A/N: This story came to my mind while listening to Billy Joel's "Piano Man" – or more precise: after a picture that sprang to my mind at the below quoted lines. Said picture is to be found at www(dot)snapetonic(dot)tk, and while it's just a little scribble it goes along with this fic, hehe. And a nice glass of gin and tonic helped to create both, fic and pic. So, bow to Schweppes and Gordon's... ;-)
Betas: Ermione for the original version and lucidity for the translation. Thank you very much!
Tonic & Gin
There's an old man sitting next to
Makin' love to his tonic and gin…
(Billy Joel – Piano Man)
A cloud of bad air swept over Ian Weasley, as the door to the pub swung open and allowed him a glance into the dimly lit interior. Thin threads of stale smoke were illuminated by the few sunbeams that dared to penetrate the only window in the wall. After the first draw of breath the young man already deeply regretted the madness that must have ridden him to prefer this rat's den over the Leaky Cauldron. Somewhat sheepishly he waved his hand before his face, while his eyes slowly became accustomed to the little confidence inspiring lighting conditions. He still fell for the pranks of his uncles, he thought, half amused – half annoyed by his own credulity. Uncle Fred had raved about that establishment with its unique atmosphere, while Uncle George had nodded, an expression of empathic seriousness plastered on his face. Well, retaliation would be in order, after their recommendation of the 'best pub beyond Diagon Alley'. But since he was here after all and certainly didn't want to begrudge his uncles their triumph over his withdrawal, he entered.
The pub was only sparsely crowded, and Ian made his way to the bar where one customer was sitting on one of the three bar stools. The publican behind the bar gave him a friendly greeting as he sat down on a stool, which creaked slightly at the sudden weight. The ordered beer was cool and well-taped, not insipid and with a good foam, as Ian noticed with satisfaction after the first sip, and he decided to really savour it now. A cloud of pipe smoke to his left caught his attention and he slightly turned his head to survey the man next to him as unobtrusively as possible.
This dubious figure was wrapped up over the neck in a thick black robe, the hood of which seemed to stick to the hair of the man half way up. Ian furrowed his brow. This sinister fellow had a strong resemblance to an old scarecrow, he thought slightly amused. The long greying hair had arguably once been black, and through some loose strands protruded an enormous looking hooked nose. In the one hand the man held a pipe, while a long bony finger of the other almost lovingly caressed the edge of his glass, which was half filled with a clear liquid. And judging by the outer appearance of this fellow that liquid was definitely no mineral water, Ian mused and took a sip from his beer.
As he cast another secret glance at the man he winced. Black eyes glittered through lank hair, and Ian felt the unpleasant sensation that this piercing gaze unresistingly bored right into his soul. Apparently Ian's reaction satisfied the old man since the hint of a sneer began to play around the corners of his mouth. Then his eyes narrowed…
"I take it that your curiosity is satisfied now, Mr. Weasley?"
Ian's eyebrows raised in astonishment. "Do we know each other, sir?"
There it was again, that smile. The glittering in these eyes caused Ian discomfort – he felt as if this man could read his mind.
"It needs little intellectual effort to gather your parentage from your unmistakeable features," he candidly answered. "Although I have to admit that I lost track of your family's latest proliferation tendencies."
The young man's jaw dropped. "Excuse me, mister?" he blurted out. "Who are you anyway?"
For a brief moment the sneer disappeared. The old wizard lowered his gaze and took a drag from his pipe, the smoke of which slowly glided up along his hair.
"It seems that the imprint I left on this world has already faded away," he observed. "Albeit I daresay that you are familiar with my name from the tales the members of your family undoubtedly told you." His index finger once again converged with the edge of his glass. "My name is Snape."
"Snape…? You are Snape?" Ian exclaimed in surprise.
The old man's facial features hardened. "Professor Snape," he amended, the corner of his mouth twitching suspiciously.
"Forgive me, professor," Ian answered. "You were my parents' teacher, weren't you? In Hogwarts…"
"I enjoyed the mixed blessing, yes."
