73- Departure

I woke in the early hours of the morning, when a green plush fungus landed in my face and my daughter squeezed her small form between Severus and I. He hissed slightly as her cold feet make contact with his legs, but he didn't complain. Instead, he simply warmed her feet.

"What's up, Linnie? Had a bad dream?" He mumbled sleepily.

"Can't sleep- I'm so excited, Daddy! I'm going to Hogwarts... but I already miss you, Daddy. Mummy."

"Hmphmissmhmyahmphtoo."

"What did you say, Mummy?"

"Linnie, it would be so much easier for your mother to utter coherent words if you could kindly remove your Bundimun off her face."

"Oh!" She gathered her cuddly toy in her arms and leaned over to give me a big wet smacker. "Sorry, Mum...."

And then she yawned. It's been a while since Aylin came crawling to our bed, nestling herself right between us- after all, she was a big girl now. But the night before her departure to Hogwarts, she was just a tiny little witch, just as excited as she was apprehensive.. It made my heart ache to hear she would miss us. Hugging her, I wished I would never have to let her go.

We were wide awake now, gazing admiringly at our darling daughter- who soon fell asleep in our middle, snoring lightly. Her cold feet stuck between Severus' knees, one arm casually stretched out over my belly, the other one clutching her Bundimun close to her chest. Merlin, how young she looked! Silky black hair spread all over our pillows, tickling in her daddy's nose. He brushed it aside, ever so gently. An expression of utmost innocence on her face.

I locked eyes with Severus. My mind was suddenly so full of things I wanted to say, but couldn't in fear of waking her- and Aylin needed her sleep.

'Shhh, I know...' he soothed me mentally, 'believe me, I feel the same.'

Not wanting to let her go, feeling the very same urge to protect her, although we both knew that it was time for her to make her own way. Why did I feel so anxious then? I wasn't an overprotective mother hen.

Severus popped himself up on one elbow- carefully, so he wouldn't wake his daughter- and bent over to give me a kiss.

'You are a wonderful mother,' his eyes said when he withdrew again, the corners of his lips twitching, 'not a mother hen. I assume that most mothers feel the same on that last night of August...'

I sensed his sigh more than I heard it, knowing he wondered whether his mother had felt anything similar on that last night of August back in 1971- or if she had just been glad that the little nuisance was finally out of the house.

'You are no nuisance, Sev.' Now it was my turn to give him reassurance. 'It's nor your fault your parents didn't get on with each other. And most definitely did you never make your father's mistakes...'

Another kiss later found us both back staring at Aylin's sleeping form, big stupid smiles on our faces. If it were possible to light a room with all the love between us, it would be bright as day in here- or, at least, sparkling with candles.

*

Morning dawned all too soon, and it found me in the same grumpy mood as every morning- before I had my first mug of coffee. Today, however, I downed it bitter and black. Just to get the kick, while Severus and Aylin were already up, packing the last things in her trunk.

"Daddy," I heard her complaining, "don't you think it's mightily unpractical having a wooden trunk when there are so much more modern and lighter materials available?"

Aw, that's my daughter! Always questioning the traditional ways. Unfortunately, I didn't hear his reply- I reckoned it must have made sense to her.

An hour later, we were in the car and off we drove, through the usually mad London traffic to King's Cross station. Looking in the rear view mirror, I saw Aylin petting her new owl through the bars of its cage.

Of course, we already had owls- actually, quite a representable Owlery of these winged beasts- because Severus needed them for sending messages to wizards who preferred to stick to traditions (most of his colleagues at work) and refused to open up to more modern ways of communication, like the Internet. And knowing that despite all the changes being made, Hogwarts was still a very traditional School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, they did expect students to bring a traditional wizarding pet. An owl, a cat, a rat, bat, or a toad, and not- decidedly not- a modern laptop.

So, naturally, we had bought Aylin her very own owl.

She had chosen a Pygmy Owl with sooty dark feathers, finely spotted in white on its head and even more sparsely on the belly. It had big black eyes set in round face, a bad temper, and a facial expression that somehow resembled her dad's on a very bad day, scowling all the time. Aylin thought it cute. She had decided to call the bloody bird Rosalie.

