Disclaimer: I don't own Harry Potter or any other characters you may recognize. Sad but true.
A/N: In case you are new, this story is undergoing a major renovation. One of the wonderful things about fanfic is that you can make changes whenever you want. My only hope is that these changes will be for the better. I cringed when I went back and read some of the early chapters. I was hoping to complete it prior to the release of Deathly Hallows, but Real Life didn't always cooperate. Finishing this story has become a labor of love.
First of all, this fic is now beyond canon-shafted. It was started about seven months after the release of OotP to help me pass the time between books. I no longer have a problem calling this story AU because we all know Snape most likely died a virgin, pining away for Lily all alone in the dungeon—just as his creator would have wanted him to. Poor man.
That said, I've taken some information from Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince—the biggest one being Snape's blood status, which I had intentionally kept vague in the original version of this fic. However, little if any canon from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows will come into play.
Secondly, I don't condone romantic relationships between teachers and students, but everyone errs in judgment from time to time. While this focuses mainly on the interactions between two adults, there will be references to a student/teacher relationship that occurred between a 22-year-old teacher and an 18-year-old student. Yes, I know Snape wasn't that old during his first year teaching and he likely didn't come on staff until the September before the first fall of Voldemort, but I based my calculations for Snape's age on Bellatrix Lestrange's birth date and their years at Hogwarts overlapping.
Lastly, I love Snape (more so than his creator because I've allowed him to have a fulfilling sex life.) However, I don't view him as some kind of misunderstood saint. If that's your opinion, fine, just don't expect me to share it. Sorry, but I feel that holding onto the idea that Snape never killed, tortured or controlled anyone during his Death Eater days is highly unrealistic. Having said that, this fic contains some nasty Death Eater Snape moments. If you don't think you can handle it, feel free to skip over parts, but please, for the sake of our mutual sanity, do not badger me if you don't think Severus could have killed/tortured/controlled anyone because it isn't stated in canon.
It was well past midnight when Severus Apparated into the end of the alley. The dirty cobblestone street was barely visible in the pale moonlight. As a precaution born of habit, he cast a Disillusionment Charm over himself and slunk past the boarded up two-up-two-down buildings. He stopped at the fifth door and tapped the lock with his wand. Faint clicks signaled the wards disengaging. Glancing over his shoulder, he cracked the door open just enough to enable himself to slip through.
With a wave of his wand, the room was illuminated by a grouping of candles suspended from the ceiling. The interior of the dwelling was shabby and dark and had the odd smell that was associated with neglected places. Severus hated this place, but it served his needs. It was secluded, and with a few modifications, it was reasonably secure. The walls were lined top to bottom with various books and a few potion ingredients. A battered leather armchair, a sagging sofa, and a scuffed table, the house's only furnishings, were grouped before a fireplace on a threadbare, dusty rug. The remains of his last meal were moldering on the table. He wrinkled his large, hooked nose at the smell and vanished the mess.
The thin man threw his black traveling cloak over the back of the chair and collapsed onto the sofa, which creaked ominously. To say he was exhausted would be a gross understatement. The last few days had been spent trying to keep Bellatrix Lestrange from convincing the Dark Lord that Severus had informed Dumbledore of Potter's trip to the Ministry. It was a difficult task because he had in fact been the informant. However, he managed to make it look like Sirius Black could have been informed by the portrait of former headmaster Phineas Nigellus Black of the idiot boy's doings. It was remotely possible after all, and with Black conveniently dead, there was no one to prove or disprove the theory. The disastrous failure to retrieve the prophecy only hindered Bella's case. All things considered, he couldn't fully say part of him didn't enjoy watching her and the others pay for their lack of success. But right now, he didn't want to consider anything other than a few hours of sleep, unencumbered by memories or thoughts.
"Accio! Dreamless Sleep," he muttered, pointing his wand at a shelf. A small bottle flew obligingly into his hand. He uncorked it and was about to tip the contents into his mouth when a silvery, ghost-like phoenix circled the room. Severus swore in irritation born of exhaustion. Leave it to Dumbledore to demand a report immediately upon his arrival. Why on earth had he allowed the man to put an Alerting Charm on his residence? He staggered over to the bookcase nearest the hearth and yanked out one of the many thick volumes housed there. In the center of the book was a Chocolate Frog card of Albus Dumbledore.
"Severus!" called the voice, as the old man stared up at him from the trading card. "Thank Merlin you've returned. When I hadn't heard from you, I feared the worst."
