Chapter 3 : Rebuilding Hogwarts
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Hufflepuff House finished first in part because of its proximity to the kitchens. As the House-elves had very little cooking to do for such a small number of people, they happily pitched in to a house that they viewed as particularly friendly and particularly close by. This allowed Professor Sprout to turn her full attention to the Greenhouses and Professor Brewer to supervise the rebuilding of the Quidditch Pitch, both of which had been completely destroyed. Snape finished Slytherin next, entirely by himself. In deference to his hatred of Gryffindor, McGonagall assigned him to Ravenclaw Tower with Filius Flitwick and Alara Ayoni. A tense peace between Alara and Snape took hold as they were forced to work together, neither speaking of his trial again.
Michael Carter arrived and took over supervision of the repairs to Gryffindor Tower from McGonagall, allowing her to work on common areas such as the Courtyard and the Great Hall. Carter was a thick, muscular man with blond wavy hair cropped neatly at his shoulders. His clearly athletic build matched with a sharp jaw line and deep green eyes. He was, no doubt going to be the new school crush of several of the girls. Snape disliked him at once.
The days were long and the work was hot, but the progress was steady. Argus Filch spent a good deal of time grumbling about manual labor while others simply waved their wand, but he was somewhat placated when McGonagall put him in charge of overseeing the transport of supplies in from the delivery trains in Hogsmeade carried out by Thestrals pulling wagons daily. Of particular importance were the great stone knights and suits of armor that McGonagall had brought to life the night of the battle for Hogwarts, and that had protected the castle so well. McGonagall had tried to magic them back together, but so many pieces were so hopelessly scattered around the castle and grounds that she decided it was just time to order more. The House-elves scurried about every area of the castle cleaning up after the repair crews and serving up delicious meals and cool drinks to the hard laborers.
Of course the monumental task of rebuilding Hogwarts Castle did not escape media attention. She put them off for as long as she could but finally the inevitable happened. Early on the Thursday morning before the start of classes Minerva McGonagall rushed about the castle, rousing the staff. She climbed Ravenclaw Tower which she knew was close to completion and entered the Common Room where she spied Alara Ayoni asleep on one couch, Snape asleep on another across from her, and a large hump of blue curtain on the floor between them which was making an odd sort of grumbling sound while it moved ever so slightly.
McGonagall looked around. Completely restored to its former glory, the room was bright, airy, and circular, with a soft midnight blue carpet, large comfortable couches, alcoves with book cases within them and ample room for students to spread their studies out and learn. The statue of Rowena Ravenclaw had been repaired and was standing just to one side of a large, empty portrait frame, which silently awaited the return of its inhabitant. Standing next to them were tall arching windows with detailed ironwork in the windows. Except for several boxes of books waiting to be shelved and the curtains, the Common Room looked exquisite. She tip-toed past Snape and Ayoni to tour the dormitories, likewise restored to full use with the exception of the bed curtains. She walked back down to the common room, looked up and gasped. Magical paintbrushes were putting the finishing touches on the starscape that had greeted Ravenclaw students for centuries.
"It's beautiful!" she exclaimed. In reaction to her exclamation, the lump of curtain shouted and jostled around. After a few moments a small leg appeared from underneath one end which inadvertently kicked Snape’s arm draped over the side of his couch.
At the kick Snape bolted upright and pulled out his wand, ready to defend himself. "Oh," he mumbled then put his wand away and rubbed his eyes, blinking from the sunlight streaming through the windows. He much preferred the light of the lake-filtered Slytherin windows.
Seconds later the rest of Filius Flitwick emerged from underneath the mound of fabric also blinking at the sunlight entering the windows. Alara Ayoni simply turned over and threw a pillow at the noise, nearly hitting Snape in the face. The trio was exhausted.
McGonagall soon spied why: on a nearby table were several empty bottles of Awakening Potion. "When was the last time the three of you got any sleep?"
Alara mumbled something that sounded vaguely like "Monday" from her couch.
"Severus suggested we finish before Gryffindor," Filius said yawning as he untangled his legs from the curtains and stood up.
Snape stood and added with more than a hint of victory in his voice. "A pity their Common Room won't be ready for furniture until tomorrow."
