Title; One More Time

Author; Morgana

Pairing; Severus/Neville in the sequel - none yet.

Rating; PG-13

Disclaimer; Severus Snape and Harry Potter is (c)copyright of J.K. Rowling. No copyright infringement is intended.

Homepage; .

Email address for FB; morganalebeau

Summary; Severus Snape faces new challenges now that the war is finally over.

One More Time

Behind my eyes
I keep my truth from you.
No one enters
this secret place,
the barrier only I embrace.
Time is fleeing now
they say,
Take time to look inside
and face... the change.

Dig down deep
to find the man I thought I was.
A dog on a treadmill panting,
the master pulls the leash, laughing.
Now I can't remember why
I needed to run, needed to try so hard.

One more time around
is all I ask for now,
a star to seek by, wind to
take me home again.

"Work hard in life boy,
there's paradise in the end."
Year after year we struggle to gain
the happiness our parents never claimed.
They told us all we had to do
was do what we're told, buy what was sold,
"Invest in gold, and never get old."

One more time around
is all I ask for now,

a star to steer by, wind to
take me home again.

(Queensryche)

"Do you believe me now?" Minerva asked in a hopeful tone, "do you believe we want you here?"

"I am starting to believe it." It would take time though to fully accept they wanted him to remain as Headmaster. He still felt like he didn't deserve a place in their midst. They shouldn't give him a second chance – not after everything he had done. Poppy gave him an admonishing look and Severus forced himself to eat a little. He wasn't hungry though; his stomach was still acting up due to his nervousness.

"Severus, Mister Longbottom and Mister Potter asked if you would mind them paying you a visit after dinner." Minerva cast him an inquisitive look. She hoped he would accept.

Severus wasn't sure what to make of their readiness to accept him back in their lives. Where Harry was considered, Severus suspected it was due to the link they shared. Harry wanted to stay in touch, but he had no idea why Neville continued to seek him out. He was grateful though; they were making an effort to help him fit back in. "They are always welcome, Minerva."

His answer pleased her and Minerva nodded. "I would like to call on you in the morning myself as we have to go over several rosters. I also need to know if you will be going back to teaching. If you are not, we will need a substitute."

Severus nodded; he felt safer now that their conversation was moving away from emotional issues. He returned to studying the students, and his heart missed a beat each time he encountered an empty seat. He should have kept his students safe, but he had failed and he knew it.

One by one, the students finished dinner and retired for the night. So did most of his teaching staff. Only Minerva and strangely enough Hagrid remained at the head table eventually. Out of the students, Neville, Ron, and Harry remained behind. They watched him closely and he narrowed his eyes – had they planned this?

Harry got up from his chair and walked over to the main table. He smiled as Severus' thoughts appeared down the link. "No, we didn't plan it – not really." Maybe the rest had realized they might like some privacy before retiring. "You look tired though." He tended to forget that Severus was still recovering from that dreadful attack. "Would you like me to walk you to your rooms?"

Severus was about to reply when Neville rushed forward and gave him a pleading look. Again, the young man surprised him. "Thanks, Harry, but I would like another word with Neville, if you don't mind." He hoped Harry wouldn't feel rejected.

Harry didn't, as the link continued to provide him with information and it told him that Severus wanted to indulge Neville, because he thought his friend needed the attention. Harry understood; he had Hermione and the whole Weasley clan to support him. Neville was still getting to know Luna, and although the two of them got along great, he wasn't sure Luna returned Neville's feelings, so that left Neville rather isolated. "I don't mind."

Severus nodded and felt grateful that the link proved useful once more. "We will talk tomorrow, yes?"

"If the Weasleys will let me out of sight that long." Harry grinned. "Good night," he said and hoped Severus had a peaceful night, free of nightmares. He knew Severus had them because the link had shown him.

"Thank you, Harry." Severus got to his feet, but did so slowly. He still felt a bit dizzy and all he wanted was to lie down and rest.

"Ai can help too!" Hagrid offered eagerly.

"Thanks," Severus said and smiled at the half-giant. "But Mister Longbottom is quite capable of escorting me to my office." He was about to walk toward the doorway when his steps faltered. Harry, Hagrid, and Neville moved forward simultaneously, but as Neville was closest, Severus reached toward the young man for support and rested a hand on Neville's shoulder.

Severus sensed their gazes on him when he made his way into the corridor. He stared at the floor, placed one foot in front of the other, and prayed he would make it back into his office without falling face first onto the floor. He was wobbly – wobblier than expected. Neville startled him when the younger man suddenly wrapped his arm around him in order to get a better grip. He suppressed the urge to hiss and pull away, since that would ensure he stumbled and so he forced himself to accept the support.

Neville felt the older wizard tense and almost pulled away, but realized it would rob Severus of his support if he did that. So he gritted his teeth and tried not to feel rejected. "Prince," he said once they reached the Gargoyle and it instantly moved out of the way. Instead of the staircase a lift appeared and safely deposited them to the office. "Ingenious…" Neville commented upon realizing the way Hogwarts took care of its Headmaster. "Living room or bed?" he asked, wanting the older man to have a choice.

"Fireplace," Severus said at once. It was his favourite spot after all.

Neville walked Severus over to the comfortable chair next to the blazing fireplace and lowered him onto it. He watched the older man closely and noticed the distinct lines of discomfort etched onto Severus' brow. "I will get Poppy," he announced, alarmed at seeing the pained expression. Maybe they shouldn't have forced Severus to join them in the Hall just yet. It was obvious he had over exhausted himself. Severus however raised an arm – and Neville noticed the distinct tremors moving through it.

"That's not necessary." Severus didn't want her to harass him again. "She knows it take time for me to recover." He was doing better than he had thought he would, all things considered. If only the bloody tremors would stop, but there was little chance of that, and truth be told, they were absent most of the time. It was only at times like these, when he had exhausted himself that they grew more prominent.

Neville pulled another chair close and sat down. During the last few days he had realized that there was something Severus wasn't telling him and he wanted to know what it was. He was fairly certain it concerned him, but Neville had no idea what it was. Severus Snape was once more keeping secrets. "Why won't the tremors go away?"

Severus closed his eyes and pressed against the comfort of the chair. He failed to suppress the shivers that ran through him – he felt cold. Even the fire wasn't helping.

Neville noticed it and collected a quilt from a nearby sofa. He covered Severus with it, and didn't know what to make of the look the older man gave him.

Severus felt guilty; instead of looking after him, Neville should be spending time with Luna. "You don't have to stay. You should be with Miss Lovegood instead."

"I see Luna all day in class tomorrow." Professor McGonagall had announced their return to a normal schedule and tomorrow they would have Transfiguration and Charms. Neville hadn't been sure that going back to classes was a good idea considering the things they had been through, but most students had been eager to get started. Neville reckoned it was because it would take their minds off the casualties they had suffered. "Will you answer my question? Please?" he added, hoping it would sway Severus to be honest with him.

Severus had no intention of being honest with Neville. He wasn't going to tell the young man that Neville had worsened his condition by casting the Cruciatus curse that day in the Great Hall. If he hadn't been so damn weak, he would have endured the Cruciatus curse with no lasting effects. "That's nothing to concern you with." He would check his former quarters later and see what was still left of his private stock. He had one or two potions in mind which might suppress the tremors.

Neville heard the unspoken warning in there. Severus wasn't ready to discuss that yet. So Neville decided on a different tactic. "Will you take up teaching again once you feel stronger?"

Severus blinked in surprise. "I haven't thought about it yet." He had never expected anyone wanting to be taught by him anymore. His name would always be tainted, even though the truth was slowly spreading throughout the wizarding world.

"I talked to professor Slughorn last night, and he was quite eager to leave Hogwarts. He said he would stay until the end of the year though – if necessary."

Severus eyed Neville warily. Why did the young man think it necessary for him to know that fact? "I will talk to him tomorrow – and the other faculty members too."

"I was thinking, maybe you could teach Potions again? Professor Slughorn is a good teacher, but…"

But what? Severus' narrowed his eyes and tried to read the expression on Neville's face. He could have taken the answer from Neville's mind, but he would never trespass like that again.

"But I believe you taught Potions better. With Slughorn we always feel…like…" How was he going to explain it? "Like we are not good enough for him."

Severus shook his head – carefully though, as scars tugged at the skin. "Are you saying I made you feel better then?" He couldn't believe that – wouldn't believe it.

"No, not like that. But you never tried to 'collect' any of us."

Ah, now he understood. He had bullied Neville – like he had bullied Harry in order to make sure no one noticed he cared – but Neville minded the bullying less than Horace's favouritism. Such honesty demanded he answered truthfully in turn. "I am not sure I can go back to teaching Potions."

"Why is that? You do know that we, the students, understand what happened here and that we know why you did those things?"

Severus sighed. He had never counted on them to understand and even more surprisingly, forgive him. "Neville…" he said and extended his hand towards the younger man. "How do you think I can teach a subject like Potions when my left hand won't stop shaking?"

Neville actually felt a tad embarrassed as he hadn't taken that into account. He stared at the outstretched limb and knew Severus had raised a valid point. "Defence against the Dark Arts then?" he said, not giving up yet.

Severus slowly shook his head. "Neville, you beheaded…Nagini…" he swallowed hard, momentarily flashing back to the attack he had suffered in the Shack. "Harry defeated Voldemort… Most of your classmates dealt with Death Eaters, trolls, and other vermin. What more do you think I can teach you?" He could take on the first years though – if he continued to recover and suffered no setbacks.

Neville took his time to come up with an answer. "We acted on instinct. None of us actually knew what we were doing. We survived, but barely. We would have been able to defend ourselves properly if someone had taught us."

Severus appreciated Neville's effort to reassure him, but he knew there wasn't much left he could teach them.

"You look tired, if you don't mind me saying so," Neville whispered. "Maybe we should let this matter rest and have tea instead? Maybe play Wizard chess?" Ron had told him that Severus liked to play.

"I would like some tea, yes, but I doubt I can focus on the game. We can try though." He wasn't sure how much longer he could stay awake. He felt so damned tired… so damned cold… If only Nagini's venom would stop weakening him, but Poppy had told him it would probably take two more weeks for the poison to disappear from his blood.

"Tea then." Neville summoned a pot of Rooibos tea, along with two cups and sliced lemon. He poured their tea and handed Severus a cup. Neville noticed that Severus used his right hand to take hold of it, while resting his still trembling left hand in his lap. He doubted Madam Pomfrey would tell him why the tremors remained, but he could always try. He refrained from questioning the older man further, realizing how tired Severus was.

/

Two hours later, his shift ended and Neville waited for Fred to arrive so the redhead could keep an eye on Severus for the next four hours. The roster Madam Pomfrey had made worked perfectly and allowed everyone who wanted to be in, to help out.

Severus had retired for the night after drinking his tea. He hadn't wanted any help and Neville had cringed upon seeing Severus stumble into the bedroom. He understood that accepting help was hard on the older wizard, but Severus needed the help, damn it!

"Hey, you need to get some sleep, mate. You are sleeping with your eyes wide open!"

Neville looked up from the tea that he had been swirling about in his cup, and found not one, but two Weasleys staring at him. "Mister Weasley," he said and smiled at the older man. He hadn't expected Arthur Weasley to accompany Fred, but then again, he knew Arthur felt immensely grateful to Severus for saving Fred. "He's in the bedroom. He was awfully weary. I reckon the trip to the Great Hall really tired him."

"We will look after him. Get some sleep, Neville," Arthur said. "Go on then," he repeated when Neville stayed put.

Neville forced himself onto his feet and made his way out of the office. Truth be told, he would have preferred to stay with Severus.

/

Severus woke sometime during the night because someone was talking in the room next to him. As he was too tired to leave the bed, he asked Hogwarts to supply him with the information. Being Headmaster did have its advantages.

Fred Weasley and his father Arthur are close, Headmaster. Apparently they are here to make sure you are resting.

Severus thanked Hogwarts for the update and closed his eyes again, knowing Fred and Arthur were the last people he needed to worry about.

/

"Professor? Sir? Headmaster?"

Severus blinked, still trying to wake up At first, he thought it was Fred hovering above him, but then realized it was a different Weasley. What was Ron doing here?

"I am sorry to wake you, but Madam Pomfrey will hex me if I don't make sure you eat breakfast. And professor McGonagall asked me to remind you that she will be visiting in thirty minutes."

Ah, yes, Minerva had mentioned something like that last night. "I am awake," he said, trying to reassure Ron that he was fine. "Just give me a moment." His body always felt stiff and unyielding first thing in the morning. He moved his fingers first, then his hands, and in the end, he managed to elbow himself in an upright position.

"Professor, are you all right? Or would you like me to fetch Madam Pomfrey?"

Severus raised his gaze and realized that Hermione stood next to Ron. Both were giving him worried looks. "Old age," he said, trying to make light of the situation. He hoped he could fool them and that they didn't realize just how weak he still was. "Go to the Great Hall and have breakfast yourselves," he ordered, as he wanted them out of his rooms. He could take care of himself, albeit slowly.

"Are you sure?" Ron wasn't convinced they should leave. He didn't like the way Snape was moving – too slowly and way too awkwardly.

"I am fine!" Severus snapped and instantly regretted sneering like that.

Ron didn't take it personally though. He would also hate being dependent had he been in Snape's position.

"Shall we see you in the Great Hall then?" Hermione hoped he would join them, for then they could make sure he ate. Madam Pomfrey had told them the other day that she worried he wasn't eating enough.

"I will be there." Severus felt relieved when they finally left the bedroom. He continued to sit there for another minute, giving his muscles a chance to relax. As he did, his muscles loosened up and he was able to move more easily. Had it been up to him, he would have skipped breakfast in the Great Hall, but he had the uncanny feeling Poppy would find out and then lecture him. It was probably best to comply and get it over with.

/

Minerva decided against checking on Severus in the office just yet. Hermione had assured her that Severus would be having breakfast in the Great Hall and she judged it best to wait a little longer. She understood only too well that his injuries continued to hamper him and that he might need extra time to actually make it to the Great Hall.

Most of the students were already gone by the time he entered the Hall. He still moved slowly, and very cautiously, but she knew it was an improvement from the way he had been two weeks ago. He had been barely able to leave the bed back then.

He felt her eyes upon him, but fought the urge to stare her down. He no longer needed to push her away. He could let her in – if he chose to do so. He sat down, careful to avoid putting pressure on any still mending injuries.

"Good morning, Severus. I trust you slept well?" She smiled at the way he looked at her. "Yes, Ron Weasley told me that he had to wake you so you would make it to breakfast in time." She had felt relieved at hearing that; Severus probably didn't know it, but his keepers had had to rouse him from nightmares during the last week. Thankfully Severus had never woken fully and had gone straight back to sleep.

"I did, Minerva." Severus didn't trust that smile at all. She knew something he didn't and she was keeping it from him. Instead of embarrassing himself by trying to pour tea – both his hands trembled this morning – he used a spell to fill up the cup.

Minerva didn't comment on it, knowing perfectly well why he had resorted to that. "Most classes are starting up again. I will teach two classes today myself." She startled upon seeing his expression; why did he look so embarrassed?

"I can't teach…"

Minerva chided herself for the way she had broached that subject. She could have known Severus would take it personally. "No one expects you to teach just yet, Severus." She hadn't considered he might feel guilty for being unable to pull his weight. "You are still recovering." And then she played her trump. "You are Headmaster, Severus. You don't actually need to teach a class."

Severus wrapped his fingers around the cup and waited for the warmth to chase away the tremors. Warmth worked best, he had long realized that. "I love teaching," he admitted.

Minerva smiled. "I always suspected as much, even though you seemed to like bullying your students even more." She had meant it as a joke, but cringed at seeing the hurt expression in his eyes. A moment later, it was gone and he was hiding his feelings once more. "I am sorry, Severus. I didn't mean it like that." Albus had explained it to her; had told her why Severus had always picked on Harry and Neville. She should have remembered that.

"Did Horace agree to continue teaching Potions until the end of the school year?" He didn't doubt Minerva had already made inquiries – especially since Neville had done the same thing.

"Yes, he did." Minerva looked at his hands and knew Severus would have returned to teaching Potions, had he been able to do so. But Potions was a dangerous subject and Severus would never endanger his students.

"That means we still have to find a new Defence against the Dark Arts teacher."

Minerva studied him more extensively. "You don't wish to teach that class yourself?"

"Look at me, Minerva! Do I strike you as *able* to teach any subject matter?" He hadn't wanted to sound harsh, but she was getting on his nerves.

"Not right now," she admitted. "But in time?"

Severus shook his head. "They deserve someone better than me."

Minerva actually felt shocked to hear him say it. She understood what he was going through, but to actually hear him say it out loud still pained her. Did he really think so little of himself? She hated admitting to herself that he probably did. "You are a fine teacher, Severus, and I am sure students would be honoured to be taught by you." The look he gave her made her flinch. He really didn't think he deserved to teach anymore. "Severus…" But she grew quiet when he averted his gaze and pointedly stared at the wall. He needs time, she reminded herself. Severus needed time to work through everything that had happened, and thankfully, he had lots of people eager to support him.

"I know you already considered the matter," Severus said, trying to pull his old mask into place again. He needed to hide as he didn't want her to see his pain. "Whom did you think of?"

Minerva wanted to comfort him, but knew he wouldn't allow it; not in his current state of mind. So she forced herself to reply in the same formal manner. "I did. I thought of Remus Lupin. He taught that class before and makes a good substitute." She wasn't giving up yet; she was determined to find a way to convince him to return to teaching.

Severus didn't like her suggestion, but knew Remus was their best option. "I shall contact him."

"You don't seem very supportive of my idea," she said after considering which word to use. She didn't want to offend him.

"Remus is a father, Minerva. I don't want to separate him from his family."

Minerva reminded herself once more that she had never really known the man sitting next to her. She had never expected him to worry about that. "We have guest quarters at Hogwarts, Severus. Tonks and her son can stay there. That's for you to decide. You are Headmaster, Severus."

He hadn't thought about that. He had thought about providing accommodation for them at Hogsmeade, but Minerva's suggestion made more sense. The three of them could live at Hogwarts. "Do you think Remus will agree to return to Hogwarts?" He wasn't sure of that.

"We won't know until you ask him, Severus." Minerva waited for him to make up his mind. "Contact him and find out. You are Headmaster of Hogwarts, Severus."

Severus sighed. Why hadn't he resigned when he could have gotten away with it? Although, truth be told, he was fairly certain Hogwarts would have rejected a successor. That fact would have forced him to stay at any rate. "I will send him an owl."

Minerva arched an eyebrow. She had expected him to contact Remus in a more direct way, and wondered why he felt tentative about talking to Remus. Then again, she didn't know what exactly had happened between Severus, Remus and Tonks after the battle had ended. She did remember Severus looking rather shocked after Tonks had last talked to him. "You seem hesitant to proceed."

Severus had known she would try to find out why he was avoiding Remus. "It's nothing personal, Minerva. Remus and I reached a truce."

"What is the problem then?" She really wanted to know and shifted on her chair, moving closer so she could study him extensively.

Severus wasn't sure he should confide in her, but he did want to talk about it. "Tonks asked me to become Teddy's godfather. Which is ludicrous of course!"

Minerva thought it over before answering him. Her first reaction had been to tell him to stop thinking so little of himself, but she knew she couldn't do that. She had to detour. "And why do you think it is ludicrous?"

"Minerva, they should ask Harry instead. I don't know anything about babies!" But that was a lie, wasn't it?

"Severus?" Minerva noticed the sudden distant look in his dark eyes.

"I… picked up Harry after… Lily died… He was crying and… I…" He still remembered the way the baby had clung to him. "He stopped crying and went to sleep in my arms."

Minerva reached out to him and rested her hand on his arm, which he thankfully allowed. "I never knew that."

"I handed him to Hagrid later that night." He hadn't wanted to give the baby up, but had known he couldn't possibly be his guardian. "He was so tiny, Minerva, and he had just lost his parents."

Minerva recognized the pain in his black eyes and wished she could offer him more comfort, so she squeezed his arm again. "I believe you will make a loving godfather, if you give this a chance." She hoped he would accept. He needed a family more than anything. His parents had never taken care of him – she remembered that. Although she hadn't been Head of his House, she had noticed the signs of neglect and abuse on him at the beginning of each school year. Horace, who had been Head of Slytherin at that time, had never bothered to look into the matter. She still blamed her fellow professor for that.

Severus shook his head though. "Teddy will be better of with Harry as his godfather." He didn't dare allow himself to grow attached to another child.

"I don't believe that, Severus, but you need to realize that for yourself." She squeezed his arm one last time and then pulled away. "Don't put off contacting Remus. The students need a Defence against the Dark Arts teacher, Headmaster."

He nodded in an absentminded way. She was right of course; he just prayed Remus wouldn't bring up Teddy again.

/

Severus came to a halt in front of the great staircase and looked at the memorial he'd had Hogwarts erect for the fallen students and members of the Order of the Phoenix. All names were on it, along with memorabilia parents and other relatives had sent to Hogwarts. It pained him that he could do so little in order to honour their memory.

"Sir?" Neville felt hesitant to address the older wizard informally now that they were in public. "Professor Snape?" he tried again, knowing that Severus still disliked being addressed as Headmaster. The lost expression in those dark eyes worried him.

"Too little… too late," Severus whispered. If only he had known a way to prevent such loss of life!

"Voldemort killed them. You didn't," Neville stated firmly. "You didn't kill them."

It was Neville's voice and not the words that pulled Severus from his misery. He sighed and bowed his head in order to show his respect for the ones who had died in that terrible battle. "I was Headmaster when it happened, Neville, and I failed them."

The expression in Neville's eyes hardened. "You, sir, did your best to save as many as you could. You died in that Shack trying to buy Harry time. Nagini killed you! You paid a terrible price. You never were to blame for those deaths – and you never will be. Voldemort attacked Hogwarts. He sent in Death Eaters and Trolls. They cast the Killing curse on students – not you."

Severus startled upon hearing the conviction in Neville's voice. The young man truly believed he wasn't to blame. Severus turned around and faced Neville. "Do I need to remind you that I cursed you?"

"No, you don't, though I suspect you just did so in order to torment yourself, Headmaster." Neville used the title on purpose, hoping to provoke Severus, but all it did was cause the expression in those dark eyes to change into agony. "Severus," he said, realizing being overheard didn't bother him as much as he had thought it would. "Voldemort killed them."

In a way, Neville was right. Voldemort had killed them, but…

"Damn it, look at me and hear me! You didn't kill them! Let go of that guilt! You are not to blame!"

Severus moved away from Neville. A quick look about told him they were alone – thankfully. He wouldn't have liked it if his students had overheard them. "I can't accept that." He had to be honest. "It can't be the truth – the whole truth." He was guilty—he knew it.

Neville drew in a deep breath and forced himself to count to ten in order to calm down. "You don't *want* to accept that Voldemort killed them, for it would mean you aren't to blame. And once you let go of your guilt, what else do you have to hold on to?" He had discussed the matter with Luna last night and she had offered him that particular insight. Yes, what did Severus have to hold onto once he let go of his guilt? Neville knew he had pushed the older man too far when Severus walked away from him. Neville let him go though; he had to give Severus the time he needed in order to make peace with his past.

/

Just when Severus thought his day couldn't possibly get worse, he found Poppy in his office. She glared at him, and he realized he was late for his check up. "I am fine," he said, finding it ridiculous that she continued to monitor him so closely. He headed for his favourite chair near the fireplace and resigned himself to his fate.

After examining him, Poppy sat down next to her patient. "Nagini's poison is still inside your bloodstream, but it is fading. I reckon you will feel weak for at least one more week and then you should start to improve."

Severus nodded, but he knew there was more.

