72

Of Dragon Tears and Fyrewing Eggs

Ravencrest Library:

Severus scanned a page of an old potions text, entitled Enchanting and Illuminating Elixirs for the Master Potioneer. The book had been handwritten upon what had probably been first grade parchment with brilliant jewel-toned squid inks. There was a preserving spell upon the book, to avoid the pages becoming so brittle that they cracked and crumbled to dust. This made it tens times easier to read, though the language was an old form of English and some of the terms and measurements used were difficult to decipher.

Luckily, Snape was familiar with many of the archaic descriptions of ingredients and measurements, Joe had taught him well, and so the tome was not as confusing as it could have been. While he perused the recipes inside, searching for the elusive Dragon's Tear Elixir, across from him, Jaycee also flipped through pages of yet another old potions book, her tongue slightly between her front teeth, a habit she had inherited from her father, renowned potioneer Joseph Madley.

They had been looking through texts for half-an-hour, and Jaycee found her mind drifting to something a bit more personal than finding the recipe Dobby had mentioned to Harry. The Healer lifted her gaze from the page she had been studying and murmured, "So are the rumors true then, Sev?"

"What rumors?" the man she regarded as a younger sibling asked, his eyes still fixed upon the compendium in front of him.

"I heard from Irma that you're . . . dating her niece Lena." Jaycee hissed.

Snape's head jerked up, startled. He gestured, casting Muffliato about them before replying. "I wasn't aware you knew the Archivist."

Jaycee nodded. "She helped me a time or two when I was here doing research for certain medical spells and elixirs. I saw her a few weeks ago and she happened to mention that you and Lena were seeing each other." The Healer's blue eyes were sparkling delightedly.

"Ah . . . yes . . . we've been on a date," Severus coughed awkwardly. "But it got interrupted." He went on to detail what had occurred with Creevey and the dragonelle.

"Figures! You always did have the worst luck, Sev," Jaycee murmured sympathetically. "But at least you'll get the chance to make it up with dessert this Sunday."

Severus nodded. "Indeed. I'm surprised Irma would bother mentioning it since we've only just begun seeing each other."

Jaycee smirked. "From what I gathered, Irma was quite happy that her niece had found an honorable and intelligent man like yourself—both Master and Society member. I've always said you're quite the catch."

Snape snorted in disbelief. "Don't be ridiculous, Jaycee."

The Healer frowned. "Don't sell yourself short, Sev," she returned crisply. "Just because you were rejected by Lily Potter doesn't mean you're worthless. Her tastes didn't run to you, that's all. And maybe that's a good thing. Because I think Lena is a better match for you."

"How would you know that?" Severus scoffed. "Women's intuition?"

"Hey, don't knock it," Jaycee smirked. "But no, I see the way you look when you speak of Lena. Like a man who has looked upon something wonderful."

"You . . . do?" Snape muttered, wondering how on earth he had become so transparent.

"Only because I know you," Jaycee answered. "And you seem happy . . . not brooding and carrying the weight of the world upon you. Which is a good thing. It's about time you came out of the shadows, Sev, and rediscovered the meaning of friendship and love again. You might have loved Lily, but she's been gone for years and there's no need to devote the rest of your life to her memory the way you have her son."

Snape shook his head. "I'm not . . . you make me sound like a lovesick fool. There are reasons I felt the way I did about Lily—reasons that no longer exist."

Jaycee observed him shrewdly. "You've let her go then." She gave a nod of approval. "I'm happy for you, little brother. If anyone deserves happiness and a family, it's you. You've been alone too long."

"For what I was, alone was best," the Potions professor stated. "You know why."

"Yes. But now that you are no longer working for the Order, you're free to do what suits you best. And it's about time." She put her chin in her hand. "So . . . tell me about Lena. What's she like?"

Severus rolled his eyes. "What is this—gossip hour? We're supposed to be doing research."

"We are. But even brainboxes like us need a break, Severus," Jaycee argued. "Now spill it! You know you can trust me. I'll take whatever you tell me to my grave."

The master wizard nodded thoughtfully. What the blonde Healer said was true—he did trust her, considering her the sister he never had. "Very well," he sighed, pretending to be put upon. "Anything to get you off my back." He opened his mouth to speak when Skull chimed in.

"She makes him laugh," the witty raven revealed. "And there's a miracle right there!"

"Who asked you, featherbrain?" Severus scowled at his familiar.

"Inquiring minds wanna know," returned Skull, his black eyes twinkling mischievously.

"I like her already," Jaycee laughed. "What else?"

