Miles to Go Before I Sleep: Chapter 14
"I should think," Healer Pennywhistle commented as she poured tea, "that you would welcome the opportunity for a more settled life. It's the perfect time. You're willing. The lady is willing…"
"I didn't tell you that," Snape snapped accusingly as he accepted the tea. "I don't know where you'd get that idea."
"There are other people at Hogwarts I talk to besides you. It has been noticed that not only are the children and their mother very affectionate towards you, you are more than normally affectionate towards them, yet you seem to be determined to allow it to go no further than that. Are your feelings for her superficial?"
"No, not superficial. Not at all."
"Then why do you retreat?"
"There are things that people like me aren't meant to have."
"People like you? Half-bloods? Occlumenses? Male wizards under forty?"
"It's hereditary." Snape rose from the table where he'd been sitting and walked to the window that looked out on London streets. "I'm like my father."
"Who beat you. Tell me, how many times have you struck a woman or a child in anger?"
"How old were you?"
"Right after your parents died. How many times have you wanted to strike one of the students?"
"Teachers must never strike students."
"I said 'wanted.'"
"A couple of times."
"In the last ten years?"
"Not even Potter?"
Snape let a smile twitch across his mouth. "Not even Potter."
"The one you struck… Did she ever see the scars on your back?"
"No. I don't like this line of questioning." Snape paused. "How did you…?"
Now Pennywhistle smiled. "It's in your records. Dumbledore reported the abuse first. Pomfrey noted it. The Ministry made a record of it the first time you were arrested. The most recent time was a few months ago when you were restrained here at St. Mungo's." Pennywhistle sipped her tea. "It isn't genetic, you know. It's behavioral. The children of abusers learn to be abusers. What can be learned can be unlearned. I have the feeling that in the last twenty-four years you've unlearned a lot. And on your own, too – no help." There was another pause. "The second woman, the one you were intimate with, did she see the scars."
This time Snape emitted what was almost a laugh. "Under the circumstances it would've been hard to miss."
"Did you ever want to strike her?"
"Not even the tiniest twinge?"
"No. But then, I didn't love her."
"Ah. I see the distinction. Have you ever wanted to strike Professor Clearwater? Or either of her children?"
Snape thought of Jane throwing a tantrum all the way across the back lawn. In all honesty… "No," he said, and marveled at his own patience that day. "But that doesn't count," he continued. "There's never been a real confrontation between what I need and what I get. It hasn't been tested."
"Well, I'm certainly not going to suggest that you provoke a confrontation just to test whether or not you can control the abusive tendencies of two and a half decades ago. However, I personally think you have nothing to worry about on that score."
Which left Snape later with a lot to think about.
Saturday, November 7, 1998 (3 days after the full moon)
"Do you have a home outside of Hogwarts?" Clearwater asked as she bundled the children in warm coats. It was the first weekend in November, and they were about to watch their first Quidditch game.
"A house," Snape replied. "I wouldn't really call it a home. I grew up there, but it doesn't have a lot of happy memories."
"I'm sorry. There's not much I know about your childhood."
"There's not much to tell. My father was poorly most of the time." Snape stopped. Weeks of talking to Pennywhistle were now making the warning bells ring. "No, that's not exactly true. M' dad was a boozer. When he'd been drinking, he got ugly."
"I didn't know wizards drank like that."
"There's nothing bad that muggles do that wizards don't do as well. But, as it happens, my dad was a muggle. Mum was the witch."
"You mean she put up with him?"
"It was how working class people lived in those days. The boozer husband and the irate wife with the rolling pin. It was a joke to some."
Clearwater smiled. "A wand would be better than a rolling pin any day." They left her rooms, Snape carrying Robbie and Clearwater holding Jane's hand to go down the stairs.
"She never used a wand at home," Snape said on the way down. "I grew up like a muggle. He resented the magic, and I think she always felt guilty that he'd been duped into thinking the magic would make his life better."
"Magic," Snape informed her, "cannot create. At least not permanently. Not food, not money, not objects – it's all fleeting and transitory. The one thing it can do is move and repair. Take Hogwarts. The stones were set in place by magic, they were even hewn by magic, but they had to be real stones from a real mountain, or the castle would have fallen after a few weeks."
"I'd like to see the place where you grew up," said Clearwater.
Jane and Robbie loved the Quidditch game, jumping up and down and screaming shrilly as the brooms swooped overhead. Slytherin won, despite the heroic efforts of Gryffindor's seeker, but that was partly because Gryffindor was still putting its team together after a year of depredations. Snape had already realized that Quidditch was no longer of any importance to him since he was no longer the head of a house. Its value now was the entertainment of two small children.
The next day was Sunday, and Snape took Clearwater to Lancashire. They started on the good side of the river, where Snape pointed out the school he'd attended and the market where he did his shopping. They paused on the bridge over the river, and Snape was relieved to see it was cleaner than it had been. It even appeared that there were workers at the old mill a little ways upstream, and that the town was indeed restoring it for the tourist trade.
Clearwater was enchanted by the ancient cobblestone streets of the mill side of the river, which reminded her of the village in Yorkshire where she'd grown up. Many of the working class cottages from over a hundred years earlier were being converted into little shops and eating places, again for tourists exploring the historic mill district of Lancaster.
Why didn't I notice this before? Snape thought, then remembered that the last time he'd been home was to collect clothing in a rush for a group of convicts fresh from a shipwreck. Before that it had been… a year and a half? A lot can happen in a year and a half.
They stopped at the end of Spinner's End, where the chimney of the mill loomed threateningly above the tiny houses at its foot. Seeing it now through Clearwater's eyes, Snape realized how the mill dominated everything, and that it was only after accepting its presence that you could begin to notice the moors. He opened the door and ushered her into his home.
It was unbearably shabby. In his parents' day the furniture had been secondhand and old. Poverty stalked everything in the rooms from the threadbare carpets, to the absence of a proper bath, to the coal grate in the kitchen. The house was small, cramped, and poor.
"Shouldn't the staircase be over there?" Clearwater asked, trying to make sense of the floor plan.
"It was, but I tore it up. My mother died because of a fall on the stairs. There was… blood…"
"Oh." Clearwater touched the side of one of the bookcases Snape had made so many years ago. "It isn't really a good place to raise children," she said.
"You're right," Snape replied. "It wasn't."
The next stop was Yorkshire. Snape was a bit surprised, as he'd imagined the house to be on the cliff itself, looking out to sea. But this was, of course, not a wizard's house and therefore not magically protected from wind and storm. It was on rising ground, but shielded from the sea by the rise of the cliff itself. From the house to the outlook over the water was about a fifteen minute walk.
A few hundred years ago, the house had started as one of those peasants' cottages with two separate rooms, one for people and one for animals, facing each other across an open, covered passage, but over the generations it had been expanded and added to so that now it was quite spacious. The original rooms were scullery and pantry, and there was a new kitchen (relatively speaking), a dining room, a sort of library and study, and a parlor, with four bedrooms on the upper floor, and an actual bathroom.
"Where does the water come from?" Snape asked.
"We have a well." Clearwater explained the duties and necessities of a home with a self-contained plumbing system. It was one of the realities of living on a small farm.
"You mean all this land is yours?" Snape asked, looking around.
"No. Only about five acres of it. It was the only thing of value my grandfather owned, and when Peter and I got married, he gave it to us. That's when I found out about Penelope's 'talent.' She helped us keep things in repair. Much less expensive than an actual roofer or plumber."