I'm sure you did, he thought with a flash of bitter contempt. "As you can see, I managed to placate the Dark Lord... for now."
"I would like the complete briefing as soon as possible," the old headmaster said without seeming to register the fatigued look on the other man's face. "Can you return to the castle within the hour?"
"Impossible," the younger wizard said firmly, sinking back onto the sofa. If he could just close his eyes for a few hours...
"Headmaster," Severus interrupted with a yawn that refused to be suppressed, "I assure you there isn't anything I've seen or heard that can't wait until morning."
"Let me be the judge of that, Severus."
The younger man scowled, seized by a sudden desire to shred the Chocolate Frog card into tiny pieces. He was in no condition to Apparate to Hogwarts. It had been difficult enough to come here without splinching himself. Wasn't it enough he risked his life every time he was summoned? He knew he was nearly indispensable to the Order, but no one would ever acknowledge it... or give a rat's arse if anything happened to him for that matter.
"I'm exhausted," he heard himself say, the words sounding petulant and childish to his own ears. "I don't trust my ability to Apparate that far without risk of splinching."
"How long would it take you to fly, Severus?" Dumbledore's tiny portrait asked. "Half an hour, maybe forty minutes?"
Oh, yes, dozing off and tumbling from a charmed twig is much better! Severus thought indignantly. Besides he hated flying. Why the hell else would one learn to tolerate the ear-popping, innard-squeezing sensation of Apparition? At least it was mercifully brief, unlike pelting through the freezing wet air several hundred feet above certain death. He glared at the twinkling face on the Chocolate Frog card, wondering if he could convince the old man that it had accidentally fallen into the fire.
"Or," the headmaster continued, "you could take the Floo to Hogwarts. You do have Floo powder, don't you?"
"Yes," he said through clenched teeth. Dumbledore had seen to it that a supply was kept there 'just in case.'
The miniature wizard nodded. "Excellent! I will see you as soon as possible." As if he had finally noticed the scowl on the younger man's face, Dumbledore went on in a placating tone, "Severus, I'm sure you are--how do you say it? Ah, yes--utterly knackered, but the sooner I am informed of Voldemort's plans, the sooner we can find a way to end this. I need to see what you have seen these last few days."
As much as Severus loathed to admit it, he knew the old man was right. He drew in a deep breath. "I will be there shortly."
"I will see you then, Severus," Dumbledore replied before retreating from the card's frame.
Slamming the book closed on the card, the younger wizard let it hit the floor with a loud thud. Sometimes he hated the manipulative old bugger enough to murder him in cold blood. But/ the part of his mind that served as his conscience reminded him, your choices have made it very easy to manipulate you. No one ever forced you to take the Mark; you could have refused. Would death have been any worse than this pitiful existence you call a life?
Severus crossed the room and stuffed the book back into its place. Leaning his forehead against the wall of leather spines, he couldn't help but think that death was indeed preferable to the constant suspicion and loneliness. He continued to live for the sole purpose of repaying debts and honoring memories.
An hour later he was sitting in a hard wooden chair in front of Dumbledore's desk, the Pensieve between them. The old man's face was grave as they discussed what they had seen.
"So Voldemort plans to seize both the Ministry and the school, but you were not told when or how?" Dumbledore asked, and Severus shook his head in response. The old man went on, more to himself than the exhausted man across from him, "He wants me disposed of, naturally, and the new Minister as well.
"I had the impression the two would coincide," Severus added, pressing the heels of his hands to his eyes.
Dumbledore stood up and began to pace, speaking to himself, purple robes swishing with each step. "That would make the most sense. A rapid take over would give the population very little time to react. The new Minister will need to be put on the alert as soon as he or she is appointed. The school will need additional protection, of course."
Even though such a move on the Dark Lord's part was highly probable, Severus wondered how the old man could discuss the matter with the Ministry and not expose his source. Anything that remotely connected the information to Severus was the same as signing his death warrant.
Dumbledore turned his focus back to Severus. "Have any of the other Death Eaters been in contact with you, Severus?"
"No," he answered. "Although I have been expecting to hear from Narcissa Malfoy since Lucius was incarcerated after the Department of Mysteries debacle."
"Was young Draco forced to take the Mark sooner than expected?" Dumbledore asked, a deeply troubled look on his lined face.
"On the contrary," Severus said, frowning with concentration. "The Dark Lord has decided to make the boy prove his worth first. Naturally, Draco wants to take his father's place. However, I had the impression that Narcissa was far from interested in her son following in his father's footsteps."
