Pearly moonbeams trickled in through the tall windows in the Great Hall of Hogwarts, bathing the vacant room in a misty silver hue. A cloaked figure darted along past the four long house tables, trying hard not to make a sound. He moved quickly without running, his slipper-clad feet whispering softly as they brushed against the stone floor beneath them.
It was such a thrill to sneak around Hogwarts at night, to navigate its winding corridors and twisting passages, all the while relying on nothing more than wits and memory to avoid trick steps, angry caretakers, or wandering professors.
However, tonight he was feeling anything but excited. A scowl crossed his face as he recalled the earlier events of his evening.
Less than a half hour ago he'd been heading to the astronomy tower, but on the way he'd nearly been killed by some foul three-headed beast on the third floor. It had taken him ten hair-raising, agonizing minutes to escape the monster; in that time the two of them had been so loud that he was sure a professor had heard them. He was on his way back to his dormitory now, keeping his senses alert for anyone who might see him.
His heart was thudding relentlessly against his ribcage. It seemed he was becoming more and more anxious as he drew closer to the safety of his common room. Surely a professor would leap out of the shadows and give him an earful for being out so late.
Suddenly he skidded to a halt, his posture rigid as he listened carefully. Had he just heard -
Footsteps? Ghosts don't make footsteps. People make footsteps.
Yes, there they were again – and they were coming closer! The sound of heavy, echoing boots was quite clear now. By listening for another heartbeat, he could tell that he was going to have some company in only a few moments.
His palms beginning to clam up, he whirled around, desperately seeking a statue or an alcove he could duck in to hide himself, but the hallway he was standing in was thin and featureless.
With a shaking hand, he brushed his long black hair out of his face and prayed that whoever was approaching wouldn't spot him.
The footsteps stopped. He held his breath, pressing his back as close to the cool wall as he possibly could, hoping, hoping, hoping he would not be seen -
"Mr. Snape." A wand was lit and held inches away from his nose, obscuring his view of the other person's face, but from the voice alone he knew exactly who had stopped him. "What a surprise to see you here. Sneaking around the castle past curfew is an offense punishable with a detention."
"Professor Potter," he replied, struggling to keep his voice neutral. Of all the professors he could have run into! He had just the luck to run into the most arrogant, insufferable one of the bunch. He did his best to put on an innocent expression. "I-I was just on my way back to the dungeons -"
"Really?" The tone in Potter's voice made it clear to Severus that he wasn't being taken seriously. "And where were you coming from?"
"I was...uh..." Oh, how he loathed Potter, the Defense Against the Dark Arts professor and head of Gryffindor house. "I was...coming from the bathroom." Severus wanted to slap himself for coming up with such a lame excuse.
"The bathroom? Is there something wrong with the toilets in the Slytherin dungeon, Mr. Snape?"
"The view's better from up here," he replied stiffly.
"I'm sure it is." Severus could hear the smirk in Potter's voice as he said, "I've heard that the view from the Owlery is fantastic, though. I think you deserve to spend a few hours there tomorrow evening, tidying it up. What do you think?"
"I...think that's a wonderful idea, professor," he spat back, unable to keep the venom from his voice.
Professor Potter lowered his wand and Severus could finally see the other man clearly. The light from the wand reflected strangely in Potter's round glasses and it cast long shadows across his face, nearly hiding his famous scar completely. "You'll be sweeping the Owlery withoutmagic." He held the Slytherin's gaze for another moment. "You are dismissed."
Severus immediately swept past him without another word, furious with the Gryffindor professor.
An hour after Severus had his confrontation with Professor Potter, a shorter, thinner, more feminine figure hurried stealthily up a flight of stairs. Without warning, the steps detached at the top from the landing and the whole staircase began to swivel around. The sudden change in momentum shook her off her feet, and in her haste, she stumbled, banging her knee hard on the solid stone step.
"Darn it," she muttered to herself, rubbing her throbbing kneecap. Moving with a limp now, she shuffled up the rest of the steps until she got to the landing. Fortunately, she didn't have far to go after that before she found herself standing in front of the portrait hole.
