Title: Destroyer of the Dark Hearts
Disclaimer: Not mine, not a one.
Synopsis: Connor's 'normal' life, take two.
Spoilers: Yes, to be safe, assume everything up until the end of HP, OotP and Angel, season 4.
A/N: This is a fic in 'payment' for a beta job that one of the list members on the Freaks updates list is doing for me. She asked for a fic for her twin daughters for their birthday that focused on Connor and Snape. I'm not sure if they were expecting this, but I seem to have written lots of little snapshots of the life Connor could have had if he had been born to Snape and a certain female Death Eater. It feels like it should be a much bigger story, but in the interests of me not dropping dead of exhaustion I regretfully had to cut it short. Any deviations from known HP canon are intentional and are not the results of shabby research and writing. LOL, well, no shabbier than I usually get anyway!
Dedications: For JL, in appreciation and thanks. Also for Sophia and Luna; happy birthday, girls!
When Connor Snape first laid eyes on his father at the tender age of four and a half, it did not go well. Mainly because his eyes weren't the only things that Connor laid on him. The child was not in the best of moods after being dragged from his nice warm hidey-hole in the dead of night by his gibbering wreck of a mother, and was even less impressed that the woman who had alternately beaten, starved and belittled him all his young life was now insisting that he was to be taken to his father -also known as That Spineless Bastard - and her son never darken her doorstep again. Which was just fine with Connor, thank you very much.
He had no problems with the idea of coming to a parting of the ways with his mother - known in the privacy of his small head as Daft Bint - but the idea of being turned over to his father, a man who according to the Daft Bint was even more sadistic than herself and the Dark Lord combined, did not make him want to wet his ragged pants with joy. Which went a long way to explaining that his first instinct at being thrown to the feet of a tall, black haired man in front of a crowded hall of older children and shocked adults was to bite him on the leg. Extremely hard. And the fact that he hadn't eaten for three days and was feeling a little more feral than usual also explained why he couldn't resist clamping down and chewing on the bony shin between his little teeth even when the man yelped and tried to kick him away.
Bella Lestrange sneered at her former lover as he hopped in undignified pain around the platform that held the teacher's table in Hogwarts' dining hall and drew her robes imperiously around herself. "Your son, Severus, I wish you joy of him." Cold eyes raked over her only child still growling and energetically trying to savage his father's leg and then without another word she turned on her heel and swept out of the Great Hall.
"Bloody HELL!" Severus kicked out again and finally managed to free himself from the savage little bundle trying to eat him and watched with bulging black eyes as the ragged shape tumbled head over heels across the stage and fell off the edge to fetch up against the end of the Slytherin table with a snarl of fury. "She tried to kill me!"
Albus Dumbledore rose from his seat and peered with interest over his half moon glasses at the small boy that had jumped to his feet and was now engaged in snapping and growling at a shrieking seventh year as he swarmed onto the table and began to wolf down the plate of roast beef and vegetables in front of the girl. "Goodness, he will keep you on your toes, Severus. What a charming child."
Straight black eyebrows snapped together as Snape glared at his Headmaster and then at the child now half drowning himself as he tried to drink straight from a pitcher of pumpkin juice that was nearly as big a he was. "That is no child of mine, its obviously some kind of demon." His eyebrows lifted as the boy threw the empty pitcher over his shoulder carelessly and then fell on the next plate along on the table and began to cram food into it's mouth. "This has to be some kind of assassination attempt by the dregs of the Dark Lord's followers."
"Do you think so?" Dumbledore hid a smile in his beard as the child tried to bite a hand that strayed to close to his spoils. "I must say that the Dark Lord's followers have let standards slip somewhat since his defeat, they used to be much more inventive in their movements against enemies." He watched as Connor grabbed another pitcher of pumpkin juice. "Well, the child cannot remain here. Perhaps you would be so kind as to escort him to the infirmary where Madam Pomfrey can check him over and then I will be along shortly to discuss the matter with you."
Snape gave Connor another dour look and then turned his dark eyes back to Dumbledore. "Perhaps as part of our gamekeeper's job is to control the vermin that finds its way onto school grounds we might prevail upon him to stop stuffing his overly large face and do something about the situation." He sneered as the half giant jerked in his chair and guiltily let his knife and fork drop with a clatter. "If he can possibly stir his bulk that is."
Dumbledore frowned and gestured to Hagrid as he started to rise. "No, Severus. The child has been left in your care. Until we get to the bottom of this, I must insist you take the responsibility seriously." He held the younger man's outraged look with his own calm eyes. "Now, please take him to the infirmary and I shall be along as soon as dinner is over."
For a moment it looked like Snape might protest further, but then he turned in a whirl of robes to stalk down to the Slytherin table and gesture with one imperious hand to the sticky, filthy creature crouched there gnawing on a slice of roast beef. "Come."
Professor McGonagall gasped. "Professor Snape, he is a child, not a dog."
"That has yet to be determined, Professor McGonagall, and I will thank you to stay out of my business." Without taking his eyes of the figure of his son, Snape snapped his fingers. "Come here, I say."
Connor's eyes narrowed and he tore off another bite of roast beef. He eyed the man silently for a moment and then quicker than the human eye could follow snatched his recently discarded jug of pumpkin juice, hurled it with unerring accuracy at Snape's sneering face and turned to run quickly down the length of the Slytherin table before somersaulting off it and disappearing with a whoop out of the doors to the hall before the shocked gasp from the students and some of the faculty had chance to die away.
Snape stood frozen for a moment, dripping pumpkin juice and clenching his fists, and then with a last baleful look at Dumbledore stalked out of the hall after his young prey and away from the wide eyes of his students.
Dumbledore smiled again. "A delightful child, indeed." He ignored the furious, high-pitched scream that sounded from outside the hall and tapped Professor McGonagall on the arm. "Would you be so kind as to pass the roast potatoes, Minerva?" He hastily grabbed for the platter as the Professor passed it to him and then jumped as another howl of anger sounded. "Thank you. So kind." Dumbledore glanced towards the door where the rest of the hall's attention was fixed and was just in time to see Connor scramble past with what looked like Snape's wand clutched in one sticky little fist and the wizard himself sprint after him with a thunderous expression and his robes hiked up around his knees. For a moment the Headmaster was at risk of choking on his mouthful of succulent beef, but he managed to gain control of himself and hide his merry eyes as he took a hasty swig of pumpkin juice. "Dear me, Severus will have his hands full, won't he?" He looked up to see Connor barrel past in the opposite direction with his father in slightly slacking pursuit. "Well, I dare say it will do him good. I always said he needed to get out of those dungeons of his and get a little exercise now and then." And ignoring the crash that announced the demise of a suit of armour, Professor Dumbledore settled back down to enjoy what remained of his dinner.
Three hours later Severus Snape was staring down in shock at the filthy face of the child in a charmed sleep on the infirmary bed and mentally listing all the ways he was going to kill Bella Lestrange before bringing her back from the dead and doing them all over again. The bloody woman hadn't lied, he had a son. A savage, feral, wild creature that at the moment could barely pass for a human being and Severus Snape got to call it his son. Oh rapture. Who said that the gods had no sense of humour?
Well, if this was his payment for turning on his evil master and fighting the good fight then it could just disappear as suddenly as it had arrived, thank you. Severus Snape had no place in his life for a child -- especially one whose prime objective in life seemed to be biting anyone that came near him - and he certainly was not equipped to deal with one that had so many...special needs. He looked the small lump in the bed over carefully. Undersized, lank dull hair and grey skin under what seemed to be several layers of ingrained dirt and to add insult to injury the boy was apparently a Squib according to Madam Pomfrey after her hasty medical examination and spell to confirm the boy's paternity. He had a feeling that the boy's lack of magical talent went a long way to explaining the scars and welts on the thin body when it had been unclothed. Bella was never the tenderest lover in the world and he doubted very much whether she would make a much better mother. So; abused, savage and not the least bit happy about meeting his long lost father. Snape nodded to himself grimly, the boy had to go.
