Chapter 62 : 61 - Damage Control
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The last of the snow had melted leaving muddy paths around the castle grounds. Spring was on its way, crocuses were beginning to poke their heads out of the softening earth, and students were anxiously awaiting Easter Break. By the end of the week, the school would be void of chatter, but for now, the staff was busy setting revision schedules, preparing the masses for end-of-year exams.
Severus had been on edge since his last visit with Voldemort. He had discovered Miss Lovegood, along with several others, being held prisoner in the basement of Malfoy Manor. Although it was not uncommon to find captives at the Manor, he was taken aback as to the length of time she had been there without his knowledge. He was usually kept apprised of such things. However, those residing in the Manor were operating on their own agendas, trying to ingratiate themselves to their Lord, and much to their satisfaction, with the prisoners “assistance”, Voldemort had finally uncovered the location of the elusive Elder Wand. He needed Severus’ assistance to retrieve it, and it was a task that left my partner in a foul mood. The creases on his brow and around his eyes deepened, and his scowl intensified. Whenever I broached the subject, he refused to reply; finally, he shut himself off from me. I hadn’t seen him in the past two days.
By the middle of the week, while afternoon classes were in attendance and Severus was out, I snuck up to the Headmaster’s office for a chat with Albus. I felt uneasy, off–track, and needed to find my balance. Albus recognized my discomfort, suggesting that I had lost sight of my duty, my destiny. Although admirably helping to keep the Potter boy safe by watching over him, I had neglected my quest for the remaining Horcruxes. There were still two unaccounted for – the Hufflepuff goblet and whatever had been taken from Ravenclaw. Albus and I had had lengthy discussions over the years and had a fair idea of what the missing item was, but we were at a loss as to where it was presently hidden. This was the artefact that had been in the Dark Forest of Albania, the treasure that Riddle had retrieved as a young man. Albus seemed to think that the ghost of Ravenclaw Tower could help. She had been the daughter of the founder. He had spoken with her prior to his demise, but she was hesitant to divulge any information. Interesting. There weren’t many who would deny my grandfather anything. He asked that I continue the investigation, seeing as I had been in Ravenclaw House. He thought that this might be common ground that the ghost may relate to. I agreed. She always seemed unapproachable, sad and distant, and my feeling in the forest had been very distinct: a descendant of Ravenclaw who had been hurt, betrayed somehow, someone angry. Could the Grey Lady hold the missing key?
By the end of the week, while the last classes were being held, I wandered the empty corridors, in search of Ravenclaw’s ghost. The Grey Lady wasn’t difficult to find, floating high above the vacated tables in the Great Hall, talking quietly with the ghost of Gryffindor House, but getting her to reveal her story was a task. As suspected, though, my connection with her House and knowledge of the hiding place in Albania triggered the heartbreaking tale of treachery, jealousy and murder. She confessed that she had told her story to only one other, a student who seemed compassionate toward her. However, she later recognized his false charm and eventual betrayal. The item in question had been her mother’s diadem, an item of honour, she embarrassedly admitted to coveting, and this student had sought it out and stolen it from her hiding place so far away. As an adult, he returned to the castle with it, hiding it in an unknown spot. Where? She wasn’t certain, a hidden room, she thought, but was reluctant to help further, burying her face in her hands and weeping as she floated through the wall leading to the main entranceway. A hidden room? In this ancient castle? Who would imagine? I thought cynically. This was something that I would have to bring up with Severus the next time I could pin him down. The man had been impossible to locate lately.
“Vandals! Sheer and utter abomination! Oh, Minerva, how could this have happened?” Poppy cried, her face crumpled in deep concern.
“I’ll tell you how,” Madam Hooch firmly placed her hands on her hips, shaking a rough finger at the distressed matron. “The filth that runs this school must have let them in, unless he did it himself.” The flying instructor was fairly fuming.
“We have no proof, although it does seem likely, but he’s not the only one of You-Know-Who’s followers in the school. I can’t see him doing the deed himself, but then again, I couldn’t see him killing Albus either,” the Transfiguration professor shook her head, somewhat confused. “This is more Carrow’s style, not Severus’.”
