August 24th, 2002: Malfoy Manor, East Sussex (late afternoon)
Narcissa dropped her lemon balm tincture, the glass bottle slipping from her stunned fingers and crashing on the floor.
“Tippy!,” she screeched. A house elf popped into her chambers, eyes as round as dinner plates. As she addressed him, a forked tongue licked the web of her thumb. The pureblood shrieked and threw herself from her vanity.
“Catch it! Catch it!”
Tippy rushed forward, his wrinkled bat ears flapping in a panic. “What is ‘it,’ Mistress—oh, my!”
She tripped onto an ottoman left out of place and curled onto its quilted cushion, yanking her now lemony toes from the Persian rug. Her eyes watered with her distress, nose pinched against the strong haze of alcohol.
Wand completely forgotten on the floor, she covered her eyes, distraught, as the house elf leapt onto her vanity stool and grabbed the wriggling thing around its belly.
“ Hssssss! ,” it said.
“Throw it out! Off the balcony!,” she replied, eyes squeezed shut.
Tippy hopped to it, shushing the thrashing beast, wrestling it out the balcony doors. She could only watch through her fingers. As small as the elf was, it could coil around both of his arms and still have room to strike backwards, tagging his knobby knuckles. Tippy yipped with each nip and eventually, with a whistling shriek, he cast it down from the ledge.
There sounded a rustle and a shake, and Narcissa ran over on tiptoe, careful of the glass. She made it to the railing just in time to see the horrid thing unknot itself from a branch and slither into her best bush of camellias.
Her skin crawled. Not since that monster Nagini had stalked her halls did she suffer the presence of a serpent. She was glad most days that England proved too cold for too many. Three or four types to the whole bloody country felt more than enough.
The witch turned to Tippy, standing pigeon-toed and blowing on his bit knuckles.
“Clean this glass!,” Narcissa snapped, pulling the edges of her dressing gown over her slip. “And order me another vial of lemon balm when I’m done with you!”
“Yes, madam,” Tippy nodded, ear tips bouncing. Then he shuffled forward ruefully, like she was a child having fallen and scraped her knee. “Is Mistress Narcissa in need of potions?”
“Don’t patronize me! Who let that vermin into my home!?” Her cheeks flashed bright hot. Now ashamed of her earlier outburst while incensed by the cause, she railed: “I’ve said time and again: no snakes! I won’t have them, and in my chambers no less—ugh! Atrocious! Unacceptable! Whichever of you is responsible for pests will see this docked from their pay. Bring them here this instant!”
“Yes, madam,” Tippy nodded again, ashen. He snapped his fingers smartly.
Another elf appeared with such immediacy, the wind from her arrival ruffled Narcissa’s robes and the hem of Tippy’s repurposed blouse. She had arrived facing the chamber doors and so spun around and fell prostrate, trembling.
“Hettie’s apologies, mistress!,” the house elf cried. “The beasts sneak in, but Hettie doesn't know from where! She is redoing the traps by hand!
“There are more!?”
“Yes, mistress, in the foyer and in the east gardens, mistress. We are catching them, but t-there’s one that we elves are...,” Hettie gulped and the witch looked down her nose, her already nonexistent patience thinning to a wisp.
Her eye caught the pale gold on her wand grip poking out from under the bed skirt. She swept it up, and held the wand against her hip with the tie of her gown.
“Do you mean to say that you’re afraid? How good are you at your job as an exterminator if you’re afraid of the problem!? Where’s Draco? None of your fumbling better have woken him.”
Now both elves shuffled their feet and traded nervous glances. Narcissa squinted suspiciously. Eventually Tippy nudged Hettie to speak, throwing her into the line of fire. Apparently he’d already suffered the one serpent and would rather avoid another.
“Well?,” she snipped at the qualing servant.
“Master Draco has already seen the b-biggest pest, madam. It snuck into his room—.”
Narcissa couldn’t believe what she was hearing. The Manor was overrun! She wouldn’t abide it. Her outrage must have shown on her face, as Hettie rushed to explain.
“We elves have locked it in! Only, Master Draco has already gone to sleep again in the library. Oh, mistress, it really is a beast!”
