Disclaimer: Harry Potter characters are owned by J.K.

A/N: Written for August's challenge based upon a photo. Lots of treats in this story. Enjoy.

The lightning flashed in the window, flooding the room in a bright white light to reveal a shadow of a man looking out at the cobblestone streets of Cokeworth as the storm raged on outside of a small house at Spinner's End. The man's black eyes stared seemingly at nothing as he stood in his small living area. On the small writing desk was an invitation for a celebratory ball in honor of the heroes of the late Wizarding War. The name Severus Tobias Snape was engraved in elegant silver script, drawing one's attention as it was the only well-known name on the invitation.

At yet another clap of thunder, the pale man with a trademark hook-nose closed his eyes. Images flashed in his mind, forcing him to relieve the memories again.

Flick of a wand. Encase by a cage. Pierce repeatedly by fangs. Gurgle to attempt speech. Collapse of his body. Surround by blood pool. Flood of sickly warmth. Beat of steady heart. Swell of both lungs. Breathe deeply for life.

His hand flew up and slammed against the pane, cracking the glass as he mentally pulled himself out of the horror story that had been his life. He felt his heart thumping wildly, blood singing in his veins at the flow of adrenaline the painful memories brought forth. Air rushed into his nasal passages as he inhaled deeply so he'd gain some sense of calm again. Slowly, he brought his hand to his neck, his long pale fingers tracing the raised scars left behind, the only physical reminders of his brutal attack. As if he really needed reminders, though.

Lightning flashed once more, the room encompassed in the bright white light before plunging into the darkness yet again. He swallowed. His eyes closed. A fresh assault of memories flickered violently behind his eyes.

Stare into brown eyes. Feel enclosing of arms. Smell familiar raspberry perfume. Taste the salty lips. Hear her whispered promise. Note her faint sadness. Shudder at lost warmth. Miss his beautiful rescuer. Sense other survivors nearby. Gasp at bewitched ceiling. Recognize surroundings as home.

The man roared almost as loud as the thunder, his arm shoving everything off the tabletop onto the dusty floor. His jaw clenched. The vein in his temple pulsated with fury. His black eyes flashed dangerously as he glared at the desk. His hands then grabbed the sturdy oak of the writing table and quickly overturned it, hoping the destruction would help calm his anger, his feeling of helplessness. However, it didn't satisfy him in the slightest. The destruction only left him feeling emptier than before.

Collapsing to his knees, he yelled every bit of his frustration, his pain, his emptiness once more to the heavens, frankly to anyone who was listening. His hands flew up, covering his face as his voice turned to a harsh rasp. Terrible soulful sobs tore through his body. Why had he lived? Why had the Fates left him alive when there were so many others who were more worthy than him? Why?

Severus Snape saw the faces of the dead. They were always with him. A young redheaded man stood off to the side, a harsh reminder of what the tortured survivor—Snape—had mistakenly done to the redhead's twin brother George. Standing beside Snape was an elderly white-bearded man with blue eyes that were now forever frozen in that bone-chilling look that Dumbledore had worn as he plunged backward off the Astronomy Tower the year before due to Snape's Killing Curse. A somewhat curvy witch with fair hair stood across from Snape with a look of betrayal in her tear-filled eyes, mouthing the words 'Severus, please' repeatedly, just as Charity had done the day of her murder at Malfoy Manor. She was joined by a redhead with piercing green eyes. His heart panged at the sight of her, his lost love. However, when more of the dead arrived, staring at him with their accusing eyes, he turned his back to them the best he could. Didn't they know that he hadn't wanted to live? Didn't they understand that he had been forced into staying alive? That it hadn't been his choice?

"Dammit, Severus," grumbled a voice near him with faint exasperation as the person approached slowly. "Do ya always got to make such a mess, son?" A heavy hand fell on Snape's shoulder. "Come on. Let's get this picked back up for the hundredth time."

Snape glanced at the man who shared his hook nose for a moment or two before finally turning away in shame. His father had come down to check up on him again. He felt as if he was six again.

"Son?" He paused for a moment, waiting for an answer. "Severus? Did ya hear me? I said that we've got to get this picked up."

"I heard you." Snape's voice was soft, barely above a whisper.

"Well, then, let's get to it. Ya've got that . . . ceremony thingamajig tonight. And I'll be damned if ya don't go to it."

"I can't, Dad."

"Why?" The man's light brown eyes narrowed on him before he sighed. "Son, I get that ya feel like shit because of whatever ya went through. God only knows how many nights I've heard ya thrashin' 'bout up there since that woman brought ya home. But ya can't stop livin' yer life 'cause ya lived."

"I can't go back there."

"Why? Give me one damn reason why ya can't." His father snatched the engraved invitation from the floor and held it up, waving it about as he spoke. "Cause the way I'm seein' it from this, my boy's some sort of hero, and they're wantin' to celebrate ya for whatever ya did."

"They're wrong. I'm not a hero, Dad. I don't deserve this. Any of it."

"Oh, for cripe's sake, Severus, it's one measly dinner. Ya ain't gonna die from it. Hell, it might do ya some good to be around yer own kind for a bit."

"All those things they state I'm a hero for, I did it so I'd be with . . ." His voice faltered, causing him to swallow harshly. It still hurt to say Lily's name. Even after all this time, it still hurt like hell.

"That woman that brought ya home? Yeah, well, don't blame ya there. She's a bit of a looker."

"No! Not Sinistra," Snape snarled. "Lily, Dad. I did everything to be with Lily." He shook his head angrily. "I have no reason to be here, to be alive. She was my reason. And Sinistra . . . she took it all away from me. Everything."

"Watch yerself, boy," his father warned, his eyes hardening on him. "That woman Sin—whomever saved yer life. Ya should be grateful for her givin' us this second chance."

