Disclaimer: Of course, the Harry Potter universe is none other's than JK Rowling's; I am just humbly dabbling in it. This is a post-war story that picks up a few weeks after Harry's victory over Voldemort. Severus Snape has survived – the only reason why I am writing this, really – however, he fears retribution from his former Death Eater associates as well as the dragging-out-into-the-open of his private life. As a result, he is lying low at Spinner's End until, one day, there's a knock on the door …
By the way, Remus Lupin – another one of my favourite HP characters – survived, as well, but he is heartbroken over the death of his wife.
Many thanks to my first audience, Verena, Christine and Tanja, for their input and for pointing out spelling, logical and existential mistakes.
Please review and ...
As of today, I'm going to continuously update this in order to prepare a better ground for a sequel. I am very obliged to my reviewers, particularly those that do not hesitate to point out mistakes and inconsistencies. Every comment will receive careful consideration, so bring it on! :)
Severus Snape lay flat on his back on the mattress in his old bedroom, wand in hand, shooting down flies. It brought him no pleasure, but it was a way to pass the time. The room was as gloomy as ever, smelling of wear and mildew. Outside a rainy summer's day was drawing to a close and silence lay oppressively in the narrow, deserted streets between cramped rows of run-down houses.
Every now and then his hand reached up to the bandages wrapping his neck, checking for moisture. The wound itched like a mother. The healing process was slow, even the potion he had brewed in the cellar of his home didn't help much. But then, what would you expect, having been bitten by a magically enhanced snake comprising the fragmented soul of one of the darkest wizards the world had ever known?
He pushed the thought aside. Every time the image of Nagini appeared before his inner eye – fangs bared, hissing, stinking – a chill ran down his spine. No use dwelling on that. The spectre would come back at night, in his dreams, to haunt him.
Another thought that he didn't allow himself to ponder was the miraculous fact of his survival. It made no sense, and in addition to that he considered it cruel. Severus Snape had never expected to survive the war and had always tossed away that possibility as expecting too much luck, and as he very well knew – as bloody damn everyone knew these days – his life had never been a lucky one. He hadn't minded the prospect of death. Time and again he had told himself that there was nothing for him once the war was over and so the idea had long ago ceased to scare him. Over the years, he had even come to see it as the well-deserved reward for his actions, for his life under the control of two masters, his existence as an eternal servant who wouldn't even have known how to fill a life that belonged exclusively to himself.
The reward had been denied. Life had been given instead, one burden replaced by another. What an irony.
For the past weeks, Severus had been lying low at Spinner's End. An intricate system of alerting and locking charms was firmly in place and no one would bother him unless he allowed them to. 'Not any time soon', he had promised himself, not until all the fuss had died down, the daily reports in the Prophet on the glorious victory of one Harry Potter, the exact sequence of events during the Battle of Hogwarts and the ecstatic jubilation on the perseverance of what was now commonly referred to as The Good. Such profusions extracted nothing but a snort from Snape. He had seen first-hand how closely together good and evil were and how quickly some people changed sides. He had no time for selfish celebrations, either. If anything, they clouded judgment and made the truth come out all wrong.
Of course he did read the Daily Prophet. Not because he was particularly interested in the reports, as he told himself, but because it had been his habit for years, decades even. As a result he was up to date. He knew about the testimony that 'The Boy Who Lived Once More' had recently given at the Wizengamot, in which – among many other facts – he had stated the significance of his, Snape's, part in the victory. Severus hated to admit that Potter had been a good boy. He had mentioned that Snape had been his mother's childhood friend, angered by her death at the hands of the Dark Lord and that this had been only one of a range of motives for the potions master's decision to work for Dumbledore and cunningly betray Tom Riddle (as the Dark Lord was nowadays commonly referred to, to deconstruct him, after decades of not even daring to utter his name). Not a mention of finer feelings, no hint even of unrequited love. That the press had come up with by themselves, following the lead of one Rita Skeeter. And although Severus was aware of the fact that the conclusion didn't exactly require a leap of imagination, he had made a mental note to personally turn this infernal woman into a toad should he ever run into her. Actually, she had turned up at his doorstep about a week ago, with her notepad and her impatiently jerking quill. At that point, a torrential brownish rain smelling conspicuously of dog-shit had poured down on her. (In order to turn her into a toad, he would have had to show himself.) She had never tried again, nor had any of her nosy, drama-hunting colleagues. His non-too-subtle message had been duly received.