We arrived at King's Cross station at a quarter past ten. Enough time to get Aylin's trunk on a trolley, and to make it to platform nine and three-quarters. Her eyes went wide as we crossed the barrier.

"Wicked," she exclaimed because it was her first time she had walked through what looked like a solid brick wall. For a moment she stared in awe at the scarlet steam engine, emitting clouds of smoke over the heads of the crowd assembled here; wizards and witches seeing off their kids for another year at Hogwarts. Then she frowned, tugging at my arm, as she pointed to the locomotive. "Mum, do you think that's wise- I mean, all the smoke? Can't be good for the environment...."

Typically Aylin. We had given her the precious gift of growing up in both worlds, the magical and the Muggle, and therefore she knew the problem of global warming. It was on the news and they had discussed it in primary school, so her concern came as no surprise to me.

I ruffled her hair. "It's magical smoke, Lin. It goes up and vanishes without causing any harm to the environment."

"So the train is not run by charcoal?"

"No, and there isn't a poor, mistreated goblin slaving away with shovelling coals, either. The train is run by magic."

"That's good, ain't it?" Aylin smiled brightly at me.

"It is," said her father, "and I'd strongly recommend you to read Hogwarts: A History, because it gives you a profound insight in how Hogwarts functions."

"I already read half of it, Daddy. I know all about the four founders, and the houses, and the Sorting. I also know that you can influence the Sorting Hat, though that isn't in the book- Mum told me. I just didn't have time to read all of it, or I would certainly know about the not-real-steam-engine. However, I thought it more important to get a general overview on what I am excepted to learn this year- and Daddy, can you imagine that they start with a boil cure in Potions? I mean, I helped you brewing that when I was five. I just hope that Potions won't be too boring..."

"Sweetie, not everyone has a true genius of a Potions Master as a father," I interjected, "so please have mercy on your classmates- even if they are dunderheads- if they don't understand the beauty of this subtle art. Try to not show off with your knowledge, be modest and help others without being an insufferable know-it-all..." I glanced at Severus, who frowned at me.

"I was never like that Granger girl, almost dislocating my arm in overeagerness to prove everyone I am capable of reading and reciting common knowledge from books."

No, he truly hadn't been like that. Instead, Severus had offered answers in the most bored way, thus making everyone in class feel they were hopeless idiots for they couldn't come up with such a simple solution themselves. In his own way he was just as insufferable a know-it-all as Hermione- but decidedly more adorable. Although, I must confess, my opinion on him was rather clouded with love...

Meanwhile, Aylin had spotted some of her friends, and ran off to greet them. Severus scowled darkly at the sight of the Potters and the Blacks, especially when the appearance of the former was followed by a flurry of flashbulbs. The wizarding media seemed to be keen on portraying every step the eldest Potter offspring made on his way to Hogwarts, and- undoubtedly- to fame. Harry, however, wasn't very pleased by all the attention he caused, and he tried to shoo away the annoying reporters.

"Another celebrity that will enter Hogwarts and make his educational career based on fame alone," Severus sneered, almost colliding with a frightened-looking little first year that nearly bumped into him on his way to protect Aylin from the clutches of the media. He scowled at the little boy, who immediately looked even more frightened as he ran to clutch onto his mother's robes, whimpering, 'Mammaa...'

Oh, my husband had clearly not lost his touch! Although he was the most doting of all fathers I knew, he still raised fear in kids that weren't familiar to him.

"Hufflepuff," he casually commented that scene.

"Ah, are we playing Sorting Hat, my love?"

"Well, isn't it obvious?" He grumbled. "Most of the first years are easy to Sort. The Potter boy will be in Gryffindor, just like his father and and his ruddy grandfather, whose name he carries. And all that redheaded menace," now he made a sweeping gesture with his arm to point out that there were indeed quite a lot of red-haired weasels at the platform today, "will be proud Gryffindors as well."

"Alright, Mr Sorting Hat, but how about them?" Playing along, I pointed to an Indian looking witch and her twin boys. Interestingly, she was accompanied by the spitting image of herself but with a pair of twin daughters.

