It is with a heavy heart that I bring our tale to a close. Thank you all for following the journey to its end.
"It is one of the most beautiful compensations of life that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself."
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Ron Weasley sat in the corner booth at the Leaky Cauldron, gobbling down every last bit of his shepherd's pie. It was the best food he'd had since his mother's, but she hadn't cooked properly in years. The Leaky must have a new cook, or maybe even new ownership. Until recently the food had been rubbish-cold, late, and with a terrible, unnatural texture. Tom was getting on in years, and it was beginning to show.
"You look like you enjoyed yourself."
Ron looked up at the source of the voice and smiled.
"Hannah! You all right?"
"I am. You?"
"Very much. Have you tried the food here lately? It's brilliant."
"Thank you. I aim to please."
Ron gave her a confused look. "Are you the new cook here?"
She shook her head. "New owner. Tom was looking to retire. I had to sack the old cook. Old goat had only one good eye. A cook with no depth perception? Merlin. Messes everywhere, key ingredients missing from recipes, cuts all wrong..."
"Well, whoever you did hire, this is brilliant. And you know, I thought it looked cleaner in here than it had in years. Guess Tom was starting to let the place go, wasn't he?"
"You have no idea."
Ron smiled. "So… business has been all right?"
Hannah shrugged. "Not bad. Could always be better, I'm sure. People were starting to go to other places when Tom started to go barmy. I need to win them back." She smiled at him. "Do you plan to come back often?"
"With food like this, absolutely. I live above my shop just 'round the corner. The big red one with all the bangs and fireworks going off at all hours."
"Well," Hannah said smiling, "now that we're neighbours, maybe I'll see you around."
He blushed. "Maybe you will."
Ron came back the next day for lunch. And dinner.
And the day after that.
And the day after that.
Harry arrived at Grimmauld Place with a small bundle in his arms. Severus happened to be in the ground floor sitting room alone when he flooed in. He looked up in surprise. Harry had taken a few weeks' leave to be with his wife, who had given birth to their second child only days earlier. He hadn't expected to see him back until the following month.
"Be warned that if you do insist on coming in, I will not hesitate to put you to work."
Harry took the remark for the greeting it was and walked over to Severus, turning the bundle in his arms so that he could see inside. "Introductions are in order, I think. Severus, I'd like you to meet Albus Severus."
Severus's eyes widened for a fraction of a second before he hardened his expression. "I thought we discussed this."
"We did. Per usual, I decided to do the opposite of what you told me to do. Don't tell me that you're surprised."
Severus sighed. "I suppose I'm not, though why you felt the need to saddle the boy with such a ridiculous name, I'm sure I don't know."
"Well, James is named in part for my godfather. I think that, had things turned out a bit differently, I might have had a second one, so it's only appropriate that my second son bear that name as well."
Severus knew that, had things worked out a bit differently, he would have likely been father, not godfather, to Lily's children. But Harry didn't need to know that.
"And what makes you think that it is so appropriate?"
At that moment, as if on command, little Albus opened his eyes. Severus was taken aback to see Lily's (and Harry's) green eyes in the tiny baby's face. Lily's grandson. Lily's son.
"It just felt right."
Severus and his namesake locked eyes for a long time before Severus whispered, "So I see."
"I think he likes you," Harry said.
"Don't be ridiculous. No one likes me."
"You'll be godfather, won't you?"
Severus stiffened and looked at Harry's earnest face.
"I'm hardly the kind of person to be anyone's godfather."
"Don't be ridiculous. You're the best person—the only person—who should be his godfather."
"I can't imagine your wife being in agreement on the matter."
"Believe it. It was her idea, actually."
Severus sighed. "I will do it only on condition that you not do anything stupid to put yourself in harm's way. The last thing I need is responsibility for another orphan whose parents made idiotic choices."
"Do I have to hold him?"
Lennox Gibbon was released from Azkaban.
And promptly thrown back in.
And thrown back in.
The cycle would repeat itself for the rest of his life.
He just couldn't stay out of trouble. He had impulse control and anger issues. He let his wand do his thinking for him. The Wizengamot became less and less sympathetic to him as his crimes grew more and more dire. Muggles were often involved, which carried a stiffer penalty than if the crime had been committed against a wizard.
He made terrible choices. He ran with a bad crowd. He would not stay at Grimmauld, and since he was now legally an adult Severus could do nothing to make him stay. He could only try to convince him that it was best for him.
He never successfully made his case.
There was nothing Severus could do. Nothing Luna could do. Nothing Hermione could do. Nothing Harry could do. And they had all tried.
"Sometimes it's just not meant to be," Harry reminded him.
