A/N: This is a sequel to my other novel, The Very Best Thing. So, before you read this, might I suggest you read or at least glance at that one, otherwise you'll be quite confused. Don't own Severus or make any money off him, this is just for fun.

* this adventure takes place inbetween books 4 and 5 of the Harry Potter series
It was a balmy afternoon in early June, with a warm southern breeze and plenty of
sunshine. The perfect day to do some early gardening. Severus Snape, Potions Master of Hogwarts School, was pruning the rosebushes that flanked the small flagstone path leading to the back door of his little house on Spinner's End.

Unlike an ordinary man, Severus did not need to use pruning shears to accomplish
this task, for he was a master wizard, and used magic instead. With a wave of his ebony wand, he caused the extra branches to fall away from the rosebush, these he later gathered to use in some of his potions. The Potions Master was a tall lanky man with a sharp-featured face, alert dark eyes and long black hair which was pulled back in a tail on this day. He was wearing a scruffy-looking blue T-shirt and jeans and his sneakers were mud-spattered from the wet soil.

A tall box hedge surrounded his small backyard, giving him much-needed privacy
from his nosy neighbors, and ensuring that he could work magic without worrying about Muggles seeing him. A lavender-tinged gray cat was curled up asleep in the middle of the path, blissfully ignorant of the activity going on in the garden. Lounging in the shade of a small apple tree was a large golden hound dog, contentedly gnawing on a large ham bone.

Off to the left of the apple tree was the small herb garden, where Severus's daughter, Arista, was picking lavender and chamomile flowers from the assortment of herbs growing there. She was small and slight for her fourteen years, making some people assume she was younger than her actual age. She had short auburn hair and her dark eyes were narrowed in concentration as she examined each of the plants in the small plot, making sure each of them was healthy. She too was dressed in jeans and a T-shirt, but hers was a mint green color and currently speckled with bits of purple and yellow petals. She carried a gathering basket over one arm, where she placed her flowers.

Properly dried and stored, they were necessary ingredients for sleeping drafts, or a calming tea, or putting in a sachet or a potpourri bowl, all of which Arista had done since finishing up her first term at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Professor Snape did not believe in letting Arista spend her whole summer sleeping and hanging out with her friends doing nothing but gossiping, the way teenage girls were wont to do.

Luckily, Arista was not one for idle gossip, and she quickly grew bored with sleeping till eleven every day for a week straight. She enjoyed being up and about and liked to keep busy, so her father's little projects in the herb garden did not meet with the expected cries of protest. In fact, she enlisted the help of her friends, Mel Seton and Tricia Greenbough, in making the sachets and teas and potpourri, which made the work go twice as fast. Most of them she intended for gifts for her grandmother and aunts in America, though a few she kept for her own use and also allowed her girlfriends to keep a sachet and a potpourri bowl as a reward for helping her.

Her friends considered that a fair trade-off for a few afternoons of drying flowers,
especially when they also got to eat supper over Arista's as well. Severus was an excellent cook, and both girls looked forward to his meals, which were made without magic and tasted fantastic, much better than anything their own mothers prepared at home. The professor did not mind the extra guests, as he usually cooked too much food for two people, and his students were very appreciative of his cooking expertise.

He had learned to cook from his late wife, Amelia, who had been an Italian-
American wizard. She had been dead for fourteen years, but Severus had not forgotten what she had taught him. Over the past three days he had made a hearty chicken orzo soup, a delicious shrimp risotto, and Tricia's favorite—fried chicken with biscuits and gravy. She'd taken the recipe home to her mother, but said the chicken didn't taste quite as good as Professor Snape's.

"Something was missing," she lamented to Arista the next afternoon, as they
crumbled dried flowers into small squares of purple and blue satin and tied them with white lace ribbons.

Arista laughed at the mournful expression on Tricia's round face. "That's the secret ingredient."

"What secret ingredient?"

"I don't know. He wouldn't tell me," Arista shrugged. "Said that was for him to
know and for me to figure out. I think he was being deliberately mysterious."

Tricia sighed. "Never mind. We'll never pry it out of him, he keeps secrets forever.
I'll just eat dinner here more often."

So she did, along with their other best friend, Mel, who was a tall girl with curly dark hair and blue eyes, the polar opposite of Trish, who was short and round with blond hair and brown eyes.

Arista was still trying to figure out just what the secret ingredient was, for she loved a good mystery almost as much as she did healing people and animals, even as she gathered more flowers. Just then, a large great-horned owl flew down and perched on the low branch of the apple tree, right above her dog Scout's head. The dog glanced up, whuffed softly, as if to say oh it's only an owl, and went back to chewing his bone. He was accustomed to strange goings-on in this household, such as owls that flew about in broad daylight with letters attached to their legs or carried in their beaks.

Severus looked up at the dog's soft bark, then went over to take the large manila
envelope from the owl's beak. "Thanks," he said, giving the bird a piece of beef jerky in return, its payment for delivering the mail. The owl hooted appreciatively, then flew off on silent wings.

