Chapter Twenty: Yuletide at Home
The night of Christmas Day would have been a quiet one - crystal snow covering the land and twinkling gently in the lingering twilight. As it was, dusk of December twenty-fifth at Hogwarts was loud and filled with echoing cheers and laughter. Two figures could be seen in the stands of the Quidditch pitch watching the raucous, impromptu match below. Sitting in the front row of the stands, the younger of the two, a petit witch with silver streaked dark brown hair knotted into a loose bun, laughed merrily beside an older wizard with long silver hair. She was leaning on the rail in front of them, her hands and forearms overlapping each other with her chin resting on top in a very child-like pose. An involuntary happy smile graced her features as her eyes followed the players zooming across the field. Her attention was riveted on the scene below. However, the same could not be said for the man beside her.
He hadn't even noticed he was staring until she laughed. Quickly, he ripped his gaze away from her face wondering why he was doing so in the first place. Concluding that this was a perfectly natural, unassuming thing to do, he resumed his observation, though now consciously taking more frequent glances down at the pitch. Here, watching her children and her adoptive kin play, Minerva was at ease. Albus hadn't seen this side of the witch in a very long time and often wondered if it still existed. It did. That Christmas night proved it. Professor McGonagall was just that when she taught, but Minerva was different - only a shadow of the strict, stern, logical teacher her students knew and respected. Minerva was a kind, loving woman, who happened to be able to turn into Professor McGonagall when situations required it. It was strange, he mused, being able to know and understand both sides of the woman, though at times it proved to be minimal knowledge. A small, unnoticed smile came to the headmaster's face as Minerva heaved an exasperated sigh and tucked a few stray strands of hair back behind her ears, again.
"Do you ever regret coming back?" Albus asked suddenly, intrigued as to why she would ever want to return and lead two different lives with two different personalities. Turning, she looked at him sharply, and from the look on his face could tell that this question had been bothering him for a while. Moreover, he wanted an answer - a real answer.
'Do I regret this?' she thought to herself silently, sitting back in the chair and taking the question to heart, as it was meant to be. She loved her simple life at Marian Cottage, with the Weasley children popping in and out almost every day. She missed it terribly, but did she regret returning to Hogwarts? No, she decided silently, teaching was as much a part of her as being a mother was.
"No, Albus, I don't," she replied steadily and turned her head to face his thoughtful blue eyes.
"You don't miss this?" he pressed, gesturing out onto the Quidditch pitch.
"Yes, I do," she said honestly. Trying to suppress an amused grin as she noticed his eyes grow darker at her pronouncement, she elaborated, "But I wouldn't trade what I have now for anything."
He grinned at her and took up her hand, dramatically proclaiming, "And we would be lost without you, fair lady." She laughed at his ridiculous attempt at a serious, honest face and he grinned back, lifting her gloved hand to his lips for a friendly light kiss.
"You really are off your rocker, Albus Dumbledore," she teased, pulling her hand away and batting him gently on the arm.
"Ah, but would you have me any other way, my dear professor?" he twinkled.
"No," she said softly, meaning every word, "No, I wouldn't. I like this old coot just the way he is," she finished, covering his hand with her own. Their eyes locked for an instant and then she grinned, "At the very least I tolerate you to no end - I did say you'd be on your own if you ever did something incredibly stupid. And yet here I am, back again."
"You're boundless forgiveness is appreciated," he grinned back at her, then added quietly, "I truly am very sorry-."
She held up a hand and cut him off, saying softly, "I know, Albus. I know."
Nodding in silent acknowledgement, he squeezed her hand gently and broke eye contact, looking out onto the Quidditch pitch where the players stood on the ground for a timeout. It was getting too dark to see and the adults earnestly wanted to call it quits, but the children begged to finish the game. With a mischievous twinkle in his eye, Albus raised his wand and muttered a brief incantation. The entire stadium glowed in a soft, but strong white light, illuminating every corner of the pitch.
"Thank you Uncle Albus!" the younger children yelled as the adults threw dirty looks up into the stands. Minerva's amused laugh joined Albus' as the teams took flight again.
