Epilogue--The Adoption

The next morning, Severus went out to take Scout for a walk, and when he returned he saw Tricia Greenbough sitting on his front porch. He noted immediately that there was something different about the little blond, and not just the fact that she seemed to have lost about twenty-five pounds. There was an odd paleness to her features, as if she had spent most of the summer indoors, her normally straight hair had been teased into an upswept look that Severus thought made her look much too old for her fifteen years. Even her clothes, which were expensive, for Glinda Greenbough did not allow her daughter to wear anything save the best, flattered her rather plump but curvy figure a bit too much for his taste. Strangest of all, despite her new look, she did not carry herself with the kind of self-confidence such changes should have inspired.

"Hello, Professor," she said, giving him a wan smile, one that did not reach her eyes, which looked unutterably weary and sad.

"Hello, Trish," he greeted her, unsnapping Scout's lead and letting the big dog run ahead to lick the girl's hand. "How was your summer?"

"Fine, thanks," she answered distantly. That too was unlike her, normally she chattered nonstop, and she never ignored Scout the way she was doing now, not even giving the dog a hug or letting him lick her on the cheek. "Is Arista at home?"

"Well, she ought to be, since I left her sleeping," he answered, peering at the girl sharply. Something's not right here, he thought uneasily. Trish was easily the most demonstrative of all of Arista's friends, always smiling and effervescent. The girl before him seemed brittle, as if she had all the joy sucked out of her. His teacher's instincts were screaming at him madly that something was very wrong. "Would you like to come in and wait while I see if she's awake? She ought to be up by now, she has a few chores to do for me this morning."

"No, that's all right. I'll just . . .come back later, I guess." Her shoulders slumped slightly as she made her way past him, her head bowed.

Scout whined in concern, gazing after the girl, his blue eyes puzzled.

Maybe she had an argument with her mother or something, he thought, and she wants to talk to Arista about it. Normally, he wouldn't have felt the need to involve himself in any teenage drama scenes, God knew he hated to deal with them at school, because they interfered with his lessons, but something made him halt just before he went inside. He turned about to look after the figure making her slow solitary way down his front walk and alarm bells went off in his head.

"Tricia? Is something the matter?"

She paused. Then she turned to face him. "No, nothing. Why?"

"You look . . .different, is all," he began awkwardly, cursing himself for not knowing how to talk to her. She had been his student for four years, yet he was always careful around the young women, lest some remark or action be misinterpreted by them. God knew the last thing he needed was for some teenage girl to develop a silly crush on him and accuse him of an impropriety. But Tricia Greenbough was not acting like a teenager with a crush, he reminded himself.

"I do, don't I? Why? Don't you like it?" her voice was shrill with indignation. Before he could answer, she continued with a bitter laugh. "My mother thinks it makes me look so sophisticated and wonderful. But I hate it. I hate it!" she cried, then to his utter horror she burst into tears and threw herself at him.

Or maybe it was at the door, only he was in the way, and he caught her reflexively. "Tricia, what on earth—?" he began, putting an arm about her, and helping her into the house. She was crying too hard to see straight.

"Here, why don't you sit down on the couch," he said softly, leading her to the tan sofa. Arista, where are you? I don't deal well with this kind of emotional outburst. Yet he found himself sitting down beside the distraught girl and patting her on the back. She was sobbing softly, hopelessly, overwhelmed by her inner grief, not caring in the slightest if she happened to be crying all over her teacher's shoulder. "Trish? Did something happen to your mother?" he queried, trying to figure out what had triggered this outburst. "Or is it your father?" he added, recalling that she still saw her dad, even though her parents were divorced.

She shook her head at that, hiccuping and sniffling. He conjured a handkerchief and handed it to her. She took it gratefully and blew her nose, at last meeting his eyes. What he saw in them made him stiffen in alarm. For in them was depression and despair so deep and dark it frightened him. No child should ever have that look on her face, he thought frantically. As if life is intolerable and all she wants is to leave it. He wished desperately his daughter were awake, for as an empath she would know best how to deal with this, but he dared not go upstairs and wake her. Tricia was too close to the edge for him to leave her alone.

"Sorry, sir," she managed to say at last, regaining a bit of her composure. "I . . . didn't mean to do that. I just . . ." She wiped her eyes with the handkerchief.

"It's all right. You're not the first student to cry on my shoulder, Greenbough. Arista does it all the time," he said, making his tone light, conversational. "Would you like to tell me what's bothering you?" Besides looking like a walking advertisement for teenage depression and suicide? The cynical part of his mind hissed. "Are your parents well?"