Arista came over, eyeing the envelope curiously. "What's that, Dad? Another
catalog?"

"No. It's a letter from Colin and Jenna," he answered, opening the envelope. Colin
and Jenna Flynn were American wizards, Dark Hunters, and once they'd been Arista's guardians and teachers, back when she'd lived in America.

"What's it say? Did Jenna have her baby?" Arista asked, her eyes dancing with
excitement.

"I'd assume so. If you'll give me a minute to read my mail, Miss Nosy, you'll find
out." He pulled out two sheets of brilliant goldenrod stationary as well as an accompanying photo. He unrolled the first one, which was written in fancy calligraphy, and read the following announcement aloud.

"Colin and Jennika Flynn are pleased to announce the birth of their daughter, Amelia Maureen, born on May 15th at 8AM, weight 8lbs and 16 inches long." "They named her after Mom," Arista noted in surprise. "Did you know they were
going to do that?"

Severus nodded. "Colin said they were considering it if the baby was a girl. She was their best friend, you know. I said Amelia would have liked that and they should do what felt best to them. Guess they took my advice."

"Maureen's after Colin's mom," Arista informed him, smiling. "May I see the picture?"
Severus passed her the photo. "Oh, she's so cute!"

It showed a grinning Jenna holding a tiny dark-haired baby wrapped in a soft pink
receiving blanket, sleeping contentedly, while a proud Colin stood behind them, one arm around his wife. The big blond wizard looked as happy as if he'd just won a million Galleons. Like all wizard photos, the picture moved, showing the parents laughing and waving and the baby yawning and opening her eyes, which were a hazy blue.

"She's got blue eyes, like Mom's!" exclaimed Arista. "Think it's a sign?"

Severus looked at her askance. "A sign? As in a spiritual connection? Don't tell me you bought into all that nonsense Trelawney spouts about portents and so forth." He rolled his eyes. He had no patience for the mystical nonsense his colleague the Divination teacher was prone to telling her students. "All babies have blue eyes. They'll probably change later on, most of them do."

"You're right. Neither Colin nor Jenna has blue eyes. What else do they say?"

Snape unrolled the second sheet of paper, which was written in Jenna's flowing
script. "Let's see. The baby and I are doing fine. Colin is, of course, over the moon,
thinks she's the most perfect child ever born." Here, Snape chuckled. "Just wait, my friend, until she's a mouthy teenage brat, we'll see if you still feel the same way then."

"He'll love her anyway, just like you do me," his daughter put in impishly.

"Think so?" Snape raised an eyebrow.

"Dad!"

He favored her with one of his rare smiles, then continued. "Where was I? . . .I told
him to wait a few years and see if he thinks the same thing when she's thirteen and driving him crazy—my thoughts exactly!—We named her for Amelia, of course, to honor the best friend either of us ever had and for Colin's mother. She reminds me a great deal of Arista at that age, very alert and curious. Colin swears she recognizes him, even though I know she's too young for that kind of thing. We've been discussing dates for her christening and that in turn led to choosing godparents. Colin chose his sister, Felicity, for her godmother. I have no brothers, but I immediately thought of you Severus, since you saved my life last summer and have become as good a friend to us as Amelia was. So, how would you like to be a godfather to your wife's namesake? Rather fitting, don't you think, Uncle Sev? The christening is set for June 24th, a Saturday. If you agree, just send us an owl and we'll send Fireflash over to pick up you and Arista. If the notion of being a godparent to my probably bratty kid terrifies you, don't worry, you can still come to her christening. Let us know what you decide.

Love,
Jenna, Colin, and baby Amelia

Severus said nothing for a few minutes, shocked speechless by this unexpected
request. They want me for the baby's godfather? I never expected this . . although maybe I should have, since if Amelia had lived, she'd have been the child's godmother along with me.

"Are you going to say yes, Dad?" Arista broke into his thoughts. "I think it'd be
supercool if you were her godfather."

"You do?"

"Yeah. I mean, who better to protect her than you? Other than her parents, I mean."

"Who indeed?" he mused, mulling the idea over. Being a godparent in the wizarding world had more than just a religious connotation. It also carried with it the responsibility of the godparent to protect and teach the child magic if the parents were deceased. Then slowly, he nodded. "Jenna was right. It is rather fitting. I'll send them a reply with Nightfall tonight telling them I accept. We were planning to go and see your grandparents in New Jersey this summer, so this will be like killing two birds with one stone."

"Great! I can't wait to see them and their house in the Poconos again. They live in
the middle of a game preserve, Dad, and the deer come right up to their back deck and eat from your hand. So do the songbirds and sometimes there are wild turkeys too. Scout would love it there, there's miles of woods to run in and Comfrey could make friends with Surra, Jenna's tabby. Can we take them with us, Dad? Please?"

She gave him her most pleading look. "Very well," he sighed reluctantly. "God
forbid we should leave them home the way normal people do when they go on vacation. Besides, I still haven't given Colin a proper thank you for giving me a dog I never asked for," Snape said sarcastically.

