s change in attitude to his father. Maeve had said pretty much the same as Remus had, that James had matured and Lily had finally seen that beneath the bravado there lay a heart forged from gold and steel with equal measure.
As they changed direction and walked across the grass a noise reached them that was seldom heard around Hogwarts. They both turned at the same time to see where it was coming from. Up the long drive came a large black motorcar, and they both stopped to watch its progress with fascination.
“Ministry of Magic?” Harry said questioningly.
Maeve peered at the number plates, which from this distance it was almost impossible to read. As the car came closer still she didn’t need to read the plates to know where the car came from.
“Oh, Sizzling Snitches!” she breathed. “That’s my father.”
Harry looked at her in astonishment.
“Your father? How on earth does he know you are here?” Harry saw her face drain of colour and he was instantly anxious.
“He doesn’t really. I think he must have just assumed I was.” Maeve’s brain was ticking over rapidly. What was he doing here and what did he want? She felt a heavy sense of foreboding in the air around her. The wind that had so recently started up blew harder, with a chill that, even for late October, was ferocious in its intensity. The car passed them and she just managed to glimpse the stony face of her father sitting in the back, muffled against the cold. It was only the briefest of glimpses, but she had the chance to see he looked older and more strained than he had on that painful day back in July.
“Will you see him?” Harry asked.
“I don’t know. I suppose I should really,” she said, watching as the car pulled up at the front doors. Maeve glanced up at the sky, wondering why the light had suddenly dimmed. Heavy, grey clouds were building and the air was being charged with prickling electricity. “We should get inside. There’s a storm on the way.”
As she voiced this suggestion the first heavy splashes of rain began to fall, so they picked up their feet and made a run for the entrance hall. They arrived just as a frozen-faced driver opened the car door. Maeve was aware that in her present form she would be able to gauge her father’s mood and reason for his visit without being unmasked. With Harry by her side she stopped as the black-coated man stepped wearily from the car.
“Good afternoon,” she said politely. He turned his frosty blue eyes to her, appraising her swiftly. Having decided she was not worth much effort he spoke crisply and was extremely economical with his words.
“I am here to see Professor Dumbledore. Tell him I have arrived.”
“Is he expecting you?” she asked. She knew full well he probably wasn’t, or she would surely have been the first to know.
“And what business is that of yours?”
The words and the tenor still had the power to hurt, despite the fact she was now a stranger to him. If anything it made it worse knowing that he spoke to a complete stranger in the same manner he had spoken to her, his own daughter, for most of her life.
“It is none of my business. However, politeness begs I ask the question. Professor Dumbledore is dealing with something right now, but I can call his assistant down for you.”
“I don’t want to speak with a minion. I want to speak with Dumbledore, and I want to speak with him now.” Niall O’Malley was getting slightly pink about the jowls and felt anger beginning to rise. Why must he always encounter problems?
“You shouldn’t speak to Professor Lupin like that,” Harry said, leaping to her defence. He was well aware that she must be feeling fairly vulnerable at this unexpected meeting.
“It doesn’t matter, Harry,” she said soothingly. “Mr O’Malley, you are welcome to wait inside. Professor Dumbledore will be along shortly. I do not intend to stand here in the rain arguing with you.”
“How do you know my name?” he snapped.
“I know a good many things. You would do well to remember that.”
It was a bitter reminder of just how unpleasant her father could be. She wondered how she had put up with it for those years. Here at Hogwarts she felt herself filled with renewed power, a powerful recollection of the strength of her bloodline. It was strange that she felt her mother and grandmother’s presence more strongly here than back at the home they had loved so much.
Niall didn’t have the chance to respond as she swept up the steps and into the entrance hall with Harry in her wake. A fork of lightning tore through the sky as the thunder rolled in. It gave the afternoon a forbidding feeling that followed Maeve all the way to her rooms. Harry had left her reluctantly and headed for the Gryffindor common room, the end of her lesson having signified the end of classes for the day.
Ron was sitting by the fire with a chilled look about him and he, along with several others, was still whittering on about the afternoon’s lesson.
“Bloody ridiculous!” Ron said as Harry plonked himself down in the chair nearest to him. “Shorts in the middle of winter. We’ll all be full of a cold tomorrow I’ll bet. There is no way I am missing Quidditch practice because of a stupid Kelpie.”
