Disclaimer: I'm not muscling in on JK's turf - just gambolling on it, like a spring lamb, having fun working out the literary and psychological puzzles which she is having fun setting us
Well, we did promise to have it done by the end of May.... Apologies for the delay in getting this out but we were both unwell, whitehound with a low-level but incredibly persistent sniffly cold and Dyce with a shorter but much more violent bronchitis.
"I, ah, wanted to talk to you, Draco. About Miss Granger." Which was a lie if ever he'd told one: very nearly the last thing he wanted to do right now was discuss his embryonic love-life with his godson, but he thought he'd better get in first with the facts before Pansy got in with the gossip, and going by what Hermione had told him, there was no time to lose. Trusting to Miss Parkinson's discretion not to spread the news to other houses was one thing: expecting her not to at least drop knowing hints around the Slytherin common room was quite another.
"What about her?" Draco frowned. Granger had seemed to be getting along quite well with his godfather so far - she had even rescued Draco himself to be brought back as a sort of gift for Snape. Which was as embarrassing as hell, but... had they argued or something? Or had she told Snape about some of the things Draco had said to her over the years, and would he now be getting into trouble for them?
Snape rubbed his tongue nervously along the line of the scar inside his cheek. "You, ah, seem to be getting on rather better now than you used to, before... all this." He gestured vaguely at the space where his legs should be - although he was getting better at wearing the prosthetics for quite long periods now.
"I suppose. She saved my life, and yours. I can't exactly.... It'd be bloody ungrateful if I started calling her names again, wouldn't it?" Draco ran his hand absently through his hair in a nervous gesture he was only barely aware of making. "She's quite kind, in a bossy way. I didn't know that before."
"She is, indeed, very kind - in a bossy way." He nibbled absently at his own knuckles, until he caught Draco looking at him oddly. But perhaps the boy would put his behaviour down to generalized nervous tension.... He could hope, anyway. "And it behoves us both to be - deeply grateful, as galling as that may be considering that the chit is a friend of Potter's. But sometimes kindness and gratitude may mask... something more."
Draco laid his hand tentatively on Snape's shoulder, wanting to be reassuring and not quite knowing how. "She's... I like her," he admitted. "She scares me, a bit, but she's so... determined. Strength of character, you know? I spent years trying to make her cry... or react to me at all, really... and then she charges on in to rescue me as if I'd never said a word." And it was galling to know he'd had so little effect on her, and yet it made him respect her all the more. She was made of bloody granite, under that fluffy hair and prissy manner, and it was reassuring and unnerving all at once.
Delicately steering the conversation obviously wasn't going to work (Draco had never been a particularly observant boy), and a hearty shove was called for. "I'm afraid your attempts to goad her into a reaction would have been so much water off a duck's back, since your opinion was never of much importance to her - I'm sorry, but it's so. My opinion, however, turns out to have been...highly significant."
"I suspected it was. I could always get to the other two, but never to her." Draco paused, as his brain caught up with the rest of that statement. "Your opinion? What do you...." He paused, taking in his godfather's obvious embarrassment mingled with a faint hint of what might just be pride. "Oh. Er. Do you mean that you... uh...."
His godfather blushed, slightly but definitely. "For whatever unaccountable reason, it would appear that Miss Granger finds my opinion, and my approval, highly desirable. And myself," he added in a tiny voice, the blush flaring suddenly to scarlet. "And I - ah - the same."
"You mean the two of you are... oh." Draco found himself blushing more or less in sympathy. He would never have imagined... maybe he might have suspected Hermione of a bit of a crush, she was always trying to impress him in Potions, but... even shattered and vulnerable, it was hard to imagine Snape having a romance with someone so ordinary. Brave, decent, kind, certainly, but somehow Draco had always imagined any potential love interest of his godfather's being more... impressive. To match his swooping, snarling persona.
"That depends on your definition of 'oh'," Snape replied sourly. "We - haven't exactly taken it very far, as yet. There are, as I'm sure you will understand... considerations. Not just the age gap but - " He made a vague, inclusive gesture indicating himself. "Miss Granger - Hermione - was concerned that I should be sure of my own mind and there are - issues, to do with my reactions to, um, intimate contact. I'm sure you'll understand that I have - somewhat mixed feelings. About intimate physical contact."
Draco flinched slightly: his godfather's reasons for having mixed feelings about sex were something he preferred not to contemplate too closely. "I didn't think... I mean, I sort of assumed you hadn't...." His face felt very hot. "But the two of you... like each other?" Oh, that made him sound as if he was about twelve, but it was all coming as a bit of a shock. The idea of Snape and Hermione so much as - well, they did hold hands, he'd seen them, but he hadn't realized it meant things.
"Just because I'm over thirty doesn't mean I've turned into a eunoch!" his godfather snapped, bridling slightly. Not having Gone All the Way with Hermione was one thing; having other people just assume without evidence that he hadn't was quite another. "But yes, we... 'like' each other very much. And since you are, as we discussed, the nearest thing I have to family, I thought that you should hear it from me - and not from Pansy Parkinson, who cornered Hermione after breakfast this morning and nagged her into an admission."
"I didn't think you'd turned into a eunuch!" Draco winced. "But you're only just well enough to sit in a chair now, and Granger - Hermione - she's never seemed to me like the sort of girl who'd... not right off, I mean." He seriously considered trying to drown himself in his godfather's water-jug. "And I am glad to be hearing it from you, even if I'm not exactly being tactful and graceful about it. It's just a bit of a shock."
"Yes, well, I thought it would be even more of a shock coming from Miss Parkinson. And please do bear in mind that this... situation is not common knowledge. In particular, the Headmaster...." He gave a sudden huff of desperate laughter. "And that's a conversation I'm not looking forward to, believe me." He tapped his fingers nervously on the wooden arm of the couch. "When you say that you are - shocked - "
"Well, it's a big... change. From how things were before." Draco frowned, trying to get his thoughts into some sort of order. "And right now you're still sort of shaky and everything, and Hermione can be a bit overwhelming." He shifted uncomfortably. "She hasn't... well... rushed you into anything, has she?" Hermione was strong-willed and a bit inclined to walk roughshod over people if she thought it was for their own good. It was entirely possible that she'd pushed, even if she did seem to be genuinely fond of him.
"Hermione has been punctilious about not rushing me," Snape said, frowning, "but it's possible I may have rushed myself. That's one of the reasons we have been - 'taking things slowly', as the saying goes." And he was damned if he was going to admit to his seventeen-year-old godson that he rather liked bossy women, so long as they weren't drooling sadists or outright screaming harridans.
He snorted suddenly. "Apparently Miss Parkinson thinks it is 'very romantic' - and that makes it all all right! The prospect of the Headmaster demanding my resignation and hexing me into the middle of next week not withstanding." He tapped his fingers again. "But you don't - disapprove in principle?"
"Pansy's always been very hot on romance. I think I always disappointed her a bit there." Draco shook his head. "And... it is romantic, I suppose. I mean, with you being the tragic hero and her being the noble and selfless maiden nursing you back to health...." Snape was staring at him, his mouth slightly open, and Draco blushed again. "Well, it is. It's just like one of the romantic sagas Mother used to read to me when I was little."
"Your mother's reading habits leave a lot to be desired." He wasn't sure how to react: he had expected doubt at the least, not acceptance, and blame - not to be compared to a tragic hero. But he suppose pure-blood attitudes to marriage had a lot to do with it. In the circles his godson moved in, couples married almost as soon as they were out of school, to increase their chances of producing healthy offspring; and a childless man would be expected to seek a partner who was as fertile as possible, regardless of age. "I suppose I should be flattered that the idea that I myself might be - taking advantage seems never to have occurred to you." Or was it simply that Draco didn't care what happened to a Muggle-born - even one to whom he owed his freedom?
"Taking advantage?" Draco stared at him in honest surprise. "Of her? She's made of... of granite and virtue! Victor Krum was nervous about asking her out! And you can't even run away if she decides to smite you!" He realized firstly that he was getting a bit shrill, and secondly that he wasn't being exactly complimentary towards Snape's lady. "I mean, she's pretty enough these days, and kind-hearted, it's just... it's the way she looks at you." With eyes like wide, melting brown gimlets that went straight through and showed all your pitiful flaws.
"I am fairly reliably informed that she looks at me as if I was a wonderful surprise - although I myself would have thought 'horrible shock' was more appropriate." Draco was nine months younger than Hermione and convinced that he was the last word in grown-up sophistication and self-possession, so it was perhaps inevitable that it would not occur to him that Hermione's youthful inexperience might lay her open to manipulation. And it was quite true that anyone who tried it would be taking their life in their hands.
"And Viktor Krum was a surprisingly diffident boy." Or not so surprising: like himself, the Bulgarian Seeker had grown up plain-featured, big-nosed, over-intelligent and awkward, although unlike himself the poor boy had achieved social redemption by turning out to be Good at Games. "But Hermione does have an impressively ruthless streak, I'll grant you."
Draco nodded. "It honestly would never have occurred to me that you might be taking advantage. Maybe if it had been Luna or Pansy or someone, but not Hermione." And that strength and purpose had their own attraction, although they were unnerving too. He grinned suddenly, as a thought struck him. "I suppose that's something you'd have in common, isn't it? Not dating much because everyone's a bit scared of you."
Snape grimaced. "I always assumed that no-one would want to 'date' me anyway, so pre-emptively scaring them off was a way of saving face - yet Hermione assures me that I am the subject of some very flattering obscene graffiti in the girls' bog." According to her, the latest addition was a drawing suggesting that he might have a viable alternative to the missing leg.... "I'm not sure whether to believe her or not."
"You've been the target of some very lurid speculations among the seventh-year girls for as long as I've been here, I know that."
