Obligatory Disclaimer: Ten years since I started, and it looks like I still don't own any rights to Harry Potter. Bummer. Just amusing myself and others here.
A/N: The fact that this story is finally complete is due to a new friend, Rhiannon, who said, "I want more Harry Potter novels to read!" When I pointed her to this fan-fic of mine, she said, "Can I get this on Kindle?" When I was converting the whole thing to ebook format, I thought, If you're going to make an ebook, you'd better finish up the story for real. So here it is.
The various drabbles this chapter is composed of have come into existence gradually over the past eight years. Some were written immediately after the previous chapter. Others were written only recently, as I finally filled in the eight years between the ending of Harry's story and the final epilogue as I had originally conceived of it. More could have been added to fill in those years, but I'm content. The story is done. At long last.
BTW, if you would like a copy of A Merciless Affection in ebook format (mobi file), you can download it at keokukvortex dot com: Creative Arts: Authors: Verity Brown.
Epilogue 3: The Years After
April 30, 1999
It was problematical, being a hero. Particularly when people doubted the facts, even now.
The Minister's order had kept Severus out of Azkaban. Eyewitness reports had brought him a measure of fame. A Sneakoscope on the counter of their Diagon Alley apothecary shop, a Foe-glass in back, and numerous wards upstairs protected them from both those who despised his treachery and those who remained convinced of his loyalty to Voldemort.
But mostly the customers came in hoping for a glimpse of Severus Snape.
"That'll be two sickles," Sarah said, trying not to grimace as the middle-aged witch peered past her.
September 6, 1999
Sarah lowered the hair into the yellow solution. Vapor swirled, but failed to coalesce around the strand.
Severus, working nearby, looked up. "Negative again, I suppose?"
"It's my own fault. If I hadn't—"
"Must you bring this up repeatedly?"
"It serves me right." Sarah brushed her tears away. "You don't really want another child."
"I agreed, for your sake. If I'd imagined I'd have to listen to you wallow in guilt—"
"Aren't we sufficient for you?" He gestured at Severian's cot.
But there was no way to explain it. She went to him. "I love you."
April 4, 2000
"Durmstrang?" Sarah's voice shook. "You're not going to take it, are you?"
"I don't know." He wanted to. Badly. She could see that.
"People will think—"
"Damn it, I know what people will think!" Severian, alarmed at his father's raised voice, looked up from his blocks. Severus frowned.
"What about the shop?"
"You wanted the shop. You know how I feel about it. Besides, you couldn't come."
"You'd leave us? You know how travel is..."
"I didn't say I'd decided!"
"I've worked all my life to avoid...this. What my grandfather wanted."
"I know." Sarah frowned. "I know."
May 6, 2000
"Why haven't they asked before this?" Severus growled.
"And admit they might need help?" Tonks frowned; she did that a lot now. "You know there are still escaped Death Eaters loose, Snape. You're not the only target. Things have been happening..."
Severus snorted. "And suddenly I'm needed. Risking my life—"
"I don't think they'll expect you to do anything. Just...consult."
"For the Ministry? What an ignominious prospect!"
Tonks shrugged. She glanced at Sarah.
"I wouldn't blame you for saying no, Snape. But I thought I better warn you in advance, so you'd have time to think about it."
June 24, 2000
"An apprentice?" Severus' thoughts were evident: a young man, alone with his wife all day.
"I can't manage the shop alone." Sarah let him stew briefly in jealousy before adding, "I'm taking on Rowena Caxton. That girl who caught my bouquet."
"From Knockturn? She's not trained, or even old enough—"
"She's fourteen. It's her way out. I'd have sponsored her to Hogwarts when she got her letter, but as things were... I can teach her Potions."
His brow remained furrowed.
"Unless you think I'm not capable?"
That did it. "Oh, very well."
"And her children will go to Hogwarts."
October 13, 2000
"How was your ignominious day?" Sarah asked. Not that there weren't always reports in the Evening Prophet. But it was amusing to have the truth for comparison.
"Continued reports of Inferi."
"The...he couldn't possibly be alive again?" Sarah shuddered, all amusement gone.
"No, but somebody intends that we should think so." Severus hung up his cloak.
Severian ran out of his room. "I can read!" He held up a picture book.
"Let's hear you, then." Severus sat down. But Sarah could tell that he was not really listening. Until this was settled, his reputation was at stake.
"Dinner's almost ready."
January 13, 2001
At St. Mungo's, Sarah clenched Severus's pale, fevered hand.
