Chapter 7 : Run
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He found Alara in a nearby chair with Maggie standing next to her, holding Alara's hand.
Alara dismissed Maggie who slinked away from Severus as if he carried the plague. When Alara finally spoke, her voice was barely above a whisper. "Where were you the night the Death Eaters attacked the World Cup? Were you terrorizing people behind a mask?"
Severus was speechless.
"Where were you?" she repeated.
"You know me better than that."
"Do I? Or do I just see your latest mask?"
"Maybe I'd better go--"
"Where were you the night the Ministry fell Severus?"
Severus slumped just before the fire place. "Are we really going to do this? Tonight?"
"Where were you?" She repeated, her voice soft.
"I wasn't at the World Cup. Even if I had been, I'd never have been a part of that." The thought of what Lucius and the other Death Eaters did sickened him.
"And the night Scrimgeour died?"
"I was at the Ministry with the Dark Lord. You know the role I played; you know the line I walked."
Alara nodded weakly; when she spoke she was barely above a whisper, "I was there too."
Severus threw his walls of occlumency up around him with practiced ease. She wasn't a Legilimens, but she knew him well enough to read his eyes and tell when he wasn't being honest with her. "I thought you were on the run by then?"
Alara nodded without looking at him. "I was. But being an Auror leaves very few things that are totally secure. And when you have Nigel Baker at your side, even the Ministry of Magic becomes a possible objective. We broke in; we were looking for lists of undesirables."
"To get them out of the country before the Dark Lord could get a hold of them."
"We knew he had connections into the Ministry, we just didn't know how deeply they ran." Alara still wouldn't meet his eye. "When we got there, the coup was already underway." She closed her eyes hoping to close out the memory, "I liked Scrimgeour you know: he oversaw my Auror training. He was a good man."
Severus raised an eyebrow. "I never got the impression you were happy with the establishment."
"Fudge was an idiot. Scrimgeour was a great Auror, he just didn't excel at politics and he had a bit of a blind eye when it came to Voldemort. He and Harry Potter completely disagreed on how to handle the war, but he still died protecting him. He was like that you know: he'd get into a horrible row with you over something, then take you out and buy you a butterbeer."
"I didn't kill him if that's what you're thinking." Severus offered.
"No. No I'm sure Voldemort kept that particular honor for himself."
"Do you mind telling me what this is all about?"
"I found Minister Scrimgeor's body that night. The look on his face..." her voice trailed off.
"You know what the Cruciatus Curse does to people Alara. Weren't you subjected to it during Auror training?"
Alara nodded blankly. "I was subjected to it that night as well."
"At the Ministry?"
Alara nodded again. "We'd found what we were looking for and were trying to escape. We rounded a corner and ran into a Death Eater stationed at Scrimgeour's office. Nigel got out with our payload, but I got captured. I eventually got away... I don't even know how."
"I didn't torture you."
"How do I know that? Whoever got me had their mask on. How do I know it wasn't you behind that mask? You said yourself, you were playing a role. How do I know it wasn't you toying with me to maintain your image?"
Severus' face twitched in anger. Somehow, some way, this was Rachel's doing, he was sure of it.
For the first time Alara looked at him, "How do I know?"
"If you don't trust me after all you and I have been through together--"
Alara stood up as all her pent up frustrations exploded, "All we've been through together and you won't answer my question?" Alara stepped away from Severus, and for a moment, she wished she had her wand in her hand. When she spoke, her voice was deliberate, "Where were you the night the ministry fell?"
"I didn't torture anyone," he pulled out his wand and pointed it at her Wizard's Chess set sitting on her coffee table, quickly transfiguring it into a replica of his Death Eater mask. "If you don't believe me, ask yourself if this was the mask of your tormentor."
Alara looked at the mask, then she closed her eyes and slowly shook her head. "And now?"
"What about now?"
"Now you hide us behind a different kind of mask. Keeping things quiet until we got our feet under us was one thing, but you still want to keep us a secret two months later. And if you're keeping something as basic as our relationship a secret, what else are you keeping a secret? I let you roam around inside my head, but what do I really know about you? I don't even know how you feel about me!"
"Alara, we have practically lived together for the last two months. If that doesn't tell you something--"
"Are you afraid the world might see you differently if they see you with me instead of still holding the torch for Lily?"