His godfather gave a snort of amusement, and then grinned suddenly. "And - Pansy, yes, Pansy is vulnerable to exploitation, as girls who imagine themselves to be man-eaters so often are. But believe me, if you get to know her you'll find that the prospect of anyone 'taking advantage' of Luna Lovegood is even less likely than anyone doing so with Miss Granger. On some levels she's the most terrifying female I've ever met - your festering aunt not excepted. If I'd met her when I was your age, I'd have hid in the lavvy every time she walked past."
Draco grinned back. "Hermione... well, obviously she's not discussed much in Slytherin, being Potter's right-hand girl and all, but I've heard some of the other lads talking about her and the general agreement is 'not half-bad, but who'd dare?'. I mean, besides you, obviously." He thought it over. "And is Lovegood really that bad? She always seems terribly harmless... which should be a clue, I suppose."
"What have I always told you, Draco?" Really, the boy was scarcely paranoid enough to survive in Slytherin, despite his upbringing. "The genuinely harmless ones appear harmless, but so do most of the ones who are plotting against you. Miss Lovegood is...." He nibbled absentmindedly on the side of his hand, trying to think it through verbally. "She is alone, even more than I was, and she believes that not being alone would be preferable, pleasant - but in the vague sort of way that one thinks that coming into money and moving to the south of France would be pleasant. Being alone doesn't actually trouble her, as such, and if people are unpleasant to her she regards them with the mild interest of an anthropologist confronted by a rather boring foreign tribe. There are no levers to push in her, no triggers by which an enemy could destabilise her - the most one could rouse her to would be a cold dislike, which she would then pursue ruthlessly.
"She would never - " He shuddered convulsively. "She would never do to anyone one thousandth of the things that Bellatrix would do. Has done. If she hated someone enough to kill them, she wouldn't t-torture them, gloat over them, waste time faffing about humiliating them and prolonging their literal bloody agony until fate gave them a chance to escape her. She would simply kill them, without hesitation and without more than a vague twitch of remorse, and then get on with doing something else she found more interesting. Looking for Vampire Daisies, probably."
Draco nodded. "You do know how to find them," he said, feeling a bit awed. "The tough ones, I mean. Pansy likes to think she's tough, but Hermione and Lovegood...." He shook his head. "And I'm glad, really. That's the sort of person I want protecting you. Someone who'll just annihilate anyone who tries to attack you without wringing their hands over the relative morality of it."
"Neither of them, I imagine, would gratuitously employ more force than was necessary - but neither of them would hesitate to use as much force as was necessary." He scowled, restlessly tapping his remaining fingers on his one remaining knee. "Which brings me on to the other subject I wanted to discuss with you. Miss Parkinson apparently told Miss Granger that there may be some highly unnecessary force applied in all directions quite soon, if I don't do something to defuse the tension in the Slytherin common room." Draco's prolonged absence had meant that his prefect's badge had had to be passed on to Blaise Zabini but Blaise, unfortunately, was more interested in admiring himself in the mirror than in exerting any sort of stabilising influence on his house-mates.
Draco nodded. "I don't hear as much of it as I used to... casting aside my loyalties to the Dark Lord to rush to your side and all. There's a certain strange belief going around that I'm doggedly loyal to you and tell you everything." Inconvenient, yes, but he was proud of it. "Pansy would know more about it than I do. But there is tension, yes, a lot of it. The situation is... complicated, right now, isn't it? There's you, there's him, and now instead of being proper enemies half of Gryffindor are suddenly putative allies instead, which adds a whole other level of confusion to an already murky situation. It's getting very... confused."
"Ironic that I of all people might be the trigger for an outbreak of inter-house co-operation - though I suppose it's satisfying to think that Black and Potter Senior would have apoplexy if they knew. But... Miss Parkinson rather presented it as a straight stand-off between a majority who were loyal to me and a minority who think that I - that I got what I fucking-well deserved. But I imagine it's more complex than that. Until the Headmaster dropped what I gather was a very public Hallowe'en bombshell about my activities as a spy, most Slytherins imagined that loyalty to me and loyalty to - Riddle were compatible." And what, he wondered, of the stalwart handful of Slytherins who had always distrusted and disliked him because they thought he was Riddle's man?
"Exactly. Now... now it's you or him, with no middle ground at all, and siding with you also means siding with Dumbledore and at least some of the Gryffindors, and siding with... with Riddle is just like saying you deserved what he did to you, and...." Draco shook his head. "It's... difficult. And being Slytherins, our natural response to this kind of... of breakdown in the hierarchy is to start clawing our way upwards, only it's a bit difficult to tell which way is up." He smiled ruefully. "I'm fairly confident of my chosen direction, but I think some of the others are really envying Blaise his clearly defined loyalty to his mirror right now."
"I'm going to have to call a House Council and make some sort of speech - God." He swayed suddenly, feeling the room swim and tilt, and Draco caught him by the shoulders as swiftly as if he were a Snitch and eased him back against the back of the couch.
"Steady now, that's all right - " the boy murmured, and Snape made a dour, self-disgusted face.
"Bloody fool - me, that is. It's just - I've barely been out of these rooms once since - since I was... and the thought of trying to chair a meeting - but I'm going to have to, I think. I've asked Miss Parkinson and Miss Bulstrode and some of their, ah, troops to meet me here at six pm to discuss the situation, and I'd appreciate it if you would take over the, um, guard detail while we are talking."
"Sure. As for the House Council - we'll arrange something. If nothing else, you could have Hermione and Lovegood and Longbottom with you. We're all used to the idea of them caring for you, really, and anyone who complains is going to get a bloody thick ear if Millie has anything to say about it. She says she doesn't give a damn about the politics or what her family say - you've always done right by us and she intends to do the same." Draco was pleased to be able to say that - Millicent Bulstrode wasn't a swift thinker, but she did get there eventually, and once she'd made up her mind you'd probably get further arguing with a stone wall than with her.
"Grateful though I am to all of them - more than grateful, in Hermione's case - I do feel that inviting them into a full meeting of Slytherin House would be a step too far. My students will find it hard enough to speak openly in front of each other, under the circumstances, without the presence of outsiders, so I will just have to rely on your good offices and hope not to have a bloody panic-attack. At least knowing that Miss Bulstrode is on my side should prevent any of the pro-Riddle faction from getting physical about it - and I'll have Horace Slughorn for backing, in any case."
He let his head fall back, closing his eyes against the brightness of the window and feeling the beginnings of a headache coming on. "But Longbottom will be there this evening when I speak to Miss Parkinson - I'll need somebody with me, and having Longbottom in the room nursemaiding me and you outside overseeing the guard will be less problematic than the other way round. And besides - every Slytherin who is present will be one of the group who've been guarding me, there's no doubt about where their loyalties lie, so they should have no problems about speaking freely in front of each other and him." He opened his eyes again and looked at his godson's anxious face, the cropped silver hair haloed by sunlight. "I'm tired, Draco. Help me to get across to the bed."
"It's bloody difficult - saving your pardon, sir." Millicent scowled impressively. "Before it was - well, it was easy, because people thought you were a - you know, one of his lot, so loyalty to the Dark Lord and loyalty to you were the same thing. Now suddenly they're really these complete opposites - there're people who only ever followed the Dark Lord because they thought they were following you, and now they don't know whether to be relieved or to hate you for leading them astray, and people who followed you second and the Dark Lord first and now they've got to work out which they prefer, and people who would always be yours, or always the Dark Lord's, regardless - and people like Billy Battersby who was always against you because he thought you were the Dark Lord's man don't know which way is up, now."
Vincent Crabbe nodded dourly. "Caught him sniffling in the broomshed, didn't I, because he felt so badly about getting you all wrong." He glowered at Neville, daring him to make something of it.
Severus looked at them over his steepled fingers: the prosthetic was getting easier and easier to endure for long periods although the re-awakened nerves in his shoulder still plucked at his awareness. "Please tell Mr Battersby and - and anyone else who may be in the same position that I bear them no ill-will for having been opposed to what they supposed to be a Death Eater - so long as they watch their attitude now they know that I am no such thing."
"Yeah." The boy nodded vigorously. "There's some people still loyal to old You-Know-Who but most of us - me 'n Greg and Teddy Nott 'n Pansy and everyone, we decided, if it had to be one or the other we're with you, all the way."
"It's remarkable, really," Daphne Greengrass said, examining her own nails. "Because of you, the Dark Lord looks like losing almost an entire generation of recruits."
She glanced up and Severus smiled at her rather tightly. "In which case, I suppose I should be glad of what happened to me, not - not resentful." Neville's hand crept almost invisibly along the back of the couch to give his shoulder a reassuring little pat.
"We resent it," Nigel Hennessy said seriously, his pale, freckly face taut behind the enormous glasses, "and we resent anybody who's OK with what they did to you. More than resent." Behind him, the door stood ajar to allow the Slytherins in the corridor to listen in if they wished to; but they seemed to be having a quite different conversation, to judge from the brittle crackle of voices which seeped through the door.
"We all know there are some who do - think it was OK, I mean," Pansy muttered. "I don't know which is worse - openly admitting it, or pretending they don't think it when they do. Either way there's likely to be murder done, but at least if they admit it we know who to hit."
"And if I hit them, they'll stay hit" Millie muttered darkly.
"Touched as I am by your partisanship on my behalf," Severus began wryly, "I really must insist - " He paused, distracted, hearing Draco's voice outside suddenly raised but it was nothing threatening, evidently, since Draco was wearing his smugly urbane sophisticate's voice today.
"...but I said to him," his godson's smoothest tones drawled: "Weasel, there are those of us who can wear lace, and those of us who emphatically can't."
Someone outside laughed, and Daphne Greengrass joined in, a shrill, tinny giggle at the sound of which Snape's world abruptly shattered into nightmare. He stared at her for one frozen, appalled moment and she met his eyes and suddenly her wand was in her hand, he lunged for his own wand in impossible slow motion but time stretched out like melting toffee and it was too far out of reach, the words of death were already in her mouth and nobody else had realized - with an inarticulate yell of fury Neville hurled himself scrambling across the corner of the couch and bore Daphne to the ground as the bolt of green light from her wand went wild, scoring a smoking gouge across the ceiling.