A sudden low whine from the bed had him taking a cautious step closer and drawing his robes around himself defensively. Snape cocked his head and watched as the child he had finally cornered with the help of Filch and a charmed rope opened his eyes and stared blankly at him. "You're awake." He watched closely for any sign of fear and finding none, stepped closer. "Did your mother tell you who I am?"
Blue eyes regarded him far too coldly for such a young child and then the boy nodded. "That Spineless Bastard."
Snape's lips twitched in anger at the foul words spoken by the young voice. "I see." He held his son's eyes with his own for a long moment and then his lips twitched again in inappropriate mirth. "I think that is perhaps an inconveniently long title, you may call me Father. What is your name?" He sniffed with impatience as the boy did nothing but continue to watch him silently and stamped down on the urge to tap his foot irritably. "I need to have something to call you, if you do not tell me your name then I shall pick one for you myself." He deliberately looked away and perused the wall. "I have always favoured Algernon." He stifled a laugh at the choke of disgust from the bed raised a hand to tap it thoughtfully against his chin. "Hmm, Algernon Snape..."
"Connor." The unwilling mutter from the bed had Snape smiling to himself in triumph and turning back to look at the mutinous face on the pillow. "She called me Connor."
"Very well." Awkwardly Snape drew up the blanket that had slipped to the child's waist and deliberately ignored the wary hiss from the boy. "Connor. Do you know why your mother decided to bring you to me?"
Connor waited until the strange hands had drawn away from him and then nodded slowly. "I did something bad." Far from looking sorry or frightened, the blue eyes positively danced in the grubby face. "The Master came to visit and was mean to me so I bit him and then ran away before he could curse me. She was angry and I hid in my hole for a long time before she found me."
Snape stared at his son. "What?"
Connor shrugged against his pillows. "I bit the Master and I ran away. She didn't want me anymore." Despite his best efforts his lower lip trembled slightly. "I don't care."
Severus clenched his fists in the folds of his robes and hoped his face wasn't as pale as it felt. "I see." He moved slowly and carefully to sit on the edge of Connor's bed and tried to smile reassuringly at the suspicious boy as he tensed up. "It's quite alright, I can assure you that you will not be harmed here." He waited for several long moments for the little body to relax and then sighed heavily as Connor remained stiff and waited for whatever would happen next. "I think you'd better tell me everything you know about your mother's master."
The next morning Professor Dumbledore sighed as he watched the wary little boy in the hospital bed gulp down his third bowl of sweetened porridge in less than five minutes and then turned to his potions master. "Severus, a word if you please."
"Certainly, Headmaster." Snape moved to follow Dumbledore and then stopped as he became the focus of three pairs of disapproving eyes. "Is there a problem?"
Professor McGonagall exchanged and exasperated look with Madam Pomfrey and then gestured to the child sitting on the bed, now chugging back pumpkin juice like it was going out of fashion. "Perhaps Connor would like an explanation as to why you are leaving him and when he could expect you to return?" Her eyes narrowed behind her glasses and her lips pursed tightly as the younger professor looked startled at her words. "As your son he has a right to know."
Completely bewildered, Snape looked down on Connor and rolled his eyes as he watched the child begin to lick out his empty bowl. "Yes, clearly he is devastated at our impending separation. Connor. Connor!" He snapped his fingers above the boy's head and waited for two disinterested eyes to focus on him. "I must leave you for a time and speak with the Headmaster, I will return." Connor looked unmoved and then after a short pause went back to licking at his bowl. Snape sighed heavily. "Try to help him control his grief until I return." Without another look he swept from the room and left behind the two women who both instantly started to cluck over the oblivious child on the bed.
Outside the infirmary, Professor Dumbledore placed a finger on his lips and led the way down the corridor to a more private side ward, waiting until both men were inside a silencing and locking charm placed on the thick door before he finally spoke. "I wish to be certain that our conversation will remain private and Madam Pomfrey has informed me that your son has unusually heightened natural senses."
Snape nodded and his lips tightened in a brief moue of distaste. "Indeed. His responses to some of the medical evaluations she performed were extremely...unsettling." He crossed to the small window over the lone bed in the room and stared blindly out over the school grounds. "I am having him removed to Mungo's at the first opportunity for a more extensive medical examination and from there will decide where he is to be placed."
Professor Dumbledore nodded gravely. "I see." He watched the tense figure by the window with a heavy heart. "You do not feel his place is with you?"
Snape turned with a look of total astonishment on his face. "Certainly not! You saw how he was last night, little better than an animal. This morning he is calmer, but still strikes out if anyone tries to touch him. He would not even stop fighting long enough to have the most basic cleaning charm worked on him. I cannot begin to offer the specialist care he so obviously needs." He averted his gaze from the faint look of condemnation in the older man's eyes. "He has suffered enough, I merely wish to see that he gets the help he needs."
Professor Dumbledore's eyes flashed angrily. "And it has nothing to do with your son being a Squib, Severus? I imagine that must be a great disappointment to you."
"And I suppose it wouldn't be for you?" Black eyes snapped with spite and malice. "The great Albus Dumbledore would instantly love any child of his blood, regardless of any inherent disability? Overlook anything lacking in the child and just take comfort in its loving presence and innocent nature?" A sneer twisted Snape's face. "Unfortunately I do not have that option. My child's most likeable feature seems to be that his jaw is not yet strong enough to break a grown man's leg, but I fully expect with all the practice he seems determined to get that he will no doubt be snapping shins and gnawing femurs before the year's end."
"He has been horribly abused and neglected, Severus. He knows no other way of survival." Dumbledore shook his head. "You're a good man, you could teach him there is another way to live. Show him that for one of his parents he is good enough as he is."
"I will not lie to the child." Ignoring the stab of brief pain in his heart, Snape turned to stare out the window again and shivered unconsciously in his robes at a half-forgotten pain of his own brief childhood. "He deserves more than that at least."
Dumbledore chewed thoughtfully on his lip for a moment before crossing to the bed and sinking onto it with a sigh. "Of course he does. It's not every child that could attack the Dark Lord and avoid a killing curse at his tender age. And I think we both know that it was the killing curse Bella's master tried to use on your son."
"Yet another reason the boy should be apart from me." Snape scowled down the ground far below and tried to put the memory of far too knowing blue eyes out of his head. "Obviously my former cohorts are not best pleased with me and Connor hasn't exactly endeared himself to them. It is safer for both of us if we cannot be used against the other, the boy does not need to be any more of a target than he already is."
"But he does need a father." Dumbledore dropped his voice to a plea. "Severus, if the Dark Lord has managed to return this soon after his vanquishing at Harry's hands then you know that nowhere in our world will truly be safe for any of us with the sole exception of Hogwarts. This boy is a Squib but he is no ordinary one. Madam Pomfrey tells me that already his physical strength is nearly equal to that of a grown man. His eyesight, hearing, everything is astonishing in a child of his age. If you send him away there is no way to oversee his development so that he learns to use these gifts properly and will not unintentionally harm others. He needs you. If you must treat him like any other student under your care then so be it, but do not turn your back on this remarkable gift because of something that neither of you have any control over or because of a misplaced sense of honour at the suffering he has already endured."
"What on earth would I do with a child like that?" Snape didn't take his eyes from the window and hunched his shoulders defensively in his robes. "I have no practical experience with young children, even less so with Squibs, and he cannot remain here at the school. How could any life I could provide him with be any better than having him placed with a reasonable family?"
"Severus, after what the boy has lived through so far, any life would be better than the one he had. And is Hogwarts really such a terrible place to raise a child? Freedom, safety, fresh air and friends that are willing to help you in any way they can." Dumbledore stood and gently clasped a hand on his friend's shoulder. "This is your son, the only child you are likely to have given your lack of desire to form a lasting relationship again. Do not turn your back on him, Severus, you will regret it in years to come." The old man patted the stiff shoulder under his hand one more time and then turned for the door. "We will discuss the problems of Voldemort's rising later on when you have had the chance to settle your mind and reach a decision on Connor's future. I will be in my office if you need me." He paused for a moment to allow Snape to speak and then sighed and exited the room when the younger man stayed stubbornly staring out of the window.
