Summary: Severus Snape receives a unique holiday gift that helps him change his life for the better.
Author's Note: Was finishing all of my SSHG Giftfest pieces, so alas, I cannot share them with you until January. But, if you happen to read the SSHG Giftfest on Livejournal, you might recognise my work. Or not. XD
A guest seems to think that because I haven't updated some stories in a year that I need to label them abandoned. I say horse-hockey. Nothing is abandoned. I just need time and inspiration, and if you write, you know that comes under the threat of real life and a flood of other bunnies that breed like… well, bunnies. Dragon and I have 3 full docs of bunnies that want to be written, and it's hard to ignore them and write other stuff and get derailed thinking of other stuff. Rest assured, eventually they will be finished. I thank those who have the patience and understanding that real life comes first, and I have to work to pay the bills to pay the internet and electric that allows me to write.
Beta Love: The Dragon and the Rose, Dutchgirl01, Flyby Commander Shepard
Otterly Christmas Karma
A Christmas Short by Corvus Draconis
"Karma is like a rubber-band: it can only stretch so far before it comes back and smacks you in the face."
"You sure this is going to work, Prongsie?"
"Of course it is, Pads," James said, smirking evilly as he finished wrapping up the box with a flourish. "Snivellus is going to be in so much trouble, he won't have time to stick his big beaky nose into our business anymore."
Peter rubbed his nose as it twitched uneasily. "I dunno, Prongs— what if someone else opens it?"
"No one else will," James said proudly, making sure the wrapping paper was covered liberally in dainty lily-decorated images. "He'll think it's from her."
The friends grinned conspiratorially at each other and flipped the invisibility cloak over themselves, sneaking down into the dungeons to put their latest prank in place.
So busy were they in the process of sneaking off unseen, they didn't notice the bright white flash of magic within the tightly-wrapped box.
Severus Snape was utterly miserable.
The Christmas hols were just around the corner, and there was no other place he would rather be, could be, or even a place where he could share it with someone who didn't annoy the ever-living shite out of him.
Lily had made it more than clear that she wanted absolutely nothing to do with him anymore, and no amount of groveling or apologising could seem to soften her opinion of him.
There was a pretty little package all wrapped up in gift paper embossed all over with lavender and white lilies lying innocently on his bed, and Severus narrowed his eyes at it rather suspiciously. It was definitely a fine specimen of Lily's horrible taste in girly pastels met with gaudy Muggle-style wrapping.
But Lily currently wasn't speaking to him now, was she?
He cast his wand over it.
He cast his wand over it again and performed a flurry of other detection spells.
Snape thumped his wand against his palm as he frowned and debated his next course of action.
He knew he should bloody well toss it into the fire and be done with it.
His hand alighted on the lid, but then he closed his eyes and pulled it away.
There was no way Lily had actually sent it.
He grasped the parcel and made to chuck it into the crackling fireplace—
And the package suddenly burst into a shower of red and gold confetti as a brown, furry, and very squeaky river otter gazed up at him, a fleecy Santa hat perched on on her head and a collar of jingle bells around her neck and adorning her ankles. She stared up at him with wide, dark brown eyes, her small webbed feet curving around his fingers as he stared back at her in no little astonishment, holding her somewhat awkwardly.
Magic swirled all around her. Leys, like silvery serpents in the air, moved gracefully around her body. They moved like satellites about her form before moving around him with curious serpentine dances. He felt a tug— an unmistakable pull— of magic. It was like falling into a deep, warm, soothing pool of water. It was like the seductive promise of Dark magic only instead of leaving him with a fierce, burning hunger for something it could never truly deliver on, it gave him a profound sense of peace.
A different kind of magic swirled within the young otter's warm brown eyes.
He placed his hand upon the otter's head, feeling the soft, thick fur under his fingers. She squeaked, bumping into his hand with happy balloon sounds.
"Hello," he said softly. He fingered the strange necklace around the festively-dressed river otter with a puzzled frown. He recognised the ornate sigil on it, but his runic SS was intertwined with what looked like an HG. As he stared at it, it slowly shifted to show SS and HS.
The otter smacked her webbed paw against his hand. He startled as he saw his grandmother's goblin-silver wedding ring dangling from the bells on the young otter's left front paw— the only Prince family treasure his mum had kept well-hidden and the only token he had from her after Tobias had beaten her one too many times.
The ring shimmered, sparkling with powerful magic, and he gingerly touched it. Runes glowed along the band spelling out, "Always."
Snape shivered, feeling like a ghost had passed through him.
His own voice suddenly came from the glowing bracelet-ring.
Yes, yes, I know exactly what kind of self-pitying, guilt-infested wallowing you're doing at this very moment. A Christmas without Lily— the girl who finally had a reason to repudiate our friendship without appearing like the superficial bint. Sure, you said a word that tipped her over the edge, but what could happen next lies inside that simmering anger. That burning need to prove that you are powerful, worthy of note.
Well, pull your fool head out of your bleeding arse.
If you go running to the Dark Lord with what you think with prove your place amongst them, Dumbledore will happily let you. Now remember that you are a Slytherin, boy, and think about THAT. He will let you run with that message, and he will be there to take your Vow to serve him in order to make your mistake right— for it will be the greatest mistake you've ever made short of letting your mouth run off unchecked whilst under torture.
We both know we didn't exactly have control of that particular situation, now DID we?
Now, as to the matter currently at hand.
This is Hermione. Our wife. The other half of our soul.
Because of the Potter-brat, oh sorry, the misbegotten Son of Potter— she was captured by the Dark Lord and tortured and then was forced to marry us to put a yoke around her neck that even Dumbledore could not tamper with.
This terribly angered him, you see, because he doesn't much like not being in complete control of his living chess pieces.
Well, consider this a priceless gift from your much older and more embittered self.
I have authorised all of the spellwork that the main purpose of which was to save her life from the sodding manipulative bastards who wanted her enslaved, but she could only be sent back to an anchor… us.
She is forever bound to us, to our very soul.
She knows things about us that no one else does.
She knows how you think, what your favorite tea blend is and how you take it, how you steal all the blankets, and how you drool a bit whenever you sleep on your left side. She knows all of it. And she loves us fiercely anyway.
She, of all the people in the world, you can trust with everything.
Everything including your self-doubt, unreasonable guilt, and bouts of utter stupidity. You must see past her Gryffindor brazenness, her eager absorption of book knowledge, and her absolute stubborn refusal to take any of your bullshite because under that lovely coat of fur is a woman who loves us for everything we are and can be, even when we truly believe we don't deserve it.
She deserves far better than what I became.
She deserves us as you are now— capable of being so much more than what some rampaging megalomaniac would make of us.
Now, until the Dark Lord is dethroned and properly dealt with, she will remain trapped in her otter form. This keeps her from being tracked as anything but your familiar— and they will think it is since the magic between marriage and familiar is much the same.
The DoM gave her a few rather special— upgrades as well.
You might as well know, her codename at the DoM is Karma. I'm sure you'll figure out why soon enough.
Now, take the ring adorning her left paw and say, "I do".
It would be the wisest and most satisfying thing you could do.
And before you decide that this is just some elaborate prank, ask her what your most secret moniker is, boy.
If you should ever hurt her or make her cry, Severus Snape, I assure you that I will personally find a way to reach back into time and strangle you with your own Slytherin tie.
Master Severus T. Snape
Severus scowled as the necklace suddenly stopped glowing, looking like a perfectly ordinary if exquisite piece of jewelry with a familiar registration tag hanging from it.
"What is my—" Severus flushed, embarrassed. "Ah, moniker?"
The otter squeak-bounced over to his dictaquill and threw it out with her paws. It wrote furiously over a piece of parchment.
Severus stood and walked over to the desk, his fingers pressed against the bottom of the parchment as the quill halted its inky assault and put itself back into the holder.
You are the Half-blood Prince.
Severus plucked the small ring off the otter's bracelet and watched it enlarge into a serpent-shaped goblin silver ring with a green emerald and red ruby eye. The closer it got to his ring finger, the more like home it felt.
He turned to the otter.
"And who am I to you?"
The otter shook her head, squeaking. She took the dictaquill in her mouth and flung it out again.
Stubborn. Sometimes an idiot. Protective. Unsure of yourself at times. Skilled. Angry. Loving. My very best friend. Bitter and sullen. Yet tender and appreciative. Love of my life.
"I am not the same man that you loved."
You are more because everything is well within your reach and you still have a choice of what to make of yourself. And I am here to bite you square on the arse before you make any really stupid decisions.
Severus Tobias Snape burst into genuine laughter for the first time since he could remember, then he smiled warmly at her and placed the ring on his finger. "I do."
A heated blast of magic swirled around them, and then the seventeen-year-old Severus Snape no longer felt so alone and powerless.
"What do you mean Gryffindor tower is full of rampaging wild animals?!"
"Bears, moose, buffalo, elk, wild boar, gigantic birds, even, um, some kind of prehistoric-looking cattle, ma'am."
Argus Filch looked quite rattled, and Mrs Norris was in a partial body cast and looking distinctly disgruntled.
Minerva shook her head in utter dismay as Albus stroked his beard thoughtfully.
