Why did a body-less Voldemort hide in an Albanian forest for nine years? Why did it take Albus so long to put all the pieces together? Why would anyone go on a holiday with hags? These and many other questions will be answered! Several of which would have been better off never asked!

(Hint – accidental evil might be involved!)



3 squared: It Ain't Easy Being Immortal


0300 hours, 1 November, 1981
Witness Interview Lounge (the light blue one, not the bright pink one)
Ministry of Magic, Department of Magical Law Enforcement

The rest of the magical world was already hours into some serious partying. Diggle, for example, had just been arrested for drinking his way through eight gilly-and-tonics and then standing naked (except his top hat, of course) on a London street corner offering to share his good news to every Muggle that walked by.

But deep inside the Ministry, a band of dedicated witches and wizards continued to work tirelessly to finish the last of the paperwork that went with ending a war. And make no mistake; end-of-war paperwork is second only to being caught naked with an underage wizard, a centaur, and pogo stick as the average bureaucrat's worst nightmare. In fact, most wizards have no idea that the average goblin uprising consists of 3 days of active fighting followed by 15.2 months of finalizing the cease-fire paperwork.

Senior Auror Milford M. Muffington was one such dedicated wizard. He hadn't left his post. He wasn't knee-deep in his pints. No, he was sitting across from a witness (who was rattling off her entire life story – that's the last time he'd start with 'tell me about yourself') doodling cartoon Dark Marks with pig noses, spiky hair, and crossed-eyes in the border of the report he'd been given.

OK; maybe not quite so dedicated.

When the witness stopped talking Muffington dutifully put down his quill. Not sure if he'd missed anything important, he picked up the initial statement that was supposed to contain the bare-bones of the case and appeared for all the world to be studying the parchments in front of him. He was very good at looking like he was reading, when in truth he couldn't tell English from Russian from Ancient Runes. He hadn't been able to comprehend written words since he'd taken that Pudinbrane Curse during the Goblin Rebellion of Last Call. (Six drunk goblins, one bent knut, and an unpaid bar tab – enough said.)

He snuck occasional glances at the woman, with her old-lady hair style, her plain and practical robes, and her pudgy hands, trying to recall everything he'd been told about her. He knew her to be little Harry Potter's nanny. He knew she'd been at the house at the time of the attack. He knew she had a chocolate sprinkle stuck in her teeth and a mole shaped like a penguin near her left ear.

First At The Scene-ers had already gotten her story of how the Potters were killed. It was his job to find out if anything strange or unusual had occurred during or after the attack. As if a toddler surviving the Killing Curse wasn't unusual enough? Did they suspect the Potter tot pooped gold? That He Who Still Must Not Be Named Just In Case had actually tripped on a rubber ducky and Lily Potter had laughed to death at the sight?

He glanced at the useless parchments, certain they held some clue as to what he was supposed to be looking for. Perhaps he should start paying more attention during briefings, seeing as he couldn't read and all. Then again, it'd been eight years and no one had caught on yet.

Turning his attention back to the interview, he grabbed up his quill and made quite the production of getting just the right amount of ink on it. Pretending to read from his parchment, Muffington got the interview back on track.

"Right then … so you were …" he prompted, knowing she would fill in the blank.

"In the bathtub."

"Bathtub. Right. So, bathing when He Who Must Not Be Named arrived at the home. And you … "

"I heard Mr. Potter shout for his wife to take the child and run. Isn't that what the report says?"

Well, wasn't she a bit testy. "Just checking the facts, Ma'am," he huffed. "So you hear the shout and …"

"I heard Mrs. Potter run up the stairs to the nursery but before she could get away I heard another person slithering up the stairs."

"Slithering?" he incredulously asked. "Isn't You Know Who human? And how do you hear slithering anyway? What could that possibly sound like?"

