AUTHOR'S NOTE: Never say never. I swore I wouldn't write a sequel to 'Into the North', but two things happened: I was able to meet my Australian brit-picker in person eight months ago, and ended up re-reading the books and falling in love with the Potterverse all over again. Add to that the upcoming Fantastic Beasts movie, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, and the revelations from J.K. Rowling about the North American wizarding school and her mention of Native Americans, and I knew I had to continue the saga of Severus and Hermione in Canada.
If you've not read 'Into the North', it's probably a good idea to do so. It will explain how Severus ended up in the North Woods, and how he and Hermione became a couple.
And in case you think I'm somehow laying claim to these characters as my own… That's just plain silly!
"Sometimes I go about pitying myself, and all the while I am being carried across the sky by beautiful clouds." —Ojibwa saying
Chapter 1: Out of the Blue…Again
The potion was coming along swimmingly.
I watched with satisfaction as the gleaming pink fluid in the cauldron began to attain a greenish ring around its edges. For weeks I'd been working on a way to combine the Draught of Peace with Pepper-Up Potion. According to all the professional journals, Combination Portions were touted as THE hottest development in the Potions world, but there had been few successes so far. In this particular case, no one had ever been able to combine 'Peace and Pepper' without sparks, flames, minor explosions, or all three. But this time, with a buffer added at twelve hour intervals for four weeks straight, followed by the requisite three stabilizing binders, the outcome just might be different.
Caldwell Pharmaceutical Potions in Winnipeg – purveyors of my exceedingly effective insect repellant – was heavily invested in researching and developing Combination Potions, was in fact working on this very same potion. If I could solve the dilemma and be the first to patent it, Caldwell was likely to show up at my door, waving money under my nose once again. And I needed the money; after all, I was now a married man.
A year had passed since Hermione Granger had shown up unannounced on my doorstep, flooding me with various ministry forms and demanding that I follow the government mandate to patent my home-brewed insect repellant. I had been furious at this intrusion from my past, had dug in my heels at the thought of being beholden to a wizarding bureaucracy. Inexplicably, I ended up obtaining the patent, selling it, and falling in love with the bushy-haired messenger. BugAway – I still loathed the name Caldwell had given it – had been a rousing success so far in this, its first summer on the North American market. It was providing me with the one thing I'd been missing for thirteen long years: an income. I may never become wealthy on insect repellant, but at least I'm no longer forced to barter minor potions for food in Trapper's Bay in order to survive.
I say 'forced' because barter was the only way I'd survived up here in the North Woods of Ontario, Canada. When Hermione learned that I was giving magical potions to Muggles, she'd hit the roof, of course. Accepting that had stretched her tolerance of rule-bending almost to the breaking point.
The corners of my mouth quirked upwards. When the woman descended on me out of the blue last year, I could never have imagined that I would end up married to her. Throttling her or tossing her in the middle of the lake were more probable scenarios, but marrying her? Given what I'd seen of my parents' hideous marriage, I had never entertained any possibility of marital bliss. But Hermione had worked her way first into my life and then into my heart, and the past year had been a perpetual surprise to me. Sharing my life with the woman I loved, it turned out, was nothing like I expected.
I glanced at the clock and noted that it was still early; Hermione should be out of the shower by now. I would cast a Stasis Charm on the potion and then head upstairs. It was time for breakfast, and I was hungry. But before I could pull out my wand, Hermione appeared at the cellar doorway.
"I was just coming up," I said. "But since you're here, take a look. I added the buffer fifteen minutes ago, and so far it's looking quite satisfactory."
Hermione stepped inside, giving the cauldrons only a cursory glance. "It looks good."
"There were a few sparks at first, but it took less than thirty seconds to quiet down. I think I may have cracked it, finally," I said proudly. And then, when it became obvious that my wife's attention was quite clearly elsewhere, "What's wrong?"
"I need to talk to you, Severus." Hermione was nervously chewing on her bottom lip.
"All right." Something was definitely up.
"I – er - I cast a diagnostic spell on myself."