"I will authorise a trace on the magic that brought them there," Albus said with a gusty sigh. "Minerva, if you would please contact the Aurory?"
"Of course, Albus," Minerva said, nodding swiftly.
"Was anyone injured? Well… other than Mrs Norris?"
"Messrs Black, Pettigrew, and Potter are currently in the infirmary with some rather nasty trampling and mauling injuries," Minerva said dryly. "They are also being fined and punished for being unregistered Animagi after shifting in front of a number of fellow students and trampling, biting, and injuring some of them in the process."
Albus' eyebrow was now twitching spastically. "So, Mr Snape is also—"
"Mr Snape was registered the moment he started his lessons with me, Headmaster," Minerva said, narrowing her eyes. "He was not one of the injured nor one of the beasts rampaging through Gryffindor tower."
Dumbledore's eyebrows lifted in surprise. "I see. With all the trouble that seems to be—"
Minerva's gaze darkened. "I can assure you that it was not Mr Snape, Headmaster. He has been studying with his familiar and me in my office during office hours."
"It is the only place he feels he will not be ambushed."
"Ambushed? Truly, Minerva?"
"Yes, Headmaster. Ever since he gained a familiar, he's been adamant about keeping her safe. I saw no harm in opening my doors to him to allow the boy to study in peace. And his otter familiar is quite the little charmer."
Albus frowned again. "A very unorthodox familiar, I must say."
"The bond has been duly verified, Albus," Minerva said tartly. "Need I remind you that you have allowed several other types of familiars for our students?"
Albus waved his hand. "Nay, Minerva, I know." He sighed. "I will meet with the Aurors when they arrive. Please make sure the parents of the students in the infirmary are informed of the matter."
"Of course, Albus," Minerva said, spinning on her heel and swiftly descending down the stairs.
Dumbledore rubbed his aching temples with vigour as Mrs Norris meowed shrilly in feline annoyance.
Alastor Moody eyed the slime-covered explosion in the Hogwarts infirmary with a quizzical eyebrow.
"What in the name of Merlin's underpants is going on in this school?!"
Poppy Pomfrey, unhappily dripping in blue and green ooze, attempted to remove the goo only to have it multiply by ten and fly off to land on other people.
A high-pitched male voice indicated that its owner was rapidly becoming unglued behind the privacy curtain. "It wasn't supposed to come back on us, Pads!"
"Shut your ruddy mouth, Wormtail! Do you want everyone to hear?"
"But it was supposed to punish Snivellus!"
"Would you be quiet, dammit!"
Moody, the heart of tolerance in a bulldog representation, threw back the curtain and snarled, "What exactly are you trying to hide, hrm?"
Pettigrew screamed shrilly just like the young witches he often made fun of as he blurted, "It wasn't supposed to come back on us!"
Sirius Black and James Potter glowered murderously at their friend as Alastor ran a tracing spell over the dripping trio. Remus Lupin lay in a nearby bed, looking quite pale and as if every rosebush on the grounds decided to attack him at once, leaving him a scratchy mess.
"What happened to him?" Moody said, eyes narrowed.
"Just keeping a mate company while he recovers," Black said quickly.
"Was that before or after your prank backfired?"
"Af— look, it's not your business if we're keeping a mate company."
"You're covered in slime, Black," Alastor pointed out. "That makes everything you've done since you were soiling your nappies my business."
Anger chased across Sirius' reddened face.
"Oh, thank you, Mr Snape," Poppy's relieved voice broke over the increasingly heated discussion. "Did Horace brew these?"
"No, ma'am," Snape's voice said, low and even.
Excited squeaking punctuated the conversation.
"Oh my, you little darling," Poppy gushed.
As Poppy pulled the otter to her, all of the slime on her instantly disappeared as if by a vanishing spell.
Alastor's eyes widened as Pettigrew, Potter, and Black were covered liberally with even more slime. "Fascinating," Moody drawled, now fighting back a grin of pure sadistic amusement.
"Could you take this medicine over to Mr Bingham, dear?" Poppy asked.
The bouncy otter took the packet of medicine in her mouth and bounced toward a slime-covered bed and jumped up onto it.
All the slime disappeared around her.
And promptly reappeared to heap on top of a sputtering Black, Potter, and Pettigrew.
Moody smirked as he suddenly realised that Amelia's supposedly hypothetical "right back at you" auto-anchored aura-shield might not be so hypothetical, after all.
Black, Pettigrew, and Potter were still dripping colourful slime as they tried to free their mouths and noses so they could breathe.
"So, care to tell me what spell started this delightful little mess, hrm?" Moody asked.
James and Sirius crossed their arms over their chests while Peter just whimpered pathetically.
Peter tumbled backwards off the side of the bed, tried to get up, fell back into the slime, yelped as he smashed his elbow against the bed frame, and then tumbled his way towards the nearby commode, slipping helplessly, then smacking his head into the porcelain tank and knocking himself out cold.
A young river otter wrinkled her muzzle in distaste, having stealthily nicked both Peter's wand and a cheese-powder covered grimoire, still slightly slimy judging by the irritated expression on the otter's muzzle.
She leapt up into a startled Moody's unsuspecting arms with a series of imperious squeaks and licked his nose.
Moody sputtered, holding onto the otter who was holding quite a mouthful of shenanigans.
She squeaked at him.
He glowered back at her.
She spat out the wand and the grimoire, and it opened right up to a chip grease-spotted page entitled "Slime Bombs".
Alastor's frown at the otter morphed into an even bigger frown at the grimoire in front of him.
The otter squeak-bounced away, placing her paws on Snape's trouser leg. He picked her up, a concerned look on his face, but she happily snuffled his warm neck and curled about it like a living fur stole.
Moody did not miss the death glares the three boys were giving the otter of interest, but whether it was for the otter alone or equally for the one who had her snugly wrapped about his neck, well, that was rather difficult to ascertain.
Black scowled and muttered something under his breath, and there was a heated flash of magic even as Black clutched at his own face, cursing loudly.
"What the hell, mate?" James gasped.
Black's face was now covered liberally in dark purple pustulant boils that were oozing something so foul that it had them all immediately gagging at the stench. The boils stretched across his forehead and face spelling out a word in bold all caps: SNITCH.
Moody found that he had to rather admire the cheeky little mustelid.
"Gerroff!" Black exclaimed loudly, hastily swatting James away.
"You don't have to be so bloody tetchy about it, mate!" James complained. "I just wanted to— oh my."
Snape had already left in an impressive swirl of robes that seemed to utterly defy gravity.
"That one seems to have a bit of flair for the dramatic," Moody murmured to Poppy in passing.
Pomfrey snorted. "He's been quite a stormcloud since he first arrived here at the age of eleven."
"You trust him?"
Poppy laughed. "Go on and pull the other one. Of course. Severus Snape is the very best brewer this side of the pond. I'm sure he'll be a right fine master from the moment he takes the practicals."
"Ah, I meant as a person—" Moody said.
Poppy narrowed her eyes. "Now, don't you let all those rubbish stories lead you astray, Auror Moody. If you believe them, then everyone here is either a coward or a saint, and we have right old barneys here every night just to entertain ourselves. Oh, and we spend the rest of our time fooling around in broom closets."
Moody flushed a deep red. "I didn't mean to imply—"
Poppy shook her head. "People judge him unfairly all the time, Auror Moody. But I've been the mediwitch here since before you were born. And I've seen just how many dreadful wounds Severus has suffered from those three scoundrels over there, plus one. He's always come off the worst of it with four against one. So before you decide that he's some Dark wizard in the making, think very carefully on who did their level best to make him appear so."
Moody looked back at the three slime-covered troublemakers and nodded. "I am." He sighed. "I am."
He stared balefully at the trio of slime-covered beds and the equally slime-covered young wizards sulking in them. "They say otters are the most fickle of familiars, you know."
"I don't know, Auror Moody. Seems to me they are by far the most loyal and ardent of champions," Poppy replied.
In the nearby hospital bed, James Potter suddenly clutched at his face, hurriedly covering his streaming hazel eyes. "AAAGHHH! I can't see!"
"What did you do, Prongs?"
"Shut it, Wormy, and pass me a ruddy towel!"
Severus sprawled out on the sunny pier, his paws dangling over the side as his tail lazily flicked back and forth. He idly watched Hermione bobbing and diving around the lake in search of whatever goodies she could find. Every so often she'd bring him a clam or a mussel, and she'd begun to stack them up in front of him on a bed of fresh-picked lake weed.
His long whiskers twitched as she pulled herself up onto the end of the pier, shook herself off, and then snuggle squeak-rubbed all over one side of his muzzle and down the other. Then, she curled up under his head right between the front legs and flopped, rubbing up and down her back as if to itch herself.
She wiggled and made bubbly noises, using her webbed feet to paw at his chin.
Severus huffed, clamping his teeth around the mischief-maker.
Hermione made a sad-sounding squeak, falling limp between his jaws.
He let her go, pinning her down with his head.
She poked her head out from under his chin, squeaking.
Huffing, he gave her a few rough licks, tumbling her arse over teakettle until she slipped off the pier with a sploosh.