"Oh, come on, Dad. You love Scout as much as I do, only you won't admit it."

"Love that baying fleabag?" Snape snorted derisively. "In your dreams, Arista."

"Sure, whatever you say," his daughter agreed, hiding a smirk.

The Potions Master folded up the letter and slipped it and the photo back into the
envelope. "Let's go wash up for supper. Now I need to figure out what to give the baby for a christening gift. None of the usual things, like money or clothes. I want it to be something . . .different. Something she can remember me by."

"Hmmm. . . ." Arista frowned, thinking hard. Then she snapped her fingers. "I've
got it! How about a piece of jewelry?"

"Yes, but what?"

"Ummm . . .what about a bracelet? A charm bracelet? You could give her a different charm every year for her birthday."

"Good idea. But not just any charms. I'll give her mini crystal, glass, and silver
flasks, with a concentrated potion inside of them."

"A potions charm bracelet! I like that, it's way cool, and nobody else will ever be
able to match that, Dad."

"It makes sense too, since I'm a Potions Master as well as her godfather." Severus declared, pleased. "And along with each charm, I can give her the formula for the potion and the history as well."

"Still the professor, huh, Dad?" his daughter laughed. "Can't stop teaching, even
when you're out of the classroom."

"Well, it wouldn't mean anything if I just sent her a charm without explaining what
it was and how it was used, now would it?"

"Guess not. Will she be able to use the potions in the charms?"

"If necessary, yes. Though the potions will be concentrated, and I wouldn't
recommend it unless it were an emergency, sometimes the effects can be too strong and take days to wear off." Severus explained. He looked thoughtfully down at the gathering basket on Arista's arm. "I think the first charm should be a Sleeping Draft, especially since you've gone through all that trouble picking lavender and chamomile, Arista."

"Sounds good to me. Better make up an extra dose, though, since Colin and Jenna
will probably need it, if all the stories I've heard about newborns never sleeping are true."

"They are. I'll make up a couple of bottles after I've distilled enough for the charm.
Another thing they could probably use is a double strength chamomile and mint tea elixir. It's good for settling colicky babies, among other things."

"How do you know about that, Dad? You've never taken care of a baby."

He slanted her a wry glance. "You aren't the only one who reads Healer's Digest,
you know. Besides, that's one of a Potion Master's requirements, to know the uses for all the elixirs he brews." He brushed off his jeans, which had bits of bark and rose petals clinging to them.

"Can I help you make them?"

"Yes, it'll be good practice for you. But we'll do that tomorrow. Right now I think
a bath and supper are in order."

"No argument there, Dad," she gestured, and the basket with the flowers she'd
gathered vanished, only to reappear in the basement on Severus's lab table.

Then the two headed inside, arguing good-naturedly about what to cook for supper, followed by the cat and the dog, who knew that the word "supper" meant free food and lots of it.

* * * * *

Later on, Arista called Trish and Mel on her spellophone, telling them of the sudden change in plans for the summer. "So we're going to be away for, uh, who knows, probably a few weeks, I guess. Something tells me that once we meet my grandparents, they aren't gonna be satisfied with a hi, nice to meet you and we'll only stay a few days routine."

"I wouldn't think so, you're their long lost granddaughter, after all," Mel reminded
her. "I wonder what they must have thought when your father sent them that letter in May?"

"If it'd been me, I'd have passed out," Arista said. "I mean, think about it, your
daughter's been dead for fourteen years and along comes this total stranger, a Potions Master from a British wizarding academy, telling them that he was married to her and he's got a daughter they never knew about. He's lucky they didn't have a heart attack right there."

"Too right. You have one weird family, Snape." Mel snickered.

"Yeah, but they make my life interesting," Arista acknowledged with a laugh. "I
wonder what they'll be like? I keep picturing my grandmother—I was named for her—as looking like my mom, but maybe I'm wrong. Oh, well, guess I'll know when I get there."

"Send me some pictures, girlfriend, I'm dying to know too."

"Will do. Hey, maybe when I get back, we could put together a photo album or
something," Arista suggested.

"Sure. Tell Trish that, she's better at that kind of thing than I am," Mel suggested.
Arista promised she would, then said goodbye and called her other friend, who like her also lived in a single parent household. Trish's mom, Glinda Greenbough, had once been a model and was now a fashion consultant for many witch magazines. She lived alone with only her daughter, since she had divorced her husband years ago. She was a very demanding woman, and often drove Trish crazy because she wanted her daughter to be a carbon copy of her.

Trish picked up on the second chime, tapping the stud on the side of her ring
component which allowed the image gel in the ring to project Arista's face and words to her and vice versa. "Hi, Trish. I just had to call and tell you the news," Arista began, then outlined her new summer vacation. "I know we were going to go to that fashion convention with your mom in two weeks, but I'm afraid I'm going to have to cancel."

"Bummer. I was really looking forward to it too," the other girl sighed. "Well,
there's always next year. Besides, your family's more important. Guess it's just and me and Mel for the whole of June and probably July too, since Kit's away visiting his relatives in Ireland and Drake's off with his dad and sister in America too."

