Pairing: SS/HP...after I swore I would never do one of these. (Mother was right: never swear.)
Notes: If you don't know what a crup is, look up pages 8,9 of "Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them" by Newt Scamander.
My sense of local geography comes from a map. I apologize if I've increased or diminished the importance of certain locales. Consider the settings to be a sort of AU situation if this bothers you too much. But the names are all true, including Inchgrundle.
This story is written in Canadian English with a bow to the British form of the language.
Dedication: Lil Miss Elf, who so generously set me up with my own web site. Thank you.
It was over.
And with it had come a kind of apocalypse.
The Dark Lord had been vanquished but had taken the world of Magic with him.
Voldemort had discovered a way of draining the Magic from his opponents, adding it to his powers, and growing stronger with each absorption.
Confident of winning, surrounded by followers to whom he'd promised shared glory, he approached that enclave of magical powers known as Hogwarts.
There, Albus Dumbledore had gathered to him the best and strongest of his kind, those determined to fight against the Dark.
But Voldemort, with his new powers, with his new knowledge, met them face-to-face That Day and, with delight, pulled their Magic from them, leaving them weak and unprotected.
His minions laughed as they littered the fields with bodies.
And then, having gorged himself on the Magic of so many, Voldemort took on the Stones of Hogwarts themselves. With their thousands of years of accumulated magic, with their links to the very foundation of the Isle itself. With this power, he would be unequalled in the History of Wizardry. The most powerful being on the planet.
And there he erred.
Overwhelmed by Magic so ancient that only those who had set it up had known how to control it, his powers overloaded and began pulling in all the Magic about him, including that of his followers.
The Stones of Hogwarts, weakened as they had been, could not continue standing in face of the implosion that followed. The buildings collapsed upon themselves, burying all within them. Libraries, laboratories, classrooms, dormitories.
Those who had remained behind to protect and those they had protected.
Any who survived his violent end did so without Magic.
And they did so isolated as the rest of the wizarding world had been affected by the Dark Lord's accumulation of power and, out of a fear of contamination, was taking no chances. Isle Once-Wizards and Once-Witches were banned, on pain of death, from leaving their island. No one from the wizarding world was permitted to visit them.
And so a new era began.
The small hut was set in well against the heavily wooded hillside in the Northwest Highlands. It contained one large room that served for every possible function. The corner kitchen was comprised of a short counter with an aged steel sink, three cupboards above it, and a small black wood stove which also provided the room's only heat. The "formal" dining area was the small table with two chairs that stood in another corner, near one of the two windows. The living room with its battered looking armchair and mismatched ottoman filled the space near a small bookcase with an oil lamp on the nearer corner for evening reading. Lastly, the master's bedchamber was a bed against the far wall with a threadbare Persian rug under it.
The facilities, such as they were, were to be found in a lean-to off the end of the covered porch that decorated the front of the hut: a primitive toilet that emptied into a sceptic system of dubious age, a tin shower stall, a sink that was barely large enough to allow the inhabitant to wash his admittedly large hands. The water which serviced all this and the sink in the kitchen was cold, coming from an underground stream-fed well; `hot water' was provided by the large kettle that forever lightly steamed at the back of the stove.
A far different set-up than Severus Snape had once enjoyed even in the dungeons of Hogwarts.
And ever a pragmatic man, the fact that he had somehow managed to survive the bloody fields of Hogwarts - when so many others hadn't - allowed Snape to accept his new situation.
Not happily. But then, who was happy these days?
Any witch or wizard who had lived now did so without Magic, without skills and abilities once taken for granted.
He was luckier than some. This hut and its two acres with right of passage belonged to him, registered not only in the Ministry of Magic's Department of Lands and Manors, but also in the Land Register of Scotland so that no one could challenge his right to live here. One of his ancestors had done a good turn for the then Chief of the Cameron Clan of Lochiel after the Battle of Culloden, and this small parcel of land had been signed over - in perpetuity - to whomever headed the Snapes.
So, the last of his name, Severus Snape had a place to live, a roof over his head, time to adjust to the realization that he never again would make one of his beloved potions.
Oh, he could still produce Muggle-style potions and did. Once a month, he went to the local market in Achnacarry and set up a small stall where he sold his lotions and salves, his ointments, his natural remedies. The money he made allowed him to buy supplies, provisions and to pay his taxes. He barely made enough to keep himself fed, housed and clothed - thank Merlin for Oxfam shops - but he really couldn't bring himself to care all that much.
Now and then, a demagicked compatriot would show up at his stall and he would hear news of other survivors, some of whom found they couldn't. Arthur Weasley, intrigued as he had been by Muggle artifacts and therefore better able to survive in a Muggle world, had been the latest to commit suicide last winter.
Though Snape thought that had less to do with his loss of Magic and more to do with the fact that six of his seven children had died That Day.
Lucius Malfoy, another survivor, being true to the Malfoy legacy, had hedged his bets and had secretly invested heavily in the Muggle world. Narcissa and Draco had been quietly and quickly buried in the family crypt, then replaced with a new Muggle wife.
Remus Lupin, no longer affected by the full moon, had not been present on the field That Day: he'd been off on an assignment for Dumbledore. He now served as "Information Central".
He'd set himself up in the small shop that had once abutted The Leaky Cauldron and sold something called "used music record albums", a concept that Snape still couldn't grasp. Nevertheless, anyone who had once known where to find The Leaky Cauldron might drop in and offer information gathered on one's travels through this new world, discover what had happened to family or friends, find a sympathetic ear and, far too often, a shoulder to cry upon.
Beyond that, Snape knew that Poppy Pomfrey had died in the collapse of Hogwarts and that, apart from himself, no other Hogwarts instructor had survived.
That there was no Magic left in the land.
Or so he thought until three years, four months and two days after That Day, he found a starving crup near the pathway to his hut.
Snape was returning from a late autumn herb and plant gathering foray when he heard the small whimper of an animal in pain. He stilled, listening to get an idea of the direction and, when he didn't hear it a second time, assumed that it was either his imagination or that the creature had died or slunk away.
He continued down the path to his hut and unlocked the door, awkwardly juggling the harvest in his arms and the key that he now used instead of a locking spell. Still, it amused him to whisper "Alohomora" as he manually unlocked his door. He carefully allowed the ingredients to roll out of his arms onto the table, removed his battered knapsack and went back to close the door.
But, hand on the edge of the door, he paused and looked back along the path. He could swear he saw some of the high grasses that lined the pathway move. Unusual on a day without so much as a breeze.
He picked up the club of wood he kept by the doorway - rats and weasels still liked to think of the hut as theirs and he often had to convince them otherwise - and went out quietly, soft-footedly, to see why the grasses had moved.
It was an uncropped crup, still bearing the forked tail that, according to the once Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures, was supposed to be removed "with a painless Severing Charm when the animal was between six and eight weeks old so that it would more closely resemble a Muggle Jack Russell terrier."
It was fully grown, though skin and bones. Injured in some way. And not happy to have attracted his attention.
It snarled at him, using up what little energy it had left, teeth bared and lip curled as it trembled in the grasses.
Snape was stunned. A crup? What the bloody hell was a crup doing here? He'd thought that, after That Day, all magical creatures on the Isle had also disappeared: none had since been seen.
"It's all right. I won't touch you. I won't try. Promise."
Snape was as stunned by his response to the creature as he was to its presence. He doubted that these woods had heard that much speech from him since he'd first arrived. And he tried hard to ignore...well, yes, the thrill of happiness that warmed him at the sight of this, a creature that by all rights should no longer exist.
With forced calm, he hurried back to his hut, tossed the club to one side and, hands shaking, filled a small bowl with broken bread and milk. Barely daring to believe, he returned and found the spot where he'd left the crup...empty.
Snape stood still, trying to work through the flare of pain that coursed through him, worse than the Cruciatus, for there had been no hope with the Unforgivable Curse and now, for a moment, he had felt some.
Head bowed, hands tightly clutching the bowl, he fought the urge to weep. So much gone.
A barely audible whimper made him look again. The crup had managed to drag itself further into the protective shadows, into the deeper grasses. It hadn't left, after all. Hadn't been an illusion.
Slowly, terrified of scaring the animal away and probably causing its death, Snape knelt and gingerly set his offering near the nose of the animal. He sat back on his heels and waited for the scent of food to make its way to the crup.
It could barely stand up - it staggered to a side and lost control of its hind legs - but Snape forced himself to allow the animal to find its own way to the food it so desperately needed. It managed to gulp down about half of the contents before it gagged and vomited up what it had swallowed. Snape made an aborted gesture of help and stayed as still as he could.
With resignation, the crup ate the regurgitated food more slowly and it stayed in his stomach. Lying down, nose next to the bowl, the crup sighed and slept, watched by a man who counted every rise and fall of the small ribs.
When the crup awoke nearly three hours later, Snape was still there. He'd long ago lost all feeling in his legs, his body was cold in the evening air, but he couldn't bring himself to leave this link to the Past.
The crup and the man examined each other.
"There's still some food left in the bowl," Snape's voice was a rough whisper. "You might like to try it now. But slowly."
It was as though the crup understood him. It staggered to its feet and nosed the crusted, sodden mixture in the bowl, taking small mouthfuls until the bowl was empty. It licked the bowl clean several times, seeking to get every drop of nourishment and then sat back rockily on its haunches.
Snape had long ago learnt to take his pleasures as he could find them, usually small events of short duration. Life was as it was. It took him several tries to find his feet and his balance. The crup watched him warily.
"There's more food in the hut, if you'd like. And a fire and I can make you a bed. Or you can also stay here and I can bring you food in the morning. But the nights are cold this time of year. The decision is, of course, yours."
His gait inelegant, Snape slowly went up the path to what was now his home. He paused at the bottom of the steps but heard nothing behind him.
He didn't look back.
"Coward," he chastised himself as he opened the door; "Dreamer," when he left the door ajar.
Resisting the urge to go out and see if the animal was still near-by, Snape took off his heavy jacket and hung it on a hook by the door. He added kindling and wood to the embers in the firebox, lit the oil lamp, then set about his normal activities. He sorted his harvest and tied those that would dry from the rack that he let down by a rope from the ceiling. He spread others out on smaller drying trays of his design so that they would dehydrate in the morrow's sunshine.
And all the time he listened for the sound of crup nails and paws on the steps.
He had no appetite and decided to go to bed. Sleep, he'd found, was one way of making it through the bad days, when even nightmares were preferable for in them he saw people who had once been alive and part of his life.
He was about to shut the door against the light of the quarter moon when he caught sight of a small shadow at the foot of the steps. His heart stopped.
He stepped out and, yes, it was the crup who was staring up at him. The food had given it the strength to make its way to the stairs, but not to climb them.
Snape crouched at the doorway, looking down into the shadowed face of the crup. "If you will allow the liberty, I can help you up. I promise not to hold you longer than it takes to set you down by the stove."
The crup thought it over and gave what appeared to be a nod of approval.
Snape nodded back. "I shall stand now and go up to the top step. Now, I shall come down the first step. Now the second. Now I am by you. I am going to stoop now. See my hands. I shall be very careful with you, I promise. One hand under your back legs, one under your chest. I shall make this quick, I promise. Try not to bite me."
Once inside, Snape closed the door behind him with his foot and then hurried to set the animal down in front of the stove. It seemed to be as relieved as he was to have gotten this far.
Snape locked the door and then went to the shelf on which he kept his clothing where he found an old sweater. He looked around the room, with a growing sense of panic: the crup needed a bed. He had promised it a bed. Then he remembered the top of a box that he had brought back from the market the last time he'd been there. He placed the sweater in it and fluffed it up, hoping that it would be comfortable, and set the lid down near the side of the stove, close to the wall. He hurried to fill another small bowl with more bread and milk which he placed close to the new bed. With practiced skill, he banked the fire for the night.
The crup merely watched him, moving its head only enough to keep an eye on him and his activities.
Snape blew out the oil lamp and, in the darkness, sat on the edge of his bed, eyes strained onto the small shadow which didn't move.
With a sigh, Snape allowed himself to lie back, head on his pillow, arm over his eyes, hiding the fact that he kept watch.
The shadow still hadn't moved when he fell asleep.
The crup was there in the morning, sleeping soundly on its bed, nose tucked under a paw. The bowl was empty.
Snape held it close to his chest. Careful to make no noise, he refilled it, adding a few slivers of cheese to the mixture. He turned to set it down to find that he was under scrutiny.
By the daylight that streamed in through the uncurtained windows, he got his first clear look at his visitor.
The animal was dirty, sadly in need of a bath. Snape didn't assume that it would allow him to bathe it anytime soon. It had tufts of hair missing here and there on its body: definite signs that it had come out second best in some encounter. Crups were notoriously ferocious when pressed, but this one had been under-eating for some time. It had a old zigzaggy scar on its head, over an eye, a recently inflicted gash along its upper back, another on a haunch, and both were showing signs of infection. When Snape offered the bowl up for its inspection and then set it down, backing away, the animal limped out of its bed for its breakfast.
Snape sat on the floor and watched it eat. Now and then, eyes would peer up at him, checking on his location. They were green, the eyes. Snape tried to remember if that was the normal colour of crup eyes. He had no idea as he had only seen crups before in pictures: they didn't make very good familiars. He did remember that they came in whites, browns and blacks, with no regular pattern. This one seemed to have a fair amount of white under the grime.
Its breakfast over, the crup tried to make itself comfortable on its haunches.
"Your wounds need cleaning," said Snape, in as unthreatening a manner as possible. "I have an ointment that would help. It has no Magic in it, I'm afraid, so it will take several applications for it to do its work properly. But it shouldn't sting."
