Disclaimer: I don't own any of the recognizable characters and settings in this story. They all spring from the wonderful imagination of J. K. Rowling. I'm just toying with them for awhile for amusement purposes, no monetary gain is sought.
This story is a direct sequel to "Is A Picture Worth 1000 Lives?". It picks up approximately 6 weeks after the end of that story. As it builds on relationships established and events that occurred in that story, reading, "Is a Picture Worth 1000 Lives?" first, is highly recommended.
The Ever Twisting PathLost is Found
A rather depressed Severus Snape looked out over the dining hall at the sea of children, stuffing food into their mouths as words spewed out. Constant noise. Constant motion. It was making him feel ill.
She'd been gone for more than a month, the longest month and a half of his life. He'd received two brief messages from her, assuring him that she was fine, and that she missed him. It was no substitute for her being here in his arms, in his bed. How had things changed for him so quickly? One minute, life was its usual dreary horror, then suddenly he was the happiest he could ever remember being. Then, just as fast, he was back to yawning emptiness. Yet now, having finally experienced the happiness, this emptiness was so much harder to take.
He had to get out of here. The stifling atmosphere and overwhelming noise were suddenly too much. Abruptly he stood up and threw down his napkin. The other professors at the table shot curious glances his way, but he didn't let that stop him. With an unfocused glare in the general direction of his startled colleagues, he whirled about and exited quickly through the back door next to the head table. Once he'd made his escape from the masses into the silent corridor beyond some of his tension melted away. Cold peace at last! Too many people pressed down on him, penned him in, made his head throb with their incessant chatter. Wearily he leaned back against the cold hard stone of the nearest wall. Thank god, it was Friday evening, two whole days without classes! Without students! Without incompetents of all sorts making demands on him!
Today had been absolutely horrendous! That idiot Longbottom managed to melt two cauldrons in the space of one hour, his own and then his partner's. That was a new record, even for him. Then there was Malfoy, simpering and smirking at him constantly, attempting to cause trouble for those fools, Potter and Weasley, and expecting favor for it. That game was getting old, too. Every time he looked at Malfoy, all he could see was Evangeline hanging on his father's dungeon wall. When he remembered how she came to be there, it was all he could do not to strangle the brat! If it wasn't so very important to maintain his image as his father's loyal friend, he'd find some way for the young Mister Malfoy to pay dearly for that outrage. Not to mention what he'd love to do to Lucius himself. His chance would come eventually, he'd simply have to be patient…not something he excelled at, unfortunately.
Abruptly he pushed away from the wall and began to walk. He needed some air, the walls felt like they were closing in. Swiftly he climbed through the castle until he emerged on the top of the Astronomy tower. The crisp night air was bitterly cold, and its caress felt wonderful against his skin, clearing the fog and easing the throbbing behind his eyes. With his boot heels echoing on the stones, he strode across to the parapet, leaned against it, and stared up at the stars, wondering what stars she could see at night.
Where was she? This waiting, not knowing, was driving him insane! Being kept in the dark could drive him to distraction faster than almost anything. He could keep secrets better than anyone. It didn't make sense not to let him in on this one. What was the point of not telling him anyway? Voldemort didn't suspect that he had any connection to her, neither did Malfoy. He had a right to know where she was…a need to know.
Finally he sighed in frustration and turned away from the stars. This was getting him nowhere. His headache had eased, and the cold was beginning to get to him. He should go in…go down …before the mass exodus began from dinner. The last thing he wanted was to be caught in the crush of chattering students hurrying back to their dormitories, so with a last glance up at the heavens, he left the tower behind and returned to his dungeon lair by lesser used means. Thankfully meeting no one along the way.
Suddenly feeling utterly exhausted, he let himself into the quiet of his quarters, sighed deeply, and collapsed into one of the wing chairs facing his fireplace. The carefully banked fire burned low. Not bothering to bring up any other light into the room, he put his hands over his eyes, slumped down into his chair, and brooded.
Without warning, he felt a soft touch on his shoulder. Startled, he removed his hands from his face and looked up into a pair of smiling green eyes. "Rough day, Severus?"
His heart stood still as he took a deep breath and closed his eyes. When he opened them again, she was still there with an amused smile on her face.
"Yes, I'm really here. I'm sorry it's taken so long. I hope you haven't forgotten about me."
Feeling the need to reassure himself of her solidity, Snape reached up and pulled her down into his arms. "That couldn't happen in a thousand lifetimes," he murmured as he pressed his lips to hers, ran his hands through her silky hair, and felt her comforting warmth in his arms.
"I can't believe that you're finally here," he whispered in a wondering tone of voice. "I've had this dream so many times, I'm afraid to believe it's real."
Evangeline covered his face and neck with light feathery kisses and whispered back happily, "It's real. I'm real. I'm here, and I plan to spend the weekend. If you have the time that is."
