Harry Potter, Severus Snape and all associated characters from the Harry
Potter universe are the property of J.K. Rowling. The author, and the
website maintainers, are making no profit by this story or any of the
Nettle Soup and Gooseberries
Resettlement, policy of
(see also:The Unveiling; Ministry of Magic; Late Twentieth Century Foreign Policy; Integration)
emigration procedure enacted by the Ministry of Magic in the years following
the death of Voldemort at the hands of H. Potter, dating from around 1997
and Moral Demons: Through the Ages with Simon Bagshott
It was three o'clock on a dull gray April afternoon when Severus Snape left the Ministry for the last time. The departures office was cramped, the Wizard behind the desk disinterested, and if Snape felt any regret on handing in his identification card it did not show. He declared three minor artefacts of Dark origin and swore, rather quickly and with his fingers crossed, his pledge of allegiance to the interim government. In return he received, stamped and validated, his new registration papers. Passage through the many hands of the Ministry Resettlement Department had left the paperwork blotted with blue ink and tattered, but at this point in time they were the most valuable things Snape owned.
When Snape left the Wizarding World, he carried with him his old winter cloak, his pre-shrunken and charmed library, his wand and the address of an estate agent in Buckinghamshire who specialised in the re-housing of redundant Wizards. His debriefing from the Ministry had consisted of several private interviews of the unctuous and uncomfortable variety, a worryingly slight edition of Living with Muggles (The Handbook) and a seminar on Modern Muggle Semiotics: A World View. None of the above could be said to have equipped him with any useful information, and Snape took the Ministry's promise to 'support and inform' with an experienced scepticism. Yet as he walked out of the Ministry offices (back door) Snape was conscious of feeling a curious sense of relief.
It was twenty months after the end of the war.
In Diagon Alley, the scars were evident, if one knew where to look. There were hex traces on the roof of Flourish and Blott's and bars on the windows. The terrace of Florean's, re-opened, was still stained - there was an oily and unpleasant patch in the corner by the wisteria that Snape rather thought was the last mortal remains of Goyle Senior: he could not be certain, having been rather distracted himself at the time. Bunting still clung to the lampposts and fluttered from the flagpoles, although the victory parade was long past.
There was a certain determined cheerfulness about the Wizards and Witches who had been dancing in the streets, twenty months ago, at that victory parade.
The destruction of Voldemort had not created an unreasonable utopia. The war had, however, placed the balance of power firmly in the hands of the Wizarding public (sometimes, Snape felt, directly into the hands of one over admired Hermione Granger) and the order of the day was change. In his anonymous lodgings, Snape had withstood with equanimity the visits of fifteen prospective Grand Council candidates, four canvassers for the Veteran's Association, the Wizarding Cub Scouts (meetings during the full moon to be held in secure enclosures on Dartmoor), the Society for the Abolition of Robes and the Shapechangers' League. He had survived the Charitable Committee of the Potion Master's Association ("Under what circumstances, Master Peabody, do you consider I might require anything you could conceivably offer?") and an apologetic messenger from the Ministry suggesting he might wish to attend, above all things, Potter's Order of Merlin presentation.
On the appropriate date, Snape undertook a small weekend trip to Ulaanbaatar.
It was, however, the moment when he received a note from Minerva McGonagall inviting him to return to his teaching post and mentioning as an aside that Hogwarts had in his absence become co-educational, that Snape cracked. Magical children were bad enough: but the thought of Muggle immigrants with no notion of the dangers and pitfalls of magic invading Hogwarts itself was horrifying. He turned in his application to the Ministry the very next day. Indeed, it would have been that very afternoon, were it not for the fact that some of the questions on the form had required a certain degree of consideration, if not for content then for form.
Six weeks to the day after his completion of this compendious document, Severus Snape left the Wizarding World.
For most of his life, Snape had felt set apart from his fellow Wizards. His intellect, his pride, his half-blood, his divided allegiances and necessary disguises had conspired to create a degree of displacement Snape himself had no intention of bridging. He had thus no regrets about his departure, but on this final walk through Diagon Alley, he found himself observing the society of his adult years with preternatural awareness: the colours seemed brighter, the smells sharper, the chatter and disruption sharply delineated. House Elves appeared as almost strange creatures. A casually wielded broom made him think, not of Quidditch, but of the old Muggle witch hunts of previous centuries. The sight of an owl in a cage did not remind him of the farewell letter to Minerva he had arranged to be posted on the following morning, but of egg-collecting, a pastime familiar to Snape only through the tattered children's books of his childhood. Indeed, much of Snape's knowledge of the Muggle world came from these volumes. The Ministry's scanty presentation had not mentioned trout tickling, rugby or birching, neither had plum pudding, grog nor jammy dodgers appeared amongst the list of Muggle provisions Snape had retrieved, with some difficulty, from the Department of Cultivation and Comestibles.
Snape was well aware he was moving from the familiar to the unknown.
Yet, amongst the accustomed bustle of Diagon Alley, the discordant signs of progress were clear. The lead title in the window of Flourish and Blotts was, as to be expected, a new biography of a certain celebrity Wizard: but the cover image was static and the edition paperback, published on a Muggle printing press. Indeed, purely for the purposes of comparison, Snape himself owned a copy. It was in his back pocket.
Weyland's stocked The Independent and The New York Times next to Wizard Weekly. A poster advertised opening times for the Leicester Square Cinema, and another was emblazoned with information about a new Compact Disc celebrating the career of a group of popular Wizarding musicians. Even as Snape gathered up the folds of his cloak and dragged his gaze away from the images in the bookshop window preparatory to departure, his eye was caught by a knot of small Muggle children gathered round the figure of what must surely be their teacher.
"If you look over there," she was saying. "You will see a plaque referring to Salazar Slytherin, one of the four founders of Hogwarts. George, don't point. We discussed Hogwarts in class last Tuesday, if you remember."
To the sound of, "Miss,
is that a real wand?" Snape bent his head and walked through the
Living with Muggles: Instructions for Wizards preparing for Resettlement (Ministry of Magic, London, 2000)
"Here suit you?"
"Well, yes, of course, whatever you think best, although perhaps just a little bit further to the right, my right, oh goodness me that's the shop bell again..."
Left in peace, Mr
Crudrop the joiner reached for his cordless drill (a Christmas present
from his daughter) and affixed the first of four brand new roosting poles
to the wall of the Post Office.
They missed little. A few houses, a duck pond and a small church. A village stores that remained a Post Office only through the influence of the Chief Constable of the County, who happened to live in one of the thatched cottages and disliked driving into town to pick up his parcels. The White Hart, known for its cream teas and Sunday roasts. A well kept cricket pitch. A primary school with twenty pupils that would be more expensive to close than keep open, staffed as it was by five volunteers and a headmistress close to retirement. A Village Hall where tea was served on most mornings of the week between ten and twelve, depending on the vagaries of the antiquated heating system and whether Mrs Glossop remembered to turn the urn on when she called the cats in for breakfast. A Brownie pack.
And like most villages, several ghosts, a crossroads for the burial of suicides, and a witch's cottage. It was this witch's cottage that concerned the members of the Women's Institute (Lower Westlington and Lesser Cuddington Combined branches, average age 74) on this particular morning, over tea.
