Author's Note- Ahhh, writer's block. Good times, that... This was written in hopes of curing a colossal case of writer's block, and as I had not done any of the HPFF Challenges, it seemed like a good way to ease myself back into things. Screaming Faeries came up with the fun idea for a Lyric/Quote Drabble or Oneshot Challenge. My prompt was write a story using the following two lines of lyrics:
"High heels in her hand, swaying in the wind, oh she starts to cry, mascara running down her little bambi eyes." - This Is What Makes Us Girls by Lana Del Rey
"I need somebody and always, this sick strange darkness, comes creeping on, so haunting every time." - I Miss You by Blink 182
The lovely Muggle Jane not only beta'd this, but also provided some of the inspiration with her use of Alice Longbottom in one of her stories. This is a prequel to my larger story, 'Hallelujah'; although it can stand-alone, it gives a bit of the backstory of several key relationships. I may expand Alice's story a later date, we shall see...
Comments (even howlers) are greatly appreciated. Enjoy!
Story contains scenes of violence and references to self-harm.
5 September 1974
The black haired boy reminded Alice rather strongly of a snarling gargoyle; his face was a study in hard, angry angles, and his body was hunched protectively over a study carrel like the numerous chimera that lurked high upon the outer walls of Hogwarts. There was nothing cold or stone-like about his eyes, however. A fierce, fathomless dark brown, they snapped with vexation and clear warning as she came closer.
"Hullo. Are you Snape?" Alice smiled down at the boy- for despite his off-putting manner, he couldn't be any more than fifteen- and halted directly in front of the overloaded table. "Madame Pince said you had 'Libri Turpis Veneni' and the 'Compendium in Obscuram Miscendarum'."
"I need them," he growled in quick response, fingers tightening possessively on the open book in front of him. He glared at her, no compromise in his gaze. Daring her to assert her authority as Head Girl.
Well, the lad's got stones, I'll give him that. She had several options open to her. As a N.E.W.T-level student, she had the priority for books over the younger students. She could tell Madame Pince that he wasn't willing to share, and the formidable harridan would take an inordinate amount of pleasure in snatching the tomes away from the young Slytherin. She examined the boy for a long moment, trying to place his face among the hundreds of Hogwarts students. As Head Girl, she knew most of the students by face, if not by reputation and first-hand knowledge. She was drawing a blank on this face, however, and given his rather... strong features, she thought that she would have recalled him if they had any prior substantial interactions.
A fourth-year student, I think. Slytherin. Given the poor state of his robes, not from one of the rich pureblood families. And... she thought, scanning the titles amongst the stacks, …holds a strong interest in potions and the Dark Arts. Hmm... Like the enchanted cards that made up the library catalogue, her mind flipped through the various faces and facts about the student population until she had cross-referenced enough information to conclusively identify the boy.
Severus Snape... he's the one that's friends with that Gryffindor red-head, Lily Evans. Half-blood. Always fighting with James Potter and his lot. Very smart, I think, but a bit of a swot and perfectionist, if I remember the faculty room gossip correctly. Not a member of the Slug Club. Making up her mind, she decided to not involve Madame Pince; her need for the books wasn't dire enough, and besides, the sneering child looked like he could use a friend, or at the very least, conversation with a friendly person. After all, she wasn't just the Head Girl of the Hufflepuffs, she was Head Girl for the entire school.
"Well, no worries. I'll just take a peek at them here. I don't need to check them out or anything. I'm just doing a bit a fact-finding, really." She smiled again, trying to project reassurance and good-will. The boy blinked, looking momentarily flummoxed by her easy acquiescence. Alice almost wanted to laugh at the dismay in his eyes. Poor thing. Looks like most people are scared off by his bark.
As if sensing her thoughts, his veneer of utmost disagreeableness returned, and with a wordless snarl, he began to paw through his stacks. In quick order, he located the two books that she needed and shoved them at her. Trying hard to hide her amusement, she began to flip through the index of 'Libri Turpis Veneni'. Finding what she needed, she started to take meticulous notes.
The worked in silence for a good forty minutes. Alice could feel the boy's weighty gaze flicker covertly back and forth between his reading material and her; that he was trying to classify her she had no doubt.
His voice held the barest whiff of civility when he finally spoke. "What do you need those books for, anyway?"
So, his curiosity is greater than his antipathy. Point to me... Looking up at him, she registered the signs of incurable bookworm; the ingrained ink-stains on his fingers and the faint groove on his forehead that spoke to his constant consumption of the written word.
"I'm researching some possible avenues for my end-of-year Transfiguration Theory thesis." She wondered if her answer had been vague enough to lure him into conversation.
"But we've just started the autumn term," he said, sounding both surprised and reluctantly impressed.
"That we have." She shrugged. "But I rather enjoy research, and as I'm Head Girl, it behooves me to make sure that I give myself plenty of time to complete my course work. One never knows when the duties of my office will supersede my studies." Like right now, she thought, humour lacing her mental tone. "Besides which," she ran a finger down one stack of books. "...you're one to talk. It appears I've met a fellow bibliophile. None of these books are part of the forth-year curriculum."
He squirmed a little under her open regard. Fiddling with his quill, he spoke again. "So, what is your paper going to be on?"
"I want to do something comparing potions that either aid in the transfiguration process, or prohibit the drinker from changing."
"Have you read 'Cacher le Changement' by La Roux?" His voice broke over the French words, settling into a smooth baritone before once again shooting up into an unvarnished treble.
"Yes, although my French is so terrible it took me half the summer to read it."
"Oh. Do you want to do a Mastery in Transfiguration like Professor McGonagall, then?"
Alice shook her head. "No. I want to be an Auror."
The boy stiffened, and she watched the curiosity in his expression abruptly die out. "I've never known a Hufflepuff to be one for the books," he jeered with cold precision.