"The Patil twins and their offspring- interesting indeed," Severus acknowledged, before he was greeted politely by a handsome young wizard with a shining badge pinned to his robes. He arched a brow at his godson. "Regulus, well met. I see you made it prefect this year?"

"Yes, sir..." The boy was positively beaming until his father intervened.

"Oh, Reg, please.... why don't you just hide that awful badge? Must you show the whole wizarding world that you're so clearly not following in my footsteps, son?"

"Don't dare to discourage this promising young wizard, mutt," Severus drawled, moving closer to Sirius in a slightly threatening manner. "I consider it highly appreciable that he is not always up to mischief and rule-breaking."

"Thank you, Severus," Angel chimed in with what sounded like heartfelt relief. "I'm telling him that all the time but he simply won't listen. Apparently he believes that being a Black means you have to be the centre of fun at Hogwarts, while I'm just proud that our Reggie does so well at school."

Regulus rolled his eyes when Angel hugged and kissed him. As a studious young man he wasn't the most social person, but he did have a few friends- and it was probably the height of uncool if any of them saw him being slobbered over by his mother.

"The black sheep of the family," Sirius sighed before he turned to his youngest son. "Now it's all up to you, Corvus. If you're not in Gryffindor we'll disinherit you."

"Sirius!" Angel shrieked, batting at him. Then she addressed Corvus. "Don't worry, my darling, your father doesn't know what he's saying. Of course we won't disinherit you. We love you all the same, no matter which house you are in."

"Yeah, 'course we do. But here's to hoping that at least one of my children is a bit like me, a true Gryffindor at heart."

We all grimaced at that, but the fact was that Sirius' hopes had been shattered twice already. Regulus was perhaps the first Black in history that got Sorted into Ravenclaw, while Cassiopeia was so typically Black that she had ended up in Slytherin. It had been a very hard blow for Sirius, and he kept asking himself what he had done wrong.

"I am certain young Corvus will fulfil your silly hopes, given that he is neigh inseparable with the Potter boy," Severus sneered. "Minerva will be thrilled to welcome a new pair of troublemakers at Hogwarts, and I reckon dear old Argus' eyes are filled with tears of joy in sweet prospect of having suitable candidates for scrubbing the whole castle on their hands and knees. I foresee booming years of Slytherin winning the House Cup due to a dramatic loss of House points for Gryffindor. And I doubt Minerva is as sentimental a fool as Albus was, rewarding the troublemakers with extra points for bravery at the end of the year."

"Pha! You're still the same spoilsport you were when you were young, Snape." Sirius glanced at me. "How can a pretty, fun-loving witch like you live with such a grinch?"

"Because he isn't," I said calmly, taking my husband's arm and leaning closer into him. Although they were getting on quite decently in recent years, the bickering between them had never stopped- nor would it ever. Just the tone had become less hostile.

Aylin came running with Cassie and Corvus in tow. "Dad, we really have to get on the train now!"

Her voice sounded a tad strained, as though she was torn between excitement and anxiety. After all, it was the first time she left for Hogwarts, leaving us- no matter how much she was looking forward to a new adventure, a new chapter in her life.

"Just one more thing," Severus said, glancing at the Potters. James seemed to be very eager to heave his trunk on the train without his father's help. "Mr Potter!"

Harry stared at him but he wasn't the one Severus wanted. "Mr James Potter."

The boy turned around, blushing as if caught at already breaking the first rule before he even arrived at Hogwarts, and he actually looked a tad sheepish. But his expression change into haughty stubbornness soon after.

"Yes, sir?" He asked, feigning sweet innocence.

"Open your trunk, please, Mr Potter."

James sought the eyes of his father. Clearly he would tell Professor Snape off- after all, the dark wizard had no right ordering him around; he wasn't even a Hogwarts professor anymore. To his big surprise, however, Harry insinuated with a nod that he was to do as told.

The boy thought he had hidden it well, his smug smile showed. What he hadn't estimated, though, was that a simple Accio charm would reveal what he had hidden so well. Something silvery grey went slithering from the trunk and appeared in Severus' hand only a moment later, gleaming folds, fluid like water woven in material, between his long and slender fingers. Now he was the one looking smug.