"You should have let the Aurors handle it alone."
"Was...personal," he croaked. Even injured and ill, he managed a sneer of triumph.
"I know." Sarah could not help smiling, grimly.
Bellatrix was dead.
She had escaped her master's fall more by chance than choice, still madly refusing to believe him dead. She had gathered and taken control of his Inferi—something only Severus had thought possible.
The Prophet sang his praises, but an Inferi scratch and a dousing in an icy lake had not done him any good.
"Just get well."
April 17, 2001
"Still can't keep a Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher?"
"Quite frankly, no," McGonagall said testily. There were grey strands in her once-dark hair.
"Jones suffered a breakdown just before the Easter holidays."
Severus steepled his fingers. "You do recall what happened the last time I held the post?"
McGonagall bristled. "You needn't remind me. You do realize it hasn't been easy to forgive you? Despite what—"
"I have never asked for your forgiveness."
"I'm not asking you to teach, Severus. I only hoped that you might know or be able to find a way to lift the curse."
July 18, 2001
"It's late." When Severus did not look up from his notes, Sarah asked, "Any progress?"
"I may have to go to the Continent."
"A few weeks ago I came across an article in an old Prophet that referred to the theft of Grindelwald's books. The time period fits. But the...he never spoke of them. I've been following every possible lead. If it was he who stole them, I can find no evidence that he brought them back to Britain."
"You think you know where they are?"
"Well, Albus was always curious about the possible attraction of Albania..."
October 21, 2001
"These books are too dangerous, Severus!"
"I know what I'm doing!"
"They should be taken to the Ministry, studied under controlled conditions—"
"Locked up in some impenetrable vault before I can find a way to break the curse on Hogwarts!"
"I don't want them here in the flat. Bad enough to put our neighbors at risk. But Severian—"
"Fine! Take him and leave!"
He meant it. She hadn't expected that. Heart tightening, eyes burning with tears, she turned and began making the necessary preparations.
"You'll return when I'm finished?" Severus asked curtly.
"If there's someone left to return to."
December 1, 2001
"Mum, when will we go home?" Severian looked up from his book. By firelight, his hair and eyes looked nearly as dark as his father's.
"Don't you like visiting the Hall? Isn't William more fun to play with than Melanie and Caspar?"
Severian shrugged. After a moment he said, "It's nearly Christmas."
"Christmas here will be grand fun." Sarah filled her voice with hope, holding moments of pleasant memory in her thoughts like talismans. "Much better than in London."
"Will Father come?" Dark eyes challenged her.
"I...I don't know. He's very busy with his work."
Severian looked down again.
December 26, 2001
The owl message contained a single word:
Leaving the boys playing, Sarah slipped through the Floo to the Leaky Cauldron.
The "Closed Until Further Notice" placard was gone from the shop window. Had Rowena been running the counter for him? Sarah felt a momentary pang of jealous suspicion.
Who knew what dabbling with Dark magic might cause him to do?
She clenched her wand tightly as she knocked on the door to the flat. If even a hint of corruption clouded his eyes...
He looked exhausted. Haunted even, as he often had during the war. Nothing more.
March 25, 2002
"You're sure it worked?" asked McGonagall.
"As sure as it's possible to be without the test of time. It's unfortunate Hobday was arrested before the counterspell could be completed."
"I can't say that I'm entirely sorry." McGonagall sighed. "Although it does leave the school in a difficult position. I don't suppose you—"
Severus frowned. "I thought we agreed that would be a bad idea."
"Not willing to risk it?"
Slowly, his expression hardened. "You know there is only one condition upon which I would ever return to Hogwarts."
"Even to prove that your efforts were successful?"
"No," he said.
April 15, 2002
"What is the meaning of this, Minerva?" Severus waved the letter.
"I simply thought you should know who would be taking the risk on your counterspell."
"Potter!" he shouted. "That boy—"
"He's no younger than you were when you took the Potions post. He's completed his Auror training, but he has very graciously agreed to risk taking the Defense post, as a special favor to me."
"If anything should happen to him, anything at all…." Severus's face was livid.
The shrewdness in her eyes was disturbingly reminiscent of Albus's twinkle. "You could still have the post, if you'd prefer."
April 16, 2002
"We'd never see you." Sarah let the pain creep into her voice. "I know the rules for teachers."
"Minerva will make certain accommodations if we move to Hogsmeade, as she did for William Weasley."
"And the shop?"
"We could move the shop."
"I don't think Rowena'd be willing to—"
"Give her a Floo allowance! Besides, it would be better for Severian."
