Severus desperately needed to find a healer. It had been on his list of priorities since relocating everyone to Grimmauld Place. The abundance of food and psychological services had significantly improved the health of the children, but he knew they needed to be seen by someone on a semi-regular basis, just to check their general health. They had been so poorly neglected when he happened upon them, and the five years he worked with them in the orphanage were not enough to undo the significant damage that they had experienced.
He resolved that, now that he had a few things under control, he would find a healer and bring him or her here to see them. Even if he had to kidnap and Obliviate to do it. Not that he actually would, mind. Hermione had vetoed that idea.
He also needed to speak with Longbottom about Leopold. Lovegood had encouraged him to talk to Longbottom, saying that he now had an ally on the staff of Hogwarts. Longbottom was neither a Head of House nor a Slytherin, he was a Gryiffindor and a piss-poor one at that, but he had to admit that his only other option was to continue the status quo. After all the changes the last six months had brought, the status quo was no longer acceptable.
"Severus?" Harry asked from the doorway just after lunch. Snape was sitting at the kitchen table scratching something onto a sheet of parchment. The smug smirk he always wore when he thought no one was looking disappeared as soon as he noticed Harry.
"Go away, Potter, I'm busy."
"That's not what Hermione just said."
Snape scowled at Harry and conceded, putting down his quill.
"Very well, Potter, what is it? And don't waste my time."
"Wouldn't dream of it," Harry said, making himself quite at home in the seat directly across from Snape. Snape looked…good. Relaxed, definitely more relaxed. Harry figured it was a combination of extra hands, healthier children, and, ahem, Hermione. He would keep these thoughts to himself, of course. He wasn't that stupid.
"I thought about what you told me a few weeks back, about how dangerous my job is given my new responsibilities. I don't know if Hermione's mentioned it or not, but I've decided to leave the Auror Office." Severus's expression remained unchanged, but he crossed his arms and inclined his head. Hermione must have mentioned something. "Anyway, I want to do something different with my life, no more chasing after Dark Wizards. Hermione walked away from her dead-end Ministry job and has seemed really happy here, and I can see it made a difference. What you're doing here is more important than anything the Ministry is doing right now, for them or for anyone else."
"Your point, Potter?"
"I want to join up too. Full time. Like Luna and Hermione."
Snape's face went pale. "No."
"What do you mean, 'no,' you can't just reject me because you don't like me."
"This is my program. Of course I can reject you just because I don't like you."
"No, this is our program. You'd still be in the dungeon of that god-forsaken place with all of them if not for me and Hermione. I can help and you know I can help."
Snape sighed. "To do what? What possible skills can you impart that you haven't been assigned to do already?"
"Self-defence, for one. It sounds like many of them need it when they get to Hogwarts, particularly if they're being targeted by bullies. And believe it or not I wasn't bad at maths in school. I know Neville and Hermione have been sharing that subject back and forth, but I think you'd be impressed."
"Given that you could rarely add the correct number of porcupine quills to a simple first-year boil cure potion, I cannot say that I believe you."
"I'm disappointed, Severus. You have to reach back nearly thirteen years to come up with a relevant insult." This earned Harry another glare. No surprise there. "I know that you and I have an uneasy history, but you know that I'm devoted to this project as much as Hermione is. If not for you, for them. And if not for them, for Hermione. I know she'd be happy to see us working together more closely."
"And honestly, Severus, I carry a lot of clout with the Ministry still. I can work full time to get you the resources you need—services at Hogwarts. Did we ever have a counselor there? I know I didn't, and I also know that I could have used one in my teens, and I was far from the only person who did. Most of the kids there probably suffer some sort of war trauma, and I could get them to pay attention. It would help everyone there, including and especially the kids for whom you are a guardian. And that's only the tip of the iceberg. I'm sure there's more we could do.
"But most of all, Severus…I'd really like to be your friend. After everything that's passed between us, and everything that we now know, I would really like to call you my friend."