Dumbledore fiddled with his beard for a moment. "Guide him as best you can, Severus. Keep him from harm's way."
"That may prove to be problematic, sir," Severus answered. "The boy no longer trusts me. I believe that Bellatrix has convinced him that I am the reason he was not accepted as a replacement for Lucius."
"Then you simply must find a way to regain his trust, Severus," the headmaster insisted, "before he causes harm to himself or others. Take him into your confidence and provide him with some information that could keep him within Voldemort's good graces but not enough to earn him the dubious honor of being Marked. I'm trusting you to find a solution."
"Perhaps something will present itself," Severus said, not sounding convinced.
The younger man fell silent. All he wanted was several hours of sleep without the concern of being murdered looming in the background.
"Is there anything else you feel we need to discuss?" The old man's eyes pierced him.
"No, sir," Severus answered, his tone stiff and unfeeling. Unless you plan on offering me the Defense Against the Dark Arts post.
"Please, go to your quarters and rest, Severus," said the headmaster with a sliver of compassion. "I will have the house-elves send a tray to your room if you wish."
The offer was tempting. Eating and drinking in the company of those who would prefer him dead was not an advisable practice, and the last four days left him exhausted and famished. Potions helped, but he had used them so frequently that their effectiveness was beginning to wane. There was nothing at Spinner's End worth Transfiguring into something barely palatable, and... What if he had somehow, however unlikely, been followed to Spinner's End? It would be best for him to return.
"No, thank you, sir," he said, rising to his feet. He made his way to the fireplace and vanished in a flash of flames.
"As you wish, Severus." Dumbledore sighed. There had been a flash of hopelessness in those black eyes. Severus had lost so much over the years, and it was obvious the stresses of his ever flip-flopping display of loyalties were taking their toll. Sooner or later he might make an error and all would be lost. It was no doubt difficult for him to continue working toward a future of freedom and peace that would have no place for him. He needed to have a vested interest in that future, a reason to continue fighting besides honoring the memories of loved ones.
"Unless we find a suitable candidate, it may be best to discontinue the course all together," McGonagall said the following morning as she and the headmaster faced the annual challenge of filling the Defense Against the Dark Arts post.
It was something that he had considered more than once in his tenure as headmaster. Dumbledore fell silent, staring blankly at the clutter of paper on his desk, frowning as he shared his concern with her. "Defense Against the Dark Arts is a course we can ill-afford to drop from the curriculum. We need a competent teacher; perhaps Alastor would be willing to take the offer. He never genuinely taught the course, Barty Crouch, Jr. did. Maybe the curse will have no affect on him."
"After what happened to him?" McGonagall shook her head. "I wouldn't count on it, Albus. Having been locked in a trunk for nearly a year may make him think twice about the offer."
Neither of them spoke for several minutes.
"Have you considered offering it to Severus?" she asked in a business-like tone. "He applies for the post every year. Perhaps it's time to finally reward his patience?"
"Allowing Severus to teach the Dark Arts course will be a last resort," Dumbledore informed her without looking up from the sheaf of parchment on his desk. "The risks he is taking at the moment are great enough."
"It sounds more like you don't trust him to teach the class." McGonagall's expression conveyed that she, too, mistrusted the former Death Eater.
"This has nothing to do with trust, Minerva." He had lost count of the number of times they had had this conversation. "Severus provides vital information to the Order, he prepares his students well for their exams, and he keeps a close watch over the children of his fellow Death Eaters. While I'm sure Severus would be elated to procure the post, and no doubt Voldemort would find it somehow to his benefit, I would rather not risk losing Severus at the end of the school term." Dumbledore shook his head, closing the matter. "No, he will continue teaching Potions for as long as I can manage to find a warm body to fill the Defense post. There is a suitable candidate out there, and that person needs to be located."
Realizing that further debate would be futile, McGonagall said crisply, "Then we need to keep looking. I would hate for the Ministry to appoint another teacher."
"Agreed." The name of a retired Auror who had worked with Alastor Moody came to mind. "What about Orion McTavish?"
"Not unless you can resurrect the dead," McGonagall said dryly. "He died two years ago."
iResurrect the dead?/i Why hadn't he thought about that before? "That may be a possibility, Minerva."
"Albus, you can't seriously be thinking about..."
The old man opened one of the drawers of his massive desk, tapping the bottom of it with his wand. From inside the hidden compartment, he retrieved a file containing letters and a few photographs, and passed them to the deputy headmistress. "I think I may have had our Defense professor under lock and charm all this time."
