UPDATED - complete rewrite completed Jan 2014. Same plot, expanded scenes, cleaned up.

SETTING: The Prologue takes place at the end of Vold War I. Rest of the story takes place in the years following the war, before Harry & Co get to Hogwarts.

ALTERATIONS: History has been stretched and squeezed a bit for timing, but wherever possible, events fit canon. I pride myself on keeping all canon characters strictly in character. Only two major changes to history here: One, that Severus and Bellatrix had a brief fling that produced a child, and that I have killed off Rodolphus. Notes on this at the end of this chapter.

Last, but not least -

WARNING: This story contains flashbacks of violence to/in front of a young child. It is no more graphic than it needs to be, and is necessary to the storyline, but some people may be disturbed by it.


Always In Your Shadow

Prologue

Bellatrix Lestrange rubbed her belly subconsciously as she peered down her nose. The woman on the ground beneath her writhed, eyes wild and round. "P-please," he choked, "Have-have mercy...I have done nothing to you."

Bellatrix laughed. "I am not known to be merciful," she crooned, pausing with her hand at the middle of her own belly. She owed nothing to this filthy Muggle bitch, but... perhaps pregnancy was making her soft. "Perhaps... just this once, I can make an exception..."

Relief flooded her blanched features; the sweat-soaked cheeks went slack. Carefully, she propped herself up on her elbows, edging slowly away from Bellatrix.

"Yes, I think I will give you mercy," Bellatrix said, her dark eyes alight. She twisted her wand through her fingers, thoughtfully.

"Th-thank you," the woman said on exhale, and she trembled like a leaf even as she slid further away from Bellatrix; like a cornered animal, she was afraid to make any sudden moves, although the temptation to get away from this clearly unhinged woman was mighty; especially considering the unbelievable pain she'd just been in; she could only hope that this... this witchcraft, whatever it was, that the wild-haired woman had done to her hadn't somehow damaged her permanently. Lord only knew, it had felt as though her bones were being broken apart, like she was being completely unraveled inside.

Bellatrix nodded. In a sudden motion, she aimed the wand purposefully at the young woman again. She opened her mouth.

"What are you doing?" the woman asked, tensely. "You... please, you said you'd have mercy!"

Bellatrix cocked her head. "For a filthy Muggle like you, death is mercy," she said, pleased with herself. She winked conspiratorially. "Especially from me. So... Avada Kedavra!"

Bellatrix chuckled as the light fled from the woman's round, blue eyes. Well, that was done.

(¯ˆ·.¸¸.·ˆ¯)

Bellatrix sat at her kitchen table, wand held loosely in her right hand. It was tempting to speculate on which of her suitors had fathered the child, but finding out was probably not worth the trouble, since she had no intention of sharing it with anyone but the Dark Lord himself.

It was a thing she and Rodolphus had tried for many times over the course of their marriage; not that either of them were particularly tender-hearted, and certainly not for the pitter-patter of little feet or any of that nonsense, but simply because the wizarding race was dwindling. With each generation, the blood was thinning; there were, in the Lestranges' opinion, far too few purebloods remaining. But it had never happened; she hadn't known, at the time, if it was his defect or hers, but they had never been able to produce a child.

It had been hard, when he was killed. Not because of any particular emotional attachment she held, but because he'd been killed by a dirty blood-traitor, one of Alastor Moody's half-blooded Auror prodigies, and Bellatrix had yet to return the favor. Narcissa had been pressing her, of late, to marry Rabastan, but Bellatrix had no intentions of doing so. She had done what was expected of her, and married a pureblooded wizard, once. They hadn't produced a child, and now he was gone. She needed to avenge his death, but that was all she felt she owed him.

The child, though... she felt they'd been on the right track there. And it had come to her, months after Rodolphus had been murdered, that it wasn't too late; was perhaps even better this way. Rodolphus had not been much of a duelist - that was why he'd died. In fact, as she reflected, there was not much to say for him, save that his blood was as pure as her own.

But she was, in her way, a beautiful woman, and she could have her pick of donors, as it were, for her child.

There had been quite a few of them, none of whom were worth her time or attention, but she doled out just enough of it, anyway. If she'd been looking for perfection, she would have remained childless, but she'd had to look at the situation objectively. There were a few in the Dark Lord's inner circles that had talents worth cultivating; a few were excellent duelists, for instance, and one had such a talent for Transfiguration that he had become an Animagus. Then, of course, there was the other one... the half-Mudblood. That had been distasteful, though more than a little fun. More importantly, there was no denying that he was a skilled wizard, and he was close to the Dark Lord, for reasons Bellatrix couldn't fully understand.

Any of them would contribute something useful, and that was the way she had to look at it; it wasn't about the men, or whether she liked any of them. It was, purely and simply, about choosing the ones that would breed something useful into her child, so that the child could be presented to the Dark Lord, the ultimate servant. No one had ever been a Death Eater from birth; it seemed to Bellatrix that if such a child were to exist, it could only be hers.

And if, for some reason, it didn't work out; if the child was dim-witted, if the Dark Lord rejected it, if Bellatrix tired of caring for it - well, then she could raise it as fodder. A willing sacrifice was always a powerful thing, and that was the sum of it, to Bellatrix. The child would be a servant, or the child would be a sacrifice. Perhaps both, in time.

But for now, there was only the swelling of her belly, and the wand she twirled in her fingers. It could tell her now if it was a boy or a girl, but that was of little interest to her, anyway. It could tell her who had fathered the child too, but for that she'd need to cast a paternity spell on both herself and on the male, and she wasn't certain she wanted him, whichever one he was, to know. There were a few of them that might ask her to see the child, even to allow him to help raise it, that might have their own opinions on the child's usefulness, and Bellatrix wanted to keep it all to herself. When it came down to it, she didn't trust any of them to raise it correctly, to stay true to her mission. If you wanted something done right, in Bellatrix's mind, you did it yourself.

(¯ˆ·.¸¸.·ˆ¯)

Bellatrix gave birth to a tiny, skinny-limbed girl in the middle of a frigid, bitter March. Her skin was pale, her mouth a thin-lipped pout. Her eyes were as dark and fathomless as an oil slick, or the bottom of a deep well, and the feathery hair atop her head was jet-black, scraggly. Bellatrix called her Calista, because the name had a double meaning; it could refer to a vessel, and it also meant 'most beautiful'.

Bellatrix thought her child was indeed most beautiful; she bore enough of a resemblance to her mother to see she had the Black blood in her veins, and in the child's dark, dark eyes Bella imagined she could already see a devotion to the Dark Lord and his deeds.

Ultimately, it came about much as she had half-expected, though. The Dark Lord had no interest in a baby, no matter how extraordinary Bellatrix claimed it would be.

"Bring her back when she is sixteen, and ready to take the Mark," he had said dismissively, in his cold, high voice.

And that is what Bellatrix resolved to do; but in the meantime, there was no reason that she shouldn't be cultivated, so that she might grow to be as useful as possible. Perhaps she could not take the Mark yet; perhaps she would not, as Bellatrix had envisioned, accompany her mother to Death Eater gatherings during her formative years. But she could be taught along the way - could learn to feel pride in her wizarding blood, and contempt for those that didn't have it, or those that had sullied it through intermarrying or associating with Muggles.

