Characters: Severus, an unlikely house guest, others
Word Count: 6700
Summary: Young and old, old and new, Severus has friends; it just takes an unlikely house guest to remind him of that fact.
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: Written for the_winterwitch as part of the 2012 run of hp_friendship. Thank you, arynwy and shiv5468, for beta'ing.
Severus had rarely spent his Galleons on anything, so by the time he'd recovered, been vindicated, and escaped his post-war notoriety—he refused to call it fame—by taking up residence in his newly Unplottable house on Spinner's End (something for which he never did thank Potter), he found himself in possession of a decent nest egg. He knew, however, that it wouldn't last long unless he either invested or added to it.
Something which I will not be doing by returning to Hogwarts, he thought, sipping tea by the fire in his front room. I just want to be alone.
It occurred to him, as it had apparently occurred to everyone with whom he'd spoken over the past several months once they'd learned he wasn't going back to the school, that he might open an apothecary, but that was a ridiculous notion. It would mean his having to deal with people.
Like the sodding journalists who've yet to give up on securing my story.
Of course, Potter had already done what he could to destroy Severus' privacy, and to his mortification, the general public looked upon him as some sort of tragic hero. It had been galling, as he'd taken the necessary steps to separate himself from the world, to see the pity in people's eyes.
Loose-tongued arse, Severus thought, before banishing all thoughts of Potter. "Perhaps I could start a mail-order concern."
"Right, because you've endless space in which to work here."
"Thank you, Mam," Severus said, "but I don't require your advice."
"You require a bath, I should think. You've been wearing the same robes every day for a week!
Perhaps it had been a mistake, commissioning his mother's portrait, but while Severus had been incapacitated, he'd wished for her desperately and often. Now, he couldn't think why.
Severus turned to his post, which he collected from the Owl Office in Hogsmeade and sorted through at the back of the Hog's Head once a week. The fan mail, he burnt so as not to have to carry it home. The requests for assistance—and why people believed he was some sort of freelance problem-solver, he didn't understand—he burnt, as well. He had initially brought home the love letters, intending to have a laugh over them, only to find them so pathetic and sad that he'd thrown them into the hearth and pissed on them. When they'd dried, he'd burnt them, too. Ah, but amidst the bizarre epistles, he'd found one or two decent employment offers.
The invitation to the Spellcraftres' Guild is tempting, but they live like monks.
Whatever else Severus was, he'd never been one of those. It wasn't degrading to Lily's memory that he shag a willing witch upon occasion, and he was man enough to need that sort of "companionship."
Magiceuticals is an interesting industry, he told himself, draining his teacup, but I'm certain, were I to investigate the firm, I'd find it owned by the Malfoys.
Lucius had been one of his hospital visitors; Severus had turned him away. He knew well enough that his "old friend" merely wanted to associate with him because of his new-minted "heroic" reputation.
Severus rose. "I will not be used, but I wish to be useful."
In the past two decades, he had never once not been busy, and he found his self-imposed, isolating "freedom" rather boring.
"So return to Hogwarts and set things to rights, boy."
"Mam, no advice from you!"
"Then ask one of your friends, why don't you? Oh, that's right. You claim not to have any."
Scowling, Severus stormed from the room, shouting, "That's because I don't have any!"
There was no such thing as friendship; "friends" were merely people who could stand one another's company long enough to be able to use each other for their mutual benefit.
But what of Lily? Severus asked himself, as he threw himself down on his bed. Lily was different.
And, more to the point, Lily was dead.
Severus dreamed. In his dream, he was staring at a real live leprechaun, who was gnawing on bones in a chair by his bed, with his booted feet on the bed.
Thunk! went a bone, as the leprechaun tossed it aside and reached for another one from the pile in his lap.
Severus shifted so that he could see the pile more closely. "Are those finger bones?"
"Aye," the leprechaun replied, returning to his gnawing.
"Human finger bones?" Severus asked, feeling vaguely nauseated as he sat up in hopes that the dream would end.
"Most o' them."
Severus padded heavily out of his bedroom and into the corridor towards the bath. He needed one, he wanted a piss, and he expected his dream would pass more quickly once he'd dressed for the day.
"Damn it!" he exclaimed, turning back towards his room. "Leprechauns are vegetarians!"
"Sure we are," came a cheerful, scoffing voice from his room, "but don't mind me. I'll clean up me own mess."
