Author's Notes – Hi! If you're trying to read this story without reading From Friend and Foe Alike first, you may be in for a bumpy ride. A note of caution: this is a sequel to a girl Harry story (the girl being Rose Potter) that is written from Severus Snape's point of view. It is definitely AU.

For everyone who's been waiting for the update, thanks for all the reviews, alerts and favorites! It took me a while to decide exactly where I wanted this story to go, but the year is now sketched out, and I plan on keeping to my once a week posting schedule. Of course I don't own any part of the Harry Potter stories, but it's fun to play in the sandbox.

As always, I hope you enjoy the chapter!


As Severus Snape inventoried Potions ingredients at the end of another school year, he abruptly recalled that one year ago to the day, his life had been forever altered. He had gone to bed that evening an embittered, resentful man, exactly as he had for the past twelve years. Then, a seemingly impossible vision had challenged his perception of reality and set him on a path even in his wildest dreams he could have never foreseen.

That fateful night he'd raced to Surrey to protect Rose Potter from a nebulous threat, although his feelings for the girl had bordered on open hostility. He had long blamed the child for Lily's death even as he acknowledged his own culpability. Worse, his resentment of James Potter had twisted his perceptions of the girl until he saw nothing but a spoiled brat who arrogantly believed herself to be above the rules.

How wrong he'd been. He'd arrived at the home of Petunia Dursley expecting to find Lily's child pampered and well cared for. If he'd scrutinized that thought for more than a minute, he could have guessed the truth. Petunia had taken her own bitterness out on the girl. Damnably, her hulking brute of a husband had justified the abuse as a way to rid the child of her so-called freakiness. Vernon Dursley's prejudice against magic unfortunately rivaled that of his own father.

Regrettably, Rose had not been safe at home when he'd called upon the Dursleys. Not content with physical abuse, they had sadly neglected their orphaned niece. He had found her in the dark underneath a towering oak tree over a mile away, unconscious and near death after a brutal, unspeakable attack by a gang of Muggle hooligans who dared call themselves children.

As he had bent over her broken body, his resentment had crumbled. For once, he didn't see Potter's brat, but Lily's battered little girl. He had been filled with shame, and vowed to care for Rose no matter what the price. While the price had been a high one, he didn't regret a thing.

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"Severus, a word."

Gripping his cane, Severus Snape let Headmaster Albus Dumbledore approach rather than move towards him. His leg pained him too much to retrace his steps. If the wizard needed to speak to him so urgently, he could walk with him through the dungeons towards his quarters. Let the old man think him too proud to turn around and follow.

Striding quickly for a centenarian, it did not take the Headmaster long to catch up. Severus tensed as he noted that every aspect of the powerful wizard pointed to some critical purpose. His robes were a subdued gray. The usual sparkle in his eye had been replaced by a steely glint. Worse, the tension in his jaw indicated that whatever wisdom he had come to impart, it would not be welcome.

For an instant, Dumbledore's gaze flicked to his leg. The old man's expression softened. "I hope you don't mind if I accompany you to your quarters, my boy."

The younger man sneered to mask his increasing discomfort. "It must be grave news indeed if you do not trust an empty corridor to speak plainly, Albus."

"Grave enough," he acknowledged, though he did not elaborate.

By the time they reached his quarters, Severus could barely maintain the charade that all was well. He'd taken two potions for the pain already that day and it was only noon. Dropping into the first available chair, which happened to be at his cramped kitchen table, he irritably gestured for Albus to sit.

The Headmaster didn't take his direction; he never did. Instead, the white-bearded wizard stood by the sink as he summoned a house-elf and requested lunch for the both of them. Then, he prepared a cup of tea entirely by Muggle means before handing it to Snape.

"The experimental potions are failing?"

Severus couldn't say because he honestly did not know. He'd used the chaos of the end of term as an excuse not to seek assistance. The pain and weakness in his left side had only returned after his duel with Lucius Malfoy. While he had hoped it would dissipate, his discomfort had worsened significantly in the past few days. He was glad Rose was at the Weasley's. She would have noticed immediately.

"I'm sure you didn't seek me out to discuss the state of my health. Tell me what has you so concerned, Albus."

The blasted House Elf returned at that moment with a tray full of sandwiches, fruit and crisps. Dumbledore rarely mixed a serious discussion with a meal; he saved those for his accursed sherbet lemons. With a stifled obscenity, the Potions Master focused on eating. Finally, after a long half hour, his employer revealed the reason for his visit.