"They're fine. Wonderful, in fact. My dad's expecting another baby with his wife Sally. I don't really mind, he's been wanting another kid for a long time, that's one reason why he and my mum aren't together any more. Because she refused to have more than one child and he wanted a bunch of kids. She told him one was plenty and any more would ruin her figure for modeling." Her mouth twisted into a bitter grimace. "God forbid she should look less than perfect. Or that her daughter should. She's the reason I hate my life, Professor. Because she wants me to become her, and I tried, I really did, all summer, but I just can't be what she needs. She wants a glamour queen, like Brittany damn Marsh, and that's just not me." She gestured down at herself. "I can't take it any more. Nothing I do is any good." More tears followed this statement, trickling softly down her pale cheeks.

"Have you tried talking to her?" he asked, already knowing the answer.

"Only every other day. But she doesn't listen to me. She hears what she wants to hear, not what I'm saying, know what I mean?" He nodded, understanding perfectly. "I'm her daughter, I should be her shadow, liking what she likes, doing what she does. But I'm not her, Professor. I hate all those damn fashion shows, and all the artificial people at them, people who smile to your face and then laugh at you when your back's turned. They can't even hold a decent conversation, all they know is clothes and shoes and stupid make-up tips and the latest spell to make you look like some fantasy goddess. They're cold and shallow and selfish and those are the kind of people my mother wants me to associate with. I hate them and I hate their world, it's all illusion anyway, but whenever I try to tell her that, she just laughs and says that someday I'll appreciate what she's offering me, the opportunity she never had, to rub shoulders with Allison Brant Wickerson and Sandra Glitterbaum. Those are the top models for Witch Weekly and Sophisticated Sorceress, in case you were wondering. They have more money than God and they told her that I had some potential, if I was willing to work with them to better myself. What the blazes is wrong with me the way I am now? I asked her. Know what she said? You look like every other teenage witch your age, ordinary as skimmed milk, and boring as watching grass grow. You remind me of Elspeth the dairy maid. There's no spark, no shine to you, nothing that makes people stop and say there goes Glinda's daughter, isn't she beautiful? She said that to my face, Professor! My own mother told me that I was—was ugly and not fit to be seen in her company."

"She's wrong. Completely and utterly wrong," he told her firmly. "There is nothing wrong with you at all, Tricia Greenbough." He was appalled. The poor girl's falling apart here, and all her mother worries about is what people will SAY?

"Try telling her that!" Trish flared. "At first, I thought, maybe if I do what she wants, things will work out. So I went along with her, and in the beginning I even thought it was fun, going to spas and fancy restaurants, and parties, meeting her so-called friends. Until I learned the way they really were, and then I couldn't stand being in the same room with them. It was like hanging out with ten thousand Brittany Marshes, only they were all grown-up and polished. And my mum wanted me to be like them. She wouldn't let me talk to Mel all summer, she even took away my spellophone and all of my rings, so I couldn't call anyone. She said she didn't want me to be distracted while I was transforming myself. My best friend was nothing more than a distraction. I only managed to sneak out this morning because she was busy getting a facial with Tink." She looked up at him pleadingly. "I want to be just plain Trish again, Professor. I want to be a normal girl, and go shopping with Mel, and eat chocolate cake and hamburgers if I feel like it, or practice spells with Arista, listen to Kit's awful jokes and pretend they're funny, or help Drake with all his animals at the clinic. I'd even—I'd even take one of your killer Potions finals rather than go to another fashion convention," she said with a lopsided smile. "What should I do, sir? I don't know if I can take living there anymore. Sometimes I wish I were dead. Then maybe she'd appreciate me for once."

"No, you don't," he said quickly. "That's the very last thing you want. If you die, she wins. You let her control you then, give her the opportunity to say to all her society friends, look at my poor daughter, she just couldn't take the stress of being perfect. She had no spine," he said cruelly, hoping to snap her out of her depression with his words.

"Like hell I don't! You're right, sir, and I'll be damned if I'll give her the satisfaction," she declared fiercely. Then she sighed and the lost air returned to her. "But what can I do?"

"For now, you can go into the kitchen and have a cup of tea. I'm going to wake up Arista and you can talk to her while I make breakfast. It's never wise to make decisions on an empty stomach. Or so says my mother-in-law." He patted her on the shoulder comfortingly. "Come on, Miss Greenbough. Tea will help you put things into perspective."

She smiled sadly at him. "Only if it's magic tea."

"What other kind would I serve? Now enough dawdling, young lady," he ordered with just a touch of his old briskness. He rose to his feet, and gestured for her to precede him into the kitchen.

