For you, always

Chapter 4

Chapter 4

Severus sat at his desk and held his head aching head in his hands, slowly massaging his temples in the vain hope that the pain would not endure through till the morning. He did not wish to guess how short his temper would be towards a blank-eyed, monosyllabic first year. He had to compose himself; he'd spent the last fifteen years training his mind to be devoid of emotion, to shut off his mind from outside interference. He felt a pleasant tingling sensation on his skin where Lexi had touched him and his heart would pound at the recollection of her close proximity. She had been the first person since Lily that hadn't recoiled in disgust from his company and who had willingly established physical contact. In normal circumstances such an interaction would have been met with anger and distain, instead he found himself relishing her touch and the soft reassuring squeeze she had given him.

Severus slammed his fists on his desk, causing his inkpot and quill to fall to the floor with a clatter. His frustration was directed more towards himself for allowing these thoughts to take over his well-trained mind, and also because he couldn't understand why a woman he'd spent much of his life hating had suddenly got under his skin. The distant chatter of eager second years gathering outside began to permeate the walls of the dungeon, and Severus wondered how he was going to survive the day without rendering a student to a gibbering, blubbering wreck. Not that it would be without its amusement, but he didn't fancy having yet another stern talking-to from Dumbledore. The old man already found enough excuses to make his life insufferable, and so not wishing to add to his already burdened existence Severus got to his feet and worked his infamous scowl back onto his face.

"My name is Lexi McNaughton," she announced to her rather petrified-looking group of first years. "In my time I have come face-to-face with the most depraved, the most vile and most dangerous witches and wizards known to man. I have faced demons I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy." She paused, surveying the room, happily noting that the group was hanging on her every word.

"In these sessions I will be attempting to instruct you how to duel effectively," she continued, walking slowly around the room. "I sincerely hope that you will never have to use the skills I teach you, but if you do happen to find yourself in such dire straights, you will know how to survive. Now, we shall start off we basic duelling stances. It is important that you have the correct positioning in order to move swiftly and with constant vigilance." She smiled inwardly, recalling her tutor bellowing out those two words to her as she failed to block a curse, or tripped over her robes.

"Now, a side on stance is key," Lexi explained, positioning herself in the manner she described. "Legs slightly apart, you must be able to move at a split seconds notice. Blocking with magic doesn't always come to us. Your reactions may save your life, especially if you have been disarmed. Never take your eyes off your enemy. Right, I want you to pair up and try this positioning. Raise your wards as if ready to battle. I will come round and inspect."

There were excited murmurings as the students quickly paired up and began positioning themselves into the pose that Lexi had demonstrated. She moved around the room, occasionally correcting students. Teaching hadn't been a profession Lexi had considered, she hadn't been exactly what you'd call a 'model student', but even in her first lesson she felt as thought she'd been teaching for years. By the end of the lesson her first years had begun working on duelling movement, something she hadn't expected them to begin until the third lesson.

As the class began filling out of the room, Lexi retreated to her desk to retrieve the papers the Ministry had instructed her to fill in with regards to castle security. She was to send back weekly reports to the Minister himself who had taken a great deal of interest in Black's escape. This was partly due to Harry's involvement, but most, Lexi thought sceptically, because these sorts of events were what lost votes. Her first port of call was to check the dementors were at their posts, they'd been told not to cross the threshold of the castle grounds but Lexi suspected they wouldn't listen. The pull of all the souls in the castle would prove too much to resist, the thought made her shudder. Being an Auror required frequent trips to Azkaban, which would involve interacting with the beasts. The effect they had on her felt much like the waves of depression she'd felt in the years following Sirius' betrayal. The hopelessness, the urge to allow the darkness to swallow your soul and become no more had been tempting over the years. The repetition of all the torment and sadness proved too much and, at times, Lexi found herself contemplating her life.

Sighing resolutely, Lexi left her classroom and strode purposely to the entrance hall. Dealing with the horrors of Azkaban would be much easier on a full stomach, but if she was honest with herself she was procrastinating. It was rather difficult to have anything regarding a conventional conversation with dementors, conversing with them mainly involved intoning loudly and pointing. Lexi often wondered whether they understood more than they let on, relishing in human inability to understand their rattling breaths.

Lexi bolted down stuffed peppers and salad in the Great Hall before heading out onto the grounds. She had instructed the dementors to remain on the perimeter of the grounds, out of sight from the castle, as Lexi didn't think it would be suitable for particularly the younger students to have to face them on a daily basis. She remembered vividly the first time she was introduced to them; Alastor had taken her, Sirius and some of the other recruits to Azkaban as part of their fast track Auror training. She'd never forget the feeling of complete hopelessness that suffocated her, and it drained all her strength just to remain on her feet.

"Lexi!" A voice from the marble staircase called as she crossed the entrance hall.

