CONFESSIONS OF A CORNWALL GRAD
By Librasmile

Chapter 3

Author's Note: *sobs* Yes it took over a year to add chapter 3. Mea culpa. Partly it was real life distracting me. Partly it was myself becoming obsessed with creating a whole world and not just another story. What did that include? 1. Creating more wizard world geography. You can't tell me there's just Diagon and Knockturn Alleys. Come on! So I wrote a goofy 3-part series called Trapped in The Alley. If you're interested you can check out my Live Journal. I'm Librasmile there as well. 2. I had to build Severus a house. 'Nuff said. 3. I had to fill in Demeter's history and recreate Severus'. I have a whole still-expanding bible of background material some of which appears here and some of which still has to make a bow in other stories.

Author's Thank You's: HUGE, HUGE thanks to Helena and Penni for embracing my madness and reading draft after draft. I couldn't have gotten this far without you. Feel free to boot my patootie into Chapter 4, lol!

Disclaimer: You know the drill – With the exception of my gal Demter and assorted secondary original characters, JKR owns 'em. I just mess about with them for a bit – purely profit free of course.

Minor Britpick Note: I tried to avoid too many Americanisms. And yes I know the counties no longer have to be included in postal addresses and the address included below is probably all kinds of wrong. All I can say is that I actually went to the Royal Mail website to learn about the UK address system and only came away with a headache (Why do your county lines keep moving? ) C'est la vie!


He owns a house.

No, not that squalid little shack in Manchester that he lists as his official residence.

A house.

With acreage.

And a pedigree.

And, dare I say it, a bit of architectural dignity.

I was gobsmacked!

Finding out was like going through that Alice girl's looking glass. ( When will Muggles learn not to mess about with magic mirrors? )

I was intrigued.

As my mum always says, a man is never more attractive than when he comes packaged with a house. An over-stuffed Gringotts vault doesn't hurt either. But a fully paid off house trumps all.

But there are houses and then there are Houses.

The Manchester house isn't generally known among the faculty whom Snape seems to despise. I can't say I blame him. Most of them are a little too jumped up and satisfied with themselves. On the rare occasions when I have to go to their staff room to find one of them, I could swear the temperature drops more than a few degrees the minute I cross the threshold. Merlin forbid if I ever need to borrow a lump of sugar! They'd probably demand a finger as payment. I shudder to think how deep the chill goes when Severus is there. When I dropped a few hints about it to Filch ( who gets the same treatment by the way) he said too many of the faculty probably haven't gotten over being shown up by Severus when he was still just a student. No professor likes to come up short in comparison to one of their pupils, especially not compared to the "raggedy little swot" he used to be.

They'd hated him then too, even though he was brilliant. And Snape hates them right back. So I suppose he'd rather die – or better yet dispose of one of THEM – rather than let slip any word of Manchester.

I suspect only the Headmaster and McGonagall know about Manchester. And maybe perhaps Pomfrey in case of medical emergencies. I've never heard any of them mention it. And I can't imagine anyone else on the faculty – with the exception of sweet little Filius, who would never be so rude – having either the standing or the courage to raise the subject.

At the time, though, Filch's comments had left me uneasy. The old man had been here when Severus was a student and I sensed there was a lot about Snape that he wasn't telling me. Why he told me as much as he did probably had more to do with the Goblin brandy I used – with Filch's blessing – to spike his tea than with any fear of breaching Snape's confidences. I was pretty sure I wouldn't get any more out of him.

Raggedy? Mr. Darkly Immaculate, himself?

No his hair isn't perfect. Nor are his teeth. But these are minor easily correctible things. They're small parts of his very impressive whole which he holds erect with pride.

And yet…

It doesn't take a genius to see that at some point, someone, somewhere, perhaps someone near and dear to him, had convinced him he was ugly.

I hadn't realized at first. When I'd first arrived here, I'd simply registered him as this sweeping, darkly majestic force, the thundercloud to the headmaster's genial lemon-drop sun.

Yes his skin is sallow. Not pocked, or pitted, or scarred, just sallow. And not all the time. Sometimes he's simply pale, which is hardly a shock in someone who spends most of his life in the deep dark of the dungeons. But if you pay attention, you'll see his color shift with the seasons. In August, when the faculty members return, what is tanned and rested in them is sallow in him. By December, he's pale again. You can hardly blame the man for being a poor tanner. Otherwise Witch Weekly's style aurors would have chucked me into Azkaban long ago.

And no his teeth are not perfect. To hear the students tell it, he's a snaggle-toothed, crooked-mouth, mess. In actuality, the bottom row of his teeth are slightly misaligned. Whether this is congenital or the result of stress-induced teeth grinding, I couldn't tell. But by a happy accident, his upper row is perfectly straight. It overlaps enough to almost completely obscure his bottom row, so you can't see that imperfection unless you're literally staring down his throat. And if you need to do that BE FOREWARNED – I suspect he bites.

And his teeth aren't perfectly white either. He smokes. Clove cigarettes. I'd wager any amount of galleons that habit is stress induced. When his colleagues come back from the summer tanned with sparkling teeth, he comes back sallow-skinned but with perfectly acceptable ivory-colored teeth. By the Halloween Feast he's becoming paler and his teeth dingier. At least during the day. Catch him in the morning and his teeth are bloody brilliant. By the end of the day, he's back where he started. I suspect he fights a neverending battle between what I'd estimate is a pack a day habit and his tooth whitener. I haven't come across a wizard-made tooth whitener yet that can't handle ordinary food or cigarette stains, so I wouldn't be surprised if there's more than just cloves in those fags.

But if it keeps him from murdering the little beasts, I say smoke 'em if you got 'em.