And so, Bellatrix fed the baby from her breast, and recited her bloodline to the child as she did so; she put the babe to sleep with detailed accounts of her own murderous deeds, and during the day she would murmur the importance of blood purity, would describe the noble cause of preserving it.

Calista was a serious, quiet child from the beginning. She never cried much, which was just as well, because Bellatrix had no patience for it. She would look up at her mother with those dark eyes, small mouth set solemnly. When she did cry, Bellatrix would attempt to feed her; if that did not make the child stop crying, then she would simply set the child back in her cradle and ignore her, until her cries faded away into soft gasps.

As a toddler, she was briefly talkative; she'd insert gibberish responses into the pauses in Bellatrix's nighttime rhetoric, punctuating tales of torture and Muggle hunting with nonsense sounds. Bellatrix fancied that it meant the child was interested, perhaps excited to follow in her mother's footsteps. Calista would imitate her mother's voice, too, as she aged, repeating back words and phrases that Bellatrix spoke. Most would say simply that the child was learning to talk, but Bellatrix was convinced that Calista was eager to be just like her mother, in all ways.

Except that, when the girl was three, Bellatrix took her along on one of her Muggle-hunting trips, and it had not at all gone the way she expected. She had cast Cruciatus, her favorite spell, on a pair of Muggles. When she turned to look at her daughter, the little girl's eyes were wide, but not, as Bellatrix had expected, with admiration or even hunger; they were wide with terror, and tears left shiny, silvery trails down her cheeks. Her mouth was moving. Bellatrix let off the spell, and crouched closer to her daughter to hear what she was saying. The muggles squirmed and gasped, temporarily reprieved.

At first, Bellatrix couldn't decipher the girl's babbling; but then, she heard a string of words. "Mama, no, mama bad!" the little girl pleaded. Bellatrix gripped the girl's wrist, looked into her face.

"Listen to Mama. Those are the bad people, there." She pointed her wand in their direction, illustratively; the pair flinched, caught mid-rise, hoping to escape while Bellatrix was distracted. "They would take your magic away if they could. Don't pity them."

Calista only continued her childish pleading: "Mama bad! No, no, no!"

Bellatrix turned, refocused. The filth was trying to escape; that would not do, not at all. And yet, she couldn't concentrate with the child's wretched cries assaulting her ears. She flicked her wand carelessly first at one, then the other. "Avada Kedavra!" she intoned once, twice. One after the other, they fell to the ground, dead.

And now, the child was not speaking; Bellatrix turned, and saw that she had closed her eyes, was pressing her hands over them. Her mouth wobbled and her shoulders shuddered, but she wasn't making sounds anymore.

"Look at them," Bellatrix commanded. "Look at what becomes of scum, of filth. They're dead, Calista, as they should be."

She pulled the girl up by the arm, dragged her over to the bodies, wrenched the girl's hands away from her face.

"Look at them," she commanded again, and when the child kept her eyes screwed tightly shut, Bellatrix slapped her face; startled, her eyes flew open. Bellatrix made her look at them for a space of several minutes, roughly turning her face back towards them whenever she tried to look away.

It was the same thing over again, every time Bellatrix brought Calista with her when she was targeting Muggles; the girl would cry, would babble for Bellatrix to stop, would close her eyes tightly, turn her small face away. In response, Bellatrix would slap her, would force her to look. Still, no matter what Bellatrix did, she could not coax the girl to look on with anything but horror.

When Calista was four, Bellatrix thought that perhaps she had been going about it the wrong way; perhaps Calista would learn better by action than by example. After she had subdued her prey, she wrapped her daughter's tiny hand and her own hand both around the wand, pointed it and cast the curse. She wanted Calista to feel the rush of power that she, Bellatrix felt, when she cast a curse, punished the filth; and she wanted to see if Calista could cast yet, for she had seen no signs of magical ability thus far.

At first, the child responded the same way, with horror and revulsion. Eventually, Bellatrix grew frustrated, and her patience wore thin. She had tried to teach the child in a way that she considered gentle, but when that failed, she punished the girl, more and more.

She yelled at her, berated her for not taking pride in her bloodline, for not admiring Bellatrix's work for the cause. She slapped the child when she failed to obey, deprived her of dinner when she cried.

Once, she cast the Cruciatus curse on the child, just for a moment; and then, she took to casting Imperius to force the child into obedience, but even then, Calista would do nothing with the wand whenever Bellatrix thrust it into her hands.

Still, something Bellatrix did must have worked, because she thought the child was coming around at last sometime in her fifth year. She began to cry less; at some point, she nearly stopped altogether, stopped babbling for Bellatrix to stop.

Instead of blind horror, her eyes were placid, distant. And yet, during those times, Bellatrix found her to be more or less unresponsive; true, she'd stopped sobbing and wailing like some Muggle brat, but she wouldn't respond when Bellatrix spoke to her, either. And still, the wand was useless in the child's hands.

Even under the Imperius curse, Calista never made any sort of attempt to cast that Bellatrix could discern; and she knew Imperius worked on the girl, because she'd made her do other things - follow after Bellatrix, repeat her bloodline back to her.

Once, Aurors had shown up in the middle of her fun; she'd had to leave two twisted, crumpled Muggles sobbing and waxy-pale behind with their lives intact, to prevent herself from being apprehended. If the child hadn't been there, she could have finished the job, but one of the Aurors had seen Calista, and very nearly took her way before Bellatrix could snatch her back, and hit the Auror with a full-body bind.

And that was enough of a scare for Bellatrix; Calista was hers, was her vessel to fill with pride for the Dark Lord's cause, with hatred for Muggles and their ilk. She could not let that investment be taken and squandered… and then she'd had a brilliant idea.

True, the Dark Lord would not Mark Calista until she was sixteen; but that was no reason that Bellatrix couldn't mark her. Why had she not thought of it earlier? She could ensure that Calista would not be stolen away, and she could teach her a lesson at the same time; perhaps this would even, somehow, awaken her dormant magical potential.

No one but the Dark Lord himself could set the Dark Mark into a person's skin by magic, but Bellatrix thought that if she set the Mark with her own hands, it would forge a special connection between her and the child.

It had been a trying affair, in Bellatrix's mind; the little girl had screamed and squirmed, tried to run away. It had taken a combination of brute force and a number of curses to keep the child within reach, but in the end she'd accomplished what she'd set out to do; she'd Marked the child herself, with her own hands.

Calista changed, after that; when her eyes were not blank, they glittered with malice and resentment. She all but refused to speak, most of the time, and when Bellatrix focused her attention on Calista, the girl nearly always looked back stony-faced. Occasionally, she'd look at her mother with what could only be described as hatred.

In an attempt to re-direct the child's hatred where she felt it belonged, Bellatrix took her Muggle-hunting more and more. Again and again, she placed the wand in the child's hand, willing her, by voice and by curse, to cast along with her. The child never did.