Oh, you poor child. So full of anger, she thought. No wonder you have no friends other than that Gryffindor girl. You must have quite the reputation for a cutting tongue. "Brains in a Hufflepuff are no more misplaced than courage and loyalty in a Slytherin."
He flushed at her rejoinder, and she gathered her notes up. "Thank you for sharing the books with me." Extending her hand to him, she gave him a wry grin. "I'm Alice Burke, by the way."
"Severus Snape," he muttered, shaking her hand briefly before burying his large nose back into his book.
"I'll see you around, Severus," she said in cheerful tones as she rose. He only grunted in response. Definitely a student to add to my weekly check-ins. Resisting the urge to chuckle at his crotchety mien, she made for the stacks.
Alice worried that the Slytherin would be a hard one to track down, but thankfully, he could be found in the half-hidden back corner of the Library more often than not. A week to the day of their first meeting, she pulled up a chair and settled down at his table.
His head arced up in obvious askance, and she ignored the accompanying frown. "What is your opinion on the 'Codex Vestibulum'?"
That Severus was discomfited by her friendly overture was clear, but he rallied quickly enough when presented with a direct question. "Most of it is nothing more than the idiotic ramblings of barmy, puffed-up git. I prefer the Germanic text, 'Das Buch des Wandels'."
She laughed at the ready arrogance in his answer, though privately, she agreed with his assessment. "Oh, you're a cheeky one, aren't you? Some consider 'Codex Vestibulum' to be one of the finest works that Professor Dumbledore has written."
"Some people," he said, the strong emphasis on the first word making it clear that he meant 'most', "...are overly emotional pillocks, and believe in highly illogical notions, such as lemon drops being a cure-all."
"Mmm," she was torn between outright laughter- after all, most people worshipped the ground that Albus Dumbledore walked upon- and a tinge of horror because he really should show a little more respect to the Headmaster. "I do agree. Lemon drops- especially those that have been sitting in a pocket for Merlin know's how long- are rather nasty." She flashed him a conspiratorial grin. "I, myself, prefer Drooble's Best Blowing Gum." She slid a fresh packet from her bag. "It's rather satisfying when you are hacked off to start snapping bubbles. The sound drives my boyfriend's mum nutters. Want a piece?"
"Madame Pince will murder you if she finds out you brought gum in here," he said repressively, but reached for a piece of gum nevertheless.
"I won't tell her if you don't," Alice retorted. She watched him slip the gum into his pocket, and made a mental note to pick up another pack when she was in Hogsmeade next. "So, you like 'Das Buch des Wandels'. Do you also favour 'Transformationen über Zeit'?"
Once again, his face took on a shuttered appearance, and she wondered at the history of the boy. "I haven't read it. It's in the Restricted Section, and I've yet to convince Professor Slughorn to write me a pass for it."
"Do you want to, then?" she asked.
"Read it," she said with mild exasperation.
He hesitated before answering. "It would be... educational."
He won't even admit to wanting something as minor as a book. How sad is that? Well, I can get him 'Transformationen über Zeit' at least... "Allow me to propose a bargain then. In return for the occasional use of your table, I will borrow anything- within reason- for you to read from the Restricted Section. If you want some of the darker grimoires, you'll have to explain why, but otherwise, I'll ask no questions. Sound fair?"
Alice was taking a risk, she knew. The boy had a clear interest in the Dark Arts, and given the increasing troubles with He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, caution was not a bad policy. But still, just because he was a Slytherin didn't mean that he'd automatically become a follower of the Dark Wizard...
"Why are you being so nice to me?" Severus looked suddenly angry, and his tone was defensive.
"Because you clearly spend more time in here than I do, and it would be lovely to speak to someone other than Madame Pince about books. Besides which, if I sit with you when I need to do some research, people stay away." She flashed him a quick grin. "If I sit by myself, on the other hand, I am besieged by people and can't get anything done. Come, what do you say? Will you do me this favour?"
He stared at her, face completely emotionless. She had the sense that he was waging some sort of internal battle, and for a moment, thought that he would refuse her request entirely. But he surprised her.
"Fine." His voice was curt, and conveyed the sentiment that he was doing her a huge service by agreeing. "But I won't have you constantly prattling on about things, and don't you dare chew any of that gum near me. I'm here to study, not socialize." He said the last with such a disdainful sneer that she almost burst out laughing; truly, there was something deeply amusing about a swotty, socially inept fourth-year chastising the Head Girl for poor library habits.
"As you wish," she said with as much sincerity as she could. "So, if you find the 'Codex Vestibulum' to be overly emotional, what do you think of the..."
14 June 1975
As Alice walked down the halls of Hogwarts for the final time as a student, she couldn't help but feel a touch of sadness mingled amongst all the excitement. She was so looking forward to the months to come; she would start her training to be an Auror in July, and she was fairly certain that Frank was going to propose to her tonight after graduation. Her seven years at Hogwarts had been happy, sheltered ones, safe from the madness that seemed to be ever encroaching upon the wizarding world; she wondered if there would ever be a time when she felt the same level of security that she had felt among these walls. Still, while she recognized that life was to become a lot more difficult, not to mention risky, she couldn't help but feel hopeful.
Reaching her room, she opened the door and walked in. Her items were already packed up, and the house-elves would be coming by shortly to retrieve her trunks. Giving her room a final check, she spied a small pile of envelopes sitting on her bed. Picking them up, she saw that they were last-minute congratulatory notes and cards from fellow students. Smiling, she started to place the stack into her purse when a smaller, denser package fell from the bottom of the pile.
She examined it, wondering what it contained. Her name was written upon the front in a fine, spidery copperplate, but the paper was a plain butcher wrap. Opening it up, she found a single pack of Drooble's Best Blowing Gum, and short note.
Dear Miss Burke-
I wish you all the best in your future endeavours.
