He had traveled for three days like this, only stopping briefly behind bars and pubs such as the Hanged Man a couple of miles away to see what he could rummage from the trash barrels. His stomach rumbled quietly -- the two bites of hamburger, old potatoes, two rats and a squirrel didn't fill him very much over these past days, but food would have to wait. He ignored the rumblings as he crept quietly up to the hill.
But as he got closer, Sirius realized there was something wrong. Where was the house? he wondered. The Riddle mansion was supposed to be on the large hill, just past the graveyard.
Padfoot's sensitive canine nose sniffed the air. Burned wood, he deduced. It was faint; whatever had been set ablaze had long since burnt up, and the fire was several days dead. He cautiously padded up the hill, eyes constantly scanning his surroundings. It was too quiet -- the place should be crawling with Death Eaters!
A noise behind him! Sirius looked around sharply, hackles raised. But he didn't see anything lurking behind the tombstones; nothing was moving in the tall grass growing unchecked in the cemetery. Sirius sniffed the air again, then turned and continued up the hill. The burning smell, tinged with a musty odor from dampness, age, and the pre-morning dew, was growing stronger ... and when Sirius finally reached the top of the hill, he saw why.
A smoking crater yawned before him, a black and smoking pit where once had stood the large, fine house, Padfoot remembered. Traces of charred lumber, furniture, plaster, stone, and other fire-scorched materials were mixed with newly-turned earth and partially filled in what had formerly been the foundation of the house. What used to be the old gardener’s house also was gone; only a black, smoking hole remained where it once stood.
Sirius wanted to transform and tear out his hair in frustration. The Riddle house was gone. And so was Severus. He was too late.
Dumbledore is definitely not going to like this development, Sirius thought. For the Animagus had a pretty good idea where the Dark Lord had moved his base of operations. And if he was right, it meant that Dumbledore and his allies had been tricked and used by someone they thought they could trust.
Sirius leaped aside just in time to avoid the jet of green light which came hurtling in his direction. He looked around and saw to his horror that he was surrounded on all sides by five Death Eaters. The canine growled and leapt for the nearest one, who dodged and sent a fireball in Padfoot's direction. The hairs on his head and back were singed, and Sirius recoiled at the heat. He received a glancing blow to the shoulder from a lightning bolt.
"Get him," one of the Death Eaters said. His voice was young, but hollow-sounding, and it gave Sirius chills. "That's the Animagus that was sneaking around here a few months ago!"
Sirius frantically looked for a way to escape, but the Death Eaters approached ever closer, wands out, shrinking the circle. Now what? he thought frantically, dodging another Death Curse. Voldemort may have packed up and left, but he had left a skeleton crew behind for last-minute work, Sirius realized. Work such as killing unwanted intruders.
Then Sirius heard a low "boom" sound, and he had to scramble to keep his footing. The other Death Eaters were knocked off their feet by a powerful tremor. A large, jagged chasm split the ground less than four feet from Sirius' right, and he slowly backed away from it on four trembling legs.
"Run, you bloomin' idiot! RUN!" Sirius heard a familiar, gravelly voice roar out. He turned towards the cemetery and saw Alastor Moody, wand in hand, his one eye fixed on the Death Eaters, who were beginning to regain their feet, and his other eye whirling rapidly. Sirius bolted through the center of the graveyard as Moody unleashed a flurry of Stupefy spells. But when the noises became more distant, the canine started to double back. It was exceedingly dangerous to stay, now that he had been spotted and recognized by the enemy, but he did not want to leave the paranoid ex-Auror all alone. He looked around, changed into his human form, drew his wand, and ran back using the tombstones for cover.
Ahead of him, the sounds of battle suddenly stopped, and there was an ominous silence. Sirius approached with extreme caution. Either Moody had taken care of the Death Eaters ... or they had taken care of him.
Then he heard voices, muffled by the distance.
Uh oh, Sirius thought, pricking up his ears, and he hastened his steps.
"...lost the cur, but Lord Voldemort will be most pleased by this one's capture," Sirius heard one voice say. It was low and cold and dead-sounding.
"Yes, very pleased indeed." Another voice, higher, a female's voice perhaps, but with that same cold monotone sound.
Sirius quickly transformed back into a dog and crept near enough to see something that nearly made his heart stop.
