By Daphne Dunham
A child, more than all other gifts
That earth can offer to declining man,
Brings hope with it, and forward-looking thoughts.
Chapter 9: Chosen
She chose him.
From the moment Proserpina showed up on his hearth fifteen years ago, reached for him from Madam Rosmerta's arms to now, rejecting the chance at a privileged life, to finally know her natural parents—she has chosen Severus, has always chosen Severus. And this time, she hasn't done so because of a lack of other options, because she doesn't know any better, or because of some strange twist of fate. Instead, Proserpina has done so by her own free will, with all facts before her and all alternatives—better ones, at that—carefully weighed. She's done so because of want, not need—because she wishesto remain in his life, to be loyal to him, to care for him. Proserpina is irrevocably his daughter now, and Severus can't help but be somewhat astonished, overwhelmed, by her choice: He has, after all, never really been chosen before—not for anything good, anyway—certainly not for love, not for kindness. Trial and torment seem to have always been his lot in life previously. But not now, not any more, not with Proserpina.
Choices are a strange thing. Albus Dumbledore had forever droned on about the power of the decisions once makes. Severus still remembers the way the old man would sit, perched like a phoenix behind his desk, peering meaningfully over the rim of his half-moon spectacles at him, and pontificate. The headmaster would lecture in general on free will, on consequences, on good versus evil and the way each lives in everyone; and then he'd make connections to the matter at hand—from the student who'd decided to skive off classes to Severus' decision to repent his Death Eater days—in particular. Such homilies were merely tolerated by Severus: When dealing with students, he preferred well-crafted detentions to sermons, and he always felt too guilty about his past to make himself out to be a martyr. However, as he looks at Proserpina—his daughter—Severus suddenly feels otherwise. He grasps in a fresh, new way exactly how monumental choices inevitably are, how right Dumbledore had been: Choices are not only intellectual matters, issues of logic or morality, things to be regretted if made badly—as they had seemed to him previously. Instead, choices are personal, beautiful, and capable of bringing hope and comfort.
At the sound of Severus' voice, Proserpina shifts her eyes from the front door she's still staring after and turns toward her father. She appears a bit like fine china—delicate and pale—and her cheeks are still faintly marked by dried tear trails. However, as she looks at Severus, a grin tugs at the corners of her mouth. Severus is relieved to see the light returning to her eyes: She's all right; the Malfoys have been unable to discompose her for long—not when she knows how much Severus cares for her, anyway. "Yes, Papa?" Proserpina replies.
Severus glances toward the fireplace mantel to their left, toward the ornately carved wooden box sitting atop it. When he speaks, his voice is soft, slightly hoarse. "There's something I want you to have," he tells her.
- - -
The low, late-afternoon sun casts a golden-red glow across the floor, across the furniture, across their hands. It makes the lacquer on the wooden box glisten like glass or like water as Severus reaches to take it off the fireplace mantel. Proserpina sits on the sofa and watches her father cross the small space they call their living room and come toward her. There is something slightly different about the way he carries the box: The distaste with which he'd regarded it and its contents just days ago while telling her about his past has abated somewhat. As he takes a seat beside her and balances the container on his knees, Severus is careful with it—gingerly removes the lid, places it on the cushion beside him, and peers inside before proceeding to excavate.
"As you know, I never felt that I quite earned this," he explains as he rifles through the abandoned letters and photographs. "It was more a reminder of the poor choices I'd made when I was younger—when I was your age."
Inside the box, Severus' hand brushes against something hard, metal; he closes his hand around it and withdraws it from the container. When he uncurls his fingers, Proserpina sees that he's holding his medal—his Order of Merlin. It's gleaming in the setting sunlight, the gold glowing boldly, brightly—assuming an almost auburn hue, vaguely like Proserpina's hair.
"Here," Severus says quietly, offering the medal to her; he places it in her palm, curls her fingertips around it. "I want you to keep it. You deserve it more than I do."
