Having broken the bank a week earlier, Snape was in a right foul mood at the state of his storeroom. When he'd taught at Hogwarts the first time, he'd amassed an incredible stockpile of ingredients. Of course, it helped that Voldemort had plenty of connections to the Dark market, as well as a considerable "professional discount," so things had come easily. Still, one would think that the subsequent Potions professors would at least attempt to keep the laboratory supplied. It was clear when he first arrived that no one had even raided the Hogwarts greenhouses in the last ten years, and that only required a sharp knife, a few botanical silencing charms, and a discrete bottle of Firewhiskey delivered to the Herbology professor. Snape concluded that the young people of today took no pride in their work.
He searched his old hidden caches in vain. Snape suspected the Aurors had shaken down every square inch of his office, lab, classroom, and quarters upon his abrupt departure from Hogwarts, and he was not mistaken. Aside from one very small cranny concealed not with magic, but a simple, clever series of levers and pulleys, they had all been uncovered. Snape had always thought of the non-magical hiding place as an ineffective novelty. He bitterly reflected that he should have guessed that the Aurors would search only for hidden Charms, not hidden levers. He had used the little nook for nothing more than his cache of horehound candies, which had long ago fused into a stale, unappetizing mass.
It dawned on him that "Uncle Charlie" undoubtedly had more dragon matter than he knew what to do with, and might lend some for his niece's sake. Unfortunately, no one answered at Charlie Weasley's Floo, and Snape wasted a scoop of Floo Powder in trying. Only afterward did he realize it was four o'clock in the morning, and Christmas Day besides. The extended Weasley clan was undoubtedly sprawled in sleeping bags around the parlor of their ancestral shack, awaiting dawn's first light to exchange their handmade sweaters. Pendragon would probably be joining them, for that matter, though she would have a terrible time knitting without both...
By the blood of Merlin, Severus Snape, you've reached an all-time low if the worst insult you can think of concerns her pathetically obvious amputation. Particularly since you essentially dealt her the injury in the first place.
He hung his head wearily. It was clearly time to get some rest.
Hours later, Snape awoke and climbed upstairs, frustrated by the fact that he could get nothing more done until the holiday was over and people resumed their business. There was no one else in the Great Hall for breakfast, but this was no surprise; when he still had a home, he did not remain in the castle on the Yule holidays either. He stood at the window and watched the snow fall as he ate his porridge in silence.
"Professor Snape!" Potter bounded into the Great Hall looking rumpled but cheerful. "Happy Christmas! I was just getting something for Pendragon before I head over to the Burrow. She's doing splendidly this morning, really. You've helped her so much."
Snape blanched a bit and pressed his back against the window; Potter looked chipper enough that he might come over and give him a blooming hug or something. "You could just as easily be condemning me this morning, Potter, if my hunch had been incorrect." That stopped the big lumbering oaf in his tracks.
"No," Potter said softly, after a pause. "I wouldn't fault you for trying. That's the sort of thing you do, not me."
Snape fixed the younger man with a withering glare, but it faded as he realized there was no enmity in Potter's face, only resignation.
As he reached the corridor of the Charms classroom, Snape's resolve began to falter. He'd agreed to bring a bowl of steamed rice up to Pendragon as a pretense for leaving the Great Hall and getting out from under Potter's gaze. It seemed like a clever solution at the time, but now he realized he'd only traded demons. Well, perhaps she's still asleep, he thought, but within two more strides he could make out the distant tones of her piano. So much for optimism.
It was louder and clearer this time, and also more beautiful. This was a piece he had never heard before, clearly too secular for the musicians on the far side of his old bedroom wall. He stopped at the foot of the stairs to her quarters. The door above was wide open. It was an embarrassing predicament; her breakfast would grow cold if he tarried, yet if he brought it up to her, there would be no more music. Bugger. I can warm it up a bit with my wand once the piece is over. It will just be a bit sticky.