Snape kept his gestures simple and unstartling. The crup sat still while he spread the ointment on its wounds and then, when it couldn't tolerate being touched any longer, it gave a small snarl and went slowly back to its bed.
Snape placed a bowl filled with water within easy reach of the bed and, pretending a nonchalance he was far from feeling, he went through his daily routines.
In the late afternoon, his heart was severely tested: the crup rose from its bed and went haltingly to the door. There it sat, waiting.
Snape understood that it needed out. He reassured himself that the animal was certain to want to return to the safety and warmth of the hut, that it only needed to take care of bodily functions and that...
He opened the door and waited as the crup made its way out, down the stairs and slowly to the side of the porch where, with a raised leg, it sent a small stream of urine against the post that held the side of the flooring off the ground. Then it went a few steps further into the grass and squatted, shat, and turned to study the small spoor before awkwardly scratching some grass and dirt up on it.
"So you're a male, are you?" Snape gave a small self-mocking scoff: he'd been too caught up in his concern and care of the creature to notice.
The crup sat looking up at Snape.
Snape only stared back. He could go down and grab the crup; he was stronger and faster, the crup injured and still weak. It would be for the animal's own good, he told himself. The animal would get better under his care. Wouldn't he?
The crup cocked his head and came to a decision. He slowly limped back to the steps, pausing to sniff at the stain of his urine, and then up to pass the man holding the door open for him. With a sigh, he settled again on his bed and went back to sleep, exhausted by his efforts.
Snape closed the door, his face less tight than it had been in years, his mouth spread in an unaccustomed grin.
It was a week before the crup trusted Snape enough to allow him to bathe him.
A week of having his gut ache every time the crup wanted out and having his heart beat faster whenever it returned. He shared the contents of his pantry with the animal, not knowing what a crup ate at the best of times, knowing that should it need a special diet, he was not about to discover what it was. He couldn't very well go down to the local library and take out a book on the care and feeding of crups. Nor could he ask the local vet to verify that cures for humans were not going to affect the crup negatively.
The best he could do was write a note to Lupin and ask if he had any information.
He never actually posted the note: selfishly, he couldn't bring himself to share his knowledge that a crup had managed to survive.
Though Snape did discuss his taking a bath with the crup before actually giving him one.
Severus Snape, not the most talkative of men even back in the Days of Magic, found he truly believed that the crup understood him when he explained things to him. And so he did. He explained his potions, their meals, what he did during the day. He asked the crup for his preferences when he read to him aloud in the evening. Not that there was much choice; old newspapers Snape picked up on his monthly trips to the market, a few old paperbacks he'd picked up at the library sale bin. It truly didn't seem to matter much to the crup but Snape thought the sound of his voice did seem to soothe the animal.
For like any survivor, the crup had nightmares. Though he rarely made a sound when awake, he would whimper and cry in his sleep. Snape would talk loudly to him until he woke, or, if necessary, make some sharp noise, like clapping his hands. The crup would wake, look fearfully around the room, and calm only when he spied Snape watching him.
The day of the bath, Snape had wakened and known that the aroma of dirty crup was something that he needed to deal with.
"I think that by now you know I would not do anything to hurt you," he explained over breakfast, "but you really do need to smell better. And I do believe that it would make you feel better as well. The gashes are healing very nicely and so a bath would not affect them."
Snape filled the sink with water and added hot from the kettle until it felt right. He had a bar of disinfectant soap and an empty margarine container for rinsing. He set out several of the towels he used when making his potions on the counter and then rolled up his sleeves.
"Well? Are you game?"
The crup didn't seem particularly enthusiastic, but neither did he object when Snape carefully scooped him up - all the while explaining his every move as had become his wont - and set him slowly down in the water. The soap was less of a success but Snape was careful to use just enough for a slight lather, avoiding eyes and muzzle, and paid careful attention to the skin with missing hair and the newly scabbed gashes.
As the crup sat morosely through the rinsing procedure, Snape suddenly stopped his monologue. "You need a name, you know."
The crup seemed interested enough to look up over his shoulder.
Snape paused, his hands still. "Something that becomes you."
The crup made a small disparaging noise.
"Yes, I know. You're not much to look at now. But with a few more meals, your ribs won't be so noticeable. The scabs will fall off. The hair is growing back. And you won't look so bedraggled. See, minus the dirt and grime that you'd accumulated, you're already looking much finer."
Snape finished rinsing off the crup and moved him onto the towels. It took several to absorb the water. Finally Snape grabbed his own towel and used it to wrap the crup up before settling with him on the floor in front of the open firebox. With care, Snape finished drying off the animal, all the while trying out a series of names for the animal's approval.
"Prince? King? Rex? Fido?"
It seemed that the usual canine names that Snape had heard in the market elicited no favourable response.
He sat, the crup on his lap, his hands on the crup's haunches. "Something more traditional? Merlin? Pendragon? Hengist?"
The crup looked up at him unblinkingly.
"No? I can't blame you. Reminds me too much of what we've lost."
They sat, both of them staring into the fire for a few minutes.
"I had a pet frog when I was a boy."
The crup seemed startled.
"What? You don't think I was ever a boy?" Snape's eyebrow rose high. "Or that I had a pet frog? My mother certainly wasn't pleased about the frog. I had to hide it from her. In an aquarium that I..."
It hurt to breathe for a moment, but after a shaky inhale, Snape continued. "That I spelled so that she would see a rock, not the frog. I wasn't supposed to be able to do such things back then, I was considered to be too young. But my grandfather had taught me a few simple spells and..."
Snape closed his eyes against times past. After a minute, the crup nudged Snape's chin with his nose: the first time he had voluntarily touched Snape.
"I..." Snape opened his eyes, cleared his throat, and continued gently patting the crup dry. "I called him Toby. He was a good frog. I let him loose in the pond in the far fields at the end of the summer so that he could hibernate through the winter in the proper place. It was difficult to do: I was an only child and there weren't many children in the area. I usually played by myself and..."
He was surprised when the crup leaned slightly against his chest. With a sense of the occasion, Snape whispered, "Would it be all right if I called you that as well?"
So the crup became Toby and answered immediately to his name.
That month's trip to the market was fraught with worry for Snape. He couldn't take Toby with him - Achnacarry was a two hours' walk away and the crup was not yet in top form - and he was afraid to leave him alone in the hut.
Watching Snape nervously pace back and forth, Toby put an end to the situation by jumping onto Snape's bed and going to the blanket folded at the foot. He sniffed it several times, turned himself around on his selected spot three times and then settled, his head on his paws, and went to sleep.
Snape took the time to stop in at the local library and sign out several books on the care of Jack Russell terriers. He scanned the nutrition section and then made his way to the local grocer where he prudently purchased one each of the several brands of dog food he found on the shelves. It meant that his own provisions would be reduced, but he didn't care. If bad came to worse, he could go poaching. It wouldn't be the first time.
Toby was pleased to see him arrive, more for the fact that he could go out and deal with a full bladder. Still, it was a new experience for Snape, to be welcomed with a soft - Dare he think? - happy "woof". And afterwards, Toby seemed to be truly interested in contents of the knapsack that Snape was emptying. He wasn't certain about the dog food at first. He sniffed the bowl from several different angles before he took a small taste of the contents. Forked tail wagging his approval, he scarfed down the meal.
Snape took note of the label. "I shall assume that you would not be adverse to my purchasing that particular brand at a future date."
Toby stopped licking the bowl and sent him a look that could only be interpreted as "No fooling!"
And that night, once Snape had turned out the lamp and had settled himself in bed, he got another surprise. Toby left his bed and came over to Snape's. He sat there, waiting until he had Snape's attention and then, as though this were something he did every night, he jumped onto the bed, went to find his spot at the foot and curled up to sleep.
"Goodnight, Toby," whispered Snape.
Toby answered with one of his almost silent woofs.
The winter was hard. It was often cold and windy and the fire barely kept the hut warm. Snape wore his heavy jacket inside whenever he stepped away from the stove while Toby watched or slept in the armchair now pulled up as close to the heat as safely possible. At night, the chair was pushed back, the bed pulled forward and both man and beast slept under anything that could be used as covers, with the jacket and Snape's old robe at the top for extra warmth. Snape would curl up on his side, back against a pillow for protection from possible drafts, and Toby would nestle close to him, Snape's arm draped over him.
The weather meant that the pipes in the lean-to had to be turned off or the cold would split them. For two weeks both man and crup used a spot beneath some trees, delaying rushing out to use it until absolutely necessary and then hurrying back to the relative warmth of the hut. Snape's bathing was of the sponge variety, quickly taken in front of the open firebox.
Then the winds dropped and the temperature rose only in time for a deep fall of snow. The lean-to was once more usable for Snape but Toby needed a path cleared for him so that he could find his favourite spot at the side of the porch.
Snape never allowed Toby out unless he accompanied him. The snow was deep and he was afraid something might happen. He knew the crup was healing, was growing in strength and energy, but he was far too paranoid about losing his companion. Not that Toby seemed to be bothered by Snape's concern. He did whatever needed doing quickly and then hurried back in.
When the snow finally stopped, Snape cleared the porch and steps, then part of the pathway under Toby's supervision. They sat side by side in the sunlight on the top step looking at the scene in front of them: pines with their branches covered in snow, the sun reflecting off the crust that covered the open spaces, the few brave birds flying overhead and onto the branches of the leafless trees.
All in all, thought Snape, not a bad world. He said so to Toby who seemed to think that over. "Woof."
The storm and the weather meant that Snape had missed two market days. Once the snow was properly crusted over, he went poaching. Only a couple of acres came with the hut and the best hunting was not on it. Toby allowed him to go out to set the traps on his own, but when Snape went to check them, Toby insisted on coming along. He was light enough to be able to walk on the crust of the snow, only occasionally slipping and sliding. Snape pretended not to notice since Toby had already made it clear that he didn't appreciate being helped, though Snape did keep an eye on the crup, just in case.
The traps had been sprung and they went home with several rabbits, a dish that Toby enjoyed as much as Snape did.
Snape would have enjoyed the meat more often but there was a limit to which he cared to be dependent on Cameron lands. As long as he didn't come too often to the attention of James's Gordie, the laird's gamekeeper, Snape and his occasional poaching was tolerated.
Next market day, Snape badly needed to sell his wares and restock most of their provisions. Still, the weather was not such that he felt confident he could leave Toby alone at the hut. Spring was definitely in the air, but so were some rather dark clouds.
"There's always the possibility of a storm, Toby, and my getting caught in the village. I would feel less nervous if you came with me. Do you understand, Toby?"
Toby once more seemed to. By now, Snape was certain - at least in his own mind - that Toby was far more intelligent than the average crup. He stood patiently while Snape wrapped up his tail in what looked like a bandage so that no one would notice it was forked.
Walking side by side, they went down the path to the road that led into Achnacarry. Snape was pleased that Toby had enough energy to stay by his side all the way to the market. Once there, his stall set up for the day, Toby napped at his feet on some straw that Snape had begged from a neighbour who was selling chickens. He woke for the occasional snack that Snape had brought along for their meals, more than content to drink the water that the local well provided.
"What happened to his tail?" It was something that worried several of the people who saw what they thought was a small dog watching them from the safety of Snape's feet.
"Caught in a trap."
Sympathy brought Snape a few more sales than he had expected.
Toby waited patiently as Snape packed whatever hadn't sold back into his knapsack. He followed him to the library where he silently sat just inside the door, out of the cooling afternoon. Later, at the grocer, the crup waited outside while Snape, in a slight frenzy caused by the fear that someone would grab Toby, hurriedly purchased what supplies they needed.
It was with relief that they shut the door of the hut behind them. Toby chased his newly freed tail while Snape put together a stew which he shared with the crup. After the meal, Snape sat in the armchair, Toby on his lap, and read aloud the news of a month past.
To make up for the harsh winter, spring was milder than normal. Snape, Toby by his side, went into the Cameron forest to find early growing plants that he could use.
People in the area got used to seeing the dour man accompanied by the dog whose tail was deformed from being caught in a trap.
That spring, there was a sudden rush on one of his liniments and another of his salves: customers reported to him that they worked much more efficiently and faster than any other such products. The gamekeeper, whose real name was Gordon which was how only Snape addressed him, had heard the gossip and came by for a sample of each. In payment, he suggested some early fishing in the bend of a certain stream that emptied into Loch Arkaig.
Snape was not overly proficient with fly fishing but patient enough to catch several brown trout for their supper. Toby enjoyed supervising, snoozing close by on a sunny patch of the bank.
But the pleasanter times had to be paid for, with a visit from the Past.
That May, Snape and Toby were in their usual stall in the market. Toby was curled up under the small display table, out of the hot late spring sun when he caught a whiff of something that made him raise his head and growl softly.
Snape lay down the book he was reading, startled by Toby's behavior. The crup never growled unless he smelled rat or weasel. Snape looked around when Toby's growling continued, not noticing the man, dressed in what some designer considered to be country clothes, slowly walking up to his stall.
Snape froze at the sound of the voice. Incredulous, he looked up. "Malfoy?"
Lucius Malfoy sneered, "Why aren't you dead?"
Snape went very still. He moved his foot close to Toby, hoping the crup would understand to remain quiet and still. Toby moved his muzzle so that it rested on the top of Snape's boot.
"Because I am one of the unlucky ones. Though I had heard that you, of course, had landed on your feet. Malfoys must have more lives than a cat. Well, at least some of them."