Severus stood motionless for a long time, turning over in his mind what the Headmaster had said and seeing again his son as he was thrown to his feet the night before. There was no feasible way to keep him even if he wanted to. He had never desired children, hadn't even liked them even when he was one, and he had no intention of turning his whole life upside down at this stage just because one had been forced upon him. No, the boy had to go. Nodding sharply to himself he stalked out of the room and back down the corridor to the infirmary.
His mind was made up right up until the moment he marched up to his son's bedside and looked into two belligerent navy blue eyes that were waiting warily for whatever happened next and the small mouth below them that was parted in anticipation of the next bite fest. "If you have fed sufficiently then I suggest you come with me and we go to my quarters and bathe you. We have a lot to do today and I wish to make sure that you are free of any infestations before I visit Hogsmeade and obtain more suitable clothing for you."
Connor looked puzzled and bared his teeth more pointedly in case the confusing flood of words that had just poured from the man who was his father was a more subtle threat instead of his mother's usual 'I'm going to kill you!'
Snape sniffed. "And if you try to bite me ever again I shall remove all your teeth and not give them back until you are old enough to leave home. Come." Without waiting to see if the child obeyed him, he turned in a swirl of robes and stalked back out of the room after nodding coldly to Madam Pomfrey and Professor McGonagall.
Connor sat on the bed and looked at the doorway where his father had disappeared and then at the two older women that had tried to pet him and make him smile when he had finished his breakfast. They looked angry for some reason, but he could also see tears in their eyes and that made him frown because as far as he knew no one had hit them or cursed them and that was the only thing that used to make him cry. He looked at the door again and then threw the warm blankets off his skinny, filthy legs to scramble to the floor and trot out of the room in his father's wake.
Madam Pomfrey shook her head as the little figure disappeared and pressed a hand to her mouth. "Oh, Minerva, that poor little boy. What a life to be born into."
Professor McGonagall patted her friend's shoulder and pursed her lips in disapproval at Snape's coldness. "I know, Poppy, I know." She swallowed the lump in her throat at the thought of being a small child left to depend on Severus Snape for any kindness or love and tried to smile. "He's seems a tough little thing, I'm sure he'll be fine." She closed her eyes and added in the privacy of her own mind, 'I hope.'
In the weeks and months that followed, Severus Snape had so many reasons to curse his ex-lover, Professor Dumbledore and his own damnable conscience that he honestly thought about making some kind of list. He never truly worked out why he had changed his mind on keeping Connor, but the regrets of doing so accumulated daily. The boy wouldn't stop looking at him without suspicion, he had to be Stunned in order for his father to get him anywhere near a bath, he was belligerent and when chastised would disappear for hours - and on one memorable occasion days - at a time either inside the castle or into the Forbidden Forest and he absolutely refused to do as he was told. Severus was beginning to see why Bella had taken to beating the boy as she had, even if he could never condone it; sometimes it took everything he had not to turn him over to Filch and let some of the more archaic methods of discipline that Hogwarts had rejected be brought back to break a little of his son's savage spirit. Snape's only consolation was that the boy didn't listen to anyone else anymore than he did his father and even Professor Dumbledore was seen to grind his teeth in frustration when the little heathen had disregarded some very specific orders and spent a gleeful day shinning up and down the sheer wall of the North Tower without any kind of rope and dodging all spells and efforts to get him down.
It was nearly Christmas time when any headway was made with Connor and infuriatingly it wasn't Severus that managed to do it. Hagrid had spent a very long day cutting down the trees to decorate Hogwarts and had just finished lugging the last one through the castle doors and putting it into position when a small, whooping form erupted from the back of the Great Hall and vaulted to the top of the nearest tree before springing twenty foot through the air to cling like a dirty faced monkey to the top of the next one. "Oi!" Hagrid hastily grabbed for the recently vacated tree before it tipped over and shook his fist at Connor's smirking face. "Yer better get yerself outta that tree right now!" The giant's normally benevolent face darkened as Connor bared his now infamous teeth and spat an extremely offensive string of swear words from his perch in the tree. "Yer get down right now before I go fer yer dad! Oi!" Hagrid moved as fast as he could to grab hold of the tree Connor was sitting in as it swayed and rocked as the little boy threw himself energetically from side to side. "I'll tan yer bleedin' hide, I will!"
Connor laughed. "Sod off!"
Hagrid's face darkened further and he was oblivious to Severus and Professor McGonagall entering the hall, attracted by his shouts. One huge hand reached up as high into the branches as he could and with a grunt of effort bent the springy fern down with Connor still clinging to the topmost branches. Before the child could escape Hagrid grabbed his shirt collar in his other hand and then let the tree go to stuff the little boy under his arm and then land his broad hand with a loud crack against the wriggling backside. Connor gave a loud yelp as the hand swung again and then squirmed to clamp his teeth onto Hagrid's well-padded hip. The giant yelled and hurriedly yanked the boy out from under his arm and brought him up to stare into his eyes. "Yer a bloody nightmare yer are, boy." He dangled the spitting, swearing bundle from his fist and cocked his head as the boy swung one tiny fist at him. "And yer got too much energy, yer need a job."
Connor stopped trying to escape and stared at Hagrid suspiciously. "What's a job? Is it like a big stick?"
Hagrid blinked and then laughed loudly, unconsciously stopping Professor Snape in his tracks as he stomped towards them with his wand outstretched. "No yer bloody idiot, it ain't a big stick." He raised his other hand to cuff Connor none-too-lightly around the head and lifted him up a little higher as though sizing him up. "Yer dad's a busy man and yer making all the other teachers loopy runnin' around the way yer do. Can't 'ave yer disturbing the school now, can we?" Hagrid nodded as he reached a decision and then abruptly stuffed Connor back under his arm and turned to stride out of the hall. "Right, yer can come and work fer me, soon 'ave all that...Professor Snape!"
Connor stopped squirming and twisted to peer awkwardly around Hagrid's elbow at his father. "Father?"
Snape glared at the groundskeeper and then at the small bottom of his son clamped under one brawny arm. "Did you just strike my son, Hagrid?"
Hagrid stared down at Connor's backside as though he'd never seen it before and then squared his shoulders. "Yes, Professor, I did. Little bugger bleedin' deserved it too. Clamberin' all over the trees and swearin' like he was, he needed a good 'ard smack across his backside 'e did. Learn 'is place like."
"And beating an already abused child helps him to learn his place?" Snape raised one eyebrow and amazed himself by realising that he wasn't only outraged on his own behalf at Hagrid's actions but also on Connor's behalf. And a rather alarming urge to plant a fist in the eye of the giant and snatch his son away seemed to be rising up inside him. Great Merlin, what had he become?
Hagrid sucked in a breath and hurriedly righted Connor so the boy was perched on his forearm and leaning against his chest. "Beat 'im? I wouldn't beat 'im, Professor. The little fella's 'ad enough o' that, fer sure." He turned his massive head and looked into Connor's wary face. "But 'e don't understand what's what around 'ere and 'e needs someone to show 'im what's expected, like."
Snape's fists clenched tighter and he shook off Professor McGonagall's restraining hand. "By hitting him!" He took a step towards Hagrid and held out his arms. "Give me my son immediately."
Connor stared at the man that was his father in confusion. He was definitely angry but he didn't seem to be angry with Connor. The small face furrowed in further confusion. This was a situation that hadn't occurred before in his experience, everyone he knew seemed to be angry all the time and - without exception - they were always angry with Connor. His body tensed as Hagrid hesitated and then passed him over and then instead of being set on the floor and held by his father's side by his usual cold grip, he found himself settled on one bony hip and black eyes looking at him appraisingly. "Are you injured?"
Connor blinked and silently shook his head.
"Hmm." Snape looked over his son one last time and then turned his attention back to Hagrid. "You will never lay a hand on my son again, no matter what the provocation. He is not one of your animals to be broken or tamed to your will, is that clear?"