Alastor Moody was on the ground, unconscious, his head bleeding. The five Death Eaters surrounded him, three of whom which seemed to have suffered injuries. He went down fighting, all right, Padfoot thought, but he was saddened. Sirius could have seen the two of them possibly taking on five, with the older wizard's superior magic capabilities and Black's agility. But one against five?
No, seven. Sirius had to dodge behind a tombstone to miss detection by two more Death Eaters, who joined the other five around the prone form of Moody.
"Did you catch it?" one of the newcomers asked, a tall, stocky figure.
"No," replied another. "But we caught him instead. Alastor Moody, the great Auror."
"Moody? Hmmm ... this is indeed good news. Suppose Lord Voldemort will want to give him the Dementor's Kiss?"
"Definitely. Yes, let's take him to Lord Voldemort."
"These three have been hurt," said another of the Death Eaters to the stocky Death Eater, the apparent leader.
The stocky Death Eater nodded. "So I see, the fools. Kill them and dispose of them quickly. We don't have time to treat them now, and we can't leave them behind with Dumbledore's people prowling around. We are already overdue at Durmstrang. His Lordship will be most inconvenienced as it is." He turned to another Death Eater. "Are the Portkeys ready?"
"Yes, they are ready, Verrill," said the Death Eater, the woman again. "They are just over there, where the garden used to be. We are the only ones who remain, and our work is done. And Lord Voldemort will love his little gift."
The other Death Eaters laughed nastily, a bone-chilling and soulless sound. Sirius shivered as one of the Death Eaters -- the woman -- coldly dispatched the three injured Death Eaters with three cruelly precise Avada Kedavras, and the three fell soundless to the ground.
"Sepulcrum," she incanted. The three dead Death Eaters were enveloped in a translucent amber-like substance. The ground opened beneath their bodies, and they quickly disappeared underneath the surface.
"Let's clear out," the stocky Death Eater commanded. "You two." He pointed to the tallest Death Eaters. "Grab the Auror."
The remaining Death Eaters, two carrying the still-unconscious Moody, marched over to the ground between where the mansion and gardener’s house once stood. Each Death Eater picked up something off the ground -- Sirius couldn't make out what -- and disappeared.
Sirius closed his eyes in horror. He wanted to scream. Alastor Moody, gone. And all because of him.
He saved my life, he thought, his mind spinning. That old codger saved my life, but gave up his own life!
Sirius changed back into his dog form and ran back to town as fast as his legs could carry him. He dearly hoped he could find a wizard's house. Unfortunately, none of Dumbledore's inner circle lived nearby ... and he had to get back to Fletcher's. Fast.
Through the back alleys and up and down the neighborhood streets Padfoot went, looking for a sign of magic. Finally, he saw what he was looking for: an older, non-descript home at the end of an alley, dark grey in color with black shutters. It was surrounded by hidden wards and charms. The home looked completely dark, too. Either no one was home, or everyone was asleep.
Sirius looked around carefully, then changed back into human form. He tried to keep his hands from shaking as he undid the magically sealed lock on the front door with his wand. No difficult alarms, thank goodness, Sirius thought as he unlocked the door and crept inside. The fireplace was just 10 feet to his right, even better luck -- he wouldn't have to search for it. Now, let's just hope no one is home, and that this isn't a hermit who only uses the fireplace for cooking.
Once again, fortune smiled on Sirius. On the mantle he spied a jar covered with paintings of lotus flowers. Upon closer inspection, he was pleased to discover that the jar contained Floo powder. Sirius took one more glance around before stepping into the fireplace.
"Mundungus Fletcher!" he said as he dropped the Floo powder. Suddenly, he felt as if he were flying down a series of tunnels, past several grates. Soon he was diving head-first from Fletcher's fireplace, shaking the soot from his shabby-looking robes.
"You are lucky I didn't have that lit, you reckless youngster," Fletcher said grumpily. "Barging in here like this! Well, what happened?"
"Had to get back here fast," Sirius panted. "Broke into some wizard’s house and used the Floo Network."
Fletcher's eyebrows shot up. "I hope you made some effort to cover your tracks," he said. "If anyone got suspicious ...."
"No one saw me go," Sirius said testily. "I didn't have time to cover my tracks, as you put it. We're just going to have to hope that the Ministry was napping and they don't check the Network use too closely."
Mundungus rolled his eyes. "One of these days, you are going to break into a home and come face to face with a guard dog, or worse--a griffin or sphinx! Then what will you do?"
