The Sugar Quill
Author: PirateQueen (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: The Bookseller's Daughter  Chapter: Chapter One: Homecoming
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Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended. Only the mistakes are mine.

Thanks are due to Chary, for ace beta-reading and kind support ...

 


The Bookseller's Daughter

by PirateQueen

 

Chapter One: Homecoming


"One drop of tincture of chervil. Two of alder bark essence … ah, I see …" Severus Snape frowned and muttered to himself, lost in thought. "Strengthens the elements of infection control, though at the expense of pain relief. Efficacious in cases where the subject has a compromised immune system. Hmmm …"

He put the book down, took up his quill from the side table, and made a few notes in a small, crabbed hand on a fresh piece of parchment. After he finished writing, he extended his arms above his head and yawned, shifting in his chair and stretching his long, black-clad legs out across the wooden floor. A slight ache in his back reminded him that he had been sitting still for far too long. He got up and walked across to the window, opened it and leaned out. The bright May sunshine cast an early summer glow over the lush green lawn of Mrs. Everett's immaculate back garden, and the flowers in the herbaceous borders moved languidly in the gentle breeze. As the sun warmed his face, he closed his eyes for a moment, savouring the sweet scent of honeysuckle as it drifted in from outside. It was bliss to have Saturday afternoon to himself; whilst the staging of the Triwizard Tournament at Hogwarts this past year might have been irksome in other ways, at least it meant he did not have to waste his time attending amateurish student Quidditch matches.

"It's far too nice a day to be stuck in here, Professor. You should be out enjoying yourself in the fresh air," said a cheerful voice behind him.

Snape grimaced and turned round quickly, almost bumping his head on the window frame in the process. "I prefer to remain indoors," he replied stiffly, closing the window with a thud. "This afternoon, I am doing some important research. Although some may not consider that enjoyment, I do. To complete my work adequately, I need to have my selection of research materials close at hand, making your remarkably well-appointed reading room an eminently more suitable location than the open air."

The elderly, rosy-cheeked witch in front of him smiled. "Oh, go on with you!" she scoffed. "Surely that can wait. Haven't you got a nice young lady to devote your attention to at weekends?"

Snape's lips set into a thin line, and a dark flash of temper flared inside him. Damned woman was trying to bait him again. She knew he had nothing of the sort. Nor was he interested in having any sort of romantic relationship; for Merlin's sake, they might turn out in later life like her, incurably nosy and full of incessant, trivial chatter. Forcing himself to remember his manners, he pushed his anger aside and smiled politely. After all, Delilah Everett was the proprietress of his favourite Hogsmeade bookshop, and her considerable expertise in tracking down rare and ancient volumes on his behalf was one of the few things that made life in this Merlin-forsaken corner of the world tolerable.

"Mrs. Everett, you know perfectly well I have no girlfriend." He wrinkled his nose as he uttered the final word of the sentence, as if it had a particularly unpleasant taste.

"Shame," she replied with a wink. "You could do with a bit of looking after. You're too thin by half, young man."

Snape rolled his eyes skywards in exasperation, but again made himself let his irritation go and produced another, rather stilted smile. Despite her tiresomely over-attentive manner, he inwardly acknowledged that Mrs. Everett had a good heart and meant well, however annoying she might be.

"Well, if I can't persuade you out into the sunshine, how about a nice cup of tea?" she asked. He opened his mouth to decline, but she was too quick for him. "It's no trouble. I'm about to have one myself."

"Thank you," he said, feeling browbeaten into submission. He knew full well that it would not simply be a cup of tea, but would be accompanied by several sandwiches, a Chelsea bun or two and a large piece of fruitcake. Bloody woman was worse than the most over-solicitous of house-elves.

Mrs. Everett grinned. "Good! You sit down then. I'll bring it out to you."