"Neville cursing you will continue to affect you. Had you been in a better condition the Cruciatus curse wouldn't have done that much damage, but since you were extremely weak to begin with…" She wished she had better news for him. "I doubt the tremors will ever go away – completely, that is."

Severus knew he had to be honest with her, for if Poppy ever found out he had lied to her, there would be hell to pay. The Sorting Hat had put her into Slytherin for a reason, Severus mused.

"Talk to me," Poppy said, urging him on.

"The tremors grow more pronounced when I am tired. Cold also brings them on – and worsens them. Warmth however seems to help."

Poppy nodded. "That makes sense. So, what does that tell you? Dress warmly. Stay indoors if you can. Avoid the cold… And when winter comes, avoid snow and ice."

Severus rested his head back against the chair. He would be able to follow her recommendations most of the time. Now that he felt warm and relaxed, the tremors were barely noticeable. "Neville can't know, do you hear me? I don't want him to feel guilty because of what he did."

"Severus, he thought you had tortured him for hours – the way Bellatrix had tortured his parents. That's why he lashed out!"

"You don't need to defend him, Poppy. I am not angry with him. I don't blame Neville for anything." It was the truth. "I don't want him to know, Poppy, so be careful what you say when he is around."

"Snape, you have grown weak!" Black sneered from inside his portrait.

"Yes, that's true…" Severus looked at the former Headmaster. "And I am glad because of it. I can allow myself to care for once. I don't need to pretend being someone else."

"And you earned that!" Everard said firmly. "But you also need to remember what you said just now. You still tend to hide yourself from your friends. Minerva wants to be your friend, but you keep her at a distance. The same goes for Neville."

"Why do you think you need to protect them from yourself, Severus?" Ambrose wondered. "You care about them… It is safe for them to know that you do."

Safe for them, yes, but was it safe for him to admit it?

/

Severus picked up his quill and dipped it in the ink. Reluctantly he began to write.

Lupin,

Hogwarts finds itself in need of a Defence against the Dark Arts teacher. As you held that position before, I wondered if you would consider teaching once more. Should you accept, Hogwarts will provide you and your family with appropriate accommodation inside the castle's walls.

Severus Snape

Writing that note had been hard on him. He didn't know how to address the werewolf – Remus? Lupin? Professor? – and he decided against adding his title of Headmaster. He wanted to be reminded of that position as little as possible. As heading for the owlery in person wasn't an option yet, he realized he had to send someone instead. "Mister Weasley?"

Bill put down the book he had been reading, got up from his chair, and headed over to Snape. It was near to the end of his shift, during which he had mostly kept his distance. Not because he disliked the older wizard, but because Snape had been lost in thought and he hadn't wanted to intrude.

"This needs to be delivered to Remus Lupin. Since I can't go the owlery myself I would appreciate it if you made sure it was sent." He did hate the fact that he had to enlist help. He wanted to be able to do things by himself again.

"I will make sure it gets sent." Bill headed toward the staircase. "My replacement should turn up within the next ten minutes. Can I leave you alone for that long?" As expected, Snape scowled at him and Bill quickly left. He couldn't help grinning though; he had noticed the constant supervision was getting to Snape.

/

Severus realized he had been dozing when he suddenly heard voices close to him. He opened his eyes and found that Ron and Harry had joined him. He smiled at seeing Ron move the chess board into place. Was the youngster prepared to be defeated again?

"You are awake!" Harry commented upon finding Severus looking at them. "We wondered if you were up to a game of Wizard chess. Ron and I will combine forces, if you don't mind. Maybe then we stand a chance against you."

Severus allowed them their illusion and didn't comment on it. Instead, he pushed himself to his feet and made his way over to the table. He sat down, realized he was in the mood for tea and summoned some along with scones, jam and clotted cream. Severus nodded at them, and watched them dig into the scones.

"Aren't you eating some?" Ron frowned upon realizing that the older wizard limited himself to tea. Snape should eat instead, as Ron found him rather fragile-looking.

"Maybe later." Severus shivered in spite of the hot fire blazing in the fire place. He couldn't be bothered to summon a blanket though, besides, he had better get used to feeling like that - he doubted it would go away again.

"You are shivering!" Harry was about to fetch a blanket when Severus dismissed his comment. But Harry wasn't going to allow it. He fetched a quilt and covered Severus with it. Harry felt nervous at seeing the vulnerable expression on the older wizard's face. Thank you for allowing me to help, he sent down the link. He knew that Severus still struggled with that.

"You start," Ron said and gestured for Severus to make the first move. He vividly remembered being utterly crushed years ago. This time, he planned to win the game though!

/

Snape had done it again! Had twisted the game around to his advantage and Ron stared at the chess board in shock. He had never seen that one coming!

Severus chuckled at seeing Ron's stunned expression. "As I said before, I have more experience than you playing that game."

"Plus," Phineas added, "he is a skilled tactician. Even I have to admit that."

Ron looked at the former Headmaster. "Did you ever play against him?"

Severus grinned at Black; it would be curious to see how the former Headmaster answered that.

"Actually, I did," Phineas replied in a clipped tone.

"And you lost?" Harry realized the former Headmaster would have bragged instead, had he won.

"No comment," Phineas said and glared at the three of them.

"Severus?" Harry looked to Severus for an explanation.

"I beat him, yes… He lost every game we played."

"Did you have to remind me of that, Snape?" Phineas glowered at Severus, but then Albus started to laugh. "Did you ever beat him, Albus? I can't seem to remember you ever winning a game either!" he spat spiteful.

"Maybe I let Severus win, Black!" Albus chuckled softly.

"No, you didn't," Everard commented. "I watched closely."

"Peace, my friends," Severus said pleadingly. "Let us not start another argument!"

Harry grinned though, finally realizing Severus did like to hear them bicker. He looked up in surprise when Neville entered the office. His friend carried a letter with him and Harry couldn't help growing curious. Bill had told him that he had sent Remus an owl earlier.

"This arrived for you," Neville said as he pulled a chair to the table and sat down next to Ron. He handed Severus the letter and studied the board. Someone had been utterly crushed in that game and he reckoned it hadn't been Severus.

Severus had already recognized Remus' handwriting. He opened the letter and unfolded the parchment.

Severus,

I should have been surprised to hear from you, but truth be told I wasn't. Tonks was apparently expecting something like this. I must admit to being tempted, so… I accept, mostly because of your assurance that Tonks and Teddy can live at Hogwarts too. Since you are in an urgent need of a Defence against the Dark Arts teacher, we will move to Hogwarts as quickly as we can. We should arrive sometime next week. Then you will also be able to meet Teddy. And Severus, we still want you as the baby's godfather! Tonks won't allow you to refuse! So how are you with babies? Do you have any experience handling them? I guess we will find out soon! Give my regards to Harry and company, and Severus, take care of yourself! We will see you soon!

Remus (and Tonks and Teddy too!)

Severus stared at the letter; it was nothing like he had thought it would be. The fact that Remus seemed to look forward to return to Hogwarts surprised him.

"Severus?" Harry wasn't sure what to make of the older wizard's expression.

"Remus Lupin will teach Defence against the Dark Arts for the remaining school year." Severus placed the letter on the table and wondered how he felt about that. He was happy he had found someone to teach that class, but being reminded of them wanting him to become Teddy's godfather unbalanced him. They really should ask Harry instead!

"That's great!" Ron was already looking forward to those classes. With Remus returning to Hogwarts to teach them, the extra school year might be fun! He didn't mind that he had to stay at Hogwarts in order to make up for the classes he had missed. He wanted to graduate and so did the rest. Hermione would have a fit if she couldn't ace all final exams!

Neville was curious and scanned the letter quickly. He smiled at finding out that Remus and Tonks wanted Severus as Teddy's godfather, but judging from the way they had phrased it, Severus still had to accept. "Do you already have a godson?" he inquired thoughtfully. Maybe that was the reason why Severus felt hesitant.

"Godson?" Harry quickly read the letter as well, and like Neville, grinned.

"No, I don't have a godson," Severus replied softly – thoughtfully.

"Do you have any family at all?" Neville hoped he wasn't overstepping a line here.

"My mother might still be alive. I am not sure though. My father died ten years ago." Severus seldom thought of his family. "My grandfather might still be alive too, but I am not sure of that either." Severus wondered why they were giving him such odd looks.

"You don't know if your mother's dead or alive?" Ron couldn't understand that.

"You are part of a large family," Severus said, addressing Ron. "A happy family." He had lived in constant fear of his. "You couldn't possibly understand."

Neville recalled something Severus had mentioned when the older wizard had told him the new password to the office. "Your mother's name is Eileen Prince. The Princes are a pureblood family, aren't they? Quite famous and rich."

Severus stared pointedly away from his guests. His family was the last thing he wanted to discuss. "You are right."

Neville exchanged a look with his friends; the three of them distinctly noticed the way Severus was trying to lock them out. A change of subject was in order then. "If Teddy is anything like Tonks, it will be fun to have the baby around!"

Severus barely paid Neville any attention as he was lost in memories.

"I do wonder about something," Harry mused. "Do you have any experience handling babies?" he doubted Severus had ever held a baby in his arms.

Harry's question seeped down the link, and that what was caught Severus' attention. He wasn't sure he should confide in them, but then again, the past was just that and maybe he had to talk about it after keeping it inside for so long. "Actually I do. I picked you up from your crib that night. I held you until you stopped crying."

Harry's eyes widened; he had seen some of Severus' memories, but that one hadn't been among them. "You did?"

Severus nodded absentmindedly. "After a few minutes, you went to sleep in my arms…" He was lost in thought and vividly recalled the way Harry had pressed close to him. "Holding you felt precious," he admitted, barely aware he was saying the words out loud.

Harry stared at Severus; the link and the older man's expression, told him just how precious that memory was to the older wizard. It was probably also the reason why he had held on to that memory himself. "Thank you for looking after me." Still feeling a bit awkward about offering comfort in a physical way, he rested his hand lightly on Severus' right arm. "I don't remember you holding me, but thank you." Something told him that hearing that would comfort Severus.

Severus nodded and fought the tears that threatened to form in his eyes. "I had to hand you to Hagrid later that night as Albus wanted him to deliver you to your aunt Petunia."

Harry suddenly realized something. "You wanted to keep me with you instead!"

"I did," Severus admitted, seeing nothing wrong with finally voicing the truth. "But I couldn't." He wavered then, but in the end, plunged on. "I was in no condition to look after you. I think I lost my sanity for some time. It was only with Albus' help that I managed to find my way back."

Harry looked at the former Headmaster's portrait and found Dumbledore listening intently. "What happened?" Severus was obviously struggling and Harry didn't want to put the older wizard through reliving that evening – not when Dumbledore could tell him instead. "What happened after Severus found me?"

"It's like he said," Albus revealed. "Severus picked you up and held you. You calmed down almost instantly and if I remember correctly, even drooled on Severus' coat."

Severus chuckled at hearing that, but in a sad way. Yes, he remembered being drooled on.

"You clung to Severus… I think you sensed his desire to protect you – to keep you safe." Albus smiled at his audience. It was a bonus that Neville and Ron heard this as well. "Severus didn't want to give you up, but he quickly realized he couldn't care for you. Severus was the first person to happen upon your parents, Harry, and finding them dead shocked him. Your mother was precious to him and her loss made Severus go mad with grief. Had Severus been able to take care of you, I would have had a hard time convincing him to let you go. Severus never liked Petunia, you know."

Harry nodded; he had gathered that much from watching Severus' memories. His aunt had appeared to dislike Severus right from the start.

Severus suddenly realized what they were actually discussing and wondered how they had made him admit all that. Ah yes, Remus' letter – that had been the thing to start it.

Neville caught Severus looking at the letter and had a good idea of what was going on in the older man's mind. "You are going to accept, aren't you?" He waited until he had Severus' full attention and then added, "You will make a great godfather."

Severus wasn't sure how much longer he could fight back his tears. They had to stop saying things like that! "Harry was their first pick. They wanted to ask him first. I still think they should return to their original plan."

Harry's eyes widened. "But I am much too young to be anyone's godfather." If anything, he still needed a father figure himself and couldn't imagine being a godfather at his tender age. "I agree with Remus and Tonks. You are a much better pick!"

They were teaming up against him, damn it! Severus was about to object when Everard got involved again.

"It's been a while since we had a baby at Hogwarts and I would enjoy watching him grow up. Severus, you must do this!"

Not fair! Severus glared at the former Headmaster's portrait. "I lack the qualities which would make me a good godfather. Think! What can I possibly offer the child? Nothing!"

Harry shook his head. "That's rubbish! You have a lot to offer." He wasn't sure he should say this, not while having an audience, but he still did. "You are afraid to try…"

Severus flinched. Harry had gotten it right in one go. Yes, he was afraid – afraid to fail. "I don't know how to care for a baby! Hell, I don't even know how to be part of a family!" The three of them stared at him and he realized he had revealed too much. "Please give me some privacy. I need to think." He needed to be alone. Thankfully they seemed to understand and they got to their feet without voicing any protests. "We will have tea tomorrow," he offered in an attempt to make it up to them.

"We understand," Harry offered on his way out – they really did.

Severus considered having some Firewhiskey, but then decided against it. Sedating himself had never worked; it never chased away the pain.

"Remus and Tonks want you for a reason." Albus wished he could help Severus accept that his life had changed. "They want you to be a part of their lives."

"But why?" Severus shook his head. "I treated Lupin abysmally in the past and I offended Tonks whenever I could."

"But you also saved their lives, Severus. You showed you worried when Tonks refused to join her son in the heat of battle. You provide Remus with his potion, giving him a chance to control the transformation. Don't you want to be part of a family, Severus? For I think you do, especially since you never experienced it yourself."

Severus laughed bitterly. "Are you referring to my loving parents?" he sneered.

"I know that they wronged you. They hurt you, Severus. Your mother's family disowned her for marrying your father. They never recognized you as a part of the family."

"I don't even exist according to my grandfather!" Severus had made his peace with that a long time ago, but the rejection would always sting. His mother had never shown him any love. She had ignored him most of the time, had cursed his existence, but at least she hadn't hurt him physically. That, she had left to her husband, Tobias. "No more of this," Severus decided. He had relived his childhood too many times already.

"Then allow yourself a chance to experience the real thing, Severus. Accept what Remus and Tonks are offering."

"I am not sure I should, Albus. The child deserves better."

"No, Severus, Teddy deserves you as his godfather because he can't get anyone better than you."

Severus shook his head. "You are mistaken."

"I seldom are, Severus. You know that."

Severus didn't like to admit that either, but yes, Albus was right most of the time.

/

"Enter!" Minerva looked up from the essays she was grading and was surprised to find Harry and Neville standing there. "Is there anything I can do for the two of you?" she asked and beckoned them closer. They sat down in front of her desk and she studied them, instantly realizing something troubled them. "What is on your mind, Mister Potter? Mister Longbottom?"

"We wondered if you could help us," Harry started after exchanging a look with Neville. "We have some questions and hope you will answer them." Neville and he had discussed the matter earlier and professor McGonagall seemed their best option if they wanted answers.

"Questions about what, Mister Potter?" Why were they stalling?

"About professor Snape." Harry watched her closely. She didn't seem overly surprised though.

Minerva arched an eyebrow. "What can I possibly tell you that you don't know yourself after watching his memories in the pensieve?"

"We wondered what he was like when he was younger – when he attended Hogwarts." He knew that his father, Sirius, and Remus had bullied Severus, but that was about it. He wanted to know about Severus' family instead. "Do you have any yearbooks? Or pictures of him?"

Minerva cocked her head in surprise. She hadn't expected that one. Secretively she felt pleased though. "I might have some, but you should ask professor Slughorn instead. He was Head of Slytherin when Severus was a student here."

Harry and Neville exchanged another look. "We didn't know that," Neville said eventually.

Minerva looked about the room and tried to remember if she could help the two of them. In the end, she pointed her wand at one of the many bookcases in her office and silently summoned the yearbooks she wanted. She opened one, searched for the right page, and then nodded. "This one was taken during Severus' first day at Hogwarts. Back then, we still upheld the tradition of composing yearbooks. As you might have noticed, we let go of that tradition since then." She turned the book around and watched them closely.

Harry blinked; he recognized the boy in the picture, easily recalling his looks from Severus' memories. "Are those bruises?" He couldn't tell for sure since the picture was magical and the light kept darkening in it.

Neville frowned; those smudges did look an awful lot like bruises! He looked at his head of House and noticed her distressed expression.

"Severus will probably have my hide for telling you this," she started, but knew confiding in them was worth the risk, "But he always looked like that on his first day of attendance." Harry stared at her in disbelief and Neville looked shocked as well. She had better get this over with. "Severus' father was abusive towards him. He would beat Severus during the holidays, which was why he always tried to stay at Hogwarts whenever he could."

Harry stared at the picture again. Severus had hinted at having had an unpleasant childhood, but Harry hadn't expected to hear anything that serious. "And his mother? Didn't she try to protect him?"

"Eileen Prince was a selfish witch who only cared for herself. She married Tobias Snape in order to spite her parents, who promptly disowned her for marrying a Muggle. She hadn't thought they would actually do that, but when it happened, she found herself penniless and dependent on her husband. She never quite forgave Severus for coming into existence. She had never wanted to bear Tobias' child, but when she realized she was pregnant, she had nowhere to go. So she had to stay with Tobias, who had started to drink heavily at that point."

Harry shook his head in disbelief. He hadn't thought Severus' childhood had been that bad. And when Severus had started to attend school, his father and his friends had continued to bully him.

"I told Horace about my suspicions. I was fairly certain that Severus' father beat him – repeatedly and fiercely— and that he locked the boy up during summer. Severus always needed one or two weeks to recover from his holidays with his parents."

"And professor Slughorn… What did he do?" Neville was rapidly gaining a better understanding of why Severus was the way he was.

"To my knowledge, Horace never tried to find out what was happening to Severus. Horace is a great teacher, but he's a complete failure as Head of House." Minerva opened a second album, flipped through it, and then turned it toward them again. "This was taken on the first day of his second year here at Hogwarts."

Harry didn't see any bruises this time, but the expression in those eyes showed the pain the boy was in. Severus was still rather thin – and seemed too intimidated to look straight at the camera. Neville suddenly slammed his fist into the desk. Harry quickly looked at his friend and felt sympathy for the anger he saw in Neville's eyes.

"I don't understand it," Neville exclaimed. "Harry grew up without parents, and so did I. Yes, my grandmother raised me, and she did a great job, but it isn't the same!"

"Neville," Harry said, trying to calm down his friend.

"No! Parents should love their children! It's their duty in life to protect them! Not to beat them up or look the other way!"

Minerva nodded. "You are quite right, Neville, but sometimes parents are abusive like that."

"At least, now I understand why he doesn't care about his family. Last night he told us that he doesn't even know if his mother is still alive – or his grandfather for that matter." Neville couldn't take his eyes off the picture. Severus looked so damn vulnerable!

"I don't know if Eileen Prince is still alive. I do know that Tobias Snape died about ten years ago. I never saw Severus more relieved than when he received that news." After all those years, Minerva still felt guilty for not having intervened. Although she hadn't been Head of Slytherin, she could have tried harder.

"Do you also have a picture of him when he attended seventh year?" Neville wasn't sure why he had asked for it, but he was curious.

Minerva searched for the right yearbook, opened it, and showed them. She knew they would be surprised.

Neville had to look twice. The young man staring back at him looked angry – furious even. His eyes burned with hatred and his lips were curled into a cruel grin. "What happened?"

"Lucius Malfoy happened," she told them in a saddened tone. "Lucius had already graduated, but he had already tightly ensnared Severus' soul. That picture was taken shortly before or after Severus took the Dark Mark."

"I wished my father hadn't bullied him like that," Harry whispered. Maybe if James, Sirius, and Remus had befriended Severus back then, he wouldn't have started down that dark road.

Minerva agreed. "The bullying probably attributed to choosing the way Severus did. He wanted to belong – he wanted to be the one in control for once. Lucius offered Severus that. When Voldemort claimed Severus as a Death Eater, Severus no longer had a way out."

"Did you ever meet his parents?" Neville asked, preferring not to look at that particular picture any longer.

"I met his mother once. Severus became rather ill during his third year and she visited, but she was a cold woman. She didn't comfort him. She didn't even touch him. She inquired about his health, visited him in the Hospital Wing, and simply glared at him from some distance. I don't think Severus ever realized she was there. I am grateful I never met his father."

"His mother must know by now what Severus did during this last war –if she is still alive," Neville mused. "Don't you think they would be proud of him? His mother and grandfather?"

"Honestly?" Minerva said, "I believe they wish he had never been born."

"I understand why he is hesitant to become Teddy's godfather," Harry mused. "He is afraid he will fail him."

Minerva nodded and then added, "I do hope he will accept."

"So do we," Neville said, speaking for Harry as well.

/

Later that evening, they returned to their dormitory. Harry stretched on his bed and Neville stood in front of the window, looking outside.

"A lot makes sense now," Neville said, knowing Harry would understand.

"Yes, it does. Why didn't we think of it earlier? His harsh manner wasn't just an act. Yes, he put up a show for Voldemort, but I wonder if he merely copied his father's behaviour when acting like that. Spiteful and bullying him? Did Severus copy him during those years when he pestered us?"

"Maybe." Neville shivered. "It also explains why he finds it so damn hard to accept we like him."

"I doubt anyone ever told him they cared about him before." Harry nibbled on his bottom lip. "I do wonder if his mother is still alive."

"Forget about that, Harry," Neville said earnestly. "That's one ghost you don't want to raise from the dead. Thankfully his father is dead." Neville turned around and sat down on the side of the bed. "That's why he keeps pushing us away. He tries to keep everyone at a distance."

"He doesn't know how to let us in." Harry nodded. "We can't give up, Neville! We can't give up now!"

Neville agreed. "He is worth the effort. We need to keep pushing him – we need to keep showing him we care!" Thankfully Madam Pomfrey still insisted Severus needed supervision; that gave them the perfect excuse to stay close.

/

The next day, Severus forced himself to go to the Great Hall for breakfast. He would have preferred to bury himself in his office, but unfortunately that wasn't an option. As Headmaster he was required to sit in on most meals. Thankfully the students continued their conversations while he made his way to his chair. He sat down and immediately sensed Minerva's interest in him. He wasn't reading her thoughts, but the look she gave him told him everything he needed to know. She wanted something from him.

"Good morning, Severus!"

"Morning," he said, carefully trying to judge her mood.

"Did you already contact Remus?"

He had a feeling inquiring about Remus would prove just a diversion, but he decided to play along. "He contacted me, yes, and agreed to take up teaching again. He will arrive sometime next week."

"Excellent!" Minerva had hoped Remus would accept. "And I reckon he brings his family with him? He would be a fool to reject your offer to house them within Hogwarts' walls!"

Severus had the feeling she was honing in on the real subject she wanted to discuss. "Yes, he's bringing Tonks and their son with him. I already instructed the house elves to ready their rooms."

Minerva nodded again. "It will be nice to have a toddler about. I can't remember the last time a member of staff had a family."

That was true— he had to admit that. Except for Remus, all other staff members were unattached. "I am not sure you will see much of them."

"I do hope you are wrong." Minerva eyed him closely. There might be no way around it – she had to ask him directly.

Using his right hand, he poured himself some tea. His left hand was tucked safely into a pocket so no one would notice the tremors coursing through it. It had started first thing in the morning.

"Would having a godson be so terrible, Severus?" Minerva knew she had to tread carefully.

"The child deserves better," Severus said resolutely. He stared at the food, but the mere thought of eating revolted him. It was odd, he was hungry, but couldn't make himself eat. Minerva thankfully remained quiet and his nerves settled somewhat. He busied himself watching his students and realized things were slowly returning to normal, although he knew very well that their lives would never be normal again. Voldemort had seen to that.