Hermione smirked and handed her husband the letter. He scanned it and looked at her, his eyes glittering in amusement. "I'm beginning to think that you're a terrible influence."
"I decided to give you the benefit of the doubt."
"Clearly that was a mistake."
"I admit I did not see this one coming," Severus said.
"Oh you did, did you?"
Hermione nodded. "Ermengarde wanted to be with her brother more than anything else in the world. I wouldn't be surprised if she begged the hat to put her in Gryffindor. Besides, you know that Houses typically run in families. As soon as the Hat heard 'Clairemont' it probably presumed he was going to have another Gryffindor and acted accordingly."
Severus shook his head. "The Hat knows exactly who they are. Slytherins don't beg. That must have been what did it."
"Regardless, there's nothing wrong with variety."
"Variety," Severus mocked. "Right. Prior to you and your friends careening into our lives, I had a perfect track record of Slytherins. Now, I have two Gryffindors, one Hufflepuff, and one Ravenclaw."
"Slytherin didn't exactly do the others much good," Hermione pointed out.
Severus looked toward the door to the kitchen, where he knew the older girls were sitting and reading on the other side, with a thoughtful expression on his face. "No," he said softly. "It didn't."
Hermione took his hand and squeezed it.
"That never would have happened if I were still Head of House," Severus said.
"I know." Hermione gave him a small smile. "You know Neville will watch over her, same as he always has with Leo and the others."
Severus gave a snort. "I prefer not to pin all my hopes on him."
"You could stand to be nice to him, you know, he's been nothing but good to you since this whole thing began."
"I could. But I won't."
"Why not?" She let go of his hand and ran it through her hair. "This is really getting ridiculous. He wants so badly to be your friend. He's done everything you've asked of him. Why are you so horrible to him in spite of everything he's done for you?"
He sighed. "Have you ever heard the story of the scorpion and the frog?"
"Muggle fable. A scorpion needed to cross a river, but couldn't swim. So he asked a frog to ferry him across. The frog said, 'Absolutely not. You're going to sting me, and then I'll die and you'll drown.' The scorpion assured him he would do no such thing because, by doing so, he would die, so he had every incentive to not sting him, as scorpions are want to do for no reason. The frog agreed to carry him across. Halfway, over the deepest part of the river, the scorpion stung the frog, and as a result the frog became paralyzed and began to sink under the water. 'What are you doing?' asked the frog. 'Now I'm going to die and you're going to drown. All you had to do was not sting me. Why on earth would you do this?' And the scorpion simply replied, 'It's in my nature.'"
Hermione furrowed her eyebrows. "I don't know what moral a fable like that is supposed to teach, but how does that apply here?"
"You asked me why I'm unpleasant to Longbottom, despite the fact that he has been helpful, done everything I asked, and unwisely attempts to befriend me."
"It's in my nature."
Ginny and Ron each held Molly's hands as Harry and Hannah looked on. Luna's dreamy voice lulled her into a calm, trance-like state.
"I can't make any promises," Luna had told her. "But we can try."
Molly had nodded slowly, sadly, as if she couldn't really see Luna right in front of her. "I have nothing left to lose," she croaked in a voice so unlike her own.
Luna led Molly down a path of memories, of fears, of regrets, speaking slowly and gently, keeping Molly sedate and calm at all times with nothing more than the timbre of her voice. She had learnt how to infuse her voice with magic from Severus—he had been able to keep entire classes of students silent and attentive with the mere sound and cadence of his speech, and now Luna could keep a person calm and relaxed in much the same way. Molly's eyes fell shut and her breathing became even as she narrated her journey, her voice becoming strangled as she re-lived the past.
Such treatment required many sessions, and even if done correctly, success was not guaranteed. But it was worth a try. The Weasley family had lost its heart, and it needed her back.
When Molly awoke, she was sobbing and clutching her children's hands so tightly that her knuckles were white. It would take many, many more sessions to bring Molly back to the person she had once been. She may never get there.
But it was a start.
Harry and Severus held the boy down. "Xavier," Harry said softly. "We are here to help you. Relax for me, if you can."
The the boy continued to alternate between struggling and convulsing as he fought against unseen tormentors, the tremors in his limbs making it almost impossible to hold him down on the hotel bed.
"Use your head, Potter, put him in a body bind."
Harry shook his head. "Not for this. It makes it worse. Same with pain potions, stunning, and Incarcerous. Brute strength and dumb luck are our only weapons against this."
Severus looked at Harry with a newfound respect. He didn't know that his problem had been so bad that it had required this level of intervention.
