This story is in the post-Deathly Hallows universe. However, the author picks and chooses which aspects of canon will be respected. The characters and universe were created and owned by JKR who generously allows us to play with them.
Thank you to Annie Talbot for critiquing this chapter.
The room was stark, windowless, and poorly lit. There was something about the concrete block walls that screamed of institution and prison. It didn't help that the walls were painted gray, the tiles on the floor black with gray speckles, and the solid wood furniture utilitarian and uninspired, designed to withstand rough use and charmed to be transfiguration-proof. After all, no one wanted detainees of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement to turn a chair into a weapon, assuming the detainee somehow got his hands on a wand. The surface of the table was gouged and pitted as well as discoloured with ancient water rings from cups of sour smelling coffee or overbrewed tea. The door was closed, ostensibly to provide privacy to the prisoner. The young woman waved a wand as she recited the words of a privacy spell in a clear voice that turned silent to any listeners once the spell was completed.
"Minerva asked me to give you this," she said, as she held out the envelope.
The tall man in black ceased his pacing and turned to look at her. His hair was longer now, reaching just past his shoulders. There was gray mixed in with the black at the temples, unusual in a wizard only forty years old. The frock coat he wore fit him loosely. He had always been thin, but now he was just a few pounds away from emaciation. It made the lines of his face stark. His nose, which in the best of times might have been called Romanesque, was a narrow beak in his face. The lines at his eyes, mouth, and forehead were deep. He was an unattractive man made more so by stress and hard living.
He looked at the envelope and immediately recognised the handwriting. His right hand twitched for a moment, as if he were about to reach out and accept it.
"I do not want it," he said coldly, his eyes narrowing with carefully contained anger.
"You might not want it now, but perhaps you will later," she answered.
There was a knock on the door, a courtesy tap and no more. The door opened and an Auror stuck his head inside. He and his team had been responsible for the despised prisoner's security during his trial.
"The crowd outside has thinned out," said Auror McMasters. "The press is still there and will probably camp out all night if necessary to try and get a statement from you. If you are agreeable, in about an hour we should be able to get you outside the Ministry and Portkey you away from here."
"Very well," the man in black answered. His hair fell away from his face as he looked up at the taller man in his Auror's uniform. "McMasters?" His jaw worked as if he were debating whether or not to speak.
"Thank you." The words were short, brusque.
McMasters nodded and stepped back, closing the door.
The woman sat down on one of the two wooden chairs at the table. It was uncomfortable. The room was chilly and she felt the dampness right through her robes. Her tea had long since gone cold.
She still held the envelope in her hand.
"Would you object if I held on to this for you?" she asked.
"I do not care what you do with it," he answered, returning to his pacing.
The envelope went back into the pocket of her robes. She took a deep breath and squared her shoulders.
"I know they've arranged for you to go to a safe house for the duration, but you have an alternative," she said.
"Not if I care to stay alive," he snorted with derision.
"There's a place in Canada, in British Columbia. I went and checked it out. It's a cabin with amenities, about five miles from the nearest Muggle town. It's in a heavily wooded area in the mountains, not readily accessible as well as completely Unplottable and shielded from magical detection".
I'll admit my experience is limited," she continued, "but the wards are the strongest I've ever experienced. They may even be stronger than Hogwarts. He did that for you."
"I couldn't have got in without one of the two Portkeys he left behind." She paused for a moment, hoping he would respond to the last part. He didn't, so she continued. "I understand you know how to drive a car. I obtained a Land Rover for you and stocked the house with plenty of food. There's clothing for you there. If you go, I'll get your books and possessions to you in a series of trips. Minerva saved everything after the Aurors went through it. If you want to work, I'll get you the materials for your laboratory and stock you with ingredients. There are also identity papers for you, and a bank account. The amount should see you through for forty or fifty years."
He continued pacing, not bothering to look at her.
"If you will allow, I will be your Secret Keeper," she added quietly.
He stopped pacing.
"Why would you do that?" he demanded, black eyes flashing.
"Because I want to. Because you deserve far better than what you've got or you're going to get. Because you need it until it is safe for you to live your life on your own terms."
"You would put yourself at that kind of risk? They might come after you so they can get to me."
"I'll be living at Hogwarts. They can't get to me there." She shook her head and laughed bitterly. "As far as the general public is concerned, I'm a living saint. I can do no wrong. They already think I've gone a bit round the bend helping you, but saints are allowed to do odd things."
She rose from the chair and crossed over to where he stood, leaning against the concrete block wall, his arms crossed against his chest. She reached out and gently touched his arm. He flinched at the unaccustomed touch.
"You can't live in Great Britain for at least a few years. It won't be safe even after all this."
"I do not need you to tell me that," he scoffed.
"Go and look at it," she encouraged. "Stay for a few weeks. If you don't like it, get word to me that you are coming back and I'll get in touch with McMasters about moving you to the safe house."
He seemed to be listening, but she knew the final stumbling block had to be overcome.
"Please don't turn this down because he arranged it for you," she said in a near whisper.
He looked at her intensely, black eyes like wells of darkness.