Hagrid opened his mouth to indignantly protest but stopped at a shake of her head from McGonagall. He looked at the smaller man for a minute and then nodded. "Yes, Professor."
Snape sniffed and wheeled around to stalk from the hall still carrying an uncharacteristically compliant Connor and then Professor McGonagall placed a hand on Hagrid's arm. "Well done, Hagrid." Her thin face was wreathed in smiles as she watched Connor and Snape disappear from view and she squeezed the hairy coat under her fingers. "Very well done."
Two hours later Connor was bathed - for once without his father Stunning him into compliance - fed and tucked into his little bed in the dressing room off his father's bedroom. He lay on his back and stared at the flickering shadows on the ceiling as the fire danced in the grate and tried to make sense of what happened that afternoon. He only too aware of how much he wasn't wanted by his father, despite the man's best efforts to hide his feelings, and was distinctly puzzled as to why the big giant who had smacked his bottom had been told off and he had been taken back to his father's quarters and been almost fussed over as the man had ordered his tea up from the kitchens and awkwardly settled him before the fire in the living room with one of his story books and strict orders not to try and stab the unicorns in the moving pictures with the letter opener like last time.
Connor flopped over onto his stomach and stared at the cool pillow under his chin. Living with his father was certainly nothing like living with his mother. If he had attacked or defended himself against one of her companions whilst he had shared a roof with her, he was more likely to see her laugh and taunt him cruelly as he tried to get away or else she would bind his body and leave him helpless to whatever the many nameless tormentors wanted to do to him. Or she took great delight in making him yell in pain herself. Connor's blue eyes clouded with memories for a moment and then he shook them off. She was gone and he was here and those times seemed to be over for good. He absently stuck a finger up one nostril and rooted around as he considered his time at Hogwarts and the new experience of living with his father. Despite all claims by his mother to the contrary, his father hadn't tortured or hurt him in any way. He shouted quite a lot and he hadn't smiled for any reason at Connor since the first night in the Infirmary, but he had been kind in his own fashion and that was something that Connor was having a little difficulty in dealing with. Even after his father and the old man with the long beard had asked him about his mother's master and the way the Dark Lord had found to take over bodies donated by his followers they had continued to be kind to him. There had been no move to send him away or lock him up once he had stopped being useful, just a tense trip to buy clothes with his father and a blurred evening watching nervous house-elves set up his tiny bedroom.
Connor scowled thoughtfully at the wall and flicked the booger he had dragged from his nose at it. Even though he had tried to keep out of everyone's way and not bite or hurt anyone unless they really made him angry he was still followed around by his father or his grown-up friends and they kept trying to be kind to him even when he redoubled his efforts to hide and just to be on his own. "Connor." He jumped and scrambled up to look at the door where his father stood frowning at him. "You should be asleep."
"I'm not sleepy." Connor put his back to the wall and eyed his father suspiciously as he stepped into the room.
Snape's lips tightened in annoyance at the wary look on his son's face. "You will not be harmed, lay back down."
Connor's lower lip pushed out mutinously for a moment before he reluctantly laid back down on his mattress and watched his father pull the blankets up over his thin chest. He tracked his father as Snape moved to straighten the pile of clothes that had been left on his bedside chair ready for the morning and then reached a decision. "Why wouldn't you let the big man smack me?"
Snape suppressed his surprise at the first question his son had ever asked him and turned to look down at Connor lying against his pillow. "I think you have been hit quite enough, don't you?" He sighed irritably as Connor scrunched up his face in bewilderment and gestured to the bed. "Might I sit down?"
Connor eyed Snape doubtfully. "'Spose."
"Thank you." With a grave nod, Snape sat on the edge of the mattress and carefully made sure there was a crucial few inches of space between them. He adjusted his robes over his legs until they lay in smooth folds and then sighed deeply. "My father was quite old when I was born." Connor blinked in confusion at the words but stayed silent and waited for his father to continue. "He and my mother were very surprised when I was born and they didn't know what to do with a little boy when they had been on their own for so long."
Connor's face smoothed out slightly and his mouth parted in understanding. "Just like you and me."
A flicker of approval passed over Snape's face and he looked at his son as he nodded sombrely. "Exactly, Connor, just like you and me. When I was a little boy like you I found it very difficult to make friends and to behave properly when I was with grown-ups, but although my mother and father were very strict they were never deliberately cruel to me." He watched Connor's face crease in puzzlement at the unfamiliar words and a wintery smile flickered across his face. "They would never hurt me like your mother did to you. I was told off or sent to my room, but they never hit me or refused to feed me."
Connor scowled at the mention of his mother and scooted a little further over on the bed to put some more distance between them. "I was bad. She had to punish me."
"No, Connor, she didn't." Snape shook his head gravely. "No one has the right to punish you like that, not even your mother and father, no matter how badly you behave." He extended one bony hand and patted cautiously at Connor's skinny leg under the blankets. "I can't do anything about how your mother treated you but I can stop anyone else doing it. My father was very good at making sure I had enough to eat and that I had warm clothes but he didn't do a very good job of making me feel...wanted. When I told Hagrid that he was not allowed to smack you again, I did it so you would know that I wanted to keep you safe."
"Why?" Connor cocked his head in surprise at this unlikely concept and stared in frank curiosity at Snape's uncomfortable face. "You don't like me."
Snape blinked and felt a flush of shame creep over his skin at the cool remark but was unable to deny it. "No, not at the moment. We don't know each other and it's very difficult to like someone you don't know." He cleared his throat. "But I would like to get to know you."
Connor regarded him and then switched his gaze to the low ceiling above his head. "I can't learn magic." He shrugged and tried very hard to look grown-up and unconcerned that he had been rejected by both his parents.
"No, that's true." Snape took a deep breath and forced himself to reach out to his son one more time. "But I can't climb a tower without lots of spells and rope or climb Christmas trees or do any of the things that you can do. I don't care that you can't do magic, Connor. I did when you first came here, but now I think it's more important that I like you for who you are." He patted his son again. "And I think it's very important for you to realise that I won't allow anyone to hurt you again and that you are safe with me." Something unfamiliar spread through his chest when Connor's normally shuttered eyes widened and the little boy dropped his habitual mask to reveal his lonely, starved soul and - after a few moments of concentrated thought - Severus realised it was compassion and the beginnings of almost paternal feelings for his son. He scowled; bloody hell, he hated it when Dumbledore was right.
He hastily lost his scowl when he realised that Connor thought it was aimed at him and forced a smile. "So, why don't we start again and try to get to know each other? I'd like very much to see if we could be friends."
Connor swallowed and nodded guardedly. "Alright."
"Good boy." With a final pat to his son's leg, Snape stood and tidied the blankets over the little body. "Go to sleep now."
Connor waited until his father was at the door and then hesitantly spoke up. "I've never had a friend, I don't know what to do."
Snape closed his eyes for a moment and then turned back to bestow what he hoped was a reassuring smile towards the bed. "Nor have I, Connor. We shall just have to make it up as we go along, alright?"
"Okay." Connor rolled onto his side and kept his eyes on the door. "Goodnight."
"Goodnight." Snape pulled the door ajar behind him and then crossed on shaky legs to where he had left his glass of firewhisky next to his bed. He stared thoughtfully down into the amber liquid and then laughed slightly unsteadily as he raised his glass in a toast to the empty air. "Congratulations, Severus, it's a boy."
Six years later Severus Snape glared up into the Whomping Willow at his son as Connor petted a swaying branch and resisted the urge to blast the little horror from the tree with one sharp slash of his wand. "Come down this instant!"
Connor snorted at his father as Snape remained a prudent distance away from the tree he was currently riding and shook his head. "No!" He smoothed his hand over the gnarled wood under him and glowered ominously over his father's head at the castle. "I'm not going up there."
"Yes you are!" Snape resisted the urge to tug on his lank locks until they came loose in his hands and threw his most poisonous glare at his mutinous son. "Draco Malfoy is a perfectly reasonable young man and if you are to take some of the classes with the new first years when they arrive next week, it is sensible to take advantage of an opportunity to converse with one of them beforehand."
