Winter Once Again

By: Airelle Vilka

Chapter 3 – Resolution

The room had nothing in it, save for them and a few candles; even the two chairs from that long time ago were gone.

Airelle's first words to him were not, "Oh, dear God," or "What are you doing here?" or "I cannot believe I'm seeing you for the first time in twenty years!" In fact, they were simply:

"Does he know?" She meant Dumbledore, of course, by that question. But she did not need to explain it to him. She never did.

Snape blinked at her, as if believing he was having a hallucination. It must have taken him some time to register the question, because it was a while before the response came.

"He knows more than you do," he replied. His voice was deeper than it had been when he was young, but now it was hoarse. Perhaps it was from the surprise, but it sounded like he'd been stricken with something for a while, maybe a sore throat.

Airelle did not move from her place. What stupid, silly things to think about – if he had a sore throat or not. When there were so many questions to be asked. Questions that had plagued her ever since her own graduation.

She perused his eyes with hers, but all she could gain from them is the aura of tiredness, and worry. Dumbledore had done it on purpose, bringing them together like this. That's how he grabbed her as soon as she resigned from the Ministry. But why—

"Why are you here?" asked Snape, tilting his head slightly to one side, long black hair falling slightly over his face, just as she remembered it to.

"I might ask you the same question."

"I asked first."

"Dumbledore hired me as a teacher."

"What subject?"

"Illusions."

"That hasn't been taught since Professor Atkins retired."

"I know. Dumbledore said the school could offer it again, since I was proficient enough in it."

Snape did not answer. It seemed as though he was still not ready to move, as if he'd keel over if he tried to step forward. Airelle fought the urge to shake him, hurt him, hug him--

BLAST IT ALL!! she thought, irritated at herself. He left everything for the Death Eaters. He was part of Voldemort's followers. Why was he here now? She had not even wanted to see him again—or had she? Wasn't it just a while ago that she was wondering what had happened to him?

Well, now she had a chance to find out. But why was she so afraid to ask?

"Dumbledore knows you are a Death Eater?" she voiced her thoughts out loud. Snape looked at her as if she were insane. And then, she could see a mental conflict in his eyes, like some torrent happening right beneath the surface of a lake. What was he thinking behind those black eyes of his?

"Was," he replied suddenly.

She raised her eyebrows. "Excuse me?"

"I was a Death Eater," said Snape, not taking his eyes off her. "Now… I teach Potions here at Hogwarts."

What a simple answer that was. No explanation, no anything. Just as if he was saying he used to work for Madam Rosmerta, and now switched jobs. No 'I was a follower of the most evil wizard in the world, and now, for a reason that I haven't told you yet, I left the Death Eaters. And Dumbledore allowed me, instead of turning me over to an Auror like you, to be sent over to Azkaban.' Just that simple response, and no more. Too many questions were flooding Airelle's mind, and she had no idea where to start, or whether Snape was telling her the truth at all. He had betrayed her once… why not again?

"That's it?" she asked, shaking either out of fear, anger, or anticipation. "Great explanation."

A grim smile crossed his face for the first time. "I am certain you're confused."

"Confused?" she erupted. She did not want to yell at him, but she did. "Confused doesn't even begin to cover it!! I have not seen you for twenty years… you left me crying that night-- do you hear me, CRYING for the first time!!-- and now, all you can say is that I'm confused!?"

Snape stared at her. "Do not scream, I can hear you just fine."

Airelle was so shocked that she stopped yelling and looked at him. There was definitely something different about him. Could he have really left the Death Eaters? But why??

"All right," she breathed. "Let us start over, then. Hello, how are you? It has been twenty years since we'd last seen each other. I have just finished working for the Ministry as an Auror. Now, what the hell have YOU been doing?"

Snape smiled. "Blatant, as always. You have not changed." He sighed. "Very well then, I shall tell you. For the last fifteen years or so, I have not been with the Death Eaters. Before that, I worked as a spy for Dumbledore. And now, fate has made it so I must take up that job again."