They explored the house, Clearwater regaling Snape with stories of her grandfather and grandmother when she visited them there. She had particularly fond memories of Christmas.
"Where are they now?" Snape asked, fearful of the answer, knowing what it was like not to have a family.
"Grandfather died shortly before Peter did. My grandmother's nearly ninety-five. She's living in Scarborough with my mum and dad."
"Do they know about… I mean, are there any other people around here like…"
"They know. They had to meet Penelope, and it would be hard to explain her friends otherwise. I think a few of the families in the district are magical, but we never moved in their circles. We're 'muggles,' after all, and until I got this job our only connection was Penelope."
"I was thinking about Jane," Snape confessed. "It's nice not being alone when you're growing up. If there were other children…"
Monday, November 16, 1998 (3 days before the new moon)
The next week was difficult for Snape, as he could not get the images of the Yorkshire farm house out of his mind. He could picture himself there so easily, with open land around him and the sea crashing against the cliffs a short distance away. He could even see the children running happily through the grass. There was one image missing, though, and the lack of that one image meant that everything else was impossible. He spoke of it to no one, not Hagrid, not Pennywhistle, and cursed himself for being so mercenary.
Then, shortly after midnight in the early morning of November 16 (the feast day of St. Margaret of Scotland, though Snape did not know it), Snape woke suddenly from an unremembered dream to a sense of Peggy's presence with him that was so powerful that he looked around the room for her, certain she was there.
Rising quickly, Snape lit a Lumos spell, for the moonless night was dark indeed. At first he was frightened that Peggy's essence in the room meant that something had happened, but slowly he realized that the feeling was not external. It came from him, and he knew then, with a certainty that he'd never felt in his life before, that he wanted her. Not the house, not the sea, not even the children, but her, and without her, the rest was meaningless.
Dressing quickly, Snape slipped out of his rooms and down the corridor, pausing at the stairs to glance up at the floor above, and then ran down five flights and out onto the lawn. There was only one place he could think of, and he hurried to the cliff, to the little path that led down its face to the lake and Lily's rock.
There, already knowing what he had to do, Snape drew his wand and pointed it at the expanse of stars above him, crying softly, "Expecto Patronum!" A soft, silvery cloud formed above him and quickly resolved itself into the shape of his little fox, a cunning creature with pointed muzzle and clever eyes. The doe that had haunted him ever since that terrible time more than two years before when his world was crumbling around him, the doe was gone.
It seemed everyone was dying then – Sirius, Phina, Judge Bones – the world was more dangerous than I'd ever known it before. And then, when I needed her most, she came and stood by me. But I don't need her anymore. My life has moved on, and so has she. Thank you, Lily. I know what to do now.
But he couldn't do it right away. It was only one o'clock in the morning, and a good six hours until breakfast. It was all right. Snape could wait.
Professor Clearwater came down to breakfast at a quarter to seven, to find herself whisked into one of the unused classrooms off the entrance hall. It was early enough for the sky to still be dark and, as a consequence, the room was, too.
"Severus!" she exclaimed, smoothing her slightly rumpled robes, "Whatever is the matter?"
"Nothing's the matter," he replied. "Nothing at all. At the moment everything is right. I just wanted to ask you something, and I'm hoping that after I ask, everything will still be right."
"I'm all ears," said Clearwater, bemused expectation on her face.
"Come by the window." There the first light of dawn was reaching the tops of the surrounding mountains. Shapes were emerging from the night, still eerily black and white, like a 1930's movie. Snape took Clearwater's left hand in his own.
"Margaret," he said, "Peggy. I hope this doesn't c…ome as too much of a sh…ock to you." Snape cursed inwardly as he realized his childhood stammer was coming back. He'd spent the last few hours planning exactly what to say and how to say it, and it was all coming apart in the first seconds. He tried to force himself to calm down, and failed miserably.
Clearwater, on the other hand, was utterly calm – cool, unruffled, and waiting.
"I know we've only known each other," Snape continued, "for three m…onths, and three months is scarcely enough time to even begin a friendship, much less anything deeper, but… well, two weeks ago I had to f…ace the possibility that I might never see you, never touch you again, and suddenly three months is all the time anyone needs if they've found the right person. I know you may not f…eel the same way I do, and if you don't, just say so. I'll understand, and I won't bother you any more… I mean, I'm not exactly the easiest person to get along with, and if you don't return my feelings, it would hardly be surprising…"
"Severus," said Clearwater, placing two fingers against his lips, "didn't you have something to ask me?"
Snape stared at her, then fumbled in his pocket. He'd gone home to get it – it had belonged to his muggle grandmother – an old-fashioned gold filigree ring with three tiny diamonds in a row, delicate and modest. "Peggy Clearwater," he said, "I want you to know that I love you. I have some hopes that you feel an affection for me as well. Would you consent to marry me and become my wife?" He held the ring tentatively in his hand.
She took the ring and slipped it on her finger. "Russ Snape," she said. "I love you as well, as do my children. I will marry you and be your wife."
Snape had no idea what to say next, so he avoided the issue entirely by taking Clearwater in his arms and kissing her, thus rendering speech impossible for either of them. After that, they had to go to the Great Hall for breakfast and to supervise the students like good little professors. For some insane reason, they imagined that what had just happened between them was, and for a while would remain, a secret. They forgot the unerring radar of older women who see themselves as surrogate mothers.
"It's about time," said McGonagall, moving behind Snape and Clearwater as soon as they sat down at the high table and speaking softly. "Have you set a date?"
"We don't want to do things too hastily," Clearwater rejoined, trying to hide a smile. "We thought we might wait until Christmas."
"It will be an interesting five weeks," McGonagall chuckled. "I'll wager the lad's on pins and needles already."
"Have they set a date?" Sprout asked, scurrying over. "And did he give her a ring?"
"Christmas," answered McGonagall, "if Severus can wait that long."
"I'm sitting right in front of you," Snape hissed. "You can talk to me, you know."
"I know that," McGonagall smiled. "But it's a new world you're entering, laddie, and you need to get used to it."
That evening after dinner, Clearwater took Snape to Scarborough to meet her parents and her grandmother. It was late enough in the year so that there were few tourists, and the resort town was quiet and peaceful. Clearwater's parents lived in a townhouse a distance away from the waterfront. She stopped him at the foot of the steps going up to the front door.
"Now they know about magical people," she warned, "but they aren't really acquainted with any except Penelope and a couple of her young friends. So take this slowly and act more mugglish."
"Believe me," said Snape, "I'll be on my best behavior for Mr. and Mrs. Clear… Their name isn't Clearwater, though, is it?"
"Of course not. That was my husband's name. My maiden name was Foxe. My parents are William and Ann Foxe, and my grandmother is Margaret, like me."
Truth be told, Mr. and Mrs. Foxe, who had learned of the engagement via a telephone call from the nearest nonmagical town, did not at first seem overwhelmingly impressed by their future son-in-law. Snape rather suspected they distrusted his appearance. He couldn't help having his father's nose in his mother's face, though he did wonder if maybe he oughtn't to have done something with his hair and clothes. Maybe a suit and tie? I hope I don't remind them of a vampire.
"So you're the teacher chap who interviewed Peg for that new job she's taken?" Mr. Foxe commented after they'd served Severus tea.