Connor sneered and wiped his sticky nose on the sleeve of his tattered outdoors robe. "Hagrid says he's a twit. An empty-headed, arse-licking daddy's boy that will make me want to punch his teeth down his throat." He flashed a feral grin. "And I can do it too!"
"Do not use that language to me, young man, and get down out of that tree before I Stun you out of it." Furiously Snape took one threatening step forwards and then three stumbling ones back when the Whomping Willow tried to take his head off his shoulders. "Connor, I'm warning you..."
Connor looked unimpressed and slumped to hang by his ankles from his branch as he scratched lazily at his stomach. "I don't care. I don't want see Malfoy, I want to go with Hagrid into the forest and catch some pixies." He scowled petulantly at his father. "He's got me a new crossbow and everything!"
"And you may join Hagrid after we have seen Draco and his father." Not for the first time, Snape thoroughly rued the day when he had first allowed his little savage to tag along with the gamekeeper outside of his private schooling with the Hogwarts faculty. At first it had seemed a reasonable solution when Connor's energy and boundless enthusiasm for hitting things until they bled had started to create real problems within the school, but Connor had gradually spent more and more time outside the castle until it was all his long suffering father could do to get him inside to sleep in his bed for more than a few hours before the boy was literally climbing the walls and trying to jump out of the nearest available window and back into the fresh air. Snape huffed out an angry breath and folded his arms over his chest. "Now come down out of that tree, for Merlin's sake put some decent clothes on and try to behave like a reasonably civilised person and not a mindless thug!"
Connor folded his own arms. "Shan't!"
"Dear me, having problems, Severus?" The low, amused voice had Snape gritting his teeth and throwing a furious glare at his son before he turned to see Lucius Malfoy and the boy under debate standing beside him. The blond man gestured with his cane at the tree and Connor who was amusing himself making obscene hand gestures at the shocked looking Draco. "I must say, Bella told us the boy was uncontrollable but I certainly didn't expect this level of defiance." He sniffed and placed a hand on his own son's shoulder, not noticing the minute flinch his touch caused. "Of course, myself and Narcissa were fortunate our own child was not born so obviously disabled."
Snape's eyes narrowed and he forgot all about his anger at Connor and instead directed his considerable ire at his new target. "Connor is not disabled. He is a perfectly healthy child and if his twit of a mother had taken two minutes out of her time with him to realise that instead of trying to beat him half to death then she might have been able to appreciate his many admirable qualities." His mouth twitched in a sly smile as he raised his voice slightly. "He is merely feeling a little shy and nervous about meeting Draco."
"I am NOT!" There was a disturbance in the air and then Connor was somersaulting neatly out of the tree and landing on sure feet next to his smirking father. "I'm not bloody afraid of anything."
"Excellent." Snape clapped a hand on Connor's outraged shoulder and shoved him none-too-gently towards Draco. "Then perhaps you might take Draco on a tour of the grounds whilst I escort his father up to see Professor Dumbledore." Snape glared back over his shoulder as he began to walk away. "And stay out of the forest, Connor. Draco is undoubtedly not used to such rigorous pursuits as yourself."
Connor sneered as he looked the impeccably attired young Malfoy heir up and down. "So I see." He glowered at his father's retreating back and then shrugged as he turned in the opposite direction. "Well, come on then."
Draco looked down his nose at the ragged apparition that had been so vocally protesting meeting him and planted his feet more firmly on the grass. "I will not. My father says you're just a Squib, I don't have to do anything you say. You're only allowed to come to classes because everyone feels sorry for your father because you're so useless and because no other school would take you." He stuck his chin out proudly. "I'm a proper wizard, not a scrawny little failure whose own mother didn't even want him."
Connor turned slowly and looked the other boy up and down with an unreadable expression. Then his face flared with sudden humour. "Have you met my mother? Trust me, the fact that she didn't want me is not an insult. I'm certainly not losing any sleep over it." He curled his lip. "And at least I'm not a prissy little princess that needs a wooden stick to feel special." His chest puffed out proudly. "My father says that my power is too much for any wand to handle and he's proud that I can do the things I do."
Draco curled his lip back and scowled at the thought his own father had never displayed any similar kindness to Draco. "That's pity, not pride. My father says he would have drowned me in a bucket before allowing me to grow up a Squib and dishonour my family name."
Connor looked him up and down and laughed at the other boy's much more slender and delicate body. "Looks like he already did. When was the last time you got out in the fresh air, princess? I don't see your little wooden stick doing you much good when you drop dead of sunstroke." He grinned. "Which you can get on with any time now, by the way. It'll save me from doing Hogwarts a favour and drowning you in the lake before you start classes."
Draco's fist swung before his brain even registered the insult. "You bastard!"
Connor's head barely moved with the impact and his own fist swung out. "Twat!"
Snape looked back as he heard the angry yells and rolled his eyes as he saw the two boys go down in a struggling heap on the floor. "Oh for the love of Merlin!" He hiked up his robes and began to run back the way he had come, ignoring Lucius' shouts behind him. "Connor, if you kill him you won't set foot out of the castle again until the day you die!"
Draco Malfoy and Connor Snape stood side by side and glared at the small mountain of sticky cauldrons and bowls they had been left to scour after a very unpleasant dressing down by their respective fathers and -- in Draco's case - an equally unpleasant half an hour in the Infirmary with Madam Pomfrey. Connor kicked at the worktop and folded his arms. "Bollocks." He darted a look out of the corner of his eye at his adversary and co-prisoner. "This is all your bloody fault. If you hadn't come here I'd be in the bloody forest shooting pixies by now."
Draco tilted his head haughtily. "Well I'd be with my mother picking out my new broomstick." He looked darkly at the pile of filthy containers. "I don't even know how to clean these stupid things. Our house-elves take care of all this at home."
Connor bit back a burst of laughter at the petulant complaint and picked up a ball of muggle wire wool. "One of these, a lot of elbow grease and if all else fails burn the things clean." He tossed the bundle of shiny wire at Malfoy and then picked up another one and stepped towards his punishment. "Come on, the sooner we get started the sooner we can get out of here."
Draco looked blankly at the ball of scratchy wire in his hand. "I shouldn't have to do this. You were the one that bloodied my nose. I don't deserve to be punished."
"My heart bleeds." Connor peered into a particularly foul smelling cauldron and wrinkled his nose in distaste. "Which, funnily enough, is what you'll be doing again in a minute if you don't start scrubbing. If I took on Voldemort and won when I was a kid, one delicate little Malfoy flower is going to be no trouble at all."
Draco's startled eyes jumped up from their contemplation of his wire wool and fixed on the back of Connor's tousled head. "What?"
"Voldemort. Dark Lord. That mad git that you and yours all seem so interested in." Connor poked at the remains of something black and sticky. "My mother included."
Draco's heart rate picked up and he wondered slightly anxiously if this was another test by his father to determine his loyalty to their cause. Everyone knew that Professor Snape used to be one of the most rabid followers of the Dark Lord even though he was now firmly ensconced at Dumbledore's side. His heart kicked up another gear. Maybe Snape was just biding his time like Draco's father and he was just waiting for their lord to make his move and Lucius wanted to make sure that his son would not be found wanting when the time came.
Draco squinted dubiously at Connor. And maybe they were using this Squib as a method of making sure that the brief surge of rebellion that had foolishly pushed him into freeing a family of muggles from his father's dungeons earlier in the summer was now thoroughly squashed. Draco straightened his shoulders and tilted his chin. Well, he wouldn't be found wanting this time, he would be as condescending and unpleasant as he could to the Squib and prove himself to his father once and for all. "Right. You bested the Dark Lord." He snorted. "You'll be telling me next you're that stupid Potter kid in disguise."
