For you, always

Chapter 6

Chapter 6

Halloween at Hogwarts had a long tradition of being a flamboyant affair, and was a high-anticipated feast that staff and students alike looked forward to. Lexi had cherished memories of the Halloween Feast while a student, and as excitement heightened closer to the end of October, Lexi couldn't help but find herself thoroughly in the spirit of the macabre season. On the night of the feast, the Great Hall had been decorated with its usual live bats, which swooped upon unsuspecting students and Lexi failed to hide her sniggers as tiny first years ran screaming from them. Hagrid's pumpkins had been carved into lanterns large enough for several people to fit comfortably inside and a troupe of dancing skeletons serving as pre-feast entertainment paraded round the hall, bowing to rapturous applause.

Gasps of delight filled the hall as a sumptuous feast appeared on the golden plates, and Lexi, who had spent the day in meetings at the Ministry, suddenly felt ravenous and pilled her plate with half a pumpkin pie, potatoes and vegetables. Wielding her knife and fork as weapons, she tucked in as though she had not eaten for several weeks.

"Have you no dignity left, McNaughton?" She heard Severus whisper from beside her. He often dispensed with their first name terms when in pubic.

"It appears not," Lexi articulated after swallowing a huge mouthful of food. "Plus, you haven't spent the day in the company of Scrimgeour, a man renowned for tragically being born without a personality."

"I trust our government had its head firmly planted in the sand?" Severus said contemptuously, sipping on his goblet of wine.

"How did you ever guess?" Lexi replied in mock surprise. "Fudge seems convinced that Black is simply going to turn himself in, and be like 'oh terribly sorry, can I go back to prison now'?" She paused, her heart feeling heavy. "Very few know of how destructive Black can truly be, and it infuriates me that the Minister is so dismissive of the situation."

"More people than you think know what Black is capable of," Severus whispered so only Lexi could hear. "You are not alone in experiencing the worst the man has to offer."

"I know," Lexi exhaled her words carefully to ensure Remus, who was sat on her other side, didn't hear. "We will catch him, and he will suffer for what he has done."

"He has to," Severus said in barely more than a whisper, his eyes boring into hers with conviction.

Then Lexi felt it, that static, that crackling in the air that always happened whenever the two of them got within a foot of each other. By all accounts there should have been nothing between them, they were very different people and their past was marred with misplaced hatred. Despite this their close proximity often made the hairs of the back of Lexi's neck stand on end, and now it was enough that she felt a little afraid for her life, like, if his hand brushed hers, one or both of them will be instantly electrocuted.

"People are beginning to stare," Severus muttered, his eyes sweeping the Great Hall where faces were beginning to turn in their direction.

"And?" Lexi responded, none the wiser as to his point.

"I would appreciate it if we kept our – ahh – acquaintance to ourselves," he responded, narrowing his eyes at the now whispering students. "It is not something I wish to share."

"Share? What do you –"

Severus got abruptly to his feet before Lexi could finish. He lingered on the spot for a few seconds before learning down and whispering into Lexi's ear. "I shall see you tonight."

The closeness of Severus' lips to her skin made the world feel as though it stopped on its axis. Her breath quickened which she knew she'd failed to disguise from him as he looked unsure of himself before swiftly exiting the Great Hall. Lexi exhaled slowly in an attempt to steady her rapidly beating heart.

"Since when have you and Severus been on speaking terms?" Remus enquired.

"Wha – oh, well I wouldn't say speaking terms exactly," Lexi spluttered, still distracted. "We cleared the air … sort of."

"Oh you did?" Remus said with some surprise, placing his knife and fork on his plate and turning to face her. "Since when?"

"For a while," Lexi answered casually, finishing the last of her meal and draining her wine. "It seemed petty to allow previous animosity to fester."

"That is very admirable of you," Remus smiled knowingly, Lexi had forgotten how perceptive her old friend was. "I am surprised to see how well you and Severus seem to be getting on recently. Minerva commented on it the other day in fact."

"What do you mean?" Lexi questioned in what she hoped was a nonchant manner.

"Oh she just happened to mention she'd seen the two of you conversing a few times," he pressed on and Lexi knew that Remus was a dog with a bone at this point. "I did not think Severus was one to make amends."

"Yeah, well, maybe he's not the person we all thought he was." Lexi argued, suddenly become defensive. "I have certainly learnt that since being back here."

"Minerva seems to think Severus has become quite taken with you," Remus pressed on with a grin. "She said that she's not seen him take the company of another so often, so voluntarily."