Hettie balled her fists in Narcissa’s worn cashmere scarf, a tenth anniversary present knotted and knit into a tiny paisley jumpsuit. The elf trembled on the verge of tears. Narcissa, angry as she was, knew she wasn’t that fearsome of a sight. She’d been preparing to return to bed, and so stood before them in her sleepwear and a ruffled bonnet, stockings with slippers as her legs tended to get cold.
With no husband to witness her, she’d succumbed to stranger and stranger garb. Catching herself in her mirror, she had a grease spot on her chest from bruise balm seeping through her slip; a dollop of night cream still on her hand, unused; and dribble of white wine sticking satin to thigh.
She couldn’t startle a curse from a Jarvey.
House elves could up and unionize now if she was too strict, in any case. Besides, she hardly enjoyed hexing the help.
All in all, this snake of interest must’ve been enormous, as it was sending Hettie into wracking shivers. Tippy looked pale from her reaction alone. Narcissa thought instantly of the night before and harkened back to the last serpent of unpardonable monstrosity.
She wanted them all vanished, but had to think of the mice and toads running rampant. This she tolerated far less. Narcissa looked over the servants, miffed and rubbing her crawling skin.
“Wrangle the ones in the garden and lock them in with this beast. Whatever survives until supper can stay on the outer grounds,” she ordered, dismissing them.
They nodded earnestly and popped away. Soon after, the high, frantic shouts of scurrying house elves floated in from outside.
Awful, the witch shivered.
If not for the gurgling screams from the trash-laden woods, she would’ve thought this another stunt from Lucius’s bullies. She wouldn’t put it past Severus, either, to decide their spat wasn’t over and plague her with snakes. She would have to write him to stop, or visit—.
It was in forgoing sleep for picking robes that she remembered the fire. Smoke as black and thick as mud, and chimaeras borne by rapacious flame gobbling the ground between their claws and her, and her son.
She Disapparated as reflex. She had grabbed Draco and tore away, mind wiped clean of anyone but him; and then arriving and passing out in front of the manor gates. It had been hours since, and Severus hadn’t followed.
She’d only been thinking of the dead Aurors, having Draco promise to admit nothing. How could she have forgotten Severus in the slide into unconsciousness, when one of her scattered thoughts cited her gratitude.
She had handled Lucius—no power, no funds, only prison for him. And Severus had killed Lucius’s men, which she appreciated. It was frankly more than she expected.
Lucius had always been far more ruthless than her friend, something she learned scanning obituaries while Severus healed. Among many things, it surprised and gladdened her that Severus borrowed from his most entrenched store of violence. The fear felt finished. And she’d assure that no word from her lips or Draco’s ever incriminated him.
How could I’ve forgotten, she asked herself. The lace-edged folds of her dressing gown slid from her numb fingers, pooling on the bed. He could be…
Narcissa gasped and fell into a coughing fit, still recovering from breathing the cursed smoke. Bending to sit, she felt the tender ache of her still healing rib and held it, aghast.
I have to check. I have to know, but then, she was afraid of too terrible an answer.
Don’t be foolish. You’re no mewling, sweet-hearted little girl, she chastised herself, fingers bunching in the duvet.
If he’s dead, we’ll... but like in a dizzy spell, the thought faded into a sinking heart. Her freezing cold hand moved to her chest, over the yellowing bruise.
I have to check. She stood slowly, hugging herself, and went to her dressing room.
It was dark inside. She had drawn its thick curtains last night to stop the light wicks reflecting in the glass. The witch had wanted to prepare in solemn darkness save a handful of lamps. Now she hesitated, and looked at herself in the vanity again from across her room: a pale column contrasted with black.
She entered, quickly spelling the curtains open. However, in the wince before daylight returned, the lemon-mint fragrance from the broken tincture collided with the cologne of treated dragonhide. The new scent was like aging upholstery, and brought her to a different scene, a similar horror, a body in the shadows.
She didn’t see the Shrieking Shack in her rich, lacquered wood furniture, pastoral hand painted silkscreens, and curving lamp covers smooth and clear as water. But she felt it around her nonetheless.
Narcissa changed into loose, olive drab robes and her one pair of brown, beaded flats, promoted from the very end of her monthly rotation. Afterwards, she passed a few minutes in front of an armoire pitch black dresses, running a thumb along their hems. She’d worn them to mourn Bellatrix and hadn’t touched them again.