"Oh hi, Remus!" She greeted happily as her old friend joined her.

"How was your first lesson?" Remus asked, walking with her. "I heard my second years speaking very highly of you."

"Oh really?" Lexi exclaimed happily, shielding her eyes from the bright midday sunshine. "That brilliant! I've never seen myself as teacher material, but I thoroughly enjoyed myself. No broken limbs, so it must have been a success!"

"Don't tempt fate," Remus replied teasingly. "It is only the first day after all, the year is still young. They'll be plenty of time for accidents!"

"Thanks a bunch," Lexi replied sardonically, although chuckling. "If anything happens, I'm coming for you!"

"Lex, you couldn't intimidate me when we were teenagers," Remus laughed. "And you certainly do not now – ow!" He laughed harder as Lexi poked him sharply in the ribs.

"I shall guess from your cheek and demeanour that your first couple of lessons went well also?" Lexi enquired.

"As well as can be expected," Remus answered modestly. "Those Weasley twins are something, they appear to be picking up where the three of you left off."

Lexi chuckled. "The world needs pranksters," Lexi stated fondly. "There would have been a lot less laughter in my life had we not got into the scrapes that we did."

"I'm sure your victims would disagree,' Remus said with a grin. "Or McGonagall for that matter."

"No one was seriously injured!" Lexi insisted, coming to a halt at the iron gates and performing her usual checks on the security spells that surrounded the grounds. "And that incident with Peter wasn't too serious, he was only in the hospital wing a week!"

"Oh I remember that!" Remus laughed gleefully, and Lexi noticed how this almost made the premature lines disappear from his face. "Poor Peter couldn't sit down for a week!"

"Well, it served him right for getting in the way." Lexi defended with mock incredulity. "He was such a clumsy oaf, always dropping us in it! I'm pretty sure McGonagall was paying him off so we'd get caught."

"It would not surprise me, he often came off worse in your little adventures." Remus smiled sadly. "Sometimes I recall memories, either just as I wake or during mundane daily routines and for a moment I think Peter, James and Lily are still with us."

Lexi sighed heavily, removing her wand from the pocket of her robes. "Expecto patronum," she spoke softly, and a dazzling silver dolphin sprung from the tip of her wand and bounded fluidly through the air. "Even after all this time it feels bizarre to think I cannot just Floo her for a chat," Lexi sighed, trying to cling onto the memory that had conjured her patronus. "I don't suppose those we love truly leave us, I carry her with me wherever I go with her strength being mine now."

"Have you spoken with Harry?" Remus asked, obviously trying to change the subject.

"Not yet, you?" Lexi answered distractedly as she shielded herself and Remus from the dementors behind her patronus, while ticking off their positions on a map of the grounds.

Remus nodded. "Soon into my journey I fell asleep, my – err – condition has the rather inconvenient side effect of severe lethargy," Remus explained, a hint of bitterness was apparent in his voice. "I awoke several hours later and for a second I … thought it was James." His voice cracked under the weight of emotion. "Then a horrid realisation hit me that he … well, that it wasn't him."

Lexi took Remus' hand and squeezed it, knowing the turbulent nature of grief that he was battling all too well. "I remember holding him the day he was born," she recalled wistfully. "Even then he was the embodiment of James, and I remember Lily saying she wasn't sure how she'd cope with two of them." She let out a small laugh. "James said he'd consider it an insult if his son didn't continue where he left off."

"Minerva certainly believes he has inherited his Dad's ability to find trouble wherever he goes," Remus chuckled, clutching Lexi's hand tightly. "James would be very proud indeed."

"Even after all this time it seems wrong to speak of them in the past tense," Lexi sighed mournfully. "I find myself thinking 'I need to tell Lils about this', then it hits me … s-she's not there, and I can't." Lexi felt the tightness in her chest intensify, and silent tears streamed down her cheeks that she didn't both to wipe away. "And then there's Harry … a child shouldn't have to grow up without their parents. H-He'll never know what incredible people they were … it's more than I can bear."

Remus stopped, pulling Lexi towards him in an embrace. Lexi lent against his chest, clutching him closely to her, as if scared that her old friend would be taken from her as all those she had cared about had done. She felt Remus stroke the back of her head rhythmically, and Lexi felt the darkness within her retreat.

"Listen to me," he spoke softly into her curls. "Lily and James may no longer be with us, but a part of them is. I for one am looking forward to getting to know Harry."

"I … don't think I can," Lexi quavered, icy guilt freezing her insides. "I cannot be the person he needs me to be. That was abundantly clear after … well, you know …"

"Lex, you must stop beating yourself up about that," Remus responded gently. "We'd all gone through so much, you more than most, but yet here you stand." She felt Remus put his hand on her shoulder and squeeze reassuringly; Lexi reached up and placed her hand on top of his. "Harry is lucky to have you as a godmother, so please do not think that your stay at St Mungo's means you're unworthy."

