I felt like I was diving. Ahead of me was blue without fear, just a deep color and absence of form. Voices rushed over me like dawn's light, a million thoughts and sounds and conversations, then the sky broke, and I saw myself standing with a tall dark form. I saw the me laughing, unaware I was watching myself. I felt a peaceful joy radiating from the figure, which suddenly seemed to start, and turn as if it noticed me watching us. It began to turn...
An alarm woke me. I slammed my hand on the table before I remembered this was Hogwarts, and the clock alarm that woke me at my home was miles away. I looked around in time to watch the spelled bird sounding the alarm disappear as it noticed my movements, and rubbed my eyes.
Early morning. Class today, another long day of endless review and preparation for the important tests to come next week. I couldn't be more excited. I felt like my whole life had been preparing me for this moment, and soon the exams that I had been studying for would happen. Best of all, this was one year where I knew they wouldn't be canceled (finally!).
If only I wasn't distracted.
I drew myself up, trying not to fall out of bed. Thursday. Essays in both Potions and Herbology. I flexed my fingers, getting them ready, feeling silly with a huge grin on my face. I loved this time of year, and this time it wasn't sharing the space with trauma. Only a wonderful tension filled me, mixed with anticipation and a determined mind. I no longer feared failure, something I had been inwardly fighting with since day one. It was probably because of last year, maybe because of this year. Either way, time to get ready.
I grabbed the tight black outfit and slipped it on, glad I'd showered the night before to save time. Grabbing my hair brush while I walked to the closet, I untangled my hair while I picked out my shoes. Today was a day for my laced boots. They weren't particularly fancy, but they weren't as worn as my other shoes, and I felt good this morning. A few more days and the final exams would happen, a week of those, and then a week off. And such good dreams recently. Not very clear ones, but they always left me feeling refreshed and blindingly happy. It all came together that I decided on lacing up my shoes instead of just slipping them on and buckling them.
As I warded the door, I heard a now-familiar commotion in the hall ahead of me, and the smile I had on got wider. Had I somehow managed to catch the elusive Professor Snape as he was leaving for breakfast? Today truly was a day to end all days. I rushed ahead quietly; quietly, because he seemed to be talking to himself.
A few steps away and I heard him say, "...of all days. I'm not prepared for this at all." and saw him bang his head slightly into his door.
"Professor?" I started, concerned. He looked at me, his eyes too tired to be surprised, leaving me to feel surprised for the both of us.
"Good morning, Miss Granger. Did you sleep well?"
I nodded. "You apparently didn't."
"I'll ignore that remark, but it's true." He sighed. "Working with Flitwick, and now this. It seems we're going to be interviewing people for the position of Potions Master next year, and we're getting an applicant in today. He insisted. The newly-reinstated school governors couldn't turn him down." He warded his door. "Never could the fools." He nearly spat.
My mind worked fast. "That is to say... you mean..."
He nodded. "I've been up since two hours before dawn, trying to prepare myself for this. He apparently wants me to meet me first, then go to the Headmistress's office. Catch up on old times."
"Lucius Malfoy." I shook my head, trying to clear it. "He ended up on our side, didn't he?"
"If it wasn't for Narcissa caring more for their son than power, he wouldn't have. They both were never keen on what was happening to their boy at the Dark Lord's bidding. All the same, I'd trust Narcissa first."
"I would, too." I replied, remembering the night in Malfoy Manor. "Lucius always seemed too hungry for glory... Narcissa and Draco seemed to just want us and everyone gone."
"Well either way, we're supposed to forgive and forget now... He's been pardoned from doing time, and given up a good share of his fortunes to the families of wizards, and muggles, that he helped to destroy."
"I'd bet everything I own he still has more gold than either of us would know what to do with." Snape nodded, then tilted his head suddenly.
"What is it?" I asked when he had gone longer than five seconds without saying anything.
He held up a hand to silence me. Another second passed, and he whispered. "Lucius is coming. And if the aura I'm reading is correct, he doesn't want to see you. At all."
My heart raced. I felt no fear for an attack, but an angry Mister Malfoy, right now, right here, frightened me. Too little time had passed from laying in agony on his carpet for an encounter, especially now that he was restored to grace and holding a new wand. I started to turn.
"Don't try to go up the stairs, he's about to head down them." I looked both ways, then at my door.
"Do I have time to make it to my rooms?"
He was looking past me, his eyes focusing and unfocusing rapidly. "No."
I felt like screaming. Instead, I did something crazy. I grabbed him, gripping his clothes and forcing him to meet my eyes. "Help me."