"Are you ill?"
"I'm pregnant," she whispered.
I could feel my face freeze into an expression of utter disbelief. I tried desperately to pull a coherent thought out of the sudden maelstrom in my brain.
"You're pregnant," I repeated.
A faint nod.
"How did this happen?" I blurted. "And before you put your hands on your hips and say "Really, Severus?" you know perfectly well what I mean. I thought you were always careful!"
Hermione glared at me; her hands had begun to wander toward her hips.
"I was always careful. You're not the only one with a Master's Certification in Potions, so please don't accuse me of not being able to brew a simple contraceptive!"
I forced myself to take a deep breath. After only three months of marriage, I had already grasped the notion that avoiding confrontational statements could head off full-fledged arguments. "I didn't say you couldn't brew a simple contraceptive. Perhaps there was a problem with the efficacy of one of the ingredients."
It was an unlikely scenario, and we both knew it. Hermione shook her head.
"I don't know what happened, Severus. I honestly don't know."
"And you're certain…" I said quietly.
"We've never even discussed having a child," I pointed out.
"It never occurred to me to bring up the subject. First I was putting my life back in order, and then you were getting established with Caldwell… I suppose we would have discussed it eventually, but I rather thought that for now, we were operating under the assumption that not having one was probably the best idea," Hermione said, her face a tense mask.
"Are you… happy about it?" I ventured with great caution.
"I don't know what I am. In shock, I guess. I don't expect you to be happy at this point, but please just don't be angry. I don't think I could bear it."
I pulled Hermione into my arms and held her close. This, at least, was better than staring each other down while trying to assimilate the news. We were going to have a child. I was going to be a father. I thought of the drunken and abusive lout that was Tobias Snape, and felt almost ill.
"I suppose that I could be no worse a father than my own…."
"I'm sorry, Severus." Hermione sounded teary now.
"I'm not angry," I said, surprising myself. "Stunned, yes. Angry, no."
A child. What would life be like with a child?
We tiptoed around each other all morning. I was at a loss for how to understand and accept this new change of circumstances, and Hermione was dealing with it no better than I. I went about my business, working on Peace-and-Pepper in the cellar, while she took the canoe out on the lake. The solitude of the lake had healed me of my burdens of anger and hatred a decade ago; last year, it had again worked its magic as Hermione faced the past demons of her role in Ronald Weasley's descent into madness and death.
In early afternoon, I was trying very hard to concentrate on my potion when I heard the scrape of aluminum against wood; Hermione was tying up to the dock. I walked out to meet her.
"Well," she said with a tremulous smile, "at least we have eight more months to figure out how to do this."
"Yes," I agreed, and we clung to each other. We weren't exactly laughing about the situation, but at least we weren't at loggerheads.
It was then that a droning noise caught my attention. I looked up into the southern sky and groaned aloud.
"No," I muttered, "not now, of all times!"
A small plane – that belonging to my landlord, Brady Lawford – hung low in the sky, coming in to land on the serene lake. "Of all the ill-begotten times he could show up unannounced, does it have to be right now? Sweet Merlin, I hope he's not planning on spending the night! I need to make sure the Stasis Charm on the potion is strong enough…"
"I'll help him tie up, you take care of the potion," Hermione offered.
I checked the charm, and had just turned to go back to the dock when I heard a loud bang behind me. The potion was ruined, weeks of hard work gone. I was on the verge of cursing a blue streak and throwing things before it occurred to me that I would inevitably have to curb my temper in the future with a child in the house. I Evanesco'd the remainder of my cauldron and my once-very-promising Peace-and-Pepper with only muttered obscenities.
Lawford didn't show up at the cabin very often anymore. He'd been the one to rescue me from a failed suicide attempt sixteen years earlier, had warmed me, fed me, then allowed me to stay on at the cabin as a sort of caretaker. Brady was a kind, good-hearted soul, and while both Hermione and I normally accepted his company without complaint, this was one time we would have gladly done without it.