Severus blinked and rubbed his eyes.
"See that you do," said Severus, before proceeding to take care of the ablutions of several mornings.
When he got out of the bath, he didn't hear any bones hitting the floor and assumed that he was finally fully awake. While dressing, however, the welcome scents of sausage and tea met his nostrils.
What the hell?
Severus went immediately to the kitchen. The leprechaun, wearing his mother's old apron and standing on a chair, was turning sausages in a pan.
"Mornin'," he said, as if he had every right to be in Severus' kitchen.
"I'm still dreaming."
"Hope not," the leprechaun replied. "Didn't sound pleasant, the dream you were havin' when I arrived."
"And when, precisely, was that?"
"Help yourself to the tea," the leprechaun told him, as Severus sat at the table. "Afore dawn, it was. Don't know the exact time. Never do. Time don't mean nothin' to a leprechaun."
"Bollocks. Time's the same for us all."
"Says a wizard who knows about Time-Turners," the leprechaun said. He flipped a sausage. "How many you want, Severus?"
"Who told you my name?"
"Oh, of course. It's my dream, isn't it?"
"You ain't dreamin'." The leprechaun filled a plate and sent it towards Severus before filling one for himself, climbing off the chair, and dragging it back to the table.
Plink! went his plate.
Severus, still certain that he was dreaming, decided to humour himself. "What's your name?"
"I'm that crushed you don't remember it," said the leprechaun.
"Fine, don't tell me. I'll call you Gnasher."
They ate in relative silence until Severus couldn't stand it any longer.
"Am I dreaming?"
Gnasher licked his lips. "Nope."
"Then what the hell are you doing here? And how did you get in? I've wards and locks and—"
"I'm," Gnasher interrupted, grinning, "a leprechaun. Once invited, I can't be uninvited. You should remember that. It's what you told her."
Severus' eyes widened. Fuck.
He did remember Gnasher now, at least, Gnasher's hole. He and Lily had found it on the bank of the river not far from his home, hard by the mill. There'd been a piece of gold half in and half out of it, and Severus, instead of taking it—because it hadn't been a Galleon and he'd never trusted "lucky" finds—had kicked it inside the hole before Lily could touch it. He'd then made up a bunch of silly leprechaun-related rules with which to impress her.
"I called you Bertram, and I told Lily that you granted wishes to people who didn't steal from you."
"That's right, you did. You also said that anyone who didn't steal from a leprechaun was that leprechaun's bosom friend for life."
"Right," said Severus, "and 'bosom friends' can—"
"—come an' go as they please," Bertram finished.
"Merlin, I'm losing my mind."
"Nope," said Bertram, stuffing a sausage into his mouth and swallowing it almost whole. "You ain't. You just done forgot about friendship, and Lily asked me to remind you o' its meanin' if'n I ever could."
"I beg your pardon?"
"She told me all about you, she did, and her words were true." Bertram stuffed another sausage down his gullet and smacked his lips in satisfaction.
Severus didn't want to discuss Lily. "I would have thought all those bones would have been enough," he said.
"That's 'cause you don't know near as much 'bout leprechauns as you think y'do."
"This is ridiculous!"
"Aye, you should eat that afore it goes cold, you stupid wizard."
Severus' stomach growled.
"See?" asked Bertram. "Eat it afore I do."
Severus ate, and then pushed his plate away. "Why are you here?"
Bertram, now standing on his chair doing the dishes, peered over his shoulder. "You really are stupid, aren't you? Pity."
"Stop insulting me in my own home!"
Bertram snorted. "You call this ol' place a home? Homes are cozy places you bring your friends to. Homes are welcoming."
"Yes, well, I haven't anyone to welcome here."
"Aye, an' that's 'cause you've forgot about friendship. I told you, Lily asked me to see to it you always remembered—"
"The true beauty and power of friendship," Severus interrupted, his tone dripping with sarcasm.
"Aye." Bertram grinned. "Couldn't have put it better meself."
Severus crossed his arms. "You're no leprechaun. Leprechauns are tiny."
Bertram pushed his chair back to the table, a fierce blush turning his greenish features almost blue. "Aye, well, I don't like to talk o' what me daddy got up to in his wild youth. It's not magic fit for discussion in a respectable home."
"Oh, so you admit that this is one?"