Severus came frighteningly close to snapping at her and needed several moments to bring his voice under control. "This has nothing to do with Lily, or my image. There's a difference between secrecy and privacy, Alara. I have no objection to the staff knowing, but I see no reason to alert The Daily Prophet."
Alara shook her head in confusion. "It doesn't bother you that half your own House thinks I'm dating another man? What do you feel for me? I don't even know!"
Severus stared at her: his own image had never bothered him but he'd never stopped to think how it would affect her. There was so much about being in a relationship that he needed to learn.
"Would you go please?" she whispered.
"Just go." She whispered.
There was nothing to do but comply, so he exited through her door, then sagged against the cold stone wall as he heard the transfigured Death Eater mask slam against the door.
"Severus," Voldemort's memory addressed the Death Eater approaching him, his high cold voice purring with the smoothness of success as Nagini circled Voldemort's feet in an almost parasitic manner: "what news?" Voldemort didn't bother to look his servant in the eye as he began transfiguring the Fountain of Magical Bretheren in the Ministry of Magic Atrium to a giant glyph of Muggles under the heavy weight of a witch and a wizard on an enormous heavy throne.
Severus removed his Death Eater Mask, holding it casually at his side in one hand, his wand in the other. "The Taboo is in place my Lord. Anyone who dares speak your name will immediately come to our attention."
"Runcorn? Did you Imperius him?"
"No need, my lord. He is in full agreement of our goals and anxious to start his job."
Voldemort started walking around the obelisk and Severus quickly fell in step. "Excellent. And Umbridge?"
Severus buried his hatred of the woman deep inside. "She has been summoned, and will be at the announcement in the morning."
"You have done well Severus." Voldemort said with no corresponding trace of emotion in his voice. "This has gone better than even I had dared to hope."
"What news on the boy?" Severus held his breath. He could only hope that Harry Potter was safely tucked away behind all the wards and protections that the Order of the Phoenix offered.
"Alas, Former Minister Scrimgeour was not as forthcoming as we had desired. The location of Harry Potter remains the last issue of the night."
Severus nodded, feeling grim as he worried about Potter. I'm trying Lily, he thought.
The Dark Lord seemed to sense Severus' discomfort. "Do not fear, Severus we are spreading out now, the boy's time is limited at best."
"My lord, are you sure you wouldn't wish me to join in the hunt? I know him better than anyone."
"No need," Voldemort said smoothly. "We have broken all the wards that the Order of the Phoenix foolishly put in place. We have several teams out now, we should have Potter by the end of the night. Casting the Taboo was crucial, Severus. Once again you prove your value to me."
"Thank you, my lord." Severus nodded slightly, making sure occlumency shielded his mind from any additional wanderings.
"Go find Lucius for me. I have no further need to be here. With Pius installed, I can await Harry Potter's arrival at Malfoy Manor." He looked at the finished obelisk in the Atrium with appreciation of his own work. "He is, no doubt, drooling over the Minister for Magic's office wishing it were his."
"Yes my lord," Severus responded as he slipped his mask back into place, hoping beyond hope that Potter would somehow find his way to safety. He exited the lift on the first level and heard a familiar voice uttering an all too familiar curse.
"Crucio!" Lucius Malfoy drawled. He was so predictable.
Severus stuck to the shadows, curious that he didn't hear Malfoy's victim screaming in agony. He peered around the corner and saw that Lucius had caught a small, raven-haired woman with his curse. She writhed on the floor, fire coursing through every nerve in her body, but she remained silent. Lucius ended his curse and lowered his wand. He took a step toward his victim and purred, "It would be so easy to end it, hmmmm? Just tell me what you stole and where your accomplice went. No need to suffer for a few secrets."
"Go to hell Death Eater," the witch spat as she struggled to regain her breath from the Cruciatus. She wasn't surrendering in spite of the raging fire that she knew was coming. Severus admired her cheek in the face of an agonizing death.
"Crucio!" Malfoy growled, sending the woman back into agonizing spasms of pain as Severus hung back in the shadows watching.