"Niffler -" she began, saying the password that would let her into the Gryffindor common room. She blinked. The Fat Lady was gone. "No," she gasped. Her bum leg trembled and she sat down, staring helplessly at the blank canvas."The perfect ending to a horrible night," she grumbled. "Why has everything gone wrong?"
With a miserable sigh, she leaned back against the wall, wondering when the Fat Lady would return. It was a well-known fact among the Gryffindors that the Fat Lady had a drinking problem – on a few occasions she'd been discovered passed out in the old warlock's wine cellar a few floors down. She rested her chin in her hands and brushed a lock of hair out of her face.
Even if she does return, she might be too smashed to remember the password...
She wasn't going to be able to get inside. If a professor discovered her there this morning curled up beneath the portrait, she would most likely get in trouble, not to mention her back wouldn't forgive her for a week.
This wouldn't have happened to her if she hadn't been so gullible! He had told her to meet him at the astronomy tower tonight...and she'd waited for him to come, but she'd sat up there all by herself for nearly an hour. She felt like such a fool for actually believing Severus would keep to his word.
Just then, the portrait swung open with a soft creak and a familiar, though unwelcome head poked out of the entryway.
"Oi! I was wondering where you'd gone!"
She glared at the upside-down face of James Potter above her. "Did you stay up again to wait for me?"
"Er, well -" A sheepish look crept onto his face and he nervously scratched the back of his neck. "I was worried, Lil."
"Don't call me that," she snapped. "And don't stay up waiting for me, either!"
"What can I say? I'm hopelessly in love," came the smug reply. James grinned down at her. She could have slapped him. "Need a hand up?"
"I'm perfectly capable of standing up by myself," she retorted as she clumsily made her way to her feet.
"What happened to your leg? Are you all right?"
For an instant, Lily almost felt like smiling at James, because he was wearing such a sincere expression of concern. But that moment disappeared as quickly as it had arrived, and she responded quickly with, "I tripped on the steps. I'm fine."
"Here, let me help you -"
Before she could protest, his hand closed around hers and he helped to pull her through into the common room. As the portrait closed behind them, he still hadn't let go. He gave her hand a slight squeeze before he released his grasp.
"Thank you," she said in a very small voice, taking a step back from him. She didn't like being very close to him.
"You're welcome. Now, are you going to tell me where you were tonight?"
"Why are you always worrying about me?" she said exasperatedly. "You're such a nag!"
"You were seeing him again, weren't you?"
"I'm too tired for this," she muttered. Lily pushed him out of her way and climbed the stairs to the safety of the girls' dormitories.
"Don't ignore me!"
"I'm going to bed!" she called over her shoulder.
"Lily," he said quietly, and she turned around. "Just come and talk to me."
She hesitated ever so slightly, her feet frozen on the scarlet and gold carpeted steps.
"Please?" There was a gentle, yet insistent tone in his voice. "Let's sit down and talk. Give me five minutes."
"I'm going to bed, James."
Without waiting for a reply, she continued up the rest of the stairs. The soft echo of a closing door traveled down to him, and James was left standing in the empty common room, the faint crackling of the fire the only thing left keeping him company.
Severus was in a bad mood all of the next day, knowing what waited for him that evening. He snapped at everyone who tried to talk to him and he skipped dinner in the Great Hall, instead choosing to go to the Owlery and finish his detention early.
Hooting owls and the stale scent of the dry, dusty Owlery greeted him as he stepped into the tower. Floating in midair before him was a sealed envelope bearing his name. Severus snatched it out of the air and tore it open, reading:
Kindly sweep and mop the floors until 10 PM. Also, don't forget to make sure that all of the owls have food and water. I know Hedwig gets cranky when she isn't fed, and when she's cranky she likes to bite witless students.
Professor H. Potter
PS – Don't worry about house-elves interfering with your work. I've already made sure none of them will show up to bother you.
Severus groaned out loud as the letter disintegrated and a broom, a mop, and a pail of water appeared in its place. He glanced up at the old clock on the wall. Six o'clock – four more hours of back-breaking labor fit for a Muggle! Severus angrily kicked the pail over, but the water simply fell back into the bucket as it magically righted itself. The broom flew into his hands, like it couldn't wait to get started sweeping up dust and dry bird droppings. Shoulders sagging, Severus began to set about tidying up the Owlery.
