The Lies You Tell Yourself by Shanastay
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Disclaimer: (In the spirit of Crimson Starlight)

Shana: *slumped over keyboard, drooling*

Snape: *prod* Enough sleep!

Shana: Wha…?

Snape: *harder prod* Write now!

Shana: *winces, rubs eyes* Huh?

Snape: *sneer* Keep writing!

Shana: *whirls on annoying wizard* Fuck you!

Snape: What did you say?

Shana: Fuck. You.

Snape: *eyebrow* Really, now.

Shana: *narrows eyes*

Snape: *prods* WRITE!

Shana: *tackles wizard*

Snape: Get off…!

Dobby: *spots Shana kissing Snape, runs away* Dobby is blind! Dobby is blind!

Painting of Dumbledore: Ahh… youth. Shanastay owns nothing other than her own original character. Everyone else belongs to JKRowling.

Chapter 3: A Rock and a Hard Place

The redhead decided to break the silence. \"So the bastard actually did it, rather than dropping dead.\"

The twinkle left the old man\'s eyes, his face taking on a hardened look. \"Enough!\" he admonished. \"This topic has already been exhausted between us.\"

Annoyance washed over the woman\'s face, as she broke her stance. \"Since you are dead, you clearly no longer require my services.\" Shaluinn turned to retrieve her bags and leave.

\"Stop!\" the command in the silver-haired wizard\'s voice brooked no argument. \"Face me, young lady.\"

Tension clearly visible in her back, the redhead twisted, to look over her shoulder, fixing the painting with a baleful glare. A silent war of wills went on for several beats, before Shaluinn gave in and turned to face the former Headmaster.

His expression softening, Dumbledore looked down on the angry woman with compassion. \"If anything, your help is needed now, more than ever.\" He paused for emphasis, \"And you have nothing, and no one, to return to in America.\"

Shaluinn\'s eyes closed, her face taking on a pained, pinched look, as she dropped her chin to her chest, silently acknowledging the truth in the wizard\'s words. She had spent the last twenty-plus years living as a Muggle, forsaking magic, only to be thwarted, again and again, in her efforts to be successful. She knew Dumbledore had been all too aware that this time, when things had collapsed around her ears, she would finally be willing to embrace the world, and the life, she had left behind so long ago.

She wasn\'t a Squib. No, it wasn\'t a lack of ability, or talent that had turned her from the path of Magic. Quite to the contrary, she had proven herself able in every subject, every aspect of magic, she chose to pursue. She had been described by classmates as, \"one of those extremely annoying people who could do anything they put their mind to.\" Some subjects she took to, more than others, Arithmancy being her most difficult subject, with Potions as her best. On the Muggle side, she had struggled with Calculus, and excelled at Chemistry. The parallels had proven interesting.

It was as she was preparing to graduate, that she had met Headmaster Albus Dumbledore. It was he, who told her he looked forward to following her career, as she had such a bright future ahead of her, that she had a specific purpose to fulfill, in the course of things.

The compliment had been cryptic, at best, and she still did not believe, or understand it.

It was mere days later that events unfolded to turn her away from the magic world and firmly on the course of a Muggle life. She hadn\'t even bothered to take the American equivalent of the NEWTs, attempting to put all thoughts, and memories, of anything magical out of her mind.

And so, she had followed her father\'s dreams for her, entering the United States Air Force Academy and serving her country. It took only two and a half years, for that to fall apart. The following two years spent repaying the \"debts\" she\'d incurred at the Academy, as an enlisted Airman, had been nothing short of pure misery. Those two years had their start marked by the violent death of her beloved father, and the revelation that Jolena, her sister, was in fact her biological mother. As much sense as that made, in the context of everything else, Shaluinn chose simply to not deal with any of it.

Her military commitment completed, she\'d run to her best friend in Japan, immersing herself in the culture, seeking to learn everything she could, in the way of martial arts, becoming the second Western woman, behind her friend, to be accepted to the famed schools. Like everything she put her mind to, she excelled, until she was, quite literally, the best in the world, at her disciplines. It was the longest she was able to maintain a Muggle life, lasting over a decade. Then a car wreck robbed her of her abilities. So she ran again.

Back to Southern California, to attend a Muggle University and complete a Bachelor\'s degree. Two and a half years later, everything fell apart, again. She received the degree, but was forced to flee California, for Washington State, and the wilds of the Pacific Northwest, where her real mother, Jolena, lived.

