This story takes place in the beginning of fifth year
It was nearly the end of October at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Halloween was fast approaching and students were in high spirits. Arista Snape, daughter of the Potions Master, had just finished her potions class with her father and now headed down to the infirmary for her lesson with Madam Pomfrey, the medi-witch. Arista possessed an extraordinary healing talent and she sharpened her natural skills by taking extra-credit classes with Poppy for an hour and a half every other day.
Meanwhile, back in the dungeons, the current class of Gryffindors and Slytherins had arrived and were busily concocting a Youth Potion. Neville was sweating buckets and had managed to melt down yet another cauldron within the first half-an-hour of class.
Professor Snape was furious. Holy Merlin, but the boy was such a dunderhead, it was almost unbelievable! He made Severus want to tear his hair out. "Longbottom!" he snapped, striding over to the smoking mess and pointing his wand at it. "Evanesco!" The contents of the cauldron and the cauldron itself vanished. "You'll receive a zero for today and you'll stay after class with me until you brew this Youth Potion properly!"
"Yes, sir," Neville said miserably, shivering at the angry glare Snape was giving him. His ineptitude at brewing potions was as legendary as Severus's temper.
"Tough break, mate," whispered Ron to Neville as he packed up his books and prepared to depart the classroom once the class was dismissed.
Once the current class had departed, Snape swept over to Neville and told him to start re-brewing the potion. "Practice makes perfect, Mr. Longbottom. Ingredients first, and this time read the text, don't just stare at the page like an imbecile and hope that it will somehow be absorbed into your brain."
"Y-yes, sir,"Neville gulped and set to re-reading and re-measuring.
Severus knew he was probably being unduly harsh with the child, but he wasn't in the best of moods today. His head was pounding and he was growing more and more frustrated with his students' lack of concentration and general carelessness. How many times must he go over basic rules before they heeded him? One hundred times? A thousand? Infinity?
He cast a quick glance at Neville, noting that the boy seemed to be focusing better now that he was alone. Hmm. . .maybe that was the key? Put Longbottom in class and he was distracted, but get him in a more private setting . . .
He recalled that Neville had done particularly well two summers ago under Arista's and his tutelage, one on one. Structured classroom situations seemed to make the boy extremely nervous and easily flustered. And your yelling at him didn't help much either, Severus, his conscience rebuked.
Snape rubbed a hand across his eyes. Merlin, but he was tired! He'd spent almost all of last night brewing a batch of Class 5 Healing Salve for Poppy and had gotten barely five hours of sleep. He'd forgotten that he was now thirty-four and not twenty-one, his body couldn't function as well on the meager amount of sleep he'd been getting. Not any more.
Small wonder he'd been so irritable. Even so, he knew he should have controlled his temper better and not been so abrasive. He sighed inwardly. That flash fire temper was his greatest bane and he'd fought all of his adult life to control it. For he had sworn never to be like his father, who had allowed his temper to rule him.
My head rules, not my heart.
That self-discipline had come at a great cost, hard won and bitterly fought for. And still, it was not perfect.
Severus rubbed his eyes and wished this day would end so he could go back to his quarters, drink some tea, and relax with a good book before dinner. Today the mask of the snarky professor was poking him uncomfortably and he longed to remove it. But he hadn't dared, not with the Slytherin Death Eater children in the room. His cover as a spy would be blown for sure.
But now, with only Neville, perhaps he could let it slip a little, and simply be Severus. Severus, who could apologize for those sharp sarcastic comments, comments that he knew did much to wound Neville's self-confidence. There were times he hated playing the role he'd created so long ago. "Mr. Longbottom—" he began in a much gentler tone.
There was a sudden hiss and he saw to his utter horror that Neville's solution was bubbling and frothing like a volcano on the verge of erupting. It was the correct color but it was far too agitated, which could've only happened if the boy had added too many snake scales to the mixture.
"Longbottom!" he shouted. "Move away! Now!"
But Neville just stood there, too petrified to move, his eyes wide and scared in his moon face.
"Neville, dammit!" Snape roared, then he lunged at the boy, yanking him back and down, just before the entire cauldronful of Youth Potion exploded.
Hot yellow liquid splashed everywhere, spattering the entire classroom as well as the Potions Master, who had not had time to cast a Shield Charm, so intent was he on getting his student out of harm's way.
All he had time to do was throw an arm over his face before bright yellow droplets rained down on him . . .hitting the exposed skin of his left hand . . .and altering him rapidly.
Arista had just finished putting away the new batch of Healing salve her father had delivered to the infirmary that morning when the fireplace suddenly flared up with green flames and Neville stuck his head through and yelled, "Arista! There's been . . .uh, an accident in the dungeons . . .it's your father . . ."
The jar of salve she'd been holding fell to the floor and shattered, but she barely noticed.
"What? Neville, how bad is it?"
"Uh . . .you really need to come see for yourself . . ."the boy sputtered, sniffling. "I'm so sorry, Arista, it's all my fault . . .!"
"Never mind that, Neville!" she snapped. "Just get out of the fireplace so I can come through. You can apologize later."
"Oh, right." Shamefacedly, the boy withdrew.
Arista tossed a handful of Floo Powder down and said "Snape's classroom!" Then she stepped into the green flame and vanished, appearing a moment later in her father's classroom.
The walls, floor, and the desk were covered in bright yellow splotches. Probably the remains of Neville's latest potions disaster, she thought wearily.
Neville was standing off to one side of the fireplace, biting his lip nervously.
Arista ignored him, searching the room frantically for her father, who was presumably injured. It was then she caught sight of the small boy standing near the desk. He had dark shoulder-length hair and deep brown inquisitive eyes and he was wearing a set of black robes that were ten times too big for him.
"Neville? Where's my father?"
But before Neville could open his mouth to reply, the little boy looked up at her and said softly, "Hello. I'm Severus. Who are you?"
Arista staggered backwards and nearly fell into the fireplace.
Neville coughed, then said quickly, "Arista, I can explain—"
"I damn well hope so!" she gasped. "You'd better have a very good explanation as to why my dad's suddenly become four years old again!"
"It was a Youth Potion . . ." Neville began, only to be interrupted once more by a little voice.
"You said damn. That's a bad word."
Arista flushed. The child was right, she should've watched her language. She fought to keep from laughing however. Even at four, her dad was still lecturing her. "You're right Da—I mean, Sev," she corrected herself hastily. "It is a bad word and I'm sorry, I shouldn't talk that way around kids, uh, your age. But I'm a little upset right now, okay?" She turned back to Neville. "How did this happen?"
Neville told her the whole story and Arista listened with growing dread to his tale of melted cauldrons and misread potions texts.
"But how long will he be like this?" she cried. "Will the potion wear off eventually?"
"I don't know," Neville hung his head. "I don't even know what went wrong in the first place."
"Oh, Neville!" Arista groaned.
Then she felt a tug on her robe and looked down and met her father's innocent brown eyes yet again.
"Do you know where my mummy is? I want to go home."
The heartfelt plea caught at her heart and she found herself kneeling down in front of the child, who had somehow managed to walk over to her without tripping over the yards of black fabric that had once been his professor's robes.
"Um . . .well, your mom had to go away for a little while, Sev, so she left you here with me. My name's Arista and I'm your—" –daughter was on the tip of her tongue, but she caught herself just in time and replaced it with "—cousin. You're going to be staying at Hogwarts until your mom gets back from her, uh, trip," she improvised.
"Oh. Okay." His little brow furrowed. "Hogwarts. My mummy says that's where she went to school. She says that someday when I'm big I'm gonna go there too, 'cause I've got magic just like her. I'm a wizard." He lowered his voice when he said that last, till he was whispering. "Shh. It's a secret. Don't tell my daddy. Daddy doesn't like magic. Or wizards. Daddy says I'm supposed to be a normal boy, not a freak." Severus suddenly halted and peered frantically about the room, his eyes darting like a cornered animal's. "Does Daddy know I'm here? He'll be so mad if he finds out I'm at a magic place and then he'll . . .he'll take his belt to me."
He began to tremble and huge tears gathered in his eyes.
Neville was staring at his former professor, his mouth opening and shutting soundlessly, thunderstruck with horror.
Severus was sniffling sharply, giving Arista a pleading look. "Please, can you take me home? Before Daddy finds out? I don't wanna get the belt again. It hurts awful!" Then he burst into tears, sobbing hysterically.
Arista was down on the floor in a flash, instinctively reaching out to grab the sobbing child into her lap. "Hush, Sev, hush now. It's okay. Nobody will ever hurt you like that again, I promise. You're safe here, Dad. Shh." She patted his back over and over, recalling how he had done that to her after a nightmare over the summer. She could feel his little heart beating wildly against her chest. "Your dad will never know. Shhh. I've got you."
She continued to hold and rock the little boy, tears of anguish streaming down her own cheeks as she absorbed Severus's fear and pain. She had known that her father had had a horrible childhood, but even she had never known just how bad it really was. He was only four and he had been beaten with a belt, and more than once. The child Severus was so fragile, so small, how could anyone, least of all his own father, hurt him like that?
Her empathy flared, and she touched the kid's mind lightly, easing the panic and fear, soothing the stomach-churning anxiety with feelings of reassurance and love and safety. She began to sing softly. "Hush, little baby, don't say a word . . ." for that was the lullaby Severus's mother had sung to him when he was small, or so he'd told her once.
The adult Severus Snape would have never allowed her to touch his mind this way, he kept his emotions tightly shielded from all but the most cursory contact. But the child Snape was an open book, and he welcomed her gentle embrace and the soothing wave of warmth and love she projected at him. She wrapped it about him like a warm fuzzy blanket, cocooning his soul in her endless web of love and compassion.
"Shh. Don't cry. Nothing will ever hurt you as long as I'm here, Sev. Not your dad, not anyone," she told him firmly, still hugging him and rocking him. He clung to her fiercely, his head buried in her robes, but gradually his sobs died.
He hiccupped softly, then lifted his face to gaze into her eyes. "Promise?"
"Promise. You're safe here, Severus Snape. Your father can't ever come here. And nobody here will ever beat you, I swear on my mom's grave."
He sighed in relief and sniffled, going to wipe his nose on his sleeve.
Arista conjured a handkerchief and held it to his nose. "Blow."
"Good job." She gently scrubbed the tears from his face, then snapped her fingers and changed his black professor's robes into a child-sized pair of black jeans and a green long sleeved shirt. As an afterthought, she also gave him a little black robe with a Slytherin patch on it, like the students in his House wore.
"There! That's better."
He glanced down at himself and gasped. "Wow! You did magic! Like my mum does sometimes when Daddy's gone."
"I sure did," she grinned at him. "Everyone does here, it's a wizard school."
"I know that," he replied with just a hint of exasperation. He began to run his hand down his robe, enjoying the soft feel of it. He'd never been allowed to have anything like this at home.
Arista glanced up to find Neville staring at her four-year-old father with pity and sorrow written all over his face.
"Arista . . .my God . . .I never knew . . .!"
"Shh, Neville!" she ordered. "We'll discuss it later. Now's not the time or the place. Little pitchers have big ears."
She gestured pointedly at little Severus.
"Oh. Right. Sorry. But what are going to do with him, Arista? Now we have no Potions Master."
And I have no father, she thought sadly. In a manner of speaking.
She stood up, brushing off her robes. "Come on, Neville and Sev. We need to visit Professor Dumbledore. He'll know what to do."
"Who's he?" asked the child curiously.
"He's our Headmaster. You'll like him. He's very sweet and he likes to give kids candy." Arista told him.
Severus grinned. "Really? What kind?"
"All kinds," his daughter laughed. "But especially—"
"Lemon drops," Neville finished, smiling too. He couldn't stop staring at the little boy, who was adorable, so utterly unlike his former stern professor.
"I like them. And chocolate bars too. They're the bestest. Can we go there now, Arista?"
"Yes, come on." She held out her hand.
A second later she felt it clasped by a much smaller trusting one.
Then she and her four-year-old father walked quietly out of the dungeons, trailed by a shell-shocked Neville.
Some twenty minutes later they were all in the Headmaster's office. Severus was sitting on the sofa, sucking on a lemon drop and holding a large Honeydukes chocolate bar in one hand, gazing in awe at all the things in the office, while Arista and Neville explained to Dumbledore about the potions accident.
"Sir, do you know when it will wear off?" Arista asked worriedly. She was speaking softly, so as not to alarm the child. "He can't stay a four-year-old. I need my father!"
Dumbledore looked grave. "And the school needs its Potions Master, among other things. However, because the potion used to de-age Professor Snape was experimental, we have no way of knowing how long it may last. It could wear off tomorrow or in a few years."
"A few years?" Arista repeated in horror.
"That's a worst case scenario, Arista," Dumbledore hastened to reassure her. "We can make up an Aging Potion to restore him to his proper age, but that takes 3 weeks to brew and is a master-level potion besides. Also, we need to analyze the potion Neville made before we can even begin to brew an Aging Potion correctly, my girl, so we can make sure there is nothing in that Youth Potion that will react unstably with the Aging Potion and possibly kill your father."
"I understand, sir. But master-level potion or not, we need to brew it. I'll try and brew the Aging Potion myself, I'll use my notes and ask Trish to help, she's almost as good at potions as I am. Hermione too, maybe she can analyze Neville's solution while we're trying to figure out the Aging Potion."
"But who's going to teach potions, Professor?" asked Neville. He had no love for the subject, God knew, but he knew it was an important part of the school curriculum and others, such as Arista, didn't share his opinion.
"I shall find a substitute to cover Professor Snape's classes," Dumbledore replied. "In the meantime I think it best, Arista, if you and Trish moved into your father's quarters for the time being. It's much easier for you to watch a small child down there and his potions lab is right next door."
"Yeah, but sir . . .how can I look after Dad and brew this potion at the same time?"
"Why, Miss Snape, you'll do what most parents do, go to work and hire a babysitter," Dumbledore said, his eyes twinkling. "You said you touched his mind, Arista. Did you notice anything . . .different about him?"
"Other than the fact that he can't shield and his magic is dormant, you mean? No. He's not brain damaged, if that's what you're getting at. Emotionally, he's a normal four-year-old kid. A very bright four-year-old, but he has no memories of when he was an adult. At least I don't think he does." She bit her lip hard. "Professor, he doesn't remember me, his own daughter! He thinks I'm his cousin!"
"There now, child. I'm sure his memories will return to him once you administer the Aging Potion. That's a side-effect of too much Youth Potion, the regression of emotions and memories. Be patient, it'll all work out."
He looked over at Severus, who was sleeping soundly, his little face smeared with chocolate. The other half of the bar was still clutched in his hand. Dumbledore smiled fondly. He had never seen the younger wizard so relaxed and peaceful, the adult Snape was usually a bundle of restless and finely controlled energy.
"I can help you watch him, Arista," offered Neville shyly. "It's the least I can do."
"Thanks, Neville," Arista said gratefully. "I'll ask Mel, Drake, and Kit too. You can take turns during the day, inbetween your classes, while Trish, Hermione, and I are brewing and analyzing." Mel Seton, a Ravenclaw, Drake Lockwood who was a Slytherin, and Kit Ambrosius, a Gryffindor, were her best friends.
"What about your classes?"
Arista thought fast. "I'll have to get the lessons from all the teachers and try and make up the work at night or whenever I can find the time. What else can I do? God, Trish is gonna flip when she finds out."
Dumbledore gave her a look of approval. Like her father, once she had made up her mind, she went at her task with a vengeance, and didn't whine about how difficult it was. "I'll be sure and inform the rest of the staff about your new project, Arista."
The little Healer rolled her eyes. "Yeah. Parenting and Potion-making 101."
The Headmaster chuckled. "Congratulations, Arista Snape. You're now the parent of a four-year-old former Potions Master."
"God help us all," she said, using one of her father's favorite phrases. Then she called Trish on her spellophone. Trish was Severus's adopted daughter.
Trish nearly fainted when she heard the news. She came running down to Severus's quarters, her blond hair flying every which way, panting and gasping. "Amelia," she hissed the password to get past the ward her guardian had set up to prevent mischievous students from invading his private rooms. Then she turned the handle and went inside.