I wonder if he stocks up for the year before the start of term feast. Hogsmeade's merchants carry tobacco but they aren't exactly known for selling exotic goods. And scoring a side trip to Knockturn Alley during school terms just for a pack of fags just inst' worth it. Then again he could have someone supplying him. Several other faculty members smoke as well, especially Hooch. Some days that woman reeks like chimney! But I've never caught the same deep, spicy aroma wafting from them as I smell on him.

His hair is its own little saga.

I've heard the nasty little remarks about the so-called "greasy git" from students and, worse, the faculty – as if any of them had the goods to be crowned sexy sorcerer of the year. All behind his back of course. Not one of them has got the guts to say it to his face. Oh I've heard them muttering about him under their breath just loud enough for him to hear. They're so chuffed with themselves they don't even notice I can hear them too. Or maybe it just doesn't matter to them. He never acknowledges the comments. But I've seen the way his mouth tightens and his shoulders pull back ever so slightly as if he's willing himself to face down an attack. But he remains silent. Oh, he'll tear a loose-lipped student's house points to shreds if he overhears them, but he leaves the faculty alone. With the students, it's a matter of disrespecting authority. With his colleagues… I suppose he thinks it's beneath his dignity to even acknowledge them with a response.

But it bothers him.

It took me awhile to figure out that too.

I didn't believe it at first.

I mean he's so proud. He stands like a prince – the Machiavellian version, perhaps, but still a prince. It must infuriate his peers because there seems to be an unspoken rule that only the headmaster can adopt anything like a royal presence. Severus does it without thinking. I'm not sure he'd know how to stop even if he wanted to. It isn't in him to slouch or shuffle or amble. He swoops. He stalks. He never stoops – unless he's snatching up a hapless student. I think his pride amuses the Headmaster.

And the way he moves… I don't have the words to describe him.

I once spent a long, frustrating – sexually and otherwise – night, poring through Madame Pince's sadly limited literature collection, trying to find some word, some author, someone who had conjured up the words that could describe his physical grace. The closest I came was Edgar Allen Poe – how he wound up in the mug-lit section I'll never know – and T.S. Eliot. And even they weren't enough. All I got out of that night was a raging headache, dark dreams of "nevermore" and the realization that I wanted to be seduced by the wasteland.

And, possessing all this, he thinks he's ugly.

I guess I just don't see him the way other people do.

It's as if other people are determined to only see him in pieces.

It's shamefully easy to do.

He's SO intense that his energy actually seems to twist reality around him so that people can only see a distorted version of him, like a trick of the light.

Turned one way, he's all sharp, sour angles and seething anger. The Grim Reaper made snarling flesh.

Turned the other way, he's smoky, seductive shadows and sweetly, stinging allure.

Seeing him as only one or the other is like seeing him through one eye and then the other. Sooner or later you wind up cockeyed or half blind.

And yet his colleagues never seem to catch on.

Most of them seem to forget they actually have two eyes when it comes to him. To them he's forever frozen in mid-snarl. And the tragedy of it is that they get a sort of petty revenge on him. Because he believes them. It's as if, on some level, he believes their resentment and fear is his just due.

And THAT'S what I could not understand. Even with that less than savory history of his WHY would he believe them?

Well it wasn't as if I could walk up to His Immaculate Darkness and ask. I didn't even have the courage to ask Filch. If it were anyone else, I'm sure Filch would fill me in. But I could just imagine the kind of threats, spoken or unspoken, upon which Snape would condition sharing any confidences with the old caretaker. Why Filch had told me as much as he had previously probably had more to do with the Goblin brandy I'd used beforehand – with Filch's blessing – to spike his tea. I was pretty sure I wouldn't get any more out of him. Besides, asking Filch, a defenseless squib, to risk running afoul of Snape was wrong. Not that I could defend myself any better if I collided with Snape's dark – or rather darker – side. Still it was the principle of the thing. Last time I had no idea I was asking Filch to breach Severus' confidence and luck and brandy were on my side. This time I was on my own.

So I took myself off for a quiet little side trip to Manchester.

After sneaking off for a look at it I could see why.

It was…it was…

It was a wary walk down cracked, litter-strewn Muggle pavements, gripping my mother's wand tight as I passed Muggles who could have been right at home in Knockturn Alley. It was a stroll past rows of narrow, aging homes packed as tightly together as knuckles in a fist. It was a jarring stop before a house with grimy, greasy brick and crumbling mortar; a dulled rust-coated wrought-iron railing; clouded window panes framed by splintering window sashes and flaking paint; all huddled under an ashen sky and backed against a field of trash and debris choked weeds...

I didn't want to believe it.

He's the Head of Slytherin House – Hogwarts' proudest, no matter what the Gryffindors might say. All the houses have their share of heirs and spares. But he rides herd over the spoiled spawn of the proudest, wealthiest purebloods. If ever there was a nest of vipers, er brats who not only demand that the world and everyone in it be organized to THEIR convenience, but who also routinely scheme to get the upper hand over their head of house, it's in Slytherin House.

Of course they fail. And when the accumulated weight of Prof. Snape's multiple, gleefully vindictive and, Filch assures me, richly deserved detentions crushes even their proud spirits, they finally bow their necks to the inevitable. For the duration of their stay at Hogwarts, Prof. Snape's word is law. And since it's inconceivable that such pureblood aristocrats could bow to anything less than their superior, I always assumed that at the very least he'd come from the same elevated tier.

Not…this.

Manchester.

The mills.

MUGGLE mills.

The proud head of Slytherin – with his hauteur, his regal bearing, his cultured syllables, and his immaculately tailored robes, the man who sweeps past us as if he were the walking, talking avatar of Machiavelli's Prince – sprang forth from Muggle mills?

Can you imagine if these brats KNEW?

Can you imagine if their PARENTS knew?

No wonder he never mentions it.

I'm surprised he doesn't have it under fidelius or at least a good, strong notice-me-not charm. Then again he lists it in his personnel file, so I suppose that would have defeated the purpose.