It had been sold.
Living with Muggles: Instructions for Wizards preparing for Resettlement (Ministry of Magic, London, 2000)
No one knocked on his front door. His Floo was unconnected, and would remain so. Although Snape had spent the first night starting awake at every creak of wood or rustle from the garden, he heard no owls. Nor were there the shouts of young Wizards leaving The Leaky Cauldron at closing time, the deadening of sound that followed an Auror patrol sweeping up Diagon Alley, or the call of the paperboy in the morning - "Daily Prophet! Prophet!" The only disturbance was the rattle of the letterbox and the slapping of mail against the doormat, an inconvenient but regular visitation.
Snape did not open his post. He felt at this moment curiously apart, safe, as if he was living in some isolated bubble of time where the outside world with its petty cruelties and ridiculous judgments could not touch him. He left the Muggle mail where it fell, and stepped over the pile when he went to fetch wood.
It took four days to unpack and sort his books. Four days, because he restricted himself to reading only whilst he ate: there had been a loaf of bread and a pot of strawberry jam in the bag of groceries, and a pile of kindling stacked inside the garden shed. Snape had gingerly lit newspaper and held it in the grate before laying a fire, but the builders had done as requested and the chimney had been swept. He suppered on toast and breakfasted on sandwiches. On the first night, he had managed without tea, but in the morning a studious investigation of the shed had produced an ancient cauldron which, judging by the style of its fastenings, might well predate the cottage itself.
The loss of magic, although inconvenient, was less irksome than he had initially dreaded. He was no Lucius, incapable of function without the support of at least five underlings and a social secretary: he was Muggle raised, and perfectly capable of washing his own smalls in his own kitchen sink and making his own tea.
He could not miss a relationship which had only existed in the darkest corners of his own mind. He was not, emphatically not, the kind of Wizard who yearned rose in hand to be swept off his feet by some idealised swain, no doubt in order to settle down in bucolic bliss and raise chickens. Barefoot and pregnant, in all probability. Arrant nonsense.
Thus, until the fifth morning, he would have counted himself the most contented Wizard in the British Isles.
On the fifth morning, he ran out of milk.
The end of the loaf proved to be stale.
He ate the single remaining orange for breakfast, and studied the list of Muggle provisions provided by the Ministry. Some were immediately recognisable - chocolate, for example, appeared to be a universal concept - but the list of suppliers beneath were unfamiliar. "Terry's," Snape said aloud, experimentally. The sound of his own voice was startlingly loud. "Cadbury's. Fry's." He waited a moment or two, but nothing happened. Indeed, he hardly expected anything so to do, devoid as he was of the services of a House Elf. "Cheese. Bacon. Eggs."
'Free range? Organic?' questioned the provision list.
"Poached," Snape said.
At Hogwarts, there had been poached eggs on Thursdays, with whole-wheat toast and unsalted butter. Snape sighed. "Bread."
'Whole-wheat? Rye? Soda? Sliced? Buttermilk...?'
He crumpled the list up and threw it in the dustbin. He had sworn an oath to recant his magic: he could hardly summon his provisions in by owl. The Handbook had mentioned patisserie, Californian sushi and the static nature of Muggle menus: it had not mentioned potatoes or tea.
It was at this point
that the doorbell rang. Snape, rattled, answered. Uniforms were not one
of his better memories: it was in a state of undone composure that he
signed for seventeen letters, two small parcels and a positive library
of brightly coloured circulars.
But Miss West was more enthusiastic: "They made such a difference to our dear Queen's birthday. The robes in the procession were just glorious, all shades of red and gold, and one that was bright purple with pink spots! And the gentleman that wore it looked so charming as well, just the sort of person you'd want to invite for tea. Lillian, you did watch the news?"
"Then the new stock came in. I tell you, it's made such a difference, all different kinds of biscuits and, my dear, the sweets have to be seen to be believed. Bertie Bott's allsorts, not liquorice at all, and the most unusual flavours."
A perennial quiet war existed between June Cartwright's Lesser Cuddington greengrocers and Mrs Boyce's Post Office Stores. Lillian Boyce had been most perturbed to hear that June was stocking Wizarding supplies: June herself felt that at long last she had the opportunity to upstage her rival. Sales were good.
Mrs De Hauvre said, "Do have another almond slice."
From the second table, "Another letter from William. He says the maples look glorious in October, and when am I coming over? Well, I don't know if my legs are up to it, but..."
But Mrs West would not drop the subject. "It's not as if they make themselves obvious. Hannah says she saw one in Sainsbury's, but the only reason she knew was because when she asked the time he told her she'd left the oven on."
"And it's not as if they're making a nuisance of themselves, taking jobs away from..."
"It's hard to believe Stuart graduates this year. Do you remember when they came over, and he was so frightened of the cows we had to put a sheet over the gate?"
"You were still in Stanton Lane then, weren't you? Next to the cottage." There was no need to explain to which cottage Mrs Glossop referred.
Mrs Boyce looked up. "There were lights last night in the bedroom window, when I let our Betsy out."
"I caught a glimpse of someone in the kitchen this morning. All dressed in black, just like those youngsters outside the Civic Centre up town." Mrs Brandon frowned over her cup of tea, for her own grandchildren were growing up in New York and she had no idea if their sartorial choices were limited to black or Kennedy pink.
"It could be one of those wizards."
There was a contemplative silence, haunted by the shared memory of Mrs Isla Hitchens who had been, sixty years ago, a robust and terrifying figure to the village youth.
Mrs De Hauvre cleared her throat and confessed, " I had a letter from Margaret Rose the other day," she said. "Twenty years, she's been married to that Oliver. It's only now she tells me ... he's one of them."
In the silence, a
teacup rattled on its saucer.
Make the pastry.
Sift the flour into a bowl. Add the butter and rub in with your fingertips
until the mix resembles breadcrumbs. Add the egg yolk and enough cold
water to make a firm dough. Chill for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat
the oven to 180°C/gas 4 and butter a 30 x 23cm swiss roll tin.
Mrs Boyce of the Lower Westlington Post Office Stores sold coffee, and biscuits, and slices of homemade fruitcake. She had a whole rack of sweets in bottles and a freezer full of ice-cream: a stand of produce from the small-holding down the road and several shelves of washing powder, kitchen roll and tins of soup. For the few summer tourists, she had three dusty beachballs and a collection of postcards that dated to 1983. Mrs Boyce herself appeared on one of these, seen from the back and with a permanent wave that rendered her nigh on unrecognisable.
On Thursday mornings, Mrs Boyce was driven into the big warehouse on the outskirts of town and came back with the week's supplies: ask her on a Wednesday, and she'd add requests to the list. It was that kind of a shop, and it had been that kind of shop since Mrs Boyce's grandmother had opened up her living room just after the First World War. The opening of the big supermarkets had simply allowed diversification: where once she'd stored pounds of sugar, Mrs Bryce stocked organic box deliveries; where she'd stacked, with distaste, Mr Kipling's Bakewell Tarts now she had Turkish delicacies, provided every Sunday by Azize, the second wife of one of the farmers who had an amazingly light touch with pastry. She opened late on Fridays and, given notice, would provide a pair of well-hung pheasants ready drawn with no questions asked.