The sitting room was the same as always, except for the small boy sound asleep on the couch. Arista had washed the chocolate from his face and hands and tucked a soft green afghan around him. Now she was busy helping the house elves set up a small bedroom and summoning toys and books for Sev to play with when he woke up.
Drake had arrived by then as well, for Arista had called him right after she'd told Trish about the accident, and he was busy casting locking charms and unbreakable charms about the Potion Master's quarters. "You've got to do that," he explained at Arista's raised eyebrow. "Kids his age are into everything. Trust me on that. My little sister Trina had her hands on something she shouldn't of every minute."
"Really? But Dad—Sev—damn it I keep calling him that!—seems like such a well-behaved kid," Arista pointed out.
Drake snickered. "Sure he does now, Arista. He's sleeping. All kids are angels then. But just wait till he wakes up and feels more comfortable around here. Something tells me he's not gonna just sit in a chair and color all day."
Arista thought of Marietta, her four-year-old cousin, and suspected that Drake was right. Still, she prayed her father wasn't quite the mischief maker Marietta was. She had talked with Neville about Severus's shocking revelation in the classroom, and sworn him to secrecy about it. Neville promised he would never tell a soul about it. "I'll take it to my grave, Arista. I owe you and him that much for my parents, after all." Then he had gone back to class.
"Oh. My. God!" Trish cried upon catching sight of her four-year-old guardian.
"Shh, Trish," Arista hissed, hurrying into the sitting room. "Not so loud. You'll wake him up. He's had a very stressful morning."
"Sorry," Trish apologized, her brown eyes about to pop out of her head. "It's just . . .this is too weird, Arista. I mean, I just got used to the idea that he's my guardian, somebody that I can look up to, and now he's four and I have to take care of him! Merlin's socks!"
"Tell me about it." Arista sympathized. She gently pulled Trish into the bedroom. "We can share the bed, God knows it's big enough for four people," she indicated Snape's four poster bed. "But I decided to give Sev his own room. What do you think?"
Trish gaped at the small room, which was decorated in blue and green and had a jungle painted on one wall with animals that moved when you touched them and a small bed and a nightstand and a toy box and a bookshelf.
"We're gonna have to take him shopping to get clothes, Trish. I can't keep transfiguring his professor's robes into different outfits, it'll wear them out, and then he'll have a fit when he's back to normal."
"When's that going to be?"
"Three weeks if all goes well. I'll have to start looking at the notes for that Aging solution tonight. Hermione's going to meet us at the lab later on after dinner to see if she can analyze Neville's potion. And Drake and Kit are gonna babysit Dad while we do that. Mel had to help her aunt with something in the greenhouse, so she couldn't make it."
"You trust Kit to watch a four-year-old?" Trish's eyes goggled.
"Not by himself, no," Arista giggled. "That's why Drake is there too. Drake knows how to mind kids, he's got a little sister, remember?"
"Right. What's Severus like now?"
"Like a curious little kid, at least what I've seen so far." Arista said honestly. "I've told him I'm his cousin and his mom's gone away and he's staying with us for awhile. He doesn't remember anything from his adult life, near as I can determine. But he remembers plenty from his childhood, God help him." She quickly told Trish about the scene in the classroom and how Severus had sobbed all over her.
"God! That's so—so awful!" Trish sniffled. "I never knew he had such a horrid childhood. Poor Dad!"
Arista nodded grimly. "Yeah, but don't mention it to anybody else, okay? He'd be so embarrassed, you know how he is about his personal life."
"I'm not dumb, I know when to keep my mouth shut," Trish retorted, stung. "Who do you think I am, Brittany the Gossip Queen?"
Arista flushed. "Sorry. I didn't mean it that way."
Trish hugged her. "I'm sorry too. I shouldn't have snapped at you. It's just such a shock."
"I know. And Tobias Snape's lucky he's dead, otherwise I'd go after him and turn him into a rug so I could beat him every day the way he did our dad!" Arista said, her hands clenched into fists, her dark eyes glowing with fury. "That miserable bastard, what kind of man treats his own kid that way, beating him for something that's not even his fault? I mean, none of us ever asked to be born wizards, it just happened. And instead of being proud of it, the scumbag hated him for it. He was so scared of his father finding out he was here Trish, that he was shaking! Like a whipped puppy. Severus Snape, the man who faced down Voldemort and Nightshade! Scared to pieces of his own father." Angry tears stood in her eyes. "Damn you to everlasting hell, Tobias Snape!"
"Amen!" Trish declared angrily, her normally serene features lit with an uncharacteristic sheen of rage. "People like him ought to be cursed into oblivion." Then she shook her head. "I hate to think about that happening to him . . .but it was done and we can't do anything about it now. So let's just try and make his time here as pleasant as possible. Right?"
Arista drew a deep breath, forcing herself to calm down. Her anger would serve no purpose. Best to channel it into something constructive. "Right. How about we go shopping once he wakes up?"
"Good idea. You know where he keeps his emergency stash of Galleons, right?" Trish's eyes were glowing with the prospect of shopping.
"Top right drawer of his rolltop, sister," Arista smirked. "And just think, now he can't tell us not to go shoe shopping!"
"Or do our homework."
"Or go to bed at ten-thirty."
"Or pick our clothes up off the floor," Trish laughed. "It's like we're adults now. Sort of."
"It feels weird," Arista confessed. "I'm not sure I like it."
"Me either." Trish agreed. Then she laughed. "Are we nuts, or what? Anybody else would be celebrating—a whole three weeks or maybe more without their dad watching them like a hawk. I wonder what the other students think of it?"
Arista shrugged. "Neville was really sorry. He said if it hadn't been for Dad pulling him out of the way, it would've been him hit with the Youth Potion, and maybe it would've better then. At least Dad would know how to brew the antidote."
"We'll manage somehow," Trish said optimistically. "We're the Potion Master's daughters, after all."
They returned to the den, where they found a sleepy Severus sitting up on the sofa. "Arista?"
"Hey, sleepyhead," Arista greeted him. "Did you have a nice nap?"
"Uh huh." He rubbed his eyes with his fists. "But I'm hungry. And I need to go potty."
"C'mere. The bathroom's this way, Sev," Arista said, and beckoned him off the couch. "When you're done, you can say hi to Trish and Drake. Trish is my sister and Drake's my friend."
Trish smiled at the tousle-haired little moppet as he went by. "Merlin, but he's so darn cute!" Then she put a hand over her mouth. "Oh, God! I can't believe I just called my dad cute! I hope he doesn't remember that when he's older. He'd scold me into next week!" Then she began to giggle uncontrollably.
Drake came out of the tiny kitchen area and peered at her. "What's so funny?"
"Umm . . .it's nothing." Trish stammered, blushing.
Drake eyed her sternly. "Give, Greenbough. I haven't heard you laugh like that in a month."
"Okay. My dad, I mean Severus, just woke up from his nap and I called him cute."
Drake's eyebrow went up into his hair. "You called Severus Snape cute?"
Trish nodded. "It's true."
The Slytherin boy nodded slowly. "Yeah, I guess he is. Cute as a button, as my mum would say. And we're so lucky he can't hear us, Trish."
"I know. We'd be given detention for life."
Then they looked at each other and cracked up.
The reaction of the rest of the student body to the de-aging of their Potions Master was varied and ranged from absolute glee "No more bloody potions, yes!" to shock "Who's going to be the new Head of Slytherin House? I hope it's not Umbridge!" to indifference "Who cares?"
Neville found Harry and Ron discussing it at dinner in the Great Hall along with Hermione, who was horrified and had already made arrangements with Arista to help her with the potion analyzing that evening.
"I think it must be absolutely terrifying for the poor professor," Hermione was saying as Neville sat down. "I mean, think about it, one minute you're saving a student from an explosion and the next thing you know you're four years old again."
"And sucking your thumb and crying for mummy!" Ron howled. "I think it's bloody awesome!"
"Ronald Weasley!" Hermione shouted. "How can you be so-so insensitive? It's not funny!"
"Is so! Right, Harry? Now the greasy git can't give us homework or detention any more. I think we ought to declare a holiday." He was grinning from ear to ear.
Harry was smirking too. "I can't say I'm all that sorry, not after the way Snape's treated me sometimes." He glanced at Neville. "Right, Neville?"
To his surprise, Neville looked almost as annoyed as Hermione. "Harry, it really isn't funny. Not at all."
Harry gaped at him. "What's wrong with you, Neville? After all the times Snape's gotten on your back in class, I'd think you'd be glad to be rid of him for awhile. After all, it was partly his fault this happened. If he wasn't such a bloody lousy teacher and always on you for everything . . ."
"You're wrong, Harry," Neville snapped, his face flushing with indignation. "It wasn't Snape's fault, it was mine! I didn't pay attention like he told me and that's why I messed up the potion. And when it started to explode, he-he shoved me behind him so it didn't hit me. He saved me."
"Oh big fat deal," Ron sneered. "He does one nice thing for you in the whole five years you've had him in class, Neville, and you think he's wonderful? Come on, mate! Wake up and smell the pumpkin juice! You've just done the whole school a favor." Then he began to chant, "No more potions, no more books, no more of Snape's nasty looks!"
"Stop it, Ron!" Hermione yelled.
Neville picked up his goblet of pumpkin juice and tossed it at the smirking red-head. It missed, but it landed all over Ron's turkey leg. "Hey! What the bloody hell was that for?"
Neville glared at him. "You think it's so funny, Ron? Why don't you go and find Arista and ask how funny she thinks it is? Or Trish? D'you think they're throwing a party right now?"
"If it were me, I would."
Hermione elbowed him hard in the ribs. "Ronald! You wouldn't and you know it."
"Okay, maybe not."
"Neville, it's Snape," Harry began. "Why should you feel sorry for the man who's humiliated you for years? He's a bloody perfectionist git."
"It doesn't matter!" Neville shouted. "Don't you see? He was trying to help me and I hurt him. And now Arista's without a dad. You of all people ought to know what that feels like, Harry. That should've been me, not him. I screwed up again and he paid for it. I know what it's like to have no parents, and I would never wish that on anybody. And neither should either of you!"
Ron held up his hands. "Take it easy, Longbottom. It's not like you killed him or something."
"I might as well have. What kind of dad can Arista have now?"
"Uh, a sniveling one?" Ron quipped.
"Shut up, Ron!" Neville growled. Then he rose to his feet and stalked off.
"Nice one, Ronald!" Hermione snapped. "You think everything's a big joke. Why don't you grow up?" She rose to her feet also.
"Where are you going, Hermione?" Harry asked. "I need your help with my Transfiguration homework."
She spun about and glared at him. "Why don't you just read the book, Mr. Potter? Like everybody else? I'm going to do some research." She picked up her bookbag.
"Research? For who? On what?" Harry asked.
"None of your business, Harry." She sniffed and turned away.
"It's for Snape, isn't it?" Harry called after her. She ignored him and kept walking. "I don't believe them. Have they gone off their rockers?"
Ron shook his head. "Search me, Harry. Aw, who cares? Let's go find Fred and George and have a party. Like the rest of the Gryffindors."
Harry nodded and finished his dinner, though he couldn't help but recall Neville's comment. Now Arista's without a dad. You of all people should know what that feels like, Harry. He would never admit it, especially not to Ron, but Neville's comment had stung like hell. And maybe he'd been right to chastise them. Maybe. Then he shook his head and followed Ron from the hall. What happened to Snape now was Snape's problem, not his.
Hermione arrived at the potions lab just as Arista, Trish, and Severus returned from their shopping trip. Severus had shiny a new picture book tucked in one arm and a small stuffed owl in the other. The Gryffindor's eyes popped open as the sight of her former professor holding onto Trish's hand, his hair tied neatly back in a tail, grinning like a jack-o-lantern, though the front of his shirt was splattered with what looked like ice cream.
Aw, he's adorable! Hermione thought, then blushed. Good thing Ron's not here to hear me say that, I'd never hear the end of it.
"Now, when we get home, Sev, Kit and Drake are going to give you a bath and then you can let them read your new book to you, okay?" Trish instructed.
Arista raised an eyebrow. "Both of them? Trish, it only takes one person to give a kid a bath. I used to do it all the time back when I lived with the Dowds."
"Not if one of them's Kit." Trish laughed. "Drake needs to supervise. Otherwise we might come home to a swimming pool."
"Okay. I'll take a bath," Severus agreed. "But I can read my book myself. I know how. Mummy taught me. I'm a big boy."
"Sure you are, kid," Arista said, chuckling. Then she spotted Hermione waiting for them. "Hi, Hermione! We'll be there in a sec, I just have to, um, put this stuff away and drop off my-um-Sev."
"Who's that?" Severus pointed at Hermione.
"Don't point, Severus. It's not nice," Arista corrected, then bit her lip. Oh Merlin! Did I just say that? I sound like Mrs. Dowd. Mrs. Dowd, Arista's former babysitter, was always saying that pointing was bad manners. "Can you say hi to Hermione, Severus? She's a student here too."
Severus looked uneasy at first. He had met several new people today and wasn't sure if he wanted to meet another one. He moved a little behind Arista's leg and peeked out at the brown-haired girl with the red prefect's badge on her robes. "Hi."
Hermione knelt down so she was looking directly into the little boy's eyes. "Hello, Professor. Oops, I mean Severus. My name's Hermione. But you can just call me Mione if that's too hard for you."
Severus considered. Hermione was a mouthful. Still, he could say big words. He was a very bright child, his mummy said so. "No. I can say Her-my-nee," he repeated, pronouncing her name carefully. "But I can call you Mione if you want. And you can call me Sev, like Arista does."
"I'd like that, Sev," Hermione said, and held out her hand. "Pleased to meet you." Again, her mind remarked irreverently.
He placed his small one in hers. Hermione shook it. "Are you a witch too? Like my mummy and Arista and Trish?"
"I am. I'm here to help Trish and Arista today with potions."
"Oh. Can you show me?"
"Uh, maybe some other time. What did you do today, Sev?"
"We went shopping. For clothes." He rolled his eyes. Hermione giggled. Some things never changed. All boys detested clothes shopping, no matter what age they were. "But Arista let me pick out my own shirt. It has a dragon on it. I like dragons. And snakes. And dogs. But I was good so Trish bought me a new book." He proudly displayed the colorful picture book called Merlin and the Magic Potion. "Do you like to read, Mione? I do."
"I love to read, Sev," Hermione said, laughing. "Too much, as Ron would say. What else did you do? I like your little owl."
"His name's Blinky," Severus confided in her. "'Cause his eyes blink like a real owl's do." He showed Hermione the spotted owl, whose eyes were charmed to open and shut, and hoot softly when you stroked his wings. "Arista says he can sleep with me so's I won't be scared in my new room." He hugged the owl tightly. "Then we went to lunch and ate grilled cheese and had ice cream. I got to eat a whole chocolate cone myself!" he declared proudly. "And I got presents even though it's not my birthday. My birthday's January 9th. This was the bestest day ever."
Something about the way he said that last made Hermione suspect that such days were a rare occurrence for the child, and that was why the dark eyes were glowing with such joy. She had to admit that she'd never seen adult Severus smile like that. Perhaps that was why. His smile was irresistible and she found herself grinning back. "That's wonderful, Severus. You deserve it." What's more, she found she meant those words. No matter how critical he was of her during class, she felt that everyone deserved to be happy, at least for once in their lives. Even grouchy sarcastic potions professors.
"C'mon, Sev. You can talk to Mione tomorrow," Arista said. "We need to put all your new clothes away and then you need a bath."
"Do I have to?"
"Uh huh," Trish added. "Don't you want to read your new book?"
"Yes!" he shouted. "I can read it to Drake and Kit, right? Right?"
"After you have a bath, mister," Arista put in, then scooped the eager child up in her arms. Severus threw his arm about her neck and leaned his head on her shoulder. "Say bye to Hermione now."
"Bye, Mione," murmured Severus, then he waved at her till she was out of sight.
Hermione waved back. Who would have thought her professor was such an inquisitive and sweet child? And what on earth had happened to him to make him into such a sharp sarcastic man? she wondered.
Five minutes later, Arista and Trish were back and together they entered the potions lab. The mess from Neville's exploded potion was still all over, the girls had asked the house elves not to clean it up until they'd gathered a sample to examine. All three wrinkled their noses at the acrid stench.
