The Sugar Quill
Author: Christina Teresa (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: For the Love of Hufflepuff, Part 3: Restoration  Chapter: Chapter One: Snape's Christmas Nightmare
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The distribution of this story is for personal use only. Any other form of distribution is prohibited without the consent of the author.

A/N: "Restoration" is the third part of my "Hufflepuff" trilogy. Though it is not necessary to read "Part One: Death Eater's Inc." to enjoy it (though that's where we first meet the evil Professor Balin; his 'pet', Isela; and the spirited Muggle nurse, Miss Robbins), I do strongly suggest you read "Part Two: The Badger and the Serpent", or you will be totally lost. This story takes place during Harry Potter's fifth year at Hogwarts. Rated PG-13 for violence and language.

"For the Love of Hufflepuff" is just for fun and is not intended to infringe upon any copyright owned by J. K. Rowling, Scholastic Press or Warner Brothers Pictures. Original story and characters © Christina Teresa, 2001-2002. Thanks to Yolanda and Zsenya for their help and encouragement.

Chapter One: Snape's Christmas Nightmare

Peter Pettigrew, better known to his allies and enemies as Wormtail, stamped his feet in the snow, trying unsuccessfully to warm himself. He gazed briefly at his companion and thought longingly, I bet she knows how to keep a man warm.

Isela (Wormtail didn't know if she even had a surname) had been one of Voldemort's followers while he was still a Hogwarts student, but you couldn't tell by looking at her. She was darkly exquisite with long, silky, black hair and a voluptuous body. Despite the tremendous energy she undoubtedly used to keep herself young and beautiful, Isela was one of Voldemort's deadliest Death Eaters. She was also haughty and cruel; she usually looked at Wormtail (when she look at him at all) as if he were a pile of owl droppings. True, he was short, balding, and dumpy, but Wormtail had hoped that tonight he could prove himself worthy of her favors. So far, things weren't going very well.

Isela pulled her black cloak more tightly around her. "This is an outrage! The most important night in the history of Dark wizardry and here I am playing babysitter to a rat." She dug in her robe pocket and pulled out a vial of green liquid with a thin leather strap tied around it. "I could be torturing Muggles right now. It is not fair!" She jerk her head towards Wormtail. "Well, get on with it."

With a faint pop, Wormtail transformed himself from a short, bald, dumpy man into a fat, pathetic looking rat. Through his beady rat eyes, he saw Isela bend down, then he felt her tie the vial around his neck-a bit too snugly for his liking.

"Don't forget, you worthless rodent, if you fail, Voldemort promised me that I could kill you myself." Isela flashed him a perfect, contemptuous smile. "I suppose there is a bright side to everything."

He was half tempted to run up her leg and frighten her for once, but he had work to do. Despite Isela's complaining, Wormtail's task was by far the most important of this historic night. His Master had trusted him with it and Wormtail was determined he would not fail.

He scurried underneath the great wrought iron gates and ran across the snow covered grounds of the great country estate. It took him several minutes to find an opening he could squeeze himself through, but as soon as he did, he wasted no time in finding the owner's renown wine cellar.

Wormtail's timing couldn't have been better. Right on schedule, the house-elf came down the cellar stairs and went to pick a bottle of rare port off the shelf. As the house-elf used the tea towel around its waist to wipe the dust off the bottle, Wormtail transformed back into his pudgy human form, purposely startling the creature. The house-elf let out a little yelp, the bottle slipped from its hand and crashed to the floor. The house-elf was torn between alarm at the stranger standing before him and panic at the smashed bottle of port on the floor, but only briefly.

"Master give Twanky clothes for this," said the house-elf, twisting its tea towel in its hands in distress. "Master say one more broken bottle and it be clothes for Twanky." The creature then regarded Wormtail with accusing, tear-filled eyes. "You is a bad wizard, you make Twanky drop bottle!"

