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Chapter 22 : All We Have Is Now
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"Have you finished?" Severus asked, not looking up from his own book. Valora crossed her arms and sank farther into her seat.
"No. I keep re-reading the same sentence. I can barely see what I'm reading, let alone understand it. My eyes are killing me." She said. Severus glanced at her for a moment then pointed his wand toward the book she had left on the desk. It came soaring into his waiting hands. He licked a finger and began to thumb through it.
"What page were you on?" He asked quietly.
"713. Why? Assigning me homework?" She said with a half smile. Severus rolled his eyes and found the page.
"Where did you leave off?" He asked.
"At: Imagine a mental wall..." She said. Severus cleared his throat.
"Imagine a mental wall formed around the section of your mind where you store your memories and anything else you don't want known. As though you are going to cast a spell, focus your energy on this one area. Start small, brick by brick assemble this wall- this book is absolute rubbish, I can't believe I wasted my money."
"I know." Valora said, closing her eyes and leaning back against the seat. Severus flipped through the previous pages.
"How did you get this far without falling asleep?" He questioned, sounding slightly impressed. Valora laughed with the little energy she had left.
"You kept yelling at me to stay awake, remember?" She asked, still keeping her eyes closed.
"You can sleep now, Valora. Do you want to go to your room?" He asked softly.
"No, I'm too exhausted to even move." She mumbled drowsily.
"I can carry you. You're not heavy." He said. She smiled.
"Why thank you, but I'd rather not hear the argument between you and Sirius when he sees me in your arms. No, I'm oddly comfortable where I am at the moment." She said, snuggling up into a little ball on the seat. Severus laid a blanket overtop of her and kissed her forehead before resuming his seat on the divan. Valora was asleep before his lips had left her skin.
Valora found herself astride Sirius's rumbling motorcycle, alone. Up ahead she could see the towers of Hogwarts with the green shimmering skull and snake the hovered ominously above it. This was no memory. She had to be dreaming, but that didn't stop her from feeling utterly terrified at the situation. She landed the bike in Hogsmeade and took out her wand as she walked towards the shrieking shack. It was the quickest way up to the school.
Valora crept slowly across the creaking floorboards, then a rat came scuttling along, following her with its beady black eyes. It looked up at her and spoke.
"How'd you get so good at potions, 'Lora?" it asked. Severus came up and kicked it aside then slipped something small and cold into her hand before smirking wickedly and running off. She looked down to see a ring laying in her open palm. She slipped it onto her left hand as though it were the most natural thing in the world to do. A shaggy black dog barked once at her before running off, up the tunnel, towards the school. Valora followed as fast as she could but her body was getting heavier and heavier, and slightly bigger. When she emerged from the tunnel she was alone and pregnant...very pregnant. She looked down at her stomach and began to cry. She saw a larger circle of people surrounding two dueling wizards. As she got closer she realized that it was Harry and Voldemort. Harry's wand was suddenly sent flying from his hand and he stood there, amidst the sea of people, defensless. Valora was trying to press her pregnant self through the crowds. She had to save him. She had to protect him. Voldemort sneered and raised his wand.
"HARRY!" She screamed. "HARRY!"
"HARRY!" Valora woke up to her own screams. Severus was above her shaking her awake.
"Valora! Wake up!" He was telling her. Valora couldn't process him though. The desperate thoughts of saving her godson were still fresh in her mind.
"Where's Harry? Harry!" She called again, looking around. The door to the library was flung open by Sirius, followed by Arthur, Molly and then the kids. Valora and Severus both turned. Valora was panting for air and Severus still had his hands on her shoulders. Sirius angrily raised his wand.
"GET OFF OF HER!" He screamed. Severus immediatley stood and backed away a few feet, throwing Valora a look of severe annoyance. Molly was by Valora's side, feeling her forehead for fever. Valora was quickly realizing her mistake. It had been a dream. A terrible, strange dream.
"What happened?" Molly asked quietly.
"Isn't it obvious? Snape was attacking her!" Sirius said, his wand mere inches from Severus's face. Valora stared at them with fear in her eyes.
"Sirius, really-" Molly began but was quickly interrupted by Severus.
"What reason would I have to attack her?" Severus asked calmly.
