June 7th, 1969: Spinner's End, Cokeworth
He woke to the shhing of the blackthorn bushes, nose pressed to the dirt. Something rustled through the leaves. Sparrows shouted in the canopy above at the passing shadow of a crow.
Dry grass caught on his lashes. He lay under the alder and hazel, still as stone, waiting for the rustling to pass. It came closer.
As carefully as possible, the boy crouched. Twigs tugged at his hair but he didn't move again. His wrist still ached where his da had twisted it. His eyes were trained on the pale glimpse of sky through the bushes. He held his breath, waiting for a face to block the clouds.
Soon, an adult loomed over him, parting the leaves. He gasped, heart thumping.
"Gods, child! Come out of there!"
He squinted at his mother's dour look, breathing shakily, and stayed put.
"Your father's gone out, so enough. Get inside."
Gritting his teeth, Sev crawled out, leading with his good hand and making his way. The hedge shivered and snapped quietly as he emerged. Once she has him standing, his mother's quick, sharp fingers plucked feathers and clumps of dirt from his hair.
"Filthy. So this is where you've been all afternoon."
"Where else would I be?" This earned him a cuff on the ear, loosening a cricket from its home in his black fringe. It launched from his head and sailed back into the bush.
"Don't get smart! For that you can stay in your room, and I don't want to hear a peep."
His spindly mother hounded his steps, herding him back toward the house. She carried a basket of fresh hazel under an arm as stiff and thin as the branch she picked it from. He paused, curious what she was doing, and was pointedly hustled indoors.
She pushed him through the back entrance and locked it behind them, grumbling all the while. "I should leave you in the yard, since you like to act feral. Get on upstairs."
He made a beeline for the sitting room, planning to lurk behind the bookcase. If he read quietly in the nook, soon his mother would forget him, and he could sneak outside again. He didn't want to stay in the house today. The rain had finally stopped and the ground dried some, so Sev wanted to go to the park.
But he froze in the doorway, bewildered. In place of a vacant living room, there was a girl on their couch.
She was older than him, a teenager, who sat holding a towel to her cheek and tapping her feet. She wore cropped jeans and trainers. She wore her hair in a frizz down to her shoulders. She had long nails and pink lipstick. And the only thing more swollen than her cheek was her stomach, which ballooned under her shirt.
She stared back at him morosely.
"Severus, right?," the teen greeted in a low voice.
Sev backed out of the room, eyes wide. Not looking behind him, he smacked into his mother's legs and was spun around by the shirt collar.
Eileen Snape glowered down at him, fist shaking. No—in her off hand she clutched a jar of bruise balm, stored in a recycled pickle jar. At first he thought it was for him. Except he had aches without bruises, so how would she have known he needed it? And the paste couldn't help bones, that he knew.
So, he realized, it must have been for the pregnant girl on the couch. For the cheek she was icing. Not him at all.
"I said to your room!," his mother hissed.
"But who's that?," he quibbled. Why was there a girl there?
"Mind yours, that's who!" She pushed past him, shuffling down the hall. Over her rounded shoulder she snapped, "All this listening at doors and minding others' business. One day you'll hear something, boy, and mind me, it will lean on your soul!"
It was the most she'd ever said to him at once. It listed down on him like a hex, but he didn't mind it, as he was always shooed away for something or other. He'd be forgotten and left to know either way. He trailed after her back toward the stranger.
His mother, hunched like a woman thrice her age, entered the sitting room and twisted open the jar. Sev followed, hiding behind her. It was no small feat, as she was particularly waifish in her dark skirts and shawl. But the boy took pride in his exceptional sneaking, and crept unnoticed.
The medicinal punch of bruise balm hit the dusty open air. He smelled black tea and crushed daisy, winterbloom and overpowering clove. The girl, instructed to move the towel from her cheek, winced at the smart pat of mud on her swollen face.
"Rub it in, little twit." Eileen scooped out another dollop and smeared it down the bridge of the girl's nose.
"Stupid, following that wretch into the pub. And if he went after the baby, then what? Look to the side."
"Ow! I know, but I needed—."
"I'm sure all you needed was the sense knocked into you. And that's all you'll get from my husband. Now get on before he knocks it loose again."
"I can't…ouch!" She took a watery breath, and through gritted teeth came,"I can't fucking live like this."
"You don't cuss in my home, girl." There was tense silence except for his mother's slippers sliding over the carpet. Then she sucked her teeth. "Too young. If you can't take it, leave. Pack up all your little things and move, since you can't cut it here."
"Christ, how do you do this?"
"Oh-ho, don't live after me—trust. Stubbornness and pride will get you nowhere."
