Herja had always thought of despair to be painful, but now that she experienced it for the first time in her life, she realised that it wasn´t. It was void. It was the absence of any other emotion or bodily feeling. The girl leant back hard against the bedstead, the edge of it leaving a bruise in her neck, but she didn´t feel it. Nor did she feel the pain scratching the wooden floor should have caused in her fingers, seeing the blood that covered the limbs.
Her tears had stopped running when the pain the tall blonde had felt upon returning home had turned into the emptiness that filled every corner of her being at the moment. Herja didn´t care. She must be hungry, she hadn´t eaten since noon the last day, but hunger was nothing compared to despair. She must be cold, as it was late in the year and most of the windows were broken, but cold was nothing either. In fact, Herja was sitting, waiting for the ultimate emptiness to claim her. Death would be a welcome friend, when it finally approached.
The girl was roused from her stupor when she heard a sound downstairs. The first since she had returned home, not counting her own wails of grief. Were they back? A new spark of energy lit inside the girl´s soul. If they had returned, Herja was not going to die alone. She was going to take as many of those beasts with her. Careful not to make a sound, the girl reached for her wand. She had dropped it to the floor when she had entered the last bedroom and found little Giselher, his lovely little face a grimace of fear even in death.
The familiar warmth of magic spread through Herja´s numb fingers when she touched the wood. The handle felt different somehow. It felt wet. Puzzled, Herja looked down at the wand and realised that it was moist with blood. She wiped the handle on her robes to get a better grip. If she was going to fight those monsters and try to take down one or two before she followed her parents and brothers, she couldn´t afford to lose her wand.
Herja didn´t know a killing curse. Nor did she know how to fight, but she knew that some spells could cause demage if used in a wrong way. A simple cutting spell could bring down a curtain. A simple levitation charm could drop a heavy load on a person.
Carefully avoiding the creaking floorboards of her childhood home, the young witch crept towards the stairs and down to the ground floor. She didn´t look into the bathroom where she had discovered Gernot´s body earlier. Herja wasn´t sure she would be able to go on if she had to look into his dead eyes once again.
The door to the living room was ajar. Herja hadn´t closed it during her desperate search for a survivor. She had searched the whole house although part of her had known what the green skull above the house meant, when she returned home. Part of her had wished that she had been there and died with the others. Mother, father, Gunther, Gernot and Giselher were dead. And she, Herja, had survived because she had been late for dinner. Because one of the kids hadn´t returned and she had looked for it. Father usually sent Herja to shepherd the goats, especially when they had kids. Herja never lost one, and if she did, she wouldn´t rest before she found the missing animal.
Nothing of this was important any more. Father was dead. He wasn´t going to praise his girl for climbing the cliffs and finding the lost kid. Nor was mother going to scold her for risking her life for a young goat.
Herja shook her head. She had to concentrate. All her wits were needed in the present. Carefully, she approached the door and peeked around the corner.
There was only one, and he didn´t look especially evil, but father had always said that evil came in disguise. Herja knew the photographs and story of her great-uncle Gellert and therefore wasn´t deceived. The old man with the Santa beard may look benign, but that meant nothing. She aimed carefully and brought the cupboard down on him as he leaned over her mother´s dead body.
The old man moved with surprising speed. With a quick sidestep he avoided the crashing piece of furniture and he had his wand out in an instant. Before Herja even knew he had, she felt a petrificus hit her. Her muscles went rigid and she toppled over. The wall prevented her from falling flat to the ground. Terrified, the girl watched the old man approach.
What was going to happen? What had he planned for her? Herja had heard stories of torture, and she was entirely helpless, at the man´s mercy.
The moment the girl was petrified, the wizard was back to his calm, benign self. Hadn´t Herja been unable to move, she´d have thought she had imagined the old man fire a spell at her. The man approached his prisoner slowly.
"Don´t be afraid, child. I won´t hurt you. I´m Albus Dumbledore, an old friend of your father´s." Relief floated through the witch. She knew that name. "I received intelligence that an attack on your family was planned and came to warn them, but unfortunately I was too late. I will lift the spell now. Kindly don´t attack me." He waved his wand, supporting Herja with his other hand.
The girl stumbled but stayed upright assisted by the old wizard. The man wrapped his arms around Herja and suddenly the tears were back. The emptiness of the past hours was filled with pain, an allconsuming pain. Strangely enough, the pain was good. It made Herja feel alive.
Dumbledore let the girl cry. Step by step he coaxed her towards the kitchen, the only room he had found so far, which held no corpse. The young witch burried her face in the old wizard´s robes and allowed herself to be led to the other room.
When the girl´s cries became sobs, the old wizard disentangled himself from the witch and sat her on the bench by the stove. He rummaged in the kitchen cupboards for a kettle, cups and tea.
"A little to the left," Herja directed the kind stranger. She wiped her face with her sleeve. Surprisingly enough it was clean. Dumbledore must have removed the blood from her clothes while she cried. The old man smiled at the girl and when he had found all he needed started to prepare tea.
"Better?" the wizard smiled as he watched the girl sip her tea.
"How can it be better? My family is dead. It will never be better!" Herja spat.
"Your family is dead, but you are alive. You may not believe it now, but one day it will be better. I take it you weren´t at home?"
"I was looking for a kid late." Herja wondered why she felt so guilty when all she had done was her job.
"What a lucky chance." The old man smiled. "I´m glad you escaped. Is there a relative or friend where you can stay? I couldn´t save my friend, but I´d like to help his daughter to safety."
Herja shook her head. "There´s nobody. My family has been living on this island for as long as I remember. I and my brothers were born here and we didn´t leave the island more than once or twice. To get our wands and to buy broomsticks. Father thought the island was safe." Herja worried her bottom lip. She didn´t mention that her father didn´t want his family exposed to hostilities due to their relation to the dark wizard Grindelwald, but if Dumbledore was his friend, he probably knew anyway.
"My source of information said they tried to recruit him and he refused."
"Recruit? My father wasn´t a warrior. He was a gardner and a farmer."
"Lord Voldemort´s group doesn´t consist of warriors. He works with bankers and secretaries. Potions masters, farmers, teachers. People like you and me. I was informed he wanted your father to provide potions ingredients for his organisation exclusively." The old wizard paused for a moment, lost in thought. "I think I can place you at a friend´s."
"Leave the island?" Herja shook her head. "Here is my home!"
"How old are you, my child?"
"Sixteen." Herja was tall for a girl and of a rather heavy build. Most people thought she was older than she actually was. Too late she remembered she should have lied if she wanted to stay. But then her father´s friend probably knew her age.
Apartenly the girl was right, because the wizard wasn´t surprised by her answer. "You´re too old to take you to my school. You can´t start at sixteen without exams for which you´re not prepared. Neither can you stay here on your own as you´re not of age."
"School?" the girl echoed.
"I´m headmaster of Hogwarts school. I pleaded with your father to send you and your brothers, but he insisted to home-school you."
"As I said, he thought the island was safe." Herja wrapped her hands around the cup. Whenever the topic of Hogwarts had been raised within the family she had pleaded to be allowed to stay home. Her father may have changed the family name, but whom did he think he could fool with Grinwald? A change of topic seemed wise. "How come you knew of the attack?"
"I´m the head of an organisation who fights Lord Voldemort," explained the old wizard.
"I´ll join you!" the girl cried. "I want to help to rid the world of this evil creature."
"No, you don´t," the old man smiled sadly. "You want revenge. Your loss is fresh and you want to punish the ones who caused it."
"Who cares about my motives! As long as you have one more fighter."
"Girl," started the old man before he paused and smiled. "What´s your name? I can´t keep calling you girl."
"A beautiful name. One of the Valkyries, isn´t it?"
"Herja, you couldn´t even best an old man who wasn´t aware of your presence until you cast your first spell. If I agreed for you to fight, you´d be but cannon fodder. You have to learn how to fight before you can be of use. The friend I plan to place you with can help you with that. If you still want to join my group when you´re fully trained, you will be very welcome."
"Where does that friend live?"
"Scotland. It´s not too far from here."
Herja burried her loved ones on the hill closest to the house. Albus helped her dig the graves and transport the bodies. It was dull work and the girl felt her heart was going to break. When it was done, the young witch cleaned up and packed her meagre belongings – some clothes, some photos, a broomstick and a necklace she had gotten for her sixteenth birthday. With a last glance back at her home, Herja clasped Dumbledore´s proffered arm and allowed him to apparate her away.
It was clear at first sight that they had left the island. A dense forest surrounded them. There was no forest on the island, only smallish single trees here and there. Herja took in the surroundings curiously. The forest smelled wonderful. Moist and fresh. There wasn´t much to see as dusk had already fallen and the tall trees increased the impression of darkness.
Albus Dumbledore led the way down a narrow path. Herja followed quickly. The path was cobbly, but that was no problem for the girl. She was used to climbing after her goats. Some roots upturning parts of the path wouldn´t stop her or even slow her down.
