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The Head of the House of Slytherin

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Master Severus Snape, Esteemed Potions Master, Head of the House of Slytherin, Professor of Potions at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, client of House Malfoy and godfather of Draco Lucius Malfoy, Heir Malfoy, was accustomed to spending the first fortnight of every summer at Malfoy Manor. For his part, he benefited from the excellent hospitality as he recuperated from the labours of the school year; in exchange, he was able to offer his observations on the ongoing political dynamics at Hogwarts, provide entertainment for his godson, and restock the Malfoy potions store with high quality brews.

The Malfoy Receiving Room, when he flooed in shortly after ten o’clock the night school term concluded, was as elegantly appointed as ever, although he noted some slight alterations in the decorations around the room. No sooner had he stepped from the hearth than a house elf apparated into the room, greeting him with a bow. “Lady Malfoy has been told you is here, Professor,” said the elf. “May Diply be taking your bags to your room?”

“You may,” Severus told her, directing his trunk and workbag to one side of the hearth with a flick of his wand, then cleaning his robes of ash with another.

Diply bowed again, and snapped her fingers, and the bags disappeared. “Diply will be fetching tea from the kitchens,” she said. “You is welcome to be making yourself comfortable.”

Severus nodded and waved his hand to dismiss her, but did not sit down in one of the available armchairs. If he sat, he rather feared he would fall asleep, and there were social niceties to observe first.

 

Narcissa must have been waiting for his arrival; he spent only a few minutes examining the room before she entered, greeting him with a smile. “Severus!” she exclaimed. “Welcome to our home. I’m sorry to keep you waiting, you must be exhausted.”

“Lady Malfoy,” Severus replied, bowing over her hand. “No apologies are necessary - indeed, I apologise myself for disturbing you so late at night.”

She smiled warmly at him, shaking her head. “Do call me Narcissa, please,” she insisted, gliding over to the tea tray that had quietly appeared and pouring him a cup. “Sit. Are you well? Draco informed us that you have been absent from the High Table since the end of exams.”

Severus sat, inclining his head to acknowledge the implicit scold at not informing her of his health. “Mere magical exhaustion,” he reassured her, taking a grateful sip of the excellent tea. “An incident with the Defense teacher - which, if I may, I will discuss with Lord Malfoy and yourself another evening - compounded with the usual effects of the school term. I require only rest and I will be quite well.”

Narcissa frowned slightly. “I find it is hard for me to be as sanguine about your usual end-of-term exhaustion when you are acting as Draco’s guardian while he is away from home,” she admitted. “And something must be done about his Defense education.”

Severus hid his surprise behind another sip of tea. If Narcissa were to petition Lucius on the matter, the woeful staffing situation at Hogwarts might have a chance of improvement. “I am sure that your influence could only benefit him,” he said. “I hope his trip home was without incident?”

“He’s been chattering almost non-stop since we met him in London,” Narcissa replied with a fond smile. “I only just sent him to bed. School has been good for him, I think.”

“There comes a time when children are ready to strike out on their own in a larger world,” Severus agreed. “He is very much his father’s son, but still, he will benefit from being out of his father’s shadow.” Discreetly, he leaned back in his chair, blinking tired eyes.

“And here I am keeping you talking when you’re already exhausted,” Narcissa exclaimed with chagrin, setting her cup aside. “My apologies for being such a terrible hostess, Severus, I ought to have let you retire rather than keeping you up with conversation.”

“You are never less than the best of hostesses,” Severus objected politely, but gratefully put his own cup down and stood. “Nevertheless, I believe I will retire for the night.”

Narcissa stood as well, gesturing elegantly to the door. “Your usual suite has been prepared for you, and Tonny will be able to assist with any requests you have,” she said. “I’ve already instructed the kitchen to deliver breakfast directly to your suite after you rise, so please feel free to sleep as late as you like. Would you like me to ask Healer Bulstrode to see you after Draco’s annual check-up tomorrow afternoon?”

Severus bowed his head in thanks, trying to calculate the advantages and disadvantages of the offer. After a minor struggle, he conceded that such difficulty decision-making was only symptomatic of his exhaustion, and it was probably wiser to comply. “Thank you, Narcissa, that would be very kind of you,” he agreed. “Good night.”

“Good night, Severus. Pleasant dreams.”

Chapter Text

Healer Bulstrode was an older man, greying at the temples, but his tailored robes revealed the sturdy frame of someone who worked hard, physically and magically as well as mentally, and his gaze was sharp and clear. “Master Snape,” he said politely, bowing his head in greeting. “A pleasure. May I come in?”

Severus stepped back, gesturing the man to enter the sitting room area of his suite. “Of course, Healer Bulstrode. I take it Lady Malfoy told you why you are here?”

Bulstrode entered, placing his bag by one of the chairs, and shook his head. “All Lady Malfoy told me was that she would pay for whatever was required,” he said. “However, I will admit I have made certain...predictions.”

Eyes narrowed slightly, Severus sat. “Is that so.”

“Only what I can infer from your profession,” Bulstrode reassured him, sitting down as well. “You are a potions master. Therefore, you have a better-than-average understanding of the body and its ailments, and are likely able to recognise and respond to many common problems. Furthermore, you are a teacher at Hogwarts, with almost year-round access to a qualified Mediwitch - and you have been away from the school for less than a day. If this were an urgent problem, I would have been asked to see you in a different manner, or you would have presented yourself at St Mungo’s. I must conclude, therefore, that this is either an obscure, long-term issue that has been thus far resistant to diagnosis; a follow-up on treatment that could not be concluded before the end of school term; or a matter requiring the kind of discretion that a private healer is capable of offering their clients. Am I correct?”

A corner of Severus’ mouth quirked. “You are,” he conceded. “And what sort of...discretion are you capable of offering your clients?”

Bulstrode raised an eyebrow. “Like all healers, I am of course duty-bound to keep my patients’ health matters private. It is my belief that whatever facilitates open discussion of such matters within a consultation is to the benefit of my patients’ health - it would be inconvenient, for example, if someone were to hide their exposure to a poison because of the circumstances in which they encountered it.”

“In other words, you don’t report illegal activities.” An unsurprising characteristic in the preferred healer of the Malfoy family. “And what are the limits of that discretion?”

“To avoid awkward conflicts of interest, I ask that you keep any mention of future plans for your enemies vague,” Bulstrode said with a thin smile. “And I also ask that you choose someone for me to inform if I believe you are not in a fit mental state to preserve your own life and health. It is extraordinarily rare that such contingencies are necessary, but it is best to plan them in advance.”

After a moment of consideration, Severus nodded. “That is reasonable,” he conceded. Letting his wand slip into his hand, he raised privacy wards around the room - not that he distrusted the Malfoys, but there was no such thing as an excess of caution. “In such an extremity,” he said when he was finished, “I would prefer you speak to Minerva McGonagall.”

Bulstrode raised a curious brow, but nodded. “Of course, Master Snape. Now, what am I here to see you about?”

“Magical exhaustion,” Severus said bluntly. After a pause, he added, “...I am also recovering from a rather unpleasant mental intrusion.”

Bulstrode hummed, giving him a considering look. “I can check the progress of your recovery from the exhaustion, of course,” he said, “and I am capable of checking for lingering damage to your mind and its shields, but...may I make a suggestion?”

Severus spread his hands in invitation.

“I propose that we do a thorough check-up, as if establishing baseline health at the first appointment of a long-term patient,” Bulstrode said, watching him closely. “Persons such as yourself, who are well-equipped to manage their own health, will generally notice acute problems, but may miss the signs of long-term problems in the early stages of development. For someone of your age, in your magical and physical prime, I would be particularly concerned about lingering curse damage, which is easy to address at this stage, but may cause problems when you get older.”

“For someone of my age and background, I think you mean,” Severus said, tapping his left forearm. His lips pursed. “...you may proceed with a full check-up.”

 

-----

 

At the end of the consultation, Bulstrode gave Severus a serious look. “I will give you two pieces of advice, Master Snape: one that you are unlikely to follow, and one that may compensate for the lack.”

Severus waited.

“If you continue at this rate, you will work yourself to death before you are fifty,” Bulstrode said bluntly. “You show signs of several years of having to draw on deep magical and physical reserves which are not meant to be called on so frequently. As a result, old curse damage lingers in your system which will leave you at risk of arthritis, poor bone health, and chronic pain in future years. Lack of sunlight and exercise is also impairing your healing. Overwork and stress has you more vulnerable than you should be to both illness and toxins, which are a danger in your line of work. Your heart is working harder than it ought to be. Your mind is strained from poor sleep and the lack of it, and it is slowing your recovery from the recent attack. The headaches are exacerbated by muscle tension, which is most likely also due to stress and poor sleep. You weigh less than you should, and show signs of poor diet, most likely because you are eating little and absorbing less. In short, Master Snape, the best thing for your health would be to leave Hogwarts for at least a year, and if you return, to do so only under the assurance of a substantially decreased workload.”

“...I see.” It was a rather stark assessment. “And if I intend to return to work at the end of the summer?”

Bulstrode sighed, looking tired. “Then you should devote your summer to recuperation as much as you can,” he answered, setting out parchment, inkpot, and quill. “Stay with the Malfoys, let the house elves feed you whatever will entice you to eat. Take regular walks on the grounds, and keep your spell-casting to a minimum.” As he spoke, he began to make notes, quill scratching quietly against the parchment. “I’m not an expert on mind-work, and you know yourself best, but I would recommend nightly meditation for two or three weeks before you attempt to work on actively restoring your shields. I want you to take a Calming Draught before bed two nights in every three, and the third night you should have a standard dose of Rufflebloom’s Restorative. With breakfast, take Bartleby’s Tonic.” He met Severus’ gaze seriously. “I want a follow-up appointment with you in a month before I alter those prescriptions, but if you are at all tempted to vary from my suggestions, I request that you owl me for my input. I can compensate for your lifestyle if I know what it is. This course of treatment will go substantially better if you avoid all stimulant potions, including Pepper-Up, invigorators, and betony-based restoratives, so if you feel the need for one, consult me.”

It was, all things considered, a fairly intensive course of treatment, but Severus did not doubt it was warranted. He nodded, resigning himself to dipping into his vault for the necessary expenses. “Thank you for your advice, Healer Bulstrode,” he said, standing up. “I will do my best to follow it.”

Chapter Text

Narcissa Malfoy was most displeased when Severus told her (a somewhat abridged version of) the healer’s verdict. That he had reached such a state was intolerable; that there was no prospect of improvement in the causes was beyond unacceptable. How was Draco to reach his potential if the man in loco parentis was ill with exhaustion? Dumbledore may not have seen fit to rectify the school’s low staff numbers - an inevitable result of their reduced Ministry funding since the War (when money had been diverted to the MLE, and never returned to the school thereafter) - but she was not going to allow it to continue.

It was rare that Lady Malfoy put her foot down about something, but when she did, none could forget that she was, by birth, a Black. Severus watched with mild amusement as Lucius reversed his long-standing disapproval of the school’s need for external funding and began calculating the amount he could donate in extravagant patronage. Narcissa’s owls flew industriously, and the floo was busy with visits between members of the school board, the Wizengamot, and others of influence.

When the school board met in early June, Lucius returned home with news that two additional staff members had been approved, as long as funding for them could be assured by the end of July. To that end, a ball was to be held, as soon after Midsummer as could be arranged, to which all of Hogwarts’ most distinguished alumni would be invited so that their donations could be sought.  It would be held in Hogwarts Great Hall, of course, and Narcissa immediately contacted Professor McGonagall to offer her assistance in hosting it.

 

Shortly thereafter, an observant person perusing The Daily Prophet would have noticed the following job advertisements:

RESIDENT TEACHER -  A witch or wizard of good character with demonstrated knowledge of Defensive Magic. Apply to M. McGonagall, Hogwarts.

RESIDENT TEACHER - A witch or wizard of impeccable character, experienced with children, with demonstrated expertise in Charms and Transfiguration. Apply to M. McGonagall, Hogwarts.

RESIDENT TEACHER - A witch or wizard of impeccable character, experienced with children, with demonstrated expertise in Potions and Herbology. Apply to M. McGonagall, Hogwarts.

Chapter Text

And then there was the matter of Quirinus Quirrell.

He had been presented to the Aurors for unicorn-slaying at the end of term - a charge which carried an automatic sentence of life in Azkaban. But managing his trial so as to keep the Dark Lord’s involvement secret was not a simple matter.

Already weakened by his possession and the unicorn blood, Quirrell was unlikely to be in any state to reveal his secrets once he was committed to Azkaban. If he survived a year, Severus would be extremely surprised. But to get him there, they needed a robust narrative of his capture, and a way to stop Quirrell speaking of what they wanted to keep quiet.

They were debating the limitations of memory manipulation after a staff meeting when Pomona came up with a solution: “Just ruin his credibility. You-Know-Who living on the back of his head for a year? It's the sort of story people will go out of their way not to believe. You just need to give them an excuse to dismiss it.”

If Severus was a different man, he might have groaned, so obvious was her suggestion in retrospect. “...quite,” he conceded.

Albus folded his hands on the table in front of him, fixing Pomona with an assessing gaze. “And what of veritaserum? Pensieve testimony?”

Minerva made a dismissive noise. “Everyone knows veritaserum only compels you to say what you believe the truth is,” she pointed out. “Just choose an explanation that suggests Quirrell was not perceiving the truth of the matter.”

“Perhaps some other possessing spirit,” Filius suggested, withdrawing a book from his pocket (he always carried one, for just this reason) and tapping it with a switching spell to retrieve...well, Severus didn't recognise the text, but he was confident it was germane to the topic at hand. “A lugat, perhaps?” Filius mused, paging through it. “No, too benign, comparatively, and too far east. One of the vampiric family? It would explain the garlic.”

“I do wonder what he was trying to achieve with that awful smell,” Pomina muttered. “And really, I quite like garlic, but there is a limit.”

“Ah!” Filus exclaimed. “No, wait...yes. Yes, this should do nicely. A vrykolakas, ladies and gentlemen. I propose that, during his travels, Quirrell was possessed by a vrykolakas, one which swiftly began to impersonate You-Know-Who to facilitate greater mischief, and used him both as a source of life force and a means to seek out other, similar sources. We then need to, at most, tamper with his memory of the moment of possession.”

“That will do nicely.” Albus looked between the four Heads of House with his customary paternalistic serenity. “I will speak with the Aurors, and owl you to discuss any necessary testimony.”

It went unspoken that, as Chief Warlock, Albus had significant influence over the outcome.

Chapter Text

Gripping his fork a little tighter, Severus reflected that he had never quite realised just how much he relied on his occlumency shields to weather these conversations. Unfortunately, he had yet to fully repair them.

“...an absolute disgrace that my son should be beaten by a Mudblood - “

“Lucius!” Narcissa interrupted, to Severus’ relief. “Not at the dinner table.”

Well. Small mercies.

Lucius pressed his lips together. “I apologise for my language,” he conceded. “But really.”

With a glance at Draco’s pale face, Severus admitted to himself that he couldn’t continue to tolerate the subject without intervening. “But really , Lucius,” he drawled, “the question is why you are treating her as valid competition for the Malfoy Heir.”

“Oh?” Lucius replied, his eyes belying his tone of voice. “You don’t think it...problematic, that a - a Muggleborn in her first year of exposure to magic could surpass a pureblood heir with six years of tutoring in every subject of importance?”

“She has not surpassed him,” Severus countered. “Your definition of success is too narrow.”

Lucius raised an eyebrow, gesturing wordlessly for Severus to explain his conclusions.

“The Granger girl is a once-in-a-generation freak,” Severus said bluntly. “She has an insatiable appetite for books, an utterly exact memory, and a desperate need for the approval of teachers. She is a natural autodidact, and spends all of her free time in the library. She regularly turns in essays two or three times the requested length. Despite her...disadvantageous background, it would be extraordinary if she did not have astonishingly high marks in every subject she applied herself to throughout her education. Nevertheless, Draco met her so evenly that we spent half an hour debating which had the greater success, while also negotiating his position in Slytherin House, establishing alliances, protecting his clients, and improving his Quidditch skills to benefit his chances of qualifying for the Slytherin team next year. Meanwhile, Granger alienated almost all of her year-mates by being an insufferable know-it-all.”

Narcissa smiled graciously at him. “Once again, Severus, you advise us very wisely. I’ve always felt that we place too much emphasis on academics in the younger years, at the cost of social development. And I’m sure that, were Draco receiving sufficient attention from his teachers, he would have no difficulty attaining the very highest marks - no criticism meant of you, of course.”

Severus inclined his head, watching Lucius carefully. Would he accept the proffered explanation for Draco’s ‘failure’?

After a long moment, Lucius nodded. “Perhaps you’re right, my dear,” he said lightly. “And the affairs of a Muggleborn are hardly worthy of our concern. How go preparations for the Hogwarts Ball?”

Chapter Text

It took longer than it should have for Severus to find the time to celebrate Draco’s birthday with him, but at last Quirrell’s trial was concluded, the wraith had been fed to a Dementor, and the Hogwarts Ball was sufficiently planned that Minerva and Narcissa no longer expected further contributions until the day. The morning after their ‘discussion’ about Granger, Lucius was needed at the Ministry for a Wizengamot session, and Severus decided to take advantage of the opportunity.

“Well, Draco,” he said over the remains of breakfast, after Lucius had left the Manor for the day. “You have my apologies for the delay, but I believe I can safely commit the day to celebrating your birthday. Have you chosen what you would like to do?”

Draco looked up sharply, disappointingly surprised to receive such attention. “You can? Really? I mean - “ He struggled to compose himself, glancing furtively at Narcissa. “Thank you for your kind offer, Professor. I have not yet decided what I would prefer.”

“As we are not on school grounds, and I am acting as your godfather rather than your teacher, you are welcome to address me in your customary manner,” Severus pointed out, his voice level. If Draco was inhibited by his mother’s presence, then Severus would simply have to separate the two of them. “Perhaps you could join my morning walk while you contemplate what to request.”

At Draco’s hopeful look, Narcissa nodded indulgently, setting her cutlery on her plate and rising from the table. “I shall leave you two to enjoy your day, then. Be careful of the sun so you don’t burn, Draco.”

“Yes, Mother,” Draco hurried to agree.

 

-----

 

Severus’ preferred venue for his walks was the manor’s hedge-maze. Enchanted generations ago to prevent conversations within from being interrupted or overheard by others, its shifting paths offered both variety and relative safety, while the password that conjured an efficient exit route allowed him to end his walk as soon as he became tired, without having to contemplate a long journey back to the Manor.

Once he and Draco had passed the first junction, and their privacy was assured, Severus glanced down at Draco and commented, “I had intended to provide you with more of my attention during your first term at Hogwarts. You have my apologies for my neglect.”

“It’s not your fault!” Draco objected instantly, staring in surprise. “I’ve heard Mother talking about how overworked you were, with classes and protecting Slytherin, and Quirrell ...it’s Dumbledore’s fault!”

A corner of Severus’ mouth twitched. “Be that as it may,” he replied, “I regret that I was not able to offer you more guidance. Perhaps, for your birthday, you might choose something you felt was lacking from your education this year, that I might teach you.”

Draco looked away, biting his lip. As much as he tried to imitate his parents’ cool demeanour, at twelve he did not quite have the knack. Whatever had come to mind, it was something Draco was reluctant to speak of. Perhaps a Potions lesson he had not fully grasped, or help negotiating his social status among the upper Slytherins. Or tutoring in one of the subjects where his marks had been exceeded by Granger’s. Severus was not, however, expecting what Draco asked next.

“Sir...I mean, Uncle Sev...how did you make Father change his mind last night?” Draco kept his eyes down, avoiding Severus’ gaze. “No-one’s ever...I’ve never seen someone do that before.”

Severus’ mind unhappily filled in the end of that aborted sentence: No-one’s ever intervened before . Lucius, he knew, was not inclined to punish Draco with pain; he kept that for the house-elves. But harsh words had their own sting, and he had seen that Narcissa did little to soften Lucius’ response when Draco failed to live up to his expectations. He rather suspected that Narcissa didn’t see the harm in it, not when compared to her own childhood. Severus, meanwhile, was hobbled by his reliance on Lucius’ patronage, and had, perhaps, allowed himself to get in the habit of looking away.

 

Halting, Severus turned, and lowered himself to a half-kneel, the better to meet Draco’s gaze. “Draco,” he said quietly. “Tell me honestly: does your father make you unhappy? In this, my duty to you is greater than my duty to him, and I will reveal your answers to no-one.”

Draco’s head jerked upwards, and he shook his head frantically. “No!” he said hurriedly. “No, I love Father! I just - I just, I want him to be proud of me.” Swallowing hard, he added, “...I hate when Father is disappointed.”

It was a relief to hear. Severus had some reservations, and knew better than to assume all was well, but by Draco’s response the situation was, at least, tolerable. And Lucius only had access to Draco over the holidays now, and was often busy besides. Nevertheless, there were things Draco needed to know. “I am glad to know it,” Severus told him. “If that should ever change - or if another person is making you unhappy, or frightened - I ask that you tell me, please. There is only one oath I have sworn that I hold closer than my oath as your godfather, and it is one of protection, not obedience.”

Draco’s eyes widened, and his gaze flicked to Severus’ left arm.

“Yes,” Severus agreed. “Even higher than that, Draco. So for now, I will teach you about persuasion, but if you ever need other help from me, you should always, always ask.”

Chapter Text

Severus was willing to admit that the Hogwarts Midsummer Ball was an impressive social event. Narcissa’s influence was visible (at least to him), but between them, Minerva, Filius, and Albus had put their own stamp on the event, and the invitees included a wide range of alumni. An elegant ‘wishing fountain’ had been conjured in the centre of the hall to accept donations, with statues of each founder’s animal spitting coloured water that turned clear as it combined in the basin, which was soon gleaming with coins. (Not all of it galleons, either, which spoke to the varied finances of the attendees.) The house elves had out-done themselves with the food, Albus’ speech was tolerably sensible, and Lucius’ speech as head of the School Board was only moderately self-congratulatory when he announced the funding of an additional staff-member, should sufficient other donations be tendered to match the sum. 

Nevertheless, Severus was extremely glad to retreat at the end of the evening, returning to his rooms on campus rather than face the social obligations at Malfoy Manor. He could not resent an event that (Minerva assured him) had secured the funding necessary for the two assistant positions that had been advertised, but he could be grateful it was over, and he was.

-----

The next day he began the tedious task of inventorying the Potions stores and equipment, disposing of those items that were too damaged (or in the case of some of the ingredients, decayed) for use, and giving everything a thorough clean. He was fortunate to have the assistance of Klimby and Morkin, who were accustomed to helping him with the task, but there was still plenty for him to oversee, potions remnants to neutralise, and spells to renew in various areas. He sent a note to Bathsheba to let her know the desk shield arrays were ready for renewal, one to Pomona to let her know she could take her pick of the ingredient remnants for compost, and a third (with some reluctance) to Filius to request his assistance in renewing the wards. After a morning’s magical work he could already feel the strain, and with students like the Weasley twins (let alone any external dangers), he couldn’t afford the wards to be less than perfectly done.

Well aware of how much work was yet to be done, Severus could tell he had reached his limits for the day nonetheless, and after lunch in his quarters (he wasn’t inclined to face Albus until his mental shields were in better condition), he decided to take a walk out in the grounds. It was a warm day, and the quiet was soothing, so Severus let himself wander. It wasn’t until the eaves of the Forbidden Forest came into view that he realised where he was going.

A brief detour to Hagrid’s cottage later, Severus strode into the forest, with Fang by his side. He knew where he was going, and was quite capable of defending himself from the majority of the forest’s dangers, but the surety of advance warning allowed him to relax his guard somewhat, which was necessary for what he planned to attempt.

 

It is widely known in the wizarding world that unicorns are averse to men. This was, as Severus knew perfectly well, incorrect. (He was not the first person to make the discovery, nor would he be the last; the precise nature of what repelled unicorns, however, prevented the truth from being widely accepted.) The trick to approaching unicorns is a trusting heart; to step forward with the certainty that, whatever the unicorn might do, all would be well. And once someone has been told that a unicorn will reject them...it is difficult to approach with that trust.

Severus had learned the knack of it from Lily - from the certainty in her voice when she’d said, “He’s not going to hurt you! Get over here!” when they were thirteen. After the war, he had thought he would never touch one again, until a night he’d been so drunk and miserable he simply hadn’t cared what one would do to him, and a touch of her horn had left him sober and wondering. Since then, he’d got in the habit of visiting them when he needed a reminder that trust need not be a danger...and apparently his subconscious had decided he needed such a reminder today.

He made his way through the forest towards the patch of clearings he knew the herd liked to frequent, hoping they hadn’t been driven off by the events of last term. Hagrid had reported that the unicorns killed had been males, old enough for independence from the herd, so hopefully the foals hadn’t been directly impacted. It was a relief when the unicorns came into sight, even if they seemed nervous. Once they were visible, Severus didn’t try to impose his company, knowing his mood was insufficiently controlled for them to tolerate him. Instead, he sat, instructed Fang to guard, and began to meditate.

 

Considering his recent practice, it was unsurprising how quickly Severus was able to sink into his mind, but this was the first time since his confrontation with ‘Quirrell’ that he had attempted to manipulate his mental shields. They were tattered, from the backlash as well as the initial mental invasion, and he could now see the signs of weakness bred by long-term exhaustion. It was a concern, and an urgent one, for he could not meet his responsibilities without certainty of the security of his mind. But for today, an open mind was not a flaw, and he carefully dismantled his remaining shields, absorbing what energy from them he could, and guided himself to relax into the certainty that the unicorns encountering him in such a state could only have positive outcomes.

When he had let go of his doubt and his fear, Severus opened his eyes - and smiled, because a gold-coated foal was watching him from less than a metre away, ears twitching with curiosity. “Hello,” Severus murmured, holding out his hand. “It’s nice to meet you.”

The foal pranced, running back to its mother, who looked on benevolently. Severus waited patiently. If this was the end of their interaction, he wouldn’t mind. But if there was to be more, he was open to it.

And there was more, for eventually, the foal approached him again, trusting and curious, snuffling at his hand. Severus let it smell his palm, then reached up to stroke the side of its neck. The foal gave a pleased whinny, moving so Severus’ hand was higher up, ruffling its mane, and when it trotted away, it left behind three perfect golden hairs in Severus’ hand.

“Thank you for the gift,” Severus called out as he got to his feet, bowing to the herd. Coiling the hairs neatly, he tucked them into his pocket, and reluctantly turned to go. He couldn’t stay with the unicorns forever, of course.

-----

When Severus returned to Malfoy Manor that night, he had intact low-level shields around his mind, and braided unicorn hair around his wrist.

Chapter Text

“It seems that we will be conducting interviews for the assistant position within the week,” Severus announced, taking a sip of the faintly shining magical brandy in his glass. He and Lucius had adjourned to the Manor's smoking room after dinner, and were now each seated in comfortable armchairs by the fireplace. 

Lucius inclined his head. “Congratulations. Dare I hope that you will favour a Slytherin candidate?”

“I will, of course, be promoting whichever candidates I consider to be in the school's best interests,” Severus replied, leaving unspoken the implication that a larger proportion of Slytherin staff-members would be beneficial to the school. There was a natural bias in the teaching profession towards Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs, but even by Gryffindors he was outnumbered three-to-one. 

“Of course,” Lucius agreed, raising his glass in a toast. “To your impartial judgement.”

“To your generous contribution,” Severus toasted him in reply. 

 

They sat in contemplative silence as Severus watched the crackling fire and considered a line of discussion that he had been putting off. While there could be no ideal time for it, this evening was certainly not an inappropriate one, and opening the topic now would give them several weeks for caution before action was needed. “Ten years ago,” he began, “could you have imagined that life after the war could be so congenial?”

“...no,” Lucius replied slowly. “Not in the immediate aftermath.” Ten years ago, of course, they were still in the midst of the post-war trials. Allies were turning on allies, friends and family were being condemned to Azkaban in droves, and even those who avoided conviction faced the risk of permanent poverty due to lack of willing employers. It was genuinely remarkable that so many of them had managed to thrive in the years since.

“I feared greatly for Draco,” Severus admitted, in a show of vulnerability. “For myself, of course, and for all of us. But it seemed particularly...unjust that the advantages which had seemed to guarantee him a bright future at his birth should come to threaten him instead.” He paused, watching Lucius carefully. “You have had remarkable success in your endeavours to restore the power of the House of Malfoy, and Draco’s future with it.”

Lucius raised an eyebrow, taking a sip of brandy. “You make me sound very disinterested in my own successes,” he said dryly.

Severus inclined his head, conceding the point. “Perhaps. But the fortune of the Lord Malfoy is, by extension, the fortune of House Malfoy.” He smiled thinly. “And no one could deny that your efforts have made both very fortunate.”

“Is there a purpose to all this flattery?” Lucius drawled.

“Merely this,” Severus replied. “That I have lost my taste for the war I found so glorious in my youth, and find I much prefer the more gradual advances you have made through peace.”

It was, in its way, a dangerous statement, hinting as it did at disloyalty to the Dark Lord. Even now, that was not something any of them could do lightly. But he could be confident by now (if not certain) that Lucius would not disavow him for it, and he had left himself room to retreat from the sentiments thus far express. So Severus merely watched as Lucius stood, turning to consider the painting of a fox hunt on the wall.

 

“It is a rare power which, like the Dark Lord, can create swift revolution,” Lucius said at last, and Severus allowed himself to relax slightly. “The rest of us, I agree, are better served by patient influence.”

Severus took a sip of brandy, judging his next words carefully. “Perhaps it is cowardly of me, but I admit I would be...reluctant to give up the comforts of my present life should the Dark Lord return, and we be called to his side once more. Shameful, I know.”

“It would be an honour to serve him again,” Lucius snapped, turning abruptly to face him. “Britain remains corrupted with Muggle influence, and disrespect for the old houses runs rife.”

“Indeed,” Severus conceded, watching Lucius’ face carefully. “And I have admired your success in addressing those matters - your influence on the Ministry, on the Wizengamot, and on Hogwarts itself cannot be understated. It is no exaggeration to say you have undone all the setbacks of the war's end, and gone even further.” Did Lucius see that he had achieved more for the traditionalists than the Dark Lord had, in the end? 

“You flatter me, again.” 

Severus smiled wryly. “If there is flattery in truth, then yes, I do.”

“The truth can be used to deceive as easily as lies can,” Lucius pointed out, setting his glass on the mantelpiece. “What are you trying to persuade me to?”

And this was the crux. Not that Severus was planning to reveal all, just yet. But, if he succeeded, this would be the beginning. “To oppose the risks of another war,” he said carefully. “Should...radical elements among our allies decide it is warranted.”

Lucius searched his face. “Are suggesting disloyalty to our Lord?” he asked.

Severus knocked back the last of his brandy, set down his glass, and stood, meeting Lucius’ gaze steadily. “I am suggesting you consider the stakes,” he said lowly. “If there were to be another war, you would have a great deal more to lose, and a great deal less to gain.”

Chapter Text

Severus Snape, Potions Master, Head of House Slytherin and Professor of Potions at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, sends congratulations on his new role to Thomas Mulpepper, Potions Journeyman, Assistant Professor of Potions and Herbology at Hogwarts.

I have no doubt that Professor McGonagall has already provided you with information on your duties as a general member of staff, and I advise you to take up any concerns on those points with her directly. However, as both a teacher of Potions and a rare Slytherin addition to the faculty, there are matters I should address.

Firstly, I have attached a detailed curriculum for first and second year Potions, and require you to familiarise yourself with it. If you have concerns about any aspect of that curriculum, you may discuss them with me in my rooms at Hogwarts on Tuesday or Thursday evenings, which I will be spending at the school for the remainder of the summer.

Secondly, while I have conceded your assistance in preparing for the term to Professor Sprout, so that you may refamiliarise yourself with those areas of Herbology in which you confessed your weakness, I advise you to take the time to familiarise yourself with both your classroom and the storerooms in the dungeons. Considering your experience at your father's apothecary business, I will accept sensible suggestions on the organisation of the potions stores, but do not change anything there without my approval. If you wish, you may join me in preparing supplies for Madam Pomfrey on Fridays after lunch.

Thirdly, while your status as a Slytherin does not affect any authority over you I may have, and you are not required to assist with my guardianship of its members, I warn you that you will be judged by your membership of that House, and it will be judged by you. For the sake of our students, therefore, I advise you to strive to represent our House's virtues and to minimise your representation of its failings. You may discuss the matter with me at your convenience.

Fourthly, I note that the students entering their second year include many strong personalities, and several of high rank. At times, some may attempt to persuade you that such rank or fame should afford them special treatment or excuse them from disciplinary expectations. This is false, and I advise you to prepare yourself to impress that fact upon them definitively and early, regardless of the importance of their parents. If a parent should challenge you on the matter, I refer you to Professor McGonagall, and if need be, to Professor Dumbledore.

Finally, on a practical note, I advise you to make preparations for the year-round cool temperature of the dungeons, and speak to the castle's house elves regarding the most convenient shortcuts between the areas in which you will be working. 

Severus Snape

 

Chapter Text

This time, Severus met Healer Bulstrode in the floo parlour, and escorted him to his rooms himself. They made polite small talk as they moved through the Manor, but neither attempted to raise any topics of significance until they were ensconced behind a closed door and Severus' privacy wards.

"Well," Bulstrode began, setting down his bag. "How are you feeling? I can see you are less wan, at least."

"I am not such a fool as to ignore expert advice when I have the means to follow it," Severus said drily, masking his discomfort at Bulstrode's evaluating gaze. "I am significantly improved."

Bulstrode smiled wryly. "If you wish me to do a magical assessment first, then I will," he said. "But in matters such as these, your subjective experience is relevant. You will need to speak of it before I make my recommendations."

Severus inclined his head, acknowledging the necessity. "Very well."

The spells Bulstrode used this time were more specialised, more involved. He would repeat a diagnostic spell from their first appointment, note the results, then follow up with another targeting the same area which Severus had scarcely heard of. He concluded with a group of spells which required direct wand contact, at Severus' throat, at his spine, and at his temple. (It was a relief when Bulstrode retreated and addressed himself to his notes. Accepting such vulnerability did not come naturally, and it required some minutes for Severus to fully regain his composure.)

"Well," Bulstrode said at last. "Physiologically, at least, you are indeed improved. You've gained weight; your heart isn't working so hard; the elements in your blood are more balanced, and your other organs are accordingly less strained. However, you are barely within healthy ranges on those points, and I have no hesitation in repeating my recommendations regarding food and exercise, and extending your prescription for Bartleby's Tonic. I suspect by the end of the summer you will no longer strictly need it, but if you have issues with appetite during the term, please resume its use to ensure you are absorbing sufficient nutrients."

Severus was not inclined to advertise any weakness by being seen taking a daily potion at a public meal, but there were ways around that. And he would admit he had felt less fatigued and had fewer aches in the past few weeks than he was accustomed to. Better to seem weak than be weak, after all.

“I can also tell that your mind is repairing the damage from the legilimantic attack,” Bulstrode went on, sitting back and watching Severus steadily. “Before you ask, I judge that from the physiological signs, not from trying to observe your mind itself. Have you observed an improvement?”

Severus paused, considering his answer carefully. “It is no longer painful to do occlumantic work,” he conceded. “Approximately a week ago I chose to dismantle the remnants of my outer shields and began to restore them. The exercise was tiring, but neither exhausting nor painful.”

Bulstrode hummed. “Is that also true of other magic you have been performing?”

“It is.”

Bulstrode’s gaze was sharp and evaluating, though he reached for neither wand nor quill. “...I believe I can begin to predict a course of treatment for you in the long term,” he said at last. “The good news is that you will, barring extraordinary circumstances, be fit for your duties this school term - although I still advise you to reduce those duties as much as you are able. The news you will find less satisfying is that I do not anticipate giving you a clean bill of health before the end of next summer, at the earliest.”

Severus raised his eyebrows. “Go on.”

