A/N: Anything you recognise from the Harry Potter universe belongs to JKR and/or WB. I own nothing but the plot and the OC and am not making any money with this story. Hence, any reviews will be very much appreciated.
beta: Apple Blossom
Chapter 1: The First He Had to Protect
Severus Snape, newly appointed Potions master at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, was standing in front of the Deputy Headmistress' desk with his head held high and his hands clasped behind his back. And he couldn't help but put his chin out just a little bit. Minerva McGonagall was not going to make him feel like a student once more. He was her colleague now, a teacher like her. She was not going to intimidate him. And she was most certainly not going to tell him how he was supposed to do his job. But exactly that seemed to be her intention.
'As Head of House, it is your responsibility to talk to the girl,' she pointed out, fixing Snape with a look that would make anyone else rush to the task, never daring to contradict her. But Snape wasn't having any of it.
'Miss McKibben will be of age in three weeks,' he argued. 'If she does not want to continue her Defence Against the Dark Arts studies, there is little I can do.'
The Deputy Headmistress pursed her lips. 'In three weeks' time, yes. Today, Miss McKibben is still under-age, and seeing that her father has not given his permission for her to drop Defence Against the Dark Arts, she is skipping classes. And that, Severus, is something you, her Head of House, will have to address. Furthermore, it is in your own interest that your students do well. Miss McKibben's Defence grades have always been excellent. It would be a waste of talent if she dropped the subject in her NEWT year. It will make Slytherin lose valuable House points.' She shrugged and managed to look indifferent. 'But if you want the House Cup to go to Gryffindor, be my guest.'
Snape gritted his teeth. McGonagall had always known how to push his buttons, already when he had been her student. She knew perfectly well that Slytherins were ambitious and competitive by nature and that he – Slytherin as he was – would have to make sure now that the House Cup would stand in his study by the end of the school year, even if it meant that he had to interact with students outside his classroom, a task which he had avoided so far.
'You'll have to talk to the girl right away, Severus,' McGonagall added. 'She has already missed two classes, and you don't want her to fall behind, now do you?'
Of course, Snape didn't want that. He wanted that House Cup, and to get it, he needed his students to achieve as many Outstandings in their exams as possible. And he would make that very clear to Miss McKibben. He would give her detention for the two Defence classes she had skipped. He would also add one extra detention because her skipping class had resulted in him having been called to McGonagall's office. And yet another detention he would add because he had to call Miss McKibben to his office. He had far better things to do on a Friday night than talk to a student.
A few minutes later, Snape slammed the door of his study shut behind him, almost begging for someone to come knocking so he would have someone to yell at. But the three Slytherin first-years that had been unfortunate enough to meet their Head of House in the dark dungeon corridor were now back in their dormitories, shaking and wiping off their tears. None of them would dare disturb Snape that night, not even if the Slytherin common room were on fire.
A well-placed hex sent a couple of phials smashing into the dungeon wall, and the sound of breaking glass that followed was like sweet music to Snape's ears. And the thought of those phials smashing against someone's head instead of the wall was more than satisfying. McGonagall's head, maybe, or McKibben's. Or Dumbledore's, or the Dark Lord's.
Snape sneered. He had understood the cleverness of Dumbledore and the Dark Lord's plans that put him in a teaching position at Hogwarts. It meant that he could spy for both sides and no one would ever be the wiser. And it had not seemed like too bad an idea in the beginning. His position enabled Snape to enjoy the privileges of being a Hogwarts teacher, eat three meals a day, sleep in a warm bed and receive a pretty well-filled bag of Galleons at the end of every month. And maybe, just maybe, the role he was playing would show Lily that he wasn't like the Death Eaters-to-be he had hung out with while they had still been at school. Maybe, she would be awed by the fact that he had thrown himself into mortal danger to bring the Dark Lord down and – at the same time – protect her. Maybe, when everything was over, Lily would come back to him. Maybe …
Snape shook his head and banished the picture of Lily Evans – yes, Evans, not Potter – out of his mind. He had sworn not to think of her. It was too dangerous. If the Dark Lord ever found out just how much Snape cared about her ...
