All disclaimers are in place. Refer to the Prologue section for details.PART TWENTY-TWO: BEGINNING
The sun rose in the East, as it had since the beginnings of the Earth. Tiny rays of light filtered in through the trees of the Dark Forest and crept through the castle windows, riding on a light spring morning breeze.
Albus Dumbledore parted from viewing the sunrise through a ground floor window and walked slowly… hesitantly… across the chilly hall. His hand rested on the doorknob for a long, silent moment, closing his weary eyes and sighing. He pushed the door open without a sound, afraid of what he might see, but knowing that it was his duty to see it first.
They were almost as he'd left them just hours before. The body of his Potions Master lay against the frame of the dark wooden bed, his pale hand locked in the white hand of the little girl. Both were completely still.
The Headmaster's brow wrinkled in acceptance and his eyes closed for a moment. When they opened again, he moved over to the man's body and knelt next to him, placing his weathered fingers on their joined hands. He nearly jumped in shock when one was still warm.
Severus Snape groaned lightly, opening his tired eyes. Several seconds passed before partial awareness crept into him, and he found himself staring into the face of the person he trusted most. His expression was grim.
"She's gone, Severus. Let me take you out of here," The old man whispered gently.
Not fully conscious yet but vaguely aware of the situation, Snape drew his gaze toward the girl on the bed, her dark hair pooling around the porcelain face, her long lashes resting on her cheeks. Releasing her hand was as unemotional as putting down his wand, but was as tangible as taking the Dark Mark all over again. He allowed Dumbledore to pull him to his feet… how strong the old man is, he thought… and let himself be guided to the door.
A voice sounding through his brain stopped him.
Severus Snape had never turned around so fast, not even on occasions when he'd been trying to catch Harry Potter in the act.. The child on the bed was looking at him. Looking. Her eyes were open! He froze, waiting for what he saw to be real, and not just a fantasy he knew he'd wake up from in a few seconds. Then she blinked. And her pale hand stretched toward him.
"Halo…" his voice was rough, but it held as much emotion as it had in his confession the night before. He took an experimental step toward the bed, expecting his legs to give out beneath him. They did, and he fell to his knees when he reached her side.
Taking her cold, outstretched hand was like being pulled up from drowning. He cupped her cheek in his hand, his eyes locked with hers… but something was different… they were no longer a metallic gray, but now dark green. How extraordinary, his brain interjected. "Are you… real?" he mumbled, more to himself than to her.
"Of course I am, Father…" her voice trembled. In fact, her whole body was shaking.
She's cold… she's been uncovered all night! he chided himself, not breaking eye contact for even a second as he grabbed her quilt folded neatly at the foot of the bed and pulled it over her in one swift stroke. His hands went immediately back to her face, tangling in her hair.
"… and Luna…" she whispered.
"…is gone," he told her.
"Oh…" she looked away, her face blank. It was a long time before she turned back to him. "You're crying," she said softly, reaching up to wipe the tears away with her fingers.
Snape marveled at her soft touch. It was as if she… cared. "Yes… everything is all right now," he told her.
"Is it?" Halo wasn't so sure.
He thought for a moment. Is it? Can I really do this by myself? Yes, I can… she's mine now, truly mine… and I won't ever let her go. Never.
"Yes, little one, everything's fine now. I have you, that's all I need." He stroked her cool cheek with the backs of his fingers. "I love you, my Halo." He pulled her into his arms, and his slowly mending heart melted when she didn't push him away, but rather pulled him in closer, so close that he could feel her heart beating against his chest.
"Good Merlin, he did it," Dumbledore said under his breath, and having been quite forgotten he went to fetch Madam Pomfrey.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The healer had Halo bathed, dressed and fed in under two hours, and the entire time she emitted near-visible bubbles of happiness. The old witch sure was emotional. When she bid the girl good day and left her to rest, Snape returned from a personal errand and went to sit on the edge of Halo's bed.
"Did you find it?"
Snape pulled the volume from his robes and held it up for her to see. "I certainly did."