"Yes, sir," Snape replied.
"What do you teach?"
"Nothing at the moment, sir." That was not what Snape meant, so he quickly elaborated. "I'm the administrative assistant to the headmistress right now, in charge of changes in the curriculum."
"Peg told us about that. Myself, I can't see a school that didn't have math or science courses. Bit dodgy, if you know what I mean. What did you teach?"
"Potions." This answer, too, required elaboration. "It's a traditional name in our culture, sir. It's more of a class in medical chemistry – pharmacology and pharmaceutics."
"Are you a doctor?"
"I work on an occasional basis with doctors and other medical professionals. In addition to teaching, of course."
Mrs. Foxe spoke up then. "Last summer Penny made mother a remedy for her arthritis. It was one of the best things mother ever tried. Did she learn that at your school?"
"Miss Clearwater was always a very apt student. That was probably a preparation we covered in her fifth year."
"Medicine, eh?" said Mr. Foxe. "That's not a bad line of work. Peg could do worse." His manner became more relaxed and friendly.
"What do your parents do?" Mrs. Foxe asked.
"I'm afraid both my parents died when I was in my teens. An automobile accident."
"And you've never been married before?"
"I never met the right woman before."
Mr. Foxe narrowed his eyes. "You are bringing some experience to this union…?"
"Father!" Clearwater exclaimed.
"Enough," said Snape acidly, "to understand what is required of me and to embarrass neither myself nor her."
"I just want my girl to be happy."
"Excuse me, sir, but that is now my business, not yours."
The older man glared for a second, then roared with laughter. "Right you are, son! And you just put me in my place, right enough. It's your business, it is. Not mine. Not mine." He continued chuckling for a minute.
"Had you thought about the wedding?" Mrs. Foxe asked, now that the men seemed to have reached an agreement.
"Yes," said Clearwater. "Something very modest and simple. I'm an older woman with two children, and we don't need a big affair. A few family and friends. A winter wedding is nice. I've suggested Christmas, but we haven't quite decided yet."
"Oh, dear. That's a bit rushed, isn't it? We have to get an appointment with the vicar and arrange a date for…" Mrs. Foxe stopped and exchanged a glance with her husband.
"I was thinking more of just the civil ceremony this time," Clearwater stated. "and we're not children. We know our own minds. I don't think Christmas is too rushed."
Mr. and Mrs. Foxe didn't press the point, and the conversation shifted to other topics, Snape finding to his great relief that Mr. Foxe was also interested in Shakespeare. They had a good discussion about "Hamlet," and even agreed on most points.
Snape and Clearwater got back to Hogwarts around ten that evening. "I think it went rather well," Clearwater told him as they walked upstairs to their separate rooms.
"I don't think he liked me," Snape admitted.
"Oh, he liked you. Wait until you see my father when he really doesn't like someone. An experience you will never forget."
The first big snag, as it turned out, were the family and friends of the bride, most of whom were totally unaware of the groom's connection with the world of magic.
"We could have two services," Snape suggested. "A wizarding one and a muggle one. Not that either would be very large. It's just that the one group can't meet the other."
"Or we could have the service for one group, and a reception for the other."
Snape gazed at Clearwater with admiration and relief. "Just the thing," he said. "A muggle service and a wizard reception. The wizards would understand about staying separate from the muggles. It still wouldn't be very big, but it would be more relaxed."
"Is there anyone you want me to invite in the muggle world?" Clearwater asked.
"Yes, in fact, there is. Mrs. Hanson, who helped raise me, and a few of my dad's old mates. It's not half a dozen total, and I'm not sure they'd all come… Your parents could let your people know, quietly, that I don't have a family."
"They'll all be very sympathetic and tell you how proud your parents would have been."
The guest list for the wizard reception turned out to be longer than expected. First, of course, were all the teachers and staff at Hogwarts, every one of whom accepted. Snape was going to stop there, but McGonagall insisted that he had to invite the Weasleys. "After what you did for Ginny, they would be very hurt not to be asked to share some joy with you."
The Weasleys led to Potter, Granger, Longbottom, and Lovegood, and that made Snape think of a couple of Slytherins – his first Quidditch team, Algie Colfax, Sergey Duval, Josh van Zandt, Richie Gamp – students from his first teaching years, like Paul Hooper. It was Potter himself who reminded Snape of a couple of others.
"Gawain Robards was wondering if his invitation got lost in the mail," Harry told Snape when he came up for the Ravenclaw-Hufflepuff Quidditch match in early December. "And the remaining members of the Order of the Phoenix have also been expressing the hope that you haven't forgotten them. And you can't forget Shacklebolt. He still says he owes you one, though I'm not sure what for."
And if Robards and Shacklebolt were to be invited, then Nigel Yaxley had to be invited, too. And the Kettleburns, and the Dawsons… In the end, Snape was astounded to find he had a guest list of around fifty people.
Other negotiations were taking place, a very important one being with Winky. Winky was, to her great regret, a free elf. It was therefore with some discomfort that Snape approached her about taking up a position at a modest residence on the Yorkshire coast, there to be in charge of the upkeep of the household establishment and guardian of the children. It was a hard-fought battle before Winky could work Snape down to a salary that Winky considered respectable, but in the end she won and agreed to work for him and Professor Clearwater as soon as the two were wed.
A few days before the wedding came the last and biggest snag – Hagrid. Hagrid himself placed the problem before McGonagall. "Professor Snape wants me t' be his best man."
"At a muggle wedding? Impossible. There's no way to explain you to anyone's satisfaction."
"That's what I been trying to tell him. He don't want t' listen. Can ya talk some sense into him, Professor?"
McGonagall tried. She pointed out Hagrid's drawbacks, which were basically his size, his uncouthness, and his… size.
"Fine!" Snape snapped at her. "How about Flitwick? Would it be easier to explain his size?"
"You know that's equally out of the question."
"Then I'll take Dumbledore. I'm sure I could explain a talking portrait."
"Why are you being so difficult, Severus?"
"When a man gets married, he's supposed to have his best friend, someone closer to him than anyone, stand up with him. I don't have anyone but Hagrid. Not alive, anyway. And," he added, "it has to be a man. Otherwise I'd ask you."
McGonagall smiled. "Hagrid will be at the Hogwarts celebration later. Wouldna it not do just to have someone who knows what ye've been through and will be happy for ye?"
After the second week of December, the Christmas break started, and Hogwarts emptied. The last minute plans for the wedding were made in relative peace. The date was the twenty-fourth, the banns had been posted for over two weeks, and on the morning of Christmas Eve, Snape sought out Clearwater, who was waiting until the right moment to get dressed, after which she would apparate with a very excited McGonagall, who was dressed in proper muggle fashion and had been practicing. Snape brought with him a stocky wizard who looked like a professional boxer.
"Peggy, I'd like you to meet Nigel Yaxley. He'll be my best man. Nigel, may I present the future Mrs. Severus Snape."
Leaving the women and going to the floor below, Yaxley entered Snape's rooms for a check of his clothing. Both men were wearing modest three-piece suits and ties, Snape in dark blue and Yaxley in black. Snape's suit complemented Clearwater's dress, which was of the palest blue. Snape had decided, after meeting her parents, to avoid any repeat of the stark black and white that had made him, if no one else, think of vampires. He straightened Yaxley's tie, then both donned overcoats.