"Bertha Jorkins has not returned from holiday."

"So? She's no friend of mine."

"Her holiday to Albania."

His mind raced with the implications. "How much damage could she do?"

"Less than feared, but more than hoped, I'm afraid. Her position was with the Department of Magical Games and Sports."

"So, the Dark Lord knows about the Triwizard Tournament."

"Assuming she simply didn't forget herself and wander off, yes."

He stared coldly at the Headmaster, who eventually looked away. They both knew that the scatterbrained witch had not merely wandered off in the wilds of Albania.

"Cancel it."

"My boy, you know I cannot."

"I know nothing of the sort," he snapped back, throwing his napkin onto the table. "It was your mad idea in the first place. Surely, you can withdraw your support."

"Had I known in February, perhaps, but the Ministry has spent too much time negotiating the terms of the contest to accept Hogwarts' withdrawal now. The Triwizard Tournament will occur."

He leaned forward eagerly, his pain momentarily forgotten. "Then allow me to teach Defense. The students need a skilled instructor this year more than ever. I can return to my position as Potions Master at the end of the tournament."

"Severus, I simply cannot risk it."

"You will risk Black's life but not mine? Interesting. At least with his experience, he will be more than a match for that coward Karkaroff."

"I have decided not to give the job to Sirius, Severus. I have another person in mind this year."

This revelation didn't reassure him in the least. Although he had dreaded the idea of having to put up with the mutt's childish antics at the Head Table, he had been confident in Black's ability to protect Rose.

"Whom?"

"Someone whose qualifications even you cannot dispute."

He ground his teeth together as the Headmaster stood to leave. The conversation was over. Damn, insufferable wizard! Could he be any more cryptic?

"I'll hold you to that, Albus."

"He's eminently qualified. When you meet him at the start of term, you will understand."

Grabbing his cane, Snape started to rise, but Dumbledore waved him away. "Don't bother, my boy. I've kept you from your holiday long enough. Enjoy your tea. I shall show myself out."

Still clutching the ebony cane, Severus stared into space. He'd hoped for at least a year of relative tranquility with Rose before facing such a threat. The Dark Lord would be drawn to a competition as legendary as the Triwizard Tournament like a niffler to gold.

Would Voldemort possess some unfortunate witch or wizard as he had Quirrel during Rose's first year? Or would the threat be more brazen this time? What lengths would the depraved wizard go to regain his body and the power that would inevitably follow?

Ignoring the pain in his leg, he crossed his quarters to grab a handful of Floo powder. There was someone he needed to see.


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Wiping soot off his face, Severus ignored the decrepit state of the drawing room he had just entered. His message was too urgent to waste time on pleasantries. "The Dark Lord knows about the Triwizard Tournament."

"And a good afternoon to you, too, Snape." The handsome wizard's gray eyes flicked to a shape half-hidden by the large tapestry of the Black family tree. "Draco, why don't you have a snack in the kitchen."

"I think not," the pale Slytherin immediately retorted. "I'm tired of listening to your barmy house-elf lecture me on the company I keep, especially when it's your company he's referring to."

Sirius grimaced. "Kreacher doesn't consider me a proper Black, not like your mother. Believe it or not, I think he likes you."

"That's what I'm afraid of."

The normally affable wizard sighed. "Go to the kitchen or go to your room, Draco. I don't care which. You do not need to be present for this conversation."

"It certainly sounds like I do."

Snape had had enough. "Upstairs, Draco, now. And, I will have you chopping potions ingredients all summer long if I catch you eavesdropping."

The boy stared at him defiantly before turning around and stomping up the stairs. Sirius briefly stepped into the hall to ensure the surly teen stayed put before inviting Snape to the kitchen.

"The house is in shambles. What isn't rotten has been infested with doxies and worse. I think there's a boggart in the desk over there, but with the boy here I don't want to chance being wrong."

At the word boggart, Severus moved towards the stairs, making an effort to walk as normally as possible. The last person he wanted mothering him was Sirius Black.

"I thought Draco was residing with your cousin Andromeda until Narcissa's release."

The usually affable wizard winced as if he were in pain. "That didn't work out quite as well as we had hoped."

"Explain."

Sirius rolled his eyes. "I'm sure you can guess. While the kid didn't spout pure-blood nonsense like Andromeda had feared, he wasn't exactly thrilled to be living with a Muggle-born. Unfortunately, her husband Ted wasn't exactly thrilled to take in a Malfoy, either. From what my cousin has said, they traded subtle insults but were outwardly civil until two days ago when her husband insisted on reading the Daily Prophet out loud at breakfast."

