Chapter 11 : The Hunt Continues
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Now, he was actually staying in a hotel, though not an upscale one by any stretch of the imagination. It was dumpy, and cheap; his room smelled of cigarette smoke and there were several suspicious stains on the floor. He wondered, with a trace of a smile on his face, whether anyone had ever been murdered here.
Since he hadn’t had any Muggle money, and couldn’t recall what it looked like well enough to conjure some, he’d had to Confund quite a few people to earn the room. He had the window open—partly to get some fresh air and partly to find an owl. It was Christmas Eve, or, rather, early Christmas morning, and snow was beginning to fall, blowing in through the window.
Sirius had scrawled a quick note to Dumbledore, briefly explaining that there was nothing at the orphanage, how he had split off from Lily and Snape, where he was now staying, and asking for additional information about Horcruxes. Even as he wrote it, he knew what a hypocrite he was. But Lily didn’t have to know he was still “crawling back to Dumbledore” as Sirius had put it such a short time ago. And it couldn’t hurt… The old man might prove to be withholding information, for whatever reason.
The room was growing colder with each passing minute, and he still hadn’t seen anything fly by. “Come on, I just need one owl,” he grumbled. Barely a moment later, perfectly on cue, a bird swooped in through the window.
Sirius jumped up and quickly fastened the letter to the owl’s leg.
“Thanks, mate. Sorry you’re stuck working on Christmas.”
The owl hooted indignantly and left the room, soaring off into the dark night and swirling snow. Sirius eagerly closed the window and fell back onto the bed—its springs creaking—on top of the covers and fully dressed. He was asleep within a few minutes, leaving the lights on, and managed a couple restless hours of sleep that left him even more tired than he was before.
An incessant tapping at his window woke him unreasonably early the next morning. Grumpily, he opened it and let the owl inside and untied the note around its leg.
I hope you forgive me for not responding immediately, but it is rather bad etiquette to owl someone at three-thirty in the morning. I’m sure you meant no harm by it.
I’m disappointed to hear you’ve had a falling out, but am confident you’ll be able to fix things. In order to motivate you, I refuse to provide any additional information (that I may or may not possess) until you do so.
Sirius crumpled up the letter and threw it toward the trashcan in the corner of the rom. The wad of paper bounced off the rim and landed on the floor. It was all too easy for Sirius to hate Dumbledore at times like these.
He lay back on the bed again and let the owl leave. So now he had absolutely no choice but to return to Lily, apologizing through his teeth… He was sorry, but that didn’t mean he wanted to admit it to her. Another thing he would be wise to improve upon.
Sirius ventured forth from the hotel room around midmorning. He joined some miserable Muggles at the breakfast buffet. One particularly unkempt man in the corner let out a series of hacking coughs intermittently. Indeed, every time Sirius went to take a bite of something, he would cough so loudly and repulsively that Sirius had a hard time swallowing.
“Classy place, eh?” he said to a heavyset woman sitting at the table next to his. She appraised him for a moment with beady eyes before returning her attention to her Belgian waffles.
Sirius was about to take a sip of his coffee when the hacker let out another phlegm-plentiful cough. He sighed and put the mug down firmly on the table.
“You know what?” he said to the same woman. “I think that guy over there by the TV—the one who keeps coughing—I think he works here. It’s a conspiracy. They’ve hired him to sit down here and do that so all the guests lose their appetites.”
She raised her overly-plucked eyebrows and took another forkful of syrupy waffles. Sirius shook his head and stood up.
“Well, happy Christmas,” he grumbled and trudged back up to his room, grabbing a bagel on the way.
By early afternoon, Sirius had contented to lying back on the bed, his feet hanging off the end, staring at the ceiling. It wasn’t as if he had anything better to do. Suddenly, there was a loud crack. He bolted upright. It sounded as if someone had Apparated directly into his room… and someone had. It was Lily.
She didn’t look so well. Her eyes were red and her cheeks stained with dried tears. Before he could get a word out she began rambling slurred, hysterical words.
“Sirius, it’s Snape—he’s—he’s a—the prophecy—and Voldemort—he told him—it’s his fault! All his fault…”
Forgetting his confusion for a moment, he pulled Lily to sit next to him. “What’s Snape’s fault?”
She took a deep, rattling breath and held it for a moment. “You remember the prophecy? I think James told you about it.” Her voice was calm on the surface, but there was a frenzied undertone.
Sirius nodded slowly.
Her next words came out all in one breath, strung together. “Snape heard the prophecy and repeated it to Voldemort.”
It only took a second or two for Sirius to make the connection. His fists clenched automatically.
“I knew it,” he hissed.
He thought of the black-haired man in question with refreshed hatred. He was pacing the small room, wringing his hands, not completely aware of himself anymore. Then he turned back to Lily.
“You wanted revenge, right?” he asked, his gray eyes flaming.
She chewed on her lip as he towered over her. “Well, yes, but—”
“It’s just as much Snape’s fault as Wormtail’s. More so, even.”
“So what’s the problem then? Peter was my friend since first year. He was your friend, too. You had no problem going after him, so why not—?”
“It’s different!” she insisted. “I don’t want to see him again, but I don’t want to…”
“Hurt him? Kill him? It’s his fault! You said it yourself! If it wasn’t for him, they’d both be alive.”
“He didn’t mean to… he didn’t know…”
Sirius’s eyes widened in his incredulity. “Are you actually defending him? Snape? You are, aren’t you?”
Lily shrugged and he threw up his hands in exasperation. “Please, Sirius, you’re always like this… I’m not ready to forgive him—”
“I’d hope not!” he scoffed.
“—but I don’t want to kill him.”
Sirius sighed and leaned against the wall, picking at the faded and peeling wallpaper.