She popped out of the water a few minutes later and bonked him over the head with a freshwater clam. It bounced off his skull and landed into the pile with a thunk.
Oh, it was so on.
He stood up, shook himself off, and jumped into the lake, paddling quickly after her, snapping playfully with his jaws to catch her but she remained just out of reach.
If anyone was curious as to why there was a blue tiger chasing a river otter around in the lake, no one was quite brave enough to get any closer to find out.
Severus was starting to feel pretty damn good about waking up with a warm, furry bundle snuggled into his body in the morning. Her dense waterproof fur was thankfully resistant to his drool, and she provided a gratuitous amount of warmth like a portable hearth fire.
If anyone dared try to open up his bed curtains and spy on him, she'd be up and attacking their faces with furious squeaks, and Mulciber and Avery both had scars where the brassed-off mustelid had laid open their cheeks with her sharp claws, webbed paws and clam-gnashing teeth.
It felt odd having no personal space with her but a much larger bubble of space around himself. It was strangely comforting.
Familiars, of course, were fully protected under Wizarding law in a manner that made it seem as horrible as Dark magic if you injured someone else's familiar, so it wasn't like Mulciber or Avery wanted to court that kind of attention as someone who beat up a "cute, furry otter."
It seemed that Mulciber really wanted to, though, and Hermione seemed to watch him extra closely.
What was worse (for them, anyway) was that Hermione had seemed to charm the pants off their own familiars, and they seemed to want to hang out with Hermione more than Mulciber or Avery, so not only did he have a warm otter sharing his bed, he also had Avery's owl roosting on his headboard and Mulciber's cat sleeping on his pillow next to his head.
It made him wonder if either of the creatures were actually real familiars, as he didn't think familiars just up and changed bondmates— right?
Rumour had it that Mulciber liked to "play" with animals and not in a way that meant cuddles, catnip, and ball throwing, so Snape didn't really mind that he'd gained himself a Kneazle. He called him Felix instead of Wanker, though. Mulciber's choice in cat names was obviously just as addled as his head.
Hermione rarely left his side save to do her business in the toilet, and everyone had bloody well learned to knock before going in there lest ottery wrath descend upon the unfortunate sod with webbed feet and a tail of iron, not to mention her sharp, shell-cracking teeth.
He'd learned to charm larger pockets into his robes so she could jump in and make herself comfy, and she did precisely that. He did have to put a stop to her hoarding shellfish and such in them with her, though.
And the library.
Really? The library?
She was a sodding furry little kleptomaniac.
It was a good thing he was a proper Slytherin who knew well how to sneak books back INTO the library.
Mulciber and Avery were really worrying him lately. Well, more than they usually did.
He'd find them passed on on the floor around his bed, completely paralysed, rigid as a board, and he had no idea as to just what had gone on during the night. Felix had taken the time to claw up Mulciber's leg, and Avery's owl, Damien, had apparently hocked up the foetid remains of an unidentifiable rodent onto his chest. Other than that, they were just laying there stiff and mysterious until Professor Slughorn came round to cart them away.
He had a feeling old Sluggy thought it was somehow his fault, but a paranoid trace on his wand had revealed nothing but an Aguamenti spell.
Severus hadn't felt like he needed Dark spells since Hermione had fallen into his life because all the "pranks" had stopped.
For him, at least.
Rumour had it that Gryffindor Tower was still being plagued by everything from slime and grease to locusts, crabs, boils, jock itch, and bouts of sudden unbridled lust.
The lust thing had apparently gotten quite a few students into trouble already— the kind of trouble that required marriage lest the parents have shame brought upon their families and all of the tedious drama that inevitably came along with it.
Frank Longbottom and the former Alice Jenkins had apparently been one such couple married under the cover of night in absolute secret, so of course everyone knew all about it.
Much to his absolute horror, Lily and Potter had apparently consummated their own lust in a random broom closet until they collapsed in exhaustion and were later found in their starkers by a highly-distressed Argus Filch.
Stranger still, he didn't feel the pang of jealousy he had expected to feel— the despair, the desperate longing. He was horrified, but more so because he imagined what Lily's wrath would have been like on the day after the fact.
He fingered the silver ring on his third left finger and felt the comforting warmth of Hermione's familiar magic.
He had to admit, Hermione was such a night and day difference to Lily— a furry force of Nature— that the very thought of being with Lily made his heart feel ready to lurch up out of his chest and strangle him. Even without words, Hermione had swiftly infiltrated her way into his life.
Despite the fact that they were already married, and he hadn't a clue as to what she would look like when she finally changed back, he couldn't even imagine his life without her now. Since when could he really laugh? And be exactly who he was without feeling the need to hide something?
If he was in a rut, she'd pull him out.
If he was brooding, she'd run around with her bells on or something stuck over her head to break him out of it.
If he was studying, she'd be there too.
If he was contemplating doing something utterly stupid, she'd bite him square on the arse.
If he was having a boring day, she'd bounce by carrying a load of wands in her mouth.
Many, many wands.
How to even begin to explain how he ended up with those?
He had to surreptitiously leave them in somewhat guarded places like the library or in front of McGonagall or Flitwick's office.
Hermione seemed rather put out that all her hard work went into putting back what she had so smoothly filched, but a fresh urchin or clam would have her happy again, right as rain.
He wondered who could have possibly wanted someone like her dead. Apparently, his older self had truly loved her enough to send her back in time where she would be safe, trusting that his younger self wouldn't be an utter idiot and spurn her.
And how could he?
She was a force to be reckoned with.
Even as an otter, she nipped and scolded, cuddled and snuggled, shared his company, and rarely if ever let him wallow in self pity. She watched him brew, seemed to an equally avid swot, and had no qualms about nipping hands and posteriors of those that weren't quick enough to get out of the way when she was on a mission.
But she would hang limply in his jaws like prey whenever he decided to carry her around in his Maltese tiger form, or she would ride around on top of his head, trusting him to carry her safely.
He realised as he snuggled into her warm fur on many a night that it was her devoted trust in him that had proven to him that she could be trusted implicitly.
He'd never had that before, not from his parents nor his sole childhood friend.
She trusted him to take care of her.
He could do nothing but his very best to make sure he didn't ever let her down.
Amelia Bones, HBOY of the Department of Mysteries, drummed her short fingernails lightly on her mahogany desk. Her eyes roved over the assortment of objects currently resting there: an ancient locket positively thrumming with Dark magic, a crownlike diadem, a ring, a seemingly innocuous blank diary, and a golden goblet with a quite realistic-looking badger embossed on it.
But the objects themselves didn't puzzled her nearly as much as the series of notes that came with them— all written in her distinctive handwriting.
Destroy them all with Fiendfyre at the same time.
She stared at the writing. It was without a doubt her writing. If anything, it was neater and more refined, but it was indisputably written in her own hand.
Destroy them the moment the Dark Lord's body is found. Not before. If you do it too soon, he will be sure to create others.
He will destroy himself. Make no mistake about that. It is only a matter of when, not if.
Amelia fingered the vial of memories captured within a small crystalline globe on a chain. The future had apparently failed them, and she had managed to send back an agent to somehow make things right.
Amelia watched intently as a young witch with loads of bushy, nigh-sentient curls battled in the simulator over and over. She went in half asleep, fully awake, drinking tea, eating a sandwich, having a meal, washing up— all manner of possible situations.
Then, when she had stabbed a simulated Death Eater in the eye with her salad fork before calling upon the ley magic to fry every single one of their magical channels, he would come in.
The man himself.
He could come in with no expression, and he would fight her mercilessly.
Hexes and curses would fly in all directions.
Amelia knew she was tired, utterly exhausted, in fact.
But the witch would continue on in a fervor kindled by the vision of the situation above that no one could fix: a world where the Dark Lord took advantage of Harry Potter's unthinking choice to speak aloud his Taboo-ed name a second time and gleefully murdered him with a merciless Avada to the heart.
Hermione Snape's young body was covered in countless terrible scars, and her eyes were every bit as cold and black as her husband's. Only when they shared rare moments of peace did anyone see otherwise.
Hermione hissed as a nasty cutting hex struck her on the arm, and her wand went flying. Snape was on her in a second, his wand at her throat.
They were frozen there like statues— her arm bleeding badly.
His eyes like ice.
Her eyes like stone.
Then they would both relax, the hidden dagger in her hand no longer shoved between his legs in perfect position to take out his femoral artery. He may have killed her, but she would have made him bleed.
He cradled her against himself as she sagged, and she wordlessly sank into his black robes, closing her eyes as he enfolded her slight form with dark, fiercely protective eyes.
If she was completely honest with herself, Amelia knew she was looking at two of the finest duelists in the world. Snape had clearly seen to that.
The one thing she held back on was the ley magic, for to even test its use upon a living creature would sizzle the lines of magic within them like a top surgeon cauterising a wound after amputating a limb.
The talent to wield ley magic had been unexpected and utterly random—
A gift from Bellatrix Lestrange.
She'd tortured Hermione with it, but instead of destroying her magic it had chosen to temper her body to accept its lethal embrace. Hermione had let go, thinking death had finally come for her, but instead the ancient magic had claimed her as its own.