Snape uncrossed his arms in a flash and leaned over the table, giving Harry a murderous glare, pointing his finger in Harry's face.
"You listen to me Potter. I am not your friend and I never will be. I have no desire to be your friend. Not then, not now, and not ever. I don't know where this hero worship is coming from, but I assure you that it is unfounded and you only persist in making yourself out to be a bigger dunderhead than I ever imagined you could be. I am no hero and no person to befriend. And the fact that your friend and I have…are…it changes nothing between us."
Harry leaned forward to meet his former teacher eye-to-eye as equals. He knew this game and was no longer intimidated by this man. He could now see his cutting remarks for what they were: a defence mechanism. He spoke in the calm, even voice that had become his staple in the years since the war.
"Whether you are prepared to accept it or not, you are a hero. You were asked to perform the impossible and you did the unthinkable, all for the greater good. You were at the right hand of the devil and directed him in ways that are both masterful and powerful, saving countless lives. That alone makes you a hero.
"But you also show a great capacity for love and loyalty. You loved my mother far longer and far more deeply than my father ever did, and you protected me far better than he or anyone else ever could. You and I both know what could have happened had you made a single decision differently, had you not loved so deeply, and had you not taken your loyalty so seriously. That makes you a good man and a hero. And it makes me a bad person for leaving you for death in that Boat House, something for which I will forever be ashamed."
Snape made to interrupt but Harry held up his hand to stop him. Surprisingly, Snape let him continue.
"Like it or not, Severus, you are one of the good guys. You can stop hiding in the shadows now and continue to do the great things you are doing. Just accept the help that is being offered. You know I have no talent for Occlumency—see if I have an ulterior motive. I signed up to be a part of this months ago, and now I want to embrace that commitment more fully. I want to do it because I believe it's the right thing to do, but also because I owe it to you to help you build something that matters to you. Like it or not, I owe you, Severus. Call it a life debt, call it survivor's guilt, call it what you want: I am in your debt and I want to repay it. I will not accept you discharging it or denying it. I want to help you. Let me help you."
Snape stared at Harry for a long time, his face a mask, yet Harry could see his Adam's apple bob once as he swallowed. Harry pretended not to notice.
"I know you've got a cutting remark prepared about how moving my little speech was, but rather than play that game, just accept that I will be here at nine o'clock on the tenth of September; I have to give my notice to the Auror Office. We can't all leave in a blaze of glory like Hermione. I have no doubt you will have plenty of work ready for me."
Seized with true Gryffindor nerve, he reached out and patted Snape on the shoulder as he left. "Have a good day, Severus."
Severus didn't often miss his time at Hogwarts, but at this moment he very much his ability to scare the shite out of other people. With his billowing black robes and curtains of dark black hair and unfeeling black eyes and the ability to perform black magic, he had maintained the upper hand in nearly every situation he encountered.
Now, sitting in a kitchen with lilac walls wearing light grey shirtsleeves and with hair that fell softly around his face in light waves, he was rendered more or less impotent.
At least he still had the same eyes.
Harry Potter had out-talked him. Harry fucking Potter would now be working here. Full-time.
Severus leaned back in his chair and exhaled, looking up to the ceiling as if asking God what he had done to deserve such a fate, before realising that, like most of his personal tragedies, he had brought this one upon himself.
Had to give him careers advice, the voice mocked. Had to tell him exactly what you thought. And now he'll be here all day, every day. No avoiding him now.
That was the thing, wasn't it? As it happened now, Severus could mostly avoid Potter whenever he was here. He worked full-time and went home to his family at night. He came only on weekends, maybe an evening or two during the week, and Severus could usually avoid him. At least it wasn't all day, every day. Now it would be.
Hermione, ever a creature of habit, sat at her desk in her bedroom using a planner to map out when and what she would teach to the children that week—colour-coded, of course—when Severus burst in, slamming the door behind him. He stood next to her, glaring down at her over his hook nose, his expression murderous.
