The smell of burning paper was thick in the air. The remnants of candlewicks were scattered across the floor, some still smoldering. The floor was covered by thick, sticky, yellow wax. The white walls held candles upon candles, their bright flames flickering in the night. This room was hard to get through without getting your feet stuck onto the floor or without passing out from smell of a thousand burning candles abundant in the air. But still, Regulus trudged through the room, running quickly, his eyes wide open, his face showing the utter terror which coursed through his every vein—Severus had been wrong.
Regulus ran sloppily, his emerald night gown wrapping itself around his feet before falling off and floating away from him. He grabbed the grey stone wall of the castle as he turned the corner, increasing his speed, though he knew he would never find Severus fast enough. Up and down stacks of stairs, round the same floor seven times and crawling through every possible crack, Regulus searched, but to no avail could he find his friend, his other master.
When he reached the sixth floor, a floor that students scarcely frequented, he found that the floor was more of a vast maze, than a floor of the castle. The walls on this floor were plain, and the floor beneath his feet could use some cleaning, though he knew that Filch would never find the urge to do it good.
Part of Regulus wanted to scream out Severus' name, so he could find him, but the other, tamer part of him told him to remain quiet, or he would be caught much more easily. A sense of rightness filled him, starting at his core, then swelling further and further. He began to walk slowly, stealthily, creeping ever so carefully around the next dark corners.
There, sitting on the cold floor, his back against a wooden door, with his head hung back was Severus, sleeping soundly. Regulus snuck up to him slowly, holding his breath the entire way. He had never woken up Severus when he wasn't having nightmares. He dreaded Severus' reaction if he were to disturb him. He was four meters away from Severus, trying to keep his composure, yet he breathed heavily in strained gasps. Severus jostled awake, jumping onto his feet, his wand at ready, pointed directly at Regulus face. Had he really been sleeping?
No, he hadn't. He closed his eyes for a moment, partially tried, but mostly to trick anyone who would come up to this floor of the castle. Noticing the fear in Regulus' eyes, he put his wand down. Taking him by the cloak, Severus dragged Regulus out of the corridor, looking back every now and again at Lily's door.
"Lumos," whispered Severus. A blue light appeared at the tip of his wand, illuminating the narrow hallway they were in. "What happened?"
"You were wrong, Severus! They've taken Alice—Frank Longbottom's girlfriend! I saw them leaving a few minutes ago. We have to go. We don't have time!"
"Where—what town—which district?"
"Elmbridge in Surrey. We have to get going!"
Severus swore under his breath. "We need to tell Dumbledore. This has gone too far." Severus ran, faster than he thought possible. If he woke up everyone in the castle, so be it, he had to save lives, no matter how many detentions he would get. He didn't care about insignificant things anymore.
The passed Filch in the hallway. He stood hunched over, his grey, hay-like hair spilled over his pale, wrinkled face. His pale blue eyes stared at the two running down the hallway, his lip turning into a grin reminiscent of the Cheshire cat. Then there was Filch's partner in crime, Mrs. Norris, standing at his feet in all her horrid glory, hissing up a storm. Her yellow, lamp-like eyes lit up, and her dust colored fur stood on edge. He reached out to grab the two as they ran, but couldn't catch them. "Students in the hallway!" he yelled as loud as he could, running after them. Regulus, in fear, yelled every single vulgarity he knew; even the more colorful ones had escaped his mouth, most of them along the lines of, "Morgana's slippery nipple" or "Hagrid's sodding fetishes".
Filch followed them down stairs, through tricky, winding hallways and parts of the school that not even he had known about. Less than a meter away from the gargoyle, Severus yelled the password, "Candied Fairy Wings". Filch followed them to the Headmaster's office, befuddled by where the two were headed. He had never seen this type of idiocy in his life; he had never expected this from Severus.
"Headmaster—ALBUS!" shouted Severus in an airy tone. He was winded. Regulus was leaning against the wall, gasping for air. Filch was on his hands and knees, exhausted. Severus stood straight, though he felt nearly lifeless.
Albus came through the door, wearing a rather frilly white and blue nightgown. His nightcap was half off of his head and his glasses were placed crookedly at his eyes. "What has happened?" That was all Albus could manage to say. Every other word in the English language had slipped out of memory because of the sight before him. Pure insanity—that was what this was.
"These students—these hooligans were in the hallways, running like madmen in the middle of the night," said Filch, before Severus or Regulus had the chance to speak.
"That is quite enough, Argus. I will handle them myself. Thank you."
Filch left, a smile upon his horrible face. When the door shut, no time was taken for silence. Regulus quickly bolted up with unseen strength and vigor. This was an experience wholly new to Regulus. Severus was not sure if he should have taken Regulus under his wing; he had done it without Dumbledore's approval.
