Thanks for joining me for year six of the Rachel Snow series!

Content notes: Character deaths (including mention of non character child deaths). Animal death (not a pet). Recovery from serious injuries, including bloody wounds and scars. Canon typical violence. Potentially disturbing imagery. Anxiety attacks. Depression. PTSD and flashbacks. Suicidal ideation. Difficulty with eating due to anxiety that becomes disordered eating. Discussion of eating disorders. Discussion of marriage contracts being arranged for underage teens. Past child abuse and neglect (discussed), past sexual abuse (discussed). If you have any concerns, please feel free to comment/message me and I will provide more in-depth content notes on any subject.

They'd been at home at Fallow Farm for a week now. The situation was slowly improving, but at a pace where it was impossible to see the improvements day to day. Severus watched and waited, keeping track of how long Rachel could stay awake, how often she could sit up, and whether she had more range of movement in her limbs. He expected that this was what parents of infants must feel like. At the moment, Rachel was helpless. She couldn't stand or walk, she couldn't lift her wand long enough to cast spells, she couldn't get herself food or get to the bathroom on her own.

He had expected more push back from Rachel. He could well remember how frustrating it was to not be able to control his limbs. Once he'd spent three days on his sitting room floor in his own mess because he couldn't move himself and by that point he didn't trust anyone enough to call for help. It had been humiliating, which had undoubtedly been the Dark Lord's point. All of the Death Eaters walked carefully around the Dark Lord - the Dark Lord gave marvelous gifts, but sometimes deadly punishments.

Rather than frustrated or humiliated, Rachel seemed detached. She let him carry her from place to place. For once, Severus was grateful that she was small in stature. He didn't think he would be able to carry many of his NEWT students up and down the staircase. She insisted on feeding herself, but even then, she didn't eat much. Severus had asked the House Elves to teach him the recipes for the drinks they'd been giving her. And for the most part, Rachel slept.

The more she slept, the more concerned he became. It had been nearly twenty days since her exposure to the Cruciatus curse. Extreme exposures to the Cruciatus curse required months to fully heal from, but those exposures nearly always had deleterious effects on the brain and the mind. Rachel could hold coherent conversations, she could read and write - though he'd needed to get her a steady-charmed quill so that her handwriting was legible - she could do basic maths when he asked, and she seemed to have a reliable memory of at least her class material. The only thing she hadn't done yet was cast magic and for that, Severus was waiting until her hands were steadier.

When Severus had explained why he was asking these questions, Rachel had asked him if the effects would show right away, and he had assured her that they would and that things would improve rather than get worse. He reassured her of that as often as he was able. He did not want her to give up hope, but given how distant she was, he wasn't sure if she already had.

He allowed Rachel to sleep as much as she wanted. He wasn't cruel enough to deny her an escape from the pain that was existing in her body right now. When asked, she told him the pain was tolerable, though from Rachel, he wasn't entirely sure what that meant. He suspected from the various injuries he'd seen her with over the years that she had a high pain tolerance.

It also concerned him that Rachel indicated she wasn't dreaming. While he was grateful she was not experiencing her chronic nightmares, he also knew that dreaming was necessary for a healthy mind. He had begun to research both the Cruciatus curse and the potions she was taking, trying to find out if some interaction between them was causing her lack of dreams.

While Rachel slept, he compiled his grade reports for his House and did other administrative tasks that were sent to him. He'd done a minimal clean up of his classroom ingredients storeroom and decided to simply order the materials he usually needed. He could supplement at the end of the summer, when hopefully Rachel would be well enough to return to Hogwarts.

A knock on the door prompted him to check the time. It was two in the afternoon, which meant Poppy was here to change Rachel's bandages. He set aside the grade reports for his third years and went to the door. "Please come in."

"How are you both today?" Poppy asked.

"About the same. And yourself?"

"Well enough. How is she eating?" Poppy asked, looking up at him.

"Still not well, I give her one of her drinks every time that she's awake. She has thus far declined much solid food," he said, meeting her eyes and then glancing at where Rachel was asleep on the sofa. "Even chocolate, which I offered to her in an attempt to appeal to her tastes."

"Have you tried asking her what she'll consider eating?"

"When I try, she simply says she's not hungry. That's when I began to suggest things that I know she's eaten in the past," he explained.

"Soup in a cup might be an option, so she can feed herself, though she was very clear that she did not wish for broth. Bread rolls. Scrambled eggs perhaps. You might need to cook so that she smells the food, rather than just listing it," Poppy suggested.

"I will try that. Would you be alright to stay with her for an hour? I need to run a few errands," he asked. He had tried to pick up everything he needed before they'd left Hogwarts, but as the week had worn on he'd had a few more ideas of things that might help.

"That's fine, I'm sure you need a break from being a caretaker. Take as long as you need. Rachel might not mind some different company regardless," Poppy said.


"Right here," he said, moving to the sofa.

"I think it's time for a Pain Relieving potion," Rachel said, rolling on the sofa as she tried to sit up.

That was about the closest she'd get to admitting she was in pain. "It is, Poppy is already here. Do you want the potion before I move you up to your room?"

"I can wait," she said. She stopped struggling and let her head rest against the pillows she was propped up on.

Severus lifted her, one arm against her back and one beneath her knees, though she kept her arms around the bunny shaped pillow abomination that he had given to her in the hospital wing. Why she was so attached to it, he did not know, but he had decided not to comment on something that was giving her comfort. Carrying her was easier than it should have been and he decided to make more of an effort to get her to eat. She couldn't afford to lose weight.

A few minutes later he set her down on her bed and conjured a sheet beneath her so that they wouldn't get blood and Healing Salve on her blankets. "Do you need anything before I step out for a while?"

"No. I'm okay," she said, looking as blank as ever.

"Alright, I'll be back soon. All the potions she should need are on her bedside table," he said, nodding to Poppy.

"We'll be fine," Poppy said.