He glanced over his shoulder. It was James Potter, and he looked like he was ready to cause some trouble.
"What do you want, Potter?"
"I'm just here to send a letter," he replied, crossing his arms and leaning casually against the doorframe.
"Well then get on with it. I'm not in your way."
Severus watched cautiously as James strutted toward him and then paused.
"Actually, I do think you're in my way, Snivelly. My dad said you were skulking about the castle last night. Mind telling me where you were off to?"
Severus dropped the broom and reached for his wand. "Why do you care, Potter?"
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw James draw his wand and spin it casually in his hand. The other boy shot a cocky grin back at him. "I think you were up to something, and as prefect, it's my responsibility to make sure this school stays safe."
"You're only a bloody prefect because you've got a famous father," he spat back.
"Jealous?" He raised an eyebrow and scoffed at Severus, who glowered at him. "You didn't answer my question."
"Where I was last night is not your concern."
"Oh, I do believe it is. You weren't trying to sneak any of your Death Eater friends into the school, were you?"
"I am not a Death Eater," he responded stiffly, feeling his fist clench around his wand. "I was doing nothing of the sort!"
"Then surely you won't mind telling me where you were. If you weren't planning on hurting people, then there's no harm in letting me know what you were doing."
He glared at James. "Sod off, Potter."
"Being uncooperative now, are we?"
Severus shouted out the counter-jinx just as James belted out, "Levicorpus!"
The two spells blasted into each other and both boys were knocked back. James was on his feet first, but he was on the floor a moment later when Severus hit him with a tripping jinx. A missed hex flew by Severus' head and hit an owl, turning it into a frightened little mouse.
The commotion had so far riled up the other owls, and upon spotting the mouse, some of them began to swoop down past the two boys and dive at it. Scared out of its mind, the mouse scampered away under James and Severus, and soon they were too busy batting at the upset owls to throw any spells at each other.
"Potter! You idiot!"
"Don't start with me, Snivelly! Tarantallegra!"
"Protego," stated a calm, female voice.
The spell bounced off of an ethereal white shield into the wall where it fizzled harmlessly. The boys turned at once to face the newcomer, both of them quick to drop their wands and point fingers.
"I was attacked -"
"Snape tried to -"
The Transfiguration professor looked icily at both of them, her steely eyes shooting laser beams through the backs of their heads. It was more than enough to silence them. Severus noticed that she was holding a quivering mouse in her hand. With a quick tap of her wand, the mouse morphed back into a tawny barn owl and flew gratefully back up to its perch; another wave of her wand sent a blinding flash of light high up to the top of the Owlery, and the owls in the air followed it up and outside.
Severus thought he could almost hear Potter's heart beating in his chest, since the room was now so eerily quiet.
James was the first to speak. "Professor Granger, please -"
"Not another word, James."
"But Snape -"
She sighed. "Severus Snape. Honestly, why can't you two call each other by your first names?"
The two boys each shot venomous glances at each other.
"Severus provoked me into attacking him, Professor."
"Is that so? You should be ashamed of yourself, James. You're a prefect – you shouldn't be attacking anyone at all, provoked or not!"
Severus couldn't help but smile at hearing this.
"And Severus," Professor Granger said sadly, shaking her head. "Both of you are so brilliant...but why on earth can't either of you behave yourselves?" She sighed again, pinching the bridge of her nose. "Caught fighting again...I'll have to send you to see the Headm-"
"No! You can't!" cried James. "Dad'll have a conniption if I get sent up there again!"
"I'm sorry, James," she stated flatly, "but the two of you are becoming a real pain in the arse."
"But I'll lose my prefect's badge!"
"That's something you should have thought about before you tried to attack another student!"
James raised his arms in the air. "I thought you and dad were supposed to be friends! Help me out!"
Professor Granger spun around and glared at James. "One more word out of you or I'll silence you!" she growled. Then, more mildly, she added, "And the same goes for you, Severus."
They wordlessly followed her out of the Owlery and into the castle.