They shared a long look as Severus paused at the bottom of the stairs. No other explanation was necessary. Two days ago the Daily Prophet had published a lengthy article detailing the items confiscated during the raid of Malfoy manor. While the list of Dark artifacts and their uses had been sensational enough, Rita Skeeter (a name Severus now loathed) had focused on the dead fetus found preserved in a jar. Her lurid speculation had run the gamut from the remains of a tragic miscarriage to the victim of some unnamed ritual so Dark that only the most innocent of sacrifice would do. And, Narcissa had figured prominently in both instances. Little wonder Draco had reacted badly.

Sparing a distrustful glance at the sleeping portrait of Wallburga Black, Severus refrained from comment until they had safely traversed the stairs to the basement. His left leg on the verge of collapse, he hobbled to the overly large kitchen table to sit down while his host gave curt orders to an ancient, rather frightening looking house-elf by the name of Kreacher. It muttered insults and obscenities as Black's upper lip curved into a sneer.

"I don't care what you're doing, you insufferable sod. Go do it somewhere else."

Severus raised an eyebrow at the wizard's uncharacteristic hostility, but didn't otherwise comment. There were more important matters to discuss than Black's deportment with his servant.

"Albus informed me that Bertha Jorkins went missing in Albania. We have to assume the worst."

Sirius threw back his head and barked with laughter. "Bertha Jorkins? What's her position in the Ministry now? Head of the Department of Whinges?"

Drumming his fingers on the table, Severus lost his patience. "Shut it, Black. She worked in Magical Games and Sports. We must assume the Dark Lord now knows everything there is to know of the Triwizard Tournament."

"So?"

The smug wizard's arrogance infuriated him; he banged his hand on the top of the table just to get his attention.

"So, how am I to protect Rose and keep an eye on that idiot Karkaroff at the same time? Our esteemed Headmaster has decided not to give you the Defense position after all."

"What? Why would you think that? Dumbledore all but promised it to me." The lanky wizard wasn't laughing now. In fact, his features were distorted by an angry frown.

"Obviously, he did no such thing. The insufferable old coot wouldn't even tell me whom he'd hired, only that his credentials were impeccable."

"They'd better be." Joining Severus at the table, Sirius briefly rested his head in his hands. "You truly believe Voldemort will try something during the tournament?"

"With absolute certainty."

Leaning back in his chair, Sirius considered the grim possibilities. Eventually, he gave Severus a half-hearted shrug. "At least you don't have to worry about Rose competing in the tournament itself. I understand only wizards or witches who are of age will be allowed to enter."

"A small blessing," he conceded. "I can only hope the dunderhead Albus hires is half as competent as you."

Sirius erupted into a wide grin. "Severus, I didn't think you cared."

"I don't," he immediately retorted, but there was an amused gleam in his eye that belied his curt remark. "I said competent, which is hardly a high standard. Of late, however, Hogwarts Defense instructors have been sadly lacking in that department."

"Remus was—"

"Don't mention that name to me," he snarled, his earlier good humor evaporated. "If you haven't forgotten, you are the only reason he didn't kill Rose."

"He was upset about her kidnapping. He made a mistake. We all make mistakes."

"His was inexcusable."

"At least Remus didn't hurt anyone."

Guilt crashed over him like a rolling wave, followed by a tsunami of fury. His vision blackened as he sprang unthinkingly from his seat. When his knee threatened to buckle, he gripped the table so hard that his fingers went white. Forcing himself to ignore the intense pain running down his entire left side, Severus clumped halfway up the stairs before Sirius could react with more than bemused shock.

"Snape! Wait!"

He didn't. How dare the mutt use his darkest shame against him? He would atone for his betrayal until the day he died. But, it didn't erase the fact that he had caused Lily's death and deprived Rose of any chance of a normal childhood. He should have known the arrogant, egotistical wizard wouldn't be able to resist the pointed reminder. He wished he had never fed that damn dog in the first place.

Reaching the dim entryway, Severus made a beeline for the door. In his haste, he knocked over a hollowed out troll's foot which served as an umbrella stand. The resulting crash woke Wallburga Black's portrait, and the old crone began to shriek.

Ignoring the vitriol, the incensed wizard carefully maneuvered around the mess of moldy, tattered umbrellas that had spilled from the toppled stand. Reaching the door, however, he found it impossible to open, no matter how many spells he tried. Turning, he saw Black standing out of the portrait's line of sight, his wand held in his hand.