"Maybe your 'Master' wants her dead for those she spent-"
"SIRIUS!" Valora screeched, stopping him from revealing everything. Sirius glanced at her realizing his mistake before turning back to glare at Severus. Valora could see the tension in the room mounting. "Sirius, I was having a nightmare. Severus didn't do anything."
"Maybe if he didn't keep you locked away in here for hours studying you would have been asleep in your own bed and this wouldn't have happened." Sirius said, all blame directed at the man in front of him. Severus narrowed his eyes threateningly.
"Just because some of us have more dedication than you, Black, doesn't mean-"
"-dedication? To your precious Deatheaters? Don't talk to me about dedication!" Sirius growled.
"Sirius, stop it!" Valora yelled, but she was ignored.
"You are acting like a petulant child. I see your stay in Azkaban didn't improve your manners any." Severus sneered. Sirius took a step forward so that his wand was poking Snape just under his chin.
"Give me one reason I shouldn't kill you, you greasy, lying-"
"ENOUGH!" Valora said, having stood from the couch. "EXPELLIARMUS!" She said and Sirius's wand flew across the room. Valora marched over and pushed them both back from eachother. Then she turned to Sirius and began to speak in hushed tones.
"He is teaching me Occlumencey on Dumbledore's orders." She reminded him in a whisper so nobody else could hear.
"But-" he tried.
"No. You know how important it is that I learn this. Without it I'm a liability to everyone we care about." She whispered, stealing a glance to the group of Weasleys, along with Harry and Hermione. "Let it go." she said. Valora straightened a slight crease in Sirius's shirt then patted his chest gently before steering him towards the door.
"Alright, just a nightmare. Everything's fine, show's over, back to bed." Valora said, standing by the doorway as everyone filed out, grumbling slightly.
"-don't even understand why she needs to learn Occlumency-" Arthur was saying to Molly as they walked down the hall. Sirius stood beside her in the doorway. She raised an eyebrow.
"Forget where your bedroom is? Upstairs on the right." She said with a smile. He frowned back. A small noise made them both turn to see Severus gathering the books and potions case before breezing by them as though they weren't there. Valora tried to remain calm and impassive. Sirius just glared at his retreating figure as he walked down the hall. Valora doused the lights in the library before going to walk down the hall, but Sirius grabbed her along and pulled her in the opposite direction.
"What the hell, Padfoot?" She questioned as he pulled her behind him, toward his room.
"I want to make sure you're safe from him." Sirius said as he opened the door to his room. Valora rolled her eyes.
"For Merlin's sake, it's Severus Snape not the bogeyman. I think I'll be fine." She said, turning to go back to her room. Sirius grabbed her hand and pulled her back from the door.
"He's dangerous, Valora. I don't even want him alive, let alone in my house, let alone alone with you!" Sirius said in an agitated whisper.
"That was alot of 'alone's."
"Damn it, Pardus. You're sleeping in here and that's the end of it." Sirius said, climbing into bed. Valora sighed and climbed under the covers. If it would get him to shut up she'd sleep here. Stupid, overprotective big brother. She never understood the loathing between him and Severus. It was like they had been born with it, and of course here she was, trapped in the middle of some deadly and unexplainable fued. Lovely.
Valora woke late the next morning to find herself alone in Sirius's bed. She stretched and yawned before rolling onto her stomach and glancing at the clock. It was nearly one in the afternoon. She jumped out of bed and rushed downstairs into the kitchen. Fred and George were muttering between themselves and abruptly stopped when Valora walked in and eyed her warily. She rolled her eyes and walked over to make herself a cup of tea.
"That's not suspicious." She muttered as they began to whisper.
"I love you." George mumbled, with an awed expression.
"What?" Valora turned and asked, not having heard him. Fred smacked his twin in the head.
"Nothing." George said, rubbing the back of his head. Valora laughed. These boys could be so odd.
"Where is everyone?" Valora asked, pouring hot water into a mug.
"Well, Mum and Dad went to visit Muriel, Ginny is still sleeping, Ron, Harry and Hermione are all up in Ron's room, and Sirius has been locked in his study all morning." George explained.
"And Snape?" She asked, stirring her tea.
