Happy Holidays, everyone! I've decided to start posting this latest glimpse in the Severus and Zoe saga, despite it only being about half finished. At the moment, two chapters are finished with one more, possibly two, to write. I've just realized that I write faster/better under pressure and those that have read and reviewed are always amazing motivators. I don't like to leave anyone hanging.
A Change of Plans
It had been nearly seven years since Severus had reentered the Wizarding world. In that time, the Potions Master had worked tirelessly to establish his name as a reputable, freelance potioneer. With his notoriety in the media and his known skill among the Potions community of Masters, apprentices, and other academics, it hadn't been difficult to build a small, one-man enterprise for himself—despite the difficulty of handling a budding business and the challenges associated with raising a child on his own. Minerva had helped immensely as had Ollie, of course, but Severus felt a sense of pride that, with all the changes and turns his life had taken, he had still managed to be successful in both aspects of his life.
However, today was quickly becoming a day when the two very different aspects of his life converged and threatened to give him a headache of epic proportion before he'd even finished his morning cup of coffee.
"I want to go with you," Zoe pouted from where she sat at the kitchen table, her half-eaten porridge growing cold.
"You will be staying with Minerva. She has already promised to take you to some museums in Edinburgh while I am away," Severus stated.
"I don't want to go to any boring old museums. I want to go hunt potion stuff with you!"
Severus sighed in exasperation.
Throughout the years, he had quickly became known as a brewer of a wide array of different potions, including very rare and difficult concoctions. Owing to his need for equally as rare ingredients, Severus sometimes spent time away from home in order to travel the globe in search of hard-to-find and expensive herbs, plants and animals as well as to meet with suppliers. It wasn't a regular occurrence, by any means, but something he had to do every few months in order to keep his stocks supplied.
Minerva McGonagall, as Zoe's godmother, had always been more than willing to take Zoe for a few days and had even accommodated him two summers ago when he travelled to New Zealand for sixteen long days in search of a very rare species of grub worm. Normally, Zoe took his time away well, but with the last few trips, she had become adamant that she should be allowed to accompany him on his escapades.
Severus was wary of this. First, although he loved his daughter very much, he also rather relished the alone time his travels afforded him. There was also the fact that many of his ingredient-finding missions took him to locales that were not, necessarily, the most hospitable of places for a six-year-old little girl. Aside from the danger that he could perceive, Zoe would probably be bored and then complain when there was nothing fun for her to do. Severus shook his head.
"No, Zoe, you are not going. Finish your breakfast."
"I'm not hungry," the little girl pouted hotly, folding her arms across her chest.
"Then go upstairs and pack for Minerva's like I asked you to do yesterday."
"I don't want to, Papa. I want to go with you."
Severus leveled his daughter with a very stern look. His patience was waning quickly.
"I do not recall asking you what you wanted," he snapped, taking her arm and pulling her from her chair. "Do as you were told."
Zoe groaned, but ultimately obeyed. Of course, Severus would have to check that she packed all the essentials later, but he thought it healthy to give the little girl the responsibility of picking out her own clothes for a few days away from home. Merlin knew she could become downright bossy should he do it and somehow forget to include her favorite skirt of the week or the least itchy of her jumpers.
Nearly an hour later, he entered into Zoe's attic bedroom to find his daughter sitting lazily on the floor, leaning against her bed and fiddling with a toy. Scanning the small room incredulously, Severus noticed that she hadn't pulled anything out of her wardrobe or her chest of drawers and all of her shoes remained lined up neatly against the far wall. There was absolutely no evidence that she was making any headway in her packing.
Shooting a glare down at her, Zoe returned his look with her own of apprehension. She knew she was in trouble.
"Zoe Ophelia Elizabeth," he scolded evenly, striding to her and lifting her to her feet. He leaned down to address her. "I refuse to make a habit of repeating myself simply because you can't be bothered to obey me the first time."
Severus then gave his daughter's bottom a quick smack and lightly pushed her toward her wardrobe, ignoring her histrionic yowl of indignation.
"Pack. Now," he commanded.
"I don't know what to take," Zoe said grumpily, throwing the door to her wardrobe open.
"Then you should have asked for help. You are staying in northern Scotland in early March. Take something warm. Jumpers, trousers, thick robes and your Muggle coat, two of your winter nightgowns and wool socks," Severus responded. "And mind your attitude, young lady. I have no patience for it today."