Snape nodded resignedly and took his seat again. It wasn't that he was ungrateful for the refreshments (especially as his stomach was rumbling and dinner was several hours away), but he resented her interference and he most certainly did not need fussing over or mothering, however undernourished she thought he might be. And if there was one thing that made him feel truly uncomfortable, it was kindness, particularly when displayed by women. Ordinarily, he would have crushed the offender with a curt remark, but over the years Mrs. Everett had generously allowed him to spend countless hours in the shop's comfortable reading room, perusing the merchandise without pressure to buy. Snape felt soothed here at Everett's. It was a refuge away from the stresses of dealing with impertinent students, wearisome colleagues and all the other congenital idiots sadly resident at Hogwarts. Most of them preferred to buy their chainstore potboilers at Flourish & Blotts and would not know a rare first edition grimoire if it jumped up and hit them in the face (and he had found to his cost that some would, with very little provocation indeed). Therefore, if the price of preserving his rapidly disappearing sanity meant he had to put up with the ministrations of a crazy old woman for a few hours a week, then so be it.

A tray appeared with a soft pop! on the small table next to him, flattening his parchment and smudging the careful notes he had made. With an exasperated harrumph he snatched the scroll away before any further harm could be done, and glanced at the veritable mountain of food beside him. Well, really, he thought. Blasted woman's outdone herself this time. Six sandwiches, an unhealthily large slab of cheese with crackers and some sweet pickle, two slices of apple pie, a large sugary doughnut and the inevitable fruitcake. She's definitely got worse since the old man went. He let out a weary sigh. Batty, completely batty.

Snape poured a cup of tea and helped himself to a couple of sandwiches. He felt a slight pang of sadness when he remembered the late Robert Everett, who had died two years previously. He had been a great scholar, with a passion for the acquisition of knowledge that was second to none. Snape had liked him; philosophy, literature, art and science all fell within Robert's grasp, and this had commanded him great respect among his fellow wizardkind. Since his death, his widow Delilah had run the shop alone, and although she did a sterling job, the strain of having nobody to spoil was obviously beginning to tell. Snape wondered what would become of the shop once she grew too old to run it. The likelihood was that it would be sold outside the family. The Everetts' only child, Elizabeth, who had been a year below Snape at school, had gone straight into the Department of Magical Law Enforcement after Hogwarts, and rarely returned home these past few years beyond a day or two at Christmas. He had last seen Miss Everett at her father's funeral; elegant and stately despite the pale face of grief, she had accepted his condolences gracefully, but her watchful Auror's eyes had held an unmistakeable hint of suspicion. She knew what Severus Snape had once been ...

He sighed. She might have good reason to be circumspect; who knew what the future would bring. The arrival of Igor Karkaroff last autumn had been a salutary reminder of past times. Hints of the renewed rise of dark forces reached Snape's ears almost every day, and there was a recent and unwelcome resurgence in the number of unexplained disappearances; the unfortunate Bertha Jorkins, for one. Snape paused and stopped eating, feeling a creeping nausea as he remembered the promise he had made to Dumbledore. He blanched at the thought of what might lie ahead. Then, almost as if on cue, a sharp stab of pain shot through the scar on his left forearm. He bit back a cry of agony, but could not stop himself in time from dropping his plate and scattering crumbs onto his lap. He gripped the chair's padded leather arms firmly, trying hard to control his breathing. A cold sweat broke out on his forehead, but after a moment or two the burning ache in his arm ceased and he began to relax. He sat motionless for a good fifteen minutes, not daring to move lest the pain started again. Eventually, he heard Mrs. Everett's footsteps approaching, and not wishing to seem ungrateful, took out his wand and quickly disposed of the remaining food.

"Are you quite all right?" Mrs. Everett peered closely at him. "You've gone very pale."

"Fine, thank you," he muttered grimly. "Eaten too much, perhaps."

His attempt at irony was lost on her. She smiled and picked up the tray. "Oh, good. You've finished it all. By the way, that eighteenth-century edition of Culpeper's Herbal with the magical illustrations has come in for you. I've just unpacked it. Come and have a look when you're ready."