"I'll turn and run the other way. Fast," Sirius replied without blinking an eye.
Fletcher frowned. "Well, what happened?" he inquired irritably.
"I'll tell you when I tell Dumbledore," Sirius said as he took a handful of Floo powder from Fletcher's jar on the mantle and tossed the grains in. "Albus Dumbledore. Albus? Are you there? It's important!"
"Yes, I'm here, and I must say, I was seriously beginning to wonder if I'd ever hear your voice again!" Dumbledore's face and shoulders appeared in Fletcher's fireplace. "What on earth did you think you were doing, Sirius?"
Sirius turned and glared an accusation at Fletcher. Fletcher shrugged.
"He was asking about you when he was looking for a guide for some refugees," Fletcher explained mildly. "So I told him where you were. I had to."
Sirius turned back to the fireplace. "I wanted to see if I could find Snape," he said flatly. "But the Riddle mansion is gone. Burnt to the ground, leveled, buried. The only thing left was a skeleton crew of Death Eaters. The rest are at Durmstrang. I overheard them talking. I narrowly escaped, but Alastor Moody," Sirius stopped, his voice choking up. "Moody, he saved my life, but ... Albus, why did you send him after me?"
"I didn't send him or even ask him to go. He insisted on going. I tried to talk him out of it, but he wouldn't listen to me. He's as bad as you are about listening to reason."
"So what happened, Sirius? Where is Alastor? Is he...?"
"He's gone," Sirius confirmed flatly. "As good as dead. The Death Eaters used Portkeys to get themselves to Durmstrang, and they took Moody with them. I heard them -- they are planning on feeding him to the Dementors. I overheard something about a Dementor's Kiss."
Albus closed his eyes for several seconds, overwhelmed with grief.
"This is terrible," he finally whispered. "He was the best of us. And this proves, unfortunately, what we've suspected for the last few days now. Adolpho Adlar has betrayed us."
"What are we going to do?" Sirius asked.
Dumbledore sighed. "I'm going to send Hagrid with a message to the giants, asking them if they can come sooner so we can get those caves cleared out. We'll sit tight for a while, but once we get word that Bulgaria has fallen -- and I suspect it will come any time now -- we start calling people in to hide and regroup. We are going to be very busy this summer, I'm afraid. I'm going to need every able-bodied wizard to serve as conductors. What's that, Minerva?" Dumbledore turned and looked as if he were calling over his shoulder. Then he turned back. "And there’s another development which you probably haven’t heard about yet. An owl has just arrived with a message. Karkaroff is here."
"Karkaroff???" Sirius and Fletcher chorused.
"The first of what will likely be many refugees," Dumbledore said dryly. "He owled us three days ago, requesting asylum."
"And you trust him enough to grant it?" Sirius growled.
"Frankly, no, not entirely. But I think he should have at least one more chance to redeem himself," Dumbledore replied mildly. "I must attend to this matter immediately. And Sirius, what you did was exceedingly foolish, but...I think Severus would have appreciated the fact that you tried."
"I'm sorry about Moody," Sirius replied softly.
"So am I..." Dumbledore said quietly with a swallow and a quick glance away before popping out of sight.
The Hogwarts professors were gathered in the staff lounge, exchanging dark looks and mutterings as they stared at the newcomer in their midst. Igor Karkaroff wore blood-red, fur-lined robes that to have called well-traveled would have been a polite understatement. His silvery hair and goatee, well-trimmed the last time they saw him during the Triwizard Tournament, had become ill-kept and shaggy. His eyes darted nervously around the room.
"All of you here, except Professor Deveroux, already know Igor Karkaroff," Dumbledore said as he gestured towards the nervous-looking wizard. "The former headmaster of Durmstrang Institute. He brings us news from Bulgaria, and has come to us seeking asylum."
The teachers gave Karkaroff looks that ranged from thinly veiled suspicion to outright hostility.
"Igor, allow me to introduce the staff to refresh your memory," Dumbledore said, trying to ignore the looks. He gestured to his left first. "Minerva McGonagall, deputy headmistress and Transfigurations; Professor Flitwick, Charms; Professor Hyacinth Sprout, Herbology; Professor Aurellia Deveroux, our newest teacher, Defense Against the Dark Arts...."