McGonagall smiled, oddly happy to hear Slytherin - Gryffindor rivalry once again because it meant life at Hogwarts was getting back to normal. "And what of your classrooms? I trust we won't be holding class in the hallways."
Alara finally rolled over, stretching as she yawned. "I'm just waiting on a shipment of Natterjack Toads from Eeylops. They should arrive tomorrow or Saturday at the latest."
Filius nodded to the House-elf that entered the common room with a tray of pumpkin juice, toast and a variety of fresh fruit. "Everything is in, I just need to unpack it."
"Severus?" McGonagall asked.
"Finished," He answered as he stood up, grumpily tossing back the pillow at Alara then joining Filius at the breakfast tray. "When does that disgusting reporter get here?"
"One hour," McGonagall answered.
Alara fell off her couch more than a little ungracefully. "Oh Merlin. I forgot about her." She stood up and went over to the table, pouring herself a large glass of Pumpkin Juice.
"Terrence Tanner from Transfiguration Today will be accompanying Rita Skeeter. You are to be on the next cover," McGonagall beamed.
Alara groaned her displeasure as she swigged back her juice and poured herself a second.
"While Mr. Tanner is an adequate journalist, please be careful with him. I've had to correct his articles more than once. Although I would prefer you spend more time with him than with the illustrious Miss Skeeter for obvious reasons." McGonagall said, placing full sarcastic emphasis on the word illustrious.
Alara took a bite of toast. "Believe me Minerva, I fully intend to avoid Rita Skeeter at all costs."
McGonagall turned from Alara to the three of them, beaming. "Xenophilius Lovegood from the Quibbler will be here along with reporters from The Practical Potioneer, Challenges in Charming, Spell Spectator, Dark Arts Defender and every other professional publication in existence. You have done an outstanding job of mending the castle for the students. It's time to show that pride as we assure the entire magical community that we will be ready to receive our students on Tuesday."
She started to walk to the door and then quickly turned around. "Oh, Alara?"
"I was wondering....before term starts.... might I be able to borrow your wand for a few hours? Just to try it out. I've always wanted to see if the legends about it are true."
Alara chuckled. "Sure."
McGonagall smiled as brightly as Snape had ever seen her and she didn't walk out the door so much as she waltzed.
Alara blushed as she looked at the two men. "If you'll excuse me, I should go, hopefully my academic robes were sent when I had all my belongings shipped up." She quickly followed McGonagall out the door.
"What was that about?" Snape looked to Filius Flitwick, who was chuckling.
Filius had already busied himself opening up the boxes of books sitting in front of the bookcases. "Alara holds the legendary Wand of Guenhwyvar." He pulled out his own wand and began floating book up to their places in the bookcases.
"The wand of whom?"
"The Wand of Guenhwyvar. Don't you remember your History of Magic classes? It's over 800 years old, and is always passed down through the women of her family, who are then invariably sorted into Ravenclaw. The myths say that it only chooses witches who embody the characteristics of the runes engraved on it. Gifts like goodness, integrity, and what not. That wand more than any other is one that you can look at and immediately know something about the witch who wields it."
"Indeed," Snape remarked, trying to remember his History of Magic. Professor Binns was not the most inspiring of teachers he'd ever had, and as a student he'd much preferred to spend his class time tinkering with potions ideas or thinking up curses that would take proper aim at the Potter bully.
Filius nodded as he stopped the stream of books mid air and grabbed An Appraisal of Ancient Magical Artifacts. "Nowhere in the runes are listed the qualities of wit or intelligence yet it has always been fiercely dedicated to Ravenclaw witches who, like the listed character trait of eminence, have done it justice throughout the years." He walked back over to Snape leafing through the pages. "I'm happy to say she lent it to me for a few hours once, back when she was a student. Ah, here," he held the book out for Snape who took it. "It doesn't feel like an ordinary wand. It feels... happy. Happiest of course when it's performing white magic, but don't let the myth fool you. I've seen Alara cast jinxes that would rival any Death Eater around."
"Happy?" Snape looked incredulous. "It's a wand." He was far too practical of a wizard to get caught up in old myths and he never really understood the whole wand choosing the wizard thing anyway.