Severus left, collected his coin pouch and his muggle wallet, and then apparated to the apparition point in Diagon Alley. It was still busy, despite the war, but people weren't standing in groups and talking and there was an atmosphere of tension. He saw people looking over their shoulders and parents hurrying young children on their errands.

It didn't take long to arrive at Flourish and Blotts. He went to the front counter. "I need some fiction books that are appropriate for a teenage girl," he told the shop witch.

"I assume she's already read Horath Bogtrotter," the witch asked.

"Yes, she has all of those. And…" he paused for a moment as he tried to recall other books he'd heard her talking about or seen on her shelves. "Somebody Adams, I think."

"Winifred Adams, those are pretty popular too," the witch said. "Let me show you what we've got."

Severus wound up picking up a trilogy and two other books, figuring that would last Rachel about a month or so. He wanted to encourage her to be interested in something and to stay awake for longer periods of time.

After the bookshop he made a stop at the apothecary and picked out what he needed for Healing Salve and the other potions he was making for Rachel. He was brewing twice a week just to have enough Healing Salve. He hesitated over the murtlap, but decided to wait another week and see where the wounds were before he tried to soak some of the deeper wounds. Murtlap was better fresh.

From the apothecary he apparated into an alleyway in muggle London. He was less certain about the stop in the clothing shop, but he thought it would do Rachel good to not be in a hospital gown all of the time. Once again he asked for directions from the first shopkeeper he saw. "I need plain cotton summer dresses for a teenage girl who is slight of stature," he explained.

As it always seemed to be in muggle shops, the amount of things they had there was slightly overwhelming. After a few tries, they found dresses without buttons or ribbons or anything else that would dig into Rachel's skin while she rested. He selected three, a pale yellow, a pale blue, and a pale green. He was guessing about the sizing, but he could always adjust that at home.

His next stop was at the music shop where Rachel had bought her Walkman for her birthday present two years ago. He browsed the cassettes for things he recognized, searching for musicians he had listened to with Lily. He found the first Crosby, Stills & Nash album, Simon and Garfunkel's Greatest Hits, and Pink Floyd's Wish You Were Here, which he hadn't liked, but Lily would reset the turntable to listen to the second song on the second side over and over again. That had been the last summer he'd spent with Lily.

"Classics, huh?" the man at the register asked.

"For my daughter," Severus said. "I also need the biggest packet of batteries that you sell."

The man chuckled. "Your kid has good taste. They do go through batteries, don't they? Consider the rechargeable ones, they're better for the environment and you can reuse them. You'll need a charger though."

"Not this time," Severus said, though if Rachel continued to use batteries as she did, it might be a reasonable thing to do. He was not overly concerned about the impact on the environment since they simply Vanished the batteries after they were dead.

His last stop was the village grocer near home. He picked up what he needed for Rachel's drinks as well as a few things that he could cook and see if he could entice her with the smell of cooking food.

After apparating back home, after going back into the alley behind the grocer, he set his bags down in the kitchen and went to check on Rachel.

"She's asleep again," Poppy said quietly as she stepped out of Rachel's room. "How many hours a day would you say that she's sleeping?"

"Close to fifteen or sixteen. It concerns me too. How are her wounds?" he asked.

"Slowly healing, they are bleeding less now when I change the bandages, which is a good sign. We need to consider some other options for the wound on her left calf and one of the wounds on her back," she said.

"I was thinking murtlap essence."

"I think that might be necessary, but let's give them a little longer, right now it's just going to bleed straight into the murtlap essence," Poppy said. "Are you alright, Severus?"

"We are managing," he said. That was about the best he could say of the situation.

Poppy nodded. "I'm here if either of you need anything."

"Thank you," he said, peering in at Rachel. She seemed to be sleeping peacefully.

They were doing the best they could. That would have to be enough for now.

It was quiet and that was a relief. As much as she liked Hogwarts, the sprawling castle, the open lands, the mountains in the distance, she was grateful to be home. Even in the hospital wing she had felt like there were always footsteps, always people coming closer. Here, in her bedroom, it was just her.

She had convinced Severus to leave her in her bed for the afternoon rather than carrying her back down to the sofa. She had accidentally slept again after Madam Pomfrey had changed her bandages and by the time she woke it had been Severus sitting by her bedside. It took some effort, but after he helped her sit up against her pillows, he had gone to the cellar to brew. He had given her a little gold bell that would sound throughout the house when she needed him, though she had yet to use it.

She was grateful for the moment of privacy. She was tired of everyone, including Severus, looking at her. They meant well, but if she had her way, no one would look at her with worry or with pity again. She wanted to be treated like an adult, or a near adult at least, and that was hard when she couldn't do almost anything for herself.

Things were better than they were a week ago, and that was better than two weeks ago, but progress had been painfully slow. Her wand lay untouched on her bedside table. Her hands still shook violently. The only reason she could write to her friends was because Severus had bought her a quill that was charmed for people with unsteady hands.

She felt weak. Helpless.

She imagined herself spending years in this house, hiding away, unable to move. The most terrifying part was that the idea was almost appealing. They couldn't expect her to face the Dark Lord if she couldn't move.

How could they possibly expect her to face the Dark Lord?

As always, when her thoughts headed down the path of the Dark Lord and the prophecy she tried to push them away. And when that didn't work, she distracted herself.

Her Walkman and cassettes were on her bedside table, though she was going to need new batteries soon. The only cassette she'd been listening to was Pink Floyd's The Wall on repeat. She didn't know anything about the person who wrote the songs, but she thought he had been through some pretty difficult stuff. There was something transient about it, that she could hold in her head while the music played, and then stopped as the cassette clicked off. Then she took the cassette out, put the first cassette in, and listened to it again, chasing that same feeling.

She had a pile of books at her bedside. Her Horath Bogtrotter books were buried somewhere in her trunk, which sat untouched next to her wardrobe. She didn't mind. She wasn't up for Horath's adventures right now. Or Alanna's either. She didn't care to reread Winifred Adams at the moment, though locking herself inside a magical library did sound appealing, nor was she ready for Lord of the Rings or the Chronicles of Narnia.