Alice felt the sudden welling of tears at the brief lines. She wasn't sure how she would classify her year-long relationship with the Slytherin. Certainly, she considered him a friend, but his feelings on the subject were frustratingly opaque. His sly, subversive humour had been a source of much amusement to her, as much as his obvious brilliance had been enjoyable to match wits against. Although she had been a frequent visitor to his far corner of the library, and as much as they argued about a myriad of magical topics, he had never opened up to her about anything personal. He remained entirely too private and guarded to allow anything more than careful, and sometime combative, exchange of ideas. Still, he had unbound enough to not only offer help her with research, but had twice asked if she would be willing to look over his own work.
Over the year she had kept watch over him when possible; while he seemed comfortable enough with the majority of the Slytherins, he appeared to have no close confidants in his House. The only person that she had seen any evidence of friendship with was that flighty Gryffindor, Lily Evans, and it was a relationship that worried her. It was quite clear that Severus quite fancied her. Whilst the girl held him in some regard, Alice did not think that she liked him in same fashion or intensity. And then there was his ongoing animosity with James Potter and his little group of followers. She had caught Potter and Severus hexing each other several times, and she was sure that she was only hearing about half of what was going on there...
But there was very little she do at this late stage, other than leave a note about it for the next Head Girl. She slipped the pack of gum into her robes and placed the note in her purse, supremely touched that Severus had cared enough to acknowledge her graduation.
A faint scuff of a heel from the hall alerted her to another person's presence; turning she saw Frank Longbottom standing in the doorway.
"Hello, Bambi," he said with a teasing grin.
"How many times do I have to tell you that 'Bambi' was a boy fawn, not a girl one?" she queried with mock asperity.
"With those lovely brown eyes, what else am I supposed to call you?" He leaned down and gave her warm kiss.
She rolled her eyes, but did not push him away. "Who let you in here, anyway?"
"Minerva snuck me in. After all, I'm not just a former Gryffindor, I'm a Auror and I can be... trusted," he intoned with false solemnity. He spoiled the effect however, by giving her a lascivious leer and a familiar pat on the bum with his last words.
She looked him for a long moment, seeing past the faintly rumpled and unassuming exterior to the solid and unwavering man underneath. Oh, how I love this man... even when he is trying to hide something from me. "So if Minerva is the how, what's the why? A busy, talented Auror like yourself must have far more important things to do than help a lowly student like myself pack up..." she asked teasingly, wondering if he would give her a real explanation.
His expression went still, and he reached up and brushed a wayward curl away from her cheek carefully. "There is no point in me dissembling, is there?"
"No." She dropped the humour and stared at him steadily, waiting for his answer.
"Albus would like to talk to you about something rather important." Frank's voice was grave... and a little uncertain. "It may be a presumption on my part, but I insisted that I be there when he speaks with you."
Alice knew that he was involved in something clandestine with Headmaster, something that had to do with the rising troubles. Could they want me to assist them in whatever their activities are? The fact that Frank wanted to be there was an indication of how serious matters were on several levels... Reaching forward and cupping his cheek in her hand, she felt the raspy prickle of his nascent beard under her palm."I can think of no situation in which your presence would be a presumption, Frank."
She saw a flicker of something heated pass through his eyes before he swooped down to kiss her again. This time, his lips lingered and nipped with a relentless hunger, and she pressed her body into his in eager response. He finally pulled back when her hands began to work their way under the jumper he wore; they were both panting, and Alice wiped a bit lipstick off his chin with a tremulous smile.
"Alice..." Frank trailed off for a moment. "I promised your Father we'd not have any serious discussions about our future until after you graduated, and I'll not break my word." His gaze softened as he took her in, hair mussed and lips puffy. "But we will have a talk tonight, I promise. First, however, you need to meet with Albus..."
She shot him an impudent smile. "...and then I need to graduate."
Slipping her hand into his, Alice turned to give her room a final, appraising look. Without her items strewn about, the room had returned to a blank, anonymous appearance. Although the shadows of her memories still danced in the corners of the space, she was drawn to the bright light spilling from the hallway.
"Come along then, let's not keep the Headmaster waiting." She pulled him towards the door, and towards their future.
3 August 1981
Ministry of Magic, London
Alice Longbottom peered through the one-way portrait into the waiting room and examined Severus Snape. It had been over six years since she had seen him last; gone was the swotty, skinny, socially inept fourth year student that she had known, and in his place sat a rather... intimidating replacement.
He sat in complete stillness on the uncomfortable waiting room bench, swathed entirely in formal black robes. Although Severus had grown into his face, time had not softened the strength of his features. His visage had matured into a harsh, hatchet-faced countenance that, whilst not handsome, possessed a certain compelling charisma... if you had a liking for dark, forbidding, emotionally recalcitrant men.
Thinking of her own man- infinitely more forthcoming in a myriad of ways- she felt a wave of gratitude for how her life had changed since her Hogwarts days. She had a wonderful husband, a perfect, cherub-faced son gained after several years of trying, ...and oh, don't forget about your interfering, annoying mother-in-law. Who wouldn't one of those? she thought with some amusement. It hadn't been easy, or without pain, but the years had been largely happy ones. Looking at the dour man sitting in the waiting room, she had a feeling that he would not make the same claim.
Alice watched him unobserved for almost five minutes, trying to get a measure on his adult persona. In that time, Severus didn't so much a fidget a finger, but nor did he appear to be lost in his thoughts. He just sat, unmoving and implacable. Waiting. As she shifted slightly, easing her weight from one foot to the other, his black eyes slid to the portrait and paused; for a fleeting, frozen moment, she wondered if he could see her standing behind the nauseatingly bucolic portrait of a shepherdess and sheep in a field.
Shaking off the sudden burst of adrenaline that his intense gaze had produced, she glanced down at the sheaf of paperwork in her hand. At the tender age of twenty-one, he had secured a faculty position at Hogwarts, and accordingly had reported to the Auror Office for his pre-employment background check.