She obeyed, sitting at the table with Comfrey in her lap. The lavender gray cat was purring up a storm, using her own brand of magic to soothe and calm the girl's shattered nerves. Trish was stroking her fur over and over, delighting in the silky softness and the sweet aroma of lavender that clung to it.

Good. I'll let Comfrey work on her for a bit, she can soothe a raging manticore, so one depressed teenage girl shouldn't be too much for her to handle for five minutes. He busied himself making the promised tea, a flavorful blend of orange, chamomile, and lavender with a dash of the Draught of Peace in it to combat the feelings of anxiety and depression and hopelessness that were plaguing her. It wasn't a cure-all, but it was the best he could do on short notice.

He left her sipping her tea and petting the cat while he went upstairs and knocked on Arista's door. "Arista, time to get up. Trish is downstairs and she really needs to see you."

Arista yawned, struggling up from the realm of dreams. "Huh? What'd you say, Dad? Did you say Trish is here?"

"Yes. Now just get dressed and come downstairs. She says it's really important and she needs to talk to you."

"I'll be down in a sec," she called, and threw off her covers.

Five minutes later Arista was in the kitchen, dressed in her favorite jeans and mint green top, listening sympathetically to her friend's story, doing her best to alleviate the other girl's pain by sending her comforting feelings of warmth, calm, and love. Gradually, between Comfrey and Arista, Trish calmed down somewhat, and seemed less agitated and depressed.

While Arista worked her magic on her friend, Severus began making blueberry pancakes and bacon, since he knew that was a favorite of both girls.

Trish's eyes lit up when she saw the platter he set on the table. "Oh my God! Are those real pancakes? I haven't seen food like this in over a month, I think." She eagerly helped herself to three of them.

"Why? What were you eating at all those restaurants?" Arista queried, filling her own plate. She gave her father a thumbs-up sign when Trish wasn't looking.

Her friend made a face at her question. "Uh, wheat grass or some other kind of dried nutritious thing that tasted like regurgitated cardboard. Some places, their idea of a meal was a slice of wheat bread, a piece of melon and a handful of walnuts washed down with a glass of water. If you were lucky, you got a salad with dressing. All the models eat like that, they're terrified of gaining weight, so they practically starve themselves." She poured syrup on her pancakes and took a bite. "Mmm. I've died and gone to heaven, I think." Then she ate some bacon. "Nothing tastes as good as your blueberry pancakes, Professor. Those chefs in my mum's gourmet restaurants ought to come over here and take some lessons, learn what food is supposed to taste like."

"Well, I learned from the best," he told her, pleased.

"Who?"

"My mom," Arista answered. "Before he met her, he couldn't cook at all."

Trish stared at him. "You gotta be kidding! You really couldn't cook, sir?"

He shook his head. "Amelia taught me almost everything I know about cooking. The rest I learned by trial and error. But so far I don't think Arista has much to complain about, right?" he seated himself at the head of the small table and began eating as well.

"Who's complaining?" his daughter muttered, swallowing a mouthful of pancake. "The only other person I ever knew that cooks as good as you do is Nana. My grandmother is an incredible cook, Trish, she feeds you 24/7 and gets insulted if you don't eat what she puts in front of you. I'm lucky I didn't gain about fifty pounds while I was at her house. She could feed the whole US Army."

"Maybe I should move there," Trish said enviously. "My mother has Tink do all the cooking at our house."

"Have you thought about maybe living with your dad?" Arista suggested cautiously.

"Yeah, only his wife Sally might not be too keen on me moving in with them. Especially now, with a new baby on the way. I mean, it was no big deal when I stayed a weekend or two, but to actually live there . . .something tells me it would be a bad idea. I think she has the potential to turn into the wicked stepmother, and I'm not going from being Amateur Beauty Queen to Cinderella."

"Did you tell him what's been going on, though?"

"I tried. He didn't answer any of my letters. I guess he's been too busy or whatever," she said mournfully, sipping some more of her tea.

"That's no excuse," Severus said angrily. Maybe I should write him. He might take me more seriously because I'm an adult and her teacher. Her situation is intolerable and something needs to be done about it. He's her father, he ought to take responsibility for his own daughter's problems and help her deal with them, he thought suddenly.

"You can stay here tonight, if you'd like," he offered. Where I can keep an eye on you, make sure you're not going to try and drink hemlock or something, he added mentally.

"Thanks, Professor. I really appreciate this," she said gratefully.

He smiled at her, then raised an eyebrow at Arista's look of utter disbelief. "Yes, I'm aware you're still grounded, Arista, and I said no friends could stay over, but in this case I'll make an exception." Then he added quickly, "But only this once, mind. Don't think I'm letting you off easy any other time, young lady."

