A/N: Here is another snippet from my Severus and Zoe series to appease my rabid fans (I'm being facetious, by the way, not boastful-though I love all of you that have read, especially those kind enough to review) while I continue to work on my longer story.
I had one reader send me a PM to ask if these were all chapters from the longer story that I intend to post and the answer to that is no. These are merely glimpses into Severus and Zoe's lives throughout Zoe's childhood that allow you to see a bit of their home life. I've always wanted to give Severus a relatively normal life after all that he went through during the wars. What better way to do that than to thrust him into fatherhood? And, yes, these are meant to be mostly canon compliant (including the epilogue) with the exception that some characters didn't snuff it like they do in the books, obviously.
This story was a bit long, so I split it into two chapters. I'll post the second part in a few days.
Again, I'm skipping around in time a bit, but it shouldn't be disorienting. If you're curious, however, this story takes place between The Art of Communication and A Father's Right.
OF GNOMES AND DARK MAGIC
Zoe jogged quickly up the cobbled sidewalk, trying to stay as low as possible so as not to be seen by the inhabitants of the sleepy houses of Taylor's Way. This street ran perpendicular to the one on which she lived—Spinner's End—and was the street upon which most of the Muggle factory workers of the old mill town resided, along with their children.
Children whom Zoe never could quite get along with, really.
As much as Zoe tried to utilize her keen self-preservation instinct as much as possible (despite her father's opinion on the matter), their encounters were often loud and defensive. They usually ended in one of two fashions: One involved Zoe trying to sneak home without her father seeing her torn and dirty clothing from the scuffle that always seemed to break out. The other had Zoe trying to explain away or otherwise appear perplexed as to how one of the children ended up hanging upside down from a tree branch or drenched in the murky, smelly water from the nearby river.
Either way, Zoe found herself in trouble the majority of the time for such situations (brawling was undignified, barbaric and brainless, her father said), so today she hoped to avoid the other children completely.
That afternoon, however, she could have sworn she'd seen a gnome and she refused to be deterred by a few Muggle bullies in her quest to find it. Zoe crouched down behind a rubbish bin and waited quietly for another sign of the little man and she didn't have to wait long for there was a rustle just then and the bushes to her left started to giggle—mocking her no doubt. Making sure the coast was clear she started forward again.
She had been trying to convince her father for the last month that gnomes were roaming about the Muggle neighborhood and were not merely confined to their own back garden-as he kept telling her. He assured her that, were there an infestation of anything but the horrid, ceramic gnomes that Muggles used as lawn decoration, the Ministry of Magic would be aware of it and deal with it. Zoe remained skeptical, adamant that her father was wrong. Therefore, she was dead-set on catching one just to prove it to him.
And now one of the bold little buggers was sticking his head out of the hedge and blowing raspberries at her. She acted as if she hadn't seen anything as she strolled past it and then, just as she was sure the gnome thought it had escaped capture, she pounced through the hedge with a snarl and pinned it on the other side.
She barely noticed the scratches that the bushes had caused to her arms, neck and face nor how twigs and leaves had settled into the fine waves of her dark brown hair. All she cared about was keeping the stupid gnome pinned and immobile while at the same time avoiding the teeth that liked to latch on to her long fingers and her ears and nose.
Gnomes weren't exactly large magical creatures, of course, but neither was Zoe. After all, she was only eight and was merely average-sized, as far as eight-year-olds go, and she was rather skinny. In all honesty, the gnome was quite difficult to control and soon, the little creature squirmed out of her grasp and started running away.
Exasperated, Zoe moved quickly on her hands and knees through the dirt trying to catch up to the gnome. She would capture it this time, she was sure of it. The little man weaved in and out of the various plants and Zoe did her best to stay right on his heels but he was so fast and soon, he was nowhere in sight.
Perplexed as to how he could have gotten away when she had been so close to him, Zoe wheeled around to look in every direction and listened intently for any sign that the gnome might be close, but she heard absolutely nothing. That is, until:
Zoe cringed upon hearing the shrill voice call her name. Surely, she hadn't found herself in Mrs. Powers's garden once again? Her father would murder her.
"Zoe Snape! You're in for it now, little lady! I won't have it! I absolutely won't have it! Out! Out!"