The thought of being able to bury his discomfort in the pages of a new book elevated Snape's mood instantly. He quirked an eyebrow, interest sparked. "Really? That was very quick, Mrs. Everett. I am most impressed." He got to his feet eagerly and followed her out of the reading room to the counter.

The book was lavishly bound in black dragonhide and embossed with gold lettering. Snape took it reverently from Mrs. Everett's hands, unable to suppress a sigh at its beauty. It was everything he had hoped. He opened its golden lock carefully, and ran his fingers over the crisp vellum pages with something like a lover's tender caress. The botanical illustrations were exquisite; their jewel-bright colours made him catch his breath, as the enchanted images of herbs and flowers moved, turning to demonstrate intricate structures of petal and leaf in writhing, living form.

"Is it all right for you?" said Mrs. Everett. "I can send it back to the supplier if it's not what you want."

"Oh, no, no," he breathed, pulse racing with excitement. "It's - it's quite perfect, thank you." He could not resist running his hand tenderly over its supple, dark-scaled cover one more time.

Mrs. Everett smiled indulgently. "You go and sit down and have a nice read of it. I'll bring you some more-- AARGHH!!"

"What the--" Snape's body stiffened and he turned immediately towards the source of the loud crash behind them, nerves jangling at the sound of Mrs. Everett's scream, wand at the ready. He just managed to stop himself in time before he hurled a vicious hex at the tall, blonde-haired young woman who stood before them. Her dark green velvet robes were pulled closely around her, and she shivered as if it was midwinter. She held a large carpet bag in her left hand and a wicker cat basket rested at her feet, complete with yowling occupant.

Mrs. Everett scurried out from behind the counter, holding out her arms. "Lizzie!" she screeched with delight. "Oh, you gave me such a fright, love!"

Snape surveyed the new arrival with unease. She had an odd, haunted expression and there were dark shadows under her eyes. Her usually pretty face bore the signs of recent injury; the skin around one of her cheekbones held the yellow tinge of faded bruising, and the remnants of a long, deep scratch crossed her forehead.

"Sorry, Mum," the young woman replied, giving Mrs. Everett a hug. "I wasn't trying to startle you. I didn't have chance to Floo you first." She smiled. "I aimed for the drawing room, but missed. I'm not really up to long-distance travel at the moment. Luckily for me the anti-Apparition wards in here don't seem to be working. I'll give them a tweak for you later." She gave Snape a slow, guarded smile. "Hello, Professor. Keeping my mother busy with orders, I hope?"

Snape realised that she must have noticed his intent stare, and drew back defensively. "Good afternoon, Miss Everett." His voice was polite and emotionless. "I trust a few days in the fresh Hogsmeade air will soon put some colour back in your cheeks." He observed her warily. Injuries of that sort were patently not accidental.

"I'll be here for more than a few days," Liz Everett said quietly.

"Lizzie?" said Mrs. Everett in a quizzical tone. "Is everything all right, love?"

"Yes, thanks," replied Liz. "I'm just taking some time off, that's all."

Mrs. Everett held her daughter at arms' length and eyed her so intently that for a moment Snape wondered if the elderly woman was skilled in Legilimency. If that was the case, he sincerely hoped she hadn't read any of the more uncharitable thoughts he'd had about her over the years. He watched her face crease into a broad smile as she pulled her daughter close and hugged her tight. "Oh, it's wonderful to have you home, anyway," she said. Her voice faltered, and her eyes began to fill. "I've missed you so much, love," she wailed, and promptly burst into tears of motherly joy.

Despite Snape's distaste at such a mawkish scene, an unfamiliar surge of something like pity washed over him, and unnerved by this, he felt a sudden need to take control. "Miss Everett," he said firmly to the younger woman, "I suggest you take your mother through to the house and make her some tea. I can watch the shop for you in the meantime." In a gentler tone, he added, "I'll see to the anti-Apparition wards as well while I'm here."