"T-t-twenty points to Gryffindor," he burbled, his teeth rattling with shock, "for impressive reflexes and c-constant bloody vigilance, but remember it's a one-off and not a p-precedent or Minerva will never let me live it down."
"That's all right" Neville said, without taking his eyes or his wand off the captive, although she was well and truly caught, her hands bound behind her back and gripped firmly in Vincent's meaty paw.
Pansy pressed the tip of her wand up under Daphne's chin, forcing her to look up. "Why?" she demanded.
"Why?" the other girl snarled, her eyes vivid with hate. "You dance attendance on this - this snivelling filth who betrayed everything you were supposed to hold dear, who tried to sell your own father to the Aurors Pansy Parkinson and you ask me why?"
Pansy gave a snarl of inarticulate rage and shoved the other girl roughly against the wall, raising her hand as if to strike her.
"Miss Parkinson!" Snape said sharply. "I appreciate your partisanship as well but we will do this by the book, if you please." He lurched shakily to his feet (he was at last starting to think of them as his feet and not Filius's feet) and approached Greengrass, who glared at him and opened her mouth as if to spit - but before she could do so he had placed her in a strong Body-Bind, and then tapped her frozen form sharply on the top of the head with his wand, spreading a screen of Disillusionment over her. Alerting Padma Patil to the fact that her co-conspirator had been apprehended would simply prompt her to run.
"Crabbe, Bulstrode, Hennessy - take this - person to the Headmaster's office and you, Parkinson - find Professor Moody and ask him to meet us there. Mr Malfoy - " Draco looked at him, his face even whiter than usual and pinched in about the mouth with shock. "You and Longbottom will have to help me to get there myself. You two - " He looked at the remaining guards, who had been innocently talking to Draco in the corridor when one of their own had come within a hair's breadth of killing him - "Brooksmith, stay here and make sure nobody breaks into my rooms while I am gone. Anwar, come with us and clear the way for me, please."
It was only hours later that it occurred to him that he could have saved himself a lot of effort and had Albus and Alastor come down to the dungeons and interrogate Daphne where she was. At the time, his immediate reaction was to want her out of his rooms as fast as possible, taking the taste of remembered pain and corruption with her. The private revolving stair at the end of the corridor took him the cliff's height from the waterside up to the level of his office, and from there he was so angry and excited that he made it almost to the stairs leading up to the Entrance Hall before the damnable left leg folded under him, and Draco had to grab him around the chest to prevent him from measuring his length on the cold stone floor.
For a moment, he felt panic close around him like an icy hand, so that he struggled to breath. He was out of his rooms, vulnerable, condemned to creep like a tortoise while his enemies leapt and bit like lightning - but then common-sense caught up with him and he realized that he was far safer now, with Greengrass in custody, than he had been for the past five months with her intermittently outside his door, poised for one of his carers to make a slip and leave him alone for a few lethal seconds. The knowledge that it was one of his Slytherin guards, one of the youths he had come to trust absolutely, who had laughed to see him arching and convulsing in agony was terrifying, disorienting - but when he held his mint-new paranoia up against Draco and Longbottom to see if it fitted, he could not find it in him to doubt them, even so.
He could stand, like a sagging drunk, with one arm around each of their shoulders, but fixed stairs were beyond him. "You'll have to get me up the stairs with Mobilicorpus" he said, swallowing his pride. "Malfoy - you do it." His new-found affection for Longbottom didn't extend to trusting the boy not to steer him into a wall. "Anwar - clear people out of the way as best you can, and for the love of Merlin watch out for the Patil sisters and don't let them anywhere near me."
"Do you mean that Parvati - " Longbottom began, his eyes round and horrified. Snape shook his head.
"Padma. At least, so I believe. But I've no absolute proof that her sister wasn't involved; nor that Padma might not dress in Gryffindor colours to fool us." It was so lovely, being targeted by a twin. "Now, get me up these damned stairs."
Albus met them halfway down the marble stairs, his heliotrope robes flying out behind him in his haste, and seized his friend's hands in both of his: though Severus dared not return the clasp in case he hurt the old man's blackened claw of a hand. His saving that hand had been one of the things which had roused Bellatrix's suspicions and led ultimately to his being captured, and he wished absently that he could have done a better job, for all the pain that it had cost him.
The Headmaster's firm grasp wasn't just a gesture of friendship: he could feel magical strength pouring into him from Albus like a river filling up a dry bed. The boys let him down onto the steps and he staggered as his feet found marble and Albus shifted his grip to his upper arms, holding him saggingly upright. He could feel both, although the old man's hold on the real, flesh and blood arm and on the prosthetic felt subtly different.
"Severus - " Severus dragged his head up with an effort, feeling dizzy, to meet the Headmaster's gaze, and Albus clicked his tongue at him. "I won't tell you you shouldn't have tried to walk to my office, since I am very glad to see you able to get so far - but let me take you the rest of the way now, do." He made a complex gesture with his wand, coaxing and pulling, and the segment of stair under their feet shifted alarmingly and then began to flow upwards, taking them smoothly with it.
"Filius is back", Albus murmured to him quietly, as the three students followed at a discreet distance. "He got back just a few hours ago. I explained the situation to him and showed him the - relevant memory earlier, and he has gone to fetch Miss Patil."
"Did he - was he successful?"
"He has the Hufflepuff cup, yes - although what we shall do with it I don't know, as Pomona is insisting that it be preserved without damage, and I do see her point of view. But that can wait until this - present matter is resolved."
"Until two of our own students have either succeeded in murdering a staff member," the other man gasped, breathless with the effort of staying upright, "or been packed off to Azkaban. This is not what we signed up for, Albus."
"This is war," the other man replied grimly.
From the top of the main stair, Albus swept him along the corridors and around corners in his own tight, discreet Mobilicorpus, which felt almost like being on roller-skates although by now Severus was sick and giddy, and being whirled through the castle like some sort of puppet only increased his disorientation. The tide of energy and rage which had propelled him from his rooms had washed through him and died away, as all tides did, and left him cold and scared, the whole height of cliff and castle and half the castle's length away from the safe nest which had suddenly become a trap.
The guardian gargoyle sprang aside at the password ("Soor Plooms") and let them onto the stair, which whisked them higher. At a nod from Albus, Draco and Neville followed, leaving Anwar to make her way back downstairs and rejoin Brooksmith, who must be both bored and scared on his own down there. When they reached the top, Severus disengaged himself shakily from Albus's arm and smoothed his robes into some sort of order; determined to make an entrance on his own feet, or what passed for his own feet these days, and with as much billow and snap as he could muster.
The door opened to Albus's command and Severus swept through it in the old man's wake like a personified storm-cloud, to find all four Slytherins - Crabbe, Bulstrode, Hennessy, Parkinson - a sullen looking Greengrass, both Patil sisters (wearing identical expressions of honest confusion), Filius Flitwick, Minerva, Nymphadora Tonks (whom somebody had evidently summoned from Hogsmeade at impressive speed, probably by broom) and Alastor Moody all crammed into the room ahead of them....
...Alastor who had always hated and distrusted him, Alastor who had connived at his being tortured once before, all those years ago; who had tried to convince Albus to leave him to rot in Azkaban. As he gave a tiny, stiff nod of acknowledgment, from one Order member to another, he saw the other man's ill-matched eyes drawn as by magnets to stare at the scars which sliced across his cheeks, and then the old Auror dropped his gaze, discomfited.
Nymphadora, on the other hand, gave her old Potions master a thoughtful, appraising look. He hooded his eyes at her, daring her to be cheeky, and the shadow of a grin flitted across her face.
The circular room looked less like a summary court of inquiry and more like a wedding in a marquee, with fifteen, no, sixteen people in it - Albus and Filius both in gaudy colours - jammed in among the little tables and the silver knickknacks, with Fawkes making the sixteenth, bobbing his head and flourishing his fiery crest amusedly from his perch by the door. All it wanted, Severus thought, was cocktails and little nibbles on sticks, and for a hysterical moment he was tempted to call the house elves to provide some. It was only the knowledge that his legs wouldn't bear him which prevented him from turning tail and bolting.
Filius hopped up from the best guest chair, anxious and solicitous, and Severus sank into it gratefully and concentrated on schooling his racing heart and projecting an appearance of cool disdain rather than barely-controlled panic. But then, he was an expert, having been doing it for most of his life.
"I, ah," Filius began apologetically, "I found Miss Patil visiting her sister, so...."
"You couldn't tell which of 'em was which, so you brought 'em both," Alastor said grimly.
"Quite." The little man smiled anxiously at Severus, his eyes crinkling up in concern, and the younger man winced behind his rigid composure - realizing that only that afternoon Filius had seen his memory of himself flopping and twisting in the bottom of the boat, shorn of all dignity and all sanity. "I'm so glad to see you - looking better."
Severus inclined his head, a tiny nod, and gripped the arms of the chair until his knuckles whitened. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Filius squinting at his hands, trying to appraise how well he was managing the prosthetic without appearing to do so.
Albus sat down composedly behind his desk, becoming again the Headmaster and not just Severus's friend, and steepled his long fingers under his chin, looking at the three quasi-prisoners. After an uncomfortably long pause, he tapped his conjoined index fingers against his lips and said "I presume you know why you have been brought here?"
Daphne Greengrass shrugged and jerked her head as if to spit towards her house-master, but the two Patil girls looked honestly bewildered. One shook her head and "No, Headmaster, nobody's told us anything," and the other added "Professor Flitwick just said you wanted to speak to us, sir." At least one of them, presumably, was lying.
"Miss Greengrass was apprehended whilst apparently making an attack on Professor Snape. We have reason to think that one of you may have been... involved, along with Miss Greengrass, in smuggling Professor Snape into the school when he was injured last year."