Malfoy's lip curled in what Snape supposed was a smile. "Always be prepared for any eventuality. My father taught me that early. Pity," Malfoy looked around the stall and at the people watching their little drama, turning his nose up in disdain, "yours never bothered to teach you anything."
He picked up one of the small jars of salve in a gloved hand. "Still making your little potions, I see." He held it up to the light, as if inspecting the contents. "Tell me, Snape, out of curiosity, what is the value of this sointeresting inventory of yours?"
"I don't understand your question, Malfoy." Snape placed his hands flat on the small table, to either side of the display.
Malfoy waved the head of the cane he held in the general area of the table. "Let us assume that someone wished to purchase all of this, what would be the cost?"
"About two hundred pounds."
Malfoy smirked as he placed the jar back on the table, pulled a large flat wallet out of an inside jacket pocket. "Two hundred pounds, you say." And he pulled out two bills.
"For anyone else. For you, five hundred."
There was a gasp from his nearest neighbour who, along with her customer, was paying close attention.
Malfoy hesitated, then raised an eyebrow, indicating to Snape his awareness of their audience. With a small smirk, he pulled out three more bills and threw them down upon the table.
"I'll find a box," said Snape as he picked up the bills, folded them and slipped them into his jeans pocket.
Malfoy picked up the first jar and, holding it high, allowed it to drop, smashing onto the roadway. With the same little smile of genuine pleasure, he picked up a second and allowed it to drop.
The spectators were now gasping with horror. Snape didn't react, only hoping that the sound of breaking glass would not arouse Toby from his silent stillness.
A third and then a fourth jar joined the others.
"I say, what's all this, then?"
Malfoy turned his head enough to notice the young constable someone had run off to get. "I think if you care to ask any of these interested people, they will inform you that I am dealing with my property."
"That's fine and good, but all that glass is dangerous. Who's going to clean it up before anyone gets hurt?"
Malfoy allowed the jar he held to join its fellows and then, with a grin that reminded Snape far too much of days long gone, he slipped his hand into a pocket, came out with a coin that he tossed at Snape, who didn't try to catch it. It hit him on the chest and bounced down to the road.
"He will." And Malfoy turned around, using the head of his cane to indicate that he wanted a path cleared away from the crowd and, getting it, walked through to his car and driver.
As Snape cleaned up the mess with the muttering help of one of his neighbours, the other stooped to pick up the coin. "What kind of money is this?" She showed the coin to Snape and the others.
"Some foreign thing," answered someone.
"Had to be a foreigner," agreed another. "Spoke like he was on the BBC."
Snape said nothing but accepted the sickle.
"I think we both deserve a reward for keeping calm," he told Toby as they closed up for the day. The story about the man who had bought his entire inventory only to break it had spread quickly. He had no trouble selling the rest of his inventory, causing his neighbours to approve of the profit he was making that day.
He stopped in at the local Post Office, deposited all but a hundred pounds. At the grocer, he picked up steak for both of them and added a marrow bone to his order. As an extra treat, he added a bottle of merlot for himself.
Still, on the way back to their home, both man and crup were ever on the alert. Snape had no idea what Lucius Malfoy was doing in the area, but he doubted that it would be for anyone's good but his own.
That night, stomachs filled, they sat on the porch, watching the stars.
"There are times, Toby, when I wonder when it was exactly that we failed. The moment when we lost and, no matter what we did, it was already too late. Malfoy must have had a inkling that all was not going to go as planned. I realize that he was always prepared for any eventuality, but somehow," he tossed the sickle up into the air, "he managed to get money out of Gringotts and survive.
"I thought about it all the way back. I remember seeing Malfoy there at the beginning of That Day, but at no other time. I remember Narcissa with Draco at her side. Both of them so certain of glory. The Goyles. The Crabbes. The others who dropped down their hoods, so certain they were going to win that it no longer mattered who knew they were on Voldemort's side."
"Yes, well, there were a few surprises. Trelawney for one. She was such a...a twit."
Toby sounded as if he agreed.
"The only reason I survived was that Goyle wanted me to suffer. He cast Cruciatus on me and didn't seem to notice when I lost consciousness. By the time I regained consciousness, it was all over. I had to push the bodies off me..."
It was several minutes before Snape spoke again, his voice thick. "Oh, Merlin, Toby! They were so young. Their whole lives in front of them. We buried so many..."
Snape barely noticed when Toby jumped onto his lap and licked the tears off his face. When he finally did, it was because the crup was whining as though afraid. "Sorry. Haven't done that in a long time. Must be the wine on top of the day's excitement. I'll probably have nightmares tonight so consider yourself forewarned. You might prefer sleeping in the armchair."
But Toby slept curled up close to Snape.
Snape was still morose the next morning. He was silent as he prepared their breakfasts and sat staring into his mug of tea.
"I hope you won't mind, but I need some time to myself, Toby. I won't be very good company and there are some herbs that should be up by now in the field by the loch. Will you mind very much if I go by myself?"
Snape left the window partially open, with the ottoman just under it so that Toby could use it as a way in or out, as he pleased.
He was pleased to be out when his attention was distracted from an interesting mole hole by a rarely heard sound. That of a car engine. Cautious from experience, the crup went and hid under the low porch to see who was calling. A fancy grey vehicle pulled up and the driver, a large man dressed in a matching grey uniform, opened the back door for Lucius Malfoy. From the passenger side of the front, another large man stepped out.
"I want the entire...hovel checked. You know what I'm looking for."
The two men opened the door with one well-placed kick. Toby remained very silent as he watched Malfoy play with his cane, twirling it, tossing it from hand to hand, all to the accompaniment of the sounds of the hut being turned upside down, of furniture and other things breaking .
"What the bloody hell..."
Toby's head swerved suddenly at the familiar voice.
"Ah, Severus, home early? Such a pity. Davis!"
As Snape dropped his armful of plants, there was the sound of heavy footsteps on the porch and then on the steps. Before Snape could reach Malfoy, Davis tackled him to the ground.
The second man came out. "Sir! There's nothing, sir. Only some old newspapers in the kindling box and five old biographies of dead people."
As Snape struggled with Davis, Malfoy grimaced and walked up to the doorway in determined fashion. "Yes, I see. You are quite correct, Jenkins. Nothing here of value. At least no longer."
The two men went back to the still struggling Davis and Snape. Jenkins bent and grabbed one of Snape's arms and casually pulled it up behind the man. Not wanting it to break, Snape followed it up to his feet. Davis found his own and grabbed Snape by the other arm. Both men pulled up so that Snape found himself standing on tiptoe, face already bruising and red from the blood coursing from his nose.
"Now then, Severus. My old ally. My old...friend. All I want is a few answers."
"Go to hell, Lucius."
Malfoy shook his head sadly. "So impolite. Still so unaccepting of your true place in the scheme of things." Malfoy went to stroke Snape's cheek but Snape angrily jerked his head away.
His face cold, Malfoy stepped back and signalled with his cane. Jenkins made a fist with his free hand and rammed it into Snape's unprotected stomach. With a grin, Davis did the same.
"Thank you. Enough. For now," said Malfoy. He came to stand in front of the gasping doubled-over Snape. "As I was saying, I have some questions that you will answer. You had a small library of books from your grandfather, Severus. You know the ones I mean. The ones he wasn't supposed to have. His personal collection of texts on the Dark Arts. Where are they, Severus?"
Snape spat a mouthful of bloody phlegm at the ground. "I...don't...know..."
Jenkins hit him again.
Malfoy looked at the scenery while Snape caught his breath. "I think you should know that Jenkins here did some time for gross bodily harm. He quite enjoys these little activities. I don't understand why, but there it is. We all have our specialties, I suppose. Now, do I have to ask you one more time, Severus?"
"In...Hogwarts. I had them in Hogwarts, in my rooms." Snape spat again and tried to stand straight, facing Malfoy. "You remember Hogwarts, Lucius? Where your son died. Where your wife died. Where anyone and anything that was in Hogwarts is no longer retrievable. Magic doesn't exist anymore, Lucius. Like the Malfoys."
Malfoy's head tilted slightly back. "The Malfoys will forever exist. My wife is about to present me with a child."
"Your Muggle wife, Lucius. With your mudblood squib child. So much for the vaunted House of Malfoy."
Malfoy paled. He took a deep inhalation as though holding onto his temper. Then he raised his cane and brought it down hard across Snape's head.
As his men allowed the unconscious Snape to drop to the ground, Malfoy took out his handkerchief and wiped Snape's blood off the cane's snake head.
"It's a good thing you have such a hard head."
Snape tried to open his eyes. He succeeded on his third attempt.
He was in a bed, in a room he had never before seen. His head ached horribly, almost more than his gut. Almost.
He closed his eyes again and, reflexively, searched for the small body that should have been next to him. Its absence woke him soundly.
"What the... Hold on, Snape. You're not going anywhere."
Hands held him down. Panicked, he fought them off. "Toby. I have to find Toby."
As the sound of his name, Toby leapt up onto the bed and, whimpering, went to him.
Snape folded his arms around the crup. Eyes squinted against the pounding in his head, he quickly examined the small body.
"He's all right. Though we thought we might have to tranquilize him to be able to get close enough to you without losing a hand or a face."
Snape looked up. "Doctor Fraser?"
The physician nodded. "You're up at the House. Jamie's Gordie was cutting across the path when he heard your Toby whining. Seems he was trying to wake you up. Without much success."
The doctor finished packing his stethoscope in the black bag he carried with him everywhere. "Thank God the Cameron insists that all his people carry those cell phone things with them when they're about. Jaygee contacted the House which contacted me. We moved you up here because, well, frankly, Snape, I'm sorry but there's not much left to your things."
Toby settled down, as close to Snape as he could get. Snape kept stroking the crup's head, reassuring him. Reassuring himself.
"You've got a bit of a concussion, two cracked ribs and I suggest you maintain a liquid diet for the next week or so. Let me know immediately if you vomit blood or piss any. Apart from that, I suggest sleep and avoid having the shit beaten out of you until the headache is gone."
His next visitor was the laird himself.
The Chief of the Cameron Clan of Lochiel sat on a chair pulled up next to the bed. Snape assumed the fact that he could sit up with his head falling off meant that he had taken at least part of the doctor's advice. Toby was still next to Snape, warily eyeing their host.
"Good dog, that. Even if he doesn't have form. That tail of his should have been cropped when he was a pup. I suppose it might be a bit painful to do so now."
Snape sat back against the pile of pillows the housekeeper set up for him and thanked her for the tray of broth and tea.
"He's lived with it all this time. I don't suppose he'd appreciate losing it now." Snape patted Toby's head, knowing full well that the crup was listening intently to their conversation. "It was very good of you to bring me here, though I doubt that it was necessary."
The Cameron scoffed, then grimaced. "Apart from the walls and the roof, there's nothing inside your place that's not for the trash pile. I'm sorry."
Snape thought for a moment: more loss. And then, with a sigh, he mentally shrugged the thought away. He'd deal with realities later on when his head stopped aching. "No reason for you to be sorry."
The older man didn't seem to agree. "The one who did this to you was a guest of mine. Technically, he was still on my property and therefore still a guest." He added in response to Snape's raised eyebrow, "His car was seen turning up the path to your place."
"You're doing business with Malfoy?" Snape was surprised. He thought the Cameron had better business sense.
"You don't approve?"
Snape shrugged as best he could. "I have no right to approve or disapprove. I will only say, if you do business with Lucius Malfoy, never turn your back on him."
The laird nodded. "My feeling as well. Malfoy left without the agreement he had hoped to get. I take it that you've had some previous experience with the man."
Snape closed his eyes and rested his head back. "You could say that."
"Does he always take such violent exception to rejection?"
Snape found he could smile. "Always. And it wasn't your rejection that caused this: it was my pointing out to him that things he wanted were far beyond his reach."
"I see. Well, no matter," the Cameron shrugged. "Now then, Joan has orders to allow you out of bed when she feels the time is right. I don't suggest you try anything before she does. I may be the Head of this Clan, but, as housekeeper, she rules in this house. And when she does give you permission, Jamie's Gordie will take you through one of the outbuildings. You'll need to replace the items those men destroyed."
"No, you will accept this. I think you should know that one of the family secrets passed on to the heir along with the heir's ring is the knowledge that one Vigilis Snape, an associate of the then Cameron of Lochiel, did, in the evening of May 27th, 1746, completely empty the Old House of all its contents before it was burnt to the ground by order of Cornwallis on the 28th. Though it may be hard to fathom," he looked intently at Snape, "part of the secret handed down is that this was done by magical means, actually witnessed by the then Cameron."
Snape concentrated on scratching Toby behind the ear.
Cameron raised a white eyebrow: he seemed amused. "What? No protest. No challenging the notion that Magic exists?"
"If it did, it no longer does," muttered Snape, suddenly too tired to argue.
"Ah," said the Cameron, as if that explained a few things to him. "Well, the Clan's fortune was in the house and your ancestor saved us from penury." He rose and patted Snape sympathetically on the shoulder. "You will replace what that Cameron's descendent was not able to prevent being destroyed. It's a matter of pride, Snape. You do understand pride, don't you, Snape?"
At the doorway, Cameron tossed over his shoulder, "I've ordered the hut cleaned out. They are to wait until you've gone through everything before disposing of it."
There wasn't anything worth keeping. All his clothing had been ripped apart. His bedclothes were in streamers. His mattress, pillows, armchair, ottoman was been slashed and destuffed. The table and chairs had been smashed as was everything breakable in the place. His potion pots and cooking implements had been flattened or bent. Even the small stove had been dismantled. The soot from the chimney had been scattered over everything possible and the stove itself had been pitched onto its side. Only the fact that it was too warm for a fire had kept the place from burning down.