"You don't understand." Snape continued to shake his head. His father didn't understand. None of them did. He drew in a breath. He needed his father to understand, though. If anyone was to know, he needed it to be his father. "I was supposed to be with Lily now. Not here! Not stuck in this hell! I paid my dues! I deserved to be with her after all I went through for her."

"Paid yer dues?" his father yelled in outrage. He snarled a few words under his breath before he whirled around and retrieved a large hunting knife from one of the chests. He held the blade out to his son. "Well, go on then. Ya want to be some damn coward and off yerself. So there ya go. Be a man and do it in front of your old man, Severus. It'd have the same result. Damn knife stabbin' in my own bleedin' heart with yers. But then again, like ya said, ya ain't supposed to be here. Yer s'posed to be with Lily, whom if I remember correctly married that other boy, the git one.

Snape glanced from the knife to his father, hearing the words but brushing them off as he would if they were spoken by a Gryffindor or Hufflepuff. His jaw clenched as his father continued before he shoved his dad's arm angrily away from him. It was just like Tobias to pull this stunt on him.

"I have no reason to be here anymore, Dad. I did what I was supposed to do. That Potter brat's alive. Happy with his friends. What do I have? Nothing. You only came back into my life because of Sinistra. If she had just left things alone, like it was supposed to be, then you'd be happy and none the wiser about me like it's been for twenty-some years."

"Is that so?" Tobias shook his head, staring at him disappointedly. "Shit, Severus. When did ya get so dunderheaded? If ya truly believe that I'd be happy if she hadn't got me to be with ya that night, then yer more messed up in the head than I thought."

"It doesn't matter. I shouldn't be here. I should be with Lily. Not stuck here." He growled when his dad sneered back at him.

"Boy, yer pushing yer goddamn luck with me right now," Tobias warned. "I'm damned grateful that woman brought me here. Ya were in a bad state that night. Neck all torn to hell. Shit, I ain't seen ya that color of white before, and I never want to either. She just held ya, though. Told me that some damn madman decided to kill ya with his snake." He frowned, sighing. "Ya say ya don't have reason left to live. I say 'bullshit' and 'open yer goddamn eyes.' That woman did everything she could while she was here to keep ya alive. Hell, she kissed ya before she left. Ya were knocked out, but she did. Ya think Lily's the only girl who liked ya? Then ya don't know much, do ya, son? Cause you know what? That woman that brought me to ya that night—well, hate to tell ya this—but she likes ya a hell of a lot too, son. If ya opened yer damn eyes, ya'd have seen that."

Snape's black eyes narrowed on his father. Sinistra had kissed him? He tried to recall that night, but most of it was a haze, likely due to the extreme blood loss. He remembered her leaving, though, and the loss of something he still couldn't put his finger on.

"Son, I apologize for this, but ya need to hear it from someone." Tobias waited until Snape focused on him again. "Now, I don't know if this crap is true or not, but Lily married that git that made your life hell during school. Yeah, I'll admit, ya two were knit together at the hip while growing up, but she chose him, Severus. I know that hurts. But ya need to move on."

"Move on? That's your advice? That I need to move on?" Snape growled. "You haven't the faintest idea what love is. All you and Mum did was argue all the time. And then in the end, when you decided it was too much, you walked out. You don't know love."

"Is that what ya think? That I didn't love yer mum? That my not loving her was what the problem was? Shit, Severus, I loved yer mum more than life itself. Love just wasn't enough for us. We couldn't work it out. Shit happens."

"If you loved her, why did you leave?"

"Cause El and I," he started before he laughed bitterly. "We were a lot like ya and Lily, cut from the same cloth. I loved her and swore no other woman would ever compare to her. I put her on that pedestal and held her up there, my shinin' star. El, though, well, she tolerated me, I think. She found me different from the other boys, yer kind, but once that novelty of me faded, well, her love for me turned into one a sister'd show her brother. Nothin' more, Severus."

Snape shook his head, understanding his father's underlying words. It wouldn't have happened to Lily and him. Snape was sure of it. But there was a sliver of doubt now nagging at him.

"Ya protected her son for her. That speaks volumes about yer character, son. But ya can't win the affections of a dead woman. She made her choice, and as hurtful as it was, it wasn't ya, son. But ya've got another woman, one whom can love ya just as much as ya'd love her in time."

"I don't love Sinistra."

"Not right now, no. But do ya know her, Severus? Really know her? Bet ya the answer is no." Tobias held out the invitation again. "Think she'd be there tonight? So ya can thank her properly?"

"If you think I'm going to fall in love with her because of some stupid dinner, you're insane."

His father glanced upward, muttering under his breath for a moment to get his temper in check. "I ain't that dumb, son. I just thought that if ya—what the hell?" His eyes narrowed as he saw the owl flying in the rain toward the window. "That's from yer kind, ain't it?" He threw open the window, allowing the bird inside. "Ruddy bird," he muttered, pointing at his son. However, the bird shook its head, landing on the counter and staring at him. "What's it sayin'? I don't speak owl."

"Nor do I, Dad." Snape frowned as he approached the tawny owl. His black eyes caught his father's name on the envelope immediately. "It's for you, the letter."

"Me? Why would yer kind write to me? I thought they frowned on us lesser species."

"It would seem not this person."

"Hmm. Maybe it's her."

Snape clenched his teeth, but said nothing. As if Sinistra would ever write his father. It was laughable, especially after having no contact with her since her departure six months earlier. He watched Tobias tear into the envelope before he read the letter. His eyes narrowed when his dad broke into a wide grin. He swallowed involuntarily at the sight. His father grinning was never a good sign for him.

