Characters: Severus, Poppy, Daphne
Word Count: 1617
Summary: Severus is troubled by a Slytherin, full stop.
Disclaimer: This work of fan fiction is based on characters and situations created by J. K. Rowling and owned by J. K. Rowling and various publishers, including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books, Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made from (and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended by) the posting of this fan work.
Author's Note: This ficlet follows A Thoroughly Inappropriate Observation. Thank you, arynwy, for beta'ing.
Severus was to damn himself further with regard to Daphne in the coming months, for in his desire not to pay her any particular attention, he failed to notice her fall ill and didn't learn of her illness until Madam Pomfrey summoned him to her office.
"Close the door, Severus," Pomfrey greeted him, "and sit down. I don't want us to be overheard."
Severus frowned and closed the door, but he didn't sit down. "What's happened?"
"She's fine, but—"
Pomfrey's uncharacteristically tight smile vanished, and she stared at him until he did, at last, sit down. "Daphne Greengrass has been exposed to arsenic."
Severus shot back to his feet. "Someone's poisoning Da—Greengrass? Where is she?"
Pomfrey sighed and regarded him levelly. "I know that Daphne is a favourite of yours, but it would be helpful if you'd allow me to explain matters before you saw her. The situation is delicate."
Again, Severus sat down. "I don't play favourites."
"No, of course not, but you have taken enough of an interest in her to recommend her to me as a student assistant during her free periods."
Ah, that, thought Severus with relief.
"Now, as I said, she's been exposed to arsenic. That doesn't necessarily mean that she's been poisoned, but it is troubling."
"Did you discuss with her how she might have been 'exposed' to it?"
"Not exactly. The fact is that I've not yet told her why she's been ill. We made general conversation during my examination of her and discussed her symptoms, and then I had her lie down while I tested her blood. Once I knew the cause of her discomfort, I gave her a cleansing draught and called you. The level of arsenic in her blood is low, Severus, and I'm trying to be cautious, but . . . ."
"You don't believe that she was inadvertently exposed."
"I'm afraid that I don't. I found arsenic in the hair sample I surreptitiously took from her while she was drinking the potion."
"And no other students have been complaining of the same symptoms?" Severus asked, lacing his fingers tightly together in his lap.
"No. Daphne did, however, mention that she supposed she'd been eating too many sweets."
"Sweets from Honeydukes?"
Pomfrey shook her head. "Sweets from her mother."
Severus raised his eyebrows. "You believe that Diana Greengrass is trying to poison her own child?"
"I don't like to believe it, but I can't discount two things that support it in my mind: when Diana Yaxley was a student here, she put something vile in the pumpkin juice of a romantic rival, that, and she's not going to be an independently wealthy widow for long."
"What are you talking about?"
"You didn't know? Apparently, the terms of Roger's—Daphne's father's—will state that control of her family's fortune will fall to her when she turns seventeen, which means that Diana will be forced to live on whatever allowance Daphne decides to provide her."
"How do you know all this?" Severus asked, although he was inclined to believe Pomfrey's suspicions.
He'd known Diana quite well, and she'd made no secret of the fact, while safely gossiping in the Slytherin common room, that her "love" of her Hufflepuff boyfriend had been inspired by fortune.
"Margaret Greengrass, Roger's mother, was a friend of mine. She never approved of Diana, and it was she who oversaw the preparation of her son's will. Of course, none of that proves that Diana's poisoning Daphne."
"Test the sweets. That will prove—"
"Daphne's eaten them all, and if Diana learns that they've been discovered as the cause of her daughter's illness, she certainly won't send more of them. She's a vicious, grasping bitch, but she's not stupid."
Severus blinked in surprise at Pomfrey's obscene vehemence.
"Even if we could prove it, Diana would be arrested, and Daphne, because she's only sixteen, would be placed in the care of her uncle. That wouldn't do. I suspect you understand why."
Severus wasn't sure to what, exactly, Pomfrey was alluding, but he suspected it wasn't merely the fact that George Yaxley had been among the boys who had tormented Mary MacDonald with Dark magic.
And Lily never forgave me for failing to condemn them, did she?
He closed his eyes briefly in shame; he'd never been able to forgive himself for his failure, either. It had been a mistake, and one, like so many others that he'd made, for which he could never fully redeem himself. It had added to all the other reasons he'd given Lily not to trust him, not to love him as he'd loved her, but he couldn't afford to dwell on the past. He opened his eyes and found Pomfrey looking at him expectantly.