Wormtail was particularly thankful for the fact that house-elves were notoriously stupid. Twanky was no exception. Wormtail put on his most sympathetic expression. "I'm sorry I made you drop the bottle, Twanky. I just so happen to have a magic potion that will make the bottle good as new. Would you like that, Twanky?"

The house-elf nodded vigorously, eyes wide with hope.

Wormtail had planned on putting the Imperius Curse on the house-elf in order to force it to put the poison into the bottle, but he hoped this would work just as well. It better or Voldemort will have me killed. He squatted before the broken bottle, opened the vial of green liquid gingerly and poured it on the spilled wine, careful not to splash any on himself. He then took out his wand and pointed it at the glass shards. "Reparo!" The bottle was instantly repaired. It's contents, including the poison, were sealed inside.

The house-elf picked up the bottle gleefully. "You is a good wizard! Twanky not get clothes Christmas night!" Now that that crisis was over, Twanky's tiny brain turned its attention to the other issue of a stranger being in its master's house. The house-elf pointed a finger at him. "You not supposed to be here. I tell Master." Twanky turned to go up the cellar stairs, but Wormtail grabbed him.

By the time he had performed a powerful Memory Charm on Twanky, the house-elf's mind was half destroyed. He was forced to use the Imperius Curse after all so that Twanky could serve its master for the very last time. With a pop, Wormtail once again became his rat self. He followed the house-elf up the stairs to its master's dining room to watch the fun.

*

After Snape left Voldemort and returned to Hogwarts, he locked himself in his dungeon room and took a dose of Dreamless Draught mixed with Firewhiskey in a vain attempt to block out the pain of what he'd done. He also hoped futilely that the potion would prevent the nightmare he knew would invade his mind as he slept. He had no idea who Voldemort intended to use his poison on, but Snape had no doubt it would be front page news in the Prophet tomorrow.

Years ago, when Severus first agreed to spy on Voldemort and his Death Eaters for Dumbledore, he had done it in hopes of redeeming himself for the sins he had committed in Voldemort's service-the naïve hope of a young man. Unfortunately, he had been forced to commit acts just as heinous in order to play his part. Dumbledore was not a stupid man, he must have had some idea of what Severus had been forced to do, but the old wizard never pressed for details. Necessarily, Snape's heart hardened as he realized that redemption was beyond his grasp, but a little bit of that senseless hope remained. That was the reason he felt the pain he did when forced to commit these evil acts, but his heart never hurt as it did tonight. He usually carried his guilt in his stomach, so why the heartache?

There was just one answer to that question: Veronica and her inexplicable faith in him. When she told him he was one of the good guys, she believed it and she made him believe it too, if only for a moment. When he looked into her eyes he saw hope for his redemption and faith that his soul was eminently redeemable. How did she do that? Was it unique to her or did all Hufflepuffs believe in such silliness? She was like a child in so many ways. As he drifted off to sleep, Severus sincerely hoped that she would never completely grow up.

When he found his dream self in the ward of St. Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries, Severus groaned. Why can't she leave me alone? 'She' was Miss Robbins, the Muggle nurse Snape had killed when he was first initiated into the Death Eaters. She, or rather her spirit, had been the reason why Snape had left Voldemort's service; she was the one who had led him to Dumbledore. Ever since that fateful night, Miss Robbins had invaded his dreams every time Severus killed-even indirectly, like tonight. She made sure he looked into the eyes of every one of his victims. What Snape could never figure out was Miss Robbins trying to keep his hope of redemption alive or was she trying to quash it completely?

The hospital ward was filled Voldemort's many victims, not just the ones Snape was responsible for. He traversed the ward in search of Miss Robbins and finally found her at the bedside of Cedric Diggory. They were playing a game of wizard chess.

Diggory looked up at him with surprise. "Oh, hello, Professor Snape. You-Know-Who get you, too?"

Snape shook his head. "No, Mr. Diggory. I'm just visiting."