"What?" Hermione asked dumbly, at a loss for what would make Severus so upset. He had seemed fine that morning…
"What have you said to Potter?" He demanded.
"What do you mean?" She was lost.
"What have you told Potter?" He repeated himself, this time with more venom in his voice.
She stood up, uncrossed his arms, and gently took his hands in hers. His hands were cold and tense. "What's wrong, Severus?"
Practically spitting the words out, he ranted, "Potter has just barged in and announced that he will be leaving his job at the Auror Office to come join you, me, and Lovegood here full time. He also shared some ideas he has for expanding services at Hogwarts and for those who have left Hogwarts." He narrowed his eyes at her.
"That's brilliant, Severus!" Hermione said. "You've now got four people doing the work you used to do all on your own, and now you are freed up to do all the things you talked about doing!" Despite her cheery tone, Severus seemed unmoved. "What's the matter, I thought this was what you wanted?"
Severus seethed. "I know this was your idea—Potter has never had an original idea in his life; every plan he ever had came from you and I know that this is no different. I told you not to meddle with this sort of thing, and now you've gone and got Harry fucking Potter involved in all of this."
"Now you wait a moment," Hermione said sharply. "I did nothing of the sort. Harry and I talked to you about this, together, in your office, months ago, when we first proposed this endeavour. And leaving the Auror Office was Harry's idea and Harry's alone. He thinks it's too risky a position now that he has a family and he really believes in the work here. A sentiment that, if I remember correctly, you shared. You yourself have expressed a desire to have more help and now you have it."
He refused to meet her eye. "Is this about what he proposed to you, or the fact that it was he who proposed it?" she asked pointedly. Again he refused to respond. His face was taut and inscrutable, all lines and angles. She could feel the tension in his hands, see the strain in his eyes, and knew that he was nearly at his breaking point. Something about Harry, or just Potters in general, had the ability to take the most controlled man she had ever met and render him utterly apoplectic. Hermione realised that he was not so much angry as he was distressed at the idea of being in such proximity to a Potter for so many hours of every single day, in his own home, even one who had long since proven himself an ally.
What was it that Harry had once said Dumbledore said about Severus and James after their disastrous Occlumency lessons? Some wounds run too deep for the healing. But had anyone ever really tried to help Severus heal these wounds? Or just expected him to ignore them until they went away?
"Severus," she said, trying to maintain a gentle and even tone with him. "Severus, do you trust me?" He finally met her eyes, and for a long time brown and black eyes locked on one another. "Do you trust me, Severus?" she asked, this time in a whisper, squeezing his hands as she did so.
He let out a deep sigh that was almost a shudder, shut his eyes, and after a long moment gave the faintest of nods. She squeezed his hands tighter and took a step closer.
"You know I care about these children as much as you do, right? Their well-being?" Again, a very faint nod. She closed the gap between them just a little bit more.
"I'm going to ask you to trust me about one more thing, Severus. I'm going to ask you to trust that my best friend wants the same things I do, and that you trust that I would not have involved him if I didn't believe with every fibre of my being that he would be nothing but an asset to you." She squeezed his hands one more time and then took one last step forward, enveloping him in her arms. He leaned into her and pressed his face into her hair but did not wrap his arms around her in turn.
"Severus, I know that your history with Harry is complicated and painful, and I know that even after all this time it is still very difficult for you to separate him from James and Lily. I know his very existence is a regret to you." She rubbed her hands up and down his back, trying to relax him. "I know what you showed him back in the Boat House," she whispered. "I never saw the memories myself, and he didn't tell me everything he saw, he only mentioned your feelings about Lily. It was immediately after Voldemort fell and we thought you were dead. I'm so sorry."