Instead she found herself drawn to Stephen King's The Dark Tower again. She'd already reread The Gunslinger in bits and pieces over the past few days and she found herself empathizing with Roland. He, too, faced an impossible enemy with an impossible quest, with stakes that affected his whole world. And, like her, he'd found close companions who stood by him. The difference was, Roland's companions knew what they were getting themselves into, even if they hadn't really had much choice. Her friends knew that the Dark Lord wanted to kill her and they even thought they understood why. They didn't realize they were missing a much bigger picture, and she couldn't tell them. Maybe they knew enough though.

At some point she intended to ask Hermione if she could find out if the next book in the series had ever been published. She wanted to know how Roland made it through his journey.

For the time being, she'd slowly been reading the books that Luna had let her borrow. They were a children's book series about a large pureblood family with all sorts of different talents. There were animaguses and a metamorphmagus, there was a large manor to explore, and each of the family members specialized in a different type of magic that came into play throughout the stories.

As - almost - an adult, Rachel could see that the book series was intended as an introduction for magical children to the different fields of magic and what could be done with them in an approachable way. The grandmother was a Seer who gave silly prophecies and warnings, always in rhyme for some reason. The grandfather was an herbologist who tended the family greenhouse and provided the kids with useful plants for whatever adventure they were having. The mother was a potions mistress who gave directions and warnings about brewing safely and not ingesting unknown potions. The father was an artifactor who had a variety of wild inventions that the kids borrowed. The aunt was an astronomer who told them what planets were in favor at the moment. The uncle took care of the various magical animals to be found around the manor grounds.

The kids themselves had the adventures in the manor, with the oldest sister being a charms expert who could always come up with a spell to help them. The oldest brother specialized in transfiguration and could change or conjure up just what they needed. The middle brother was interested in Defense and was ready to protect his siblings from any creature they might find, from the ghoul in the attic to a boggart under the bed. And the two youngest were twins who had just gotten their wands and were the ones primarily getting into the adventures.

Rachel could imagine a younger Luna reading these books, particularly because some of the illustrations had been added to by Luna's childish hand to insert a young blonde girl with the rest of the family members. She wondered what happened to the rest of Luna's family. From what she could tell, it was just Luna and her father. She had never heard that Luna had grandparents or aunts and uncles or cousins. She thought that young Luna had felt that same yearning for family that Rachel had felt growing up.

She had been keeping a close eye on her two-way book. She worried for her friends over the summer months, particularly for Neville, but for the others as well. If she talked to Torey about it, which she wouldn't, she knew Torey would tell her that she was projecting her own fears about family onto her friends. And she recognized that was probably true. At the same time, she also knew most of her friends didn't have perfect relationships with their families. Then again, she supposed no one did.

Joining her on her bed she had both her stuffed bunny and the bunny that Severus had made for her out of a pillow. She vaguely recalled him handing it to her that first night in the hospital wing, and had kept it tucked close by ever since. She knew she was far too old for stuffed animals, but the only people who could see her here were Severus and Madam Pomfrey, and they hadn't commented that she was too old for them. And, somehow, it helped to be able to hold something to her chest when she was struggling to breath. Or just to have something to hold when she woke up in the night terrified for no reason.

"You're awake."

Rachel jolted, surprised by Severus appearing in her doorway. "For now, at least," she said, closing her eyes and willing her heart rate to slow back down.

"I startled you, I'm sorry," he said as his footsteps grew closer.

"It's okay, I just got lost in thought." She set aside the book that she'd mostly been staring at rather than reading. "What's that?"

"Peanut butter, blueberries, yogurt, and oats, I thought we'd try adding a little bit more to what you're drinking," he said, setting a shopping bag down at the foot of the chair and then sitting down.

Rachel eyed the glass skeptically, but accepted it and took a drink through the straw. It was alright. Strange, but alright. "Not bad, better than broth at least," she said.

"Is there something that is worse than broth to you?" he asked.

She thought about it. "Beets. Spinach. Canned pears. And whatever it was that my aunt used to call a casserole."

The corner of Severus' mouth quirked up. "I presume Petunia was not a good cook."

"Not particularly, but as I got older I did a fair portion of the cooking. Thankfully I found some cookbooks in one of the kitchen cupboards, but I don't think my aunt ever used them. Now that I think on it, that probably explains her cooking," she said, making a face. She didn't really want to be thinking about her relatives right now. She took another sip of the drink. "What's in the bag?"

"I picked you up a few things, I thought you might be getting bored. I'm sure you've read most of the books that you own by now. I know you prefer to spend your summer in the air, but since that's not feasible right now, I thought books and music would be a good substitute for the time being," Severus said.

"Thank you, you didn't have to do that," she said, feeling embarrassed for reasons she couldn't explain.

"You're welcome. I want to do anything that will make this time more comfortable for you. Can you finish your drink and I will show you what I have gotten you?"

"Are you trying to bribe me to eat?" She hoped not. She didn't think the situation had gotten that bad.

"I'm not. I trust that you are aware that you need to be eating as much as you can tolerate for the time being. Healing requires nutrients and energy from your body, so you need to replenish that by eating," he said, looking at her glass pointedly.

"I know, I'm trying. My stomach is a little bit…uncooperative at the moment." Nothing about eating felt good. Everything tasted off. Her stomach felt more nauseated the more she put into it. And just in general she didn't want to eat.

She focused on drinking, trying to ignore the various sensations in her body. "I can have a Headache Draught in a few hours?" she asked, taking a break after a few minutes.

"In about two hours, yes. I need to get you a new watch. I will get one the next time I go out," he said.

She pressed her lips together, wondering where her watch and the rest of her jewelry that she'd been wearing had wound up. "Do you think Professor Dumbledore would be willing to give me another phoenix pendant? And Sirius could maybe make me another message bracelet?"