"Yuck! Smells like rancid butter," said Trish with a grimace.
Hermione sneezed. "Ugh1 Let's collect our sample quick as we can and then call Dobby to clean this place. Otherwise we'll never be able to have class in here." She stepped carefully over the sticky yellow patches on the floor and opened the supply cabinet in the back of the lab where all the beakers, jars, and plates were kept. "I'd better put on gloves. I don't want to touch this stuff with my bare hands." She located a pair of dragon hide gloves and pulled them on.
Then she moved over to where the potion had splattered nearest the cauldron and began to scrape it up with a sharp little knife and put it in the small jar she'd gotten from the cabinet. "I don't know how long it'll take me to analyze this potion, Arista. But I'll do my best. I'm really sorry about what happened, even though he's a really cute four-year-old."
Arista laughed. "Funny, that's what Trish said. I agree, but I really want my dad back, know what I mean?"
Hermione nodded. "I would too. And we'll get him back. Between the three of us, we should be able to do this. We're the best potion makers in the school save for Professor Snape."
The other two girls nodded eagerly.
"Let's get started then," Hermione said in a business-like tone, rolling up her sleeves.
Then she summoned Dobby to clean up the classroom while Arista and Trish went inside Snape's office to look at his texts and notes on the Aging Potion.
It was after nine o'clock when Arista and Trish finally stopped reading through Snape's notes and decided to call it a night. Their eyes were crossing and their heads hurt from trying to comprehend so much theory at one time. Hermione had made some slight progress in separating the elements of Neville's potion, but she was far from finished. She promised to come back tomorrow evening and work some more. They carefully spelled her cauldron and workstation with an Impenetrable Shield Charm so no student could use it and ruin the hours of work she'd already put in.
The two girls opened the door to the Potion Master's quarters quietly, expecting to find their father sound asleep and the babysitters up talking about the evening or whatever. Instead they found Kit snoozing on the couch with Comfrey atop him, purring softly.
"Figures," Trish rolled her eyes. Then she bent down to shake Kit awake. "Some babysitter you are, Ambrosius."
"Huh?" Kit sat up, startled. "Whatsamatter?"
"You're sleeping, dork," Arista scolded. "Where's Drake and my dad? Did you give him a bath and let him read the story to you?"
"Drake?" Kit cried, still half asleep. "Hell, no!"
"Earth to Kit!" Arista cried, shaking her friend sharply. "Not Drake. Severus! You know, the four-year-old professor you were supposed to be watching? Hello?"
"Oh. Right. Uh . . .yeah, Drake and I gave him a bath. We even washed his hair."
Trish looked at Arista. "So? You're supposed to wash your hair when you take a bath."
"I don't always need to," Kit said defensively. "Anyway, Drake said we'd better, 'cause his mum always insisted he wash his little sister's hair when he gave her a bath. So we did. Then we put those crazy pajamas on him. Who the bloody hell picked them out anyway?"
"I did," Trish said. "Why?"
"Why? Trish, they've got teddy bears on them, for Godsake!"
"So? I thought they were cute."
"Oh great. I'm sure Severus will be delighted to find out that you've been dressing him in teddy bear pajamas once he's back to himself again."
"Kit! He's four, not fourteen." Trish objected. "They're appropriate for a four-year-old. What do you want him to wear, a T-shirt and boxers?"
"They're teddy bears, by Merlin's starry robe! The professor wouldn't be caught dead in them, Trish."
"He picked them out, Ambrosius," Trish informed him.
That floored him. "He did?" Then he shook his head. "Aw, he's only four, he doesn't know any better. But I'm not gonna be the one to tell him he was wearing teddy bears."
"What's the big deal, Kit? They're just pajamas," Arista sighed.
Kit choked. "Forget it. You're not a guy, you don't understand."
"Uh, taking a shower, I think. I told him he could, since the professor's sleeping."
"Did you read him the book we bought?" Arista asked.
"We tried. But he kept insisting he could read it himself. I told him I'd read it for him three times and he got mad and screamed "No! I can read it MYSELF!" He's got some temper. Then he threw the book on the floor and ran into his room."
"Oh, Kit. Why didn't you just let him read it to you?" Arista sighed. "Humor him a little, he's only a kid."
"He's four, for crying out loud! And he thinks he can read!" Kit snorted. "No kid can read at that age. I couldn't read till I was six."
"I could read when I was three," Arista put in.
"Well, you're a bloody genius, Snape." Kit rolled his eyes heavenward.
"Where do you think she got it from?" Trish put in. "What happened then?"
"Drake went in there and found him curled on his bed, crying. Said we were mean to him, 'cause we thought he was a little baby, and he wasn't. He said he wanted his mum too." Kit admitted uncomfortably. "Drake was really nice to him, though. Told him we'd read the story tomorrow and gave him milk and played with him till he fell asleep. God, I never knew watching kids was so . . .exhausting!"
"Better get used to it, Ambrosius," Arista said with a wicked grin. "'Cause you're going to be doing a lot more of it."
Kit groaned. "Why me? Isn't that supposed to be a woman's job?"
"Not any more, you Neanderthal." Arista scowled. "Welcome to the twentieth century, Kit."
Just then there came a loud crash from the small kitchen. All of them jumped to their feet.
"What was that?"
They raced into the kitchen area, which only contained a small sink and a table and two chairs and a tiny pantry to find a teddy-bear festooned Severus standing in a puddle of water holding Scout's dog dish. The magehound was lapping up the spilled water eagerly. Scout was a special breed of dog only bred in America that could track magic. He had been trained to track down criminals in America before being retired and given to Snape as Christmas present.
"Severus Snape, what are you doing out of bed?" Arista cried, those being the first words to come into her head. Merlin, but I sound like somebody's mom. I'm too young to be a mom!
The child shrank away at the harsh tone. "I'm sorry. Scout was thirsty. He needed water. I got it but then I dropped it. I'm sorry!"
Instantly Arista regretted her sharp tone. "It's okay. It was an accident. I can fix it." She clapped her hands and the water was cleaned up and replaced in Scout's bowl, which she took from Severus's arms and set on the floor.
The child looked up at her uncertainly. "Are you mad? Am I in trouble?"
"No, I'm not mad at you for spilling the water. It was an accident," Arista said softly. "Next time, though, ask for help if you can't do something, okay?"
"But I wanted to do it myself," he declared, with a proud lift to his head. "I'm a big boy."
Arista hid a smile. He was an independent little cuss, even at four. "I know, but even big boys need help sometimes, Severus. Next time ask me or Trish or even Kit there. Okay?"
The little boy considered. "Okay."
"However, you should be sleeping, young man," she continued in a bit sterner tone. "Why aren't you?"
"Wasn't tired no more," he said, peering up at her through his black locks.
"Severus, it's time for all little boys to be in bed," Arista began.
"Why? I wanna read my book. You promised, Arista! You promised I could read to you." He shot an accusing glance at Kit. "He wouldn't let me. He said I didn't know how. But I do!"
"All right," Arista agreed, trying to compromise. That had always worked well when her dad had done it with Marietta. "How about we go sit on the couch and you can show me how well you read three pages of your new book? But after that you go to bed, no arguments. Deal? Or else you go to bed right now and no story."
Severus thought for a long moment. Was it worth it, a partial story and then bed? Or should he hold out for maybe the whole thing? No, then he might make her mad and then he'd go to bed with no story at all. Not a good thing. He loved stories. And some story was better than no story.
"I'll read some of the story," he said, then scurried past her to get the book, which was lying on the coffee table next to Kit's forgotten Astronomy homework. "Here it is. Merlin and the Magic Potion." He scrambled up onto the couch and held the book, waiting for the rest of the teenagers to come and sit beside him. Arista sat on his right and Trish on his left and Kit sat next to her.
"I don't believe this," Kit muttered. "I'm listening to a four-year-old pretend to read."
Trish elbowed him in the ribs.
"Okay, Sev. Let's hear the story."
Little Severus cleared his throat. "Merlin and the Magic Potion. By Martin Good," he read in a clear even tone. "Once upon a time there was a great wizard named Merlin. He wanted to brew a magic potion. So he went to his lab and found his gold cauldron. . ."
Kit's mouth fell open. Holy God! He really can read. That's bloody amazing!
He listened in growing amazement as Severus continued, telling the story of how Merlin needed a special ingredient for the potion and now he had to go and find it. "It was a golden feather from a pretty bird called a—" he halted suddenly and turned to look at Arista. "Arista, what's this word here?"
"Fee-nix," he repeated carefully. "Why is it an F and not a P? That's a P."
"That's just how it's spelled. It comes from a Greek word, not English and the Greeks didn't have an F in their alphabet, only P's." Arista explained.
"Like he's going to get all that," Kit said.
The dark little head swiveled to face him. "I get it, Kit. I'm not dumb. They used P's cause they didn't have F's, those Greek people. Arista, where did the Greeks live? Here?"
"No, Sev. They lived in Greece, a country far away. I'll tell you more about them tomorrow. Now let's finish this other page."
Severus nodded, then resumed reading. "It was a golden feather from a pretty bird called a phoenix and it was deep in a dark forest far far away." The picture above the words showed Merlin in deep purple robes and a starry hat going into a dark scary forest. "I wouldn't like to go in there," Severus said, and felt a shiver of delicious fear run down his backbone.
"Me neither. But I guess Merlin has to, if he wants to make that magic potion," Trish said, yawning.
"Why don't we stop here and save the rest of the story for tomorrow?" Arista suggested. "It's way past your bedtime, Severus."
"One more page? Please? Please?"
Her heart melted. But then she recalled her father saying once that you should always keep your word when dealing with children. Say what you mean and then do it. All the time. "No, that was three pages already. And you promised you'd go to bed after three pages, right?"
He nodded reluctantly.
"Then it's off to bed with you, kiddo. Say good night to Trish and Kit, Sev."
"Good night, Trish. Night, Kit." He reached out for Arista's hand and followed her into the bedroom.
Just as he was about to get into bed with Blinky, Arista remembered something else. "Wait, Sev. Go potty first."
"Don't have to."
"Try anyway," she instructed.
He sighed, then agreed, because he recalled the one time he'd wet the bed at home, his dad had walloped him for it. He didn't want that to happen again, even though he hadn't seen a belt in sight. Maybe they hid it and only took it out when you were bad.
After he was done, Arista washed his hands and then she tucked him into bed. By then he was sleepy, and he hugged Blinky tightly. It had been a long day. "Arista? Can you sing to me? My mum does, sometimes."
"Sure, kid." Then she stroked his hair and began to sing the familiar lullaby. By the time she reached the second verse the little boy was fast asleep. Arista bent down and kissed him on the forehead. "Night, Dad. I love you."
That day set the tone for the next week or so. Mel soon joined Kit and Drake in their Severus-minding duties, while Trish, Arista, and Hermione tried to make headway with their respective potions. It was difficult to try and recreate a potion someone else had made, and Neville wasn't much help, for the accident had driven most of his memory of making the potion out of his head. Still, he gave Hermione as much as he could recall, then went off to watch Snape, as he'd promised.
While Hermione tried to figure out where Neville went wrong, the two sisters continued to read through the long list of ingredients and the intense magical theory behind creating an Aging Potion. Most of their reading dealt with the way time ran and how it was calculated and specific formulas that had to be taken into account when creating a specific Aging Potion. For that was another drawback to this potion. It couldn't just be made for any age, the age had to be specified, and that meant precise calculations. Then you had to find specific ingredients depending on the age you were making the draft for, and most of them were rare and costly.
Meanwhile, the other SR's and Neville were discovering that minding a four-year-old Snape was not as easy as it had first seemed. Severus, though not a noisy child by nature, did like to run around on occasion, especially with Scout, who delighted in playing tag and hide and go seek with the child. The dog was extremely careful with his small master, and hardly ever knocked him down. But if he did, the child never cried, but simply got to his feet and continued playing.
Once, Severus tripped over a rock while running after the big dog and cut open his knee. But the first Mel knew of it was when he came over to her with Scout and said, "I fell down."
She gasped when she caught sight of his knee, which was a mess. "Oh my God! Sev, why didn't you tell me you were hurt?" She picked him up and raced inside, bringing him to Arista to heal.
Arista healed the nasty cut in a second.
"I can't believe he didn't cry or anything." Mel reported. "Any other kid his age would've bawled his head off."
Severus looked at her then with his large dark eyes. "Daddy said not to."
"Not to what?" Mel frowned.
"Not to cry. Only cowards cry. I'm no coward."
Mel gasped. "But that's-that's stupid! Telling a little kid he can't cry when he's hurt or-or sad. What kind of father tells a kid that?"
"Mine," answered Severus.
Arista hugged him. "It's okay, Sev. You can cry if you want to. Here only cowards don't cry."
But he didn't then. For the habits of a lifetime were hard to break.
His caretakers soon discovered that he was frightfully smart for his age. Not only could he read, he had a prodigious memory. He needed only to be shown something once and he never forgot it. He watched Drake casting a leviate spell one day and that afternoon he found a small stick and pretended to cast it, imitating the wand motion and saying the words exactly.
The teenagers gaped at him. "Did you see that?" Mel cried. "He did it perfectly. If he was able to use magic, the spell would've worked."
"Bloody hell, you're right!" exclaimed Kit.
Drake just laughed. "I don't know why you're so surprised, Kit. I mean this is the professor we're talking about here. Why shouldn't he be an ace with a wand?"
"Yeah, but still . . .he's four!"
"Four going on forty, you mean," chuckled Drake, proud of the child's accomplishments.
Severus's favorite word was "Why?" and he asked it almost every five minutes. "Why is Hagrid so big? Why is Dumbledore's beard so long? Why can't cats drink pumpkin juice? Why do phoenixs fly?"
Half of those questions the students didn't know the answers to, though they did their best to answer them. Except sometimes they wearied of the endless litany of questions and answered, "Because it just is."
That wasn't good enough for Severus though. "Because why?"
And then he'd pester them until they gave him a proper answer.
Finally Kit lost his patience one day and shouted, "Bloody hell, kid, don't you ever get sick of asking questions?"
"Why not?" the exasperated teenager demanded.
And Severus looked at him and smirked. "Because."
Kit smacked himself in the head. Then he laughed.
The girls were laughing too when he related that particular incident to them later that night, when they were all gathered in the professor's quarters. Hermione had almost isolated the ingredient Neville had added incorrectly, and Arista and Trish had begun to gather the necessary ingredients for the Aging Potion. Right then they were all taking a well deserved break, eating pumpkin pasties and drinking butterbeer, sprawled all over Snape's living room.
Severus was petting Scout, who was lying on the floor with his tongue hanging out. The little boy was scratching the dog's belly with a hand and the hound was groaning in bliss. Severus really liked dogs. He'd never had one at home because their fur made his mummy sick. But here he could play with Scout as much as he wanted, and sometimes the big dog slept in his room as well.
Severus put his head on the magehound's side. Scout made a great pillow. Until the big dog decided to suddenly sit up and Severus's head banged onto the floor.
Scowling, the little boy sat up and rubbed it. It didn't hurt bad enough for tears, but he was annoyed at having it slammed against the floor. He shook a finger at the dog. "Bloody hell, Scout!"
All conversation between the teenagers ceased. They stared at one another.
Finally Arista found her voice. "Severus Tobias Snape! We don't use words like that ever!"
"Because they're bad and-and little boys shouldn't swear. Do you know what happens to little boys who use words like that?" she asked sternly, coming over to look him in the eyes.
"No." he said, looking at the ground.
"They get their mouths washed out with soap," she answered. "You want that to happen to you?"
He shook his head vigorously.
"Then never ever say those words again, young man. Am I understood?" she demanded. Inwardly she cringed. I can't believe I just said that. I just yelled at my father and threatened to punish him. I'm so grounded if he ever remembers this later on. But another part of her whispered, He'd have said the same thing to a kid that swore and you know it.
"Good. Where did you hear them anyhow?"
Severus pointed at Kit. "He said it first."
All four girls gave him disapproving glares.
"Nice one, Kit. He already repeats everything he hears," Trish said angrily. "Soon we'll have the only four-year-old at Hogwarts that can recite the school motto in Latin and swear like a dockhand too."