Snape stared at the pile of what had once been his possessions. The only thing he removed was his old robe which was now in three pieces. The gamekeeper's men hauled away the debris and brought back the replacements.
Snape stood in the middle of the hut, Toby at his feet, looking at his new stove. Still one that burnt wood but it was at least twice as large as the old one. There would be room to prepare his potions and make a meal at the same time. Moreover it came with a hot water tank that formed the back of the stove, with a small nozzle that would allow him to fill up a tub for bath or laundry.
In the repaired cupboards above his repaired counter, there was now a small set of dishes, several glasses, mugs. Joan had found him several decent sized pots for his potions, including one that would make sterilization of the jars an easier process. His new table was a Georgian gate-table, with two solid wooden armchairs.
There was a leather armchair with a matching ottoman, a decent carpet on the floor in what Joan had called his "sitting room", another under the bed which was larger than his old one and came with casters so that it could be moved easily. There was a thick comforter on his bed as well as another at the foot.
Toby had not been forgotten. Joan had found an old wicker bed that had belonged to some canine ancestor of the household and it came with a new cedar-filled mattress that Toby stared at, as if uncertain he would still be allowed to sleep next to Snape.
Snape looked around the room. "Not the same thing, Toby. Yet another change to get used to." He sighed loudly.
Toby whimpered and looked positively depressed.
Snape looked at the crup who was sitting, his head hanging low.
"No," he said firmly, "you are not responsible for all this. I want to commend you on the intelligence you showed by remaining under cover. There was nothing you could have done to prevent any of this. Nothing to stop Malfoy. He would have ordered you killed or, if he had noticed what you are, taken you captive. Not an experience you would have enjoyed."
Carefully holding onto his ribs, Snape sat down on the floor next to Toby. He took the crup's muzzle in his hand and turned Toby's head so that he could speak to him, eye to eye. "You are far more important to me than any stick of furniture or pot or piece of china. More than any article of clothing. Things, Toby, can be replaced, even if they feel a little uncomfortable at first. But you can't."
And he ignored his ribs as he scooped the crup up in his arms and pressed his face into Toby's side while the crup, whimpering, licked whatever part of Snape he could reach.
Lupin had to be warned about Malfoy. The next time Jamie's Gordie went into Fort William, Snape and Toby hitched a ride. Snape knew he was succumbing again to paranoia, but he couldn't be certain that Malfoy hadn't arranged locally for him to be watched and wasn't taking any chances.
The "used music record album" store had a phone number. It was with a sense of trepidation that Snape, Toby sitting patiently at his feet, attempted to use a public phone for the first time.
"You don't need to shout, Snape, I can hear you just fine. Just speak in your normal dulcet tones."
Snape was taken aback how the sound of a familiar voice, even of one with whom he had not been on friendly terms, overwhelmed him with nostalgia.
"Snape? Are you still there? Severus?" Then Lupin seemed to understand Snape's inability to speak: his voice calmly reached out. "I'm here, Severus. I'm listening."
Snape cleared his throat. With as succinct a manner as he had once used in his dungeon classroom, he explained about his encounter with Lucius Malfoy and what the man was seeking.
There was a long pause. "How badly were you hurt?"
"You seem certain I was hurt."
"You forget, Severus, I also went to school with Lucius Malfoy. Allow me to rephrase that question. How badly did he have you hurt?"
Snape found himself smiling. "A couple of sore ribs and a concussion, which he supplied himself."
"Bastard. Just because you couldn't give him what he wanted."
"Actually, it might have had more to do with the fact that I pointed out to him that future generations of Malfoys were going to be mudbloods and squibs."
Snape could almost picture the stunned reaction on Lupin's face. He could certainly hear it in the gasp that was all that came over the line. And then in the laughter.
"You always were an in-your-face kind of wizard, Severus. Nice to see that some things haven't changed."
Snape hung up never once having mentioned the crup sitting at his feet. Together, they went to place a large order for more of the jars that Snape used for his potions. He quite enjoyed paying for it and replacement supplies with Malfoy's money.
It was midsummer when the next change occurred.
Not one that Snape had ever contemplated.
He went to bed one night with a crup nestled close to him as was Toby's wont.
And woke to find a man in his arms.
The shock of it froze him. It took several breaths for him to understand that he was not dreaming nor imagining the young man.
Who moved in his sleep, head falling back so that Snape could see the zigzaggy scar on his forehead.
And, though the eyes were still closed, Snape knew they would be green. As Toby's had been.
Moving jerkily, he managed to get out of bed. Gestures rough, he dressed himself, stoked up the fire and tried to make coffee. Pot in trembling hand, he looked blindly along the counter, never seeing the container. He placed the pot down, found a chair and sat, staring at the bed and the man lying in it.
He finally shook himself. Reality was as it was. He fell back on old habits and forced himself to analyze the situation.
He had gone to bed with his crup lying at his side. And awakened to Harry Potter. Who should have been dead and buried.
Snape passed his hands through his hair. Except that he couldn't remember anyone mentioning burying him in that horrible time after That Day.
He had probably assumed that Potter had been in the direct line of Voldemort's implosion and turned to ashes as some had.
The man on the bed moved, turning to face Snape. He yawned, rummaged deeper into the bedclothes and then sleepily opened his eyes. He raised his head, smiling happily at Snape. Then he squinted, as though suddenly realizing that his vision was not clear. He shook his head and went to sit up.
Potter froze when he caught sight of his hands. He stared at them as though they were something he hadn't seen in a long time. Which, when Snape thought about it, he probably hadn't.
Snape watched as Potter sat up slowly, looking at the length under the bedclothes, then touched himself, his hands, his arms, his chest as though rediscovering unfamiliar territory. His face.
He looked up and then back at Snape who hadn't moved.
"Se..." He coughed as though clearing his throat and finding his voice. He had to try several times before he got out a wary, hesitant, rough, "Severus?"
Snape ignored the emotion in that one word. "I assume that sometime after his release from Azkaban, Black taught you how to transfigure yourself."
He refused to wince at the coldness in his voice.
Potter nodded slowly and then slipped his legs out of bed. He sat on the edge, the sheet discreetly covering his genitals. He cleared his voice again, finding it difficult to speak after all these years. "It was easier that way to accompany him on some of his tasks."
Snape didn't move.
Potter looked around the room, as though seeing it for the first time. "Things seemed larger," he murmured.
Snape managed to get to his feet. "You'll need clothing." He took a deep breath, dug deeper inside himself and found his old self. His voice grew heavy with scorn. "Do help yourself to my things."
And with that, he turned and left, closing the door behind him with careful movements.
Harry stared at the door for several minutes before he found his feet. He stood awkwardly, finding his new balance, then staggered-shuffled to the shelf that held Snape's only change of clothing.
By the time he'd dressed, slipped his feet into the slightly too long Wellingtons that were the only footwear around, his gestures were smoother yet still not performed with the ease of his pre-crup days.
He carefully made a pot of coffee, hoping that he had seen Snape do it often enough to make it as the man liked it. He tried out his voice a few times as he waited for it to boil, saying his name over and over, as though hearing it made this event real. He looked around the room, familiarizing himself with his new perspective.
He tried hard, all the while, to ignore the cold that filled his spirit at the manner in which Snape had spoken to him.
Toby had never been spoken to in that tone.
Harry poured himself a mug of coffee and added a couple of spoonfuls of sugar. He sipped. His eyes closed in sheer pleasure as the caffeine hit his taste buds.
Oh, Merlin! This was heaven!
He carefully sipped until the drink had cooled enough for him to swallow without burning his tonsils.
He looked around and found a heel of bread. He found the jar of jam and spooned some on the bread. Another ecstatic experience. Sensations that he hadn't felt for over four years overwhelmed him. He sat on the chair Snape had used and inhaled deeply the scent of coffee and the aroma of home-made strawberry preserves.
With a sigh of happiness, he shoved the last little bit into his mouth and nodded.
Life as a crup had had its moments, but nothing compared with this.
He finished his mug of coffee and then poured a fresh one for Snape. Time to extend the hand of peace, he thought, making his way gingerly out of the house, resisting the impulse to run as Toby had.
He had a suspicion where he'd find the man who had unsuspectingly taken him in. Snape had a favourite spot, a small clearing that overlooked the property, higher up the hill that abutted the hut. He and Toby had spent many an evening in quiet companionship, watching the sun set from that vantage point.
Careful not to spill his offering, Harry made his way there, enjoying the scents of the forest. His human nose was nowhere nearly as sensitive as Toby's, but that didn't lessen the pleasure of the moment.
He lost that pleasure when he found Snape. Sitting cross-legged on the ground, staring sightlessly at the magnificent view.
Harry cleared his throat, waiting for some indication that he could approach.
Snape either didn't hear him, or was ignoring him.
No response with that either. Harry took a deep breath. He suddenly realized that things were going to be far more difficult than he had expected. "Sir?"
He approached the man sitting still. Were it not for the slight rise and fall of his chest, Harry could have taken Snape for a statue.
"Coffee, sir. I think it may be passable." He knelt within reach of Snape and offered him the mug.
Snape slowly turned his sight onto the mug as though having no idea what it could be. He turned his head a little more and Harry couldn't prevent a gasp at the emptiness in Snape's eyes.
"What do you want, Potter?" Snape's voice broke on the name.
Harry sat back on his heels. "I didn't do it on purpose," he whispered.
Snape didn't react.
"Not the changing into Toby."
Snape winced at the name. Harry found himself swallowing hard.
"Not the staying. Not the coming back. All I did was say the words as I've done every night since..." He lowered his head and placed the mug on the ground. He rested his hands flat on his thighs and stared at them.
He focused on them, the length of the fingers, the roughness of the broken nails, as he spoke. As he tried to explain.
"Sirius trained me to change as an additional means of protection, he said. I wasn't that good with a large creature so we decided on a crup because two canines together wouldn't arouse much notice."
He stopped, wondering if the man was even listening to him.
"The day of the battle, when Voldemort was going around, stealing people's Magic, we came face to face, he and I. He laughed. I remember him laughing. I hear him whenever I dream of it. He began pulling the Magic out of me. But something went wrong. As he pulled it out..." Harry stopped to clear his throat; it was drying up on him. He wasn't used to speaking so much. Toby had not been a very vocal crup.
"It must have had something to do with the blood we share. As he pulled it out of me, some of his Magic came out of him to replace it. He stopped immediately. He said something like he'd deal with me later and he went off. Floated off, really. He was hovering in the air he had so much Magic in him.
"Sirius was in dog form and he insisted I assume mine as well. It was easier to track after Voldemort that way. But before I could retransfigure, there was this brilliant light and then nothing until I managed to get out from under..."
Harry paused, eyes suddenly seeing something other than his hands. "Sirius had somehow come between me and whatever had caused the light. His body...it was as though every bone had been pulverized. There was no one about. Alive, that is. I tried to change back...Then there were some Death Eaters and...I ran."
Harry looked up. Snape was as he had been, unmoving, eyes black with emptiness.
No, thought Harry, not emptiness. Pain. With so much pain that he was blind with it.
"Severus?" he whispered, reaching out to touch the man.
Snape flinched at the touch. Harry pulled his hand back and allowed it to drop.
"Why did you come here, Potter?"
Harry shook his head. "I didn't come here on purpose. I was wandering, trying to stay alive. Trying to find a place where I could be safe. I had no idea you were here. It just...happened."
He was silent, wondering what was going through Snape's mind.
"Thank you for taking me in. I never thought that you..."
Snape's face broke from the ice. "Never thought what, Potter? That I would be alive? I understand your surprise. I, too, was quite surprised to have survived. That I would take you in? Another surprise there as well, I suppose. After all," the scorn and the sneer were back, not quite overlaying the pain, "a bastard such as myself would be the type to kick a dying animal, not feed it, right?"
Snape pulled back from the wavering hand. "NO! You have no right to call me that."
Harry kept his voice quiet. He knew how Snape had felt about Toby. Had heard it in his voice, had felt it in his touch. Had understood it from the conversations - the revelations - that he doubted any human, man or wizard, had ever heard from this man. "Snape, I'm sorry."
"Sorry? For what? For living when so many others didn't?"
Harry felt the cut: he whimpered, a sound very like something Toby made in his sleep. He seemed to collapse in on himself. His arms went around his chest and his head lowered until his forehead was resting on his knees.
Snape went to reach out but stopped himself. Toby was gone. Had never truly been. Another loss. But this one he thought he might not survive. This loss was worse and it brought back all the other losses of his life.
He had adjusted as best he could to not having died That Day. To finding a way of living without Magic. Without his potions. Alone, in a world that really had no place for his kind. Until a crup had appeared and brought him joy and friendship. All of a sudden, he had no longer been alone.
But that too was now gone. His punishment for surviving when better wizards than he had not?
It took several minutes for Potter to raise his body. His face reflected Snape's pain.
The two men looked into each other's eyes.
"What now?" asked Potter, voice laden with the knowledge that matters between himself and Snape were worse than they ever had been before the battle.
Snape forced himself up onto his feet. He looked around as though seeing the site for the first time. He sighed deeply. "I don't know, Potter. I truly don't know."
And he stepped around the younger man and went down the trail back to the hut where no one was waiting to welcome him.
Snape had busied himself, pulling out the ingredients for one of his nonmagical potions. The routine of preparing a potion had always allowed him to push whatever problem he was dealing with aside. It was no different with one of these.