"Ahh yes, I wondered who the lovely young lady was," Karkaroff said, his nervous expression adopting the smooth, silky manner the other staff was more familiar with. "A rose among the thistles, to be certain. A pleasure, madam," he said with a courtly nod.
"Always thought him a smarmy bloke," Madam Hooch murmured to Professor Sinistra as Deveroux folded her arms across her chest and gave Karkaroff a glacial glare. Karkaroff glanced away nervously.
Dumbledore hastily made the other introductions, then stood up, his expression grave.
"I have some deeply troubling news for all of you," the headmaster announced sadly. "A few days ago, Sirius Black and Alastor Moody went to Little Hangleton to check out rumors they had heard about Death Eater activity there. They had hoped to find some news of Professor Snape, whom we currently believe to be a prisoner of the Dark Lord. Unfortunately, in the course of their investigations, they were discovered and attacked by a group of Death Eaters. Alastor Moody was captured."
The staff gave a collective gasp of horror.
"Sirius managed to escape," Dumbledore continued, "But he overheard the Death Eaters talk about turning Moody over to the dementors. Sirius also told me that the Riddle mansion has apparently been destroyed, burnt to the ground. The Death Eaters have gone to Voldemort's other strongholds, mainly to Bulgaria, to ... to Durmstrang."
"But Adolpho Adlar said he was on our side!" Flitwick squeaked out. "He promised he would fight! He...."
"Has betrayed you, all of you," Karkaroff interrupted. "He bears the Mark...as do I. But unlike myself, he has eagerly, willingly gone back to He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named."
"Oh, I saw this happening," Professor Trelawney groaned. "I saw in my crystal ball that Adlar was evil to the core, that he had never left his master, that he would betray us all."
"How nice of you to share that information with the rest of the class, Sibyll," McGonagall said acidly. "Now why didn't you tell us about your latest mystical insight before?"
"Ah," Trelawney exclaimed with a theatrical tone in her wispy voice, "the fates foretold that I would not need to, for a messenger would come to us bearing this most unwelcome news. And behold, he has arrived!" She smiled disarmingly at Karkaroff.
Karkaroff smiled back uncertainly and tentatively nodded. Well, at least somebody likes me, even if it is only the village idiot, he seemed to be thinking.
“Where have you been all this time, Karkaroff?” Dumbledore asked pointedly. “Obviously, you haven’t been hiding at Durmstrang. How have you managed to remain hidden?”
The former Durmstrang headmaster licked his lips nervously. “After I left Hogwarts, I headed to Xanthi, Greece, to ask for refugiu from Lady Ilantha in one of her colonies. She granted this, and sent me to one of her smaller holdings near Galati in Romania. The vampires would provide me shelter and protection at night in exchange for my magical capabilities in the daytime. A handful of other wizards like myself, served as day-time pickets and sentries for the colony. I never learned who the other wizards were, for we rarely spoke to one another. To this day I have no idea how or why they were there.
“But no more than three weeks after my arrival, we were attacked, overwhelmed. The Galati colony was destroyed, and only a handful escaped to a larger nearby colony. But the fates seemed against me. I would no sooner settle somewhere than the place where I was staying would be attacked and destroyed. I finally found myself in Chervenbreg, in the heart of Ilantha’s Bulgarian territories, where I hoped, at last, to be safe. And so I was, for about two months ….”
“We heard of Chervenbreg’s fall,” Dumbledore said.
“After that, I went again to Xanthi with the survivors to plead my case before Ilantha,” Karkaroff continued. “I had hoped to gain admittance to one of her secret strongholds for I heard that she had begun to evacuate all but two of her colonies and was taking her people to some unknown refuge. However, her suspicion fell on me, and I was coldly turned away, with a warning that should I ever fall into her hands again, she would not deal so leniently with me. That’s when I sent you my letter, Headmaster Dumbledore. I have nowhere else to turn.”
Dumbledore remained silent, his hands clasped before him, for several minutes before responding.
“What do you know about teaching Potions?” he asked softly.
Karkaroff nodded eagerly. “I’ve done some teaching in that field. I specialize in volcanic acid, Vitamuere, Forever Fallen, Hypnotia, Mortgona’s Wrath, Belladonna…” Karkaroff’s voice trailed off as he looked uneasily around the room. Several sets of eyes stared coldly at him.
“I was thinking of more practical potions,” Dumbledore said, trying to keep his tone even. “Shrinking and engorgement mixtures. Fertilizers. Recuare.”
