Scowling, Severus Snape pinched the bridge of his nose as he read Luna Lovegood's essay on the uses of frozen Ashwinder Eggs. While she had correctly described their use in love potions and as a cure for ague, he could only shake his head as she went on to state that the eggs were instrumental in containing an army of Heliopaths controlled by the Ministry.
He truly could not decide whether to be amused by her inventiveness or appalled that her father had succeeded in stuffing his outlandish theories into her impressionable head. Mechanically, he scratched through the last part of her answer with red ink. Before he could decide how to grade such a ridiculous answer, someone knocked on his office door.
A pleased smile softened his scowl as he looked up to see Rose walking into his office. When she mindlessly tugged on her charm bracelet, though, he wondered what was wrong.
"What is troubling you, Rose?"
The young Gryffindor's eyes widened. "How do you do that? Are you reading my mind or something?"
Now was not the time to discuss the reality of Legilimency, so he merely smirked and stared pointedly at her wrist. "Nothing so extraordinary. You should be thankful that I put an Anti-Breaking Charm on the clasp when I had your bracelet repaired."
Self-consciously, she put her hands down at her sides. "Oh. Yeah. I don't want to lose it again."
She took a shaky breath, and he steeled himself for the worst.
"Do you believe in angels?"
Of all the things she could have said, he had not expected that.
"Rose, I hardly believe in a deity, much less heavenly messengers. Why do you ask?"
Her fingers anxiously moved to her bracelet, but then she caught herself. Obviously agitated, she paced instead.
"I just thought they might be real, like ghosts. That night . . . after you took Pansy and me out of the Shrieking Shack, I could hardly breathe, everything hurt so much. And, then I saw this bright light and I couldn't feel any more pain, and I thought my mum sang me to sleep. It seemed so real, Professor. She has such a pretty voice, not anything like mine. And, she smiled at me. I thought . . . I thought an angel had taken me to see her."
He didn't know what to say. He had made no attempt to rationalize Lily's appearances over the past year. In the end, he had chosen to simply accept them. Whether a figment of his own imagination or something much more sublime, his dreams of the "real" Lily had given him much needed hope.
"While I cannot confirm the existence of angels, Rose, that does not mean they are not real. There are many things, even in the Wizarding world, which defy explanation. However, I remember fondly your mother's voice. She didn't sing often, but when she did, it was beautiful. I have no doubt that whatever you experienced that night, your mother's love was at the heart of it."
"It's nice to have a good memory of her."
I imagine it is," he answered thoughtfully.
He had very few positive memories of his mother. Eileen had never been strong enough to protect him from Tobias. He had never known her as the studious, quiet witch her contemporaries had described from their school days.
Unexpectedly, Rose gripped him in a fierce hug. "Thanks, Professor."
"For taking me away from the Dursleys. Usually, I'm dreading summer holidays by now."
His acerbic wit deserted him as he returned her hug. He wanted nothing more than to deflect her heartfelt gratitude with a self-deprecating joke, but he couldn't bring himself to do it. The very thought of the child standing before him spending her summer belittled and abused brought a painful lump to his throat.
"You are welcome, Rose. Though I wish I had thought to investigate your home life much earlier. I allowed old prejudices to blind me to the truth, and for that, I am sorry."
"Why did you visit Privet Drive that night?"
He remembered the child asking a similar question shortly after her attack, before Albus had taken it upon himself to Obliviate her memory. He had told her the truth then, and he owed her no less now.
"Would you think me mad if I said your mother visited me in a dream?"
There was a flash of triumph in her eyes. "So you do believe in angels!"
He smiled in spite of himself. "Perhaps I believe in one particular angel, Rose. Your mother was a remarkable witch. Now, don't you have finals to study for?"
"Oh, yeah," she remarked with much less enthusiasm. "Ron and I are going to study Divination together. No offense, Professor, but it seems like a load of rubbish."
"Much of what Sybil Trelawny teaches is rubbish. Why anyone would wish to take that class is beyond my understanding."
