Chapter Six: The Comfort of Family
"I thought that I would have to kill her, you know," Severus slurred drunkenly over his mug.
He had not moved away from Snape Manor fast enough, and Granny Jasper had caught him by the garden gate of the dower house and dragged him in for a coze.
"You should check that reaction in yourself, boy," the old lady said sharply.
Severus snorted. He felt oddly at home with Granny Jasper as they drank old Scotch and reminisced. In his youth, he had always found his paternal grandmother, when she was home from one of her frequent jaunts to places unknown, rather terrifying.
The lady glared at him with affection. "Do you intend to speak to your mother before you go?"
"Mind your tongue when addressing a lady, boy, or I'll feed it to Bertram."
Looking mildly vexed, she stroked the furry fox stole about her neck which Severus knew from boyhood to be both enchanted and sharply fanged.
Somehow the threat wasn't as frightening as it used to be. It was certainly nothing to what his childhood had been.
The fighting only stopped when they were out of earshot of one another, and Severus made a point of keeping more than an arm's length away from either of his parents. Meals were sullen affairs. His father, if he could be made to speak, spoke of the Ministry's incompetence, the contamination of the old blood lines, and the myriad ways in which his wife and his son were unworthy of bearing the Snape name. His mother never spoke at meals, but her screaming complaints scraped across Severus' ears as they filled the corridor of the family wing of the manor at night.
He never fully understood why they did not keep separate rooms until he was much older. And what he had seen on his fourth Yuletide visit home had been neatly explained by Lucius when school started again after the holiday.
"Some people like a bit of the rough stuff, you know."
Lucius always seemed to know everything. Severus wished he had not been such an eager student to the other boy's teaching. But some lessons had come in handy, particularly when, on his sixteenth birthday, he had found his mother about to draw an heirloom blade over her husband's throat.
Hexing his mother had not been part of the planned celebration, but it had made his father grateful. It had made his father notice him.
This had made Severus want to please his father.
Severus wondered how life might have been different for him if his father had been as careful of Lord Voldemort as he had been of his father.
Oh, dear. It's a wonder the boy managed to have any career at all the way his wits wander so freely. "Severus?"
"I've enjoyed our little chat, boy, but I believe it's time for you to explain yourself while you're still able to do so. I was just packing when you arrived--"
"I did not arrive so much as I was sent--"
The shattering of his glass caused Severus to stop speaking. Light caught in the shards and bubbles of liquor as they bobbed in a scattered pattern just centimeters before his face.
"Now then, part of keeping that civil tongue is knowing when to hold it. Interrupting a lady is inappropriate, dear."
The pieces of glass glinted at Severus, and he found himself sober enough in that moment to remember why he had always found his grandmother so alarming.
"Do forgive me, Granny Jasper."
"Gracefully put," the lady said, gesturing toward the suspended shards and liquid with a perfected air of feigned indifference so that Severus found himself in possession of a glass of Scotch again.
It transformed into a cup of tea almost immediately.
George finished dabbing the blood from Blaise's face and began to coat the scratches on it with an antiseptic potion.
"You should have known better than to steal mail from an owl, you git. Don't you learn anything of use at the novitiate?"
"Could you be a little more gentle, there, Weasley? Some of the wounds are deep."
"Fred'll kill me if he knows I've helped you, so no. We've got to make this fast."
"Weasley is fine."
Blaise looked away miserably. He had not intended to be found before finding Harry, but the noise of the Hogwarts mail owls had alerted almost the entirety of Hogsmeade to his presence. George had been sent to find him. The residents were still keeping a watchful eye on the land in and around town.
"Where is Fred?"
"Off in Larksbottom seeing to Pansy. Neville asked us to keep an eye on her."
"And how is Pansy?"
"Not as inconsolable as one might imagine."
"She never did enjoy being on her own."
"Tagliaferro, how delightful to see you," Rosmerta said in a monotone as the sepulchral form of the other vampire entered the Three Broomsticks.
"We may dispense with the civilities, if you like."
"Excellent. What do you want?"
"Mrs. Zabini has no desire for her son to become entangled in an . . . unproductive friendship. She expects Blaise to marry decently and produce heirs."
Rosmerta laughed, replying, "That will be an interesting task for the boy. Of course, Draco might be persuaded to play daddy to Blaise's mommy . . . ."
Tagliaferro curled his lip in disgust.
