The time had come at last.
Severus had tried not to think about it. But over the summer holiday, rattling around in the house in Spinner's End whenever he wasn't busy, thoughts had come unbidden, and he hadn't been able to fight them off.
The house was his now. He shared ownership with Mother, but if she came once a year for a day or two, that was the most time she spent in the place she had once called home. Severus didn't spend much more time there. He spent most of the year, including the Christmas holidays, at Hogwarts. It hadn't been easy at first. He disliked teaching, loathed children, and there wasn't a member of the staff who hadn't irritated him at some time or other.
Dumbledore was the most irritating of them all. Yet it was Dumbledore who had spoken up for him at the Wizengamot, Dumbledore who had testified that Severus had been spying for him since before the Dark Lord's fall, Dumbledore who had declared, "I trust Severus Snape." All without saying how he had recruited a former Death Eater, all without saying why he trusted Severus Snape. And year after year he had renewed Severus's appointment as Potions master, protecting him from Ministry "justice" and the vengeance of those Death Eaters still at large.
So he put up with Dumbledore's occasional mild sarcasm and his rather more frequent stupid jokes. Hogwarts was his home now. Where else would he go?
For the first time in ten years, Severus wished he had a good answer to that question. It was the first day of autumn term and James Potter's son was coming to school.
Of course it had already started out as a big production. Dumbledore had felt the need to send Hagrid to deliver the boy his Hogwarts letter and take him into Diagon Alley for his school shopping. The Muggle relations Dumbledore had chosen to dump Potter's son on weren't having any of it, but Severus doubted that Dumbledore had ever given so much assistance to the children of other recalcitrant Muggles.
And now the new first years were filing into the Great Hall for the Sorting.
Severus sat very still in his seat at the high table, between Professor McGonagall's empty place and the ridiculous Quirrell. (He'd heard Quirrell had gone wandering in foreign parts, but he hadn't heard he'd gone native--if wearing foolish purple turbans were what the natives did in Albania.) From that vantage point he saw Potter's son for the first time.
Of course he was Potter's son; he had the same glasses and untidy hair, although he was shorter and thinner than Severus remembered Potter had been, with an air of neglect that Potter had never had. Then he looked up.
He has her eyes, precisely her eyes.
Severus jerked his own away, fastening them on his plate.
"Potter, Harry!" Professor McGonagall cried presently, and whispers flitted about the hall.
"Potter, did she say?"
"The Harry Potter?"
The boy hadn't been in Hogwarts half an hour, and the adulation had already begun. You'd better not be in Slytherin.
An unnerving amount of time passed; then to Severus's very great relief the hat shouted, "GRYFFINDOR!"
He looked up to see the boy racing to the Gryffindor table, into the arms of a gaggle of Weasleys, exactly where he belonged. One had to admit the Hat was always right. Just as it had been right about Lucius's son. His eyes wandered over to the Slytherin table, where Draco was already lording it over the other first years.
Then he bent over Professor McGonagall's seat, toward the ever-twinkling Headmaster. "So you've got him in your House."
Dumbledore did not remove his benevolent gaze from the Sorting Hat's proceedings. "You'd rather he were in yours?"
"You know the answer to that."
The Sorting ended. Professor McGonagall came up to the high table to take her seat. Severus's plate filled with enough food to feed a giant, food for which he had little appetite. It wasn't helped by Quirrell's insistence on striking up a conversation.
"...You--you especially would have been f--fascinated by what I saw...."
Where on earth had he picked up the stutter? And why did his eye twitch?
"I--I r--recommend a European tour, S--severus. An Eastern European t--tour."
What had possessed Dumbledore to keep Quirrell on as Defence Against the Dark Arts master? The man looked as though he'd be better off in an asylum than behind a lectern. "Oh...yes."
Boredom, distaste or the soft brushing against his shoulder, like ghostly wings (or her eyes, precisely her eyes) caused Severus to look away from Quirrell into Harry Potter's eyes.
It was like seeing Lily alive again.
"Want to go to the playground, Lily?"
She does. She smiles, her green eyes alight....
As if she had been given back to him. But she had not. Her eyes looked out from Potter's face, James Potter's hated face.
The boy clapped his hand against his head, as if he'd hurt himself somehow, but that was all right. Boys recover. Severus had. He turned back to Quirrell, to pick up where he'd left off. He nodded in response to Quirrell's fatuous dronings. They did nothing to interfere with his consideration that for the next seven years he would be reminded every day of how and to whom he had lost Lily. Of how he had betrayed Lily to her death and himself to imprisonment in Dumbledore's comfortable cage.
"Help me protect Lily's son.... The Dark Lord will return, and Harry Potter will be in terrible danger when he does."
Very well. He would protect Lily's son. Looking at Quirrell, listening to him stutter on, Severus embarked on the next seven years of his life.