Too much. She palmed her forehead checking for fever. Dabbing dew she wiped on her skirt, she glanced about, with no one there to see. Again she caught her own eye in the mirror, and realized she’d yet to apply makeup.
Why delay any longer, she sighed, resigned to heartbreak. Let’s get on.
Her path out of the manor carried her by her old chambers, now stripped and open to the hall. The elves had vanished the mess she’d made of it. Slowing to look over the bare wood floors, now washed and waxed, and the naked bars for the curtains, she gave it a tempered nod.
Then she wafted down to the library, although she didn’t think it stalling. She only worked the door open a crack to see Draco, blond head tucked into sheets no doubt conjured from his room. He leaned, asleep, in an armchair by the unlit fireplace, an iron poker sliding off of his lap—likely meant for fighting snakes.
She charmed it to stay put before it fell on the marble hearth and rattled the boy awake. Thinking again, she banished it to stand with the others, scoffing. stayed for another snuffling breath or two, and slipped away.
To the gates—one foot before the other. To the road, powdered in soot. Twisting, lashes caging even a hint of rogue tears, and with a snap, there she stood again on the street before Spinner’s End.
“H—no, that’s not right.” Narcissa arrived at the edge of a thick forest.
“Hmph. Come to see if I’ve burned to a crisp?”
She saw him standing there at the edge of the woods, alive and plain, and had to turn away to not embarrass herself. She gave him her pin-straight back and gazed up into the eerie canopy. The witch took care to rearrange her face—an annoyed furrow to the brow, a lowered lid here and there, a relaxed mouth with a barb already loaded. No wet lashes, no welling eyes, no scarlet cheeks.
Calming breaths, and readiness seeped in. She released her half-formed shouts unuttered.
“What’s this? Remorse? You’ve already flown off, so don’t play the shrinking violet now that your ‘one’ friend’s a charcoal briquette.”
Damn him. Narcissa patted her blazing cheeks and summoned her most superior tone. She faced him with her nose turned so high as to pop through the treetops. Again, there he stood, rude and ragged and—most effectively—unroasted.
“I knew you’d be well enough,” she retorted. Staring him down, she added, “You’d be an idiot to make that your grandiose exit. It isn’t to your taste.”
Severus blinked slowly, making her wonder if he’d survived by dumb luck. Otherwise, he would’ve scoffed at her obvious relief. Rather, he snorted, “And what would you know of my tastes.”
It astounded them both that she had a ready reply: “Please. If you could, you’d die by drowning, probably in an old witch’s trial, except it would prove your useless Muggles never taught you how to swim.”
She shocked him into laughter, a genuine, “Hah!,” that died shortly in a rush of warm air. Then he bit his tongue and bled spite, twitching, and she finally noticed the canvas rucksack he held by its last, desperate strap. She raised her brows at the ugly sack, wondering what barrack he’d burgled for it.
“You look scavenged. More of your father’s things, I suspect?”
“Blast, and I so hoped to impress you. What a pity. But as long as you’re here, you might as well take this with you,” and like that, he threw her the rucksack, smirking when she stumbled away from the filthy thing.
“What’s in it,” asked distastefulIy.
“Potions ingredients, a few supplies.” She levitated it to eye level and heard the jangle of pots and pans. She groped its bulky side and made out the stout shape of a couple glass jars.
“Muggle potions supplies? For what ingredients?”
“The less I explain, the less you might be implicated in should we be discovered.”
“I’m hardly skittish, Severus,” she derided, feeling sorry to transfer that unfortunate sack to her own shoulder.
“Obviously,” but he didn’t explain further. When his surviving the night quit dazzling her, she’d make her offended pride clear. “I believe I’ll be brewing at the Manor this next month, if I am welcome.”
“Don’t act coy. Of course, you are. So it’ll be Polyjuice, then? Who for, the murdered guards?”
His superficial regard deepened, she felt, with the birds singing in the trees. Who put a forest at the end of the block?
She stared back, confused by the change. They watched each other, lapsing into weak barbs while Narcissa saw Severus realize his looks and attempt dignity. He had it, of course, more today than last night. His bearing spoke of purpose, which always suited him. Even in the tired, brown clothes, the calling out of defiance from debility lent him some aplomb.