"I'm so sorry, Xavier," Harry said ruefully. "When this is over, you'll have this poison out of your system, and then we can bring you home to be with your sister Zenobia, and your life will really begin. But I'm warning you: the next forty-eight hours will be the worst of your entire life."
Xavier nodded, convulsed again, and then passed out.
"That is, assuming he survives it," Harry murmured once he was certain Xavier was unconscious.
"You don't expect him to?"
Harry shrugged. "Not only has he completely polluted his body, there's some sort of curse attached to it that makes the drugs more potent and more difficult to remove from his system altogether, triggering his regular relapses. It will be painful," he looked at Severus, "for all of us."
Harry was not exaggerating. As Yaxley expelled the poison from his body and suffered through the crippling pain of withdrawal, he convulsed and seized and released magic in uncontrolled outbursts. Not even Unbreakable charms on the windows and furniture could completely protect everything from the onslaught.
When Xavier Yaxley finally opened his eyes two days later, he was covered head-to-toe in bruises and had lacerations all over his body. He was exhausted and sore and confused and mentally and physically and magically drained.
He'd never felt better in his life.
Hermione set down the Prophet and gave Severus a meaningful look. At his quizzical expression, she pushed the paper toward him so he could read the headline on the broadsheet.
MINISTER ANNOUNCES JOBS PROGRAMME
Priority to be given to war orphans, Muggle-borns who lost magic
Severus's eyebrows crept up to his hairline as he snatched up the paper and read the article.
According to the article, the Minister for Magic had got the department heads to agree to hire wizards and witches in low-level positions as a means of boosting morale, providing employment, re-integrating the community, and invigorating the Wizarding economy. The article went on to explain that those who had been orphaned in the war would be given positions without regard to OWL or NEWT scores. Eventually, classes would be added so that participants would be able to obtain their OWLs or NEWTs through independent study, thus qualifying them for higher-paid positions.
The article went on to say that the initiative would be administered by none other than Harry Potter, who had proposed it to the Minister. Potter, after years of sabbatical for "family reasons", would be its director and chairman.
It would be known as the Potter Foundation.
Severus looked up at his wife and smiled, really smiled. They both knew how much arguing, cajoling, pleading, political maneuvering, and even threats it had taken for Harry to make this a reality. He had never given up or been discouraged by a lack of support. It had taken three and a half years of work behind the scenes to make this happen. And very little of it had been pretty.
It had been worth it.
They would have a chance at a future, all of them.
"I can't believe it's all over."
Luna Lovegood stood before the floo at Grimmauld Place, her home for the past five years.
"It has been… interesting," Severus said, eyes on the floor. He wasn't sure what to say to Luna, but he knew that, when it came to her, no words needed to be spoken between them. She knew.
"I won't get emotional," she said. "I know you hate it and it'll only make you uncomfortable, and when you're uncomfortable you get frustrated, and when you get frustrated you get snappish and what good would that be to anyone?"
"It's not like you'll never see any of us again," Severus pointed out. "In fact, you'll be seeing them more frequently than I will, at least during term time." He tried not to let the jealousy show in his voice. Not that he could hide anything from her.
"I know, but it just won't be the same, will it? It's the end of an era."
He nodded thoughtfully. "That it is. And what an experience that has been for all of us."
"You know, this is the last thing in the world I thought I would do. I assumed I'd marry some bloke as loony as I am and travel the world searching for the mythical creatures my deranged father was always on about. Instead, I discovered demons, and rather than studying and searching for them, I did my best to destroy them."
She smiled sadly. "I would have thought I would be happy for this day, the day you wouldn't need me here full-time anymore. The day that we would agree they no longer needed so much intervention." She sighed. "I guess it's true what they say-be careful what you wish for."
"They still need you, Lovegood," Severus pointed out. "Which is why we are standing here having this conversation."
She nodded. "It feels so empty in here now."
"Too quiet for my liking."
"Then you've made the right decision."
"It's just… it's all going to change now, isn't it?"
"Life is change, Lovegood. And not much is changing. Not for you."
"I know that, on the surface, it isn't so much. I'm still their counselor, I'll just be doing it at Hogwarts, not here, and I'll be doing it for all students, not just them, and I'll be doing it officially as a member of staff, rather than under the table. And I'll be back here every summer and school holiday. But… we had quite the nice little home here, all of us together under one roof year-round. Us against the world, hoping to save a few lives."
"You make it all sound so romantic," he drawled, trying his best to sound sarcastic and annoyed at her reminiscing.
Luna shook her head and gazed at him in that thoughtful way that had always unnerved him so. "Not romantic. Only beautiful."
Severus cleared his throat. "You'll be late if you leave it much longer."
Luna shook her head. "No, I won't, but I know you want me to leave before you get emotional. You're having a hard time controlling it as it is. I don't want you to feel more uncomfortable than you are already."
