August 21st, 2002: Daugavpils, Latvia
The sun was still hours from rising on the street of Soviet bloc apartments when the black Astra pinged around the corner, black smoke spewing from its tailpipe. A stray cat missing a leg raised its hackles and fled into an alley, fearing for its other three. The car ricocheted off a lamp post before skidding along the curb, brakes squealing.
Severus cursed and wrestled the steering wheel into something between driving and flipping off the road. His car veered left, the right, then straddled the center line. With a final, dizzy nod, he pumped the brakes, causing the engine to backfire and crack across the lonesome pre-dawn. Eventually, he slowed, grip iron, forehead a mess of clinging hairs and sweat. Sat there, gripping the wheel, heart knocking against his ribs, the wizard accepted two very simple truths:
Firstly, and most prevalent, Severus Snape was an atrocious driver.
He should stop taking his own counsel about driving without a license. Getting away with it for several years had instilled in him a false confidence in his skills. Now he knew cars were just suicide machines for the subconsciously tormented.
Nobody could disagree if they, like him, had once bore witness to a window decal of a nuclear stick figure family with three twiggy brats and a dog, presented in broad daylight for all to see. Nothing about such a desperate car decoration suggested anything less than a driver compensating for their guilty craving of freedom in oblivion.
Thus evidenced, cars were for people with violence in their hearts for themselves and others. And just because this described Severus to a tee, he argued internally that this need not require him to ever step foot in one again.
Secondly, giving into a rare craving, Severus realized that he would kill for a cigarette. His stomach ached from thirty hours sans food, what with the outrageous travel and the thickness of new Polyjuice. He doubted his meager rest in the front seat would help him choke anything down. Smoking would satisfy his hunger pains until he was ready to eat.
With a queasy cramp in his upper abdomen, he knew a pain only nicotine could sooth.
"If it's not the snake or the Dementors, or the car or the cancer," Severus hissed, ears ringing, finally coming to a stop.
His car had hobbled into the parking garage tucked under the one apartment he called "house." He blew away a dark, stringy lock of hair.
Severus managed to unclench his hands enough to pat down his coat pockets. It kicked up a fine powder of sea salt, but revealed no crumpled, paper edges. He tsked, having hoped to run across a forgotten pack hidden somewhere on his person.
"Of course," he commented, watching the rear view mirror for telltale shadows in the concrete garage. "Oh, come on, you nasty bastard, I know you've got something."
He couldn't recall the last time he bought cigarettes, though. Probably upwards of a year ago, when he discovered after most of the conscious, wizarding world that he had been pardoned for murder. He'd learned of this on his last visit to Azkaban, before the one currently dogging him.
"I'm surprised you've yet to resurrect yourself as Britain's premiere hero martyr. After Potter, of course," Lucius had teased, examining his eyebrows in a handheld mirror. He had then put it down to delight in the Severus' expression. "A posthumous Order of Merlin, First Class, for serving the greater good...my, aren't we special?"
Continuing to berate himself, Severus turned to rummage through the glove box. He swore he had half a pack left from then. They would be stale by now, and probably wouldn't even light properly. But he persisted, knowing the store was too far to walk while it was still dark out.
Then he thought he heard someone pull in behind him.
He froze. There was nothing but the clinking of pipes overhead and the buzz of the cool white fluorescents. However, the ex-spy swore he felt the air shift, like he was being watched. He breathed in the sticky stench of burnt rubber wafting through the open driver's side window. Severus then exhaled quietly, easing back upright to scan the parked cars for people.
No one. He was alone.
Looking back to the rear view mirror, he thought perhaps he'd see his neighbor, Demyan, whom he normally only tolerated under duress. He absently continued his search, while looking for a broad, stout man with an ill-advised undercut and a gold chain.
Severus' center console was full of used napkins and broken, dried up ditany stems. He came up empty-handed from it, momentarily distracted from the not-noise by his frustration.
He half mused about asking the dolt neighbor for a smoke. He thought this while confronted by the lack of the man's familiar stocky frame swaggering in from the dark street. Severus felt he could feign interest in Demyan's grossly modified sports car for a few minutes before begging off, returning to his apartment, and passing out on the floor.