“I thought the Kelpie was quite interesting,” Harry said, only half listening to his friend’s grumbling. “You just didn’t like it because you couldn’t get the bridle over its head. If you have a cold you can always go and get a Pepper-Up Potion from Madam Pomfrey.”
“Have you tasted that stuff?” Ron asked in disgust.
“Aye, he was quick to get me with the bridle though,” Seamus complained. Seamus was suffering the most and was sitting right on top of the fire with teeth that refused to stop chattering despite his now warm clothes and the roaring heat.
“Where’s Hermione?” Ron asked, trying to sound casual.
“We left her with Dumbledore,” Harry said, nodding towards Seamus warningly. The young Irish boy was looking into the fire with longing and not really taking in what was going on around him. Harry didn’t want to take any chances about him overhearing what he had to say about Grawp so he made something up. “Something about cleaning up Hagrid’s hut. A fox had got in and messed the place up a bit.” Harry gave Ron a staged wink.
“Ahh, right,” Ron said with a smile. “Ermm, fancy a quick walk, Harry? I’ve got to pick up a book from the library.”
Harry nodded and they both left the common room heading for the library. At least they could talk there without being overheard.
“So what was it?” Ron whispered as they sat across from each other at a table in the library. Madam Pince was nowhere to be seen, which meant they didn’t need to even pretend to be working.
“Grawp,” Harry said in hushed tones. “He was looking for Hagrid. Hermione has been seeing him since we got back to school. I think she’s even been giving him homework.”
“Bloody hell!” Ron said. “Poor Grawp, It’s bad enough being in a strange place, alone and with no one who speaks your language... but having Hermione give you homework is a bit much.” He shook his head sadly. “And why didn’t she tell us?”
“I don’t know why. He speaks a bit more of our language now so she must have been doing some good. Professor Dumbledore knows now anyway so maybe things will look up for Grawp,” said Harry.
“It’s just a pity Hagrid’s not back,” Ron said gloomily and they both frowned as they remembered the state Hagrid had been in when he finally returned last year.
The door opened quietly. They both turned, half expecting Madam Pince to come in and reprimand them for not working, but it was Hermione. She looked flushed and excited.
“What happened?” Harry and Ron asked in unison as she sat beside Harry with a grin on her face.
“It’s all right,” she said happily. “Professor Dumbledore got Professor Grubbly-Plank to come down and it turns out she can speak a little bit of Grawp’s language. Anyway, they calmed him down. He’s been taken back into the forest. Professor Grubbly-Plank is going to get him a hut made. It will have to be considerably bigger than Hagrid’s, of course. Then at least he will have a roof over his head while they decide what to do with him.”
“Well, he can’t stay here, can he?” Ron said.
“I don’t think so. Hagrid will be so upset, but really, it’s what’s best for Grawp.” Hermione looked quite sad at the thought of losing her first and only pupil.
“He should never have brought him here in the first place,” Ron said with a snort. He felt they had suffered enough at the hands of some of Hagrid’s creatures.
“Harry, what’s the matter? You’re very quiet,” Hermione asked, turning her attention to her friend, who was sitting there looking very preoccupied.
“Nothing,” he said nonchalantly. He was wondering what Maeve’s father wanted. Harry couldn’t drive away the thought that maybe he had come to take her back. He didn’t think Niall could make her go back, but what if she wanted to go home? Maybe she was missing Ireland to the extent that she would happily get into that black car and disappear into the storm that had descended on the school. The only way he would know was to go and ask her, although he didn’t want to disturb her if she was with her father. Despite the fact that Harry had become a little happier in the past month, he was still constantly worrying that people he cared for would be suddenly taken away from him. If Sirius, who was the closest thing he had had to a father, could be taken away then it could happen to anyone he loved.
Maeve wasn’t thinking of leaving. The thought had never even entered her head. She was looking out across the lake from her bedroom window, watching as the lightning continued to fire vehement bolts of illumination at the ground. The wind had dropped to a low moaning, while the sun was sinking, leaving a gloomy darkness in its place. She was waiting for the knock that would surely come. It was as if she was falling down a dark well: she knew the sickening bump would come, she just didn’t know when. Her father wanted something, of that she was sure. She just couldn’t imagine what that something would be. Unable to settle to anything, she wondered if she ought to go and find Dumbledore, who would doubtless be with her father. Her deliberations were brought to an end by a knock at the door and her stomach felt as if it had fallen to her knees. She went across, opening the door to reveal Professor Dumbledore, who wore a grave look on his face and carried a piece of parchment in his hand.