"It sounds like this …" The nanny raised her arms and brought her hands together over her head, palm touching palm. Then, in the perfect imitation of a cobra entranced by a piper, she began swaying her body side to side. "Schwish-schump," she said as her body shifted left. "Schwish-schump." Body to the right. "Schwish-schump." Body to the left. "Schwish-schump-schabump" Body to the right, then back to the middle.

Then, calm as you please, as if imitating reptiles was something one normally did over tea, she lowered her arms, picked up her tea cup, and took a healthy gulp. "Could use a bit more sugar, luv."

Her question brought Muffington out of his trance. He shut his mouth and blinked his eyes a few times before her words registered and he summoned the sugar bowl from a side table.

"Slithering. Right. So then you hid until the fight was over?" Pulling his original parchment close, he studied his latest drawing. It was missing something.

"Oh goodness no," she exclaimed. "It wouldn't be proper to be naked with a strange man in the house. I hopped from the tub, threw on a robe, and ran to the tot's room."

"Ran. Right. Wait—what? You ran toward the most evil wizard of our time?" In his surprise he poked his drawn skull in its mouth with his quill. The resulting splotch looked oddly like uneven teeth.

"Sure did! Can you imagine the girls at Friday Gobstones? Witnessing You Know Who first hand? I'd be the envy of the league!"

"Gobstones. Right. So then you ran in and saw …" He decided to add an ear with an earring to his Dark Mark drawing. Unfortunately, he was distracted by the formerly composed nanny suddenly breaking down in tears. Being the well trained Auror he was, he told her where to find the tissues. It gave him time to add the earring ... and then a bow tie because Death Eaters were supposed to be well dressed fellows.

Once she had composed herself, she began her tale. Looking for all the world as if he was diligently putting to parchment her story, he kinda listened as she described hearing her mistress refuse to stand aside … the Killing Curse and the resulting thump of a body falling … the gleeful cackle that had turning into a coughing fit … and as she popped her head into the room another flash of green from Voldemort's wand, only this one hit the dear boy on the forehead and rebounded.

"Rebounded. Right. Anything else unusual happen or was that it for the 'stranger than vampire shit' department?"

"You mean strange because they don't really eat food, so why would they need to poo … or strange because no person in their right mind would go around checking other beings poo in the first place? Which strange are you looking for?"

"I hadn't really considered the second type," he confessed, tilting his head in clear concentration. "You'd best just tell me anything you found strange."

"Well, it was rather strange what happened when the rebounded curse hit Him," replied the nanny, glad he was writing this down so she wouldn't have to repeat the horrific story ever again. "He sort of dissolved away, leaving this black mist which hovered for a moment before moving toward the window." On a roll, she rushed to get her story told. "But before it got too far a house fly flew into the mist and they both seemed to freeze in the air. Then the black mist started sinking into the house fly and when it was all absorbed the fly glowed red for a second … then it was unfroze and it flew off. Not normal flying, though. It was wobbling around and flipped a over a few times, almost like it didn't know what it was doing."

Muffington put down his quill to pay more attention – this story was much more interesting. Too bad he couldn't write it down.

"It ended up tangled in a spider web where it was eaten by a big, fat spider," she continued. "Then the spider gets that strange red glow. And then, just when I thought it was over … the family owl swooped in through the open window, gobbled up the spider, and flew out again. And I swear it was glowing red when it left."

"Red. Right … and you say the black mist was sucked into a house fly?" the Auror pressed.

"Yes; that's what I saw."

"A house fly, that got eaten by a spider, that got eaten by an owl?"

"Yes," the nanny said, nodding her head in agreement.

"And you're sure it was a house fly? Only, they're kinda small … kinda hard to see, ain't they?"

"It was a very big house fly," the nanny assured Muffington. "An enormous house fly."

"Enormous, heh? How about gigantic? Would you say it was a gigantic house fly?"

"Well now that's just ridiculous, isn't it?" she chided. "Who ever heard of a gigantic house fly?"

Sitting back, Muffington crossed his arms. "I didn't ask if you'd heard of it. I asked if you'd say it."

"What … just say it was a gigantic house fly?"