(¯ˆ·.¸¸.·ˆ¯)

It was because of her determination to get the girl to cast a curse on a Muggle that she was caught off guard one night, when members of the Order of the Phoenix arrived.

There were four of them there that night, and they had rounded up a family of Muggles for sport. Bellatrix had taken her daughter aside, and apprehended one of the Muggles, a teenage boy.

"Kick him," Bellatrix urged, pointing her wand at Calista, instead of at the Muggle boy; she had the girl under the Imperius curse again - if the girl couldn't, or wouldn't cast a spell, then Bellatrix would make her hurt the filth in other ways. It was the hatred for them that she wanted to cultivate, after all. "Hit him. Bite him."

Under the curse, the girl would have no choice but to obey. Bellatrix licked her lips hungrily, eager to see her daughter inflict pain on the filthy-blooded brat.

And then, as suddenly as that, she had been disarmed; her wand flew from her grasp, and her daughter stumbled, fell to her knees as she was released from the curse.

Bellatrix looked up to see her cousin, Sirius Black, standing but ten paces away, his wand trained on her. Beyond him, she could see her comrades caught up in duels of their own with more of Dumbledore's Muggle-loving cronies.

Sirius had his hand out to catch her wand, but when he registered the forms of the Muggle boy and of the skinny, dark-haired little girl on her knees, his eyes widened in shock and he missed; the wand fell to the ground with a hollow clatter, and rolled across the pavement towards the small girl.

"Unbelieveable," Sirius sneered, disgust lacing his words. "This is a new low, even for you. Children, Bellatrix?"

Bellatrix found her voice; it came out hoarsely, as she stretched her hand towards her daughter, pointed long, white fingers at her.

"Give Mama the wand," she coaxed, "Pick it up, give Mama her wand, now!"

Sirius' eyes swept, in an instant, between mother and child; his eyes looked somehow sad as he registered what he had really stumbled upon, realized this skinny, sad-looking little girl was Bellatrix's own child.

Calista stood, and her dark eyes found her mother's, locked on. Too late, Sirius reacted, went for the wand on the ground, but the little girl was closer. Screwing up her tiny face with rage, Calista kicked the wand, as far away as she could, further from where her mother crouched on the ground. It skittered away from all of them.

Bellatrix howled with rage and lunged for the wand. Sirius aimed a hex at her, but it missed, narrowly. She reached the wand, snatched it up. Sirius readied a Shield Charm, but he needn't have bothered; Bellatrix swing the wand around to her daughter, instead.

"Idiot girl!" she screeched, "Crucio!"

The shrill sound of the child's scream carried up into the air, above the other shouts and cries and battle sounds. She fell to the ground again.

Bellatrix kept the wand trained on the child, shaking it to punctuate her words now and then.

"You will learn to do as you're told! You will make your Mama proud! You will follow the Dark Lor—," In her rage, Bellatrix had momentarily forgotten about Sirius, who had reacted blindly, tackling her bodily, and sending her sprawling and her wand clattering to the ground again.

"Evil bitch," Sirius growled, now pointing his own wand at the nape of her neck as he pinned her to the ground. "You deserve everything that you would have done to those Muggles… but not here, not now. You've evidently done enough damage to that poor child; I won't make her witness your death tonight, too."

Placing a curse on Bella to temporarily rend her immobile, Sirius stood, limbs shaking with anger and shock. He reached a hand towards the little girl, who was shakily getting up from the ground herself.

"Come here, little one," Sirius said, trying to moderate his anger, "I'll take you somewhere safe, away from her."

The child made no move either towards him or away from him, and Sirius briefly found himself wondering if Bellatrix had managed to damage the child's wits, for she only stared blankly. Behind her, the teenaged Muggle was running, wisely electing to flee the scene while everyone else was distracted.

"Come on," Sirius repeated urgently, the sounds of battle still echoing around them, "This is no place for children."

When the girl still didn't move, he reached forward and grabbed her wrist, pulling her along with him hurriedly. As soon as they were removed from the scene, Sirius disapparated both of them.

(¯ˆ·.¸¸.·ˆ¯)

Calista sat still in a chair that was one of several around a large, wooden table, in a cozy, well-lit kitchen. She had been here, in this chair, ever since the tall, black-haired man in the leather jacket had taken her away from the place where her mother was, where they had been torturing Muggles.

He was sitting next to her, in a chair identical to hers. On her other side, a pretty woman with a pregnant belly and long red hair sat. Another black-haired man, this one wearing spectacles and looking very concerned, sat on the woman's other side. On the tabletop, he reached for the woman's hand, held it gently. There was a third man at the table, too. He sat almost directly across from Calista, and studied her with mild brown eyes. He looked the least shaken of of all of them.

Each of the adults had tried to get Calista to speak to them. They'd asked her for her name, how old she was, asked her if she was hurt, or if she was hungry. She hadn't responded to any of them, had simply stared at the tabletop, her gaze as wooden as the table itself.

When none of them could coax a response from her, they started to speak around her instead, in hushed, worried-sounding tones. All of them punctuated their conversation with frequent, concerned glances in her direction.

Except for the brown-eyed man across from her; as far as Calista could tell, though she was trying not to look, he kept his gaze fixed on her. He didn't seem worried, exactly. He looked a little sad, and more than a little perplexed, as if she were a riddle that he almost knew the answer to.

Calista listened to them carefully, although her face remained impassive, her eyes distantly fixed on the surface of the table. She learned their names; the man who had taken her was called Sirius, and he was related to her mother, somehow. She hadn't been sure what to think of him until then; knowing he was her mother's kin made her distrust him immediately.

The woman was Lily, and the man next to her was called James. She gathered that he was her husband, and that Lily was pregnant with their son. She didn't particularly trust any of them, but she did like the way Lily's voice sounded. It was soft, and gentle. It reminded Calista of a warm blanket, or a light summer rain.

The one across from her, who had more or less kept his gaze on her since he'd sat down, was Remus, and he was the quietest one of the group, only venturing to contribute to their conversation occasionally.

"Do you suppose she has tracking spells on her?" James asked uneasily.

"I don't know," Sirius said, "Knowing my cousin, she probably does. I had to take her, though. I couldn't leave her there, not after what Bellatrix was doing…"

"But we can't keep her here," James said urgently, "Bellatrix is going to come looking for her. It's not going to be easy to hide her child from her, we have no idea what kind of spells she's attached to her. It's far too risky, it could lead Voldemort's followers straight to us. She shouldn't be here any more than she should've been with that lot of Death Eaters."

Sirius ran his hand through his black hair in frustration.

"I know, I know! But what was I supposed to do? She was using unforgivable curses on her own child! And if she's Bellatrix's daughter," he nodded towards the small girl, "Then she's related to me, too. It's my responsibility to help her."

Lily leaned over, laid a hand gently on Calista's shoulder. The little girl flinched, and shrank away from Lily's touch. Lily drew her hand back uncertainly. Remus frowned.

"It's all right," Lily said softly, her hand hovering now above the child's shoulder, "Are you hungry?"