For several long moments, Proserpina stares at her father's medal in her hand, the coveted award given only to the most brave, the most admirable, the most remarkable. Looking at it, she feels her heart ready to burst, expanding with affection and appreciation at the significance of Severus' gesture: By presenting Proserpina with the medal, he is not only giving her a piece of himself, passing along the award that she takes pride in him having earned—even if he doesn't. Instead, the gesture extends beyond that; it is as though he is awarding her with the Order of Merlin, recognizing her as the bravest and most remarkable person in his life. And it's true: To Severus, Proserpina—in daring to love and be loyal as she done today, in having chosen him, in her willingness to risk her life for him—has earned this. To Severus, she is more worthy of the Order of Merlin than he is.
"Papa, I…" Proserpina starts to speak but finds no words sufficient to express the amalgam of emotions she's experiencing: She's honored and moved, pleased and grateful. Mostly, though, there is renewed affection and appreciation for Severus, an understanding of how uniquely fierce his love is when he decides to give it and gratitude that it is her whom he's selected to share that powerful affection with.
Still grasping the Order of Merlin in her hand, Proserpina leans forward to wrap her arms around a perpetually stiff, uncomfortable Severus. "I told you I will never leave you," she tells him with a grin, "and I meant it."
- - -
Taking advantage of Severus' fleetingly faded antipathy for the wooden box and its contents, Proserpina spends what remains of the afternoon on the sofa, sorting through the stacks of old letters and photographs that she pulls by the handful from it. Beedle-the-cat lounging lazily beside her, she opens envelopes and glances through the aging bits of parchment, piecing together some of the more personal bits of her father's seldom-spoken-of past.
Reading in his armchair by the fireplace, Severus tolerates Proserpina's exploration. In truth, he's so grateful the ordeal with the Malfoys is over—and how it played itself out—that he would have indulged her in virtually any demand she made on him today. Allowing her to satisfy her curiosity about his old letters has seemed a modest request—and one he's run out of excuses to deny.
"Mr. Potter wrote you the day Albus started school," Proserpina, amused, tells Severus conversationally as she scans the contents of one of the letters.
Severus barely glances up from the Potions text he's studying. "Did he?" he says vaguely, clearly disinterested in anything having to do with Harry Potter. "I'm not surprised. Sentimental fool. He always did wear his heart on his sleeve; it was what made him such a lamentable Occlumens."
Unaffected by her father's lingering sourness at the mention of the Potters, Proserpina continues to paraphrase as she reads on. "He says how Albus was Sorted into Slytherin—and that he's proud of him for it."
Unimpressed and unconvinced by the sincerity of Harry's feelings on the matter of his son being a Slytherin, Severus smirks and refocuses his attention on the book in his hands. A skeptical "hmm" is all he says as he turns the page. He's unable to read much more than a paragraph, though, when Proserpina's summarization of the old letter catches his attention once more.
"…Mr. Potter also mentions that he saw the Malfoys at Platform 9 ¾… with their son," she says. Her voice becomes soft then, scarcely more than a murmur. "Scorpius. My brother."
Severus looks up sharply at the mention of the Malfoys. He sees the pallor in his daughter's cheek at the disturbing coincidence of stumbling across the long-ago written notes on her would-be family. For a moment, Proserpina pauses, staring dazedly at Harry Potter's sloped, slanted handwriting. Then, she sets down the letter, trembling slightly. She turns to look pointedly at her father. Crossing the room to sit beside her, Severus reaches for the letter in her lap, a part of him in disbelief at the strange occurrence of its contents. His eyes dart over the surface of the parchment, pausing briefly in surprise at certain words that verify Proserpina's synopsis: Platform, Draco, Scorpius, also in Slytherin. It's like looking at ghosts, their images traced on the page.
"It's so strange to think about it," Proserpina muses as he scans the letter. "I would have been there with them—with the Malfoys—if things had been different. Mr. Potter may have mentioned seeing me at King's Cross to you in this letter. And you and I would not have known each other except through Mr. Potter's writing… which you probably would never have read."
