Disclaimer: None of the characters in this story belong to me. It's all J. K. Rowling's. No monetary gain is sought…only amusement.

Chasing the Story

"You know…" Rita Skeeter waved her long painted nails in the barman's face. "I could probably drum up more business for you…write an article that would put this place on the map. Before you know it, this dump could be the next incredibly desirable hot spot instead of the deadly dull dive it is now, and all I'd require for putting my talents at your disposal is a few free drinks. What do you say?" She smiled ingratiatingly.

The man behind the counter leaned down until he was nose to nose with the Daily Prophet's former star reporter. "The last thing I want is you trying to promote my business," he grumbled. "I like things quiet and I like things dull and so do my customers. And I never hand out free drinks…not to anyone. So, do you plan to sit there all night nursing that single glass of whisky or do you want another one?"

Rita frowned and dropped her eyes to her almost empty glass. Hell yes, she wanted another one, but another drink wasn't in her budget, unfortunately, hence her incredibly generous offer. Making a living had been hard work ever since that interfering little bitch had forced her to leave her regular job at the Prophet. All she'd been able to manage since the time limit had passed and she could ply her trade again, had been the occasional bit of free-lance work.

Somehow she had to find a way to do better than that. What she needed was one really big story…something that any newspaper editor with even half a brain, which tended to describe most of them, would have to buy. If it was big enough, she might even be able to parlay it into another full time job. But first she had to find the story, and sadly, stories such as that almost never just fell into her lap anymore. Damn that bushy haired brat, anyway.

"I'm fine with this," she muttered unhappily.

"Suit yourself," remarked the barman with a shrug as he straightened up and moved off down the bar to tend to some customers who actually appeared to have money to spend.

Rita watched him go with a sullen glare and raised her glass to her lips, downing the rest of the fiery liquid with one gulp. All she needed was one good story to put herself back on top…one big splashy, impressive story. But though she faithfully made the rounds of all the usual places, talked to all the usual people, and listened to every scrap of gossip, no matter how absurd or miniscule…not a hint of anything really useful had come her way since she'd covered Dumbledore's funeral.

That had been quite an event. Lots of tense undercurrents, juicy gossip and crocodile tears there, no doubt about that, but that was months ago now and one couldn't live off old news forever. She needed something fresh. Glumly, she swiveled around on her stool and surveyed the dark, smoky interior of the pub. Not exactly a lively place. Oh, there were plenty of patrons, but they all seemed to be conversing in furtive whispers while keeping themselves masked and cloaked beneath the pervasive cloud of smoke that passed for what some might laughingly call atmosphere in this dingy hole.

With a resigned sigh, she shrugged and began to turn back to the bar. What else could she really expect in a dive like this, hidden away in the most convoluted part of Knockturn Alley? It was probably time to call it a night anyway. Certainly no one around here was about to buy her a drink or tip her off to a story so she could possibly buy her own.

A sudden movement caught her attention. She narrowed her eyes to peer through the dimness, trying to figure out if it was worth her time to continue watching the cloaked figure who was inching his way towards the door. There wasn't anything remarkable about this particular cloaked figure as far as she could see, so she wasn't really sure why she was continuing to watch his progress through the crowd. When you're bored, the oddest things will capture your attention, she thought idly. She couldn't be certain, but she'd have bet money that the figure was a man from the way he moved. That was about all she could be sure of, though, until he happened to glance straight out into the crowd for a brief moment, and she got a good look at his face.

A bolt of excitement shot through her as she recognized the thin, sallow features of Severus Snape under the ubiquitous black cloak. What brought the wizarding world's most famous fugitive to this little corner of Knockturn Alley…and how could she make use of this tremendous and unexpected gift?

Snape finally reached the door, and as she watched, he opened it and vanished into the night. Without pausing to think about what she was about to do, Rita grabbed her shabby crocodile bag and pushed her way across the crowded floor of the pub to follow her story out the door. Maybe her luck was finally changing after all.

Once outside, Rita paused for a moment to try to spot her quarry. The narrow alley in front of her was sparsely populated but, to her frustration, every single person she saw was carefully swaddled in black from head to toe. You'd think it was the middle of winter rather than the end of a rather sultry summer, but that was what you got when you hung out in places where everyone around you had something to hide.

It didn't take long for her focus to settle on one particular black clad figure who was moving away from her with a much more purposeful stride than any of the others were using. That had to be her man. No one in Snape's position would be dawdling along examining the merchandise in the display windows of the closed shops. They'd be getting to wherever they were going as quickly as possible.

Swiftly, Rita snapped open the clasp of her handbag and withdrew a small piece of parchment and a rather battered green quill. Clutching them tightly in her hand, she moved off after the man she believed to be Snape, following him as closely as she dared as he moved down the alley passing from one pallid spot of light to the next.