Severus summoned a small suitcase for his daughter and opened it up on her bed as she brought him random articles of clothing to pack. He folded them neatly and organized it all inside the suitcase.
"Where is the blue pinafore dress Minerva bought you? You should take that to wear to the history museum."
"It's lost," Zoe stated automatically.
"Yes," Severus corrected as he leveled his daughter with a skeptical look. She'd entered into that fibbing stage (or had been in it for the last two years) and he wasn't buying it.
"You haven't even worn it yet. How could it be lost?"
"Dunno," Zoe said, shrugging.
"I believe you mean that you do not know…and I doubt that. Ollie would never allow clothing to go missing. Bring it here."
Zoe groaned and dragged her feet to her wardrobe. Severus could see the dreaded article of clothing clearly hanging amongst Zoe's other dresses. The girl took it from the hanger and brought it to her father with a sour look on her face.
"I don't like it."
Severus pursed his lips. Of course she didn't like it. His daughter had no problem wearing skirts and dresses—or ballet tutus, for that matter—as long as she could sport plimsols, but this pinafore dress would require dress shoes and tights; Zoe was fond of neither. After all, it was difficult to climb trees in Mary Janes and tights typically snagged and ripped when one wrestled about in the grass with other children.
"Too bad," Severus told her. "Minerva bought it for you and deserves to see you wear it at least once." He looked down into the suitcase and tried not to think of how much he had just sounded like his Grandmother Ophelia as he mentally ticked off what they had packed so far and what was needed still. "Knickers."
"Papa, I can pack them myself," Zoe said, bossy and embarrassed.
"Obviously not, or you would have already."
He could see that his daughter was not comfortable with him packing her undergarments for her so he conceded to let her do it herself.
"Very well. Pack some; six or eight pairs should be more than sufficient. I'll get your shoes."
He strode to the opposite side of the room and crouched down to pick out his daughter's Mary Janes, an extra pair of trainers and her slippers. He took them back to the bed and arranged them on top of Zoe's clothes. Zoe was sitting on the bed beside her suitcase now and looking into it with a far off look in her eyes. Once Severus had closed and latched it, she looked up at him and he could see the determination there.
"Can I please go with you, Papa? I promise I'll be good and do everything you say and I'll go to bed on time and eat my greens and…and everything. Please."
Severus quirked a single eyebrow. "Weighty promises indeed," he said sardonically. Zoe frowned and looked down at her hands. Severus sighed. "On my expeditions I often move around—"
"Not this time. You told Min that you were staying in a cottage on the beach."
Both eyebrows rose this time. "Eavesdropping on my Floo call, were you?"
Zoe held his gaze solidly. "I'm sorry," she said, though she didn't look it. Severus sat down on the bed beside her.
"You would tire easily," he reasoned. "And often what I do is not enjoyable. It is work and I can't watch you all the time. That is why I need you to stay with Minerva while I am away."
Zoe continued to frown. She leaned into him, wrapping her arms around his elbow and looking up at him with big, pleading, royal blue eyes. "Please, Papa. I promise I won't be a pain."
"No, Zoe. That is final. Minerva will be here in an hour or so to take you to Hogw—"
Suddenly a scratching sound cut off his firm resolve. Severus and Zoe both looked up to the lone window in the attic bedroom. There was an owl outside, fluttering its wings in order to stay airborne. Severus disentangled himself from his pouting daughter and rose to let the bird in. He immediately recognized it as one of the Hogwarts standard barn owls. Taking the missive from the owl's leg, he unrolled the parchment and began to read.
I will be unable to take Zoe during your trip to the Isle of Wight. An unfortunate bout of elven influenza has been spreading throughout Hogwarts and I cannot allow, in good conscience, for Zoe to be exposed to such an illness whilst in my care. I am sorry for the late notice and hope that other arrangements can be made.
My sincerest apologies,
Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry
P.S. Do give that darling child a kiss from me.
Severus brought the parchment down and sucked in a great breath of air through his nostrils. Elven influenza. Brilliant. Yes, there was no doubt in his mind that, were Zoe to step foot inside Hogwarts, she would be ill before suppertime and he would just have to cut his expedition short anyway.
What was he to do now? He couldn't leave her here by herself, obviously, and it was much too late to ask the Malfoys, though he was certain they would be more than happy to take Zoe for the week. Besides, she and Scorpius were likely to drive Draco and Astoria to madness by tomorrow at midday with their relentless squabbling and competitiveness.
