Hello everyone. Long time no see. I would like to thank everyone reviewed from the bottom of my heart. Every single one has been appreciated more than you can possible know.

For anyone interested, please see the end of the chapter for a rambling explanation of why I've been so rubbish!

Potter didn't seem happy.

Severus couldn't quite put his finger on it and by all outward, objective measures the boy was fine, but he just didn't seem… happy.

He was putting more effort into his lessons than ever before – not that that was hard, in Severus' opinion. Not that Severus knew from one on one experience, yet: he had been far too busy catching up with the work he had allowed to fall by the wayside when he had seemed to carry sole responsibility for the boy's wellbeing to actually organise the Defence, Occlumency and possibly potions lessons that Potter would require. But, according to Filius and Minerva (who had already started tutoring the boy) he seemed dedicated. In the normal forth year Potion Classes he kept his head down and was taking extra care to follow every instruction closely… especially now that he could actually see them. His results hadn't been half bad.

Potter could be seen smiling with his friends at meal times and walking through the corridors with his head held high, so it wasn't as if he was being forced into utilising that blasted invisibility cloak. Minerva had reported no disturbances in the Gryffindor Common Room, or problems that had come up during her meetings with the boy and no rumours had flitted past Severus' ears of ill treatment of the boy by his peers.

True, some still seemed wary of him and others a little over enthusiastic in regards to the concept of the baby, but Potter seemed to be doing well enough fending those miscreants off, with his book bag placed strategically in front of his stomach most times.

But, the boy still wasn't happy.

The circles under his eyes were heavier than Severus would have liked, he supposed. And he remained frustratingly skinny, despite his now noticeable bump. And – although it might have been Severus' imagination – his interactions with his peers did not seem altogether smooth. And he had seemed more on edge these last few days.

Maybe then, it should not have been a surprise when Severus walked out of his office to find Potter and Malfoy with their wands at each other's throats.

"Potter! In my office. Now," Severus snapped. What was the boy thinking, starting a duel in his condition? If he had been a millisecond later, he might have been able to avoid seeing that Potter had definitely drawn first, giving Malfoy the excuse of self-defence and, judging by his smug expression, Malfoy was well aware of just the point when Severus had happened on the scene.

"Sir, Potter attacked me-"

"Not now, Mr Malfoy," Severus ground out, as Potter slunk passed him into the office. The boy was shaking, whether in realisation of what he had just nearly done, or residual anger was yet to be determined.

Severus swept his eyes up and down the corridor to see what witnesses there were to the fracas. The fourth year Slytherins and Gryffindors had a potion's lesson directly after lunch, but it was still early for the Gryffindors to be making their way to class, loth as they were to spend a second longer than necessary in the dark dungeons. Only Slytherins were in the corridor, probably on their way to or from collecting books from the Common Room. Potter had been alone. Foolish boy.

With a growl, Severus spun back into his office and marched behind his desk, before rounding on the angry, pacing boy. For a moment Severus allowed a smidgeon of worry to seep through his rage, upon seeing the boy's pale skin and dry, red eyes. No. Potter could have got himself in serious trouble had Severus not been there.

"Explain," Severus growled.

Potter glared at him. "It's none of your business."

"Oh, I think it is, Potter," Severus smirked as Potter finally stopped pacing to take took note of his dangerously low voice and to whom he was speaking. "When a student takes it upon themselves to act like a hoodlum in my corridor, directly outside my office, it is my business. And when said student is pregnant and putting their unborn child at risk through their foolishness, I would say it is very much my business."

Potter gulped. "It wasn't- It wouldn't have- I wasn't thinking…" he whispered, finally sinking into the available seat.

"That," Severus sneered. "Is blatantly obvious."

Potter put his head in his hands and took a shaky breath. "You don't understand what he said."

"What could Mr Malfoy possibly have said that would be worth jeopardising the life of your unborn child," Severus snarled. Potter winced.

Seeing that the boy was finally listening, Severus decided to go in for the kill. "Your life is no longer simply your own. You cannot keep making rash decisions with no thought of the consequences. You can't decide to take on a Mountain Troll, or go after the Philosopher's Stone, or steal a car, or chase after a criminal on your own. If you think you can, then maybe you need to reconsider what you think it means to be a parent."

