Chapter 20: Take Me Away
My dearest Esme,
Though the days grow colder, the sun still burns bright above our heads. The land, barren to those who do not know it, even now, is as beautiful as when you left. Yet, we move on, it is in our blood. I write to inform you of my wish of a visit. It is long overdue, and soon, too late.
Just send word with Talunz, and I shall make arrangements.
"Ozzy?" Severus frowned, looking down at Serena as she held the letter, having read it over her shoulder. Her hand trembled ever so slightly. She could read between the lines, this was not good. Wistfully, she smiled up at him in an effort to hide her apprehension, but Severus could feel her anxiety as if it were his own.
"I knew you would pronounce it right, unlike everyone else," she murmured, refolding the letter. Reaching out her hand, she caressed Talunz's head. The bird trilled happily and nuzzled her gently. As Serena's gaze shifted, she saw Severus studying the bird thoughtfully. "He is beautiful, isn't he?" she pondered, her thoughts traveling elsewhere, while her eyes remained on the magnificent bird before them.
"Yes… But that isn't what you are thinking about, is it?" He pulled her chin up, drawing her gaze to his. "You are anxious… but what about?" Serena's eyes grew wider at his question.
"How do you know how I feel, Severus?" She studied him, pulling her lip between her teeth. "What is happening between us?" she whispered, her eyes searching his for the answer, but all she found were more questions floating there.
"I must admit, I do not know, but I do know how you are feeling. And while you hide it well from others, you cannot hide it from me any longer. Who is Azi? And what does this mean?" He gestured to the letter.
Rolling onto her side, Serena sighed. "It's Rashid… He always seems to know more than I think he does, but his letter disturbs me. I admit, when I met him he was old, but I did not think I would receive a letter requesting a visit this soon."
Severus frowned once more. "You expected it?"
"No – It's complicated – I need to let him know when to expect me—" she began, sitting up.
"Expect you! Surely you are not meaning to go traipsing off across the globe given the state of things. The Dark Lord has followers looking for you—"
"And even though you have forgotten to mention that fact, I am well aware he knows I have resurfaced. My encounter after the concert was enough of a warning." She glared back at him, and he met her glare with one of his own.
"Serena—" he began heatedly, but stopped, closing his eyes. He knew that his anger did nothing but push her in the direction he was trying to dissuade her from. Thinking that changing tactics might work a little better, Severus opened his eyes slowly and raised his hand to stroke her chin with his fingertips.
"My sweet… Now is not the right time for you to venture from the safety Hogwarts provides. Perhaps the Headmaster can arrange a way for… Raschid… to visit the grounds."
Drawing her breath to argue his statement, they both suddenly grimaced and gasped together. Severus grabbed his left forearm, clenching it tightly. Serena felt a painful tingle through her body that ended in her left arm in reflection of the Dark Lord's call.
"He calls, you must go. Please be careful, Severus," she whispered, closing her eyes against the ache she felt every time he had to appear before Voldemort. Fearful that anytime he left it might be his last.
Reaching out, he pulled her into his arms. Slowly, his mouth lowered, and his lips lightly brushed against hers. "I will, we will discuss this further when I return," he said with finality, Summoning his clothes and quickly putting them on.
Within moments, he was gone. Sitting in the middle of the bed, knees drawn up to her neck, Serena hugged her legs. Pressing her forehead to her knees, her thoughts chased each other. She needed to go to Raschid; he never used Talunz unless it was an emergency or very urgent. But she knew Severus would never willingly let her leave the castle. No, the only way was to leave now, while he was gone.
Mind made up, Serena bounded from the bed, Summoning her robes as she moved toward the door. Behind her, Talunz cooed, perched on an ornate pole by the bed. Once dressed, Serena turned to him, holding out her arm. "Come, my friend, we haven't much time."
Opening her trunk, Serena flicked her wand, causing several robes to float and fold neatly into it. Shoes, tea apparatus, and bathing potions soon followed. A knock at her door caused Serena to suck in her breath. Calming, she crossed the room and opened it to find Minerva there.
Smiling, Minerva hovered a moment as if she didn't know what to say. Then, looking past Serena to the items floating into her trunk, the smile fell from her face. "Are you leaving, dear? I thought you were staying. We discussed—"
Letting out a frustrated groan, Serena turned back to her trunk. She knew her aunt was in the castle, but she had not banked on seeing her today. Not until she could properly apologize for her behavior of late. "I won't be gone long. I'll be back before the required demonstration for my position."
Following her into the room, Minerva reached out and grabbed her arm. "Do you think this is wise, child? Where are you going? Nothing out there can compare to the safety of Hogwarts. Surely, you know that," Minerva pleaded.
Sighing, Serena turned back toward Minerva. "I know, but something has come up, and I need to go. I wish I could explain more, but—"
"But what? Serena, what is so important that you feel you need to leave? I don't understand," Minerva cut in.