"Right, but that was a question. You need to say it."

"It was a gigantic house fly," the confused nanny said.

Grinning, Muffington leaned forward. "Now try in a scary voice."

Wiggling in her seat, she cleared her voice and tried her best to make it sound high and squeaky. "It was a gigantic house fly." In truth, aside from the squeakiness, it didn't sound any different from the previous time she'd said it.

"Good … good. Now try with an American accent."

"Alight," she agreed, although it was easy to tell she didn't understand why. "I ... I darn near reckon that there house fly was gigantic." She added a giggle at the end, enjoying her own impersonation.

"Now see if you can do French," Muffington urged, earning a big smile from the nanny, who was quite enjoying herself now.

Fluffing her hair to get into character, she pushed one shoulder forward and said, "ze 'ouse fly, it iz – 'ow you say – gigantic."

"Wonderful. Now in Pig Latin."

"MUFFINGTON," screeched Mad-Eye Moody as he stomped into the lounge. "What in bloody blazin' hell is wrong with you, man? Get your scrawny arse outa here before I have you shipped out to interview Dementors."

As Muffington scurried from the room, Moody thanked the nanny for her time and let her leave. Shaking his head, he picked up Mufflington's report, only to find a smiling, ear-pierced, snake-tongue tied, cartoon Dark Mark.

"Maybe retirement isn't such a bad idea," he grumbled as he left the room.

1630 hours, 3 November, 1981
Alley behind The Hogs Head, near Wax Works Candle & Incredibly Lifelike Statuary Emporium
Hogsmeade, Scotland

"Quiet now," shouted the Auror, a no-nonsense woman of middle age with shortly cropped greyish hair, a soft but plain face, and one arm a good three inches longer than the other. As usual, she was trying to hide her deformity by leaning heavily to one side. This did not fool any observers; it did give her a powerful back ache and a nagging crick in her neck from forcing her head upright.

"Tell me again," she began, and instantly the motley group began shouting over each other to be heard. Only odd words could be picked out … "swooshed" … "cat-hater" … "Goldstein" … "lobster bisque".

"Looks like I picked the wrong week to stop drinking," she mumbled as she snuck a sip from her hip flask.

With an angry flick of her wand she sent a burst of green sparks into the air. The crowd of misfits surrounding her, perhaps still unable to believe Lord Voldemort had indeed been defeated, watched the sparks with growing horror. Rorschach could have explained to them how they had imagined the Dark Mark hidden in the sparks, a reaction the hardened Auror might have been counting on. Or they could have simply had a natural fear of green, or of sparks, or of Aurors holding wands. Or any combination thereof.

Whatever the reason, the green sparks did their job and the mob fell still and silent.

"You," she barked out as she pointed with her wand toward the closest of the men. He was short – but looked even shorter because he was hunched over – with dirty brown robes and hair like a rabid beaver. She mentally dubbed him Beaver Boy. "Tell me your story."

It wasn't a question, it was a command and like a mindless storm trooper, he responded immediately.

"I was here see'in me buddy Goldstein about some … er … objects of interest. And he was tell'in me how happy he was that that dark guy … Lord Whats-It-Thingy had bit the dust on account 'o him being a … what's the word … Mugglebirthed. Ain't that right, Goldy? An' outa nowhere this big bloody Augurey comes swoopin' outa nowhere and starts apeckin' em in the ear. In the ear! Ain't never seen nothin' like it before."

"Right in me ear," the one presumed to be Goldy agreed with a stupid grin. He stuck his finger in his ear as if that proved his claim. "THIS 'UN … NO, THE OTHER ONE," he shouted.

"Right in the ear," the Beaver Boy repeated (obviously thinking the Auror hadn't understood the first three times). "Bloody Augurey!"

"Weren't no Augurey, you bloody fool. It was a post owl; plain and simple," interrupted a thin man wearing worn overalls under his open robes. He smelled strongly of fish. She named him Mister Fish.

"A really big post owl," the Beaver Boy insisted.