Bertram shook his head. "I don't, not yet, but your mother's a fine lady, and—"
"You spoke to Mam?"
"That portrait is neat magic, ain't it? Anywho, she's right worried about you, Miss Eileen is."
Severus sighed. "Look, Bertram, I don't know what it is you're truly doing here, but I'm fine. I don't need you. I don't want you. You should go."
"Well, I ain't goin', not until I remind you o' what friendship means. I promised Lily I would, I did, and a leprechaun always keeps his word."
"Bollocks! Leprechauns are—"
Severus frowned. "Lovely."
"'Scuse me—but it was, wasn't it? Not much sustain, but that was a right deep belch, it was!"
So it was that Severus found himself with a house guest. Each morning, he'd awaken to Bertram gnawing on finger bones by his bed—something about which he wanted to ask him further questions but never did, afraid of what he might learn—and then Bertram would prepare whatever he could find for breakfast, chastising Severus if he'd failed to do adequate shopping.
After a breakfast of braised radishes, which Bertram served with the threat of bone soup, Severus made a point of doing the shopping "reg'lar like."
After eating, Severus would take a walk, and Bertram would accompany him, pointing out various places where Severus and Lily used to play as children in between their discussion of other things. At first, this annoyed Severus, but after a few days of it, he found that he enjoyed remembering happier times and didn't mind reminiscing about those that had occurred at Hogwarts. Once he'd taken his exercise, he and Bertram would play chess or Exploding Snap, and then Bertram would prepare lunch, after which Severus would either work in his garden or his make-shift laboratory in the shed behind the house. He didn't know what Bertram got up to during this time, but by dinner, he'd find the leprechaun in the kitchen. He almost looked forward to their meals together, having not been taking them regularly and become tired of his own company, but he never said as much to Bertram.
On his seventh day in residence, Severus asked him, "Don't you have a family to go to?"
"Aye," Bertram said, tilting his soup bowl against his lips and slurping up the broth, "but they understand."
"What do they understand?"
"That wizards are stupid and require more time and attention than most. You thought about your friends, yet?"
"I told you, I haven't got any."
"Nice sustain," Severus replied, breaking of a hunk of bread from the loaf Bertram had baked.
"Thank you. Good bread, ain't it?"
"So, you've spoken o' this McGonagall, the one as has the keepin' o' your school."
"It's not my school."
"Because . . . ." Severus stopped speaking.
He didn't want to discuss his tenure as Headmaster, or how guilty he still felt about it; he didn't want to think about how hard it had been to let his friends down.
Finally, he replied, "Because it wouldn't be right to take the Headship from Minerva."
"Ah, that's nice o' you to think o' your friend, but Hogwarts still needs a permanent Defence instructor."
"How do you know that?"
"I read that wizard paper o' yours when you're done with it."
"I see," Severus said, rising with his dishes.
"You're doing the washin' up today?" Bertram asked, looking pleased.
Bertram clapped his hands together. "Improvement!"
Severus didn't walk with Bertram that morning; he had his post to collect. One of the things it included was a copy of Witch Weekly; Severus had never subscribed to it, so he was surprised by its presence, and annoyed to find himself the subject of its cover. "Snape Voted Sexiest Bachelor," screamed the headline.
"Oh, for fuck's sa—"
"Are you Mr Snape?" someone asked, tugging on his sleeve.
Looking down his nose at the small girl, Severus realised he'd attracted attention other than hers. He looked around the Owl Office and saw several patrons staring at him—with indulgent smiles on their faces. Merlin, what other sort of shite is being said about me to make a child feel as though— "I am, and what is your name?" he asked, rather than simply Disapparating to the Hog's Head.
"I'm Jane, and my sister," Jane said, pointing at a girl about Hogwarts' age standing with a witch whom Severus assumed was the girls' mother, "is afraid to go to school."
"And why is that?"
"'Cause Mummy's Slytherin."
Severus looked again at the child's mother and nodded to her. She approached him.
"I'm sorry that she's disturbing you, sir. Come along, Jane."
"A moment, madam. You're Amy Finch, aren't you?"
"I was. It's Yaxley, now."
"Ah. You were a Fifth Year when I started school, weren't you?"
"And is Jane right about her sister?"
Mrs Yaxley flushed. "Well, if you had stayed, I would have felt comfortable about sending Julianne to school, but . . . ."