“The fundamental problem,” Bulstrode explained, “is the matter of your magical reserves. You may imagine them, if you like, as a pond that you draw water from, one which is naturally replenished by rain and groundwater. Most witches and wizards draw ‘water’ at a rate similar to that coming in - with the exception of young Hogwarts students, whose ‘ponds’ are still small. That is why we advise them to avoid doing magic in the summers; the rest allows them time to refill that reservoir. When a wizard does not rest, gradually, their reserves will be used up...yet, even then, in extremis they may be able to draw additional power from their physical reserves and their environment, as an aquamenti may concentrate water from the air.”

“...yet doing so requires moisture in the air to begin with,” Severus concluded wearily. It was a principle any adequate fifth-year student would comprehend: magic could not make something from nothing. “You are saying that I should expect exhaustion to come sooner and require more recovery until my reserves are substantially restored, which will be a matter of...months?”

Bulstrode spread his hands and shrugged. “Master Snape, if you persist in pushing yourself as hard as you have in the past, it could be years. If you are careful, then yes, months may suffice.” He sighed. “And there is another matter. You have curse damage which I believe may require active intervention, yet I am reluctant to risk it when you are so worn down. Particularly given the complications in your case.” He tapped his left forearm, making it clear what he was referring to. “If you are not exhausted next June, then I would prefer to begin a course of treatment then, so that you have the remainder of summer to recuperate. But that relies on your caution during the school term.”

It was a matter for serious contemplation, and (discreet) discussion with certain other members of Hogwarts staff. “I will take the matter into consideration,” Severus conceded. “And your recommendations for now?”

Bulstrode retrieved parchment, ink, and quill, and wrote as he spoke. “Keep up the Bartleby’s Tonic, the exercise, rest, and food, as I said before. Be cautious with your magic use: rest whenever you are tired, and try for two or three days a week with as little wandwork as possible. One day a week, you may test your capacity, but do not go to the point of straining yourself. You seem to be doing fine with your mind-work, so you can continue with that on the same general principles as wandwork. Have you been sleeping well on your nights with the Restorative only?”

Severus inclined his head, hiding his displeasure at the restrictions. They were not Bulstrode’s doing; they were the natural result of overwork.

“Good.” Bulstrode nodded firmly. “We’ll wean you off the Calming Draughts, then - you don’t want a dependency. One night in four for the next two doses, then two doses five days apart, then once a week for two weeks. Replace it with Rufflebloom’s, and when I see you in a month we’ll work on reducing your doses of that as well. Hopefully by the time term begins you’ll be down to a dose of Rufflebloom’s as needed, but if you’re having trouble sleeping, that takes priority.”

“Thank you for your advice,” Severus said, standing. “If that is all?”

Bulstrode nodded, efficiently packing his things back into his bag. “That’s all,” he agreed. “Do take care, Master Snape - if none of my patients ever needed me, I’d be a happy man.”

Chapter Text

To Poppy Pomfrey, Hogwarts Mediwitch, Master Nurse, Severus Snape sends greetings.

I am sure you will be vindicated to hear that the healer I have consulted during the term break has seconded many of your concerns. I shall be retaining his services for the foreseeable future; please add Healer Morsulus Bulstrode to my medical records in case of future critical incidents. 

With thanks,

Severus Snape

 

-----

 

Severus Snape, Potions Master, Hogwarts Professor of Potions, and Head of the House of Slytherin sends greetings to Thomas Mulpepper, Potions Journeyman, Junior Professor of Potions and Herbology at Hogwarts.

Your suggestion of maintaining a bulk storeroom in addition to the classroom stores has merit. Ask the house-elves Klimby and Morkin for assistance in transferring the stores; I will let them know you have my permission. To avoid confusion, establish a ledger for us to record withdrawals from the bulk storeroom; you will be responsible for maintaining the general condition and organisation of the stores.

Your information regarding mandrake suppliers has been discussed by Professor Sprout and myself and we have developed a proposal for allocation of the necessary funds.

Sincerely,

Severus Snape

 

-----

 

To Klimby and Morkin, care of Argus Filch, Hogwarts Caretaker

Mr Thomas Mulpepper has my permission to relocate and rearrange the potions stores, and I have advised him to ask for your assistance.

Severus Snape

 

-----

 

To Albus Dumbledore, Headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Severus Snape, Esteemed Potions Master, Professor of Potions at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Head of the House of Slytherin, sends greetings.

I write to lodge a formal complaint against the appointment of Mr Gilderoy Lockhart to the position of Defence Against the Dark Arts Professor. 

He has no mastery, nor even journeymanship in any field, and though we have historically waived that requirement if practical experience warrants, Lockhart’s self-reported ‘experience’ is not taken seriously by any person of relevant expertise. He has no background in teaching or with children. 

Furthermore, his boastful attitude and flirtatious behaviour set an example we ought not encourage our students to emulate, and I have deep concerns about his understanding of the necessity to discourage the student infatuations he is likely to provoke.

I am aware that the school often struggles to find appropriate applications for the Defence Against the Dark Arts role; nevertheless I have once again registered my willingness to take the post, if necessary, and urge you to reconsider Lockhart’s appointment.

Regards,

Professor Severus Snape.

NB: This letter has been copied to the Deputy Headmistress and the Secretary of the School Board.

 

-----

 

To Minerva McGonagall, Deputy Headmistress of Hogwarts, Professor Severus Snape sends greetings.

Please find attached a formal proposal by myself and Pomona for the purchase of two score mandrake seedlings. We have included costings based on advice from Junior Professor Mulpepper, class plans for Herbology students from second to seventh year, and class plans for Potions students in sixth and seventh year. 

Kind regards,

Severus Snape

 

-----

 

To Aurora Sinistra, Master of Magical Astronomy, Professor of Astronomy at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Severus Snape, Head of the House of Slytherin, sends greetings and good wishes

I hope you are enjoying your trip to Namibia, and your research there has been fruitful. I am sure Minerva has been keeping you apprised of important developments at the school over the summer, but there is one matter which she has likely not raised and I would like to discuss with you.

As you will recall, I spent the last few days of last term in the Hospital Wing due to magical exhaustion. The details are unnecessary; suffice to say that fulfilling my duty to protect the school took more than I had to spare after a long and busy term. I have been informed by my healer that, unless I seriously apply myself to the matter of reducing my workload, I can expect to reach the limit of my capacity more frequently in future, and that such would be injurious to my long-term health.

Accordingly, I have discussed matters with Minerva, Filius, and Pomona, and with the addition of our new junior professors and the shift from our old night patrol schedule to staff-member-on-call, my usual duties will hopefully be less tiring. I would be foolish, however, not to plan for contingencies. 

Would you be willing to stand as a mentor to Thomas Mulpepper in my stead if a critical incident should occur during the term? Specifically, in the matter of overseeing Slytherin House. While I trust Minerva to make appropriate judgements regarding my classes, the relation of other Houses to Slytherin makes their pastoral needs a delicate matter, and an abrupt absence on my part is likely to encourage existing tensions and anxieties to manifest themselves. Although you are not a Slytherin yourself, you have provided very welcome assistance in the past when delicate House matters have arisen, and I believe Slytherin has come to see you as a neutral party in inter-House matters. I am certain that, if I were to be unavailable, your support would provide great reassurance to Mr Mulpepper and my charges. 

Please do not feel obliged to agree simply because I believe to be the best option; consider the matter as long as you choose, and I will make any necessary arrangements depending on your response.

With my respect, and good wishes for the remainder of your summer,

Severus Snape

 

-----

 

To Albus Dumbledore, Severus Snape, Esteemed Potions Master, Hogwarts Potions Professor, Head of Slytherin House, sends his most stringent objections to Mr Lockhart’s proposed booklist.

Seven books per student is absurd, unreasonable, extortionate, and corrupt. If he does not correct his proposal to a single book per year-group, I will be contacting my entire House to advise them on establishing a shared library of copies.

S.

NB: This letter has been copied to Professors McGonagall, Flitwick, and Sprout

Chapter Text

“I owe you both an explanation of what happened at the end of school term.”

Severus had now been laying the foundations for this conversation for three weeks, offering careful confidences, receiving equally wary secrets in exchange, himself and Lucius doing the careful dance of testing the stance of a possible ally. Just as carefully, he had observed Narcissa, probing her priorities, her stance on Draco, on House Malfoy, on Bellatrix, and House Black. It was time, he thought, to take the next big risk.

Narcissa, ever-gracious, laid her hand on the arm of her chair and leaned in. “You don’t owe us any disclosures you don’t wish to give, Severus.” (This was, of course, a very polite lie. As his patrons, the Malfoys could request a great deal from him.)

“Nevertheless.” Severus inclined his head, smiling politely. “It is a complex narrative, some parts of which were only known in retrospect, and so I beg your patience.” 

“Of course,” Lucius murmured, watching closely.

And so, Severus began to tell them the story of Quirinus Quirrell, who had taken a summer trip to the forests of Albania and returned to apply for the Defence Against the Dark Arts position. Who had been subtly, but noticeably, altered, in a manner most had attributed to a frightening encounter. The stutter, the turban, the pervasive smell. And so, Severus had observed.

How Albus had determined that he would bring the Mirror of Erised into the school (“How dare he! Among children?”) and protected it with a gauntlet of challenges which would buy time for someone to catch an intruder before they reached the Mirror itself. How it had been understood, though unspoken, that the Mirror held a greater treasure within its mystery, and how Severus had watched Quirrell seek an opportunity to seize that treasure.

How Quirrell had spoken as if he had been part of the Dark Lord’s inner circle, chastising Severus for not assisting him. How he had clumsily targeted the Potter boy at a Quidditch match, obsessed with the Dark Lord’s enemy. How his behaviour had escalated, bringing a troll onto the grounds (as they determined later), then seeking unicorns in the Forbidden Forest so that he might slay them.

Narcissa gasped, her shock only half manufactured. 

“He did not harvest the hair or horn,” Severus revealed, “nor did he collect the blood for use or sale. He drank it fresh from the unicorn’s throat, and let the rest spill on the ground.”

“And this...this filthy creature was teaching our Draco?” Narcissa exclaimed. “How could such a thing go undiscovered?”

Severus bowed his head. “I regret to inform you, Lady Malfoy, that there is more,” he said solemnly. 

She rose to her feet and began to pace, magic heavy in the air around her. “Tell us, then,” she demanded. “Tell us what could be worse than a unicorn-slayer teaching my child .”

Spreading his hands, Severus went on. “Though I suspected him of misdeeds, it was only on the night of the last exams that he discarded his facade. He traversed the gauntlet, and Filius Flitwick and I waited to ambush him. And there he revealed himself to be, not a deluded would-be follower of the Dark Lord, but possessed by a spirit which claimed to be the Dark Lord himself.”

Lucius’ head jerked up, and Narcissa whirled on Severus, wand in hand. “What. Happened.”

“It was no true possession,” Severus explained, his voice as calm and even as every other time he had needed to make such an unpalatable report. “The spirit did not take over Quirrell’s form, but had become a second face on the back of Quirrell’s head. To any who had beheld the Dark Lord’s true glory, it would seem a grotesque mimickry, but Quirrell was wholly convinced. When it became clear I would not assist Quirrell in his ‘quest’, the spirit attacked my mind, and the resultant backlash when Flitwick knocked Quirrell out left me unconscious.” He met Narcissa’s eyes steadily. “If you ask it, I will swear on my magic: the spirit was consumed by a Dementor, and Quirrell resides in Azkaban. Neither are a danger to Draco anymore.”

There was a very, very long silence. 

“Lucius,” Narcissa said at last, her voice cold and quiet. “ Deal with this. Our true allies know where their priorities lie. I will not have deluded maniacs endangering our son for the sake of a Lord whose legacy they utterly fail to comprehend.”

Severus bowed his head. “I believe it is for the best if I leave you to discuss this privately, Lady Malfoy, Lord Malfoy,” he said smoothly. “I apologise for being the bearer of such ill news.”

“Revealing a threat requires no apology,” Lucius replied, his voice as calm as his eyes were not. “You may leave us.”

Chapter Text

It was the second Wednesday in July, and Severus was in Spinner’s End. Purely to collect necessary supplies, of course; he did not keep such items in Malfoy Manor, nor in his rooms at Hogwarts when he wasn't resident. Spinner’s End, by contrast, was known of by few, and was very, very well warded. 

Dusting the ash off his robes, Severus stepped out of the fireplace and strode to the hidden door that would reveal the stairs. In a different summer, he might simply have transfigured his robes, but this year, he would be relying on his accumulated muggle wardrobe instead.

The black suit he changed into fit well, and had been carefully modified to allow for a quick wand-draw when needed. The length of his hair made him appear slightly eccentric, but such things were excused in the wealthy, as his suit made him appear to be. A black leather briefcase completed the facade, and also contained certain items which would be useful later, or in the case of contingencies. Satisfied, Severus returned downstairs, and flooed to Number 7, Wisteria Walk, Little Whinging.

Privet Drive was, as it had been the last four times he had come here, insufferably uniform. The only variation between one house and the next was the choice of flowers in their front yards and the pattern on the curtains. That is, on a non-magical level. If one were to apply any kind of scrying art, Number 4 would seem as if a bomb had gone off. Severus had attempted it once, curious about the wards Dumbledore was so adamant be maintained, and the intermingled and splattered remnants of accidental magic had deterred him from repeating the exercise. 

Today he walked purposefully up the street, using occlumantic discipline to ensure he absorbed every detail, turned a corner, and made his way to a bench in the park on Magnolia Road. As he sat, he reached into his briefcase, he let his wand slip into his hand and muttered a few spells to detect onlookers and distract eavesdroppers, before tucking it away again and withdrawing a blocky, black mobile phone.

It was the mobile phone which necessitated this particular disguise, such devices being primarily the province of businessmen at present. The device had been Ted Tonks’ idea, and Severus had gone to Filius for discreet assistance with the relevant charms. It did not technically function as a phone, but the screen had been transfigured and charmed to anchor one end of a mirror-linking spell, triggered to activate by a certain sequence of pressed keys, so it did have a similar result. It being the afternoon of an alternate Wednesday, the person with the other mirror would be awaiting his call.

 

Severus dialed the appropriate sequence of keys, then held the phone to his ear, waiting for a reply. 

“Professor Snape!” he heard at last. “Good afternoon.”

“Andy,” he said evenly. (Such could be the name of any number of British businessmen.) “How are you?”

“Harry is very well,” she replied. There was a loud crash in the background, and Severus heard a faint ‘ Sorry, Mum!’ in a voice he knew too well. “Nymphadora is visiting for the afternoon,” Andromeda went on. “Harry quite likes her, I think.”

“She is a substantial improvement on the previous,” Severus said with a sneer. The Dursley boy and his pack of fellow miscreants were regular visitors to this park, and he had observed them more than once. Odious child. “Is the account still progressing?”

Andromeda scoffed. “Ted and I are healers , Snape, and he’s a magical child besides. I’m insulted that you think his health wouldn’t improve. Feeding him enough would do it. Any news from Hogwarts that I should be aware of?”

“The latest appointment for the security position is a bumbling fool,” Severus said drily. “With far too high an opinion of himself.”

“Should we worry?”

“I believe he is genuinely an imbecile,” Severus reassured her. “Although there is potential benefit in pursuing alternatives to relying on him. The head of the department has no concerns.”

“Good,” Andromeda said firmly. “So long as Harry is here, he’s getting healthier, gaining weight, and corresponding with his friends. Ted’s been telling stories about being a muggleborn at Hogwarts, with Nymphadora’s willing collusion. The only thing we can’t manage is assisting him with the affairs of House Potter - we simply aren’t able to get access to things with the situation as it is.”

Severus pursed his lips. “It’s a low priority compared to the other projects we have going, but I will make inquiries.”

Andromeda hummed. “While you’re at it, can you ‘make inquiries’ about his owl wards? The fact that he hasn’t been bombarded with fanmail his entire life is probably a good thing, but he doesn’t remember any contact from anyone else , either, and it must have been going somewhere. And in the last few days, letters from his friends seem to have been going astray too.”

“I’ll look into it.” The possibilities were concerning, though not urgent. Almost certainly, Dumbledore was meddling. “Good afternoon, Andy.”

There was a pause, and Severus imagined Andromeda rolling her eyes. “I’ll talk to you Wednesday after next, Snape.”

It was, he reflected as he ended the spell and put the phone away, very satisfying to work with someone capable of subtlety.

 

Severus lingered in the vicinity of Privet Drive for another hour, making sure to catch Petunia’s eye as he passed Number 4 on his return to Wisteria Walk. She looked angry and pale when she spotted him, but met his gaze defiantly, and Severus was quite confident she would adhere to their deal. Pretending that she and her execrable husband still had custody of their nephew was a small price to pay for the removal from their lives of all things ‘abnormal’. It was not a solution he could guarantee would sustain itself until the boy reached his majority, but it was stable enough to outlast the summer, at least. A year could bring many possibilities.

 

-----

 

Severus’ return to Hogwarts took the same circuitous route as his departure had: a floo from the home of Arabella Figg to Spinner’s End, the restoration of his customary clothing, and a second floo to his sitting room at Hogwarts. There, he meditated, fixing the narrative of the afternoon in his mind, detailing it with sights and sounds from his expedition, and tucking the reality away in a discreet and obscure corner of his memory. At last, he was prepared, and took himself up the many, many stairs to the Headmaster’s Tower.

“Severus!” Dumbledore greeted him, smiling beatifically as Severus strode into the office, robes billowing behind him. “Back from visiting Mr Potter, I presume?”

“I do not ‘visit’ Mr Potter.” Severus sat, folding his hands together. “Considering you promised his aunt that you wouldn’t interfere, I don’t have the option.” He sneered at the mention of Petunia Evans, who had grown from an unlikeable, petty-minded child into an unlikeable, petty-minded adult.

“Sacrifices must be made to ensure Harry’s safety, Severus.” Dumbledore gazed at him over his glasses, apparently feeling no need to justify the assertion. “I am sure Harry will be fine.”

Severus raised a sardonic eyebrow. “He was not ‘fine’ for the ten years that I was under the impression he was with a magical foster-family,” he pointed out sharply. “I fail to see what makes you so confident that he will be fine for the duration of a summer in which he has no means to defend himself against his magic-hating, abusive relatives!”

Dumbledore was unmoved, as he had been in every other iteration of this argument. “Has he been injured?” he asked. “I know you have emergency means for him to communicate with you if he is.”

“I do not.” Fleeting thoughts of a spare toothbrush which would act as a distress signal if snapped were carefully hidden behind Severus’ mental shields as he met Dumbledore’s gaze. 

“Of course not, my boy,” Dumbledore said with a knowing smile. “My mistake. On your visits to Little Whinging, have you seen any evidence of injury or malnourishment?”

Severus pursed his lips. “Not yet,” he ground out. “But I don’t think these apparently miraculous blood wards are worth the risk.” He rose to his feet. “Which I intend to remind you of each time we meet until you agree to put the boy in a better home!” He turned to leave, only to be frozen by Dumbledore’s voice from behind him:

“Lily would be proud of you, Severus.”

There was a long pause. At last, Severus took a deep breath and said lowly, “Do not presume to tell me of what Lily would or would not be proud.” 

As he stalked out, the door closed behind him with a decided click.

Chapter Text

BOOKSHOP BRAWL: LUCIUS MALFOY ATTACKED BY ARTHUR WEASLEY

A bustling crowd of school shoppers at Flourish and Blotts were brought to a halt yesterday when a disagreement between Lord Lucius Malfoy and Arthur Weasley escalated not to wands, but to blows. 

"They were talking, all tense and stuff, and then Weasley just went for him!" one observer reported. (They have requested to remain anonymous.) "Knocked him right into a bookshelf - made one hell of a mess, too."

The fight was quickly broken up by Rubeus Hagrid, Hogwarts groundskeeper, who interposed himself between the two men, but not before several shelves were knocked over, creating a panic among the crowds who were there for a book-signing event by Gilderoy Lockhart. Mr Lockhart, an author, adventurer, and the newest professor of Defense Against the Dark Arts at Hogwarts, commented that if he had not been impeded by the crowds, he could have stopped the fight at the start. 

Lord Malfoy was escorting his son Draco, a second-year Hogwarts student and Heir of House Malfoy, while Weasley was accompanied by wife Molly and sons Frederick, George, Ronald, and daughter Ginevra, all of whom are currently attending Hogwarts. Witnesses report that Harry Potter, now entering his second year alongside Heir Malfoy and the youngest Weasley boy, was also on the scene. 

While witnesses did not report the substance of the discussion between Weasley and Lord Malfoy, it is speculated that it relates to the recent Muggle Protection Bill, proposed by Mr Weasley in his capacity as Head of the Misuse of Muggle Artefacts Office. Lord Malfoy has strongly opposed the bill, arguing that the vast majority of items the bill proposes to regulate are family heirlooms kept out of reach of Muggles. The bill has nevertheless retained the support of the Longbottom-Abbott-Prewett voting bloc, and is expected to pass at the August session. 

Lord Malfoy, when interviewed, denied this assertion. “Mr Weasley and I had a philosophical disagreement, not a political one. However, I find it concerning that a Ministry employee with such clear prejudice against long-standing pureblood families should be in a position to present bills before the Wizengamot.”

Arthur Weasley has declined to comment.

Chapter Text

Pomona Sprout had, functionally, two offices. Her workroom, adjoining the greenhouses, was saturated with the scents of dirt and mulch, lined with shelves and store cupboards holding pots, tools, and potions, and had a coat rack by the door for the sturdy robes she covered her clean clothes with while she worked. Her sitting room, by comparison, was a cosy, neat space decorated in browns and golds, with a desk tucked away in the back corner, a bookshelf full of reference texts (and a few novels) along the wall, and three squashy armchairs arrayed around the small fireplace. This was where she did her marking, where she met with students, and where, this evening, she was having tea and crumpets with Severus Snape.

"Has Mr Mulpepper's work been satisfactory?" he asked, as she levitated the toasted crumpets off the fire and onto a plate. 

Pomona rolled her eyes. "Oh, do call him Thomas," she insisted. "You can’t go around calling him Mr Mulpepper all year."

"The formality is a courtesy, Pomona," Severus replied coolly. "A necessary one, considering he was once my student." He intended to make it absolutely clear that Mr Mulpepper's authority was to be respected; it would save trouble in the long run.

"Nonsense," Pomona said, pointing the butter knife at him. "Invite him to first name terms, you’ll like him better if you do. Crumpet?"

"No, thank you."

"Suit yourself." She transferred one to her own plate and took a bite, visibly savoring it. "And in answer to your question, he’s coming along very well. I wouldn’t set him to teaching the upper years, but that’s not his job, is it?" She shook her head. "No, I’m perfectly happy with his ability to take the first and second years, and not just because it eases my workload. He’s got a good manner about him, too."

"He is certainly gregarious," Severus allowed. "Do you believe he is equipped to handle the...strong personalities among the second-years?"

Pomona snorted. "All the little noble heirs, you mean? I suppose we’ll see. I’ve been chatting to him about the students, filling him in on their personalities and rivalries and so on, and he’s not star-struck, at least. I think he’ll give ‘em fair treatment."

Severus hummed. They would see.

"Frankly, I’m more concerned about the older students," Pomona went on. "He’s a handsome young man; there’ll be fourth and fifth years who get ideas."

Severus' mouth twisted. Yes, a young, handsome man with a bright smile was going to attract student attention, especially a friendly one. Even he had had one or two admirers over the years, and he made deliberate efforts to be forbidding. "Better them getting ideas about Mulpepper than Lockhart," he said darkly. Lockhart had been a narcissist and a peacock when at Hogwarts, and by all accounts had remained so. 

Pomona took a disgruntled bite of her crumpet. "Oh yes, I’ll be keeping an eye on that one," she muttered. " He’ll just take the fawning as his due, mark my words."

Severus hummed, and made a mental note to speak with the prefects on the matter. "Do you think Ms Kirkby will have trouble?" he asked, changing the subject. Ms Emma Kirkby was the new junior Charms and Transfiguration teacher, a young woman from a minor Wizengamot family with academic ambitions. Where Mr Mulpepper was dark skinned, dark haired, and tall, Ms Kirkby was blonde, hazel-eyed, and slight. Her appearance suggested a demure noble lady, but Severus had observed hints of Hufflepuff stubbornness and a steel spine. 

"Hmph. Probably," Pomona grumbled. "Dissuading teenage boys from awkward behaviour is rather a different knack than dealing with adult men, not that I’ve needed either skill in years. I might suggest Aurora have a word with her." 

"Sensible." Aurora was among the younger women on staff, and had dealt with more than her share of student infatuations.

"Now then," Pomona said, fixing Severus with a firm look, "how about you tell me what you're going to need Thomas for during the term, so I know how much I can ask of him."

Severus raised one eyebrow.

Pomona rolled her eyes. "Oh come now, Severus, you know the staff leak gossip like a sieve. Poppy's worried about you, and I don't have to be a healer to notice something's wrong. If I know what it is, I can compensate."

It was a reasonable argument, and Severus knew well that Pomona was unlikely to be dissuaded once she had made up her mind on something. "...very well," he conceded (ignoring her satisfied smile). "I am told that my...dramatic reaction to the events of last term was a consequence of chronic overwork," he confessed, "and have been quite firmly instructed to reduce my workload so as to allow my reserves to restore themselves. Nothing else is specifically of concern."

"Except for the fact that you're doing about five job's worth here and we all know it?" Pomona asked wryly.

He did not reply.

She hummed, drumming her fingers on the arm of her chair. "Well, overwork is simple enough to address," she said. "Not necessarily easy, mind, but simple. You've got Thomas on the first and second years, which is about a third of your class load, so that's a start. Have you assigned him any other jobs?"

The difficulty, Severus had found, was identifying tasks which could reasonably be separated out. "He will be taking charge of the main potions storeroom," he allowed, but that was as much as he had planned.

Pomona was unimpressed. "And that's it?"

"What else do you propose I delegate?" It was a genuine question. Pomona was particularly skilled at planning such logistics to take advantage of the skills and preferences of others.

Unsurprisingly, she immediately had a suggestion. "Have him do the supplies for Poppy, of course! He wants a career in that, he'll be grateful for the practice. All you have to do then is quality control, and that's much easier."

"...you may have a point," Severus conceded. The school's potions supplies were a minor but constant drain on his time; furthermore, the need increased in a crisis, when he was most needed elsewhere.

"Of course I do," Pomona said firmly. "Are you taking another protege this year?"

"Penelope Clearwater has agreed to my invitation, and of course Jennifer Li, beginning her seventh year." He paused, then admitted, "They would usually be of most help with the first and second year marking, however." Acting as his assistants in exchange for mentorship was a bargain his proteges had thus far found equitable; the addition of Mr Mulpepper to the staff was going to substantially alter the nature of that exchange.

Pomona clicked her tongue thoughtfully "Well, try Clearwater out on the thirds, and give Li the fourths," she suggested. "If nothing else, it's review for them and saves you some time. If you can train them up to it properly, you'll have less to do later."

"You don't think it's too close a gap?" Severus asked. He hadn't been sure.

"It's three years, and the other side of the OWLs," Pomona pointed out. "They'll be fine."

"...I'll consider it."

Pomona nodded firmly, dismissing that point. "Now, I know Minerva's changed the roster so the Heads aren't on night patrols or Hogsmeade trips, so that's something. You've got your prefects briefed?"

"I'm meeting with Burke and Rothley once term starts, but I sent out letters with the basics, and they know what's expected of them." The prefects fulfilled a vital role in moderating student issues which might otherwise take up substantial time. Of course, Severus still made himself available, but the triaging effect was significant. "I'm maintaining the same office hours as usual."

Pomona shrugged, sitting back in her chair. "Hardly anyone comes to those, anyway. It's a chance to get marking done."

"Mm."

She tilted her head, eyeing him speculatively. "How about detentions?"

Severus rolled his eyes. "I won't impose that obnoxious responsibility on others."

She barked a laugh. "I won't say I'm disappointed, but if you need to, you can send them to me," she offered. "I always have dung to shovel."

Severus shook his head. With his responsibilities thus laid out and redistributed between Mulpepper, his proteges, and his prefects, the prospect of the year was substantially less exhausting to contemplate. "So long as we don't have a repeat of last year," he said, "the additions to the staff ought to be more than sufficient to lighten my workload."

Pomona nodded, taking another crumpet. "Well, chances of a wraith of You-Know-Who possessing someone and wreaking havoc are pretty slim. Maybe we'll get lucky and have a restful year."

Chapter Text

"Preparing to leave us, Severus?" Lucius glanced around the guest room Severus had been occupying for the summer, taking in open wardrobes, trunk, and bag. "Term doesn't start for three days."

Severus flicked his wand, and a stack of books floated over to his trunk. "The students may not arrive until Tuesday," he replied, "but preparations are already well underway. I will be needed at the school." He bowed his head slightly. "Besides, I would not want to intrude on your last few days with Draco before he leaves again."

Lucius smiled thinly. "You are not an intrusion, Severus," he countered. "I would far rather offer you space in my home than know you are staying in that... muggle house you inherited." 

Severus could not disagree with Lucius' sneer. Spinner's End was a dismal place. "Nevertheless," he said, "you have my gratitude."

Accepting the courtesy as his due, Lucius looked around again, then tutted. "Really, whatever elf ironed those robes should practice on their hands before they touch another shirt," he muttered. "Jimkin!"

A house-elf popped into the room and bowed - Lucius' personal elf, if Severus recalled correctly.

"See that Severus' things are pressed properly before he goes."

"Yes, Lord Malfoy." The elf bowed again, deeply, and disappeared (along with most of Severus' clothes) with a snap of its fingers.

Severus didn't comment. He had considered the state of the robes perfectly reasonable, but he was aware that Lucius was more fastidious. Such fastidiousness, he was also aware, increased when Lucius was uncertain of something. He gestured to a chair. "Is there anything you would like to discuss before I depart?" he offered. "You are welcome to join me, if you like."

"Perceptive, as always," Lucius murmured, closing the door and withdrawing his wand from his sleeve. "If I may raise privacy wards?"

Severus spread his hands in silent invitation. The Lord Malfoy's wards were always the strongest on Malfoy grounds, and indeed, the magic that spun from Lucius' wand seemed to melt into the walls themselves. Severus waited, patiently, for Lucius to reveal what was on his mind.

"...I have set certain affairs in motion," Lucius said at last, looking steadfastly out the window at the grounds. "Affairs which would be looked on most unfavourably by parties I have previously  been allied with."

Severus inclined his head. "Do you believe you acted imprudently?" he asked.

A faint hint of a smile twitched at one corner of Lucius' mouth. "You were very persuasive," he admitted. "I could, perhaps, have chosen a more cautious path, but this promotes the better outcome."

"Then it is prudent to make the path you have chosen as safe as possible," Severus replied, "either by disabling your opponents or persuading them to be your allies."

"Narcissa has claimed that task." Lucius turned his head slightly, giving Severus a wry look. "I am to be the lure."

It was a clever strategy. Narcissa Black, the wife of Lord Malfoy, could do and say what he could not. "And it discomfits you to become the king of the chessboard?" Severus asked.

Lucius laughed. "The king is a target, and he is hobbled," he said. "Being queen was much more comfortable."

"But both," Severus pointed out, "are preferable to being a pawn."

Lucius turned fully, then, his grey eyes glittering as they met Severus' gaze. "Very true," he murmured. "Very true."

Chapter Text

While informal staff meetings were held during the summer, it was the 10am meeting on the 1st of September that truly marked the beginning of the school year for Hogwarts staff. By then, all had (ideally) returned from any summer travels, and new staff members had been chosen and familiarized with the school. The students, they knew, were preparing for their journey northwards, and the house elves were preparing for the Sorting Feast.

The meeting had begun with the introduction of the new staff (Lockhart's self-aggrandizing waffle was already making him unpopular), Albus had exercised his speech-making talents, and now Minerva was outlining the plan for the rest of the day.

"...the Express has just left Kings Cross, so we have five and a half hours before the students arrive at Hogsmeade," she said briskly, handing around stacks of parchment. "We're going to begin with a refresher on emergency medical care by Poppy, and then after lunch, Argus will go through the new additions to his banned items list and how to deal with some of the more popular old favourites. At three o'clock, we’re going to discuss the points system and appropriate detentions, to make sure we’re being consistent across the staff, and if we have any time after that, Irma -”

A silvery crane flew through the wall and landed on the table in front of Severus. “There is a matter which requires your urgent attention,” it said, in Andromeda Tonks’ voice, as the meeting came to a stunned halt. “Contact me immediately.”

Severus abandoned the papers in front of him and pushed his chair back abruptly, ignoring the screech of it dragging on stone. “You will forgive my departure,” he said coolly, his mind already racing as he strode from the room. What had happened to Harry?

 

-----

 

“...the Grangers are checking on the Muggle side of the barrier, and Arthur’s gone to the Burrow in case he ended up there somehow.”

Severus paced his office, the ‘phone’ held to his ear. (The delay as he retrieved it from Spinners’ End had been infuriating.) “No-one else has reported a Floo malfunction this morning,” he bit out. “You say he spoke clearly, and has used the Floo before. This was a targeted interception, which is only possible if someone knew which Floo he was using.”

“Do you think I don’t know that?” Andromeda demanded. “I’ve contacted Mad-Eye, he’s checking the Floo office, in case he can track it from there.”

Snape ground his teeth. “ Why did it take half an hour to realise he was missing?” Any apparition trail would be hopelessly confused by now, if the abductor had been at all competent.

“Have you seen the Floo banks at Kings Cross on Hogwarts Express day?” Andromeda replied, just as sharply. “For the first ten minutes, it could have just been traffic. Or nervousness on Harry’s part. Neither of us could cross over without him possibly being alone when he got out, and Ted couldn’t make a call, it would have drawn too much attention. Thank Merlin for the Weasleys - Percy got Harry’s trunk on the train, and Molly’s waiting at the station, just in case. We’re trying to keep the Floo free in case Harry tries to contact us that way, but...”

“But he has already been intercepted once.” A sensible child would not risk it again, and the boy was reasonably intelligent.

There was a pause. “We’re all convening here at 11:30 to discuss our options.” Andromeda’s voice was tense and low. “I’d rather you stay at Hogwarts - he’ll be trying to get there, if he can.”

If he could. Severus did not like to think of what might be preventing him, but he must. “Keep the mirror spell open during the meeting, then,” he said. 

“Of course.” 

 

There was a quiet click, as if the mirror had been put down on a hard surface, and Severus heard the faint rustle of clothing as Andromeda (presumably) moved around the room. A crackle of flames was followed by a thud, a few footsteps, and a long pause before Ted Tonks murmured faintly, “I’m so sorry, Andy.”

Andromeda said something in reply, but Severus couldn’t make it out. A few moments later, there was another thud, and Molly Weasley’s distinctive cadence saying, “Oh Andromeda, isn’t it dreadful? That poor boy - but I’m sure we’ll find him soon enough, he can’t have gone too far. Most likely he just got lost!” More footsteps, and the sound of a chair dragging against a wooden floor. “I popped my head into the Burrow before I came, so Arthur should be along in a minute.”

Andromeda cleared her throat, and Severus thought he heard amusement in her voice as she said, “Professor Snape is listening in, by the way, on the mirror there.”

“Oh good, you reached him,” Ted said wearily. “Any ideas, professor?”

Severus pursed his lips. “The possibilities are too broad,” he replied, his words clipped. “Many of the major players were at the station this morning with their children, but that does not exclude them hiring someone. At this stage, we have no information with which to even guess at the motive, and therefore the identity of the kidnapper. We can only conclude that, whoever it was, they became aware in some manner that the boy was going to travel to the platform from your house, by Floo.”

“Come now, we can conclude a bit more than that.” Severus had heard the thud of Arthur arriving while he spoke, and now, it seemed, he had ideas to share. “Floo is a complex system - there are easy ways and hard ways to manipulate it. We know the connection wasn’t blocked at the grate, because he didn’t get left at the fireplace. We know the platform grates weren’t blocked, and there wasn’t an issue in the exchange, because everyone else was getting through. It’s almost impossible to separate out an individual signature while someone is in the exchange, which means that whatever happened was either between this grate and the exchange, or between the exchange and the platform grate. Doing it at this end requires getting through your wards; doing it at that end requires enough familiarity with Harry’s signature to catch him as he came through.”