“My dear Maeve,” he said, after he had firmly closed the door behind him. “I’m afraid your father is here.”
“I know,” she said. “I met him earlier. What does he want?” She searched Dumbledore’s face for some sign of the nature of the visit, but he regarded her steadily, giving little away via his eyes.
“It is an issue with the house,” he sighed and waved his hand at the sofa. “Perhaps we should sit down.”
“The house?” she queried, sitting opposite him and leaning forward with her elbows on her knees. “What’s wrong with the house?”
“He wants it,” Dumbledore said simply.
“But it’s his anyway,” she said.
“No, Maeve, it is not; it’s yours. When your mother died she left a very comprehensive will. She bequeathed everything to you, including the house.” He waited for this to sink in before continuing. “He has decided that, because you have left, he has the right to claim the house. I would, of course, advise against this, but he has brought a legal document for you to sign.” Dumbledore handed her the parchment and she glanced at the paper quickly. It was a complicated-looking thing, but she caught the gist of it. It meant that by signing it she would completely give up any rights to her family home. Maeve wasn’t sure she wanted to keep the house anyway and this thought surprised her. After her earlier thoughts about feeling her mother’s presence here she had begun to realise that loved-ones were not contained in bricks and mortar, but deep inside oneself. She carried her mother and grandmother in her heart, not in a piece of land and a rambling house in Ireland.
“He can have it,” she said quietly.
“Be very careful about making this decision too rashly, Maeve,” Dumbledore said with disquiet in his voice. “He does not deserve this gesture. You need to think of your own security.”
“But I don’t need it. I have enough money in my account at Gringotts and I have work. I’m not sure I will ever go back.”
There came the sound of running feet outside in the corridor, and the door was suddenly flung open to reveal the triumphant figure of her father. He was panting from the sudden exertion, leaning against the doorframe briefly to recover himself.
“So, you know where she is!” he said sharply to Maeve, who was still sitting holding the parchment. “I want to know. I need that house and I haven’t the time for messages to be bandied about.” He came into the room just as a breathless Percy arrived with Severus in hot pursuit.
“I am so sorry, Professor,” Percy said to Dumbledore with a tremor in his voice. “I didn’t know he wasn’t to know where you were. I assumed you had set up a meeting.” He was wringing his hands with a terrified expression on his face at the possibility of receiving a reprimand.
“No matter, Percy.” Dumbledore looked benignly at his assistant. “You may go.”
“Are you sure you wouldn’t like me to do anyt…” he began, but Severus cut him off.
“You heard the headmaster, Weasley,” he hissed, his voice dripping with dislike. “I think you have done enough damage tonight, don’t you?”
Percy wilted under Severus’ icy glare, looking quickly at Professor Dumbledore before scurrying from the room. Severus closed the door and remained in the room, watching Niall and Maeve warily. He looked more concerned about this than perhaps was to be expected.
Niall meanwhile had taken in the fact that a person he didn’t know was sitting there holding the parchment that granted him the rights to Abbeylara. Niall was not completely stupid. He took a step closer to Maeve and looked her in the eyes, immediately recognising that longing look, a look that ached for recognition and love, something he was incapable of providing. In that instant he knew what was going on.
“It’s you, isn’t it?” he said accusingly.
“NO!” Severus stepped between Niall and Maeve, who was still sitting. “Whatever you are thinking, O’Malley, this isn’t it.” All the contempt and hatred Severus felt for the man that had been instrumental in ruining his life was threatening to explode into violent action.
“I think it is,” he insisted.
“Leave her alone.” Severus drew his wand and pointed it directly in the man’s face. “You would be a fool to pursue this.”
Maeve was suddenly tired. She didn’t want the house, she didn’t care if her father knew the truth, and she wasn’t interested in Severus’ histrionics. Standing up, she placed a hand on Severus’ shoulder, which made him shiver involuntarily.
“Thank you,” she said. Severus turned to look into her eyes. “Thank you, Severus, for your protection. He is my father though, and he should know.”
She twitched her face. The transformation was instant, gone was the mousy hair and dull eyes. In its place stood Maeve O’Malley.
In the stunned silence Severus’ low moan was clearly audible. No one guessed what it meant, or why he stood at Maeve’s shoulder like some dark presence as she swiftly signed her name to the document before her and thrust it into the hands of Niall O’Malley. No one knew the thoughts that whirled around in his head; no one could possibly have guessed that Severus knew this was the beginning of the end.