And therein lay a problem. A rather large problem, as a matter of fact, because Severus Snape was a Death Eater.
She had heard rumours, of course. It had been impossible not to, not with her work as an Auror and member of the Order of the Phoenix. Severus had never hidden his interest, nor talent, in the Dark Arts; that alone would have placed him on the watch list of both the Order and the Aurors. During his final two years at Hogwarts, he had become quite enmeshed with a group of Slytherins that were all known Death Eaters- Avery, Mulciber, Rosier. When she had heard that he had made friends with that lot, she had been disappointed, but not unduly surprised. Wizarding Britain was in the midst of ideologically-fuelled civil war, and it was damn near impossible to remain neutral and stay alive. Given that one side was represented by Albus Dumbledore and James Potter, it was not hard to understand why Severus had chosen they way he had. She had mourned for the lonely, angry, brilliant boy she had known, and began to count him as among the lost.
Which was why she had been shocked to see his name appear on the docket of people awaiting job related background examinations; she never in a million years would have guessed that Albus would have hired Severus to teach potions in the place of Horace Slughorn. Granted, he was genius at potions- she had heard that he was in the final stages of finishing up a Mastery in Potions, and would be the youngest in Britain to ever receive that title- and there were very few qualified Slytherins who would be willing to take on Head of House duties, but still... Severus was not personable, and she could not imagine him having the patience or inclination to be a good teacher.
She had not been the only one surprised by the appointment. Quite a few of the Aurors- Alastor Moody chief among them- had been vociferous in their desire to be one to conduct his background interview. Listening to the half-veiled threats circling the office, she had felt a flash of concern for Severus, but there hadn't been much that she could do other than lobby to get the job herself.
But that had all changed when Minerva McGonagall had appeared at their door the previous evening.
"I do apologize for intruding, especially at such a late hour, but I have something important to discuss with the two of you." Minerva's voice had been firm and no-nonsense, but her gaze had softened upon seeing the sleeping toddler in Frank's arms.
"Come on in, then," Frank said, and handed Neville over to the Deputy Headmistress with an easy grin. "I'll make some tea and we can talk in the kitchen."
Minerva accepted the boy gracefully, and once they had sat down at the table, ran a light finger over the perfect curve of Neville's rosy cheek. "Look at those long eyelashes," she murmured. "He's a handsome wee laddie, isn't he?"
Alice's heart swelled with maternal pride. "We rather think so."
Minerva looked down at Neville again. "And all too soon, you'll be all grown up and it will be time to go to Hogwarts."
"So," Frank said, turning from the hob, "...he's on the list for Hogwarts then?"
"Frank Longbottom, you know that I can neither confirm or deny any such thing." Minerva replied dryly. "That sort of information is protected and confidential."
"Augusta has been nagging at us endlessly to put Neville through all of these tests to see if he has any magical ability. She has it in her mind that he's a Squib. Never mind that neither Frank nor I showed any talent until we were much older," Alice commented ruefully.
"Augusta has never had a bit of patience for as long as I've known her," Minerva agreed. "Some of the machinations she got herself into because of it..."
The room went quiet as Frank poured them all tea and sat down at the table. "What can we do for you?"
"You are aware that Severus Snape has been hired as Horace's replacement?"
"Yes." Frank said. "We were both a tad... surprised."
The woman nodded. "Alice, you were friendly with Severus, were you not?"
"Yes, although I've not spoken with him since I graduated." She wondered at the questions. Either they hired him to keep an eye on him, or...
"Severus joined the Order sometime ago." The impact of Minerva's words hit her like a stunning charm, and she could do little more than try to contain the emotions that were running riot within her.
"He's been the source of all that high-level intelligence we've been receiving?" Frank queried sharply.
"Most of it, yes."
Alice felt her voice waver as she voiced her own question. "And you trust him?" Could it be true?
"Yes. I do not know all of the reasons for Severus'... defection, but I have a fair idea what they might be. Regardless, Albus trusts him completely, as do I."
Alice ran through the implications inherent in Minerva's statement, trying to tease out the unspoken revelations. What would motivate him to take that kind of risk? It had to be something incredibly personal... Let's see, when did we start getting the new information? A year ago, I believe. What else happened at that time?
She had to think hard, as she'd not been involved in much because of Neville's birth; indeed, she wasn't the only one in the Order to have baby. Molly Weasley had given birth to her sixth son, and Lily Potter to her first...
Lily. Lily Potter, who used to be Severus' friend. Lily, who went into hiding shortly after she gave birth... the pieces came together quickly after that thought. Severus didn't just fancy her... but she never felt the same about him. They stopped being friends for some reason, and then he joined the Death Eaters, and she married Potter...
Oh, that poor man. He must have turned to protect her. That's the only reason I can think would ever push him to join forces with Albus.
With a jerk, she tore her mind back to the conversation at hand; Minerva had asked her a question. "Pardon me?"
"You can understand why I have no wish for Severus to undergo questioning from anyone who is not... aware of the situation."
"Yes. It would get ugly for all involved."
"That it would. Which is why I would like you to be the one interviewing him, Alice." Minerva turned to Frank. "I have some information about a possible Death Eater hideout. I was thinking that it might be prudent to take a large team of Aurors to investigate... say sometime around nine tomorrow morning."
Frank smiled grimly. "I believe I can manage that."
"Good." Minerva rose to leave, but Frank stopped her with another question.
"Does Albus know you are here?"
"I made no attempt to hide where I was going." Minerva's tone had gone a touch frosty, but Alice noted that she had neatly side-stepped her husband's question.
Frank's solid manner did not waver. "Given the longstanding... acrimony between Albus and Snape, I find it hard to believe that Albus would manoeuvre matters to spare the man's sensibilities."
The Deputy Headmistress sighed, and shifted Neville to a more stable position on her hip. "No, he would not." Frank rose an interrogative eyebrow at her when it became apparent that she was reluctant to say anything further.
