After Midnight

"I think the coast is clear," Draco said, peering around the corner of the Entrance Hall. It was fifteen minutes after midnight, and the young Slytherin was hoping that Snape had gone to bed and had forgotten about checking up on him. After all, it was Halloween, and Severus had disappeared soon after his brother. Draco suspected that perhaps the two of them had gone to the professor's quarters to mourn together the deaths of those they had lost.

"Are you sure?" Hermione asked worriedly. "I wouldn't want to run into Filch or Mrs. Norris right now."

"They're not around," Draco whispered and beckoned her onward down the corridor. "I can't believe we missed that last turn and had to backtrack like that."

"It's different navigating in the dark," Hermione pointed out. She flexed her hand, which was getting sore from carrying her pillowcase. "I'm glad you had a good time trick or treating, and remember, eat a little bit of the sweets at a time, they last longer that way and won't make you sick."

They had reached the large staircase, where Hermione could get to Gryffindor Tower and Draco could go down the opposite staircase to the dungeons. "Good night, Mione." He said, and then he drew her in his arms to kiss her one last time before going off to bed.

"How very touching," sneered Igor Karkaroff.

Both students jumped about a foot. The sallow professor raised an eyebrow and his mouth widened in a calculated smirk. "What's this? Two students caught out after curfew in a . . .shall we say . . .compromising position? Tsk. Tsk."

Draco pushed Hermione behind him. Then he looked the Headmaster of Durmstrang in the eye and said haughtily, "So what if we were? You have no authority over us."

Karkaroff stiffened, incensed by the young wizard's tone, which fairly dripped with disrespect. "You will address me as sir, as befits my rank, you impudent puppy! I am Headmaster of Durmstrang and were we there, I would have ordered you beaten for your insolence!"

Draco looked unimpressed. "Better than you have beaten me, sir. I didn't respect them either."

"Then maybe they did not beat you hard enough." Karkaroff said menacingly. He moved forward, his hand lifting.

Draco did not flinch. His whole body tensed in anticipation of the blow.

"Leave him alone, you great bully!" Hermione snarled, her wand in her hand before she had time to think twice. "You have no right to hit him, Hogwarts doesn't use corporal punishment anymore."

"Pity. For you too could use a good session with a cane, you hussy," spat Karkaroff. Then he spotted her wand and gasped in outrage. "You dare draw a wand upon me?"

Before Hermione could respond, a familiar silky voice intruded. "Karkaroff, why are you terrorizing students? Halloween was yesterday."

"Snape!" the former Death Eater spun about to confront his nemesis. "What do you mean, sneaking about like that?"

Severus snorted. "Unlike you, Igor, I have authority to go wandering this school after midnight."

"What about them?" Karkaroff stabbed a bony finger towards Draco and Hermione. "I remember Dumbledore saying that all students were to be in bed by midnight, is that not so? And yet I find these two out of bed canoodling in the corridor!"

Severus's eyebrow rose. "Canoodling?"

"That's a lie, Professor," Hermione spoke up. "I was just saying goodnight to Draco when Professor Karkaroff came by and started asking us questions. He threatened to hit Draco. He said we should be both beaten."

"Igor, you threatened to hit my son?" Snape asked, and in his face was a terrible anger. He glanced from the tall professor to his son and back and his keen eyes caught the faint mark upon Draco's face. He moved and gently caught his son's chin in his hand. "Who did this, Draco? Him?"

Draco opened his mouth to reply, when Karkaroff blurted, "He's a lying little brat, Snape. I didn't touch him."

Severus released Draco and whirled upon the other wizard. "Guilty conscience, Karkaroff?"

"I have done nothing, Snape! The girl drew a wand on me!"

Severus darted a glance at Hermione, who had quickly tucked her wand away. "I see no wand in her hand, Igor. Lying will not save you. Nobody hits my son, you miserable bastard!"

"Hex me, Snape, and I'll press charges," Karkaroff bluffed.

