Once Upon a December
By: Airelle Vilka
Professor of Illusions
Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry
Summary: In his last year at Hogwarts, seventeen-year-old Severus Snape decides to attend the annual Yule Ball. And most interesting of all, he wants to ask a certain girl to go with him. But perhaps it is not who you think...
"Ugh!" Severus Snape exclaimed, storming into the secret room behind the ancient, non-functioning fireplace in the Potions classroom that he and his best friend Airelle Vilka frequented. He threw his bag in a corner disgustedly.
Airelle Vilka looked up from the giant black cauldron in the middle of the room, which was at the moment spouting thick blue steam that alternated with a bright green.
"I'm glad to see you're having a pleasant day," she commented, and Snape frowned.
"Thank you, Airelle," was his response. He had used to call her 'Air' in the third year of their odd friendship, but since her name was not pronounced that way in any case, she'd gotten him to stop... only by threatening to start calling him 'Sev.'
"You know me, always willing to cheer a person up."
Snape dropped into a chair next to the cauldron, his black robes sweeping the stones of the dungeon floor. "Aren't you going to ask me what happened?"
She stirred the seething liquid, and grinned. "You look like you aren't in the mood to talk."
"I'm kidding," she replied, laughing, her gaze now turned towards the potion. "I just never miss a chance to yank your tether. After seven years of doing it, it is rather difficult to stop. Addictive."
Snape crossed his arms, and a part of his jet-black, shoulder-length hair fell over his face. "Apparently, that's what Potter and his gang of followers seem to think, too."
Airelle looked up. "Oh no, not them again."
"Potter and Black thought it was hysterical to hex the soap in the student bathrooms! And when I went in to see why it sounded like objects were zooming inside, sure enough--as soon as I opened the door, one of them flew right into my mouth."
Airelle snorted into the cauldron.
"It was not funny."
"No," she laughed. "I was just looking at it another way. We often make deranged jokes, after all. Perhaps it was time one of us had his or her mouth washed out."
"Oh, I'll get back at Black one day...ugh, him and his bunch of girlfriends..."
"Snape, he's just hormonally overdosed," said Airelle, smiling a tad too serenely for her friend's taste. "Do not worry, one day he shall have his mouth washed out, too."
"Yes, perhaps I shall curse the soap next time..."
"I meant metaphorically, genius."
"I know," Snape retorted, now grinning. "How is the potion coming, anyway?"
"Get up and look," Airelle replied, and Snape rose, staring over the side of the cauldron as the dark, now maroon liquid hissed, bubbled, and swirled. It was mesmerizing to both of them, an art in its own right. Airelle glanced sideways at Snape. The small waves of the potion reflected in his deep black eyes. It was an entranced gaze that Airelle had seen on her friend before, and knew all too well. She would have bet anything that Snape had forgotten about James Potter and Sirius Black as soon as he had looked into the cauldron. It was beautiful and powerful magic, when you loved what you did. Even if they were not supposed to be making this particular potion, anyway...
Airelle shrugged to herself and said, "What next?"
Snape reached over to the Ingredients table they had set up years before, when they first had made this room their clandestine laboratory. Now, seven years later, that very table, dusty with age, had seen them become expert potion brewers, excellent students, and creators of over fifty new concoctions, the existence of which they had never revealed to anyone. After all, many of them would be enough to either explode the school or cause unimaginable mayhem...
He lifted the enormous bluish book, entitled Infusions for the Highly Advanced, and marked "Restricted Section, Hogwarts Library. Approach with Extreme Caution." He looked at the worn page. On the top was written: "Aqua Fortunae Galliae."
"Hmm...we are doing the Water of Fortune of Gaul, also known as the French Good Luck Potion?"
"That's the one."
"Did you add the newt liver?"
"And the Jarvey spleen?"
"Ugh...fortunately, that is over with. Yes."
"Next is... hmmm... seventeen rat tails."
"Thank heaven I stocked up at Diagon Alley on all these things in the summer," Airelle murmured, heading towards the storage closet in the wall. "I told my parents I needed it all for my Charms class."
"Potions aren't used in Charms," said Snape.
She smiled slyly. "I know. But my parents are Muggles. So..."
