By the time Harry, Ron and Hermione reached Grimmauld Place, Lily and Hugo had pretty much gotten over the news about Al being in Slytherin. In fact, Snape was surprised how fast they had moved on to making a fort in the home's cluttered living room and discussing dragons.
He was looking over The Daily Prophet in the Potter's kitchen while Ginny began preparing to make dinner, trying to fight back completely illogical feelings of guilt. How could the boy being sorted into Slytherin have anything to do with him? Snape had never even met him-had been asleep for most the child's life.
Yet, somehow hel felt responsible for the strange situation.
Snape tried to shake the feeling by focusing on an a rather dull article about Draco Malfoy funding a charity to help wizards persecuted in South America. He wondered whether the boy had followed in his father's footsteps, using charity to buy friends and influence, or if he had grown after the outcome of the war. Beyond playing the part of a Slytherin-partial tyrant while at Hogwarts, Snape had actually cared for Malfoy. He saw in him a sort of suppressed vulnerability and insecurity he was all to familiar with.
His thoughts were interrupted as the trio arrived in a flurry of excited chatter and creaking doors.
"Gin-we've got some great news," said Harry as he rushed into the kitchen to give her a kiss. "We finally have a lead on Norbert."
"We have to leave now to follow it though, and Ron has to go back to Azkaban for his guard duties," added Hermione. "I'm not sure how long we'll be gone, so Hugo will have to stay here tonight," she said with a furrowed brow.
"Of course," said Ginny. Snape could see that she looked a bit paler than usual, while her husband and his friends were flushed with excitement reminiscent of their mischievous school days. "Where will you be?"
"Majorca-it seems connected with whatever Kingsley has been doing out there," said Ron. "Eh, the thing," he whispered, prodding Harry in the arm.
"Erm," Harry awkwardly turned to Snape. "How are you feeling today?"
A bit startled to be brought into the conversation so abruptly, Snape raised an eyebrow. As had happened so many times over the past few days, he was faced with a roomful of people staring down at him as if he were a frail infant.
"I'm feeling quite satisfactory," he said, stone-faced. "Though, I'm not sure how that is relevant."
Harry sighed and rubbed his scar before explaining. "Well, communication is difficult at Azkaban and we'll need to keep in contact with Ron," Snape could see some of the adventure rush leaving Harry's face as he spoke. "I know you haven't been using these emergency stones from St. Mungo's and I was hoping we could borrow them."
Snape rolled his eyes. Typical Potter. However, it was relieving to see him back in his usual single-minded-pursuit mode rather than overly concerned caretaker. In all honesty, he would be happy to have a night free of the stone's glowing reminder that he was an invalid living on the mercy of his former students. "That's fine. I'm certain you'll need them more than I will," Snape said, slowly turning his gaze back to the Prophet.
Though he feigned disinterest, Snape was secretly burning with questions. What was Norbert? What did it have to do with the minister? Why did the usually unflappable Ginny look so upset?
He hoped at least some of it would become clear before Harry and crew bustled out on their mission.
Harry started heading towards Teddy's room to grab Snape's stone but was blocked by Lily and Hugo, who appeared to have abandoned their fort.
"Hello there munchkins," he said, ruffling Hugo's hair.
"Dad, did you hear the news?" asked Lily.
"What news?" said Harry distractedly as he bent down to give Lily a quick kiss on the top of her head.
"Al is in Slytherin," she said, looking up at him.
Harry paused, a look of confusion falling upon his face. He turned to Ginny. "Slytherin?" he said, although it didn't seem like it was really sinking in.
"Yeah, we got a letter from him today," said Ginny, hiding a wince. "It's there on the table."
Harry looked from Ginny to Ron and Hermione, who were also sporting expressions somewhere between confusion and shock, to the letter and then finally to Snape.
"Well," he said, his throat suddenly feeling very dry. "That is interesting news, huh?"
"It seems like he is really happy," said Ginny, moving closer to Harry so she hold his arm.
He smiled. "Good. Great! It's about time our family learned about other parts of the castle, right?"
Snape groaned inwardly at Harry's attempts to mask his disappointment.
"It's okay, Uncle Severus told us they only have to sleep on nails once a week," said Hugo, who obviously also saw through Harry as well.
"What the-" Ron began, but Ginny cut him off.
"It's just a joke from earlier," she said, flashing a private smirk at Snape.
"Some joke," murmured Ron, shaking his head.
"Look, we can talk about this later but if it really is Norbert you guys should get going quick," said Ginny.
"Right," said Harry, squeezing her hand. "Oh, and, Professor, I picked up your things today. I'll set them up in your room before I leave."
Snape's gaze darted to a box Harry had been carrying when he walked in. He had a distinct feeling that he knew what was in it.
"And, just to be safe," Harry continued, "We should not let anyone else know Professor Snape is staying here. We've already sent an owl to Molly."
"Do you think Norbert-" Ginny looked pale again.
"We're not sure," said Harry. "But we have to be on the safe side."
"I'll set up some extra protections on the house before we leave," said Hermione, giving Ginny a hug goodbye. As Harry finally made his way to Teddy's room, Ginny followed him, leaving Snape alone with Ron in the kitchen.
"So, nice weather today," said Ron, tapping the kitchen counter nervously with a fist.
"Chatting isn't necessary, Mr. Weasley," said Snape, not glancing up from the paper.
"Yep, alright." Ron crossed his arms over his chest and prayed for Harry to grab the stone quickly.
Down the hall, Ginny had stopped her husband before he could get to Teddy's door.