With a sigh, Severus sets the letter down again. He opens his mouth to speak but finds his mind a flood of thoughts on the matter—on the Malfoys, on what they have done to Proserpina. They didn't deserve her, he thinks. Indeed, there was one point Demetria Malfoy was correct about this afternoon: Proserpina legitimately was better off with Severus. She would have been miserable living with them, growing up around men as arrogant and elitist as Draco and Lucius. Her optimism—her mild, Hufflepuff-like nature—would have been destroyed in their midst. They would have poisoned her, leaving her a hollow, bitter shell of a girl, the antithesis of what she is now.
"The thing about the Malfoys," Severus tells Proserpina, with these thoughts in mind, "is that for all their talk of wealth and class, you're still better than them—you're too…"
Severus pauses. As he looks into Proserpina's face—those great, green eyes eager for his validation—he cannot help but be vaguely reminded of Lily Evans and of all the times he longed to tell her how much he cared—how much he appreciated her—but, for fear and pride, could never quite bring himself to do so. Determined not to repeat his mistakes—just as he had been the night Proserpina reached for him at the Three Broomsticks fifteen years ago—Severus continues. "… You're too kind and good," he finishes.
Then, ever uncomfortable with displays of emotion, Severus leans, body rigid, toward her. Hesitantly, he places a small kiss on the top of Proserpina's curly, chestnut-colored head before adding, somewhat shyly, "I love you, Proserpina."
The words, seldom spoken—though implied daily in gesture and caring, bring a broad smile to the girl's face, and she returns the sentiment. "I couldn't be happier with any other family than with you, Papa," she reassures him.
A rare, reluctant half-grin is teased out of the thin line of Severus' mouth at her words, and the Malfoys seem suddenly far away once more.
"So what are you going to do about all these letters?" Proserpina asks him next, glancing down at the stacks of parchment crossed with Harry Potter's handwriting that lay strewn at her feet, on the end table beside her.
It is with a fair bit of dismay that Severus follows her gaze: As always, he has had no intention of doing anything with the letters—of reading them or of responding to them. He doesn't wish to be reminded of Lily, to give Harry the satisfaction of a mind at ease, or to have to endure ongoing correspondence and the inevitable goodwill that will follow—to be pitied by Harry Potter or to become his charity case, invited to family dinners and holiday parties.
"I believe Mr. Potter will continue to carry on just fine without my input," Severus replies unfeelingly.
Proserpina's disappointment is difficult to miss: Her brows crease and her smile subsides. "But that's not true, Papa," she insists, reaching for a handful of the letters. "Each and everyone one of these letters—" She rifles through them, one after another, as though to prove her point. —"mentions Lily Evans. Mr. Potter only wants to know about his mother. You knew her, and he's been begging you for years to tell him something—anything—about her."
Old grudges are difficult to bury, though, and Severus remains unmoved, lips taut and eyes stony. "Mr. Potter knows Lily died for him—and he knows the hand I had in it," he replies darkly. "That should be sufficient."
"That's not what he wants to know, Papa," Proserpina protests. "And you know that. He wants to learn about who Lily was as a person—the perfume she wore, the music she liked, what made her laugh." Exasperated, she sighs heavily. She can't help but empathize with Harry Potter; she does, after all, know a bit about what it's like to grow up not knowing one's natural parents.
"I understand how Harry Potter feels, Papa," she continues. "Until today, I didn't know my mother either…. Of course, I had you—you cared for me so much that I didn't really wonder a great deal about my birth parents, but Harry didn't even have someone like you in his life. No one loved him growing up…."
Severus' eyes narrow. "And were you pleased with what you found out about your parents, Proserpina?" he asks her, knowing full well that what she discovered about the Malfoys today brought her nothing but disappointment and heartbreak. "Some things are better left unsaid, are they not?" he challenges.
