Title: Wizarding Fairy Tales
Genres: Humour & Romance.
Prompt: Fairy Tales.
Warnings: See Snarry Games post for warnings
Word count: 32,500 +/-
Author's notes: characters include Harry Potter/Severus Snape, Remus Lupin, Rubeus Hagrid, Pomona Sprout and various animal and plant characters that may bear some resemblance to those from Muggle fairy tales.
Disclaimer: The world of Harry Potter, its characters and settings are the copyrighted works of J.K. Rowling, Warner Bros., her publishing companies and affiliates. No profit was made from the writing of this story.
Summary: Dashing young hero Harry Potter has a 'saving people thing'. Which is just as well because in order to save the life of his best friend he has to go on a Perilous Quest to find the elusive Severus Snape. Will he survive the journey? If he does will he last another second once he finds Snape's hidden lair? Does his poor, suffering friend have a hope in hell?
Wizarding Fairy Tales
1 – Rapunzel.
The autumn breeze let out a haunting moan as it swirled around the battlements on top of the tower. But this was no mighty castle. The tower had been added to the house by a Victorian provincial architect as a nod towards the mighty structures of the Gothic Revival that were appearing all over London and the southern counties. A previous owner of the isolated house had used the tower to develop an interest in astronomy, but these days it held nothing more exciting than a table and some comfy chairs placed to make the most of the view. From the top window of the tower you could see for miles, right out over the lawns that lay in front of the house, over the wall that surrounded the entire property (the builder had been an awful recluse) and towards the distant forest.
Severus Snape stood by the long, arched window looking at the view. His hands were rhythmically occupied in repeatedly pulling a hairbrush through his long, ebony locks. Severus had let his hair grow since he'd left Hogwarts. Now, in his opinion, it was a proper length for a mature, powerful wizard and reached all the way down his back. It shone; it was sleek, healthy and glossily black. Someone with poor taste might have described it as greasy. No doubt the brats he used to teach would have called it so, but as Severus' brush slid easily through the shiny, straight strands, he appreciated his hair for its ease of care and its sleekness of touch, and knew it was probably his best feature. He realised he was getting a little obsessed with it lately, but it was incredibly soothing to pass the brush down from the crown of his head to the ends of the hair again and again, the repetitive movement lulling him into a pleasant dream world. His eyes unfocussed as he recalled Albus' soothing voice: 'Severus, if you wish to be taken seriously as a wizard, you really should grow your hair. A good head of hair is vital. Let your hair down, Severus.'
The land below was spread out in front of him like an opened newspaper. The far north of England was not as populous as the south, but without the wards he'd erected around this isolated property he could still have expected disturbance from passing visitors – Muggle tourists hoping to gawk at historic houses seemed to be endemic in all parts of the British Isles. Severus wanted no more disturbances in his life, thank you very much, and when he'd moved in he'd spent the first month erecting suitable anti-Muggle wards. Then he'd spent the next month reinforcing those with anti-wizard wards. And finally, for good measure he'd added an inner layer of Dark curses and traps that only an idiot would be foolish enough to try and penetrate. Snape realised there were still a few prize idiots in the Wizarding world, but they didn't know where he was. The only person who had a vague idea of Snape's whereabouts was Hagrid. Admittedly the half-giant wasn't the most discreet creature on the face of the planet, but he only knew of the Post Office address in Middleton in Teesdale – which was the nearest town and fifteen miles away – where Snape collected his mail. Everything else, all owl-carried mail, came to him under his pseudonym which nobody, not even Rubeus Hagrid, was privy to.
Severus put the brush down on the side table. Smiling softly, he sat in his chair to appreciate the view a little longer. At long last, at the age of forty-five, Severus was his own man. He had no master; he didn't owe anybody a damned thing. He'd paid his debt – if a debt had ever been owed – to the Wizarding world at the final battle with Voldemort, where he'd nearly paid it with his life. Once he had recovered he'd left the Wizarding world, eventually moving to this eccentric house on the windswept Westmorland moors. He'd got it cheap – quite ridiculously cheap. Nobody wanted to live up here these days, the land was only fit for grazing sheep and there was little money to be made in sheep-farming in the 21st century. It wouldn't have made a good holiday home either because the high moor was too windswept to attract visitors who'd want to stay in it for pleasure. The ramshackle house had been on the Muggle housing market for years, slowly deteriorating, and Severus had been able to name his own price. So he had, not feeling at all sorry for the vendor when he moved into an extensive property with walled, private grounds for a sum less than six figures. He'd had his work cut out just to make the place habitable again, but despite that, he'd got the wards up first. Severus' privacy and independence was the most priceless thing he owned.
Severus knew he was living a strange, not altogether happy life. His wizarding supplies were all delivered by owl, or if too heavy for owl post, by mail to the local Post Office. He bought his food and other supplies in Middleton once a month, or grew them in his charmed garden and greenhouses.
Severus had acquired an old Muggle van which he drove into the little town. He'd learned to drive when he was seventeen; the necessity for the skill was one of the few things he'd agreed with his father about. He quite enjoyed tinkering with the old engine, using both Muggle and magical skills to keep it running happily. He didn't bother taxing and insuring it – it was charmed to be Unnoticeable and Imperturbable, despite the clouds of exhaust fumes and the occasional backfire as it ran. Nothing would interfere with Snape's old white van, just as nothing would disturb its owner any more.
Severus had once, long ago, spent time considering what would be the ideal lifestyle for him if he managed to get out of the war alive. He hadn't really expected to survive and the plans had been more of an intellectual exercise than a serious option. But when the unexpected became reality, Severus had put his plan into action. He knew that this was the best he could do with the rest of his life and he was as close to happiness as it was possible for him to be. As he didn't seem able to live among wizards without suffering their prejudice, and he didn't choose to live among Muggles whom he had little patience for, the logical and only choice had been to live in isolation.
As the autumn wind moaned again it began to rain. With a ragged splatter like the tapping of fingers, the raindrops blew against the window pane and started trickling down, their tear-like tracks seeming to reflect Snape's loneliness. Severus chose to ignore it, and picked up his hairbrush again.
2 – Little Red Riding Hood.
On a bright Monday morning in early autumn a little owl swooped in over the shed, heading for the kitchen window. The window was shut and the small bird hooted her annoyance, wheeling around to find somewhere to land. In the front garden, right in front of the frustratingly closed window, there was a convenient perch.
The perch could accommodate many owls, she noticed, and soared in to land on one of the tallest arms. The ground below the perches was dappled with droppings. As she alighted there was a clicking noise and a box suddenly appeared from out of the arm she was sitting on. The owl looked down at it, recognised it as a letterbox – it even had a brass plate reading 'Letters' attached to it, so there was no doubt about its purpose. Impressed by the convenience of this, she stuck out her leg over the top of the box and felt a tingle of magic as the scroll she was carrying untied itself and drifted down into the letterbox. The magic surrounding owl post ensured that this could only happen if the correct delivery procedures were being followed, so the letter had reached its destination.
As the letter slid inside, the box made a noise like an ordinary letterbox, sounding just like the clack of the letter flap as a postman pushes mail through it. A lid slid out and covered the box and an owl treat appeared on top of it. The little owl hooted again, this time in sheer pleasure, and took the treat – which proved to be of a very fine quality, moist and tasting of freshly-minced mousemeat. The box then retracted into the arm of the perch and the delivery was complete.
The owl took off, soaring over the woodland and heading for home. She wouldn't mind a repeat of this journey; it wasn't too far and the efficiency of her reception meant no hanging around in the daylight awaiting the convenience of wizards; no damp, bedraggled feathers if it started to rain (and it always did); no aching legs from perching on inadequate windowsills or wheezing lungs from sitting on smoking chimney stacks. Whoever this wizard was, he was blessedly modern in his approach to the mail and the little owl wished there were more like him.
Harry banished his breakfast bowls into the sink and headed out to his letter box. At the base of a tall, wooden structure that might have been inspired by an upturned toilet brush, there was a large box. Harry opened the lid and peered inside. There weren't many defused Howlers in there today, just a couple by the look of it. These always came from people whose letters he hadn't answered, or those who hadn't received the reply they were asking for. But the usual heap of regular letters was no smaller than on any other day. Harry Accioed them into his arms and took them inside, dropping them onto the kitchen table. Sighing, he picked out a few and read them.
Dear Mr Potter
I am sorry to write to you unannounced. You do not know me, but I feel as if I know you.
I have had the most terrible run of bad luck lately. My wife fell and broke her ankle, and the break is too awkward for the healers to set. She cannot work because of it.
Then I lost my job in the Auror office as being surplus to Postwar requirements. That isn't your fault, of course…
Harry let out an irritated sigh. Of course it wasn't his fault! The Wizarding world was a safer, more law-abiding place now, and that was a good thing, wasn't it? It wasn't his fault this man was out of work. And his wife's ankle certainly wasn't Harry's fault either.
….but you must see what an awful situation I am in. We have five children, one is due to start Hogwarts in September and I do not have the money for her robes, books and equipment.
I have heard that you are a very giving, generous person, as befits your heroic nature…
Harry scrunched the letter up and gritted his teeth. If he'd given money to all the supplicants who'd asked for it, he would have been thrown into Azkaban as a debtor by now. Why the entire Wizarding world thought he had so much money was beyond him. True, he had a small pension granted by the Ministry in recognition of his war service, just as every Order member did. Yes, he'd inherited his property from his parents, along with the rest of their estate. But they hadn't been rich, merely comfortably off, and the cottage had been in ruins. It had cost Harry almost as much to restore it as it would have to build a new house from scratch. Now his Gringotts vault held enough to live on and provide him with a few luxuries, pay a few regular charitable bequests and maintain his newly-restored property, but certainly not enough to start handing out cash to anyone who wrote to him.
Harry had lived here since the end of the war, planning to take the time to restore both his property and his peace of mind. In the end the property had been easier to deal with, for Harry didn't feel his mind was very peaceful at all. He'd soon had to invent the owl-post post (as he called it) just to prevent his cottage being filled with incoming post owls at all hours of the day and night. When he'd first moved in he'd tried keeping all the doors and windows shut and blocking the chimneys, but that meant he couldn't light a fire or use the Floo. The roof had become slimy with droppings within the week and the guttering had got blocked with mouse bones. Harry soon discovered that it was amazing how quickly you could invent and build something when you needed to.
Harry used to spend entire days just reading the mail. Now, he only skimmed through a few of them, but it was enough to show him that nothing was different. The volume of mail remained high and the subjects were always the same. Sighing, he tried one more, attracted to a pale green parchment with a hand-made look to it.
Dear Harry, a slender, willowy script wrote…
I have plucked up the courage to write to you at last. I've read all about your wonderful, brave efforts throughout the war and I've read every life story I can get my hands on. I loved that last article in Witch Weekly which told me all about your favourite things. I have blue eyes, which you like, and I dream of you staring into them with your beautiful emerald green gaze.
I know you like toffee, so I'm going to make some and send it to you in a day or two. I've got a heart stamp which I'll use so every piece will be a sweet mouthful of love, just for you.
first I just had to write and say how much I admire you. No, that's not enough.
I admire you of course, but I think much more of you than that and I hope I get
the chance to show you just how much.
You see, yesterday I cast my horoscope. I'm a Libra and that makes me ideal for you, my Harry…
Harry's hand crunched up the sickeningly fey parchment so fiercely that he almost turned it into tissue paper. He chucked it, forcefully, into the kitchen fireplace and watched with satisfaction as it burned with a pretty green-tinged flame.
"If I get any more marriage proposals, or get asked out one more time –" he growled. Grimacing, he stood up and swept the rest of the post into the fire without a further thought. His friends all knew the best way to contact him was by Firecall, and his fireplace was charmed to block all calls but those he specifically allowed.
Harry could never have predicted that his fame and perceived fortune would mean that he'd have no love life. A social life – yes, he could have that. If he wanted endless visits to Ministry balls, conferences, photo calls and receptions for distinguished foreign emissaries he could have them. And there was always a generous supply of charity work – the opening of shops of all kinds, the naming of babies (there were an awful lot of little Harrys toddling around England these days), and in summer there was the attending of village fetes to be done. He'd received more invitations to weddings, birthday parties, hand-fastings, bondings, christenings, blessings, naming ceremonies and even wakes and funerals than one man could reasonably be expected to attend in a lifetime.
So the social side was there, if he wanted it, but Harry's love life had been shot to pieces the moment he'd killed Voldemort. He'd tried dating some of the young men he'd fought alongside, as well as one or two attractive guys he'd met at the sparkling occasions he'd attended soon after the end of the war, when everything seemed so fresh and hopeful. Sooner or later they all ended the same way. Most of them had expected to be taken to parties nearly every night, wined, dined and wooed with expensive gifts. Their hints about what they expected from Harry had been about as subtle as Grawp's dancing at the Hogwarts Victory Ball. The few who didn't make hints about gifts seemed to be angling for fame instead, making sure they appeared in the Daily Prophet or The Quibbler as often as possible. That was an easy task because everywhere Harry and his date went, in every pub, restaurant, nightclub or theatre, they were trailed by reporters with flashing cameras and an endless stream of shouted questions. His idiotic dates just encouraged them by answering: 'Yes, we're really happy,' or 'Harry's so thoughtful, he's just the nicest person you could ever meet. Unspoilt, if you know what I mean?' Harry had wanted to curl up and die. In fact, all those relationships had seemed to be heading in directions that Harry didn't want to go. He had soon come to the realisation that what made him attractive to other people was the very part of him – the public image – that he most loathed about himself.
With some regret, but quite a lot of relief, Harry had given up on dating.
The retreat to his rebuilt cottage at Godric's Hollow had admittedly become more complete than Harry might have liked, but it was the only way he could live his life and retain his sanity. And as long as he didn't let the postal demands overwhelm him, he was comfortable enough.
Harry was still in contact with his wartime friends, so he wasn't completely alone, and he didn't need to be lonely. He could visit the Burrow at any time. Ron and Hermione were always asking him over to their flat in the evenings. They both had high-powered jobs in London as well as a very demanding daughter, two year old Hannah, whom Molly looked after while Hermione and Ron were at work. Harry had gone there several times, but his friends were just so busy with their own lives that Harry didn't know what to say to them any more. He had sat and talked about the restoration of the cottage and invited them to come and see it, and Ron and Hermione had come to stay one weekend in May, even bringing little Hannah with them. But that was months ago now. Their current circle of friends and acquaintances were mostly new to Harry and he had felt rather out of place at their last party in July.
The visits to the Burrow were even worse because they just made Harry melancholy. He was happy enough while he was there, relaxing and chatting with the Weasleys, but he always came home to his little cottage feeling rather shell-shocked. There were just so many Weasleys, all busy, all happy, all thoroughly pleased with their lives. But the contrast between their situation and his own made him feel sad because he now knew his own life could never be like that.
His best friend these days was Remus Lupin. Remus was similar to him in many ways, living a quiet, rather secluded life. He was older than Harry, but Harry seemed to be able to talk to older people better than he could to his school friends; possibly his wartime experiences had made him that way. Harry usually visited with Remus several times a week, but he hadn't been since last Thursday, and he was due a visit.
Glancing around the bright kitchen, he considered doing the washing up – that would take all of five seconds using a useful little charm Remus had taught him – but caught sight of the blue, ceramic hen sitting on the worktop. This morning he'd looked inside for some eggs to scramble and the egg hen had been empty. Grabbing his collecting basket, Harry went outside.
As he approached the hen coop he was met by three red-brown hens running towards him at breakneck speed (for hens). Much excited flapping of wings and unmusical clucking accompanied their sprinting; the scaly chicken legs were moving so fast they looked little more than a blur.
"Hello, chooks," Harry called, smiling as they skidded to a halt before him, looking up with bright, brown, hopeful eyes. "I've not got anything for you. I'm after eggs. You should have laid me some after all the treats I keep giving you."
The chief hen, as Harry thought of Germaine (the hen with the floppy comb that lay rakishly over the left side of her head), answered with an interrogative noise that sounded like 'berrrrup' and Harry was sure meant 'what the hell are you coming out here for without bacon rinds?' Harry shook his head at her and continued walking over to the coop. He went around the back and started opening the lids of the nest boxes. In the first one, three brown eggs lay nestled in the straw. Harry smiled and put them in his basket and moved along to the next box. By now a party of six hens was following him. He could tell them apart by the noises they made as well as by sight. They all made different sounds which Harry was sure was a kind of chicken language. After all, he could speak to snakes, so there was probably someone somewhere in the world who could speak to hens. That would be a more useful ability for Harry to have at the moment. Snakes were nowhere near as useful as hens… though they did have a bit more wizard cred, he had to admit.
Working his way along the boxes he came to one that was occupied. "Severina, you wretched bird!" Harry exclaimed. "You've gone broody again, haven't you? Well I'm not letting you stay there." Harry put down his basket, then as the six stalking hens started sticking their heads inside and tapping at the eggs he rapidly covered it with a linen napkin conjured from a piece of straw. "Cannibals!" Harry laughed, shooing them away as he tucked the cloth around the eggs. "Right, Severina, this is it. The gloves are off! I've warned you, you awkward bird…" Harry slid his hands under the hen whose head came up on a remarkably tall neck like a periscope. She emitted a squawk of protest and surprise as he lifted her off her eggs.
Harry put Severina on the ground next to the other hens, who gave her a 'look'. Severina just sat there as if she had no legs. "Oh, go on. I know you want to hatch them, but last time was a disaster!"
Harry had vivid memories of his first forays into poultry-keeping. His hens must have been fertilised before he collected them and he let them sit on their first eggs, not realising they even had eggs under them until the chicks appeared. He'd wondered why he never got any eggs from his layers at first and had even been considering going back to the farmer with a complaint, but now he felt like an idiot when he looked back because after a few months he'd had a yard full of crowing cockerels. Sod's Law it may be, but Harry reckoned 90% of the chicks had been male and he seriously wondered whether the farmer he'd got the birds from was a wizard with a warped sense of humour. Desperate to get rid of his own dreadful dawn chorus, he'd asked around the village and even put an advert in the Post Office: 'handsome cockerels free to good homes'. He hadn't had a single reply. In the end, the boys had to be sent to market in the cause of retaining his sanity and preventing any more cock fights. Peace settled over his garden once more, and the hens laid happily enough without being regularly ambushed by randy cocks…
Harry's eyes went a bit glassy as he dreamed of being ambushed by a randy cock of a different kind, but he pulled himself together when a new outburst of squawks broke out near his feet. The other hens were pecking at Severina, no doubt thinking she was overacting. She was something of a drama queen, which was why Harry had called her Severina, in honour of the most awkward person he'd ever known. Harry shooed the other hens away, then lifted Severina and put her back onto her scaly feet. Before she could sink back down, he gently but insistently applied the toe of his shoe to her soft, fluffy bum feathers. Severina rediscovered the ability to walk and ambled off, shaking her wing feathers and waggling her tail in annoyance.
