Title: Scenes from a Birthday
Category: Four (31- to 40-years-old)
Characters: Filius Flitwick, Hermione Granger, Minerva McGonagall, Severus Snape, Dolores Umbridge
Beta Readers: crowgrl, bambu345, rhosymedre47, and scatteredlogic.
Word Count: 9650
Summary: Birthdays are the highlights of Severus Snape's life.
9 January 1991
"Happy birthday, Severus," Minerva McGonagall greeted her young colleague. "I hope you'll enjoy this small token of appreciation."
The colleague in question frowned at the brown-wrapped package Minerva placed on his desk.
Lips twitching, the Head of Gryffindor surveyed Severus Snape's sour expression before asking, "I gather the Headmaster has wished you his best. Socks or ear muffs?"
"Does it matter?" Severus rose from his desk and turned to the right where a door had appeared in the wall. "I'm guessing you'll want to follow the ritual of last year?" Not waiting for an answer, he led the way into his personal quarters.
"Och, me poor lad," Minerva's Scots would creep in when she was amused, "they be lavender with bright pink spots for ye to be in such a state." Minerva laughed, following Snape into his quarters.
She sat down in a wingchair before the unlit hearth, drew out a flask and unscrewed the cap. "Fetch us some glasses."
Severus Snape eyed the flask with misgiving. "What peaty swill excuse for a beverage have you got this year?"
"Not at all swill. This would be a nice smooth, cask strength Caol Ila, since ye dinna seem partial to the Port Ellen I brung last year." Minerva grinned and then cackled.
Severus snorted, but his lips twitched at the corners. He waved his wand to float two cut crystal glasses from a cabinet against a far wall. As they made their way to the table between the two chairs before the hearth, another swish of the wand raised a fire rose from the coal set in the grate. He crossed his booted feet and sat back with a sigh.
"Com'on, Laddie, tell ye Aunt Minnie all aboot it," she said while pouring a quantity of dark amber liquid in each of the glasses, a murmured Aguamenti added a splash of water.
"The socks, two pair, are at least green," Severus said.
He reached a slender-fingered hand out to grasp one of the tumblers. Bringing it to his prominent nose, the Potions master inhaled and sighed again, this time in appreciation.
Severus took and savored a sip of the spirit before continuing, "As I said, they are at least green, but are decorated with brilliant pink ashwinders."
Minerva chuckled into her glass. "Yet, my dear, I sense that is not what has you in a funk."
"You know me too well, Min," Severus replied. "Albus also explained that Potter's spawn is starting school next year." His black eyes slanted a glance at his colleague, but she was refusing the catnip. He sighed and decided to find better bait.
"He is," was all Minerva would say.
"You do not sound as excited as I thought you'd be."
"It worries me," Minerva replied. "Albus is setting so much on that boy's shoulders. Just as he does with you, dear."
Severus stared into his glass as if scrying.
"Whisky, I donna think will tell ye the answers yer seekin'." Minerva's burr was even more pronounced. "But we cahn ask Sybill down for yeh natal day, if yeh like."
"Surely you jest," Severus replied in acerbic tones.
Minerva cackled again. "Open yeh pressie, lad, and dinna fash yehself."
Severus set his glass down on the table beside his chair and turned his attention to the wrapped package that had followed them into his quarters. From the heft and shape, the Slytherin could tell the gift was a book — a tome of some substance if he knew his colleague well. Long fingers traced the deep green wax that sealed the seams of the heavy brown paper before undoing the seals one by one, starting with the ends. Finally the wrapping was smoothed away from a leather cover; brown calf-skin, Severus thought. He could feel his friend's — the word rolled around his mind before settling in place — his friend's eyes on the process of unwrapping.
When the book was finally revealed, Severus raised his eyebrows and he glanced at Minerva in surprise. He knew what he'd see upon opening the unmarked covers.
"I knew you'd like it," Minerva said, the burr had faded with her teasing. "I suspect you may need it given what Albus has been talking about with regard to that damn stone."
Neither the boards or spine had a title, but when Severus opened the front board, he recognized the handwriting.
"Does," he swallowed compulsively, "Albus know?"
"Him?" Minerva replied. "Not likely since Perenelle was the one who passed it to me from Nicolas." Minerva drank down the last of her whisky. "He and Albus haven't seen eye to eye for years now. No matter what Albus claims."
Severus bowed his head. "Thank you." His hand caressed the cover. "Tell them I will treasure it."
9 January 1992
It was Thursday night and his birthday. Severus Snape leaned against his high desk and sighed, though it sounded more like a groan. The double session of Slytherins and Gryffindors and their attempts at a simple, non-reactant, burn relief salve had been explosive. In his darkest moments, Severus imagined these double classes between these two opposing houses were Albus' constant dig that his forgiveness wasn't unconditional.
"Bad day?" Minerva asked from the doorway.
"Three cauldrons exploding, nine students in the hospital, and…"
"A partridge in a pear tree," Minerva interrupted, "no, wait, that was my class, where young Mister Finnegan managed to turn himself into a partial tree. I wonder how he managed the pears?" She withdrew a bottle from her robes and waved it at her colleague. "Shall we? I have a verra nice Pulteney here that's beggin' ta be drunk."
"What? No Old Ogdens?"
"Are ye out of yer mind, mahn?" Minerva's eyebrows rose to her hairline. "Wizards canna distill to save themselves."
Severus said nothing, but waved his wand to reveal the door to his rooms.
"I took the liberty of ordering dinner," Minerva said, her brogue fading from her voice. "I suspect you'd not want to have dinner in the Great Hall. And, you'll be pleased to know you've acquired an admirer." Minerva's lips split into a grin as her friend did a double-take and almost stumbled over his usually elegantly draped robes.
"You are in a rare mood," he replied. "I thought we were past that juvenile teasing."
"You can't pull that tone with me, Severus," Minerva replied. "I mean no harm. I just thought you'd like fair warning that there's yet another person besides meself that's seen through your armor."
Severus snorted and sank into his usual chair. "You know where the glasses are." His voice was tired.
