Thanks to everyone who read and reviewed. This story hasn't been abandoned (and won't be), it's just slow going to get everything arranged right.
I got a question/comment about the lack of Sirius and Remus in this story. They will be turning up in person at least once more, and you can feel free to assume that they've been keeping in touch with Harry as well. However, since Severus is about the last person that they'd be owl-pals with, and Harry isn't likely to bring them up in conversation with him (he does have some common sense, whatever Severus may think), their activities aren't something that the story will go into.
"Are you sure about that, Professor?"
I live my life surrounded by idiots. "Why, no, Harry, it's not as though I'm an expert in the subject and have been teaching that particular potion for as long as you've been alive."
Harry rolled his eyes and stuck his nose back in the Potions text, and Severus scowled at the back of his head.
Surely the dosed hot chocolate should be taking effect by now. He could hear faint murmuring coming from a knot of professors near one of the windows, in between the snores of sleeping students, but he felt no inclination to join them. And he certainly didn't feel like joining the Aurors spaced out around the room. Unfortunately, he wasn't having much luck with his reading either. He'd read the same page three times before Harry had interrupted him with his asinine question, was halfway through the fourth viewing, and he still couldn't remember a single word on it.
Harry mumbled something, and Severus looked up from his reading again only to find the brat passed out with his nose in the Potions book.
Finally. Severus stared for a moment and then frowned, shifting Harry just enough to slide the book out from under his head. After all, teenage drool would not improve one of his personal volumes. There was a snicker from behind him, and Severus twisted to find Alastor smirking at him. Obnoxious arse. Both of Alastor's eyes were focused on him, so he widened his own eyes theatrically. "Look out behind you!"
He'd hissed the warning as opposed to shouting it, but Alastor drew his wand and spun around anyway, some sort of spell already half-incanted.
Severus snorted. All things considered, that had been a rather base thing to do, but everyone else close enough to hear him was asleep, and it wasn't like the lunatic didn't deserve it. On principle, if nothing else.
"Smart-arsed little bastard," Alastor muttered, turning back around. His magic eye remained turned backwards, watching his back through his skull, as his real eye glared at Severus. "Just asking for a beating."
Severus had slipped his own wand down into his hand when Alastor turned back towards him, an automatic defensive reaction, but he only acknowledged the threat with a casual shrug. "As I believe I've mentioned on more than one occasion, you're always welcome to try."
"What, you didn't come close enough to dying earlier?"
Alastor had yet to lower his wand, but he obviously had no intention of using it—although the fact the he recognized that told Severus that he'd spent far too much time around the nutter recently—and Severus made a show of putting his away. "I have no plans to die today, but I suppose that dying would spare me your company. Decisions, decisions."
"Sleeping would spare you my company for the time being as well, but it looks as thought your little shadow has taken over your bunk."
Severus scowled as Moody's smirk returned. Point to him, damn it all. The brat had even begun to snore quietly. "Is there anything happening outside?" he asked.
"Not that we've noticed, but there are still too many Dementors swarming to do a full sweep. I'd thought they might go when there were no more victims to be found, but it seems as though we're going to have to work to drive them off." He rolled his wrist slightly, and his wand jumped up into a sleeve holster. "Though I'll admit to being tempted to let them remain long enough to drain the energy out of all those howlers that Albus seems to think are coming."
I'm never that lucky. "More likely we'll learn that they've discovered how to drain animals and we'll find ourselves on the receiving end of more howlers for the ensuing owl shortage."
"Alastor, Severus, if I could have a moment of your time?" Albus asked, coming up beside them. "Are both of you relatively awake and alert?"
Severus could already see that there was no way that that question was leading up to anything good, and if he had any sense, he'd claim sudden fatigue. Or perhaps simply pass out on the spot for dramatic effect. Judging by his current reading comprehension, he wasn't that far from it. "I'm fine," he found himself saying instead. I've just been infected by the rampant stupidity of those around me.
"Not as though I haven't gone without sleep before," Alastor said at the same time. "What do you need?"
"I'm still inclined to think that this is an opening maneuver for a political game, but I'm not fool enough to believe that that's the only possibility. None of the portraits has reported seeing anything unusual, but there are certain places that they can't go. Chief among them the deeper parts of the dungeons. Severus, as you know the dungeons perhaps better than anyone in this castle…."
Why couldn't I have spent my childhood becoming familiar with the Forbidden Forest? At this rate, it would have been safer. "Of course. And I assume that I'll have the…pleasure…of Mr. Moody's company on this jaunt."
"You're hardly someone that I want to spend time around either," Alastor growled. "Don't the attics need searching? At least I don't have the standing urge to pitch any—most—well, a few, at least—of the others here down a dark hole." He paused. "Then again, I suppose there must be a few of those down in the dungeons."
"Ah, yes, but I'm the one who knows where they are. How terribly unfortunate for you."