She stepped toward him and, without warning, wrapped her arms around him in a hug. "Thank you for everything, Severus," she said in a choked voice. "It's been a privilege."
Every instinct in Severus's body screamed at him to pull away from her embrace, but he found that he just couldn't muster the will to do so. Hesitantly, slowly, he wapped his arms around her as well.
"The privilege was all mine," he whispered, the words full of a deeper meaning than themselves. He knew she would understand. She always understood. Always understood him. In many ways, she understood him far better than anyone, even Hermione. They were not so very different from one another.
He stood staring at the floo long after she'd left, not moving a muscle until he felt a soft arm wrapping him around the waist and a bushy head of hair tickling his neck.
"I guess it's just us now, isn't it?" Hermione whispered.
Severus snaked his arm around his wife's shoulders and kissed her temple. "Just us now."
"Until June, that is."
Severus smiled at the thought of a full, noisy house. "I can't wait," he admitted.
Hermione squeezed him. "Neither can I."
Draco Malfoy never returned to Grimmauld Place. He couldn't face them all again. Even though they welcomed him, he knew it was only grudgingly, and he could not live with that. Not anymore.
It was with great reluctance that he succumbed to his own basic survival needs and enrolled in the Minister's jobs programme. It was difficult. Everyone knew him—who he was, what he had (and hadn't) done during the war. The jeers and dirty looks he could live with. It was the indifference from others that was often most crushing. Draco hated feeling invisible. Even as a street rat, he preferred being kicked and yelled at to having others seem to stare right through him, like he didn't even exist.
He knew that they wanted to refuse him. Unfortunately for them, the Minister had issued a "no rejection" policy. A slot could, and would, be found for every eligible applicant. To the chagrin of everyone, Draco qualified.
They parked him in the most out-of-the-way desk in the darkest corner of the least important department in the Ministry. Draco's job was to assemble papers in the proper order, bind them, and drop them in a slot to be distributed throughout the Ministry. It was dull and too easy. But it was a living. For the first time in his life, Draco was supporting himself.
He looked up at the sound of a gasp from the sandwich girl. Their eyes met for the first time since that horrible night in Knockturn Alley.
"Draco," she whispered.
"I, um, I didn't know that you were working here," she said, placing a sandwich on his desk.
"First day," he muttered.
An awkward silence passed before Brigita spoke again. "Are you enjoying it?" He gave her a look that conveyed just how much he was enjoying his new job.
"Well," Brigita said, "it may not be much, but it's at least preferable to the alternative. I know I'd rather fetch lunch for men than… well, I prefer it. You get used to it after awhile."
Draco shrugged. What choice did he have but to get used to this life?
"I, um, I never got a chance to thank you," she whispered. "I wasn't able to speak about it back then, too… too difficult. Too painful. Too fresh. But, that was a long time ago now, and… well, you saved my life, Draco."
He shook his head, eyes downcast.
"Yes, you did," Brigita insisted. "Because of you, I got a chance to live a real life. No more of… that. Because of you I found my family again, got the help I needed, got parents-real parents-for the first time since I was a little girl. I don't want to think of what might have happened had you not done what you did."
Draco shook his head again and returned to his paperwork.
"Everyone back at the house always wondered what happened to you," she said after another long, awkward pause. "Us girls especially. The ones you saved. We didn't talk about it in front of the little ones; no need for them to know where we were and what we'd been forced to… do. Um, I don't live there anymore. I got a little place with the other girls. Hermione and Severus, they would have let us stay, told us to stay, begged us to stay, but we wanted to give this a go. See if we'd really become the adults they worked so hard to turn us into. They say they're very proud of us.
"This foundation allows us all to get our OWLs and NEWTs. Hermione and Severus have been helping us prepare for them. She drew up these very handy colour-coded timetables for us, and they really do work! Severus is teaching us to brew all these potions, and Hermione is helping us with our Charms. Both of them help with Transfiguration—they try to outdo one another, it's quite adorable, really—and Severus of course is teaching us every defensive hex, jinx, curse, and counter-curse in the book. He never, ever wants us to be powerless and helpless again. And Neville teaches us about plants and herbs. I think I'll be able to sit my OWLs in a few months in those subjects; those are the only ones I really care about. And then I hope I can get a better job, though this one works just fine for now.
"You know the old saying- 'living well is the best revenge.' Living as independent adults is the best way to show all of them that they couldn't destroy us, no matter how they tried. I have you and Severus and Hermione to thank for that. I can live well because of everything you did for me. We all can. I know they want to protect us from everything, but they won't always be able to do so. We learned that the hard way very early on. I know they're proud, even if they think we ought to have stayed home. We go home for dinner quite often. I'll tell them I saw you and that you looked fit. Or not, if you'd rather I not say anything."