After one pass the length of the lake, the float plane made a perfect landing. By the time it was cruising up to the dock, I had joined Hermione there.
"Cabin still standing?" she asked hopefully.
"Mostly," I grumbled. "Four weeks of nursing that bloody potion along… Here, I'll get the rope. "I caught the rope Lawford tossed toward us and secured the plane so it wouldn't drift away.
"Sebastian! Hermione! How are you all?" Brady Lawford climbed out of the plane with some effort.
My eyes widened in surprise as his wife exited the plane on the passenger side. That was a good sign; Marita Lawford never stayed the night at the cabin.
"Good to see you, Brady, Marita." We shook hands all around.
"I come bearing presents," Lawford announced, brandishing a cooler.
"I think you'll like them." Marita flashed a mysterious smile.
"Tell you about it when we get inside." Brady started for the cabin, then stopped to take an expansive breath. "Ah… Smell that fresh pine air. Nothing like it!"
"How long can you stay?" Hermione asked, careful to phrase the question so it didn't sound like the surprise visit was unwelcome.
"Just a few hours. Front coming in, so we'll have to skedaddle by four. So, having any problems with the cabin?" Lawford wanted to know as he headed up the path.
"No. You would have heard about it if I had." When we came close to the cellar, I discretely cast a nonverbal charm to make sure that the door wouldn't creak open in the breeze, putting any debris that might remain on full display. The ruined potion might have been Vanished, but one could never be too careful.
"Good to hear, good to hear…" The Lawfords passed by the cellar without incident.
"How are you, Brady?" Hermione asked.
It wasn't mere formality. The man looked older and thinner than the last time we saw him.
"Oh, could be worse. Let's sit out on the deck, shall we? It's such a great day."
We all climbed up to the deck, then pulled four Adirondack chairs together. Lawford dropped the cooler on a small table and opened the lid.
"Congratulations are in order," he announced. "Well, sort of."
My first thought was that somehow he had learned of Hermione's pregnancy in the past four hours, and then common sense finally caught up with me. "Congratulations?" I asked.
"Here's the deal." Brady produced four chilled wine glasses and a bottle of champagne from the cooler, along with a corkscrew. "I've got cancer."
Hermione gasped. "Oh, no! Is it – are you – do they –"
"— think I'm dying? I will if I don't get it taken care of. I've already had a treatment or two, and it's going to be a slow, rough process. The doctors are very optimistic, but that's the thing with that chemo stuff, isn't it? Nearly kills you before it makes you well."
"I'm so sorry!"
"Well, I'm a tough old bird, so I figure it'll take a hell of a lot to do me in." Brady grunted as he tried to manipulate the corkscrew into the cork.
"Can I help you with that?" I asked solicitously. Now that I had gotten a further look at Lawford, I could see that his usually thick white hair was much sparser under the baseball cap he wore.
"No, I've got it."
"If anyone can beat it, you can," Hermione offered, with what I'm sure she hoped wasn't misplaced optimism.
"Eventually, yeah. Marita won't let me die," Brady chuckled, nodding sideways towards his wife.
I understood. He had often made it clear to me that Marita was a very strong-willed woman. What Marita wanted, Marita got.
"He's going to be around a good long time," she agreed.
Finally, the cork came out of the bottle with a small, anti-climactic pop. Lawford filled the glasses, then passed them around. Hermione was staring at hers as though she'd never seen such a thing before.
"Something wrong?" Brady raised an eyebrow.
She shook her head. "No."
"I still don't understand why we're celebrating," I said. "So far you've not given us any reason to do so."
Marita laughed. "It does sound rather depressing, doesn't it?"
Lawford sank back into his Adirondack chair with a deep sigh and took a long sip from his glass.
"Well, here's the thing, Sebastian. What with getting older, and now with this cancer thing, I don't know how many more times I can make it up here. I'm pretty much out of the charter business now. And I've had this place for a lot of years and had wonderful times up here, but it's time to let it go. I'm selling the cabin."