"Well, I thought it would be fun until she kept predicting I would die. Now, Ron and I play this game to see who can outdo each other in making up outlandish predictions. We've noticed the tragic ones earn the higher marks."
He schooled his features into a neutral mask lest he erupt into a fit of laughter. "Miss Potter, as a professor at this school, I am appalled at such an admission. However, as your guardian, I take offense that anyone would dare predict your demise. If you do not wish to take the course next year, I've no objections."
"Really? I'll think about it. I mean, it's completely a waste of time, but I'm not sure I'd want to take Arithmancy or Ancient Runes in its place."
"I still expect you to do well on your final examination."
His remark earned him an eye roll. "Yes, Professor. I'd better go. I told Hermione that I'd quiz her on Potions ingredients after Ron and I do some brainstorming, not that she needs the extra practice.
Snape watched indulgently as she ran out the door. Angels indeed—Rose had certainly come up with an imaginative way to explain her mother's presence that night. Though, it made as much sense as believing that Lily had visited his dreams from beyond the grave.
Picking up Luna Lovegood's essay, he quickly spelled the red ink to disappear. In the margin he wrote: A very thorough description of the use of frozen Ashwinder eggs. Outstanding effort.
Upon further consideration, who was he to belittle her beliefs?
A bouquet of spring flowers clutched in his right hand, Severus Snape approached the Welcome Witch at St. Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries. He hated the necessity of announcing his visit, but the Dark Arts recovery ward was a restricted access ward for the safety of patients, Healers and visitors alike. It was also constantly monitored, which would make conversation difficult, but he didn't care. All he could think about was the hurt look on Narcissa's face when he had given her the Sleeping Draught.
"I am here to see Narcissa Malfoy," he announced tonelessly after the harried witch snapped an insincere greeting.
Suddenly, he had the woman's full attention. Her mouth gaped and her eyes bugged out unattractively like a fish. "Why would anyone want to see the likes of her? As bad as her husband from what I've read. Pity she survived whatever unholy ritual they planned to perform."
The witch had all but shouted, and several patients awaiting treatment eagerly leaned closer to better follow the exchange. Seething, Snape deliberately leaned over the counter so the outraged receptionist could read the fury in his eyes. In low, deliberate tones, he repeated his request.
"Narcissa Malfoy is a patient in this hospital, and it is not for you or anyone else to judge her worthiness. If you do not immediately call for a Healer to escort me to her room, I shall take great pleasure in reporting your woeful lack of discretion to your supervisor."
The infuriating witch began to sputter protests while Snape fought the urge to hex her. Before he could completely lose his temper, a familiar voice called out.
"Professor Snape! Everything alright? I wasn't expecting to see you until July."
Turning, Severus relaxed as he greeted Healer Wellby. "I am well, Mark, merely visiting a friend." Then, with a scowl, he amended, "Attempting to visit a friend. I'm afraid hospitality is nonexistent in this hospital."
"Now, see here," the insulted witch began, only to have both men ignore her.
The young wizard dressed in lime green robes smiled. "Allow me to escort you. I was on my way to see Mrs. Malfoy anyway."
Warily, Severus allowed Wellby to lead him to the elevators. As soon as they had stepped inside, however, he demanded an explanation.
"How did you know it was Narcissa Malfoy I wished to see?"
Severus looked down. Of course, the flowers—he held a bouquet of yellow narcissuses in his hand.
"They're her favorite," he responded a tad bit defensively.
"They're perfect," the other man agreed. "She could do with some cheering up. Besides her family, she's received no visitors."
"Has she seen the article?"
"Not yet. The Aurors informed her of her husband's death, but we have kept her isolated from outside rumor and gossip. My colleagues and I decided it was better to focus on her physical recovery before burdening her with more emotional trauma. I would ask you to honor our decision, Professor."
"I have no intention of informing Narcissa of the lies Rita Skeeter managed to have published in the Daily Prophet."