Another fact he had read about in the papers was the beheading of his nemesis Nagini with the sword of Gryffindor, by Neville Longbottom of all people. Severus had quickly done some calculations. There appeared to be a time coincidence between said beheading and his own waking up in the Shrieking Shack, weak, shaking, soggy with blood. (He hadn't even been able to walk at first, crawling to a hiding place instead on his hands and knees, waiting for his strength to gather just enough so he had been able to Disapparate to Spinner's End, which he had hardly left since.) So if his guess wasn't too far off – and he feared it wasn't – Longbottom had saved his life. Realizing this had almost made Severus puke.
His showing up in the wizarding world at this point was not at issue. He hated the idea of people asking him questions, wanting to shake his hand, showing gratitude, or – even worse – sympathising. He had no wish to play any part in the general exhilaration, either. Least of all, he wanted anyone to gawk at his bandaged neck. All he had ever wanted in the last sixteen years was to be left alone. Now, finally, was the time to grant himself that wish, never mind that he was already bored to pieces.
When he couldn't find any more flies on the walls – they seemed to communicate with and warn one another that the master of the house was seriously pissed off and that it was better to stay out of his wand's reach – he struggled up from the mattress with a sigh. He looked around the shabby room, the grubby furniture, the threadbare textiles, found nothing new and stepped out into the hallway which was gloomier than usual at this time of day. He had never spent much time in this house, only a few weeks a year at most. His home was Hogwarts, had been ever since he boarded the train at platform no. 9 ¾ when he was eleven. To him, Spinner's End was nothing more than a roof over his head when he had no place else to go.
Severus Snape strolled down the squeaking staircase and entered the sitting room. It was dusty and in desperate need of cleaning. But then, it had always been that way. His mother had never been a good housewife, chiefly because her neat little helpmeet spells had at first been awed out of her by her husband's 'charms', and later she'd stopped caring. Since said husband's death under conspicuous circumstances eight years ago, she had gone to live with her sister in Ireland and had not once looked back at her existence at the poor Spinner's End address. Yet, almost every week Severus received an owl from her. The usual passive-aggressive reproaches had recently been sugar-coated with overawed respect. After all, she was as avid a reader of the Prophet as he. In her last communication she had even offered to come live with him, look after him. He hadn't even bothered to answer.
Speaking of owls … The letter from McGonagall still sat on the low table near the fireplace. He hadn't responded to that one either, but once a day he found himself picking it up and reading it.
We know everything. You are completely forgiven. Please come back to Hogwarts. No reprimands, no strings attached.
He couldn't have explained to anyone why it gave him such satisfaction to read this letter unless there was still an insecure boy living inside him, eager for attention and respect. The grown man Severus Snape, of that he was certain, was beyond such vanities. And yet …
A shrill scream pierced the silence of the room where only a large grandfather clock reminded him of the painfully slow passage of time. More by instinct than curiosity, Severus strode over to the window and carefully peered outside. The cobbled road between the narrow grey-brick houses was dusky now, and with most of the streetlamps smashed, the only visible light was held by a few windows of the neighbouring houses. Not all the buildings were deserted; in some of them, old people, single mothers with screaming kids and an odd assortment of frustrated characters led a squalid life in the shadows of society. A bunch of boys – about thirteen or fourteen years old, swaggering and trying hard not to choke on cigarettes – was hanging around near his house, and they looked startled, staring about one another to locate the source of the noise of which an echo still lingered in the street.
Only a few seconds later, there was a loud clattering as of a pile of sheet-metal pans crashing simultaneously to a stone floor. The racket obviously came from one of the nearby run-down abodes. Then there was another scream.
"Get off me, bitch! I don't know you! Get off me!"
Severus signed. He had heard similar screaming before, more in the way of "Get off me, you bastard" and "I wish I'd never known you", but there didn't seem to be a whole lot of difference. He turned away from the window. What did he care? Let the Muggles fight, it had nothing to do with him. In fact, it was no more than background noise which he could easily ignore.
What to do now with this early evening? He calculated the hours until which he could allow himself to go to sleep. It mustn't be too early or he would lie awake until the small hours. His usual strategy was to consume as much of Ogden's Old Fire Whiskey until he'd almost pass out. It was good against the pain from his wound, too, but unfortunately still way too early for that.
He went to the grubby kitchen, drank some water, ate bread and a piece of cheese, an apple for dessert. Too frugal a meal to keep him busy for long. So he strolled down to the cellar and checked on the various potions that were simmering in their cauldrons. One of them hadn't come off at all as he wanted, so again he was occupied for a while with being pissed off. However, the anger wore off quickly and turned to resignation. He rarely found himself in a permanently angry mood these days, other than being a generally not very cheerful person. Maybe Nagini had killed that when she should really have killed him along with it.
At least he had a plan now. He returned to the sitting room, took The Alchemy Almanach from the shelf and spent the next two hours trying to find out what might be the problem with his potion. After that, finally, the right hour for Fire Whiskey had arrived …
The next morning, he awoke with a serious pounding inside his head. In addition to his hurting neck, his throat was now parched and dry, as well. He probably shouldn't have finished off the whole bottle.
