By: Airelle Vilka
Epilogue ~ The Best of Times
Rain pattered on the dark upstairs window of Ollivander's Wand Shop in Diagon Alley. Lights from a candle on the worn table danced merrily in the cobwebbed corners of the room, and a small fire steamed a kettle and sent smoke up the chimney. A heavy odor of pinewood was in the air, and a large cat lay curled on the rug at the foot of the bed. It was small and cozy, like the room itself, and sported a dappled quilt laid diagonally across two pillows.
A tall figure, the only occupant of this room, sat hunched at the table, a tight bun of white, thinning hair facing the door and an aged, preserved face looking thoughtfully out of the window and into the night. Her fingers were long and well-practiced, peeking out from the edges of her sleeves and drumming on the wood. Her eyes were dark and shining behind her horn-rimmed glasses, her mouth thin and pursed under high, noble cheekbones, a testament of her former beauty. In and out she breathed, slowly, her moth-eaten robes rising and falling with each lungful… waiting.
If she had learned anything in her years as an Auror, it was that patience paid well.
And patience was definitely what she needed now.
Airelle straightened her new glasses, which were sliding off the bridge of her nose, and blinked rapidly. Thankfully, her vision was still perfectly clear; the glasses were artificial and a part of her disguise, suitable to her new appearance. It was so very strange to look in the mirror now, and have to stare twice before realizing that your reflection was actually accurate.
She had to give props, however, to Omar Fauks's associates at the Ministry for developing a new Aging Potion that did not weaken one's abilities. After all, I doubt I would be able to fight off a dozen Death Eaters with my walking stick, she thought with a small grin.
In front of her, the candle illuminated a large stack of books, with titles ranging from "How to Act Like the Perfect Fussbudget," to "Habits, Customs, and Recipes of Elderly Witches in England," and "Magic in Bed: A Guide for the Matured Witch." The last one was still open to page 109; Airelle had turned the book round and round to figure out which way the diagram went, and had finally given up.
The entire plan would have been ludicrous, if it were not for one simple fact – Airelle Vilka was dead.
Well, dead to everyone but a few, who knew her real fate. But most importantly, dead to Lord Voldemort. That was the invaluable asset the Order of the Phoenix needed – she could replace Severus Snape as the spy in the Dark Lord's circle, because he considered Airelle Vilka deceased. Guided by Snape's experience in the Death Eater fold, and the firm hand of Dumbledore, she would help bring Voldemort down.
But in what way was she to infiltrate? And how well would she fool anyone?
Airelle sniffed the air and sighed, weary. They'd offered her a chance to return to Hogwarts in glory, and continue to lead a professor's existence, and be ready when Voldemort struck. Omar, who had supervised her secret transformation from her true self to an old woman, even suggested for her to pass from memory and disappear. She could have taken a teacher's absence from Hogwarts and never return – could have started a new life, under a new identity…
But idiot that I am, I chose the hard way, she thought, narrowing her eyes and pressing the tips of her fingers together in thought. She'd joined the Order of the Phoenix as she'd promised, and decided to stay under wraps until called. The hard part was that the day after the fight in Aberdeenshire, she was pronounced dead, a victim of the Avada Kedavra that had destroyed the recipe for the Mortis Potion. The only people who knew the truth numbered nine: the ones present at her awakening – Dumbledore, Snape, and Sirius Black – and now, Omar Fauks, McGonagall, Remus Lupin, Ollivander, and Airelle's parents. It was too dangerous to tell any others, for fear that Voldemort might torture them for information, or they might accidentally blurt it out someplace. Omar had judged that Cornelius Fudge should not be told, due to his great indelicacy and tendency to distrust Dumbledore's plans, but the decision had not been finalized yet. Dumbledore had the last word in the matter, and it was better that way. Working behind Fudge's back would prove much more difficult and dangerous, if they were to keep their affairs secret…
In short, Airelle was waiting for a sign from the Order of the Phoenix, waiting as patiently as she could. It was June now—she had been waiting two months.
And why did she do it, why? It was definitely not for an award or some tribute to heroism. Perhaps I feel guilty, she wondered, for resigning my job as an Auror, for running away from the battle. Maybe it really was my calling after all. Or maybe, I want to do something to help destroy the wizard who killed so many… who tortured my best friend… who nearly killed me as well. Just maybe---
Her train of thought halted with a screech. She'd seen something outside the window, staring up at her from the back alley.