"Well, I'll be damned." Tobias's head snapped up to him. "Yer Minister personally invited me to yer thing. Ain't that odd?"

"You're joking." Snape stared at his father, uncharacteristically flabbergasted. Just when he thought it couldn't get much worse, it did.

"Nope." His dad held out the letter which clearly stated that one Tobias Avery Snape was permitted to attend the banquet held in his son's honor as well as others later that very night. "So, shall I wear something with the fancy coattails or just a nice suit to this shindig? Ya know that was nice of him by the way. Didn't know ya were friends with yer minister, though. But there's a lot about yer life I don't know."

Snape just stared at his father. He wasn't exactly friends with Minister Shacklebolt. For that matter, he wasn't exactly friends with anyone. Lucius Malfoy would be the closest thing one could call to being a friend, and that was purely for information gathering purposes, strictly business. He frowned. Why in Felix Felicis great name had Shacklebolt invited his father, his Muggle father for that matter? It didn't make sense.

"Was there any note besides the invitation in the envelope?"

"Nah, just that. Why, Severus? What are ya thinkin'?" His father then sighed when he didn't answer. "Son, I never got to go to any of yer school functions when ya were growin' up 'cause of the whole Muddle-whatever thing. Let me have this one at least." He then muttered under his breath. "Since yer dead set against gettin' married."

"I'm not against marriage," Snape snapped in annoyance. His headache was getting worse. "I just fail to see myself ever ending up with Sinistra of all people."

"Yeah, well, hate to break it to ya, son, but when she kissed ya that night, ya kissed her back."

"What?" His father had kindly left out that little detail earlier.

"Ya heard me. Ya kissed her back. Caught her by surprise, too. Pretty certain ya enjoyed it judging by the—"

"Dad!" he growled. He used his deathly silent tone reserved solely for insolent little Gryffindor brats he truthfully wished had died the first time around.

"Just sayin', Sev, ya liked it."

"I was in a state of shock from extreme blood loss," he growled, glaring at his father. "I'd have thought the lady down the street was a good kisser too if she had tried it." He could not believe Tobias.

"Uh-huh." His dad crossed his arms, imitating his own trademark intimidating stance. "So, tell me, son. When she left that night, why'd ya cry out to her? Sayin' her name for that matter."

"I didn't!" Snape felt his insides clenched. He couldn't have cried out her name. Yes, a part of him that could recall that night knew the moment he woke up that she had been the one to save him, so it was possible that he knew she had been there in his blood-loss haze. But he only knew it was her because of her annoying raspberry perfume that clung to everything he wore.

"Did too, son. And for it's worth, she didn't want to leave ya."

"Then why did she?" Snape snapped, clenching his jaw. "You say she loves me. All right fine. You say I kissed her back, which I don't believe for a moment. And now you say she didn't want to leave. So, why did she leave, Dad? Hmm?"

"Said ya wouldn't take too kindly to her being in your little safe haven," Tobias calmly replied. "Said ya'd find her when ya were ready to talk with her."

Snape opened his mouth to retort back, only to close it. That did sound an awful lot like Sinistra. He frowned, running his hand through his raven locks. He hated this, not recalling everything about that night and his father only giving little details every now and then.

"I had just suffered from a traumatic event, Dad."

"Probably why she didn't stay as well. Lord only knows ya two would've been workin' on grandchildren that night the way ya were respondin' to her."

He clenched his teeth in response before finally replying to his father. "It had been awhile for me, Dad. I hadn't exactly had time to gallivant about the countryside, snogging all the women I ran across. And like I keep saying, Lily is the only—"

"Pining after a dead woman ain't healthy, Severus."

Snape thrust a hand into his pocket and snatched a hold of his ebony wand before he flicked it in front of him. His eyes blazed as he caught the hazy shape of the ethereal majestic creature out of the corner of his eye. He just barely held his temper back as he spoke.

"That doe, Dad, is the same one as Lily's. My casting the exact replica of hers signifies my undying devotion and love for her. I do not love Sinistra. I never will! Get it through your head."

"Doe?" repeated his dad quietly. "Son, I know I can't see worth shit, but that ain't a doe."

"What are you talking about? Of course it's a—" Snape started to snarl before he glanced toward his Patronus, his voice leaving him instantly at the sight of his ethereal protector. "No." He cast the Patronus charm once more, frowning when the new animal, not a doe, stared back at him. "But . . . no. I love Lily. I . . ." He whirled around, turning away from his Patronus, stumbling to the sofa. Why wasn't it a doe? What had changed? He loved Lily. Didn't he?

"Severus," his dad said quietly, grabbing a hold of him and supporting him as they headed to the threadbare sofa to sit. "What does that mean? That yer magic is on the fritz?"

Snape glances at Tobias before he waved his long ebony wand at the bookshelf, books flying apart and torn pages floating about the room after a well-placed cutting curse. He then pointed his wand toward the owl, flicking it at the animal and stunning it a moment later just as he had intended.

"No."

"Well then, son, what's it mean?"

"My feelings have changed," Snape spoke clinically, detaching himself to keep a handle on his emotions at the horrifying realization. His feelings for Lily had changed somehow in the past six months. He tried to recall her smiling face then, her gorgeous green eyes and red flaming hair. However, Lily's face was hazy in his mind. His gut clenched painfully. "No. I . . . I love her, though. I . . . always."

"Son, it's all right."

"No it's not, Dad. When I was lying on the floor of the Shrieking Shack and that stupid brat with her eyes came up to me, I convinced myself it was Lily. And I let go, accepting my death. I felt . . . I wasn't angry anymore. I didn't feel my grief suffocating me. I just felt at peace because I was going to be with my Lily again."

"And now?"