"Thanks, Dad." Arista said sincerely.

Trish glanced at her friend curiously. "What did you do this time, Arista?"

"Something I shouldn't have."

"Obviously," her friend rolled her eyes.

"I'll tell you after I clean up here. It's a long story."

* * * * * *
Later that afternoon, Severus composed a succinct letter to Trish's father, Louis, telling him about the incident that morning and stressing the fact that Tricia was wretchedly unhappy and depressed at home. He said she wanted to move in with her father and strongly suggested he speak with her and get all the details from her. He added that she was staying with him for the time being, as he thought it unwise to send her home given the circumstances.

He sent the letter off with Nightfall after asking Tricia for the address. What he got back in reply the next morning made his blood boil.

Dear Professor Snape,
I apologize if Tricia bothered you with her personal tempest in a teapot. You know how teenage girls are, since you teach them, they're over emotional and prone to exaggeration, every little thing is a big drama to them.
You think I don't know that after 14 years of teaching? I can spot a drama queen in two minutes, and Trish isn't one of them, which you'd know if you spent any time with her. Didn't you even read what I wrote, you imbecile? She shows up at my door looking like the poster child for Suicides Anonymous and spends the next ten minutes crying hysterically in my arms and you think she's bloody exaggerating? Maybe you ought to get some help yourself, Mr. Greenbough, you're about as intuitive as a brick wall.

He continued reading, incensed at the other man's blindness.

I know the situation with her mother isn't ideal, unfortunately it's something I can't change now. My wife is expecting and she and Tricia don't get along well, so bringing her to live with me is simply out of the question. The last thing Sally needs right now is to be upset and being around Tricia seems to bring out the worst in her.

I don't believe this. She's your daughter, yet you're willing to leave her at the mercy of your ex-wife, a woman who's proven she's not fit to take care of her, and just go merrily on your way like nothing ever happened. You pompous ass, she's a child, not a damn broomstick! She asks you for help and you ignore her because now you have a new family and to hell with the old one, right? I ought to nominate you for Worst Parent of the Year.

The letter ended with the following remarks.

I've spoken with Glinda and she assured me everything was fine, that Tricia was just being a typical overdramatic teenager, wanting her own way in everything. You know how it is. I'd advise you not be concerned, Professor, she'll get over it in a week or two, but thank you for your consideration.

Louis Greenbough

Oh you do, do you? He read the letter again, his jaw clenched to keep from exploding in anger. The man's total disregard for his own child made him want to smash his fist down Greenbough's throat. And just when, precisely, would you think is the right time to be concerned, after she's killed herself in a fit of depression? Some father you are! My dog could do a better job, he thought scathingly.

Now what, Snape? He thought, running his fingers through his hair agitatedly. He dared not send the girl back home, not with her precarious emotional state. He knew all too well what would happen if he did that. His only other option was to contact her mother and try and convince her of the error of her ways. He knew that he probably had as much chance of succeeding as a pig did of flying, but he had to at least notify her about her daughter's whereabouts. He didn't want to be accused of kidnapping, and he wouldn't put it past the crazy witch to do that if she thought it would benefit her cause.

So he wrote yet another letter, despite his conviction that it would do no good, and was a waste of good parchment and ink.

Meanwhile, Arista contacted Mel via Nightfall and invited her over to speak with Trish. Trish then apologized to her for not speaking to her. Mel, never one to hold a grudge, quickly forgave her, especially once she learned what Trish had been forced to endure and saw what a basket case her friend was as a result.

"What an utterly selfish and dreadful woman!" Mel exclaimed angrily. "She must be the worst damn mother in the world." Then she winced and said, "Sorry, Trish. I shouldn't bash your mum in front of you."

"Go right ahead, Seton. It's not as if I haven't said the same thing myself, and some worse too," Trish shrugged. "I'm past caring about her feelings, since she doesn't care at all about mine. She can go and—what's that expression you American Southerners use, Arista?—whistle up Dixie, I think."

"Actually, it's just whistle Dixie, not whistle it up," Arista corrected with a grin. "But you've got the context right."

"Who's Dixie?" Mel asked.

"Dixie's an old name for the Southern states of America. It's from a song, Dixieland, which was popular way back during the Civil War, or as the Southerners call it, The War Between the States." Arista explained.

They were all sprawled on Arista's bed, drinking glasses of fruit juice and eating a bowl of popcorn drenched in butter, which Mel declared was the perfect food for a heart-to-heart girl chat.

"What's your dad say about all this?" Mel asked. "Is he like, on your side or your mum's?"