It took him a while to realize that the pounding didn't actually come from inside his head so much, but from the front door downstairs. With considerable effort, he dragged himself out of bed and wandered out onto the landing to the Peephole Glass he had installed there. He had found this useful little magical apparatus in Knockturn Alley years ago and it allowed him to overlook the cobbled street without having to show himself at the window.
Muggles, unmistakably. A man and a woman, squat and with a brisk air of importance on their faces. The woman was carrying some kind of flip-board. Jehova's witnesses probably, hunting for members. Or whatever. Why had he even bothered to get up? Now he wouldn't be able to go back to sleep.
Being alert was of the essence, though. Twice or three times since he had gone into hiding at Spinner's End, he had seen two cloaked figures standing near the house, observing it. Death Eaters, of that he had been certain. He had received ample warning that some of his old associates were angry with him for having betrayed them for so many years and for having brought about the Dark Lord's – and hence their – demise. Some of them, according to an owl that Kingsley Shacklebolt had graciously sent him, had presumably sworn vengeance and were out to kill him. They haven't all been caught yet, a lot of your old cronies have gone into hiding. As you do not seem to have any intention of helping us find them, you'd be wise to protect yourself, seek strength in numbers. On your own, you could too easily become a target.
However, Severus had never liked Kingsley Shaklebolt – the badly hidden criticism in the letter had not improved his attitude – and this mere fact forbade him to follow the man's advice. What was more, however, he was convinced that he was well-equipped to deal with any kind of threat himself. If the Dark Lord hadn't scared him (he had, but Snape would never tell anyone that), why would he start to tremble in panic because of a few down-and-out Death Eaters on the warpath? And after all, hadn't he wanted to die? Hadn't he even been eager for the point when this miserable joke of a life that was his own would finally come to a close? Maybe, one fine day he would step out to meet them, look them square in the eyes and let them do the job that Nagini hadn't been able to finish.
Maybe. One of these days.
By mid-afternoon and with the worst of the hang-over gone, Severus Snape stood in his grimy bathroom, inspecting himself in the mirror. Another action that gave him no pleasure and never had, but he carefully observed the growth of a black beard. It had developed considerably, but was yet not dense enough to cover his face to the effect he hoped for. Another week maybe and he could risk it. Cut his hair a bit, exchange his black garb for something else – though he had yet no idea what – and maybe don a hat. With luck, it would be enough to allow him to venture out anonymously. Apparate in Diagon Alley, keeping to the side roads, of course, buy some potions ingredients and browse in his favourite bookshop on Paracelsus Street. With even more luck, nobody might recognize him. Well, there was a dream …
When he came down to the sitting room, two owls had arrived, one of them carrying the Prophet, the other one a piece of parchment carrying the Malfoy sigils. Severus impatiently tore the latter open, his eyes flying cursorily over the words rendered in a shaky hand.
… I must be out of my mind to demean myself in this way … seeking contact to a damn traitor such as yourself … even though the Dark Lord was clearly deranged in these last months and I have not cried a tear over him … still expected you to honour our ideas … principles … our friendship … conversations during all those evenings you spent with us at Malfoy Manor on the importance of blood supremacy … thought you shared our point of view … most disappointed to have been so wrong … abused our trust to a most dismal extent … Narcissa beside herself … not to mention Draco … has become silent and withdrawn … to even imagine you have been such an influence on our boy … never even think of coming near us again …
Severus stopped reading halfway through. With a lazy flick of his wand, he lit the fireplace and threw the letter in. While he watched the flames licking at Lucius' correspondence, he felt a painful pang of regret. Another friend gone. A very misguided friend, of course, but in that they had always been alike and Severus had hoped that after what the Malfoys had endured under the control of the Dark Lord, Lucius would come to see his point and understand why he had switched allegiance and betrayed him. As it seemed, though, the Malfoys' pride was stronger than their insight.
Before he could dwell too much on the cutting words, there was another knock on the door, a very soft and cautious one. Not those bloody people with their flip-board again?! Or Death Eaters … No. They wouldn't knock and certainly not in such a timid manner. It must be Muggles. No need to answer the door.
Instead he went down to the cellar and checked on the recalcitrant potion again. He had added verbena and amygdala last night, hoping it would do the trick. The liquid was much clearer now, but the smell offended his nostrils. Too much boomslang, maybe? Severus sighed while his mind travelled upstairs again. Not to Lucius' letter shrivelling in the fireplace, but to the timid knock on his front door. There had been something about it which he could not place. Why he should even waste a thought on it he didn't know.
Probably the boredom really started to get the better of him and cloud his good judgment?