She had never explicitly told him that she knew what he had revealed to Harry on that horrible night, and he had never asked. She half expected him to push her away, to scream at her, to throw her out. She thought he might begin another tirade against Harry for betraying such information to others. He was an intensely private person, and these were his most private thoughts and feelings. But he did none of these things. He instead let out another shuddering sigh and slowly threaded his arms under Hermione's to wrap them around her waist. She hoped this meant she was forgiven for knowing such things.
"Severus, you are Harry's last link to his parents. He admires you so much, so much, for what you did for them and for him. And with everyone he, we, lost in the war," her voice began to catch but she willed herself not to cry, "he feels like he lost his connection to them. Everyone who knew and loved them in life is no longer here for him to talk to. Except for you. Harry wants to be close to you because he knows that you were a large part of his mother's life. Everyone talked about James when they were alive, but no one ever talked about Lily. Not even Dumbledore.
"I can't explain to you how upset he was that he never got to learn about her from the people who knew her best. And now…now you're in his life. He doesn't want to pester you or bring up unfriendly memories. It's just…now that he knows what your relationship was, he wants to know more about you, because Lily would never have been friends with you had you not been a good person with a good soul.
"As for his work here, you already know his motivations for that so I won't go over them again. But please, give Harry a chance. We were only children back then, when your relationship was at its worst. I think that you like me quite a bit better now that you know me as an adult, yes?"
She gave him a squeeze in an attempt to bring some levity into the discussion. He said nothing, but squeezed back and gave a little huff of breath and another small nod. "I don't think you ever knew James as an adult, because in truth he never got to become one. And I know that Harry was far from your favourite pupil." Another squeeze. "But as the person who knows Harry more than just about anyone, I can tell you that he has grown into a thoughtful man who values love and loyalty, and I think he's a man you might want to get to know. And even if you don't," she pulled away slightly to press a kiss to his forehead, "trust at least that he is working on your side toward your goals."
Severus stood there, arms wrapped around hers, head buried in her hair. She thought she felt him tremble just slightly, so slightly that she couldn't be sure it actually happened. Then he spoke in a voice so quiet and small Hermione had to strain to hear him.
"People don't just want to help me," he said. "And I'm not the man either of you think I am, the things I've done…"
"Oh, Severus," Hermione whispered. "I do know what you have done, and I do know the kind of man you are. And I'm not the only one, either.
"You are a good man who has paid his debts ten times over. You are a man people want to help. That may not have been true in your old life, but it is true in this life. I can promise you it will be true as long as you have me. Remember, you trust me, right?" She squeezed him and felt him squeeze back.
"Severus, I promise you that I will never, ever, betray that trust."
He finally lifted his head to meet hers, his eyes glistening but swimming in pain and fear. He had let his mask drop and she knew, just knew, that he was waiting for her to betray him. For another Potter to ruin his life. She brought her hands to his cheeks and pressed a soft kiss to his lips. She could taste salt on them and knew he had let a few tears fall in their embrace. As she drew away, he grasped her wrists with his hands and pulled her in for another kiss. This one was deeper, more desperate. They pulled closer together, wrapping themselves around each other.
"Where are they?" Hermione whispered between kisses.
"Out with Lovegood," Severus breathed.
"Thank God." She kissed him again, tugging him by the hand toward the bed, hoping that her actions would help him trust her words. Words had probably meant very little to Severus in his life, but she knew that if he were to trust anything, it would be action.
Severus watched Hermione doze in the circle of his arms. Just an hour ago he had been almost beside himself at the thought of Potter making more frequent appearances. With a few words of assurance and tender lovemaking, she had brought him back from the brink.
He would never admit it but he was ashamed of his reaction. He knew, rationally and intellectually, that Potter was not his father. He had proved loyal in his commitment to the children and had been very accommodating, even supportive, of his...of him and Hermione. In the last few months he had grudgingly agreed with Dumbledore's opinion that he was far more like Lily than James. He also knew that James had been dead for twenty-five years and would never be able to hurt him again. Intellectually, he knew all of this.