"Good. I knew I could count on your discretion. If Mrs. Malfoy does not object, you may visit while I make my rounds."
Finally reaching the fourth floor, both wizards stepped off the elevator, Snape limping more than usual as the pain in his left side flared. Wellby eyed him critically, but didn't comment. Severus, for his part, made a conscious effort to walk normally in front of the perceptive wizard. His left side had pained him considerably since his latest exposure to the Cruciatus Curse, and he had no desire to return to his status as patient rather than visitor.
While the Healer recorded their entry into the restricted ward, Severus noticed the man's eyes strayed again to his cane and leg. Hoping to distract Wellby, he asked the first question that popped into his head.
"Why are you her primary Healer? I thought your expertise was with creature-induced injuries."
"Actually, I specialize in injuries and maladies of the nervous system. For all the advances magic has made in the healing arts, we lack the ability to manipulate the brain, spinal cord and peripheral nerves with the precision needed to heal most serious injuries. Your case, happily, was the exception."
Severus grew cold at the explanation. "I did not realize the manacles had affected her mind."
Sympathetically, Wellby placed his hand on the Potions Master's arm. "Only in a purely psychological sense, Professor Snape. Several healers are successfully treating the open sores on her wrist and the broken link between the manacles and her cardiovascular and respiratory systems. However, in cases like this, St. Mungo's has found that it is the patient's overall mental health which ultimately determines the outcome."
Impressed by the young Healer's confidence and obvious proficiency, Snape did not object when he was asked to surrender his wand. His desire to see Narcissa had grown with each troubling revelation, and it was all he could do not to rush into her room as soon as they were past the security doors. Instead, he allowed Wellby to enter first, which gave him a moment to prepare himself for the worst.
Glancing about the room from the hallway, he thought it surprisingly bare. He had expected Narcissa's room to be filled with cards and flowers, but all he could see was a lone magazine lying on her bedside table and a single box of Honeyduke's chocolate. The article in the Daily Prophet must have been far more damaging than he had supposed.
He snuck a glance at the newly made widow while she spoke to the Healer. Her wrists were thickly bandaged and her skin still much too pale. Her lunch plate had not been touched, though he could understand her lack of appetite. He remembered how unpalatable the bland food had been from his own time spent on the first floor. Instead of flowers, he should have brought some of McGonagall's shortbread.
The longer she spoke to the Healer, the more troubled she appeared. Severus had to wonder how much she had confided in the wizard. Though he didn't make an attempt to eavesdrop on their conversation, he couldn't mistake the sound of his name. As soon as it was said, Narcissa nodded eagerly, straining her neck to try to catch a glimpse of him from her bed. Taking that as his cue, he entered with a nervous smile on his face.
"Severus! Oh, thank Merlin! Sirius told me you'd been Cruciated. I've been so worried!"
Wellby's eyes narrowed as he again stared at the Potions Master's cane. Before Narcissa could continue and accidently implicate him in covering up her husband's murder, Severus bent down to kiss her cheek.
"You needn't worry, Narcissa. Pettigrew's torture occurred almost two months ago. I am fully recovered, but I am grateful for your concern."
By the flash of panic in her sapphire eyes, he knew she understood. All at once, she began to ramble. "Pettigrew? Isn't he dead? Sirius killed him. No, that's not right. Sirius was here when I woke up. Lucius is dead. My cousin is innocent and my husband is dead." Soulfully, she looked into his eyes, "And, you must think me a madwoman."
He longed to take her in his arms and properly finish the kiss they had started in his quarters, but he dared not. Instead, he presented her with the bouquet.
"I think nothing of the sort. The potions you are taking undoubtedly leave you confused."
She thoughtfully fingered the cheery, yellow flowers. "They're beautiful, but far more than I deserve."
"The entire room should be filled with flowers."
From the expression on her face, his protest had stunned and gratified her, but she soon lapsed into an uncomfortable silence. He hated the coded conversation they were forced to have. He longed to confess that he was glad Lucius was dead, that he was sorry it had been Sirius who had killed the bastard instead of him, that he had no intention of wasting his second chance, but he could not.