"You never were amusing."
"You never did have a sense of humor."
"It wasn't required in my old line of work."
"No, just a tolerance for fire. Life is ironic, isn't it?"
"Would that you could forge an appropriate response to my message, I would be grateful."
"Tell my . . . cousin that she may forbid me anything she feels it is within her power to prevent me from doing."
"You would ruin the boy, then?"
"I would love him."
"So you say--to us all."
A rare pang of conscience troubled the publican as she considered the being before her.
"I didn't know that you'd be so . . . set in your ways when I brought you to me."
"Yes, so you've explained, and I shall always take comfort in the knowledge that I was one of your many mistakes."
"And would you care for me to correct that mistake?"
Tagliaferro considered her implication.
"No, I thank you. Good night, Oldest."
Incorrect, you insolent whelp. "Do not return, young one."
"As you wish."
Where is my Blaise? Rosmerta thought, and she would have shrieked the rafters from the rooftop if she believed doing so would have cheered her.
But tantrums were rarely comforting without an audience.
"--and I expect I could have used your instruction on the appropriate treatment of women long before now."
"It's just as well, dear. Vampires can't give you children."
Severus starred at Granny Jasper. Having just related an almost-unedited version of his relationship with Rosmerta to the lady, he was dumbfounded that her main concern was for the preservation of their family line.
"Did you really believe I would be content without great-grandchildren, boy?"
He had no response to that. Granny Jasper smiled.
"Tell me more about Ree Potter."
Before he could register the thought in his mind, it came tumbling from his lips: "She doesn't love me."
The bitter, tin-coated laugh of Trillare Snape reverberated from the door.
"Of course she doesn't."
As an old remembered habit caused one of Severus' slender, pale hands to fly to his throat seeking the bit of hammered gold that he no longer wore, one of his grandmother's plump, pink hands appeared to pass through white honey rather than air as she waved it toward his mother's fashionably gaunt form. Trillare flew into the frame of the door. The sound of her head hitting the wood rang in Severus' ears.
The sound of his mother falling to the floor, and Granny Jasper's robes rustling as she resettled herself into her chair heralded the reorienting of time. When his senses had righted themselves, he realized that his grandmother was spinning an ash wood wand in her hands and peering at him in curiosity.
"Is that true, dear?"
"Is what true, grandmother?" Severus asked, already halfway out of his chair.
"Leave her, boy. The murderous whore knows better than to pass through my garden gate."
"I do not wish to be . . . discourteous, Granny Jasper, but I must see to my mother."
"Tch! As you will," the old witch said, pouring herself a cup of tea from a recently materialized bone china pot.
Examining his mother, he found her to be merely unconscious, and turned his head to look at his grandmother.
"I should return her to the house."
Severus felt the body of his mother disappear from his hands and was reminded of his having been "sent" to Snape Manor by Albus.
"How did you do that? What did you do? And how . . . what happened before? Time seemed to . . . thicken, and--"
Granny Jasper chuckled.
"You need not bother over such things. I simply willed Trillare elsewhere, and, as far as my little demonstration is concerned, let us merely say that the old lady to whom you are kind today is the experienced witch who may not carve out your heart tomorrow. . . . You should be grateful that your vampire was feeling charitable."
Severus sat down at the table feeling a bit like an oft-lectured school boy.
"I have not behaved as I ought, I suppose."
"We never do when we're in love."
"I did not love Rosmerta, Grandmother."
"No, you didn't."
A sudden shriek startled them both.
"Yes. . . . Twiddle!"
A house elf wearing a black silk bag appeared next to Granny Jasper's chair.
"The mistress sends for Twiddle?"
"Yes. Twiddle, finish my packing and have my bags taken to the Toll House. I shall apparate there later."
Twiddle popped from the room immediately.
"Now then, how do you know that Miss Potter does not love you?"
Perhaps I'm over-thinking things, Harry worried to herself as she watched the evening's travelers find their way toward various night-time diversions.
The young woman was sitting in a Muggle café that was convenient to her hotel, sipping the last of a glass of Scotch, surreptitiously searching the faces of the people situated around her, and sorting through the bits of memory that she had in her possession. Everything felt confused. Time seemed to be flowing too quickly. And she knew that she was being watched.
A waiter interrupted her reverie by setting a cup of coffee down in front of her. It smelled of cardamom.