Closing her eyes, Serena breathed slowly. Opening them once more, she looked at her aunt intently. "There is someone I need to see, and now may be the only time that can happen. A delay may mean that I am too late."
"Too late? Too late for what? Serena," Minerva began exasperated. "You are speaking in riddles."
"No…. All right, you may have a point there. His death—"
"His death? Who is dying?" Minerva frowned.
"A very old friend, someone I met some time ago. He has requested a visit, and I need to go to him before it is too late. Aunt Minerva, I realize it is dangerous to leave the grounds, but I need to do this. Please understand," Serena pleaded.
"Then I'm going with you," Minerva stated.
"No? I really don't think you are in a position to refuse me, child."
"Aunt Minerva, I am no longer a child. And this may be dangerous. I just got you back… I couldn't bear it if I lost you again. Not so soon. Not because of me—" her voice faltered as Minerva cut her off.
"Serena, there is no other place I would rather die than at your side. Don't you know that?" Minerva reached out and tugged Serena's face up to look at her. "And besides, if you haven't noticed, your statement applies to both of us. It is a shame that Voldemort didn't die the first time, and we were reunited under these circumstances, but I am a fighter. And I'll be darned if he is going to keep you from me this time."
Serena smiled back at her aunt, then gave a chuckle. "That's an understatement if ever I heard one."
Frowning, Minerva said, "Something is different about you…"
Sighing, Serena sat down on the bed while items continued to float steadily past them. "There is something different about me, thanks to Severus," she said, looking back up at Minerva. "And there is also something I need to say to you," Serena told her seriously.
Clasping her hand, Minerva joined her to sit on the bed. "What is it?"
Looking over at her aunt, Serena clasped her hand tighter. "I want to apologize to you—"
"Whatever for, lass?"
"Just… just hear me out, Auntie Minerva. I know I haven't been myself lately, and I know I hurt you even though I didn't mean to. And I know you know it was not intentional, but I do know it still hurt you… the things I said, the way I reacted to what happened to me—"
"Pah, that is just water—"
Holding up her hand, Serena stopped Minerva's retort. "And I know you are going to tell me it is all water under the bridge and you understand my reaction. However, I do not think that gives me an easy out from the fact that I hurt you. I was angry because of something that was done to me fifteen years ago. Angry because I had no way to rectify the situation… no way to get back at the people who stripped my life from me, my dignity, my love, my salvation, my family.
"Ever since I woke up in the hospital wing to find you and uncle Albus alive, my memory has been steadily recovering. And with every recovered memory, it made me more aware of how lonely I have been… how lost," she told her, a tremble in her voice. "But I didn't know how to overcome all the anger and hurt I suddenly found within myself. You had said we would find a way to release the anger, but I know you were trying to give me the space to figure things out on my own."
Nodding, Minerva slid her hand up to Serena's shoulder and gave it a reassuring squeeze. "You say Severus… caused this difference in you. How?"
"Aunt Minerva, you are always so sad when I mention Severus. Why do you disapprove of him so?"
Sighing, Minerva looked away a moment, then looked back at her. "I don't disapprove of him, lass. Severus is a fine man in many aspects. But the life he leads: a double spy— cannot be easy. And there are some who constantly question his allegiance—"
"You aren't sure of his allegiance?" Serena asked, stunned.
"Well, yes and no, if you must know. I know that Albus trusts him, trusts him with his life. But Severus has a past, Serena, and friends who have questionable links to Voldemort. But my sadness stems from the fact that I know loving such a man will never be an easy thing for you," she told her sadly. "And loving you the way I do, I cannot help wanting to protect you from any more hurt if I can."
Tears rose in Serena's eyes. "I know," she whispered. "But he is the reason I am so much better now – and the castle—"
"Yes," Serena nodded. "Severus took me to a part of the castle where it provided what I required to release my anger."
"The room of requirement, I would guess. What happened?"
"Well, it recreated the attack—"
"It did what!"Minerva gasped, shifting in front of her and grabbing both of Serena's shoulders.
Putting a hand on Minerva's arms, Serena reassured her, "It's all right. I was not in danger in any way. That was my first reaction too. But Severus assured me it was only to let me diffuse my bottled emotions. Oh, Auntie Minerva, I got to see my parents," Serena told her with awe, more tears rising.
"And you are all right?" Minerva asked, studying Serena intently.
"Yes. I admit, at first I was not sure I could do what it was prodding me to do. But Severus applied just the right amount of pressure. And the castle provided everything I needed. Actually, it helped me recover both emotionally and magically. I don't know how Hogwarts knew one of the incantations my parents and I used to use, but it felt like the castle let me draw on it to heal completely," Serena added breathlessly.