But the garage stayed empty, except for him, and the buzzing quiet, and the standing hairs at the nape of his neck.
Get inside, ordered his instincts. It planted him fully in the moment. Move now.
He heeded that terrifying inner voice that spoke little in graven tones. Severus felt the weakness in his hands as he gripped the handle and eased his door open. He stepped out of the car, one leg after the other, hunching over to hide his face behind a curtain of dark, unwashed hair.
Take the stairs, said the veteran paranoia. Get in your apartment. Activate the wards.
The wizard slammed the car door shut, pressing the auto-lock on the key fob in his pocket. The resulting honk echoed in the garage.
An overhead light flickered but stayed lit. Severus strode purposely to the stairwell, bypassing the elevator entirely. His dark silhouette reflected dully in the brushed steel doors. He cursed internally, wishing the doors were reflective enough to show him the open space at his back.
Luckily, the stairwell had corner mirrors for surveillance. He took them two floors and saw no one. He then doubted the security cameras in the stairwell worked at all, and so turned on his heel and Apparated.
He arrived at the floor below his, with the crack of displaced air carrying up to the roof entrance. Severus pushed through the service door, and strode down the corridor of locked apartments towards a large, window on the other side.
Throwing out his left hand, Severus caught his wand as it slid out his sleeve and spelled the window open. He had the brief thought that he might be overreacting. He then braced himself on the window sill and hopped out into the dark.
Both feet hit the fire escape with a ringing bang. Straightening his coat against the early morning, third-story wind, Severus gripped the rusting bannister and took the climb upwards.
"If it's not the snake, or Azkaban, or the trip, or the bloody car," he muttered as he headed toward the skin-tightening hum of his wards, "then I'll be damned if I'm killed by a shadow in a car park."
He waved his wand at his own window, relieved to feel his wards slide over him before allowing him into his space. Spinning around, he slammed the window shut and spelled closed the blinds. Navigating his unlit living room, Severus tucked his wand away and felt along the wall for the light switch.
A flip of it brought his apartment into view.
"Hm," Severus took off his coat and hung it on the back of his armchair. Then he bent down, knees cracking, and offered his arm with a wince.
A blur of piebald skin and sparse fuzz ran onto his shoulders with light, nimble steps. A wrinkled head butted against his chin, rubbing against day old stubble. The wizard grunted, pushing the little head away, earning himself an affronted, rolling chirp. He turned to accept a glare from a pair of giant, golden-yellow eyes.
"Mmmrp," went the sphinx cat, huge gunmetal grey ears twisting toward him.
Severus matched her unblinking stare with his own. His tired eyes betrayed him, twitching closed. The cat's rat-like tail lashed victoriously as he conceded this round, looking away to the kitchen. He pardoned himself by saying he'd had a long day, and would rally harder next time.
"Yes, food," was his answer to the second nudge. He flicked her nearest ear for pushiness. "Behave."
Severus' apartment was small, but not unfit for the single potions master. His living room, like his bedroom, was a collection of mismatched furniture, lost under piles of discarded cloaks and neglected laundry.
Several shapes and sizes of lamp were set up around the room, all lighting the room with a myriad of bright whites and warm glows. The concrete floor was covered by thick, navy blue area rug that resembled a night sky for all the tiny holes burned into it, showing the pale slab underneath.
The room's ability to sustain life was lost to surfaces covered in open books and tea-stained papers. Ink had spilled on the low-crouching coffee table in front of the squashed, second hand couch, staining the pale wood red. Dusty, dirty cups formed colonies by forgotten sandwiches under the couch.
Severus kicked aside a bowl plastered with cold oatmeal as he walked through, blind to the chaos he hath wrought.
The only hope at order were the walls lined with cheap bookcases made of black vinyl and particle board. The dozens of shelves were reinforced with layers of enchantments, such that they glowed a faint cerulean.
This was to manage the crushing weight of hundreds of books, pamphlets, binders and journals, shoved mercilessly onto them and made to fit. These shelves, while not neat by any librarian's standards, were at least trashless and considerably dust free. This was thanks to how often books were yanked off and replaced, which served to inadvertently sweep the space.
Save for the very occasional charm, this was the only cleaning the apartment saw.
