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The Head of the House of Slytherin

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Master Severus Snape, Esteemed Potions Master, Head of the House of Slytherin, Professor of Potions at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, client of House Malfoy and godfather of Draco Lucius Malfoy, Heir Malfoy, was accustomed to spending the first fortnight of every summer at Malfoy Manor. For his part, he benefited from the excellent hospitality as he recuperated from the labours of the school year; in exchange, he was able to offer his observations on the ongoing political dynamics at Hogwarts, provide entertainment for his godson, and restock the Malfoy potions store with high quality brews.

The Malfoy Receiving Room, when he flooed in shortly after ten o’clock the night school term concluded, was as elegantly appointed as ever, although he noted some slight alterations in the decorations around the room. No sooner had he stepped from the hearth than a house elf apparated into the room, greeting him with a bow. “Lady Malfoy has been told you is here, Professor,” said the elf. “May Diply be taking your bags to your room?”

“You may,” Severus told her, directing his trunk and workbag to one side of the hearth with a flick of his wand, then cleaning his robes of ash with another.

Diply bowed again, and snapped her fingers, and the bags disappeared. “Diply will be fetching tea from the kitchens,” she said. “You is welcome to be making yourself comfortable.”

Severus nodded and waved his hand to dismiss her, but did not sit down in one of the available armchairs. If he sat, he rather feared he would fall asleep, and there were social niceties to observe first.

 

Narcissa must have been waiting for his arrival; he spent only a few minutes examining the room before she entered, greeting him with a smile. “Severus!” she exclaimed. “Welcome to our home. I’m sorry to keep you waiting, you must be exhausted.”

“Lady Malfoy,” Severus replied, bowing over her hand. “No apologies are necessary - indeed, I apologise myself for disturbing you so late at night.”

She smiled warmly at him, shaking her head. “Do call me Narcissa, please,” she insisted, gliding over to the tea tray that had quietly appeared and pouring him a cup. “Sit. Are you well? Draco informed us that you have been absent from the High Table since the end of exams.”

Severus sat, inclining his head to acknowledge the implicit scold at not informing her of his health. “Mere magical exhaustion,” he reassured her, taking a grateful sip of the excellent tea. “An incident with the Defense teacher - which, if I may, I will discuss with Lord Malfoy and yourself another evening - compounded with the usual effects of the school term. I require only rest and I will be quite well.”

Narcissa frowned slightly. “I find it is hard for me to be as sanguine about your usual end-of-term exhaustion when you are acting as Draco’s guardian while he is away from home,” she admitted. “And something must be done about his Defense education.”

Severus hid his surprise behind another sip of tea. If Narcissa were to petition Lucius on the matter, the woeful staffing situation at Hogwarts might have a chance of improvement. “I am sure that your influence could only benefit him,” he said. “I hope his trip home was without incident?”

“He’s been chattering almost non-stop since we met him in London,” Narcissa replied with a fond smile. “I only just sent him to bed. School has been good for him, I think.”

“There comes a time when children are ready to strike out on their own in a larger world,” Severus agreed. “He is very much his father’s son, but still, he will benefit from being out of his father’s shadow.” Discreetly, he leaned back in his chair, blinking tired eyes.

“And here I am keeping you talking when you’re already exhausted,” Narcissa exclaimed with chagrin, setting her cup aside. “My apologies for being such a terrible hostess, Severus, I ought to have let you retire rather than keeping you up with conversation.”

“You are never less than the best of hostesses,” Severus objected politely, but gratefully put his own cup down and stood. “Nevertheless, I believe I will retire for the night.”

Narcissa stood as well, gesturing elegantly to the door. “Your usual suite has been prepared for you, and Tonny will be able to assist with any requests you have,” she said. “I’ve already instructed the kitchen to deliver breakfast directly to your suite after you rise, so please feel free to sleep as late as you like. Would you like me to ask Healer Bulstrode to see you after Draco’s annual check-up tomorrow afternoon?”

Severus bowed his head in thanks, trying to calculate the advantages and disadvantages of the offer. After a minor struggle, he conceded that such difficulty decision-making was only symptomatic of his exhaustion, and it was probably wiser to comply. “Thank you, Narcissa, that would be very kind of you,” he agreed. “Good night.”

“Good night, Severus. Pleasant dreams.”

Chapter Text

Healer Bulstrode was an older man, greying at the temples, but his tailored robes revealed the sturdy frame of someone who worked hard, physically and magically as well as mentally, and his gaze was sharp and clear. “Master Snape,” he said politely, bowing his head in greeting. “A pleasure. May I come in?”

Severus stepped back, gesturing the man to enter the sitting room area of his suite. “Of course, Healer Bulstrode. I take it Lady Malfoy told you why you are here?”

Bulstrode entered, placing his bag by one of the chairs, and shook his head. “All Lady Malfoy told me was that she would pay for whatever was required,” he said. “However, I will admit I have made certain...predictions.”

Eyes narrowed slightly, Severus sat. “Is that so.”

“Only what I can infer from your profession,” Bulstrode reassured him, sitting down as well. “You are a potions master. Therefore, you have a better-than-average understanding of the body and its ailments, and are likely able to recognise and respond to many common problems. Furthermore, you are a teacher at Hogwarts, with almost year-round access to a qualified Mediwitch - and you have been away from the school for less than a day. If this were an urgent problem, I would have been asked to see you in a different manner, or you would have presented yourself at St Mungo’s. I must conclude, therefore, that this is either an obscure, long-term issue that has been thus far resistant to diagnosis; a follow-up on treatment that could not be concluded before the end of school term; or a matter requiring the kind of discretion that a private healer is capable of offering their clients. Am I correct?”

A corner of Severus’ mouth quirked. “You are,” he conceded. “And what sort of...discretion are you capable of offering your clients?”

Bulstrode raised an eyebrow. “Like all healers, I am of course duty-bound to keep my patients’ health matters private. It is my belief that whatever facilitates open discussion of such matters within a consultation is to the benefit of my patients’ health - it would be inconvenient, for example, if someone were to hide their exposure to a poison because of the circumstances in which they encountered it.”

“In other words, you don’t report illegal activities.” An unsurprising characteristic in the preferred healer of the Malfoy family. “And what are the limits of that discretion?”

“To avoid awkward conflicts of interest, I ask that you keep any mention of future plans for your enemies vague,” Bulstrode said with a thin smile. “And I also ask that you choose someone for me to inform if I believe you are not in a fit mental state to preserve your own life and health. It is extraordinarily rare that such contingencies are necessary, but it is best to plan them in advance.”

After a moment of consideration, Severus nodded. “That is reasonable,” he conceded. Letting his wand slip into his hand, he raised privacy wards around the room - not that he distrusted the Malfoys, but there was no such thing as an excess of caution. “In such an extremity,” he said when he was finished, “I would prefer you speak to Minerva McGonagall.”

Bulstrode raised a curious brow, but nodded. “Of course, Master Snape. Now, what am I here to see you about?”

“Magical exhaustion,” Severus said bluntly. After a pause, he added, “...I am also recovering from a rather unpleasant mental intrusion.”

Bulstrode hummed, giving him a considering look. “I can check the progress of your recovery from the exhaustion, of course,” he said, “and I am capable of checking for lingering damage to your mind and its shields, but...may I make a suggestion?”

Severus spread his hands in invitation.

“I propose that we do a thorough check-up, as if establishing baseline health at the first appointment of a long-term patient,” Bulstrode said, watching him closely. “Persons such as yourself, who are well-equipped to manage their own health, will generally notice acute problems, but may miss the signs of long-term problems in the early stages of development. For someone of your age, in your magical and physical prime, I would be particularly concerned about lingering curse damage, which is easy to address at this stage, but may cause problems when you get older.”

“For someone of my age and background, I think you mean,” Severus said, tapping his left forearm. His lips pursed. “...you may proceed with a full check-up.”

 

-----

 

At the end of the consultation, Bulstrode gave Severus a serious look. “I will give you two pieces of advice, Master Snape: one that you are unlikely to follow, and one that may compensate for the lack.”

Severus waited.

“If you continue at this rate, you will work yourself to death before you are fifty,” Bulstrode said bluntly. “You show signs of several years of having to draw on deep magical and physical reserves which are not meant to be called on so frequently. As a result, old curse damage lingers in your system which will leave you at risk of arthritis, poor bone health, and chronic pain in future years. Lack of sunlight and exercise is also impairing your healing. Overwork and stress has you more vulnerable than you should be to both illness and toxins, which are a danger in your line of work. Your heart is working harder than it ought to be. Your mind is strained from poor sleep and the lack of it, and it is slowing your recovery from the recent attack. The headaches are exacerbated by muscle tension, which is most likely also due to stress and poor sleep. You weigh less than you should, and show signs of poor diet, most likely because you are eating little and absorbing less. In short, Master Snape, the best thing for your health would be to leave Hogwarts for at least a year, and if you return, to do so only under the assurance of a substantially decreased workload.”