"I already have an updated message bracelet for you. It's in my things, I will bring it to you the next time I remember. You may want to wait until the bandages are off before you wear it. I'm certain Albus will give you another phoenix pendant, I will ask him the next time I speak with him. And I will make you another portkey as well," he said with a nod.

"Can they do anything bad with the phoenix pendant and portkey that they have?" she asked.

"No. They don't know the activation phrases for either of them, and the portkey would only take them to the Hogwarts gate, not past the wards. They are useless to them."

That was a relief. She drank a little more until her stomach threatened rebellion. "That's as much as I can do right now."

"Alright," he said, taking the glass from her. "Is this a combination you'd be willing to drink again?"

"Yes, it was fine."

"Good. I wasn't quite sure what to get you, so I asked the shop witch for some recommendations. Hopefully there will be something here that you like," he said, lifting out a stack of books from the bag.

"Thank you," she said as she examined them. She didn't recognize any of the titles or authors, so at least it would be something new to read.

"The cassettes I got you were albums that I listened to with Lily. This one in particular was a favorite of hers, the fourth song, if I'm recalling correctly," he said, passing her one of the three cassettes he was now holding.

It was a Pink Floyd cassette, which was perfect. Rachel decided that she was going to listen to it as soon as she had a moment alone. "Thank you. I like knowing these things about her."

Severus nodded. "And batteries, of course."

"Of course, I was down to my second to last set. Thank you."

"And I bought these, though I don't know if you'll like them, but I thought you might wish to wear something other than a hospital gown while you are healing," Severus said, bending down and pulling out some fabric from the bag.

The pale summer dresses looked comfortable at least, though they probably weren't something she would have chosen to wear for herself. He had been right, she did not want to spend all summer in a hospital gown and getting dressed in her regular clothes right now was not an option. It looked like she could easily pull these over her head and have room to spare. "Thank you. I really appreciate you doing this."

"Think nothing of it, as I said, I know you are uncomfortable right now, and I want to help you pass this time as painlessly as possible. Is there anything I should know?" he asked.

"I can do this," she said, drawing her knees up so that her feet were flat on the bed. Her legs wobbled a little, but she could hold them there now and rest a book against her thighs.

"Good. Any improvements are good improvements. Would you like to go downstairs?"

"Not right now. I think I'm going to sleep again." She was starting to get that feeling in her head that meant she was going to sleep, whether she liked it or not.

"Alright. I'm going to my office downstairs for a while to do some research. Ring for me if you need me," he said, getting to his feet.

"Thank you," she said again, letting her legs slide back down onto the bed. She took off her glasses and set them on the bedside table. She would sleep for a while, then she would check on her two-way book. Then she would take a Headache Easing Draught and the pain would recede again for a little bit.

Rachel woke with a gasp and pressed her hand to her chest. Her heart was pounding and she could still feel the walls pressing in on her. Her free hand gripped her pillow bunny and she reminded herself that she was in the sitting room at home. When she turned her head, she found Severus watching her from his armchair.

"You had a nightmare?" he asked, putting down his quill.

"No, I'm still not dreaming at all." She began carefully arranging her body so that she was sitting up. She needed to use the pile of pillows by her side to keep upright, but she could swing her feet down to the floor and brace herself.

"When you woke, you looked distressed," Severus said, not quite calling her a liar, but there was definitely the implication in his tone that she wasn't telling him everything.

"I wasn't dreaming about anything. Just when I woke up, I felt like I was being crushed, like a wall was being pressed against me," she explained, shivering at the remembered feeling.

Severus frowned. "I know that you've had some difficulties with claustrophobia. Were they exacerbated by your captivity?"

She felt the room spin as she remembered the cell where she'd been confined. "No, I had plenty of space. I've never been crushed in a small space like what this feels like." She closed her eyes and focused on breathing for a moment. She was fine. She didn't need to think about any of that. She could push it away.

"Perhaps we need to consider the possibility that you are dreaming and you are simply suppressing the memory of the dream when you wake."

Rachel opened her eyes. "Is that something people can do?" It sounded useful. If it was something people could do without a potion, she wondered why he hadn't mentioned it to her before when she'd been struggling with nightmares.

"Not intentionally," he said, clearly understanding the intent behind her question. "For most people, they simply do not remember the majority of their dreams, and usually the ones they do remember are only in fragments. You actually dream several times a night as your brain goes through what are called cycles of sleep. Generally, people will only remember dreams they wake up from in the middle of a cycle or the last dream they have of the night as they gradually wake in the morning. I suspect you generally remember your nightmares as they are distressing you enough to wake you in the middle of your sleep cycle."

"How do you know all that? That sounds more like stuff a Healer would need to know than a potions brewer."

"Typically potions masters will pick up another field in addition to brewing because the potions they work with will specialize in that field. Healing is a common specialty as many potions are brewed for Healing purposes. I originally specialized in potions that could be applied in Defense and combat, but after I began teaching at Hogwarts, it became necessary to expand my specialty to common Healing potions to assist in the hospital wing," Severus explained. "As far as sleep cycles go, I have done some research into it to assist with students who have had chronic difficulties with sleep, though I had some self interest in it as well, as I have often had difficulties with sleep in my own life."

Rachel hadn't realized she would need to choose a specialty with brewing. She supposed she still had time to decide. "Did your difficulties with sleep get better as you got older?"

"Eventually, yes. I am still a light sleeper, and it takes me a while to go back to sleep after I wake up in the night. I occasionally still have nightmares, but they do not distress me any longer. I can simply dismiss them as a dream."

"How did you do that? Did you see a therapist or a Mind Healer?" Right now dreaming and nightmares weren't a problem, but if she ever went back to dreaming normally, she was sure it would be.

"No, though I probably should have. For me, it was about being consistently in a safe location and coming to terms with what I saw and what I did during the war. It took a number of years. I suspect that with time and work, you will be able to improve your sleep situation as well," he said, still watching her closely.

