Severus sat at the staff table, watching as yet again the Great Hall filled with returning students. He gave a brief nod to those at the Slytherin table before glancing at the Gryffindor table to find his most irksome student. Only Potter wasn't there...
Where was Potter?! He should have arrived on the train. Surely Dumbledore would have mentioned if he were giving Potter special treatment. He glanced at the Headmaster, who was smiling and chatting with the returning professors, completely oblivious to the absence of his favorite student.
Perhaps he'd better go and check the grounds... perhaps Potter and his sidekick had decided to wander off instead of coming directly in. That would be just like him, thinking that he didn't need to sit with the inferior masses.
As Severus exited the school, an owl delivered his daily copy of the Evening Prophet. He gave the headline a cursory glance as he began to search the grounds. Giving a glare at the Whomping Willow as he passed it, Severus stopped and swivelled back. Surveying the tree, Severus noticed that several of the willow's branches seemed to be broken. An odd thought niggled in the back of Severus's mind as he slowly unfolded the Evening Prophet to scan the headline article.
After he had finished, Snape angrily rolled the newspaper as he marched back towards the school. And he had been worried! He should have known that it was simply Potter's need for attention preventing him from being where he should have been.
As he approached the great front doors, Severus spotted two figures peering into one of the Great Hall's windows. His lips set in a thin line, Severus walked up behind them, catching the sentence, "Maybe he's left because he missed out on the Defense Against the Dark Arts job again!" and realizing that they were talking about his absence at the staff table. Stopping right behind the two unaware children, he interrupted Ron Weasley's enthusiastic, "Or he might've been sacked! I mean, everyone hates him-" with, "Or maybe he's waiting to hear why you two didn't arrive on the school train."
He had had it. Lily had died for this- this- Severus couldn't even think of a word; he was so angry. Right now he didn't care about the boy's destiny... he didn't care at all.
Severus walked crabbily into his first year Potions class with Gryffindor and Slytherin. There wasn't a particular reason for his crabbiness, other than perhaps he was starting his eleventh year at a job that he detested: teaching. Severus was Potions teacher because Dumbledore was Hogwarts's Headmaster, and they had to stick together to see this through... a tale years in the making, although the exact number depended on what you considered the beginning.
Once, when Dumbledore had declined his most recent offer of the Minister of Magic position, Severus had asked why he never seemed interested in leaving this miserable school behind. Surprisingly, Dumbledore had answered him. "Accepting that post would put me in a position of too much power, Severus."
Despite the vagueness of the response, Severus thought he understood. Being one of the few familiar with the specifics of the prophecy regarding the Dark Lord and Harry Potter, he had many chances to observe Dumbledore and get to truly know him... although he didn't think anyone could ever truly know the secretive man. Dumbledore was not the perfect saint many perceived him to be... he didn't trust himself. But he was a great man nonetheless, and Severus had to admit he felt a loyalty to the Headmaster that he had never truly felt for the Dark Lord. He had believed and supported the Dark Lord's philosophy more than the Dark Lord himself. Though, he rather now thought that he believed and supported Dumbledore's philosophy of love more. Look at what it had done to Severus...
Clearing his thoughts since now was not the time to indulge himself in one of his never-ending sessions of remorse and guilt, Severus stalked to the front of the classroom. As he allowed his cold eyes to sweep over the Gryffindor side of the classroom, expecting, and finding, many pairs of scared little eyes turned to his, Severus felt his breath catch in his throat and time seemed to slow down when he saw a head with long, red hair leaning earnestly over a piece of parchment.
For a moment he traveled back over twenty years in time to see another little girl with red hair sitting leaning eagerly over a piece of parchment on her first day immersed in the magical world that he had told her about. Only then he had been sitting proudly in the seat next her, snidely ignoring the stares and whispers of amazement from all of their respective housemates at seeing a Gryffindor and a Slytherin working together without being forced, although he had made an exception to smirk at the glares of the two boys, both with black hair but only one that was messy, that he and Lily had met on the train.
Then the red head turned up, and a pair of fearless and inquisitive brown eyes met his. Brown... not green. Time began again, and Severus realized that the little red-headed girl's hair was not the same shade of red, vivid where Lily's had been dark, and her face was freckled where Lily's had never been. Dimly Severus remembered that Dumbledore had mentioned that the youngest Weasley, actually a girl this time, would begin attending Hogwarts this year. Red hair... Weasley... of course.
Covering his rush of emotion with a sneer, Severus began his traditional beginning of the first year of Potions speech, "You are here to learn the subtle science and exact art of potion-making..."