Halo snuggled down under the covers and watched her father as he opened the novel to the first page and began reading, his smooth baritone voice so much more content than he would have allowed, had anyone else been there to listen.
"On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays it was Court Hand and Summulae Logicales, while the rest of the week it was the Organon, Repetition and Astrology. The governess was always getting muddled with her astrolabe, and when she got specially muddled she would take it out on Wart by rapping his knuckles. She did not rap Kay's knuckles, because when Kay grew older he would be Sir Kay, the master of the estate…" he read from the thick tome entitled The Once and Future King.
Halo hung onto his every word as hours went by, absorbing every expression, every emotion as her father did all the voices. It was understood that she would not repeat Severus Snape's talent for storytelling, but he was rather good at it. She was a little surprised when he closed the book and looked at her hesitantly.
"Halo, we need to talk."Uh-oh. Something is going to come out that will destroy this perfect moment. I just knew it…
"But before you jump to any conclusions that I'm going to spill regrets or say something that will ultimately ruin your life, know that I won't ever hurt you again." He was looking at her sharply, but not in any way ominously.
Oh… "What is it, then?"
He swallowed as he gathered his thoughts, set the book on the table next to the bed and placed his hands over hers. "I love you, Halo. Never doubt that. But until our world is rid of those who would question my motives, it is much safer for you to continue under the premise that we are in no way related." There, he'd said it. And then he waited patiently for her reaction.
It wasn't as bad as she'd thought, but still… "It's because you're afraid I'll be used to get to you, isn't it…"
A small silence. "Yes."
Halo nodded. "I understand."
"Do you?" he squeezed her hands. "Do you really understand?"
"I don't like it, but yes, I do." Halo spoke softly, slowly and with deliberation. "It's bad enough that Lucius Malfoy knows about us… how do you suppose that happened?"
"The Headmaster has a theory. One which he tends to believe quite strongly…" he forced himself not to become angry, "… and it may be true. But it is still just that, a theory. And as for Mr. Malfoy, I plan to inform him that Professor Dumbledore has taken an interest in you, one which prevents me from corrupting you.
"Will that work?"
Another silence, and slow exhalation. "We shall see."
She nodded. "Can I ask you something?"
He chuckled lightly. "When have I ever been able to stop you? You may ask me anything."
"Did you ever feel sorry for me?"
Whoa. what a question! "Of course not," he told her seriously. "I won't lie to you, there were times I felt guilty for not being who you needed me to be, and I know I'll never be the perfect father. It just isn't in my nature to be a parent… I may slip up, and when that time comes, I'll need you to forgive me." He searched her face for understanding. "Do you still pity me?"
Halo's stomach turned to ice. The truth, Halo. No more lies. "No… in fact I never did…"
"What do you mean? You told me…"
"I told you that I did because I was sick of hating you, and I didn't know any other way to hurt you. If I couldn't have your affection I wanted to see you miserable. I'm so sorry, Father…"
"No… no Halo, don't be sorry." He pulled her into a fierce embrace. "Don't ever be sorry for that… it helped me. Truly it did, it helped me to see what I was doing to you. And it quite possibly saved us both last night."
It's now or never, Halo. Just ask him, she pushed herself out of his arms and sat very close, locking eyes with his but not touching him. "I need to know something else as well…"
"You sound as though you already know my answer won't please you. I promise I'll be kind," he offered. He was relieved when she visibly relaxed a bit.
"Why do you love me?"
She couldn't have asked why I became a Death Eater, could she? No, she had to ask something even I'm not sure about yet… he collected a handful of the thoughts zooming wildly through his head and formulated what he hoped was an answer. "That's a very… very difficult question, Halo, but perhaps a simple truth will suffice. I can only hope you won't be afraid of the only answer I have to give." He drew in a deep breath. "The reasons I love you are irrelevant when compared with the vastness of emotion I feel when I am around you. Before you came back to school this year, I had been devoid of all feelings that weren't violently negative for so long that I was beginning to take pleasure in my own emotional destruction. And for that reason I had strongly considered ending my life."