The boy made a whimpering sound, but covered it with a cough and appeared to start chewing on his sleeve, probably in a fruitless attempt to stop his emotions getting the better of him, since tears were apparently embarrassing, while untempered rage was not.

A quick glance at the clock told him he did not have time to prolong this discussion. Potter was clearly in no fit state to take part in his potion's lesson, even if all they were doing was a review of last year's work. The child's hands were shaking around his forehead and he was sniffing noisily every few seconds – he would be more of a liability than Longbottom on a bad day.

"Follow me," Severus ordered. After a second of being ignored, Severus snarled and picked Potter up by his elbow, despite his snuffled protests. He dragged the boy outside, stalked passed the now assembled Gryffindors and rounded the corner to his private quarters.

Lacking the patience or will to do anything else with the still sniffling, foolish, unrepentant brat, Severus steered him in through the living room and deposited him in the desk chair of the boy's mostly clear room. The House Elves had been keeping it clean, at least, and Severus knew the boy would be safe there, especially with a monitoring charm on the front door.

"You are not fit to brew in your state," he stated, pulling a stack of fresh parchment out of a draw. "I expect a two foot essay on why your behaviour was irresponsible and reckless. If it is not adequate I will be having you write lines until I am sure the message has sunk in."

"But what about class?" Potter said, looking up through red rimmed eyes. "I can't just skip. I'll get behind!" The attempt to garner pity from Severus was completely undone when Potter gave a particularly loud, mucousy sniff.

Severus cringed and hurried to remove himself from the room. A quick trip to his own bedroom later and he returned, thrusting a small square of linen into the child's face.

"This is a self-cleaning handkerchief. It is a much more effective and healthy manner of clearing one's sinus' and an artefact of which you will make sure to inform your unfortunate offspring," Severus growled. Potter took the fabric gingerly between two fingers, holding it like it was a dangerous weapon that might go off at any moment. "You will not fall behind. I will make sure of it. In the meantime, I do not want you in my classroom. Once you have finished your essay, you will make use of the bed. I would have thought by now that the need for self-care would have been impressed on you, but clearly yours and your child's health is not worth the effort of getting to bed on time."

Tears sprang to the boy's eyes, proving that Severus had finally got his point across. Severus smirked at the frozen figure.

"I will be back after class to see to you," he said, as he swept out with a smirk. "Stay in your room."

"Pathetic, as usual, Longbottom," Severus sneered as he vanished the ominously sizzling mess that the moron had somehow created out of a simple Antidote to Bloodroot Potion that any half-way capable third year could manage. "Your incompetence is outstripped only by your ignorance, although I must admit that quite how you have managed to create this catastrophe is beyond even my knowledge. You should be grateful the inevitable disaster was averted, or you would be receiving detention until the conclusion of your time here at Hogwarts. Twenty points from Gryffindor."

Sometimes it was exceedingly useful to be constantly surrounded by such unmitigating dunderheads – the Longbottom, Weasley, Crabbe, Goyle combination had allowed Severus to unleash the majority of his pent up frustration, as he glided seamlessly between the butchered cauldrons. Now, with his temper spent, Severus was glad that the lesson was nearing an end and with it the necessity of stopping the little blighters blowing each other up.

"Three feet on the properties of mandrake in antidotes by next lesson," he declared savagely, before ordering the reprobates to bottle their (remaining) potions and pack up their stations.

The usual banshee like screech permeated the dungeon, as the students all simultaneously pushed their stools back to scramble out of the classroom, perhaps even more desperately than usual. Severus was self-aware enough to admit that he had been rather biting today, even by his own standards. It was a surprise, therefore, when two students chose to stay behind.

"Mr Zabini, Miss Greengrass, what is it?"

Miss Greengrass glanced around at the still open door, where Weasley and Granger still lingered.

"It's sensitive, sir," she said sotto voce. Mr Zabini nodded in agreement.

Severus supressed a sigh. Yet more teen drama to deal with.

"Very well, we'll discuss it in my office. Miss Granger, Mr Weasley, I can see you are packed up, so might I suggest you take your leave."

Weasley barrelled round immediately towards the door, but was stopped with a strangled yelp, as Granger grabbed the back of his robes.