Better away from the playmates he knows? Sarah thought. But she understood: Diagon Alley was too close to Knockturn.
"If you think it's best…" Noticing his frown, she changed course. "I know how much this means to you."
July 5, 2002
"We're closed." Sarah looked up from the box she was packing. The middle-aged witch who had come in was familiar in some way that sent Sarah's hand to her wand before she could process a reason why.
"You do look like Aunt Julia," the woman said. "Chester said you did."
"Eleanor?" Sarah gasped. "How did—? Where have you—?"
"Long, ugly story. French WPL shipped me to America. When we got the news, I...well, after awhile, I started saving my pennies for the fare."
"Are you staying?"
Eleanor shook her head. "I have a Muggle husband. A free life."
September 30, 2002
"Christopher Podmore said—" Severian's tear-stained eyes were wide and desperate. "Did Father do evil things? K-k-kill people?"
How can I still not know what to say?
"When your father was young," Sarah began, "he fell in with the wrong friends at school. Voldemort's supporters. After he realized how wrong they were, he did everything he could to stop them from winning. Even though being Dumbledore's spy meant...sometimes...having to do horrible things."
"Worse than last winter?"
So, he had understood more of that than they'd believed.
She clasped Severian close, tears welling up. "Worse than anyone could imagine."
May 10, 2003
Sarah embraced Tonks. "You brought Teddy."
"Could he stay for the afternoon?"
"Of course." They watched as Severian dragged the younger boy off to play.
"I'm thinking about moving to Hogsmeade," Tonks answered Sarah unasked question. "McGonagall asked me to teach Transfiguration next year. Shacklebolt really wants Bill at the Ministry, and it was an offer he and Fleur didn't want to refuse."
"I didn't think you'd ever give up being an Auror."
"No, I love it. But...the older Teddy gets, the more I think about what would happen if I didn't come home one evening, you know?"
June 30, 2003
CURSE BROKEN? (from the Evening Prophet)
Although denied for decades by school administrators, including the present headmistress, Minerva McGonagall, it has long been widely known that the Hogwarts Defense Against the Dark Arts post is cursed. Since 1959, professors have died horribly (21%), suffered debilitating health problems (32%), or been forced to resign—often under a cloud of infamy—after only one year (47%). However, rumor has it that the curse is now mere history, thanks to the formidable skills of the current Defense professor and deputy headmaster, Severus Snape.
Possible? Read Rita Skeeter's full report in tomorrow's Daily Prophet!
October 6, 2003
"I knew it!" Severian grinned, then found himself upside down in the air.
"Never startle me like that!" his father snapped, but as Severian's grin faded, he said, "Knew what?"
"That you go to Hogwarts through a secret passage. I bet Jimmy Ross a Sickle—"
"You will tell no one about this passage, Severian! Do you understand me?"
The boy frowned. "Yes, sir."
Severus let him drift upright to the cellar floor. "Do you understand why?"
This answer came slower, and the boy's face closed for a moment. "Yes, sir." Then, irrepressibly, "Can you teach me that spell?"
July 1, 2004
"What do you think?"
Severus looked up from the manuscript. She had compiled it carefully from the pages of his old N.E.W.T. textbook.
He gestured at the title page, where she had written, Borage's Advanced Potion-Making: Updated and With a New Foreword by Severus Snape. "When am I supposed to have time to write this new foreword?"
"Well, I already began…." She turned over the leaf.
"This book will instruct you in the subtle science and exact art of potion-making. As it involves little wand-waving, some may hardly believe it to be magic..."
September 8, 2004
"You've been doing what?"
Neither seemed eager to answer.
"It's just a game, Mother," Severian said finally.
"Hexing your father is not a game! And you," she turned angry eyes on her patient, "have been teaching him hexes, clearly!"
"He needs to know." Severus winced, dabbing at his wound. "Stop pretending it doesn't matter that he's our son. The world won't allow him that."
"He's eight years old!" Their gazes locked for a long time. Sarah sighed, then grimaced. "I suppose I should be more worried that an eight-year-old stole a march on you?"
The corner of Severus's mouth twitched.
December 9, 2004
Ginny Potter was dying.
Not quickly—the St. Mungo's medi-wizards believed she had at least 15 years, possibly more. But the curse damage to her wand hand was finally becoming apparent.
Harry, of course, blamed Snape. The angry letter was as predictable as it was unwelcome.
You should have prevented Ginny from being the one to destroy the last Horcrux!
