On the last day of term, about a week after Sirius's death, Rose discovers Snape waiting for her near her favorite hiding place by the lake.
Since that night at the Ministry, Rose has spent hours, days, sitting here watching the squid and listening to the breeze in the rushes. It is the only place she can go to escape the looks everyone is giving her. She doesn't want to talk to anyone, doesn't want to cry on anyone's shoulder. They mean well, her friends, but sympathy isn't what she needs right now.
Snape has been trying to get her alone for awhile. She has been ignoring him. She can't imagine what he wants with her—pats on the back aren't really his style, apologies even less so. She stops when she sees him, immediately starting back the way she came, but his voice, low and tight, stops her in her tracks.
"Do not turn your back on me again, Miss Potter," he says. "Term is not over yet."
She turns to face him again, slowly, and their eyes lock. "I haven't got anything to say to you," she tells him, discovering even as she speaks that for once she doesn't care how angry this will make him. But she doesn't test him by walking away. She brushes past him instead, and drops to the ground on the edge of the lake, drawing her knees up to her chest and staring down at the water.
Snape comes to stand just behind her, blocking out the sun over her head; she can feel the warmth of his body against her back, all the summer heat absorbed by his dark robes radiating outward.
"Melodramatics ill become you," he says to the top of her head.
She doesn't say anything. She barely hears him. She tears a small fistful of reeds from the earth and begins to braid them. Her hair hangs thick and heavy around her face.
Snape steps forward, then sinks to the ground beside her. Rose feels the flutter of his cloak against her bare arm as he turns his head and looks down his hooked nose at her.
"I had a talk with Black the night he died," he tells her.
Something about the forthright way he says Sirius's name makes it possible for her to stop what she's doing and look at him without flinching. No one besides Dumbledore and Luna Lovegood have dared to speak his name in her presence since the night he died. She hadn't realized how much she missed it until now.
"What did you talk about?" she asks, finding her mouth dry.
"He related to me the particulars of a conversation that took place between the two of you...on a certain night."
Rose feels herself pale, feels the blood sink uselessly from her brain and throat to settle in her legs, making them heavy, making it impossible to stand up and run away.
"He talked to you about that?" she says, when she is able.
"I required him to do so," Snape says, and his voice is cold, colder than the breeze stirring the Veil after Sirius fell through it.
Rose can see it easily in her mind's eye: Snape and Sirius, wands at each other's throat—the Shrieking Shack all over again. Only this time Sirius was guilty of everything Snape would have accused him of.
"You bastard," she whispers.
The muscles around Snape's mouth jumps; it looks almost like a flinch. "Control yourself, Miss Potter—"
"You did it on purpose," she says, plowing across his reprimand. "Right before he was about to come after me. So he'd feel guilty and be reckless and get himself killed."
"You know perfectly well I could not have stopped him running after you if I had wished to," Snape says, and the words sound strange without a sneer behind them. "But I won't pretend that I tried very hard."
Somewhere deep inside there's a fury waiting to possess her, but it can't find its way to the surface just now. She remembers back to the Occlumency lesson where Snape had seen that memory of her and Sirius—how her own shame had been swallowed up, incinerated in the heat of Snape's outrage. I will kill him Snape had said, and Rose had defended her godfather. Not as vehemently as she might have done, though. She had not forgotten how it had felt to be afraid of Sirius, after all—how it had felt to be alone with him in that house afterward, how part of her had felt trapped in that cold, echoing emptiness ever since.
Rose covers her face with her hands. "Go away," she tells Snape. "Please. I can't—look at you right now."
"You needn't," Snape tells her. "Only listen."
Suddenly furious, Rose starts to push herself up off the ground, and he adds, "Take one more step away from me, and I will restrain you bodily."
She halts, and sinks down again, shivering in the sunlight. Beside her, Snape clasps his hands over his knees.
"Between what Black told me," he says, "and what I saw in your feathery little brain during the debacle that was your Occlumency lessons, it has become apparent that you cannot return to your aunt and uncle's home for the summers any longer."
