Chapter 2 : Happy Halloween
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About 20 yards away, Beater Daniel Groundsell, a tall muscular seventh year with dark, short cropped hair shrugged unapologetically.
Alyssa piloted her broom to the ground and Daniel followed her. "What in Merlin's name are you doing?" She shouted through her fury.
Daniel smiled as he casually got off his broom. ""You shouldda dodged."
"Daniel, this is serious!" Alyssa said loud enough for the entire team to hear. "The Gryffindor game is in two weeks!"
"Oh come on!" Daniel laughed. "Ginny Weasley graduated and their new Seeker is only average. They're no threat to us, neither is Hufflepuff. "
Alyssa growled her displeasure. "But Ravenclaw is: a big one. You need to take this seriously Daniel."
"Come on, it was just a lark! Don't get your broom in a twist. We play Ravenclaw last. There's plenty of time to prepare for them. As for Gryffindor...." Daniel smiled as the Bludger came back at them and he swung at it, intentionally missing it as it flew behind him into the stands. "WHIFF!" He shouted. Around him, the team laughed. His confidence in their ability to beat Gryffindor was high. "You need to relax Alyssa. You're no fun anymore."
Alyssa shook her head vigorously and reached into her robes, pulling out a small paperback book. It was tattered and dog-eared, and obviously a treasured possession. She held it out to Daniel. "Page 34: Read it."
Daniel looked at the title-- Slytherin Quidditch, the History of Greatness and he rolled his eyes as he opened the book. "'Succeeding at Quidditch, like succeeding in anything, is a long term commitment. If you don't adore it, if you aren't willing to devote your entire life to it, don't get on the pitch.'"
"If we want to be sure we beat Ravenclaw, we have to start working now. And we have to work as a team."
"You really think we can beat Ravenclaw?" Keeper Peter Stuart asked. "It's not like we're going to get a fair match."
Alyssa whirled around on the fifth year. "What do you mean?"
Peter nodded off in the distance to the thin frame of Flying Instructor Brandon Brewer who was walking onto the pitch. "Him."
Alyssa rolled her eyes. "You're mad. He's a Hufflepuff. He's not going to throw the game to Ravenclaw."
"He and Professor Ayoni are close. Really close." Peter stood his ground.
"Who would anybody be friends with a Werewolf?" Daniel retorted.
"Stop it," Alyssa ordered. "He's actually a pretty nice Wizard."
"He's a Werewolf," Daniel growled.
"And you're a racist," Alyssa growled back, her temper wearing thin.
Peter stepped up next to Alyssa. "And Brewer and Ayoni are a whole lot more than chums: at least from what I hear."
"I don't care who's seeing who, I just want to beat Ravenclaw." Alyssa waved the whole argument away as the Gryffindor team entered the pitch for their scheduled practice and Professor Brewer started coming over to shoo the Slytherin team off. "Come on, let's go shower up. I have a ton of Charms homework, I want to re-work that attack strategy and I don't want to be late to the Halloween Feast."
Severus lowered his wand from Alara and growled in frustration. "You call that concentrating?" They stood in the front room of his staff apartment. In contrast to his mood, a fire crackled happily in the fireplace as the sun blazed in the western sky.
"You're not exactly making it easy." Alara answered back as she blinked at being alone inside her head again. She grabbed the back of a high-backed chair for support as the dizziness faded.
"I didn't say it would be easy. I said it would help. Now focus." He pointed his wand at her again and entered her mind with pathetic ease. Inside he found a strange mixture of emotions left from the evening before as her mind wandered between the sweetness of their passions and the horror of her nightmare. How anyone could function in such an emotional state was beyond him. "Empty your mind...." In front of him her memories swirled in and out of focus, finally settling on what must have been a favorite, because it was the third time that afternoon he'd seen it. The memory was the two of them alone, reading. She always physically smiled when that memory replayed. He made her happy-- just being with him made her happy. He resisted the urge to smile back: he withdrew from her mind and he scowled. "It's a good thing that the Dark Lord never got a hold of you during the war, you'd have betrayed the entire resistance within thirty seconds."
"Thanks for the encouragement."
"Perhaps we should simply stick to Potion for Dreamless Sleep." He holstered his wand back up his sleeve.
Alara shook her head. "No. I'm not going that route. I'm not going to become dependent on a potion. I just need to work harder, that's all." She moved close to him and brushed his lips with a soft kiss. "And you need to stop being so distracting."
Severus didn't need Legilimency to know what she was thinking; the fire in her eyes said it all. She was more than tempting, but still, she needed his help if she was going to put the nightmares to rest. "You need to focus beyond the distractions if you expect this to work."
Alara thudded her head into his chest. There were days that loving him was the most frustrating thing in Wizendom. It was a holiday and he wanted to work. "All right, all right. Tell me how learning to keep you out of my head is going to help my nightmares."
"By bringing your emotions under control," Severus answered. "A controlled mind, a disciplined mind is not so prone to your memories luring you off track like a Hinkypunk. Draco Malfoy was able to learn it, I'm sure that you can too."
"Draco Malfoy emptied himself of all his compassion Severus. That's not a place I want to go."