"Imagine," Sarah's voice trembled, "if he knew about the Felix Felicis. I should tell him it's all my fault."
"The only person to blame is the monster who cast the curse," Severus growled, throwing the crumpled letter into the fire.
February 15, 2005
"You didn't come back last night," Sarah observed.
Rowena Caxton turned pink.
"I had to finish the Pepperup myself."
"I'm sorry, Missus. I din't—"
"I don't mind you spending all your free time with Albert Pennyworth, but I won't tolerate you ignoring your responsibilities here."
"I know, Missus, but—"
"But what?" But Sarah had recognized the girl's expression.
"He askt me to marry him, Missus."
Sarah's stomach sank, even as her heart lifted.
"So, when will I need to find a new assistant?"
Rowena's eyes widened. "I wouldn't do you like that, Missus! 'Sides, we'll need the money."
September 25, 2005
"I was just wondering if... Melanie's okay." Flora Mantua's anxious face hovered in the flames.
"Has she written otherwise?" Severus asked. "She's performing very creditably in Defense thus far. I would expect nothing less of Caius's oldest granddaughter."
Flora's smile wavered. "It's just...she was sorted in Hufflepuff."
"If Caius dares tell her there's anything wrong with that, I'll personally stuff a badger up his arse."
"It's not Dad. It's more Martin. He was in Ravenclaw and...it's all new to me. I don't know what to tell her."
Sarah spoke up. "That you're proud of her and love her."
December 3, 2005
"Why can't we go to London for Christmas hols?" Severian complained. "We haven't been to London for forever."
Forever, in this case, meant the previous spring and summer. But since those visits had been made without Severus's knowledge, during Sarah's unsuccessful attempts to convince the Ministry to give her access to Grindelwald's books...
"As amusing as London may be," Severus observed sourly, "since Notting Chase is to be completed in the summer, this is the last Christmas the Notts will be spending at Darkglass Hall. You will be spending it there as well."
"But William's annoying. And Alice is worse."
December 15, 2005
I hate to interrupt your hols, but I need a favor. I need to sneak into the Ministry. I need to do some reading. Can you fix it?
Tonks' purple hair appeared in the drawing room fire. After a quick glance told her that Sarah was alone, Tonks hissed, "Are you round the bloody bend?"
"Severus says it can't be done."
"He ought to know."
"I'm not going to let Ginny Potter die because of me."
"You know what he'll do to me if something happens to you, don't you?"
Sarah didn't answer, her expression set.
December 17, 2005
"Why didn't you believe me?" Severus was furious.
"You hate Harry Potter!" Sarah wept. "You think he deserves to suffer."
"She doesn't. You suppose I haven't thought about this for years? Nothing in those very dangerous books," he pointed to the sealed case that Sarah hadn't succeeded in opening before he arrived, "is useful in the slightest. The curse on Hogwarts had anchors set within the walls. A Horcrux curse is anchored to the victim's life-force."
Sarah went silent; finally she sniffed back her tears. "What about Draught of Living Death?"
"You think Potter would let me try that experiment?"
January 28, 2006
When the silvery flicker came through wall of the Burrow, Harry grabbed his wand immediately. Patronus messaging had become standard among the Aurors, but it was the weekend; an urgent message could mean nothing good.
The bottom dropped out of his stomach when the form resolved clearly into a badger. No one Harry knew had a badger Patronus. No one except...whoever had presaged Snape's message about the Hufflepuff cup during his seventh year.
"I need to talk to you and Ginny," said the badger. "Leave the Floo open for me at seven o'clock sharp. And please, don't hex me."
January 28, 2006 (later)
"Who are you?" Harry demanded. The witch on the hearth looked only a few years older than himself, but he didn't recognize her. "You know Snape," he accused.
"I do. And it's my fault Ginny's dying."
"How could that be?" Ginny asked. She shot Harry a stern look; this was an old argument. "I chose to take the risk."
The witch frowned. "What matters is that there might be a way to trick the curse into thinking that Ginny is already dead. I can't be sure it will work, but you have access to everything necessary, and you could try."
February 1, 2006
"Draught of Living Death?" the medi-wizard pondered. "You realize that such a Dark potion could unleash the curse's power and hasten your death?"
"But the antidote is powerful enough to..." Ginny looked to Harry, who was scowling. "You know there is no greater power than love."
"My dear," said the medi-wizard, shaking his head, "if only love could cure every ill..."
"I want to try it."