Still I would have expected a wizard neighborhood at least.

Diagon and Knockturn Alleys are much too commercial to make good residential space. But the dozens of secondary and tertiary streets branching off of them make lovely neighborhoods. Parsh Alley certainly can't match the prestige of Diagon Alley but it made a decent enough home for my sister, my mother, my granddad and me. True, mum had to work at the custom house down in Navigation Alley, and there was that row of shady Goblin pawn shops at our cross street, Thrift Alley. But the Goblins kept order, and besides, all of that was at the far end of our long, winding street. It might as well have been another world to us kids.

Our block of converted Victorian-era flats actually enclosed a long inner courtyard that we all took full advantage of. The neighbors' association claimed it and cultivated it into bright rows of daisy and daffodils, marigolds and roses. Every season, within the walls, we had lush little harvests of tomatoes, strawberries, green beans, turnips and cabbages. They coaxed apple and pear trees into giving up their fruit. And they threatened us with murder as we chased through around them nicking samples as we played hide and seek.

Yes, we lived in London. But we lived surprisingly well. We certainly cut into our grocery bills. And thanks to what magic our parents could conjure up, we kids had space and sunlight and trees and grass, fresh food and fresh air– all safe and secure from Muggles.

Not this…how could he grow up here?

The air itself felt leaden and it was hard to imagine anything escaping the gravitational pull of that place. Is this what Muggles mean when they say "toxic half-life?"

Is THIS what gives him his crackling, sulfuric aura? Is THIS why he believes he's ugly?Because he believes this toxicity is not just skin deep but in his blood?

If nothing else, I think I can understand his secrecy and ferocity better. If he can't be loved – and to convince someone that they're ugly is to convince them that they can't be loved – then at least he can damn well make sure he's feared. At the very least it keeps the faculty from trying to devour him.

And his closed-mouth stance on his origins is the only thing that stands between him and parents like Lucius Malfoy discovering his origins and killing him stone dead – or at least having him fired, which in my tax bracket amounts to the same thing. Even my mother would turn up her nose if she knew. True we lived on my grandfather's charity. But it was a neat and tidy charity. It was respectable charity. No pureblood or his child would ever tolerate jumping to the orders of such a low-born, smog-stained upstart.

And I can't have him. Not if he comes from this. I have to do better, not worse. Yes, we need the magical power. But we also need the social protection. I can't risk losing Uriah just to move down in the world. It's not just me here.

Mum can't work forever. True, I'm out of the house. And my sister Daphne has finally – praise Merlin! – gotten a wedding date out of that killjoy boyfriend of hers, Cadmus. But that's only because he demanded she give up a solid position as junior seamstress at Titania's Bridal Shop in Silk Alley to help him start his furniture-making business. She told him she'd do it…eventually.

It'll be more like never if I have anything to do with it. We're not the kind of family that can afford to start – and most likely lose – a business. Neither is Cadmus'. And they'll wind up right back in the flat with Mum, stressing themselves and her over mounting debts.

No. I can't have that.

Which means I can't have Severus.

Because in addition to – yet again! – steering Daphne away from trouble, I need to marry enough money to clean up the mess she'll eventually let Cadmus drag her into.

At least, that's what I thought before I saw his OTHER house.

I left Manchester with a heavy heart that day, my hopes crashing around me.

I spent an entire fortnight disappointed and forlorn before the knut dropped.

Malfoy knew.

I hadn't considered, not then, not until days after seeing Severus' dirty little Manchester secret, that Malfoy HAD to know. He sits on the Board of Governors. He'd gone to school with Snape, for Merlin's sake. And he has access to almost everything in the personnel files.

And yet he'd approved Severus' appointment to head Slytherin House. He let his precious heir jump to Severus' orders. He kept up a more than cordial relationship. What few comments I heard him make to and about Severus were all complimentary.

Malfoy knew and approved.

What in Merlin's name could explain that?

And that's what triggered my memory.

I went diving through my files to pull out the latest letter from Gringotts. There. Dated the same day I came back my foolish hopes shattered by the desolate reality of what I'd seen in Manchester which was why I'd missed it. My eyes skimmed the document and I let out a shuddering breath. This was it. This was my clue to explaining the disconnect between Severus Snape growing up in working class Manchester squalor and Lucius Malfoy, pureblood supreme, placing his precious little son and heir under Snape's care.

I felt a hopeful flutter in my chest and my hand actually shook as I read the parchment.

It was an accident. My finding out about it - that is, the information being revealed to me. I still would have overlooked it but for my pondering the hierarchical mismatch of his origins and his position as Head of Slytherin.

Who says accounting is boring?

You can uncover more secrets tracking someone's money than you can tracking who goes into and out of their bedroom.

That certainly hold true for Uriah and me. I have never been to bed with Uriah. I know he'd like that to change. And I'd be willing to let him – if it weren't for Snape. Not that I've tipped my hand about that to Uriah. Yes, I suppose you could say he's trying to court me - relentlessly. Sometimes he's like devil's snare - when he's in town. But we're not committed to each other so there's no shame in me hedging my bets.

I may not know exactly what Uriah and I have but I still know everything else about him. I know where he was born, where he grew up, and what schools he attended BEFORE AND AFTER Cornwall. I know his parents' names and THEIR parents' names. I know the worth of what he stands to inherit. And – unbeknownst to him – exactly how much he makes every year.

I know entirely too little about Snape despite the Manchester revelation. And he works hard to keep it that way. Still. Handing the faculty their galleons every month confers a distinct advantage.

I know exactly how much he's earned at Hogwarts for the 5 years I've been here AND for the years I wasn't.

