Plot, new characters, new magical terms and abilities etc. are my intellectual property. If you want to borrow then please kindly ask. JK Rowling's characters and Wizarding Universe are all uniquely hers.
Summary: AU. Sequel to 'A Love Before Time'. At the height of the 2nd War & After Snape has his own peculiar destiny to face. SS/OC.
This story is rated R/M.
Chapter 010: The Stranger
Marius asked Dax and Simone make a sweep of both Knockturn and Diagon Alleys and report their findings. Snape needed to make an accounting of the matters at hand to his companion. In Marius's mind, the sooner the Potions Master let down his formidable defences and made amends with their newest friend the better – and he needed to be left alone to facilitate it.
Audrey sighed as she stared at the large mug of hot chocolate Baz had prepared for her as he and Marius excused themselves. She did have a multitude of questions – but wasn't quite sure where to start. It was strange being all alone with her Potions Master outside of their clearly delineated roles as Hogwarts professor and student.
'I won't tell anyone about this,' she said quietly.
'I know,' Snape replied evenly. 'I concede that you have already proven to be far more trustworthy than I could have hoped for.'
There was an awkward silence as Audrey and Snape looked at each other without either dropping their gaze for the first time that morning.
'Would you... would you tell me why we're here – please?' Audrey asked.
It was Snape's turn to sigh as he twisted his cup of Earl Grey tea in both hands on the table.
'There are certain matters about this new world in which you now find yourself that necessitate your understanding,' he replied at last.
The Potions Master was rewarded with a nod as Audrey unconsciously leaned forward and gave him her undivided attention.
'You know by now about Mr. Potter, our resident celebrity student...' he continued with a grimace.. '...and also why this business at Halloween with the so-called "Chamber of Secrets" and the "Enemies of the Heir Beware" message is a deep concern.'
'I've heard a lot from different people in my House and my friends elsewhere,' Audrey answered diplomatically. 'I didn't see that message on the wall or Mister Filtch's petrified cat so I don't know what to think. It just seemss like a bad Halloween joke. I know some people think Harry had something to do with it – but then a certain student who isn't in my House keeps shooting his mouth off like he knows something. So far it was one-off and yet he hasn't shut up about it.'
'That "bad joke", Miss Llewellyn, was powerful Dark Magic far beyond the capability of any Second Year student.!' Snape snapped. 'Or any Hogwarts student for that matter!'
'But having some knowledge of who might have been behind it isn't, Professor.'
'You really are quite a clever young lady!'
'Too clever for my own good, is that it?'
'I didn't say that!'
'You didn't have to!'
Snape took a deep breath and counted to five in his head. He shouldn't punish the Gryffindor for having more brains than the whole of his damnable House put together. What the vampires had said about Draco Malfoy and his father was very true; the Malfoys had a tendency towards verbal diarrhoea about their personal affairs in an ego-driven bid to intimidate those whom they considered their inferiors. More than once he'd had to remind Malfoy Junior that his outbursts gave people pause to draw dangerous conclusions about the Malfoy family. Draco embraced his family's sullied reputation as though it were a badge of honour, just as he'd been taught to by his father.
'I am in no mood for petulant whinging, Miss Llewellyn!'
'And I'm not the one picking a fight, Professor! If you don't want to talk to me, then fine – hopefully whatever is going on here will blow over soon so I can get out of your hair! I get enough of you picking on me at school – I DON'T NEED IT HERE AND I'VE DONE NOTHING TO DESERVE IT!'
'Merlin give me strength!' Snape muttered as he grabbed Audrey's right arm and prevented her from moving to another table – or worse, leaving the safety of the vampire restaurant known as Nighthawks.
'You will not raise your voice to me!'
'Respect is a two-way street! I don't have a choice but to be harassed and bullied by you at school like everyone else is outside of your House but I'm not putting up with it on my own time! So go right ahead and punish me for it when we get back!'
Audrey shook him off and sat back down, looking as though she was ready to deck him. All the suppressed anger of her first term of torment in his classroom hammered at her consciousness as she wrestled with her conflicting emotions and impressions about the most hated teacher at Hogwarts. She was aware of Marius and Baz hovering just out of sight, ready to step in if things got too heated. But the Gryffindor instinctively felt that somehow this exchange was very important – so much more for Snape than her. She fleetingly supposed she'd never know why. It made no sense; it made absolutely no sense at all.
The Gryffindor folded her arms across her chest and stared him down unflinchingly with the contempt he'd become accustomed to from other students.
'Is that what I do to her?' Snape wondered to his everlasting astonishment.
'You will hear me out!' he said aloud.
As there was no reaction, he carried on.