"Snape's connected, somehow," Harry said. Pulling strings had revealed that the witch's Floo-of-origin was in Hogsmeade and belonged to Professor Severus Snape. "I've never trusted him and I never will."
"I want to try."
February 24, 2006
Tonks handed Harry a potion-case. "If you'd rather use St. Mungo's, I'd understand. But this is Ginny's best chance."
"Snape sent this," Harry said.
Tonks shrugged. "Sort of."
"Snape thought he would die, and he didn't."
"Because of Ginny!"
"Because someone loves him as much as I loved Remus. As much as you love Ginny."
Harry grimaced. "I don't understand."
Three vials were in the case, each labeled with a set of instructions. The handwriting was not Snape's. One was the pale pink Draught. Another was the antidote. The third was the unmistakable gold of Felix Felicis.
February 25, 2006
"We can't try the antidote until after the dark of the moon," Harry explained to their gathered friends. "Unless—"
"It will be fine," Ginny insisted. "I'll have a nap for a few days, and I'll wake up again right as rain because of you."
She hugged each of them in turn. Finally, she clung to Harry for a long time. Then she took her place on the hospital bed and drew the stopper out of the waiting potion bottle.
"I love you, Ginny," Harry whispered hoarsely.
"Trust in love," she whispered back. She tipped the potion into her mouth.
February 28, 2006
"We can't wait any longer," Harry insisted. "The curse damage is getting worse."
"The moon will be new in just a few hours, Harry," Hermione said.
"I should have given her the Liquid Luck. I shouldn't have trusted him—...her—...them—"
"For what it's worth," Ron said. "I did find out that Snape's married, crazy as that sounds. That's why he lives in Hogsmeade instead of up at Hogwarts. And back when he was connected with a shop in Diagon Alley, I heard it was always some witch at the counter, not him. Probably the one that visited you."
March 1, 2006
The surge of confidence Harry felt as he swallowed the Liquid Luck made him realize just how long he'd been living with a numbing sense of despair.
Immediately he reached for the antidote and began dabbing it onto his lips. Then, acting on impulse, he started dabbing it on his tongue.
"Ew, I didn't need to see that, Harry," said Ron.
"Nevermind," Hermione said.
"Ith wha I hath to do," Harry said, being careful not to swallow.
Come on, Ginny.
He pressed his lips to hers. Astonishingly, they softened, parted.
I love you, Ginny. I love you. I love you!
May 4, 2006
"Well, the damage hasn't spread any further," said the medi-wizard, examining Ginny's arm, which was grey to the elbow. "But I fear that nothing will ever reverse these effects. Under the circumstances, I wouldn't even try."
"But do you think the curse itself is gone?" Harry asked.
"I don't dare to guarantee it, Mr. Potter. But it certainly appears possible. Mind you, she must never again encounter Dark magic—"
"Do you think," Ginny interrupted breathlessly, "that it would finally be safe to try to have a child?"
The medi-wizard's tentative smile slowly widened. "I do believe so, Mrs. Potter."
June 28, 2006
"Is the proprietress here?" Harry asked the blonde shop girl, but before he was done speaking, a Sneakoscope went off. A witch emerged from the back, wand drawn.
"That wasn't me!" Harry protested, pointing at the alarm.
She silenced it with a tap of her wand. "Yes. I'm afraid it was. You're in the default up-to-no-good list." She didn't sound at all apologetic. Harry wondered if she was older than he'd originally thought. In the daylight, there were silver threads in her brown hair.
"Mrs...that is...Madam Snape?"
"I just wanted," Harry stammered, "to say thank you."
April 3, 2007
"It's been nearly ten years," said Minerva McGonagall. "If I'd remained a teacher, I would have stayed indefinitely. As it is, I'm quite ready to retire."
"And?" Severus asked warily.
"You know perfectly well I've been waiting until the right time. Until it was clear that Kingsley could appoint you without an uproar. That your post-war reputation was going to settle into something—"
"Acceptable?" There was a hard edge on his voice. "And has it?"
"You know it has, Severus." Minerva fixed him with a sharp eye and a weary frown. "Don't make me regret keeping Albus's promise to you."
May 12, 2007
"Have you given any thought to the new Defense professor?" Minerva asked hesitantly. It was still a nerve-wracking subject.
"Tonks," Severus said. "She was an Auror for eight years."
"Then you'll be short a Transfiguration professor," Minerva pointed out.
Severus pressed a finger to his lips. "Considering that it would be tediously difficult to dismiss Slughorn, I propose changing him to that position. He would certainly be more adept at it than at Potions."