Snape laughed. "So, they still have no idea, that Charms and Potions are two different things." It was strange...that they were friends even though Airelle was a Ravenclaw, and Muggle-born on top of that, when it was known that Slytherin, Snape's house, prized pure-blood wizards. With Snape and Airelle it was some exception. Perhaps he had come to respect her during their first meeting, when he had made a comment about Muggles. He had expected her to act like all the other girls he'd known...cry and threaten to hit him. Airelle, however, had been a different story. She, a skinny and shy-looking eleven-year old girl, had basically thrown herself at him and did her best in smacking his head repeatedly into the ground. Snape remembered that he had not made a comment like that in front of her ever again. Why hadn't he hit her back? He had probably been too shocked in order to really do anything. That incident, however, had given Snape a certain view of her. And as odd as it was, each of them had been the other's most trusted friend ever since.
"Exactly," Airelle replied, opening the double doors and squinting at the jars standing in the dust on innumerable shelves, some of them not touched since their first year at Hogwarts. "Blast it. Why couldn't it be sixteen tails? Now we have to open three jars instead of two, just for one piece."
"It is seventeen tails, Airelle-- unless you want to catch another rat right now instead of opening the third jar," said Snape, looking back at the potion, which had calmed by now and turned a bright, vivid blue. "And while you're back there, kindly take a vial of dragon blood out as well. I believe we shall need it."
Airelle looked backwards at her friend. "We have dragon blood?"
"It's on your right. I picked some up at a shop last month."
"Snape! We aren't supposed to travel out of school!!"
He smiled. "Like we are known for following rules. Just get the blood."
"All right, all right," Airelle laughed, cradling the three giant pickled rat tail jars in her arms and reaching towards the small vial with her neck. Upon grasping it -- by innovatively using her teeth -- she shut the closet doors and made her way, teetering, back to the cauldron.
"Do you need some help with that?" asked Snape.
Her black eyes glared at him while trying to maintain her balance. "NO," she pronounced indistinctly through the glass tube in her teeth. I phan manaphe."
"Very well, if you 'can manage,' as you so very well articulated, Miss Independent, do so," said Snape, with an oddly smug smile crossing his pale face. "But don't blame me when those things drop on the floor and suddenly, you find yourself engaged in a sizzling romp session between the sheets--"
Airelle nearly spat out the vial. "Phwhat?!"
Snape kept on smiling. "Oh, I forgot to mention it. Rat tails, water, dragon blood, and the dust on the floor are key ingredients to an ultra-strong Desire Potion. Makes you do things you never imagined you could..."
She pronounced something that, thankfully, was garbled beyond comprehension. Snape laughed and walked over to help her with the jars. Hands free, Airelle removed the vial of dragon blood from her mouth.
"Start praying, Snape," she growled.
"Let's finish the potion first, shall we?" he responded, sweeping over to the cauldron again. Airelle rolled her eyes and mumbled something else, but followed.
"The rat tails..." Snape was saying, rolling up his sleeve and opening the first jar. "Count."
"One," Airelle began as Snape dropped the first tail into the cauldron, which began to bubble dangerously again. "Two... three... four... five... six... seven... eight..."
Snape unscrewed the second jar and glanced up at his friend. "Oh, by the way, Airelle... I'm going to the Yule Ball next month."
Her eyes widened, and she stopped counting. "You're joking."
Snape raised an eyebrow. "No," was the simple answer. "December 17th is the night...but...there is a problem."
Airelle still looked shocked, as if he'd just told her that he was McGonagall and Dumbledore's son. "But--why now? We have not gone the past six years..."
Snape looked into her eyes. "Airelle, I need your help."
"What could you possibly--"
"This... girl!" Snape finally breathed, and immediately looked uncomfortable. "There. I said it."
If she were prone to it, Airelle would have fainted on the spot. "Err... umm... a GIRL?"
"Yes," said Snape. "I want to ask her to go with me. Wait," he added before Airelle could say anything else. "I don't ask for help in these things often."
"Look..." Snape paused. "You are my best friend. Please help me with this."
She stared at him. This was not happening. With Snape, the prospect of dating was not rare-- it was impossible. "I must be a really bad observer. When did you start fancying this girl? And who is she?"
"A Slytherin...her name is Eola Jedkins."
Airelle tried very hard to stop her face from dropping. Eola Jedkins hated her with a passion. Dark-haired, blue-eyed, and arrogant to the bone, Jedkins had always disapproved of Snape and Airelle's friendship, although never in front of Snape. Airelle had always wondered why. Now, she knew.