"But, sir, it's important! It's about Harry. We saw you with him and just wondered if he was okay. He ran off at lunch and he's definitely not feeling-"

"Mr Potter is safe and well. He is thinking upon his actions" Severus snapped, unwilling to allow Gryffindor hysteria to impinge on his day any more than it already had. "I suggest you attend to your own business and Potter will join you when he is permitted."

He definitely heard Weasley mutter 'git', but had too much to do to draw a detention out of the boy.

Leaving the Gryffindors in the corridor, Severus pointed Mr Zabini and Miss Greengrass to the chairs in front of his desk, before settling himself down.

"What is the matter?" he drawled.

The two teens exchanged a veiled glance, before Mr Zabini nodded at Miss Greengrass.

She took a deep breath. "Draco overstepped the mark," she said.

Severus blinked. Although he did occasionally mediate disputes between members of his own House, it was usually when all other options (the prefects) had been extinguished. Although he was kinder to his own students, all things were relative and even the Slytherins were rarely inclined to seek out his advice in anything other than matters of grave import.

"In what way?" Severus asked.

"Well…" Miss Greengrass looked over to Mr Zabini, in an obvious bid for support, but the boy was steadfast in his refusal to meet her gaze. She glared at her classmate, before sighing and turning back to Severus. "Draco keeps saying these things when he knows Potter is around. Hurtful things. But, it's Draco and he's always done that. We thought Potter was just ignoring it, but Lyra asked us to keep an eye on things, and today… it was too much."

Severus narrowed his eyes. "Miss Fawley set you the task of spying on your year-mate?"

"No," Miss Greengrass drew out the word. "She just… suggested to a few of us that, since we didn't seem to have any problems with the rest of the student body, that we could, maybe, keep an eye on the students that tended to give Slytherin a bit of a… reputation."

He pursed his lips, but said nothing. So long as the students involved came to him with their suspicions, as was happening now, there was no need to worry. The problems would come if anyone decided to take matters into their own hands and that was certainly something that he would be speaking to Miss Fawley about as soon as possible. She should have been sensible enough to see how setting a network of underground spies amongst factions of an already fractious House could be a potentially explosive act, but she was still a teenager, however seemingly sensible, and Severus clearly needed to keep a firmer grasp on her machinations. Right now, though, he needed to settle his mind on the matter at hand – Potter.

"I see," he said. "Continue."

Miss Greengrass swallowed, "We know it's our word against Draco's, but there were other people who heard and… we don't want it getting back to Draco that we were the ones who told, sir."

Severus' nostrils flared. As much as he felt occasional pity for Draco and the ludicrous lifestyle and beliefs that the Malfoys had foisted on him, it was clear that his behaviour could not remain unchecked. Now he just had to figure out how to approach the boy, without incurring Lucius' wrath.

"Your anonymity is guaranteed," Severus purred. "There were many students present during the confrontation and your presence in the library will be confirmed, when you go there directly after this meeting is concluded. Since I believe the Slytherin Quidditch Team is currently practising, I doubt Mr Malfoy will have cause to question it."

They both visibly relaxed.

"Draco said…" Miss Greengrass started confidently, before biting her lip and glancing, once again, at Mr Zabini, who was glowering in the corner.

The taciturn boy tsked, before finally stepping forward.

"Malfoy waits until he sees Potter around and then starts spouting off about how his father has told him no real wizard could be raped and he'd just made it up for attention, or it's proof of how weak he is. Or saying there was no way anyone would stay quiet if they were being hit and that he deserved to live in a cupboard anyway. Or that he's just making excuses for whoring with muggles… I mean…"

Mr Zabini faltered, clearly unsure how his language would be received. Severus knew his eyes were flashing, but it wasn't aimed at the messenger.

"Continue," he bit out.

The teenager gulped. "Well, anyway… like I said, he's been saying that stuff for the past week, but Potter hasn't been reacting to it at all. Most people have been telling Malfoy it's in bad taste, but some are… I don't want to say encouraging it, but we don't think Malfoy's the only one saying it."

Miss Greengrass jumped in at this point. "Potter has just been ignoring it. He obviously doesn't like it, but he was just walking away whenever Draco's mouthing off. But today Nott saw him out of the window when we were in History of Magic, with Lyra at the tree his bab- the foetus… baby, I don't know – that tree. Professor Sprout's been saying all week that she was going to sort out a proper plaque for it and I guess they were doing that. We all saw him. We could see he looked really upset, even from upstairs."