A knock at Severus' door interrupted them. He never had visitors; it was no doubt someone on business, still, they let go of each other and moved a polite, respectable public distance away from each other. Privacy was something Severus insisted on. He pulled out his wand pointed it at the door. “Alohamora.”
In walked Minerva McGonagall in brand new robes of black, her pointed witches hat banded by a sharp new tartan, and a Hogwarts crest for a broach at her neck. “I'm sorry to disturb you, but I received an owl this afternoon that I thought you should know about. It concerns young Miss Winsgate."
Nigella Winsgate was a second year Slytherin. She had been orphaned by Voldemort during the war, because her father, who was a pure blood, had married a muggle woman and proudly stood up for that in the Wizarding press. He was, as the ugliness of pure-blood mania had decreed, a blood-traitor. Nigella had barely escaped with her life, thanks to one of the few resistance cells that rose up during the war to get her kind out of harm's way, then she repatriated back to Britain after the Dark Lord's death in the care of an aunt and uncle. Like most orphans, she missed her parents horridly, particularly her wizard father who spent years teaching her about their world in preparation for her going to Hogwarts. But she was also a bubbly and studious pre-teen who excelled in Defense Against the Dark Arts. He looked forward to her contributions in his class, unlike the majority of bumbling Gryffindors. Severus wondered what could possibly be wrong.
"Tea Minerva?" Alara asked.
"No thank you, I'm only staying for a minute, I must check in with the House-elves and make sure the feast is ready to go." She turned back to Severus. "The owl was from her aunt and uncle, who are unhappy that their angelic niece was sorted into Slytherin."
Severus kept his face stone and unreadable. "That is old news Minerva, she is a second year. Why is this coming up now?"
"It would seem that the altercation with your would-be assassins after the Quidditch match last spring left her with a rather severe case of hero worship. You are all she talked about all summer, and you have been the focus of the majority of her owls back home this fall.”
Severus rolled his eyes. “How charming.”
"You spent yesterday morning tutoring her yes?" McGonagall pressed.
"I did. She's doing brilliantly in my class and asked to work ahead. I saw no reason to deny her request."
“Please be careful with her Severus. While I have no objection to her having a new father figure in her life, I would prefer that she not pick up some of Slytherin’s more… controversial qualities.”
Severus bristled. “Except when I was forced by the Dark Lord to do so to maintain my cover, I have never promoted blood purity, Headmistress. I believe you know the reasons why.” He thought of Lily and her Muggle born status and he resented her implication. "Will there be anything else?"
Minerva had what she wanted, and she nodded to them both. "See you at dinner." She turned and left, smiling to herself, glad to see that Severus wasn’t spending the holiday alone.
Back inside his apartment, Snape was insulted. "What was that about?"
Alara shrugged. "It’s probably just an over-protective aunt and uncle. Minerva's playing the game, now she can write them back and say she has the situation under her watchful eye."
Alara smiled as she walked over, kissed his cheek and toyed with his cravat. "Relax. You know as well as I do that it's going to take time for Slytherin's culture to change, even longer for its reputation. But you've chosen good Prefects, it will happen. In the meantime, let's enjoy our first Halloween together, shall we?"
Severus closed his eyes and breathed in her scent, all thoughts of anything but Alara vanished as he felt his cravat slide from around his neck then the first button of his coat loosen. He smiled as he realized she would not be denied. "The feast is less than two hours away young lady."
Alara brushed a soft kiss on his ear. "Then stop wasting time."
Second year Nigella Winsgate sat at a table in the Slytherin Common Room working through her Transfiguration homework with sixth year Prefect Kate Tyler. Transfiguration was her worst subject, but Kate was nice enough to help her. That was the best part of being Slytherin; they stuck together and helped each other succeed. At a nearby table, Alyssa Middleton sat pouring over Quidditch diagrams, waving her wand as little animated broomsticks on her parchment zoomed around the page in the patterns Alyssa was diagramming. Alyssa had promised Slytherin House glory this year and the entire house cheered them on. They were strong, they were successful and they were amazing. Kate tapped the book and brought Nigella's attention back to her work. "What are the reasons why pigs are harder to transfigure than other animals?"
As Nigella focused back on her work Daniel Groundsell came up from the boys dormitory and approached Alyssa, pulling out a vial of opaque white liquid and they spoke quietly for a few minutes. The argument soon grew more heated until Daniel’s voice rose. “You want proof or not?”
Alyssa finally put her quill down on the table and stared at him in disbelief. “What about ‘no’ do you not understand?” The Common Room grew quieter as students tuned in to the drama. “Daniel, we're better than this.”
As Daniel’s agitation grew, his voice became louder. “Do you want to win the Quidditch Cup or don't you?”
Kate stood up to put an end to it. "All right, what's going on?" She walked over to them.
Daniel was full of fire. "The only thing standing between us and the Quidditch Cup is Ravenclaw. But that Werewolf McGonagall has on staff and Professor Ayoni are an item. And that means he'll throw the match Ravenclaw's way, and our undefeated year will get shot to hell."