She did not stock buckthorn juice. Nor did she stock McGillicrant's oatcakes or Honeyduke's hazelnut chocolate. In fact, were it not obvious that the gentleman standing in the middle of the Post Office Stores was indubitably British - and of a peculiarly phlegmatic British type as well - this particular conversation would have resembled nothing more than her own attempt to obtain Typhoo Tea in Alicante, the only occasion on which Mrs Boyce had ventured abroad. She was far more inclined to experience to wonders of the world from her own sofa.
Indeed, the thought of a nice cup of tea was the only thing sustaining her through an increasingly surreal conversation. It had started well enough - she did stock eggs, bread, coffee, milk, porridge oats and indeed golden syrup to fortify said porridge: she'd had no problems with vegetables or fruit. But Ogden's whiskey? Lotus root? Nettle tea? Mrs Boyce blinked, and shook her head. It was not even as if she could offer to retrieve any of these items from the cash and carry, for Mrs Boyce was rapidly coming to the conclusion that, firstly, none of them would be carried in stock, and, secondly and most distressingly the man standing in front of her was not human.
Was indeed, one of them.
It was not just the hooked nose and the long hair, which did indeed remind Mrs Boyce rather vividly of the cutout profiles of faces seen on Halloween chocolate. Nor the enveloping, dressing-gown-like clothing, for Mrs Boyce did have great-nieces and was therefore hardened to astonishing varieties of material self-expression. But when the man produced his list, written not on the back of an envelope but on a roll of thick paper; when he frowned at the Nescafe as if he'd never seen it before; when he read out "Sliced loaf, ordinary" and looked at her as if she could levitate it to the counter - then she began to feel uneasy. By the time they'd moved onto the oatcakes she was almost sure that what she was dealing with was in fact a wizard.
They had been right. The cottage was occupied: the occupant was standing right in front of her.
Indeed, for a wizard, he looked astonishingly real.
Rather too real. He was tall, and Mrs Boyce was not. His voice was deep and pitched as if he was accustomed to public speaking. The dressing-gown affair he wore was both bulky and black: the sleeves of it brushed the tins of soup on one side of the shelves and the washing powder on the other. Were it not for the patch on his boots and the way he frowned over his list, obviously groping for some sort of explanation both of them would understand, Mrs Boyce would have found the creature well-nigh intimidating.
On the television, they looked smaller, and rather further away.
She spoke a little louder, pronounced her words carefully, and made no quick movements. "I don't have any oat-cakes. But I do have cheese-biscuits - just over there, in the corner." She had no idea if a discussion on the relative merits of crackers, water biscuits or French toast would be intelligible: she thought it safer not to mention anything.
"Very well," said the wizard. He added a packet to the small pile on the counter. "Apples..?" He said it as if she might not know what they were.
"Behind you." She stocked several different varieties, all local: in April, it was the sweet little Ribston Pippins and D'Arcy Spice. The wizard took his time choosing, back to the counter, and Mrs Boyce took the time to wrap the leeks and the Jerusalem Artichokes, her hands a little clumsy with tension and her eyes on that black-clothed back. It was a thin back, with the cloth stretched over it, and she could see the outline of the man's spine as if he'd not been eating well.
She had distracted herself. The bag slipped, and fell to the floor: leeks thudded against the formica of the counter and rolled to the floor, and as if the air-raid sirens had sounded, the wizard started to his feet and swung round, coat flaring. His hands were raised and clawed and the expression on his face was terrifying, a silent scream.
They both froze.
Mrs Boyce had had a great uncle who had fought in the First World War, and she was not an unintelligent or unperceptive woman. It had been the Wizarding War which revealed magic to ordinary people: a vicious and small war which she'd read about as if it was trouble in the Balkans, but for this man, quite clearly, it had been real.
"Are you all right?" she blurted out.
The wizard's face changed. The fear was gone: in its place, swift as if the disguise was so accustomed he no longer had to think about it, came pure arrogance. He stood straighter, and lowered his hands as if the gesture had been deliberate.
But the pause was too long, and the silence heavy with questions unsaid.
"I can get the boy to deliver," Lillian Boyce said. "You can pay for it later, it'll be fine, I do know where you live-"
And that too had been the wrong thing to say. She could see his hand start to shake, and tighten.
"It's a village," she ended weakly.
He managed a nod, stiff. And then a handful of notes and change, uncounted, fumbled onto the counter - and was gone.
The door swung slowly back into place behind him. He'd left the list: it was curling back into its roll, on the floor.
Living with Muggles: Instructions for Wizards preparing for Resettlement (Ministry of Magic, London, 2000)
Snape spent the rest of the day in the garden. There, he didn't have to think about the mess he'd made of his first Muggle transaction for thirty years, or the woman behind the counter who knew who he was, or what he was eating for dinner. Or the post, unopened he pruned the plum tree, and the espaliered cherries, and turned the accumulation of rotted leaves against the garden wall into the soil. When he'd finished it was late afternoon, and the garden looked almost as someone was beginning to care.
He was filthy, but it was honest sweat and garden dirt, and it would wash away.
When the doorbell rang he was in the bath. It was an old-fashioned doorbell of the clanging variety: it startled Snape out of the warm water (a jam saucepan and three cauldron-fulls) and into his oldest, ragged robe before the echoes had ceased. He tiptoed down the stairs and cursed the lack of an Appareo Foras: his wand was, however foresworn, in his hand. In the hallway he counted his own heartbeats, standing perfectly still - twenty, twenty-one and the doorbell went again -
"I am not a coward," he told himself, and opened the door.
On the doorstep, peering up at him from under a messy fringe and wearing an exceedingly rumpled shirt, Potter.
Snape slammed the door shut.
It was a stab to the heart, a low blow to his stomach: he was left weak-kneed and reeling. He was too old for this, this unwelcome and frightening sense of recognition, this instant and terrifying desire for a boy half his age. He had fought and won this war already and thought it forgotten embers, but here where he had thought himself safe the shock of it nearly brought him to his knees. There was no reason for Potter to hunt him down, to know where he lived, or attempt to invade the privacy of Snape's own house. Of all the things he had left the Wizarding World to escape, Potter came high on the list. The impulse to incinerate the boy on the doorstep...
For what crime? For shredding Snape's hard won composure? For making Snape remember in a sickening lurch of his internal organs, that he was a man and thus subject to the inexplicable desires of his flesh and not just a renounced Wizard, gender indeterminate and age irrelevant? For making Snape question once again his own actions and motivations?
Incendio would leave Snape facing the same witch-hunt he had survived by the skin of his teeth and Dumbledore's prescient grace, two years ago. He could not, would not, survive. He breathed. Twenty-nine. Thirty. He had faced worse.
"I am not a coward," he told himself, and opened the door.
Potter said, horrifyingly,
"Hello." As if it was some pathetic variety of explanation or
excuse, he held up a small white card, and blinked. He needed new glasses.
"I'm your Muggle Liaison Officer."