"Really? Did he say where he was going?"

"Uh, New York, I think. Maybe you could look him up or something."

"Well, I could try, though I don't think we'll be visiting New York, even though it's
right next to New Jersey. We'll be going to Pennsylvania first, for baby Amelia's
christening, and then we'll go straight to the Jersey shore, since that's where my
grandparents spend their summers, in a house near Point Pleasant."

"I can't believe that your old teachers asked your dad to be a godfather!" Trish
repeated. "Was he, like, shocked speechless?"

"Uh, you could say that," Arista laughed, recalling the expression on Snape's face.
"I thought for a minute he wasn't going to agree, but then I think he felt obligated, especially since Colin and Jenna took care of me for two years, and he said yes. He's making the baby a potions charm bracelet for a christening gift."

"Wow! I've never heard of that before. What is it?"

Arista explained, and Trish sighed in envy. "You're so lucky, Arista. Your dad gives
the coolest presents. My mom always gets me the same things every year, clothes and make- up, as if I didn't have a ton of them already. And my dad, he just sends me money, which is nice, I guess, but I'd rather have a present, know what I mean? D'you think he'd mind if you adopted me? I'd sleep in the corner of your kitchen and do all the cleaning for free."

"Who do you think you are, Cinderella? Get a grip, Trish! You know you're always
welcome at my house, you're more like my sister than my best friend, you and Mel both." Arista said softly, making a mental note to ask her father to create a piece of jewelry for Tricia's birthday, which was on July 20th.

"Thanks, Arista. I was never sure if I was imposing, coming over so much. I know
how your dad values his privacy."

"Only when he's trying out new potions and stuff. Otherwise, I think he's glad for
company, he was alone too long before I came to live with him," Arista said knowingly. "And he likes both of you, if he didn't, he'd have said something to me before now, and he hasn't, and you know he's never had trouble expressing his dislike of certain students."

"Like Brittany Marsh. Or Harry Potter," Tricia said. "Brittany, I can understand,
she's such a stuck-up snot, but what's Harry done to him?"

"I'm not real sure about this, but I think part of it might have something to do with
Harry's father. Something went on between my dad and James Potter when they were in school together and it wasn't nice. I think that's part of it, and also the fact that Harry's, well, a rule breaker and disrespectful to my dad sometimes. You know how he hates kids that talk back to him, or ones that disregard rules when it suits them."

"That's for sure! So, you've never answered him back?"

"Not in school. At home, well, yeah, I've mouthed off to him a time or two." Arista
admitted. "And gotten in trouble for it too, that's how I know just how mad it makes him. He's not always the easiest person to live with, believe me. But then, neither am I. Most of the time though, we get along really well, thank God. It could be a hell of a lot worse, given his temper and mine. But see, I know how far I can go before he loses it, unlike Potter, who pushes him until he explodes and then complains about it afterwards."

"If you're going to bait a dragon, better be prepared to take the consequences," Tricia quoted softly.

"Exactly. From what I've seen, Harry and Brittany still haven't learned that lesson.
Well, maybe Marsh has, a little, after that detention he gave her at the beginning of the year."

Tricia smirked at that memory, for Marsh was their nemesis, a Slytherin girl who
delighted in tormenting students she saw as beneath her. "Yeah, she's never gonna forget that. And neither will anyone else! Serves her right too."

Arista nodded. "Well, I'll be seeing you when I get back. Got to go, he's calling me
for dinner. Bye." She closed the small glittering blue disk, the size of a mirror compact, and slipped it in the pocket of her jeans. Then she bounded down the stairs, tonight they were having stuffed peppers, one of her favorites.

After they had cleaned up, a process that didn't take long thanks to their magical
cleaning spells, and given the begging animals the ground beef and rice stuffing out of two peppers, Arista challenged Professor Snape to a game of Wizard Chess.

"What's this? You're asking to get your butt whipped again?" he smirked.

"Not this time," she declared with a determined gleam in her eye. "This time I'm
gonna win back my two Galleons and beat you for a change."

"Promises, promises." He began to set up the chessboard. Unlike ordinary chess, in Wizard Chess, the pieces moved themselves and when one was captured, it got removed from the board, literally, by being destroyed by the opposing piece.

This was the third game she'd played in three nights and so far she'd never managed to beat her father, who was an incredibly good chess player.

"Ready?" she asked, slipping into the chair opposite him at the dining room table,
which was barely large enough to seat five people.

"White or black? Loser picks," he answered, putting two Galleons on the table next to him.

"White. Black's more your style," she answered. The white pieces stood to attention.

"It doesn't matter what color I have, I'm still going to thrash you good, Arista," he
said, his eyes gleaming challengingly.

She shook her head. "I beg to differ, sir. I'm going to nail your hide to a wall. Just
wait and see."

"How long will I be waiting? Until next year?" he inquired silkily.

"You wish." Arista moved first, directing her white pawn ahead one square.