"I assure you that Headmistress McGonagall is quite fair. No reprisals are being made against—"
"Perhaps not," said Mrs Yaxley, her face hardening, "but that woman drummed all the Slytherin students from the school before the battle, and," she lowered her voice, "we're cousins of his, you know, and George's having been a Death Eater, well, I just don't want to take any chances with my Julianne."
Jane tugged Severus' sleeve again as her mother turned to go. "Do something," she mouthed.
"—but what would she have me do?" Severus asked Bertram, who was gleefully opening his post.
"Go back to work."
"I don't want to go back to Hogwarts."
"No one blames you, man," Bertram said, opening a letter. "Oh, this is good. 'Miss Prudence Clearwater desires to make herself known to Severus the Heroic'—I'll bet she wants you to have knowledge o' her!"
"Really, Bertram! Must you be so crude?"
"Beggin your pardon, Miss Eileen," Bertram replied, "but surely you can see as how your boy could use some lady company."
Flushing, Severus said, "I do not require—"
"Yes, of course he could," she replied, "but not the sort one finds in such letters!"
Annoyed to find himself being discussed as if he weren't present, Severus stalked off to the kitchen to prepare lunch.
At dinner that night, Bertram said, "That little girl o' whom you were speakin', Jane, was it?"
"Well, her fear for her sister brings to mind an unsettlin' fact."
"And what is that, Bertram?"
"Have you read 'bout the enrollment issue? You know, for once the school's out o' tents and back in Hogwarts, proper, like?"
Severus hadn't; he'd been avoiding articles about the school. He shook his head.
"Well, I ken that not too many Slytherins'll be returnin' to the rebuilt school, and none o' the Slytherin families whose bairns have received a letter will be goin'. That there Minerva o' yours keeps receivin' Howlers from them."
Severus set his fork down on his plate and sat up. "No Slytherin families are sending their children? Who's the Head now?"
"That Slughorn fellow, him that wants to retire."
"And what's Minerva doing 'bout—about—that?"
"Why don't you ask her, man?"
Bertram's expression was serious but for the twinkle in his eyes. Severus scowled at him.
"You're just trying to trick me into seeing a 'friend'."
"I ain't. I'm just thinkin' 'bout all them bairns bein' too scared to go to school. It ain't right, that."
"No," said Severus. "It isn't."
Bertram looked so pleased by his response that Severus didn't say what he was thinking, which was that it wasn't his problem what occurred at Hogwarts any longer.
The temporary tent "school" was orderly and guarded, but Severus wasn't challenged as he walked down the lane from the Hog's Head into the field in which it had been constructed; he was hailed.
"Severus, is that you?"
"Professor Sinistra," he replied, nodding to her.
"Merlin sakes, Severus, it's Aurora. Come have some tea," she said, returning to the fire by which she'd been sitting and pulling a kettle off the spit over it.
"Actually, I've come to see Minerva."
Aurora poured tea for them both, handing Severus a cup, and said, "At this hour? What, you couldn't wait to apply for the Defence position?"
Severus frowned at the teasing note in her tone. "That isn't why I've come." He took a sip of tea. "Is it true, what I've heard about the Howlers?"
Now Aurora frowned. "It is. Minerva's beside herself with guilt."
"Perhaps she should be."
"She did run our house off."
"Yes, because she didn't know whom among those students she could trust, and she didn't want any of them to come to harm during the fighting. You know that."
Severus did know that, and what's more, he knew that he would have sent all the students away, not just the Slytherins. It was something about which he and Minerva had argued when she'd come to see him at St. Mungo's.
He didn't, however, say as much to Aurora. "Perhaps. That still doesn't change the fact that there will be, apparently, no new Slytherin students to Sort come fall."
Aurora sighed. "Minerva and the other Heads have been doing what they can to change that."
"How so?" asked Severus.
"Well, they've been visiting each of the students due to Sort next term, explaining the importance of the house system, the fact that not all Slytherins," Aurora said, rolling her eyes, "are evil, and that it's the duty of every Hogwarts student to take his or her fellows students as he or she finds them rather than pre-judging them."
"I imagine that's going over well."
Aurora sighed again. "Not with our families. The parents appear to believe that you didn't retire but were forced out, and that the other houses' students will despise their children."
