August 22nd, 2002: Westminster, London
Harry set out for the Ministry the next day, carefully shaved and haphazardly dressed. It was a testament to Hermione's stuffed schedule that, at eight thirty in the morning, Harry was already running late.
Scarfing down his still sizzling breakfast while toeing on his trainers, he washed down a mouthful of fried egg with a chug of tea, tripped to the foyer, cursing, and took in the state of his shoes. Harry kneeled and began actually tying them, plopping the book of Potters past on the carpet.
An empty satchel dropped into view, dangling beside Ginny’s pallid legs. He looked up, bemused, fingers knotted in his laces. The bag jiggled suggestively.
"Please use something for your priceless family heirloom," she said down to him, lips tilted up in a favoring grin, "It costs more than everything I own, combined."
"Not more than that very good suggestion," Harry smiled, accepting the satchel. He eased the book into it, glad to concede to logic. The point of this morning was, after all, to be cautious.
Harry kissed Ginny, stumbled on his turn and Disapparated.
He landed in an alleyway, facing the street where morning commuters rushed past him, engrossed in newspapers, watches, and cell phones. A flustered father lectured his sullen teen son, glancing up at Harry without breaking stride. The young wizard checked his satchel and fixed his denim jacket, making himself presentable. Then rearranging the bag strap to sling across his chest, he slid out behind the pair, avoiding the dad’s eye, merging with the foot traffic.
As he walked to the Ministry, he felt a kick of nerves at the prospect of seeing Remus again. The last impression he'd made was of numb shock and crying—and shouting and door slamming. He hoped he hadn't spoiled their newborn reconnection and put the older man off him entirely.
Looking back, he felt childish. He hoped he could salvage things.
Seeing the inconspicuous red phone box up ahead, Harry took the rest of the street at a jog. As he neared, he saw the ruddy, flustered businessman struggling inside, rattling around in the coin return.
"Bloody thing ate my money," the Muggle swore, hauling back and smacking the receiver with his briefcase. "Fuck!"
Harry dipped out of his way and shuffled into the booth behind him.
"Sorry, Rhonda," he coyly consoled the number pad as he dialed.
Soon, he once more descended below the streets of London. He jogged through the Ministry atrium and up to the same guard from Tuesday where the square man sat, fingers folded. Harry didn't manage a smile this time while having his wand inspected. Instead, he hovered, tapping his foot, toying with the satchel straps until his wand was again in his back pocket.
"Control of Magical Creatures, level four," the guard droned. "And what's in the bag, you?"
"Erm," Harry stumbled, half-turned to the lifts.
He couldn't say a book, in case the guard asked to see it and saw "POTTER" on it in big, gold letters. That would blow off the gossamer Notice-Me-Not disarming Harry's features, exposing him.
The young wizard settled for a neutral shrug and pointed to his silver visitor's badge.
Dudley Dursley, Creature, said, "A snack?,” and nervously chewed his cheek.
He was sent off with a disgusted gag, and Harry hurried to the elevators, soured on another less than gracious welcome. He fantasized about the day he finally told the guard off for his rudeness. He'd drop the glamour and watch the blood drain from the guy's face as he recognized him.
Of course, it'd have to be worth the Daily Prophet calling him a trickster, or something similar; the enemy of working wizards. And burning Howlers did get tedious. Besides, the thought of being seen as the famous Harry Potter made Harry ill. More than being pestered, he hated being feared.
He would much rather be ignored than too seriously minded.
Ding! And the lift opened up to reveal the same long hallway to the Creature Embassy, vacant except for the receptionist's desk at its terminus. Behind it, Janice organized her files with pointed, nude nails and milky green robes.
"Morning, Janice," Harry greeted the secretary.
Janice looked up from a binder, violet eyes flashing. Her chocolate locks were pulled back in a French plait laid over one slight, jade-draped shoulder. As he neared, the shiny braid hissed and scurried back behind her neck. Harry startled, but kept nearing, if at a now glacial pace.
"Excuse me, sir, but do you have an appointment?”