Two hours later they were still playing, but Snape had managed to take out Arista's bishop, leaving her slightly vulnerable to his queen.

He studied the board idly. "You've improved some from the last time," he remarked.

"I'm a quick study," she answered.

"Too bad that won't save you," he said, then moved his queen and took out her
knight and her queen in one move, leaving her king defenseless. "Check and mate, I believe."

"Damn! How did you do that?"

"I saw patterns. And that's all I'm going to tell you. A master never gives away his
secrets," he said, then slipped the Galleons back into his pocket.

"I'll get you next time. At least my knight took out your bishop. What did you think
of that move?"

"That was clever, I'll give you that. But it just wasn't good enough to beat the
master. You can try again tomorrow."

"Did you play chess with Mom?"

"Oh, yes. And while she was very good, I won more games than she did. But there
was one game that went on for two days, now that I think about it," Snape smiled
reminiscently.

"Who won?"

"Do I really need to answer that?" he rolled his eyes.

"Someday, I am going to beat you," she vowed.

"When I'm senile, maybe," he teased, grinning wickedly.

"The end of the summer. I'll bet you, uh, my whole week's allowance."

"Three Galleons? You're on. And if you win, which you won't, I'll double it."

"Deal!" she held out a hand and he shook it. "Now, what kind of book can I buy with
six Galleons?"

"Excuse me? You haven't won anything yet."

"But I will. Just watch me."

He laughed. "You've got the Amarotti stubbornness, my girl. Don't quit until you're
dead, and even then you can still come back and kick someone's ass."

"Like Mom kicked Nightshade's. Just remember you said that, Dad."

"Skill will win over stubbornness every time," he said loftily. "And by summer's end I'll be three Galleons richer."

"That's what you think," she said. Then she summoned the plate of chocolate chip
cookies from the kitchen with a snap of her fingers. "And now, it's time for dessert." She promptly took three cookies. "I'm starving."

"So am I," he said, and took four of them. "Beating my know-it-all daughter at chess always makes me hungry."

She made a face at him, then bit into her cookie, thinking, I'm gonna make you eat
those words, Dad. Summer's end, then you'll see. ******

It took about a week for Severus to make the bracelet and distill the Sleeping Draft, putting the concentrated purple drop in a tiny crystal flask with a filigree silver stopper. He'd made the bracelet with silver links rather than gold, since silver was more durable and then strengthened the metal with magic. He'd also placed a shatterproof charm on the flask, knowing how careless children often were with their possessions. Of course, the baby wouldn't be allowed to wear the bracelet until she was older, but he took precautions anyway.

He wrote up the formula for a standard Sleeping Draft on a small piece of parchment as well as a history of all the ingredients used in it and the ways in which famous wizards and witches had used the potion. He'd signed the second parchment "Uncle Sev", since that was how he knew the Flynns would refer to him, though it felt odd, naming himself a relation to a tiny baby he would hardly ever see, except every so often on holidays, if possible. Unless they decided to send her to him for a month or so during the summer, once she was around eleven or so.


Always assuming, of course, that I'm still around by then, he thought darkly, for with Voldemort now returned as he had predicted, nothing was certain anymore. Unknown to any save Dumbledore, he'd resumed his role as spy for the Order of the Phoenix, and the new fanaticism he'd sensed in the Death Eaters was particularly frightening. He thought it might even be worse than before, for now they were older, wilier, and more steeped in darkness. Worse still, they were persuading their offspring to follow them down the dark path, and Severus did not doubt that unless something were done, they would soon have a new generation of Death Eaters on their hands.

He wished desperately he could send Arista away from here until Voldemort was
dealt with once and for all, but he knew she would never agree to leave him, even if he ordered her to go. I'd have to tie her up and stuff her in a sack, and even then she'd find a way back to me first chance she got. Besides, I have a sickening feeling we're going to need her healing talent in this upcoming war. Need it badly. She's our ace in the hole, and much as I want to, I can't let her leave. All I can do is protect her as much as I can and make certain the other side never realizes just how strong she is.

He had no illusions about how the Dark One or his followers would react if they
knew a Healer of such power was again abroad in the world. He had tried to downplay her affair with the Longbottoms as a fluke to Lucius Malfoy, so the other wizard would not scrutinize her too closely. Thus far, it seemed to have worked, for Lucius had not inquired about Arista again. If the Death Eaters ever knew the truth, there was no doubt in Snape's mind that they would act either to capture her for their own use or eliminate her totally, thus depriving either side of her talent forever.