Connor dropped his cauldron with a clang and turned to look curiously at Draco as he heard the increased heart rate and smelled the worry flooding off the other boy. "Hardly." He tilted his head and stared at Draco's sweating face in confusion. "Nope, Voldemort tried to kill me when I still lived with my mother after I bit the stupid bastard's borrowed leg." His face lit up with an unholy grin. "He looked brilliant jumping around and swearing and trying to cast the killing curse without falling over. One of the best days of my life."
Draco stared at the undoubtedly genuine look of pleasure on Connor's face. "You shouldn't talk like that about the Master, he deserves our respect and fealty. He's a great wizard and will succeed in bringing about the second great age of pureblood wizardry."
Connor blinked, choked and then fell about laughing. "Yeah, right. And right after that happens he'll be kissing my white, Squibby ARSE." He giggled helplessly and propped himself up on the worktop as his body shook with mirth. "You don't believe all that rubbish, do you?"
Draco's heart raced harder. "Of course."
Connor spluttered with laughter again and shook his head. "Liar. I can smell the doubt and deceit from here." He looked Draco up and down admiringly. "And I thought you were just another one of those daft bloody idiots getting your knickers in a twist over his exalted nuttiness." Connor clapped his hands together and had a lightening change of opinion about the Malfoy princess. "This is great! Everyone here is either too bloody scared to mention his name or too wrapped up improving they're worshipping the ground he oozes over and now you're here and I've finally got someone to talk to that isn't going to be a great big wanker about the whole thing."
Draco's mouth fell open. "What about your father?"
Connor shrugged and bounced delightedly on his toes. "What about him? He doesn't care what I think about Voldemort as long as I don't get too mouthy to any of his supporters." He rolled his eyes. "He got really nasty the last time a Slytherin tried to hex me and I kicked them up and down the Great Hall." The blue eyes turned thoughtful. "Of course, that's probably because it was the Quidditch captain and it cost us the cup when he couldn't sit on his broom without crying for a month."
Draco's mouth shut with a snap. "I don't believe you."
Connor shrugged again. "I can show you the blood stains if you like. I don't think the house-elves caught the ones up near the ceiling." He grinned wickedly. "Come on, loosen up, what harm can it do?"
"Are you mad?" Draco looked furtively over his shoulder in case his father was lurking in the near vicinity. "Have you seen my father? He makes your mother look almost pleasant. I'm already in his bad books seriously enough for him to assign two 'bodyguards' to watch over me when I start school. I have no desire to get handed over to the Dark Lord the next time he's corporeal because he thinks I'm betraying him with a Squib that physically attacked him."
Draco nodded. "Yes, sons of my father's friends and completely loyal to the Dark Lord and his teachings. Crabbe and Goyle. Very big, very strong and utterly incapable of deviating even slightly from their instructions to watch me like a hawk for the first sign of a slip up."
Connor waggled his head invitingly. "Ah, come on. Are you trying to tell me that you couldn't outthink or out magic a couple of knuckle draggers like that?" He picked up a small pewter pot and held it up in demonstration as he proceeded to crush it like paper in one strong fist. "Or that I couldn't out fight them?" The crumpled metal was tossed over his shoulder with a devilish grin and then Connor held out his hand to Draco. "What do you say; friends?"
Draco eyed Connor's hand for a long moment and then looked up almost shyly. "I don't know how to be a friend, I've never had one before."
Connor's smile nearly split his face in two. "That's okay, I'll teach you."
Connor Snape, Draco Malfoy, Harry Potter, Ronald Weasely and Hermione Granger stood in an unhappy line before Severus Snape's desk at the end of their first year of schooling at Hogwarts and tried very hard not to look too pleased with themselves as the infuriated potions master yelled out his frustrations that three under-aged wizards, one under-aged witch and his less than magically inclined son had taken on Lord Voldemort two days ago and kicked his incorporeal bottom straight out of the school and back to his hideout in Albania. And to add insult to injury, Hermione Granger was the only one who looked like she was even vaguely paying attention to his words as her male companions engaged in staring at the wall, ceiling, door and at their own boots respectively.
"If you EVER disobey school rules in such a manner again, I will have you instantly removed from this school and you will never be allowed to practise magic again as long as you live." Snape slammed his hands down on his desk and was gratified to see Hermione flinch a little. Then his eyes narrowed as he realised that she had actually jumped before his hands made contact and was probably trying to throw him a bone in the whole terrified-of-his-threats-and-presence thing. "I don't know WHAT you thought you were doing, running around the school in the middle of the night, engaging in dangerous activities..."
Connor smirked. "Kicking a little black magic arse."
"DO NOT USE THAT LANGUAGE IN MY PRESENCE!" Snape's furious howl finally had the five looking worried and he made the most of his advantage. "You could have been killed." He stabbed a finger at Connor and Draco. "You two probably will be! How in Merlin's name are you going to explain to your housemates - and Draco's father - that you assisted Potter, the boy you've spent the entire year pretending to hate, in defeating the Dark Lord?"
Draco swapped a guilty look with Connor and then another one with Harry. "Well, sir, we thought we'd tell them we were there trying to aid the Master but were beaten back by the arrival of Professor Dumbledore." He tried for a woebegone expression. "Dash it all."
Ron sniggered in appreciation and then hurriedly sobered when Snape turned his black eyes on him. "We said we'd back them up, sir. Sort of give out big hints about what gits they are and how much we hated them that sort of thing."
"I see." The words hissed out into the frigid air of the dungeon office and Snape looked like he was going to explode with rage. "And you seriously think that will work, do you? You really think that will be enough to hide your..." His eyes closed for one long pained moment. "Your friendship with each other?"
Hermione shuffled her feet nervously. "Well, it's worked so far." She smiled at Connor and Draco as they grinned at her and raised her chin defiantly as Snape glowered in her direction. "Not even you knew we were friends, sir."
"And I'm here to tell you that will stop as of this moment." Snape looked between his own son and James Potter's. "You will cease and desist any communication or relationship between you, effective immediately. Is. That. Clear?"
Nearly a year to the day later after his father's order, Connor threw himself through the air and landed with a grunt next to Harry as the boy-who-lived thrust up with the shiny sword in his hand and then Connor grabbed his friend and rolled them to safety as the basilisk began to thrash in it's death throes over the chamber floor.
Draco looked up from where he was cradling Ginny Weasley in his lap and grinned through the streaks of filth on his face at two of his four best friends as they panted next to him. "Your dad is going to kill you."
Connor laughed and clapped Harry on the back as he looked over the gloomy Chamber of Secrets and watched Ron set fire to the diary of Tom Riddle they had retrieved from beside Ginny. The furious scream of the ghostly teenage Dark Lord echoed around the cavernous room and Ron stumbled back as the diary spat thick, black ink as it burned. "Ah well, better him than being eaten by a big snake." He eyed the basilisk and waggled his fingers at Ginny in greeting as she stirred in Draco's arms and stared around her in confusion. "What do you think the chances are of him letting me mount that thing's head on my bedroom wall?"
"I cannot believe you have disregarded my orders on this subject AGAIN! I told you after the last debacle with the Chamber of Secrets never to speak to bloody Potter again and the minute my back is turned you're running off on another ludicrous, life threatening adventure." Severus Snape looked around the Shrieking Shack at the five unrepentant third years standing between him and Sirius Black and threw his hands up in the air in disgust. "And now you're aiding an proven MURDERER and escaped CONVICT!"
Connor eyed his father and then looked at the shabby man that up until five minutes before they had all held responsible for the deaths of Harry's parents and seventeen innocents so many years before. "Dad, he's an escaped convict, but he's not a murderer." He looked calmly at his flushed father and squeezed Hermione's hand as she trembled behind him. "I could tell if he was lying to us and he's not." He rolled his eyes as Snape snorted in annoyance. "Dad, c'mon, I'd be able to smell it, you know I would."
Draco looked up from where he was concentrating on keeping Ron upright as the boy teetered awkwardly on one stable leg and one broken one. "He's quite right, Professor, you know he's never been wrong before." Silver eyes fixed on the squealing rat that Ron had clutched in both his hands. "And apparently Scabbers is some kind of animagus."