"Are you sure I'm not going to mess things up for you?" Yaxley asked as he and Snape apparated into Scarborough and made their way to the registry office on Burniston Road.
"You?" Snape scoffed. "Never. You're the most normal pureblood wizard I ever met. All you have to do is stand beside me. You don't even have to carry the ring. The little boy's doing that."
"So I don't do anything important."
Snape stopped and turned to face Yaxley. "Not important? You hold me up when I feel like fainting. You remind me that what I'm doing is something I want and will make me happy. You keep me from going crazy and running out of the registry office like a lunatic. In sum, you support me when I most need support on the most important day of my life." He looked at Yaxley and then sniffed derisively. "Nothing important? Not on your life!"
Yaxley grinned. "That's all right, then. Just so long as I don't mess up something important."
Snape stopped again and pulled Yaxley into a doorway. "There is one important thing," he said. "You're going to have to sign as a witness. When they hand you the pen, pretend you've seen one before. It's just like a quill, except you don't have to dip it in ink."
"Don't worry," Yaxley intoned solemnly. "If I'm not sure what to do, I'll just slow things down by pretending I've forgotten my reading glasses at home."
Beginning to wonder if he was being put on, Snape narrowed his eyes. "How do you know about reading glasses."
"I'm not a total idiot."
"You just remember that."
The registry office was quite pleasant, with a white, official section whose counter was decorated with flowers, and a door leading out onto a pleasant patio garden. Through an archway was the darker paneled ceremonial room with its few rows of chairs – small and cozy. The parents of the bride were already there.
On being introduced to Yaxley, Mr. Foxe sized him up and asked, "Middleweight?"
"Yes, sir," Yaxley replied politely, then to Snape's astonishment added, "Generally amateur. Just one professional match back in eighty-seven."
"Thought you looked like you knew the inside of a ring," Mr. Foxe nodded with satisfaction.
Snape and Yaxley were introduced to the guests, who consisted of the grandmother, a few aunts and uncles, two couples who were to be their neighbors in Yorkshire, three old family friends, Bradford and Davis from Hogwarts, and five cousins. Neither Mrs. Hanson nor his father's pub mates had been able to make the trip to Yorkshire, but among the cousins was a very familiar young lady in a pale pink dress and a chaplet of flowers.
"Miss Clearwater," Snape said, taking the hand she extended to him. "It is good to see you again. How have you fared these past years?"
"Last year was a bit difficult, but we managed to escape the worst. Best not to talk of that now. I must confess that while I was in your classes at school, it never occurred to me that you might become a member of my family."
"Believe me, Miss Clearwater, I was equally taken by surprise."
Penelope was commandeered then by Mrs. Foxe, who announced that the bride had arrived. As Penelope was bridesmaid, she was whisked away for the procession. McGonagall, looking almost mugglish, came in and patted Snape's hand, Snape and Yaxley took their places by the podium where the licensed registrar stood, and the assembled friends and family stood by the chairs.
There was a moment's solemn stillness, which was broken by a young voice saying, "Where do I go now, Mommy?"
"Come with me, Janey. I'll show you," said Penelope taking her young cousin by the hand and leading her forward along the aisle. "You walk slowly, come right here by this box, and look at Professor Snape. Then you try to be really quiet while people talk."
"Is he my daddy yet?"
"Not yet, but in a few minutes he will be."
Jane having been shown where to stand, and Robbie being told to stand by Snape, both children were taken back to the white, official side of the archway. Snape took a deep breath.
There was some giggling in the back where the white counter was, and then the whisper, "All right, dear, you can go now," and Jane entered, wearing a blue velvet dress with lace at the collar and cuffs. She carried a little basket of rose petals and very solemnly stopped part way into the room to take a handful of them and toss them in the air. When she got to the front, she repeated the action, then sprinkled the last of the petals next to Snape, upending the basket to make sure all the petals were out.
Behind her came Robbie in a miniature blue suit, with a little cushion that held the rings. He got excited and ran to catch up to Jane, making Snape cringe slightly at the thought of the rings on the carpet. He didn't have to worry, though, for everything was safe, the rings being tied to the cushion with small blue ribbons. Robbie stood very importantly between Snape and Yaxley.
Penelope entered next, with Clearwater a few paces behind. This was a morning wedding, and the second of a widow with children, so there was no drama of gown and veil, no ritual of being given away. Their dresses were soft and graceful, but not obviously wedding clothes, rather something that each would be able to wear later to a party or someone else's wedding. Both were crowned with simple flowers, and Clearwater carried a small bouquet which she handed to Penelope when she stood next to Snape.
The superintendent registrar invited the guests to sit, then said, "Ladies and gentlemen, we have come together today to celebrate the joining of two people who are special to each other and to everyone here. This is a joyous occasion, but it is also a solemn contract, so if there is anyone who knows of any reason why they may not wed, it is incumbent upon you to speak now."
The pause after these words lasted only a couple of seconds. Then the registrar turned to Snape. "Are you, Richard Severus Snape, free lawfully to marry Margaret Amanda Foxe?"
"I am," Snape replied.
"And are you, Margaret Amanda Foxe, free lawfully to marry Richard Severus Snape?"
"I am," Clearwater said, and turned to smile at her soon-to-be husband.
"Now," continued the registrar," if this was the wedding of two young people just embarking on life, I would at this point give them a little lecture about the realities of marriage, how they must be patient with each other, and support each other in the bad times as well as the good, and how they must not mistake passion for love, that love is only now beginning, and will mature and grow as they mature and grow. Margaret and Severus, however, already understand this. They come to this union clear-eyed, accepting and respecting each other for what they are, and knowing that life is more than just dreams and fantasies. And so both I and you are spared having to listen to my lecture."
There was laughter among the guests at this, and even Yaxley chuckled.
"In token of their understanding, Margaret and Severus have asked me instead to say this. Some of you may even find it familiar. – You can give without loving, but you cannot love without giving. Only those who habitually perform small acts of kindness are capable of great acts of love. And the extent of our love is equal to the extent that we are able to forgive. Love is knowing that even when we are alone, we will never be lonely again. And the greatest happiness of life is the conviction that we are loved. Loved for ourselves, and even loved in spite of ourselves."
The registrar turned to Snape. "Do you have the ring?"
Yaxley untied the ribbon that held Clearwater's ring and handed it to Snape.
"Take her left hand in yours, and affirm your contract."
Holding Clearwater's hand, Snape said, "I, Richard Severus Snape, take you, Margaret Amanda Foxe, to be my wedded wife." He slipped the ring onto her finger.
Penelope then took the second ring from Robbie's cushion and gave it to Clearwater.
"I, Margaret Amanda Foxe, take you, Richard Severus Snape, to be my wedded husband."
Snape watched in fascination as the gold band slid onto his finger. At that moment he knew that Clearwater was the most beautiful woman in the world, and he felt humbled. The registrar's hand touched his shoulder and, holding Clearwater's hand in his own, Snape turned to face the small gathering of friends.
"Ladies and gentlemen," said the registrar, "I present to you the new husband and wife. It is considered traditional for you to now exchange a kiss."
Snape and Clearwater turned to each other and gently touched lips. The room broke into applause, and it was done.
Linking Clearwater's arm in his and taking Robbie's hand while she held Jane's, Snape walked with them between the two rows of clapping people. It wasn't over yet. There were papers to sign, the wedding luncheon, and the reception at Hogwarts.