Severus would die before he allowed either of those things to happen, which was
why he used all of his talent at misdirection and subterfuge to prevent the dark wizards from learning the truth about his extraordinary daughter. I only pray it's enough, though if necessary I'll break my masquerade, if it comes to a choice between her life and my cover. The time is coming when I'm going to have to reveal myself anyhow, if Potter can ever be made strong enough to challenge Voldemort the way Dumbledore intended. Severus shook his head, his lip curling in disgust whenever he thought of James's son. There's too damn much of his father in him, all that reckless devil-may-care courage, and not enough of his mother's brains and determination. Dumbledore thinks that's an asset, but I know better. That kind of stupidity is going to get him and all the rest of us killed. He's lucky he didn't
die in that graveyard that night of the Triwizard Tournament the way poor Diggory did. It was pure chance that the wands linked through Priori Incantatem, but we can't count on that happening again. Voldemort's not stupid, he's going to be waiting for the next chance, and Potter has to be prepared to fight, and fight hard.

The Potions Master sighed heavily, for he knew very well who Dumbledore was going to ask train the stubborn mouthy brat in the way to block a dark wizard's magic. Good old Severus Snape, of course. And God help the both of us, because I'm not going to have any patience whatsoever for his rebellious attitude. I can't afford to. I didn't spend fifteen years of my life risking my neck as a secret agent only to have it wasted by a smartmouthed kid with more guts than brains. And Black better just stay the hell out of my way while I'm working with Potter, and not go whining to Dumbledore about how hard I'm being on the poor coddled darling. This is our last chance to rid ourselves of Voldemort, and I'll do whatever I have to in order to take him out, including beating every lick of sense I can into that boy's skull. Potter can't match Voldemort for sheer power, so he has to use his head, not something he's accustomed to doing, unfortunately. That's the only way we're going to win this conflict, by being smart
and staying one step ahead of our enemies.

But all of that was yet to come. So far, Albus had not requested his teaching expertise, though Snape knew that summons was not going to be long in coming. He expected the older wizard would probably ask him sometime after he'd returned from the States, when he was done settling personal affairs, and could concentrate fully on his obligations to the Order. And then, they would see what he could do with his reluctant student. He was not looking forward to that time at all, but then as he'd told Arista once, he did plenty of things he didn't want to.

He tucked the completed charm bracelet in a soft pink velvet pouch and then placed it and the papers accompanying it into a white box, which he tied up with a green and gold ribbon. There. That's one task out of the way. Now all I need to do is pack up the rest of my things and make sure Arista's ready and we can send for Fireflash. It'll be good to get away from here for a bit, and I'm looking forward to seeing Colin and Jenna again as well as my new goddaughter. Hopefully, this will be a nice restful vacation.

Fireflash, the great bronze dragon, landed in the glen and folded his wings neatly, his azure eyes surveying the two wizards and their various satchels and trunks, plus Comfrey's carrier and Scout's crate.

"Hello, Arista sweetie!" the dragon greeted her, baring his teeth in a slight dragonish smile. "How ya been?"

"Great! How about you, Flash?"

"Been keepin', I guess. I've been doing more commercial flights these days." He
looked over at Severus. "Long time, no see, Sev. Are you all set for your first trans-Atlantic flight?"

"As ready as we'll ever be, Flash," he replied, gesturing to all of the items. "There's the two of us and the menagerie. Think you can handle it all?"

"Not a problem." Fireflash eyed the dog crate and the cat carrier. "Got a dog and a
cat, I see."

"That's right, and if you'd waited a month we could have added a unicorn and an
elephant too, with the way my daughter collects strays," Severus remarked dryly.

"Dad! I didn't bring home Scout, he was a Christmas present," Arista objected.

"And how many hints did you send Colin, hmm?" Snape asked, eyeing his daughter shrewdly.

"None! Honest, I never even suspected he was going to send us a magehound."

"You've got a magehound?" the dragon inquired. "They're good dogs, Sev.
Expensive as anything, especially if they've been trained to track by a Hunter."

"This one was retired, worked with the New York force for twelve years before we
got him," Snape told the bronze.

"He's that Scout?" Fireflash breathed out sharply in surprise. "The one that tracked Beau Charles all the way across the Rockies? Sev, that dog's a legend on the force. He won Best Magehound of the Year five times running, and he holds the record for the longest trail and the most collars of any dog in the Department of Defense. Colin must have pulled some strings to get him delivered to you. That's some dog you've got there, Snape."

"Really? Colin never told me any of that, I just assumed this was a dog nobody
wanted and that's why he gave him to us." Severus admitted.

"See, Dad? I told you he was special."

Snape rolled his eyes. "You were right for once. Now go and help Flash get all these things attached to his dragonsaddle."

"Better let me handle it, Sev," Fireflash cautioned. "I'm more experienced at this."
He spoke three words in dragonspeech and all of the parcels flew up and attached
themselves to the various leather straps and hooks on his harness. Scout's crate and Comfrey's carrier went into Roc-hide nets on either side of their seats, nets that were securely fastened to ensure the maximum safety of their occupants afterwards.

"Do me a favor, Arista, and double check all the fastenings," the bronze ordered.

Arista quickly walked up the dragon's foreleg and began to check all the straps and buckles, making certain everything was tied down tightly. It was. Then she strapped herself into the padded chair and prepared for takeoff. Her father followed a moment later, sitting on the seat in front of her.

"You both set?" Fireflash asked, swiveling his head around to peer at his passengers.