"An average owl at best," Mr. Fish countered.

"Well … you have to admit it had some seriously messed-up eyes. Bright red, they was."

"BIG RED THINGS," Goldy concurred, nodding his head. He looked rather stupid, thought the Auror, seeing as he still had his finger in his ear.

"Looks like I picked the wrong week to stop smoking," she grumbled to herself before casting a furtive spell to make her robes give off an incense-like vapor.

Turning her attention to Mister Fish, she asked, "Is what they're saying true?"

"I wouldn't know," he conceded. "I was too busy looking at the kneazle to notice the owl's eyes."

"What kneazle? I thought this was an owl attack?" If those idiots at dispatch had sent her on a troll's errand again, someone was in for a good telling off. Or at least a threatening memo. Sternly worded. Probably sent anonymously.

"Oh Miss, perhaps I can explain," politely offered yet another member of the mob. This one had slicked back hair and was dressed in fancy robes in multiple shades of black a few years out of fashion but clean nonetheless. Several gold chains of various length, each adorned with fantastic jewels, casually circled his neck, earning him the nickname Fancy Pants. "There was an owl, as these good men have said, and it did indeed attempt indecent things upon that gentleman's head. But before too much damage could be done a great, furry kneazle leapt into the air and caught it by the neck."

"Had the thing eaten 'fore it hit the ground," cackled Beaver Boy.

"You idiots called the Auror's Office for a cat eating a bird?" the Auror hissed. She shifted her weight, wishing she was home so she could straighten up.

"It's not so much the kneazle eating the owl, Miss," responded Fancy Pants. "It's more what happened after. You see, for just a moment, right after it ate the owl, the kneazle glowed."

"Glowy … glowy … glowed," sang out Goldy, whose finger had moved to a different and entirely unsanitary location.

"Yes, quite," Fancy Pants said with a look of disdain on his face. "But the truly bizarre thing is what happened next. A great beast of a hound … quite grim-like in fact … belonging to that fellow, I believe," he added, using his cane to indicate the last man of the group – a dark, foreign looking man of unusual height (who the Auror instantly identified as Foreign Guy) – "broke free from its chain and attacked the kneazle."

"Gobbled 'em up, it did," said Goldy.

For the first time, the Auror noticed the dog sitting near Foreign Guy. "That your dog," she asked him.

Foreign Guy nodded his head sharply in reply.

She turned her attention to the dog. At first glance it was indeed grim-like, but its white and brown fur (complete with bow on its head) and pretty pink collar rather spoiled that image. Foreign Guy apparently had managed to reconnect the dog to its chain, a fact that displeased the dog greatly.

That thought – that the dog was displeased – brought the Auror up short and she turned her attention back to the dog's face. Yes, she was certain the dog looked displeased. There was something in the set of its jaw, in the way the skin around its nose crinkled, in the hate and loathing shining in its bright red eyes.

The dog smirked at the Auror before slowly advancing on her and growling. It looked quite ready to attack.

"Look out!" a voice shouted from farther down the alley. Everyone, including the dog, turned their attention toward the sound.

And at that exact moment, a cow plopped down directly between the Auror and the dog.

A squat little farmer came running toward the group. "How many times have I told you no trying to leap over the moon," he shouted at the cow.

"Moo," the cow replied.

"Grrrrrr," the dog threatened.

And then … in a move considered bizarre even in the magical world … the cow bent down and swallowed the dog whole.

Beaver Boy froze in place; Goldy fainted; Mister Fish slapped a hand over his mouth and gagged; Fancy Pants cleared his throat conspicuously; Foreign Guy jangled the now empty chain and cried, "my dog!"

The cow, now done chewing, glowed red.

"Oh dear," said the farmer.

"Looks like I picked the wrong week to stop snorting pixie dust," muttered the Auror as she pulled a little gold box from her pocket.

"You, ah, wouldn't mind sharing some of that, would ya?" asked Mister Fish.