"How do you feel," Yaxley grinned.
"I don't know," said Snape. "I haven't had time to think about it."
There was no time to think about it at the registry office, as that was taken up with signing forms and getting copies. Nor was there time at the luncheon because of the social obligation of being polite to people who were total strangers. He shook hands with everyone, was hugged by the women and had his back patted by the men, fielded questions about his own family and employment, smiled politely at jokes, and had just settled next to Clearwater… Mrs. Snape… Margaret… when Yaxley rose and tapped his spoon against a glass.
Oh no! He's going to give a speech, Snape thought, and steeled himself for the worst.
"May I have your attention please, ladies and gents," Yaxley started, looking even more like a prizefighter with his thumbs hooked in the armholes of his waistcoat, "most of you don't know me, and are probably wondering why I'm here. My name is Nigel, I'm the best man, and I'm here because I once bet Severus that he'd never be able to find a good woman who'd be willing to take him, and he made me promise that if I lost, I'd stand up and give a public speech. Now that he's found himself the best there is, this is his way of ensuring I keep my end of the wager.
"I've known about Severus off and on for a good number of years, but I only got to know him in the last two because I got told by management to help him set up a laboratory in a new branch office of the company we were working for at the time. Now I'd had some experience setting up a new office – not a lot of success, mind you, just experience – and I knew Severus hadn't any at all, and I thought to myself, Fine. They want me to mollycoddle this young man and teach him how to do things. Which is probably what Mrs. Snape is thinking right now concerning the housekeeping. He's going to walk into a completely new situation, and she's going to have to train him up to it. Putty in her hands he'll be for the first couple of years.
"I'm here to tell you, ma'am, don't make any plans of the kind. You poor, innocent thing. You've gone and married the most god-awfullest organized person in the world. He won't have been in that house an hour before he's memorized the floor plans upstairs and down, seen the contents of every closet, the condition of every piece of furniture, and knows the electrical load of the fuses and wiring and the water pressure in the pipes. By the end of the second hour he'll present you with a list of every bolt that needs tightening, every hole that needs patching, and every scratch in the paint. By this time you'll be tearing your hair and looking up grounds for annulment.
"My advice to you, ma'am, is to take a deep breath, go into the kitchen, and fix a cup of tea. When you've finished it, you'll come out to find that he's tightening the bolts, patching the holes, and repainting everything. Not only does he point out what needs doing, he does it himself. I never spent a more idle few weeks in my life than when I was supposed to be helping him. You got yourself a good one, ma'am. You're on easy street now. I suggest you prepare yourself to enjoy it."
Yaxley raised his glass. "Ladies and gentlemen, would you join me in a toast to the bride and groom. May all their joys be too big to conceal, and their troubles too small to see."
The company rose, applauding, and drank the toast. Snape, immensely relieved at the things Yaxley had not said, shook his hand, and then everyone settled down to eat. After several minutes, Jane began wandering from table to table calmly informing everyone that this was a very important day because today she, Jane, had not only a mommy, but a daddy, too. Robbie, tired out from the strain of being the center of attention for all of ten minutes, fell asleep in his mommy's lap. Since Margaret was now unable to use both hands, Severus cut her meat for her so that she needed only one hand to eat.
Penelope leaned across the table. "You have no idea how cute that looks, Professor," she said wickedly.
Snape grimaced. "And to think I once considered you a model student. Pity you're no longer in my classes. You do not, by chance, have a younger cousin in Hogwarts that I could retaliate against instead?"
"Not until Jane goes there. Have I checked you, sir?"
"Checked and mated. The one Clearwater I could not use against you. But you will not, under any circumstances mention this to any…" A terrible thought entered Snape's head. "You're not still going with that Weasley boy, are you? Percy?"
"Not for ages. You knew about that?"
"Have you every known a Weasley to be able to hide anything?"
Luncheon ended, and the bridal cake was brought out. Margaret shifted Robbie over to her mother so that she and Severus could cut and ceremonially feed each other the first piece. Then Margaret served slices of the cake – a traditional pound cake – to her guests.
There was quite a bit of cake left, so Snape wasn't surprised when two women, future neighbors, asked if they might take some home for younger members of their families. Margaret offered them all they wanted, and each took a generous chunk. What did surprise Snape was that they appeared to be cutting the cake into smaller pieces and placing each piece in a separate, rather ornate little box. Probably a local custom, he thought, and said nothing.
Then the luncheon reception was over, the guests gone. Snape, Yaxley, and McGonagall found a quiet place to apparate back to Hogsmeade with Margaret and the children.
The late afternoon of Thursday, December 24, 1998 (2 days before the first quarter)
Hogsmeade was cold and Hogwarts hill barren and eerie in a fresh, thin blanket of snow. It was only three-thirty, but that far north the sun was setting and dusk gathered quickly. Severus and Margaret carried the children, both for speed and for warmth. The coats they wore were barely adequate in the biting air.
The entrance hall, too, was empty and quiet, though with the massive doors to the Great Hall firmly shut, Severus had a feeling something was in the air and a good idea of what was behind those doors. McGonagall, however, led them to the little room where the first years waited before their sorting. In it was a set of formal wizard robes for each of them, in complementary, though not exactly matching, Slytherin green and silver. There was even a set of formal black robes for Yaxley.
"Look, Janey," Margaret exclaimed. "You get to be a witch tonight. How lovely!"
They changed quickly into the straight silver gowns with the green velvet robes over them and the tall pointed hats while Yaxley stood guard outside the door. Jane was in ecstasies, Robbie was going to be tripping over his robes all evening, and Severus took the opportunity of McGonagall's having gone to change into her own robes to kiss Margaret in a bit more personal way than he had at the registry office. She didn't seem to mind in the slightest. They separated just before McGonagall stuck her head back through the doorway.
"Ready?" she asked quickly. "Everyone feels they've been kept waiting quite long enough, and I fear Hagrid may be a wee bit tipsy."
They crossed the entrance hall in a small procession, Severus and Margaret first, then Jane and Robbie, with McGonagall and Yaxley in the rear. As if enchanted with a recognition spell, the mighty doors of the Great Hall swung open at their approach.
The Hall was dim. By the faint light of a few torches, Severus could see that the long school tables were gone. Round tables with silent guests were placed around the hall to give room in the center for dancing, and groaning buffet tables stood at both front and back. Severus noted this, but it was not what drew his attention. What did was the figure of Albus Dumbledore sitting magnificently dressed at his old place in the center of the high table, flanked by members of the staff. It took a moment of dumbfounded shock before Severus realized that what he was looking at was a life-sized portrait of Dumbledore. In the faint light, the illusion had been almost perfect.
Dumbledore rose inside the frame where he sat. "Severus Snape," he called in a stern voice, "are you a married man?"
"Yes, Professor, and I've brought my wife with me to prove it."
"Merlin, that is a relief," said Dumbledore shaking his head. "I was afraid you would wriggle out of it at the last moment. Ladies and gentlemen, our vigil has not been in vain. I present to you Mr. and Mrs. Severus Snape!"
The ceiling exploded with fireworks, and the assembled guests (Hagrid not being the only one who was slightly tipsy) began to clap and cheer. It had been a while since they'd had an excuse for a really good party, and this excuse was better than most. Winky darted forward to take possessive charge of the children, and Severus and Margaret walked to the high table to take their places at its center, Dumbledore's portrait being moved to make way for them.