Severus reflected that Arthur was far too often underestimated. “Unfortunately, the wizards with that degree of familiarity are limited to ourselves, Miss Tonks, Ollivander, and Hogwarts staff,” he said thoughtfully. “Which is an...unpalatable set of candidates.” He didn’t wish to believe that any of the staff would voluntarily assist in Harry’s kidnapping. Unfortunately, this affair was not about what he wished.

 

-----

 

“...look, trying to work out who and how isn’t getting us anywhere,” Ted finally said, cutting short the argument which followed. “How are we going to find him?”

“There’s a tracking spell I use on the boys,” Molly suggested. “If you’ve got some hair of his, I could give it a try.”

“He’s warded against those.”

“Could we track his things instead?”

“The only unique item he had on him was his wand, and you can’t track those.”

“What about Hedwig?”

“He sent her ahead this morning.”

“Could we send him an owl? Just in case he can reply?”

“...we might as well.”

Molly sighed. “Well, while you’re doing that, I’m going to make us some lunch - if you don’t mind me using your kitchen, Andromeda?”

The general noise level increased, and Severus sat back. “I need to make my excuses to the staff,” he announced. “Send a patronus if anything changes, and I will reopen the spell.”

“Of course,” Ted replied. “Don’t forget to eat something too.”

Severus rolled his eyes, and ended the spell. His challenge now was to explain his abrupt departure earlier...and to decide if, when, and how he would admit to Dumbledore that he had been right. The only thing worse than the thought that the Dursleys truly had been necessary was the knowledge that Severus had been the one to insist on Harry’s removal...and the maddening speculation of what might be happening to Harry.

Chapter Text

At 1:07pm, a rather flustered tawny owl swooped silently into the Great Hall and landed on the table in front of Professor McGonagall. She retrieved the note attached to its leg, skimmed it, and passed it to Professor Snape with raised eyebrows.

At 1:08pm, Professor Snape stood abruptly and left the table.

 

-----

 

Severus swept into Honeydukes, his gaze alighting on a small, rumpled-looking boy, sitting behind the counter and sucking on a sugar quill. “Mr Potter,” he barked. “Come with me.” 

The boy’s shoulders hunched, but he jumped down from the stool, picking up his satchel and scurrying out towards the door. “Thank you, Mr Flume,” he said in a small voice.

The shopkeeper smiled at him warmly. “Not to worry, lad,” he replied. “I’ll see you next year on your Hogsmeade weekends, eh?”

The boy nodded shyly, and Severus favoured the shopkeeper with a thin smile. “Thank you for your care of him,” he said coolly, then swept out of the shop again, the boy following in his wake.

 

The pair were silent until they reached the edge of the village, when Severus paused and cast a series of muffling, shielding, and concealment charms. Wand still in hand, he turned to the boy. “Mr Potter,” he said, “What was the first shop I took you to last December?”

“P-Primark, sir?” the boy stuttered.

So. Not an imposter. Severus nodded, and pointed his wand at the path in front of them, summoning his patronus. “To Andromeda Tonks,” he instructed it. “I have him, and he is well.”

The boy watched with wide eyes as the silvery doe bounded away. “...P-Professor Snape, sir?” he said hesitantly. 

“Yes?”

“Am I in trouble?”

Severus paused, evaluating the child in more detail now that the most urgent questions had been satisfied. He was a little taller than he had been before the summer, and more filled out, though he certainly could not be called 'stout'. His hair was the characteristic Potter mess, and his outer robe (which Severus imagined had been neatly pressed this morning) was rumpled. His clothes were neither stained nor torn, and he did not appear to be favouring any injuries. In short, he looked like any child who had got lost and been found, with no harm done. 

"...I will decide that when you have told me how you came to be in Honeydukes, instead of on the train,” Severus said at last. “Your whereabouts have been the subject of great anxiety this morning.”

The child looked worried, then hopeful. “People were worried about me?”

“They were,” Severus said curtly. “Those of us who knew, that is. Now. What has happened, from the time you entered the Floo at home?”

 

What happened, it seemed, was that the Floo had deposited Harry on an unfamiliar train platform - of similar layout, but clearly not the same as Platform 9 ¾. After overcoming his initial panic at being on a completely empty train platform when he expected a bustling one, Harry had noticed the sign saying ‘5 ¾’ and was able to identify the platform gate. Rather than attempt the Floo a second time (seeing as it had already been proven to malfunction once), Harry had decided to try the gate.

The discovery that Harry had been at Kings Cross Station before their search had begun made Severus grind his teeth, but he had to admit that Harry’s reasoning was sound. The 9 ¾ barrier would not admit him (a circumstance equally as suspicious as the misdirected Floo), and without any means to send a message, Harry had resorted to the only other method of wizarding travel he was familiar with: the Knight Bus.

“Did anyone recognise you on the bus?” Severus asked, with strained patience.

“No, sir!” Harry replied. “I was wearing my forgettable beanie, like I always do with Mr Ted, and I told them I was Edward Thomas, like I do when I’m in public with him and Ms Andromeda. I’ve caught the bus before!” he hurried to add. “I know how it works and everything!”

Severus sighed. “And you asked them to take you to Honeydukes? Why not ask to go home instead?”

Harry shook his head. “I didn’t ask for Honeydukes specially, I just asked for Hogsmeade,” he explained. “Since that’s where I needed to be to meet the train. They dropped me off on the street here, and it…” He ducked his head, and mumbled something Severus couldn’t make out.

“And it what?”

Harry wrapped his arms around himself, holding his satchel close as the words flooded out: “It looked friendliest , and I ate my lunch on the bus, and I thought it would be nice to - to get something, and then Mr Flume spotted me and he had all these questions even with my beanie, and I thought I should probably tell him so that he could tell someone else, even though you and Ms Andromeda and Mr Ted said I shouldn’t tell anyone anything if I could help it, but if I didn’t ask for help, I wouldn’t get to school, because I didn’t even know which way to walk from here because I don’t know where the station is and last year we went on the boats and I can’t go that way and…”

“Mr Potter!” Severus interrupted him, knowing the boy would work himself into an upset if he went on much longer. “Thank you for the explanation. Finding a reputable store to enter and ask for information was a reasonable decision, and in general, I would prefer you to wait in a supervised location like a store than try to walk on your own when no-one knows to expect you. Do you understand?”

Harry nodded, his hands starting to untwist from the fabric of his robe.

“Good.” Severus looked down at him, his expression softening slightly. “The Tonks and the Weasleys will be glad to hear that you’re safe. Considering the circumstances, I believe you made reasonable and sensible decisions, so you are not in trouble. However, I do not have time to supervise you, so I shall be escorting you to the Hospital Wing to spend the afternoon with Madam Pomfrey.” After a moment’s thought, he added: “Your absence on the train will have been noticed. When asked, you may tell them about being unable to get through the platform barrier, and catching the Knight Bus to Hogsmeade, but not the Floo troubles. To discourage others from imitating your example, I ask that you tell all but your very closest friends that I was furious when I collected you, you spent the afternoon in detention, and I was only prevented from taking a great many points by the technicality that your actions preceded the official beginning of the school year. Do you understand?”

Harry smiled shyly up at him. “Yes sir,” he said. “Do you think I can talk to Ms Andromeda and Mr Ted somehow, to tell them I’m sorry for the trouble?”

“I think we shall be able to arrange that.”

Chapter Text

Poppy Pomfrey:

 

“Oh, Severus! Is everything al- Mr Potter?” Poppy looked up from the pile of first aid supplies she was packing away and blinked at what she saw. “Goodness, what are you doing here so soon?”

Severus gestured the boy forward. “Mr Potter missed the train, and the alternate means of travel he took got him to Hogsmeade rather early,” he explained coolly. “Would you be willing to supervise him until the rest of the students arrive?”

Poppy gave Severus a severe look that promised a great deal of further questions, then looked back down at Harry with a smile. “Very well then, Mr Potter. You can help me get things in order.”

 

-----

Andromeda Tonks:

 

“He’s at school and he’s fine,” Severus said, as soon as the mirror-spell connected.

There was an uproar in the background, and Severus leaned back in his chair, waiting for the Weasleys and Tonks to calm down enough to listen. When they finally stopped talking over each other, he added, “Let me tell you what he told me, and then I will answer what questions I can.”

“Go on then,” Ted said impatiently. “Who was it?”

“He doesn’t know,” Severus replied. “He was shunted to Platform 5 ¾ at Kings Cross…”

 

-----

Hogwarts Staff:

 

“Are you going to tell us what caused your dramatic disappearances today?” Bathsheba asked over dinner. 

Severus was unsurprised to be asked. Now that the Sorting had been sufficiently gossipped over and dissected, it was the obvious next topic of conversation. “Mr Potter missed the train and decided to catch the Knight Bus to Hogsmeade,” he sneered. “ Without informing anyone, of course.”

“I wondered why I didn’t see him on the platform,” Hagrid rumbled. “I was lookin’ out for him. Hope he didn’t get into trouble on the way, poor little fella.”

Severus hummed. “I had to collect him from Honeydukes,” he said drily. “I don’t believe he suffered from the experience.”

 

-----

Albus Dumbledore:

 

“If I’m not mistaken, Severus, the message that interrupted us this morning had the voice of Andromeda Black,” Albus said, peering over his glasses at Severus. He folded his hands together on his desk. “How did she come to be aware of Harry’s misadventures?”

“Née Black,” Severus corrected him, allowing himself to recall the misadventures of Miss Tonks before her graduation. “I judged that, as I would be unable to supervise Potter’s departure, I ought to ensure that someone else was. As someone at ease in both worlds, parent of a recent alumni, and uninterested in both Potter’s fame and his status as a symbol, she was a suitable candidate.”

Dumbledore’s eyes twinkled, but whatever he discovered when he probed Severus’ shields, he did not speak of. “And you say Harry was unable to pass through the barrier?”

Severus nodded. “He arrived at the platform in good time, but the barrier behaved to him as it would to Muggles,” he reported. “Someone has been tampering.”

“Hmm.” Dumbledore frowned, and stood. “Thank you for informing me, Severus. I shall look into the matter.”

 

-----

Minerva McGonagall:

 

Still later in the evening, well after all the students had been sent to bed, Severus knocked on the door of Minerva’s sitting room.

“Just a moment!” he heard her call, and a minute later she opened the door, her steel grey hair hanging in a plat over one shoulder, a russet dressing gown wrapped around herself, and rabbit-fur slippers on her feet. When she saw him, she sighed, pinching the bridge of her nose. “Tell me it’s not urgent,” she said wearily. “It’s the first day of school, and I only just got to bed.”

Severus ducked his head ruefully. “My apologies for disturbing you,” he said quietly. “It does not require urgent action - but I fear if I don’t tell you tonight, it shall slip my mind, and you should be aware.”

She sighed, and stepped back. “You’d better come in then,” she muttered. “Let me stir up the fire and make a pot of tea.”

 

-----

Lucius Malfoy:

 

Respectful greetings to Lord Lucius Malfoy from Master Severus Snape.

The students have arrived at school with only one notable mishap (more on that matter below), and the Sorting took place without incident. I have attached the full list of new students and their Houses for your interest. Draco appears well, and I will attempt to speak with him in more detail tomorrow about how I may assist him this semester.

You may find it interesting that Mr Potter’s arrival at the school this year was rather unorthodox. After missing the train, he decided to catch the Knight Bus to Hogsmeade, from which I collected him. This much is public knowledge. What is not well known is that he missed the train because the platform barrier would not admit him. The reason why is as yet undiscovered.

Please convey my best wishes to Lady Malfoy.

Severus Snape

Chapter Text

Severus Snape’s office hours were rarely popular. The first day of term, however, was an exception. 

“All of these matters must be dealt with by myself?” he asked wearily when he saw the queue. There was a general murmur, and he hid a sigh. “Very well. If you are here to request a subject change or register a problem with your timetable, I will see you first. Seventh-years have priority.”

After the first person he spoke to, he opened his office door and asked, “How many of you are here to complain about Professor Lockhart?”

On the one hand, the number of positive replies was an impressive testimony of his students’ powers of discernment; on the other hand, it boded very poorly for the rest of term. 

“Very well,” he said. “I will address the matter of Professor Lockhart with the whole House before the end of the week. Senior students, I advise you not to drop Defense Against the Dark Arts, despite its Professor. Miss Hawking can pass on my advice to her on that matter, and will also collect your names for a petition of complaint to the School Board. Would the next person who needs a subject change that is not related to Defense please come forward?”

 

The remainder of meetings of that type were fairly straightforward. Some, he noted without comment, privately agreeing with the choice. In a few cases, he probed further, to ensure the student was truly making the right decision. But on the whole, those discussions were simple and swift. 

Once the subject changes were dealt with, he called in Marcus Flint for a brief conversation about Quidditch strategy. It was widely known that Draco Malfoy wanted to be on the team, and it was in the team’s best interests to give him an opportunity. After some discussion, Flint agreed to ask Higgs to move to the recently opened Chaser position, and have an open try-out for Seeker. Suited to someone small and slight, and generally subject to less battering, the role was a good fit for younger players - as well as carrying the sort of prestige that Malfoy would prefer. It went without saying that, if Malfoy was unable to outperform the others who showed up for try-outs, he would not get the position...but that seemed unlikely. Severus wrote Flint two passes for use of the pitch outside their scheduled practices, then opened his office door once more. 

There were few students remaining now, but the matters they were there to discuss would likely take more time. Very well. He would start with the ones he had asked to come see him. “Miss Hughes?”

 

Miss Gwendolyn Hughes was tall, for eleven, her brown hair cut in a bob, her robes sitting slightly askew on her shoulders. So far, Severus had had few opportunities to observe her in more detail than that, but Pomona had, when she escorted the Hughes family on their first visit to Diagon Alley. In Pomona’s words, “she was quiet at first, watching everything, but she had a wicked sense of humour once she opened up”. As the only muggleborn Slytherin in her year, she would need it.

“What did you want to see me about, professor?” she asked.

Severus closed the office door and gestured her to sit. “You are not the only student in Slytherin with two muggle parents,” he said, taking a seat behind his desk. “However, there are many in this school, and in this House, who would be surprised to hear it.”

She made a face. “People put a lot of stock in Houses, don’t they?” 

“They do,” Severus agreed. “Miss Hughes, it is my duty, as your Head of House, to ensure that you are safe, well, and well educated while you reside at this school. You may find that the best path to those goals is to blend in with other Slytherin students. You may find yourself better served by making alliances with students of other Houses. You may choose your own path. I am not here to make those decisions for you, but I do intend to equip you for the task to the best of my ability.”

Miss Hughes looked down, clearly thinking hard. “What if I haven’t made a decision yet?”

Severus passed her a piece of parchment. “Professor Sprout told me that you have excellent powers of observation,” he said. “I suggest you use them, read these, and let your reputation be that of someone who is quiet and bookish. Once you are more familiar with the politics at work, you will be able to make more informed choices.” He paused. “Mr Rothely - the male fifth-year prefect - has given me permission to tell certain students that he has muggle relatives. If you wish to discuss the differences between the muggle and magical world, he is one with whom you can safely and discreetly do so.”

“It would be easier if I was in another House, wouldn’t it?” Miss Hughes said, looking at the list. “Can I swap?”

“Unfortunately not,” Severus told her. “Would it be easier? Perhaps. But better? That, I cannot say. The Sorting Hat put you in Slytherin House because it believed this House was the best for you, and you were the best for it. Many people think Slytherins are defined by our politics, but what we truly share is drive, determination, and creativity. I look forward to seeing those qualities in you, Miss Hughes.”

Miss Hughes left his office with a set jaw and a thoughtful frown, and Severus took a moment to himself before getting up again. Every year, he had the same conversation with one or two students, and then watched as they struggled with the politics and prejudices around them. He didn’t know if he gave them enough. He didn’t know if he gave them the right things. He only knew that he wanted them to know that he believed in their right to be there. Perhaps, it would be enough.

 

The next student he needed to speak to was Vincent Crabbe. Even given his limited opportunities last year, Severus had observed more than enough to make clear that Vincent Crabbe and his best friend, Gregory Goyle, both struggled significantly with the schoolwork that was expected of them. If they were to keep up with their peers in any meaningful way, adjustments would have to be made.

“Good evening, Mr Crabbe,” Severus greeted him, gesturing him to a seat. “I am here to speak to you about your schoolwork.”

The boy nodded slowly, frowning. “Father said ’As long as your spell-work’s up to scratch, you can do without the rest’.”

Severus had no doubt it was an accurate quote. Crabbe had shown himself to have an excellent memory for other people’s words; even when he didn’t fully understand them, he could repeat them precisely. Furthermore, it was exactly the sort of thing Augustus Crabbe would say. “Nevertheless,” he said, “It is important that you take part with your year-mates, and we want to help you learn as much as you can.”

Crabbe thought about that. “Like Malfoy’s been helping us?” he asked. “Reading things out and explaining what the professors say?”

“A different kind of help,” Severus explained, thinking privately that Draco’s assistance of Mr Goyle and Mr Crabbe was one of his most impressive accomplishments of the last year. It showed remarkable consideration, patience, and dedication for an eleven year old. “I spoke with your father over the summer, and he told me that reading is hard for you, and it takes time for you to understand new things.”

The boy nodded.

Severus took five thick rolls of parchment from a desk drawer and put them in front of Crabbe. “I have asked Professors Sinistra, Mulpepper, and Kirkby to write special homework for you,” he explained. “It has less reading and writing, and more diagrams, lists, and simple questions. When the rest of your class is given an assignment, you will do whichever piece of homework is next on your list for that subject. Do you have any questions?”

“Is it completely different?” Crabbe asked, after a pause. “Who knows about it?”

Both very reasonable questions. “It covers the same topics as the normal homework,” Severus replied. “There is less theory, focusing on what you need to keep doing well at practical work. So far, only your parents and the teachers involved know. You can tell whoever you want, but we will be discreet so you don’t have to tell anyone unless you choose. Mr Goyle will be receiving a similar packet.” An identical one, in fact.

Crabbe’s face cleared, and he put the parchment in his bag. “I’ll talk to him and Malfoy, then,” he decided. 

Severus nodded. “A sound plan. You are welcome to talk to me or your teachers if you have further questions at any point.”

 

By the time he finished speaking to Mr Goyle, Severus had been in his office for over an hour, and there was still one student waiting that he needed to deal with before he could speak to his proteges and the prefects. (At least he had warned them not to bother arriving until the first hour had passed.) “Come in, Mr Thatcham,” he called, habitually masking weariness.

Hector Thatcham was now a third-year student, and had not particularly distinguished himself over the past two years. His older brother was now a seventh-year, and spent little time with him. He sidestepped anti-Slytherin attention by being quiet and bookish, and Severus suspected he would do better socially now that he was taking Arithmancy and Ancient Runes. The classes were popular with Ravenclaws, and Septima and Bathsheba tended to encourage inter-House cooperation when they could. Unlike some of his year-mates, Thatcham seemed not to have grown over the summer, although his hair certainly had - it was almost long enough now to be tied back.

“How can I help you?” Severus asked.

The boy avoided his eyes, hands folded together in his lap. 

Severus waited patiently.

“...I want to change dorms, sir,” Thatcham whispered at last.

Severus raised his eyebrows. “Is there an issue with your year-mates?” There were a small number of solo dorms available, which Severus did his best to make available in situations where a student needed an escape, but he wasn’t aware of any burgeoning issues among the third-years. 

Thatcham shook his head. “I want to change to the - the girl’s dorm,” he said hesitantly. 

“Ah.” Severus sat back, reinterpreting the situation. “We should be able to accommodate that,” he said. “Is ‘Miss Thatcham’ now correct?”

She looked up at him with wide eyes and smiled shyly. “Yes, Professor,” she said, her voice a little firmer. “And - Heather, please? Not Hector?”

Severus nodded. “Of course, Miss Thatcham,” he agreed. “Are your parents aware? Because if you change dorms, it will become known very quickly.” 

“They know,” she said, her smile growing. “John helped me tell them in June. I’ve got new uniforms and everything, I just didn’t want to tell everyone on the train.”

Quite understandable. With the entire school body mixing freely in a confined space with almost no adults and limited escape routes, it was a risky environment for vulnerable students. “I will inform the rest of the staff, then,” he told her. “If you have begun the usual potion regimen,” (he suspected she had, given the lack of growth spurt - her brother had grown rapidly at this age), “make sure you inform Madam Pomfrey so that she may assist you appropriately.”

Thatcham nodded, and Severus stood, gesturing to the door. “Let’s settle the dorm matters, shall we?”

After explaining Miss Thatcham’s situation to the prefects, directing them to assist her with moving her things, and summoning a house elf to arrange the necessary furniture, Severus turned to Miss Li and Miss Clearwater and beckoned them into his office.

 

“Hello, Professor!” Miss Li said cheerfully, dropping her bag into her usual chair. “You’ve been busy tonight, haven’t you? Should I make some tea?”

Severus nodded, privately amused by the stunned look on Miss Clearwater’s face. “You’ll find I allow a degree of familiarity from my proteges that I do not allow other students,” he explained to her. “Considering the responsibilities you are taking on, it seems reasonable.”

“Are we still doing the same things?” Miss Li asked, retrieving his tea set from the cabinet in the corner. “What with Professor Mulpepper being around and all.”

A corner of Severus’ mouth quirked. “You may rest assured, Miss Li, that I have more than sufficient labour to supply both of you and Mr Mulpepper.”

At that, Miss Clearwater began to relax, looking around his office with curiosity. “What are we going to do then?” she asked.

“For every hour I spend supervising your brewing and discussing your research with you, I will ask that you spend an hour assisting me with marking and class preparation,” Severus explained. “In your case, for the third-years, and in Miss Li’s case, for the fourth-years.”

“You’ve got me doing fourth-years now?” Miss Li asked, putting a cup of tea in front of Severus before getting two more for herself and Miss Clearwater. 

Severus inclined his head. “It should be within your capacity,” he reassured her. “I will oversee your work, and if it proves too difficult, we will readjust. But I believe you are more than capable.”

 

After his proteges left, there was a short break before his meeting with the prefects and then, at last, his office hours were done .Severus checked the clock on his wall and sighed. Time to send all the necessary notices to various staff members, and then he had better go to bed, or risk contravening his healer on the first full day of term.

Chapter Text

The first Severus knew of the incident was when Lucian Bole arrived at his office at a run, still in his Quidditch gear. Severus didn’t need to ask to know he was urgently needed; he got to his feet instantly and strode to the door. “Lead on, Mr Bole,” he instructed. “You may tell me on the way.”

“Ron Weasley cursed Malfoy, sir,” Bole panted, working hard to keep up. “They’re in the Hospital Wing, with half of both Quidditch teams.”

Severus raised his eyebrows. “That many wands were drawn?” He doubted a single second-year had managed to hospitalise half a dozen people.

“No sir,” Bole reported. “Just Weasley’s. But everyone’s pissed - sorry, angry. The Weasley twins went to get McGonagall.”

Implicitly, Severus had been fetched to level the playing field. “How is Mr Malfoy?” he asked.

Bole winced. “Throwing up slugs, sir.”

“...I see.” It was hardly the most bizarre outcome of a student losing their temper. Incomplete magical knowledge, imperfect execution, and adolescent impulse control saw Madam Pomfrey attempting to reverse some of the strangest spell and potions results outside the Janus Thickey Ward. “And why did Mr Weasley attack Mr Malfoy?”

Bole winced more. “...Granger implied Malfoy bought his way onto the team, and Malfoy told her to shut up because she’s...because she’s a mudblood, sir.”

“Ah.”

 

-----

 

When Severus arrived at the Hospital Wing, he saw that Madam Pomfrey’s expert hand had already dismissed the majority of the spectators. Only the captains of the two teams and the perpetrators themselves remained, though they had been joined by Professor McGonagall.

“You may go, Mr Bole,” Severus said. “Professor McGonagall, I take it you have been informed of the situation?”

There was a retching noise from behind a curtain, and Mr Wood winced. 

“I have been, yes,” Minerva said. “I think twenty points and a detention for each of them should be fair.”

Severus raised his eyebrows. “Mr Malfoy is the one who was cursed,” he pointed out evenly.

“Mr Malfoy is also the one who used an appalling slur,” Minerva insisted. “Mr Weasley’s response was unacceptable, but understandable given the circumstances.”

Severus paused, then inclined his head. “Twenty points each from Slytherin and Gryffindor,” he declared. “Given his current situation,” - there was another retching noise - “I will not assign Mr Malfoy an additional period of detention, but I will address the matter with him.”

Minerva’s lips pursed, but she nodded. “Very well. Mr Weasley, come with me.”

 

-----

 

Fifteen minutes later, Madam Pomfrey believed she had managed to remove the curse, and they were waiting to see if Malfoy would cough up anything else. The boy was even paler than usual, cold sweat darkening his blond hair, and he looked utterly miserable.

“My father’s going to hear about this,” he muttered, clutching the silver basin in his lap. (Poppy had vanished the contents after the last round of retching, so it was at least clean.) 

“He will,” Severus agreed calmly. “It’s Hogwarts policy to notify parents whenever a child is injured.” He paused. “However, I will also be informing both your parents of what you said to provoke Mr Weasley.”

Draco looked up at him, shocked. “But - but Father says it all the time!” 

“Does he?” Severus challenged him. “I have yet to hear him use it to the press, the Wizengamot, or the Minister.”

The boy frowned, and Severus pressed on.

“You know that I have banned that word in the Slytherin common room - and I have done so for a reason.” Multiple, in fact, but the personal ones were not relevant. “Mr Weasley and yourself lost the same number of points today because the majority of this school would consider his reaction ‘fair’.” He held up a hand to forestall Draco’s objections. “I am not commenting on whether or not his reaction was fair - I am speaking of how it will be perceived. To many, you were responsible for escalating the conflict, and Mr Weasley was the chivalrous Gryffindor by drawing his wand. Is that what you wished to achieve?”

“...no,” Draco said sulkily. 

“As an insult, ‘mudblood’ is both lazy and politically inept,” Severus told him. “It makes you more enemies than allies, and gives your target the privileged position of a victim. Furthermore, if the only thing about your target you can insult is their ancestry, you are unlikely to persuade anyone. Do you understand?” 

“Yes sir,” Draco muttered.

Severus nodded. “You do not have detention, but you do have homework because of this incident,” he said. “Two feet, Mr Malfoy, addressing the disadvantages of ‘mudblood’ as an insult, and listing alternative methods by which you could have achieved your goals on the pitch this afternoon. You may deliver it to me at my office hours next Wednesday, when we will discuss what you have written.”

Hopefully, the exercise would be enough to deter Malfoy from a repeat of the incident.

Chapter Text

A speech given to the students of Slytherin House on the first Saturday of term, 1992:

 

"A number of you have made complaints about the quality of teaching provided by Professor Lockhart. As a member of Hogwarts staff, it is my duty to uphold the authority of my colleagues, and I will do so. However, it is also my duty to ensure that you receive a satisfactory education. Let us discuss, therefore, the strategies and tactics that you might avail yourself of if, at some point in your time at Hogwarts, you are burdened with a teacher who is failing to educate you.

 

First, you should be aware that staffing decisions are made by the School Board and the headmaster, and that the opinions and observations of other staff members can influence those decisions, but not dictate them. If you wish for a staff member to be replaced, it is the School Board you must convince. Rightly or wrongly, the School Board gives the opinions of parents more weight than that of students. A petition of complaint by many students is generally given less consideration than a letter from a single parent.

Second, there is a difference between incompetence and abuse. I can do little about a boring, ignorant, or irritating teacher. A teacher who is a danger to students is a different matter. If any teacher at this school is causing pain or distress to their students, you are to tell me immediately. If any teacher at this school encroaches upon your privacy or your person in a way that makes you uncomfortable, you are to tell me immediately. Is that clear?

Good.

Third, I must caution you to consider your long-term education in any decisions you make. The core subjects taught at Hogwarts are on the curriculum because we believe all witches and wizards need to know them well. Long after you leave Hogwarts, the OWLs and NEWTs you obtain will inform others’ opinions of your skills. A teacher is temporary; they can be endured for the sake of your goals. Unless you believe you are unable to compensate for their teaching style, you should persevere with their subject. 

 

How, then, should you compensate for a teaching style that is ill-suited to you?

Remember that the purpose of classwork is to help you learn, and it is your final exams that determine your ability to progress. Succeeding in those exams is your ultimate goal.

Give your classwork only as much attention as is necessary to learn what you must for the exams, and to avoid loss of points or detentions from the teacher - which would hamper you in other ways.

Madam Pince has a record of the textbooks that have been used for each subject in the past. Look for textbooks that have been used in multiple years, as these are most likely to contain what you need to learn. Study these textbooks, and read widely to support your knowledge. 

If you require wandwork practice, inform myself or a prefect, and we will arrange for tutoring. 

Students in their NEWT and OWL years may speak with me if you require assistance in evaluating your progress. All others, if your performance in exams is unsatisfactory to you, your parents can arrange tutoring over the summer."

Chapter Text

“How are you still moving?” Severus heard from the other side of the staffroom, and glanced over to see Emma Kirkby watching Thomas Mulpepper with a mix of disgust and despair. “I thought last week was bad because everyone was settling in, but they’re even worse now! This schedule is insane .” The last was a hushed whisper, but Severus had no trouble overhearing her.

“Don’t feel the need to censor yourself on our behalf,” he drawled, gesturing to Aurora, who was presently the only other teacher there. It being the pre-dinner period, the other staff were mostly teaching senior students, or in the case of Irma and Rolanda, supervising the junior ones. It was just luck of the draw that Friday was the day Severus had the pre-dinner period off. 

Ms Kirkby flushed slightly, but rose to the challenge, sitting up and raising an eyebrow. “No?”

Aurora just laughed at the exchange. “That’s Severus’ way of saying he completely agrees with you,” she said, leaning back on the chaise longue she’d occupied. “He was teaching thirty-six hours a week last year.”

Ms Kirkby was usually elegantly composed, but that made her eyes widen. “Thirty-six,” she said faintly. “They didn’t increase the teaching hours at all when they took us on?”

“They did not,” Severus confirmed, with a dry smile. “Consider: I was responsible for giving up to two hundred and eighty students their entire potions education each year.” The concept was just as exhausting now as it had been when he first arrived at Hogwarts as a teacher, but it was, at least, a little less daunting. “Thanks to you, Thomas, I am presently burdened with only two hundred.”

Thomas sketched a slight bow. “And I can only honour the dedication that has kept you here under such expectations.” 

Kirkby looked between them and rolled her eyes. “You’re impossible, Thomas,” she said, standing up and gathering her blonde hair back into its bun with a neat flick of her wand. “I’m going to go puzzle out some first years’ handwriting so there’s a chance of me relaxing sometime this weekend.” She shook out her robes, the finely-woven cloth losing its creases and settling around her in elegant, fawn-coloured folds. “And if you abandon me to Lockhart like you did yesterday lunch, I’ll put a sticking charm on your chair.”

She glided out of the room, a picture of composed, stern elegance, and Severus turned to Thomas with an enquiring look. “A sticking charm?”

Thomas grinned back, his white teeth bright against his dark skin. “She has a custom version that only she can undo - without transfiguring the bits that are stuck, anyway,” he explained cheerfully. “I’ll just bribe Sylvanus to sit on his other side; those two can always find creatures to talk about.”

Aurora laughed. “Talk at each other, you mean,” she corrected. “But seeing as Lockhart hardly notices how people react as long as they let him boast, and Sylvanus is always looking for an audience to be enthusiastic at, it’s not a terrible combination.”

“Better him than me,” Severus muttered darkly. He’d spent less than two weeks in Lockhart’s occasional company, and his opinion of the man had reached ever worse lows. The pixies had been an utter disaster, and Potter had already complained that the man was far too enthusiastic about ‘mentoring’ him in the ways of fame. He shook his head, and picked up his book once more. “I suggest you make the most of your free time while you have it, Mr Mulpepper. If you want my comments on your brewing, you should come to my laboratory at eight.”

“I’ll be there,” Thomas said, rolling his shoulders back and stretching out his hands. “Pepper-Up first on the list?”

Severus nodded. “Cold season comes on sooner than we’re ready for, every year.” It was one of the disadvantages of teaching in a castle in Scotland: it got cold and wet early, and stayed cold and wet. “I’ll be interested to see your recipe.”

 

-----

 

Unfortunately, his prediction was entirely accurate. The second Hogsmeade weekend of the year was dull, chilly, and unceasingly wet. And of course, it was Severus’ turn to supervise, with the aid of Charity Burbage. Charms could prevent the rain from landing on him, and dry him off once he was indoors, but they could not remove the pervading dampness from the air, and he woke two days later with a stuffy nose and aching joints. 

He didn’t bother stopping by the hospital wing; Madam Pomfrey would have students to deal with, and he could measure out a dose of Pepper-up perfectly well himself. Instead, he forced himself out of bed and took a swallow of warming syrup with his morning tea, then wearily began to dress for the weather. Cotton pants. Wool socks. Black wool trousers. White cotton shirt. Black wool waistcoat. Black silk cravat. Black leather boots, stuffed with raw wool for additional insulation. Black wool coat. Black wool over-robe. In another month he’d have to add the woolen long johns, and by Christmas he’d be wearing the coat lined with three layers of silk. And extra socks. And it still wouldn’t entirely keep the damp out.

 

-----

 

Six weeks into term, Severus had had enough. “Minerva,” he said through gritted teeth, “will you please speak to your student about his incessant use of that camera.” Technically, it wasn’t against the rules, so long as it didn’t disrupt classes, but the incessant, unpredictable flashes in the corner of Severus’ vision had him constantly on guard so he didn’t pull a wand on a student. 

“Oh come now, Severus, the boy’s just enthusiastic!” Lockhart interrupted, turning his head to present his best side to the Gryffindor table. “Why, he could have quite a career as a photographer ahead of him! Did I tell you about the time I caught Harry giving him a signed photo?”

Only half a dozen times. Severus had spoken to Potter about the incident once he’d heard, then suggested he send a letter home for advice about dissuading the boy. 

“He’s taking photos to share with his family,” Minerva pointed out. “It’s how he’s managing being away from them for so long.”

Severus raised his eyebrows. “He’s taken enough photos in six weeks to keep them entertained for an entire summer,” he replied. “And where is he planning to get them developed? How will he keep them secure? That camera is a risk, and he needs to be spoken to about it.” Another flash drew Severus’ eyes instinctively to the Gryffindor table, and he scowled. “ And about proper etiquette with it, so he doesn’t get himself or it damaged.”

 

-----

 

Halloween was approaching, Dumbledore had something obnoxious planned with the over-large pumpkins Hagrid had been working on for months, and Severus had just received a letter from Andromeda Tonks. Mindful of the possibility that it referred to the ongoing investigation of Harry’s ‘adventure’ on the trip to Hogwarts, Severus took it to his rooms to open, only to read the following:

 

To Professor Severus Snape, Andromeda Tonks sends greetings and a request for assistance

My ward has requested advice on appropriate behaviour when attending a deathday party. Apparently he and his friends have been invited to Sir Nicholas de Mimsy-Porpington’s five hundredth, and felt unable to decline. Could you please consult with their Head of House to ensure they have an escort?

With my thanks,

Andromeda Tonks.

 

Severus read the letter a second time, then a third, then sighed, and got up to go find Harry.