"And you think that if I were still teaching here, they'd feel more comfortable about sending their children to school?"
"That . . . isn't for me to say, Severus, but if you are interested in helping our house, and I assume that's why you're here to see Minerva, then it couldn't hurt if you . . . did something, anything, to show that you did retire. Perhaps you might write a letter to the Prophet explaining your situation, or give an interview?"
"I have no desire to deal with the press. I desire nothing more than my privacy now." Severus said.
"Then what are you doing here?" asked Aurora.
I don't know, he thought, as they were interrupted.
"Perhaps he's lonely?" Filius said, taking a seat by the fire and opening a pouch of sweets.
"Filius," Severus said, in greeting.
"Severus," Filius replied, sucking a sweet out of its wrapper and tossing the wrapper onto the fire.
"Well," said Aurora, "it was good to see you, Severus. I hope you'll think about what we discussed. Slytherin needs you, and," she continued, rising, "you are missed, whether you believe it or not." With that, she left them.
Severus turned to Filius, who was sucking with apparent unconcern on another sweet. "Perhaps I should be go—"
"You might have said goodbye."
"I beg your pardon?"
Filius cracked his sweet between his teeth and swallowed before saying, "You didn't say goodbye when you left. You didn't say anything to me at all."
"The day you came to see me, I was in great pain."
"I don't mean in hospital, Severus. I mean the day you tendered your resignation. We were all waiting for you, and you just swept past as if we meant nothing to you. That hurt."
Severus flushed and rose to his feet. "I shouldn't have come."
"Never took you for a coward," said Filius.
"How dare you call me that?"
Filius popped a sweet into his mouth and gazed calmly at Severus. "Because running away is the act of a coward."
Severus sat down abruptly. He'd never been able to bear disappointing Filius, who'd been so kind to him when he was a student. "There will be other girls, young man. You'll make other friends."
"Better," said Filius, offering Severus his bag. "Sweet?"
"No," Severus said, repressing the memory of Filius' having attempted to comfort him after his last, worst argument with Lily. I should have listened to him. I should have made other friends.
"I realise that it must have been difficult for you, Severus, not being able to tell us the truth, but it's over, now, and you're not without friends."
Severus started as the wrapper hit the flame.
"No one blames you," Filius continued, "and Aurora's right."
"About what?" Severus whispered, feeling his eyes burn.
"We do miss you." Filius unwrapped another sweet.
Severus sighed, trying to believe it.
"Go home for now, Severus. Minerva needs her sleep, and you look as if you could use some."
"Goodnight . . . Filius."
There were half as many sausages on the platter as usual as Bertram put breakfast on the table.
"Don't tell me you're not hungry," Severus remarked.
"All right, I won't."
Severus smirked to see Bertram take "only" three sausages, several eggs, two rashers of bacon, a small scoop of mushrooms, and a modest portion of potatoes. "It's tragic, the way you've gone off your food."
"What's the matter?" Severus asked.
"Jus' tired, I suppose. You were gone a long time."
"You were worried about me?" Severus asked. "How touching."
"I was worried about the bairns. Did you speak to your friend?"
I spoke to two of them, Severus thought, saying, "No. She was asleep."
"Well, why not try to see her now that there's light in the sky?"
"Because Minerva will no doubt be teaching, and I've something to do."
"I'm going to see Potter."
"What does he have to do with anything?" demanded Bertram.
"That's a question I used to ask myself often," Severus replied, buttering a piece of toast, "but now I think I know."
Bertram grunted, and they ate in relative silence while Severus thought about Potter, about whom he'd read a great deal in the Prophet.
He claims to have almost been Sorted into Slytherin, which might be true. His Sorting took longer than most—although perhaps he's only putting that story about to do what he can for Slytherin.
It was something for which he supposed he should be grateful, he realised, because Potter was certainly under no obligation to look out for Slytherin.
Or me, thought Severus, his conscience pricking him. I should have thanked him for having the house made Unplottable.
His conscience pricked him, again.
I shouldn't have left everything to Minerva to fix. Filius was right. I did run away to hide, and now I'm half bored out of my mind with a leprechaun for company, and I can barely stand to be in the presence of my old colleagues, my old friends. "This is ridiculous. I'll eat later."
"Pathetic, Bertram. You can do better than that," Severus said, as he Summoned his travelling cloak and left.