McGonagall nearly dropped the file in astonishment. "But everyone thought she was murdered around the same time as the Potters." After scanning the photographs, she looked sharply up at the old man, an angry edge to her voice. "How long have you known?"
"She was first brought to my attention three or four years after her disappearance. An old friend of mine, Jarvis Pike, had written to me to inquire about the possibility that one of Voldemort's followers may have taken refuge in the States. At the time, the Ministry had accounted for all young women who may have fallen into that category. I had instructed him to observe her carefully and notify me if there were any further concerns." Dumbledore picked up one of the pictures. "I didn't hear from Jarvis until just before Harry started school. He had caught her in a series of inconsistencies and discovered that the young lady in question had been employing Occlumency to conceal her true identity. This time he sent me photographs, and I recognized her immediately."
"You didn't think to tell her family?" Minerva's lips were a thin, angry line. "They were devastated when they thought Sirius Black had killed her."
"Minerva, I had every reason to believe she didn't want to be found." Dumbledore proceeded to explain his reasons for withholding the information, which at that time had been logical choices. Now it was obvious that some of the damage could have been... perhaps not undone, but at least repaired.
"You had no right to keep something like that from me." Her eyes had narrowed. "She was a student in my House, Albus. She was supposed to be under my guidance and protection."
He let out a long sigh. "I had no choice at the time."
"And you think she may consider returning after all this time?"
"That remains to be seen," Dumbledore said calmly. "However, there is no harm in asking. If she accepts the post, our problem is solved for another year. If she declines it, then we are no worse off than before."
Dumbledore closed his eyes and sighed, remembering the hollow look in Severus Snape's eyes. Severus needed someone to confide in, and Dumbledore needed someone to teach Defense Against the Dark Arts. And there was also a connection to Lily and James Potter, which would be helpful to Harry.
"No, thank you, Barbara. I should be finished packing by the end of tomorrow," Dr. Jarvis Pike said to his secretary over the intercom as he sat behind the cluttered desk in his university office. This afternoon had been spent packing boxes with the numerous books and personal items he had amassed over his thirty-year tenure. Come August, someone else would be sitting in the department head's office and he would be retired, reduced to giving an occasional lecture. He was a spry man approaching his late seventies, far from ready to retire. However, that was one of the drawbacks of being a wizard who embraced the ordinary world: you had to do everything on their timetable.
Pike tried to convince himself that there were advantages to retiring. His wife, Meredith, would be cutting back on her course load come September, and they could spend some time together away from the university. There was a greenhouse full of 'exotic' plants that needed to be tended, several articles and a book to complete, and perhaps he could take some time to travel to Europe.
Traveling had been Meredith's suggestion. For the past forty-odd years, he had treated her to trips to every uncivilized corner of the globe, which she had enjoyed initially. Unfortunately, in spite of being nearly twenty years his junior, his beloved wife did not have his stamina or longevity. Unlike Jarvis, Meredith was an Ordinary, a Muggle as his friends across the pond would say. The only thing he ever regretted about marrying her was that he would likely outlive her by many years.
A sudden flash of fire in the office caused him to yell in surprise, and with surprising speed, he pointed a slender length of wood at the disturbance. Suspended in midair was the form of a bird so brightly colored in shades of orange and red that it looked like it was made of flames. A phoenix! He hadn't seen one since...
"Dumbledore," he whispered, lowering his wand and cautiously approaching the bird. The elegant creature lowered its head in acknowledgment, dropping a large, old-fashioned envelope on the desk before vanishing in another flash of fire.
Jarvis tore open the envelope. Inside, there was a letter for him, neatly wrapped around a second smaller, sealed envelope. Reading the sheet of parchment, he sighed; he had been hoping this day would not come. Things were out of his hands.
There was an quick knock at the office door before it was pushed open by a thin, elderly woman bearing two steaming cups in her hands.
"Is everything all right, Dr. Pike?" she asked. "I thought I heard you yell while I was down the hall getting coffee. I came as fast as I could."
Jarvis smiled, grateful that she had been instructed early on that he was a bit 'odd.' "No, everything is fine, just a really large spider in the file cabinet drawer. Could you do me a favor? I need you to see if Professor O'Brien has left for the day."
"She wasn't in her office when I walked by."
He distractedly continued packing. "Yes, I know she said something about leaving early. I have some urgent news for her. Tell her it can't wait if she asks."
Barbara set the cup on a nearby shelf. "I'll see if I can find her."
"Thank you, Barbara." Maybe he would miss her after all.
