A/N: This chapter is dedicated to recent follower, lolinette! Welcome to the family, and long may you continue to enjoy!


Lydia paced the sixth year students, who were frantically writing the second half of their test: once they finished their problem sets, she made them give her an overview of their research, how it was going, and whether they felt they were meeting their targets or not. She knew they were all on this portion, because students never looked more nervous in her classroom than when they were writing these paragraphs. She only required two paragraphs, but one might think she required two feet of writing based on the looks on the faces around the room. She glanced at the hourglass. Nearly there.

When the last few grains of sand fell, Lydia declared their time up, and she heard many sighs of frustration and relief. One student even slammed his fist on his desk, but they all obediently dropped their quills and ceased working on their exams. Lydia collected them with a wave of her wand and smiled at them.

"Look at it this way," she said. "You have a bunch of other Arithmancy students who spent their morning trying to qualify for the rest of their lives. It could have been worse."

"It will be worse," one girl said. "Next year."

"Yeah," one of her classmates answered. "Provided we all pass."

More groans, but Lydia just smiled, dismissed them, and locked the exams in a drawer to be collected later. She walked down to the Great Hall and was about to go to dinner when Albus approached her and shook his head, waving her to follow him. Lydia did, reluctantly. She was famished.

Albus didn't lead her all the way to his office, but instead lingered in an unused office on the second floor. He locked the door behind her and silenced it.

"I've sent the letter to Cornelius," he said. "And this afternoon, I have received a response."

"And?" Lydia said, hunger now the last thing on her mind.

"He hasn't agreed yet," Albus said. "But I am meeting him in London tomorrow afternoon to discuss the request. I have no doubt he will grant it. I may be able to speak with Sirius as soon as this time tomorrow."

Lydia sighed, pacing the length of the nearly-empty office. She still wanted to go, but she knew Albus would say no, and she was starting to agree with him. If anything were to go poorly, if she put her foot in her mouth, Albus might not be able to get the information they needed to fix whatever was going on, to catch whoever was torturing her.

"I'm glad," Lydia said finally. She stood at the window, frowning down at a very large hedge below. "Do you…do you know how you'll approach him?"

"I have a few options," Albus said. "I won't know for sure what approach is best until I see him for myself, get a sense for his health and frame of mind. If he's sane, surprising as it would be, it would require quite a different approach than if he'd gone quite mad."

Lydia frowned, looking around the office. No portraits.

"You picked this room for a reason, didn't you?" she said. "You didn't want Phineas Nigellus to hear us."

Albus's beard twitched, and he inclined his head. "That man can be a great source of frustration. I will do you the courtesy of not repeating what he's had to say on the matter."

"I'm deeply grateful," Lydia said wryly.

Albus hesitated. She got the sense he was going to ask her something, but when he spoke, he merely made firm statements.

"If I have an opportunity," he said, "and should I have everything I already required, I do promise to ask him, Lydia. I believe knowing why and when could be just as healing for your frame of mind as being free of the nightmares."

Lydia thanked him, but she wondered if he was right. Would it really make that much of a difference, knowing the when and the why? Like Narcissa said, the dead would still be dead, the living still living. But maybe it would help in some intangible way. Something to cling to when she thought of that horrible night, something to explain all her loss and pain.

She returned to the entrance hall with her mind still spinning and reeling. Dinner was a quiet, subdued affair, as it usually was during exams. Students would be raucous and excitable again when they reached the end of their testing, but until then, she expected to find them much as they were. Severus was quiet during dinner, and she wondered whether he'd gotten word about Albus's trip to London, or if he'd heard whisperings on what it was about. If he knew it was tied to Lydia, he would no doubt feel betrayed. If he didn't know it was to do with Lydia, then silence would indicate that he was protecting her from hearing about it however he could. But how did she find out what he knew without pressing him about the matter and revealing what she knew?

Mercifully, Minerva broke the silence for her toward the end of dinner.

"Albus is stepping out tomorrow afternoon," Minerva said as Lydia and Severus stood to go. "It should have very little impact on the running of the school, generally, but as Lydia and I both have exams to administer tomorrow, Severus, would you be willing to make yourself available in case the examiners need anything?"

Severus made a sour face that said plainly that he didn't want to make himself available, but he obviously recalled that Filius, too, had an exam to administer, so he said he would be available.

"I doubt very much that I should be required," he did say before they left the Great Hall. "The examiners, as a group, have been doing this since I became a teacher."

"Perhaps," Minerva said with a tight smile. "But we should be prepared, nonetheless."

Lydia steered Severus away before he could make a retort, and they went to bed early, wanting Lydia to be sharp for her last exam of the year.

The fourth year students were far more relaxed than either of the other exams Lydia had administered. They sat down, they listened to directions, and when she began their time, they went at their exam sheets with a bit of vigor, but without much anxiety. Lydia, though, paced the classroom with enough anxiety for everyone present.