Liz gave Snape a sudden icy glare. "I don't think so, thank you," she snapped. "I'll deal with them later."

Affronted, Snape matched her expression with one of his customary dark scowls. "You have no need to worry," he replied tersely. "I have reset them a couple of times in the past with your father's blessing."

Mrs. Everett wiped her eyes with her sleeve and nodded. "He's right, dear," she sniffled. "Your dad was very grateful for his help." She promptly dissolved into a fresh wave of tears, causing Snape to inwardly berate himself for mentioning her late husband.

Liz's face softened. "In that case, please go ahead. It's very kind of you to offer. Come on, Mum." She placed her right arm around her sobbing mother's shoulder. As she did so, the sleeve of her robe fell away from her forearm, and Snape suddenly froze. Her wrist bore three unmistakeably finger-shaped bruises, livid against her pale skin. As he stared at them, he became aware that she was watching him, and he hurriedly averted his gaze.

"Yes, Professor, as you can see, I've been in a fight," said Liz wearily. "Occupational hazard, I'm afraid."

She sounded heartily sick of explanations. Snape watched as she picked up the cat basket and carpet bag, then steered her mother behind the counter and through the door to the house beyond. The shop fell silent once they had gone, and Snape began to busy himself repairing the wards as he had promised. Most Hogsmeade shops had them in situ to deter shoplifters and burglars, and the complicated process of resetting them required significant effort and concentration. He stopped halfway through, and thought again of Elizabeth Everett's injuries, wondering what had happened to her. He couldn't quite place why, but he felt distinctly unsettled. Trying to shake off his disquiet, he returned to the task in hand.

Half an hour later, he had just finished the final incantation when the door to the house opened and Liz reappeared. As she walked towards him, Snape noticed how exhausted she looked. He suddenly wondered whether he owed her some sort of apology for his earlier reaction to her appearance, but he quickly buried the unwelcome notion. "The wards should function well enough now," he said briskly. "I have restored them to full strength."

Liz smiled courteously at him, the glint in her eyes leaving him certain that she would check his work thoroughly the moment he left the shop. "Thank you," she said, and picked up the Culpeper book from the counter. "Mum says I'm to give you this."

Snape nodded, and reached into his pocket for some coins.

"Put your money away, please." Liz raised a hand to silence his protest. "We'd have had to call in a contractor to repair the wards at short notice, as I'm too tired to manage it myself for the moment. It would have cost us more than the price of this book. Please accept it as a token of our thanks."

"Very well then," he said, deciding to try and take the gift in good faith despite his embarrassment, since it was obvious from her businesslike tone that the subject was closed. "Thank you. I trust your mother will soon be back to her usual self."

"She's prone to be over-emotional since Dad died," replied Liz. "Just lonely, I suppose."

Snape nodded and returned to the reading room to gather his belongings. As he left the shop, Liz followed him to the door to lock it behind him, and she smiled again as she wished him goodbye. They held each other's gaze for a moment, and Snape felt a strange fluttering sensation in his stomach as he noticed how the late afternoon sunlight highlighted the gold flecks in her intense, jade-coloured eyes. He wrapped his cloak tightly around his body, feeling a sudden chill as he realised that the gentle summer breeze had strengthened to an unpleasantly cold wind, and set off on his way home. Whilst passing the Three Broomsticks, he spotted the odious Weasley twins, and took ten points each from Gryffindor on the grounds that both boys were upright and breathing, but somehow even that did not bring him the usual degree of comfort. As he reached the school, he eyed the dark storm clouds that gathered ominously on the horizon, and hurried indoors to his warm, familiar rooms.

Late that night, as rain lashed the turrets and towers of Hogwarts, Severus Snape dreamed of Elizabeth Everett's beautiful green eyes.

//
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