"But that's - the person who did that was a Death Eater, surely?" the twin on the left said, sounding honestly confused. It ought to have been possible to tell which twin was which by their house-patches and by Padma's Prefect badge, but the girls had evidently been playing some kind of sport when Filius found them, and were both stripped down to skirt and blouse.
"We don't even know Daphne, sir, except that we're all in Charms and I used to have Potions with her" the other said - so that one was Parvati. Or claiming to be. "But I've never talked to her outside of class, I don't think. And why - why would we want to hurt Professor Snape? Sir?" She looked at Snape, puzzled and pleading.
"Because it pleased Cormac McLaggen to hurt me, for whatever reason, and whatever pleases McLaggen, pleases his... paramours" he replied tightly, curling his lip.
"Cormac???" probably-Parvati exclaimed, but her sister was silent.
"Let's just deal with the one we know is guilty, first," Alastor growled, "and get her out of the way and into Azkaban where she belongs." Snape winced; whatever she had done, Greengrass was one of his students, his responsibility. If he had been quicker on the draw he might have killed her - and that might have been kinder.
"Very well," the Headmaster replied sombrely. "Mr Longbottom, if you would begin, please, by telling us in your own words what happened this evening."
At least Greengrass made no attempt to deny her guilt or her attempted use of an Unforgivable, and her open contempt for the man who had been her house-father for almost seven years was both a relief and a horror, as Neville and the Slytherin party gave their accounts of what had occurred earlier that evening. Later, examining Aurors Moody and Tonks would deposit their Pensieved memories of the evidence, and if there were any subsequent queries the witnesses would also be called on to confirm their version of events by Pensieve. Neville positively glowed and gained about an inch in height when the Headmaster promised to write a letter to his grandmother, commending his courage and quick thinking, and Pansy, Millie, Vincent and Nigel Hennessy were awarded fifteen house-points each for competence and cool-headedness. Snape forbore to point out that he had had to restrain Pansy from beating Daphne up: a house-point was a house-point, after all.
Having given evidence, the four Slytherin witnesses and Neville were thanked profusely and sent on their way and the room became somewhat less crowded. Draco, glowering ominously and clutching his wand like a whip, was permitted to remain as his godfather's assistant, as the informal court moved on to examining the suspects themselves.
As Head of Slytherin it fell to Snape to interrogate Daphne Greengrass himself. He would have liked to have stood, imposingly, to have paced and purred as he would have done when he had a whole body and an intact throat; but wobbling and croaking wasn't going to impress anybody especially when she knew, intimately, how maimed and ruined he was, so he contented himself with leaning back in the chair with his ("his") feet casually extended and his dark hair framing his face, and looking down his long nose at her. He looked, although he would have been surprised to be told it, like some austere Mediaeval monarch or churchman, robed and enthroned.
"Miss Greengrass," he began, steadily: "do you admit that this evening at approximately six ten you attempted to use the Killing Curse upon me, without my having in any way attacked or endangered you?"
Greengrass jerked her head, flicking her fringe out of her eyes in an irritable gesture, and shrugged. "You were going for your wand."
"And if I had succeeded in reaching it do you believe that I would have harmed you, if you hadn't fired on me first?"
Her lips curled, scornfully. "I knew once you'd recognized me I wouldn't get another chance at you, so it was now or never."
"Do you then admit that - that you knew that I might have recognized you as being one of the group who conveyed me into the castle when I was - injured?"
He saw her notice the slight hesitation and enjoy it. "Oh yes," she said with a tight-mouthed, contemptuous smirk which burned him with the knowledge of how she had seen him, how he had been in front of her.
"And your - reasons for doing so were...?"
"What do you think, you craven, snivelling traitor?" she said softly, and his head snapped back in a sudden rush of fury, revulsion and exasperation as Draco made a convulsive movement and Albus half rose from his seat, a sound of protest forming on his lips -
"Stupid girl!" Snape snapped at her, before the old man could speak or the young one fire. "Don't you even have the damned sense to claim coercion?" and Greengrass laughed, the same cold, tinny laugh which had sounded over him as he lay in the bottom of the boat with his belly cut open and Cormac McLaggen's booted foot lashing into him, until his throat constricted in terror and his stomach swam with nausea, and he found himself unexpectedly grateful to Alastor Moody for stepping in and taking over the interrogation: even though the sound of the old Auror's voice, questioning, probing, demanding answers was itself enough to bring him out in a cold sweat - the echo of what had been, until it was superseded by the events of last year, one of the most personally terrifying memories of his life....
As he slumped back in the chair, struggling to breathe without making a fool of himself by letting anybody see that he was struggling to breathe, Draco moved sideways an inch, almost invisibly, so that his fingers on the chair's back brushed against his godfather's neck. The older man bore against that tenuous anchor, his pulse fluttering against Draco's skin.
Since Greengrass was of-age and had been apprehended whilst attempting to perform an Unforgivable on another human, and without any clear mitigating need for self-defence, Severus supposed that in truth the admission that she was a Death Eater sympathizer and a torturer could hardly make her situation worse. But she refused point-blank to admit to any connection with either of the Patil twins. "Such good little girls," she said, maliciously, and they both looked unsure whether to be flattered or offended, and it was hard to tell which, if either, was acting.
Filius fluttered his hands unhappily. "Miss Patil - Misses Patils," he began, and stopped to clear his throat. "Having viewed an excerpt from Professor Snape's memory - well, the image is unclear, admittedly, but I have to say that the voice - one of the voices - does appear to me to be Padma's."
"That's ridiculous," probably-Parvati said. "I'm sorry, sir, but it is."
Her sister nodded. "You know me, sir - you've known me since I was a child. Do you really think...?"
"It isn't a matter of what any of us think, Miss Patil," the Headmaster chimed in softly, "but of what Professor Snape heard."
"But - " Probably-Parvati looked at Minerva, her (probably) house-mother. "It must have been somebody using Polyjuice; it can't have been Padma, I just know it."
"That is a distinct possibility," Minerva acknowledged with an inclination of the head. "When you say you know it cannot have been your sister, do you mean that you had her in view at the time that Professor Snape was being - conveyed?"
"No, but - she just wouldn't."
"In that case," Tonks said suddenly, "you won't mind taking Veritaserum, any of you, will you?"
"Nymphadora," Snape said sourly, and was pleased to see her wince slightly. If he had to put up with "Severus", she could damned-well put up with her own ridiculous name, and the girl was an offence to the eye in any case - since she seemed to have been amusing herself by turning her hair into a close copy of Fawkes's crest. "Miss Greengrass must be a skilled Occlumens to have avoided detection by me for five months, and if you remembered one quarter of what your employers have attempted to teach you you would know that Veritaserum is unlikely to be effective against an Occlumens. She will have schooled herself to give false answers to anything you wish to ask her about myself or about her... putative association with Miss Patil, and if Miss Patil is indeed guilty she will almost certainly have received the same training.
"From Bellatrix Lestrange," he added under his breath, with a small shudder, and felt Draco's finger move against his skin in a tiny stroking gesture.
"Humour me," Tonks replied, with a steely glint, and it occurred to him suddenly that Bellatrix was her aunt as much as she was Draco's.
"There was no-one else in the boat," Greengrass said steadily. "No-one but me and McLaggen and this - this." Draco's fingers bit convulsively into Snape's shoulder, making him wince. "He," she said with a jerk of her head towards her house-master, "remembered it wrong. He was too busy snivelling and begging to bother to count us - until Cormac silenced him."
"A fact which will be added to the charge-sheet against McLaggen when we catch up with him," Moody growled, his blue eye swivelling surreally from girl to girl, "and I'll make sure he knows who told it to us."
For the barest fraction of a second, Greengrass flinched; but unlike her eyes, her story never wavered, Veritaserum or no Veritaserum. The Patils were the same; it was impossible to tell whether either of them was lying or sincerely innocent. Even Legilimency might not do it, and was in any case too subjective to be used as evidence in a court of law unless the Legilimens was an accredited court official.
"You've never had any dealings with Greengrass here out of class, then?" Tonks said cheerfully.
"No, I told you. I do Charms and Arithmancy with her and my sister does Charms too and does - did Potions with her. But I've never spoken to her out of class except - you know, 'Have you heard that Friday's class has been cancelled?', that sort of stuff."
"Where were you when Professor Snape was brought into the school?"
"It was in the early morning, wasn't it? I expect I was in bed - or in the shower, maybe."
"That's fine, Miss Patil. For the record, then, what are your feelings about Professor Snape?"
Probably-Padma blinked and glanced briefly at the Potions master, and then studiously away. "He's... a bad-tempered, mannerless git but he really knows his stuff and he - sexy voice," she finished in an embarrassed mumble.
"Cormac any good in bed, then?"
"No, he finishes too - fast - "
There was an awful, frozen pause and then Daphne Greengrass shrieked "You cow!" and leapt at Padma, her hands reaching like claws as Moody's shot just missed her. "You absolute bloody cow you swore you weren't shagging him - "
"Everybody got to shag Cormac, practically," Tonks said with a grin, flicking her wand to cast restraining cords around both girls, who seemed to be trying to tear each other's hair out by the roots. "He was notorious for it, even in first year. Did you know he had a full beard when he was twelve?"
After that, it was easy. In the passion of sudden jealousy Greengrass had lost all control over her tongue under Veritaserum - wasn't even bothering to try, as far as Padma was concerned - and the incriminating evidence came spilling out of her out in a torrent of rage. It wasn't enough for a conviction on its own but it was more than enough to commit both girls for trial, and to justify further investigation by Pensieve and by court-sanctioned Legilimency.
"Why?" Parvati demanded, weeping, and her sister looked at her coldly.
"Because I'm not you and I don't wish to be you."
"But - but how could you do such an awful thing to - to Professor Snape? Hindus are supposed to respect life - "
"I don't want to be Mummy's good little Hindu," Padma snarled. "I don't want to be Mummy's good little anything. I should have been Head Girl instead of that Abbott cow and you can't tell me that wasn't rigged - both bloody Hufflepuffs. But instead I just get to be a good little girl."