It would be some hours later when the impromptu party broke up. By then the Auror and Mister Fish were engaged, Beaver Boy had shaved his head (and been renamed Egghead), Goldy had found religion, Foreign Guy and the farmer had bonded over the cow, and no one could recall the events that had lead to their gathering in the first place.

1400 hours, 6 November, 1981
Office of the Headmaster
Hogwarts School of Witchcraft & Wizardry, Scotland

Albus Dumbledore sucked on a Blood Pop as he considered little Harry Potter's miraculous survival. The rest of the world believed the child's survival meant Lord Voldemort's death. In his gut, he knew better. His first thought had been that Tom has used the worst sort of magic to tie his soul to this plane of existence, but he couldn't find any evidence of such. If only he had some clue … some indication that Tom's soul was still here … a sighting … an unexplainable occurrence … anything.

But there was nothing. Not a single Auror's report to indicate something was stirring. The nanny hadn't even had anything of value in her statement, or so Moody had told him. Meanwhile, he had a mountain of paperwork for the Wizengamot, and someone had transfigured the statue of Boris the Bewildered into Belinda the Bewildered, and that girl's bathroom on the second floor was flooded again, and Flitwick and Hooch had gotten into another fist fight over England's chances at the World Cup.

Voldemort, he decided, was a problem for another day. He'd keep watching those Auror's Logs for signs of Voldemort, but otherwise, he had too much to do. Besides, he had (the poor dear) Severus Snape's 'promise' to report anything he heard or saw – and on a related note, what a great professor he was shaping up to be!

Tossing out his empty sucker stick, Albus picked up the Wizengamot file for one Mundungus Fletcher, an otherwise enjoyable fellow who'd convinced a series of beauty-challenged witches his specially charmed precious metal jewelry (which was actually made of tin) would make them irresistible to the opposite sex. Unfortunately for him, one of his customers was the prosecutor's granddaughter, and the old man wanted to send him to Azkaban for 50 years. Oh dear.

Voldemort was already out of mind.

2330 hours, 7 November, 1981
Witness Interview Lounge (the hideous pink one, not the nice blue one)
Ministry of Magic, Department of Magical Law Enforcement

"Mister Snape," the sweet, soft voice began as two Aurors entered the room he'd been sequestered in for what seemed like half of his life. "I trust your wait wasn't too much of an inconvenience?"

Severus quickly sized up the pair. The woman was a short blond with a round face and matching waist. She smiled too much. Her partner, and he hoped that was in the literal sense for the man's hand was in a rather delicate area of her person, was of average height and weight with dark hair and gold-trimmed glasses, making Severus wonder if he might be an older, duller-looking cousin of the recently deceased Potter. He thought this man might have been a few levels above him at Hogwarts, but decided it wasn't worth his effort to recall more than that.

Weaklings, both of them.

"The tea tastes like mop water," he sneered. "These pink walls are giving me a headache and that newspaper is from 1972. I have been here for nearly four hours and you are the fifth Auror to have shuffled through. I don't think inconvenient is strong enough to describe my wait. And it's Professor, if you please."

"Oh. I'm so sorry about that," she said in her kindest voice, making the hairs on the back of Severus' neck curl.

The man didn't respond … he might not have even heard … his hand continued its indecent caress of the woman's body.

"I'm Alice Longbottom," she smiled, "and this is my husband Frank."

So these were the infamous Longbottoms. Funny, he'd always heard them described as fearless and deadly, but seeing them now, he'd have pegged them as comic relief. Sadly, it seemed the Dark Lord had chosen wisely. (As if the busted up house and lightening-shaped scar hadn't been proof enough.)

"We're here to take your statement," she helpfully added.

"Yes, I'm certain it will have changed dramatically from the other four times I've told it – oh wait, I haven't been able to tell it yet because you've kept me waiting for four hours!"

"Mister Snape," the man testily began. His hand finally dropped from his wife's body.