"Harry has been through enough without me adding my own baggage to it," Lexi sighed sadly. "I feel constantly on edge since Black escaped, not the sort of influence Harry needs right now."

"Be that as it may, Harry has a right to know about you." Remus answered almost sternly. "Maybe let him make up his mind as to whether he wishes to have a relationship with you?"

"We'll see," Lexi rescinded, checking off the last of the dementors on her map of the castle. "God, this is all so fucked up."

"Eloquent as ever I see," Remus smiled fondly. "Please don't change, will you?"

Lexi smiled, feeling a rush of affection for her old friend. "I don't intend to," Lexi assured.

Lexi left Remus at the base of the Owlery Tower, as she wanted to climb it to survey the area to determine whether there were gaps in the dementors defence network. The late summer sun was slowly sinking below the horizon, the sky dyed pomegranate pink as Lexi climbed the tower. As she emerged to the noise of the chattering birds of prey, she spied Harry standing next to a pristine snowy owl.

She cleared her throat, feeling nerves squirm in her stomach. "Good evening Mr Potter," she greeted warmly. "I trust you've had a satisfactory first day?"

"Evening Professor," Harry replied, looking a little uncertain. "Yes thank you, it's been uneventful. Although I shouldn't complain about that."

"Ha, indeed not," Lexi had heard tales of Harry's previous two years at Hogwarts from Minerva. It was a wonder he stood before her now. "I for one would relish a quiet life, but alas it still eludes me. Incidentally, please call me Lexi. I am no ones professor, and Miss McNaughton is my mother."

"I wonder would it'd be like to have a quiet life," Harry replied darkly, his eyebrows raised in amusement. "I'm starting to think I'm cursed or something.

Lexi chuckled; the resemblance to James was obviously both in looks and personality. It was as though her old friend was momentarily back in the room with her. "I thought that for a time I must admit," Lexi mused out loud. "But then I went into the relatively mundane existence of Magical Law Enforcement and I've found life to be satisfactorily dull since."

"Are you an Auror?" Harry asked shrewdly, and Lexi suspected he'd inherited his Mother's deduction skills.

"Oh heavens no, far too exciting for me," Lexi laughed, recalling her well-rehearsed story she'd gone over with Scrimgeour. "I work in the courts, mainly on sentencing those who have broken our laws."

"Sounds – err – interesting?" Harry offered politely.

"Oh it's a frightful bore," Lexi acted. "But it pays the bills and keeps me out of trouble, which is something many thought couldn't be done."

"Trouble seems to find me, so I don't think anything could keep it away from me," Harry grinned. "Anyway, I'd better go. See you, Lexi!"

Harry bade Lexi good evening and watched as he disappeared down the tower steps. She'd never been the maternal sort, and had always ruled out the idea of procreating with anyone, even her former fiancée. But seeing Harry and knowing he was all that remained of Lily caused a change within her, like a spark had been ignited and she knew in that moment that she'd do anything to protect him.

Lexi stood leaning against the stone balcony edge gazing over the grounds as light was covered by the rapidly falling night. The bright blue September sky was transformed into an ocean of blackness, enveloping the ground beneath it. Shimmering stars illuminated the moonless, jet black sky, as if to remind Lexi that even in darkness there was still light. Owls swept silently overhead in the direction of the Forbidden Forest, no doubt venturing out for a nighttime hunt. She closed her eyes and allowed her senses to drink in the tranquility, and a cool breeze caressed her skin and stilled her soul.

It was the first time that day she'd felt the storm within her cease its relentless mauling and allowed her some capacity to process the day left behind her. Since her exchange with Severus that morning she'd found it almost impossible to fully focus on her lessons, her mind kept drawing her back to the overwhelming ecstasy she had felt at his closeness. The intensity of these feelings and the rapidity with which they had taken hold of her had played on her mind throughout the day. She recalled how his touch sent electricity through her body and soul, and how she'd felt something stirring that she'd assumed was long since dead. She'd deliberately buried that part of herself for fear of resurrecting the darkness that had once engulfed her, and would take a stranglehold over her psyche once more.

Lexi looked up at the sound of footsteps ascending the spiral staircase, her stomach twisted in a knot of anticipation that was becoming all too familiar when she took the company of Severus Snape. A shadow emerged from the darkness and Severus stepped into view, he had dispensed with his teaching robes and simply wore a black waistcoat over a white linen shirt. He approached her wordlessly and stood next to her on the stone balcony, his expression as unreadable as ever and his posture tense as though he was uncomfortable being alone with her. Lexi had to admit that she had expected him to turn down her invitation, and had felt foolish for making such a request of a man she'd spend much of her life feeling nothing but contempt for. The fact that he was here momentarily stunned her, and neither party said anything for several moments.