"She's bright and has a unique way of looking at things," Severus said quietly. "She's direct but also compassionate and she listens when people talk—whether it's students or professors. So many women don't listen—or don't want to hear when someone says something they'd rather not think about," the professor murmured. "I can talk to her and not fear she isn't comprehending what I mean. In fact, sometimes she is almost too intuitive," he admitted. Though he knew the true reason why that was—because Lena was a mind magus. "She . . . has a bit of a temper . . .but that doesn't bother me, since I have one too . . . and sometimes she challenges me to think . . . to feel more . . . it's aggravating sometimes . . . ."

"But you need that," Jaycee asserted. "You'd be bored silly with a meek little mouse that agreed with you all the time."

"Too right!" Skull cawed. "But she's not only smart and pretty, she loves Sev . . ."

"Really?" Jaycee's eyebrow went up.

"She's never said—" began Severus, slightly embarrassed.

"Who needs words when she fought the revenant with you?'" Skull argued.

"Wait . . . she fought the revenant too?"

"Yes. Both of them in The Place Between Worlds . . ." Skull informed the Healer. He told Jaycee about what had happened there.

Jaycee was impressed. "Severus, you had better hang onto her. Any woman willing to risk their life for you is in love with you, even if she hasn't spoken the words yet. Trust me on that. Tim loved me long before he got up the courage to say it. I think your Lena is the same way. Trust your heart."

Severus bit his lip and glanced away, looking down at the parchment before him. He knew Jaycee meant well, and that she spoke the truth when she said Lena loved him. He thought of their kiss outside of her room that night, that single heady taste of passion that had swept through them both. He knew he was attracted to her the way he had not been to any woman since Lily.

But dare he risk his heart again? Once he had dared to love a fiery witch as more than a friend . . . only to realize she never returned his feelings. Then he recalled walking about the lake with Lena, and admitting that his past had been put behind him. He would have had to be blind to not recognize the attraction in her gaze as she had looked upon him, nor the quickening of his own heart as he held her hand in his.

This time is different, his heart had whispered, silencing the cynical part of himself. This time there is hope, and where there is hope, there is love. Lena is not Lily, and when she looks at you, she is not tempted to look away at another. In her eyes, there is only you.

Abruptly he nodded. "I do."

Jaycee eyed him thoughtfully for a moment. "Good. Keep doing it," she advised. Then she turned back to her potions book, searching for the elusive recipe.

Inwardly she prayed that Severus not only found the elixir he was looking for, but also the other half of his heart. Merlin only knew the man deserved a lady who recognized his worth and who loved him for everything he was—and everything he was not.

Take a chance, Sev, she urged silently. This one will see what the others have missed.

"How are you getting on with your two children?" she asked softly.

His mouth quirked in a smirk. "Some days, they make me very proud. Other days they make me check my mirror for gray hairs and wonder if I'm going to be committed."

Jaycee laughed. "Just like my niece. But you love them anyway."

"Very much. Even when I want to make scrub every inch of my lab with a toothbrush," admitted the Potions Master wryly.

"I know exactly what you mean," the Healer commiserated, her eyes twinkling.

They resumed studying. Minutes ticked by, and Severus considered trying another grimoire. But then he flipped a page and in delicate gold script was written—Dragon's Tear Elixir.

He rubbed his burning eyes, re-reading the page again. Then he did something he rarely did—he smiled triumphantly. "Jaycee, I've found it! Look here."

He thrust the book across the table at her.

Jaycee examined it. "Ceridwen's Cauldron!" she exclaimed. "But can you brew this? It looks complicated."

The Potions Master arched an eyebrow. "It is. But I've brewed ones just as difficult before." His dark eyes gleamed with the challenge of brewing a totally new elixir.

Jaycee recognized the look in his eyes, for she had seen it countless times upon her father, who had been both her and Severus' mentor. "Then shall we start trying to recreate it?"

"Of course," the Potions Master said eagerly, and took the precious tome in his hands and together they departed the library, making their way to the castle laboratory, which was, at the present time, empty.

Meanwhile

The Observatory:

The three young magic users listened, spellbound, as the premier Astromagus in Europe explained how the conjunction of Arcturus and Venus gave power to those using their spellcraft to create new substances.

Dante cocked his head thoughtfully. "Francesca? Where did you learn about this magic? It's not something I ever learned in Astronomy. Or even with Shaman Eagle Crest. The Lakota use sun magic mostly for certain spells and rituals."

