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 ...
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
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
"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
"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
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
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
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
"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