Severus walked into his kitchen, floating the cat's food bowl into the sink. He dumped out the old, hardened scraps and turned on the faucet, letting the water run over the dish while he searched his cabinets.
Luckier here than in his car, he found a can of chicken and the sandwich bag of dried herbs he kept for her. Pulling out the bowl with a bit of water still inside, he reached into the small plastic bag and threw in a sprinkle of herbs to soak.
His cat wound in and out of his legs as he worked. He pushed her away with his shoe, and, eyeing her as she licked her chops, upturned the can into the bowl. As per usual, this was too much temptation for the sphinx to take. She sprung over his foot and onto the counter. Ignoring his irritated hiss, she shoved her head into her bowl and tore into her dinner.
Severus gave her an exasperated tap on the side, and was disgusted by the visceral gulp of chicken into naked belly. He left the cat to eat.
Looking around, the introverted wizard felt a limp kick of energy at being home. He returned to the window and peered through the blinds, double checking that he hadn't been followed. A telltale easy breathing on the horizon denoted the onset of sunrise. He squinted through the unwashed slats, tired but not somnolent, and considered a start to his day.
"I meant to do something," he mumbled, scratching under his chin. Severus swayed, the long hours of the day before pouring into him. "Gods, what was it?"
I could try to sleep, he thought, giving his couch a once over. A shiver ran up his back, and he shook the thought away. No, not sleep, not today.
Surely exhausting himself further would make certain he'd awake paralyzed. But collapsing made the decision to sleep his body's problem and not his.
Recalling waking up in his car, clawing for purchase in his own rigid limbs, he turned instead to his remaining missives. On a desk moved into a corner, under a tall shadeless lamp, waited piles of potions orders needing his attention. Massaging a spasm under his eye, Severus sided with work over risking bed.
Soon after arriving in Latvia four years ago, Severus realized the Malfoys' high-fashion second life didn't suit him. He had gone stir crazy wandering the mini-mansion's listing, art-lined corridors.
The house in Riga only held clean lines and fine fabrics. It had settees he found impossible to touch with his potion stained hands. He sweated through the expensive, hand-stitched pillow shams and woke up tangled in the high thread count sheets. Large, impeccably decorated suites stood without occupants, opulent and barren. When he slept, the sweet smell of the gardens would drift through the sheer curtains, scenting his night terrors with magnolias.
The Malfoys' lifestyle, even in hiding, required a level of outside maintenance that Severus never understood. Even his time in Malfoy Manor had often been baffling, with so much grandeur at hand, to what? Enjoy privately? Show off to others?
This wasn't Severus' definition of a home. Granted, he doubted he had ever truly known a home. However, it couldn't be a place of such exorbitant frippery with no greater purpose than to be looked at and envied.
And at least the manor had company. He sat at his desk overflowing with letters, nudged its wobbly leg back into place, and started sorting. Bills to his left, potions requests to his right.
There were excessive luxuries at the manor, yes, with cold, untouchable, too-good-for-him spangles at all sides.
But there was also Narcissa, a woman he'd known since school. There were parlors Lucius once invited him into, for teas and private chats and commiserations about the school board or Dumbledore or such-and-such idiot or this-or-that law. As spacious as the manor became during his stay, and was revealed to have always been, there was life there.
The mansion in Riga had nothing. It was a gilded dollhouse, where a family was meant to be and wasn't. It served no purpose but to close him in, away from discovery. Severus lasted all of three weeks pacing trenches into the floors before breaking out.
With only a twinge of guilt at Narcissa's imagined outrage, he stripped the inside and sold it all, piecemeal, to buy a life somewhere else. He boarded the train to Daugavpils and rode it to the last stop, then spent hours walking until he felt the tether snap.
That day, the house in Riga faded from his mind as he watched an old aunt yell in Russian at a gaggle of shrieking children. Their harassed mother noticed him looking and called him names. An ostentatious car had roared past, horn blaring and slowing none as it barely missed the last troublesome brat, giving the little boy the scare of his short life.
This life suited Severus perfectly.
And so he used his ill-gotten funds to rent an apartment, buy some potions supplies, and fill a demand for painkillers and fungal ointments in the old witches' bazaar. He shipped some more prestigious orders back to Riga, and wrote to English journals under a pseudonym. He paid a private courier 200 lats a month to forward his mail from Riga.