The Astromagus chuckled. "It's not something you can take a class on at Hogwarts. At least not formally. It's said that during the Founding, Rowena and Salazar tried to convince their friends Godric and Helga to include Astromancy as part of the curriculum, but they were refused—saying this was too obscure a branch to be useful. Humph! It's far more concrete than Divination, I'll tell you." The elderly witch snorted. She turned the telescope a quarter turn to the right, until you could see Arcturus through the lens, glowing brightly. "I was always fascinated with the stars—not just the constellations and planets, but the way the stars moved and the celestial power within them. But I had to wait until I finished school before coming to Ravencrest and meeting the previous Astromagus, Michael Galileo. He taught me the craft of celestial magic, and once he passed the Veil I became the Astromagus for Ravencrest Castle and studied the power of the stars as much as I desired."

"Was it difficult to learn?" Harry queried, stroking Loki, who was now perched upon his right shoulder.

"Difficult?" Francesca eyed him shrewdly. "The best things in life are always a challenge, young wizard. The more you strive for mastery, the better off you will be. If something comes easily to you, often times you take it for granted. You become complacent and lazy. But something you need to work at, something you are passionate about—that you will always respect and appreciate the work it took to be the best. Nothing in this life is ever easy, remember that, young Snape."

"Yes, Astromagus," Harry replied respectfully, regarding the elder witch with something akin to awe.

Francesca was not very tall, and at first glance she seemed to be a spry elderly lady, but not one to be intimidated at. Until you took a second glance, and saw the proud posture and the fierce glint in her eyes. She had "the look of eagles", as Draco would have said. Yet there was no arrogance about her, despite the fact that Harry could feel her magical aura crackling about her like a corona. Like Ghost and Severus, Francesca kept her full power hidden, except for flashes here and there. But Harry, trained by Ghost to read auras, knew the Astromagus was a force to be reckoned with.

"Can you show us what you can do with celestial magic, Francesca?" asked Laura eagerly.

"Well . . ." the elder witch tilted her head thoughtfully. "I suppose I can show you a few tricks. But most celestial magic is beyond your skill levels right now. Yes, even yours, Lord Prince," she nodded at Dante.

She took her staff, which the unobservant might dismiss as a mere walking aid, and pointed it at the ceiling of the observatory. "Watch and learn, children." Then she spoke a single word. "Ithari!" From the tip of her staff a cascade of light emerged, as if the stars themselves shone down upon the corner of the observatory. "This spell is called Starshine and is useful for conjuring light that can illuminate even conjured darkness and can reveal text that has been written with magical disappearing ink. It can also reveal objects that are concealed with magic-such as a wizard under a Concealment Charm or DisIllusionment Charm or wearing an Invisibility Cloak."

"That's really wicked!" Harry exclaimed.

"Awesome!" Dante said, smiling quietly.

"Can we try and cast it?" Laura asked. She drew forth her wand, made of white rowan with a unicorn hair core.

"You may," Francesca said softly. She waved her staff and the light went out. "Go ahead. Remember to enunciate clearly and concentrate."

The children drew their wands and attempted to copy the Astromagus. They all chanted, "Ithari!" and concentrated.

Sparks flew from Laura's wand. She concentrated harder and a small stream of light emerged.

Harry and Dante, used to focusing, managed a more respectable stream of light, though Dante's was brighter than Harry's.

"Well done!" praised the Astromagus. "Though it may seem simple, Starshine is more advanced than your ordinary Wand-Lighting Charm."

She waved them to seats upon the couch. "Now then, have a seat. I'll have Wes bring us some tea and barm brack. Ever had barm brack?" she queried. At their head shake, she said, "Well, you're in for a treat. That's an Irish ginger cake with currents in it and some times dried cranberries too." She rang a small velvet bell pull.

Within moments a gangly teen in blue livery appeared at the door to the observatory. "You rang, Astromagus?"

"Wes, be a dear and fetch me a tea tray and some barm brack, won't you? Bring enough for me and my three my guests here."

"Of course. Would you like a bowl of scraps for Galaxia also?" the boy queried, he had a shock of red hair that reminded Harry of the Weasley twins.

"Yes, if you have any left from tonight's meal. One never knows if she had a successful hunt or not," the Astromagus replied.

When Wes had departed, she turned to her young guests. "The tea and cake should be up shortly."

"You don't have house elves here?" Harry observed.

Francesca shook her head. "Starseekers, no! We have apprentices who take turns playing servers in the hall at mealtimes and I have a personal apprentice, Wesley Jones, to bring me tea and such when I work late here. The Ravenmistress believes that doing small chores and serving their fellow mages about the castle teaches an apprentice responsibility and also respect for each other. We do have a staff that cooks and cleans, but they are also assisted by any apprentice in turn."