Something was wrong with the Weasley girl. Seriously wrong, not simply his usual categorizing anyone who behaved in an idiotic fashion as having stupidity be what was wrong with them.
He supposed that in all of the fuss over the Chamber of Secrets and the Heir of Slytherin, with so many students being Petrified, that the fact that one little girl was gradually becoming more and more withdrawn was hardly noticed. Severus himself probably would not have noticed except for the incident in the first class. Her eyes, which had unusually met his so fearlessly that first day, had become shadowed... haunted, and he could think of no good reason why someone so young would have changed so much unless something was seriously wrong.
Despite Severus's suspicions that this was somehow connected to the events happening about Hogwarts, he didn't know what he could do about it. People would probably think he'd gone off his rocker if he started showing concern for one eleven-year-old girl who was also a Gryffindor...
Severus paced Dumbledore's office in the hours after the mishap with the dueling club, after informing Dumbledore of Potter's strange skill that he logically should not have. Dumbledore took the news much more calmly than Severus would have expected, so he stopped and stared hard at the Headmaster. "You knew, didn't you?"
"Why would you suspect such a thing?" Severus was honestly curious. Dumbledore really did make the oddest connections sometimes that then ended up being true.
"Voldemort is a Parselmouth, is he not?"
Severus was speechless. "Are you saying there's a connection between...?"
Silence reigned for a few tense seconds before Dumbledore answered, "I suspect."
"Does this have anything to do with why you required me to help with the dueling club?" Severus asked cautiously.
He was surprised when Dumbledore gave what was, particularly for him, a most informative answer. "The dueling club in and of itself was a brilliant idea, only its architect was rather unfortunately not up to the task. Despite its short-lived duration, I suspect we will see remnants of its effects for years."
Severus was silent for a moment before saying, "You suspect." He paused again. "You suspect many things."
"Indeed I do..."
Severus wondered if he would ever be aware of even half of Dumbledore's theories... he also briefly wondered what would happen if Dumbledore were to die without passing along what he knew. However, that possibility was so remote that he almost immediately dismissed the idea; Dumbledore wasn't going to be going anywhere for a long, long time.
Severus had been delivering the finally completed Mandrake juice to Madam Pomfrey and helping her apply it to the Petrified victims, who were obviously unable to use the usual methods for ingesting a potion, when the Weasley girl was brought into the Hospital Wing.
He looked at her in surprise before pretending to have all of his attention on the victim he was working on while keeping his ears tuned to the low conversation between the girl's parents and the Hogwarts nurse, but he could still only catch snippets.
"... possessed by You-Know-Who ... tried to drain her life-force."
"... doesn't appear to be hurt ... stay overnight."
How had the Dark Lord been possessing the girl? Severus wondered if that's why the girl had been behaving so oddly all year... since the Dark Lord hadn't managed to successfully drain her life-force, she wouldn't be hurt... physically. Severus knew that the emotional and mental scars that would remain from this would be with her forever.
Madam Pomfrey was good at dealing with physical ailments, but what could she do for something like this? She didn't have any experience with such matters... but Severus did. An vague inclination floated in Severus's mind, but for now he refused to pursue it further.
After all of the victims had finally been cleared out, Madam Pomfrey disappeared into her personal quarters, declining to attend the feast in case the Weasley girl needed her during the night. The Weasley parents had finally left after their daughter had fallen asleep, telling Madam Pomfrey that they would be back first thing in the morning.
Severus headed upstairs, hoping that the Headmaster hadn't already gone down to the celebration Severus could hear despite being a couple floors up from the Great Hall; he wanted to determine the exact details of what had occurred.
Approaching the gargoyle, he gave the current candy password and went up the spiral stairs to Dumbledore's office, rapping on the door.
"Come in," said the Headmaster's voice. Severus entered, quietly closing the door behind him.
"Why haven't you gone down to the feast yet?" he asked. He'd almost expected to not find Dumbledore here as he always was fond of a good feast.
"I knew you'd be up shortly."
Severus was silent for a moment, watching as Dumbledore observed one of his memories in his Pensieve. "Severus, you may come and look at this," he said calmly.
Severus was a bit surprised as Dumbledore usually chose to tell him only what he needed to know about events. Inviting him to view a memory wasn't something he had done before... Hesitantly stepping forward, Severus placed his head into the basin and felt himself being sucked in.
After swirling through the cold black of the Pensieve, Severus found himself in Professor McGonagall's office, where Professor Dumbledore and Professor McGonagall were obviously trying to comfort the distraught Mr. and Mrs. Weasley.