Chapter Text

And so, at seven o’clock on the 31st of October, Severus escorted Harry, Ron Weasley, Hermione Granger, and Neville Longbottom down to the dungeons to attend Sir Nicholas’ deathday party. The best that could be said of the event was that it was tolerable, but it was at least preferable to the raucous Halloween celebrations upstairs. His warming charms made the chilling effect of a large group of ghosts endurable, and the children did their best to be polite and well-behaved. The food served was putrid, but at least it was not noxious, due to the low temperature. It did no harm to wait an extra hour for their own meal. The orchestra was avant-garde, and not particularly enjoyable, but at least it was not excessively loud. The house elves had outdone themselves with the lighting and decor, particularly considering the simultaneous demands of the Halloween feast upstairs, and Severus made a mental note to find out who was responsible and congratulate them. 

 

There was, at one stage, a rather awkward conversation with Myrtle Warren, as a result of Peeves’ troublemaking and the general self-centeredness of children.

"Heard you talking about poor Myrtle," Peeves said. "Rude you was about poor Myrtle." He took a deep breath and bellowed, "OY! MYRTLE!"

"Oh, no, Peeves, don't tell her what I said, she'll be really upset," Hermione whispered frantically. "I didn't mean it, I don't mind her - er, hello, Myrtle."

Myrtle did not appear to be enjoying her evening, but when she approached, she brightened somewhat. “Hello, Sev!”

Severus felt the children’s astonished eyes on him as he engaged in courteous small talk with the ghost he had known since his own school days. A bathroom everyone avoided was an excellent place to avoid other people, whether for secrecy or simple privacy, and being polite to Myrtle had been just good sense. Her...insistence on calling him ‘Sev’ was awkward now, but rarely became an issue. He should have anticipated that it might come up at this party, but at least these children had the capacity to be discreet. 

“If I hear that you have been bandying that nickname about the Gryffindor common room…” he warned them, once Myrtle had drifted away.

They all shook their heads rapidly. 

“We won’t, professor,” Harry promised, his green eyes wide behind his glasses. “But..” He bit his lip. “How do you know her?

Fortunately, Severus was spared the explanation by the arrival of the Headless Hunt. Unfortunately, they were so utterly obnoxious that he found himself wanting to hear Sir Nicholas’ speech rather than watch a single moment of their arrogant showboating and the incomprehensibly universal popularity of their juvenile ‘humour’.  

As soon as Sir Nicholas’ speech was concluded, Severus took the children to make their farewells and lead them back towards the Great Hall. “There will be dinner set aside for us in the annexe off the hall,” he informed them. “I expect you not to dawdle over the meal; curfew is not extended for you, and you are beginning your dinner almost forty minutes after your peers.”

 

And then Harry stumbled to a halt, clutching at the stone wall and squinting up and down the dimly lit passageway.

“Potter?” Snape asked, his wand slipping into his hand. “What is it - ?”

“There’s a voice - be quiet a minute...listen!”

The children froze, watching him, but Snape was on high alert. “Tell us what it is saying, Harry.”

The boy was staring at the ceiling now, then bolted into action. “This way!”

Harry began to run, up the stairs, into the entrance hall, but Severus’ legs were faster and he got ahead of him. “Tell me where, but let me lead!” he insisted, straining his senses for any sign of the attacker who was bespelling Harry. 

The noise echoing out of the Great Hall was like a bludgeon, but Harry didn’t stop, yelling “The stairs!” and so Severus didn’t stop either, the other children clattering behind them. 

“Harry, what’re we - “

SHH!”

Harry paused, briefly, then shouted, “It’s going to kill someone!” and raced for the next set of stairs.

(Typical, part of Severus reflected. Nothing drew that child to danger more effectively than threatening someone else.) 

“Stay behind me!” Severus repeated, wand at the ready, and followed Harry’s shouted directions around the entire second floor until he heard the boy slow to a stop in an empty passageway. Immediately, he cast a shield around the group of them, glancing briefly over his shoulder to be sure he still had all four children with him.

“Harry, what was that about?” Weasley panted, wiping sweat off his face. “I couldn’t hear anything…”

But Granger gave a sudden gasp, pointing down the corridor to something shining on the wall and floor ahead. “Look!”

 

It was a trap. The entire situation was obviously a trap. Potter had been lured here to discover...what?

Severus led the group slowly forward, searching for any sign of what had led them here. A large puddle of what appeared to be water was shining on the floor, but the wall was daubed with...Severus’ nostrils twitched. Blood, almost certainly. It could be from any non-magical creature, from the look and smell of it. In the light cast by the few torches spaced along the corridor, he read:

THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS HAS BEEN OPENED

ENEMIES OF THE HEIR, BEWARE

 

The ‘Heir’...they needed reinforcements. He couldn’t cast a patronus like this to summon help. “Klimby,” he said, backing up. 

There was a popping sound, and the familiar house-elf appeared. “What is Professor Snape…” She trailed off. “Oh dear.”

“Yes,” Severus replied lowly. “Fetch the Headmaster at once.” He could hold this shield for a time, but it was draining, and he didn’t dare drop it until he had a better way to protect the children. 

“At once, Professor Snape,” Klimby agreed, and popped away.

“What’s that thing - hanging underneath?” said Longbottom, a slight quiver in his voice. 

“Should we go closer to see?” Harry asked. 

“We will not, ” Severus snapped. The Heir - that could only be a reference to the Dark Lord, who had claimed the line of Slytherin loudly and often. The Chamber of Secrets, that too indicated an association with the Dark Lord. Harry Potter, the Dark Lord’s supposed vanquisher, had been lured here. Somehow, one of the Dark Lord’s followers had made it into Hogwarts... again

 

A rumble, as though of distant thunder, told Severus that the feast had just ended, and he nearly swore. This passageway was along the route from the Great Hall to Gryffindor Tower, Ravenclaw Tower, and the library, and within moments, a crowd of students came crashing down it. 

The loud, happy talk of well-fed people died suddenly as the people in front caught sight of the group, then the spectacle in front of them. Silence fell, the mass of idiotic students pressing forward to see better.

Then someone shouted through the quiet, and Severus despairingly recognised the voice of Draco Malfoy calling out, “Enemies of the Heir, beware! Watch out, muggleborns!”

Chapter Text

“What’s going on here? What’s going on?” Argus Filch - or what appeared to be Argus Filch - came shouldering his way through the crowd. When he caught sight of the spectacle, he fell back, clutching his face in horror. “My cat! My cat! What’s happened to Mrs Norris?”

A brief glance confirmed that the object hanging from the torch bracket did indeed appear to be Mrs Norris, stiff and frozen. 

And then Filch’s eyes fell on the group Severus was shielding, and his face hardened. “You!” he screeched, pointing at Harry. “You’ve murdered my cat! You’ve killed her! I’ll kill -”

“He did not.” By now, Severus had little energy to spare to placate Filch, but his furious grief needed to be redirected, and quickly. 

A moment later, the headmaster finally arrived on the scene, followed by the other staff members. At last, Severus dropped the shield he had been maintaining, though he kept his wand at the ready as Dumbledore swept past them and detached Mrs Norris from the torch bracket. Whoever had cursed the cat and lured Potter here was unlikely to strike in such a crowd.

“Come with me, Argus,” Dumbledore said. “You too, Severus, and your young charges.”

Lockhart stepped forward eagerly, torchlight glinting off his obnoxiously shiny hair. “My office is nearest, Headmaster - just upstairs - please feel free -”

Severus’ eyes narrowed.

“Thank you, Gilderoy,” said Dumbledore. 

The silent crowd parted to let them pass, Minerva joining the group, and the other staff remaining behind to manage the students. 

“Are you alright?” Minerva asked surreptitiously as they climbed the stairs. “What happened?”

Severus shook his head slightly. He didn’t want to risk a distracting conversation in the open corridor. Lockhart’s office was not much more secure, but he could watch the entrances there.

 

There was a flurry of movement across the walls as they entered; Severus raised his wand, then recognised it as the movement of portraits, Lockharts ducking out of sight. The real Lockhart lit the room and cleared his desk for Dumbledore to examine Mrs Norris. Severus pointed the children to the chairs closest to the desk, and looked at them for the first time since he had raised his shield around them.

All four of them were pale, eyes wide as they watched the proceedings. It occurred to Severus that none of them had eaten, and he muttered, “Nibbet, sandwiches and juice for four.” A moment later, a platter and four goblets appeared on one of the desks, and the children jumped.

“Eat something,” he advised them quietly. “You’ll feel better for it. Whatever happened, you are not in trouble for it.”

“It was definitely a curse that killed her,” Severus heard from behind him, in Lockhart’s usual boastful tones. “Probably the Transmogrifian Torture - I’ve seen it used many times, so unlucky I wasn’t there, I know the very countercurse that would have saved her…”

Severus pursed his lips as Lockhart went on, offering absolutely nothing of use. The only thing such comments added to the investigation was reason to be suspicious of him, although Severus had yet to see a single sign that he was capable of anything he claimed. Still, the fact that people appeared to believe him was worthy of further investigation.

Filch was crying, with dry, racking sobs, and Severus wished Pomona or Rolanda were here to comfort him. Mrs Norris had been Filch’s companion when he arrived at the school in Severus’ second year, fleeing Death Eater persecution. Her loss would be a bitter blow to him.

 

“She’s not dead, Argus,” Dumbledore said at last.

“Not dead?” choked Filch, looking through his fingers at Mrs Norris. “But why’s she all - all stiff and frozen?”

“She has been petrified,” said Dumbledore. “But how, I cannot say…” Petrified in an unusual manner, Severus assumed, given that the body-bind curse was part of most first-years’ arsenal.

Severus stepped to the side, turning to watch the adults at the same time as the children - just in time to see Filch point at Potter and shriek, “Ask him!”

“Potter is not responsible,” Severus said firmly. “We arrived on the scene coincidentally, after the attacker departed.”

“If he didn’t do it, who did?” Filch spat, and Potter flinched back. “He found - in my office - he knows I’m a - “

“Argus,” Severus interrupted him. “I can tell you all of Potter’s movements since seven o’clock tonight. Whatever he knows, or doesn’t know, he is not the responsible party. 

"My cat has been Petrified!" Filch shrieked. "I want to see some punishment!"

"We will be able to cure her, Argus," said Dumbledore patiently. "Professor Sprout recently managed to procure some Mandrakes. As soon as they have reached their full size, I will have a potion made that will revive Mrs. Norris."

I will have a potion made? Severus opened his mouth to comment, only to be interrupted by Lockhart. 

"I'll make it," the vainglorious braggart declared. "I must have done it a hundred times. I could whip up a Mandrake Restorative Draught in my sleep -"

"Excuse me," said Severus icily. "But I believe I am the Potions master at this school. And should I require assistance, Journeyman Mulpepper is far more qualified to assist me."

There was a very awkward pause.

Minerva stepped forward. “Potter, Granger, Weasley, Longbottom - come with me,” she said, clearly taking advantage of the opportunity to get student witnesses away from the upcoming conflict. “I will escort you back to your dormitory.”

The children exchanged glances, and Harry gave Severus a nervous look. “Your curiosity can wait until tomorrow,” he informed them, and was glad to see Potter relax. “If you are distressed by what you have seen, Madam Pomfrey stocks calming potions for students who have been through traumatic experiences.” With luck, Harry would take the hint, and seek him or Poppy out tomorrow.

 

Minerva ushered the children out of the room, and Severus turned his attention to the cursed cat. It didn’t need to be said that his knowledge of curses even rivalled Dumbledore’s, and Albus didn’t comment as Severus examined her. “...I concur,” he said at last. “The Mandrake Restorative Draught should be effective. However, the mandrakes will need to be fresh, and ours will not be ready for harvesting until May. We had best ask Mr Mulpepper about alternative suppliers.”

Blood drained from Filch’s face. “How long will that take?” he said hoarsely. “What if - will she get worse? How - “ He swallowed thickly. “Who’s going to pay for it?”

Severus met his eyes gently. “From what I can tell, she has been frozen in exactly the state in which she was at the moment of the attack. Reversing it should return her to that state regardless of how much time has passed. I recommend moving her to either the Hospital Wing or your own quarters, so that no one interferes with her.”

Filch nodded shakily and picked her up, her stiff body looking horribly wrong in his arms. “I’ll take her with me,” he said, his hands shaking. “I - She should be at home.” He turned and trudged away, his shoulders hunched and hair hanging loosely around his face. 

Severus pursed his lips. “I shall take my leave as well, Headmaster,” he said, ignoring Lockhart. The long night had taken its toll on him, and he could feel himself flagging. He would need to rest if he was to be ready for the days to come. 

Chapter Text

On the long trip from the Defence classroom to the dungeons, Severus thought through the things he would need to do tomorrow. A follow-up conversation with Potter, and with the Headmaster. Reviewing his memory of events for additional information. Speaking to Slytherin House about precautions they would need to take in the coming days. Following up on sources of fresh, mature mandrake. Writing to Lord Malfoy about the events of the evening. Writing to the Tonks family about the events of the evening. Consulting with Minerva about additional precautions that might be necessary to protect Potter.

He stubbed his toe on an uneven flagstone and caught himself before he could stumble, hissing curses under his breath. He could feel the faint shakiness of impending exhaustion, infuriating by comparison by the efforts he used to easily sustain. He did not have time to baby along his magic reserves with a Dark Lord supporter in the castle. 

...still, he had to admit he had no choice. By the time he reached his quarters, he was ready to collapse into bed without even taking his boots off. Yet there was one thing he could and should do before he slept.

"Whichever house elf is nearest, I need a moment of your time," he said, sinking wearily into the armchair before the fire. By the feel of the air, it had been lit during dinner, and Severus deeply appreciated its cheerful warmth.

There was a soft pop, and Klimby appeared - no doubt having been cleaning his classroom. "Yes, Professor?" she said.

"I'm sure everyone is already aware of what happened tonight," he said quietly.

She nodded rapidly, twisting one ear in her hand. "Bad, bad things be happening at Hogwarts, Professor," she agreed. "Very bad things."

"Mrs Norris is petrified, not dead," he informed her. "But Mr Filch has had quite a shock, and it will be some time before we can restore her. Will you see that someone goes to keep him company and make sure he has what he needs?" Argus spent more time with the house elves than with the staff, because he was responsible for making sure that they had what they needed. He only did actual cleaning when it couldn't wait until students were guaranteed to be out of the area. By long tradition, and to prevent students from taking advantage of them, house elves were not to be seen by students. It was understandable, then, that it frustrated Argus when students made a mess in the middle of a busy corridor.

Klimby smiled at Severus. "You is a kind man, Professor," she said, and popped away.

 

Severus sat, watching the fire, and tried to persuade himself to get up and go to bed. Before he managed it, however, Klimby reappeared, holding a covered dish and a mug of hot cocoa.

Severus gave her an inquiring look, and Klimby said firmly, " Other elves be taking care of Mr Argus. Klimby is taking care of Professor Snape."

Severus resigned himself to eating a much heavier meal than he had appetite for so as not to offend her, but then she uncovered the dish to reveal… "Those are Midlands bacon cakes."

Klimby grinned and bowed.

"You wouldn't have served those at the feast." Savoury scones with chopped bacon and cheese mixed into the dough, they were filling, simple, and cheap - a staple of his childhood - but not something to be found on the Hogwarts dinner table. They would have needed time to bake, too; even a house elf couldn't rush an oven. "When did you…"

"Nebbit started them when Professor Snape asked for sandwiches for the students and not himself," Klimby revealed smugly. "He knew you would be needing dinner, and not wanting more than a snack."

They were perfectly made, light on his tongue, rich with good bacon, sharp cheese, and melted butter on top. It was exactly what he needed, the hot, sweet cocoa a perfect accompaniment, and when Severus sat back, the meal complete, he felt warm and full and restored. 

"You have my thanks for your care and forethought, Klimby," he said, "and please pass them on to Nebbit as well."

Klimby flushed, but lifted her head proudly to meet his gaze. "Professor Snape is being a good professor," she said. "We is proud to be caring for a good professor like Professor Snape." She snapped her fingers, and the dishes disappeared back to the kitchens. "And now Klimby will help Professor Snape with his boots and robes so he can sleep like he is needing to."

Severus opened his mouth to object, then closed it. He was not accustomed to, or particularly comfortable with, having a house elf valet. But to refuse her assistance would be both rude and foolish, as it was not certain he would make it to bed without it. “Very well,” he said, inclining his head. “Thank you for your help.”

 

Klimby was deft and gentle, and Severus had to admit that it helped, not having to bend over to take his boots off, or undo dozens of buttons, or hang up his robes. It felt like pure laziness to let her help, but he did.

Once he was down to his shirt and trousers he waved her away. “I’ll be fine from here,” he reassured her. Then a thought struck him, and he strode over to the small writing desk he kept in a corner to write a brief notice:

COMPULSORY HOUSE MEETING

7:15 AM, Sunday 1st November

All Slytherin students must attend

“Will you place this visibly in the Common Room, and inform the prefects - either before they go to sleep, or when they wake up?” Severus asked. He would work out what to say to them all when he woke, but his students needed certain reminders before they left the safety of the Common Room. So before breakfast it had to be, and it was late enough now that most students would have gone to bed.

Klimby took the parchment and bowed. “Klimby will be seeing that it is done,” she promised. “Good night, Professor.”

“Good night.”

Chapter Text

The Slytherins were not pleased about being woken for a House meeting at 7:15 on a Sunday morning, the day after Hallowe’en. Severus didn’t care.

“Breakfast will begin being served in fifteen minutes,” he said coolly, when he overheard the third complaint. “Some of you, I am aware, prefer to eat later than others. None of you, however, will be allowed to leave this Common Room until I have spoken with the entire House. I suggest, therefore, that if you wish to go back to bed, or to go to breakfast, that you encourage your dorm mates to hurry up.

The grumbling fell silent, and a few people disappeared into the dorm rooms to urge the others along.

“Is this about...what happened last night?” Miss Thatcham asked. “The writing on the wall?”

Severus inclined his head.

“That’s everyone, sir,” Miss Vogel told him quietly. He glanced at the other prefects to confirm, then nodded.

 

“Last night, as many of you observed directly and others will have heard, Mr Filch’s cat was attacked, petrified, and hung from a torch bracket on the third floor, alongside a message written in blood reading: ‘The Chamber of Secrets has been opened. Enemies of the Heir, beware’,” Severus summarised. He looked around the room, then met the gaze of Leopold Avery, a sixth-year who was self-studying for a NEWT in History of Magic. “Mr Avery, what is the ‘Chamber of Secrets’ and the ‘Heir’ that this writing referred to?”

The boy cleared his throat awkwardly. “The Chamber of Secrets is believed to be a part of Hogwarts hidden and sealed by Salazar Slytherin,” he reported. “There have been legends for at least four centuries that there is a creature there that the Heir of Slytherin could direct to purge the school of ‘unworthy’ students.”

Severus nodded. “Miss Wilkes,” he said, picking out a seventh-year whose father had been a Death Eater, and been killed when she was young. “In what context will most witches and wizards living in Britain have encountered the concepts of the ‘Chamber of Secrets’ or ‘Heir of Slytherin’?”

Miss Wilkes avoided meeting his gaze just enough to dodge a legilimency incursion, but no one other than him would have known it. “The Dark Lord claimed the title ‘Heir of Slytherin’,” she revealed. “The Chamber of Secrets was opened fifty years ago, resulting in several student petrifications and one death. Rubeus Hagrid was made a scapegoat, but the responsible party was not identified. It is widely assumed that the Dark Lord was involved.”

Severus nodded again, casting his gaze across the seventy-two students in his care. The Common Room was crowded with so many, but they fit. “Mr Flint,” he said. “Given that information, how do you expect the student body to behave in the coming days?”

The boy frowned, his back straightening. “They’ll find out it’s a Slytherin thing and blame us, sir. Some shunning, suspicion...some insults, threats, attacks. With the match next weekend…” He shook his head. “The Gryffindors’ll be out for blood even more than usual.”

“An excellent summation, Flint, Wilkes, Avery,” Severus told them, then turned his attention to the rest of the room. “In the coming weeks, I expect you all to avoid provoking aggression from the other Houses. You will not escalate a conflict, although you may respond when you are attacked. You will not be the first to insult, threaten, or hex during a disagreement. You will not express support for the Heir of Slytherin outside the Common Room, and you will not express anti-Muggleborn sentiments.” He met Draco Malfoy’s gaze meaningfully. “This is for the protection of yourself and your House-mates. There is no advantage in making yourself a target at this time. Such opinions, in the current situation, will not persuade anyone. They will not give you more power among the student body. Am I understood?”

He looked around the room, noting who frowned and who nodded, whose faces were blank and who looked nervous. 

“I also advise you all to stay in groups as much as possible,” he went on. “Do not make yourself convenient targets for an ambush. This is particularly true for the first and second years, the Quidditch team, and for any students visiting Hogsmeade. If any of you are being consistently targeted, inform me, and I will do what I can to assist.”

He looked around the room once more, then nodded. “You are dismissed,” he said. “Enjoy the remainder of your weekend.” 

 

-----

 

To the Lady Narcissa Malfoy, Lady of the House of Malfoy, mother of my student, Draco Malfoy, Master Severus Snape, Head of the House of Slytherin, client of the House of Malfoy, sends respectful greetings and news of a concerning development.

At approximately eight o’clock last night, coinciding with the conclusion of the Hogwarts Hallowe’en Feast, Mr Harry Potter was lured by an otherwise unheard voice to the corridor outside the third-floor bathroom haunted by Myrtle Warren. The wall of the corridor was painted, in blood, with the words: “The Chamber of Secrets has been opened. Enemies of the Heir, beware.” Mrs Norris, the cat belonging to the Hogwarts caretaker, Argus Filch (who has previously been targeted by persons associated with the Dark Lord), was hanging from a torch bracket by the words, petrified. The petrification is considered reversible, but the method has not yet been identified. 

Investigations are ongoing as to the identity of the responsible party, but thus far little is known. Given the affiliation with the Dark Lord implied by the spectacle, it is possible that investigation outside the bounds of the school will also be necessary.

As always, I will protect Draco to the best of my ability, as I will all my other students. However, as he responded to the spectacle (when he arrived with many other students who had exited the feast) with the words “You’ll be next, Muggle-borns!”, I anticipate he may be a target for potential reprisals. It may be beneficial for you to remind him of the virtues of subtlety.

With greatest respect,

Severus Snape

 

-----

 

Mr Potter,

Come see me in my office at 9am. You are not in trouble.

Professor Snape

 

-----

 

At breakfast, he sat down near Pomona and Mulpepper and raised the mandrakes issue without delay. “I assume that you have already heard the details of what happened last night?”

Pomona nodded, her eyes serious, and Mulpepper looked between the two of them. “How worried should we be?” he asked. “It’s some ominous graffiti and a cursed cat - surely things like this have been done before as pranks?”

Severus’ mouth thinned. “You are not entirely incorrect,” he admitted. “Mr Filch and Mrs Norris are frequently targets of student resentment. However, the method used is one which the Headmaster, Professor McGonagall and myself could identify no cure to other than Mandrake Restorative Draught.”

Pomona hissed through her teeth, shaking her head. “That’s not going to be easy to get our hands on,” she said. “No clues who did it?”

“Apart from their professed affiliation with the Heir of Slytherin?” Severus replied quietly. “No.” He had hope that the day’s investigations might reveal further information, but it was not guaranteed. “Either there is a student who has discovered particularly dark magic and learned to use it, in which case we have a problem, or a non-student has managed to get inside Hogwarts and perform dark magic without being detected, in which case we have a bigger problem.”

Mulpepper’s face greyed, and his dark eyes were wide and serious. “What can I do to help?”

It was, of course, possible that he was the culprit, or working with the culprit. As the newest members of staff, Mulpepper, Kirkby, and Lockhart were the most likely to be involved. But raising that would not be helpful at present. “Mandrake restorative draught is expensive and rarely used. It also requires fresh, mature mandrakes to make. I understand that ours will not be mature until May?”

“May, possibly early June,” Sprout confirmed. “They’re highly seasonal - you won’t find any that are mature before then north of the Tropic of Cancer.”

“Hmm.” He had suspected as much. “Mr Mulpepper, if you could reach out to suppliers to determine what might be available, when, and for how much, that would be appreciated.” 

The young man nodded grimly. “It’s probably not going to be viable,” he pointed out.

Severus inclined his head. “Nevertheless, we have a duty to inquire.”

 

-----

 

Between breakfast and his appointment with Potter, he found time to speak with the house elf who had cleaned the second-floor corridor, but she had nothing promising to add. The blood was apparently chicken blood, not human, which was a small mercy. The liquid on the floor had been water from the nearby bathroom, which Myrtle Warren had flooded after an unpleasant encounter with Peeves. There were no traces of dirt from beyond Hogwarts grounds, or of any substances that should not be there except for chicken blood and a few feathers. It was not a particularly satisfying conversation, and Severus was still mulling it over when there was a tentative knock on his office door. 

“Come in.”

Chapter Text

Harry looked particularly small and worried as he entered Severus’ office, his eyes starkly green against his pale face.

“Take a seat,” Severus directed him. “I need to speak with you about last night, but as I told you, you are not in trouble. Are you well?”

The boy sat down and nodded. “I’m fine, sir,” he said quietly. “The voice hasn’t come back or anything, and my scar doesn’t hurt.”

Severus inclined his head. “It is the voice which I need to discuss with you. I assume you are aware by now that you were the only person to hear it?”

“I’m not making it up, Professor, I swear!” Harry said hurriedly, leaning forward in his seat. “I really did hear it - it was talking about blood, and being hungry, and it sounded…” He shivered. “It sounded evil .”

“I believe you,” Severus said seriously, meeting Harry’s gaze. “You heard a voice saying those things. Myself and your friends did not. That suggests that something was causing you, specifically, to hear it.”

Harry frowned. “You think...someone put a spell on me or something? Why would they do that?”

Severus raised his eyebrows, waiting to see if the boy could work it out.

Harry went even paler. “They were trying to bring me there?”

“Yes,” Severus said simply. “Whether as the target for a further attack, or as the discoverer of what they had done, you were lured. So it is very important , Harry, that if you hear that voice again, you do not follow it. Do you understand me?”

Harry’s hands twisted in the fabric of his robes as he nodded. “...what if someone’s in trouble?” 

“Then you getting into trouble as well will not help,” Severus told him. “Alert myself or one of the other Heads of House and we will investigate. I will make sure they all know to listen to you.” They were due to meet to discuss the situation this afternoon; he could raise the matter then. 

“...yes sir,” Harry agreed, staring down at his hands. 

 

“Harry,” Severus said quietly. “There is a way you can help, if you are willing.”

The child’s head snapped up, his face hopeful.

“I would like to examine your memory of last night, from the time we left the party to the time the other students arrived in the second-floor corridor,” Severus explained. Ideally, this was something he would do with the consent of the child’s guardians, but as Harry’s actual guardians were entirely unsuitable and the Tonks’ were both unofficial and had known Harry for less time than Severus, Severus was inclined to bend his usual principles in this particular case. 

“You can do that?” Harry asked, his eyes widening. “How? Can you read minds? Is it a spell?”

Severus’ lips twitched. “There are two methods to view another person’s memory. A copy of the memory can be created and placed in a viewing tool called a pensieve. They are not common, but the Headmaster keeps one in his office. You would need to focus on the memory while I ‘pulled’ the copy from your mind with a non-verbal spell in the form of a silver fluid. That memory, once placed in the pensieve, could then be viewed by any magical person.”

Harry bit his lip. “Anyone? What’s the other way?”

“Anyone who gains access to the Headmaster’s pensieve, yes,” Severus confirmed. He paused. “The other method is a skill called legilimency, which is close to what Muggles think of as ‘reading minds’. Few wizards learn the art of it, but myself and the Headmaster are both skilled legilimens. If you agreed, I could look into your eyes and view the memory within your own mind. It’s possible I would also find out some of your thoughts and feelings at the same time; most people do not have the mental discipline to keep such things well separated.”

Harry frowned down at his lap for a long, silent minute. “...I think,” he said slowly, “that I don’t want anyone else to see. Except you, sir. So...so the second one sounds better. The leg- legilimency.”

“...I see.” Severus had not truly expected Harry to choose that option, but he had offered it, and now he must fulfil that offer. “Very well. Take a moment to collect yourself. Clear your mind of any thoughts and emotions that may be preoccupying you, and focus on the moment we left the party. When you are ready, look up and meet my eyes.”

 

It took a few minutes of fidgeting, but at last the child looked up, his jaw set. “I’m ready, sir.”

Severus nodded, preparing himself to be as gentle and unobtrusive as possible, and raised his wand. “Legilimens.”

Harry was hurrying up a passageway filled with black, blue-flamed candles, following the billowing black robes of Professor Snape. Ron was next to him, Hermione and Neville trailing behind, and Professor Snape was saying, “...curfew is not extended for you, and you are beginning your dinner almost forty minutes after your peers.”

Then Harry heard it.

“...rip...tear...kill…” It was a voice to chill the bone marrow, a voice of breath-taking, ice-cold venom, and it seemed to be coming from inside the walls.

Harry stumbled to a halt, clutching at the stone wall, listening with all his might, looking around, squinting up and down the dimly lit passageway. 

“Potter?” he heard Professor Snape ask, drowning out the soft, chilling voice. “What is it -?”

“There’s a voice - “ Harry interrupted. “ Be quiet a minute...listen!”

“...soo hungry...for so long...kill...time to kill…” The voice was growing fainter. Harry was sure it was moving away - moving upward. A mixture of fear and excitement gripped him as he stared at the dark ceiling; how could it be moving upward?

“Tell us what it is saying, Harry.”

“This way!” Harry shouted, and began to run, up the stairs, into the entrance hall. 

Black robes swirled in his peripheral vision, then ahead of him, and he heard Professor Snape insist, “Tell me where, but let me lead!”

Harry barely noticed, shouting “The stairs!”, trying to get away from the babble echoing out of the Great Hall so he could hear. 

“Harry, what’re we - “ Hermione panted, and he shushed her furiously as they reached the first floor.

The voice, where was the voice? Harry paused, straining his ears. Distantly, from the floor above, and growing fainter still, he heard the voice: “...I smell blood...I SMELL BLOOD!”

His stomach lurched. “It’s going to kill someone!” he shouted, and ran up the next flight of steps three at a time.

“Stay behind me!” Professor Snape demanded, speeding up to keep ahead of him. 

Struggling to listen over his own pounding footsteps, shouting directions as best he could, Harry hurtled around the whole of the second floor behind the fading sound of the voice. But soon, he could hear no more, and he slowed to a stop, panting hard. 

Professor Snape stopped too, casting a spell that made a blue bubble of light around all of them, his eyes glittering as he looked back at them all. 

“Harry, what was that about?” said Ron, wiping sweat off his face. “I couldn’t hear anything…”

Harry stared at him. Ron hadn’t heard it?

But Hermione gave a sudden gasp, pointing down the corridor. “Look!”

 

Severus withdrew from Harry’s mind - he would find no more here. “Thank you, Harry,” he said quietly. “Are you alright?”

Harry’s arms were wrapped around himself, and he stared at Severus defiantly. “It could have hurt someone,” he insisted.

Severus sighed. “It could have,” he agreed. “And it could have been you.” Harry’s perception of the voice’s malevolence, Severus could translate with experience to an instinctive recognition of dark magic. The words were more suited to a creature than a person, with their focus on hunger and scent, which matched the legends of the Chamber of Secrets that the culprit had invoked. Were they hoping that the boy would investigate? Were they trying to lay a false trail? Were they hoping Potter would keep what he heard secret, or that it would become widely known? How did this incident connect with Harry’s misdirected floo trip at the beginning of term? The two situations seemed vastly different, but both of them were very specifically targeted at Harry. “...I did not see any sign of the person responsible,” Severus admitted. 

Harry opened his mouth to say something, then closed it again.

“Go on.”

“It’s just…” Harry bit his lip. “What did Malfoy mean? When he said muggleborns should watch out?”

Severus suppressed a sigh. At least Potter had raised it with him instead of trying to interfere directly. “The Chamber of Secrets is associated with Salazar Slytherin,” he explained, “and Salazar Slytherin is generally assumed to have opposed teaching muggleborn students at Hogwarts.”

Harry’s eyes widened. “It’s the Heir of Slytherin?” he blurted out. “It’s a Slytherin doing this?”

“Yes, and no,” Severus said flatly. “Firstly, the bloodlines of the Founders can no longer be confidently traced, so we cannot exclude anyone. Secondly, being descended from Slytherin does not guarantee that a person will be sorted into Slytherin. Thirdly, the culprit claims to be affiliated with the Heir of Slytherin; that does not mean they are telling the truth.”

“Oh.” Harry looked down, then squared his shoulders. “Are muggleborns in danger?”

Lying would be counterproductive; he needed the boy to trust him. “At this stage, there is a threat, but we don’t know if that threat will be realised,” Severus explained. “That is why we are investigating so thoroughly. If there is indeed a danger to students, we will do our best to discover and contain it.”

Potter received that information with skepticism worthy of a Slytherin, but Severus didn’t push the issue. Either they would be able to protect the students, or they would not, and Potter would act accordingly. His task now was to ensure Potter’s decision-making took into account the presence of adults who could protect him. 

“If you have no further questions, I suggest you go enjoy the sun while it lasts,” Severus advised him. “Remember to tell a Head of House if you hear the voice again.”

He saw Harry out of his office, then returned to his desk, pulling out a clean sheet of parchment. 

To Ted and Andromeda Tonks, greetings from Severus Snape...

Chapter Text

Severus Snape did not like Quidditch. He did not find it thrilling. He did not enjoy the height at which the game was played, the lack of safety equipment, the very concept of bludgers, and the tolerance within the rules for serious injury. He found the number of points assigned to the snitch irritating, as it rewarded a single player's luck and agility over the skill and teamwork of six others.

The fact that the school allowed and encouraged teenagers to play under almost the same rules as a professional team was, to him, sheer lunacy. That students under thirteen and muggleborns with limited knowledge of the game or their brooms were allowed to try out was a source of endless frustration. That Mr Potter had been drafted onto the Gryffindor team at the age of eleven after a total of fifteen minutes of broom flight in his life was infuriating.

His objections, both before and after Potter's nearly disastrous first game, had been dismissed as jealousy and House rivalry. Now, watching Harry and Draco take the air with their much larger teammates for what was sure to be a highly aggressive game, he was bitterly reminded of his own futile efforts.

Within minutes, his apprehensions were vindicated, which did not improve his mood. "That bludger," he hissed, "has been tampered with."

To their credit, the students had concluded the same. The Weasley twins were bracketing Harry to help fend it off, and Wood quickly called for a time out. If they were intelligent, they would call for an enquiry and end the match.

...of course, he was not so fortunate. What was more, when the players rose into the air again, the Potter boy separated from the rest, and the Weasleys did not follow.

"Idiot child," Severus ground out, wand in hand, eyes fixed on Potter's increasingly elaborate evasive flying. It was skillful and inventive, but one slip could be enough for the bludger to catch up to him, and he was not sturdy enough to absorb a blow from it without serious injury.

And then it happened. Potter paused for a moment - for only a few seconds - and the bludger slammed into his elbow. 

Severus saw his arm buckle sickeningly, could almost hear the crunch of bone grinding on bone, and watched with horror as the boy swayed sideways with the impact, barely keeping his seat. "Call for a time out, now," he demanded loudly, but Potter was already lurching forward, diving towards Malfoy with one arm hanging useless, the other outstretched, relying on his knees to keep him on his broom.

He heard the other teachers exclaiming, he heard Jordan announce that another time out had been called, he heard Hooch's whistle drowned out by the magical chime announcing the snitch had been caught, he heard the crowd roar - but his eyes were on the bludger, his wand tracking it through the air, and as soon as he had a clear shot he snapped " Circumgloba quietus!”

A translucent sphere of pale purple light appeared around the bludger, a few inches larger in diameter than the ball itself. The spell was one Severus used frequently in the classroom, but bludgers were not easy to contain, and he could feel it fighting him as he guided the sphere down towards the grass and the box where the bludgers were usually kept. It didn’t matter. He would contain it, and he would do so without compromising potential evidence.

One of the Weasleys was there, crouched and ready to restrain the ball, and as soon as Severus released the spell, the infernal thing was buckled into place with charmed straps. A pause - a breath - and it became clear the straps would hold, and Severus could turn his attention to whatever had happened to Potter.