Dante raised an eyebrow. "That's kind of similar to what the Lakota do."

"Indeed? Work builds character, I say. And also gets rid of all those fool pureblood notions that those from the Great Houses are above such things."

Harry snickered. He could just imagine what Draco would say about that!

Suddenly, there came a tapping at the windowpane.

Laura turned to see what was making that noise and her mouth fell open. "Oh my Merlin! Francesca, look!"

The Astromagus turned. "Ah! So you've come home, have you now?" she said and went to open the window. "Don't be alarmed. This is my familiar, Galaxia. She's a fyrewing."

Inside flew a creature that was about the size of Francesca's forearm, with a long serpentine body with four clawed feet and wings that seemed to be made of celestial starfire. The fyrewing was colored a deep purple, with lighter lavender scales about her eyes, snout, and underbelly. Her eyes were deep pools of sapphire and she perched upon Francesca's arm, crooning musically.

"Children, meet Galaxia. She is a rare specimen of a cross between a dragon and a Chinese serpent. Her kind are known as fyrewings, and she is one of maybe a dozen in the British Isles."

"She's gorgeous!" Laura gasped.

"Whoa!" Dante whispered. "She's amazing! Can she talk?"

"Only to those she wishes," Francesca replied. "Galaxia, quit being shy and say hello!"

"Hello, little wizards!" the fyrewing hissed, her words soft but perfectly clear.

"Hello, Galaxia. I'm Harry," Harry replied with a delighted grin.

"And I'm Dante."

"I'm Laura. Pleased to meet you."

"I'm Loki," Loki cawed and Callie introduced herself also.

"Well met, friend ravens," Galaxia greeted them. She walked up Francesca's arm to her shoulder, furling her fiery wings. Once flat against her back, the fiery nimbus dimmed and Harry could see that she had delicate membranes, similar to dragon wings, but more fragile-looking. Instead of two wings, she had four—like a dragonfly.

"Cesca, where's my supper?" she asked the Astromagus a tad crossly. "I'm hungry."

Framcesca chuckled. "Hunting not go well tonight?"

"The moor beast I was hunting got away." Galaxia huffed.

"Sometimes that happens to us too," commiserated Callie.

"It's a good thing Sev always has food for us," Loki trilled, fluffing his glossy feathers.

"That your wizard?" queried the fyrewing.

"No, our Papa's," Loki answered. "We haven't bonded one yet."

"You will know the right time," Galaxia said mysteriously.

Just then there came a knock on the door.

"Ah, our tea has arrived!" Francesca exclaimed, going to open it.

Ravencrest potions lab:

"I believe this lycanthus root is diced fine enough," Jaycee said to Severus, showing the Potions Master the blue root cut into miniscule even cubes.

He took his eyes off the cauldron for a moment to glance at his partner's work. "Yes. Now we add them to the cauldron and let it steep after stirring three times clockwise."

The potion turned a cerulean color once the roots were added and emitted a slight minty berry scent.

Jaycee sniffed. "Smells almost like a pie filling."

"It's more pleasant than some drafts I've brewed," Severus allowed. He cast a Tempus charm to alert him when the ten minutes were up.

They had been brewing in the lab for about an hour, and Snape hoped fervently his boys were behaving and not getting up to any mischief with Joe's granddaughter. He almost sent Skull to check upon them, but then saw the raven was dozing on a stool far away from the workstation Snape and Jaycee were using.

Used to working alone, Severus had been pleasantly surprised to find Jaycee was an excellent partner, able to do all the prep work without difficulty, and though focused, was also able to tell amusing anecdotes about patients while she ground and chopped and minced.

Like Lena, and Lily before her, Jaycee made the somber Potions Master smile with her barbed wit and he returned the favor by telling her a few stories of his own with students.

She scowled when he told her about the awful prank that Craven and Smith had played upon Randi Cummings. "Those rotten little hooligans!" she growled. "Severus, if they were at the Academy, the Head would have expelled them on the spot! Dumbledore's too soft on them."

"True, but he's actually doing something this time around. Unlike when I was in school," murmured the professor.

"About time!" Jaycee sniffed. "Although the child isn't all to blame. It's the parents' fault too, they are the ones who put those awful notions into the boy's head."

"I know," Severus sighed. "But regardless of who gave him the ideas, he has embraced them fully. Not just of Slytherins, but he believes himself superior to most half-bloods also, according to what a few of his other professors have heard him muttering to his friend in the halls."

"You'll need to watch that one, Sev. A kid like that is nothing but trouble."