"Say what you will Severus," said Filius, turning back towards his work as he re-started the floating streams of books up to their shelves. "But holding that wand was like physically touching love."
Snape spied Alara escorting Mr. Tanner after their interview, joining the other reporters gathered around McGonagall in the great hall. After thanking him for his time, Alara turned and walked in his general direction. Anxious to avoid her, Snape slipped into the darkness of the room he was working in. Moments later she entered into the large darkened open room not recognizing it. It was large enough to fit several dozen students at a time, with two separate areas. A large area with arena-like benches around it stood to the right. To the left was a smaller empty area. Alara walked into the larger area.
"If you're looking for the reporters you just missed them," said Snape's voice from a place he knew she couldn't detect.
"I'm actually looking to avoid them, thank you." She looked around for him. "Vocal diffusion spell?"
"Of my own design," Snape answered, his voice echoing off the stone walls.
"Very nice." The torches on the walls illuminating the arena came up slightly. "What is this place?"
"Practice arena for my dark arts defense students. As Minerva said, students need more than theory, and far more than the inane little dueling club that that idiot Lockhart started several years back."
Snape watched Alara look around. The room was gloomy. Pictures of wizards and witches engaged in fierce combat adorned the walls. Some of them looked to be in agony. Snape found it quite adequate. Alara's facial expressions told him she found it otherwise.
After looking around Alara asked, "Is the art work really necessary?"
"As I said, Minerva wants them to have a realistic picture of what they will be facing."
"They know what they're facing Severus, there isn't anyone in our world who doesn't anymore."
"For now," Snape answered from the darkness. "But the first time we defeated the Dark Lord we grew complacent. When he returned most wizards refused to acknowledge the truth, costing who knows how much magical blood to be spilled."
"Point conceded," Alara admitted. She walked around for a few minutes more, obviously impressed with his handiwork if not his taste in art. Still, her brow was furrowed. "You know, sometimes it's not the agonizing who are the most frightening. Sometimes it's the little girl who smiles." She lit her wand in the darkness to examine the room further. "I once had a Squib friend who knew of a game the Muggles like to play. It involves them pretending to be us inside dungeons very much like this."
"How charming," Snape sneered.
"My point is that the most frightening character I ever met in the game was a little ginger with pig-tales. The cute little girl with the white trainers and the lollipop in her mouth turned out to be a Death Eater who was working against us the entire time. Sometimes the most frightening enemy is the one you least suspect to be an enemy."
"So you're saying I should decorate the walls with rainbows and unicorns?"
"No, but I do think it's a bit simplistic. Villains don't always growl and heroes don't always smile."
Snape's voice hissed with glee. "You know what I think? I think... it might be time for a test-run."
A flame shot out at Alara from behind her. Automatically she dove to the ground, pulled out her wand and fired back, her response landing squarely on one of a number of automated wands Snape had set up to fire at students as they raced across the room. "Are you afraid to show yourself in a fair fight?"
"In case you never noticed young Miss Auror, dark wizards don't fight fair." He threw a bolt of energy from his wand straight down into the ground next to her. In response the ground shifted, turning into rocky terrain.
Ayoni quickly jumped off a boulder rising out beneath her feet, dodging more of the automated wands in the process. "Yeah I found that out a time or two," Alara breathed, quickly setting up a defensive shield around her. Immediately, several blasts from the automatic wands hit her shield. She responded by taking out three of the wand turrets immediately after they fired.
"Impressive targeting," Snape evaluated. "But those are stationary targets set up for the initial training of first years. Hardly a challenging target for an experienced Auror such as you."
Alara poked her head up from behind her make-shift bunker long enough to get a quick view of her surroundings. There were few places to hide, and in the darkened room she couldn't see how many wand turrets were left. "So how do I win?" Alara asked ducking back behind cover before the wand turrets could get a fix on her.
"Defeat everything that's trying to kill you. As I told Dark Arts Defender, defending against dark wizards is not as simple as dueling with your wand. It is a matter of defeating traps, spells, potions and people all at the same time. It's taking out the enemy while protecting innocent lives."
"Is that all?" Alara asked. "No Muggle memories to modify?"
"We can work on that later if you feel you need practice," Snape sneered. "For now, I simply suggest you survive."