“...I see.” It was a rather stark assessment. “And if I intend to return to work at the end of the summer?”

Bulstrode sighed, looking tired. “Then you should devote your summer to recuperation as much as you can,” he answered, setting out parchment, inkpot, and quill. “Stay with the Malfoys, let the house elves feed you whatever will entice you to eat. Take regular walks on the grounds, and keep your spell-casting to a minimum.” As he spoke, he began to make notes, quill scratching quietly against the parchment. “I’m not an expert on mind-work, and you know yourself best, but I would recommend nightly meditation for two or three weeks before you attempt to work on actively restoring your shields. I want you to take a Calming Draught before bed two nights in every three, and the third night you should have a standard dose of Rufflebloom’s Restorative. With breakfast, take Bartleby’s Tonic.” He met Severus’ gaze seriously. “I want a follow-up appointment with you in a month before I alter those prescriptions, but if you are at all tempted to vary from my suggestions, I request that you owl me for my input. I can compensate for your lifestyle if I know what it is. This course of treatment will go substantially better if you avoid all stimulant potions, including Pepper-Up, invigorators, and betony-based restoratives, so if you feel the need for one, consult me.”

It was, all things considered, a fairly intensive course of treatment, but Severus did not doubt it was warranted. He nodded, resigning himself to dipping into his vault for the necessary expenses. “Thank you for your advice, Healer Bulstrode,” he said, standing up. “I will do my best to follow it.”

Chapter Text

Narcissa Malfoy was most displeased when Severus told her (a somewhat abridged version of) the healer’s verdict. That he had reached such a state was intolerable; that there was no prospect of improvement in the causes was beyond unacceptable. How was Draco to reach his potential if the man in loco parentis was ill with exhaustion? Dumbledore may not have seen fit to rectify the school’s low staff numbers was - an inevitable result of their reduced Ministry funding since the War (when money had been diverted to the MLE, and never returned to the school thereafter) - but she was not going to allow it to continue.

It was rare that Lady Malfoy put her foot down about something, but when she did, none could forget that she was, by birth, a Black. Severus watched with mild amusement as Lucius reversed his long-standing disapproval of the school’s need for external funding and began calculating the amount he could donate in extravagant patronage. Narcissa’s owls flew industriously, and the floo was busy with visits between members of the school board, the Wizengamot, and others of influence.

When the school board met in early June, Lucius returned home with news that two additional staff members had been approved, as long as funding for them could be assured by the end of July. To that end, a ball was to be held, as soon after Midsummer as could be arranged, to which all of Hogwarts’ most distinguished alumni would be invited so that their donations could be sought.  It would be held in Hogwarts Great Hall, of course, and Narcissa immediately contacted Professor McGonagall to offer her assistance in hosting it.

 

Shortly thereafter, an observant person perusing The Daily Prophet would have noticed the following job advertisements:

RESIDENT TEACHER -  A witch or wizard of good character with demonstrated knowledge of Defensive Magic. Apply to M. McGonagall, Hogwarts.

RESIDENT TEACHER - A witch or wizard of impeccable character, experienced with children, with demonstrated expertise in Charms and Transfiguration. Apply to M. McGonagall, Hogwarts.

RESIDENT TEACHER - A witch or wizard of impeccable character, experienced with children, with demonstrated expertise in Potions and Herbology. Apply to M. McGonagall, Hogwarts.

Chapter Text

And then there was the matter of Quirinus Quirrell.

He had been presented to the Aurors for unicorn-slaying at the end of term - a charge which carried an automatic sentence of life in Azkaban. But managing his trial so as to keep the Dark Lord’s involvement secret was not a simple matter.

Already weakened by his possession and the unicorn blood, Quirrell was unlikely to be in any state to reveal his secrets once he was committed to Azkaban. If he survived a year, Severus would be extremely surprised. But to get him there, they needed a robust narrative of his capture, and a way to stop Quirrell speaking of what they wanted to keep quiet.

They were debating the limitations of memory manipulation after a staff meeting when Pomona came up with a solution: “Just ruin his credibility. You-Know-Who living on the back of his head for a year? It's the sort of story people will go out of their way not to believe. You just need to give them an excuse to dismiss it.”

If Severus was a different man, he might have groaned, so obvious was her suggestion in retrospect. “...quite,” he conceded.

Albus folded his hands on the table in front of him, fixing Pomona with an assessing gaze. “And what of veritaserum? Pensieve testimony?”

Minerva made a dismissive noise. “Everyone knows veritaserum only compels you to say what you believe the truth is,” she pointed out. “Just choose an explanation that suggests Quirrell was not perceiving the truth of the matter.”

“Perhaps some other possessing spirit,” Filius suggested, withdrawing a book from his pocket (he always carried one, for just this reason) and tapping it with a switching spell to retrieve...well, Severus didn't recognise the text, but he was confident it was germane to the topic at hand. “A lugat, perhaps?” Filius mused, paging through it. “No, too benign, comparatively, and too far east. One of the vampiric family? It would explain the garlic.”

“I do wonder what he was trying to achieve with that awful smell,” Pomina muttered. “And really, I quite like garlic, but there is a limit.”

“Ah!” Filus exclaimed. “No, wait...yes. Yes, this should do nicely. A vrykolakas, ladies and gentlemen. I propose that, during his travels, Quirrell was possessed by a vrykolakas, one which swiftly began to impersonate You-Know-Who to facilitate greater mischief, and used him both as a source of life force and a means to seek out other, similar sources. We then need to, at most, tamper with his memory of the moment of possession.”

“That will do nicely.” Albus looked between the four Heads of House with his customary paternalistic serenity. “I will speak with the Aurors, and owl you to discuss any necessary testimony.”

It went unspoken that, as Chief Warlock, Albus had significant influence over the outcome.

Chapter Text

Gripping his fork a little tighter, Severus reflected that he had never quite realised just how much he relied on his occlumency shields to weather these conversations. Unfortunately, he had yet to fully repair them.

“...an absolute disgrace that my son should be beaten by a Mudblood - “

“Lucius!” Narcissa interrupted, to Severus’ relief. “Not at the dinner table.”

Well. Small mercies.

Lucius pressed his lips together. “I apologise for my language,” he conceded. “But really.”

With a glance at Draco’s pale face, Severus admitted to himself that he couldn’t continue to tolerate the subject without intervening. “But really , Lucius,” he drawled, “the question is why you are treating her as valid competition for the Malfoy Heir.”

“Oh?” Lucius replied, his eyes belying his tone of voice. “You don’t think it...problematic, that a - a Muggleborn in her first year of exposure to magic could surpass a pureblood heir with six years of tutoring in every subject of importance?”

“She has not surpassed him,” Severus countered. “Your definition of success is too narrow.”

Lucius raised an eyebrow, gesturing wordlessly for Severus to explain his conclusions.

“The Granger girl is a once-in-a-generation freak,” Severus said bluntly. “She has an insatiable appetite for books, an utterly exact memory, and a desperate need for the approval of teachers. She is a natural autodidact, and spends all of her free time in the library. She regularly turns in essays two or three times the requested length. Despite her...disadvantageous background, it would be extraordinary if she did not have astonishingly high marks in every subject she applied herself to throughout her education. Nevertheless, Draco met her so evenly that we spent half an hour debating which had the greater success, while also negotiating his position in Slytherin House, establishing alliances, protecting his clients, and improving his Quidditch skills to benefit his chances of qualifying for the Slytherin team next year. Meanwhile, Granger alienated almost all of her year-mates by being an insufferable know-it-all.”

Narcissa smiled graciously at him. “Once again, Severus, you advise us very wisely. I’ve always felt that we place too much emphasis on academics in the younger years, at the cost of social development. And I’m sure that, were Draco receiving sufficient attention from his teachers, he would have no difficulty attaining the very highest marks - no criticism meant of you, of course.”

Severus inclined his head, watching Lucius carefully. Would he accept the proffered explanation for Draco’s ‘failure’?

After a long moment, Lucius nodded. “Perhaps you’re right, my dear,” he said lightly. “And the affairs of a Muggleborn are hardly worthy of our concern. How go preparations for the Hogwarts Ball?”

