Characters: Severus, Daphne
Word Count: 940
Summary: Severus is troubled by a Slytherin conversation.
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 Performance. Thank you, shiv5468, for beta'ing.
Christmas Day, Severus walked the corridors in blessed relief to find himself alone. The Carrows had gone home for the holidays, as had all the students. Only Filch, Pince, and the house-elves remained with him—or so he thought until he caught sight of a hooded figure rounding the corner in front of him. A gasp issued from whoever it was as she, Severus felt certain, stopped short.
His wand already drawn, he ordered, "Identify yourself!"
Daphne. Severus strode forward and pushed her hood back, revealing her lovely, defiant face. "What are you doing here?"
She shrugged. "Arsenic-laced pudding doesn't suit me."
"Surely Madam Pomfrey didn't—"
"She wrote to Mother, Headmaster, telling her that I was needed here, but—"
"She never would have permitted you to stay!"
"No, Headmaster. She wouldn't have done. She doesn't know that I'm here."
"It was foolish of you to have stayed behind. What if the Carrows had stayed, as well?"
"I knew that they wouldn't, Head—"
Daphne bit her lip and took a moment to regain her composure in the face of his outburst, but eventually, she continued, "Madam Pince told me so . . . H—Head—m—master."
And that really was enough. Severus couldn't stand Daphne's obvious fear of him; it was almost worse than her tears would have been. "You will follow me," he demanded, walking past her in the direction she had come without looking back to see if she was obeying him. It was almost a relief to hear her steady footfall behind him as he made his way towards a corridor without ornament or portraits, and one not frequented by ghosts. Once there, he turned to stare at her, not quite certain what he was doing, but certain she would ask him.
"Yes, Headmaster?" she asked tartly, keeping her arms loose about her sides.
Severus knew very well that Daphne couldn't hope to win any duel between them, but he took a perverse pride in her bravery. "If," he said, "you continue to goad me, to openly goad me, I will not be able to protect you."
"Are you doing so very much to protect any of us, Head—"
"Stop," Severus hissed. "Are you trying to put yourself in harm's way?"
Severus didn't bother attempting to prompt a "sir" from her; he knew one wouldn't be forthcoming. "Then what, precisely, are you doing?"
Daphne's eyes filled with tears.
"It's rather difficult . . . to b—believe that you . . . that you," she continued, squaring her shoulders, "could have m—murdered him. I want to know why you did."
Severus swallowed. "You didn't Sort wrongly, did you? You've been purposefully provoking me."
"I couldn't very well put such a question to you if we weren't alone together."
"You have no right to question me at all."
The hope in her tone, slight as it was, crushed him. He knew that he should crush her, should terrify her so badly that she'd never seek anything from him again, but he couldn't do it.
Instead, he told her, "The current . . . 'political climate' is difficult."
Daphne issued a sound that was both half-laugh and half sob.
"And I am doing everything within my power to keep safe as many students as possible."
"So I've noticed, although I can't think why."
You're not supposed to think why, thought Severus, knowing that he was wading into deep waters, ones in which he very well might drown if he couldn't stop himself.
"It's not just 'pure-blood, wealthy Slytherins' you're protecting."
Severus opened his mouth to speak, but Daphne didn't give him the opportunity to say anything.
"I know because I help Poppy treat the injuries, because the injuries, as bad as they are, could be wor—"
"How? How could they be worse? Unforgivable curses aren't enough for—"
"No one's been raped."
Severus' blood ran cold.
"No one's died."
He closed his eyes, but the images of broken, destroyed students, of Albus' pleading eyes, of Charity's terrified face continued to haunt him. You have to make her stop. This conversation is thoroughly ina—"
"You're keeping those monsters in check. It's almost as though you give a damn."
Severus drew in a long, grateful breath to think, at long last, that someone, Daphne in particular, did not entirely damn him and found his voice. "I am . . . I am the Headmaster of Hogwarts. It is my duty to give a damn."
Daphne reached for him, and Severus tried to elude her grasp, but she caught one of his hands in hers. The warmth of her skin was more comforting than Severus could have imagined.
"And . . . and Professor Dumbledore?" Daphne whispered, so low that Severus could barely hear her.
"Daphne, I can't—"
"Poppy told me, you know. He tried to hide it, of course, but she's training enough to see when someone's suffering a curse wound. He was going to die, anyway, wasn't he?"
Severus squeezed her hands and then, before he compounded his idiocy, reluctantly pulled himself free of her. "You will cease to interest yourself in politics, Miss Greengrass—for my sake, as well as your own, do you understand?"
Tears sliding down her cheeks, Daphne nodded. "You're . . . all alone now, aren't you, sir?"
"I am where I chose to be."
"No one could have chosen—"
"I. Am. Where. I. Chose. To. Be."
"Is there anything I could do to—"
"Tend to the injured. Keep your head down. Stay safe." Please.
"And say nothing, of course," Daphne replied.
"Most of all, say nothing." With that, he left her.
Severus dined alone that evening, but among the dishes the house-elves sent to his quarters was an onion tart. He ate it with relish.