The little girl lifted her face to look at Lily; her eyes were utterly unreadable, her face solemn. Lily felt a jolt of recognition somewhere in the back of her mind; she had seen those eyes before, she thought, but where?

The child only looked at her, didn't reply. After a moment, the flash of recognition faded, and Lily only felt her heart breaking at the sight of those cold, alien eyes. She had never seen a child look so utterly lost and alone, and she thought she would rather die than see that look in her own child eyes, even for an instant.

Disheartened, she tore her eyes away from the little girl's, looked instead at each of the men in turn, resting them on James eventually.

"No offense meant, Sirius," James said hesitantly. Calista turned her face stonily to the table once more. "But now that she's here… Well, how do you know she isn't going to report to her mother the things she's seen here? It might make finding us a lot easier."

Sirius rolled his eyes.

"Come on, she's only a little child. And I don't think Mum is her favorite person just now…"

He glanced at the child for confirmation, but it was as if he had said nothing, for all the acknowledgement she offered.

"Something's wrong with her," Lily said softly, reaching her hand out again, this time brushing the girl's forehead so gently that the child didn't even flinch, this time. "I think she might be ill. It's unnatural for a child to be so quiet and unresponsive."

Remus furrowed his brow and nodded a bit, as if he had been thinking the same thing. James looked uncomfortable, tightening his hold on his wife's hand, and Sirius just shrugged.

"I wouldn't exactly be the life of the party either, after living with Bellatrix. Give her a few days, I'm sure she'll come around."

Despite his words, Lily was still uneasy. Perhaps it was a mother-to-be's intuition, but she sensed there was more to what troubled the little girl than just what she had seen tonight.

The debate had gone on long into the night, but Calista didn't hear it all. When her face split into a sudden, wide yawn, Lily had glanced up at a clock on the wall, and coaxed Calista to a comfortable sofa in the next room, and settling a soft blanket over her. At some point, while the conversation droned on in the kitchen over what to do with her, she fell into an uneasy sleep.

The next morning, Calista sat at the wooden table again, as the breakfast dishes were cleared away. She had picked at the food they set in front of her, wary and too nervous to eat much. Now, while Lily washed the dishes with magic, Calista started and gasped when a sharp rap came at the front door of the home.

Lily turned at the sound, as James answered the door. Lily's gaze found the little girl, saw a brief flash of fear in them. "It's all right, dove," Lily said, "Albus is a friend. He's going to help us keep you safe."

For several moments, Calista could hear a hushed conversation going on the sitting-room where she had slept badly on the sofa. She couldn't make out most of it, but she heard her mother's name mentioned, and she could make out three distinct voices.

A tall, older-looking man in purple robes, with a long silver beard and head of hair to match, strode into the room, James and Sirius at his heels. Brilliant blue eyes took in the tiny girl sitting at the freshly scrubbed table.

"Ah," he said, and for a moment, that was all he said. He looked at her intently, much as Remus had the previous night, as though he were trying to figure something out. Sirius stepped into the kitchen as well, offered the man more information.

"She hasn't spoken to any of us. Not a word. I'm not sure if she can."

The man stepped closer, and eased himself into the chair beside Calista's, where Sirius had sat last night.

"Hello, there," he said, his voice pitched pleasantly. "I'd like to talk to you for a few minutes. My name is Albus Dumbledore; might I have yours?"

He watched her carefully; it was slight, but her eyes flicked towards him when she heard his name. Predictably, she held her silence.

"Ah, I see you've heard of me. I'm at a loss, though, because I don't know what your name is, and I'm afraid you may have heard some very one-sided things about me. I'd like to set the record straight, if you'll let me."

Calista redoubled her efforts to stare noncommittally at the table. Dumbledore's sharp eyes took in the way her shoulders were tensed, her ears perked.

"Well, firstly, I want you to know that neither myself, nor any other person in this house, is going to hurt you. You're quite safe here; there are a number of very strong protective spells around this house, and no one can get in unless myself, James, or Lily invites them in, which we have no intention of doing for anyone that would cause harm to any person in this house, yourself included. I hope, knowing that, that you'll feel comfortable enough to speak to us."

Silence from the child. The clock on the far wall tick-tocked a smooth rhythm across the kitchen.

"Of course, no one is going to force you to do or say anything, so although I hope you'll speak to us, it's certainly within your rights to keep staring at this lovely table, if that's what you wish to do."

Her eyes flicked towards him again; something in the clarity, the directness, of his gaze, made her lift her head.

"Is there anything at all you'd like us to know?" Dumbledore asked the child gently, "Your name, perhaps, or even what you like to eat for breakfast? Anything at all?"

The child blinked, and shook her head, no, almost imperceptibly. Albus sat beside her a moment longer, but she tilted her head down once more, pressed her lips together tightly.

He stood, turned to face Sirius and James. "I won't say this doesn't put us in an uncomfortable predicament, but I believe rescuing her from her mother was, in this case, necessary. I wish you had brought her to Hogwarts last night, immediately. We may have had additional options, if she'd gone there, first. For now, she has to stay here. I don't know of a tracking spell that can breach the charms we have around this house, but if she takes one step outside of their boundaries, she'll be traceable once more."

Dumbledore glanced at the girl again, looking all at once terribly sad and a great deal older. "I hope that she will learn to trust us enough to tell us her name, but until then, perhaps we should choose one to call her by."

"So you believe she can speak, then?" Lily asked earnestly.

"I do believe so, yes," Dumbledore said, "I think she's terribly frightened, and she's perhaps found that silence has served her well in frightening situations."

Shortly after that, Dumbledore left, and Sirius soon after that. The house must have belonged to Lily and James, because they stayed. Sometime in the afternoon, Lily gave the little girl some sheets of paper and a quill.

"I thought perhaps you'd like to draw a picture," she told the girl softly, "Or maybe you can write your name down for us. Do you know your letters yet?"

Calista raised her head and scowled, quill in hand. Lily laughed. "All right, I guess you do. Will you write your name down?"

Calista set the quill down, pushed the paper away from herself, and folded her arms defiantly.

Lily frowned, and sighed. She supposed the hostility was an improvement on her complete unresponsiveness the night before. "Well… those are yours, if you feel like writing or drawing anything."

She'd been wearing a plain black garment and a thin jacket when Sirius had taken her away; Lily had come home earlier that afternoon with a few new sets of clothes for her, Muggle clothes - trousers and blouses, and a nightdress, and then had thrown her old ones away. She'd searched the pocket of the dress, and found the one thing that Calista always kept with her: a dog-eared, ratty little book. Lily had flipped through the pages, but all of them were blank. She left the book on the table; later, it had disappeared.

Later, Calista sat beside the far end of the sofa, hidden from view of most of the downstairs. She'd taken the quill, but left the blank piece of paper on the table She withdrew the little book from the pocket of her new trousers. She scribbled in it furiously, pausing now and then to perk her ears for the sound of anyone approaching.