Alyssa shook her head. "He's not going to throw the match, Daniel. He's got more integrity than that. Besides: Professor Brewer and Professor Ayoni are not an item. Or haven't you noticed that Professor Ayoni always sits next to…"
"What's that then?" Kate motioned to the vial and changed the subject, not really caring about the faculty's social habits. She just wanted peace in the Common Room.
Daniel smiled a horrible grin. "A little present for the Werewolf: Veritaserum."
Kate looked at the vial, puzzled. "That's Veritaserum? Why is it off color?"
"It's probably just a bit old; I found it in my dad's basement over the summer. But it will still work. Slip a couple of drops of this into his tea, and hear all about how he'll do anything to get in her knickers, even throw a Quidditch match."
Kate rolled her eyes. "If you have concerns about Professor Brewer, take then to Headmistress McGonagall."
"What good will that do? She'll give us some platitude about how Professor Brewer will have integrity because he's a 'Puff, and he's staff, and we'll still be stuck out in the cold."
Alyssa sat back down at her table, completely over the discussion. "Daniel, I want us to win as much as you do. But this isn't the way. If you don't trust Headmistress McGonagall, let's talk to Professor Snape and..."
Daniel grew more and more agitated. "Snape won't help us; the only way for us to get the truth is to do it ourselves!"
"Stop!" Kate ordered. "Daniel, you are out of line. Now put that stuff away before I start docking points from our own House!"
"Well, well, well. Look who's a big fancy Prefect towing the Hogwarts line?" He opened the vial and started approaching Kate. "Suppose we pour this down your throat and see what you really want behind that veneer of politically correct power?"
Kate swung out her arm and knocked the vial out of his hand, it flew into the side of the table Alyssa had been working on the opaque liquid splattering over Alyssa's diagrams, over her, and dripping down onto the carpet. Kate grabbed Daniel by the collar of his robes and pulled him close. "You have a chance this year Daniel. That cup has a chance to come back home here where it belongs. Don't blow it by getting kicked off the team for doing something stupid like assaulting a teacher, and don't you EVER threaten me again. Understand?"
The fury in Kate's eyes finally knocked some sense into Daniel. He held his arms up in surrender, his hands glistening with some of the spilled Veritaserum.
Kate let go and walked back to Nigella as she nodded to both Daniel and Alyssa. "Clean that up."
Severus kissed Alara goodbye and she stepped into his fireplace, the emerald green flames of the floo network engulfing her. Their apartments were a fair distance apart, and he preferred privacy when it came to their relationship. The cost of floo powder was a small price to pay for such privacy.
He smiled at their afternoon together, but as the fire in the fireplace returned back to normal, the smile faded from his face as well. Alara's presence had given him the luxury of not focusing on the anniversary of Lily's death, but now that he was alone the memories pressed in around him as if their weight was a physical burden that Alara's presence had kept him from feeling. He knelt down, conjured a remembrance candle on the hearth and lit it. Like the flame, Lily's life had been so beautiful, so delicate. He held a finger over the flame, feeling its warmth. He closed his eyes and saw her bright green eyes, her beautiful smile, once again they were third year students hovering over a Potions book as Lily giggled and Severus hushed her before Madam Pince yelled at them both.
He retreated to his bath where he ran cold water in the sink and washed his face. He stared in his mirror at the scars on his neck from where Nagini had unsuccessfully tried to kill him. The Dark Lord had ripped so much away from him; his reputation, his dignity, and nearly his life. None of that compared to the fact that he had ripped Lily from him.
He turned the water off and leaned on his sink as his breath caught in his throat, Bellatrix’s laughter ringing through his memories. “The Dark Lord broke through the Potter’s Fidelius Charm,” Her memory whispered to him. “He’s gone to deal with them once and for all!” Drunk with the power that would come to her beloved master, she actually laughed at the impending slaughter.
His knees grew week as he relived the horror of that night. He stumbled out of his bathroom, sitting down heavily in a bedroom chair, not even bothering to dry his face off as he struggled to control his breathing. When he arrived in Godric's Hollow his instincts told him that something was very wrong. Had the Dark Lord been successful, there would have been a Morsmordre spell in the sky and the Dark Mark on his arm would have burned as the Dark Lord called his most trusted advisors to him to celebrate his victory. His hopes rose that the Dark Lord hadn't broken through the Fidelius after all, or that Lily had somehow survived, but then he found a ruined house and his world crashed around him. As he combed the house for signs of life he casually stepped over James' body. It was of no consequence; the arrogant bully deserved what he'd gotten. The room at the end of the hall-- that must be the nursery...Lily would surely be with her son... Lily... Lily was all that mattered....
"I love you Severus," Alara's voice cut through his memory and he inhaled sharply as he opened his eyes, certain that her voice was real, she had come back and discovered him. He found himself alone, tears streaming down his face as the pain of losing Lily engulfed him anew. He stood up and pulled himself together, going back into the bathroom and re-washing his face. He buttoned each button of his shirt, then his coat, slowly re-erecting the walls of his Occlumency that protected him from everyone. No one would know how he still cried for Lily, especially not Alara. It was a holiday, and Alara deserved the best holiday he could give her.
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