Begins near the end of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. JK Rowling owns Hogwarts, Snape, Dumbledore, and everything else familiar. Elise and the Idyllwild school are mine. This story is for entertainment purposes only and no monetary compensation is expected or received. While it is technically AU, since Elise is both an OFC and American, canon events will not altered.
Hogsmeade Station was busier than I had ever seen it when I got off the train there on that June day, but it shouldn't have surprised me. After all, my arrival coincided with the final challenge of the Tri-Wizard Tournament, an event that I did not fully understand, but which seemed to be the only news in the Daily Prophet, now that the news of the Dark Mark being seen at the Quidditch World Cup had long since been relegated to page fourteen, below the fold.
Honestly, I would have preferred my return to Hogwarts and Wizarding Britain, indeed, to Britain in general, to be a quieter one, but at least the fanatical immersion in all aspects of the competition drew the attention away from me and my crutches. Well, mostly. Witches and wizards are so accustomed to healing injuries and ailments with a dose of potion or a well-placed swish and flick – sometimes both together – that the sight of a woman hobbling on crutches with her lower leg and foot in a cast was bound to draw some interest.
Still, most people merely arched their brows, or looked pointedly away, and at least my injury caused me to be so slow that by the time I had collected my luggage, with no small thanks to Mallow the house-elf, the platform had emptied. Well, almost emptied.
For a moment, when I saw the tall, lean figure waiting silently at the end of the wooden walkway, I thought it must be some other wizard, but the very air seemed tense around him, and a stray movement caused his robes to swirl in a way that was achingly familiar. Stopping in front of him, I looked up into his dark eyes. “Severus.” I made his name both an identification and a greeting, not sure what my reception would be, but I did not reach out – could not, actually, as I was balancing on my crutches.
“The Headmaster sent me to meet you,” he informed me, his voice betraying no hint of his thoughts. “I've a dose of Pepperup potion if you are tired,” he continued, and though his tone remained neutral, I could see a slight softening of his eyes. “He neglected to share that you are injured. What happened? Could your Muggle doctors not solve a sprained ankle?”
“It's not a sprain,” I told him, and the curtness in my tone was only partly a reaction to his anti-Muggle implications. I was tired, and I knew he could tell. “I snapped my Achilles tendon during rehearsals for the summer gala,” I explained, pulling my gaze from his, and looking down at the cast I wore. It itched madly, and I had no way to relieve it just now. “Pepperup would be welcome,” I admitted a second later.
He nodded once. “In the carriage.” He gestured to the waiting conveyance, and I looked past him to where the Thestrals were. I'd never asked if he could see them, merely assumed he must. I inched toward it, hearing him instruct Mallow to move my things to the back. The house-elf handled everything smoothly, and then snapped his fingers, Disapparating. I knew he would be seen a second later, walking through the castle gates, only to disappear again once inside, the way house-elves do. I lifted my crutches onto the carriage seat, and reached into the side pocket of my coat for my wand, intending to levitate myself into the seat, as hopping would have been both difficult and awkward, but Severus stopped me. “Let me,” he murmured, and cast the spell himself. He guided me into the carriage, and then joined me, tapping on the ceiling to signal that we were ready to depart. Only then did he reach a hand inside his robes and pull out a green glass bottle. “Drink it all,” he told me.
Obediently, I swallowed the liquid within, and almost immediately I felt its warming effect spreading through me. Steaming ears aside, I felt as if I was being hugged from inside, and I smiled to myself. Severus Snape would never have actually hugged a person in public, but this was a liquid equivalent. His head was tilted slightly, and he was watching me with unasked questions in his dark eyes, but I just offered an outward smile, and said, “Thank you, Severus, for meeting me, as well as for the potion.”
“I could not let you arrive on your lonesome,” he stated, a hint of softness in his clipped tones. “He would have sent McGonagall, but I insisted that her fussing would put you off.”
“You're right,” I admitted. “Aunt Min can be an awful busybody when she's not being a crotchety old -” His lifted eyebrow stilled my tongue before I could use the Muggle epithet I'd had in mind. “- witch,” I rephrased.
“The castle must be crawling with guests with the contest going on,” I ventured, more to keep the silence at bay than because I truly cared.
“Full to brimming,” he confirmed in a tone that left no room to doubt his disdain for the situation. There was a beat of silence, and the mood in our carriage shifted slightly. “You stopped writing to me, Elise,” he stated, his flat tone conveying no hint of hurt, though I knew him well enough to see it in his eyes.
“You'd stopped replying, and I assumed you wanted silence.” It sounded petty even to my own ears. “If it matters, there hasn't been anyone else.”
He bowed his head in response, and I took it to mean that he'd accepted my left-handed apology. I reached for his hand, touched it gently, then pulled back. He started at the brief contact, seemed to think over a million possible outcomes, then crossed both arms across his chest in a gesture that would have been intimidating had he been standing and I been a first-year student. Here in the carriage, however, it seemed protective, as if he was guarding himself. “You will need an escort to the event tomorrow, with your foot in that cast. Meet me at the main doors, and I will accompany you.” He looked me up and down, and added with a sneer that didn't make it to his dark eyes, “And do remember which house you were in, when you choose your attire.”
I glanced down at my burgundy sweater and made a chagrined face. “The house of vert et argent will not be disappointed in me,” I promised.
We sat in silence for the rest of the ride up the road, through the gates and under the main portico, and I wondered if he was reliving old memories of our relationship, or just devising new ways to torture potions students. I didn't ask, of course, but the strength with which he gripped my hand as he helped me out of the carriage revealed more than he probably intended, and while it was neither the time nor the place to question his intent, I took it as a positive sign.
Severus stayed by my side as I used my crutches to navigate the stairs, handing me over into the care of Albus Dumbledore, the man I referred to as my grandfather (even though he wasn't, really, any more than Minerva McGonagall was really my “Aunt Min”) as soon as we were inside. The old man had been waiting for us, of course, with his typical beatific smile. “Ah, Severus, thank you for fetching our prodigal child. I do appreciate it.”
A nod was his signal that my escort was being dismissed, and Severus took the hint and moved into the shadows, nodding a silent farewell to me as he did so. I couldn't let him leave without speaking, though, so I turned and added, “I enjoyed the ride, Severus. I'll see you tomorrow.”
And then I was wrapped in the too-frail arms of the man who had raised me. “Welcome home, dear child,” the old man whispered, placing a kiss on the top of my head. “Come along now, and have a cup of tea, and then I'll have Poppy take care of your ankle.”
I pulled away from him then, and stared into the pale blue eyes, searching for the telltale twinkle, and shaking my head once I'd found it. “You sent him to meet me knowing he'd respond favorably after seeing me injured,” I accused good-naturedly.
But Grandfather didn't answer, just drew a box from pocket of his robes, and flipped it open. “Licorice?” he offered.
I just shook my head again, laughing softly, and then followed the old man to his office, the tapping of my crutches echoing behind us.