"Severus, you aren't eating."

Severus rolled his eyes back, but when Poppy glared at him, he stared at the table instead. He grabbed a bread roll and started eating just to appease her.

"That's better!" It was a start, but Poppy felt far from pleased. She was going to keep a close eye on him.

/

"Professor Snape? Sorry, can I… may I?"

Severus looked at the first year student in surprise, and for one moment thought he was dealing with another Weasley as the girl was a redhead. But no, she didn't resemble any Weasleys he knew. "Yes, Miss…?"

"Cornfoot, Eliza Cornfoot," the girl said quickly.

"How can I help you, Miss Cornfoot?" Severus quickly scanned the corridor, but realized there was no help in sight. The two of them were alone.

"I was wondering, if…"

Severus realized she felt intimidated and so he lowered himself onto his heels, even though his body strongly protested doing so. "What were you wondering about, Miss Cornfoot?" She was a Hufflepuff, he noticed absentmindedly.

"Are you going to rebuild the Quidditch pitch too? I love watching the matches and it's still a mess!"

Severus smiled at her. The girl's problem could be easily fixed. "I promise to see to the pitch. Give me a week, will you, Miss Cornfoot? Am I correct to assume you want to try out in time?"

"Yes!" she said enthusiastically. "I want to be a Seeker!"

"In that case, I will see to it that the pitch is restored to its former glory." She continued to stare at him though and he realized more was required. "And try outs will be held within a month." She was so excited she continued to move about. Knowing he had made her happy was a new experience for him.

"Thank you, Headmaster!"

Oddly enough, being called that didn't hurt as much as it usually did. Severus continued to smile at her, even when she was already running down the corridor and yelling at her friends that she had good news. Sometimes, it was easy to make someone happy. Severus slowly got to his feet again and hated the way his bones protested the move. His condition had much deteriorated after Voldemort's attack on him.

"You made that little girl very happy."

Severus froze upon hearing Neville's voice. He hadn't realized the young man was close.

Neville steadied the older wizard when Severus swayed. "It takes time," he offered, seeing the distraught look on the other man's face. "Once Nagini's poison loses its effect, you will recover more quickly."

It wasn't the effect of the poison that kept him in a weakened state, but Neville didn't need to know that. "I will never fully bounce back. Do not kid yourself."

Neville bit onto his bottom lip at being admonished. "One can hope…"

Severus smiled tiredly. "Hope… It's just a word, Neville. You will realize that when you reach my age."

Neville fell into step with Severus when the older man started his way down the corridor. "I doubt it is old age that makes your bones ache." He wasn't sure why he had said that, but he felt comfortable enough to address Severus in that way.

"Maybe you are right." Severus eyed Neville closely. Why had the young man said that? Neville didn't know about the lasting effects of the Cruciatus curse he had cast, did he?

Neville looked through the window and smiled at seeing the greying sky. "It won't be long until the first snow of the season."

It was only November, but Severus knew Neville was right. He felt the ice on the air as well. Hopefully all repairs, including those necessary to restore the pitch, would be finished before winter was truly upon them. Severus hadn't realized it, but he was heading for his old class room. He considered detouring, but then followed his instinct. Horace wasn't teaching today, so Severus opened the door and looked inside. He had spent many hours in there – sometimes enjoying himself watching his students brew, and sometimes counting the minutes until he could retire after Voldemort or Bellatrix had cursed him. It was odd to realize that they would never be able to do that to him again – they were dead.

"Do you remember moving your experiment in here?" Neville smiled upon recalling how he had struggled to decipher Severus' handwriting.

"I do. I tried to keep working on it, but I was unable to focus. The Carrows…" His voice trailed off. He didn't really want to remember them.

Neville caught on and quickly asked, "Where did you put it?"

"My old rooms. Horace never moved into them; he never liked staying down there. Would you like to check on it?" Now that he had time, he might be able to force a breakthrough.

Neville nodded. "I would love to!" He followed Severus into his former rooms and kept a close eye on the older man in case he stumbled.

Severus stepped into his former study and started to feel melancholy. It seemed he had lived here during another lifetime. The experiment was still there, waiting for him, but then his gaze moved to the desk and he walked over there instead. He picked up the framed photograph and stared at Lily. He wasn't sure what he felt. Was it guilt? Or something else? Something new? It was definitely something he failed to identify.

Neville noticed the trance-like state Severus was slipping into and carefully rested his hand on the other man's shoulder. "Severus?"

Severus blinked and grew aware of his surroundings once more. "I apologize… I was lost in thought."

"No need to apologize." Neville looked at the picture as well and smiled at seeing the happy expression on a younger Severus' face. "Care to share your thoughts? I am a good listener." Severus looked like he needed to talk – desperately.

Severus sat down at his former desk and placed the frame back in its place. "I always loved Lily and a part of me still does… But it has been almost twenty years. I mourned losing the loss for a long time."

Neville understood. "It is time to move on."

"Yes, it is." Severus questioningly looked at the picture, which seemed to have been made during another lifetime. "I will always love her. I couldn't possibly forget her, but it's been twenty years. It feels like someone else fell in love with her – I am not the same man I was back then."

"You need to move on, I know that – and I believe you also know that the time is right to do so. Anyone who knows you will never doubt you loved her, but keeping her in your heart doesn't mean you need to throw away the key. You can still care about other people. You won't betray her memory just because you allow yourself to care about Harry, professor McGonagall, Madam Pomfrey, or that little girl you just met in the corridor."

That was it, wasn't it? The key to his heart. He had to turn that key and allow himself to care again. Neville was right; he wouldn't betray her memory if he reached for that key. He would be honouring her instead.

/

He really needed to set a new password, Severus mused. Neville had told it to everyone who was supposed to keep an eye on him. Every four hours someone new showed up to keep him company. He was getting fed up with them babysitting him and decided to have a word with Poppy later that night. He would reset the password if she didn't agree to stop this madness. He was certain he could come up with a password none of them would think of.

The heavy footfalls that now echoed down the staircase made him wonder who was to be his next guardian. He prayed for patience upon realizing it was Hagrid – and the half-giant wasn't alone.

"Fang, now don' do that!" Hagrid cringed. Fang could be rather enthusiastic and the hound had always liked Snape to begin with.

Severus watched the monster run toward him and prepared to be jumped at. Knowing his luck, he would land straight on his arse. Fang however, slowed down and came to a halt in front of him and drooled onto the floor instead.

"Sorry 'bout that," Hagrid offered. "But he kinda likes yer. He always did!"

Severus knew that. He reached out and patted the hound's head. More drool followed, meaning the house elves would have to clean up later. "Fang is a good dog," he said, knowing hearing it would make Hagrid's day.

"The best!" Hagrid agreed and looked about. He had been in here before, but never for a very long time and not that often. He liked the fact that Snape was using the fireplace again. Dumbledore never had. "How 're yer doin'?"

"Fine… Getting there." Severus hoped his words would reassure Hagrid. He didn't want another babysitter watching him. "Did you manage to rebuild your home yet? I am sorry that Bellatrix destroyed it." He had never realized her intention to blow it up until it had been too late.

"Nothin's broke which can't be fixed!" Hagrid stated. "I've been rebuildin' it. Even have some students helpin' me."

Severus nodded; pleased to hear that. Fang had been sniffing his boots and now the hound settled down, resting that monstrous head on his feet and thus trapping him effectively. It was a good thing he was in his comfortable chair by the fireplace and had no intention of getting up.

"I kinda forgot how much Fang liked yer!" Hagrid smiled at seeing the hound stake his claim. He doubted Snape's feet made a comfortable pillow though.

Severus had always liked the hound. He had been unable to fool Fang in the past. He had tricked staff and students, but the hound had always greeted him and urged him to pet him. "Are you back to teaching classes yet?" Severus inquired when the silence started to feel uncomfortable.

"Not yet," Hagrid announced. "Lots of creatures are still runnin' wild in the forest. I want to look 'fter them firs'."

Which made sense. Severus cringed upon realizing that Fang was drooling onto his boots now.

"I'm happy yer still 'live," Hagrid said, needing to get that off his chest. "I never really believed yer supported you-know-who."

Severus didn't blame Hagrid for being unable to say Voldemort's name. He knew the half-giant had been through rough times. "And I am happy Harry survived. Thinking he was dead must have been hard on you." Tears slid down Hagrid's face and the half-giant quickly wiped at them. Severus understood the emotions Hagrid was going through. Hagrid had been the one to take the baby to his family that faithful night. "You cared for him from the start."

"I still remember the way yer held him – when we found yer in that house." Hagrid vividly recalled the way Snape had held onto Harry and had refused to hand him the baby. It had taken Albus a long time to talk Snape into letting go.

Severus wondered why these memories continued to pop up. Ever since Remus and Tonks had asked him to be their son's godfather, people kept reminding him of the fact that he had cherished holding Harry when he had been a baby.

/

"Come on, boy! Let's go!" Hagrid frowned at Fang. For some reason the hound wasn't inclined to move. "Fang!" Fang merely lifted his head – partly, that was, and stared at the half-giant. Hagrid shook his head at the hound's stubbornness. "Yer can' stay here, boy!"

Snape had fallen asleep sometime during his visit, and Hagrid hadn't dared to wake the other man, as Snape looked exhausted. His replacement would arrive shortly and he wanted to leave, but Fang stubbornly remained in place. Well, maybe Snape's feet made a nice pillow after all! "Do as yer please, yer big oaf!" He knew the hound would find his way home eventually. Fang, however, did look awfully pleased when the half-giant stopped harassing him.

/

The first thing Severus grew aware of upon waking up was the fact that something warm and rather heavy rested on his feet. He opened his eyes, looked down, and found Fang asleep on his feet. How was he supposed to move like that? Why hadn't Hagrid done something about that?

"I didn't know you had a pet, Severus." Poppy grinned smugly. She had noticed Severus' disbelief at finding Fang close. She had met Hagrid on his way out and he had told her that the hound had refused to move.

"I would never think of Fang as a pet!" Severus tried to move his feet, but at that, the hound stirred and growled softly. He could pull his feet away, but then the hound's head would hit the floor rather abruptly. He didn't want that either.

"A familiar then!" Poppy thought hard, but couldn't think of a time when Severus had had a pet. Maybe it was time he got one and Fang seemed to be volunteering for that position!

Severus eyed Poppy closely. He had been wanting to talk to her all day. "Poppy, this madness must stop. I don't need a babysitter! Call off the other shifts."

Poppy considered his request. "Maybe... Tell me, how are you doing, Severus? Have you been eating?"

Oh, he had actually forgotten about that during the day. "I had breakfast," he said stubbornly.

"It's eight o'clock in the evening, Severus." Poppy knew saying that would get her point across.

"I might have missed lunch, forgot about dinner too," Severus admitted, knowing that opposing her never worked. "I can eat something now, perhaps?"

Poppy knew the way Severus' mind worked and nodded. "I am waiting."

Severus sighed, summoned pumpkin soup and bread from the kitchen, and resigned himself to eating.

"I noticed that the Quidditch pitch is being rebuild. It will help the students settle back into their routine. We can never forget what happened here – and neither should we – but moving on is best for all involved."

Severus had the uncanny feeling that remark had been meant for him. "I am doing the best I can, Poppy."

"I know that, Severus. I just don't want you to give up." She studied him and noticed the way he kept his left hand tucked into a pocket. "Are the tremors still hampering you?"

"Not at the moment." Severus uncovered his hand and showed her. "It's warm in here, that helps." Suddenly Fang woke from the sleep he had been in and lifted his head. Severus was quick to react and moved his feet accordingly. "Will you take Fang back to Hagrid when you leave? And please, cancel the next shift. I need some privacy."

Poppy arched an eyebrow. "Neville will be extremely disappointed to hear that you don't want him about."

Bah, she knew how to get to him! Neville was quickly becoming his weak spot and she knew it! Severus also knew that she would use it to her advantage!

"He was looking forward to another round of Wizard chess. Apparently he has been reading up on strategies," Poppy hinted.

"Neville will be the last one to sit with me then. The babysitting will stop after that."

"Yes, Headmaster." Poppy watched his reaction to being addressed in that manner. Severus flinched, but didn't object to being called that. Hopefully that was a step in the right direction!

/

Neville carried the fruit cakes his grandmother had sent him in his arms when he entered the Headmaster's office. He had missed Poppy on her way out and reckoned all was well. Had something been amiss with Severus she would have waited in order to tell him. He found Severus seated in his favourite chair, watching the fire place. He smiled at seeing the peaceful expression on Severus' face. The older man was finally letting go.

"I hope you are hungry," he announced. Now that he was only a few steps away from the older wizard, he noticed Fang, that giant of a hound lying close to the fire place as well. He hadn't seen that hound in here before. "You have got company," he said pleased.

"Hagrid brought Fang along when he visited earlier. I can't seem to make him leave." Poppy had tried to entice Fang with some dog treats, but the hound had merely given her an indignant look.

Neville hoped Fang would stick around. "My grandmother sent these. Would you like one?"

Severus pushed away the quilt which Poppy had used to cover him with and got to his feet. He felt tired, which was odd, considering he hadn't done much during the day. After making his way over to the table, he sat down, and summoned tea. "I will have one." He knew Neville would feel disappointed otherwise.

Neville sat down opposite Severus, placed the fruit cakes on a plate, and moved it in-between them. "I must warn you; I believe I found a way to beat you," he said, gesturing toward the chess board.

"You can try," Severus said in an amused voice. "Don't count on me letting you win though."

"I wouldn't want you to do that anyway!" He wanted to win fair and square! He nibbled on a cake and watched Severus make his opening move. His thoughts drifted back to when Harry and he had visited professor McGonagall. He wanted to ask Severus about his parents, but knew this wasn't the right time for it. Severus had to deal with the present before he could start working through the past. "Your hand no longer trembles," he observed.

"The warmth helps. Poppy told me to stay indoors, if possible." Severus sipped his tea and realized he was growing more comfortable with having Neville's company during the evening. He had actually been looking forward to the evening when Poppy had told him that Neville would join him.

"Is it permanent?" Neville hoped it wasn't.

"It is," Severus said as he judged it best to speak the truth whenever possible. However, he knew he might have to lie in order to keep the whole truth from Neville.

"But Nagini's poison should fade in time." It was the venom which caused the tremors, wasn't it? What else could it be?

"Neville, I died! Who knows what damage that did to my body. Let it go. It's not worth your time." Severus studied Neville's move and then counteracted it.

Neville was too distracted to focus on the game. Poppy had told him that the poison should be losing its effects by now, and so, he had expected the tremors to go away as well. Dying itself hadn't done much damage; he had asked Poppy about that too. She he ruled that out as a possible cause for Severus' tremors. What was left then? Neville startled as he remembered he had cursed Severus in a fit of anger. He had still had his altered memories and he had been convinced Severus had tortured him the same way Bellatrix had tortured his parents.

Severus didn't like the way Neville suddenly looked at him. He resisted the temptation to read the young man's thoughts as he had promised himself never to trespass in that manner again. Had Neville figured it out then? In that case, he had to act and smother any suspicions Neville had.

"Is it because I cursed you?" Neville's heart thundered in his ears and he felt shaky. "I put the Cruciatus curse on you that day. You were still weak at that time." Had that curse weakened Severus further? Had it damaged Severus' nerves that profusely? He swallowed convulsively and was almost too scared to finish that thought.

Neville flashed back to the last time he had visited his parents. Most of the time, they slept quite peacefully, but when a fit took them, it always started off with tremors, which then quickly grew worse. Much like the tremors that tormented Severus – his left arm mostly. Though he reckoned, should he question Severus more closely, he would find the tremors might not limit themselves to the one limb. They were just more pronounced in his left arm. Neville noticed the way Severus shifted on his chair. It was just a small thing, but one that was out of character for the older man. For some reason, it told him he had guessed correctly.

"Don't be a fool, boy. You cursing me has nothing to do with the condition I am in!" Severus glared at Black's portrait, as he had noticed that the former Headmaster had intended to speak up. Don't you dare speak even a single word! he threatened Phineas, who, thankfully, reconsidered. "It's nonsense!" Severus realized he might have overdone it when he saw Neville's expression darken. The young man had figured it out, damn it!

Neville tried to deal with what he had just learned. He should know better than to expect Severus to admit the truth. The older man would hide it from him simply because he wouldn't want him to feel guilty. But he had to try. "Tell me the truth, please."

Severus shook his head. "As I said earlier, the fact that you cursed me has nothing to do with the state I am in." He hated lying to Neville, but he hated admitting the truth even more. He refused to hurt the young man's feelings. Neville had already suffered too much and he refused to add to that pain. He had lied most of his life and now he had the best reason to continue doing so. "Don't bring it up again!"

Neville however wasn't fooled. Severus would never tell him the truth, but there was someone else who knew the real reason why those tremors remained; Madam Pomfrey. He would talk to her the first opportunity he got.

Severus wished Neville would stop looking at him like that. "It's your turn," he reminded the young man. Fang moved toward them and rested his head on the table, very close to those fruit cakes. Severus moved the plate aside and the look Fang gave him was one of utter disappointment. "You will just upset your stomach by eating that. Go harass Hagrid instead!" Fang however merely returned to the rug in front of the fire place and made himself comfortable there. Realizing he needed to distract Neville, Severus asked, "Have you been attending any classes yet?"

Neville forced himself to react, even though he didn't feel like it. He just wanted to know the truth; he needed to know if he had caused those tremors! "I had Charms and Transfiguration today. I will have Potions tomorrow, although I am not looking forward to professor Slughorn teaching it." Ah yes, Slughorn – he had wanted to ask Severus about the former Head of Slytherin, but he couldn't address the matter now – not after finding out he was to blame for Severus' continuing tremors. He moved to safer grounds instead. "Having professor Lupin teach Defence against the Dark Arts again will be odd. I wish you would return to teaching that class."

Severus realized Neville was no longer interested in playing Wizard chess and moved the chess board aside. "Maybe next year," he said, although he wasn't sure he would ever return to teaching. "Do you have any plans for the upcoming weekend? It's a Hogsmeade weekend after all."

"Not really," said Neville. "Maybe read up on Herbology."

"That is your favourite subject, isn't it?" Severus felt that it suited Neville. Growing plants, examining, and nurturing them fit Neville's character perfectly.

"It is." Although he would rather discuss Severus' physical condition he realized this was a much safer topic. "I want to continue studying it after graduation." He hadn't actually thought much about what he would do after he graduated. For a while, he hadn't been sure he would live to see that day. But now that he was thinking about it, he realized he really liked the idea. Maybe he could one day teach Herbology at Hogwarts. Professor Sprout had hinted at settling down during the next few years. Yes, the more he thought about it, the better he liked that idea!

"I believe you will do well, no matter what you choose to do after graduation." Neville's passion and zest for life would pull him through. The young man would probably end up marrying Luna and start his own family. Then, in time, their children would attend Hogwarts and complete the circle.

Fang's snoring suddenly drew their attention and did away with the tension that still lingered between them. They chuckled at hearing it.

"You will have to get used to that if Fang decides to stay." Neville fervently hoped the hound would make the office his new home as Severus needed the distraction – and the company.

Severus continued to chuckle softly. He wasn't sure he liked the idea of Fang staying, although being honest with himself, he had to admit he wouldn't mind one bit.

/

"Madam Pomfrey?" Neville had left Severus after the older wizard had retired for the night. Neville had assured Severus that he would head to bed as well, but his feet had carried him to the Hospital Wing instead. Only a handful of students were still being treated for the injuries they had suffered during the last battle. Neville therefore found Madam Pomfrey at her desk, enjoying a late cup of tea. "Can I talk to you? It is rather urgent."

She had been expecting him sooner or later, but had rather hoped for later. "Sit down, Neville." She poured him a cup as well and moved it across the table towards him. "What is troubling you?"

"I know you might not be able to tell me the truth – since you are a healer and professor Snape your patient, but I need to ask you anyway." He doubted she would tell him, but maybe she would confirm something for him if he phrased it a certain way. "The professor suffers from tremors, which are most prominent in his left arm."

Poppy sighed and nodded. He had realized the truth then – the poor lad.

"It's not Nagini's poison that causes them, is it?" Neville gave her a pleading look. "You don't have to say anything… But please…"

She nodded, letting him know his observation was correct. She wasn't sure just how much she could reveal to him though. It wasn't her place to tell him – Severus should do that.

Neville shivered; he had been right then. "If the poison isn't causing them, something else is responsible for those tremors."

"Neville, you shouldn't do this," she warned him. "You might not like the answer you are looking for."

"It is because I cursed him, isn't it? He was too weak. They had just brought him back from the dead and I put the Cruciatus on him!" Neville nodded repeatedly. "I recognize those tremors. You see, my parents twitch like that before a fit takes them."

Poppy drew in a deep breath and berated herself as she had forgotten about the boy's parents. "Neville, Severus will throw a tantrum if he ever finds out I told you… He knows you didn't do it on purpose and he doesn't blame you. You acted under false pretences. You thought he had tortured you. Severus understands why you did it."

Neville hadn't thought it possible but he felt even more guilty now. "You discussed me?"

Poppy's face contorted, knowing she should never have told Neville that. But it was too late to take it back. "We did."

Neville lowered his gaze and stared at his hands. "I wish he was angry with me instead. I could easier deal with him being mad with me than him simply forgiving me. I cursed him! I did to him what Bellatrix did to my parents!"

"You can't compare those two things," Poppy said and rested her hand on his. "You lashed out in anger. You had every reason to be angry with Severus. You only kept the curse on him for a short while."

"Only because Dumbledore and Everard interfered!" he reminded her. "I wanted to make him suffer! I wanted him to writhe in pain. I wanted him to feel the same agony I did, but… I never experienced such agony. Yes, there was pain, but only for a moment…"

"Neville, don't do this to yourself. Severus doesn't blame you and you shouldn't feel guilty for what you did."

"I need to talk to him!" Neville wanted to get to his feet again, but she stopped him.

"Don't act rashly, Neville. You don't want to hurt his feelings, do you?"

Neville blinked. "What are you talking about?"

"He cares about you, Neville. He is slowly starting to trust people and you are one of them. He is allowing you in, and if you confront him now, he will close that door on you. Trust me, I have known Severus most of my life."

Neville bit onto his bottom lip and considered her words. "You have known him for a long time?" He had never thought of asking Madam Pomfrey about Severus. He had just assumed the right person to go to was professor McGonagall. "Will you tell me more?"

"If you sit back and drink your tea," she said, relieved he was calming down. She didn't mind telling him; actually she had been hoping one of them would ask her. "I will tell you some things; not everything though as I respect his privacy."

Neville had to chuckle. "You were in Slytherin House!" He hadn't realized that until now.

"Of course I was." Poppy winked at him. "What? Did you think that just because I am a healer I can't possibly have been in Slytherin?"

"I always suspected you to be Ravenclaw." Neville had never considered his prejudiced assumption. She was right; he had thought that no healer could have been in Slytherin House!

"I thought you wanted to hear my tale?" she said, baiting him.

Neville nodded. He knew what she was doing, but didn't mind. He wanted to find out as much as he could about Severus Snape!

"Professor McGonagall told me that Harry and you visited her the other day and that she showed you the old yearbooks. I must admit I never expected her to keep those –especially the Slytherin ones, but then again, she has always been fairly open-minded."

"You were going to tell me about professor Snape," he reminded her rather impatiently, at which she laughed.