After a quarter hour Herja saw a small light between the trunks, which grew quickly as they approached. On a clearing stood a small cot.
"This is Cassandra McGonagall´s house," explained the old wizard. "Her sister works at Hogwarts. Cassandra is a bit of a hermit, but I´m sure she´ll take you in." He went up to the door and knocked.
The witch who opened the door was tall and old enough to be Herja´s grandmother. Her nearly white hair was tied in a tight bun. Her pursed lips told clearly that she didn´t like to be desturbed. Her features softened, however, when she recognized Dumbledore.
"Albus! What a surprise! What brings you to my doorstep?" She stepped aside and waved the wizard and his charge inside.
"An emergency, Cassandra." The old wizard pecked the witch on her cheek in greeting as he passed her.
The witch led the way to a small table and summoned two more cups from a small cupboard. She poured tea from a cracked pot before she looked at the old wizard expectantly.
"This is Herja Grinwald," Dumbledore explained.
"Sven´s girl?" the old witch smiled kindly at the young girl.
The wizard nodded. "Sven and his family are dead. Herja survived by pure chance."
Cassandra McGonagall paled visibly. She took Herja´s hand in hers. "You poor girl! I knew Sven very well before he got married. Taught him a thing or two about herbs."
"I need you to keep the girl for the time being." Dumbledore stated. "Herja is determined to fight those who killed her family, but she´s by no means prepared for that task. I need you to let her stay and teach her."
"You know that I could never send Sven´s daughter away. You have a home here, dearie, for as long as you like." She patted Herja´s hand soothingly. The girl smiled back shyly. Having left her island only on few occasions, she felt uncomfortable with the unknown witch.
"Thank you, Cassandra." Albus rose. "I have a school to take care of. I will check in on Herja occasionally. You know how to contact me." With a last smile at the girl, he left.
Severus Snape looked around the dungeon classroom he had been working at for two years. Everything was ready for the students to return for the young wizard´s third year of jail.
That was exactly how the potions master felt about his assignment at Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry. Hadn´t Albus Dumbledore taken him in, he´d have ended up in Azkaban like most who bore the Dark Mark. He had neither money nor influence to escape his fate, so the shelter the old headmaster had offered had been his only chance to a little of freedom. And what little it was!
At least Hogwarts had no dementors, but Severus had discovered soon after starting his job that the student body wasn´t much better. They were lazy and loud, unwilling to study and – in Severus´s opinion – a waste of space. If it hadn´t been for his fear of dementors, Severus would have chosen Azkaban over Hogwarts.
The summer was nearly over. Severus had spent the last weeks preparing his classroom for the return of his young torturers. He had counted and measured what was left of ingredients – he had lists of what should have been used, but students rarely managed to get the required amount. An apothecary could have run on the difference between the lists and the store cupboards. Then he had replaced what was missing. It had taken three excursions to Diagon Alley and one to Knockturn Alley to get everything.
Now the cupboards were full, the tools were clean and the tables stainless. Severus had used the aid of house elves for the tables, but the tools he had cleaned personally in order to inspect them for their general condition. Some laddles and spoons had to be replaced, some knives needed sharpening and some pairs of scissors repair.
Severus was startled by a soft sound behind him. Albus Dumbledore, his protector and superior, stood in the doorway.
"Everything ready for the new school year?" the old wizard smiled. "You finished early, which is quite convenient. We need to talk."
Severus sighed as he followed the old wizard down the corridor to his quarters. Albus´s needs to talk rarely meant something good. The young potions master had escaped Azkaban, but that didn´t mean that he had escaped the public. Whenever the Daily Prophet had no proper front page story, questions about escaped deatheaters were thrown at the wizarding community and Severus Snape was one of their favourite targets. Worry for children´s welfare sold.
"What is it this time?" Severus asked, resigned, as he poured the headmaster a goblet of mead. "Do I recruit? Influence their minds? Eat them for breakfast?"
"It´s worse," said the headmaster, his face an image of worry. "You are after the little boys." The old wizard handed Snape an issue of the wizarding newspaper. "To sum it up, your continued withdrawal from dating suggests that you don´t like adults, but lust after your students. Severus, there´s only one way to solve this."
The younger wizard nearly dropped the bottle he was holding. "Albus, I refuse to spend my weekends in pubs and clubs! You know why I´m not dating!"
"Would you like to see your feelings for Lily Potter spread all over the papers?" the headmaster shook his head in disbelief.
"Of course not! But I won´t go out searching for a girl like a hormonal teenager either!"
"I wasn´t suggesting you act like a hormonal teenager. I rather thought you´d get married."
This time the bottle fell. Severus did an accurate imitation of a stranded carp. "Married?" he piped when he finally found his voice. It took some more moments for the young wizard to regain his control, but then he exploded. "What´s this about? Are you making fun of me? You know very well that the only females I´m on speaking terms with are Pomona and Minerva! Apart from that, I´m not willing to endanger any girl by binding her to the spy in the Dark Lord´s organisation! Do you have any idea what would happen to my wife if he came back and found out about me?"
"What if I found a volunteer, who´s able to defend herself and ready to take the risk? Are you willing to take a wife if I find one for you?" Dumbledore smiled.
Severus snorted. "As if any female would volunteer to marry me!"
"If you find a bride, you have a groom." The potions master chuckled bitterly. "Good luck, Albus!"
"We´ll see, my boy, we´ll see." The old wizard´s eyes twinkled like mad.
"Hang on! This was a trap! You already have her!"
"No, I have not. But I have an idea whom to ask." The headmaster waved his wand and the shards on the floor reformed a bottle. With a smile, the old wizard held out his goblet for more mead.
Two days later
Herja knelt behind the house and tended to the herbs Madam Cassandra had had her plant in spring. Her simple brownish robes were smeared with dirt, but thanks to their earthy colour, it wasn´t too obvious. Even under the big oak, which provided shadow to a part of the herb garden, it was hot, and small trails of sweat ran down the witch´s forehead.
Herja wiped her face with the back of a hand, smearing mud on her forehead in the course. Despite the hard work and the discomfort it caused, the girl loved working in the herb garden. It was a useful task. Madam Cassandra sold the herbs to apothecaries and they were used to make medicin, which helped people.
Herja liked to feel useful. She had lost the chance to be useful in the fight against Lord Voldemort a year earlier when the evil creature had tried to kill a baby and had fallen victim to the curse aimed at the child. In the dark hours after midnight, Herja regretted that he was dead sometimes. Or rather that he had died without her having a hand in it.
The girl – she had grown another inch since she had moved to Madam Cassandra´s cottage – had trained hard in order to be able to avenge her family, but before she could join Albus´s ranks, the enemy had fallen. For some days, Herja had been even more depressed than after that fatal night. Fate, the young witch thought, had betrayed her for her chance to be useful.
Madam Cassandra hadn´t had anything of that. She made Herja continue her training and work in the garden and the forest. The old witch, who had withdrawn from the public after her husband had been killed, grew and sold herbs, collected potions ingredients in the wood and had a small flock of sheep in a nearby clearing. Herja, having shepherded goats from a young age, loved staying with the sheep.
"Good afternoon, Herja." The calm voice startled the blonde. Again, the witch had forgotten her surroundings while she tended to her herbs. She blushed. Madam Cassandra would have her hide when she heard that Albus had managed to sneak up on her undetected.
"Albus!" The girl got up and wiped her knees. "How good to see you!" When Voldemort had fallen, Herja had feared that Albus would no longer care for her, when she had no use as a future warrior, but the old wizard still showed up on a regular basis.
"It´s good to see you, too. You look radiant!"
Herja blushed even harder. She knew that she was no eye-catcher. Too tall, too heavily built, too crude features. Her long blonde hair was, as far as the girl was concerned, the only nice thing about her appearance. But what was one nice feature in comparison to the whole package?
Albus smiled kindly. "Really." Sometimes Herja thought the old man could read her thoughts. "I need to talk to you."
Herja led the way into the cot. She poured two mugs of iced tea and put a small plate of biscuits in front of the wizard. Albus took a small sip of the beverage and nibbled a biscuit, aparently searching for where to begin.
"I need your help concerning Voldemort."
"Help? I´d gladly, but he´s dead." Herja was confused.
"I´m not sure of that, my child."
Herja felt a jolt of energy. Not dead? Was there still a chance for revenge? "What can I do?"
"It´s a request you will find overwhelming, but I want you to think it over before you make a decision." Albus smiled kindly. "As you may have guessed, I have had a spy on Voldemort for quite some time. He warned me about the attack on your family. Before I continue, I must for his safety´s sake ask you to take an oath never to reveal what I´m about to tell you."
Herja nodded her agreement. She reached for her wand and laid it onto the table, tip pointing at her heart, before covering it with her palms. "I swear on my life and my very magic to never repeat the information about your spy." The wand glowed a faint blue and Herja put it back into her pocket.