Harry collected the last of the eggs. He'd taken a large batch into the village yesterday. They were sold at the village shop and Harry could hardly keep up with demand. He could understand that, because his girls laid lovely, large brown eggs with the most vivid highlighter-orange yolks. As you cracked them they practically screamed how good they were for you. He shuddered at the thought of supermarket eggs with their wishy-washy, pale yolks hardly darker than their whites. No wonder his produce was so popular. It was probably due to the magical garden providing the hens with some extra juicy insects as they scratched around.
It was fulfilling to sell his eggs and quite lucrative too, almost paying for his week's groceries. But this morning his own supply – the ceramic egg hen – had been empty. So this batch was going to be for him. Severina hadn't done any harm yet by sitting on the morning's batch of eggs, but Harry had to keep an eye on her as she would try to sneak back in there and if he missed her incubation could start. "Silly old chook," he said fondly as he headed back to the cottage, catching sight of Severina now scratching among the raspberry bushes with a disgruntled air.
Harry was surprised how much he liked keeping chickens. It had seemed the right hobby for someone who lived in the country, and when he'd found the coop in an outhouse that still stood in the corner of the garden, his hand had been forced. Perhaps his mother had kept hens here all those years ago. The coop had only needed a good clean and a fresh coat of wood preservative before Harry had gone out to buy a dozen hens at a nearby farm. The farmer had explained that they weren't pedigree, or fancy, just bog-standard, hybrid red hens that were the best for providing eggs, but Harry thought they were beautiful. He loved watching them in summer when they spread their wings, laid down and sunned themselves looking like a row of tourists at a beach. He admired their clean ways, their regular dust baths, careful preening, and it made him smile when they cleaned their beaks by rubbing them on stones whenever they got something sticky on them.
Hens were fun, and keeping them was giving Harry some insight into Hagrid's attachment to magical creatures. You could trust animals, you knew exactly where you were with them; their responses were always genuine whether they were being friendly or otherwise. They didn't hide their true feelings behind masks of indifference or sycophancy. In the case of his chooks, their responses to Harry were always friendly and curious; they seemed to be just as fascinated by him as he was by them. Whenever he came into the garden he found himself greeted by a rush of oncoming poultry that followed him round as he worked.
As Harry walked back to the cottage, his basket was rocked by a sudden gust of wind and he glanced up. Clouds were marching quickly across the blue sky, covering its late summer colour with white and grey; it looked like it might rain soon. Autumn weather could change so quickly and now it was the end of September, Harry supposed he should expect it.
In the kitchen, Harry started putting the dozen eggs into his egg hen, but paused. He only needed enough for breakfast tomorrow, and he knew how much Remus liked eggs. Changing his mind, he left nine in the basket. He'd take them to Remus, he hadn't seen him so far this week. Remus had been looking pale and tired lately. Harry knew the full moon had been last Saturday and Remus always looked tired after it, but Harry reckoned Remus had looked even more drained than usual over the last few months. The eggs should help build him up – eggs were good sources of protein and iron. Harry brushed off the alarming thought that he might be turning into Madam Pomfrey.
A visit to Remus was always a nice way to spend a morning or even a whole day. So Harry folded the linen cloth back over the remaining eggs. As he turned to Apparate away, he noticed his new cloak hanging on the hat and coat stand by the door. Ron and Hermione had given it to him for his birthday this year but Harry hadn't worn it yet as the weather had been too warm. Now it looked like it might rain, so Harry decided to put it on. Now he'd be able to tell them he was wearing it – they asked every time they saw him. Harry wondered if the cloak had been expensive and wished they hadn't bothered; he didn't like it much and that was another source of nagging guilt to him.
Harry Apparated to a lane which ran alongside a large wood. He looked over the fields on his right towards a village nestling in the valley. He could make out the tower of St Catchpole's church in Ottery St Catchpole from here. He turned a little to look at a fork in the lane where a small side track led towards the Burrow. The Weasleys had their own hens and didn't need his eggs, but Harry always felt a vague sense of guilt when he turned his back on the road to the Burrow to head along the woodland path.
Harry had chosen to walk the final mile to Lupin's house, rather than Flooing in. He loved the countryside around here and he was in no hurry these days. The woods were owned by Wizarding Nature and Remus was the forest ranger employed to care for them. Wizarding Nature employed many werewolves to oversee their reserves; it was the ideal job for them, providing an income but employing them away from heavily populated areas. WN was Ministry-funded and had become part of the post-war initiative to provide better prospects for the large werewolf population that had been ignored before the war, with such disastrous consequences. But most wizards and witches were uncomfortable with werewolves and so the Ministry had needed to be creative in their job-creation schemes.
Because the wood was full of magical creatures it had been warded against Apparition, which would have disturbed the wildlife. Harry was such a powerful wizard he probably could have passed through the wards and Apparated closer to Remus' home, but he respected the aims of Wizarding Nature and had no intention of upsetting the shy creatures that lived here in Chattock's Wood.
So Harry set off along the wide, open track that led towards the ranger's home to take his basket of eggs to his poorly friend. Harry thought 'Ranger's Cottage' was rather a grand name for a one-storey structure that looked like a Portakabin. The wind gusted around him and it was starting to get grey and gloomy, so Harry was glad he'd worn his cloak. The pathway was sandy, with bracken at the sides and adventurous tree roots that sometimes spread right across the track in their quest to trip you up. Harry kept his eyes open, not wanting to end up flat on his face with a basket of ready-scrambled eggs dripping its contents onto the forest floor. And so it was that he didn't notice the rain clouds gathering, nor the fall of the first gentle drops, until he felt one of them trickle down the back of his neck.
"Only a quarter of a mile left," he said philosophically, as he put down his basket and stopped to raise his hood. He fastened the cloak tightly around him and hurried on… at least the new cloak was effective at keeping the weather at bay. Turning a bend in the path he saw Remus' cottage ahead and was glad to see the smoke emerging from the low chimney that looked as if it had been tacked onto the side of the cabin as an afterthought. A nice hot cup of tea would be acceptable right about now, and you could always rely on Remus to make one as soon as you arrived.
Harry pushed open the door. It was gloomy inside with just the firelight lighting the main room. There was no sign of Remus.
"In here," called a gruff voice.
Harry frowned. Remus was in his bedroom in the middle of the morning and sounded like he'd got a sore throat; Harry hoped everything was okay. He put his hand on the door knob, turned it and entered the bedroom.
Remus was sitting up in bed propped against his pillows and he certainly looked a strange and rather pitiful sight. He was wearing a woolly hat; fingerless gloves; a long, multicoloured, knitted scarf which was wound around his neck several times with its ends tucked under the covers; and for good measure he was huddling into a thick Aran cardigan. In fact, Remus looked dressed for an expedition to the Arctic. He was brandishing a large, white handkerchief in one hand which he proceeded to sneeze into loudly, following it up with a honking blow of his dripping nose and finally a rather pitiful sniffle. His eyes looked bloodshot as if he had hay fever.
"Come in, Harry," he said in his hoarse, scratchy voice. "But don't get too close. I've got a frightful cold."
"I've brought you some eggs, Remus. Have you eaten anything today? I could make some."
"No, I've not felt like getting up, except to light the fire. That took all my energy, but I was so cold I had to do it. I'd love some eggs."
"I'll make us both some then," Harry said, pushing back his hood and starting on his cloak fastenings. It was very warm in here.
"Is that a new cloak?" Remus asked. "It's rather bright."
Harry rolled his eyes. He'd thought so too when he'd unwrapped it on his birthday. "It's from Ron and Hermione, but I think Ron must have bought it. I reckon Ron's immune to bright colours; he'd still have his bedroom Chudley Cannon orange if Hermione would let him. I suppose I should count myself lucky getting away with Gryffindor red."
"I suppose so, when you look at it that way," Remus chuckled. "And maybe it'll lose some of its colour when you wash it."
"Good idea," Harry said, determined to do just that when he got home. "I daren't change the colour completely, Ron'd be offended, but if it faded a bit…"
Harry bustled out to the kitchen and started beating eggs together with milk and pepper in a big basin. He put the kettle on thinking Remus might like some tea first, he certainly sounded like his throat needed it. Harry made two steaming mugs full and took them through to the bedroom.
"Have you got any bread?"
"Should be some – a…a…aaaaah… choo! – in the bread bin."
Remus buried his face in his much-used hanky, looking thoroughly ill. When he looked up again Harry was struck by his eyes – they looked larger and more golden than usual, as if his irises had expanded and the bloodshot whites were just thin slivers. Remus hadn't shaved for several days by the look of him, either. Harry aimed for diplomacy: "Are you growing a beard, Remus?"
Remus grinned; it was a very toothy grin. "No, not intentionally. My hair seems to be growing more quickly lately, and it's getting quite coarse."
"You should count yourself lucky," Harry soothed. "Most men worry about baldness at your age." Still, Harry thought it looked rather odd and not very nice, really. Remus' golden eyes were looking at him as if he was trying to work out what Harry was thinking. "Aren't you hot in that hat?"
"I heard most of your body heat escapes from the top of your head," Remus said, laughing wheezily. "I thought I ought to keep wrapped up warm as I have a cold. I get quite shivery at times."
Harry looked doubtful. It was stuffy in the bedroom and he was planning to open a window later on. "I think you could take the hat off while you're indoors, Remus."
"You think so? Oh, well…" Remus tugged at the woolly hat, which reminded Harry quite painfully of something Dobby would choose, and plopped it onto his side table.
Harry stared. He couldn't help it. Remus' ears were… odd. "Er, what's happened to your ears?"
"Eh? My ears?" Remus put his hand up and patted his right ear. "They feel okay, and they hear perfectly well. I can hear you very clearly in fact, so I don't think there's anything wrong with them." He gave the tuft of hair on the point of his right ear a little tug.
Harry swallowed. "I'll go and cook the eggs," he said faintly. "Drink your tea, all right?"
Harry was getting worried. Those tall, pointed ears looked like they belonged on Moony, not Remus J. Lupin. And the hair… and the golden eyes. These changes had come on quite suddenly, Harry hadn't noticed any of them last week.
With the eggs scrambled and piled onto two plates, a heap of buttered toast on another, and all of it piled onto a tray with cutlery, brown sauce and the salt cellar, Harry pushed open the bedroom door with his bum. Remus looked brighter at once. He sniffed appreciatively, his nostrils flaring. Harry put the tray in front of him, took his own portion and sat down in the armchair by the bed.
Remus literally fell on the food. He shovelled it into his mouth as if he was starving, wielding the knife and fork wildly and making little grunts and groans of appreciation as he tasted Harry's marvellous eggs. Harry, who was not particularly noted for delicate table manners, found it rather shocking. It was worse than watching Ron, and he'd had years of experience at that. The way Remus was sniffing at the food, seeming to get almost as much pleasure from the smell of it as the taste… Harry was a bit surprised that someone with a bad cold could smell anything at all, but maybe it wasn't a cold. Remus' other symptoms – the hair, the ears – certainly seemed to point to something else.
"Got any more?" Remus asked. He'd cleared his plate down to the glaze, finishing by sticking out a long, pink tongue and licking up the remnants of egg and sauce that had got smeared around the edge by his rather wild fork action.
"No. But I could make you more toast if you like, or maybe later. You certainly haven't lost your appetite, Remus."
"No, I haven't. To be honest, I'm bloody starving lately. And I do feel weird."
You look bloody weird, Harry thought, but restrained himself from saying so.
Remus had started chewing on a fingernail now and Harry winced when a resounding crack sounded throughout the room as the werewolf worried a piece of nail between his teeth. His other hand was busy scratching at his chest.
"How long have you been like this?"
"Oh, a few days. I've been feeling worse after each full moon for the last few months, but now I suddenly seem to have these other symptoms. It's a bit worrying really."
Harry thought 'a bit worrying' was an understatement. "So do you think it's a problem with the Wolfsbane?"
"Could be. That Ministry swill is pretty basic. I've been on Wolfsbane potion since it was invented. Perhaps I'm getting immune to it."
"That's a scary thought," Harry said, shuddering. "Have you tried contacting the Ministry?"
"After the first moon when I noticed something wasn't right, I went to see them. I'd almost felt out of control in my wolf form that month for the first time in years, so I went to the Lycanthrope Liaison Office and asked them if they knew anything."
"Nah. They admitted I'd been on the potion longer than almost anyone else though, and maybe I was getting resistant, or the wolf was. If so, I'd have to be housed in a secure unit during the full moon. I don't fancy that, but…" Remus shrugged. "I won't have much choice. As forbidding as the Ministry holding cells are, I'd have to go or risk being shot as a feral werewolf."
"Can't they alter the potion?"
"They don't provide a tailor-made service. They have so much of the stuff to produce each month that there's no time to tweak it for awkward customers like me. In the old days, Snape would have sorted it out for me. He'd tailored my potion before. I know there aren't any brewers in this country as skilled as he is with the Wolfsbane, and since he's been gone, there's no one I can ask. I certainly can't afford to pay a private researcher."
"Let me-" but Harry was interrupted before he could start.
"No! I won't be a burden to you, Harry. You're good to me, but leave me my dignity, please. If I need to, I'll just go away for the full moon nights. It's not such a big deal." Remus mopped his brow with his hanky, drying the sweat droplets that Harry could see standing there.
Harry hated to think that Remus was in pain, but it looked likely that he was. "Where did Snape go, anyway?" Harry asked. Harry hadn't really considered Snape's absence from the Wizarding world before. Okay, he'd never seen the man at any of the Ministry balls, but that wasn't unexpected. Snape wasn't a very sociable man, to put it politely, and Harry would have been surprised if he had been there. But now he came to think of it…
"Nobody knows," Remus answered. "He's disappeared from the Wizarding world. Must have gone away, made a new life somewhere. It was in the Prophet for a while. You know, all those 'Where is Severus Snape?' features they did a couple of years back."
"I don't read the Prophet any more, haven't done since the war," Harry said, bitterly. "I reckon you can disbelieve just about everything you read in there. Treat its opposite as the truth and you'll be nearer to it."
Remus nodded. "You're right about that. But it's useful for the sports coverage, the adverts, that sort of thing."
Harry shrugged. "Anyway, last I saw of Snape was when he attacked Voldemort and gave me the chance to destroy the monster. He was fighting off a horde of enraged Death Eaters after that. I'm amazed he survived."
"He was always a brilliant fighter," Remus agreed. "But even then he only just made it. After he got out of St Mungo's he was ill for a long time. They patched him up as well as they could, but his magic was drained. Hagrid looked after him."
Harry was surprised at this. "I never knew! Hagrid seems a strange nurse."
"Hagrid was always very loyal to Snape. Seems he knew how much Dumbledore trusted him all along and never really believed Snape was lost to us. Once Snape was cleared he spent a lot of time telling us he'd told us so, too. And he's always been good at nursing lame ducks."
Harry nodded, that was certainly true. He was feeling that nagging sense of guilt again because he hadn't visited Hagrid in ages. Not since he'd seen him at the Ministry medal-giving ceremony, in fact. Now he thought of it he remembered Hagrid receiving Snape's Order of Merlin on the other man's behalf.
An idea was forming in Harry's head, but he wasn't going to say anything to Remus just yet. Remus was obviously touchy about his condition and had already declined Harry's financial help.
Harry stayed at Ranger's Cottage all day, cooking, making hot drinks and keeping Remus company. He studiously ignored the scratching, the yawns that ended in little howls, and the nail-biting. He offered to shave Remus and the man accepted, so at least Harry left Remus looking a little less bestial when he went home that evening.
"I want to get back home before dark," he said. "I'll be back in a few days. I've got some chores to do tomorrow and maybe the next day."
"Don't worry, Harry. I'll be okay. Tonks is going to bring me some groceries tomorrow." Remus grinned, toothily, and shoved his woolly hat back on his head, this time leaving it tucked behind the points of his ears.
Harry left, closing the door of Ranger's Cottage quietly behind him. He would find Snape and make him help Remus, if it was the last thing he did. He set off for home with a determination and purpose that had been missing in his life for a long while.
3 - A Fowl Interlude (The Magic Cauldron).
In his well-lit, high-ceilinged laboratory, Severus Snape hummed optimistically. When Severus Snape hummed, it wasn't just any old ditty he came out with; today he was humming uplifting snatches from Bach's Brandenburg Concerto no. 4. His former students would have been incredulous to hear any kind of music emerging from Snape's vicinity, but humming and singing was something Severus had only started doing once he'd settled into this house. Here, it felt right.
There was something very satisfying about dabbling in potions research. Whatever whim excited his curiosity, Snape now had the time, the equipment and the ability to pursue it, and the small wartime pension he'd been granted, along with the income from his freelance potions brewing, meant he could afford to do it. And just as it always had been for him, the brewing of potions was the part of his day that was most enjoyable. There had been periods of his life when it had provided virtually his only enjoyment, when even Voldemort's demands for some of the Darker potions had failed to dim Severus' enthusiasm for his craft.
Severus had just had the oddest notion. It was ridiculous, really; purely a legend. Everyone with an ounce of sense said such a thing could not really exist… but could it? He chose a small, iron cauldron from his equipment rack and placed it on his workbench. It looked completely innocuous, but if Severus could work out the spell-casting, it would make him a fortune. People had been trying for centuries to invent the Refilling Cauldron in the same way that people had struggled to create the Philosopher's Stone. But Severus had an idea how to go about it, and he thought he just might become the Nicolas Flamel of potions creation.
Potions had to be brewed meticulously, and they had to be bottled fresh. Duplicating spells did not work on them; a copied potion remained inert unless the full, magical creation process had been gone through complete with precise actions and spellwork. The magic involved in creating a Refilling Cauldron, which could expand the last dregs of a draught and refill itself with a fresh batch, was so theoretically complex that most wizards believed it was impossible. No one had got anywhere near it. But Snape had an idea, a product of some strange lateral thinking, and he now had the time and leisure to pursue it in secret, with no one knowing what he was researching.
The only cloud on the horizon was the fact that if he created such a cauldron, he wouldn't be able to claim it publicly. Despite his exoneration at the end of the war, Severus knew his name was still dirt in many sections of Wizarding society and they wouldn't need much reason to claim he was involved in Dark magic. Severus suspected the Ministry might even try to steal his invention, he had images of a team of Hit Wizards finding him, stealing his notes, his samples and either imprisoning him or Obliviating him afterwards. But he could use the cauldron – or cauldrons if he found a process that worked reliably – to brew and duplicate common potions. He could supply Slug and Jiggers with all the potions they needed at a discount price. He would be rich, and if he passed the invention on to his heir – whoever he designated as his heir – he would be famous if only posthumously. Severus got out a new notebook – he always started a new project with a new book – and began jotting down ideas, humming tunefully again.
