Chapter Twenty-Four

From This Day Forward

In his haste, Severus nearly tripped through the door to Lapwing Row. Stripping off their outer layers, he and his father swiftly deposited their coats on the library chairs and greeted Tess and Isobel in the living room.

The women studied them keenly, and their curiosity piqued when Severus declared, "Tess, I need to speak to you in the kitchen."

Tobias ushered Tess from her seat and claimed the place on the sofa next to Isobel. Tess followed Severus through to the kitchen, and he closed the door behind them.

"How did it go?" Tess asked warily. "You look worried."

Severus took off his Tiger's Eye ring and placed it gently in the palm of Tess's hand.

She focused on the ring, turning it over, and raised her eyes, brimming with questions.

Withdrawing his wand from inside his shirt sleeve, he replied, "It went fine. But something happened. Something I didn't anticipate."

"What do you mean?"

"We shook hands," Severus replied.

"That's great!" Touching his arm, Tess beamed.

"No, what I mean to say is, we shook hands and then there was a flash of light... It came from the ring."

Looking down at the anti-Horcrux, Tess said, "Oh!"

"Oh, indeed."

"Could that mean...?"

"I don't know. But there's only one way to find out." A leaden weight filled his belly, and Severus trembled as he picked up a green apple from the fruit bowl and placed it on the kitchen work-surface.

Wide-eyed, Tess watched as he held his wand aloft and brandished a perfunctory jab.

"Diffindo!" Severus uttered.

The Severing Charm cleaved the apple into six equal segments which fell apart in slow motion like flower petals opening to receive the sun.

They stared at the white flesh of the fruit, neither daring to speak. Unconsciously, Severus rubbed his little finger with his thumb, exploring the exposed area of skin normally covered by the silver band. Unexpectedly, inexplicably, his soul had been fully restored, reuniting him with his magic once more.

After a moment, tears began to stream down Tess's cheeks.

Severus pulled her into his embrace, and they held each other, consumed by a crashing wave of profoundest relief. The heavy weight in Severus's stomach quickly morphed into an aching tumefaction of warmth in his chest. He could feel tears welling in his own eyes, and his bottom lip quivered as he tried to contain the emotion.

Sensing the surge, Tess held him closer, pressing her cheek into his chest. "Oh, Severus," she whispered.

His tears landed on her scalp, and his body shook. In the solace of her embrace, Severus stroked comforting fingertips through her hair, his thumb pressing close to her ear and his fingers finding the nape of her neck. Gently, he guided her chin upwards and placed a soft kiss upon her lips.

Tess reached to wipe her thumbs across his face, smudging away the tracks of his tears. Smiling again, she pressed her lips against his for a soothing kiss.

"You did it," she affirmed. "I'm so pleased for you."

He couldn't speak, and so he kissed her again, his movements strong, empowered with newfound dignity. The joy in his heart seemed to flow through him like a river of gold, infusing his body and propounding himself as both a wizard and a man, from this day forward, restored and whole again.

Just over a week later, Severus Apparated to Cornwall, several miles from where he'd abandoned his father more than twenty years previously. Greeted by an affable tabby cat, he found Bloom's End cottage hiding behind four silver birch trees in the picturesque town of Mevagissey. So much had happened since New Year's Day that he wondered if he might wake up one morning to discover it had all been a dream.

He'd spent much time mulling over why his Muggle father's handshake had been the catalyst for the restoration of his magical abilities. Tess had her own explanation for this antithetical outcome; perhaps, in order for Severus to become a full wizard again, he'd needed to accept his Muggle ancestry and embrace being a half-blood, as he had been born. She'd also murmured something about the value of forgiveness, but Severus had not yet decided upon an explanation which fitted for him, preferring instead to focus on the present and what the future might hold.

The tabby cat curled around his legs as he knocked on the front door, a welcome reminder that not all felines were as hostile as Mrs Norris. As he waited, his thoughts drifted to Tess, called back to Hogwarts for a staff meeting before the start of the new spring term.

He wished she'd been able to accompany him to Cornwall today, but also knew she would be home with him again tonight, and if they could wangle it, for an extra night per week during the school term. His lip quirked at the thought of Tess attempting to Confund McGonagall into supplication; last night, she had jokingly suggested using the charm as a last resort. He entertained himself with the thought that if Tess got sacked, he would at least have her all to himself.