"Gentlemen, this is hardly the time," Albus interrupted before Alastor could respond. "I just need a simple survey of the unused corridors down there to make sure that nothing and no one untoward managed to enter the castle during the melee. While you do that, Minerva and Tonks are going to check the attics and Filius and Kingsley will sweep the main rooms and offices. I'm less concerned about those areas, but—"
Severus snorted, but Albus was right, damn him. There were plenty of places in the dungeons that were just too damp to hang portraits, and letting students leave the Great Hall before checking those areas would be grossly irresponsible. Severus glanced down at Harry, still snoring contentedly away, and then managed a vaguely gracious gesture towards the stairs. If one redefined 'gracious' as an annoyed jab, anyway. "After you."
"I've got my eye on you, boy," Alastor muttered.
"Of course you do."
Several hours had passed since they'd left the Great Hall, and Severus was wet, tired—more tired—and seriously considering murdering Albus. And Alastor. And just for good measure, Poppy and Sybil and probably Harry and…well, at this point if he ended up being the sole living being left in the castle, he thought that he'd be okay with that. "Do you have any more brilliant ideas?"
Alastor ignored him, casting yet another blasting charm at the door. Which did exactly as much good as the previous nine had. Ten had. However many blasts that he'd already fired had. Unfortunately, whoever had shielded that thing and the surrounding wall with it had done a disturbingly good job.
Severus turned his back on Alastor and his fruitless attempts to blow his way out and started yet another circuit of the room, holding his wand with its lighted tip in his clamp while running his hand over the stone in search of a hidden latch or catch or something. But, of course, his efforts were exactly as effective as Alastor's attempts at blowing the door off its hinges: all he found was the same empty cabinet and pair of shackles hanging from the wall that he'd found on every other circuit. They'd been trapped in here for what, an hour? Nearly that, probably, and from the look of things they weren't going to be leaving anytime soon. "I think someone, somewhere, hates me."
"I think it'd be faster to make a list of people who didn't hate you."
That was quite possibly true, Severus knew, but he wasn't going to encourage Alastor by admitting it. Besides, Alastor was hardly one to talk. He shook his head as he finished his latest circuit and once again reached the wall with the door. For the most part their search of the dungeons had proved exactly as fruitless as he'd expected, but under the circumstances, he'd actually agreed with the paranoia that had Alastor insisting that they check every nook and never-used passage as well. Unfortunately, in his borderline-exhausted state, he'd forgotten about finding Harry locked in one of the rooms at the far end of the flooded corridor. At least until the door had swung shut behind he and Alastor and trapped them here.
Alastor stepped back, barking something that made an overly-bright witch light shoot up to the ceiling.
Severus shielded his eyes instinctively, biting back a curse at the lunatic for not warning him, and then waited for his eyes to adjust to the brightness before taking yet another look around. The room looked even more depressing fully illuminated than it had when they'd been using simple Lumos spells attached to their wands, and it didn't reveal any new clues about potential escape routes either.
"Sadistic bastard," Alastor muttered.
Severus frowned, trying to figure what he'd done to rate that particular complaint just now—Alastor was nuts, but his insults generally bore some connection to what was occurring around him—but Alastor's attention was still on the outline of the door.
"And why Albus didn't just take his spells down when he forbade the use of this place I will never know."
"Wait, you know what this room is?" Severus had to ask. "How?"
"Considering the number of detentions I had in here, it's hard to forget," he said with a snort. "Been more than a few years since I've made the trip, and the corridor was never flooded back then—why I didn't recognize it in the first place—but…." He shrugged before turning his frown on Severus, suspicion colored his features once again. "You, on the other hand, are far too young to have been around when this place was in use. How do you know about it?"
"This is where I perform my annual student sacrifice."
"Harry managed to get himself locked in here a few months ago," Severus interrupted. With his luck, Alastor had probably thought that he was serious, and he really didn't feel like dealing with that right now. "Minerva told me what this place used to be when we found him."
That got another snort but no actual response, and Severus turned again. "Can you see anything through the other walls?" He couldn't, but even he would admit that Alastor's eye was more powerful than his was. Maybe there was an inner office somewhere, and the door release was in there.
Alastor's eyes rotated for a moment, and then he shook his head. "It's all too dark. I can't even tell you if I'm looking through the stone or just into it."
"Well, if you used to have detentions in here, how did you get out back then?"
"He let us out. Had some kind of charm that he wore." Alastor gestured vaguely at his chest. "Don't suppose there was anything like that in the cabinet?"
"It was empty," Severus reported. A flick of his wand moved the cabinet away from the wall so he could look behind it. Maybe there was a hiding place there? But no, it was just more flat stone. Excellent. Just…excellent.
Alastor cast a Patronus, presumably intending to send it for help, but apparently the walls were too thick for even that to slip through because the hedgehog just stomped around in the air for a few minutes and then dispersed.