"It's Professor," Severus again corrected. "And I would dearly love to fulfill my obligation by passing my information to an Auror, so if you two could actually get to doing your jobs it would be much appreciated."

"Professor Snape, there is no need to get nasty," Frank chastised as if he were a small child. His hand – naughty thing that it was – moved to his wife's shoulder and began massaging. "These are happy times … golden times … for evil has once again been defeated. We're finally free from the clutches of darkness to live our lives again! You should be rejoicing with the rest of us."

"I do not rejoice the death of a friend," Severus simply replied.

The Longbottoms were saved from making an awkward reply as the door to the room was thrust open and a couple tumbled in.

These two, Severus noticed at once, were a perfectly matched pair. He was a portly little man and she was a toad of a woman. Neither was much to look at, even by Severus' understandably lenient standards.

The intruders came to an abrupt halt as they noticed the occupants of the room. "Oh, sorry … thought this room'd be empty," the man rushed to explain.

"No problem, Fudge," Frank said with a roll of his eyes. "I think the office down the hall is clear."

"Oh, er, Shacklebolt is down there. Telling some story about a couple of wizards who swear their cow was eaten by a thestral. Can you imagine that? It's all this celebrating, I should think. It's brought all the crazies out of the woodwork. Had to send the poor chaps to St. Mungo's for evaluation. Well, I'll just … see if the lunch room is free. Carry on."

With a final apology, the interlopers backed out of the room, pulling the door closed behind them. Unnoticed, it didn't latch.

"Could we get on with it," Severus ground out. "I would like to be home by Christmas."

"Of course, Professor," Alice sweetly agreed. She sat across and slightly to the right of Severus and pulled out parchment and quill. Reaching across the table, she gave his hand a comforting pat. "Whenever you're ready, begin where you feel comfortable."

How did this woman defy the Dark Lord three times? By hugging him to death?

"Very well. Many years ago there was a young boy who felt he didn't get the respect he so justly deserved. He spent countless hours –"

"Maybe not quite that far back," Frank cut in. "Honestly Alice," he added, getting his wife's attention. "It's finally safe to leave the house again and this is how we spend the time? Questioning delusional idiots?"

"He's right here, Frank," she hissed to her husband. "Let's just get this over with so we can get home. We have tomorrow off. We can leave Neville with your Mum and just have some fun." Turning back to Severus, she added, "let's start again, shall we?"

With a dramatic, put-out sigh, Severus acquiesced. "It was about two years ago when I first came to believe that You-Know-Who's quest for immortality was not just idle chatter …"

Unknown to Severus and the Longbottoms, someone was eavesdropping outside their door. Floating beside the impeccably dressed wizard was parchment and quick-quotes quill, diligently scribing the Professor's story. True, the tale was a bit dry and depressing, and though Gilderoy didn't know how he would use the information, he wasn't one to waste opportunity.

The mention of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named was certainly an interesting angle … perhaps he could do something there, but it would have to be unique … He Who Is No More … no, that angle's sure to be used to death … Prancing with Parselmouths maybe … no, too flippant, and who prances these days?

Oh, but now that was interesting. A possessed thestral certainly had possibilities.

)( )( )(

"You're saying that a thestral came to you and just stared at you so you followed it?" Frank's skepticism was hard to miss. Or easy to find. In other words, he laid it on really thick. "Do thestrals often come to you and ask to be followed?"

"No, usually it's fluffy bunny rabbits," snapped Severus. "What do you think, you …you … dunderhead! What part of this story is so hard for you to understand? A dangerous magical creature, displaying more intelligence than one of its kind should possess, with glowing red eyes matching a certain recently defeated Dark Lord came to me. It glared at me and I knew it wanted to be followed. I would have been a fool not to do so."

"And so you followed it to Holyhead?" Frank pressed.

"Oh Frank," Alice gushed, turning her attention to her husband. "Do you remember when we went Holyhead to see the Harpies? We got caught in that rain storm."

Smiling to his wife, he nodded, "and your robes got so heavy you had to take them off to move."