Zoe stood and turned solemnly to face the old woman who was limping towards her with all the ferocity of a horde of angry bees. Mrs. Powers was a short, squat octogenarian with frizzy white curls, a hunched back and skin that was as wrinkled as an elephant's. She always wore puce-colored track suits, refused to walk with a cane—though she clearly needed one—and, for the last few years, she had been trying to catch Zoe at any kind of wrongdoing. Sometimes, like today, she succeeded, but Zoe was usually too cunning for the old woman and got out of many of the infractions before Mrs. Powers could tell on her.
"Look at what you've done to my daffodils!" the woman shouted, pointing down into the flowerbed that Zoe was still standing in.
Looking around, Zoe found that she had indeed destroyed many of what she was sure had been fine-looking daffodils but had now been reduced to wilted, trampled patches of color amongst the brown soil.
"What do you have to say for yourself?" Mrs. Powers asked, putting her hands on her hips.
Zoe wrinkled her face up in slight embarrassment as she glanced from the trampled flowers to Mrs. Powers.
"Oops?" she offered as a response.
Zoe had been certain the wrinkles on the old woman's face couldn't have gotten any deeper until she saw it for herself as Mrs. Powers frowned at her.
A few minutes later, Zoe found herself being led along the street by her ear as the woman lectured almost incoherently about children these days running amok and how all Zoe's father really needed for her to be a perfectly behaved, obedient child was a "firm hand". Zoe barely listened. She'd heard it all before. In fact, she'd heard it the last time Mrs. Powers had caught her in her garden. Her father hadn't spanked her then, and she seriously doubted he would do it this time either. There was only a minute chance she would go unpunished at all, but her father was unlikely to strike her. After all, he preferred much more unorthodox forms of torture, er, discipline…like forcing her to study advanced maths and horticulture on beautiful Saturday afternoons or having her endure endless hours of boredom watching the exact way in which to dissect a frog and culture its organs, then making her clean up afterward. Or memorizing the uses for obscure potions ingredients… or writing lines, so many horrid, horrid lines.
After what seemed like ages considering Zoe's ear was now throbbing quite painfully from the old woman's vice-like grip on it, the two of them finally came to a halt at the door of Zoe's house. Still holding on to her ear, Mrs. Powers reached up and knocked several times and then she waited.
"I won't have it, girl," the woman continued. "I hate to do this, but your father needs to know what you get up to around here. Your shenanigans have gone too far and I can't have you trampling my prized flowers every day of the week."
Zoe rolled her eyes knowing her father didn't know about half of the "shenanigans" she got up to and the information Mrs. Powers was about to impart to him wasn't going to change that. She also highly doubted Mrs. Powers hated to do this. In fact, Zoe was almost certain that the old woman lived to snitch on the neighborhood children. Zoe just wished she'd caught the gnome. At least then, she'd have something to show for her escapades into enemy territory.
Suddenly, the door was flung open and there stood Zoe's father, his slightly-less-than-shoulder-length black hair stood in stark contrast to the pallor of his skin and the crisp whiteness of his collared shirt. Zoe had always found that her father was not nearly as intimidating when not clothed in the billowing black robes he normally wore, and yet she couldn't help but feel a sense of dread overcome her cool defiance as he looked first from Mrs. Powers then down to herself and back, the scowl he normally sported deepening before her eyes. He crossed his arms over his chest imposingly before leaning almost casually against the doorframe.
"What has she done this time?" he half-sighed in an annoyed manner.
Finally, Mrs. Powers released Zoe's ear. Zoe immediately tried to rub the pain out of it.
"Mr. Snape," the old woman began. "Your daughter has been wreaking havoc in my garden once again. You should see the state of my daffodils. Over half of them are absolutely ruined. Now, I won't have it, sir. I absolutely won't have it. My daffodils have always been a firm staple within this neighborhood and in the span of only a few weeks, all my years of hard work have amounted to nothing at all because your daughter can't seem to keep to the pavement or, better yet, to the confines of your own garden where, I'm sure she could destroy as many flowers as she sees fit. The girl needs discipline, Mr. Snape. Now, I've said it before, but you obviously have not employed my wise words of advice. Perhaps a good thrashing will keep her in line…"
"Do you think so?" Zoe's father said glibly, raising his eyebrows as he caught Zoe's eye and set her with a stern frown before turning his attention once more to the old woman before him. Zoe rolled her own eyes after her father had looked away.
"Yes, I think it would do her a world of good," Mrs. Powers continued, obviously missing the sarcastic tone of Zoe's father's question. "Put her in her place, you see. It is quite obvious she needs to be taught the lesson that it is rude to trespass onto a poor old woman's property and destroy her flowers."