"But - why something so awful? Why not - drugs or something, not that that wouldn't have been awful but - "
Her twin watched her with cool detachment. "Because it was something I knew you wouldn't do." As Tonks took her arm and turned her away to walk her to the Apparition point, her gaze swept across Snape's and their eyes locked for a moment.
"Was I so - evil," he said bitterly, "or of so little value, that you felt justified in doing that to me just to assert your bloody individuality?"
She had the grace to look discomfited for a moment. "I'm sorry" she said remotely. "At the time, it didn't seem to matter. You didn't really look like anything human."
After that, it was just mopping up. A sniffling Parvati apologized disjointedly to Snape (who answered her equally distractedly in a voice which seemed to himself to be coming down a narrow, echoing pipe from a very long way away), and then was led away to the hospital wing by Minerva. Albus, looking grave and unhappy, briefly re-opened the Floo connection between his office and Snape's sitting room and sent a pale, subdued Draco through to check that the coast was clear. When the blond head reappeared at knee-level and confirmed that Anwar and Brooksmith were still on guard and no Death Eaters had managed to break into his godfather's quarters and booby-trap them, Severus rose to his feet, stiff and wobbly, and without waiting for Albus to support him he propelled himself into the dizzying whirl of the flames.
Draco caught him at the other end and he stumbled to the bed and crashed down awkwardly across the covers, clawing ineffectually at his left shoulder. Albus came through the fire a moment later and he and Draco between them helped Severus to struggle out of the prostheses and his robes and into a nightshirt, and tucked him under the covers, which Albus thought was the best thing for him. It was impossible to ask Severus himself what he wanted since he seemed unable to speak, only whimpering thinly and continuously whilst seemingly unaware that he was doing so. Albus sat down on the bed next to him and tried to take the younger man in his arms but his friend shoved him away and curled up on his side, shaking violently.
Draco shared a moment of unhappy fellow-feeling with the Headmaster - a remarkable thing in and of itself - and then slid down to sit on the floor by the bedside. "Severus", he said quietly, sliding his fingers under the blankets and patting his godfather's hand. "Uncle Severus, look at me - please?" Snape groaned and curled up tighter, still shaking, but he stopped whimpering and his long fingers closed around Draco's and held on hard.
Albus got up from the bed and padded quietly to the corner of the room, where he put the kettle on and began to brew a cup of Neville's soothing herbal tea. By the time it was ready to drink, Severus had calmed down and caught his breath enough to be helped to sit up and swallow it, in slow, shuddering sips. While he was drinking, Minerva arrived at the door, looking pale and tired.
"Poppy has given Miss Patil a sedative and is going to keep her in overnight" she murmured to Albus. He uncurled himself to his full height, rather stiffly, and gave Snape's shoulder an unhappy little pat.
"Severus I - I have to go now, you understand, and speak to Miss Patil's and Miss Greengrass's parents. Minerva will sit with you until - until you no longer need her there." Severus looked up and gave him a blank, blinded look and then nodded once before looking back down at his tea, his hair falling down around his face. The willowherb was gradually taking the edge off his panic but he still felt as if he was looking at the room through the wrong end of a telescope, as if he were balanced on some high insecure place from which he would soon inevitably fall.
Minerva sat down decorously on the side of the bed which Albus had just vacated, and exchanged a worried look with Draco. "Severus," she said quietly, "I am sorry that you should have had to be a witness to that, in your condition, but they are at least now both in custody and away from you."
Her friend raised his head, dazedly, and opened his mouth as if to speak to her, but as he did so another shaking fit took him. The cup fell from his hand, rolled off the bed and was fielded by Draco before it could smash on the stone-cold floor as Severus toppled forwards and sideways and was wretchedly, violently sick.
It was at that precise moment that Hermione appeared in the doorway. She rushed to his side as Minerva performed a rapid Evanesco, cleaning both him and the bedclothes. "Oh Se - Professor." She knelt down next to Draco and laid her hand on Severus's side. "Neville found me and told me what happened: I came straight down as soon as I knew you'd finished in the Headmaster's office - "
He nodded, jerkily, not trusting himself to speak without throwing up again. He was on his right side with his arm under him and was able to lever himself up and back into a sitting position without help, although the exertion made him gasp.
"Do you - would you like to be held?" Minerva asked awkwardly, drawing the bed-head up into a support for him with a flick of her wand and making a half gesture of reaching out towards him.
He shook his head, still feeling light-headed and strange. "No good, is it?" he said dully in his ruined voice. "All a lie."
"All what is a lie?"
"Pretending - " He made a vague gesture which included himself. "Pretending that I can ever be - human again."
"Oh, come now, Severus, just because that silly girl - "
"Little cow," added Draco under his breath, and Hermione, who was out of her depth, turned to him and murmured "What? What happened?"
"That Patil cow - Padma," he muttered back. "Said helping McLaggen torture him was nothing personal, it just hadn't seemed to matter because he didn't look human at the time."
"Oh! Oh, Severus, what an awful thing to say!"
"Truth - truth is often... awful" he said painfully. "Never be human again - dirty - " He began to claw neurotically at his own chest and shoulder until Minerva caught his hand and forced it down.
"Stop - stop it!" she snapped. "I won't have it. I won't have you losing all the - the progress you've made just because of some silly girl - "
"But she - she told the truth. It would have been better if it had been personal I could have - coped with that better, but I was never - my life was never of any bloody value to anybody."
"Of course it was!" Minerva protested, as Draco and Hermione chimed in in agreement. "You know - you must know that we care for you a very great deal."
"Oh, now - now because you feel bloody guilty and I'm a, a supplicant you can play at being kind to but you never - You," he snarled, rounding on Draco suddenly, "you left me there, you just hoped your bloody father would keep his word and finish me off but you didn't care enough to find out and you - Granger - fine words now but who bloody left me to bleed in the Shrieking Shack and didn't even bother to call Poppy, because it didn't matter to any of you whether I lived or died?"
"I - no, that's not true, I - "
"Don't bloody lie to me."
"I - I asked Professor Lupin...."
"Whom you had no reason to think had medical knowledge of any kind, but you were prepared to let my life hang on a vague reassurance from an amateur."
Hermione stared at him helplessly and couldn't think what to say, Severus looked wild and mad and she knew that it was quite true: however much she cared about him now - however much she would die or kill for him now - at the time she had mainly been worried about getting into trouble, and had just vaguely hoped that he would be all right, without exerting herself to make sure of it. Tears started in her eyes and he sneered at her, bitterly.
"The truth always hurts, doesn't it?" At that moment he wanted to lash out at her, to drive her away, not to have to deal with her desire and her affection which could not be anything but false or misplaced, and which in any case seemed like far too little and very much too late.
"Severus," Minerva said uneasily, "you know that Miss Granger was only a child at the time, that Mr Malfoy was in grave danger - you must know you're being unfair to them both."
He dropped his head and wrapped his arm around himself, rocking, crazy - knowing distantly that he was acting crazy but not knowing how to stop, not wanting to see Hermione's quiet tears, Draco's pinched-faced guilt. "And when was anyone ever fair to me? Were you? Black's attempt to murder me wasn't even a crime to you."
"Only because I thought him too deranged to be capable of criminal responsibility," Minerva replied grimly. "He was - Albus and I both knew that he was under a great deal of stress at that time due to the behaviour of his mother, who was frankly insane - and I'm afraid that her madness was at least partly heritable."
"Then he should have been sent to St Mungo's, not - not left here to go on sneering at me, gloating about how unimportant I was - "
"I'm sorry. But you must know that the publicity which would have resulted from expelling him would have risked bringing disaster on Remus Lupin, who was as much Sirius's victim on that occasion as you were - yes, he was. If he had killed or infected you because of what Black did, he would have been condemned to Azkaban - very possibly Kissed. And Albus had already... Black was useful. A key member of a family of Dark wizards, yet passionately opposed to the Dark Arts - "
"- when it was other people using them!"
"Well, yes; but even if his opposition to Riddle stemmed partly from sheer prejudice against Slytherin he was too potentially valuable to risk antagonizing him, and Albus was sure that if he drove him away, he would switch sides and fall in with the Death Eaters."
"As I did," Severus answered in that dead voice, "but nobody thought that that mattered enough to prevent it." Hermione watched him anxiously. She wanted to sniffle, to rant at him for being so unkind just because he needed something to lash out at and she happened to be in the line of fire; but she knew now, if she had not known it in third year, that Severus's health mattered. Right now he was sounding worse and more irrational than he had done for months, he was fragile, brittle, as she was not, and even if the worst happened and he really had decided to hate her forever more, she would just have to deal with her own feelings later.
"Nobody thought they needed to prevent it" the older woman said irritably. "Not as compared with Sirius, anyway. Of course, we knew you were running with... bad company, but who in Slytherin was not, at that time? And the fact that you were such friends with a Muggle-born, a Gryffindor.... Horace was quite sure that you were... sound, and Albus concurred."
"And how bloody wrong they both were. But then neither of them were really seeing me, were they, just a - a tool."
"There's a level on which Dumbledore sees everyone as a tool, including himself, and you know that people-skills were never his long suit. Unlike Black, though, you at least were a tool he valued very highly. He really did, and does, trust you absolutely."
"The more fool him, then." He wished he could sit with his knees drawn up and rest his elbows on them, but he might as well wish for the moon in a bucket. He looked at Draco and Hermione sideways, through his hair, and felt squirmingly guilty for having hurt them when they had put themselves out to care for something as ruined as he felt himself to be. "I didn't meant to suggest that you...." he began awkwardly. "I was - angry, and I had bloody reason to be, but I don't blame you it's - normal, in my experience that people should think that I was expendable. And perhaps right that they should do so," he added under his breath.