Rubbing his forehead, he afforded himself a sidelong glance at the six-year-old on the bed. She was lying on her back and rubbing her eyes in an effort to keep from crying.
He would be kidding himself if he thought he wasn't warmed by the fact that his daughter wanted to spend so much time with him or, with all the work he had been doing lately, that he and Zoe couldn't benefit from some time together away from home.
Well, at least it was just the Isle of Wight and not a foreign region he knew little about. The girl could play on the beach while he searched for the moss he needed and with the right wards and charms, he could keep track of her magically, he supposed.
Severus sighed and used his wand to rearrange the letters of Minerva's letter into a short, understanding response before tying it to the leg of the owl and releasing it through the window into the late morning sky. He turned toward the bed to address Zoe.
"Where is that ridiculous floppy straw hat you whined incessantly for me to buy for you last summer?" he asked, feigned exasperation in his tone.
Zoe sat up and looked at him, confused.
"Up there," she said, pointing up and across the room. "Why?"
Severus looked up, strode to her wardrobe, and pulled the hat down, dusting a cobweb off it as he crossed back to the bed and opened the suitcase again.
"Because they are calling for an unseasonable amount of sunny weather on the Isle of Wight this entire week. You'll need it."
As comprehension dawned on his daughter, her pouty features melted away and formed a huge smile in their place.
"You mean I get to go?"
"Yes, it seems that Minerva is rather indisposed at the moment…"
The girl launched herself off the bed and flung her arms around Severus's legs with such glee that it caused him to sway.
"Oh, thank you, thank you, Papa!"
"Hmm, yes," Severus said, reaching down and lifting his daughter up to his level. "Remember all those promises you just made—good behavior, obedience, bed time. I will hold you to those."
The girl nodded her head enthusiastically. "Okay, Papa."
Severus smirked and then pecked a kiss to her forehead before placing her on her feet again. "I believe we'll have to exchange some of the items in your suitcase."
Later that afternoon, Severus stepped out of the Floo at the Ventnor Magical Travel Depot with Zoe clinging to him. Once assuring her that the ride was indeed over, he used his wand to siphon off any excess soot from their clothing and hair before taking her hand and making his way to the concierge desk across the large room.
The Travel Depot in Ventnor was rather enormous owing to its need to accommodate the needs of hundreds of travelers to the seaside resort throughout the busy summer season. Floo Network fireplaces lined two walls and opposite them were rooms designed for those wishing to travel by Portkey. A large, roped off area directly across from the concierge had a sign that read: Ventnor Apparition Point.
As he strode purposefully across the maroon velvet carpeting, Severus was grateful that the moss he had come for needed to be cultivated before the last frost of the winter, which was a plus in that it meant they would not be wending their way through throngs of over-exuberant tourists.
Approaching the tall counter, a young man with curly, auburn hair who was dressed in a double-breasted jacket, looked up at the father and daughter.
"Welcome to Ventnor, sir. How may I be of assistance?"
Severus disengaged his hand from Zoe's and maneuvered her to stand between him and the counter so as not to lose sight of her as he pulled a piece of parchment from his pocket.
"Good afternoon," Severus greeted politely. "My name is Severus Snape. I am to meet a Madam…" He glanced briefly at the parchment. "…Robertson about her cottage."
"Adrienne Robertson," the boy said knowingly. "You're the Potions Master?"
"Madam Robertson should be here any minute, Mr. Snape. She sent an owl ahead to say she was running a bit late. You may take a seat and wait if you like."
Severus nodded his head and felt a sudden downward tug on his Muggle blazer. He looked down to see Zoe staring up at him.
"Papa, I need to use the toilet," she said, leaning against him.
"Why didn't you go before we left?"
"I didn't hafta go then."
Severus rolled his eyes. She didn't have to go less than ten minutes before?
"Oh, very well." He glanced to the concierge. "Could you please point me in the direction of the lady's toilet?"
The boy pointed to his left. Severus took his daughter's hand once more and led her to the door labeled "Witches".
"You'll have to go in by yourself," he told the little girl.
"I know, Papa," Zoe stated bossily, pushing the door inward.
"I shall wait right here," he assured her despite her obvious want for independency. "And wash your—" he began hastily as the door closed behind her, "—hands."
