Winter Once Again

By: Airelle Vilka

Professor of Illusions

Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry

Summary: Almost twenty years have passed since Airelle Vilka's graduation from Hogwarts. Now, retired from her job as Auror, Airelle returns to the school… (Sequel to The Last Straw. This is set in Harry Potter's fifth year) I know it's a long jump… but I do not want to describe everything that happened after Voldemort tried to kill Harry. JK Rowling did that for us already. :)

P.S. To Taioralover: Thanks for your reviews. MOST of my Harry Potter fics are about Airelle and Snape... but perhaps when I'm done with my two latest projects, I'll write one about just Snape, or Sirius, or Loopy (heh… Lupin) or Hermione… you get the idea. :) Oh, and to everyone else huge cyber hug Thankee!

Chapter 1 - Arrival

The broom was being unruly, as usual. Airelle struggled to keep hold of it as she flew towards the grounds surrounding Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Of course, it did not help that she got a faceful of snow nearly every second, and there was a wind blowing hard enough to steer even the most experienced fliers off course.

"Would you cooperate?" she growled at her Nimbus 2001, which bucked yet again. "I don't like to fly in weather like this, either."

Oh, there I go again, talking to my broom, she thought as another, particularly strong blow of wind made her do a 360-degree flip sideways. I belong in St. Mungo's.

And she wasn't kidding. Only a crazy person would go to the risks she had undertaken during her time as an Auror, working for the Ministry of Magic. Her team became known as the Suicide Squad, a deserved nickname. And she'd been its leader for nearly two decades. Until finally, she had petitioned Cornelius Fudge, head of the Ministry, to resign. For some reason Fudge was very reluctant to let her go. Airelle was an excellent Auror, but what was there for her to do? Voldemort had been gone for almost fifteen years, and the Ministry's Aurors had uncovered most of the remaining Death Eaters. Finally, Fudge called her into his office a few weeks later.

"Ms. Vilka," he said, drumming his fingers uncomfortably on his desk, and looking into space as if he was afraid she'd read something in his eyes, "Your petition for resignation has been accepted."

Airelle stood up. "Thank you, Minister," she said. But before leaving, she stepped closer to him, and forced him to look at her.

"Minister?"

"Yes?" he asked. Airelle could not help notice that he was trying a little too hard to keep calm.

"Is everything all right?"

"Why, of course," he replied. "Why shouldn't everything be well?"

Airelle kept pressing. Something was up. "First you wouldn't let me resign… and now, all of a sudden, you concede? Why? What's going on?"

Fudge's eyes stared at her. "I told you, Ms. Vilka, nothing. Now, if you please, I have work to do."

Airelle tilted her head sideways, wisps of long white hair falling out of her headband. "You're not telling me something," she said. Perhaps that statement was a little too blatant, but what did she care? She didn't work for him anymore. "Come, Minister, I have worked for you for twenty years, and I know when something is wrong. Is it something about--"

"No," replied Fudge. "I do not know what you are trying to do, Ms. Vilka, but the business of the Ministry does not entail you anymore."

"Like heck it doesn't," Airelle retorted, now becoming angry and leaning on his desk. "What is it you're hiding? I care for the Ministry and what it does, you know that. Otherwise, I wouldn't have put myself and my entire squad in danger nearly every day while Voldem— You-Know-Who— was in power, and afterwards! And now, you look like hell just broke loose, and you won't tell me a single thing?"

"You have too much of a temper, Ms. Vilka," said Fudge, putting a quill to a piece of paper and scribbling something. "I have work to do. Work that you do not need to worry about anymore. I understand you received an owl from Albus Dumbledore?"

"Yes. He has invited me to take a job at Hogwarts starting a month from now. In December."

Fudge suddenly looked uncomfortable again, and pushed up his glasses. "That's good, Ms. Vilka. It should provide a healthy change from all those Death Eaters, hmm?" He tried to laugh, but it came out as more of a cough.

Airelle was fed up. "You're still not telling me something, Minister," she said, walking to the door. "And I'll find out what it is, even if I must do it on my own."

Fudge did not reply. And then, "You leave Omar Fauks as your successor?"

"That is correct," said Airelle, opening the door.

Silence. And finally, Fudge looked up.