Snape thought for a few moments, focusing on his powerful emotions that were just underneath the surface. He closed his eyes. He didn't feel anger or sadness. Those feelings had changed as well. "I feel empty, incomplete." He opened his eyes again, staring at his father. "Did Sinistra state what she used to save me? What potion, spell?"

"No. I don't think it was a potion, maybe a spell, though."

"Dad, think. What did she say she used?"

"When she showed up in the pub, she said ya were hurt real bad. That ya needed me. Something 'bout her eyes made me trust her, so she brought me here to the house. Ya were already here on the sofa, course, so I asked her when I saw ya why ya weren't movin'. She said somethin' 'bout a Stasis charm that was keepin' ya alive until she could retrieve me."

Snape's eyes darted back and forth as he soaked in this knowledge. The Stasis Spell made sense if she knew she was leaving, considering it acted similar to a Muggle life support machine. He tried to recall other spells he could think of that would have saved him besides the Stasis.

"She ripped a part of her robes off, tying it around yer neck to stop the bleedin'. Not like it did much good, though. She told me to talk to ya that ya'd have more reason to fight if ya knew I was there with ya." Tobias sighed, running a hand through his hair. "Then she kissed ya for some reason, and ya were fine after that."

"Kissed me?" Snape repeated, frowning. He was dying, and she kissed him? "Did she say anything during this time?"

"Just that ya always were a stubborn arse." Tobias shrugged. "Though, ya know, there was something odd 'bout that kiss. There was like this little blue glow around both of yer lips. Ain't no kiss El and I ever shared, I'll tell ya that much."

Snape closed his eyes, knowing just then what Sinistra had done to save him. He sighed, hanging his head. His Patronus changing was his subconscious showing it knew that Sinistra had been willing to sacrifice herself for him. A part of him, deep down there and rather tiny he hoped, had to feel affection for her after using that method to save him.

He recalled many decades ago when he had tried the same thing on Lily when he had come across her body at Godric's Hallow. He had failed at imparting his gift of life on his love unfortunately. Sinistra, however, had succeeded. From many nights of attempting to discern why he had failed with Lily, he knew that only one who loved completely and whose loves was returned could succeed.

"What? What's that look? What'd she do?"

"She performed the Lovers' Gift on me."

"All right. What's that mean? I'm a Muddle, son, not a wizard."

"Muggle, Dad, you're a Muggle." He sighed tiredly, frowning before he covered his face with his hands for a moment only to let them drop to his side. "It means that some part of me does love her."

"Sinistra?"

"Yes," Snape answered. "Only one who loves the injured party completely and whose love is returned by said hurt party can succeed." He frowned. "She knew leaving that night, and she still left."

"Son, get dressed," Tobias ordered sharply. He held his son's confused eyes. "If she's there, then ya can hash out the details then. If she ain't, then we'll go see her afterward. Sittin' here though ain't gonna do nothin' 'cept make ya go mad with questions."

"No. I shouldn't." He yelped when his father hit him upside the head. "What the hell, Dad?"

"Yer going even if I have to drag ya there kickin' and screamin', Severus."

"Fine," Snape snapped, standing up and heading upstairs to dress. Even though he was thirty-eight, his father still somehow managed to make him feel as if he was six. Truth be told, his father likely was the only one who had managed that feat.

Now wearing his usual formal attire, the exact same outfit he wore for the Yule Ball a few years back, he returned to the sitting room downstairs to find his father dressed a nice grey suit and tie. He frowned, but said nothing. He supposed after six months of living with the man he should have figured Tobias would have a few tricks up his sleeve still.

"Since it would seem that Minister Shacklebolt has granted you some privileges by inviting you into our world and effectively destroying the secrecy of our world, I'd imagine that he has no qualms against giving you the 'full effect' to quote one of your asinine phrases."

"I love ya, too, son," Tobias replied flatly.

Snape grunted in acknowledgement. His father wouldn't travel well by Floo. Hardly any Muggles who learned of the whole truth about witches and wizards did. And he didn't want to deal with the aftermath if they used a Portkey. Arriving with his Muggle father was enough embarrassment without adding images of his father sicking up on top of that. He frowned. Apparation would also end in his father horribly nauseous. He winced. That only left flying or traveling by Muggle methods. Since he had no intention of being stared at by hundreds of onlooking Muggles as they made their way to his banquet, he flicked his wand at himself and his father to disillusion them. Flying by broom it was.

~Home~

Arriving on the grounds of Hogwarts an hour later, Snape quickly felt awkward. Remnants of the battle, the scars to the ancient stone were quite visible to the naked eye, much like his were. He frowned, glancing at his father who was grinning from ear to ear. He knew that his father couldn't see the castle yet because of the wards surrounding it to keep Muggles away.

"There you are, Severus," stated a tall stern-looking witch with brown hair pulled into a tight bun as she walked toward them in crimson robes. Her green eyes sharply glanced toward Tobias before she frowned. "I take it this is your father?"

Not batting an eye, Tobias stepped forward, grabbing the witch's hand and kissing the top of it. "Tobias Snape, at yer pleasure." He then glanced at his son. "Ya didn't tell me that ya worked with such beauties."

Snape grimaced before glancing at the shocked witch. It was much easier to believe that his father was a git or dead than to see him like this with his former colleague. He raised himself up, trying to maintain some form of his old self.

"This is Minerva McGonagall, the current Headmistress of Hogwarts." He then frowned, shaking his head slowly at his father's permanent grin. This was rather . . . sickening to watch in his opinion.

"Nice to meet ya, Minerva."