He'd just written his heading: 'The Reality of the Refilling Cauldron', when there was a tap at the window. Snape underlined the title carefully before rising to let the owl in. The owl was an impatient avian and tapped again before he reached the window, adding a chiding hoot for good measure as Severus approached.
"You really don't get any more patient, do you, Hera?" he said to the barn owl, one of his regular visitors. Severus took the scroll from her leg, knowing it came from Slug and Jiggers.
Dear Mr York
We have had a request for a gallon of Crup Distemper Treatment from the Wizarding section of Battersea Dogs' Home. It is not in the repertoire of our contract brewers and therefore we would like to place the order with you.
Over the past few years of our acquaintance we have been amply persuaded of your ability to brew even the most obscure and difficult potions and we feel confident you can supply this for us as soon as is reasonably possible. We do know that you are an independent brewer and thus able to take or refuse commissions as you like, but we hope you will be able to help us on this occasion. The prospect of having packs of untreated Crups, and perhaps other canines, roaming Great Britain is not a pleasant one.
Hoping for your early reply (the owl will await your convenience),
For Slug & Jiggers Apothecary
2 Diagon Alley, London
Branches throughout the Wizarding world.
Severus glanced at Hera, who was not doing a very good job of 'awaiting his convenience'. She shuffled from leg to leg on the top of his flask stand. Quite apart from the risk of contamination, the wretched bird was getting above herself lately. He glowered at her and made a flapping motion with his hand, hoping to encourage her to perch elsewhere, but Hera merely pecked at his long, pale fingers when they came within range. Snape yelped as she caught his ring finger.
"Convenience!" he shouted, waving the parchment at her. "You are the most in-convenient example of your species it has ever been my displeasure to deal with!"
Hera blinked at him; her large, glittering black eyes betrayed no alarm but a healthy measure of aloofness. She didn't need the power of human speech to convey the message that she thought wizards were extremely uncouth.
To get rid of the wretched bird as quickly as he could, Snape took his quill and scrawled a brief reply at the bottom of the letter:
Dear Mr Jigger,
I accept your commission and will start brewing tomorrow.
Snape reattached the scroll to the owl's leg. Despite his harsh words his fingers were gentle with the bird's delicate limb. "Go on, then. It's convenient for you to leave now."
Hera turned her head 180 degrees and looked into Snape's flashing eyes with her own equally-black, glittering gaze, but she did not take wing.
Hera hooted again, rather insistently.
"Oh, for pity's sake. You owls are all the same," Snape grumbled as he left the lab and headed to his kitchen. He opened a cupboard and withdrew a glass jar filled with oddly-shaped brown nuggets. Taking one from the jar he headed back to the lab.
Hera looked at him, expectantly.
"Here you are," Snape said, carefully offering the owl treat.
Thankfully, Hera seemed to have got over her annoyance and took the treat delicately, her sharp beak causing no more damage to Snape's abused fingers. With a final hoot, this one clearly denoting approval, she took flight.
Severus closed the window after the departing owl and returned to his notes.
4 - Jack and the Beanstalk meets The Pied Piper.
Tuesday dawned bright and sunny; the wind had died down from yesterday and Harry was pleased at the good omen. Good weather for the start of his search had to mean good luck, didn't it?
After breakfast and egg collection, he got ready to Apparate. No need to wear the cloak today and Harry was glad of it. He didn't want to stick out like a particularly red, sore thumb – this search needed to be subtle. The last thing he wanted was to draw attention to the fact that the Saviour of the Wizarding World was seeking Severus Snape. Dressed in plain Muggle jeans and a long-sleeved, black t-shirt, Harry thought he would pass in most situations without a second glance. At least he hoped he would. He had a final check in his hall mirror, ignoring the wolf whistle the dratted thing emitted. Then he tried – and as always he failed – to omit the pat to his head that was his habitual, pointless attempt to get his unruly hair to lie flat. Shrugging to himself, he Apparated.
Hogsmeade village was enjoying the early autumn sunlight just as the southwest of England was. As a result the streets were already quite busy, despite the early hour. Shopkeepers were opening their businesses and early shoppers were heading towards their destinations with cheery determination. No one took any notice of the slight crack of Harry's Apparition, the days when everyone spun wildly to find out who had just arrived had passed with Voldemort's death.
Harry wanted to call in at Leaven's Bakery before he headed to Hogwarts. It would not be polite to visit the school without calling in and seeing the Headmistress. Harry was feeling guilty again – after the war he had promised to keep in touch with both Minerva and Hagrid, to visit regularly and let them know all was well with him. And had he? No, he damned well hadn't. It had been months… no, surely it couldn't have been that many years, since he'd seen either of them. He couldn't turn up without a gift.
Stepping into the shop Harry was immediately assailed by the smell of fresh bread, spicy buns and sweet cakes. It was heady and made him feel hungry again, even though he'd just had eggs and toast for breakfast.
"Can I help you, sir?" a round-faced witch asked from behind the counter.
"I'd like some ginger shortbread, please. Do you have any gift-wrapped?"
"Och, it makes a fine present, you're right about that. I have some tins back here –" The witch, who Harry now noticed was wearing a name badge reading Angelica Leaven, bustled over to some shelving. She returned with a square tin in a green tartan design, decorated with a dark red ribbon, which she handed to Harry. "Is that what you're looking for?"
"Och… er, yes," Harry said, feeling embarrassed. He hadn't wanted to make fun of her, the 'och' had just seemed natural here. The witch smiled cheerily and Harry was happy to discover he'd not offended her. "Do you have anything similar with fruit cake in?"
"Och, now, of course we do," Ms. Leaven said, seemingly amused. She handed him a deep, square tin. The tin wasn't large, only about eight inches square, but it was heavy. "Finest rich fruit cake. It's been fed with whisky and it is moist and delicious."
Harry nodded. The tin had a picture labelled 'The Scottish Highlands and Hogwarts Castle'. It might only make one serving for Hagrid, but Harry knew the half-giant didn't make rich fruit cake – rock buns were about the limit of his baking skills. And Hagrid could use the tin to keep things in, like pins or kneazle treats or something. "Thank you, I'll take both."
Harry paid and Angelica packed his purchases into a hessian bag emblazoned with the words:
A cake made by Leaven,
Will taste like Heaven!
"I hope you'll call again, Mr Potter," she said as she handed the bag to Harry.
Harry left. The witch had been helpful and friendly, and she hadn't pried, but she had recognised him. It was still too much to hope he could go incognito in Wizarding areas then, unless he used a glamour spell. But now he was only going to walk up to Hogwarts, so he decided not to bother. Walking quickly to leave the village, he hurried along the road that led to the school. There was no point Apparating, before long he'd reach the school wards.
"Come in, Harry. What a wonderful surprise!"
Minerva sounded so pleased to see him that Harry was immediately wracked with a fresh wave of guilt that he hadn't bothered to visit sooner. What had he been doing anyway?
"It's good to be back," Harry said, and he had to admit it was true. As he'd entered the school he'd felt a wave of familiarity tinged with a little sadness, but he'd still felt like Hogwarts was home. He had his own, personal home at Godric's Hollow, but the school felt comfortable again under Minerva's charge and Harry found he was genuinely happy to be back. "Here, this is for you."
Minerva took the shortbread tin with delight. "It's lovely, Harry. Ginger shortbread is my favourite!"
Harry smiled, he knew that.
"Well, let's have tea and we can have a little chat," Minerva continued, gesturing to an armchair. Harry sat and Minerva took a chair opposite him.
A house elf appeared carrying a tea tray which he put down on the side table. The elf stayed and served the tea, then popped away again. Harry let Minerva ask questions to catch up with what he'd been doing, and he asked about the school in return, receiving confirmation that Minerva had settled happily into her life as the Headmistress of Hogwarts. He hadn't wanted to broach the subject of Snape right away.
"Well," Minerva said as they drained their second cups of tea, "What can I do for you, Harry? If you need a job I'm sure I can offer you one."
Harry chuckled. "Not just at the moment, Minerva. I must admit I'll consider it for the future, but for now I'm concentrating on settling down, spending time on myself. That might sound selfish, but I feel I need to do it."
"You have more right than anyone to do just that," Minerva assured him. "But the offer is there, any time you change your mind. But if not a job, what has called you back?"
Harry could feel himself flushing. Was he that obvious? Minerva had seen that he had to have a reason to return to Hogwarts, that he'd not just popped in for a cosy chat and a cuppa after all this time. "Um, well, I just wondered if you'd heard anything about Snape."
"Severus? No, I've not seen him since he was living with Hagrid. That's – now let me think – oh my goodness, that's five years ago now. How time flies!"
"Is it? Five years?" Harry was as amazed to realise that as Minerva. But it must be – he was twenty four years old now, very different from the young man who'd left school to start a quest to destroy a Dark Lord. Snape must be different too, he supposed, though in what way Harry could not imagine. Snape was just Snape; his personality was as fixed, unpleasant and unchanging as Dobby was cheerful, loyal and devoted. "I had heard Hagrid looked after him after the battle, but I didn't realise they'd lived together."
"Och, yes. Nearly a year it was in the end. Severus was nearly completely magically drained in that last battle. The healing took his final reserves. None of us was sure he'd ever regain his previous state, but he did in the end."
Harry was shaking his head. "It just seems so damned odd, Snape living with Hagrid. I can't imagine them there in that hut," he admitted.
"Well, when he started to recover he came and used the school library quite a bit. And he liked to take long walks in the countryside. He was always a quiet one, Severus, and that didn't change. And Hagrid had his duties so they didn't get under each other's feet. They became very close, very loyal to each other, as you can imagine. Severus owes Hagrid a lot and I doubt there's much he wouldn't do for him."
"What happened when he left?" Harry asked.
"I've no idea. And if Hagrid knows he's never said. I didn't pry. Severus always wanted his personal life kept private. I didn't even know he was going. He was here one day, the next he'd gone without a word." Minerva sighed. "I was a little upset by that. I would have liked him to come and say goodbye. I know I doubted him until the final battle, but I'd hoped we'd be able to get past that. It seems I failed."
A silence fell over the room. Harry looked into his empty teacup, feeling oddly guilty again. He'd doubted Snape to the end as well. Worse, he'd never been civil to the man. Okay, Snape had been pretty awful too, but that was just Snape. Harry could have shown him some respect. After the battle, Harry had visited his injured friends and fellow-fighters in St Mungo's, but he hadn't visited Snape. He'd never asked what had happened to him until now, when Remus needed him. Even if he found Snape, there was no reason the man would welcome Harry with open arms.
Shaking himself out of his melancholy thoughts, Harry rose. "I'd better be going. I've got to see Hagrid, and I don't want to take up all your day. You must be busy."
"Well, you're right about that. The new term's still young and I have a couple of new members of staff that need supporting. But you will come to dinner tonight, won't you? And you're welcome here any time, Harry. I mean it. Anytime you want a cup of tea and a nice chat. And you don't have to bring me a present to come and see me, you know."
"I will come," Harry assured her. "I love Hogwarts' dinners. It's been too long since I tasted one. I really don't know why I took so long to come back, but now I've been, I'll definitely come again soon. See you later, then."
Harry made his way outside through the greenhouse exits. Professor Sprout was teaching some children who looked ridiculously small to Harry, perhaps they were first years. He passed Greenhouse 2 with a slight wave at the teacher and headed for the path through her gardens that led towards Hagrid's home. Professor Sprout winked at him as he passed.
As Harry entered the first part of the gardens through a high, privet hedge he slipped his wand from his pocket. He recognised those plants up ahead, with their snapping jaws like giant Venus fly-traps on the end of an undulating, muscular stem that looked like a neck. Venomous Tentaculars. The smell of the angry plants wafted toward him, vegetable pheromones that told him they had detected his approach. Harry remembered all this from his Herbology lessons, and he knew just how to deal with them. As their heads turned towards him, he raised his wand.
"Stupefy! Stupefy! Stupefy!" The first three plants drooped, their heads rolling back onto their leaves and their bulbous, warty, green bodies. Harry marched past them; they'd be out for about ten minutes.
"Dammit!" he groused. There was another bed of the buggers on the right of the path. Harry repeated his stunning spells and hurried forward towards the gateway through another hedge. Hopefully this would lead to a quieter part of the garden – some night-blooming plants, if he was lucky, or maybe a nice bed of Somnolent Daisies.
Harry breathed deeply of the fresher air as he passed into the next part of the garden. He smiled. "That's better. What could be nicer than a vegetable patch?" He wandered past a bed of peas, the late pods looking a little ragged but ready for harvesting. Carrots were next, their green tops looking pretty enough to be used in florists' decorative sprays. Potatoes… cabbages… nothing scary here. At the end, at either side of the path just before the gate to the grounds, lay a bed planted with runner beans.
The beans looked well-grown, each stalk sported bunches of long, green runners. They were Harry's favourite vegetable and the smell of the plants reminded him how much he liked them, fresh picked from the garden. Slipping his wand away, he approached the nearest plant, inhaling the scents. He wouldn't mind dinner at Hogwarts if there were runner beans on the menu, and these looked young and tender. He reached out a hand to touch one.
A firm, green tendril that was holding the plant up against the bamboo canes that supported it snaked out like the sudden strike of a viper and wrapped itself around Harry's wrist.
"Hey! What the-?"
Harry did not have time to verbalise his question as the plant seemed to come alive from the first touch of Harry's skin. Its leaves shook and rattled, the beanpods trembled as if in a breeze, and more tendrils shot out to grasp his ankles, arms, legs and most alarmingly, his neck.
As seemed to be a universal truth with magical plants, the more Harry struggled, the tighter it gripped him.
"You bloody idiot!" Harry raged at himself. "Had to put your wand away before you were out of the vegetable patch, didn't you? You should know that anything growing in here is full of magic. Oh for Merlin's sake!" he yelled as a tendril slid up from his knee heading for the top of his legs. "Just stop that, you perverted vegetable!"
Harry forced his arms to remain still, if he could hoodwink the plant into thinking that he'd stopped struggling, perhaps he could reach his wand. It was only in the side pocket of his jeans – just a quick move and he'd have it.
The beanstalk seemed to pulse with energy, a wave of brighter green coruscated along the length of its thick trunk and its pods jiggled excitedly. Harry forced himself not to respond when the wandering tendril insinuated itself along the groove between his thigh and his hip. No, he wouldn't move yet.
Harry jumped about a foot in the air. So much for his self-control, he thought, as he waved it goodbye. "Bastard! Get your bloody hands out of there!" he shouted, oblivious to the fact that the bean plant did not have hands. Correct terminology was not his first concern at the moment. The tendril had somehow – somehow – managed to slip inside his jeans and was stroking its firm, slightly hairy length along his…
"Help!" Harry lost all pretensions to dealing with the plant himself. This couldn't go on! He wasn't a virgin, true, but he had no wish to experience buggery at the end of a beanstalk! "Professor Sprout, please help! Hagrid! Anyone!"
Now the tendril was tickling his arsehole. This was more than flesh and blood could stand! Did Hogwarts' Herbology professor know she had grown a plant that was set on pursuing a life of sexual harassment and rape? The plant, a little distracted by its task, perhaps, or just sensitive to its victim's anguished squawks, did not notice when Harry lunged for his wand. Harry's fingers brushed the beloved holly wood and he grabbed, shouting: "Incendio!" as he pulled it free.
A zap of burning light shot out, catching a particularly large and juicy-looking leaf. The greenery shrivelled in upon itself and the smell of over-cooked vegetable matter filled Harry's nose, briefly returning him in his mind's eye to Mrs Figg's house. Here in Sprout's garden there was no added odour of cat urine, which was one small factor in its favour, but Harry would have cheerfully traded his place in the fresh Highland air for being back on Mrs Figg's musty sofa.
Understandably, the assault did not go down well with the beanstalk. It tightened all its tendrils viciously, making Harry yelp. Its wandering hand – as Harry thought of it – lost all subtlety and shoved itself, inches deep, into Harry's body.
"Noooooooooooooo!" Harry yelled, too late, all too late. He was pierced, impaled on a beanstalk, held as tight as with the strongest magical bonds. The tendrils on his wrist had tightened and the blood had ceased to flow into his hands. His wand fell to the soft, well-tended soil with no noise at all. "Please, Professor Sprout-" he wailed, now sounding pathetic and helpless.
"By Culpeper's Cucumbers!" The hearty boom of Professor Sprout's voice had never sounded so welcome to Harry. "Get off, you naughty Phaseolus!"
Harry was too distracted by the squirming presence in his rectum to be able to fully appreciate his professor's dexterity with a pair of secateurs. His eyes were streaming with tears at the shock of the sensations and with mortification that he was so helpless. "Please hurry, professor," he begged.
Snip! "I'm surprised at you, Harry, being so careless. I clearly announced to the whole school at the start of term that the experimental vegetable garden was out of bounds." Snip! "This bean has a few unfortunate tendencies –" Snip! "–I've been trying to breed out of it, but it's fine if you just let it know who's the boss." Snip! Snip! "That's the trick with most magical plants, you know." As she pruned the beanstalk, Professor Sprout sounded quite happy to have the chance to give Harry another Herbology lecture.
"I don't think you've succeeded," Harry mumbled, then squeaked as the intrusive tendril stroked over his prostate, bringing fresh tears to his eyes and a groan from his throat. "And I wasn't here at the start of term."
"No, well, I suppose you weren't," Sprout agreed, snipping through his ankle bindings. "But you were never this careless as a student. Oh my!" she said, tugging at the wayward tendril that had snaked into the waistband of his jeans. "You've exceeded expectations this time."
Harry thought Sprout sounded as if she was talking to the plant rather than to him – it was a tendency she had shown even in his own student days. She had sounded as if she was praising the wretched plant. "Unnngh…" he managed as the woman's tugging finally made the tendril slip from his arse with a sudden slide. After that it was just a matter of seconds before he was free. He leant against the gateway to the outside world panting and trembling in reaction. "I could have been killed," he complained.
"Oh, no, not really," Sprout said, patting his shoulder in a hearty manner that nearly knocked his legs out from under him. "It's not really violent, you know; just a bit… over-friendly. This is actually an improvement on the first one I grew. I traded a particularly fine batch of Cow-cumber seedlings for five magical beans with unknown properties at the last Herbologists' Market in Hogsmeade. Minerva told me I was a fool, but I could never resist a challenge. The unknown is a most alluring prospect, don't you find?"
Harry didn't think he agreed with that at all right now, but refrained from saying so. After all, Sprout had rescued him, even if it was too late to save his vegetal virginity. He dabbed at his eyes and ran a hand through his hair, dislodging some bright red flowers that had dropped from the plant as they'd struggled. "Why do you keep trying to grow it if all it does is attack people?"