Harry Potter leaned back in his creaky wooden chair and stretched his arms out. Piled up in neat stacks on his polished wood desk were fifty-one essays on the Patronus Charm, given to him by his sixth year students. It was late afternoon, but the sun still hadn't faded below the horizon yet, so golden rays lazily filtered in through the curtained windows in his private office and warmed up the place.
All around the room were various personal objects and artifacts he'd collected in his younger years, when Lord Voldemort had still been a threat. Untidy bookshelves with well-worn leather tomes sitting on their shelves filled up an entire wall. Hanging on a rack behind his desk was his first broom, a Cleansweep Four, and leaning against his bed was his newer Firebolt. Autographed pictures of Quidditch stars lined the walls, but they were outnumbered by pictures of his friends and family. In a glass case by the fireplace his first wand lay side-by-side with Voldemort's wand on a velvet cushion; both were completely useless now – in the last battle, both of their magical components had been destroyed, so they were now useless pieces of hollowed-out wood.
A white spark shot out of a chalice sitting on the fireplace's mantle, and Harry smiled to himself. He had set up his message chalice to let him know when the boy had reported to the Owlery for his detention.
"Looks like Severus showed up early then," he murmured to himself.
Straightening his glasses out on his nose, he reached for one of the essays when the flames in his fireplace jumped and turned emerald.
He stood up and knelt over by the fire, suppressing the urge to simply ignore the fire call. "Ginny. What can I do for you?"
The beautiful young woman smiled shyly at him. When he didn't smile back, she began a little hesitantly, "It's Friday."
"Yes, I know," he answered plainly.
"You aren't coming," she said, a sad look on her face.
"Listen, Ginny, I've got a lot of essays to grade this weekend. I just can't drop all of that."
"You haven't come over for Fridays in so long...Mum's been asking about you, and Dad has too, lately."
In the last few years, as the Weasley family had shrunk in the final years of the war, Mrs. Weasley had started a new tradition of inviting her entire clan over for dinner at the Burrow on Friday evenings. Harry had always been invited too...
"What about James? Is he coming?"
"I'll be sure to ask him."
There was a pregnant silence, and then:
"Come over for her, then, if you won't come over for me. Mum misses you."
The way she'd said it had been so simple, so innocent. There was not a hint of bitterness or poison in her words. But when he looked into her eyes he could see the hurt was still there, and a part of him wanted to comfort her, but he knew that he didn't – he couldn't – travel down that road again.
"I can't, Ginny."
She pursed her lips, nodding slowly.
Her head disappeared from his fireplace and the flames returned to their regular colors. Harry leaned back and sighed heavily, unable to keep his thoughts from wandering back onto their failed relationship. It had felt so right at the time, but other things had come into their life, and he'd found that while he could save the wizarding world, he had been too preoccupied to save his marriage. Now, with the war sixteen years in the past, there was a whole new set of challenges and distractions that were preoccupying him...
There was a knock on his door, interrupting his thoughts.
The door clicked and then fell open, revealing a tall, lanky boy with auburn hair. He wore half-moon spectacles and bowed his head respectfully as he entered.
"Ah, Albus," he said, greeting the Head Boy with a smile. "What can I do for you?"
"Professor Granger wanted me to tell you to go to the Headmistress' office."
"Did she say why?"
Albus shook his head. "She only said that it was important."
"Very well, then. Thank you, Albus."
Severus knew that he hadn't done anything wrong.
Or at least nothing severely wrong.
So as he stood on the spiral steps as they rose steadily up to the Headmistress' office, he let his mind wander. To his side, Potter looked like an absolute nervous wreck – which was a look he thought suited the younger Potter just fine. He hoped he'd see that look more often in the future.
However, more interesting than Potter was Professor Granger. Severus had always thought very highly of her for her sheer genius and innate magical ability which she displayed routinely in her Transfigurations class. His admiration for her had come from afar in the past, as he'd never paid much more attention to her beyond than when he sat in her classroom. He'd never wondered once about her personal life – but now that he was up close to her, he could see there were dark circles beneath her eyes and she looked very, very tired.
Before his thoughts could go any further, the steps came to a stop.
Professor Granger rapped smartly on the ornate wood door, and a voice called out from inside, "Enter, please."
The door swung open by itself and the three stepped into the Headmistress' office.
