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Chapter 6 : Bestie
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"So I heard. How went it at Daniel Groundsell's house?" Michael Carter asked without looking up. He sat in front of Daniel's box of potions; one flask of Polyjuice was open and poured out into a cauldron. Michael was holding his wand over the potion and went back to muttering his incantations while he waited for Minerva to answer.
"They found nothing. They searched Dolohov's former home as well, since it's unlikely that Paul Groundsell actually brewed this concoction. Whatever it is, you appear to have the extent of it."
"Alara and Filius?"
"Still rummaging through the Restricted Section," Severus answered and rummaging was a good word for it. Madam Pince was having several coronaries over the mess they were making in their desperation. "But so far they have come up empty. And we’ve contacted the team that found the Manchester resistance camp; but by the time they found the bodies it was too late to determine how they died."
Michael nodded, “So it could have been in battle- the carrier may have had some kind of magical tracer in his possession, or it could have been from this concoction.”
Minerva attempted to walk over to Michael's work table, but was stopped as Severus suddenly held her back and nodding Michael's way. Minerva pulled out her wand and emitted a soft ray of energy, which lit up as it struck the boundaries of a magical, invisible shield. She probed its boundaries; Michel was contained in a ten foot square area that gave him enough room to work, but nothing more.
Michael nodded to the barrier, "Paul Groundsell told you that all he had to do was get the Potions open, he didn't mention actually spilling it on anyone. It occurred to me that it is something airborne instead of touch related. You're safe, this Polyjuice is just Polyjuice. It was only a precaution in case it was something more."
"Find anything useful?" Minerva glared at him over her glasses. There was a fine line between bravery and suicidal stupidity. Her Potions Master was treading dangerously on that line.
Michael put down his wand and rubbed his tired eyes as he lowered the barrier. "Outside of a hint of too much leech juice, that is spoiled Veritaserum. I'm sorry Minerva, I really am. I just can't tell anything without opening another flask, and I can't do that without risk of spreading this thing further than it is."
"Sorry doesn't cure our students, Michael. We need answers."
"Believe me: I'd love nothing more than to rush in and be the hero. But for now, all I can tell you is that this is perfectly normal Polyjuice and that spoiled Veritaserum. I can't tell you how it spoiled, why it spoiled, or even when it spoiled. It simply defies explanation." He ran his fingers through his blonde wavy hair, and it fell perfectly back into place. Severus resisted the temptation to roll his eyes.
Minerva's face twitched with irritation. "What can you tell me?"
Michael sat back on his stool and shrugged, I can tell you that there are some minor markings on the stoppers to the flasks; I’m not sure what those mean. That’s one of the things I was hoping Alara and Filius would find out. But in light of Severus not getting anywhere with his contacts, and team Ravenclaw not finding anything in the library, I can tell you the name of the specialist we need. A researcher at St. Mungo's who saw an awful lot of You-Know-Who's victims after they escaped the country. Of the people that were on our side during the war, she knows more about Death Eater curses than anyone else in Britain except Severus. And no offense Severus, but you are no healer."
Minerva nodded. "I'll send for her. Who is she?"
"All of them are Slytherin?" Rachel Adams voice met Alara's ears from around the corner as she walked with Severus, Michael and Brandon. Alara quickened her steps to nearly a run and disappeared around the corner. Brandon was close behind her.
"Hiiiiiieeeeeee!" Severus' ears were soon met with the happy sounds of reunion.
"I feel sorry for you, Severus." Michael laughed as they approached the corner.
"What on earth do you mean?"
"Only one thing worse for a man than the nightmare of the Misses and the Ex meeting up, and that's the dangerous and frightening world of the childhood bestie."