He made due with what he had. This was the life he preferred, cramped and dirty, a box fit for him. In four years, he'd acquired steady repeat business, a few published articles, a horrid neighbor and a cat. This was fine.
Severus propped his chin on his fist, thoughts stirring. Thinking on the gardens in Riga had reminded him of something. He was struck again with the remembered shock of Lucius and Narcissa's divorce when the memory shifted to something else.
Lucius' incredulous look slipping into faint mockery...Narcissa's letters…
"Beyond what pertains to potions, what use would I have for the meaning of daffodils?"
"...whimsy. Narcissa would write secret notes in flower language…'gwarts days. Can you imagine."
"Ah," Severus intoned, remembering. "Right. Her letters."
Giving up his plan to work, Severus stood and dragged himself to his couch. Shoving aside a pile of shirts, he threw himself down and rolled his eyes at his letters from England. They were all written with Narcissa's personal letterhead, a silver narcissus bloom amid carbon-black vines.
He sifted through them looking for the most recent letter, and found one from last week. He relived reading this one and letting it drift from his hand, partially-read, bored by all the talk of gardens. He picked it up again now, and let his eyes run through the words for clues.
'Hello Dear Friend,' it began, 'As always, I must thank you for the superb advice you have given regarding the landscaping.
'The crows have being caught and caged by the groundskeepers, as has been that strange animal lost in the hedge maze.
‘This is all thanks to your advice. I cannot fathom what my properties would look like without your help.
'Draco and I can now live more worry-free knowing that those dangerous creatures can no longer menace us during our walks through the gardens.
‘Of course, we would love Lucius to be in a position to enjoy this feeling of freedom, but what can one do? These are the cards we are dealt.'
Severus quirked an eyebrow at this. "That's certainly one way of phrasing it," he quipped.
'If I could bother you for more advice? I believe there are still some weeds clinging to my summer blossoms. I cannot be sure, but I may have heard some rustling under the cypress trees.
‘I cannot name the animal there, but it may be high time you call on us for a visit, and take a look yourself.
'Otherwise, I hope all is well. Draco sends his regards.
And the letter ended with her name written with a flourish. This alerted something in Severus' otherwise bland perusal. She had become far less flamboyant with her signatures after years of solitude. The extra loops and curlicues were never her style, except maybe in girlhood, and even then this seemed more likely a call for intense scrutiny.
Severus cringed at her having to be so effusive to catch his attention. He had gotten much too comfortable in hiding. He leaned back and considered his bookcases, wondering which text might best help him decode her message.
His eyes ran over the titles until he noticed an herbal dictionary he used for testing new recipes. He knew the contents by heart, and dug through his brain for answers. It only helped but so much.
The only plant mentioned is cypress, which meant death, among other things. He focused on the start of the letter.
"Crows…," he pondered aloud, "strange animal...caged."
His mind conjured an image of Lucius in his striped uniform. Severus narrowed his eyes at the letter in his hand. The only sound for several seconds was his cat finishing her food and knocking the empty can to the floor.
"The Carrows...and Lestrange," he said. Severus summoned the Prophet he started having delivered since unwittingly being honored as a war hero. The headline from a week back announced "OUR DUTIFUL DEFENDERS: AMAZING AURORS CAPTURE THREE MORE DEATH EATERS IN CORNWALL."
"You're getting lazy, Severus," he said to himself, brow furrowed. "Pay attention."
He returned to the letter, with the embarrassing knowledge that he had ignored valuable information in favor of bunion cures. Because of course the Prophet, rag that it was, would report on a major development like the arrest of the last major Death Eaters at large.
But that was just the beginning of the letter. Narcissa's telling of dangerous whispers followed.
"'Rustling under the cypress trees,'" recited the wizard. He lifted his wand to summon the herbal dictionary when he noticed the wand itself. Cypress wood.
His eyes flicked back to the letterhead, at the inlaid narcissus, blooming quietly. "I see...She means me."
If the other animals were Death Eaters, then…
'I cannot name the animal there, but it may be high time you call on us for a visit, and take a look yourself.'
