nolina lindheimeriana

The gentle feathering of morning sunlight woke Severus as it eased across his face.

He scrunched his eyes, then opened them a sliver, glaring daggers at the curtains over the window and the thin separation allowing the narrow chink of light through. He was not used to such comfortable awakenings, and the unfamiliarity of it almost had him yearning for the dungeons and the pre-dawn clamor of his shrieking alarm clock. Almost.

Grumbling, Severus rolled to his back and tossed his arm over his face, blocking the light. He exhaled—then sat up bolt-straight with a gasp, the previous evening coming back to him in a flash.

Potter was not in her bed. The sight of the empty, tidied sheets almost gave Severus a heart attack, but then he spotted the girl seated under the table for some reason. She was playing with her purple monster toy and a spare potions vial, and when Severus sat up, she looked around at him, peering through her mussed hair.

"You snore," she said, apropos of nothing.

The adrenaline left Severus just as suddenly as it'd come upon him, and he slumped back into the bed with sheer relief. "Little gremlin," he muttered on a exhale. He shut his eyes again.

Severus had not spent long in the Gasse des Zauberers, or the Sorcerer's Alley, lingering only to gain an understanding of the layout, visit the local Gringotts branch, and pantomime his way into purchasing a replacement wand from a sketchy vendor on the alley's outskirts. He'd made himself scarce after visiting the goblins because though he'd only gone into the marble building to exchange his Galleons for Goldmünzen, it would still be the most likely place for an Order member to hang about and search for him.

He stayed still for several more minutes until the pressing weight of his bladder finally drove him to use the facilities. Afterward, Severus showered and dressed in stolen slacks and a plain off-white button-down. He gave the little plastic package of hair binders a dirty look, but opened it nonetheless and drew his wet hair back into a ponytail.

When Severus returned to the main room, Potter was where he'd left her, though she peeked from under the table when she saw his feet approaching.

"Have you washed, Miss Potter?"

Blinking, she shook her head, shaggy hair falling about her scrawny shoulders.

Severus stepped aside with a measure of the grace he'd misplaced in the last few days and pointed toward the lavatory. "Go. I've left the soap and a clean towel on the counter."

"I haveta shower again?"

"Yes, you have to. Everyday."

The girl was apparently baffled by this news, but she shuffled into the bathroom, Severus flicking his new wand to send the dress patterned in sunflowers and a fresh pair of underthings zooming in after her. Another flick slammed the door.

When she emerged, he turned her right back around and followed to rinse the copious globs of shampoo still clinging to the strands of her hair. Once cleaned and dried, he wrangled the wild mop into a plait, then stared at the vivid scar on her forehead.

Magic couldn't touch curse scars. A glamour would slip off it, and Severus knew of no spell that would erase or smooth the marred skin. Even in a hypothetical scenario wherein he cut away the flesh from her skull and regrew it, there was the possibility the curse itself had marred the bone and would express itself through any new skin. The lingering magic, after all, was what kept the scar so livid and hypertrophic. It would keep it from the remodeling stage that would eventually flatten and whiten the repaired epidermis.

Of course, he wasn't about to start experimenting on a child. Something would have to be done, but not before he had time to think on it.

For now, Severus took a plaster from the backpack and plucked off the plastic tabs, smoothing it over the girl's head as she peered up at him, puzzled. It would serve for now. Despite her celebrity, the general populace didn't know what Juniper Potter looked like, not precisely. They might have been told she was black-haired and green-eyed, but the scar was very distinct.

The girl lifted a hand to prod at the plaster's edges.

"Stop that," Severus said, gently swatting the offending limb away. "Leave it be. You are not to allow anyone to see your scar, understand?"


"It is imperative—important, Miss Potter. Very important."

"Yes, sir."

Severus grimaced and placed a small Sticking Charm on the plaster for good measure. Any further magic applied, such as trying to lighten the covering's color to match her skin better, or using a Notice-Me-Not spell, met resistance from the scar underneath. The faint tendrils of the old curse formed slight distortions in the charms that only served to make it more curious instead of less.

Severus sighed through his nose.

"Allow me to see your feet, Miss Potter," he told her, pointing down at the aforementioned appendages. "So I may assess your blisters."

