A/N: No, I'm afraid I haven't kept up on writing. However, this piece has been completed for sometime and, now that the reveals are up, I can post it here for anyone who may be interested in something relatively 'new' from me...

This story was written for the Snaco Soiree Fest on LiveJournal. I've changed a few grammatical words here and there since its original posting, but the gist of it is very much the same. You can find more information about my prompt below.

This is not the usual fan fair for the Snaco pairing, in that it's a child-guardian story, not romantic by any means. (If you prefer that type of scenario between these two, feel free to check out my other Snaco one-shot, Shattered Fancies.)

Many thanks to my wonderful beta, Brittny, for her immeasurable help!

Disclaimer: Harry Potter is copyrighted to and belongs to JK Rowling. I'm just playing in her sandbox. No money, just fun.

LJ Fest: Snaco Soiree
Prompter: Anonymous
Creator: CRMediaGal
Beta(s): Brittny
Rating: PG-13
Warning(s): Mild Language
Prompt: AU - As Draco was a small child his parents die because of a nasty Wizarding disease and Severus, as the godfather, has to take the child, since his aunt is in Azkaban... So, now Draco grows up at Hogwarts with his godfather, never knowing how rich he really is (and maybe, if you want to go this far, you can show him falling in love for the first time - Harry would be awesome, but only on the side; fest rules still are to be obeyed). Relationship: Godfather, as his only remaining family/Godson

No Choice

By CRMediaGal

Severus Snape stared without blinking, sharp, dubious eyes switching from the worn parchment that trembled in his hand, gathering rain drops but not smearing any of the life-altering contents, to the snivelling, blond-haired boy at his feet, who shrunk from his presence, though there was nowhere to retreat.

Slowly, Severus's attention drew back to the letter for a third and final heart-wrenching read, his heavy-lidded eyes inspecting its message most carefully as though to stake out some covert miscalculation amongst the letters. He met the elderly witch who had accompanied the boy to his doorstep and his thin mouth framed a deeper, unsettling frown.

"There must be some mistake," he challenged with an even tone, though his heart was pumping with dread and anxiety.

"I'm afraid not," the glacial deliverer huffed at him. She raised her priggish, pointed nose, daring Severus to test her resolve on what had been stamped in permanent ink years ago, without his knowledge.

Perhaps if I attempt revoking the charms placed on this letter, Severus considered for all of two seconds before smartly acknowledging defeat. The letter was merely a warded copy; the original was locked away elsewhere, along with what little remained of the Malfoy family's once impressive estate.

There would be no disputing the facts presented before him on this gloomy, unforgettable night: Severus Snape had been penned legal guardian of the late Lucius and Narcissa Malfoy's only son, Draco.

Son of a bitch, Severus inwardly cursed to himself.

Draco had been unexpectedly dumped at Spinner's End without warning, neither to the freshly parentless boy or his new reluctant guardian, late in the evening and with only his cloak, a couple items of clothing, and a small suitcase to his formerly noble surname. The cold-blooded woman who had dragged him here clearly had no intention of making this life-changing transition any easier for either the stunned Hogwarts professor or the once privileged, now lost little boy.

What are the chances? Severus pondered regrettably, staring down his hooked nose at the nervous offspring of his one-time close mate.

Lucius and Narcissa had been nearly destitute when the rampant Dragon Fever suddenly stole their lives. Several notable pureblood families in Great Britain had contracted the disease in recent weeks, its hold over peoples' lives ravaging and unforgiving. Draco had evidently escaped the worst of it and spent the past week recouping at St Mungo's, where arrangements were made on the boy's behalf to transfer him to his new residence.

Severus Snape had never fathomed that those plans would include him.

"If that is the case," Severus tried to reason calmly, though his nerves were beginning to fray, "then why was I never notified immediately following the parents' deaths? Your office neglected to inform me of any of this. This is most unprofessional."

The temporary overseerer on his stoop gave another one of her short, undignified sighs. "If you don't mind," she uttered with the utmost grievance, "the boy's going to catch his death standing out here in the rain. Let us in and I shall be brief."

Severus sneered, teetering on the edge of slamming the door in the wretched woman's face; she obviously cared little, if at all, for the boy's welfare and would have gladly foregone sharing a word with Severus about these arrangements, if he would let her. His shrewd conscience got the better of him, however. The act might temporarily relieve his growing headache, but it wouldn't alter the grave permanence of this situation—not until Severus could come up with a plan of his own. There was no way in hell Draco Malfoy would be staying on with him permanently. Severus would ensure that other arrangements could be made once he had proper time to think with a clearer head.

After exercising a moment to reel in his temper, Severus stepped aside, looking none too pleased as a shivering Draco and the ugly old witch crossed the tight foyer of his shabby abode to the fire that crackled and warmed his sitting room. He glanced at the aged woman as she rather curtly removed Draco's cloak and draped it over the sofa chair nearest to the hearth. She instructed him to sit and crossed her arms over her chest, preferring not to make herself too comfortable. Obviously, she intended to bombard Severus with the details and then relieve herself of them both as quickly as possible.

Severus sighed, dismayed, and vanished the water droplets that had trickled into his home, no thanks to his unwanted guests. With evermore reluctance, he entered the sitting area to join them. Draco was now seated on the edge of the sofa chair and heating his clammy hands, purposely keeping his head lowered. Like the grump of a woman who hovered over him, Severus made a point of standing, too, crossing his arms over his chest. He eyed the icy caretaker with the utmost displeasure and also kept a considerable distance from them, remaining rooted near the hallway.

"Now then," she began, her deep voice scratchy and irritating (at least, to her unsavoury host), "I understand you're surprised by our late night visit, Mr Snape—"

"An understatement, Madam," Severus tersely interrupted her.

"Well, it was vital to see to the child's welfare in regards to his illness; that was first and foremost in our plans. Forgive my assumption, but I would have thought the late Mr and Mrs Malfoy would have made you abreast of these affairs long ago."

At Severus's subsequent silence—not to mention the accusatory glare he returned—the witch pressed on, "We also had important decisions to make as to the arrangements for the boy's parents' burials. Since the Malfoys have no other living—or, shall I say, available—relatives, these tasks were regrettably left to our office to arrange. One of Mrs Malfoy's sisters, as I'm sure you're aware, resides in Azkaban and the other is dead, so neither was available to be of assistance."