Of course the child was upset. What did anyone expect? Severus sighed at his colleague's ham-fisted attempts at providing support. Never mind the fact that it was early December in Scotland and the constant threat of snow clung onto the ever-present drizzle and the brat was still far from healthy after a lifetime of mistreatment. And that he was still in the process of finally being able to grieve for the child he had lost, so now was probably the worst possible time for him to be confronted with this task. Merlin, even the anniversary was approaching! He wouldn't know what had hit him.

"Am I to take it that Mr Malfoy found ammunition in this event?" Severus asked stiffly, already guessing the answer.

Miss Greengrass sniffed. "I really didn't think even he could be that hateful. He saw Potter coming down to class early and started practically shouting about how no one in their right mind could be upset about a bag of bones that had never even breathed. He said that Potter must be really stupid if he thought anyone believed he could ever actually have wanted that baby, if it had even existed, and that he was probably glad it had died."

"Potter pulled his wand out then, professor," Mr Zabini said darkly. "I'm surprised he didn't do it earlier, honestly."

"I see," Severus growled, a scowl pulling his hooded lids down further over flashing eyes. He could feel the vein throbbing prominently on his forehead and could not fault either teen for shuffling backwards. "Who else was present at this altercation?"

Ten minutes later and many names wiser, Severus directed them out of his office and swept upwards to the Transfiguration corridor.

Coming to a halt outside Minerva's door, Severus paused for a moment. He was always loth to bother the Transfiguration professor, with all her myriad responsibilities and draws on her time. This week especially, he realised he had not spoken two words to the woman, as they both seemed to be running full tilt to stand still after the metaphorical bomb of the Potter disaster.

But, as Potter's Head of House, it was prudent that she deal with the situation, especially as Lucius was nowhere near foolish enough to try and butt heads with Minerva McGonagall in matters of discipline, nor would he expect Severus to tilt with this particular dragon on his behalf. The fact that he had punished Potter without listening to his explanation, and berated him for acting in a way that even Balda the Beatific would have found understandable given the circumstances, had absolutely nothing to do with why he was no skulking around when he should have been talking to said boy.

He hoped he wouldn't interrupt her at an inopportune moment.

"Come in," he heard through the door. Had he knocked? He opened the door and walked in.

So, I'm back, although it's shorter than I would have liked, I'm working on something is better than nothing. I hope you all like it

First off, I would just like to say, I hope you and your families have all been safe. My deepest sympathies to anyone who has lost a loved one or been badly effected by everything that has been going on.

My story isn't that bad, but a bit weird.

Basically, Covid hit (you might have noticed) and since the company I work for does a lot of work for key sectors, I ended up working 16 hour days for 14 weeks supporting them and redoing systems to work in the new structures. At the end of that, the companies ALL thanked us for our work and apparently that was enough! We didn't have contracts for any of this work, because they were emergency measures, and all the good faith verbal contracts were just ignored. Not doing that again.

Then, a few months ago we found out why, outside that disaster, our successful (results-wise) company has been doing so badly financially: our office manager had been stealing from us for years, but had really ramped it up in the last couple of years. The good news is that it was caught just in time and a completely new management structure has been put in place. So, we're finally beginning to pull away again and with up to date standards and management systems. AND as part of that, I'm getting put through a load of Personal Development Courses, which is great for the company, and from my point of view is going to give me a lot more options going forward. That was a mixed bag and a very bad account, but basically everything's been a bit stressful with work.

THEN just before Christmas a woman called and told us that my dad had been having a long term affair with her and even implied there was a child involved. Cue screaming. Turned out he wasn't having an affair, she was just a certifiable sociopath, but a lot of other things came out from that. Then, in the middle of all that, my grandmother, who is completely healthy and compos-mentis, accused me and my mum of trying to poison her with a cake (we baked it and she left it out for 6 weeks, but apparently it's our fault it went mouldy), to the extent of trying to figure out how to report us. We're now no-contact with her, but my dad is still having to care for her, since she has alienated everyone in a two hundred mile radius, which is making rebuilding a two steps forward one and nine-tenths steps back process.

Sufficed to say, I've been living in a soap opera for months now and have mainly existed screaming into a pillow.

So, that's why I've been AWOL. Whinge over. Sorry and I hope to do better from now on, I promise !