"They're not bad." She lifted one foot and wiggled the toes. "I think they all popped."

Grimacing, Severus jabbed a finger toward the toilet, and a snap of magic shut the lid. "Sit. Do as you're told."

Potter quieted and perched herself on the toilet while Severus assessed one foot, and then the other. He summoned the leftover Dittany and smeared a thin layer over the sore skin, waiting until the worst of the red, weeping raw spots healed over.

Impossible chit.

"Go put your shoes on." Once assured no open wounds persisted, he released the girl, and she scampered. Severus straightened and followed her into the main room. A swish of his wand had everything jumping back into the backpack, readying to depart.

He turned his attention to the girl again. She stood by the table, pulling the lumpy black coat on, shoes slipped on and untied still. He eyed the coat and shoes.

"Hold still, Miss Potter."

She did so, though not without an uncomfortable grimace fixed on her face when he stepped closer and knelt. Severus tied her laces first, muttering, wondering when children were meant to do this on their own.

"I can do it! I just forgot!"

Well, that answers that question.

Wand up, he gave it a solid flick, turned the coat back into robes, then set about shrinking them to an appropriate size. Narcissa would probably gape in horror to see the sunny yellow dress paired with pitch-black robes, but the garment would help the girl blend in—and honestly, Severus couldn't care less what it looked like.

The finished product didn't fit, but it would do. Severus had a new, begrudging respect for magical tailors as he fiddled with the sleeves and fought the urge to curse at the thick fabric. Potter lost the uncomfortable look as she studied Severus instead, her curious eyes much too close to his face. Severus scowled.

"There," he said, standing again. "You are presentable, at least."

Potter poked at the small buttons on the front, though he hadn't fixed them closed, leaving it open as one would a jacket. He did turn the collar up despite the warm weather, as it would make it harder to see her face.

"Do all wizards wear dresses?" she asked him. Severus sputtered.

"Robes are not dresses, Miss Potter. You are wearing a dress underneath the robes." Potter frowned as if she disagreed or didn't understand, and Severus decided to let the issue lie. He had more important things on his mind. "Do you remember the rules from yesterday?"


"What are they?"

"I haveta—have to—do as I'm told, have to tell you if I don't feel good or if I need something, and I can't wander off." Potter smiled. "I can remember it all! I'm not stupid."

"Indeed." Severus raised a brow at her language. "You would do well to keep them in mind, especially today. I found the wizarding quarter last night, and we will venture into it today."

Excitement filled the girl's expression like a physical thing, and she bounced on her heels. Severus' fear of her wandering off magnified, and he hissed at her to calm down, feeling like an arsehole when her eyes dimmed and she dropped her head. He rubbed two fingers across his brow to loosen the prickling tension therein.

An idea occurred to him.

"Remember what I said about playing spy, Miss Potter? Part of that role is keeping a level head and not allowing your excitement to get the best of you. The quarter will be distracting, but it is your mission to ensure you always stay close and within arm's reach of me. Do you understand?"

He had hoped the girl would perk up, but she seemed more intent on being sullen now. "I'm not a baby," she muttered. "I know spies aren't real."

Severus snorted. "Don't make assumptions. I was a spy for several years." Right up until I splayed your relatives out like cut fish.

Potter blinked, and her mouth popped open. "But you said you're a professor! And a—err—Potions man? Potions Master!"

"That was my day job, so to speak, Miss Potter." Severus exhaled, not wishing to delve into the subject but deciding a brief explanation would serve best. "I was often tasked with following and interacting with the followers of the Dark wizard who attacked your family. Interested parties could then use my information to track those wizards and stop their more nefarious plots." He paused. "Part of my role was always being mindful of my surroundings and not being distracted."

The girl took this information and contemplated it, though the extent of her understanding remained unknown. Severus crossed his arms and waited for her to stop chewing her lower lip and speak.

"I can pay attention," she said, sounding uncertain. "I can be a good spy wizard apprentice!"

"We'll see about that," he replied, unconvinced. "I would settle for you not blindly walking into an open trench."

The girl wrinkled her nose and looked as if she'd argue, but she thought better of it, nodding instead. "I'm not gonna! I promise!"