Severus provided no follow up remark to these comments, either. He cautiously eyed Draco but, from where he stood, could only make out the back of the boy's wet head. Draco sniffed a couple times but hadn't uttered a peep as the woman rattled on about his family and all of their unfortunate circumstances; Severus suspected he had likely been accosted not to speak since falling under their care.

Peeved that the woman would speak so frankly about Draco's family in front of him, Severus motioned towards the hallway with a firm toss of his head. Luckily, she got the hint and made no fuss, silently following Severus's lead down the nearest darkened corridor towards the stairs. His wand materialised from inside his sleeve and, with a flourish, a Muffling Charm was placed. He turned around, glared her down, and beat her to the punch.

"Ms...?" he began, raising an eyebrow.

"Snead," she replied, keeping her lips tightly pursed together.

Severus retained from giving a disgusted look. "Ms Snead, be the boy's family circumstances as they are, myself and my position at Hogwarts make me highly unsuitable to take on the legal guardianship of a five-year old—"

"The Malfoys' last will and testament makes their wishes expressively clear, Mr Snape. As of two weeks ago, you are the boy's next of kin."

Severus's attempts at collectedness soured. "Surely, there must be exceptions made for those who are unfit?"

The silver-haired woman angled her head, baiting him with her eyes. "Such as?"

"My work position," Severus emphasised, snarling. "My lack of financial security. This house, if you will. There must be something?"

To add to Severus's growing aggravations, the caretaker had the audacity to smirk. "I'm afraid you've met all the qualifications, checks, and balances, Mr Snape. Our office doesn't take these sensitive matters lightly, you know. You are, in fact, quite 'fit', as it were, to take on this responsibility, I can assure you.

"Now then," she summarised in haste, making a retreat before Severus could consider snatching her up by the throat, "I must be off. It's late and I've been too long as it is. Best of luck to you, Mr Snape."

She offered no parting farewell. There were no kind words of solace for the abandoned little boy who had lost everything in a matter of days; or sound advice for the stumped, emotionally challenged wizard who was now to oversee the child's every important decision for his welfare and future.

The door had barely clicked behind her when the woman Disapparated away. A stupefied Severus Snape loitered for a while longer in his hallway, mouth slightly open and eyes stricken by panic. The small being in the next room, who had been so unceremoniously dumped on his doorstep, continued to weep softly as the rain surged.

"Wh - Where's Mummy?"

"She's gone."

"And... And Daddy?"

"Gone, too." Severus blinked, staring at Draco perplexed. "Weren't you told...?"

The pale tot pouted and lowered his steel blue eyes. He had avoided glancing much at all at Severus since the start of breakfast, hardly meeting the wizard's stern gaze, preferring to look on at the hearty meal Severus had prepared for him instead, though not with any ounce of joy.

"Yes..." he whispered, his voice hoarse and hushed-sounding.

Severus suspected Draco had spent most of his first night crying. He had been sniffing and snivelling on occasion ever since he arrived—and, subsequently, awoke the following day—though a few nettled glances from Severus lessened that.

Severus was too knackered to be much sympathetic. After finding himself suddenly thrust into the role of parental guardian, Severus had led Draco straight to bed, providing him with his parents' own old bedroom next to the upstairs loo. It desperately needed repairs—the unsightly, mustard-coloured wallpaper was peeling away, cracks were forming along the ceiling, and the furnishings were tatty and hadn't been dusted in ages—but, for now, another day or two wouldn't hurt the privileged little snot.

He hasn't been privileged for a long time, Severus, he rebuffed internally. Check yourself.

Still, Severus hadn't missed Draco's look of horror at his less than stellar surroundings, followed by gross distaste. That expression was eerily reminiscent of his late father. Draco's former home couldn't have been that much more glamorous than this one, though, surely?

After briefly explaining where everything was and where his own room was located, Severus left Draco to get settled on his own. Dealing with his students' varying levels of emotional comprehension was trying enough; he hadn't a bloody clue how to take on a five-year old's—yet.

Whether it was right or wrong, Severus retreated downstairs for the rest of what was initially intended to be a quiet, enjoyable evening spent by the fireplace and catching up on his Potion magazine subscriptions. Yet there he was, some two hours later, too wired to read and too awake for sleep. Four glasses of Firewhisky later and Severus's headache was not only worse but the reeling thoughts that had been pressing in on him were louder and more disgruntling than ever.

What in Merlin's arsehole had brought Lucius and Narcissa Malfoy to the harrowing conclusion that he would be the perfect substitute guardian to raise their son?

Beats the fuck out of me.

Severus took another hefty swing of Firewhisky straight from the bottle. Truth be told, he hadn't thought about the Malfoys in years. He and Lucius had had a falling out shortly following the Dark Lord's disappearance and Severus hadn't looked back, though occasional word of his friend's financial hardships reached him from time to time. It was well known that the Malfoys had all but squandered their wealth and were no longer living in the lap of luxury.

In a fiendish move to avoid a prison sentence for past wrongdoings, Lucius, in the months that followed Lord Voldemort's downfall, spent the majority of his and his wife's inheritance paying off the Wizengamot. Hefty lawyers' fees soon followed suit and, before long, the Malfoys were practically penniless, begging for favours and money wherever they could find a sympathetic ear and a sizeable wallet to match.

Severus wasn't all that taken aback by Lucius's scandalous schemes and tricks to garner compassion, but avoiding Azkaban was to come at a cost; a cost Severus warned his old friend about, but he wouldn't listen.

The two men hadn't parted amicably the last time they were in the same room together, but their final row had been a long-time coming. Severus knew that Lucius—and to a far lesser extent, Narcissa—continued to hail pureblood supremacy and outright disgust for Muggle-borns; both prejudices had boiled Severus's blood for years. Learning of his formerly close friendship—and, later, unrequited love—for Lily Evans had also left a foul taste in Lucius's mouth, an objection the racist wizard never backed down from letting Severus know.

During the Dark Lord's rise to power, Severus had been forced to bear the brunt of Lucius's snide remarks in stride, but they proved grating in the extreme. Severus's fast climb to the top of Lord Voldemort's's chain of command, too, ruffled the older, more accomplished Lucius's feathers. By the time of the Dark Lord's shocking defeat to Lily's precious offspring, their bond was virtually nonexistent.