"—want me to do what? But why?"
"Because, Potter, only you have enough . . . popularity to persuade people to return."
"Bollocks! I wasn't even in Slytherin. It's you who—"
"I have left Hogwarts. I doubt that Minerva would be happy to see me back after . . . how we parted. If, however, you agree to be part of my plan, she might accept it."
Potter ran a hand through his hair and sighed. "I don't think that Slytherin parents would have any reason to trust me."
"And I know that everyone else has no reason to trust me," Severus replied.
"You really don't think any of the Slytherin families will be sending their kids to school?"
"Not unless we can reassure them that their children will be safe, no," Severus replied.
"Well, all right, then. I'll do it." Potter yawned.
"You're sleeping?" Severus asked.
Severus fished in his robes and pulled out a phial. "Here."
"What's this?" Potter asked, taking it.
"My version of Dreamless Sleep."
Potter looked at him; he looked back. Neither of them blinked.
"Thank you, sir."
"You're a little late with the respect, Potter. I'm no longer your professor."
Potter grinned. "Makes it easier."
"Brat. Go back to class."
With that, Severus left Potter and went in search of Minerva.
"Out of the question," she said, without even thinking about it after he'd presented his idea to her.
"You know perfectly well why not. You're not on staff."
"Horace's efforts aren't working, so—"
"So we'll have to think of something else," Minerva interrupted. "No, I can't do it, and I'll thank you to stay away from the families. Your seeing them will only cause confusion."
"You're still angry with me."
"I am not." Minerva crossed her arms.
"You are, and you have no right to be!"
"I have no right? Really, Severus, you rejected all company while you were recovering, you marched back up here to criticise my handling of . . . of everything, and then you left after only staying long enough to reset the wards and passwords. You've made it quite clear that you don't give a damn about the school, or us, so you'll forgive me if I think that I have some small reason to be irritated with you."
"It's not my fault that I couldn't tell you!" Severus shouted.
"Yes, but it is for what came after!"
Severus' anger left him as he saw the deepening lines cutting into Minerva's drawn face, and he sighed. "Minerva, I should not have accused you of endangering the students."
"They were of age, the ones who stayed!"
"I know that it was your intention that they be, but we both know—"
"And the Slytherin students—do you think that everyone would have seen them as allies during the fighting? I had to send them away!"
"Agreed, and as I wasn't there," Severus replied, swallowing, "I have no right to judge your actions."
"How can you say—what did you say?"
"I said, I have no right to judge your actions. I . . . regret what I said to you in St Mungo's. It wasn't fair to you."
Minerva stared at him, gobsmacked. "Well. Well, I . . . I shouldn't have said that you didn't care, but . . . well, it seemed as though you didn't. Filius said that you were only shocked and needed time, but—"
"Filius said that? When?"
Minerva sighed and sat down. "Oh, before the tent term started. He's been very worried about you. We all have been."
Now Severus sighed, but he didn't reply. He didn't have the words to do so.
"I still can't believe I didn't see through it all," Minerva continued. "We're friends. I should have known you'd never—"
"I killed Albus. I can hardly blame you for seeing me as a betrayer."
"Albus," Minerva said, with nothing of her old reverence.
They sat there in silence, each of them, Severus supposed, remembering the bastard in their own ways.
At last, Minerva spoke again. "As much as I'd like it for you to put the Slytherin parents at their ease, I truly can't give you a list of their names. You're not on staff any longer."
Not quite believing what he was saying, Severus replied, "Perhaps I might be persuaded to return."
Minerva raised an eyebrow. "You wish to teach Potions?"
"Hell, no. I want the Defence position. There is no one—"
"—more qualified to teach it than I, and—what?"
Minerva chuckled. "I said, it's yours. I was going to offer it to Harry, but—"
"How could you even have considered—"
"Don't take on, man! You've got the job, both of them, in fact, because you're a better Head of Slytherin than Horace ever was, and he wishes to retire. 'Camping' doesn't suit him, and it will be some time before we can safely return to the school."
"What will you do for a Potions master?" Severus asked, thoroughly surprised by the turn of events.
"As it happens, I was thinking of engaging a Potions mistress."
Severus narrowed his eyes in suspicion. "Surely you don't mean Granger?"
"Professor Snape, that is no business of yours."