Harry, Ron, and the twins had received a joint Christmas present that year from Amanda, the Figgs, Marcus, Poppy, and Albus - a complete set of junior Quidditch equipment. Molly had sighed in resignation when they ripped off the colorful Christmas wrapping paper that morning. The set came with six brooms (that didn't raise more than ten feet off the ground with anti-collision charms on them), a quaffle, two safety bludgers and bats, and a golden snitch that flew a bit slower than a normal one. The teams at the moment were Remus, Charlie, and Bill versus all six of the younger children (on the new brooms) and Amanda. They had virtually shrunk the field so it wouldn't be as vast and shortened the hoops to about eight feet to make it easier for the younger ones to manage. They had been outside since after lunch, their noses and ears pink and their cheeks flushed from the cold.
"Albus, we really should get them inside soon," Minerva admonished quietly.
"Oh, Minerva, it's Christmas," he said, as if that simple fact warranted their unending play time.
"It's past their bedtimes," she said sternly, her professor mode rearing its unyielding head. Albus' shoulders drooped in exaggerated defeat and she rolled her eyes at him, pulling out her wand and subtly pointing at the evasive snitch Harry was in the process of chasing. Miraculously (or magically) the snitch veered left, right into Harry's outstretched hand and he pulled out of his dive with spectacular flourish. She allowed them one victory lap before calling for them to go to bed. The exhausted men raised a tired cheer at that, and the children giggled as they began to put the equipment away. "You too, old man," she nodded to Albus with a teasing grin, "I daresay it's past your bedtime as well." He rose quickly and dashed after her as she skittered away down the back stairs of the stands, laughing lightheartedly in spite of herself.
An hour later, Minerva swayed peacefully on the rocking chair in Harry's room, the little six year old almost fast asleep in her arms. She crooned quietly to him as she held him close, her cheek resting against his forehead as he struggled to stay awake and draw out Christmas Day. Remus watched silently from the door, noting the way her fingers combed through the boy's hair absently as she sang. He leaned against the doorframe, feeling awake despite the hour and the prolonged period of playtime that day. Smiling his half-smile as Minerva finally rose and deposited the small boy on the bed gently, he watched a little enviously as she placed a kiss on his forehead and smoothed his hair lovingly out of his face. He had been remembering a bit more over the last two weeks, not enough to fully recover all of his memories, but enough to understand why Harry thought he had been stealing his mother. Once upon a time, Minerva had been his mother too, in a sense. She still was, really - the way she treated him was reminiscent of the way a mother would handle a son. Despite his initial confusion, Remus had responded in the like - his instincts bullying him into accepting her love once more.
Grinning slightly as she walked towards the door, she laid a hand on Remus' arm and led him quietly out to the main room. As they seated themselves on the plush couch before the fire, Minerva conjured up two mugs of steaming hot chocolate. Placing her left hand over the low back of the couch, she bended her knees and tucked her stockinged feet into the space between the armrest and the cushion. Remus adopted a somewhat stiffer pose beside her, leaning forward to rest his elbows on his knees and clasping the mug between his hands. They sat in silence for a few minutes, just enjoying each other's presence and staring into the flames lost in their own thoughts. She watched him out of the corner of her eyes, seeing the stiff posture and the familiar brooding look in his eyes.
"What's on your mind?" Minerva asked quietly, setting her mug down and giving the young werewolf her full attention. She didn't like the way he'd been so quiet after they'd all come in. Granted, it could have been because he was exhausted, but she knew him better than that.
"It's nothing," he automatically replied, but saw the no-nonsense gaze she skewered him with and sighed. "It's just the full moon," he said, "It's tomorrow night." At her questioning gaze, he explained, "Albus said my transformation, since it's kind of a traumatic experience every time, could trigger all my memories to come back." Leaning back, he kept his eyes on the fire, and whispered quietly, "I'm scared."
"Of what?" she questioned softly.
"Something happened, something huge that changed everything, and all I remember about it is that it drove me away from here." He paused for a moment before thinking aloud, "What if it happens again? I don't want to leave this."