Eyes. Glowing eyes.
Cursing in a tongue most had forgotten, Airelle leapt up – with surprising agility for a woman of her aged appearance – and slid her wand from her sleeve. In a second or two, she was stationed on the left side of the windowsill, away from the exposed glass. The candle flame, disturbed by her sudden motion, leaped angrily in its attempts to remain on its wick.
Her breaths came in shallow gasps, but her gaze was alive and burning with battle. Those eyes had not been human.
Cautiously, wand raised, she peered out from behind the wall and out of the window, her mouth open and ready to utter a spell. Her eyes fell to the pavement below—but nothing greeted her. Whatever that thing was, it was gone.
Her eyebrows furled, and she looked around further. Nothing; all she could see was wet stone. Perhaps she had imagined it? Hallucinated? Or maybe, it was a stray cat or dog that happened to look up at her window. Perhaps I'm becoming more paranoid than I thought…
Suddenly, the cat next to the bed hissed and bolted under the quilt.
There was a BANG downstairs, as if a door had been opened and slammed. A clatter of glass, then silence--- and Airelle's thoughts flew. Ollivander was down there. But who—who could have known he was sheltering her? Who could have recognized her, even in disguise?
Finally deciding it was better to act, she slowly opened the door and crept down the stairs, clutching her wand close to her chest. It was still deathly quiet – no footsteps or anything. If it had been someone from the front door, a bell would have rung—so, he or she must have entered from the back door, the side of the shop her window looked out of. The alley where she'd seen the eyes…
Her heartbeat sounded as loud as a drum to her ears as she picked her way down the railing, among the shelves, full of boxes and dust – towards the back of the shop.
Please, Mr. Ollivander, still be alive. Please…
Her hands twitched in anticipation as she came to the end of the room and the door that led to the back. The said door was ajar, and thin light streamed out onto her feet. Silently, she crossed the threshold and---
The large room was empty and cold, despite the presence of a small fireplace – and that meant the back door had just been opened. Only a broken vase lay on the floor, its shards winking up at her in the glow. Her pulse racing, she had put one more step into the room when---
"Now what are you doing creeping around at night?" said a voice from behind her, and Airelle's heart nearly rammed its way into her throat. She jumped and spun; only years of practice stopped her from yelling out a hex before her brain had processed the words.
"Calm yourself, my child," said Mr. Ollivander, stepping into the light and leaning onto a cane. He wore a burgundy nightgown under a thick woolen shawl, a white nightcap, and enormous but tasteful black slippers. Behind him crouched a gigantic and shaggy dog, with huge lamp-like eyes.
Airelle's mouth opened and closed, but no sound came out.
"Come," said Ollivander, "sit down in the chair and share a cup of tea with us."
Somehow, Airelle allowed herself to be led to a plush armchair in front of the fire, still staring at the dog as if her eyes had been sewn open. Ollivander perched himself opposite her, also in front of the fire, and the dog sat next to him.
"Us?" she finally managed to choke out, not touching the mug Ollivander had handed her.
"Oh, you don't know?" asked the wizard, looking mildly surprised at her shock. "Well… how silly of me to frighten you. The wind slammed the door so hard that my vase fell down… I'll sweep it up later."
"And… and you opened the door--- to let this dog in?!"
"Why, of course," said Ollivander, smiling. "I was expecting a visitor--- but I was not expecting you to be awake."
"He is our guest," laughed the old man, now grinning from ear to ear. "You did not frighten her, now did you?" he asked the dog, which was wagging its tail like a broom over the floor. Airelle stared--- blinked--- and suddenly understood.
"You don't mean--- that's not---"
The dog sniffed at her, and before she could blink again, it was gone. A man had appeared in its place, tall and dark-haired with mischievous eyes, wearing travel robes and a small, quirky smile.
"You!" she exclaimed, jumping from the armchair and goggling at him. "An Animagus?"
Sirius Black shrugged and made a face at her. "How do you think I've been avoiding capture all this time?" he asked. "Or how I reached the museum in Aberdeenshire again without being seen, after warning Dumbledore?"