Second rolled by since either spoke. Narcissa mused, unconsciously stepping back. There was something about Severus and his company of thoughts, there brewing in the lines bracketing his mouth—not like Lucius and his interests, but the unbending quality of the potion master’s causes. Irritating, and often ridiculous, as everything was an effrontery, even eating or the time of day; but at its best, so dignified.
“I’ll be going,” Severus said lowly, finally breaking their joined stares. He picked lint from his clothes, until he found too much to make a difference, and folded his hands in front of him. The harried yet casual airs returned.
“Don’t return here looking for me for some time. I won’t be around.”
“Where will you be?,” she asked.
He must have given up on the house. The Fiendfyre would have demolished it. Where is he meaning to go? The Manor? No, leaving for another country?
Her thoughts circled again to the profile of dignity. Could he be making some point? The snakes—obviously him—and now leaving? She tried to speak, and without the click of her boots, didn’t register taking another step back. Her heel touched grass and grew warm...hot…
Burning! Her heel burned.
“Stop!,” Severus said, surging forward.
Narcissa, sure now she’d entered a dream, arrested her retreat. She slid her feet off of grass and onto stone, but the damage was done. She stared in numb shock as her shoe caught fire. The spontaneous flame flickered purples of all shades, enthralling her, as the dream fire had facets, like jewels. It raced up her robes, casting off blistering heat.
Belatedly, she came to her senses. She screamed, more in shock than pain at first as the fire took to her loose robes and dangling sleeves. Only after running up her side did it then threaten to split her skin.
At the sudden clap of Severus’s hand around her burning ankle, she screamed again, feeling the sting now. Narcissa flung out her wand, heard a metal bang, and with the first, second, third-fourth-fifth hot jab to her ribs, thought, nonsensically, of a fireplace poker stabbing her again and again. And suddenly, she and Severus and the sack of pots she dropped and a few clippings of grass twisted away in a column of fire.
They spewed out on baked marble, crashing through a fire screen, blasting the ivy woven metal clear out of sight. She fell on her belly like a beached whale and arched, still feeling the fire, but the flames, now used, fizzled out.
Severus’s knees hit her back as he kneeled over her, spelling this or that jar from his sack. She squinted through her running eyes as, like some home-war field medic, he poured on juices and slapped on creams, smothering her screaming skin.
“What—Mother!” More hands were on her and she batted them off, all of them—off! She crawled to a chair and climbed into it, fighting for breath.
“Boy! Bring her water and a cold compress!”
“But wha—what’s happened t—!?”
Draco choked and yelled for Beadle, an old house elf who tended to the books. Books—she realized given a minute of calming skin and the familiar cherry of the wood engraved with peacocks on the chair, the bookcases, the reading stands over Severus’s shoulder. They were in the manor library.
“Catch your breath,” came a tight order and she waved the man away, leaning around him.
Yes, they had come through the Floo. It still sparked with amethyst heat. Vials and rubber stops scattered in the grate, some rolling onto the rug. Droplets of potion evaporated into glittering mist.
Beadle popped in, blocking her view. With a waspish, “Move!,” the elf grumbled out of the way, repairing line of sight to the strange fire. As the last sparkle fizzed, icy wet licked the fine hairs of her neck. She jolted and slapped away an arm, knocking down a compress to hang, assaulted, from the chair’s arm.
“I said don’t! Are you deaf!?,” Narcissa snapped.
Then behind her, she met the flashing black eyes. She doubled down, pushing the freezing hand towel to the rug where she kicked it toward the hearth. Fire! She’d been on fire! She didn’t want a bloody compress!
“You’ll find I’m not one of your house elves,” Severus ground out of clenched teeth.
“You’re a menace is what you are! First, you set snakes loose in my house! Then you, what—make a point about last night? Set me on fire!? Get out! You’re no longer welcome!”
“That wasn’t my magic. That was simply a taste of the people you’ve actually offended. And so, Madam Narcissa Malfoy neé Black, esteemed mother of the Malfoy scion, it’d serve you not to piss off your only ally, as lowly as he may be.”
Their watching reduced to glaring, Severus gripping the arm of her chair, Narcissa settled into peering coldly up into his face. She knew him as the spotty urchin harbored in the shadows of his betters. So what if he became their betters, with vitriol and time. He didn’t scare her, and she didn’t believe him.
“I said get out,” she seethed.
“Again, woman, I am not your servant. If I leave, I shan’t return.”
“Th—.” She stopped. She fumed, but she stopped, and forced a gusty sigh.