"Yeah, yes! I do! I'm running a little late but, uh," he said, stopping in his tracks. Janice squinted at him.
Then she removed her desk phone from its cradle and listened at the receiver. She never dialed a number, absorbed in the fuzzy muttering coming through the line.
Harry elected to sit in the closest available seat. He wanted to hurry up and see Hermione, but was on time enough not to get reckless and try blowing past her. Somehow he thought forcing his way would mean never making his appointment—or flat out never being seen, by anyone, ever again.
"Alright, Mr. Dursley," Janice instructed in clipped tones. She didn't return the headpiece to the cradle, but laid it on the desk. The dial tone droned on while she spoke:
"Miss Granger had to leave for an emergency meeting, so she's left behind a referral. You're to visit Creature Heritage, located inside, on the second floor. Please allow Mister Lupin a few minutes to see you, as he is currently in another meeting.
The phone clicked and its dial tone evolved into harsh, indecipherable whispers. Janice held out a tight scroll for Harry to take, sealed with purple wax. He did his part—taking it—and hurried inside, thanking her.
No one received him in the office proper. Instead, he was left to take in the quiet atmosphere. Fluttery files overran Hermione's desk, folders splayed open and spilling onto the floor. A low fire danced in the fireplace, above which waved a banner, "Out On Business. Thank You For Your Patience."
Harry perched on the end of a chair. Above him, he saw that the door to Remus' office was open just a crack. Antsy figures milled through the amber lamplight beyond it, gesturing wildly. Faint snatches of an argument escaped to the first floor, and Harry swore he heard a woman sobbing.
He immediately felt guilty for eavesdropping. He fiddled with the seal of the scroll, staring at his feet, when he heard the door upstairs snap shut. He peeked up through his fringe with nagging curiosity and started.
Remus smiled softly down at him from the next landing, crossed arms balanced on the railing. The man looked a little rumpled and frayed, but all around happy to see him.
"Hello, Harry," he welcomed. "Sorry you had to wait. Please come up."
Harry nodded, glancing around for the upset visitors who must’ve already left. Then swallowing his nerves, he gathered his things and headed up the metal spiral stairs.
Remus' outstretched hand met him at the top. Unsure what to do, Harry assumed he wanted Hermione's referral. So he handed over the scroll with dutiful quickness.
"Oh," said Remus, seemingly caught off guard.
Harry watched, growing even more unsure as the man averted his eyes and worried the scroll in his hands. There were a few moments of Remus humming, wringing dry palms over parchment, while Harry struggled to think of what he'd done wrong.
"Yes, right, well let's get you settled," Remus finally said, tucking the scroll into a robe pocket, unread. He opened the door to his office and waved Harry inside. The younger man stuck his head in first, and finding no crying women, entered.
"Have you eaten, Harry?," he asked, "We can order you a service, if you'd like."
"No, I ate…"
Remus closed the door behind them, still looking away. He walked over with face carefully blank, staring through the middle distance.
At this point, Harry frowned at him as he made his way back across the room. He recalled him holding Harry's birth mother's sketch to Harry's face, comparing the two. He felt a sharp sting of fear, reliving that moment—afraid and confused and not being seen.
Is it different now? Maybe because I'm "store bought," Harry worried. He looked down at Remus' copper nameplate, while the man shuffled around the desk to sit. He could hate me now, but...but we just got him back.
Harry couldn't tell who he meant by "we." The whole outside world? It just felt safer than thinking of Harry, by himself, getting Remus back and losing him all over again.
"I'm sorry!," Harry blurted, arresting the man mid-squat. Remus blinked at him, stunned. Harry cleared his throat, cheeks burning, "Uh, I mean, I overheard your other meeting. It sounded sensitive, so...sorry. I didn't mean to snoop."
"Ah, don't worry about that. It happens," Remus smiled mildly. The greying man then dropped into his seat with a creak and a sigh. He massaged his neck, groaning.