"He's on his own side. Professor Snape wrote him and told him how I fell apart and all and that he should let me live there and my dad said it wouldn't work out and he wouldn't inconvenience his precious wife and that I was just exaggerating everything and that was that. Nice, huh? Then again, I shouldn't be surprised, he's never been the type to be supportive about anything unless it has to do with him. He and my mum are alike that way. They care about themselves first and everybody else second."

"So what are you going to do?" Mel asked.

"Stay here, I guess, until Professor Snape kicks me out. I've got nowhere else to go except back with my mum, and I'd rather die than go back there."

"My dad would never kick you out," Arista reassured her. "He's furious at the way your parents have treated you, he says they shouldn't be in charge of a parakeet much less a child."

"Tell me about it. Sometimes I think my mum treats Tink better than she does me, and she's the house elf. They're all jerks, my mum, my dad, and my stepmum. Sometimes I wonder what I did to get born into my family."

"Just bad luck, girlfriend," Mel said sympathetically, eating a handful of popcorn.

"Well, hopefully my luck's taken a turn for the better," Trish said, munching on a handful herself. She sighed in bliss. "Living here is so much better than my house."

"Even though we have no house elf to do chores around here?" Arista asked.

"Definitely. Tink used to spy on me for my mum, tell her if I was sneaking some real food after dinner or trying to send a letter to Mel. It was like living in prison. I'd rather do all the chores by hand rather than put up with her sneaking ways."

"I don't blame you. But you don't have to do chores without magic around here, Trish. I'm allowed to use cleaning spells unless I'm in trouble, then Dad makes me do them without magic, same as when he gives detention at school."

"Why don't you have a house elf, Arista?" Mel asked curiously.

"Because my dad doesn't believe in contracting an entire race of creatures for life just to do housework. He says it makes us lazy. He also thinks giving a kid chores to do builds character and responsibility," Arista recited.

"Hmmm. I never thought about it like that before. But now that you mention it, I can see his point. I mean, we rely on house elves to do so much for us. Cook, clean, do the laundry. I don't think my mum could fix dinner without Berry helping her, and she can't iron to save her life. Last time she ironed my dad's robes for work, she burned a hole in them," Mel said with a chuckle.

"But everyone says the house elves like doing work for us. That even if we set them free, they'd continue to do chores for us, same as always," Trish remarked.

Arista looked skeptical. "Well, sure, that's what they're gonna say. You don't think they'd admit that it was wrong for us to bind them to eternal servitude, now do you? It reminds me of the way the Southern plantation owners used to talk about their slaves. They didn't need to be free, they were like part of the family, and they wouldn't know how to fend for themselves if they were set free, they needed to be told what to do 'cause they were too stupid to make decisions. It was all lies, of course, but people convinced themselves it was true to salve their own conscience. The plantation owners didn't want to hire workers to pick cotton or clean their houses or mind their children when they could get a slave to do it for nothing for as long as he lived. Sound familiar?" Both girls nodded. "That's why American wizards have no house elves either, or if they do, they pay them same as they would anybody else. The elves were set free after the Civil War same as the blacks and I for one think they're better off that way. As my father says, doing a few chores never killed anybody."

"Oh? Then why were you complaining about doing the laundry yesterday, Miss Freedom For All?" teased Trish.

"'Cause it's a big pain in the butt and it takes forever. And 'cause I'm lazy sometimes," Arista admitted. "And my dad knows it, that's why he gives me chores as a punishment most times."

"Can't pull anything over on him, can you?" Mel said.

"Not much," Arista sighed. "All those years as a teacher made him wise to just about every trick in the book. And he can spot a lie from a mile away and he's not even an empath. So don't ever try and lie to him, Trish, that'll make him mad as blazes. Just tell the truth, even if it gets you in trouble," she advised.

"I don't plan on getting in trouble, Arista," her friend said. "I came here to avoid trouble, remember?"

"I know, but I just thought you ought to know that. In case you forget and get in trouble like the rest of us normal kids."

Trish stuck out her tongue at Arista. "Stuff it, Snape. I'm no angel, but I won't screw up my chances with him by being a disrespectful snot either. He's the only thing standing between me and a foster home with Wizard Social Services."

"Then you're not gonna try and get your mum to see reason and quit turning you into a Brittany Wanna-Be?" Mel surmised.

Trish shook her head. "Been there and done that, Mel. The professor wrote her a letter too, same as he did my dad. Know what she told him? That I was an ungrateful child who didn't know how to appreciate everything she'd ever given me, and if I was going to behave that way, I could just stay away until I learned manners and sense and then she'd take me back. Otherwise I could go and live as a charity case if I wanted, she wasn't wasting any more of her time or her money on me."