The writing on the list was black and distinctive. It reminded Lillian Boyce of the copperplate taught, many years ago, in her schooldays; but it was far more legible than her old Headmaster's scrawl. She recognised some of the entries, made guesses at others, and pulled together a bag of food.
It was when she came to the wizard's request for nettle tea that she stopped, and took a deep breath. Her grandmother had sworn by nettle tea, in spring: it was nutritious, blood cleansing, and good for the heart. When Lillian herself had lost her beloved Bert, far too early in life, it was her grandmother's brew that had sustained both of them through sleepless nights and empty days.
She had no dried leaf to hand. But she did have an overgrown back garden and a stout pair of gloves.
It was seven o'clock and dark once she had done. Half way across the village green with the earthenware crock clasped in both hands and a heavy bag of shopping swung from one wrist, she began to wonder if this was the wisest decision she'd ever made.
'Lillian Boyce. You're going to see a strange man, in the dark. A wizard. A wizard who could be making spells out of your sucked-dry bones, this time tomorrow; a chancy and wounded wizard, like Great-Uncle William, although this one doesn't look like the kind of man who hides under the table when a car backfires on the street '
She was walking up the path to the cottage. Mrs Hitchens' cottage, where the cats had sat on the rooftree and stared at the children on their way to school, where Mrs Hitchens never scrubbed her doorstep and swore at the milkman.
She hadn't even told anyone where she was going. 'You are a fool, Lillian, just like your mother told you.'
But she kept walking, and she had raised her hand to the doorbell, when the door opened in front of her.
Slammed open. Rebounded from the porch, slammed again: she was knocked sideways and spun round by an untidy figure, a young man, running out of the hallway. Untidy clothes, untidy hair, all elbows and knees like a teenage footballer. He hit the door, stumbled into the crock of soup, spun away and was gone up the pathway in a glint of lenses and ruffled hair. The bowl slipped, and the shopping bag burst: soup splashed onto the paving slabs and over the oranges, the flour, the bottle of dandelion and burdock. The biscuits, crumbling into digestive mush; the leeks, the apples, bruised; the pad of paper and the milk, carton split
Lillian Boyce could have cried. She couldn't move. Her dress and apron were soaked, her shoes wet, and from the open doorway came the sound of a voice, cracked and shouting -
"Murder! You ignorant child, what about Sirius Black? Percy Wea-"
It was the wizard. The hallway was dark, and he came out of it like an agent of Satan, winged in a black coat, face distorted, hair flying, furious -
'Lillian Boyce. He'll
grind your bones for bread.'
She opened her eyes.
The floor was clean. There was no trace of the soup or the milk: the vegetables were stacked neatly and the flour re-bagged as if the packet had never torn. The biscuits were whole, the apples unbruised. Her dress was dry and her shoes sparkling.
Opposite her, the wizard was not mouthing incantations. He was instead standing completely still, his eyes closed and his face tilted sideways. He was ... sniffing the air.
She was too astonished to run.
He didn't have the face of a demon. His nose was large. The lines on his face were deep, and dragged at the edges of his mouth. There were mottled grey shadows under his eyes, and his skin was fragile and pale. He looked tired, and old, older than he had seemed when he had stood in her shop and fumbled with his shopping list.
When he spoke, the words were soft, and almost wistful.
"My mother made nettle soup," he said. "In spring. I had forgotten."
"It's my grandmother's recipe," Lillian Boyce said. "I didn't have any tea leaf. But camomile might-"
"I have a little
left," the wizard said. He opened his eyes. "It's good tea.
Would you like a cup, before the Ministry comes?"
the peeled, chopped potatoes for 10 mins
In the morning, the postman brought seven brown letters, two white, and one large pink envelope which told Snape point-blank, 'Remember your death may benefit others! Take out..."
Disregarding the instructions of The Handbook, Snape incinerated that letter in the embers of his living room fire. The remainder he added to the pile that now rested on the sideboard, still unopened. He was starting to wonder if he should do something about the post - read it, perhaps? But he was still disturbed, shakier than he would have wished to be, despite the previous night's three cups of camomile tea and a soothing discussion about the appropriate use of nettle leaf and elderberries. He found himself snatching a glance over his shoulder, as if Harry Potter might still be standing in his kitchen asking him with stubborn and wilful cruelty to explain inescapable choices and unbreakable promises.
The room was empty and the doorstep unoccupied.
He felt pursued. But he was not leaving: this was his house, his in a way Spinner's End had never been, and dammed if he was going to run this time.
Snape spent the rest of the day clearing the front garden.
labour soothed. He had little to go on but his own memories of dried leaves
and botany textbooks, yet the garden seemed to come to life under his
fingers: clearing the sticky mass of goosegrass over the hedges revealed
sturdy flowering annuals, and the leaf-drifted pathway was lined with
heathers and alpines. There were rosebushes against the garden shed and
the remains of a rock garden in front of the dining room window. Snape
stripped out eight rubbish sacks of overgrown natives and two golf balls:
a washing up bowl with a hole in it and a battered shoe, unlaced. He might
have a lawn, somewhere behind the nettles.
"And in Manchester. They have their own shops."
"You can only see the windows if you're one of them. They use secret passwords."
"And there's a telephone in the Prime Minister's office. It's only for their headquarters, that Ministry."
"There's a picture of one of them in the Mirror. It made me shudder - he looked evil."
"And what about that war? How do we know they were on the right side? Suppose they're lying to us?"
"You wouldn't know, would you? The Mail says they've got spells to read your mind "
"Maybe they can make you do things. Things you don't want to do."
A collective shudder
shook the bridge table around which the ladies were gathered. Although
there were six or seven tables set up in the village hall, there was only
one group, and it was worried. It had several cooling cups of tea, and
a sheaf of newspapers, and a letter from the Buckinghamshire County Council
Housing Department (Magical Division).
Dear Mrs Brandon.
Thank you for your enquiry.
to inform you that there is no central register of Witches and Wizards
currently resident in the village of Lower Westlington. Under the Data
Protection Act of 1998 we are unable
At the tea urn (it was her turn on Monday mornings: there was a note on the Post Office door) Mrs Boyce was keeping an unaccustomed silence. Her blood was not boiled and her mind, she was reasonably sure, was as intact as a woman of her age should expect. She had spent a very pleasant evening discussing recipes and - what was the word? Potions? Although the notebook Professor Snape had produced looked very similar to her grandmother's recipe book, even if some of the ingredients had been a little odd.
Listening to the ladies of the W.I. (although this morning was not of course, a formal meeting, those were held on the second Tuesday of every month and not only cake but sandwiches and quiche were served) she was not entirely certain that they were thinking of the same kind of people. Professor Snape, although indeed forbidding at first, had not behaved at all like the sort of man who broiled babies for breakfast. He served a fine cup of tea and had been most courteously grateful when she'd explained the workings of the kettle (how on earth did they boil water, in what he called the Wizarding World? She must remember to ask).
He had a photograph of his mother on the mantelpiece, and one of his old colleagues from the school where he'd taught before retirement.