"Harry, what is going on? What does this have to do with Snape? Is it safe to have him here with-"
"I wish I had more answers," said Harry. "But, I've been thinking it over, and this is the safest place to have him. I'm sorry you have to deal with it."
"It's alright, I wish I just wasn't so in the dark."
"When I get to the bottom of this, you are the first one who will know."
"What if Severus asks about Norbert? Should I tell him who he is?"
Harry's eyebrows knitted together as he looked down the hall towards the kitchen, where he could see the faint silhouette of Snape sitting in his wheelchair.
Even though they were soaking wet as they made their way through the grounds and back up to the castle, Al and Scorp were still fighting off fits of laughter.
"For a minute there I thought you were going to do some dark magic," said Al, giggling and shaking out the water from his hair, making it even messier than usual.
"You know, as a Slytherin, it may not be the best thing for you to promote those damaging stereotypes anymore," said Scorp, who dove to find a ticklish spot in Al's armpit.
"Ah, crap!" yelled Al, totally succumbing to his giggles. "Oi, stop!"
"Fine," said Scorp, a look of giddy triumph on his face.
"What are you two doing?" said a voice from behind them. Unlike any of the other voices at Hogwarts, this one was distinctly American. It belonged to Zelda Elphin, another first-year Slytherin.
"Uh," said Al, finding it hard to put together words under the stare of her pale, almost white, crystal blue eyes underneath a pair of quite severe dark eyebrows. Her frame was quite tiny, but she had a formidable air regardless.
"Just going for a swim," said Scorp sounding much cooler than Al. "Water's great today, you should try it."
"Huh," she said, her face contemplative. "You guys are weird. Even weirder than most people here."
"You're a bit odd yourself," said Al defensively.
Zelda laughed. "Yeah, I've been told. I didn't mean it as an insult by the way," she said, sitting down cross-legged on the grass. "I kind of dig it."
Scorp glanced at Al as if to ask if they should sit down and Al gave a nearly indiscernible nod of "yes".
"How did you end up at Hogwarts anyway," Scorpius asked Zelda. "Aren't you supposed to be at Ilvermorny?"
"Mmm, yeah. Was supposed to. We had to move here because my sister got a job at the ministry here." She pulled her shoulder length golden-brown hair into a small ponytail as she talked, although a curl of blonde hair at the front escaped and fell across one eye.
"What does she do there? asked Al. "Maybe she knows my dad."
"Top secret," she said, rolling her eyes. "Which I know sounds lame, but that's what she tells me. She wishes she knew your dad, he's like the most powerful person there besides Shacklebolt. Even I know that."
Al turned red.
"He says that's a misnomer," he mumbled.
"Did your parents move here too?" asked Scorpius.
"No. They're, um...they're not around," Zelda said, inspecting some grass. "Dead."
Al and Scorpius also looked down, not sure what to say.
"My mother-" Scorpius began. However, he was cut off by a loud, booming noise that seemed to come from the castle.
"What was that?" said Zelda, looking behind her.
Soon, another, even louder noise erupted, followed by a plume of smoke rising into the sky.
"Bloody hell," said Al, jumping to his feet.
All three turned to look at each other before running to the castle.
"Bullocks," cursed Ginny as she realized she had let the piece of meat she was cooking burn. He thoughts drifted wildly from Harry and Hermione duelling a dark wizard to her youngest son becoming a dark wizard, to dark wizards descending upon her house and attacking her and her children, attracted there by a man who she thought was a dark wizard for most of her youth.
Now that man was coming up behind Ginny as she assessed the damage to her family's dinner.
"Easily fixed," he said in that droll, silky voice. When Snape then tightly jabbed his wand in the air, Ginny could see the meat bizarrely re-wind to a few seconds post burning.
"Thanks," she said, turning off the stove. "What spell is that?"
"Never bothered to name it," Snape said. He had already wheeled himself back from the counter and was busy reading one of the books Harry had dropped off earlier.
Ginny was surprised he hadn't asked yet about Norbert. Then again, maybe she shouldn't be. He was one of the most accomplished spies the wizarding world had ever seen. Just sitting there, in her kitchen, reading an old potions book and wearing a thick scarf in mid-summer.
Maybe he already knew.
At least having him here made things a little more exciting than just sitting home with the kids while Harry, Ron and Hermione got to go chasing a mystery. Nothing made here feel quite like an 11-year-old pest than when they got swept up in adventures without her.
"Lily, Hugo! Dinner is ready!" she yelled, slicing the now perfectly cooked steak.
"Can we eat it in the fort?" yelled Hugo from beyond a barrier of pillows, old robes and blankets.
After the day Ginny had this actually seemed like a good idea. The thought of having dinner around the table filled with questions about the Slytherin common room and what the trio was doing seemed exhausting. If she could only have her own fort.
After making two plates and bringing them to Lily and Hugo, Ginny decided the next best thing would be a bottle of Elvish wine. She set one glass in front of Snape and another in front of herself.
"Would you like some?" she asked. Snape nodded, and she poured two glasses of deep burgundy liquid. "Cheers."
They lifted the glasses at each other and Snape watched as she slumped into one of the kitchen chairs and took a deep sip, trying to let the events of the past few days fade away.
"Ginerva," he said, snapping her back into unreality. Only her mother ever called her Ginerva. "Norbert-"
"Harry barely told me anything," she said, taking another sip. "He thinks it's safer if we don't know too much until he's back from Majorca."
He could sense frustration in her voice.
A moment of silence was broken by the squeaking of Tybalt, who had just appeared at the window. Clutched in his claw was official parchment from Hogwarts.