"James!" Harry exclaimed, obviously startled, and he snatched the Invisibility Cloak from Severus' hand to stow it in the pocket of his robes.

From a safe distance, Corvus heaved a frustrated sigh. I saw something golden flash up as a Galleon changed its owner, disappearing in Aylin's sneaky little fingers. Very interesting.

"Clearly your prodigious son will make a proud Gryffindor," Severus drawled, scowling at Harry who flinched like a schoolboy under the glare. He looked almost apologetic at my husband while I tried not to laugh out loud.

"I really had no idea, sir..."

Severus sneered and arched a sardonic brow at the boy-who-lived-to-annoy-him. "Oh, really? What else did you expect from the offspring of a family of notorious troublemakers and rule-breakers, I'm wondering, oh golden boy?"

He never heard what Harry had to say to his defence because Aylin plucked at his robes, sounding urgent. "Daddy, I have to get on the train!"

Harry Potter and his rascal of a son were soon forgotten, and with a much gentler expression on his face he leaned towards his daughter. Tears welled up in my eyes- it was time to say goodbye now, and I hated saying goodbye, even though it wasn't for long. Only a few months, until Christmas, and Aylin was back already. And yet it felt like an eternity. I had never expected it would be like that, that I would miss her so... before she was even gone...

I hugged her and held her tightly wrapped in my arms for as long as I deemed it appropriate without it becoming embarrassing for a young witch, who insisted she wasn't a baby anymore. She surprised me by snuggling up to me, kissing me soundly.

"I'll miss you, Mummy."

"Miss you, too, my little sunshine," I whispered in her ear. "But I'll write to you, okay?"

"Promised?" She sounded as small as she actually was, a wee little witch of only eleven years, still half a child. On the other hand, she was also a devious little witch who had just won a Galleon

"'Course I'll do. Every day, if you want."

Aylin mulled it over, probably considering what it would do to her reputation at school if she received an owl from home each day- although she liked the very idea of it, she was worrying that that might appear uncool. Ah, little girls and their quirks!

"Well, every day isn't really necessary..."

"Anyway, you let us know if there's anything you need- and if anyone bothers you, just tell them who your father is."

What's that supposed to mean? Severus arched a quizzical brow at me. I smiled sweetly, reminding him of his reputation.

'You do not give yourself enough credit, darling,' I told him non-verbally, 'or have you forgotten already that your name and achievements made it to the illustrious circle of famous persons on Chocolate Frog cards?'

He shuddered at that, wishing he could have avoided that dubious honour. Then he, too, hugged Aylin goodbye, and she kissed him just like she had kissed me- big smackers all over his face.

"Take good care of yourself, my little witch," he said solemnly, and couldn't restrain himself from giving her some last, well-meant advise. "Please try to stay out of trouble, especially when you're with James and Corvus. Do remember that Gryffindors are reckless and don't follow their example- use your brain before you do anything rash..."

"I know, Dad. They're naught but stupid boys." Fortunately, Aylin wasn't interested in boys- yet- and anything romantic was just totally sappy to her. For Severus' sake I hoped that wouldn't change too soon... or should I say I hoped that for the ill-starred boy who might break her heart one day? Because Severus was a possessive father, one that would first castrate the unlucky guy and then ask questions. Leaving it to me to guide her through her first heartbreak... well, at least I had plenty of experience with that, and I had survived them all.

"Study hard and don't break the rules..."

"...unless it is absolutely necessary," I chimed in, which earned me a stern gaze from my husband, who hadn't finished yet.

"They were made for a reason. Don't use your wand to foolishly hex others just because you can, and principally, try not to hex young Molly Weasley or her sister Lucy, for they are- unfortunately- the daughters of the Minister for Magic..."

Shockingly but true, Percy Weasley was indeed Minister for Magic now. He had been elected two years ago in a landslide victory, supported by traditionalists, after Kingsley Shacklebolt had resigned to finally marry the woman of his heart, MI6 special agent Laura Foster, a Muggle.

