'Professor Snape! Professor Snape!'
Snape turned, and saw fourteen-year-old Elizabeth bounding towards him down the potions hallway, waving a piece of parchment in the air in excitement.
'Elizabeth, you know you are welcome to call me Severus.'
'I know,' she chirped, coming parallel to him, 'but this news seemed more a 'Professor Snape' thing.'
'Oh?' he asked. 'And what might that news be?'
'Ah.' His thin lips tilted into a semblance of a smile, since the headmaster had already told him the glorious – if not expected – news. 'Might I dare to hope you achieved at least a Dreadful in all of your classes?'
She pouted and rolled her eyes at him. 'Of course, silly; I got Outstanding in all of my classes!'
'Congratulations – although I might have guessed as much.'
'That, and Albus already told you.'
'Did he now?'
'Yes,' she laughed, skipping beside him. 'I was in the room when he told you!'
Severus thought back to that morning, and looked at her curiously. 'No, you weren't.'
'Yes, I was. Guess how, guess how!' She was smiling hugely, and clapping her hands in sheer joy.
He shook his head, and said, 'Unless you were using a Disillusionment charm, I have no idea.'
Her grin, if possible, got even larger, and she held out her hand for him to stop. She shut her eyes tight, and with a pop disappeared. Looking down, Severus saw a bright gold phoenix where Elizabeth had just stood.
'Elizabeth?' he asked in wonderment, holding out his arm as the bird flew up carefully and perched on his sleeve. It nodded, and he could see the gold-indigo colour of the eyes were exactly the same as they were before she transformed. 'Your animagus form is a phoenix?' The bird opened its mouth and sang a haunting, quivering note, making the hairs at the back of his neck stand up. 'Are you quite done?' The bird rolled its eyes, and flew back down to the ground, transforming when it hit the stone.
'Oh, come now, Severus, please get excited! This is amazing! I mean – I can change into a phoenix! Minerva even let me try it out – I have healing powers and everything! I'm still not used to flying, though.'
'Thank you. Thank you very much… Maybe I should just head outside and practice my flying, and leave you down here in the dungeons to your peace and quiet.'
'Would you? That is the best idea I've heard all day.'
Her mouth dropped in mock-insult, and she flounced away down the hallway.
She then promptly began laughing, turned around, and skipped back towards him, linking her arm through his. 'Come on, Severus, please? Can we do something fun? Something new? Oh! Can we make Felix? Please can we make Felix? To celebrate my OWL results? Please!'
'If not that, then how about Amortenia?'
'Who told you about that?'
'It's in one of the sixth year books I borrowed from you. It sounds terribly lovely – I'm curious as to what it'll smell like.'
'I'll remind you then that love potions are contraband here at Hogwarts. Why not brew something practical that Madam Pomphrey can use in the hospital wing?'
Elizabeth sighed in exasperation, and whined, 'But that's no fun! Come on… one of the two. Can we please?'
'Felix! Felix! Oh, please, Severus! Please!'
'If you insist on being so insufferable, by all means, fetch your cauldron, and-'
'Yes!' And with that she bounced back down the hallway to prepare.
'…and one more… very good.'
Severus stood over Elizabeth as she stuck her tongue between her teeth in intense concentration. She was carefully counting counter-clockwise stirs of her silver stir stick, determined to make the good-luck potion correctly the first time she tried. At this point, it was turning a strong canary yellow just in time.
'What's next?' she asked, turning around to check the old potions book inscribed with, "Property of the Half-Blood Prince".
'Now we let it stew for seven weeks, and then remove it from the flames,' he told her, leaning back against a scrubbed oak desk.
'Really? That's it?' she asked, leaning up beside him. 'That wasn't so hard.'
'For you, perhaps. Those dunderheads whom I more often have the displeasure of teaching would've mangled it somehow, I have no doubt.'
She looked him over, tilted her head slightly, and asked, 'If you dislike teaching so much, why are you a teacher?'
'Because you seem determined to stay a professor here... and you especially seem to want to be professor of the Defence Against the Dark Arts.'
He did not reply. 'I would rather not discuss that. Especially with you.'
'Especially with me? Why?'
'Why do you want to know, Elizabeth?' Despite himself, his tone turned sharp.
Taken aback, she stuttered, 'I… I don't know, I just… don't, um… forget it.' She checked the cauldron again, and said tensely, 'Well, I suppose we'll just let it stew for now...' She flicked her wand across the countertops to clear them, and made her way to the door, leaving him leaning against the countertop. 'I'll… um… g'bye, professor.' Head bowed she exited, and shut the door behind her.
The bang of the wood on stone was an assault on his senses, and he could have sworn he had heard her back hit the door before her footsteps fled down the hallway, away from the dungeons, away from him.