Severus snorted. "If he steps out of line again, he'll be expelled."

"Do you think Dumbledore will really go through with it? The boy is a Gryffindor," Jaycee coughed.

"He will. He has changed since you and I went to school," Severus replied.

"Thank Merlin!" the Healer sighed. "I'll bet those two boys of yours keep you on your toes."

"I'm lucky my hair isn't snow white," Snape remarked. Then he told her about the flying car incident.

"Holy Morgana! Oh, Severus!" Jaycee laughed.

"What is so amusing?" he pretended to growl.

"The fact that you are parenting two mischievous imps! But if anyone can do it, it's you."

"I'm trying," the Potions Master said.

The Healer patted his arm. "Take a deep breath, Sev. And remember—one day you'll look back and laugh. At least that's what Tim tells me about Laura."

"Laura stole a flying car too?"

"Heavens, no! But she burnt off her eyebrows trying to brew a Hair-Raising Potion," Jaycee admitted.

"She's a Madley, all right," Snape said wryly.

The charm beeped and Severus stirred once more then carefully added his dragon's tear to the solution.

A coppery scent emerged from the cauldron and the potion turned bright gold.

"There! Now we leave it to simmer overnight and it will be finished," Snape declared.

"I hope it works," Jaycee said fervently.

"So do I," the professor agreed. "The dragonelle must be stopped."

He put a simple Shield Charm over the cauldron so nothing could fall into it and ruin all their hard work and also so no one could tamper with it.

"This is a good night to brew though," the Healer said. "There's a Witch's Moon tonight."

"A good omen," her potions partner agreed. "Now let's see what the children have been up to," he said, waking his raven and striding from the room up the stairs to the Observatory.

Healer and Potions Master arrived to find their three charges sitting upon a couch with the resident Astromagus. Dante was cradling a midnight blue egg with purple and gold speckles in his hands—it was about the size of a falcon egg. "You really want me to have this?" he was saying.

Severus halted before the couch, his eyes wide. "Merlin's staff, please tell me that's not a dragon egg!"

"Of course not, Severus!" Francesca giggled. "Honestly, boy, do you think I'd be that dense? It's Galaxia's last egg from her clutch." She stood up to embrace the Potions Master, coming up to his chest.

"Hello, Aunt Francesca," he murmured, hugging her back briefly.

"It's good to see you again, Severus," the Astromagus grinned up at him. "'T'would seem fatherhood suits you."

"His hair hasn't fallen out yet, Star Queen!" Skull chuckled impudently.

Galaxia hooted, her tail wrapped about her mistress' neck. "Good one, Skull!"

"Hey!" Harry protested. "We aren't that bad!"

Dante said nothing, his gaze still upon the egg in his hands. "Do you think it'll hatch?"

"Hopefully it's one of the viable ones," Francesca said quietly. "Out of six, two were so far. The hatchlings have already gone with their new bondmates. But you have no way of knowing if this egg contains a fyrewing yet. Even Galaxia doesn't know."

Dante's hand caressed the egg. "We'll know in another week."

"You're giving him a fyrewing egg?" Severus frowned.

Francesca nodded. "It was Galaxia's choice. Said he has a strong affinity for magical winged things. It runs in the Prince line, you know." She jerked her head at Skullduggery.

"Merlin have mercy!" muttered Snape. "First Skull's fledglings, now a fyrewing hatchling. What do you think I'm running here, a magical game reserve?"

"If it hatches, I promise I'll take care of it, Severus," Dante said, flashing his cousin his most pleading look.

"Come on, Sev!" Skull encouraged. "A familiar will be good for him."

Severus sighed. "Very well. But the egg is your responsibility, Dante. And so is this hatchling, if there is one."

"Thanks, Severus!" Dante said, feeling deliriously happy for the first time since coming to Hogwarts.

"Dad, what about the potion?" Harry asked then. "Did you find the recipe?"

"I did," Snape replied. "Jaycee and I have brewed it . . .it is now steeping overnight. In the morning we will see if it works."

"I'm sure it will," Laura said confidently.

"We shall see, child," answered Britain's premiere Master Potioneer.

A/N: I've finally been able to update this. Real life has been keeping me extra busy as I've bought a new condo, am raising three kittens-Severus, Lily, and Belle-and things have decided to break in the house, along with having a wedding and then a funeral this past week. Please be aware-if I don't update regularly it's because things are happening that prevent me from doing so-it does NOT mean I have abandoned this story-or any of my other ones. But please enjoy this chapter and hopefully I can get the next one out sooner! Thanks for being so patient!