"Aw, come on, give me a break. I forgot he was there and it just . . .well . . .popped out."
"You know better than to swear around a little kid like that, Kit," scolded Hermione. "You and Ron have got the filthiest mouths I've ever heard."
Severus eyed the older boy thoughtfully. Then he looked at Arista and asked, "You gonna wash his mouth out with soap too?"
Drake was convulsed with laughter.
"Maybe we should!" Trish said to Mel and the others. She waved her wand threateningly.
"Like hell you will!" Kit cried, moving away from her. "I'm fifteen, not four, Greenbough. That stuff's for little kids like him." He pointed at Severus.
"Tell that to my mum," Drake said, still snickering.
Five pairs of eyes stared at him.
"You're putting me on, Lockwood!" said Kit, gaping. "Your mum wouldn't really do that to you?"
"Yes, she would. She hates kids who swear, Kit. And if she hears you, out comes a bar of soap. She caught my sixteen-year-old cousin Evan one day when he was visiting and she made him eat soap for three minutes. No joke. All us Lockwoods know to watch our mouths around her."
"Remind me to never stay over your house," Kit muttered.
They all chuckled. Then Arista said, "You know, my dad threatened to do the same thing to me once, Kit. So better watch your mouth, Ambrosius."
Kit blanched. Then he recalled that his friend's stern patriarch was only a child still and he glared at Arista. Still, he would make sure he watched his language from then on. Because the last thing he wanted Snape to do when he finally returned to his normal age was to go fetch a bar of soap.
"Eureka!" Hermione exclaimed loudly. "I did it!"
An excited Arista rushed over to see what Hermione's solution now looked like. The Gryffindor girl had been working nonstop for over a week trying to backtrack and discover Neville's mistake. Finally, after countless hours, she had done it. "See?" she waved her wand over the bright yellow patch of solution. "He added too many snake scales and that's what caused his potion to explode. The snake scales agitate the mixture too much, mixing with the phoenix tears to create—"
"—a volatile gas that expands rapidly when heated," Arista finished. She hugged the other girl. "Well done, Hermione! My dad would be very proud of your work."
Hermione smiled shyly. "Think so? Or would he just say I'm a know-it-all?"
Arista chuckled. "Mione, don't you know that's high praise from him? He always calls me that. Me and my know-it-all daughter, who's too smart for her own good." The smile slid from her face. "Or at least he used to, before . . ." she didn't finish that sentence, but they both knew how it ended. Before he was de-aged to a four-year-old who doesn't remember his own daughter at all and who now has to be a mother to her own father.
This time Hermione hugged Arista. "Hey, we're doing real good, don't you think? I've isolated the variable and now all we have to do is figure out how to the brew the potion and we're home free."
"Sure, Mione. Only." Arista joked feebly.
Hermione put her hands on her hips, trying her best to imitate her Potions Master's fierce glower. "What's this attitude, young lady? I never figured you for a quitter, Arista Eileen Snape. Not my daughter. A Snape never quits."
Arista gaped at her, her dark eyes wide. Then, very slowly, her mouth quirked up in a small smile. "Not bad, Hermione. Only you've got to get your scowl more like this," she demonstrated and Hermione pretended to shiver.
Then the Gryffindor girl laughed. "Guess that's something only a Snape can master. Along with master level potions."
"Yeah, but a Granger helped me more than I could ever ask," she returned. "We make a good team." Then she held out her hand for a high five.
Hermione's hand slapped her own. "The best. We'll have the professor back to his old self before Christmas, wait and see."
"Then you want him back? I'd have thought . . .you being friends with Ron and Harry . . .you'd be glad that he was . . .gone."
Hermione shook her head firmly. "Just because I'm their friend doesn't mean I go along with what they think. And I happen to think they're both being dumb gits. We need Professor Snape, Arista. He's the best wizard with potions we've got and we need somebody of his caliber desperately. I learned ten times as much from him as I ever did on my own, just reading. He might be a snarky pain in the butt sometimes, but he's the best at what he does. I . . .admire him a lot, you know. He's brilliant, not just book smart, but creative too. You're like him, you know. Both of you are perfectionists and you're hardest on yourselves. Ron would laugh himself sick to hear me say that, but you and I both know it's true."
"Yes. He believes that the harder the practice, the better the student. Same as my old teachers back in America. It's how the Dark Hunters teach, by being strict as hell, but also thorough. They push you to your fullest potential and if you survive, you're all the better for it."
"And he's right," said Hermione.
"I just wish more people realized that."
"They will, someday. When they need to make some obscure potion to save somebody's life or something. Then they'll say, thank you Professor Snape, for pushing me so much in class, because now I have the knowledge I need to do what I have to. And the discipline to keep trying until I succeed." Hermione predicted softly.
"You really believe that?"
"Yeah. Because that's what I realized when I was trying to analyze this mess Neville left behind. How much he'd taught me. Oh, not just about methods and theory, but logic and how to be a stubborn son of a bitch that doesn't quit until you get the results you want. Nobody else could've taught me that, Arista. Only your dad."
The Ravenclaw Healer grinned. "You really ought to tell him that one day, you know. He'd be happy to hear it."
"Oh God, no! I wouldn't have the guts."
"Come on, Mione. What's the big deal? All you have to do is go up to him and say four little words. Thank you, Professor Snape."
"And then he'll look at me and ask "For what, Miss Granger?"
"And then you just say "For everything you've taught me, sir." That's all."
"No!" Hermione hid her face in her hands. "I couldn't. He'd-he'd laugh at me."
"Hermione Granger! He would not. Trust me. I know him better than anyone, 'cept maybe my mom. And he'd never laugh at a student who thanked him for teaching her. Because it happens so rarely. He likes to be appreciated as much as the next guy, even if he'll never say so. Do it, Mione. You won't regret it."
"Okay. I will. When he's himself again."
"Good. Now let's go tell Trish the good news."
Arista was so happy over Hermione's breakthrough that she decided to take the rest of the evening off and stay at home with her dad. She told Neville, who was minding Severus that day, he could go back to Gryffindor Tower early.
"You sure, Arista? You must be tired after all that research you've been doing plus your schoolwork. I can stay, I don't mind. He's been in a bit of a mood today."
"Yeah. Kind of cranky. I don't know why." Neville shrugged. "It happens to all of us."
"Don't worry, Neville. I can deal with it. You go on home. Thanks for everything."
He blushed beet red. "Aw, it was no big deal, Arista. I like kids and he's smart and funny, most of the time. He lets me read my Herbology notes aloud to him when I study and then he names the plants with me. We have . . .fun together." Then the boy laughed nervously. "I can't believe I said that. I wonder if he'll remember any of this when he's older?"
"I don't know. Some of it I hope he does. Other things, I'm hoping he forgets. Only time will tell."
Neville bid her goodbye and Arista went back inside the Potion Master's suite of rooms to see what the house elves had brought up for their dinner.
Severus was coloring on the floor on a piece of parchment, he liked to draw pictures much like Marietta. He was quite a good artist as four-year-olds go, his animals had the right number of legs or wings and were colored approximately the right color and he liked to draw Hogwarts. He said to her one night he wished he could stay here forever, and knowing what she did of his home life, she couldn't blame him.
"What are you drawing, Sev?"
"A picture of Scout and Comfrey for Mummy," he answered, coloring the cat with a gray crayon industriously.
She knelt to see it, but to her surprise, he snatched the drawing away and covered it. "No! You can't see it. It's only for Mummy."
Astonished, she could only say, "All right. You can surprise her then."
"Yes." He switched the gray crayon for a green one. "When's she coming back here?"
She winced every time he asked this. "Soon. In another week."
Usually this satisfied him. Not that evening. "It's too long," he scowled. "I want her to come back now."
"I know, but she's busy," Arista lied, thanking her lucky stars he wasn't an empath. "She'll be back before you know it." She bent to touch his forehead, trying to determine if he was sick.
He squirmed away from her. "Severus, stay still." She laid her hand on his head again.
"Why? Don' wanna," he whined.
"Because I said so," she snapped.
He pouted, then did as she wanted, though it was plain he didn't want to.
She breathed a sigh of relief. He was not sick, just cranky, as Neville had said. "Did you have fun with Neville today?"
"No. It was boring."
"Well, you're in a grouchy mood today," she sighed. Then she rose to her feet. "Finish your picture, then I'll call you for dinner, okay?"
A nod was all she got in response.
She left him alone then, perhaps he would be out of his sulky mood by the time she had set the table and gotten his dinner cut up.
Tonight the house elves had served up chicken with barbecue sauce and mashed potatoes with a side of peas. For dessert there was chocolate cake and milk, one of their favorites. She set the little table in the kitchen area for two, since Trish said she would not be home for another half an hour yet and not to wait dinner on her.
Then she cut her father's plate of chicken into bite-sized pieces and poured him a glass of pumpkin juice, which she spelled with a charm so he wouldn't spill it. That done, she served herself some food as well, then she went back into the den to call the child in for dinner.
"Severus! Time to eat."
He ignored her, continuing to color.
"Sev! Hey, buddy. Put that away. It's time for dinner."
He gave her an annoyed look. "I'm not done yet."
"You can finish it later. Now come on, before it gets cold."
"NO!" he yelled.
"Severus, put it away. This minute!" she snapped, feeling her patience evaporate.
He glared at her, openly defying her for the first time ever.
She glared right back, giving him one of his own do-it-or-else stares, if he'd only known.
"Severus, if you don't come and eat dinner by the time I count to three, you'll be in serious trouble," she threatened.
He picked up another crayon.
She wanted to shake him. "One."
He thumped a foot against the carpet. "Two."
He shot her a wary glance. She opened her mouth. He got up from the floor, his lower lip sticking out in a rather adorable pout. "Fine! I'm coming."
"Thank you for listening," she praised, relief shooting through her. He'd never tested her like that before and she was grateful she didn't have to carry out her unnamed threat.
They sat down at the table and she began to eat her dinner. Severus, who normally ate fairly well, picked at his supper. He ate about three bites of his chicken, which was quite good, a spoonful of mashed potatoes and one pea before he decided he wasn't hungry any more and began to play with his food.
He made a tunnel with his mashed potatoes and began flicking peas through it with his fork. He smirked. This was a fun game. Flick! Flick! Peas slid through the potatoes and out the other side of his plate, where they spilled onto the table.
Arista glanced up and discovered half the table was covered with peas. "Severus, don't play with your food!"
"Why? It's fun."
"For you, maybe. Look at the mess you made," she scolded. She gestured, and all the peas were back on his plate. "Now quit fooling around and eat your dinner, please."
He pouted. It wasn't fair. Why couldn't he do anything fun? "Not hungry." He wished his mother would come. She wouldn't make him eat peas or stop drawing when he didn't want to.
He flicked a pea off his plate.
"Severus Snape!" Arista set down her fork. "You stop playing with you food this instant, little boy! Or else I'm going to—" she floundered abruptly for words. Going to what? What are you going to do to him, Arista? He's your father, for heaven's sake. You can't punish your own father. The very thought made her cringe. But she knew she couldn't allow his naughty behavior to continue either. "—to put you in time out for five minutes," she finished, recalling that was what Mrs. Dowd had always done to disobedient toddlers.
Severus rolled another pea inbetween his fingers. He was torn between obeying and doing what he felt like for once. He didn't know what Arista meant by time out, since he'd never gotten one before. Was it worse than a whipping? Arista had promised though, long ago, that no one would ever take a belt to him. Maybe there was something worse they did? Though he couldn't think of anything that bad.
Suddenly he was angry. He wanted his mother but she never came. He wanted to go outside today, but it had been raining. He'd wanted to finish his drawing but instead he'd had to come in and eat dinner. And now he wasn't allowed to play the pea game either. It was just too much. It wasn't fair!
He put about a dozen peas on his fork and catapulted them directly at Arista. She was the enemy who ruined all his fun.
Peas hit her right in the face.
"What the—!" she bit off the rest of her words, recalling just in time not to swear in front of the child. Who was smirking like a mischievous little devil, clearly proud of his little trick. That little brat! She thought furiously. "That does it! You've earned yourself five minutes in time out, mister." She didn't allow herself to think, she just reacted.
One minute Severus was sitting at the table, the next he was being carried over to a corner of the kitchen and put down on the chair facing the wall. "You don't throw food at me, young man! When I tell you to stop, you listen. Now you sit here and think about your awful behavior for five minutes."
The raven-haired child squirmed on the seat. And was promptly scolded for doing so.
"Eyes front and face the wall, sir!"
Severus obeyed, for her tone brooked no disobedience. He sniffled, for he hadn't liked the way she had yelled at him at all. He stared at the wall, bored out of his mind. He didn't like sitting here looking at nothing except the wall. He began to think he shouldn't have thrown peas at Arista. She usually was nice to him and now he'd made her mad at him. Would she send him away now? He wondered frantically. Back to his daddy, who would surely punish him for being away so long. He started to sniffle, tears trickling down his face.
Arista was very aware he was crying and she felt awful. My God, what've I done? I put him in time out! How could I do that? He's my father, for heaven's sake! And now I've made him cry too. She wanted to run over and pick him up and hold him and apologize for being so nasty to him. He was only a little boy, after all. Yeah, a very naughty little boy who threw peas in your face, she reminded herself. He deserved to be punished and you know it. You gave him plenty of chances and he didn't listen. All actions have consequences, Arista Eileen. If our roles were reversed, he'd have done it to me.
She still felt terrible. Was this how all parents felt when they punished their children?
The five minutes felt like an eternity.
Then there came the sound of a door opening, and Trish walked into the apartment. "Hi, guys! Is there any dinner left for me?"
"Sure," came her sister's lukewarm response.
"What's the matter?" she asked, puzzled. She walked into the kitchen to see Arista sitting at the table, staring down at her plate like it was revolting. For some reason peas were all over the floor. "What happened here? And where's Severus?"
"In time out."
Trish gasped. Then she looked over at the corner of the kitchen. Sure enough, there was her father, sitting on a chair facing the wall. "Arista! How could you?" she hissed.
Arista grabbed her sister by the arm and ushered her into the living room, where she knew they wouldn't be overheard. "I had to, Trish!"
"But he's our dad! You put our dad in time out!"
"What was I supposed to do?" Arista cried, throwing up her arms. "I told him three times to quit playing with his food and then he threw peas in my face, Trish! On purpose!"
"Oh." Trish bit her lip. "But still . . . he's our father."
"So? He's a little brat too. He had it coming, and you know it. If a kid had done that to him you can bet all your potions he'd have put them in time out. I'm just doing what he would've done."
"I know. But you made him cry."
"I know. And I hate it. But he has to learn. And it's only for five minutes."
"You'd better pray he doesn't remember this," Trish warned as they headed back into the kitchen.
"Believe me, I am," Arista said fervently. Please Dad, forgive me for punishing you, even if you did deserve it. I don't want to be grounded for life. She went directly over to the little boy, who was still crying silently. "Well? Are you going to behave now?"
He stared up at her, his little face a study in misery. "Yes. I'm sorry, Arista. I'll be good. Please don't send me away!"
"Oh, Severus!" she cried, and held out her arms. "Never. This is your home." Even if you don't remember it, she added silently then she caught him up in her arms and held him tight. He sobbed into her shirt. "Shh. It's okay. All's forgiven. Just don't ever do that again," she added belatedly.
"I won't. Promise," he whispered into her shoulder.
"That's my boy," she praised and sat down with him on her lap. He had stopped crying by then and now he sat up and looked about him.
Trish was sitting at the table, eating. She smiled at him. "Hey, scamp. How was your day? Were you good?"
He shook his head. "No. I was bad." He said honestly. "I threw peas at Arista and she got mad. She made me sit and watch the wall for forever."
"Severus, that was very naughty. I'm very disappointed in you," Trish said, giving him a look of mild disapproval.
He hung his head. "I'm sorry. I said sorry to Arista."
"That's good. And you won't do that again, will you?"
"No. Promise." He peered up at her through his lashes. "Are you still mad, Trish?"
"Not any more, Sev," she answered, then she pulled him onto her lap and kissed him. "Now how about you eat your dinner instead of playing with it, okay?"
"Okay." Then he let her feed him a forkful of chicken.