He finished packing the last few boxes, charmed to hold twice the usual amount at this point, and sealed them with a wave of his wand. Doubts that the ever-faithful Barbara had been successful in her location of Professor O'Brien were beginning to creep into his head. As much as he hated to call on O'Brien after hours, he would need to stop by her home to drop off the letter. As he moved to stuff the envelope into his briefcase, a knock sounded at the door.
A woman in her early thirties stepped across the threshold, surveying the sea of boxes with an amused smile. "Jarvis, Barbara said you had something important to tell me. Did I get the grant?"
Pike shook his head. "I told you not to get your hopes up about that grant. You were at the last budget meeting; the university is concerned they may need to cut staff. Grants for wizard-centric projects may very well be out of the question."
"But it would benefit both the magical and non-magical communities in the long-term!" she protested.
He could see she was getting ready to launch into her mutual-benefit speech, and hearing it again would only make him feel worse when her proposal was denied. Indicating a chair next to the desk, Pike said, "Have a seat, my dear."
"This isn't going to be good news, is it?" she asked, eying the old man suspiciously.
"That remains to be seen, Callista," he said, taking a seat himself.
Once she was seated, he slid the heavy envelope across the desk towards her. Callista O'Brien picked the letter up without doing more than glance at it, and an annoyed expression covered her face. "It's very nice, Jarvis, but did you really need to show me the invitations to a costume party?"
"Look at the address on the front and the seal on the back."
The name Callista Hawkins followed by c/o Dr. Jarvis Pike and the university address stared surreally up at her from the parchment.
"What's this all about?"
"I suggest you open it," he said softly.
The young woman turned it over; on the back was a shield decorated with a badger, a snake, a lion, and an eagle. Draco dormiens nunquam titillandus. Never tickle a sleeping dragon.
"What kind of joke is this, Jarvis?" Callista demanded, throwing the unopened letter on the desktop.
"Callista, it isn't a joke. Dumbledore's phoenix arrived just a short time ago and delivered it."
She jumped to her feet and began pacing, as if an assortment of unwelcome thoughts had fueled her perpetual nervous energy. "Why would the old bugger want to bother me? I left a long time ago. There's nothing to go back to."
"From what I read in my own letter, he's offering you a teaching position."
Callista faced him, clearly flustered. "I'm in the middle of getting my doctorate, Jarvis! I can't just drop that and rush off to teach little witches and wizards how to wave their wands!"
"I remember at one point you wanted to do just that, but Salem wasn't hiring," Pike reminded her gently. "After you opted out of medicine, it was your ambition to teach."
"Ambitions change, Jarvis. Lives change." She looked at her hands.
"You have been spending too much time with Lucas." Pike frowned; it was no secret that he disliked the businessman. "He seems to be rubbing off on you and not in a good way."
"Lucas promised matching funds if I could get a grant from the university," Callista said, shrugging. "I may be the brains behind the research, but he's the one with the money."
Oh, yes, Lucas Hart and his money, a combination that can only mean trouble. "Has he..."
"No," Callista answered quickly. "Our relationship is strictly professional, and I intend to keep it that way."
"I--well, Meredith and I--worry about you." Pike kept his voice controlled; the last thing he wanted was to push her to the point where she would shut him out. "We both detest how he treats you at those public functions, Callista; it's neither right nor proper. I... I think he's using you, or at least he's trying to."
Her face softened. "Jarvis, I know you think of yourselves as my surrogate parents, but please, stop. I'm an adult and more than capable of taking care of myself. I was doing that when our paths crossed. There is no room in my plans for a relationship, with anyone, period."
"Perhaps this offer from Hogwarts is providential, Callista," he said soothingly. "Things aren't going as you had hoped they would; maybe you should go."
"I get the very distinct impression you're trying to hide something from me," she said sharply.
He ignored her remark. "If nothing else, you could inform your parents that you are still alive."
Pike pointed a bony finger at her. "Callista, they deserve to know≈"
"As far as they are concerned," she broke in bitterly, "their disappointment of a daughter is missing and most likely dead. There's nothing for me to go back to. I still haven't quite forgiven you for informing Dumbledore about me. Had you kept quiet, none of this"--she pointed angrily at the envelope--"would have happened!"
"When I heard he wasn't convinced that the Dark wizard was truly gone, I felt it only right to inform him I had a witch from his school under my direction." The old argument was rising to the surface yet again. "You should be grateful I didn't notify their Ministry. How was I to know you weren't one of What's-His-Name's followers?"