I tried to breathe. Hermione and I had discussed this possibility on several occasions. As we were virtual squatters in Lawford's cabin, he of course had the right to dislodge us at any given time. But what if, we had fantasized, we could buy the place one day?
"What are you asking for it, Brady? I have a bit of money now. Is there any chance you would consider selling the cabin to us?"
Lawford shook his head. "The deal's basically done. I have some friends who've been after me for years to sell to them. They want to open a summer fishing lodge here, which would be a real good thing for the people in town. Provide more jobs for the area, you know."
"That's a good thing, of course," Hermione nodded agreement, but her disappointment was obvious. I'm sure mine was, as well.
"Hold on there, missy, let me finish. Sebastian, you've been a good friend all these years, and taken wonderful care of my cabin. And you haven't blown it to bits with your chemistry experiments down in the cellar, although I'll never understand how you have enough space to do anything but turn around in that little room," Brady chuckled.
I said nothing. Lawford had no way of knowing that a nicely placed Expansion Charm was responsible for turning what amounted to an unheated, poorly-lit closet into a functioning potions lab, and I wasn't about to start explaining my safety precautions now that the cabin was being sold out from under me.
"Anyway," the man went on, "I don't like the idea of leaving you two in the lurch, and Marita's about to have my hide about it… Well, why don't you take it from here, hon?"
Marita put down her glass. "Sebastian, I believe I spoke to you last year about my grandfather?"
"Yes." The previous autumn, we had hosted Brady and his wife for Thanksgiving dinner. After the meal, both Brady and Hermione were out of the room, leaving Marita and I alone. She happened to spot the owls Hermione and I owned sitting side by side on the deck railing, and then stunned me by inquiring point-blank if I was a wizard. Her grandfather, she told me, had been a wizard, a curiosity in her family tree of which Brady was completely unaware.
"I don't believe I mentioned that he owned property up here himself," she continued now. "I came up with him once or twice as a child. He passed away when I was sixteen."
"Oh?" Where was she going with this?
"When I came of age, I was told that he had left the property to me, in a manner of speaking."
"Where is it?" Hermione asked, curious.
"Not far, actually. It's midway between here and town, but off the road a ways."
I glanced over at Lawford. "Why didn't you build your cabin there if the land was already yours?"
Brady shook his head. "Remember, Marita's my second wife. I'd bought this land and built on it long before she and I ever met."
"Marita, what did you mean by your grandfather leaving it for you 'in a manner of speaking'?" Hermione asked carefully.
The woman smiled enigmaticaly. "The only stipulation mentioned in the will was that I should sell it to the right person at the right time. I think the time is right, don't you?"
"He must have been a crazy old coot," Lawford snorted. "What in the world was she supposed to make of that?"
"You're saying that you would sell us your grandfather's land." I wanted to be very sure I understood correctly.
Marita nodded. "I want to offer the property to you two, being as we're putting you out of your home."
They were actually putting us out of their home, but I didn't quibble. "How much?" I asked, not daring to hope that we could afford it.
I froze, speechless. Next to me, Hermione was equally stunned.
"A dollar?" she echoed.
"Yes, ma'am," Brady said, a smug expression on his face. "One thin loonie."
"Are you certain?" I said weakly.
I was aware that Hermione was looking at me excitedly, expectantly. The problem was that there had not been many occasions in my life when I'd been compelled to react to acts of generosity and kindness, and I was absolute rubbish when it came to gratitude.
"That's very – that's quite – quite decent of you," I managed.
"It's wonderful!" Hermione blurted, her delight making up for my own awkward reserve.
"Can you tell me more about the property?" I restrained myself from immediately plunging my hand into my pocket to pull out a dollar coin.
"It's a little over twelve acres," Marita began. "And –"
"It's got a good-sized lake on it," Lawford interrupted. "Not as big as this lake, of course," he waved an arm toward the large expanse of water behind him, "but still big enough to be loaded with fish. You can kinda see what's left of it from the air."
Hermione looked puzzled. "What's left of the lake?"