Severus rounded the corner and he got his first look in years at Alara's childhood friend. As he remembered her, she was thin, almost wiry and with a head of unruly wild curls. Even with the high heels Alara was so fond of, Rachel was a good few inches taller. She held a slender walking stick that came up to her shoulder. On the rounded top of the walking stick was a gracefully carved Tawny Owl face with deep onyx gems inset for eyes and the carved feathers were painted in white. As she and Alara released from their hug, he saw her face. His memory of Rachel was that of a very pretty girl in his N.E.W.T. class, someone who took great care with her looks and had all the boys staring which made what he saw all the more sad. She tried to hide it with carefully placed curls, but several long burn scars ran the length of the left side of her face. As she moved to greet Brandon, it became clear that the walking stick was not ornamental. The one brief battle she had been part of at the Welsh pub had maimed her. Next to Rachel was a large trunk and Severus wondered if she was moving in.
"You must be Michael Carter," Rachel shook the Potions Master's hand enthusiastically. "I look forward to seeing what you've found so far."
"I look forward to showing it to you," Michael smiled excitedly.
"Professor Snape." Rachel had finally taken notice of him and the atmosphere chilled in an instant. Next to Rachel, Alara’s face tensed: this was not how she wanted this reunion to go.
“Miss Adams,” Severus responded trying his best to be complimentary, he was a new man, and he wanted to get off on a good foot with Alara's childhood friend. "Welcome back to Hogwarts. Your reputation precedes you."
Rachel stared at him for a moment, memories flickering on being a student in his class. She turned back toward Minerva, ignoring Severus. "So all the infected are Slytherin?"
"Why don't we go up to the Hospital wing and you can get started," Minerva motioned up the stairs as Alara looked between Rachel and Severus with a mixture of failed hope and frustration.
"Actually, I'd rather start in the Slytherin Common Room; I'd like to look at the point of initiation."
"Looking for a magical anchor?" Alara nodded to a trunk full of equipment next to Rachel.
"That's the only thing that would explain why the only affected students are Slytherin. It's not a contagion, it's a curse. Something is keeping the curse inside Slytherin House itself," Rachel answered. "Have you evacuated the House?"
Severus nodded, "We came to the same conclusion. Is your team bringing your equipment?"
"I am my team." Rachel stated flatly as she pulled out her wand and levitated her trunk. "The Common Room if you please?"
Alara looked to Brandon, who winced. Even Michael Carter looked sad. Severus was trying so hard to escape his past, some people just weren't about to let him.
"Very well, this way,” Severus led Rachel and Alara led the way down to the dungeons, Michael Brandon and Minerva fell in step behind them.
"I think we have a problem," Brandon whispered to Minerva of the tension between Rachel and Severus as in front of them.
"Not an unexpected one," Minerva nodded: "The howlers I received after I hired him outweighed the number of howlers I got after hiring you by nearly two to one. I finally resorted to casting Muffliato on myself every time the mail arrived for the better part of a month."
"But now you've got a Snape-hater here in the flesh, and they're going to need to work together. That's not just a howler, that's more trouble than Voldemort on a tirade. It might help to keep Alara involved in the work, she can mediate between them."
"My thoughts exactly, I'd like you to stay close to the situation as well. Alara may well need help." Minerva nodded as Severus uttered the password that opened the brick wall entrance to the Common Room.
"I'll wait out here," Alara volunteered as she smiled at Rachel. "See you later?"
"Alara, you will accompany us please," Minerva left no room for argument.
Severus led them all into the Common Room: what should have been a bustling, energetic dungeon held all the stillness of a catacomb. It was cold and dark; the fireplace had been extinguished when the students were all evacuated. The overhanging clouds outside made the light seeping through the windows to the lake a dark green, adding a deathly aura to the entire room. About two thirds of the way up from the door toward the fireplace the right hand side of the dungeon was cordoned off with candles, the table in the center of the area resembling a macabre altar. Severus quickly waved his wand, igniting both the lanterns hanging from the ceiling and the fireplace. The Common Room radiated light, but no warmth. The life and warmth of the dungeon was waiting up in the Hospital wing or in the Great Hall, waiting for them all to find a cure.