"Oof, these old bones," he said, "I hope you don't mind my taking it easy while we talk? I'd love to be a more exciting host, but the full moon is tonight, and she always takes her toll."
Harry made noises of understanding, while his heavy satchel pulled on his chest. At least now Remus was looking at him, if a bit sadly. The man did indeed look drawn and pale, dark purple bags weighing down his eyes.
He should go home and rest, Harry thought, but both he and Remus let the silence drag on.
"I'd also like to apologize...for my behavior the other day," Remus continued. Harry said nothing, just listened, stomach churning. "I know I said my sorries then, and I don't mean to pressure you into forgiving me. I just want to make salient that my shock didn't warrant my reaction.
"I treated you like a spectacle in a moment where you were hurting. I, of all people, should know how it feels to be ogled while in pain. I just never expected—but that doesn't matter. I'll work harder to never do that to you again."
Harry rehoused his bag on his lap, trying to get comfortable, "It's fine."
"I don't think it was, but I appreciate you hearing me out. So, please, how can I help? I want to make it right."
Now he had an excess of Remus' attention. The man's once tawny, now yellowed gaze bore into him. Harry didn't think Remus knew how intense he became around the full moon. Even at rest, he clocked Harry's every move like perched inside him coasted an owl on silent wings, ready to strike. And then Remus would sag into himself and be an ailing, middle-aged man again. The whole of it was jarring.
Harry shook off his unease. Remus hadn't truly frightened him in years, not since the werewolf lived jobless and unmedicated, as a freshly reaped widower. Hermione's first major victory had been Wolfsbane for those in need. This was a Remus who had steady work and took his potion.
So it's better that I see him differently. Different isn't terrible. I can relax, Harry thought, judging his own anxieties.
He straightened up, looping the satchel strap up over his head. Pulling out the Potter register, he placed it between himself and Remus on the ink-splattered desk.
"I want to meet my birth mom," Harry declared.
Remus took a deep breath, eyes bright.
"Yes, of course," he sighed. The words weren't upset or relieved, simply blown in from far off, like a leaf through an open window. "I imagine it starts with finding her. Do you have a plan on how you'd like to go about it?"
Harry braced himself and flipped open the book. He turned to the map. Moving aside the sketch and certificate, he tapped on the page where the many named dots gathered. "Georgina Altagracia Hedgerot" had wandered into Manchester City and was sliding over towards Leeds. The rest of the dots, excluding Harry's and including Severus Snape's, remained clustered in the tiny town of Cokeworth.
"It's like the Marauder's Map, but for my relatives," the younger man explained. He then hunched, waiting for his father's friend's response—his adoptive father’s friend. It only took a second.
"Oh, of course he is," huffed Remus, "oh, Harry, I'm sorry." The werewolf looked up at Harry, cringing in sympathy. "So, Snape is still alive, then."
"You knew?," Harry exclaimed.
"Well, I suspected," said the other man, ignoring the map to keep Harry's gaze. It seemed that he meant it when he promised to prioritize his feelings. It was as if the map hardly existed:
"'Snape's Great Escape' isn't an uncommon conspiracy theory. It's featured in the Quibbler at least once a year. I don't blame you for not hearing about it, since you've stepped back from news and society."
"But why is that even a thing?"
"Well, the central argument is that his funeral was closed casket."
"What’s that have to do with anything?," Harry asked, confused. Remus elaborated.
"That's considered a mark of shame for wizards, since most disfigurement isn't a concern with the right spell. And shame is a rather strong position for Hogwarts to take on one of its Headmasters, especially given his accepted heroism. You can see why some people are suspicious and take to saying Snape’s got one over on us and slipped away."
"That's all? A closed casket?" So, no one had guessed at Harry's part in it. He was relieved, although he tried to sound anything but. "I guess it doesn't take much."
"Hmm." Remus lifted an eyebrow at him, resting his chin on his palm. "That's all the Quibbler has to say. Gossip among the werewolves varies a bit."
Those yellow eyes were fixed on him. Harry kept his face blank, realizing he might be caught.