Days passed, and they were no closer to learning her name; Lily felt like she was housing a ghost, for Calista had a habit of disappearing as soon as someone noticed her. If Calista sat at the table, and someone entered the room, she'd leave. If she was sitting on the sofa and someone else made to sit down, the child would bolt. It was a small house, but somehow the little girl always found a place to hide.

The Potters had company beyond those that had been there the night Sirius had taken her away. Albus Dumbledore came once more, and there was, a handful of times, a short, pudgy, pale-faced fellow. Others came only once or twice, but as Lily's pregnancy really began to show, the visitors were fewer and fewer. Calista, for her part, took to hiding whenever a rap came at the door.

As Lily's pregnancy progressed, she kept to the house most of the time, but her attempts to engage the child in conversation were as fruitless as ever. James was usually gone from morning until mid-evening, and when he came home, Calista voided him, too. Sirius stopped in occasionally - once or twice, he'd brought sweets to try and entice the little girl with, but she only eyed him warily and backed out of the room.

Remus, though. He visited the house frequently; sometimes, he stayed for a few days on end, disappeared at dusk one day, and came back in the early morning hours of the next day. During these times, he always seemed to the child to be ill. He was pale and visibly weakened; perhaps this was why he frightened her marginally less than the rest of them.

Once, she'd emerged from one of her hiding places to find him sitting on the sofa, engrossed in a book. His skin was as pale as ever, and he looked tired. Calista froze, eyeing him warily for several silent minutes; he appeared to be entirely absorbed by his book, but there was quite a long space of time where he didn't turn any pages.

Calista crept closer, skirting the coffee table carefully, and perched gingerly on the opposite end of the sofa; her muscles were tense, prepared to bolt again at a moment's notice.

When neither of them moved for a moment, she craned her neck forward, tilted her head to read the title on the spine of the book. She could read the letters, but she didn't know all the words. She made out "Forest", wasn't sure of the rest. She leaned back, still tilting her head in his direction; now she was trying to see the pages. There were a lot of tiny words, and a large, colorful picture. She inched closer, squinting at the picture. It looked a bit like a…

"It's a unicorn," Remus said, very softly. His voice was low, hoarse. The girl started, tensed again. He turned the book slowly and carefully in her direction. "This book is about magical creatures that live in the forest. Most of the pictures are photographs, but no one's ever managed to photograph a unicorn, so this one's just an illustration."

Her eyes darted between the book and his face; he could see that she was poised to disappear again. He kept his own expression mild to the point of appearing disinterested. She exhaled, and relaxed just the tiniest bit. She tilted her head again, studying the picture.

"Would you like me to read the part about unicorns aloud?" he ventured.

It was like throwing a shade over her eyes; they went blank, distant. She launched herself off the sofa, and disappeared into the kitchen. Remus sighed, rubbed his eyes with one hand, still balancing the book in the other.

The next time he was reading when the child carefully approached, he didn't look at her, didn't ask her if he wanted to read aloud; he simply started to do so, matter-of-factly, in a soft, barely-there voice. From the corner of his eye, he saw her tense when he began speaking; but as he continued, never turning his face away from the book, she relaxed again, even, after a time, curling up against the arm of the couch, legs drawn up under her.

As days turned into weeks, this became something of a pattern; while Remus read aloud, she would sit at the furthest end of the sofa, so long as he didn't pay too much attention to her, at least not overtly. A few times, he tried to speak to her, but it was tricky, knowing how far he could go before she'd bolt. More than once he'd gotten it wrong, and they'd had to begin the pattern anew.

Once, in the days after the third full moon since Calista had been with the Potters, and shortly after Lily's son Harry had been born, he had an idea. He brought a book that contained many examples of alphabets drawn in different styles of calligraphy, and a brief history of each style..

Lily was upstairs with baby Harry; James wasn't home. Remus, too worn and sickly from the night before to do much beyond sitting on that very sofa and reading, settled down, and began to read aloud in his usual quiet way. Sure enough, a tiny dark-haired form materialized in the doorway, crept over to the sofa, sat at the other end.

He read for a few minutes after she'd settled herself. Then, he turned the pages towards her, like he had done with the unicorn picture the first time. He opened to a spread of the alphabet in a very simple calligraphic hand, and pointed one finger to the letter 'R'. "My name's spelled this way," he said, and moved his finger next to 'E', then 'M', 'U', and finally, 'S'. "Remus," he told her, even though of course she'd already known that.

"Do you see any of the letters in your name here?" He carefully maintained a neutral expression, as though perhaps he didn't really care which letters were in her name; perhaps he was only being polite. She tensed, and he thought she would bolt again, but then she stretched one skinny arm out, tentatively. It hovered a few inches from the page; she glanced at his face, and he turned his face back towards the page, feigning utter disinterest in her response. Her finger came down, pointed at the letter 'C'.

A cry filled the house suddenly, as Harry woke from a nap, hungry. The little girl fled.

He tried the alphabet book again, but she never pointed out any other letters; the third time he tried, she disappeared, and it seemed that 'C' was all she was willing to tell him. It was Lily's idea to call her Chloe after that, and the girl didn't seem to mind it particularly, so that was what they began to refer to her as.

None of them ever could could coax a word out of the child, and gradually, they simply accepted that, for whatever reason, she was effectively mute. The more time passed, the more often she'd respond to Lily or Remus with a nod yes or no. A handful of times, Remus even coaxed a ghost of a smile from her, usually when he had found something to read to her that was amusing for a little girl.

He began bringing children's books, tales of adventure without particularly frightening parts; if she thought it was a suspicious change from his scholarly tomes, she certainly didn't say so.

As the months passed, Harry grew, and his parents enjoyed bonding with him. Lily tried, unsuccessfully, to encourage Calista to play with the baby, hoping it would draw the child out, but the girl they called Chloe never showed much interest,

And then came a cold autumn night; the wind howled about the eaves of the house, and fat raindrops splashed intermittently against the windows.A rap came at the door; one that had Lily and James more on edge than it did even flighty 'Chloe'.

There were only the four of them there that night; Lily, James, baby Harry, and Bellatrix's girl. The relief in James was palpable when he looked through the window of the front door, and opened it to a trio of familiar faces: Albus Dumbledore, flanked by Sirius Black and the short, pudgy man that had visited their house a few times before.

"It's time," Dumbledore said, without preamble, as James closed the front door behind them. Beads of rain sparkled in his silvery beard. "The charms we have here are no longer sufficient. We need to act quickly."

His eyes swept the room, took in 'Chloe' as she slunk away from them towards the kitchen.

"I cannot say for a certainty that whatever spells Bellatrix has cast on her child won't interfere. Sirius is going to take her away, tonight, to somewhere I believe she will be safe."

Lily was halfway down the stairs, Harry in her arms. "Albus, what-" she began, but Dumbledore interrupted her.

"We'll have a few moments to discuss this before we begin." again, his eyes swept to the child; the implication was clear. In case he was wrong, in case wherever Sirius took the child was not safe, it would be unwise to give the girl any information that Bellatrix could coax or force out of her. "Sirius?" he prodded.

Sirius nodded, stepped towards the little girl. She shied away, backed further into the kitchen, but he was taller; he reached her easily, picked her up. set her against his shoulder.

