Chapter Ten

Minerva's feet dragged a bit as she climbed the staircase to the fourth floor once again. The thought of sleep was becoming almost irresistible. She was sure that she'd feel much more capable of tackling the question of Irma's death if she could only concentrate on the problem with a more alert mind.

Deciding that she'd simply return the book and leave any more searching to later, she approached the library to see a hunched over Sybill sound asleep in a chair beside the door. Although she certainly sympathized with the woman's exhaustion, having a guard who was sleeping was no better than leaving the door unguarded completely. If Sybill had been asleep for long, then they now had no assurance that someone hadn't sneaked in or out when no one was watching.

When she came abreast of the sleeping woman, Minerva reached out and laid a hand on her shoulder and shook it gently. "Sybill? Sybill wake up."

Sybill jumped and opened her eyes wide. "Oh! Minerva. I'm awake. I was just resting my eyes for a moment. It's been such a dreadfully long night for us all. Although I suppose it's really the next day by now, isn't it?" She yawned, covering her mouth with a ring bedecked hand, and Minerva was hard pressed not to imitate her.

"Yes, I think it is. Have you been guarding the library long?"

"Not that long, really," said Sybill as she tried to focus her eyes on her watch. "Filius just asked me to take a short shift watching while he got a bit of rest. He said that Pomona would come and relieve me. She should have been here by now."

Minerva sighed, sleep would have to wait a bit longer. "I have to return a book that I borrowed anyway. Why don't you go and see if you can find Pomona while I'm here. I'll stay until one of you gets back."

Sybill got to her feet with alacrity. "Oh, thank you, Minerva. My inner eye is all out of focus. I'm just so exhausted and that's not good for a seer, you know. Proper seeing can only be done when the seer is alert and able to truly concentrate on both the internal and external worlds. I know if I could only get a few hours of sleep I'd be immensely helpful in tracking down the remaining Death Eaters and discerning the truth about what happened to poor, dear Irma. Surely that would be of more importance than pressing me into service guarding an empty room." Sybill peered earnestly at Minerva.

"I'm sure you're right, Sybill," said Minerva. "Go tell Pomona it's her turn to watch then get some rest."

"Oh, thank you!" Sybill smiled happily and tottered off down the hallway. Minerva watched her go for a moment, then with a shake of her head, she entered the library. The huge room was gloomy and silent. She sincerely hoped that Sybill was right and that it was also empty, but the hair on the back of her neck still stood at attention whenever she came inside and that was a sign she'd always taken seriously.

Only a couple of lamps had been left burning, so the first thing she did was bring the rest of them up to light the huge space more effectively. Trying to banish the feeling that was keeping her neck hairs on alert, she strode straight to the Restricted Section and replaced the book she'd retrieved from Severus.

Then she returned to the desk more slowly, peering down each aisle and listening intently for any sound of movement. She saw and heard nothing. When she reached Irma's desk she stopped, then forced herself to look down to where her colleague's body had lain. The stains were gone and everything looked as it always had.

Except that there was a book on the floor beside the desk. Automatically she stooped and picked it up. As she went to place it on the desktop, she was overwhelmed by a sense of déjà vu. Hadn't she already replaced this book on the desk once? Possibly more than once? Why did it keep ending up on the floor? What was it doing there anyway?

She looked at it more closely. It was just an ordinary basic transfiguration text. There was nothing remarkable about it. The shelf it belonged on was right there in front of Irma's desk, but why...

A shiver ran through her as a sudden suspicion crossed her mind. It would only take a rudimentary knowledge of transfiguration to open up a space inside a book that was large enough to hide a man. The proper spells weren't overly difficult and could be as permanent or as temporary as anyone needed them to be. Any competent witch or wizard could make their bags or their tents much larger on the inside than on the outside. It was done all the time.

Yes, those objects were designed to have an interior space where a book was not, but that was only a minor hindrance and none at all to one who really knew what they were doing. Perhaps they'd been looking at this all wrong. Perhaps the killer hadn't found a hiding place. Perhaps he'd simply made one for himself in plain sight, and they'd just been too blind to see it.

Carefully she placed the book down on the desk and stepped back a few paces. Then she drew her wand and shot an expulsion charm at it. The moment the spell touched the book, it exploded outward, sending the book to the floor once more and expelling a large figure draped in black.