Once he'd eaten, Trish offered to give him a bath and read him a story. Arista agreed, for she was feeling tired and a little out of sorts herself. I can't wait till that potion's done. If this is what it's like having kids, I'm not having any, she vowed.
The next morning there was a battle over his coat. Arista wanted to go outside walking, since it was a beautiful Saturday. She had called Mel and Kit and they wanted to come too. Drake and Trish were sleeping in.
"Come on, Sev. Put your coat on," she urged, trying to get his arm in the sleeve of his new sheepskin blue coat.
He wriggled away from her. "No. It's too hot."
"It won't be outside. Outside it's cold and you'll be glad you wore it. Now come here and let me put it on."
He gave her a mulish scowl. "No. I don' like it."
"Why? We bought it special for you. It's soft and warm."
"Don't care. I don't want to wear it."
"Then you won't come outside for a walk."
"Are you going to feed the ducks?" Feeding the ducks was something he especially liked.
"I want to come!"
"Then you have to wear your coat."
He pouted. "But why?"
"Because it's cold out."
"Doesn't matter. I like the cold."
"Because you'll get sick."
"No, I won't."
"Severus, just put your coat on."
"Because I said so, that's why!" Arista cried, thoroughly exasperated. "And that's all you need to know."
"Okay, here's another reason. If you don't put your coat on, you'll be stuck inside, miss feeding the ducks, and you'll get a time out. That enough reasons for you, mister?"
He considered. "I guess so."
"Now get your coat on."
"But Arista! Do I have to?" he whined.
She put her hands on her hips. Please, not again, Dad! "Severus Snape, don't make me count to three. Or else."
"Or else what?" he asked cheekily.
"You'll find out unless you put that coat on right now, young man. One."
Seeing she was serious and not really wanting to miss out on all the fun outside, he reluctantly dragged his coat on. Arista thanked God.
Until she heard him mutter, "Bloody damn coat!"
Ten minutes later, she cradled a sobbing Severus on her lap and asked him, "Are you ever going to use words like that again, Mr. Snape?"
"Nooo!" he wailed, hiding his face in her shirt. "Never! I hate soap!"
"Next time remember this and don't swear, understand? Then you won't have to get soap in your mouth."
"It tastes nasty," he grimaced.
She patted him on top of the head. "Yeah, I know."
"How? Did you say bad words too?"
"Yeah. Once or twice. And I got my mouth washed out with soap just like you. After that, I knew better."
"Oh." She could see him pondering something. "Arista? Did you get time out too when you were bad?"
"Yeah, Sev." She admitted, fighting back a grin. Who would have ever thought she'd be discussing punishments with her father this way? "I got put in time out too for a lot of things."
"We'd be here all day if I told you that," she laughed.
Then he said, "Did your daddy ever take a strap to you?"
"No. My dad doesn't believe in hitting kids with belts," she said softly.
"Oh. He must be nice then."
"He is. He's the very best dad," she said, a lump coming into her throat. Then she hugged him tightly, so he wouldn't notice the tears in her eyes.
Suddenly there came a knock on the door and Mel and Kit came into the apartment. "For crying out loud, Arista!" Mel exclaimed. "How long does it take you to put on the kid's jacket?"
"We had issues over the coat," her friend sighed. "He wouldn't put it on, then I told him he'd get a time out, so he put it on, but then he swore at me and I washed his mouth out with soap."
"You didn't!" Mel looked like she was about to fall over.
"She did," Severus informed her gravely. "It tasted nasty, Mel."
Kit whistled. "Man, Arista. Who would have thought you had it in you? You put him in time out and now you washed his mouth out with soap? Merlin's beard, but you're dead once he finds out. You can kiss the Yule Ball goodbye, girl!"
Arista winced. "Please, Kit. Don't even go there."
"Why?" queried a little voice.
"Never mind," all three of them said.
"C'mon, tiger!" Kit laughed, and then he picked up Severus and swung him around, then set him on his shoulder. "Let's go feed those ducks!"
Then he ran down the hallway, with the Potions Master screeching in delight on his shoulder, ignoring all the Slytherins staring at them in disbelief.
The next evening, they had gathered all the ingredients they needed and were ready to brew the Aging Potion. "There's only one thing I'm not quite sure of," Trish said, nibbling her lip nervously. "The text said that in order to age a person slowly all the way back up to an adult, we have to add a proportionate number of lacewing flies. We need the potion to age him thirty years, since he won't be thirty-five till January."
"Right. So what's the problem?" They were sitting in the living room discussing the potion before going into the lab.
"I'm not sure what the proportion is of lacewing flies to age thirty," Trish admitted.
The former Potions Master looked up from the game he'd been playing with Blinky and some other toys. "It's three lacewing flies for every one year you want to age someone, Trish."
"That's the answer. Three to one," he repeated.
The two girls remained with their mouths open.
Finally Trish said softly, "Uh, how do you know that, Sev?"
His brow crinkled. "I dunno. I just do."
"Is he right?" Arista asked.
"I don't know."
"I am right!" the child insisted. "I know I am. It's three to one and then you need to stir in a dash of honey for taste. And then you need to let it simmer for three weeks and stir it counterclockwise twelve times and clockwise ten times every other day while it's simmering."
"I don't believe it!" gasped Arista. "He remembers how to make the potion! But how?" she whispered quietly to her sister.
"Who knows? He's a potions prodigy or something."
"But Dumbledore said he wouldn't remember anything about his adult life."
"Yeah well, obviously he was wrong. Why are you so shocked? Dumbledore's not God and Dad's been Potions Master for over fourteen years. Why should all that hard earned knowledge be forgotten?"
"Why indeed?" Arista was on her feet. "Come on, Trish. Let's get started."
"What are you doing?" asked their father.
"We're brewing a potion," answered Trish.
"Can I come watch?"
"Yeah, only don't touch, okay?" instructed his blond-haired daughter.
All of them went into the potions lab.
Severus blinked and wondered why this room seemed familiar to him. He'd never been in it before and yet he knew where everything was. The cabinet with the spare jars and containers was there along the back wall. All of the measuring spoons and scales were opposite in the shelf to the right. Dried ingredients were in the long cabinet against the wall across from the office. On the shelf behind the desk were the rare poisonous things and expensive ingredients. Extra quills and parchment was in the bottom left of the desk. So was a medical kit and some soft cloths and a basin.
He did not know how he knew this, only that somehow he did.
"Trish, I can't find the tincture of ambergris," Arista called, searching through the shelves.
"It's on the top right corner, below the bezoar stones," Severus piped up.
And it was.
"I have an idea," Arista said excitedly. "Let's play a game, Sev. We'll call out a name of an ingredient and you tell us where it is. Let's see how many you get right."
"Okay. That sounds like fun."
They spent the next seven minutes reading off the entire list of ingredients. Severus never hesitated. He knew where everything was located, sight unseen. The girls were able to find everything in record time. Severus was happy. He liked this new game. He perched upon a tall stool near the big desk and watched them putting all the jars and beakers (why were they called that?) on the table next to the big cauldron.
Then Trish came over and hugged him, smiling delightedly. "You are such an awesome kid, Sev! I love you!"
He wound his arms about her neck and whispered in her ear, "Love you too," the way he usually did to his mum before bed. Eileen Snape was usually exhausted by the time she put her son to bed, but she never forgot to tuck him in, and neither did the two girls.
Trish drew away, and Arista took her place, telling him how she was proud of him and she loved him too. He hugged her back and told her he loved her also. Her words made him even happier than he already was. His mother sometimes told him she was proud of him, when he came home with good marks in preschool or drew her a picture, but his daddy never said it at all. Severus began to think he never would, no matter how hard he tried to be what his daddy wanted. But he would keep trying and maybe someday . . .his daddy would tell him he was a good son and he loved him. Like other kids' daddies did.
Then his attention was caught by Trish measuring a spoonful of powdered amethyst crystals into the cauldron and he forgot about his father. What magic potion they were making was far more interesting than Tobias Snape, who would have thrown an absolute fit if he knew where his son was this minute, learning magic from two teenage girls. Severus shivered just imagining how angry the man would have been. The belt would have been in his hand before Sev could blink twice . . .No! He wouldn't remember that! Not now. This was Hogwarts and nothing bad like that happened here.
He returned his attention to the potion the girls were concocting. He'd never seen it before, yet he knew exactly what was in it and how to make it. He didn't know why he knew that, only that he did. And somehow it didn't really matter. He watched the way that Arista cut up the snake scales and noticed that they weren't as finely chopped as they should have been.
"Arista!" he called.
She looked up from her work. "What's the matter, Sev? Are you getting bored?"
He flashed her a look of disbelief. "Of course not! I love potions." That was true too. "But you've gotta chop the scales finer."
"Yeah," he said firmly.
He watched her do as he had told her. This was really fun. He liked being able to tell his big cousins what to do for once.
Trish glanced over from where she was measuring out a cupful of phoenix tears and said, "Sev, I've got a job for you. You watch us making this Aging Potion here and tell us if you spot us making a mistake, okay? You can pretend like you're a teacher and we're your students."
"Cool!" He really liked this new game. It was the best one yet. "And you have to do like I say, right?" He pretended to look angry, imitating his father. For some reason this made them laugh.
"Sure, Professor Snape," Arista said when she could talk again.
He liked the way that sounded. He thought could remember someone calling him that once . . .then the memory vanished. "'Cause if you don't I'll make you sit in time out. For fifteen minutes of forever."
"Yes, sir," Trish said. "We'll behave."
"Good. Now measure out the lacewing flies. Three to one, remember?" he instructed. For some reason that was important.
The girls set to work and he observed them carefully. If he saw them make a mistake he would yell "Stop!" or "No, that's wrong!" and they would freeze and wait until he had told them the right way to mix the ingredients. It took a very long time, and Severus's bottom was getting sore from sitting on the hard stool, so he jumped down and stood up. Only now he couldn't see over the top of the cauldron.
Sighing, he climbed on the desk and stood there. Then he continued watching.
The girls completed the last stages, mixing everything together in the cauldron and setting it to simmer under a constant low flame. It would be doing that for three weeks, practically forever.
"Oh, am I glad that's over with!" sighed Trish, stretching out her cramped back muscles. "Now all we have to do is stir it every other day and let it steep."
"We're halfway there!" Arista said, and she grinned, then rubbed her back. Then she turned to the potions prodigy who was still standing on the desk. "But we couldn't have done it without you, Sev."
"I helped a lot, right?"
"You were the best helper!" she said, then swept him off the desk in a great big hug.
"Yay!" he cried. Then he squirmed in her arms. "Arista, put me down."
"'Cause I really need to go potty."
"Okay!" she laughed and set him on his feet.
He scampered out the door, running as quickly as he could into the apartment.
The hardest thing about the next three weeks was the waiting for the potion to mature enough for Severus to drink it. Or so Arista originally thought. They had a timer set up in the bedroom to remind them to go and stir the potion every other day, morning, noon and night. But the three weeks were not uneventful. Anything but. For after the potions lab, an imp of mischief seemed to awake in the former professor, and he thought he could do whatever he wanted.
"But I'm the teacher!" he said when Trish scolded him for not listening one morning after breakfast. "You said!"
"Not now you're not," she replied. "Right now you're just a little kid, and that means you do what we say."
"I wish I was grown-up!" he cried, stamping his foot. "Being little sucks!"
"Severus Snape!" Trish frowned at him. "You know I don't like that word."
"Kit says it."
"Just because Kit does something doesn't mean you have to," she said. "Wait till I get a hold of him," she muttered angrily.
Uh oh, Severus thought. Kit's in trouble. I wonder if Trish'll make him eat soap? He looked at her uneasily. He wondered if she was going to make him eat soap too, but he was afraid to ask. Trish almost never got mad, but there was always a first time.
"Am I in trouble?" he asked, wanting to find out right away, so he could prepare himself to be punished.
"Well, you ought to be, but since this is the first time I'm scolding you for this, you can consider it a warning. Next time though . . .you'll be in big trouble, young man."
He squirmed under her disapproving frown. "Like with soap?"
"I'll be good," he promised.
"Glad to hear it," she said, then she ruffled his hair.
He ducked away, grinning shyly.
"Come here, you!" she mock-growled, grabbing him and tickling him until he begged for mercy. She loved to hear him laugh.
When he'd had enough of the tickle game, she decided to comb his hair. He hated this, for he had fine hair that tangled easily, and it took forever to comb the knots out. So when he saw her summon the brush, he tried to wriggle out of her arms.
"No! Don't brush my hair, Trish!"
"Sorry, but I have to!" she cried, struggling to hold onto him. "If you don't brush it . . .it'll just get more knotted. Stop it, Sev!"
"Nooo!" he howled. "No brush!"
"Severus! That's enough! Be still."
"No! No! NO!"
Trish was appalled. He was having a temper tantrum. With her. Oh God. Now what? she wondered as she tried to restrain the writhing little ball of fury. He has to get his hair brushed. It'll be a dreadful mess else.
"Severus, if you let me brush your hair, I'll give you a chocolate bar."
"No! Let me GO!"
"I won't. Now behave," she ordered in what was, for her, a stern tone. She lifted him up, intending to put him in her lap, where she could hold him better.
By then he was in a red-faced temper and fighting like a demon. His little foot flew out and kicked her right in the stomach.
Her yelp of pain caught him by surprise. He stopped fighting for a moment.
"Severus Snape, you don't kick!" she snapped, losing her temper.
Then sunny tempered Trish did something she never thought she'd do. She spun the startled child about and smacked him twice on the bottom, hard enough to sting.
His mouth opened in an O of surprise. Trish had hit him. Trish who never yelled or got mad had smacked him twice. Because he had kicked her. He had hurt her, and he hadn't meant to, not really. He felt terrible. "I'm sorry!" he bawled, burying his head in her lap. "I didn't mean to! I'm sorry!" He burst into tears, wondering if he'd feel the belt next. He knew he deserved it, he'd been terribly awfully bad.
Trish froze, staring down at her hand. What have I done? Oh dear Merlin, I just swatted my father! I can't believe I did that. I'm so sorry! Then she recalled what he'd done to deserve those swats. But only a little.
Then she looked down at the child sobbing in her lap and all of her anger melted. She picked him up and hugged him, patting his back until he stopped crying. "Look at me, please."
Severus lifted his head from her shoulder. What now? Was the belt next? "Trish? I'm really sorry. Please, don't get the belt. Please!"
"What?" she gasped in horror. He thought she was going to whip him. "Oh, sweet Merlin! Severus, I would never do that. Never!"
"No! The only thing a belt should be used for is keeping your pants on, not hitting little kids, no matter how badly they behave. Do you know why I swatted you?"
He nodded. "I kicked you. I didn't mean to."
"I know, but that was very bad. You must never ever do that again. Understand?"
He sniffled. "Yes. Does it hurt a lot?"
"Probably about as much as your bottom does you," she answered.
"Ow!" he said, though the sting was nearly gone.
"Exactly. Now, are you going to behave and let me brush your hair?" she asked, returning to the dreaded thing that had started it all.
"The brush hurts," he explained.
"I promise I'll be careful. I won't pull." She had always hated it when her mother brushed her hair too, because Glinda yanked so hard.
"Yes. Now stay still." She turned him around and very gently began to finger comb his hair, removing the snarls deftly. Once they were almost gone, she took the brush and ran it through the silky dark mane. And it didn't hurt at all.
"There! Now was that so awful?"
"No," he admitted.
"See? All that fuss over nothing. Remember this and don't throw a tantrum next time. Okay?"
"Okay," he agreed. He never wanted Trish mad at him again.
She tied his hair back in a tail. Then she hugged him. "I love you, my Sev."
"Even when I'm bad?"
"Always," she answered.
He threw his arms around her. "Love you too."
She sighed in relief. Then she wondered if she was going to be grounded for life.
"You did what?" Arista cried, later that night after they'd put the little mischief maker to bed.
"I-I swatted his bottom." Trish admitted, ducking her head. "Twice. He's gonna kill me."
"What did he do?"
Trish told her. "He's still gonna kill me."
"It was deserved."
"He never raised a hand to us."
"Neither of us ever kicked him in the stomach," Arista pointed out. "Or threw a tantrum over getting our hair combed."