Airelle heaved a sigh and looked away, aware of his eyes boring questioningly into hers. He knew of her affair with Snape, and the hatred the latter still harbored for him, though it was now clear to the Order that Black was innocent. Still… she couldn't help remembering, whenever she looked at him, those pictures of his emaciated face shown on Muggle television… That thought made her look up at him quickly again.
"Were you standing outside all this time?"
He nodded. "Yes. Until Mr. Ollivander let me in."
"Why were you staring up at my window?" she asked, sitting back down and shivering slightly at the memory. Ollivander settled back in his chair and sipped his tea quietly.
"Have you looked in the mirror lately?" replied Black, his mouth still curled in a small smile that did not quite reach his eyes. "I thought I had come to the wrong house."
"Yes, well--- it was Dumbledore's suggestion and Omar's expertise that made this Aging Potion find its way into my hands," she said, staring down at her knobby, wrinkled palms. "It is for a good cause."
"Has Snape seen you?" he asked. There was absolutely no emotion in the question, but as Airelle looked up, she could have sworn that a flash of distaste had passed through his gaze.
"Not yet. He has gone back to Hogwarts, to finish the year."
"I see," said Black, shifting slightly from side to side as if bored. "Well--- I came here for a reason."
"Yes," said Ollivander, crossing his arms over his shawl. "A message from the Order of the Phoenix, correct? They did not wish to send it by owl…"
Sirius looked back at the door before answering. "Is it safe?"
Ollivander nodded. "Ever since Ms. Vilka's arrival here, there have been double spells for protection from prying eyes and ears."
"Good… then here it is." Reaching into the inner recesses of his robes, Black produced two small letters, one of which he gave to Ollivander. The other he held stiffly in his hand. "Destroy them after reading immediately. Dumbledore's orders."
"Of course," Ollivander nodded, smiling reassuringly. "Albus has always been careful."
Black did not reply, but fished out another envelope from his pocket – a larger one, crisp and blank.
"For you," he said, handing both the small and the large envelopes to Airelle. "One identical to Mr. Ollivander's, and another."
She raised an eyebrow at him. "From whom?"
"Open it and see," said Black irritably, turning to the shopkeeper. "I must go now… Animagus or not, I should not be seen."
Ollivander nodded once. "Thank you. Go."
Black was at the door when Airelle stood up from her armchair. The fire crackled merrily now.
He swiveled, but did not say anything. She bit her lip noticeably.
"How are… Harry… and the others?"
For the first time, he did not meet her eyes. "Read the letter, Ms. Vilka," he said, turning back around. "We shall discuss events… and our plans later."
"Sirius," she said more roughly as his hand went to the doorknob. This time, he did not turn. "Sirius."
"What?" he murmured, and it was as though they were alone in the room. On Airelle's part, it was almost… an apology? An apology for believing him guilty of the murders that Pettigrew had committed?
Her face softened, though he could not see it. "Thank you."
Black nodded slowly, but almost unnoticeably, and twisted the knob.
He'd been gone a long time when Airelle finally turned to go to bed, and found herself facing Mr. Ollivander.
"Are you all right, my dear?" he asked. His nightcap was lopsided over his white hair, and his keen blue eyes showed concern. "You should head upstairs, and get some sleep."
Airelle gave him a feeble smile. "It will be a long time, sir," she said, walking past him now, "before I sleep well again. But good night nonetheless."
"Isn't that the truth," she heard him say as she began her trek to the staircase. "Isn't that the truth, indeed."