She kept her mouth shut, and her expression mildly surprised. Snape did not need his feelings hurt at so crucial a time.
"So...how long have you been seeing her? And what could you need my help with? Kissing practice?"
"I would have told you if I was dating her, Airelle," said Snape. "I want to ask her to the Yule Ball."
"And you... are good with understanding girls."
"Gee, I wonder why," Airelle retorted, dropping all the rat tails into the cauldron at once.
He laughed. "All right, you are a girl, so... you could help me. With this dating thing."
It was amazing. Snape, who had never asked for help in anything... of all things, asking this? "How would I know? I've never had a boyfriend."
"Well, I've never had a girlfriend, so we're stuck," Snape murmured. "But I bet your dorm-mates talk about their shenanigans..."
Airelle sighed. Was this the crowning moment of their friendship? She, helping him to date? Well, why should she care...perhaps Eola Jedkins was good for him...and why should Airelle herself feel bad? Snape was her closest friend...and she did want him to be happy... And yet...
"What do you want to know?"
Airelle Vilka paced around her dorm room, immersed in thought. Today, Snape, two weeks after he had announced to her in their little dungeon room that he wished to go to the Yule Ball, was going to pop the question -- what an odd choice of words -- to Eola Jedkins.
Crossing her arms, Airelle re-did her bed for the fifth time that morning. Why was she so nervous, anyway?
A little blur of feathers suddenly shot through the open dormitory window and landed on her bed in a heap.
"Excalibur!" she exclaimed, scooping up the tiny owl in her palms and untying from its leg the piece of parchment, enormous compared to the size of its bearer. The owl belonged jointly to her and Snape, and was the messenger between them. Its name originated from their mutual appreciation of the old legends of King Arthur and his knights.
Airelle smiled. So many memories...
The paper had been torn from a sketchbook, judging by the rough feel of it. And on it, in lettering that Airelle recognized as a result of Snape being hasty in his writing, was scribbled:
Famae, d m
Airelle bit her lip. Any other person would have had a time figuring out what on earth the message meant, but Snape and she had sent cryptograms to each other for so long that she knew without thinking where Snape was, what he wanted her to do, and in how long. The word 'Famae' meant 'of fame' in Latin. This referred to the Trophy Room, the room Snape and she had termed as harboring 'mementos of fame.' The 'd' referred to the beginning letter of the Latin word for the number ten, and the 'm' simply meant 'minutes.' Thus, Snape wished to meet her in the Trophy Room in ten minutes.
Airelle petted Excalibur and bid him to go to the Owlery for a bit of rest. Then, she grabbed her wand and headed out of the dormitory.
She found Snape, with his back turned to her, perusing one of the numerous trophies that graced the cases in the gigantic room. His black hair was pushed back behind his ears, and he looked rather stiff.
"Snape?" she tried. He did not reply.
Airelle, undaunted, walked closer. "Snape, what happened? What did she say?"
"Your advice sure did a lot of good," he said, voice monotonous.
Airelle paled. Did Eola turn him down? And, somewhere inside her head, a thought turned up out of nowhere...was that such a bad thing?
He turned, slowly. And when he faced her... there was a grin on his face.
"Yes. It sure did do a lot of good."
Airelle raised her eyebrows. "You mean..."
"She's my date for the dance!" And moving forward so fast that it was almost inhuman, he pulled her into the first hug she'd ever received from a boy her age.
"Thank you," he whispered in her ear, and Airelle was totally stunned. Not only did Snape not sound like himself, but he was actually hugging her. She, with some uncertainty, put her arms around him and patted him on the back.
"But I still need your help," Snape said, still not letting go.
Airelle's eyes spun around the room, searching for an object to focus on. Her best friend was happy, and she was...well, pleased that she could get him to ask a girl out, and succeed. But was she happy? Airelle, for reasons unknown even to her, feared the answer to that question, and consequently decided not to think about it.
"What's wrong now?" she asked.
"Well...the dance is in a week."
"So...you have a week to help me in my demeanor at a public dance, since you have actually been to one."
She pulled away. "What am I, your therapist?"
He laughed. "Come on, Airelle."
Oh, geez, this is getting too weird even for me, she thought. Severus Snape, asking me for assistance with females...
"All right...all right..."
Airelle glanced through the crack in the door to the Great Hall, the spicy scent of the food at the feast wafting into her nostrils. Snape had asked her to come with one of his friends to the dance as well, but she'd refused.