"No, no, I've told you. It does not attack. Its motives are quite the opposite. Phaseolus Improbabilis Sproutus wants to be friends, nothing more. And anyway, it grows such succulent beans that it's definitely worth the effort. They're stringless, young and succulent all the time. And it flowers and crops profusely right from March to November! It's such a wonderful plant! Somnium!" and with that Professor Sprout stroked a large leaf. Harry waited for the plant to grab her, but the leaf and all the other parts of the vegetable merely trembled slightly as she touched it. "Just have to lull it to sleep, that's the way to pick the beans."
"I still think they're a bit over-enthusiastic for the average garden," Harry said. "However stringless they are." He was beginning to feel more normal now; his arms and legs were no longer trembling, but his bottom still felt odd. You've been fucked, he told himself. Something that hasn't happened in way too long. It just feels odd because of that. Well, that and the fact that it was a plant that did it.
Professor Sprout turned away from her prized beanstalk and seemed to really look at Harry for the first time. Harry's hair was mussed, sticking up at all angles, with flowers and bits of old leaves dotting it at various points. His t-shirt was ripped and his jeans bagged open at his waist, their zip pulled apart by the insistent bean. Pomona's eyes followed the destruction and took in the dark hair that trailed down Harry's belly toward what looked like rather promisingly bulging silk boxers. Her eyes gleamed. "Look at you, you're a mess, lad! I think you need to come to my workroom for a quick clean up, don't you? Can't have you wandering around like that!"
Harry had noticed Sprout's eyes taking in his appearance and he hadn't failed to notice when they'd dwelt on his groin. Tugging at the waist of his jeans, cursing the fact he hadn't been wearing a belt, he blushed. "Erm... I'm on my way to Hagrid's. I'll be fine, thanks. I'm sure I can soon clean up there."
"What? Hagrid? Oh, I suppose you can. But I feel responsible, Harry. Let me sort you out." Sprout took a step towards Harry, an eager gleam in her brownish-green eyes.
Harry found he was recovered well enough to move quickly and avoid Sprout's 'sorting out'. "Thank you, Professor! I'll see you at dinner in the Great Hall," he said, passing quickly through the gate and virtually sprinting down the path towards Hagrid's hut.
"Oh! Well. Maybe I'll catch you later," Pomona said to the rapidly disappearing figure. "Well done, Phaseolus," she said to the plant, running an appreciative hand up its thick main stem and giving it an encouraging squeeze, before turning and heading back to her greenhouse. "Those first years will have disastrously over-pruned their Peppery Parsley by now," she muttered.
Harry slowed his pace as he got away from the Herbology garden. He crossed the lawns at a more leisurely pace, taking the time to look around nostalgically; he was determined to regain his equilibrium before he got to Hagrid's hut. He would have done it, too, had it not become apparent that some kind of disturbance was going on in the gamekeeper's house.
Fang was barking loudly: short, staccato barks that sounded both alarmed and excited at the same time. Hagrid's rumbling voice joined in at times but Harry couldn't hear what he was saying. He sped up again and as he got closer he heard snatches of Hagrid's words.
"…'e! … "If I -"…" Prolonged barking from Fang drowned out anything more for a while, then Harry made out: "Oh! Me bum!"
Harry couldn't help sniggering. He felt rather more amusement at hearing Hagrid yelling about his giant-sized posterior than he had felt when the predicament was his own.
"Fang, what're yeh doin'? What is it? Oh!"
There was silence for a little while and Harry had nearly reached the hut. Hagrid's deep voice was coming over loud and clear now.
"I smell the blood of an English man–" There was a crash and the sound of toppling furniture as Harry approached the door. "-yeh stupid hound, get out of me way! English man-eatin' rat!"
Harry pushed the door open and walked inside to a scene of chaos. Chairs, tables, log-baskets and buckets were all upturned and along with their contents they were scattered around the stone floor of Hagrid's hut. Hagrid was bending over, his vast trouser-clad backside in the air, peering under a heavy settee. Fang totally ignored Harry's presence and was still barking madly at the settee and getting in Hagrid's way.
"Foul creatures," Hagrid grumbled, sticking his fingers under the settee and rummaging. He pulled out his hand and Harry saw he had retrieved something disgusting which he was dangling from a piece of string.
"What's up, Hagrid?"
Hagrid whirled round, obviously not having heard Harry come in. "Harry! What a surprise! And here's me all in a mess. Bloody thing!" he said, waving the gooey lump suspended from the string which Harry could now see was not string at all but the thing's tail.
"Er… yes… bloody."
And it was; the thing was dripping gore all over Hagrid's fireside rug. Fang had stopped barking now and was sitting up in his begging posture as if asking Hagrid to give him back his toy. Hagrid waved the rat at Fang in emphasis – "Ye're not havin' it, Fang. It's disgustin'." The creature's previously-chewed tail snapped like a dried twig as Hagrid dangled the rat from it. The oozing, Fang-mangled body flew towards Harry and slapped him in the face before he could move an inch.
"Urgh!" he gurgled, batting at the bloody remains with his hands.
"Oh, my!" Hagrid said, sounding genuinely embarrassed. "Oh, that's not good, not good at all." Harry thought this was something of an understatement.
The rat's body plopped onto the floor causing Fang to start up his frenzied barking again.
"Leave it, yeh stupid hound!" Hagrid boomed, fumbling for the short stump of tail that remained attached to the gooey lump's body. "I've tol' yeh before! Ye're not to have it!"
Fang reluctantly fell back as Hagrid's free arm shoved at him. He'd got hold of the rat again now and was heading towards the fireplace.
"It stinks like nothing on Earth!" Hagrid cried, making a dreadful face that would surely have scared anyone of a more delicate disposition than a Triwizard Champion. He tossed the thing onto the fire where it hissed wetly before catching light. Oily smoke and blue flames flared up as the rat's body began to burn. "English man-eatin' rat. Not big, but it's one o' the worst things in the forest, that it is. Fang must've caught it and brought it in. Left it ter die in me hut, the old sod. Course, it crawled off under me settee. Worse thing about 'em is the smell. The blood's vile, which is why nothing eats 'em. Only Fang's stupid enough ter mangle 'em."
"Oh! I've never heard of them," Harry admitted, casting a Cleansing charm over himself. He had to repeat it three times before he felt adequately clean, and even then the odour of the rat's blood lingered in his nostrils.
"We don't bother ter teach 'em. They're rare, thank Merlin, and useless. Even Professor Snape didn't want 'em for his potions, so that should tell yeh how useless they are."
Hagrid bustled over to his sink where he washed his hands before filling the kettle. Harry took the opportunity to cast surreptitious Cleaning and Fresh Air charms over the hut. Hagrid turned and came over to Harry. "Let's start again, Harry. It's been too long!"
Hagrid's huge arms opened wide and he engulfed Harry in a hug. Though full-grown, Harry only came up to Hagrid's ribcage. The hug was so fierce Harry thought his own ribs would cave in under the pressure and he struggled weakly. Maybe he'd have been safer letting Professor Sprout sort him out after all.
A little later, having survived the greeting process and handed Hagrid his present (and receiving another hug only marginally less engulfing than the first) Harry was relieved to be sitting nursing a huge cup of tea that he could just about manage to lift to his lips.
"Me smaller crockery got broken when me hut got burned," Hagrid explained, "and I never replaced it. Didn't seem much point, with you and yer friends gone, and Dumbledore-" Hagrid finished abruptly. "Anyway, yeh can manage one of me own cups, can't yeh, Harry?"
"Er, yes," Harry said, concentrating on getting the tea inside himself rather than down his clothing. It must be true that hot, sweet tea was good for shock, because he was definitely beginning to feel better again. "I was a bit alarmed when I came along and heard what was going on."
"It's Fang. He goes out huntin' some nights. Mind you, it's a bloody good job he caught that rat. They chew off yer toes while ye're asleep before yeh've had chance ter wake up! Got the biggest bloody teeth ye've ever seen on a small beast, that they have. My cousin Henge lost his big toe that way, and he's twenty feet tall. We're all the same to a rat when we're laying down, I suppose."
"That's horrible. But there might be more out there."
"There might at that. I've had traps out fer 'em, but it seems this one got through. Fang'll keep an eye out, but I don' fancy any more bleedin' bodies in the hut, so I'm goin' ter try the German method of getting' rid of 'em."
"There's a German method? I thought you said they were English Man-eating Rats?"
"Ah. But them Germans have some sim'lar ones in the Black Forest. Not so fierce, but bad all the same. So they invented this musical method of dealin' with 'em. Heard it works okay. And I reckon I can play the pipe well enough by now, what d'yeh think, Harry?"
Hagrid stood up and went over to the mantle shelf where his home-made wooden flute was lying. He picked it up and played a scale, his giant fingers moving with remarkable agility over the holes of the instrument. The music was, Harry thought, pretty tuneless, a series of piping whistles that might attract a rat, but did little for him. As his eardrums began to ache and his head throbbed threateningly, Harry resorted to desperate measures to stop Hagrid's recital: "Have you got any rock buns, Hagrid?"
To the relief of Harry's ears, if not his stomach, Hagrid put the pipe back on the shelf and spoke. "Yeah. I should have got some out, sorry. I'm a bit distracted, what with that rat and seeing you for the firs' time in years and all." As Hagrid rummaged on a shelf looking for rock buns, which Harry hoped hadn't been stored for very long, he asked Harry if he thought his piping would attract the rats.
"I think so, Hagrid. It's hard to tell, not being a rat myself." Hagrid laughed at this, seeming a little more cheerful. "But you might as well give it a try."
"I will. I'll leave Fang here though. He'll chase 'em all away and I want to lure 'em. I've got a nice big trap I can get 'em into."
Harry managed to eat a couple of bites of the rock bun without losing any teeth. It was identical to his memory of rock buns from his Hogwarts years: large and very hard. It tasted good enough, but the effort of biting and swallowing the cake was such that most people gave up after a mouthful or two. Harry had long since decided that giants had to have very strong teeth and jaw muscles. Perhaps the old stories of them chewing human bones were true after all. It would certainly explain Hagrid's devotion to his rock buns.
Taking another drink from his huge cup, Harry got to the point of his visit. "Hagrid, I need to get in touch with Professor Snape."
Hagrid sputtered a bit and put his mug down carefully, wiping his beard with the back of his hand. "Wha?"
"I need to get in touch with Snape. I heard you were the last person to see him."
"Ah, well. He stayed with me; I fixed him up and all. But he left…"
"I know. But you must know where he's gone."
"No. I don' know where he is now." Hagrid's black eyes looked shifty and he lowered them to stare at his rock cake.
Harry knew Hagrid well enough to know that he wouldn't lie, but he was holding something back with all the lack of subtlety that characterised him. "You know something, Hagrid. I know you do."
Hagrid blushed. "What do yeh want to see Professor Snape fer? Yeh never like 'im. Spent 'alf yer school years tryin' ter convince me he was up to no good."
"I need him to help Remus. The Ministry's potion is failing and Remus is getting very wolf-like."
"Oh!" Hagrid's mouth became a round opening in his beard. "Professor Lupin's a good bloke. I'm sorry ter hear that."
"Snape's the only one who might be able to help," Harry said, sounding despondent. He was feeling far from certain that Snape would help, even if he could find him. He owed Lupin nothing; in fact, knowing their history, Snape might even be happy at the knowledge that Lupin was becoming less human. And was Harry the right ambassador? Snape hated him. Harry sighed. "But I don't think he will."
"Now, now," Hagrid said, patting Harry's arm with a huge hand. "Ye're puttin' the cart before the horse, Harry. He hasn' said no yet."
"He'll never say anything if I can't find him. You were the last person close to him, Hagrid. You have to know something." Harry hated how desperate he sounded, and how young.
"Well, I might know somethin', I might," Hagrid hedged, shuffling on his stool. "But I told Sev'rus I'd keep it to meself, only contact him in an emergency."
"It is an emergency!" Harry insisted. "Snape was in the Order with Lupin. He'd want to help, surely." Harry wasn't at all sure that Snape would feel that way, but Hagrid might.
"Ah. An' he's always had a tough time of it, Professor Lupin has. Not got what he deserves from life, that he hasn't."
"So, will you help me?"
Hagrid heaved a huge sigh that sounded like it came from the bottom of his heart. "Aye. That I will. I just hope Sev'rus doesn' hex me for it. I write to him sometimes."
"I don' know exactly where he lives, Harry. But I send the letters to a Post Office an' he picks 'em up."
"Which Post Office?" When Hagrid hesitated, Harry begged again: "Please, Hagrid."
"Middleton in Teesdale. It's in County Durham."
"Thank you," Harry said, and he was so grateful he got up and went to hug Hagrid.
Hagrid patted him on the back. "Ye've not changed, Harry. Still needin' to go off savin' someone now and then." The fact that there was something hadn't changed from what Hagrid considered the glory days was comforting to the half-giant, and he sniffled gratefully into Harry's messy, flower-strewn hair.
5. Interlude – In Rapunzel's Tower.
Severus' lab was situated in the lower storey of the tower; its large windows provided excellent daylight which was supplemented by extra magical lights wherever Snape needed them.
Severus entered the room and made for his workstation where the little iron cauldron sat looking blameless. He frowned at it as if expecting it to give up a report without further ado. It had nearly worked – the spell he'd formulated had so very nearly worked. He'd seen reality flicker, the empty cauldron seeming to glimmer with the memory of the Calming Draught Severus had last brewed in it.
The Refilling Spell was not based on duplication –that was where the majority of the earlier researchers had gone wrong. You just couldn't duplicate magical potions, that was an unchangeable fact that only a fool persisted on looking for a way around. Severus knew enough about the structure and production of potions to know it was never going to happen. But you could turn back time. Time was the basis of this trick, if you could call it a trick. Just warp time enough to put the cauldron back to its full state and do it on a daily basis. It shouldn't be impossible to create the spell, just very, very tricky.
Severus had never really bothered himself with the mysteries of Time magic. That was the province of the Unspeakables – Ministry business. But now it was different. This was Severus' idea and he had enough books in his library to give him a good start. He'd understood the concepts and managed to work out the basic Time-turning spells, but it wasn't that easy. Simply putting the cauldron back in time would be of no use, for he would be left in the present. If he put himself and the cauldron back to the time it was full of potion, that wouldn't work either, for then he'd have to relive time over and over again to bring it into the present, and that sounded as if it would soon become a hellish activity that was no improvement on brewing the potion repeatedly. No, Severus wanted the effect localised onto the cauldron itself, and somehow fixed within it so that the spells would not need casting every time he wanted it to happen. What he'd done so far wasn't enough. There was still something missing.
Running his hand through the long ends of his hair, Severus pondered the problem. This needed a lot more thought. He sat at his bench and stared at the cauldron while his mind turned everything over, looking at the problem from different angles. He would find it; it just took time and patience. These days, Severus had plenty of both.
6. Red Riding Hood - back in the cloak.
Harry left Hogwarts after dinner and Apparated home. It had turned out to be a far more exhausting day at Hogwarts than he'd expected. First there was the incident with the runner bean, then the excitement at Hagrid's, and to end it all he'd just eaten one of the most delicious Hogwarts' dinners he could remember, though he'd not tried the runner beans. And he'd had second helpings of everything. Now he could hardly move, if he was honest with himself. And being honest, he headed for the shower and bed.
Next morning the weather was grey and gloomy and a fine rain was falling. Harry knew his next step on his Snape quest would be to go to Middleton in Teesdale and hope to find Snape when he picked up his mail. But he had no idea how long it would take and Harry had told Remus he would be back to see him in a day or two. Although he wanted to get on Snape's trail as quickly as he could, it wouldn't be fair to leave Remus without telling him he'd be away for a while. Harry really had no idea how long the search for Snape would take, but the Potions master had never been straightforward and Harry had the sneaking feeling he might be away for a while.
"Remus it is then," he declared as he prepared breakfast. "Once I've visited him I can set out for Middleton. It certainly sounds like the middle of nowhere."
Putting on his red cloak again, Harry set out for Remus' cottage. He briefly checked the owl-post post – the spells were all fine. It would deal with the ever-present problem of receiving his mail while he was away. The box at the bottom would expand itself if it became full. Harry Apparated to the lane outside Chattock's Wood.
At Remus' cottage, Harry pushed open the door and went in. Remus was sitting by the fire in his cosiest armchair, wrapped in a crocheted blanket Augusta Longbottom had given him for Christmas when Remus was still active in the Order. It was made up of colourful squares sewn together to make one multicoloured whole that, to Harry's eye, livened up Remus' rather shabby quarters rather well.
"How are you?" Harry asked, not sure he wanted to know the answer.
Remus looked awful – his facial hair had grown back thicker than ever despite Harry's shave and his eyes were now completely wolf-like. Those eyes swivelled to look at Harry and Remus let out a strange bark which made Harry jump. Only when it became a more obvious cough did Harry relax a little and go up to the man, patting him on the back.
"Oh, I'll live," Remus said when he got his breath back. His voice was now very guttural, nothing like the quiet, polite voice of Professor R.J. Lupin. Harry felt a sharp stab of unhappiness when he heard it.
"You will, I'll make sure of that," Harry promised.
Remus looked up at his visitor. "You're a good friend, Harry," he said, smiling and revealing a mouthful of teeth that surely looked larger than they had just a couple of days before. "I'm blessed. Tonks brought me a huge box of groceries yesterday, so I'll not starve, anyway. And she's coming back at the weekend."
Harry leaned down and hugged the werewolf. He hated seeing Remus suffer. In Harry's view the man's life had already contained more than enough suffering, and Harry was more determined than ever to find Snape and make the miserable bastard help Remus.
Harry made some tea and told Remus about his visit to Hogwarts – leaving out the real reason for it, of course. Remus was fascinated hearing about all the goings-on, including the experimental plants and the rat infestation. "I miss the old place," he said. "Minerva offered me a post, but I didn't feel up to teaching just after the war. I doubt I'll be able to manage it now," he chuckled morosely.
"Don't give up, Remus. There may be a cure."
Pouring more tea, Harry came to the point of his visit. "I'm going on a little holiday, Remus. I might be away for a week – I'll see how it goes. If I like the area I'll stay and explore a bit."
"Where are you going?"
"I'm going to explore the moors, follow the Pennines through North Yorkshire and Lancashire, up to Durham and Northumberland. There are lots of fascinating Muggle and magical sites and relatively few people, so I should be able to have a nice break without being recognised every other minute."
"Sounds great. Send me a postcard."