"Patience, my dear, patience!" She took pity on him then though. "I was starting my third year when Severus made his first appearance at Hogwarts. Even back then, I wanted to train as a healer and was well known for taking new students under my wing. When I saw Severus, I knew he needed someone to look after him. Unfortunately his friendship with Harry's mother prevented him from growing close to me. He preferred her company to mine and I couldn't blame him. She was beautiful."

Neville grew alarmed. She wasn't telling him that she had fancied Severus at some point, was she?

Poppy caught on and shook her head. "No, Neville, not like that. You don't know this, but I have four younger brothers and Severus merely reminded me of them. Had he let me, I would have mothered him to death. These days I sometimes get away with that – or he lets me get away with it."

Neville felt relieved. He wasn't sure how he would have felt had Madam Pomfrey admitted to having had a crush on Severus Snape!

"You saw his yearbook pictures, didn't you?"

"I did. Professor McGonagall said his mother had neglected him and his father had been abusive. It showed. He sported bruises all over in one picture."

Poppy nodded. "Unfortunately for Severus, Horace Slughorn was Head of Slytherin back then as well. He has never been a good Head, not back then, and not now. I won't be surprised if Severus quickly replaces him. Any other teacher would be a better choice. Horace is an excellent Potioneer, but he doesn't really care about his students."

Neville knew that from first hand experience. "But you were going to tell me more about professor Snape, not Slughorn."

She chuckled at his eagerness. "Would it surprise you to hear that Severus was quite good at Quidditch? He tried out for Keeper and played for the Slytherin team."

"What made him stop?" Madam Pomfrey was right; hearing that had surprised him.

"Severus became rather ill. He had to stay at the Hospital Wing for weeks. I don't think they ever found out what exactly was ailing him. But when he was released someone else had taken over as Keeper. Severus didn't try again."

Neville wondered about something. "Professor McGonagall said that his mother visited when he was ill. She doubted he ever knew she was there though."

"I saw his mother. She made a chilly impression on me. Her eyes were cold and distant. I felt sorry for Severus. At that time, I didn't know that it was his father who hurt him the most."

"Professor McGonagall told us about Tobias Snape too."

"Then you know more about Severus than he probably wants you to know. Be careful not to let anything slip, Neville. Severus is an extremely private man."

"I noticed that." Neville finished his tea and put the cup back onto the table. "Thanks for sharing this with me."

"You are welcome, young man, but please don't mention our conversation to Severus. I don't want to lose the little trust he has in me."

"Do you really think it is that little and that you can lose it so easily?"

"The way Severus is right now? Yes. Severus is at a crossroads. He will decide whom to trust and whom to turn away from. He is beginning to trust you, Neville. Don't betray him or you might find it impossible to reach him ever again. Let him decide the pace of your friendship, and even more importantly, let him decide what to tell you and what to keep to himself. If Severus thinks you need to know why he keeps experiencing those tremors, he will tell you. Don't pressure him."

"When I told him that I believed it was my curse that put him in that condition he did his best to convince me that I was wrong."

Poppy nodded. "Allow him to keep thinking that, Neville. Maybe in time, he will be able to tell you the truth. Until that day you would do well to keep that knowledge to yourself."

Neville still felt that doing so was wrong, but he understood why she was urging him to play along. "I won't question professor Snape about the tremors again." She nodded seemingly pleased, and so he quickly added, "But I will continue to monitor him closely. If he gets worse then…"

"Then come to me, Neville. I will know what's going on – why they are worsening, but truthfully, I don't expect that to happen. As long as he doesn't get cursed again…" She gave him an encouraging look when he cringed. "And as long as he makes sure he keeps warm. The cold worsens the tremors. Severus agreed to stay indoors though now that winter is rapidly approaching. He endured his share of pain, Neville. I think he has had enough of it."

Neville could only hope that Madam Pomfrey was right. "I will keep an eye on him though."

"You do that, young man, but make sure you don't get carried away."

Neville was more than ever determined to look after Severus – especially after all the things Madam Pomfrey had told him.

/

Severus sternly told Fang no when he realized that the hound had actually been about to jump onto his bed and to make himself comfortable there. "That bed is not big enough for the two of us!" Severus had put his foot down and Fang had accepted it. He had stretched out in front of the bed instead, causing Severus to scowl since he now had to make his way around the animal.

"Fawkes never caused problems like that," Albus hinted from inside his painting in an amused way.

"Fawkes exploded regularly. Of course you would forget the mess he made!"

"Sneering isn't that easy these days, is it, Snape?" Vindictus commented in an equally amused voice and he actually grinned at Dumbledore.

"Keep that up if you want me to turn around your portraits," he warned them. He enjoyed their bantering, but would be damned if he ever admitted it. He shrugged out of his coat, unbuttoned most buttons on his shirt, and removed his boots. He was about to head to bed when he noticed some commotion outside of the window. Using a spell, he opened it, and was rather stunned to see an owl enter the office. She sat down on his desk and presented him with her leg, which had a message attached to it. He didn't expect any news and felt curious when he removed the paper. The owl left at once and he sat down behind his desk in order to read the message.

Severus!

I thought you would want to know that Remus, Teddy, and I will arrive at Hogwarts sometime tomorrow afternoon. We didn't have that many things to pack and finished faster than we thought! Teddy has been sleeping a lot, so that means everything got done early! You do remember we asked you to be his godfather? Maybe you need me to remind you of that? I do expect you to accept! One look into his eyes and you will be lost, trust me! We will be seeing you tomorrow then!

Tonks ( not Nymphadora! I am warning you!)

A storm of emotions shook up Severus once more. Why kept they insisting on unbalancing him like that? Why was she bothering to keep him updated on their plans? Why mention her son all the time? Because they really wanted him as Teddy's godfather, he realized. He also knew he could never give in. He simply wasn't suited to be anyone's godfather! He folded the letter, placed it into a drawer, and then made his way into his bedroom.

Fang was already asleep – on the floor thankfully – and Severus slowly sat down. He stared at the hound for some minutes, wondering how he had ended up with a pet – a temporary one hopefully – and decided to worry about it tomorrow. After lying down, he closed his eyes and tried to clear his mind, but some thoughts, and even more worrisome, certain emotions refused to go away. Where was that damn key when he needed it?

A soft growl demanded his attention and he actually smiled at Fang, who had rested his huge head on the mattress and was staring at him. He rested his hand on the head and stroked the silk-like fur. "Go back to sleep, Fang." But the hound continued to look at him and he was shocked to feel his face was wet with tears. Why was he crying? Fang made a different sound and Severus continued to stroke the huge head.

Rationally he understood what was happening; he was finally allowing himself to feel again and by doing that, fears, which he had kept locked up, surfaced. He could allow himself to care for Harry, Neville, Poppy, and the others these days, but the idea of becoming part of a family scared him. And that was exactly what Remus and Tonks were offering him. He couldn't do that – he couldn't allow himself to grow attached to another child – certainly not a toddler like Teddy. He had to remain firm when they arrived. He had to reject them – he must!

/

"Stop following me about, Fang!" But no matter what he said, the hound had become his shadow. The beast had even tried to follow him into the bathroom that morning! He was going to take Fang back to Hagrid first thing after breakfast!

Severus noticed the looks Fang drew when they entered the Great Hall. He felt up to being social that morning and willingly had breakfast with students and staff. But as he actually walked into the Hall, he wondered what had possessed him to make that decision.

Minerva wiggled her eyebrow when she saw them. They presented quite a sight, to be honest. Severus still dressed in all black, except for his high-necked white shirt, and Fang, that huge hound, trailing after him. Severus sat down next to her and she noticed the way he kept staring at Fang. "Is there anything I should know?" she quipped cheerfully.

"He refuses to leave. Poppy even tried to lure him with treats, but so far unsuccessfully. I will take him back to Hagrid after breakfast." He carefully poured himself a cup of Lady Grey and added honey to it. He took hold of some toast, added butter and marmalade, and started eating. He looked up when he felt someone stare at him. It turned out to be Poppy and Minerva. Both were smiling at him in an oddly contented way. Then he realized no one had had to remind him to eat. Well, he was hungry!

"Minerva," Severus started in-between bites. "Professor Lupin and his family shall arrive some time today. Their rooms are ready so they should be able to make themselves comfortable."

Minerva nodded approvingly. "You do realize that you have another problem on your hands?"

Severus nodded in turn. He did. "Slytherin House needs a new Head." There was no way in hell he was going to keep Slughorn, even if the wizard intended not to return for the next year. He wanted someone as Head who truly cared about the students, even if they were Slytherin. "I would do it myself, but I must remain impartial as Headmaster."

"Do you have someone in mind for that position?" Minerva felt curious, suspecting Severus already had a back up in mind.

"I was thinking of Poppy."

Minerva blinked; this time he had managed to surprise her. "Poppy?" How had he reached that conclusion?

"She was in Slytherin while attending Hogwarts," he explained, realizing how few people knew that. "She cares about the students, which is another plus."

"Did you ask her yet?" Minerva looked over at Poppy, who had been listening in on their conversation. Poppy looked flabbergasted as she hadn't been expecting it and Minerva smiled reassuringly at the healer. Now that she was giving the matter some thought, she actually approved of the idea.

"Not yet. I still need to convince her." Severus however was fairly sure he could make her accept. He had dropped his idea intentionally, so she had an opportunity to think about it before he sprung it on her. He would talk to Poppy later; he had other things on his mind right now. He had to figure out how to handle Remus and Tonks.

/

"Hagrid!" Severus pulled his cloak tighter around his frame. The November air was cold with liquid ice and he expected it to snow sometime during the week. Winter would be upon them much too quickly. "Fang!" he called out when the hound wanted to chase after some critter he had sighted. Fang stopped his actions at once and walked up to him – quite obediently. Severus tucked his left hand into a pocket and was grateful he had decided to wear gloves; they kept the cold at bay – somewhat.

"Professo' Snape!" Hagrid turned around and walked toward his Headmaster.

Severus cringed upon realizing that only half of Hagrid's home had been rebuilt so far. Maybe he should tell Hogwarts to lend a hand since most repairs to the castle itself had been completed.

"Fine mornin', ain't it? What brings yer out here?" Hagrid smiled at seeing Fang's obstinate expression. Snape might not have realized it yet, but that hound had changed allegiances. Hagrid should have felt sad about losing the hound's company, but he also realized Snape might need the company more than he did – regardless of the fact if the Headmaster was aware of that or not.

"I am here to return Fang to you. I told him to leave, but he refused." Severus scanned the hut Hagrid had managed to rebuild so far. There was a fire inside and it looked cosy enough.

Hagrid followed Snape's stare and continued to smile. Most wizards always took him for a dimwit – save for Dumbledore – but he wasn't. He was actually quite good in reading body language. And when he looked at Snape, he realized the wizard was shivering. "Would yer like to go in and have tea?"

"I don't want to trouble you…" But Severus would love to sit at the fireplace for a little while so he could warm up before starting his way back. He could apparate of course, but that would tire him. He followed Hagrid inside and smiled. He had always felt comfortable around the half-giant, but hadn't been able to show it in the past.

"Sit yerself down," Hagrid said as he moved the kettle over the fire. "Tea will be ready in a sec."

Severus picked the chair closest to the fire place, sat down, and removed his gloves. He extended his arms and moved his hands closer to the fire, relishing the warmth as it slowly enfolded his fingers. He noticed too late that his left hand was shaking again. Hagrid had seen it and Severus decided to ignore it. Maybe the half-giant would let it go if he didn't comment on it.

Hagrid *had* noticed the tremors, but chalked it up to the cold. He made tea, handed Severus a cup, and settled into his favourite chair. Fang stretched onto the floor next to Snape. Yip, that hound had chosen a new owner. "How are yer doin', sir?"

"At the moment, I am quite cold, but the tea will help." Severus wrapped his fingers around the cup and sipped. "Would you like more help rebuilding your home? I can call in some favours."

"Thanks, but I'll manage. And I don' mind that much. This is home… It don' matter how many rooms I've got ter live in!"

"Home is where the heart is," Severus muttered, lost in thought. His heart had always resided at Hogwarts. As a student, teacher, and now as Headmaster.

Hagrid wondered about the silence that spread through his hut. Normally, silence made him itchy, but this felt different. Snape looked content, sitting there and drinking tea, and so Hagrid leaned back and enjoyed his tea as well.

/

Severus was stunned to realize that he had been sitting in Hagrid's home for one hour. He had merely intended to drop by and then take his leave. "I apologize," he said when he also realized he had been rather antisocial during that hour as he hadn't said much. "I didn't mean to stay that long." He put down the cup, stretched his legs, and started to get up.

"Yer always welcome here, sir. I enjoyed meself too." Once he had grown used to the wizard's comfortable silence he had relaxed and enjoyed sitting like that. It had felt restful. Odd, restful and Snape weren't two things he would have combined in the past. But then again, Fang must have a good reason to change sides!

Severus smiled at the half-giant. "Thank you." He started toward the doorway and realized Fang was moving as well. "No, you need to stay here with Hagrid."

"Professor, sir… I don' think that will work."

Severus was getting the same feeling. "But, Hagrid, why?" The hound looked determined to accompany him. Although it was impossible to actually read animal's minds, Severus felt the hound's resolve roll off of him.

"I guess he likes yer…" Hagrid shrugged. If Snape didn't understand the hound simply liked him, he would be unable to explain it to the wizard.

"Does that mean I am actually stuck with him?" Fang cocked his head at him and Severus was under the impression the hound disliked the way he had phrased that!

"Fang's a big puppy. Yer know that. He'll happily trail after yer."

Severus sighed; that was just what he had been afraid of, he thought sarcastically.

/

Since the cold was getting to him once more, Severus put his gloves back on and tucked his left hand deep into his pocket. He drew his heavy winter cloak closer around him and carefully examined the state the castle was in. Most repairs had been finished, but one or two buildings still showed the destruction Voldemort's attack had caused. But that would be taken care of too and then Hogwarts would return to its former glory.

Severus headed for the courtyard and in particular for the small, but well-kept graveyard there. Most parents had arranged for their children to be taken home and they had been buried close to home. Instead of fifty-one graves, there were only six here. Students belonging to all four Houses took care of these graves. One day, Hufflepuffs would look after them, the other, Ravenclaws could be seeing removing weeds. Even Slytherin students had laid flowers next to the gravestones.

Severus sat down on a bench opposite the graves and stared at the proof of his failure. He had never wanted any of the students to die.

"It's cold out here, sir." Neville had been watching Severus from the moment the older wizard had come into view. Once he had realized where Severus was headed, Neville had rushed over. He sat down next to the older man and joined him in looking at the graves. He didn't have to be an Occlumens to know what was going on in Severus' mind. "You did everything within your power to keep them safe."

"Did I? Did I really? Sometimes, I wonder if I couldn't have done more." Severus rubbed his temple using his right hand as he was quickly developing a headache.

"Some things were out of your control," Neville said and kept a close eye on the older wizard sitting next to him. Severus looked fatigued. "You saved lives during that attack, but you couldn't be everywhere at the same time."

Fang chose that moment to remind Severus that he was still around and rested his head on the wizard's knee. Severus couldn't help but smile at the faithful expression in those eyes. He patted the hound and realized Fang's presence helped him calm down. "Good dog," he whispered as he continued to pet him.

Neville felt relieved now that most of the former tension seemed to leave Severus. "Fang likes you," he said, trying to steer their conversation away from Voldemort.

"He always did. Don't tell anyone, but I like him too. We should be getting back," he announced when the cold threatened to numb the sensation in his left hand. He would do well to keep Poppy's warning in mind to avoid the outdoors. Fang seemed to catch on and already moved toward the nearest entrance. Severus however needed more time in order to get up.

Neville watched with concern and thought back to the conversation he'd had with Madam Pomfrey. The Cruciatus Curse which he had cast on Severus had done lasting damage and Severus would never fully recover from it. It was his fault that Severus would be forever weakened.

"Are you coming along, Mister Longbottom?" Severus watched Neville closely and realized the young man knew the truth about him. It would be best to avoid discussing the matter as much as possible and, should the opportunity present itself, attempt to convince Neville once more that his curse hadn't caused the tremors. "Or do you wish to freeze into a popsicle?"

"No!" Neville forced himself to smile and hurried over to the older wizard. They made their way back inside and Neville realized they were heading for the Headmaster's office.

"Shouldn't you be attending classes?" Severus asked in a thoughtful voice.

"Well, we should be attending Defence Against the Dark Arts, but as we are without a teacher…" he let his voice trail off. "Maybe you would like to step in?"

Severus shook his head. "I have no desire seeing myself dressed up in woman's clothing again." Maybe humour would distract Neville.

Severus' comment briefly confused Neville, but then he remembered. "Ah, the Boggart!" He hadn't known Severus knew what had happened back then. "My Boggart's shape has changed since then."

"It has?" Severus considered this. "Does that mean I no longer cause you to run in terror?"

It took Neville a moment to realize Severus was joking. "No, you don't scare me any longer." If anything he had started to care for the older wizard. "I don't know what my Boggart looks like these days. I am not scared of much anymore." Was there anything he was still scared of? And then it hit him – his Boggart still had Severus' form, as the thing he dreaded the most right now was the older wizard being in pain or dying. He hadn't realized that until now!

Severus reckoned he had better not ask about the revelation Neville had had moments ago. Neville's facial expression told him that the young man had realized something that actually scared him.

Neville wasn't sure Severus would answer him, but he tried nonetheless. "Do you know what your Boggart looks like?"

Severus had been expecting that question so he was prepared to answer it. "You assume it to be Voldemort…" He waited for Neville to nod before he continued. "But it's not that. My worst fear is being alone again. Now that I am becoming used to being surrounded by…friends… the thought of losing them is the thing that scares me the most."

Neville swallowed hard; yes, he should have known it would be something like that. "I doubt you will ever be alone again – if you let people in, that is."

Severus knew Neville's words to be true. "Letting them in is hard on me. I don't know how to… belong." He hoped he had phrased it right.

"You will figure it out." Neville recalled Poppy's warning and let Severus set the pace, hoping they could be friends in every sense of the word.

/

Headmaster! Remus Lupin and his family are about to arrive.

Severus thanked Hogwarts for the information and shifted restlessly on his chair. He had asked Hagrid to collect them at the gate and to drive them to school in one of the carriages. Remus and Tonks couldn't apparate inside Hogwarts and flooing would upset the baby. He still wasn't sure how he felt about Remus returning to Hogwarts. It was true that they had reached a truce, and maybe even more than that. He was hesitant to think of them as friends though. He wasn't sure he would ever earn that right. He rose from behind his desk and made his way into the upstairs corridor the old-fashioned way – by walking there. He needed the exercise as he had sat for too long and his bones had started to complain about his inactivity.

When he reached the Great Hall, he realized he wasn't the only one eager to greet their new teacher. A large number of students had gathered there, along with Minerva, Filius, Poppy and even Hagrid. He also spotted Harry, Neville, Luna, Ginny, Ron, and Hermione. Severus felt superfluous and decided to return to his office, instead of joining the group. He should let them welcome Remus first.

/

Remus laughed loudly when the assembled crowd applauded him. It was good to be back, just as he had thought it would. He felt at home here, and had been overjoyed when Tonks had agreed to move to Hogwarts with him. The fact that his family would be close had made accepting the teaching position so much easier. "Harry!" he called out, happy to see the youngster again. They hugged and Remus smiled at finding Harry looking surprising well. "It's good to see you again!"

"I am happy you are back!" Harry hugged Remus a second time and smiled radiantly when he caught sight of Tonks and Teddy. "It's great to have you here too!" Harry made his way over to them and tried to sneak a look at the baby. Teddy was wake, chuckling, and even drooling a bit. He seemed to have picked up on the welcoming atmosphere and cooed happily.

"Teddy's adorable!" Ginny tried to draw the baby's attention and was rewarded with another bright smile "I love him!"

Tonks smiled in turn. "Teddy's going to break a lot of hearts in his lifetime." And she was incredibly grateful that she was going to see him grow up. She knew she owed Severus for that. He had killed that Death Eater. Hadn't it been for him, Remus and she would be dead. She looked about and was surprised to find Severus absent. Why wasn't he here? He was Headmaster and should be there to welcome them, but then she realized the crowd was still growing. More students were heading their way and she had the feeling Severus still wasn't comfortable joining a large group like that.

"Teddy takes after his mother," Minerva observed as she carefully hugged Tonks. "I am looking forward to seeing him explore the castle when he gets older."

"Let's hope he isn't as mischievous as his father!" Tonks commented happily. She had expected a warm welcome, but nothing like this. Remus chuckled, took her into his arms, and made faces at Teddy, who chirped in pleasure.

"Where's Severus?" Remus frowned and looked questioningly at Harry. He was surprised when Neville, and not Harry, answered him.

"He doesn't like crowds, remember?" Neville gave Remus an apologetic look. "I saw him moments ago, but when he realized how many students had gathered to greet you, he turned around and left. I am guessing he headed back to his office."

Neville seemed to have gotten to know Severus quite well, Remus mused, which surprised him. He vividly remembered Neville cursing him in the heat of the battle. "Then we shall go to his office," Remus decided. "But just us," he said, indicating Tonks, Harry and Neville. "We don't want to put him in a foul mood, do we?"

"He is seldom in a bad mood these days," Neville said, coming to Severus' defence.

Remus noticed it and shot Tonks an amused look. She grinned back at him and pulled Teddy tighter into her arms. They said their temporary goodbyes to students and staff and followed Neville down the corridor. Remus beckoned for Harry to fall into step next to him and whispered, "Did I miss something? I don't remember Neville being that protective of Severus."

"They became friends." Harry realized Neville's reaction might seem odd to Remus, but then again, his former teacher hadn't been around and hadn't seen the way Neville and Severus had changed. "They play Wizard chess in the evening and Neville makes sure Severus eats."

Remus arched an eyebrow in surprise. "Last thing I heard was that Severus was recovering nicely." He had owled Minerva for information some days ago.

"Oh, Severus is improving! He really is, but there is some lasting damage to his nerves. Madam Pomfrey hinted at it, but she never gave us any details."

"Lasting damage?" Remus hadn't counted on that. "Like what?"

"The tremors hamper him the most. Severus' left arm twitches a lot. He tries to hide it, but I can tell it worries him." Sometimes, that link still provided him with insight. "Neville has been keeping a close eye on him and Severus is fine with Neville keeping him company instead of me." Seeing Remus' surprise at hearing that, he added, "He knows I like to spend time with Ginny."

Ah, of course! He should have thought of that! Young love! Remus immediately reached for Tonks and wrapped an arm around her.

"Growing sentimental on me already?" she teased.

Remus however knew how special it was that they were both still alive. He felt privileged for still being able to hold Tonks in his arms and to care for Teddy. "I love you," he whispered into her ear and kissed her cheek.

"Love you too," Tonks replied, sensing the peculiar mood her husband was in. They had reached the Gargoyle, but apparently it refused to move, which seemed to frustrate Neville.

"I don't understand!" Oh wait, hadn't Severus said he had wanted to change the password because he was tired of being supervised all the time? Suddenly, the Gargoyle did move. Severus must have noticed their arrival and Neville told himself to inquire about the new password before he left again.

Remus walked up front and Tonks followed, with Teddy cradled against her chest. Both had been there before and thus noticed the different feel to the office. The fireplace was lit, several lamps glowed softly, and scented candles completed the feel of a warm welcome. Remus had never expected Severus to make the place so damn cosy!

Severus stood from behind the desk and moved in front of it. He steeled himself upon realizing that Tonks was carrying Teddy. He had hoped the two of them had headed for their new home instead. Dealing with just Remus would have been easier than with the three of them!

Remus recognized the play of emotions on Severus' face. The man *had* changed; Remus now felt certain of that. "Severus! It's good to see you again!" He moved toward the wizard and extended his hand in greeting. He seriously doubted Severus would have allowed a hug, so he wasn't even going to try that.