He felt her entire body stiffen, and then begin to tremble violently, as he carried her towards the front door. "Shhh, it's okay," he said, marveling at how light she felt; he thought she barely weighed more than Harry. "We're going somewhere safe."

Except, he thought, as he gritted his teeth, loading her into the sidecar of his flying motorbike, he wasn't certain that was true. The location of the orphanage Dumbledore had found was under similar protective charms to those that surrounded the Potter's home in Godric's Hollow, true. But getting her there before Bellatrix could track her down was another thing entirely.

He climbed astride the bike, glanced at the child once more as they took off into the cold, damp night; she still trembled, her arms wrapped around herself tightly. Her eyes were round with terror. Not a fan of flying, then, he thought, as he accelerated through the air.

In record time, they'd landed at the destination. His eyes darted around in the darkness while he unloaded the girl, half-expecting Bellatrix to materialize from nowhere. They were close, now; if Bellatrix did appear, he would try to fend her off, bid the child to run towards the front doors of the orphanage…

She wouldn't let him pick her up again; her body went absolutely rigid, except for her arms and hands; they clawed at him wildly as he lifted her from the sidecar. He sucked in a breath as her fingernails scraped the soft skin under his eye. "Shit," he breathed, "I'm trying to help you." He settled for gripping her arm at the elbow, nearly dragged her into the building.

And so, as the Potters went under the Fidelius charm back in Godric's Hollow, 'Chloe Smith' was registered at Francis House Orphanage. As for the man who had taken her there; he would be rotting in a cell in Azkaban before the scratches from the girl's fingernails had quite faded away.

(¯ˆ·.¸¸.·ˆ¯)

THREE MONTHS LATER

Precisely the day after Bellatrix Lestrange had been arrested and thrown immediately into Azkaban for her part in torturing Frank and Alice Longbottom. Headmaster Albus Dumbledore was visited in his office by the new Potions professor.

Dumbledore braced himself; Severus Snape had come to see him several times since the Potters had been murdered, and not one of those conversations had been pleasant.

"There's something I need to know," the young man said, And dumbledore sensed that the topic of this discussion would be different. "It concerns the Order, and information you have that I was not privy to as a double agent."

"There are some things in which I am completely bound to secrecy, Severus, but I will help you if I can. You have certainly earned that."

Dumbledore flicked his light blue eyes up to the sallow-skinned man, wondering what he wanted to know.

"Two years ago, Bellatrix Lestrange's daughter was kidnapped by Sirius Black. Bellatrix said she was tracked, with multiple spells, but never found. What happened to her? Is she…?"

"If you'd hoped to reunite the child with her mother, you've waited an awfully long time to ask me if I know her whereabouts," Dumbledore commented, noncommittally.

"I know what happened yesterday," Severus said simply.

There was a pause, before Dumbledore asked, "Why, exactly, are you asking after her now, then?"

"Is she alive?" Severus countered.

For an awkwardly long moment, Severus thought the older man wouldn't answer. Then:

"She is alive."

"Where is she?"

"You'll pardon an old man's curiosity, Severus, but I would truly like to know why you have taken such a sudden interest in this child."

Severus met the Headmaster's gaze directly. "I can swear to you that I wish the child no harm, but I would much prefer to keep my reasons to myself right now."

They locked eyes for a moment; Severus was sure Dumbledore was going to refuse to tell him. and then, the older man was writing something down.

He handed the sheet of paper to Severus, who looked down at the Headmaster's loopy cursive. It contained an address, and only two other lines of text:

Francis House Orphanage

Chloe Smith

The next day, Severus travelled to the address that Dumbledore had given him. He found a squat stone building, with an engraved sign out front that read "Francis House Orphanage - Est. 1977 as a safe place for children"

It looked like a very ordinary building as he approached it, but when he stepped inside the front door, he felt a rush of warmth as he passed through several layers of protective barriers.

There was a reception desk immediately as he walked in. All of the people working behind it were wearing Muggle clothing. Severus felt suddenly out of place in his black wizarding robes.

A tall, wiry young woman, perhaps Severus' own age, greeted him. She had a head of curly, reddish-orange hair, and a rather grating voice. If she was his age, she had not gone to Hogwarts; he was sure he had never seen her before.

"Hello, welcome to Francis House. I'm Emma. You'll have to sign in; are you here for a visit, or just for information?"

"I'm not sure yet," he said, wondering when someone was going to mention his unusual attire, "I'm looking for a child, a girl. I'm told she was registered here as Chloe Smith. She should have black hair, and she'd be about six years old."

And that, he realized, amounted to nearly everything he knew about the girl. He had only seen glimpses of her, from far away; he didn't think he had ever seen her face. And yet, still, he had wondered about her in the back of his mind. There were any number of people who could have fathered the girl; in fact, having been with Bellatrix only a small handful of times, the odds were against it being him. But he had to know for a certainty, one way or the other.

Emma was nodding. "You're looking for Chloe? She's… hm." Her eyes flicked over him, taking in his clothing. She lowered her voice, conspiratorially. "You do know that most of the children here are Muggles, yes?"

"I was beginning to gather that," he replied, looking at the young woman more thoroughly now that he realized she wasn't one; ah, yes. He could see the outline of her wand in her dress pocket, now.

"Yes… well… we don't test them, mind you. But she was registered as magical-blooded when she was dropped off, and we tried to bunk her with others who were registered the same way, but… there's been a spate of adoptions since You-Know-Who fell."

Severus tried not to feel disappointed; the odds she were his had never been very high in the first place; he might be worrying about some brat of Mulciber's…

"She's been adopted?" Severus asked, keeping his voice neutral.

"Er, no," Emma said, "She hasn't, but all of the other magical-blooded children close to her age have been… we didn't feel it would be right to bunk her with teenagers, so she's in the Muggle ward. You can keep your robes if you want, but be warned, most of the children will probably laugh at you."

"I think I can handle that," Severus said drily, penning his name in the sign-in book.

Emma nodded, and held her hand out. "No wands in the Muggle ward," she said, "Not even mine. I'll lock it up while we go through."

Reluctantly, Severus handed her his wand. True to her word, she locked both his wand and her own in a wall safe behind the counter. She came round and opened a door to the left of the reception desk, beckoned him to follow.

"We… used to be a wizarding orphanage only, but there were so many Muggle children displaced by the war…" Emma told him softly, before they entered the ward.

They walked past a common room, where children of all ages played with a scattering of toys; he scanned them, looking for a child that could possibly be the one.

They went down a few narrow hallways, with doors lining both sides of every hall. Some of the doors were were open, and beyond them he made out small, dim rooms that held four bunks each. On the closed doors, he could see nameplates on the doors; he noted that boys' names were on the right side of the hallway, girls' names on the left. Emma drew up to the very last door on the left. There were three names on this door: Allison, Chloe, and Jessica.

Emma tapped on this door, and entered without waiting for a reply.

The room was empty but for two girls, Severus saw. One was fair-haired and the other had dingy mouse-brown hair, and both were bent over something in the far corner of the room, between a set of bunks and the wall. They giggled, and something in it sounded mean.