Her mind was busy composing her story as she followed Snape through the twists and turns of Knockturn Alley, and she began to mutter softly to herself, freeing her quill to take dictation and float along at her side.

Severus Snape, murderer of Albus Dumbledore, one of the most famous and beloved wizard of our time, skulked through the darkness trying to keep from being spotted, but this intrepid reporter wasn't about to allow his guile to keep her from bringing you, dear readers, this exclusive tale of his sad and dreary life. Once on the trail of his story, I was relentless in my pursuit.

Banished from civilized society by his foul actions, the fugitive Snape is now forced to live in hiding, moving from one rat infested hole to the next, always looking over his shoulder, following the capricious whims of his powerful and forbidding master…he-who-must-not-be-named.

Rita began to get so caught up in her storytelling, that it took a moment for the fact that Snape's shadowy figure had vanished to penetrate her consciousness. She stopped and whirled around peering into the dimness, trying to see where she might have lost him. Finally, she spotted a narrow passageway between two shuttered shops. She'd walked right past it without noticing its existence, but now she backtracked and peered down its length cautiously.

It was too dark to see much of anything down the alley, but there wasn't anywhere else he could have gone unless he'd Disapparated away, but she'd heard no sound of Disapparition so she was fairly confident that he'd simply changed directions without her noticing. Spurred on by visions of special editions of the Daily Prophet with her byline emblazoned across them, she began to walk slowly down through the darkness where she hoped Snape had gone.

The passage was a long one and the only light she saw was from a small sputtering candle in a lantern that hung beside what was no doubt the back entrance to the closed shop she'd passed before turning down the alleyway. The glass that enclosed the candle was so covered with grime that it didn't so much provide illumination as it did vaguely lighten the shadows.

As she came abreast of this dubious light source, a hand reached out of the darkness, seized her arm tightly and pulled her behind a tower of wooden crates, slamming her hard against the brick wall of the alley. As she grunted in pain, a robed figure pressed himself up against her and rammed his wand up under her chin.

"Why are you following me?" a harsh voice whispered from under the hood of a dark cloak.

Rita almost squealed in delight as she recognized Snape's deep tones, not doubting for a moment her ability to win him over even under these less than ideal circumstances. After all, no matter what his agenda really was, wouldn't he jump at the chance to have her present his case to the world?

"I'm here to help you, of course," she exclaimed fervently. "You're the most wanted man in Britain at the moment…hated and feared by millions. I'm here to give you a chance to tell your side of the story...without having to go to trial to do it. My readers are anxious to know the true story of Severus Snape."

A harsh laugh filled her ears as Snape pulled back his hood and sneered down at her. "You don't have any readers. The last I knew, you were an unemployed hack and rightly so."

Ignoring the insulting tone of his voice, she nodded in agreement. "True, I might be currently unemployed, but all it will take for me to be hired once more is to have a really good story to tell…and the exclusive tale of Severus Snape, the man who killed Albus Dumbledore, would be the gold standard of good stories at the moment. My readers are still out there just waiting for me to publish once more, and I still have lots of contacts in the newspaper world who will jump at an opportunity like this one. We can help each other out here…so what do you say? Surely you want people to hear your side of the story, don't you? After all, the Ministry has been trumpeting theirs for months with no contradictions at all."

Looking at her as if she'd lost her mind, Snape removed his wand from under her chin and stepped back. "You're a fool. No one in their right mind would wish to be the subject of one of your interviews."

"Nonsense, I'm a superb interviewer…" Her voice took on a cajoling quality. "Surely you don't enjoy being a fugitive? Perhaps telling me your story would be the first step towards regaining your place within society. Dumbledore wasn't universally popular, you know. There would probably be many people who would support you if they only had the opportunity to hear what really happened."

She adjusted her spectacles and leaned towards him, causing Snape to instinctively step back. "So tell me…what was it like to kill one of the most powerful wizards of our time? Did it give you a thrill? Boost your self-esteem? By all accounts Dumbledore had always treated you as a trusted friend? Were the accounts false? Was he in fact not treating you well at all? Instead of a friend, a confidant, did he treat you as little better than a house-elf, perhaps? Keep you around to do his dirty work? You were his token Slytherin colleague in a world dominated by Gryffindors; that had to be uncomfortable. Were you, perhaps, tarnished in his eyes by your former association with he-who-must-not-be-named?"

Snape just stared at her as she continued to fire questions at him not bothering to wait for any answers. "Tell me, when you-know-who rose from the dead did you find yourself caught between two masters? Damned if you did and damned even more if you didn't? Have you been a Death Eater just biding your time all these years as Dumbledore's supporters all now try to make out? Or have you been tragically maligned by people who have simply misunderstood the facts?