His gaze fixed on a cluster of red robes, bent over around someone on the grass. A swarm of students had spilled onto the pitch, delaying Madam Hooch's approach, but it seemed no impediment to the blond hair and salmon robes that were eeling their way through the crowd. Severus gritted his teeth, helpless to intervene with so many students in the way...then swore, when the students recoiled in shock.

"I am going to eviscerate that man."

 

-----

 

"Foolish, reckless, idiotic, Gryffindor of a child!" Severus snarled as he paced back and forth. "Quidditch is not that important! "

"He's going to be alright, Severus," Minerva reminded him. "Poppy said that a cup of Skelegro will see him good as new by the morning."

Severus whirled on her and glared. "Just because an injury is curable does not mean it is acceptable ," he snapped. "Potter is now in the hospital wing after being targeted for the third time in as many months - fourth if you count Lockhart's shoddy spell work, which I do ."

Was it possible that Lockhart's spell had 'failed' on purpose? The conflict between the man's manner and his reputation had been an irritating paradox since he had arrived at the school. His books were widely believed by the public to be approximately factual, and as far as Severus was aware, the creatures he had claimed to defeat had indeed been defeated at the time Lockhart had claimed. No one had come forward to challenge him, although there was skepticism in certain circles. And yet, in person, he appeared to be completely useless.

Either his reputation was false, and he was an extremely successful liar pretending to be competent, or his reputation was based on truth, and he was an extremely successful liar pretending to be incompetent . Regardless, it was cause for suspicion.

"The pixies incident…" Severus said thoughtfully. "Was that Potter's class?" 

There were three possibilities regarding the perpetrator of the latest incidents: someone who belonged at Hogwarts acting willingly; someone at Hogwarts being controlled by an external person; or an external person who had infiltrated the wards. There was no evidence that anyone had come through the wards in the last two weeks who was not expected; most students would not be capable of the required spell work, and while Lockart had an alibi for every incident, he was a skilled liar…

It was possible.

Chapter Text

At six o’clock on Sunday morning, Severus was woken by a house-elf informing him of an emergency staff meeting.

At six thirty, Albus and Minerva informed the staff that Colin Creevey had been petrified overnight.

At seven thirty, Minerva told him that Poppy had requested he visit the Hospital Wing before breakfast.

At seven forty-five, Poppy shepherded him into her office, did a diagnostic charm, and informed him in no uncertain terms that if he wanted to be any use to his students this week, he was to take the day off, get off the school grounds, and rest .

At eight thirty, he opened a floo connection from his office to ask if he would be welcome as a guest.

And at precisely eight fifty-three, he arrived in the Receiving Room of Malfoy Manor.

 

-----

 

As Severus sat in the parlour, waiting for Lady Malfoy to come see him, he could admit to himself that he was, in fact, exhausted. He had pushed himself hard the previous weekend with the incidents of Halloween night, and he had not been able to take time to recover since then. Containing something as stubborn and magically resistant as the bludger had drained him even more, and now that he was paying attention, he could tell that a single further incident would leave him seriously drained. 

With a sigh, he settled into a chair and picked up the cup of tea one of the house elves had helpfully provided on the small table next to him. There was a plate of madeleines as well, and though Severus had already eaten, and rarely indulged in such luxuries, the Malfoy elves were excellent cooks… He took one, enjoying the light, fluffy texture, perfectly complimenting the flavour of the delicately spiced tea blend. 

He had barely finished his cup of tea when Narcissa swept into the room, elegant as always in a grey house dress, a dusty pink shawl draped around her shoulders. “Severus!” she said warmly. “I do hope you’re well?”

Severus stood, smiling slightly, and bowed. “Merely somewhat tired, Madam Malfoy.” She raised an eyebrow, and he corrected himself. “Narcissa. Madam Pomfrey was concerned that I should not be distracted from my day off by student antics.”

She sat, her skirts pooling gracefully around her without any apparent effort on her behalf, and gestured for him to retake his own seat. “Of course,” she agreed. “Last weekend was hardly restful for you, I’m sure, and then there was that bludger yesterday - rather more excitement than I would have hoped for Draco’s first game.”

Severus inclined his head. “Quite so,” he murmured. 

“I do hope you haven’t been working too hard,” Narcissa said, giving him a mock-stern look.

Severus spread his hands ruefully. “Professor Mulpepper has been an excellent assistant, but he cannot reduce what is expected of me in emergencies,” he explained. “Our Defence professor can hardly be expected to advise, after all.”

“Indeed,” Narcissa conceded, visibly amused.  “Draco tells me that the man spends most of his time praising himself and trying to maneuver Potter into seeing him as a mentor.”

Severus made a mental note to speak with Harry about Lockhart. Soon. “And how is Draco finding his other new teachers?”

Narcissa smiled warmly. “He likes them both very much, though he regrets missing a year of your teaching,” she reported. “Professor Kirkby sounds like an excellent model of appropriate deportment. I shall look forward to making her acquaintance.”

Severus inclined his head. “Then you and Lucius may congratulate yourselves on a successful intervention in our staffing.” He hated to think what the past week would have been like without the two extra teachers. He paused. “Regarding emergencies, there is news you need to hear.”

Behind her controlled society smile, Narcissa’s gaze sharpened. “Already? Or were you unable to share it with us yesterday?”

“There has been a development overnight,” Severus revealed, his expression just as controlled. “A student - a muggleborn Gryffindor first-year, attempting to sneak into the Hospital Wing - has been petrified.”

Narcissa inhaled sharply. “So soon?” she murmured, her gaze abstracted. “What is the school doing about it?”

“Fresh mandrake is expensive and difficult to acquire,” Severus replied. It was an understatement. And of course, Mandrake Restorative Draught could only be made with fresh, mature mandrakes. There was a small quantity of the finished potion kept at St Mungos, but it was generally reserved for emergency situations when identifying a more specific countercurse, antidote, or other treatment was either impossible or damagingly slow. Creevey’s state was stable; St Mungo’s would be irresponsible to use their supply on him when it would take months for them to make more. “Professor Mulpepper has identified a potential supplier in South Africa whose current crop has not already been pre-purchased, but the prices are...prohibitive.” The school board was unlikely to agree to fund it; Creevey’s parents most likely could not. And once the harvest season for the southern hemisphere passed, there would be no way to get more until May.

“Hmm.” Narcissa resettled her shawl around herself. “The aurors?”

Severus shook his head. “The headmaster is of the opinion that escalating our response will only encourage escalation by the perpetrator,” he revealed grimly. The staff meeting that morning had been...tense. “For now, any investigation will be done quietly, involving the DMLE as little as possible.”

“I see.” Narcissa’s face smoothed back into polite neutrality, and she stood. “I am afraid I have social obligations today, and will be unable to keep you company, although you are welcome to join me for lunch. The library is open to you, as are your usual rooms, and the grounds outdoors. I hope you will excuse me.”

Severus stood to match her, and bowed. “Of course, Narcissa. It is generous of you to accommodate me on such short notice. I wish you good luck in all your endeavours, and will take up no more of your time this morning.”

Chapter Text

November passed, and Severus watched as fear ebbed and flowed among the student body. Some lashed out - as Flint had realised after Halloween, the Slytherins became targets. Some took advantage of the fear - the staff tried to control the sale of 'protective amulets', but he knew more were slipping through the cracks than they were catching. And some students tried to investigate.

"Professor, what if it’s Malfoy?”

Severus looked between the four Gryffindors standing in front of him. Harry was watching him hopefully. Weasley was sticking his chin out with defiant stubbornness. Longbottom was wringing his hands and avoiding his gaze. And Granger looked ready to launch into furious debate. “...What has led you to that conclusion?”

As the children explained themselves (Granger and Weasley doing most of the talking), Severus put together a picture. Granger and Longbottom had been badly frightened by the events of Halloween, for different but complementary reasons. The existing antagonism between Malfoy and their group, and Malfoy’s blatant expressions of prejudice, had brought him quickly to mind as a representative of pureblood racism. Assigning blame to Malfoy, and attempting to prove it, gave them a sense of control over an uncontrollable situation. 

“Unfortunately, Mr Malfoy is not, in fact, unique in his sentiments,” Severus revealed to them seriously, once Granger had said everything she had to say. “Whoever is responsible for the petrification of Mrs Norris and Mr Creevey must have had three things: the motivation, the opportunity, and the capability. While Mr Malfoy may have had the motivation, he has an alibi at least for the first attack, and I seriously doubt that he has the capability of cursing someone in such a way that neither myself nor the Headmaster can counter. Furthermore,” (and he suspected that this would be the winning argument,) “I doubt Mr Malfoy would be inclined to hide his identity if he was, in fact, responsible.” He saw their faces crumple, and added, “Thank you for coming to me with your suspicions. It is always possible, as happened last year, that you will discover information I have not. I can assure you that investigations are continuing; we are simply keeping them quiet to avoid spooking the culprit.”

He considered their expressions carefully, then commented: “If you are worried about the safety of other students, you should encourage them to travel in groups, in the busier corridors. The presence of potential witnesses is always a deterrent in cases like this.”

Miss Granger seemed a little less lost at that, and asked, “What was the spell you used on Halloween? I’ve been trying to find it, but I can’t tell which one it is.”

Severus hid a sigh. “It is a variant on the shield charm,” he revealed, “which is a fifth-year charm, and you will find it difficult to sustain for long enough to be useful when you first learn it. You are better off studying the revealing charm, which should be in your textbook for this year, and its more advanced variants. Being able to check whether someone or something is hiding nearby is a useful skill, and if you spot them before they spot you, you can escape their notice. The skills of running and dodging are also underrated.”

“That’s it?” Weasley demanded. “Run away? We’re Gryffindors, not Slytherins .”

Severus raised one eyebrow. Weasley swallowed hard, but didn’t back down. “Tell me, Mr Weasley, do you believe Mr Potter acted as a Gryffindor should in the most recent Quidditch match?”

“Of course he did!” Weasley replied. 

Severus waited.

“...Ron,” Harry mumbled, looking at the floor. “I spent the whole match dodging.”

Weasley flushed. “Yeah, but - but it was a bludger! What else could you do?”

“That is precisely the point, Mr Weasley,” Severus said crisply. “The only active defense Mr Potter had was to capture the snitch and end the game. Until he was in a position to do so, dodging was the only reasonable action. Holding his ground would not have been bravery, but stupidity.” He looked between the four of them. “The most useful, courageous action if you encounter signs of the so-called ‘Heir of Slytherin’ is to make your escape and inform someone who is equipped to confront them successfully. Do you understand?”

“...”

“Good.”

Chapter Text

A duelling club. Run by Lockhart. What an absolute farce of an idea. Severus stalked onto the grounds, heading for the forest. Forbidden to students and generally avoided by staff, it offered privacy as well as fresh air, and he needed both.

He’d volunteered to supervise the nonsense, of course. One of them had to. At least while Lockhart was exhibiting his ridiculousness to the student body, the other staff could investigate the castle more thoroughly, and with his magical reserves as they were, Severus was better suited to assisting with the former than the latter.

They would do a trial run next week, Dumbledore had decided. It would give the children something to talk about over the holidays other than the petrifications. Severus snorted. Knowing Lockhart, it would be an utter disaster. 

Severus spotted thestral tail hair caught on a holly bush, and contemplated trying to track down the herd. In this slush, the tracks were clearly visible, and he knew where they tended to gather. At this time of year, the foals were weaning, and it would certainly be a distraction.

Behind him, he could hear shouts coming from the Quidditch pitch. The Hufflepuff team, if he remembered the practice schedules correctly. He sighed. Much as he would like to disappear into the forest for half the day, he had things to do. Christmas break was only a few weeks away; he would take more time to himself then.

 

-----

 

“Uh, Professor?” Miss Clearwater opened the door to his lab and stuck her head in. “Harry Potter is here? He says you asked for him.” Unspoken was that this time was his regular appointment with her

Severus smoothed a wince away from his face. When he’d pulled Potter aside after lunch to request a meeting this afternoon, he’d forgotten. “My apologies,” he said smoothly. “It shouldn’t take long - no more than half an hour at the most. Perhaps you could begin with some of the marking today, and we will do cauldron-work afterwards.” He had, at least, impressed on both of his proteges the importance of discretion. It was unlikely that Potter’s presence here would start rumors through her actions.

Thankfully, Miss Clearwater did not object, and he pointed her at a stack of parchment on one of the tables before withdrawing with Mr Potter into the next room.

“Thank you for coming to see me, Harry,” he said. “I wish to speak to you about Professor Lockhart.”

“Professor Lockhart, sir?” the boy said, with a confused frown. “What about him?”

Severus gestured Harry to a seat. “Technically, I am concerned with all three of your new teachers,” he explained. “It is unlikely that any of them is connected with the petrifications, but it is important to check. You will have a different perspective to mine, and may have seen things I haven’t. We also know that you have been targeted once, so the person responsible might behave differently around you specifically. Do you understand?”

Harry mulled that over for a bit. “Do you really think it might be Professor Mulpepper, sir? Or Professor Kirkby?”

“I do not,” Severus admitted. “However, it is important to gather evidence rather than relying on assumptions. Have either of them treated you differently to your peers? Have they been behaving suspiciously? Has your scar been hurting?”

The boy shook his head. “Professor Mulpepper’s really nice,” he said. “Everyone likes him. And Professor Kirkby is strict, but she’s not…”

“She is not harsh,” Severus concluded. He was glad to hear his impressions of them were borne out in the classroom. “And Professor Lockhart? I remember what happened during the Quidditch match. Has he done anything else that made you uncomfortable?”

 

-----

 

Professor Severus Snape, Head of House Slytherin, sends greetings to Andromeda Tonks, Master Healer.

I would appreciate your advice about a young student who is being singled out by one of their teachers. He has reported to me that thus far this term, the teacher has:

 

  • Pulled him aside after class on multiple occasions to discuss matters outside the curriculum
  • Insisted on close familiarity, including calling him by the first name and putting an arm around his shoulders on multiple occasions
  • Implied that the child wishes to follow in his footsteps
  • Made opportunities to be photographed with the child
  • Brought a creature too dangerous for the child’s skill level to class, failed to intervene when the children were unable to manage the creature, and abandoned the child and two of his friends to control the creature at the end of the lesson
  • Required the child to assist in reenactments of various encounters with dangerous creatures and curse victims, which occasionally involved pretending to attack or wrestle with him
  • Repeatedly suggested that he could privately tutor the child on a range of topics
  • Insisted on ‘healing’ an injury of the child, in such a botched way that the child was in the Hospital Wing overnight

 

Needless to say, I am very seriously concerned. The child has established a policy of avoidance whenever possible, but contact is inevitable due to the man being one of his teachers. I do not believe anyone else has connected these incidents thus far, due to the general manner of the teacher being one of a persistent annoyance rather than any sort of threat.

How urgently, in your opinion, should I escalate my concerns?

S. Snape

 

-----

 

He gave himself twenty-four hours to consider it. Carefully displayed no more than his usual contempt when Lockhart encountered him. Did not poison the man’s meals. Did not teach Harry a castration curse. Read Andromeda’s reply with cold satisfaction. And then, on Monday night, he knocked on Minerva’s door, ‘phone’ tucked into a pocket. 

“Minerva,” he said grimly, when she opened the door, “I need a word.”

Chapter Text

Lucius,

I need a favour. In the coming week, the Defence professor will demonstrate his utter incompetence, most likely in a way that endangers students. Leverage it with the Board to get him out of this school. 

Consider it payment for the kelpie incident in 1983, or add it to the favours I owe you.

Severus

 

-----

 

Andromeda had been furious the night before. It was clear that she would have taken her revenge on Lockhart if she had any sort of opportunity, but as it was, she simply dropped unsubtle hints about how difficult it was to detect certain healing spells and the books they could be found in. 

The section of Hogwarts’ library on healing was restricted access, and not large, but it did, in fact, contain Beyond the Four Humours: Elemental Balance in the Human Body , and a brief perusal located the relevant section. Rather than borrow the book, which might have provided evidence should his actions be discovered, he used an occlumency trick to fix the appearance of the page in his mind, and went down to his rooms to contemplate it in more detail.

The element of iron,” he read, “is carried in the blood, and produced in the liver from foods with sufficient iron content. Such foods are rich in blood - liver is most beneficial, followed by the flesh of beasts, then fowl, then the flesh of other creatures. Imbalance of the element of iron is most often caused by an imbalanced diet, or by blood loss. It is a particular concern for women, as a result of their menses.

Without enough iron, blood becomes thin and weak, causing fatigue and paleness, along with general loss of vitality. This can be treated by changes in diet, or potions high in iron (see Chapter 8). Absorption of iron can also be enhanced by the Elemental Absorption Charm, in the following variation: incantation ‘ferrum attrahem sanguinem’, wand moving in a sunwise circle pointed at the stomach during the word ‘ferrum attrahem’, flicked in the direction of the liver during the word ‘sanguinem’.

It is essential to monitor levels of iron following any treatment (see Chapter 1), in order to prevent an imbalance in the excess. An excess of iron is far less common than an insufficiency, and may be treated by blood-letting, but can be of great danger to the health. Initial symptoms are mild, but as the iron becomes too much for blood to carry, it gathers in the organs, impeding their function. Fatigue and loss of vitality may be a symptom of excess as well as lack; in severe cases, reduced function of sexual organs, skin discolouration, diabetes, and disease of the liver, heart, and pancreas can result. 

Remember that the Elemental Absorption Charm is resistant to non-specific counterspells, and difficult to detect. It is absolutely essential that you document its use in all cases, inform your patient, and monitor the effects to ensure the charm’s removal when appropriate!”

Yes, Severus thought to himself. That would do nicely.

 

-----

 

While Severus was researching healing spells, Minerva had apparently been working on her own revenge, as she revealed to all three of the other Heads in a discreet meeting in her sitting room. (Pomona and Filius had been horrified to hear what they had discovered, and had both insisted on knowing what was being done.) 

“I’ve cast the net,” she said after Severus had spoken, passing him a piece of parchment. “We’ll see what gets caught.”

 

“Greetings to ______, from Professor Minerva McGonagall,” the parchment read, followed by a gap that Severus was sure she had filled with personalised opening remarks.

I was wondering if you could lend me your expertise for a small project of mine. I’m sure you’ve heard that Gilderoy Lockhart made a successful bid for the Defence position, and at the time I had enough to do without contesting it too vigorously, but from everything I’ve heard since then, the textbooks he’s chosen (all written by him) are a great pile of balderdash. If you can spare the time, I’d be very grateful if you could have a look at one of the books below, and let me know what (if any) educational value you think it has.

 

  • Break with a Banshee
  • Gadding with Ghouls
  • Holidays with Hags
  • Travels with Trolls
  • Voyages with Vampires
  • Wanderings with Werewolves
  • Year with a Yeti

 

With many thanks for your time and assistance,

Minerva McGonagall”

 

“A neat way to puncture his reputation,” Severus commented, with an acknowledging bow of his head. “Who have you sent it to?”

The parchment she handed over next was four times as long as the letter, double-sided, and Severus recognised several of the names at a glance. Alastor Moody, renowned Auror. Josephine Johnson, author and creature management specialist. Lionel Fawley, duelling champion. “There’s got to be a hundred names on here!” Severus exclaimed, awed.

“I’ve taught here for forty years, Severus; they’re almost all my students,” Minerva replied tartly, her eyes twinkling. “And if the Deputy Head at Hogwarts doesn’t know how to arrange a bulk mail-out, I don’t know who’s going to do the summer letters.” She raised an eyebrow, glancing at the other two. “You’re welcome to copy the idea, so long as you help me process the replies.”

Filius grinned, a toothy sort of smile that he usually avoided. (Some students found his sharper-than-human teeth unsettling.) “I do believe I will.”

Chapter Text

At eight o’clock on Thursday evening, Severus followed Lockhart onto a golden stage along one wall of the crowded, noisy Great Hall. Lockhart, of course, was strutting as he called out to the students, and Severus barely resisted rolling his eyes at his vainglorious prattle.

"Let me introduce my assistant, Professor Snape," Lockhart said, after his own introduction. As if any of the students didn’t know who he was. "He tells me he knows a tiny little bit about dueling himself and has sportingly agreed to help me with a short demonstration before we begin. Now, I don't want any of you youngsters to worry - you'll still have your Potions master when I'm through with him, never fear!"

Severus’ lip curled, and with a flick of the wrist, his wand slipped into his hand. Lockhart turned to him and bowed, with a showy twirling of hands that would never be seen on the duelling circuit; Severus forced himself to bow his head. Briefly.

They raised their wands.

"As you see, we are holding our wands in the accepted combative position," Lockhart told their audience, looking away from him, like a fool. "On the count of three, we will cast our first spells. Neither of us will be aiming to kill, of course."

“Not yet,” Severus murmured under his breath. Today , he was aiming to humiliate. He had planned his moves already, and he doubted Lockhart would surprise him enough to require alteration of that strategy.

“One - two - three - “

Both of them raised their wands above their heads and pointed them at their opponent; Severus cried: “Impedimenta!”

Lockhart was forced to stumble back as an invisible force knocked into him, even as he shouted, “Dextrous duellus declamato!”

Powder blue light flew in Severus’ direction; he dodged easily.

“Verdimillious,” he snapped, and near-harmless green sparks shot at Lockhart, slightly to his left. Lockhart dodged right, straight into Severus’ “Tarantallegra”.

Lockhart’s legs were spasming in a wild dance now, and to credit the braggart, he did raise his wand once more, but not fast enough.

“Rictusempra!”

Severus smirked as Lockhart was reduced to helpless laughter, ‘kindly’ waited a few seconds to give him an opportunity to fail to get out of it, then caught him in a body bind to put him out of his misery.

Lockhart’s jaw locked shut, his arms clamping to his sides and his legs stiffening, then fell slowly backwards to land, stiff as a board, in an artistic pile of plum-coloured robes on the stage.

 

Severus looked at him for a long moment, fixing the memory in his mind to share with the others by pensieve, and then turned to the crowd. 

The Slytherins broke into cheers (and not a few of the older students from other Houses joined them). Creevey’s camera flashed, and for once, Severus didn’t mind it. Severus took it in with a thin smile, then raised his hand to motion them to silence.

“As you can see,” he informed them, “even simple spells can be used to defeat an opponent, if used with skill. First years, you should be capable of learning all five of the spells I used, if you have not already. 

“You should also,” he added, savouring their attention, “note the importance of physical agility. Even the darkest of spells is ineffective if it does not hit its target. To defend yourself, watch the wand of your opponent, and learn to dodge. As a duellist, practice your aim.

“Finally,” he said, “be mindful that if your opponent cannot cast, they are defeated. Spells that affect speech make an opponent helpless unless they can cast wordlessly. Sixth and seventh years, you should therefore practice wordless casting assiduously. Third years and up, practice the Disarming Charm, which will divest your opponent of their wand if cast successfully.”

 

At last, he turned his attention back to Lockhart. Once released from the body bind, the man would be furious, and Severus was not inclined to provoke him to retaliation. “On a more serious note, you should all know that if I discover the person who confunded or otherwise hexed Professor Lockhart to cause his performance in this duel, I will ensure that person gets what they deserve.” He looked sternly about the room, then stalked over to Lockhart and ended the jinxes on him. “Perhaps you should visit the Hospital Wing, Professor,” he suggested smoothly. “To see about that hex, and to check you didn’t hit your head too hard at the end of that duel. I’m afraid I don’t have your expertise with healing spells.”

Lockhart seemed a little pale, for some reason, as he got to his feet, smoothing his rumpled robes and brushing his hair back into place. “An excellent suggestion, Professor Snape,” he said, plastering on his usual toothy smile. “Now that you mention it, I do feel a little under the weather - it seems you got lucky this time!” He turned to the crowd. “Sorry to disappoint, everyone! It looks like you’ll have to wait for my own duelling expertise until our next session, after the holidays! But I’m sure Professor Snape will do his best to fill in for me!”

Severus carefully did not gloat. “Perhaps we can have a rematch,” he murmured lowly. “After the holidays, of course. When you’re at your best.”

Oddly enough, Lockhart didn’t seem to hear him, hurrying off the stage and out of the hall.

 

Severus faced the students once more. “We will begin an exercise to practice aim and dodging,” he announced. “Choose a practice partner and line up in rows perpendicular to the stage - first years, second, third, fourth, and so on.” He gestured as he spoke, and the crowd began to break up into muttering groups as students tried to find a partner. “This is not an opportunity to work out your frustrations. Any person that I see using spells I have not authorised will be expelled from the Hall, and lose five points from their House.”

The students gradually formed into rows, mostly paired with others from their own House, and he saw some of the prefects moving among them, helping younger students find practice partners. “We will begin with the Stinging Jinx…”

Chapter Text

News spread quickly. When Severus returned to his rooms, he found Minerva, Filius, Pomona, Aurora, Silvanus, and Ms Kirkby waiting for him, crammed into his sitting room.

“The conquering hero returns!” Filius crowed as he came in, jumping to his feet and hurrying over. “When we heard what the students were saying, we couldn’t wait to congratulate you. Pomona asked the elves for cake, Silvanus brought scotch, and Minerva borrowed Albus’ pensieve so we can all witness your triumph.”

Severus locked the door behind him and smiled at them all. “Would you prefer my memories?” he asked, making his way to his usual seat, which they had politely left empty for him. “Or would you like the view from the audience? Miss Li was kind enough to give me a copy of her memory at the end of the session.” 

It had been an unexpected gift, but a welcome one. He trusted her to have extracted the copy safely and competently, after the work they had done on the topic in October, and the twinkle in her eyes had suggested it would be well worth viewing.

It took some argument, but the group settled on watching Miss Li’s memory, or at least, watching it first. Severus poured the silver memory out of the vial he’d been given, and the group jumped in.

 

Jennifer Li was threading her way through the crowd, trying to get to somewhere with a good vantage point. As she moved, she could hear students talking: 

“ - Flitwick was a duelling champion, maybe it’s - “

“ - three sickles on someone going to the hospital wing overnight - “

“ - so long as it’s not - “

Lockhart ,” one of the sixth years groaned, as the man swept onto the stage. “Ugh, this is going to be such a waste of - “

“Holy shit ,” Marcus Flint blurted out, as Snape followed him onto the stage. “Professor Snape’s going to destroy him.”

Jennifer turned to look, watching Snape’s expression as Lockhart announced himself. He looked murderous.

“Lee!” someone hissed, catching her attention for a moment. But they were talking to Lee Jordan, not her - one of the Weasley twins. Curiously, she drifted over until she was in earshot. 

“C’mon, George, you’ve got that Dictaquill we were experimenting with, don’t you?” the twin was saying, rummaging in his bag for something. “Hurry up!”

“ - a tiny little bit about duelling himself,” Lockhard was saying, “and has sportingly agreed to help me with a short demonstration before we begin.”

The Weasleys had found their Dictaquill, and set it up with ink and parchment, hovering in the air. “Ready, Lee?” one of them checked.

Lee Jordan grinned. “You bet I am.”

“ - you’ll still have your Potions master when I’m through with him, never fear!”

Jennifer turned her attention back to the stage, only to clap her hand over her mouth to stifle a laugh when she heard Lee saying, “And here we are, for the surprise Lockhart-Snape duelling match, which is shaping up to be the match of the decade…”

She edged closer, listening avidly as she watched Lockhart’s bow.

“Lockhart is confident as always, but Snape is not concerned. Will his skill with the wand match his sharp tongue? Lockhart is acting as both referee and dueller here - a risky proposition when up against our Slytherin professor. And on the count of three, they are ready to begin.”

From the stage, Lockhart called “One - two - three - “

“Lockhart misses his first chance to cast as Snape catches him with a Knock-back Jinx - starting simple, good for a demonstration match, and Lockhart is stumbling back, casting again - didn’t catch that spell, haven’t heard it before, but whatever it was, Snape dodges. Ooh! Not so lucky, Lockhart dodges green sparks straight into a Dancing Feet Jinx - it’s a classic for a reason, folks, and Lockhart isn’t countering it. And Snape’s got him again! Tickling Jinx, yet another first-year favourite, and Lockhart’s out of practice with this one too. No sign of mercy from Snape, and Lockhart isn’t yielding - here we go, Snape’s casting again - a Body Bind! And Lockhart collapses back onto the floor in an undeniable, resounding defeat. No need for a rematch here, folks: Lockhart versus Snape, Snape comes out on top.”

“Bloody hell,” Jennifer whispered, her eyes wide as she watched Snape sneer at the fallen professor. “That was the best thing I’ve ever seen.”

The hall held its breath. 

Snape turned to the crowd, and cheers broke out. Some of the younger students seemed dismayed, but the rest? Snape was their professor, and Lockhart had been pissing them off for months. They cheered until Snape silenced them, a thin smile on his face, and Jennifer relished it.

 

The memory ended, and the group returned to themselves. 

“My god, Severus,” Pomona said, awed.

“I agree ,” Aurora murmured. 

Silvanus reached over and shook Severus’ hand. “That was an honour to watch,” he said. “Let me pour you a drink.”

“Drinks all round, I think,” Minerva agreed, conjuring a set of shot glasses. “How much of that did you plan?’

Severus smirked. “All of it. Except Jordan’s commentary, of course.”

“He did the commentary for the Gryffindor-Slytherin Quidditch match, didn’t he?” Ms Kirkby commented, hiding a smug smile behind her glass. “He sounds very practiced.”

“That’s right, you don’t teach the fourths, so you wouldn’t know him,” Minerva said. “He latched onto the Weasley twins when they all started, and when they both got recruited as beaters in their second year, he started coming to practice to watch. Our last commentator graduated at the end of that year, and he was the obvious replacement.”

“Even if he does show his House bias,” Pomona added. 

“Do you mind if we cut the cake now?” Aurora asked. “I’ve got to go teach a practical for the second-years in about twenty minutes. Merlin knows how I’ll keep them on task.”

“My apologies,” Severus said smoothly, inclining his head. “By all means, we can cut the cake.”

It was a rich, dark chocolate cake that paired perfectly with Silvanus’ scotch, and Severus knew he would savour the memory for a long time to come.

 

-----

 

When he walked into the Great Hall for breakfast the next day, half the student body turned to look at him. The Weasley twins stood up and started badly playing a fanfare on bugles they’d somehow managed to acquire. Lockhart was nowhere to be seen.

“That’s enough,” Severus snapped at the twins, though his frown wasn’t quite as harsh as usual. 

To their credit, they did actually stop. Though they didn’t stop being ridiculous. “Yes, Professor Master Snape, sir,” one of them said, bowing flamboyantly (in a blatant imitation of Lockhart’s bow before the duel).

“Yes, your lordship,” the other echoed, bowing in sync.

Severus raised an eyebrow in warning, and the two subsided.

 

When the owls arrived, Severus’ plate was soon piled with cards, chocolate frogs, and other small gifts from various members of the student body. Draco had sent a silver cloak pin in the shape of a snake, with chips of malachite for eyes. Harry had sent a heartfelt note signed by all his friends. 

“Set up a redirect tonight,” Minerva advised quietly. “You’ll start getting letters from the parents tomorrow, and his fans soon enough. You’ll want to handle them in private.”

It was a wise suggestion, and Severus made a note to do so, with a quiet word of thanks. 

 

During the day, the fourth and fifth years he taught were an odd mixture of respectful and rambunctious, eager to listen to him, but equally eager to ask him questions about duelling, and not inclined to focus on their work.

 

And then, that evening, Lisa Turpin was discovered petrified in a fourth floor bathroom.

Chapter Text

Severus called a House meeting at once, gathering his Slytherins in the common room and looking over the worried crowd with tired eyes. 

“Whoever it is that is claiming affiliation with the Heir of Slytherin, they have been highly strategic,” Severus admitted to them all. “This attack was obviously timed to remind you all of the threat before you return home over the break. It was not a random act.”

“What’s being done about all this?” one of the fifth years called out. “Are we expected to just...keep going to class?”

Severus’ hands were clasped behind his back, and his spine was straight despite his inability to offer them any real solution. “We have been investigating as we can since Hallowe’en. The Headmaster is now arranging for Aurors to come to the school over the break. If any of you are unable to arrange a place to stay, come see me, and I will assist. The school board will be meeting during the break to discuss further measures.”

He looked around the room, meeting their gazes seriously. “I can also assure you that, despite the affiliation claimed in the culprit’s message on Hallowe’en, I know of no contact with the allies of the Dark Lord, and have no confirmation of any connection. It is, at this stage, entirely plausible that the person responsible is a copycat, invoking the reputation of the Dark Lord for their own gain."

It had been four or five years since the last notable incident of someone doing so, but in the years directly after the fall of the Dark Lord, they had all learned the risks of affiliation with such a movement. Some of these students would be old enough to remember those times; others would have heard about them.

Severus looked around the room. "In each time and place, there is a degree of action which is appropriate, and that which is excessive," he said. "These incidents are beyond what can be tolerated in a school environment. Until we can be confident of the safety of our students, the usual routines of the school will be disrupted. If you find you are having difficulties during this disruption, or you have information that may assist in resolving the matter, I encourage you to speak to me as soon as possible."

It was not satisfactory by any means, but it was what he had to offer them.

 

-----

 

Over the next few days, almost every student found somewhere to stay over Christmas.

The Weasleys could not.

As Severus understood the issue, their parents had already arranged to go to Egypt to see their eldest brothers, and could not afford to cancel the trip. The rest of the family was too large for any of their friends to host them all, and understandably, did not want to be split up. Thus, Percy, George, Fred, Ron, and Ginny would be staying at Hogwarts. Potter, Longbottom, and Granger had decided to stay to keep them company, and thus far had been extremely stubborn about it.

“Well, at least they’re all in the one House,” Pomona said pragmatically, in that week’s Heads of House meeting. “And friends with each other. We can rely on them to stay mostly clustered up.”

Minerva pursed her lips. “Percy and Miss Granger will want to spend all their time in the library, if they can,” she commented. “I doubt the others will share their enthusiasm.”

“I doubt Irma will either,” Severus muttered. The prospect of two weeks without students to supervise had been a tempting mirage for them all, even given present circumstances.

Pomona rolled her eyes. “Pessimists, all of you,” she said briskly. “If Irma opens the library for an hour a day, the children can borrow and return whatever books they want and do their actual studying in their common room. Give the others free rein of the broom shed and the Quidditch pitch from morning to afternoon and they’ll keep themselves entertained. Ask the elves to deliver meals direct to Gryffindor Tower as a special treat, and the children will spend almost all their time in controlled locations.”

“Free rein of the broom shed?” Severus murmured. “That’s bold.”

“The twins are troublemakers, but they are competent on a broom,” Minerva said thoughtfully. “And better playing pick-up games than ‘exploring’.” She sighed. “I’ll ask Rolanda what she’s willing to allow. Having meals in the Tower is a good idea, though.”

Filius leaned forward, taking another piece of gingerbread. “What I’d like to know is who the MLE is sending, and what they think they’re going to achieve.”

“It’s a big fucking castle, if you’ll pardon my French,” Pomona pointed out. “Extra manpower that isn’t exhausted will make a difference.”

Severus rolled his eyes. “Ah yes, because we have so many leads to go on.” Not a single investigation the staff had attempted had revealed anything. Albus could find no traces of anyone coming through the wards that was not permitted to, nor of any thing . There were no signs of anything coming out of the forest. No-one had encountered any strangers in the castle. Neither the portraits nor the ghosts had seen the culprit. The house-elves found nothing other than ordinary Hogwarts dust and dirt. Everything they attempted repeated the same outcome: that whoever was responsible belonged here.

“Well, it’s Moody leading the team,” Minerva revealed. “And he’s nothing if not thorough.”

That, Severus thought to himself, was an understatement.

Chapter Text

The castle had been more or less evacuated. Aurors were searching the castle and questioning the staff. Severus himself had already endured an hour-long interrogation by Alastor Moody. There were two children in the hospital wing who had no prospect of being revived before June. And still, amidst all this, there were moments of triumph.