Reluctantly, the others agreed. I couldn’t believe my ears this morning when the news filtered through the portraits in the halls. Albus’ tomb had been desecrated in the wee hours of morning, broken open and his wand stolen. Had he had the Elder Wand all along? I went in search of Severus for answers, but he was, predictably, nowhere to be found, so I took to wandering the halls, eavesdropping on whatever conversations contained information. The students had left that morning, ignorant of the intrusion to the grounds, and finding the professors and mediwitch outside the staffroom late on a Saturday afternoon was a stroke of luck.
“What are we going to do?” Professor Sprout questioned, clasping her hands. “It’s been struck with Dark magic. Impossible to repair. We have to think of something. We can’t leave his body exposed like that.”
Professor McGonagall straightened, determination in her eyes. “No, we can’t. I’ll have a chat with our Headmaster, if I can find him. Ever since that incident we overheard in his office, he’s been avoiding me. I’ve kept my eyes open, thinking it may be a staff member or student, possibly even Mistress Di Marco, but no one seems to be suffering from ill effects, and Mistress Di Marco is her usual pleasant self,” she crisply stated. “But we definitely heard a scream.”
Professor Sprout nodded vigorously, her tattered hat being held in place by her wiry hair, while the others looked very concerned at the increased rate of violence within the school. I leaned against the corner of the wall, my cheeks turning crimson. Had I really been that loud?
Finally returning to my quarters, I found that the wards had been disturbed. Drawing my wand from my sleeve, I gave the password, pushed the door open, and guardedly eased into the dark, main room. There was no one in sight. As I began to sweep through the chamber, checking behind the sofa and around the island counter in the kitchen, an odd hissing sound emerged from the direction of the bedroom. The door was ajar. I had left it wide open this morning. Cautiously moving forward, I pushed it open further until it touched the wall behind, and carefully entered. The sound was louder here, and seemed to emanate from the bathroom. The shower? Curiously easing that door open, I spied Severus standing naked in the stall, his clothes in an uncharacteristic heap on the bathroom floor. He faced the scalding spray, hands flat against the wall, allowing the water to pound onto his face and upper body. His hair completely obscured his eyes as the steam rose and filled the room. His shoulders shook slightly, and I sensed great distress, unreserved sorrow, and regret. Backing out of the room, I left him alone, giving him his privacy. I was pleased that of all places, he chose to come here, to me, somewhere where he felt safe.
A simple spaghetti bolognaise was simmering on the cooker, the smell of oregano, onions and garlic filtering through my quarters when Severus finally emerged. His hair was towel dried, and he was dressed in a black, velour bathrobe, looking more pallid than I had ever seen him. I could tell that Occlumency was in force to guard himself against whatever emotions were too difficult to handle at the moment. I flickered a weak smile as he stood in the bedroom doorway. He didn’t speak. I poured two glasses of a rich crimson Bordeaux and offered him one. His glazed stygian eyes gazed at me as if he didn’t know what to do, but finally, he reached out and took the glass. Taking a sip, he inhaled deeply and stepped into the living room.
Nothing was said in the hour that followed, as we sat on the sofa, my arms wrapped protectively around his shoulders, his head resting on my chest, arm draped over my waist. I stroked his hair and his back letting him absorb the comfort that I sent. Occlumency finally released, and I could sense what had happened. He had not only admitted Voldemort to the grounds but had led him to Albus’ tomb. He knew what would happened, knew what the Dark Lord was after, but could do nothing to stop it.
As darkness began to fill the room, I cast “Incendio” onto the logs on the hearth. The crackling wood quickly warmed the chamber, and the peaceful glow eased a weary mind. Shifting slightly under the weight of his upper body, my lips twitched upward at the light snore that emerged. “Accio”ing a blanket from the wing chair, I had it open up and spread itself over the sleeping man. Twisting my head toward the kitchen, I cast a Stasis Charm on dinner. I had no desire to get up at the moment, no desire to disturb my husband. I wanted him to know that I would always be there for him.