He froze for half a second, then spun us to the side in shadow of a statue. "Don't breathe." His arms and cloak enveloped me, and I felt his thoughts utter a spell. The bit of the floor I could see went brighter, and I realized he'd cast a powerful vanishing charm on us both.
Not two seconds later did the sound of footsteps start at the end of the hall. Soft at first, and uneven from going down steps, then stronger and more sure of themselves accompanied by a soft tap. I felt that creeping feeling of terror, and pressed myself further into Snape, comforted by the response of a tighter hold. The smell of herbs, sweet and musky, filled my senses. Snape's heartbeat, steady and fast, coming from a chest so still it felt like porcelain. Porcelain? I wondered to myself, then felt myself slip away. Yes... smooth and white like porcelain...
Those thoughts shattered when my small view of the hall was suddenly filled with the visage of Lucius Malfoy. For all I had heard of his 'change', he seemed just the same to me. His hair was the same length, his robes the same fine material, his eyes held the same icy chill . True, he looked a little older, but all of us had come off with that particular scar. Even the newly de-aged Professor Snape had a look in his eyes that hadn't been there before from nearly dying yet again. Malfoy, however, was nothing like Snape.
He strolled easily down the hallway with all of his over confidence of before. I saw him adjust his cloak before he went out of my vision, the soft tapping of his cane ending to become a knock on Snape's door. I held my breath.
"Severus? It's Lucius. I'm here as promised." I couldn't help it. The sound of his voice reminded me of too much I'd only recently come to terms with. I put my head under Snape's chin and my arms around his waist. Snape didn't, probably couldn't move. A shadow rippled, but no more; Malfoy didn't notice. "Severus? Are you there?"
Yes, but I'm terribly busy and can't come to the door right now. Snape's voice sounded in my head. I smirked back in my mind. I heard that, he replied.
I felt him stiffen as Malfoy looked both ways, but I could tell by the eyes beneath the silvery hair he wasn't looking at us. Maybe for us? He knocked again, and I saw him begin to pull his wand out of his cane, then stop as though thinking better of it.
Slowly, Malfoy raised a hand to the door. I saw him close his eyes and place his palm onto the solid wood surface. He's trying to use my wards to find out where I am.
Will he be able to? I asked mentally.
No, my occlumency is perfect.
Years of keeping everyone out, I mused.
Lucius pulled his hand back as Snape answered, truer than you think.
"Must really be out..." Malfoy's voice said softly, sending awful chills down my spine. "No matter. I'm sure the Headmistress will give me a warm welcome." He turned sharply and walked past us down the hall. Quickly as they'd come, the tapping of shoes on stone faded into the distance.
I felt the spell lift and Snape shift to let me go. My grip tightened. "Not yet, please."
He acquiesced, his arms tightening, once more, but I heard the soft baritone of his reply quickly. "I feel as though I'm taking advantage of your pain."
I didn't move. "Why do you feel that way?"
He paused for a moment, something I felt in his whole body. "I enjoy holding you." When I didn't answer, he further explained. "You wouldn't need this right now if you weren't hurting."
I breathed in slowly the comforting, almost familiar scent on his clothes. "Don't be upset with yourself for being able to make me feel better. If you'll be put at ease, later when you have to deal with him yourself, I'll hold you."
"I don't like your sarcasm, Granger."
I looked up. "Who's being sarcastic? It seems like a fair trade to me."
He shook his head, but he didn't let go. "I couldn't let you do that. It would be on unfair terms."
"Well, I can't force a favor on you." I sighed. I felt him laugh softly and shake his head. "What?"
"You are an interesting young woman, Miss Granger." I moved to look up at him, meeting his eyes in time to see him flinch then go back to normal. "We should be getting to breakfast."
"All right." I said good naturedly and let him go, starting with him down the hall. "Do you at least feel like you can talk to me if the meeting with Lucius doesn't go well?"
He groaned, turning a slap on his forehead into fingers combing his hair. "Fine. If I need to talk about it, I'll do so in our next study session." He rolled his eyes and folded his arms, then smiled. "Stubborn."
"You're stubborn!" I shot back.
"You're a know-it-all."
"I just study hard! You're anti-social."
"I refuse to be insulted by a base fact about myself." He replied, grinning behind his scowl.
"Well, I'm going to beat you to breakfast!" I said, running up the steps. Not to be outdone, I heard his boots slamming the ground just behind me, and for a few minutes until we reached the Great Hall, I was back in Hogsmeade.