A knock broke the silence.
Severus stood up, careful not to make a sound, and pointed his wand at his front door. There wasn't a second knock, so much as a heavy, tunneling silence that made Severus feel every pumped of blood to his dizzy head, every roll of his stomach. Acid rose in his throat when he looked to the floor, and saw the shadow under his door dance manically. He felt his wards vibrate and then jolt.
I'm caught, I'm dead, said his human mind.
He was overrun with the non-sound in the garage. He fucking knew there was someone there, and here he thought he'd be safe inside his wards, but he was wrong. He'd only served to corner himself.
Apparate!, snapped his hindbrain, pushing adrenaline through him so fast, his whole body shuddered.
He couldn't Apparate again, not so soon, not without Splinching, and his only Portkey would take him to Malfoy Manor, where he was sure to be followed. Every Death Eater still at large knew that property. If he appeared there suddenly, he could be walking into an ambush.
She'd tried to warn me a week ago. I had a week's warning and I pissed it away, he lamented, feeling his wards jolt again.
His cat, hackles raised, scarpered from the kitchen, past the front door, and up his leg. He flinched as she hissed in his face, claws sinking into his shoulders. The terror that had locked down his limbs finally shattered.
RUN, roared his gut.
There was an deafening bang and an explosion of red light. His front door crashed inwards, blown free of the frame. Boots stomped through the debris. A cloud of plaster dust hid the intruder, but also hid Severus as he backpedaled towards his window, muttering Latin, stringing ward after crumpling ward together in a catastrophic chain reaction.
"SNAPE," hollered a voice, in lightly accented English. Dark sleeved arms waved through the dust in a clumsy swirl. "TRAITOR!"
"Oh, thank Merlin, he's one of the stupid ones," he sighed, eternally grateful.
Severus twisted, cat yowling, and as the Apparition ripped him over an ocean, he activated the ward storm with a breathless final incantation. He was promptly blinded by the flash of burning white light that ushered him into the spinning dark.
August 21st, 2002: Cokeworth, Greater Manchester
Severus arrived in the trees. His body untwisted in the brush as he fell, panting, face down in the dirt. His cat leaped off of his shoulders and into the bushes, shivering as she watched him writhe.
His wand arm burned from elbow to fingertip. He felt skinned raw, and clenched his jaw, keeping in a scream.
Get up, get inside.
He rolled over onto his back, pressing his burning arm into his stomach as if to physically stifle the pain. He tried to open his eyes but wasn't sure if he succeeded, as all he saw were black spots and starbursts.
His lungs wouldn't fill properly. He panicked, worried one might have collapsed.
Get up! Get inside! Severus levered himself on his side and heaved.
It was as if his body had no idea what the problem was, and so sent all of his reflexes into overdrive. He arched, muscles flexed to their extreme, and then buckled again in the mud the dirt made with his bleeding wounds.
I'm bleeding, was the first conscious thought that managed to weedle through the panic. But I escaped.
And he knew he had. On some level, this was a familiar experience, flailing in this dirt on a summer morning. His knee hit the ground and his teeth ground together in a way recognizable to his terrified rabbit brain.
Not unlike his cat, Severus belly crawled into the shade under the bushes. His breath hitched, once, at his arm grinding into the dirt. He found a place to curl up and sobbed a little, having returned to a place mentally that he had not visited since childhood.
Finally giving in, a mostly unconscious Severus turned to his habit as a boy. Before Lily, before Hogwarts, when his father would have a go at him, he would crawl under the bushes, and ask the dirt for help. Hurtling three times overseas within twenty four hours robbed the wizard of any greater sense.
He only had left to him the tiny, pleading sense of magic that came in desperate times.
Like when he was a boy, there wasn't a spell he could think of to offer up his painful tiredness to be cured. He only whispered, "Please stop...," into the dirt and, eventually, dropped into sleep.
Severus jerked awake hours later, covered in ferns. Everything in the undergrowth seemed hazy. He blinked rapidly, trying to clear film from his eyes, but still failed to see in detail. He couldn't focus his eyes and was thus surrounded by dark green blurs and vague blotches of sunlight.
A blob of grey and pale pink crept into view, purring loudly.