Chapter Text

It took longer than it should have for Severus to find the time to celebrate Draco’s birthday with him, but at last Quirrell’s trial was concluded, the wraith had been fed to a Dementor, and the Hogwarts Ball was sufficiently planned that Minerva and Narcissa no longer expected further contributions until the day. The morning after their ‘discussion’ about Granger, Lucius was needed at the Ministry for a Wizengamot session, and Severus decided to take advantage of the opportunity.

“Well, Draco,” he said over the remains of breakfast, after Lucius had left the Manor for the day. “You have my apologies for the delay, but I believe I can safely commit the day to celebrating your birthday. Have you chosen what you would like to do?”

Draco looked up sharply, disappointingly surprised to receive such attention. “You can? Really? I mean - “ He struggled to compose himself, glancing furtively at Narcissa. “Thank you for your kind offer, Professor. I have not yet decided what I would prefer.”

“As we are not on school grounds, and I am acting as your godfather rather than your teacher, you are welcome to address me in your customary manner,” Severus pointed out, his voice level. If Draco was inhibited by his mother’s presence, then Severus would simply have to separate the two of them. “Perhaps you could join my morning walk while you contemplate what to request.”

At Draco’s hopeful look, Narcissa nodded indulgently, setting her cutlery on her plate and rising from the table. “I shall leave you two to enjoy your day, then. Be careful of the sun so you don’t burn, Draco.”

“Yes, Mother,” Draco hurried to agree.

 

-----

 

Severus’ preferred venue for his walks was the manor’s hedge-maze. Enchanted generations ago to prevent conversations within from being interrupted or overheard by others, its shifting paths offered both variety and relative safety, while the password that conjured an efficient exit route allowed him to end his walk as soon as he became tired, without having to contemplate a long journey back to the Manor.

Once he and Draco had passed the first junction, and their privacy was assured, Severus glanced down at Draco and commented, “I had intended to provide you with more of my attention during your first term at Hogwarts. You have my apologies for my neglect.”

“It’s not your fault!” Draco objected instantly, staring in surprise. “I’ve heard Mother talking about how overworked you were, with classes and protecting Slytherin, and Quirrell ...it’s Dumbledore’s fault!”

A corner of Severus’ mouth twitched. “Be that as it may,” he replied, “I regret that I was not able to offer you more guidance. Perhaps, for your birthday, you might choose something you felt was lacking from your education this year, that I might teach you.”

Draco looked away, biting his lip. As much as he tried to imitate his parents’ cool demeanour, at twelve he did not quite have the knack. Whatever had come to mind, it was something Draco was reluctant to speak of. Perhaps a Potions lesson he had not fully grasped, or help negotiating his social status among the upper Slytherins. Or tutoring in one of the subjects where his marks had been exceeded by Granger’s. Severus was not, however, expecting what Draco asked next.

“Sir...I mean, Uncle Sev...how did you make Father change his mind last night?” Draco kept his eyes down, avoiding Severus’ gaze. “No-one’s ever...I’ve never seen someone do that before.”

Severus’ mind unhappily filled in the end of that aborted sentence: No-one’s ever intervened before . Lucius, he knew, was not inclined to punish Draco with pain; he kept that for the house-elves. But harsh words had their own sting, and he had seen that Narcissa did little to soften Lucius’ response when Draco failed to live up to his expectations. He rather suspected that Narcissa didn’t see the harm in it, not when compared to her own childhood. Severus, meanwhile, was hobbled by his reliance on Lucius’ patronage, and had, perhaps, allowed himself to get in the habit of looking away.

 

Halting, Severus turned, and lowered himself to a half-kneel, the better to meet Draco’s gaze. “Draco,” he said quietly. “Tell me honestly: does your father make you unhappy? In this, my duty to you is greater than my duty to him, and I will reveal your answers to no-one.”

Draco’s head jerked upwards, and he shook his head frantically. “No!” he said hurriedly. “No, I love Father! I just - I just, I want him to be proud of me.” Swallowing hard, he added, “...I hate when Father is disappointed.”

It was a relief to hear. Severus had some reservations, and knew better than to assume all was well, but by Draco’s response the situation was, at least, tolerable. And Lucius only had access to Draco over the holidays now, and was often busy besides. Nevertheless, there were things Draco needed to know. “I am glad to know it,” Severus told him. “If that should ever change - or if another person is making you unhappy, or frightened - I ask that you tell me, please. There is only one oath I have sworn that I hold closer than my oath as your godfather, and it is one of protection, not obedience.”

Draco’s eyes widened, and his gaze flicked to Severus’ left arm.

“Yes,” Severus agreed. “Even higher than that, Draco. So for now, I will teach you about persuasion, but if you ever need other help from me, you should always, always ask.”

Chapter Text

Severus was willing to admit that the Hogwarts Midsummer Ball was an impressive social event. Narcissa’s influence was visible (at least to him), but between them, Minerva, Filius, and Albus had put their own stamp on the event, and the invitees included a wide range of alumni. An elegant ‘wishing fountain’ had been conjured in the centre of the hall to accept donations, with statues of each founder’s animal spitting coloured water that turned clear as it combined in the basin, which was soon gleaming with coins. (Not all of it galleons, either, which spoke to the varied finances of the attendees.) The house elves had out-done themselves with the food, Albus’ speech was tolerably sensible, and Lucius’ speech as head of the School Board was only moderately self-congratulatory when he announced the funding of an additional staff-member, should sufficient other donations be tendered to match the sum. 

Nevertheless, Severus was extremely glad to retreat at the end of the evening, returning to his rooms on campus rather than face the social obligations at Malfoy Manor. He could not resent an event that (Minerva assured him) had secured the funding necessary for the two assistant positions that had been advertised, but he could be grateful it was over, and he was.

-----

The next day he began the tedious task of inventorying the Potions stores and equipment, disposing of those items that were too damaged (or in the case of some of the ingredients, decayed) for use, and giving everything a thorough clean. He was fortunate to have the assistance of Klimby and Morkin, who were accustomed to helping him with the task, but there was still plenty for him to oversee, potions remnants to neutralise, and spells to renew in various areas. He sent a note to Bathsheba to let her know the desk shield arrays were ready for renewal, one to Pomona to let her know she could take her pick of the ingredient remnants for compost, and a third (with some reluctance) to Filius to request his assistance in renewing the wards. After a morning’s magical work he could already feel the strain, and with students like the Weasley twins (let alone any external dangers), he couldn’t afford the wards to be less than perfectly done.

Well aware of how much work was yet to be done, Severus could tell he had reached his limits for the day nonetheless, and after lunch in his quarters (he wasn’t inclined to face Albus until his mental shields were in better condition), he decided to take a walk out in the grounds. It was a warm day, and the quiet was soothing, so Severus let himself wander. It wasn’t until the eaves of the Forbidden Forest came into view that he realised where he was going.

A brief detour to Hagrid’s cottage later, Severus strode into the forest, with Fang by his side. He knew where he was going, and was quite capable of defending himself from the majority of the forest’s dangers, but the surety of advance warning allowed him to relax his guard somewhat, which was necessary for what he planned to attempt.

 

It is widely known in the wizarding world that unicorns are averse to men. This was, as Severus knew perfectly well, incorrect. (He was not the first person to make the discovery, nor would he be the last; the precise nature of what repelled unicorns, however, prevented the truth from being widely accepted.) The trick to approaching unicorns is a trusting heart; to step forward with the certainty that, whatever the unicorn might do, all would be well. And once someone has been told that a unicorn will reject them...it is difficult to approach with that trust.

Severus had learned the knack of it from Lily - from the certainty in her voice when she’d said, “He’s not going to hurt you! Get over here!” when they were thirteen. After the war, he had thought he would never touch one again, until a night he’d been so drunk and miserable he simply hadn’t cared what one would do to him, and a touch of her horn had left him sober and wondering. Since then, he’d got in the habit of visiting them when he needed a reminder that trust need not be a danger...and apparently his subconscious had decided he needed such a reminder today.

He made his way through the forest towards the patch of clearings he knew the herd liked to frequent, hoping they hadn’t been driven off by the events of last term. Hagrid had reported that the unicorns killed had been males, old enough for independence from the herd, so hopefully the foals hadn’t been directly impacted. It was a relief when the unicorns came into sight, even if they seemed nervous. Once they were visible, Severus didn’t try to impose his company, knowing his mood was insufficiently controlled for them to tolerate him. Instead, he sat, instructed Fang to guard, and began to meditate.