"A rumored 'discrete supplier' in Northern Europe," the man went on, "sells Wolfsbane for three-night turns. It's an arctic affliction, so it's not popular news in Britain, but treating it is no small feat. So of course an eye's kept out for the brewer publishing."
"Well, if that was Snape," Harry protested, "there's no way he'd risk his cover for some stupid article!"
"Asking Severus Snape to give up recognition for his talents?," Remus chuckled heartily. "I suppose it's possible. He might. But if you compare Snape's few accredited works to the catalogue of a certain Latvian Potions master, who's appearing in British journals as if from thin air…"
Despite his obvious exhaustion, Remus grinned boyishly. Harry dropped his head into his hands, shell shocked.
"Idiot," he gasped. And Snape had accused Harry of loving the limelight! That prideful git!
"You don't seem too surprised by this."
"I just," Harry tried, and quickly surrendered. "Fine, I can tell from your tone that you know I knew. When did you figure it out?"
"Does it matter?” He heard Remus' grin warm into a patient smile, "I wasn't in the right mind to confront you on it when I did. And now, I only bring him up to serve you.
"Harry, I could care less that Snape‘s alive. We were far from friends. Considering what he's sacrificed, I'll concede that he's earned some peace. But that he's somehow related to you—besides his service and his skills, that's his value to me. A shock, sure, but a merit.
"Which is why I think you should reach out to him."
Harry shook his head, still covering his eyes. "Sure, yeah. We're old pals, me and Snape. I'll just owl him and swing around later with a roast. And when I go missing, it'll be your fault. Are you mad?"
"If you're asking for my advice, and I think you are," Harry felt a ribbing poke on the top of his head, and relaxed, "then I believe burying the hatchet with Snape might help you in the long run."
"Yeah, where’d you like it buried? My head, my back, or with my body in the garden?"
"Write to your birth mother first," Remus chuckled. "Maybe ask to meet and say you want to get to know her. And consider that knowing her may mean running into Snape. Unless he and your other relatives are invisible to each other, it's likely he knows them.
“That holds whether or not he knows their relationship to you. You could use that to shed light on your relationship to each other."
"To be honest, Remus," Harry said, uncovering his face, "I respect him for what he did in the war and feel for his childhood, I guess. And I'm grateful for him saving me when he did. But he was a prick, likely still is, and we hated each other for too long to get over. I don't want a relationship with him!"
"Trust me when I say I understand." Remus rubbed his temples, likely visited by old memories. "But you just said it yourself: you already have a relationship with him, Harry. It's just a bad—well, a complicated one.
"Now, I don't know what role you played in him faking his death, but that you even know about it tells me you had one. And as vicious a man he can be, even he can respect when he's been done a favor."
Harry doubted that, but let Remus finish.
"Write him a letter, too. Re-introduce yourself. Don't ask for anything. And maybe don't mention you can track him using generations old blood magic. Just say, 'Hello, it's been a few years. I hope you're doing well.' Even Snape can accept that."
Narcissa surveyed her gardens from the top floor of her solarium. She peered through the glass, the high sun glinting off her white robes and pale chignon, a slender nail tracing her cupid's bow.
She stewed, lost in her thoughts, until her son came into the room, brushing soot from his sleeve. With him came the heat of charred greenery and spellfire.
"The house in Riga is abandoned," Draco reported, running a hand through his hair. The platinum stayed streaked with black and sweat. "That and stripped to the studs. It's...meant to be furnished, yes?"
Narcissa froze, goose flesh raising down her arms. A delicate fist clenched, freshwater eyes fixed on the burning landscape.
"Severus, you halfblood bastard."
"Mother!," cried Draco, scandalized.
"Shh, darling. I am in a mood."
The nail slid between her teeth and she bit down on it—a dirty habit, as all Black girls are told. Below her, house elves rushed to douse the last stubborn flames. Unfortunately, the arsonist had escaped in the chaos, their message delivered.
"We must increase security," the woman advised her son. "And I want you back in this house every day by nightfall."