"Perhaps Dumbledore decided that facing all those Death Eaters on the tower roof was simply too much for him. He wasn't getting any younger, after all. Did he decide to end it all in a dramatic bid for sympathy by flinging himself over the side and leaving you to fight on alone? Was that what really happened? Did Dumbledore actually commit suicide? Harry Potter claims to be the only impartial witness to the tragedy. Is he perhaps not quite as impartial as he claims? Did that poor deluded boy, momentarily deranged by the death of his beloved father figure, decide to get his revenge on a hated professor by spreading the rumor that you were the one responsible? Tell me the truth, Snape. The wizarding world is waiting to hear your side of thi… OH!"

Rita flinched and pulled back as Snape fired off a stream of fiery magic which zipped past the end of her nose and blasted to bits the busily scratching quill that had been hovering at her shoulder.

"That is quite enough babbling from you," Snape exclaimed angrily. "You don't even need any input from your victims, do you? You merely prattle along sending out little knives of inquiry and smirking whenever the subject of your "interview" reacts as if you've drawn blood. Well, I'm done listening to you…now you will listen to me for awhile."

Snape's voice lowered dangerously. "Yes, I killed Albus Dumbledore. It was not a delusion of Potter's, though I don't doubt he's had many, idiot boy. I'd have killed him as well if I'd known he was there, but the cowardly brat was hiding, too scared to make a move or sound. Did I get a thrill from killing one of the most powerful wizards alive? Did it boost my self-esteem? Was it payback for years and years of toadying to him, putting up with his slights?" He smiled nastily, and for the first time Rita felt faint tendrils of fear creep into her throat and grab hold, overcoming that rush of adrenaline that hunting down a story always gave her.

"Yes. Yes to all of your inane questions. Yes, it made me feel powerful; yes, he deserved it for all the indignities he'd thrust upon me over far too many years; and yes… I enjoyed it! Just as I am now going to enjoy dealing with you."

These soft, cold words caused Rita's nascent fear to burst forth into full fledged terror. Her eyes widened in horror and, for the first time, stared directly into Snape's. The shining blackness of his eyes seemed to expand and engulf her like a predator consuming its prey, and her mouth fell open with a soft intake of breath. His wand was now pressed directly between her eyes and his shadowy presence swept through her mind… probing…inspecting…muffling her thoughts in a layer of cotton and burying them beyond her reach.

Snape watched in satisfaction as the fear and intelligence drained from her eyes, leaving them blank and slightly unfocused. Finally, when he was quite satisfied that he'd done his job, he lowered his wand and leaned hard against her body, pressing his lips to hers, kissing her until she began to wake from her stupor and respond. Then he pulled back and smirked down into her face. "How much did you say you were charging?" he asked sharply.

Rita just stared at him blankly. "What?" she muttered.

"I asked you to tell me again what you're charging. Your quoted price seems a bit steep for what you have to offer," Snape stated simply, watching her with narrowed eyes.

Rita shook her head in confusion, raising a hand to her slightly aching brow. "Price? What price? What are you talking about?"

Snape reached out and caressed her breast, squeezing it firmly and then letting his fingers slowly trail down over her abdomen. "I'd think that would be obvious…"

Stiffening abruptly, she roughly pushed his hand away from her body. "Stop that. I'm not that type of woman," she stated flatly.

"No? Then what sort of woman are you?" he asked.

Confusion veiled her eyes once more. What was she doing here? Why did she feel so odd? Surely she wasn't…she wouldn't… "I…I'm not…I don't…"

"Yes," he said with a smirk. "As I said, your price is too steep for me. Perhaps you'll have more luck out there. Not everyone is quite as discriminating as I am." He gestured to the far end of the alley where light glowed faintly and a suggestion of occasional movement could be seen.

Snape stepped back, allowing Rita to move away from the wall which she did, slowly. The look she directed at him was still full of wary confusion. "Do I know you?" she asked.

"No. You do not," he answered.

She continued to stare at him for a moment, unable to challenge his firm assertion with any knowledge of her own. Then with a discontented frown, she turned away and began to stagger towards the far end of the alley, shooting one final glance over her shoulder before heading off as quickly as she could.

An amused smile lingered on Snape's lips for a moment as he watched her move unsteadily off into the darkness, that should teach her not to go wandering around in dark alleys alone…stupid woman. It would take hours before she'd be able to recall just who she really was and what she'd been trying to do here in this alley. By then he'd be long gone.

She had her story…though it would probably take her some time to be able to put her brain back together well enough to make sense out of it. If she decided to try to peddle it once she did, it certainly wouldn't do him any harm since it would only reinforce everyone's current opinions.

As the sounds of her passing faded to nothing, his momentary amusement died and his expression sobered. There was little more harm that could befall him anyway…all his bridges had most definitely been burned. Suddenly he felt indescribably weary. He sighed and shook his head, then wrapping his cloak more firmly around his body, he vanished from the alley with a soft crackle of displaced air.