 

Considering his recent practice, it was unsurprising how quickly Severus was able to sink into his mind, but this was the first time since his confrontation with ‘Quirrell’ that he had attempted to manipulate his mental shields. They were tattered, from the backlash as well as the initial mental invasion, and he could now see the signs of weakness bred by long-term exhaustion. It was a concern, and an urgent one, for he could not meet his responsibilities without certainty of the security of his mind. But for today, an open mind was not a flaw, and he carefully dismantled his remaining shields, absorbing what energy from them he could, and guided himself to relax into the certainty that the unicorns encountering him in such a state could only have positive outcomes.

When he had let go of his doubt and his fear, Severus opened his eyes - and smiled, because a gold-coated foal was watching him from less than a metre away, ears twitching with curiosity. “Hello,” Severus murmured, holding out his hand. “It’s nice to meet you.”

The foal pranced, running back to its mother, who looked on benevolently. Severus waited patiently. If this was the end of their interaction, he wouldn’t mind. But if there was to be more, he was open to it.

And there was more, for eventually, the foal approached him again, trusting and curious, snuffling at his hand. Severus let it smell his palm, then reached up to stroke the side of its neck. The foal gave a pleased whinny, moving so Severus’ hand was higher up, ruffling its mane, and when it trotted away, it left behind three perfect golden hairs in Severus’ hand.

“Thank you for the gift,” Severus called out as he got to his feet, bowing to the herd. Coiling the hairs neatly, he tucked them into his pocket, and reluctantly turned to go. He couldn’t stay with the unicorns forever, of course.

-----

When Severus returned to Malfoy Manor that night, he had intact low-level shields around his mind, and braided unicorn hair around his wrist.

Chapter Text

“It seems that we will be conducting interviews for the assistant position within the week,” Severus announced, taking a sip of the faintly shining magical brandy in his glass. He and Lucius had adjourned to the Manor's smoking room after dinner, and were now each seated in comfortable armchairs by the fireplace. 

Lucius inclined his head. “Congratulations. Dare I hope that you will favour a Slytherin candidate?”

“I will, of course, be promoting whichever candidates I consider to be in the school's best interests,” Severus replied, leaving unspoken the implication that a larger proportion of Slytherin staff-members would be beneficial to the school. There was a natural bias in the teaching profession towards Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs, but even by Gryffindors he was outnumbered three-to-one. 

“Of course,” Lucius agreed, raising his glass in a toast. “To your impartial judgement.”

“To your generous contribution,” Severus toasted him in reply. 

 

They sat in contemplative silence as Severus watched the crackling fire and considered a line of discussion that he had been putting off. While there could be no ideal time for it, this evening was certainly not an inappropriate one, and opening the topic now would give them several weeks for caution before action was needed. “Ten years ago,” he began, “could you have imagined that life after the war could be so congenial?”

“...no,” Lucius replied slowly. “Not in the immediate aftermath.” Ten years ago, of course, they were still in the midst of the post-war trials. Allies were turning on allies, friends and family were being condemned to Azkaban in droves, and even those who avoided conviction faced the risk of permanent poverty due to lack of willing employers. It was genuinely remarkable that so many of them had managed to thrive in the years since.

“I feared greatly for Draco,” Severus admitted, in a show of vulnerability. “For myself, of course, and for all of us. But it seemed particularly...unjust that the advantages which had seemed to guarantee him a bright future at his birth should come to threaten him instead.” He paused, watching Lucius carefully. “You have had remarkable success in your endeavours to restore the power of the House of Malfoy, and Draco’s future with it.”

Lucius raised an eyebrow, taking a sip of brandy. “You make me sound very disinterested in my own successes,” he said dryly.

Severus inclined his head, conceding the point. “Perhaps. But the fortune of the Lord Malfoy is, by extension, the fortune of House Malfoy.” He smiled thinly. “And no one could deny that your efforts have made both very fortunate.”

“Is there a purpose to all this flattery?” Lucius drawled.

“Merely this,” Severus replied. “That I have lost my taste for the war I found so glorious in my youth, and find I much prefer the more gradual advances you have made through peace.”

It was, in its way, a dangerous statement, hinting as it did at disloyalty to the Dark Lord. Even now, that was not something any of them could do lightly. But he could be confident by now (if not certain) that Lucius would not disavow him for it, and he had left himself room to retreat from the sentiments thus far express. So Severus merely watched as Lucius stood, turning to consider the painting of a fox hunt on the wall.

 

“It is a rare power which, like the Dark Lord, can create swift revolution,” Lucius said at last, and Severus allowed himself to relax slightly. “The rest of us, I agree, are better served by patient influence.”

Severus took a sip of brandy, judging his next words carefully. “Perhaps it is cowardly of me, but I admit I would be...reluctant to give up the comforts of my present life should the Dark Lord return, and we be called to his side once more. Shameful, I know.”

“It would be an honour to serve him again,” Lucius snapped, turning abruptly to face him. “Britain remains corrupted with Muggle influence, and disrespect for the old houses runs rife.”

“Indeed,” Severus conceded, watching Lucius’ face carefully. “And I have admired your success in addressing those matters - your influence on the Ministry, on the Wizengamot, and on Hogwarts itself cannot be understated. It is no exaggeration to say you have undone all the setbacks of the war's end, and gone even further.” Did Lucius see that he had achieved more for the traditionalists than the Dark Lord had, in the end? 

“You flatter me, again.” 

Severus smiled wryly. “If there is flattery in truth, then yes, I do.”

“The truth can be used to deceive as easily as lies can,” Lucius pointed out, setting his glass on the mantelpiece. “What are you trying to persuade me to?”

And this was the crux. Not that Severus was planning to reveal all, just yet. But, if he succeeded, this would be the beginning. “To oppose the risks of another war,” he said carefully. “Should...radical elements among our allies decide it is warranted.”

Lucius searched his face. “Are suggesting disloyalty to our Lord?” he asked.

Severus knocked back the last of his brandy, set down his glass, and stood, meeting Lucius’ gaze steadily. “I am suggesting you consider the stakes,” he said lowly. “If there were to be another war, you would have a great deal more to lose, and a great deal less to gain.”

Chapter Text

Severus Snape, Potions Master, Head of House Slytherin and Professor of Potions at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, sends congratulations on his new role to Thomas Mulpepper, Potions Journeyman, Assistant Professor of Potions and Herbology at Hogwarts.

I have no doubt that Professor McGonagall has already provided you with information on your duties as a general member of staff, and I advise you to take up any concerns on those points with her directly. However, as both a teacher of Potions and a rare Slytherin addition to the faculty, there are matters I should address.

Firstly, I have attached a detailed curriculum for first and second year Potions, and require you to familiarise yourself with it. If you have concerns about any aspect of that curriculum, you may discuss them with me in my rooms at Hogwarts on Tuesday or Thursday evenings, which I will be spending at the school for the remainder of the summer.

Secondly, while I have conceded your assistance in preparing for the term to Professor Sprout, so that you may refamiliarise yourself with those areas of Herbology in which you confessed your weakness, I advise you to take the time to familiarise yourself with both your classroom and the storerooms in the dungeons. Considering your experience at your father's apothecary business, I will accept sensible suggestions on the organisation of the potions stores, but do not change anything there without my approval. If you wish, you may join me in preparing supplies for Madam Pomfrey on Fridays after lunch.

Thirdly, while your status as a Slytherin does not affect any authority over you I may have, and you are not required to assist with my guardianship of its members, I warn you that you will be judged by your membership of that House, and it will be judged by you. For the sake of our students, therefore, I advise you to strive to represent our House's virtues and to minimise your representation of its failings. You may discuss the matter with me at your convenience.

Fourthly, I note that the students entering their second year include many strong personalities, and several of high rank. At times, some may attempt to persuade you that such rank or fame should afford them special treatment or excuse them from disciplinary expectations. This is false, and I advise you to prepare yourself to impress that fact upon them definitively and early, regardless of the importance of their parents. If a parent should challenge you on the matter, I refer you to Professor McGonagall, and if need be, to Professor Dumbledore.

Finally, on a practical note, I advise you to make preparations for the year-round cool temperature of the dungeons, and speak to the castle's house elves regarding the most convenient shortcuts between the areas in which you will be working. 

Severus Snape

 

Chapter Text

This time, Severus met Healer Bulstrode in the floo parlour, and escorted him to his rooms himself. They made polite small talk as they moved through the Manor, but neither attempted to raise any topics of significance until they were ensconced behind a closed door and Severus' privacy wards.

"Well," Bulstrode began, setting down his bag. "How are you feeling? I can see you are less wan, at least."

"I am not such a fool as to ignore expert advice when I have the means to follow it," Severus said drily, masking his discomfort at Bulstrode's evaluating gaze. "I am significantly improved."