That was the key to their last, desperate plan—
They would send her back in time to anchor her to the one person who had a timeless bond to her magic, her soul: Severus Snape, himself.
To save them all from the chaos of a world gone horribly wrong, Hermione Snape had to travel back to this time and save Britain from itself.
There was nothing and no one from that future could help them. No people that didn't want Hermione Snape dead—
Wife of a known Death Eater, the price on her head was high enough to make even some from the Order of the Phoenix willing to take her life.
It had all gone pear-shaped.
Everything was well in order. The notes were written. The memories would be sealed inside an unbreakable amulet and made accessible to Amelia alone. Severus had recorded a message to himself and enchanted it to his wife's wedding ring. Hermione had memorised all the passcodes, charms, counter charms, and the exceedingly short list of those people she could trust implicitly.
All that remained was the coming of the next full moon, when the lunar pull was ideally poised to conceal her departure.
Amelia watched as Severus sang his incantation to heal the wound he had inflicted upon his wife. Hermione looked up to him with that same, enviable trust. She slumped heavily against his chest.
"You don't have to be perfect, love," Severus whispered into her ear. "You just have to be faster and more merciless."
Severus found himself staring in shock at a disembodied otter head.
The otter had no body.
He reached out and touched Hermione's head, caressing her ears, and she squeaked happily, then abruptly vanished.
He passed his hand over the area and met a warm squeaky mass of invisible fur.
One otter head popped out of utter nothingness, mauling his hand with squeaks and furious webbed pawings.
He passed his hand over the area again and the otter promptly leapt out upon him, snuggling up under his chin and thwacking her head under his jaw, rubbing herself into it enthusiastically like an affectionate feline.
Yet he still felt something sheer and soft. He felt around carefully, grasping, pulling—
It felt like fabric.
He tugged a little harder, and a pile of gaily wrapped Christmas presents of all sizes and colours tumbled out from under it, including quite an impressive-looking scroll.
He picked at the sealing wax and ribbon with one fingernail. The scroll unrolled to expose a dark aubergine ink and disgustingly ornate and uniform script.
Dear Mr Severus Snape,
We, at the Hall of Masteries, send you greetings on this twenty-first of December, in the year of nineteen and seventy-six.
On behalf of Master Mythdranor Mardigone, Master of Potions, we are extending to you an invitation to undertake your Mastery studies in the subtle art and exact science of Potions with an opportunity for dual study in Defence Against the Dark Arts as well.
You would start your apprenticeship upon completion of your N.E.W.T.s and conclude your final year at Hogwarts.
All uniforms, equipment, supplies, and stipends will be provided by the Hall of Masteries on the condition of your successful completion of study with better than acceptable grades and a finished mastery project.
If you wish to accept this offer, you must fill out the attached application and owl it back to the Hall of Masteries care of Kerrigan Keystone, Keeper of the Hallowed Hall. We at the Hall of Masteries look forward to receipt of your swift reply and application.
Master Archivist, Hall of Masteries
Severus Snape, dignified Slytherin, promptly lost all colour to his face and weakly slid into the pile of holiday packages in a dead faint.
Ottermione wriggled herself out from under his head, took one edge of the invisibility cloak in her mouth and gently covered Severus with it. She squeaked victoriously and then merrily bounce-squeaked off to where unholy mischief awaited her busy, ever-dutiful paws.
"What do you mean the map doesn't work?"
"I'm saying it doesn't work."
"It's never been wrong before!"
"Well, look at it!"
Sirius and James stared at the parchment and then glared at Wormtail.
"I didn't do it!" Peter squeaked, waving his hands around.
They stared at the parchment map to find that all of the names emblazoned on the map was that of themselves, everywhere they went, and all the intimate details of exactly what they had done in each place.
"Come on, mates, we're taking the cloak and going out to find Snivellus."
"I wouldn't," Severus said coldly, "if I were you."
"That's the beauty of it, Snivellus," Black said with a mocking smile. "We're not you."
Black casually flicked a newt eye into the bubbling cauldron. "Have a good time explaining why the potion doesn't work."
Severus' fist clenched and jaw tightened, but he said nothing as he watched Black leave the laboratory.
The pureblood whistled a merry tune as he left, obviously quite pleased with himself.
"I'm very sorry Mr Black, but there will be no more contraceptive potion available for the rest of the month," Poppy said grimly. "Someone tampered with the entire batch that was going to be ready today. There will be no more to be had until next month. You're just going to have to practice the fine art of abstinence in the meantime."
"But there has to be some left!" Sirius protested in outrage.
Poppy narrowed her eyes. "I'm afraid the last bottle I had left was already claimed, Mr Black."
Sirius set his jaw and stormed out of the infirmary, red-faced.
"No," Peter said, shaking his head. "No way, mate, I won't do it."
"Come on, mate! We've all tried it!"
"Nuh-uh," Peter muttered. "Every time you two berks cast a spell on Snivellus, it's come back to bite us tenfold. Every single time. Wild animals terrorising the tower. Crazy unbridled lust afflicting our own. You got Lily bloody well up the duff, mate! You got married. All that disgusting slime! The boils, crabs and ruddy swarms of locusts infesting our dorms. No way I'm going to put myself against Snape!"
"Come on, Wormy—"
"No way! Not this time, mate. It's bad enough we got caught as illegal Animagi. My parents can't pay the fines. I'll be paying them off for years! No one will ever want to employ me!"
"Come off it, mate!" James pressed. "We can help you with that—"
"And what does that say about me?" Peter asked, his hands trembling. "We started it all just to help Remus. Then we started pulling pranks because it was funny. Even picking on Snivellus started out as fun. He always got so angry, so totally flustered. He doesn't care one whit about us now. People don't even like our stupid pranks anymore, just in case you haven't noticed!"
"Come on, Wormtail. Just one spell. This one will work!"
Peter Pettigrew set his jaw, picked up his books, and stalked out of the Common Room. "No!"
The Christmas trees were on the ceiling.
The Head Table seemed to collectively share the same dark, flat-lipped scowl— the kind of scowl that bespoke of sheer disbelief regarding the depths of human stupidity as it had hung almost all of the Gryffindors up by their ankles. suspended by countless strands of gaudy Christmas decorations and lights.
The other tables were staring at the terrified Gryffindors with shocked disbelief, some giggling and pointing, some horrified, and some just trying to finish their meal quickly without attracting any unwanted attention.
"SNIVELLUS!" a familiar outraged yell erupted through the crowd. "I SWEAR we'll get you for this!"
"Snivellus did this?!"
"Snape did it!"
The crowd became a swirling cyclone of angry hornets as many of the frightened and angry upside-down Gryffindors fumbled for their wands and started throwing spells in random directions in an attempt to hex and curse the baffled Slytherins but were hampered by their current inverted state.
"ENOUGH!" Dumbledore's Sonorous-enhanced voice boomed off the walls as everything and everyone in the student dining area was immediately suspended in time. "I will have no more fighting and scurrilous accusations thrown around this school by anyone! Blaming others for your own reckless acts of stupidity will not be tolerated here, especially when I can personally assure you that the target of your finger-pointing and blame has been slaving away all night in the potions classroom with Professor Slughorn brewing multiple cauldrons of anti-dragon pox potions to keep all of you healthy and out of the infirmary!"
Dumbledore waved his wand with a flourish, and the inverted students were released from their decorative bondage and slowly floated back down to the floor even as the Christmas decorations were neatly arranged and sent back where they belonged. "I will be running a trace to determine precisely who is behind this asinine and dangerous prank as well as any spells that have been cast upon certain other students in this hall. This wave of blame and wanton violence ends here and now. I will not have our beloved school torn apart from within while war looms outside our walls and threatens the lives of everyone we hold dear."
"Now, I wish for all of you to kindly enjoy the rest of your evening meal in peace, and those of you who cast spells during the earlier fracas will be gathered by your heads of house and they will escort you to my office immediately afterward for a most serious discussion regarding your appalling behaviour this evening and the punishments you have earned because of it."
The Great Hall was eerily silent as the only sounds were that of people eating as quietly as possible. Both the students and the staff seemed to eye this very stern and non-twinkling Dumbledore in an entirely new light.
Severus watched Hermione tackle the spiky-looking rambutan fruit with an arched eyebrow, wondering if she had utterly lost her ottery mind as she squeaked with delight upon reaching the semi-translucent, pale fruit within. She dug into it with gusto and then rolled about the floor playing with the red and green rind like a feline with a catnip mouse.
She dashed around the room like her tail was on fire, her eyes wide and wild, then she froze in place, lifted the rind up in her mouth, and then zoomed off in a completely random direction once more.
It seemed to be oddly contagious because Felix (formerly Wanker), his self-appointed cat who wasn't really his, tore off in another direction, tail poofed out with a wild, bristling energy.
Damien, Avery's (alleged) eagle owl hooted loudly, swivelling his head around and back.
Severus sighed, continuing to write his essay—
At least until a wily little water weasel snatched his quill away and scurried off with it.
Severus closed his book, rolled up his parchment, and shifted into his tiger form, bound and determined to catch the mischief-maker in his paws.
