Well, that's over.
The row was spectacular.
Following a brief but courteous beginning to the proceedings, things had become tense. After an exchange involving the phrases "young man" and "old bint," the gloves were off. Minerva McGonagall and Severus Snape stood toe-to-toe and eye-to-eye in the Headmistress's office at Hogwarts, faces flushed with indignation, shouting at each other and gesticulating furiously.
McGonagall's initial reaction had been to expel Leopold Clairemont for running away, citing the major violation of school rules and a clear lack of seriousness about his education. She also had stated that she did not want to appear to sanction such rule-breaking.
Severus had countered with many, many examples of Gryffindor misbehaviour during his years of teaching, particularly during what he referred to as the "Harry Potter years." He pointed out, without stopping for breath, that chasing after the Philosopher's Stone had resulted in over a hundred points to Gryffindor and loss of the House Cup from Slytherin. He mentioned the foray into the Chamber of Secrets, the theft of from his stores after engineering a potentially lethal accident that sent over half his class to the hospital wing, rushing out to meet a werewolf on the night of a full moon and setting a convicted murderer free, participating in the Tri-Wizard Tournament despite the fact that it reeked of a plot to assassinate Harry Potter, and doing the exact same thing Leopold had done—fly to London on thestral-back without permission or warning, for which they had been rewarded, not punished, and to make matters worse, Hermione and Weasley hadn't even lost their prefect badges for it. Not to mention that years earlier Potter and Weasley had stolen a charmed Muggle vehicle and flown it straight into the Whomping Willow, allowing themselves to be seen by several Muggles. Again, all without punishment, despite his efforts to the contrary.
"And so to stand here and tell me to my face that Mr. Clairemont's behaviour is deserving of expulsion is downright laughable!"
The Headmistress bristled at this, standing up straight and looking into her former colleague's eyes as she informed him that she was not, in fact, Albus Dumbledore, and while he might have been willing to turn a blind eye to the misdeeds of Gryffindors during his tenure (Dumbledore ducked out of his frame as she said this), she was cut from a very different cloth. She assured him that, if anything, the Potter years had taught her the necessity of strict rules and equal treatment, and that failure to run a tight ship had resulted in unnecessary deaths and injuries and paperwork and that without worrying about the return of a megalomaniac or the running of a secret vigilante group, it was far easier to turn one's entire attentions to the running of the school.
"If anything, Severus, I am the first head of Hogwarts who has had the luxury of worrying entirely about the school in the last fifty years, something you did not have, and therefore I will thank you not to tell me how to do my job!"
"Even with the added 'distractions' that my tenure had, I still managed to keep my students under a tight lid and keep them safe from harm!"
"Safe from harm, Severus? Don't make me list all the 'harms' that you apparently claim never happened."
"Everything that happened that year was a damn sight better than what would have happened otherwise!"
"So the ends justify the means, do they?"
"In times of war and stress and trial, yes! Wasn't that dear Albus's motto for so many years? 'For the greater good'? The ends certainly justified the means when he sat behind that desk!"
"We live in a different world now than we did then, Severus."
"All the more reason for you to give this boy a second chance!"
"It's not that simple!"
"Isn't it? Mr. Clairemont's actions were full of daring, nerve, and chivalry to boot—attributes you Gryffindors seem to cherish for whatever ridiculous reason. I'm surprised that you would condemn a member of your own house for embodying all of its traits."
"I cannot condone what he did, and had I been behind that desk when Potter and his friends scarpered off to the Ministry you can bet they would never have set foot in Hogwarts again."
"Don't make me laugh, you awarded them all House points for it!"
"That was different—they had just alerted the world to the return of Voldemort."
"And Mr. Clairemont did what he did to save his sister from a terrible fate, one that she would not have suffered had you not failed to protect her whilst she was your student!"
They stood there, panting, out of breath.