Snape glared at Sirius Black, Harry Potter and then at his own son. "Oh for..." He threw up his hands again. "Right, obviously we cannot discuss this here, I suggest we make our way back to the castle and from there we shall contact Professor Dumbledore and hope against hope he can keep the Minister and Dementors away from us long enough to sort out just who has blatantly gone completely insane here!" He turned to where Remus Lupin was standing silently beside the door. "There are four Dementors currently patrolling this sector of the grounds, I shall not be able to protect us all."
Connor shuffled his feet and gave an embarrassed cough. "Um, actually there's three." He coloured as Harry smothered a slightly hysterical chuckle and met his father's horrified eyes. "Sorry, Dad. I got a little carried away on the way over. I'll go back and bury the body later."
Sirius Black smiled his first real smile in years and nodded approvingly at Connor. "I like your boy, Severus, he's a big improvement on you at that age." He grinned at Snape's nearly purple face. "Much less spotty too."
Draco Malfoy peered worriedly at his head of house, sitting behind his desk with his head sunk into his hands and muttering bitterly to himself and then looked at his four companions. "I think we finally broke him."
Connor looked guiltily at his father and twisted his hands nervously in his mud-streaked robes. "Sorry, Dad." He darted a beseeching look at Harry, Hermione and Ron and scowled when all three paled and hurriedly looked away. "I'm really sorry."
Snape raised his head and stared with sunken eyes at the five dishevelled fourth years. "You saw the Dark Lord come back." Even though it was a flat statement, the five teens nodded in hesitant agreement. Snape groaned and put his head in his hands again. "Just once I would like to finish up a year at this bloody school without any of you doing your damndest to send me to an early grave, is that so much to ask?"
Connor shuffled his feet. "Sorry, Dad." His face brightened momentarily. "But we got out of there alive and Diggory will be fine after a couple of days in the Infirmary." The brightness faded from his face slightly as his father refused to look even slightly heartened at his statement. "And it's not like we were recognised or anything. We were very discreet." His father looked gloomily up at him and Connor abandoned trying to cheer him up. "Hey, at least I didn't bite the old bastard this time!"
Severus was forced to search for his son for almost an hour before he finally made his way out to the Whomping Willow and called softly up into its branches. "Connor?" He waited for a moment and then released a slow breath of air. "Connor, please; I merely wish to make certain you are alright." He looked around at the cool summer night and breathed in the scent of freshly cut grass. "Perhaps we could take a turn around the lake."
"No." Connor's voice made his father jump. "I don't feel like walking." There was the sound of whispering and then his son's voice cut through the night air once more. "Come on up."
Severus stumbled back as one of the normally lethal branches of the willow moved languidly downwards and then lay on the grass expectantly. "Connor?"
"Just climb on and hang on tight, Dad." The quiet voice was coloured with amusement and Severus glanced up to see his son's face peer down at him through the thick foliage, highlighted by a beam of moonlight. "It's safe, trust me." Snape nodded and awkwardly straddled the thick limb, unable to hold his startled gasp as he was raised through the air and then held stationary mere feet from his son. Connor held out his hand. "Grab on, I won't let you fall." He smiled as his father reluctantly held out a hand and then clumsily climbed onto the thick branch that he was perched on. "There, safe and sound."
Severus deliberately kept his eyes trained on his son's face and away from the thirty-foot drop to the unforgiving ground. "Quite." He gripped the branch between his legs with trembling thighs and dug his fingernails into the gnarled bark as hard as he could. "I've never understood just how you've managed to tame this bloody tree."
Connor closed his eyes and smiled wanly as he tipped his head back against the tree's trunk. "Not tamed, just understood it. It's not easy being alone at this school. Even vicious things like the Whomping Willow need someone that understands them."
Severus' breath caught in his throat at the threads of deep emotion underscoring the mild words and he swayed unconsciously towards his son. "I'm sorry. I didn't realise you felt so...lonely."
Connor opened his eyes in surprise and stared at his father. "I'm not lonely." He searched for the right words to describe what he was feeling and in the end gave a frustrated shrug. "I just meant that I know what it's like to be on the outside looking in." He patted the branch beneath his body in affectionate amusement. "At least I get to change location occasionally, the poor old willow just gets to stand here year after year and watch all the other trees in the forest have a good time without it. I've got you and my friends and that's enough for me."
Severus reached out and laid a hand on Connor's arm. "But you still feel...estranged?"
Connor shook his head and smiled warmly. "Nah." He looked out over the grounds and sighed quietly. "Just sometimes I'd like to be able to do what the others can, you know? When we were fighting at the Ministry earlier and Sirius..." He swallowed hard and closed his eyes for a moment before forcing himself to go on. "When Sirius died, I might have been able to do something. I tried so hard to reach him, Dad, but I just wasn't quick enough."
"You managed to ensure your friends' safety though, son." Snape squeezed the lightly trembling arm under his hand and determined that he would get past his natural reticence and comfort his son as best he could after the fierce battle that had taken place at the Ministry of Magic that day. "Even though I loathed the very sight of Black, I know that he would gladly sacrifice his life many times over if it ensured that Potter survived him. You did all you could and I couldn't be more proud of you."
Connor looked up in surprise. "Really?" He shifted uncomfortably. "I thought you'd be pissed off that I was still running around with Harry and the others behind your back."
Snape cleared his throat and glared. "Yes, well that certainly didn't improve my mood earlier when Professor Dumbledore alerted me to what you and the other students had merrily stumbled off into." He eyed his son narrowly. "Honestly, Connor, for Slytherins, yourself and Draco have a distressing tendency towards loyalty at times that borders on the obsessed." His lips curved in a thin smile at Connor's splutter of helpless laughter and then he stared gravely at his son. "You saw your mother?"
Connor's face smoothed out into a mask of blankness and he looked away again. "Yeah. She definitely hasn't mellowed over the years."
Snape sighed at the waves of pain coming from his son. "Did you really expect her too?"
Connor shook his head wearily. "No. I'm not even sure why I'm so pissed off about it, I just thought that..." He shook his head again, this time in irritation. "Bugger, I don't know what I thought, I'm just glad that she never got a glimpse of my face. The one good thing that came out of all of this is that no one sussed that it was me and Draco that led the relief party."
Snape smiled grimly and reached out to touch his son and reassure himself that he was alive and well. "Yes, well." He eyed the boy in resignation. "There's always next year."
"Y'know, I'm starting to think your old man has a point about us." Draco ducked behind the makeshift barrier of a broken table between himself and the hoards of Death Eaters that were currently trying to storm Hogwarts and glared at Connor as spells and curses whistled overhead. "It would be nice to make it to the end of year feast without having to fight for our lives for once."
Connor rolled his eyes and hurriedly re-loaded his crossbow. "Yeah, yeah." He reared up, fired the bolt and was already ducking down to safety before it came to rest in the heart of his target. "If we suddenly started doing what he said this late in the game he'd probably start thinking we were possessed or someone was swigging the Polyjuice potion or something." He stood, fired another cross bolt and then ducked down without missing a beat. "I'm just grateful he's stopped trying to ban me from speaking to Harry and the others."
Draco reared up to fire off his own curse and ducked back down. "Yeah, speaking of the great and powerful Potter, where the bloody hell is he? Haven't seen him since he blew that funny looking fellow with the squint off the North Tower."
"You know Harry." Connor fired off his last crossbolt and then pulled out the sword his father had given him for Christmas. "He'll show up." Both boys froze as there was a sudden huge surge in the noise levels in the confined space of the battle and then they cautiously peeked over the top of the broken table sheltering them and watched in astonishment as Harry Potter and Ron Weasley led the Gryffindor, Huffelpuff and Ravenclaw house quidditch teams through the main doors of the castle and attacked the Death Eaters from the air as an veritable army of centaurs attacked on the ground. Connor blinked. "Oh look, there he is."
Draco rolled his eyes and signalled to Ginny and Hermione to lead the students defending the Great Hall forward and into battle as he tugged the concealing hood of his robes firmly into place over his face. "Bloody glory hound."