Severus huffed a half-hearted breath through his mouth, then nodded. He pondered if it was ethical to strap a child to a leash. Probably not. "There is a final subject I wish to discuss with you before our departure."

Potter watched as Severus reached into his sleeve and pulled out his wand—his original wand—for the last time. He brushed his thumb against the carvings inlaid in the handle, touching the familiar spots where his fingers had worn the wood smooth after seventeen years of use.

"This will be going into the bag for now, but in the future, when we are more settled, I will be giving this to you," he told the girl, holding it closer to her myopic eyes for her to see. "I will teach you a few spells—but I cannot stress enough the importance of understanding that this is not a toy. I will be entrusting it into your care for use in emergencies only. Do you know what an emergency is, Miss Potter?'


Severus gestured for her to expound—making the stupid choice to use the word expound and wanting to smack himself in the head. Potter opened her mouth, closed it, then blushed.

"An emergency is if I'm dead, Miss Potter. An emergency is if I've disappeared without explanation for more than twenty-four hours. An emergency is if bad wizards try to take you somewhere and you cannot find me."

Severus didn't like to think of what could happen if the worst came to pass—but if he did end up dead or captured, he could not leave the girl without recourse. What if she was abandoned somewhere and unable to reach civilization? Or who knew what unsavory people—Muggle or magical—could pick her up. Using his old wand would bring Dumbledore's lapdogs down upon her, but Severus would rather her returned to the old man's hands than lost to some wretched paedophile or Dark wizard.

For now, the ebony wand found its way into the bag, where it would remain until they found a place to settle. Severus studied the room again, then lifted the bag onto his shoulders by its straps, taking a deep breath. He felt calmer today, better rested, though he doubted the feeling would last once they reached the Wizarding quarter. It'd be replaced with paranoia as soon as they got in sight of people.

Miss Potter stuffed her toy into her pocket. The sleeves of the robes fell past her tiny, skinny hands and wrists.

Hesitating, Severus reached out to gently take her elbow. She stiffened but looked up at him with wide, trusting eyes. His stomach tightened. "Come along, Miss Potter. It is time for us to be on our way."


The Gasse des Zauberers was settled in a depressed grotto, hidden in the middle of the Melaten-Friedhof, which was less a cemetery and more a macabre park littered with gravestones and ancient, gnarled trees. The wards which hid the quarter from Muggles made a dome over the grotto from the rocky cliffs surrounding it. If one were to look overhead, they could see it glimmer and spark like a nebulous cage.

Severus Apparated the girl into the underground section of the main alley first, not too far from the entrance he'd discovered the night prior. Potter stumbled and flushed a nauseous green, but she held herself upright and didn't vomit on Severus' shoes. He used the semi-darkness of the underground to move them into the morning crowd.

As expected, Potter's head whipped in every conceivable direction, trying to see every little spark of magic at once. The part of the alley extending beneath the earth was residence to several rather unimpressive shops, but the cave walls glittered with gemstones, and the golden lanterns held living fire salamanders that peeked their flaming noses from between the opaque slats. Even Severus couldn't name the odd creatures he spotted crawling upon the higher rock faces.

"Breakfast first," he told the girl as he all but dragged her to a narrow shop slotted between a closed apothecary and a cauldron brokerage. He gave Potter a seat by the window so she could shamelessly gawk at the people passing by while picking over her meal of porridge with sliced berries.

Severus sipped his tea and eyed every face he saw with suspicion, watching for stares that lingered too long, conspicuous movements, or misplaced attention. The predominant language within the Sorcerer's Alley appeared to be German—but others drifted through his ears, English and American, Dutch and French, Spanish and Russian. A passing old hag smiled at Potter, and she blushed crimson, burying her nose in her porridge once more.

They departed the shop when the girl proclaimed she could not eat another bite, and Severus tired of holding his cold tea. He clasped the satchel of Goldmünzen tight to his side as they walked again, headed toward the crack in the earth where morning sunlight poured through.

"Hold in your excitement, girl," Severus muttered as they mounted the wooden steps and passed through the entrance to the grotto.

