Harry leaned against the banister overlooking the entrance hall. In the crowd of people saying good bye and wishing each other a happy Christmas he could discern a head with long bright orange hair. It was Ginny. Harry smiled sadly to himself. It was the first Christmas since Voldemort's downfall. People happily took farewell before going home to spend the holidays with their families.
Christmas had always been a time when Harry felt a bit down. Everything would have been so different if his parents had still been alive. He closed his eyes and imagined his mother, hugging him by the Christmas tree while he opened a present. She wore the same warm and beautiful smile as in all the pictures Harry had seen. The three of them sat together at the dinner table eating, talking and laughing.
Harry shook his head and snapped back into reality. This was precisely what he didn't like about Christmas. Self pity wouldn't bring his parents back to life. He had decided not to dwell too much on the past anymore and try to live in the present.
"Hey Harry!" A shout came from somewhere in the crowds. It was Ron.
Harry slowly descended the stairs. This was the moment to say good bye to his friends and wish them a happy Christmas.
"Are you sure you haven't changed your mind?" Ron said in a slightly pleading tone of voice.
"Harry already made it clear that he's not coming to the Burrow this year Ron. He needs a little time to himself." A voice said. It was sweet but at the same time resolute. Ginny had found her way to them through the crowd. She went to stand next to Harry.
"I promise its okay Ron. I won't even have time to think about Christmas for all the school work. I have at least ten potions to brew and somehow I have to come up with antidotes for each and every one of them."
Harry let out and audible sigh. How was he really going to manage all that? He had no idea. He only knew that he soon had to come up with one if he truly was planning on being accepted for the auror program next year.
"Yeah mate, good luck. I can imagine it won't be as easy as when you still had the Prince's…" Ron trailed off. He finished the sentence uncertainly. "I mean…his book."
Harry looked down at the ground. He hade gone almost an entire day without thinking about Snape. Ginny squeezed Harry's hand lightly. He met her eyes for a short second and knew that she understood him. He turned his attention back to Ron.
"Yeah, it will definitely be a lot trickier without it."
"Well, I guess we'll see you after Christmas then." Ron said.
"At least you won't be plagued by Celestina Warbeck."
Ginny made a perfect imitation of Celeatina's A Cauldron Full of Hot Strong Love. Everybody burst out laughing. Harry smiled his first genuine smile since ages.
"See you all soon!" Harry waved goodbye to Ron, George and Hermione. Ginny hugged him fiercely and gave him a light kiss on the cheek. She let go of his hand and smiled up at him with glistening eyes.
"Good bye Harry!" She said, and with that she was gone.
Harry lingered for a while to watch his friends go. He felt the familiar ache of loneliness as he once again was left to spend his Christmas holydays in the empty, deserted castle. He had to remind himself that he had actually made that choice.
The last people to leave the castle were a group of Slytherins. As Harry himself, they didn't seem all too affected by the cheery holiday spirit. Harry knew why. They had also lost people close to them in the war against Voldemort. The only thing that made them differ from Harry was that their close ones had died fighting for the wrong cause. He could not help but feeling sorry for them.
Harry turned and slowly started to walk toward the Gryffindor tower. His thoughts drifted back to Snape. To talk about Snape had become sort of a taboo. Since the downfall of Voldemort it seemed Snape had done everything to avoid confrontation with Harry. He was rarely seen in the castle. Harry saw him at meal times every now and then. He suspected he spent a lot of his time in the dungeons or somewhere outside of Hogwarts. Sometimes Harry thought he sensed Snape eying him from a far distance, but the moment he turned to look Snape determinedly looked away.
Harry sighed heavily to himself. He was still unsure of how he felt about Snape. He was the man who had made every effort to make every single day of Harry's life at Hogwarts as miserable as possible. He was also the man who had saved Harry's life more times than he could recall. He had been on Harry's side and had stood up against Voldemort until the very end, and without his help Harry knew for sure that victory would never have been possible. He also knew that he sooner or later had to confront the man. There were still so much that remained to be explained. In addition to that, Snape was the only one who could tell Harry about Lily, but Harry didn't know if he ever would dare to bring that topic up. Obviously, after all these years he still hadn't gotten over her. Harry suspected that Snape would kill him with one murderous glare if he ever as much as dared to mention her name. The same went for the memories he had seen in Dumbledore's pensive, only minutes before he realised what had to be done in order to vanquish Lord Voldemort for good. Harry shuddered at the thought. How had Snape really planned to hand over that piece of information? He doubted he would have shown all those memories to Harry, had he been able to give them under different circumstances.
He had already arrived at the Gryffindor portrait hole.
"Felix Felicis." Harry said and the portrait swung open obediently.
He sank down in one of the comfortable armchairs in front of the fireplace where he, Ron and Hermione had spent so much time together. He took a slow deep breath in an attempt to relax his mind a little. Lately all he did when he wasn't busy with school work was brooding. Tomorrow he was going to start with the tedious potions essays and maybe even brew a few potions, if he somehow managed to get that far. Dozens of ingredients would have to be sorted and prepared properly, and that in it self could take an hour or more. He groaned as he thought about spending another day in the chilly, dimly lit dungeons. There was just something ominous about the place. Plus it would constantly remind him of a certain potions master, dressed in a madly billowing black, bat-like cloak. Still it would be good to spend some time alone, Harry told himself. He would devote all his attention to potions.
He gazed into the crackling fire. He imagined the flames taking the shape of a roaring lion. The lion turned into a magnificent hippogriff, then into a serpent, not much unlike the symbol of the Slytherin house. Harry let himself drift to sleep.
Outside a storm was raging. Rain splattered loudly against the common room window, but Harry remained fast asleep. The trees of the forbidden forest were swaying heavily in the dark. From the edge of the forest a black figure emerged. He was striding purposefully over the lawn. He had a black cloak pulled tightly around him. Well at the main entrance of the castle he lowered his hood. He pulled a long strand of soaked black hair from his face. Severus Snape looked around cautiously before entering the castle.