Once the Death Eater trials were underway, Lucius didn't hesitate to name Severus in court as one of Lord Voldemort's closest accomplices, if only to keep himself from being sent to Azkaban, and that particularly hard blow prompted an ugly confrontation of epic proportions. Severus barely left Malfoy Manor without a few Unforgivable Curses on the tip of his tongue, and the last vision he had of Lucius was that of a pathetically crippled, defeated man who, instead of being in what should have been his prime, was at his utter ruin.

Miraculously, at the end of the trials both Death Eaters managed to avoid incarceration. That didn't encourage the renewal an old friendship, however. As far as Severus was concerned, and as far as he could surmise on Lucius's end, their camaraderie was at an end.

So, why me? Severus contemplated over and over again that night Draco showed up on his stoop, drawing further and further into a drunken stupor. Why bloody me?

As the Firewhisky would woefully prove, Severus wouldn't find the answers at the bottom of a bottle, nor by intently studying Lucius's little spawn as he was presently doing over breakfast. He couldn't seem to avoid being vexed and confounded, however. None of it made any sense.

Draco, though cranky and whiny (and undoubtedly anxious with his new surroundings), was filled with questions that Severus had no desire to answer, either. He interrupted Severus's inner musings with another exasperating doozy.

"Why can't I go home?"

Severus lowered his fork. "Because your parents are no longer there. Hence, why you can't stay there."

Affronted, Draco puffed out his chest. "But it's my house!" he argued in that tiny, bratty voice that made Severus's skin crawl; Lucius's must have been exactly the same at that maddening age. "Mummy and Daddy said so!"

"Not anymore. It belongs to the government now."

Draco slumped against his chair and issued another quiet sniffle. A couple more strained whimpers transpired. Hardly knowing what to say, for comforting another, least of all a child, wasn't Severus's strong suit, he grunted and tried to redirect the conversation towards another topic.

"Did you sleep well?"

"No," Draco mumbled into his chest.

It was a silly question, really, and Severus knew it before the words graced his lips. Of course the boy likely hadn't slept a wink. He was in a new house, spending time with a stranger whom he didn't like and who obviously didn't care for him, and had no choice in the direction his life was headed.

"Erm, eat your breakfast before it goes cold."

Draco glanced at Severus from across the table, his pout lengthening. "I'm not hungry."

"You will be in an hour or two, boy, and I have no intention of making you another meal until lunch."

Draco rubbed his nose but refused to take up his fork. Instead, he turned his head about to inspect the man's strange, quirky-looking kitchen. It was incredibly small, for starters, but fairly clean, with hideous floor-to-ceiling wallpaper that was peeling off. He didn't seem to keep a lot of food stocked or do much with the various pots, pans, and cooking utensils he kept out of sight.

For a wizard who seemed well-put together—at least, on the outside—Severus Snape's house was in shambles. He did all the cooking and cleaning himself without assistance, too, and seemed to prefer living an isolated, remote existence.

"Do you have house-elves?" Draco finally inquired after a long stretch of silence.

Severus tried to keep from rolling his eyes. How many more bloody questions would the bugger ask over one meal? His pounding headache was worsening.


"Why not?"

"I have no need for a house-elf. I can take care of everything here myself."

Draco scrunched his nose. "But why?"

"I've just explained to you, boy—"

"But why? Why do you want to do everything yourself? My Mummy always insisted on a house-elf, even when we had little to—"

"That's enough," Severus interrupted, speaking with more irritation than he had meant to show. Draco jolted and went still in his chair. Severus dabbed at his mouth with a napkin, cast it aside, and shot the curious tot a measured glare. "Look, Draco, I don't like this arrangement any more than you do, but, until I can figure out a more permanent solution, we'll both have to make do. You understand?"

Draco's eyes shifted, uncertain. Slowly, he concurred with a heavy nod and, after another moment or two, hesitantly took up a fork-full of eggs and began to eat. Having discreetly warmed his meal before he took his first bite, Severus watched as Draco proved himself pleasantly surprised by how satisfying the man's Muggle-style cooking was.

That didn't mean that Severus Snape had somehow wormed his way into Draco's heart; or vice versa.

The man was far too pallid and harsh-looking. Draco had determined that at the off, but he also had a tendency to sneer and make angry faces when Draco so much as breathed in his direction. Sometimes his glares were frightening, leaving Draco with goose bumps. He was seemingly always cross with him for not grasping this new living agreement; or for expecting it to change.

In the weeks since moving into Spinner's End, Draco's bleak outlook hadn't stopped him from hoping—praying—that Mummy and Daddy would miraculously knock on that door one morning, come to retrieve him and take him back home where he belonged.

Home, Draco reflected, deeply downtrodden by the constant reminder that this dismal setting was most certainly not home sweet home.

Late one evening, as he peered around the poorly lit living quarters—dingy, weathered, with lots and lots of books but hardly any bookshelves; every inch of the room was cluttered and dusty—Draco was overwhelmed with homesickness. He yearned for his family living quarters: refined, spacious, without an inch of dust in sight. His mother would have stuck up her nose at such decrepit conditions as Spinner's End's.

With a beaten look towards the floor, Draco's morbid reflections moved onto the last time he had seen his mother. She had been dressed in a simple, form-fitting black gown, her striking blonde locks pulled back into a pretty bun. A silver clasp peeked out from the back of her hair and she kept her eyes closed, sleeping soundly in that wooden crate those stuffy people had confined her to; but she was so regal to behold. It troubled Draco that she wouldn't wake up, though.

"I want Mummy," he began whimpering aloud, forcing out his bottom lip.

His harsh-looking guardian glanced up from some tome he was reading and shot Draco a wary expression; or was it annoyance again? Outrage? Whatever it was, it made Draco uneasy.

"Well, she isn't coming."

That dark voice was too severe, making Draco yearn more and more for the soft-spoken register of his mother. She had such a quiet tenderness about her that would have instantly soothed his nerves in moments like this. She would have scooped him up into her arms and comforted him, perhaps even offer him a bite of his favourite Bernie's Every Flavoured bean.

"Then Daddy!" Draco begged, but Severus's deeply set frown only grew.