He only stilled a moment when Potter finally opened the door and stood in its entrance, as though waiting for permission to enter.
Snape made him wait for it, almost hoping that the next time he sneaked a glance at the doorway, Potter would be gone.
But he remained and waited until Snape gave a small sideways gesture with his head. As Snape continued stirring the infusion, Potter removed the boots and walked barefoot over to the counter where he carefully rinsed the two mugs then meticulously dried them before putting them back in the cupboard.
Walking on silent feet - no more would the sound of nails indicate that Snape was no longer alone - Potter made his way over to the bed and straightened it, again drawing out the procedure as though it were very precise, exacting work. Then he stood, looking lost.
Snape ignored him, focusing on his potion.
After about fifteen minutes of Potter's just standing there, Snape snapped, "The fire needs more fuel. If you could make yourself useful..."
Potter shook himself - Snape closed his eyes against the flash of pain: that was far too reminiscent of a Toby gesture - and went over to the boots. It took several trips for the woodbox to be filled almost to overflow, but the chore kept Potter busy and Snape from thinking.
When Snape set the infusion to cool, he turned to find Potter sitting on the floor by the armchair. Once, he... No, not he. Toby would simply have ensconced himself on the chair. Snape would have pretended to growl at him and the crup would have balanced on the arm until Snape had settled comfortably before finding his place on Snape's lap.
Never again, thought Snape. Put it out of your mind, he told himself. For a short time, you had...
And he couldn't bring himself to go any further.
Potter looked up, still silent. Snape noted that his clothes fit the man, sizewise. He didn't remember Potter being that tall. Maybe he had been and Snape just hadn't noticed. It was more important, back then, to keep the brat alive. All his focus had gone on that, as per Dumbledore's orders.
Time wasted, Snape thought.
He turned and put together some food, enough for two. He checked his supplies. Unless Potter miraculously transfigured back to a crup, they would be short of supplies before market day. He doubted either of them would want to consume the cans of dog food. Still, in spite of the urge to throw them out, Snape left them alone. Who knew? Maybe he would wake up on the morrow and find...
He closed his eyes and resolved not to think on Toby any more. What was, was. Toby was not longer and Potter was...
"Potter, the words, what were they?"
Potter frowned. "Words? What words, sir?"
Snape lost his patience. "The ones you maintain you said every night."
Potter shrugged. "The ones that Sirius taught me to use to return to myself. Reverto, reverto. They never worked before. They need Magic to work." He looked up at Snape. "Do you think the spell just wore off?"
Snape forced himself to think on that. Potter watched him as he considered. "It happens. But the thought was always that there had to be Magic around for a spell to work and then not to work." He sighed loudly. "Who knows?"
Snape went to the door.
He stilled. Hand on the door, Snape waited.
"Sir, what do you want me to do?"
Snape closed his eyes. Do? What did he want the brat to do? Disappear?
He ruthlessly forced down his need to scream something like why the bloody hell didn't he transfigure again into his companion. But there were limits even to his supposed selfishness. Potter was a man, not a crup. And much as he wanted his companion back...
"I think there have been enough changes for the day. I propose that we leave things as they are and discuss the situation sometime in the future when you are once more used to being a man and I..."
"And you're used to having me around?"
Snape nodded and went out. No one followed him.
Potter slept on the floor, wrapped in the second comforter. And he had a nightmare.
The sound of whimpering roused Snape, but not thoroughly. He heard the whimpers and murmured, "Toby? It's all right, Toby. Wake up." But the whimpers continued and succeeded in fully waking Snape up. He looked around for his crup. Toby wasn't where he should have been. It worried him enough to sit up and check the room. When his eyes alit on the roll that lay on the floor, he remembered.
No Toby. Only Potter having a nightmare.
He watched the roll move slightly as though Potter were trying to make his way out of his nest. More probably out of the nightmare. He raised his hands to clap as he had done for Toby in the early days and sat there, hands apart, ready to meet, and did nothing.
He lay back down and turned his back to the sounds.
But they didn't stop. And the whimpering grew to be too much.
Snape lay on his back, staring at the roof. He raised his hands and clapped sharply, once, twice.
Nothing. Potter didn't wake.
He did it again, louder, and still nothing.
With a reluctant sigh, he slipped out from under the bedclothes and went over to the roll. He crouched, placed his hand on the part he assumed covered Potter's shoulder and shook it roughly.
"Enough, Potter," he growled. "Wake up."
But Snape had waited too long and Potter was deep in the grip of his nightmare.
Snape knelt and warily lowered the covers. Toby had been known to snap if startled out of a nightmare. He could only assume that possibility still existed.
His hand rested on the warm skin of a boney shoulder and rocked. Snape gentled his voice, speaking as he had to Toby. "It's all right, To... Potter. It's over. Wake up and you'll see that it's over."
Potter roused slowly, shaking his head at the words Snape was offering him. "Never over," he choked. And turned his head to face Snape.
His face was streaked with tears.
Snape left his hand where it was and squeezed what he hoped might be some comfort.
"I was supposed to be able to save them all," Potter gasped, the tears streaming. "That's why I lived. The Boy Who Lived. What other reason did I have for living?"
"They all died because of me."
"That is self-aggrandizing crap, Potter." Snape's voice was hard though his hands reached out and gently pulled the weeping man into his arms.
Potter went, sobbing.
Snape knelt on the floor, arms holding Potter, allowing him to empty himself of tears that Snape himself had wept years ago.
The hut was quiet.
Snape went about his chores in a silence that had all but disappeared with Toby. Potter sat on the porch, his back to the wall, and stared at nothing.
Snape sat at his table, staring at the piece of paper. He had begun a list of what Potter needed - clothes of his own, boots - with estimated costs next to each item. He only hoped that Potter would not be too fussy and would be satisfied with a visit to the Oxfam shop in Fort William. He added glasses to the list - Potter squinted all the time and had begun rubbing his forehead - and wondered how deeply he would have to go into his small savings account.
Since they would be in Fort William, he added several items he could only get there. And maybe, once those had been purchased, they might fit in a visit to the local supermarket for more basics.
He winced as he totaled the column. Well, Malfoy's bounty would make this a less painful withdrawal.
And there had to be enough left for a phone call to London. Lupin needed to know.
They got through that day and the next. Potter did whatever it was Snape asked of him in silence and Snape spoke only to ask something of Potter.
The second night, Snape was awakened by Potter's having yet another nightmare and moved quickly to wake him out of it. There were tears again, but silent ones and Snape left him to them.
The third night, Snape, exhausted by the stress of adjusting to yet again changes in his life, woke too late. Potter was deep in his nightmare and didn't rouse easily, or well. His sobs shook him to the point that Snape worried about his sanity.
The floor was finally too cold to ignore. With a loud sigh, Snape managed to get Potter up on his feet and helped him over to the bed. What had been a comfortable fit for man and crup was now a tighter one for two men. Snape ended up on his back, with Potter in his arms. Potter fell asleep first and Snape spent some time staring at the darkness above the bed.
Jamie's Gordie picked them up at the bottom of the path, surprised to see that Snape was accompanied by a quiet young man and not Toby. The two squeezed themselves into the seat of the cab.
"Gordon, may I introduce you to...Harry. Harry, this is the Cameron's gamekeeper. I believe I've mentioned him to you."
Harry offered his hand. He didn't offer that he was well aware who their driver was.
Jamie's Gordie grinned. Harry smiled back. He had to give the gamekeeper credit: Jamie's Gordie waited until they were near Achnacarry and their stop at the Post Office to inquire about Toby.
The two men grew even more still than they had been.
Snape spoke, his voice emotionless. "Toby is no more."
Jamie's Gordie nodded, seemingly unsurprised. Death was part of everyday occurrences on an estate. "I'm sorry to hear that," he offered. "He was a good dog."
"Yes, he was."
Harry said nothing, only looked at his hands.
He expected to be questioned when Snape went into the Post Office, but Jamie's Gordie was a typical Highlander. He might have been curious but one didn't question, one waited for information to be given.
Harry said nothing.
In Fort William, Jamie's Gordie let them out near High Street. "Will three hours be enough for you?"
Snape thought a moment and then nodded.
"At the Alexandra Hotel? I should be through with that meeting by then. If you're not ready, just leave a message with the desk. I'll check with them."
As they watched the small truck continue on its way, Harry turned to Snape. "You'll need to keep a tally on what I'm costing you. I have no idea when I can repay you, but I will."
Snape only shrugged.
Harry had no objections to the Oxfam shop. He'd been there once before as Toby when Snape had replaced the clothing Malfoy and his goons had destroyed. "At least they'll fit," he said. "Dudley's clothes were always too big for me. I floated around in them. And they won't be torn."
The comments took Snape aback. He'd known that Potter had not had good relations with his guardians, and everyone on staff had heard about the difficulty of getting the Dursleys to acknowledge the Hogwarts letter that first year. There had been a few shocked reactions in the staff room to the fact that the original address for the Boy Who Lived had been "The Cupboard under the Stairs".
Snape sighed softly. He'd forgotten that all had not run smoothly for the Boy Who Lived.
They were in luck. The shop had just taken delivery and they had no trouble outfitting Harry right down to a decent pair of work boots that fit properly and even a pair of Wellingtons. All well within Snape's budget. But the find of the day was the small box of spectacles on the back counter.
Harry rummaged through the box, muttering over and over to himself, as if the words were a mantra, "Glasses, Accio!" He remembered all too well the complaints that had been thrown his way when it had been discovered as a child that he needed glasses. About the cost, not only of the glasses themselves, but of the examination.
In the bottom he found a pair, a bit dirty, the frames thin and round that somehow seemed familiar the moment he placed his hand on them. Barely daring to breathe, he lifted them out of the box. There was a bit of tape holding the bridge together and a sense of rightness about them as he closed his eyes and settled them on his nose. He opened his eyes, blinked, and all came into focus. Nothing blurry, nothing doubled. All as it should be.
They added a whole 50 pence to the total.
They were outside when Harry said, "Snape. These are my glasses. Mine. Before today, they were mine. How did they get here?"
Snape could only shake his head. But the fact that they had only cost what they had meant they had more to spend in the supermarket.
As they waited at a public booth near the hotel for Jamie's Gordie to finish his meeting, Snape dialed the London phone number and asked the feminine voice at the other end for Lupin. When he came on, Snape said nothing, only handed the phone to Harry. Then he walked to where they had piled their purchases and sat on the short stone wall, looking over the small harbour on Loch Linnhe.
"He would like us to visit him, if that's possible."
Snape barely glanced over his shoulder at Harry who stood next to him, hands in the pockets of his new used jeans, staring out at the loch.
Snape thought a moment. "I think someone from the Manor is going down to London next month. Maybe you can ride down with him. I'll ask."
Potter shook his head. "He specified both of us. He said it several times."
Snape turned enough to see Harry's face. It was pale and, even with the glasses, it was easy to tell that he'd cried again.
"Are you all right?"
Harry nodded. "I didn't tell him about Toby. I remembered you hadn't. I just told him that I woke up one morning and remembered who I was. And that I ran into you by happenstance at the market. He seemed to accept that. He said he'd like to see us in person whenever both of us could make it down. I told him I'd talk to you about it. I...I didn't make any promises."
On the ride back, Harry asked the gamekeeper if he was looking to hire someone for any kind of work.
Jamie's Gordie thought a moment. "Well, we begin haying next week. It's hard work, long hours, and we have a time keeping people."
Harry shrugged. "I'm not afraid of hard work."
"Have you any papers?"
Harry looked confused.
"No. Well, I suppose since you're `local', we can arrange something." And he grinned at Snape.
Snape took the next day to go off to replenish his supply of certain herbs and plants. Harry went along, silently picking once he had identified what Snape was gathering. That there were two of them meant double the harvest and Snape realized that he would not have to go out foraging so often. He even said so aloud. Harry didn't smile, but he felt an ease of the cold that seemed to have settled in his core.
As Snape worked on his potions, Harry sat silently at the table reading whatever was at hand. He accompanied Snape to market, went to the library where he spent most of the day, catching up on the events of the last four years.
The only reference back to That Day he could find was a report at the corner bottom page of an old newspaper that some electrical surge had - for reasons unknown - occurred in the area around an old ruin in the District of Angus.
He rejoined Snape in time to help him close up.
He wasn't sleeping much better than he had been. He still had nightmares most nights and most nights Snape woke him.
"I'm sorry," Harry said one morning after a particularly bad night. He'd awakened Snape at least three times.
"We need to talk about it," said Snape. After nearly three weeks, it was time. He could now look at Potter and not curse him in his mind for not being Toby.
They sat at the table, facing one another, not really looking at the other.
"Potter, I owe you an apology."
Harry looked up, startled. Snape held his hand up for silence.
"I depended too much on Dumbledore's assessment of the situation when you appeared at the school. He saw you as having the potential of dealing with Voldemort. He...and I...forgot that you were a child. And you should have been allowed to behave as one, not as some miracle saviour of our kind."
Harry started to interrupt but Snape continued.
"You may have been the Boy Who Lived, your sharing blood with Voldemort may have given you a special link to him, but it was ill-thought on our part that put too much emphasis on both of these facts. No, worse than that, it was cruel."
He met Harry's eyes straight on.
"You are not responsible for the death of anyone. You did not have the power to stop Voldemort on your own. We abused you as much as your Muggle relatives did. We put the burden of our failures on your shoulders and we expected a child to carry them. I can only offer my apologies for not having thought the matter through properly, logically and without emotion. Maybe if I had, I could have swayed Albus from his belief that you were the next messiah."