She nodded, though she felt that this was a problem to try to deal with later. Right now she was sleeping - a lot - and she would take that for as long as she could get it. She reached for where she had left the book she had been reading before she'd fallen asleep. It was the second book in The Dark Tower series and Rachel found that she particularly enjoyed Roland's misunderstandings of the modern world. It was interesting to her how he tried to apply his own culture and mindset to what he was seeing around him. It reminded her a little bit of joining the magical world and not having the words or the background necessary to understand some of the things that were going on around her.

"That reminds me, you received mail this morning," Severus said as he got to his feet.

"It's not my OWL scores, is it?" she asked. She didn't think she was ready for that yet.

"No, those won't be here for another few weeks. It's a package from Hermione," he said, disappearing into the kitchen. He returned a moment later with a small book-shaped package.

"Is Gladys here?" she asked, realizing that she didn't know. She hadn't been into the kitchen once since she'd been home. She needed to have her balance a little better before she tried to sit unsupported at the kitchen table.

"Yes, Albus sent her to us the day after we arrived." Severus set the package in her lap and returned to his chair. "Rachel, I know you wish for a pet," he began.

"No. Not right now, I just can't," she said quickly. She couldn't take care of herself right now, let alone a pet. And she could wait until she wasn't living with Severus. She knew that he didn't want a pet. "When I'm in the dorm, Midnight spends a lot of time on my bed or in my lap, and that's enough for now."

Severus looked concerned, but he nodded. "Alright. Let me know if you change your mind."

Sirius had told her that she could ask just about anything from Severus right now, and he would give it to her. It seemed that he had been right.

Rachel opened the package and found a letter, a thick grey paperback book and a two cassette album, both named Les Miserables. "It's not even my birthday," she said as she looked them over.

"Perhaps Hermione intuited that you would need stationary things to do this summer."

"I suppose. That was kind of her," she said, feeling embarrassed again.

She opened the letter and began to read.

'Dear Rachel,

I hope that you are recovering well. I feel a little silly writing that considering we talk to each other every day through our books, but the sentiment remains the same.

My summer has been busy so far. My parents took me to Queens Theatre on Friday to see Les Miserables and I loved it. I sent everyone in our group the book so that we could read it together. I thought that would make a fun summer project. I also sent the cassettes of the musical soundtrack to you, because I thought you would enjoy them as much as I did, and you're the only one in our group with the ability to listen to them.

One thing I'd like to do as we get older is help introduce technology to the magical world. I've been doing some research and it seems like there have been different periods over the past two hundred years where the magical world was more accepting of muggles and muggleborns, and then shifts where muggles were hated and feared. It's been during the times when the magical world was more interested in muggles that we've had integration of some muggle technology, such as lifts and the Wizarding Wireless. Just imagine all of the things that could be done with the technology that muggles have now!

I also picked out some muggle books for Theo and Millie that should give them a better overview of what the muggle world is like now while still being entertaining, though I'm a little worried about sending the same books to Neville. I'm not sure how Neville's Gran feels about muggles, though she seemed mostly alright with my parents the times that she's met them. We can pass around the books at Hogwarts at least so everyone has a chance to read them.

My parents and I will be taking a trip to Spain in another week, but we'll be back before the end of July. I'm waiting until after we've returned before I tell them about the war. I think I have a plan now, though I'm nervous. I don't think I have any choice but to admit that I have been keeping some secrets from them. Would you mind asking Professor Snape if he'd be willing to speak with them some time in August? With any luck, you'll be well enough by then that you can come for a visit.

I'll keep in touch - of course - and for now I think we can plan on seeing each other at Ginny's birthday party at least.

Love, Hermione'

Rachel felt herself smile. The letter was very Hermione. Naturally she couldn't go the summer without having a project, or without including the rest of the group in the project. She flipped through the book and saw that it was nearly 1,500 pages and the print was tiny. At least she'd have plenty to keep herself occupied.

"Hermione is doing well, I take it?" Severus asked.

"Yes. Would you be willing to speak with her parents this summer, about putting wards on their house, and telling them that Hermione will be safe at Hogwarts despite the war?"

"I am willing to speak with them, but I also will not lie to them about how dangerous this war will be. Make sure Hermione knows that," he said.

"She knows. I don't think she would expect you to lie to them. But Hogwarts is the safest place for Hermione to be, isn't it?"

"In Britain, yes, but her family may wish to consider relocating. One of the things we learned from the last war was that we waited too long to attempt to convince muggleborn families to leave Britain. By the time we started to relocate them, a great many people had died. The Ministry did not keep statistics about how many muggles were killed during the war, but the impact on muggleborns in particular was devastating. Many of those who were still alive at the end of the war chose to leave Britain entirely," he explained.

"How much danger is Hermione's family in? Does she need to talk with her parents sooner about getting wards on their home?" she asked, feeling a flood of anxiety.

"Right now the Dark Lord and the Death Eaters are dealing with the abrupt change in their situation. It's likely that there will be Death Eater attacks over the summer, but those should be directed at prominent targets. It will take them more time to locate and attack muggleborns and their families. Right now, Hermione and her family are not a high priority target."

Rachel nodded. "Is Hermione and her family in more danger because she's friends with me?"

"Perhaps, but that's not something that can be changed at this point in time. However, as I said, I don't think your friends are high priority targets and they shouldn't be until the war escalates. Right now the fight will be between the Order, the Ministry, and the Death Eaters as they scramble for political and governmental control." Severus paused. "Try not to worry about it for right now, there is nothing we can do to change the situation from here."

Severus was right, thinking about the war was definitely not helping her. "I'll write to Hermione and let her know you're willing to speak with her parents and that she should try to talk with them soon."

"Do you know how much her parents already know?" he asked.

"Not really. As far as I know she didn't tell them about what happened the night of the third task." She would warn Hermione that she should be as truthful as possible with her parents, Severus would not keep secrets for her.

"Then I think she has some explaining to do before I speak with them."

"Yeah, a bit." Rachel managed to pull her legs up on the sofa with her. She also had some explaining to do with Severus about the DA and the Inquisitorial Squad, but that could wait. Right now she just needed to sit and try to breathe and not think about too much.