The outside proved a much more impressive sight than the underground; the many streets and lanes sprawled like an errant web around a large pond nestled in the depression's deepest hollow. Ancient trees formed a formidable canopy, and part of the quarter extended there, suspended in the branches by spindly walkways and dipping rope bridges. In the distance, on a raised shelf of earth, rested a dozing dragon the size of a lorry, its white scales gleaming like diamonds under the warm summer rays.

Potter staggered and grasped onto the leg of Severus' trousers, cleaving to his side. Severus nearly tripped and had to stop walking, a scowl fixed on his face. "Is that a dragon?!" she squeaked.

A dark-skinned wizard at a stall they passed heard Potter and chuckled. "It's an Antipodean Opaleye," he said. Severus couldn't place his accent—something from farther south than Germany. "It's wild country to the east, you know? Schutza up there watches for anything dangerous coming too close to the Gasse. She keeps us nice and safe."

Potter didn't say anything in response, and Severus managed to discreetly pry her fingers off his trousers. Merlin, she had quite a grip.

"Their first time in the alley is always an exciting trip, yes?" the wizard said to him, and it took everything in Severus' black little heart to return the man's wide grin with a small, polite simper of his own.

"Indeed. If you'd excuse us…."

Potter managed to wrangle her disbelief in better after the initial shock, though the sheer noise and crush of people rushing to do their morning shopping had her wide-eyed and skittish. The occasional bang of magic and vivid, flashing lights had her flinching and jumping like a scared Kneazle.

They stopped, and Severus took her trembling hand in his and gave it a slight squeeze. Potter looked up at him.

"What was the second rule, girl?"

She gaped for a moment, still turning her head, though her gaze returned to Severus every time. "I—I haveta tell you if something's wrong."

"And is anything wrong?"

She shook her head, but her green eyes gleamed with unshed tears, clearly overwhelmed. "It's—it's loud."

"It is." Severus pursed his lips and pressed his mouth into a thin line as he considered her. He knew a spell existed for toddlers and small children to muffle noise, a spell all parents seemed to know by sheer bloody osmosis, but Severus had never learned it. He could perhaps invert a Muffliato and place it upon her, but he decided the sudden, intense silence would be just as disorienting as the noise.

Distract her, Severus told himself. Before she begins crying in the middle of the district.

"We're going to the tailor just ahead, Miss—," he paused before his carelessness could utter her name aloud. He spoke low, just loud enough to be heard, trying to calm her. "What is your favorite color?"

Potter sniffled, then swallowed. He prayed to every deity listening she didn't work herself into a vomiting fit. "I dunno."

"Do you have a favorite flower?"

She shook her head as Severus eased them into a walk once more. "Aunt Petunia always made me work in the garden, but I wasn't allowed to look at the plants."

"Surely you looked at them anyway. Never mind your aunt's sheer stupidity."

Potter giggled, and her grip on his hand strengthened. "I liked the—the Delf—? Delfinums."

Delphiniums, Severus supplied in his own mind, flashing through images of the tall, periwinkle blue flower stalks and all their usages in potions. Typical of an English garden. How nasty of Petunia to make a child tend to such a temperamental bloom.

"Delphiniums. What did you like about them?"

"I like the color."

"What color are they?"

"Blue. But not like the sky, or like the ocean. More like…."

In this manner, Severus distracted Potter from the oppressive hustle and bustle of the Wizarding quarter while keeping his eye out for suspicious activity. He'd made a point to note the location of the tailor the evening prior and was relieved to find his memory hadn't failed him. The bell above the door chimed as he ushered the girl inside.

The seamstress and her assistant were more than happy to assist in filling out their wardrobe after Severus fed them a lie about their luggage being lost in a Portkey accident. The assistant, in her teenage years, especially seemed to have an affinity for children, which relieved Severus greatly, as he didn't have to go about choosing clothes for a little girl. Instead, Potter followed the blonde girl around the shop, shyly pointing at colors and materials she favored as they were held up.

Severus did receive a few askance glares, the poor shape of the girl evident under the thick robes, but he kept his face blank and unbothered. He didn't begrudge the seamstress for jabbing him numerous times with her needle.