I know how much he spends – officially – on potions ingredients, cauldrons, jars and what have you. I know the budget for Slytherin House – always submitted on time and with no unexplainable or unjustifiable shortfalls. Gryffindor by contrast is frequently and defiantly over budget. Although more apologetic about it, Hufflepuff is the same – usually because they've loaned funds to Gryffindor. I refuse to even acknowledge Prof. Flitwick's latest money-saving mathematical matrix. Cornwall taught Numerology NOT Artihmancy. And trying to decode abstract Ravenclaw ramblings just gives me a headache.

I know the worth of Severus Manchester house – 3000 galleons on the open market. My grandad's flat is worth more than that. A decent wizard house costs at least 10,000.

And, because I deposit his pay there every month, I know the number of Snape's Gringotts vault.

THAT'S how I found out about his other house.

The goblins, bless their steel-bolted, tight-fisted little hearts, screwed up.

It doesn't happen often. In fact, it's SO rare I'd had half a mind to check and see if that perpetually pissed Trelawney hadn't actually sobered up and seen it any case, I grabbed onto it like a lifeline.

Again, I know Severus' Gringotts vault number. The reason I know it is because the house heads are paid differently than the rest of the faculty. Ordinary faculty, like Muggle Studies professor Charity Burbage or Astronomy's Prof. Sinistra receive galleons in hand to spend, secure or owl post as they please. The house heads and the masters however – Charms Master, Potions Master, Transfiguration Mistress and Defense Against the Dark Arts Instructor – are paid first and have their galleons directly deposited into their vaults.

Everybody knows this.

What is NOT commonly known is that each house head has a letter of credit sent from Hogwarts on their behalf to Gringotts. Sealed by the Headmaster himself, each letter allows house heads to purchase whatever they need for their classes or house expenses from whichever wizard merchant they need to patronize. Once Dumbledore has signed them, I send the letters myself. Gringotts keeps them on file for merchants to reference as needed and of course Gringotts keeps me abreast of the purchases so I can reconcile Hogwarts' accounts.

During a house head's probationary period, Gringotts sends quarterly requests for confirmation that the letters are still valid. Once a head is past that period, Gringotts send them every 6 months. Once they have been here 5 years, the requests are only sent annually and practically rubber stamped.

That doesn't mean they have free rein however – although you'd never know it when it comes to Hooch and her Quidditch ( and since the deputy head mistress is her partner in crime I don't have much to say on THAT score ). Hogwarts is NOT a charity. And to keep the house heads honest, each faculty member who can do so must submit their most recent Wizard Inland Revenue form with the initial letter in the off chance – although not necessarily all that off when it comes to the DADA instructors – that the Headmaster must discipline them for financial malfeasance. For the same reason, they must also disclose ownership of any property that could be attached in the event of a lawsuit.

I know all about Minerva's share in the rambling old house she inherited along with her sister as well as her sole ownership of a sunny little seaside cottage. I know all about Pomona's relative infested farmhouse in the Cotswolds and Filius' Left Bank love nest. So, as I said, of course I know about Snape's house in Manchester. And, like clockwork, that address appeared in Gringotts' annual request for confirmation of the letter of credit renewal.

Except this year.

THIS year the address read:

Raven's Wake
Old Grove Walk
Augury Lane
Quilton, Yewberry
Ravenham-on-Wode, Yorkshire RV3 1YD

I'd sent the approval before I'd even noticed the address change. Or the quantitative difference – 374,400 galleons.

It was wondering about Malfoy's support of a Manchester slum-raised wizard that made me go back and look. I suppose the change had made an impression in the back of my mind, and, like a clock chiming, had gone off while I was pondering the paradox of a Muggle slum-raised wizard coming to head the pureblood reserve of Slytherin House.

As I said I have NO idea how the goblins could have made such an error. And I knew it wouldn't be long before they caught it. What the consequences would be I didn't know. It's not as if I wasn't already bound by my witch's oath not to reveal any personal financial information. Nor was I inclined to.

But the worth of the property listed was over 10 times that of Spinners End. The goblins are notorious for their fiduciary controls. And the huge quantitative difference would generate an automatic investigation. ( I found that out when I was studying for my ill-fated Gringotts interview.) Which wasn't good for me since I had confirmed the renewal without noticing the error myself.

In the best case scenario, the goblins would send a corrected request along with a sharply worded communiqué insulting my name, my common wizard lineage and my meager magical prowess. After all I sent the erroneous request back with Hogwarts' approval. I'm sure the way they'd see it, it was my fiduciary responsibility to the school to catch their error. So in their minds, I was the guilty party, not them. Without a doubt, they would threaten to ask Dumbledore to sack me from my job. But since the Headmaster had more important things on his mind – Quidditch scores, the price of lemon drops, and the most efficient way to give Gryffindor enough points to steal the house cup AGAIN this year – I doubt they'd even get a reply.

And more importantly, Severus would never know.

The WORST case scenario would see my body buried under the dungeons in the off chance I managed to somehow break the Obliviate I'm sure Snape would hex me with after he finished reading the Goblins' update on the situation.

And no I'm not exaggerating.

I mean what have we heard of this property? Nothing. Not a word. Not a whisper.

Clearly he values his privacy more than his property.

Which meant I was probably taking my life – or at the very least my well being – into my hands going out to see it.

Yes I was checking up on him again. I admit it.

But in for a knut…


It's located in the Yorkshire dales on the edge of a tanglewood approximately 50 miles from the city of Ravenham and half that distance from Yewberry Village.

I decided to floo from Hogsmeade to Yewberry. I didn't tell anyone where I was going but I didn't hide it either. I didn't have to. Like towns all over England, Yewberry had a sizable wizard community hidden peacefully and discretely within it. I stepped carefully out of the fireplace in the storeroom of what turned out to be Wodeson's Medicinals – the local chemist-cum-potions brewer – and slipped out down the narrow, Romanesque alley behind it.