Jumping from her seat, Alice reached forward and grasped her husband's hands in her own. "You did, too! And you weren't wearing anything under, you sly old dog."

"You weren't much better," he replied as he gave her hands a light tug, bringing her body against his. "I still can't recall how we ever found that little Inn."

Alice blushed a lovely shade of red and dipped her head so her forehead was resting on her husband's chest. Frank's hand (and by now Severus very much wanted to hex it right off) was now softly tracing up and down her back.

"I'm still here," Severus called out.

"Do you remember the bath tub?" she was asking … and Severus had to swallow down the bile.

)( )( )(

The Tell Tale Thestral … no, too Poe … Threatening Thestrals … too hard to pronounce … if only I could actually see the beasts … perhaps if I attend a public execution … or I could hang around one of those seedy pubs, people are always getting themselves killed in those places …

)( )( )(

They're seconds away from kissing, Severus thought. He cleared his throat loudly, taking an overly long time doing so. The sound made Frank and Alice hesitate the briefest of seconds, but then Frank whispered something Severus couldn't hear, Alice responded with "oh Frank", and their lips locked in a snog that reminded Severus of those Hufflepuffs he'd found in the Astronomy Tower three weeks ago.

Indulging in the memory, Severus nearly smiled. He might be the newest and youngest Professor on staff but he already had a reputation for sniffing out the best hidden couples.

The jarring thump of Alice being pushed against the table brought him back to the present.

"Should I just carry on by myself then?" he sneered. The effect was lost, however, as the two Aurors apparently couldn't hear while their mouths were workings. Must have been Gryffindors.

"Frank," she sighed when his lips moved to her ear, "it's been so long … I've been so scared."

"I know love," he cooed – yes, cooed! – back, "but it's all over now and we can live again."

"I'll just write this up myself, shall I?" Severus asked. One might have thought he was being sarcastic; but sadly, he was quite serious. Thanks to a certain promise he'd made Albus Dumbledore, he literally couldn't leave until he'd made his report. Oh, but the old man would pay for this.

There was no verbal response to his question. A few seconds later Alice did shove the parchment she'd been writing on in his general direction, but that might have been more to get it out of her own way (as she was now reclining on the table) than to help him.

"I was explaining how this thestral, which had an air of menace to it, had led me to a copse of trees near Holyhead," Severus recounted. "Holyhead, you questioned. Yes, Holyhead, I would have replied."

One of the Aurors moaned.

Forgoing the weak tea, Severus pulled a whiskey bottle from his robe pocket and helped himself to a hearty gulp.

"Why ever Holyhead, you would ask. The Dark Lord had a house there … an old cottage on some forgotten estate, I would explain. How do you know that, you would ask. And I would tsk and carelessly motion to my arm and you would understand my meaning."

Alice fell fully onto the table with Frank on top of her. "Gaahg," she said.

"Hag?" Severus repeated, "why yes, there was a hag. However did you know?" He took another healthy drink of his whiskey.

)( )( )(

That's it – a book about hags! Now that's a best seller in the making. After all, who doesn't love whimsical tales of creatures who eat small children?

)( )( )(

"I confess I've never seen such a horrific sight," Severus was saying, "and I've seen horrific sights, as seeing that hag eat the thestral. And when I say eat, I mean devour. Whole thing happened so fast I could hardly make sense of it." He paused to take a swallow. "Come now, you would say, surely you exaggerate? … No, I assure you, I am not one to embellish. The truth is usually extraordinary enough as it is, wouldn't you agree?"

"Oh, Merlin yes," Alice moaned.

"Quite," Severus agreed with another drink. He pulled back the bottle to read the label, thinking this was really good stuff and he might have to actually thank Sprout for the gift.

Alice begged for more.

"But of course," Severus agreed. "You see, after the hag had eaten the thestral, she clutched her stomach, groaned like a wounded dragon, and keeled over. Now I know what you are thinking," he said with a wave of the hand holding the bottle, "keel isn't a very clinical term. I agree; but there is simply no better way to describe it. She keeled over."