Severus raised his wand, the Dark Lord was waiting and the witch had no hope of surviving the encounter: it was better for her to have him end it sooner rather than Lucius ending it later. Then, a sudden idea changed his mind-- the Dark Lord was intent on making this coup as silent as possible. This witch was clearly a part of the new underground movement he was hearing rumors of, and an agitator with enough cheek to openly defy a Death Eater could be an asset. She could spread the word about the coup and all she had to do is escape. Severus smiled underneath his mask knowing that Lucius Malfoy had done him a huge favor: he had mentioned an accomplice who could be blamed for her escape. Severus moved his wand from the young witch over to Lucius Malfoy and a red jet of light erupted from his wand, striking Lucius squarely in the chest and knocking him fifteen feet backwards where he landed unconscious on the door to Rufus Scrimgeour's office, knocking it open.
Severus waited while the witch caught her breath and slowly rose to her knees. "Who's there?" She looked around, confused as what had just happened. She scrambled about six feet and grabbed her wand, pointing it around the room in defense as she caught her breath. Her sapphire-blue eyes nudged at Severus' memory, she was a former student with very definite opinions and she was a formidable witch. He couldn't believe his luck. She spied Lucius, unconscious in the doorway and got to her feet, still gasping for breath. She looked around one more time, looking straight at the corner Severus was hiding, and he flattened himself into the shadows as hard as he could.
"Run," Severus mouthed silently.
The witch didn't see him, instead she turned and approached Lucius, her wand at the ready.
"That curse didn't rebound you cheeky dolt, run!" Severus mouthed again.
She kicked Lucius' wand from his hand, but then something inside Scrimgeour's office caught her eye and she peered over the unconscious Malfoy into the office.
"Run!" he willed. He could do nothing more to help her, she would live or die by her next decision.
The woman stumbled back, shocked by what she saw in Scrimgeour's office. She looked around one more time and turned and ran as fast as she could.
When he could no longer hear her footsteps he slipped out of the shadows and calmly walked over to Lucius silently thanking him as he pointed his wand at him. "Rennervate."
Lucius started as he woke up.
"Are you all right?" Severus asked pretending to have just found him.
"The woman? Where did she go?"
Severus pulled off his Death Eater mask as he watched Lucius painfully get to his feet. "What woman? There's no one else here."
He opened his eyes back in the present, his heart stinging with her rejection of him. How could he answer her? How could he explain that he had watched Lucius Malfoy torture her and that he had almost killed her?
"Severus?" Brandon approached down the hallway. "Are you all right? Maggie woke me. She said there was some kind of problem with Rachel?"
Severus stared at Brandon, then stormed off, his great bat-like robes billowing behind him. Brandon smiled as he turned to knock on Alara's door. Oh my dear Snape, she has her talons firmly in your heart doesn't she?
Filius Flitwick stepped into the chilly air of the astronomy tower. He pulled his coat tighter around his small frame and waited for his eyes to adjust as he eyed the tall woman with the head full of curls and the heart full of pain. "You never could resist this place when you were hurting."
"How can she do it Professor? How can she throw her life away on a man like that?"
"Alara has always been a passionate witch, sometimes her passions have taken her in unexpected directions."
"Yes, but she'd never followed her heart so far off the trail that her head couldn't follow it. Is he slipping love potion in her tea?"
Flitwick snorted as he walked over to her. "No. And if you're asking me to explain the ways of the human heart, you've come to the wrong man."
"Unless I'm mistaken, I haven't come to you. You've come to me." She scowled, concerned that Filius was about to take Alara's side in their fight. "Why did you come to find me?"
He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small box, "Fudge Fly?"
Rachel looked down at the box and smiled as she whispered. "I love Fudge Flies."
"You didn't think that I'd forgotten, did you?" Flitwick smiled as she took the box. "You ate three whole boxes of them after your first game as co-Captain the Quidditch team during your fifth year. You sat in my office and cried."
"We got massacred by Hufflepuff. Talk about embarrassing."
Flitwick nodded. "You were so upset that you wanted to quit the team."
"But you talked me out of it." Rachel slid a fly in her mouth, allowing the bitter outer shell to bite her tongue. "You said Alara and I just needed time to work out the details of the new chapter in our lives. And the very next game we utterly slaughtered Slytherin."
Flitwick smiled, "Ravenclaw didn't lose another game for the remainder of your time at Hogwarts. A winning streak that still stands to this day. Most satisfying."
Rachel laughed. "It was pretty sweet, wasn't it?" She turned serious again as she popped another fudge fly in her mouth. "And then we grew up. And I guess we grew apart."