"Why not?" Rose says, in a voice that might have been bitter, if she could have summoned the energy. "Why bother moving me now? You saw what they were like when you came to fetch me summer before my second year, you thought it was good enough for me then."
When Snape's long, bony fingers close around her wrist, she tries to jerk away, gasping at the unexpected contact. He does not let her go, however. She watches as the fingers of his other hand trace a patch of shiny skin on the inside of her arm, a burn scar from a cooking accident three years ago.
"You're quite wrong," he says quietly, and the flesh all along her arm prickles under his touch. She yanks her arm away again, and this time he releases her.
"Where'm I going, then?" she says roughly, averting her eyes.
"To Grimmauld Place," Snape says. "Where you will, technically, be on your own recognizance. In reality, however, every member of the Order with a spare moment on their hands will undoubtedly swoop down upon you in an effort to cheer you up."
The sneer she gives him is, she hopes, quite as nasty as any of his own. She's spent enough time with him in the last year that she ought to have perfected his technique by now. "Including you?"
Snape arches an eyebrow at her. "So long as you do yourself no harm, I would not presume to interfere in how you choose to grieve."
"So does that mean you'll be there, or you won't?"
"I cannot say."
This time when Rose rises and walks away Snape does not try stop her.
Rose leads a pretty weird life, even for a witch—probably even for a Muggle-raised witch with no parents. She's an orphan, and she's the Girl Who Lived; she belongs to nobody, so in a way she belongs to everybody. Everyone who doesn't want to kill her wants to protect her. And Rose has to let them.
She could never regret finding out she's a witch, but she can't help thinking that if she'd stayed in Surrey and attended a Muggle high school, it wouldn't have been up to her headmaster to decide where she spent her holidays, and the chances of being cooped up in a house with any of her teachers for most of a summer would have been fairly slim.
Snape is in the house a lot more often than his offhand remark at the end of term had implied he would be. Rose wouldn't care, except that when he's around she can't seem to get a single moment to herself. He always has jobs for her, petty, sarcastic observations to make, potions for her to brew that will undoubtedly turn up on her NEWT examinations.
One day she locks her door and refuses to answer when he knocks. He responds by Apparating directly into her bedroom.
"I might have been dressing!" she howls, because she can't quite bring herself to say "naked" to Snape.
"What fun that would have been for all involved," he says in a bored sort of voice, then hauls her by the elbow down into the parlor, to teach her how to extract the venom from doxy fangs.
After about two weeks of this, she finally gets it. He's doing exactly what he said he would never do—he's trying to distract her from brooding over Sirius.
Rose isn't sure how she feels about it at first, but the more she thinks about it, the more she wants to kill him.
She has known Snape for five years now and in all that time she's never been able to predict where she stands with him from one moment to the next. Sometimes she thinks the pattern of their relationship was established for good her first week in Potions: Snape had asked her a question, and when she couldn't answer it he had mocked her in front of everyone. Ron had assured her this was perfectly normal for Snape, and she had been prepared to dismiss him as a wizard version of Uncle Vernon, until he held her after class the next day and presented her with a short but daunting list of books to read, "to compensate for the deficiencies of her upbringing". Ron had howled even louder when he saw it. "No one gets that much homework, not even the seventh years!" he had said. But Hermione had taken a look at the list and handed it back to Rose with a nod. She had already read them all, of course. Eventually, Rose read them too. And Snape was right; they had helped, a lot. On the other hand, as soon as her performance in Potions started to improve, Snape began asking her harder questions and embarrassing her even worse if she couldn't answer them. But he kept handing her papers back with book titles scribbled in the top margin, and Rose continued to read them. And so on.
Whenever Snape gets the chance, he berates her for stupidity, or inattention, or recklessness. Or he insults her father, her godfather, or Remus. He takes house points from Gryffindor at the slightest excuse, and sometimes with no excuse at all. He's tried to have her expelled at least twice that she knows of, and there are times when he looks at her with an expression of loathing so intense that it frightens her.