The story was told, mostly by Regulus, though Severus would sometimes jump into the one-sided conversation. Before Regulus could finish, the story was stopped by Dumbledore, who looked concerned, yet livid, his once pale face turning a bright shade of tomato red.
"So you two are here to tell me that—and I do hope that I have been hallucinating these past several minutes—Death Eaters are placing an attack on Elmbridge as we speak, and furthermore are bringing one of the students to this attack so they may as well be killed?"
"That is right, Albus." Severus said it in a grave tone, trying to convey the severity of it.
"Then why tell me this? Couldn't you have acted on your own?"
"We have weighed our options carefully. Regulus and I were hoping that we would accompany you as you apparated to Elmbridge."
"And what makes you think that I would bring you two alongside with me, much less that I would go there on my own account?"
"The answer is simple, of course. Though we are clearly wasting time going over my analysis… You have no other choice. You cherish the lives of others and hold other's lives with a higher respect than for your own. Furthermore, you would not risk the life of a student…so innocent," Severus added the last part, only because he knew Dumbledore too well to say that he wouldn't risk the life of a student.
With a single snap, Dumbledore transfigured their clothing into something more appropriate; they were black cloaks over outfits that were much like the black attire Snape had worn in the future. He stood up and leaned over the desk, grabbing both of their appendages. "Then we'll be off," he said with a sorrowful smile. There was virtually no click as they apparated.
The room was left there, cold, dark, but full of the life in Dumbledore's numerous trinkets. Fawkes was sleeping on his perch, cooing with every breath. A single burning candle was in the corner of the room, illuminating the Pensieve. Emma came out of her corner, which she had hid in so proficiently. She went over to the candle and blew the flame out. She too had disappeared within a matter of moments, afterwards.
Elmbridge was lit brightly by the houses' lights. Though in the entire district, only one village, so small in stature was unlit. Few lived there. Those who did were poor, nearly unheard of people. This town was known as Abernath. Abernath was not a farming village, nor a village that had anything to do with economy. Abernath was the hub of the poor—a village which was more of a poor house than anything. The housing reflected that perfectly. In the midst of the night, not a single thing could be heard, but the cries from the nightmares children—which were sleeping on their hay filled cots or more likely, on a moth-eaten sheet laid over the floor—had dreamed that night.
When the three appeared behind a stone house in a small patch of grass, Severus had not been too surprised. Though Regulus had clearly missed the fact that they would be going to Abernath, Severus had somewhat suspected that they would come here.
There was a stench in the air, something grotesque, putrid, and repulsive. Severus turned around, only to see that they were standing behind the public loo. Unannounced, Severus walked away. If he was going to hide, he would not hide behind a loo, and most certainly not one which smelled even worse than the Gaunt's cabin. Dumbledore and Regulus soon followed him. Severus managed to walk to the cleanest part of the town—the small, stone chapel.
"So what now?" asked Regulus. "I've never been on this sort of thing."
"I believe that it would be prudent, if we were to form a plan," Dumbledore voiced.
"As Regulus and I both know, Voldemort—" Regulus shivered at the name; he had never though the Severus would use it. "has never been to one of these raids, nor will he ever. Furthermore, we are in luck, for I have taken the liberty of storing precisely two doses of Polyjuice potion in my cloak, which I am glad to say had not been transfigured.
"If you, Albus will agree to this, I believe that you should distract the Death Eaters, possibly threaten them if you will. All the while, Regulus and I will take Alice to safety and wait until you arrive so we all may return to Hogwarts. If this…madness is stopped in time, I believe that we will save quite a few lives today."
"Very well, Severus." Dumbledore had breathed, before walking into the dark, away from them both—there was no use in following him now.
"They'll be here soon…I can feel it in my veins. It would be prudent to prepare for what is to come." Regulus followed Severus into the chapel; he was always the follower. He never had a head strong enough to lead, in these situations.
The chapel was small on the inside—even smaller than it was on the outside. It was lit by handmade, amber colored candles. Most of the windows were barred, except for the single, enormous window at the altar. It revealed a breath-taking scene of a religious event Severus was sure Lily had explained to him so long ago. The window was made of stained glass, though it was pale in color, somehow it appeared vivid, eccentric, and superb. The floor was cement and the walls were painted over wood. Still, something about the chapel made Severus feel whole.
The air inside was cold; Severus felt it when he had taken off his cloak. Uncorking the bottles, Severus placed a strand of separate hairs in each one. "When you're ready," he said, corking the bottles and leaving them on a seat.
It occurred to him that he had come to save the day yet again, though he did not know why he was doing it. What thing had possessed him to add another thing the already lengthy to-do list he had been forming, since the day he returned to this time?