"We're good, Captain," Snape answered, speaking in respectful tones to the bronze.

"Okay. I'm going to breathe on you now, so you won't pass out at the altitude I'll
be flying," the dragon said, then exhaled and a fine purple mist shot out of his mouth and enveloped them. "Breathe deeply now, you two."

The Snapes obeyed, inhaling the wintergreen tasting mist into their lungs eagerly.
Unlike an Altitude Potion, Fireflash's mist breath did not have any bad side-effects, and it worked longer than any potion too, enabling them to fly for six hours without experiencing dizziness, nausea, or any other kind of flight-related problem, as well as being able to breathe the rarified air.

One of the reasons the dragon flew so high was to avoid being seen by Muggles,
though he possessed another breath weapon that could make anyone forget they'd ever seen him, a cone of amnesiac gas. Bronze dragons possessed three breath weapons, dragonfire, the amnesiac cone, and a sleeping breath mist that could knock out several humans or one dragon.

The bronzes, in addition to being the only sentient dragon species left in the world,
were also the most magical, and could cast spells just like a wizard, albeit without the need to use a wand. Their magic was mostly verbal, with the occasional gesture thrown in for emphasis, and some of their spells could be translated into a mist form, such as the rarified air spell. They could also inscribe spells on objects, such as one of their own scales, like the one Fireflash had given Arista last summer, which had a Dragonshape spell inscribed in it.

Arista had used the scale to defeat an insane giant that had attacked the school back in December, fighting the huge creature in Dragonshape. That battle had been witnessed by the entire school as well as the students of Beauxbaton's and Durmstrang, and it had gone down in the school annals as one of the wickedest fights in Hogwarts history. But though Arista had defeated the giant in the end by breathing on it, while it was trapped in the Black Lake with the help of the mermaid Water Mistress Amlioranee, her little escapade had horrified her father. After delivering a blistering lecture to her that had made her cry, Severus had hugged her and made her promise to never do anything so foolhardy again. Arista had promised, because she knew her father would never forgive himself if she were killed fighting some dark wizard or one of their allies.

Not that she planned to get involved in any more battles to the death with dark
wizards. All she wanted was to enjoy the reunion with her former guardians and meet their new daughter, and later on her mother's side of the family, the Amarottis. That was enough of an adventure right there, as was this flight on Fireflash.

The bronze dragon could fly as fast as a jet when he chose to, as he was doing now, his head extended and his wings mere blurs on either side of his passengers. Both Severus and Arista were securely fastened into their seats by a magic-enhanced shoulder harness padded with sheepskin. The seats were heated with a warming spell, since the upper regions of the air were freezing. The warming spell had also been extended to include the pets, as had the rarified air spell. The seats on the dragonsaddle were comfortable, almost like a recliner, and there was plenty of leg room between them for Severus to stretch out without being cramped.

The dragon was an experienced flyer, he'd made this trip thousands of times before, and knew the quickest routes and the ways he could manipulate the wind to give his passengers a smooth ride, with the least turbulence.

Severus was feeling a bit sleepy, and decided to take a nap, since there wasn't much to see when Fireflash was flying so fast except clouds and sky. He shifted a bit in the seat, leaning his head back and closing his eyes.

Arista remained awake for a bit longer, but eventually she grew bored at seeing the same endless stretch of clouds and fell asleep too. Fireflash curled his head back to make sure his passengers were all right, noted they were sleeping, and gave a dragonish snort of amusement. It always amused him that humans were so prone to going to sleep while on his back, almost as if flying bored them.

To a bronze dragon, flying was the most essential thing of all, and no bronze dragon worth his wings ever went more than a day or two without soaring into the sky, unless they were in hibernation sleep or badly injured. Fireflash, in addition to being attached to the New York division of the US Magical Association as a Dark Hunter, also gave commercial flights to those wizards who didn't like traveling by Floo Network or couldn't Apparate over long distances or who disliked flying a broom more than two hours away. His flights were in high demand, and he charged top rates for them, seventy-five to a hundred Galleons per round trip, depending on the destination. A trans-Atlantic flight such as this one would have run paying passengers around one hundred to one hundred and twenty five Galleons. Of course, since Severus and Arista were long time friends of his, he didn't charge them anything.

Bronze dragons were notoriously choosy about their relationships with humans,
given that the Dragonslayer Guild had nearly exterminated them over five centuries ago. This extended to Fireflash's commercial passengers. He reserved the right to terminate any contract if he didn't like the wizard's attitude, for bronze dragons are big on respect, and he didn't tolerate being treated like a broomstick with wings by anyone.

The one exception to that rule was Chief Hamilton's daughter, whom he disliked
intensely, but was forced to put up with because she was his boss's offspring. She treated him like her own personal airline, and many times the great dragon had longed to toss her off his back into the ocean, in hopes that drowning would improve her spoiled attitude. Lucy Hamilton was enough to drive Jesus Himself insane. Sadly, the dragon's code of ethics as a Dark Hunter prevented him from acting on those impulses, but one of his favorite daydreams was of throwing the Hamilton brat into the middle of the Atlantic and telling her to swim home.