"Jessica, Allison," Emma admonished, "I hope you're playing nice. Some children have a difficult time adjusting.

Severus could tell that this last part had been spoken more for him than the two little girls, who both looked up furtively and stifled further giggles. It was only when the lighter-haired of the two girls stood up that he noticed the fistful of dark hair she held onto, and quickly dropped as she met Emma's gaze, and he slowly realized that there was indeed another child in the room.

In the corner, where the girls had been hunched over, was a smaller, slighter form whose face was obscured by masses of tangled, lank-looking black hair.

The mousy-haired girl aimed a swift, small kick at the dark-haired girl before she and her friend scurried around Emma and out of the room, eyes lit with mischief.

Emma sent a frustrated look after the pair, but entered the room, beckoning Severus to follow.

"Chloe!" she said with false brightness, and Severus could tell, somehow, that Emma was not overly fond of little, dark-haired 'Chloe'.

"You have a visitor, Chloe. His name is Mr. Snape." Emma looked back at him again. and said something else, but he had stopped listening as he took in the appearance of the little girl crouched before them.

She was small and thin, and her skin was so pale it appeared to have an almost yellowish tint to it. He couldn't see her face, because it was obscured beneath a mass of tangled, greasy hair. Clearly, this girl wasn't the picture of perfect hygiene, and Emma seemed to notice this as well.

"We only insist on weekly bathing," Emma was saying now, "Other than that, we let the children settle into their own rhythm. We… normally, we comb the girls' hair, but Chloe is still, er, flighty. She won't let us get very close, most of the time."

At this, the child lifted her face, and glared at Emma with an expression that was nothing short of scathing. Perhaps it was this expression that made the impression of the girl jolt Severus' brain the way it did, or perhaps he had known all along what he would see in the child's face; after all, he had been wondering for six long years something that Bellatrix would refuse to discuss with anyone.

Of course, it could have been one of any number of men; and of course, he had only been involved with her for a short time. It was a time where he had been lonely, and hurting, and broken, and Bellatrix… well, if the rumors he'd heard after the fact were true, then Bellatrix had been handpicking the men she'd taken to her bed on the basis of the talents they might contribute to her child; he supposed he should have taken it as a compliment. At the time he had thought... well, it didn't matter what he had thought. It was done now.

Now, looking at the girl before him, he knew exactly why Bellatrix had refused to let him or anyone else in the Dark Lord's inner circle spend any real amount of time with the child; it couldn't have taken any of them long to figure out, once they had really looked at her...

The girl's face was thin and angular, her cheekbones jutting outwards in much the same way her mother's did. Her nose was narrow, and a little too long for her face. Her mouth was a thin-lipped scowl, and her hair hung in lank tangles.

She was by no means pretty, but she was striking; it was the eyes. They were so dark that they didn't have a discernible color, and as he watched, a fascinating transformation took place behind them.

At first, she'd glared icily at Emma, and he'd seen himself in her immediately; then, when she realized Emma had brought a stranger into the room, those dark eyes had gone suddenly blank, perfect mirrors of his own midnight eyes.

Severus only looked at them for a few seconds, before the girl leapt up; in one hand, she held a small, dog-eared, softcover book. The other went quickly into motion, picking up loose sheets of paper that were scattered around her on the floor, and stuffing them hastily back into the book.

Emma rolled her eyes, addressing Severus again. "That ratty book," she sighed, "It's nothing but blank pages, and it's filthy. We've taken it away at least a hundred times, but somehow she always gets it back. We tried giving her some picture books to read instead, but… I'm not sure that she can make much sense of them. I'm not sure how much sense she makes of much of anything."

At this, the little girl lifted her chin, and aimed such a poisonous glare at curly-haired Emma that Severus himself wanted to recoil from it; he wondered how, in Merlin's name, Emma could think that the girl couldn't understand her.

"I want to adopt her," Severus found himself saying. The little girl's eyes went blank again, but he noticed she clutched the book tightly to her chest. "She can keep her book," he added, watching her carefully. She eyed him balefully, as if challenging him to change his mind.

Emma blinked twice. "You do?" She shook her head slightly, plastered a smile on her face. "Er, of course. That's lovely. We'll have to run a background check, and there's the home inspection… as I said, we've been quite busy, so that might cause a bit of a slowdown. If all goes well, she can go home with you in four to six weeks."

"And if it turns out I'm related to her by blood? Is the process any different?"

"Unless the person or persons wishing to adopt are the godparents, then the process is still the same, I'm afraid."

Emma's face fell; she really did look as if she wished it would be simpler to get the child off her hands.

"I'll go you one better," Severus said, marveling inwardly; what was going on here? He had come only to look, to satisfy his curiosity, and perhaps to ensure her safety and well-being as best he could. "I'm her father. You can run whatever tests you need to to verify that."

Well. Ensuring her safety, her well-being? That was precisely what he was doing, when it came down to it.

Emma didn't bother trying to hide her surprise; she mumbled something about having to check with a manager, and brushed past him. For a few minutes, he was left alone in the room with the hostile little girl; he doubted it was protocol, but then, Emma hadn't struck him as being particularly observant.

He looked at the child again. "Chloe," he mused, and he would have sworn that he had seen derision in those dark eyes. "No," he said, "I don't think name that suits you. I think you're more of a…"

He paused, for dramatic effect more than anything else; he knew the girl's name, had known it all along, since the day Bellatrix had announced her birth to the Dark Lord in front of him nearly six whole years ago.

"Calista," he said softly, with a note of finality. Her little jaw dropped, and a keen interest filled those eyes now. He suspected it had been some time since anyone had called her by her real name.

Emma came breezing back in just then, with an older, heavyset woman she introduced as Margaret. There was a lot of paperwork to be done, and Margaret wanted both a wizarding and a Muggle paternity test run, although, since they used magic to speed up the results of the Muggle paternity test, he didn't quite see the point in running both.

For the tests, Emma led them into an examination room that was on the wizarding side of the building; she took her own wand, and returned Severus', once they had entered the wizarding ward.

For the Muggle test, they had to scrape the inside of both of their cheeks, and compare what they found for compatible genetic material. For the wizarding test, they had to cast a particular incantation on the child, then point the wand at him. If green sparks shot from the wand, he was her father. If the sparks were red, he wasn't.

It all seemed very mundane to Severus, which was why he furrowed his brow, perplexed, when they sent in four people to perform the tests.

And then, when they drew close, he understood why. When they approached the child to collect the physical sample, her body tensed as if she were going to bolt. When two of them held her shoulders in place, she flinched away from them, and again when they asked her to open her mouth and reached in to scrape a sample. From across the room, he could see her trembling forcefully, though not much of her fear was evident in her eyes; they were blank, empty, as the sample was taken.

After that was done, three of the staff left the room, leaving only Emma to perform the wizarding test. Severus exhaled, glad that whatever had scared the girl so badly was done.

Except, they were all quite wrong to feel relief. As soon as Emma had drawn her wand and pointed it at the child, she did bolt from the room; out in the hall, she ran smack into two of the others that had just left the room.