"I have all the time in the world for you. Where have you been? It's been so long."
With a contented smile, she hugged him close and cuddled up on his lap. "I know. I'm sorry it took so long to get back to you. I can't tell you where I've been remember? Let's not waste all this time talking." Eagerly she began to unbutton his robes as she pressed soft kisses onto the exposed flesh of his throat. She was wearing the ivory silk negligee that he remembered so fondly, but even that wisp of material was more than he wanted her to wear. Without another word, he picked her up in his arms and carried her into his bedroom. She was right; they'd wasted far too much time talking already.
The next morning, they lay entwined in the big bed, drowsy and content, happy to just be together again. Snape idly ran his hand through her hair, bringing a smile to Evangeline's face. "You like to play with my hair, don't you, Severus."
The comment brought a small smile to his lips in remembrance. "Your hair is the first thing that attracted me to you. I was trying so hard to maintain my righteous indignation at being sent to chaperone you on your shopping expedition, as if I were some sort of house elf, but I found all I could think about was the way the sunlight set your hair on fire with glowing red and gold highlights. I wanted to touch it, to bury my face and my hands in it. It was extremely hard to resist."
Astonished at this revelation, she stared in surprise. "You certainly did a very good job hiding your feelings. I never guessed."
"I'm very good at resisting temptation. I've had lots of practice. Then there was that negligee, and I found myself imagining you in it. That's when I realized that you'd be trouble," he remarked dryly.
Cocking an eyebrow at him, she leaned up on her elbow and smirked. "Trouble?"
He chuckled low in his throat at her amused expression. "Oh yes, my dear, trouble with a capital T. I'd always been careful to avoid any emotional entanglements, as I've told you. If I felt the need for sexual release, I'd always discreetly purchased what I needed. There's certainly never been any temptation here at Hogwarts. I've kept scrupulously clear of student involvements, and my colleagues have never been a challenge to avoid. I could sense immediately that that wouldn't be the case with you. My attraction to you was swift and strong."
Delighted at his unexpected admission, she smiled and ran an idle hand down his lean chest, pausing to encircle a taut nipple with her finger. "As was mine to you, but it was mostly physical attraction at that point. It could still easily have been nothing more than a one night stand."
Snape nodded in agreement and continued to toy with her hair, letting it glide through his supple fingers and across his palms feeling like fine silk. "I'll admit I was considering that, but you didn't come to dinner that first night, and that delayed any thoughts that I might have had in that direction. After we talked the next afternoon, I somehow no longer felt that that would be appropriate. Then once we spent the day together working on your potions, I found I could no longer contemplate simply taking you to my bed, and then discarding you from my life. To my surprise I discovered that I wanted your friendship, enjoyed your company, desired to spend time with you. It was a feeling that I hadn't had in many years. Then there was the truly remarkable fact that you sought me out. You seemed to enjoy my company as much as I enjoyed yours. That had never happened to me before. It was something so precious; I was afraid to do anything that might damage it. A large part of my dismay at discovering that Lupin and Black were going to be coming here was my fear that they'd turn you against me."
Evangeline smiled into his eyes. "I am capable of making up my own mind about people. You were already very important to me. They couldn't have turned me against you. Black's clumsy attempts to do just that only made me defend you more. I think I'd already begun to fall in love with you by then."
Snape nodded and smiled faintly. "I think I first realized that you truly cared for me the night I was summoned away by the Dark Lord, and you were waiting for me when I returned. I'm sorry that I treated you so harshly that night. I was suddenly so frightened for your safety if I involved you in the mess that was my life. All I could think of was that it would be better for you to hate me than to be harmed by my association with Voldemort."
Slipping a gentle hand into his hair, she drew his face to hers and kissed him softly. "I understand now. At the time though, I was hurt and confused. Everyone seemed to understand what was going on except me. It hurt so much to have you going around pretending that I didn't exist…looking right through me as if I was made of glass. It forced me to realize how much I'd truly come to care for you."
"I'm sorry that hurt you. Believe me, I was intensely aware that you existed. I always knew when you were near me. It was agony to pretend indifference to you, but I thought it was the right thing to do. Then you were hurt, and I realized that you could've died thinking that I didn't care about you. One of the worst moments of my life was finding you lying in that corridor amidst all that blood. I was so afraid that you were dead. I knew then that I couldn't just cut you out of my life. I'd already fallen in love with you, although I still couldn't admit it to myself."
She caressed his cheek gently, admiring the clean line of his jaw as she traced its outline with an idle finger. "And then came Halloween."
He sighed contentedly at her touch, lay back, and contemplated the green canopy over the bed. "Halloween," he murmured. "One of the most wonderful and most horrible nights of my life."