Karkaroff waved his hand dismissively. “It has been some years, but if your young students are up to the task, then I am sure that I can assist.”
“Why do I have a bad feeling about this?” Hooch whispered to Sinistra. The astronomy teacher tsked and nodded.
“Do any of you have any objections to granting Mr. Karkaroff refuge at Hogwarts?” Dumbledore asked.
Several of the staff exchanged uneasy looks. Deveroux, McGonagall and Hooch glared at the former Durmstrang headmaster, but no one spoke.
“Very well,” Dumbledore said. “In that case, Karkaroff, you may stay here as long as you abide by our rules….”
“Oh, but of course, Headmaster!” Karkaroff said, his features relaxing in relief. “Whatever you say! I am eternally in your debt…”
“I want to give you a chance to settle in,” Dumbledore said. “I know you’ve been here before, but there are some things that have changed in the meantime. I would like for you to start teaching in two weeks. I don’t want any more time than that going by without instruction in the subject.”
“Two weeks is very generous,” Karkaroff gushed. “That should not be a problem.”
“Good. Is there any other business that needs addressed?” Dumbledore asked. No one spoke. “Very well. You are dismissed. Professor Karkaroff, would you care to follow me to the dungeons and the potions rooms?”
“Certainly,” Karkaroff said, then he turned to Aurellia. “Miss Deveroux,” he purred. “I’m certain you know your way around the school. I would be delighted if you would join us….”
Karkaroff unconsciously took a couple of steps back at the intensity of the Defense teacher’s glare.
“You are in good hands with the Headmaster,” Aurellia said frostily. “I have other responsibilities that require my attention. Good evening.”
Karkaroff stared as Aurellia left the staff room.
“Is she … well?” Karkaroff asked. “She seems upset about something.”
“We are all upset, Igor,” Dumbledore said pointedly. “We have just lost a long-time staff member. Professor Deveroux is taking it especially hard.”
“Of course,” Karkaroff said idly. “Professor Snape used to teach potions at this school. He had other unofficial duties as well, duties which may have aroused the Dark Lord’s anger, no? I have heard the rumors about an attack here several days ago; was he the one attacked?”
Dumbledore nodded and said, “You know what has happened here, Igor, and you are taking advantage of the situation. Do not pretend otherwise.”
Karkaroff shrugged. “I do not know a great deal. Yet I am forced to admit, albeit reluctantly, that your tragedy has indeed worked to my advantage.”
“I suggest that do not attempt to press your advantage with Professor Deveroux or the rest of the staff for that matter. You have been welcomed here with considerable reluctance and misgiving,” Dumbledore warned. “I have persuaded the others to forgive your past deeds in light of your present hardships. I hope that you will not give me cause to regret my decision.”
“Of course not, Headmaster,” Karkaroff said smoothly. “Please forgive my indiscretion with regards to Professor Deveroux. I forget myself from time to time particularly in a place such as this where I used to command considerable…respect. Less than a year ago I was the headmaster of my own fine institution, and I came to Hogwarts in a position equal to your own. Now I am a fugitive, a vagabond, entirely dependent upon the charity of others. And yet, as you have reminded me, my present circumstances could be a great deal worse. My condolences on the loss of your Potions professor.”
“Follow me, please,” Dumbledore replied curtly, and he and Karkaroff left the room and headed for the dungeons.
“By the way,” Karkaroff oozed as they walked, “Who have you chosen to replace Professor Snape as the Head of your Slytherin House?”
"You have killed me! Just as surely as if you had poured Blacklotus Nacre down my throat! In fact, I wish you had!"
Aurellia woke with a start, blinked away tears, tried to shake off the memory of that voice....
Get out of my dreams, she thought. I have no more sympathy for you. I don't care what you went through, what you're going through now if you're not dead! You killed my brother, destroyed my people, you monster! Go away and leave me in peace!
But the voice persisted...
There are fates far worse than death. It is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of Lord Voldemort....
I don't care, thought Aurellia. I hope you get a taste of what you put my little brother through, you git! I'm not your Watcher anymore! I wish I'd never met you! I wish I'd never come here!