"Left this morning...or maybe late last night, not really sure." Fred said. Valora almost dropped her cup.
"He...left?" It didn't process for a moment. When she got back to Hogwarts he had better have a damn good excuse.
"Yeah, and here, he told us to give you this." George said handing her a letter. Valora took it gingerly.
"He left it with you two?" She asked skeptically. She knew Severus wasn't exactly fond of the twins. George shrugged
"It was leave it with us or with Sirius."
Valora nodded in understanding. Now it made more sense. She opened the letter as she walked from the room and into the parlor.
We shall continue your lessons at Hogwarts when you return.
Clearly he hadn't trusted anyone not to open the letter. Valora felt terrible that she had made everything worse with some stupid nightmare that she could barely remember. Valora tucked her feet beneath her and stared out the window as she sipped her tea, watching the muggles pass by, completely and blissfully unaware of the war and danger that was surrounding him.
"So, Snivellus has left?" Sirius asked from the doorway, making Valora jump a bit. She turned to look at him before looking back out the window.
"Yes, he did."
"Good." Sirius said, sitting beside her. He draped an arm over her shoulders. Valora sipped her tea and Sirius wrinkled his nose. "That smells disgusting." he said.
"Mmmm." Valora said teasingly, putting the steaming mug right beneath his nose. He pushed it away and Valora laughed to see that he had actually turned a pale shade of green.
"You should watch out for Snape." Sirius said quietly. Valora rolled her eyes.
"Sirius, don't. I'm sick to death of hearing your Snape conspiracy theories. You've been creating them since first year and you'd think at 36 you'd have given up on them but no, here you sit, with a new one for me all the time." Valora said, with an exasperated sigh.
"I don't trust him, 'Lora."
"Yes, I know! You mention it every chance you get." She said, taking another sip of tea.
"I just don't want anything to happen to you." Sirius said, getting a little defensive.
"You may not know this Sirius but I'm a big girl now and I'm perfectly capable of taking care of myself." She said, standing and walking toward the kitchen to deposit her now empty mug in the sink, Sirius followed.
"I know you can take care of yourself, but I still try to make sure you're okay. Can you blame me? I mean Merlin's trousers, Valora! The things I've had to stand by and watch happen since we left Hogwarts..."
"Shut up!" She said gesturing at Fred and George who were watching intently. Valora rolled her eyes and stormed off. Sirius followed.
"I'm sorry!" He said. Valora scoffed at him and continued up the stairs. Sirius grabbed her hand.
"Don't be mad." He pleaded. Valora took a deep breath.
"I'm not mad, but I do need to get back to school by this evening. So I'm going to shower and make sure my trunk is packed." She said. Sirius looked a bit dissapointed but he didn't say anything.
"What can I do?" He asked. Valora brushed a piece of hair out of her eyes.
"Call someone to escort me to Hogsmeade is all. I'm not allowed to travel alone anymore and I'm sure you'll want to make sure I get there safely." She said with a little smirk. She kissed his forehead before going upstairs.
Valora walked through Hogsmeade with Kinglsey on her one side and Moody on her other. Valora was plotting on how best to murder Sirius next time she saw him. Neither Kingsley or Moody had been especially happy when they had arrived to escort her to Hogwarts. Valora had meant for Sirius to ask Mr. Weasley or someone else of amiable nature who didn't hate her. Instead he requested not one but two of the people who currently despised her most.
"It's a nice day." Valora said, attempting a smile at each of them. They both gave a non-commital grunt in response.
"You both can't hate me that much." She said quietly. Kingsley didn't respond.
"Oh, yes we can." Moody said. as they walked up the hill towards the school.
"Why? What did I do to you?" She asked, hurt.
"You abandoned the Order. You dissapeared when we needed you most, you lied to us all, Valora." He said roughly. Valora took a deep breath.
"He was going to kill me. He still wants to kill me." She said softly.
"Harry's been dealing with the fact that someone wants him dead since he was born!" Moody argued. Valora threw her hands in the air.