"I wouldn't waste my magic," sneered the other. Then in a movement so swift it was a blur, the Potions Master struck the cringing wizard on the jaw.

Karkaroff went down like a poleaxed steer, tumbling to the floor in a heap. He groaned softly and lay still.

"Is he . . .dead?" Hermione gasped.

"Of course not, Miss Granger," Snape rolled his eyes. "He's simply unconscious." He snapped his fingers and called, "Dobby!"

The house elf appeared with a pop. "Master Severus, you called? Dobby is here."

"Dobby, please take Master Karkaroff there back to his ship. It seems he indulged in a bit too much wine," drawled the professor.

"Yes, sir. Dobby is glad to assist the father of Master Harry Snape, sir!" The elf bowed so low his nose nearly scraped the floor and then he grabbed Karkaroff by the collar and blinked away with him.

Severus turned to the two wayward students. "Now then, suppose you tell me exactly what you're doing out of bed, you two?" He took in their costumes and their pillowcases in one swift glance. "Not that I can't guess from the way you're dressed and the amount of candy stuffed in those pillowcases."

"Sir, we went trick-or-treating," Draco said.

"It was my idea, sir," Hermione said. "I asked Draco if he wanted to come."

"It was my fault we were late, Dad," said his son. "I took a wrong turn in the dark."

Severus frowned. "How did you manage that? The road to Hogsmeade from the castle is straight." He crossed his arms over his chest.

Draco took a deep breath. "Uh . . .well . . .we didn't go to Hogsmeade, sir."

"Where were you?"

"We went to my house, sir. And then around my neighborhood." Hermione replied, her hands fisting in her robes.

"You went trick-or-treating in a Muggle neighborhood?"

"Yes, and we acted like Muggles too," Draco told him. "I would have told you, Dad, but I couldn't find you."

"That's because I was out rescuing your brother from another one of his damn escapades," Severus growled.

"What did Harry do this time?" asked Draco.

"He'll tell you in the morning. Suffice to say that he got himself grounded for the weekend. And so did you two."

Both teens groaned. "Will you take points too, sir?" Hermione asked warily. In the past, Snape had never hesitated to do so.

"I am very tempted to. But that would mean also deducting points from my own House. Therefore, you shall only serve detention with me. Seven o'clock sharp tomorrow morning."

Draco gaped at him. "Seven o'clock! But Dad, that's like the crack of dawn."

"Your point?"

"I . . .never mind," Draco sighed, stifling his automatic protest. He knew he was getting off easy compared to how Severus had punished him at the manor.

"We're sorry, professor, for making you worry," Hermione added, knowing Snape had probably been waiting for them, just like her own father would have been. "It won't happen again."

"It had better not, Miss Granger. Or else next time I will take points. Sixty of them."

"Yes, sir."

He shook his head. "Why is it that my children can never manage to stay out of trouble?"

"It wasn't our fault that creep Karkaroff started with us, Dad," Draco protested. "We were minding our own business and he came looking for trouble."

"No, but it was your fault you were out after curfew, young man," Severus reprimanded sharply. "Had you been in your room, Karkaroff wouldn't have been able to start anything with you. Furthermore, I will be confiscating those sweets for the time being."

"You can't!" Draco cried. "That's our Halloween candy! How cruel can you be?"

"Cruel? Since when is it cruel for a parent to inspect his child's sweets for harmful substances?" the Potions Master queried.

"Harmful substances?" Draco repeated, at a loss.

"He means like needles or pins or drugs, Draco," Hermione explained. "My dad used to do that too."

"Why would the candy have pins in it?"

"Because there are depraved and ill people in this world, son," Severus answered. He levitated the pillowcases until they were floating behind him. "After you have served your detentions, I will return these to you, provided they are clean. However, you ought to limit yourself to only three pieces a day, otherwise you'll risk indigestion and if that happens you can just suffer for it, because I won't be dispensing any Stomach Soothers because you were greedy." Severus warned.