"Likewise, Tobias." Her eyes darted to the younger Snape before she looked back at him in clear disbelief. She brushed it off a moment later, taking to her brusque business tone. "We typically value our secrecy and don't allow . . . people such as yourself—non-magical ones in other words—to see our school. However, Minister Shacklebolt has temporarily granted us permission to allow you to see it tonight so you may be with your son." She gave Snape a curt smile before she went back to explaining, pulling out a small acid green potion as she did. "This vial contains a potion that will allow you to see Hogwarts as we see it. However, I must impart onto you the seriousness of not informing anyone of what you see tonight."

"I won't say anythin', Min. Scout's honor," Tobias replied, holding up his hand. "My wife sort blew that whole secrecy thing of yers to hell after Severus was born anyway. My boy liked to move his bear from the other end of the room to him all the time. First time I saw that . . . Shit no words to describe it."

"Ah, yes, yes of course." Minerva forced a smile before she nodded shortly. She held out the potion prior to her addressing Snape. "Horace brewed it. We would have informed you earlier so you had time to brew it yourself, Severus, but the decision to have your father here came rather last notice, I'm afraid."

Snape merely inclined his head, watching his father uncork it and smell the potion for a moment before he finally drank it. He sighed, waiting for the potion to kick in.

"HOLY!" Tobias yelled, glancing around. "That's where ya went to school? Damn, boy. No wonder ya were always itchin' to get back here. Where can I sign up?" His light brown eyes then narrowed as he glanced upward before he chuckled. "Sorry. I'll try to rein it back in, son." Tobias clapped Severus on the back. "Children, what can ya say, right, Min?"

"Of course." She then sighed. "I apologize for my parting words to you last May, Severus. It would seem I was grossly mistaken about you." She paused for a moment as if to give him an opening to accept her apology. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to return to my duties now." She gave another brisk smile at Snape before she whirled around and left them alone.

"Come, Dad." Snape quickly walked up the steps, waving his wand at the door to open it. He headed inside, hearing his father's footsteps behind him. Once they walked through the Great Hall's doors, Snape felt himself tense instantly. He brushed it off, though, and continued in.

"Whoa! Now, that's some skylight."

"It's not a skylight. It's bewitched to look like the sky, Dad. The Founders added it," Snape merely replied, glancing around the filled room. He didn't see Sinistra anywhere. However, he did see familiar faces of the staff heading toward him, Hagrid leading the way. "Oh, dear Merlin," he muttered as Hagrid's large arms then began to close in around him to envelop him in a warm embrace.

~Home~

Once the Orders of Merlin were handed out to the small group and the crowd roared with large smiles and clapping hands, Snape quickly found himself escaping through one of the side entrances. His father was off with Minerva, chatting with her and likely annoying the hell out of her, which was just fine in Snape's opinion. He sighed heavily as he walked down the deserted corridor.

Parts of the castle looked so worn and aged, stone piles lying on the floor carelessly. Other parts that were clearly repaired seemed as if it didn't belong. Wood paneled floors were just one of the many new changes he saw. However, as he continued down the hallway, he noticed that the castle was slowly fixing itself, the repairs spreading like magical waves. He paused when he reached one of the mended areas. His eyes slowly moved over the room, taking in the changes. Where once had been heavy, grey stone columns now stood two-at-a-time cream-colored pillars with golden vertical veins. Curved upward from the columns was the opal-like ceiling. Golden trim that one would see in fancy hotels accented every mark, every edge, and every outline of a doorframe or window frame. Above the doorframes were hollowed out circles with various beautiful murals painted inside them. In the middle of the ceiling hung a three-tiered, candlelit gilded chandelier, the light flickering above and illuminating a dragon mural. He sighed heavily, staring at the intricate stained-glass design that seemed to him to be gothic in origin.

"I see you got away from Hagrid unharmed," a soft voice spoke behind him with a smile clearly on the witch's lips.

Snape whirled around instantly, swallowing involuntarily at the sight of her. She was . . . beautiful for the lack of any other worthy adjective.

Her crimson dress glided across the hardwood floor elegantly, the edges bouncing against it occasionally like heavy drops of fresh blood. His dark eyes moved upward to follow the material, which to him looked thick and heavy yet moved lightly around her hips. Held up by two thin straps that lay loosely over her ivory shoulders, the corseted top fit snuggly around her chest, pushing her ample breasts up further and nearly causing them to overflow. As his eyes followed the curve of her shoulder and down her arm, he noticed thin but thickly bunched crimson pieces that wrapped around both of her upper arms before returning and draping around her elbow prior to attaching to the side of her dress. She wore thick gold bracelets that jingled as she walked toward him.

"Sinistra," he breathed, staring at her and feeling an unfamiliar feeling deep in his gut.

"Snape," she replied with a brilliant smile. "I'm glad to see you're better. The last time I saw you—well, I'm certain you can imagine that better than I can describe it." She stayed within just a step of his reach. "I was afraid there for a moment that you weren't going to come, though. Then I saw your father talking with Minerva. I'm glad you did, Severus."

"Why did you leave that night?" he blurted out.

"You know why," she answered softly, glancing at her clasped hands.

"Enlighten me."

"We both needed time, Severus. You needed to heal, and your father did a brilliant job at helping with that. I couldn't have predicted a better outcome than that if I tried. And I needed time to come to grips with my feelings for you. That night . . . I nearly lost you. I wasn't thinking clearly."

"You've loved me for years, Sinistra," he snapped, glaring at her. "What more was there to come to terms with?"

"For years, I naively thought that I'd never find you be so close to death, Severus. I always thought that you were able to—I don't know—get around it somehow."

"You thought I could cheat death?" He snorted derisively. "It's a wonder how you're a witch some days."

"You stated that you could put a stopper in death all those years, scaring the hell out of the first years. What was I supposed to think, Severus?" She ran a hand through her long dark curls, frowning when her fingers snagged on one of her flowery hair decorations. "None of that matters, though. You're fine, alive. That's all that matters."