"I know, but still . . .I can't believe I did that. I've never lost my temper like that before."
"There's a first time for everything. Besides, he told me once that he could provoke a saint. I'd say he was right. Wouldn't you?'
Trish nodded. "I guess so. But I still think I'm gonna be grounded for life when he finds out."
Arista laughed. "Join the club, why don't you?"
The day after the hair-combing incident, Hermione dropped by the Potion Master's rooms to deliver a packet of assignments from the other professors, so Trish and Arista could keep up with their classwork. "Amelia," she whispered, deactivating the ward. That was the name of Sev's late wife, who'd been an American witch, a member of the Dark Hunters, which were Amerca's Auror's. She put her hand on the doorknob. "Merlin! What's all that racket?"
"Five little Nifflers jumping on the bed!" Severus's shrill voice rang out.
"One fell off and bumped his head!" Kit echoed.
"Mum called the doctor and the doctor said," Drake sang.
"No more Nifflers jumping on the bed!" They chorused.
Hermione threw open the door. "What in Merlin's name is going on in here?"
The couch in the sitting room had been transfigured into three times its size, and huge cushions were all over the floor. Kit, Drake, and Severus were all bouncing up and down on the couch, singing at the top of their lungs. The two older boys had the four-year-old by the arms and were swinging him in time to their song.
Severus was laughing his little head off. "Four little Nifflers jumping on the bed!"
The two boys jumped hard on the couch and were catapulted into the air along with Severus, who was shrieking in delight. Hermione gasped when she saw how close they came to cracking their heads on the ceiling.
They landed back on the couch with a thump that shook the entire shelf of books and objects behind them.
"One fell off and bumped his head," yolded Kit.
Hermione winced. Kit's singing voice was worse than a cat in heat.
"What do you three think you're doing?" she yelled.
"Hi, Mione!" called Severus.
"Are you all insane? You nearly hit Severus's head on the ceiling, Christopher Ambrosius!"
"Not hardly," he argued. "We miss the ceiling by three inches. We measured it."
"Oh great. Three whole inches. And what about the shelf behind you? It almost fell over, Mr. Lockwood. The professor won't be too happy if he comes back and finds all his things broken." Hermione scolded.
"The professor was the one who thought of this," Drake said defensively. "He started jumping up and down on the couch first."
"Oh and you two just decided to go along with it?"
"Why not? It's fun," Kit said. "My brother and I used to do it all the time when my parents went out."
"Figures. And I suppose if Sev decides to fly a broom off the Astronomy Tower you'll do it too?" Hermione shook her head. "Boys! Some role models you are. You can't be left alone for a minute."
"Uh oh," Severus looked from Drake and Kit to the scowling witch standing in the doorway. "Hermione's mad. Now we're in for it."
"Relax, Sev," Kit snorted, unconcerned. "What's she gonna do? Put us in time out?"
The four-year-old nodded.
"The both of you are a disgrace to babysitters everywhere," stormed Hermione.
"Aw, lighten up, Mione. We were only having a bit of fun," said Kit, giving her his best charming smile.
"Some fun. Teaching a kid it's okay to jump on the furniture. What would your mother say?"
"Uh . . ." Kit began.
"I'm very disappointed in you, young man. Now go stand in the corner!" supplied Severus.
Hermione bit her lip to keep from laughing. The kid had answered her question seriously, but it made him sound witty.
Kit exchanged glances with Drake. "She would say that."
"So would mine," the Slytherin wizard agreed.
"Mine too," admitted the Potions Master.
"Sorry, Mione," they all said.
She shook a finger at them. "Now clean up this mess."
They obeyed, transfiguring the couch and the cushions back to normal.
Hermione shook her head. "Men! They never grow up!"
After the girls learned of the couch jumping, they decided neither of the boys was a fit role model for Severus, who didn't need any encouragement getting into mischief. Arista and Trish were busy trying to cram all of their make-up work into two weeks and keep an eye on the potion, so they really needed someone to help them mind Severus. So they enlisted Mel to help, figuring the Ravenclaw girl would be a calming influence on their young charge.
Severus soon learned that Mel enjoyed being outside on the grounds, walking and helping her aunt Professor Sprout in the garden. Together they taught the pint-sized prodigy all the names and uses of the herbs they grew in the garden. Severus was a quick study, after all he had learned this before, though he couldn't remember it consciously.
He found he enjoyed digging in the dirt and planting. Mel and Pomona didn't care if he got muddy or whatever, and they always made sure he went back to the castle reasonably free of dirt, so Arista wouldn't scold.
Mel was impressed with the little boy's ability to remember and said as much to her aunt, who merely smiled and said, "Why Mel, don't you know that Professor Snape was once my special apprentice when he was a student?"
"He was? How come, Aunt Mona?"
"Because a Potions Master also needs to know Herbology if he's going to brew all kinds of elixirs and such, since over half of the potions we use are based on some kind of plant. So he came to study with me when he was a sixth and seventh year. He was one of my very best students, a willing worker who never complained about how many nights I made him water the garden or weed," she slanted a wry glance at her niece. "Unlike certain other people I could name."
Mel blushed. "Aw, Aunt Mona, it's just that weeding's so boring."
"But a necessary chore for any gardener," her aunt reminded. "Right, Severus?"
Mel shot him a dirty look. "Sure, agree with the teacher. Figures. Once a professor always a professor."
Pomona laughed. Then she bent down to inspect the tomato seedlings the former Potions Master had planted. "Very good, Severus. You've covered them with a nice wet layer of soil. Soon they'll sprout shoots in a few weeks."
He smiled up at her, pleased. "When do we get to eat them?"
"Oh, not for quite awhile yet, child. They take time to mature, like little boys."
"Humph." Mel snorted. "Some boys never mature. Take Kit, for example. He's a four-year-old trapped in a fifteen-year-old body."
Pomona's eyes twinkled. "Sometimes it takes time for a child to grow up into a man. But you know, Mel, some of the late blooming plants are often better than those sprouts that spring up early and then fade away."
Mel looked puzzled. "What? I don't get it. What do plants have to do with Kit being an immature jackass?"
"I mean, dear, that maybe you're judging him too soon. I think Kit has a lot of potential, as both as a wizard and a man. Underneath that carefree exterior is a very steadfast and good heart. One that you can rely on."
"How do you know that, Aunt Mona?"
"Let's just say that I've got an instinct about these things," answered the Herbology teacher. "Appearance is not everything. Look at young Mr. Snape there." She indicated the dark-haired child, who was planting another row of seeds. "When he was at school he was shy and awkward and very much a loner. But when I took time to talk with him, I found he was an extremely intuitive and bright individual. He also felt things very deeply, though he tried to hide it behind a façade of temper and sarcasm. Much as he does still. Yet if you know how, you can see past the mask to the man beneath. But first you have to be willing to open your eyes, my dear."
"You're saying I ought to give Kit a chance then?"
"Yes, Mel. I think you will find a treasure inside Mr. Ambrosius. Much the way another young woman did inside of our Potions Master."
Mel considered. "Okay, Aunt Mona. I'll give it a try. Did you know her, Sev's wife?"
Pomona shook her head. "No, dear. She died before any of the staff at Hogwarts could meet her. But she must have been a lovely person, to produce a daughter like Arista. He never spoke much about her to anybody, I think it hurt him too much. Except once . . .it was May 6th, I think and I found him sitting down by the lake, just staring into the water. I realized I was intruding on his solitude and started to leave, but he put out a hand, and I stayed. We were quiet for several minutes. Then he said, very softly, "Have you ever caught a falling star, Pomona? And held it in your hand and had it light up your life? That's what Amelia was to me. I had her for so brief a time, but while I did she glowed bright enough to chase away the shadows. Past and present. When I was with her, there was no darkness, only light. She gave that light to me and showed me how to glow too. And for an instant I had everything I could ever wish for. But then I lost her." I looked down at him then and saw he was crying, silently. And I touched him on the shoulder and I said the only thing I could think of. "Severus, she's not lost forever. Not so long as you remember her. Look up at the stars, and there you will find her, shining down on you."
Mel blinked back tears. "And what did he say?"
"That night? Nothing. I let him be, for he wanted to be alone to mourn her in private. But the next morning, I came down to the greenhouse, and found him there, watering my seedlings. And I said good morning to him and he smiled at me and said, "Good morning, Mona. And thank you for last night." Then I said, For what, Sev? And he answered, "For reminding me what I had forgotten. That even the darkest night has stars."
"Wow." Mel whispered. "Who would have thought he was such a romantic?"
"I did." The elderly witch smiled at her former student. "Severus Snape was and always has been a man of great passion. What he loves, he loves forever. That's a rare thing, Mel. One trait that I think your Kit has as well."
"Yes. Now he simply has to find a star to guide him."
Mel grinned. "I think he already has." Then she bent and kissed her aunt on the cheek.
Pomona hugged her. "Burn brightly, sweetheart."
"I will," Mel promised. Then she went over and scooped up Severus.
"Hey!" he yelled. "I'm planting, Mel."
"C'mon, Sev. You can plant later. Let's go star catching."
"But it's not night. How can we catch stars in the daytime? And just how do you catch a star any way?"
"By holding out your hand, silly."
Then she waved her wand and caused a sparkly jet of light to shoot out of it and hover on his palm.
He gasped in delight, his dark eyes bright with wonder. "I caught one, Mel!"
"You sure did," Mel grinned. Then she made the star shoot off his palm and into the air.
He glanced up at her. "Well? What are you waiting for? Go and get it."
He raced after the flickering ball of light and she followed. She made several more balls of light come out her wand and together they chased them all over the lawn until they were exhausted.
Panting, Severus flopped down in the grass. His dark hair hung in his face. "I-I can't run no more, Mel. Too tired."
She stretched out beside him, cuddling him to her shoulder. "Me either. But you know the funny thing about stars, Sev?"
"They fly away, but eventually they return to you. See?" She pointed her wand.
He looked up and found a little glowing ball on the tip of his nose.
"My star! It came back."
"That's what happens when you love someone," Mel told him. "They never leave you."
She knew the boy was too young to understand what she meant now, but she hoped he would remember this moment later on, and realize what she was hinting at. For though he had lost his beloved Amelia, he still had a piece of her, in Arista, who loved him just as much.
His little hand closed over the glowing light for an instant. Then he opened it and let it go.
"Why'd you do that, Sev?"
"Because. If you hold a star too long it'll die. You have to let it go free, so it can shine."
"Kid, you're so smart you scare me sometimes," Mel said.
Severus just laughed.
"And I hope I'm as lucky to find a love like yours," she murmured to herself, yawning.
Severus nestled close to her and fell asleep with his head on her shoulder. That was how Scout and Kit found them a few hours later.
And woke them up with a kiss.
A week later, the potion was ready to decant. Then it had to sit in the bottle for three days to let it settle. After that it would be ready for consumption. Arista was careful to get it all into the vial on the first try, not wasting a drop of the precious elixir. Then she carefully stoppered it and sealed the cork with wax. She would break the seal on the third day, when she was ready to administer the draft. The potion was a softly shimmering peach color, and it smelled like it too. She hoped it tasted as good as it smelled, for it would be hell trying to get her father to drink it else.
Then she carefully set it on the shelf above the desk and cleaned up her apparatus. She could hardly wait to tell Dumbledore and the rest of her friends the good news. Hermione too, she deserved to know that all her hard work had paid off finally.
With a flick of her fingers, she doused the lights and left the lab, noting with a delighted grin that the Aging Potion glowed faintly in the dark, like a star shining.
She shared her wonderful news with them over lunch in the Great Hall. She had told Severus that he could sit with them if he behaved himself and ate nicely like a big boy. He had agreed and now was sitting next to Drake, babbling about some kind of dragon that he'd seen in a book Drake had read him yesterday.
"That's great, Arista! When can we give it to him?" asked Mel.
"Not until three days. It needs time for the elixir to settle, for some reason. So until then it's in the lab on a shelf behind Dad's desk."
Her friends and Trish all congratulated her on finishing the potion. "Thanks, but you know I wouldn't have been able to do it without my dad." Snape's memory of the potion procedure had been invaluable.
"True," Trish agreed. "But now it's finished and all we have to do is wait."
Little did they know that a pair of unfriendly ears had overheard their discussion, and the owner of them was not at all pleased to learn that the Potions Master was going to be back to his old self soon.
"Gone?" Trish repeated. "What do you mean, it's gone?"
It was the second day and Arista had gone to check on the Aging Potion, only to find that the crystal vial with the glowing potion had disappeared. "I went to go check and see if it looked any different and it's gone, Trish!" cried Arista, a note of utter panic in her voice. "As in disappeared, vanished, missing off the bloody shelf!"
"But how??" Trish gasped, her eyes bugging out. "It was right there last night."
"Well, it's not now." Arista ran her hands through her hair agitatedly, mirroring her father without realizing it. "See for yourself."
They went into the lab. Trish stared in dismay at the empty spot on the shelf behind the desk where the sparkly peach vessel used to be. "Oh God! What are we gonna do? We've got to find it, Arista. Without it, Dad will never be back to normal."
"And it didn't walk out of here on its own," her sister declared angrily. "Somebody bloody stole it." She swore loudly.
"Arista Eileen!" Trish reproved, then she shook her head. "It's a good thing Severus's not here to listen to that. He 's already got an impressive enough vocabulary for a four-year-old." She scratched her head. "Wait a minute! Maybe we should ask him where the potion went. Maybe he, uh, took it to play with. Kids are always touching things they shouldn't. And he knows about the connecting door into the lab from his rooms."
Arista nodded, hope suddenly blooming in her face. "You're right. And if he did take it—Merlin, I'm going to throttle him!"
But when they asked the little boy if he knew where the Aging Potion was, he shook his head solemnly and said he didn't know.
"Are you sure, Sev?" Trish asked, kneeling down and looking into his eyes. "It's very important. We really need that potion. You didn't take it down to look at it or play with it, did you?"
"No. You aren't supposed to touch it for three days," he recited. Then he added, "And potions aren't to play with. What do you think I am, a baby?"
The indignant tone coupled with the look he gave her made her chuckle softly. She bent and kissed him on the forehead. "Sorry, I didn't mean to insult you. Go back to playing with Blinky."
She looked at Arista, who'd been monitoring the conversation with her empathy. "He was telling the truth," she answered her sister's unspoken question.
"Now we search the whole bloody school for it." Arista sighed. "It's got to be here somewhere. Let's call up Mel and see if she's got any ideas on who might be behind this. And Kit, Drake, Neville, and Hermione. We're going to need all the help we can get."
Trish was shaking her head. "Whoever took it has to really hate him, Arista. Unless it was just a stupid prank."
"A prank that could cost us our father!" Arista snapped. "Real funny."
"Some people in this school have a sick sense of humor." Then Trish left to go up to Gryffindor Tower and tell Kit, Hermione, and Neville the bad news.
They all met in an emergency meeting in the living room. It was decided that they would split up, trying to search as many places as they could before they had class. They made a list of possible suspects from each House and one of them volunteered to question those members.
Hermione offered to talk to those in Gryffindor. "They'll be more likely to talk to me. Especially Ron and Harry."
"Mione, you don't think one of them would ever . . .?" Kit trailed off awkwardly.
"No! I know Ron can be a prat sometimes and Harry too, but . . .no. They'd never do something like this. They wouldn't even know what an Aging Potion looked like, and they avoid the dungeons like the plague."
Kit sighed. "I didn't really think so . . .but . . .Guess we better get started."
All of them rose to their feet.
"Wait a minute!" Trish exclaimed, and everyone looked at her. "If we all go hunting, who's going to stay here and watch Sev?"
All of them looked at each other. Then Arista said, "You're right, how could we be so stupid? I'm not thinking straight. Um . . .we'll have to take it in shifts. I'll be first, since I don't have class, but I did promise Madam Pomfrey that I'd help her in the infirmary for an hour or so at nine. The rest of you go on and keep to your schedules. Who has a break after their first period class?"
"I do," said Neville. "I'll watch him then."
"Okay. Then Trish can come and cover for you after that."
"Fine with me."