I love spiced coffee.
"The gentleman at the far table asked me to present this to you with his compliments."
Impulsively, she replied, "Thank the gentleman, and ask him if he'd care to join me."
A tall, slender, silver-haired young man carrying a steaming mug of the same coffee strolled leisurely across the colored tiles to her table. His long, expensive-looking coat was draped across his shoulders, which hid the fact that he was missing his right arm until just before he sat down.
"Shock you, does it?" he asked in a mildly bitter tone.
"Not at all. Did you lose it in the war?"
"You remember the war?"
"No. Do you know me?"
"Forgive me. My name is Malcolm Lézard, and you are Miss Potter?"
"Please call me Ree," she said, shaking her new acquaintance's hand.
"And I am Mal. I had not thought to encounter another . . . compatriot in this part of London."
"Nor had I, but it's not unpleasant to have found one."
Ree sipped her coffee.
"This is excellent. Thank you."
"It was always one of your favorites."
"Ah, so we do know one another."
"Forgive me. I know from the papers that your memory is not complete. I shouldn't have disturbed you, but I couldn't help feeling some . . . concern when I saw you here, and--"
"Mr. Lézard--Mal--I would enjoy talking for awhile to an . . . old school friend?"
He inclined his head in acquiescence.
"After all, I hardly know what to do with myself."
Mal smiled slowly in understanding. "I thought a . . . vacation would suit me, as well."
"And how have you been spending your time?"
"Trying not to think."
"Then perhaps we should drink to the absence of memory," Ree suggested.
Mal raised his mug to return Harry's toast.
"For however long it may last."
"Do you truly believe it was Dumbledore's nepenthe that helped the child settle into herself?"
"Of course. What else could it have been?"
"Do you not feel that your kindness may have allowed the girl some ease?"
"It was almost immediate, Grandmother. Harry herself--"
"Ree. Isn't that what she wishes to be called?"
"Her friends refer to her by that name."
"I see." Oh, you delightfully stupid boy! "Go on."
"Harry herself said to me not long after he gave her the forgetting draught that it was difficult remembering what it was like to be a boy. I merely gave her house room."
"Severus, do you love this girl?"
"That is beside the point."
"Do you love her?"
"Granny . . . . She was my student. She was a child. She . . . she deserves to be happy. . . . It would be wrong to love her."
"So, you're desperately in love with her, then. Oh, dear."
Severus frowned into his cup of tea. He felt like a child himself sitting here with his grandmother. A lost child. Lonely.
"Not to rush you, boy, but I do have a long journey ahead of myself, and you need to find other accommodations. I suggest you spend some time amongst Muggles for awhile. It always gives one tremendous perspective."
"I am ill-suited for holidays."
"In that," the lady said, indicating his severe black coat, "I certainly agree. There are many fine tailors in the Muggle and Wizarding worlds alike. Why not make use of one of them?"
A raised eyebrow was the only response Granny Jasper received. Laughing, she rose from her chair to hug her surprised grandson.
At his start, she kissed him and declared, "That's my good boy. . . . I've missed our chats."
"As have I," Severus told her earnestly, allowing himself to relax into his grandmother's embrace.
"The absence of boundaries," she whispered into his hair.
"When one acknowledges that the world is actually the absence of boundaries--that we create our own in order to make sense out of and control the world--then one may accomplish much that is impossible, my dear."
"Why do women insist on speaking in riddles?"
"Because men do enjoy playing their little games."
The Quiet would never be quite so again, Albus thought, as the voices surged against the edges of his perceptions. He could clearly discern a familiar and beloved voice, though he could not, as yet, see Minerva.
"What's this kerfuffle? Out! Out, I say!"
When her image became clear in his mind's eye, Albus saw that his lover was wearing her hair down over a long, loose, dark blue velvet gown. The whiteness of her surroundings was interrupted by a thick carpet of reds and golds on which were arranged several pieces of heavy leather furniture. A fire crackled merrily from the place most likely to hold a hearth, though none was in evidence. And flittering in and out of Minerva's "room" were tiny little black birds.
"Damnation, Mr. Longbottom! You should not be playing with the things if you cannot control them!"
An echo of childish laughter was the only response she received from the birds' creator.
"Come now, Merva. He's just a little boy."