"I will. And I'll write to you, don't worry. Make Hedwig earn her feed for once." Harry fully intended to tell Remus he'd found Snape by accident while on holiday, and Snape had offered to help. Remus didn't need to know the means Harry might have to use to get the Potions master to help him. Harry knew his story was pretty weak, but Remus might accept it. Harry could tell that Remus was suspicious about his sudden holiday plans, but the werewolf said nothing more about them that day. Remus had always insisted that Harry deserved a life of his own now the war was over and constantly told him he didn't travel enough, so he could hardly query Harry's plans now.
Harry and Remus spent the rest of the day
chatting. Harry shaved the werewolf again and used a magical knife to trim his
nails, which were very thick and beyond the ability of his scissors or
nail-clippers to cope with. Harry cooked a huge pot of lamb casserole which
Remus could heat up over the next few days. They played a couple of games of
chess and finally Harry read to his friend.
Harry said goodbye with a heavy heart. He felt as guilty as hell for leaving Remus while the man was so obviously struggling. But if Remus was to have any hope of living any kind of normal life in future, Harry had to go. He had to find Snape. And Snape had to help.
7. The Perilous Quest Begins.
Harry had never been to the town of Middleton in Teesdale, nor to anywhere nearby, so Apparating would have been a reckless way to travel. Though Snape would have found it hard to believe, Harry wasn't at all reckless these days. Without the pressure of living in the middle of a war, let alone having the additional burden of having to destroy a Dark Lord, there was no need for recklessness in his life. So Harry was travelling by train. He arrived at the station at Darlington in the early afternoon, then got a taxi across the moors to Middleton in order to find somewhere to stay. Ideally, he wanted a place where he'd be able to keep an eye on the Middleton Post Office. He couldn't afford to miss Snape when he came to collect his mail.
Harry chose the Teesdale Hotel in the centre of Market Street and went and booked a single room. At the end of September the tourist season was coming to an end and there was no problem getting accommodation, he virtually had his pick of the rooms. He took his suitcase and went upstairs. He'd asked for a room that overlooked the road, which had surprised the receptionist. 'There's a lovely view of Hudeshope Beck out the back, sir. Wouldn't you prefer that side of the hotel?' But the only lovely view Harry wanted was of Snape… that is to say, he wanted a clear view of Snape, which would definitely not be lovely in any way at all, he reminded himself.
Harry put his case on the single bed and walked over to the window. Perfect. He could see the entrance door to the Post Office just on the opposite side of the street, and that was the whole point of staying here. There was no way Snape would be able to sneak in there without Harry knowing – he was going to make sure of that. There were times when he'd need to leave his post to use the toilet, or to go and get food, and that was where a few little spells would come in handy.
Harry packed his clothes away and headed downstairs. A check of the street and a reconnaissance visit to the Post Office were needed before he settled down to his task. A quarter of an hour later Harry walked through the door that he'd be watching so closely in the days to come and headed for the counter. It was not a large Post Office and there were only two clerks sitting there.
A small queue of pensioners was lined up in an orderly fashion to withdraw their week's money. Harry joined the end of the queue and the old man in front of him spun around and looked him over, no doubt interested to see anybody under the age of sixty in the Post Office on a Thursday afternoon. The little old man had a head of white, fluffy hair that reminded Harry of Hedwig's owlets when she'd bred two years ago. However cute he was though, Harry only gave him a weak smile. He didn't want to get involved in a conversation with the old man; Harry had found from bitter experience that old folk in Post Office queues were very keen on telling younger people their life stories, with many comments about how difficult life had been in their day and how easy young folk had it now. Harry feigned interest in reading the posters that adorned nearly every free space announcing that the Post Office had decided to run their own telephone service, insurance business, travel money and savings accounts, and many other ventures that seemed entirely unconnected with post. The old man stared a little longer (Harry could feel his glare) and then turned back to concentrate on keeping his place in the queue as everyone shuffled nearer their goal.
By the time Harry reached the counter he'd had time to decide which clerk to approach. He chose the younger woman – the older one had a very severe attitude and looked alarmingly like Madam Pince; Harry doubted she'd answer his questions.
"Hello, can I help you?" the young woman, whose name-badge read 'Emma' said.
"I hope so. I have a friend who collects his mail from this branch. Can you tell me when he's due in next?"
"We're not allowed to give out personal details about our clients, sir. I'm sorry." And she genuinely sounded it, but that did not help Harry at all.
"His name is Snape…" Harry prompted.
Emma looked confused. "I don't know anyone by that name. Are you sure you have the right branch?"
"I'm sure of the branch. Perhaps he's using his mother's name, for anonymity. That's Prince."
Emma was looking less and less certain now. "I'm sorry. I can't tell you anything."
"Oh, well never mind. I'll have two first class stamps, please," Harry said, hoping to deflect her suspicion. As Emma opened her stamp book and tore out two first class stamps for Harry, he tried again. "If I had my mail left here for collection, when could I collect it?"
Emma frowned a little suspiciously, but it was her job to answer that type of query, so she did. "You can collect your mail at any time, sir. Except at lunch-time, that's 12.30 to 2, because there's only one member of staff at the counter and we're not allowed to leave it to collect mail from the boxes."
"Ah. That's Monday to Friday, is it?"
"And Saturday mornings until 12. It's very convenient."
"Yes, it is. I shall have to consider it if I'm going to be staying here a while and travelling around."
"You're staying locally?"
"In the Teesdale Hotel at the moment."
"Oh, it's nice there."
"It seems to be. I might stay a couple of weeks, maybe more if I like the area." Harry said as he paid for his stamps.
Emma nodded. "Well I hope you have a nice stay, sir."
"My name's Harry. Harry Potter."
Emma smiled back, friendly and untroubled again.
"Can't ye get a move on then, Harry Potter," an elderly lady prompted from behind him, reinforcing it with a jab in his ribs. "Some of us has shopping to be gettin' on with."
Harry went back to his hotel and watched through the window until tea time. Once the Post Office closed he'd take the time to set up some surveillance spells that should make the task a lot easier. They were nothing sophisticated; they'd just sound an alarm if a magical person entered Market Place and another alarm when they entered the Post Office. There were few enough magical folk in Britain, and the chances of anyone who wasn't Snape setting off the alarms were pretty low, Harry reckoned.
As Harry sat looking out the window he couldn't help wondering why Snape had left the Wizarding world so suddenly. This part of the country was sparsely populated with no large towns, nothing to attract the attention of either Muggles or magical folk. Obviously Snape wanted nothing to do with anybody from his past. But why? Why the grand gesture, why the drama queen act? Snape had been exonerated and decorated as a war hero. He could have gone back to teaching or got some other sort of job.
Harry was now ready for Snape's appearance. He had brought his Invisibility Cloak and his broomstick with him. The bedroom window was large enough to get out of and so he'd be able to follow Snape on his broom and find out where the man was hiding. Then he'd pay him a little visit. Harry shook his head, visiting Severus Snape wasn't something he'd ever wanted to do and it felt really strange to be planning it. Harry would have to think of something to say to the man and to do that politely he'd have to leave all his previous opinions about Snape behind him.
Harry knew he'd been wrong about Snape, but he'd never really dealt with it. He'd had no need to because he hadn't seen the man since that last day on the battlefield. His last view of a beleaguered Snape fighting desperately for his life had convinced him he'd never see him again. But somehow the tricky bastard had survived. Harry had to admit he admired Snape for that, if for nothing else. Not many had survived years of proximity to Voldemort; Snape had not only done that, he'd managed to spy for the Order at the same time. It was a stunning achievement whichever way you looked at it.
Harry realised he'd never been fair to Snape, nor given him the respect he deserved. He'd hated the man in a simplistic, childish way while he was at school. He'd had ample reason to do that at the time, but he'd never looked beyond the obvious about Snape's actions, never once considered what the man was doing or why he was doing it. Even at the end of the war Harry had been happy to let his childish hatred colour his opinion of what the man was worth. Sitting here, watching through this window, Harry now admitted that he'd been wrong. Snape was not a simple study and Harry hadn't taken the time the man deserved. Now, because of Remus, he'd had to do it. And he had discovered, at long last, that Snape was worthy of respect.
Somehow, Harry would have to find a way to tell him that without it sounding like he was only doing it for his werewolf friend.
Ten days later, Harry had got surveillance down to a fine art. A boring, but fine art. Each day when the Post Office was open Harry sat in the comfiest chair beside the window, reading whatever books he had managed to find in the local library the evening before. He had his broomstick and Invisibility Cloak beside him, ready in case the alarms went off. The weather had been fine, windy and bright, so Harry doubted that was putting Snape off. Maybe Snape just didn't come for his mail very often, although Harry doubted he'd neglect it altogether. Snape was too precise, too ordered to ignore the possibility that something might need his attention. And surely he had some contact with the outside world? He had to buy things, right? And not everything could be delivered by owl.
Harry had contacted Ron before he left home and asked him to do a mail check on the Owl Network and a check of the owl order clients of the apothecaries and suppliers in London and Hogsmeade. Two days later an owl had arrived, carrying a parchment with Ron's report, in which Severus Snape was conspicuous merely by his absence. No owls had been sent to or from Severus Snape in the last two years and no apothecary listed him as a client. The same applied to anyone with the surname 'Prince'. It was as frustrating as hell and in a fit of pique Harry had Incendio'd the parchment on the spot. The man seemed to have just dropped off the face of the planet! This obscure Muggle Post Office was the only link he had to Severus Snape – and it was a tenuous one at that.
The main streets of Middleton boasted mainly Victorian buildings, from the period of the little town's prosperity when it was the headquarters of a lead mining company. Market Street was wide and there was room to park cars without having to struggle, which was quite a rarity in Muggle towns. Nevertheless, Harry was startled, to say the least, when the proximity sensor that he'd set at the far end of Market Street went off. A magical person was arriving!
Harry watched as an old, white van made its way along the street towards the Post Office. The van was making an awful racket and emitting plentiful exhaust fumes. It even backfired as it pulled into a parking space in front of the Post Office. It looked so un-Snapelike that Harry wondered if his spell had been faulty to warn him about such a vehicle. Or maybe the van was something Mr Weasley had worked on at some time, leaving some magical residue on it before Molly had insisted he sell it back to the Muggles. But when the driver's door opened and a tall figure unfolded itself from the driver's seat, Harry's heart leapt in excitement and happiness.
It was Snape.
Tall, dark and … well, tall and dark, with his long hair tied back in a pony
tail and hanging down his back. He was dressed in dark jeans and a long-sleeved
t-shirt – both black, of course. To Harry he looked just like what he was, a
Dark wizard, but to the Muggles he could probably pass as a New Age traveller
or an aging Goth.
Harry watched Snape go into the Post Office, then he got up, grabbed his broom, opened the window and left if wide on the latch before Disillusioning the broom, putting on his Invisibility Cloak and launching himself through the window.
Harry hovered over Market Place watching the Post Office door like a hawk. About five minutes later Snape emerged carrying a postal bag which looked to be stuffed with packets and mail.
Swooping closer, taking care to be completely silent, Harry observed the man closely as he unlocked his van. Snape looked thinner than Harry remembered, but maybe that was just because he was wearing tight-fitting Muggle clothing instead of flowing academic robes. But there was no mistaking the tiredness the man exuded. His eyes had dark circles beneath them and he moved as if he'd been working for too many long hours. Harry wondered why that was. Maybe Snape was living a life of debauchery – alcohol and orgies, perhaps – in a hideaway somewhere. That would explain his appearance. In fact, Snape's hair was the only part of the man that looked as if it received enough care. It was glossy and sleek, combed to lie neatly in its leather tie without a hair out of place. Harry briefly wondered what it would feel like to touch that glossy black hair; it was so shiny it just had to be clean and well cared-for. Harry wondered if Snape's hair had been like that at school, clean and glossy rather than greasy, but he dismissed that, remembering the looming Potions master and his hair which at that time had looked like he cared for it with a block of lard. When Harry realised he was getting sidetracked, he shook himself and reminded himself to concentrate on what Snape was doing, not what he looked like.
Snape opened one of the back doors of the little van and put the postal bag inside – Harry glimpsed a pile of bulging supermarket bags already stacked up in there – then got in and drove away.
Harry followed. Snape drove quite slowly through the town. Despite the incongruous appearance of the van and the raucous noises it made, nobody paid it any attention. Harry looked more closely at it and could just detect the presence of magic – Snape had cast something to make it appear normal to the Muggles. As they left the little town and headed onto the country roads heading west, Snape put his foot down. The van complained with a loud backfire, startling in the quietness of the countryside, before obliging its owner by moving faster.
The countryside got wilder the further west they headed. The moorland was populated by the odd farm and a few flocks of sheep, but little else. The road was climbing all the time and the grass got scrubbier, the land rockier and the air colder. After a while the white van turned off the tarmac road onto a dirt track which led up the side of a hill. It looked unprepossessing, climbing toward nothing but a bleak highland. Harry wondered where Snape could be heading; there was nothing up here, surely?
But there was. In the distance there was a property, surrounded by a tall, brick wall. Why anyone would be stupid enough to build a house up here was a mystery, but Snape was definitely heading for it. Snape stopped the van, wound down his window and waved his wand out of it, and the wrought iron gates opened as if on oiled hinges. Snape drove through and the gates shut behind him with a clang.
flew nearer, but was rebuffed by the wards. It felt like flying into a dense,
rubbery cloud. As he bounced back, he knew he'd found Snape's retreat.
Tomorrow, he'd come and visit openly. And he would get through those wards,
whatever they were, if necessary by sheer force.
His mission accomplished for now, Harry turned and flew back towards Middleton, a hot bath and a good dinner in the hotel restaurant in the forefront of his mind.
8. Interlude – The Mad Scientist.
Severus emptied his purchases from the back of his van, first taking the mail bag into his kitchen then going back for the supermarket bags. There were a lot of them so he levitated them indoors and began unpacking his food supplies into the pantry. He swore softly when he found the eggs which had been packed by a particularly incompetent, spotty, Muggle teenager at the checkout at Tesco's. The youth, whose name badge had stated the ridiculous name 'Troy', had put the four dozen eggs at the bottom of one of the bags and then piled jumbo tins of beans and sausages on top. The long journey along the moorland road and over the rugged track home had resulted in one or two eggs getting broken in each box, and a sticky, cardboardy mess in the bottom of the carrier bag. Snape spent some time putting the less damaged eggs into a basin. It looked like it was going to be omelette for tea tonight.
Once Severus had packed everything away he opened his mail. There were letters forwarded from the apothecaries he had supplied in the last month; all contained thanks from grateful customers. Snape's potions were so superior to their usual brands that he received quite a lot of thank you letters each month. Aside from the gratification the praise gave him, he made a nice little income from supplying these specialist potions and it still left plenty of time for his research project.
His post sorted, Severus made a pot of tea and spent a pleasant half hour reading and relaxing. There was no personal correspondence, but there were a couple of new editions of Potions journals as well as September's issue of Wizard Wands. Snape flicked through it, appreciating the lithe young wizards whose beautiful bodies made his eyes linger where his hands would like to touch. He missed sex; his own sexual history had been less than satisfactory, but he was fairly sure it could be pretty fantastic with the right partner. Even before he'd withdrawn from the world Severus had known his chances of finding anyone who might want to get into his bed – never mind being as attractive as these models – had been pitiful, and now his chances were zero. But he could still enjoy looking.
Severus went and placed his magazine by his bed; he'd have a nice, relaxing session with it tonight before he went to sleep. In fact, it might even help him sleep if he had an orgasm before settling down. But for now, he had work to do.
As Severus headed down to the ground floor of the tower his mind replayed the dream of the Refilling Cauldron. What he could do with it! He would get up in the morning to find a fresh batch of Veritaserum or Dreamless Sleep standing there waiting for him. All he'd have to do would be to bottle it. If he mastered the spell-casting, he could have a row of cauldrons, one for each potion. His never-ending supply could keep Slug and Jiggers happy, and the other London apothecaries as well, maybe even the whole world! Severus ran his hand through his sleek locks, stroking his hair until he was sure it was lying perfectly around his shoulders. He was momentarily lost in the delicious anticipation of his future success and the soothing touch of his long, shiny hair. After the initial batch of each potion that he'd have to brew there would be no more effort, no more costly ingredients to buy, nothing but profit. Severus had never thought of himself as being greedy or business-oriented, but the sheer potential of the Refilling Cauldron was making his heart speed up.
Severus took out his wand and stood in front of the small iron cauldron which looked exactly the same as when he'd picked it up from his shelves. The time spells were complicated, the incantations long and very sensitive – one syllable out of place and you had to start all over again. On one occasion he'd seen the air shimmer around the cauldron, he had hoped it was working, but no… when he'd lowered his wand the cauldron was empty of anything but the residue of its last potion. He'd touched the metal and it had been warm so the spell had affected it, but it hadn't worked. It had led him in a new direction though and now Severus knew he was close, very close. But with spell-casting 'very close' was no better than 'miles away', the end result was the same: the spell didn't work.
Severus became involved in trying different variants according to the composition of the cauldron. The iron contained inclusions of carbon and other elements which the spell had to take into account. Each little tweak of the incantation meant he had to do the whole spell again and that took time. Severus did not notice when the sky grew dark as his lab lights were spelled to maintain the light levels at just the right brightness for brewing. He did not even notice as the night wore on; his rumbling stomach was easily ignored. It wasn't until the sky lightened and the lab lights began to dim that Severus glanced up and realised another day was dawning. He'd worked through the night, and not for the first time either, and the hours of unrelieved concentration on top of his shopping trip yesterday meant he had rather overdone it. Suddenly, the tiredness hit him and he yawned.
Severus tidied up. There wasn't much to pack away, just his notebooks and some basic magical elements – salt, water, candles and hazel twigs, chalk for drawing spell fields and amplifying runes. Yawning widely, he made his way out of the lab and along towards the stairs to his bedroom. He headed for his personal bathroom and started cleaning his teeth, noticing with displeasure that his hands were shaking. He peered into the bathroom mirror – always something he avoided as much as possible – and had to admit that his sallow, unpleasant countenance looked even worse than usual. His eyes were hooded, almost sunken into darkened hollows, and it made his nose look even more prominent. He'd been getting obsessed with this project, he knew that. He'd always had a tendency to do that when he was researching something, but while he'd been at Hogwarts the necessity of keeping to the school timetable had ensured he never got too wrapped up in his own studies. But here there was little to stop him and he sometimes went days without proper sleep or meals.
Severus got into bed and closed his eyes. He was even too physically tired to indulge in his promised session with Wizard Wands. He just needed some sleep. He'd take a few hours, let himself drift… images began to play in his mind's eye. A progression of arcane symbols marched in front of him. Earth symbols, now larger than the others, now lesser than the fire symbol, perhaps he needed to tweak the proportions of the basic elements… Carbonised steel was harder than normal iron, the metal element of the incantation probably needed boosting to match its density and strength… Hazel was a flexible, quick-growing wood, maybe that was the problem, something harder, more lasting, but yet hazel was full of magical power, what other wood could replace it?