As soon as the man's feet touched the floor, he had his wand in his hand and was aiming it at her. Minerva ducked under his first shot and sent one of her own coursing across the desk at his masked face. He managed to avoid it by centimetres and the battle was joined. Up and down the aisles they went, shooting off spells that tore books from the shelves and gouged holes in the stone walls.

Minerva managed to hold her own for a time, but eventually exhaustion began to catch up with her. While the Death Eater had hours to rest in his literary sanctuary, she'd been running all over the castle looking for him, so it didn't really surprise her when eventually she didn't swerve quite fast enough, and one of his shots took her square in the chest sending her flying.

The impact drove her into a nearby section of shelving and when she fell to the floor a number of books came with her, bouncing painfully off her head and shoulders. She rolled over and looked up at her attacker. Although she couldn't see his face, she was certain he was smiling as he stalked across the room and loomed above her, his wand aimed at her head.

She groped futilely for her own wand, but she'd dropped it when she fell, and it now lay just out of reach. As the intruder prepared to cast his final spell, she grimly took some solace in the fact that at least her death should help exonerate Severus. Hopefully the next person to figure out where this Death Eater was hiding would be better prepared to do away with him.

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Remus finally made it to the fourth floor just in time to see Sybill Trelawney pass him on her way downstairs. She was moving very quickly and he barely managed to get out of her way in time to avoid touching her. In some ways it had been easier to move around when he hadn't had to watch out for people. Slowly he floated down the corridor toward the library.

When he was but a few steps away, he suddenly heard the muffled sounds of fighting coming from behind the door. Moving as rapidly as he could, he swept down the last few feet of hallway, glided through the door and out into the room beyond.

There he saw Minerva and a Death Eater exchanging spell fire and moving rapidly in and out of the stacks. As Remus watched in horror, Minerva was hit and went sprawling on the floor, her wand flying out of reach. While the Death Eater bore down on the now defenceless woman, Remus threw himself forward with what seemed to him to be agonizing slowness and glided through her attacker's body. The effect was immediate and devastating. The Death Eater gasped and collapsed inward, dropping his wand and crying out in pain.

There was a long moment of silence while Remus stared at the writhing man and prepared to move through him again if necessary. Then Minerva gathered herself together, scrambled to her feet, and reclaimed her wand from the floor. Before the man could recover and try to attack her again, she hit him with a full body bind.

The Death Eater stiffened and fell back motionless on the floor. Pulling great gulps of air into her lungs, Minerva bent and picked up the man's wand. She stared around the empty room for a moment before her puzzled frown gave way to a smile of understanding. Although it was clear she still couldn't see him, Remus could tell she suddenly knew he was there.

"Wherever you are, Remus, thank you! Your timing couldn't have been better. I owe you my life," she said as she wiped her brow.

Even though he knew she couldn't hear him, Remus smiled and answered politely, "You're welcome, Minerva. I'm glad I got here in time to help."

He gazed with satisfaction at the immobilized Death Eater knowing that the man's capture meant that Severus would be freed.

Suddenly the door opened and Pomona Sprout peered inside. She gasped when she saw the petrified Death Eater and quickly crossed to Minerva's side. Once she was satisfied that her friend was unhurt, she dropped her gaze to the man on the floor who was staring up in impotent fury from behind his cold white mask.

"Good heavens, Minerva, what happened? I thought I heard a scream. Is this the man we've all been looking for? The one who killed Irma?"

Minerva bent and snatched off the man's mask, revealing a thin, brutal face with furious dark eyes.

"Oh, yes, he's the one who killed Irma. I'm certain of it."

"Was he hiding in here all along?"asked Pomona.

"Yes, and he was being rather clever about it, too. He'd created a wizard's space inside a book, then used a fluidity spell to make himself malleable enough to get inside it. Even if we'd opened the book, unless we'd turned to just the right page, we could easily have missed finding him."

"How did you find him then?"asked Pomona curiously.

"I'd found this same book on the floor by Irma's desk several times. Every time I saw it, I picked it up, set it back on the desk and forgot about it again. This last time I finally wondered why it kept ending up on the floor. I think when things were quiet he probably came out of the book to see if he could get away, but each time he found the room guarded so he went back into hiding. He wasn't careful to set the book in the middle of the desk, so once he slipped back inside; the book simply fell onto the floor again."