Gently, he pushed her long, silken hair behind her ears. A flush of color rushed to her cheeks at his touch. As they sat motionless, staring deeply into each other's eyes, the lanky young healer politely cleared his throat.
"I have a few more patients to see, but it shouldn't take more than half an hour. Professor Snape, you're welcome to continue your visit, that is, if Mrs. Malfoy does not object?"
Wrenching away her gaze, Narcissa blinked uncertainly at the young wizard. "I have a say?"
"Yes, Mrs. Malfoy," he answered a little sadly. "You are allowed to say if you would like Professor Snape to stay or leave."
"Severus? Is that what you wish? To stay?"
He understood she meant far more than a simple visit, and he hated the timidity in her voice. Such uncertainty was grossly out of character for the strong, confident witch he had known as a young woman. Regrettably, he could sense that her insecurity was all too real. Not caring what Wellby thought of his actions, he tenderly caressed her hand.
"For as long as you'll have me, Narcissa."
Heedless to the flowers, she threw her arms around him, resting her head against his chest. Severus distantly thought that he should have put the blooms in a vase as he soothed her sudden tears.
"I'll, uh, just be going, then. I have to return soon, though, Professor. I'm sure you'll appreciate that it wouldn't do to exhaust the patient."
As Wellby walked out of the room, Snape couldn't suppress a chuckle.
"What?" Narcissa sniffed nervously as she wiped her eyes.
"I believe I have unintentionally disappointed Healer Wellby. Though he doesn't seem to object so long as I do not wear you out."
"Severus!" Shocked, color again rose in her cheeks, temporarily imbuing her with a healthy glow. "I'm sure he didn't mean it in that way, did he?"
Abruptly, she grinned, laughing along with him until she noticed the jonquils strewn upon the floor. "I was afraid you wouldn't want to see me."
Smirking, he raised his eyebrows. "Just how confused have those potions made you?"
She flushed in embarrassment, but soon understood he teased her. "Severus Snape, I have never known you to be so cheeky!"
He stroked her back, more content than he had felt in years. "Anything to bring a little color to your face. You're still far too pale. How are you feeling?"
"Safe," she finally admitted. "For the first time in many years, I feel safe. Sirius and Andromeda have been very patient with me. I'm worried about Draco, though. I don't know what those lies printed in the Prophet will do to him."
"Your Healers are under the impression you haven't seen the Daily Prophet."
"It was deliberately left next to my breakfast tray yesterday. Not everyone in St. Mungo's is as considerate as Healer Wellby."
"I am sorry, Narcissa."
She stared at the bandages on her wrists. "It is better than the truth."
"I would rather be reviled than pitied. Besides, my friends will not believe such nonsense. Will they?"
Considering the lack of cards and flowers in her room, he very much feared they had. However, he refused to share such negative thoughts. "They shouldn't, and if they do, they were never truly your friends."
"But, you know not to believe such lies. Don't you, Severus?"
He hated what that fiend had done to her. Considering her self-doubt, he was amazed that she had managed to leave Lucius in the first place. And then he remembered; her actions had been spurred by the sure expectation of death, not the self-assurance necessary for living.
"I will always be your friend, Narcissa."
She looked away, and he wondered for a moment if he had said something to upset her. Then, with a hint of sultry confidence, she brushed her lips across his cheek to whisper in his ear.
"Merely friends? You desire nothing more?"
A surge of longing almost made him moan aloud. "Now who's being cheeky?" he managed to rasp as he forced himself to recall exactly where they were.
The pale witch's assertiveness abruptly crumbled. Dismayed, he realized he had been the cause. She had mistaken his witticism for rejection. Wandlessly, he summoned the scattered jonquils into his hand.
"Narcissa, look at me, please."
Reluctantly, she did so. The hurt in her eyes was as painful as a slap to his face. He took a moment to compose himself before gently pressing the bouquet into her hands.