Minerva looked at her friend, who was paler than ever. She suspected teaching was not his métier even though he'd been at it now for more than ten years. She went to the usual cabinet against the wall and picked up the glasses. Returning to the chairs, she glanced at the desk set by the window, flatly black with the dark of the lake at night.
"Severus?" Minerva had paused at the desk. "What are these bottles? And isn't that…" She'd set the glasses down and started to reach for the bottles lined up on the Potions master's desk.
"Don't touch them!" Severus shouted before leaping out of the chair.
Minerva jumped almost a foot in the air.
"Good grief, Severus!" She gasped. "Whatever are they?"
"That is the riddle Albus requested for the protection of that infernal stone," the dark-haired man said, growling. "It's taken me the better part of the week to work out their order."
Minerva peered curiously at the line of potions. "How will this stop anyone?"
"The potions are all the same color," Severus said as he rose and joined the Head of Gryffindor House by his desk. "The harsh admonition is due to the fact that one is a very lethal poison."
"How do you find the correct one?" Minerva asked.
"A logical riddle." Severus reached around his friend and picked up a parchment on which was written a poem.
Minerva took a moment to read and then stared at the potions. She read again, a finger tracing the lines of text and then pointed to one bottle and then another bottle. The hand holding the parchment dropped to her side, and Minerva's brow furrowed and then she frowned and shrugged. "A fair conundrum," she said and handed the parchment back to the Potions master. "It'll be before my chess set then?"
"According to Albus, yes."
Minerva grumbled under her breath, and Severus, in a rare gesture that stunned his colleague, placed a hand on her shoulder and squeezed for a brief moment. Their arguments with Albus about his insane plans for the Philosopher's Stone were a constant this year. Because of them, the Headmaster had started to avoid his Heads of Gryffindor and Slytherin.
"I believe you promised me a drink," Severus said and picked up the glasses to lead the way back to the two armchairs before the fire.
"That I did," Minerva replied. "And do tell, what color did the Headmaster choose this year?"
"Pink," Severus replied. "He said I needed more color."
Minerva snorted, and then said in overly cheerful voice, "I think I can match and exceed pink ... socks?"
"Try these then," Minerva replied with a chuckle. She handed over two packages: one flat and square, the other long and reasonably slender.
"Two?" Severus replied. "Minerva, you are too generous."
"Och," she said, "only one's fra me." She was pouring out the whisky Snape saw, always the signal for her brogue.
"The admirer you mentioned," he said in repressive tones. He circled his wand over both packages, and when nothing malevolent was revealed, he picked them up to examine at closer range.
"It's your trusting nature that I find the most endearing." Minerva pushed a tumbler of whisky across the table between their two chairs.
Severus grunted. His attention was focused on the slender package that was weighted at one end and proved to be wooden, if the evidence of rapping of his knuckles against its surface was correct. He was undecided as to which present to open first. "Who is it from?"
Minerva examined her friend's face and saw the brief flash of vulnerability and fear. "It is from someone who holds you in very high regard," she replied. "You have nothing to worry about, I give you my word, but the giver requested that I not reveal their identity as that might cause you to refuse their gift."
Severus frowned, but his fingers continued to slide along the surface of the package, which had been wrapped in the same plain brown paper, the edges sealed with the same green wax as the flat box he now knew was from Minerva.
"Oh, for Merlin's sake, Severus, open them," Minerva said before taking a mouthful of whisky, settling back, eyes alight with amusement.
Severus' lips twitched up at the corners; he knew his wont to savor the process tended to get the better of his friend. This year the word did not stutter in his brain. He traced the green wax at one end of the oblong box before sliding a finger under the fold of paper and breaking the first of the seals into crumbles, which he vanished with a languid wave of his hand.
Minerva smiled into her glass, seeing her young friend playful was a rare sight. "What is it?" she asked as an oblong wooden box was revealed from its paper covering.
"A very nice walnut quill box," the dark-haired wizard said and flipped up the metal fastening that kept the lid closed, "and several fine quills and three small bottles of ink. Hand brewed it looks like it." He held up a small vial of dark liquid that had been sealed with purple wax. "The indigo must have been difficult to find fresh this time of year. Please convey my thanks to the person who presented this gift."
"I shall," Minerva said. "I hope my offering gives you as much pleasure."
"I am certain it will," Severus replied, his hands working on the seals of the flat square box. He took off the lid to reveal a folded length of black fabric. "Minerva," he asked, stunned, "is this?" One hand stroked the soft fibers.
"Cashmere from Abe's goats?" she replied. "Yes, it is."
One of the persistent rumors that ran the halls of Hogwarts joined Minerva with Dumbledore, but the rumor always incorrectly tagged which Dumbledore. She was attached to a Dumbledore, but not the Headmaster, rather the Headmaster's brother, Aberforth, who was always incorrectly attached to his goats. Aberforth's goats produced the finest cashmere known to wizardom, and he was very exclusive in gifting it out.
"Minerva—" Severus had unfolded a long black scarf, "—this is exceedingly fine, especially since Miss Granger set mine aflame."
"Yes, she does have quite the facility with that blue flame of hers," Minerva agreed.
"It is my birthday, Minerva," Severus said and wrapped his new scarf around his neck. "Pour me some more whisky and pray, let us not talk about Miss Granger." He held out his glass and settled back against his chair.
9 January 1993
"I don't know what we'll do, Severus," Minerva was saying. She was ensconced in 'her' usual chair. "Another student, and it's Hermione Granger to boot."
"I cannot make the mandrakes grow any faster, Minerva," Severus replied. "And one would have thought she'd learned her lesson with the troll and adventures of last year."
"You could take up the offer from our eminent Defense Against the Dark Arts professor," Severus said, a wicked grin pulling his lips up toward the concern in his eyes.
"And have Miss Granger and the others turned to purple statues? I think not."
Severus raised his glass and inhaled the peaty scent. "And what does HE have to say?"
"He says he's heard old rumors," Minerva replied. "But, really, a basilisk? Wouldna one be seen?"