As I came around the front and merged into pedestrian traffic, I could see that, as with the Leaky Cauldron, the shop had been treated to a powerful notice-me-not charm to repel the passing Muggles. And when I took the time to suppress my magical senses and view the building as if I were a Muggle, I could see the structure stood as a boarded up stone derelict. I frowned. Come to think of it, the shop had been empty when I'd arrived and the only light to breach the shadows had been the sunlight piercing the panes of the dust-coated windows. That was different. Usually a floo stop was occupied as a matter of course if only so that someone could report any problems to the Floo Commission.

Then again, Yewberry WAS a bit off the busier floo circuits. I mean it seemed to have a full enough population. There were open shops and taverns, light street traffic, people buzzing along in those Muggle cars. It wasn't crowded but it was busy. Still, it lacked much of those odd, beeping, electricky things the more modern Muggle cities had. I wouldn't be surprised if most of the wizards simply floo'd straight from their homes into Ravenham proper. Why make a stop to a slow backwater village whose most recent claim to fame – according to the town square monument - was the bumper yewberry harvest of 1711, when you could hop straight through to the city? At the very least you could find a wider and undoubtedly comfier range of food and shelter options.

I swear it took 3 weeks for that Yorkshire chill to leech from my bones. You'd think I'd be used to it after 5 years of working in sunless Scotland.

It didn't stop me though.

I pulled my mackinaw tighter, cast the strongest warming charm I could produce andrented a bicycle.

The bicycle shop owner had warned me that the estate was a full 20-odd miles down Augury Lane. There would be no rest stops along the way until I got to the tiny hamlet of Quilton. I thanked him without blinking an eye, took my rental and set off.

Once I was out of view, I whipped open my Ministry of Magic approved version of Baedeker. There. Two miles out of Yewberry was an old fairy road. I remember granddad telling us about those. He'd been sent to the country during the last war. Portkeys were strictly rationed. And the wizards he'd lived with were so rural they didn't have floo access. They'd used the old fairy roads instead.

Back at Cornwall, we studied fairy roads in magical cartography. It was an elective for me, a requirement for Uriah. I had taken it just to keep him company. The professors figured if you were going to spend your days shipping goods back and forth or figuring out where to locate magical rooms you'd better know your magical geography.

In the days of the Old Ways, taking a fairy road would have been suicide. You'd never come out again. Or if you did return, 50 years could have gone by and everyone you knew and loved would be dead.

Nowadays though, with the gates between the realms sealed, all the fairy roads looped back to sites in our world. So all I had to do was pick up the fairy road and keep going for a few miles. In 20 minutes, I'd be in Quilton, 5 minutes from my destination.

Just because I hadn't needed to hide or mention my destination didn't mean I hadn't arrived with a good cover story. I had a thick woolen blanket, a full picnic basket and the requisite thermos of hot tea – generously fortified with a portion of Goblin brandy – all packed with my best featherweight charm. I also had my sketch book and my copy of the The Evening Craft's late edition. Although too many of us might not admit it, we're as eager as the next Muggle to visit the manor houses and explore the ancestral haunts of the past and present privileged class. So I decided to disappear into the throng of weekend day trippers stopping for a picnic lunch between sketches of the old piles. If the curious – or downright nosy – still had to ask me where I was going, well they were as hopeless as Longbottom and as worthy of a reply.

For a moment, I'd actually wished I'd had Filch with me. His crusty, craggy personality would have fit perfectly with the rugged ups and downs of the hills and dales I travelled. Yewberry is just outside the national park, Wode's Wood, an ancient forest that had watched the Romans, Vikings and Saxons come and go. Apparently, the Normans hadn't made much of a dent either for all their infamous harrowing of the North. The Wood's claim to fame, an abundance of ancient yew tress, still stood unmolested by any but Mother Nature. One had even tumbled its way across a thin branch of the Wode River, forming a natural, if treacherous bridge.

It was while cycling past one old yew – a tree leaning so dangerously that it seemed determined to follow its brother's fate – that I finally came across it.

As I rounded a bend, the view of it resolved before me as I wandered off the bike path, stumbled through the brush and undergrowth and parted tree branches.

It was…definitely no Spinners End.

I gasped as I felt the tingle of the magic prickling along my skin, insinuating itself underneath, invigorating my bones. Deliberately, I breathed in, deep. I closed my eyes, savoring the "taste." Now this was magic.

Muggleborns don't understand the concept of magical estates, any more than they understand the concept of deep, true magic.

They knew it once, back before the Statute of Secrecy, before the Normans came, before the Romans left. They worshiped what no modern wizard with any sense would deign to call gods and had rituals as powerful as any spells we could conjure. And there was no need to live apart, no need for us to cringe and hide.

But when the karasti came, that changed.

Their priests began a campaign of amnesia for them and annihilation for us and we were slaughtered.

Hogwarts doesn't tell its students that.

Practically no one in the Ministry does either.

The official story is that the Statute of Secrecy was enacted to protect MUGGLES.

Bollocks.

The karasti were burning us alive.

Their priests had POWER.

Their chanting and holy books, their candles and Mass, their bells and faith beat back wizards and dark creatures alike. Their ceremonies and prayers drained the power of our spells and closed the other world gateways – our escape routes – all across the land.

We were hemmed in and hunted from one end of Britain to the other. And we were facing extinction.

It was the great estates – and, like it or not, the purebloods who owned them – that saved us.

They were the strongest of us, the ones who still had the power to hold out against the priests. And their estates became our bolt holes, our siege castles. They protected us.

I know the purebloods can be a petty, condescending, greedy and downright racist lot. But they – those with the great estates at least – are also custodians of some of the most powerful magical artifacts in Britain.

The Ministry prefers we forget THAT too.

But quite a few of us remember.

At Cornwall, they'd told us straight out how much power the Muggles once had. You'd think they'd fear the Ministry's retribution, but they were quite open about it. I suppose since we have so little power – wizardry's permanent second-class citizens so to speak – that the ministry assumes it doesn't matter what WE know. After all, who with any power is going to listen to US anyway?