While Callista sat in a seething silence, Jarvis reminded himself that he had done the right thing. News about the rise of a new Dark wizard had drifted to the North American wizarding community, barely making a ripple in the lives of the majority of witches and wizards. The threat had seemed to be nothing more than a vague concern to most; that unconcerned attitude had given her high hopes of leaving every trace of her past behind.
"You meant well. We established that a long time ago," she said with a sigh.
"So what do you intend to do?"
She shoved an errant strand of brown hair out of her eyes. "Tell Dumbledore to never contact me again for starters, and then go on as if none of this had ever happened."
"Are you certain you can do that?"
She lowered her head into her hands, staring at the toes of her shoes. "I don't know."
"Read the letter and think it over for a few days." Pike handed her the parchment. "You wouldn't have to go back to take the position; you could just go back to visit. How much leave time do you have?"
"Four weeks or more, I know I wouldn't qualify for a year-long sabbatical."
"Why not take a vacation? If I recall correctly, it's beautiful over there this time of year."
"When tisn't rainin'," she clarified, allowing her accent to thicken.
Jarvis laughed encouragingly. "Before I forget, Meredith is throwing a small dinner party in honor of my retirement Saturday evening. Would you care to join us?"
"Lucas wants me to do some hard-core schmoozing at some company event with him, but I think I can get out of it." Dressing up in revealing evening attire was something she preferred to skip whenever possible.
"Then we will be expecting you, Callista." He showed her to the door. After she left, Jarvis felt a little guilty. He knew the next few days were going to be unpleasant for her.
Later that evening, Callista sat on her bed, staring at a picture of her arm-in-arm with a young wizard. He wasn't handsome by any definition: scarecrow-thin with lank black hair framing a pale face on which the most noticeable feature was an overly-large, hooked nose. Although the man was smiling at her, it did little to enhance his looks by revealing his discolored, uneven teeth. Callista wasn't sure why she had kept this particular photograph. In all honesty, she would have been better off trying to forget him and her old life entirely. That's what she had been attempting to do for the last thirteen years. Yet, for some unknown reason, she had kept this shred of evidence of her former self. A tattered wizarding photograph, a snip of jet black hair, and an old wand were the only things tying Callista O'Brien to Callista Hawkins, student of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
Her life here was a busy one, but even for it's hectic pace, there was an emptiness that hadn't faded, no matter how many friends she had gained or accomplishments she had achieved. Perhaps she was more homesick than she was willing to admit. But she was so close to completing her degree that she didn't feel that she could just drop everything. Besides, most of her friends had died during the last war or had been imprisoned for their crimes.
Leaving her old life behind and coming here had been the best choice available to her at the time. The relative freedom for a witch here was far more appealing than the culture-stifling segregation she had grown up with. Magic and Muggle coexisting (even if the Muggles were for the most part unaware) was worth every cent she paid in taxes. She had learned more about the non-magical world in a few months than any of her classmates had learned taking N.E.W.T. level Muggle Studies and had discovered a wealth in art and adapted science that made her question the superiority-of-blood rhetoric she had grown up with. After spending most of her life closeted away from Muggles, it was liberating to be able to walk among them and not worry about being conspicuous. Of course, she had endured a few comments from the witches and wizards she had become acquainted with about being a pure-blood because the last century had rendered purity of blood as obsolete as quills and parchments, instead of something to be proud about.
However, she gradually found acceptance from her fellow wizarding students at the dual university. Here she took courses in traditional Muggle academics along with advanced magical instruction. She had marveled at the ingenuity of concealed classrooms within the hallways of the Muggle university and decided to stay on as a part-time instructor for some of the entry-level classes once she had finished her Master's Degree. Now she was nearing the completion of her doctorate, and if luck and budget were with her, she would remain on as a full-time professor. She knew she should be proud of her accomplishments, and yet...
She read the letter aloud, trying to coax it into revealing the best course of action. "My dear Miss Hawkins," she read. "This letter will no doubt disrupt the neat and tidy life you have built for yourself; however, I am at a loss at the moment and in great need of your assistance." She snorted derisively. "And what makes you think I would even consider returning to offer it?"
"As you no doubt remember, the Dark wizard, Lord Voldemort was defeated nearly fifteen years ago, and his demise brought about the deaths of James and Lily Potter. Their son Harry is alive and reasonably well. Unfortunately, this year the young man has suffered yet another devastating loss: his godfather Sirius Black was killed in an attempt to protect him. I know that for the last fifteen years you have thought Sirius to be a traitor and responsible for the death of the Potters. This has turned out to be false. Two years ago I learned that Sirius was innocent of that crime.