Airelle sank onto the floor, as if her two legs could not support her. "No, I cannot believe it. You still bear--"

"The Dark Mark," he finished for her, rolling up his sleeve and bringing flashbacks of Graduation Night. The mark was still there, faded a little, but still a contrast against his pale skin, branded into him. "Yes, it shall never leave, no matter how much I want it to. I cannot run away from my past, and neither can you."

She looked up. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"It means," he explained, finally walking closer, "that it is time you knew the truth."

"Truth? Truth about what?"

"About why Fudge would not let you resign."

Airelle paled. "How do you know about that?"

"I understand now," said Snape. "I understand everything. I was just surprised Dumbledore would bring you here. This is why I was so shocked when I met you. But now… now I understand it all, what had happened."

"Good, because I am in the dark."

"Dumbledore spoke to Fudge. He did not want to let you go, because you were a good Auror…"

"Why?"

Snape looked at her, eyes very serious. "Just in case we were right."

"Right about what? I don't understand…"

"Neither did Fudge, apparently," mused Snape, crouching down so he'd be at eye level with her. "That's why he, at first, did not wish for you to resign. But then, an owl from Dumbledore came, hinting that if Fudge was so certain of himself, he had nothing to worry about."

"Wha—"

"After that letter, he still hesitated, but then… his foolish pride took over, and he let you go. And Dumbledore, of course, immediately called you here. I did not know about that. I supposed he, as always, wanted to make a statement. And now I see that it was a good move. You would be protected here, at Hogwarts."

"Protected from what?" Airelle pleaded. "What is going on? Why didn't Fudge let me resign at first, and then—"

Snape interrupted her with three little words that answered all those questions. Words that nearly made her faint.

"Voldemort has returned."

Airelle let out a proverbial gasp and stared at him in horror. "No, it cannot be… Voldemort's dead--gone-- why-- how--"

Snape put a hand to his lips. "Trust me, I know for certain. One of our students was murdered by him last year."

"What?" Airelle could not believe this news had not reached her. It was true that she and her squad had been away in Afghanistan on a mission for months, and could not contact anybody…but Fudge should have—

And then, she realized something.

"Fudge doesn't believe you, does he?"

Snape shook his head. "Young Potter was almost murdered by the Dark Lord as well. It is with Potter's blood that he has risen again, in a new body. I am surprised that you did not find out sooner. But then again, many of his Death Eaters either… were too afraid, after what they did-- like Karkaroff – to return… or simply did not heed the call of the Dark Mark. Perhaps that is why none of the Death Eaters you had been after, especially in other countries, were too responsive."

"Did you—"

"Yes. The Dark Mark burned in my arm as well. But I did not go. However… soon after Bartemius Crouch had attempted, in the form of Alastor Moody, to kill the Potter boy--Dumbledore asked me, at risk of my life, to return to Voldemort and take up my job as spy again."

Airelle bit her lip. "And did you?"

"I had no choice. I owe the Headmaster my freedom from the horrors of Azkaban I would have endured had I been caught by the likes of you."

Airelle sighed and shook her head, as if by doing it she could sort out all the thoughts that were careening through it. "Snape…"

"What?"

"I am overwhelmed. I do not even know if you're telling me the truth. But do not stop," she said hastily as he made to get up. "Please, tell me about what happened last year at this school."

Snape pursed his lips and grew graver than he had been before.

"Very well… But it is not pleasant."

Airelle's legs felt like they were going to fall off. They had been sitting on the floor in the middle of the room, opposite each other, for about two hours; it was almost midnight. But there was a great deal of things cleared up during that time – the whole incident of the fourth champion (during which Snape did a great deal of scowling), the last task of the Tournament, Voldemort's return, and the unfortunate destruction of Barty Crouch, Jr. by a Dementor's Kiss. Now, Airelle understood why Fudge refused to believe that Voldemort had come back. And why Snape had taken up his dangerous job again. Voldemort had, on Snape's return, planned to kill him then and there, but somehow (Snape did not want to mention the details) his life was spared. Now, Dumbledore was slowly getting the old crowd together to prepare them for Voldemort's return. Even Remus Lupin was part of the team. But strangely enough, Voldemort had not shown his nose since the summer, and Snape's mark, according to him, had not sizzled. Snape did not have any idea yet as to what the Dark Lord planned to do next. Whatever it was, surely it was not going to be delightful. Meanwhile, Snape still somehow managed to complete his daily routine without arousing the suspicion of the students.