Severus sat in Torey's waiting room on Friday afternoon. It had taken several owls back and forth to find a time to meet that worked for both of them. He had left Rachel with Poppy, though Rachel had been asleep when he'd left.

There was another parent in the waiting room, a woman with a worried frown and a newspaper that she was rustling as she read. Whatever happened to be contained in the muggle newspaper today, she seemed to disapprove given her occasional sigh and shake of her head. Severus thought he understood. While the Daily Prophet had been better than it usually was these past few weeks, much of the information it contained was still suspect. When Scrimgeour took control of the Ministry, he needed to clean out the editorial staff and start fresh.

The door to Torey's office opened and a young girl exited and went to her mother's side.

"Same time next week?" the woman asked as she stood.

"Yes, let me know if you need me in the meantime," Torey said from her doorway.

The woman guided her daughter out of the waiting room, speaking quickly to her non-responding daughter.

"Severus, come in please," Torey said, standing back to make room for him.

Severus went into Torey's office, seeing a drying children's painting on the low table in front of the sofa.

Torey closed the door behind them, bent down to set the painting out of the way on a windowsill, and then sat in her chair. "How is she?" she asked, looking concerned.

"Difficult to say. Physically, she is having a slow recovery. She can't stand on her own, walk, or even sit up well for extended periods. She is sleeping frequently. We're working on getting her to eat. Mentally, I'm not sure. She seems distant and detached, but that could just be because she's still in pain, even with the potions she's taking," he said, trying to hit the most important parts.

Torey nodded. "I see. All I currently know about the situation is what was reported in the Daily Prophet. While I appreciate that they are giving some regard to Rachel's privacy in this, it would help me to understand what happened."

"I think the only reason that the Daily Prophet has not supplied more details is that they are not well known and the news of the Dark Lord's return has rather overshadowed any other news," Severus said, though he also appreciated that this at least hadn't been widely publicized. "Rachel was abducted from the village near the school by another student. She was taken to the Death Eaters, imprisoned in a classmate's home, and was then tortured with the Cruciatus curse and the Flaming Whip curse. We rescued her about thirty six hours after she was taken. Beyond that, Rachel has not spoken of what occurred and I have not pressed her."

She exhaled heavily. "I think it's probably wise that you don't press her for details. I presume the Healers treating her checked for signs of sexual assault?"

"Yes, if there was sexual assault it was at least not penetrative, so there was no risk of pregnancy. Given what I know of the Death Eaters, if there was not outright rape, I doubt there was sexual assault," he said, grateful for small mercies. "This sort of demonstration of torture generally follows a specified format. Had we not rescued Rachel when we did, following the torture she would have been raped and then murdered."

She nodded, looking a little ill. "I see," she said again.

Severus hesitated. He did not wish to admit that he had sent a student in as part of the rescue, but he was relatively certain that Rachel would tell Torey eventually. "There are additional things you should know about the rescue mission."

"Alright. Whatever you think I should know," she said, picking up her notebook and pen.

"The rescue mission was a joint effort between Professor Dumbledore and myself, the aurors, and the MLE patrol," he said, leaving out the Order entirely. Torey was not under the Fidelius charm yet. "A student, a friend of Rachel's who has Death Eaters for parents, came to us with information that he knew where Rachel was."

"Not the same student who abducted Rachel, I presume?" Torey asked when he paused.

"No, a different student. The student who abducted Rachel was expelled and the MLE released him into his father's custody. There will be a hearing, but nothing will come of it," Severus summarized. "The student who came to us returned to his family as was requested by his parents, but with a portkey and a means of messaging us. We brought down the wards from the outside when we received his message, and he portkeyed out with Rachel. He was seriously injured in the process. He is being emancipated and is currently in a safe location with a safe relative."

Torey stared at him for a long moment. "You and Professor Dumbledore sent a student into a house full of Death Eaters and this Dark Lord to rescue Rachel?" she asked, her tone wavering.

"It is more complicated than that, but that is the essentials," he said. "Both myself and Albus offered him sanctuary and encouraged him not to return to his family. He was to be Marked by the Dark Lord that night."

"Marked?" Torey asked.

"The Dark Lord brands his Death Eaters on the left forearm; essentially the student was to become a Death Eater that night, likely at his father's request," he explained.

She closed her eyes for a moment and then opened them and set down her notepad and pen. "I think it goes without saying that I have some serious issues with what you're telling me, on a number of levels."

"I understand," Severus said. "It was not a moral decision. At the end of the day, it was our best hope of getting Rachel back alive, and even that was unlikely with decisions we made. It is not a decision that a parent and a teacher should ever have to make. When it came down to it, we could not prevent the student from returning to his family if he chose to go, which he intended to do. The only thing we could do was make it more likely for them both to survive and escape."

Torey shook her head. "It was obviously a complex and dangerous situation. This student, I presume he wasn't Marked?"

"No, but his father nearly killed him with a Disemboweling curse when the wards fell," he said. "I have made many poor and immoral decisions in my life. As much as I regret it, I do believe this one was necessary."

"I think we're going to have to agree to disagree on that," she said. "Was there no legal recourse?"

"We had no proof where she was being held and Lucius Malfoy was both a Wizengamot member and a school governor, and held the personal ear of the Minister. The Minister had already demanded evidence before action was taken on the part of the MLE. The only other way into the Malfoy Manor was to drop the wards and take our best chance at apparating in and hope we could get to Rachel before they killed her. Given the size of Malfoy Manor and the number of hidden and warded areas, we never would have reached her in time and many others would have died in the attempt. There were no good choices here."

Torey sat quietly for a moment. "I am grateful that Rachel is alive. And I can understand that a parent can feel that they must act in order to save their child in a life and death situation. However, it concerns me that the school and Professor Dumbledore has this much say in a student's life. This concerned me back when Rachel was involved in the Triwizard Tournament and when I learned about how her adoption was handled. Objectively, does this concern you?"