Finally, Severus spoke. "Don't punish him as a proxy for me, Minerva," he said in a low, even voice. "The boy has been punished enough in his life for the misdeeds of others. That stops here."
He took a step back from Minerva and looked out the window at the grounds below, leaning his arm on the side of the window and laying his head on his arm. Despite the fact that this was the only place he had ever felt at home, the memories of that horrible last year were often too painful to think on. It was hard to be back here, especially in this office.
He thought of the words Poppy Pomfrey had told him months earlier.
"Do you remember what Albus used to always say, Minerva?" he asked, not taking his eye from the window. When she didn't respond, he opened his mouth to speak again, only to be cut off by another voice in the room.
"Help will always be given at Hogwarts to those who ask for it."
The Headmistress and her predecessor both turned to the source of the voice, but Albus Dumbledore's portrait was apparently fast asleep. He might not have spoken at all. The two turned to each other, steely-eyed and tense, the late Headmaster's words echoing in their minds.
Severus winced in pain as the grip of the smaller hand in his tightened. His already-pale knuckles turned white as the hand gripped with surprising strength. He didn't particularly want to be in here, but they had insisted that he be there with them whilst they went through this. He had suggested Hermione or, even better, Luna, but they refused. They trusted him, and him alone, to keep them safe.
Even during an invasive medical exam.
For his part, he did the best to respect their privacy by focusing on the wall in front of him and conjuring a sheet to hang over their laps. But his discomfort was dwarfed by their fear, and so he sat.
Poppy tsked as she lowered the sheet over Brigita's legs, completing the exam. With sorrow in her eyes she gave Brigita the news: she would never be able to have children of her own.
The girl received the news with a disturbingly calm, almost resigned, expression. It wrenched at Severus's heart. So young, and she had been denied so much of her future already. To have this taken away from her too…
He waited for Brigita to get dressed and then, after telling him he could turn around, offered his arm and escorted her down the stairs. He said nothing. He knew that talking about it eventually would help her, but right now was not the time. There were, sadly, much more immediate problems to be addressed.
Starting this evening, Luna would begin her one-on-one counseling with them. Severus, of course, would be present, and he had insisted Hermione and Harry join in as well. It would be a good idea for them to learn how to counsel others. They were not naturally gifted like Luna; they would have to learn.
After delivering Brigita to her room, he sat on the stairs and put his head in his hands. He had barely kept his head above the water when he was caring for the younger children and visiting the older ones. Now that they were in his custody and it was his responsibility to attempt to heal them, too, to turn them into functioning human beings… he was overwhelmed.
And Severus Snape was not a man easily overwhelmed.
He knew that this was not the end. He still had the older boys to worry about, the three whose whereabouts he knew, that is, but they were in no fit state to move into Grimmauld Place. Lennox Gibbon was still in Azkaban and would be for a couple more months; Xavier Yaxley was a danger to both himself and others; and Reynard Selwyn had been off the grid for months.
He exhaled loudly and massaged his temples. He knew that he had to get a grip. He just had to look at the situation methodically—one step at a time. Deal with the immediate and most easily-addressed problems first, then worry about the others ones. Hardly optimal, but it was the only thing he could do.
It gave him some comfort to know that he would not be doing this alone.
"Are you alright, Severus?" He lifted his head to see Luna perched on the step next to him. He hadn't heard her approach.
Your reflexes are dull, Slytherin, he thought to himself.
Knowing there was no point in trying to hide the torment in his mind from Luna, he sighed heavily and said, "Will they ever…?" Be safe? Be normal? Be healed? Find love? Become independent? Forgive the world? Forgive their parents? Forgive me?
As if hearing the unspoken half of his statement, Luna nodded. "Maybe, someday, if we do our job right and they let us help them."
He gave a wry smile. "You make it all sound so simple."