It had been dark when she'd walked across the village green, and none of the ladies could know where she'd spent her evening. But Mrs Boyce could not help but think that Mrs Glossop would have had something to say about her son-in-law being described as godforsaken (he was, she seemed to recall, a rather devout Wesleyan) or a danger to his children (he had four, and a nicer group of youngsters, her own great-nieces excepted, she had yet to meet). Miss West would have undoubtedly taken issue with dressed like a tramp, and June Cartwright would have had something to say about eating out of cauldrons and keeping coal in the bath.
In all her seventy-three years of life, Mrs Boyce had seldom found herself contradicting her friends and neighbours. Oh, there was the issue of the stolen rhubarb, and the Italian prisoner of war (strange to think it must be all of fifty-six years since Doreen married) and June's greengrocers, and the perennial small misunderstandings over exactly who was decorating the altar for harvest festival, but in general they got along very well indeed. Now, for very nearly the first time in her life, she found herself considering contradiction. She was exceedingly doubtful that Professor Snape was plotting to overthrow the government or even interested in raising taxes: he had really been remarkably friendly for a man who was clearly accustomed to keeping himself to himself, and it was about time she said so.
But just as she was drying up the last coffee cup, someone else did say something, quite sharply. It was June Cartwright, who must have been listening to the conversation from the porch, for Mrs Boyce had not seen her arrive.
"Should be ashamed of yourselves. They're people just like us. It was just the same with the immigrants - do you really want to see Azize Aldridge deported? These Wizards have been living with us for at least five centuries, as far as I can see, and never a hint of trouble - unlike some people I can mention."
That would be Mrs Parslow's Tom, then.
"And I for one would really like to meet one of them. Anybody who can produce chocolate frogs that move has got to have a sense of humour."
"Me too," Mrs Boyce said.
Heads swivelled. June looked shocked: they'd managed to avoid speaking since she'd opened the greengrocer's.
"In fact," Mrs Boyce said. "I had tea with the wizard who moved into the cottage last night. He left me a list of groceries - June, can I ask you about some of these?"
Maybe it wasn't strictly true that he'd left her the list. But she had it in her pocket, in the hope that June would be over this morning, and she did pride herself on being able to get everything she was asked for, just like her grandmother.
There was a long pause.
said. "Of course." Then she said. "You can exchange money,
can't you? I've been having problems
As well as the various branches of Gringotts now sited in many of the larger towns and cities, most banks and post offices will change Wizarding money into local currency. Exchange rates are generally shown beside the appropriate counter. Be cautious in dealing with either Muggle or Wizarding individuals who offer to exchange money 'round the corner'.
"Hello," Harry Potter said.
Snape shut the door in his face.
He had hoped Potter would have realised civility was not an option, turned in his report, and gone to bother some other overburdened and aged Wizard.
It had indeed been in the contract, and he had signed. Assistance will be provided where necessary by designated officers of the Ministry of Magic. Snape had not given the clause much thought, at the time. He had been far more concerned with the loss of his magic - and indeed, whether the Ministry would detect the fact that he'd reversed the charm placed on his wand, which was supposed to detect and record any spell cast with it - than the Resettlement Department's vague reassurances of assistance. Support and inform, indeed. Somewhere along the line, someone had failed to inform him that the clause was personal.
Personal enough to insult him in his own kitchen.
And, unless he wished to return to the Wizarding World with another publicly broken oath behind him, a target once again both for the unconvinced and the dregs of Voldemort's supporters, it was an irrevocable connection.
There was nothing Potter could say that Voldemort had not said before him, and even as Snape had no recourse to the protection of magic: so too was Potter handicapped. He could hardly go bleating to the Prophet, for by that very contract Snape was no longer a matter of public interest in the Wizarding World. He had been promised anonymity. He had imagined his own house, his own garden: with no canvassers, no demands and no furtive messages from battered and cowed owls, and so far this was indeed what he had. If Potter in all his untouchable, arrogant youth was the price he had to pay to get it, then he would pay.
There was nothing to say he could not set his own conditions. Indeed, he had prepared for this very moment.
Snape re-opened the door.
Potter was still standing on his doorstep. His fringe still flopped over his eyes, his robe was again dishevelled, and he held a small piece of white cardboard in his hand.
"Can't you read?" Snape asked. He pointed to the new and neatly lettered sign by the door, which read, 'Absolutely No Hawkers, Owls or Wizards, except by appointment and between the hours of 5.12 - 5.17 am.'
Potter shrugged. "You don't get to choose your assistant, you know."
"I was made well aware of that yesterday evening," Snape said. "If you recall. But I'll thank you to note that I am perfectly capable of managing my own affairs without your assistance."
"Afraid you're stuck with me for a bit," Potter said, far more cheerfully than he had any right so to do. "I'll see you this time tomorrow. Just to check you're OK."
And Apparated, leaving Snape staring at the doormat, on which rested the small white card. It bore the new Ministry logo, Harry Potter's name, and a telephone number.
Snape did not sleep well.
In fact, when Snape did wake, miserably unrested and aware that he would have to negotiation the question of supplies once again, he awoke to what was the worst day yet of his emigration.
The postman had brought three new brown envelopes, all of which were addressed to "S. Snape, Esq.' And bore the comment, 'Open immediately. This is not a circular.' Also several brightly coloured leaflets which suggested Snape should sign up for a bewildering variety of audiovisual enhancements, try Pears' New Luxury Conditioner or purchase his evening meals from The New Dawn Kitchen (Magical Specials!). The taps ran dry, and investigation showed that the water tank had been drained and was refusing to fill. The old well in the garden appeared to have been used as a depository for several generations of gardening equipment. Worse, when Snape gingerly flicked the light switch in the pantry, nothing happened.
The half-full Muggle kettle did not light up when switched on, or warm, or make the grumbling noises in its innards that suggested it was preparing to produce hot water.
The boiler which had heated his bathwater so neatly last night - not quite as quick as a warming spell, but considerably quicker than heating three cauldrons of water over the living room fire - also refused to co-operate.
When he started to fork over the newly cleared flowerbeds, he discovered a Borgian Viperwort lurking in the recesses of his hedge. Poked with a stick, it hissed, and spat, and although not old enough yet to produce venom was too well grown to grind underfoot. There were children who walked past the hedge on the way to the school bus, Snape had heard them chattering in the morning. It would have to be removed.
The Post Office was closed. "Gone to Cash and Carry," the sign read. "Back later." Snape had been conscious of curtains twitching as he walked over the village green, and the bench by the pond was conspicuously empty.
He felt utterly exasperated with himself. He was not without resource; he had survived the first war and the second with all his limbs intact; he had emerged sane from what must be one of the most demanding teaching jobs in the Wizarding World. His honour was more than spotted, but the Snapes had never been a Wizarding Name. He'd done what he promised.
But The Ministry had not censored him over the Nettle Soup incident. He'd been fully expecting the arrival of an Auror within fifteen minutes, but had not even seen an owl, let alone received one. He'd been told the wand charm (for his own safety, of course: Voldemort had said much the same about the eavesdropping charms) would continue for at least a year, and very probably longer given his 'exceptional circumstances', but, if he was discreet He would not think about Potter, for the thought of having to ask for help was ridiculous.
Caught with a wand in his hand, facing a plant that was classed as dangerous fauna, (and was indeed useless for the creation of any potion) his defence was almost assured. Snape eased his wand from his sleeve.