“Why the games!? We don’t need tricks between us, as clearly it’s done more harm than good. No codes! No curses! Just tell me how to fix it.”
The stuffy library buzzed. A shy pop and a click of the door latch later, Narcissa knew the two of them were left alone.
“...What snakes?,” Severus eventually asked. She bristled and he stayed her with a flat hand pressed to her balling fist. “One moment: what bloody snakes, Narcissa? I’ve not sent any. I’ve hardly thought of you all morning. What snakes?”
Narcissa shook her head at his awful lying. “Severus, the snakes! They’ve infested the house. They’re in Draco’s rooms and the grounds. One stole onto my bedroom vanity—.”
“Is there a Floo in Draco’s rooms? Or—no, not on the grounds…” His eyes lit up, and he sprung back with a bolt of energy. She eyed his busy pacing. He started a circuit from her to hearthstone, like he’d been bit, but it was beyond her by what.
“There better not be a Floo anywhere in his suite,” she protested.
“Not even to sneak his darling girlfriend into the Manor without his mother’s knowing? Oh, quit it. You bragged yourself that you’ve just made him head of the house. He has the authority to have it done.”
“But that’s indecent! To play with the girl, fine, but if he’s courting her—!” She thought little of Astoria Greengrass but could worry for the girl’s reputation. Narcissa had raised a young man, not a dog!
“It’s hardly dalliance when he plans to marry her. He hinted at it in all of Lucius’s letters.”
“He—! On my grave, he’ll—!” She was glad her son had scurried off. She couldn’t think to mind her tongue—a Greengrass! For a daughter-in-law!
Severus only rolled his eyes and continued pacing. Of course, scandals of blood and marriage were lost on him. His circuit broke to one side and brought him to the fireside view of the east gardens. He paused.
Finally feeling her legs again, Narcissa followed to see what gripped him. He pointed at a wisp of smoke waving in the distance, “What is there?”
“A hundred, wasted Galleons of Lasting Lobelias. Those thugs’ curse fire suckered to the flowers’ enchantments and won’t go out. It’s nothing serious. We keep the fire contained, and the flowers can be replaced.”
She crossed her arms and shivered as a breeze from Severus’s parting blew across the wet patch on her neck.
“Where are you going?”
“Your son’s chambers,” he answered in a rush. His rucksack sailed from the fireplace to his upheld hand. The wizard layered it in expansion charms as he sped to the doors. “You say there are more snakes on the grounds?”
“They’ll be brought into that room soon if they haven’t already—Severus! Why would you want them back!?”
“I never brought them here!,” and he was out and down the hall.
I’ll not chase him all over bloody England, she forswore.
However, she also summoned Tippy and Hettie and instructed them to give aide. They disappeared for the bedrooms, while she summoned Beadle back to the library and ordered him to neaten their mess. The surly elf set to it. Narcissa resumed her seat, weighing if she’d order tea or greet Severus with her chilly displeasure.
The wizard flew in minutes later, shaking and sweaty, lugging a sack of writhing snakes.
“I’ll return tomorrow,” he practically whispered. She frowned, then lost the expression, and cupped a hand around her ear coquettishly. He growled louder the next time, “Do not visit Spinner’s End unless you’ve a craving for self-immolation. Even if by some chance you’re itching to test it, still. Don’t.”
“I’ll try to restrain myself,” she drawled before having him shown out.
“I know the bloody way,” he snapped at a harassed Beadle before stalking away.
She felt another, delayed wave of relief. Severus lived. His death wouldn’t be on her conscious.
Narcissa slumped down in her chair, forgetting posture for a few minutes, only a few. She spent an hour watching the smoke trail to the east billow at the passing sun.
A thought came for keeping and rolling about, gathering snow: she might have been unfair to Lucius all those years ago. Just the once; because, returning for a friend made sense now.
Imagining the guilt from a different life, she shuddered. Then she called for tea, choosing to take it in the library. She would oversee the arrangement Severus’s rooms later, but for now she mothered herself with rose tea and sandwiches, grateful for the August afternoon.
August 24th, 2002: Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place, London
Two hours to Manchester and four hours back. Remus bounced in the passenger’s seat, pulled awake by a burst of laughter.
“He did! I had to regrow all of them overnight.”