She kept checking the time, counting the minutes until Albus was supposed to leave for London. She imagined his conversation with the Minister, how he might convince him that this was a necessary and advisable action. Lydia wondered what argument Albus would make that would cement the decision. She envisioned Albus at Azkaban, using what little she knew about the prison, showing his papers, being escorted to whatever block Sirius was on, whichever housed the war criminals, or the mass murderers, or just Death Eaters. Perhaps there was a whole hallway just for his relatives. Lydia shivered.

The easiest part was imagining the conversation Albus would have with Sirius. She imagined it in dozens of ways, with Sirius sane, with Sirius insane. She imagined Sirius being hardened and not bothered about what was happening to Lydia. She imagined him having orchestrated it from prison, somehow. She imagined him being horrified, desperate for her to be well. She imagined him asking for her. She imagined him begging for her. She imagined him cursing her name.

The time for the test was half gone. Lydia took a pass around the room, looking for signs of cheating. The students were still remarkably calm, or did they only look calm because she felt so overcome with anxiety and fear? She would probably never be sure. No one appeared to be cheating, anyway. Not that anyone who'd ever had her would dare. One benefit of being a teacher who always was in the corner of her students, who never assigned detention and rarely took points, who tried to coordinate her homework so it wasn't assigned when they were buried in essays to write, who kept her door open to them as often as humanly possible, who tried to promote them as students and as people and not just as Arithmancy students, meant that they respected her and appreciated her respect for them. She'd only ever once had an issue of a student trying to cheat, and it was out of understandable desperation. He was, of course, no longer welcome in her classes, so the result was the same as if he'd allowed himself to fail, but he'd apologized to her personally, and she hadn't had anyone try since.

Lydia paused by the window once she'd made her pass, and she squinted down at the grounds. How much did Minerva know about why Albus was in London? What had he told her about the meeting he was having with the Minister? And perhaps more importantly, what did Severus know about it?

She realized that when she met Severus in the teacher's lounge after the exam, he would be suspicious and concerned if she couldn't concentrate or sit still. She would need some excuse if he didn't know that she knew why Albus was gone. She tried to think of an excuse, by her mind kept circling back, back, back around to Sirius, and what he would look like, and would his voice be the same, and what reaction he might have to her name. She wondered whether Albus would have a chance to ask him why he betrayed them, and she wondered whether he would give her the answer if he knew it. She wasn't sure she trusted Albus to not keep information from her to protect her.

The grains of sand were nearly gone in the hourglass, and Lydia took one more pass. No one was finished, as was customary for her work. A few were quite close, however. She marked them on what they completed, not on what they didn't have time for, although she didn't tell her students that. No one was going to fail for unfinished work as long as they made a concerted effort to finish and made progress over the course of the exam. If they only did three problems, even trying their best, that would never be enough to pass their O.W.L.s. But if they left five blank at the back end, Lydia was forgiving. She knew she set difficult expectations.

"And that is time," she said when the sand ran out. A few sighs, many groans. The stretching began. The quills went down. One girl began rubbing her temples. "I know several of you have Runes this afternoon, so enjoy your lunch, make sure you eat plenty of vegetables, and I wish you the best of luck. I very much hope and expect to see all of you again in my classroom next year."

Her students thanked her on their way out, and Lydia flipped quickly through the collected exams before she put them away in the locked drawer. A few wrong answers, but nothing so glaringly off track that they would lose full points for those equations. She smiled, locked away the exams, and hoisted her bag over her shoulder. Her bag always felt lightest when she finished exams for the year, even though the long, hard work of marking would begin in the morning. She would deal with that in the morning.

She went down to the staff room and started a cup of tea. Severus was there, already sipping a cup of his own, frowning at a magazine article. Filius was in the back corner, talking to Charity Burbage about something, otherwise she was sure Severus would have kissed her when she sat beside him. Instead, he brushed his fingers over her knee. Lydia glanced over his shoulder at the article. Fifteen Newly Discovered Uses for Bat Spleens. She almost laughed, but she cooled her tea with a tap of her wand instead.

"A question," Severus said, low enough that only she would ear. Lydia nodded. "Was, by chance, Miss Granger lingering in the corridor when you entered?"

Lydia frowned, thinking back. There'd been several pockets of students in the corridor, although most had been moving, not lingering. Now that he mentioned it, she did recall the bushy brown hair of the first year girl being there.

"I suppose so," Lydia said. "Why? Is that suspicious?"

"It's a nice day," Severus said. "As far as I am aware, the first year students are done with exams. She ought to be outside."

"Well, maybe she's allergic to sunshine. I've been told the library-prone students find it disconcerting."

He rolled his eyes and said, "And where are her bumbling sidekicks?"

Lydia snorted at the description of Harry and the youngest Weasley. Bumbling could describe most first year students, but she very much felt that sidekicks sold all three of them short in their own ways.

"I didn't ask her. Perhaps you'd like to ask her yourself?" Lydia said, trying not to laugh.

Severus set his magazine down, frowning.

"It is tempting," he said. "It doesn't…remind you of something?"

"A girl lingering in a corridor by herself is supposed to remind me of…?"