He wondered what the piece was called. It seemed to be a bit like a waltz, having a basic sort of "one-two-three" rhythm. Even though Snape was no dancer, he thought anyone would be hard pressed to keep their footing straight in such a waltz, for on top of the steady triplets was a complex melody. It seemed to weave its way through the underlying repetition, barely confined to the pattern and yet never straying beyond it. Without even realizing it, Snape ascended the staircase and crossed the threshold into her room.
The melody suddenly switched from the upper clef to the bass--to her left hand. For a few brief measures, it took his breath away. That was but a glimpse of what Potter was saying last night, he thought, when the melody switched back to the more traditional treble notes. He had never noticed that the notes played by magic sounded dull and sterile until he heard the melody played by her hand.
With a start, he realized that the piece was ending; it had spiraled up to its pinnacle and the pace was slowing and settling into the bass. It was a bit late for a hasty retreat, and clapping seemed quite ridiculous, particularly with that confounded bowl of rice in his hands. As the last chords died away, he cleared his throat, hoping not to startle her into hexing him.
She was obviously expecting Potter as she did not jump at the sound, but when she turned around, her eyes went cold. The only sound was the lingering sustain of the last chord.
"Will you play more?" he asked, inwardly cursing his banality.
Her lip began to curl. "You wish to hear the notes I missed, then? Why don't you play the right hand, if you think you can do better?" She was reaching for the cover of the keyboard, undoubtedly planning to slam it closed.
"I can't play. That's not what I meant. I... didn't notice anything missing."
"You are either hopelessly ignorant, or a pathetic liar," she said venomously, and the clunk of the cover punctuated the end of the recital. "Rumor has it that you are one of the most accomplished liars alive, so it must be the former."
A girl after my own heart. "Impeccable logic, Pendragon. I know nothing about music, except that I quite like to hear you play it."
For a fleeting instant she looked disarmed, then her expression hardened again. "What do you want, Snape?"
A bit of gratitude for saving your life would be an excellent start. He let the idea die in his mind, for she need hardly be grateful that he tossed a line into the pit in which he'd shoved her. "I want nothing. Your breakfast, Pendragon; I am but the delivery boy for Harry Potter." She took the bowl, but held it at arm's length as though expecting the contents to leap out and begin burrowing into her at any second.
"It's not poisoned, Pendragon," he finally spat. "If I wished you dead, I could have been satisfied last night."
She finally bent her arm and set the bowl in her lap. "I have no reason to trust you, Snape. You are a vicious, vindictive man. My memory is not good, thanks to this curse, but I have no trouble remembering cruelty or pain. There are whole nights when all I can hear is your voice, over and over, reminding me that I will never be mistaken for something female." She tried to push back the piano bench and stand up, still gripping the bowl rather precariously in her only hand.
Knowing that he was being dismissed, Snape turned away, but spun suddenly and strode back across the room. He yanked the bowl from her hand and set it down a bit too hard on the top of the piano, causing an unpleasant twang. This was probably just as well, for it distracted her just long enough that he could shove the bench out of his way and pull her into his arms. She stiffened, but Snape anticipated the fight and pinned her arm tightly at her side.
"Let me go."
"In good time, Pendragon, I will. Be still a moment, though. Just be still." He repeated it softly as she tried to wriggle away, to free her arm: "Be still, child. Just be still." Snape hoped she wouldn't kick or bite him, but he was determined not to let go. "Be still." His voice was barely more than a breath, but it was loud enough; he held the back of her neck in his other hand and rested his head against hers. "Just for a moment, child, be still."
Somehow he knew this was the right approach. He felt the fight drain out of her and turn back into stiffness. Still he held on, never moving his hands, whispering in her ear, "Be still." Then the stiffness began to break as well, as she accepted that he didn't seem to have any harmful intent. "Just be still, child." Her head slowly tipped forward to lay upon his chest, and he said nothing more for a long time. On a whim, he set just the tips of his fingers against her hair and gave it a few delicate strokes.
"I have done as you asked," Pendragon said coldly. "Let me go."
Snape took one last deep breath and released her.