"In many ways, it is. There's no 'magic' spell that will fix this, but what we can do is make them remember they are human. We do that by being here for them, making them safe, getting them to talk about it, and above all, making sure that they understand that this is not their fault." Cocking her head to the side at Severus, she added, "Perhaps they're not the only ones who need that reminder."
Severus made no response. He would never admit it, but he liked Luna. She understood him, never pushed him, and never required him to voice his feelings yet managed to always say exactly what he needed to hear.
"Severus, all is not lost with them. It will be a long, difficult road, and we may fail. But we have given them another chance at life, and I know you and I know myself and I know Harry and Hermione and Neville… we will make the most of it. We will hope for the best whilst preparing for the worst. It's all we can do."
"What if…" he let his voice trail off as he regained control of his speech, and when he spoke again, it was in a whisper. "What if it isn't enough?"
"It might not be," Luna conceded. "But we have to try. If it makes the slightest difference for even one of them, won't it be enough?"
"Hopefully we'll exceed our goals here."
"I want so much for them," he said softly. "I want them to complete their education, to put their demons to rest, to get married and have families." His face fell at the memory of Brigita Rosier's examination. "They won't be able to have much of that."
"You don't know that yet," Luna said.
"I know enough."
"No one knows the future."
"There are only so many ways that this can turn out."
"Then why bother?"
Severus snapped his head at her, his expression fierce and softening before understanding her meaning.
"Because we have to try," he said.
After the Easter holidays, Leopold stood at the entrance to the Great Hall, not moving a muscle.
His dorm-mates had heard rumours of his excursion and begged him to talk about it. When he dismissed it all as a lie and said that he'd had to leave to visit an ill family member, they'd buggered off. That was dealt with easily enough. He wasn't popular enough to ride out the inevitable storm, nor was he interesting enough for others to press him for his stories. He was well-liked but also flew under the radar, exactly where he wanted to be.
He'd neither seen nor spoken to Clara since he had gone. He wondered if she'd got in trouble for helping him. He hadn't thought of that at the time. Such a Gryffindor, he could almost hear Snape saying in his head. He really, really hoped she hadn't got in trouble for her actions. If she had, he'd go to McGonagall himself to explain the situation. Snape had been a bit sparse on the details about what the Headmistress did and did not know about his situation, or why he'd left.
They had parted as friends, but the tension had remained, with Clara wanting to know his secret and Leopold absolutely refusing to tell her. It wasn't that he didn't trust her, he did, but his secret was so terrible he knew that she, like everyone else, was likely to abandon him once she knew. He couldn't let that happen. Wouldn't let that happen. He wanted to keep her in his life too much.
He adjusted his tie and took a step inside the Great Hall. The echo of five hundred voices bounced off the walls in an incoherent din of noise. Despite this, he clearly heard a gasp from the Gryffindor table.
Clara stood up and met his eyes. They stood there for a moment, unnoticed by anyone else in the hall, staring at each other. Not wanting to draw attention, he walked toward her calmly, but Clara threw caution to the wind and ran up to him, emitting a squeal as she threw her arms around him. The older Hufflepuffs and Gryffindors around them broke into mocking applause and wolf whistles, but Leopold didn't care.
"I'm so mad at you," Clara whispered, her words echoing those of Snape the night he had saved Brigita.
Smiling to himself, he repeated his own words from that night. "I know."
She took him by the sleeve and tugged him outside. He followed his friend to the Entrance Hall, where she pulled him behind a suit of armour and immediately rounded on him.
"Why didn't you tell me?" she whispered angrily.
"I told you, I had to help my sister, I couldn't tell anyone—"
"Not that! Why didn't you tell me who you really are, Leopold Rosier?"
Leopold blanched. So this was how it would end for him; despite all others had done, all he had done, to protect himself, it had all been for nothing. How had she found out?
"I overheard the Headmistress and Professor Longbottom talking about it," she said, as if reading his mind. "They thought I had already gone back to bed. I went to them after you left, I was worried. I knew I had to tell someone, so that you would be okay."
