CHAPTER 12 – You Are Not Alone

"An absolute travesty," mutter Severus as he paced around Dumbledore's office. "The man ought to be struck off. Blatant misuse of ministry authority."

"That may be true Severus," the old man reasoned, watching the Potion's professor wearing a whole in his office carpet. "But it won't help Miss Cross' case by getting angry at Inspector Mott."

Alana, who was sat in a plush armchair opposite Dumbledore's desk, was slouched wearily with one hand cradling her head. "There's very little we can do," she said. "He made it very clear that if I don't toe the line, I'll lose my job, and it's not as if I can just turn around and tell the Ministry that he's acting out against me because of a vendetta. They won't believe the scorned, bitter new teacher over one of their own."

"I agree," Severus snapped. "But that doesn't mean that it's right."

Alana looked up at him, and he noticed that her eyes were red from crying. "You warned me that some fights were worth letting go. I should have listened."

"Professor Cross, we are teachers. In authority over our students. Deciding which fights are worth pursuing does not mean we should lie down and let children get away with murder," Snape told her. "I hope you're not suggesting that this is all somehow your fault?"

She said nothing.

Snape let out a heavy sigh and met Dumbledore's eyes. The older wizard shook his head a little, as if to warn him against saying anything further. They could both see how upset Alana was; she was the only NQT on probation and if Mott decided not to let it go, she was at very real risk from temporary, even permanent suspension.

"Is it worth, perhaps, utilising your close friendship with Minister Malfoy?" Dumbledore asked, smiling at Alana with eyes full of sympathy. "Maybe he can use his influence to convince Minister Mott to drop this feud."

The young professor shifted in the armchair. "I don't know. Maybe."

"I'll speak to Lucius," Snape said.

"Professor Snape and I are to supervise you during this probationary period, Miss Cross," Dumbledore went on, rising from his chair. "And I assure you that we will support you entirely. Isn't that right Severus?"

Both the headmaster and Alana looked to Snape with expectant eyes, Alana's a little more desperate. He hadn't realised until now how much she loved her job. "Of course," he assured her, with a stiff nod.

"Now it's been a long day. I'm sure you must be tired, Miss Cross," Dumbledore said, patting the woman's hand. She nodded and got up from the chair, offering them both a small, mirthless smile. Snape exchanged another look with Dumbledore, but the older man gestured for Snape to accompany Alana back to her rooms. When they were out in the corridor, she began to pace back towards the dungeons, not saying a word, simply hugging herself. He didn't know if it were for comfort or because she was cold. He walked beside her, not entirely sure what to say. He was mad, furious with the injustice of it all. Alana was a brilliant teacher, and she was at the mercy of a corrupt system. Perhaps she should have left Jackson Mott well alone. Perhaps she should have controlled her temper. But she shouldn't face losing her job over one family's pettiness. However, he got a sense that wasn't what she needed to hear. Head bent low, eyes tired and red from crying, blank expression...he wasn't used to seeing Alana like this and he didn't know how quite to approach her. What could he say to make it right? He wasn't used to be a source of comfort to people. Was there anything he could say at that moment? He had only seen her so dejected twice; once at the hands of her father, and once because of his own doing. He closed his eyes and willed those memories away.

By the time they'd reached her room, he still hadn't said anything. Alana opened her door and waved a hand to light the lamps of her office. The house elves had been; a roaring fire filled the hearth and everything looked orderly. Snape stood awkwardly in the doorway, unsure whether he should go, or stay, whether he was welcome or not. Alana turned and offered him the same weak smile she'd used before in Dumbledore's office and he realised that was all she could do to stop herself from crying. Her eyes were shimmering in the lamplight, her lips were tight from the effort and when she put a hand to her head she caved, a let out a sob.

He stood horrified. If he had any notion of how to approach her before, he had even less of one now. She gathered herself quickly. "I'm sorry," she managed to say. "I'm okay. Thank you for your help, Professor. I'll be fine."

"I'm not sure I should leave you like this," he said after a moment, frowning.

"I'll be fine," she repeated. "I just...Merlin, I don't know what to do."

"Listen," he said, stepping in and closing the door behind him to give them some privacy. "The headmaster is right. Neither of us will let this go any further. You're not alone in this, Alana."