"Thank you. The person who provided information on Voldemort´s activities and saved dozens of lives in the course – at a high personal risk I may add – is a young wizard by the name Severus Snape. I hired him as potions teacher at Hogwarts to protect him, but a problem arose. The Daily Prophet asks I dismiss him, because he´s a bit of a loner. They accuse him of being after the students. I can´t let him leave the protection of the castle, but I can´t leave the public suspicious of one of my teachers either."
"What can I do to help?" This Severus Snape had tried to save Herja´s family. Although it hadn´t worked, the girl felt she owed him.
"To dispel suspicion he needs a wife." Albus let the message sink in for a while.
"You want me to marry a man I haven´t seen before?" Herja looked at her fatherly friend in disbelief.
Albus nodded gravely. "I don´t ask you easily. I know it´s much to ask for. But if I´m right – and I certainly am – I will need my spy when Voldemort returns. We can´t afford to lose him. I have to keep him close, at Hogwarts." The old wizard looked at Herja pleadingly.
The young witch looked down at her hands. They were calloused, the nails were short and there were traces of garden soil under them. Severus Snape had risked his life for the fight she wanted to be part of. He had tried to save her family. And who would want her anyway?
"I´ll do it."
Albus´s eyes lit with joy. "You will not regret it," he beamed. "I will pick you up for the wedding tomorrow morning. Let´s say at ten." That said he hugged Herja and left to inform the groom.
The next morning
Herja examined her reflection in the small mirror. She had braided most of her hair and wrapped the plait around her head to form a small crown. The rest fell down her back like a delicate veil. The girl smiled weakly at her image. She had never imagined her wedding day – if she had at all – to start so lonely.
Madam Cassandra had been livid the evening before when she had learn upon her return from the forest that Herja intended to follow Albus´s call to marry a complete stranger. They had gone to bed at odds with each other and the old witch hadn´t left her small bed chamber so far.
With a sigh Herja resigned herself to having to leave a note as good bye.
"You look beautiful." The reflection of the old witch appeared beside Herja´s. "Here, let me give you this." The woman attached small red flowers to the girl´s hair crown and only on second sight did Herja realise that the flowers were made of gold and red stones. "I still think you´re doing the wrong thing, but as I don´t seem to be able to stop you I want you to look exquisite on your wedding day."
Madam Cassandra pecked her young charge on the forehead and hugged her before stepping back and looking her over once again. "Beautiful," she confirmed. "Good luck, my girl."
Herja acknowledged the wellwishes with a curt nod. If she had attempted to speak, she´d have cried. Madam Cassandra helped the girl shrink her possessions and together the two women waited for Albus to turn up.
The old wizard came at ten sharp. Madam Cassandra made an attempt to talk the man out of the plan, but he wouldn´t have any of it. "We´re in a bit of a hurry, Cassandra," he said benignly. "We can discuss this over lunch. You´re invited to the reception, of course." The witch refused. She never left her sheep completely unattended and now that Herja was leaving, she had to look after them.
As Herja didn´t know Hogsmeade, the magical village where the wedding was to take place, she allowed Albus to apparate her. The old wizard took them right in front of the small town hall. By the door, a younger wizard waited for them. The groom, Herja realised.
The young man was a bit smaller than she. He wore plain black robes, the only sign this might be a special occasion a ribbon to hold back his hair in a low pony tail. Some strands had escaped the ribbon and framed a face that was all angles. The nose was too long, the lips a little too thin and the eyes so dark they looked black at first sight. Nevertheless it was a good face, Herja decided. The man might not be handsome, but his features held no malice.
"Herja, this is Severus. Severus, meet Herja." Albus smiled at the two younger people. The situation was more than awkward. What did you say when you were introduced to the man you were going to marry within the hour?
"Nice to meet you." Severus seemed by no means more comfortable than Herja. He offered his hand and the girl shook it for the tiniest of moments. His fingers were as cold as hers.
"Well, now you know each other, shall we proceed?" Albus motioned at the door invitingly.
Severus and Herja both nodded and followed the old wizard inside and up a small staircase to the mayor´s office. The man, an elderly wizard by the name of Bert Baxter, smiled at the couple merrily.
"Ah, here you are! Welcome, welcome!" He craned his neck to see past the old headmaster and his charges. "But where is your second witness?"
Albus clicked his fingers. "I knew I had forgotten something. Why don´t you excuse me for a minute and I will solve the problem? I apologize for the inconvenience." The wizard turned on his heel and hurried out of the office.
"So, where did you get to know each other?" Mr. Baxter broke the ensuing awkward silence.
"Albus introduced us," said Severus. "That´s why he´s organizing the wedding. He somehow feels he fixed us up with each other."
"Oh, yes. Albus is rather enthusiastic about the wedding," admitted the mayor. "Ah, here you are."
Albus came back with a witch in her thirties in tow.
"Madam Rosmerta," Severus acknowledged the woman. Herja thought he looked a bit sour, but then the man had looked serious ever since they had met. "We´re honoured that you help us out of this awkward situation."
"Don´t talk about it, Severus," beamed the witch. "Young love is bound to forget formalities in the throes of passion."
Herja could tell that she was blushing.
"Indeed," Severus lowered his eyes, displaying a shyness Herja hadn´t seen in him before. Then she remembered that the man was a spy and as such certainly was a good actor.
The mayor smiled. He directed the young couple in front of his desk and the two witnesses to the sides. Herja thought they were a rather strange wedding party. The bride and groom wore everyday robes, the witnesses were the grooms employer and a woman the latter seemed to have fetched from the street. She couldn´t help feeling a bit sad, but then she remembered that this wedding was a step to punishing the murderer of her family and she smiled.
The wedding itself was short. They used the standard vows, Albus produced a pair of simple gold bands from his pocket when asked for the rings and the mayor rattled off his standard speech, wishing them happiness. At last the old man pronounced them husband and wife and asked Severus to kiss the bride.
Herja wasn´t frightened, but nervous. She had never kissed a boy – a man – before. It was over quickly enough. Severus leaned forward and touched his thin lips to Herja´s. It didn´t feel special. Like touching your mouth to a very ripe apple, only without the smell. Severus smelled of potions ingredients.
Albus – and Madam Rosmerta and the mayor following his lead – applauded. "Wonderful!" beamed the old wizard. "Congratulations! May I now invite you to a small reception up at the castle?"
"I´m sorry, Albus. I can´t leave the pub. I need the lunch business." Rosmerta declined. She wished the couple happiness before she left.
The mayor refused, too. The wedding had been organised on very short notice and his wife had invited her mother for lunch.
That was why the young couple and Albus Dumbledore were the only ones to walk up the path to Hogwarts castle a little later.
They walked in silence until they had left the village. Herja looked at the houses and shops curiously, but the men hurried up the softly rising path and she had to be careful to keep up. Had she been smaller, she´d have had difficulties to follow.
"Really, Albus," Severus said when they had passed the last houses, "was that necessary? The landlady of the local rumour mill?"
"Severus, my boy, this wedding was organised to prove your decency to the public. To do that, it has to be made publicly known. Well, that was arranged successfully." Albus beamed.
The younger wizard snorted. "You all but announced it in the newspaper."
"But I did! They are going to send a photographer to the reception. Couldn´t make it to the actual wedding." The old man chuckled merrily.
Herja was a little out of breath by then. She was glad when the two wizards slowed down as they approached huge iron gates. Albus drew his wand and touched the lock. It glowed brightly white and the gates opened.
"Welcome to Hogwarts!" Albus motioned Herja inside.
The girl gasped as she saw the castle for the first time. The ancient building towered over the young witch although there was still some distance to cover. It was overwhelming. She followed her new husband up the path uncertainly.
Albus led the way up stairs to the entrance of the castle and through a vast entrance hall into an even bigger hall with an impressing enchanted ceiling. There were four huge tables which must seat hundreds of people each and one smaller facing the others. It was the smaller table which was laid for about a dozen of people.
Two ornately carved chairs indicated the seats of honour for the new couple. A small group of witches and wizards stood a little aside, chatting idly. When the trio approached, an elderly witch, clearly Madam Cassandra´s sister, stepped forward.
"Albus, finally! We´re dying to learn the big secret. Why are we here?" She eyed Herja with open curiosity.
"Patience, dear friend," cried Albus. "Let´s get seated first." He ushered Herja to her seat before he sat by her side. Severus settled down in the second seat of honour, his face a mask of indifference. The headmaster waited until everybody was seated before he tapped his goblet with his spoon.
"My dear friends!" he cried happily. "I asked you here to participate in the reception for Severus and his new bride, Herja, who were married half an hour ago down in Hogsmeade. They both have no family left, but you will see, Herja and Severus," he addressed the couple, "that you have fierce friends. Now let´s tuck in!" He touched his wand to his plate and the table filled with food. The old wizard smiled happily and started to fill his plate with roast potatoes.