Leopold ran his hand across his forehead. How could he even begin to explain this? His secret was out, and he was likely to now lose his best and only friend over it.
He'd ruined everything.
"I couldn't," he whispered, finally. If he was going to lose Clara, he was going to lose Clara honestly. "My sister was driven away from Hogwarts because of the family name, and was taken to a horrible place that I had to save her from. If anyone found out, if anyone else finds out, it could get… bad for me."
Clara's piercing blue eyes softened a bit as she seemed to understand the gravity of the situation.
"I couldn't tell anyone, Clara," he said. "Anyone. There were times I wanted to tell you, I promise I wanted to tell you. It's not that I didn't trust you, I just couldn't tell anyone." His voice shook a little. "I couldn't let anyone know who I really was. I know you wouldn't have betrayed me, but if somehow it got out and others knew, others who my father hurt or k-killed…" He trailed off and left the rest unsaid. There was no need to say it out loud.
She took his hand in hers, little fingers wrapping around each other.
"I won't tell anyone, Leo," she said with Gryffindor conviction.
She nodded and smiled. "I promise." They embraced. Some passing fifth years snickered about Clairemont snogging his girlfriend behind a suit of armour, but he paid it no mind.
And really, snogging Clara was something he could quite see himself enjoying someday.
"I can't go back there," Brigita whispered to both Severus and Hermione after Leopold had been safely returned to Hogwarts.
Hermione looked at Severus beseechingly. Like him, she had wanted Brigita to return to finish her education, but she understood the risks. Brigita did not have the same protections as Leopold. The school, and Slytherin in particular, would remember her; a name change would not provide her the same cover it had provided Leopold. She might be bullied or abused again. She would be in the same situation she had been in before, and possibly driven out again.
Brigita could go back to Hogwarts. Hermione simply didn't know if she should.
Severus looked from one woman to the other and sighed. He wanted desperately for Brigita to complete her years at Hogwarts, to set herself up for the future. But he had to acknowledge that the potential risks far outweighed the potential benefits. Besides, he couldn't fight them both. He also had a feeling that this sentiment would be repeated five more times with the other girls.
Slowly he nodded. "Very well. We'll figure something out."
His options were severely limited. He couldn't send them abroad for a magical education. They could barely handle being here at Grimmauld Place, so sending them abroad—where they had no support system nearby—might break them completely. There were no other magical schools in Britain. It would be home schooling, then, at least for now.
He supposed there was no real harm in that.
A few days later, he softly knocked on the door to the bedroom that most of the girls shared. They felt safer in numbers so, for now at least, they all shared one room and rarely left it. Luna said they needed time to adjust to the fact that they were no longer slaves. Enclosed spaces, for now, gave them a sense of security. Give them some time, she'd said, and they'd be ready to venture out.
They hadn't really begun to speak yet. Much of their therapy so far had consisted of being exposed to other people, no talking, just the presence of others. Each night Severus would sit with them, along with one of the other adults, simply reading or doing work, not interacting with the girls. The goal was for them to be around others without fear. It was beginning to work, but Severus suspected it would be months or years before they would be able to be around grown men without panicking.
Severus felt it couldn't hurt to give them an option for otherwise occupying their time this early on. They could refuse if they wanted. They'd never been able to refuse anything back there. They could here. It was a new cardinal rule in the house.
He opened the door and found them much as he'd expected: sitting, not really talking or doing anything, just being. "I have to brew some Calming Draughts," he announced to the room at large. "If anyone is interested in learning how, I will be in the cellar. I will be by myself."
Hearing no takers, he simply shut the door and went downstairs. He hadn't expected any of them to agree, not this early. But he felt it was important to show them that they were now members of this household, and that they were not only safe but also welcome to participate in everything that went on in here. They would agree to it eventually, he was certain. They simply needed time. And he was prepared to give them all the time they needed.