"Let me out."

His most threatening tone had no effect on the haughty Marauder. Unfortunately, Wallburga Black took immediate offense.

"Let you out? Let you out? And, why should I do anything of the sort, you ungrateful half-blood? I know who you are, Severus Snape! Your mother always did think she was too good for the rest of us, and you see where that got her!"

"Quiet, you old hag!" Sirius roared at the image of his mother, sending a Silencing Charm racing towards the picture frame. The image in the portrait continued to rant, but quiet fell on the dingy hallway.

"Let me out, Black, or I'll curse you into next week."

"Severus—"

The Potions Master sent a Blasting Curse hurling towards Sirius, which the rangy wizard only barely managed to dodge. "Merlin, Snape! Calm down! I'll let you out as soon as you tell me what's wrong."

"What's wrong? You know very well what's wrong! I am well aware of the harm I've caused. Half an overheard conversation given to the Dark Lord, and I signed their death warrants. Do you know how difficult it is to hear Rose speak of Lily? Or even that idiot Potter? Or hear her so casually mention the appalling abuse she suffered under Petunia's tender care?"

Black, his gray eyes wild with emotion, cut him off before he could continue his rant. "Damn it, Severus! You've got to stop assuming the worst in people! I was referring to myself, you lousy pillock, not you! I'm the reason you're gripping that cane today! My mistake nearly killed you, and yet it's Remus you won't forgive."

Breathing heavily, Severus pinched the bridge of his nose as he attempted to calm down. He knew better than to jump to conclusions, but his guilty conscience and residual mistrust of his former nemesis had combined to a disastrous effect.

"I may have made a mistake," he grudgingly conceded.

The insufferable wizard's lips twitched in amusement. "Is that an apology for overreacting or not forgiving Remus?"

He snapped irritably at the other man's humor. "There is no comparison to be made between the two of you, Black. If you cannot see the difference, I shall not be the one to enlighten you. And, lest you've forgotten, that wolf almost killed you. If you hadn't been in your Animagus form, I'd be brewing Wolfsbane for you."

Sirius shook his head. "You would, wouldn't you? I wish I could fathom how your mind works, Snape, but you are nothing short of an enigma."

"Curious, I used to think precisely the same about you."

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Flooing into the Burrow, Severus brushed a stray spark off his robes. Trust Molly to use the fireplace for actual cooking. Before he could look up, he was engulfed in a warm, motherly embrace.

"Severus Snape! You've lost weight! Rose said you'd been under the weather, but I didn't think it that bad. You're down to skin and bones. Never fear, dinner is practically on the table. We'll fatten you up in no time."

Suppressing the urge to wipe her wet kiss off his cheek, Snape did his best to smile. The Weasley matron meant well, even if her concern was on the smothering side. Accepting a glass of water, he watched as she magically directed seven different pots and pans to prepare supper without the benefit of house-elves.

"How are you, Molly? Has your son found employment yet? Or has he chosen to further his education?"

"I'm doing well, Severus, thank you. And, I'm proud to say that Percy is gainfully employed at the Ministry. He's working in the Department of International Magical Cooperation. It's just a clerical position, but to hear Percy talk, you'd think he ran the Department, bless him."

"That's Barty Crouch's job, isn't it?"

She startled a bit at the harsh tone of his voice. "That's right, although I don't think Mr. Crouch has taken time to get to know Percy just yet. It's only his first week. Why? Is there something I should know?"

"He's the wizard who sent Black to Azkaban without benefit of a trial. I'm surprised he hasn't been sacked."

Crouch was also the man who had sent his own son to Azkaban for his participation in the Longbottom's torture. Though many had considered him heartless for such an act, Severus was not one of them. Crouch Jr. had vied with Bellatrix Lestrange for the title of the Dark Lord's most rabid follower, and he had breathed a sigh of relief upon the news of his death.

Severus caught a bowl of boiled potatoes which threatened to spill as Molly colored at the news.

"Oh! I had forgotten he was in charge of the trials. You'd think the Daily Prophet would have mentioned that at least once. I wonder why that poor Sirius Black hasn't made more of an issue of it?"

Wiping her hands nervously on her thin, faded apron, she timidly asked, "Have you spoken to him much, Severus? He is Rose's godfather. What if he contests her guardianship? I understand he was there when that awful girl posed as Hermione and tried to hurt our Rose."