"What are we going to do, Severus? Daphne needs protection, but we won't succeed in keeping her safe if we remove her from the care of her mother and place her into the care of someone worse. I know that George was acquitted of being a Dea—was acquitted, but—"
"Have you told Dumbledore about any of this?" Severus interrupted.
"I'm sorry to bring up old—"
Pomfrey's eyebrows knitted together. "I should have done, but no. In some cases," she said, pausing as if to consider her next words, "Albus is more prone to worsening matters than resolving them."
Lupin, Severus thought, understanding exactly the incident to which she was alluding, but he couldn't afford to dwell on his old bullies, either, and said nothing.
"For Daphne's sake, I thought it best to apply to you."
Pomfrey's heavily implied trust of him made Severus break his customary formality. "Thank you, Poppy. I appreciate your discretion."
"You're a good man, dear. I know that," was her gentle reply.
His throat tightening, Severus found that he couldn't offer her one, but she clearly didn't expect it of him.
"What will you do?" she asked.
Speech returned to Severus, so obvious was the answer. "I'll have to tell her."
"Has nothing to do with it. She can't protect herself if she doesn't know the danger."
"I suppose that's true, but it's an awful thing for a little girl to have to deal with."
"Daphne Greengrass may be young," said Severus, ruthlessly repressing his guilt regarding that fact, "but she's not without resources. Your continued discretion, for one."
"You may rely upon it, but you will let me know if I can do anything more?"
Severus rose. "Yes."
There was something within every well-bred pure-blood witch of Severus' acquaintance, regardless of age, that allowed her to face untoward circumstances with more than mere British resolve. A female member of wizarding Britain's elite seemed to understand, in a way that, for example, a wizard of low background never quite could do, that everything would be all right once she'd exercised her will over who- or whatever was causing her inconvenience. This was certainly true of Daphne.
Leaning back against her pillows and addressing him as if an equal rather than a professor or protector after he'd explained the situation, she said, "I see. Well. That's . . . that's a thoroughly inappropriate thing for Mother to be do—doing."
Thank Merlin, thought Severus, as Daphne's lip began to tremble. She is human.
And then he began to hope like hell that she wouldn't cry, for he had never been able to bear a witch's tears.
Daphne didn't disappoint him. "I don't want her actions reported, sir. If she were arrested, custody of Astoria and I would be given to our uncle."
Her tone turned derisive as she spoke of Yaxley, and Severus couldn't help but admire her for it.
"I shall write to Mother and tell her to stop playing the fool. I'll promise to keep her in sufficient funds as to guarantee her the same comfort she's enjoyed since her marriage to Father."
Perversely, Severus found himself annoyed by Daphne's firm calmness. "Will you," he snapped flatly. "Do you honestly believe that you'll survive long enough to do that? The damage that your mother could do before you achieve your financial independence is great."
"You think that she'll engage someone to murder me."
"I would in her position."
"Isn't that interesting."
"Don't take that tone with me. You understand me perfectly well."
"I don't, as it happens," she retorted.
"Sir," Severus shot back.
Raking her eyes over his body, Daphne crossed her arms.
"Sir," Severus repeated, refusing to give ground—and realising that Daphne had, after all, noticed his recent masculine appreciation of her.
Regardless, he was still her professor, and she would pay him the respect due to his position, however far beneath her she might find him in other respects.
"I don't . . . as it happens . . . sir." Daphne uncrossed her arms and pushed herself up in bed. "I don't understand any of this."
Ground gained, Severus found himself sitting in a chair by her cot, leaning forward to whisper, "Let me help you?"
He shouldn't have phrased his offer as a question, he knew that, but then, he was merely a wizard of low origin and hadn't as many resources as Daphne upon which to draw.
"I think you'll help me whether I want you to or not," Daphne whispered, averting her gaze from his.
"You're right," Severus murmured, pleased to see her flush, "but I want you to agree. Let. Me. Help. You."
Daphne bit her lower lip, and Severus, his tongue.
At last, Daphne took a deep breath and turned her face up to his. "Yes. Help me. I want you to."
Suddenly, Severus didn't know who needed saving more, but before he could close the distance between himself and Daphne, he forced himself to say, "Sir."
"Yes," she replied, leaning back against her pillows, "sir."