'As you are now well aware of You-Know-Who, you no doubt are also aware that there are a number of his accused loyal servants carrying on with their lives... almost of whom claim to have been under the Imperius Curse. Many of those servants have families, Miss Lllewellyn, and their offspring are your age and slightly older.'
'And those students are at Hogwarts – with a number just happening to be in your House,'.
'Yes. Not all, but far more than I would prefer to have been lumbered with.'
'And the Chamber of Secrets – this Heir would be Salazar Slytherin's Heir.'
'Professor McGonagall said that legend has it that some kind of monster is in there. She refused to say anything more though.'
'No doubt the school grapevine solved that thorny little problem for you.'
'Yes – I heard that many Hogwarts Headmasters tried to find the Chamber and never did. Yet somehow it was supposedly found and opened in the 1940s; a number of people were hurt... and someone died.'
'I have no way of knowing all of the actual details of those events myself; however it is true that the Chamber is real and that horrific attacks happened culminating in the death you noted. Those events very nearly destroyed the school and were most definitely the beginning of the end of the career of the previous Headmaster.'
'So history may repeat itself,' Audrey said uneasily.
'Yes,' Snape answered. 'It will be Muggleborns most gravely under threat – as they were in times past.'
'Because of Slytherin's bigotry. No surprise there; Malfoy seems to think it's his duty to call out "Mudbloods" , the odious twerp – Hermione Granger seems to be his pet whipping girl on that score.'
'Has he been a problem for you?'
'No; not to my face at any rate. Why?'
'I just wondered given that your lineage has come under question.'
'The only person who has been an obvious problem in your House is Bullstrode; but just one time before we broke for the Holidays. I know some people weren't happy with me having dinner with Marcus and Natasha, but that was the old Gryffindor rivalry thing same as with some people from my House who didn't like it.'
'I am inclined to agree with your assessment of the situation,' Snape admitted. 'But you must still take great care, Miss Llewellyn.'
'So you keep saying,' Audrey sighed. 'OK – why am I here? What's going on?'
Marius and Baz emerged and pulled up chairs to the booth once more.
'It's not a matter of if Lord... You-Know-Who will come back, but when,' Baz said carefully. 'Anyone with sense always knew that he just had to be out there somewhere, waiting for the opportunity to finish what he started.'
'And there are those who would gladly welcome his return,' Marius added. 'Some of whom are too attracted to his Dark Power for their own good.'
'You mean there are people who would actually go out of their way to help him?' Audrey gasped. 'After every thing that he's done?'
'Yes,' Snape said fiercely. 'The Headmaster may be the Greatest Wizard of the Age, but there is magical knowledge he will not tolerate in the public domain let alone share, not even for the sake of the greater good.'
'You mean Dark Magic... like what Durmstrang students supposedly are taught.'
'Magic is Magic, young Rose,' said Marius. 'Much so-called White Magic can be the death of even the most pious "Good" Witch or Wizard – and has been.'
'There are always ways of getting around Ministry regulations and propaganda,' Baz added. 'But keeping the populace ignorant gives them an awful lot of power. Lord... You-Know-Who wouldn't have been nearly so enticing to many were all magical practices out in the open and other people could do what he did. Dumbledore is no different in that respect but there's no telling him that.'
'Many joined You-Know-Who's ranks simply to be taught by another Great Wizard of the Age. They gave little though of what else they were agreeing to, blinded as they were by the dazzling possibilities he was willing to share with the chosen ones,' Snape said quietly.
'I've heard Mister Ollivander say that while You-Know-Who was terrible – he definitely did "great" things,' Audrey commented. 'I guess that's what he meant then.'
'And Ollivander would be absolutely correct,' said Marius. 'Only a self-righteous fool would deny You-Know-Who's great power and abilities. The only Wizard that he was ever afraid of was Dumbledore when his biggest fear should have been many others knowing what he does and using it against him.'
'So – what you're all saying is that You-Know-Who is definitely trying to come back...'
'Yes, young Rose,' said Marius as he patted her her folded hands gently. 'Our people have seen the signs for some time now, signs the Ministry wishes to ignore. People from other magical communities have always infiltrated this one – and suffice it to say that not all have had good intentions. Fortunately we know who they are and keep track of them as best we can as and when needed. Most are pretty harmless; just bored with the lives they have to lead elsewhere and needing a change. I myself went to America to spend some time living in Salem so I can't begrudge anyone wanting to learn by a life well-travelled. However – something is afoot lately and we are struggling to make sense of it; it is a situation completely apart from the foolish antics of Halloween and it's upset the ahh, natural order of things here for lack of a better way of putting it.'