Ian grinned broadly. The faces of his parents, uncles and aunts appeared before his eyes, who told anecdotes from their time in Hogwarts at nearly every family get-together – and mentioning the name "Snape" meant a guaranteed and instant rising of emotions. Not until now could he understand why. However – what was a former Hogwarts teacher doing in a den like this? Given the reputation that went along with that profession, his pension couldn't possibly be so small that he couldn't afford something better than this pub. And he certainly didn't have such artful uncles like Ian Weasley did…
He surveyed the old professor, whose undivided attention again lay on his glass and his pipe. His black robe was almost too clean, the borders weren't frayed and besides - the professor didn't make a poor impression at all. Ian's brows knit together. Quite a few times his family had secretly rumoured about this man's possible involvements in dark machinations in the past… Just as Ian opened his mouth, Snape turned towards him, his eyes blazing dangerously through the strands of hair.
"Is there any way to please your obvious inquisitiveness, young man?" he scowled.
"I… I'm just surprised to meet you here of all places, professor."
"You wonder why I apparently cannot afford anything better… Or if I am plotting something," Snape said with a sneer playing around his thin lips.
Ian stared at him. This man could definitely read minds!
The undissembling smile on his face verged on almost pitying. "No, Mr. Weasley, I cannot read minds. This was just a logical conclusion from your much too obvious expression and your estimating looks."
"I'm sorry, professor," Ian mumbled, slightly ashamed. "But what you are doing here, really?"
Snape shook his head. "You don't give up, do you? The same Gryffindor-pigheadness as everyone in your family." He raised his glass and examined its contents. "What if I tell you now that I'm merely here because this is the only place in our world known to me where this particular beverage is served."
"You don't expect me to honestly believe you're coming here just for this…" Ian stumbled. "What is this, anyway?"
A corner of Snape's mouth twitched as he slightly tilted the glass. Its contents glistened in the pale light of the pub. "It's a Muggle beverage – a mixture of a quinine containing soft drink with white grain and juniper berry spirit." He took a sip. "The Muggles call it Gin and Tonic."
Ian furrowed his brow in disbelief. And what was so special about that? "And you like this drink so much that you deliberately come here for it?"
The old man lowered his glass and surveyed the young redhead thoroughly. "We all are slaves to certain rituals," he answered somewhat cryptically.
"What do you mean?"
After another long and calculating glance Snape gave the bartender a wink. "One more, please," he said to the man who apparently understood right away, since he produced two bottles from under the bar and poured in a glass.
Snape gave Ian an encouraging nod. "Try it," he said curtly, a stoic expression on his face.
Somewhat reluctantly Ian sipped at the drink and grimaced. "This tastes …strange," he coughed out. He was not used to drinking stronger drinks than beer and this one tasted… "– bitter," he said to Snape, the corners of whose mouth curled in a small smile.
"You are mistaken. Bitterness is only the first impression."
Ian raised an eyebrow, which seemed to amuse the old Potions Master even more. "Try again," he urged him with a slight nod. Ian took another sip.
"Sour," he said and furrowed his brow. But there was something else, well hidden behind the obtrusive taste of stale spirit – or what Ian would imagine to be the flavour of stale spirit. "And a bit sweet."
"You see?" Snape remarked after a pleasurable drag from his pipe. "Sometimes it's better not to judge the first impression." He lowered his gaze onto his finger, which again played around the glass. "I had to become an old man first to realise this," he said quietly, rather to himself than to his dialogue partner.
Ian didn't know what to say. Instead, he again sipped from the drink, the taste of which became more and more palatable to him, now that it had fully evolved in his mouth. The old professor remained silent, and Ian had the vague feeling that he had said everything he was willing to share with his surroundings for one day. The young man drank the strange beverage, which seemed to encase so much wisdom within and sporadically threw the Potions Master a glance, hoping for more revelations from him. But after Snape even only nodded mutely to order a new filling of his glass, Ian gave up this hope at last. After he had drained his glass and paid for the beer he rose, and not until now the old man graced him with his attention.
"My respects to the family," he said, the corner of his mouth curling slightly.
"I'll gladly tell them," Ian answered. "Farewell, professor – and thanks for the invitation."
Nearly indiscernibly Snape tilted his head and turned his gaze away again. After a few moments of waiting in vain for another sign of attention Ian eventually turned around and headed for the entrance door. And after another last glance at the sunken figure at the bar, he stepped over the threshold and out in the evening sun.
...they're sharing a drink they call loneliness
But it's better than drinkin' alone.
Any kind of comment on my humble fic would be highly appreciated!