The jar was screwed shut and put aside. Sev's wrist throbbed, untended, but the boy kept to himself in the corner. Something in his needing pricked his mother's ear, however, despite himself. She turned to the silent nine-year-old, glaring daggers.
"Upstairs, Severus! Salazar, it's like I'm talking to my bloody self!"
His fists clenched and Sev slunk past, hands twisted in his shirt. He looked askance at the teen as he passed, and noticed what he thought was a cushion crushed to her side.
It was in fact a child, a toddler, squeezed into a shaking ball and tucked under the young mother's arm. He didn't see much—only the little back, tiny denim overalls, and two frilly socked feet with one scuffed shoe between them.
His resentment passed over on swift wings, like the crow circling the garden. How pitiful, what a baby, so inexplicably terrified, cowering in its mum. Sev didn't need that. He had grown up. He knew better. Without meaning to, the boy stopped again, stomach burning.
"Child, if I have to repeat myself one more time—"
"Can I go outside," he interrupted. He dodged a pinch on the way to the door. He was leaving no matter what. "I wanna go to the park. I'll be back 'fore nightfall, I promise."
He was already on the porch when Eileen spat to stay out of sight.
"Stay out all night for all I care, I'm done with you. Ah-ah, but get a coat. You won't be freezing to death and sending people to this house looking for me."
"Ma, it's summer," he complained, but he still snatched his father's unused work trench from the coat tree. Sev ran out into the street, throwing on the coat as he went. The coattails snapped in the wind he made, an ugly beige cape across his skinny back.
He now stood, too-warm, in the summer sun. The occasional truck rambled lazily by, and the garbage was out on the curb. Few other children roamed the End at this time, as they were scattered towards the cold mill hunting for fun.
Sev was alone as he peered into his living room from the outside. In it his mom pecked, standing crooked with arms akimbo. There was frizz and shrugging shoulders left to see of the big-bellied girl. And unexpectedly, a round, pigtailed head bobbed into view.
Wobbling on the bottom edge of the window, a tiny pudgy cheeked face blinked out at him. He scowled at the baby, wanting it gone. But then his mother moved out of view, and for a second it was someone else's house. It was the girl's and the baby's house, their living room, in no essential way different from the neighbors'.
Magic happened where Sev lived, sure, but barely and not without consequence. So from the street, it was impossible to tell his from any other shed on Spinner's End.
His feet came unglued from the sidewalk then. More wind blew under his heels. The boy flew down the road to the park, coat flapping batlike behind him.
And as he ran, and for years after, he forgot that it ever was his house with the pregnant girl and the toddler. He never saw them again to remind him. They rolled off his mind like sweat down his temples.
In his memories, his living room melted into every other room seen through its front window. Sev would collect so many such snapshots, puzzling about home life, looking for proof of concept. His encounter blended with those views of the lonely, toothless seniors and the other yelling dads and the scowling sulking teens.
It was as if it had never happened.
His mother and the jar became the dozens of other times she tended to herself or him. It dissolved among those gloomy days of her calling one or both of them an idiot. The dark-haired toddler in its mother's side became him or a Potter or a Longbottom, spinning out into vitriol about the dangers of coddled youth.
And the only clear memory he had from that day, which overwrote all the others, was that afternoon in the park. It was the swing set, squealing and squeaking, and the tickling ants in the bushes.
It was the copper haired witch swinging higher and higher, leaping, and floating gently down.
It was magic he remembered, pure and free and wheeling up into the sky. It was a story he guarded jealously, more real than himself and his mother and his Muggle father. He remembered best the world he'd rendered for the beautiful girl with clean cheeks and the pretty dress.
While the decades faded the preceding hours, Severus kept those bright green eyes, ones that only saw the boy for the wizard. Those eyes he would live in, for a few years, for a short time. He owned that first afternoon where he wasn't alone and hurting. He owned imparting on her the promise of a bigger world, where magic would give what one was owed.
The rest was just piffling life, filter, vignette. One pulse of many pains. He would become a man from the good part, forsaking the bigger picture. And the near knowing would sink, like the sun, behind the black chimneys of Cokeworth.
August 23rd, 2002: Spinner's End, Cokeworth (after midnight)
Spells exploded on the kitchen wall. A shimmering of wards distorted the rattling door chains. The floor shuddered as the undeterred werewolf below attacked the house's foundation.
Severus eyed the cracked plaster of the load bearing wall, growing tired. He'd had so little energy to start. Still he poured willpower into keeping the distended door in place. The repercussions of failure were too unconscionable to do less.
"That looks bad," peeped a voice by his elbow.