"If you have any doubts at all, you have my permission to look. This offer is made in complete sincerity. No hidden agendas, and I honestly don't think I have any manipulations behind it."
"The heritage of your House is showing," he sneered.
"Go ahead," she replied; her eyes open wide in invitation.
He looked at her. He required no wand for this. "Legilimens," he murmured.
He looked deep. She blocked nothing, just as she had promised. He looked until he was surprised with what he saw and satisfied with his own conclusions. He released his hold on her mind and she stumbled back. He reached out a hand to steady her. She caught her balance and then moved back to the chair, plopping down ungracefully, and taking a deep drink of the tepid tea.
"Your intent to do the right thing is astonishing," he observed.
"Will you do it?"
He hesitated for only a moment.
The woman heaved a sigh of relief and closed her eyes. When she opened them, he was sitting in the chair across from her with the table in between them. He put his hands around his untouched mug of tea, perhaps seeking a bit of warmth where there was none. She searched in her pocket and found a second envelope. She held it out to him.
He looked at the envelope. He recognized this handwriting as well. It was her neatly rounded cursive; familiar to him from reading hundreds of feet of essays written in that hand from the time she was eleven.
"This has the information about the bank account, identity papers, and most of what I think you'll need to get started. When you get to the house, you'll find a safe. I put everything in there. The password is in this envelope, but you should change it as soon as you can."
He reached out and took the envelope, staring at it for a moment.
"When I get there, what is to prevent me from striking out on my own?"
"Nothing," she replied. "You're an extraordinarily resourceful wizard and a true survivor. If you choose to vanish completely, you could do it. But you are famous and your face and name are known in the western wizarding world. You won't be able to live under your own name and with your own face for a long time without being discovered. However, if it is what you choose, I will respect that. I can't guarantee no one will come looking for you."
"You can hardly guarantee that now."
"I can guarantee your location will be a secret. As I said, the land and cabin are Unplottable, made so by the most powerful wizard of his generation and a few others."
He looked up at the ceiling, dingy and dark.
"I will try it for a month," he said decisively. "You may come in a month. Bring as many of my things as you can. If I decide to stay, I would like to have them." He gave a little snort. "If I decide to leave, I will want some of my things." He looked at her again. "I will give you the courtesy of knowing my choice."
"Thank you," she replied. "I will confess that I would worry if you were simply gone and I did not know if you were dead or alive."
He snorted again.
"If you are going to be my Secret Keeper, we should do the ritual now before the Aurors return. I am currently wandless, so we will need to use the modified ritual and conduct the full one when I next see you."
The woman nodded and rose. He stood away from the table, allowing her to walk around him and draw the necessary sigils in the air with her wand. She whispered magical words, words of power. At the proper moment, they said in unison:
"So mote it be."
A gleam of gold surrounded both of them and then faded. The spell was in place.
She held out a small blue ball, a child's toy.
"Here is the Portkey." She told him the password. He grimaced.
"How like him," he remarked.
There was another tap on the door. This time, the door opened wide. Standing at the doorway were McMasters and four other Aurors whose names she didn't know.
"We're ready for you now, sir," said McMasters.
"There is a small change in plans," he replied. "I will not be going to the safe house. As soon as we are outside of the wards, I will Portkey to a location outside of Great Britain. I will not require your services beyond that."
McMasters gave him a concerned look.
"You realise we cannot provide for your security if you leave our custody. This is doubly so if you leave Britain," said McMasters.
"Other arrangements have been made. I prefer it this way, and rest assured, my survival skills are more than adequate."
"It's your skin," said McMasters, shaking his head. "If you are absolutely certain?"
"Then follow us," he said.
The two of them stepped out of the holding room into the brighter light of the hallway of the Ministry of Magic. The Aurors formed a ring around them, wands at the ready. They moved down the hallway, down five flights of stairs, through several hallways to a doorway in an area used for receiving supplies. McMasters opened the door and peered out. The way was dark, but clear. No other humans were in sight. He went through first, clearing the way for the others. The group moved outside, one by one, watching carefully for intruders. Stealthily, they moved through the night until they were across the patch of lawn surrounding the building. McMasters signalled the group to stop.
"We're outside the wards, now," he said.
McMasters turned to him, reached into his pocket and drew out a wand. He held it out, handle end towards the man in black.
"You have been found not guilty on all charges by reason of extraordinary magical circumstance and are officially released from custody. I am returning your wand to you," said McMasters with ritualistic formality.
The man reached out and accepted the wand. He held it and stared at it, caressing the dark wood gently. It was a reunion with his oldest and most trusted friend.
"Good luck, sir," said McMasters.
The man nodded in return. He took a deep breath, smelling the air of his native land for the last time for many years, perhaps for the rest of his life. He looked around and met her eyes for a moment. Hermione Granger smiled at him and nodded. He stepped away from his guards, looked up at the night sky, and whispered.
Severus Snape disappeared.
I could not resist the urge to begin a post-Deathly Hallows story. This will not interfere with the completion of "Looking for Magic" on schedule.