Plates piled with food appeared before the newlyweds, despite their protests that they'd just come from a luncheon. It was clearly expected that they would feast through the evening. Soft music floated around them, and a woman's voice – Sprout's, though she tried to disguise it – called out, "The first dance! They must start the first dance!"
"Do you know how to dance?" Margaret whispered to Severus.
"Not very well."
"So far as I can tell, all we have to do is hold onto each other and rock back and forth in time to the music, and everyone will be satisfied."
Margaret nodded. "That sounds like a plan," she said, and they rose and went to the center of the floor where she put a hand on his shoulder, he an arm about her waist, and they stepped forward and back to the music's rhythm. Within seconds the dance floor was crowded with other couples, and they were saved.
Harry Potter came over with Ginny Weasley to offer congratulations. "Harry was a bit miffed, you know," Ginny said, "that you didn't think of him when you couldn't have Hagrid as your best man."
Severus rolled his eyes. "We're talking about a muggle group that never heard of Harry Potter and know nothing of witches. What were they going to think if a previously unmarried man just a year short of forty showed up at his wedding with an eighteen-year-old boy as his best man?"
"I didn't think about that," Harry laughed.
"When do you ever, Potter?" Severus retorted in mock exasperation. "When do you ever?"
Probably the worst point of the reception was when Gawain Robards asked Margaret to dance, at which point Severus learned not only that Robards could dance, but that Margaret could, too, a discovery that led to only one logical conclusion.
"What is the matter, Severus?" asked Dumbledore's portrait. "This is not a day on which I was expecting you to be glum."
"I have to learn how to dance," Severus replied, not taking his eyes from the couple on the floor.
Dumbledore followed his gaze. "Ah, yes. I see what you mean. I am greatly encouraged by your response to the challenge, however. Never stop courting her, my boy. Never stop courting her."
Hagrid was not only tipsy, but boisterous. Flitwick was mischievous, Kettleburn hearty, Arthur curious, McGonagall possessive, Molly maternal, and Sprout sentimental, and in the end Severus was very tired.
"Do you think it would be all right if we just… you know," he asked Dumbledore.'
"Left? In the middle of a party in your honor?" Dumbledore smiled. "Do you not know that it is traditional for the bride and groom to depart early? Not only do the guests not mind, it gives them cause to be amused and an excuse to party all the more."
"Oh," said Severus, and sought out Margaret.
They gathered Winky and the children and headed down the hill in the sparkling night with the light of the near quarter moon glinting off the snow. Once outside the gate, all they needed was a twist, a pop, and they were at the front door of 'their' home on the Yorkshire coast. Margaret unlocked the door with a perfectly ordinary key, and as they entered Severus thought, How long before I stop feeling like a guest here and begin to think of it as home?
Hang up the coats, brush the snow from the shoes and set them to dry. Start a fire in the hearth. Go into the kitchen to fix some tea. The small details of life were what made the difference. At least some of what Yaxley had said was true, for Severus wanted to know right there about the propane tanks (luckily something he already knew well), the stove, the hot water heater… and Winky had to be shown the kitchen and the areas that would become her charge.
Winky had had her own little party at Hogwarts earlier that day, before the Snapes arrived for the reception. The other elves agreed that finding a situation where she would be able to ignore sordid topics like wages and benefits and dedicate herself to one family – the true vocation of all house-elves – was a stroke of unparalleled good fortune, and they all wished her luck and good fortune.
"Do you want a bedtime story, dear?" Margaret asked Jane when they returned to the living room. Jane, half asleep, nodded emphatically. Every ritual has to start somewhere and Severus, after being placed on the sofa with Robbie in his lap and Jane next to him, watched as Margaret sifted through what seemed to him a very large number of small books, finally settling beside Jane with something that had the improbable title of Winnie the Pooh. Here Severus was initiated into the mysteries of Pooh Bear, who got stuck in the doorway of a friend's home because he ate too much honey, and how it took a week's dieting to reverse the effects of a single afternoon's binge. He marveled at the lessons so subtly conveyed through a seemingly nonsensical tale.
Then came the ritual of 'tucking in.' Severus could never remember having been 'tucked in' by his own parents, and so he was able to approach the task without any preconceptions about the 'right' way to do it. With Jane and Robbie safely bedded down, and Winky in the same room to watch over them, Severus and Margaret were finally alone together for the first time that day. It was eight o'clock.
Margaret wanted to sit on the sofa and talk for a while, and so they did, reliving the events of the day, smiling at Jane's antics and Yaxley's speech, wondering if the party at Hogwarts was still going strong. It was good just to be together, relaxed and comfortable.
Then, for the only time that night, the images of two other women surfaced in Severus's mind. The first, of course, was Lily, who had shown him that a man and a woman can be friends, friends whose conversation satisfies a need far greater than the meaning of the mere words could ever convey. The second was Phina, who had taught him that contact was nothing to fear or flee from, but that two people are more gently and securely bound together by thousands of tiny threads of touch and soft caress than by the great ropes of passion. He said a silent word of thanks to both ladies, and then thought of them no more that night.
It was shortly after nine when Margaret rose from the sofa. Stretching out her hand to Severus, she said simply, "Come, husband," and led him to the stairs.
The next morning was Christmas Day. Severus was up early, and the first to see that Winky had decorated the whole house for the holiday. It was wonderful that she'd remembered, for both Severus and Margaret had been living at Hogwarts, and so the house had been empty for four months, and the business of the wedding had taken up all their attention. There was one huge problem, however. Severus never exchanged Christmas gifts with anyone and now, this Christmas morning, he had none to give. He knew that Margaret would understand, and Robbie would probably not notice, but how do you explain to a four-year-old that her new daddy didn't get her a Christmas present?
"Don't worry," Margaret's voice came from behind him, and Severus turned to greet her and be kissed 'good morning.' "There are gifts, and they're from both of us."
"Thank goodness," Severus exhaled. "By now you must have realized that in many ways I'm the most socially inept person you'll ever meet. I'd forgotten until now that it even was Christmas. I don't even know when your birthday is, or Robbie's."
"But you know Jane's?"
"You told me. Halloween, remember?"
"Ah, yes. We were a bit busy on her birthday, weren't we?" Margaret smiled. "Will you help me put the gifts out? It would be good for them to be under the tree before the children wake up."
Christmas breakfast was a bouncy, excited affair because Jane and Robbie weren't allowed to open any presents until after they'd eaten together. Then they attacked the wrapping paper, squealed over toys, and had to be reminded about hugs and thank yous. By eleven o'clock, Jane and Robbie were busy playing, Margaret was busy with Jane and Robbie, Winky was busy with lunch, and Severus decided to explore the land.
Five acres was more land than Severus had ever expected to own in his life. The house was on the upper part, sheltered by the ridge of cliff beyond. From there it sloped gently down, and in the lower section a stream passed through one corner of the property. There were quite a few trees scattered about, several near the house for more protection from the wind.
The section in front of the house was a flower garden. It was nicely laid out, with narrow, formal beds leading from the gate up to the house, and a country-garden style beyond. Along the sides of the property were two tool sheds, and beds of what must have been vegetables before Margaret left to stay at Hogwarts. It was all in fairly good condition. It would take a little work to put it in order again, but it was far from impossible.