"Get away from me," he told the nosey girl for the fifth time that night. Of course it was unreasonable to hope a rampaging werewolf might escape a child's notice. How lucky for him that one hadn't.
"Is it bad though?," asked the brother. He stood to his right, by the sink, running his burned hand under water. "I mean, do your thing, s'just the wall looks kinda...crumbly."
Severus sent him a withering glare. The younger man had insisted on niceties after realizing Severus had thrown him from certain death. The querulous wizard refused to play along. His focus was on accomplishing two very specific goals: keeping his house standing and surviving the night uneaten.
"Well, it isn't encouraging," Severus snarked. "Now no more distractions!"
He returned to muttering strings of Latin from memory. Fleeting snatches of old grimoires flit under a mental lens. He snagged what he could, but his endurance was waning.
Bam! He lost his footing as the slam of supernatural body on iron tossed him aside. His hipbone banged into the counter, telling a nerve. Pain zapped up his side, buckling his knee, and his recitations faltered. In response, the wards wavered, trembling, threatening to fall.
"Dammit!" His concentration broke completely as he despaired at the mangled spellwork.
Severus had royally screwed up outside of anything he'd expected. In a spiraling panic, he'd thrown too many spells at the one problem, and the tangled knot of needs squirmed about, impossible to grasp, all of it under direct assault from the basement.
Without his stream of intent, the wards sparked magnificently. They cast off brilliant rainbows that shone off the entire kitchen. Colors swirled on the pots and pans, bottles and glasses, spoons, forks and knives. The Muggles—mother, brother, and the wide-awake child, who couldn't be shooed away—shielded their eyes, swearing and gasping in awe.
Severus stalked toward the buckling wall, furious.
If this collapses, that monster is let loose and we're torn asunder, he thought, the hard line of it driving him forward. And if the wards explode, the house topples over and we're crushed.
"Get it together," he panted, lifting his wand.
He parted his lips to resume chanting—and remained thus posed, affixed with terror. His mind went blank. Severus stood there, hands up, gaping at the shimmering mess. He wasn't calm enough to tackle this problem. It was too much. He couldn't think straight.
A howl like ten werewolves echoed through the cramped kitchen, engulfing his last clever thought.
I can't do this.
A broad arm clotheslined him. He choked and saw stars as he hit the linoleum. The arm pinned him to the floor. Severus fought under the weight of a massive body as if caught by a fallen tree.
"Everybody down! It's gonna give!" At hearing the brother's bellow, two more bodies dove to the floor. Severus could do nothing but squeeze his eyes shut.
Above them, a terrible crack and boom tore through the kitchen. The wards exploded in a manganese flash. All their colors melded into bright white light, and a keening ring pealed through the pandemonium.
There was only a moment before the werewolf howled again. Then came the final slam! The whole house groaned as the beast ripped the basement door from the building around it. Under the reverberating whine of spell implosion, he heard the werewolf's injured bay.
Reflexively, he opened his eyes, again risking blindness in as many days, but unable not to witness the beast.
"Jesus fucking Christ!," wheezed the body over his. "It's really a…"
Severus shook, sixteen all over, locking eyes black-to-yellow with the once creature of his nightmares. It had fangs like skinning knives, slick with noxious drool and bloody from gnawing at its own flesh. The whole body of coarse black hair bristled nastily, hackles raised, ears folded back in agony.
The sound, he realized, sick and thrilled. It can't stand the ringing of the wards.
"Still might...where's my wand?," Severus breathed, flexing his trapped left hand. He sighed gratefully at the unbroken lean of cypress in his palm. But he couldn't manage a proper motion pinned to the ground.
"Budge up, you fucking yeti," he groused, desperately elbowing the brother in the chest.
"Y'know, Rev, there's a werewolf here and I saved your sus hide just now," the younger man grumbled, lifting up off of the wizard's arm. "Least you can do is use my name."
"You first." He aimed by the wolf, using the brother's body as cover.
Severus grunted an unsympathetic, "Tuh," and cast his strongest amplifying charm at the wards. The humans all cried out as the whining grew louder, drowning out all other noise. He vaguely felt for the child thrashing in unenviable pain under her mother, legs kicking, round face folded in agony. The pair struggled across the room before the girl slumped into unconsciousness, her mother’s shout lost to the ringing.
His own eyes watered at the skull-splitting shriek of the wards. It whirred higher and higher until the bucking werewolf, like the child, collapsed onto its side with a mighty crash.
Whip-quick, Severus hushed the wards, on the edge of blacking out himself. As the tunnel left his vision, he pushed to get free, sitting up and resting his back against the sink cabinets. The small knobs dug into his ribs but he hardly cared as he quivered like a newborn foal, taking in the great unconscious beast.
