Checking the clock on the mantle piece, Severus sighed and rose from his desk. He had been planning his lessons until way past midnight and his eyes suddenly felt as if they were carrying a ten tonne weight. He filed away his work for the night and with a flick of his wand eliminated all the candles in his office. As he walked to his quarters in the dungeons of Hogwarts castle, the dread of knowing that in the next couple of days the castle would be filled with the inane chatter of adolescence crept up on him once more. He preferred the castle as it was, quiet and peaceful, with the ability to walk from one part of the grounds to another without reprimanding idiotic behaviour.
He closed the heavy door to his quarters behind him and hung his black teaching robes on the stand by the door. Looking at the empty room that lay before him he felt his heart sink, every night he was struck with the same feeling of loneliness and depression. Even though he had grown used to the feeling over the years, the effect it had on his mood had remained the same. He reached for a bottle of Fire Whiskey in the glass cabinet and poured himself a generous glass; he couldn't seem to get to sleep without a shot these days. With a single blink of his eye, the fireplace sprang to life and warmth washed over him. Taking a large gulp of whiskey, he closed his eyes and sighed loudly.
He knew that this term would be more unbearable than the last; he past seemed to be forcing him to relive his more distressing memories. Remus Lupin would be filling the post as Defence against the Dark Arts teacher, a man whom Severus loathed more than words could say. Lupin had been part of the gang of boys that made his life hell during Hogwarts, and even though Lupin had never taken an active role in the abuse, he had also never tried to stop it; he was a prefect after all but stood by and watched his two friends, Sirius Black and James Potter, systematically torment him for seven year. But what enraged him the most was that Lupin was a werewolf, and Dumbledore had seen him fit to teach Defence!
A sudden rap at the door jolted him from his stupor, his brows furrowed as he clocked the time to be nearing 1am. Rising to his feet with a grumble, he opened the door just enough to see the amused expression of the Hogwarts headmaster, Albus Dumbledore. Sighing audibly, he opened the door fully and allowed Dumbledore passage, the aged Headmaster nodded his head in thanks.
"Bit late for a nightcap, eh Severus?" Dumbledore commented, eyeing the now half empty bottle of Firewhiskey.
"I do not think it is any of your business what I do behind closed doors." Severus snapped, striding away from his old friend and snatching up his glass and flopping back onto the couch. "What are you doing here?"
"I was having trouble sleeping, and it occurred to me that in order to remedy this I needed to forewarn you of something." Dumbledore answered cryptically, sitting beside Severus and clasping his hands on his lap.
Severus rolled his eyes and exhaled loudly in frustration. "What it is, pray tell, that was so important for you to inform me of that you saw fit to wander the castle at this godforsaken hour?" Severus drawled, feeling what little was left of his patience leave him.
"I have taken Minerva's advice and ordered an Auror from the Ministry to aid with the security for the castle, as I do not trust the dementors." Dumbledore enlightened, ignoring Severus' mood. "They shall be sending someone in the morning."
Severus paused, waiting for more, but the headmaster simply stared at him with an expression of one sitting on a proverbial bombshell. "That's it?" Severus clarified incredulously. "You came to me in the dead of night to inform me we're having an Auror stay at the castle?"
"I would not feel the need to speak with you now if that was all I had to reveal." Dumbledore said tellingly, observing Severus over the top of his spectacles. "The Auror in question is a Miss Lexi McNaughton, and I have a feeling your may remember her."
Severus felt as though he'd been punched in the chest. Lexi McNaughton had not only taken the company of Black and Potter at Hogwarts, but she had been Lily Evans' best friend. Her presence had become synonymous with Lily's, especially after the events of fifth year that led to Lily dissolving her friendship with him. She, like Lupin, had not been directly involved with Potter and Black's torment, but she'd hung awkwardly on the side-lines observing what was happening with feigned indifference. To top it all off, she been part of the Auror team who was responsible for his arrest during his days working as a spy for Dumbledore after he'd turned against Voldemort and the Death Eaters. This, of course, was something only he and the Headmaster knew of, and Dumbledore had secured his acquittal in exchange for his services, but she'd campaigned tirelessly against his release and this left an incredibly bitter taste in Severus' mouth, despite the fact that she wasn't privy to all of the facts.