She cleared her throat. "I'm sorry, I tend to natter nonstop sometimes. I have Luna to thank for that—she encouraged us to talk about this as much as possible. I find that the more I talk about it, the less it hurts. It's almost like talking physically puts distance between the past and the present, and I can use as much distance as I can get.
"I spent so many years not speaking that I suppose I'm trying to make up for lost time. So when I see a familiar face, I can't help but open my stupid mouth and speak until they either walk away or I run out of things to say."
She averted her gaze. "Sometimes it takes a long time for me to run out of things to say. I suppose with you there's a lot I've wanted to say, things I've wanted to say for so many years, ever since... that night. And after all that you've done for me I suppose the kindest thing I could do for you is spare you and get on my way. I'm glad to see you're doing well, Draco. When you never came back, I worried about you. I thought of you often."
With a shy nod, she turned to leave. "Brigita," he called after her. She turned eagerly and faced him. He held the sandwich out to her. He didn't have a Knut to his name. "I can't—I don't—I haven't much of an appetite today."
She shook her head and pushed it back to him. "It's on me," she said. "As is the one I'll bring you tomorrow, and the one I'll bring you the day after that, and on and on until I've repaid you. Free lunch is the least I can do; I owe you so much more. But this is a start. I'll think of something better later."
He looked at the sandwich and back to her, giving her a minute nod in thanks.
"I walk through every day at lunch and again at tea," she said. "Just in case you want to plan to be elsewhere when I make my rounds. Spare your ears and all that. Your sandwich will always be waiting for you when you return. I'll make sure of it. One less thing in your life to worry about." With one last smile, Brigita turned and walked away from his desk to continue her rounds. She was doing house-elf work. Draco watched as other employees handed over their Sickles in exchange for sandwiches without even looking her in the eye, or acknowledging her in any other way. Their eyes were on the sandwiches, not the girl. She was invisible to them, just like he was invisible to them.
He made sure to be at his desk every day when she came by. He would notice her. And he would speak to her. And he would help her remember that she was a person to be acknowledged, not one to be forgotten or ignored.
When he first came to Grimmauld Place, Severus had lost fifteen of his charges after they left Hogwarts. He had known the whereabouts of nine of them. Six had been lost. He eventually found three of them. It was not always a happy event when he did so.
The worst had been reading of Reynard Selwyn's death in the Prophet one morning. It was a small article about the body of a young teenaged male found in Knockturn Alley, killed in a street fight.
Reynard had come to Grimmauld Place briefly before running off. Severus warded all doors and windows shut, but that only worked to keep the world out. It did nothing to stop one of them from walking out the front door and disappearing. It had been meant as a protective measure-to make sure they could escape should an unsavoury person make his way into the house. They could make their escape.
He wondered if it had been the right call. Hermione said it was, but Severus still questioned his judgment. He couldn't help it. He could learn to accept something less than perfection, but he would never be comfortable with failure. Especially when the stakes were so high.
In front of Hermione, he hardened his expression and blocked all emotion.
In private, he wept.
He always knew, intellectually, that he could not expect to save all of them. He could not make their decisions for them. All he could do was give them his best and hope it would be enough.
Sometimes, it just wasn't enough.
"Sometimes it's just not meant to be," Harry would remind him.
He knew Harry was right. But knowing that didn't make it any easier.
Severus approached the floo and walked through to the flat his six daughters shared. He did so every night. He checked the protective enchantments on all windows and doors, he warded the floo, he inspected all the owls that had arrived, he spoke with each girl. He gave each one a hug and asked after her day at the Ministry. He told each one that he was proud of her.
Tonight his hugs were longer, his embraces tighter, his voice lower. After speaking with Valentina, he stiffened as he realised what was missing.
"Where's Brigita?" he asked, tensing. He came at the same time every day, and they all knew that he expected them all to be there. He would worry otherwise.
The girls all shared surreptitious glances and stood a bit straighter. "Out," they all said in unison.
"Out?" Severus repeated, curiosity piqued. Something was up.
"Yes," Valentina said a little too suspiciously, her eyes shifting. "Out."
"Nowhere important!" Valentina said quickly. "What's that you've brought with you?"
"Biscuits Mum sent, and don't try changing the subject on me, you know it won't work. What are you all hiding from me?"
They were "Severus and Hermione" when others were around, but in private, they were, and had been, "Mum and Dad" or "Mum and Daddy" for years. It was a secret born of the need to protect their true identities, both of the girls and their parents. Their little secret.