"Understood, sir." Hermione said. "Err . . .Professor Snape, about Professor Karkaroff . . ."

"Do not trouble yourself about him, he'll wake with a sore head and that's all." Severus waved his wand and their costumes vanished, to be replaced by their pajamas. "Off to bed, Miss Granger. I shall see you tomorrow."

"Yes, professor. Happy Halloween, sir." She waved at Draco and then departed up the stairs, trying to ignore her nagging conscience. The professor had jumped to a wrong conclusion, but she could not say that without getting Draco in worse trouble, and after what Karkaroff had nearly done, she couldn't bring herself to feel sorry for the other man. She had the funny feeling that if Snape hadn't come along when he did, Karkaroff would have done something unforgivable to them both. There was something dark and dangerous about the Durmstrang wizard that she did not like.

"Come, Draco." Severus said, taking his son by the arm and leading him down to the dungeons.

Draco followed, wondering if he were in for another lecture in private about going places without asking permission. But Severus surprised him by asking, "So, how did you find your first time trick-or-treating in a Muggle neighborhood?"

"I liked it. It was different than I expected." Draco said honestly. "I think I'd like to do it again next year. If that's okay with you?"

"Yes. Provided you come home at a decent hour. I was just about to go out looking for you when I heard that waste of breath Karkaroff and came to see what he was doing." Severus scowled. "You'll need some salve on that cheek before you go to sleep."

"It doesn't hurt all that much."

"It will later." His father predicted. He spoke the password to the portrait hole and they entered the Slytherin common room. "Stay here." He unlocked the door to the connecting passage that led to his office and went to fetch the Bruise Salve.

He returned a moment later and gently smoothed some on Draco's face.

Draco had to admit that his face felt ten times better after the magical salve had been applied.

Severus waved his hand and the salve and the Halloween treats were floated back to his office, where they would remain until he had time to examine them. Then he locked the door and turned to his son. "Now then, Mr. Malfoy, suppose you tell me how you really got that bruise on your cheek?"

Draco gaped at him. "You knew it wasn't Karkaroff?" he blurted.

"Of course I did. I am a combat master, give me some credit for recognizing the size and shape of a bruise like that didn't come from an adult hand. I know all too well what that looks like." Severus said darkly.

"Then why . . .?"

"Because I detest that skulking coward and all that he stands for, and I needed an excuse to teach him a lesson in manners." Severus replied, smirking.

"Dad! That's so . . .very Slytherin," Draco said admiringly.

"Quite. Now tell me the truth, Dragon."

"First promise you won't punish me," his son argued.

"Draco," he warned. "The truth. Now."

Realizing he wasn't going to be able to bargain with his father this time, Draco told him how he had rescued Lucy and her treats from the Stavros brothers. "Am I in trouble?"

"No, because you were defending yourself. Good night, son."

"Night, Dad. Happy Halloween," Draco said, hugging him.

"Get some sleep." Severus ordered gruffly, tousling Draco's hair. "You need to be up early tomorrow."

Draco made a face. "Why'd you have to remind me?"

"And if you oversleep, I will conjure up a Snape Special to wake you," his father warned.

"Merlin, but you're evil!" his son muttered, heading to his room. "But I'd take you any day over Lucius. Or that git Karkaroff."

Behind him, the evil bat of the dungeons smiled. Then he headed to his own quarters, hoping he could get in a few hours of sleep before he had to wake up and supervise his detentions. It had certainly been an unforgettable Halloween, in more ways than one.

And so we come come to the end of this little tale . . .but not the end of the story. I should have the next chapter of Return to Prince Manor up soon, but as of right now I'm working on finishing the current chapter of Two Hawks Hunting---which is jam packed full of action. Happy Halloween everyone! Your reviews and comments are greatly appreciated. Virtual sweets of your choice and pumpkin juice to all my reviewers and readers!