She smiled at Pomona. "I just aimed an expulsion spell at the book. I knew if he was really in there, he'd be forced to come out whether he wanted to or not. He still almost got the drop on me, though. If it hadn't been for..."

She stopped and Remus wondered whether she was going to mention his intervention.

"For?" prompted Pomona.

Minerva shook her head. "Nothing. It doesn't matter. All that matters is that now that we've caught him, Severus can be released. Do you know where Kingsley Shacklebolt is?"

Pomona nodded. "I passed him in the entrance hall on my way up here. I think he's preparing to leave. Shall I run and catch him?"

"Yes, please, if you don't mind. I'll wait here with the prisoner."

Pomona quickly left the room and Minerva sank into a nearby chair with a sigh of relief.

With a final smile for Minerva, even though he knew she couldn't see it, Remus headed for the door. Minerva could watch a petrified killer without his help, and he wanted to beat the others downstairs so he could give Severus the good news himself.

At least now when he finally, truly died and had to leave earth for the afterlife, he could go happily, knowing that the man he loved more than any other would finally have the chance to live a free life at last. It was a good feeling.

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Two Days Later...

Severus gently lowered the levitated body to the floor. Then he knelt and pulled the sheet back from Remus's face. He couldn't keep himself from reaching out and caressing the still cheek for a moment before getting to his feet once more. Then he turned to face the hovering spirit beside him.

Remus's eyes were focused on his body and his expression was unsettled. "Do you really think this will work, Severus?" he asked quietly.

"The literature backs me up on it, though there are no guarantees. However, I firmly believe it will work. When the full moon rises, the curse will begin to transform your body. This will break the barriers left behind by the separation hex. I think if you make contact with your body at that time, the curse will draw you back into it and you'll transform as usual. Once the transformation is complete, you'll be reintegrated with your body, and once you've transformed back into a man, you'll be yourself again."

"Sounds logical," said Remus as he gave Severus a tentative smile.

"Yes, it does," said Severus with a small smile of his own.

They simply stared at each other for a moment before Severus cleared his throat and continued, "I've placed extra strong wards around the room and cushioned the walls and floor so hopefully you won't be hurt any more than necessary during your time as a wolf. Since you won't have the benefit of the Wolfsbane potion, this seemed a wise precaution."

"Thanks, I appreciate that. I haven't always been very successful with those spells."

Another long moment of silence fell between them. This time it was Remus who broke it. "Look, I'm really grateful for everything you've done, and just in case it doesn't end up working out the way we'd like it to, I wanted you to know that I'm incredibly sorry I ever doubted you."

Remus instinctively extended a hand then pulled it back before he could touch Severus and possibly hurt him. "I really do love you, Severus. I think I always have, and even if we don't get a second chance to be together, I'm eternally grateful knowing that you'll finally be free to live life the way you want... the way you deserve."

"It won't be the life I want if you can't be there to share it with me," said Severus simply.

This time as the silence grew, a different voice broke it.

"Severus, it's almost time. We should seal the room," said Minerva from the doorway.

Severus nodded and with a final lingering look at his former and hopefully future lover, he turned and headed for the door, closing it firmly behind him. Then while Minerva watched, he turned the key and added a few final seals to the door itself. Once he was finished, he placed his hand, palm flush with the wood, against the door.

"It's going to work out, don't worry," said Minerva reassuringly.

Severus shrugged and turned to look at her. "I know that everything says this should work, but until I open this door again and see him standing there waiting for me, I'm going to worry."

She nodded in understanding. "I suppose so. I don't imagine I'll be getting much sleep tonight myself, but either way we won't know anything until morning, so why don't you come upstairs with me and let me beat you at chess while we wait."

Severus snorted softly. "Ordinarily I'd take you up on that, but I think we both know you wouldn't find me a particularly challenging opponent tonight. I think I'm just going to wait here for awhile."

"Are you sure? You'd be much more comfortable upstairs in the Headmaster's suite."

"Remus isn't going to be very comfortable no matter what happens, and I'm not sure if the Headmaster's suite is really where I should be any longer."