"How can you say that?" Hermione exclaimed. She had to be careful how much she said in front of Professor McGonagall, but even so.... "You know how much I care; you saw it in my mind" - she cared about him more than life, more than breath, even more than exams and it was bleakly, coldly horrible to remember that he was quite right, there had been a time when she had left him to lie crumpled on the floor unconscious, bleeding and head-injured partly through her own doing, and had felt no more than a vague twitch of concern - and that mainly just over whether she would get into trouble if he died.
"Foolish," he said restlessly. "I was a burden to my parents, a toy to the Marauders - worse than a toy to - to - last year - and a tool to Albus. Not a person. Dirty thing. Reactive meat. Dads was right, never - never worth anything."
"Now you're the one who's being foolish," Minerva said firmly.
"Am I?" he said bleakly, the lines around his mouth drawing in tightly and emphasizing the scars. "I was - good enough to s-suffer for the Order but not to eat with you, nobody cared enough to keep Black from freezing me out because I was never - never a full person, nobody would ever exert themselves on behalf of an ill-formed thing like me I was - 'Oh, it's just Snivellus: it doesn't matter what happens to him, he doesn't have real feelings.'"
"I can't believe I'm saying this," Draco said suddenly, "but you are bearing in mind, aren't you, that Shortarse just tackled a homicidal maniac with a wand and wrestled her to the floor for your sake? I mean, I enjoy a grapple with a girl as much as the next man, but usually not while they're drilling holes in the scenery with the Killing Curse."
Hermione turned, looking surprized, and then smiled at him with a sudden warmth which made all his hormones stand up and salute. His godfather blinked at him. "That's - actually, you've got a point." The bitter lines of self-disgust which had warped his mouth relaxed suddenly and he let himself sag back against the transformed bed-head. "God - Longbottom." He laughed, suddenly, although even to his own ears there were definite overtones of "insane cackling". "So I've proof-positive that at least one bloody person cares enough about me to take a risk for me."
"If our positions were reversed," Draco said severely, greatly daring, "you'd be telling me to cut the self-pity."
"I would, wouldn't I? But then that's just another proof that I'm so bloody - feeble - "
"Don't start that again," Hermione snapped in sudden irritation, and the corners of Severus's mouth twitched.
"Yes miss." He sighed, moving his head restlessly. "It's hard to be rational or, or properly objective when I'm scared quite literally sick," he said painfully; "but how can I ever be - anything other than afraid, all the bloody time? Anything other than - fucking terrified, knowing that one of the people who was guarding me was poised to - to take me back to that?"
It was, in truth, a terrifying thought for all of them, but Hermione patted his hand gently. "It's - horrible but it does show that, well, that we're doing a good job looking after you, doesn't it? I mean, she was hovering around for five months looking for a chance to get at you and she didn't get one, did she? because there were always other guards, other people with you." Out of the corner of her eye she could see Professor McGonagall nodding in agreement.
"That's true," he replied; "it shows that the - the redundancy in the system works. But how can I ever know - whom to trust?"
"Well, you can trust me," she answered with the ghost of a grin. "You've seen inside my head, and having tried to teach me Occlumency you know I'm not good enough to lie to you."
"This is, in fact, perfectly true. But - oh, God...."
"You're over-tired, Severus," Minerva said gently. "You should rest, now." She looked at the two teenagers, dismissing them from service - dismissing them kindly enough, but still dismissing them, even though strictly speaking the eight to midnight slot belonged to Draco today. "You two should be getting back to your dorms, especially with NEWTs only two months away. I'll stay with him until Miss Lovegood takes over."
Severus felt a pang of regret at seeing Hermione leave, it might have been nice, comforting, to spend the night in her arms but it was all so complicated anyway, he didn't know whether he was still angry with her for her dismissive callousness towards him in third year or guilty about his own callousness in reminding her of it, and besides -
"Need a mother to put me to bed," he said sleepily. "Never really had one before - you'll do." Minerva snorted, not sure whether to be flattered or offended. "Jus' - just wish Albus was here to complete the set." He was drowsily aware that before he was injured, before Albus's sudden access of sentimentality about his ruined carcass, the Headmaster had made a very doubtful father-substitute - but then he was used to the idea of a father as a cold and scornful task-master, and at least Albus, even in his earlier incarnation, had never actually beaten him and had praised him when he did well.
"The Headmaster is still otherwise engaged," a literally sepulchral voice said, and Severus snapped awake to see the Bloody Baron drifting through the wall next to the fireplace, his eyes staring and blank.
"Glentrool," Severus replied politely, giving the Baron the title of his barony.
The Baron inclined his head. "Son of my house, I will stand as a father tae ye if one is needed."
"Er - thank you," the younger and still-living man replied rather uncertainly. The Baron had never been a soothing presence, although he suspected him of hamming the Gothic-horror factor up for effect - and he supposed that that was something they had shared, when he had still been up to prowling and purring. He probably had more in common with the old ghost, hovering there with the marks of his own torture-death still upon him, than he had with Albus - and certainly far more than he had ever had with his genetic father.
"The Grey Lady told me whit occurred this evening" the Baron said, sound less formal: "fair distressed she was that one of her own house could behave so cruelly, and I wis no less so: but at least the Slytherin chit acted frae loyalty to a cause, however ill-chosen, and not jist tae prove she wisnae her ain sister."
"She told the truth, though, didn't she?" Severus said wearily. "People keep telling me, telling me, over and over that I am still human, that I never ceased to be human but that's just a comforting lie told to a child, isn't it? I've seen myself, both in my own memory and in H- Miss Granger's - a mouldering, maggoty corpse, mindless and crying - "
"You were still aware, and suffering," the Baron said remotely: "as I was. She still had nae cause tae treat you as if yir suffering didn't matter."
"You never - lost yourself as I did, Glentrool, did you? - you were never - reduced to this filthy, violated, grotesque - " Absently, without realizing he was doing it, he began to claw at his own skin again.
"I wis fortunate enough not tae get the chance," Glentrool replied candidly, "seeing my heart gave out after eight days. I wouldna hae kept my sanity four weeks, let alone four months."
"You were lucky not to have to learn your own - snivelling weakness, to be whittled down to this - stump of a thing...." He raked his nails across his ribs, raising welts through the fine linen of the shirt.
"Dinnae be so daft, man," Minerva said firmly, catching his hand and holding it still. "You don't think any less of me when I have four paws and a tail, do you?"
"But you're still - beautiful, when you're a cat not craven and, and ugly and misshapen."
"Man," his colleague and former teacher replied with a wry grin, "I've seen Horace Slughorn turn into an armchair: I've even sat on him. Why would I care what shape you were? You could never be other than - yourself, whatever form you were wearing."
Intrigued, Severus pulled up short in his litany of self-loathing. "What happened, when you sat on Horace?"
Minerva grimaced primly. "I'd rather not say."
"Oh, come on - play fair. Tell."
"If you must know - he pinched my arse, and I slapped him."
"You know, don't you," Minerva said thoughtfully, "that the Grey Lady has put it about that you murdered her in a fit of jealousy, because she had rejected your - your suit, and then killed yourself out of remorse?"
"Oh aye," the Baron replied, grinning a grin which revealed a mouthful of irregular tombstone teeth which made Severus's look almost pretty. "She disnae like people to know that I dumped her. Let alane that she wis sae pish-poor at Herbology that she died of eating a dodgy mushroom."
Minerva McGonagall rubbed tiredly at her eyes, which were red and looked as if she had been crying. "I know he does need to think about what was done to him, to work his way through it - but I can't bear it when he won't stop blaming himself, tearing at himself - "
"I know," Hermione said glumly, toying with the remains of what she supposed qualified as a Working Breakfast in the Deputy Headmistress's office. At least she had free study after lunch, so she would be able to spend the afternoon with Severus without missing any classes. "When he sinks too far into one of his bouts of depression and self-loathing, nothing I do seems to bring him out of it," (not even kissing, she added, in the privacy of her own head), "and I hate not being able to help him." She realized that Neville was looking simultaneously smug and shifty. "What?"
"Well, eh, when he gets stuck on how dirty he is I generally just let Trevor 'escape' - I figured freaking out because there's a loose toad in his bed was healthier than freaking out about being raped. Of course, I can't do it every time or he'd work it out and shout at me." As they stared at him he ducked his head and smiled. "Contrary to popular gossip, there are very few flies on me. If there were, Trevor would have eaten them."
[The others, excepting Dumbledore, would have worried too much about whether it was right to manipulate the man, even for his own good; but Neville had the patient knowledge of Things Which Needed to be Done. Much later, Snape would say:
"I did work out what you were doing with that toad, you know."
"Er, yes.... Are you angry with me?"
"Not really - I thought it showed an intelligent and resourceful use of the materials to hand. And it worked, which was the main thing."
"Eh, well, I know from experience that it's impossible to concentrate on feeling depressed when something with cold, slimy feet is scrambling in through the neck of your nightshirt."
"And the warts - don't forget the warts, Longbottom."
"I've always thought Trevor has particularly good warts."]
Severus gasped and twisted, tears of terror and misery leaking out from his closed eyes. The dream closed around him like the walls of the cell, cold, horrible - the stone space stank of blood and other fluids, it reeked of pain - their hands reached out for him, grabbing, lascivious, there were knives flashing in their hands and jagged laughter; but before they could seize him, before he could begin to scream, the nightmare scene began to peel away like a thin skin and breaking through behind it was warmth and green life, dazzlingly bright, and the overwhelmingly heavy, damp, marzipan scent of the greenhouse, welcoming him in to take root and grow in the sun's heat....
"I dreamed - "
"What did you dream?"
He lay on his back, gazing up at the morning sunlight glinting through the coloured glass shards of the mobile as it turned slowly in the slight draught from the window, the feathers and shells and fragments of sun-dried driftwood bobbing slightly in the breeze and the chimes ringing softly at the edge of hearing. "I dreamed that I was alive - properly alive, and growing, like the flowers in the greenhouse. I dreamed that it would be all right."