"Well, I'm sorry, okay? I risked my life for the Order AND for Harry, then I dissapeared with the hope that Voldemort would stay away, that he wouldn't find anything out, but it didn't work. You have no idea how much Lily and James' death affected me, Sirius's incarceration..." She stopped and the other two turned to look at her. "You want to know where I was? Knockturn Alley, then Paris, then Italy. I became a raging drunk. Happy now? I was weak and stupid and turned to the first vice that came my way. So excuse me for not wanting my godson and my best friend to be let in on that little tidbit of information." She hissed before striding past them. They both made to follow her but she wheeled around.
"No. I'll get there by myself. Like you care if I died anyway, right? I'm just a coward and a deserter." She said caustically. She paused for a moment. "If you tell anyone where I was...I'll make sure you both lose whatever ability you have to reproduce."
"Are you threatening aurors, missy?" Moody asked angrily.
"Yes! I am! What are you going to do about it?" She asked, with an evil and tempting smile on her lips. She gripped her wand and looked from Moody to Kinglsey. Moody glanced at the man beside him, who shrugged in response.
"Good to have you back to your old self, Valora." Moody said. Valora raised an eyebrow.
"I beg your pardon?" She asked, slightly stunned. Kinglsey smiled.
"We've been waiting for that fire in you to come back." Kinglsey told her in that deep booming voice of his.
"We expect you to stay this way. No more 'poor me' act, Ms. Nox. It's sickening to see you act like a beaten puppy. You're better than that." Moody said. Valora nodded curtly. Classic Moody tactics: act like an asshole to get your way. Both he and Kingsley nodded their goodbyes and dissapparated, leaving Valora to walk the rest of the way by herself. She laughed a little at the situation. They were right, though. When had she become so...passive?
She walked through the front doors and went immediatley to Dumbledore's office. She promsied to discuss Severus when she got back and she was feeling brave now, so it was best to get it over with.
"Licorice whip." She said. The gargoyle sprang aside for her and she climbed the stairs. As she came to stand outside the door she heard angry voices coming from within. Valora didn't think she had ever heard Dumbledore truly yell before, but that seemed to be what he was doing. She waited outside the door and listened.
"-gave me your word!" He was saying. Valora covered her mouth at the second voice: Severus.
"I gave it first to her!" She heard him fire back. Valora couldn't make out what was mumbled next, so she raised her fist and knocked on the door. Snape threw it open and glared down at her, she looked back at him, with impassive features.
"Hello Albus. Did you still wish to speak to me?" She asked softly, looking past her lover's murderous expression to the older man who was resuming his seat behind his desk. Dumbledore looked at her and shook his head 'no', before glancing meaningfully at Severus. Valora suddenly realized exactly how Harry felt. It sucked. She gave a small smile and Severus took her elbow steering her down the stairs. None of the students were back from holiday yet. They would be arriving tomorrow morning and so he had no problem taking her directly to the dungeons. When he finally shut the door behind them Valora spoke.
"What's going on?" She asked. Severus didn't look at her and instead sank down onto the couch, unbuttoning his collar and rubbing his eyes as though the argument had completely exhausted him. Valora took the seat beside him.
"Sev. Talk to me." She said, squeezing his shoulder. He didn't look at her. She sat back and together they stared into the fire until Severus finally stood.
"Shall we practice your Occlumecy?" He said flatly. Valora felt like punching him in that nose of his, she felt like pouring an entire bottle of veritaserum down his throat, she wanted to cry and beg and force him to tell her the truth. She settled for,
Valora made herself comfortable on a chair and settled a steel gaze on Severus. He stared back at her and pointed his wand at her. Valora's mouth was set in a grim line.
"Legilimens." he said. Valora was pushed back in her seat by the sheer force of the spell. Gripping the arms of the chair tightly she tried to focus on forgetting all about Harry and Sirius and Dumbledore and Snape.
It was dark and she was much younger. This house was not her own. She could hear that miserable house elf muttering to himself as he passed by her room. Valora gingerly slipped out from beneath her covers and tucked a piece of hair behind her ears. She couldn't have been more than twelve or so, and the house was now recognizable at Grimmauld Place. Valora crept down the hall to Sirius's bedroom and climbed into bed with him, he immediatley woke.
"What's wrong, Pardus?" He asked wrapping an arm around her tiny shoulders. She snuggled closer to him.
"Your house creeps me out." She said. Sirius giggled and so did Valora.