“Your bones,” gasped the little witch. Remus yawned and stretched in his seat.
“Yeah, all through my arm. I mean, that was—whoa—ten years ago? Heh, it’s not rubber now, Laney, you can’t bend—ouch!”
“Cut it out ‘fore ya snap it in half!” The werewolf chuckled, thinking this a pleasant way to wake.
Grace nipping at her youngest never failed to remind him of Teddy. He looked forward to henpecking his own boy into bed. A four year old had no right being so crafty, but then, most four year olds weren’t prodigies in disguise.
Gods, I hope he becomes an artist, Remus prayed, using his beige seatbelt to pull himself upright. No more police.
“Alright, stow the drugs. We’re almost there,” rumbled Frederico—Fox. Remus had only known him as a point on a page. The nickname still escaped him.
Remus made a show of cleaning up and mimed locking the glove box and swallowing the key. Fox glanced at him and back to the road, shaking his head.
“A riot,” the man grinned. He got a kick out of his attempts at humor.
“So, what’s the deal?”
Remus smiled blankly. “Excuse me?”
“Yer a werewolf, but you act like, I dunno.” Fox gestured to him with the hand not on the wheel. “A kingpin.”
“A—!” He threw back his head and laughed. “All the names I’ve ever been called, I’ve never been told that. You mean a drug kingpin!?”
“Or a hitman.”
He laughed till tears came to his eyes. “I’m usually called mild-mannered or—.”
Snape’s brother drove, a grin splitting his face. “Naw, I don’t buy that shit.”
He enjoyed the ride down from Cokeworth more than he hoped. The gold station wagon squeaked rhymically, rocking him to sleep as the wheels spun over the highway. They stopped twice for food, both times for the wool cocoon now snoring the ride away, reeking of cola, mustard, and burger meat. Now Remus glanced in the rear view to see the family carrying on in the backseat.
Zed slept soundly, face mashed against the jittering window. Her brother hadn’t lied when he said she wouldn’t chase affection. Most of the drive showed dead air between Harry and the she-wolf. The two clearly had no love for each other. There wasn’t much to set Remus off.
Despite this, whenever he tested the waters, addressed Harry, maybe reached out to emphasize a point by offering a palm, the woman snapped to. Her eyes would peel open from the mouth of the woolen worm, and she’d snarl:
“Don’t touch him.”
The curl of her lip was remarkably Snape-like. Adding the wolf, he opted to leave her be.
Remus didn’t know many women who survived the bite, mostly because those with families avoided the camps like the plague. A lone woman or two would frequent the tents, or in austere packs, although those never stayed more than a few moons. Mostly embittered young men conceded to Greyback’s tyranny.
Remus could guess they were all once his quarry, as he’d been. He could only wonder how Zed came by the curse.
“Can I ask how—?,” Remus tried.
With a few rebuffs, Remus and Zed came to an understanding. She had no intention of stealing Harry away. Nor did he. So as long as Remus refrained from reaching for anyone else in the car, kept his hands to himself, sat on them if need be, they’d have no issues.
Moony grumbled in the far reaches. Every time Remus cowed to the younger wolf, Moony tugged.
What else am I to do? Every day, I help heal people’s families. I don’t rip them apart. Think of Harry’s needs!
He foolishly tried to reason with the curse, and of course, failed. Only growls stuffed down into chests for them. Some days he didn’t even fear the wolf. They were rare, and he mostly wanted it gone. Simply, on some days, he wished he could sit it down, and have a sensible conversation.
He counted out what he would say, like counting sheep.
Point One: Our loved ones’ viscera are not the cure to our overpowering bloodlust. Take a nap.
Point Two: We do not challenge the werewolf channeling an elder god, especially if she’s related to Snape and Harry. Even if we win, we lose, understand? Again, a nap? It works wonders.
They entered London with the evening traffic, bringing in ribbing and stories to combat the grating honk of cars. They inched along with the catering vans and buses prepared to unload young excited partiers from out of town. The music filling the car switched from light songs for humming the words to, to bacchanalian club hits.
He loved Muggle radio. He thought of Sirius, and then Fox changed the station and he really was brought back.
Hard rock blitzed and thrummed.
“Hck! Turn it down,” complained the blanket, jolted away.
“S’just one song. We’re pullin’ up—soon.”