Surprisingly, he has been doing quite a good job so far.

"Be careful when you're around Hagrid- he's a big oaf, especially when it comes to dangerous magical creatures, which he considers cute. Do keep in mind that they are dangerous, nevertheless. And be cautious around Professor Longbottom as well- he has the tendency to blow up things he barely touches..."

"Dad, I can take care of myself," Aylin interjected, already about to board the train, "don't worry."

She was right. Lin had spent most of her summer learning defensive spells from her father- and no, I saw no fault in that. Naturally, I knew about the Decree for the Reasonable Restriction of Underage Magic- but what was reasonable? Since the Trace didn't work quite as efficiently in a wizarding household as it did in a Muggle one, I thought it only fair to ignore this idiotic rule. After all, we were responsible for monitoring the magic our child used, and we hadn't wanted to let her go to Hogwarts totally unprepared. As Severus Snape's daughter she would have quite a reputation given that he had known more curses when he first came to Hogwarts than half the kids in seventh year...

"Sev, you seem to be forgetting the most important thing," I said before he could continue with his code of conduct, and he arched a quizzical brow at me.

"Have fun!"

Yes, Hogwarts was all about learning magical things, but having fun was also important- especially when I thought about how little fun I had had at Hogwarts. Here's to hoping our daughter would have a much better time there.

It was almost eleven o'clock, and the seconds were ticking by rapidly now. One last kiss and she was off- surreptitiously I dabbed the tears from my eyes, feeling sentimental.

The train whistled, emitting more smoke, before it finally got going. Taking on speed as it left King's Cross station, heading northwards. We saw Aylin's arm reaching through an open window, waving goodbye... then the train turned corner, and was gone from sight.

All of a sudden I felt strangely... bereft. My daughter was gone, but we were still standing there, motionless, at this damned platform nine and three-quarters. It was clearing slowly now as people around us walked away, moving to Apparition points, the Knight Bus, or to the subway.

"Sev," I whispered, surreptitiously wiping away the tears that threatened to overflow my eyes, and I reached for his hand. Sniffing stubbornly, I turned to face him.

"She'll be back soon," he said, sounding stiffly; his face had taken on a deadpan expression. A mask to hide his own emotions, which didn't differ from mine. Taking my hand in his, he gave it a reassuring squeeze. Then we walked to the car park.

"Yeah," I sniffed again, tears tickling down my cheeks, and I managed in a feeble attempt to sound cheerful, "and look on the bright side- at least we can now make love all over the house again."

He stared at me for a long time before he muttered, "Insatiable witch!", but there was no reproach in his voice.

"I need you now," I said matter-of-factly, as I fumbled for the car keys.

Severus took them from my hands and crushed me to his chest. Then he kissed me, in the middle of the car park. Not giving a damn about this public display of affection. Of need... and I knew he felt just as lost as I with Aylin gone. But at least we still had us.

*

"Have you ever regretted we only had one... that our Linnie is the only child?" I asked hours later, relaxing in his arms, slippery wet in the bathtub.

"Hmm," he purred in my ear, his fingers ghosting over my skin, "another small one? Perhaps- on the other hand I am quite certain that I wouldn't have survived another pregnancy of yours."

"Ha! Says the man who faced the Dark Lord on a regular basis."

Kissing my throat he said, "well, that was less scary."

I made an attempt to elbow him, but our bathroom was a wonderful place with a large tub made for seduction, and I was a sucker for his kisses, the subtle way his fingers moved over my skin... I could never get enough of him, and so his last statement was soon forgotten in a fountain of water that splashed over the edge of the tub, as we found comfort in each other's arms once again.

There was no nicer way to ease the pain of loss we both felt after having seen off our daughter to Hogwarts, and we knew she would make her way; she was a self-confident little witch.

Some more hours later, a dark-feathered Pygmy Owl came flying in through our bedroom window. It carried a short note from Aylin, informing us that she had chosen to get Sorted into Slytherin House. Apparently the poor Sorting Hat hadn't had much say in that, but it really came as no surprise to us.

Fin


Thanks to hypnotic ink for moral support and beta reading.

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