"Poppy Pomfrey performed his pre-employment physical several days ago," Minerva said in a rush, clearly uncomfortable. "She found evidence that he has been tortured multiple times over the last year. I cannot save the man from any of that, but I can at least make this part of things easier to bear."
Frank stood and took the baby. As he did so, he gave Minerva's shoulder a gentle squeeze. "You are a good woman, Minerva McGonagall."
She stared at him for a moment, eyes tired. "I do what I can, when I can. Rarely is it enough."
Alice rose from the table, feeling a wave of sympathy for the woman. Her life had been interrupted time and again by war- first Muggle, then Magical- and she had lost a husband and much of her family in the ongoing conflicts.
Striving to lighten the mood, Alice jested, "With sentiment like yours, Minerva, one could almost mistake you for a Hufflepuff."
Minerva shot her a narrow-eyed glare at that, but softened it with a good-natured Scottish-sounding snort. "I think not." Wistfully, she smoothed the dark cap of hair of Neville's head. In response, he stirred, eyes fluttering open. He gave her a somnolent smile, showing off two stubby, brand new teeth.
A wicked grin appeared on Minerva's face. "My, what big teeth he has." She stroked his chin, and her cadence changed into a purr. "Yes, badgers don't have big teeth like that, do they? No, only lions do, and you are going to be a fierce young lion, aren't you?"
Frank gave a bark of laughter, and Alice felt a smile bloom on her face. Well, at least we don't have to worry about Neville being a Squib.
"Might he be a Slytherin, Minerva?" Alice retorted. "After all, snakes have a rather lot of teeth."
"Snakes," the woman proclaimed loftily, "...have many, small, pointy fangs. None of those adjectives would be apt descriptors for Neville's teeth, would they? Besides which, with his colouring, he would look positively jaundiced in green." She gave Neville a final pat. "I must be off..."
Alice felt a smile return at the memories from the previous evening before she gave a guilty start. She looked back into the waiting room and saw that Severus still hadn't moved, although she thought that she could detect the faintest hint of impatience from him. Enough with the wool-gathering. You've made the man wait long enough. Let's get this farce started.
Several minutes later, she walked through the door to the waiting room, all trace of friendship or fondness erased under her cold authority of an Auror.
"Mr. Snape," she said, allowing her robes to billow around her as she held the door open. "...you may now join me in my office."
His eyes widened almost imperceptibly at her entrance, and she caught a flash of emotion- anger? hurt?- before he got up from the bench and approached her.
He gave her a mocking bow. "As you wish, Auror Longbottom." As he swept past her, she noted that he was much taller and, despite his leanness, broad-shouldered.
Jones and Deacon, two apprentice Aurors and the only other people left in the department after the last minute raid, stood in the long hallway blocking the way forward.
"Do let us know if you need anything, Alice." Jones sneered. "We'd be happy to... assist."
Alice brushed past Severus, who had halted. "I'll do that. Mr. Snape, please keep up," she chided, moving around the male roadblocks.
With an imperious wave, she lifted the wards to her office and opened the door. Gesturing him to enter first, she shut the door behind her and snapped up a silencing charm to keep the boys outside from hearing anything.
She turned to face him, and was greeted by a familiar glower. The expression so recalled the fourth-year boy she had known that she couldn't help the grin that broke over her face.
"Hullo, Severus, it's lovely to see you again. Have a seat."
He sat slowly, caution and confusion running briefly through his gaze before a firm mask of indifference settled over his features.
"Have you completely filled out the background packet?" she inquired politely.
Silently, he drew out a stack of forms from his robes and placed it on her desk. Although the cut of the black cloth was severe, she saw that the garments had more buttons than a Victorian dressmaker. Magic or no, I bet those are a right pain in the arse to put on in the morning. They do impart a certain gravitas, however. And if he's going to teach at twenty-one, he'll need all the help he can get...
She picked up the papers and flipped through them quickly. He had, indeed, filled out every line in his precise, narrow script. She gave the section listing his family details a more through reading, noting that despite his excellent diction, he had grown up in a northern mill town. Unsurprisingly, he was a half-blood. She did not anticipate the concise description that amended the biographical section on his parents, however. She learned that his father had beaten his mother to death, and a sick feeling took root in her stomach as she saw the year of their deaths; Severus had just turned seventeen. Deliberately, she placed the papers back on her desk and vowed to not read through them. I don't want to know the details, not really, and I know that he would not want me to know them.
"It appears that everything is in order," she said crisply. "Congratulations, Professor Snape."
He stared at her for a long moment. "What are you playing at, Alice?" he all-but-hissed.
"Nothing. I will not be questioning you today, or any day in the future. You will have to remain in my office for some time to lend a certain verisimilitude to this interview, but next week, I will report to the Ministry that you have passed the background screening."
If anything, his gaze hardened at her statement. "And why would you be doing me this great favour? Moved to act out of friendship, are you?" he sneered.
"I'm glad that you view us as friends, Severus." She smiled at the flash of temper her words prompted. "No, while our friendship undoubtedly plays into things, my approach to this interview is due more to the fact that we belong to the same..." she paused, considering how to phrase matters, "...feather-brained enterprise, shall we say."
Severus went still. "Albus set this up."
She considered demurring, but figured he deserved to understand how events had unfolded. "No. Minerva, actually. Somebody," she arched a brow at him, "...provided information about a Death Eater safe-house in Surrey. Frank, along with all of the senior Aurors, went to go investigate it this morning, leaving only I, the office-based Auror, present to question you."
His gaze left her face, and focused on the stack of papers on her desk. Finally a bit gruffly he asked, "Why are you desk-bound? You were captain of the duelling and chess clubs. I can't imagine your skills or smarts have decreased since then."