Severus stared at the offered limb for a moment, but then shook it. "Thank you for helping out. I know you will do well teaching Defence against the Dark Arts again." He tried to stay on the safe side of things and stuck to the facts.

Remus caught on at once, but decided against playing along. "You look much improved, Severus! You always hated being confined to bed!"

Severus didn't comment on that, realizing Remus was trying to draw him out. "You are welcome here too, Tonks. Thank you for accepting my offer." Too much emotions – too much of an invitation! He realized his mistake at once, but couldn't take back the words.

"Thank you, Severus! It's good to be back!" Like her husband, Tonks realized Severus was struggling with the situation. She also knew she was going to make things even more uncomfortable for him. "May I introduce you to Teddy?" She moved toward Severus.

Severus noticed her intentions at once and wished he could flee the room. She was about to place the baby in his arms, damn her!

"Hold him like that, Severus." His startled expression would have amused her, hadn't she known why he felt upset. But as she realized his discomfort, she stopped herself from smiling. Instead, she moved his arms and let Teddy slide into them. While moving her son into his arms, she noticed the way his left arm trembled. Neville had been right then; Severus had suffered lasting damage!

Severus stared at the baby in shock. He should have stopped her from doing that, but he had been too stunned to act. Teddy was smiling at him and his heart missed a beat when the baby's blue eyes suddenly darkened – resembling his eyes instead. Teddy was truly his son's mother, having inherited her gifts instead of his father's. Teddy raised his arm and tried to wrap his chubby fingers around Severus' thumb. His emotions were quickly getting the better of him and Severus felt shocked to realize his eyes were moist with tears. He had to fight them back as he refused to weep in front of them!

Tonks rested her hand on Severus' shoulder and felt deeply for the man. She had never worried about Severus before. He had always been the hated Potions' Master; the teacher with too sharp a tongue and whose words could injure in more ways than one. He had always been the spy they had distrusted – the one to be despised and now all that had changed. They knew the truth about him, and the truth was that he had always been a brave, but also a very lonely man. And he was still brave, holding Teddy in spite of his fears. She just wondered what exactly he was afraid of.

"You did a better job holding Harry back then, Severus!" Albus smiled when Tonks looked at her. "I always knew you would make an excellent mother, my dear!"

Remus however frowned. "What did you say, Albus?"

"Severus didn't look that intimidated when he held Harry that night. Severus, don't drop the baby!" Albus noticed Severus' growing unease.

Remus shifted his gaze from Albus to Severus. "Holding Harry?"

Severus glared at Albus. Why couldn't the wizard just keep quiet?

"Yes, Severus was the first to enter my home that night." Harry sensed Severus' confusion across the link and answered instead. "He found my parents that night – and me. Apparently I calmed down when he picked me up and held me."

"You went straight to sleep, my dear boy," Albus supplied mirthfully.

Remus had never known that. Looking at Severus now, he wondered what finding the Potters had done to the man. Severus had never liked James, but finding him dead must have affected Severus. And then, finding Lily – oh Lord!

Severus kept his gaze trained on Teddy, since he didn't trust himself to look at the rest. He knew his emotions were all over his face. "Harry was crying… So I picked him up and tried to soothe him. It took me a while to make him calm down and go to sleep."

Albus said in a melancholy voice, "Severus didn't want to hand Harry to Hagrid. Had it been up to him he would never have given up on that baby."

Severus glowered at Albus once more. "You had better shut up now." Albus had already done more than enough damage – Albus had made him remember that night again, and even worse, in detail! He had felt so protective of Harry back then; if only things had been different. If only he hadn't been the reason why Harry's parents had been killed!

"Severus, we really want you as Teddy's godfather. Remus and I thoroughly discussed the matter and we would feel way more comfortable if you said yes."

"Harry's much too young to take on that responsibility," Remus whispered the words into Severus' ear, teaming up with his wife. "We know that you will do everything within your power to protect Teddy. And I am convinced that you will love your godson. Just give us a chance."

They didn't fight fair – not at all. The child did deserve better though. "Don't do this," he begged them.

"Can you look Teddy in the eye and say you don't want this, Severus?" Tonks said, challenging him.

"I know you want this, Severus. Deep down in your heart, you want this." Remus nodded. "You never had the chance to be there for Harry when he was growing up. You can have that with Teddy – if you allow yourself that."

They are right and you know it. Harry sent across the link. Teddy already likes you and you like him in turn. You need to do this. You need to give yourself this chance at happiness!

Severus sought out Harry's eyes. Teddy deserves better than me. I will fail him. I know nothing about raising children. I don't know how to be a godfather!

You are doing a great job right now – holding him like that. Harry hoped Severus sensed he was sincere. He trusted Severus to take good care of Teddy and he hoped that Severus believed him when he thought that Severus was the best godfather Teddy could wish for. Allow yourself this. Give yourself a chance at happiness, please. You already died once regretting so many things. Don't make the same mistake twice.

Severus knew Harry was right, but giving in was hard. "I will do it," he said eventually, hoping he wasn't making a huge mistake. "But remember, you are the ones who want this. I still advise against it."

Remus however ignored that last bit. "Thanks, Severus!"

Tonks smiled and squeezed Severus' shoulder. "Welcome to the family, Severus."

Severus cringed at hearing that – being part of a family was exactly what he was afraid of.

/

Neville stayed behind when Harry, Remus, and Tonks left. Severus moved to his favourite chair and sat down, looking awfully tired. Neville sat down close to him and wondered why he felt this need to remain close.

"Is there anything else you want to ask me, Mister Longbottom?" Severus closed his eyes. Meeting Teddy had emotionally drained him. The fact that Remus and Tonks had insisted he agreed to becoming Teddy's godfather had equally stressed him.

"You changed the password, didn't you?" Neville felt it was best to start their conversation on the safe side.

"Ah yes… Someone told Poppy what the password was and she relayed it to everyone she had added to that damn roster!" Severus stretched the fingers of his left hand as they had started to cramp.

"That was me," Neville admitted. "I didn't think you would mind. You seemed to prefer to stay here, and hadn't Madam Pomfrey been able to keep an eye on you, she would have moved you back to the Hospital Wing." Although he now wondered if Severus hadn't left the Hospital Wing too quickly, especially since his left hand seemed rather painful at the moment. Merely watching Severus stretch those fingers made Neville flinch. It painfully brought back that he was the reason why Severus was in discomfort. If only he hadn't cursed the older wizard back then!

Severus tried to stay clear of Neville's mind, but the younger man was practically screaming his guilt at him. In the end, Severus looked at Neville and said as firmly as he could muster, "This is not your fault, Neville. I told you so before. Do not doubt my words, do you hear me?" He wasn't sure it would work though. Neville seemed to know with certainty that his curse was the reason why his left arm remained damaged. Had Poppy told Neville? But he had asked her not to!

Neville stared at the flames, not ready yet to look at Severus. "When were you born? I don't even know how old you are or when you celebrate your birthday."

Neville's question took Severus by surprise as he hadn't expected the young man to abruptly change their subject. It took him a moment to realize why Neville had asked him that; it was a diversion tactic so they would stop discussing his injury. He allowed it, as he wasn't eager to discuss it himself. "I was born on the ninth of January."

"What year?" Neville felt confident enough to look at Severus now that they had stopped discussing the injury.

"Nineteen sixty." Severus wondered about the sudden interest.

"That makes you thirty-eight years old," Neville mused in surprise.

"I look older?" Severus supplied, helping out.

"Yes, you do." Neville wondered if the harsh life Severus had led had altered him prematurely. He shifted closer to Severus and asked, "What is your favourite colour?"

"What is this?" Severus chuckled. "Your version of a pop quiz?"

"Humour me?" Neville really wanted to know those things. "Don't tell me it's black…"

Severus cocked his head and continued to chuckle. "Would that displease you?"

"You can't be that obvious," Neville offered apologetically.

"Actually, if you must know, my favourite colour is yellow."

"Yellow?" Now that did surprise him!

Severus decided to indulge him and explained. "Maybe not just yellow though. Do you know what the sun looks like when it rises after a long night of rain? The red, orange and gold that all mix together into one warm bath of light?"

Neville blinked. That had sounded rather poetic and he had never thought Severus capable of saying something like that. "I know what you mean."

Severus looked away from Neville and smiled at seeing Fang stretched out in front of the fire place. In a way, Fang's presence reassured him although he couldn't quite explain the feeling.

"Any favourite music?"

Ah, Neville still wanted to hear more? "None in particular. Never had time for it."

"Favourite food?" Neville wasn't giving up yet!

"Again, nothing in particular. I eat in order to sustain myself." Severus turned his head and studied Neville. Why the sudden interest in his personal life?

"But I do know you have a favourite blend of tea. Lady Grey, isn't it?" Each time Severus summoned tea, it was always Lady Grey.

"I must admit to a certain fondness regarding that one," Severus said and promptly summoned the hot drink. He was growing thirsty, especially since Neville continued to fire these questions at him.

"What's the new password?" Neville hoped Severus would tell him so he could still check on the older wizard.

"I told you just now, Mister Longbottom." Severus served his guest tea and then sipped himself. He wondered how long it would take Neville to realize what the new password was.

"Lady Grey?" Neville ventured.

"Ten points to Gryffindor." Severus smiled indulgently. "Now, may I suggest we play a game of chess and you give me a break regarding any questions you might still have?"

"A game of chess sounds good, but I do have one more question for you."

"Only one?" Severus asked in order to make sure. Neville nodded and Severus inclined his head. "Ask away then."

"When was the last time you celebrated your birthday?"

Severus shrugged. "I can't remember ever celebrating it." His birthday had never held any significance to anyone – not to his parents and certainly not to himself as he had repeatedly wished he had never been born. If it hadn't been for him, Lily and James would still be alive and Harry would have grown up with loving parents.

"You never..?" Neville stared at Severus in shock. "Not once? But surely, your parents—"

Severus cut him short though. "My parents never wanted me. My mother told me so repeatedly." She had actually cursed the day he had been born, now that he thought about it. Maybe that was why his life had been jinxed from the start. "My father wanted my mother to abort the pregnancy, but she refused because she wanted to spite my grandfather. I was a pawn in her game, which backfired on her as my grandfather disowned her."

Neville swallowed hard. Professor McGonagall had hinted at that, and Madam Pomfrey had confirmed it, but this was Severus himself telling him. He refused to back down now. "Did you ever meet your grandfather?"

"Reginald Prince? No, and neither do I wish to ever meet him."

Neville shivered at hearing the steel in Severus' voice. "He is still alive then?"

"He might be, but neither do I wish to find out, nor do I care. And yes, the same goes for my mother, Mister Longbottom. Now make up your mind; either we start that game or I shall ask you to take your leave, for I am done discussing my precious family."

Neville flinched, as Severus had spat those last two words in hatred. "We shall play Wizard chess then." As Severus uncovered the board and the pieces moved into place, Neville couldn't stop thinking about the things Severus had told him. The older wizard had said that he no longer cared about his family, but Neville had also heard the pain behind those words. Such rejection must have hurt Severus and had left scars – emotional scars. Again a small piece of the puzzle Severus represented moved into place.

/

Neville felt depressed when he made his way back to the dormitory. Something had changed tonight – the dynamics between Severus and him had changed. Severus had told him something very personal and Neville realized the trust he had been shown. But at the same time, he felt unworthy of that trust as he had pushed Severus into revealing those things.

"Neville?"

Neville blinked and looked around. He was back in the bedroom which he shared with Ron and Harry and hadn't even noticed arriving. "Sorry, I was lost in thought." He sat down on the window sill and looked aside, cringing when he noticed it had started to snow again. For Severus' sake he wished it were summer instead.

"What's wrong, mate?" Ron sat down on his bed and exchanged a puzzled look with Harry.

Harry however knew what was wrong. He had caught an echo of Severus' thoughts and doubted the older wizard was aware of that fact that his thoughts were still visible down the link. Harry was certain Severus would shield his thoughts otherwise.

"I talked to Severus earlier." Neville pulled his knees close to his chest and wrapped his arms around him. "I used to hate him, Ron, and never bothered to find out more about him. Did you, for example, know that he never celebrated his birthday? Not once? His parents never bothered and…" Why did that fact upset him that much?

Harry walked over to Neville and sat down opposite him. "There is a lot about Severus that we don't know, but he is letting us in little by little. Remember, telling you was hard on him."

Neville nodded. "I know that, but… Don't you think we can organize a little birthday party for him? We still have two months to come up with something. Something small though since he will boycott it otherwise."

Harry actually liked the idea. "I think you are on to something, Neville. We will throw him a little party." Neville was right though –they had to keep the number of guests limited or Severus might avoid attending. "Let me give it some thought, yes?"

"He also told me about his family." Neville looked at Harry. "We have both grown up without parents…Can you imagine having a mother or father who doesn't want you? Who tells you that they wanted you had never been born in the first place?"

Harry had been thinking about the same thing earlier. "Actually, that seems worse than having no parents at all."

"I can't imagine my parents not wanting me," Ron added. "I can't imagine them ignoring me or not giving me a birthday present."

"His mother was like that though." Neville recalled something else. "Severus never met his grandfather. He doesn't even know if his mother and grandfather are still alive. He says he doesn't care, but I don't believe him."

"Family is family," Harry mused. "I never liked my aunt Petunia, but she is my mother's sister and therefore family. Neville, don't. Don't suggest we find out about Severus' family. I honestly think that would do more damage than good."

Neville relented. "If you say so."

"So we are going to throw Snape a birthday party?" Ron mused. "I can provide entertainment. I am sure Fred and George got the right props for a party like that!"

Harry's first reaction was to tell Ron no, but then again, maybe it would do them some good – to be able to laugh again – to joke. "I want to know their plans first though." He wouldn't let them get away with everything!

"I will send an owl tomorrow." Ron felt pleased that Harry hadn't discarded his idea right from the start. "And Fred really wants to do something in turn for Snape saving his life that day. He will be grateful for being allowed to help."

Harry nodded again. He would keep an eye on the Weasley twins though!

/

It was rare for Severus to turn to Firewhiskey for comfort. In the past he had dealt with disturbing memories by locking them away and denying the emotional pain even existed. But things had changed; his life had changed, and ever since turning that key and opening the room which held most of his suffering, he had been unable to lock it again. Today's conversation with Neville had brought back certain memories, which he had assumed he had long dealt with. But apparently they still lingered on in the depths of his mind.

He recalled his mother's face only vaguely, as he had tried to obscure her memory from his mind. She had had black hair, he remembered that much, and her grey eyes had resembled ice. She had been thin and he distinctly remembered her long and sharp fingernails. They had often dug into his flesh whenever she had grabbed him. Being clawed in that way had hurt, but he had learned to ignore that pain. Ignoring the agony his father loved to inflict on him had been harder.

When his father had realized that his son was like Eileen he had lashed out. Severus had never wanted to use magic around his father, but it had happened – accidentally, and he had paid a terrible price for it. His father had beaten him within an inch of his life and had then locked him in the attic. He remembered sitting there for hours – in the dark, in the cold. When his father had finally allowed him to return to his room, he had found the furniture smashed to pieces.

Severus set aside the Firewhiskey, realizing the drink was only making it worse. He needed to find a way to handle his emotions. He couldn't afford to lose control. One of his worst fears had always been that he would turn out like his father. But thankfully he had never had any children. He would have rather died than continuing the circle of abuse his father had started.

"Severus, you are in need of company," Albus pointed out. "Sitting here by yourself won't make the pain go away."

Severus however dismissed the remark. "The last thing I want is to burden someone with my past."

"And that is the problem, isn't it? You are too used to reining it all in. Now that you opened the door, you need to talk about it."

"Talk to who? Harry? Never! Neville? Not in a million years! Minerva? You?"

Recognizing the darkening mood Severus was in, Albus answered him carefully. "I would suggest Remus."

"Remus?" Severus stared at Dumbledore's portrait in disbelief. "He has just become a father, Albus! Remus needs to be with his family."

"Do you remember that one time when Remus pulled you from that dark mood you were in? You mentioned walking up to the Whomping Willow and letting the tree kill you."

He recalled that incident. "The fact that Remus got through to me back then doesn't mean he can help me with this as well. And Albus, I don't want him or anyone else to know what happened back then."

"But that's the problem, Severus! Can't you see that you need to talk about it?"

"I am talking to you, am I not?" Severus glowered at the former Headmaster.

"Pig-headed, stubborn oaf!" Phineas called out. "Listen to us just once!"

Severus cringed; he hoped he hadn't started another argument. "Don't get involved, Black!"

"But Black's right! Even though I dislike admitting it," Vindictus said, standing his ground when Severus tried to stare him into submission. "Talk to Remus. If that doesn't work, that's fine, but at least give it a try!"

Severus looked at several of the portraits and found most of them nodded in agreement. If he wanted any peace tonight he would have to seek out Remus or they would go at him forever.

/

Remus stood in the doorway to their bedroom and watched Tonks and Teddy sleep. The two of them had curled up together and looked so comfortable that he decided to join them. He was about to turn in for the night when the knock on the door came. Surprised, he made his way over to the door and opened it. "Severus." He hadn't expected the Headmaster to call on him that late, especially since they had talked earlier that evening. But then he noticed Severus' distressed expression and the tension that made the other man stand ridiculously straight. "We need to talk," Remus realized at once, as he had instantly flashed back to that evening near the Whomping Willow. "Just let me get my coat." He had the strange feeling that they might end up near that damn tree once more.

Severus hadn't expected Remus to indulge him, especially since he hadn't even asked the other man to join him. Remus had decided to do so himself. A moment later, the werewolf stepped into the corridor and closed the door behind him. "You don't need to ward it. They are perfectly safe."

Remus nodded once and then grabbed Severus' shoulder. He steered him down the corridor. "What is wrong?"

"Nothing really. Voldemort is still dead. There are no Death Eaters around and no other threats I have noticed."

Remus knew Severus was trying to avoid discussing the real problem. "Want to go for a walk? Maybe it will help you clear your head."

Severus looked outside and realized it was still snowing. The temperature was probably still dropping and he would be cold, but then again, a walk sounded good. He opened the door, stepped into the courtyard, and suppressed the shivers that shook his body. He walked toward the graveyard and sat down on the bench there.

Remus wondered about Severus's odd choice of location, but decided to humour him and sat down next to him. "Care to tell me what this is about?" Why had Severus chosen to go to the graveyard? Severus seemed depressed as it was! "Is this because we asked you to be Teddy's godfather?" He had seen Severus in this sort of mood before, he realized, and back then he had thought he would prefer rage over such listlessness. He still did.

"That might have set it off," Severus admitted after drawing in a deep breath. He shuddered due to the cold. "I don't know how to be part of a family, Remus," he said, after dismissing addressing the other man as Lupin. He could no longer pull off distancing himself in that way.

Remus remained quiet, realizing Severus' needed to talk.

"My mother hated me and my father beat me up. Both told me they wished I had never been born. That's the person you want as your son's godfather. I will fail Teddy. I will fail your son like I failed Harry. I know I will. I wish you would reconsider, Remus. Ask Harry instead—or Neville, because I think both will do a much better job than me."

Remus thought the things over which Severus had just told him and knew much depended on his answer. "I am sorry your parents treated you like that. No child should have to live through neglect and abuse. Severus, I am a father now and I could never act in that way towards Teddy. It wasn't your fault what happened back then. Your parents are to blame for that, not you. Severus, when I look at Teddy, I only feel love for him. I want to show him that love and keep him safe. Severus, look at me, will you?"

Remus wasn't sure Severus would comply, but when the other man did look at him, Remus grew worried at seeing the tears, which dripped down his face. "You wanted that for Harry too, didn't you? You wanted to love him like your son. You protected him all those years. You are not like your father, don't ever think that!"

Severus wanted to avert his gaze, but found he couldn't. He clung to every word Remus said. It felt like being absolved for every wrong he had ever done.

"There will be times when neither I, nor Tonks, can look after Teddy, be it work-related or whatever. When that happens we need someone we can depend on to look after Teddy. We need someone we can trust. Yes, we trust Harry too, but he's only seventeen year old, in love for the first time, and still stuck at school. Severus, we decided on you because you saved our lives that night of the attack. You took care of that Death Eater, neither Tonks nor I saw him. Had he killed us, we would never have gotten the chance to hold Teddy in our arms again. Thanks to you, we will see Teddy grow up. And no, that's not the only reason we decided to ask you. When Voldemort attacked Hogwarts, you urged Tonks to get herself into safety. Severus, you care – it is as simple as that. You can deny it all you want, but you care about Tonks, Teddy, and me. You care about Harry, Hermione, Ron, Minerva, Poppy… Do I really need to continue? And you care about Neville, which rather surprises me, considering he cursed you like that." Remus felt he had finally gotten through to Severus and now wanted answers himself. "Care to explain that one to me?"

Severus wiped at his tears with his right hand, only to find they had frozen to his face due to the cold. He removed the shards of ice from his face and drew in a deep breath in an attempt to steady himself. Remus' speech had gotten the point across and he knew the werewolf had nailed his fears right down.

"Severus? Explain it to me. Why do you care about Neville that much?" Remus had seen Severus' expression grow vacant and had quickly addressed the wizard.

"It simply happened. Don't expect a profound explanation." Severus tucked his left hand deeper into his pocket as he had lost all sensation in it due to the cold. "After he found out that I had altered his memories… And he had seen mine in the pensieve… Things changed."

Remus smiled at hearing the caring tone. Severus might not realize it, but he obviously cared deeply about the young man. "Go on."

"He actually threatened to attack Kingsley because he thought they wanted to take me to Azkaban. He is oddly protective of me at times. I haven't figured out yet why."

Remus decided to rather listen than offer advice. "What else?"

"We play chess most evenings, but tonight was different. He stayed after you had left and started to ask questions."

"What kind of questions?" Remus asked when Severus stopped talking.

"He wanted to know my date of birth… My favourite colour… Personal things."

Remus smiled. Neville surely seemed interested in Severus. The young man was obviously looking for a father figure and it looked like Neville had decided Severus should be the one to take that place.

"He thought me older than thirty-eight. I decided not to ask him just how old he thought I was. He would probably have said fifty!" Severus chuckled softly, being fond of that memory.

It looked like Severus liked Neville in turn, Remus mused. Severus didn't have any children and he doubted the other man would ever get married and start a family of his own. Neville and Severus seemed a perfect match in that regard. Remus slowly and carefully rested a hand on Severus' shoulder, as the last thing he wanted was to take the other man by surprise. Severus shifted slightly upon the contact, but didn't pull away.

"You will do well being Teddy's godfather. You don't need to doubt yourself, Severus. Keep in mind that Tonks and I want you to be a part of this. We wouldn't have asked otherwise." Remus had never realized how alone and isolated Severus had been during all those years. I will do whatever I can in order to help you find your way back, he promised. I won't let you down – not this time. "We should move back indoors. I don't know about you, but I am freezing!" Remus got up from the bench and rubbed his arms in order to get warm. Severus however wasn't moving. "Severus? Come on now."

Severus was trying; his body merely refused to cooperate. He should have told Remus no when the other man had suggested going outside for a breath of fresh air, but as he hadn't wanted Remus to retract his offer, he had followed him outside. Now he was paying the price for that.

"Severus?" Remus leaned in closer and frowned upon seeing how still Severus actually sat. "Are you fine?" Apprehension swept through him. Something was definitely wrong here.

"I shouldn't have stayed out here that long. I don't do cold well these days." He might need help getting to his feet, but he would rather bite off his tongue than ask for it.