He had just begun laying out the jars of ingredients he would need in the order that he needed them when he heard a soft voice behind him ask hesitantly, "Have you started yet?" He turned to see Brigita Rosier standing in the doorway, looking hesitant.
Severus smiled and shook his head. "You're just in time," he said, beckoning her to come over and conjuring a stool for her to perch on. "Have you ever seen this potion made before?" She shook her head. "It's quite a beautiful one. The colours and odors change quite a lot during the process. Yet despite its beauty, it is also rather simple to create." He summoned a pair of safety glasses and dragonscale gloves and handed them to her. "You may help if you want, or just watch. You tell me what you want to do as we go. And you can leave any time you want."
Brigita nodded, and Severus set to work.
"Harry!" Kingsley Shacklebolt looked up from his mountain of paperwork with a smile on his face. "What a pleasant surprise!"
"Kingsley," Harry said with a smile as he proffered his hand. "I'm here to follow up on our last conversation?"
"The social services foundation for war orphans. I believe we left that discussion unfinished."
Kingsley's smile faded as he sat back in his chair. "I thought you thought better of me, Harry," he said, sounding disappointed. "I would do it if I could, but like I said, there are forces within this institution that would prevent it from happening."
"I believe you," Harry said. "I know you wouldn't stop this just for the hell of it. I'm actually here to get some advice from you. Political advice."
Kingsley straightened up. "You want to run for office?"
Harry laughed. "Don't be daft, I'm not after your job. I'd be pants at it. But you say that there are too many important people in the Ministry who would act against this, actively fight it. I want to know how to persuade them to change their minds."
"How do you mean?"
"Any means necessary. Legitimate means necessary, I should say. Public opinion, endorsements, negotiations, striking bargains, whatever. I don't have much political sense or experience, but you do. This is important to me, and I want to make it happen."
"What about Severus?"
"He's got his hands a bit full at the moment. Besides," he added, "this is my cause, not his. He has what he wants, and now I want to pursue what I want."
"You mean you're not still helping him with his… project?"
"Oh, I am, and I won't leave it. But I want this, too. And as they get older, the need for social services will increase, and if I want something waiting for them when they get older and out on their own, I think it's best if I start now, don't you?"
Kingsley sat for a moment, looking thoughtful. "You do realise, of course, that this is not a fast or easy process? That it may take years? That even if you do everything right, it may never happen at all? You are prepared to put your reputation and influence and popularity on the line for something that may blow up in your face? To have those who oppose you seek to drag your good name through the mud to prevent it from happening?" Kingsley gave him an intense look. "This is not for the faint of heart, son. It destroys most people who attempt it."
Harry nodded. "It's nothing I haven't been through before. I've got three arrows in my quiver: influence, popularity, and time. Please tell me I can do something with them."
"All right," Kingsley said. "If you're truly committed to this—and I will tell you, you have to be committed to your beliefs in order to survive in the pit of vipers that is politics—then I will help you. It will take time, and it may not work, and you will undoubtedly make a few enemies, but I have a few ideas…"
"Where are you taking me?"
"Ah, that's the question, isn't it?" Harry replied mysteriously.
"You two are absolutely ridiculous!" Hermione chastised as Harry and Ron each took a place beside her, linking their arms through hers, and leading her out of her bedroom in the simple Muggle skirt and blouse she had worn teaching earlier that day.
"Oi! I took the day off for this, Hermione," Ron protested. "I'm not doing this for my health."
"Why are you doing this?" Whatever "this" was.
"For you, of course."
"If we'd waited for you to ask, you'd have no one," Harry said.
"Ask for what?"
"For us to escort you."
"Escort me where?"
"Downstairs," Ron said as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.
"I don't understand."
Ron looked over Hermione's head to meet Harry's eye. "For once, she's slower on the uptake than me. Quick, call the Prophet."
"Nobody would believe you, mate," Harry said.