They bought themselves a few minutes at best.
"I have to get Laney to hospital," yelled the mother irrespective of the stunned quiet in the room. It seemed she was deafened by the attack. She gathered her limp daughter in her arms regardless, turning the girl's slack face into her neck.
"Mum, what're you even gonna say?" A line of blood dribbled from the behemoth’s ear, but besides a wince and a slight slur, he didn’t seem too out of sorts. He was only slightly louder than usual.
"Yeah, y-yeah,” he stuttered, “you, you go and I'll get there when Zeddie's, um, set to rights, I guess?"
At this, the large man sat up scratching his head and looked down at down Severus. They shared a moment of helpless shivering on the floor.
"She does turn back...right?"
Instead of answering, the wizard looked at the beast in question. It lay fully unconscious, red tongue lolling out of its mouth. Around it were the remains of the kitchen table, smashed to bits under its weight. Severus could smell the monster's sulfurous breath and recoiled at its closeness.
"We're not done here," he warned. "It'll wake soon, and the house could—"
But he was cut short by said house flashing once, like it had been photographed. For a moment, the colors in the room inverted, like a photo negative. Then slowly, to his astonishment, the wrecked kitchen began to reverse itself. The fissures in the drywall healed, glossy paint and wallpaper rolling back into place. Where the door's arch and some ceiling had fallen away, wood and plaster returned.
Severus tensed, gripping his wand as he noticed the werewolf stir. However, rather than wake it, whatever unknown magic was at play scooped the wolf off the tile. It worked while they watched, petrified, the huge body floating with its coarse, black hairs fanning as if riding static electricity. The wolf bobbed once, spun, and glided through the ragged hole, sinking into the basement. Then the iron door rehung itself, chunks of plaster filling in around it. A lattice of rivets and chains reformed over the door and it tied off with the same, giant padlock.
With a solid clunk, the door was as Severus had meant it to be: daunting and resolute, shellacked with unyielding wards. This door would hold. It shone, like it knew its own strength. It'd let nothing in and absolutely nothing out.
Severus looked over the present party, helplessness turned to seething, knowing he wasn't the one responsible.
There's a witch or wizard among them, he knew with sudden clarity.
"Who is it?," he growled. "Which one of you has been playing me for a fool?"
Nobody spoke for a minute, such that they could hear the werewolf below them coming to. The idea of it waking up so soon nauseated him, but now he had cold fury to help him stay his course.
"Who!?," he shouted.
"Alright, you cut that shit!" Grace snapped, covered in splinters and plaster dust. She jabbed a finger at him from by her son's side, baring her teeth around where he’d slid in front of her.
"I won't be yelled at by any man in front of my kids! I'm a grown woman and older'n you at that, so you'd better act right!"
The hand cradling her daughter's head brushed the fine hair from the girl's face.
"Let me at least put her to bed,” she grunted. “Then you can explain why my eldest is a b-bloody monster. Then I might wanna share. Freddy, take her."
"Yep,” her son scooped the child from her eyes, glancing once at Severus, and quickly away.
The Muggles left the kitchen under his gimlet eye, her children leading the way. Severus traded scowls with their mother until she too disappeared out the room, holding her head and muttering. Soon, he heard the rapping of footsteps above him, as though somehow, impossibly, a nearly regular night had resumed.
Outside of a few groans from underneath, he sat with the wall for a minute in silence, seething and feeling his new bruises.
Eventually, he examined the wards, which now glowed calmly with a tempered sheen. To satisfy his frustration, he managed to recall a charm to peel back a layer and reveal their innards. Aided by Legilimency, he probed the web of iridescent threads until he sensed something not his own.
Briefly placated by dissection, Severus found it, the oddity, small and buzzing and burning with willfulness. It formed a hard kernel of defiance anchoring the other, more complicated spells. The wizard straightened up, embarrassed. He withdrew from the wards, sure of who was to blame.
Grrrrr-humph! From below came a rumble, followed by a disgruntled huff. Distantly, he heard the wolf scratch itself and whine, finding it absurd that of all anyone, the werewolf had the gall to act annoyed.
Mrrrgh, it complained.
"Oh, shut up." He rubbed his battered hip and sighed.
Severus spent some time recouping before hunting down the family upstairs. Having reacquired a limp, he made slow progress to the second floor, taking a break, favoring his side, when he passed the behemoth on the landing.
The always bedraggled man lumbered past, lugging a boom box, a notebook, and a box of clear plastic casings—CDs.