A hitch in the baritone made Remus look over and away. Frederico had lost his grin and now stared ahead with hard, black eyes. Then he blinked, face contorting, like he’d caught a sneeze. And again, the slack and the hard stare.
Is he...crying? Remus had never witnessed a truly dolorous Severus Snape. Perhaps that was why his brother’s face journey looked so alien.
This wasn’t true for the rest of the car. Fox’s mother worked her fingers around the headrest to touch his hair. Zed went quiet, as did her sister. Even Harry, who glimpsed Fox’s expressions in the rear view, asked, “Are you alright?,” in a soft, wincing way.
It was a bizarre thing for Remus to not know the man was upset. A staple of his job was people crying. He felt off guard, and wanted to make up for his slow response. He wanted to give Fox a pat on the arm, and then didn’t think it his place, and then felt lupine eyes bore into his back, and knew to keep to himself.
So he bounced in his seat, limply holding his seatbelt, while Fox eased them over speed bumps and potholes, blinking and choking back tears.
They rolled to a stop between Numbers Eleven and Thirteen, but saw nowhere to park. Just as Fox prepared to circle to block, Remus tried to do some favor. Toting his wand, which had ridden comfortably in his sleeve, he magicked two dark cars to suck in like guts, making space for the gold wagon to sidle up to the curb.
Luckily, no one drove behind them to see the display. He cast a quick repellant charm, hoping not even the cars’ owners would think of the street till morning.
“Thank you,” Fox croaked. Remus nodded, brow furrowed.
“Of course,” he assured him, unbuckling his seatbelt. The robed wizard realized then that he had been the only one to wear it, besides the girl, who had to be goaded into one.
“I’ll help you bring everything inside.”
Harry wiggled like he meant to lead them all in. Unfortunately, he’d ridden boxed in by the rest and was, in fact, the last to hit the street. He couldn’t even shuffle his feet first, as the cat had wedged her wrinkly body between his ankles to sleep. The young man had to scoop her up and carry her in lieu of bags until they all reached the fence.
“Er, welcome,” he mumbled flattening his fringe against his scar. Harry looked at all their faces, and swallowed, pleading to Remus with his big, green eyes.
Why did he and all his friends assume Remus had the answers? The werewolf thought his many awkward truths disabused them of that notion time and again. He wasn’t their teacher. They weren’t teens.
But apparently they still needed the occasional push. He gave Harry a smile and a thumbs up, knowing the young man would be fine. He was already loved, so there was nothing for him to worry about.
“You've got this. You’re great,” he whispered.
Harry slouched like instead he’d been promised pure misery. The older man chuckled—the boy could be such a pessimist. He opened the gates and waved the group in. Remus charmed the luggage lighter and followed at the back as the boy led the way.
There, he heard the Hedgerots’ little comments.
“Well, par-don me. Would ya look at this?,” muttered Grace, impressed. “It’s a bit gloomy, but check out the size of it!”
“It looks haunted,” sighed Marisleny. “Why can’t we ever stay at a house that doesn’t look haunted.”
“It looks fuckin’ cold,” shivered Zed. “But hell, I won’t complain to not sleep in a bloody basement for a week. How many rooms, d’ya think?”
“I give up. If Laney’s cussin’ at school, that’s on you,” Fox declared, bucking up some.
“Fuck if I care? Listen, I wanna room with a window I can leave open. Just so we all know. Look, write it down.”
“Let’s stay all on the same floor, at least,” their mother replied. She closed the gap to Harry and the two linked arms again. Finally, Remus saw him relax.
“Where’s Rev? He said he’d be here.” The werewolf looked at the other werewolf, confused.
She asked him this directly, and he truly wanted to answer. Her asking him anything felt like progress. However, he didn’t know who she could be talking about.
“She means Snape,” Harry supplied from in front, with a half-smile. “I was confused at first, too.”
Now Severus has a nickname, he thought, agog. Something new every day.
“Him? I couldn’t tell you,” Remus answered, amused. “He could be anywhere. It’s a part of his charm.”
“Don’t go claiming familiarity with my charms, Lupin, or I’ll have your head on a pike by moonrise. Peddle your lies somewhere else.”
“Ah, Snape. Good to see you’ve made it.”
“Back to your den,” Snape said, twiddling his fingers.