"Hogwarts has been exposed to hundreds of years of magic and spells. But given the nature of this castle, it doesn't surprise me. I knew the moment you opened your door you were different. Your magic is fluctuating normally again, I can feel it in your presence. You have had me worried for weeks, young lady," Minerva remarked looking cross for a moment, but a smile instantly lit her face as she pulled Serena into her arms and hugged her tightly.
Breathing in deeply, Serena squeezed back as she closed her eyes, smiling, and inhaling her aunt's lavender scent. "It is so good to be home and feel whole again," she murmured into Minerva's shoulder.
Pulling the younger witch away from her, Minerva added, "I couldn't agree more." They both smiled at each other and squeezed hands, then Minerva's eyes caught sight of the items marching into Serena's cloak. Um, Serena, exactly how long are we going to be gone again?"
Raising her eyebrows, Serena followed Minerva's gaze. "Not that long! Sorry, so many years of living completely out of my robes has not worn off." She chuckled and moved to stop the cacophony from completely filling every possible space and emptying the room. Serena colored brightly, looking around. "Some of the items that joined my wardrobe are not even mine," she reflected, swishing her wand and causing several items to float back to their places in the room.
Looking back at Minerva, Serena asked, "And what about uncle Albus? What will he say to us gallivanting off to the other side of the world? Somehow, like Severus, I doubt he will be forthcoming to our objective, no matter the reason."
"Albus isn't in the castle at the moment. And you are right, I doubt he would approve. We'll leave them a note," Minerva said quickly, rising from the bed. "Where are we going, anyway?"
Serena looked up at Minerva, her lips quirked up on one side, and she shook her head. "No one has to wonder where the rebellion comes from in this family," she said, jumping up from the bed.
At that moment, Talunz warbled in the corner.
Gasping, Minerva spun, drawing her wand at the same time. Cocking her head to the side, she studied the beautiful bird. "Serena, what is that?"
Moving to the bird, Serena held out her arm. Talunz sailed down to perch gracefully, cooing as he studied the other witch in the room. "Aunt Minerva, this is Talunz. He belongs to my friend. He is a black Phoenix. He will be taking us where we need to go," Serena informed, reaching up to stroke the bird's tufted head.
Looking on in awe, Minerva moved closer, intrigued by the flash of brilliant color reflected throughout Talunz's plumage. "He is so beautiful," she whispered.
The bird trilled happily, indicating he had heard her and leaned closer to Minerva.
"You can pet him if you like. He loves people who cater to his ego," Serena explained, causing Talunz to look at her and squawk indignantly. Laughing, Serena shook her head. "You know good and well it is true, you silly thing," she told him. Talunz gave her a quelling look and leaned closer to Minerva as she reached up to caress his crown.
Seeing this look, Minerva chuckled. "There is nothing wrong with appreciating a compliment, is there, Talunz? Or knowing what is already true," she murmured, smiling.
"Touché, Auntie Minerva, touché. Truthfully, I am not sure where we are going. Azi wrote asking me for a visit. He mentioned they were on the move, but I doubt they are outside of Turkey. Rest assured that the days are hot and the nights are cold," Serena informed.
"Very well then, give me five minutes. I will be right back," Minerva informed, moving towards the door.
Shaking her head again, Serena looked at Talunz. "If I didn't know better, I might say she was excited to get out of the castle even though she advised me against it," Serena murmured, raising her eyebrows and chuckling lightly. "Now, please pardon me for just a moment, Talunz. I need to do one more thing."
Serena raised her arm and Talunz lifted off, then landed on the windowsill across the room. Moving to the dresser, Serena pulled out parchment, ink, and a quill. Dipping the quill into the inkwell, she jotted a quick note for Severus. A quick knock at the door brought her head up. "Come in," she called.
Turning the doorknob, Minerva stepped into Serena's room to find her sealing an envelope with her wand. As Minerva watched, Serena turned the parchment over and gave her wand a gentle swish. Severus' name was etched across the front.
Looking over at Minerva, Serena placed the note on her dresser, tilting it against the bell that had belonged to her father. "Ready?" Serena asked, feeling anxious for the first time in ages.
Taking in a deep breath, Minerva nodded and took a step further into the room. Standing next to Serena, she took the younger woman's hand in hers and squeezed it. Smiling, she said, "I have never been more ready, child. Just lead the way."
Nodding, Serena held on to Minerva's hand and motioned to Talunz. The bird perked up his head and spread his wings. Looking back at Minerva, Serena told her, "Just grab his talon and hold on tight. Whatever happens, don't let go."
"I don't think that will be a problem. Though I might say the same to you," Minerva countered, a light in her eyes.
"You are right, that won't be a problem," Serena said, giving Minerva a half grin and cocking her head to the side. Holding up her free hand, she told Minerva, "Here we go!"
Following Serena's lead, Minerva raised her free hand and grabbed Talunz's claw when the phoenix flew between their outstretched arms.
In a flash of blue flames, they were gone.