Connor Angel stared at the row of beaten and bloody figures on their knees before the Dark Lord and struggled desperately to keep a straight face at the gloating evil wizard's side. His battle wasn't made any easier by the fact that Harry and Ron kept groaning theatrically and then tipping him sly winks every time Voldemort tipped back his head to indulge the insane laughter that seemed to be mandatory under these circumstances. Connor leaned back and caught Draco's eye behind Voldemort's back as the other boy finished leering at Ginny Weasley, chained and kneeling at her boyfriend's feet. Draco flashed a grin and waggled his eyebrows and Connor smothered another highly inappropriate burst of laughter. They really were enjoying this situation far too much.
Seven years of playing the devoted Slytherins and junior Death Eaters and far too many close calls in getting rumbled in their dual lives and now they stood at their alleged master's side accepting his favours as his most trusted followers and for being the ones that had finally delivered him a humbled Harry Potter and thoroughly beaten Albus Dumbledore. Connor caught Harry's eye again and smothered another grin.
Except they weren't. Humbled or beaten. Not even slightly. His eyes drifted to his father and caught and held for a moment. The black eyes glittered in the bruised and bloody face but they didn't look defeated, just slightly bored. Connor flicked a glance at Voldemort and resisted snorting; yeah, if old Snakehead rambled on for much longer he'd be impaling himself on the dagger he had hidden in the folds of his robes, never mind the idiot with the white skin and odd coloured eyes. And this was the guy his mother was sleeping with. Guess there was no accounting for taste.
Connor hurriedly tuned back into Voldemort's exultant rant as he realised the old git was rapidly reaching his conclusion and made one last effort to look mean and evil as he glared forbiddingly at his father and friends. Hermione - kneeling between Ron and Harry - looked up and then hurriedly ducked her head as she succumbed to a fit of the giggles and Connor was forced to bite the inside of his cheek so he didn't join her. Honestly, who'd have thought the final showdown with their enemy, surrounded by Death Eaters and their own forces unable to help them from their prisons in Hogwarts' vast dungeons, would be so much fun?
"And now my loyal servants..." Connor looked around as he felt a bony hand clutch his shoulder and saw Voldemort was positively beaming as he gloated over his enemies on the floor and rested his other hand on Draco's shoulder. "I wish you to demonstrate the folly of fighting a force of which you cannot hope to beat." The bony hands tightened on the boys' shoulders for a moment before falling away. "Show my enemies what happens when they try to vanquish the greatest wizard the world has ever seen. And make it agonising."
Connor and Draco exchanged looks and then looked down at Harry and Ron. Connor cocked an eyebrow at Harry. "Well, Potter, looks like this is the end of the line."
Harry nodded thoughtfully. "Looks like." He looked for the last time on his nemesis' face and held his head up proudly. "Give it your best shot."
Connor nodded, reached under his robes and pulled out his sword as he pivoted and lopped Voldemort's head off in one smooth move, just as Draco swung with the sword he had hidden under his robes and very neatly bisected the old wizard just below his navel.
Connor wiped the spray of sticky blood from Voldemort's severed neck off his face and grinned savagely as he heard his mother screaming in outrage and shock behind him. "Surprise!"
Severus Snape stood in the shadows cast by the Whomping Willow and watched unnoticed as his son - he shuddered - cavorted with his friends over the smooth Hogwarts lawn and loudly celebrated the fact that Voldemort was finally and undeniably dead and - more importantly - they had not two hours since graduated from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry with the fullest honours that could be accorded to them.
All of them had bounced back with the resilience of youth from the night a week ago when Connor and Draco had done what Harry Potter had found so abhorrent and cut Voldemort into three very separate pieces. Apparently a cast-iron prophecy stood no chance against seven years of friendship and near death experiences and the two young Slytherins had shown no compunction in taking the burden of murder on their young shoulders in place of their friend. Severus watched as his son caught Hermione Granger around the waist and threw her exuberantly ten feet straight up in the air and laughed at her outraged squeal as she flailed in panic. Where had the time gone?
It seemed only yesterday that Bella - now languishing in the deepest, darkest cell Azkaban had to offer alongside Draco's parents - had thrown a savage, feral scrap of humanity at his feet and stalked away wishing him joy of his child. Severus allowed himself a cold smile. And joy he had. More than the cold-hearted bitch could ever have dreamed possible. It hadn't been easy -at times it had been damn near impossible - but he had persevered and now the abused child was a young man and Connor brought his father more happiness than he would have believed possible in the world. No matter that he was a Squib or that the only aptitude Connor had shown in potions was too make a rather decent cup of tea, Severus Snape had a child that any man in the world would envy and he thanked the higher powers daily that Bella had turned her back on her child rather than kill him. Strange to think that all his barriers and defences that had held him in such good stead all his life had been so utterly destroyed by a child, but the fact remained that they had been. The heart that he had believed all his life to be defective had been taken completely by a boy with navy blue eyes and a rather nice line in stacking up the bodies of assorted evil beings and Severus couldn't be more content. Well, he might be happier if Connor turned his back on Harry bloody Potter, but one couldn't have everything.
Severus took one more look at his son - deliberately avoiding focusing too hard on Draco and Ginny Weasley who were doing something most unseemly on the grass and seemed completely oblivious to her brother's pained protests - and then he turned back towards the school and the bottle of firewhisky he had secreted in his bedside cabinet for his own private celebration of his son's achievements.
He hadn't taken two steps when his eye was caught by another figure standing watching the raucous teenagers not ten feet from him and his hand had reached for his wand and had it levelled at the other person before he even consciously realised that there was a potential threat. "Who are you?"
The figure - revealed to be a man when he looked around - spread his arms from his body in a gesture of harmlessness and moved slowly towards Snape. "It's okay, I'm not here to cause trouble." He stopped in a patch of moonlight and nodded in greeting. "I mean you no harm."
"I think I'll be the judge of that." Snape looked the man up and down and raised an eyebrow as he took in the muggle leather jacket and alarmingly tousled hair. "I'll ask you again, who are you?"
"No one important." The stranger looked over his shoulder towards the castle and shrugged. "I came with the others."
"I don't recall seeing your face at the ceremony." Severus' face darkened further as the hair on the back of his neck rose in warning and he levelled his wand at the handsome face before him. "I approved all the people that came with the Ministry and I don't recall you in their entourage. Your accent is also unfamiliar."
The man's face tightened and he looked absolutely desolate for a moment before he straightened his shoulders and nodded abruptly. "Yes. I'm American." He looked hungrily over the lawns for a moment at Connor and his friends and then took a step backwards into the shadows. "I'm sorry, I only wanted to watch them for a moment. I'll go now."
His attention caught by the look of yearning on the man's face, Snape stepped forwards before he realised what he was doing. "Who are they to you?"
A sigh floated out of the dark and when the man next spoke there was a tremor in the low voice. "They're nothing. I thought...I thought one of the boys might have been someone I knew once, but I was mistaken. He just looked so...so happy." The voice broke and there was a silence of a few seconds and then the hoarse whisper sounded again. "They all look so happy."
"They are." Snape's grip on his wand relaxed slightly and his arm dropped in light of the man's obvious distress. "They have the rest of their lives to look forward to, and for this night at least there is nothing for them but joy."
A sound suspiciously like a sob cut through the still air and the potions master had to strain to catch the next nearly inaudible words as the man took another step in retreat. "Then it was worth it. It was all worth it." Before the man could be questioned further he turned away and walked quickly away to disappear into the night.
Severus stood and stared at the spot where the man had stood, trying to shake off the feeling of uneasiness that had overlaid his earlier satisfaction before turning his head to look on his son one more time before retreating back to the castle. He watched as Connor, Harry and Ron whooped with laughter as Hermione tripped over Draco and Ginny still on the floor and then all six teenagers were in a squirming, shouting pile on the grass as they shared their night of joy with the entire world. Snape's mouth curved in a smile as he stared at his son and he unconsciously echoed the words of the mysterious stranger. "Yes, it was. It was all worth it."