"It's only fair that you tell me what's going on. You two are enjoying my ignorance far too much," Hermione grumbled.
"Rare, that. We have to enjoy it while we can. Who knows when we'll get another opportunity," Ron pointed out.
"And I have a feeling we'll never be doing this again," Harry said. "So we'd better make it count." With his free hand, his wand hand, he conjured a bouquet of simple white flowers and handed them to Hermione, who took them with the arm linked through Ron's.
She looked down at the flowers in her hand, and then at each of her friends in turn. Each man gave a knowing nod. Not knowing what to say, Hermione just swallowed and nodded.
"You ready?" Harry asked sofly. "To go downstairs?"
Hermione nodded again. "Very much."
They made their way down the stairs arm-in-arm.
"We lied to you a bit, Hermione," Ron said. "We're not escorting you."
At her quizzical look, Harry spoke. "We're giving you away."
"No bloke marries you without our say-so," Ron explained.
"He knows that if he cocks this up he answers to us," Harry said.
Hermione snorted. "I think you need a better threat than that."
"I don't think we do," Harry said. "I don't think he needs one to keep in line."
A sudden thought hit Hermione and she stopped in her tracks. "Oh, God, Percy isn't here, is he?"
Ron and Harry exchanged glances. "Well, um, yes…" Ron said.
"But," Harry said, "He hasn't been told the location."
"George blindfolded him and brought him through the floo from Harry and Ginny's place."
"And Ginny threw a tongue-tying curse on him that will activate if he ever tries to reveal where we are."
"Or what we're doing."
"And knows I will go to Molly and the Prophet and Wizengamot—in that order—if he even thinks about saying a word on the subject to anyone."
Hermione nodded. "Right. Suppose that's the best we can do." She looked at them both. "I'm impressed with both of you."
Reaching the ground floor, they entered the sitting room. Percy stood before the hearth, casting sideway glances at Severus, who had only eyes for Hermione. Like Hermione, Severus wore the same clothing he had worn earlier that day: a white untucked oxford shirt under a dark blue jumper with black trousers. His short hair still framed his face the way it always did. And yet he somehow looked more beautiful to Hermione than he ever had before. His face, per usual, was devoid of much expression, but his eyes sparkled and betrayed a warmth that few others had ever witnessed in him.
Luna and Neville sat on the sofa nearest them, hands clasped, with Ginny next to them, heavily pregnant with James wriggling in her arms. George sat on the end, looking uncomfortable but smiling all the same. Fourteen children and six teenaged girls sat scattered throughout the room.
Harry and Ron led her down a winding, makeshift aisle, depositing her at Severus's side.
Percy cleared his throat. "Who gives this woman?" he asked imperiously.
Hermione indicated her two friends. "They do."
"And we do," Harry said meaningfully, glancing at Severus and giving him a small smile.
"Completely," Ron said, also giving Severus a smile and meaningful look.
Percy nodded, and Hermione was released from her friends' arms to take that of her intended.
"Why didn't you say anything?" she asked him softly.
"Even I know the value of a romantic gesture," he replied.
In reality, he had, once again, followed Harry Potter's unsolicited advice.
"Hermione is planning to marry you quickly, and is perfectly happy to do it without the bells and whistles, but that doesn't mean you can't make it special for her."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean she deserves to be swept off her feet in some way."
Severus gaped. "Swept off her feet?"
Was that fear in his voice? Harry bit back a laugh.
"It doesn't have to be anything big, just… surprise her. Spring a wedding on her one afternoon, with everyone who's in on this present. It'll mean a lot to her."
"I thought you said she didn't like surprises," Severus had said suspiciously.
Harry had smirked. "She's a woman, and it's her wedding. She'll be too gobsmacked to be upset with you."
Thinking on the conversation as his bride stood before him in her rumpled skirt and blouse with an ink spot on the sleeve, he again wondered if he had done the right thing. "I hope you aren't upset with me," he whispered, plucking from her hair a quill she had tucked in it. It had been holding her hair in place, and now it fell wild and untamed about her shoulders. Just the way he liked it.