Yet again, she tried to build a stable, Muggle life for herself, under the watchful eye of her mother, who she was finally getting to know. It only took two years, this time, for that carefully crafted world to dissolve. It was toward the end of this last phase, that she received an unexpected visit, from the last person she ever expected to see again. Albus Dumbledore.

The wizard had aged considerably, since the last time they had met, and one of his hands was visibly withered. Over the course of the ensuing months, the Headmaster had come to visit her, over and over, appraising her in detail, of what was going on in the world of magic, specifically in England and Europe.

It was at his behest, that she had acquired new wands, the first she had wielded since before. It was at his urging that she took back all the texts her mother had saved for her, years before, and began brushing up on her old skills. His request came on the heels of her mother\'s untimely demise at the hands of an errant Death Eater and her unwarranted dismissal from her Muggle job.

The former Headmaster, curse him to hell and back, was right. She had nothing left there, nothing left to lose, or return to. There was nothing left to tie her to the Muggle world, and so upon receiving the letter, she had settled her affairs in the States, and headed out on one, final journey. It was a journey, and a destiny, she fully expected never to return from.

Her spirit and mind held together by copious amounts of Duct tape, the fiery, reluctant witch stood before her new master, her last remaining hope that she could accomplish in death, what she believed she had failed to in life… to make a difference.

Her resolve solidified, Shaluinn lifted her head to meet the portrait\'s direct gaze. \"So the plan will continue, as previously decided?\"

Relief was more than evident on the painting\'s face. For just the barest moment, the former Headmaster had been afraid he had lost her. In answer, he nodded silently.

\"How much does Mistress McGongall know?\"

\"Nothing, though we will be remedying that shortly, I do believe,\" the mischievous twinkle had returned to the painted blue eyes.

\"Bastard,\" she muttered harshly, again, disgust written clearly on her face.

\"Do not be so hasty to judge, Miss Callaway,\" he admonished, slipping into his professorial persona.

\"I would have chosen death,\" the redhead spat back.

\"Be that as it may, the choice was not yours to make,\" the painting gently reminded her.

The woman carefully schooled her features back to neutrality, as she caught sight of movement in one of the many empty frames. The other former Headmasters and Headmistresses were returning, and Shaluinn could hear the approaching sounds of footfalls.

\"Let me handle Minerva,\" Dumbledore advised, as the Headmistress entered her office.

Barely sparing the redhead a glance, Minerva McGongall strode past her to stand before her predecessor, arms crossed over her chest, aggravation easily readable on her face. \"Yes Albus, please \'handle\' me.\"

Shaluinn closed her eyes for a bare second, as Minerva\'s unintended double entendre slapped her upside the head. Her mirth contained, she turned her gaze to the visibly agitated Headmistress.

Albus\' eyes danced as he caught the joke, but kept silent on it, instead diving right into the subject at hand. \"Minerva, I would like to introduce Shaluinn Callaway, the new Unwanded Defense Professor.\"

\"The new what?\" McGongall\'s right hand came to rest on her forehead, pressing gently, before dropping to her side, left fist braced against her hip, exasperation clear in her movements. \"I feel another migraine brewing…\"

\"Unarmed combat, Mistress McGongall,\" Shaluinn supplied, now standing in a modified \"parade rest\" position, hands still clasped before her.

\"Please, stop with the \'Mistress\' nonsense, dear,\" the Headmistress turned back to the redhead and waved vaguely toward a chair before her desk. \"If we are to be colleagues it\'s \'Minerva.\' Please, sit down.\" The elder woman proceeded to drop into her chair with a soft \"plop.\"

\"Thank you, Ma\'am, but I prefer to stand,\" Shaluinn answered, face impassive.

The disciplinarian in her shining through as she pointed at the chair in question, the elder woman ordered, \"It\'s Minerva. Now sit!\"

Wincing inwardly, the redhead answered, \"Yes… Minerva,\" as she complied, looking stiff, and a bit out of place, in the soft wing-back chair.

The elder witch turned her chair so she could address both the young woman before her and her predecessor. Motioning with one hand and in that same tone of voice, \"Well Albus, out with it!\"

For just the smallest fraction of a second, Shaluinn actually felt sorry for the old wizard, until she remembered he was dead, and beyond the reach of the woman before her.