"Nothing!" they all said too quickly, stifling smiles and giggles.
Severus crossed his arms and gave them his most intimidating Professor Snape glare. Unfortunately for him, they were all so used to the look that it no longer had the same potency that it once did with his students. Still, he would get to the bottom of this. Did his girls really think they could fool him?
He heard the sound of the front door unlocking and was incensed. Had he not told them, in no uncertain terms, that they were to use the floo for every entry and exit? That it was the only secure way of leaving the flat?
Even though they had been out of that horrible place for more than five years, and had made tremendous recoveries… sometimes he wanted to wrap them all up in a sack, throw the sack over his shoulder, and haul them all back to Grimmauld Place, where he could protect them forever. He did truly admire their drive to be independent, and the success they'd achieved at it. But he would never stop worrying about them. Ever.
The door opened and he turned to see Brigita entering on Draco Malfoy's arm. The couple froze, like rabbits caught in the sight of a fox. If we don't move, he won't be able to see us.
Severus looked around and saw the other five girls giving looks ranging from smirks to faux innocence. So this was what they had been trying to hide from him. One of them had a boyfriend. A boyfriend he knew well. And she had never mentioned it to him. None of them had. Why hadn't anyone said anything to him?
Brigita's face flushed and her—gulp—date averted his eyes before kissing—kissing!—her on the cheek and taking his leave.
"Bye, Draco," the other five said in unison, making Brigita's face even redder.
"He is good to you?" Severus asked her, arms crossed over his chest.
She nodded. "He is wonderful to me."
"He has no money, you know."
She shrugged. "Neither do I."
"Do you love him?"
She nodded. "Ever since the day he brought me home from that horrible place."
"Does he love you?"
Brigita sighed and averted her eyes. "Yes. I think he does."
"But he has not said so?"
She gave him a shy smile. "How long did you love Mum before you told her?"
That was a fair point.
"If he ever hurts you, you will tell me instantly."
It was a command, and Brigita took it as such. "Of course. You and Leo both." She chuckled. "You could tag-team the curses."
"I'm serious, Brigita."
"So am I."
For a long time, neither Slytherin spoke, until finally Severus narrowed his eyes at her and spoke in an authoritative tone. "And he will not… touch you… before you are married?"
She stood there, frozen, for a moment, before answering. "No," she said. "He won't. He said so himself."
Severus's eyes widened in surprise. "Did he, now?"
She nodded. "He did. He's a good man," she said. "He was always good to me."
Severus smiled. "Yes, he was."
"You knew?" Severus exclaimed, confused as to whether he was more shocked or angry.
"Oh, yes, for ages," Hermione said casually, dipping her quill in ink. "We thought it would be best if you didn't know. You can be a bit… over-protective."
"Can you blame me?"
"No. But I can keep our daughter's secrets from you."
"You shouldn't do that, you know."
"When it comes to boys, oh yes, I should."
He tensed as another thought occurred to him. "Do any of the other girls have…" he gulped, "boyfriends?"
Hermione hastily turned her focus to shaking the excess ink from her quill.
Hermione had not known what to do with herself after the last child left for Hogwarts and their own girls had moved into their own flat.
She and Severus had decided from the beginning that they would not attempt to conceive a child of their own. Practice, yes. But attempt? No. It would not have been fair to the others; it felt like a betrayal.
They also weren't certain they would even be able to have children. Both had been exposed to Cruciatus in the war, Severus perhaps more than just about any other person alive. The also had both been on the receiving end of a multitude of curses and hexes during the war. Most people found themselves infertile after even a fraction of what they'd endured. They decided they'd rather not find out.
Besides, she was already mother to more than twenty. She wasn't a machine.
But what to do with her life now?
The Ministry was unappealing, and Hogwarts was impractical.
The house was far too quiet.
She spent a lot of time writing down her thoughts and experiences as a person who raised and taught war orphans. She conferred with Luna and transcribed Luna's thoughts on the matter. It helped them both remember and clear Hermione's mind while Severus puttered around in the cellar with his potions. He had decided to mass-produce the potions he had created for the children to ward off nightmares in that first year. Their children were not the only ones in need of it. Even though his price was affordable and below-market, it was enough to sustain them financially year-in-year-out. The demand was that high. He had even taught the girls how to make it, in case they were interested in potion-making. None were.
Severus had come upon her writings one day and suggested she seek publication. It was essentially a case study in war trauma. If she kept the names of her "subjects" anonymous, she could publish it and help even more children.
She liked that idea. She liked that idea a lot. Luna enthusiastically agreed.