"Of course you should. You're the Headmaster of Hogwarts, nothing has happened to change that. You've been cleared of any suspicion in Irma's death, and I know you'll be completely exonerated when everything related to that monster's reign of terror comes to trial.

"Harry's made those memories you gave him available to anyone who might be judging you. They might not be able to be used in court, but outside of court, they've already gone a long way toward changing everyone's mind about you.

"In fact, public opinion is clearly running in your favour. There's even talk of giving you an Order of Merlin. Unless you've decided that you don't want the job of Headmaster, it's yours for the taking with the blessing of the entire staff this time. We can put this last horrible year behind us and start over. It's not too late."

When he said nothing, she added, "Of course, Horace is looking to retire again. You could always step back into your old job as Potions master if that's what you'd prefer. It's all up to you.""

"I appreciate that, Minerva, really I do, but honestly, I haven't given much thought to what I'll be doing with my life after this night is over. Too much hinges on what happens inside this room."

She sighed and patted him on the arm, squeezing gently before allowing her hand to drop away. "All right, I'll let you be. Should I send a house-elf down with some dinner?"

"No, thank you. I'll be fine."

She nodded and turned away, walking to the end of the corridor before turning back for a last look. He still stood as she'd left him, with a hand pressed flat to the door and his head bowed. Hoping with all her heart that things would work out the way they all wanted them to, Minerva slowly made her way back upstairs, pausing only once to glance out a window at the full moon as it glittered coldly, low in the sky, and cast its silvered light across the ravaged lawn. Then with a sigh, she headed on up to her own room to toss and turn until morning.

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Epilogue

"Severus..."

Severus jerked awake with the sound of Remus's voice still echoing through his mind. He sat up on the cold stone floor and rubbed at his stiff neck. He hadn't really intended to sleep in the dungeon corridor, but somehow he never managed to make it upstairs and finally exhaustion simply overcame him.

Leaning against the wall for support, he climbed awkwardly to his feet and stretched his weary muscles. Then he pulled a watch from his pocket and checked the time. It was morning, early morning, but definitely after moonset. Whatever was going to happen in the room across the hall had already occurred. It was time to go in and face it.

Straightening up, he slipped his wand out of his sleeve and removed the layers of warding he'd erected last night. Then he unlocked the door and pushed it open. The flickering light of a single lamp high on the wall showed him Remus, wrapped loosely in his shroud, sitting against the far wall. His eyes were closed, and he had a bloody bruise on one cheek.

Severus ran across the room and knelt beside him. He grasped Remus's bare arm and smiled at the warm, solid feel of it in his hand. It had worked. Remus was whole again.

At Severus's touch, Remus opened his eyes. "Good morning," he said softly, a tired smile creased his face. He reached out a hand and brushed his fingers lightly through Severus's hair then down over his cheek and across the fine stubble that covered his chin. Finally he let it drop to Severus's shoulder where he squeezed gently as if checking to be sure he could really touch him once more.

Severus smiled in return. "Welcome back to the land of the living."

"It feels good to be back." Remus winced as he shifted position. "Well, pretty good, anyway. I can't say I missed feeling pain while I was disembodied, but feeling it now does make it clear that I'm really alive again."

"We should get you upstairs and into a comfortable bed so you can get some real rest."

"Will you be joining me?" asked Remus, his smile widened and a teasing sparkle lit up his eyes.

"Perhaps when you're feeling better, if you still want me to, that is."

"I can't think of anything I want more, except maybe this..."

Remus leaned forward and pulled Severus closer until their lips touched... at first lightly, tentatively, and then with more passion, giving in to the deep need for each other that they'd denied for so long. When they pulled apart at last, Remus sighed. "I was afraid I'd never get to do that again."

"So was I," admitted Severus. "But now we have a second chance to get things right."

He helped Remus to his feet. "Think we can do it?" asked Remus.

"I hope so," said Severus.

"We don't exactly have the best track record," said Remus.

"The only way we'll know is to give it a try."

Remus pulled Severus into another deep kiss, smiling happily when they finally parted. "We're off to a good start anyway."

"Yes, indeed, an excellent start," Severus agreed as he wrapped an arm around Remus and the two of them moved slowly toward the door and on into a new life.