Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned

by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books,

Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being

made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.

"The Secret Hours"

by Christine Anderson

aka Lilly Malfoy

Long hair down about her shoulders, glasses folded on a table, and the buttons of her under-robe halfway undone, Minerva McGonagall by moonlight seemed so utterly different from her daylight persona as to have been no relation to her at all. Neither her students nor her casual acquaintances would have recognized her- or believed it for one minute if told where she had been, and with whom.

As she reached up to smooth back a strand of hair dark as her own, she smiled. "Severus."

"Minerva?" He raised his eyebrows inquiringly at her.

She rested her hands on his back. "It has been too long."

"Mm," he agreed. "That it has."

Always these words. Always, because they were true. The perpetual state of affairs- so close, and yet so far. Side by side during meals and crises, unable to do more than glance at one another, and even that much was impossible more often than not. Endless longing, and for all that he was at her side, he might as well have been a thousand miles away.

Long ago, it had seemed worth it. And indeed, anything was better than nothing- yet, nights like these, and worse, nights when she was alone, Minerva was filled with anger and sadness. She had given so much of herself to the battle against Voldemort and the Dark forces, had given her time and in many ways her freedom, and for that fight to take her soul seemed too much.

But take her soul it had- Every time the Mark only two others in their world knew he wore burned black, every time he went to play his dangerous game against the Dark Lord... every time they parted in desperation and darkness, never knowing if they would meet again, a piece of her soul was torn out and carried along.

She cursed the gods of her childhood, in whom she for the most part no longer believed, for giving her so much, and then taking it away, again and again...

And she sensed it now, building, that old tension. Sensed it, and knew that it was coming again, growing ever closer. It was beginning again.

Voldemort, trying to claw his way back.

The Chamber of Secrets, open.

It was beginning again.

She sighed deeply.

"Don't think of it," he said.

"I can't help but think of it, my love," she whispered. "How can I /not/, when this bloody war has taken everything either of us ever had, all we ever loved except each other? I have lost enough, by the gods."

They kissed deeply, lovers of long years who knew how to speak volumes without words.

"I am still here, for now," he said.

"And I am grateful for it- but tomorrow might be the day it begins. You know it as well as I. Better, I suspect."

"Yes. But if we don't fight him, who will? Many of those who would have stood with us are dead, and the rest are too frightened to try."

"I fear too, Severus."

"Yes, but your fear is rational, and it comes from experience, my dear. And from your heart. Theirs is mindless terror, and they cannot overcome it."

She didn't answer, only clung to him tightly. "How long has it been now, my love?"

Running his fingers through her long hair, he said, "Now, let me see. He last fell fourteen years ago, and before that was-" He shook his head, laughed. "Almost a quarter century."

"Do you remember?" she asked.

"Everything," he replied. "How young and naive we both were- thinking we could save the world..." His voice fell to a whisper. "How beautiful you looked the day we exchanged rings neither of us could ever wear..."

Minerva held tighter to him, knowing what was coming.

"...and all of those who stood with us... only one witness now living..."

They had both come from old and large wizarding families. Each the eldest born, and for all their parents tried to show no favorites, both clearly that. She had loved his sisters as his own, and her brothers had taken to him from the first.

It had been such a beautiful day...

Now it was only another secret, which they shared with only one other, a secret that in the wrong hands could doom them both. And within that secret was the reason- the reason they would fight on though they knew there was very little hope of winning.

Because the darkness had taken from them everything else...except, remarkably, each other.

"I'm sorry," she whispered.

"So am I." He touched her cheek, very gently. "Can you stay tonight?"

She nodded. "I can."

"In that case-"

There came a sudden, sharp knock at the door.

Severus swore, none too quietly. He rose, still cursing.

She reached for him. "Come back to bed."

"At this hour, you know it's important," he said. "At least, it had damned well better be- *What*?" he snarled as he hauled the door open.

"I am sorry to disturb you, Severus," she heard Albus Dumbledore say. "Is she here?"

Severus sighed, deeply. "Yes."

Minerva had already begun redoing the buttons on her robe. Wordlessly Severus helped her don the outer ones. She smiled her thanks, then turned worried eyes on Dumbledore.

"What is it?"

"I am afraid one of your students has been Petrified."

"Who?"

"Young Mister Creevey."

Minerva sighed. "Severus... I have to go."

"I know." He reached for her, and she went quickly into his arms. "Be careful."

She smiled, kissed her fingers, and pressed them to his lips. "Always, my love."

He watched her go, watched her step out the door and close it behind her.

"Be careful...my wife," he whispered to the now-empty room.

* * *

He keeps the ring in a drawer, and the act of shutting it away has over the years become almost physically painful; a necessary agony.

They think him cold and distant, his students and colleagues both; they believe this as an article of faith. The sun will rise each morning, Voldemort is gone forever, and Severus Snape's heart is frozen and dead.

They are wrong about two things; sometimes he is unsure of the third, as well. But there is a great deal they don't, and won't ever, understand.

It was never supposed to be this way.

They had been in their last year of school, their whole lives before them, when on a summer night just before graduation, he had asked her to walk with him on the grounds. Kneeled before her in the evening breeze, and asked her to marry him.