She nodded silently and placed her arm around his shoulders, drawing him down and closer. Vividly remembering this particular gesture, he grinned quietly and swung his legs up and over the armrest of the couch, settling his head comfortably in her lap. Looking up into her face, he flashed his half-smile and she laughed softly, brushing his hair out of his face and gently tweaking his nose in an old teasing gesture. He sighed again, this time, letting his fears and worries leave him as he blew out the breath. She felt him relax then and smiled as he closed his eyes. Combing out his hair gently, she watched him succumb to a deep slumber.
He was far too young, in her eyes, to have seen and dealt with everything he had been forced to in his past. He didn't deserve this life, none of them did, James, Lily, Peter, Sirius, well, perhaps he did. 'No,' she thought silently, remembering the lively young mischief maker, 'He doesn't deserve that place either.' Remembering them only made her more miserable and she silently wished for the thousandth time, 'I wish they all had another chance.' Like one other did.
"Albus, what will happen to him?" she whispered nervously to the wizard beside her. His only answer was a weak shake of his head as they returned their attention to the scene unfolding before them.
"Severus Snape, you are held under the charge of being a Death Eater. Therefore, you are also charged with the kidnapping, rape, and death of. . ." Bartemis Crouch continued to list the charges against the young raven haired man in front of the dais staring back up at him with a defiant look in his eyes.
"Albus, do something!" she hissed angrily, clutching the man's arm with a frantic hand. "He's innocent!"
"I can't, Minerva," he said sadly, "I cannot sway the judicial system. I have no evidence to prove his innocence. They wouldn't understand."
"You are the most powerful and respected wizard in the room," she whispered hoarsely, "Make them understand!"
"Minerva," he hissed back, "I don't like this any more than you do, but we must allow this trial to run its course, I cannot interfere."
"Albus you have to! You can't let them send him back there. They might sentence him to-."
"I am not at liberty to order the Ministry of Magic around," he snapped.
"But you do have a responsibility to take care of your students," she growled, her patience nearing its end, "All of them."
"You think I don't want to?!"
"Well that's the impression you're giving."
"Those students couldn't mean more to me if they were my own!"
"Then do something!"
"We must wait for an appeal if they find him guilty."
"He will not last another week in Azkaban!"
"Does Headmaster Dumbledore have something to add?" Crouch asked crossly from his seat on the dais. The two teachers incessant whispering was beginning to annoy him.
"Albus please," she begged with pleading eyes in a barely audible whisper, "We may not be able to save them all, but please, please help him now. He's just a boy."
Her eyes were bottomless pits of sorrow and regret, pleading with him to make a difference here, in this courtroom, at this very moment. He turned away from her and rose, and her hand dejectedly fell away from his arm, but he caught it and grasped it tightly.
"I do," he stated strongly. The brief flash of hope on Severus' face was all he needed to continue. "I would like to state for the record that I am aware Severus Snape was indeed a Death Eater. However," he said in a slightly louder voice over the faint murmur of the small crowd, "It is my duty to inform you that he is no longer in Voldemort's service." A ripple coursed through the room as every person present flinched at the Dark Lord's name. Meeting Crouch's skeptical gaze squarely as Minerva tightened her grip on his hand, he finished, "Severus Snape has my full confidence."
He heard Minerva suck in a quiet breath and squeezed her hand in reassurance as Crouch nodded his acknowledgement of Dumbledore's opinion.
"Thank you, Headmaster," he said neutrally and Albus returned to his seat. As the self proclaimed judge turned to one of his advisors on his right, Albus noticed the hand he held was trembling. At his questioning gaze, Minerva shot him a weak, unconvincing smile and he covered her hands with his, wishing he could do more to calm her quaking emotions. Turning back to Severus, he met the young man's eyes with a firm look that said, 'I will get you out of this.'
"We have reached a decision," Crouch announced. The witch tensed beside him and he couldn't help but stiffen as well. "The court issues a warning to Severus Snape, allowing him to remain free as long as he maintains in his present position at Hogwarts."
Letting out the breath she hadn't even realized she was holding, Minerva felt her eyes water with happy tears and her vice like grip on Albus' hands relaxed.