Writing a book had been both easier and harder than she had imagined. As a lover of the written word, she had assumed it would flow easily, naturally, and that she would be done within weeks. She even bought a laptop for the occasion. On the one hand, she had all the material handy and a strong outline to work with. She knew what she would write when. On the other hand, writer's block would sometimes appear when she tried to transition from one case to the next, or one type of trauma to the next. She wanted it to be professional but not clinical, engaging but not overly-entertaining. It was a serious subject. She wanted to treat it with the respect and gravity it deserved.
She considered herself a co-author, even though Luna never actually wrote anything. She forwarded her notes and provided memories for Hermione to examine in order to get Luna's perceptions, ideas, and thoughts on the subject. Between them, they had a veritable "how-to" manual for psychology and counseling for magical patients.
Such a thing had never been published in Wizarding Britain.
The two rival Wizarding publishing houses engaged in a bidding war for the manuscript. Never before had any witch or wizard written a treatise on mental health problems, let alone with regard to war trauma. And never before had a member of the Golden Trio put quill to parchment to write of her experiences. It would fly off the shelves.
But that wasn't important to Hermione. It was a catharsis for her: sorting out her feelings, recording her experiences, and reflecting on her life for the past several years. Even though it was not about her life per se, it really was a biography. A way of honoring and immortalizing this noble experiment they had devoted their lives to. They had come so far. It would not do to forget the journey. And there was a real chance it would help others.
She couldn't wait to write another.
For the first time in his life, Severus Snape waited at Platform 9 ¾ as the Hogwarts Express pulled into the station. Hermione had done it every year since she'd come back into his life over seven years prior. Before then, there usually wasn't anyone to pick up from the last train of the school year. On the rare occasions there was, Glastonbury had insisted on doing it.
But this year was special.
A parade of children made their way to him, fifteen in total, first-years and older. Most were chatting with friends and hugging good-bye for the summer. They each reached him in turn and greeted him in their own way. The Gryffindors and Hufflepuffs insisted on hugging him in public (the Hufflepuffs shyly, the Gryffindors at a run). He grudgingly let them do it, but made sure to make his irritation and disapproval known. They knew better than to take him seriously. The Ravenclaws shook his hand, and the Slytherins kept a respectful distance and give a polite nod. Really, was that so difficult?
The Slytherins outnumbered all the others, but despite what he'd told his wife, Severus was secretly glad to have a bit of variety. Truly, they were their own people, not their parents. None of them shared their surnames anymore. Their futures were not written. Not just yet.
Things were going reasonably well at Hogwarts. With Luna and Neville and Poppy on the staff, they had someone on their side. Many had been able to fly under the radar with regard to their histories, though some had attracted problems with bullying. Problems were usually swiftly dealt with as they would have been with any other children. At least once per year he had to see Minerva about some sort of trouble befalling at least one of them; though he was no longer officially their legal guardian, Minerva treated him as such out of courtesy. Slughorn remained the least protective Head of House, which disappointed Severus immensely but did not surprise him, so his Slytherins tended to have the most problems. But so far, none had been driven out.
Long may it be.
Academically, they were at least passing their classes, though none were doing especially well and none were remotely near the top of their class. He would never have a prefect or a Head Girl or Boy in his house, with one exception. No Quidditch captains or team members either. But most would at least get a few OWLs, which would be enough to give them a place somewhere in the Wizarding world. They would have some options. Not all would make it through NEWT level, but there were opportunities to be had for those with OWLs only. They had friends. It was good enough. Severus had long since decided to take Poppy's advice of years past to accept "good enough." He would never stop pursuing perfection, but he would no longer be disappointed with less. He had learnt to reward best efforts, rather than focus his attention on the imperfections.
They had come so far. How could he possibly be disappointed?
The witch who had accompanied him smiled and welcomed everyone home.
It wasn't just the satisfaction of seeing all children from Grimmauld arriving home from Hogwarts at the same time. It was also seeing one particular child from Grimmauld arrive home from Hogwarts.
Said child (man, really) appeared as the crowd thinned out. He was tall with sandy-blonde hair and grey eyes. He was thin but fit, and walked with the same confidence of his late father. He smiled with his mother's warmth. He walked hand-in-hand with a pretty girl with long, curly red hair who looked at him with utter adoration. He moved his hand to the girl's waist and gave her a kiss when they thought no one was looking. Or just didn't care who saw. Gryffindors never seemed to care if anyone was looking.
Leopold Clairemont. Seventh year. He had finished at Hogwarts and completed his NEWTs. The first of his charges to do so.