"If the hospital wing is any indication, it has been." The Potions master stared into his glass.
"It's not the frozen students that concern me, however—" Severus paused and idly traced the design on his tumbler with a long finger, "—It's the other rumors that concern me more. The Snake Pit is squirming with them, thanks to that brat, Draco, and his Mudblood chatter. The idiot has no clue."
A sound emitted from Minerva's throat that sounded very much like a feline hiss and growl.
"Indeed." Severus held out his glass for another splash of the amber liquid. "And what part of Scottish soil are we drinking this year?"
"This fine beverage would be from the northern isle, near Kirkenwall, a cousin of a cousin recommended it. Scapa is the distillery name."
Severus grunted and took another long sip.
"Do-ya think he can come back?"
"I'm doubtful he ever left. Remember Quirrell."
Minerva's face was hard and angry. "And Albus is running his own training camp."
Severus tilted his head in agreement. "As you say."
"It's not right." Minerva thrust herself from her chair and started to pace in front of the cheerfully crackling fire. "A war fought by children."
"Child, if the Headmaster's beliefs are any indication," Severus replied.
Minerva grunted and returned to her chair, taking up her glass and pouring another generous amount. "Ah! Almos' forgot meself." Her hand reached into her woolen robes and drew out two boxes which she set on the table and slid across to her friend. "Again, like last year, one from me and one from your admirer."
Severus regarded the two packages. One was rectangular, about twelve inches long by four tall. The other was square, about six by six to his eye.
"You'll not want to run any spells on the square one while it's on the table," Minerva explained with a smile. "It's shrunken."
A black eyebrow rose toward the Potions master's hairline.
"The square one is from me," Minerva said. "I've more where it came from if you need them."
"I've your word the 'admirer' is not malevolent?" Severus eyed the rectangular package with suspicion.
"I've said so," Minerva replied.
The Potions master's long-fingered hand reached for the rectangular box, and upon touch, the box changed from battered cardboard to red silk-covered wood.
Severus Snape gasped as he felt magic from the box align itself to his own native powers. A finger hurriedly undid the clasp and flipped open the lip. "Merlin," he whispered. "How? Minerva? Who is this admirer?" He showed his friend the contents of the box.
"I know," Minerva replied. "They are gorgeous."
Severus' hand gently lifted the box's contents onto the side table where they reflected the firelight in their translucent surfaces. The present comprised three small bottles, one in lavender jade, one in white jade, and one in dark green jade. Each was carved with a series of differing sigils and symbols meant to charm the particular potion that would be housed in the particular bottle. The green exemplar was particularly fine for housing the antidote to Veritaserum, keeping it from going rancid beyond the traditional two week potency period. "Again, Minerva, who?"
"I canna tell ye," Minerva replied. "The person is true though, and wishes ye the verra best."
"These bottles are very expensive." Severus picked one up and ran his fingers over the intricately carved surface; the stone warmed to the touch of his hands. "So this could not be a student."
Minerva only replied, "Will ye open the otha pressie?"
Severus carefully replaced the bottles in their silk-covered box and turned his attention to the other container. "You say it's not its real size?"
"That's true, yes," Minerva replied. "But you can take it out of the container and then enlarge it."
Severus lifted the lid and then sent a series of curious glances at the Head of Gryffindor house. "A small cabinet?"
"You want I should make it bigger?" Minerva laughed. "I know ye donna hold wit' foolish wand wavin'."
"Thank you, Minerva, but I did pass Charms," Severus replied, amused.
Enlarged, what Severus had called a small cabinet turned into a modified card catalog cabinet from the Muggle world.
"A cousin of a cousin is a librarian," Minerva explained. "She's a squib and is—" Minerva paused, trying to remember the correct words, "—automaticking, no that's not it, automating, her library, and she has several of these cabinets." Minerva rose and peered into an empty card drawer. "Filius and I added protection charms, and here's the parchment with the instructions on keying them to your personal magic. I hope it'll help with your storeroom. You did say you were looking for a cabinet."
Severus held up a hand to stem the tide of nervous speech. "It is lovely, Minerva, thank you. And please convey my thanks to Filius and the admirer."
The Head of Gryffindor beamed at the Potions master.
9 January 1994
The Sunday evening was cold, bitterly so, and even the roaring fire in the hearth could not disperse the chill Severus Snape felt creeping into his bones. The knocking at his door surprised him, as he'd been sliding back into the distrust and anger of prior years before it had been Minerva's habit to mark his birthday with her presence. Severus enjoyed his friend's, no, colleague's, no, friend's presence, except this year the werewolf was back, one of the pet Gryffindors, so...
The knocking was more insistent, and then a silver cat erupted through the keyhole.
"Will ye stop fashing yerself, man, and let us in?" The cat licked one of its front paws before disappearing into a puff of silvery smoke.
As his feelings waffled between the happiness that she remembered and annoyance that he hadn't been proven right in his poor opinion, Severus Snape rose from his chair before the fire to open the door to his chambers.
"I've brought a friend," Minerva said and rushed into the heat of the rooms with Filius Flitwick following quickly behind.
"Many happy returns, Severus." The voice of the diminutive Charms professor echoed in the dungeon corridor as his figure also rushed through the open door. "I do hope you don't mind. I bring sustenance, since you were not at dinner, and Minerva assures me that this stew will go very well with the red wine she says you've no doubt received from your friend Malfoy."
"Well, shut the door, Severus," Minerva said, "let's start this celebration."
"Severus," Filius called from by the large table in front of the window, "may we use this table? I don't want to presume, but if you allow me to charm its legs, it will be perfect."
The table in question was a side table containing stacks of journals and research notes on parchments piled to almost block the window's view of the lake.
"I believe I can just..." The Charms professor twirled his wand in a series of complicated spirals and the contents of the table's surface rose and hovered while the table walked its way to the fire and settled on much shorter legs. In the table's place, a side chair had maneuvered itself and was completing its own transformation into a duplicate table. "There," said Flitwick, with satisfaction. "A most excellent bit of charms work if I do say so myself."