Back to the task at hand then, Snape thought and groaned. He had most certainly not signed up for this. Teaching Potions was bad enough. He hated sharing his passion with a bunch of untalented nitwits. He had racked his brain to come up with another position he could fill at Hogwarts that would enable him to be around Dumbledore almost twenty-four hours a day. Teaching Defence would not have been half as bad as teaching Potions, but Dumbledore had turned Snape down. And Snape had accepted the Headmaster's decision. For the time being, at least. Should he still be at Hogwarts in one year's time, he would apply for the Defence post once more. And that time, he would get it. But most probably, he would not last a year, Snape admitted grudgingly. He wasn't teacher material, he knew that very well. His standards were too high and his tolerance too low to endure babbling teenagers. Sooner or later, he would either poison one of them or suffer a stroke.
The only thing at Hogwarts Snape hated more than teaching, however, was being Head of House. It was bad enough to endure teenage idiocy for the duration of a Potions lesson. But having to talk to those dunderheads in private, discussing everything from grades over family matters to pimples and hormones, that was something Snape hated with a passion. He had almost hexed the little, timid-looking first-year who had come knocking on his door two days into term, telling him in a tear-filled voice that she was homesick and wanted to speak to her mother. After that, Snape had made sure to always wear a scowl outside his office. Maybe, he thought, if he looked intimidating enough, none of his House would be brave enough – or stupid enough – to come knocking on his door. So far, this strategy seemed to be working, Snape concluded. He had now been working at Hogwarts for two weeks, and no one else had dared approach him or disturb him in his study. And he had been thoroughly enjoying the lack of professor-student-interaction. But now, McGonagall had told him that he actually had to call one of his students into his office in order to remind the girl that slackness would not be tolerated in Slytherin House. Oh, McKibben would pay for that.
She arrived less than five minutes after Snape had sent an elf to fetch her. The knock on the door was firm, and judging from it, Snape expected a broad-shouldered, sturdy girl to enter. But he knew that he was wrong. It had taken him only a day or two to learn the names of the the students in Slytherin House, and he knew that Nadezhda McKibben was anything but broad-shouldered and sturdy. Instead she was tall and slender and moved so silently that the only sound announcing her entering Snape's study was the creaking of the heavy oak door.
'You wished to see me, Professor.'
Snape slowly put down his quill and equally slowly lifted his eyes from the parchment in front of him to look at the girl. She stood very straight, her arms hanging seemingly relaxed at her sides and her eyes respectfully lowered to the floor. Everything about Nadezhda McKibben's posture spoke of an upbringing in a fine Wizarding household, where she had been taught to look pretty and modest and keep her mouth shut. Just as all the daughters of old Wizarding families were taught. Most probably, Snape thought, the girl was already betrothed. Most probably, she would have bred by the age of twenty. Most probably, it didn't matter whether she studied Defence or not. She would marry a nice pureblood boy, have nice pureblood babies and would never have to work a single day in her life.
'Miss McKibben, do you know why you are here?' Snape asked in a cold tone, making an active decision to not offer the girl a seat. He didn't want this conversation to last even a second longer than necessary. He still considered the meeting to be a waste of time.
The girl shook her head. 'No, sir,' she replied, her voice firm but her eyes still cast to the floor.
'Professor McGonagall informs me that you have decided not to continue with your best subject at NEWT level,' Snape explained. He had the girl's OWL grades in front of him. She had achieved Exceeds Expectations in Potions, Transfiguration, and Herbology and Outstanding in Defence Against the Dark Arts and Charms. 'Care to explain?'
Once more, the girl shook her head, a gesture which made her long, raven black hair fall from her shoulders and obscure her face.
'Miss McKibben, I expect to be given an answer when I ask a question,' Snape barked.
The girl mumbled something something in reply, and Snape couldn't decide whether her mumbling annoyed him or disappointed him. The girl had looked rather confident when she had entered his study, just as confident as she did when walking down the corridors or to her bench in his classroom. Snape had hoped for this confidence to last a little bit longer than two minutes.
'Miss McKibben,' he addressed her, his voice now low and threatening, 'Speak up when you are talking to me.'
The girl hesitated a moment before she spoke. 'My father said it wouldn't be fitting for me to study Defence Against the Dark Arts.'