The assembled witches and wizards gasped in surprise. A tiny wizard was the first recover from his shock. "Congratulations!" he cried happily. "Severus, where did you hide this fair lady?"
"Yes, indeed!" a stout witch agreed. "Where did you hide this young lady? I wasn´t aware you were dating."
"It was sort of an impulse wedding," admitted the groom. "We were introduced only recently, but we knew at first sight that we were destined for each other."
"That´s true," agreed Herja. She allowed Severus to take her hand and press a kiss to her fingers.
The reception was unexpectedly pleasant. The attendants, it turned out, were the Hogwarts staff. One by one they introduced themselves. Between the main course and dessert a photographer turned up and took pictures of the young couple.
After dessert, Filius Flitwick – the small wizard – suggested to leave the young couple to their own devices in order to give Severus opportunity to show his lady her new home before they retired.
Severus grimaced as his colleagues chuckled good-naturedly, but he got up and offered his arm to Herja. The girl linked arms with her new husband and followed him out of the Great Hall.
"What would you like to see?" Severus asked awkwardly when they were alone for the very first time.
"What is there to see? The castle is so big, I have no idea where to start?"
"It´s too big to see all in one day," admitted the man. "I´ll show you the most important places now and the rest whenever you want to see it." He led the way upstairs.
Hogwarts had a very impressing library. Never had Herja seen so many books in one place, not even when her father had taken her to the bookshop in Diagon Alley when she was younger. Herja was thrilled when she learned that she, as spouse of a staff member, was allowed to use the library. She´d always like to read on a cold winter evening. Her mother´d have prefered her knitting or sewing, but her father had done his best to provide her with books despite the family´s meagre income.
From the library the couple proceeded to the hospital wing. "You have to know where to turn to in case of an emergency," said Severus. "Our nurse is Poppy Pomfrey. She wasn´t at the reception. Poppy keeps the infirmary well stocked with whatever is needed during the school year and all she will need at the start of the school year are some potions. She gave me a list before she left for her holiday. As she´s not needed to help me brewing, she usually returns only one day before the students do."
"What happens if a teacher gets hurt during the preparations for the school year?"
"There´s a mediwizard in Hogsmeade and every teacher knows enough healing spells to treat minor injuries. Would you like to see the grounds?"
Herja agreed. She had spent most of her life working outside, so of course she wanted to see the land surrounding the school. Severus led the way back down to the Entrance Hall and out of the castle. He showed his bride the lake, the edge of the Forbidden Forest and the greenhouses. They also passed the hut where the gameskeeper – a giant man, who had overtowered everybody at the reception – lived. And then they were back at the castle.
"I will show you our quarters," suggested Severus, a faint blush covering his cheeks.
Herja was sure her face had gone equally pink. She nodded her consent and followed her husband down a narrow corridor to the dungeons.
Severus´s quarters were neat and tidy. Smallish, but not uncomfortable. The furniture was simple and practical. There were no windows. Herja could hardly imagine to live where she couldn´t look outside.
Severus seemed to sense the girl´s discomfort when she looked around. "I´m sorry it´s a bit cold and dark, but I´m the head of Slytherin house and have to live near the students."
"You make students reside beneath the surface?" Herja was shocked. What must it be like to grow up without seeing the sun?
"The quarters have been located by the founders themselves and Salazar Slytherin thought the dungeons were the ideal place for those who were his," Severus sounded a bit defensive. "This is the living room. The door on the right is the bathroom. The left one´s the bedroom."
"Isn´t there a kitchen?"
"No. If we want food, we ask the house elves." Severus led the way to the door he had indicated the bedroom door. Herja swallowed hard. It wasn´t even seven! When she didn´t follow, Severus turned around, his face crimson. "I emptied some space for your clothes. Don´t you want to see it?"
Herja felt her face grow hot with embarrassment. She nodded as she didn´t trust her voice and followed her husband into the bedroom. Most of the space was taken up by a huge bed with white covers. Herja averted her eyes and concentrated on the chest of drawers Severus indicated.
"I emptied the top two drawers," he said. "If you need more space, I probably can squeeze the content of the third in with my other stuff."
The blonde shook her head. "I don´t have much," she whispered. "One is more then enough." She opened the top drawer and put her shrunk possessions in it. She drew her wand and enlarged the few items she had brought. There was still plenty of space for more in the drawer.
"Is this all?"
"My family wasn´t rich," Herja huffed defensively.
"I didn´t mean to insult you," the wizard soothed. "I just thought girls needed lots of stuff. They like to spruce up."
Herja swallowed hard. She knew that she wasn´t a beauty, but to have it told to her face on the first day hurt. Hardly holding back the tears she fled the bedroom and sat in one of the armchairs in front of the fireplace.
Severus came after her quickly. "Did I say something to hurt you?" he asked, seemingly concerned. "I didn´t mean to! I´m sorry. I," he hesitated, "I´m not really experienced with girls," he admitted then, "what to say, or what to do. I don´t understand why you agreed to marry me anyway."
Herja needed some time to compose herself. "You work against Voldemort. Albus said you needed a wife to stay here, safe. I wanted to help."
"What makes you want to fight that evil creature?" Severus asked, puzzled. "You are too young to be part of this kind of fight."
Herja shook her head. "He didn´t ask about age when he orphaned me and killed my younger brothers. You can´t be much older than I am. If I can´t be part of this fight, then why can you?" For a moment the girl thought she saw panic flicker in the wizard´s eyes.
"He killed my friend." That said, Severus fell silent. After a little while Herja went to the bedroom and got a book from her drawer. She settled down in the armchair by the fire and allowed herself to be sucked into an adventurous story about dragons and vampires. Little later Severus occupied the second armchair with his own book.
"I think it´s time for bed," said the man when it was nearly midnight.
Herja had felt tired for over an hour but she didn´t dare to broach the subject. She nodded in agreement and shut her book. She laid it onto the small side table and got up. "I´ll get ready for bed first, if it´s alright with you."
Severus nodded and turned a page.
The witch fetched her toothbrush and night dress – long-sleeved, high-necked, white – and went into the bathroom. She changed into the night dress there as the idea to change in front of a stranger made her uncomfortable. Herja felt a bit awkward about her nightwear. Certainly Severus had hoped for something more fancy, but she only had this one night dress.
When she returned to the living room, it was empty. The young witch braced herself and stepped into the bedroom.
Severus was on his knees, rummaging in the cupboard.
"What are you doing?"
"Searching for a blanket." Severus didn´t bother to interrupt his hunt.
"The duvet is a bit bulky for the armchair."
Finally, the wizard re-emerged from the cupboard. "The armchair I´ll be sleeping in."
Herja felt relieved, but she couldn´t let the man sleep in an armchair for the years to come. "Don´t be ridiculous. The bed is more than big enough for two."
Severus smiled awkwardly. "I didn´t want to assume..."
"You can stay on your side," clarified the girl, relieved that Severus didn´t take the whole husband and wife issue too serious. She had been a bit worried about that.
"I will," Severus promised. It sounded like a vow. He gathered some things and left, only to return shortly later clad in a night shirt similar to Herja´s dress, only it was grey.
Avoiding each other´s eyes the new couple climbed into bed. Each curled up on their side, their back turned on their spouse.
Over the next weeks the awkwardness diminished. Herja and Severus settled into a routine. They went up for breakfast to the Great Hall together. For a week or so the students stared when Severus turned up with his tall wife, but then the young witch was old news and nobody paid attention any more.
Severus spent the day teaching. He was Hogwarts´ potions instructor and master brewer. The few free periods he had he used for brewing supplies for the hospital wing.
The first few days, Herja had been bored, but then Pomona Sprout had invited her to the greenhouses and the blonde spent most of her days assisting the herbology teacher. She knew not much about the more exotic plants, but she was experienced with all kinds of herbs and common forest plants. If Pomona had nothing to do for the young witch, Professor Kettleburn or the gameskeeper found something for Herja to occupy herself. Hagrid let her sort through things he brought in from the forest and Kettleburn let her help with kids, pups, squeakers or whatever young the magical creatures he needed for his classes bred.
Once she had found her niche at the castle, Herja had to admit that her new life was not unpleasant.
The evenings were spent in comfortable silence. Severus usually sat by his small desk and corrected his students´ essays, Herja read her way through the Hogwarts library. Occasionally they discussed questions the witch came up with when she read. Having been home-schooled, Herja lacked basic knowledge in some area while she excelled in others, depending on whether her parents had deemed the subject important.
First Severus had thought his young wife was uneducated, but to his delight he soon discovered that she had a very keen mind. What she didn´t know, she learned quickly if he explained matters diligently. Herja knew a lot about potions ingredients, but not much about the actual brewing. When October neared its end, he invited the girl to his lab and started to tutor her in potions when his time allowed it.