"S'okay. You can stay with me." He whispered. Valora sat up to get a better look at him.
"I know. What else did you think I came down here for?"
Then scene shifted into one from when she was eighteen. An Order meeting ended and Valora was staying at Sirius's apartment for the night. She was lying awake in her bed, unable to sleep. Thoughts of what she was going to do were crashing down on her, the responsibility and the fear were eating away at her. She thought she heard something creeping outside her window and ran to Sirius's bedroom.
"Oi!" He said, sitting up and grabbing his wand only to see Valora standing in his doorway wearing her usual black slip. He licked his lips then raised his eyes to her face. Her eyes were wide and she was chewing on the inside of her cheek. He smiled and threw back his blanket for her to climb in. She ran and jumped into bed with him. He wrapped an arm around her and she snuggled against his chest.
"What would I do without you?" She asked, smiling up at him.
"Sleep in your own bed." He replied sleepily but with a tired smile. Valora laughed quietly and rested her head against his shoulder.
"I love you Sirius." She said quietly, her voice thick with exhaustion. Sirius smiled in the darkness.
"I love you too Valora." He said kissing her forehead and tightening his grip on her.
Valora swayed slightly in her seat as she forced Severus out of her mind. He was looking at her with a torn look in his eyes. She was breathing heavily and there were now nail marks in the wood where she had gripped it too tightly. She flipped her hair out of her face and looked him square in the eyes.
"Again." she told him. Severus looked at her then put his wand down.
"Valora, it's dawn. We've been doing this all night-"
"-and we'll keep doing it until I get it right. I can handle it. C'mon. Pick your wand up and let's try again." She said. Her hair was matted to her forehead with sweat and she had dark circles beneath her eyes. Her back was sore and her mouth was dry. She looked like she had been fighting for hours instead of sitting in a chair.
"Valora, no. Tomorrow night." He said, walking towards his desk and filing something that looked unimportant. Valora watched him and licked her dry, cracked lips.
"Is this because of what you saw?" she asked quietly. Severus said nothing. Valora closed her eyes and took a deep breath. "Sev, I've told you a million times. He's like a brother to me. I've known him practically my whole life."
"I know, Valora." Severus replied quietly. Valora's brow furrowed as he walked off into his room and began unbuttoning his shirt, preparing to go to bed as though she weren't even there. On shaky legs, Valora stood and walked over to him, gripping the doorway for support.
"Why are you acting like this?" She asked, her voice croaking slightly. Severus turned, his shirt unbuttoned now, and guided her by her shoulders to the bed where he made her sit before getting her a glass of water. She watched him over the rim of the glass as she gulped down the water. He ran a nervous hand through his hair and looked down at her. She held the empty glass with both hands and looked up at him with those golden eyes.
"I'm sorry, Valora. I can't explain yet." He said sadly, as though it was a physical pain. Valora frowned and chewed thoughtfully on her cheek.
"Is it because you don't trust me?" She asked quietly. Severus immediatley swept her up into a tight hug, holding her close to him.
"No, you ridiculous woman. I trust you beyond any doubt. I know there's a reason behind everything, or at least most everything, you do, and I know you love me, just as I love you." He said, his fingers playing with her chocolate brown hair. Valora pulled back to look into those grey eyes.
"Exactly." She said with a small half smile. "Sev, tell me what's wrong."
Severus took a deep breath and stared at her for a moment and then shook his head.
"I just need to know that no matter what I do I won't lose you. I'm- I'm not always a good man, Valora." He said calmly. Valora thought he resembled a man on death row and it frightened her. She put an unnaturally cool hand to the side of his face.
"You may not always be a good man, but I'm not always a good woman. People like us live in the grey area, love. It's just the way we are. There is nobody else for me. I promise I'll love you no matter what, for all eternity."
Severus ran a hand down the side of her face and Valora had the feeling something very significant had just happened. She leaned forward and kissed him gently and for a moment Severus kissed her sweetly back, before it turned into more. He needed her at that moment, needed her in his arms, but he just couldn't get her close enough. It seemed like no matter what they did they were never close enough. She stood on one side and he stood on the other, and the grey was a place neither could willingly stay in without consequence.
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