Alara didn't bother listening to his answer, instead taking the opportunity to transfigure into falcon form. She then snuck around the corner of her boulder so that she had an open space with which she could take flight. She lifted up into the air quickly, drawing fire as she did so. She quickly flew to the other end of the arena and circled, counting the shots and noting the locations of the wand turrets.
Snape quickly cast the Avis spell, creating a flock of small birds that attacked her viscously on her way back to her hiding spot. "It's their mating season by the way," Snape taunted, knowing that her falcon's hearing would pick his voice up easily. "They will do almost anything to protect their nests against a bird of prey."
Alara landed in the low branch of a tree that didn't have a turret aimed on it and then jumped down, quickly transforming back to human and pulled out her wand. The birds, no longer sensing a predator to their nests, flew higher but continued circling. "The Oppugno spell doesn't hurt either, does it?" she asked.
"I can re-cast that one as often as you'd like," Snape answered, enjoying himself for the first time in a very, very long time.
Transfiguring back to a falcon was out of the question. She quickly pulled out of cover and fired off her wand taking out three more turrets before the tree splintered around her into rubble. Alara quickly took the flying debris and transformed them into flaming missiles she then threw at the four remaining turrets before she dove behind a boulder. Ok, she thought to herself, what were you setting up while I was dealing with those?
Snape watched her as she closed her eyes and listened closely, hearing several odd noises which he knew she'd have trouble picking out in the echo of the stone walls. Snape pointed his wand to her left, where he activated another hidden trap. Alara's attention was suddenly drawn to the noise. She peered through the darkness just before a small but fast moving vine nipped at her leg. Fire shot out of her wand and the plant instantly vaporized.
"Oh really Severus?" Snape detected a distinct hint of joy in her voice. "Venomous Tentacula? And did you bother to put the antidote anywhere near me? If you want to hear me cry out like a second year you're going to have to do better than that."
Snape grinned. "Antonin Dolohov had a curse I was always particularly impressed with if you'd like. It caused internal injuries that would last for quite some time. Or perhaps a petrification spell? Though somehow I doubt Pomona has had a chance to harvest a fresh crop of Mandrakes yet." He pointed his wand at the ground around her, watching it change as it liquefied into pool of quicksand.
Alara was quickly up to her ankles, but also up to the task. She pointed the wand at her feet and cast the Ascendio spell, popping up out of the trap, landing about 10 feet away. Then she stood tall as she taunted him. "Enough fooling around Severus, I didn't come back to Hogwarts just to mess around with children's spells. You want a fight, you come get one."
Snape stepped out of a shadow a mere fifteen feet from her, his wand aimed straight at her as the vocal enchantment dissipated. "A cool head under stress, confidence befitting an Auror."
Alara eyed him coldly, refusing to retreat a single step. "Glad to know I meet your approval."
They both knew that his work during the war meant that she had no hope of goading him into losing his temper. She would have to try another path and he wanted to see what that was so he edged closer to her. "I don't recall saying I approve. Over confidence is often the first step to defeat. However, if you choose to think that I somehow admire the job that you have done so far, feel free. It will make the next part go so much faster." He was ten feet from her. A wizard with less experience in covert work would have missed it but he could easily see her plotting and was anxious to see what she would come up with. He hated to admit how much he was enjoying himself.
"I remember several Snatchers saying much the same thing," Alara said with a smile on her face.
She was five feet from him and closing. "Don't lie to me child. You didn't fight Snatchers, you were an Auror. The Dark Lord took specific steps to make sure the Auror's office was loyal to him during the war."
"Most of them, yes," Alara answered. "They gave blind loyalty to the Ministry and blind loyalty to a government that no longer served the people. I however, preferred to open my eyes and see what was around me. I was not so blind. I don't claim to have done anything as dangerous or as brave as what you did, but I did my part." She stepped forward, kicking his outstretched wand up into the air. She used the diversion to advance enough to touch him squarely in the chest with her wand and fire.