"I might as well make sure everything goes well with the latest potion we are testing," she said to him earlier in the week. "I have gone to dances without you before. Don't worry, I shall be fine. Besides, we cannot talk in any case, since Eola shall occupy your attention."
Snape looked at her in some puzzlement, but then shrugged it off...
"How do I look?" came a voice from behind her, and she turned around.
Snape tilted his head sideways. Airelle had helped him, early that evening, slick his black hair back over his head, revealing the shape of his angular face, high cheekbones, and his dark eyes.
She walked over to her best friend and smoothed out some wrinkles on his ember-black robes. "You look fine, at least I think so, but you sound like a model getting ready to strut."
He stared at her. "What?"
Airelle grinned and put on a high-pitched voice. "Oh...do, like, tell me, how do I look? I must look, like, simply perfectly gorgeous for, like, the dance!"
Snape's thin mouth lifted in a smirk that he put on for her, and her only. "Airelle, you are an incurable maniac."
"Thank you," she said. "Now, get in there, and make me proud!"
"Now YOU're sounding like a Quidditch coach," Snape replied, walking to the doorway.
Airelle crossed her arms. "Just go." The music coming from inside seemed to have gotten louder. It was a beautiful song... and she knew it, but she just could not place the name.
Snape just looked at his friend, and their eyes exchanged a silent... thanks?
"Move it, before I push you in there!"
"Very well," he said, opening the door, which gave a huge creak. Airelle stared at the light that emanated from the Great Hall. So different from the shadows in which she stood. Her own standard and worn robes so unseemly next to her friend's magnificent raiment. But the music could still touch her, and she smiled.
"Good luck," she said as Snape walked through, but he did not hear her. The door closed, and the music withdrew.
Airelle stood there for a while, the silence thick like a blanket around her. It seemed a while before she stirred.
The potion was downstairs, waiting, fizzing in its cauldron, she knew. But it could wait some more.
Airelle was about to begin walking when something that sounded like a wet raspberry being blown came from the wall.
"Aww, all 'lone, little seventh year?" a cackling voice said out of the air. "Best friend abandoned ya, did he?"
"Shut up, Peeves," Airelle muttered as the poltergeist appeared, floating in front of her with what looked like a pile of wet towels wrapped around him.
"Dressie Robes for me," he said shrilly, circling her in midair. "Headmaster's allowin' me into the Great Hall fer supper, so you're gonna be the only un left out, eh?"
Airelle laughed darkly. "Nice try. Dumbledore wouldn't allow you into the Great Hall if his life depended on it. You're too much of a trouble-maker."
Peeves's face wrinkled, and he began hurling very eloquent obscenities at her. Airelle smiled wickedly.
"Remember, Peeves, Snape is friends with the Bloody Baron."
It was well known that the Bloody Baron, the ghost of Slytherin, Snape's house, was the only one who could control Peeves. The poltergeist stuck out his tongue and zoomed into the wall, still yelling profanities.
Airelle grinned and headed outside. That potion could definitely wait. She needed some air.
Hogwarts grounds definitely possessed an ethereal beauty tonight. The crescent moon hung high in the velvety sky above Airelle's head, and the blanket of December snow covered the ground. She yawned and pulled out her headband, loosening her long white hair from its ponytail and letting it flow freely. It reflected part of the moonlight, and absorbed part of it. She remembered, with a smile, how in their first year in the Potions classroom, she and Snape had made a certain mistake... and had an accident. The explosion from the potion had been nasty, and gave Airelle, who, being Muggle-born, was not used to spells, such a shock that it turned her hair completely white, and caused her to spent a week shaking in the hospital wing. Snape had sent her, at her request, homework each day with Excalibur. Even now, she was thankful for it. It was well known that Airelle Vilka had a liking to schoolwork, and would simply wring someone's neck if she did not complete the assignment for the day. Many people termed it 'obsession.' Oh, well.
Airelle stretched and observed the dark lake that spread out before her, and the shiny tentacles that squirmed somewhere in the middle, and then disappeared for good. The lake would freeze over soon. Somewhere in her mind, she wondered how big the giant squid that lived in the lake actually was.
She looked back at the castle-- at a certain part of it...the one where she knew the Great Hall was located, and wondered what Snape was doing now.