But for all his iron-clad self-control and ability to compartmentalise himself, when it came to the Potter family, he completely lost it.
It was pathetic and weak.
Surprising himself, he had not been upset that she knew about his feelings for Lily and his reasons for betraying the Dark Lord. His initial reaction had been one of relief, that it had saved him from having to tell her himself.
He gazed at the sleeping witch in his arms, her mouth slightly open and soft snore escaping her. She had asked him if he trusted her and her judgment about Potter. Here, and only here, in the privacy of her room, he had admitted to her that he did. He trusted her in spite of himself, as much as the voice in his head had been screaming at him that she didn't mean it, that she was just lulling him into a sense of false security, that she, too, would betray him as soon as she had taken whatever she needed from him.
It was a difficult voice to ignore. He had nearly spat all those words out at her. Only the strong feeling of warmth in his heart, that told him that she was good and good for him, stilled his hand. Now that he was calm and lying beside her, he knew he had made the right decision.
Neville wasn't exactly scared of Snape anymore, but Merlin if it wasn't still intimidating as hell to be in his presence. He could almost read it in Snape's smirk: I've still got it.
Luna, Harry and Hermione kept raving about how much more approachable Snape was now. It was a load of bollocks as far as Neville was concerned.
You did successfully hold a wand to his throat, he thought.
Only because he let you.
One of Snape's charges, Leopold, was headed to Hogwarts. "I trust I can count on you making yourself available to him as a resource should trouble find him?" Snape asked in the same cold voice he always used when Neville had messed up a potion.
Neville nodded. "I do so for all my students."
"Mr. Clairemont is going to need more help than the average student, and being a likely Slytherin, he will not seek it out. I have advised him to do so, but to seek help is a weakness that most Slytherins will go out of their way to avoid."
"I understand, Severus, and I am telling you, I make myself available to all students and you can trust that if I am made aware of anything, or even suspicious of anything, I will do all that I can to intervene. In fact, I'll try to set up a weekly meeting with him to see if I ever detect anything amiss."
"See that you do," Snape said, his voice dripping with the threat of what would happen if Neville did not. "You did not do so for past students who came through the halls of Hogwarts.
Neville thought this was unfair. This would only be his second full year as a professor, and the student who dropped out last year, Reynard Selwyn, did so in the first term, when Neville was still learning both the ropes of Hogwarts and the names of all of his students. However, he knew better than to defend himself in this regard. Snape would not be satisfied without cutting him down a little bit, and Neville decided that today, he would be the bigger man and let him do it.
"I will keep you apprised of everything I learn," Neville offered. "I'll be here a couple afternoons per week as well as on weekends so we can talk then, and if there's anything quite urgent, I can have Luna tell you about it."
Snape seemed satisfied with this but contempt still burned in his eyes. Neville had long since learned that, when it came to Severus Snape, this was probably all he was ever going to get.
Leopold Rosier, now Leopold Clairemont, tugged on his clothing (secondhand but not as shabby as that which he used to wear at the orphanage) as he sized up the Hogwarts Express. He had never seen a train before, at least not up close, and the impressive red engine and billowing black smoke seemed like some great beast that was about to take him away. It was invigorating.
Miss Granger had come with him to see him off. In the past, the Ministry had simply dropped children from the orphanage off at Kings Cross and trusted them to find their way to Platform 9 ¾; there was no one available to walk them through the wall to the platform itself, let alone see them onto the train.
Now that Mr. Snape had moved them out of that horrible place and had a group of grown-ups he could trust helping him, someone was available to come with him. Leopold would never have admitted it, but it was a little scary, leaving his sister and the only place that had really felt like home to move to an imposing and faraway castle. Miss Granger spoke with him the whole way there, telling him about Hogwarts and the friends he would make there. Mr. Snape had said to be suspicious of everyone who sought out his friendship, but hopefully his new surname would spare him that. Miss Granger at least seemed to think so.