"I wouldn't do that if I were you."
Of all voices, it was the one he least wished to hear. Conditions had been made plain, although Snape had been hoping to be firmly asleep and preferably snoring at that point. He let his arm drop, but did not replace the wand.
"They let you slip up. Once. Then they call you in for reassessment and reducation. Realignment to Muggle norms."
He turned round. Potter was leaning on his garden gate, looking absurdly schoolboyish in a duffle coat and scarf.
"I could have told you that."
"Was that before or after you asked me to relive Dumbledore's murder?" Snape asked.
Unexpectedly, Potter blushed. The colour was uneven and blotched across the rounded curves of his cheeks, as if he'd just come off the Quidditch pitch. It didn't suit him.
"I didn't mean to-"
"Oh, you did," Snape said. He sighed. "Potter-"
"Your electricity's been cut off," Potter said, quickly, resolute. "And your water. It's nothing you can't fix with a couple of calls, but you didn't get the line reconnected, did you?"
"Certainly not," Snape said. "If I wished to have callers at all times of the day and night, I am perfectly capable of arranging Floo-"
"Not the Floo," Potter said. "The telephone."
Behind Snape, the Borgian Viperwort hissed.
"Oh, shut up!" Snape said, turning, but before he could incinerate the thing and cast himself back into the Ministry's seminar rooms Potter's Stasis immobilised it mid-lunge.
"And you've Creeping Knotgrass in your pond," Potter said apologetically. "Neville and I had a look before you moved in."
"You did WHAT?"
Potter shrugged. "It's part of the contract," he said. "I'm your-"
"Yes. I know," Snape said. He supposed it could have been worse. And Potter was at least raised Muggle: he must have some idea of what he was doing, or he wouldn't have got the job.
"Don't touch anything," he said. "Utter a single unnecessary word and I'll hex you six ways from Saturday, Ministry be dammed. And I've no food."
"I have," Potter said. "I thought I'd put it on account. And did you know that woman from the Post Office came back with a box full of Honeyduke's specials?"
He waited, head on one side. Odd to note, that in three years the resemblance to his father had nearly vanished.
better come in," Snape said. Slowly. He walked to the door, and held
it open. Potter was no more than two feet behind. "And wipe your
"And precisely why should I wish to vote for the Muggle parliament?"
"Suppose it's your vote that tips the balance? Do you really want what you say not to matter?"
"Straight from the mouth of Granger. And why should I add your name?"
"Hermione, please. And I'm here, aren't I?"
"Regrettably," Snape said. "Is that kettle working yet-"
"There's someone-" Potter's nerves must be even more on edge than Snape thought. He was standing, wand in hand, a second before the knock.
"Are you expecting anyone?"
"No," Snape said. "Are you?"
"Why should-" But incautious as ever, Potter had already reached for the handle.
Standing outside was a woman neither of them had ever seen before. A small woman, rather plump, with a pudding dish covered in silver foil and a strained expression.
"I didn't mean to disturb you," she said, her eyes flicking between Potter, standing (he had grown: his shoulders were distinctly broader and he'd gained a couple of inches) and Snape, pen in hand. "It's just that-"
And she burst into tears.
Snape dropped his head in his hands. Potter, ridiculously self-possessed, sat the woman down, provided a large clean handkerchief, and rescued the pudding dish.
By the time Snape had finished the form and sealed the envelope, adding it to the pile of completed paperwork that would catch the first post, she was nearly coherent and clutching a sweetened cup of Snape's new Earl Grey tea.
"She was the sweetest little girl. And then to discover-" She looked up, at Snape. "You can have my blood if you want," she said, "but tell me the children will be all right."
Potter said, "I think we've missed some introductions. I'm Harry. He's Severus. Neither of us are given to blood sucking, although Severus makes a very good vampire at Halloween. You're ?"
"Cynthia. Cynthia De Hauvre." She sniffed.
"And I think I've got this right. Your daughter's married a Wizard?"
"She wrote six days ago. I've been so worried, I haven't been able to sleep."
"And you didn't ask her? No, scratch that. You thought you'd come round and ask?"
"Well, Lillian said - and she brought soup, so I thought I'd - it's only frozen gooseberries, but that'll be-"
Snape said, "I
can assure you that both of us prefer gooseberries to violence. It's just
what the evening lacked. Harry, could you get some dishes? I'm sure you
know where they are. And Mrs de Hauvre, as you've been so kind as to bring
us a welcoming present, would you be even kinder and serve?"
Beeton's GOOSEBERRY FOOL
"I think it's time you went home," Snape said.
Potter turned round. "But I'll only have to be back in six hours or so. Why don't I crash on the sofa?"
Snape was speechless.
"There's a couple of sleeping bags in the airing cupboard. And I don't snore. Besides, I'm still not certain the central heating's working - suppose the pipes burst in the middle of the night? Which would you rather, four hours of mopping up or a Draught Charm?"
Snape's house was nice. Not nice in a Weasley kind of way - Snape was far more tidy and far less noisy, and besides, there was only one of him - nor in a Malfoy fashion. Lucius' Florida villa came complete with two swimming pools and more bathrooms than bedrooms, but Harry guessed Snape wouldn't be seen dead in a bathing costume.
Which was a shame, really.
No. It was something about the atmosphere - the low ceilings and the little, leaded-pane windows: the white-washed kitchen with the big Aga (he must have a go at clearing out the flue tomorrow) and the pokey little bedrooms under the eaves. And the books. Snape had of course put them in the nicest room in the house, and the big desk by the patio doors was perfect for writing, and other things too. Snape had an old-fashioned green desk light (he must get that wired and plugged in tomorrow, Snape would like that), and a leather-bound blotter, and acres, positively acres, of polished mahogany. The edges were recessed and deep enough to grip with comfort.
Although Harry suspected Snape really had bought the desk to work on.
It hadn't been a good start. He hadn't meant to mention Dumbledore. He hadn't meant to get personal at all: he'd laid it all out, in his mind. Snape would be fumbling, uncertain: the man hadn't been without magic since he'd gone to Hogwarts. That little agreement with Relocation about the electric bill and the water should have left him helpless. Harry would have descended like a rescuing angel, wand to the ready, and in some unspecified miracle of gratitude Snape would have fallen into his arms and been carried off to bed. Now that Harry did have imagined in every detail. In fact, in several scenarios.
Instead the man had taken up gardening, made friends with the village shopkeeper, and boiled tea over the fire like some medieval cottager. Harry himself had said things he sincerely regretted and knew to be untrue. Somehow, he'd expected the eighteen months he himself had had to reassess Snape's courage and his allegiances to change Snape too. But Snape was still irascible, sarcastic and demanding, and that first encounter in the kitchen had been a horrific explosion of words that should never have been said.
It had, however, confirmed that Snape still stirred Harry's cock as no other man had ever done. And Snape had not been unpleasant, tonight. Challenging, combative: but willing to meet Harry on equal ground. He'd been dryly acute and more than amusing on the interim Wizarding Parliament, for all he was a week out of date on the gossip. And with Mrs de Hauvre, he'd been urbane and hospitable. Unexpectedly Harry had been reminded of Snape's fierce loyalty to his House.