Alice twisted and leaned back in her chair. Grasping the picture of Neville from the bookcase, she handed to Severus. "Because of him. I went on light duty when I got pregnant, and Frank and I decided that it would be best if I stay in office. Should something happen..." she swallowed, fighting back the flood of emotions that always accompanied the line of thought, "...our son will only lose one parent, not two."
"What do you suggest we do while we wait?" His voice was flat, and he only glanced briefly at the picture.
She pulled a copy of the latest advanced potions journal out of her desk. "I was hoping we could discuss several of the articles in here."
"Just like old times?" The sneer had returned.
"Just like old times," she repeated, and snagged one more item out of her desk. Wordlessly, she handed him her opened pack of Drooble's Best Blowing Gum.
Taking two pieces of gum, he opened each methodically and popped them into his mouth. Leaning back in his chair, he watched her with causal insolence. Deliberately, he blew a large bubble, and then snapped it three times with utter precision.
She couldn't help it; she began to laugh. Her unfettered response drew a reluctant smirk from him. "Go on then," he said. "What article shall we debate first? I hope that you don't believe that rubbish from O'Toole..."
Four hours passed in quick succession, and Alice was thoroughly enjoying herself. At least in this arena, he remained unchanged; wonderfully combative, arrogant- for he still had the temerity to lecture her, although his velvety tones made the experience quite enjoyable- and was completely, gloriously brilliant. She wondered if those around him realised just how intelligent and perceptive he really was, or if they simply dismissed him on account of his youth and nasty attitude. Which may exactly be his aim, and it might be what keeps him alive, she thought with real regret.
He finally ended a short diatribe on the uses of unicorn blood in healing potions, and eyed her with annoyance. "Were you even listening to any of that?"
"Yes. I was just enjoying the sound of your voice, rather than the actual words." She smirked at him, attempting to imitate Frank's best leer. "It just occurred to me that you must drive all the women at those Dark Revels mad with that lovely baritone." Severus froze, looking gobsmacked. She wasn't sure what had thrown him more- her easy reference to sex, or the fact that he was a Death Eater.
She couldn't stop the giggle that escaped at his expression. "Oh, come now, Severus. You're not fifteen, and I'm no longer Head Girl. Surely one off-colour joke isn't that shocking."
He finally relaxed, and a hint of wry humour appeared. "My voice... does occasionally do me favours."
Alice gave him her best 'chipper and innocent' look. "Care to elaborate to satisfy the rabid curiosity of a happily married woman?"
"No," He intoned firmly. "I believe you stated earlier that you would not be questioning me on my personal life."
"I did say that," she affirmed. "However, that doesn't preclude you from telling me about your personal life."
"No," he repeated, but gazed at her in measuring fashion for a long moment before continuing. "I will say that the rumours of hedonistic, sex-filled orgies are nothing but that." He made a rueful face. "If Lucius Malfoy ran the Death Eaters... and if Narcissa Malfoy didn't rule Lucius, then perhaps there might be some substance to those outrageous stories. Alas," he said mockingly, "The Dark Lord rules the Death Eaters, and his idea of pleasure is quite different."
As he spoke, his manner lost any hint of teasing, but to her surprise, he went on. "It is believed that the Dark Lord has been... impotent for a number of years. Naturally, he is rather repressive when it comes to sexual matters. Moreover, given his strongly held notions about blood purity and legitimacy, wild orgies would hardly be allowed. He will render you breathless, yes, but will do so with the Cruciatus Curse."
For a split second she saw the remnants of pain in his gaze, and she had to stop herself from reaching across the table and taking his hand. "Is there any way to fight the Cruciatus Curse?" she asked softly.
His reply was bitter. "Don't get caught." He glared at her, and shook his head warningly. "I mean it, Alice. If they catch you, they will either kill you, or break you."
"Is there any defence?" she repeated, not wanting to ask her obvious question. How do you survive it?
"How good of an Occlumens are you?" he queried tiredly.
"Decent enough, but I've not had much formal training. Frank is much better than I am."
"Develop your talent for it. Occlumency can't protect you from any of the Dark curses, but it can help you survive them by creating a barrier between pain and your mind." Severus took a quill and parchment from the corner of her desk. "Read these books; they explain the defensive theories the best." He scribbled several titles down. "If..." he paused, and for the first time, she saw uncertainty in his expression. "If you would like, I can run through some drills that may be of assistance in strengthening your shields."
Alice didn't hesitate. "Show me."
"It would require me to use Legilimency on you," he cautioned.
"I trust you."
"Very well. You will need to start off by clearing your mind..."
Two hours later, they both had headaches, but Alice had gotten fairly proficient at repelling his mental attacks. She had no doubt that he wasn't truly pressing her, but it was good work considering their limited timeframe.
He sat back in his chair, rubbing his forehead. "Any more of that and I'll set off the protective wards. Teach your husband what I've shown you, and then go at each other."
"Oh, having a go at each other shouldn't be a problem."
He rolled his eyes. "Woman, is there ever a time when you aren't thinking about sex?"
"You tell me. You've been poking around my mind for two hours." He flicked a gum wrapper at her in disgust.
"You're a good teacher, Severus," she said, real warmth colouring her tone.
He glanced away, uncomfortable. "I've had some practice. I ended up tutoring the majority of the Slytherins at one point or another." He snorted in derision. "At least as a professor I can can take house points away when they get stroppy."
She chuckled. "And just think, in the not too distant future, you can teach my son potions."
"How old is he?" His gaze slid to the picture of Neville, who was awkwardly trying to balance upright but kept falling down.
"He turned a year old in July."
Her words struck him like a bucket of cold water, and a look of such utter loathing appeared on him that she flinched.
"July?" His words were as bitter as burnt coffee. "Oh, Alice, if you knew the things I have done, you wouldn't let me anywhere near your son." She realised then that his look of loathing had not been directed at her, but rather himself. "Besides which," he continued in a similar mien, "I highly doubt I will be alive and teaching at Hogwarts in ten years."