He had never doubted that he would ask her; they had been inseparable friends for four years, and something more for three, and they were in love. They had grand dreams then, and not a doubt but that all of them would come true.

She wanted to become an Auror, and nothing would do for her but that he be her partner. He wanted to fight the Dark Arts, and would have done anything for her smile. In the fall they would be apprenticed to an Auror friend of Dumbledore's, the legendary Alastor Moody.

He had kept the ring in his pocket half the year, gathering the courage to ask her, waiting for the perfect moment.

After that night she had worn his ring, and proudly, and she nearly glowed, those last days of school, telling anyone who asked what had made her so happy, that Severus Snape had asked her to be his wife.

The wedding had been a small affair- his family and hers, a few school friends. And Albus Dumbledore, now their last living witness.

They had married just before Voldemort's rise, though they had not known then how close to the edge they stood. Had known nothing at all until the day a somber Moody had come to see them, with Dumbledore at his shoulder and a terrible tale...

He remembered her once-ready smile, how it had faded that day. How she had sobbed onto his shoulder, and he had himself been weeping too much to comfort her. What was there to say, when all they had but each other and mentors old and new beside them, was gone? When everyone they loved had been killed? Hunted down and executed one by one...their killers a whisper, mist in the night.

The Death Eaters.

They had sworn that night to fight them, never dreaming what that oath would cost them. Had spent the months of their honeymoon as Moody's shadows, learning the arts of suspicion, investigation, death. They had embraced this, thought it was the destruction of the life they had planned so carefully- embraced it, took it into themselves. Anything to fight them. Anything to destroy the ones who had hurt them so...

Love made them vulnerable, but it was the one shard of their own humanity they refused to give up, refused to sacrifice on the alter of the greater good. But one night when Lucius Malfoy had come to him, asked him to join what the other called his spiritual kin amongst the Death Eaters, he had known.

Decision was easy, but action was hard. His heart broke to do it, but he knew of no other way.

He begged her to leave. To leave him and go- never look back. But he had been weak, unable to force her out the door, and she had been strong, so strong- her eyes in flames of anger.

He heard her voice still, mostly in nightmares.

*How dare you? How dare you choose for me how I will live my life?*

She would not go. He begged, he fell to his knees and pleaded, but she had refused. Simply. Calmly.

*I would rather die.*

And he had understood. He would rather have taken a mortal wound than watch her leave him, but her safety was his first concern.

*I can't risk you,* he had said. *You're all I have.*

*And I cannot lose you, for the very same reason.*

He had held her then, even while saying still, *You have to go, you have to go away...*

*I will never,* she told him. *This I swear. Never.*

So she hadn't.

And so they had found another way. A hard way, a difficult way, but not so hard as saying goodbye forever would have been.

Moody came through with an assignment that made their decision all the more to the good, though also harder to face.

And so to the eyes of the world, two Aurors whose names had never known, vanished as if they had never been, and in so doing became something else. They went, quite separately, back from whence they had come, back to Hogwarts.

Hogwarts, where Dumbledore had need of two teachers, and two agents of their skills whom he could trust absolutely.

Into her care had gone Gryffindor; into his, Slytherin. The rivalries kept them close but ever at odds, and if everyone learned to read the tension and the passion in their expressions wrong, all to the good.

The rings slipped away, into hidden and secret spaces, very like the places in their hearts where they kept wedding vows and oaths, memories of the time when they had been free to love each other.

Lines on their hands, hardly having time to form, went away as if they had ever been, but in their hearts they knew.

*Never. This I swear. Never.*

And, *Ever my love,* as he had whispered when saying goodnight.

Usually it was she who waited up, sitting by the window keeping watch for his return. Knowing that he might need her, and badly, by the time he reached home. Knowing that there were things- what passed between the Death Eaters, things he had seen and done- that he could not, would not, speak of to anyone else.

But tonight...tonight he waits for her.

She is not gone long, but it always seems too long when they are apart. Tears stream down her face, anger and rage and memory, and it is not only tonight she sees behind her eyes, but a hundred, a thousand, nights before.

"I hate- I hate them..." But she is too angry to speak more; words won't come. She rages silently, and he unfolds himself from his chair, goes to her. Holds her, rocks her, as she moans wordlessly.

Leads her to bed, and in the darkness, holds her as she cries.

"How long?" she whispers. "How long until you are called again?"

This, the nameless fear at last given voice. Yes, she is a lioness, Gryffindor brave... He loves her still tonight as much as he did all those years ago. Loves her, is proud of her. Fears for her.

"Not long enough," he says. "Never long enough..." Strokes her hair, kisses the tears from her cheeks. "It's true, then."

"As we knew from the moment of the first message."

He smiles suddenly; laughs.

"What?" She is startled.

"Enemies of the heir, beware."

She chuckles. "Oh, my, yes. Enemies of the heir...quite."

He takes her glasses, folds them aside again. "Stay?"

She nods. "Yes."

He smiles again, kisses the top of her head. "Rest now, Minerva. Rest now." Whispers. "Ever my love."

"Ever..." she whispers.

The darkness about them is so thick now, it seems to have swallowed time. And he knows it will grow darker still, before all is said and done.

Every light casts a shadow.

Somewhere in the world, dawn is always breaking. And hope is a fragile thread to which they will cling, as they do to each other in the night.