Harry chewed on his lower lip, eyes on his folded hands lying on the table. "Messiah, eh? Talk about self-aggrandizing crap!" He shook his head.
Snape's face softened. "Yes, indeed."
Harry managed a smile. "I'll have to think about what you said."
"Do. And think of this as well. If we had done our jobs properly the first time, Voldemort would never have gotten the power he originally had. There are times for tolerance and times for dealing with unacceptable actions. We tolerated - out of a misguided sense of political correctness - what we should have immediately squashed."
Snape stared at his hands lying flat on the table. "The Dark Arts have...had their place. They were, after all, a type of knowledge particular to our kind. And they needed to be studied. But those who should have done so needed to be wizards and witches who understood and accepted their special character."
Harry cocked his head. "Such as one Severus Snape."
Snape looked startled then must have remembered that Toby had been around when Malfoy had questioned him about his grandfather's library. He shrugged, "Maybe. I was certainly arrogant enough back then to think that."
"Back then?" That slipped out and Harry wondered how he was going to be made to pay for the tease.
Snape actually smiled, sort of. "One's personality is as it is, whether wizard or man. I can't help what I am, Potter."
Harry decided to dare further. "Can we talk about Toby?"
Snape's head went back but after a moment he nodded.
"Toby rather expected to find that you were the man you were at Hogwarts when he was found by you." Harry thought it would be easier on both of them to discuss this in the third person. "In spite of what you may think, he did not expect you to kick him even if he was used to that response when someone got a good look at him. But he was afraid of all humans by then. If he hadn't trusted you, he never would have come up to the stairs."
Harry looked at his tightly clasped hands. "You were a familiar face, a safe harbour in a world gone crazy. He'd have been delighted to find you even if you had snarled at him the way you did at me. But you were different. Not at all what you had been. I... Toby never expected kindness and you gave him that. He never expected..." Harry hesitated, looked up from his hands, and then forged on. "He never expected love and you gave him that as well."
Snape paled but apart from his lips tightening, there was no other response.
"You need to know that Toby loved you back."
Snape stood up so suddenly that his chair fell backwards.
"Snape. Severus. I know that you had no idea what or who I was, but you see, I knew you. I never expected kindness from you. Never expected friendliness. But things were not as they once had been. You were no longer the wizard, the Head of House who reluctantly protected my back but just a man. You allowed me to see that man. And I fell in love with him."
Snape's hands drew into fists as though their weight was what was keeping him upright.
Harry stood up. "I think you should know that I faced and accepted the fact that I'm queer the summer between fifth and sixth years. I have no idea how you feel about the matter. But I do know that it is Toby you love and not me." He smiled sadly. "I accept that. And I give you my word that I won't act on my feelings unless I get some sign from you that my love would be welcomed in turn."
Snape closed his eyes and made a sound very reminiscent of Toby when he smelled rat. "You may need to reconsider all that, Potter."
"Harry. Couldn't you call me Harry?"
Snape shook his head. "I doubt that it is my love that you want. You may be confusing that with your need for sex. Unfortunately, I can't help you there, even if I wanted to. I'm impotent. Completely. I have been since I lost my powers. Can't even produce the least morning erection, Potter, though I suppose if you need relief, I might be able to provide you with a blow job."
Harry flinched as though he had been slapped. He wanted to hit back. Then he truly looked at Snape's face, into his eyes and saw more of the pain that blackened them. "No," he said softy. "I don't want to use you that way. We've both been used far too much for other people's purposes. No, if we do make love, it will be a mutual endeavor, for mutual satisfaction."
This time he was the one to walk away, out the door.
Snape never noticed the tears on his face until one of them ran into his nose and he sneezed.
Harry worked himself into exhaustion with the haying. It was labour intensive work, requiring his presence from early sun rise to late sun set. Jamie's Gordie dropped him off at the pathway every night and picked him up every morning. He ate all his meals at the Manor and arrived back at the hut in time to wrap himself in the comforter, asleep before his head hit the pillow on the floor. It seemed he had retained Toby's internal clock and set it to wake in time to meet Jamie's Gordie.
It would have been an exaggeration to say that he and Snape exchanged ten words those ten days Harry went haying.
On the eleventh day, Harry didn't bother to wake up at his usual time. It was the scent of coffee boiling that finally woke him. He lay on his back and slowly stretched, working the kinks and cramps out of his muscles. The first three days had been hell on him. He would have sworn that his body would freeze in some cramped spasm, never more to straighten. Now, after ten days, he enjoyed the feeling in his muscles as they lengthened and released.
He sat up slowly and was surprised by the mug that appeared under his nose: coffee sweetened exactly as he liked it.
"Thanks," he sighed as the first mouthful hit his system.
Snape nodded and went back to preparing breakfast.
Harry finished the mug, got to his feet and, arms stretched above his head, gave himself the kind of stretch that Toby had enjoyed.
Snape said nothing, only noting that Potter had at some point worked shirtless as his upper body was nicely tanned. That the work had given a sort of shape to the long muscles on his body. And since he was wearing only a pair of y-fronts, he noticed that the muscles were not the only long part of Potter's body.
Once, he thought as he turned back to put the bacon on, he would have been interested in seeing just how long it could be persuaded to grow, but he really didn't think he needed self-abasement enough to offer his mouth or arsehole for Potter's satisfaction if there was no possibility of any for himself.
Harry folded his bed and put it away at the foot of Snape's then pulled on his dirty jeans. He ambled sleepily out to the toilet and came back in, hair still wet from the cool shower he had taken. He found his glasses on the top of the bookcase and put them on. Before he sat on the chair that had become his, he dug a hand into his pocket and pulled out several pound notes.
"If I remember well, I owe you..."
"Nothing. You owe me nothing, Potter. Put your money back into your pocket."
Harry shook his head. "No. That's not the way it works. I pay my share and I owe you for the clothes."
He plunked the money down loudly on Snape's side of the table.
Annoyed, Snape went to sweep it off but he hit his newly refilled mug of coffee. As the mug went flying off the table, liquid already spilling, he snapped as he had done for years, "Adhaeresco!"
And the mug with the coffee already spilling out of it froze in mid-air.
"What...?" Harry's mouth dropped open, leaving the rest of the question unspoken.
Snape looked equally stunned.
The mug remained as it was.
"Potter, did you...?"
"Nothing. I did nothing. You did. You told it to stop. And it did."
The two men looked at each other and then back at the mug. Snape gingerly reached out with a finger and touched the mug. It stayed solidly in place. As it would have done before That Day.
He slowly walked around it as well he could, almost expecting to see some string or line invisible to the eye holding the mug as it was, liquid included.
Harry gradually sat down as he stared.
"It's..." He couldn't bring himself to say the word.
"Magic," whispered Snape.
He looked at Potter and then the mug. Until then he had truly not believed Potter's story of how he had come back to his human form. How his saying words that he maintained he said every night would somehow work after all that time.
He took in a deep breath and, with a determined look on his face, he pointed to the mug. "Egi actum!"
And the mug dropped to the floor, shattering, coffee splattering the table, Snape's feet and the floor.
Snape sat down heavily.
He looked at the mess and then back up at Potter whose expression had to be as astonished as his own.
"Try repairing the mug," whispered Harry.
"Without a wand?'
Harry shrugged. "You did what you did without a wand."
Snape sat straight and pointed to the shards of pottery. "Retrorsum."
There was some movement, but not much. Snape shrugged.
Harry came around to Snape's side and pointed. "Retrorsum."
A little more activity, but no actual reversal.
He led out his hand to Snape. "Maybe together?"
Snape swallowed loudly. He refused to allow himself to hope. But he clasped Potter's hand in his - neither of them noticing the tightness of the other's grip - and tried again, stronger voiced this time, as though expecting to be obeyed. "Retrorsum!"
And the mug reformed itself. The coffee lifted off whatever it had landed on and refilled the mug which sprang back onto the table.
The two men stared at it.
They looked at each other. Potter slowly began giggling and Snape was stunned to hear himself join in. The giggles grew to laughter and then the laughter thickened and grew heavy with tears. But it remained laughter nevertheless.
Potter pulled Snape into his arms and held onto him as they rested against each other, their emotions running high. And the next thing Snape knew, Potter's mouth was on his. Which responded.
Harry slowly pulled his mouth away from the taste of Snape and coffee and happiness and rested his forehead against the other's.
"Severus," he whispered, his arms tight around Snape's waist.
"Harry," whispered Snape, moving his head to rest his cheek against the rough, unshaved one of the other.
And they stood that way until the smell of burning bacon filled the room.
They sat outside on the porch, mugs of fresh coffee in hand.
"Your potions," Harry said out of the blue.
"What about them?" Severus crossed one bare foot over the other.
"Remember how some of the regulars have been saying how much better they work? How fast and efficient they are?"
Severus shrugged as he took a mouthful of coffee.
"Did you know that you spell as you make them?"
There was a long pause as Severus thought on that. "I expect it comes from years of doing that as I worked."
"Might explain why the changes."
Later, as they sat in the sunshine, still not having moved, Harry said, "Would you like me to try transfiguring?"
Severus shook his head almost immediately. "No. I'd be afraid you might not be able to transfigure back."
He looked at the young man beside him. Eyes alive, body young and strong, glowing with health. He could see why Black had chosen a crup for transfiguration purposes: Harry radiated energy. "Besides, I've gotten used to having the man around," he added.
Over the next few days, Severus, ever the scientist, needed to test out what Magic they had each and between them.
It wasn't particularly strong, very squib-like at times, but it was there. It existed once more after years of not.
They were careful with it, aware that it seemed to have limits. Moreover neither of them had a wand anymore, so they had nothing to direct the power.
"I wonder if Professor Lupin has noticed any change?"
Snape shrugged. He verified that he had all they needed for the trip to London safely on his person. Jamie's Gordie was driving down to visit his sister in St. Albans. He would drop them off at the local train station and the two men would meet him back there for the return trip three days later.
So that it was around nine o'clock that evening when they located "Play It Again", Lupin's shop.
Harry stood looking around the street, his eyes passing the blind alley that had once led to The Leaky Cauldron. He blinked once or twice, certain that he should be seeing something, but when he focused, there was nothing there.
"Well, shall we?" Severus's voice dripped his usual dry, professorial tones.
Harry nodded. "The prodigals return." And he opened the door, smiled at the tinkle of the bells that hung over the door top, and entered a small shop with stacks filled with albums of all kinds.
"I'm sorry, we're closing," said a voice from behind the counter that was set off to one side of the doorway.
"You told us to come whenever we could."
There was silence and then a head popped up from behind the counter. A bearded man of uncertain age stood there, mouth open. "Harry? Harry! Oh, my! And Snape!"
Remus Lupin hurried from behind the counter, arms wide open in greeting. He grabbed Harry in his arms, hugging him tightly. "Oh, my! Harry!"
And then he reached out and grabbed Severus's arm and pulled him into the awkward embrace. "Severus."
Lupin had expected Snape to pull away as he once would have done, but instead one of his arms somehow found a way of resting against his body.
"Remus," said the man who had once been his antagonist.
"I can't believe my eyes." Lupin grinned foolishly at the two men. "Wait. I have to lock up. I don't want anyone to interrupt us. Not tonight."
He hurriedly locked the door and pulled down the blinds so that they were in complete privacy. He couldn't prevent another grin as he pulled Harry back in for another hug. Then he released him and did the same to Snape. Who hugged him back. Tentatively, but definitely a hug.
Lupin nodded: old enmities no longer had any place in their lives.
"Have you a place to stay? With me. You have to stay with me. There's so much I have to ask. And to tell you."
Harry smiled but Snape got to the point. "Has your Magic also begun returning?"
Lupin froze. "So," he whispered, almost fearfully, "I am not imagining it."
"Imagining what?" asked Harry, his voice offering support.
Lupin took a turn around what little free space there was in the shop. "The last few months, the full moon... I'm not changing or anything like that. And neither are any of the werewolves who have contacted me. But like them, I'm restless, can't sleep. I itch." He couldn't prevent the hint of fear in his voice. "No wolfsbane," he murmured.
Snape shook his head. "No." Then he added, with a strange non-Snape sense of optimism, "Not yet. What else is there, Lu... Remus?"
Lupin bit his lips and then, after a sharp nod of his head, he grabbed his jacket, unlocked the door and led them out to the sidewalk. He carefully set the alarms and relocked the door. He stood at the edge of his shop, just by the alley, and looked at the two who were watching him. "Do you see anything that you shouldn't?"
He could see that Harry didn't understand. But Snape looked about and then went very still. Harry caught that and looked to see what Snape had.
Lupin waited while Harry squinted, as though he were trying to bring something into focus. Without realizing it, he placed his hand on Snape's shoulder and his eyes opened almost as wide as his mouth..
"Remus," Snape said softly, "come join us."
Lupin looked up, knowing what they were seeing. He stepped forward until he was beside the two then, taking the hand Snape offered him, he clasped it in one of his and turned.
The sign signalling the presence of the Leaky Cauldron was clear. Visible to the three men. Solid. As it had been before That Day to anyone of magical ability.
"We'll need to work on that," Remus announced as he poured morning coffee for them all in the small kitchen of his flat.
Severus had been surprised to see the size of Remus's home, especially now that he knew something about Muggle rent.
Remus had laughed, and explained that it wasn't his. He was "flat-sitting" for a couple who were hiking through New Zealand and Australia for a year, happy in the knowledge that their flat was being well cared for.
"One of the advantages," Remus had smiled, a little sadly, "of having had to escape into Muggle life in...the old days."