Airelle sighed. At least she was happy that she'd resigned from the Ministry. If Fudge was so headstrong in his refusals to believe, Airelle would be dead before she even got a chance to fight Voldemort. She made a mental note to warn the rest of her squad. But surely, they knew about it by now. It was only the Muggle World, where she had spent the last month with her parents, that did not have any idea as to what horrors were brewing right under their noses. And thank heaven for that. Airelle could not imagine the chaos that would ensue if the Muggles found out about everything that was happening in the wizard world. As far as the latter goes, Snape told her that Dumbledore warned all the students at the end of last year about the Dark Lord's return. So, many knew, but were simply too stubborn to believe it. And Airelle could not blame them. She did not want to believe it too. But then again, she also did not want to believe that the ugly mark on her friend's arm was the Dark Mark. But you could not run away. You had to face it, better late than never.

And speaking of Snape… there was one thing that did not fit in with his whole story. The one thing that made her doubt his honesty. And she made up her mind. She'd ask him that very question.

"Snape?" she said after a long silence.

He looked up, almost the same little boy that had glanced the same way at her… in this same room, years ago.

"What is it?"

"Do you remember what you said to me that night?" she asked. Of course, she was sure he did. How could he not, if she remembered that entire conversation, word for word? Well, perhaps it had not mattered for him. Maybe he'd forgotten--

"Yes, I remember."

Oh, well, scratch that, she thought. "Do you remember how you told me what would happen if we ever faced each other again?"

He stared at her, and something swam underneath his gaze. With some reluctance, he replied, "Yes. I told you that if we ever met, we would be on different sides, and fight to the… well, as you put it, 'till death do us part.'"

Airelle sighed. Hearing it from him once again brought her a strange sort of comfort, almost a relief, as if she were reliving a nightmare and changing it in the process.

"Yes. Hmm… well, we face each other now."

He smiled. "But neither of us are what we used to be. You are an ex-Auror, and I am an ex-Death Eater, at least in theory."

Airelle fought the urge to smile back; she actually found what was supposed to be a serious statement quite amusing. "True… but still… Listen, everything you have said to me makes sense. And I want to believe you, I really do. But… I find it… so hard."

"I know," he said. "But that's what trust is all about, isn't it? Not knowing whether the person is telling the truth or not…"

She watched the candles drip wax, slowly, down their long stems. "I know, I know. There is something that you could answer me, though. It is the only thing that does not make sense, and if you tell it to me, I shall believe you."

His eyes looked at her, questioning, inquiring. "What do you want to know?"

Airelle took a long breath before replying. Perhaps it was just for dramatics, but maybe it was because she really needed it.

"Why did you leave the Death Eaters?"

Snape looked at her, as if trying to read something in her eyes. But soon, he turned his gaze away, almost disappointedly, as if her eyes had told him nothing.

Airelle licked her lips. "I shall not rise off this floor," she nearly echoed his words from so long ago, "until you give me an answer to my question. It is my turn to ask now."

Snape looked back at her, and there was a hint of dark amusement in his gaze. "Do you really want to know?" he asked.

"Damn right I do."

"Think about it," he smirked. "The truth is not always what you want to hear."

"I would give you nothing less than the truth if you asked," replied Airelle, staring back at him with a fire in her eyes.

"And thus, you deserve nothing less than the truth either, is that right?"

"You are very quick-witted, Professor Snape," she replied.

"Very well," he said. "A few minutes ago, I would have lied to you about it. But now, I see there is no point."

"Really? And why is—"

His look silenced Airelle faster than any sharp word could. She just stared at him, and decided to be quiet. Finally, he was going to tell her.

"You were right," he said, looking out into the half-darkness of the room, looking so young with his untidy black robes sprawled over the floor he was sitting on.