Mel gasped. "My God! She didn't! That's—that's awful! What kind of mother says that about her own kid?"

"Mine," Trish stated bitterly. "You should have seen Professor Snape's expression after I let him read what she'd written. I thought he was going to spit nails. Either that or fly over there and curse her a good one. I wasn't all that upset, I'd been expecting something like that for awhile, because that's what Mum does when something doesn't please her—she gets rid of it. Then he looked at me and said the nicest thing. He said, You're worth ten of her and her kind, Tricia Greenbough and don't ever let anybody tell you otherwise. You're better off without them, even though it might not seem like that right now. But someday when you're a successful woman, you can go back and show them all what you made of yourself and make them sorry they ever doubted you. I damn near cried right there, because I never thought he'd ever say such a thing about me, a Hufflepuff whose own mother rejected her." She sniffled and dabbed at her eyes with a tissue Mel handed her.

"Don't be silly, Trish," Arista reached out and hugged her. "I told you once before that he likes you, and it doesn't matter to him if you're in Hufflepuff or Slytherin either."

"But in school, it always seems like he favors his own House," Mel pointed out.

"Uh huh, because it would look odd if he didn't. He has to keep up appearances. But outside of school he can put away his professor's mask and just be himself. He's not really the strict and cold person he pretends to be, you both ought to know that by now. If he was, I'd be black and blue a dozen times over by now, the way I answer him back sometimes."

"Has he ever hit you?" Tricia asked softly.

"Never. Not for real. Once he gave me a swat 'cause I wouldn't get up the first day of school, but it didn't hurt. He doesn't discipline like that."

"I'm glad, because if he ever hit me I think I'd go to pieces," Trish said. "I got enough of that kind of thing when my mum was in a snit. She used to smack me across the face if I had an attitude with her, which meant any time I disagreed with her about my diet or clothes. That's one reason I'm glad I don't live with her anymore. She could be a real tyrant, especially when something didn't go right at her job."

"Nasty harpy!" Mel growled. "Somebody ought to slap her across the face a few times, see if that improves her any."

"It probably wouldn't, but it'd be something to see," Trish said. She glanced at her watch. "Oh, good, it's after four. She won't be home till eight tonight, it's her late night. So we can go over the house and take my stuff back here. I'm not bringing much, just my books and school stuff and the clothes I actually like and maybe some jewelry, even though I hate half the stuff she picked out for me, but I can always sell it if I need extra money, I guess. The rest she can keep, I never want to see it again."

"We'll help you pack. And Dad will buy you anything you need, like a new wardrobe and your own bed," Arista offered.

"I know. He told me he'd work a space warp spell on your room so I could have my own half of it. He also said that he's unofficially adopted me and I could call him Severus if I wanted when we weren't in school. But I think I'll stick with Professor for now, until I've gotten used to thinking of him as my guardian."

Arista grinned and hugged her. "Welcome to the family, Trish. I always wanted a sister."

"Me too," Trish said and hugged her back. "Hey, does this mean that now he'll make me some cool present for my birthday?"

"Uh huh. You're like his daughter now," Arista said.

"Aww, man! Can I move in here too? I'll sleep on the floor," Mel said, giving her friends a pleading look.

"You're nuts, Seton." Arista threw a pillow at her. "I'll tell him to make you a bracelet for your birthday. Because if he had to deal with three of us all the time, I think he'd have a stroke."

"You're right," Mel sighed. "The bills I run up on one shopping trip would probably make him keel over, never mind the rest of you. He'd be broke in a month." She bounced to her feet. "Let's go and get you moved out of hell, Greenbough, and into heaven."

"Amen to that!" Tricia laughed, and the haunted cast to her features vanished, to be replaced by her familiar sweet-natured grin.

* * * * * *
About two weeks later, a large snowy owl glided to a landing on the garden gate of the Snape house with a large manila envelope from America. It was addressed to Severus Snape and it was postmarked July 25th. Arista and Trish, her best friend, were playing fetch with Scout in the backyard while Severus read Potions Weekly under the apple tree with Comfrey on his lap.

"Who's it from, Dad?" Arista asked, peering over the professor's shoulder. "The Flynns or the Amarottis?"

"Neither. It's from a DiSarno," he said opening the envelope.

"Marietta!" Arista laughed. "She really did write you."

Inside was a rather lengthy parchment written in Sandy's neat handwriting as well as a crayon drawing. The drawing was of a small house, a little girl with strawberry blond hair holding the leash of what looked like a black dog, and a tall man with black hair wearing a flag shirt and jeans. The picture was colored brightly, if inexpertly and underneath it in large childish print was the following caption: Uncle Sev, Me, & Sevvy Love Marietta.