But to his amazement, Proserpina shakes her head. "Sometimes not knowing is worse than facing the truth," she explains quietly. After all, if she ever felt inclined to wonder about her natural parents—about her mother, in particular—that desire has now been squelched. For better or worse, having met the Malfoys, she can live without the restlessness now, without feeling as though a piece of her is missing, unexplained. Severus has the power to bring the same calm to Harry Potter, and it is unfortunate, she thinks, that he should refuse to do so—especially after their experiences with Draco and Demetria this afternoon.
Severus is silent, sulky, annoyed by the validity of her argument. Seeing his hesitation, Proserpina takes the opportunity to make her final plea.
"Please, Papa," she says softly, resting her hand affectionately on his forearm—above where his Dark Mark has lain dormant for so long, he notes grimly. "Please write back to Harry Potter. Tell him about his mother—and try to make some sort of peace. It's been long enough, and I think it will do you both good…. And it would mean a lot to Albus and me."
Severus' jaw tenses, and for a few long moments he says nothing. Proserpina watches him nervously, wondering about the dark thoughts hovering like bats in his mind as he stares coldly ahead. She can almost hear the internal battle being waged within him. Certainly, Severus can understand his daughter's motivations for urging him to write back to Harry Potter—the sympathy she must feel for the man who also didn't know his natural parents, the uneasiness she feels associating so closely with Albus Potter knowing the tension that stretches back for years between their parents, the genuine interest she has in seeing her father stop battling his past. But the years—the resentment—the insolence—the mistrust—the fact that Harry is James Potter's son as well... It's all so difficult to forget.
"I'll consider it, Proserpina," Severus says grudgingly at last.
It's the closest thing she'll get to acquiescence for now, Proserpina knows, and she squeezes his arm in fond encouragement. "Thank you, Papa," she tells him. She leans forward to place a small kiss on his cheek, then grins. "Shall I start supper now, then?" she asks, bounding to her feet, her usual amiable nature restored.
Grateful for the change in topic, Severus nods slightly.
Later that evening, though—after the stew has been eaten, the dishes washed, and the leisure time reading by the fire spent—Severus remains downstairs long after Proserpina has wished him goodnight. Only in the solitude of the quiet cottage, accompanied by nothing but the candles and rows of books around the room, is Severus able to bring himself to do it: On a hastily cleared corner of his worktable, he places a blank sheet of parchment; then, drawing a stool beneath him, he sits, hunched over the paper, quill clutched tightly in hand, and begins to write:
First, you should know that just as you named your son for me, so I named my daughter for your mother—and it's
because of my daughter and your son that I'm writing this to you now. Next, you must understand that I never deluded
myself into believing that Lily could ever care for me the way she cared for your father….
Proserpina, hovering at the top of the stairs in her nightgown, secretly watches the shadows move across the walls of the cottage below as her father settles into writing this long-overdue letter, his hand flying across the parchment like a new broomstick. As she listens to the soft, barely audible scratching of the quill against the paper as her father writes, she cannot help but smile. Satisfied, Proserpina turns and goes to bed.
She falls asleep that night still gazing at Severus' Order of Merlin—her Order of Merlin—resting on her bedside table. As she drifts off into dreams, Proserpina cannot help but think: The Malfoys must be back in Paris by now, safely away in another country. And Albus finished his last N.E.W.T. today; he'll visit tomorrow—she's missed him so this week, and they have much to talk about. And Severus, her father—she likes calling him her father—is writing to Harry Potter at last, is putting the past behind him. And he loves her so much, and she knows this now more than ever….
All will be well.
- The End -
A/N: I gratefully acknowledge that this story has been loosely based on George Eliot's Silas Marner. Thanks, too, to those who enjoyed the story along the way; the kind messages were much appreciated. And thanks, of course, to JG—who, I'm sure, is glad she'll no longer have to put up with hearing me babble about ideas for this story.