Miss Robbins, still in her white uniform and starched white cap, turned around and regarded Snape with that irritating, all-knowing, enigmatic smile of hers. "I'll be with you in just a moment, Severus."

"Take your time, please," he grumbled. As Snape waited for them to finish their game, he took a good look at Diggory for the first time. His gray eyes held the same look of hope and faith that Veronica's did. Perhaps all Hufflepuffs did look that way. Not surprising he never noticed before. Slytherins generally dismissed Hufflepuffs as dull-witted worker bees-and they weren't the only ones. Snape thought guiltily of Veronica's 'Spares' speech and felt he had to say something to Diggory to make up for it. "Mr. Diggory…Cedric, you're sorely missed by your classmates-and the faculty. I just thought you'd like to know."

Both Cedric and Miss Robbins stared at Severus open-mouthed. Snape's lip curled in a snarl. "What are the two of you looking at? Can we get on with this, Miss Robbins? I haven't got all night."

Miss Robbins excused herself and led Severus through the ward to her tea and biscuit cart. She continued to stare at him in amazement.

He sighed heavily. "Can't a person say something nice without everyone making an issue of it?"

"Not if that person is you," Miss Robbins replied as she poured a cup of tea and put a few biscuits on a china plate. "I've known you for years, Severus, and that is the first time I've ever heard you say something kind. Why the change?"

He had no intention of telling Miss Robbins about Veronica, so he put on his best sneer and snapped, "Can we stick to the reason why I was brought here? Just show me who I killed this time, so I can get the hell out of here."

Suddenly, Snape heard someone bellow, "MISS ROBBINS!"

The nurse rolled her eyes and jerked her thumb over her shoulder in the direction of the call. "That is the reason why you were brought here tonight."

The voice sounded vaguely familiar, but Severus couldn't quite place it.

Miss Robbins glowered at Snape, her hands on her hips. "As if I didn't have enough work to do, you send me a bloody politician!"

"Politician?" Guilt mixed with a good dose of fear traveled from his heart into its usual place in the pit of his stomach. "Which politician?"

She handed him the plate of biscuits, but held onto the cup of tea herself. "Bed 863-I'd better go with you. You can tell me if this git is even half as important as he seems to think he is."

Severus looked down at the plate of biscuits as he followed Miss Robbins to bed 863. He only looked up when the bed's occupant said his name.

"Snape? What in the devil are you doing here?"

Great gods, no. Snape raised his head and looked into the eyes of Cornelius Fudge, Minister of Magic; the ex-Minister of Magic.

"Here's your tea, Mr. Fudge," said Miss Robbins irritably as she handed him the cup and saucer. A few drops spilled on his pinstriped pajamas. "And I'll have no more yelling, do you hear me? You're disturbing the other patients."

Fudge brushed the spilled tea off his pajamas and blustered, "Do be more careful, Sister! I wouldn't be forced to yell if you would spend less time playing chess with that Diggory boy and more time doing your job. I've been waiting for my tea for half an hour."

"If you don't change that nasty attitude of yours, you'll wait two hours next time," she retorted. Miss Robbins then grabbed the plate of biscuits from Severus and plopped them unceremoniously in Fudge's lap.

If Snape hadn't been in shock, he would really be enjoying this.

"How dare you speak to me in that manner?" cried Fudge. "Severus, I demand that you tell her who I am!"

Snape was startled back into full awareness and turned to Miss Robbins. "Mr. Fudge is…was our Minister of Magic; the equivalent of your British Prime Minister."

"Well, I don't care if you're the bloody Queen of England," she told Fudge angrily, "you'll wait your turn like everyone else." She marched away and Severus followed, as grateful as she was to leave Fudge's side.

"You know, Severus, I am really getting tired of this," Miss Robbins said. Her tone had an anxious edge to it Snape had never heard before. "It's bad enough I have to deal with the likes of Fudge, but when I have to take in a lovely boy like Cedric-" her voice broke as she blinked back a few tears. "I thought your friend Dumbledore was going to kill Lord What's-His-Name and stop all this."