"I should not have made light of something so important. Never merely, and so much more."
She took a deep, shuddering breath. "Perhaps I am truly mad. Suddenly, I doubt everything I know to be true."
"Only because you were forced to live a lie for so long. Your confidence will return."
Hesitantly, she reached out to touch his cheek. "You are so beautiful, Severus."
His immediate inclination was to scoff. With his beak of a nose and greasy hair, he knew he was not a handsome man. The faint traces of the Dark Mark still visible on his arm often persuaded him that he was not a good man. However, the near reverence in her voice convinced him that she saw him unlike any other. He could not bring himself to belittle her beliefs. Instead, he kissed her palm.
"Only to you, I'm afraid."
Her earlier flash of self-assurance returned with a triumphal smirk. "Good. I won't have to compete for your affection."
This time, he knew exactly how to answer.
Standing in the middle of the Common Room, Severus Snape ruthlessly surveyed his Slytherins. Some, like Pansy Parkinson and Millicent Bulstrode, stared sullenly at the floor. Others, like the Greengrass sisters, were nervous and glum. Mr. Harper embodied the attitude of most of the boys; he watched his Head of House warily, his arms crossed in front of him. Draco stood alone to the side, glaring at anyone who dared look his way.
"I would like to commend you for another year well done. That is, regrettably, impossible. It would be an insult to Helena Gamp to praise you for your behavior."
Before anyone could react, he turned to his prefects.
"Mr. Bole, please tell me the current number of House points contained in the Slytherin hourglass?"
The quiet sixth year dutifully glanced at a sheaf of notes, though everyone was well aware of the dismal total.
"Quite. I believe that is a record, though not one about which I would wish to brag."
Deliberately, his eyes came to rest on his least favorite third year. Pansy Parkinson's hands were covered in painful, red boils. She had unfortunately run across a bubotuber while weeding one of the greenhouses. Not knowing what it was, she had pulled it out of the ground with her bare hands. He would have to thank Pomona for that later.
"Miss Parkinson, remind me of the number of House points you have personally lost in the last three weeks."
The girl glowered at him with enough raw hatred to set a bush ablaze. Luckily, there were none present in the Common Room.
"That's quite a feat, Miss Parkinson. I believe we would all like to hear how you managed it."
There had been enough rumor and gossip flying through the school, and he was sick of it. Not everyone knew what Pansy had done to deserve such punishment, and those who did only had her twisted version of the truth. He was determined to set the record straight, and make a point while doing it.
"Fine," she spat, not at all ashamed that her actions had affected the entire House. "Professor Dumbledore took away two hundred points because I played a few pranks on Rose Potter. And, you took one hundred points after I told Draco that I thought his father should have gone ahead and sacrificed him."
Everyone turned to stare at Draco, who angrily scowled back. With a disapproving frown, Snape quickly brought their attention back to Pansy.
"I take it from your tone that you believe these penalties to be unfair?"
She walked right into his trap. "Unfair? Of course they're unfair! So I stunned Potter when she fell from her broom. The dementors put her in the Hosptial Wing, not me! Helena had no right to scold me for it. If she hadn't threatened to tell you, we wouldn't have hexed her! And, Potter attacked me in that room underneath the Whomping Willow. It's not my fault she got hurt when the ceiling collapsed! As for Draco, he's pathetic. He used to be able to take a little joke."
His tone dangerously silky, he demanded, "And, what do you believe the punishment should be for killing a student?"
"That was Flint," she shouted indignantly. "I had nothing to do with his attack in the Forbidden Forest. Besides, he missed everyone except Draco."
"I will ask again, Miss Parkinson. What is a fair punishment for killing a student?"
Bemused, she answered without thought. "Azkaban."
"Mr. Bletchley, you have just finished your N.E.W.T. in Charms. Explain the effect of multiple Stunning Spells cast simultaneously on the same person."