But there are other times when he's different. She has a brief but vivid memory of waking up in the hospital wing at the end of her first year, to find Dumbledore by her bed and Snape lurking in a corner behind him. Snape was gone by the time she awoke fully, but she knows what she saw. And there was that time during third year when Malfoy had pinned her to a wall and tried to grope her. Snape had turned the corner suddenly, and Malfoy had backed off so fast that Rose was sure Snape would never believe her if she told him what happened—but as it turned out, she hadn't had to explain. People were sufficiently impressed by the fact that Snape took points from Slytherin for the first time in living memory that no one had questioned them too closely when Rose claimed to have been the one who Stunned Malfoy, though McGonagall had looked pointedly at her wand, lying ten feet down the corridor, and arched her eyebrows.
And then, at the end of her fourth year, Rose had returned from the Third Task, clinging to Cedric's body, and Snape—iSnape/i, who had driven her to tears with his mocking after the story got out about Rose asking Cedric to the Yule Ball and being turned down—had reached her before anyone, even Dumbledore. For a few minutes the feel of his hands on her shoulders, the sound of his voice, low and soothing in her ears, had been the only things tethering her mind to her body, and afterwards, after Moody's horrible transformation into Crouch, she had not let go of Snape's arm until she had to.
All in all, Rose can't help feeling sometimes that her relationship with Snape is a little more complicated than her relationship with any of her teachers ought to be.
But that's the Wizarding world all over. There are never clear boundaries, and just when you think you've found the line that separates one thing from another, the staircase decides to lead to a different floor, or the hedges in the maze close off one path and shunt you down another. Rose is getting tired of all the bramble. One of these days she's going to start hacking through it with the first sharp instrument she can lay hands on.
"What did you just say to me?" Snape says, in a dangerous voice.
Rose sits on the rug before the fire in the parlor, leafing through the second volume in the set of Defense books Sirius and Remus gave her for Christmas last year. She isn't reading, exactly. She was, before Snape had entered the room, but now she's just looking down at the pages to make it clear she has better things to do than listen to him.
She replies without looking up. "I said, sir, that I haven't got the slightest intention of listening to a word of your lecturing or performing a single one of your bloody pointless tasks today." She turns a page, pointedly.
"Is that a fact?" Snape says in a soft voice, taking a further step into the parlor. Rose is suddenly highly conscious of the fact that they are alone in the house, and he is between her and the only exit from the room. "Then may I ask how, precisely, you intend to occupy your copious leisure time?"
"No idea," she says. "But that's not really any of your business is it?"
"Your business is my business, Miss Potter."
"You know, I really don't think it is," she says idly, turning another page in her book.
A second later, her hands are empty; Snape has Summoned the book wordlessly from the far side of the room. He catches it deftly in one hand and stands examining it with an expression of amused distaste that grows into a full-fledged sneer when he reads the inscription on the fly-leaf.
"So," he says. "You are taking a day to moon over your dogfather. Very well." Snape tosses the book carelessly onto a sofa and deposits himself in an armchair close to it. He crosses his legs and steeples his fingers together on his knee, and Rose, still seated on the floor beneath that gaze, begins to wonder if provoking him was really such a good idea. "I shall assist your reminiscence."
"I think I can manage on my own, thanks," Rose says, starting to get to her feet, but like that day by the lake, Snape points his wand at her, and she reads the silent threat in the action. Since the only thing worse than being forced to listen to Snape insulting Sirius for an hour would be doing it in a full body-bind, she heads for an armchair instead of the door, and curls up in it like a cat, knowing her slovenly posture will get on Snape's nerves.
Snape stares at her for a long moment, as though she is an unfamiliar potion and he is attempting to divine the components that make her up.
"You know, of course, that Black was in love with your father?" he says abruptly, more in the tone of an announcement than a question.
Rose finds herself flushing furiously, but she doesn't shout, and she doesn't balk. She knows what he's doing, where he's going with this. It's not like she hasn't thought over the subject on her own. She steels herself before she replies, determined to give nothing away.
"Bit difficult to miss," she says lightly.
He arches an eyebrow at her, but not before she detects the flicker of surprise across his features. "And this makes no difference to you?"
"Why should it?" she says, and then, because she knows exactly what sort of reply he will make to that question if she lets him, adds another one to distract him. "Was my dad ever...were they ever together like that?"