"You cannot be serious?" Severus said through gritted teeth. "First Lupin and now … her? Do you wish to put me through hell this year, Dumbledore?"
"It was not my intention, Severus." Dumbledore assured calmly. "Miss McNaughton is ranked amongst the senior Aurors at the Ministry and so has been entrusted with this particular assignment. She has quite the formidable reputation, almost as much as Alastor if my sources on the grapevine are to be believed."
"I am well acquainted with her reputation, as you well know." Severus spat viciously, filling his glass once more to the brim. "Haven't I been through enough without having to face to two ghouls of my past knocking down the door?"
"This is not a personal vendetta, Severus." Dumbledore assured with mild amusement. "I have met with Lexi several times since Hogwarts and I've found her nothing less than delightful."
"I don't recall her tackling you to the ground and threatening to hex you into the next century." Severus griped puerilely. "She did, as I recall, vehemently go against your testimony as to my turn of face."
"She was only doing her job, you know that as well as I." Dumbledore said sternly. "I can assure you, Lexi has been through her fair share of tribulations over the last few years." Dumbledore added seriously. "It was not only you that lost something that night, in fact one may say that Lexi lost more than most."
"I did not think grief was a competition." Severus muttered into his glass, draining the remainder of the amber liquid. "McNaughton has proved to be nothing more than a thorn in my side during each of our encounters."
Dumbledore chuckled and got to his feet. "Don't be so quick to dismiss the news as bad, Severus." He advised, getting to his feet. "Sometimes we find just what we need at times when we do not expect to, and in those we least expect."
"Ever the optimist." Severus responded sardonically. "I swear that you are conspiring against my desire to be left alone."
"I shall see you for the debrief tomorrow, Severus." Dumbledore said as he opened the door. "Goodnight."
Severus grunted a response and heard the door close as Dumbledore left the room. Severus doubted very much that he'd find anything other than contempt for McNaughton, their past dealings had been tainted with mostly indifference but at times loathing. He couldn't even remember what she looked like; his last recollection of her was while she wrestled him to the ground during his arrest. He had to admit she had the sort tenacity he admired in a person, but her association with Black and Potter was enough to cloud his opinion of her. Long forgotten recollections soon filled his increasingly wearied mind, and he drifted into a restless daze in his chair as flashes from the past entwined themselves with a pair of familiar green eyes.
Lexi McNaughton stood before the headmaster's office, nervously straightening her robes. Her clumsy apparition to the castle had resulted in her stumbling into a nearby thistle bush at the entrance gates, causing her to have a rather more dishevelled appearance than she'd like. Cursing the knots that formed in her waist length, rose-blonde curls she resigned herself to the fact that she'd have to present herself looking as though she'd come off worse in a fight with a troll. It had been sixteen years since she'd stepped foot inside Hogwarts, and the walls practically reverberating with the ghosts of those she'd long since put to bed. Everywhere she looked she saw fleeting images of those she had loved and lost, and felt a rising pang in her chest. Taking a deep, but shaky breath she rapped was purpose on the heavy wooden door to the Headmaster's office.
"Ah Lexi, what a pleasure it is to see you again!" Exclaimed Dumbledore, rising from behind his desk. Dumbledore motioned for Lexi to take one of the seats in front of him.
"So good to see you too, Albus." Smiled Lexi closing the door behind her. "I cannot say I care for the circumstances, however."
"I doubt many of us do," Dumbledore sighed regretfully. "Still, it is marvellous to see you looking so well."