"No, what's left of the old guy's cabin. I know it's still there, because I can catch a glimpse of it from the air. I'm sure it's falling down by now though. But here's the weird thing: there's no way in there from the road. I don't know why the man would put up a cabin with no drive leading to it. I guess he didn't mind hiking through thick woods, but it sure wouldn't be my cup of tea. Come to think of it," Lawford said, frowning now, "how'd you get to it when you were a kid, hon?"
"Brady," Marita said, "could you check the plane? I believe I may have left the file with the paperwork there. I'm sure Sebastian and Hermione would like to look it over before they decide anything."
It sounded like a smooth ploy to get the man out of the room, and it was. As soon as the screen door closed behind Lawford's retreating back, Marita turned to us with the shining eyes of a conspirator.
"We tried to sell the property once a few years back. It was a complete fiasco. We had the deed but the Land Office knew absolutely nothing about it, and the real estate agent couldn't even find the property to evaluate it and come up with a selling price. Do you think it was because Granddad was a wizard?"
I nodded. "There would be no record of wizarding real estate transactions in the non-wizarding sector. If the deed was registered only in wizarding archives, it would be unsaleable to anyone else. And in addition, it was probably made unplottable on your maps."
"So Granddad's instructions were right: to sell the property to the right person at the right time. He knew what he was doing, didn't he?"
"So it would seem."
"I really don't know what to say." Hermione's eyes were moist. "We can't possibly thank you enough!"
Marita reached over and squeezed her hand. "No more of that. This is a perfectly wonderful solution for both of us. Now why don't you two tell me what I must do in order to make the sale legal for you?"
"I don't know," I admitted. "We'll probably need to go to our Ministry in Toronto and check into it."
"Would it help if I wrote a letter, something along the order of 'I hereby sell this property to Sebastian and Hermione Snow for the price of one dollar'?"
"Let's start there," I said. "We'll have to check further and let you know what else is required."
While Lawford was still rummaging about in the plane for the file of paperwork, Hermione found a piece of paper and pen for Marita. The woman wrote the statement she'd suggested and signed as the heir of her grandfather, Thaddeus Dowd. Hermione and I signed below.
"Just out of curiosity," Hermione said, "how did you get to the cabin when you were little, Marita?"
"I honestly don't remember. It just seemed like one minute we were on a road and the next, we were at the cabin. Was it magic, do you suppose?" She looked hopeful.
"It just might have been," I told her.
Lawford returned, looking immensely pleased with the way things had turned out. "You know, Sebastian, you said you have some money now – from the insect repellant, right? Look, I don't know how much it'll cost you to tear down that old cabin and put up a new one, and you'll certainly need to cut a road in there, but I can loan you some money at a very low rate. You could put up a little cabin to start with and add extra space on as you go. We certainly don't expect you to live in a tent out there."
"We won't be staying in a tent, I promise you," Hermione said, looking horrified. I felt a smirk spread over my face.
"I have the papers here," Brady began, opening the folder.
"After we have a toast, dear." Marita sighed impatiently and lifted her glass. "To beating cancer and your new home!"
I raised my glass and drank. Hermione raised hers as well, but only pretended to drink from it. Lawford noticed.
"Champagne not to your liking, Hermione?"
She blushed. "Actually, we have some news of our own. I just learned that I'm pregnant. I'm not certain if I'm meant to be drinking alcohol right now."
"You don't say! I don't believe it! That's fantastic!" Brady put down his glass at once and pounded me enthusiastically on the shoulder. I clenched my teeth; cheap land or not, I don't take well to enthusiastic Muggles invading my personal space.
"We're trying to adjust to the news," Hermione said, in a rather blatant piece of understatement.
"What wonderful timing!" Marita enthused. "I knew this cabin sale was meant to be! You'll have a new home for your new baby!"
"Perfect timing," Lawford declared. "Of course, I never had any kids of my own, but I'm sure you two will make wonderful parents."
I couldn't help but wonder what business a man with no children had in telling me that this I would be a wonderful parent?