Remus suddenly remembered that Harry had told him about Severus' weakened condition and that he would never fully recover. Why hadn't he thought of it earlier? "I will give you a hand." He wrapped an arm around Severus and pulled him to his feet. Remus steadied the other man when he swayed. "Why didn't you say anything?"

"I am not in the habit of flaunting my weaknesses," Severus sneered. He hated needing the help, hated being that vulnerable. He wanted to pull away when Remus kept an arm wrapped around him, but he realized he would make a fool out of himself if he did. Remus having to pick him up from the ground would be even worse.

"Is it because of Nagini's poison?" Remus had never considered the possibility of Severus being permanently injured.

"You don't need to know what's causing this." Severus was afraid that if Remus knew the truth he would tell others, and eventually confirm Neville's suspicions.

Remus decided against feeling offended. Severus was overreacting and would calm down once he was indoors again. "Should I take you to Poppy?"

"No, no need for that. There's nothing she can do to begin with." He just had to remember he couldn't stay outside for that long. He watched Remus open the door with a non-verbal spell and felt relieved when warm air reached him. That was much better. He placed his right hand against the wall in order to support himself.

"Severus, there is no shame in accepting help when you need it," Remus pointed out to him. He understood that this was hard on Severus though. "I shall walk you to your office." He wondered if Severus would push him away or accept his support.

In the end, Severus realized he had no choice but to accept the help Remus was offering. Slowly, they made their way back to his office and Severus felt grateful that they encountered no one on their way over there.

Severus' left arm hung limply down his side and Remus worried about that. It wasn't normal. "Severus, I think we need to have an in-depth discussion regarding your current condition, but no, not tonight." He had seen Severus wanting to protest and had acted at once. "But we will have that discussion tomorrow!"

The Gargoyle immediately moved aside. Hogwarts adapted to its Headmaster's needs and the escalator appeared instead of the staircase. "Interesting," Remus remarked upon noticing it. "Bedroom?" he inquired when they stepped into the office. Fang immediately got up and headed toward them. Remus had seen the hound during his first visit that day and was grateful Severus wouldn't be alone that night.

"Turn right," Severus whispered and hoped the portraits would keep silent. They did, and he allowed Remus to guide him into the bedroom. The fire place in the corner instantly came alive and warmth started to spread through the room.

"Lets sit you down." Remus thought it best to announce his actions. He lowered Severus onto the bed and then looked about, wondering what to do. Severus would want him to leave, but Remus didn't feel comfortable leaving the wizard like that.

Severus had momentarily forgotten about Remus and tried to shrug out of his coat. The material had frozen and caused him to feel chilly. He barely noticed Remus assisting him with the numerous buttons.

Remus cringed at realizing that Severus' left arm remained motionless. He took care of the buttons, slid the coat down Severus' shoulders, and struggled to remove it because the arm refused to cooperate. "Are you sure you don't want Poppy to check on you?"

Severus blinked; had he really forgotten about Remus? "She can't help."

"Then tell me what will help." Remus hoped there was something he could do in order to help.

"I just need to get warm again." Severus had a hard time believing his eyes. Was Remus really removing his boots for him? "You don't need to do that."

"It's no bother," Remus said and placed the boots aside. As far as he could tell, Severus had regained control over most limbs – except for the left arm that was. "Come on, lie down." Severus complied and Remus collected as many blankets and quilts as he could possibly find. After covering Severus with them, he sat down on the side of the bed. Fang was giving Severus a concerned look and Remus tended to agree with the dog. Something was wrong with the wizard, and then he noticed the tremors which travelled down Severus' left arm in waves. It was a sight he was familiar with. He had seen those tremors and twitches whenever someone was kept under the Cruciatus curse. But no one was cursing Severus right now, so how… "Don't tell me this is because Neville cursed you in the Great Hall!" But it was the only logical conclusion he could reach!

"Don't tell him! Neville can never know!" Why did Remus have to figure it out? He turned onto his left side, hoping to contain the tremors that way as he was putting his weight on the twitching arm. "If I find out you told him then…" He didn't know what he would do then.

"Calm yourself!" Remus shook his head in wonder. "But how can that be?"

Severus closed his eyes and prayed for patience. "I had just returned from the dead, Remus. My body couldn't take it… Oh, I have been under the Cruciatus before, yes," he had seen the question in Remus' eyes. "It was Bellatrix' favourite curse and normally Neville casting it wouldn't have caused any damage, but I was exhausted that day."

"Is it contained to your left arm or…?" Remus tucked the blankets around Severus' form, realizing the importance of keeping him warm.

"So far, yes. I don't believe it will spread." He hoped not.

"Severus?"

He looked up because of the odd tone to Remus' voice. "What?" The look Remus gave him could only be described as peculiar.

"Promise to tell me off the next time I make a suggestion that will tamper with your health. I won't walk away because you can't go outside. I didn't know how bad you were. Had I known, I would never have suggested moving outdoors." Severus was about to dismiss his words, and so Remus quickly resumed talking. "I am serious. You need to take care of yourself! And I want to help."

"Noted," Severus said as he was too tired to continue their conversation. "Let me sleep then."

"I will." Remus stopped talking and watched Severus close his eyes and fall asleep. He waited for the wizard's breathing to slow down and then deepen before he checked on Severus' left arm. He was relieved to find that the tremors were lessening. It was a good thing tomorrow was Saturday because he planned to have several conversations that day – and most importantly, he was going to try to talk some sense into Severus so he would start to take his condition seriously!

/

The next morning found Remus still in the Headmaster's office. He had flooed Tonks an hour ago and had let her know where he was and why he was staying with Severus. Tonks had been understanding, much as he had expected. They had agreed to meet for breakfast in the Great Hall and to talk things over then. Thankfully it was a Saturday and he had no other commitments.

For most of the night, Remus had sat on the windowsill. Like Fang, who had stretched next to the bed, he had felt the need to stay close.

Severus stirred after the sun had already risen. The rays of sunlight moved into the bedroom and seemed to reach for the sleeping man, who looked surprisingly peaceful. Remus however though wasn't fooled; Severus had had several nightmares throughout the night. Most of them had been about Voldemort; Severus had repeatedly called out that name.

Years ago, when Harry had confided in him, Remus had tried getting to know Severus, but then he had had to leave because Tonks had been pregnant. This time around, he had the time to befriend Severus and while doing that, he planned on gaining Severus' trust. Severus had to talk about the things he had gone through during all those years, and neither Harry, nor Neville were the right person for Severus to talk too. They were students and Severus would never burden them in that way. Things would hopefully evolve differently, should he offer Severus a listening ear.

The portrait closest to the bedroom, which was that of Newton Scamander, suddenly called out, surprising the hell out of him. "Severus, wake up! It's time for breakfast and you can't afford to miss another meal. Professor Lupin, be so kind as to kick his arse should he remain in bed!"

Remus chuckled softly. He knew the portraits could speak and had the habit of getting involved; it seemed Severus had an army of babysitters in here! "Are you sure about that? He was awfully tired earlier."

"I am sure! Don't contradict me, young man!" Newton managed to turn his head in such a way that he could glare at Remus. "Wake him!"

"Newton, shut up!" Severus had woken the first time Newton had addressed Remus. He opened his eyes and wondered why he was buried beneath several blankets and quilts. Ah yes, he had been cold last night. He pushed the constricting fabric aside and sat up. It was a good thing that warmth countered the tremors. This morning found his left arm almost unaffected by tremors. Maybe he should stay indoors during the winter then!

"Good morning, Severus." Remus also noticed the absence of the tremors. "I would have let you sleep, but that one over there thought differently." He should try to ally himself with Severus so the portraits would become their mutual enemy. Remus suspected that Severus still thought in those terms.

Severus nodded and then placed his feet on the floor. He was still wearing his shirt and pants and was in a desperate need of a bath. "You didn't have to stay." He didn't make eye contact yet, as he wondered why Remus had decided to stay.

"I couldn't leave you alone – I worried, Severus. Actually, I still do." Remus still planned on having that conversation with Severus, but not right now. He could tell that Severus was too tired for that. "Now that you are awake, I shall join Tonks instead. Will we see you in the Great Hall for breakfast?" He got to his feet and stepped over Fang who took up most of the bedroom floor.

Severus nodded again. "I might run late though." He didn't particularly look forward to meeting them, but as Headmaster he had to put in regular appearances. Severus finally raised his gaze and watched Remus leave. A moment later, he heard the Gargoyle move back into place in order to seal the entrance. It was a good thing Remus didn't know the password, but then again there was always the chance Neville would tell him!

/

"I am sorry, love," Remus said upon joining Tonks and Teddy in the Great Hall. "But I couldn't leave Severus while he was like that." He kissed her and then sat down next to her. After quickly looking about, he realized that out of the students only Neville was still having breakfast. "Am I really that late?"

Tonks chuckled and shifted Teddy on her lap. "Yes, you are, but don't worry. The house elves won't start cleaning up until the last person is gone!"

"Good morning to you too, young man," Remus said and tickled his son's stomach. Teddy cooed and tried to grab his hand. "I am really sorry about last night," Remus repeated. "But I doubt you would have felt comfortable leaving Severus like that either."

"Was he really that bad?" Tonks knew her husband best. Remus would never ignore someone who needed his help – not nowadays, for Remus did regret not stopping his friends' bullying in the past.

"He could barely move due to the cold and then his left arm started to twitch. You know, the same way Neville's parents do before another attack takes them." Remus' gaze shifted toward Neville instead. "That Cruciatus curse should be banned for all eternity. It does too much nerve damage, Tonks."

"Maybe you should invite Neville to sit with us. He's the only student still in here. Why do you think that is? All other students left for Hogsmeade first thing in the morning."

"My guess is he is waiting for Severus – to make sure he is fine. Severus told me they have become friends."

Tonks frowned. "Now wait a moment, if Severus' arm is damaged because of someone cursing him…" She looked to her husband for confirmation.

"Yes, it was Neville. He cursed Severus in that weakened state. Severus doesn't want Neville to know that though."

"How…noble of him." Tonks wasn't sure it was the right thing to do. "What if Neville finds out by himself?"

"Severus suspects Neville already knows, but he refuses to confirm it. When we decided to come here, I never thought Severus could still be having health issues. I just assumed he would bounce back."

"That's understandable, Remus. But we forget that Voldemort had a penchant for torture too. We don't know if Severus' nerves weren't already damaged to begin with." Tonks raised her arm and waved Neville over to her. "Come sit with us!"

Neville wasn't sure he should, but they might know what was taking Severus! So he picked up his plate and tea – he had to pretend being there for a reason – and moved over to the teachers' table. He sat down next to Tonks and gave her a weak smile. "Morning," he said, feeling a tad insecure.

"I am surprised to still find you here," Tonks said and cradled Teddy against her. "I thought you would have long left for Hogsmeade."

Neville considered lying, but then again, lying had never gotten him far. "I am waiting for professor Snape to join us. I haven't seen him about all morning and I am worried."

Remus appreciated Neville's frankness. "Severus should join us any moment now. He woke rather late this morning."

"And you know that because…?" Neville couldn't help himself; he had to find out how Remus knew that.

"Because I sat with him through the night." Remus cringed and gave Neville an apologetic look. "I didn't understand that cold worsens his condition, so we went for a walk and eventually sat down. When we wanted to go back inside, he could barely move." Neville's face had gone pale during his explanation and Remus realized that the young man really worried about Severus. "He was fine when I left him this morning. His left arm had stopped trembling." Neville bit onto his bottom lip and Remus realized he had made a mistake. He had given Neville an opening to discuss the tremors.

"It's because I cursed him that day," Neville whispered. "Professor Snape won't confirm it and Madam Pomfrey won't admit to it either, but I can read between the lines. He was already weak to begin with and then I put him under the Cruciatus."

"Neville, you don't know for sure –" Remus started, but Neville interrupted him.

"I am not sure because no one will tell me! But I am not stupid, Remus! I watch my parents twitch like that each time I visit!" He was growing angry. He knew he shouldn't. but the guilt and worry he felt needed out. "I just want to know if it will get worse. I hate the fact that he barely has any control over his left arm, but I could handle that, knowing the curse won't spread to other parts of his body."

Remus sighed. "Severus told me that he doesn't think it will get worse. He believes it will stay like this."

"Something to be grateful for," Neville whispered angrily.

Fang barked loudly upon entering the Great Hall. Excitedly, he ran up to the teachers' table and tried to get Neville to pet him, having sensed the young man's anxiety.

Neville quickly composed himself as he didn't want Severus to see him upset. The older wizard would start asking questions if he did.

Severus knew something was wrong when he made his way over to them. As they sat huddled together, he forewent his own chair and sat down next to Neville instead. Instantly, breakfast appeared and a pot of his favourite tea. The silence that now descended onto the Hall worried him. Had they been discussing him and they didn't want him to know?

Tonks knew she had to do away with the risen tension. "Teddy, say good morning to your godfather." She lifted the toddler and promptly placed Teddy onto Severus' lap, blatantly ignoring the man's shocked expression.

Fang moved closer and tried to lick the child's face, but Severus reacted at once and told him no. "Lie down, Fang, or go chase rabbits for all I care." He moved Teddy closer to him and out of the hound's reach. Teddy was curious now that someone else was holding him and tried to climb onto Severus so he could get closer to the face. If he remembered correctly, the man holding him had interesting eyes!

Severus' protectiveness was exactly what Remus had expected to see. Tonks and he had had their reasons to pick Severus over Harry. It seemed they had been right to make that decision.

Severus suffered through being climbed on with as much dignity as he could muster. In the end, Teddy settled down on his lap and tried to undo the buttons on his cloak. The toddler's fingers however had a hard time even grabbing them. Realizing that his buttons distracted Teddy helped Severus relax. "Mister Longbottom, why are you still here? Everyone else went to Hogsmeade some time ago."

Remus and Tonks noticed the way Neville's expression changed upon being asked that. The young man tried to hide his concern, but failed in doing so. Neville didn't seem to notice that though.

"I would rather play Wizard chess with you, if you are game."

Severus saw right through the pretence and wondered how to deal with it. "You don't have to stay on my account, Neville."

"I like spending time with you…" Neville averted his gaze, as he wasn't sure how to handle the situation.

"I have company," Severus pointed out while trying to contain Teddy to his arms. The toddler was now trying to climb onto his shoulder. "Does he always have this much energy?" he asked Tonks.

She took pity on him and collected her son. "In the mornings, yes." Teddy would tire throughout the day though.

Severus reached for his tea, sipped, and then ate a bread roll. He cast an inquisitive look at Neville and realized he had hurt the young man's feelings – Neville felt rejected. "But you are always welcome in my rooms. You know that. If you want to call on me today, you may do so." The smile that surfaced on Neville's face surprised him. Was it really that easy to cheer Neville up?

"I will! I will even bring scones!" Neville knew he came across as too eager, but he didn't care.

Tonks looked at Severus and wasn't surprised to find an equally pleased expression on his face. Severus might try to push Neville away, but the truth was, Severus wanted the company as much as Neville did.

/

"Lady Grey." Neville watched the Gargoyle make way and quickly descended the staircase. He had been looking forward to this all day. When he entered the main office, he found Fang in front of the fire place. The hound didn't even bother looking up though. Severus was at the table, already waiting for him with his chess board out and tea ready. "I brought scones, like I promised!" he put down the plate and sat opposite Severus. Sitting close gave Neville a chance to study Severus. He had expected the older wizard to look tired, but found him alert instead. Actually, if anything, Severus looked rested. "You look well," he said in surprise.

"My life has changed, Neville. Instead of having to attend Death Eaters' meetings in order to extract information, I can rest. Not being cursed for a while makes a difference too." As expected Neville gave him a stunned look. "Do you really think that I suffered the Cruciatus for the first time when you cursed me? Voldemort and Bellatrix were particularly fond of it. There wasn't a Death Eaters' meeting when I wasn't cursed. It was the Dark Lord's way to make sure we continued to obey."

Neville knew Severus had told him that for a reason, but he wasn't sure what that reason was.

"The thing is, Neville, I am finally getting the opportunity to recover."

Neville nodded, but still wasn't sure what point Severus was trying to make.

"I finally get to enjoy moments like these – just sitting here, talking to you and having tea."

So the speech had been meant to reassure him? Neville wrapped his fingers around the tea cup. "Will your left arm continue to hinder you?" Had Severus overheard their conversation during breakfast?

"I shall be honest with you, Neville. Yes, it will. The tremors won't go away, but I also believe that they won't grow worse. It's something I can live with. It's a small price to pay for all the things I did in the past."

"You still haven't forgiven yourself for what you had to do, have you?" The revelation came suddenly, but Neville knew he was right when Severus averted his gaze.

"How do you expect me to forgive myself?" he muttered privately. "You are still innocent in many ways, Mister Longbottom. You wouldn't forgive me either if you knew about the things I did."

Neville knew he was treading on dangerous ground, but he couldn't ignore it. "You died, sir. Don't you think that was penance enough?" Severus gave him a strange look, one he failed to label.

Why did they always say that? Harry had used that one on him too. Didn't they understand that when he had come back to life, he had brought his demons back with him? "Death as a way of doing penance is overrated."

Neville couldn't believe Severus had said that. "You wanted to die, I get that, but…"

Severus then surprised himself by placing his left hand on Neville's arm and squeezing gently. "Don't try to understand me, Neville. I never managed that in the first place."

Neville realized something about Severus right then. The older man was lost and clung to his so-called crimes simply because it was something he could hold on to. If he wanted to change that, he had to give Severus something new he could anchor himself to. "Teddy," he said at once.

Severus frowned. "What do you mean?" How had they ended up discussing the toddler all of a sudden?

"You are his godfather; you accepted, didn't you?" Yes, this would work – maybe not right away, but in time. Neville was sure of that.

"Yes, they lured me into giving in." Severus still wondered why Neville had brought that up just now.

"That's good. It's a start!" Neville's thoughts raced. "And you are still Headmaster. You didn't like that at first, understandably, but you like it now, don't you?"

Severus was about to object to liking being Headmaster, when Albus coughed from inside his panting. A moment later, Phineas stirred as well and arched an eyebrow at him. If he told a lie now, the two of them would correct it for him. "Yes, Neville, I am growing more comfortable with the fact that I am still Headmaster." Much had to do with the way Hogwarts still responded to him, and knowing that the castle and the former Heads wanted him to hold that office.

"And you have friends here now. There's Remus and Tonks! And professor McGonagall! I think you are quite fond of Harry, Ron, Hermione and even Ginny too. Or am I wrong?"

Severus had no idea what Neville wanted to accomplish by telling him that, but he had one thing to add to that. "And I like you too. Don't forget that."

Neville actually grew a tad flustered. "And you like Luna and Madam Pomfrey." Yes, Severus would find ways to anchor himself to his new life, but it would take time. Luckily, they had plenty of that with Voldemort gone from their lives.

Severus finally caught on. Neville was trying to tell him that he had plenty to live for. Neville shouldn't concern himself with that as the young man had suffered more than his own share in life. Severus suddenly became aware of the fact that his hand still rested on Neville's and he was about to pull away when Neville acted first and curled his fingers around his hand instead.

Severus felt shaken to the core, although he couldn't explain why the touch unnerved him to such a degree.

"Please don't," Neville said, needing the contact in order to assure himself that Severus was still alive and that the older man had forgiven him for cursing him. For Neville knew he had been forgiven – a long time ago.

Severus nodded, but still wondered why it was that important to Neville. He indulged his student and allowed him to hold on to his hand. He had never felt comfortable with being touched. He could deal with a hand on his shoulder or Remus supporting him on their way to the office, but this was different—this was skin against skin.

Neville understood why Severus felt threatened and his heart ached because of it. Neville had grown up with his grandmother and without his parents, but his grandmother was a compassionate witch and she hugged him all the time. She always kissed him on his brow whenever they had to part and so touch came easily to Neville. Severus however had never experienced any of those things, Neville mused. Severus' father had beaten him and his mother had neglected him. The only touch Severus had ever known had been violent – his father hitting him or not being touched at all. Neville therefore tightened his hold on Severus' hand as he wasn't ready yet to let go.

Severus allowed it and endured. In the end, he even grew accepting of the touch, but never comfortable.

/

Severus roamed the castle later that evening to make sure all students had returned from Hogsmeade without suffering lasting damage due to the Weasleys' assortment of practical jokes. He then returned to his office and sat down close to the fireplace. The chess board was still out on his table. Neville and he hadn't played though.

Their whole conversation drifted into his mind again, finally fully realizing Neville's intentions that day. He felt flattered that his student worried about him and even cared enough to point out the good things in life to him, but Neville didn't know how much the darkness still affected him. Some shadows had never left – not even death had succeeded in doing that.

"Severus, you do know what date it is tomorrow?" Albus felt it best to draw Severus from his musings as the expression in those eyes continued to darken.

Severus rolled back his eyes and waited. "Pray tell me, what date is it tomorrow?"

"Remember, remember, the fifth of November…" Albus felt a pang of loss and wished Fawkes would return to Hogwarts. He had always had a weak spot for that phoenix.

Severus instantly knew what Albus was suggesting. "No, we are not having bonfires or anything like it. The students are still recovering from the attack and we don't want to set hem off and make them re-live it because of the fires and fireworks. I won't have it."

Albus was a bit surprised to hear such vehemence to Severus' voice, but understood why he was that protective of his students. "Life goes on, Severus, and the students always look forward to it. They have to be back from Hogsmeade at eight. You can arrange for the bonfires at nine and have them safely tucked into bed by ten, if that worries you."

"Don't you understand at all?" Severus got up, walked over to Albus' portrait, and shook his head. "Only weeks ago fifty-one people died. The shield charm we erected didn't last for long. The explosions were everywhere; in the sky and on the ground. Hogwarts burned, Albus."

"I know all that," Albus replied, growing frustrated with Severus' attitude. "What do you intend to do then? Cancel Christmas too? And how about Valentine's Day? Let's cut all fun from our lives and just be miserable?"

"That isn't fair and you know it!" Severus glared at the former Head. "It's just too early!"

"Severus, you already spent eighteen years in mourning… How many more years will you let slip through your fingers?" He wasn't sure how Severus was going to react to that, but he couldn't stop now. "Neville, that brave boy, told you to start living again, but you are too damn stubborn to do that. No, you cling to your pain instead. You let it shackle you! Severus, the time has come to move on. If you can't manage that now, you never will!"

Severus wanted to grab the portrait and tear it apart. If that didn't work he could still set fire to it or blast it into tiny pieces. Albus didn't have the right to say those things!

Although seeing Severus' silent rage, Albus maintained eye contact. "You have so much left to live for. It is what Lily would have wanted."

Severus closed his eyes in frustration. "You had to bring her up, didn't you?"

"It's the truth, Severus. Lily would want you to live."

The thing was, it was the truth— even Severus couldn't deny that. "Nothing major though… Small bonfires, and we will keep the firework to a minimum too." He hoped he wasn't making a mistake, as he didn't want his students to flash back to that attack. "We will meet in the Great Hall at eight thirty and they will have a choice whether to attend or not. If they wish to go to their common room instead, they will be able to do so. I will not spring this on them, Albus."

"Never stop caring about them, Severus," Albus said, deeply touched that Severus worried about his students to such a degree. "You make a very fine Headmaster. You do know that, don't you?" But looking into Severus' eyes, he caught an echo of the man's thoughts and knew Severus still didn't believe it.

/

"Mister Weasley, I would like a word with you." Severus had caught Ron in the corridor and ignored the startled look the young man was giving him.

Ron made his way over to Snape and wondered what he had done to earn the Headmaster's attention! After all, he had behaved and had returned in time for curfew last night! Snape couldn't pin him with anything!

"Do try to look less horrified," Severus quipped; he couldn't help feeling amused. Even though Ron knew the truth about him, the Gryffindor tended to relapse regarding his behaviour and would turn into a first year upon sight of him.