"Oh, bravo, Filius," Minerva agreed and clapped. "You've mastered the furniture transfiguration and combined it with the moving charm. You must teach me."
Minerva and Filius settled themselves at the newly positioned and transformed table.
"Well, doona jus' stan there; come an' have some stew," Minerva called to Snape, who hadn't moved from his place by the door. "Filius is an excellent cook, took a class with the Head Elf at Beauxbatons."
"I thought a good Boeuf Bourginon would be equal recompense for providing refuge against the Grim," Flitwick said. He set a small pot on the table and charmed over several green bottles he saw on the top of the cabinet against the wall. The lid came off the pot, restored to size once it met the table's surface, and Severus Snape's quarters were filled with savory aromas of stew.
"Oh, not you as well," Minerva replied.
Filius nodded. "She's convinced I shall perish of fits after February."
"That exact?" Severus drawled. "There's no time to waste then, let us dine before you expire."
Filius' goblinesque face showed a put-upon expression. The professors sat down around the newly-moved table while the Charms professor dished up bowls of Boeuf Bourginon.
"You are not the only one," Severus said, around a mouth of stew. "I am due to expire next week."
"Oh, no," Minerva almost wailed. "How ever will I carry on until March without you two?"
The three magical teachers stared at each other. Severus lips twitched, Filius was quivering, but it was Minerva who broke first, and her witchy cackles set of the two men.
"Oh my," cried Minerva, wiping her eyes, "well, I shall go either to your funerals or the Quidditch match that takes place on that day."
"I see you have your priorities, Minerva," Filius replied. "I commend you."
Severus snorted in amusement; but with all the talk of Grims and death, he couldn't help but feel again a chill creep down his spine, the feeling had nothing to do with the Dementors roaming the school's grounds. He was uneasy, there hadn't been any overt talk of the Dark Lord, but lately, his presence had shadowed most of the Potions master's thoughts. Thoughts Severus forcibly shoved to the back of his mind to concentrate on the extremely palatable stew.
For a while, the private rooms of the Potions master were filled with the quiet sounds of chewing and drinking.
"Did you know that Sybill has evicted Miss Granger from her class?" Filius asked after a bit, somewhat following the lapsed conversation.
"Indeed?" Minerva said. "She didn't mention that earlier today."
"Yes," Filius said. "Sybill was in the staff lounge babbling about Miss Granger's complete lack of the inner eye." The half-goblin opened up his eyes wide and made a face at each of his companions. "One wonders how she does that without a constant headache."
"So there is something that Miss Granger cannot do?" Severus' question was mellow. The Potions master chalked it up to the stew and the excellent wine he was consuming.
"Are we counting the Polyjuice accident of last year?" Minerva asked.
"No," Severus replied, mildly. "We can give credit for two correct doses of potion."
"Generous of you, Severus," Filius replied.
"Miss Granger is not as idiotic as most of the students here," the Potions master admitted. "But she is a parrot, memorizing and trusting the textbook. She'll not get far, except in the Ministry, unless she learns to think for herself and question the books."
"I fear you may be correct." Minerva sighed. "She is very rule-bound. That new broom of Harry's for example. I do hope she's not turning into another Percy Weasley."
"Indeed," Filius replied. "And he is a tiresome individual. Today he had the temerity to correct the angle of my wand movements -- said the Ministry had issued new regulations."
"He tried that in my class last year," Severus said. He twirled his wine glass in his left hand and drank the last swallow. "I took points each time he tried. He lasted about two weeks."
"Was that those weeks last October?" Minerva asked.
"I'd always wondered."
"Well, now the comestibles have been comested, so to speak," Filius said, "allow me to wish you a very happy birthday, Severus." The Charms professor reached into his robes and drew out a small package. "I hope you will accept this small token of esteem. You won't want to touch the contents until you need them."
"Portkeys?" Severus asked. "Filius, this is very generous. Thank you." He took the box and peered into its gently glowing confines. "Buttons? How do you ...?" The dark wizard frowned trying to puzzle out how to attach the buttons without activating the Portkey charm.
"When you're ready to use them, let me know, and I'll charm them to whatever article of clothing you need." The Charms professor sat back with a smile. "You never know when you'll need a good Portkey."
Severus inclined his head.
"Now mine," Minerva said. "Or rather, mine and your admirer's token."
Severus sat back and contemplated the Head of Gryffindor. "Still refuse to tell me who it is?"
"I say only that you have an admirer who wishes you the very best, Severus."
"Then why doesn't this admirer come forward?" The Potions master asked. "It's very suspicious."
"I imagine you must be verra frustrated aboot now," Minerva said.
"What has this admirer done?" asked Filius.
"Sent birthday presents," replied Minerva. "Verra nice ones. Ye shoulda seen the flasks from last year."
"Oh! The jade ones you mentioned while we were walking down? With the personal charms?" Flitwick fairly quivered with excitement. "I understand that's very advanced magic, very advanced."
"So, not a student then," Severus said.
"There's very few that could carry off that caliber of magic," Filius commented. "Did this person send a package this year?"
"Left it in my care," Minerva replied. She reached into her robes and pulled out two packages.
"If you'd like, Severus," Filius said as he peered closely at the packages, "I can see who's sent them. There are charms for that sort of thing. Although they border on the dark side, don't you know."
"You can try," Severus replied, "But the previous two years' packages were quite anonymous."
The charms professor raised his wand and traced, in flashes of blue and purple, a series of intricate figures into the air. Minerva watched with a smile on her face. Severus wasn't sure how he felt. On one hand, he liked the idea of a secret admirer, and his anxiety that the person meant him harm had been dispelled last year with the gift of the flasks. He'd done research on the jade containers and had discovered that they could not be used for anything dark or harmful; to do so would have destroyed the jade containers on contact. Yet on the other hand, he would like to know the identity of his admirer, there hadn't been anyone, not even.... He squashed those thoughts. They led to no good at all.
"Well—" Filius settled back into his chair, "—I can see nothing amiss. The package is quite anonymous."