"Yes," he answered slowly. "We have spoken. Black has agreed not to contest the guardianship in return for certain . . . concessions."

"Concessions? He's put conditions on the guardianship? How awful, Severus! What does he want?"

His expression reflected a grim stoicism. "He wishes to host her birthday party."

"He—Severus Snape, how dare you give me such a fright!

Trying but failing to look properly solemn, he warned, "Considering Black's idea of a party, fright is a highly appropriate response."

Molly chuckled as a pot of potatoes clanged on the floor. "Oh, you! I swear Rose is a bad influence. I'm sure it will be delightful. We will be invited, won't we? I don't think the dear's had a proper birthday celebration before. I could bake her the most lovely cake."

"I'm certain you and your family will be invited. The trick will be to convince Black not to invite all of wizarding Britain. He seems intent on making up for lost time by cramming fourteen birthday parties into one."

"I'm sure it will be wonderful."

An enchanted potato masher found the wayward pot. Severus watched, fascinated, as the utensil vigorously mashed the potatoes until they were light and fluffy. While he was proficient at potions, cooking was a skill he had never bothered to master. He hoped Rose was not too disappointed when she discovered his shortcoming.

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"Professor!"

As Rose ran towards him in the cramped kitchen, he could only stare at the sight before him. They'd been separated four days, not four months, and yet, she had changed into something barely recognizable. Her body curved, from shapely hips to a trim waist to budding . . . . Galloping gargoyles, how could he have missed that? The blouse she wore had been tied at the bottom, exposing her midriff for all to see. And, those shorts! He was certain Minerva would never have purchased anything so, well, short.

Barreling into him, she wrapped him in an enthusiastic hug. As he opened his mouth to berate her on her choice of clothing, he saw Mrs. Weasley emphatically shaking her head in warning. Grateful for the timely advice, he returned Rose's embrace without adding a reprimand on top of it. Rose, it seemed, had no such reservation.

"You're late! I thought you'd be here for lunch! I waited ages inside before Fred and George convinced me to play Quidditch. What took you so long?"

He deliberately sidestepped the question. "I am here now."

"Do you like my hair? Mrs. Weasley showed me how to do it."

His attention solely focused on her clothing, he had not taken the time to notice her hair. Quickly rectifying the situation, he saw that her usually messy tangles had been fashioned into an intricate braid.

"It is very becoming."

"She helped me transfigure some of my school uniform into summer clothes, too. It's strange not having to wear Dudley's castoffs. I think we're going to have to go shopping soon, though. These shorts are somewhat tight."

Again Molly shook her, and again he had to suppress the impulse to comment that they were most definitely too snug.

"Indeed."

"Rose, dear, would you mind fetching everyone for dinner? Arthur will be home soon."

"Sure, Mrs. Weasley."

The young woman bounded out of the house as quickly as she had come, yelling at the top of her lungs. Still somewhat stunned by the entire encounter, Snape could only stare dumbly at the Weasley matriarch.

Molly walked over to him to pat his arm in sympathy. "It must come as quite a shock."

"I knew she'd grown taller, but . . . ." He trailed off, for once at a loss.

"If it's any consolation, she confided that it happened only a few days before school's end. She went to bed feeling achy and woke up thinking someone had played a prank on her during the night. She wore her robes as much as possible to hide it. I had to explain that in rare cases, a witch can go through puberty quite rapidly. I didn't tell her the rest. There's no reason to upset her now that she won't ever have to return to those horrid relatives of hers."

"No."

There was no reason to upset Rose, but every reason to be upset. The circumstances Molly had described only occurred in witches who had suffered severe malnutrition as children.

"You don't have to worry. I sat her down for a nice little chat. She shouldn't have to come to you with questions about"—her voice dropped to a whisper—"you know what."

If a woman who had given birth to seven children couldn't say the word sex out loud, Severus doubted her chat had been all that informative. Perhaps Poppy would be willing to sit down with the girl at some point to answer any questions she might have.

"And, I taught her a charm or two, just in case."

"She's not yet fourteen."

Disapproval must have registered in his voice, for the usually placid witch replied rather icily. "Better she know it than not, Severus."

"Quite." He agreed out of politeness rather than accord. What was done was done. He'd given up the right to raise Rose solely as he saw fit last summer when he'd entrusted her to the Weasleys' care. Besides, he had bigger worries than the girl's nonexistent love life.

Desperately searching for some way to change the topic of conversation, he gritted his teeth as he confessed his inadequacy. "Do you think you could show me how to mash potatoes? My few attempts have resembled wet cement."