Evangeline sighed and nodded her agreement. "I felt the same way. Dancing with you was like a beautiful dream…as if it was happening to someone else. When you told me that you wanted me in your arms, I felt like Cinderella before midnight. Nothing could've made me happier."
Turning his head, he fastened his eyes on her face. "Yes. For that brief time I forgot all my fears while I was holding you, but that was illusion, and reality was waiting to rear its ugly head. That meeting was one of the most painful I'd attended. Standing there listening to the Dark Lord go on and on about how important it was that he get his hands on you made me ill, and inattentive. Which earned me a harsher reprimand than usual. Which, of course, led to your discovery of my double life. I so regretted not telling you myself. Finding out that way was so unfair to you."
Wanting to forestall his attempt to take the blame, she shook her head and laid a gentle finger on his lips. "No, I should've stayed and listened when you begged to explain. It was wrong of me to run; I wasn't being rational. I'm so sorry that I hurt you like that."
"I understood, and you did come back. I was so sure that you wouldn't. Remus was right. I didn't give you enough credit. I still found it so incomprehensible that anyone could love me. Then you told me how your mother died, and I put all the pieces together and realized that I'd been there. I'd been one of those who'd caused her death. I was so sure that that would be an unpardonable sin in your eyes. Here I was causing you all this pain, and if you knew about my involvement in your mother's death, I'd cause you even more. I knew then that I had to stay away from you, no matter how hard it would be."
Comfortingly she rested her head on his shoulder and traced random patterns on his chest with her finger. Simply enjoying the feel of him beside her, the touch of his skin beneath her hand. "But I wouldn't let you stay away."
Brushing his lips against the top of her head, as he pulled her closer within his arms, he whispered, "No, you wouldn't, but I was right. It did cause you more pain. I was responsible for Malfoy getting his hands on you."
Upset by this casually uttered statement, she pushed up on her elbow and looked down at him with a frown. "That's not true, Severus. Why do you say that?"
"You left the safety of the castle to get a Christmas present for me," he stated quietly.
Impatiently she shook her head. "That doesn't make it your fault. I was the foolish one."
Snape stared deeply into her eyes. "I know I said that Halloween was one of the most horrible nights of my life, but actually, Christmas Eve was much worse. Seeing you in so much pain. Knowing it was my fault. If I hadn't been able to get you safely out of there, I think I would've killed Malfoy, Crabbe, and Goyle on the spot. I wanted to anyway. I still entertain myself with thoughts of their painful lingering demise at my hands. Their day will come, I promise you."
With a shiver at the fierce resolve she heard in his voice, she enfolded herself into his embrace again and hugged him hard. "You're dragging out that overdeveloped conscience again, Severus. My capture by Malfoy was my own fault! I've spent the last six weeks trying to come to terms with that, and its consequences."
He frowned in concern. "What do you mean?"
Her body tensed slightly in his arms, and she kept her head on his chest so she didn't have to look him in the eye. "I'm going to tell you where I've been, even though Dumbledore doesn't think I should. Not because you could be made to tell anyone, but because it would cause you more pain. I think you need to know, and I know I need to tell you. Once Voldemort came back, Dumbledore knew that he'd start leaving a trail of victims behind him again, and his victims would need help dealing with their trauma. He made sure that I got that help. I've been in a hospital trying to deal with the psychological damage caused by three days in the hands of Malfoy and his thugs. I've been trying to cope with the nightmares, and the fear, and the stress. The people at the hospital didn't want me to come here to see you so soon. They were afraid that I'd react badly to your touching me and making love to me, but I knew I wouldn't. I knew I needed to feel your love for me again. It's the one thing that's held me together through all of the pain of dealing with my experiences."
Evangeline sat up and looked down at her lover, trying to judge his reaction. Snape stared back at her not knowing what to say. Suddenly concerned at his silence, afraid that telling him had been a mistake after all, she spoke softly, "Severus?"
As if the sound of his name broke the spell, he slid his hands up her bare arms and pulled her back down into his embrace. Holding her tightly against him, he rubbed his cheek against her soft hair. "I'm so sorry that you've had to go through this alone. How can I help you? I knew in the back of my mind that you'd need to deal with this. I've tried not to think about it, because it was too painful. If it's been painful for me, how much worse has it been for you? Perhaps they were right. Has coming back here and talking about all this made it worse for you? Has it brought it all back?"
"No. Being here with you has only been wonderful. It's like dancing on Halloween. As long as your arms are around me, I can keep all of the horrors at bay. Last night, sleeping in you arms, was the first truly restful sleep I've had since I left Hogwarts. I needed to see you, to know you still want me in your life. I can go on if you do."
Gently he lifted her face up to his. "I will always want you in my life." With that declaration, his hungry lips claimed hers, and he began once again to prove to her just how much he wanted and needed her in his life.