Leopold spotted them and led his girlfriend over to the crowd. He first went to Severus's companion, his sister Brigita, and embraced her warmly. Brigita had tears in her eyes as she pulled her brother close. Severus could hear her whisper over and over, "I'm so proud of you." Brigita's engagement ring reflected the light of the sun as she embraced each of her siblings in turn. Leopold introduced his girlfriend to his older sister, and as Ermengarde joined them to regale them all about OWLs, her prefect's badge standing proudly on her chest, Severus couldn't help but feel a swell of pride. The Rosiers had made it. All three of them. He never thought he would see the day.
After extricating himself from his siblings, Leopold made his way over to Severus. The two men, eyes now level with one another, simply stared at each other for a long time.
"Not here," Severus warned quietly.
Leopold broke down and pulled the older man into a strong hug.
"I can't help it," Leopold whispered.
For possibly the first time ever in public, Severus returned an embrace.
He was so damn proud of the boy.
"Well done," he said gruffly, using every ounce of self-control to prevent his emotions from overcoming him in this very public place. "Well done."
Leopold squeezed him. "Thank you," he whispered. He tried to put a lot of things into those two words. Severus understood.
He cleared his throat and mentally counted all of his children. Sixteen in total. No, wait, seventeen. The girl, Leopold's girl, was still with them. She would not be coming back with them today, but Severus had a feeling he would be seeing much of this girl in the coming months. Merlin knew he'd heard enough about her through Hermione, who had owled Leopold every week for his entire seven years: Clara this and Clara that. He wanted to give the boy more time with her, but the younger ones needed to get back. The Potters, Luna, and Longbottom were already there to welcome them all back. The girls had already flooed in from their flat. Brigita had invited Malfoy, though whether he would actually attend such a large gathering remained up in the air. Severus sort of hoped that he would. Xavier Yaxley would come over tonight, as would a couple of the other older boys. Even Weasley and his wife were expected; now that they owned the Leaky, they often brought food to these get-togethers. But they were not bringing food tonight. Molly Weasley had volunteered to cook for everyone.
It wouldn't do to keep them all waiting.
And if leaving now meant that, even sooner, Severus could have them home and all to himself after months without seeing them... well, so much the better.
Over the tops of their heads he saw a teal-headed boy walk off the platform arm-in-arm with his grandmother. Severus briefly met Andromeda's eye and she gave him a small smile and small nod. Teddy Lupin had remained friends with many of the children, particularly those who were fellow Hufflepuffs. It had melted Andromeda's views on the children, just a bit.
"Everyone here?" he asked. At a flurry of nods (and a kiss good-bye between Leopold and his girlfriend), he nodded. Margaret Macnair, always the clingy one, chose that moment to fly to Severus's side and tuck herself under his arm. Checking to make sure that there were enough children around him to shield them from view, he pulled her a bit closer. She always felt safest in his arms. He hoped she always would.
He led her and the others off the platform.
"Let's go home."
The Scorpion and the Frog is a real fable. Moral of the story: We cannot change who we are. In this story, my aim was to have none of our main characters change, but rather grow as people while staying true to their true natures. I hope that, in that regard, I have succeeded.
I have heard time and again that British schools do not have graduation ceremonies, so I'm staying true to that by not having one here. That would be why Severus meets them at King's Cross and congratulates Leo there, rather than at Hogwarts. It was literally his first opportunity to do so.
Friends, I want to thank you all for making this the most rewarding experience I could have asked for. To all of you-especially those of you who took a chance on a first story by a new author way back at the beginning-I humbly thank you. I know that can be a gamble on this site. Thank you to everyone who reviewed, who provided feedback, who challenged me and made me think. I loved the discussions I had with many of you about the story, the characters, or life in general. I never dreamed that it would be such an interactive experience, and I am so glad that it was. You all helped shape this story in one way or another, and I thank you all immensely.
I never intended to get "preachy" about the subject matter; this story was written purely for enjoyment and entertainment and to make a very rabid plot bunny go away. I had hoped that it would first and foremost entertain and, if I was lucky, make you think. I know that many of you were touched or otherwise affected by the plight of the girls in the brothel. Sadly, that part of the story is based entirely on fact. I took much of the dynamic from the book "Disposable People" by Kevin Bales, which tells the story of modern-day sex slavery in Thailand. Very little of it was fictionalized. There are real-world girls in this same situation you can help by spreading awareness or supporting organizations that help bring these girls out of such a life. I would encourage you to do so, if you're so inclined.
I have been asked many times if I have any other stories in the pipeline, and the answer is sadly no-I have no other plot ideas at this time. If and when I come up with more, I will absolutely write and publish them here. Keep an eye on my profile for updates. Until then... be good, everybody :)
Update: Prequel is now up!
Update 2: JTB has been nominated for an award! See my profile for voting information.