"You," he greeted his cat, reaching out a finger. She smelled it and turned, running out of the bush.
He dropped his hand and cursed, whipping it off the ground, taking some clinging green with it. Severus squinted, staring at his own arm in the dim alcove. All he could gather was a mess of red, pink, and dirty green. Severus figured this was the splinch and hoped that was the worst of it.
"Mroooww," called his cat from outside the bush.
"Shut it," he replied, slumped into the dirt, wondering if he had the energy to stand.
Severus tried to rouse himself by thinking he needed to clean his wound, to avoid infection. This did nothing for him, as he lie dithering on the ground. For a while he just stayed down, listening to cat purrs and tree leaves shushing in the wind. The afternoon was on its way to evening. The injured man watched the little patches of light come into focus and redden as it turned to dusk.
'I cannot name the animal there, but it may be high time you call on us for a visit, and take a look yourself.'
"Someone knows I'm alive," he said to the dirt. A fern leaf swayed and furled again around his wound. His bleeding had slowed, exposing pink quick skin and raw edges. He peeled back the leaf to examine the wound.
"Enough, time to get up." Severus plucked the fern from the ground to keep it on his exposed skin. He then got his knees under him again, then his hands, and climbed, ever so slowly, to his feet. "Merlin, I want to die."
He said this with one hand gripping his twinging back, and the other shooing his cat from his muddy shoe. Severus dragged himself the few yards from the woods, to the house properties, stopping just short of the backyard. Standing there, stomach in knots, limbs leaden, he took in his old house.
Spinner's End held up surprisingly well to the bully of time, given that it had sat vacant for over four years. As Severus made his way across the back yard, he noted the lack of graffiti, clean sideboards, and an intact roof. He thought teen vandals would have besieged the house before now. What with Severus not being particularly popular with the local delinquent fauna, he expected at least one broken window.
As he opened the back door and walked inside, he figured his anti-Muggle measures must still work. This would be ideal, as it would give him a foundation of magic to build on. He needed to bring the whole abandoned affair up to the snuff of an Order safe house as soon as possible. Luckily he had the shattering of his personal wards to inspire him. He would make this place a fortress, given it was now the only place he had left.
Severus let the cat in and closed and locked the door behind him. That it had ever been unlocked for him to enter was insane. He couldn't remember having such a gross lack of judgment four years ago as he had now. Then again, his last year in this house had been a hectic one.
I can’t believe I’m back to this, he thought, ears ringing.
He had been ready to return to a ruin. Somehow, having his old haunt survive so well preserved, and him a sad wreck crawling back into it, hurt more than having nothing left at all. Maybe he would have been better off cutting his ties to England. Whoever found him in Daugavpils most likely followed the Malfoys’ mail. If there was no one to write him, he might have still had his peace.
Next he disappeared, he vowed to do so completely.
He sidled into the kitchen, testing the faucets. Water filled the sink, both to his relief and incredulity. Honestly, he hadn't paid a bill in four years. Surely the water should have been shut off already.
At least it’s some consolation. Severus winced as he peeled the fern from his wound and looked the gash over again. He Splinched two fingernails and a strip of skin that crossed from one side of his wrist to the opposite side of his elbow. There was dirt and small gravel ground in it that needed washing out.
Checking the water’s temperature, Severus then held his forearm under the faucet, rinsing out the stinging flesh. After most of a minute, he pulled it out and shut off the tap.
"Bandages," he murmured, conjuring a rag and holding it to the wound. Annoyingly, fresh, bright red blood began to stain the rag almost instantly. He scowled and headed for the bathroom.
Being a man evolved to ignore mess, Severus failed to notice the open, half-unpacked boxes lining the hallways on his single-minded mission to bandage his arm. One box here was marked "Laney's clothes," and another there read, "Toys for Bleppy."
In his time living in Spinner's End, there were often open packages or messy trunks left scattered about, for when he chose to return to them. So inundated with deep-running habits now newly resumed, he overlaid these generic items with his own things from the past. In that moment, it made these odd additions functionally invisible to him.
The disheveled man entered his bathroom and opened the mirrored cabinet, locating the roll of bandages. Holding one end down with his thumb, he began to wrap when he realized he'd forgotten a pad of cotton. Swearing, he dropped the bandage, flung open the cabinet for cotton, and flung it closed again.