"Aww! How sweet! She drew you a picture," Arista exclaimed.

"A really good one too," Trish observed. "How old is she, anyway?"

"Three and a half," Severus answered, handing the drawing to Arista. "She's a clever little scamp."

Arista examined the drawing and frowned in puzzlement. "That's weird. Wasn't the stuffed dog we gave her gold, Dad?"

"Of course, it was a stuffed magehound."

"Then why is Sevvy black in this picture?"

Severus shrugged. "I don't know. Maybe she felt like coloring a black dog instead of a gold one." He unfolded the letter and began to read it. It began:

Dear Uncle Sev,

Mom wrote this letter for me 'cause I don't know how to spell all the big words yet. But I really wanted to tell you all about the adventures me and Sevvy have had since you left. I took him to school and everything. He's my best friend, except for you. I miss you lots and can't wait for next Fourth of July. I drew this picture for you in art class, my teacher gave it a gold star. Sevvy and I go everywhere together, I bought him a leash so he doesn't get lost. He sleeps with me at night and I'm not afraid of the dark when he's next to me. Maybe we'll come and visit you someday, Mom says. Tell Arista and Scout and Comfrey I miss them too.

XOXO,
Marietta

Then, beneath that section was another letter, this time written by Sandy.

Sev,

I just had to write and tell you what a big difference that stuffed dog you gave her has made in my life. Since she got Sevvy, Marietta is much better behaved than she used to be. Not that she doesn't have her days, because she does, but on the whole she's less apt to throw tantrums over little things and she loves Sevvy to pieces. She brings him everywhere, I think she'd even take a bath with him if she could. She talks to him as if he were alive, and at dinner he sits at the table with her and we have to pretend to feed him like a real dog. Once I made the mistake of giving him some real food and Marietta said, "Mom, you know dogs can't eat spinach, it makes them sick!" But I guess she makes an exception for dessert, because Sevvy gets a piece of cake or whatever just like she does.

"Of course he would, she's not dumb!" Severus chuckled. "That way she gets two desserts instead of one, the little minx."

She makes up all kinds of stories with the dog, they've gone off to explore the Amazon and to the North Pole to visit Santa and to Africa on a safari and to Washington D.C. to meet the President. I don't know where she comes up with half of this stuff, she can't even read yet. But one day she disappeared from the yard while I was talking to a neighbor and I damn near had heart failure. I cast a locate spell as soon as I realized she was missing, and found her walking down the street, pulling Sevvy along behind her. I was so mad I nearly slapped her. "What were you doing, young lady? Running away from home?" I asked. But she said, "No. We weren't running away, Mom. Sevvy wanted to go to London, 'cause that's where Uncle Sev is. So we were walking there." I nearly fainted. Then of course I had to explain to her that London was too far to walk and she'd see you next Fourth of July, like you'd promised. Then I made her promise to never do anything like that again, and had her write to you instead.

She took Sevvy to preschool one day, it was the only time she did, because she got into a fight with another kid over him and punched him in the nose! She said he tried to steal Sevvy and take him home. I wouldn't doubt it, because the dog was the hit of her class. The preschoolers went completely nuts over him. All the kids wanted to hug him, they loved the way he had a heartbeat and made them happy. One mother wrote me the next day and asked me where she could get one, said her daughter was driving her crazy begging her for a dog just like Marietta's. She tried to buy her a regular stuffed magehound, but her kid had a fit, said it wasn't the same. Several other parents have contacted me since and wanted to know what charm was on the dog, because none of them could figure it out. They all tried to give their kids dogs like Sevvy, but all of them said their dogs were no good because they had no heartbeat and didn't love you back when you held them. You could make a fortune selling them if you wanted to, Sev. Half the preschoolers in the district want one. And what is that charm you used anyway?

After that little incident, Sevvy stayed home in her room, but as soon as she got home, off she went with him to play. It's wonderful the way she keeps herself amused now instead of pestering me to go somewhere or do something every five minutes, although when she does get into trouble, sometimes she blames the dog. "It was Sevvy's idea!" is an excuse I hear every day when she touches something she shouldn't or breaks something. Sevvy knocked over my Chinese vase, spilled a gallon of milk on the floor, played with my lipstick, and took my jewelry box for buried treasure on the pirate ship. And yes, she really buried it somewhere in the backyard. It took Paul and I hours to find it, God help us all.

