Chapter 1: Out of the Blue
He thought he'd seen everything.
From murder to the vilest sorts of Dark Magic, from deepest heartache to gut-wrenching guilt, Severus Snape believed that there was no longer anything in this world that could surprise him. It wasn't until the float plane pulled up to his dock that he learned just how wrong he was.
The arrival of Brady Lawford was not terribly surprising in and of itself. Brady was the plane's pilot, the owner of the A-frame cabin where Snape lived, and one of the few links with civilization. Lawford usually showed up five or six times during fishing season, and almost never in winter. That he had come to be Snape's landlord in this remote neck of the Canadian wilderness was pure chance, and Severus still wasn't sure if this was a good thing.
Fifteen long, uneventful years had passed since Voldemort's defeat. Fifteen years since he'd been hauled before the Wizengamot for crimes against humanity. That was unexpected; Snape had fully expected to be on the wrong end of an Avada Kedavra at some point during the wizarding war, and he was mildly surprised to discover that, when all was said and done, he'd survived somehow. Even the prospect of Azkaban, newly restocked with an ample supply of Dementor guards, failed to invoke much consternation. Severus doubted whether the soul-sucking vermin would be able to find even a shred of a happy thought in his brain, and therefore, any Dementor unfortunate enough to be assigned to him would likely starve.
And then Minerva McGonagall, damn the woman's eyes, marched into the courtroom and provided proof that the murder of Albus Dumbledore was not what it appeared to be. She had the gall to produce the magical contract which required Snape to kill Dumbledore, at the latter's request - all part of the larger plan to bring down Voldemort - and present it before the court. The ridiculous thing was, Severus recalled thinking as he sat in the Prisoner's Box, that the woman actually believed she was doing him a favor by speaking up for him. Had he been allowed to speak, he would have told McGonagall to shut the hell up and get out of the courtroom, and let the Dementors have their way.
Extenuating circumstances, the Wizengamot finally decided. No Dementor's Kiss, not even life in prison. Instead, Severus Snape was ejected from Great Britain and told never to return. He was escorted to the Continent by Aurors, who strongly suggested that he get as far away as he possibly could, and then abandoned him.
The verdict had caught him off-guard, so much so that the words 'Now what?' raged through Snape's brain for the better part of a year. He didn't want to be free, hadn't planned on it, and being the next thing to exonerated was downright embarrassing.
And so Severus wandered through Europe, homeless, taking the odd apothecary job here and there for a bit of income. One employer in Spain liked him well enough to offer full-time employment, but Snape refused flat out. Spain was too warm for his tastes, and the people far too... colorful. Besides, he'd been trapped at Hogwarts for what seemed like a lifetime, and he had no intention of putting down roots anywhere for a very long while. With luck, he'd meet his end under the front of one of those smelly Muggle vehicles.
But stubbornly, painfully, his luck held out. When Severus was still alive by the one-year anniversary of his deportation, he bought a broomstick and decided to tempt the Fates by flying across the Atlantic. Surely, at some point, he would tire and fall to his death, doomed to a watery grave. It was rather a pleasant thought - no corpse to be found, no grave. As if anyone would come to mourn him, anyway.
And yet, when the Canadian coast loomed out of the mist (he'd taken a northerly route, hoping to freeze to death en route), Snape couldn't help but be impressed with himself. Whatever his eventual fate might be, he seemed to be inclined to live. Why, he didn't know.
He worked his way through Canada as he'd done the year before in Europe. It was different from the Continent: newer, freer, more spacious, more tolerant. Had Severus been in a mood to settle down, he might have made a go at it. But as the second year passed, his thoughts turned more and more to suicide. He saw absolutely no reason to trust life with another chance to wound him. The fact that he was still around was a fluke, pure and simple.
And so, after imbibing a good deal of alcohol one winter night in Thunder Bay, Ontario, Severus Apparated to what he expected to be the most Godforsaken place in the Northwoods and lay down in the snow. There would be no waking for him; the cold would overtake him swiftly, and the wolves would savage his lifeless body before morning. His last conscious thought was that Lupin the Werewolf would have the last laugh, after all.
Little did Snape know that he'd managed to Apparate onto private property. He awoke the next day to find himself bundled under blankets, staring at the wooden beams of someone's bedroom ceiling, and inhaling the bracing scent of coffee. Of all times for his luck to turn bad, he thought sourly. How in the world had he Apparated to the middle of nowhere, only to be rescued by some misguided Good Samaritan?
"Good morning," a voice said, and Snape shifted his eyes from the ceiling to his apparent rescuer.
"What in hell am I doing here?" he snapped, leaving no doubt as to his displeasure.
"I found you out in the woods," said an older man sporting a plaid flannel shirt and a full hair of wavy white hair. "You always go for a walk when it's thirty below?"
"I didn't ask you to find me," Snape retorted, wanting the man to go away.
"Tried to do yourself in?" the man asked.
"You might say that."
"What's your name?"