"Nor will he."

"But - But I don't wanna stay here anymore! I want to go home!"

With that stringy black hair that fell off his shoulders and half-hid his equally ominous eyes, Severus let forth a low sigh, peering down his sharp nose at the miserable, disenchanted youth wrestling with his emotions on a threadbare carpet in front of the fireplace. He tossed his book aside and leaned forward in his chair, the fire light catching some of the harsher lines that danced across his face. He no longer looked mean, but the general severity of his countenance clouded what the boy might make of him.

"I'm afraid you have no choice, Draco..."

Crippled by the sudden wont to burst into tears, Draco leapt up from the floor and fled the room, stomping up the stairs two at a time. He flung himself onto his bed where he eventually cried himself to sleep.

"Quit fidgeting."

Draco gave a dramatic huff, catching a warning glance from Severus in the mirror, standing feet behind him with those wiry arms crossed firmly over his chest. That threatening glare always got to him, hurriedly evaporating the boy's disgruntlement.

He despised getting fitted for clothes, though, and he and Severus had spent the majority of their morning trying on too many ill-fitting garments in Twilfitt & Tatting's. Draco would have much preferred a trip to Gambol & Japes or the notorious junk shop down the road, both of which had been off limits to him whenever he visited Diagon Alley with his parents.

Draco sucked in a breath and tried to keep from wiggling whilst the prim seamstress audibly tsk'ed at him. Her magical tape measure floated around him as it took his measurements, poking and prodding him as it saw fit.

Draco was stunned that Severus had brought him to such a store, too, for it seemed to illustrate a certain wealth the mysterious wizard had but hadn't boasted about before. Draco's parents never brought him to Twilfitt & Tatting's, though it appeared to be much more suited to their tastes: posh and upscale, carrying only designer brands and hair-raising price tags to boot. Draco was much more acquainted with the second-hand clothing shop around the corner, where his mother used to turn up her nose at the selections and kept her hood up as they scoured the aisles, as if not wishing to be spotted by anyone they knew. Had he known then about this store, Draco considered as the seamstress's tape measure jabbed him again, he might have suggested it to her.

Maybe that would've made Mummy happy, and then she wouldn't have left me...

"I believe I have everything I need, Mr Snape," said the seamstress at last, disrupting the boy's sour reflections. "I'll have everything tailored for you by the end of next week."

"It cannot be delayed beyond next Friday," Severus pressed the woman, his tone non-negotiable. "After next week, we'll be travelling and away for some time."

"None to worry, Mr Snape. Everything will be prepared and ready for you, I guarantee."

With a satisfied nod, Severus instructed Draco to hop off the fitting stool and follow him out of the store. Draco was all too eager to comply, beyond fed up with clothe shopping, and scrambled to keep up as they emerged onto the bustling, cobblestone streets of Diagon Alley.

"Where are we going?" he asked, rearing back to stare up at Severus, who returned his curious expression with one that was blank and un-animated.

"To the Apothecary and then home. I need to replenish my potions stock—"

"No, you said we'd be travelling next weekend. Travelling where?"

"Hogwarts," he stated simply, now staring ahead, but Draco ceased walking at the school's mention.

"Hogwarts?" he gasped; his mouth fell open and his eyes expanded in wonderment. "Really?"

Severus turned to face Draco, not following the boy's elation, and his long, stark robes billowed gracefully at his heels. "Yes," he answered matter-of-factly. "That is where I work, and that is where we shall reside for the next nine months."

Draco nearly tripped over his feet as he rushed to catch up to Severus, a glimmer of newfound interest in his guardian lighting up his face. "You work there?" he questioned, as if in disbelief; his legs gave an excited jitter. "We're going to live at Hogwarts?"

Draco wasn't sure what words he had finally asked to earn the upward tug that materialised at the corner of Severus Snape's lips, but it pleased him greatly. "Yes, indeed. Would you like that?"

"Oh, yes!" Draco didn't hesitate to cheer and began springing up and down in place, paying no mind to the curious stares being directed at the peculiar pair conversing on the corner. "Yes! Yes! Oh, yes—"

"That's enough, Draco," said Severus softly, without any of the usual aggravation he bore. He took up walking again but kept his strides shorter so that his giddy company could keep pace.

Draco quieted down as instructed but continued beaming up at Severus as they wove through the streets towards the Apothecary. "Can we go now?" he pleaded a couple times as they drew closer to the potions shop, and any folks passing by might have overheard the wizard's stringent but surprisingly patient, "No," as they meandered through the crowd.

He may not have had a choice about his living arrangement nowadays, but, for Draco, things were finally appearing a bit brighter.


"Draco? Draco! Boy, wake up—"

"MUMMY!" he howled, waking with a start.

Draco's eyes shot open and, quickly, he recognised the jarring outline that was Severus Snape's face. He began to sob uncontrollably. He latched onto his pillow for comfort and turned away from the dishevelled wizard to weep harder.

Dumbfounded, Severus inched onto the bed next to him and remained perfectly still whilst Draco cried into the darkness. He had been awakened by the boy's loud, tearful cries for his mother in the dead of night many times before, unsure, at first, whether to wake him from his night terror or let him cry it out and fall back into a—hopefully—more peaceful slumber.

Yet there had been no tranquil sleep for either party since the young Malfoy's arrival, and, weeks later, it was taking its toll on the both of them.

"I want Mummy," Draco whimpered over and over, distressed to find himself, again, in the same unfamiliar bed and surroundings for the fourth week in a row.

Severus combed his fingers through his lank hair, flummoxed. The last few weeks had been an exhaustive whirlwind of transitions, from having Lucius Malfoy's offspring dropped on his front doorstep to getting himself—and the boy—acclimated to living under the same roof together to rearranging his formerly child-free schedule to watch a combative, overly emotional five-year old's every move.

Tonight marked a fourth week of night terrors in which Draco would cry out in his sleep, only to wake and be inconsolable for the next hour or two until, eventually, he drifted back to sleep of his own accord. He refused the Dreamless Sleep offerings Severus repeatedly gave, and, as a result, the wizard was barely managing more than a couple hours of rest himself.

