Chapter One

The Selection

Disclaimer: I don't own any of these characters. JK Rowling does. I only make money writing non-fiction; all of my fiction is purely non-profit.

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Severus Snape pulled the wooden chair out slowly, then collapsed into it with a sigh. He rested his elbows on the familiar desk in front of him and stared morosely at the classroom he knew so well. He was back.

He'd sworn he'd never come back. He hated this place. Hated the school, with its memories of his childhood and the accompanying emotions. He hated this classroom. Hated the imbeciles he'd be forced to teach.

But here he was. He had no choice, really: it was here or Azkaban. McGonagall had believed his story, and eventually the other Order members as well. Albus had left plenty of evidence behind in his Pensieve; he was innocent, an actor in a play. Yes, he'd said the forbidden words, but the real action had been a wandless Banishing Spell on the body of the already-dying man on that same man's orders. It was the fall from the tower, not an Unforgivable Curse, that had killed the already-dying Albus Dumbledore.

Scrimgeour, of course, did not believe him. But Minerva stood up for him—even Moody did. And so, he was reprieved, put on parole. So long as he behaved—and stayed under close supervision of his superiors at Hogwarts—he could go back to a "normal" life. He had two months to do research before term started, but after that, how much progress could he make? Life would be all lesson plans, marking, and detentions with dunderheads.

He sighed again. Could Azkaban really be any worse than this hell hole? Looking on the bright side, life can probably get no worse.

Had Severus Snape kept up with the news in the Daily Prophet, he would not have been so sure of the last sentiment.

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Hermione ran her fingers aimlessly through the bushy mess of her hair, fixated on the fine print in the newspaper. She'd read it once, but she had to read through the provisions of the law again, looking for loopholes. There were none, of course. Scrimgeour's staff barristers were top notch. There was really no way out of it; she would have to adopt a child.

If she did, what would she do about her apprenticeship at Slug & Jiggers? Granted, she hadn't formally accepted it yet, but she certainly meant to. And she couldn't easily complete the requirements of an apprenticeship while caring for an infant.

But wait, Hermione thought. This isn't a normal adoption I have to go through here; there probably won't be many infants available. I can get an older child, one old enough for school. I can send her to Muggle primary school until it's time for Hogwarts.

She pulled out quill and parchment and started scribbling a list of attributes she wanted in a child.

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Voldemort's propensity for death and destruction had wrought terrible changes in the Wizarding World. During his reign of terror, monuments which had stood for millennia had been destroyed. Traditions which had been passed down from father to son, from mother to daughter, for generations, had been done away. But worst of all, hundreds of wizards had been killed in battle—on both sides of the field—leaving behind the innocent, the children, to fend for themselves.

After the Dark Lord had been defeated at the hand of Harry Potter, the bureaucrats at the Ministry of Magic had embarked upon a rebuilding program for damaged historical sites. They had instituted an archival program to chronicle the customs that were being abandoned. But they simply could not care for the two hundred and fifty-six orphans who found themselves not only without parents, but without any living relatives at all to take them in.

And so, the Adoption Act of 1998 had been announced. The law was simple: all wizards and witches between the ages of 18 and 50 were to adopt a child under age eleven; all wizards and witches between the ages of 51 and 80 were to adopt a child between eleven and seventeen. No exceptions. Many had argued for a "married couple exemption," one that allowed married couples to adopt only one child between them, but the Ministry had disagreed. Such a loophole would have left too many children in orphanages.

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Hermione was among the throng who clustered outside the adoption agency's doorway on the first day. She already knew what she was looking for: a little girl, ideally about five or six years old (though somewhat older would be okay); preferably with brown hair and brown eyes, so she wouldn't look too unlike her mother.

When nine o'clock arrived, she was sucked through the doorway in the current of eager prospective parents. Many of them were single older witches, she noticed. No doubt, several were old maids finally getting the child they'd wanted for so long.

As she entered the large hall where the younger children were being shown, Hermione glanced about, desperately searching for girls in the right age range. Unfortunately, the only one who was immediately visible was already being fawned over by no less than three witches. She watched in disgust as Lavender Brown, Padma Patil, and Susan Bones bickered over who would claim the precious creature.

After searching for a while, it became obvious that there were only three girls between the ages of five and six, and they were all eagerly sought after. Hermione's strategy of carefully evaluating each child had definitely not paid off. Flustered, she looked around for alternatives. Girls definitely seemed to be popular among the unmarried witches. Perhaps she could take a boy? After seven years of hanging out with Ron and Harry, she was sure she knew something about boys.

A movement by the bookcase caught her eye. Unnoticed by any adults near him, a small boy crawled slowly over to a bookshelf under one of the windows. He eased a large picture book from the shelf with the greatest of care, opened it almost reverently, and began running his finger under the words. His parents had obviously read to him on a regular basis. Would his new parent do the same for him?

Hermione's heart stopped, and tears welled in her eyes. That poor little guy. The case workers would probably not care if his parents liked books or not. He'd be lucky to get anyone at all—he was rather an ugly little thing.

With a sigh, Hermione walked over to the small child and swooped him up in her arms. "Hello, little man," she said gently. "Let me read you this book, and then we'll go home."

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Indignant and sullen, Severus Snape stared fiercely into the Headmistress's stony visage. He longed for Dumbledore's cheerful twinkle; the old Headmaster would have grinned at him, daring him to challenge the request. Minerva's stern face didn't yield in the least to his penetrating glare. Nonetheless, he had to try. "I cannot adopt a child and maintain my position here at Hogwarts!"