Severus snorted. "Well, there are worse candidates, I suppose, but I'm no professor, yet. I have no desire to return to my teaching until the start of the new term."
"Because even though you would be content to trot along with 'Potter' reassuring the Slytherin families, you have no wish—"
"To teach him again, no. Never."
Severus woke up the next morning, as he'd done for the past nine days, to the sound of bones hitting the floor. "Good morning."
"Aye, I believe it is, what with your goin' back to Hogwarts decided."
"Given that, why are you still here?"
"Don't like my company now, is that it?"
"What makes you think I ever liked your company?" Severus replied, smirking as he Summoned one of the bones. "It's simply that I no longer see the need for your subterfuge."
"What do you mean by—don't eat that. It's—"
"Just a sweet. Really, Filius, was all this," Severus said, waving his arm in his direction, "necessary?"
"Under the circumstances, I suppose it isn't now. What gave me away?"
Severus unwrapped the sweet and popped it into his mouth. "Your appetite, for one thing. You treated the sweets very much as you do your 'bones'. Potter also told me you've only been teaching in the afternoons, which would explain why 'Bertram' was always absent during them."
"That's all? I thought it was a better disguise than that! It took some time, crafting my charm stone to hold it!"
"You'll have to show me that trick, but to answer your question, your accent was a cobbled together horror and not a leprechaun's, not to mention that there are no 'tall' leprechauns."
"Yes, well, you wouldn't speak to any of us, and I had to do something," Filius replied.
"Why? And how did you know all those stories about Lily?"
Filius flushed. "They were stories about you. She really did come to me, you know."
"After she . . . stopped being . . . after our last argument?"
"Almost directly after you came to see me, in fact. She hoped I could talk some sense into you." Filius looked away. "She told me story after story about her friendship with you, trying to persuade me to intervene."
"You refused to interfere, didn't you?"
Filius sighed. "I didn't believe that you would actually join them, Severus. You were such a smart, sensitive boy. It never occurred to me that you'd become a Death Eater, that you and Lily would never make up, and I thought that if I interfered, it would only drive a further wedge between the two of you." Filius faced Severus again. "I have regretted my inaction for some time."
Hoarsely, Severus asked, "So why bother about me, now?"
"Because having failed you once, I could not bear to do so again," Filius whispered. "I was just too much the coward to face you without disguise."
"Without disguise, I wouldn't have seen you . . . and the failure was not yours."
"Oh, but it was, in part," Filius replied. "The truth is that I didn't think you were good for Lily. I didn't like the way you watched her, how . . . possessive of her you seemed, and given Lily's contention that you were flirting with the idea of joining the Dark Lord, well, it was a relief to refuse her. I picked Lily's welfare over yours, quite consciously, and upon reflection, I do not believe it was right that I did so. You were both children."
"I was not so young that I hadn't worked out that by serving him, I could have Lily no matter what she wanted," Severus admitted.
"You were going to ask him for her, as a reward?"
"There, you see? I wasn't worthy of your concern. Perhaps I'm still not," Severus said.
"Nonsense! After everything you did—"
"Spare me any discussion of my 'heroics', Filius. I could not bear that."
"Very well, but I will say this: no matter the mistakes you've made, and they were, I grant you, quite dreadful, you tried to fix them. You did not flee. You did not act cowardly. May I assume that the reason you went to the school is that you are now prepared to continue not acting cowardly?"
"You may, but before we discuss that, tell me something."
"Ask," Filius replied.
"Did you have anything to do with my meeting the Yaxleys?"
"Like it or not, that little girl believes you to be a hero, and she wants you to save her sister. Are you going to try?"
"Slytherins don't try," asserted Severus. "We do."
Minerva forwarded Severus his new employment contract without delay, and after a day or two's contemplation of the matter of his house's future, Severus submitted a letter to The Daily Prophet. The editors ran it on the front page above the fold:
When I retired my positions as Hogwarts' Potions master and Head of our house, I did so without realising the confusion it would cause. It has been brought to my attention that many of you believe I was forced to resign; this is not the case, as anyone with any sense could have easily reasoned. The fact is that, having been seriously injured, I was not capable of performing my duties. Having now recovered, I will be resuming my role as Head of Slytherin and permanently taking up the Defence Against the Dark Arts position as of 1 September 1999. On that day, I expect that every potential Slytherin student will be present for the Sorting Ceremony. Hogwarts has four houses, and none of them, under the Headship of Minerva McGonagall, shall be favoured over any of the others. She has given me her word on this matter, and as her friend, I accept it. That shall be enough for you, I trust, given that my dedication to my duty and the protection of the students in my care is well known.