They all split up, leaving Arista alone with her father. The little Healer sat down on the couch and put her head in her hands. How could this have happened? They'd been so careful, and now all of their hard work and effort had been for nothing. Sabotaged by some idiot! Arista felt like kicking herself. They should have put the potion in a cabinet or locked it in the office. Then she remembered that the potion needed light for some reason and the office was spelled and they didn't know the countercharm since the new Potions teacher had changed it.
She felt a small hand touch her on the arm. "Arista? Are you sad?"
She looked up and met her father's worried eyes. "A little, Sev. But I'll be okay."
"Why? Is it 'cause that magic potion's missing?"
She nodded. "Yeah, but we'll find it. We have to."
"Can I help? I'm real good at finding things. I found Mummy's earrings once. She dropped them and they rolled all the way under the bed, and I crawled under there and I found them."
"I'm sure you are, Sev. But the school's really big and you might get lost, so I think you'd better stay here. But thanks anyway."
He looked disappointed. "I really wanted to help."
"I know. But you can help me the best by just being here, and playing with your toys and stuff. That way I know where you are and don't worry. Okay?"
He considered for a minute. Why was it that he never got to do anything interesting? "All right," he agreed. He didn't want Arista to worry, she was already sad. He didn't like it when she was sad, it made his chest feel funny, kind of sick but not really. Like when his mum cried sometimes, after she'd had a fight with his daddy. "D'you want a hug, Arista?" he asked softly. "Sometimes I hug my mum and she says it always makes her feel better."
Arista smiled up at him. "I would love a hug from you, Sev." She opened her arms.
Severus crawled into her lap and hugged her tight, wrapping his little arms and legs about her as far as they would go. She held him close for a long time, burying her face in his silky black hair, which smelled of mango and lime shampoo. I love you, Dad. And I'm really sorry. I'll find the potion, I swear it. I'm not a Hunter's daughter for nothing, she vowed.
"Do you feel better?"
"Much better." She kissed his the top of his head. "Thanks. Now how about some breakfast?"
Severus waited patiently until Arista had left for the infirmary. She had told him Neville would be arriving to play with him in two minutes, so he could sit and read or play with his potions kit until then. Normally Severus didn't mind reading and he liked playing with Neville, who could make all his stuffed animals move and chase each other. But today he wanted to do something else. Something important. He wanted to help Arista find the magic potion. If he found the potion she would be happy again and she had said she really needed it.
He slid down from the couch. She had also told him to stay here and wait for Neville, he recalled. But if he did that he wouldn't be able to search for the potion. He walked over to the door of the apartment. He usually never went beyond this door without a grown-up. Standing on tiptoe, he could just reach the doorknob.
He halted for a moment, thinking hard. If he left the room to search for the potion, Arista might be angry at him. He would be disobeying her and he had said he would be good. Then he recalled how sad she was before, when he'd hugged her. She really needed that potion, and he, Severus Snape, was very good at finding things. He knew he could find the magic potion just like he'd found his mother's earrings. Was it worth getting in trouble? Yes, he decided. He'd get a time out for sure. Maybe even a spanking. He sighed. Then again, maybe Arista would be so happy he found the potion that she wouldn't punish him, he thought hopefully. Because the potion was Really Important.
Then he grasped the doorknob in both hands and turned it.
Scout awoke from his nap before the fire at the sound of the door opening.
The magehound was on his feet immediately, looking to see who had come into Snape's quarters. Arista had told him to guard Severus just before she left, and the dog took his duty seriously. He trotted over to the door and saw his little master preparing to walk out of it.
Severus turned and petted the magehound. Scout licked his face and he giggled. "Stay, Scout!" he ordered in his best grown-up voice. "You can't come with me, boy. I'm on a quest. Like Merlin in my book."
The dog whined.
"Stay here and play with Neville," he told the golden dog, then he tried to close the door.
Now Scout would have normally obeyed the Potions Master, since Severus was his Pack Leader according to dog pack law. But this Severus was different. He smelled similar to the old Snape, but at the same time he was a child. And Scout didn't take orders from children. He played with them and watched over them, like a good beta should. And he knew instinctively that the little boy shouldn't be wandering around alone. It was too dangerous.
So he shoved his shoulder against the door Severus was trying to shut and pushed it open. Then he trotted into the corridor and sat down, giving Severus a long look.
Severus grabbed the dog by the collar. "No, Scout! Bad dog!" He tried to pull the dog back inside the apartment. "Go back home."
But Scout was immovable. He simply sat there, ignoring the child's attempts to send him back inside.
Severus huffed and glared at the dog through a stray lock of hair which had fallen into his eyes. "Why don't you listen? Go inside." He pointed a finger.
Scout barked once, then shook his floppy ears and rose to his feet. But then he trotted away down the corridor.
Severus groaned. Clearly the dog wanted to come with him. "Fine! But don't blame me if you get in trouble too," he told the stubborn magehound. He tugged the door shut, because you were supposed to shut doors when you went out.
Then he ran after the magehound as quickly as he dared, for he knew that if Neville came and found him, his quest for the potion would be over before it had begun. Scout walked easily beside the four-year-old, who hurried down the short corridor past the potions lab and made a right, heading towards the Slytherin portrait hole and the stairs beside it that led out of the dungeons.
"If I were a magic potion, Scout, where would I be?" he wondered aloud.
He looked up at the portrait of the python stretched out on a branch. The python uncurled and hissed, "Password?"
Severus paused. Maybe he should search inside the Slytherin common room? He'd been in there before, with Drake. Yes, that seemed like a good place to start searching.
"Well? Are you going to give me the password or not, kid?" the python demanded, annoyed.
"Oh, keep your scales on, you bloody snake!" Severus growled. "Hang on, I'm thinking." Drake had told him the password that day, when he'd brought the former professor to his room to get a book he'd forgotten. "Asphodel."
"Took you long enough," sneered the portrait.
"Who asked you?"
The portrait swung open and Severus stepped inside, followed immediately by Scout.
"Hey! He can't go in there! No dogs allowed. Slytherin House rules," the python cried. "What do you think this is, a zoo?"
"He's with me. Now shut up, Raj!" Somehow he knew that was the portrait's name. Raj, prince of pythons.
"Fine, but don't come whining to me when Professor Snape finds out and puts your sorry butt in detention, kid."
"I won't," Severus assured Raj cooly, wondering who this other Professor Snape was. Maybe it was another cousin. He seemed to have an awful lot of them around here.
He beckoned Scout onward and stepped out of the short tunnel into the common room. The portrait hole swung shut behind him. Just in time too, because he heard footsteps going past. "Come on, Scout. We'll look in here first."
Severus began to search the common room, standing on the couch to look on the bookshelves and the tables. He knew the potion would be a glowing peach color, but all he found on the table were the remains of somebody's breakfast and a bunch of old quills and crumpled parchments.
He decided to search the boys' dormitory next, and headed left through the archway.
Meanwhile, Neville had arrived at the Potion Master's quarters five minutes after Severus had left. He was a bit late. He'd gotten there as quickly as he could, running all the way from Herbolbogy. He leaned against the door, panting and trying to catch his breath. Then he opened it and went inside. "Severus? It's me, Neville."
That was odd. Arista had assured him the professor was awake and playing with his child's potion kit. "Severus?" Neville didn't see him anywhere. He went into the all the bedrooms. They were empty. The potion kit was on the floor of Sev's room, still half full of some kind of purple liquid that was bubbling.
Neville started to panic. Where was the child? "Severus? Where are you?" He checked the bathroom. "Is this some kind of game you're playing?" He remembered one day last week when the little boy had decided to hide from him and Drake and they searched for over twenty minutes before they found him, curled up under some blankets in the back of a closet. Drake had been furious and had scolded Snape and put him in time out for ten minutes, Neville recalled with a smile. "Severus? Come out wherever you are!" he called, hoping to make the child reveal himself.
Minutes passed and Neville felt the cold feeling in his stomach increase. "This isn't funny anymore, Sev!" he said loudly. "If you don't come out this minute, I'll-I'll put you in time out." Oh sure you will, Neville. That'll be the day, you punishing the professor, mocked a small voice in the back of his head. Frantic now, he ran through the quartet of rooms again, looking behind the couch, inside the closet, and under the bed.
The Potions Master was nowhere to be found.
"Oh my good God!" he whispered, looking about the deserted apartment in utter despair. "I've lost the professor. Arista's going to kill me!"
Sev had searched the entire boys' dorm and found no trace of the Aging Potion. He'd made sure to look on all the shelves and the desk and inside the trunks he could get open. He knew it wasn't nice to do that, his mother had said so, but this was for a Very Good Reason and he was careful to put everything back just the way he'd found it. Mostly.
Scout had grown bored after about fifteen minutes and flopped down on Drake's bed to take a short nap. He could hear Severus fine even dozing, his ears were super sharp, and he knew the boy wouldn't leave the portrait hole without him.
The four-year-old was growing a little weary, but he was determined to find the magic potion. He left the boys' side of the dorm and headed to the right of the archway. "That's the girls' country. We don't go in there," he remembered Drake telling him last week.
But he had to, because the potion might be in there. Cautiously, he crept into the girls' dorm. Apart from the frilly green bed hangings and the many pairs of shoes and skirts thrown all over, it looked nearly the same as the boys' room. Except there were more desks and two mirrors and shelves over each of the beds. Some of the shelves had books on them, but most of them had assortments of little boxes and bottles and containers. The child looked at the assortment of bottles and things in dismay. Why did the girls have so many things all over? What were they all for?
He dragged a chair over to the closest shelf and climbed on it. Then he began opening all of the little boxes and bottles. He soon discovered most of the things inside were jewelry or different kinds of cream or powder, perfume, and something his mother had called make-up. "Why do girls need all this junk?" he wondered aloud. "Boys don't."
He climbed down and pulled the chair over to the next shelf and checked it out. This one had more books on it than boxes and he was done with it fairly shortly. But there was still more to go. Patiently he went through each shelf, wishing he were taller so he didn't have to keep climbing up and down on the chair. It was a real pain in the behind being small! I wish I was taller, then I wouldn't need this bloody chair.
Finally he came to a shelf that was a bit longer than all the others. It also contained more than the usual amount of bottles of perfume, make-up, and expensive jars of skin cream, hair products and the like. That was because the shelf belonged to Brittany Marsh, Hogwarts' resident glamour queen.
Severus didn't know that, of course. All he knew was that it was going to take practically forever to search this whole shelf. "Bloody hell!" he muttered, glad no one could hear him.
But after looking through a dozen bottles and containers, he moved a large vial of hairspray and there, sitting against the wall, was a small crystal vial of sparkly peach potion.
Severus's eyes widened.
The magic potion.
His hand closed over the delicate bottle.
"I found it!" he cried in delight.
"Hey! What are you doing in here, you little brat?"
Severus spun around so fast he knocked some of the other bottles off the shelf. They fell onto the floor with a crash.
"Now see what you've done!" cried Brittany, gaping in astonishment at the sight of her former professor rummaging through her private stock of beauty products. "You destructive little snot! Those cost me fifty Galleons!"
"It was an accident," Severus tried to explain.
But Brittany wasn't having any of it. She hated people touching her things and especially little children. She advanced on the child, her eyes flashing. "Accident my arse! Didn't your mother ever teach you not to touch other people's things?"
Snape looked up at her nervously. He had the feeling he was in trouble. "I was looking for the magic potion. And I found it."
Brittany gasped in horror. She had forgotten she had hidden the Aging Potion there. It had been a temporary hiding place, she hadn't planned to keep it for very long, just long enough to blackmail Arista.
Brittany was almost failing Potions this year and she needed to maintain a decent average or else she wouldn't be able to play Quidditch. That was one of Slytherin House rules, all Quidditch players had to maintain at least a C average or else they were kicked off the team. A month ago, Professor Snape had called her on the carpet and told her point blank that unless she brought up her grades she was off the team.
"But sir! You can't!" she had cried. "I'm the best Beater Slytherin has! We won the last three games because of me! We'll lose the season if I don't play."
"Then I suggest you put your nose in your books and study, Miss Marsh, because if you fail another potions exam you can watch the rest of the season from the stands." He'd sneered. "You know the rules and I won't bend them for anyone, not even you. Now quit whining and start studying. Dismissed."
She stomped off, mentally calling him every bad word she knew.
He'd called after her, "Sulking and stamping your feet like a baby won't help you, young lady. Lose the attitude or I'll make you wish you had."
"Yes, sir," she'd muttered sullenly, wishing she could tell him to go to hell. Bloody perfectionist strict bastard! No other House had to maintain academic standards in order to play Quidditch. Only Slytherins, because Snape was their bloody Head of House and he insisted upon it.
Neville's potions accident had seemed like a Godsend to the spoiled girl, who didn't see why she had to get good marks in potions or anything else. She was a Quidditch player and that plus her popularity and her father's money was all she needed. School was a waste of time, good for only one thing, meeting boys and making friends with the other social elite in the wizarding world.
The past three weeks had been a joke, the substitute for potions had barely made them brew anything and she had managed to sweet talk the silly man into giving her perfect marks in all the labs, he was impressed with her background and her beauty.
Even so, she knew that wouldn't save her once Professor Snape was back in charge. Her background and looks had never mattered a Knut to him. She knew that he didn't like her and the feeling was mutual. So when she'd overheard the conversation between Daddy's Pet Arista and her little reject friends at lunch yesterday, she'd gotten the brilliant idea to sneak into the potions lab and steal their precious Aging Potion. It offered her a bargaining chip of unparalleled power. Arista would do anything to restore her arrogant twit of a father. Even help her arch enemy pass potions by giving her all the answers to every exam.
And now here was this—this brat of a Potions Master conspiring to ruin all of her plans.
She saw red. "Give me that!" She grabbed the child by the shoulder and tried to snatch the bottle out of his hand.
"No! It's mine! It's for Arista!"
"Give it back, you little sneak!" she screeched, shaking him.
Severus's head was jerked back and forth, but he held onto the bottle stubbornly. "You can't have it. Arista needs it, it's her magic potion."
"Is not!" She tried again to pry it from his grip.
"Is too! Get off me!"
"Sniveling brat! It's mine!"
"Liar! You stole it!"
She grabbed Severus's wrist, twisting it hard. It hurt but he didn't let go. He glared up at her angrily, tears glinting in his eyes. To his horror, he felt the bottle start to slip from his grasp. So he did the only thing he could think of to make the nasty girl let go of his wrist.
He reached up with his other hand and yanked a fistful of her long blond hair.
"Yeeow!" Brittany yowled. She released his wrist, and he caught the bottle just before it fell. Then he went to jump down from the chair and run away.
But Brittany wasn't a star Beater for nothing and she had quick reflexes. She also was spitting mad. "Little rat bastard!" she howled, and then she backhanded Severus across the face, knocking him off the chair.
He landed on the floor with a thud, cradling the potion so it didn't break. His face hurt terribly, but he refused to cry. He knew better than to cry in front a bully like this. That was what they wanted. Instead he glared up at her, blinking back tears, and slowly climbed to his feet, the potion bottle still clutched in his hands.
For one instant they remained frozen, the defiant child and the furious teenager, whose hand was lifted for another smack.
Until there came a snarl from behind her.
Brittany screamed as sharp teeth sank into her behind and something smashed into the back of her knees, knocking her face first on the ground.
It was Scout, who had woken up to hear Severus yelling and come to see what was the matter, only to find an unknown girl attacking his charge. Magehounds were very protective of children and Scout was no exception.
He had seen Brittany knock his little master flying and that was a biting offense according to his training. Only an alpha had the right to discipline a pup, and never like that.
"Aaah!" Brittany was screaming and wriggling on the floor. "Bloody beast! Get it off me! Help!"
Scout nipped her again and she shrieked, certain she was being eaten alive by whatever had invaded the Slytherin dorm. Hot breath curled down the back of her neck and she could hear it growling and panting. She sobbed in terror.
Scout ignored her panicked screeching, continuing to hold her on the floor, pinning her expertly with all four feet and the full weight of his ninety-five pounds. Thus had he been taught to restrain criminals until a Hunter came to apprehend them.
"Help! Get it OFF! Jim! Draco! Pansy!"
Brittany's screams could be heard all the way down the corridor, where Neville and Drake were now searching for the missing Snape.