Her hand automatically went to the locket on its chain, but the locket seemed colder and emptier than ever tonight now that Kiro's hair was gone, and Snape was either dead already or beyond hope of rescue, and the only hair left that mattered to her anymore was her own. She Mindcast the incantation, waved a hand over the locket, and pulled out the small lock of Snape's black hair. Again she thought of getting out of bed, walking to the fireplace with it, and dropping it into the flames. But instead she merely propped herself against the pillows and numbly studied the greasy strands of hair.
Where are you tonight, I wonder? she thought to the voice in her memories. Are you chained up in some dark dungeon somewhere suffering the same tortures you once inflicted on my family? Are you begging your master for mercy, or are you giving him the same stubborn silent routine you used to use on me when you didn’t want to talk? Are you even still alive? Are you a mind-controlled thrall like Fluffy? Like Luk?
A tear slid down her face and splashed onto her white nightgown.
Why did you do it, Snape? Why did you kill my people? Why did you join Voldemort and the Death Eaters? Why did you try so hard to be like them? Why did you listen to Voldemort's lies? Did you think that the evil destructive power he offered would solve all of your problems? Or that spreading your pain around to others would somehow lessen your own? Or were you always cruel and heartless like them, and I only saw in you what I wanted to see?
Why didn't you tell me after the duel about what you did to my people? Why did you make me care about you?
Snape awoke suddenly out of a light doze, shivering in the cold night air and blinking sleep from his dark eyes. It was still deep winter in the Balkan Mountains, and the bitter late-March winds howled down from the snowy peaks and through the snow-laden fir and skeletal deciduous trees with callous, unrelenting fury. How far he had travelled in such a short time from the warmth of Hogwarts' fireplaces and cheery halls and corridors! But the cruel and bitter mountain air was only a minor inconvenience, for Snape had endured the loneliness and the cold before. In fact, he'd learned to thrive on it before they had come along and turned his life inside-out and upside-down.
Lily ... and then Aurellia. He wondered if Aurellia, like Lily, had already found someone else and forgotten all about him.
"Aurellia?" he whispered into the chill darkness. But there was no reply.
What am I doing here? he wondered. I have to get out of here! I must go back!
His chains rattled mockingly as he tried to stand and found that he could only stoop beside the stake where they had shackled him. The manacles were painfully tight, and the chains were too short to allow him to rise to his full height.
Well, Apparating was definitely out, and so was his secret ability. It was necessary to stand in the proper position in order to cast those spells. Furthermore, the chains were wizard chains, the same kind of chains the Ministry used in its courtrooms and holding cells and prison ships. Wizard chains kept one weak and rendered one incapable of using magic to escape them. However, it was deep into the late-March night. It was the hour when werewolves howled, and banshees shrieked, and vampires hunted silently in the moonlight. And most wizard chains were not made with half-vampires in mind...
Snape pulled on the chains with all his might, and he struggled in vain for a few moments to work the stake loose. But it wouldn't budge. Apparently they had cast a powerful anchoring charm on it. There was probably an unbreakable charm on the chains too. Mulciber was no fool, Snape thought, sitting back down in despair with the chains clinking around him. Indeed, Merlin was as thorough as Snape had once been, and Snape decided that he very much disliked the taste of his own potions when he was the one drinking them!
It was then that the true gravity of his situation began to sink in, and Snape thought back to Voldemort’s cynical words about Samson and Delilah, and fools who believed in love and romance. Deciding that he felt very much like a shorn and shackled Samson, Snape very much regretted having let Delilah get too close and learn too much about him. Women! he thought bitterly. I always knew they would be the death of me, one way or another.
But I thought that maybe just this once it would be worth the price.
"Aurellia!" he cried, "Aurellia..." But his breath blew away into the harsh uncaring night in ephemeral puffs of vapor.
"Help..." he whispered.
The only reply was creak of barren tree limbs and the keening of the bitter March winds.
Two nights later, Aurellia again lay awake in the wee hours of the morning with the tattered remnants of a nightmare about Snape on her mind. In the dream she had been a child again, and he had been standing there in the doorway of the Elvin house of her childhood, wearing the hood and robe and long black cloak that all the Death Eaters had worn that night. But the mask was missing, and he was looking down on her with those strange glittery black eyes and an expression of sorrow on his face. In the dream, she had put her hands over her mouth to stifle a scream, and she had glanced over at the fireplace where she thought she might have seen the faces of her parents in the flames, but it had been so long ago since she had last seen them that she was not sure.