"My concern for Harry is not the only reason I have contacted you. Voldemort is once again a threat to the wizarding and Muggle worlds. A long time ago you expressed a desire to aid the Order of the Phoenix in undermining his efforts. I am hoping I can count on you to assist us.
"I currently have a post open for Defense Against the Dark Arts or, if you would rather, Potions for the upcoming school year. As I'm sure you would well remember, no professor has taught the Defense Against the Dark Arts course more than once; therefore, the contract will be for one year only." There was a line about contacting him before the middle of August and then the closing of the letter.
There had to be more to it. Dumbledore never did anything without a good reason. But what was that reason? She wasn't overly powerful. Her spell work had always been better-than-average, but her true talent was in brewing potions. She had been nearly as good as Severus Snape, and≈ What if something had happened to him?
"And why should I even care?" Callista asked herself flopping back against the pillows. As far as she was concerned, Severus had been nothing but a lying, using, Death Eater bastard. She had been little more than a pawn to him, a source of information and nothing more. But there had always been something about the way he had looked at her and the way he had treated her that had made her think otherwise. She pressed the heels of her hands to her eyes. "Severus Snape lied to everyone about what he was, and somehow the Wizengamot let him get away with it."
The telephone rang, and Callista hesitated before answering. "Hello?"
"Ah, Callista!" Lucas Hart's voice was a welcome distraction. "I just wanted to remind you about the fund raiser Saturday night. My driver and I will be arriving before six. There will be some important clients and investors there for you to meet. The event is formal, so I think you should wear the red backless dress. It's very flattering." There was a bit of a hesitation before he continued. "I even managed to procure some delightful baubles to enhance it. No doubt you will be very appreciative of their rarity and elegance, and it would give me great pleasure to see them on you."
Six? She could have sworn the invitation said eight-thirty. Surely, it wouldn't take any more than forty-five minutes to get to the country club? Why would he want to pick her up so early? Callista suddenly felt annoyed. Their relationship was professional, and she had never given him any reason to think otherwise. Yet, he treated her like she was some kind of trophy he had won, showing her off more than representing her projects. Now he was attempting to sway her with some antique jewelry. Maybe Jarvis was right about him.
"Since we will be speaking with prospective clients, I was planning on wearing the navy blue one with the square neckline. It's a bit more business appropriate, don't you think?"
"Oh, come now," he interrupted, laughing in his superior way, and Callista wished they were having this conversation face-to-face so she could Transfigure him into something slimy and disgusting. "You're a bright, engaging, and attractive woman; there's nothing wrong with using everything you can to your advantage. There are many other researchers looking into plants in the Amazon. You need to outshine the competition, and that's something we could do very well together, Callista."
"I think I can manage better if the investors are focused on my words and not my cleavage." She really didn't even want to go. Lucas was more than capable of presenting her projects to investors. He had told her so more times than she could count on both hands. "Besides, I would hate to miss Dr. Pike's retirement dinner."
There was a prolonged silence on the other end. When Lucas finally spoke, he sounded irritated. "You mean you would consider skipping an important--and potentially lucrative--event to have dinner with a worn-out college professor?"
How dare you! She barely kept her temper in check. "If it weren't for Dr. Pike, I wouldn't be where I am now. You rarely let me say anything when we chat up your business associates anyway. I can't see the purpose of me even being there, Lucas."
"The purpose is so they can attach a face with the project," Lucas said. Callista could hear him clenching his teeth.
"No, they attach a pair of boobs!" Callista snapped without thinking. "What are you really after?"
There was another sullen silence. "You make it sound like being with me is something sordid you wish to avoid."
She regretted her outburst. "I just want to keep everything professional."
"Then why did you keep dropping me subtle hints that you were interested in us becoming something more?" Lucas asked bitterly. "The way you talk to me during meetings... The electrifying eye contact you try to make when I come to your office... "
What the hell is he talking about? she wondered, beginning to think that maybe she had inadvertently lead him on. "Lucas, I've never given you any indication that this was more than a professional business relationship. I don't want you sending me flowers... or procuring rare jewelry for me... or parading me around like I'm some kind of show dog.
Another silence, longer and more uncomfortable than the last. Lucas Hart's voice was edged with malice. "If you aren't interesting in promoting yourself, then I can't see why I should waste my time. Consider yourself no longer of interest to Dunce and Hart Enterprises, Miss O'Brien. I will have one of the secretaries issue you a formal severance letter."