Zoe's father stood upright once again and moved to the side of the door, indicating to Zoe to admit herself into the house as he addressed the old woman.
"Yes, thank you, Mrs. Powers. As always, your parenting advice is more than helpful and I truly… regret that my heathen of a daughter has once again harmed what I know you hold most dear. And please, let me assure you, she will be dealt with accordingly."
He then turned to look over his shoulder at Zoe.
"Have you apologized to Mrs. Powers?" he asked dully.
"No," Zoe stated, wrinkling her nose as if the very notion disgusted her.
Her father narrowed his eyes at her, his scowl becoming dangerous. "Well, do it now," he commanded through gritted teeth, his voice low.
Zoe frowned. He was only doing this for show. She knew that he didn't really care about the old lady's flowers, per se, only that he had to keep putting up with the shrew when Zoe ruined them. Zoe looked to Mrs. Powers briefly, then to the ceiling.
"I'm sorry for wrecking your flowers, Mrs. Powers," she mumbled.
The woman merely pursed her lips at Zoe before turning back to her father. "For her own good, I do hope you're quite firm with her, Mr. Snape. It does our great country a disservice to have its young citizens running about with no order or discipline to speak of."
"Yes, quite the disservice," her father drawled offhandedly as he pushed the door closed and whirled around to face Zoe, crossing his arms over his chest once more.
"Are you truly incapable of staying out of trouble for one afternoon?" he asked harshly.
Zoe looked at the floor, fidgeting. "Not incapable…" she mumbled. Her father frowned.
"Look at the state of you. You're absolutely filthy," he complained, grumbling, as he strode toward her, pulling his wand from his sleeve. "I swear, the things that you get— Zoe Ophelia Elizabeth Snape! I just bought you those trousers! Look at them! You've practically ripped them to shreds!"
He lifted her chin to heal the scrapes on her face and neck with his wand while still grumbling under his breath about her grubby hands and tangled hair. Zoe tried to be still so he could administer his magical first aid, but she found it difficult not to wriggle about. She never thought she'd be able to understand how her father could fuss over her so and still make her squirm under such a strong, stern gaze.
"Explain yourself," he demanded evenly, turning her head to the side and, thankfully, taking the pain out of her abused left ear with a tap before grabbing her arms and turning her from side to side, scowling as he surveyed the state of her attire.
Zoe took a deep breath as she felt the ripped pocket and snagged seam of her denims mend themselves magically.
"It was a gnome, Papa. I swear I saw one."
Her father stopped his ministrations immediately and stared down at his daughter. Upon seeing the sincerity in her eyes, he released her and stowed his wand away.
"Not this again," he muttered, rolling his eyes and walking past her into the sitting room.
"It's true!" Zoe defended, following her father. "I even had it pinned this time, but he got away, then I chased him and, well, I didn't even realize I was in Mrs. Powers's garden until she grabbed my ear."
Zoe watched as her father collapsed into his green armchair and placed his head in one of his hands, rubbing his temples.
"How many times must I tell you?" he asked, sighing. "Gnomes only inhabit the gardens of witches and wizards. Mrs. Powers is a Muggle. There is absolutely no way you could have seen a gnome in her garden."
"But I did!" Zoe said, exasperated, as she fell back onto the sofa. "I saw it! I chased it! Why can't you just believe—?"
"That's enough," her father said sternly. "I refuse to indulge you with the same ridiculous argument again. I suggest you drop it before I lose my patience entirely."
Zoe huffed and pouted, but quieted and for a moment, the two silently stared at each other before Zoe heard her father inhale and continue.
"Now, this is the third time that woman has brought you home for destroying her garden— Zoe, eyes up when I speak to you." Zoe obediently raised her eyes to meet her father's. "—and I, like her, will not tolerate it anymore. For the next week, you are restricted to this house and garden—"
"A week!" Zoe complained, cutting her father off. He glared at her.
"—and, since you enjoy hunting gnomes so much, I'm sure you'll find our own infestation quite thrilling to catch and contain for you will be doing that for the duration of your house arrest."
"I won't hear it," her father stated resolutely. He gave her a pointed look. "It isn't too late to reconsider Mrs. Powers's suggestion of punishment, if you prefer."
"No, sir," Zoe said, sulking, feeling as if this whole situation was unfair. It wasn't as if she wrecked Mrs. Powers's garden maliciously. It just…happened.