He walked over to the steps leading up to the platform where the main telescope stood and sat down on the first step. "You haven't grown apart, like the Quidditch team, you just haven't worked out all the details of this new chapter in your lives out yet."
"Severus Snape isn't the sort 'detail' we're likely to work out." Rachel sat down next to him.
"You were a second year when Voldemort fell the first time. You remember how school celebrated?"
Rachel chuckled at the memory. "A day off classes, and the biggest feast the Great Hall has ever seen. Everyone wore scarlet and gold ribbons for a week in memory of Lily and James Potter."
"And you now know that Severus..." Filius urged her on.
"He was devastated over Lily's death," Rachel answered quietly. "He was suffering in the midst of a party."
"And he couldn't let on because Albus knew even then that Voldemort would come back and that Severus would need to resume his role of double agent. You're a healer, what kind of damage does that do to a man?" Filius asked.
Rachel had no answer.
"I remember week of his trial. Like everyone else in our world, I looked forward to his conviction and permanent imprisonment. I followed it in the paper of course, and even with the Veritaserum I didn't believe a word of his testimony. He'd lied so perfectly to us for so many years. Then Harry Potter testified in his defense and Minerva and I both sat up and took notice. She left for his trial the next day. Merlin only knows how she got a seat in the gallery but she did, and the next thing I knew he was climbing out of her carriage back here at Hogwarts looking as moody and closed as ever, if not more-so now that a man of such privacy had undergone public humiliation." Flitwick shook his tiny head. "Looking back on it now, I can only imagine how his heart was pounding at the thought of having to see all of us again after what happened."
"So the truth comes out and everything is just forgiven? Professor, he killed Headmaster Dumbledore! He bullied Harry Potter. Neville Longbottom visits his parents at St Mungo's and he still won't even talk about Snape."
Flitwick shook his head. "Rachel, forgiveness is a potion that heals yourself, not the other wizard. Now that we know the truth about why he did what he did, the wisest thing to do is to look at him in the light of truth. He made a vow to protect Potter no matter what the cost, and the cost turned out to be immense. It was a razor's edge that he danced on, and Voldemort almost killed him for it. Now, even with Alara there are days I think that Severus wishes he'd succeeded. He's a lonely, bitter man and there's no denying it. But that is his prison, not ours."
Rachel moped as she leaned back on the stairs. "And now it's Alara's."
"Maybe. Maybe not. In some ways, they are surprisingly well suited to each other. I've been watching her closely since I found out, she seems content, not imprisoned."
"Are you mad Professor? You just said yourself he's a bitter man."
"Rachel, you're thinking emotionally, not rationally. Both of them fought in the war, both of them saw things and both of them have blood on their hands. Both of them lost the love of their lives, and both are wounded warriors who need healing. For whatever reasons, they have found healing in each other."
Rachel sat up in shock at Flitwick's assertion and the darkness of the astronomy tower hid the color draining from her face. "Blood... are you telling me Alara has killed?"
Flitwick considered his next words carefully. "I don't know for certain, she hasn't talked about it, at least not with me. But there are certain signs. It was war, and though their intentions were peaceful their enemies often weren't."
Rachel's emotions swirled both stunned at the suggestion and the realization that it may well be true. She wanted to deny it with every cell of her being. "Harry Potter didn't kill anyone, Voldemort killed himself when his curse backfired-- both times."
Flitwick sighed. "Rachel, we can't compare everyone to Harry Potter. He was.... he is an extraordinary wizard. He's unique in our world and had he not succeeded, you and I would not be here having Fudge Flies and trying to make sense of the past. We owe him more than any of us will ever be able to repay. But he is unique, and we can't forget that. We can't expect everyone else to live up to his legacy: it's just not possible."
"I... she.... she's never once let on."
"Some people, like you, have your wounds on the outside. People like Alara, they have their wounds on the inside. People like Severus bury their wounds so deep inside that they never really heal."
"She's my best friend...." Rachel whispered. "She's the sister I never had..."
"And Severus Snape never was your favorite professor. So your reaction to Alara's wartime actions is different than your reaction to Severus' wartime actions. Alara is a hero, and few people question war heroes. Severus is not a hero. So he is fair game."
"That's not fair." Rachel said before she thought about it. Did she just defend Severus Snape?