Severus sighed and leaned against the wall, debating transfiguring himself a bed out of one of the shackles. Any other day and he might be tempted to remain here until someone came looking—or at least take a nap and hope for fresh ideas when he awakened—but given the Dementors surrounding the castle, the last thing anyone needed was the bad press that would occur if two professors went missing. No, they needed to get out of here, and they needed to do it soon. Somehow. If only there was a tunnel that ran past this, maybe we could join…. He straightened, turning slightly as he tried to orient himself.
"What?" Alastor demanded.
"Harry thought that this led route to the Chamber of Secrets. That's how he got himself locked in here in the first place."
That got a skeptical look. "I never heard anything like that in my time here."
"Neither have I. It was a rumor in some History addendum that he was looking at." A bad one, but Severus wasn't going to bring that up. "There was no specific reference to the Chamber, but there were rumors about some kind of secret passage this way." He wished that he'd read those paragraphs a little more closely now. "And given the path we took to get here…." Severus shook his head. He did know these dungeons better than anyone else, and given the position of the entrance to the Chamber of Secrets, what he remembered of the interior, and the route he and Alastor had traveled to get to this room, he couldn't rule it out. "Are there anti-blasting spells on—" He checked his orientation again and then gestured left. "—that wall?"
Alastor's wand flicked and then he shook his head. "Bloody thick stone, though. You really want to blow through it?"
"Well, this place is Unplottable, and we haven't got any way to send for help. And nothing either of us has tried on the door has done any good so unless you want to wait here until someone happens to find us I'm not sure that we have much of a choice." You know that someone from the Ministry will be at Hogwarts as soon as morning arrives, and given our reputations…."
"We'd best be there," Alastor grunted. He didn't look happy, but he obviously didn't disagree with Severus' assessment.
Severus cast his own set of spells at the left wall quickly. The stone was at least a couple feet thick, Alastor had been right about that much, and while he had a blasting spell that was more than strong enough to punch a hole through it, he wasn't sure if any of his blocks could take the backlash. And given that they were in a dungeon below the rest of Hogwarts, it would probably a bad idea to bring any portion of the ceiling—and, coincidentally, any part of the rest of the castle—down on top of them. He grimaced. As much as he disliked the idea of admitting any sort of weakness in his spell arsenal to Alastor, it appeared that he didn't have a choice. "I can take down a portion of the wall, but I won't be able to shield at the same time," he said after a minute. "Or support the wall afterwards."
"Shields I've got," Alastor said, "and unless you take down the whole wall it's no issue fusing the rest of the stone in support."
Severus nodded, shifting his wand in his hand and taking aim. "Perfla petram!" With as much stone as he had to cut through, he had to maintain the spell for some amount of time, and he could feel his arm starting to shake before the pressure in front of him suddenly released. It did its job, though, creating a round tunnel through the stone. Slightly smaller than he'd have liked, given he and Alastor's heights, but manageable enough.
Alastor hadn't even bothered with an incantation for the shields that sprang up around them and protected them from the shower of stone shards that Severus' spell generated. Yet more proof of his twisted mental state in Severus' opinion, but it had done the job well enough. Severus didn't recognize his second spell, the one that smoothed and stabilized the rough tunnel that he'd cut, but as an odd blue glow faded from the rock the entrance to the tunnel did appear fused and solid rather than the crumbling, ragged appearance that Severus' spell had caused.
"How long will that hold?" Severus asked.
"As long as the stone does." Alastor shook his head, stepping closer and thumping the wall with his crutch. "A bit of a rush job, but if Albus doesn't want to do it himself, I can fix it properly later." He leaned down, staring into darkness. "There's open space through there, but whether it's the Chamber or not, I can't say." He stepped back. "After you."
"Really, that's not necessary."
"Nonsense, it was your idea."
Arse. Severus stepped forward. "Lumos." Squeezing through the tunnel in the rock wasn't precisely comfortable, especially since he had to move in just above a crouch given the height of the thing, but at least he only had to cover a short distance. At which point the floor disappeared from in front of him. He created a witch light of his own and sent it floating out into the space ahead.
"What is it?" Alastor demanded.
"A cavern." No sign of any of the green luminescence that had marked the Chamber of Secrets, but then, this cavern didn't seem to share the deep pool of water at the bottom that had probably allowed those plants to grow. And it wasn't as though there hadn't been plenty of dry tunnels off the Chamber.
He cast a cushioning spell at the stone floor below him and then jumped. It wasn't far: ten, perhaps twelve feet. Alastor's jump was more of a fall, but when he thought about it, Severus wasn't quite sure how he'd moved through the short tunnel with a crutch at all, so he kept his mouth shut.
"Any idea which way now?" Alastor asked.
Severus gestured towards the far wall. At least there was an opening in that direction. He only hoped that it didn't lead outside to the lake or something like that. In fact…. He turned back, casting a barrier spell at the tunnel they'd just created. He was pretty sure—almost positive, in fact, and he had a tolerably good sense of direction—that they were still underneath the castle, but it didn't hurt to be safe.
"If this takes us outside to the Dementors, they'll be the least of your worries," Alastor warned.
"Perhaps you haven't noticed, but I can certainly outrun you."