Before them, the floor was covered by a plush, violet carpet. Matching armchairs were arranged by the fireplace, and hanging above the mantle was a bust of a hideous-looking creature with an unusually long neck and a drooping tongue. The windows were shrouded by faintly shimmering curtains, and lined up next to them were not bookshelves, but dozens of uneven, slanting drawers. They looked like they'd been pulled out of a dresser and stuck haphazardly into the wall.
The ceiling went much higher up than Severus would have expected, and numerous hovering candles provided a soft, warm glow for the room, much like the Great Hall.
Behind the desk, a whole section of drawers opened up like a single door and out walked their Headmistress, Professor Luna Lovegood.
"Professor Granger," she said airily.
"Professor Lovegood," came the humorless reply. Severus suspected that Professor Granger was slightly jealous that Lovegood had earned the position of Headmistress. "I found these two fighting again. This is the seventh time in two months!"
"Please, calm down, Professor. Have a seat. All of you." She gestured to the armchairs. "And if you'll please remove your shoes, as well. The Poxies don't like being stepped on."
Severus noticed for the first time that the Headmistress' bare feet were poking out from underneath the bottom of her robe. Stifling the desire to roll his eyes, he took his shoes off and took a seat.
"I believe we are waiting for one more person..." murmured the Headmistress.
As if that had summoned him, Professor Potter opened the door, politely removing his shoes as he entered the office.
"Professor Lovegood?" he asked, upon seeing his son in the room. "Is everything all right?" Then he caught a glimpse of Severus and he froze. "What's happened?"
"Have a seat, Harry."
He sat down uncomfortably next to Hermione, since there were no other places available.
"Please, Hermione, tell us what happened," asked Luna.
Soon, everyone was filled in on the situation, and Harry was looking very annoyed with his son.
"James, a word with you."
They went outside and sat on the spiral steps, the large wooden door ensuring their privacy from the others.
"You know Luna and I have to choose another Gryffindor prefect now."
"You can't...are you really?"
Harry shrugged and sighed. "I don't think you're setting a good example for our house. What's your problem with Severus?"
"He's a Death Eater," spat out James.
"His father was a Death Eater. And he was executed years ago. Believe me, if Severus had the Dark Mark, I would know about it."
"What's that supposed to mean?" demanded Harry.
"I don't know," replied James evasively.
He scowled at his fifteen-year-old son. "What's gotten into you? You've been misbehaving all year."
"I don't know, just leave me alone!"
"No, I want you to tell me what's going on with you and Severus!"
"I don't know," he repeated.
Harry let out a tired, exasperated sigh. "Is there something else that's bothering you?"
Neither of them said anything for a moment, and then Harry said quietly, "Mum wants to know if you're going to the Burrow for dinner tonight."
"Are you going?"
"Why don't you ever come, Dad?"
"I don't want to talk about this now. Just go use the Floo in my office, you know the password to get in."
James knew there was no use in asking anything else. His father could be an incredibly stubborn, private person when he wanted to be. He left down the steps without saying another word.
When all was said and done with James, Severus, and the Headmistress, the only real punishment had been the decision to revoke James' status as prefect. Their next choice for prefect had been the quiet and somewhat reserved Remus Lupin. Harry stared blankly at the prefect's badge sitting on his desk. He would give it to Remus sometime tomorrow, in private. He didn't want to make a big deal out of the fact that his son was turning into a delinquent, but he knew that there would be nothing he could do to stop the rumor mill from churning out stories about how James was no longer a prefect.
It was dark in his office; he had extinguished all the lamps in the room when he'd returned from the Headmistress' office. Even though it was only nine o'clock, it felt much, much later than that, and his body felt so sore. He quickly changed out of his robes and into something more comfortable for bed, when there was a soft tapping on his door.
He knew that tapping, recognized it.
"Come in," he said quietly.
The door was magically bound to open if he said those words and it did, letting Hermione Granger into his office.
"I'm sorry, were you going to sleep?" She hesitated in the doorway. "I can leave. You know what, I'll just go, I'm sorry I bothered you -"
"No, please stay." With a wave of his hand, a few of the lamps in his room lit up, illuminating the office dimly. "Have a seat. Do you want a drink?"