She looked back at the doorway and saw that Snape had entered the room and had reached out a hand. He was saying something, but she couldn't make out whether it was that he was sorry or that he needed help. She glared hatefully at him, then looked at the floor in front of his feet, and there lay the small lifeless body of little Kiro. And there was silver blood pooled on the floor around the little Elvin boy, and she looked up to see the blood on Snape's hands as well.
"Get out you monster!" she had shouted in the dream. "I hate you! I hope Voldemort kills you!"
And with tears in his eyes Snape slowly lowered his arm and turned away, leaving Kiro broken and cold and alone on the floor behind him.
Heedless of the blood, Aurellia ran over to her little brother, and cradled him in her arms, and closed her eyes and wept. "I should have been there for you," she lamented over and over. "I should never have let your hand slip away from mine that night. I was supposed to be watching you, and I failed! And they killed you! And it's my fault! It's my fault!" Then she opened her eyes, and she found to her horror that it was no longer Kiro she was holding.
It was Snape. And he was dead too.
"It is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of Lord Voldemort," said Luk's voice from above and behind her.
Aurellia turned and jumped up joyfully. "Luk!" she exclaimed happily.
But her cousin had his wand out and a crazed, violent expression on his face. His eyes were empty, hollow.
"Luk? What are you doing?" she asked, shaking with fear, "Put down the wand and let's talk."
"I'm sorry, Ari," he said quietly. "I'm so sorry." Then he turned the wand on her...
And Aurellia had awakened screaming.
One simply does not roll right over and go back to sleep after one has a nightmare like that. Aurellia stared at the vaulted ceiling for what seemed like hours, thinking about the images in the dream and what they all meant. Finally, when she couldn't stand the silence and the pain any longer, she threw off her covers, put on her slippers, summoned her wand, threw her long grey cloak over her nightgown, and went for another midnight walk through the strange, complex, winding, and constantly changing halls and stairwells of Hogwarts.
It was getting to be quite a habit these last three nights, the nightmares and the aimless wanderings. And it was always a bit of an eerie surprise as to where Aurellia's wandering feet would take her.
The first night after Snape’s disappearance, she had ended up at the base of Trelawney's tower in the planetarium where thousands of magically lit stars glittered day and night in a miniature nighttime sky. The stars had been in their proper positions for this time of year, yet they had been slightly out of alignment for the sky as it appeared to Hogwarts' residents. In fact, their placement had suggested a somewhat more southerly latitude. Aurellia had made a mental note to herself to ask Sibyll and Sinistra sometime about what their students were currently studying, and she had even considered having her fortune told, just to make Trelawney's day. But by the next day she'd changed her mind about the whole incident, thinking that it would be better not to mention her sleepwalking to anyone, especially not to Trelawney, who would almost certainly say that it was a sign of impending doom.
The very next night she'd found herself in a dusty, little-used corridor filled with paintings both magical and normal. She had heard that Hogwarts had several small galleries and alcoves like this, but had never bothered to seek them out after that first week of explorations. She had been too busy trying to learn and teach at the same time, not to mention keeping an eye on Snape and battling Voldermort's legal manipulations. One of the paintings at ground level seemed to catch the light of her wand, and she stooped and looked closer and saw that it was a beautiful oil landscape of a forest with snowy mountain peaks in the background. The sky was clear and black, and speckled with stars, and in the lower altitudes, the bare branches of leafless trees stuck up here and there among the tall pines of the forest. In the foreground, there was a small clearing, and in the middle of it huddled a miserable-looking wraithlike figure all in black. She held her wand almost to the surface of the canvas and squinted at the black-robed figure as she tried to get a better look at it. And then Peeves had gone on a rampage and begun knocking the paintings off their mountings, shrieking with malevolent glee as they crashed to the floor and came loose from their frames. Aurellia had yelled at the nasty, destructive little spirit, brandished her wand, and threatened to banish him from the castle, and Peeves had reluctantly departed in huff. And when she had looked back at the oil landscape painting, the clearing and the figure in black had vanished. Shaking her head in puzzlement, she had walked away and headed back toward her room, and by morning she had all but forgotten the entire incident.