Bulstrode smiled wryly. "If you wish me to do a magical assessment first, then I will," he said. "But in matters such as these, your subjective experience is relevant. You will need to speak of it before I make my recommendations."

Severus inclined his head, acknowledging the necessity. "Very well."

The spells Bulstrode used this time were more specialised, more involved. He would repeat a diagnostic spell from their first appointment, note the results, then follow up with another targeting the same area which Severus had scarcely heard of. He concluded with a group of spells which required direct wand contact, at Severus' throat, at his spine, and at his temple. (It was a relief when Bulstrode retreated and addressed himself to his notes. Accepting such vulnerability did not come naturally, and it required some minutes for Severus to fully regain his composure.)

"Well," Bulstrode said at last. "Physiologically, at least, you are indeed improved. You've gained weight; your heart isn't working so hard; the elements in your blood are more balanced, and your other organs are accordingly less strained. However, you are barely within healthy ranges on those points, and I have no hesitation in repeating my recommendations regarding food and exercise, and extending your prescription for Bartleby's Tonic. I suspect by the end of the summer you will no longer strictly need it, but if you have issues with appetite during the term, please resume its use to ensure you are absorbing sufficient nutrients."

Severus was not inclined to advertise any weakness by being seen taking a daily potion at a public meal, but there were ways around that. And he would admit he had felt less fatigued and had fewer aches in the past few weeks than he was accustomed to. Better to seem weak than be weak, after all.

“I can also tell that your mind is repairing the damage from the legilimantic attack,” Bulstrode went on, sitting back and watching Severus steadily. “Before you ask, I judge that from the physiological signs, not from trying to observe your mind itself. Have you observed an improvement?”

Severus paused, considering his answer carefully. “It is no longer painful to do occlumantic work,” he conceded. “Approximately a week ago I chose to dismantle the remnants of my outer shields and began to restore them. The exercise was tiring, but neither exhausting nor painful.”

Bulstrode hummed. “Is that also true of other magic you have been performing?”

“It is.”

Bulstrode’s gaze was sharp and evaluating, though he reached for neither wand nor quill. “...I believe I can begin to predict a course of treatment for you in the long term,” he said at last. “The good news is that you will, barring extraordinary circumstances, be fit for your duties this school term - although I still advise you to reduce those duties as much as you are able. The news you will find less satisfying is that I do not anticipate giving you a clean bill of health before the end of next summer, at the earliest.”

Severus raised his eyebrows. “Go on.”

“The fundamental problem,” Bulstrode explained, “is the matter of your magical reserves. You may imagine them, if you like, as a pond that you draw water from, one which is naturally replenished by rain and groundwater. Most witches and wizards draw ‘water’ at a rate similar to that coming in - with the exception of young Hogwarts students, whose ‘ponds’ are still small. That is why we advise them to avoid doing magic in the summers; the rest allows them time to refill that reservoir. When a wizard does not rest, gradually, their reserves will be used up...yet, even then, in extremis they may be able to draw additional power from their physical reserves and their environment, as an aquamenti may concentrate water from the air.”

“...yet doing so requires moisture in the air to begin with,” Severus concluded wearily. It was a principle any adequate fifth-year student would comprehend: magic could not make something from nothing. “You are saying that I should expect exhaustion to come sooner and require more recovery until my reserves are substantially restored, which will be a matter of...months?”

Bulstrode spread his hands and shrugged. “Master Snape, if you persist in pushing yourself as hard as you have in the past, it could be years. If you are careful, then yes, months may suffice.” He sighed. “And there is another matter. You have curse damage which I believe may require active intervention, yet I am reluctant to risk it when you are so worn down. Particularly given the complications in your case.” He tapped his left forearm, making it clear what he was referring to. “If you are not exhausted next June, then I would prefer to begin a course of treatment then, so that you have the remainder of summer to recuperate. But that relies on your caution during the school term.”

It was a matter for serious contemplation, and (discreet) discussion with certain other members of Hogwarts staff. “I will take the matter into consideration,” Severus conceded. “And your recommendations for now?”

Bulstrode retrieved parchment, ink, and quill, and wrote as he spoke. “Keep up the Bartleby’s Tonic, the exercise, rest, and food, as I said before. Be cautious with your magic use: rest whenever you are tired, and try for two or three days a week with as little wandwork as possible. One day a week, you may test your capacity, but do not go to the point of straining yourself. You seem to be doing fine with your mind-work, so you can continue with that on the same general principles as wandwork. Have you been sleeping well on your nights with the Restorative only?”

Severus inclined his head, hiding his displeasure at the restrictions. They were not Bulstrode’s doing; they were the natural result of overwork.

“Good.” Bulstrode nodded firmly. “We’ll wean you off the Calming Draughts, then - you don’t want a dependency. One night in four for the next two doses, then two doses five days apart, then once a week for two weeks. Replace it with Rufflebloom’s, and when I see you in a month we’ll work on reducing your doses of that as well. Hopefully by the time term begins you’ll be down to a dose of Rufflebloom’s as needed, but if you’re having trouble sleeping, that takes priority.”

“Thank you for your advice,” Severus said, standing. “If that is all?”

Bulstrode nodded, efficiently packing his things back into his bag. “That’s all,” he agreed. “Do take care, Master Snape - if none of my patients ever needed me, I’d be a happy man.”

Chapter Text

To Poppy Pomfrey, Hogwarts Mediwitch, Master Nurse, Severus Snape sends greetings.

I am sure you will be vindicated to hear that the healer I have consulted during the term break has seconded many of your concerns. I shall be retaining his services for the foreseeable future; please add Healer Morsulus Bulstrode to my medical records in case of future critical incidents. 

With thanks,

Severus Snape

 

-----

 

Severus Snape, Potions Master, Hogwarts Professor of Potions, and Head of the House of Slytherin sends greetings to Thomas Mulpepper, Potions Journeyman, Junior Professor of Potions and Herbology at Hogwarts.

Your suggestion of maintaining a bulk storeroom in addition to the classroom stores has merit. Ask the house-elves Klimby and Morkin for assistance in transferring the stores; I will let them know you have my permission. To avoid confusion, establish a ledger for us to record withdrawals from the bulk storeroom; you will be responsible for maintaining the general condition and organisation of the stores.

Your information regarding mandrake suppliers has been discussed by Professor Sprout and myself and we have developed a proposal for allocation of the necessary funds.

Sincerely,

Severus Snape

 

-----

 

To Klimby and Morkin, care of Argus Filch, Hogwarts Caretaker

Mr Thomas Mulpepper has my permission to relocate and rearrange the potions stores, and I have advised him to ask for your assistance.

Severus Snape

 

-----

 

To Albus Dumbledore, Headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Severus Snape, Esteemed Potions Master, Professor of Potions at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Head of the House of Slytherin, sends greetings.

I write to lodge a formal complaint against the appointment of Mr Gilderoy Lockhart to the position of Defence Against the Dark Arts Professor. 

He has no mastery, nor even journeymanship in any field, and though we have historically waived that requirement if practical experience warrants, Lockhart’s self-reported ‘experience’ is not taken seriously by any person of relevant expertise. He has no background in teaching or with children. 

Furthermore, his boastful attitude and flirtatious behaviour set an example we ought not encourage our students to emulate, and I have deep concerns about his understanding of the necessity to discourage the student infatuations he is likely to provoke.

I am aware that the school often struggles to find appropriate applications for the Defence Against the Dark Arts role; nevertheless I have once again registered my willingness to take the post, if necessary, and urge you to reconsider Lockhart’s appointment.

Regards,

Professor Severus Snape.

NB: This letter has been copied to the Deputy Headmistress and the Secretary of the School Board.

 

-----

 

To Minerva McGonagall, Deputy Headmistress of Hogwarts, Professor Severus Snape sends greetings.

Please find attached a formal proposal by myself and Pomona for the purchase of two score mandrake seedlings. We have included costings based on advice from Junior Professor Mulpepper, class plans for Herbology students from second to seventh year, and class plans for Potions students in sixth and seventh year. 

Kind regards,

Severus Snape

 

-----

 

To Aurora Sinistra, Master of Magical Astronomy, Professor of Astronomy at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Severus Snape, Head of the House of Slytherin, sends greetings and good wishes

I hope you are enjoying your trip to Namibia, and your research there has been fruitful. I am sure Minerva has been keeping you apprised of important developments at the school over the summer, but there is one matter which she has likely not raised and I would like to discuss with you.

As you will recall, I spent the last few days of last term in the Hospital Wing due to magical exhaustion. The details are unnecessary; suffice to say that fulfilling my duty to protect the school took more than I had to spare after a long and busy term. I have been informed by my healer that, unless I seriously apply myself to the matter of reducing my workload, I can expect to reach the limit of my capacity more frequently in future, and that such would be injurious to my long-term health.