It would never be dull, to be Snape's lover. If he could manage it.
Smiling, Harry tucked
the sleeping bag up to his chin, and went to sleep.
"They'll be inviting their friends. Taking over."
"The Mail said they're going to get their own MPs. They've got their own government - what do they want ours for?"
"They'll be breeding next. You watch my words."
Mrs Boyce put the
teapot down on the table with a thump. "That's Mr. Harry Potter and
Professor Severus Snape you're talking about," she said. "And
a nicer pair of gentlemen I have yet to meet. Dorothy Elizabeth Atkinson,
you should be ashamed of yourself. I haven't heard such rubbish since
you told me Georgie Tatterstall kissed you behind the cricket pavilion
- and he going steady with that nice girl from the Home Farm. What's more,"
Mrs Boyce said. "That Professor Snape's doing wonders with his garden.
Another word from you and I'll start to think you want us to loose the
Blooming Village award."
Snape slept curled up, his hand under the pillow: Harry would lay a five-galleon bet it held his wand. His hair fanned out on the pillow, fine as a crup's fur, and in sleep the shadows under his eyes were less pronounced and his mouth soft.
He'd never be a handsome man. But Harry had had handsome, and pretty, and boyish; he'd paid his dues in the bars of both Wizard and Muggle London. It was Snape Harry wanted, at this moment. Snape's courage, his intelligence. His hands, and the long curve of his back, and the strength of his thighs. Snape, Harry wanted to open up like a Chinese puzzle.
'Wake up and see me,' Harry thought, and Snape did.
For one horrible moment, Harry thought the man did not know where he was. Although his eyes had snapped open, they were narrowed, glaring at the doorway where Harry stood. The line of his mouth was suddenly straight and the corners pulled in: his expression promised vituperative comment.
"It's morning," Harry said, softly.
Snape rolled over and stared at the ceiling. He said nothing: Harry, fascinated, watched the colour run up the line of his cheekbones.
"You did say," Harry said.
"Go away, Potter," Snape said. But he said it slowly, almost reluctantly, and Harry could feel his own grin spread, unexpected and warm. Because he recognised that look, for all Snape was directing it at the ceiling: he knew that tone in a man's voice, and if Severus Snape was not waking up with a stiffie that had Harry's name on it his surname wasn't Potter.
He could push the
issue. But he didn't: he unpeeled himself from the doorframe and tiptoed
downstairs, with a delicious sense of anticipation tightening his gut
and shortening his breath.
"Why did you sign up?" Harry asked. He was on his knees on the slabs of the pantry, plumbing in the washing machine. From behind, the curve of his arse was the exact shape of a ripe peach, a beauty Snape tried hard to see in the abstract.
Yesterday, he'd have said, 'What business is it of yours?' And meant it. But once Harry had unblocked the sink, cleaned out the well, and scrubbed down the outhouse toilet, there was very little of Snape's that wasn't Harry's business. The boy worked, and had a native intelligence which applied in the appropriate direction - dousing for pipelines, for example - was really quite impressive. He used his magic sparingly, too, as if he did not wish to underline Snape's lack of it.
Were it not for the occasional moments when Harry's gaze seemed brighter than usual, almost anticipatory, Snape could have become accustomed to his presence. But there were those moments Harry leaning back against the wall of the shed, smiling with his eyelashes down and heart-breakingly soft against the smooth skin of his cheeks. Harry leaning his shoulder companionably against Snape's own as they unscrewed the old radiators.
'He's twenty-three years old, Severus, and you're well over forty.'
It did not stop the slow simmer of desire that had kept him on edge all day. Harry in the morning, tousled and soft with sleep, beautiful as a chorister at St. John Don Bosco's untouchable. It didn't help that Snape knew well he'd never felt the faintest desire to bugger any other schoolboy - with the possible exception of Regulus Black when both of them were underage - Harry was still over twenty years his junior, and that made Snape an exceedingly dirty old man indeed.
He laid his pen down. "I was born Muggle," Snape said. For a moment, he could almost smell Spinner's End as it had been in his father's day: boiled cabbage and coal dust, for all his mother had scrubbed down the flagstones and made his father undress at the back door. "And when I did learn magic it was not for the best of reasons." He'd never known if Black Jamie had recovered from the scrofula hex: he was only too grateful to get home from school undamaged. "Consider what I have done."
Harry wiggled out from the corner and sat back on his heels. "You had your reasons," he said. "It took me long enough-"
Snape's upraised finger stopped the words. Remarkable. "Harry. I am not a young man, and the choices I made when I was your age are not the choices I would make now. There is a limit to the number of stares and comments I will tolerate. My skills have always been directed to the darker magics, and I am too old to change. I could no more learn to teach Muggle children than I could " He stopped. "Learn to fly a kite."
Harry fiddled with the spanner in his hands, looking down. "Do you truly think you're that old?" he asked. "You're what, forty? Forty-two? It's nothing. Even in Muggle terms "
Snape laughed, an unexpected snort of humour. "Said from your perspective."
"Well from where
I am it's not that much of an issue," Harry said sharply. He put
the spanner down. "Look, I'm not going to get this finished today.
I'm going to get showered. Do you fancy going out for a walk after tea?"
"What is it, dear?" Mr Brandon asked, with more than a little reluctance. He was quite comfortable by the gas fire, and the cat was asleep in his lap.
"It's those wizards - the ones from the cottage? They're out on the green."
"They'll be out for an evening stroll, then. Weather's good for it. Pass me the Radio Times, Glad, whilst you're up?"
"No. They're running. One of them's running, the young one. What extraordinary clothes they wear."
"I'm sure it's the Test Match soon."
"They're flying a kite," Mrs Brandon said, with disbelief. "Like children."
"And make me a cup of tea, would you, dear?"
Harry rolled onto his back. He'd been watching pictures in the fire. A griffin's head, a cave, the wings of a sea serpent, the trailing edge of a peacock's feather - images rising and falling into ash.
In firelight, Snape's face was softened and the muscles lax. He hadn't said much, over tea, but it had been the quiet of fatigue and not of tension, and when he'd moved it had been stiffly, as if his knees pained him. Harry had wanted to lie the man out on the kitchen table, set to with the heated massage oil, and carry on from there. Snape did not take enough care of himself, and that would have to change.
But mere tiredness did not dull Snape's wits. When he looked up it was with deliberation, with all his attention focused and one eyebrow slightly raised in enquiry.
"Why did you fly that kite with me, today?"
As he waited. Harry held himself still. His legs were sprawled, his chin on his hands and his elbows propped on the Turkish carpet: it was hardly a conscious pose, but he was aware of the obvious curve of his back and the casual intimacy of his bare feet. But Snape had had his nose buried in his book since teatime.
"A foolish question. Because it was there." Snape paused. When he spoke again his voice reflected a careful curiosity. "Why else?"
"It's just that..." Harry ran his fingers through his hair, shifting weight. "I didn't think you would. I thought you'd just sneer."
Snape's mouth tightened.
"But I should have guessed. I mean ... I want to tell you something," Harry said. "You probably won't like it. May I?"