He paused to let her absorb, then continued. "Then you came back, and though I'd thought of you each year before, the pressing issues surrounding your life this year opened me up to the reality that I needed, and then later wanted to care for someone other than myself. But because of my earlier difficulty with feeling, I did not realize what I truly felt as quickly as I should have, and the thought that I may feel such a strong connection to you was quite… alarming."
Halo had not broken eye contact with him, and he appreciated it. She was truly listening, and her usually defiant stare was back, however it was only defiant to his conjecture that she'd fear his honesty.
"So you see," he concluded, "that it is not the reasons that I love you, but instead the fact that I do love you that is important. Do you understand what I mean?"
"Father, you are a wonderful teacher. No one could have explained it better than that." On her face was a small, yet most trusting smile. Then it faded, and she looked away.
"What is it?"
Halo chewed on her lower lip for a long time, then she looked up to him again. "What should I tell Oliver?"
"Do you think he can handle it?"
"He has personally assured me that he will not disclose certain… information."
"And you trust him?"
Halo looked puzzled. "But you don't trust anyone."
"That is completely untrue, and you know it. Please don't ask for an explanation; the fact that I trust him at all should be enough."
"You're exhausted," he said as he took her by the arms and lowered her back against the pillows. "You need to rest. We can continue the book later."
"Will you tell Oliver that I've returned?"
"When you wake up, you may tell him yourself," he told her as he pulled the covers up to her chin.
"Can you stay with me until I fall asleep?"
"I can, and I will." He lowered himself over her to press his lips to her forehead.
As Halo's eyes drifted to close, she whispered, "I love you, Father."
Another rare smile played across the Potions Master's lips. "And I love you, my Halo."
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Two friends shared the last sunset of their year at Hogwarts hand-in-hand on a walk around the castle grounds, both thankful for a moment outside without the presence of the Dementors.
"So you spent nearly a month inside a book?" Oliver Wood was struck with entertained disbelief. It sounded like a wild adventure story to him.
"It didn't feel like that long, and keep your voice down! Someone might hear, and besides, I don't really want to talk about it." Halo had been looking down at the grass for most of their walk.
"Halo, look at me." Oliver had stopped, and his hand holding hers had pulled her to stand facing him. He lifted her chin with his fingers. "I'm so relieved that you're all right."
Fighting tears once again since her awakening, she threw herself into his arms and hugged him tight. "It feels so strange, but wonderful at the same time to finally have people who truly care about me," she told him, her lips just inches from his ear.
"I've always cared about you, didn't you know that?" he said to her, while soothingly stroking her hair. "And now after what your father did… you've always had people who cared, and now you have someone whose love for you is unconditional."
"Yes, that's what the bond of parent and child is like."
"How do you know?"
Oliver was silent for a moment. "Well, I know what having parents is like…"
Halo backed out of their embrace and pulled him over to a bench, where he sat down next to her. "Will you tell me what it's like?"
"Of course, but what's normal for me may not be what's normal between you and your dad…"
Halo sighed. "I don't know if things will ever be… normal between us. But I do know that the way it is now is more than I'd ever hoped for. And with you as my friend," she nudged him affectionately in the side, "I think everything is going to be all right. It's good to finally be alive."
And Severus Snape watched his daughter and her friend from the obscurity of an upstairs window, with a young, silvery sentinel owl perched on his arm. He still felt intensely guilty, as it was his fault she'd lost Luna, and planned to present this one as a gift to Halo when she returned from her walk before sending her down to Hogsmeade station to catch the train back to Kings Cross. The bright-eyed creature looked down on his new master as well.
"You'll serve her until death, just as your sister has done," Snape told the owl. Setting his eyes on the couple below, the corners of his mouth twitched in a tiny smile. Life was going to get a lot darker soon, he realized, but at least now he had something to live for.
~The End… or is it?~
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
OK… REVIEWS PLEASE!!! If you liked the story and would like me to continue it, I'm going to need as many reviews on the entire story as I can get, and some new ideas if you have them. What do YOU want to go into the next story? It will undoubtedly take place in the following school year as I don't want to interrupt the current HP storyline.
(Def.) Suscipio – to acknowledge a child as one's own.