"Hardly," Snape says, and Rose tries not to sag in relief. "James Potter considered himself well served by Black's devotion, without needing to reciprocate it. And for Black's part, he wouldn't have dared be seen forming any such...socially awkward attachments." Snape begins to smile; Rose finds it a rather unpleasant sight. "I imagine that clapping eyes on you for the first time was—quite a revelation for him."
Rose finds suddenly that her stomach for this conversation is not as strong as she thought. "I don't want to talk about this anymore," she says, and this time when she stands up she draws her wand before he has the chance to lay hands on his.
"Why can't you just stop?" she shouts, appalled to find herself on the edge of tears. "He's dead. Aren't you satisfied yet? It's not him you're hurting anymore, it's me." She takes a step backwards towards the door. "Or is that the point?"
She flees the room before Snape's stunned expression can convert to one of fury, before she has to find out whether or not she really could beat him in a duel. She takes the stairs two at a time, nearly tripping twice before she reaches the third floor landing where Sirius' room is.
It's not the room where he'd lived as a child. He showed her that one once, and they'd laughed over the way he'd decorated it, all on purpose to make his parents angry. The one where he lived all last year is a mostly-bare guest chamber, and she's only ever been in it once before. She realizes now it had been stupid to come here instead of her own room—That Night is the last thing she wants to think about right now—but she doesn't want to meet Snape on the stair going back down. She sinks onto the edge of Sirius's bed instead, and clutches the blanket in her hands. There is nothing here that reminds her of him. The sheets smell of dust and damp, not of his cologne, not even of Padfoot's fur. She wonders if Kreacher had finally cleaned in here, once he knew Sirius wasn't coming back, trying to erase all signs of the son who had broken his mistress's heart.
"He isn't worth this," Snape says, from the door behind her. She hadn't even heard it open, hadn't heard him approach.
"Funny," she says, no longer caring if the bitterness shows through. "That's what the Dursleys always said about me."
"Black loathed himself for what he did to you," Snape says, sounding as though the admission costs him some pain. "Do not mourn for him. He would never have found peace in life."
"You think I care what he wanted?" she says fiercely, dragging the blanket up to her chest. She's careful to keep her back to Snape. "Doesn't it ever matter what I want?" Appalled, she hears her voice cracking. "He was all I had," she finishes in a whisper.
She hears the muffled sound of Snape's boots against the carpeted floor, and then Snape's hands grip her shoulders, forcing her to face him. He looks into her eyes for a long time, his fingers tightening on her arms, and for a second she is reminded of Sirius and she bows her head, not wanting Snape to see her eyes fill with tears.
And then one of Snape's hands releases her shoulder and comes to settle on the back of her head, fingers threading through the perpetually tangled mass of her hair.
"He never even saw you," Snape says, and though the words sound like an insult he speaks them as though he means them to be comforting. "Not truly."
Rose feels her mouth twisting, forming words of its own accord. "What's to see?" she says.
The hand that clenches in her hair suddenly is almost painful, but she does not cry out, does not flinch.
Things between her and Snape change after that. He comes by the house less often, for one thing. When he is there, he will occasionally ask (in that nasty, insulting way that implies what an idiot she would be to refuse) if she wants to practice making a potion or something, but he stops chivvying her from task to task. He still has an uncanny way of appearing in any room where she happens to be, though. If she is reading in the library, he strolls inside without a word and settles in with a book on the opposite side of the room. If she is making lunch or tea, he turns up in the kitchen and begins to assist her, only opening his mouth to say things like "do be certain that the coriander was picked within the last three decades, I'm sure it has been at least that long since a house elf restocked the spice cupboard."
The times between his visits to the house grow longer and longer—two days, then four, then a week. Rose begins to notice that he doesn't stay around if any of the other Order members are in the house—he finds her long enough to look her over, exchanges just as many words (or insults) as necessary with the nearest adult, then leaves again. And yet, when it's just Rose in the house, he seems to have an infinite amount of time at his disposal to linger.