"It sounds as if you want to play Disappearing Chairs with the whole staff! What next?"
"Everybody else is adequate where they are."
"And for Potions?"
May 30, 2007
Sarah watched Rowena finish up the customer's order. The girl had taken to the business side easily from the start. Teaching her potion-making had been more challenging, but after seven years, she was at least as skilled as her Albert, who had a N.E.W.T. in Potions, and who was weary of only measuring out ingredients in his father's shop.
As the customer left, Sarah spoke, "Do you think you and Albert could manage the shop together? Without me, I mean."
Rowena's eyes widened. "That'd be such a chance for us!"
"But can you do it? Think seriously. Talk to him."
July 2, 2007
"This will really be all mine when I'm grown up?" There was a touch of awe in Severian's voice that Sarah had never heard during Christmas visits with the Notts. Perhaps because he had never known he had any hope of possessing what he saw. Now, as they looked out together from the tiny attic balcony, across the fields to the wold beyond, the love she felt for her ancestral home and land was reflected on her son's face.
"Really truly," she said. "But you'll have to study hard during summer hols to learn how to take care of it."
July 7, 2007
"Look what I found." The battered box's contents looked as if they'd been dumped out at some point and roughly shoved back in. Severian asked, "Are these your parents?"
Sarah gingerly sorted the disordered photographs and newspaper clippings that seemed to be from the 1940s. "My grandparents, I think."
"Huh, he looks like me." Severian held up a photo of two children: a sour-faced teenage witch in Hogwarts robes (Fiona, instantly recognizable) and a boy of about 10. Aside from Severian's dark eyes and slightly beaky nose, the resemblance—especially the smile—was strong.
"Yes," Sarah whispered, "that's your grandfather."
The Final Epilogue
It was a week before start of term when the arrangements were finalized. Professor Sarah Snape would take up official residence in the Potion teacher's quarters in the dungeon. Headmaster Severus Snape would Floo between there and the headmaster's office, which had finally lost all traces of tartan. The various items that Severus had collected during his tenure as Defense professor, as well as a portion of his reclaimed personal library, had been given their proper places in the last few weeks. But the room was still littered with the deserted possessions of previous headmasters, including a large collection of magical instruments that Sarah had always supposed had belonged to Albus Dumbledore, whose portrait still spent most of its time drowsing.
Severian wandered around the room for a few minutes, examining items. Or pretending to. He took up a position next to his father's chair behind the desk.
"I've made a decision," he said.
Sarah, who had been leafing through one of the books, looked up sharply. Severus continued to work on whatever he was writing. Sarah knew from experience that there had been a previous discussion between father and son.
"We've already talked about this. You're not going to Durmstrang," she said, pretending to turn her attention back to the book.
"It's too late to arrange that anyway," Severian said. "What I've decided is that I'm going to use the name Darkglass at school."
"What?!" Sarah slammed the book closed. "How can you—" she had to break off, momentarily at a loss for words. "How can you behave so dishonorably toward your father? Severus, you can't possibly approve of this!"
Severus finally put down his quill. "The boy's right."
"Mother, it's bad enough that my parents are on the staff. And that all the kids from Hogsmeade know it." Severian grimaced. "I don't need everybody to know, and to be reminded every time a professor calls on me. I don't need people pointing at me all day and saying, 'That's the headmaster's son.'"
"But..." Sarah floundered. She had known it wouldn't be easy for him, at least at first, but she had assumed that it would quickly become something that was beside the point, something that everyone ignored as a matter of course. It was suddenly confounding to realize that her son wasn't protected by the magic that had made her largely invisible at school.
And yet she could not help hurting for Severus's sake, although it was not at all apparent that he was hurting for himself. "How can you reject your father's name?"
"Sarah," Severus said, leaning forward. "What name will serve him better? An obscure name out of Knockturn? Or the name of an old and prominent wizarding family?"
"Dark wizarding family," she said bitterly. "And what about the Sorting? He's down on the list as Severian Snape."
"I'll deal with that."
"I don't seem to have a choice, when the two of you collude against me," she said grudgingly. But the pain of her acquiescence was immediately lessened by seeing her son's grin.
The Great Hall looked strange from the High Table. She had only seen it once before from this perspective, and the circumstances hadn't allowed for her to appreciate the view. Not that it was easy to focus on it now, what with the temptation to keep checking her pendant watch to make sure that the hand labeled Severian, which had recently moved from in transit to at school, remained there instead of shifting to mortal peril.