The two packages were of a similar size and shape. Both were square and squat, wrapped in the same brown paper as the previous years. Severus did a quick rhyme in his head before choosing the right hand package. The ritual was the same, first the right end, then the left end, breaking the familiar green wax seals one by one. When both packages had been opened, Severus couldn't believe his good fortune.
He's received cauldrons and matching stirring implements, for there were many — spoons, rods, spatula-type instruments, there was even the corkscrew-looking object that was perfect for the Draught of Living Death and some of the more powerful antidotes. The cauldrons looked to be all sorts and stacked one inside each other. A small scroll inside the smallest, platinum cauldron enlarged itself when withdrawn and explained that the cauldrons would enlarge or shrink as needed by the brewer, that they had been cast, forged, hammered, and enchanted in the Hephaestus Forge in Athens.
"Thank you," Severus murmured. "This has been an excellent birthday. My thanks."
9 January 1995
The town of Hogsmeade on this Monday, especially after the more festive Yule season due to the Triwizard Tournament festivities, seemed hung over and far too quiet. Many folk glanced nervously up at the sky where a blizzard seemed to be brewing. In one of the upper rooms at the Three Broomsticks, three of the Heads of Houses at Hogwarts had just finished their meal, an early supper since all three had double sessions of classes the next day.
"Severus, why are ye mopin'?" Minerva asked as she sat back with her glass of whisky. "It canna be the fine food we jus' ate, nor the books ye just received." The Head of Gryffindor nodded toward a stack of three volumes that comprised Culpeper's The Complete Herbal, to include the two-volume magical commentary.
The Potions master glanced at the Gryffindor witch and the Charms professor in turn, but he saw nothing other than concern and inquiry. Severus Snape drew a deep breath and made a decision. These people were friends, they professed to be so and friendship meant trust.
"I do not know how much you know of my past, Filius," Severus said.
"I know that you made some bad decisions," the Charms professor replied. "We all make bad decisions, Severus; that is what youth is for."
Severus wanted to scowl at the relief he felt course through his body. Taking a deep breath, he rolled up the sleeve covering his left arm.
"Karkaroff noticed it first," he said. "The Mark is returning."
"When did this start?" Filius asked. He started to reach for Snape's arm, but paused. "May I? I've always been very curious about the magic behind the mark."
"It should not be touched," Severus said, voice tight. "But it ties the Dark Lord to each Death Eater."
"And it cannot be broken by the individual?" Filius asked after peering closely at the Mark. "How diabolical."
"And it's been darkening since when?" Minerva asked.
"Since the events of last spring," Snape replied.
"Pettigrew?" Minerva asked. She'd badgered Albus until he'd told her the whole story. Then, she'd bothered the Potions master until he'd confirmed and filled in the details that Albus had omitted.
"Ah," exhaled Filius. "I see. So Sybill is a seer after all." The half-goblin Charms professor grinned at the twin frowns on his friends' faces.
"Severus, what do you need us to do?" Minerva asked.
"Yes, you can rely on us," Filius avowed and stood up straighter as if to salute.
Severus Snape, for one of the first times in his life, was speechless. He was aware that he'd broken one of Albus' cardinal rules, Tell No One, and he'd done so without any expectation of a particular reaction, but to have these two colleagues — witch and wizard — friends — want to spring into action to help him was not at all what he'd anticipated. "Do?" the dark wizard asked dumbly. "What can you do?"
"What are you supposed to do?" Filius returned the question. "I'd always suspected that Albus had brought you on staff for some purpose." He tapped his lips with his finger, paced, and sat down steepling his fingers. "Espionage, perhaps? Is that Albus' purpose? If yes, it's far too much for one man. Or does our sainted Headmaster think only Slytherins produce Death Eaters?"
Severus blinked at the ferocity of Filius' tones. He had no idea that Albus Dumbledore wasn't as revered a man as Severus had thought.
"Filius is right, Severus," Minerva said. She laid a gentle hand over Severus' unmarked arm. "It's far too much for one man."
"I am no spymaster," Snape replied. "I hadn't expected, anticipated, that is..."
"Say no more, Severus," Filius interrupted. "You do not need worry, Minerva and I will consult and present some options in the next weeks. Now then, to more immediate matters, what shall we do about Moody? The man is a positive menace."
9 January 1996
The knock on his quarters' door surprised and pleased Severus. He hadn't thought Minerva and Filius would be able to slip away and congregate given the latest prohibitions against fraternization. The pleasure of his friends' ingenuity died upon his opening the dark, planked door to find Dolores Umbridge simpering on his threshold.
"Oh, Severus, I do hope you don't mind the intrusion, but I couldn't let such a momentous occasion pass without marking it." The toad-like pink vision's voice oozed.
"Indeed?" asked the Potions master. "I have no idea of what you speak."
"Oh Severus Snape, you are entirely too modest," Umbridge crooned. "It's your birthday, and I just knew none of the other staff would have the courtesy to mark the occasion for the event it is."
Severus' expression was a study in neutrality. "Entirely unnecessary, I assure you."
"Again such modesty, it does you credit." The lump of a witch minced. "I am certain you will be well-rewarded in the coming times." A pudgy hand rose to caress Snape's wool-clad, black chest.
As soon as the hand made contact Severus had to forcibly steel himself against recoiling in disgust. He wanted nothing more than to snarl and slam the door in the pink reptile's face, but his duty to the school and Albus Dumbledore during the current chaos stayed his reactions.
Severus' thin lips turned up in an attempt to smile, and in his most dulcet tones he invited Dolores into his quarters. As he turned to follow the squat witch, a hint of movement and a flash of tartan caught his peripheral vision. He paused and saw Minerva and Filius at the junction of his small hallway and the main dungeon corridor. Filius had moved his body in front of the Head of Gryffindor's much taller frame, but still impeding her furious progress toward Severus' door. Like her Animagus form might be wont to do, Minerva was puffed up in outrage. Filius' face bore an inquiring expression. Severus' entire body almost buckled under the relief he felt; they hadn't forgotten him. He was sorely tempted to allow Minerva her Gryffindor outrage, but Dumbledore's words from last year echoed in his mind. Severus was ready; he had to be ready and nothing, not even friendship, could sway him from his path. He shook his head and closed the door against his friends.