As for providing emotional comfort to the boy in intense times like these, as far as Severus was concerned, he lacked the capacity for dealing with snot-infested youths that needed more than a light tap or rub on their backs, so that was about all he could offer Draco—so far. Eventually, his efforts had started to work in getting the boy back to sleep quicker, but, sometimes, once he was properly sleepy and unaware, Draco would roll over towards Severus and try to snuggle against the man's arm or cradle his hand to his face.

Tonight, after calming Draco down, and with another forty-five minutes of back rubbing, Draco did precisely that. With his cheeks wetted with tears, Draco shifted onto his side, facing Severus, and nestled the wizard's warm palm against his reddened nose. Severus froze, horrified and mesmerised at the same time by the boy's unmindful affections, as he had been ever since it started one week ago.

After a couple minutes, Severus quietly slipped his hand free and hurried back to his own bed, though sleep evaded his conscience—and awakening heart—as it routinely had ever since the Malfoy spawn had so unexpectedly dropped into his life.

How was an adult like him, who carried no doting sentiments for clingy children of any sort, supposed to fall back to sleep after that?

Severus sidelong eyed his bedside table, where a secret letter had been warded and tucked away for safekeeping. He was half tempted to pull it out again and reread it for the umpteenth time but refrained.

The letter, penned some two years prior by Lucius Malfoy's own hand, had arrived earlier in the week from that icy witch's place of employment. It had supposedly been 'overlooked' by the agency in their overseeing of the Malfoys' estate, but Severus had other suspicions. He was shocked to have received Lucius's letter at all; that seedy business would have done better to not send him the answers to all the 'whys' that had been circling his brain for weeks on end without rest, if only to spite him.

Lucius... You're so wrong. I'm not the right man for this job.

Draco was as enlivened as could be as he strutted and skipped through the stone-covered corridors, fervently soaking in every statue that moved or ghost that passed through a wall. It was the one outing he and Severus had made in recent weeks that actually enticed him (as well as erased the pout that otherwise adorned his mouth most days, whether in his new guardian's presence or whilst he was alone).

Having been fascinated with Hogwarts since he could remember, Draco hadn't gotten over the thrill of moving to Hogwarts since Severus first informed him of his position there as a professor days before in Diagon Alley. Draco's late father, who used to sit on the Board of Governors, would sometimes bring him to the magical school to be entertained whilst he saw to 'very important matters', as he used to gloat in that prideful tone that made Draco feel just as important.

What his father did during these brief outings Draco knew not, but Draco enjoyed pretend sword play with the Bloody Baron, roaming the halls to his heart's content (though always alongside the accompanying nanny, whom he despised and tried to dodge or escape at every turn), getting lost in the bewitched ceiling in the Great Hall, or sampling the delectable food, which was as mouth-watering as what the family house-elves prepared at home.

"Keep up, Draco," Severus insisted for what had to be the eighth time today, losing his patience with the preoccupied youth. He spun on his heel and stepped onto another series of moving staircases, checking over his shoulder to ensure that Draco was still following.

"Where are we going?" Draco asked, out of breath as he hiked to be on the step next to Severus.

"To see the Headmaster."


Draco could have sworn he heard the normally stiff wizard choke back a laugh, but it vanished as quickly as it transpired. Severus stepped off the staircase, which had ceased moving, and Draco dashed after him, struggling to keep up.

"Dumbledore," Severus corrected without turning his head, "and, yes, we're going to visit with him."

Draco shot the back of Severus's head a confused frown. "Why?"

"To apprise him of our new arrangement."

"But why?"

"Since you'll be living with me here during the school term, it's imperative—"

"But why?" Draco's eyes shone all over again, as though he was hearing this precious news about living at Hogwarts for the first time; then those wondrous eyes resumed their befuddled expression. "Why do you live at Hogwarts when you have a house of your own?"

Without warning, Severus halted in his tracks, sending Draco toppling into the back of his legs. Draco barely managed to stop himself from stumbling arse over elbow as he straightened himself out.

Severus's cloak gave a fierce flourish as he whirled about to stare down at what had been his constant nosy companion for four painstaking weeks. Disgruntled by the never-ending barrage of questions—ever since the tot had arrived, he couldn't seem to keep his trap shut when it came to wanting to know anything and everything—Severus reverted to the authoritative voice he normally reserved for his students...and anyone for whom he carried a general dislike.

"No more questions, Draco. You will be quiet and respectful whilst I speak with the headmaster, or there will be no Turkish Delight for you following supper. Is that understood?"

Draco scowled and bit back a retort. He had learned shortly after moving in with Severus Snape that fighting back or saying anything that might get him into further trouble was a grave mistake. He either lost certain privileges (of which he was convinced he had few), lost out on a meal, or was forced to do some crummy chore his mother and father would never have allowed.

Draco kept his defiant glare to a minimum but, still wishing to convey to Severus that he wasn't happy about being told what to do, he let his thoughts slip onto his face. Severus took off again without another word, leaving the heated youngster to trail—or run, rather—after him.

As it turned out, it was just as well that Draco remained silent, for he lost any interest in the drivel of a conversation that carried on between Severus and Albus Dumbledore. The mighty wizard's office was an impressive sight with lots to look at, but Draco found little interest in Dumblebore himself.

Dumbledore, he had to correct himself more than once.

From how his mother and father used to describe him, Dumbledore was a 'wonky' fellow who allied with Mudbloods and repudiated Dark Magic; his parents had had very strong, differentiating stances on both of those scores from what Draco could remember. As of yet, he was uncertain as to Severus Snape's opinions on either topics, for the man barely spoke two words to him at a time, but Dumbledore, at least, was as accepting and bizarre as his parents had warned him about.

Those twinkling, bright blue eyes, half hidden behind moon-shaped spectacles, winked at Draco on occasion, which bewildered him (was the headmaster reading his thoughts?) or he would simply stroke that long, white beard of his and stare off into the distance. (Did he even know there was Licorice Snap embedded in his beard, for that matter?).

Draco shrugged it off and turned his attention elsewhere, though he heard his name tossed around a few times as the conversation droned on, along with some sort of arrangement that was made to provide him living quarters and to attend a school in a town not far away at a place called Hogsmeade.