Herja enjoyed the brewing. Preparing the ingredients came easy to her and the brewing was relaxing. Severus was a patient teacher once he had seen that his wife was willing to learn. He never tired of explaining the finer details of what had to be done. The witch liked to listen to him talking about potions. When Severus talked about brewing, his eyes lit up with enthusiasm. It made his features softer, almost handsome.
November had passed and Dezember brought snowstorms, which meant that Herja´s activities were limited to the castle. For most plants in the greenhouses winter was not a period of growth, so they needed little tending at the time being. Hagrid didn´t find much for Herja to sort in the snow and Professor Kettleburn dedicated the cold season to theoretical lessons rather than practicals.
As a result, Herja got up later than usual. Still sleepy – they had discussed the ideal properties of agarics late – the witch padded to the bathroom. She stood rooted to the spot as she walked in on her husband coming out of the shower.
It was the first time Herja saw Severus naked, but she couldn´t have cared less. All she saw was the black tattoo on his left forearm. It stood out against the man´s pale skin like soot against snow. It was ugly. It was a skull with a snake. It looked exactly like the mark that had hovered over the Grinwalds´ house when Herja had returned to find her family gone.
The girl turned on her heel, grabbed a bathrobe and fled from the quarters. Bathrobe and uncombed hair billowing behind her, she made her way upstairs, pushing aside students coming down for breakfast.
"Vanilla fudge!" she barked at the stone gargoyle guarding the staircase to Albus´s office. The creature had barely time to hop aside as Herja stormed past it. The young witch didn´t wait for the moving staircase to carry her up to the door. She took two steps at a time and didn´t bother to knock when she reached the heavy oak door with its gryffin door-knocker.
"Good morning to you, too, my child," Albus smiled at the witch from his desk, looking up from his breakfast.
"You married me off to one of them!" Herja shouted at the old wizard without preamble. "You bound me to one of those murdering creeps! How could you!"
"What are you talking about?" Albus smiled benignly. Herja fought down the urge to physically attack the old man.
"I´m talking about the fact that my husband bears the Dark Mark!"
The headmaster smiled, amused. "You´ve been married for four months. Don´t tell me you found that out today."
Herja blushed despite herself. "Don´t change topic!" she snarled angrily. "He´s a deatheater!"
"Was," Severus corrected her softly from the door. He panted and, Herja couldn´t help but notice, he was barefoot, his hair still wet. "I was one before I turned spy. How did you think I got insider information if I wasn´t one of them."
Herja felt stupid. Indeed, how was Severus supposed to get important information unless by pretending he was one of Voldemort´s followers.
"That´s why I can´t let Severus leave the castle. He´d end up in Azkaban if the wrong people learned about his supposed allegiances." Albus looked at the young wizard worriedly. "I apologize, my girl. I should have made myself more clear when I asked for your help."
"I swear," Severus said solemnly as he stepped closer to his wife, "that I haven´t been a true deatheater for years. I was foolish enough to join, but saw soon that I had made a mistake."
"But whatever his change of heart was," the older wizard continued, "the mark won´t come off."
Herja smiled weakly. "You gave me a bit of a shock."
"I´m sorry. Let´s go back downstairs and have breakfast in our quarters. You´re upset." Severus offered the girl his arm and she accepted it.
Christmas was a quiet affair. Herja and Severus had no tree in their quarters. The Great Hall was decorated exuberantly and they went there for the meals anyway. They exchanged presents on Christmas morning and Severus pecked Herja dutyfully on her cheek, but it was very chaste. The little parcel he handed her contained a soft scarf. Herja smiled as she unwrapped it and they shared a hearty laugh when Severus unwrapped a scarf, too.
The holidays were pleasant. Only few students had remained at school, so Severus had more time for potions lessons for his wife. Herja made good progress in her work. Shortly after the New Year they proceeded to NEWT level potions and Severus didn´t hide his pride.
"Why didn´t you tell me that you lived at my sister´s!" Minerva cried when she returned from her Christmas holiday.
Herja lowered her head. She had totally forgotten to mention it!
Minerva chuckled kindly. "I understand, child. Cassandra told me when exactly you met Severus the first time. Your wedding day must have been even more exciting than I thought back then." The elderly witch smiled. "It was a very brave thing you did, child. Cassandra told me how worried she was that you were throwing away your chance of a family, but I was able to set her mind at rest. I told her how well you and Severus get on with each other."
"How is Madam Cassandra?" the younger witch inquired. "I was a bit sad to leave her. She was very kind to me."
"She´s well, especially after she learned you found happiness."
Later Herja thought about what the deputy headmistress had said. She hadn´t thought about it when she had agreed to marry the potions teacher for safe-keeping, but it was true. Severus was the only family she had and she would ever get. Divorce, though not unheard of, was frowned upon in the wizarding world, and who but a desperate man would want her anyway?
Herja started looking at Severus in a different manner. They had become friends of some sort since their wedding, but could they ever become husband and wife? It wasn´t that the witch was madly in love with the solemn wizard, but she started to notice, that there were some things about him she liked. His hands, although stained, were quite nice. Slim and soft. And she liked the way his eyes twinkled when he talked about potions.
When Severus wished her a wonderful Valentine´s Day, Herja boldly pressed a kiss on his lips. The wizard kissed back carefully, almost shyly.
It wasn´t that they kissed frequently after that; they were by no means in love, but it happened occasionally. When they were especially happy about something or in a good mood after an interesting discussion, one would place a peck on the other´s mouth.
As winter changed into spring, the couple kissed more often and by May they even stopped blushing when doing so.
The mood was especially good in the Snape quarters when the last student had left for the summer holidays. Severus and Herja were looking forward to two months of freedom. The witch helped her husband clean away the mess in the potions classroom before he closed the dungeon room until he had to prepare it for the new school year.
When they went to bed, Herja scrambled to the middle of the bed to kiss her husband good-night. Severus returned the kiss a little more enthusiastic than usual, which encouraged the girl to add another kiss to the mix. Little later she found herself in a passionate embrace, touching and being touched, kissing and being kissed. It was, Herja decided, delicious to have Severus nibbling her earlobe and listen to him whispering nonsense words of endearment into her ear. It was a light feeling like flying, pure bliss without a trace of worry.
She crashed back to the ground uncomfortably when Severus sighed "Lily!" happily.
Herja pushed Severus away with all her power. That he wasn´t madly in love with her she could live with, but that he had never told her that his heart wasn´t free was unforgivable!
Severus made an attempt to reach for his wife and hold her back, but she hurled an imobility curse at him with surprising speed and he had to watch helplessly while the furious witch shrank her possessions, shrugged on her robes and left without looking back.
Two days later
It was astonishing how little the house had changed. There was a little dust and a couple of pigeons nested on the kitchen cupboard, but apart from that it looked good.
Herja had spent the past two days in a small room above a muggle pub only some miles from Hogwarts. She had to think about what to do. Severus´s indiscretion had hurt so badly! The witch was not sure she could forgive him. The other thing was that she had cursed him. Obviously she wasn´t the only one who had to forgive something.
After two days of mulling things over and crying a lot, Herja decided that she couldn´t go back. How could she look the man in the eye after cursing him? She had left him behind, immobilised! What an awkward situation to be found in! Who had countered her spell and freed him? How long had he lain there before he had been rescued?
Once the decision was made, Herja needed a place to stay at. She considered hiding in the muggle world, but she had grown up in relative solitude, even the small community of staff at Hogwarts had been too much for her at times. On the second day, the thought of her parents´ island crossed her mind. Returning to her childhood home seemed like a good idea and here she was.
First thing, Herja walked up the hill to visit her family´s graves. She removed the weeds and planted some wild flowers. As the final touch, she renewed the spells to keep the goats away from the graves.
The goats were doing well. The spells Herja´s father had placed to protect them were still in place and the small flock had grown by some animals. Herja enjoyed getting reacquainted with the animals she had shepherded when she had been a child. They were like old friends from a distant time.
The witch spent most of the day with the goats. In the evening she drove the animals back to the stable before she returned to the house. With some quick flicks of her wand she repaired the broken windows and removed the dust. Then she started to sort through the things the muggle way.
Herja interrupted her sad task only to help herself to a small meal. She cried when she cleaned her brothers´ rooms. Carefully she packed Giselher´s toys into a box and Gernot´s books into another. She rummaged in her parents´ room for photographs and decorated the living room with them. After some contemplation she also put up the photo of her wedding, which she had cut out of the Daily Prophet less than a year ago.
Looking at the picture was sad. She had had resigned herself to a joyless life in a mere marriage of convenience, but then had permitted herself to hope for more only to be refused cruelly. It was past midnight when Herja cried herself to sleep.
Three months later
Herja burried her face in her hands. It couldn´t be true! It mustn´t be true! But the signs were obvious. She was pregnant! One night of which she had only bad memories and she was with child! How was she going to raise a child alone? That she couldn´t go back to Severus was clear.
The girl stiffled a sob. She had decided not to go back. What would Severus think if she came back now, not because she had forgiven him, but because she needed his help? He would feel used!