And if there's one flaw the wizard world has, it's arrogance. No one would want to believe us. It's too terrifying. Because if the Muggles ever came to remember the power they once had over us, what's to stop the burning from happening again?

And they wonder why You-Know-Who managed to do as well as he did…

Each manor house has some magical artifact or site it stewards and protects. Or at it least it once did. That's how all the great manors began. Back before the priests and later the wizards themselves closed the gateways between the realms, the pureblood family that began the line formed a covenant with a daimon. They were charged to hold the site as a sacred, protected space and given a magical object as proof of the pledge. The more powerful the daimon, the more powerful the object, the more protected the space.

The Blacks apparently began with a pact with the ravenous spirit of Black Hill, inspiration for the infamous – and homicidal – Black Hunt.

The Longbottoms were guardians of the deceptively placid and deadly depths of Longbottom Lake.

And the Malfoys are rumored to have more than one which probably made them an irresistible prize for the Dark Lord. What they are nobody knows but what else could explain those idiots' relentless hold on power?

Not every landed pureblood family managed to hold onto their legacies, though. Witness the Weasleys.

But such artifacts generated the power that shielded hundreds of us. We shivered in their custodians' dungeons, attics, stables and other hiding places as their keepers confounded the inquisitors into leaving. Or battled them.

There's a reason Hogwarts used to have a dueling club. And a reason that the purebloods were the loudest in protesting its removal. The Headmaster finally managed to remove a black mark on his form with them when he reinstituted it last year. Though Gilderoy Lockhart's involvement spoke volumes.

It's also the reason Hogwarts is in a CASTLE. Again, the Muggleborns don't understand. From what I can tell, they never question it. They just seem to think it's part and parcel of the magic they read about in their fairy tales. I've read some of those stories. They're woefully lacking in the details of what dealing with the Fae was REALLY like. How lives shortened and body parts tended to go missing with each encounter, each bargain made. They seem to expect glass slippers under every bed and pumpkin coaches around every corner. I've never had the courage to ask him, but I'd love to know just how many first years ask Hagrid where he keeps his bean stalk.

They seem to miss the fact that a castle is a FORTRESS. Hogwarts is the safest magical place in Britain this side of Gringotts. And it never occurs to them to wonder why their school is housed in a fortress.

And with the Headmaster unwilling to exorcise Binns from his position teaching history of magic, they'll never know.

It'll never occur to them that the Founders weren't a bunch of dotty old teachers but WARRIORS hell bent on preserving our besieged bloodlines for centuries to come.

Binns will never tell them about the pureblood estates from Wales to Cornwall, from England to Scotland that secreted whole wizarding villages for years until the danger passed. How pureblood money and magic financed resettlement for thousands of wounded families and traumatized communities.

Unless they read the right sources like the The Evening Craft – founded by a Cornwall alum, of course – or talk to the right people like the fellows of the Pythagorean College, they'll never hear the real story. Merlin knows they'll never set foot in Cornwall.

All they'll hear is purebloods, Slytherins and You-Know-Who equal bad and Mugglelovers, Gryffindors and Dumbledore equal good. They'll never learn about the deeper reasons WHY.

They'll never know the truth.

They'll never witness THIS.

To Muggle eyes it would be a desolate ruin of crumbling, dark grey castellan brick and stone, overrun with climbing ivy.

To MY eyes it radiates with the bittersweet beauty of abandoned magic. I could feel the magic beckoning to me like a hand held out, inviting someone, just one living sentient thing to cross its threshold and bring it to life again.

It wasn't a castle. It wasn't one of the palatial mansions either. It was what Uriah would call that "curious architectural amalgam, a medieval fortified manor." It was built of stone and had battlements. But it lacked a moat. And if it had a portcullis it was raised. Nor was it as tall as I'd expected. I counted 4 stories at the most and the last story resulted from square, strategically placed towers rising above the stout walls.

I don't know what I expected. Perhaps a sedate, genteel manor house such as what housed Cornwall. Perhaps an ornate, Palladian spectacle as shown in the recent Witch Weekly spread depicting Narcissa Malfoy's latest interior design for Malfoy Manor.

Whatever it was, this wasn't it.

For better or worse those houses were clear products of civilization.

THIS house was…wild. Feral. Its dark grey stone and smaller, nimbler dimensions gave the sense of a crouched, untamed creature, hidden in the briar and brush, waiting for its next master or its next meal. Partly this was due to its medieval walls. Uriah, with his architectural expertise, would call it late Gothic or Perpendicular. It was a style that had the sweep of the great cathedrals without the dizzyingly otherworldly pointed spires. Perpendicular buildings like the Muggle churches of York Minister and Canterbury Cathedral manage to reach out to heaven without letting their feet leave the ground. They felt anchored to earth, like mountains or deep tree roots. They were strong, immovable buildings. And, like any Viking-era monastery or Hundred Years' War era castle, the house looked ready to withstand a siege. More: some indefinable quality gave it a spirit, made it seem quiescent yet still alive. It felt as if the slumbering stones themselves would waken and pounce on you if you weren't quite ready, came too close. The grim color of the stones, the severe structural lines and the shrouded lancet windows lent it an air of monastic melancholy – like a fallen priest still hoping for absolution.

Sheltered behind ancient yews, I stared, frozen by its austere grandeur.

This was no mere manor house.

It's fortress like structure, somehow redolent of both monastic abstention and Roman decadence, felt so much like Severus that it held me spellbound. It was if he stood naked before me, sans robes, sans sneer, yet clothed in impervious hauteur with all of his ancestors at his back.

It took a moment to recall how to breathe.

So THIS was what he was.

It fit.

It squared with my original notion of him as one of the privileged purebloods. And yet…

How did he go from this to Spinners End? Was Spinners End just a ruse to keep the curious – all right nosey, like myself – from looking elsewhere? Specifically here? And how was it possible he hadn't been required to list it on his original property disclosure? I've seen the original paperwork. It's not there.