"Sorry, sir." Ron looked about and didn't like the fact that it was just the two of them.

"I trust you will be heading into Hogsmeade today?"

Ron nodded. "I am going to see Fred and George, yes." And then, he forget about the apprehension that had flooded him a moment ago, remembering that Snape had saved his brother's life.

"I was wondering if you would run an errand for me." Severus handed Ron a piece of parchment. "I am sure your brothers carry the items I wish to purchase." Severus noticed that the way Ron was looking at him had changed: the apprehension was gone.

Ron studied the list and arched an eyebrow. "Are you sure these are the things you want?" Fred and George sold all kind of fireworks and could easily supply Snape, but why would the older wizard want to buy such things in the first place?

"Deliver those items to professor Flitwick at seven. Yes, I am aware that cuts short the time you can spend in Hogsmeade, but the professor needs to prepare for tonight's show."

"Show, sir?" Ron wondered what the hell was going on.

"You do remember what day it is today, don't you, Mister Weasley?" Severus arched an eyebrow at his student.

Ron knew what day it was, but he had never thought Snape would celebrate it. "It's the fifth of…" And then he caught on. "We are going to celebrate it? With bonfires and fireworks? We talked about it earlier, during breakfast, but we thought you wouldn't want to celebrate… We were rather hoping you would, sir – the students, that is."

"Hurry up then. If you don't return with the fireworks in time, then…" Severus didn't have to finish, as Ron was already running down the corridor.

/

Neville Longbottom is in his common room, Headmaster.

Severus still wasn't sure if he was doing the right thing by allowing the celebrations to continue, but now that Ron knew what would happen, eighty percent of the students and inhabitants of Hogsmeade would find out too. He apparated into the Gryffindor common room and chuckled at seeing Neville's startled expression. "I reckon you weren't expecting me?"

"I wasn't," Neville replied and put down the book he had been reading. "I am not complaining though."

Severus inclined his head and sat down on the sofa next to Neville. "I was wondering if you would help me out." Severus wondered once more about the comfortable feeling between the two of them. He trusted Neville, and it seemed that the feeling was mutual.

"Help out with what?" Neville felt excited. He had never expected Severus to seek him out and ask for his assistance.

"I plan to celebrate the fifth of November tonight with some small bonfires and harmless fireworks. I put professor Flitwick in charge of the fireworks, but I still need help with the bonfires. I want to ask Hagrid to help too, since he is at home."

"We could also ask Remus, sorry, professor Lupin!"

"I am not sure we should. He has a family to look after."

"I am sure Tonks wants to help too."

Severus sighed and gave in. "I will ask them. I will meet you at the rim of the Forbidden Forest in thirty minutes. Do not enter it though."

"I will be good," Neville chuckled lightly, enjoying the new sense of comradely between them.

/

"We did a fine job, if yer ask me!" Hagrid felt pleased looking at the four bonfires they had managed to erect. They were rather small, compared to last year's, but the half-Giant understood why the Headmaster had made that particular request.

Severus shivered. Although most of the snow had melted during the day and the sun was out, he was growing chilly. He should return indoors, but didn't want to leave his friends behind.

It was Tonks who finally broached the subject. "Severus, should you be out for this long? It is rather cold." She had left Teddy in her rooms, after two house elves had assured her that they would look after her son.

Severus hated admitting it though. "You are probably right. I am getting cold." Neville walked over to him at once and gave him a worried look. "I am fine!"

Neville however noticed that Severus had tucked his left hand into a pocket. He realized that whenever Severus did that, he suffered from tremors. "Go back, please, and get warm. We will finish up here and then join you."

Severus arched an eyebrow at Neville trying to order him about. He was about to mention that he was Headmaster here and not Neville, when he sensed some of the young man's concern. Neville's worry had made him say that. "Fine," he hissed and apparated back to his office.

"He is still a bit of a grouch, isn't he?" Remus said, but then chuckled softly.

Neville shrugged. "He is not yet comfortable with looking after himself. He tends to neglect himself."

Tonks nodded. "Thankfully Severus has you to keep an eye on him." She winked at him. "Severus needs someone like you."

Her words made him grow flustered, but Tonks was right, Neville mused. As long as Severus refused to take care of himself, someone else had to do it.

/

The one thing Severus hadn't taken into consideration was that he had to address the gathered students. Standing in the Great Hall like that painfully reminded him of the way he had threatened his students in case they withheld information regarding Harry Potter's whereabouts. A nauseating feeling twisted his stomach and he called on every ounce of his discipline to pull him through.

This is different, Harry sent down the link as he had picked up on Severus' terror. I am standing right in front of you and the Carrows are gone. You have every right to stand where professor Dumbledore stood. You are Headmaster because Hogwarts wants it that way, and truth be told, we want that too.

Severus drew in a deep breath and fought for composure. He looked at Harry and nodded. Thank you for that. Now he might be able to do this. "As you know it is the fifth of November, a day which is traditionally celebrated with bonfires and fireworks. After conferring with your former Headmaster, professor Dumbledore, I decided to keep up that tradition." As expected, most students started to whisper. He had hoped that mentioning Albus would do the trick. He waited for them to grow quiet again and then continued. "So we will light bonfires this evening and professor Flitwick agreed to orchestrate the fireworks."

You don't need to be nervous… Don't be scared!

In one way, Harry's reassurances helped, but at the same time, they also distracted him. Severus forced himself to appear calm, although his emotions raged on the inside. He wasn't sure he could continue – wasn't sure he could do this. Holding this speech painfully reminded him of the way he had terrorized his students.

That's in the past. Don't do this to yourself. Things are different now. Voldemort's dead.

Severus reminded himself that Harry was right, but it still didn't help much. "I want you to know that you are under no obligation to take part in the celebrations. If you prefer to go to your common room or dormitory please do. I am aware of the fact that we suffered an attack only weeks ago and that we lost loved ones that night…" He had to pause as he didn't trust himself to continue. Once he had managed to compose himself –somewhat- he added, "Let me assure you that they will never be forgotten. They will live on in our hearts." Students and staff remained quiet, and for once, Severus wished they would start talking, or yell, for all he cared. The silence was getting to him. "If you wish to celebrate the fifth of November, please follow professor Flitwick outside. And remember, you are under no obligation to do so."

He was surprised to find that Minerva had moved closer to him. He gave her a quick look and noticed the tears that dripped down her face. "What is wrong?" he asked with concern. Minerva wasn't one to cry easily and certainly not in public.

"We needed to hear that, Severus – all of us. I didn't realize it until now. It's not just the students that still have nightmares, many of the staff have them as well. Thank you for giving everyone a choice."

Severus hadn't thought it would mean that much to her, but apparently he had been right to offer everyone a choice. He almost patted her arm, but wasn't sure his touch would be welcome. Instead, he looked at the students and found that they were following Filius out of the Hall. None of them had stayed behind or was making their way to their common rooms. He hadn't expected that.

"Are you joining us, Severus?" Remus asked, as he had taken it upon himself to keep an eye on Severus now that they were heading outside.

"I will," Severus replied thoughtfully.

"Make sure you dress warmly," Remus whispered.

Severus transfigured a warm cloak, a scarf, and extra thick gloves. "Does this appease you?"

Remus smiled, but it was a sad one. "It will do, but I want you to let me know the minute the cold starts to affect you."

Severus narrowed his eyes. "Don't tell me you are volunteering to babysit me. Neville might not like it." He had long noted the young man waiting near the doorway.

Remus now noticed it too and chuckled – this time, with mirth. "I wouldn't dare interfere! Neville's wrath would be terrible to behold." They walked toward the doorway. "I am surprised you are letting him get away with it."

"He feels guilty, Remus. Spending time with him and trying to talk him into letting go of that guilt is all I can do."

Tonks appeared at Remus' side, took his arm, and moved closer. "He knows it was his curse that damaged the nerves in your arm, Severus. Sooner or later, you will have to tell him."

"Not yet, Tonks… He is still too vulnerable." Severus moved away from his teaching staff and headed toward Neville instead. The two of them fell into pace and followed the students outside. Hagrid was already lighting the first bonfire and flames rose against the dark skies.

"I am surprised you are allowing this," Neville admitted softly. "We hoped you would let us celebrate with bonfires and fireworks, but we weren't sure. Not until Ron told us about the errand you had sent him on. Then we realized what would happen tonight."

"You approve then?"

Neville knew that Severus was asking if the students in general approved and not just him. "Yes, we do. We were looking forward to tonight, but we weren't sure you would allow it."

Severus had misjudged them then. "I was afraid that the bonfires and fireworks would remind everyone of the attack. I don't want anyone to suffer because of that."

"That does you credit," Neville said, more firmly this time. "Does this mean we will also celebrate Christmas?"

"Have you been talking to Albus' portrait?" Severus quipped.

"No, but that would have been the next logical thing for you to do – to cancel Christmas. We need those festivities though. And it's like you said – everyone who died that day will always be in our hearts." Neville cringed, suddenly realizing that there had been another death that day. Severus however hadn't stayed dead and then the weakened wizard had been cursed – just minutes after returning from the dead.

Severus came to a halt and watched Filius launch the first round of fireworks. He had to admit the Charms professor was good at that. There was only one thing missing and that was Fawkes, the phoenix. Severus however doubted they would ever see the mystical creature again.

/

Later that evening, Severus wondered why everyone had gathered in his office. Minerva, Poppy, Tonks –who had collected Teddy from the babysitting house elves- Remus, Filius, Harry, Ron, Hermione and Neville, of course, were having tea and chatting away. Fang was moving from person to person in the hope of being fed treats. Severus was lucky; so far no one had claimed his favourite chair near the fireplace and he quickly sat down, wishing he could hide in shadows, but unfortunately that wasn't an option anymore.

"Severus, can you hold Teddy for a while? He's asleep and will be good."

Severus was about to object, but Tonks moved too fast and a moment later, Teddy was cuddling up to him.

"Thanks!" Tonks winked at him and then joined her husband.

This had to stop! He was Headmaster here and yet everyone was starting to order him around! His frustration however melted away when Teddy grabbed hold of a finger and used the hold to pull his hand closer. Severus held his breath as he wasn't sure what to do. Teddy however felt perfectly comfortable and snuggled up to him. Severus took heart and gently stroked the baby's head. He was once more reminded of holding Harry back then and wondered what it was with him and babies.

"Teddy likes you," Harry stated as he sat down on the windowsill next to Severus' chair. "Just look at him! He's totally relaxed!"

"And drooling on me," Severus deadpanned. "You drooled on me too back then."

Harry laughed, but softly, as he didn't want to wake up Teddy. "That's what babies do! At least, Ginny keeps telling me that. I reckon the Weasley family has more than enough experience in that field."

"How are things between the two of you?" Severus continued to stroke the baby's head and found it oddly relaxing to do so.

Harry blushed. "Well, there are couples forming all over, don't you think? Ron is in love with Hermione… Neville likes Luna, and I… I like Ginny that way."

"Did you tell her yet?"

"Yes, and she feels the same way." Harry watched Severus and noticed the way the older wizard kept his arm protectively wrapped around Teddy. He wondered what would have happened had Severus refused to give him up that night and had somehow managed to keep him and raise him. But playing the 'what if' game never worked. "I am happy that you are happy," he said eventually as Severus' deep sense of contentment made it down the link.

"You can shut it down," Severus reminded him. "You did so when you walked into the Forbidden Forest that day."

"Did I manage to shut it down? Tonks mentioned that you woke twice; when I died and when I came back to life."

"I think you can seal it off." Severus had given the matter some thought. "Would you like to try tomorrow?"

"I am not sure I want the link gone. I have grown used to it and I have learned to filter your thoughts so I can respect your privacy. It's only when you are extremely distressed that I can't lock them out."

"Like when I addressed the students in the Hall tonight."

"Yes, I knew what you were going through and tried to help."

"Thank you for that." Severus looked about the office and realized everyone was comfortable and chatting. When Albus had still been Headmaster his office had been off limits mostly.

"Filius, my good friend, you did a great job with those fireworks!" Albus said, complimenting the Charms professor, who merrily waved at him. "But go for a more spectacular show next year, will you?"

"I will do my best," Filius promised with a smile.

"Severus, you are a natural!" Albus grinned and winked at the current Headmaster. It pained him that Severus had been forced into a solitary life and that any hopes of him starting a family of his own were practically non-existent. But he was happy that Severus was able to enjoy being Teddy's godfather.

"He is drooling on you, Snape!" Phineas shook his head disapprovingly.

"The Headmaster's office has become a nursery!" Vindictus added in an amused voice.

Severus however ignored them. He savoured holding Teddy and couldn't be bothered.

/

Severus felt relieved and bereaved at the same time when his guests took their leave. He had grown used to hearing them chatter and having Tonks collect Teddy made him feel empty-handed, for he had enjoyed holding the baby. Neville however hung back and didn't leave with the rest – not that Severus had expected the young man to leave just yet. He had the feeling that Neville wanted a word with him in private.

"All four Houses asked me to thank you for the celebration tonight. The Prefects asked me to tell you that."

"I am pleased to hear they liked tonight's celebrations." Severus hadn't been sure if giving into Albus had been the right thing to do. Apparently it had worked out though, for which he felt grateful.

"Can I stay and talk to you or would you like me to leave?" Severus didn't look tired and as far as Neville could tell his left arm was fine too. He hadn't seen any tremors yet.

"You can stay." Severus got to his feet though and walked about the office as he needed to stretch his legs. He went to his desk, poured tea, and then sat down behind it. Fang had followed him, although he hadn't even left the room. "I never knew you were a guard dog," he said jokingly. The hound however didn't react to the teasing tone.

Neville's gaze had followed Severus through the office and because of that, he noticed that something had changed. He walked into the right hand corner and blinked. "Isn't that the experiment you had in your rooms?" He noticed that the framed picture had also made it into the office, but it was still tucked away beneath a shelf, which made it hard to spot.

Severus got to his feet and joined Neville. "Yes, it is. Now that I have more time, I decided to work on it again. I might find the solution to our problem now that I am finally able to focus." He had re-read his notes and had started brewing all over again. "I have not given up."

Neville swallowed hard, growing nervous all of a sudden. "Do you really think there is a chance I might talk to my parents one day?"

"I hope so. I promise you to do anything within my power to create a potion that will work." He prayed he would succeed for he wanted Neville to finally get to know his parents. "I will do my best." Hesitantly, and not sure what was making him do it, he rested his right hand on Neville's shoulder and briefly squeezed it. Then he abruptly turned around and sat down behind his desk again. "Didn't you say you wanted to ask me something?"

Neville's head still reeled from Severus' assurances and the unexpected, but very welcome, attempt to comfort him. "I want to talk to you about what will happen after I graduate." He walked up to the desk and remained standing in front of it. "Graduation is only seven months away and I have been thinking about the rest of my education."

"What would you like to do?" Severus transfigured a comfortable chair for Neville, and the young man promptly sat down. He was surprised that Neville wanted to discuss this with him instead of Minerva who was Head of his House. He should be discussing this with her.

"I would like to study Herbology."

Now, that shouldn't surprise him. Severus knew about the young man's interest in that field. "And eventually become a healer or…?"

"I think I would like to teach one day." Neville carefully studied Severus' expression and wondered when the older wizard would realize his future plans.

"Teach?" Severus frowned. "But then again, I think you will do well whatever career you choose." Neville would never bully his students; he would care for them instead. Yes, now that he was thinking about it, the choice seemed to suit Neville.

"At Hogwarts," Neville added as Severus didn't seem to catch on. "I would like to teach at Hogwarts one day. Professor Sprout keeps mentioning wanting to retire in a few years, so…"

"You thought you could take her place!" Severus laughed; Neville's scheming impressed him. He hadn't thought Neville would plan that far ahead. "And since you are friends with the Headmaster you count on me to secure that position for you? That is rather shameless, Mister Longbottom."

"Hopefully by then, I will be professor Longbottom." Neville chuckled along, happy that Severus seemed to approve of his plans.

"I will see what I can do, although your timing must be impeccable for that plan to work. I can't dismiss Pomona just so you can secure her position."

"I am sure it will work out, sir." Severus' reaction rather encouraged Neville to carry on with his plans. "You do realize you will be stuck with me for the rest of your life?"

"I can always resign as Headmaster," Severus quipped, but he was only joking and Neville knew that.

"Hogwarts wouldn't let you!"

"You are probably right, Neville. I can't understand its fondness for me though."

Neville stayed quiet; he understood why Hogwarts wanted Severus Snape as its Headmaster. Because you are probably the bravest man I ever met.

Severus hadn't intended to read Neville's thoughts, but the young man was practically screaming them at him, and so he caught their echo. The bravest man he had ever met? Severus Snape? He had never thought of himself as brave before and wondered why Neville thought of him in that way.

/

Severus made his way into the Great Hall the next morning. He had slept rather peacefully and had woken feeling rested. He sat down, poured tea, and decided to have bacon and eggs, as he was hungry. He sensed Minerva's surprise at him having an appetite, but he ignored her. He focused on the Gryffindor table instead where he found Harry, Neville, Ron, and Hermione eating breakfast. Neville gave him a quick smile, but then continued his conversation with Harry. Severus still hadn't figured out why Neville thought of him as brave. He had only done what had needed to be done.

Speaking of something that needed to be done, he caught Poppy's gaze. She arched an eyebrow in surprise. He raised an arm and beckoned for her to join him. Since the chair to his left was empty she sat down and gave him a puzzled look.

"Severus, are you not well?" Why else would he call her over during breakfast? "Is your arm troubling you?" But his left arm seemed fine. He didn't tremble in the least!

"I want to know if you have given the matter some thought – becoming Head of Slytherin House, that is." Severus looked at Horace, who was sitting next to Poppy. The wizard looked up, but didn't seem surprised. He actually seemed to applaud the idea, just like Severus had expected. Horace had never wanted to be Head to begin with.

Poppy had thought it over, but as Severus hadn't mentioned it again, had not considered it in depth. "I am not sure I am the right person for that job, Severus."

"I think you are the only right person for that job, Poppy. You care for the students, even for the Slytherins." He knew that he couldn't talk her into it. She would only accept the position if she really wanted to do it.

Poppy thought it over. She knew why he had asked her, and she realized the necessity for someone to take on that responsibility, but she wasn't sure if she was right person to do it. Looking at Severus, she remembered the eleven year old boy that had shown up at the Hospital Wing, sporting bruises and bruised ribs. Horace had sent him there, but that was all the Head had ever done for Severus. Poppy hat been the one to look after Severus and she had tried to help him when Horace pretended being too busy to help the boy. She had even called Horace on it, but he had been in the middle of dining with his 'club' and had dismissed her worries.

Severus remained quiet, but watched Poppy closely. He was sure that, had she been Head of Slytherin House back, she would have taken action. She wouldn't have ignored him, like Horace had.

"I will do it," Poppy said eventually. "I only hope you won't regret your decision. I was never Head of a House before."

"You will do great," Severus said, feeling terribly relieved. "I will tell Slytherin House the good news after their last class." The students might find the change of Head odd, but Severus suspected they would also be relieved and welcome Poppy with open arms. Since Horace had overheard their conversation Severus wouldn't bother with a personal conversation. He had never really forgiven Horace for looking the other way back then.

"And will you now answer my question, Severus? How are you today?" She wasn't going to allow him to sidetrack her!

"I am fine, Poppy, truthfully. I got a good night's sleep, and as you can see, I am eating."

She had noticed. "And your arm?"

"As long as I stay warm, I am fine. See?" He reached for the tea and poured some into a cup left handed. "Barely anything wrong with it today."

"Today," she repeated, knowing the tremors could return at any given moment. "Remember to dress warmly whenever you go outside."

"I did so last night, didn't I?" Her mothering should annoy him, but it didn't. "I promise to tell you when something changes."

Poppy looked at him – really looked at him – and realized he was serious. Apparently Severus Snape had finally grown tired of hiding!

/

As expected, Slytherin House welcomed the change of Head. The majority of students seemed relieved to hear that Madam Pomfrey was taking over and that professor Slughorn was merely teaching Potions for the remainder of the school year.

Now that he had dealt with that, Severus started his way back to his office, deciding against apparating. He felt rested and wasn't going to drain himself unnecessarily.

"Headmaster?"

Severus halted in his tracks. That voice did sound familiar. He turned around and looked at the Hufflepuff who had asked him to restore the Quidditch pitch. "Miss Cornfoot, isn't it?"

"Yes, Eliza Cornfoot, sir!" She gave him a blinding smile and walked up to him. "I read that the Quidditch try outs will be held on Friday. Thank you for that."

"It was my pleasure, Miss Cornfoot," Severus said, inclining his head toward her. However, she remained in place and he realized she wasn't done yet. "Is there anything else you want to tell me, Miss Cornfoot?"

"The bonfires and fireworks were amazing. I want to thank you for organizing the celebrations."

"As I said before, it was my pleasure, Miss Cornfoot." The girl continued to stare at him though. "Is there more?" He couldn't help growing amused. Her manner reminded him of Luna.

"I was wondering about Christmas. We will deck the Great Hall and put up trees, won't we?"

Severus chuckled. "Yes, we will celebrate Christmas too, Miss Cornfoot." Why was everyone obsessing about him cancelling Christmas? He wasn't fond of the feast himself, but he had no reason to ruin the festivities for the students – at least those who would remain at Hogwarts for the holidays.

"Headmaster?"

Severus arched an eyebrow when she gestured for him to bend down to her. Indulging her, he did, and was stunned when she kissed him on his cheek.

"Thank you!" Eliza then turned around and quickly ran down the corridor.

Severus straightened again. Well, he hadn't seen that one coming! How could he have?

"I think you got yourself an admirer, Severus!" Severus spun around and the sudden action made Remus chuckle. "That was quite a brave act, to actually kiss you!" He had seen most of the exchange, but had chosen not to show himself, as he had been curious to find out what would happen. The girl's action had surprised him as well, but not nearly as much as it had Severus judging by the looks of it.

"I wonder what made her do that." Severus shook his head.

"It appears to me that you made her very happy – first organizing the Quidditch try outs and then allowing for the celebrations last night." Remus walked up to Severus. He had the feeling Severus was surprising himself with his current actions. Maybe they were finally seeing the real Severus Snape – a man who had been forced to hide his real personality for almost two decades. "I just taught my first Defence class," he updated Severus. "First years! Those, I can still teach things, but I have no idea what to do when Harry's class shows up."

"They will think of something," Severus said. "Don't worry about it. But if I can make one suggestion –don't do the Boggart exercise. I don't want to know what their Boggarts look like and neither do you."

"I had already thought of that," Remus confirmed. "Severus, would you like to come to my quarters for tea, of even some Firewhiskey, tonight?"

Severus frowned. "Any special reason?"

Remus grew exasperated. "Why should we need a special reason to invite our son's godfather? Severus, we want to get to know you – spend time with you – and Teddy likes you. You must have noticed!" Severus wanted to scowl, but Remus recognized the signs and spoke instead, "Don't you dare bring up Harry again! No, Harry isn't the better choice and you know it! I am going to hex you if you mention it ever again!"

"Hex me?" Severus laughed. "Hex Hogwarts' Headmaster? I would like to see you try that."

Remus cocked his head. "Well, you are Teddy's godfather. I should keep you in one piece." A year ago, Remus wouldn't have believed himself capable of joking with Severus like that, and now… Now he felt like he was quickly gaining a very good friend.

/

Tonks watched Teddy with growing mirth. Her son had grabbed hold of Severus' coat and refused to let go. "Teddy, it's time to get some sleep. Uncle Severus will be back tomorrow, but you have to let go now."