"We're working on it," Snape said without enthusiasm.

She put a friendly hand on his arm. "Speaking of, when are you going to stop sending me more patients?"

Severus almost said, 'You sound like Veronica', when Miss Robbins pointed to the ceiling.

"Friend of yours?" she asked, a big grin on her face.

Snape looked up and saw Veronica in her blue flannel pj's, with the big yellow ducks in pointed green wizard hats, flying through the hospital ward on her new Nimbus Two Thousand Two. The patients clapped as she did flips and turns before flying around Severus and waving. Snape broke out in a wide smile as he watched her. He was just about to compliment her on her fancy flying, when panic hit him. He turned to Miss Robbins and grabbed her frantically by the shoulders. "Tell me Voldemort didn't kill Veronica!"

The nurse put her hands on his arms and gazed at him reassuringly. "She's fine, Severus! She's just dreaming. You must have been thinking of her and she decided to come visit." Miss Robbins regarded him with a sly smile.

"Don't look at me that way," he growled. "She's just a friend."

Miss Robbins shrugged. "Whatever you say."

Veronica flew back to the pair and landed. She seemed only vaguely aware of Miss Robbins and the hundreds of patients lying in their beds. She took Severus by the hands and bounced up and down a couple of times like a little girl.

"Let's play a game of two-man Quidditch, Severus. I'm sure Madam Hooch would lend you a broom if you asked very nicely."

One corner of his mouth curled up in an affectionate smirk. "There's no such thing as two-man Quidditch, Veronica."

"Well, there is now," she replied. "I just made it up. Please say you'll play."

Miss Robbins grinned. "I like her."

"No one asked you," Snape retorted.

Miss Robbins snapped her fingers.

Suddenly, Severus and Veronica were no longer in St. Mungo's, but were in Voldemort's lair-a cold, stone room deep in the bowels of an ancient building. Miss Robbins was nowhere to be seen. As he did last night, Snape reached in his pocket and withdrew a vial of green liquid and put it in Voldemort's outstretched hand.

He felt Veronica tug on his arm. Her brow was furrowed with distress and her eyes were filled with fear. "Let's go, Severus. I don't like the kind of games he plays."

Severus gently took her by the shoulders. "Veronica, you need to go home; you shouldn't be here."

"Neither should you. You're one of the good guys." Veronica threw her arms tightly around him. This time Severus wrapped his arms around her and held her close.

Voldemort's red eyes narrowed, his deathly pale face twisted with anger. "Are you one of us, Snape, or are you one of them?"

A white mist encircled Voldemort and the Dark Lord morphed into Miss Robbins. "What'll be Severus? I suggest you make your decision before she does get hurt."

Severus woke up with a start, bathed in sweat. Damn it! When will this nightmare end?

*

Veronica awoke and tried to grasp onto the quickly fading memory of the strange dream she just had. Something about her trying to get Severus to play two-man Quidditch. What in the hell is two-man Quidditch? There was darkness, too, but she couldn't recall specifics. It was probably just a product of worry. She assumed the 'something' Severus had to do last night involved Voldemort. She was certain he was safe, but would feel much better when she saw him later today. She had planned on returning to Hogwarts last evening, but she had had one too many glasses of her father's Christmas punch, so she decided to stay over at her parents' cottage. It was small and her mother drove her a bit mad, but it was home.

She sat up in bed and gazed happily at her shiny new Nimbus Two Thousand Two propped up in the corner of her old bedroom. Her parents and brothers had been understandably impressed when she flew in on it yesterday afternoon. Veronica had told them Professor Dumbledore had given it to her as a sort of bribe to get her to stay on as Defense Against the Dark Arts professor, but she wasn't quite sure they believed her. Severus was right, she was an extraordinarily bad liar.