What Severus was looking for, however, was a place to plant herbs. Not just rosemary and thyme, but all the common herbs he might need for potions. An herb garden like his grandmother's, like Nana's. That would be best on the higher, rockier ground, and to Severus's relief, that section of the property was still open and unplanted.
It was while he was checking out this part of his new domain that Severus became aware that he was being watched. Watched by persons clearly older than juveniles and younger than adults. Persons who from time to time stifled a giggle from behind bushes on the other side of his fence. There must not be very much to do around here if the local teenage girls have come prowling on Christmas Day to see what I look like.
Back in the house, Winky served lunch, Severus and Margaret talked about the garden while they ate, and the children played. Margaret was thrilled that he was willing to take up the task of gardening. He asked her about the local girls, but she was as mystified as he.
Mr. and Mrs. Calvert, who'd been at the wedding, came to call at two o'clock. The conversation consisted of pleasantries. "I'll wager you haven't found as much to fix up as your friend yesterday thought you would," Mr. Calvert said, smiling.
"That's quite true," Severus admitted. "The house really is in quite good condition."
"Russ is thinking of working on and adding to the garden, though," Margaret put in, at which the Calverts exchanged a glance.
"Before you go buying, you might look around the neighborhood," suggested Mrs. Calvert. "I've some things you could use – agrimony, valerian, nightshade, fox glove…" She paused at the surprised look on Severus's face. "Please don't be cross. Old Mrs. Pemberton saw you come in, in November, and swore you were one of the old ones – they say there are still a few over Pendle way, and we were hoping, you see."
"How did you know I came from Pendle?"
The look the Calverts exchanged this time was one of triumph. "We didn't," said Mr. Calvert. "We just heard there were some still there. Are you? Are you a sorcerer? A witch healer?"
"There are," Severus said brusquely, "no such things as witches."
"No?" returned Mr. Calvert. "Then why didn't you hire a car at the wedding? I counted four adults and two children without transportation. But you got everywhere you needed to go with no problem. We tested the cake, too."
"What's that supposed…? Do you think we did something to the cake?"
"No, no. Don't take me wrong. But it was the cake at a wizard's wedding, and there's an old superstition about girls sleeping with a piece of wedding cake under the pillow. There were half a dozen in the neighborhood that wanted to see if there was anything special about this cake. So we took them each a slice."
"And what happened?" Severus asked, thinking of the giggling girls behind the bushes.
"A dream for every piece of cake. And John Kaye in particular wants to meet and thank you because he couldn't stand that hooligan his Amy was set to marry, but she saw someone else in her dream plain as plain, and first thing this morning she called young Eric and sent him packing. There's many of us thought she just went with him to spite her dad and was glad of an excuse to be shut of him. You gave her the excuse."
"Wait a minute," Severus said, "do you mean there are more than half a dozen families in the area that think I'm a… what do you call it… a wizard?"
"Closer to two dozen. We had an old woman here about twenty years ago, Calliope Earnshaw was her name, and no one had any idea how old she was, but she was old in our grandparents' time. She supplied the neighborhood with salves and poultices and simples that beat out anything on the National Health, and then she died. We knew there was something different about young Penelope, but she never came here often. Then Mrs. Clearwater went off to teach at Penelope's school and when we heard earlier this month that she was set to marry a professor from that school… Well, you can't blame people for hoping."
Severus and Margaret exchanged a glance of their own. She approved and nodded her consent. "Well," Severus said, "I do know how to make salves and poultices from herbs, but I'm certainly not a licensed practitioner of medicine, and this whole business about wizards and witches I find… bizarre."
"Salves and poultices. It's a start." Mr. Calvert allowed the conversation to shift to other things, and shortly afterwards he and his wife took their leave. No one had even hinted at love potions, but Severus could not shake the suspicion that they were uppermost in the minds of the giggling girls.
The ensuing week was thoroughly enjoyable. Jane and Robbie got the undivided attention of Winky in their own home and quickly relegated Margaret and Severus to second rank. Margaret and Severus took full advantage of the demotion and spent inordinate amounts of time in a mutually shared privacy. Neighbors called at odd intervals, but always in the mid afternoon, and the second half of the Christmas break acquired the aspects of an actual honeymoon.
With the beginning of the new year, the idyll ended. It wasn't that bad. With Winky in Yorkshire, Severus and Margaret could now commute to Hogwarts each morning and return each afternoon at about four-thirty. The late afternoons were spent with the children, and the later evenings with each other.
Severus no longer had any classes and, spared constant student contact, relaxed and mellowed into his new role of administrative assistant in charge of curriculum. Healer Pennywhistle remained a constant in his life for many years. As time passed, the bubbling up of traumatic experiences became milder and more infrequent, and there came a time when Pennywhistle came monthly, and then biannually, and then only at need.
The garden progressed. Severus took Mrs. Calvert up on her offer of agrimony, valerian, nightshade, and fox glove. He took other neighbors up on their offers of feverfew, borage, heart's-ease, comfrey, motherwort, lambs' ears and St. John's wort. His herb garden prospered, and the first time someone actually asked him for a remedy, it was for a wart. This was eminently possible, and the satisfied customer spread the word of his quick recovery, resulting in Severus's being inundated with requests for cures.
The superficial ailments, amenable to wizarding cures, Severus treated. The more serious cases he referred at once to the doctors in Scarborough. He, in fact, developed an enduring relationship with several of those doctors for the thorough way he evaluated and referred a case to them. They never had to investigate him, since there seemed to be a permanent block on their ability to pass information about him to higher authorities. Not that they wanted to, but one can never be sure.
After two school years, Severus's duties as administrative assistant for curriculum were no longer required on a yearly basis. Which was good because it was precisely at that time that Margaret discovered that she was pregnant. She stopped teaching to prepare for the child, and never returned. By this time Severus was able to support the family through a combination of temporary consultancies with Hogwarts, income from his local potions practice, and sound investments on the stock exchange. The Snape family, while not rich, lacked for nothing important.
Severus and Margaret's first child was a boy, born in the millennial year 2000, who was named Wensley Constantine. His sister followed two years later, and was given the name Leonora Katherine. The third child, another girl, appeared nearly four years later, and was called Daisy Eileen.
NINETEEN (AND A HALF) YEARS LATER
Friday, August 31, 2018 (3 days before the last quarter)
"I have no idea," Russ Snape said to his eldest daughter, "what you did with the invitations to Mamie Calvert's bridal shower. I am not the maid of honor. I have nothing to do with such formalities." He was trying to read The Daily Prophet with little success. The afternoon of the last day of August was always hectic.
"But you can, you can make them appear! Your Accio and Deprendo spells are so much better than mine. Please, Daddy. Pretty please, Daddy, make them appear!" Charms had never been Jane's best subject – only charity had gotten her an Acceptable on her OWL. Magical Creatures had been her strongest discipline, and she was currently studying biological sciences at the University of Leeds.
"Interesting how the stately, formal 'Father' regresses into 'Daddy' whenever you want me to do something for you. Are you planning to use that technique on young Walter?"
"Don't be mean, Daddy!"
"I am not using an Accio, so pay attention." Russ allowed his wand to slip from his sleeve into his hand. "Deprendo Invitatii!" he said, and upstairs books fell to the floor.
"That's right!" Jane cried, relieved, as she ran up the stairs. "I put them in the bookcase while I was looking for that necklace."