After mere seconds though, there was a knock at the door, but the person did not wait before entering the room. A blood-soaked Harry Potter, Ron Weasley, a tear-stained Ginny Weasley, and a rather dazed but cheerful-looking Gilderoy Lockheart, all covered in filth, stepped into the shocked-into-silence room.
After the Weasley parents had exclaimed their relief and joy, Harry Potter began to tell the story. Severus frowned in amazement as he listened but noted that Potter left out one important detail... the one that Severus really wanted to know. However, that was shortly answered as Potter looked at Dumbledore, who, of course, knew exactly how to word the question that would allow Potter to explain without concern.
Severus gazed at the thin black book covered in inkstains and with a large hole with burned edges punctured right through it. A diary that had allowed a younger version of the Dark Lord to take possession of someone who wrote in it? How was that possible?
Severus became vaguely aware that Ron Weasley was leading Gilderoy Lockheart out of the room. Dumbledore's voice behind him said, "You may come back now, Severus." Severus knew he really meant that whatever happened next was something personal, but it didn't matter... he'd seen what he wanted to.
As he climbed out of the Pensieve, he asked, "Where is the diary? I would like to look at it."
"I believe," said Dumbledore, "that Lucius Malfoy has probably taken his anger out on it by now."
Severus looked at Dumbledore in amazed confusion. Briefly Dumbledore explained, but Severus wanted to know, "Why did you let him do that?"
"I could tell the magic was gone from the diary. It was just an ordinary, ruined book that wouldn't have provided us any details. We only have that memory to go off of."
"What do you think it means?"
"I have only the foggiest idea. I believe I am going to have to do more research... although this may fill in many holes."
Dumbledore wouldn't tell him any suspicions unless they were soundly based. Severus would just have to wait. Still, he knew what he needed to know, and he had made his decision. "Good night, Professor Dumbledore," Severus said as he prepared to leave the room.
"Will you be at the feast?" Dumbledore asked with a twinkle in his eye, as if he knew what Severus had planned. And maybe he did...
"Maybe later," Severus said, walking down the stairs with a purpose, headed back to the Hospital Wing.
Quietly entering, Severus approached the cubicle where the Weasley girl had been taken. If she were still sleeping... but she wasn't. She was huddled in a little ball, staring off into the distance with haunted eyes, the tracks of dry tears on her face. All in all, not a very cute picture at all. "Miss Weasley?" he spoke softly.
She jumped and her head jerked up, her wide brown eyes boring into his. She said nothing. Severus searched for the right way to begin and finally said, "Are you having trouble sleeping?"
She eyed him distrustfully before finally giving a jerky nod.
"Are you afraid that he'll come again in your dreams?" he asked softly.
The distrust now changed to surprise. Of course she would be surprised... most Gryffindors despised him and painted him as cruel except to his favorites. And perhaps he did cross the line sometimes... but only with Potter, his friends, and Longbottom. That year's class just brough out the worst in Severus, causing him to favor even the stupidest of Slytherins just to annoy those particular students. Severus had agonized for years over how things would have been different if the Dark Lord had chosen the other boy.
The girl still didn't say anything, nodding her head slowly in response.
"He won't, you know," Severus informed her, deliberately pushing off his usual exterior of sarcasm and cynicism. "Even if you have nightmares, it wouldn't be him."
She stared at him before finally speaking, her voice a mere whisper from crying, "How do you know?"
Severus couldn't give her any detail-based answer, so he searched for the words before saying, "Harry Potter destroyed the magic in the diary."
Something in her eyes flickered with an emotion that Severus thought was familiar but couldn't quite identify. After a moment of silence Severus spoke again, "Don't let him win."
The girl looked confused. "What do you mean?"
"I mean if you let this destroy you... if you let it keep you from being... happy," Severus said, having difficulties with speech as he always did when talked about things that were emotional, "Then he wins."
The girl met eyes with him, and they stared at each other for quite some time before she gave a decisive nod. "I understand."
Severus smiled, one of his few true smiles, making the girl's eyes widen in disbelief, before giving a nod of his own and turning to leave, pleased to have been successful in getting through without excessive use of words. A clever girl to understand him without needing detailed explanations. "Good night, Miss Weasley."
"Ginny," she said softly. As he turned to look back at her, she met his eyes again, and there was a hint of that old fearlessness. "My name is Ginny."
He inclined his head in acknowledgment. "Ginny."
As he left the Hospital Wing, he wasn't worried about people thinking he was becoming an old softie. Somehow he knew that Ginny would keep this experience and his words to herself. Clever girl, he thought to himself again.