After a minute or so, Lily said, “So this is your luxury hotel?”
He grinned crookedly. “How’d you find me?”
The smile looked out of place on her tragic face. “Dumbledore knows all.”
* * *
After all this time, Severus had finally sunk to the level of arguing with a gargoyle statue. He was only surprised it hadn’t happened sooner.
“But I’m a Professor!” he said in exasperation. “So what if I don’t know the password?”
The gargoyle didn’t move—only seemed to smirk at him.
Severus scowled. “If you don’t move right now, I’ll—”
“Threatening a statue, are we, Severus?” said a familiar and amused voice from behind him. Severus spun around, startled, to see Dumbledore, standing there with crossed arms and twinkling eyes.
“I have to talk to you.”
Dumbledore raised his eyebrows. “You’re alone?”
“Yes. Can we go in?”
Wordlessly, Dumbledore stepped up to the gargoyle and it moved aside. They started their way up the spiral stairs. Severus couldn’t help but feel disgruntled that the gargoyle didn’t demand a password from Dumbledore. When they reached the office, they assumed their usual positions: Dumbledore in the large, high-backed chair behind the desk, and Severus in the small, unremarkable chair in front of it.
“I was wondering if I can have my teaching position back,” Severus said sullenly, before Dumbledore could get a word out.
“I told her,” he said meaningfully.
Understanding crossed Dumbledore’s blue eyes. “I see… you told her the truth. I assume she didn’t take it well, but you can’t blame her.”
“She hates me.”
“She hates what you did.”
“No, she hates me,” Severus repeated. “You weren’t there… you didn’t see her… you didn’t hear what she said…”
“True,” Dumbledore allowed. “But I know Lily.”
“I know her better,” he insisted, ignoring the childishness of his words.
Dumbledore let it slide, too. “So you want to abandon the hunt now?” There was an edge to his voice, one of frustration.
“She never wants to see me again. What else is there to do?”
“The only reason you went on the hunt was to be with Lily?”
Severus furrowed his brow. “Well, yeah… And you told me to.”
“You don’t care, then, about killing Voldemort?”
Severus sighed. “To be honest, I don’t think it can be done. Even if he didn’t have any Horcruxes. But he’s got six!”
“Four,” Dumbledore corrected. “There are only four Horcruxes left.”
“And we’ve already used up our quota of luck finding the first two,” Severus said bitterly. “And the orphanage—there was nothing there! A complete waste of time. Thanks for that.”
Dumbledore removed his spectacles, intensifying his gaze. “I apologize. It was the only idea I had at the time, and I regret that I was wrong.”
“Must be a shocker, being wrong, for you—isn’t it?”
Dumbledore slammed a hand down on the desk, causing Severus to jump. “If you’ve come here to blame all your problems on me, you can leave. I’m not giving you your job back until Voldemort is dead.”
“Then I’d better start looking for a new job, because we all know that’s never going to happen.” Severus knew that a dramatic exit would have had a profound effect, but his legs wouldn’t move. The silence was heavy, the tension tangible. Severus stared at the desk, and finally gave in. “Sorry. What do you think I should do? I’m so lost.”
Dumbledore leaned back in his seat. “Lily will soon realize that she’s no better off without you. She has no information to go on. If you go to her with a good lead, I think she’ll be willing to come with you, and eventually she’ll be able to forgive you.”
Severus doubted this. “Won’t it be the orphanage all over again? Crushing her hopes?”
“No. I’m willing to bet I have the right location this time.”
It took a moment for Severus to make sense of this. “You have another idea?”
“Yes. It’s very near to the place you just were—somewhere Voldemort went as a young boy. It has more significance to him and is secure and hidden. The more I think about it, the surer I am that this is the place. I would go there myself, but this is something Lily has to do.”
Severus was hanging on the edge of his seat, both figuratively and literally, listening intently to every word. “Where is it?” he pressed in a low voice.
“It is a cave on the coast, near a small village. The children from the orphanage went there on a holiday, and Voldemort did something to two of the kids there… near the cave, or possibly inside of it… something they never spoke of.”
A chill ran down Severus’s spine. He could only imagine what kinds of things even a young Voldemort would be capable of doing.
“I will not claim to know there is a Horcrux there, but there’s a good chance,” Dumbledore said. “Find Lily and tell her… but it’d be wise to wait a few days. I’m sure she’s too determined to let an opportunity like this slip by.”
“I don’t know where she is,” Severus muttered. “And she’ll kill me before I get the chance to explain.” He realized he might not be exaggerating.
Dumbledore sighed and slipped his glasses back onto his crooked nose. “So you want to give up? Not just on the hunt, but on her?”
“I don’t know,” he said truthfully. “Can’t I go to the cave myself?”
“It would be very dangerous, that I am certain of,” Dumbledore warned. “It’s hard to say whether or not you would make it out alive if you were to attempt it alone.”
Severus decided that Dumbledore was just trying to scare him into patching things up with Lily. So he told him what he wanted to hear. “Okay, I won’t go alone. Can you tell me where the cave is so Lily and I can go straight away? As soon as I find her?”
Dumbledore’s eyes bored into Severus’s for several long seconds, as if he was attempting Legilimency. But he was being rather obvious about it, and Severus was never reluctant to make use of his Occlumency. Eventually, the headmaster seemed satisfied and began to explain the specifics of the cave’s location. Severus listened raptly, all the while wondering if this would be a suicide mission… wondering if he should honor his word and find Lily before the cave… But he knew that she would be far more likely to forgive him if he came to her with a Horcrux in hand.
A/N: So, what do you think will happen? Will Severus go into the cave alone? But you’ll have to read on to find out… Please leave a review! –Jenni
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