Severus groaned. His mind just wouldn't turn off. He'd never sleep like this, no matter how comfortable his bed, never mind that the room was darkened and his eyes firmly closed. He sat up, grumbling to himself, limbs aching with tiredness.
Severus rarely took Dreamless Sleep nowadays. After the war he'd had to take it every night for nearly two years just to avoid the nightmares. He'd gradually weaned himself off the potion, knowing prolonged use was addictive and dangerous, but it had been hard to do. He'd so nearly become a hopeless addict. Now he avoided it wherever possible. But today he might just need to give in and take some. He headed back to his bathroom.
A yellowish face with drooping eyelids scowled at him as he rummaged among the bottles on the shelf. Ignoring the mirror image he headed back to his bedroom clasping a triple-strength bottle of Dreamless Sleep which he'd brewed at the end of his dependency period when the normal strength no longer worked. This should ensure several hours of sleep, hopefully enough to make up for his sleepless nights.
9. Sleeping Beauty.
Today was the day and there was no time to lose – but breakfast would be a good idea before anything else, however keen he was to get started. Harry headed to the restaurant and had the biggest English breakfast his hotel could offer. He started with orange juice and cereal (cornflakes), then ordered a pot of tea and a fry-up: bacon, sausages, fried eggs, tomatoes, mushrooms and fried bread. As he wiped up the final traces of yolk with the last of his fried bread, regretting that they weren't his own eggs as he did so, the toast rack arrived. His waitress placed the rack on his table and asked if he'd like more tea. "Yes, please," he said, smiling at her. He was beginning to feel full, but decided to eat as much of the toast as he could. Who knew when he'd get to eat again? Chasing Snape was an uncertain activity, to say the least.
Once Harry had stuffed himself, he drank the last cup of tea and headed back to his room. He was as prepared as he could be. Snape's wards were unknown to him, and they were probably going to be difficult, just like the man himself. But now he'd found where the elusive bastard was hiding there was no way that he wasn't going to get through to him.
Cloak on, window wide, he launched himself into the air above County Durham and headed west. It was cooler today and up here on his broom it was really quite chilly, but Harry hadn't wanted to bring his red cloak, it would probably get in the way once he reached Snape's wards and he could just imagine the ammunition it would give Snape to see him arriving wearing such a bright outfit. No point in making the man's sarcasm easier for him. On this second trip along the moorland road Harry was able to estimate that Snape lived about fifteen miles from the town, more or less in the middle of nowhere. His house was reached up a dirt track which had no signpost to give a clue where it led. Harry doubted anybody but a few sheep had trodden this way in decades. The route felt uncomfortable, wrong, and he realised he was passing through anti-Muggle wards that he hadn't even noticed yesterday.
Harry slowed down as he crested the hilltop and saw the property ahead. The brick wall that encircled it must stretch for miles! He spotted the iron gates Snape had opened and headed for them. He doubted a simple spell would get him through, but maybe there was a bell or an intercom or some way he could announce his presence. Even Snape must get visitors occasionally.
Harry landed in front of the gates. They were Victorian wrought iron, very intricate with the bars close together and no hope of anything bigger than a rat squeezing through. Harry wished he'd learned the skill of becoming an animagus. If he'd been small like Pettigrew or Skeeter he could have crept through, but knowing his luck he'd have been a rhinoceros or something equally large. He giggled at the thought of how much fun it would be, charging around the countryside with a thick hide and two horns on his nose.
"For goodness sake, pull yourself together, Potter," he said aloud, realising it sounded like something Snape would say to him.
No way through, so perhaps a password? "Slytherin." Nothing. "Salazar." Nope. "Hogwarts. Potions. Dunderhead. Defence Against the Dark Arts. Death Eater." He grimaced at the last and was relieved when it didn't work, but it set off a train of thought: "Dark Mark. Riddle. Tom. Little Hangleton. Horcrux. Traitor." Harry was feeling irritated. The chances of finding Snape's password (if there even was one) were pitiful. The Greasy Git would probably use something long and complicated in Latin. He kicked the iron gate in frustration.
A metallic shudder passed through the gates and they glowed red. Harry frowned. The metal looked hot… he didn't think he'd touch it again right now. Perhaps it was an alarm and Snape was even now rampaging out here to see who had assaulted his precious gates? But as he stood awhile thinking what to do next, Harry was not disturbed by an irate householder coming up the path. He sighed. Password was a bad idea… onto unlocking spells.
Starting with the easiest and working through his entire repertoire, Harry got nowhere. The gates did not open, but neither did they do that odd shuddering thing again. He felt like he was being ignored, and Harry didn't like that feeling one bit.
If the gates were a no-go, what about the wall? Harry put his hand on the brick. Nothing happened. It was just well-built, Victorian brickwork. Impenetrable. Unless you were a wizard.
Harry cast a blasting hex at the wall and he had to jump aside almost instantly, falling heavily onto the earth. The spell had shot back at its caster; Snape's wards were bloody efficient. Harry cursed as he picked himself up, wiping dirt from the knees of his jeans. "You git. You're not making this easy," he complained.
After trying a wide variety of spells and acquiring a pretty collection of new bruises, Harry gave it up. The wall was as bad as the gate. No entry through either. He walked back a little, frowning at the boundary to the Snape property, and wondered what to do next.
When he'd been here yesterday, trying to follow the van by flying over the top of the wall, the wards had felt different. Rubbery, somehow. Perhaps he could force his way through them up there. It seemed a more likely proposition than trying to beat the man by the power of his mind. Snape's voice seemed to echo in his head, as clear as if the man was standing right next to him: 'You imbecile, Potter, you'll never amount to anything until you learn to apply yourself to your studies.' Harry sneered (if he had been carrying a mirror he'd have been mortified to realise it was a very Snape-like sneer). He'd show the Greasy Git that Quidditch skills could be useful too. He got onto his broomstick and took off, hovering by the wall while he planned how to get through the repellent wards.
The best thing was to cut through, Harry reckoned. Rubber could be sliced if the blade was sharp and the force applied was strong enough. He gathered his magical strength and projected a sharp edge around his broomstick, affecting the air in front and along its length so it would behave like a huge, sharp knife. He hovered a while, perfecting the feel of his projected magic before surging ahead using all his Firebolt's acceleration as he shot toward the wards.
He felt them, their denseness and their spongy thickness, even as he sliced through them and they fell away around him. There was little in the physical or magical realms that could have withstood his impetus. Despite the very real sense of the strength of Snape's repellent wards, he got through them by keeping his focus and pushing until he'd passed into ordinary air. Finding himself on the other side, Harry realised he was inside Snape's property. He landed with a whoop of triumph.
As soon as Harry's feet touched the ground he was surrounded by a thick, oily blackness. He literally couldn't see his hand in front of his face – and he tried. Sighing, he put his broomstick down. Flying blind would be sheer folly. He slid his wand out and whispered "Lumos." Not even a spark, not the merest twinkle at the tip of the holly. Harry sighed. "Round two then, Snape." He might have known. The repellent wards were probably only the start. Harry wondered how long Snape had laboured erecting these defences around the vast border of his estate. Only the most paranoid wizard would do such a thing, but Snape certainly qualified.
Harry went through his list of lighting spells. There weren't that many of them, but none worked. By now he hadn't expected they would. Snape had conjured this darkness to be impenetrable, and Harry was pretty sure that's what it was. But just lumbering through without knowing what waited on the other side would be folly. 'Your problem, Potter, is that you go racing off to rescue the world without considering your options. You invariably end up in a disastrous situation.' "Not any more, Snape," Harry whispered. "You won't beat me that easily any more."
Whatever the merits or failings of Harry's scholarship, one thing was undeniable: he was a very powerful wizard, probably the most powerful wizard alive at this time. That power could be shaped until it vanquished most spells, whatever their type or purpose. He'd done it with the repellent wards, now he'd do the same with the darkness. Harry closed his eyes – even though all he'd been looking at was blackness, he still needed to close his eyes to get in touch with his inner magic; it had always been so. He pulled on the force inside him and formed it into light. Bright, white light that could illuminate the hidden depths beneath the earth or the furthest reaches of the night sky. He opened his eyes.
Harry glowed like a beacon; he could see around himself for ten yards or more, enough to go on. He was on grassland, there was nothing in the way. No precipice waiting to swallow him up, no traps to fall into, no monsters lurking ahead. Harry walked on, lighting his own way. The blackness persisted for quite a distance; it felt like nearly a mile, though surely it couldn't be that far. There was no sign of change, just the grassland and the occasional rocky outcrop. Without light to guide him, Harry would have lost all sense of direction a long time ago. As it was, it was difficult to be sure he was going in a straight line. Just as he was starting to worry, the darkness disappeared and Harry stepped into the mid-morning light of the cloudy September day. He was standing on the top of a Westmoreland moor and Snape's house was ahead of him, still distant, but seemingly without further barriers. Harry let his magic die down and the incandescent glow faded from his skin.
As Harry walked on and nothing seemed to happen, he spoke aloud again: "Is that it, Snape? Is that all you could do? Okay, most wizards wouldn't be able to get in, but some of the trickier ones might manage it. Had a visit from Lucius lately?"
As if in reply, Harry's breath caught in his throat as a wall of fire shot up in front of him. His right foot, raised to take the next step, pulled back reflexively at the searing heat. Harry stepped back, shaking his head and chuckling. "Not quite finished yet, are you? I'd have been disappointed with you if you had been."
Harry looked at the fierce, high wall of flame. He could feel the heat it produced which was very real. Get it wrong and he'd be toast. He waited, but the fire didn't die down, if anything it burned more fiercely as it got going. He didn't bother getting out his wand; his list of extinguishing spells wouldn't work, he was pretty sure of that. Snape probably knew them all and he might even have invented this one himself. Harry grudgingly admired the man's spell-creation ability. The direct approach hadn't got him through any of the other wards anyway. He'd beaten them by using his personal power, something Snape couldn't ward against, something no other wizard had been able to do since the defeat of Voldemort. "I reckon you're safe enough, Snape. I doubt anyone else could bother you. But I can."
Harry summoned his power again. The tingling rush as it pulsed through his body, through his blood, his skin, his nerves and his very bones, was comforting and heady. He'd pay for this later, but for now, the challenge and the wielding of his power was exciting. He so rarely had to try any more. Harry focussed his power on the concept of 'cold'. Like a refrigerator uses electricity to generate chill air, Harry used magic to surround himself with coldness – an icy, Arctic chill as fierce as the flames that faced him. Anyone touching Harry's aura would be as harshly burned by it as they would by Snape's flames.
Harry walked through the firewall. It wasn't that thick, just intense. He stepped out the other side, glanced back, and eased his power down again. Ahead, the house looked a little nearer, but not much. "What next, Snape? Will it be water this time?"
Harry decided to pause a while. Getting this far had been an experience. It wasn't that he was over-tired, just that he wanted to gather his wits and think a while. As he sat on the grass he heard and felt the fire behind him fade away; he glanced back and found he could see back to the iron gates with no barriers or hints of what he'd struggled through to get this far. It didn't look nearly as far away as it should after he'd walked so far, so part of Snape's magic was to skew the perception of distance. "Why are you doing this, Snape?" he asked the air, wondering as he spoke if Snape could somehow hear him. "Why so scared of the outside world? You're a war hero. Not a beloved one, admittedly, but I doubt too many wizards want your hide these days."
For a moment, Harry thought Snape was answering him. "Harry!" a faint voice called from off to his left. Harry turned that way but could see no one. He wondered if he was imagining it; perhaps it was a natural consequence of his conversation with Snape.
Straining his ears he sat still listening. All he could hear was the soft sounds of the breeze through the grass, which was long, dry and straw-like at the end of the summer. It was very quiet up here on this hilltop, which is what you'd expect in such a bleak, unpopulated part of England.
There it was again. Harry was certain this time. Off to the left, a voice was calling his name. It sounded desperate, and somehow familiar. Harry got to his feet, grasped his wand tightly in his hand, and headed in the direction he thought the voice had come from.
From time to time he heard it again, ridiculously faint and distant. It sounded weaker now than when he'd set out, either it was further away or the person was growing weaker. He hurried on.
There! There in the distance a bump on the ground. "Hello?" he yelled.
Harry could make out arms waving from ground level. The person – the man, it sounded like a man – was down. That voice…
"Ron!" Harry yelled, beginning to run. It was Ron's voice! What on Earth had happened? How had his friend ended up here? Had he been sent here by the Aurors' Office? Had Snape somehow captured him, or had Ron just fallen victim to the wards? Time seemed to stretch out as Harry pounded along; the figure in the distance was growing bigger, but only very slowly. Harry's breath wheezed with the effort as he sped up. Ron's arms waved feebly.
How far had he come? Was he moving away from his goal? Did it matter anyway? No – he had to reach Ron! Ron was in trouble.
Finally, finally, there he was. Harry slowed at the sight of his red-headed friend who was up to his armpits in a bog.
"It's quicksand, Harry. Be careful!" Ron warned. "But get me out, please!"
Harry quickly conjured a rope and threw it to Ron, who fumbled and dropped it. As the end sank into the bog, Harry pulled it back and threw it again. "Catch it!" he yelled.
Ron fumbled and flailed about in the quicksand. Bubbles of gas appeared at the surface as Ron struggled, popping with awful 'gloop' noises. A foul stench, like all the rotten eggs in the world, wafted over to Harry who fell back, nauseated. Harry dry-heaved, only just managing not to lose his ample breakfast. As the stench of rotten eggs blew away on the fresh breeze, Harry gulped fresh air like a landed fish.
"Help!" Ron yelled again, waving his arms once more.
"I'm trying!" Harry shouted back. "Just get hold of this rope if you want me to pull you out," he grumbled as he threw again.
"Come closer!" Ron yelled.
"No! If I get any nearer I'll be in there with you. You have to catch it!"
This time, Ron managed to grab it, and Harry started to pull, heaving like a contestant in a tug-of-war. He felt the resistance as the bog seemed to pull back with an awful sucking noise, not wanting to release its prize. Ron yelled in pain.
"What?" Harry said.
"It hurts! It's like being stretched on a rack. You pulling one way and the bog is pulling me back!"
"Well, I can leave you there if you prefer," Harry said, ceasing to pull.
"Just don't be so quick. Pull slower," Ron begged.
Harry put his back into it again, pulling a little less strongly. The bog burped again, but nothing else happened. Ron stayed firmly stuck in the foul-smelling goo. "Merlin, Ron. I've got to pull harder or you're going to stay there forever."
"All right, just not too hard," Ron insisted.
Harry peered more closely at his friend; he
was getting a bit suspicious about his behaviour. Surely Ron would put up with
the tugging feeling without making a fuss about the pain – he'd want to get out
as quickly as possible without all this shilly-shallying. And he might not be the
best Quidditch player in history, but he wouldn't have dropped the end of the
rope like that, would he? Ron was looking back at him with a pleading
expression, so Harry started to tug again. This time, he gave a good yank,
feeling the resistance, until suddenly he landed flat on his arse and all the
breath whooshed out of his lungs.
Harry lay there, gasping, while he tried to work out what was going on. Ron was still looking at him plaintively. Harry sat up, struggling to get air back into his lungs that didn't seem to want to receive it. When the spots cleared from his vision, he found he was holding one end of the rope. The rest of the rope was coiled at his feet where it had been pulled when… Ron had let go. Harry frowned. "Why did you let go, Ron?"
"My hands are all sweaty," Ron complained. "I haven't got anywhere to wipe them."
"Try your hair," Harry advised.
Grimacing, Ron wiped his hands on his hair. "Try again, Harry."
Harry blinked. A suspicious thought was skittering across his mind. "Yes, Snape, I do think sometimes," he said to himself, "even if it's not my strong point."
As the bog began to make frightful burping noises again, and Ron began to yell and sink further into the quagmire, Harry pointed his wand and said: "Ridikulus!"
The gaseous bubbles emerging from the noisome bog suddenly turned into clear, sweet-smelling foam. The redhead up to his chin in the middle morphed into a bobbing, orange, plastic duck. Harry grinned. "You tricked me for a while that time, I'll admit it. But a boggart isn't enough to stop me finding you, Snape."
Harry Accioed the duck to him and sat down, looking at it. So his boggart had changed from his schooldays. Dementors just didn't hold the same terrors any more; he'd faced them down often enough. It seemed his worst fear in this postwar world was being unable to rescue his friends. Hermione would no doubt have said he still had his 'people-saving thing'.
Harry looked around and found he was further from the house than he had been. He must have run a good distance following the boggart's cries. Annoyed with himself, he turned to face the house and started walking towards it, all the while expecting something else to happen. After a quarter of a mile he began to relax. The house was getting much closer. Harry could appreciate the Victorian gothic details around the windows, the ornate chimney pots and the mighty castle-like doorway. On one corner of the house a tower rose above the roofs of the three-storey building. It was a convincing tower similar to the one that housed the Headmistress' office at Hogwarts. Snape must feel right at home here; perhaps he even had some dungeons instead of a cellar.
The closer Harry got to his goal, the more his heart lightened. He would find Snape – he had found Snape! He would get the Greasy Git to help Remus. It wasn't that bad after all. And as often happens, just when you think you've done it, just when the prize is almost in your hands – it all fell away. Harry found himself nose-to-leaf with a thick hedge. It was so high he couldn't even see the tower on the end of the house. It was so thick he could hardly see the gaps between the leaves. It was so dark it loomed. Harry let out a yell of frustration.
"You bastard! You slimy, greasy, potion-soaked git! How many more times must I get through your traps? There isn't a wizard alive who could have got this far, but still you make obstacles! Why the fuck are you so paranoid?"
At the end of this little rant, Harry's throat was sore from shouting and he doubted he would have upset Snape at all – the man had probably been watching and sniggering at his torturous progress through the wards. Harry kicked the hedge. It gained him nothing but a sore toe, but perversely he felt better for it. Then he took a few steps back and considered the matter.
"Incendio!" But the spell that had so upset the beanstalk had no effect on this greenery. The edges of one or two leaves crackled and turned black, but they did not set light or curl up. No holes appeared in the impenetrable hedge. Harry sighed. "All right, this will take some thought. Damn and blast the paranoid git to the deepest depths of hell!"
Harry sat on the grass in front of the hedge and glared at it while he thought. It took him a while because he'd got so angry with this last-minute barrier, just when he'd thought he was there, almost walking up the front door steps, this had sprung up. Snape seemed to be taunting him, testing his temper and his mind, and Harry felt off-balance. "Hermione could do this so much more easily," he mumbled. "Well, except for the power. She's not strong enough. But you're strong, aren't you, you old git?"