He stood at the end of the walk, scowling up at Number Twelve before kneeing open the gate. Aside from one hand holding his dark wood wand, the other towed along a floating backpack, hissing and writhing. It looked very much like something Remus wanted no part of, and so he gladly stepped out of the way to let Snape pass.
The man seemed to fare a tad better than earlier that day. He’d regained a great deal more life in his demeanor, animated in how he gestured at the group to part and stomped through them all, bounding up the stoop.
Remus sighed as he spoiled Harry’s nervous welcoming, blowing through the door, leaving it swinging behind him as he marched into the house. In three long strides, he left the foyer—here and gone.
“Well!?,” Snape shouted, out of sight. “Are we playing scarecrows, or are you all coming in? Potter, tell me you’ve exorcised that wretched elf. If it so much as sniffs at me, I won’t hesitate to rehang the Black’s decorous trophies. Fred, I’ve something for you.
“I’m coming in! Christ!,” Harry swore, nerves washed away by irritation. He was already inside, dropping the cat in the doorway, laying down his book where Remus didn’t see.
It was as if he’d lost all self-awareness when Snape hustled past, looking the drab Santa with a mystery on his back. Remus knew nothing egged Harry to intervene like Severus Snape up to something.
Cousins?, he pondered, still disbelieving. That meant Snape and James were once cousins. Then again, so were Sirius and Bellatrix Lestrange. And so were Teddy and Draco Malfoy.
Cousins could mean complete strangers, and Snape and Harry weren’t that. Potentially, one day, maybe even one day soon, “cousins” could make sense.
The growing bubble of tension popped noiselessly, with only Remus the wiser. The rest of the group crowded inside, some with gasps at the chandeliers and high ceilings, some with a shout at the drafty hall. He trailed in last, keeping quiet as he closed the front door behind him.
The chatter, which had moved to the parlor, suddenly stopped. Remus looked and startled when Fox fell on his knees on the ancient carpet with a slam that clinked the crystals in the watching chandelier.
“Where did you find them!?,” the man sobbed. The rest of the family hollered and gasped in chorus.
Snape stood by the fireplace, arms folded, shining with sweat. The bag he lowered to the ground had floated in, so it couldn’t be sweat from exertion. Remus then figured he understood, as the man’s brother dug shakily into the canvas, wrought with emotion, and began unwinding scaly, muscled coils with a tenderness that bespoke real love.
It reminded Remus a bit of Hagrid.
A toad plopped onto the carpet after a few serpents, to the little witch’s cry of, “Bleppy!” The toad, seemingly another beloved pet, was patted delicately and placed in her curls, like a warty tiara. Beside her, Fox nuzzled the hefty head of a boa, hissing excitedly alongside the snake.
“Thank you!,” cried Fox, and Remus guffawed. Snape looked at his brother with big, shining eyes, like he’d never before been properly thanked.
Remus knew this wasn’t true—he’d thanked the man personally for the Wolfsbane every day of a week, once a month, for almost a year. However, he also knew it was a different draw entirely to be thanked for a good deed by someone that mattered. He only hoped the man could handle the punch.
What did he know—Snape might breezily accept causing someone effusive joy. Remus had never seen him do it enough to know. Snape could be an emotional savant.
“I’ll be scrubbing off the stink of serpent for the next few hours. Do not disturb—what’re you snickering at, Lupin?”
He didn’t even last ten seconds! Remus waved him off. He needn’t take a single mote of attention off of Snape right then. The man’s reaction was too well worth it.
“Nothing at all. I only realized it's time I went home myself,” he beamed, cheeks aching. He waved to the parlor, mostly for show. Only Grace had eyes on to wave back. “Goodnight all. Thank you for your company. Harry, I’ll call again in a few days?”
“Yeah, no, yes,” Harry nodded, flushed. “Yeah, I’ll, uh, write first, maybe. Tell Teddy hullo for me, please.”
“Mhm, I will.” He wanted—but he didn’t risk a hug. He wanted to leave his stalemate with Zed on a high note.
His last peek before Apparating home was Snape, not quite leaving, and Harry, both unable to tear their eyes away from their surrounds. For a moment, it was like they’d forgotten each other and only saw the room. In a chair, on the couch, on the carpet, there was family.
He wondered, and on many levels felt, how long it had been since they knew that comfort. Remus was happy for them. And thinking of Teddy, he left better knowing Snape could smile.