Desperate, the young witch packed a small lunch and left the house to go out with the goats. She was sitting under one of few trees on the island when she noticed she had a visitor. Albus was walking up the path.
"Don´t you think you have sulked long enough?" the old wizard asked without preamble. He sat down clumsily.
The witch handed him a piece of bread and a slice of cheese. "I´m not sulking."
"What do you call this?" Albus asked in a no-nonsense tone. "You´re torturing the poor boy. He´s all withdrawn and snarkier than ever!"
"I can´t go back."
"Why not? He misses you, and you don´t look exactly happy either. From the look of your eyes you have been crying."
Herja chewed on her lunch. "I´m pregnant." She looked at the old wizard from under her lashes. "If I go back he´ll think I want to use him."
Albus´s features hardened. "You´re right. You can´t go back." The old wizard scrambled to his feet. "Severus first refused to get married because he was terrified to endanger his wife. You can´t burden him with a child." Without a backward glance Albus walked back down the path he had come.
In the evening Herja found Madam Cassandra waiting for her at the house.
"I still think you should go back to your husband," Madam Cassandra placed a cup of tea in front of the heavily pregnant Herja. "Albus can be a heartless git. I´m sure your husband´s mad with worry and longing."
The blonde witch shook her head. "He doesn´t want a family. He thinks it´s too dangerous."
"I think you´re wrong." The older witch pointed out, but dropped the the topic.
Albus had alerted her that Herja needed help after he had left and she had spent the last five months with the young mother to be. The two witches had used the time to rebuild Sven Grinwald´s old business. Herja collected wild herbs, minerals and insects which were useful as potions ingredients and replanted her parents´ old herb garden. Madam Cassandra used her contacts to apothecaries to help the girl sell her products.
First the chemists were distrustful of the young witch, but the excellent quality of her products soon had them convinced that the name Grinwald still stood for extraordinary ingredients. Using her father´s name had been Madam Cassandra´s idea, and it was a good one. The customers recognized it and what was more, most of them didn´t make the connection to the Hogwarts potions instructor´s runaway wife.
March 5th, 1985
Herja craddled her newborn son tightly. He was her little miracle. A small tuft of blond hair and the most cute little nose she had ever seen made her fall in love at first sight. However hurtful the episode at Hogwarts had been, this little fellow made it all worth it.
"Do you have a name for him?" Madam Cassandra asked kindly.
"Siegfried," whispered Herja. "It goes well with Grinwald, but also with Snape, if he wants to carry his father´s name at some point." She stroked the blond hair of her son gently.
Three weeks later Madam Cassandra returned to her own cot.
Siegfried´s cheeks were rosy with excitement when he returned from his shepherding duties in the evening. He waved a square bit of parchment and Herja could tell from afar that the moment she had dreaded above all others had come.
Her son had received his Hogwarts letter.
"I´m accepted, Mum! I will see my father!" Siegfried had been longing for this letter as much as his mother had feared it. The boy knew nothing of his father but a newspaper clipping on the living room wall and the stories his mother told him.
Herja had always been careful to paint a kind picture of Severus. The boy didn´t need to know how deeply the potions master had hurt his mother. She had claimed that they didn´t live with her husband, because the latter was in the middle of a war. Luckily Siegfried had bought it. The newspapers had been full of rumours that Voldemort was back and the ministry´s attempts to keep them down. A little more than a month ago, Voldemort had made an appearance at the ministry itself and thus ended all speculations.
In the light of this new information, Herja had found her peace with the idea that Siegfried was going to leave her soon. Hogwarts was safe, safer than her island. She had spent the last few weeks admonishing Siegfried to stay away from his father. If he had gone back to spying, Severus didn´t need another worry in his life. Of course, Siegfried didn´t know about the spying part. The boy thought his father was in the line of fire for his potions skills – his grandparents had been killed for their skills in growing and gathering ingredients after all – and wanted to keep him safe by distancing himself from his son.
"There are some pretty expensive things on the list," Siegfried interrupted his mother´s thoughts. "Are you sure I can go?"
"Of course, my dear," Herja gathered the boy close and kissed his blond locks. Siegfried was the spitting image of her little brother Giselher. Blond, tall for his age, a snub nose. The only feature he had inherited from his father were those dark, nearly black eyes. They looked a little out of place in the fair, young face, but as far as Herja was concerned her boy was the most beautiful little thing in the world.
They went to Diagon Alley the next day. Siegfried was so excited about going to Hogwarts, going later would have meant torture to the boy. Herja was a bit nervous. She hadn´t left the island since the newspaper had admitted Voldemort was indeed back, but Diagon Alley hadn´t changed much since her last visit.
True, some shops were closed, but that had happened before. Perhaps not so many at the same time though.
The witch took her son to the robes shop and the bookshop first. These were the important things he needed and Herja wasn´t sure her money covered everything on the list. The apothecary brought a nice surprise. The shop owner recognised Herja although she usually delivered via owl post and offered to provide everything Siegfried needed for potions in exchange for a batch of bezoars. Herja agreed to the deal – a batch of bezoars were seven stones and she had nine in her kitchen drawer – happily. With the money this agreement saved her, she was even able to buy Siegfried a small treat.
When given the choice between the sweet shop and the joke shop – there was a new one near the end of the alley – the boy chose the sweet shop. Siegfried wasn´t much of a prankster and who would he prank anyway?
They nearly ran into Severus when they walked towards Honeyduke´s. Herja managed to push the boy inside the shop and duck in behind him before her husband looked up from the shopping list he was studying while walking.
September 1st, 1996
Severus followed the sorting with interest. He had resumed spying a little more than a year ago and he needed to know whose children came to Hogwarts. Who was the son of a deatheater? Who the daughter of a potential target? Who was dangerous, who needed protection?
The potions master wasn´t looking forward to the school year. His part in the war was exhausting enough without several hundred teenagers. And now he had taken that vow to protect Draco Malfoy of all people. The boy had been given an unknown task by the Dark Lord and his mother had cornered Severus and made him vow to take over if Draco failed.
Severus felt he shouldn´t have taken the vow, but the evil creature´s most faithful maniac had been there, so his refusal could have cost his head. Albus was thrilled about the vow. Draco was going to spill the beans to Severus when he needed help. The potions master wasn´t sure about that. Whatever it was, it was Draco´s task and the young blond was eager to prove himself.
"Grinwald, Siegfried." Minerva´s carrying voice had called the next student to put on the hat.
The boy who made his way to the stool overtowered his peers by a head. He was blond and he looked like a male version of Herja. His eyes gave away who his father was.
Severus clutched the edge of the table until no drop of blood was left in his fingertips.
The sorting couldn´t be over quickly enough.
As soon as the last student had left the Great Hall, the potions master turned to his superior. "Your office. Now!" The rest of the staff watched in bewildered silence as the headmaster followed his irrate potions instructor out of the hall.
"Did you know?" Severus hissed dangerously.
"Did I know what, my boy?"
"Don´t play games with me, Albus. Did you know that I have a son?"
"Of course. He´s a wonderful child. I have to congratulate you, Severus. You can be proud. He´s kind and brave. And clever, but you guessed that as he went into Ravenclaw." Albus smiled, his eyes twinkling.
"Give me one reason for not throttling you on the spot! Why didn´t you tell me! I could at least have supported her, even when she wanted nothing to do with me!"
"She didn´t want nothing to do with you," the headmaster said kindly. "She thought a baby would be a burden with your role in the war, so she stayed away." He smiled.
"Where is she?"
"Severus, I don´t think..."
"Where is my wife?" Severus pulled the taller wizard down to him by his robes until they were nose to nose. "Stop playing games with me and spit it out!"
Albus might have been called a lot, but not foolhardy.
"Grinwald island. The floo is connected."
Severus shoved the old wizard back angrily and stepped into the flames.
Herja dropped her plate which she was just carrying to the kitchen when Severus stumbled out of the fireplace.
"Oh my God!" she cried. "Is something wrong with Siegfried?"
"Yes," snarled Severus, "something is very wrong with Siegfried!"
Herja sank to her knees. It couldn´t be! The boy had left only this morning! She had seen him to the Hogwarts Express personally! What could happen to a child on a train? Had there been an attack! She shouldn´t have let him go!
The look of utter devastation on Herja´s face melted Severus´s anger away like the sun did snow. With two long strides he covered the distance between them and sank down beside the girl – woman, he corrected himself. "He didn´t grow up with his father," he whispered softly.
Herja was shaking with sobs. Her baby! Something was wrong with her baby! It took some moments for Severus´s words to register.
"Have you lost your marbles? You give me the fright of my lifetime for a dramatic entrance?" Herja pushed Severus away and scrambled to her feet. "Haven´t you done enough damage already?"
"I´m sorry," said the wizard. He followed his wife to the table and sat on the chair beside the one she had sunken onto. "I didn´t want to scare you." He waited for some minutes to give the woman time to calm down. "You have to forgive me, I´m somewhat beside myself. I´ve been a father for less than two hours."