"Thank you, Albus." Lexi blushed, reaching into her bag for the files Scrimgeour had given her. "These are my assignment documents, they outline your request for an Auror presence and the agreement made with the Head of the Auror Office." Lexi explained. "Rufus has asked that I be given a position at the castle, as we both agree it would be detrimental to the students if they were to be made aware of my official task."
"I couldn't agree more," Dumbledore affirmed brightly. "What do you suggest?"
"Well, I understand you've already filled the position of Defence Against the Dark Arts professor, but might I suggest a supporting role? One of my previous roles at the Auror academy was as a duelling master. I could always supplement the Professor's lessons with duelling instruction?"
"Perfect!" He exclaimed happily, clapping his hands together. "I feel confident that you will exceed your predecessor in that role."
"I couldn't possibly comment," Lexi said with a mischievous grin. "Are the staff ready for the debrief?"
"They are assembling as we speak," Dumbledore confirmed, walking round his desk and offering her his arm. "Shall we?"
Lexi bowed her head courteously and allowed Dumbledore to steer her from the room. The onslaught of reminiscences that bombarded her senses almost overwhelmed her as they snaked round the stonewalled corridors. Despite Scrimgeour's confidence in her abilities, Lexi had her reservations about her assignment at the castle. She hadn't returned since her final year at school here. As they approached the door to the staff room, Dumbledore paused and turned to face her.
"I should warn you, Severus Snape teaches at the school." He announced abruptly. "I understand you have a – ahh – chequered past."
Lexi blinked furiously in surprise. "S-Severus Snape?" She spluttered. "I didn't realise …"
"He's our Potions Master and Head of Slytherin House," Dumbledore explained. "I feel it my duty as your temporary employer to warn you not to take his attitude to heart, he is that way with everyone."
Lexi smiled weakly as Dumbledore pushed open the staff room door and beckoned her inside. Snape's presence would be problematic as their last encounter had been anything less than amiable.
"May I introduce Miss Lexi McNaughton," Dumbledore announced to the room, and the hushed chatter than had filled the room upon their arrival ceased immediately. "Although I am sure her reputation within these walls precedes her."
Lexi gave the staff a cheerful wave as they rose from their seats to greet her, many of her long suffering Professors approached with trepidation as the last they'd seen of her she was in the company of two of Hogwarts' most notorious students. Professor McGonagall in particular seemed unable to keep the well-trained look of disapproval from her expression.
"I hardly recognised you without your many-hued mane," McGonagall greeted, referring to the period during Lexi's seventh year when she dyed her hair multi-coloured. "It is good to see you looking so well."
"Thank you, Professor." Lexi thanked her formed Head of House, feeling strangely soothed in her presence. "It is rather worrying to consider I am in such a position of authority given what I got up to during my time here."
"Yes I must admit I was rather surprised when I'd heard of your successes in law enforcement," McGonagall replied with a knowing look, as though remembering Lexi's past transgressions. "And please, call me Minerva."
Lexi suddenly found herself in the midst of greeting a sea of friendly faces, Professor Flitwick in particular seemed beside himself at Lexi's return. Even though she, Sirius and James had ensured Flitwick was on the receiving end of their more good-natured shenanigans, he had always taken it light-heartedly and shared in their japes rather than scold them. After shaking hands with most of the staff, Dumbledore signalled for the meeting to begin. Lexi positioned herself at the front of the room, feeling increasingly nervous as everyone took their seats and looked expectantly in her direction. Upon a quick scan of the room she noted the absence of Snape, even though she hadn't set eyes on him in sixteen years she'd recognise him in a crowd of a hundred people. Lexi cleared her throat.