Rose tries to avoid him as much as possible. He is, perhaps, better company now than he used to be, but she feels uncomfortable in his presence after crying in front of him.
The summer slips away slowly, punctuated only by the coming and going of Order members and the delivery of the mail. She gets letters regularly—Ginny and Hermione write to her almost every day, and Ron manages about once a week. Even Luna writes to her a few times, and her letters are usually accompanied by copies of The Quibbler, which always makes for an hour of entertaining reading. At the end of June, Ginny writes that her mother's got permission from Dumbledore to bring Rose to the Burrow for the last three weeks of the holiday, and Rose immediately draws up a calendar on a blank piece of parchment so she can mark off the days until then. In the mean time Rose writes letters, and works on her summer assignments, and reads her books, and reminds herself that even if she is bored sometimes, and even if she does spend half her time dodging Snape, even if the loss of Sirius throbs like a sore tooth at the back of her mind, this is still the best summer she's ever had.
She still thinks that, even after she wakes up one morning with a fever and chills.
The house is empty that day, and no one is coming by that she knows of, so she keeps to her bed and doesn't bother getting dressed. She avoids being bored by sleeping for most of the day. Late in the afternoon her head feels a little more clear, so she stumbles downstairs to the library. It's much colder in that part of the house, but she endures the violent rattling of her teeth long enough to look her symptoms up in a book on common magical ailments and remedies.
"Well," she tells Hedwig, whose cage hangs from a perch close to the window, "either I'm allergic to doxie dander, or I'm suffering from Class I exposure to a cursed artifact. Good news is, I won't die. Bad news is, I can't make any of these remedies without using magic." She shuts the book and puts it down on the sofa beside her, and rests her throbbing head in her hands. It dawns on Rose the this may be the first time she's been ill since she started at Hogwarts. She's spent plenty of time in the hospital wing, of course, but all that's been for injuries. She tries to remember what she did when she got sick at the Dursley's. It didn't happen very often, fortunately for her. When she was really little, and she had a fever, Petunia would grudgingly give her a couple of aspirin, but it had been years since she'd felt unwell enough to even consider asking the Dursleys for help. There's an ample supply of Floo powder on the fireplace mantle in the front parlor. Rose tries to imagine herself using it to call someone. "Sorry to bother you," she mutters to herself, "but would you mind stopping fighting Voldemort for a moment? I have a cold." It makes her cringe and laugh at the same time, and the laughter triggers a fit of coughing that goes on for so long that she feels faint at the end. She stretches out on the sofa and pulls the dusty afghan from the back down on top of her; her head hurts worse than ever, but eventually she sleeps.
She wakes up to the pressure of a heavy hand against on her forehead. Immediately, she recoils, flails, strikes out at the dark form hovering over her. Strong hands catch her wrists; she hears a voice calling her name, telling her to calm herself, that she's in no danger, but she does not believe it.
Rose opens her eyes; her vision is dark and blurred. She feels light, as though a breath, a puff of wind, could carry her away. A terrifying sense of her own helplessness overwhelms her. She feels cold to her bones, as though a Dementor were close by, and she screws her eyelids shut against the sharp, unreasoning certainty that if she looks too closely she will see a burst of green light, and a tall, hooded shadow of a man looming over her.
"Mum," she gasps, a whisper barely audible to her own ears. "Dad?"
A long silence follows this. Rose can feel every second of it ticking away, leaving her further behind in some dark place where no one will hear her cry for help. She can feel the tears spill from her eyes, hot against her face. Then the voice returns, and though she doesn't recognize it, there's a familiarity to it that comforts her.
"Drink this," it says. She feels the mouth of a flask at her lips. The smell of the contents turns her stomach, but when she tries to turn her face away a hand grips her beneath the chin and forces her to stay still while the liquid is tipped down her throat. She gags, chokes on it, but soon she is forced to swallow, and then she is released.
"Go to sleep," says the voice, and Rose obeys, because she knows, somehow, it is safe to do so, and she is very tired.
When she wakes again, she is in her own bed, and the room is flooded with daylight. Automatically, she stretches her hand out to the bedside table and fumbles for her glasses. They are in the same place she always leaves them. She puts them on, and blinks at the ceiling a few times, then turns her head.