"You found out?"
Severus chuckled. "What would I think when I saw a mini version of you with my eyes? I confronted Albus and he didn´t deny it. Why didn´t you come back? I´d have apologised. I didn´t mean to hurt you."
Herja couldn´t find the strenght to look her husband into the eye. "I had cursed you and then I discovered that I was pregnant. Albus said a baby´d be in the way with your spying, I should stay here."
"That manipulating old creep! He told me just now in his office when I threatened to beat your whereabouts out of him that you stayed away because you thought the child was a burden for me. He forgot to mention that he had told you exactly that!" Severus brought his fist down on the table with a crash.
"It´s true," he said when he had calmed down a little, "that, given a choice, I´d not have sired a child for fear of putting them in danger, but never had I refused to support you in any way you saw fit. I´m not a monster. Please, believe me."
"I didn´t try to keep your child from you. I truely thought you didn´t want us." For the first time Herja looked up from the table top. "Can you forgive me?"
"Only if you forgive me." Severus gathered the witch close and placed a gentle kiss on her forehead.
The couple spent some minutes in comfortable silence, snuggled up to each other, when Severus suddenly let go of Herja. "Crap! I forgot I have to make a welcome speech for the new Slytherins. I have to go!" He looked at the witch questioningly. "May I come back?"
"So, are you back?" Albus looked at the younger wizard coldly when he stepped out of the fireplace. "You don´t need to hurry. Horace calmed down your first years. They were exhausted, but had been told to wait for you. Some were really distraught!"
"Why didn´t you tell me? I had a right to know!" the potions master wasn´t easily distracted.
"Isn´t it obvious? Look at you! Given the choice to hunt a skirt or do your job you leave desperate children behind and run to the girl!"
"I had been here if you had given me a chance to cope with the situation earlier!"
"I don´t want to even think of what will become of your duties to the order when you have to make the same choice again!" Albus was angry now. "Your idea of loyalty is disgusting!"
The potions master – who taught Defence Against the Dark Arts that school year – returned to Grinwald island on his first day off, which wasn´t before October. Twice Albus claimed an emergency – once with his burnt hand and once because Horace fell ill – to withhold the young wizard his day of freedom. Once he was summoned by Voldemort just when he wanted to step into the fireplace. It was a particularly nasty meeting.
He found Herja in the herb garden behind the house. She was on her hands and knees, working on a patch of what looked like lilies of the valley. But it couldn´t be, lilies of the valley had withered months ago.
"What´s that?" he asked instead of a greeting.
"A new herb. It still needs a name, but it can be used to replace thyme in certain potions." The witch picked one of the flowers and got up. She rubbed the delicate petals between her fingers and held them out for Severus to smell. "It has the same properties, but the smell and taste are better and it doesn´t cause allergies when combined with phoenix ashes. It reacts badly with peppermint though."
"Interesting," admitted the wizard. "Do you have time to talk?"
"I have spells protecting the herb garden," nodded Herja. "A day won´t make much difference." She led the way inside and prepared tea.
"I´m sorry I didn´t come earlier. Albus..."
"...didn´t want you to," Herja completed the sentence for her husband. "I thought so after what you had said last time. He manipulated us both and at the present time our marriage doesn´t fit in with his plans."
"You know," sighed Severus, "I´m afraid he´s not all wrong. Last week I was practically with one foot in the floo system when the Dark Lord summoned me."
"Why do you call him that?"
"I can´t afford a slip of tongue."
"So what are we going to do now?"
Severus hesitated. He didn´t know how Herja would take his proposal and he didn´t want to hurt her more than he had already. "I suggest we leave everything like it is. You are safer away from me, it can´t be denied. When everything is over, I´m ready to try to be a better husband if you still want me."
"Don´t say that."
"Don´t speak like you doubted I want you. I made a vow to you. We may not have known each other well back then, but I was serious."
"So was I," said Severus. "Though you deserve better than me."
Herja shut him up with a small peck to his lips. Then she asked the question that had been haunting her for nearly twelve years. "Who is Lily?"
"The love of my life," sighed Severus. "She´s dead and we never were together. I know it is foolish to hold onto her, but I can´t help how I feel. Please, believe me, although I still love her there is room enough for you and Siegfried in my heart. What I feel for you may not be the same kind of love as I feel for her, but I like to spend my time with you. I do have feelings for you."
"You will always love her," Herja said sadly. "You will never be entirely mine."
"Probably not," admitted the wizard. "But I´d like to find out how much I can be yours, if you let me." How often had he wished he could just stop loving Lily and go on with his life, but he couldn´t! Was he going to lose the wife fate had granted him?
"I guess she won´t turn up and take away what is mine," Herja said carefully. "and I guess half a husband is better than no husband at all. Let´s try and make this work, when the war is over."
Severus gathered his wife in his arms. "I will try and sneak here from time to time, but not often. I don´t want to put your life in danger. Siegfried needs a safe place to come back to."
"I understand. I will miss you."
"How can you miss me? You spent the last twelve years away from me."
"I missed you all the time." Herja rested her head against her husband. It was calming to feel him close to her. "How is Siegfried doing?"
"Very well. All the teachers are full of praise. He´s a very clever boy."
"I told him he must keep your parenthood a secret unless you reveal it."
"That was wise."
"I thought so."
The curse that destroyed Albus´s body was spreading. The old man became – if anybody had cared to ask Severus – odder and odder. Now he even scheduled meetings with his staff at the forest. As if that was safer from eavesdroppers than his office!
The defence teacher and once potions instructor paced the small clearing where he was waiting for his superior. Again Albus had done it. He had scheduled this meeting right when Severus wanted to visit Herja. He hadn´t seen her since December and he didn´t dare to write to her. Top rule for spies. Never put anything in writing.
Albus turned up late.
"Severus, my boy, did you find out about Draco´s task?"
"You know very well that the boy avoids me. What do you think I should do? Push him into a dark corridor and beat the truth out of him?"
"Do I feel some enmity?"
"Albus, I can´t do this any longer," Severus burried his hand in his hair tiredly. "It´s dangerous and exhausting and I haven´t gathered any useful information for months. I´d gladly continue if I felt it was good for something, but all the result I get is that I can´t be with my family."
"I thought we had discussed this." Albus´s eyes lacked their usual twinkle. "I need you in this fight, Severus. Do you want to make all the sacrifices made so far futile?"
"What do you need me for? The information I bring is useless. The Dark Lord confides in nobody. He doesn´t reveal his plans until it is too late to counter them."
"I think I know about Draco´s task."
"From what source of information?"
"None. It´s the only task that makes sense."
"So, what is it?"
"To kill me."
Severus felt all his blood leave his head. He felt dizzy and lightheaded all of a sudden. "I will die!"
"But Albus! I made a vow to complete the boy´s task. I can´t possibly kill you!"
"Yes, you can. And you will."
"Killing splits the soul!"
"That´s the reason why we have to protect Draco. I want you to take over even if the boy tries to complete the task. We have to keep Draco´s soul intact."
"And what of my soul?"
"It won´t be real murder if I ask you to do it. Your soul won´t be damaged."
"Say you. It can be true, or not. Anyway, I won´t kill the wizard I worked for for the past nineteen years."
"Severus, I beg you! I´m dying anyway!"
"If you´re dying anyway, Draco´s soul won´t split either."
"It´s not the victim´s condition that makes the difference. It´s the killer´s intention. You know that. You know that I´m dying, but Draco doesn´t. It will make all the difference."
Herja greeted Severus with a tight hug as he stepped out of the floo. She hadn´t seen him since December. The potions master returned the gesture fiercly.
"I can´t stay long. Albus is in a bad condition. The good news is that I think it won´t be long until the final showdown between the Dark Lord and Potter occures. Not long and we can try to be a true family."
"I´m looking forward to it," whispered Herja. She snuggled up to her husband. She hadn´t exactly enjoyed being alone for so long, but it hadn´t been too bad either. Now that she knew there was somebody who wanted to be with her, solitude had changed into loneliness. Some stolen hours with her husband weren´t enough to ease the longing for company.
"Albus has given me a new task," Severus said after some time of quiet snuggling. "He wants me to kill him for the cause."
"Kill? You can´t!" Herja cried.
"That was my first reaction, too," whispered Severus. His voice was still a bit shaky when he talked about what he was going to have to do. "But he´s right. It has to be done. If I kill Albus, I will be closer to the Dark Lord. It will earn me his trust and I´ll be close enough to help the Potter boy when the time comes." The wizard kissed Herja´s hair. "I have to help him. When he rids us of the Dark Lord, we can be a family."
"Do you really think that Albus Dumbledore´s murderer will be allowed to escape? The whole wizarding world will be after your hide."
"It´s risky, but you and Siegfried are worth it."