Accordingly, I have discussed matters with Minerva, Filius, and Pomona, and with the addition of our new junior professors and the shift from our old night patrol schedule to staff-member-on-call, my usual duties will hopefully be less tiring. I would be foolish, however, not to plan for contingencies. 

Would you be willing to stand as a mentor to Thomas Mulpepper in my stead if a critical incident should occur during the term? Specifically, in the matter of overseeing Slytherin House. While I trust Minerva to make appropriate judgements regarding my classes, the relation of other Houses to Slytherin makes their pastoral needs a delicate matter, and an abrupt absence on my part is likely to encourage existing tensions and anxieties to manifest themselves. Although you are not a Slytherin yourself, you have provided very welcome assistance in the past when delicate House matters have arisen, and I believe Slytherin has come to see you as a neutral party in inter-House matters. I am certain that, if I were to be unavailable, your support would provide great reassurance to Mr Mulpepper and my charges. 

Please do not feel obliged to agree simply because I believe to be the best option; consider the matter as long as you choose, and I will make any necessary arrangements depending on your response.

With my respect, and good wishes for the remainder of your summer,

Severus Snape

 

-----

 

To Albus Dumbledore, Severus Snape, Esteemed Potions Master, Hogwarts Potions Professor, Head of Slytherin House, sends his most stringent objections to Mr Lockhart’s proposed booklist.

Seven books per student is absurd, unreasonable, extortionate, and corrupt. If he does not correct his proposal to a single book per year-group, I will be contacting my entire House to advise them on establishing a shared library of copies.

S.

NB: This letter has been copied to Professors McGonagall, Flitwick, and Sprout

Chapter Text

“I owe you both an explanation of what happened at the end of school term.”

Severus had now been laying the foundations for this conversation for three weeks, offering careful confidences, receiving equally wary secrets in exchange, himself and Lucius doing the careful dance of testing the stance of a possible ally. Just as carefully, he had observed Narcissa, probing her priorities, her stance on Draco, on House Malfoy, on Bellatrix, and House Black. It was time, he thought, to take the next big risk.

Narcissa, ever-gracious, laid her hand on the arm of her chair and leaned in. “You don’t owe us any disclosures you don’t wish to give, Severus.” (This was, of course, a very polite lie. As his patrons, the Malfoys could request a great deal from him.)

“Nevertheless.” Severus inclined his head, smiling politely. “It is a complex narrative, some parts of which were only known in retrospect, and so I beg your patience.” 

“Of course,” Lucius murmured, watching closely.

And so, Severus began to tell them the story of Quirinus Quirrell, who had taken a summer trip to the forests of Albania and returned to apply for the Defence Against the Dark Arts position. Who had been subtly, but noticeably, altered, in a manner most had attributed to a frightening encounter. The stutter, the turban, the pervasive smell. And so, Severus had observed.

How Albus had determined that he would bring the Mirror of Erised into the school (“How dare he! Among children?”) and protected it with a gauntlet of challenges which would buy time for someone to catch an intruder before they reached the Mirror itself. How it had been understood, though unspoken, that the Mirror held a greater treasure within its mystery, and how Severus had watched Quirrell seek an opportunity to seize that treasure.

How Quirrell had spoken as if he had been part of the Dark Lord’s inner circle, chastising Severus for not assisting him. How he had clumsily targeted the Potter boy at a Quidditch match, obsessed with the Dark Lord’s enemy. How his behaviour had escalated, bringing a troll onto the grounds (as they determined later), then seeking unicorns in the Forbidden Forest so that he might slay them.

Narcissa gasped, her shock only half manufactured. 

“He did not harvest the hair or horn,” Severus revealed, “nor did he collect the blood for use or sale. He drank it fresh from the unicorn’s throat, and let the rest spill on the ground.”

“And this...this filthy creature was teaching our Draco?” Narcissa exclaimed. “How could such a thing go undiscovered?”

Severus bowed his head. “I regret to inform you, Lady Malfoy, that there is more,” he said solemnly. 

She rose to her feet and began to pace, magic heavy in the air around her. “Tell us, then,” she demanded. “Tell us what could be worse than a unicorn-slayer teaching my child .”

Spreading his hands, Severus went on. “Though I suspected him of misdeeds, it was only on the night of the last exams that he discarded his facade. He traversed the gauntlet, and Filius Flitwick and I waited to ambush him. And there he revealed himself to be, not a deluded would-be follower of the Dark Lord, but possessed by a spirit which claimed to be the Dark Lord himself.”

Lucius’ head jerked up, and Narcissa whirled on Severus, wand in hand. “What. Happened.”

“It was no true possession,” Severus explained, his voice as calm and even as every other time he had needed to make such an unpalatable report. “The spirit did not take over Quirrell’s form, but had become a second face on the back of Quirrell’s head. To any who had beheld the Dark Lord’s true glory, it would seem a grotesque mimickry, but Quirrell was wholly convinced. When it became clear I would not assist Quirrell in his ‘quest’, the spirit attacked my mind, and the resultant backlash when Flitwick knocked Quirrell out left me unconscious.” He met Narcissa’s eyes steadily. “If you ask it, I will swear on my magic: the spirit was consumed by a Dementor, and Quirrell resides in Azkaban. Neither are a danger to Draco anymore.”

There was a very, very long silence. 

“Lucius,” Narcissa said at last, her voice cold and quiet. “ Deal with this. Our true allies know where their priorities lie. I will not have deluded maniacs endangering our son for the sake of a Lord whose legacy they utterly fail to comprehend.”

Severus bowed his head. “I believe it is for the best if I leave you to discuss this privately, Lady Malfoy, Lord Malfoy,” he said smoothly. “I apologise for being the bearer of such ill news.”

“Revealing a threat requires no apology,” Lucius replied, his voice as calm as his eyes were not. “You may leave us.”

Chapter Text

It was the second Wednesday in July, and Severus was in Spinner’s End. Purely to collect necessary supplies, of course; he did not keep such items in Malfoy Manor, nor in his rooms at Hogwarts when he wasn't resident. Spinner’s End, by contrast, was known of by few, and was very, very well warded. 

Dusting the ash off his robes, Severus stepped out of the fireplace and strode to the hidden door that would reveal the stairs. In a different summer, he might simply have transfigured his robes, but this year, he would be relying on his accumulated muggle wardrobe instead.

The black suit he changed into fit well, and had been carefully modified to allow for a quick wand-draw when needed. The length of his hair made him appear slightly eccentric, but such things were excused in the wealthy, as his suit made him appear to be. A black leather briefcase completed the facade, and also contained certain items which would be useful later, or in the case of contingencies. Satisfied, Severus returned downstairs, and flooed to Number 7, Wisteria Walk, Little Whinging.

Privet Drive was, as it had been the last four times he had come here, insufferably uniform. The only variation between one house and the next was the choice of flowers in their front yards and the pattern on the curtains. That is, on a non-magical level. If one were to apply any kind of scrying art, Number 4 would seem as if a bomb had gone off. Severus had attempted it once, curious about the wards Dumbledore was so adamant be maintained, and the intermingled and splattered remnants of accidental magic had deterred him from repeating the exercise. 

Today he walked purposefully up the street, using occlumantic discipline to ensure he absorbed every detail, turned a corner, and made his way to a bench in the park on Magnolia Road. As he sat, he reached into his briefcase, he let his wand slip into his hand and muttered a few spells to detect onlookers and distract eavesdroppers, before tucking it away again and withdrawing a blocky, black mobile phone.

It was the mobile phone which necessitated this particular disguise, such devices being primarily the province of businessmen at present. The device had been Ted Tonks’ idea, and Severus had gone to Filius for discreet assistance with the relevant charms. It did not technically function as a phone, but the screen had been transfigured and charmed to anchor one end of a mirror-linking spell, triggered to activate by a certain sequence of pressed keys, so it did have a similar result. It being the afternoon of an alternate Wednesday, the person with the other mirror would be awaiting his call.

 

Severus dialed the appropriate sequence of keys, then held the phone to his ear, waiting for a reply. 

“Professor Snape!” he heard at last. “Good afternoon.”

“Andy,” he said evenly. (Such could be the name of any number of British businessmen.) “How are you?”

“Harry is very well,” she replied. There was a loud crash in the background, and Severus heard a faint ‘ Sorry, Mum!’ in a voice he knew too well. “Nymphadora is visiting for the afternoon,” Andromeda went on. “Harry quite likes her, I think.”