The witch spun to face Albus, and he caught his breath. He had expected her to appear much younger than she did, but never as beautiful as he found her: Minerva had adopted the figure she had held when first they met, and her clear-eyed, slightly wrinkled, half-merry, forty-year-old face was dazzling.
"Glad you like it, man. It's what you get," she replied tartly.
Taking her into his arms, he replied, "It's all I want."
Minerva gently disentangled herself from their embrace many moments later, and said, "Albus, it isn't time. You're not yet here, you know."
He was stroking Fawkes' tail when he returned to the condition of his true present.
"Ah, my friend. It shouldn't seem so long, but . . . ."
The phoenix squawked affectionately.
"You always were impatient," said a familiar voice from his desk chair.
The old wizard laughed softly.
"But I never thought to see you tired. Tell me your theory of life, now."
"Ro," Albus said hesitantly. "I would not hurt you."
"Do you believe that you can?"
Best not to answer that.
"Godrixibus always had something to say. And usually to a large crowd."
"Indeed. And Godric was a dreadful show-off, as well."
"Rosantha and Rowena had their moments."
"Yes, and I was pleased to share in so many of them."
They smiled at each other, more family than friends--almost. And then they were three.
"Hello, Poppy," Rosmerta said.
"Is it Poppy tonight?" the other witch asked equably.
"Does it matter?" Albus asked.
"Is this goodbye?"
"Not quite leave-taking, though goodbyes could come now, I suppose."
"Then we're one short, aren't we?" Poppy asked.
"Don't start that nonsense again, Helga," Rosmerta growled.
"You're the one who maintains her present state in order that he be remembered, you widgeon. It would be a simple matter to disenchant you, and you know it."
"Ah, but Ro enjoys being enchanting," Albus replied.
Poppy snorted in disgust.
"The two of you were always annoyingly affectionate, and always at the most inappropriate of times!"
"Need I remind you about Grashthaten, Hel?"
"I had no idea that his lust for . . . for jewelry would prove so destructive!"
"Yes, it was jewelry he wanted."
"It's not as though dark wizards wear signs about their necks, you know. He seemed like such a nice chap."
"He seemed hung, Poppy. At least remember your reasons correctly."
"Ladies," Albus interrupted.
"Where?" demanded both Rosmerta and Poppy with one voice.
"--over there," Harry said, indicating a tall man with mahogany colored hair. "I'm certain he must be the person who's been watching me all evening."
"No. That fortunate individual was I."
Mal's left hand twitched as if he would raise it to stroke Harry's face.
"Recherché," he murmured, stilling himself.
"Don't be. . . . The gentleman staring us down is an old friend of mine, and he's only just arrived. Would you excuse me for one moment?"
Harry watched Mal cross the patio with a carefully balanced grace, and wondered what topic he and his "friend" were discussing. The blandly pleasant expressions on their faces told her that they did not particularly care for one another now, if they ever truly had.
Stop trying to be insightful, you idiot.
Rather than think, Harry opened her mind a bit to see if she could catch the surface thoughts of her fellow patrons, something she had been allowing herself to do more and more since leaving the school. It had been overwhelming at first, and four times she'd delved a little too deeply, but, in recent weeks, her skill and control were increasing. Nothing reached her. She felt a bit muzzy, in fact. It was as if the sensing portion of her head was stuffed with cotton.
How odd. . . . How stupid!
She had not stopped paying attention to the thoughts of others until Mal had joined her.
Until Mal sent me the coffee, she realized.
Harry glanced quickly toward the bank of ferns that shielded the café from the street. Mal and his companion were still in an intense conversation.
Oh, I hate to do this, Harry thought, rummaging through her purse until she found a small silver mirror. I made such a fuss about wanting to be on my own. Looking into it and pretending to apply lipstick, she hissed, "Psst!"
Sirius' worried face appeared to replace her own reflection almost immediately. Harry laughed.
He must be carrying his around all the time, as well.
Adjusting her mirror so that her godfather could see over her shoulder, she whispered, "Do you recognize the tall, silver-haired wizard standing by the bushy plants? Do you know his friend?
Alarm drained the color from Sirius' face.
"Get out of there, now, Harry!"
Without comment, the young witch replaced the mirror into her bag, pulled a few crisp bills from her wallet and laid them on the table, and then walked smartly toward the open doors of the restaurant which were crowded with people going in and coming out.
No one noticed the popping sound as she apparated behind the body of a large waiter.
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