"It's grand," Rachel commented as she floated her trunk closer to the infected zone. "Cold, but grand."
Severus rolled his eyes at the judgment but Alara smiled softly at him. If Rachel Adams was a rising tide of hatred, Alara was a life raft of support.
Rachel pulled out her wand and waved it at her trunk, which unlocked and popped open, an assortment of magical devices lay inside. "When was the original event?"
"Sunday afternoon, as close as we can tell," Severus answered but once again Rachel didn't acknowledge his response. She pulled out a large but shallow metal bowl with a handle on one side and a tripod of metal struts coming out of it holding a Sneakoscope and handed it to Michael, who's eyes went wide at the device.
"What in Merlin's name is this?"
"A Dark Magic Definer of my own invention. It picks up the traces that Dark Magic leaves behind and amplifies them. The typewriter will tell me the properties of the curse. Speaking of, Alara, would you be a doll and pull the typewriter out? I'll need it on the table."
Alara peered into the trunk, "uhm......"
Rachel giggled, "The mechanical thing with all the keys."
Alara picked up the boxy black device, surprised at its heaviness and put it on the table. She returned to the trunk and stared at the inside of it before reaching down and picking up a wizarding medical journal. She stared wide eyed at the cover article: Muggles and Their Medieval Medical Malpractice. "What in Merlin's name?"
Rachel giggled. "I brought that for you. During You-Know-Who's reign of terror he took hold of all the reputable wizarding publications. I found that propaganda piece last week cleaning out an old store room at the hospital. I thought you'd get a kick out of it."
Alara's eyes went wide as she turned a page to a drawing, "They're stabbing that baby!"
Rachel giggled again. "It's an immunization. It's really not as bad as it looks. It stings a bit, that's all."
"Immunization. They take the dead remnants of an illness, inject them into people and it get's the body's natural defenses to defeat the illness in the patient."
"So.... it's a protective potion?"
Rachel nodded as she pulled thick rolls of parchments and a large bottle of ink out from the trunk. "Not as elegant as wizarding potions, but it gets the job done."
"Where do they get the dead remnants?"
"Other people who've had the same sickness."
"Ewwww." Alara smiled at Severus as she sat down in a nearby chair to read the journal further, "So like all propaganda, just enough truth to twist."
Rachel loaded a roll of parchment into the typewriter, setting three more thick rolls behind it and Michael grabbed a nearby chair and offered it to Rachel, who accepted it and sat down heavily, putting her walking stick next to her. Minerva came up and began hovering over the typewriter, having never seen anything like it, with its myriad of keys and the odd tarnished silver lever off one side. She wondered what it did and why the letters on the keys were all in the wrong order.
"Excuse me Headmistress," Rachel said as she opened up a bottle of ink and poured it into a strange bulbous holding container on the opposite side of the silver lever.
"It's Minerva down here away from the students," the elder woman answered as she marveled at the machine.
As Rachel pointed her wand at the Sneakoscope and activated the device, it began spinning madly in its holder and whistling. She quickly cast a silencing charm on it, "I see Slytherin House hasn't changed."
"Neither has Ravenclaw arrogance," Severus grumbled as he stepped over to glance at the journal.
"I'll try not to take that personally," Alara shot him a glare of her own.
The silver side-lever on the typewriter moved and the device shuddered as the platen obediently slid to the side, shaking the entire machine as the parchment moved up in the machine and a bell from somewhere inside of it dinged. Minerva jumped then looked down with fascination as the type bars filled with ink from the reservoir and then began striking the page, typing out the words 'Slytherin House' followed by three ancient runes spelling out the date and the word 'ready.'
"Michael, would you hold the contaminated flask in front of the Definer please?"
Michael did so and Rachel glued her eyes to typewriter while it banged out letters both in from English letters and various runes. "We didn't get this lucky in France," Rachel began. "To have the original cursed object will really help, especially in a place like this which is pretty much reverberating with dark magic."