Severus had only just leaned against the wall to wait for his daughter when the door opening out to the city of Ventnor caught his eye and emitted a woman and a small boy. The woman walked resolutely toward the concierge desk with the boy running ahead of her. Severus watched as the little hellion—who couldn't have been much older than Zoe was—ran full force toward the counter, slowing himself only slightly as he put out both hands to cushion his collision with the solid wood.
"Hullo, Nico!" the exuberant, towheaded child greeted the concierge loudly.
"Matthew! Be careful, son," the woman admonished the boy. "Nico, have they arrived yet?"
The concierge nodded and pointed toward Severus who eyed the door to the bathroom beside him then took a few steps forward, holding out his hand as the woman met him.
"Good afternoon, Mr. Snape," she said, clutching his hand firmly and smiling warmly. She had greying, dirty-blonde hair and the air of someone who greeted strangers often. "I'm Adrienne Robertson, the proprietor for Cliffside Cottage. I expect your trip from Lancashire went well?"
"Yes, as expected, mostly."
"Good, good. Well, if you'll come with me, it's just a bit of a walk— oh, who's this?"
Severus hadn't heard Zoe exit the bathroom and he looked down to see her looking warily at Madam Robertson and her son as she approached his side. When the impudent boy blew a raspberry at her, she wrinkled her nose at him and snaked her arm around Severus's thigh, clinging to him once again. He leaned down to whisper in her ear.
"Manners, Zoe. We are their guests."
She nodded and looked up at Madam Robertson.
"Good afternoon, Madam," she said softly before looking up at Severus for acknowledgement that she had acted accordingly. He gave her a subtle nod and then turned to Madam Robertson.
"Madam, I do hope you don't mind that I brought along my daughter. There was a bit of a…change in situation."
"No, not at all! Of course not!" The woman smiled kindly and waved her hand nonchalantly as she leaned down to address his little girl. "What's your name, sweetheart?"
"Zoe Ophelia Elizabeth Snape."
Severus rolled his eyes. He'd been trying to get his daughter to tell her first name only when asked that question, but she insisted on saying the whole, damn thing at lightning speed as if it was a test to see how fast she could say the (admittedly) long name. Well, she would get few points for enunciation. Her middle names were practically indecipherable.
"Hello, Zoe. This is Matthew," the woman introduced her son who was now crawling around on the floor with a toy lorry. "And I'm Madam Robertson, but you may call me Adrienne, if your daddy doesn't mind."
"I don't call him Daddy," Zoe informed precociously, holding Severus's hand now and swinging it back and forth, as she became more comfortable with the strangers. "He's Papa. And Papa doesn't like me to call grownups by their given names. He says it's imp'lite and dis— er, disre'pectful. But you already said you don't mind so—"
Severus cleared his throat and effectively hushed his daughter's babbling. He looked down on Zoe impassively.
"You may call Madam Robertson Adrienne, if you wish."
Severus once again turned to the woman. "The cottage? You were saying something about a walk?"
Madam Robertson nodded and smiled. "Yes, of course. Come with me. It's just outside the village. I hope you don't mind. The weather is quite nice today."
"Not at all," Severus stated and, grasping his daughter's hand firmly, the four left the Travel Depot.
The walk to the small cottage was relatively pleasant. Zoe held Severus's hand nearly the entire way despite Matthew's attempts to have her run along ahead of their respective parents with him; it was surely an effort to make mischief. The girl had politely refused numerous times before Madam Robertson had firmly told her son to settle down and stop pestering Zoe.
The woman—a Squib and the widow of a former St. Mungo's Healer—was highly amiable and talked at length about the surrounding area. Ventnor was primarily a Muggle community, she explained, but witches and wizards could find all manner of supplies and magical things should they know where to look and blending in was key for it was a small enough community that people talked and tourists often caught more strange occurrences than one might think.
"Will you be brewing your potions during your stay?" Madam Robertson asked.
Severus glanced at her briefly as they walked. "Would that be possible?"
"Oh, yes. You aren't the first Potions Master to hire my cottage for the collection of moss, Mr. Snape. My late husband built a shed just down the path from the house. You'll have to obtain your own ingredient supplies, but it is fully equipped as a potions laboratory. You may also have to reinforce the temperature-control charms before you begin any brews, but it should work sufficiently for your needs."