A couple of hours passed before he stirred. I had summoned a book to read, and by this time my arm around him had gone numb. Raising sleepy eyes to meet mine, he uttered the first words since arriving, “I’m sorry.”
Returning his gaze, I tenderly replied, “I understand.”
“You always understand,” he lowered his head back to my chest.
I smiled softly. “It’s my nature.”
“I have to fix it. He can’t be left like that,” Severus quietly declared.
“How?” I calmly asked.
“I don’t know.” He closed his eyes as if to block out a bad memory.
“I think I do,” I thought back, remembering something that had happened during the winter. “I think I can do it.”
Severus raised his body from mine and sat with a puzzled expression. “It’s Dark magic. I don’t want you touching it.”
I watched him for a moment. His concern was evident. Twitching a faint smile and nodding confidently, I replied, “I can do it. I know I can.”
He rose from the sofa and held out his hand to help me up. “Then, we do it together. You’re not to go alone.”
It was nearing eleven o’clock when we emerged from the dungeon exit and made out way toward my grandfather’s damaged tomb. The half waxing moon shone on the lake, reflecting its light and strength, guiding our path. The Dark Lord’s spell had left a gaping hole on the waterside; the exposed remains of my grandfather in perfect preservation, as if he were merely asleep. Holding Severus’ hand, I cast a circle and called the deities and guardians. They answered with a gentle vibration that pulsed through the ground, rising up our legs and into our bodies. Raising our arms to the sky, I made my request: assistance in repairing my grandfather’s burial place. At first there was no response, then I heard Severus gasp. Spinning to see what had happened, his eyes were closed, his chin held high. He was muttering so softly that I couldn’t hear what he was saying. With my left hand still clasped in his right, I instinctively reached my projective hand to the polished marble. A silvery-white aura began to materialize, radiating from my fingers to the smooth stone. Concentrating hard, I called on whatever guardian could help, and as we waited, Severus’ projective hand joined mine on the glowing surface. The aura increased rapidly, encompassing both the tomb and us, and the marble slowly began to reconstruct. It was a sight to behold, and one that left me in awe. When the task was done and the circle released, Severus smiled a weak smile.
“You could do it, but I had to do it. They knew that,” he nodded toward the heavens. “It took both of us. You’re truth and purity, and my regret and desire to make it right.”
The walk back to my chambers was warmer than the walk out, and I could feel the healing power of the Goddess pulse through my husband. He wasn’t Wicca, but I realized that he had a connection to the deities through me. There was good in him that they acknowledged. Maybe someday, when all of this was over, he could truly follow the path.
Sunday dinner was tense, the remaining professors and students carefully watched their Headmaster as we gathered together in the Great Hall. The Carrows weren’t in attendance, having been called to the Dark Lord’s side. Severus and I had spent the remainder of last evening and all of today in my chambers talking in depth about what needed to be done. I told him about my meeting with the Grey Lady, and he was convinced that the diadem was hidden somewhere in the Room of Requirement, in the room’s form as “a place to hide things”. Young Malfoy had used that room last year to work on his method of letting Death Eaters into the castle, and it had apparently been a hiding place for many items over the centuries. Locating the diadem would be difficult. However, another problem arose. Other students were presently using the room, and while it was occupied no one else could enter. Neville Longbottom, whose grandmother had been threatened by Death Eaters, had returned to this secret location to hide. Others were slowing joining him. Severus recognized the situation several days ago and chose to ignore it, privately praising the boy for his determination and daring. But now, he had to devise a plan to either get them out, which would mean to risk their lives and his cover, or somehow direct Potter to the room so that he could go after the diadem himself. We chose the latter. I would somehow get the boy the information. This led to a difficult decision. One that was painful but necessary. I had to leave. I had gone as far as possible with the Magpie Potion and to stay any longer would raise suspicion. It was time to continue my task with the Potter boy. Severus assured that when he placed the Gryffindor sword in Lestranges’ vault at Gringotts, the Hufflepuff goblet was there. However, the vault was under a multitude of dangerous enchantments. It would be my job to ensure that the Potter boy knew where to find the last Horcruxes and how to retrieve them safely. I wasn’t looking forward to leaving. I had enjoyed these months with Severus and had become accustomed to having him around. The Cumberland safe house would once again become my home, but he refused to risk joining me there. It was time to make my excuses.