Pity, you didn't stay in France, Severus thought.
Two hours later, Alara had taken over duties with the Dark Definer while Michael went off to his Potions office to pull some supplies together for Rachel. They'd found their anchor and the extent of the cursed area, and Rachel had four rolls of parchment filled with information on whatever combination of curses the Death Eaters had invented. It was possible to return the students to their dormitories and just have them avoid the area, but Severus and Minerva agreed that Slytherin House would remain off limits to students until a cure could be found and the House magically scrubbed.
He turned out the lights and extinguished the fire in the fire place, all hoping it wouldn't be too long before Slytherin House was one again filled with life. Before heading upstairs, Severus put a Caterwauling Charm on the door, magically locked it and reset the password so that no curious students or rule-breakers could gain entry. Even the House-elves who mercifully seemed immune from the curse would find Slytherin House off-limits until a cure could be found.
They all wound their way up to the hospital to visit the patients Rachel explaining to Alara why House-elf biology left them immune, which concerned Alara because of Maggie. Alara was wonderful, and caring and smart. Rachel was a stereo-typical Ravenclaw: arrogant, mercurial and far too impressed with herself. How could Alara consider this woman any kind of friend?
They entered the hospital wing, full to the brim with Slytherin students. Stripped of any kind of communication ability at all, there was nothing to do but sit around. A few glanced through picture/cards made by unaffected Slytherin, though Severus noted many cards in Hufflepuff colors, and several bearing the Ravenclaw blue and bronze. There was even one or two from Gryffindors. Severus' heart sank as two more students babbling wildly were brought in and ushered through to the staff wing, where there at least was room to give them beds.
"Oh my God," whispered Rachel. Severus looked and was struck by the sight of her eyes misting. She pulled her lips together, clearly trying to keep her emotions at bay. It seemed that nearly half of Slytherin House was packed into the hospital wing.
"Yeah," Alara whispered back, pulling her lips together as well. Severus nearly smiled; their facial expressions were so alike they could have been sisters.
"It's always the children who suffer from the adults' inability to get along," Poppy Pomfrey whisked by too busy to even say hello.
Rachel steeled herself. "Fine. I'd like to start by--"
"Arc home response!" The excited young voice of Nigella Winsgate came from off to their left and the second year came running up to the group, stopping only when she nearly bowled Rachel over with a huge hug.
Rachel instinctively hugged the young girl back. She had been grabbed so quickly she didn't have a chance to see who was hugging her. "Hello there?"
"Whispers Thirteen! Cottage parchment wand jewel clock?" She babbled excitedly at Severus as she pulled out a ring on a silver chain around her neck from under her pajamas, showing it to Rachel. "Winter holy lamb writes!"
Rachel smiled softly. "I recognize that ring, hello Nigella. You got Slytherin House just like you wanted, eh?"
Nigella smiled broadly, having no clue what they were saying, but taking obvious delight in Rachel recognizing her.
"And I recognize that chain," Alara said. "I gave it to you as a graduation present from the Healer's Academy."
"She arrived in our camp hoping that her parents would follow." Rachel nodded smoothing the girl's hair as an assuring presence. "They never did. She lay on her cot for days, clutching the ring, terrified of losing the only connection to her family she had left. After I gave her your chain, she finally got up and started to recover. I'm sorry but she needed it more than I did"
"She did a good thing," Severus encouraged Alara as Rachel pulled out her wand and ran a quick check over the young girl.
Alara nodded, "She's a good woman." She lowered her voice to a whisper. "I know the two of you haven't gotten off to a good start, but give her a chance please?"
"Will she do the same?"
"She's been out of line; I'll talk to her when we get a private moment. But please, for me?"
Severus looked into the sapphire blue eyes that could always talk him into anything. As Poppy Pomfrey finally had a chance to come up and greet Rachel properly he nodded his ascent.