Perhaps she shouldn't have lied, but she wasn't ready to explain Severus to them quite yet. For them to truly understand their friendship, she felt she would finally have to tell them about what Balin had done to her. She placed her hand over the Dark Mark he had burned into her just above her heart. Soon, but not yet. Veronica jumped with alarm when she suddenly heard frantic banging on her bedroom door.

"Vee, sweetie, wake up! Wake up, Vee, something terrible has happened!" It was her mother. It sounded like she was crying.

Veronica sprang out of bed, threw on a robe and followed her mother into the parlor. Her father was there listening to the wireless as he clutched a copy of the Daily Prophet in his hands so tightly that his knuckles were white. Her mother took Veronica's hand and put her other arm around Mr. Stanley's shoulders as they all listened to the WWN report:

…at least a dozen attacks have been reported all over Britain. Two members of the Muggle Parliament along with their families have been killed. The most shocking news of this tragic Boxing Day, of course, is the death of the wizarding world's beloved Minister of Magic, Cornelius Fudge. It is still unclear who or what exactly killed Mr. Fudge, but WWN correspondent, Polly Goodcroft, reports that she has never witnessed such a gruesome scene in all her years as a journalist. Eyewitnesses have reported seeing the unmistakable symbol of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named-the Dark Mark-above the houses of each and every victim. The Ministry of Magic has yet to make an official statement, but Ministry sources warn that the Christmas Night Massacre is likely just the beginning of a new reign of terror…

Veronica pried the Prophet from her father's hands. On the front page was the Headline: 'MINISTER OF MAGIC MURDERED! YOU-KNOW-WHO TO BLAME!' The picture accompanying the story was of an hysterical Mrs. Fudge and a very confused house-elf. Oh, gods, please, Severus, tell me you had nothing to do with this.

Just then, a Hogwarts owl tapped on the Stanleys' cottage window with its beak. Mrs. Stanley quickly let the owl in and it promptly dropped a letter in Veronica's hands. The owl flapped its wings and puffed out its chest importantly. "Mum, could you…?"

"Certainly, dear." Mrs. Stanley wiped her eyes and motioned for the owl to follow her into the kitchen for some food and water. She appeared grateful to be doing something other than listen to the dreadful news.

Veronica broke the red seal and ripped the envelope in her haste to pull out the letter. It was from Dumbledore. Her hands shaking and her heart pounding in her chest, she read:

Dear Veronica,

By now, you have no doubt heard about last night's tragedy. Unfortunately, I must ask that you cut your holiday short. Your presence is required at Hogwarts immediately. Come straight to my office as soon as you arrive. Please extend my apologies to your parents.

Albus Dumbledore

She breathed a massive sigh of relief when she read the next line:

PS: Severus is safe.

"Who's Severus?" her father asked. Veronica hadn't noticed that he was reading over her shoulder.

"Just a friend," she said quickly. "Dad, I've got to go."

Mr. Stanley gave her a loving squeeze. "I know, sweetheart." He took his daughter's face in his hands. "I just want you to know how very proud we are of you. I just hope Dumbledore doesn't expect you to do anything too dangerous. Please be careful."

"Oh, Dad, don't worry. It's not as if I'll be taking on Voldemort single-handedly. At best, I'll be a consultant."

Her father winced slightly at the sound of the Dark Lord's name, but didn't comment. Veronica had spent years trying to break her family of the 'You-Know-Who' habit with some success.

She hugged him and place a kiss on his cheek. "Just remember those Defense Spells I taught you. And Dad, be sure to recharge the wards around the house."

"Now who's worrying unnecessarily?" he replied, trying to sound lighthearted. "Who in the world would want to hurt us?"

Veronica just smiled sadly and rushed to her room to dress. The only bright spot in all of this was that the one person who would want to hurt them was safely locked away in Azkaban. She just prayed Balin would stay there.

***

 

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