Tobias Snape greeted his son and welcomed him into his home, escorting him to the cosy lounge area and turning off the television set with the remote control. Severus noticed how Muggles seemed to be catching up with their own form of magic with their time-saving contraptions and wondered how long it would be before they could match the convenience of two-way mirrors.

After sharing awkward, stilted conversation and a cup of tea with his stepmother and father, a small wrapped parcel tied with a ribbon found its way out of his father's pocket and into Severus's hands. His heart almost ground to a halt in his chest.

"Happy birthday, son."

With unsteady fingers, Severus untied the bow and peeled away the wrapping paper to reveal a rectangular metal tin. Looking up at his father and observing his smile, Severus opened the clasp and uncovered a set of three chrome darts with emerald green flights. His breath stalled in his throat, the significance rendering him speechless.

"I got the colours right, didn't I?" Tobias asked haltingly.

"Yes, you did, Dad."

"Slytherin, wasn't it? The group you were in at school?"

"Slytherin House. Yes." Severus gulped down the emotion which threatened to explode from within.

"I'd like to take you down the pub and teach you how to play," Tobias suggested. "That is, if you want to?"

Severus's voice wavered like an errant note from a Fl├╝gelhorn. "I'd like that."

The chilly staffroom at Hogwarts remained stubbornly resistant to Warming Charms, forcing the professors to huddle around Bluebell Flames conjured by Filius Flitwick as they awaited Professor McGonagall's arrival. The teachers had returned to the empty castle two days ahead of term, muttering discontent about the suspension of heating during the Christmas holidays. Even Hagrid, well-known for his tolerance of the cold, appeared uncomfortable, tucking his hands beneath his girth to keep them warm.

With a fizzing whoosh from the empty fireplace, green flames deposited the Headmistress gracefully into the cold hearth, and she stepped out, Vanishing ash with a flick of her wand.

She greeted them with her brisk, Scottish accent. "Welcome back, and thank you for coming."

Taking in the scene of shivering scholars warming their hands against magical lanterns, McGonagall sniffed the air and scowled. "I told that blithering idiot to light the staffroom fire this morning... Must I do everything myself?"

After casting her feline Patronus to send a curt reminder to the caretaker, McGonagall took a seat within the large circle of chairs and appraised her motley team, taking in the short and the tall, the austere, the quirky and the downright bizarre, and feeling proud of the diversity of her staff.

She caught Tess's eye and nodded briefly, a flicker of a smile curving the corner of her mouth.

"Happy New Year to you all," the Headmistress said, adjusting a pin in her tightly-bound bun and crossing her tartan-robed legs. "Before we begin, I have some good news to share with you all."

Even Sybill Trelawney looked up from her enchanted flames as every pair of eyes in the room focused on their leader.

McGonagall's broad smile softened her harsh features, and her eyes twinkled. "I'm pleased to announce that we'll soon be having another Professor Snape teaching Potions at Hogwarts."

Tess's insides somersaulted at the announcement.

"Severus is coming back?" Sybill asked, her magnified eyes pinched in confusion.

"No, dear," McGonagall replied, smiling sympathetically at the Divination professor.

"Then my Inner Eye has not deceived me," Sybill replied, sighing with relief.

Septima Vector rolled her eyes, and Aurora Sinistra giggled, nudging Tess with her elbow.

McGonagall, to her credit, contained her smirk, continuing, "Tess, would you like to explain?"

"Um, well, Headmistress, I'm not sure that there'll be another Professor Snape in the dungeon; I haven't yet decided if I'll take his name."

Her heart thudded noisily, and a collective gasp spiralled around the staffroom. Moments later, solid oak doors creaked open to reveal Argus Filch carrying a stack of firewood.

"Ah, Mr Filch; not a moment too soon!" McGonagall indicated towards the empty hearth with a long, bony finger.

"Sorry, Ma'am," the caretaker rasped as he quickly set to work on the fireplace with Mrs Norris hot on his heels.

"You're getting married?" Aurora asked Tess, her eyebrows raised, creasing her forehead.

"Yes, we are," Tess confirmed, presenting her sapphire engagement ring to the Astronomy professor for inspection. "Severus proposed two days ago."

Eyes watering, Aurora took hold of her hand and studied the large oval gemstone in its diamond and silver mounting. "It's beautiful, Tess. Congratulations!"

Crackles of nascent flames took hold in the hearth and began to warm the air as a round of applause circled the staffroom. The boom of Hagrid's clapping thundered through the air, matching Tess's heart, beat for beat.