The force of her spell hit him and he flew backwards. He caught his wand just as he landed on the ground, then rolled over and parried her next attack. Moments later he cast a shining silver shield in front of him and he got back on his feet. "That's the best you can do little girl? You're not a witch you're nothing but a child with a stick in your hand!" He fired back with a bright orange torrent of flame that Alara blocked up into the ceiling where it exploded into a firework burst. He advanced on her, his wand in constant motion casting in short bursts every few seconds keeping her in retreat. Alara's foot bumped up against a boulder and she dove behind it, firing off a parting shot as she did so. "Had enough?" Snape taunted as he retreated to set up his next attack.
From behind the rock a bright red burst of flame shot up towards the ceiling. At once, a flock of bats came screaming out of the flame towards Snape, blocking his vision long enough for Alara to reposition herself behind another boulder some ten feet away. When the bats evaporated Alara went on the offensive with a bright red stream of magic that Snape barely dodged as he moved behind a tree.
Snape growled at her as he hid his appreciation for her tenacity. "Hardly more impressive then my flock."
"Oh, you want impressive?" At once a huge black horse erupted from her wand, raising its front hooves in the air, neighing loudly. As its hooves landed back on the ground bright crimson fire shot out from under them and flames swished from its tail and blew from its nostrils. As it threatened Snape the thunderous noise from its hooves echoed throughout the arena.
"Equus Evanesca!" Snape shouted as he pointed his wand at the charging beast. But it was to no effect. As the flaming horse grew closer he could feel its raging heat. It stopped just short of him and reared up, flaming hooves flailing in the air at him. Snape quickly conjured a rock and dove behind it as the horse snorted its displeasure, setting the tree next to Snape on fire.
He doused the horse with water from his wand, which evaporated into a cloud of steam along with its fire.
Behind Alara, a flash from a camera and single burst of applause interrupted them. "Magnificent! Tell me, do the insults help the duel?"
Snape watched Alara turn to see Rita Skeeter walking into the arena completely oblivious to any traps he had laying about. He took advantage of the diversion by stepping up behind Alara, yanking her by the hair and pulling her back into his chest, his wand at her throat. "Spellcast, you're dead."
Alara held her hands up. "Well played, Professor." She turned her head into his shoulder as she whispered back. "Tell me, is she the innocent life I was supposed to save or are we allowed to let her become the victim of an unfortunate accident?" Next to Skeeter, the photographer snapped another shot of them.
Snape's chest shook with silent laughter and then his voice rang out with clarity for everyone around to hear. "Simply taking advantage of a diversion. A lesson you would do well to learn: don't lose focus until the battle is won." Snape let go of Alara's hair and walked towards the reporter. "Miss Skeeter, if I were you I wouldn't take another step, there's a Boomslang nest just to your left." Snape waved his wand and the torches came up instantly, revealing the nest of hissing snakes only a short distance from her on the left with a Devil's Snare plant on the right. In a stroke of pure luck, she had threaded a very dangerous needle. "The battle may have been staged, but the consequences are very real. Evanesca!" Snape shouted and at once all the traps, all the wand turrets, everything that could threaten them disappeared.
Rather than thank Snape for his warning Skeeter squealed in delight, her sickeningly green Quick-Quotes Quill ready on a floating parchment at her side. "Oh, this is a delightful addition to Hogwarts! Did you design this all yourself?"
Snape nodded, repeating the politically correct speech he had recited for the previous reporters. "With input from the other instructors, of course. There is no singular aspect of defending yourself against the dark arts. All of our students' skills and training will come to fruition here." In spite of his polite and politically correct verbiage, he glared at the photographer continuing to take pictures.
Rita Skeeter stepped forward. "And what would you tell those who worry that your experiences as a Death Eater leave you too susceptible to being drawn to practicing the dark arts again?"
Alara stepped forward, gritting her teeth. "I would tell them that they only need to remember how Professor Snape repeatedly put his life on the line so that they can sleep in warm, cozy beds at night. I would say that there is no one more qualified to show our young people how they can defeat the dark forces living not only among each of us, but inside each of us than a man who has actually done so." She turned to Snape and smiled graciously though he could see venom in her eyes over the sparring loss. "Thank you for the demonstration Professor, the facility is wonderful. I look forward to a rematch."
Alara stopped next to Skeeter on her way out and narrowed her eyes. "Feel free to directly quote me on that."
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