The cat emerged from under the quilt an hour after Airelle had re-entered the bedroom and removed her robe. She did not dare look in the mirror to see herself in a nightgown, and did not bother to brush her hair. She was too nervous and eager to read the letter, like a schoolgirl. The two envelopes lay on the table in front of her, and she admired them as if they were made of gold with silver decorative leaflets. Both were blocked with identification spells, which she had had to complete in order to read the contents. She had not received owls from anyone but her parents, and even that had been a single, discreet note addressed to Ollivander. The worst part was not knowing whether she would ever see Hogwarts again… or die at Voldemort's hands, and this time for real… unknown and unmourned…
Her hands, already smoother than they had been an hour before, (she would have to drink more Aging Potion to make herself used to it and keep up appearances) removed the letter from the smaller envelope. It had no return address, or indeed, any address at all, and ran simply thus:
Time presses upon me, so I shall make this short. Everything has been taken care of, according to your wishes. Miss Tylon, Miss Patts, Mr. Weasley, and Mr. Longbottom have recovered fully and are back at Hogwarts. Ms. Delilah Haze has awakened and is in the care of Remus and Madam Pomfrey. You shall see more of her shortly. For now, everything is as well as it can be at Hogwarts. I will send you a messenger to inform you of a meeting of the Order sometime next week. If all is well, I shall have your assignment then, and we will discuss our plans. Hagrid, though a part of the Order, shall not be present. He has his own mission with the giants of the North to fulfill, commissioned directly by me; but you shall hear of that later. He is not aware that you are alive, since he has a tendency to be rather loquacious under the influence of drink. As for the rest, they will attend. Please be careful and patient; and remember to use your alias when in public.
Tossing the letter into the fireplace, Airelle put her chin on her hands and thought hard. So, the Order of the Phoenix would meet. And then--- and then what? Would they, as she'd guessed earlier, make her a spy in Voldemort's fold? Was she ready for this?
She decided to leave these thoughts and digest them in the morning. Meanwhile, there was the second letter to worry about.
She tore it open, and there were two sheets of paper in it—-one white, the other brown, which looked like a newspaper clipping. She took out the white one first, and read:
A funeral was held for you soon after Hogwarts got the news. I did not attend, and Saint Potter thought me heartless. All too well; that will erase the rumors of what happened in Aberdeenshire.
Dumbledore has sent me a letter, which you will get as well—though he did not tell me how he planned to send this to you. In any case, I write freely, without cryptograms here, because I trust his judgment—at least to a certain extent. I shall see you at the meeting of the Order. I do not know what they plan to do, but I strongly suspect they will insert another spy into Voldemort's circle, since I am only useful from a distance now. If that spy turns out to be you, I shall leave the decision to your will. (Airelle frowned at this; Snape was forcing the words from himself. She wondered if he would protest if Dumbledore decided to choose her as the spy.) In the meantime, be safe, and do not go out in public unless necessary. Use your alias.
She tossed this into the fire as well, but not before holding it tightly in her hand. If she were called upon to be with the Death Eaters, she would rarely, if ever, see him again—
Another thought to leave until morning.
With a sigh, she reached back into the envelope for the other contents—and, as she'd guessed, it was a clipping from the Daily Prophet's main rival, Wizard World. Within it was wrapped a small piece of paper, and read, in Snape's smooth hand: I thought you might enjoy this.
Curious, she unwrapped the clipping--- and nearly fell over laughing.
On it was a picture of none other than Gilderoy Lockhart, half-dressed and running about like a raccoon with its tail on fire, his blonde hair strewn over his perfect face and his eyes bulging. From the photograph, it looked like some woman was chasing Lockhart all over the grounds of a shack. And smack on the top were the lines:Wizard World Gossip Column: "More Than One Can Chew"
by Dill Cunningham
It appears that the Daily Prophet's star reporters are dallying with more than just storylines. For instance, take an event that just occurred yesterday, in which self-proclaimed news genius Gilderoy Lockhart won himself more publicity than he ever wanted. That day, I had received an anonymous owl that carried an address and suspicious contents. Consequently, a few colleagues and I went to check if all was well--- and lo and behold, we found Mr. Lockhart tarrying there with Velma Pollort, a well-known courtesan in the area. When we questioned him about his behavior, Mr. Lockhart refused to answer, and was consequently chased about the grounds by an apparently angry Ms. Pollort. Well, all I can say is that his 5-time win of Witch Weekly's Most Charming Smile Award really did get him somewhere. As they say: Be careful what you wish for.
Grinning, Airelle settled back in the chair and decided to keep this one close at hand, in case she needed a laugh during these rough times. Oh yes, Severus Snape definitely knew how to get revenge.
A/N: So. It is done. A year, and more… and it is done. Sleepless nights, kiss my bum. :) Did you like? Want more? Well, stay tuned for the sequel, Kavaleria Nox, in which you will see more of the main characters, new characters, dark plotlines, and everything in between! Thank you for everything, my dear readers and reviewers--- you're the reason I'm here. *dances the can-can for your viewing pleasure*