Snape paused. "Snow. Sebastian Snow." It was the name he'd been using ever since he'd arrived in Canada.
"How'd you get all the way out here, anyway?"
"None of your damned business," Severus said, but the venom in his voice lacked its usual bite. The man had a steaming mug in his hands, and suddenly the notion of a hot, fragrant cup of coffee was the answer to everything.
The man finally took notice. "Want some?"
"Yes." Snape forced the word through dried lips. Saying 'please' was not in his vocabulary. He saw no reason to include it now.
The man was Brady Lawford, a former airline pilot who had decided to take early retirement while he could still enjoy life. He'd seen too many people defer pleasure until they no longer had to work, only to be felled by a heart attack or stroke within months of retiring. His own wife, God rest her soul, had died at the hideously young age of thirty-six. Lawford knew all too well the cruelty of the Somedays which never came.
He bought a floatplane and started a charter business, flying well-paying customers to the remote lakes that dotted the North Woods. Operating out of his A-frame vacation cabin on an unnamed lake, Brady thought he had a perfect setup to last him for a good many years: he was living up North, spending his summers fishing and flying, holing up further south when winter came. It never occurred to him that he might marry again until he met Marita and fell wildly in love, and then living in the Canadian wilderness became the last thing on his mind. Lawford still flew the fishing charters, still kept the cabin, but stayed only an occasional weekend here and there. As a result, the cabin sat largely unused. Marita was a city woman, and didn't care to leave the comforts of their nice, warm Thunder Bay home.
Lawford had been on one of those weekend jaunts when he'd found Severus Snape half-dead, a hundred yards from the cabin. He couldn't imagine how anyone had managed to trudge from Trapper's Lake - ten miles, in hip-deep snow - to collapse on his doorstep, and was intrigued enough to let the stranger hang around long enough to recover.
Severus, of course, was virtually mum on the details of his life. He said nothing of magic, telling Lawford only that he'd been a chemistry professor in Britain, had been cleared in the death of a friend, and was asked to leave the country. Lawford took the news with equanimity, shrugging it off as 'what's past is past', and asking Snape if he liked to fish.
By the time Brady flew back to Thunder Bay, he was convinced enough of Snape's character to let him remain at the cabin for a few days or a few weeks until ready to move on. The days and weeks turned into months, then years. Severus discovered that he tolerated continuing to live, reveled in the solitude of the North, and actually liked Brady Lawford. The man's live-and-let-live philosophy meshed perfectly with Snape's unwillingness to divulge any part of his past.
As a result, Severus Snape was still living in Lawford's cabin thirteen years later. Somewhere along the way, he acquired an owl, began to subscribe to wizarding potions journals again, and set up a small lab in the cabin's tiny cellar. In short, Severus had reacquired the will to live. Lawford was initially suspicious of Snape's 'chemistry lab', wondering if he was producing something along the order of illicit drugs there. It was purely research, Severus told him, research he'd longed to do and never had the chance. Besides, he pointed out, how would he possibly deliver illegal drugs to potential buyers this far from civilization? Finally, Lawford decided that whatever Snape was up to was not only harmless, but a reasonable tradeoff for having a full-time caretaker at his hideaway.
For a cabin ten miles from town, Brady couldn't help but notice that Snape - or Sebastian Snow, as he believed him to be - kept the place well stocked. Every year, Brady Lawford asked Severus how he managed to get to Trapper's Landing for provisions. Severus merely smiled enigmatically and said that it was a pleasant walk. After a while, the question and the non-answer were an expected tradition.
Once, early on, Lawford commented that the Ojibwa knew what they were doing when they christened the lake 'Nahmeeookta'. It meant 'healing', he told Severus; the Ojibwa believed the lake to have magical healing properties. Snape had eyed him sharply, wondering if somehow his cover was blown, but Lawford had an easy answer.
"You were hurting when you came here," Brady said simply, his use of the word 'magical' no more than a benign metaphor. "Nature heals, with time. Look at how far you've come already, Sebastian."
Was Nahmeeookta a healing place? Snape had come to believe so. Somehow, over the span of thirteen years, he'd left a miserable life behind him and found peace. Tearing away the horrors of his past wasn't something he deliberately worked at. It was almost as if the issues floated, one by one, to the surface of his consciousness, where he dealt with them, then put them away. Eventually, being Severus Snape became less of a burden.
One night, Severus sat on the deck of the cabin, watching the Aurora Borealis streak the sky and sipping a glass of fine Merlot, and wondering if he was actually content. Surely he wasn't actually happy; happiness was that elusive something that only other people found. But being content was pleasure enough. True, his simple life was notable for the things he didn't have to contend with: there were no demands on his time, he was not a pawn in a war between light and dark, and he had no whining, useless students to instruct. That was a good thing.
Life had become quiet, peaceful, and good - until now, when the float plane tied up to the dock, and a passenger stepped out. And for the first time in fifteen years, Severus Snape found himself staring into the face of Hermione Granger.