“She is a substantial improvement on the previous,” Severus said with a sneer. The Dursley boy and his pack of fellow miscreants were regular visitors to this park, and he had observed them more than once. Odious child. “Is the account still progressing?”

Andromeda scoffed. “Ted and I are healers , Snape, and he’s a magical child besides. I’m insulted that you think his health wouldn’t improve. Feeding him enough would do it. Any news from Hogwarts that I should be aware of?”

“The latest appointment for the security position is a bumbling fool,” Severus said drily. “With far too high an opinion of himself.”

“Should we worry?”

“I believe he is genuinely an imbecile,” Severus reassured her. “Although there is potential benefit in pursuing alternatives to relying on him. The head of the department has no concerns.”

“Good,” Andromeda said firmly. “So long as Harry is here, he’s getting healthier, gaining weight, and corresponding with his friends. Ted’s been telling stories about being a muggleborn at Hogwarts, with Nymphadora’s willing collusion. The only thing we can’t manage is assisting him with the affairs of House Potter - we simply aren’t able to get access to things with the situation as it is.”

Severus pursed his lips. “It’s a low priority compared to the other projects we have going, but I will make inquiries.”

Andromeda hummed. “While you’re at it, can you ‘make inquiries’ about his owl wards? The fact that he hasn’t been bombarded with fanmail his entire life is probably a good thing, but he doesn’t remember any contact from anyone else , either, and it must have been going somewhere. And in the last few days, letters from his friends seem to have been going astray too.”

“I’ll look into it.” The possibilities were concerning, though not urgent. Almost certainly, Dumbledore was meddling. “Good afternoon, Andy.”

There was a pause, and Severus imagined Andromeda rolling her eyes. “I’ll talk to you Wednesday after next, Snape.”

It was, he reflected as he ended the spell and put the phone away, very satisfying to work with someone capable of subtlety.

 

Severus lingered in the vicinity of Privet Drive for another hour, making sure to catch Petunia’s eye as he passed Number 4 on his return to Wisteria Walk. She looked angry and pale when she spotted him, but met his gaze defiantly, and Severus was quite confident she would adhere to their deal. Pretending that she and her execrable husband still had custody of their nephew was a small price to pay for the removal from their lives of all things ‘abnormal’. It was not a solution he could guarantee would sustain itself until the boy reached his majority, but it was stable enough to outlast the summer, at least. A year could bring many possibilities.

 

-----

 

Severus’ return to Hogwarts took the same circuitous route as his departure had: a floo from the home of Arabella Figg to Spinner’s End, the restoration of his customary clothing, and a second floo to his sitting room at Hogwarts. There, he meditated, fixing the narrative of the afternoon in his mind, detailing it with sights and sounds from his expedition, and tucking the reality away in a discreet and obscure corner of his memory. At last, he was prepared, and took himself up the many, many stairs to the Headmaster’s Tower.

“Severus!” Dumbledore greeted him, smiling beatifically as Severus strode into the office, robes billowing behind him. “Back from visiting Mr Potter, I presume?”

“I do not ‘visit’ Mr Potter.” Severus sat, folding his hands together. “Considering you promised his aunt that you wouldn’t interfere, I don’t have the option.” He sneered at the mention of Petunia Evans, who had grown from an unlikeable, petty-minded child into an unlikeable, petty-minded adult.

“Sacrifices must be made to ensure Harry’s safety, Severus.” Dumbledore gazed at him over his glasses, apparently feeling no need to justify the assertion. “I am sure Harry will be fine.”

Severus raised a sardonic eyebrow. “He was not ‘fine’ for the ten years that I was under the impression he was with a magical foster-family,” he pointed out sharply. “I fail to see what makes you so confident that he will be fine for the duration of a summer in which he has no means to defend himself against his magic-hating, abusive relatives!”

Dumbledore was unmoved, as he had been in every other iteration of this argument. “Has he been injured?” he asked. “I know you have emergency means for him to communicate with you if he is.”

“I do not.” Fleeting thoughts of a spare toothbrush which would act as a distress signal if snapped were carefully hidden behind Severus’ mental shields as he met Dumbledore’s gaze. 

“Of course not, my boy,” Dumbledore said with a knowing smile. “My mistake. On your visits to Little Whinging, have you seen any evidence of injury or malnourishment?”

Severus pursed his lips. “Not yet,” he ground out. “But I don’t think these apparently miraculous blood wards are worth the risk.” He rose to his feet. “Which I intend to remind you of each time we meet until you agree to put the boy in a better home!” He turned to leave, only to be frozen by Dumbledore’s voice from behind him:

“Lily would be proud of you, Severus.”

There was a long pause. At last, Severus took a deep breath and said lowly, “Do not presume to tell me of what Lily would or would not be proud.” 

As he stalked out, the door closed behind him with a decided click.

Chapter Text

BOOKSHOP BRAWL: LUCIUS MALFOY ATTACKED BY ARTHUR WEASLEY

A bustling crowd of school shoppers at Flourish and Blotts were brought to a halt yesterday when a disagreement between Lord Lucius Malfoy and Arthur Weasley escalated not to wands, but to blows. 

"They were talking, all tense and stuff, and then Weasley just went for him!" one observer reported. (They have requested to remain anonymous.) "Knocked him right into a bookshelf - made one hell of a mess, too."

The fight was quickly broken up by Rubeus Hagrid, Hogwarts groundskeeper, who interposed himself between the two men, but not before several shelves were knocked over, creating a panic among the crowds who were there for a book-signing event by Gilderoy Lockhart. Mr Lockhart, an author, adventurer, and the newest professor of Defense Against the Dark Arts at Hogwarts, commented that if he had not been impeded by the crowds, he could have stopped the fight at the start. 

Lord Malfoy was escorting his son Draco, a second-year Hogwarts student and Heir of House Malfoy, while Weasley was accompanied by wife Molly and sons Frederick, George, Ronald, and daughter Ginevra, all of whom are currently attending Hogwarts. Witnesses report that Harry Potter, now entering his second year alongside Heir Malfoy and the youngest Weasley boy, was also on the scene. 

While witnesses did not report the substance of the discussion between Weasley and Lord Malfoy, it is speculated that it relates to the recent Muggle Protection Bill, proposed by Mr Weasley in his capacity as Head of the Misuse of Muggle Artefacts Office. Lord Malfoy has strongly opposed the bill, arguing that the vast majority of items the bill proposes to regulate are family heirlooms kept out of reach of Muggles. The bill has nevertheless retained the support of the Longbottom-Abbott-Prewett voting bloc, and is expected to pass at the August session. 

Lord Malfoy, when interviewed, denied this assertion. “Mr Weasley and I had a philosophical disagreement, not a political one. However, I find it concerning that a Ministry employee with such clear prejudice against long-standing pureblood families should be in a position to present bills before the Wizengamot.”

Arthur Weasley has declined to comment.

Chapter Text

Pomona Sprout had, functionally, two offices. Her workroom, adjoining the greenhouses, was saturated with the scents of dirt and mulch, lined with shelves and store cupboards holding pots, tools, and potions, and had a coat rack by the door for the sturdy robes she covered her clean clothes with while she worked. Her sitting room, by comparison, was a cosy, neat space decorated in browns and golds, with a desk tucked away in the back corner, a bookshelf full of reference texts (and a few novels) along the wall, and three squashy armchairs arrayed around the small fireplace. This was where she did her marking, where she met with students, and where, this evening, she was having tea and crumpets with Severus Snape.

"Has Mr Mulpepper's work been satisfactory?" he asked, as she levitated the toasted crumpets off the fire and onto a plate. 

Pomona rolled her eyes. "Oh, do call him Thomas," she insisted. "You can’t go around calling him Mr Mulpepper all year."

"The formality is a courtesy, Pomona," Severus replied coolly. "A necessary one, considering he was once my student." He intended to make it absolutely clear that Mr Mulpepper's authority was to be respected; it would save trouble in the long run.

"Nonsense," Pomona said, pointing the butter knife at him. "Invite him to first name terms, you’ll like him better if you do. Crumpet?"

"No, thank you."

"Suit yourself." She transferred one to her own plate and took a bite, visibly savoring it. "And in answer to your question, he’s coming along very well. I wouldn’t set him to teaching the upper years, but that’s not his job, is it?" She shook her head. "No, I’m perfectly happy with his ability to take the first and second years, and not just because it eases my workload. He’s got a good manner about him, too."

"He is certainly gregarious," Severus allowed. "Do you believe he is equipped to handle the...strong personalities among the second-years?"

Pomona snorted. "All the little noble heirs, you mean? I suppose we’ll see. I’ve been chatting to him about the students, filling him in on their personalities and rivalries and so on, and he’s not star-struck, at least. I think he’ll give ‘em fair treatment."