'Strangers rarely come to Knockturn Alley as their main destination; and even then relatively few would think of taking up residence here,' said Baz. 'Yet someone seems to be trying to do just that... and he's looking to make some rather dubious connections for equally dubious reasons. We have that understanding because of our abilities but even so, there are pieces of the puzzle missing. When you dropped in at Borgin's the stranger was there in one of the upstairs rooms, meeting with someone who should know better.'
'And that someone... is a follower of You-Know-Who?' Audrey spluttered.
'Perhaps,' Snape said carefully. 'Be that as it may...'
Just then the front door opened, signalling the return of Dax and Simone.
'Ze coast is clear, for ze moment,' Simone sighed as she popped up beside the booth in the blink of an eye. 'I am telling you – zat man is not right in ze head!'
'Diagon Alley emptied out – same as usual when the vibe's off. But most of the shops re-opened a few minutes ago,' Dax added.
'Would you both be so kind as to escort the young lady to Diagon Alley and watch over her while she gets her errands taken care of? It would be more trouble than it's worth for her to have been gone all this time only to return to her grandparents empty-handed,' Snape said.
'Lord yes,' Audrey sighed. 'It was enough having to explain the goblins at Gringotts to them so I haven't dared talk about anything else bound to wind them up.'
'Ooh they would just LOVE us then! Perhaps we should escort you home, just to be really safe, and...'
'DAX! Behave!,' Baz ordered, trying not to grin himself as his brother helped Audrey into her coat. 'Seeing her off from the Floo Centre is enough!'
'Boo! You're no fun at all!' Dax sniffed. 'Well, come on Rosie; we can shop 'til we drop and at least with us around you're bound to get a great discount.'
'Oh? You guys tight with the shopkeepers then?'
'No – we just use our powers of persuasion get back at the greedy bastards!'
'You are too much,' Audrey commented as she burst out laughing.
'It's been a pleasure, Rose dear,' Marius said, talking one of her hands in his and kissing it. 'Enjoy the rest of your holidays and I look forward to seeing you again, under better circumstances.'
'See you soon,' Baz said before giving Audrey three bisous in the way of the French. 'We'll floo you a little something tomorrow to enjoy with your grandparents.'
'Thanks for everything, you guys are great,' Audrey said with a big smile.
She turned around to face the Potions Master who was still seated in the booth.
'Thank you for coming to my rescue again, Professor. Happy Holidays and I'll see you at school.'
The only acknowledgement was a faint nod.
'Whatever,' Audrey mumbled as she strode to the front door.
In the blink of an eye she was gone with her vampire guardians.
Shopping with Dax and Simone had proven to be a riotous affair. Audrey was so glad to have met them and to now be able to count them as friends. True to their word, they enabled her to get a lot more for her money than she thought she'd be able to manage. The vampires' knowledge of retail pricing mark-up was invaluable when it came to bartering. Some shopkeepers gleefully embraced the challenge and joked about their profit margin while others didn't even try, so used were they to being worn down.
'Just you wait 'till it's you in your own shop!' Englebert Merrifast wheezed at the vampires as he tallied up Audrey's purchases at Flourish & Blotts, their last stop of the day.
As they emerged from the shop Audrey took a deep breath and frowned as she picked up on a slight change in vibration. It made her feel... unwell.
'Did something happen while we were in there?' she asked quietly.
'I believe so. Let's get you home, eh cherie?' Simone answered.
The vampires escorted Audrey to the Floor Centre and didn't leave until they confirmed that she had made it home safe and sound.
'What happened?!' Baz called out as his brother and sister-in-law rushed into the restaurant.
'I'm not sure, but it must have been a doozy for Borgin to close shop!' Dax commented.
'Rose,' Snape began.
'She eez 'ome safe and sound, Severus,' Simone said breathlessly.
'We'd literally just finished shopping and stepped out onto the porch at the bookstore... Rosie picked up the change without us even having to prompt her. She knew; just like that,' Dax commented with a snap of his fingers. 'We got her to the Floo Centre straight away and returned here as quickly as we could.'
'Nothing of merit will come of any enterprise that Borgin is involved with,' said Snape. 'He has no importance or wealth beyond the curiosities on sale in his dingy back-alley shop and whoever this stranger is, they are clearly a fool if they believe that he can facilitate an entry into the currently non-existent Circle.'
'Borgin is that type who is easily led by his greedy-mindedness, through resentful of his betters. If the stranger is wealthy then he had better be prepared loosen his coin purse considerably before Borgin will even consider being of any use to him,' Marius commented.
'So the stranger is perhaps flashing cash of his own – or presenting the illusion of it,' said Snape. 'A foreigner with no ties whatsoever to our world is seeking the Dark Lord when there is no corporeal sign of him – and is desperate enough to approach the likes of Borgin rather than individuals named during the trails at the very least.'