It was in the rattling bathroom mirror that he saw it. A lurid pink bra hung from the shower rod behind him.
He stared at it in the mirror, dangling behind his own gaunt, sallow face gawking back at him, contrasting his shadowed visage smeared in blood, grease, and grit with waterlogged padding and feathery, gaping lace.
"Who—?" Severus slapped on the cotton pad, and started yanking the bandage around his arm.
Something was wrong. Several somethings were wrong, as the day’s theme, but something in that moment was fundamentally askew. There was more sense in a Death Eater hunting him down in Latvia than in a pink bra being present anywhere on Snape property. He must have Apparated to the wrong house in his confusion, and had to leave before he was noticed.
Severus hurried through the house, tripping over boxes as he headed for the back door. As he passed into the kitchen, however, he stopped.
He backtracked and stared at the wall, baffled. He didn't doubt that most houses in Cokeworth were built with the same basic floor plan, repeated ad nauseum. He could confuse any one with his. However, no other house on Spinner's End had his mother's portrait hanging up in the hallway.
It was a photo he normally kept put away, of his mother sitting with him, age two, posing in her lap. She didn't smile in the photo, of course, and neither did he, which he admitted looked rather glum on a toddler. However, it was one of the only Muggle photos she had ever surrendered to, enlarged and framed in a place of honor.
This was his house. He recognized the picture, and as he moved backwards through the house, recognized even more. He found his sturdy oak bookcases attended by all his texts. He found the same, cabbage rose upholstery couch, no longer spelled black to hide the pattern.
He found a few absurdly new things, like a television, hooked up to a Muggle gaming console he might have seen in an ad; and a beaten, nylon guitar case slouching against a shelf in the sitting room. But when he ended up outside in the street, gawking at the front porch, he'd be damned if it wasn't his house. At the end of Spinner's End, with new curtains and the same, scratched siding, was Severus' childhood home.
"'Scuse me, are you lost?"
Severus spun around.
A few yards behind him stood an older woman, with wild black hair streaked with steely grey. She had curved, artistic features, with almond shaped eyes and a high cheekbones, a wide nose and full mouth. She wore a dark blue jumpsuit, and was carrying a cardboard box labeled, "From Lena."
"Lena, for fucks' sake, quit whining! Boy, get your mother outta my arse or it's both of your hides, you hear me?"
"I hate you, you ugly bastard!"
"Eileen, I'm warning you—c'mere!"
"Hullo? Do I know you from somewhere?" The woman came closer. Her hair was cropped short, revealing a faded neck tattoo of a sparrow shot through its forward wing. Beneath it read, "FLY ANYWAY."
He could just barely rip his tired, bleary, wishing-to-close-forever eyes from the box with his mother's name to the strange woman's face. She almost looked familiar, but he couldn't place her for the life of him. Instead, Severus scowled viciously, and pointed to his home.
"Now who exactly might you be and why are squatting in my house!?"
"Mum, you need help? Who's this bloke?"
This voice was a man's voice, coming down from above. When he looked over the woman's head, he looked to the man unloading the gold station wagon parked tight to the curb.
Instead of a face, he saw a wide chest with a flaming skull emblazoned across it. Severus himself stood at six feet, even. It didn’t bode well that, when he looked up in search of a face, his eyes traveled about six more inches before he found one, frowning down at him. It was ferocious, framed by long, stringy, thin hair not unlike his own; thick, angry eyebrows furrowed in groves you could pinch a Sickle in, and skirted in a wild, scraggly beard touching his torn collar.
Save for the beard, Severus was struck dumb by how strongly this man resembled his father.
"Oi,” the mountain of a man growled, dropping his many bags.
Severus took a fortifying breath, wondering at the profound depth of his misfortune. But then he remembered that he'd been through worse, had nowhere else to go, and had magic to defend himself. He steadied his breathing, and looked the massive man in the eye.
If it wasn't the snake, or the car, or the Death Eater in my apartment, then it won't be a Muggle in bloody Cokeworth, he rallied. He pulled up his chin and sneered:
"And who the fuck are you?"