Severus hummed. They would see.

"Frankly, I’m more concerned about the older students," Pomona went on. "He’s a handsome young man; there’ll be fourth and fifth years who get ideas."

Severus' mouth twisted. Yes, a young, handsome man with a bright smile was going to attract student attention, especially a friendly one. Even he had had one or two admirers over the years, and he made deliberate efforts to be forbidding. "Better them getting ideas about Mulpepper than Lockhart," he said darkly. Lockhart had been a narcissist and a peacock when at Hogwarts, and by all accounts had remained so. 

Pomona took a disgruntled bite of her crumpet. "Oh yes, I’ll be keeping an eye on that one," she muttered. " He’ll just take the fawning as his due, mark my words."

Severus hummed, and made a mental note to speak with the prefects on the matter. "Do you think Ms Kirkby will have trouble?" he asked, changing the subject. Ms Emma Kirkby was the new junior Charms and Transfiguration teacher, a young woman from a minor Wizengamot family with academic ambitions. Where Mr Mulpepper was dark skinned, dark haired, and tall, Ms Kirkby was blonde, hazel-eyed, and slight. Her appearance suggested a demure noble lady, but Severus had observed hints of Hufflepuff stubbornness and a steel spine. 

"Hmph. Probably," Pomona grumbled. "Dissuading teenage boys from awkward behaviour is rather a different knack than dealing with adult men, not that I’ve needed either skill in years. I might suggest Aurora have a word with her." 

"Sensible." Aurora was among the younger women on staff, and had dealt with more than her share of student infatuations.

"Now then," Pomona said, fixing Severus with a firm look, "how about you tell me what you're going to need Thomas for during the term, so I know how much I can ask of him."

Severus raised one eyebrow.

Pomona rolled her eyes. "Oh come now, Severus, you know the staff leak gossip like a sieve. Poppy's worried about you, and I don't have to be a healer to notice something's wrong. If I know what it is, I can compensate."

It was a reasonable argument, and Severus knew well that Pomona was unlikely to be dissuaded once she had made up her mind on something. "...very well," he conceded (ignoring her satisfied smile). "I am told that my...dramatic reaction to the events of last term was a consequence of chronic overwork," he confessed, "and have been quite firmly instructed to reduce my workload so as to allow my reserves to restore themselves. Nothing else is specifically of concern."

"Except for the fact that you're doing about five job's worth here and we all know it?" Pomona asked wryly.

He did not reply.

She hummed, drumming her fingers on the arm of her chair. "Well, overwork is simple enough to address," she said. "Not necessarily easy, mind, but simple. You've got Thomas on the first and second years, which is about a third of your class load, so that's a start. Have you assigned him any other jobs?"

The difficulty, Severus had found, was identifying tasks which could reasonably be separated out. "He will be taking charge of the main potions storeroom," he allowed, but that was as much as he had planned.

Pomona was unimpressed. "And that's it?"

"What else do you propose I delegate?" It was a genuine question. Pomona was particularly skilled at planning such logistics to take advantage of the skills and preferences of others.

Unsurprisingly, she immediately had a suggestion. "Have him do the supplies for Poppy, of course! He wants a career in that, he'll be grateful for the practice. All you have to do then is quality control, and that's much easier."

"...you may have a point," Severus conceded. The school's potions supplies were a minor but constant drain on his time; furthermore, the need increased in a crisis, when he was most needed elsewhere.

"Of course I do," Pomona said firmly. "Are you taking another protege this year?"

"Penelope Clearwater has agreed to my invitation, and of course Jennifer Li, beginning her seventh year." He paused, then admitted, "They would usually be of most help with the first and second year marking, however." Acting as his assistants in exchange for mentorship was a bargain his proteges had thus far found equitable; the addition of Mr Mulpepper to the staff was going to substantially alter the nature of that exchange.

Pomona clicked her tongue thoughtfully "Well, try Clearwater out on the thirds, and give Li the fourths," she suggested. "If nothing else, it's review for them and saves you some time. If you can train them up to it properly, you'll have less to do later."

"You don't think it's too close a gap?" Severus asked. He hadn't been sure.

"It's three years, and the other side of the OWLs," Pomona pointed out. "They'll be fine."

"...I'll consider it."

Pomona nodded firmly, dismissing that point. "Now, I know Minerva's changed the roster so the Heads aren't on night patrols or Hogsmeade trips, so that's something. You've got your prefects briefed?"

"I'm meeting with Burke and Rothley once term starts, but I sent out letters with the basics, and they know what's expected of them." The prefects fulfilled a vital role in moderating student issues which might otherwise take up substantial time. Of course, Severus still made himself available, but the triaging effect was significant. "I'm maintaining the same office hours as usual."

Pomona shrugged, sitting back in her chair. "Hardly anyone comes to those, anyway. It's a chance to get marking done."

"Mm."

She tilted her head, eyeing him speculatively. "How about detentions?"

Severus rolled his eyes. "I won't impose that obnoxious responsibility on others."

She barked a laugh. "I won't say I'm disappointed, but if you need to, you can send them to me," she offered. "I always have dung to shovel."

Severus shook his head. With his responsibilities thus laid out and redistributed between Mulpepper, his proteges, and his prefects, the prospect of the year was substantially less exhausting to contemplate. "So long as we don't have a repeat of last year," he said, "the additions to the staff ought to be more than sufficient to lighten my workload."

Pomona nodded, taking another crumpet. "Well, chances of a wraith of You-Know-Who possessing someone and wreaking havoc are pretty slim. Maybe we'll get lucky and have a restful year."

Chapter Text

"Preparing to leave us, Severus?" Lucius glanced around the guest room Severus had been occupying for the summer, taking in open wardrobes, trunk, and bag. "Term doesn't start for three days."

Severus flicked his wand, and a stack of books floated over to his trunk. "The students may not arrive until Tuesday," he replied, "but preparations are already well underway. I will be needed at the school." He bowed his head slightly. "Besides, I would not want to intrude on your last few days with Draco before he leaves again."

Lucius smiled thinly. "You are not an intrusion, Severus," he countered. "I would far rather offer you space in my home than know you are staying in that... muggle house you inherited." 

Severus could not disagree with Lucius' sneer. Spinner's End was a dismal place. "Nevertheless," he said, "you have my gratitude."

Accepting the courtesy as his due, Lucius looked around again, then tutted. "Really, whatever elf ironed those robes should practice on their hands before they touch another shirt," he muttered. "Jimkin!"

A house-elf popped into the room and bowed - Lucius' personal elf, if Severus recalled correctly.

"See that Severus' things are pressed properly before he goes."

"Yes, Lord Malfoy." The elf bowed again, deeply, and disappeared (along with most of Severus' clothes) with a snap of its fingers.

Severus didn't comment. He had considered the state of the robes perfectly reasonable, but he was aware that Lucius was more fastidious. Such fastidiousness, he was also aware, increased when Lucius was uncertain of something. He gestured to a chair. "Is there anything you would like to discuss before I depart?" he offered. "You are welcome to join me, if you like."

"Perceptive, as always," Lucius murmured, closing the door and withdrawing his wand from his sleeve. "If I may raise privacy wards?"

Severus spread his hands in silent invitation. The Lord Malfoy's wards were always the strongest on Malfoy grounds, and indeed, the magic that spun from Lucius' wand seemed to melt into the walls themselves. Severus waited, patiently, for Lucius to reveal what was on his mind.

"...I have set certain affairs in motion," Lucius said at last, looking steadfastly out the window at the grounds. "Affairs which would be looked on most unfavourably by parties I have previously  been allied with."

Severus inclined his head. "Do you believe you acted imprudently?" he asked.

A faint hint of a smile twitched at one corner of Lucius' mouth. "You were very persuasive," he admitted. "I could, perhaps, have chosen a more cautious path, but this promotes the better outcome."

"Then it is prudent to make the path you have chosen as safe as possible," Severus replied, "either by disabling your opponents or persuading them to be your allies."

"Narcissa has claimed that task." Lucius turned his head slightly, giving Severus a wry look. "I am to be the lure."

It was a clever strategy. Narcissa Black, the wife of Lord Malfoy, could do and say what he could not. "And it discomfits you to become the king of the chessboard?" Severus asked.

Lucius laughed. "The king is a target, and he is hobbled," he said. "Being queen was much more comfortable."

"But both," Severus pointed out, "are preferable to being a pawn."

Lucius turned fully, then, his grey eyes glittering as they met Severus' gaze. "Very true," he murmured. "Very true."