I desperately wanted to get closer.

But when I retrieved my bicycle and started cycling closer, I yelped as a burst of wand fire exploded at my front tire. Before I had a chance to blink I was careening off the road and into the woods. I bumped and bumbled along the knobby forest floor. I was too battered by low-handing and thankfully spindly tree branches to have enough breath to cry out again. Until the branches abruptly cleared and I realized I was heading straight into the stream!

I screamed – an embarrassingly screechy sound that was abruptly cut off in mid-yowl as I felt myself yanked back into mid-air. Momentarily stunned, I hung like a rag doll as bicycle, picnic basket and sketchbook went flying then splashing into the water.

"Oh pardon me!" a voice said before I was gently lowered to earth. Still stunned, I only stared as a spry, middle-aged, average-looking man trotted past me to the water's edge. With a few flicks of his wand my belongings were brought to shore and dried in a thrice. The bent bicycle took a bit more work. But he soon had that as right as rain again. Good thing too since I would have had to pay for the damage and I only had wizard money left.

Swiftly, he trotted back up to me, my things levitating along behind him. "So sorry about that," he chirped. "Thought you were a Muggle. We don't get a lot of wizard folk on bicycles up here."

I glared at him.

Which obviously had no effect on him because he gave me the grand tour. By way of apology.

With all the eagerness of an underappreciated sheep dog, he awkwardly bounded up the ridge, me in tow, to give me the only tour he could.

From the higher position, he pointed out the medieval layout including 10-foot thick walls, crenellated battlements, the main entrance with its Gothic archway, the inner courtyard, the chapel and the out buildings. From the distance, it could have been a compact monastery. No wonder Snape preferred the dungeons. They were as Spartan and severe as his home.

Then my little friend gave me another possible reason for Severus' preference.

The estate had been confiscated. Twenty years ago, at the end of the war with You Know Who, the ministry had seized it and hadn't let go of it since.

I nodded as I felt a chill go down my spine. I could only imagine why. Snippets of Craft headlines and articles about Death Eater raids flitted briefly through my mind.

It was his job to guard the place, my keeper prattled on proudly. With a little auror help, of course, he added. The aurors patrolled weekly, always on a different day and were a bit wand happy, he explained. So he thought it best to get me out of range.

He himself wasn't an auror, he admitted.

Bless his heart, he was a sheriff.

He volunteered that info so easily I thought he must be joking.

Officially, the sheriffs are magical law enforcement officers. Unofficially, they're the Cornwall version of aurors – second-class citizens. Or, to put it more bluntly, second-rate aurors. They fall under what is laughingly referred to as the jurisdiction of the Court of Archaisms and Anomalies, also known as "Ark and A."

NO ONE respects Ark and A.

And no one wants to work for them either.

At Cornwall, the students in the Land Rites and Wizard Law course dismissed it as the place where careers went to die. A Land Rites major I dated once explained why. There are 2 reasons he said: the archaisms and the anomalies.

The anomalies referred to magical offenses that were too small for Azkaban, too big to ignore, and too bizarre to explain even to ordinary wizard folk.

Archaisms – a rather forgiving word - referred to the type of people who usually committed the anomalies.

Those people were…special.

Nobody wants to admit to having a crazy aunt stuffed in the attic. You feed her. You check on her to make sure she won't be able to burn down the place while you sleep. And you add additional locks as necessary. But you never ever admit she exists. Not to your neighbors. Not to your fiancé. Only when your betrothed has said the vows, sired or birthed your child or in some other way sealed their fate as an irrevocable member of the tribe – only when they can't escape do you lift the veil and let them in on the family shame.

The archaisms are the wizard world's version of the crazy aunt.

They are the hags, the hedge witches, the root doctors, the medicine men, the shamans, the covens, all the reprobates and resistors who refused to accept the Wizard Enlightenment, also known as the Rule of the Wand. Initially, they wouldn't even accept the Statute of Secrecy. Because they had little or no use for wands and clung to the old rituals most people called them the "ritch witches."

They refused to give up on their high or low ceremonial magic and kept to the worship of the so-called gods. Beltane was the worst. They persisted in celebrating it in the Old Way with nary a contraceptive charm in sight. So of course they created hordes of magical children with dubious heritage and equally doubtful inheritance rights. And because we haven't yet descended to the point of actually living invisible for 24 hours a day, the Muggle world could clearly see and hear these children who, inconveniently enough had no baptismal certificates. Add in the fact that Beltane rites could be recognized as an Old form of marriage and the Ministry had a nightmare on its hands.

Well of course the ritch witches had to be brought to heel. If they had kept on openly practicing their rites and other oddities, drawing attention to themselves, and by extension, us, their stubborn backwardness would have brought the Muggles down on our heads again.

So the sheriff's office was created. They were sent in to flush them out. They forced "conversion," if you will, on those who surrendered, imprisoned those who wouldn't, and put the fear of Merlin into those who were too minor to trouble with. And they were very, VERY efficient. Nowadays, you couldn't get a hedge witch to say "boo." And good luck finding a hag. Oh some of them have survived helping out the midwives. That kind of Old birthing magic is always useful. But the hardcore hags, the nearly feral ones who wouldn't have hesitated, however foolishly, to curse You-Know-Who, they're gone forever.

The sheriffs did such a good job, the Ministry snatched up most of them when it created the Auror Division. What was left…

A member of what was left nearly pitched me into the drink. So there you go.

Next, the Ministry tackled a knottier problem: land rights. We'd already put our foot on the neck of various dark and other creatures – vampires, werewolves, centaurs, giants – by trimming back their hunting grounds and habitats. Now we had to secure ours.