"You," Severus tried, not liking what he saw as the brother marched away undoubtedly toward the kitchen. Years of brat-herding told him there was clownery afoot.
"What are you up to?" But the man kept walking as if he didn't hear him. Severus wondered if he was still hard-of-hearing from the wards, although he thought it just as likely that he was ignoring him—again.
Merlin, what is that yeti's name?
"You! Fred!" It worked. “Fred” turned around, shocked, as if he hadn't seen Severus standing there. The older man looked down his nose at the stereo. "What are you about to do?"
"This?,” he asked. “Nothing, I just had an idea."
"Will this 'idea' get me killed or irritate me in any way?"
The brother chewed on this and then settled on a crooked-toothed grin. His teeth were stark white in the shadowy alcove.
"Can't say,” he said. “Probably."
And then he stomped down the stairs and out of sight.
"Ridiculous." Severus narrowed his eyes and kept on toward the master bedroom, too tired to stop him. “Let him, what do I care?”
He ended up in the entrance to the master bed, hands folded behind his back. Incidentally, Severus found himself observing a moment of care.
On the bed, the insensate girl was bundled under the covers. Pillows swallowed her head except for a tuft of black hair sticking up over the comforter. An extra wool blanket he’d never seen before was pulled up to her chin. He'd be surprised if she didn't suffocate.
Her mother, whose sat with her dusty back to the hall, slipped the small, black-rimmed glasses off of her daughter's face, leaving them folded atop the quilt. Severus took the opportunity to check the state of the room.
The one window was cracked to let in a breeze and boasted a sill of blown-out, sooty white candles. Their glass jars depicting Christian saints, the paper halos warm with low lamplight. A turquoise-beaded rosary on a kinked cord hung from the wooden vanity. Under it, an ashtray nursed loose change and the butts of a few crushed clove cigarettes. Uncapped tubes of lipstick were strewn around it. The drawers were open, half-packed with jeans and socks and sequined dresses.
Open cardboard boxes lined the room, full of sweaters and toys and pound shop novels. It seemed nowhere in this house was free of books.
This was leagues away from his parents' dreary nest. Thanks to him, it had lost the stink of stale clothes and beer, but once he resided full time at the castle, he let it succumb to mold and disuse. His year under surveillance, dodging sleep with constant brewing, had hardly changed that. If anything it imbued the room with the clinging, chemical fumes. All his attempts to smoke the rat from his attic had vented into there.
Now, that smog of potions was gone. The unwashed sheets were stripped. Replacing that was cloves and burnt wicks, perfume, paper, and cosmetic wax; a wrack of child's shoes; a hideous wool quilt his mother might've liked.
Severus found himself dithering until his presence was felt, very aware that this was no longer his space. Even he knew the difference between a place owned and a place lived in. Someone had made their home here. He hovered outside the hub of it like an uninvited ghoul.
That they chose to domesticate Spinner's End felt as idiotic as it did admirable. They'd certainly be the first. His parents failed, and Severus never bothered. Very brave, these Muggles. Severus was equal parts mystified, disgruntled, and impressed.
Sappy fool, a thought objected, though his countenance remained blank, him watching the woman kiss her child’s wrinkled forehead. You're an insect trying not to get stepped on and barely succeeding at that. You couldn't possibly miss dorms, dungeons, and your awful Latvian shoebox? Homes? Those were home to you?
Severus couldn't deny it. He credited his endless week for his navel gazing, but knew he was homesick.
Bleeding heart. His inner voice sounded remarkably like Lucius. Luckily, this made it easier to push aside.
"Ha!" He gave the older woman his attention. She cursed into a tight fist and threw him a rude gesture. Severus quirked a brow.
"Ah," he asked, "did I scare you?"
She hopped off the bed and alighted on quick feet into the corridor. She eased the bedroom door closed after her, and then motioned for him to follow, tip-toeing to the stairs. He rolled his eyes but obliged, flat-footed, surprised that his bare feet were starting to ache.
He suffered the farce of being led to his own sitting room with little complaint. They slouched in across from each other—him to the armchair, her on the couch. The shape of her curls against the curtains bothered him for some reason, like a pressing déja vu. He let the feeling pass, however, opting to tend to the conversation at hand.
"One sec," she held up a finger to stop him. She cleaned an ear with her pinky and tilted her head as if to catch a tune.
"Shush!" He sat, lips thinned, but soon heard it too: music drifted in from the back of the house. It grew from a tapping of cymbals, easily confused for rain on a window, to what sounded definitively like classic rock and roll.
"What in the hell," Severus mumbled. He twisted in his seat to hear better, certain his overworked mind had begun playing tricks on him. Then he remembered Fred and his boom box headed for the kitchen.