"Lucas, you fifthly rat-bastard!" She nearly flung the receiver at the opposite wall. Instead she dropped it on the bed and covered her face with a pillow. "Callista, you moron, what have you done?"
A snide voice answered in her head, Looks like you've committed professional suicide, that's what.
The week didn't improve. On the contrary, it grew steadily worse. Wednesday afternoon, Callista received a letter from the grant committee informing her that her proposal had not been accepted. Thursday morning, she was greeted with a severance letter from Dunce and Hart Enterprises. Lucas Hart's signature was stamped, not signed, a clear indicator that he really didn't find her worth his time.
"Damn him!" She slammed the letter on her desk. "What the hell else can possibly go wrong?"
Friday morning answered that question when she was informed there was insufficient enrollment for both cryptozoology and magical plant studies for the fall session; the classes would both be canceled. To further add to her woes, Callista was notified later in the day that the sections of biology and botany she normally taught for the regular university were both low in enrollment and were going to be combined with another professor's classes. Callista would not be teaching unless she was willing to take the Fundamentals of Science for Elementary Education class, which was only going to be taught one night a week. Since she didn't have a doctorate and was technically one step above a graduate assistant, the university wasn't obligated to offer her any other courses that she may have been able to instruct.
"Going to teach at Hogwarts is beginning to look better and better," she grumbled as she tried to print some recently collated data. Thinking about the ancient halls teeming with spells and enchantments made her own magic surged through her. The printer's lights flashed wildly in reaction to the energy source before shutting down. Callista cursed under her breath as she restarted the machine.
"I heard you had a fairly terrible week," Jarvis said to Callista Saturday night after the last of the guests had gone home. He had wanted her to stay and talk away from their colleagues, some of whom were not exactly sympathetic.
Callista leaned against the wooden railing of the deck overlooking the pool, rubbing her temples. In an effort to relax and forget about her problems, she had gone against her better judgment and had over-imbibed. Now, in addition to her professional affliction, a nasty headache was developing. "I'm trying to decide which part sucked the worst. Right now, essentially getting canned is in a pretty strong tie with being ditched by Dunce and Hart." She gave the old professor a stern look when he started to speak. "Don't even say you tried to tell me. I'm painfully aware of that right now."
"I wasn't going to say anything of the sort," he said, patting her arm. "What are your plans?"
"Pointing my wand at my chest and using the Queen Mother of Unforgivable curses comes to mind." Callista noted the fleeting look of horror on the old face and quickly amended, "But I'm not that type."
"I should hope not!" Pike exclaimed, his relief blatantly reflected in his eyes.
Callista studied her hands for a few moments before announcing her plans. "I was thinking about taking a break from my studies to do some traveling."
"Will Scotland be one of your destinations?" he asked, and Callista reluctantly nodded. "Maybe some time away will be good for you. You haven't taken a real vacation in years."
"Jarvis, I'm going to take Dumbledore up on his offer," Callista said quietly. "Something about going back there feels right. Maybe I screwed up my Karma or whatever by running away from my problems. If I go back and fix things as best I can, then perhaps things in my future will work out. If nothing else, at least I'll be employed for the next year."
Her mentor was quiet for a long time. "This isn't just the alcohol talking, is it?"
Callista shook her head and immediately regretted it. "No," she said, "I started seriously considering it after the committee rejected my grant proposal."
"You'll let your parents know you're still alive?"
"Knowing how small the wizarding population is, I don't have much choice." She let out a humorless laugh. "I wouldn't want them to read about my appointment in the paper."
He nodded in agreement. "So when will you be leaving?"
"As soon as I can get a visa. My passport is still good for another four years. Then there is everything I need to fill out to put my doctorate studies on hiatus." She wrinkled her nose at the thought of the sea of paperwork that needed to be tackled. "I need to be there by mid-August at the latest."
"Callista, you don't need a visa or anything like that," Pike said. "You of all people should know how deeply closeted the wizarding world is over there. All you need is a long-range Portkey, my dear."
"I guess that would simplify things, wouldn't it?"
The old man smiled at her. "You handle the paperwork for the university; I'll inform Dumbledore of your decision and manage the Portkey. We can have you there by the beginning of August."
"Keen to get rid of me?" she teased.
"On the contrary," he said, pulling her into a fatherly embrace, "I shall miss you very much."
A/N: Here's hoping you enjoyed it and won't be throwing rotten eggs at me or anything.
Many, many thanks to verity, Mark D'Arcy/Trickie Woo, and a very patient admin at TPP for helping bring this to fruition.