As I said all the great estates began as covenants with a local daimon. Land titles were based on those covenants. Well, the battle with the karasti had closed so many of the magical gateways that, aside from ghosts and poltergeists, it was damned near impossible to communicate or summon a spirit without resorting to powerful dark magic. This tossed land titles into complete chaos! When the smoke from the battles had cleared it was discovered that the purebloods who'd fought for us couldn't even prove they owned their own homes.

Pandemonium erupted.

Purebloods suddenly found ownership of their ancestral homes challenged by any and all comers. Even Muggleborns! And they were left with no legal leg to stand on.

Well of course these battle-hardened wizards weren't going to stand for that. So, sometime back in the 900s – or was it the 1200s? I can never remember which – the Ministry created Ark and A.

They should have just called it the clearance sale court.

That court was never really meant to resolve anything – not in substance. It was created to give a legal gloss to the purebloods' brute force retaking of their land. Most of that was accomplished by the 1300s. After that, the court lost all purpose and usefulness. Nowadays, just like careers, cases go there to die. Everybody knows it, especially the plaintiffs and defendants. The fastest way to get out of there is to bribe your way through. Paying the clerks works best. They control the judges' dockets and have next to no legal reputation to defend so they're more easily corrupted. If you have a case before that court and your lawyer doesn't advise you to try a bribe or a little blackmail get another lawyer. Or prepare to spend YEARS in Ark and A hell.

It's an open scandal.

After a particularly scathing series of exposes in the Daily Prophet back when the paper actually gave a damn, the Ministry broke down and created the Department of Land Rites.

Gail Coventree runs it now. She's Hogwarts bred, a Hufflepuff. But she's no Ministry toady. Instead of just vomiting up whatever procedure she learned on the job, she actually took the unheard of step of taking the Land Rites and Wizard Law courses at Cornwall.

You heard me.

And Uriah says he's seen her frequently in Hogsmeade and around the country actually talking to the people who actually live or work on the land.

What a concept.

The Craft has been hot on her heels ever since she took office. Whether to take her down or cheer her on, I can't tell yet. One week there's an article complaining about her failure to curb hag encroachment on midwifery. The next there's another one praising her for expediting – i.e., snatching from Ark and A – yet another case. Last one I read about involved a pureblood trying to shore up his waning fortune with illegal sales of magical substances to Muggles. Idiot.

From what I can see, she's thorough, conscientious and fair. Which means once you're in her net you might as well stop struggling.

It almost makes me feel sorry for all those ill-favored entrepreneurial purebloods.

Almost.

She's the Ministry's rarest type of administrator: she makes you believe in the Ministry again. If she ever runs for Minister of Magic, I'll happily vote for her – 2 or 3 times if necessary.

Meanwhile, the Ark and A carnival just keeps rolling along.

As I've said, the court's a joke and so are its sheriffs.

And nobody does a thing about it.

I've always wondered about that.

And thanks to my bumbling sheriff, my curiosity came back with a vengeance.

I looked at him, weighing, considering.

Two hours, a bit of ankle, two accidentally undone buttons on my blouse, five warming charms, a picnic lunch and a thermos of liberally spiked hot tea later and I'd swear I knew everything he did about that house.

Raven's Wake. That was its magical name. And an appropriate one too, since it almost sounds like an incantation. I could just imagine Severus or one of his ancestors raising his hands high and shouting skyward, "Ravens, wake!" Or maybe it was just the tea.

In Muggle records, it was known as Ravenskeep. And valued at £1,872,000. And that was 20 years ago. The property hadn't been assessed since.

It was built in the 1200s and refurbished in the 1600s. Obviously, not much had been done since it still looked like monks would break out in Gregorian chant any minute.

Originally situated in the heart of Wode's Wood, urbanization and Muggle advance had pruned back the wood until the estate now sat at its thinning border. Conservation efforts had gotten the woodland dubbed a national park. And powerful notice-me-not charms, a relatively wizard-friendly Muggle population in Yewberry, and a downright odd one in Quilton kept most Muggles away.

The wizards were another story. Over the 20 odd years since the house had been confiscated, it had been looted to the bare walls. Furniture, picture frames, mattresses, drapery, bed linens, china, rugs, tapestries, even knick knacks and keepsakes had been removed. All gone. My stomach turned over as he told me. No one could tell him if the items were in Ministry storage, stolen goods or sold to pay fines. Nor was he able to get an inventory.

I braced myself to hear the charge. It had to be serious. No landed pureblood, one who retained a magical estate, lost it for anything less than epic reasons: fiendfyre, the everflood hex, incurable dragon pox plague, excommunication between the family and its covenant daimon. And with those rumors of his former associations with You Know Who I was sure the details would be blood-curdling.

Severus' offense?

Delinquent taxes.

Or rather that was the offense my sheriff was told was on the seizure warrant.

So he'd never seen the warrant. And it never occurs to him that if they couldn't be arsed to show him – the court's property guard – an inventory of the house's goods then perhaps he shouldn't expect to get the real story on the warrant. I mean not even Longbottom would fall for that one.

Ark and A strikes again.

I gave him the rest of my goblin brandytea and cycled back to Yewberry.

And the whole while I couldn't help but wonder how Severus Snape, exacting potions master, indomitable Head of Slytherin House, watchful stewart of Hogwarts financially tightest-run house, the man who knew the course of every knut that circulated through his house, who always delivered his annual budget to me on time with no unexplained or unjustified shortfalls managed to lose his family estate for failure to pay his taxes.

By the time I'd gone back down the fairy road, returned the bicycle, and floo'd to Hogsmeade, I was already formulating a scheme for him to get it back.


Author's End Notes: Okay was it worth the wait? Probably not but lie to me anyway *flutters eyelashes* Pweeze? Oh heck, fine! Just leave an honest review and we're good, lol. Oh and my apologies if I gave anyone a fright by uploading the chapter and taking it back down again. Sigh, still getting the hang up adding author's notes, etc.