Five hours later Rachel's neck was sore and her eyes hurt from reading over the huge scroll of information the typewriter had put out. Her left hip, never quite the same after the attack in Wales, was aching badly. "Want some company?" Alara opened the door with Maggie close behind her carrying a tray of food.
"Maggie!" Rachel smiled. "Alara said you made a full recovery from the accident this summer. How good you look!"
Maggie blushed, her large eyes grateful for the compliment. "Thank you Miss Rachel. Maggie is most grateful for her work at Hogwarts. Maggie thought Miss Rachel would like some dinner." Maggie placed platter of sandwiches on the table. "Would Miss like coffee?"
Rachel sighed and looked at Alara, "I don't suppose Madam Pomfrey keeps any Firewhiskey up here? My brain really is fried; I think I'm done for the night." She stretched her leg and hip, wincing as she did so.
Alara smiled and pulled a flask out of her robes. "Would I not look out for my bestie?"
Rachel picked up her wand and conjured two glasses into which Alara poured, and the two women clinked their glasses together.
"Ayoni and Adams- together again," Alara smiled broadly.
"And we will be unbeatable as always," Rachel grinned as she sipped the amber liquid, then she nodded appreciatively. "But I've got to tell you bestie; you've got one hell of a nasty event going on here."
"Do you think you can help?"
Rachel stared at her mounds of unrolled parchment. "I don't know. This has a lot of similarities to Manchester, but some really subtle differences. Even if it were exactly the same, what they found of the Manchester cell didn't exactly tell us a lot, only that it was horrible."
"That's what the war was, an accumulation of horrors." Alara sat back and considered her friend, a smile growing across her face. "It's good to see you again."
"You too." Rachel nodded as held her shot glass up for a toast. "To those we lost. May they rest in peace." The women clinked their glasses and drank. Rachel sat back and allowed the burn of the Firewhiskey to hit her throat. "I don't mind telling you, I missed this in France."
"Magic Merlot just doesn't have quite the same ring to it, eh?"
"Shut it," Rachel giggled as she reached for the flask and re-filled the women's glasses, and then she finally reached for one of the sandwiches. "Madam Maxime and the whole of Beauxbatons went over and above in helping us out with medical supplies and rations, not to mention allowing us to set up a refugee camp on their grounds. I won't say a thing against the French. All though one group of refugees did manage to bring a couple of cases of Butterbeer: that was a treat for the refugees."
"A group we sent you?"
Rachel shook her head through a mouthful of food, "Manchester. About two weeks before they got wiped out."
"That could have been us so easily." Alara whispered and the mood in the room shifted back towards the war losses.
Rachel refused to let it stay negative. "I saw Nigel last week; I went to the grand re-opening of his club in London. You should see the place... Ok, I know that look..."
"The look on your face. That's your 'we need to talk' look."
"Maybe that's because we need to talk."
"Look, I'm sorry about what happened in the Slytherin Common Room with Snark."
"Snape, Rachel. Professor Severus Snape."
"Professor Snape," Rachel responded.
"And he's upstairs in Minerva's office right now arguing with Minister Shacklebolt about getting you access to some of the Death Eaters who may have developed this thing. You have to stop seeing him and your old Potions Master and start seeing him as the man he truly is."
"The man he truly is? The man he truly is bullied Neville Longbottom. I see him at St Mungo's when he visits his parents you know. He is the sweetest, most gentle soul I've ever met. On some level I get why he bullied Harry Potter, but do you want to tell me why Snape bullied him?"
Alara rubbed her eyes. "I don't know. We actually don't talk about the war."
"Why do you talk to him at all? Rachel picked up another sandwich and then stopped mid-bite. "Oh hell," She said. "I'd hoped what I saw of the two of you in his Common Room was a mistake. Are you serious? You hated him when we were in school! You hated him even worse when we got out of school. He killed Headmaster Dumbledore."