Nearly two hours in the quiet shop saw them outfitted with the attire they needed, a full set of robes and Muggle-passing accessories included. An overly helpful gesture on the assistant's part pointed them to a sweet shop down the row. Severus didn't dare give Potter sugar after that disastrous night in Belgium, but he did get her a glass of water and a tea-flavored lolly. She stuck it in her mouth and kept quiet as Severus went about the necessary, if less engaging, business he needed to finish.

He retraced their steps to the now open apothecary and cauldron brokerage. He haggled on overpriced ingredients while the girl held onto his sleeve and peered into smelly bins of parts and pieces, her nose wrinkled all the while. He bought them new shoes at the cobbler's, picked up parchment and quills at the stationery shop, and avoided the lane with the local Gringotts branch at all costs. Nothing questionable had caught his attention yet, but he wouldn't test their luck.

Severus dragged the lagging girl to one final stop, walking her nearly across the whole of the quarter to a crooked building by the grotto's edge, the front sign glittering under a dozen different lenses sparkling in the sunlight.

"This is an Optomagitrist," Severus said to the girl's unvoiced question, her little mouth working itself into a frown. "It's a witch or wizard who specializes in eye care."

"Why're we here?"

"You need glasses, girl. They'll make it easier to see."

She wrinkled her nose again, just as she had in the apothecary with all its ripe odors. "Why do I need those? I don't want glasses."

"Don't be difficult." Severus took a breath for patience. "Do you recall when we used the Polyjuice Potion? And you were disguised?"


"Do you remember how clear your vision was then?" Severus gestured at the building before them. "Glasses will allow you to see with that same clarity all the time."


Potter's interest grew, and Severus took her inside without further protest. He left her in the hands of a doddering old German witch with spectacles like a spider's eyes and took a moment for himself outside. He sat on a wooden bench in the shade of a flowering tree, his pockets heavy with shrunken purchases, the skin of his face and hands tender with fresh sunburn. He never left the vicinity of the Optomagitrist's office, always keeping it in his line of sight, but Severus sat and allowed his thoughts to wander.

It was as his thoughts were wandering that his gaze caught on the building across the shaded lane. For a building in a magical district, it held little appeal and had few palpably magical changes to it, and it took a minute of scrutiny for Severus to decide it was the headquarters of a local paper like the Daily Prophet. Metal stands cluttered the outside with fresh editions, charmed against the passing breeze, and Severus made his way over to inspect them.

Now, he didn't think to find his own face splashed across the front page—that would be much too ostentatious for Dumbledore's aims—but he had thought there might be a small, discreet article about something related to Potter's apparent kidnapping. The paper was printed in an odd mix of languages, most of it being German, but Severus' shoddy knowledge of the language let him parse through the main ideas published therein.

Nothing out of England. No requests for information on dodgy Dark wizards crossing through the territory.

Behind the stands, the windows of the building's main floor had been plastered over with advertisements of all shapes and sizes. Some were for stores and locations in the alley itself, while the majority gave listings for services or businesses not centered in the Gasse des Zauberers.

Severus snagged a flier from the wall and tugged it free, studying the black and white images of houses with flashing totals blinking above their titles. The headline of the flier read Properties for Rent - Rothaar Realty, and below it scrolled a Floo address.

He returned to the Optomagitrist, boots thumping on the hollow floorboards. Severus stood in silence once the girl came out of the back room, and the bug-eyed witch assisted her in picking out frames. Magic formed the lenses in seconds, warming the glass until it glowed like mercury pooling in midair until they cooled clear and crisp, slotting into the frames. Potter settled on a simple, round silver pair.

"For your eyes," the woman rasped. "They're very pretty." She glanced at Severus standing off to the side like a dark, looming sentinel, his eyes dark and decidedly unpretty. "You must have got them from your mother."

"She did," he intoned, jaw tight. "The price, madam? We haven't got all day."

Severus paid the total from the gold in his satchel, and Potter once more clung to his sleeve as they stepped outside. She peered at the buildings with new appreciation, her eyes vivid and sharp behind the gleaming glass and sliver. Severus barely noted the presence of the spectacles.

They were alone in the quiet lane, the heart of the district still loud and lively in the distance. "We have one more stop this afternoon, Miss Potter."

"Where are we going, Mr. Snape?"

He held the flier tight in his other hand, folded nearly between his pale, slender fingers. "I believe I've found us a place to stay."