Out in the hall, Minerva was hissing.
"Filius, how could you?! Leavin' him ta the mercy o' that, that..." The Head of Gryffindor spun and stalked back up the main dungeon corridor.
"I am sorry, Minerva," Filius replied. "I feel the same way, but we both know that Severus is at the mercy of other constraints. Were times other than they are, we would be perfectly within our rights to evict that horrible toad."
"Well?" Hermione Granger stepped out of the shadows. "Did he like them?"
"Unfortunately, Miss Granger, we were unable to convey our and your good wishes," Filius replied. "We were pre-empted by Dolores Umbridge."
Hermione frowned. "So he doesn't know about the house? And how you obtained it?"
"No, Miss Granger," Minerva said. "He doesn't, and we shouldn't be discussing this in the open. Both of you come with me. We need to plan."
9 January 1997
"It's coming to a head, isn't it?" Minerva asked.
"What makes you say that?" Severus was slumped in his usual chair, staring into the traditional glass of whisky.
"You're drinking that whisky without comment," Minerva replied.
"You were less than effusive in your thanks for the new set of knives," Filius said. He waved away Severus' attempts to make amends. "Not an issue, Severus. I understand. Your attentions are elsewhere. The Headmaster's antics as well as Draco Malfoy's own odd mien, I'd imagine."
Snape's beetle black eyes turned to glare at the Charms professor.
"I am immune to your death glare now, Severus." Filius grinned toothily at the grumpy Potions master. "We have been friends far too long for it to have any effect."
Severus sighed and returned the whisky scrying.
"Yeh canna talk aboot it, can'ye?" Minerva was well into her brogue. "Evena Potter is causin' 'Ermione ta fash aboot."
"I cannot talk about it because I know nothing about anything," Severus groused. He set his empty whisky glass down hard on the table next to his chair. "Neither the Headmaster nor the Malfoy brat have seen fit to confide in me. Malfoy because he thinks I'll steal his glory, and the Headmaster -- who knows what reasons drive him?" He gave a fatalistic shrug and sank morosely back into his chair.
"Yet, from what we've seen so far," Filius continued as if Snape hadn't spoken, "things will probably come to a head this year. After all, I understand from certain portraits that the Headmaster is looking for certain things."
Snape looked sharply at the Charms master and shook his head.
"What things?" Minerva demanded.
Filius stared into his glass. "The less said perhaps the better." The part-goblin put down his glass and got down from the chair he was sitting in. He went to Severus and put his hand over that of the Potions master. "But Severus, know this, you have friends and we shall not desert you."
Severus Snape swallowed against the bile rising in his throat and blinked against the tears that were clouding his vision. "Thank you."
9 January 1998
The lights were off in the tower housing the Headmaster of Hogwarts' office and rooms. Phineas Nigellus was not in his frame; he was away reassuring one Miss Hermione Granger that Headmaster Snape was still resident. Albus Dumbledore snored gently in his frame.
On the Headmaster's desk stood a document the heading of which was written in spiky script and read, Last Will and Testament of Severus Tobais Snape.
In the Headmaster's private quarters, Severus Snape sat, unsleeping, in a chair staring out into the night.
19 September 1998
"The mugwort must mix with the moonstone, which should be finely ground with a marble mortar in a brass pestle."
The recited words penetrated the fog of his brain. "Ridiculous," he whispered. "Moonstone should never be ground with marble."
"Professor! I mean, Headmaster!"
Weary black eyes scanned the room and came to rest on the overjoyed expression of one Hermione Granger.
"Miss Granger," Severus Snape whispered. "Where am I? Why am I?" His eyes dated around the cheery, sunlit room.
A door opened.
"Severus! Oh excellent, you're awake!" Minerva bent over his prone form. "Filius will want to ensure his healing charms have run their course, but other than that—" Minerva bent over and grasped his chin to turn his head back toward Hermione, who was seated in an armchair to the side of him, "—the scars appear to be fading."
Severus swallowed and felt nothing wrong with his throat except for a bit of dryness.
"How?" he whispered.
"You are not the only spy in Hogwarts, Severus," Filius said. He'd come up behind Minerva McGonagall. "I did a bit of sneaking myself and charmed those Portkey buttons to your robes. I also added a few extra charms to transport you here in case of dire need."
"Where?" Severus croaked.
"It's your new house," Minerva explained. She waited until Filius had completed his wand scan of the healing charms still running through Snape's body, before pulling up a chair. "I cornered Albus in his office a few years back and hexed a pension and a cottage out of him. I hope you can forgive my behavior the past year, but Filius said we had to seem as authentically against you as possible."
Severus frowned and then yawned. He glared at the Charms professor who stood peering over the foot of the bed. "Sleeping charm?"
"No, not from me," Filius said. "I suspect it's your own rhythms reasserting themselves. You've been in an induced coma while we drew the venom out of your magic. A right evil snake that was."
"Your awakening was for my sake," Hermione said softly. "Professor Flitwick promised you'd be better by my birthday."
"He did indeed, Miss Granger," Minerva answered. "We both decided that such an admirer of the Headmaster's should have an excellent birthday present."
Severus felt his eyelids droop. He had so many questions, like what Minerva had meant by 'admirer' but the need for a natural sleep was too great.
"Go to sleep, dear," Minerva said. "We'll be here when you wake and we'll tell you everything then."
9 January 1999
"I understand you have news, Miss Granger?" Severus Snape asked. He twirled the last of his red wine, a bottle from the case of Bordeaux that Lucius sent to mark his birthday.