"Don't whine, it's unbecoming," she dismissed, waving him to his room. While he complained, Narcissa turned her mind to the problem before her, singed into her China roses:
"If that slimy thief is still alive," Narcissa said, "after all I did for him, after robbing me blind, then he won't risk an owl lest it reveal his location."
"So what do we do? He's disappeared!," sulked her son.
"I've an idea of where he might have slithered off to."
Blue light unveiled the irate contours of his face, reflected in the wardrobe mirror. Severus barely managed to wake in one piece.
After finally giving in to sleep just before dawn, he awoke disturbed by a sudden dip in the stained, attic mattress. His mind conjured the beast from his nightmare, coming to him in the dark.
A slick, crushing heat traveled up from his feet, and with a scrape of stiff wool blankets against his legs, evoked the terror of being swallowed whole.
His body was being devoured by a serpentine monstrosity. It grew three times wider and hungrier than Nagini or any of her kind—a tunnel of barbed, stabbing teeth. They were ripping him apart and shoveling the torn flesh into its steaming acid bowels. Severus was dying.
He begged for mercy, knowing he'd find none but unable to control himself. The many shadows attending the mile-long dining table pointed and laughed. They mocked his cries as his blood soaked the silver table runner.
With aching slowness, the monster's jaws closed around his head, blotting out the sparkling lights from the crystal chandeliers.
And when he landed back in the stuffy, onesome dark, he cast his horrified eyes about the room, hunting for danger, fearing the heavy-bodied rasp of scales on the wood.
Instead: a child's face, peeking around the doorframe, avid under a mess of corkscrew curls. Through round, wire frame glasses peered a gormless, immature gawk.
Severus knew instantly and with infuriating familiarity that this brat had sought him out, snuck up the stairs, and crept to his door. It shocked the child to actually see him there alone in the windowless attic, suffering. Like a viewing of some caged, tortured animal, stupid with pain.
He saw red.
"POTTER," Snape hollered, but just as quickly, the haze cleared.
Severus saw the girl, something pink and wiggling in her skinny arms. She squeaked at his shout and scurried from the door, dropping her bundle as she fled. It yowled when it hit the floor, affronted at being so abandoned.
Severus' cat shook herself, hairless but no longer bare. At some point she’d been dressed in a pale pink, cable knit sweater. Around her wrinkly neck was a cherry red collar, hanging from it, a plastic medallion reading, "CAT," in large, hand-carved letters.
Unconscionable nonsense, he fumed. Outrageous child!
In blatant disagreement, his cat flopped onto her side, blinking indulgently. She licked her paws, clearly having been fed while her owner slept. The feline, thus reclined, seemed perfectly at peace. He lamented his capable mouser turned plaything and threw back his sheets.
Severus slid from bed, testing his balance. Praying his legs wouldn't give out from under him, he turned to the dresser to fix his rumpled robes. He'd slept fully clothed, lacking a nightshirt. Severus re-buttoned his collar, which had grown suffocating overnight.
The robes cut into his scars.
He grimaced. He wedged in a finger where the fabric nearly strangled him, before giving up.
"Damn this," he groused, diving into the wardrobe.
He rummaged for anything of his to change into. He found musty rags, reeking of weakling sweat—Pettigrew's things. Nauseated, he tossed them aside, and wiped the scum from his hands. That was when he saw himself in the mirror, bruised and drenched in a similar, fearful sheen.
Growling, Severus cast the spell searching the house for the others. He expected to see four blue beacons, and was suspicious to only find three.
Robes snapping, the livid man stormed down the stairs. He encountered the girl crouched in the shadows of the first landing. She curled up, squeezing her eyes shut and holding her breath, as if this could turn her invisible. Severus was struck with yet more déjà vu. He was a professor again, stalking the corridors, sniffing for delinquent students. The fickleness of time irked him, simmering his rage.
"You," he barked, jabbing a finger at her. "Where's your mother!"
The girl let loose a quiet gasp and popped open a lid.