She shook her head and sniffed, tears still brimming. She tried to blink them away and turned towards the fire. "I know. But Mott's right. Whether or not Jackson was misbehaving...I've handled everything so badly. I lost my temper with him. It's always been my worst flaw. I've always been that way. Look at how I've spoken to you at times. You warned me! And I didn't listen, not really. I always thought I was above advice. Look where it's gotten me." She let out a short bitter laugh.

Snape quirked an eyebrow and motioned for her to take a seat with him by the fireplace. "Not that this display of hubris isn't music to my soul," he told her in a dry tone, "It is wasted on a man like Mott. Yes, your temper has always been one of your downfalls. It has also always been one of your strengths."

She scoffed and glanced at him sceptically. "How can you of all people say that?"

Snape sat forward and frowned at her sternly. "Because I know you. Your temper, or rather your passion, has always been one of your defining qualities. It caused you to speak out against a teacher who falsely accused you," he said, with a pointed look at her, "and against a father who tried to destroy your career, and I'm sure there are countless other occasions where that same fire has given you a voice, and an advantage. It is an admirable trait. Yes, it can get the better of you, and you should probably learn to control it a little better, but you need it now more than ever."

Alana stared at him for a few moments before turning her head to gaze at the fire. Snape took that as his cue to continue, that she was listening.

"You can sit and feel sorry for yourself all you want," he said sharply. "But the Alana Cross I know wouldn't be beaten like this. She would fight back."

"Fighting back got me in this mess," she said.

"No, it didn't. And fighting back doesn't necessarily mean losing your temper."

Alana sat back in the armchair. "What should I do, Severus?"

He stiffened for a moment; firstly because she still sounded so defeated, so desperate, and she was looking to him for counsel, and secondly because she had used his first name seriously. He couldn't recall if she ever had, other than at breakfast to tease him. It had always been Professor, or Snape. In that moment, he realised their relationship had shifted. Whatever their past, they were adults now. Things had changed. He let the surprise wash over him and he let out a sigh.

"You should give them exactly what they want. Prove that you're a good teacher. Toe the line, make them think that they've won. Meanwhile we'll find a way to show them that Alana Cross will not be trampled upon by pond-dwellers who can only strike fear by abusing their positions of authority."

"And if we can't? If they suspend me?"

Snape drew a deep breath and stared with a very serious expression into the fire, watching the dance flames pensively. "Then I suppose either Dumbledore or I will have to go find Mott and turn him into a newt."

For the first time that day a genuine smile stretched across her lips and she laughed. Snape smiled at the sound.

"The nature of your probation means that you and I will have to work closely to show Mott that you're making an effort to improve," Snape said. "I take it that will not be a problem."

Her brows furrowed. "Not at all."

"Then I'll leave you now, to get some rest," he said, rising. "We'll talk more of this tomorrow." Before he could go, he felt Alana's cold fingers grip his.

"Thank you," she said. She didn't say specifically for what, but the look in her eyes told him that she was thankful for more than just the chat that had just taken place. He inclined his head a little in reply and left the office without another word.

If possible, Lucius was even more livid that Severus.

"I have never liked that snivelling little creep," the blonde man said, stomping about Snape's office the next morning, while Snape wrote at his desk. He had sent an owl late the night before, after he had left Alana, and his old friend had arrived promptly the next morning. "I like him even less now."

"I can claim no previous dislike," Snape remarked, "however, I'll admit my opinion of him is less than favourable at this moment in time."

"How is Alana?"

Snape looked up. "How do you think?"

Lucius exhaled an agitated breath through his nose. "I'll do what I can in the Ministry, but you know I can't alter too much. Although I'd like to alter the arrangement of Mott's face, I'll admit."

Snape glanced up at Lucius again, but said nothing as he finished his notes. He had known that Alana and the Malfoy's were close, but hearing Lucius become so aggressive on her account was another thing entirely. He wondered, not for the first time, if there might be something more than fondness of Lucius' part for the young woman, but for some reason, even though in all other matters he was free to speak his mind with his friend, he didn't feel he could voice it. Perhaps because he knew if he inquired, Malfoy would assume it was because his old feelings had returned.

"She has mine and Dumbledore's support here too," was all he said, rising from his seat. "Do what you can."

"Thank you for informing me," Lucius said, shaking Snape's hand.

"As Dumbledore said, you might be able to give her a voice in an official capacity. Dumbledore has much sway with the Ministry, but I imagine you'd be far more influential."