“Good morning all,” Albus said genially, at the staff meeting halfway through the break. “Before we begin, Lord Malfoy has come to inform us of the decisions made at the meeting of the School Board this week. Lord Malfoy?”

"Thank you, Professor Dumbledore," Lucius said, looking gravely around the table. "The Board has asked me, first, to convey our thanks for your continuing excellent work in these troubled times. At this stage, the school will remain open, but additional precautions will be taken, to be managed by Auror Moody. I am sure you will all provide him with your full cooperation, in the hope that the situation can be swiftly resolved." 

Moody, sitting in the opposite corner of the room with his back up against the wall, did not look impressed. 

"There is, however, another matter on which I need to speak," Lucius went on, glancing down at the stack of parchment on the table before him. "There is a staff member against whom we have received an unprecedented number of complaints. Several members of the public have sent letters challenging this staff member's credentials, more than fifty parents have written letters of complaint, and their entire NEWT class has submitted a petition demanding they be replaced."

If he could, Severus would be watching the expression of everyone in the room, but he could not. Instead, he watched Lockhart, waiting for realization to dawn on him.

"Despite the challenges of replacing a teacher at this stage in the term, the Board has concluded that we must act," Lucius said calmly. "Professor Dumbledore has agreed to oversee a series of fortnightly guest lecturers, and we are in contact with several potential candidates. We therefore…" he glanced at Severus, "request Professor Lockhart to resign from his post."

For the first time in possibly his life, Lockhart was speechless. "Wh- Bu- I- "

"If you wish to see the complaints, of course we will be happy to provide a copy to you, as well as anyone else who requests them," Lucius said, with a slight, vindictive smile. “In the interests of transparency.”

Lockhart blanched.

"We suggest you retire from teaching and return to writing your travel column," Lucius suggested. "I'm sure Witch Weekly will be willing to renew your contract."

Possibly. But after Lockhart had abruptly left the magazine to work on his autobiography, Severus doubted it would be on such favourable terms. His stock of silk robes would be decreasing sharply in the near future, Severus suspected.

“Y- You can’t- I’m-”

“We can, and we have,” Lucius said firmly. “I am sure the Headmaster will not object to you remaining at the school for the duration of the winter break while you make any necessary arrangements, but this decision is final.”

Moody got to his feet. “Well then,” he said. “We’d best get that interview over with before you leave, Mister Lockhart. I’ll walk with you to your office, shall I?”

Lockhart looked around the room desperately, trying to find anyone who would speak up for him, who would stop this. No one did.

With a none-too-gentle grip on his arm, Moody levered Lockhart up out of his seat and ‘escorted’ him out the door. The room was silent, listening to the clunk of Moody’s leg fade into the distance.

“...That,” Hagrid said at last, “was beautiful. I’d like to shake your hand, Mr Malfoy.” And he got to his feet, rocking the whole table, and did just that.

Chapter Text

It was, of all people, Neville Longbottom who provided them with a new lead in the investigation. On the 3rd of January, he reported to Minerva that he believed Ginny Weasley was under a compulsion; Minerva enlisted him to assist her and Poppy in getting Miss Weasley to the hospital wing; and Poppy gave Miss Weasley the knock-out version of a Pepper-Up Potion to give them a chance to investigate properly.

Severus learned all this when he was summoned shortly after, along with Moody and Dumbledore, while Minerva took on the unenviable task of informing Miss Weasleys family.

The girl looked small and pale against the hospital bed as Poppy reported Longbottom's observations. Children always did. Unfortunately, in cases of suspected compulsion, unconsciousness was the kindest treatment: depending on the terms of the compulsion, the victim might otherwise be forced to fight back against their will, which could be both dangerous and traumatic.

At the same time, compulsion curses were notoriously difficult to detect, and evidence was often circumstantial. Of Longbottom’s concerns, many had other possible explanations. Fatigue could have many causes. So could being withdrawn and quiet. That Miss Weasley's mood and energy was usually better after a few hours flying was slightly odd, but not concerningly so. Occasional stammering could be due to shyness. Spending a lot of time writing in her diary was hardly unusual among female students. All nebulous observations that could be excused away. But the incident that had turned Longbottom’s worry into real suspicion was...telling.

“The twins were teasing her last night about preferring her diary to spending time with her siblings,” Poppy explained. “One of them grabbed the diary and tossed it to the other, joking about hiding it where she couldn’t find it. Miss Weasley apparently jumped up and began to call out, then froze, stumbled, and cut off mid-word.”

Moody frowned, lines deepening on his craggy face. “Seems like we’d better get hold of that diary,” he muttered. “Dawkins!”

The door of the hospital wing opened, and Dawkins popped his head inside. “Yes sir?”

“Message to Jones and Shacklebolt, coded ,” Moody instructed him. “Ginny Weasley possibly cursed, diary may be a focus. Search her things, interview Gryffindors, confiscate diary. Clear?”

Dawkins nodded. “Yes sir.”

“Then keep an eye on that corridor!”

 

It took nearly an hour for them to confirm that Miss Weasley was, indeed, cursed. In the end, it was not Moody’s detection spells, or Severus’, or Dumbledore’s that found it. Madam Pomfrey, investigating alternative possible causes for the fatigue, cast a detection spell to track the flow of energy in her body, and found that she was using up more than her body was absorbing. 

Something, or someone, was draining her. 

 

-----

 

Draining someone’s energy required a conduit. It could be done in person, with direct physical or magical contact, but that clearly was not the case here. Therefore, there was a physical object as the focus. It could be in the hands of the perpetrator, something that was so linked to Miss Weasley - through her blood, perhaps - that it could draw on her over distance. The most likely scenario, however, was that an object in her possession was the focus. The drain may even be caused by a cursed object itself, rather than connecting to another person; it was a moderately common category of cursed object. 

A cursed object making its way into Miss Weasley’s hands was also the most likely because of who she was. An eleven year old girl didn’t have much magic to drain, and she didn’t have personal enemies with these resources either. It was possible she had been targeted to get at her father, but more likely, it was a crime of opportunity.

Was there any connection between this and the petrifications? It was an entirely different method and style, and Miss Weasley was wizard-born, not muggle-born like Creevey and Turpin. And yet…

Severus had to admit, he was glad it was no longer his responsibility to think through all the possibilities. There was very little he could contribute to the investigation that Moody wouldn’t have already thought of and accounted for. 

At least, that was what he believed until a magically innocuous diary turned up, with oddly blank pages, except for the name ‘T.M. Riddle’ on the very first page.

Chapter Text

There were very few, Severus was sure, who would remember what the Dark Lord had been called before he took on his various titles. Certainly, Severus had never heard his original name mentioned. But Dumbledore was one of those few, and at his revelation that the diary was connected with ‘You-Know-Who’, that angle of investigation took on new urgency.

It took the first expert on cursed objects, called in from the Misuse of Muggle Artefacts Department the very next day, three hours to confirm that the diary was in some way enchanted. (Perhaps, if she had written in it, they would have had an answer sooner, but not safely.) After five hours, she declared that it was too dark and too complex for her to unravel, and she recommended a colleague among the Unspeakables.

Interdepartmental relations being what they were, Unspeakable Max did not arrive at the school until the 6th, and spent most of that day setting up a workspace that he felt was sufficiently shielded. He was still working on the problem when the students returned in a great wave on the 9th...but a different line of inquiry had proved more fruitful.

Though Miss Weasley was still unconscious, her brothers and friends had racked their brains for information about her and the diary. And though none of them was sure exactly when or how she acquired it, none of them could recall her writing in it before the group had gone school shopping in early August. She had spent that whole excursion in sight of her parents - and usually within arm’s reach - and though some of what they bought was second-hand, it was all from reputable shops. Nevertheless, from the way the Aurors all refused to say more, Severus could tell the information had provided them with potential suspects to pursue.

Not knowing itched at him, but what was out of his hands was also a weight off him shoulders, and he was not inclined to protest when Dumbledore already had him more involved in the investigation than procedure should have permitted.

Classes resumed with Miss Weasley still unconscious for her own safety, and Auror Jones made herself unpopular with students and respected among staff by a serious evaluation of what the students in her Defence classes did and did not know. And then, that Thursday, Severus was called to the room Unspeakable Max had claimed as his workroom. 

 

Dumbledore was there already, and Moody (who seemed particularly displeased to be allowing Snape in). "I still don't trust you, Snape," Moody warned in a growl. "I've got my eye on you."

"I know," Severus replied. Moody's suspicion was hardly surprising: he'd survived the war by being suspicious of everyone and everything, and very competent besides. But the man knew the difference between suspicion and certainty, and had a strong sense of justice blended into his combat-honed pragmatism. He would mutter, he would watch, but he wouldn't act without cause. 

"If we may continue?" Dumbledore suggested, with genteel patience.

Moody rolled his good eye. "You're the one who wanted to wait for Snape," he muttered. "Max?"

Unspeakable Max (Severus didn't know his first name; he imagined few people did) was an old man, his hair pure white and his hands somewhat gnarled with age. He wasn't tall, and what height he did have was lessened by a slight hunch from decades of working in fine details. Though invisible to the eye, the room held so much of his magic that it nearly hummed with it. Despite all this, the man was spry and his eyes were sharp. "It's definitely connected to whats-his-face," he reported irreverently. "Do you want the good news, or the bad news?"

Dumbledore and Moody spoke at the same time, with opposite opinions. With a huff, Moody gestured Dumbledore to go first.

"Let us begin with the good news," Dumbledore suggested.

Max glanced between the two of them with a raised eyebrow and a mocking grin, but didn't comment. "The good news is, whats-his-face is mostly dead," he revealed. "But mostly dead is slightly alive, and the book's helping keep him that way."

Chapter Text

By the end of the weekend, Unspeakable Max had determined the following:

  • The diary was a horcrux, a foul kind of soul anchor
  • It had been created by the Dark Lord, and prevented him from dying a final death
  • It was currently ‘active’
  • It was currently linked to, and draining energy from, Miss Weasley
  • Adding ink to the diary activated some of its magic and awareness, so its link to Miss Weasley may have been developing for close to five months
  • Its primary defensive strategy was to appear innocuous, which was why it had taken so long to detect
  • The diary would be highly resistant to destruction, and might harm Miss Weasley in the process
  • It was currently the only active portion of the Dark Lord’s soul
  • There were at least two other inactive portions of the Dark Lord’s soul that remained intact
  • If handled with care, the diary could be used to track down the other soul anchors

Amelia Bones was (discreetly) added to the strategic conferences about the investigation, and the group was considering launching a horcrux hunt when Madam Pomfrey intervened.

“Miss Weasley has been in a coma for two weeks today, and the impact of that on her health is not negligible ,” she informed them bluntly. “Furthermore, the rate at which she is being drained has increased, despite physical separation from the diary and its enclosure in wards, and it is not something she can sustain. It is distinctly possible that if you go haring off with the thing, it will react in some defensive manner that does her an injury. That is not a risk that I am willing to tolerate - and nor should any of you.”

No-one was pleased to hear it, though Severus doubted that their displeasure was entirely due to worry over Miss Weasley’s health. The guidance for hostage situations was clear, however, and they were not in active war time. 

“Unspeakable Max, please investigate ways of safely breaking the link between the diary and Miss Weasley,” Madam Bones decided. “Madam Pomfrey, if you believe she will be safe for another week?”

Poppy nodded, lips pursed.

“Then if the situation remains stable, and we are unable to find a better solution, we will destroy it in a week,” Madam Bones declared, looking around the group seriously. “Though our search for these horcruxes will continue regardless. Agreed?”

Severus’ lips twitched in amusement as Dumbledore was sidelined from the decision making, and he murmured his agreement. At present, it was the best option they had.

 

-----

 

The week that followed was a strange one. Each day, when Severus rose and dressed himself, his eye caught on the Dark Mark, his thoughts stuttering as his hands smoothly buttoned his shirt. At meals, he ate mechanically, listening to himself respond automatically to the conversations that ebbed and flowed around him. He taught classes, marked homework, met with students, and all the while, his mind was fixed on the diary and what it meant.

The Dark Lord was not dead. Well, they had all suspected that in 1981, when the Dark Mark had only partially faded. Bellatrix had spent eight months viciously hunting for a way to restore him, before an Auror team managed to bring her and her followers down. Alastor Moody had been one of that team; Amelia Bones another. 

The Dark Lord was in a state he could be restored from. That, Lucius and several others had not truly believed. He himself had not thought it likely, not after the first year of turmoil. The wraith that had possessed Quirrell had been an unpleasant surprise, and Severus was not inclined to reveal its true nature to anyone who did not already know - especially now that its destruction had been proven to be only a temporary setback. The Malfoys might be willing to oppose the followers of the Dark Lord; opposing the Dark Lord himself was a far less tolerable risk.

(He had not informed Lucius of anything substantial in the investigation since Longbottom brought Miss Weasley to the Hospital Wing. It was too great a risk. Instead, his letters implied that he was kept out of the loop due to Moody’s suspicious nature, and he shared only that which the general staff were aware of. The Malfoys were, perhaps, his allies, but only so long as their interests aligned with his. Caution was warranted.)

In an otherwise unused tower, a portion of the Dark Lord’s soul lay waiting, in some way conscious and aware. If things went wrong, the results would be catastrophic. But, if things went right…

If things went right.

Chapter Text

Max did not find a solution. They would need to find the other horcruxes another way. On Sunday morning, they gathered - Max, Dumbledore, Moody, Madam Bones, Poppy, and Severus himself - and Madam Bones split them into two groups. Dumbledore, Moody, and Severus would act as witnesses to the diary’s destruction. She would assist Madam Pomfrey in monitoring (and if necessary, intervening in) Miss Weasley’s response. 

Severus suspected that Madam Bones was only allowing him to be in the former group because someone else had specifically requested it. Given his knowledge of both dark magic and healing, it made more sense for him to be in the Hospital Wing - but if he was not allowed to witness, he doubted he would ever truly believe the diary was gone.

Max’s workshop, when they got there, had been transformed. His tools and notes had all been cleared away, leaving the room entirely bare except for the runes inscribed in a large circle on the floor, and a tall chimney rising up in the centre, made of some hard, transparent substance. 

"Crystal?" Severus asked. It didn't look like glass.

"Diamond," Max said with a grin. "Now then, let's make sure you suspicious lot know everything's as it should be. Dumbledore, would you verify that those wards are to keep anything physical or magical from crossing once they're activated?"

Dumbledore inclined his head seriously and began to inspect them.

Max pulled the diary out of his shabby-looking robes and passed it to Moody. "If you're satisfied that's the real thing, toss it into the chimney."

Moody snorted, and took out his wand. He examined the diary by magic, touch, smell, and with both eyes, before scowling and levitating it to the top of the chimney, then down into place.

By then, Dumbledore had returned. "They are containment wards only," he verified, "and exceptionally thorough."

Max nodded at them both, then pulled a small round object, a little larger than a snitch, out of a pocket. "If the contents of this break or get heated up, it's possible we'll all die in messy, screaming agony," he warned cheerfully, grabbing a pin from his sleeve and pricking his finger until it bled. "So don't bump me." 

Severus raised his eyebrows and watched as Max painted something on the dark ball and it cracked open like a walnut, revealing a tiny glass sphere in a nest of loose fibre.

"If you're feeling suspicious, you can take a magical look to confirm there's only spells on the container," Max told Moody. "But the rest of it's Unspeakable."

Moody huffed, rolled his eyes, and gestured for Max to continue. Max cackled.

"Mister Potions Master, you're used to volatile substances," he said, looking at Snape. "Put that and its cushioning gently on top of the diary, would you."

Severus was not going to admit to his curiosity, but he did wonder. The glass bubble was no bigger than his thumbnail, and could contain half a dram of liquid at most. The whole bundle, fibre and glass together, was lighter than a feather as he levitated it carefully up to the top of the chimney, then down inside it until it rested on top of the diary. “Is that satisfactory?” he checked.

Max examined the whole assembly and nodded, shooing the group back away from the ward circle. “Same again with this one,” he instructed, pulling another container out of a different pocket. They repeated the procedure, Severus carefully placing the second bubble of glass almost on top of the first one.

“Right then,” Max said, kneeling down and aiming his wand at the runes on the floor. Slowly, they began to glow, the light spreading from rune to rune until the whole circle was humming. “Snape, you’re the back-up. Most of the wards are precautionary, but if it breaks, the fumes are the nastiest part.”

Severus nodded and readied his wand.

“Want to do the honours, Moody?” Max asked, then answered his own question. “Heh, of course you do. Conjure up a nice heavy chunk of wood, levitate it up to the top of the chimney, and get ready to drop it on my signal.”

Severus watched, bemused, as a short, thick block of firewood floated over to the mouth of the chimney and hovered there.

“On three. One...two...three!”

Everything happened very fast after that.

The wood dropped - Max’s hand slapped onto the rune circle - an opalescent dome appeared over the chimney - the wood landed - a gout of flame flared upward, so bright that Severus was half-blinded and squinting. Black liquid began to fill up the chimney, only to be consumed by the fire, grey fumes filling up the dome of the wards in roiling clouds. There was a long, dreadful, piercing scream.

The group stood in silence, all of them blinking to get their vision back, except for Max, who had known to look away.

“...what the hell was that?” Moody asked.

Max grinned. “False dragonfire,” he said smugly. “Easier to get than basilisk venom, easier to contain than fiendfyre, and absolutely Unspeakable.” He tapped one of the runes with his wand and muttered a brief incantation, and the wards shifted colour. “That’ll let magic in now. Want to get rid of the fumes for us, Snape?”

Still half in shock, Severus did so, replacing the gases within the wards with breathable air. Any potions master would know how - any journeyman, even. The trick was knowing when doing so would cause an explosion. Apparently, this was not one of those times. 

The diamond chimney was sooty and stained now, and Max next directed Dumbledore to vanish it - “And only the diamond, thank you very much!”

The chimney disappeared, transfigured into air, leaving a small pile of soot and sludge puddled on the floor. Max nodded in satisfaction and deactivated the wards. “Let’s verify that result, shall we?”

Over the next five minutes, Max and Dumbledore inspected the remains with spell after spell, while Moody wrote in what looked like a small book, tapping it with his wand occasionally. “Are you two done?” he barked. “They’re about to wake the girl.”

Max waved him off. “Pfft. None of my business what the healers do. I’ll pack up here.”

Severus had no such reservations, but knew he would not be welcome in the Hospital Wing. Miss Weasley would hardly find him reassuring, and he could add nothing to the investigations there that outweighed the risk of his presence. “Thank you for the...educational experience,” he said instead, bowing slightly to Max. “I had better return to my duties.”

Chapter Text

At Poppy's request, the next batch of potions for the hospital wing was delivered in person, instead of being collected by the house elves. When Severus entered, the curtains around Miss Weasley's bed were closed, but he could hear Mrs Weasley's unmistakable voice. By all accounts, the woman had maintained a near-constant vigil since her return from Egypt.

Severus didn't disturb them; he proceeded directly to Poppy's office and let himself in. "Good evening," he said, putting the box of potions on her desk. "I assume you need to speak to me about Miss Weasley?"

"Oh, Severus, good," Poppy said, glancing up from the books and parchment in front of her. "Yes, I need your advice on potions interactions. The girl needs about four different treatment regimens, and I'll be damned if I can work out how they all affect each other. I'm a diagnostician, not a hospice nurse."

Severus sat, raising his eyebrows. "Is there a reason why you aren't transferring her care to someone who is expert in this field?"

"Yes," Poppy said, grimacing. "Money."

"Ah."

"Anything you and I can do is paid for by the school," Poppy elaborated. "Additional care, the family will have to pay for, and you know they don't have much to spare. It already looks like they'll have to pay for a therapeutic legilimens, and you know those don't come cheap."

Severus pursed his lips and nodded. It was a rare specialty, made rarer by the general suspicion of legilimency. He was aware of only two in Britain, one based at St Mungos, one practicing privately. 

"I had a floo call with a colleague at St Mungos earlier today," Poppy went on, "to make sure I was aware of what Miss Weasley would need, but it's complex."

She passed a sheet of parchment to Severus, and he looked over the long list. Potions for building muscle strength, potions for nutrient absorption, potions for rebuilding reserves, potions for restful sleep, potions for reduced anxiety, potions to allay panic… He hummed thoughtfully. "You don't want these two together, they'll counteract the useful effects and just make her jittery," he commented, pointing. "And two or more of these five taken together would risk an unsafe dose of cheerwort." It was an intriguing puzzle.

 

-----

 

Almost an hour later, Severus emerged from Poppy's office and discovered that the hospital wing had been colonized by small children. The curtains around Miss Weasley's bed had been pulled back, Longbottom was sitting on the foot of the bed, attempting to play a cat's cradle game with her, and the next bed along was occupied by Potter, Granger, and Ron Weasley. 

Granger was reading, looking up from her book every now and then to check on the rest of them. Weasley was alternately cheering, criticizing, and advising Longbottom as he struggled not to get his fingers tangled. Harry was sitting on his hands and swinging his feet, watching quietly with a shy smile. Severus nodded at him as he passed, and Harry beamed at him. Severus smiled back, just slightly. It was pleasant to be reminded that their efforts had had some positive effect.

Even if they did not yet know how Creevey, Turpin, and Mrs Norris had been petrified.

Chapter Text

MALFOY CHARGED IN PETRIFICATION CASE: MALICIOUS OR MALIGNED?

Lord Lucius Malfoy appeared before a Wizengamot tribunal yesterday on the charges of possession of a Class A cursed object, distribution of a Class A cursed object, accessory to magical assault, and accessory to magical compulsion. All four charges relate to a cursed diary, allegedly created by You-Know-Who, which possessed Miss Ginevra Weasley, a first-year Hogwarts student, and has been linked to the Hogwarts Petrifications. Lord Malfoy confessed to passing the diary to Miss Weasley, although he denied any intent to cause harm. 

“Yes, the diary was dropped into Miss Weasley’s cauldron by my hand, but in no way did I intend or wish for Miss Weasley or her family to be harmed, and certainly not for any harm to come to students at Hogwarts,” he stated in his confession. “You will recall that, on the day I did so, I was acting extremely out of character, and I am sure the diary’s most sinister qualities were connected to that fact.”

On the day in question, August 19th 1992, Lord Malfoy was infamously involved in a fist-fight with Arthur Weasley, Ginevra’s father, in Flourish and Blotts. At the time, his behaviour prompted speculation that he was confunded or cursed - could the cursed diary have been the cause?

Auror Moody, lead investigator of the Hogwarts Petrifications case and long-time colleague of Arthur Weasley, has made it clear he holds Lord Malfoy fully responsible. “With the diary destroyed, there’s no way to prove compulsion except by legilimency or veritaserum,” he pointed out. (Neither of which are authorised for use on Wizengamot members unless they are accused of treason or use of an Unforgivable Curse.) “And then there’s the question of how Malfoy got hold of it in the first place.”

Lord Malfoy’s testimony suggests that the diary was planted in Malfoy Manor during the British Wizarding War, when he was an associate of You-Know-Who while under the Imperius Curse. Since the war, he has become a widely respected member of the Wizengamot, and has actively and generously supported key magical institutions, particularly St Mungo’s Hospital and Hogwarts School. For the last eight years, he has been a member of the Hogwarts School Board, and last June, personally committed to funding the salary of one of Hogwarts’ two new staff members during their Midsummer Ball. 

In his trial, Lord Malfoy was convicted of possession and distribution of a Class A cursed object, and fined a sum of G1300. The other charges were dropped. No official statement has yet been made about the conclusion of the Hogwarts Petrifications investigation.

When asked for comment, Lord Malfoy said, “I am deeply grieved that, even unknowingly and unwillingly, I have played any part in harming a child. Perhaps, if I had known where my actions would lead, I would have been able to do otherwise. Alas, we shall never know what might have been.”

 

-----

 

To Lucius Malfoy, Severus Snape, Head of the House of Slytherin, sends greetings

Given the remorse you have publicly expressed regarding your involvement in delivering a cursed object to a Hogwarts student, I am certain you will dedicate yourself assiduously to making appropriate amends. 

Miss Weasley, the one directly injured by your actions, requires the services of a therapeutic legilimens, and Mr Creevey and Miss Turpin will require expensive potion ingredients if they are to be restored before the end of term, as well as tutors over the summer to make up for their missing class time. 

Giving generously to provide for these needs will do much to allay suspicions that you were in fact, acting under your own power in delivering the object to the daughter of a political rival. The evidence that you were under the diary’s control when you did so is circumstantial only, and it would be a great pity if someone were to allege that it was your own plan. Your case may be settled legally, but we both know that the verdict of the courts does little to protect one’s reputation from rumor.

As a teacher, and a Head of House, I take my duty to the students of Hogwarts very seriously. Protecting them from situations of danger and anxiety, such as they have encountered this term as a result of your actions, is a matter of great importance to me. I am sure that, as a parent and a member of the School Board, it is of equal importance to you. Don’t you agree?

Severus Snape.

 

-----

 

To Professor Severus Snape, from Arthur Weasley, thankful greetings.

I’m not such a fool as to believe Malfoy would have paid for my daughter’s treatment if someone hadn’t prodded him. Maybe a general sort of contribution, but not an appointment with Master Patil. 

I can see the difference in her already. Her nightmares are a little worse, but she’s so much more confident, knowing that he really is out of her head, and knowing what he did in the time she couldn’t remember before. No-one’s happy to know about the basilisk, but better something we know about than a lethifold waiting in the linen closet. 

We owe you, and I’ll remember. 

Arthur Weasley

Chapter Text

At the Heads of House meeting on the 5th of February, Dumbledore was able to report some real progress on the basilisk problem. 

(“I can’t believe we have a bloody basilisk problem,” Pomona muttered.)

“Master Patil’s suggestion to contact the Sheshanaga Snake Charming School has borne fruit,” he informed the four of them, placing a letter on the table. Filius immediately began to peruse it. “The headmaster, Rajendra Naganoor, has contacted an expert in the relocation of magical serpents, and she is able to come to the school on the 15th and 16th of February, or longer if it turns out to be necessary.”

“Has she handled basilisks before?” Minerva asked. “ ‘Magical serpents’ covers a lot of ground.”

Filius passed her the letter. “From this, I’d say she’s as expert as anyone could be. I had no idea there were wizarding families that actively worked with basilisks!”

Albus smiled genially, eyes twinkling. “The Rathore family is unique, to my knowledge,” he said, “and they don’t advertise the matter. I am sure there could be no-one better than Madam Goswami to assist us.”

Minerva hummed, looking over the letter carefully and making notes on a blank piece of parchment. “No doubt,” she said drily. “Who’s going to pay for it? Her fees are…”

Severus glanced over her shoulder and winced. “...commensurate with the expertise and risk-tolerance required?” he suggested delicately. Her fees were high, but reasonably so, and she was willing to take part of her compensation in basilisk skin, eggshell, or bone if any was found. 

Then his eye caught on the next paragraph. “She has a treatment for basilisk petrification?”

"Well bugger the cost ," Pomona said immediately, slapping a hand on the table. "If she can get the basilisk out and get those children out of the hospital wing with a chance to catch up before the end of term, we'll pay it. We'll get it out of Malfoy, or the Board, or the Ministry, or sell some artefact, or ask Fawkes to give Ollivander some extra feathers. The important thing is to get her here!"

Severus couldn't disagree, and after some discussion, neither could any of the others.

 

-----

 

Thanks to Mr Mulpepper and Ms Kirkby, all four Heads of House were fortunate enough to have their first two periods free on Mondays, so all four of them were there to meet Madam Goswami. 

Severus' first impression was of colour.

Madam Goswami stepped out of the headmaster's floo wearing a long, heavily embroidered coat in bright green, worn open over a loose yellow tunic and matching green leggings. A shawl with shifting yellow and green patterns was wrapped loosely around her head and neck, and the carpet bags she carried in each hand were both equally brightly coloured.

His second look took in more detail. Her long black hair, in a plat hanging over one shoulder, had a few strands of grey in it, and there were crows' feet at the corners of her eyes. Her skin was warm brown and somewhat weather-roughened; her nails were trimmed short. The round basket hanging from a strap over her shoulder looked well-worn, as did her leather boots. 

She set her bags down on the floor and dusted herself off briskly, then looked at Dumbledore and bowed, palms pressed together. "Headmaster Dumbledore, I presume?"

Dumbledore bowed his head in reply. "You presume correctly," he said. "Welcome to Hogwarts, Madam Goswami. May I introduce you to my colleagues?" He gestured to each of them in turn and named them, starting with Minerva and ending with Severus.

"Nice to meet you all," she said, bowing again. "You can call me Gargi or Madam Goswami as you please, since we'll be working together. How about we sit down, and you can tell me about your basilisk problem.”

 

It took some time for them to explain everything that had happened, and everything they knew so far. Madam Goswami listened with a thoughtful frown. “I’ll want to speak to the girl who was possessed, and the two children who were petrified, after I revive them,” she murmured. “You say the basilisk’s presence is attributed to...one of the school founders?”

“Salazar Slytherin, yes,” Minerva confirmed. “In the late tenth century. But there were no signs of its presence until the incident fifty years ago.”

“Hmm.” Madam Goswami sat back in her chair, taking a sip of tea. “If a basilisk was brought here a thousand years ago, the current one is her descendant, not herself. Fifty years is within the lifespan of a basilisk, but making a habitat for one in this castle…” She shook her head. “Is there a river or a lake near here?”

Severus blinked. “The Black Lake is immediately next to the castle,” he said. “It’s so close that some of the dormitories have windows that look onto it, below water level.”

Madam Goswami drummed her fingers on the arm of her chair, then nodded firmly. “I’ll put my things away, then Abhay and I will go to the Hospital Wing to see the children. After that, the areas the petrifications happened, any places in the school particularly associated with Salazar Slytherin, and I’ll go for a swim in the afternoon to see what I can find out. Headmaster, you invited me to give a lecture after dinner?”

“Indeed,” Albus said, apparently unperturbed by her briskness. “May I ask who Abhay is?”

Madam Goswami...hissed.

A shiver ran down Severus’ spine as she spoke, unmistakably in Parseltongue. He did not have pleasant memories associated with the language.

The others watched in surprise as the lid of the round basket was lifted out of place and a small serpent stuck its head out. Its head, not even the thickness of a finger, was a dull grey on the top and bright yellow underneath. 

“This is Abhay,” Madam Goswami explained, smiling as she held out her hand to the snake. It tangled itself in her fingers, then slithered up to wrap itself around her wrist like a bracelet. “He’s here to help me track down the basilisk. He’s quite an expert on it by now.”

“...of course,” Albus replied, apparently unphased. “Will you require anything for his care?”

Madam Goswami shook her head. “Only warm quarters,” she said. “He ate yesterday, and I have the things I need to make a comfortable space for him. He’s perfectly harmless - non-venomous, non-magical, and obviously he’s too small to do much damage otherwise. I’ll introduce him to the students if you like.”

Severus exchanged glances with Minerva. This was going to be an interesting two days.

Chapter Text

Severus did not see Madam Goswami again until dinner - apparently, she had been caught up with Argus, Mrs Norris, and the house elves when lunch time came around, so she’d eaten there. Her presence was already making itself felt, however: he had stopped by the hospital wing before his last class of the day, and found Miss Weasley putting on a determined cheerful face as she played exploding snap with Mr Creevey and Miss Turpin under Mrs Weasley’s watchful eye.

At dinner, Dumbledore announced her lecture on familiars, and at eight o’clock, Severus joined most of the student and staff body in the Great Hall to listen.

She was obviously accustomed to addressing large groups - perhaps because the Indian wizarding population was larger. The tables had all been removed, leaving rows of chairs divided into three sections by a pair of aisles. At the head of the room, where the staff table usually was, Madam Goswami stood next to a small table, entirely comfortable with the scrutiny she was receiving from the students. “Younger students to the front and elders to the back, please,” she called out. “I want to see as many faces as possible, so let’s organise by height.”

There was some consternation about not being able to split into houses, but the students sorted themselves out eventually, and Severus was pleased to see that they were better mixed than usual. He seated himself in a chair against the wall and watched with curiosity to see what Madam Goswami would do next.

“Hands up in the back row if you can hear me?” she checked. “Excellent.” She looked around the room with a warm smile. “As your headmaster told you at dinner, I am Madam Gargi Goswami, an expert in magical creatures visiting from India, and I am going to speak to you tonight about what are generally called ‘familiars’. Can anyone tell me what a familiar is?”

A few hands went up, some tentative, some more confident. Madam Goswami picked one of the fourth-years, who suggested, "A magical pet?"

Madam Goswami nodded approvingly. "Very good," she said. "That is indeed what many people think of. There are two factors that make an animal a familiar. First, it must have a relationship with a witch or wizard. A wild animal, for example, is not a familiar, and nor is a pet in a muggle family. Second, it must be able to do tasks for that witch or wizard. Those tasks can range enormously, and providing companionship is one of them, but a familiar is not simply an animal you are friends with. It is an animal you work with." She looked around the room once more. "Knowing that, who can guess the most common species of familiar in Britain?"

There was hesitation among the students, all of them trying to think of a complex answer, when a simple one was right in front of them. Eventually, a first-year Hufflepuff tentatively raised her hand. "Owls, ma'am?"

"Absolutely," Madam Goswami said. "Postal birds - be they owls, raptors, pigeons, or some other species - are extremely common in most parts of the wizarding world. They are generally bred and trained specifically for the task, and pedigree postal birds are highly sought after. But what makes them different from wild owls?"

She smiled at them conspiratorially. "The answer is, very little. Postal birds are not physically different from wild birds of their species. The difference lies in their exposure to magic. Long-term exposure to magic makes an animal more intelligent, especially if it occurs early in life. If they are exposed to magic before they are born, they can be very intelligent indeed, even if their parents were wild. The effect also builds up across generations."

She paused, letting that sink in. "Now, the kinds of tasks a familiar can do depend on the type of animal it is, and your ability to communicate with it. Birds, of course, can fly. Most animals have stronger senses than we do, and are better at tracking or finding things. They can be taught to retrieve items, or to make an alert noise or posture if they sense a particular substance. If they are particularly small or nimble, they can explore inaccessible spaces. Larger animals may be able to guard a person or an area. Even muggles can train animals to do extraordinarily complex tasks, and those same training techniques can be applied to familiars. But magically enhanced intelligence is a big advantage."

The students were fascinated now, and Severus foresaw a wave of unsuccessful attempts to teach cats to fetch. 

"I know there are a few students here with family in India," Madam Goswami said, looking around the room. "Can any of you tell me what the most common familiar is there, other than postal birds?"

There was a heavy pause, none of the students willing to answer. Eventually, Parvati Patil, the Gryffindor twin, stuck up her hand. "It's snakes," she said bluntly. 

A gasp went around the room, and several students began whispering. Madam Goswami ignored them.

“That is correct,” she said. “Now, snakes are much more common in India than they are in Britain, because snakes like the warmth. You have three species of snakes here - we have over three hundred. Some are no bigger than an earthworm; others are huge pythons that can be twenty feet long. So one reason that many of us keep snakes as familiars is that there are a lot of snakes around. But there is another reason, to do with communication. Can you tell us, Miss…?”

“...Patil,” Parvati said reluctantly. “...parseltongue’s really common in India.”

If her previous answer had caused a gasp, this triggered an uproar. The crowd rippled as students leaned away from the Patils and from Madam Goswami, though some of the younger children didn’t seem to know why everyone was doing it.

Madam Goswami was not phased. She clapped her hands, and a loud, ringing chime filled the room, drowning out the students. “That’s quite enough,” she said firmly, staring them down. “Do I have your attention?”

Under her stern gaze, the students subsided, although some of them looked deeply suspicious of her. 

“I am aware,” she said, “as every Indian witch and wizard travelling to Britain becomes aware, that your people are afraid of parseltongue. Because it is rare here, you associate the language of serpents with the only speakers you know of. Because both of those share a...political stance, shall we say, you assume that everyone who speaks the language of serpents does too. That is simply not the case.