"She's at work," she answered. Severus tsked, having planned on impressing her incredible rudeness and peeping janery on her mother. He settled for snapping at the nosey little gremlin herself.
"You are never to enter the attic," he hissed. "I don't care if the walls are burning down around your ears and before your peeping little eyes. You will stay far away from me. Understood?"
She stared up at him, chewing on her answer. His scowl intensified and, leaving her there, he complained, letting her hear as he stomped down the rest of the stairs:
"This is why I loathe you little brats! Always so consumed with yourselves, no respect for the decency of your betters."
"You have a very avoidant attachment style," shared a tiny whisper of a voice. "My dad says that's because you weren't hugged enough as a kid."
Severus spun around, incredulous at finding the girl trailing him down the steps. When he glared, she looked at her socked feet, swallowed her lips, and started bouncing on her heels.
"I don't like hugs, but that's not the point."
Severus stared at her. The old stairs had made little noise as she hopped down after him. Her eyes ventured as far up as his chest before stopping. She held her breath, waiting for his response, and when one still hadn't come, she forged ahead.
"Zinnia doesn't like kids either. Or at least, she doesn't like me," the girl continued. She didn't sound upset by this. But then again, everything she said traveled on a trill. He couldn't tell her bothers from bird song.
"I don't really know her besides what she's shown me, but I can already tell. She's anxious-avoidant like you."
"You're just saying words," Severus scoffed, moving on to the ground floor.
"No!," she protested. Ah, at this she seemed annoyed. "Bowlby, Attachment and Loss, 1969. Ainsworth and Bell, Child Development, 1970. Hazard and Shaver, Personality and Social Psychology, four types of attachment are—"
Great, Severus rolled his eyes, tuning out her tremulous rambling, another bookworm.
He pushed on the seam of the bookcase entrance, shoving his way into the sitting room. He left the entrance ajar, letting the girl skitter out of the nook in her own time. Quickly, she scarpered after him, throwing obscure Muggle psychobabble at his back.
Severus progressed through the sitting room, eyes trolling through the clutter for something of his. Ironically it was almost all his, from floorboards to furnishings, but nothing he could wear or brew with. The only thing in the room he truly cared for were his books.
I can at least use those, he thought, hosting a mess of bruises and missing skin under his clothes.
But even the books, while reliable, were dated. He hadn't maintained the library at Spinner's End, hardly having lived there. The collection wasn't like those he had kept at Daugavpils or Hogwarts. These were mostly Dark Arts, and from before the publishing boom after the Second War.
So he'd have to make his potions from memory. Luckily, at the moment, he didn't need anything more complicated than bruise balm and Essence of Dittany. But where were his potions ingredients?
"Listen here, encyclopedic pest," Severus interrupted the girl's tirade. Said pest blinked up at him, stuck in her aborted rant. "My things were moved. To where?"
Severus could hear the grinding gears of her mind turning onto the new topic—and failing. She simply stared back at him with troubled, hazel eyes. Bemoaning the failings of children, he looked into those eyes and skimmed the child's thoughts for something helpful.
He found himself stalled by noise and light—the electric whine of the muted television, the sun through the curtains shining on his buttons, the cracking of her toes in her socks. His question repeated like a klaxon while he unmoored from the clean track of therapist jargon until his recorded voice stuttered and his consciousness was propelled to a memory of the girl's behemoth brother, listening, cutting the biting tags from her shirts, booming with skull rattling laughter—cutting the tags from her shirts in Leeds, cutting the tags from her shirts in London, cutting the tags from—.
Severus pulled away.
No more of that, he thought, pinching the bridge of his nose as a headache began to bloom.
The Legilimens had come across a handful of such children at Hogwarts. Each time was a scalding shock. The complex, instantaneous, ironclad connections of feeling and learning proved too much for the wizard. And in a Potions class of unbound stinks and slimes and occasional explosions, led by his own snide and bare instructions, these brats could drive him spare. He never meant to clash with the Wildermented, not since teaching that know-it-all Granger, who was always too quick for her own good.