Severus paused and decided that he had little choice. He wasn't telling Torey anything that the Dark Lord didn't already know or couldn't guess. "How much do you know about the last war?"

"Some, from what I've been told from other people and what I've heard from Rachel, however I think it's probably best that you summarize what you want me to know about it," she said.

"The Ministry and the Wizengamot dragged their feet for years while muggleborns and their families were being targeted and killed. Albus created a secret organization to fight the Dark Lord which continued even after war was declared and ran various operations from spying, to fighting, to evacuating muggleborns. This organization has been in operation again from this time last year when the Dark Lord returned. Albus is not merely a headmaster of Hogwarts, or a member of the Wizengamot, he is a war master. One of his tasks, and one of my tasks, is protecting Rachel from the Dark Lord and the Death Eaters. She is the subject of a prophecy, which I cannot reveal to you, but I can tell you that the prophecy is the reason Rachel's family was attacked when she was a baby, and the reason the Dark Lord wants her dead now. It is of vital importance that Rachel is kept alive and safe."

Torey's eyes flickered around the room as she seemed to search for what she wanted to say. "And you adopted her, to keep her safe, on the instructions of your war master?"

Severus sighed. "The reasons for the adoption were multifold. The main reason was because it was clear she was being abused and could not remain with her relatives. It was also clear that she needed protection from the Death Eaters and I was in the best position to provide it. She was also a student in my House. And I was close friends with her mother. While the adoption was a necessity, I have come to care for Rachel far more than I expected I would, or even could. She is my family. I will move heaven and earth itself to keep her safe."

"And your war master decided that her life was of more value to the war than the student he sent in to rescue her?" she asked.

It was an ugly truth. "The intent was to save Draco as well. I assure you, we gave him the option to remain in sanctuary with us."

"And what I'm saying is the option to send him in should have never been on the table. He is a child, just like Rachel."

"I know." He did know. They had simply been out of options and out of time.

There was another moment of quiet as they both sat with that.

"Does Rachel understand about how Draco was sent in to rescue her?" Torey asked.

"She's aware that he played a role. I'm not certain what she thinks about it. I'm not certain that she has been well enough to begin to think about what has happened with any clarity." He rather suspected she was avoiding thinking about it.

"Does Rachel know about this prophecy? Does she understand your role in all of this?"

"Yes to both. In general she is aware of the situation with the war, though I have been shielding her from any news of it these past few weeks. I felt it would be better for her recovery to not be hearing about what is happening right now." He had purposefully not read the newspaper in Rachel's presence, and she hadn't asked for it.

"That's probably wise. She can decide when she's ready to learn more. I think it would be a good idea for me to see Rachel as soon as she's able. If she's not able to come here, which sounds like it's currently not an option, we can arrange a time outside my usual hours for us to meet at another location. Is she in the hospital?" she asked.

"No, she's at home. I'm caring for her, and our school matron is coming by daily to handle the Healing aspects. I may be able to arrange for her to see you in the hospital wing at Hogwarts. Are you still open to the warding and to the Fidelius charm as we previously discussed?"

"Yes. You indicated you had someone in mind who you wished to do the wards?"

"Another member of our organization, yes. We'll need to ward both your home and your office. I will provide your contact information to him and he will send you an owl. I will ensure that he includes my name and information in the letter so that you know it is from the right person. As for the Fidelius charm, we can do that in the hospital wing when we make arrangements for Rachel. Do you have access to a floo?" At least she would agree to the warding. He wasn't sure they could continue without it.

"I do, from my home. Would a Sunday work for your availability? Either that, or an evening?" she asked as she reached for her notepad.

"Yes, likely a Sunday would be better. I will make the arrangements so that you have access to the Hogwarts hospital wing floo over the summer. Was there anything else we should discuss?"

"No, just send me an owl when arrangements are made and let me know what time on which Sunday. Remember to take care of yourself, being a full time caretaker to someone is not an easy task," she said, getting to her feet.

Severus nodded. She was not wrong about that. "Thank you for your time. I'll let you know when arrangements have been made."

"Thank you," she said.

Severus left with a heavy sigh. He had not expected that conversation to be pleasant, but it had gone worse than he anticipated. He did not need Torey's recriminations, he had plenty of his own.

She had started reading Les Miserables and her first thought was that Victor Hugo must have been paid by the word like Charles Dickens had been. So far the story was about a priest and a man named Jean Valjean. It was a little uncomfortable reading about Jean Valjean stealing, particularly stealing food. Rachel had stolen food as a child, pretty much whenever she had the opportunity and could be certain she wouldn't be caught. The circumstances weren't really the same, but she didn't like the reminder.

She hadn't listened to the cassettes that Hermione had sent her yet. She'd been listening to the ones that Severus had brought her and occasionally prompting him to see if he remembered other favorite songs that her mom had from the albums. Severus had finally borrowed her Walkman and listened to the albums, looking distant as he sat in his armchair and marked down which songs her mom had liked. She felt a little guilty about that, but she had really wanted to know. She still needed to ask Sirius and Remus about what music her dad had listened to, and if he read books.

Severus had been quiet these past two days, which was fine by her. She didn't want to answer questions about how she was doing all the time. For the most part, she thought she was doing pretty well, if she ignored her body.

She had weird moments where she felt a flood of panic for no apparent reason. Usually it was when she was lying down. Sometimes when she woke up, she felt like she was being crushed. She generally tried to keep track of where Severus was in the house by his footsteps, but more than once she'd been startled by him appearing in her doorway.

As long as she was careful not to think about why her body was the way it currently was, she mostly did okay. Little bits of memory leaked out every now and then, freezing her in place with terror and pain, but she was working hard on pushing them away when that happened.

"Would you like eggs?" Severus asked as he came into the sitting room.

"Not really," she said.

"What about french toast?"

"No, I'm not hungry right now." The pushing her to eat thing was getting old quickly.