For the remainder of the weekend, Draco was pleasantly surprised by the thoughtful—and most enjoyable—time he wound up spending with (mostly) only his guardian for company. Severus took Draco on an in depth tour of the castle, which his father never had had the time for (and for which Draco saw far less of the school than he ever realised—till now; the castle was littered with hidden passageways to explore), and took most of his questions in stride. Whereas, in the past month, Severus had rushed him and Draco about, here at Hogwarts he permitted Draco all the time the boy required to make himself familiar and more comfortable with their new settings.

Draco was provided a cosy bedroom adjoining Severus's that was twice the size as his bedroom at Spinner's End (not to mention cleaner and without wilting wallpaper); a house-elf named Winky was assigned to their quarters to do whatever bidding necessary, which Draco thought a smart improvement to his guardian's usual silly rationale for doing everything himself; and their personal quarters within the school proved a warmer, far more consoling atmosphere overall.

At Hogwarts, Draco discovered contentment for the first time in a long while, where there was adventure to be found at every turn and other people to talk to besides the taciturn-prone Severus Snape. That didn't mean that his heart still didn't ache for home and, most importantly, his parents.

It's not home, Draco lamented as he curled up under the covers at the end of that first weekend at Hogwarts, his nerves heightening about the following morning's first day of school, but I like it here...

And maybe, just maybe, Severus will grow to like me.

"Don't go, Severus!" Draco hollered, panic-stricken as he clasped onto Severus's thigh for dear life, his fingers digging into the wizard's trousers. "Please! Don't leave me here!"

Severus stared on, petrified and at a loss for words. He had dealt aplenty in the past month with Draco's frequent fits of weeping and hysterics, mostly at night when the poor boy was half incoherent and (somewhat) easily persuaded to calm down and go back to sleep; but this level of outburst—and in broad daylight—was unexpected.

"Draco, it's all right—"

"NO! NO!" Draco stomped the floor and wailed at the top of his lungs. "DON'T LEAVE ME HERE!"

Severus had brought Draco to the local grade school in Hogsmeade, where lots of Wizarding children were known to attend until they could move onto Hogwarts at age eleven. It had never been a preferred choice for the Malfoys when they were alive but it also wasn't a Muggle school, either, which Severus and Dumbledore both agreed wouldn't suit Draco as the boy tried to acclimate to his new life. They had thought this Wizarding grade school a solid option for him, not to mention a convenience for Severus in travelling back and forth from Hogwarts.

Draco wasn't having any of it, however—at least, not on his first day. From the initial mention of it in the headmaster's office to repeated attempts by Severus to engage Draco in discussions over the long weekend to when he first awoke that morning, Draco wasn't keen on leaving Hogwarts...or Severus's side.

Today, he was refusing to part ways with the professor, forcing an exasperated Severus to finally pick the boy up mid-trip and sling him over his shoulder like a bag as they trudged into Hogsmeade, Draco kicking and screaming in protest the entire way. Onlookers raised their eyebrows, others—mostly attending parents on their way to the school as well—chuckled and offered Severus their most supportive, sympathetic smiles.

"Draco, let go," Severus finally opted for the assertive approach; he tried to pry Draco's fingers from his leg.

"NO!" the boy wailed; he screeched even higher when the teacher—a friendly, warm, elderly witch—made to shimmy him away from Severus's side.

Floored by the boy's erratic behaviour, Severus straightened and threw up his hands. "Draco, you must stop this! You'll be fine—"

Draco peeked up at Severus through eyes brimming with tears. "NO! Please don't leave me, too!" he begged, pushing out his quivering, bottom lip. "I'll be good, I promise! I'll never, ever, ever make you angry again, Severus! I swear it! I'll behave! I WILL! Don't leave me, too!"

At once, Severus's mouth went dry. His dark eyes soulfully searched a tearful, terrified Draco's, unblinking, before he crouched down to be at eye level. Draco was forced to step back out of reach and sobbed harder still, pounding the floor with his feet.

"Listen, Draco, listen," Severus ordered, shushing him as calmly as he could; his patience was waning, but he wouldn't leave Draco upset or thinking that he was somehow being up and abandoned again. "I have no plans to leave you for long, do you hear? I'll pick you up from school later today, I promise."

Although breathless and out of sorts, Draco was able to comprehend Severus's words through the tears. He sniffed, his mind scrambling for clarity as he fought to catch his breath.

"You - You won't leave me here? F - For good?"

"Of course I won't."

Astounded, Severus fiercely shook his head. The fear of abandonment Draco had and his frantic behaviour now made perfect sense, and Severus found himself responding as he never expected to: with sympathy. In that moment, he wished nothing more than for Draco to believe him, fully and wholeheartedly; that the lad would never be left on yet another person's doorstep.

A fierce, almost angry-driven protectiveness washed over Severus, its presence unlike anything the childless wizard had ever experienced. He had never felt protective of someone else's offspring (let alone any of the children he taught on a regular basis) but, today, he had...for the first time in his life.

"You - You'll come back for me, Sev - Severus?"

Draco stepped closer, big, watery irises staring imploringly, not completely convinced that Severus would make good on his word. Severus didn't know he could actually feel heartbroken for a child's innocent fear until now. He kept it together, however, maintaining that emotional aloofness he had projected since he was a young lad himself, though he let the mask fall ever so slightly—for Draco's sake.

"You have my word, Draco," Severus whispered so that no one else might hear it but him. He extended a hand to Draco, as if to shake on it, but Draco rushed at him instead, throwing his miniature arms around Severus's neck and squeezing him with all his might.

Realising that he didn't have a choice in the matter of being embraced, Severus graciously accepted Draco's hug and swiftly—but gently—pushed Draco away. The boy was still weeping a little and looked frightened when Severus turned to go, and forcing his footsteps in the direction of Hogwarts that crisp, September morning took far greater resilience for Severus than he ever deemed possible.

Weeks later, Severus and Draco had developed a routine that seemed well suited to them. Parental duties didn't come naturally or easily to the professor, who still preferred his solitude, but, at least, he was developing a better handle on proper discipline techniques, conversing with Draco on a more frequent and engaging level, and creating a structured environment that worked.

During the week, Severus would drop Draco off at the Hogsmeade school around seven thirty, teach his classes throughout the late morning and into the afternoon, accomplish some brewing if there was ever time, and retrieve Draco by late afternoon, making sure to be there precisely when he said he would. Draco became less mopey and worried as the weeks wore on, slowly registering that, though his guardian could be strict and harsh with him, he always stuck to his word.