Nursing his stung thoughts, the man returned up the staircase and sideways down the landing. Huffy at being brushed aside, the girl followed. And as if predicting his next stop, she squeezed past him in the narrow corridor and ran ahead.
Puffing along excitedly, she beat him to his childhood bedroom. She grinned, opening the door on her brother, hunched and scribbling.
Severus sneered. The hulking man looked ridiculous, folded over the small writing desk, pinching a pencil. Her brother removed his headphones at their arrival. This unleashed the tinny trash of heavy metal, all shrieking guitars in a mess of drums and vocals. Severus forgot himself for a moment, surprised mid-snipe.
He recognized the tune. He even remembered the name, as it slapped him back to the clammy spring of 1976. "The Ripper," by Judas Priest. Gods, he hadn't even thought of that song in decades.
But the words came to him as they poured from the tiny speakers.
"I'm sly and I'm shameless, nocturnal and nameless. Except for the Ripper…Or if you like, check the knife!"
The behemoth stabbed with his chewed-up pencil.
To see it and recall once doing the same with a quill, Severus couldn't parse how he felt. It was too unexpected. All he knew was that he was even more out of place, lurking in his teacher's robes and loafers, hearing a song from his spotty adolescence.
"Afternoon, Reverend," said the brother, kissing his broad thumb sarcastically and giving it to heaven.
Then he addressed the brat tapping out the song's beats on the desk. "Didya find him in the bathroom, duck, where you said you'd be goin'? Remember, far far away from the attic, like we promised?"
"Can he meet Bleppy?," the girl cried over the thready music. Her brother leaned back, disbelieving, and questioned Severus.
"You came all the way down here for a toad?"
"Obviously not," Severus drawled, curling a lip at the very idea. What Muggle girl even had a pet toad? And "Bleppy"? What a puerile name. "Where have you misappropriated my—."
But in that moment, the girl blew into the room, showing Severus its interior. And he didn't care about the instruments or the clothes on the floor. He didn't flinch at the framed posters and their depictions of graveyard angels and rotting corpses. Yet he reeled backwards, grey and shuddering.
"Well then, what is it?," asked the shaggy metalhead, but Severus only staggered back down the hall, shaking.
The bedroom was lined with snakes.
Bookcases and dressers were repurposed, holding display tanks filled with them. Acid green vipers hung from branches. Glimmering black serpents soaked in shallow bowls. Albinos slithered over each other, burrowing in moss and peat, flicking their forked tongues at the glass.
Even on the desk, by the behemoth's hand, there nested a muddled, tan and black royal python. And against the far wall in a latched enclosure, a massive constrictor basked in a heat lamp, watching Severus from its coils.
Breaking out in sweat again, Severus fled with bile rising in his throat. As he left, he ripped open his collar, in desperate need of air.
Anything of mine left in that room can fucking well stay there, he thought, horrified.
"Nothing in the attic and the second floor be damned," he briefed himself, panting on the couch in the sitting room. His last options for finding his things were the master bedroom and the basement. Not keen on rifling through more bras and bathing suits, he steeled himself.
He made it through the kitchen and onto the top step to the basement before hearing hoarse singing. Off putting to the ear—not only because the singing fell so off-key, it could classify as assault; but his memory of his basement was barebones.
He mostly brewed in his kitchen, rarely having cooked. He never used the outdated washer and dryer stuck below, having nothing he couldn’t spell clean. And before that, as a child, what had his mother done down there? Housework? He couldn’t recall. For most of his childhood, the basement was only a step from painted shut.
It only stored dead critters and quiet. Never singing.
Not to be outdone, Severus descended the crooked stairs in gothic silence, disavowing the cellared madwoman with his rigid expression.
A cot had been moved in, with pillows and a colorful patterned quilt, upon which sat the elder sister. A radio rested on a folding table beside her, playing R&B amidst snack wrappers and cola bottles, which she sang along to.