“The ability to speak to snakes runs in families. I began to understand the snakes around me before I could understand the written word. My daughters and sons all manifested the ability before the age of five. Are you suggesting that children so young are evil? Approximately one in ten Indians with the capacity for magic are able to speak to snakes. It is usually an inherited talent, but occasionally arises independently, in the same way wizards and witches are occasionally born to muggle parents. Are you suggesting that one in ten Indians is evil? The ability is rare in Britain because there is no need for it. The ability to speak to snakes protects me, like my darker skin protects me from the sun. You don’t need it, so you don’t have it.”

Severus wondered how many students caught the implication that Salazar Slytherin was a foreigner, possibly even a non-European one. He suspected most of his pureblood students wouldn’t even think of it, because they were so used to Slytherin being part of Britain’s heritage.

Madam Goswami looked around the room and nodded firmly. “Now then, if you are ready to be sensible, I have brought one of my familiars with me, and I can show you some of the tasks he can do for me.” She gestured at Abhay’s basket, sitting on the table beside her. “Or are you all too intimidated to meet him?”

It was exactly the right tone. The loudest uproar had come from the Gryffindors, of course, and they were hardly going to admit to being too afraid . When she called for volunteers, several defiantly stuck their hands in the air.

 

-----

 

At the end of the hour, most of the students dispersed, chattering loudly or frowning thoughtfully as suited their personalities, and most of the staff went too. However, Madam Goswami had asked to meet with Severus and Albus before she retired for the night, so Severus was lingering near the front of the room when he saw Harry and his friends approach Madam Goswami’s table.

None of them had volunteered during the talk, but now Harry held out his hand and smiled as Abhay willingly twined around it. He spoke, too quietly for Severus to hear, as did Madam Goswami when she replied. But as Severus drifted closer, he did catch the next thing she said. 

“...eldest aunt married a British wizard - I wonder if there’s any relation?”

Longbottom frowned, tallying something on his fingers. “If it was your aunt...maybe the same generation as Gran? Or...maybe before that? What was her name? Do you know her children’s names?”

“Nandini,” Madam Goswami replied gently. “Her children were Gareth and Euphemia, and her married name was Dearborn.”

Longbottom thought it through, then beamed. “And Euphemia Dearborn married Fleamont Potter, and Fleamont’s son was James Potter, and James’ son was Harry!” he said proudly. “So you are related!”

By wizarding standards, quite closely related. Severus frowned. It was an odd coincidence, and something he would have to follow up. Harry, however, was obviously overjoyed. “You’re my great-aunt?” he said hopefully.

Madam Goswami smiled at him. “My aunt is your great-grandmother, so we’re at least some sort of cousins,” she agreed. She glanced up from the group at Severus, then held out her hand. “I need to speak with your teacher, but I promise to talk to you again about this before I leave, and I’ll keep in touch. May I have Abhay back, please?”

Harry reluctantly passed her the snake, but went away happily enough, quizzing Longbottom about his family tree.

Severus watched them go with a faint smile. “His parents died in the war, as did most of his other relatives,” he explained. 

“Wars leave many orphans,” she murmured. “I always have room for more cousins, and that hair is exactly how my sons’ used to look.”

Chapter Text

The meeting with Madam Goswami was brief, fifteen minutes at most, but Severus left it with his head reeling. Long habit eased his steps into the silent, steady pacing of night patrol, though curfew wasn't until ten. The exercise helped him think, his gaze automatically scanning the corridors ahead of him, idly noting and dismissing the movements of portraits on the walls.

Perhaps it should not have surprised him that his feet took him to the hospital wing. Poppy was a friend, a close colleague, and her advice specifically would be useful. If she wasn’t too busy or tired to speak with him, that was. 

The lights in the hospital wing had already been doused, and the five occupied beds (Miss Weasley, Mrs Weasley, Mr Creevey, Miss Turpin, and one of the latter’s parents, he presumed), were all hidden by curtains. Poppy’s office door was partly open, however, and a faint glow showed through the gap between it and the frame. 

 

Severus quietly made his way over and knocked. “May I come in?” he announced himself. “Or should I wait until morning?”

The door swung open the rest of the way and Poppy’s voice replied, “As long as I don’t have to get up.”

Severus laughed quietly and went in, closing the door most of the way behind him. Poppy had pulled the screen back that split the two halves of her office, and was reclining on the sofa in the part of the room that was usually hidden. Beside the sofa, a small table held a book, a lamp, and a mug. By the smell of the air in the room, it had contained cocoa rather than tea - a sensible substitution at this time of night.

“Truthfully, this could wait until morning,” he admitted, bringing over a chair and sitting down across from her. “I need your advice.”

She looked him over and sighed. “Nebbit, two more cups of cocoa, please,” she said wearily. “This seems like a conversation that needs cocoa.”

Severus smiled wryly. “Tomorrow afternoon, Madam Goswami is going to try to retrieve the basilisk,” he said. “She asked Albus and I to assist her.”

Poppy jerked upright, twisting to plant her feet on the floor. “Severus Snape, you are not going to fight a basilisk,” she snapped. 

He raised his hands in surrender. "The plan is to persuade the basilisk," he reassured her, well aware of how ludicrous it sounded. "She wants me along in case there are things keyed specifically to Slytherin, rather than simply parseltongue."

She stared at him for a long moment, then scowled. "Dammit," she muttered. "That's actually a good reason."

"It is," Severus agreed. "So my question to you is, am I fit for it? If the excursion to the Chamber is not straightforward, will I be an asset or a liability?" 

Poppy’s thoughtful consideration was interrupted by two steaming mugs popping into existence on her table, along with a rather pointed plate of ginger biscuits. Nebbit, like many of the elves that worked in the kitchens, was of the opinion that everyone in the castle was much too thin and needed to eat more. Given his delicate touch in choosing the best foods to offer on each occasion, Severus was not inclined to complain. He took a biscuit.

 

Something firmed in Poppy’s expression, and she got her wand out. “Let me do some diagnostics,” she said. “You know perfectly well that when you’re anything approaching healthy, you’re skilled enough to be an ‘asset’, as you put it. And you have been doing better at not running yourself into the ground.”

“I’ve certainly been putting the effort in,” Severus muttered. He’d rearranged his whole schedule this year, redistributing tasks to prefects, proteges, and other professors alike. It still grated, to be so reliant on the labour of others, to make himself go to bed when he tired and let work pile up for the weekend. Now that he had trained himself to recognise his fatigue, he noticed it all too often, sometimes for no reason he could discern. It was beyond frustrating.

“If it helps,” Poppy commented, “I’m certain you’re healthier than you were this time last year.” The diagnostic spells she used were familiar now, and he waited patiently while she checked the balance of his blood, sites of inflammation, and his magical reserves.

“Do I pass muster?” he asked when she finished, collecting his mug of cocoa and taking a sip.

She smiled wryly and put her wand away. “I’ve seen far worse from you before.” Picking up her own mug, she sat back on the sofa with a sigh. “To be frank, Severus, I would like to tell you not to go. I’ve been trying to keep you in good health for the better part of twenty years, and I don’t enjoy seeing you put yourself in harm’s way. But what you asked me is whether you are fit for it, and I believe you are.”

It was strange to remember that Poppy, his friend and colleague, was the same woman who had given him Pepper-Up Potion for his colds in the winter he turned twelve. He had changed a great deal since then; she looked much the same - hair a little greyer, face somewhat more lined. 

"Poppy," he said seriously. "I could not and will not live my life with my health taking absolute priority. I am working to develop better habits of taking care of myself, but if I cannot spend my health when it matters, what is all that effort for?"

She frowned, but nodded. "Just remember that there's very little the dead can do to protect the living," she warned. "Don't be a Gryffindor down there."

"Don't worry," Severus reassured her wryly. "I endeavour never to be a Gryffindor."

"Well," she said, looking amused despite herself, "you'd best get to bed, Mr Slytherin. Your reserves are better, but they could definitely be exhausted, so be clever about it. Take a sleeping draught so you get a good night's rest, eat a hearty breakfast tomorrow, take it easy during the day, and let Albus do the heavy spell work. That's what he's for."

Severus laughed. "I will endeavour to follow your advice to the letter, Madam Pomfrey," he promised, standing up. "I'll leave you to your reading."

"Goodnight, Severus," she said, getting up and walking him to the door of her office.

"Goodnight."

Chapter Text

Thomas Mulpepper graciously agreed to take Severus’ afternoon practical with the fourth years, so the next day, Severus spent the period after lunch preparing himself for the expedition into the Chamber. 

Billowing outer robes were useful in a wand fight, making him a less defined target, but less helpful in an unknown environment where they could catch on things. Instead, his coat was his outer layer - the one lined with three layers of silk, which offered protection from cuts as well as the cold. He checked the soles of his boots to make sure they were not worn smooth, and found the pair of fine leather gloves he sometimes wore on expeditions to the forest, when he wanted dexterity, warmth, and some protection from rough bark and sharp thorns. After some consideration, he also retrieved the cane he had acquired several years ago, then given up after a week of use. Usually, he preferred both hands free, and no obvious sign of weakness. But usually, he was not exploring enemy territory blindfolded.

Satisfied with his clothes, he turned his attention to other supplies. Blood-clotting powder. Blood-replenishment potion. A fresh roll of expandable bandage. Calming draught. Pain-relief potions. Several bezoars, which wouldn’t help with basilisk venom, but would assist with poisoned traps. His precious vial of phoenix tears, donated by Fawkes some years ago. If something else would do, he wouldn’t touch it - but if needed, it could ward off disaster. Draught of Living Death, that could slow most ailments to a crawl until proper treatment was applied. He checked the label of each vial and jar, then packed them in a padded leather case, slipped into the somewhat expanded pocket on the right hip of his coat.

He turned, then, to the potions and plants that might assist him before an injury. Madam Goswami had mentioned that basilisks were good swimmers; he picked out two balls of gillyweed. Several vials of Peruvian instant darkness powder, in case a blindfold should slip. A bottle of incomplete Swelling Solution, and another of incomplete Deflating Draught - combined, they could dissolve stone. A double-edged knife, strapped in its sheath to his left forearm. Strengthening Solution and Invigoration Draught - either could be highly valuable, but better to use them if he needed them than take them in advance and risk interactions with the other potions he might need. He did, however, take both Girding Potion and Bat-Ear Brew. Endurance would be useful regardless of the situation, and if he was going to go blindfolded, enhanced hearing would help. 

Of course, he thought to himself as the Bat-Ear Brew began to take effect, the downside of that potion was the same as the upside: sensitivity to sound. He could hear the groan of the water pipes inside the wall as if his ear was pressed up against them. He could hear the conversation of the portraits in the corridor outside. When he moved, he could hear his clothes rustle and creak. Carefully, he sat down and waited for the sound to be less overwhelming. Once he adjusted, he would go.

 

-----

 

“What do you know about basilisks?” Madam Goswami asked them both. Dumbledore was sitting in his throne-like chair on the other side of his desk, but it made no difference; she was undoubtedly in control of the conversation. 

Dumbledore didn’t answer, so Severus did. “Giant serpents, highly venomous fangs, killing gaze, born of a chicken egg hatched under a toad,” he reported. “They supposedly can live for hundreds of years, although you said yesterday…?”

Madam Goswami sighed. “Much becomes clear,” she said wearily. “There is a difference, professors, between a natural basilisk and a created basilisk. The basic ingredients of a chicken egg and a toad can, with the right spells and processes, lead to the hatching of a serpent with venomous fangs, a killing gaze, and the capacity to grow to enormous size with enormous lifespan. However, that is an imitation of a species that is far older and which has behaviour that is, to be frank, far more sensible. If this was a created basilisk, then the only ethical approach would be to put it down.”

Now that , Severus reflected, was entirely new information. But then, basilisks had not been seen in Britain for some centuries now, and it had presumably never been their natural habitat. “You do not believe that to be the case?”

Madam Goswami smiled. “No,” she said. “It is definitely a natural basilisk. There are several factors I am judging by, but the most important is its use of the pipes to travel. Only a natural basilisk has the necessary size-shifting magic to make that possible.”

“If it is a natural basilisk, as you say, how did it come to be in the castle?” Albus asked, his gaze sharp and inquisitive, though the rest of him was as composed as ever.

Madam Goswami spread her hands. “I can’t be sure,” she admitted. “If there are no males around, the females can reproduce, but in this sort of environment you would only get one hatchling surviving, usually at the cost of the mother. So the most likely scenario is that someone - perhaps this ‘Slytherin’ character - brought a natural basilisk here from one of the places they are found, and a dozen or so generations later, the line has not yet died.”

The idea of multiple basilisks in and around the castle was…chilling. “What should we expect?” Severus asked.

Madam Goswami spread out a piece of parchment on the desk, revealing a sketch of a long hall lined with pillars, a statue standing on a plinth at the end. “Miss Weasley was very helpful,” she said. “Of course, recovering her memories is what revealed the basilisk in the first place, but she was able to tell me much more. Based on my discussions with her and the scouting Abhay and I have done around the castle, I can say the following: the Chamber should be accessible through use of Parseltongue; the basilisk at least partially resides in the chamber; and the basilisk is not naturally aggressive towards humans.”

She reached into the satchel at her side and retrieved two lengths of cloth, a crystal vial, and a strange pair of goggles with some sort of attachment at the front. “Even if the basilisk is not aggressive, it has reason to be wary of humans, and it is sensible to take precautions,” she said. “Abhay is accustomed to directing me while I go blindfolded in these cases. It is useful to have a companion who can see - Headmaster, I suggest that you should be that person. The goggles will ensure that you see everything through the reflection of mirrors, so you will be, at worst, petrified if something should go wrong, which I can, of course, reverse.”

Dumbledore picked them up, turning them over in his hands and examining them. “Ah,” he murmured. “Rather like a complex telescope. Ingenious.” He nodded, and set them down on the desk in front of him. “And you propose that Severus should go blindfolded like yourself?”

“I don’t know if anything down there is restricted to the line of Slytherin,” Madam Goswami explained. “Miss Weasley was able to get through, so if it is, it is not blood-based, but the spirit riding her did have some claim. It may or may not be connected to his use of Parseltongue.” She offered the vial to Severus. “This potion will give you understanding and use of Parseltongue for the next four to six hours. In addition to your role in the school, that should be enough to satisfy most requirements that are not blood-based.”

Severus took the vial contemplatively, looking at the potion inside. It was opaque, dull orange, and fairly thick. When he uncapped the vial and sniffed, he could tell that there was some blood component, though the scent of ginger was stronger. Out of professional courtesy, he didn’t investigate further; it was no doubt a proprietary recipe. “Are there any potions it should not be taken with?” he checked.

Madam Goswami’s eyes were sharp as she watched him. “None you have access to,” she told him.

Severus nodded, and tipped the vial into his mouth. It was, like most potions, a somewhat pungent experience. 

“Sherbert lemon?” Albus said sympathetically, and for once, Severus took him up on it.

Madam Goswami took the vial back with a sympathetic smile and tucked it into her satchel. “Abhay,” she murmured, and when she rested her right hand back in her lap, the serpent was wrapped around her wrist, tongue flicking out over the dark patterns painted on her hand. “Shall we test the potion, Professor?”

Severus glanced down at the snake and braced himself. “I believe that would be wise.”

“You should find that the language translates itself,” she said, and it was only because he was paying close attention that he could tell there was a magical edge to her words. The movement of her mouth didn’t match them - she sounded like she was speaking English. “It may take practice to tell which language you are speaking.”

Intensely conscious of his mouth and throat, Severus attempted to reply. “I - “ no, wrong language - he looked down at Abhay - “ I see.”

Abhay’s tongue flickered. “Are we ready to go, then? The sooner we go, the sooner I’m warm again.”

Severus blinked. “Ah - yes,” he replied. “ Yes. I am ready to go.”

“Remarkable,” Albus commented, and Severus looked up to find the Headmaster (and several of the portraits behind him) watching keenly. “I wonder how long it has been since a Head of Slytherin spoke Parseltongue.”

“1732,” one of the portraits replied. Severus couldn’t see which one at first, and Albus didn’t respond, though Madam Goswami looked curious. Had that been in Parseltongue? With that hint, he was able to identify the speaker, a Slytherin headmaster from the fifteenth century, Nantier Gaunt. “ Make sure to look around, Head of my House.”

Again, Albus did not respond. “I imagine it would be difficult to check,” Severus commented, to cover the gap in conversation. “It’s not something that is generally recorded.”

 Madam Goswami did not contradict him, fortunately. Instead, she stood, picking up the blindfolds and passing one to Severus. “I believe we had better don our eyegear after making our way through the corridors,” she said. “Headmaster, would you lead the way? Your castle is something of a maze.”

Albus smiled, his eyes twinkling, and nodded regally. “Of course, Madam,” he agreed. “It would be my pleasure.”

Chapter Text

Madam Goswami was the first to enter the third-floor bathroom. Once she had confirmed there were no students inside, Severus and Albus followed. 

There’s more snake magic than actual snake scent in here,” Abhay reported. “ Strongest in that corner.” He angled his head to point at the furthest sink from the door, where they already knew Riddle had used Miss Weasley to enter the Chamber.

Meanwhile, Albus locked and barred the door behind them, to prevent any students coming into the bathroom while they were exploring, and attached a strange gold and copper gadget to the wall. Severus didn’t ask. Its purpose would be revealed, or it would not. 

Madam Goswami handed Severus a blindfold. “The password,” she said, “is, in parseltongue, ‘Open the path to Slytherin’s chamber’. You may find it helpful to look at Abhay while you try to say it.”

Severus cleared his throat, wand in hand, and watched Abhay’s unblinking eyes as he repeated, “ Open the path to Slytherin’s chamber.”

The copper tap at the furthest sink turned white and began to spin. Then, the whole sink moved, grinding downwards through the stone. Where the sink had been, there was a set of steps leading down below the floor, towards a low archway in the wall under the bathroom mirror. 

“...Well,” Madam Goswami said. “That looks like fun.” She tapped Abhay’s head, and a pair of small eyepatches appeared, (“ I hate that spell,” Abhay muttered,) then tied her own blindfold around her head. “Would you like to lead the way, Headmaster?” she suggested. “Since you will be able to see. Severus, you can bring up the rear.”

“Of course,” Albus said seriously, pulling his periscope goggles out of his pocket and muttering several charms over them before putting them on. “These do take some getting used to,” he murmured. “Ah. Hmm.”

Severus put on his own blindfold and took hold of the cane he’d tucked under his arm, testing his ability to judge his surroundings with it. If he swept it over the floor ahead of him, he could feel the uneven edges of the flagstones - good. But it was less effective at telling him the shape of something that didn’t touch the ground - he knew there were cubicle doors open, but could not sense them. He frowned, and carefully adjusted his blindfold so he had some slight vision on either side of his nose if he looked directly down. It was unlikely he would see the basilisk there before hearing it, and the greater awareness of his environment was worth the risk. 

“I am ready,” he reported. “Albus?”

He heard Albus’ feet and the brush of his robes on the steps, then the rustle of his clothes - perhaps moving his arm. “It appears we will be travelling down a narrow spiral staircase,” Albus reported. “The steps are of consistent size. There is a distance of perhaps three feet between the central pillar and the wall.”

Severus grimaced and tucked his cane under his arm. There would be nearly no room to move it in there, and he would do better with a hand braced on the pillar. 

“Sounds pleasant,” Madam Goswami said, ahead of him. “If you will start going down, I will follow. I’ll try to keep a few steps behind.”

 

And so they proceeded, one by one, down the staircase. The light Severus could see around his blindfold reduced sharply after the first full circle, but it hardly mattered. He trusted his feet far more than his eyes, feeling out the depth and height of each step before he shifted his weight, keeping to the widest end of the steps, near the wall. All he could hear was the rustle of clothing, the footfalls of the two ahead of him echoing against stone, and their breathing. 

They went down, and down, and down still further, his sense of time passing confused by the dullness of it. The air grew still and cool in the way of the dungeons, and Severus wished he had spared the attention to count the steps. 

At last, Albus called out, “The steps are ending.” His voice rang differently, matching a larger space, and a few moments later, his footfalls paused. “Four more steps, Madam,” he said kindly. “...Step forward now, here. Severus, three more steps.”

It was a relief to plant both his feet on level stone, and he heard Madam Goswami mutter, “My thighs won’t thank me for the trip back up.” 

“What now?” Severus asked. While the echo suggested a larger space, it sounded about as large as a hallway, not a large room. 

“We are in a stone tunnel,” Albus revealed. “Around eight feet wide and high. There is a round hole in the ceiling above our heads, three feet across. The floor is littered with skeletons of small animals - rodents, I suspect.”

“Skeletons?” Madam Goswami asked, surprised. There was a rustle of cloth, and when she spoke again, her voice was much closer to the floor. “ Abhay, what do you smell? The watcher says there are bones.”

A pause. Then: “Old, dry bones. Damp. A basilisk travels through here sometimes.” A briefer pause. “Less boring than the stairs.”

Severus’ mouth twitched in amusement. “The basilisk sometimes travels here,” he attempted to translate, hoping it came out in English. “Is the tunnel straight?”

“It curves to the left,” Albus replied thoughtfully. “If you keep your hand on the wall, you will be able to follow the curve. I suspect it will not be the only turn. Shall we go on?”

After consideration, Severus decided to trace the wall with his cane instead - easier to drop if it were cursed. The group began to move again, bone crunching under their feet. The tunnel did curve, turning around and back on itself several times, but it never branched, although Albus reported other holes in the ceiling at various points. They triggered no curses, no traps - to all appearances it was simply a stone tunnel where scores of unlucky rodents had become trapped and starved to death. 

And then…

"Beware," Abhay hissed, Madam Goswami echoing him in English.

All three of them stopped moving.

"What is it?" Madam Goswami asked.

A pause. "Stronger scent ahead. May be old. Put me down, and I will check."

Severus heard the rustle of cloth, then the click of bone shifting against bone. "Abhay is checking ahead," Madam Goswami explained to Albus. "The scent of basilisk is stronger here." 

They waited for a minute. Two. Three.

Then, the clink of bone again, and Abhay's voice. "A shed skin, still soft. Days old. No fresher scent."

Severus huffed out a breath as Madam Goswami translated, rolling his shoulders to ease the tension in them. 

"I'd like to collect it before we go on," she added. "Do either of you object?"

Severus understood the impulse - basilisk skin was not easily available. "I do not," he conceded.

"So long as I may review what you collect before you leave the school," Albus allowed. 

"That's reasonable," Madam Goswami agreed, standing back up. "Let's go on."

When Albus announced they had reached the skin, Severus lifted his blindfold to watch, and blinked in astonishment at what he saw. The skin was not a translucent, ragged-edged strip, but a vivid green tube, smooth and whole except for the head.

Madam Goswami, kneeling on the floor of the tunnel to straighten out the skin, glanced up at him and smiled. "Once they get it past their skull, they can shrink out of it," she explained. "The magic in them keeps it fresh for a week or so." Efficiently, she rolled it up into a bundle, and tucked it into a cloth sack from her bag. "There we are." She stood, and pulled her blindfold back into place. "Lead on."

Severus too, restored his blindfold, and the group continued on their way.

 

At last, Albus reported, "The tunnel ends ahead. There is a wall across the tunnel carved with two entwined snakes, with green stones inset for their eyes. You may wish to check it visually before we proceed, Severus."

Severus considered it carefully, then lifted his blindfold to join Albus in magically testing the wall. That it was enchanted was easily confirmed. The 'eyes' were the focus - which would be visible even to someone untrained. Severus ran out of spells long before Albus did, but they both reached the same conclusion: the enchantments acted on the door itself, and should not affect someone standing in front of it.

"Time to try talking to them?" Madam Goswami asked. "Miss Weasley remembered asking them to open."

Severus eyed them warily. "I suppose." The light from Albus' lumos glinted off the eyes in a way that made them seem alive, and he found it surprisingly easy to use the right language when he said, "I am the Head of the House of Slytherin. May I enter?"

The serpents moved, swimming through the stone until they were fully separated, then the wall split in a line down the centre and the two halves slid apart. 

Severus closed his eyes before he saw what lay on the other side, but he heard Albus step forward and say, his voice echoing, "I believe, Severus, that we have reached the Chamber."

Chapter Text

“We are in a long, stone hall, lit with faint green light from no obvious source,” Albus reported, as the door ground closed behind them. “The ceiling is supported by two rows of pillars, with carved snakes twining around them. There are further aisles on the other side of the pillars, but the clear focus of the hall lies ahead of us. At the other end of the chamber, there is a statue containing a great deal of magic. The floor is paved with stone.”

“The basilisk has been here recently,” Abhay added. “ Not today, but many times.”

“Then our first priority is to speak to the basilisk, so that you two can have a proper look around,” Madam Goswami said firmly. “Headmaster, please take me to a clear space on the floor near one of the pillars. It may take some time for the basilisk to come out, but I request that you avoid anything aggressive while you explore. We need the basilisk not to see us as a threat.”

As Severus listened to them talk, he tried to decide where he would prefer to wait. He was blindfolded, in an unfamiliar place, and deeply vulnerable to attack. He would have to choose a place to stand - but was it better to be in the open, where he could be attacked from any angle, or near a pillar, which might itself attack him?

Albus led Madam Goswami away, and Severus followed them, sweeping his cane over the floor ahead of him. At least, if they stayed together, Albus could warn of a threat. 

Albus, however, did not seem inclined to stay with the group. Severus felt his way to a pillar, and heard Madam Goswami sit, and then Albus said, “I believe I shall have a look around,” and walked away. 

Severus heard Madam Goswami’s clothes rustle, and then the noise of...something being placed on the floor? He could smell raw fish and meat. Bait, perhaps, or a good-faith offering. And then he heard her begin to hum. Or at least, it sounded like humming, but something about it felt like parseltongue. And when he covered his ears, testing, the volume didn’t change.

The hum went on and on, Madam Goswami seemingly never drawing breath, as Albus wandered the chamber, and Severus waited. 

 

And then, there was a rumbling, grinding sound, the sound of something sliding on stone, and a huge, heavy thud. “ WHO HAS COME HERE?” The voice was chilling, and Severus knew without doubt that, however small the basilisk could be, it was currently very, very large.

“I am a Speaker and snake-healer from somewhere far to the south and east,” Madam Goswami replied steadily. “I have known basilisks before, and come in peace to speak with you.”

“YOU COME IN PEACE?” the basilisk challenged, drawing nearer. “ I KNOW THE TRICKS OF WIZARDS. I SEE YOUR WANDS. YOU COME TO TAME ME.

Severus hated everything about what he was doing, but holstered his wand, dropped his cane, and held out his empty hands. “I come in peace,” he echoed. “I am a teacher. I want you contented, away from my students.”

The basilisk paused, shifting against the stone, and Severus felt air move past his face as it breathed in. He held himself still as the basilisk moved closer, its breathing audible now. “...You have a unicorn’s trust on your wrist,” it said. 

Severus blinked behind his blindfold. He had a what? A unicorn’s… He blinked again. “Do you mean the unicorn hair?” he asked. He had worn it so long now, he had almost forgotten its presence.

He felt another breath passing his face. “Unicorn foal hair, freely given,” the basilisk agreed. “Do you vouch for these others? You will not attack or control me?”

“...I vouch for them,” Severus said. “We wish to speak to you, and possibly help you travel to another home. We will not attack you or control you.”

The basilisk...sighed, and there was a slithering noise, and when it spoke again, its voice was closer to the ground. “I will eat, then. If you want to talk, talk.”

Madam Goswami spoke next. “Thank you,” she said. “If you will promise to mask your gaze, I will promise not to touch my wand. Is that fair?”

There was a pause. “You are not going to cover my eyes?”

“No,” Madam Goswami said firmly. “I ask you to mask your gaze, but I will not take away your defence.”

Another pause. “I will mask it.”

Warily, Severus tugged his blindfold up, fixing his gaze on the ground beneath his feet as his eyes adjusted. He could hear the gulping noise of the basilisk eating, and when he carefully let his gaze drift towards Madam Goswami, he saw bright green scales. 

“She’s in terrible condition,” Madam Goswami said, quietly but matter-of-factly. “She’s quite badly underweight. She’s probably cold a lot of the time, which won’t help her mood, but I can’t do anything about that right now.” She smiled sadly, patting Abhay’s head with a finger. “I hope she’ll let me take her home. This is no place for a basilisk.”

Severus agreed, but not for the basilisk’s sake. “Should I stay and help?” he asked. “Or would you rather I get out of your way?”

Madam Goswami shook her head. “Go look around like the portrait told you to,” she said. “I’ll be here for a while.”

 

He found Albus in one of the aisles, staring intently at a stretch of wall. “Do you know,” he said, “I am almost certain we are directly below the Great Hall?” 

The labyrinth of tunnels had twisted and turned enough that Severus could believe it. “How do you know?” he asked.

Albus pulled a crystal globe out of his pocket, containing two arrows in purple and gold pointing in different directions. “One is linked to my office, the other to the third floor bathroom,” he explained. 

Severus closed his eyes as he pictured the angles, then nodded. “It is plausible,” he conceded. “Is there any reason you are looking at this wall in particular?”

“This is where the annexe attached to the Great Hall is,” Albus said idly. “And the kitchens beneath it have the buttery here.”

“Reasonable,” Severus conceded.

Albus smiled at him. “Furthermore, I have spent the past ten minutes trying to unravel a curse on this wall that would disembowel me and strangle me in my intestines if I triggered it.”

“Ah.”

“Indeed.”

Severus contemplated the wall. “Is there a particular reason you are so concerned?” he asked.

“I recognise the style, shall we say,” Albus replied. “I do not think this particular curse is more than fifty years old.”

Severus sighed. Of course. “Let’s get this done, then.”

 

Five minutes later, he was sweating hard and his left arm ached, but they had managed to pull the curse apart enough for Albus to dispel it. Another complicated flick of Albus’ wand, and an illusion melted away, revealing an archway with a stone door, covered in carvings in a script Severus didn’t recognise. 

“Remarkable,” Albus murmured, leaning closer. “Hmm.” He conjured a piece of paper, expanded it to the size of the door, and with a conjured piece of charcoal, began to take a rubbing of the carvings. “I don’t believe I’ve ever seen this script before,” he commented. “Have you, Severus?”

Severus opened his mouth to say no, but something in him hesitated. “...I do not believe so. It is reminiscent of Arabic, but…”

“But not the same,” Albus agreed. “Well. Let us see what we can discover about this door.”

Once the rubbing was complete, Severus began testing the door, while Albus tried to decipher the script. Success, for each of them, was only partial.

“I am fairly certain it will respond to a similar declaration to the one that opened the Chamber,” Albus said at last. The floor around the paper rubbing was marked with runes, and individual symbols were glowing. “I could not identify the root language - it is certainly not Arabic - and I believe it is ideographic, not alphabetic. However, the Kalbakieli Cantrip did identify some core concepts. There is lineage, or blood, or house. Serpent, unsurprisingly. And a strong emphasis on...authority, or perhaps claim.”

Severus hummed. Translation spells were not his area of expertise, but they were notoriously tricky. Plenty of cursebreakers had gotten themselves into trouble in ancient tombs by assuming that something meant ‘relatives’ when, in fact, it meant ‘blood’. Or that a faint dot was damage over time instead of part of the original text. “A statement of my lineage, then, and my claim to be here?” he said skeptically. “I, Severus, son of Tobias Snape and Eileen Prince, claim entry by my right as Head of the House of Slytherin?”

The door creaked, and Severus spun. The carved border was glowing with green light, and a symbol in the very centre of the door. “Albus?” he asked warily.

Albus checked the rubbing. “Ah. That one is...most likely ‘blood’.”

Severus grimaced. He knew enough of this sort of thing to know what that meant. But that didn’t mean he was going to be an idiot about it. Drawing his knife, he cut a piece of bandage from the kit in his pocket, and pushed his sleeve back to make a small cut on the back of his arm. He held the bandage there until the cut stopped bleeding, put his knife away, then levitated the bandage over to the door, pressing his blood against the symbol in the centre. ( He was not about to press his bleeding thumb to an unknown magical object, no matter what some people would do.)

The centre symbol glowed brighter, and then the light bled outwards, illuminating the entire door, and it slid to the side, grinding against the flagstones. Behind it, there lay a room, paved with patterned green and white floor tiles, the walls lined with bookshelves, and in the centre, a stone pedestal holding a silver box inset with emeralds.

“A chamber of secrets indeed,” Albus murmured. “Will you lead the way, Severus?”

Personally, if he had the option, Severus would far rather live in ignorance. But apparently, he did not have the option. He stepped forward, wand in hand...and the door closed behind him.

“Oh, for fuck’s sake.”

Chapter Text

Greetings to Severus, son of Tobias, the Heir of Slytherin.”

The voice came from behind him, and when Severus turned to look, he saw a serpent painted on the back of the closed door, its scales the same bright green as the basilisk’s.

“I’m not the Heir of Slytherin,” Severus replied immediately.

The snake rippled in a way that gave the impression of a shrug. “The door let you in. That means you qualify.”

“How?” Severus blurted out, startled into honesty. “I’m a halfblood, my mother’s lineage is as much Ravenclaw as Slytherin, and I only speak parseltongue right now because of a potion.”

The snake uncoiled itself, winding around a painted ‘pillar’. “You’re Head of his House,” it pointed out. “Do you guide his students?”

“Yes,” Severus admitted.

“Do you represent his House in the school and outside of it?”

“Yes.”

“Do you work for the benefit of the House?”

“I’ve got a completely different political agenda!” Severus objected. “And, again, I am not related .

The snake’s hiss somehow sounded like a laugh. “Politics change,” it said. “You were raised in his House, weren’t you? Gryffindor’s hat declared you a member?”

“...yes,” Severus admitted reluctantly. 

“Any fully qualified Head of the House of Slytherin, which you are, by the judgement of the door, may claim inheritance of the line in the absence of a claim by a living blood relative,” the snake recited promptly. “Last successful claimant is dead, you qualify, so you get the Heir’s ring. Congratulations.”

But the last successful claimant was not dead. They were quite certain of that. “How can you tell when an Heir dies?” Severus asked. 

The snake pointed its head towards the pedestal in the middle of the room. “The ring comes back,” it said. “Are you going to take it?”

Was Severus going to claim an unknown magical artefact, presumably powerful, that set him up as a potential challenger to the Dark Lord, and had significance he had no means to estimate? “Thank you, no,” he replied.

The snake ‘shrugged’ again. “It’ll go with you anyway. It does that.”

“Wonderful,” Severus muttered dryly. “Are there any other ‘perks’ I should be aware of?”

“Well, you’re always welcome back here,” the snake said. “There’s quite a lot written in those books, you know. And artefacts, left by past Heirs.”

Severus would admit he was curious, but now was not the time. “I did tell you I’m not a parselmouth,” he pointed out. “I won’t be able to get back in.”

The snake...grinned at him, its tongue flickering. “You’ve claimed the lineage,” it pointed out. “Parseltongue is a gift of the line, you’re part of the line, you have the gift. Until someone replaces you.”

Perfect. He did not come here today to get caught up in ancient magical lineage nonsense, but now, thanks to Albus, it was tangled around him like acromantula cobwebs, and apparently was going to follow him home.

The snake on the door was idly tying itself into a knot, watching him with glimmering eyes. “Do you want your companion to survive, by the way? He’s been attacking the door, and he’s about to trigger the active defences.”

“Oh, for - open the door!” Severus demanded, then had to drop to the floor to avoid a bolt of pure power that somehow hit an invisible barrier and stopped even with the door open. “Albus, stop!” he yelled.

The ridiculous periscope goggles did nothing to make Albus look less dangerous, his robes swirling around his feet, the air crackling with power. “Severus!” he said, striding forward. “Are you hurt, dear boy?”

Severus hurriedly crossed the threshold, not at all interested in finding out what would happen if Albus tried to come in. “I’m fine,” he said firmly. “Just a conversation with a portrait.”

“I see,” Albus said coolly. “Perhaps it is time for us to return to Madam Goswami.”