She had adopted, he knew, as had some of the other professors. But they were all lucky enough to be over the age of fifty-one. They could adopt current Hogwarts students, a "change" which had little or no impact on their everyday lives. Unfortunately, as the "baby" on staff, he had to choose a child ten or younger. How would he keep an eye on the kid? How would he educate him?

McGonagall sighed. "I'm not saying it would be without its challenges. But you're a clever man, Severus. I'm sure you can figure out some means of child care for class time. Please, Severus. You know what will happen if you don't adopt."

Gloomily, Snape fingered the length of ebony in his pocket. "I can brew without a wand."

"It's not just the wand, Severus. Remember the terms of your parole. When they say you have to abide by the law, they don't just mean no murder and mayhem. They mean all laws, including this silly Adoption Law. Your monthly parole meeting is a week from Friday."

With a growl of anguish, the dark man sprang from his chair. "All right, all right! I'll take a bloody child! Merlin only knows how I'm going to care for the dunderhead, but I'll take one!" As he skulked out of the office, he muttered to himself, "If there are any left, that is."

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The receptionist behind the main desk looked up. "Professor Snape," she said acidly.

"Ah, Miss Ellington. I remember your incompetence well. Small wonder that you have been reduced to performing a desk job."

Rolling her eyes, the witch gestured through an open doorway. "Whatever. You're not my professor any more, so take your pick and get out of here. There's only two left."

"There are only two left," Snape corrected automatically. Then he stalked menacingly through the door she'd indicated.

His dreams of picking a well-mannered boy, age ten, were quickly dashed. Miss Ellington had indicated that there were only two orphans remaining to adopt; he saw only one, a grubby little boy of about seven, who scowled at him as he entered. "You won't be my daddy! You won't!" he shouted. "I'm going to stay right here until my real daddy comes! I won't let you take me away!"

Snape moved closer to take a good look at the child. He was rewarded by a hand—with extremely sharp nails—raking across his face. "Get away, I said!" the child screamed.

"Very well," Severus said calmly, taking a step back. "Where is the other one?"

The boy pointed sullenly to a cot in the corner. Unconsciously rubbing the scrapes on his cheek, Severus walked over to investigate. He had been sure that no infants would be left; they were considered the most desirable adoptees, weren't they?

The girl lying in the cot was not really an infant any more. Two or three years old, if Severus guessed correctly—though, admittedly, he'd never been around small children for extended periods of time. Her arms and legs lay limply, unresponsive to his touch. Her body scarcely moved at all, other than the faint rise and fall of her chest as she breathed. Her head turned imperceptibly, and her eyes met his.

Severus leaped back in shock as he felt his mind being probed, quickly snapping his Occlumency shield up. The girl was a natural Legilimens! Despite his mind's protective barriers, he was still able to hear the probing question: Are you my new daddy?

Gently, carefully, he picked her up. "Yes," he whispered.

Outside the door, he was aware of a vaguely familiar voice speaking with the receptionist. "I was so wrapped up with the paperwork surrounding the Adoption Act that I totally forgot to adopt a child myself!" a man was saying frantically.

"Go on in, Perce. Even if the professor's already picked, there'll still be one left."

Snape, striding towards the doorway, nearly collided with Percy Weasley. "Enjoy your new son, Mr. Weasley," he smirked. Glancing back over his shoulder, he saw the defiant look on the dark boy's face, and he grinned evilly to himself. Dealing with that brat would no doubt take the pompous former Head Boy down a notch.

In the reception area, Miss Ellington frowned at him. "Oh, you don't want to take her, Professor Snape. She has Minocre's Disease—a really rare ailment. If she survives to adulthood, it can be treated, and she'll be able to move normally. But the mediwizards can't do anything now, or it will affect the development of her magic."

No one told Severus Snape what he would or would not do. He pulled himself up to his full height and snarled menacingly, "I will take her. Furthermore, I want to."

"Whatever," the witch said, snapping her chewing gum annoyingly. She opened a mostly-empty file cabinet and took out a folder. "Her name is Carly. Carly Elizabeth…Snape, now, I guess. Unless you want to change it as part of the adoption process."

The Potions Master paused, considering. A child who had recently experienced trauma probably would not want the additional stress of her name changed. And yet… "Carly is not a proper name," he declared. "Her name will be Carlotta. Carlotta Elizabeth Snape."

Looking down, he re-established the link with his new daughter. But I will call you Carly for short, he thought. In his mind, her heard her giggle with pleasure.

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Author's Notes:

This story is a belated response to the Adoption Challenge on WIKTT. The challenge sparked several interesting fics, all of which were abandoned before completion. This annoyed me to no end; I became determined to write a completed Adoption Challenge fic.

This fic is not yet completed, but I've done enough that I'm positive it will be finished. (All the important parts are written; I just have to fill in the details and smooth it out.)

Details of the Adoption Challenge follow:

Requirements:

Someone challenges Severus's right to be a care-giver, and someone unexpected defends him.

Deal with some of the emotional aftermath of the war and its affect on the children, as well as them having new parent figures that are not really their parents.

It can be any length and any rating.

Bonuses:

Percy gets saddled with a troublemaker.

Minerva McGonagall takes in a child.

Remus wants to be a care-giver, but there is controversy because of his "condition".

Hermione teaching some man how to braid hair because their charge is a young girl.

Severus's charge manipulates him and Hermione into being together.