"What the bloody hell?" Drake looked at Neville. They drew their wands and Drake spoke the word to the Slytherin portrait hole.
They burst into the girls' dorm to see an astonishing sight. Brittany Marsh, Queen of Quidditch and queen bee, pinned on the floor, her robes askew, her hair straggling all over, screaming bloody murder while a snarling magehound stood on top of her.
A few feet away stood little Severus, staring at the girl with something resembling hatred, a huge hand print covering his face, holding the missing Aging Potion.
The two boys remained for a moment with their mouths open, until Drake caught sight of poor Severus's face and shouted, "Marsh, you bloody bitch! You hit Professor Snape! What the hell's wrong with you?"
Brittany spoke through a curtain of hair. "Don't just stand there, Lockwood, get this rabid beast off of me! I can't reach my wand and it bit me!"
"Good for you, Scout!" Drake praised.
Neville knelt beside Severus. "Are you okay?" He was horrified at the way the child's face was starting to darken and swell.
Severus nodded, wincing. "Uh huh. She wanted Arista's magic potion, but I wouldn't give it to her. Then she hit me, the bloody thief."
Just then Arista burst into the room, followed by Dumbledore. The Headmaster had come down to the infirmary to question Arista about the progress she had made with the Aging Potion and Arista had told him of the potion's theft. She had felt Severus's silent cry of pain when Brittany had struck him through her empathic blood link and had immediately bolted out of the room.
"Something's wrong with Dad!" she yelled to Dumbledore, who raced after her.
She followed her father's empathic signature to the dungeons and into the portrait hole, which Dumbledore knew the password to. Arista assessed the scene rapidly, her eyes taking in the dog, the Slytherin on the floor, and her father, who had a bruise across his face the likes of which she'd never seen.
"Oh my God, who did this to you?" she cried, reaching out to Severus.
"She did," answered Snape. "She wanted the magic potion." He opened his hands and showed Arista the missing potion.
"Would somebody mind getting this bloody dog off me?" screeched Brittany.
Dumbledore came and stood gazing down at the disheveled girl and the angry dog. "Arista, if you please, tell Scout to move off of Miss Marsh."
Arista longed to tell the dog to bite the spoiled girl instead, but she could not disobey her Headmaster. "Scout, release!"
Reluctantly, the dog obeyed, stepping off the prostrate witch. But he remained alert, watching the girl closely.
Dumbledore gave her a hand up from the floor, looking at her with concern and disapproval. "Would you like to explain what happened here, Miss Marsh?"
Brittany shoved her hair out of her eyes and sniffed. She was a mess, her face red and blotchy, her eyeliner running down her face in black streaks. "Isn't it obvious, sir? I found that little brat—"she pointed to Snape, who was in Arista's arms. "—going through my things. He took something and wouldn't give it back. I tried to get it and he fell and then that—that rabid beast of a magehound bit me and knocked me down! It's a menace and ought to be destroyed!" She rubbed her bottom, wincing.
"That little brat is your professor, Brittany," Dumbledore reproved. "You will address him as such."
"He's a thief too!"
That was too much for Severus. "Am not! You are! You took Arista's magic potion. I found it, right there behind that bottle of red stuff," he pointed to the shelf above Brittany's bed.
Dumbledore frowned. "Is that so, Miss Marsh? Did you take the Aging Potion?"
Brittany bit her lip and glanced away. "It was a mistake . . .I went to get a bottle of Sleeping Draft from the potions lab and picked this up by mistake. I was going to return it."
"She's lying, Professor," Arista put in. "I can feel it."
"Stay out of my head, you bloody snoop!" Brittany snarled, glaring in hatred at the other girl.
"Then tell the truth, why don't you, you coward! How dare you hit a defenseless child?" Arista felt her hand curl into a fist. "I ought to knock your damn teeth down your throat, Marsh!"
"Ladies, please!" Dumbledore stepped between them. "Let us settle this without further bloodshed, if you please." He turned to Brittany. "Miss Marsh, striking a professor is a serious offense, for whatever reason."
"B-But sir, he's not my teacher now, he's nothing but a little sneaking snot!"
Dumbledore's eyes narrowed. "That does not excuse your actions, Miss Marsh. Harming a child is against Hogwarts code of conduct. As is stealing school property."
"What school property?"
"The Aging Potion Arista made for her father is considered school property. As such, your mistaken borrowing of it is also a grave breach of school rules. I fear I have no choice but to punish you as would your Head of House, acting in his absence."
"What? But Professor—he had no right to come search through my private things! And what about that bloody dog, going around and biting people for no reason . . .!"
"No reason!" Arista shouted, gesturing angrily to Severus. "He bit you because you nearly knocked his master into next week, you spoiled selfish harpy! If it were me, I'd have bitten you three times as bad."
"Yeah!" added Snape.
"Severus, please hush," the elder wizard ordered softly. "Let me handle this, child. Brittany, a magehound will never bite unless provoked, that is a fact, according to the AMA. I would say, given the circumstances, Scout had plenty of provocation. That being so, you cannot bring charges against him, since he was only protecting his master from a threat. I will send you to Poppy later so she can heal you. However, this still leaves the matter of your behavior to deal with. Since Professor Snape is currently unable to carry out his own punishments, I will do so."
"But you're the Headmaster!"
"I can still give out detentions, young lady," Dumbledore said sternly. "Miss Marsh, you are now banned from Quidditch for the rest of the season. In addition to that, you will write a three-foot essay apologizing to Professor Snape for striking him and taking a potion from his personal stores. You will turn it in to him when he has been restored to his proper age. Last but not least, I shall be sending a letter home informing your parents of your shameful conduct. Hopefully this shall convince you to modify your behavior in the future, young lady."
Brittany was gaping at him in shock. "Sir, you can't make me . . .he'll kill me if he finds out . . ."
"Oh, I highly doubt that, Miss Marsh. Professor Snape will not harm you, though he may add detentions of his choosing to what I have given you." The old wizard fixed her with a sharp glare worthy of his Potions Master. "You should be thankful, Miss Marsh, that you did not attend Hogwarts in my day. For in my day, were a student to strike a professor, she would have received a paddling." The girl gasped. "However, that is not school policy any more, so you may be grateful for small mercies. Now, I think you have a class you need to go to. You may see me in my office at seven o'clock to begin writing your essay, and I will examine it before I allow you to turn it in. Dismissed."
Brittany turned and flounced out, her face blazing. "I hate you!" Drake heard her mutter as she went by.
"Oh, Miss Marsh?" called Dumbledore. "You might want Poppy to take a look at those bites. Dog bites will fester if untreated."
"Yes, sir," came the sulky response.
Drake, Neville, and Arista exchanged glances of unmitigated glee at seeing their rival dressed down so thoroughly.
"Guess you told her, sir," Neville whistled.
Dumbledore laughed. "I would say so, Neville." He turned to look at Severus. "Are you all right, my boy?"
"Yeah. It's not that bad."
"It should never have happened. Not here," Dumbledore said sharply. "Forgive me, child. I should have protected you better."
"It's okay. Arista can fix it," Severus reassured him.
And she did, touching his face lightly with a finger and summoning up her healing gift. The bruise and swelling vanished as if it had never been.
"See?" he told the Headmaster. "No worries. I'm better."
"Oh, Severus!" Dumbledore smiled, then he reached out and hugged the child to him, as he had longed to do years ago, when he had first learned of the abuse the boy had suffered at the hands of his father. He had not dared then, for the proud youngster would have never permitted it, but the four-year-old had no such reservations, and melted into the older wizard's embrace.
Holding young Severus eased some of the guilt Dumbledore felt at not being able to comfort the Potions Master the first time around. Snape simply allowed himself to be held, knowing that he was safe with this man, who would protect him as his father never had. He put his head on Dumbledore's shoulder and closed his eyes. In five seconds he was fast asleep.
The old wizard smiled. "I shall be happy to have my Potions Master back, but I will miss the innocent child he is now," he admitted softly to the other students. They all nodded in silent understanding. Then they followed the Headmaster back to Snape's quarters so he could put the exhausted child down for a nap.
They gave the Aging Potion an extra day to settle due to the incident with Marsh. By now it was all over the school how Brittany had earned herself detention with Dumbledore and was banned from Quidditch. Marcus Flint, the Slytherin team captain, was furious with her and so were most of the members of her House, for they respected their Head of House greatly.
Drake said later to Arista that Marsh should thank her lucky stars he wasn't Headmaster. "I'd have paddled her backside all right and to hell with school policy."
Trish and Arista agreed with him.
Finally, on November 23rd, the potion was ready. Arista brought Severus to the infirmary, for she wished Poppy to be present in case something untoward should happen. She had explained to the child that the magic potion they had made was for him and it would give him back some memories he had forgotten and also awaken his magic.
Severus drank it down eagerly. His body was suffused with a golden glow. He cried out in fright, for the potion made him dizzy and he felt as if his body were being pulled every which way. Arista reached out and held his hand. "Don't fight it, Dad," she urged. "Just let go. I'm here."
Severus trusted her and he obeyed, allowing the potion to work, fainting in her arms a moment later. She gently laid him down on the bed, monitoring him with her healing sense. "It's working. In twelve hours he'll be thirty-four again."
"What about his memories? Will he remember anything about the past month?" asked Trish.
"Who knows? We'll just have to wait and see."
Twelve hours later a restored Professor Snape was lying in the hospital bed, dressed in a pair of familiar black professor's robes. But he had not yet awakened from his charmed sleep.
Arista fell asleep on a cot next to him waiting for him to wake up.
Professor Snape sat up and rubbed his eyes. He was not surprised to find himself in the Hospital Wing, for he quite clearly recalled the potion exploding. He looked about, relieved that Longbottom was not there as well. He had saved the boy from a nasty burn at least. He examined himself carefully, noting that he did not appear to have any scarring or injuries. Then again, he knew that Arista had probably healed him as soon as he had been brought here.
He turned his head and saw his daughter asleep on the cot and smiled. Typical Healer. Never leave until the patient's out of danger. Strange, but he had the oddest dream while he was asleep. In it he had been a child again, four or thereabouts, and he'd been running about Hogwarts, causing mischief. Arista had been in it, as had Trish, and all of their friends. He rubbed his eyes again.
That dream . . .it had been so vivid . . .as if he'd actually lived it. He shook his head. Ridiculous . . .and yet . . .if he closed his eyes he could recall Arista holding him and singing to him, and Trish playing with him . . .he remembered Drake and Kit jumping up and down on his living room couch with him . . .Dear Merlin, what were they thinking? . . .Then he smirked, because he also remembered just how much fun it was . . .except for when Hermione had come in and yelled at them for making a mess . . .Memories whirled through his head and he gasped, nearly overwhelmed by them.
Then his natural mental discipline reasserted itself and he began to reassert control over the cascade of images, processing each one separately. He would not allow himself to be overrun with dreams or visions or whatever they were. My mind rules, not my heart.
By the time he'd managed to sort out the chaos in his head, he was tired again. He decided to sleep a bit, but then his eye was caught by the empty crystal vial on the nightstand. Curious as to what kind of potion had been given to him to heal him, he picked up the vial and sniffed experimentally.
The unmistakable smell of summer peaches wafted into his nostrils.
Merlin's balls! That's no Sleeping Draft, Severus, that's an Aging Potion.
He gently set the vial back on the nightstand. Which meant that all those oddball dreams he'd thought he'd had were no dreams.
They were memories.
Oh hell, I can't deal with this right now, he thought wearily. Then he buried his face in his pillow and fell asleep again.
"So do you remember anything that happened to you in the past month, Dad?" Arista queried the next afternoon, as the family ate dinner with the restored professor in his quarters.
"Some of it. Some of it is very hazy and I don't think I'll remember much in a few months. But some things, I remember very clearly. Like pulling Marsh's hair and chasing stars with Mel." He smiled, amused.
"Anything else?" Arista asked cautiously.
He tapped his chin thoughtfully. "Well, I remember going shopping with you two, big surprise there. And reading books, I've always loved to read, as I'm sure you've guessed. My mother taught me to read when I was very young."
"Um . . .Severus, do you remember anything else?" Trish asked, gulping.
"Like something with peas," Arista offered, blushing.
His brow furrowed. "You know, now that you mention it, I do. For some reason, I threw peas at you, Arista."
"Yeah, you sure did."
"And then . . .I think you yelled at me for it . . ."
"Uh, I also, um, made you sit in time out for five minutes," his daughter admitted, staring down at her plate.
"As well you should have, my girl."
"Then you're not mad?"
"For what? For disciplining me the way my mother would have?" Severus shook his head, his dark eyes sparkling. He looked at Trish, who had been fidgeting with her fork nervously. "Is that what's got you all upset, Tricia?"
"Uh . . .yeah. Do you remember me trying to comb your hair?"
"I know my mother dreaded that chore, for I was an absolute wretch and hated getting my hair combed. We fought many battles over that," he admitted wryly.
"Did she, uh, ever . . .swat you . . .for, um, fighting with her?"
"Oh, yes. I earned myself a smack or two nearly every day for behaving like a demon." He raised an eyebrow. "You mean to tell me . . .?"
Trish nodded. "You kicked me and I smacked you. Twice. Am I dead now? Are you, like, gonna ground me forever? I'm really sorry!"
To her utter shock he burst out laughing.
"Silly girl, of course not. From what I recall, both then and now, I deserved everything I got. I was never an easy child to deal with, and I'm happy you didn't allow me to run wild. What I remember best about being with you two was that I was happy. Very happy. And I thank you both for taking such good care of me."
"You're welcome, Dad," Arista said. "We learned from the best."
Professor Snape smiled. Then he held out his arms and his daughters fell into them, laughing and crying. "What's this? Why all the waterworks?"
"Because . . ." Trish hiccupped. "We really missed you, Dad. The adult you, I mean. Our father."
"A lot," Arista added. "And we're really happy to have you back."
"And I'm happy to be back, girls." He hugged them tightly. "I missed you too."
They spent the rest of the night talking over tea and scones, happy to be a normal family once more.
The next afternoon, Professor Snape was back in his classroom, teaching and grading papers with all of his old fire. His students, even the Gryffindors, were unusually well-behaved, and Neville managed to correctly brew a potion for the first time since summer Remedial Potions. Severus raised an eyebrow at that and awarded twenty-five points to Gryffindor for the occurrence of a miracle. He began to suspect the students had missed him, even if only a little.
He looked up from the current batch of assignments he was grading to see Hermione standing before him. "Yes, Miss Granger? What obscure question would you like me to answer for you now?"
Hermione glanced down at her shoes. Then she looked directly into the dark eyes of her Potions Master and said quietly, "Just this, sir. I wanted to tell you thank you, Professor Snape."
"For what, Miss Granger?"
Hermione took a deep breath. Then she said, all in a rush, "For everything you taught me, sir. I . . I learned a lot from you, sir . . .and it really helped when I . . .I had to analyze Neville's solution, so I could . . .anyway, I just wanted to tell you that . . .sir."
She waited in dread for the sarcastic comment, for him to say it was about time the know-it-all learned she didn't know quite as much as she thought she did.
"Miss Granger, look at me."
She did, and saw a faint smile quirk up a corner of his mouth. "Do you know, you are one of the few students besides my daughters who have ever said that to me? Most students don't appreciate my teaching methods until they're graduated."
"I do, sir."
"Obviously," he drawled. "And I believe I need to thank you as well, for Arista tells me you helped her greatly in discovering the unstable element in Longbottom's potion and isolating it so she could properly brew the Aging Potion."
"You're welcome, sir." Hermione said and smiled. Then she added, greatly daring, "Sometimes, it's not so bad being a know-it-all."
Snape stared at her for a full minute. Then he nodded, and she saw amusement deep in his dark eyes. "Indeed, Miss Granger." Then he returned to his former stern mask. "Well, if that's all you had to say, best you hurry on to class."
He rose to his feet. "I'll come with you part of the way. I've a student to see about a detention. One that's long overdue." And his eyes flashed dangerously.
Hermione said nothing, knowing full well what he was talking about. And she was very grateful right then that she was plain Muggleborn Hermione Jane Granger. For she wouldn't be in Brittany Marsh's shoes for all the Galleons in Gringotts. Professor Snape was back with a vengeance, and rule breakers beware!