Noticing Severus, the sister beamed up, stamping out her cigarette in a tuna-tin-turned-ashtray. She was all stained teeth and battered face, her pitch black mane piled atop her head. She and Severus didn't look too different, in terms of dark, disheveled and wounded. They both even sported rust-spotted bandages on the same forearm, the congruity of which the wizard found revolting.
"Ey, big brother!," the sister crowed. "I was just thinkin' bout ya!"
Severus would've rather had her bash in his skull than be subjected to such abject ridicule.
"Don't you ever in your pathetic life presume to call me your brother, you insufferable banshee!"
"Aww, no," she wavered dramatically, undercutting her pretend heartbreak with lazy pawing through the bedspread. "He doesn't like me! How unexpected and impossible to pre-dict!"
She fished out a pill bottle with a triumphant rattle and shook a handful of pills into her palm. She tossed one, then two, into her mouth, swallowing them dry.
"Anyways, your holiness," she continued drily.
"Oh, great, it's catching," Severus grumbled. The only apology forthcoming was her unaffected shrug.
"Severus," he corrected, eye twitching. Then realizing he'd given one of the intruders license to be familiar, he said, "Or don't refer to me at all, which is the preferred option."
"Alright, Cerberus, wha'ever," the sister went on, "quit interruptin' me. Can you make that weird sludge Miss Eileen used to make?"
"What 'sludge,'" he asked, then remembering he didn't care, said, "As a matter of fact, no, whatever it is, I cannot."
"Oh, bullshit, you can't!"
"So sorry to disappoint."
Indulging in petty revenge, Severus approximated a shrug.
Then he looked to his left, at the pile of suitcases, dented boxes, trash bags, and taped up bins. They were all stored to one corner of the basement, opposite the makeshift bedroom. Not particularly fond of giving a stranger his back, Severus sidled up to the pile, keeping the sister in his periphery. This worked wonderfully to distract from the fact that he had no clue where to start his search.
Seeing her scowling at him, he rolled his eyes and glowered back.
"Stop looking at me.”
"No. Fuck off if you ain't gonna be helpful," she spat. She sat up more in the cot, making the springs squeak.
"And don't bother lookin' for your shit in there. My brother moved it and showed me where to because I'm cuter and a great listener. So I can tell you'll never find it unless you help me like I asked."
"I'm not helping you."
"Well then, I hope you got spare cash in the attic, Rev. Or else, I hope you’re comfy livin', sleepin', and shittin' in the same outfit—forever."
Severus ignored her and considered the pile. He itched to snap his wand from its holster and Accio his possessions, but couldn't risk doing it with a Muggle just a few feet away. He might've been able to at least tag them with a nonverbal spell and pull them out later, but he would still need his wand to do it.
If only he could get her to stop staring at him with those sickeningly bright eyes. They were almost glowing yellow in the dim basement, caught in the light of the hanging cellar lamp. Being watched so closely made his skin crawl.
"Fine," he capitulated, upper lip curling. "What is it you want."
"Whatever shit you cook up to fix all that," she said, grinning victoriously, gesturing to Severus head to toe, "I want some. Miss Eileen did it with boiled leaves and shit when we was kids. Gimme that."
"Tell me where my things are," he bartered.
"Tell me whatcha need and I'll get it for ya."
With more rusted squeaks, she was out of bed and padding toward the pile. Her joints clicked while she climbed into it, and she groaned, sinking onto a scuffed blue suitcase sealed with duct tape. He eyed her skeptically, then sucked his teeth, furiously rubbing at his neck. The blasted collar had started to itch!
"Jesus, Rev, what happened there?" A finger with a nail bitten to the quick pointed at his chafed scars.
"None of your business, that's what!," he said. "If you want your boiled leaves, give me—dammit."
How could he describe potions ingredients to a Muggle? He'd had a devil of a time teaching them to witches and wizards with minimal success.
"How about we start with normal clothes, since you look miserable in that get-up."
She reached down and started peeling the tape of the suitcase-turned-stool. "This's all da's stuff outta the big bedroom. I was gonna burn it for good luck, but it'll probably do after a wash, yeah?"