"War never is." Flitwick squeaked. "Especially a civil war. You know everyone you kill, and it wounds you in ways that you can't forsee."
"I should have been here for it." Rachel said bringing her thoughts back to her bestie. "I never should have fled to France, I never should have left her here to fight for my freedom. She took all the risk, I sat in France being useless."
"Useless??!? You seriously expect me to think of you as useless??" Filius pulled out a second box of Fudge Flies. "Since the infamous Hufflepuff game has come up, let's put this into Quidditch terms. Harry Potter was the Seeker. As long as he didn't have his goal, the war went on. When he achieved his goal, the war ended."
Rachel nodded, "And the two Beaters- they'd have been the Order of the Phoenix and Dumbledore's Army. They were strong: powerful. They protected the Seeker and gave the enemy their fair share of bruises."
Filius smiled that his protégé was keeping up. "Meanwhile, the Sussex 500 or the Manchester Mongrels, they were the Chasers. They fought and they tangled over the least powerful of the balls in the game, and the least powerful of the people in the war. It was ugly, it was bloody and it was brutal. But what was at stake was of no less importance than the Snitch because you can capture the Snitch and still lose the game."
"And I don't fit in there anywhere," Rachel sagged. "I just hung in the background waiting to pick up the pieces."
"Is that what a Keeper does? Just hang around?" Filius sat up as he demanded. "Who was the last line of defense? Who had THREE goals to protect while being threatened by Bludgers and an opposing team? When Alara and the others failed, whose job was it to succeed? And if you don't mind me saying so, have you looked at yourself? You're so slim that a five kilometer wind could blow you all the way to Dufftown: yet you wore all that heavy Quidditch equipment and you allowed the fewest scores of any Keeper in Ravenclaw History. You seriously think I'm going to believe that you were useless? You think for one moment you were useless in France? Is that why young Miss Winsgate practically knocked you over the minute you walked into the hospital wing this afternoon? Is that why Michael Carter knew that you were the witch to call when this curse broke out? Because you were just hanging around being useless?"
"Alara knew I didn't belong in the fight."
"You couldn't be more wrong. When push came to shove, the first thing Alara did was get the you to a place where you could hold the last line of defense because she knew that there was no one better suited to defend against the onslaught. She knew that no one was better equipped to heal bodies and minds, and re-unite families. She knew it then, and she knows it now."
"I guess so. It's just not terribly glorious."
Filius snorted. "Battle glory is for the Gryffindors. And believe me, the way Rita Skeeter has gone after Alara, she's wishing her role in the war was a whole lot less glorious."
Rachel thought for a moment, smiled then cocked her head in curiosity as his wisdom sank in. "So she was offense, I was defense, what were you?"
"Proud Papa to you both. Which I believe answers the question of why I came to you. A papa has an instinct for a child who is in pain. And I don't care that you've graduated and gone on to better things. You are still a Ravenclaw, and you are still one of mine." Filius held out a tiny arm and motioned her in.
Rachel leaned into him as she slid another Fudge Fly in her mouth, savoring the flavor as the bitter dark shell gave way to the sweet caramel beneath. It was the answer she needed. Somehow, Professor Flitwick always had the answer she needed. "I guess I still need my Ravenclaw Papa."
He held onto his wizarding child and looked out into the sky as the stars began to peek through the clouds. "You'll figure this out. You always do."
Just off the left corridor of the seventh floor, behind the tapestry of Barnabas the Barmy, the students of Slytherin House dreamt of returning home from their temporary barracks in the Room of Requirement. Quickly conjured curtains of silver and green separated out the dormitory rooms for however long their exile might last. Make-shift cots, many left over from the Battle of Hogwarts, held the precious children that slept within its safe confines.
House-elves, ever devoted to their duties, padded softly about the room dusting the temporary tables and chairs that made up their new common area, carefully avoiding a large Slytherin House crest that Peter Stewart had quickly painted and hung over the central fire place, because it was still wet with the oils he had used.
Many floors below them, the hallways were deserted and lonely. Even the Prefects on their usual patrols avoided the Slytherin Hallway, lest anyone get too close to the curse which was quarantined behind three levels of protection.
So nobody knew.
As Minerva wished Severus luck at the castle gate and watched him apparate off into the night, nobody knew that down in the dungeons the magical anchor the staff had so carefully mapped out began to glow and smolder.
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