He stared at her, self-hatred painfully evident, daring her to challenge his proclamation.
"What you are doing now matters." Alice retorted, trying to project her sincerity and faith in him. Before she could go on, a Patronus appeared with gentle whoosh. The great horned owl back-winged, and settled on her desk. It spoke with Frank's reassuring voice.
"We are just wrapping things up here, love. We'll be back to the office in about twenty minutes." Message delivered, the owl dissolved.
Severus stood abruptly, and Alice likewise rose. Moving swiftly, she circled the desk and took one of his hands in her own. It was like ice, she noted, and she could feel the tension leaching out from the digits.
"Listen to me, Severus Tobias Snape." Alice infused the words with her magic, with belief, love, and her hope for the future. "You will survive this so that you might live, and live better!"
She was standing close enough to him to smell the faint scents of rosemary and mint that clung to his robes, and as he stared down at her, she had the curious sensation of seeing him in triplicate; the lonely and angry boy of her youth peaked out from those dark eyes, while the set of his shoulders and tension-filled hands spoke to the lost and self-loathing man of twenty-one. In the deep shadows under his eyes, and the lines beginning to carve into brow and cheeks she saw the bitter and stressed man of the future.
He read her face and feelings easily. What he saw caused his mask to crack enough to reveal the maelstrom of emotions within, and she wanted to weep for the many things she could not change.
They stood that way for a half-dozen heartbeats before he regained his composure. His sudden and complete lack of expression hurt almost as much as the earlier proliferation. He took a step back, and she released his hand.
"Always the Hufflepuff," he drawled, but it was without any scorn.
"You would do well to remember what I told you the afternoon we met," she challenged.
"Brains in Hufflepuff are no more misplaced than courage and loyalty in a Slytherin." His intonation was flat, but his voice had gone rough.
"It still holds true." She bit her lip. "Promise me, Severus, you will try to survive."
He took a measured breath in, and she thought he'd refuse her request outright. But instead, his eyes blazed with sudden fire that was almost blinding to behold, and his next words were spoken formally. "I pledge to you that I will try my hardest to survive the coming battles. But I will have your word as well, Alice Longbottom. "
"What will you request of me?"
"Heed my warning. Don't ever let your guard down. I meant what I said: if the Death Eaters catch you, they will kill you." His hands were suddenly gripping her shoulders, and what had been previously so cold now burned with the force of his convictions. "They call you and Frank blood traitors. Protect your family, Alice, because no one will do it as faithfully."
"I swear it, Severus."
He nodded sharply, dropping his arms. She moved to open the door, but paused a final time. "If you ever need anything, come to Frank or I. I know that things have never been comfortable between Minerva and you, but she's an ally as well." Before she could have second thoughts, she leaned forward and gave him a fleeting hug.
"Come along, now. I want to get you out of here before Moody returns."
"Such an aptly-named man," he remarked snidely.
It was her turn to roll her eyes. "Look angry, Severus. If you can work in henpecked, all the better."
"For you, perhaps."
She opened the door, and they left her the sanctuary of her office together. It was only when she returned that she realised that she'd not said goodbye to him.
13 December 1981
It was like a bad horror film.
High heels still clutched in her hand and swaying in the cold wind, Alice Longbottom cried silent tears, her mascara running down her little Bambi eyes. She cried for Frank, who had begun to resemble a flayed piece of meat; she cried for Neville. Would he even remember them? Her life wasn't supposed to end like this, not in an filthy and abandoned factory, and certainly not a month after Voldemort had supposedly been vanquished.
She and Frank had been celebrating their fifth anniversary. To mark the occasion, she had gotten all dressed up; heels, fancy knickers, the scent that Frank said drove him wild. They had dined at an expensive French restaurant, and talked of trying to have a second child. After supper, they had gone dancing, and shared a few heated kisses in a dark London side-street.
Then there had been wands and knives and blood and fighting. Four against two were hardly fair odds, and as talented as she and Frank were, they had not had a chance against the likes of three Lestranges- Rodolphus, Rabastan, and Bellatrix- as well as Barty Crouch Jr. And so she now stood, the frigid breeze stripping the heat from her body until she felt like a living corpse, and watched as Crouch systematically and gleefully tortured her husband.
They said they wanted information about the whereabouts of the Dark Lord, but from the way that Crouch was lashing Frank, it was clear that tonight's agenda had little to do with intelligence-gathering, and more to do with revenge.
"Don't get caught... if they catch you, they will either kill you, or break you." She heard Severus' resonate voice in her head, and she acknowledged the painful truth in his words. Then did the only thing that might save her; she began to lock herself away in her mind.
They tortured Frank for almost three hours before they moved on to her. Bellatrix- and by god, that woman had the most annoying cackle- had performed the opening act, carving a veritable essay on pureblood supremacy into her torso and and limbs. It had taken long enough that Frank had regained consciousness, and witnessing the impotent horror and rage in his gaze had been harder to take than any physical sensation.
Her Occlumentic shields held through the first four rounds of the Cruciatus Curse, but the pain was never-ending and all-consuming; it was like being dropped into fire, with ice water running through her veins and every muscle seizing up at the same time. How much longer? she thought, panic beginning to creep in again. How much longer can I last?
Sometime later- long enough that the first grey fingers of dawn had begun to creep in through the shattered windows of the building- she saw Frank break. One moment he was fighting through it all with her, and then he had gone into horrible convulsions. When she could once again see his eyes, it was to find them soulless; half of his face was frozen in a terrible grimace, while the other side, covered in spittle and vomit, was slack and expressionless.
She longed to reach out to him, touch him, but she had no control over any bodily function, and it took everything in her to keep pushing back at the pain. Oh, Frank... Oh, Neville, was the constant refrain of her thoughts. Summoning a happy memory of the three of them, she sought refuge...