"Tell me, Sinistra. When you dumped me off with my Muggle father, did you think you were doing a good thing with that? Leaving me with a man who doesn't know anything about taking care of another person?"

"That's not—Severus, you were fine when I left you. I gave Tobias precise instructions to give you Blood Replenishing every hour and showed him exactly how much to give you."

"He's a Muggle, Sinistra."

"I'm aware of that, Severus. Thank you," she replied dryly. "For a Muggle, he's rather intelligent." She shook her head when he scoffed. "Why don't you just come out and say it, Severus? Let's not beat round the bush anymore. Go ahead. Say it."

"You had no right to leave that night once you knew what your little stunt meant!"

"What my little stunt meant?" she repeated, staring at him with an odd look. "What are you talking about, Severus?"

"You knew the moment you saved me that I . . . that I . . . you know, Sinistra. Don't play dumb."

"Clearly I don't, Severus."

"You're telling me that you performed the Lovers' Gift on me without knowing what it meant?" he snarled, staring at her with hard black eyes.

"Lovers' Gift? I don't even know what that is, Severus."

"What?" he roared, throwing his hands up into the air in disbelief.

She sighed, frowning as she held his eyes. "You don't remember that night, do you?"

"I know that you left me. That's all that matters." He brushed off her look he couldn't quite discern. He quite frankly didn't care what she was feeling. He felt horribly angry, betrayed possibly if he'd admit it to himself.

"I left you?" she repeated with a laugh of incredulity. "If I would have stayed, it would have been non-stop bitching on your part about how I saved you. I couldn't win either way, Severus." She shook her head angrily. "I don't know why I came here. I thought maybe you'd be—I don't know—grateful that I saved your life. Then again, I should've figured you'd be like this—pissed that I didn't let you die that night. I'm surprised you haven't yelled that I'm selfish yet. What's wrong, Snape? Getting a little soft now?"

He clenched his teeth as he death glared her. She was getting on his every last nerve. Of course she always did, but now . . . it was different, though. He'd had to come to the realization that it wasn't just her who had feelings in their—could it be called a relationship? He wasn't sure.

"Tell me about that night, Sinistra. Now," he half-whispered, half-growled.

"Fine, you goddamn git. I will." She glared back at him. "After you jumped out that window to run away from—"

"I didn't run away."

"Fine. Strategically retreated. Better?" She held his glare not backing down.

"Continue, Sinistra," he replied deathly quiet.

"After you left the castle, I wasn't sure if I should stay and fight with the others or if I should go to find you. I stayed, thinking that I'd only distract you. Well, a little after six, I was walking past Sybill when she grabbed my arm. I was about to shrug her off when she opened her mouth and started rattling something off with a gravely sort of voice. It was something about the 'The dawn's secret lover plunges into darkness' or something. I just stared at her, dumbfounded. Then a few minutes later, Harry showed up, his hands soaked in blood. They all had a horrified looks on their faces, but we all did. I overheard from Weasley telling George that you'd been attacked by Nagini in the Shrieking Shack. I bolted, Disapparated without a thought given in order to reach you."

"You can't—"

"Somehow the Dark Lord managed to destroy those wards with that fancy wand of his."

"I see."

"Minerva still hasn't managed to fix them yet." She shook her head, the tension and anger leaving her voice leaving behind sadness. "When I saw you, you were lying there in a pool of your own blood. I grabbed you, tried to stop the bleeding for a moment with my hands. It didn't work of course, so I Disapparated with you to the Great Hall."

His eyes narrowed. He recalled seeing the bewitched ceiling and feeling loads of movement near him. He frowned.

"Minerva saw you in my arms and was livid. I begged her and Pomfrey to help you. They both kept shaking their heads, stating you made your bed and had to lie in it now. I smacked Minerva so hard against the face for that and took us away from Hogwarts, to Spinner's End. I remembered the photo on your mantel in your rooms of you and your dad at that row house. I Disapparated us there and searched for the number, using my magic to unlock the door and go inside with you. I needed to stop the bleeding, but nothing was working. So, I cast a quick Stasis charm on you. I knew I wouldn't be reason enough to keep you fighting, so I had my house elf find your dad. She stayed in the shadows, far from the others so no one saw her and returned to tell me. I went there not long after, mere milliseconds after she told me, and told your dad that you were hurt badly. I was surprised he came with me to tell you the truth. I took him out into the alley. Again I didn't think. I just knew I had to get him there . . . so I Apparated us to Spinner's End. Your dad just looked at me and grunted something that sounded like 'oh, you're one of his kind' before he made his way over to you."

Snape's frown deepened. She could have been in serious trouble for her use of magic near his father. They both knew the ramifications of it. But he assumed that since she didn't look any worse for wear—at least certainly not one who might have spent time in Azkaban as a result of her actions—she had been one of the lucky ones to slip by unnoticed by the Aurors. It was likely due to the attack on Hogwarts that she was able to escape notice.

"I told him to talk to you while I tried every healing spell I knew to heal the wounds to your neck. Nothing worked, though. Your dad just kept talking to you, so I kept trying. And then when I ran out of ideas, I did the only thing I could think of. I kissed you. I cried and cried, begging and pleading with whoever would listen to me not to take you away. I closed my eyes and just focused on us, still kissing you and crying at the same time. I thought of how I'd regret not telling you how much I loved you, how I wished I just worked up the courage to kiss you . . . and hold you so you'd know at least. I nearly screamed when I felt you kiss me back." She held up a hand to cut him off before he could even get a word out. "I know it was just a reflex, that you'd have done the same if it was your father or Minerva. You don't have to explain. Really, Severus. I know."

"Sinistra," he said quietly when she paused to sigh. She, however, cut him off again, not really listening to him he noticed.