Lovegood's eccentric, slightly pop-eyed face appeared between him and the mobile, smiling down at him, her ash-fair hair crackling with light. "Annihilating all that's made," she said, with a kind of solemn cheerfulness, "To a green thought in a green shade."
"Yes." His mouth quirked up at the corners. "The oddest part was when Longbottom began watering me with beer, and I complained because it wasn't a real ale, but only Tetley's."
"Come in," he said warily, and the door opened to reveal Potter, of all people.
"I, ah - " the boy said, smiling nervously at Snape and then at Draco, "I just wanted you to know that I checked and your cowslip wine is still there and it, uh, seems to be OK."
"How did it taste?" Snape asked smoothly.
"Quite nice, sort of flowery and - refreshing...." He blushed and looked down, scuffling his shoe against the mat. "I, uh, had to make sure it hadn't gone off, or anything...."
Snape narrowed his eyes. "Oh, of course you did...." He smirked faintly, and Draco sniggered. "You should sleep like a baby tonight, or like a log, whichever you consider more - appropriate."
"It's a sedative? Is that why you...?"
"Yes." He sighed and made a Herculean effort to talk to the boy normally and not keep poking at him, as tempting as that was. "It makes a good and far less addictive alternative to Dreamless Sleep, so you'll understand that if you could bring it down to me at some point that would be much appreciated."
"Oh, I'll get it for you now," Harry said cheerfully. "I know that cupboard: Hagrid used to, uh - "
"Keep an enormous, man-eating spider in it?"
"Yeah... well, I dunno if Aragog ever actually ate anybody, but - yeah." He scuffed his shoe again, hesitating, his hand on the doorknob. "Sir?"
"Yes Potter, what is it?"
"If you - if you meant what you said, about teaching me how to make wine I - I think I'd like that."
Severus rolled his eyes. "I should have known it would take the prospect of being able to brew your own booze to get you interested in Potions, Potter."
"I'm sorry," he muttered. "It wasn't fair of me to attack you like that."
"No it - " She took a deep breath, looking down at her own hands as if they were suddenly fascinating. "You were quite right, in third year I - I didn't know you, and I didn't really care much what happened to you, and I should have done, because everybody should care about everybody, really, and because you were trying to protect us, even if - "
"Even if I'd got hold of the wrong end of the stick," he said wryly, "and was hanging on to it with pig-headed determination."
"Erm, yes. But - but even though you were right about me in third year you were wrong about me now, because I, I care about you more than anything, I think. I really do." She gazed at him, brown-eyed and earnest, and he nodded slowly.
"I do... know that. As strange as it still seems to me. And I - I don't know about 'more than anything', because I have... obligations. To do with the war. But that I do - care.... Well, you shouldn't doubt it." It probably deserved some sort of booby-prize, he thought, for the most inept declaration of love ever made, but Hermione was gazing at him as soppily as if he were some sort of smooth-tongued Don Juan.
"You're so sweet when you're tongue-tied," she said with a grin, and he realised with a sudden rush of gratitude and relief that he didn't have to be Don Juan: it really did seem to be enough to be himself, however strange that might seem.
"I refuse to be considered 'sweet'," he grumbled, and then reached out very delicately and ran his finger along the fine line of her jaw, and thence down onto her shoulder. "Hermione would you - undress for me, I mean - really undress and, and help me to?"
"Severus? Yes, of course I will, but - " Although they had by now spent a great deal of time lying skin to skin they had always kept at least some clothes on, for the sake of his raw nerves. The idea of stripping off completely was an official Big Step which made her pulse flutter with nerves of her own. "Are you sure? Why now?"
He sighed and let himself slide down onto his back on the bed, gazing up at her. The knowledge that he had been in such danger with Greengrass at the door - Merlin, she had even been one of the ones who had returned early after Christmas to guard him! - all the time that he had thought himself comparatively safe was beyond frightening, it made the memory of pain so much more immediate that he ought to have shied away from all physical contact as if it burned him, now as then. But, God help him, he didn't want to die or be dragged back into that merciless hell without having had at least some sort of pleasurable sexual contact, something that was his, and the same recklessness which had propelled him out of his rooms and up the stairs impelled him, now, to seize what happiness he could - to go on, instead of falling back.
"Because I could have died yesterday," he said with a sigh, "and I realized I didn't want to die without seeing you naked and I don't mean that nearly as crudely as it sounds, I hope you realize, because right now seeing you naked seems like one of those obligatory wonders a man has to experience at least once in his life, like listening to Mozart or watching a really good sunset...."
"Oh, I do," she said, beaming. "Realize, I mean." Fluid and suddenly unselfconscious, she began to shuck off layers of clothing, her fingers moving deftly from button to button.
"I want to see you," he said candidly, watching her shoulders, her breasts appear from their shrouds of cloth like the sun emerging from behind clouds, "and I want to be seen. Or rather, I don't - the mere idea scares me shitless, quite frankly - but I want to reassure myself that I'm wrong to be scared and that you won't - you won't laugh at me. Or recoil from me," he added quietly.
"I won't laugh at you," she said gently, moving her hands to the collar of his shirt and beginning to undo it. His breath caught in his throat and she touched his cheek gently before she began to draw the linen down over his shoulders. Her touch was tender rather than erotic, but even so he jumped and shuddered when her careful hands laid bare what he awkwardly thought of as "down there".
When he was stripped, Hermione sat on the bed with her feet tucked up and her chin in her hands, a little gamine with her hair falling loosely over her slightly freckled shoulders, and contemplated him solemnly, trying not to glance too obviously at his groin. It wasn't as if it was the first time she'd seen a naked man in the flesh, after all, she must have glimpsed her father or one of the boys coming out of the shower oh, easily three or four times, for about half a second at a time....
"Well?" Severus said, with a sort of grim levity; "Do I look as grotesque as I feel?"
"It's...." She frowned, trying to put it into words, her eyes straying to the scarred crater where his left leg should be. "The injuries are grotesque, but you're not, if that makes sense. Like looking at some wonderful Greek statue that's been broken - you can still see that it's wonderful, even though...."
"Even though I've never born the remotest resemblance to a Greek god."
"That wasn't what I was going to say, but - well, yes. For one thing, Greek statues tend to have very small...." She blushed, and his scarred face crinkled momentarily into a rather smug smirk. "Not that I was looking, or anything. But you're very... nicely made, elegant, better than a Greek statue I think, and you still are. The injuries have made you into... into two-thirds of a lovely thing, if you see what I mean, rather than into an only two-thirds lovely thing."
"I've never considered myself to be remotely lovely," he snapped in sudden bitterness, and she smiled at him.
"Opinions vary, but you have nice bones, and I thought we'd agreed that if I'd wanted a pretty-boy I could have gone out and caught one." She unfurled herself to lie down beside him, on top of the covers where he could still see her in all her undeniable glory. He for his part hitched the blankets up surreptitiously to mid thigh, to make the loss of limb less painfully obvious, rolled over into her embrace and settled to the serious business of kissing her.
The afternoon drifted past them slowly, golden and sweet, punctuated by occasional glasses of cowslip wine which kept them both pleasantly relaxed and eased the biting bruises of memory. Kissing her like this, mother-naked and with the warm breeze blowing across his skin, was having powerful effects further south and he had no desire, for once, to retreat to the seclusion of the shower and deal with it on his own. And he ought to have been afraid: on one level he was, he was terrified; in his mind, if no longer in his body, he could still feel the viciously deep, burning internal ache which had been a constant companion through four months of miserable abuse - a reminder that his flesh and his sexuality was no longer his to own but other people's, to enjoy as they pleased, and the knowledge of it made him shuddery and sick to his stomach.
But Hermione was warm and real and alive and here, she wanted him to want her, cared whether he wanted her - he knew it, he couldn't doubt it, it was right there in the forefront of her mind, making love to Hermione would be an expression of life and movement and freedom, of joy even, not of oppression and he couldn't but respond and he felt her feel it - as she felt his erection push against her thigh she gave a pleased little wriggle which jolted him to his bones and then she flamed abruptly scarlet, all over, until he thought he would strangle with desire, although the sight of her pink-faced and pink-other-thinged with embarrassment also filled him with a wild urge to laugh.
"Look at me," he said gravely, trying not to grin as she blushed even harder, and tilted her chin up with his finger. "Hermione. Would you - do you wish to take this further? I mean - here and now and - I don't mean actually, ah, 'going all the way' as we used to say when I was your age" - he cringed internally and wished he hadn't reminded himself of quite how long ago that had been - "but something more intimate and, um... stimulating," he finished in a tiny mumble, flushing even more scarlet than she was, but the words "heavy petting" sounded so crass there was no way he would ever be able to get his tongue around them, even when he was dizzily imagining getting it around other things.
Hermione blushed again, her body still pressed hard against his in places which made his Adam's apple bob convulsively. "I - yes," she said in a small voice. On one level the prospect was so daunting it made her giddy and light-headed with terror; on another, the feel of him, the knowledge that she was making him so aroused, made her sweat with desire. "Yes, I want to go on."
"You're shaking," Severus said gently. "Are you so afraid? You don't have to if you - "
"No!" she interrupted him, shaking her head, although she could hardly trust herself to speak "Not - not frightened." She placed her small hand flat against his chest, over his heart. "You're shaking too."
"Sit up, then," he said hoarsely. To sit up himself he had to roll away from her in order to use his right hand to push himself up from the mattress, and then swivel back to face her on the precarious fulcrum of his one remaining thigh - but he had excellent balance. He braced himself with his hand against the bed and looked at her, wonderingly - sitting back on her own heels in a kneeling position, hands on thighs and back straight as if preparing for some kind of martial art, her eyes enormous and solemn and slightly apprehensive.