He'd dined with the Malfoys the night before at their manor. They were still under house confinement, or he would have invited them to tonight's dinner. The dining room of his new cottage was certainly large enough to hold six people. Severus sat back to wait for Hermione Granger's story. The cottage and pension were his reward for a job well-done. Located in Dorset, the house had a basement lab, three rooms and a kitchen on the ground floor, and several bedrooms in the upper story. Filius had charmed the thatched roof to withstand even the most explosive of potions accidents -- not that Severus ever had any potions accidents. His home in Spinner's End had been destroyed to make way for a car park. Filius had speculated that Negini's venom, by attaching to Severus magic, had some how negated the Fidelius charm protecting Spinner's End. Severus was happy for his new abode and the company of his friends, but he mourned the loss of his books.
"I do," the curly-haired witch replied. Refined by her war experiences, Hermione Granger was no longer brash. She now took her time before answering. Much to the consternation of her two school-day friends, her entire demeanor had changed to that of a very serious young lady. "I have decided to take up Ursula Vastoya's offer and do a year of brewing and teaching at Durmstrang."
"Hermione, how excellent!" Flitwick almost fell off his chair in excitement. "She is not only an excellent potions brewer, not that we don't have one of our own, but she excels at charms and wand work." He turned to grin at the head of the table where Severus sat. "However, I thought you turned your nose up at wand work."
"Not at all, Filius," Snape replied. He paused and looked around at the occupants of the table, who numbered four now, counting himself. "I only said so for beginners. Could you imagine first years, potions, and wand work?"
Minerva and Filius both sobered and shuddered.
"Exactly," continued Snape. "The august halls of Hogwarts would not have stood as long as they did. First years are even more destructive than Death Eaters."
Minerva snorted in amusement before saying, "We'll get to the reconstruction in a moment, Severus." Minerva put her own wine glass down. "I wish to ask Hermione what has brought this sudden departure to parts abroad. I had thought that your marriage to Mister Weasley was all but done."
Hermione frowned. "Yes, so did Ron and Molly," she replied. "I'm not in the habit of being dictated to, told what to wear, and how to act, and who I can or cannot speak to. Last week, Ronald had a fit because I dared take potions to Malfoy Manor."
"How is Draco these days?" asked Minerva. "Recovering?" The assembled company was dawdling over tea, dessert — an apple tart — and the last of the wine that had accompanied the standing-rib roast main course.
"He seems to be on an even keel," Hermione said. "The worst of the depression seems to have passed, and there's been no more attempts at suicide. Madam Pomfrey is looking at withdrawing the Saint John's Serum." Hermione sighed remembering the listless young man who sat out on the terrace of the Manor and did nothing but stare off into the distance. "Mister Malfoy was hoping to bring in some tutors in a month, to get Draco back into doing something. He hoped he could owl the three of you."
"We'll see what we can do, then," Minerva replied. "And I gather Mister Weasley finally realized what you'd not been telling him?"
"In so many words," Hermione replied. "It's not like I've been hiding anything. He knows I've been helping Severus. He knows Severus is friends with the Malfoys. He's heard me discuss Draco with Harry."
"Mister Weasley is not known for his powers of deduction when his attention is diverted," Severus said, "as his has been on the fantasy world he lives in."
"Suffice it to say," Hermione continued, flashing the Potions master a resigned look of agreement, "Ron finally put two and two together and made some remark about not working when we were married, and well, I lost my temper and the Weasley regard in one fell swoop."
"That must have been a show to watch," Filius commented. "Especially if it was done at the Weasley household."
"It was," Hermione said. "Arthur, at least, has forgiven me. He sent me a letter wishing me good luck with my studies. So has Harry, who wanted me to wish you many happy returns, Severus. He couldn't be here because of a Defense exam tomorrow, and Rogers is a stickler for rules."
"Mister Potter is doing well at the Aurors' Academy, then?" Minerva asked. She leaned back as her empty plate was levitated by elven magic.
"After a bit of trouble at first, he's finally settled in," Hermione replied. She smiled at Winky, who was clearing away the dessert dishes. "Once he realized he had to study and not think by the seat of his pants. It worked for the war, but the Auror Academy has different standards."
"A lesson we all must learn on occasion," Flitwick remarked. "Well, I for one issue you hearty congratulations, Hermione — I may call you that, mayn't I? —" Hermione nodded. "Excellent. And I am Filius. Congratulations on an excellent adventure."
"Oh yes, Hermione, most excellent plans. You'll learn a great deal, I am certain," Minerva replied. "Especially since Septima Vector has taken over as Headmistress; she's cleaning house from what I understand."
"Yes, well done, Hermione," Severus replied. "Convey my return good wishes to Mister Potter and best hopes that he can learn to study."
Hermione laughed. "I'll do that."
"Now," Minerva clapped her hands, "for presents."
"We shall need to remember a thank you to Mister Malfoy, Severus," Filius said. "This is a truly excellent wine." He drained the last drops and his glass was whisked away.
"I'll convey your thanks since I will be taking over the potions delivery services, now that Hermione is leaving us," replied Severus. He hadn't really gifted the young Gryffindor witch with the use of his first name, she had just taken it as a given. He found he didn't mind so much.
"Now then, Severus," Minerva said. "This is from me." She reached into the pocket of her robes and pulled out several small boxes. "I do hope you'll forgive the invasion of your privacy, but we had to move quickly to save them."
Severus picked up one of the small boxes and saw that it was a packing crate that when enlarged would probably crush his dining table under its weight. He looked over at Minerva, blinking back tears. "You saved them? My books? I thought they were lost in the demolition."
"We did," Minerva replied. "We, Filius and I, arrived just before the wrecking thing was due to start. A well-placed Confundus charm later, and we'd rescued the lot. I know we should have said something sooner, but it's only been recently that you've been truly up and about."
Severus Snape, thanks to the planning of his friends, had survived the attack by Nagini, but he had not escaped the months of survivor's guilt. He'd been bullied out of it just a few weeks before his birthday by the suicide attempt of Draco Malfoy. Lucius had sent a frantic house-elf who wouldn't take no for an answer and waited, jumping from foot to foot, while Minerva had chivvied and cajoled Severus, before calling on Hermione brew the requested potions. The Potions master, unable to stand the thought of someone brewing in his brand-new basement lab, had skulked down the stars and started to critique Hermione's techniques until the Gryffindor witch had thrown a silver knife at her former professor and challenged him to do it better. Severus had taken over the potions-making, grumbling all the way about impertinent Gryffindors. Hermione and Minerva had been required to absent themselves from the basement lest they disgrace themselves through an over abundance of giggling.