"Good morning everyone," Lexi pronounced, not quite believing her sudden elevation of status amongst the professors. "I am sure I do not to go into details as to my reasons for being here –" the room murmured in agreement and exchanged dark looks. '- Professor Dumbledore has asked the Ministry for a security detail in light of –"
Lexi was jolted by a loud bang from across the room, and looked to see a figure cloaked in billowing black robes storm into the room. Severus Snape was every bit the man she remembered, shoulder length black hair and thin, pale skin. But it wasn't that which struck her, his eyes were dark and piercing and bored into her as though they could read very soul. She felt momentarily stunned into silence by the intensity of his glare. He headed swiftly towards an empty chair at the back of the room, rested his elbows on his knees and clasped his hands together, not taking his eyes from hers.
"As I was saying," Lexi continued, looking away but feeling his gaze still on her. "The Ministry shares the headmasters concerns for the safety of the students of this school, and so has asked me to work as a Security Consultant as Black is unlike any threat we have ever dealt with."
"Is it wise to have sent you?" A deep, silky voice probed from the back of the room.
With great difficulty, Lexi turned to face those eyes once more. "I beg your pardon, Professor?" She said with public incredulity.
"You knew Black, shall we say, intimately," Snape stated bluntly, causing Lexi to flinch. "Is it wise to have sent someone with a personal attachment to such a dangerous convict to oversee security of the very place he maybe looking to infiltrate?"
Lexi a boiling rage begin to bubble within her, and she forced herself to fix his raging glare. "I would have thought that you of all people would know that a persons past does not dictate their future." She aired venomously. "So I would appreciate it if you kept your personal opinions of me to yourself, Professor."
Snape looked as though someone had slapped him in face, and she turned to the rest of the staff to see many of them open-mouthed. Clearly challenging Severus Snape was not a common occurrence, at least not in public. She cleared her throat and continued. "I am here to ensure that the appropriate security measures are in place and to monitor any potential entry points Black maybe aware of." Lexi steadied her voice, determinedly looking away from Snape. "It will also be my job to overlook a small group of dementors, whom the Ministry has insisted guard the school until Black has been recaptured."
There was an outcry amongst the staff, with many turning to Dumbledore for confirmation. He held up a hand for silence. "I am less than happy with the arrangement myself, but until Black is apprehended I have little say in the matter."
"Rest assured, we have pulled all of the staff in Magical Law Enforcement from their regular jobs to aid in the search," Lexi tried to reassure the room. "We hope to recapture Black very soon, and in the meantime I will be responsible for placing the dementors out of the way of the students but in locations where they are best effective."
"How did he escape?" Squeaked Flitwick perched on the sofa with his feet swinging beneath him.
"We are still looking into that, but my colleague leading the investigation is saying it'll be almost impossible to know for sure." Lexi admitted, feeling foolish with the Ministry's lack of information. "It is highly probable that he has access to dark magic we cannot possibly fathom."
"But why now?" Professor Sprout asked musingly. "Surely if he's had access to that sort of magic all this time, why has be waited until thirteen years after his release to carry out his escape?"
Lexi paused and turned to Dumbledore, unsure as to whether she should divulge this next piece of information. He gave her a subtle nod in response to her unanswered question.
"As some of you might be aware, Black is Harry Potter's godfather and it is possible that he may try to avenge Voldemort's –" she paused to allow the sudden outburst of gasps to quiet "- death by seeking out the boy and possibly doing harm to him. As why he chose this particular time to do so, we cannot say for certain."
"He's after Potter, you say?" Minerva asked in a shaky tone.
"That is our best guess, yes." Lexi confirmed grimly. "But, like I say, we are working around the clock on making sure he is back in custody before that could possibly happen."
"You don't think You-Know-Who is coming back, do you?" Flitwick asked warily, obviously voicing a question many had in their minds.
"It would be foolish to assume he'll never come back," Lexi said honestly. "But it doesn't look as though that's the reason for Black's recent actions. Up until recently I had led a team of Aurors who were responsible for tracking the movements of suspected former Death Eaters. I reported nothing out of ordinary, so I do not believe a return in immanent."