"Well...." he began at the same time that she said "Shall we...?" They smirked at each other fleetingly, each as nervous as the other, and then Severus looked aside, letting his hair fall across his face. Hermione put her hand up and smoothed the heavy, lank strands back behind his ear so that she could see his expression, and he turned his head and kissed the inside of her wrist, as softly as a feather.
They stared at each other for a moment - Hermione rather obviously struggling with the urge to look down - and then Severus exclaimed under his breath, leaned into her willing embrace and kissed her deep and hard, his tongue sliding against hers until he could feel the pulse in his groin leap like a deer in anticipation. "You're quite certain that you really do want to do this?" he asked, breaking away from the kiss and breathing rather fast.
Hermione nodded tightly. "You said it yourself" she replied, equally breathlessly. "There are some areas in which there's no real substitute for hands-on experience."
"I should be glad I do still have one hand that's my very own" he replied smoothly, and commenced trailing that hand lightly and sensually across her skin from her jaw-line down to her breasts, her flanks, her buttocks, sometimes using his fingertips and sometimes the backs of his fingers and his knuckles - so obviously admiring her shape with his touch that by the time those long fingers came to rest on the gentle curve of her stomach Hermione was shivering as if she was bone-cold, although in truth she felt blazing hot. "Filius's prosthesis is starting to feel almost natural but I'd still far rather use real flesh to touch - flesh" he murmured, caught on the edge of a kind of cheerful hysteria as he slid those long fingers further down and started to do things which made her squirm and gasp.
Hermione bit her lip, trying to retain some shreds of concentration, and stroked her own hands down his chest and stomach, slowly, letting him know what she was doing before she did it. She had spent so much time reading the books and imagining what it would feel like to touch her partner's erection, in order not to embarrass herself by appearing awkward and unskilled, that the action came easily to her - even with him doing his very best to distract her, so that she writhed involuntarily under his touch and could hardly hold still for a second. But she still drew a shaky breath when she felt how warm and solid and real he was against her palms - he was right, there were some things for which only hands-on experience would do - and a longer one when she felt the knots of scarring where she knew no scarring should be.
He was breathing hard and his pupils were dilated with desire, but when he felt her snatch her hands back in shock he stopped what he was doing and stared at her dazedly. "If you don't want to continue - "
"It's not that, you're - I don't want you to stop" she admitted, feeling a rather embarrassing urge to grind herself against his hand in frustration. "And I don't - I'm not afraid to touch you, it's just - oh, love, so many scars."
He looked away from her, shivering. "When they - if I was - if I was still, still up after they'd - finished it amused them to whip or burn me um, between the legs especially after they'd taken one of my legs off, it made it easier to - and it amused them that they could still make me throw a fit and go into convulsions - that way, even when I was so exhausted that even the Cruciatus no longer got much of a response." He forced the memory away, making a conscious effort to sound brisk and blasé. "But Adrian assures me that everything should still work, if I'm a bit - careful, although he put it rather more bluntly than that."
"He would." She put her left hand up to touch his cheek and turn his face back towards her. "Kiss me" she said firmly. He was so much taller, even when they were both sitting, and she expected him to bend down to her level - but he grinned like a wolf and raised her up onto her knees with an intimate grip which caused her to gasp and make a startled "Mmp!" sound. As his long mouth came down forcefully over hers she ran the other hand lightly down the scarred and slightly furry midline of his stomach again, determined to do better this time.
Soor Plooms (sour plums) are a very sharp and violently green lemon-and-lime-flavoured Scottish boiled sweet.
"The older man bore against that tenuous anchor" - to "bore against" something is to push hard against it with the intention of forcing a way through but it can, as here, also be the past tense of "bear against". To "bear against" something can mean to attack it with force, as when bringing cannon to bear against an enemy emplacement, but it can also just mean to press firmly against something so that it "bears you" - that is, takes part of your weight - and that is the sense in which it is used here. It just sounds better than "leaned heavily against", and has the advantage of implying that the anchor of Draco's contact is metaphorically holding Snape up.
I know I've made Cormac McLaggen have started on his sex-life a little young, but I wanted Tonks to know a bit about his sexual history. By the summer before the start of Harry's fifth year Tonks had been an Auror for a year and we know Auror training takes three years, so she must have left school just before Harry started, even if she went straight from NEWTs into Auror training. And Cormac is only a year above Harry, so he and Tonks can only have overlapped by a year: he was in first year when Tonks was in seventh. A friend of mine did actually develop both a full beard and a marked interest in girls by the time he was thirteen, so I'm assuming that Cormac was a similarly early starter, and that he was one of the older students in his year and was turned twelve and a half at the point Tonks is thinking of.
Regarding Snape's comment that Sirius was only opposed to the Dark Arts if it was other people who were using them, in PoA Snape said that the Marauder's Map was full of Dark magic - and he may well have been right. It certainly qualifies as a thing which appears to be able to think for itself (it talks, interactively), and yet you can't see where it keeps its brain.
In GoF, as part of the memory of Karkaroff's trial which Harry sees in the Pensieve, Dumbledore tells the court that "Severus Snape was indeed a Death Eater. However, he rejoined our side before Lord Voldemort's downfall"; and at the end of HBP when Dumbledore tells Harry about Snape's remorse over giving Voldemort the prophecy he says "I believe it to be the greatest regret of his life and the reason that he returned -" This emphasis on returning, on rejoining the anti-Voldemort faction, suggests that Snape may have been working for Dumbledore/the Order before he joined the Death Eaters - or, at the very least, that Dumbledore had already pegged him as being naturally of the light party and a potential recruit.
There is a popular idea in fanon that Albus always favoured the Marauders over Severus in all things. But although Albus speaks quite well of James he doesn't seem exactly devastated by his death, and he does tell Harry in first year that James was to Snape as Draco is to Harry. His praise of James seems to be mainly that James wouldn't kill an unarmed man who was grovelling for mercy at his feet - a thing which should really go without saying for any civilized person although not, apparently, for Sirius and Remus.
He never speaks of Remus at all, except to tell Snape he doesn't believe the man to be in league with Sirius (about which he is correct), and the one time we see them interact Remus appears deeply uncomfortable. Because Dumbledore gave Remus the DADA post which Snape wanted we are encouraged, in PoA, to think that Albus favours Remus over Snape: but now that we know that the two previous incumbents had been left dead or with permanent brain-damage because the post was actually cursed, and that Albus knew this, it becomes apparent that far from favouring Remus at Snape's expense, Albus was actually protecting Snape at Remus's expense.
As for Sirius, Dumbledore made decisions about Harry's future as soon as the Potters were dead, without consulting Sirius at all; he never seems to have doubted his guilt while he was in Azkaban; he keeps him confined to Grimmauld Place and doesn't permit him to make his own choices; he again makes decisions about Harry's future and sets up a private meeting between Snape and Sirius's godson, in Sirius's house, from which Sirius is pointedly excluded and without even telling him in advance; and he can scarcely find a single good word to say about the man and criticizes him openly, even when he is less than an hour dead. As with James, Sirius's death appears to cause him no more than mild sadness - and that mainly for its effect on Harry.
He speaks of Snape, on the other hand, with considerable affection and kindness, and appears to trust him absolutely. It's true that he doesn't seem able to make up his mind, sometimes, whether to treat Snape as a colleague or a child but Snape is almosty eighty years younger than him, and Albus explicitly admitted, to Tom Riddle, that he couldn't help falling back into seeing his adult former pupils as still children.
The idea that Albus always favoured Gryffindors above Slytherins became entrenched in fanon from the outset because of the rather disgraceful way he cheated Slytherin out of the House Cup at the end of the first book. But Albus later explicitly stated that he did so to please Harry, specifically, not Gryffindor in general: and the fact that previously Slytherin had won the House Cup for six years solid hardly supports the idea that the Headmaster was strongly biased against them. His bias in canon is for Harry personally, not for Gryffindor or against Slytherin, and yet Snape is one of the few subjects he will deny or defy Harry about. Indeed, a good case could be made for saying that his affection for young Severus had been nearly as strong as his affection for Harry, and his apparent soft spot for James came about precisely because James had saved Severus for him.
The only time Albus really seems prejudiced against Slytherins is when he praises Harry for having chosen to be in Gryffindor, against the Sorting Hat's advice; but the Hat had pegged Harry as a Slytherin because he smelt of Tom Riddle, and the ambition which it thought it saw in him and which suited him to Slytherin was the echo of Tom's lust for power rather than a simple desire to do well. So it may well be that what Albus is really praising is the fact that Harry chose not to be like Tom.
As it is used here, "redundancy" means duplication of effort, as applied to a backup system. Having at least two guards at Snape's door and one person with him at all times may seem like overkill but the backup system, the redundancy, worked, because it meant that when one of the guards turned out to be a rotten apple there were still two people to protect him from her.
The Bloody Baron must be Baron of somewhere. I have given him the name of a village in Galloway, since I have a theory, too long and complicated to explain here but mainly having to do with the weather and the very English-sounding name Hogsmeade, that Hogwarts is in the Galloway Hills rather than the Highlands.
"Annihilating all that's made // To a green thought in a green shade" - from the poem The Garden by Andrew Marvell.
A gamine was originally a female street-urchin, a homeless child; but it has a secondary meaning of a young woman who looks mischievous and rather boyish in a charming way.
Readers may also be interested in an essay called But Snape is just nasty, right?. A writer called seomensnowlocke posted (on ffn, which is really against the rules) an essay called Why Snape Does What He Does which irritated me so much that I felt impelled to write a complete rebuttal, explaining the reasons behind Snape's sometimes difficult behaviour, and this essay was the result.
This chapter has been re-edited in accordance with the new backstory revealed in Deathly Hallows, to show that Severus wasn't completely friendless as a child, and that Albus made a remote, borderline-abusive father-figure before Severus was injured. The Daphne/Padma incident now has added hair-pulling, just because one of our reviewers asked for it, and the Baron explains why the Grey Lady's version of his death, as given in Deathly Hallows, differs from ours.
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