"I appreciate everything that you have done for the Ministry, Ms. Vilka," he said, looking at her earnestly. "You were one of our best. And I did not want our relationship to end like this."

"But you let it end like this," replied Airelle. "Good-bye, Minister."

And she closed the door.

Airelle landed on the snow despite her broom's attempts to fly directly to the castle doors. It was late; about ten at night. Somewhere in the back of her mind, she wondered what made Dumbledore owl her so suddenly. And how did he know about her resignation? There was definitely something brewing, and Airelle had a feeling she'd find out very soon what it was. What in Merlin's name was Fudge hiding? She had not had a chance to contact any one of her Ministry friends other than her squad during her month's break before she started at Hogwarts. They did not know anything, either. In fact, they had been very surprised at Fudge's agreement to let Airelle resign. It was only a while ago that he was boasting how good Airelle was as an Auror—

She sighed and brushed the snow out of her hair. Putting everything out for now, Airelle looked up at the looming towers of the castle, and realized that this was the first time she'd seen it for nearly twenty years.

Twenty years ago on Graduation Night, she had stood, with her friend, on the very spot where she stood now, and--

Airelle shook her head and blinked. This was the last thing she needed. She thought that, after such a long time away, she'd be able to forget what had happened in her past with Severus Snape. But she was wrong. As soon as she had taken a glance at the place she'd once known so well, she--

Airelle sighed. Perhaps it would get better with time.

And then, keeping a tight hold on her broom, her feet heavy in the snow, she walked towards Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

Airelle only stopped when she reached the main door of the castle. She stood in front of it, shivering slightly, her right hand at her side and her left holding the Nimbus 2001. She was about to repeat an event from her past; it was like déjà vu, only much stranger, since she was actually doing it. The handle gleamed at her; she could see her own reflection. Still very much like the eleven-year-old girl who had walked through these same doors almost twenty years ago. But oh, how different from that girl was the woman who stood before the doors now! The light in her eyes had not dulled; it still held the same spark of intelligence and adventure that it did so long ago. Only now, that sense of adventure was different, mixed with so many painful experiences she'd been a part of.

She sighed. Of all jobs, she just HAD to have chosen to be an Auror. So that every day, she'd face something more horrible than what she'd witnessed at this same castle years ago-- the death of her best friend Severus Snape.

Well, not literal death. But to her, it was a worse fate than if he had really died. Now, he was a carrier of death, with the word in his very name – Death Eater. Often, Airelle wondered where he was now – perhaps in Azkaban, or hiding out, or still working for Voldemort's cause-- She and her team had been out on many missions, often secret ones; and she'd lost contact with most of her old friends from Hogwarts. Not that she had had many to begin with. But still, she only wished she knew what had happened to one--

Airelle clenched and unclenched her fists. This should not have affected her so much. But it did. And she didn't think she'd forget it for the rest of her life.

I suppose I have to learn to live with it, she mused, and, resignedly, reached for the doorknob.

But it turned before her hand even reached it.

Airelle, on instinct – or perhaps paranoia – that every Auror possessed, jumped back. When something moves when you're not expecting it to, be prepared.

The door opened. Airelle gaped.

She had been expecting to see the caretaker, or Minerva McGonagall, who she knew was still working as a professor here, or even Peeves the annoying poltergeist.

But instead, it was Albus Dumbledore who was smiling at her warmly from the other side of the doorway.

"Ah, Airelle, it is stupendous to see you again," he said, warm blue eyes still twinkling as much as she remembered them to. "Word of your great achievements as an Auror have reached me even here."

"Headmaster-- I-- thank you-- I didn't--"

"Don't worry, no one ever expects me to be at the door," he replied, a smile crossing his features. "Come inside, you must be cold. I am dreadfully sorry about the weather, but it was imperative for you to come. I just did not expect for there to be so-- intense a wind out there."

"It's nothing, really," said Airelle, following him into the warmth of the hallway and closing the door.

Dumbledore had not been facing her when she said it, but he turned around. "But I daresay you have flown in stronger winds before, hmm?" he asked.

Airelle laughed. If you only knew how strong, she thought. "Yes, Headmaster, both literally and figuratively."