Severus and Harry had spent what little night had been left after catching up on a pull-out couch. Severus had made no comment on the fact that he'd wakened to find Harry snuggled against him, arm around his waist, head on his shoulder. He'd noted Remus's discretion on the matter as Remus had tiptoed by them on the way to the kitchen.
"How many of us are within contact for you?" Severus was buttering the toast.
"Enough. Now that I understand what's happening. Well," he paused as he broke another egg into the frying pan, "that I think I understand."
"Speculate," corrected Severus.
Remus grinned at him over his shoulder. "It's a hell of a lot more than we've had to work with these last four years."
Severus actually smiled back. "Yes. It is."
Harry was particularly quiet this morning. Severus wondered if that had anything to do with their having gone through the list of those Remus knew had survived. Harry knew so few of them
Remus had headed up his list with those who had contacted him in person or by phone; those who had sent some kind of message, either by letter or via someone else; and those rumoured to have survived, without proper verification.
There were names that pleased Severus as well as some that got him to raise his eyebrows high in wonderment. Old foes as well as colleagues in the fight against Voldemort. No family that had survived had done so unscathed.
They had both noted Harry's relief on hearing that Molly Weasley had survived as well as George.
He'd listened intently when Remus had sought out for him those known to be still living from his days at Hogwarts: from Gryffindor, Dennis Creevey and Natalie MacDonald; from Hufflepuff, Justin Finch-Fletchley and his younger sister whom Harry had never met; from Ravenclaw, Su Li and Penelope Clearwater; from Slytherin, Millicent Bulstrode.
Sipping the excellent coffee Remus had poured into his cup, Severus shook his head, still bemused that she would be one of the few Slytherin survivors. "Bulstrode. I can't get over the fact that she managed to survive. I would have thought someone with greater skills than hers..."
Remus shrugged as he joined them at the table. "How did anyone survive? Sheer luck and happenstance, I would assume. By the way, she works for me, in the shop. She has a very good eye for detail. Blames you for that, Severus."
"And just how I am responsible?" Severus growled, scowling at his breakfast plate.
Remus shared a smile with Harry. "Seems you were very particular about details. She says she handles any purchase on behalf of the shop as though she'll have to explain her choice to you. Makes her very good at what she does. She was the first one to notice something about the sign. She cried when I told her you were alive."
She cried again when the men entered the shop and she spied her former Head of House.
"Professor!" and she burst into tears. Severus put his arms about her and held her as she clutched him, murmuring, "Professor," over and over again.
When she calmed down enough to wipe her face and blow her nose, she spied Harry and, with no hesitation at seeing a survivor of a rival House, she went up to him and hugged him. "Potter. I never thought I'd hear myself say this, but I am so pleased to see you again."
Millicent, like all of them, had been changed by That Day. Though she was still a stocky female, she carried herself with less belligerence and more assuredness. Her hair was longer and she scooped it up with a variety of combs and clips so that she looked rather attractive.
"In a Slytherin way," Harry later added when he and Severus were once more sharing the pull-out in Remus's sitting room.
"I'm not attracted to females, if that's what you're asking."
Harry propped himself up on an elbow. "I wasn't but thank you. Now I won't feel like I'm overstepping your bounds when I kiss you."
Which he did.
Severus was not a passive participant though he was the one to break off. "Harry. I still can't..."
Harry placed a finger on Severus's lips. "Shhh. We'll take it slowly. I'm in no rush. It'll come back, like the Magic is."
In spite of lying on his back, Severus managed a shrug. "You seem very certain of that."
Harry lay his head on Severus's shoulder. "I am the Boy Who Lived. I survived over four years as a crup. I am certain of a lot of things."
Severus laughed softly. "Arrogant Gryffindor."
"Optimistic Gryffindor." He curled his arm around Severus's waist, felt another wrap itself around his shoulders. "We've had too much sadness in our lives, Severus. Let's look on the bright side for a time. We'll deal with reality when we have no other choice."
Their last day, Remus got on the phone and contacted whomever he could. That evening, the flat was almost overfilled with people who brought food and news, who came to greet the latest surprises in their lives, and to discuss the fact that they all seemed to have felt twinges of Magic or to have experienced some of its return.
Severus was taken aback to be hugged by Doris Crockford who remembered him as a child when his grandfather had brought him to Diagon Alley to purchase his wand. Arthur Peasegood was another of those who was pleased to see him.
Harry was clutched tightly by Cedric Diggory's mother as she wept into his shoulder.
Among the faces there were some that they knew in one form or another. There was a Fortescue son with his two daughters, one of the Japes nephews, a Goyle niece and a Crabbe cousin.
Harry's grin nearly split his face when Arabella Figg entered the flat and placed a tall platter of small cakes on Remus's sideboard.
"Mrs. Figg! How are all the cats?"
Arabella Figg shook her light cloak, littering the air nearby with cat hair. "Very well, Harry. Thank you for asking."
Neither of them, Severus noticed, mentioned the Dursleys.
"We need to be careful," offered Philistone Hardwood, who had once been an Auror with a bright future. "There are some who would use this power for themselves."
"Malfoy," said Severus, exchanging a look with Harry.
Hardwood nodded as several others did. "Many of us have had a little visit from the man and his representatives. He knows something is up, but not what. At the moment, he is far too busy trying to secure his position in the world of Muggle corporations to pay us much attention, but the day will come when he notices. He was after all a wizard of some power and if the Magic is returning to us, it must be returning to him as well."
There were murmurs of disgust in the rooms. The Crabbe and Goyle family representatives were very quiet, though the fact that so much was being discussed in front of them indicated to Severus that the two sides had truly forged new ties.
"And then there is Hogwarts," said Hardwood.
The entire flat went quiet.
"Yes," agreed Severus quietly. "If Diagon Alley is in the process of reestablishing itself, then so might Hogsmeade. Maybe even Hogwarts."
There were many who exchanged glances, who stared at their hands, who tried not to remember That Day. Severus saw the sadness in Harry's face, somehow knowing that Harry was remembering the loss of his friends, Granger and Weasley in particular. For a moment he too was lost in his memories of his colleagues. He'd never again have Albus Dumbledore try to ease him out of one of his moods with the offer of a lemon drop, or argue with Minerva McGonagall about her precious Gryffindors.
Hardwood cleared his throat loudly before continuing. "We will need people to oversee those sites. But the one who should oversee Hogwarts must be someone who was once equally powerful. Someone who knows the place well, knows its history, and will be able to make decisions wisely."
And then Hardwood turned to look at Severus. Remus nodded his head and looked at the man sitting on a chair, with Harry cross-legged at his feet.
One by one, those near-by turned to look at the only Head of House still alive. Softly, the word made its way around the small flat and most of the heads nodded. Many of them had been taught by Severus at one time or another. Others had worked with him in the Order of the Phoenix. Some had fought against him. Those remaining had at least heard of him.
Feeling the weight of all that responsibility, Severus shook his head.
Harry reached up and placed his hand on the clenched fists. "Reality, Severus."
They went back to the hut near Achnacarry and closed it up. Severus emptied his account at the Post Office. They told Jamie's Gordie they were leaving so that he could include the site during his patrols.
Then, their belongings on their backs, they boarded the first of many buses on their way to Tarfside, where they spent the night in a small room over the local pub. In the morning, they managed to hitch a ride that would drop them off on the road to Loch Lee.
"Hogwarts is...was on the far side of the loch," said Severus, settling his backpack on his shoulders. "We'll have to hike to get to it, there isn't any road."
Harry squinted at the water, trying to see it from a different prospective. "It is the Lake."
Severus nodded. "The Muggles used to have a train line that came up through here that the Express used whenever they didn't. When they stopped all rail service to this part of Scotland, we spelled the tracks to look as though they had been removed. I wonder if anyone has discovered they weren't."
"Won't people wonder what we're up to, hiking up here?" Harry followed Severus off the narrow pathway that seemed to lead around the loch.
"Hogwarts was built near the site of an old castle, a ruin even in the days when the Four decided to locate their school here."
Harry nodded. "I remember Her...Hermione once told us that there was a spell set on the ruin so that anyone who came near it would suddenly be overwhelmed with the urge to go away."
They went slowly. Severus stopped every few hundred feet, looking around so that if anyone was indeed watching them, it would seem as if they were merely enjoying the view.
Which they were. To an extent.
It was hard to look at the peaceful countryside, the trees, the still blue of the loch in the morning light without remembering That Day when the area had been anything but peaceful. When the hills and craigs echoed with the sounds of spells and hexes and Unforgivable Curses. With cries of pain and of anger. With the cackles of delight that belonged to those surrounding Voldemort as he had grown more and more powerful with each passing minute.
At one point, they skirted a dense growth of forest. Harry shivered, feeling the urge to hurry away. "There's something about these trees..."
Severus nodded, not slowing his pace. "They are old growth forest, the last on the Isle."
Harry looked around, aware of the shadows. "The Forbidden Forest?"
"You can feel...the Magic - for want of a better word - here. Don't stop. It may not be what it once was, but it is still too old to dawdle."
Harry hurried his pace to match Severus's.
Then there was a small plain ahead of them and a rise to the right with the ruins of a Norman castle.
"Just beyond that," said Severus.
Harry shook his head. "The ruin is that close. Why didn't we ever see it?"
Severus smiled. "The Forest was spelled to surround it. It kept you all away. Well," he shrugged as he headed off, "most of you. We had trouble keeping the Weasley Twins away from the ruin. They thought it funny to test a few of their inventions there, certain we wouldn't know. And it had the added advantage of scaring whatever hikers were in the area."
Harry snickered. "They were something, weren't they?"
Severus hesitated and then continued walking a little more quickly. "They were indeed."
Harry slowed a little, trying to see the plain as it once had been. He'd played Quidditch here. It looked so bare without the draped stands, without the hoops.
And if he remembered properly, the spot by the grove of trees was where Hagrid's hut had stood. He stopped, overwhelmed by memories.
Harry looked up to see Severus watching him with worry etched on his face.
"No more blast-ended skewts."
Severus said nothing. He waited for Harry to swallow his grief and join him.
They stopped again on the slight rise that had once led to the main gates of Hogwarts.
Neither man looked at the other, not needing to see the pain, the loss on the other's face. Each had trouble enough dealing with his own memories.
Severus finally turned to look back at field that had once been littered with bodies. "We must hold a Purification as soon as we can, otherwise the dead will never rest here."
Then he moved off, heading for the side that had once housed his rooms, his classrooms, his personal laboratory. He stood there, eyes squinting, trying to see the downed stones of Hogwarts.
Harry came to stand next to him. "We're tired," he said softly. "Why don't we set up camp and then explore?"
Harry and Severus both turned at the voice.
A man, red haired, looking older than his years, came out of the shadows of the near-by trees.
"Harry? Dear Merlin! What the hell are you two doing here?"
Severus found his Head of House voice. "I think considering that we have been given the authority to be here, it might be more prudent for you to explain just what you are doing here, Weasley?"
"Protecting the place, of course. What else would I be doing?"
George Weasley came up to the two men. As if still not believing his eyes, he touched both of them, Severus hesitantly as though expecting him to either disappear or to snap at him.
"Yes, it truly is I, Weasley. Alive and in as human a form as yourself."
A slow smile made Weasley's face younger. "Yes, it truly is you, Professor. Only you can growl that way."
More understanding than he used to be, Severus raised the haughty eyebrow he had perfected on years of students. "I do not growl, Weasley."
George's smile grew almost giddy. "I beg to contradict you, sir, but you do. And a beautiful growl it is. Hello, Harry. I take it that you're real as well."
Harry pulled George into his arms and held him tightly. When they released each other, their eyes were wetly bright. George turned as if to hug Severus in turn but suddenly grew shy, as though remembering that the man before him had been a Head of House. He offered his hand instead and with equal seriousness, Severus shook it.
"And what are you protecting the place from, Weasley?"
George shoved his hands into his jeans pockets. "Archaeological students. Now that the ruin isn't spelled any more, they've been coming up here to dig around. We're just keeping an eye on them."
"We. There are three more of us up here. Do you remember Tom Thompkins, Professor? He was a few years ahead of us."
They'd arrived at what was obviously the base camp. There were two fairly large tents up, hidden in the shadows of the trees. Severus shrugged off his backpack and used the occasion to stretch as he thought. "Stocky type? Muggle parents? Wasn't he the one who left in the middle of sixth year to go read Muggle Medicine? Because his parents were ill and he knew that Magic couldn't help them?"
George nodded. "He finished his residency about the time of...the War. He came up here to see if he could be of help. He got here in time to help with the burials."
"I don't remember seeing him," said Severus. "But by then, everyone looked alike, shell-shocked and exhausted."
"He's stayed in the area. He's set up a small practice. He's married to one of us, Amanda Honeyduke. She was the one who contacted me when she noticed the students and their shovels."
"Why you and not Lupin?" Severus wondered.
George shrugged, not quite pulling off his old nonchalance. "I... She thought it would give me something to do besides drink." He looked up and faced them. "I wasn't doing too well. It's hard, not having Fred..."
Severus reached out and placed his hand on George's shoulder.
George continued after a moment. "They live in Inchgrundle. A Honeydukes squib cousin preferred living there than in Hogsmeade. She and Tom spend their weekends out here with us. They'll arrive by lunchtime. Tom makes Amanda take her time getting here because she's pregnant. He wants her to move into the city, but she wants to be as close to Hogsmeade as possible." He found his smile. "And in winter, when there are no students, we move in with them."
"We?" asked Harry.