Harry had to admit he'd always admired Snape's skills. The man was not only brilliant, but he was a powerful wizard as well. When Harry had been growing up it was the knowledge of just how superior Snape was to him that had really made him angry. "Well, I'm stronger than you now, and I'm not as stupid as you think. I'm coming in there, whether you like it or not."
Harry couldn't help wondering what Snape was like these days. Harry was so much more powerful, would it make their positions more equal. Maybe he wouldn't find the man's sarcastic intellect so unbearable now he could overpower him.
"Right. So it's a hedge. It's fireproof. What else?" What could you do with a hedge? Harry was reminded of the great magical maze that he'd fought through during the TriWizard Tournament. Hagrid had grown it, so Hagrid would have had a method of shaping it, and at the end it had been removed. But the removal was surely spell-work, and if Snape was being consistent (and it would be a miracle if he wasn't) then the spells Harry knew wouldn't work on Snape's hedge. How had Hagrid dealt with the maze? Hagrid wasn't supposed to use magic at all, and the spells he did use from time to time were very basic…
"Prune it. That's what I'll do. I'll prune it. What was that Professor Sprout had said? 'it's fine if you just let it know who's the boss. That's the trick with most magical plants, you know.'
Sprout had used secateurs. Fine for a runner bean plant, but this needed stronger measures. Harry conjured a long, curved, pruning knife. It looked like an Arabian scimitar. The light glinted off its sharp blade promising the recalcitrant growth no quarter. Harry smiled at it; it gave him a feeling of strength and power. It made him feel victorious even before he'd struck a blow; Harry thought King Arthur must have felt this way when he received Excalibur. Harry gripped the scimitar in a two-handed grip, then grinning happily, he advanced on the impenetrable hedge with his weapon held high.
The plants made no sound apart from the usual noises of vegetation being chopped down, but Harry thought he could hear them all the same: his head seemed to fill with shrieks of rage and pain as he slashed his way into the hedge. He didn't need to make a huge opening, just enough to walk through. The hedge was thick and even with the wonderful weapon it was hard work. Sharp it might be, but it took strength to cut through the thick branches. Every so often Harry stopped and banished the cut-off leaves, twigs and branches. It was dark inside the hedge and there was no sign of its depth yet. Not an insect stirred – there was scarcely room for a spider between these densely packed twigs.
Harry's hands and arms were a mess. The plant, whatever it was, was thorny. Even as the hedge gave way it scratched him. For each blow that damaged the plant he received a thorny swipe that cut into his own skin. Harry rested for a few moments. He balanced the scimitar on its point on the earth and rested his arms on the hilt. As he stood there inside the dark hollow he was making in the hedge he felt blood flowing down his arms and dripping off his fingers. The fast thumping of his heart, the pounding of his blood and the surge of adrenalin the fight with the hedge had provoked, all ensured that he felt little pain. Harry got his breath back, raised his scimitar, and started again.
A severed branch flew at Harry's face and he ducked just in time. The long thorn scraped along his forehead instead of impaling itself in his eye. "Fuck!" he admitted. The branches he was cutting were thicker now and the light of day was just a diminishing glow at the end of the tunnel he was digging through the thorn hedge. "How much longer, Snape? Haven't I done enough yet?"
As if in reply, the next branch severed beneath his onslaught and a chink of light fell into the hollow. He was nearly through! Encouraged, his tired arms regained their strength and he hacked at the last plants with a fierceness that chopped them away quite quickly. As he stepped through, Harry waved his scimitar in a victory salute and screamed his success to whoever was listening: "I'm here, Snape! You hear me? I'm through! You can't stop me. I'm coming for you, and when I find you, you're going to do what I want for a change!"
Still breathing heavily, Harry approached the front steps up to the impressive, castle-style entrance door. As he started to climb, he banished the scimitar and passed a quick cleaning charm over his bloody arms. It stung a little as he became aware of the quantity of cuts that decorated his body, but the blood had mostly clotted and he raised his arm to knock on Snape's door. He paused, hand raised, as he noticed the brass nameplate next to the door.
The prince's castle
Harry snorted with laughter. He was definitely at the right house. Closing the final few inches between his knuckles and the oak door, he knocked. The resulting noise wasn't at all impressive: no sepulchral boom, no echoes set off deep inside the prince's castle. Just a couple of boring sounds you'd get when knocking on any piece of wood. But although the sound effects were disappointing, what happened next was not.
The door swung open onto a hallway. The house looked bright, clean and welcoming. Not a hint of dungeon décor or a cobweb-festooned candelabra in sight. Just a Victorian entrance hall with doors off to either side and a stairway straight ahead. Harry shook his head in surprise and stepped inside.
"Snape?" he called. The echo wasn't very impressive, but the man should have been able to hear him. Unless he was up in the tower, perhaps. "You here, Snape?"
Silence was the only answer. "Then I'll just have to find you," Harry called. He would not be ignored.
Harry started downstairs, discovering the sitting room, which was surprisingly homely and comfortable; the library, which was unsurprisingly very well-stocked; the kitchen, which had no Potions equipment but was clean, bright and functional; and a games room complete with chess set, backgammon board and a billiard table (which looked completely unused and rather dusty). At the rear of the house was a conservatory filled with plants. They were attractive, but Harry thought that they all had some Potions use and so weren't merely decorative. He looked out the windows of the conservatory over the land at the back of the house, but there was no sign of a familiar dark-clad figure striding about with his odd, spidery gait.
"I bet you're in the tower," Harry mused and headed for the doorway that led to the eccentric structure.
The ground floor was the Potions lab. Bright, airy and stuffed to the gills with cauldrons, tubes, flasks and weird-shaped things whose names he'd never learned and doubted he'd ever need to know. On the central workbench there was a small cauldron. Harry walked over and peered into it, but apart from needing a clean, it was empty. "Not like you to leave your stuff dirty, Snape," Harry mused. "Did you leave in a hurry? Maybe I scared you away." But Harry didn't believe it for one moment.
The next floor held a glorified cupboard-under-the-stairs. Snape had to be different – his glory hole had to be a cupboard-in-the-tower, but it was much the same as anyone else's. Stuffed with boxes, old clothes, trunks, and a ghastly statue that might have been supposed to represent Salazar Slytherin, judging by the snake hung around the figure's neck that the effigy seemed to be talking to. If Harry had owned such a thing he would hide it in his junk cupboard, too.
The third floor, on a level with the topmost part of the house, was better. It held a guest room. Harry wouldn't have minded staying there – the circular shape made the room intriguing and somehow comforting. The bed in the middle of the room looked soft and welcoming and Harry wondered if he should just have a nap, stop for a while to rest his aching limbs…
He pulled himself together with a jerk. Was this room charmed to trap the unwary, lull them into an enchanted sleep? Then Snape could come in and tie up his prey and that would be that. Harry backed out quickly and climbed higher.
There were no more rooms. The tower was narrowing, the steps went round and round a central space and Harry held onto the iron banister rail carefully. Up and up it went, quite high. The tower had looked quite impressive from the outside, there had to be something up here. It would be a disappointment to get to the top and find nothing but the point of the roof.
By the time he reached the end of the stairs Harry's legs were aching. Above him was a trapdoor reminding him of his schooldays and Professor Trelawney's rooms. Harry pushed it open. The trapdoor opened easily, its hinges were obviously well-oiled and that led him to believe this area was often visited. Harry climbed up the ladder and entered the tower room.
A long window overlooked the countryside around. In front of it a comfortable chair was pulled up; a table next to it held a carafe of red wine and a clean glass. Harry knew Snape liked to drink wine, so these items were not unexpected. The other thing on the table was something Harry wouldn't have associated with the Snape he'd known in a hundred years. A hairbrush. Harry tried to imagine Snape sitting here, surveying his estate, drinking his wine and brushing his hair?
"You must have changed, Snape. You were never very concerned about your appearance when I knew you."
Harry felt he'd found something. Not Snape – the man wasn't here – but a clue that told him that Snape was different, that Harry didn't know this Snape as well as he thought he did, if at all. But although this room seemed regularly visited, Snape wasn't here. Frowning, Harry headed down the tower to search the rest of the house.
Harry soon found Severus on the second floor. The room he entered was obviously the master bedroom, and it came complete with master. Snape was lying in the bed with the covers pulled neatly up to his chin; he was seemingly peacefully asleep despite all the racket Harry had made to find him.
So peaceful did Snape look that Harry began to wonder if he was alive at all. The man looked as if he was made of marble: pale and still as carved stone. Harry stepped closer, wondering if he was too late. Snape's face looked serene. Harry heaved a sigh of relief when he saw that the man's chest was rising and falling as he breathed. The breathing was deep and even, and still Snape hadn't moved a muscle.
Snape looked so peaceful. Harry envied the man the ability to fall asleep and sleep so dreamlessly, free of nightmares or memories. It seemed unfair that Snape should have such peace and Harry should still find his own sleep disturbed. Snape must have truly accepted the exoneration everyone told Harry the man deserved. Harry stood and watched the still figure, taking in every detail of Snape's face. The hooked nose was no smaller than Harry remembered it; the sallow tinge to the pale skin was still the same. But Snape's long, black hair was spread out on the pillow and Harry had to notice that. It was so much longer than he remembered. It was so black, silky and glossy and every strand lay separate, untangled. Snape must spend a lot of time on it to keep it so beautiful. Harry couldn't resist – he reached out and ran his hand along the dark mass nearest his side of the bed.
It had looked beautiful, but it felt even better than that. Harry couldn't think of the words to describe the feel of the hair. His hand ran gently along its length; then, unable to get enough, he lifted his hand back to the top and started again. He lost count of how many times he stroked Snape's long hair, top to bottom, mesmerised by the feel of the glossy black strands as they slid beneath his fingers. 'Silken' did not do it justice, he thought. It was so perfect, so lovely. So beautiful.
Harry drew his hand away, momentarily startled. He'd just decided that Snape's hair was the very definition of the word 'beautiful'. He'd never felt anything so perfect with a man or a woman before. His mind struggled to reject these thoughts, but eventually he gave up and accepted the truth. Snape was beautiful, because this hair was part of this Snape, this man whom Harry really didn't know at all.
As if in a dream, Harry leaned forward. His hand was still lying on Snape's beautiful hair and the scent of pine forests tickled his nostrils, presumably from the man's shampoo. Harry kissed Snape's forehead, his lips gentle as he bestowed the kiss of peace that was long overdue. As he straightened, Snape never moved at all. The fine lines tracing across Snape's brow spoke of many difficulties faced, but the peace remained, and Snape slept on.
"I thought it was going to be a real problem accepting you," Harry said. "But I was wrong. Somehow it's happened without even trying. I know what you did, and I think I know why. And I know it was the only way, Severus."
If he heard the words, Snape made no move to show it. He slept on, dreamlessly. Harry called his name, louder this time: "Severus!" There was no change in the sleeping man. Harry's hand was still on Severus' hair and he had started stroking again. He could acknowledge that was what he was doing – stroking Snape's hair. "Beautiful," he said, making his thoughts real. Harry leaned over, closer to the sleeping man. He wanted to kiss Snape again.
"Severus…" he whispered and pressed his lips against Snape's own.
Snape's lips were thin and still as Harry's fuller lips pressed down on them. Snape's lips didn't move, but they were warm and dry and Harry liked the feeling. He brushed his lips over them, moving to trace their shape, wanting to get to know them. He didn't ask himself why he was doing this. It felt too natural to question it.
Harry parted his lips and slipped his tongue out. With an utmost tenderness that he had never shown with a lover before, he traced the line of Snape's mouth, following the line where Snape's lips joined, sealed shut in sleep. The lips tasted slightly spicy, like aniseed, perhaps.
And Severus' lips moved, they parted a little, and Harry was in. He slipped into the mouth as if he had finally come home.
Severus' eyes flew open.
10. The Beauty and the Beast (that is: Severus Snape).
Harry withdrew at this muffled response – it certainly didn't sound encouraging. He straightened and looked down into the black, enraged eyes glaring up at him.
"Potter! What the fuck are you doing assaulting me in my bed?"
"Oh… I… er…"
"I've no idea how you got in here – though I might have known if anyone could do it, it would be you – but you can just walk right out again! You have no right to break into my home and you certainly have no right to assault me sexually!"
"Sexually?" Harry's voice came out sounding as weak and confused as he currently felt.
"What else would you call it when you're woken up with some idiot's tongue halfway down your throat? It's sexual assault, without a doubt! What would have happened if I hadn't woken up then? I expect you'd have continued right on to outright rape without stopping to think what you were doing, in typical headstrong Gryffindor fashion!"
"That's a bit much –" Harry tried to interrupt the tirade, but Snape was fully awake and into his stride now, pulling himself up into a sitting position and pointing a bony finger at the young man standing beside his bed.
"Didn't my wards make it plain enough that I wished to be left alone? Do you think I'd have spent months erecting those barriers if I wanted every nincompoop who might be wandering around at a loose end to come into my house and make advances to me?"
"What part of 'go away and leave me alone' don't you understand, Potter? You were always dense, but this exceeds even your dismal record by an impressive extent!"
"Look, Snape, if you'd just shut up for a bit I can explain –"
"You can explain? You think so? I seriously doubt it. Unless you've learned to string sentences together in a more erudite fashion than an over-excited three year old – and I must say I've seen no evidence of it yet – I think it highly unlikely that a satisfactory explanation will be forthcoming from your direction–"
"Silencio!" Harry just couldn't stand it any more. "How can I explain if you won't shut up?" he yelled, waving his arms in exasperation.
Snape's face contorted in rage, his mouth ran on forming the shapes of words but no sounds emerged, just exasperated puffs of air. Snape's pale, yellowish cheeks were acquiring a rather fetching rosy tint though, Harry noticed.
"I made a mistake, I admit it. I should have left you asleep a bit longer. I was lulled by your changed appearance to think that you were more normal now, but I was so wrong! You're just the same, impossible, anti-social, opinionated git you ever were. Well, you're going to listen to me, and you're going to help me. Because if you don't, well, I'll think of something pretty horrible. Maybe I'll just Apparate you into the centre of a busy Muggle market – bound and naked!"
Snape's brows climbed up his forehead. It seemed he could not stomach that idea at all. Harry smiled sweetly at him. "And don't think I can't do it, Severus. The fact that I got through your wards – and they're the plainest evidence of paranoia I've ever seen, by the way – should tell you that I can do it, too. So pipe down and speak normally, agree to have a conversation with me, and I'll take the spell off you. Conversation, by the way, means that you let me have my say and you give fair consideration to what I have said before answering. Understand?"
Snape rolled his eyes, huffed soundlessly a little more, then nodded his head jerkily. Apparently he had worked out that he really didn't have much choice. That suited Harry just fine, so he smiled and cancelled the Silencio. Snape swung his legs out of bed and stood up, arranging his hair so it fell evenly around his shoulders.
"No! I lead this conversation. You can be quiet for a bit and listen to me, or you will be quiet for the rest of the day. It's your choice."
Snape shut his mouth with a snap and went back to glowering. He really did glower remarkably well.
"Why are you living out here in a place like this?"
"So I don't have to deal with idiots like you, Potter, obviously." Snape still looked quite angry, and Harry supposed he couldn't blame him. After all, he had broken in, kissed the sleeping man and then put a Silencing spell on him. But there was no other option with Snape, whose personality was still difficult beyond measure, despite Harry's earlier hopes. "I really thought I'd covered all options with my wards," Snape continued rather thoughtfully, "but you're such a brainless moron you just ploughed right through them without considering why they were there."
"I knew why they were there, Snape. But I needed to speak to you. I wouldn't have had to break in if you'd had some normal way of being contacted."
"There is no way; Severus Snape does not exist any more. I have managed to make a new life for myself, with a new identity. If I had wanted people to be able to contact me would I have done that?"
He was glaring at Harry again as if the young wizard was being extremely stupid. Harry frowned right back. "Still, it's an overly dramatic gesture to leave the Wizarding world behind, Snape. You'd been cleared, honoured as a war hero, so all this is a bit of a drama queen act if you ask me. "
"I am not asking you. And as for being a war hero, that's no more than a pathetic joke. Yes, they gave me an Order of Merlin – grudgingly and only after pressure from Minerva McGonagall. And she only did it because she felt guilty for ignoring the evidence that was set before her and refusing to believe I was working for the Order until she saw me attack Voldemort with her own eyes. It's true I have the same pitiful pension as the rest of the Order, but what I also got and nobody else did was utter vilification every time I went outside my house. I would walk down Diagon Alley and people would move out of my path as if I were a contagion. I would enter a shop and the assistant would not look at me. If anyone deigned to speak it was in monosyllables and with utter rudeness and spite. I am not a thin-skinned individual –" Harry snorted. "– but neither do I seek out rudeness and rejection at every turn. Whatever the reason I had for doing it, I am still seen as the man who killed Dumbledore, and that stain is indelible. There was no future for Severus Snape back there."
"Who are you now, then? We looked under the names Snape and Prince but we couldn't find you."
Severus hiked a brow upwards again. "It doesn't take a crystal ball to work out you would do that, which is why I used neither name, of course. Now you have found me and the damage is done, so you might as well know the rest. My name is Septimius York."
"Why? Why? Because it is, you dunderhead! I had to choose a name and that is the one I chose."
"Okay. But everyone chooses names for a reason. Even you." Harry grinned, feeling he'd scored a point at last.
"Septimius is the other forename of the Roman emperor Severus. And York is the county town of the county of my birth."
"See, that wasn't so painful, was it? You can do the conversation thing if you try." Harry was beginning to feel a glimmer of confidence.
"I am pleased I have your approval," Snape sneered. "But I still do not know why you – the last person I would have expected to seek me out – ended up kissing me in my bed. Can't a man sleep in peace? You force your way through my wards, break into my house, disturb my rest with a sexual assault…"
"For Merlin's sake, we've heard all this already! Shut up or I'll silence you again!"
Snape growled. It was a definite growl, which made Harry wonder if the man had an animagus form and whether it was canine. Surely not… he wouldn't have thrown out all those barbs about 'flea-ridden mutts' if he was one himself. Harry peered more closely at Snape who seemed to be on the edge of apoplexy and temporarily incapable of speech even without the spell having been cast.
"Yes, I did all that you have accused me of," Harry admitted. "But you shouldn't be so surprised, you know rules never really apply to me, don't you, Severus?" Harry grinned happily at the man sitting opposite him. "But I hardly think you can call it an assault. I had no intention of hurting you. I just wanted to talk to you."
"And that's where it all falls down, Potter. You've never wanted to talk to me in the past, and after five years I cannot imagine why you would want to talk to me now. Especially after you've just called me an 'impossible, anti-social, opinionated git'. Your presence makes no sense."
"Look, I'm trying, all right. I was wrong about you back then–"
"How can you expect me to believe that? You have just assaulted me, hexed me, and you continue to rant at me and call me names."