Determined to distract herself from worry, she clamped her hand firmly on the watch and stared out across the room. The four long House tables were filling up with students who looked shockingly young. Even the seventh years—who hadn't yet been old enough to come to Hogwarts during the war—looked far younger than Sarah remembered being at that age.
She didn't know many of them, yet, although beginning tomorrow she would be teaching all of them. There were a few faces she recognized as students who lived in Hogsmeade, and a few more among the older students that were vaguely familiar from Hogsmeade weekends. And Melanie Mantua, a third year at the Hufflepuff table, who shot a brief grin in the direction of the head table before turning back to her friends. Sarah already knew, from family gossip, that Melanie had no compunctions about telling people that her uncle (which sounded much better than first-cousin-once-removed) was the new headmaster.
What was unexpectedly disconcerting was having so many eyes looking curiously at her. She was the only new teacher on the staff this year, and there were obvious whispers (seen, if not heard) to the effect that this was the new Potions professor (or so someone had let slip to a Daily Prophet reporter, although Professor Slughorn was still sitting down at the other end of the High Table). Sarah knew from her own schooldays how those conversations were likely to go: would she be strict? did she actually know anything? and did you hear that she's the new headmaster's wife?
That last item had been causing a general stir since the Ministry's announcement of Severus's appointment. Hogwarts hadn't had a married headmaster in a hundred years, since the tenure of Phineas Nigellus Black, and everyone had an opinion about it. A long and diverse string of letters to the Prophet argued over the competing merits of celibacy and parenthood (if one child, male, could be called parenthood, compared to Headmaster Black's large brood), spurred a lively debate over the best age for a headmaster (there hadn't been one who was under 80 since Black either), and eventually degenerated into a rather brutal discussion of the qualities (and flaws) of former heads. After Rita Skeeter had succeeded in cornering Harry Potter and eliciting the comment that "marriage might make some people more stable," Severus had canceled the household subscription.
Mercifully little had been said (openly at least) about the wife in question, although it was difficult to say if this was Julia Darkglass's spells still at work or merely the fact that Mrs. Snape was not particularly interesting. She had been a quiet tradeswoman ever since the war, first in Diagon Alley and then in Hogsmeade. Rumor never agreed on who she'd been before that, and any information that came too close to the truth was lost in the sea of so-called "facts": she was a Durmstrang graduate, or the daughter of some cauldron-maker in Bath, or maybe a denizen of Knockturn Alley, whence came the Snape family. Their clear difference in age was remarked upon (usually in the context of his good fortune, deserved or undeserved), but it was not considered remarkable. Whether it was her potion-making skills that had attracted her husband's eye, or (as the darker rumors suggested) her family connections among those who had been loyal to Voldemort that had brought them together during his time as Dumbledore's spy, she herself seemed rather ordinary.
Except that now she was going to be the new Potions teacher. And since that mattered quite a lot to those who had been puttering along under Professor Slughorn's easy-going tutelage (and what was Slughorn going to teach now? Defense? they were asking each other), they were looking at her.
She hadn't realized that it would be so unnerving.
"Where's Tonks?" she whispered. And where was Severian?
"As this is her first go at giving the instructions, it may take some time," Severus answered; his voice seemed taut, although more with irritation than with worry. Although the students could hardly have heard anything over the din they were making themselves, Sarah noticed more pairs of eyes turning in her direction.
She lowered her voice further, "I'm not used to people staring at me."
"When in doubt," Severus murmured back, "scowl."
Sarah choked back a laugh, but found her eyes filling with tears. He had been younger than she was now, sitting up here under those eyes for the first time; younger even than Professor Longbottom, who was chatting cheerfully and unconcernedly with Professor Flitwick on her other side.
Sarah blinked and tightened her hand around her watch.
Finally the doors to the Great Hall opened, and a hush fell as Professor Lupin, resplendent in pink hair and purple robes, led a queue of children up to the front. Some seemed almost terrified; others looked around them, amazed; a few wore determined expressions. One of the determined ones was a dark-haired boy near the back of the queue.
Sarah let her hand go slack, her watch slipping down to rest at the end of its chain.
Severian was making a point of not looking at the High Table, she could tell, although his eyes glanced once in the direction of his parents, and the corner of his mouth twitched. But once he had taken his place, roughly in front of Professor Vector, he didn't turn around.