Snape raised an eyebrow in surprise. 'And why is that, Miss McKibben?'
'I think you know the reason, sir.'
The cheek! Snape's black eyes flashed dangerously. He did not care much for the tone the girl was suddenly taking.
'Miss McKibben,' he hissed. 'You are testing my patience. I demand a straight answer now: why would you – or your father, for that matter – think it unfitting for you to continue studying Defence Against the Dark Arts, your best subject?'
The girl's head snapped up, and Snape found himself staring into a pair of green eyes that made the breath catch in his throat. Emerald green and almond-shaped, just like Lily's, but framed with long, dark lashes. And in Nadezhda McKibben's eyes was not a trace of the smile he had so often seen in Lily's eyes when they had been children. The eyes he was staring into now were empty of any emotion and cold like a frozen lake.
'The reason why it is unfitting for me to study Defence Against the Dark Arts, sir,' the girl started, her voice just as empty of emotion as her eyes, 'is branded onto your left forearm. And in three weeks' time, it will also be on mine.'
Snape swallowed. Branded onto his left forearm. The girl must be talking about the Dark Mark. But how did she know?
His mind started to work feverishly. McKibben. McKibben. Who was the girl's father? In front of Snape's inner eye, there popped up the image of a middle-aged, balding wizard. Quite wrinkly, with dark shadows under his eyes. He was working for the Ministry. Or at least, that was where he was getting his monthly Galleons from. In fact, he was working for the Dark Lord. Snape had no idea if McKibben carried the Dark Mark, but from what he had heard so far, it seemed as if the girl was prepared to take it. In three weeks' time, when she came of age.
'Have a seat, Miss McKibben,' Snape said, trying to keep both his voice and his facial expression neutral. He had to let her sit down now. Most probably, it would be advisable to even put the kettle on. Their conversation was about to take much longer than he had anticipated.
'There is nothing we can do, Severus.'
Snape gritted his teeth. He knew, of course, that he was not to meddle, that it would be dangerous to even think about it, but still he did not like Dumbledore's answer. Were they to sit back and watch as one of their students joined the ranks of the Death Eaters? A young, innocent girl? A girl who most probably had no idea what it meant to be a servant of the Dark Lord? There must be something they could do.
'You have spoken to Miss McKibben, I assume?' Dumbledore asked calmly.
'With little effect,' Snape growled. 'The girl is brainwashed. She thinks that it is an honour to receive the Dark Mark.' He let himself fall onto the chair which Dumbledore had offered him over ten minutes ago. 'She has no idea what lies in store for her.'
'Brainwashed might be the wrong word to use.' Dumbledore pointed out, pushing a cup of tea towards his Potions master. 'The girl has been raised in family where blood purity has always been highly valued. She has been fed with Voldemort's propaganda from the very start. For her, his truth is the truth.'
Snape snorted. What Dumbledore had just said was the best definition of brainwashed he had ever come across.
'From what Miss McKibben told me,' he continued, 'she is expecting to be given the Dark Mark in three weeks, on the night of her seventeenth birthday. Can we not just forbid her to leave the castle that night?'
Dumbledore smiled kindly. 'Forbid her to leave the castle? Dear Severus, would me forbidding you to leave have made you stay in your dormitory the night Lucius Malfoy took you to meet Lord Voldemort for the first time?'
'This is different, Headmaster. The girl is innocent.'
'And you weren't?
To that, Snape said nothing. He had no intention of discussing the purity of his soul with Dumbledore tonight. What he wanted was to make sure that the girl's soul was given a chance to remain pure.
'There must be something we can do, Headmaster,' he urged once more.
Dumbledore nodded pensively and started pacing his office. At the window, he lingered, petting his Phoenix with his left hand. 'Maybe there is, Severus,' he said slowly. 'But it will require something you don't like doing.'
Snape frowned. There were many things he did not like doing. What could the Headmaster be after?
'It will require you interacting with a student outside your classroom. Miss McKibben has missed two Defence lessons and has fallen behind. I also believe she deserves detention for having skipped those two classes. Let her serve detention with you, Severus. Teach her white magic and listen to her reasons for choosing the dark. Maybe, you will be able to find a counter argument. Maybe, you will be able to change her mind.'