This night Aurellia came out of a bit of a daze and found herself standing outside the door to the Potions classroom. In Snape's domain. She hadn't had the slightest inclination to come down here by day since he had left, and she wondered why on earth she'd ended up here tonight. The corridors were cold, dark, and gloomy, the torches not having been lit and the fireplaces not having been stoked in nearly a week. A quick check with her wand revealed that the door was indeed locked, enchanted and warded. No students were going to sneak in here to steal potions supplies in Snape's absence! But Aurellia did not need to pass through doors to enter most rooms.
She held out her wand, Mindcast the wall-walking spell, Prareh Uburet, and slipped through the wall as easily as if she were Peeves or the Bloody Baron. The classroom was ice cold, even colder than the chilly corridors outside, and Snape's brooding presence was as thick here as the cobwebs in the shadowy corners of the room. Aurellia had goosebumps all up and down her arms and little prickles on the back of her neck like she used to get when she knew without looking that Snape was standing in the doorway of her classroom, staring at her. Beneath the potent silence, she could almost hear an echo of his voice. The swish of his robes. The scritch of chalk on the blackboard. The rhythm of his footsteps as he paced the aisles between the cauldrons and sneered at the hard work of the students he so loved to educate and dominate and harass, and not necessarily in that order. Perhaps it was the lack of ventilation in the room and the multitude of disgusting canned somethings along the walls, or perhaps it was the memory of some foul-odored brew rising from a dozen or so student cauldrons that gave the air a decidedly pungent and repulsive scent. Or perhaps it was some psychic residue of Snape's almost perpetually sour temperament.
Aurellia walked over to Snape's desk and looked to see if any new flowers had popped out of it in the last several days, but there were none. Perhaps now that Snape was gone, the desk would stop sprouting flowers to torment him. I was downright mean to him sometimes, she thought guiltily. I wonder why he hated flowers so? He was so enraged that day...there must have been a reason. I should have thought to ask him.
There were years of vitriolic hatred in this room, oily and calculated flattery, suspicion, sarcasm, and countless layers of sadness, and disappointment. Yet there were also occasional glimmers of delight, excitement, ambition, confidence. But it was difficult to tell whether Snape or his countless pupils had left this emotional residue, or whether it was the accumulation from years, no centuries, of other Potions masters and other Potions classes. This room was so cluttered with conflicting auras that they were difficult to sort out. The most definite thing she could decide on was that Snape had certainly been here recently and in force, and had left his indelible impression on this place.
Aurellia wondered... dare she test the wall to the adjoining office to see if it was penetrable? What would she sense in that room tonight, she wondered? Would it be Snape's rage at having been ambushed, restrained, and interrogated by his own students? Would it be his heartbroken disappointment at having trusted Aurellia, only to find that she cared no more for him than any of the others who had come and gone in his life, and had stayed just long enough to leave behind another layer of bitterness and pain? Would it be regret for the things he had done as a Death Eater? Prareh Uburet! Setting her jaw and raising her Elvin wand, Aurellia strode toward the wall that divided the classroom and the office, and walked through it.
Immediately the hairs on the back of her neck stood on end, and the goosebumps on her arms seemed to enlarge to the size of dragon eggs. Snape was here, now, watching her! She was almost sure of it! Aurellia increased the light from her wand with a powerful, mindcast Lumos Maxima, and the shadows instantly fled from the room at its brilliant glow.
"Snape?" she called softly.
She glanced around the room twice, quickly. But the dhampire was nowhere to be found.
"Where are you?" she whispered.
But there was no reply.
Even in a place filled with magical mysteries and wonders, poltergeists, ghosts, moving pictures, semi-aware suits of armor, goblins, giants, dhampires, werewolves, faeries, unicorns and other oddities and eccentricities, this was a singularly weird and creepy experience. Aurellia could swear that she'd just heard Snape calling her name, and that she wasn't imagining it, and it wasn't part of the aura he'd left behind in this room.
"I'm not your Watcher anymore," she said bitterly. "Stop calling me! Why can't you just go away and leave me alone?"
Then it occurred to her that that was exactly what he had done. Run away and left. She was the one who could not throw the lock of hair away.
Deveroux turned and fled through the wall and out of the room, leaving the voice far behind.
Yet she was pursued by so many memories of it.
"Miss Deveroux, I don't want to go down this road again. There is too much pain at the end of it."
"It is far easier to say that you are a friend than it is to be one."
"Some things, my dear, you are better off not knowing."
"You will change your mind the way others have before, and you will abandon me, and I will be alone as I always have been.
"As I always will be."
End of Chapter 42