Tonks shot a harried look at the previous deputy headmaster, as if asking how he'd done it, before she placed the familiar stool in the center of the space between the High Table and the House tables. On top of it, she placed the battered Sorting Hat, with its ripped brim. She stepped aside, reaching surreptitiously into the pocket of her robe for a scroll, which she promptly dropped. But the Sorting Hat had already begun its song:
"In ages past the Founders four
Brought students of all sorts
To teach them magic in this school
That they would call Hogwarts.
Bold Gryffindor brought students who
Were brave and bold as he.
Bright Ravenclaw sought students who
Had wit in great degree.
Strong Slytherin sought only those
Of cunning and of lineage.
Good Hufflepuff said to teach the kind
And loyal was a privilege.
The Houses that they started here
Are still, in number, four,
Because they thought the future should
Go on just as before.
To Godric's hat they added spells
To bring the thing about,
And thus they made me what I am:
A Hat to Sort you out.
"So put me on! Don't dawdle now!
I have a job to do:
To peek inside your head to find
The House that's best for you.
And yet—remember though I judge
The qualities you're known for,
I can't determine or decide
The fate that you were born for.
For every House has qualities
That might turn wrong or right.
The path you walk's not set in stone
By where you're sent tonight.
And only by the strength of all
The Houses here together
Have we survived the stormy blast
Of fearsome, evil weather.
"So sit down now, and I'll decide
Which House will be your home
While you're at Hogwarts learning
Every potion, spell, and tome.
I'll put you where you'll do your best—
I'm never, ever wrong.
So line up now and let's begin!
(I'm finished with my song.)"
As everyone applauded, Sarah wondered whether the Hat's reminder of House unity was meant to be a warning or just a tribute of sorts to the new headmaster. Severus certainly didn't seem displeased. And Severian was watching the Hat eagerly.
Tonks had retrieved the scroll during the song, and now she unrolled it without further incident.
"When I read your name, you will sit down and put on the Sorting Hat. It will announce your House. Belby, Athena!"
A round-faced girl with her hair in a long, dark braid stepped forward, perched the Hat on her head and herself on the edge of the stool. The decision seemed to take a long time. Finally the Hat shouted,
The Slytherin table cheered. Sarah found herself clenching her teeth. Not Slytherin, she thought. Not Slytherin. It was hard to remember that Severus Snape's role in the war and after had done wonders for the House's reputation.
This was a skinny, nervous-looking boy.
"GRYFFINDOR!" the Hat shouted, almost immediately.
"Burns, Roger!" A short boy with dark red hair that stood on end.
"Cadwallader, Owen!" Another short boy, this one burly-looking.
"Campbell, Allison!" A girl with shoulder-length hair the color of honey and a pointed chin.
"Chaudhry, Nikhil!" A tall boy, with wide eyes.
Sarah, who had learned the list almost by heart, reached out under the table toward the arm of the headmaster's chair. Severus's hand met hers, unexpectedly.
Tonks took what seemed a deeper than usual breath. "Darkglass, Severian!"
There was nothing of hesitation in how the boy took his place on the stool. It might have been his own hat he was putting on his head.
It was only when Sarah realized that she was holding her breath that she realized the Hat really was taking some time, and that it wasn't just her imagination. She wondered what the Hat was saying to her son, and what he was saying to the Hat. She had to release the breath and take another. He couldn't possibly want... Could he?
The tightening of Severus's grip told her the same thing as her rapid glance at him: pure, quiet triumph.
But that was nothing to the look on Severian's face as he turned around, placed the Hat on the stool, and finally gave in to the temptation to gaze up at his parents.
He was happy. Genuinely happy. And then he was skipping off to join his cheering House mates.
"Deverill, Eliza!" Tonks continued.
"He'll do well," Severus whispered, still surreptitiously holding her hand. "Better than us."
A/N: The changes during this period in the staff at Hogwarts are referred to in this chapter but not always fully described. My notes on the subject indicate the following: Bill Weasley was hired in 1997 to replace McGonagall as Transfiguration teacher and Head of Gryffindor when she became headmistress. Neville Longbottom replaced Sprout as Herbology teacher in 2002 (Sprout retired after the incident involving Hobday). Severus Snape also returned to Hogwarts as the DADA teacher that same year, although Slughorn remained Head of Slytherin. When Bill Weasley left to work at the Ministry in 2003, Neville also became Head of Gryffindor. Tonks took Bill's position as Transfiguration teacher that same year. Other changes are as noted in the text.
Thank you for coming with me all this way. Remember, if you'd like an ebook (mobi) version of this novel, it can be downloaded from keokukvortex dot com slash creative-arts slash authors slash verity-brown slash.