Snape sits in a chair a few feet from the side of her bed. He must have dragged it in here for the purpose, as it doesn't belong in the room. He sits, staring out the window over her bed. She thinks, at first, that he hasn't seen her, but then he speaks. "Water?"
She tries to say yes, but her throat burns and she can only make rasping noises. Snape conjures a goblet and fills it with water from the tip of his wand. She pushes herself up on one elbow and drinks it down.
When she's done, Snape takes the goblet back, and Rose clears her throat. Talking is still painful, but no longer a physical impossibility. "How long was I asleep?" she whispers.
"About twenty hours, from the time I found you," he says. "When did you first become ill?"
"Er," Rose thinks back. "Wednesday morning, I guess. I woke up feeling strange." She clears her throat. It feels raw, as though she'd swallowed glass.
"Forty-eight hours, then. That is typical." He presses the fingertips of his right hand to her forehead, then draws his hand away, as though it is important to him that he touch her no more than necessary. "Remain in bed for the rest of the day. You should wake tomorrow morning recovered."
He turns for the door. Rose calls after him, quickly. "Where are you going?" Her voice sounds ancient in her own ears, graveled with care and time.
Snape halts halfway to the door, and turns his head to look at her over his shoulder. He opens his mouth, then shuts it, as though he has thought better of what he began to say.
"I cannot linger," he says at last, and Rose sees that the hands hanging limply at his sides have balled into fists. He looks back toward the door; Rose stares at the back of his head. "I have already stayed too long," he finishes in a whisper, as though he is speaking to himself, not to Rose.
"Professor." Rose pushes herself up on one elbow. She doesn't know what she wants to say to him. She doesn't understand why after all these weeks of being irritated by his constant presence she should feel so desolate at the thought of his leaving now. But if there are words that will make him stay, she doesn't know them.
Snape stands still, framed by the doorway, for a moment longer. And though Rose knows that the words I'm sorry/ have probably never crossed his lips before, she fancies there is something apologetic in the hang of his shoulders, in the instant before he turns the corner and disappears from sight.
Rose falls back onto her pillow and wonders where the tears in her eyes have come from.
The Weasleys come to fetch her the next day. They're a bit earlier than Ginny's letter had said they would be, but Mrs Weasley tells her that Dumbledore authorized the change in schedule so that Rose could get her strength back in the fresh air and sunshine.
"And no wonder you were ill," says Mrs Weasley, a look of grim displeasure distorting her usually pleasant features as she helps Rose pack. "As though this were any place for a young girl to spend her holidays. What on earth did you do?"
Rose doesn't bother trying to shrug; she's in the middle of folding a pair of jeans. "Spent time with Professor Snape, mostly."
She pretends not to see the sharp look Mrs Weasley gives her, but she excuses herself as soon as the packing is done.
A week later, at the Burrow, the Weasleys throw a party to celebrate her sixteenth birthday. It's a special birthday for witches, Ginny explains to her; even though they come of age at seventeen like wizards, they get a few traditional presents a year before. Rose gets a beautiful set of hand embroidered dress robes made of forest-green crepe from the Weasleys, a book on Charms from Lupin with her father's name inscribed on the fly-leaf, and a ruby pendant on a gold chain that Lupin tells her Sirius always meant for her to have.
There's also a package with no name or address, containing a photograph in a leather folding case. It's a Muggle photograph, a Polaroid, rather old and grainy, but if she squints, Rose can just make out the faces of the people in the image. There's a girl and a boy, about Rose's age or a little younger, both wearing Muggle clothes. The girl is pretty, slender, with long red hair and a smile on her lips. The boy is taller, thin and weedy, in a black turtleneck and jeans. Long black hair hangs in his face, but it does not disguise his hooked nose or familiar, mocking smile.
Rose looks at the photograph, and thinks that, strictly speaking, she looks more like Snape than she looks like her mother.
"Who's that from?" says Ginny, peering over her shoulder.
"No one," says Rose, and it away safely, to study later.