The sturdy woman's expression brightened. "Of course I would. Cooking's much more of an art than you would think, but I'll make a chef out of you in no time."

Snape stifled a groan.

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"That's not fair, Ron! People can't choose their families. Believe me, I know."

Severus froze, a spoonful of peas suspended over his plate. Rose had her hands on her hips, her dinner forgotten. She was right, of course; no one had the luxury of choosing their family. By the set of Ronald's jaw, however, he didn't think the burgeoning argument was going to end there.

Sure enough, the teenager unwisely retorted. "Yeah? Maybe that's true, but you know Malfoy is as bad as they get. You remember how he was that time we used Polyjuice to turn ourselves into Crabbe and Goyle. He was an arrogant, stuck-up prig even if he didn't know anything about the Chamber of Secrets."

"Thanks for that, Ron."

Rose flushed scarlet as she glanced guiltily in his direction. He coolly returned her gaze, more interested in what she had to say about Draco than the belated confirmation that she had been one of the students to raid his Potions stores. Molly and Arthur looked ashamed and angry; he had a feeling their son would quickly come to regret his unintentional confession.

Before Molly could harangue Ron, however, Percy pompously interjected. "The Ministry sides with my brother, Rose. The Malfoys are known practitioners of the Dark Arts. It's only a matter of time before they are caught."

"Now, Percy," Mr. Weasley began, only to have Rose fervently interrupt.

"Fat lot you know, Percy Weasley. Draco saved my life twice last year. If he's a Dark wizard, then I'm Voldemort in disguise."

There was a collective gasp at the table when Rose spoke the Dark Lord's name. Severus found the reaction as tiresome as the argument, but he stayed quiet. The former spy often found it more beneficial to listen rather than talk, especially in a large setting such as this one.

"That's enough!" Mrs. Weasley put out her hands in a placating gesture, but there was no doubt that she meant what she said. "I think that's quite enough talk about the Malfoys tonight. I can't imagine the horrid things that must have gone on in that house, nor do I wish to. Need I remind you that Rose is leaving tonight. Surely, there are better topics of conversation. And, Ronald, don't think this means you're getting away with using Polyjuice Potion at school! Rest assured your father and I will speak to you later, young man."

There were a few muttered apologies before the conversation turned to the upcoming Quidditch World Cup. As he slowly ate his dinner, Severus carefully observed the interactions between the Weasleys and Rose, finding it intriguing. Sly, mischievous expressions on their faces, the twins kept whispering in her ear. He'd pay a galleon to know what they said, but by the expression on his ward's face, she thought their comments scandalous and amusing. Ginny looked glum; the girls wore matching braids and he guessed she would keenly miss the presence of another girl in a house full of boys. Percy didn't glance in her direction more than once. Intent on talking about his new job, he silently fumed when no one took an interest. And Ron sulked as his friend pointedly ignored him.

Needless to say, a subtle tension wove throughout what should have been an enjoyable evening. Wishing to avoid another argument, Molly was overly quick to intervene when any discussion became too lively. Arthur seemed subdued, and careful questioning revealed that there had been a significant upswing in Muggle baiting in the past few weeks.

"We've been lucky," he admitted candidly as he sat at the table with Severus long after the children had run off to fly their brooms in the dark. "So far, the Muggles involved haven't been seriously injured, but the cursed objects have been increasingly nasty. It's not just exploding toilets we've had to deal with lately. Someone enchanted at least a dozen silk scarves to choke the wearer at that big department store, Harrold's."

"Harrod's," Snape corrected automatically.

"Yes, that one. Perkins and I had to call in a few Aurors to handle the aftermath. It was a great big bloody mess. If one of the salesclerks hadn't been a Squib and reported it immediately, it could have been much worse."

Severus scowled as he sipped his tea. "Now that Lucius is dead, there is a power vacuum amongst the remaining Death Eaters. Be wary; the incidents are likely to escalate."

"Amelia Bones agrees. Unfortunately, the Minister does not. Cornelius Fudge would prefer to pretend You-Know-Who never existed. He refuses to acknowledge that the attacks are anything but a few high-spirited individuals blowing off steam."

"Imbecile. I've always wondered why the Headmaster did not accept the post when it was offered to him. It seems the perfect position to plot against the Dark Lord's eventual return."

Arthur stared intently at the glowing embers in the fireplace. "It's just a matter of time, isn't it?"

Snape thought of Bertha Jorkins and a chill went down his spine. "I think time may be running out."