"I intend to be the most influential I have ever been in my life."

"Then thank you Lucius."

"Not at all. Alana is family now."

Snape frowned at his words but again chose to say nothing on the matter and instead made himself busy with shuffling his papers. "Will you see her before you go?" he asked, clearing his throat. Lucius didn't respond right away and, feeling his eyes on him, Snape looked up to find his friend regarding him with a searching expression. "What is it?"

"Nothing," Lucius said quickly, with a charming smile. "And no, no, I must get on."

"Keep me informed," Snape told him. The blonde stepped towards the fireplace and looked back over his shoulder.

"Of course, Severus," he smiled and with a flash of green smoke, he had gone and left Snape alone with his work.

"You're on probation?"

After bailing out on the NQT's for her meeting with Dumbledore, she felt she offered them an explanation, though she hadn't the stomach to face all four of them at once. Alana had finally come clean to Jenea that morning after breakfast about her inspection. The Herbology teacher was more than a little surprised to say the least; she had dumbly repeated the three words twice already and stood, staring at her friend with her mouth open.

"Yes. I'm sorry I lied to you."

"I'm not really concerned about that," Jenea said, waving a hand in a dismissive way. "I'm more concerned about the fact that you, clearly a decent capable teacher, are facing suspension."

Alana paused as she dolled out equipment in preparation for her students, and offered her friend a cheerful smile which felt entirely false on her face. "Well hopefully it won't come to that."

Jenea ran her fingers through her hair and sighed. "This is so unfair."

Alana kept quiet. She had had a restless night of thinking that this wasn't fair, but eventually, somewhere in the early hours of the morning, Snape's words had come back to her. You can sit and feel sorry for yourself all you want. But the Alana Cross I know wouldn't be beaten like this. She would fight back. She couldn't afford to wallow in her own self pity. Snape was right – when had she ever let anyone push her down like this? Even with her bizarre relationship with her Potions professor, she had always held her own, even when she'd gotten in trouble for it.

She'd had to smile to herself the next morning when she woke up. Of all people to talk some sense in to her, it had been Snape.

Not that she hadn't appreciated it. Quite the opposite. He had said exactly what she needed to hear at that moment in time, and whether or not she would ever tell him the depth of her gratitude, she would always be thankful. Under normal circumstances she might have felt...embarrassed that she had been so desperately pathetic in front of him the night before, but somehow the feeling never came. However, she was more surprised at how angry he had been on her behalf.

"I'll be okay," she assured Jenea. "I'm just going to toe the line. You're not getting rid of me just yet."

"I would hope not!" Jenea said, folding her arms. "Hogwarts needs you to stick around. Plus you still owe me a drink."

"Don't I get out of that, because I technically have nothing to celebrate?" Alana put to her friend.

"I don't think so-"

The door opening interrupted her and both women turned to see who had intruded. It was Snape, frowning a little when he saw Jenea. "My apologies. I should have knocked," he said, entering the room but staying close to the door.

"No, go ahead," Alana said, setting down the tray of ingredients she'd been holding. "What's the matter?"

"Nothing, I just wanted to inform you that I contacted Minister Malfoy and he is going to do all he can at his end," the Potions master said.

Alana breathed a sigh of relief. "Thank you, and if you see Lucius before me, please pass on my thanks to him too," Alana said, feeling a little lighter than she had done a few moments ago. She had been reminded once again, just as Snape said, that she was not alone in this.

"I imagine you'll want to thank him yourself."

They all fell into an awkward silence. Alana wasn't sure what he meant by that, but didn't feel she could ask. She opened her mouth to speak but no words came, so she quickly closed it. He obviously had something more to say but casting a glance at Jenea, he gave them a polite nod. "I'll leave you to your classes," he said in an even tone, before excusing himself and leaving them. Jenea quirked an eyebrow.

"That was weird."

"What?"

"You two."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean," Jenea laughed. "The weird silence and the long look you just gave each other. It was very strange. It was like you were having a conversation with your minds."

Alana couldn't help but laugh. "He was probably just a bit distracted by you being here. Maybe he wasn't sure how much he could say in front of you. He did hear me lie to you all about my result."

Jenea scoffed and looked at her watch. "I've got to go. We'll talk about this some other time."

"There isn't anything to discuss," Alana called after her friend, but she had long gone and her second years were piling through the door.