Sometimes I think she could drive me to drink, I swear. But the best is yet to come. Paul invited his brother Eddie over for dinner one night and when he saw Marietta he asked how his favorite niece was, the way he usually did, since she's the only one he has. And my little imp, God help her, says bold as brass, "Well, you're not my favorite uncle, Uncle Sev is. He gave me Sevvy and took me to a dog show and I like him the best of all." I wanted to die right there. Luckily, Eddie wasn't offended, he even laughed about it, but I scolded her anyway, not that it did much good, because all she said afterwards was, "But it's true, Uncle Sev really is my favorite uncle." I gave up then, because she's got the Amarotti stubbornness in spades. At least she's honest.

Recently, Sevvy got a dye job, and now he's black instead of gold. Marietta got a hold of a can of black paint that Paul was using to paint the trim over the garage and somehow Sevvy fell in it. I think she did it on purpose, because she says that now he's got black hair like yours, Sev. One of her cousins teased her about it, saying there was no such thing as a black magehound. Marietta replied, "Well, there is now! So there!"

I never know what she's going to think up next, but I guess that's part of raising a child, some days they make you want to hug them and other days they give you a heart attack. With Marietta, I just pray I make it to old age.

Write back and let us know how you're doing, Marietta wants to see some pictures of Hogwarts, so please send us some if you've got any. I'll keep you updated on the Saga of Marietta and Sevvy. See you next Fourth!

Love,
Sandy, Marietta, and Sevvy (of course!)

Dearest God, what have I started? Professor Snape groaned. Next thing you know she'll be writing a book about me. Or maybe a whole series. I can just see it now. Uncle Sev, Marietta, and Sevvy Go to Hollywood, or the Moon, or Around the World. Based on true stories, heaven help me.

He could picture hordes of eager preschoolers with their parents in tow descending upon his peaceful little house on Spinner's End, begging for an autograph, a picture, a signed copy of the latest book. If that ever happened he was moving to Antarctica, he vowed. Although even that probably wouldn't keep Marietta from finding him, the little minx, he thought fondly.

Arista and Trish were laughing hysterically over the letter, and then his daughter looked up at him and said, her eyes glinting with mischief, "What if one day she really did come to Hogwarts, Dad? Wouldn't that be something?"

"God help us all," Snape muttered. "The school would never be the same. And neither would I. I'd either be fired or dead of embarrassment."

"Come on, Dad. You're telling me you can't handle one little three year old?"

"That little three year old is capable of causing a national disaster. I don't even want to think about the trouble she'd cause at school. I've got all I can handle with you there, Arista, never mind Marietta."

"I hope the next Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher isn't some homicidal maniac like our last one," Trish said. "Got any idea who it might be, Professor?"

"No. I'll find out the same day you will."

"One thing I do know, is that whoever it is can't be any worse than Gilderoy Lockhart," Trish predicted. "The only thing he ever taught us was how to address fan mail."

"Guess we'll find out in September. If next year's anything like last year, it'll be full of surprises. Just like this summer," Arista said.

"Heaven forbid," she heard her father mutter under his breath.

She hid a grin. "You know, I just realized something. This summer ended the same way it began."

"How do you figure that?" Severus asked.

"Well, it began with a letter inviting us to Amelia's christening. And it ended with a letter from Marietta. We've come full circle."

"Is that good or bad?" Trish wondered.

"It's good," Arista replied. "As Trelawney would say, it shows that everything balances."
"This once, I happen to agree with her." Severus put in.

"Now there's a first," Arista murmured. He shot her a mock-glare, and she smiled at him cheekily.

"Hey, I got an owl from Kit this morning," Trish announced. "He's back from visiting his relatives in Ireland and says he has loads to tell us."

"Bet he didn't have a summer like ours, though," Arista commented.

"You can say that again," Severus said feelingly. "This is one summer that none of us will ever forget."

Both of his girls agreed with him. Arista knelt to stroke Comfrey and thought, Bring on the next year at Hogwarts, 'cause after this summer, I think we're ready for anything.

A/N: well, here's the end of part two of my Arista and Sev saga. I'll be posting part three Arista Snape and the Ghosts in the Tower up soon as well as reposting the Christmas fic featuring everyone's favorite mischief maker, Marietta, since it posted all in one shot and I didn't realize it. Oops!

Meantime, check out POTIONS PRODIGY-for a mishap with a potion that de-ages Severus back to a four year old and now Arista & Trish have to raise their dad . . .until they can make the antidote!

Ghosts takes places during sixth year and has more of Harry, Ron, Hermione, Draco and Voldemort and the war between good and evil is resolved in this one with lots of battles, anguish and sorrow . . .but ultimately a happy ending. . .what else?


Thank all of you for your many wonderful reviews and Sev and I thank you! Chocolate frogs and gummy worms for all who review!