No one who is not Slytherin can understand what it was like to be a member of our house these past several years, but I am Slytherin, and I do understand. What I understand is that we did not all share the same expectations and experiences during this period; that shall, however, have no bearing upon the education and safety of the future members of our house, which I trust will become as respected as once it was as we become accustomed to peace. There is much work to be done to secure this peace of which I speak, at Hogwarts and in society, but that work cannot truly commence while some children are educated and others are not. Therefore, I promise you that there will be no peace for anyone who seeks to deny a student of Hogwarts a safe and fruitful education.
With utter sincerity,
Professor Severus Snape
The day the students arrived in Hogsmeade, Severus was startled by a girlish shriek—and the feeling of arms wrapping around his legs. His wand in hand, he looked down to see Jane Yaxley embracing him.
"Oh, sir! Thank you!"
Awkwardly, Severus patted Jane's head with his free hand. "Yes, well. There you are, then."
"Jane! Go and say goodbye to your sister!" Mrs Yaxley ordered, approaching them.
"Thank you!" Jane said, again, grinning at Severus before releasing him and scampering off.
"Professor Snape," she replied, with a nod. "I'm terribly sorry about that, but Jane's always been an excitable girl."
Severus smoothed down his robes and replied, "You've nothing for which to apologise. I'm glad she's pleased for Julianne."
"I do hope she Sorts appropriately," said Mrs Yaxley, before hurrying after her girls.
"I'm sure she will," Severus murmured.
"So am I," Filius replied, "for I'm sure it was the elder sister who suggested that the younger intercede with you."
"Are you," Severus replied flatly, wondering again how much Filius had had to do with that scene in the Owl Office but deciding that it didn't matter. Where else would I have gone but here? I've never truly felt at home anywhere else—as Mam won't allow me to forget. I've got to teach her how to visit other portraits before she drives me spare.
Severus glanced at Filius, who was beaming at the sea of activity flowing around them on the platform.
Seeing him looking, Filius remarked, "It was an excellent idea of Minerva's, wasn't it, having the families accompany the students? Everyone looks so at ease."
Severus wasn't as sure; he'd caught the eyes of a few reluctant-looking parents, but that didn't matter, either. Every Slytherin child who received a letter is here.
He knew that to a certainty because their owls of acceptance had been addressed to him rather than to Minerva. Strictly speaking, it hadn't been good form on the parents' part, but Severus didn't care—and Minerva had been too relieved to take offense.
"Whose familiar is this?"
Severus turned to see Granger holding up a cage containing a tawny owl. Nice robes.
"Oh, that's mine!" a child exclaimed.
As she handed over the cage, Granger caught Severus looking and, squaring her shoulders, she approached him. "Good morning, sir."
Remembering Minerva's instructions as to his behaviour towards his new colleague, Severus replied, "It's Professor Snape in public, and Severus at other times. We are colleagues now."
Granger flushed. "Oh, well, thank you."
Nice colour, Severus thought, saying, "You're welcome, Hermione," and smirking to see her flush deepen.
"If you don't mind my asking, why did you come back?" asked Granger.
Severus caught Filius' eye and winked at him. "I needed the money."
Filius laughed at that before turning to Granger to ask, "Shall we, Professor Granger? Someone's got to get this lot into the carriages!"
Before they could move away, however, Severus said, "You laugh like a leprechaun, old man."
"And you've the look o' a stupid wizard about you, I ken."
"Thank you, Professor Flitwick," Severus murmured.
"You're welcome, Professor Snape."
As Filius moved off with Granger, Severus heard her ask, "What was that about?"
"Oh, nothing serious, dear, just a private joke between old friends."
Friends, thought Severus, permitting himself a small, genuine smile at Filius' words and the sudden, pleasant thought of Lily's kindness to him in having spoken to Professor Flitwick on his behalf.
He was glad that his friends, all of them, hadn't given up on him, and that Filius had reminded him of what friendship meant—and watching Hermione walk away, he decided that it was, perhaps, indeed past time that he found himself some "lady company."