"A second chance," she muttered quietly, dabbing her eyes with a lacey white handkerchief from her sleeve. She could still remember the relief that hit her that moment - as if she had been suffocating and a breath of fresh air was poured into her abused lungs. Cradling the young man's head in her hands, she rose from the couch carefully and summoned a large fluffy pillow from her bedroom. Tucking it behind his head, she brushed his lank hair out of his face again and reached for a thick blanket on the adjacent armchair. In true motherly fashion, she cast an extra heating charm on the blanket so it would keep him thoroughly warm and tucked it around his still, sleeping form. He muttered incoherently in his sleep as she pulled the cover over him and she shushed him gently, tucking the edges of the blanket around his shoulders and under his chin.
"Good night, dear heart," she whispered as she placed a kiss on his forehead.
" 'nigh," came the sleepy reply.
"Will you be alright?" the woman asked softly as a witch behind her bustled about, making sure there was no way for the werewolf to escape. "Are you sure you don't want me to stay?"
"I'm sure," the young man replied and questioned skeptically, "How much difference do you honestly think a tabby cat will make on a fully grown werewolf?"
Shaking her head, she touched his cheek gently and said, "You know I hate to leave you like this."
"I'll be fine," he stated again, catching her hand and leaning in to peck her on the cheek. "I always am," he added with his half smile.
"Come on, Minerva," Poppy said as she came back into the bedroom, "Stop mothering him, he's a grown man. We've got to get back to the castle."
Planting another kiss on his cheek, with a whispered, "She's lying, you know - you'll always be my little boy," she tweaked his nose as she turned and left, following Poppy out of the shack and back towards the castle via the tunnel and the Whomping Willow.
The Shrieking Shack was alive again that night, for the first time in eleven years - the supposed violent ghosts in a particularly bad mood that evening. As the moon disappeared in the faint gray of early morning, the screaming ceased. Inside the shack, a young man with a few scratch marks on his body lay on the floor panting heavily. Not only did he wheeze out of exhaustion, he tried to regulate his breathing as a flood of memories broke over his mind with all the force of a released river. All of the missing bits and pieces were there. Dumbledore had warned him about this - a traumatic experience bringing his memories back to him. Scenes flashed through his head wildly, turning themselves over and over in his head to make up for the month they had been lost to him.
He was running, trying to escape capture, plowing haphazardly through bushes and over protruding roots of the forest. He was on all fours, panting heavily, a deep slash from a fight with a ferocious dog bled heavily over his back along with various bites and scratches covering his body. He could feel his strength ebbing from his body very slowly, a foreign substance on his neck was the source of the poison. It was nearly dawn, another hour or so until the sky lit up in pale grays. His body was failing fast, but he didn't recognize it, his animal instincts warring with his human thoughts of 'Hide!' as he continued to run from an unseen foe. His vision blurred slightly as he stumbled, his eyes missing a subtle change in the natural floor. Pain shot up his right foreleg as a thin wire wrapped around his limb. Out of his mind with pain, the creature struggled against the snare, yelping painfully as the wire cut deeper and deeper into his wrist.
Dawn finally broke and the werewolf transformed back into a young man, nearly delirious now from the poison. 'Minerva,' he thought weakly, 'Help.' Concentrating with very fiber in his being, he disappeared and the snare dropped to the ground. When he opened his eyes, he saw nothing but hills surrounding him and stretching over the land as far as the eye could see. Groaning painfully, he stood and sniffed the air. There it was - the scent of strong magic to the south east. With only one goal in mind, he trudged toward the valley to his left. Grinning wearily as he topped a rise and caught sight of a gleaming castle in the distance, he stregthed his resolve and concentrated on placing one foot in front of the other.
The highlands faded into a dark corridor.
"Moony, come on," a boy with messy black hair urged quietly, "We haven't even figured out the password to the witch yet!"
"Come on, listen to Prongs," echoed another dark-haired boy, "It might go all the way to Hogsmeade!"