She shook her head and squeezed his arm. "Not in the least."
"You'll still have me?"
She nodded. "Always."
He smiled and slipped a small, silver ring with a light blue stone on her wedding ring finger. It was simple. It was tarnished. It had been Eileen's. It was perfect.
"But I don't have one for you," she said sadly.
Severus smirked and gestured for her to take out her wand. Holding it with her as he had on Christmas when they cast her Patronus together, he traced her wand around his own ring finger. A small, golden band appeared, tattooed to his skin. At his intended's surprised look, he met her eyes and said simply, "I take the commitment seriously."
This was one magical tattoo he would not live to regret.
Smiling and squeezing his hand, they turned to face Percy Weasley, and were married. Once Percy pronounced them man and wife, they gestured for the six girls to come to them. At this point, Percy would recite the incantation with each girl in turn that would complete the adoption process, making these six girls their daughters by law.
Each girl had chosen a new surname for herself. "Snape" and "Granger" might draw attention, since the Wizarding world was a small one. Brigita, like her brother, had chosen the surname Clairemont.
"It is highly irregular for the children to take different surnames from the adoptive pare-"
Percy's lofty tone was cut off at the sound of George cracking his knuckles and giving him a pointed, angry look. Ron and Ginny matched him in their intensity. Harry slowly raised his eyebrows.
"R-right," Percy stuttered, clearly shaken by the unspoken threat from his sister, brother-in-law, and brothers. He continued.
He and Hermione stood facing each other, hand-in-hand, and vowed to accept each girl into their new family and treat her as their own. A gold flame from Percy's wand encircled their wrists, danced around as he waved it in a complex movement, then disappeared. Then, as each girl approached in turn, three stood in a circle, holding hands, as Percy traced his wand over their clasped hands. Another gold flame danced from Percy's wand, encircling each pair of hands where they joined. They repeated the process with each girl in turn, the incantation strengthening the bond between Severus and Hermione with the addition of each new daughter into their family.
Thirty minutes after Hermione had arrived downstairs, they were a family of eight, with another fifteen honorary family members. A household and family of twenty-three.
A family. It took every ounce of Severus's control to avoid showing the emotions that were coursing through his body.
He looked at the witnesses. The old Severus might have been agitated by the presence of Hermione's annoying friends, but instead he saw them the way she did: her brothers. He knew that she was his, would always be his. He would spend the rest of his life making sure she knew how much that meant to him. Harry gave him a smile. For so many years of his life, Severus Snape had wanted a family of his own with Lily Evans. Now, in a twisted way, he sort of did have a family with her, albeit in a very different way than what he had imagined. Lily's son was Hermione's brother, which now made him Severus's brother. Despite a rocky start and many years of bad blood, they had found a common ground with each other. Harry had proven himself a good friend and a good man. They would forever be in each other's lives. Severus found that was not such an unpalatable proposition.
He liked to think that Lily would be proud of him.
The girls were safe now; they were his now. They had been his responsibility, his failure for many years, but now they belonged to him in every sense of the word. He was, despite everything, a father in the eyes of the law, in the eyes of the girls, and in the eyes of Hermione. The others were his charges, and they had been as much hers as his. Together they would see them all through Hogwarts. They would help them, counsel them, and be there for them when things got difficult. They would provide them a home to return to if Hogwarts failed them as they had the others.
He would do this right. He would find the others who had run away and disappeared. He would bring the others under his protection somehow. He would fix that at which he had failed. He would atone for his sins. He would do it all, somehow. And he would never do it alone again.
The lengthy Epilogue is coming up next, so if you didn't see something (or someone) here whose story hasn't been wrapped up, don't panic. I plan to have it up on January 9th-I think that's a big day in this fandom, if I'm not mistaken. ;)