"I would appreciate it if you refrained from becoming embroiled in pathetic adolescent gossip, Remus." Lexi cautioned, feeling her temper fray.

"Hey, Lex, I didn't mean to offend, I was only –"

"Save it," she snapped, leaving the staff table just as Dumbledore called an end to the proceedings and directed students to return to their dormitories.

Lexi stormed from the Great Hall, trying to create as much distance between her and the rest of the staff as possible.

"Lex, wait!" She heard Remus' protests as she pushed her way through the throng of students who were assembling in the Great Hall.

Lexi ignored Remus the whole way up the marble staircase, despite hearing his continued calls from several people behind her.

"Lex, stop!" She felt Remus grab her wrist and pull her from the staircase onto the fifth floor.

"Let me –" she protested, but Remus placed his hands gently on either side of her face and forced her to look him in the eye.

"Lexi Helena McNaughton," he said sternly. "Will you for once try not to be so stubborn?"

"Me? Stubborn? I wasn't the one who –"

Remus silenced her tirade by placing a finger on her lips and making a 'shush' noise. "May I speak frankly, as your friend?" He asked firmly, not giving Lexi a choice to refuse. Lexi grunted a response. "Never in our twenty three years of friendship have I known you to have a short temper, and I do not care for it." He paused, before continuing in a gentler tone. "Is everything alright with you?"

"I am fine, Remus," she sighed, taking his hands in one of hers and kissing his knuckles. "I just have Fudge on my back constantly and seem to do nothing but run around making sure the dementors aren't terrorizing the school. It is becoming a tiresome and thankless last."

"If I know anyone who can put those awful creatures in their place, it's you," Remus smiled. "You have a rather formidable stunning curse that I would not mess with."

"And don't you forget it," she laughed, glad for the lighter tone. "Listen, I'm sorry for snapping. I shouldn't be taking out my frustrations on you."

"You're alright," Remus soothed, pulling her to his chest. "I should not have pushed the topic, and in any case I could never stay mad at you."

"Let's just agree the whole thing is weird and leave it at that," she snickered. "You're very difficult to be mad at yourself. It's those puppy dog eyes, no one can resist."

"If that were true I wouldn't be a sad, lonely man with nothing but a tank of Grindelows for company," he quipped in a self-deprecating manner.

"Why don't you join me for a nightcap?" Lexi asked, following Remus back onto the staircase. "I have a rather nice bottle of red that has remained unopened for far too long."

A loud commotion and a piercing scream sudden broke the quiet from the seventh floor before Remus could answer. Her and Remus dashed up the remaining two floors to be confronted by a gaggle of Gryffindor students, each of whom wore a frightened look on their faces.

"What's going on?" Lexi asked authoritatively. Parting the students and making her way towards the portrait of the Fat Lady.

"It's the Fat Lady, she's gone," squealed Ginny Weasley.

Lexi saw large rips in the Fat Lady's canvas, great chunks had been torn away completely and bits littered the floor. It looked as though they'd been made with a knife, as for the Fat Lady herself she had fled her portrait.

"Everyone, back to the Great Hall, someone needs to get –"

"We need to find the fat Lady," Dumbledore stated from behind them, joined by Professor McGonagall and Severus. "Professor McGonagall please go to Mr Filch at once and tell him to search every painting in the castle for her."

"You'll be lucky!" Said a cackling voice.

Everyone looked up to see Peeves the poltergeist bobbing over the crowd and looking thoroughly delighted at the chaos below.

"What do you mean, Peeves?" Dumbledore asked calmly, and Peeve's grin faded a little.

"Ashamed, Your Headship, sir. Doesn't want to be seen. She's a horrible mess. Saw her running through the landscape on the forth floor, sir, dodging between the trees. Crying something dreadful," he said happily. "Poor thing," he added, unconvincingly.

"Did she say who did it?" Said Dumbledore quietly.

"Oh, yes, Professorhead," said Peeves, with the air of one cradling a large bombshell in his arms. "He got very angry when she wouldn't let him in, you see,"

Lexi felt all the air in her lungs leave, almost as though she knew what Peeves was about to reveal.

"Nasty temper he's got, that Sirius Black."

Lexi's whole body shook as she processed the information she'd just heard, only able to remain upright by grasping Remus' robes for support. How was this possible? She'd checked all the possible entrances to the castle, each of them were fitted with an anti-intruder alarm, which would resonate through the castle whenever a stranger passed through. All sorts of scenarios were running through her mind when she felt a firm hand on her shoulder.