"We've already got four detentions this week," the slightly sickly- looking brunette said sternly. "And we _do_ have to study for our O.W.L.s sometime this year."
"Oh, come on, the O.W.L.s aren't till the end of the year!" the second black haired boy said impatiently, "We've got months and months to waste on studying."
"Padfoot," Moony sighed in exasperation, "Studying for those exams aren't a waste of time - they could land us really good jobs-."
"Sshh!" a fourth voice hissed in a panicky voice, "Someone's coming."
Silently, the four boys ducked under a cloak and vanished.
The darkness brightened quickly into the kitchen of a small London flat.
A newspaper dropped out of his numb hands and he collapsed into a chair, clutching his head in anguish. A wizened old wizard placed a comforting hand on his shoulder, but he shrugged it off woodenly and rose, his back to the man sitting at the table.
"Why did he do it?" came his choked question. Dumbledore remained silent as the young man struggled to gain control of his raging emotions. The conversation that followed was full of nothing but would-be comforting words and a hollow acceptance of sympathy.
Finally, the scene shimmered and he found himself overlooking the quaint district of Old Quebec.
He was seated in a chair on a balcony over the bistro where he worked, staring not at the view, but at the curt letter lying on the table before him waiting to be sealed and sent.
I have no regrets about leaving - it was something I had to do. I am well and out of the country. Please tell Professor McGonagall not to worry. I couldn't stay. And nothing you say will convince me to return.
"I can't go back," he resolutely whispered to himself, "I can't - I'm alone."
The last thought echoed in his mind the loudest. He was alone - the last Marauder. Why did he stay here, at Hogwarts, in this place that held so many reminders of events from his lost childhood? It was too much for the young man to want to remember. He was there at her request. He remembered the sympathetic gazes she covertly shot him his entire stay. "Damn her sympathy," he growled, heaving himself off the floor as he ignored his protesting muscles, and made for the door. Before he had gone more than two steps, the door swung open to admit a far too cheerful medi- witch.
"Good morning, Remus," she greeted with a smile, "I take it the injuries aren't that serious-." Her sentenced was sliced off by the dangerous look in his eyes. "Oh dear God," she whispered.
"Yes," he hissed, "I remember. Why didn't anyone tell me this before?"
"We thought it would be better for you to remember on your own," came the quiet reply even as she held out a potion of her most potent healing potion. He downed it automatically, ignoring its vile taste and pushed past her.
"Remus wait," she said, hurrying after him, "Where are you going?"
"Away from here," he snapped in reply. Yes, leaving was the best idea he'd had in a month - he should have never come. There was nothing here for him but nostalgic memories of a childhood that faded too quickly into the harsh real world.
Minerva was sitting on the steps looking out over the lake and the Whomping Willow when its branches ceased moving and a figure stormed angrily out of the tunnel the tree hid.
"Remus?" she called as the figure came closer, "What-."
Her question died on her lips as his head snapped up and his pale blue eyes met hers in anger.
"I'm leaving," he snapped simply.
Ten minutes later, Minerva caught up with him after staring blankly at the space he had vacated when he said "leaving." He was in her rooms, his tattered old suitcase open (Albus had sent for a few of his old things a week before) and flinging his belongings into it furiously.
"Remus, please," Minerva pleaded, "don't do this, dear heart. Talk to me."
"Talk," he snarled, slamming his suitcase closed, "That's all you ever want to do - talk."
"Yes talk," she said, trying to keep her emotions and her temper in check. "I don't want to lose you again. Don't shut me out."
"I've told you how I feel and yet you insist on badgering me."
"A caustic 'I'm fine' does not constitute telling me anything of substance," she snapped.
"Then what do you want me to say?" his voice cracked, "That I feel lost? That I have to command myself to live a somewhat normal life? That I have to force myself to breathe every time I think about what happened?" When she failed to reply, he yelled, "What the hell do you want from me?"
"I want you to be happy!" she cried, "I want you to not have to force yourself to continue to exist! I want you to move on, not run, move on!"
"Move on?" he repeated stonily, "Move on and stop dwelling in the past, like you, is that it?"
"Yes," she whispered in affirmation.