This isn't for Lily. This is for one of her friends. Why should it matter to me? The massacre of this town can be stopped by Dumbledore and Dumbledore alone. Why am I here, doing this, when all I wanted was a moment of rest, a moment to be blissfully ignorant along with Lily? She is safe, so why am I here?
Though something deep in his bowels was urging him to stay, to continue with what he had started, he attempted to ignore it.
"This will be over soon enough." Severus turned to Regulus in surprise. "Good thing it's a Saturday tomorrow, eh Snape?"
"Yes, a good thing indeed," he muttered before taking the potion with a grimace and collapsing to the floor, choking on it. It was more repugnant than the last time. He swore that each time he took the potion, it only got worse. Regulus dropped to his knees next to him, trying to comfort his friend the best he could. With a layer of sweat on Snape's face, he sat up. "So how do I look?" he asked jokingly.
"You're a redhead now. I would say it doesn't suit you, but you're a completely different person." Regulus put a mirror up to Severus' face. His nose was still hooked, though differently. His skin was slightly less pale than it was before. In addition to his hair, he now had a red beard. His eyes were a bright shade of grey. It wasn't too terrible, though the beard was not something that he had liked. Regulus on the other hand, now had grey hair and a beard to match it as well. His eyes were brown and clearly showed age, accompanied by wisdom. The wrinkles on his face were fine. Aside from them, there were sun spots scattered across his cheeks.
Showing Regulus his new appearance, Regulus sneered, "Couldn't have chosen a better look for me? I'm some old bloke now. Ruddy fantastic if you ask me." The last sentence was said with acerbity that even Severus would have been proud of, if he had the time to appreciate it.
They slithered their way out of the church and through the village. Round the houses they went, in search of Dumbledore. Through the night the two men stalked, evermore hoping that they would not get lost. Swerving past piles of garbage put deliberately upon what used to be the greenest grass in the country, they began to lose hope. Maybe Dumbledore had left them.
Soon they heard voices, most of them familiar. Severus grabbed Regulus by the collar of his shirt, pulling him down to the ground with force. They were behind a large, stone well, with a clear view of what was taking place. As Dumbledore talked, they were both pensive.
Dumbledore cleared his throat. "Thought that you could get away with such crimes, did you? You believe I'm an idiot, someone who would never find out about these…things."
"And what's it to you, Headmaster?" sneered Avery. "You can't stop us. You're weak; not only weak, but you're a fool as well."
The Death Eaters were masked, but Snape knew which person was which, not because of their masks, but by the way they held themselves. Avery was the only Death Eater who was not masked. Some would call him brave. In a sense, he was, but for the most part it was idiocy—idiocy and immorality. Behind Avery was Bellatrix, holding Alice rather roughly. Alice seemed to be in a trance.
Curses were cast at Dumbledore: Without much effort, or sweat, Dumbledore blocked every single curse mutely and wandlessely. The next few words the Dumbledore uttered shocked every single wizard within the area. "Expulsion would do you no good. You would not care—not at all. But what about a trip to Azkaban—would you care then? Ah, do I detect a glimmer of fear in those eyes of yours. What would you dear Voldemort do to you all, if he were to know that you have not only failed him, but ended up behind thick, metal bars, for the rest of your miserable lives?" His voice was callous. What had become of the Dumbledore that Severus had known? The soft caress of Dumbledore's gone, the optimism, the words of encouragement, the hope—all of it gone! What had perished inside of this man? He was decaying on the inside, rotting constantly.
With a flick of Dumbledore's wand, the Death Eaters froze over, completely still, covered by a thick layer of transparent ice. "Come out you two." Despite the ice, the eyes of the Death Eaters darted toward Regulus and Severus as they walked toward Dumbledore. Weeding his way through the frozen statues, Dumbledore unfroze only Alice. She jumped at him and into his arms. "Take her," Dumbledore motion to Regulus.
"We best be leaving, the charm will wear off soon," Dumbledore breathed.
In his peripheral vision, Severus could see a piece of paisley fabric skitter across the ground behind a building. His eyes flashed with a red gleam. "I will be staying for a bit longer, if you don't mind. I will return in the morning." Severus said.
Once Dumbledore, Alice and Regulus, along with the group of Death Eaters disapperated, Severus walked behind the wooden building, in which he saw the glimpse of fabric. In the corner between two buildings was Emma, her arms wrapped tightly around her knees. As Severus walked toward her, the Polyjuice potion lost its affect. "Daddy?" she asked timidly.
"How did you get here?"
"I don' know…I touched a toy…and I—I came 'ere. I'm so sorry Daddy! I won't do it again! I promise," her voice wavered frequently. She began to cry.