Clearing my throat, I lay my napkin by my plate. “Headmaster, “ I directed toward Severus, “You will be pleased to know that I will be leaving this week.” His head rose, and his eyes narrowed. “I want to thank you and the staff for allowing me access to the school and its amenities. I know that my presence has not been convenient, or desired,” I twitched a small smile at him, “but I wanted you to know that I appreciate your hospitality.”
“When do you leave?” Severus gruffly asked, playing his part well.
“I’m not certain. Within a few days if all goes well. I need to pack all of the supplies, equipment and notes. I would like to leave the lab in the pristine condition that it was in before I arrived. Of course, I will inform you before I actually depart. I promise not to disappear without a proper good-bye.” I winked cheekily at the stern man.
Professor Slughorn snorted amusedly but said nothing, and Professors McGonagall and Sprout cast curious sideways glances at each other..
“Won’t be soon enough,” Severus snarled quietly and continued to devour his meal.
“Poppy,” I directed toward the mediwitch, “I have a few things in the lab that I’m certain you could use. I’ll bring them up tomorrow morning.”
I wanted to say “good bye” to my old friend privately. Who knows how this would all turn out, and I didn’t want to leave without acknowledging how much I appreciated her. She nodded briefly, her watery eyes reflecting her understanding of the situation.
The other professors at the table expressed their best wishes with my future endeavours, hoping that the time spent here had been as productive as I had anticipated. The meal ended in quiet conversation.
On the last day of the week, with the lab and my belongings packed up, I readied to leave. Severus and I intended to spend one last night together in the comfortable quarters that he had so carefully decorated, snuggled in each others arms, drawing strength and comfort for the difficult time we knew lay ahead. What I didn’t expect was the fuming, ranting madman that stormed into the living room sending a startled raven bolting from his perch on the back of the chair to the top of my wardrobe. Severus was shaking, and I couldn’t tell whether it was from fury, fear, or the combination of both.
“Potter and the others have been captured,” he stated brusquely while he paced the black carpet. “Malfoy is holding them at his Manor and is not letting anyone in. For some reason they haven’t called the Dark Lord yet. I heard screaming. It sounded like Granger. My guess is Bellatrix is having some fun first.” He scrubbed his hands over his face. “Damn, my hands are tied.”
“Not completely,” my mind transferred rapidly into analytic mode as I watched our peaceful evening disappear. “Stark,” I called, “head to Malfoy Manor. Keep an eye on the activities, and report back to Severus. We need to know what is happening to the prisoners, particularly if they get away.” Severus nodded perceptively, and I opened the window for the bird to depart. “Pinky,” I called again and within a second the devoted house elf appeared between us. “I have to leave, but you’re to stay here to serve the Master. If anything happens, I trust you to use your judgement to do what you must. When you’re ready, return to the safe house.” Her brow furrowed with concern, and I knelt to her level taking her tiny hand in mine. “I don’t know where I will be or how long it will take. I would rather know that you are not alone.” With her chin quivering, she nodded, bowed and popped out of the room. Turning to Severus, I asked, “Can I take the map with me?”
He nodded, black eyes piercing in fortitude. “I’ll talk to Albus. Tell him what’s happening. I’ll bet he still hasn’t told us everyone involved. There has to be someone out there who can help.”
Before leaving the room, Severus solemnly watched as I gathered my things, reducing them to fit into my pocket. “I’m going to miss you, cara,” he uttered tenderly. “You’ve been my shelter in this storm.”
“Remember, caro. It’s never “good bye”,” I smiled half-heartedly as I reached up to lovingly kiss his lips.
“Until we meet again,” we whispered in unison.
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