"Easy," the woman murmured, steering the girl back into the room. The man followed, and blocked the doorway with his frame so she couldn't run again.

"This won't hurt, either," Emma reassured her, "It only takes a minute, and then you're all done, okay?" The other woman still had the little girl's shoulder; she tightened her grip, as Emma raised the wand again.

Predictably, the girl tried to bolt again, but this time they were ready, and both the man and woman that had held her for the last test gripped her arms again; but it was like the child suddenly became a wild creature; she kicked and scratched at them blindly. Her eyes went round and wide.

Before he realized what he was doing, Severus had drawn his own wand.

"Expelliarmus!" he had bellowed, disarming Emma; all of them had looked at him, shocked; amazingly, the two holding the child managed to keep a grip on her.

Emma's jaw dropped. "I wasn't hurting her," she said, dumbfounded. Her hand was still raised, poised to cast the spell.

"Obviously, she doesn't know that," Severus said evenly, though he felt anything but even-tempered. "Look at her; she's terrified. Forget the tests. We'll do the background checks and everything else, and I'll wait to take her home." His eyes darted to the pair holding the child. "For Merlin's sake, would you let her go?"

They did; and promptly, she had run from the room; but the door out of the magical ward was spell-locked, so she couldn't go back to her room. She ran to the exit of the ward, and when she realised she couldn't get out, pressed her back to the wall next to the door, so no one could approach her by surprise. She eyed them warily as they came down the hall.

Margaret came into the ward, then; the girl tried to slip past her while the door was open, but wasn't fast enough, this time. Margaret only glanced at her, however, and then motioned the rest of the group back down the hall in the direction they'd come from.

She pulled Emma and one of the medical staff aside, and murmured with them in low voices; Severus caught bits and pieces of what they were saying, but most of his attention was on the child at the other end of the hall. Merlin's beard. was that…? It was. She had managed, through the entire ordeal, to keep her little book, and she withdrew it from her pocket and clutched it now, like a security blanket.

"Mr. Snape?"

He turned. It was Margaret. "We've decided to make an exception to our policy. We've got the sample we need for the Muggle paternity test, and we're going to go ahead and run that test, and speed the results along with magic. If it's positive, you can take her home today. if you haven't changed your mind."

He could read the older woman's face plain as day; she was afraid that he had changed his mind after the girl's wild display; he could tell as well that Margaret dearly wanted to be rid of the child. He sensed that this wasn't the first time Calista had thrown the staff into a fit of exasperation.

He turned to look at the little girl again. She was like a caged animal, her eyes wary and untrusting, tiny body tensed for flight. He recalled the way her dark hair had been caught up in another little girl's fist when he had entered the room, the way she'd clutched at the pages that had undoubtedly been torn from her little book by the other girls out of spite. From a dozen paces away, he could see the fear in her eyes; but he remembered the careful blankness he'd seen as well, and the flash of interest when he'd known her true name.

"Mr. Snape?"

He returned his gaze to Margaret, who, along with everyone else in this room, clearly believed the child to be a lost cause, little more than a liability. He could read it in all of their faces. Could none of them see what he already did, in the space of less than an hour?

"I haven't changed my mind," he said. loudly. He knew his words would carry to the other end of the hall, where the little girl still pressed her back to the wall.

The test took another hour to process, during which time someone had gathered the rest of the child's meagre belongings while Severus filled out the required paperwork. There was a form in the packet to order a name change if he wanted, which the orphanage would forward to the proper record-keepers.

He printed 'Calista' in the first box, for her given name. He looked at the surname box for the space of several minutes. He could give her back her true name, the one she'd been born with… perhaps that was what she would want. She clearly didn't like being called 'Chloe'... but Bellatrix and her brother-in-law had just been sentenced to Azkaban in a very public non-trial, and the name "Lestrange" was plastered all over the wizarding papers.

Decisively, he lowered his quill to the page. 'Snape', he printed in the surname box, with dark, solid strokes.

Ten minutes after he had finished all of the paperwork, Emma and Margaret returned to the lobby, steering the flighty little girl ahead of them. As soon as they'd come through the door, she jerked herself away from Emma's grasp, cast her one final resentful glare. Margaret handed the child a very small, nearly empty-looking bag.

"The test came back a match," Margaret said, visibly relieved. "She's all yours. We'll file all the paperwork on Monday."

Emma offered him a pitying smile. "Congratulations," she said, and somehow he didn't think that was what she'd really meant.

Outside, on the sidewalk in front of the orphanage, Severus looked down at the little girl again. What was he supposed to do now? How was he even supposed to get her home? Ah, but not home - he had classes to teach tomorrow. He didn't know very much about children, but he was fairly certain you couldn't leave them by themselves all day, hundreds of miles from parental supervision.

He had often thought about trying to find the little girl, especially once he'd heard that she'd been taken from her mother. He had speculated that he would be able to tell, somehow, just by looking at her, if he had fathered her. Both of these things had just happened; but that was as far as he had ever gone in his mind. He'd never considered what would happen if he did find her, and if she was his.

She wasn't going to be much help, he could see that already. She stared back at him stonily, clutching her book in one hand and her meagre little bag of clothing in the other. He didn't quite trust that she'd follow him if he began walking.

He didn't want to try to pick her up, not after the reaction he'd seen when the medical staff had tried to hold onto her. How could he even get her back to Hogwarts without terrifying her further?

"I don't suppose you've been Apparated before?" he asked her. He didn't really expect a response. She surprised him by stepping towards him; she pushed her little book deep inside the pocket of her trousers, and brought her now-free hand up, curling her small, warm fingers around his wrist.

He glanced around the street to ensure no one was walking by, then drew his wand, and Apparated them as close to Hogwarts as he could.

She kept her fingers tightly around his wrist, until an instant after they'd appeared several dozen metres in front of the main Hogwarts gate. If he'd hoped that her latching on to his wrist was a positive indicator that she might actually trust him a bit, she'd dashed that notion by quickly releasing them as soon as they'd landed, and backing several paces away from him. Severus suspected very strongly that she'd only meant to avoid being splinched by gripping his wrist so tightly.

"We'll have to walk up the castle," he told her, "We can't apparate inside."

She didn't show any sign that she'd even heard him, but when he began walking towards the gate, she followed.

"Welcome to Hogwarts," he said, as he opened the gate with his wand.


Notes:

Re: Severus & Bellatrix - I fully understand that he was in love with Lily Evans pretty much his whole life. However, I see it is extremely plausible that he would have had a hookup here or there in his adult life. Of course, he would not love anyone else, would possibly not invest himself emotionally at all, but I just don't see him as a creepy virginal type. Bits and pieces of how/why he wound up briefly with Bellatrix are revealed throughout this story and its sequel.

Re: Rodolphus - Honestly, I just don't feel like dealing with him being around in the sequels to this story when the Azkaban breakouts happen. One unhinged Lestrange is all I really feel like tackling, and I don't think his character is critical to the story (mine or Rowling's) after Vold War I, so I've just done away with him for my own convenience.