Dumbledore cleared his throat, obviously enjoying the discomfort the newest addition to the faculty was experiencing, at the hands of his successor. At Minerva\'s pointed look, he decided to finally \"put out,\" as it was. He turned his attention to the youngest member of the group. \"Professor Callaway, if you would please, give us a general overview of your relevant credentials?\"

If he hadn\'t already been dead, the redhead would have happily strangled the daft, old man. Instead, she answered the question. \"I hold fourth degree black-belts in ten martial arts disciplines, including both armed, and unarmed, variants.\"

At the look of clear confusion plastered on the Headmistress\' face, and amusement on Albus\', Shaluinn rephrased her statement, in layman\'s terms. \"I have achieved the highest levels of expertise in ten different combat disciplines. Both unarmed, or hand to hand, if you prefer, and with katanas and shurikan, for example. I mean swords and throwing stars.\"

\"Oh my…\" Minerva murmured, one hand fluttering towards her throat.

The look Dumbledore was giving the redhead was as effective as him elbowing her in the ribs.

The woman sighed audibly, before adding, \"I learned the hard way, a long time ago, about the necessity of being able to defend yourself without your wand.\"

The former Headmaster took up the conversation again, McGongall turning toward him, her hand still at her throat. \"Shaluinn will be teaching every year level, come fall, but right now, Harry, Ron and Hermione are in most need of her tutelage. They are the most vulnerable of all. Harry can\'t face Voldemort with his wand without \'Priori Incantatem\' occurring. He needs another way of getting rid of the Dark Lord. Not to mention, the simple value of being able to defend oneself, when unarmed.\"

Minerva couldn\'t help but wonder, at the darkness shifting in the younger woman\'s eyes, as Albus spoke. But that was a question for another time. The elder woman turned her attention back to the painting. \"So if I am to understand you correctly, you wish me to have Shaluinn settled into new quarters, as soon as possible, and then take her to the Burrow to train my trio of Gryffindors?\"

Albus considered her question for a moment, before nodding. \"Yes, that\'s about right. I believe you know the perfect place to put her,\" he winked.

Minerva released a long-suffering sigh, as she returned her attention to the young witch seated before her. \"Well, my dear, there\'s no time like the present, and frankly,\" she waved a hand over the scrolls stacked on her desk, \"I find myself no longer in the right frame of mind to deal with these.\"

Shaluinn raised one brow in a look that mirrored one of Snape\'s trademark expressions a little too closely for the Headmistress\' comfort. It was like the former Potions and DADA professor was mocking her from a distance, by proxy. Minerva repressed a shudder, as a chill ghosted through her.

\"Well,\" the elder witch stood from her chair and moved to lead the way out of her office, the younger redhead quickly moving to follow. Just as she reached the office door, Minerva turned back. Shaking her finger once again, she stated firmly, \"We will have that discussion when I return, Albus!\" before turning on her heel and stalking out.

\"As you wish, Minerva.\"

Shaluinn kept silent, but couldn\'t keep her shoulders from shaking in mirth, at the way the Headmistress took Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore to task.

\"That\'s quite enough from you, Miss Callaway,\" the painting admonished, taking on an expression of mock horror as the redhead, unabashedly, flipped him \"the bird\" and left.

--------------------------------------------------------

Severus Snape wanted to die. If suicide had been a real and viable option, he would have happily transfigured his wand into a sword and fallen upon it. Not that anyone would rue his passing.

With his murder of Albus Dumbledore, arguably the greatest wizard to have ever lived, besides Merlin himself, Snape found himself first among He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named\'s followers. With that one curse, the Potions master had dispelled all of the Dark Lord\'s suspicions about his allegiances. There is a reason why they call it \"Unforgiveable.\"

He was untouchable, and had been granted broad latitude, including the punishment of Draco Malfoy, for the boy\'s inability to complete his assigned task. The raven-haired man took no joy in administering the Cruciatus Curse, repeatedly, to the boy. He only did it to the minimum necessary, to satisfy the Basilisk-Snogger\'s sensibilities.

Severus snorted. Like he actually has any sensibilities.

Despite this new position of power, the Dark Lord had placed him in, the Potions master found his figurative leash had been severely shortened. Being held in such esteem, Voldemort wanted to keep him close, and consulted him on his opinion about the most absurd and mundane of topics.

One conversation in particular came to mind, the worst part of it, being the fact that Moldimort had been serious.

\"...do these robes make me look fat?...\"

Severus was losing his mind. No ands, ifs, or buts about it.

He was in an unprecedented position, to be privy to the details of every major move the Dark Lord made, yet had no way to convey, even a small portion of, that knowledge to the Order. And of what use was he really, if only he knew what was going on?

There was one option open to him, assuming he could somehow extricate himself from the Slit-Nosed-Bastard\'s side. But that option also hinged on Albus having been successful in his mission. The question was how would Severus find out if that most unlikely of missions had succeeded?

TBC…