"Thank you, Minerva, I am truly grateful," Severus said and stacked the miniature crates into a pyramid.
"It's entirely my pleasure, Severus," Minerva replied. "And," she reached back into her pocket, "tonight's bottle is from anCnoc. I thought something woody with honeyish overtones would be fitting for your return to life."
"Which brings me to my present," Filius said. "Winky has asked to leave Hogwarts and serve in this house. She was, I think you'll agree, an excellent assistant during your convalescence, and I have cleared it with the new Headmistress, who has agreed." Minerva grinned at Fillius' giggle.
Winky had been standing in the arch between the lounge and the dining room. "Please, Master Snape, Winky wants to serve. She has been happy serving."
Severus glanced at Hermione, who was staring at her plate.
"Very well, you may stay," the Potions master said.
Winky squealed with joy and jumped up and down. "Thank you!" A wave of an elven finger finished clearing the table and replaced the dirty dishes with four cut crystal tumblers.
"Thank you, Winky," Minerva replied. The new Hogwarts Headmistress opened the bottle of amber liquid and poured a generous splash into each tumbler.
"Pitcher of water, ma'am." Winky placed a pitcher of water on the table before disappearing.
"I am afraid your admirer did not contact me this year, Severus. I'm sorry," Minerva said and glanced at Hermione as she passed out the glasses for the traditional birthday whisky.
"I hope you'll accept my token," Hermione said, smiling, and pushed a small box toward the dark-haired Slytherin.
Severus looked at the gift. "May I enlarge it and not do damage to the table?"
Severus drew his wand from up his sleeve and recited the charm to enlarge the box, which grew to about three feet by two feet and had a handle.
"It's an old doctor's case," Hermione said. "I thought it would be useful for your trips to Malfoy Manor. I scourgified the bottles and jars and fixed the clasp."
"This is quite splendid," Severus remarked as he peered into the case. "Ah, even a green glass bottle, excellent. I can use it for the calming solution that requires Siberian Ginseng."
"I know," Hermione agreed. "It's so sensitive to direct light."
"Very kind of you, Hermione. Thank you."
"Now then," Minerva said. "Raise your glasses please to wish our dear friend happy birthday."
Three glasses of whisky rose above the table, "Happy birthday, Severus."
Severus Snape bowed his head for a moment and then raised his head to smile a genuine smile of appreciation. "Thank you."
9 January 2000
Hermione Granger stood outside Severus' cottage in Throop. The white-washed walls glowed in the moonlight. The aroma of wood smoke perfumed the cold air, and just under the thatched eaves, Hermione could see a light flickering gently in a window. It wasn't late, but the winter sun set early, and it had been dark for more than an hour. A wind blew open the edges of Hermione's cloak and she shivered even though the cold air didn't penetrate her warming charm.
The cottage's front door opened, and Hermione froze, ducking behind a large tree at the base of the walk. She was sure of her welcome, as she and the cottage's owner had been exchanging letters for the past year that she'd been studying at Durmstrang, but she was still nervous none the less. The wards opened and Draco Malfoy exited the bespelled perimeter not spotting her figure in the bright moonlight.
"Who's there? Show yourself!" The blond wizard had drawn his wand at the sound of Hermione's foot breaking a fallen twig.
"Hello, Draco," Hermione said and stepped cautiously out from behind a tree. "How are you?"
"Granger!" The blond glanced back at the cottage. The door was closed. "You're late, and godfather's acting a complete skrewt. You'd better get in there."
Hermione grinned. "I expect you're right."
"He's given me, the lowly apprentice, an extra week off," Draco said. "So you two can do..." Draco paused. "I'm glad you're back. He needs someone other than Potter's dead mum. Plus, he kept babbling about old quills and hand-brewed ink he used to write with. He said he needs a new set or something."
Hermione wanted to jump for joy, but thought such an unrestrained reaction might cause Draco to worry for her sanity, so instead, the Gryffindor witch just beamed a smile at the blond wizard.
"See you, Granger," Draco said. "I need to get back. Mum and Dad worry if I don't get home within a certain time." Elegant, grey-clad shoulders shrugged. "You know."
"I'm glad you're doing well," Hermione said. "I really am."
"You too, Granger." Draco Malfoy disappeared with a quiet pop.
The wards barely brushed her skin as they parted for Hermione to mount the stairs to the cottage door. Raising a hand, she lifted the knocker and let it fall, once, twice, three times.
The door opened almost immediately. Hermione looked up into her former Professor's face; the face of the man she had admired since her first year at Hogwarts; when she had expressed that admiration in the form of writing implements and had been thrilled to see her essays marked in the ink she had brewed. He hadn't changed, much, but peacetime had erased many of the lines on his face. His skin was still sallow, but no longer as yellow or stretched so thin. The nose, his dear nose, was still over-large, but through the past year of letters and absence, Hermione Granger had come to cherish everything about Severus Snape.
"Hello, Severus," Hermione said. She raised her hand to his wool-clad chest.
Severus took in the form of his former student, one who, in his mind hadn't been a student for almost a year. His black eyes processed bushy hair that was tamed in a long braid, nose and cheeks that were pink with the cold or, he hoped, with strong emotion, if her letters were any indication.
"So, are you back then?" Severus asked.
"I am," Hermione said. "And I've brought your present."
"It is true that I haven't received one from my secret admirer," Severus said.
"Ah, well, then I need to rectify that right away, then, don't I?" Hermione reached under her cloak and brought out a wooden box, the twin of a box that had been a birthday gift almost eight years before. "I understand you need new quills, if Draco's words are correct."
Severus' thin lips turned up into a gentle smile that took Hermione's breath away.
"Allow me to convey my thanks," he purred and reached out to draw Hermione into the warmth of the cottage.
The door shut as a black-haired head bent to meet the shorter curly-haired head turned up toward it.