Herja smiled sadly. "We, and your revenge for Lily."
Severus didn´t reply. They sat in silence for another while before he had to return to Hogwarts.
One week later Severus Snape cast a killing curse at Albus Dumbledore.
Three weeks later
Herja enjoyed the time with her son. Siegfried had returned to the island for the summer and he helped her with the herbs and the goats. The boy was proud of what he had learned in his first year. It seemed he had a special talent for potions. Mother and son spent hours brewing. The kitchen resembled rather a lab than a place to prepare food.
"If we had unicorn hair, we could make a hair curling potion," Siegfried pointed out as they poured an infusion of herbs through a sieve. "And if we had coconut root, we could make a fever draught."
"And if you had rabbit whiskers, you could grow long ears."
Herja put the cauldron back down onto the table. "Severus! I was so worried!"
The wizard hurried from the fireplace to her side in long strides. "I´m sorry! I didn´t mean to worry you."
Siegfried looked at the wizard he knew was his father, but had never talked to other than in lessons, in admiration and wonder. Severus pulled the boy into a hug. "I´m so glad I can finally do that."
Herja thought it was pure bliss to spend some time as a family with their son. Severus helped with the infusion and made some suggestions how to extend the shelf-life of their brew. After a quarter hour Siegfried rushed to his room to fetch parchment for notes. Severus smiled after him proudly.
The witch tried to ask Severus about what had happened after he had killed Dumbledore, but he just whispered "Later!"
Siegfried stayed up late and Herja allowed it. They didn´t know when the boy was going to have the chance to spend time with his father again, so it seemed unfair to send him to bed. It was nearly midnight when he finally went upstairs.
Herja took Severus to her room. "I don´t want Siegfried to hear what we have to talk about," she explained as she cast a silencing charm.
"Oh, what have you planned for me, Mrs. Snape?" Severus teased.
"Basically, I plan to ask you what happened after you killed Albus." Herja stated matter-of-factly.
"Mood killer!" Severus smiled.
"Come on! Tell me!"
Severus sat on the edge of the bed. "I escaped. Potter, the foolish boy, nearly caught me. I had difficulties to escape without hurting him. The Dark Lord was pleased with me. For killing Albus, not for not hurting Potter. I´m his right hand man now."
"That´s good, isn´t it? That way you can help to destroy him."
"Yes. The irony is that now that I have access to useful information the order wouldn´t accept anything coming from me."
Herja sat beside Severus and wrapped her arms around him. "It will be over soon."
Two weeks later
Herja and Siegfried were thrilled to have Severus with them so soon after his last visit. The witch declared the day a holiday and the family went down to the beach together. They didn´t play, but collected shells and stranded sea plants. Severus explained to Siegfried which things were useful for potions and which not. They found quite a lot of twigs of a certain sort of seaweed, which – according to Severus – was not easy to get. Herja made a mental note to add it to her range of products. The potions master must have guessed her train of thoughts for he suggested a price with a sly grin.
After a wonderful day at the beach they prepared dinner together and enjoyed a meal.
"I´ve been made headmaster of Hogwarts," Severus dropped the bombshell over a cup of tea after the meal. Herja shuddered. She didn´t have to ask who had made that decision and who was in charge of Hogwarts now. She glanced at Siegfried, concerned. Was it safe to send him back to school?
"Siegfried," Severus took the decision from her, "you know that I fight in the war. As headmaster of Hogwarts, I´ll be more in the line of fire than ever. It´s crucial that nobody knows about our kinship." He looked at Herja. "As headmaster I´ll be able to protect him from afar. As long as nobody knows he´s my son."
"I will keep the secret," promised the boy. "I understand it´s important."
"Clever boy," Severus smiled and ruffled his son´s blond curls up. "I´m proud of you and I´m very sorry I can´t tell everybody just how proud I am. But this will soon be over and then everybody can know."
Herja felt bad about letting her son go back to the school despite Severus´s promise to protect him, but as the school year proceeded and nothing bad happened, she calmed down a bit. She didn´t see anything of Severus all year, but that was expected. As headmaster his absence from the school would be more easily noticed than when he was a teacher and they had agreed not to take the risk.
April 30th, 1998
Potter was at Hogwarts. The deatheater teachers were patrolling the corridors to catch him and the Dark Lord and his forces were on their way. Severus paced his office. Today was the day. The final showdown. One way or the other, the fight would be over by tomorrow.
It was time to join the battle.
Severus smiled up at Albus´s portrait before he left the office. They had had a row earlier, but this time Severus hadn´t yielded. He needed this to be done and he was going to do it. Albus thought it was an unnecessary risk, but the young wizard couldn´t care less.
With long strides he walked towards Ravenclaw house. The bronze door knocker didn´t care to pester the headmaster with a question but opened the door without further ado. Siegfried sat in the common room, reading a book.
"Grinwald," Severus sneered, "follow me!"
"Yes, Sir." Siegfried closed his book and followed the dark clad wizard without a question. His father´s posture told clearly that this was important and time was essential.
They met professor Carrow near the headmaster´s office. "Problems?" the witch asked, sneering at the boy.
"Nothing I can´t handle, Alecto," said Severus. "Thank you." He just hoped the witch wasn´t going to insist on coming with them and watching whatever punishment he had in mind for the boy. "I think I heard a sound near the staircase to the Astronomy Tower. Would you mind checking?"
"A sound?" Alecto licked her lip. If she caught the Potter boy, her reward would be beyond her wildest dreams. "I will take care of it."
Severus ushered his son up into his office. "Listen, Siegfried, things are escalating here. I need you to be safe. Return home and tell your mother..." He hesitated. This wasn´t the way he had wanted her to learn, but it was true and there was the possibility that he was going to die. "Tell her I love her."
Siegfried gave his father a short hug and stepped into the fireplace.
The early morning hours of May 1st, 1998
Herja looked around in panic. There was smoke and curse-light everywhere. A battle was raging around Hogwarts castle. She had waited all day and most of the night until she was nearly mad with worry. At last she had decided she had to go and see what she could do to help.
She had trained with Madam Cassandra in order to fight after all. Her parents and brothers were still unavenged. The fighters of the Dark and the Light were easy to distinguish. The Light was losing. The Dark fighters used dark spells without hesitation. The order members knew the spells to fight back, but obviously didn´t like to use them against human beings.
The moment of hesitation cost several fighters their lives. Herja saw a young witch with pink hair fall and a sandy haired man howl with pain as he watched her take the lethal blow. The man joined the fight with new energy. Herja could tell the fallen witch had been a loved one. She knew that desire for revenge that now lit the man´s face.
"Severus Snape!" she cried. "Where is he?"
"I don´t know! If I knew he was dead!" screeched the man.
Herja tried to fight her way across the battle field, watching out for Severus, but soon enough she was part of the battle and fighting for her life. What had she thought when she had come here! She had a son who needed her! Herja shook her head as she admitted to herself she had been foolish. The witch looked for a way out. In the distance she saw a small shack.
Herja ducked under another curse. Little by little she crept closer to the shack. The fights ended a little distance away from it and the witch ran to hide in the small building.
She was greeted by the smell of blood. It seemed somebody else had had the same idea. Was the other person a friend or a foe? The witch crept upstairs cautiously.
The sight of the small room made her blood freeze. Severus lay in the middle of the room, his throat a raw mass of flesh and blood.
Herja hurried to her husband´s side. A quick examination of the body showed that there was nothing to be done. The blonde lay down beside the dead wizard and rested her head on his chest, crying bitter tears of grief and loss. She hadn´t known this man very well, but his promise for the future had been sweet. How was she to tell Siegfried that his father was dead?
Little by little exhaustion and grief overpowered the witch and Herja fell asleep.
She was woken by the voice of a young male. "Who are you? What are you doing here?"
Herja had never seen Harry Potter before, but she recognized him by his trademark scar. "I´m Herja Snape," she said sadly. "I´m grieving for my husband."
The boy looked down at the fallen wizard sadly.
"I didn´t know he was married, but it´s good to know there was some happiness in his live. I grieve with you."
The Great Hall of Hogwarts was full of people. It was graduation day. In the past, Hogwarts´ NEWT students had gotten their result via owl, but after the war, the new headmistress had started a tradition. The graduates were sent off to the world in a ceremony, which had a double purpose. To honour the new witches and wizards and to honour those who had lost their lives in the final fight at Hogwarts.
There were some who said the memorial ceremony should be held on May, 1st, but most agreed that it would be too much of a disturbance for the students´ work.
Herja sat in the first row, her face shining with pride, as the headmistress called the students to present them their diplomas.
Siegfried had done extremely well. He scored top marks in all his subjects and being the son of one of the most priced war heroes, his future looked bright. Herja clapped enthusiastically with the crowd as her son accepted the roll of parchment and congratulations from the headmistress.
After the ceremony, mother and son walked down to the lake, where two tombs stood side by side. One white and one black. Two headmasters of Hogwarts.