"Well, I must say you're thrilling company, Severus." Lexi voiced mischievously, folding her arms across her chest and fixing him with an amused expression.

Severus merely grunted in response, continuing to avert his gaze from her and stare into the inky blackness that covered the grounds. A heavy silence settled over them, thicker than the uneasy awkwardness in the atmosphere. Lexi observed Severus discreetly over the top of her book, and toyed with the idea of asking more but stopped short. She felt that forcing him into a banal exchange would only serve to aggravate him further, and so decided to allow him time to be the one to initiate the conversation.

"Tell me," he ventured tentatively after a full ten minutes of silence. "How did you come by that book?"

"Lily … she gave it to me, after we left school," Lexi answered quietly, feeling the familiar icy sensation grip her heart that came when speaking about her friend. "After … my Dad died, she said it would help me escape."

"Did it?" Severus asked, turning to face her. "Help you escape?"

"To a point," Lexi disclosed quietly. "In the end one must confront the darkness, regardless of how much hurt it brings." She paused, unsure as to why she was bearing her soul to him but found herself opening up in a way she hadn't before. "You can't escape it no matter how hard you try, because it follows you around like a black shadow that's on the inside, eating you. You're only choice is to hope the light brightens from time to time, long enough to allow you some solace in the sun."

"And if the sun never rises?" He asked pessimistically.

"Now, if I were to quote a learned man I once knew, I'd say that 'good things come when one least expect it." Lexi pondered, mocking the advice once given to her. "Although we both know that's bollocks."

"It sounds like the sort false optimism I've come to despite," Severus grumbled. "It's usually given by those who haven't a clue what it is like to truly suffer the darkness."

"Quite," Lexi agreed. "My default setting used to be 'low', and it often felt as though I was drowning. I cannot say how I've been keeping my head above water. All I know is that I've known pain enough to fragment my soul into such tiny pieces it took me years to reassemble my mind, and yet here I stand. My mere survival is enough to convince me that I deserve to be here, which in a way allows me some solace in the sun."

Severus was silent, his brows furrowed, as he appeared to ponder what Lexi had just said. She had the suspicion that he knew more of the darkness than he would like others to think. She also suspected that his outward demeanor was a deliberate one, carefully drafted to prevent those around him from getting too close. Lexi recognized the signs as she'd engaged in similar behavior since Lily and James' deaths, refusing to allow those around her to see how fragile her mind had become.

"Who'd have thought we could spend consecutive minutes in each other's company and not resort to hexes?" Lexi asked after several more moments of silence.

"Who indeed," was the only response Severus offered her.

Lexi frowned, remembering Lily's words about Severus being more than his outward persona. She had never engaged in more than hateful words with him in the past, and it was only now, after all they'd been through, that she was beginning to see the true man behind the black robes and the scowl. She felt her stomach squirm uncomfortably as she recalled how she had treated Severus when they were younger. How she'd allowed herself to become caught up in the Marauder's taunting and hadn't stopped for a moment to think about the repercussions of her actions. Lily had defended Severus furiously during their friendship, and even after they stopped speaking she never had a bad word to say about him, only that he'd moved with the wrong crowd.

"Severus, might I say something?" Lexi queried gently.

"Would you desist if I said no?" Severus replied, arching his eyebrows.

"Ha, probably not," Lexi laughed. "In any case, I feel as though this needs to be said."

"Go on," he drawled, but looking interested.

"I feel that I owe you an apology," she confessed, wringing her hands together. "I wish to retract all the bad things I ever said about you, they were never a reflection on you, only my own ignorance. I know these words mean little now but hope they can go some way to making amends."

Severus' gaze slid into hers, and Lexi felt peculiarly conscious of the draw she felt to this man. She felt a crackling in the air that seemed to become more palpable whenever they came within two feet of each other and once again she felt her breath leave her as the infinite blackness of his eyes overwhelmed her senses.

Seconds passed, Lexi's brain trying to read Severus', his features suspended between uneasiness and confusion. Realising it was highly unlikely she was going to get anything more out of him, Lexi pulled her book from the back pocket of her jeans and sank to floor she had only been reading for a moment when she head Severus follow suit. She looked over the top of her book and saw he was sitting with his back against the wall and his legs outstretched. His eyes were closed and an oddly tranquil expression was apparent on his usually unreadable features. Far from being an awkward silence, Lexi felt reassured by it, as though it was a protective cocoon around them. It was then that Lexi felt the dynamic between them shift, as though they both unconsciously accepted their commonalities despite their outward reluctance to exchange anything more than awkward pleasantries. It was difficult to comprehend this change, even more so when Lexi considered she was secretly pleased about it.

Woah, slightly long chapter there! Let me know what you think in the reviews :) x