Both breakfast and dinner were eaten in the Great Hall, where Draco sat at the High Table surrounded by the other teachers (and regularly looking smug and proud about it). These ventures turned into a bit of a reprieve for Severus, since Draco could direct his tireless list of questions at the other adults within close proximity. Generally, the staff got a kick out of having the tot around, not to mention observing Severus Snape in parental mode, so to speak. None were bold enough to utter a word about that to his face, however.

In the evenings, Draco was permitted play time in certain parts of the castle, with Winky checking in frequently to ensure that he wasn't getting into too much mischief, whilst Severus brewed or graded student papers. Bedtime was prompt and at the same time every night, "No exceptions," as Severus would sometimes have to contend when Draco chose to push his luck.

During late-night patrol duties, Winky watched over Draco and, with time, the boy's nightmares and crying for his parents grew less frequent. Every so often, however, Draco would still have a night terror and Winky would have to send for Severus, who turned out to be the only individual who could calm Draco down enough to fall back asleep. On the rare occasion that Severus was unavailable and seeing to Dumbledore's relentless errands, and Minerva or Poppy were sent for in his stead, Draco proved too distressed to be consoled.

By now, though, if there was ever an issue, Severus preferred to be the one to handle Draco. Without full awareness of the fact, he no longer shied away from attempting to console the boy either, until Minerva pointed it out to him late one evening a week following the Christmas holidays.

"You seem to possess the magical touch, Severus," she mused once she and the professor had left Draco's bedroom, with the boy now sleeping comfortably; Winky, too, had been relieved for the night, leaving the two to converse undisturbed.

Severus halted in his tracks and stared the cheeky Scottish witch down. "He's merely grown tolerant of me. That's all."

"'That's all,' he says," she quipped with a light-hearted chuckle; she dared to poke the formidable man's arm and, without explaining herself further, quietly saw herself out.

Severus went to bed that evening with more weighing on his mind than usual. Perhaps he's...growing a little fond of me? Severus scowled into the darkness and eyed the warded letter still tucked away; he had last reread its contents a week ago. No, that's impossible. You're not his father, nor would you want to be if given the chance! You had no choice in this matter, remember?

Then again, Severus's conscience began pondering without his consent, he hadn't made other arrangements for the child as initially planned, had he? There was still time, of course, to make more suitable preparations for Draco, but why hadn't Severus taken those steps by now? Having his old, lonely routine back would be easier on his nerves, for sure, and yet, he was fairly accustomed to having the little bugger around these days...

I still don't know what you were thinking, Lucius.

Despite his confounding thoughts, though, it was undeniable: he was fond of the boy...in some respects. Instead of making him another's responsibility—even a full-time nanny might have been understandable, surely—Severus Snape had taken Draco Malfoy into his care as if such a duty had always been expected of him. Even if he had done so begrudgingly, and his efforts weren't still without their share of difficulties (not to mention full-on headaches), he was taking it all on himself, was he not?

You owe me, Lucius, you bastard. Even if it has to be from beyond the grave, I'll force you to pay up somehow.

For the first time in a long while, Severus didn't turn over to read the letter his old friend had left behind. He fell asleep, the faintest trace of a smile on his lips.

The first time Severus initiated an embrace between him and Draco caught the rigid, un-huggable wizard considerably off his guard; but, for Draco—or so it appeared, anyway—he thought their interaction quite normal and non-newsworthy.

Severus was putting Draco to bed, per usual, preferring not to leave for his patrol across the school grounds without first saying goodnight. He instructed Draco to get ready for bed, watching as the boy complied by changing into his pyjamas, brushing his teeth, and climbing into bed. He leaned over to tuck Draco in; the first few times he had done so were strained and awkward. His fingers back then had been stiff and unused as they bunched the covers around the boy to make him more comfortable. Now, the uncomplicated act felt like second nature.

Sometimes, Draco might then request a hug—that had only started over the past month following the end of the school term—and, other times, he might simply extend his arms up to Severus.

Tonight, without so much as contemplating the uneasiness that might result, Severus bent down to embrace Draco before the boy could suggest it, either verbally or physically. Draco didn't hesitate to hug his guardian back, his small, slender arms snaking tightly around Severus's back. It was only after he felt Draco's arms around him that Severus realised what he was doing and briskly pulled away, giving an uncouth grunt as he did so. He averted his eyes as he scurried out of the boy's room; if Draco thought Severus's actions peculiar at the time, he dozed off to sleep and forgot about inquiring after them the following morning.

Severus was grateful that Draco called no attention to his actions, until he went to exit his bedroom the following evening and got himself caught. "Aren't you going to hug me goodnight, Severus?" Draco asked, eying him with that intensive thoughtfulness that had begun thawing the wizard's calculated, cold heart.

"Erm, yes, of course," he mumbled and bent down for a quick embrace, but he was yanked into another tight neck-lock that left him breathless.

The next evening was the same, as was the evening after that, and so on. Before the week was out, a hug before bed, an expected embrace after being dropped off at school or picked up later in the day, were routine.

For Severus, it took substantial time and repeated practice to adjust to such regular human contact, especially from that of a child. For Draco, though, it was what he had, for many more months than he ever realised, sought after and finally accomplished. He may not have had a choice in the parental figure he had been dealt...

But he likes me. Severus really does like me.


"Yes, Draco?"

"Is it true that Mudblood's a bad word in our world?"

Those moonless eyes, which were previously fixed on the luscious dinner in front of him, sharpened and turned to the ever intrigued six-year old seated across the kitchen table, playing with his meal rather than sampling it. Their darkness reflected long and hard before the man's lips began to move, formulating words that were carefully crafted.

"Do you think it's a bad word?"

Trumped at having the rhetorical question thrown back in his lap, Draco furrowed his pale brow and thought hard. After a moment of pensive silence, he nodded affirmatively and snatched up a large mouthful of food.

Severus waited patiently for Draco to continue. "And why's that?"

"Because Muggle-borns are normal wizards just like you and me. You've said so yourself. And they seem normal to me."

"Witches, too," Severus pointed out, to which Draco stuck out his tongue as if he had a particularly acid taste in his mouth.