"You'd think at twenty-three she'd have more sense," Russ grumbled, returning to his newspaper.
A slim, somewhat angular young man came into the room, his soft dark hair and black eyes leaving no doubt whose son he was. "Father, is this how the badge should be worn?"
Russ rose to check. Wensley had been surprised to receive the Head Boy's badge with his Hogwarts letter, though Professor Goldstein, Wensley's head of house, had advised Russ about it a week earlier. Wensley had been preparing all August, drawing up lists of his duties and memorizing the face and name of every student in the school, including the incoming first years since Headmistress Sprout had been kind enough to pass on pictures from the files. Russ was sometimes concerned that his son was too earnest, too organized, but that was part of what being a Ravenclaw was all about, and he let Wensley handle things his own way.
Nora, on the other hand, had inherited the creative spark. She had her mother's honey hair and gray eyes, but she also had a fiery temper, a sharp witty tongue, and excelled in Charms and Defense against the Dark Arts and, to Russ's surprise and consternation, Divination. "She certainly didn't get that from my side of the family," Russ told Peggy after Nora got an outstanding in her Divination OWL Peggy merely laughed. "You certainly can't say she got it from mine!" It had been good for Nora to be made a Slytherin prefect; it gave her responsibilities to steady her.
The sound of a car on the road brought eleven-year-old Daisy hurtling down the stairs. "It's Robbie!" she squealed. "Robbie's going to King's Cross with us tomorrow!" She shot out the door and down the garden pathway into her half-brother's arms. Robert Clearwater was twenty-two, studying civil and environmental engineering at Imperial College in London. He was working on a summer internship with the Greater London Council, and hadn't been sure that he would have the weekend free.
All the way up the path to the house, Robert listened to Daisy's chatter about books, and robes, and cauldrons. "You have to see my wand, Robbie. It's got a unicorn hair in it, and its made of rosewood – it's so beautiful! And I got a toad – his name's Mr. Toad, and his house is Toad Hall just like Wind in the Willows, and he's going to help me in Charms class because that's where I'm really going to need help."
"A toad?" Robert mouthed to Russ as they shook hands.
"Wensley has an owl, Nora has a cat… Daisy wanted to be different."
Peggy came in then to drag Daisy back upstairs to finish packing. Her motive was not so much the packing as to give Russ and Robert some time together. Of all the children, Russ was perhaps proudest of this nonmagical one for being accepted to Imperial College. He hadn't told Robert that it had been an old dream of his own until after Robert got his letter. Now Robert was about to start his fourth year of undergraduate studies – a serious and conscientious young man if you overlooked that incident last year with the young lady and the trip to Brighton.
"Are you going to help drive us down to London tomorrow?" Jane asked her brother at supper that evening.
"That's the main reason I'm here, Sis, otherwise I'd have just gone straight to King's Cross. But with six of you now, plus all the luggage, Dad and I figured you'd need two cars. You and Wensley can go with me. Nora and Daisy will ride with Mum and Dad."
They got an early start the next morning, for the drive to London and King's Cross Station would take several hours. Just before she got into the car, Peggy paused and looked back at the house. "It's going to be really quiet for the next few months," she sighed.
"Indeed," her husband replied with a raise of his eyebrows. "I'm rather looking forward to it."
King's Cross Station was as crowded as it ever was on the first of September. The muggle part of the station changed every few years, upgraded and renovated, but Platform 9 3/4 remained much as it had been back in 1971 when Russ had first arrived with his own mother to begin his life at Hogwarts. The major difference now was that the young witches and wizards blended in much more with the muggle crowds. The change in Muggle Studies at Hogwarts had helped integrate the two worlds, at least visually.
Russ and his family made their way quietly along the platform. It was many years since either he or Peggy had taught at Hogwarts, so none of the students recognized him, though many of their parents did, and he was greeted politely. Wensley and Nora, on the other hand, were well known, and stopped to chat with friends every few steps. They were looking for a carriage with empty seats.
"We can't ride with you the whole way," Wensley told his little sister. "Nora and I both have to go to the Prefects' car for our meeting. We'll come back to sit with you later, but the first couple of hours, you'll be on your own. If you're with any Ravenclaw or Slytherin students, just tell them you're our little sister, and they'll take care of you."
"And the seventh year Gryffindors might remember me," Jane added. "I was a seventh year prefect when they were in first year."
"And Hufflepuffs never bother anybody," Russ reassured his youngest daughter.
The three Snape children boarded the Hogwarts Express, where Wensley and Nora got Daisy settled into a carriage with their luggage and left little 'Reserved' notices on the seats they would occupy when they got back from their meeting. Russ, Peggy, Jane, and Robert waited on the platform. As the train started to move, they waved good-bye, and Daisy waved excitedly back. Then the Express was gone, speeding northward to Scotland.
Russ, Margaret, and the two older children decided to have lunch together at Covent Garden, where they could watch the street performers and the tourists. Robert was, of course, staying in London. Jane, too, decided to spend the afternoon shopping and announced that she would apparate home in time for supper. That left Russ and Peggy alone for the long drive home. Jane would be with them for another two weeks until the semester started at Leeds, and Winky had gone up to Hogwarts to care for the children and help around the school.
"Whatever are we going to do rattling around in that big house for the next few months until Christmas?" Peggy sighed as they got on the motorway leading north out of London.
"I think we should turn gypsy and go vagabonding all over Britain," Russ suggested. "There are loads of places I've never visited, and I'll wager the same's true for you."
"Yes," Peggy said, "but if we do, it'll be in the car. I hate apparating."
"Maybe we could get a caravan," said Russ. "That could be very comfortable. How do you feel about camping?"
Peggy laughed. "Twenty years ago, I'd have jumped at the chance. But I find as I get older, the creature comforts become more important. A caravan might be nice though."
They stopped to pick up groceries in Scarborough. Russ realized as he picked out vegetables and cuts of meat that he was looking forward to doing his own cooking again. Winky had tended to get upset if he ever went into the kitchen, and he was afraid his culinary skills had gotten rusty. By the time they got home, it was nearly seven, and Jane was already there.
Supper was quiet, all three being tired from the long day, but there was one more thing they had to wait for. The clock ticked steadily toward eight, then eight-thirty, then nine. "Do you think it's happened?" Peggy asked Russ.
"Undoubtedly. It's just a matter of Wensley getting to the owl, and the time the bird needs to fly south."
"It could be a while," Peggy sighed.
"It could, though wizard owls tend to be faster than your normal breeds."
At ten, the sound of wings flapping against the window meant their vigil was over. Russ opened the message and glanced quickly through it. He laughed. "The next time I go to Hogwarts, I'm going to have a long talk with the Sorting Hat," he said. "It's put her into Hufflepuff."
A shrewd look came into Peggy's eyes. "I see an excellent chance for empire building here," she told Russ.
"In about ten years, we could have Jane teaching Science and head of Gryffindor. Wensley could take over Potions and Ravenclaw, Nora Dark Arts and Slytherin, and Daisy Herbology and Hufflepuff. Then you could apply for the Headmaster's job again, and we'd control the entire school. How's that for power?"
"I think I'd rather get a caravan and tour Britain," said Russ. "There are some things one does not want to do more than once in the same lifetime. Isn't it bedtime yet?"
"I do believe it is, Husband," said Peggy, and wishing Jane goodnight, the two went upstairs together hand in hand.
Here ends the story.