"Would you drink some of one of your drinks if I made you one?" he asked. "You cannot afford to lose more weight than you've already lost."

She sighed. "I'll try to have some of a drink."

"How did you feel about the peanut butter and banana drink?"

"That's fine," she said, turning a page in her book. She didn't really care that much as long as it didn't make her throw up.

Severus disappeared back into the kitchen and Rachel refocused on what she was reading. Valjean had just stolen a silver coin from a boy, even after he promised the priest to become an honest man. Valjean seemed to have had a hard life, but he was also kind of an ass. At least he felt guilty about stealing from a kid.

She pulled the blanket that Severus had conjured for her closer. She was cold all the time now, even though it was summer and she was covered in bandages and had a dress on top of that. Noting what page she'd left off on, she set the book aside and blew on her fingers to warm them up.

Her two-way book was nearby. She checked it every time she woke up. So far everyone seemed okay. Millie said that she was spending the summer in her room and had forbidden Isobelle from entering. She had tried to convince her parents to get her a tutors exemption for the summer, but they told her that it wasn't necessary. Theo said that he and Blaise were spending time together, and that he was enjoying the Zabini's library, but otherwise wasn't very detailed about what he was up to. Neville was having fun in his greenhouse, but apparently was subjected to a variety of uncomfortable dinners with his Gran and his Great Uncle.

Ginny reported that she was spending a lot of time outside flying with Ron - which made Rachel quietly jealous - and that the situation between her mom and the twins was still tense. Her brother Percy still hadn't contacted anyone in the family and letters to him were returned unopened. Rachel didn't know what to do about that, she knew that Ginny had been hoping that Percy would come around when the Ministry did.

Luna had already left with her father and they were traveling and seeking creatures and unusual stories. Luna gave them an update every evening about what they'd seen that day and she often drew pictures to accompany it. She had written that she was taking pictures of every creature that they saw because she wasn't certain if they were real or not and figured that a picture would be the only way to tell. Rachel remembered that she had two rolls of film to develop, including a few pictures of the thestrals that she was eager to see how they turned out. It would probably be some time before she was steady enough to brew the Developing solution though.

Hermione was her usual busy self. She was availing herself of the local muggle library while she still had access to it and preparing for her trip to Spain. She had latched onto the idea of mixing magic with muggle technology and was lamenting that her birthday was not until September so she couldn't experiment until next summer. Theo had written back to caution her about experimenting with magic, and Hermione assured him that she wasn't planning on doing anything this summer, she was just coming up with ideas and studying how various muggle technologies worked.

Rachel wrote about herself sparingly. When asked, she wrote that she was still steadily improving, but otherwise only commented on what her friends were writing.

"You have mail, from your godfather, given the handwriting," Severus said, returning with a glass and a letter.

"Thank you," she said, carefully bringing the glass to her lap so she wouldn't spill it with her shaking hands and then accepting the letter. "Would you mind casting a Warming charm on this blanket?"

"Of course." He pulled his wand and pointed it at her.

Rachel mostly managed to keep herself from flinching. The Warming charm felt different than the other charms she'd felt. It was like a surge of magic that was hot before the charm itself took effect.

"May I cast a diagnostic charm as well to see if you have a fever?"

"Okay, but I don't think I do. I'm just cold." She sat through the prickling of the diagnostic charm.

"No fever, everything seems about as it has been," he said, returning to his armchair.

Rachel opened the letter and found a second letter inside. She decided to read Sirius' letter first.

'Dear Rachel,

I just wanted to check in with you since it's been a few weeks since I've seen you. Do you have your mirror with you so we can talk? You are more than welcome to visit us, when you're ready. Let me know if Snape is keeping you from us and I will deal with him.

Remus and I are here for you, whatever you need. He's by my shoulder while I write this, telling me what not to say. He says that he hopes you are recovering well and that he also wants to see you when you're ready.

Kreacher wrote to you as well, though I haven't read it, so I have no idea what he wanted to tell you. I sent it with this letter as I figured Snape would not take kindly to Kreacher popping into your house.

Keep in touch.

Love from Sirius and Remus'

Rachel made a mental note to ask Millie where she had packed her mirror and opened the letter from Kreacher. The handwriting was a little hard to make out, but she managed it.

'Kreacher heard what happened to Miss from the half-breed. The boy here rescued you, he smells of blood.

Kreacher works in the attic. Kreacher will see Miss soon.'

She stared at the letter, trying to figure out what to make of that. At least he seemed alright, she supposed. And they were letting him work, which is what Kreacher wanted.

"Is everything alright?" Severus asked.

"Yes. Can I go visit Sirius and Remus and Draco soon?"

"Yes, but I'd like you to be able to stand up before we try to move you again," he said.

"Stand up with your help or on my own?" she asked, thinking it might be a while before she could stand on her own.

"With my help, I know you wish to see them, I just want you to be able to be moved without a great deal of pain and I know that carrying you is not the most comfortable position to be in."

Rachel bit her lip. "What if I'm still like this when it's time to go back to Hogwarts? What if I can't walk?"

"It's only been three weeks, it's going to take some more time. If you can't walk by the time we return to Hogwarts, you will have a chair that will take you around the school, including up the staircases. It's uncommon in the magical world, but we have had a few students over the years who were not able to walk," he said, nodding once. "Also, Albus is looking into finding a specialist in curse damage and hopefully they will have some ideas that will help speed your recovery."

She supposed that was better than not being able to get to classes. "Do you think I'll be able to fly again?"

"I don't know. We're going to have to take this as it goes. I know that's not what you want to hear, but I don't want to give you false assurances when I do not know what your recovery will look like. Most people do recover from Cruciatus exposure."

"It's just going to take time," she said flatly. She was tired of hearing that.

"Yes. Try your drink," he prompted.

Rachel carefully brought the straw up to her mouth and began drinking, even though putting food in her stomach was the last thing she felt like doing. She looked at her pillows and decided that she was going to go to sleep once she was done drinking. She didn't really want to be thinking right now.