What he was going to do once and if he did was yet a mystery.
He was pretty sure it would require quantum entanglement.
Minerva raised her eyebrows as she watched the massive blue tiger carrying the limp otter in his mouth even as the otter carried some sort of wrapped prize in her mouth.
Well, okay then.
The students scurried out of the way of the huge feline, not wanting to get in his way.
Somehow, despite being caught, the otter looked utterly victorious.
"Albus, why are you staring."
"Just surveying the room, Minerva."
"Poppycock," McGonagall tutted derisively. "You've been staring at the Snape boy again."
"No, he's staring at his otter," Flitwick said, rubbing his chin.
Albus turned to Filius with a rather strange look on his face.
"Ever since the otter arrived, Mr Snape has been noticeably more content. The pranks around the school have all but ceased— and mind you, many of them involved the harassment of my Ravenclaws as well as the Slytherins— and the Snape boy seems to have ceased with his brooding and is now applying his talents where they truly matter: in his outstanding ability to brew as well as his spellwork. The last year has been utterly life-changing for the boy and many of his fellows, and that hasn't been a bad thing at all."
"I will admit, Albus," Sprout chimed in. "I feared the young man would just pine away after the ghastly fight between him and that Evans girl. I'm quite happy to see that is not the case. Last Christmas was such a terrible time, the war included. Things seem far less oppressive now."
Albus wrinkled his nose, rubbing it thoughtfully. "I feel something is a bit… off with the boy," he said. "I will admit I hadn't realised how badly he was being bullied before. I thought it all simply a case of overzealous boyish pranks, but the change in Mr Snape seems quite dramatic."
"Happiness is hardly a bad kind of drastic," Minerva snorted. "He's demonstrated remarkable focus in his studies now that he no longer has to look over his shoulder every minute of every hour. Becoming an Animagus was one task amongst many he has accomplished since. Brewing high-quality potions for our infirmary is another."
Albus sighed. "There is something very strange about that otter of his," he muttered to himself. "It could be an agent of—"
"Pull the other one, Albus," Minerva admonished sternly. "The Dark Lord has done nothing but threaten and destroy. 'That otter' as you put it has done much good for us at Hogwarts, starting with opening our eyes to the truth about those nasty pranks and the misuse of magical objects with concealed tracking abilities."
Albus was jolted out of his staring. "Minerva—"
"No, Albus. I won't be silent about it. Those boys had a map that tracked every single person in this school and detailed their activities. Teachers and staff as well as their fellow students. "
"What?" the other staff members gasped simultaneously.
"What happened to the map, Minerva?"
"I sent it on to Amelia at the DoM to be analysed," McGonagall said.
"Whyever would you keep such a thing secret, Headmaster?" Flitwick asked.
"It was hardly a danger as it was quickly confiscated—"
"But what of the time before that?" Slughorn protested. "Is that how things were taken from our classrooms? How no one ever seemed to know how things had been stolen?"
Albus shook his head. "How could I know? It is possible, I suppose, but we have no way of knowing for certain."
The head table occupants seemed dubious as they grumbled amongst themselves and ate the rest of their food.
Dumbledore, meanwhile, tried not to be overwhelmed by the flood of clam, fish, and snuggle desiring thoughts that assaulted his mind when he met eyes with the otter at the Slytherin table.
In fact, he saw a vision of himself as a giant, purple and star-spangled clam at the head table.
He retreated in his attempt at Legilimency as he attempted to evict the driving desire for snuggles and seafood.
"Something wrong, Albus?" Minerva asked. "You're looking a little green about the gills, I must say."
Dumbledore shook his head violently, propping his head on one arm as he poked at his food with his fork, attempting to conceal his blunder as his mind was currently full of otter teeth ripping the heads off of random fish.
"Congratulations, Mr Snape," the official said as Severus came out of the testing room and handed her his parchment.
Hermione bounced down the table, squeaking imperiously as Severus scooped her up and touched noses with her.
"She's been waiting not so patiently for you to finish," Mary Stemwinder said, stamping the parchment he handed her with her official seal, rolling it up, and sending it through what could only be described as wormhole in a box. The witch opened a mahogany box on the table, dropped in the scroll, and closed it.
Severus looked nervously at the box. He wondered when the results would come back.
The box made a strange chiming noise, and Madam Stemwinder opened it up again. The scroll shot back out, and she caught it deftly and opened it, tutting and filling out various areas with her quill. She filled out a form, stamped it, and then pressed a waxen seal on it before it promptly shuddered and duplicated itself in a hiccup of a magical sparks.
She handed him the copy. "Here are your results until the formal certificate can be sent out, Mr Snape. Congratulations on your exceeding expectations."
Snape stared at his parchment results, his eyes scanning the writing over and over again.
Defence Against the Dark Arts O
History of Magic E
Elective and Extra-Curricular N.E.W.T.s
Magical Theory O
Muggle Studies E
Study of Ancient Runes E
Ancient Studies E
He stared at the results again and again. Six outstandings in the core tests. Nine altogether. Everything else was exceeds expectations.
He'd done it.
Apprenticeship was now within his reach, and he would never be forced to cohabitate with the merry band of wankers ever again.
A smile tugged at his lips. "Thank you, Madam Stemwinder."
He nose touched his otter companion. "And thank you, miscreant."
Ottermione squeaked victoriously, snuggling into his neck.
Leaving Hogwarts hadn't been nearly as traumatising as he had originally imagined it would. Before he knew it, he was neck deep in studies so intensive that he barely had time to sleep, let alone think about the world around him. It was like how school should have been the first time around— learning without the trauma of being stalked and bullied and without the desire to get one over on the group that constantly tormented him.
Even stranger, he found an odd tentative friendship forming with Peter Pettigrew, who had been shunned from his Gryffindor buddies with his absolute refusal to continue tormenting Snape. They had left Peter (and Severus suspected Black's handiwork more than Potter's in it for once) tied to a tree during a full moon, knowing full well that the anti-transformative jinx on his tracking band kept the wizard from using his Animagus form until he had paid off his debts.
While admittedly a bit ratty in personality— survival, eating, sleeping, sneaking— Severus had to admit that real rats were smart survivors, and he wondered how much of that wit had driven Peter to stop the onslaught of curses and pranks that had once been their mainstay of communication.
Severus didn't truly trust him, and Hermione eyed the boy who was trying hard to become a man with hardly veiled suspicion. Her honey-brown eyes would narrow upon seeing him, and she rarely if ever let him out of her sight.
Peter said he didn't blame her, really. He'd lived a sheltered, pack-like life with his friends with strength in numbers for most of his school career. Thinking on his own and standing up for himself was a different sort of learning experience.
Penance, he said, was yet another.
"My family doesn't have much money," Peter had admitted quietly. "I thought if I had power and acceptance, then the money wouldn't be quite so hard to come by, but— I started to realise that the quest for power and being on the winning side doesn't always make it the right choice. I mean—" Peter's pale eyes grew haunted. "I almost threw my lot in with the Dark Lord, ya know? To be on the winning side. For the power. The protection. To be on the winning side for once because of my own choices. I—"
Peter's eyes grew hazy. "I was scared to be alone."
"You stood up to Black and Potter."
Remus Lupin had long been a sore spot for Severus. He had almost been murdered by the werewolf, after all, and it didn't really matter that it wasn't his fault as much as Severus believed it hadn't been a safe thing for him to be attending Hogwarts to begin with.
No one had known the truth amongst the students but his group of Animagus friends, friends who regularly let him out to romp the green.
Dangerous fools, the lot of them.
The proof was in the pudding, as they say.
They'd tried to outsmart their little Animagus suppression bracelets and sneak out to visit good ol' Remus during a full moon shortly before graduation.
And now there were three werewolves enjoying Her Majesty's Pleasure on full moon nights at the Ministry, no longer sanctioned and protected by Hogwarts.
Severus wondered if bitter experience had taught any of them humility or if they just blamed him like they did everything else.
Lily was probably lamenting the fact that she was married to a bloody reckless idiot who was now a werewolf as well.
Severus wasn't telling anyone until the testing trials were finalised, but he and his rather stubborn otter conscience had worked together to make an improved wolfsbane potion.
It wasn't a bonafide cure, but it was a much better tasting, one-dose potion over the one week tastes-like-turpentine one that Belby had made. It could be taken at any time before the full moon and cover all of the transformational days, at least so far. They were still testing it to be sure of its efficacy. No one wanted it to turn out to be a fluke before mass creation.
His reputation was already quite renowned at the Ministry with his highly successful apprenticeship, but the unveiling of the improved wolfsbane would cement his mastery along with the virtual laundry list of other potions he'd also developed during his studies.
He was happy that he owed no one a lifetime of service to get his foot in the door— something Lucius had hinted at back when he was still in school. Powerful people were interested in him and would sponsor him if only he would fall in line. Power and prestige— for a price.
One squeaky bundle of trouble had saved him from that downward spiral, and she had indirectly saved Pettigrew too. Peter was sure that had it not been for all the backlash from his best mates' pranking, he'd never have broken free of that vicious cycle.