"Hell, woman!" he shouted angrily, "All you do day in and day out is dwell in the past!"
"What are you talking about?" she questioned sharply.
"I'm talking about you not moving on, like you tell everyone else to," he barked bitingly, "You've never gotten over you're old boyfriend's death and you know it!" she paled at this and he continued, "So stop being such a bloody hypocrite and leave me the hell alone." With that, he snatched up his tattered satchel and stormed out the door, slamming it angrily behind him.
"Ma?" a sleepy voice questioned from the doorway, "What's going on?"
"Nothing, love," she said, guiding him back to his bed quickly, "Go back to sleep, I'll be back in a moment."
"M-kay," he muttered, immediately complying and passing out once again.
A striped gray tabby tore through the halls, following the scent of her oldest kit, pleading with him silently in her mind, 'Please don't go.'
He was already yards away from the castle by the time she reached the top of the front steps and she raced down them, her cat form more suited for the chase than her human form. Transforming, she pulled out her wand and cried, "Immobulus!" and froze him in mid-step. Taking deep breaths, she marched purposefully up to him and looked him square in the eye.
"You - are - alive, Remus Lupin," her words came out quietly, but with no small amount of force and conviction behind them, "That alone is reason to not throw you life away to rot in sorrow." With a flick of her wrist, the freezing spell dissipated and Remus set both feet on the ground. He stared at her for a few moments, not really knowing how to deal with the unconditional love in her eyes.
"I'm alone," he said softly as he shifted his gaze to his feet, "I'm the last one," his anger ebbing and being replaced with guilt, "The last Marauder and I don't know what to do."
He flinched a bit when her hands came up to gently cradle his face and force him to look at her.
"You will never be alone, dear heart. And don't you ever think otherwise." she whispered, and placed a tender kiss on his forehead. "Now come back up to the castle and eat your breakfast. You must be starving after last night."
Grinning wryly at the little witch fixing him with her no-nonsense gaze again, he allowed her to lead him back to the stone walls that housed a painful flood of memories.
Three sharp knocks brought Hogwarts' headmaster out of his reverie as he shook his head to clear his thoughts. He stood before the wide window in his office, gazing out into the picturesque setting. The moon was waning that night, bright but no longer full, meaning that three specific people would sleep soundly tonight. It was nearing eleven o'clock in the evening, the stars hidden behind ominous gray-black clouds that promised a heavy coating of snow come morning. He raised his eyebrows at the identity of the late night peace-breaker and called for her to come in.
"I'm sorry to bother you so late, Albus," Minerva began, but stopped when the headmaster held up his hand, staying her apology.
"It's no bother to see an old friend, Minerva," he twinkled at her, gesturing for her to take a seat in one of the plush armchairs by the fire. As she obliged, he couldn't help but watch her closely for any signs of what caused her to make this trip. The flickering flames of the fire cast shadows over her face, making her look older and more worn than he had ever seen her before. Her thick hair was pinned back in a gold hairnet and her green tartan bathrobe pooled about her feet (it had been her father's). "Hot chocolate?" he suggested lightly and grinned at her amused nod.
Setting down a steaming mug in front of her, he sat back in the chair opposite and peered at her over the rim of his cup with raised eyebrows, silently asking a question.
"Do I dwell in the past?" she asked suddenly. The wizened headmaster had not been expecting that - Minerva had never asked him questions about herself like this before.
"What happened?" he asked quietly.
"It was just something Remus said. . . about me being a hypocrite when I tell others to move on and -."
She cut herself off then, not sure where exactly she was going with this.
"Minerva," he spoke her name in a tone that forced her to meet his serious gaze, "You do not dwell in the past. You think of it often, but you do not let it overwhelm and overcome you." She didn't seem convinced, so he added in a low voice, "If you truly do live in the past, then why do you keep coming back here?" He paused for a moment, letting the question sink in. "I'll tell you why - it's because you work for the future - for the children, for Harry."
"The future," she echoed quietly. "I suppose I must, hmm?"
Grinning silently at her pensive expression, he confirmed, "Yes, you must."
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