"Lex, what do we do?" Remus' voice felt distant as he guided her away from the portrait.

"We – err - n-need to search the castle," she stumbled faintly, her whole body felt numb with shock. "H-Headmaster, this cannot have happened too long ago. He will not have gone far."

"I quite agree," Dumbledore concurred calmly. "He may well be in hiding until things have died down. Remus, Lexi, will you please search the floors above? Severus, you will take the dungeons and tell Filius to explore the middle floors. I will inform Pomona and Hagrid to take the grounds."

Lexi's brain had shut down. She was clammy and there was a glisten of cold sweat on her forehead. Her eyes were wide as though someone was coming to deliver a fatal blow. She dashed away from the portrait and up the many steps to the higher floors, images playing in front of her that no one else could see. His manic grey eyes trapping her in a living nightmare for one, tailor-made by her own brain to play on her deepest fear.

"I-I don't understand Remus! I've had intruder alarms at all the entrances, I've monitored the castle every week since I got here," Lexi wailed, her vision half blurred through tears. "How could he have got in?"

Remus didn't answer and was quiet all the way up to the astronomy tower as they finished searching the upper floors.

"What if he'd got to Harry?" Lexi's pained shouts reverberated round the narrow tower steps. "I was sent here to protect him, and I almost led Black to him. What if he'd got to him Remus? I'd never forgive myself."

Lexi felt her legs give way once more and she stumbled into the stone wall. A hysteria she hadn't felt in a long while threatened to engulf her, she felt her chest tighten as though constricted in a fist and her breathing become quick and sharp, desperately trying to gasp for air. Remus rushed over to her as she slid down the wall and collapsed on the floor.

"Lex, please don't torment yourself!" Remus said anxiously, grabbing both her shoulders firmly, forcing her to look at him. "Black is clever and resourceful, his intrusion into the castle has nothing to do with you!"

"I was supposed to protect this castle!" She cried, grasping handfuls of hair and pulling hard. "How the fuck did he get past my anti-intruder detectors?! And the dementors?!"

"Shh, Lexi please," Remus choked, kneeling in front of her. "Don't do this to yourself – "

But his words were drowned out by her loud, racking sobs. Lexi cried like there was too much raw pain inside her to be contained. She cried like her spirit needed to break loose from her skin, desperate to release an elemental rage on the world. She knew her mind was overreacting but she could not contain the rage within. After several moments Lexi ceased and she simply stared at the wall opposite her saying nothing. Remus held onto her hands to prevent her from tugging at her hair.

"Sorry Remus," Lexi garbled. "I didn't mean to lose it like that. I haven't … for years."

"It's okay Lex," Remus soothed. "I remember, from last time -"

"I don't wish to return to that place," Lexi sniffed, wiping her eyes on the back of her hand. "Just don't tell Hendrickson, he'll have me committed again."

"I doubt it'll come to that, Lex," Remus assured gently, rubbing the small of her back.

Lexi snorted disbelievingly. "It's slippery slope to a relapse, Remus," Lexi said despondently. "I've felt on edge pretty much since I got here."

"It's understandable that you would feel that way while here, especially after what's transpired tonight." Suggested Remus. "It doesn't mean it's a step back Lex, it just means you've had a lot cope with. Now, let us continue our search of the astronomy tower. Professor Dumbledore will wonder where we've got to."

Lexi smiled weakly and got to her feet. If either of them had turned round, they would have seen a whirl of black robes dart from an alcove and down the steps.

After a thorough search of the castle it was clear that Black hadn't stuck around after his fight with the Fat Lady. It was almost three in the morning before the teachers had finished their patrols. Lexi and Remus headed to the Great Hall to report their findings to Professor Dumbledore. They found him in a deep discussion with Severus, who was looking distinctly ruffled.

"You remember the conversation we had, Headmaster, just before – ah – the start of term?" Snape asked in a hushed tone.

"I do, Severus," said Dumbledore, and Lexi was surprised to hear something of a warning in his voice.

"It seems – almost impossible – that Black could have entered the school without inside help. I did express my concerns when you appointed – "

"I do not believe a single person inside this castle would have helped Black enter it," said Dumbledore, and by the tone of his voice the conversation was over.

Lexi and Remus turned to each other and raised their eyebrows. Severus could only have been talking about one of them.

"No sign of Black in the astronomy tower Professor or any of the upper floors," Lexi whispered as she drew level with Dumbledore and Severus.

"Not surprising," Dumbledore sighed. "I didn't expect him to linger, he would have anticipated a man hunt."