Severus might not trust him wholly, but he did recognise that Peter truly wished to become better than his past. That Snape could certainly understand. And, if someone like himself could strive to be better, he had to believe he was not alone in the need for self-improvement.
And, thanks to a certain furry little idea-finder who had located a superb real-estate opening in Hogsmeade, he now had an idea on how to go out on his own and perhaps help Peter find a way to begin erasing his stigma. He had to admit that Peter had some rather interesting pro-business prowess and marketing ideas.
"Apprentice Snape, the Masters will see you now for your presentation and defence of your formulae."
Severus sucked in his breath and did his best to shove his nervousness into a box.
A certain furry mammal licked his hand, tugging on his sleeve before disappearing down the hallway. As always, she wasn't allowed in when testing or giving a presentation, lest they think somehow his familiar had a crib sheet tattooed into her fur. He had to shake his head at the thought, but if they were forbidding it— someone somewhere had tried something stupid.
Hermione was far too proper to allow herself to be cheated with. She was all about pushing him to be excellent on his own, almost as if she knew his own insecurities better than him—
Then again, maybe she did.
He wasn't sure all of what his older and more jaded self had shared with Hermione, but he had the feeling it was everything— everything would keep her alive. And if he wanted to protect someone that was going back in time to save himself—
He would have shared everything down to when he'd shat his first nappies.
Even now, Hermione was more than just a little special to him. Even as an otter.
He never thought he'd ever be married, at least not to someone who genuinely cared for him like Hermione did. Oh, sure, Lily had cared once, but it was a childish sort of care. A selfish sort of caring. Children by their very nature love both unconditionally and selfishly in the same turn of the Earth. And once— he believed he loved Lily with all his heart, all he was capable of.
But, like so many childish dreams, they had been rooted in a reality that existed only in his head.
It came on the tide of jingle bells and fish breath.
He may not have been perfect. She may not be perfect, but they were perfect for each other— a match made in magic, destiny.
A match even time seemed all too willing to enable—
Snape took in a deep breath and walked through the heavy metal and hardwood doors that lead into the presentation hall.
It was time to defend his future.
He hadn't expected to receive applause after his presentation and defence of his mastery project, but the ruling board of masters seemed to think his list of improved potions demonstrated just enough clever innovation to inject exciting new life into the potions field.
The scrolls had been signed, sealed in wax, and dropped in one of those official boxes built to be carried by owl. An old barred owl carried the box and scrolls off as the discussions continued into the night, having moved from formal defence to professional inquiry and chatter.
There were so many new people to meet and add to a growing contact list in his mind. He wished Hermione was right there with him— to share in the success, but he knew (and so did she) that this was his night to shine alone. He wondered if she was off in another room defending her own mastery to a private, closed audience that no one officially knew about.
Perhaps, they would celebrate together— as masters in their own right.
The werewolf wolfsbane potion had passed all the trials, and the patent was sealed for mass production in various top apothecaries all across Britain and continental Europe. The initial profits had already started to roll in as the apothecaries had launched a bidding war on the right to produce the potion first— all before it had even been officially approved by the board.
It was all quite surreal, as if he'd stepped into another person's successful life— the life he'd always dreamed of but thought he'd never have without a sponsorship from someone like Lucius Malfoy. Would he, like Peter, have thrown his hat in with the Dark Lord because it seemed like the only path to a less than mediocre life?
There was no family wealth to fall back on, only skill.
But that, he had. Only now, he believed it.
He'd proven it.
He started to feel a moment of relief as the future settled in as something tangible and real.
But then the main doors opened and a black-cloaked figure kicked two lifeless pages into the room before them.
"Ah— the famous young potioneer," the figure said mockingly, flicking his wand as he bathed the room in Fiendfyre.
The masters struggled to react, but in a gesture all the wands had turned into vipers. The men and women couldn't drop them fast enough.
The Fiendfyre roared and raged, eager to devour and attack as the masters struggled to avoid being bitten by the vipers or burned by the fire. Perhaps, they worried that breaking the vipers would, in turn, break their wands. Perhaps, they simply worried for their lives.
But all Severus knew was that his wand was now a viper and slithering off as the only wizard left with a wand was now approaching him.
"Well, Severus— I may call you Severus, yes?" the man said almost too quietly, his voice a raspy hiss. "I have an offer." The man smiled, and it looked terribly unnatural. "Unfortunately, it is one that you cannot refuse."
"I am in need of your particular talents, and in exchange for not killing you right here and spreading your entrails across the floor where they belong, you will serve."
Severus was utterly still, all emotion was thrust so far deep inside himself that not a single muscle so much as twitched. He had practiced it unsuccessfully when he had been tormented by the gang of Gryffindors—
But as he felt this other wizard's Legilimency battering against his grey matter, he could only think of everything he wanted to live for.
Not some jealousy for what he could never have.
No, he wanted to live to embrace his wife— the one who had defied time and space to save him and, through him, the Wizarding World that had fallen.
So he pulled on the memory of his old rage, the hate and the malice and he saturated his thoughts with it, curling his lips back in an impressive sneer as he regarded the evil Dark wizard before him. "And what could you possible offer me that I would even care?"
He extended his words out slowly as if it pained him to even speak, and perhaps it truly did.
The Dark Lord walked in smoothly, his feet barely touching the floor as if levitation and flight were only a mere thought away. "Oh, I think you'll be very interested in what I have— in hand."
He gestured negligently, an orb of highly polished quartz rolling into his outstretched palm. It flickered and glowed and then showed Lily whimpering and very pregnant in some dark, malevolent place surrounded by Inferi.
Snape couldn't help it; he visibly flinched.
The Dark Lord smiled triumphantly, knowing he now had Snape's full attention.
"How it must gall you that the little Muggle bitch never sees your value," he continued. "How it must— chafe."
Severus scowled, and the Dark wizard smiled cruelly.
"She was such a mewling, easy catch," Voldemort continued. "So angry and self-righteous, but oh so busy lamenting over her plight being married to an animal. Perhaps, she would be a bit more reasonable if I were to save her life— for you."
Snape's expression did not change as he replied, "As if I would sully myself with second-hand goods."
The Dark Lord's eyebrows raised in surprise and then he seemed to be pleased with that response. "Ah, there is the small matter of the whelp growing inside her. Perhaps, there is some hope for you, after all. A place on the right side of this petty little resistance. This farce of a Ministry. This irritating rebellion. Look at these pitiful faces— pathetic as they are trapped between one death or another, scared stupid without their wands."
Snape pondered how powerful the Dark Lord was without his wand but realised this was not the time to test if the Dark Lord knew silent, wandless magic. There were stories, yes, but how much of the story was true?
How much of the Dark Lord was a reliance on the fear and posturing?
How much of it was cruel manipulation rather than true power?
Oh, he had no doubt that the man before him had it, but how much of it was simply reliance on brute force in all the right places to pave the way to not having to prove it later?
"Now, Severus," the Dark Lord said. "You can either die here like these cringing dogs, or you can serve a better purpose."
"You say that as if I have a true choice in the matter," Severus said, feeling the tremble in his body. He wondered if his voice sounded as sure as he wanted it to. He shoved his emotion deeper, even deeper than he had ever done before.
To feel nothing.
To reveal— nothing.
Voldemort's smile was a mix of honey and venom. "There is always a choice, Severus. You can live another day and save your childhood paramour— lust object perhaps?- or you can die here with these fine examples of inadequecy, ensuring that she and her child—" He spat the word child as though it were slime upon his feet. "Die slowly and painfully. Perhaps, I will keep her alive long enough to see the child and give it to Fenrir before feeding her to the Dementors. They are so hungry, you see. A good Lord provides for his— people." He said the word "people" in a half spit.
Perhaps Voldemort had once had a handsome face in his youth, but now his eyes were an unnatural crimson like no normal animal ever had. It was almost as if oozing blood had filled the whites of his eyes where it shifted about unnervingly, moving in an eerily serpentine manner. He held out his hand, and Snape knew in that moment that it was the gesture of one in power to one being invited to grovel at his feet.
Submit or die.
Yet— many of Voldemort's chosen had already been slain or captured. Some even made it to Azkaban. Mysterious bodies wrapped like mummies arrived like macabre Christmas presents on the desk of Auror Alastor Moody. Others had simply been caught red-handed. It was bloody hard to deny one's culpability when the Dark Mark was so easily seen writhing like a live thing on their arms.
Even without direct evidence of an actual crime in progress, the crime of being a Death Eater was utterly inescapable.
And Snape knew deep in his gut that this disgusting display was more about damning him than "helping" him. If he accepted, he would be damned by society as a Death Eater forever. If he didn't, he knew he would quite possibly die along with Lily and her unborn baby.
But they would die anyway, he realised. It was only a matter of when.
Now was the time to trust in his wife.
Trust that she and his future self had prepared for this possibility.
He had never been one to trust— until her.
He couldn't trust his parents to take care of him. He couldn't trust his teachers to keep him safe. He couldn't trust his best childhood friend to believe in him or forgive him.
He closed his eyes. "I trust you," he said. When he opened his eyes, they were blacker than black. He turned to face the Dark Lord. "No," he enunciated clearly, his face like a statue.