Instinctively, he wrapped his arms around her. "Shh, don't cry pumpkin." Where did that come from? Years of taking care of children—that's where. She clearly touched a port-key. "It's going to be okay, I'm here now," his voice was monotonous. "You aren't in trouble, okay?"
Dawn was breaking. The winter had still not completely left England. It was nearing the end of March, so it would not be too long a wait for the warmth to return. But he was worried for Emma. She would catch her death, if he were to leave her outside for much longer. He took off his cloak and wrapped it around a shivering Emma.
"We should go back home."
"But I wanted to show you somethin'."
"Show me something, is that right?" He couldn't say that he wasn't intrigued. This was a completely new experience for him.
"It not too far from 'ere. Come on Daddy!" She stood up and tugged him up. She began to run, and Severus followed her.
She drew him to the forest. The forest was composed of leafless trees, all of which looked sickly. The ground was covered by yellow grass. The air was thick with the scent of musk. There was a pond which sparkled in the bright light coming from the horizon. The further they went the more frightened Severus became. How could he trust Emma? His mind was telling him not to, but his heart, his bleeding heart was telling him with every notion that he should follow her to the ends of the earth if he must.
They reached a ridge, but when Emma tried to turn, she slid down it, screeching loudly—so loudly the animals nearby ran away quickly in a rustle of flapping wings and stampeding hooves.
"Emma!" he yelled after her. He too slid down the ridge, though he did so cautiously and with the support of magic behind him. What surprised him was that Emma had not used a burst of childish, impulsive magic to stop her fall. "Emma where are you!"
"I'm down here!" he heard her say from a distance.
When he turned he saw an opening between two rocks, just barely big enough for him to fit through. "In here daddy!" he heard her say again, this time more distinctly. Sighing, he crawled after her. The space was dark, but he could still see five meters in front of him. His knees ached, and his hands were scraped from the uneven rubble ground.
A light was at the end of the long tunnel. He could see Emma's periwinkle dress as he approached the light. There was a small hollow where Emma was. The hollow was slate colored and filled with runic symbols and ancient drawings, all depicting tales of massacre and love. She was curled up at the edge of the wall, staring at something he was not sure of.
"What are you looking at?"
"It's pretty," was all she responded with.
There before him was a golden cup, larger than most. Embossed on it was a badger. His eyes widened. "Hufflepuff's cup…" he thought. Surely it couldn't be this easy to take. When he reached out to it, his hand was shocked with a bolt of lightning, though it did not hurt…too much. He tried again, but the same thing had happened, though this time it had hurt even more.
He thought carefully. How could he get it? It was the second Horcrux! His mind was about to burst in elation and anger! He hit his head against the wall, much like Tibby would if she had done something wrong.
"Daddy did you want it?" Emma had taken the cup with Severus' cloak.
"Can you use magic?" he asked her, before he could process what had just happened. She shook her head 'no'.
She's a squib…it explains so much.
Over the past weeks that had had known her, he had not seen a deliberate nor accidental burst of magic from her. He assumed that she was shy, much like he was at her age. The fact the Voldemort had undervalued squibs showed one of his many follies. The fact that Emma was immune to his methods of safekeeping pleased Severus.
He kissed Emma on the forehead. "You did well today Emma, you did very well."
He hugged her out appreciation, out of thankfulness, but most importantly out of love and compassion. He wouldn't mind her too much, certainly, not too much at all. The day had turned out better than he originally had thought it would. The best part—at the end of it, he knew that ahead of him lied many nights full of the sleep in which he had lacked over the past few days.
When he hugged Emma he had noticed that she had smelled, oddly though, like happiness—exactly what a child should smell like. She was a new hope in his life,a new light shining down upon him gloriously. If only he could keep Emma—if only he could tell Lily about her existence, and that he would have enjoyed it if they could be together, with Emma, of course. He was sure that Lily would love her as if she were her own. He was getting ahead of himself. He had to give up those dreams for now. Though he was ready to tread those dangerous waters with zeal and happiness, the rest of the world wasn't ready for him to depart from his more important goals. Sadly, he gazed upon Emma. Secretly, he imagined Lily there too, holding Emma on the other side.
One day he would have happiness… One day he would have it all… It would be glorious. He promised it to himself. Hopefully, Lily would want it too.
A/N: I apologize for my lack of update last week. I do hope that this makes up for it. Another chapter will be posted tomorrow. I will keep that promise.
Chapter 31's Teaser:
Snape stood vertically from Lupin, his eyes squinted and a look of annoyance on his face. Unlike Snape, Lupin looked care-free, though on the inside he was boiling with fury and malice. Lupin put his wand at ready first, followed by Severus who lazily held it up into the air. He knew that Lupin wouldn't harm him, or at least not too much.