For several minutes, neither talked as Zoe kicked absently at the threadbare rug under her shoe and her father thoroughly ignored his daughter's pouting.
"Have you completed the reading I assigned you this week?" he asked.
"Ages ago," said Zoe, continuing to look down.
"And the Latin translations?"
"What about the short essays? Or the maths problems?"
Zoe's eyes met her father's briefly then she averted them away.
"That's a no, then?" he asked.
Zoe's father held up his hand to halt her.
"Stop right there. I am in no mood to hear what I'm sure will be an overly absurd, fabricated excuse for why you haven't finished your schoolwork."
"It's the summer holidays!" Zoe whined. "None of the other kids are doing school stuff."
"You are not on holiday," her father stated plainly.
"I would be if I went to school like everyone else."
Her father sighed heavily and closed his eyes as if silently willing patience.
"Zoe, we have had this discussion before. At the Muggle school, you couldn't keep your abilities under control long enough to actually learn anything. I had to Obliviate two different teachers as well as the headmaster in order to cover up your magical outbursts. That is why I made the decision to educate you myself. And, unfortunately, my busy brewing schedule keeps us from having lessons every day which is why you have lessons and assignments on weekends and throughout the summer and why I expect you to do your assigned work on our days off—which you obviously have not done."
He eyed her sternly and Zoe cringed. She was in trouble for that and he would do a better job of making sure that she kept to her studies in the future.
"No child of mine is going to fall behind her classmates simply because a convenient school time for me conflicts with what you foolishly perceive as playtime."
"Scorpius gets to go to a day school for magical children in London," Zoe pointed out petulantly.
Her father huffed and gave her a withering glare. "Scorpius's parents can afford to send him to a private, magical day school or bring in tutors whenever they please. Your father can not so you are therefore stuck under my tutelage until Hogwarts and that is the end of it."
Zoe's shoulders slumped. Yes, she knew all this, but it just wasn't fair that she had to study so much during the summer when other children didn't. Even if she had to go to the Muggle school again with all the children she disliked, it was better than her father's tasking curriculum. "Please, Papa," Zoe whined, "If you let me go back in the new term, I'll be good. I swear. I'll make an Unbreakable Vow to—"
Her father was on his feet in an instant and lifted Zoe up off the sofa. He clutched her upper arms tightly and held her very close to his face as her feet dangled in midair.
"How do you know of the Unbreakable Vow?" he demanded, his voice sounding almost desperate.
"I… I…" Zoe was confused and the way her father was acting was scaring her.
"You have not made one, have you?" he asked, searching her face.
Zoe looked into the black chasm of her father's eyes, trying to understand why he seemed so worried all of a sudden.
"Have you?" he asked again louder, desperately. He shook her slightly.
"No!" Zoe shouted as she felt tears start to well up in her eyes.
Her father set her back down on the floor then, breathing heavily and obviously trying to compose himself—he seemed relieved—but he still stared down his hooked nose at Zoe with a fierceness she didn't understand. He placed one of his hands on the top of her head, tilting it back so that she had to look up at him.
"Where did you hear about the Unbreakable Vow?"
Zoe averted her eyes from his. She was trying to stall telling her father for she suddenly felt very ashamed for knowing such information. She looked up into his eyes and he watched her solemnly, waiting for her answer.
Taking a deep breath, Zoe answered:
Her father closed his eyes, obviously frustrated, as his earlier scowl returned. He walked resolutely toward the fireplace.
The little house elf appeared before him immediately with a pop.
"Mister Severus is calling for Ollie?" the creature squeaked.
"Yes. I will be away for an hour or so. Zoe will remain here."
Ollie looked from the wizard to Zoe briefly and nodded her head vigorously.
"Ollie is pleased to watch after Miss Zoe while her Papa is away, Mister Severus."
Her father inclined his head slightly before grabbing a handful of Floo powder from the dish on the mantle. "Go upstairs and do your schoolwork," he then commanded to his daughter in a tone that brooked no disobedience.
"Where are you going?" she asked curiously.
"I must go to Malfoy Manor and have a chat with Mr. Malfoy and my godson."
Her father glared at her. "Go, now. I want those maths problems on my desk when I return. I will not be long. Mind Ollie."
And with that, her father tossed the powder into the fireplace and was gone as the green flames enveloped him. Zoe trudged up the stairs to her father's study and gathered the problems he'd written out for her on a piece of parchment and began to work quickly through the fractions, long division and simple algebra.