He watched the Dark Lord's facial expression go from smug satisfaction to absolute rage.
"Hermione," Severus mouthed silently. "All that I am. All that I can be. I give myself over to your care. I believe in you because you believe in me."
He pressed his hands together, fingers to fingers, palm to palm.
Voldemort snarled viciously and aimed his wand squarely at Snape's head. "Avada Kedavra!"
It wasn't Lily he thought of as the blast hit him.
There was no flash of pristine skin and flaming red hair or bright green eyes. In that moment of acceptance, there was only the smell of fresh water, the hint of warm, spice-scented fur, the feel of thick curls, and the tiny lick of an otter's tongue against his hand.
I love you, he heard in his very soul accompanied by the delicate tinkling of jingle bells.
Severus opened his eyes.
Death was surprisingly anti-climactic— or delayed. Painless?
Before him was a radiant woman that seemed constructed of nothing but pure, bright white and blue energy. Wild curls flicked ever outward as if propelled by an invisible wind.
There was a building pressure in the air as the smell of ozone filled the room and a crackling barrier hummed around him and arched over between him and every master in the room, placing itself between them and both fire and serpent.
The sense of being trapped within a Muggle plasma sphere seemed all too real as arcs of energy pulsated outward, undulating with a remarkably lifelike searching, seeking manner and the figure in the middle—
She stood, no, was suspended in the web of arcing energy, and it hissed and slid against her like a living thing. Yet, never had he ever felt so vulnerable and yet protected at the same time. The magic was alive—
It was the stuff of legends, the reason certain places like Hogwarts became sentient over time.
But any idiot could feel that touching that pure magic would be nothing but lethal, like catching lightning and having it fry your insides.
Scream for me, widdle Mudblood.
He heard the echo of Hermione's agonised screams as the image of a cackling, wild-haired Bellatrix Lestrange forced Hermione into a ley nexus for "fun" and torture.
The magic had a memory. The future. The past.
And now— it had a voice, a body, a speaker.
In that moment, time was suspended like a crystalline spider in a gossamer web. The Avada curse wasa suspended only inches from Snape's protective bubble. Everything was hanging, moving in steps so slow it seemed to crackle like the movement of a glacier across the Earth.
"Hello, Tom," a feminine voice said, twisted with the echo of many whispers.
Phantoms seemed to rise up from the ground and hover. All of them reached for the Dark lord with eldritch fingers.
"We have waited a long time for you to come to us."
"I am Lord Voldemort."
The voices all overlapped, whispering and hissing.
The figure of Hermione shook and shuddered as if trying to decide what form to stay in. The protective bubbles around the people in the room solidified as Hermione's form faded—
She turned to Severus, and for a moment her expression was both serene and sad.
"I love you," she said.
"Hermione, no!" Severus screamed, reaching for her as her body exploded into energy, and time restarted in an explosion of magic.
Voldemort fell backwards as his own killing curse reflected back upon him, multiplied thrice by magic's karmic balance even as the ley barriers protected the people from the roar of the now-uncontrolled Fiendfyre. The fire blazed around them, charring the entire room to ash, including the corpse of the stunned-looking Lord Voldemort.
As his soul rose up to escape the body, the fire rose to meet it— eager to devour all semblance or ghost of life.
It was then a red-robed figure with the black mask of the Unspeakables, rose up from the ground in a bubble of magic. They laid out a number of objects: a diary, a goblet, a ring, a diadem, and a locket and rang a chime, tracing a fast sigil of magic in the air. The barrier around the objects dropped, and the Fiendfyre (ever hungry) roared its' desire for it.
"Nooooooo!" the soul of Voldemort screamed. "IMPOSSIBLE!"
The Unspeakable vanished into the floor once more, but not before linking every living person in the room with their magic and sinking into the floor. All of the remaining witches and wizards simultaneously "flushed" down the floor in a whirlpool of magic as the ley barriers quivered and dissipated in a burst of particles.
The Fiendfyre seemed to howl as it descended upon the Horcruxes even as it arched back upward and formed into a great flame snake.
The jaws of death took the fleeing soul of Voldemort even as it destroyed his Horcruxes and the roaring scream of the living fire drowned out the last vestiges of Tom Marvolo Riddle.
It was hours later when the enraged Fiendfyre finally ran out of fuel and died down. When teams came in to investigate, the very stone had melted and reformed into a sheet of igneous rock.
The charred imprint of Lord Voldemort's skeleton remained trapped in the cooled rock next to a tarnished, deformed jingle bell.
"Thank you for visiting the Squeaky Otter," Peter said as he handed the wrapped bundle with a swimming otter waxed seal holding the twine together to the last customer in the store.
The elder wizard grunted something that might have been thanks before leaving.
Peter sighed, rubbed his hair behind his ear. "Okay, that's the last of them," he said with a long exhale. "Who knew the Long Nights Wizard's tonic would be outsold completely by the Snore-No-More draught?"
He pulled a crate out from underneath the counter and refilled the gaps in the shelves, carefully moving bottles into place so the swimming otter logo was easily seen. Every so often the label's playful otter would swim away and return with a clam or other seafood clasped in her mouth and paws.
"Snoring is apparently far more of a problem than keeping it up," Severus said dryly, his long fingers drumming the countertop as he scribbled over figures and formulas, patents, and bureaucratic red, blue, green, yellow, or whatever tape the Ministry could come up with.
An owl flew in through the open window and practically threw down a large bundle of letters in the middle of the desk before flying away, almost as if it feared for its life if it were to linger too long.
Severus scowled, giving the pile of letters a look that might have started a fire if Peter hadn't quickly picked them up, looked them over, smelled them, and then tossed them into the fireplace.
"Amortentia," Peter said, shaking his head in disgust. "It's the only reason a letter would smell like mum's homemade cheese crisps to me."
Severus frowned. "Idiots."
"As insidious as any Slytherin," Peter said drolly.
Severus lifted his head, narrowing his eyes. "Or a Gryffindor."
Peter's eyes widened. "Touché."
Peter shuffled a little, moving the same jar of salve around to different places.
"Spill it," Severus said, his lips curved in a half-snarl.
"Gosh, you're grumpy," Peter sighed. "Look, my parents want you to come over to our place for Christmas. Dinner. Nothing crazy." Peter shook his head. "I know you hate this time of year, and I can't say I blame you for that, but my parents really want to meet you. They've just heard about you, and people talk. I don't want them to decide you're just some cool bloke I made up and that I'm actually working in some Knockturn Alley dive selling recreational potions."
Severus gave him a long-suffering look. "Surely your evil paystub emblazoned with our oh-so-charming logo dispels any stupidity on their part to think their son lapsed into a life of crime? Or your Gringotts record of regular payments?"
Peter sighed. "Can't my family just invite you to Christmas dinner, Severus? I promise that we're not trying to poison you. That would hardly help matters, now would it?"
Snape snorted. "I'm afraid I have a previous engagement."
Peter looked like he was going to say something, frowned, then squared his shoulders.
"Look, I know it's been nearly three years since the end of the war," he said. "You may not be interested in settling down with a witch, but there is a whole new life out there."
Snape stood up stiffly, his black robes seeming to move by an unseen breeze. "Enjoy. Your. Christmas, Mr Pettigrew," he said scornfully, his eyes as black as scorched earth. "Tell your parents I will unfortunately be unable to attend."
"Severus, I didn't—"
Snape spun and left the room, his footsteps eerily silent as he walked up the hidden stairwell to his residence upstairs—
Peter slammed his head against the shelf in self-punishment and groaned. "Idiot. Go on, remind him what he's lost. That will certainly get him to come. When he sleeps every day, works every day in the place he dreamed about with—" He fingered the label nearest him and the otter playfully zipped around it.
"It's no wonder all those witches want you, Severus," Peter said grimly. "Forbidden fruit. Who wouldn't want a wizard who would include them in absolutely everything?"
Peter carefully blew out all the lamps before locking up, closing the door behind him.
"Happy Christmas, Severus," he said before walking to the Apparition point and disappearing with a crack.
Severus walked out of the bath and dried his hair, pulling on his silk sleep pants. He paused at the hearth where a charred-looking jingle bell lay in a wreath of fir and holly.
He touched it reverently, eyes closing.
The ache had never left him. The cold emptiness.
A future bereft of her warmth.
His soul ached for her like his lungs demanded oxygen.
Every day, he would hear her— the moving of paws against the ground, the soft jingle of her favourite bell. When he opened his eyes, there was nothing.
He courted no witch, humoured the attentions of none. He was a married man, and his heart and soul flatly refused any imposters.
Lily had been rescued and now had her son, but her belated apologies and half-hearted attempts to make up for so many supposed misunderstandings left him unmoved. She had the werewolf serum to tame James' moon nights thanks to him. She lived because of him. The life debt he held with Lily was multi-layered, but Severus didn't want her debt.
He didn't want her guilt driving her to make amends.
The time when her forgiveness would have been all he wanted was long gone, for he had since tasted what true love and loyalty was.
He had come a long way since the boy who thought all he could ever want had been the red-headed, green-eyed girl of his childhood.