"Now if you ever need anything or just want to talk, I want you to owl me," she said. "Mr. Snape is also available to you, but I'm here for you too. If you run into any trouble, I want you to go to Professor Longbottom; he will help you out. And I want you to owl me or Mr. Snape as well."
Leopold nodded. Miss Granger was so different from Mr. Snape. It was probably because she was a Gryffindor like Mr. Potter. Gryffindors talked too much for Leopold's liking, but they were also more open. Leopold couldn't decide yet if he liked that.
"Gryffindors speak first and think second, if at all," Mr. Snape had said. "It is an unfortunate affliction that cannot be helped. Pity them; it is one with which they must live every day."
"Thank you for everything, Miss Granger," Leopold said, drawing himself up to his full height, which reached only to Miss Granger's shoulder. "I will owl you tonight to let you know where I was sorted. Hopefully I will not need to trouble you much this year."
He looked around him. Teary-eyed grown-ups were hugging and kissing their children good-bye. Is this what would have happened to him, had his parents not been lost? Would he too have been kissed and patted on the head? Would his mother have cried? Would his father have come? Would they have written him frequently?
Leopold liked to think that they would have done.
"It's no trouble, Leopold," Miss Granger said. "Everyone should have someone to write to whilst at Hogwarts. I know Ermengarde will be thrilled to receive owls from you, but I'm just letting you know that you have others who will be thinking of you this year." She then demonstrated another unfortunate Gryffindor trait—a chronic desire to hug. She pulled him in for a quick hug then pulled away to look at him. "Best of luck this year, Leopold."
"Thank you, Miss Granger," Leopold said. "I'd best get on the train now."
He boarded, looking for an empty compartment where he could ride to the castle in peace. Finding one, he slipped inside and hoped that no one else would join him. He fancied himself a spy or secret agent or a super hero—taking a train to a mysterious location under an assumed name. He would need time to prepare his cover.
You are no longer a Rosier, he told himself. That name no longer holds any meaning for you. You are a Clairemont. Like Mum. Clairemonts were not Death Eaters, and neither were you. No one need give you any trouble over it.
He knew he could handle anything Hogwarts threw at him—bullies, hexes, Gryffindors. But he hoped he wouldn't have to just yet.
He got both wishes on the train: a compartment to himself and no trouble from others. As he sat on the stool in the middle of the Great Hall, with the Sorting Hat perched upon his head, he looked over at the Slytherin table. The students there looked suspicious and aloof, as if it were them against the entire school. That was a familiar position to Leopold. Good. They could band together.
"Not a bad mind," mused the Sorting Hat. "A very strong desire to prove yourself, oh yes, very strong, that. And yet there is also some bravery I detect, and fierce loyalty to those whom you trust. Oh, but where to put you..."
The students at the three other House tables eyed Slytherin with looks of pure loathing, as Mr. Snape said they would. He couldn't help but narrow his eyes at them. Judging Slytherins for being Slytherins. It was unfair.
"My whole family's been in Slytherin," he muttered so low that no one but the Hat could hear.
"And yet I sense a very strong desire to deviate from your family's past, its history, even its name..."
Leopold's eyebrows shot up to his brow. How could the Hat know?
As if it could hear his thoughts, the hat replied, "I know everything about you, Leopold."
Leopold fidgeted; this seemed to be taking much longer than it took the other students. He wondered if there was something wrong with him. The Sorting Hat's proclamation ripped his thoughts back to reality and left him gaping as thunderous applause sounded.
Well...Severus called that one wrong, didn't he?
Dear readers, I have a question for you. I am toying with the idea of writing a one-shot prequel to this story showing how Severus came to be the children's caretaker. I know in my head how it happened, but it doesn't feature anywhere in this fic. Would there be any interest in this sort of thing? Would appreciate it if you would let me know either way. I won't bother writing it if there isn't any interest, but if there is, I will.
Coming Up: Severus gets Harry's help to meet a confusing challenge.