Miles Bletchley made a face, though he answered readily enough. "The effect is cumulative, sir. The first one would knock a person senseless, but successive spells cause greater injury."
"And what is your opinion as to the damage inflicted if five such spells should hit their target at once?"
"Five, Professor Snape? Professor Flitwick told us that as few as three could stop someone's heart."
Several of the girls gasped, and he knew they finally understood. Even Pansy looked shocked. From the puzzled looks on most of the boys' faces, he guessed they had not been included in the Quidditch "prank".
"Five, Mr. Bletchley, is the number of stunners which hit Rose Potter as she fell from her broom. If the Potion of Last Resort had not been successful, she would have died."
"But it wasn't just me!"
His gaze calmly swept the room as he mentally took note of the girls who now refused to meet his stare.
"The Headmaster is aware of that, Miss Parkinson, which is why you are not currently in Azkaban. I can only hope that you acted out of ignorance rather than real malice, but let me assure you, such a defense will not work a second time. Should you arrange a similar prank, I will hand you over to the dementors personally. Do I make myself clear?"
"Yes, Professor Snape." This time, her reply was meek and subdued.
"Need I explain further the fairness of your punishment?"
"No, Professor Snape."
"Then, I expect you to learn from your idiocy and return to Hogwarts next term prepared to study. Now, Mr. Zabini, what responsibility do you take for Miss Parkinson's actions?"
The tall third year took immediate offense. "Me? I didn't do anything, Professor."
"Were you aware that Miss Parkinson and her friends were hexing Miss Gamp?"
"Sure, I knew, but I don't go around telling tales. Besides, I thought Malfoy had taken care of it."
"And, when it became clear that Mr. Malfoy had not taken care of it?"
"Wasn't any of my business."
"I see. Tell me, Mr. Zabini, why do you hate dogs?"
"What? I love dogs, Professor. My mum breeds crups."
"And yet, you did nothing to prevent Mr. Flint from slaughtering Miss Gamp's familiar."
Angry and confused mutterings swept the room. Blaise Zabini's reaction was more visceral. "He did WHAT?"
"Marcus Flint slaughtered Helena Gamp's familiar. He then charmed it to look like the stray I had befriended in the mistaken belief it belonged to Rose Potter."
"That piece of shi—!"
"Mr. Zabini!" Severus roared before the boy could complete his sentence. "Watch your language or I will be forced to deduct further points from Slytherin. The sad fact is that almost everyone in this room chose to ignore the torment of a defenseless first year. I hold each and every one of you responsible for what happened to Helena and her familiar."
While most of the younger Slytherins were obviously affected by his argument, Theodore Nott wasn't about to shoulder any responsibility. "But, it was Flint, Professor! You can't actually expect us to stand up to someone like Marcus Flint. Look at what he did to Draco."
Severus spared a glance at the defensive boy, who didn't welcome the sudden attention. He'd returned to school three days prior to take his exams, but he'd been taciturn and withdrawn, not that the Potions Master could blame him. Far too many were willing to believe the rubbish printed in the Daily Prophet. He'd been jinxed without warning several times in the hallways, and spent most of his day alone in the dormitory.
"That reminds me," he remarked reflectively. "Two hundred points to Slytherin for Mr. Malfoy's bravery. Might I point out, Mr. Nott, that there is strength in numbers, a lesson I would think this House could put to good use. Draco should not have needed to confront Marcus Flint alone."
"Now, wash up for the Leaving Feast, and be civil to the Ravenclaws when they are awarded the House Cup. You are dismissed."
Leaning against his cane, he watched as the students quickly retreated to their dormitories. He didn't delude himself into thinking his speech would be all that effective in the near term. If even a few of the first and second years took it to heart, however, Slytherin House would benefit greatly in the years to come.
Turning, he stepped towards Draco, but he was forced to stop and clutch his cane as crippling pain seared down his left leg. Biting back a curse, he gritted his teeth together until the spasm subsided enough to function.
"Yes, Mr. Malfoy?"