"I've ranted and called you names? Haven't you got that back to front?"
"Any man would rant if he was assaulted in his own bed!"
"For Merlin's sake, I've said I'm sorry. I didn't hurt you. I'd have thought you'd be grateful-"
"Pestilential brat! What makes you think I'd want you, Potter, to fasten your mouth over mine and try to measure the size of my tonsils?"
Harry sighed. Damn, that kiss was proving costly. How was he going to get Snape off the subject of his affronted dignity long enough to ask him the favour? As things were, he doubted Snape would be willing to help him do anything but leave – quickly. He needed to mollify the man. "I've changed in the last five years, Severus, and I bet you have. The war's over… can't it be over between us too?"
Snape said nothing, but he did look thoughtful, so Harry ploughed on. "You looked so peaceful lying there, but you wouldn't wake up when I called you. I'm sorry that I kissed you, but you just looked so… beautiful."
"Beautiful!" Snape bellowed, spit flying from his enraged mouth. The complimentary word seemed to have upset him more than Harry's previous insults. "Now I know you're been ridiculous. What is this? Break In And Make Fun Of Snape week?"
"You did… you are… your hair…" Unable to find words to explain, Harry's hand gestured towards Snape's hair as if he was stroking it again.
Snape's face was a picture, he looked gobsmacked. Shaking his head, he went and sat down in one of the armchairs as if his legs wouldn't hold him up any longer. Harry followed and took the one next to him. They looked an incongruous pair: Snape in his white, linen nightshirt, Harry covered in smears of mud, dried blood and bits of twig.
Snape looked at Harry, seeming to take notice of his appearance for the first time. He sighed deeply. "You're a mess, Potter. You should get a bath and clean yourself up. There are some spare robes in there, you can have one, and I'll give you a soothing potion to put in the water."
"Oh. Thanks, that would be good."
"And while you're doing that, I'll get up and go for a little walk in my garden. Perhaps… perhaps we can start again."
"Thank you, Severus," Harry said. Snape had suddenly become reasonable; maybe he'd just given in. Harry wasn't sure how it had happened, but he was happy to go along with it. But he was going to check that potion Snape was giving him to put in his bathwater, all the same.
Severus strode around his ornamental knot garden, frowning at the plants that usually received his approbation.
How did he get here? Hagrid… it must have been. Hagrid knew how much I needed my privacy, how much was at stake. I really believed he'd keep it secret, but Hagrid always had a soft heart and a weakness for the brat.
Why did he come? He's the last person I'd expect to see. Before I left he avoided me just like the rest of the magical community, and it's been five years.
What the fuck was that kiss about? And he said I was beautiful! Idiot boy! I never could understand him, as much as I always told him he was simple, the archetypal Gryffindor, in reality he is anything but.
There's no hope of him leaving me alone now. He's here and he'll stay until he's said what he's come for. He wants something, of course. A potion, most likely. He wouldn't need my help with Dark spells or spell creation. He's strong enough to force any spell into or out of existence.
Severus shivered at the realisation of Harry's strength. The young wizard seemed to have got through his wards in one day – no, it was only half a day as the sun was still high. Severus knew that even Albus in his prime could not have done that.
He's going to get what he wants, that much is obvious. A sensible Slytherin would stop fighting it. If I co-operate he might go away, he might even keep my secret. He's been polite so far – well, mostly. And I probably provoked him. I can't remember when I last had face to face dealings with anybody without provoking them. Even poor Hagrid had to go for a walk in the forest quite often to stop himself from strangling me. I never would have thought Potter would be circumspect though. He must have changed.
He's grown up. Physically he's damned attractive, even covered with mud and bits of foliage. Not tall, but well made. Muscular and tanned…
Severus' eyes glazed over for a while and he was no longer seeing his bed of Enchanter's Nightshade. Time passed.
His hair's still a mess, but it looks better that little bit longer. And he wasn't at his best having fought through my Impenetrable Hedge (that charm needs a new name, perhaps Impenetrable-For-All-Save-Potter Hedge Charm?). And those eyes…
More time passed. Quite a lot more time. Severus came to and shook his head. "I liked talking to him. By Merlin, I did! I liked the sparring and I liked the fierceness of his desire – his desire to get what he came here for, of course (there wasn't any other kind of desire). I liked hearing a wizard's voice and sitting relaxing with him. Well, perhaps 'relaxing' isn't the word, but whatever it was we were doing I liked it. In short, I like him.
Severus walked back indoors, too sensible to try denial. At least they could have tea together. Severus' robes swished as he walked briskly. He would not have used the word 'eagerly', but it was definitely the best word for his gait.
Satisfied the bath potion was harmless, intended to heal and cleanse, Harry sank into the warm water with a sigh. His breath caught as the water found all the cuts – there were a bloody lot of them – and reminded him how sore and tired he was. As the sharpness faded, Harry leaned back in the tub and relaxed in the fragrant steam. Here he was, then, not only in Snape's house but in Snape's bathtub. The man had finally accepted his presence. With any luck Harry would find an opening to ask what he needed from Snape, and then he could leave.
The more he thought about it as his body relaxed in the fragrant water, the more he realised he was in no hurry. Well, of course he had to hurry, for Remus' sake, but if it wasn't for that he'd be happy to stay here for- Harry shook his head. What was he thinking? Was this water charmed, like that bed he'd found before? That had to be it; who would want to linger in Snape's house? The Prince's Castle, indeed.
Harry took the flannel and washed himself thoroughly, cleaning away all the reminders of his journey and the trials he'd faced getting here. Looking at the varied shapes and colours of the bottles on the shelf around the edge of the tub, he couldn't help noticing a plethora of hair-care products. "I never would have thought you'd turn into Lockhart, Snape," he chuckled, selecting a pine-scented shampoo that smelled like Snape's hair.
Harry was downstairs in the library, flicking through a book when Snape returned.
"You're still as much a stubborn brat as you ever were," Severus said, aware as he said it that it didn't sound anything like sarcastic enough.
Harry looked up, surprised at the gentle tone of the man's words. "You didn't expect me to just walk away after going to all that trouble to find you, surely?"
"No, I didn't. And I did say we could start again. Tea?"
Harry smiled. "That would be very nice, Severus."
Severus didn't bother to object to the use of his given name. Potter would do what he wanted, and it was a minor thing, really. And friendly. Snape went to the kitchen to prepare tea and returned ten minutes later with a tray. He'd added a plate of his favourite Chocolate Hobnobs.
"No house elf?"
"I am not from a wealthy, old Wizarding family."
Harry knew that, of course he did. "Oh, sorry. Um…"
Snape quirked a brow. "Do you have one? What about that creature that was always trailing after you at Hogwarts?"
"Dobby? He's still at Hogwarts. I didn't need him. Well, not really. He wanted to come when I set up my cottage, but I was too busy with the rebuilding and didn't really need an elf then. Now… well, I'm used to doing things myself. It's no hardship."
"I wouldn't expect it to be, for a wizard of your strength," Severus said.
"Then nor is it a hardship for you, Severus. You're hardly weak."
Snape inclined his head. "I quite enjoy looking after myself. It is pleasant not to have to wait on other people's convenience."
"It is. I like my independence, too. But sometimes, it can be lonely."
Severus said nothing to that. Harry hadn't really expected him to; Snape would never admit to any weakness, and he would regard loneliness as just that.
"I have plenty of people to visit, though," Harry continued. "They always say I don't go often enough, actually."
"People can be… demanding."
"The best people aren't," Harry said. "I visit Remus whenever I like. He doesn't mind if I call every day, or if I don't come for weeks. He's the best sort of friend."
Severus stiffened and Harry noticed it. Was Snape still carrying those old grudges from his schooldays? If so, it wouldn't make Harry's task any easier.
Severus supposed it was understandable. Potter was attractive – Severus had admitted it to himself already – and handsome young men were never alone for long. Snape remembered the days when he'd lived with Hagrid, the endless issues of the Prophet with their latest gossip about the Saviour of the Wizarding World. Potter had an endless supply of hangers-on, young men who looked at him with adoring eyes and held onto him with proprietorial grips. It merely surprised Severus a little that Potter had got close to Lupin. Lupin was as old as Severus, and a werewolf. Perhaps the boy, like Hagrid, preferred lame ducks?
"You live near Lupin?" Severus asked, annoyed to hear the croak that had appeared in his voice.
Harry smiled. "Not that near. Remus lives near Ottery St Catchpole. He's the ranger for Chattock's Wood."
"Ah. I see. And conveniently close to the Weasleys." Snape's voice was flat.
"Yes. But I don't visit them as much as I should. I must admit I find them… a little overwhelming."
"In sheer quantity?" Snape smirked.
"No, Severus. In their… sheer happiness, I suppose. It's hard to say. I have a great time when I'm there, but when I get home I feel an awful sense of sadness, as if I'll never live like that."
"Why not, pray? You're young, you could have anyone, live anywhere…"
Harry shook his head. "In reality I have very little choice, Severus. How many people throughout the magical world know me, Harry Potter, do you suppose? Do you think all those Ministry hangers-on, all those attractive young men, know me? Even the Weasleys… well, except Ron and he's busy with his wife and daughter, hardly know the real me."
Severus' brow rose. "I'm beginning to feel sorry for you," he drawled.
Harry knew the man was being sarcastic. "Severus," he admonished. "I'm as much a prisoner of my notoriety as you are. You had trouble walking down Diagon Alley? Try coming with me. Cameras flashing, people stopping and staring as if you're a sideshow produced for their entertainment, folk thrusting quills and paper at you for your autograph at nearly every step. Not to mention having every unattached witch and wizard coming on to you, and a lot of the married ones too. I could go on, but I think you understand what I'm getting at."
Snape nodded. "You have a point. I hadn't considered your plight. I had no need to, as I never saw you."
"I'm sorry about that," Harry admitted. "I should have visited you when you were in St Mungo's. Or staying with Hagrid."
"Why? I never sought you out."
"I should have thanked you. I couldn't have got rid of him without you."
"It works both ways, Potter. Without you, we wouldn't have won."
Harry thought they'd reached some kind of understanding. Snape had stopped casting sarcastic comments at him a while back. This was probably as good as it was going to get. Just as he thought it was time to bring up his quest, Snape spoke again.
"No one passes through wards like mine just on an idle whim to find a lost comrade, even if it is someone they think they've wronged."
Harry nodded. "I was on a quest, Severus. I had to find you."
"The werewolf!" Snape almost spat, his face twisted with disgust. He put down his teacup with a bang. It made sense after all – Potter needed help for his lover. Severus might have known. At school Potter was always dashing off trying to save someone and he hadn't changed one bit. "What's the problem? Run out of mange treatment?"
"Severus. Don't be like that, please." Harry got up and went over to Snape, who was sitting ramrod-straight in his chair and looking as fierce as an insulted hippogriff. Harry knew he had to keep his temper if he was going to get anywhere with the man, however hard that proved to be. "Remus deserves your help. He'd do the same for you, you know he would."
Harry put a hand on Snape's arm, feeling the tension of the man's muscles.
"Would he? I owe him nothing. He tried to kill me!"
"Oh, Severus. That was so long ago, and it wasn't Remus anyway, it was the werewolf. You know Remus is a good man, a man who has fought hard all his life. He doesn't deserve what's happening to him. Please, we need your help."
There it was again. We. "Why should I help you and your lover? Haven't I done enough in my life? Am I not to enjoy the peace I have found here?"
Harry frowned and looked into Snape's cold, dark eyes which were glittering with malice. He wondered where this sudden depth of bitterness had come from. They'd been doing fine until he mentioned Remus, but then Snape had gone back to his old Hogwarts persona. Remus… wait! Your lover? "Um, Severus… Remus isn't my lover," Harry said.
"Remus. He's not my lover. He's my friend. The only close friend I have these days."
"Don't be ridiculous. You have hordes of friends: Weasley, Granger, Longbottom…"
"No," Harry interrupted. "Didn't you listen? They've all moved on. They have new careers, new lives and loves."
"I –" but Severus was suddenly unable to verbalise his thoughts, which were spinning confusedly, or his feelings, which were even more disorienting.
"Severus, I came here to ask for your help for my only real friend. There's no one else who understands the Wolfsbane as well as you. Please," Harry put his hand over Snape's hands which were clasping and unclasping spasmodically on his lap, "please help me."
Severus looked into Harry's pleading eyes. His stomach lurched, his mind span, and he felt seasick. He couldn't do it… there was no way he could deny the look in those eyes and the effect it was having on him. Not his lover, he's not his lover. He's lonely, he wants your help.
"Please, Severus, if you won't do it for Remus, do it for me?"
"Dammit," Severus snarled, and dipped his head and kissed Harry.
11. And they lived happily ever after?
And Harry kissed him back.
Severus, five years after the end of the war and free of the need to answer to anyone but himself, admitted that he liked it. There was no need for pretence here. Harry had come to him because he wanted something from Severus; Severus had nothing to lose by admitting his desire. And somewhat to his surprise, he found himself full of desire – hot and urgent.
He pulled at Harry's clothes, tugging insistently as they kissed. One of them – and Severus thought it might have been him – wandlessly and wordlessly banished their clothes. The sudden realisation of flesh-on-flesh almost overloaded Severus' senses. If he hadn't been engaged in a ferocious tongue-battle with Harry, he would have gasped.
Suddenly, and Severus knew this time it wasn't his doing, he found himself flat on his back on his bed with Harry on top of him; the young man was gripping, clawing, almost forcing Severus through the mattress in his eagerness. Severus' earlier comment came back to him, about the Gryffindor going right on to rape, except this wouldn't be rape.
Severus had usually topped for preference, but here there was no question who had taken control. Harry was as strong and fierce in his desire as he was in his magic, it was exciting and so with a mewl Severus parted and lifted his legs allowing Harry to position himself in the dominant role.
"Accio lube!" Harry said.
"Do you want this, Severus?" Harry's voice was ragged with need.
"Yes… oh, yes. Do me," Severus begged. He knew he was begging, but what did it matter. Harry was the supplicant, he reminded himself, even as he felt the young man's slicked fingers pressing, opening and stretching him.
With little preamble, Harry slid into Severus. He wasn't thinking by now, acting on pure instinct and the need to claim this man. Severus was hot and tight. Harry wanted to chase the loneliness away, his own and Severus', and this was the best way he could do it. They were close, much closer than either had ever considered being, and it was so good.
Severus was pushing back, asking for the thrusts Harry gave him, and Harry attacked his lover as fiercely as he'd hacked his way through the hedge, desperate to get to the heart of the man. The coupling was as noisy as it was fierce, with gasps, grunts and groans echoing around the bedroom making a strange music to match their passion.
"Want you so much…" Harry said, sweat trickling down his temples. One drop fell onto Severus' cheek and Harry lifted one hand and wiped it away.
"I'm yours," Severus agreed hoarsely. "So good-"
It was. It was so painfully good that neither could last. Both men had been alone too long. Neither man had realised that an attraction lurked beneath the surface of their heated past dealings, but now that they did it was unleashed with a sudden flare of intensity. Their eyes had been opened and they seemed desperate to rush to completion, as if they could make up for the lost years.
"Mine-" Harry agreed, groaning as his cock stiffened and swelled even more with his approaching orgasm.
"Yours," Severus repeated as his semen started to pulse between them, coating his belly and Harry's alike.
When Harry filled Severus with his essence, it felt like destiny.
Harry slipped through Severus' wards without effort. Severus had been as good as his word and opened them for him. Just as he'd opened himself, Harry thought, smiling.
Severus looked up from his notebooks as Harry entered the Potions lab.
Harry was smiling. "I brought it." He offered Severus a green glass bottle, shimmering with magic. "I used the spell to keep it fresh like you showed me."
Severus smirked and took the sample. He had the Wolfsbane base simmering on a side bench and went over and added the blood sample, watching closely as the fluids combined. The cauldron gave off a foul-smelling, greyish smoke and the potion roiled about quite dramatically, sloshing up the sides of the cauldron and making Severus step back. "No wonder he's been ill. This shouldn't happen," Severus muttered.
"Can you help him?"
Severus looked at Harry with his patented 'you're a dunderhead' look.
"Sorry. Of course you can. Shall I leave you to get on with it?" Harry grinned his cheeky grin.
"Yes. And you can make us some lunch later."
Harry left him to it.
Over their lunch of cheese and pickle sandwiches, pickled onions, crisps and beer, Harry and Severus talked. It was weird; they were both so relaxed as if they'd reached an understanding usually found only after a relationship had lasted long enough to become comfortable. Severus didn't understand why it was happening and Harry never questioned it, just happy to be in such a comfortable state.
"This cheddar is nice, Severus. Bites back," Harry said around his sandwich. "I see you're still researching."
"Yes. To pay my way I brew custom potions for several apothecaries. It gives me enough income to indulge my love of research."
"What are you researching now?"
Severus looked into Harry's curious gaze, unsure whether to answer. He's the only one who can get in, you know that. And when has he ever been untrustworthy? "I've nearly managed to make a Refilling Cauldron. Nearly is still miles away from completion, admittedly, but I hope for success."
"But I thought that was just a legend."
"So far it has been. But I believe I know how it can be done. Now it's just a process of trial and error until the formula works."
"Blimey!" Harry frankly gaped. "You'll be rich!"
"Maybe," Snape smirked. "I must admit it would be nice to be successful. But it will be something of a hollow victory, as I will have to remain anonymous. So I may just keep it to myself."
"Severus, you can't! You will be famous!"
"Do you think anyone will publish my findings? Will they acclaim my success? Do you think the Ministry would allow me to keep it?"
Harry frowned. "They have no right. You're not a criminal!"
Severus snorted. "Once a Death Eater, always a Death Eater; you know that, Harry. Anything I do can be denounced as created by the use of Dark magic if they want to. And they would want to, you can be sure of it."
Harry was getting annoyed now. "I'll do it!" he yelled, putting his sandwich down forcefully and causing it to break in two. "I mean – I'll help you. They won't be able to deny you if I announce it. I'll tell them it wasn't Dark!"
"And why would you associate yourself with me and tarnish your golden image?"
Harry reached across and held Severus' hand. "Why wouldn't I? Did you think I was going to shag you, take Remy's new potion and run?"
Severus looked a bit shifty. He had begun to think something like that. Harry knew it when he met Severus' eyes. "Oh, for Merlin's sake! I'm here now. I'm going to help you – if you want me to. And I'm going to come and visit you, a lot."
Severus felt his face warming. It was an odd feeling he took a while to recognise.
It was pleasure.
"May I do that?" Harry asked, reaching a hand out to run his fingers through Severus' wonderful hair.
Severus suddenly found himself on the edge of a future much brighter than he'd ever dared to imagine.
He decided it was time to let his hair down at last. So he said, "Yes."
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