Hermione eased herself into a chair by his fireplace. She sagged down into the cushions, exhausted. "Do you have any alcohol?"
"I haven't got any Ogden's...but I've got hard pumpkin juice."
He conjured up two drinks and sat down across from her. "So what brings you here?"
"I just wanted someone to talk to."
He gave her a brittle smile, remembering how things used to be between them, and Ron, all those years ago. "I'm afraid I'm not very good company these days, Hermione."
"Please, let's just talk."
"Fine. You start."
Hermione sighed and fixed him with a melancholy gaze. She stared at him a moment longer and then said something that caught Harry completely off-guard. "When was the last time you flew on that thing?" she asked, pointing at his Firebolt.
"Your broom. When was the last time you flew?"
Harry thought for a second. "I went down to London -"
"For the Dark Arts summit?"
"That was seven months ago, Harry."
He shrugged helplessly. "I'm busy. You should know, we're both bloody professors," he said, allowing a small smile to show.
"Yes, I do know," she murmured softly.
"So..." he started, "why did you ask me that...?"
Once again she fixed him with a piercing stare. Even though she looked at him with tired eyes, he still felt like she was seeing straight to his bones. At last she said, "You just don't look like you're happy. And I remember, once upon a time, that flying used to make Harry Potter happy. Tell me, Harry, are you happy?"
He was startled to notice his drink was empty, so he quickly refilled it. "Want some more juice? Um, well – are you happy, Hermione?" he questioned, a bit uncertainly, since he was unsure of where this conversation was heading.
"...What's wrong, Hermione?" Harry watched, amazed, as she downed her full glass and then slammed it on the coffee table in front of them. "Hermione?"
"It's...it's Ron, Harry!"
"Oh, no," he said, spotting the tears forming in her eyes. He suddenly remembered that not only was today just any old Friday, it was the exact date that their best friend had passed away. "No, Hermione, don't cry -" he reached out feebly to hold her hand and she clenched on tightly "- please, just..."
She was sobbing now. Harry stood up and moved over to her, wrapping her up in a hug, patting her awkwardly on the back.
"I miss him so much!"
"There, there," he murmured dumbly, feeling like a complete idiot because he had nothing else to say to her. He wore an emotionless expression as he held her in his arms for a few minutes, letting her sob onto his shoulder.
How long had it been now? Ron had died two years before the end of the war... Eighteen years. And Harry had somehow managed to push it out of his mind and move on. He felt a bit selfish all of a sudden, and he blushed.
Hermione was quiet now, but she was still holding on tightly to him, and Harry realized with a start that she was speaking, although so softly he could barely hear her even though she was in his arms.
"...we were going to have kids and name them...we were going to name them..." She gasped and a sob escaped her lips. "We never named them, Harry. We always said we'd figure it out someday... How...how fortunate you are to have had at least one child, Harry."
She pulled away from him, and although her face was stained with tears, she smiled at him. It was a delicate, pretty thing, her smile was, and for just one heartbeat, Harry felt like he was seventeen again, and Hermione was once again his best friend in the world. However, Hermione wasn't his best friend anymore. Time and tragedy had pulled them apart.
"I'm sorry, Hermione," he said, his chest feeling as hollow as his words. "I miss him too."
It didn't look like she'd heard him. She was still smiling, though it was a sad and fragile smile now.
He never got a chance to finish his sentence because Hermione closed the distance between them and kissed him. It was a simple kiss, as far as kisses go, but there was an element of pure need in it from both of them. However, before it could turn into something more, Harry jerked back, shocked at what he'd just done.
"Hermione..." he breathed, avoiding her eyes.
"Harry," she pleaded, reaching for his hands, but he backed away even farther.
"I think you should go now. It'd be best. For both of us."
"Harry," she repeated.
"Don't do this, Hermione."
With a last, forlorn look at him, she turned and left his room.
Some people have mentioned that the character roles are a little confusing to understand within the context of the story, so let me try to explain a little bit.
All of the characters are who they are in the books, including the Marauder-era characters like James, Severus, and Lily. However, because their parents are different, these same characters were brought up differently and are a little different than how we remember them being in the books. Hope that clears some issues up!