"Oi! Quit muckin' about by the werewolf!,” his company yelled, exasperated.
"...Yeah, okay," came the faint reply. The music stopped, a stirring of bass cut short. A few moments ticked by, however, and another song started. This time it was saxophonic jazz.
"Hey! What did I just say!"
A jumping chorus of trombones faded into quiet and, after a few minutes more, returned in a sepulchral swell. Piano accompanied a feminine croon. Strangely, the lonesome melody found its place in the hollows of the house. Severus, so agog as to be curious, let the music play out, listening. He glanced at the mother quizzically, strung along by the words.
"...I'll find you in the morning sun. And when the night is new. I'll be looking at the moon. But I'll be seeing youuu…"
The carpet jumped underfoot. Musty air puffed up through the floorboards, and a grumble echoed from below. Severus split from the wistful trance and leapt to his feet, snapping his wand from its holster.
"Freddy, knock it off!" The man's mother stood on the couch now, panicked, a surfer finding sharks in the waves. "Enough, man! Enough!"
"Nah, hold on! It's working!" Instead of stopping, Fred guffawed and cranked up the volume. "Ahaha! Oh my god, she's singin'!"
The floor shuddered, and the two in the living room froze, frantic over the wooden slats settling under the rug. And under the music and their hammering hearts, they heard a thready howl, unequivocally lupine. Horns played and the singer serenaded:
"Suundaaay is gloomy. My hooours are slumberless. Dearest, the shadooows I live with are numberleeess…"
Alongside it was the mournful wooing of the werewolf in the basement.
"You cannot be serious," Severus whispered, feeling dizzy. He retook his seat lest he pass out from just the way thought.
"One of the most afeared Dark creatures for centuries, and the bitch likes blues." He put his face in his hands, grinding his temples, needing to understand.
Across from him, the mother sucked her teeth and slumped down on the cushions. He looked up and saw she covered her face next, wheezing. Severus dragged a hand over his slack mouth and loosed a gusty sigh.
"Your family wants me dead." He glared scorching blame.
The woman chuckled, only the once, before sitting up, head hanging, a hand still over her eyes.
"Yeah. That...that thing's really my kid. Zinnia loves Billie Holiday. Has since she was three."
With her head down, she had more grey hair than black. Though she looked young, to have two adult children and a ten year old besides, she was easily over fifty. Seeing her in her sleep clothes, though, peppered with dirt and more than a little defeated—it was the first time the woman looked of an age.
"No way," she whispered. Severus looked on and said nothing. "'Werewolf,' are you—they're not real! Augh, ma would shit herself."
And then she raised her head. Her eyes were red and her short lashes, spiky and wet. Aside from that, she smiled, shrugged and laughed, as if to say, "That's it. It is what it is. I give up.”
They met eyes, the wizard wary, the Muggle giddy in surrender.
"Okay! So!" She clapped once, calling some meeting to order. Grinning over her fingers, she cried, "Help us!”
He was shocked to feel he just might. Despite his natural hesitation, his resentment of the Muggles, his battered shoulder, his arm, his hip, the lack of proper sleep, the monster in his basement, and the fact that somewhere overseas a Death Eater pawed through the rubble of everything he'd built and blew up, likely to kill him, a loathed and lauded traitor—despite all of these things, he snorted.
Being begged for help was funny, in a cosmic way.
"Well," Severus mused, "since you've asked."
Dawn approached gently on the night-hassled house. Severus and Grace, who refused to be called otherwise, bickered on the carpet amidst a spread of his many texts.
"But it says right here there's a cure!" She shoved a book review under his nose. He rolled his eyes, and slapped it away.
"And I said Kettleburn refers to scale rot in merpeople, not lycanthropy. You simply will not find a highly coveted cure to a barely treatable curse in Kettleburn's back issues!
"He taught the Care Of course when I was in school and I promise you, he had more limbs than sense."
"Guessin' that's either little sense or a whole lotta limbs." She mumbled, giving up on the book. She looked around for another one. "How bout this? It says—."
"You're closer to being Merlin than a mooncalf is to being a bloody werewolf. Scamander won't help."
"...Wait, Merlin's real?"
The one tome on werebeasts became two on Dark creatures, and four on half-creatures around the world. Of course, with Severus'...special interests, the majority of monographs described harvesting parts for potions.
He argued Grace down from violence post encountering the chapter on lycan spleens. He explained that his Cokeworth library was dated for a younger, nastier self.
"Ha! What're you now, spun sugar?," she scoffed. Then she had snatched down a book titled Pouring from the Dark Cauldron and read from a random page.