A short pause later, and having figured that the boy's inquiry had been satisfied, Severus returned to finishing the dinner Winky had prepared for them when Draco spoke again, this time fainter, "Severus?"

Severus lowered his fork, one eyebrow lifted expectantly. "Yes?"

"If it's a bad word, why did my mum and dad use it so much?"

Severus felt the food in his mouth turn to ash. Words were clambering about in his brain, anxiously trying to come together to devise a proper explanation. When the fitting answer finally spoke to him, Severus made sure that Draco was looking him in the eyes first.

"Because they didn't know any better, Draco. Don't fault your parents for their shortcomings. We all have them, but we also have the ability to learn from them and do better than those before us, don't we?"

After considering Severus's words a moment, Draco's demeanour livened. He smiled at Severus as he took up another scoop of food, exclaiming a resounding "Yes!" across the table.

Eleven Years Later


"In here," Severus called over his shoulder.

Draco popped his head round the doorway just in time to see Severus pushing a heavily creased piece of parchment into his bedside table drawer. He was just thrusting the drawer closed when he turned his head and found himself caught red-handed.

"What's that you got there?" Draco inquired before Severus could successfully tuck the letter out of sight.

Another day, another question, Severus contemplated, only now without the excruciating headache that used to accompany Draco bombarding him about something; instead, the reminder brought forth a slight smile.

Staring at the strapping sixteen-year old, with his blond locks slicked back like a Muggle film star and that mischievous grin, Severus felt his chest constrict and forced a long, calculated breath through his nose. His lips were sealed together, his mind abruptly wrestling with how best to either diffuse or approach this sensitive situation he hoped to put off a while longer. He knew the day would come, though. The letter had always been intended for Severus, but the same staggering questions that had plagued him in those trying, early days of caring for Draco had surely run through the boy's mind as well, and it was high time he allowed Draco's mind—and heart—to be clear, if needed.

Refusing to think himself out of it, Severus quickly held out the letter but paused as he handed it over. His and Draco's fingers touched, and when Severus wouldn't let go, Draco eyes honed in on the wizard who had, in every sense of the word, become his father figure.

"Draco," Severus spoke evenly, though his heart was racing, "your father wrote me this letter roughly two years before he passed. I've kept it in my possession long enough. It's time you read it for yourself."

At this, Draco's eyebrows rose to his hairline. He hadn't anticipated that heavy-handed response to what had been a merely innocent inquiry.

Severus's gentle fingers separated from his and the letter. Draco dithered examining it a lengthy moment, making sure to meet his father's gaze before his curiosity, at last, caved and he began to read:

Dear Severus,

Should you find yourself in possession of this letter, I can assure you that it is of no greater disturbance to your peace of mind than it was for me to write it all down. Although I can't right all the wrongs of my past, I beg your pardon and that you read this letter, allowing me this one last chance to mend a few of the worst.

The loss of our friendship was a tremendous blow to me, felt more profoundly and deeply than you can possibly imagine. I'll regret your absence in my life till the end of my days, and I won't fault you for choosing to part ways with me. You chose your path, and rightfully so; I chose mine.

But that is not why I'm writing to you. This correspondence is about my son's future...and yours, should they be brought together by the twisted hands of Fate, my own mucked up design, or some other grand scheme brought upon us by the constant wonder that is Life.

I always envied you, you know. Well, no, you probably didn't know... I made sure to brag and exaggerate my meagre accomplishments to you and to anyone who would listen as often and as excessively as I could. My faults and insecurities are my own—and they're many—but in the one department I can't fault myself, or my dear Cissy, is in our fierce love for our dear son, Draco.

That lack of fault extends to whom we feel he should grow up with in our absence, should Life choose to be so cruel...or so kind. I believe, in this instance, you will come to find this unified journey of yours and our son's a true kindness. That is my deepest hope for you and Draco.

Believe it or not (which you shan't), you are a far better man to raise a child than I ever was. Whereas I had everything handed to me on a silver platter, you are entirely self-made, Severus. Whereas I gained favours and recognition through bribery and indecency, you've earned every one of yours through nothing less than hard work. You seek only to do good, if under the unfortunate guise of discretion and without recognition, even if it's meant personal sacrifices and hardships for yourself. Your winnings have been hard-won, far and few between; mine have been many but empty and wrought with regret.

Draco couldn't possibly learn from me what it means to be a decent and good man. I'm man enough to know this. Had I lived, he might grow to cherish wealth and esteem above all other attributes, and follow my corrupt footsteps into ultimate ruin and despair. He would likely envy others' affluences, prize possessions over people, and loath others for their blood ties—or lack thereof—rather than their character and decency towards others from all walks of life.

That is not the life I want for my son, nor is it Cissy's wish. We recognise together that, with you, Severus, Draco stands a far better chance at leading an exemplary, honourable life than he ever could with us. Oh, he would be loved, to be sure, but spoiled beyond rotten. We know you'll be tough on him always, gentle when it's most required, and loving when he is least deserving of your affections. We cannot give him that, and that's what he needs to properly thrive.

You will cherish him because you can't be any other way, my friend. You think yourself incapable of love, and you like to project that apathy to all, but, like all lonely men, your heart needs filling up. I promise you that you will find your cup runneth over as a father...and you'll be the father you, yourself, were robbed of as a child. You'll lead by example and make a remarkable substitute in my absence. Of this, I couldn't be more certain and send you all my blessings.

Be good to him, Severus. Tell him about us as little as you like, but, of any of the doubts he may have as he struggles to make a new life, never let him doubt Cissy's and my love for him, would you; or how right we were in placing him most carefully in your capable hands? He's a handful and a work in progress, but he will bring you joy and fulfilment like no other.

My deepest gratitude to you, my friend.



Draco folded the letter back together, its creases withered and the feeling of the parchment suddenly weighty in his hands. He peered up at Severus, unshaken to find his vision blurred by tears. He could sense that Severus—his father—was waiting for him to say something; to confirm what would either be the wizard's worst fears (that he had screwed up somehow and done a lousy job of raising him), or done right. He let out a shaky breath and smiled.

"You know," he whispered, his grin appreciative and warm, "he was right, Pa. He and my mother absolutely made the right choice."

A/N #2: Thank you for reading. Reviews are always greatly appreciated.