Severus was surprised. This would indeed help immensely for he could brew the potions he intended, send them off to his respective clients, and not need to worry about transporting the moss home.
"I will most definitely look into it. Thank you, Madam," Severus said, inclining his head.
They walked a bit farther and soon entered into a narrow, dirt lane. The sea was clearly visible through the trees to their right, giving off a clean, salty smell with the breeze.
Zoe moved closer to Severus as the path took them very near a steep drop and when she nearly tripped him trying to keep from the height, he picked her up and carried her until, finally, they reached the cottage.
"Here we are," Madam Robertson said.
The cottage was small and painted a pale blue with an ostentatiously red front door. It stood situated on a hill surrounded by plants, shrubbery and tall grasses that, though trimmed quite neatly, nearly choked the tiny structure. Just beyond it, Severus could see the sea.
As the group walked up the gravel path, Zoe started to wriggle in Severus's grasp. It appeared she was rather excited to get inside the house. He set her down, and she immediately rushed after Matthew who had already entered ahead of everyone else. Severus snatched a handful of Zoe's jacket and eyed her sternly.
"Papa, can I explore?" she asked tentatively.
"It's may I and, yes, you may. Inside the house only."
The girl grinned and ran off as Severus continued toward the front door at a normal pace with Madam Robertson.
"She seems like a wonderful child. You must be very proud of her," the woman commented.
Severus inclined his head slightly. "She can certainly be a handful when she wants to be, I assure you."
"Oh, I understand completely, though I never had a little girl. I've raised four boys already. Matthew is my youngest—the fifth—and our little surprise…"
The woman trailed off wistfully and Severus suddenly felt a bit uncomfortable but Madam Robertson soon waved her hands, coming out of her reminiscence.
"Well, let me show you the place."
Severus nodded and the two finally entered the cottage.
It was cozy. The front door opened into a sitting room and dining area combination. The walls were yellow and the furniture was well used, but still rather nice. Straight ahead was a wide archway that led to the kitchen and to the left a screen door that opened out onto a marvelous observation platform where one could sit and stare into the sea. Straight across from the deck, another door led into the bedroom.
"There's a single trundle under the queen," Madam Robertson indicated as they entered into the room to find Zoe and Matthew jumping jubilantly on the bed and giggling. Seeing the adults, Matthew immediately collapsed onto the mattress and tried to look innocent, but Zoe didn't spot them at first. Severus folded his arms across his chest.
"Zoe Snape. I don't believe that is an appropriate activity for a bed, young lady."
Zoe stopped jumping and whirled around, but continued to stand in the middle of the mattress. "You didn't say that I couldn't," she said, shrugging.
Matthew's eyes went wide and Madam Robertson did her best to contain her mirth. Severus's eyes narrowed at his daughter.
"You are not permitted to do it at home which means you most certainly are not allowed to do such things here. Get down before you fall down."
Severus strode to the bed and lifted his daughter from it. Once he placed her on the floor, he leaned over and whispered in her ear.
"Behave yourself, or I'll find a suitable corner for you to stand in," he reprimanded.
"Yes, Papa," she said lowly.
When she spotted Matthew on the bed watching their exchange, she blushed and put her head down; embarrassed that he had seen her get into trouble. As Zoe hid her face in his blazer, Severus straightened his posture and sent a glare at the boy that he imagined would keep him from teasing his girl about it. Severus walked back to Madam Robertson at the door who was smiling knowingly.
"There's mischief in her eyes," she said. "I see what you mean about being a handful. In a few years, she'll be turning your hair grey—if she hasn't started already."
Severus had merely grunted.
A few minutes later, he was at the front door saying goodbye to the proprietress and her son.
"I left a casserole for you in the fridge for dinner. You just need to heat it. I'll also bring by more food tomorrow sometime. Please let me know if you need anything else. We're in the brick house just a bit farther down the lane."
"Thank you," Severus said, as he closed the door. He walked back to the bedroom where his daughter remained.
"Can we go to the beach, Papa?" she asked when she saw him.
"May we. And no, you'll be on the beach plenty tomorrow," Severus said as he pulled their suitcases from his shirt pocket and enlarged them. He placed them on the bed and opened them. "Come put your clothes in the drawers."
Zoe's shoulders slumped. "But I just packed them…" she whined.
"And now you're going to unpack them," he told her resolutely.
Zoe groaned, but obeyed.
Thanks for reading! Please review.