"'Damocles Belby invented its modern formulation on,' oh, it's the potion again. God, it's everywhere! Your scientist types haven't done shit new since the 70s. Bad press for you all. Awful. Poor show."
"Obviously breakthroughs come in stages," he drawled. "Do you like being wrong? Is it fun for you?"
"Oh okay, except I didn't go to magic school, so what's your excuse, ah? Only seems to me that no one gives a flyin' sequinsed fuck 'bout fixing anyfin'!" Grace threw down Pouring and pushed off the couch. Severus already crossed his arms, giving up the argument as a lost cause.
For pride's sake, he ground out for the last time, "You have only one option and it's the Wolfsbane Potion. There are versions and variations, but it's all Wolfsbane. No twists, and no cures. Stop looking for cures."
She threw up her hands, shouting, "I don't buy it! You're sellin' us werewolves but we don't get the fix!? Something, something's wrong! Every book, every wizard's wrong! This's a joke!"
"Even magic has its limits. The bite's curse has never been broken, or if it has, it's the closest guarded secret in the world. And without saying too much, I would know if it's the latter, as cracking secrets are a point of pride."
"N—ugh!" Grace walked off, shaking her head. "Forget it. I'm getting coffee."
Severus watched her leave, arms crossed so tight his elbows hit his chest. The second he was alone, he sagged into the couch and rubbed his eyes.
"This is pointless."
Convincing her that magic was real wasn't the issue. She'd known his mother. She had her own suspicions. And seeing a kitchen rebuild itself around an honest-to-goodness werewolf did most of the heavy lifting.
But the Muggle woman would not accept anything less than miracles. It didn't matter how they went about it, or from what angle he leveraged it. Nothing could convince her that a problem magic caused had no permanent magical solutions.
"I'd rather it be seizures! They have doctors for that shit!"
Not only did Grace refuse to believe him, she had him looking at his own books with disdain. He didn't care deeply about curing lycanthropy, but he did think the stagnation unsavory.
Severus knew Belby. Severus knew his own work. He was an expert in lycanthropy and potions. Or he was a well-cited voice, at least. He was academically on the cutting edge and, frankly, it was dull.
Did he think there was a possible cure for lycanthropy? No, and so he wouldn't make it his job to find one.
But it was the twenty-first century. Muggles made gains most wizards couldn't imagine—mobile phones, new vaccines, computers, satellites. Confidently, Severus preferred dittany over stitches. However, he also might have liked an airplane flight over cross-seas Apparition. Planes only lost luggage, not skin.
And while wizards had Portkeys, Muggles gave them trains. One couldn't doubt the innovations. Coming back to werewolves, said innovation lagged.
He hadn't considered Muggle werewolves ever, in all his Wolfsbane work. The field consensus was, without magic, one would never survive the bite. And ignorance and an overdose nearly killed his—nearly killed Zinnia, who by some accounts, Severus felt, didn't deserve.
He valued the statute but not to a fault. Severus acknowledged the need for a middle ground. Then the ex-Death Eater's stomach churned as, quite without meaning to, he remembered Charity Burbage.
Her gruesome death, for teaching things as innocuous as bicycles and comic books. Begging for her life—his stomach lurched.
It's a luxury to think on this now, he recounted solemnly. The returns of surviving others never ceased.
Tap! Tap tap tap!
Severus twitched open the living room curtains, squinting through the paned glass. He balked at the sky easing from pitch black to navy. Morning snuck in both days too late and earlier than expected. The wizard opened the window and stared down at the owl.
The barn owl hissed, feathers puffed up and shivering. Severus scowled and shot it a stinging hex. The bird carried on such that it must've been feral. But it only flapped, squawling, showing him its talons.
"Get!," he bit out. Then he saw the letters leather-strapped to its legs and went cold. The post owl had a fit as the wizard wrestled it for the delivery. "Give it!"
Before he could drag it inside, the owl took off into the pre-dawn in a flurry of down. Severus cursed, checked the street for onlookers, and slammed the window shut.
He frantically scanned the envelopes in hand. Who wrote him? Why? Nobody should know he was alive, much less receiving post! Narcissa wrote by Floo, never owl, lest it be followed. When that barn owl returned to its sender empty-handed, they would know Severus lived. Hell, if they traced the owl or the letters, they would know his address!
The man immediately went to burn the letters. He couldn't risk being found. He would have to move again.
To where, idiot?, berated his rushing thoughts.
I'll figure it out. He took his wand tip to the corner of the envelope and watched it smolder.
What about the Muggles? The letter boasting his name caught fire.