The boy grimaced at his name, and Snape made a mental note to address him as Draco from then on. He knew he had come across as curt, but at that moment he could barely stand.
Gray eyes glued to his cane, Draco didn't answer. Snape wondered what was going through his head, but didn't dare peek. Instead, he lowered himself onto a sturdy, green leather chair. Stretching out his leg, he let out a huff of air.
"My apologies. You wished to speak to me, Draco?"
Still the child stared at his cane, unnerving the older wizard, who feared the boy experienced some sort of flashback. Lucius had utilized an ebony cane much like his, though as an affectation rather than a necessity.
Startled, he jumped. "I'm sorry I didn't trust you sooner, Professor Snape."
Surreptitiously, Severus cast Muffliato to ensure their conversation stayed private. "You trusted me when it mattered, Draco. And by confronting Flint, you likely saved Rose's life. For that, I am very grateful."
"If I had said something sooner, Mother wouldn't be in St. Mungo's."
The fair-haired child's anguished expression reminded him of his own unhappy childhood. He'd been at Hogwarts when Tobias had finally killed his mother in a drunken rage. He'd experienced the same guilt that the boy felt now. If only he had told someone, his mother might still be alive.
"Draco, what have you been told of your mother's injuries?"
"Sirius told me that those cuffs Father used were Dark and that they hurt her. I could have told him that. When he used them on me, my wrists felt as if they were on fire."
As quickly as a falcon swooping down on its prey, Severus grabbed Draco's left arm. Without a word of explanation, he pushed up the sleeve of the teen's robes and unbuttoned the cuff to his shirt. A thin, red line, visible only if one looked for it, wrapped around his wrist. More gently, Snape checked the right one to discover it mirrored the left.
"Was it only the one time?"
His voice shook with emotion he could barely contain. It was part fury, part outrage, but mostly deep shame that he hadn't taken the time to check Narcissa's son for signs of abuse. The fact that he had assumed Andromeda would have done so herself was no excuse.
"Five, twice during Christmas and three times at Easter. He told Mother to go shopping; she didn't know. I didn't tell her afterwards. Father made her wear them all the time. I didn't want to tell her I knew how much they hurt. She . . . ."
The proud young man finally broke. Crying unabashedly, he wailed, "It's my fault. I should have said! He hurt her, Professor!"
Standing stiffly, Severus put his hand on Draco's shoulder until he had calmed enough to listen. "It is not your fault, only your father's, Draco. The manacles did more than injure her wrists; they hurt her spirit. However, her Healer is confident that she will recover with the support of her family and friends. Narcissa will be appalled to learn that Lucius used them on you, but the damage is entirely physical."
"We don't have to tell her, do we?"
He gazed compassionately into the young man's miserable eyes. "I think you know the answer to that."
"I guess I do. And, thank you, Professor, for making sure he could never hurt her again."
"No worries, I haven't said anything. I'm just sorry Father made your leg worse."
"You are mistaken. I strained it when Professor Lupin tried to attack Rose."
"Very plausible," he critiqued as he hastily wiped away all traces of his outburst. "I'd better go before anyone sees us talking. I wouldn't want you to be seen speaking to me. It might ruin your reputation."
Snape closed his eyes briefly in exasperation before cancelling the silencing spell. "My reputation was ruined long ago, and only an idiot would believe the lies that woman wrote about you and your mother. You do yourself no favors by isolating yourself from your friends. I expect to see you at the Leaving Feast, do I make myself clear?"
Severus watched him walk up the stairs towards the boy's dormitory, his shoulders hunched. Crabbe and Goyle nearly bowled him over in their rush to leave for dinner. As soon as they noticed him, however, they stopped and followed Draco back upstairs. Snape had to admire their loyalty if not their intelligence.
"Are you sure you can't come with me, Professor? Professor Lupin took the train to Hogwarts. Why can't you take it back?"