Lexi's eyes flicked to Severus who was looking at her with a concerned expression.

"I think I will retire for the evening gentlemen," said Lexi. "No doubt Minister Fudge will want an explanation for this evenings events in the morning."

"Let me walk you to –" Remus began, but Lexi cut across him.

"I'll be alright Remus," she assured with a smile. "I'll see you in the morning – I mean, later in the morning." She added lightheartedly.

She could feel Severus' eyes burning in the back of her head as she exited the Great Hall. She felt exhausted, she had forgotten how tiring her panic attacks made her. Maybe she should send an owl to Healer Hendrickson in the morning and request more of her potion, he did recommend she keep a store with her just in case.

Severus slammed the door to his quarters angrily behind him. He couldn't believe Dumbledore; he refused to even contemplate Lupin helping Black into the castle. Severus realised that Dumbledore's trust had saved his life, but surely he was overlooking the glaringly obvious? He flung himself into his armchair and a fire sprang immediately in the grate opposite, warming his bitter skin.

Then there was what he'd witnessed that evening. His heart practically ached as he'd watched Lexi in the astronomy tower. He hadn't known her trauma went so deep, and to think that she'd had years of these episodes filled up him with a sadness he'd never experienced before. He knew she had nothing to do with Black's intrusion into the castle, he had wounded her so deeply that there was no way she'd wish to aid him in any way.

The urge to gather her up into his arms washed over him once more. He had accepted that he had grown to care for her, but he hadn't quite realised how strongly so until he'd witnessed her this evening. All he wanted to do was to make her pain go away, something he hadn't felt the inclination to do for quite some time.

He was pulled from his reverie by a knock at his door. Sighing audibly in frustration he rose from his chair, not wishing to be bothered by anyone at this hour. He opened the door to find Lexi standing across the threshold, dressed in an ankle length green satin dressing gown. Severus felt momentarily winded, she had a kind of understated beauty, and perhaps it was because she was so disarmingly unaware of her prettiness. To be in her company made him feel as though he was someone, that he was being warmed in summer rays regardless of the season.

"Severus, I'm sorry for the late – well, early call," she said in a small voice. "Can we talk?"

Severus nodded and stepped aside to allow her passage into his quarters. Her presence instantly brought warmth to his normally lifeless quarters.

"I – err – overheard what you were saying to Dumbledore in the Great Hall," she said, leaning on the high-back chair by the fire. "You … you don't think I had anything to do with what happened tonight, do you?"

Severus took a step towards her, his desire to hold her almost overwhelming him and it took all of his resolve not to do so. "I do not," he stated firmly.

"Then what did you –"

"It does not matter," Severus broke in, not wishing to discuss his concerns about Lupin as it'd only serve to upset Lexi further. "This could have waited till a new day for discussion, why come to me now?"

Lexi looked down at her hands that she had clasped in front of her. "I felt … troubled and unable to sleep," she revealed, still averting her gaze.

"Then why come to me?" He asked with surprise.

"You help … me that is," she blurted out, looking up and meeting his gaze. Her azure eyes sparking, which caused his pulse to quicken.

"Help? How?" He questioned, astounded.

"I … can't explain it," Lexi said, running her hand through her curls and Severus had the sudden desire to do the same. "Whatever we have is … well, it helps me a lot."

Severus' arm jerked as he made to reach out to her but instantly thought better of it. He was in far deeper than he first imagined, and though he felt the same as Lexi his overriding emotion was fear. He had never been in this position with a woman before, and he felt conflicted by wanted to run and to remain here, with her.

"I am sorry, Severus," she choked, and Severus was alarmed to see her eyes were glistening. "I shouldn't have said anything –" she made to walk past him and to the door, but in one swift motion Severus stepped in front of her, obstructing her exit.

"It helps me too," he confessed, the simplicity of her closeness sent a wave of butterflies coursing through his veins. "I wish you to know that."

Lexi smiled a smile that could have lit up the night. "I am glad to hear that," she said, her hand closing around his and a bolt of electricity shot up his arm.

What she did next took Severus by such surprise that he had no time to react or stop her. Lexi regarded him for a few seconds before rising on her tip-toes and kissing him softly on the cheek. He eyes flickered shut at the feel of her lips against his skin, and he felt the world fall away. She lingered there for a moment, comforting him in ways that words never could.

"Thank you," she said breathlessly. "Goodnight, Severus."

Severus failed to articulate a response as he heard the door close behind her. He felt as though she had cast a spell on him. He knew what this meant, and he didn't think he could bear it.

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