"Really? I didn't know that."
"Alara, he would dock points from Ravenclaw because his nose itched. What in God's name are you doing with someone so petty?"
"He's partial to Slytherin, we all know that--"
"Partial? Partial?? Alara, what he did to you before the European Youth Transfiguration Championships wasn't partiality, it bordered on sabotage."
"I still won," Alara smiled.
"And that makes it all right?" Rachel pressed.
"No, it doesn't make it all right. I'm not looking to explain away his faults, but he risked everything and nearly paid the ultimate price to protect the only boy who could take down Lord Voldemort. The pain he endured over the course of that was substantial."
"His wartime heroics don't alter the fact that he abused the boy he was supposed to be protecting!"
Alara began to protest, "Look, I know he's not a saint--"
"Not a saint??!! Yeah, I get it; he was bullied by James Potter. But we were both bullied by Bill Blackhearth. Did that turn us into foul tempered, vindictive brutes? He's had so many chances to prove that he was better than James Potter, and what did he do? He took bullying to new levels! He knew how it felt to be called names or hexed, but did he determine to not do the same? No! Not Severus Snape! No he had to take his revenge out on the rest of us! He wouldn't see past his own childhood feud and he took it out on a boy whose only crime was to have James Potter as a father! Now stop pretending you know something that the rest of us don't. Wake up and smell the roses Alara! His wartime heroics don't alter the fact that he was utterly unable to move on after Lily's Potter's rejection and he took his pain out on everyone around him."
"Let's talk about past pain, shall we? You have been nothing but dismissive and disrespectful of him all day. Believe me; I know he's not perfect. But you are talking about the man I love Rachel, and the wizard you're going to have to work with if you're going to solve this. Your attitude had better change, and it had better start changing now."
"Does he love you back? Because I don't think he loved Lily, Alara. He obsessed over her. He obsessed over her and he stalked a woman who wasn't even his ex."
"He then had to live with the man who betrayed her when Voldemort forced Peter Pettigrew on him the year before the Ministry Fell." Alara all but growled. "And he had to do it hiding the pain that had to have caused him. I'd like to see you or I try that with the entire fate of the wizarding world riding in the balance of our success."
"Is he still hiding his feelings for Lily?" Rachel accused more than asked.
"Did you miss Rita Skeeter's series of articles on his trial?"
"I mean now. Clinically, someone doesn't just 'get over' a life-long obsession like that and he's a proven liar. So what I want to know is when he tells you he loves you, how do you know he's telling the truth?"
"You haven't examined him; you don't get to call it an obsession." Alara growled, ignoring the fact that Severus had never actually told her that he loved her.
"And you didn't answer my question."
"No I didn't!" Alara screamed. "Do you want to know what I did on Halloween with the man I love? I was thinking of ways to keep his spirits up on the anniversary of Lily's death. So yeah, while everyone else was busy celebrating I was busy reminding myself that no matter how hard I try, I will always be second in line to a woman who's been dead for nineteen years!"
"Since when are you the helpless little fawn doing anything for the attentions of a man?"
Alara's voice grew dangerous as her fingers turned white around her glass. "You know... I pretend to not notice every time a Gryffindor student gives me a pitying look behind my back for just talking to him. And you know what? I don't care. I don't care what other people think about him, or about me, or about us. And that specifically goes for you!" Alara chugged back the remaining Firewhiskey and slammed her glass down on the counter began to walk out.
"Where was he the night the Ministry fell?" Rachel asked as Alara reached the door.
Alara stopped, her voice showing the slightest hint of fear. "What?"
"Where was he? He wasn't installed as Headmaster yet so he wouldn't have been cowering here, where was he? What was he doing while you were fighting to save lives? How do you know that he wasn't the one who used the Cruciatus on you?"
Alara stared at Rachel for a long while, not recognizing her childhood friend. "I've put Maggie at your disposal. Call her if you need anything."
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