Feeding a bit of sausage to Hedwig in his cage, Severus smiled. A year ago, Rose Potter would have been horrified if he had accompanied her on the train from Hogwarts. But, he was no longer merely her professor. He was her guardian, and the closest thing to a parent she had ever known.
"We have discussed this, Rose. You may be starting summer holidays, but mine do not begin for another four days. I will pick you up from the Weasleys' on Saturday.
"Can't I stay with you until you're ready to leave?"
"Students are not allowed—"
"To remain at Hogwarts during the summer. Yeah, Professor Dumbledore's told me that before."
"Molly and Arthur are looking forward to seeing you. They didn't believe me when I wrote that you had grown an inch since Easter."
"It's not that." Looking around, she spotted Ron Weasley walking towards the carriages with Colin Creevey. Her eyes narrowed in anger. "Ron's a prat."
"Oh? What did he do this time?"
"He keeps hexing Draco for no good reason."
Her answer surprised him. "I did not think you would care."
He missed her reaction as she abruptly turned away. "Yeah, well, he just lost his dad, even if his dad was Lucius Malfoy, and his mum's in the hospital. It doesn't really seem fair of Ron to pick on him when he's too upset to fight back."
"What about the Daily Prophet?"
"What about it?" she asked as she handed her trunk to Hagrid. "Hermione said that article was filled with insinuations and no facts. That Rita Skeeter woman probably made most of it up, at least about Draco and his mum."
"Have you spoken to him?"
He would not betray Narcissa's trust and tell Rose of Lucius' abusive nature. However, as soon as they arrived at Spinner's End, he vowed to tell her of the part Draco had played in protecting her all year. She deserved to know the truth.
She played with her bracelet. "I know how he feels about me, Professor. I'm not defending him because I hope he'll like me. I just don't like to see anyone treated unfairly, even Draco Malfoy. Besides, Ron's my friend, and he should respect my feelings enough to stop, but Hermione and I haven't been able to make him see reason. He even said the Dark Arts was in Malfoy's blood before Hermione told him he sounded like a Slytherin. Um, no offense, Professor."
"None taken. I am sorry, Rose, but you will have to make the best of it. Your godfather is busy at the moment, and the Weasleys were kind enough to offer."
Standing on her tiptoes, she gave him a swift hug. "I will. Fred and George have some secret projects they're working on that they've promised to show me. And, I promised Ginny we'd spend some time together. She gets tired of being the only girl. I'm just ready to be home."
Home, it was strange to think of Spinner's End as home, but he and Rose would be spending the summer there in less than a week.
"So long as these projects do not involve explosives."
Groaning, she rolled her eyes. "Professor! They learned their lesson with the dungbombs. At least, I think they did." With a mischievous grin, she grabbed Hedwig's cage and ran towards the awaiting carriages before he could reply.
"See you soon, Professor! I can't wait to get home! It's going to be brilliant!"
Leaning against his cane, he watched contentedly as the thestrals pulled the coaches filled with students towards Hogsmeade Station. Rose had the right of it. So long as they were together, Spinner's End would be home. And, the summer was going to be brilliant.
Author's Notes - Wow! Now I know why some of the Harry Potter books are so long. I could have written another 10,000 words on this chapter alone, and it's mainly an epilogue. Since this is from Snape's point of view, I wanted to show him addressing some of the problems in Slytherin. I don't think a good teacher could simply ignore his students' disappointing conduct. And, yes, I let the Ravenclaws win the House Cup. Just because Rose is a Gryffindor, it doesn't mean they should win every year.
A very sincere thank you to everyone who has read, reviewed, and/or put the story on alerts and favorites. It's even listed in a few communities, which I find astounding. I am grateful a Severus-centric story about a girl Harry ever found an audience. I guess that's the wonders of fanfiction. Yes, I will write a sequel. With the events surrounding the Quidditch World Cup, we all know the summer won't be as brilliant as Severus hopes. No, I don't have a title yet. I could barely think of a title for this chapter let alone a new story.
Hope you enjoyed it! - Imorgen