"Pettigrew," Snape said with a snarl. "I saw those three lingering and whispering the corridor earlier and I confronted them about what they were doing inside."

"And they said…?"

"Nothing convincing. The point is, Lydia, they were unconvincing then, and now Miss Granger seems glued to the staff room door. It smells suspiciously like something your precious Marauders would have done."

She wanted to argue with him, but he did have a point. And Miss Granger did seem a bit nervous. But perhaps there was an explanation. She sipped her tea, trying to decide how to assuage Severus's doubts. Charity got up, said something about getting a head start on some of her marking, and she left. When the door opened, Miss Granger was clearly still standing in the corridor, and looking even more nervous than Lydia recalled. Severus raised an eyebrow at Lydia, who had to concede that it was unusual.

"I will investigate," he said, standing.


"I will not do anything untoward or harmful," Severus said sternly. "I will merely ask if she needs anything."

Lydia hesitated, thinking perhaps she ought to be the one to ask, but she agreed to let Severus do it. She watched as he approached Hermione through the still-open door, and heard his tone—not too cold, thankfully—asking what she needed. She didn't hear Hermione's response, though, and the door had swung mostly closed. Lydia took a few more sips of tea, and Severus came back inside, frowning.

"Filius," Severus said, "one of your students wishes to speak with you."

Filius looked surprised, and he shuffled out.

"See?" Lydia said, smiling as Severus sat again. "It was nothing. You know what students like that are like. She's probably just anxious about her exams. A lot of students can't stand the wait for their results, particularly in first year."

Severus shook his head and said, "She was not thinking of her exam. And she was not here for Filius. I couldn't get a clear picture of whatever she was nervous about, but she was certainly lying to me."

"Why would she—?"

"The three of them had been hoping to speak to Albus, and she was anxious over the missed opportunity to talk with him. There was urgency." He hesitated. "Lydia, she had a thought about the Philosopher's Stone."

Lydia was too stunned to know what to say, and Filius went back inside, puzzled.

"Well, Severus, I don't know what student it was, but they're gone now. The corridor's empty. An odd sort of prank."

"Odd indeed," Severus said, raising his eyebrows at Lydia.

She had to admit it, even silently. That spoke of something very unusual. She hadn't been there for Filius, because a girl like Hermione Granger was not afraid of talking to her teachers. So whatever she'd been there for, whatever she was covering up, she didn't want Severus to know. And if she was thinking about the Philosopher's Stone….

"They wanted to talk to Albus?" Lydia whispered, leaning in close to Severus.

"Urgently," he whispered.

Lydia felt guilty. If it was about the Stone, and it really was urgently important, it was her fault Albus was going to London. If something terrible happened, it was on her. If only she'd been able to deal with the nightmares on her own! If only they could have figured it out by now! She finished her tea in a large gulp, and Severus looked a little bit concerned.

"Don't do anything foolish," he whispered.

"I won't."

It wasn't a lie. It really wasn't. But Minerva came in a few minutes later, fuming that she'd had to shoo students away from the third floor corridor, and Lydia didn't even have to ask which students. She knew it had to be Harry and Ron Weasley. She felt sick.

The trouble was, they seemed to know something. They only seemed to trust Albus with their information. Lydia wasn't even allowed to ask. And now that they'd been chased away, she had a feeling it would be even harder to find out what they'd learned. She didn't know when Albus would be getting back from London, but she had a horrible feeling it wouldn't be soon enough.

Severus touched her wrist and said, "You have exams to mark, don't you?"

She wanted to say they could wait. She wanted to march to Gryffindor Tower, to find them, even if she had to borrow the Map from the Weasley twins. But she knew Severus was right. She would let him keep an eye on the corridor. Nothing would get past him. He would make sure Harry was alright. He would guard the Stone, personally, if he had to.

On the other hand, a nasty voice in her head said, she'd nearly been murdered right beside him in the night a couple of times now. So perhaps his watchfulness was fallible. She felt sick all over again.

A/N: Sorry this has been a little slower in coming. Don't worry. I'm still in this for the long haul, and I'm not planning a hiatus. I've had some life curveballs take up more of my time than I necessarily wanted to give them, AND I've started a new writing project in my original works (Somehow I find myself, bemused, writing a dystopian YA series…so…send me good vibes for that, please). I'm still drafting year two, but I'll be honest, I need more breaks on this one. Year three will probably be written in a flash, but I fluctuate between luxuriating in how awful Lockhart is and needing a break from him because he makes me feel so gross.

That as it may be, we're still moving forward.

Review Prompt: Alright. We all know what's about to happen. We all know what's going on, and we all know what Albus's trip is going to look like. SO tell me how you really feel. What is your initial reaction to knowing that THIS is the supposed trip to London to secure that meeting with Sirius? How do you think Lydia will/won't/might get involved in the upcoming drama with Quirrell and Voldemort and all that shenanigans? And finally, how do you imagine she and Severus are going to speak to each other at all for a solid twenty-four hours after the usurping of Slytherin by Gryffindor at the hands of one Albus Dumbledore?