"Your pulse was getting stronger by the moment. It was like . . . I just knew you'd be fine then. The wound to your neck knitted itself back together. Don't ask me how. I still haven't figured that out. I was . . . scared, hurt. I knew it wasn't me that you were kissing, but it was so easy to believe that it was. I checked you once more, informed your father what he needed to do from my standpoint, explained that you couldn't go to a hospital, but that you seemed to be mending all right on your own. He just nodded, looking between both of us with likely a hundred questions on his mind. I told him that I had to go, that I couldn't stay. Told him that you wouldn't like finding me there at Spinner's End with you. That I'd only be detrimental to your health. Your father argued of course. I had to leave, though, Severus, or I'd have done something we'd both have regretted. My emotions were up and down and . . . everywhere that night. I can only imagine what yours were like. So . . . I left. I heard you make some sort of noise of protest, but I knew it was just because you were likely imagining her." She turned away from him. "It's always been Lily. And I—mmph."

Snape had grabbed a hold of her yanking her toward him and quickly silenced her with a hard crushing kiss. It was the only thing he could think of to shut her up so he could think. His mind was reeling with her words. She truly hadn't known what it meant. There was still a chance to walk away without her figuring out what she had used to save him and what it meant about them. But a part of him fought against that thought, winning not long after. He pulled back and sighed.

"You saved me by, accidentally it would seem, performing the Lovers' Gift." He waited for her warm brown eyes to focus on him before he continued. "The spell was created by a fifteenth-century wizard whose lover had been poisoned. As she lay dying in his arms, he kissed her, imparting all his love for her in it. Begging and pleading just as you had in hopes that something would save her. As he kissed her, his magic sought her out, surrounding the both of them." Snape's lips pursed slightly before he continued. "His love and magic combined with hers, dissolving the poison in her system as a result. It was later found that he had saved her by not just his love and magic, but by the fact that his love was returned." He stared into her eyes as he spoke so there was no mistake. "In other words, the Lovers' Gift is only successful if both the giver and receiver love one another. So, you are incorrect in your supposition that I do not love you. Clearly a part of me does since you were successful, Aurora." He heard her audible gasp and watched her eyes widen. "Yes, well, it came as a shock to me as well."

"How? You . . . but Lily?"

"It would seem when I prepared for my impending death and accepted it, the Fates decided to throw me a Quaffle instead," he replied flatly.

"I'm sorry," she whispered, looking downright ashamed and apologetic.

"Why are you apologizing, you foolish woman?" he snapped, frowning at her. "You did nothing to cause this result. Unless you're apologizing for saving my life by the power of our so-called love?" he sarcastically drawled, crossing his arms.

"Are you all right?" she asked, brushing off his sarcasm.

"I'm fine. A little miffed that you left me, but rather well considering."

She laughed faintly, shaking her head. "You're upset with me for leaving you that night?"

"Well, yes," he grumbled, not taking kindly to her laughter. His feelings were not something to be found amusing. Though, he supposed if he took it from her point of view he did understand her amusement. Six months earlier before his attack, he had been seen as the bastard of Hogwarts, a wretched man who deserved death, who took pleasure in others' suffering and who was quite happy to be left alone—particularly from idiot witches like Aurora Sinistra. And now look where he was? Upset over her leaving him after saving his life without even saying goodbye. It was quite laughable.

"I apologize, Severus," she said with a soft smile gracing her ruby lips. "I should have waited until you were at least semi-conscious and told you goodbye before I left. It won't happen again."

"See that it doesn't," he replied stiffly, feeling horribly awkward. It felt just like it had whenever he was around Lily when they were children. When he heard her laughter, he frowned. "I fail to see anything that I said that was amusing, Sinistra," he growled. He hated being the butt of the joke, especially when it involved someone he—perhaps—cared for. It only added more insult to his injury. Speaking of injury, he shifted his frockcoat a bit for more room. That dress on her was pure torture.

"Oh," she said between laughs, "Severus, sometimes you are so adorable."

"Excuse me?" He glared at her, his hackles rising. Adorable? Him? It was . . . preposterous. It was—hell, it was just plain insane. He was not adorable. Not now and not ever. Adorable . . . she needed her eyes checked if she truly thought that.

"It's not a bad thing, Severus." She quickly sobered at his glare. "I don't mean it as an insult."

"Well, it is one, Sinistra."

"How do you figure?"

"Kittens and puppies are adorable. Babies are on occasion if they're properly maintained. I, however, am not adorable. I'm . . . the opposite of it." He felt flustered, hot and bothered by her words. Adorable . . . how could she . . . how could anyone call him adorable? Adorable was a word to use for the innocent, something of which he had never been in his entire life. Adorable . . . honestly.

"Properly maintained?" She gave a short laugh. "Remind me never to let you near babies. I'd hate to see your 'properly maintained."

He glared at her. Her saving him with the Lovers' gift had to be a fluke. There was no way he could ever love her. She only managed to piss him off royally as well as make fun of him. She was . . . His thought stopped as he stared at her. That couldn't be why he liked her, could it? Because she was a bit like him, insult others and piss them off while staying cool and collected just to see the reaction? Was that why he liked her? What did that say about them?

"Why are you staring at me like that? Wait. You're not going to sick up on me, are you?"

"Of course not, you idiot woman," he snapped.

"Oh, good." She then released her breath. "Because I paid a lot for this dress, and if you ruin it, I'm going to hurt you."

"Are you now?" He snorted. "I doubt you even know how to hold your wand properly, Sinistra."

"Watch it, Snape."

"Or you'll do what? Have your perfect breasts spring forth to distract me?"

"As if it'd work on you," she replied, rolling her brown eyes. "I doubt you even remember what an erection feels like. That is if you've ever had one, which I doubt, you git."