"Dancing, you moron," she said to herself. Dancing with Eola Jedkins. But why should Airelle care?
But the night was too beautiful to think about Eola, especially now. Beyond where Airelle was, the Forbidden Forest loomed in the distance, the trees like white, gloved fingers beckoning to come near.
Airelle sighed, watching the air drift from her mouth and meld into the colder air outside. She was not afraid of the forest; she and Snape had always visited it, as assurance of there being no intruders, to test potions they had made themselves. The odd shapes and strange growths on many of the trees were actually a result of one of their creations gone wrong...or right. It was dangerous, Airelle knew, to go there at night... but still, it was necessary for them. To do it was amazing, terrifying, and exhilarating. Just like this night. If only Snape were here to share it. He'd always gone before, on the night of the Yule Ball, with her to talk or make potions or just sit and listen to the silence around them. Snape was very different with her as opposed to everyone else. Was it because he was hesitant to show his true self to others? Why, then, did he show it to her? Was it because she knew how it felt to be alone in a world of many, and yet appreciate the serenity that came with it? Perhaps. They had found something in each other that they saw in themselves, a calm that would be very difficult to describe in words. Maybe they had just grown tired of talking, having to explain themselves to others. Maybe they did not need to talk to understand... Which was why now, when he was somewhere else, Airelle could still feel peaceful, if lonely. He did not complete her; friends were not for that. He helped her complete herself.
Snow began to fall. The flakes settled on her and melted, their color indistinguishable from her hair. For some reason, Airelle smiled.
"To think I almost missed this," said a soft voice from not far behind her.
Airelle raised her head and turned around. Severus Snape stood there, such a black contrast against the white atmosphere. His sleek hair was not pulled back by magical gel anymore, but cascaded down his shoulders like usual.
She shook her head in genuine disbelief. "Snape, what are you doing here? You're supposed to be at the dance!"
"I'm not supposed to be anywhere," he said, walking closer. "Except maybe here."
"But...what happened to..."
He smiled. "Probably off somewhere, with her latest boyfriend, getting her nose fixed back on."
Airelle opened her mouth. "What?!"
He smiled again. "She may be pretty, and majestic... but inside... no substance."
"She said something I did not like."
Airelle wanted to ask if it was about...her... Would Snape actually defend her... from a fellow, pure-blood Slytherin?
But she closed her mouth when her eyes met his. It was a look that destroyed the need to ask anything.
"Dance with me."
She started. "Huh?"
"You do not have to dance," he said quickly. "Just stand with me, if you will."
She raised her arms. "No, no, that's not what I... I mean..."
He grinned, like he always did at her, and she could interpret the meaning from a mere glance. "Just humor me and come here."
"Oh, heck," she shrugged, and walked over, the crunching of her feet on the snow suddenly very loud.
Snape's arms wrapped around her, and Airelle, her head on his shoulder, inhaled his spicy scent, reminiscent of the food in the Great Hall. She did not feel fluttery, or romantic, nor did she swoon at his touch. It was just very calm. Like it was with them. It was real friendship, the panacea that few people knew the true power of.
"People might see us... and think..."
"Ah, let them think what they might." Snape pulled out his wand and pointed it at the sky. He muttered something incoherent and suddenly, the snowflakes falling around them began to sound like tiny bells.
It took Airelle some time to finally understand what it was. There was music all around, pervading the air. It was the same song she heard coming from the Great Hall. Except for some reason, now it sounded so much better.
"See? I remembered," Snape said. "You told me four years ago how much you liked the song."
She now remembered the song's name, and grinned into Snape's shoulder. How appropriate. But she did not have to reply to him. As sentimental and maudlin it might have sounded, standing there with him, she knew he understood. And neither would ever speak aloud of it. And thus, the snow kept on falling, and the music played on around them:
Things I almost remember.
And a song,
Once upon a December.
Someone holds me safe and warm.
Horses prance through a silver storm.
Figures dancing gracefully
Across my memory...
Glowing dim as an ember...
Things my heart
Used to know
Once upon a December.
Someone holds me safe and warm
Horses prance through a silver storm
Figures dancing gracefully
Across my memory...
Glowing dim as an ember...
Things my heart
used to know,
things it yearns to remember...
And a song
Once upon a December...
Author's Note: The song, of course, is "Once Upon a December" from the movie "Anastasia." Rather ironic that I'm Russian, eh? :)