It had been near dawn then, too, but in Hertfordshire. Neither she or Frank had been able to sleep in the direct aftermath of the deaths of Lily and James Potter, and so they'd bundled up Neville and gone for a ramble through the fields surrounding their cottage. A thick, misty fog had blanketed the ground and sky; as the sun had risen, the world had turned from cold and damp to golden and peachy, the sun warming everything in their path and the air sparkling with life and promise.
As they had wandered close to a pond, their approach had startled a late-migrating gaggle of geese from the chill waters. With a synchronised crack of wings, the skein had leapt skyward, soaring high into the light-drenched air. For a dizzying moment, watching their escape, she had felt herself as one of them, pressing through the mist towards the sun...
Pain. Blood. Fire and ice; she couldn't conjure anything more than the pure alabaster of her son's cheek.
She heard that resounding crack again, which seem to echo through her bones. Alice Louise Longbottom was caught up in a swirl of emotions and suddenly, there was a growing distance between her and that horrible pain. She wasn't afraid, or alone; she could feel Frank beside her, and she was flying towards warmth, and light...
14 December 1981
Severus Snape wanted to cry, only he found that he couldn't. Seeking a way out, the agony instead carved away at him internally, the emotional onslaught rendering the shields of his Occlumency useless. As much as he wanted to, he couldn't hide from himself...
It was all for nothing... I didn't save Lily. So many people died, so much pain and for what? He's not gone, nor defeated. He will rise again... I couldn't even save Alice…
Albus Dumbledore had stormed into his rooms an hour past dawn, roughly shaken him from his nightmare-laced stupor, and began to interrogate him. Truly, that had been the only description of their interaction; for almost forty-five minutes, he had been subjected to a barrage of questions about the Lestranges and Barty Crouch. For what reason, he knew not. He did not know about their recent movements, or their plans; like all of the high-level followers of the Dark Lord, they had fled upon hearing about his supposed death.
Mere questioning had not been enough, however. The Headmaster had resorted to Legilimency to verify that he had no contact with the remnants of the Death Eaters. Storming into Severus' mind just as he had his rooms, he pulled to the surface the memories of his grief and guilt over Lily Potter, and his last interactions with the Dark Lord and his loyal followers. Severus could not understand what had promoted the intense attack; Dumbledore normally at least played at the pretence of trusting him. Then Dumbledore had begun to riffle through his recollections of Alice Longbottom, née Burke, and Severus had caught a whiff of absolute rage and grief from the old man's mind.
That wholly unexpected emotion caused Severus' own gut to clinch in fear and foreboding. When Dumbledore had felt the burgeoning seeds of panic in Severus' mind, he had abruptly withdrawn. Severus had found himself laying on the cold stone floor, with the Headmaster looming above him.
Perfectly calm, and with utter coldness, the man had spoken.
"Alice and Frank Longbottom were attacked last night by the Lestranges, and Barty Crouch Jr. While they might yet live, they were both left broken and mindless. The Healers say they will not recover."
With that pronouncement, Dumbledore had turned and left in a whirl of robes.
Severus had stayed on the floor for several hours, unable to do more than let the horror and misery wash over him. Seventeen days away from his twenty-second birthday, and he wanted nothing more than to die... and now he had another debt that would make suicide a most cowardly and selfish choice. The first battle might be over, but the war was far from won, and until it was, he must stay the course.
In the quiet of his dungeon rooms, he heard the words of Alice ring in his ears. "Survive this so that you might live, and live better!"
How? he thought, grief a sharp-edged sword in his mind. How am I to carry on when I've managed to destroy everything I care about? Monster that he was, he still needed somebody, something to combat the sick, strangling darkness that was creeping into his blood and haunting his thoughts.
He had a fleeting thought about going to Poppy Pomfrey, who had been his sole adult support as student. But he knew if he did go to her there would be no way of shutting the woman out when it came time to do so, and he couldn't risk that level of trust or caring again. Eyes wandering, his gaze fell to his liquor cabinet, empty but for one bottle of whiskey. In the month since Lily's death, he had drunk his stores dry, except for that item. It had arrived in mid-November, with the Longbottom's most sincere congratulations for completing his Mastery.
It came to him then. McGonagall... Alice said she was an ally. She's never liked me enough to be a friend, but she'll not turn me away. Rising from the floor, he picked up the bottle, and made his way to the hallway unsteadily.
He stood at her door for several minutes, unable to bring himself to knock. When he finally did, it was the hardest thing that he had ever done: even harder than going to Albus Dumbledore and begging for the life of Lily Potter. Because this time, he wasn't begging on behalf of someone else; he was there seeking succour, craving comfort for himself.
The woman who opened the door bore little resemblance to the formal and starched Deputy Headmistress he had known since age eleven; silver hair cascading down her shoulders, complexion leached of all colour, she looked like a ghost. Severus met her green eyes, and what he saw made him flinch and step back. He saw a mirror of his own helpless and bitter sorrow, yes, but also a personal hatred that was the only spark of life in the woman.
"Do you require something, Professor Snape?" Her voice was unyielding, and he felt the Dark Mark emblazoned on his arm give a feeble twitch, reminding him of how dirty he was.
He almost demurred then, but her regard had fallen to the bottle clutched at his side, and he had to say something.
"Alice..." He swallowed, trying to speak past the lump in his throat. "Alice sent this to me several weeks back. I wondered... if you'd have a drink with me."
She took his rumpled and battered appearance, and for a painful moment, there was no reaction. Then she closed her eyes, and when she met his gaze again, it was with crystalline tears rolling down her face.
"Of course." She reached forward and took him by the elbow. "My apologies. Come in, Severus, and we'll try to do the bottle justice."
Her gentle touch eased some of the grief, as did the realization that she had addressed him by his Christian name for the first time. Walking into her rooms, he hoped that it would be enough for the coming days.