They'll...they'll figure it out, he reasoned. I can't help them if I'm dead.
It was glancing at the other letter, the one addressed to Grace Hedgerot, that gave him pause. He recognized the handwriting. Merlin, how couldn't he? He harped on how atrocious it was almost every night for six years, except summers.
"Potter!," Severus cursed. He looked at his burning letter, and considered rendering it to ash. That idiot boy! How dare he write Severus like they were bosom pals!? Who did he think he was!?
"Damn!" He snuffed out the letter flame and ripped open the missive. So he wasn't being traced? He couldn't be, not by Potter, not after four years of happily staying out of each other's way.
"What is this, you stupid boy? Gods, you couldn't even bother to rewrite this on fresh parchment. You just love to waste my time, don't you? 'Snape,' oh, yes, brilliant."
He skimmed the letter, made it out to "I hear you're back in England" and bellowed, "How!? Potter, you—how!? You meddling—you worthless—!"
Severus shredded letter and slapped the scraps down on the end table. With a fierce jab and wordless snarl, he burned them and banished the leavings. One piece escaped the carnage, reading "Thanks for not burning this" in Potter's abhorrent scrawl. Taking it as a challenge, he launched it like a clay pigeon and burned that, too.
Standing in the fluttering grey ash, Severus felt lighter, less burdened. For one, he could trust that Potter wasn't his assassin. That brat couldn't kill a conversation. And destroying any communique from the Boy-Who-Lived did wonders for stress management.
I should've burned his essays at Hogwarts, he figured, picking up the second letter.
"Fine, so this stupid potion. Where do we get it?"
Severus looked up, surprised by Grace's sudden reappearance. The woman seemed calmer now, returning from the kitchen with a mug in each hand. She reached out with one, trying to give it to him, and finding his hands were occupied.
"You got a letter? At four am?," she asked, opting to put the mug on the now singed end table. "The f—why's this all sooty? You burn something?"
"Hmph," he replied noncommittally, fanning himself with the second letter. He planned on keeping it to himself.
How Potter even knew Grace Hedgerot was an enigma. His only thought was that the boy intended some kind of mind game. Potter might wish to imply that he could not only track Severus by mysterious means, but also knew the people with whom he associated.
If this were Lucius sending the letters, a mind game wouldn't be a question. His friend played tricks abound, even through things as simple as comments on fair weather. But this wasn't Lucius, or Narcissa, or even Draco.
It was Golden Boy Potter, the British wizards' Christ. He wouldn't know deceit from a damsel tied to train tracks. Severus needed time to figure out—
"Oh, it's for me." Grace plucked the letter from his fingers and tore it open. She plunked down her coffee and started reading. "Who…"
Severus gaped at her, blown away by his own carelessness. He started to ask for it back when her breath hitched and her hands began to shake. He leaned in, trying to read over her head, and managed the first couple lines before Grace whipped around, eyes welling.
"Did you do this?," she accused, voice cracking. Severus shook his head, speechless.
He had planned to stay aloof and probe later, perhaps over several days. The former spy hadn't expected any of the whipped and stricken fierceness thrown his way.
"How did this get here? Who sent this? How long have you had this!?"
Severus held up his hands in a silent plea for calm. They were now well outside of his expectations. A letter from the brat might explain soppiness or delirious joy or even simmering malice from choice wizards. From a random Muggle, maybe mild interest.
But this wasn't that. Potter had wrote something devastating. Grace was overwrought. The woman actually began sobbing as Severus looked on, fixated and alarmed.
He had to avert his eyes when the sobbing became wailing, and he peered with jaw clenched at the blue-hued street, in shock, wondering if somebody had died.
"Mum! Something's happening with Zed! Mum!"
Severus stalked from the room and into the kitchen, holding his side. He frowned down at Fred picking himself up from the floor, where the goon had fallen asleep playing disc jockey.
"Go take care of your mother," he snapped. "I'll go down first."
"Aww, what're ya doin' to us, Reverend?" The brother clambered up and stumbled past him. "Every time someone's alone with you, they fuckin' explode."
You're not wrong, Severus admitted. He sidestepped the radio and the scattering of CDs. Soft blues played over Grace's crying, her son's urgent questions, and the visceral crack of Zinnia snapping back into place.
"Do you think she got it?," Harry asked, hugging himself in the unseasonable morning chill. Ginny soothed the frazzled owl with a furrowed brow.
"I don't know," Ginny said, offering the bird a treat. They had both checked and the owl had returned empty-handed. No "Return to Sender," but also, no reply.
"I don't know, Harry. I guess we'll see." He didn't like that answer, but kept quiet, knowing it was all she could say.