Severus froze – uncle Severus… That was odd. He had never thought he would one day be called that. "Teddy," he said, focusing on the imp. "You really need to listen to your mother." He gently removed the tiny hands from the buttons the baby was still trying to undo and handed him to Tonks.

"You should change your outfit, Severus. One of these days Teddy will find out that ripping them off is fun," she warned him.

A new set of clothes? But he only possessed high-necked white shirts, black buttoned down coats, and his old teaching robes. He was actually fond of his attire, thank you!

"Tonks made a point there, Severus. Don't you have anything but black in your wardrobe?" Remus couldn't recall ever seeing Severus wear anything but black.

"Actually, I don't."

"Why? Why don't you own anything but black clothes? And those high-necked shirts?" Remus was curious.

Severus shrugged. "When Voldemort was still alive he would often summon me. Death Eaters' meetings weren't pleasant affaires, Remus. I often returned to Hogwarts covered in my own blood. Black hides blood stains the best. And the high-necked shirts hid most of the bruises I often carried away."

Remus swallowed hard as he hadn't thought of that. "Is that the only reason though?" He had the feeling there was more to it.

"After Lily's death…" Severus struggled with the words and had to stop. Tonks returned and sat down next to Remus. He hoped that meant their conversation had come to an end, but he was mistaken.

"You were saying…?" Remus wasn't going to allow Severus to avoid answering him.

Damn the werewolf for making him say it! "After Lily's death I felt like all colour had faded from my life. People wear black when they are in mourning, don't they, Lupin?"

In the past, Remus would have heard a threat, but these days, he only heard the pain in Severus' voice. "A mourning period of eighteen years..." he mused. And Severus still wore black.

"I caused her death – hers and her husband's. I don't think…" Severus stopped talking as he had already revealed too much.

"That you can ever forgive yourself?" Tonks hoped Severus wouldn't lash out at them, as she could see the pain he was in. But Severus remained calm, something she hadn't expected.

"I don't deserve forgiveness for what I did, Tonks." Severus slowly got to his feet as he didn't want to continue their conversation.

"I believe you do," Tonks said in a calm voice. She remained seated, not wanting Severus to feel cornered. "After all, you died to make up for your mistakes."

And again… Why kept they bringing that up? "As I told Neville, death was hardly punishment for me. I wanted to die, Tonks." He turned around, headed for the doorway, and said, "I will see you at breakfast tomorrow." Then he stepped into the corridor and closed the door behind him.

Tonks snuggled up to Remus and rested her head against his shoulder. "Survivor's guilt in its purest form."

Remus agreed. "How do we deal with that?"

"We give him time, love. I have the feeling a lot of people are trying to get through to him – in the end, someone will succeed and then Severus will finally be able to let go of his past. Until then, we support him to the best of our ability."

"In the past, I never worried about Snape, but these days, I worry a lot about Severus."

"So do I, love," Tonks assured him. "But I am also confident he will come out of it stronger. All he needs is time."

/

The approaching storm still gains in strength, Headmaster. It carries winter with it. Snow, hail, and terrible gales make up its core. It will reach Hogwarts in the evening. I will take all possible precautions in order to protect the students, but they should remain indoors at all time.

Severus watched the storm, which was building in the distance. It travelled slowly and would cover Hogwarts for hours, maybe even the entire night. I shall address the students after lunch and tell them to stay inside. Lock down the castle so no one ventures outside by mistake. He had just returned from having breakfast and most students were attending classes. The only ones outside were a fifth year Hufflepuff class and Hagrid would keep a sharp eye on them. He would cancel all afternoon outdoor classes though. Keep me posted and alert me should our situation dramatically deteriorate.

Yes, Headmaster, I will let you know at once.

Severus continued to look outside. Like Hogwarts he felt the threat grow stronger.

/

"Therefore, you will stay indoors. All outdoor classes are cancelled. Instead, you will use your time to study in the library. I repeat, you are not allowed to venture outside. Hogwarts will lock itself down in order to make sure the castle suffers as little damage as possible. Stay close and keep an eye on each other. I know that students tend to stay close to members of their own House, but also keep an eye on everyone else. If you notice anything out of the ordinary, report it to one of the teachers. If you find one of your friends missing, tell me at once. I will stay in the Great Hall today, so everyone who wants to talk to me will know where to find me. Do not underestimate this storm. I would hate having to search for you in that blizzard."

Severus wasn't sure how his words would be perceived. He had little experience in delivering such speeches. He didn't feel as apprehensive as he'd had on the fifth of November, but he still felt ashamed whenever he had to address them.

You are doing this because you care for them. You are acting like a Headmaster should. You did well!

Severus searched for Harry in the crowd and discovered him right in front of him. Harry smiled encouragingly and Severus inclined his head in his direction to show he had heard. "The Prefects will report to their Head of House before nightfall to make sure everyone is accounted for. And Slytherin House, remember to report to Madam Pomfrey, since there has been a change of Head." He noticed that the other three Houses started to talk at hearing that. Listening close, he heard that Slughorn wasn't popular at all and that even Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, and Hufflepuff agreed on the change. "You are dismissed. Return to your classes."

Severus however noticed that two students remained behind. He wasn't surprised at all. "Is there anything I can do for you, Mister Potter? Mister Longbottom?"

"Not really," Harry said and continued to smile. "I just want to say that I am glad you are warning us. I know of several students who wanted to do some Quidditch practice today."

"Trust me, Mister Potter. Once that storm hits no broom will be able to stay in the air." At hearing that, Harry nodded and gave him another cheeky look. Then the youngster turned around and left for class. Neville however remained in place. "Mister Longbottom?"

"How bad is this going to be? Do you need us to organize something?"

"I don't believe I will be needing Dumbledore's Army," he quipped. "But you can help and make sure no student is left behind outside."

"I will help," Neville said quickly. "You will stay here?"

"All day, yes. Hopefully the worst will be over before the night starts. I do value my sleep." He hadn't expected to grow used to a set routine that quickly.

"I hope so too!" Neville smiled and then hurried after Harry as he didn't want to be late for class either.

"Is it really going to be that bad, Severus?" Poppy appeared next to him. "Do you want me to start any precautions?"

"No, not at the moment. Just make sure you are available to your House."

Poppy nodded at hearing that. Being Head of Slytherin was something she still had to get used to.

"Anything special you want me to do?" Remus walked up to them. He would make sure Tonks and Teddy were safely tucked away in their quarters, but after he had seen to that, he wanted to help.

"Full moon is still a fortnight away, so I won't have to go looking for you running about naked in the blizzard… That is something to be grateful for."

Remus blinked, and only then realized Severus was joking. "One of these days, I will hex you!"

"You had better not do that," Poppy whispered.

Remus frowned at seeing Poppy's worried look. "What do you mean?"

"Severus, can I tell him?" She didn't want to proceed without his permission.

"You can… Someone besides you should know." Severus wasn't particularly fond of telling Remus his weak spot, but it would be best if the werewolf knew the truth.

"Poppy?" Remus turned toward her and gave her an impatient look. "What is this about?"

Poppy drew in a deep breath. She was relieved that Severus was finally prepared to share this information with someone. "When Neville cursed Severus it damaged the nerves in his arm. It also weakened him in general. There is no telling what a hex, or another curse, will do to him. It might weaken him further, worsen the tremors or cause them to spread to different parts of his body. Therefore make sure you never hit Severus with any spells."

Tonks, who had been standing behind Remus, managed to catch Severus' gaze. She saw the vulnerability in those eyes and knew allowing Poppy to tell them had been a difficult decision to make. "I had no idea…"

"Maybe now you want to reconsider asking me to be Teddy's godfather?" A part of Severus however hoped they wouldn't ask Harry instead as he was growing increasingly fond of Teddy.

"No!" Tonks said indignantly. "Not because of something like that." She looped her arm with Remus'. "We just have to keep an eye on you. Good thing you got an Auror to protect you!"

Severus snorted. "I don't need protection!"

Tonks gently rested her hand on his right arm. "You might not want it, but that doesn't mean you won't get it. We care about you, Severus. Allow us to do this." Some indescribable emotion flickered in those dark eyes, and without wanting to, she touched his mind. Severus gave her a sharp look, but didn't throw her out. It didn't surprise her that he allowed her a glimpse of his thoughts; it proved that he no longer saw her as the enemy, but as a friend. You are worthy, Severus Snape. Never doubt that you are worthy of friendship, love, and protection.

Severus retreated behind his Occlumency shields. Hearing her say that had shaken him up.

Tonks however, merely smiled at him in understanding. Little by little, they were getting through to Severus.

/

Severus remained true to his word. Although he hated sitting where Albus had always sat, he stayed in place. He had promised students they could talk to him if they worried about the upcoming storm and so far three students from Hufflepuff and two from Ravenclaw had come to see him. He had tried his best to reassure them that they were quite safe at Hogwarts, but some of them had suffered severe storms before and it had left them slightly traumatized.

It helped that Fang stayed close. Two students calmed down while petting them, and another girl, one from Ravenclaw, got distracted from the storm because she had tried to teach him tricks. At the moment the Hall was empty though, safe for himself. Severus closed his eyes, stretched his mind, and attuned himself to the castle. All doors were locked, all window hatches closed and the highest towers no longer allowed any students inside. Sybil Trelawny had also joined them and had offered to help Madam Pomfrey in case of an emergency. So far, everything was well.

He sensed Remus' presence before opening his eyes. It was one of the marvels that Hogwarts offered its Headmaster. And Severus felt honoured, and maybe even happy that Hogwarts thought him worthy of holding that position. "Remus," he said and carefully stretched his legs. "The storm will be upon us in minutes." He looked through the windows, which offered him a perfect view. The sky, which had been blue a moment ago, now darkened into an angry charcoal grey. "I expect the Prefects to report to their Heads any moment now, and then, we will have to wait for the storm to pass."

Remus sat down on the chair next to Severus, which normally Minerva occupied. He cast a look outside as well and shivered. "It is getting worse with every passing second. The lake froze within the last hour. I can't remember that ever happening before."

"Hogwarts warned me that the storm was dangerous. I wouldn't have taken such drastic measures otherwise."

"Students' safety comes first, doesn't it?" Remus smiled at Severus. "When you became Headmaster a year ago, I never thought I would ever say this, but you are the right person to hold that office. You are Headmaster in every sense of the word." Remus could tell Severus felt uncomfortable now that he was being praised, but that wasn't going to stop Remus from continuing. "I hope you will remain Headmaster for a very long time, Severus."

Severus was lost for words. He had never expected Remus to praise him like that.

Remus smiled at realizing he had rendered Severus speechless. That didn't happen often! "Thank you for trusting me. I feel honoured that you allowed Poppy to tell me about your condition. I will do everything I can to make sure your condition won't worsen."

"Thank you." Severus kept his gaze trained on Fang, who had made himself comfortable next to him.

Remus felt grateful for the change that had come over Severus. It was happening slowly, but it seemed like Severus was finally allowing himself to trust him.

"Severus!"

Severus rose from his chair and wondered why Pomona was running toward him. He couldn't remember having seen her run before. "What's wrong?"

"One of my students is missing! Apparently she went outside to practice flying! She wants to try for the Quidditch qualifications on Friday!" Pomona blamed herself for not making sure everyone was accounted for at an earlier time. But the girl had went unnoticed by the Prefects and they wouldn't have noticed that she was missing if she hadn't actually counted her students!

A nauseating feeling spread through his stomach. "What's her name?" Severus hoped he had reached the wrong conclusion though.

"Eliza Cornfroot! Her broom is missing as well!" Pomona wrung her hands in despair. "What do we do, Severus?" At exactly that moment lightning lit up the Great Hall and waves of roaring thunder shook Hogwarts' foundations. "She is out there on her own!"

Severus' thoughts raced. There was only one thing he could do – find her and take her to the Hospital Wing! "Stay here, all of you! Don't go outside! I will find her!"

"Severus, no! Do you have any idea how much the temperature has dropped during the last hour? Let me look for her instead. You can't go out there!" Remus vividly remembered the way the cold had incapacitated Severus when they had talked in the graveyard.

"Stop it, Lupin! I am the only one who can find her!" Severus marched out of the Hall and ignored Pomona and Remus who came running after him. Remus screamed at him, but he locked it out. Instead, he reached out to Hogwarts itself. Show me where I can find her!

At once, Headmaster. She is at the lake… She crashed onto the ice. She is alive, but getting worse due to the cold.

The girl was exposed to the storm then! He couldn't waste even a single second!

"Severus! No, take me with you!" Remus wanted to grab Severus, forcing the wizard to drag him along when he disapparated, but when he reached for Severus, he merely encountered cold air. The Headmaster was gone!

"Remus? What happened just now?" Harry, closely followed by Neville, Ron, and Hermione ran into the Great Hall. He noticed Severus' absence at once. "Where did he go?"

"Outside," Remus said from between clenched teeth. "Just wait until I get my hands on him!" He wasn't just scared for the girl's and Severus' well-being, but he was angry as well. Just when he had started to think that Severus understood they wanted to help, he did something like that!

"What do you mean, he went outside? Not in this storm surely!"

Remus cringed at seeing the sudden pallor on Neville's face. "I am sorry, son, but he apparated just now. One of the Hufflepuff students is missing and -"

"He went after her," Neville finished in a shocked voice. "He knows he shouldn't expose himself to the cold like that! What was he thinking?"

"He was thinking about that little girl." Pomona's features contorted. "Severus is Eliza's only hope if she wants to survive this!"

Neville looked at Remus and realized they both felt the same way – scared for Severus' wellbeing, but at the same time, they were mad as hell.

/

Severus apparated near the lake and quickly realized that his normal senses wouldn't help him locate the girl. The wind whirled snow about and a fiery rain of hail descended all around him. He cast a shield charm, trying to block most of the hail. Closing his eyes, he allowed Hogwarts to guide him.

Headmaster, to your right…

He didn't have to open his eyes in order to see her. He sensed her instead. Severus walked toward her and realized the ice was extremely fragile. Even merely apparating to where she lay could cause it to break into tiny pieces, but he had to take that risk. The cold was already numbing the left side of his body and he couldn't afford to waste more time. Severus apparated next to her and was about to lift her when the ice shattered. A terrible roar filled his ears and then the ice gave way beneath them.

Severus watched her disappear beneath the surface and then lost his footing as well, sliding into the freezing dark water himself. The shock almost caused him to disapparate without her, but he stopped himself in time. He couldn't leave without her. That simply wasn't an option!

Arctic cold water closed over his head and he frantically grabbed hold of Eliza. He managed to wrap his fingers around her wrist and Severus disapparated that very moment, dragging Eliza with him. As the cold made it impossible for him to think clearly, he let Hogwarts take over. Take us into safety, was the last thought he managed.

Of course, Headmaster!

/

Poppy startled. All of a sudden two forms manifested in the Hospital Wing and she ran toward them, closely followed by Sybil. Poppy called out in distress upon realizing who had apparated into her office. "Severus!" Then she spotted the girl in his arms. "Sybil, I need Minerva and Remus in here, Tonks too, if that is possible." When her colleague didn't move, she called out, "Now, Sybil!" Once she was certain that Sybil was on her way, she turned toward Severus again. "Oh my, what did you do this time?"

/

Pomona sat next to Eliza's bed and stroked the girl's hand. She had been terrified when Poppy had sent for her, but had relaxed – marginally – upon hearing that Eliza would be fine. Thanks to Severus' quick actions she had been spared worse. At the moment, the girl was resting comfortably and Pomona sat at her side as a lioness guarding her cub.

One room down the corridor, Severus had been tucked into bed as well. His condition was worse than Eliza's though and Poppy felt frustrated because she couldn't use any of the healing spells which she would normally resort to. She was limited to the use of potions to stabilize him as casting spells would only weaken him further.

"Damn Voldemort for killing Severus in the first place!" she exclaimed as she prepared to administer another potion.

"It's not really his fault, is it? It's mine." Neville felt guilty – no, even more than guilty, for he knew he was the reason that Severus was in this poor state. "If I hadn't cursed him then…"

"You don't know that, my dear," Poppy said and moved closer to the bed. "We don't have time for this anyway. I need you to help me. Get him in an upright position. Remus, I need your help too!"

Remus moved forward and together, Neville and he, manoeuvred Severus into a position in which he could swallow the potion that Poppy poured into his mouth. Like Neville, Remus felt frustrated. Why had Severus acted on his own, damn it?

"You can lower him." Poppy felt useless now that she couldn't wave her wand and help him that way. She looked at Neville and noticed the young man's profound sadness. "He will be fine, Neville. Severus is a fighter. He won't give up."

Neville nodded, but half-heartedly. Looking at Remus, he saw his guilt reflected in the werewolf's eyes. "You tried to stop him." He didn't want Remus to feel guilty.

"I failed to stop him, Neville, there is a difference." Remus pulled up a chair and sat down. "I should have known he would do something like that. Over the years he became used to operating on his own."

Tonks entered the room and came to a halt behind her husband. She rested her hands on his shoulder and bent down to kiss the top of his head. "I understand why he reacted that way. He cares about that girl."

Remus nodded. "She kissed him the other day," he said and wasn't surprised to hear the rest suck in their breath in surprise. "She had asked him to restore the Quidditch pitch and to hold try-outs. She kissed him on the cheek. You should have seen Severus' face. His expression was beyond words!"

Tonks smiled and she rested her chin on top of her husband's head. "The many sides of Severus Snape—I reckon we are finally seeing some of them."

Neville reached for Severus' icy hand and wrapped his fingers around it.

"How is he doing?" Harry stepped into the room and walked over to the bed. He smiled at seeing Neville holding Severus' hand. Who would have thought the two of them would grow that attached to each other? It was a good thing though, Harry mused.

"Sleeping, but no longer unconscious," Poppy told him. "I don't know when he will wake up. The only thing we can do right now is to keep him warm." Hence the large number of blankets covering her patient.

"That stupid, foolish, idiotic…" Remus swallowed the rest of his rant though; Severus' actions had saved Eliza's life.

/

Severus stirred and it caused Harry to lean in closer to the older wizard. He had sensed Severus was waking up and felt the turmoil the other man was in. You are fine. Everything is fine. Everyone is safe and Eliza is already talking about trying out for seeker. The girl had woken up two hours ago and was already back on her feet, driving Pomona mad with her constant chatter. Harry looked over his shoulder and found that Neville was still asleep. He kicked his friend's legs and Neville's eyes opened at once. "He's waking up. I thought you might want to know."

He did! Neville quickly made his way over to the bed and sat down near the foot end. Severus was still buried beneath a pile of blankets, but the older man continued to shiver uncontrollably at times. His left arm kept twitching and Neville realized it would be a while before the tremors would go away.

Severus struggled back to awareness by fighting himself a way through one layer of ice after another. He could see light in the distance, but he still felt like drowning in the cold.

You are almost there. Go slowly.

Harry! Severus forced his eyes open and stared at the young man's face, hovering so close to his. He had made it out alive then – another time.

"You suffer from hypothermia. You fell into the lake when you rescued Eliza," Harry told him. "Don't worry, she's fine."

Severus allowed himself to relax. The girl had survived. She was fine, Harry had said so and he could believe him.

"You scared us," Harry resumed. "You taking off like that. Remus is trying to think of a way to get back at you that doesn't involve any hexes."

Severus turned his head toward the youngster. How come he knew about that?

Harry nodded as he had received that thought loud and clear. "Madam Pomfrey told us when we became mad with her for not using any healing spells on you."

So another one of his secrets was out then. It was odd, but he didn't mind that much. It was a small price to pay for saving the girl's life.

Harry looked at Neville and realized his friend looked rather worried. "Neville here wants a word with you too for disapparating like that. You scared him." Harry rose from the chair and beckoned Neville to take his place. "Keep an eye on him," he told Neville and then left the room. He wanted to check on Eliza too.

Neville moved closer and gingerly reached for Severus' hand as he had to convince himself that the older wizard was still alive – still warm, still breathing.

"I am sorry," Severus managed upon seeing Neville's distress. "But I had to be quick."

"I understand that, but the next time, allow us to help, will you?"

Severus managed a soft chuckle. "Hopefully there won't be a next time!" He had come close to dying and had no desire for a repeat performance. "Trust me, I don't want to die – not any longer."

Neville moved closer and studied the dark eyes. Yes, something in them had changed – there was a different expression to them.

"I realized something…" Severus said, still feeling rather weak. "I don't want to die… Not now that I have so many reasons to live." The revelation had come the moment he had thought he would drown. "I never thought anyone could care for me… Not after everything I had done… But they do… Harry, Tonks, Remus… Minerva, Poppy, even Ron cares…" How amazing was that? "And you do."

Neville nodded. "I do care about you." He grew shy then. "I don't want to lose you. I don't want you to die."

Severus' fatigue was beginning to catch up with him and he closed his eyes. "Don't worry about that… I no longer have a death wish." He couldn't help but feel the relief and joy in Neville's mind upon hearing that. "I need to rest now."

"Go to sleep. We will watch over you – all of us."

Knowing it was the truth made it much easier for Severus to give into sleep.

/

"Stop glowering at me, wolf!" Severus shook his head, rather exasperated. For the life of him, he couldn't figure out just why Remus was that mad with him. He was back in his office, in his favourite chair near the fireplace, and sipping his favourite tea. Tonks sat opposite him and was rocking Teddy in her arms. The toddler seemed to like the motion and cooed happily. If only Remus would stop scolding him; then he could truly enjoy the ambiance.

"If you ever act like that again, then…" Remus had already threatened Severus in several ways, but nothing had worked so far. "I don't know what I will do, but I will make you see reason!"

Severus' eyes suddenly widened. "You worried about me?" They had told him they had, but until now he hadn't fully realized it.

"Of course, I did! You are not only Teddy's godfather but, damn it, Severus, you are my friend! I thought you had realized that by now!"

Severus wondered about the situation he found himself in. "You must understand, Remus. I was the only one able to find her and I had to act at once. I couldn't afford to lose any time."

"I know that, Severus." Remus walked up to him and looked him in the eye. "But next time you will take someone along for the ride. You nearly died in that lake!"

"But I didn't! Remus, you need to calm down!" Severus shook his head, still amazed that Remus had worried about him to such a degree.

"Promise me, Severus. Promise me that you won't endanger your life like that ever again. My son needs his godfather, Severus." Remus placed his hands on the armrest and stared at Severus – their faces only an inch apart.

Severus swallowed hard. He still felt Remus was overreacting, but given the situation, he felt it best to comply. "I promise."

"Well, that's a start." Remus retreated and looked up at hearing voices coming from the staircase. "You have visitors, Headmaster." He eyed Severus closely and realized that being addressed in that way no longer caused Severus to flinch.

Pomona Sprout and Eliza Cornfoot stepped into the office. "Go on then," the professor said and gave her charge an encouraging smile. Not that her pupil needed one, because Eliza had been talking nonstop about the way Severus Snape had saved her life – even though she couldn't remember any of it.

Eliza smiled, walked up to Severus, and then came to a halt. "I want to thank you for what you did, Headmaster. You saved my life."

Severus inclined his head. "You are welcome, Miss Cornfoot." He would never be able to look at her in the same way as before the storm. In a way, she had become special to him, like Harry, Neville, and Teddy were special to him.

"Thank you, sir." Eliza moved forward and appeared to reach for his hand, as if wanting to shake it. But then she noticed the tremors moving through his left arm and decided on a different course. She leaned in closer and gave him another kiss on the cheek. She then stepped away from him, blushing slightly, but also immensely pleased with herself.

"No, I need to thank you for that, Miss Cornfoot."

Remus watched Severus closely and realized someone had finally gotten through to him – had reached out and forced the darkness inside Severus to disappear. Well, thank you too, Miss Cornfoot. I think you managed the impossible.

The end