"Come over here, you little tart." His long pale fingers snatched a hold of her ivory arms before he yanked her hard into him. His black eyes bore holes into her warm chocolaty orbs. "You're severely mistaken." He pressed her even more against him just to ensure she felt the hardness between them.

"How in the world can you walk with that thing?" she blurted out, staring at him with her mouth slightly opened and eyes wide.

"This is your fault, Sinistra." He glared at her, clenching his teeth as his body reacted even more. Why did she have to be shorter than him? Merlin, at this distance with her right underneath him, he was even more enticed by her, not to mention that damn raspberry perfume of hers was suffocating him. "If you hadn't dressed like some common whore, I'd have been—"

"Excuse me? Some common whore?" she yelled in outrage. "How is it my fault that you can't keep your body from reacting to mine? It's not my fault you haven't gotten laid in ages."

"Sinistra," he growled, his eyes darkening even more but not out of anger. "Shut it. Now."

"Or else what? You'll glare me to death? Ooh, I'm so scared."

If it had been anyone else, he'd have cut his losses right then and walked away from her to save himself many future migraines. But her words only fueled more of the fire inside him. He hated the fact that it was the reason, but her fighting side she was showing was turning him on. His self-control was held together by a thread only and was rapidly breaking as they continued their back and forth.

"Sinistra, I will not warn you again." His nostrils flared as he breathed rapidly.

"I'm not afraid of—" She cried out when he leapt toward her suddenly and backed her against the wall. His lips instantly covered hers, shoving his tongue into her mouth roughly as his calloused hands roamed over her fair skin leaving what was sure to turn into bruises. Once the initial fear of him seemingly attacking her passed, she returned the kiss eagerly but considerably gentler than he was. When he finally pulled back when they were both breathless and gasping for air, she swallowed, staring at him with sheer confusion. "What . . . what the hell was that?"

"Don't tell me that our dear Astronomy mistress has never been snogged before," he drawled sarcastically with his lip curling upward into a half-smile. He felt considerably calmer now that he had released some of his tension. "My, my, and here you thought I was—"

"I've been snogged before, you arse. And that was not even remotely close to snogging. You . . . you forced yourself on me."

"I assure you, Sinistra, that if I ever attempted to force myself on you as you claim I just did, you'd not complain about it."

"Oh, really? I bet I would. I bet every woman—"

"Tell me, Sinistra. How quickly do you think it'd take for me to reduce you to whimpering and begging me to take you?" He crossed his arms as he asked his question, holding her brown eyes. "Thirty seconds?" He smirked when she glared at him. It wouldn't be long now.

"Thirty seconds? You're on, you goddamn bastard."

"Do you kiss your mother with that mouth, Sinistra?"

"No, but I kiss yours," she threw back angrily, not stopping to think about her words.

"Go Mum," he replied with a soft chuckle. He watched her face drop in what he assumed was shock. She was too easy. Honestly. "How about a wager? If I reduce you to begging and pleading for me in thirty seconds, you'll do whatever I ask of you for a week. If I don't, then I'll do whatever you wish for a week." He watched her eyes narrow on him for a moment as she considered his idea before she scoffed and rolled her eyes.

"You're on, Severus."

He inclined his head before he took a step toward her. This would be rather fun. For him at least. He drew in a slow breath as his dark eyes trailed over her body. He prided himself on his self-control. And with the unfortunate release earlier, he knew he was safe from another loss of control. Thirty seconds to get her to beg and plead for him? It'd be so easy. He could tell by the poorly hidden look of desire in her eyes she wanted him. He inhaled again, his lip curling upward. Oh, yes, this would be fun.

He rested his hand gently on her shoulder, his fingers splayed against her ashen skin with the tips touching the delicate fabric of her dress. Slowly, his fingers trailed across her flesh toward the top of her corset and then down to her hips. He lowered his head before pressing gentle kisses down her jaw line, her neck, and then finally across her bare chest. He pulled her closer, almost flush with him. He gave her a thin barely visible soft smile, holding her warm brown eyes as he did. To anyone else it would look like a sinister sneer of massively evil proportions, but he felt her melt against him, knowing that she was most definitely not anyone. She recognized his smile as a smile. Rarely did others do that. The idiots.

His lips lightly descended on hers again, gently kissing her before sucking on her bottom lip with a tender edge to it. His fingers slowly danced across her delicate skin as he moved his lips from her now full ones, whispering her name like a caress in her ear. He chuckled inwardly when he heard her resulting moan.

"Severus . . ." She trembled against him with her voice embracing him warmer than anything else had before in his life.

"Yes?" Like he said, too easy.

"Please."

He wrapped his arms fully around her, resting them lightly on her hips as he stared into her warm brown eyes. He could feel the love she had for him coming off in waves. Here was a woman who didn't fear him, didn't feel disgust toward him, just pure unadulterated love. And lots of it. It was almost to the point where he felt sick from the feeling of its intensity. However, a part of him felt . . . calm, a sense of peace at knowing that he was loved. For too long he had believed that he was unlovable, especially after the events at the lake with Lily and subsequent absolvent of their friendship all those years ago.

Lily had been kind to him. She showed him kindness when others only showed hatred and contempt. Aurora, however, continuously showed him kindness, understanding, respect, unwavering loyalty, but most importantly love. He inhaled slowly. He felt different with Aurora. He felt something he hadn't felt in so long. He enjoyed having her in his arms. Enjoyed kissing her and leaving both of them breathless. Yes, he and Aurora bickered, but the back and forth was oddly arousing to say the least. A match for him if ever there was another to fill that void. He'd take it slow, of course—no need to rush a good thing—but he felt in his heart as if he was home . . . after being lost for so long.

A/N: Thanks for reading.