What I wouldn't give to put the little snot in Sev's class for a day, and let him give
her some much-needed lessons on discipline, the bronze thought with a smirk. He'd have her sobbing for her mother in an hour with that sarcastic tongue of his. Unless he strangled her first for whining nonstop. That would be almost as good as dropping her off in the middle of the Atlantic. Then Fireflash heaved a regretful sigh. Nah, that would be too cruel of me. I wouldn't inflict Lucy on my worst enemy, never mind a friend like Severus. But it'd be fun to watch, though! the dragon chuckled wickedly.

He entertained himself for three hours imagining various scenarios where Snape
utterly humiliated his boss's ill-tempered spoiled daughter, until Severus and Arista awoke from their nap. After ascertaining they were okay, he offered to sing for them.

Fireflash had an amazing repertoire of songs, especially those dealing with flying,
from his centuries long association with humans, and he could sing all of them note- perfectly.

Severus had fond memories of the dragon singing the US Air Force song while flying with Amelia a day after her birthday, and so he requested Fireflash start out with that song. The bronze was only too happy to oblige, and soon launched into an enthusiastic rendition of the military tune.

From there the dragon progressed to various other songs, most of those dealing with the wonders of flying, like Volare, which he performed in Italian, to "Leaving on a Jet Plane" or the ever-popular wizard tune "She Borrowed My Broomstick". He even ventured into the more romantic tunes like "Up Where We Belong", "That Old Black Magic", "Love Potion Number Nine" and "Dragon Eyes", an old dragon courting song.

He had Arista in stitches when he did the Wicked Witch of the West theme from
"The Wizard of Oz", which had been one of her favorite movies when she was a little kid at the Dowd's orphanage. "I'll get you, my pretty, and your little dog too!" the dragon hissed in a remarkable imitation of the evil green hag, making Arista laugh hysterically until tears poured down her face.

Snape had no idea what was so funny, not being up on Muggle movies, but he found himself smiling anyway at the dragon's wit and his daughter's merriment.

As they drew nearer to their destination, Fireflash began to sing more patriotic tunes, inviting Arista to sing along with him. They sang "The Star Spangled Banner" and "America the Beautiful", two songs which Snape was familiar with, though he knew better than to attempt to join in. A frog croaking was more melodious. Still, he enjoyed listening to the two of them, Arista had a surprisingly good soprano for an untrained singer.

Until Scout decided to join in uninvited.

The magehound's baying quickly made Snape wish he'd gone deaf, especially since the dog's crate was next to him. He thumped the top of it and yelled at the dog to be quiet. "Go back to sleep, fleabag!" he ordered irritably.

But the resourceful Fireflash managed to turn the dog's baying into something
bearable by singing, "Hound Dog" by Elvis and letting the dog come in on the chorus. That one even made Severus laugh.

But once the dog's impromptu solo was over, Severus quickly requested that the
dragon send the dog to sleep rather than endure another hour of the magehound's ringing bark. The dragon obliged, even though he found Severus' reaction to the dog's singing hilarious.

"We ought to be at New York harbor in another forty minutes or so," the dragon
announced. "We'll swing by the Statue of Liberty and Manhattan, then we'll go straight to Pennsylvania and the Flynns."

"Sounds good to me," Snape said, relieved to know that their flight was almost over, for even the comfortable dragonsaddle was restrictive after nearly six hours of nonstop travel.

"How about a bit of Sinatra?" Fireflash inquired. "You know Ol' Blue Eyes, right, Arista?"

"You bet, Flash!" the girl answered, smiling. "Why don't you sing New York New
York?"

"Took the words right out of my mouth, doll," the dragon chuckled. "You didn't
raise any dumb kids, Sev." Then he launched into the theme song of the Big Apple, singing lustily.

Some forty minutes later they were circling up above the Statue of Liberty, concealed by Fireflash's masking spell, allowing Severus his first glimpse of the famous landmark, the symbol of freedom and justice for all.

He gazed down at the proud lady in her green robes, her torch held high and burning bright, and felt a lump come into his throat. Oh Amelia, do you see where I am from heaven? I've crossed the ocean to your home, beloved. If only you were here waiting for me.

He looked out over the soaring skyline of Manhattan, with the Empire State Building and the World Trade Center, and a part of his mind was impressed by it, but the majority of his thoughts were consumed by longing for an auburn-haired Dark Hunter whom he would never see again in this life.

He closed his eyes, and Amelia's face was before him, haloed by that blue nimbus,
as she had been the last time he'd seen her, when she'd returned to protect Arista and him from Nightshade.

But I am here, Sev. As long as you remember me, I'll always be with you, no matter
where you go. I'll never leave you, beloved. Her voice echoed in his head and he opened his eyes, blinking away the tears in them. Welcome home, Amelia, my love. You live in my memory forever. Then he gazed out over the Brooklyn Bridge and smiled, imagining his wife waving to him from below.