"What notice have you ever taken of my approval or lack of it?" Snape said. "You may certainly talk, and will with or without my permission. Whether or not I listen is a different matter entirely." But he did not bend his head to the book
"I knew about your application," Harry said. "I asked for your case."
In silence, Snape let his fingers slip from the open pages, and propped his chin in his hand. His eyes never left Harry's.
"You didn't come to that dinner, after the parade," Harry said. He was aware of Snape's gaze over every inch of skin. "Nor to your own order presentation. You didn't come to mine, either. You weren't accepting owls and you wouldn't answer the door. Minerva said you were holed up."
Snape's eyebrows peaked, but he said nothing.
"I was angry," Harry said. "Really angry. I couldn't believe you'd fooled us all for so long. Then I calmed down a bit. And I wanted to see you, to understand." He stopped, thinking of those nights when he hadn't gone out, when he'd been sitting at home staring at the wall and thinking, 'What if...' "And I tried. But you wouldn't speak to me."
"I can hardly conceive you should wish to hear anything I had to say," Snape said, but he was listening with a focused attention that prickled Harry's skin and made the short hairs on the back of his neck stand up.
"I guessed you thought that Hedwig was just another message from them," Harry said. "I knew you got owls."
Snape's face was unreadable.
"And I know you didn't read them." Harry said. "I watched you. But you never opened your windows. That's why I sent the invitation. I knew you wouldn't come if I brought it." Harry looked down. The tufts of wool in the carpet were hand knotted and slightly uneven: imperfect, and all the more beautiful so. "You didn't reply to that either. But you did go away." He looked up. Apart from the thumb that pressed at his lower lip, Snape was perfectly still. "I've never been abroad."
"So when I saw the application - Hermione didn't mean me to, it's confidential, but she told Ron, and Ron ... told me, and then I went looking for it - I didn't read it, I just checked the tabs on the filing cabinet, then - and then I asked Hermione for the job."
"You're my first," Harry said. "I've never done this before. I had to race through the training. There was a couple of days when I thought you'd beat me to it, but then you had that interview with Scrimgeour and he went and re-read all the notes from the first trial. What did you say to him, anyway? No, don't answer that, not yet. But you need to know that it was me who arranged the estate agent. And the house. I like this house. It was what you asked for, wasn't it? But..."
Harry stopped, and took a deep breath. "I thought you'd need someone to help, and I'd be it."
If he pulled at them, the tufts of wool in the rug came out.
His face did not show anger or exasperation: rather, a tired resignation. "The pathos of my situation was clearly appalling. Without the services of the Boy Who Li-"
"It wasn't like that!"
"Then you had best explain," Snape said. "And quickly."
"I thought you wouldn't cope," Harry said. "But you did. You didn't seem to mind about the magic. You'd have managed even if I hadn't been there. You'd have asked Mrs Boyce, or gone into the bank, or something. I didn't think you'd last a day without a House Elf - but you started making tea on the fire! I mean, look at this morning - you had marmite on toast and cornflakes."
The corner of Snape's mouth twitched.
"And then ... you didn't have to let me come back. But you did. And then ... it was good, wasn't it, fixing things up? And you flew the kite. You laughed," Harry said. "I don't think I've ever seen you laugh before."
"Hardly astonishing," Snape said.
"No," Harry said. Then he added, "I liked it."
For the first time since Harry had started speaking, Snape looked away.
"I wasn't going to tell you quite yet. But I'd rather be honest. You see..." Harry swallowed. He thought of Snape lying stiffly in his bed, that morning: of Snape laughing, his eyes sliding sideways to Harry's as if he could not quite believe the humour was shared. Snape shivering, and pulling away from the touch of his shoulder against Harry's with the blood hot on his cheeks. "I think you want to sleep with me quite as badly as I want to sleep with you."
Snape stood up so fast the book crashed against his coffee cup. "No." But he was not shocked. He was not shocked, and Harry, fascinated, could see the flush starting at his collar, where the skin was pale and soft.
"Oh, I do," Harry said. He sat up. "You're going to tell me you're too old, or too evil, or something, and I'm going to say that from where I am that just doesn't matter and I don't believe it anyway. Severus Snape," Harry said. "I want you. Badly. And if you don't get down on this rug right now I'll start by myself."
For a very long moment, Snape stared down at Harry. His hands were clenched, his shoulders braced, and the look in his eyes was one Harry had never seen before.
"You do want me," Harry said. He put his hands to his shirt: his fingers were clumsy on the buttons. "It would be good, wouldn't it, between us? You could make me shut up." He shrugged out of the shirt. It puddled on the hearth rug, but neither he nor Snape looked down. 'Don't run away,' Harry thought. 'Don't...' Holding Snape's eyes, he smoothed a hand down the skin of his chest, thumbed a tightened nipple and arched his back to his own touch. 'This could be your hand,' he thought, fiercely, and imagined it, and heard himself gasp.
Snape swallowed. The blush had reached his cheeks: as Harry's hand dropped to the belt of his jeans, he caught his lower lip in his teeth. The skin whitened. In one instant, blazing moment, Harry wanted to lick those tiny indentations; taste Snape's skin; his sweat; know the smell of his come and the secret, luscious dark scent of his most private places. 'I'm going to turn you inside out,' he thought, and knew Snape knew what he thought.
The pressure of his own hand against his cock was jolting. He was hard as he'd ever been, aching, and the seam of his jeans was pressed far too tightly against the sensitive skin of his cock. He undid his belt with trembling hands, and had to look down to force open the buttons. When he looked up Snape was two steps nearer and had his knuckles pressed against his mouth. Harry wanted to lick that fist apart, open it up, slide those fingers wet over his skin, oh God - "Oh God," he said, and, "Please. Touch me."
And saw, then, the moment when Snape cracked apart for him. The moment when Snape took that last step, and fell to his knees: when he ripped his robe open and off. When he reached out and took hold of Harry's arms, his skin, of his hips: when Harry found himself turned and stripped and laid out and folded up and taken. One of them at least must have muttered some form of Lubricus, for Snape's fingers, hot and demanding in his arse, were definitely greased with something. And in the four, five, six shit seconds it took for the man to pull his fingers out and thrust home fuck, the moments when Harry's knees were pressed up somewhere near his ears and his back bent like a paperclip and his hands flailing for something, anything, to hold onto: in these moments Harry knew he was never going to be the same again.
He said so, later, but Snape only smiled down slow and lazy in the dying light of the fire and ran his fingers over the tiny hairs in the small of Harry's back. Harry shivered.
"I won't have to save you from anything," he said. "You'll do it yourself, won't you?" Snape had a swimmer's muscles, long and beautifully ridged in the stretch of his limbs. Amazing. "But I do like being around to pick up the pieces."
"You'll see," Harry said, happy. "But can we do that again? Soon? And maybe in bed?" It had taken him three hours to choose the one in Snape's bedroom and Hermione hadn't spoken to him and Ron for two days afterwards. She blushed easily, Hermione. "I like your bed."
met Harry's eyes, and quirked an eyebrow in half-amused resignation. "Then
you had best give me a hand up," he said. "Because I think the
state of my knees is beyond redemption."
She was conscious of conversation failing around her.
"I have him over
for dinner every so often. Him and his young man."