"About what?" She was curious.

"About us meeting again… that it would be a fight to the death."

"But we're not—"

"Listen to me for once," he said. Then, once he had her attention, Snape continued, "But I, as Americans would put it, 'bailed out' on that promise. It was not a fight to the death between us. In fact, it had been merely an exchange of short blows."

"What are you talking about? What does this have to do with your decision to leave the Death Eaters??"

Snape acted as if he were not hearing her. Like he was in some distant dream floating before him.

"You could have died, you know," he said. "You would have died. You had been so foolish and brave to brandish your wand and walk into the line of fire, with curses shooting back and forth all around you. But for your team, you used everything you knew to protect them. It makes me wonder if you should have been a—" he made a 'hmph' sound—"Gryffindor. You stared death in the face many times, Airelle, but never as close, I bet, as you did in that clearing."

Airelle stared at him, mouth agape so wide she could have swallowed a very large bug and not have noticed. "How do you know about--"

She stared at him some more, and understood. Finally.

"It was you, wasn't it?" she whispered. "You were the Death Eater who let me go."

Snape nodded so slightly that if Airelle hadn't been looking directly at him, she would have missed it.

"Now you know why I left. It had gone too far… When I stood there, staring down at you, I felt something that I thought had been long gone for years."

Airelle eyed him crossly. "If you say, 'love,' I'll seriously punch you."

Snape laughed darkly. "No, Airelle, it was much more painfully simple. Guilt. Pure and unadulterated, in all its authenticity. Try to understand… I had caused so much grief in the world that I did not notice my own… until the day I came this close to murdering my best friend."

Airelle stared at him, and did not know what to say. Finally, she tried, "I wish…"

"What?"

"I wish that it was winter once again."

"It is winter. Have you looked outdoors?"

"No, I mean, another winter. The one a long time ago. In our years at Hogwarts… where we had stood in that snowstorm… don't you remember?"

"I do," he said, with an incomprehensible look in his eyes. "But, Airelle, we cannot dwell on what might have happened. You know the truth now, and what you decide to do with it is up to you. It is another winter now, another task you must face. And I'm here. So what shall you do about it?"

"Why does this have to be so difficult?" she whispered, lowering her gaze to the floor.

Snape stood up, legs twitching painfully from their long time in one position. "It is never easy," he said. "But you know that already."

Airelle just nodded. She had gotten her answer from Snape, and thus let him help her stand up.

"Hmmm… you don't want my forgiveness, do you?" she murmured, looking up at him. "You just want me to understand why you did what you did. And why you came back."

"Perhaps the former shall come with time, if you are willing to embrace the latter," he mused, black eyes glittering. "I just do not know."

She laughed. It was so innocent, almost childlike. "But I think we shall figure it out, somehow."

"I do not doubt—" he was about to say, but was interrupted by Airelle's look.

"I know, I know…just be silent… for once," she imitated him, kissing him lightly on the cheek and not caring one single bit.

Needless to say, Snape was very surprised at this very-unlike-Airelle gesture. "What was that for?" he asked incredulously, and she laughed, wishing mentally she could frame that look of surprise on his face.

"Nothing in particular. Perhaps it is because you said once that I did not have enough spontaneity in me. Or maybe… because it has been nearly twenty years since I wanted to do this-- no, do not look surprised, I am terrified by the thoughts I've had as well-- and I cannot deny it."

Snape raised his eyebrows, and his lips were slowly showing the first hint of a twisted grin. "Thoughts? You have had…thoughts?"

Airelle shrugged, trying very hard to ignore the damned blush that she knew was going up her neck. Why did you say that, you maniac? First time you see him in so long, you both have been through so much, you still haven't forgiven him for the Death Eater thing, and all of a sudden, you start this? It's going to turn into sentimental mush! she scolded herself. Blasted, stupid, overactive teen-age hormones that are suddenly acting up in my mid-thirties… Wait, does that even make sense?

Snape, of course, was very amused by the discomfort that Airelle was going through, and she felt like fighting with him for smiling.