He would be perfectly civil towards her— Lily— but there would never be genuine friendship with her. He could not offer her emotion. He could not offer her succor from the life she'd chosen anymore than she could comfort him in the loss of his once and future wife. And while he knew Hermione would never have desired him to be alone forever for want of her, he knew there was no filling the deep chasm she had left behind, for she had been both the mightest and best of friends as well as his wife. She hadn't even needed a human body to accomplish that.
She had reminded the world that magic was more than just a tool to be used or abused. She had reminded them all that leys were a thing to be both feared and respected—
People had begun to respect magic again rather than simply take it for granted.
Muggle-borns were being taught what it meant to grow up magical, and those that had grown up with magic were being taught what it meant to grow up without magic— what it meant should magic decide to abandon them after finding them unworthy.
Would magic simply leave?
No one was really sure.
But— if it could rise up against the likes of Tom Riddle, rise from the slumber under Hogwarts to drive out the Acromantulas and unnaturally bred invaders, and mend the old paths of magic— perhaps magic was something that should be respected more rather than the people who used it.
That was Hermione Snape's legacy. She was magic's champion. She was the champion of the underdog, those who were picked on and stereotyped. People described her like some sort of saint because what else could possibly make someone like Severus refuse to move on? Oh, the stories people made up about them.
The truth was that Hermione was just a witch trying to make the world a better place by saving it from a power-hungry megalomaniac. She was loved, and loved him. And he—
He had loved her without intending to. He had become devoted without even meaning to.
And now she was gone.
He slipped into his cold bed without bothering with a warming charm. Only the light from the Christmas tree lit the room—all the ornaments and lights Hermione loved had been oh-so-carefully placed. He watched the lights shimmer and glow until his eyes finally drifted shut, one single tear drifting down from the corner of his eye and down the side of his nose.
Severus stirred to the sound that had long haunted his dreams. He tried to bury his face into the nearby pillow.
It's all in your head, he reasoned.
His nose twitched. He smelled the spicy scent of fur mixed with fresh water. He felt a radiating warmth—
Gods, he was going mental. He was surely losing his mind.
He put his arm out under the covers to grab the duvet and drag it forward to him.
His hand alighted on warm, smooth skin and curls.
Severus' eyes immediately flew open.
A mass of unruly curls hung around bare shoulders to a scarred but healed body. A single, glistening jingle bell hung from a braided silver, green, and red ribbon— only the bell was crafted of pure magic made into form.
"Happy Christmas?" Hermione said, the bell jingling between her very alluring breasts.
Severus stared, frozen in place, even as his cock found new life in the most traditional of ways.
"I'm sorry it took so long for me to re-manifest, but it took longer than I expected to pull my particles back together, and I had to reroute the leys back along the ancient routes, and you have no idea how neglected Scotland is around Hogwarts, and I've been trying to manifest here for a good year now, but every time I tried someone would bloody fuck something up Hagrid-style with ley energ—MMMMMPHHH!"
Severus stopped her brain dump with a soul-searing kiss, and her verbal bâttonage turned into heated moans of desire. Their magic flared together instantly as the two tides met together and created a whirlpool, dragging them into a passionate flurry of kisses and moving of hands across the other's wanting body.
Her moans turned his breaths into growls, and he kissed, licked, and caressed every inch of her, barely allowing her to register enough sense to breathe between her gasps.
"Severus," she whimpered, her hands clenched against his shoulder blades as her eyes met his. "Please— I've waited so long for you. I need you."
Severus barely even registered his own inexperience before book knowledge. His body seemed perfectly happy with instinctual drives, while his mind frantically flipped through The Treatise of Female Anatomy and How to Keep Your Bits Intact, but then Hermione grasped his engorged cock, guided it into place, and then pulled him down upon her with a spine-tingling growl of pure need.
Yes, bloody well thank you, ma'am!
Jingle all the way.
It was beginning to feel a lot like Christmas in the House of Snape.
"Unca Peter, Unca Peter!" a child with a head of wild curls glomped on Peter Pettigrew's legs and toppled him over, and his armful of Christmas gifts went flying out of his arms.
Peter's wife, Gemma , deftly caught them, guiding them by magic under the tree.
"Selene, what have I told you about ambushing Mr Pettigrew before he even has a chance to take off his shoes?"
The young witch pouted, hanging her head. "Sowwy, Unca."
Peter sighed, placing a hand on her head. "It's okay, pet."
Selene's eyes grew wide as she saw Peter's son walk in. "Paul! Come see my new brewing cauldron! It's so 'if I'm going to blow something up, at least it will be small'!"
The little witch grabbed Paul by the hand and practically dragged him down the hall.
Peter shook his head. "I swear that girl isn't yours. No respect at all for the cauldron."
"Well, she can't make real potions in it yet, thankfully," Hermione said as she took their coats and whisked them off to the coat stand. "I would worry about what a girl of five could do with a wand."
"My Paul has no inclination for potions at the age of four, and I'm perfectly happy about that," Gemma said, chuckling.
"Gemma, they're kids. I'm sure they will change likes weekly for another few years," Peter replied cheerfully.
Severus set down a loaded tea tray in the middle of the room, gesturing for Peter and Gemma to come sit down. Hermione brought a tray of divine-smelling biscuits and "sinful distractions" in the form of chocolate dipped biscotti and Scottish shortbread.
"Cooking all day again, Hermione?" Gemma asked, smiling as she picked out a favourite to devour first.
"Someone has to cook around here when Severus is juggling seven cauldrons at a time," Hermione said with a wink.
"When she isn't garbed up like a clandestine mage of the old order and playing with Amelia's poor recruits in the DoM," Severus interjected.
"Still training the new ones, eh, Hermione?" Peter asked, grinning madly.
"Someone has to give them a reality check and show them that working for the DoM is not a place you get high marks to get in and then just sherk off and play silly buggers," Hermione said with a sniff.
Just as she said that, a giant larger-than-life smilodon roared and jumped up on the settee causing Peter to scream like a little girl and throw his teacup in the air.
Only it passed right through him and poofed into a shower of sparkly pink glitter.
Mad giggling was heard from down the hallway.
Gemma, perhaps quite used to such things, caught the cup and saucer in a deft movement and cleaned up the spilt tea with her wand.
Peter looked like he'd just promptly shat out ten of his allotted five lives and he wheezed as he stuffed a chocolate biscuit in his mouth for comfort.
"Kids," Gemma said, shaking her head at her trembling husband.
"Justice, I rather think," Severus said with a smirk. "Getting paid back in spades for his prankish years."
Peter shook his head. "A five-year-old kid should not have such startling command of realistic illusionary magic."
"Should, perhaps, but she is our daughter. I'm just happy she isn't nearly stupid enough to go touching Hermione's ley lines and getting herself atomised," Severus pointed out.
"Fine," Peter agreed. "Far better that than atomised.
A ley line casually bumped into Hermione, caressing her forehead for attention.
"Oh, thank you, love. At the top of the tree?"
The ley tendril zipped up to the top of the Christmas tree and placed a shining magical star in place perfectly. Hermione caressed it lovingly and it rubbed up against her fingers like a cat against a favored human's legs before zipping off for some other task.
"You make the most beautiful trees each year, Hermione," Gemma said with an appreciative sigh.
"It's a team effort," Hermione said. "Selene gets the bottom of the tree, I get the middle, and Severus gets the top since he's not vertically challenged like myself."
Gemma let out a bright peal of laughter. "It works!" She looked thoughtful. "Thank you for inviting us again this year. Ever since Peter's parents started to travel the world for the winter hols, it feels so lonely without any company during Christmas."
Hermione smiled. "I love Christmas. Company is always welcome in our home this time of year."
Suddenly, two ley tendrils delivered a pair of suspiciously guilty-looking children to their parents and unceremoniously dumped them onto the settee before zooming away.
Hermione and Severus gave both children perfectly arched eyebrows and pursed lips.
"Trying to find the presents, are we, my clever little darlings?" Peter said dryly.
The kids looked even guiltier.
"No fair," Paul complained. "The leys taddled on us!"
Gemma and Peter exchanged knowing looks.
"I think we should all sit down, have a nice Christmas Eve dinner, and then get ready for bed. Morning will be here soon enough, and then you'll have all your presents to open."
Selene and Paul begrudgingly agreed.
The adults herded the children to the table and tucked them into their chairs before sitting down together.
Severus filled the wine glasses and the smaller, child-sized ones with pumpkin juice before sitting down. He raised his glass. "To family and friends— even those we didn't know we needed at the time, didn't think we deserved, and were proved so very wrong in the end. May it always be that we share our happiness as others feel to share their woes: freely and meaningfully."
They all raised their glasses together, though the children held theirs up with both hands like a torch.
"To family and friends."
"To Christmas and being with the ones we love," Hermione said.
"To Christmas," they all replied.
As they began to enjoy a glorious roast dinner together, the soft tinkling of jingle bells rang out as a beautiful Christmas snow began to fall.
A/N: Happy Christmas, everyone. I work both Christmas Eve and Day, so have a little Peace on Earth for me in my stead. My best to you all for a joyous holiday season and a Happy New Year.