Seeing as Severus had no interest in finding out what the ‘active defences’ were, he thoroughly agreed. The eyes of the serpents on the pillars were glowing a dark green, and Severus glared at them. “Calm down,” he hissed, not really expecting it to achieve anything. The light did begin to fade, though, and the air stopped feeling quite so electric. Well. That had inconvenient implications.

 

When they returned to the central part of the Chamber, they found Madam Goswami clambering out of a hole in the far wall, a green serpentine bracelet on her left hand to match the yellow and brown one on her right. “Are you finished exploring?” she asked, jumping down to the floor. “I’ve just cleaned out the nesting room, so we can leave whenever you’re ready.”

“We’re done,” Severus said firmly, without looking at Albus. There had been enough surprises for one day, and they had achieved what they came for. They were better off saving their strength for the trip back. He scooped up his cane from the floor and led the way back to the tunnels.

The labyrinth took far less time on the way back, both objectively (as they could all see what they were doing) and subjectively (as they knew approximately how far they were going). Severus did not, however, expect the same to be true of the stairs. They were all tired, and climbing six storeys (or thereabouts) was unpleasant at the best of times. Severus reached into his pocket and pulled out his bottle of Invigoration Draught, displaying the label to the others. “Would either of you like some? There is enough for all of us.”

Albus waved it away politely, and Severus glared.

“You will be a hundred and twelve in July, and I don’t care how good your constitution is,” he said bluntly. “You just threw an enormous amount of magic around, and we’ve got two hundred stairs to climb. Take the damn potion.”

Wordlessly, Albus conjured a small golden cup, and Severus poured out a dose for him before drinking his own. “Madam Goswami?” he asked, wiping the lip of the bottle and holding it out. 

“I’m quite alright,” she said briskly, eyeing the steep stairs ahead of them. “Let’s get this over with.”

The first twenty or so steps were fine. The next fifty were tedious. The fifty after that, Severus’ legs began to ache, and he could hear all three of them breathing hard. For the remainder, Severus leaned heavily on his cane, and grimly pushed himself onwards. At last they emerged into the bright light of the third floor bathroom, and closed up the staircase behind them. 

Albus pulled out his pocket watch and consulted it. “We still have an hour and a half before dinner,” he said. “Madam Goswami, I presume you need to get your companions settled?”

“I do,” she agreed, tucking her hands into the (now rather filthy) sleeves of her coat. “I will see you both at dinner, gentlemen. Afterwards, we can discuss what needs discussing before my departure.”

 

An hour and a half of time to himself was dearly welcome, not least because it gave him time to contemplate what had happened. And of course, for some of the potions he had taken to wear off. Cane in hand, Severus made his way back to his rooms, thinking that they would have had a lot fewer stairs to deal with if they had emerged from the Chamber into the dungeons.

But then, he had no way of knowing that there were not entrances to the Chamber somewhere in the dungeons. After what he had learned today, it seemed more likely than not.

He let himself into his sitting room, dropped his cane and gloves on the end table, and sat down to take off his boots. The rest of him was tolerably clean, but his boots most decidedly were not. He would have to wear his spare pair to dinner. That done, he put his feet up, leaned back, and simply...relaxed for a few moments.

None of them had been killed, petrified, cursed, poisoned, envenomated, or even injured. The basilisk had been pacified and retrieved. No additional threats had been triggered or discovered. The Chamber had been more or less where they expected it to be. He was not even exhausted, as he had feared - merely somewhat worn out.

There was just the small matter of the additional chamber, and its guardian's assertions.

He reached into his right coat pocket, and pulled out the heavy weight that had appeared there as they left the chamber. It was a ring, neither silver nor gold - he suspected electrum - with the distinctive flat, carved face of a signet. There was a small emerald in the centre, carved with the Slytherin serpent, and around it, symbols like those from the chamber were incised into the metal. 

Severus glared at it. 

It sat innocently still on his palm.

“I left you behind on purpose, you know,” he muttered.

It didn’t respond. 

He narrowed his eyes. “Fine.”

Closing his hand over it, he stood up, and went looking for a hiding place.

Chapter Text

The feast that night was jubilant. After a day of observation, Madam Pomfrey had released Mr Creevey and Miss Turpin, and the cheer when Dumbledore announced their arrival seemed impossible to surpass - until he announced that the culprits had been found, the school was safe, and all unusual curfews were at an end. Madam Goswami was credited with bringing cures for the petrified children; Neville Longbottom was awarded thirty points for providing information that led to discovery of the culprit; and at Severus' insistent glare, his Slytherins applauded as hard as anyone in the hall.

After dinner (and the spectacular celebratory dessert the house elves had created with very little notice), the Heads of House joined Albus and Madam Goswami in the Headmaster's office to discuss the day's expedition. 

“I take it you did, in fact, find the Chamber?” Minerva said dryly, conjuring a large, squashy armchair for herself and sitting down.

“At the other end of an underground labyrinth, yes,” Severus agreed. “Would anyone else like tea?”

Filius shooed him to a seat and filled the teapot with a modified aguamenti. “I’ve got the tea,” he insisted. “A true labyrinth, or a maze?”

Albus sat down on the other side of his desk, observing them all. “A true labyrinth,” he said. “There were openings in the ceiling, but the tunnels did not branch. Intriguingly, it ended beneath the Great Hall.”

Pomona frowned. “You mean the Chamber is right beside the Hufflepuff dormitories?”

“Between them and the Slytherin ones, yes,” Severus agreed. “Though I don’t think proximity is particularly significant.”

“And what else did you find down there,” Minerva asked, “besides tunnels and, presumably, a basilisk?”

 

Albus went on to describe the Chamber in detail, and concluded by bringing out his charcoal rubbing of the door. “I don’t suppose any of you recognise the script?”

Madam Goswami, who had been silent until then, leaned forward to examine it, and nodded. “I’m not certain, but that looks like western parselscript.”

Severus’ eyebrows flew up, and he was not the only one who was surprised. 

“Parseltongue is a written language?” Filius asked, delighted and intrigued. “If this is the western script, is there an eastern? What region is it from?”

Madam Goswami smiled at him. “The eastern script is used in South Asia,” she explained. “The western script is used in the territory of the old Islamic Empire, all around the Mediterranean. Parselscript is not the natural form of the language, of course, but neither is it the natural form of non-magical languages.”

“Do you have any recommendations for translators?” Albus asked thoughtfully. 

Madam Goswami’s lips quirked. “I may not be able to read it, but if it is a true parselscript, I can translate it into spoken parseltongue,” she revealed. “As can you, technically. You just won’t understand it.”

“Do illuminate us, then,” Severus murmured, eyebrows raised.

“Headmaster, would you copy a symbol from the door onto clean parchment, written in ink?” she asked. “This works better on a properly written symbol.”

(Severus was not surprised to see that Albus chose the symbol from the very centre.)

“I assume you’re familiar with the process of infusing a rune with magic?” she prompted. “Not to activate it, but to prime it for activation.”

Severus watched warily as Albus fed magic into the symbol, and startled when he heard it distinctly hiss “blood”.

“What next?” Filius asked, and Severus frowned.

“That was the full process,” he said. “I distinctly heard it ‘speak’.”

I didn’t hear anything,” Minerva said. 

“Nor I.”

“No, I didn’t either.”

“Madam Goswami?” Albus inquired delicately. “Would you care to explain?”

She smiled smugly. “Parseltongue is a truly magical language, professors,” she said. “Snakes, in general, have poor hearing, and their mouths are not well-made for speech. While we humans ‘hear’ and ‘speak’ parseltongue as if it were an oral language, the serpents we speak to are actually registering tiny variations in magical fields, and that is what they produce when they ‘speak’ to us.”

Filius was leaning so far forward in fascination that he nearly toppled out of his chair. “But that’s marvellous!” he exclaimed. “You mean to tell me that parseltongue can be completely silent?”

“It requires a particularly skilled practitioner and a great deal of practice, but yes.” She folded her hands in her lap. “You can see how this makes the development of a working script challenging.”

“It’s remarkable!” Filius looked like he could interrogate her for hours on the topic, and probably would have, if Pomona hadn’t cut in and said:

“What happened with the basilisk?”

Madam Goswami’s pleased smile transformed into a bitter scowl. “We found her and retrieved her,” she reported. “But if Professor Snape hadn’t been there I think we’d have had to kill her. She’s been treated appallingly.”

Minerva gave Severus an inquiring look.

“I happened to be wearing a bracelet of freely-given unicorn hair,” he murmured, pushing up his sleeve to show the golden strands. “The basilisk took it as proof that she could, to some extent, trust me.”

And then, Madam Goswami told them the basilisk's story.

 

She and her sisters had hatched in the castle, their mother's huge body encircling the cold stone nest, radiating warmth and magic. As they grew, their mother told them about the stone burrows above them and the humans who lived there, that there were snake-speakers among them who might visit them, and how dangerous a human angered could be. Better and safer to hunt in the lake, their mother taught them, and keep out of sight.

She and her sisters were identical, but she hatched first, ate first, and grew fastest. She was the first to shed her skin, the first to yawn herself to a larger size, and the first to stun her sisters with her gaze. In their fights, she rarely lost, and never lost badly. 

As she grew bigger, her mother grew weaker, worn thin by the magic and the heat she shared, her flanks ragged with wounds from her daughters' teeth, since she could not leave them to hunt other food. (Such is the way of basilisks, Madam Goswami explained, when they have hatchlings in the cold, without a mate.)

When she was the only one of her sisters left, the others killed and eaten to feed each other's growth, her mother, too, died, using the last of her strength to shrink to an edible size. By then, she was strong enough to withstand the cold, and large enough to hunt for herself. She learned to stun and strike the rodents that found themselves trapped in the stone tunnels, and then she went to the lake, for bigger prey.

She lived this way for several years, hunting most in the warm seasons, and curling up in her nest when it was cold. (Perhaps a decade, Madam Goswami guessed.) She avoided the humans, and none of them sought her out. 

Until Tom Riddle.

He was small when she met him, and spoke to her curiously. She didn't mind answering his questions. He told her to explore the stone burrow, and she didn't mind it. Some tunnels were large and dry, others small and full of water. Some places in the castle were warm, and she was glad to find them.

He released a rat, and told her to kill it. She struck. Another, and told her to petrify it. She glared. Another, and told her to catch it without swallowing it. She tasted blood, but her throat would not move. He laughed.

More and more, he came to her, commanding her. He wove compulsions so tight around her that she could not hunt unless he told her to, and her belly grew empty, her skin dull. Whenever he released her, she gorged herself like she was preparing for a winter's sleep.

He told her to hunt among the humans. She went where he commanded. He told her to hide. She hid. He told her to sleep, and not wake until he returned. She slept.

She woke. She was aching with hunger, her skin cracking and sore, her mouth inflamed and painful, and the human in front of her looked different, but spoke with his voice. He let her hunt this time, but he did not release her. She cursed him as she obeyed his commands, snarling her desire to hunt him, hurt him, destroy him, but she knew she could not.

And then she felt his bonds on her dissolve, and she was truly free for the first time in...she did not know how long. (In fifty years, Madam Goswami estimated.) She swam to the deepest part of the lake, because she could, even though the water was freezing cold; she revelled in her power, in her strength. Spring would come soon, and it would be warm enough for her to hunt again.

 

“If Tom Riddle weren’t already dead, I’d be having words with him,” Madam Goswami concluded grimly. “I can’t abide people who treat living creatures as things. As for you, professors, you have been very, very lucky that her anger was so targeted.”

Severus did not want to think about an angry basilisk on a rampage, but apparently, he didn't have the option. “...Indeed.” 

“What will happen to her now?” Pomona asked quietly. “I know you’re taking her to India - is she healthy enough to be released into the wild?”

Madam Goswami sighed. “I’ll bring her to my family’s preserve, but she’ll need rehabilitation,” she admitted. “She’s a competent hunter, but she’s never had to share space with other adult basilisks, it’s a different environment, she needs to gain some weight, and ideally, I’d like to give her some more positive associations with humans before I release her.”

“Poor thing,” Pomona murmured. Severus recalled the tightly controlled terror of having the basilisk roar at him, and reminded himself that Pomona’s compassion was an excellent trait and one he had personally benefited from. And, unlike Hagrid, she tempered it with practicality - she might sympathise with the basilisk, but she wouldn’t mourn its departure. 

 

“Well,” Minerva said, disrupting the contemplative silence. “Let’s talk about payment so that you can get her home, shall we?”

“Of course,” Madam Goswami agreed. “As a matter of fact, I was able to retrieve both freshly-shed skin and old fangs from the Chamber, and that affects matters substantially." She pulled two cloth sacks out of her satchel and placed them on Dumbledore's desk, opening each one far enough to reveal its contents. In the brighter light of Dumbledore's office, the skin was all the more remarkable for its vivid colour.

Madam Goswami looked around the group, meeting their eyes. “Freshly-shed basilisk skin, handled appropriately, is worth approximately fifty galleons per square foot, if I’m doing my conversions right,” she said. “If left unused for another five days, or if the wrong spells are applied, it loses nine-tenths of its value, but right now, I would say this skin is worth nine hundred galleons."

There was a gasp of indrawn breath - from Minerva, perhaps? It was an incredible sum, almost twice Madam Goswami's fee, but as Severus mentally compared it to other such rare items, he could tell it was comparable. Severus could not personally verify the market price of basilisk parts; they had simply never been available in places he had access to. It was entirely possible that Madam Goswami was misrepresenting the prices, but it was also unlikely they could find someone else who would buy it quickly enough for them to benefit from the premium for freshly-shed skin.

"The teeth and fangs," she added, "sell for the equivalent of two galleons an ounce on the Indian market. I don't know what they would sell for here - they are far rarer, but fewer known uses makes for fewer buyers, especially in bulk."

Severus eyed the bag of fangs, then lifted it and weighed it in his hands. "About...seven pounds," he guessed. Two hundred and twenty galleons' worth. Less than the extraordinary price of the skin, but no small amount of money. He turned back to the group and bowed his head. "Esteemed colleagues, in light of Madam Goswami's expertise and generosity, I propose that we allow her to purchase the skin for her named sum of nine hundred galleons, and reserve the teeth and fangs for future sale after additional research." She could be lying about its worth, of course, but nine hundred galleons was no paltry sum, the time limit meant they were hardly in a position to bargain, and he personally would have paid her ten times that figure for removing the basilisk without injuries if they could have afforded it, so if she was cheating them, he hardly cared.

"Seconded," Pomona said promptly. 

Albus looked inquiringly at Filius and Minerva, then nodded. “I believe it is unanimous,” he agreed. “Is that satisfactory to you, madam?”

“It is,” she agreed, pulling a compact writing case out of her satchel. (Severus was starting to be distinctly envious of that bag.) Taking out quill, ink, and a piece of paper with her own letterhead, she wrote out an invoice and passed it to Albus. “Acceptable?”

Severus added up the costs in his head: nine hundred for the skin, minus five hundred for her fee, and whatever she was charging for the potions…

Albus considered it thoughtfully for a moment, then said, “I would like to add one more item, if you are willing. What would you charge to ask the basilisk if she would gift us some venom before her departure? You can reassure her it would be used specifically to destroy magical traps left behind by Riddle.”

“Very clever, Headmaster!” Madam Goswami said with a laugh. “If she agrees, five galleons; if she does not, I will not do it. But I will ask her, and you may have whatever she gives.”

The basilisk consented to biting a membrane stretched over one of Madam Goswami’s collection vials, but was uninterested in growing to a greater size, so the venom she provided was only a few small drops. Albus tucked the vial away somewhere in his robes, to Severus’ displeasure (but not his surprise), and Madam Goswami added a line to her invoice to note the additional fee. 

Albus made a copy of the invoice, he and Madam Goswami both affixed their seals to each copy, and Madam Goswami put away her writing case and prepared to leave. “I will arrange a bank transfer within the week,” she promised. 

“You have our gratitude for your assistance,” Albus replied, unlocking the floo and offering her a jar of floo powder. “Safe travels, Madam Goswami.”

She said her farewells, called out her destination, stepped into the floo, and was gone. And so was the basilisk.

Chapter Text

As the grip of winter eased on the castle and its surrounds, the children grew raucous in their fearlessness, and Severus could hardly blame - even with all the evenings he spent supervising detentions. His own step was lighter, knowing the present danger had passed, and his usual duties were easy by comparison. 

Each fortnight brought a new Defence teacher to the castle, and far from being hampered by the disruption, his Slytherins were more confident than ever. Draco managed to catch the snitch in the Ravenclaw-Slytherin match, and the Gryffindor-Hufflepuff match went off with only the usual dangers.

By comparison to all these things, what was an annoyingly persistent ring to trouble him? Really, the only thing he was concerned about was Potter.

In the Easter break, he went to Dumbledore's office to confront him about it. 

“Mr Potter must spend the summer with his relatives, Severus.”

Severus glared at him. “For god’s sake, Albus, why?

Dumbledore gave him a benevolent, sorrowful look. “Lily’s sacrifice protects him from Voldemort, dear boy,” he said. “To remove him from those blood protections would be a waste of her sacrifice.”

A waste of her sacrifice? Bullshit. “She sacrificed herself so that he would be safe, ” Severus replied, through gritted teeth. “That household is not safe.”

Dumbledore met his eyes, and Severus directed his memories to the long list of past injuries Poppy had produced the previous year. “If I recall correctly, Harry’s health was perfectly reasonable when he arrived last September.”

Severus carefully did not allow himself to think of the reasons why. “You mean, when he got lost on his trip to school?” he pointed out. “Potter has not been safe this year or last. Quirrell could have killed him with that jinx on his broom, the bludger in November could have hit his ribs instead of his arm and punctured a lung, he was lured to the first petrification site, he was half-kidnapped on his way to Hogwarts, and you tell me he is protected?

“Protected from Voldemort, Severus,” Dumbledore corrected him, and Severus resisted the urge to roll his eyes. “Surely you can agree that, so long as Voldemort remains alive, even partially, protecting Harry from him must be the priority.”

He didn’t agree, actually. Dead was dead; grievously injured was grievously injured. “Are you suggesting that Potter stay with his relatives until you manage to find and destroy the currently inactive horcruxes the Dark Lord left behind?” he challenged. 

“I am suggesting exactly that,” Dumbledore said firmly. “He has been safe from his enemies there so far; he will be safest there while I investigate the matter.”

Severus scowled at him. “And I suppose you expect me to be the one to check on him while you ‘investigate the matter’?” 

Dumbledore gazed at Severus over his glasses, a faint smile on his face. “I am sure no one could be more diligent in protecting young Harry over the summer,” he said.

More diligent than you , at least.

 

-----

 

Greetings to Andromeda Tonks from Severus Snape,

I write to thank you for your advice and assistance over the past year, which has been extremely helpful. Unfortunately, it seems that I will continue to impose on you, as the issue has not yet been resolved. 

If possible, I would like to discuss the matter in person on or after the 21st of June. Please contact me to discuss the most suitable location and time.

Severus Snape

 

-----

 

To Narcissa Malfoy, Lady of the House of Malfoy, Severus Snape sends respectful greetings.

For your generous offer of hospitality during the summer, you have my thanks. 

There are certain matters I need to attend to, however, which may prevent me from accepting that offer. 

May I propose, then, that I join you from the evening of the 18th to the morning of the 21st of June, in order to appropriately acknowledge Draco’s birthday and discuss further plans for the summer period?

Severus Snape

 

-----

 

To Morsulus Bulstrode, Master Healer, Severus Snape sends greetings.

I would like to make an appointment in the week beginning the 21st of June, if possible. The appointment would likely be in my own home, rather than Malfoy Manor.

With thanks,

Severus Snape

Chapter Text

On Friday the 18th of June, the school term officially concluded, the students returned home, and the staff had a celebratory dinner before they, too, dispersed. Some of them had travel plans for the summer, some were staying with family, some were remaining at the school, and Severus was going to Malfoy Manor.

He left the castle earlier than usual, flooing to the Receiving Room just before nine pm. As always, Diply greeted him promptly and sent his bags to his room with a snap of her fingers, and Narcissa found him there soon after.

“Good evening, Severus,” she said warmly. “You look well.”

He nodded cordially. “I am, thank you,” he said. “And thank you for your hospitality, Narcissa. How is Draco after the trip?”

She raised one eyebrow slightly, and he met her gaze squarely. If she was not willing to accept him as a social equal, he intended to discover it now.

“...We are glad to see him well,” she replied, after a moment. “Would you come through to the study? As you wrote in your letters, there are matters we need to discuss.”

 

-----

 

“Severus.”

“Lucius.” They had not spoken in person since December. On every occasion their paths might have crossed, Severus had studiously avoided the possibility, and Lucius had never pressed the issue. Now, Severus met his gaze coldly. “Perhaps it will surprise you to hear that, over the last ten years, I have come to hold certain principles higher than my goals. Perhaps you will say I have been corrupted by my profession, or my company. Perhaps you will think I lack conviction. Nevertheless, hear this: I will not participate willingly in any strategy that threatens the life of a child.” 

Lucius looked away, scrubbing a hand over his face. “...I don’t suppose you will believe me when I tell you that what happened was not my intention,” he said, “but surely you know I would not put Draco at risk?”

Severus raised his eyebrows. “That argument depends on whether you considered Draco to be at risk,” he replied. “ Perhaps you are under the impression that the child of a major political player could be safe during a war.”

“Alright!” Lucius spun, and began to pace. “I was under the impression that the child of Arthur Weasley would have the intelligence to identify a cursed object when she encountered one, and would take it to him for advice. Forgive me for overestimating the intelligence of my enemies!”

“Seeing as your miscalculations had me personally confronting a basilisk that was terrorising my school , I find them difficult to forgive!” Severus snapped.

Narcissa rose to her feet, and they both turned to look at her. “Gentlemen, that is quite enough,” she said sharply. “Severus, in future, we will acknowledge Hogwarts as your domain, and avoid implicating children in our plans so that we do not interfere. No one, however, could regret the events of this term more than Lucius and myself, so I will thank you to cease berating us for what cannot be changed and remind yourself that there are more important threats on the horizon.”

The two men stood silent, and she nodded firmly.

“Now then. Sit down, and I will pour the tea.”

 

-----

 

The next morning, Severus was the first to arrive at breakfast, and Draco was the second - both of them still accustomed to school hours, of course. “Good morning, Draco,” Severus said.

“Good morning, Professor!” Draco replied cheerfully, taking a seat and serving himself some toast.  Breakfast at the manor was a far lighter meal than at the school, where they had to fortify children for four hours of learning before lunch. That did not make it any less luxurious, of course: one would hardly find dirigible plum preserves at the Hogwarts breakfast table. “Isn’t it marvellous being back at the Manor? Where there aren't all those noisy Gryffindors to disrupt breakfast? Father says they haven't any manners, and Mother says that having to serve ourselves at dinner gets students into bad habits. Not that I have bad table manners, of course, but she says we'd better eat formally as much as possible over the summer so I can practice. Why do you think the Hogwarts elves don't serve at dinner? I think it's because Dumbledore doesn't want to confuse the Mu- Muggleborns. I bet some of them don't even know house elves exist ."

Severus listened to Draco's chatter with fond equanimity, making the occasional prompting noise. “And what would you like to do today?” he asked eventually. “I am at your service.”

Draco’s head whipped around and he beamed. “Really, Uncle Sev? Already?”

Severus smiled at him. “Happy birthday.”

 

-----

 

When Severus returned to his room that evening, a house elf was waiting for him.

It - he? - was not Klimby, or Morkin, or any of the Hogwarts elves he knew; nor was he Diply or Jimkin, or wearing the green-edged tea-towels of the Malfoy elves he had met. Instead, he wore a filthy pillowcase, holes torn for his arms and legs, and when he saw Severus, he bowed so low his nose almost touched the ground. 

“Who are you, what is your house, and why are you here?” Severus demanded, pinching the bridge of his nose. 

“Dobby is a Malfoy elf, Master Professor Snape,” the elf replied. “Dobby is here to thank Master Professor Snape, sir, for protecting…” It leaned forward, and continued in a loud whisper. “For protecting Harry Potter , sir.”

“For protecting Harry Potter.” A Malfoy elf, one that worked out of sight by his clothes, was thanking him for protecting Harry Potter. 

“Yes, sir!” Dobby squeaked. “When Dobby heard what was - When Dobby found out bad things were happening at Hogwarts, Dobby was trying and trying to keep Harry Potter safe! But Harry Potter did not go home, sir!”

Severus’ eyes narrowed. “And how, exactly, did you attempt to keep Harry Potter safe?” he asked.

The elf twisted the fabric of his pillowcase in his hands. "Dobby thought Harry Potter would not go back to school if he thought his friends did not care," he said. "So Dobby stole Harry Potter's letters. But they found other ways to see him. So Dobby tried to stop him getting to school."

Severus glared at him. " You redirected the floo, and closed the platform barrier?" he demanded, remembering the panic of that day.

Dobby nodded hurriedly, his ears flapping. "Yes, Professor, sir!" he said. "But Harry Potter went to school anyway, and Professor Snape helped him!"

"Did you consider simply warning him?" Severus gritted out.

Tears welled up in Dobby's huge green eyes. "Mistress Narcissa gives very specific orders, sir," he squeaked. "Last year she is ordering all Malfoy elves to keep secrets about plots and plans, and not to write or say or hint or show anyone anything! And she is knowing spells…" He trailed off, shuddering. "For the great Harry Potter, Dobby would try, sir, but Dobby could not, sir, not and still be whole to finish telling him!"

Regrettably, Severus did not need to resort to imagining the consequences. He had seen such spells before. "And so you attempted to prevent him getting to school," he murmured. "Is that where you stopped?"

Dobby sniffled, and wiped his nose on his pillowcase. "No, sir," he said. "Dobby kept thinking, sir, and he thought, if Harry Potter was injured, he would know he was not safe, and he would go home!"

"Injur- that thrice-damned bludger, that was you!" Severus snarled. "He could have been killed!"

"Not killed, sir!" Dobby squeaked, cringing away. "Dobby would never kill Harry Potter, sir, but better grievously injured and safe at home than to remain at Hogwarts!"

Severus threw up his hands and began to pace. " Why must I keep telling people that 'grievously injured' is definitionally incompatible with being safe?"  

"Dobby stopped after the bludger, sir!" the elf squeaked. "Dobby saw that Professor Snape was a good and noble man, and that Harry Potter would not go home even when he knew the danger he was in,"

Severus grit his teeth. "I suppose you are the one who lured him to the third floor on Hallowe'en, as well?" he said bitterly. "Did you put the writing on the wall as well, as a hint?"

"Oh no, sir," Dobby said, shaking his head. "Dobby was working in the kitchens on Hallowe'en."

Wonderful. Severus lowered himself into a chair and grimly tried to work out how this affected his plans. "Go away, Dobby," he said wearily. "And next time you think Harry is in danger, let me know, and I'll interfere."

Chapter Text

Healer Bulstrode was available for an appointment on the morning of the twenty-second, so Severus spent much of the twenty-first making sure Spinners End was not only habitable, but suitable for a guest to visit. As such, when Bulstrode arrived, the sitting room had been dusted, the sofa and armchair recoloured to look less worn, and he'd set up an extra lamp on the table to make the room not quite so dim. It was still a far cry from the spacious elegance of even the smallest room at Malfoy Manor, but Bulstrode was too professional to reveal his opinion of the space, and took a seat in the armchair with equanimity.

“Well,” he said, looking Severus over. “How have you been?”

“Better,” Severus replied honestly. He’d had to be careful, this last month, with his proteges and prefects occupied by revising, then the marathon work of supervising practical exams and marking written ones. He’d been exhausted by the end of it, true, but they all were. And thanks to very careful management of his energy, he hadn’t been so exhausted at the end that his bones ached, like they had the last few years. It had been beyond frustrating, coddling himself when there was work to be done, but it had worked.

“Hmm.” When it became obvious that Severus wasn’t going to say anything more, Bulstrode nodded and pulled out his wand. “You look better,” he agreed. “Let’s get some more detail on that, shall we?”

 

The spells were familiar now, and Severus endured them without protest. At the end of them all, Bulstrode looked at him with an approving smile. “ Much better, Master Snape,” he said. “Tired right now, yes, and not a lot to spare, but you clearly haven’t been draining yourself dry every other month. Well done.”

Severus’ lips twitched in amusement at being praised like one of his students. “Is your recommendation more of the same, then?” he asked. “Rest and restraint?”

“For the most part.” Bulstrode looked at him seriously, considering. “Do you remember the procedure I mentioned last year?”

Severus frowned slightly. “Something I wasn’t strong enough for…” he murmured, thinking back. “For...curse damage? You didn’t say much on the topic.”

“No,” Bulstrode said. “I did not.” He took a deep breath, and let it out slowly. “There is old curse damage in your bones, damage you are constantly compensating for. It tires you, and drains you. Just a little now, but over time, if left untreated, the effect will grow stronger. You would likely have chronic pain, your bones might become more brittle or your joints more stiff. I can’t say for sure.”

Not a pleasant prospect. “You propose a way to mitigate that,” Severus said evenly, his face still as stone.

“The Dark Mark makes treating curse damage...difficult,” Bulstrode admitted. “Most treatments are designed for use once any curses have been removed, and naturally target the parts of the body where damage is strongest.”

The Dark Mark was, as far as anyone had discovered, unremovable. “And your method?”

Bulstrode met his eyes seriously. “I have been studying the effects of the Dark Mark on health care for twenty-six years,” he said. If Severus were asked to guess, he would presume the timeline matched up with the Dark Lord’s recruitment of Bulstrode’s elder brother. “The procedure I have found to be effective is as follows:

“First, the patient takes a specially spelled potion based on a Blood Replenishment Potion. There is a waiting period while it filters into the bloodstream.” Severus made a note to ask for more details on the potion later. 

“Second, the pre-prepared curse on that potion is activated.” Bulstrode said it as if the words were bitter on his tongue, and at Severus’ obvious surprise, he leaned forward to add earnestly, “It is the mildest pain curse I can find that is sufficient, one with no other effects on the body, but the potion in the blood must be cursed for the next step to work.”

Severus didn’t like the sound of it, but for now, he reserved his judgement. “Go on.”

Bulstrode nodded. “Third, a spell is applied to attract all curses and curse remnants to join the one in the bloodstream, like seeking like.” That explained the pain curse, at least. “I hold blood purification charms on the big arteries leading to the left forearm so that the Dark Mark is somewhat separated from the action of the combined potion, curse, and spell.”

Severus knew enough about curses to predict that the experience would be...deeply unpleasant. “And then?”

“The purification charms mean the effectiveness decreases over time, as blood is circulated through the arm,” Bulstrode explained. “This stage of the procedure generally lasts between two and four hours, depending on what the patient is willing to endure.” It went without saying that the longer he endured, the greater the effect would be. “When the active curse is ended, any curse remnants remain in the blood. A different potion, taken three times daily for a week or two afterwards, will bind to those remnants and allow the body to filter them out through the kidneys.”

Two to four hours of ‘endurance’, and up to two weeks of filtering poison from his blood… “I presume use of other potions during that period is not recommended?” Severus said delicately.

“You presume correctly.” Bulstrode gave him a grim smile. “I’ll be honest with you, Master Snape: it’s a nasty process. Don’t expect to be doing much over those two weeks, or anything at all the day after the main procedure. And you’ll find afterwards that your left arm seems to bother you more than it normally does.”

“Seems to?”

Bulstrode nodded slightly. “The rest of you will be less cursed than before, so it will stand out more,” he explained. “But the rest of you will be less cursed.”

Severus eyed him thoughtfully. “You believe it will be worth it.”

“In the long term? Yes.” Bulstrode pulled a roll of parchment out of his workbag and handed it over. “Details of the procedure that I can safely let you know,” he said. “Including an article I published in Apothecary & Physick. Of course, I can’t tell you who my past patients have been, but given your social circles, you may be able to discover someone who can reflect on their own experience.” He met Severus’ gaze, unflinching. “I think it will help you. If you lived a life of leisure, it wouldn’t matter as much, but you don’t. Nevertheless, it is entirely up to you whether you pursue this option, and when you pursue it.”

Severus took the scroll and weighed it in his hands. He would need to do more research to confirm Bulstrode’s assertions, but if they were accurate… “I will consider the matter carefully,” he murmured. “Are there other options worth considering?”

Bulstrode sighed. “None so effective, but yes,” he replied. “There are certainly options to reduce the long-term impact of the dark mark. Purification based treatments, like Calixtia’s Pearl, and topical anti-inflammatories, like balm of dittany and moondew, should slow the progression of any symptoms you have. I’ll write up some options for you, but be aware that they cannot cure the underlying problem.”

“Noted.” Severus stood. “Thank you for your time, Healer Bulstrode. I will let you know what I decide.”

Chapter Text

The Tonks house was small, noisy, messy, and cheerful. Severus could hear music playing upstairs, and someone clattering pots in the kitchen, and Ted was already stepping forward to greet him as he came out of the floo. 

“Hello, Professor,” he said warmly. “How are you? Andy’s at work, I’m afraid, but you said in your letter it was Harry you wanted to talk to?”

Severus nodded. “Just checking in,” he explained. “Though I do, at last, have an explanation for what happened on the first of September last year - fortunately, it was neither malicious, nor likely to be repeated.”

Ted frowned, clicking his tongue as he thought. “...better talk about that when Andy’s here,” he murmured. “Malicious or not, it’s a gap in our security, and we need to deal with it.” 

“Of course,” Severus agreed. Plenty of Death Eaters had underestimated ‘the mudblood who married a Black’ in the war, and learned the better of it. He’d chosen Ted and Andromeda as his allies because they had shown they could protect a child from all the resources the Dark Lord’s people could muster; he would trust them to do so now.

Ted nodded, and his face cleared, returning to his usual cheerful smile. “Come into the kitchen and I’ll get Harry for you - he’s in his room.”

 

When Harry came downstairs, he was wearing a green shirt, trousers just the right length, and a cheerful smile. "Hello, Professor!" he said. "Is everything alright?”

“Hello, Harry,” Severus replied, watching with amusement as Harry went straight for the biscuit tin next to the kettle. “Everything’s fine, I’m just checking in.”

“Well, that’s alright then,” Harry said, with the air of someone quoting. “D’you want a biscuit? They’ve got apricot bits.”

"No, thank you," Severus replied politely.

Harry shrugged, retrieved a biscuit for himself, and perched on one of the kitchen chairs to nibble at it.

“I’d like to apologise, Harry,” Severus admitted. “I had fully intended to ensure that your place here was more secure, so that you didn’t have to keep it secret this summer. Thus far, however, I have been unable.”

Harry looked at him seriously, those green eyes steady. “It’s nicer visiting Diagon Alley when people don’t know who I am,” he said. “I don’t think I’d want everyone to know. And I’m still here , that’s the important part.”

Severus smiled slightly. “I understand,” he agreed. “Nevertheless, I will keep working on the problem. Do you have plans for the summer?”

Harry grinned at him. “We’re all going to the Natural History Museum on Friday - Ms Andromeda and Hermione and Hermione’s dad and Neville and Ron and Ginny and Lisa and Colin and Colin’s dad. And then next week, before Hermione goes to France, we’re all going to the zoo! Ron’s never seen an elephant, not even a photo until I showed him, and I told him they were as tall as Hagrid’s hut and he didn’t believe me, so we’re going to show him. And I want to see if there’s a snake like Madam Goswami’s.”

It was a simple, but welcome pleasure, to listen to Harry talk about his summer plans. Going flying at the Weasleys, shopping in Diagon, playing and learning and spending time with his friends. 

“And then after the party at the Longbottoms, Ms Andromeda and Mr Ted and I are going to India! ” Harry exclaimed. “Madam Goswami invited us back in March. She says that if my Gran was alive, maybe I would have gone already, and it’s high time I met all my cousins.”

“Are there a lot of cousins?” Severus prompted, smiling.

“Heaps!” Harry replied, beaming. “And Madam Goswami says her, um, her cousin’s daughter? Her name’s Priyanka. She teaches all the little kids about talking to snakes, and I can learn too!”

“...what.”