"What are you staring at?" she asked loudly, even though she was a few inches away from him. "You want a sock in the face?"

"Now I know the world's turning inside out," he grinned, "because Airelle Vilka, former Auror, toughest girl this side of the Atlantic, is actually admitting her—" and at this dark amusement passed through his eyes again like a wave--"feelings."

"Feelings? Look, you're the one who said it, and accentuated it, not I," she replied hotly, refusing to back off. "And look who's talking about being sentimental! You don't show this side of you to anyone, and yet right now you're invading my personal space with these… these… questions!"

Snape stared at her, confused. "That doesn't make any sense."

"I know," she replied monotonously, glaring up at him. She had always known his eyes sparkled when he was pleased with something. But this was a different kind of look. It was… almost frighteningly… captivating. Had she interpreted it wrong all these years, or was it something he'd acquired while they'd been apart?

"Now it is my turn," he suddenly said.

"To what?"

"To ask."

"Ask what?"

"What are you staring at?" he inquired.

"Your eyes," she answered without thinking, and immediately regretted saying it-- because Snape's black eyes narrowed, shining with a dangerous gleam. Not dangerous in the sense of scary… but… something else… something she could not explain yet. Maybe, thought Airelle, I need to see it through another pair of eyes… not as a friend, but…

"Really? Why?" he asked.

"Er… well," she began, sounding like an adolescent again, "I think they… umm…are very—dazzling." Oh, great, smooth move, Casanova, she told herself. Now he thinks his best friend's gone mad… In the back of her mind, something told her Casanova was a guy, but that did not matter at the moment.

"Oh, look, forget I said anything, hmm?" she asked, throwing her shoulders down in despair. "I don't know what the heck I'm doing…"

"But I do," he murmured, (in a tone that was extremely unlike his natural) leaning in and brushing her lips with his.

And a voice was awakened in Airelle's mind that shrieked like a madwoman on fire: Don't you dare! He's your best friend! And a former Death Eater, and you're throwing yourself into his arms! You're a pathetic excuse for an Auror, or an ex-Auror, or a woman in general! But at the same time, another voice piped up, as vociferously as the other one: Your first kiss, about time! This man's been your friend for how long again? You've stood by him for seven long years, and he left the Death Eaters for you! And come, come, Airelle, admit it, added the voice slyly as Snape nudged her mouth open and his tongue slid along hers, you're liking this, aren't you? Hmm? Oh, you great big flirt, you!

I AM NOT A FLIRT!! screamed Airelle into her own head as the second voice laughed hysterically. AND SHUT UP, THE BOTH OF YOU! GO AWAY BEFORE I HURT YOU, SEVERELY AND METICULOUSLY!

The second voice snickered. Cannot hurt your own heart, Airelle, can you?

And then, there was silence. Now, she was on her own, left to fend for herself as his hands slipped inside her robes and slid caressingly along her skin, making her gasp at every skillful, sizzling touch.

Oh, please, God, no, I don't want to do this… or maybe I do…but this is going so fast…no, I don't…yes, I do…no, I don't… wow, damn right I do… no, wait…

Airelle blinked once, twice. Snape was standing next to the doorway, his arms crossed, eyebrows raised, and his eyes questioning.

"What—where—"

He seemed annoyed. "Airelle…"

She stared at him, as if she beheld him for the first time. "Huh?"

He sighed in exasperation. "Airelle, did you hear a word I said?"

It took her only half a second to realize that the kiss…and everything afterwards… had all been a mere hallucination.

"Erm…..yes, of course," she said hastily, practically running towards the doorway and nearly smacking into him. She skidded to a stop when she was outside in the torchlight of the hallway and her friend was still in the room.

"Yes, of course, I heard…" she continued, "about the breakfast tomorrow. I shall find my room now, and I shall see you, like Headmaster Dumbledore said, bright and early. So… we'll have a good breakfast. Good-night." And Airelle took off like a shot down the corridor, leaving Severus Snape with the most bewildered look his face could have ever managed to achieve.

"Breakfast?" he muttered to himself. "I didn't say a word about breakfast…"

FINIS