Another smile, and a twinkle of the eyes. "Well, you should find no problem with our students then," he said as some of the aforementioned students passed by, taking some backward looks at her, the newcomer. "They are as well-behaved as they were in your day."

In your day. Sounds like such a long time. "I hope they are not," laughed Airelle as they, surprisingly, walked not in the direction of the Great Hall, but into a long and dark corridor on the left. "If you remember, the students in my day were not exactly your typical cherubims."

"True," Dumbledore chuckled. "Of course, James Potter and his whole crew… and then you, you were quite a troublemaker yourself."

Airelle smiled. Inside, she felt like crying. Severus Snape had nearly always gotten into trouble alongside her… What was I thinking when I agreed to teach here? she thought.

"Inside, please," said Dumbledore, pointing to a non-descript wooden door at the end of the hallway. Airelle looked around. She had been so immersed in her thoughts that she'd forgotten which corridor they were in. Although… it looked vaguely familiar… But why would Dumbledore bring her here? She had expected the Great Hall, his office, maybe the staff room. Why here?

Nevertheless, she shrugged mentally and walked into the little room. Dumbledore, however, remained outside in the hallway.

"Make yourself comfortable," he said as Airelle glanced back at him in puzzlement. "I shall return shortly. Oh," he added before closing the door, with a hint of another smile, "and do not venture off, please. I cannot afford to have prospective teachers wandering about the school in the middle of the night." And then, he closed the door, leaving Airelle on her own.

"Make yourself comfortable?" said Airelle out loud to herself. What was Dumbledore doing, leaving her here-- and where did he go, in any case? Airelle fought the urge to take a peek outside the door, and forced herself to take a look around the room instead. It looked old, unused, musty… and there was something…

And suddenly, she knew where she was. And with it, she remembered…

The room was bare, stripped of all ornaments and decorations, devoid of everything but a few candles for light and two chairs, positioned on opposite sides of the room so they'd be facing each other. Dust hung in the air, and there was a cobweb in one corner between the wall and ceiling, where a single spider was watching a very rare thing in the room. Visitors.

The boy and the girl sat opposite each other, with the former looking at the floor and the latter at the wall. They had already been sorted – he into Slytherin, she into Ravenclaw. So why were they here, on their very first night at Hogwarts, together in a quiet room instead of their respective dormitories and noisy common rooms with the rest of the students? Ah, that was an easy question. A young teacher named Professor McGonagall – yes, that was her name – and an old man with a beard called Dumbledore had locked them in here. They did not seem to be too angry, but Dumbledore had said something about 'resolving their differences.' They had been inside the room, in total silence, for about thirty minutes.

The girl was getting hungry. Dumbledore had said that they'd eat after they talked to each other. She supposed they were in here for fighting outside the castle as they were waiting for the main doors to be opened. The boy had called her some name -- was it Mudblood? -- and it was not a nice name, from what her new friends on the train had told her. So, she had hit him and soon, the two were rolling on the floor when a big man called Hagrid pulled them apart, and then the door opened and McGonagall saw them--

The girl sighed. The boy had a cloth on his forehead with something they called a Healing Potion soaked into it. She supposed it would make him feel better. She did not know if he was sulking because he was angry with her or because the bruise hurt.

She looked at him again. From what she could see behind the cloth, he looked very unhappy. He was rather tall for his age, skinny, and pale, like he had not been in the sun for a very long time. His eyes were black and sparkly, and he had a long nose and thin lips. She tilted her head to one side.

"Did I hurt you very bad?" she asked, sliding a little on her chair.

"What is it to you, Mudblood?" he replied, scowling at her and wincing because of the bruise in the process.

She just continued to look at him. He felt her gaze and glanced up.

"What are you staring at?" he snapped. She did not flinch.

"I was just wondering if you called me that because you really hate Mudbloods, or because you just do not know my real name."

Airelle smiled. Snape had not been able to answer that question. And that's what had begun their friendship--

But why was she here, in this same room? Why was Dumble—

But she did not have time to think. Because then, the door opened once again, and Dumbledore came in. But it was not Dumbledore who made Airelle nearly fall backwards in shock.

It was the person behind him.

To be continued…

A/N: Next chapter up soon, hopefully. I have so much work to do… term papers…projects… God, can't a girl get a break on Easter Vacation??