'Not the way I would go about it by any means, were I so inclined,' said Marius.
'Borgin only cares about money; he has no way of knowing just whom he is cosying up to and putting his life on the line for,' said Snape. 'And should he manage to be useful to the stranger, anyone who indulges him had better be certain that the stranger is worthy of the risk.'
'I think we'd best take a break from here,' Baz suggested. 'If trouble is brewing then I'd prefer to be well out of it.'
'I'm inclined to agree,' his brother answered. 'This place is only front anyway; it's not like we actually need to work. Sorry Severus, no offence.'
'None taken and you might want to consider relocating altogether. You've certainly talked about it long enough. The mews off the far Southside of Diagon Alley has long stood empty and I'm sure there is a deal to be done with estate agent since he is so very fond of Simone,' the Potions Master said drily as he stood and put on his frockcoat and travelling cloak.
'Oh eez zat right?' Simone cooed. 'Well now, I will 'ave to pay 'im a little visit pour Noel...'
'You behave, woman!' Dax hissed.
'A bit rich coming from you, mon cher,' his wife snorted.
'Enjoy your holidays. You know how to reach me to let me know how things are,' Snape commented with a smirk before he left to return to Hogwarts.
Snape sighed as he stood before the stone gargoyle that guarded the Headmaster's office.
'Butterscotch bogeys,' he muttered as he leaned in as close as he dared, feeling utterly ridiculous.
The statue seemed to smirk at him as it moved to the side and revealed the revolving staircase that would take him up.
'Severus, this is a surprise,' said Dumbledore. 'I thought I gave you strict instructions to try and enjoy having some time to yourself for a change.'
'There has been an unexpected development; one that I thought merited bringing to your attention.'
'No, no... mercifully. Although to be fair it is a bit worrying.'
The Potions Master took a seat and told Professor Dumbledore about his visit to Knockturn Alley, leaving out everything related to Audrey.
'It wouldn't be the first time someone has done something so stupid,' Dumbledore sighed. 'After all, seeking Tom out is what led to Quirinus's downfall and eventual death.'
Quirinus Quirrell had been Professor of Muggle Studies for a number of years at Hogwarts before taking over Defense Against the Arts the year before. He'd taken a year off to travel between leaving his old position and assuming the new. He wanted more experience and reading books wasn't going to give it to him, he'd said. The truth was that he went looking for whatever it was that remained of Lord Voldemort, rumoured to be a weakened spirit, lurking in the forest of deepest Albania. Quirrell found the Dark Lord alright, and was no match for him even at his weakest. After Quirrell had failed Voldemort one too many times the Dark Lord inhabited his body, with the end result that his head stuck out of the back of Quirrell's head. Quirrell returned to Hogwarts to take up his new post, wearing a new turban to hide the truth of his deception. Quirrell died trying to murder Harry Potter on the orders of Lord Voldemort.
'Indeed,' said Snape. 'It would same that like many before him this stranger is seeking knowledge and power... and yet...'
'Go on, Severus.'
'There is something odd about him. I have never known the denizens of Knockturn Alley to hide themselves away nor for Diagon Alley to be so affected as well. He has "upset the natural order of things" quote unquote. Even those who have been confined to Knockturn no thanks to the Ministry are now willing to try their luck elsewhere. I myself felt quite... unwell... for the duration.'
'Hmm,' the Headmaster said, poking a floating silver orb with his wand. 'I don't have this sense that this is related to the dire situation with the Chamber or even Harry, for which we must be grateful. The best we can do is carry on and take things as they come.'
'My contacts will be keeping me informed of any developments from their end.'
'Good; I take it you already had a discreet word with our mutual friend in the Auror's Office.'
'Yes; he is going to see what he can find out via his own contacts outside of the Ministry. It will take time, however. If Minister Fudge or any of his cronies had any idea...'
'Unfortunately Senior Auror Scrimgeour is in no position to act as he would choose and if he were told it is inevitable that Fudge would have to know what was going on...'
'...and we would end up with nothing. At the moment this stranger hasn't done anything for anyone to be worried about and Fudge would see it as a waste of resources.'
'It will take some time; but I am confident that we will find out more about this stranger and his intentions. Anyone so desperately foolish enough to go looking for Tom and in this manner is bound to have a left trail of some kind.'
'Very well. If you have no objections, I will call it a day and retire to my quarters.'
'Are you sure you won't accept...'
'NO!' Snape hissed, forgetting himself. 'I meant no thank you, Headmaster. Happy Holidays. Enjoy your break.'