Chapter 1

insert usual disclaimer about not owing Harry Potter and Associates

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Chapter I

It is all so different. Awkward, perhaps, is the better word. Because although nothing has changed in the castle grounds and the building itself, everything else is painfully different. Hogwarts has a Headmistress now; Albus is a portrait winking and offering a lemon drop. Fawkes, his phoenix, has gone away, most possibly forever.

Ironically enough, all the staff is intact save Trelawney, but nobody will miss that old bag since she conveniently turned into a ghost. Fortunately, a new Divination Professor has been hired, by the name of Pythia Veris. She looks tired and worn, much like Lupin does, which somehow makes me trust her abilities and her calibre much more than I expected.

It is the first day today. The first day of the first year post-Voldemort. The first year in which the wizarding world breathes clean air. And also, the first year in which the greatest wizard of all time, and my mentor, will not breathe at all. It's a quiet pain, throbbing dully in me, that never stops. I believed that I had gotten over it, that I did not care. But that is not true, unfortunately. Every single morning attacks me with the realisation that many that I hold dear are gone forever, along with much that I have hated more than a person should safely abhor. That fills me with numbness that implies turbulence, just like the slight poisons that lull you to sleep before they kill you.

But unfortunately my own heart keeps beating. I coil the scarf around my neck and stuff my hands in my coat pockets as I walk out into the powder snow, a dark blotch against unmarred terrain. It's funny. I wore black the day Lily passed. I always thought I'd take the non-colour off and never wear it again the day Voldemort was vanquished.

But now there seems to be no other colour left for me to wear. I tried wearing green, or blue, or even grey. I look ridiculous in it. The moment I saw myself in white robes, I started sobbing. It was fortunate that I was safely in my chambers and protected from any prying ear. After all, still nobody thinks me capable of crying, or breaking, of not holding up against pain.

It is a glorious day, as befits the birth of a new era, hopefully much more peaceful and calm than the one just gone. I walk to Albus' grave as I do every day, just like I never came near it during the first week after his death. I am mildly surprised to find anyone there this early, in this cold. But find one I do.

It just had to be Potter.

He's wearing black. All black. There is no trace of colour on his clothes. I find this disturbing. Nobody should feel the abysmal sorrow that compels you to wear such absolute darkness.

I was under the impression that one bat was enough for one castle, Potter," I tell him dryly, suddenly, and he jumps. I can see he has been crying, looking at the marble tomb.

"P-professor."

"That would be correct. Why are you up so early, and dressed so poorly for this cold? I thought there was some ounce of brains in that head of yours."

My voice can't be nearly as cutting and severe as it used to be and yet he flinches. I swallow and my eyes shift to the grave. I start feeling guilty again for my ways. But he truly is poorly dressed.

"Well, since you will not take a hike or conjure a bloody jacket, here," I tell him, trying to make my voice endearing even as I peel off my coat and drape it around his shoulders. It is not practiced to such tones, however, and the best way one could describe it is gruff. Harry looks up at me with his bright green eyes that are so sad.

"Thank you, Professor," he says quietly.

"You should not be wearing black, Potter," I hear myself saying. He smirks.

"Why not? Have you cornered the market?"

I frown down at the top of his head at his insolence. I hate it when they talk back to me, when they make me explain further, when they do not just get the point and save me the trouble and strain of opening up more than I choose to.

"Take it as an order, Potter."

"Coming from--"

"--the Headmaster Albus Dumbledore." I cut him off and with my fingers under his chin make him face me and lock his gaze with mine, something that I have a feeling he is not entirely keen on doing. His breath catches. I plod on, forcing myself to talk.

"It is his order, Potter. When he died he did it so that you and every child and man and woman would live free and happy. And when he ordered me to stop looking sour with his last, dying breath, the least I can do is prevent the castle from getting filled up with angsty little adolescents that let themselves sink into depression."

Harry frees his head from my touch, and huddles more inside my coat, which is about a size or two too large for him. His shoulders hunch and I see him take off his glasses while holding them with the same hand to cover his eyes.

I am getting damn cold without the coat, and I can't wait for Potter to have his fill of misery before I persuade him to get inside. I am about to use my wand on the boy to get him to warmth, when I hear his voice, hushed:

"You still look sour, Professor."

I feel considerably closer to him for some odd reason. There was a covert camaraderie in Harry's voice, a tone of familiarity I would never expect to hear in a voice addressing me. It is a tone that soothes somewhat the dulled pain that throbs in my soul. It makes me reply to him with a considerably less scathing remark than an observation like that would require from me.

"And that will definitely not be remedied with you here wallowing in misery and me turning slowly into ice. So move it, Potter. Back inside. Now."

Blissfully enough, Potter obeys me. For now, at least.

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