Putting the entire onus on me… I simply refused to answer a question…
Cursing under his breath, he strode out the room and listened for Elizabeth's footsteps.
'Elizabeth!' he called, following the click of her heels. 'Elizabeth?' He continued until he reached a 3-way prong. He paused, and listened. He could hear a choking noise down the darkest hallway, and it was that which he followed until he was sure he was deeper below the castle that he had ever been before. 'Elizabeth?' He watched as his breath rose above him in a whisp of cloud, and stood still again, listening. 'Elizabeth?'
'G-go away, S-severus.' A tremor of both fear and freezing tainted her speech. Though he could not see her, he knew she would be shivering.
'Elizabeth, please, be reasonable. It is in the negative degrees down here, you will catch a death of a cold.'
'I d-d-don't… care.' Her voice seemed to carry, and through the darkness he could not make her out.
He pulled out his wand and lit it. 'Where are you, Elizabeth?'
'I said, go away.'
He turned a corner, and thought he could hear her sniffles louder this time.
'I will not go without you. This is no place for a girl such as yourself.'
'Oh, and why is that? Don't think I can handle it? I can handle more than you give me credit for, Severus!'
He was certain they were no longer discussing her capacity for atmospheric temperatures.
'Please, allow me to explain.'
'Why? So you can snap at me again?' The tremors returned. 'I th-think… not.'
Turning down another corridor, he was sure he could see a pair of summer sandals pointing out of an alcove a few metres down.
'I assure you I will not snap at you. Please, just come out.'
'I do not want to force you, Elizabeth.'
Reaching the alcove, he towered above her crouched and huddled frame. She would not look up at him, so for a moment, he watched her shoulders shake with sobs. Her skin was pale, almost blue, and she shivered violently.
'I d-d-don't need y-your… h-help.'
'But Elizabeth, you're freezing!' He bent down and wrapped his cloak around her. 'You're a witch, you silly girl, why didn't you make a fire?' he admonished her.
'Because th-then you c-could've f-found m-m-m-me,' she muttered, finally glancing up. She appeared to him as the same girl he had found barely seven years prior.
'These are my dungeons. I know them better than I know my own home. Now come. You do not want to be sick during the holidays, do you?' She shook her head weakly, and allowed herself to be pulled into a standing position. 'There now. Back upstairs we go. I will deposit you directly into your dormitory, and have a house elf bring you some cocoa. I will also administer a Pepper-up potion to ensure that by tomorrow, the Headmaster is not out for my blood.' He glanced down at her, and saw the attempt at humour was not completely lost on her. However, he noted that she was placing a placing a surprising about of weight on his arm.
Noting his look, she breathed, 'Sorry I'm just… a bit tired,' and stumbled slightly.
'Have you been sleeping?'
'You did not forget to take the potion I brew for you?'
'Elizabeth, why would you stop?' he asked angrily, knowing what haunted her in her dreams.
'I don't know!.. Because… because I…'
'Because I… I wanted to… to see Harry again. He's seven now, you know. He's as old as I was when I arrived here.'
'But you know what else is in those dreams!' he winced. The memories of looking into her thoughts plagued even him sometimes.
'But I've not seen him, Severus, not in years! Not since Hagrid took him away.'
'And you think having nightmares about what occurred is worth seeing him as he was almost a decade ago?' Wonder filled his tone, and his gaze did not leave her features this time.
'Yes,' she replied quietly. 'He's my little brother, and I barely even know what he looks like, nor what's become of him.'
Severus felt his anger melt away as they reached the staircase and felt the warmth of summertime greet him. And so an idea struck him, though he hated to brood on what he might meet.
They reached her summer residence on the first floor, and he followed her without question as they walked inside. She lay down silently, and he joined her, setting her head in his lap. 'Elizabeth, I have a proposition for you.'
'Yes?' Her voice was weak and filled with a sorrowful note.
'I will accompany you to your… Potter's place of residence, and you will drink your potion every night until it is deemed unnecessary.'
It took a moment for his words to sink in.
'So… you'll take me to see Harry?'
'You cannot speak to him, nor his relatives' – he shuddered – 'but you can see if he is doing well, his progress, and what he looks like.'
'You'd really do that?' she asked in wonder. 'But… but what about Albus; the Ministry; wouldn't they have something to say about it?'
He sighed inwardly at her intelligence. 'I will speak to the Headmaster, and he will speak to the Ministry. He is in charge of Potter's wellbeing, and of yours, after all.'
She was silent for a moment, and then a contented smile spread across her fair features. 'Can you summon my potion for me, please?'
He smiled as close to a smile as he could, and did just that.
Now, he simply had to arrange everything with the Headmaster.
And to accept that he would be seeing Petunia and Potter once again.