For the briefest of seconds, Severus turned his eyes to the couple on the table. Frank's robes had ridden up so Severus could see where the man's black compression stocking ended and his pasty, hair-covered legs began. Severus nearly chugged what remained in his bottle.

He rushed to finish his tale. "Interesting tale, Snape, you would say, but that's a case for the Beings office. Ah, I counter, you haven't heard the best part. There's more, you question. Certainly, I reply. At that point I imagine I would lean close and whisper … the Dark Lord. You would scoff while your wife gasped, but you would otherwise stay quiet so I can complete my tale.

"A strange black mist rose from the hag's dead body, I would say, taking an oddly human form. No doubt I would make hand gestures to approximate the dimensions of the mist. Perhaps at that point one of you would be skeptical, but the other would find it a fascinating tale. What happened to the mist, that one would ask. It began to move toward me, I would explain, but inches away from touching me, it's head – and before you could interrupt I would point out the mist, being humanoid, would clearly have a head – turned back to the dead hag. Then it slowly backed several feet away from me. You would interrupt again to ask why I don't use metric measurements and I would admonish you to focus – and then I would tell you, with a voice that no doubt relayed I had reached the end of my tale, that the mist turned and fled."

)( )( )(

Fantastic. But his hag can't just drop dead … no, it needs to be a tragic and heroic tale … show the human side of the beast … Hunting with Hags – still too harsh … Haggling with Hags – alliterate, but no … Holiday with Hags. Yes! I can make the best seller list for certain with this.

)( )( )(

"Quite the tale, you say." Severus finally continued in a louder-than-necessary voice. "And no doubt you are wondering why you should believe it. Why would I lie, I would ask in return. Some want the fame, you would explain, others want to feel important. I would assure you I want none of those. I am merely fulfilling the requirements of my agreement with Dumbledore and the Wizengamot, I explain."

He risked a glance at the Aurors. Alice was now sitting on top of her husband, who was lying on the table with his arms spread wide above his head. Thankfully they were both reasonably clothed. He diverted his eyes to the ceiling. "Have I explained the situation sufficiently to be freed from this purgatory?"

"Naughty kitty," Alice Longbottom giggled. "Does kitty want his belly rubbed?"

"Kitty wants his tail rubbed," Frank responded in a husky voice.

Severus made a part-gagging – part-choking sound very much like a cat coughing up a hairball.

Frank Longbottom, decorated Auror and war hero, began making his own strange sound. It was a bit like soft snoring, or a Muggle motor of some sort, or … purring.

Severus finished off his whiskey, going so far as to tap the bottom of the bottle to get every last drop. "I consider my obligation fulfilled," he said to the ceiling. "I am going now. I have to get to work on some special tea for Dumbledore as a thank you for getting me to agree to this."

Stumbling to the door, he rushed out and into the arms of a well dressed man with perfectly curled hair and a winning smile.

"Let me help you, my good man," Gilderoy Lockhart kindly offered. They walked down the hall, Severus leaning heavily on Gilderoy without even noticing. "I wonder if I could have but a moment of your time," Gilderoy added as he guided Severus toward a storage closet, his wand hidden in his hand.

400 hours, 12 December, 1981
the fallen hawthorne tree by the stream
Albanian Forest

Blasted bloody animals … but there are none here … just need time to regroup … was that barking? … a couple of years should do it … from now on, I'm sticking with snakes.

** end chapter **

Notes: This changed so drastically from its original version, I'm not sure if you can still see the original children's song that inspired the story. Treat yourself to a warm, gooey cookie if you did.

Yea! I managed to work Gilderoy into a story. Don't you just love him? I think he's great; I picture him at a party … he tries to pick up a woman that turns out to be a guy … so he just Obliviates him … and all the witnesses … and the family owl, just to be safe. I imagine Dumbledore tried to fire him a good two or three times that year, but every time … OBLIVIATE!