This seemed to satisfy the room, and Lexi immediately felt the tension lessen. Dumbledore thanked Lexi and dismissed the room. Lexi pushed through the throng in the hopes of getting to speak with Snape to at least clear the air. She hated tension, and there had been enough of it as he'd entered to make the whole room vibrate with it. Before she could however, he darted out of the room swiftly as though the last thing he wanted was human interaction. Undeterred, Lexi followed suit and soon found herself following the distant sound of his echoing footsteps until they reached the entrance hall.
"Snape!" She called after him, but he continued down the steps to the dungeons without so much as a backward glance. Rolling her eyes she picked up pace and hurried down the darkened stone steps, which led into the dingy corridor that housed the potions rooms and the Slytherin common room. Lexi remembered Snape spending much of their later years at Hogwarts in the dungeons, working studiously under Professor Slughorn, the then Potions Master. She hadn't had much to do with Snape in their time at Hogwarts, unless you could a rather irksome detention they shared after one of James and Sirius' pranks backfired in Transfiguration class.
Somewhere in the distance she heard a door slam and the resounding boom fill the narrow corridor, Snape must have retreated to his office. Letting out a deep sigh she turned the corner with some trepidation, feeling as though perhaps pursuing Snape when he was in this sort of mood wasn't the best course of action. Still, she'd never been one succumb to misgivings knocked purposefully on the door. Without waiting for an answer from within the room, she pushed the door open and saw Snape scribbling on parchment behind his desk. He made no move to acknowledge that anyone had entered the room, even when Lexi closed the door deliberately noisily behind her.
"Snape?" She voiced delicately as she stood herself in front of his desk. "I apologise if I am intruding here, but I felt we needed to clear the air."
Snape looked up at her, their eyes meeting with such a ferocious intensity that Lexi took a step back. She felt her pulse quicken as Snape continued to stare at her, as though he was seeing something in her eyes for the first time.
"Why would we need to do that?" Severus asked disdainfully. "I do not plan on having anything to do with you during your stay here."
"I realise our dealings in the past have been less than favourable, to say the least, but it seems petty to allow adolescent animosity dictate our working relationship." She said diplomatically, folding her arms across her chest.
"There is far more at work here than simple adolescent animosity, McNaughton." Snape growled. "Or have you forgotten your little smear campaign against me all those years ago?"
"Severus, you must understand, I had walked through hell in the months after … what happened." Lexi said, a lump forming in her throat. "I abhorred anything remotely connected with Voldemort or the Death Eaters, and rightly or wrongly I was relentless in my quest put those I felt responsible behind bars."
"If you expect me to feel sorry for you, then you are very much mistaken," he hissed, getting to his feet and walking round his desk. "I detest self pity, not the least from people felt the need to torment those they deemed beneath them!"
"You know nothing about me, Snape!" Lexi bit back. "So do not presume to! I lost everything that night, more than you could even fathom in your heartless existence!"
"Heartless? Why you –"
In a split second, both Lexi and Snape had their wands pointed at one another, each breathing heavily and seething with fury. Tendrils of curls fell in front of Lexi's eyes as she stood resolutely in the duelling stance.
"You know nothing of my past, McNaughton." Snape seethed, his wand trembling with rage in front of him.
"You're one to talk!" Lexi retorted, keeping a firm grip on her wand. "What about your comments in the staff room earlier? You had no right to bring up my past with Sirius!"
"I had every right," Snape hissed, stepping forwards so the tips of their wands were almost touching. "Both you and Lupin come to work at Hogwarts mere weeks after Black escapes, and no one bats an eyelid!"
"YOU BASTARD!" She shouted, no longer able to contain her temper. "HE TOOK EVERYTHING FROM ME, AND YOU STAND THERE ACCUSING ME OF AIDING HIM!"
Snape jerked back as though dodging a well-aimed curse, his eyes widened in surprise at her outburst. Lexi could feel hot tears forming in the corners of her eyes, and not wishing to give Snape the satisfaction of seeing her emotions laid bare, she hurried for the room and slammed the door behind her.