The fourth member of the Guardians, as they called themselves, managed to astonish even Severus. He came up the path to the camp, carrying apples in his knapsack along with other fruit that he had "found" on trees in the area.
"Longbottom!" Severus felt his jaw drop.
"Ah, fuck!" replied his former bane. He shrugged off his knapsack and came over to the two. "Hello, Harry. Nice to see you alive."
"Neville," smiled Harry and grabbed his old dorm-mate in a hug. Avoiding Severus's stare, Neville returned the hug smiling.
"Why didn't you report in to Professor Lupin?" Severus finally asked when they all sat around the small fire. It was cool under the trees.
Neville shrugged. "Who would have cared? It wasn't as though I was much of a wizard when I was one."
Severus had the conscience to wince.
"He would have," said Harry. "You know Professor Lupin liked you. He'll be delighted that you're still with us."
Neville just shrugged again, casting wary looks at Severus whenever he thought he wasn't being watched.
There were more hugs when the other two arrived, Tom carrying a backpack laden with foodstuff. Over a meal to which everyone contributed, the six caught up with each others' lives. Then, over coffee - milk for Amanda - Severus cleared his throat and got down to business, explaining about the regenerating magic, the secrets buried under Hogwarts stones and the possible problem of Lucius Malfoy.
"Last month, there were strangers snooping around," said George. "Not students. They weren't interested in the ruin. They came with shovels and tried to dig here and there, according to a map."
"They didn't find anything," said Tom, his arm around Amanda.
"That's because they couldn't see the stones," she said.
The group looked at the young woman who rested her head on Tom's shoulder.
Tom was as surprised as the rest of them. "Manda, love, what do you mean?"
Amanda bit her lip and then sighed loudly. She looked at Tom and then at all the others. "The stones there." She pointed to where Hogwarts had once stood. "There's a mound of them. I take it that none of you can see them?"
Severus slowly rose and went to where she had indicated. He squinted, trying hard to focus. Harry came up to him and placed his hand on Severus's shoulder, trying to intensify the Magic in order to see what Amanda saw.
She came to stand by them. "I've only been able to see them fairly recently. Since the baby's begun moving. Not well at first, more like a shadow. But gradually, more and more every time we come up here, I see them more clearly."
One by one the others joined them.
"It might work better if we touch. And concentrate." Severus held out his hands. Harry took one and George, the other. He offered his free hand to Tom who, eyes on his wife, took it.
Neville stood next to Amanda, his hand on her shoulder, and watched the four men. Gradually, the air in front of them thickened and the faint image of collapsed stones appeared.
"Merlin!" Neville reached out his free hand and Harry grabbed it.
The stones solidified.
Severus slowly turned his head. "Longbottom," he whispered, "let go of Amanda for a moment."
Neville forced his eyes away from the stones. He turned to look at the young woman who was watching the stones as though there was nothing special about the sight. He released his hold on her shoulder and took a step closer to Harry.
The stones wavered and then stabilized once more, though less solid than they had been.
As they watched, Amanda walked up to the stones and touched them. "They're warm," she said. "They always are, no matter the weather." She turned and smiled at the men. "I'm sorry I didn't tell you. I thought you'd think I was imagining things."
Severus shook his head. "Is there anything else you think we should know?"
She smiled. "Well, I am hungry."
Tom laughed. "You're always hungry." And offering his wife his hand, he led the way back to the camp.
George grimaced as the stones faded even more, then turned to Severus. "Do you think it might have to do with the baby?"
Severus shrugged. "I have no idea. Would an entity who has come into being after That Day be born with the Magic that was taken away from all those alive?"
The men turned to look at Neville.
"After all, if Muggles can bring forth a wizard or a witch, why shouldn't a demagicked witch be able to do the same?"
Severus nodded. "Good point, Longbottom," he said, his voice approving. "Well worth thinking about."
Neville's mouth dropped open.
Harry and Severus set up the tent they had borrowed from one of Remus's contacts under the trees while Amanda, on Tom's orders, took a nap in the Thompkins tent.
"My father was only going through the motions of living," said George when Harry finally found the courage to ask about the Weasleys that evening after dinner. "I think the loss of Ginny was the final blow. She lived long enough for him to find her so she could die in his arms. All he did was sit in a chair and stare at the walls. Mum could never get a reaction out of him. Except for the day he walked into the river. He smiled at her that day and I think she knew he was saying goodbye."
George shrugged. "Mum was always the backbone of the family."
"Where is she now?" Harry's voice was soft in the night air.
"With Zanna Lestrange. They're running a home for the children who were left completely orphaned. In Sheffield."
"Lestrange?" Severus was stunned.
"Sheffield?" said Harry.
George answered Severus first. "Yeah, I know what you mean: strange bedfellows. But when you've lost so much... They have that in common. Zanna is the last of her family. And they knew that if the children were placed in Muggle homes, the Muggles wouldn't be able to understand their fears and nightmares." He smiled. "Mum's in charge of the children's care and Zanna handles the finances. She's incredible at stretching out a budget. They make a good team.
"And Sheffield," he answered Harry, "because that's where they could find a house large enough and cheap enough. Seems someone - Mum won't tell us whom - offered to pay the rent and some of the bills if she would take the children. And the Authorities there are already so overwhelmed with Muggle cases so that Zanna thought they could easily slip by unnoticed. It's worked so far."
"I wonder if they've noticed anything," murmured Harry as he crawled first into their small tent.
"I'm certain George will find a way of getting that information." Severus stilled for a breath and then finished entering. Harry had set up their bedding so that instead of two sleeping rolls, there was one. In the dark, he undressed and, without commenting, got under the comforter that he had carried among his things.
Harry waited until he had, removed his glasses and stored them safely in his boots. He slid under the covers, close to the man who lay staring at the canvas roof of their new home.
"Warmer this way," he whispered into Severus's ear. "Don't you agree?" He blew a soft stream of air into the ear, wondering if it would have the same effect on this man he loved as it had on him.
Severus shivered, but didn't pull away.
Harry let his hand find the warm skin next to him, allowed it to travel over the wiry muscles of the chest, then down to the hip and across the stomach. As he lightly skimmed the tense body, he was rewarded with a flutter of response. He used his fingertips push past the waistband of Severus's underwear, to card through the rough pubes, to brush the length of this man he thought of as his lover.
Severus's hand clamped down on his, not moving it away, keeping it there. "You'll get a better response in one of the other tents."
Harry smiled in the dark. "Maybe. But it's not them I want."
Severus turned his head slowly. Even this close he could barely make out the glint in the myopic eyes. He pulled his free hand out from under the covers and used the back of his knuckles to graze a roughened cheek. Harry leaned into the touch. Then, for the first time, Severus pulled Harry's head down to his. He brushed his lips back and forth across the nearer cheek, the chin, the jaw line, approaching but never once capturing the lips that waited for his.
"Tease," Harry whispered roughly, allowing him to continue.
Severus felt a warmth in the pit of his stomach. The heat raised when he finally permitted himself the pleasure of tasting the mouth that opened for him.
He stood overlooking a part of the plain, eyes scanning the area as though seeking something in the early morning mist.
"Is it hard for you to be back here?"
Severus glanced over his shoulder at Amanda. She was wearing a heavy fisherman's sweater that bagged over her slight form. Like the rest of them she wore jeans and a solid pair of boots. Her short blond hair caught the sunlight. Her usual smile was missing.
"It's not easy. It's not where I would prefer to be."
"And where would you prefer to be, Professor Snape?"
Severus shrugged. He wasn't certain. Back in the days before Voldemort? Back at the hut where all he had to worry about was his latest batch of potions? Both those times seemed so less complicated than the present.
She came up to him and slipped her arm under his. "What are you looking for?"
Severus allowed her arm to remain where it was, silently accepting her offer of help. "The place I regained consciousness. I had my wand in my hand when Goyle hit me. I must have dropped it there."
Amanda nodded. With a small smile, she reached under her sweater and into a pocket. She held out her closed hand. "Here, use this. It may help."
Severus looked at the shard she dropped into his open hand. "What is this?"
"A piece of Hogwarts. Unlike the other stones, it's remained solid. And warm."
He looked up at her but she merely shrugged. "I have no idea. I picked it up one of those first days I saw the stones. It's kept its form."
Severus closed his fist over the piece and turned back to the plain.
He concentrated on finding the place deep within himself where, according to his grandfather - breaking most of the rules of wizardry in teaching him before he was of age - resided his core of Magic.
The stone in his hand grew warmer, grew even hot.
There was nothing. Not even a change in the slight breeze that blew across the plain.
Severus closed his eyes and refocused. He imagined the spot he had battled with Goyle, pictured his being hit with that first blast of enhanced Cruciatus, his wand flying out of his hand to land...
On a small near-by mound, the earth was trembling. Then shuddering. Then splitting open. A dirt-encrusted twig wriggled its way out of the wound and tried hard to hover. It gave itself a shake, flickering earth off, and then it rose and flew right into Severus's open hand.
Severus stared at it, in disbelief. Without being aware, he dropped to his knees, cradling the thin stick to his chest.
Amanda later swore to the others that she heard the wand humming with happiness.
Severus spent the next few days testing his powers. Though the wand did indeed direct them, they were still weak. It took the shard and the wand for him to be able to perform some simple magic. But it was a start and Severus felt whole again, as he hadn't since That Day.
One by one, those whose wands had been lost on the field of battle, stood by him, holding on to him as they merged their powers and joyously ordered their wands to appear. First Harry the next day, then George the day after that. And then, in spite of his protest that his wouldn't be of much help, they all merged their powers and helped Neville to call up his wand.
Tom and Amanda still had theirs as neither had participated in the actual battle. Tom had been in Edinburgh and Amanda had been sent away to stay with the squib cousin.
A week after finding his wand, Severus stood with the others in a circle in the middle of what had once been the Quidditch pitch. With their wands in one hand, the other resting on the shoulder of the person next to them, Severus led them in the Purification Ritual. It was not what it should have been - even with their powers combined, they still hadn't enough for a true Purification - but it was a beginning.
His voice ringing clearly in the early morning, Severus ended the Ritual with: "We offer onto the ones who died here for our cause our infinite gratitude for their sacrifice. We offer peace onto the ones who fought for their beliefs, whether we agreed with them or not. We offer rest for spirits who seek rest and reparation for those who seek reparation. In Life, there were factions; in Death, let there be unity."
The winter finally forced the four campers to move into the small house in Inchgrundle where they filled the days with writing down whatever spells, charms, hexes they could remember. Severus filled children's copybook after copybook with the recipes for potions.
Amanda's child, a boy, was safely delivered at home by his father the first day of the new year. He was loud, strong and she named him Novus.
She carried him in a bundle bag against her chest one warm, sunny day along the path to where Hogsmeade had resided. The others followed with a sense of wary trepidation and expectance. Were they depending too much on the presence of Magic in a babe barely a month old?
Amanda was disappointed that all of Hogsmeade didn't suddenly come into focus, but enough did that Severus felt it was time to contact Lupin and Hardwood.
The four men trekked into Tarfside to give the new family time to be alone with one another. While George and Neville went to order a hot meal for them all at the local pub, Harry waited outside the public phone where Severus was placing a call to Remus.
"Repeat that, will you, Remus. I didn't hear what you were saying." And, with a grin, Severus held the phone out so that Harry would hear Remus's and Millicent's incredulous and stunned responses to all their news.
It was early March when Hardwood could get away from his Muggle job long enough to visit the once more established camp.
He was older than Severus by a couple of years, a Ravenclaw, not all that tall, but with a sense of self that had survived That Day.
He had also once possessed a greater than average magical ability. "My mother," he confessed to Severus as they walked the plain alone, "thought that waiting until I was officially old enough to learn approved skills was a waste of my ability. I had a hard time hiding what I knew when I began my schooling."
Severus stopped, staring off into the distance at the ruin. "I wonder..."
Hardwood turned and waited while Severus thought.
"I wonder if that may not be why our Magic is returning more quickly than with others. You and I both were trained at a far earlier age. Harry had an abnormal experience with very strong Magic while nothing more than an infant. George...well, you're not going to tell me that Bill and Charlie didn't teach the twins things they shouldn't have."
Hardwood thought about that. "That doesn't explain Amanda. The birth of the child should have returned her Magic to her previous levels and it hasn't."
"No, but she's of this place. And Neville postulates that once the Magic gains a footing, it remains."
"Well," said Hardwood, after they'd continued walking, "if we ever get established once again, we may have to rethink our philosophy of education. Maybe begin some training earlier."
He stopped and looked around, frowning. "It may be time," he said pensively, "to call a Gathering."
Severus was startled. "A Gathering? A Gathering hasn't been called in... Well, not since 894. When the Department of Aurors was set up in response to Muggle witch hunts."
Hardwood nodded. "Here, at Hogwarts. This summer. We can use the plain for tents. It'll look like a family reunion. Merlin knows, we're not that many any more."
Hardwood thought a moment. "It'll have to be."
Hardwood grimaced. "No choice. We need to know what's happening to all of us and, let's face it, even with our Magic combined, we're still not strong enough to do more than boost the presence of magical places."
He grinned at Severus. "I'll leave you to deal with the local authorities. The `papers' Remus has sent down indicating that you're here for archaeological purposes will provide you with enough backing to satisfy their initial inquiries. I'll have him supply you with what's necessary to cover the Gathering. "
Severus grumbled. "Thanks ever so much." Then a small smile slipped out. "Whoever would have thought that werewolves were so able at forgery."
Hardwood laughed. "You can find anything you want on the Internet, Severus. It's just a matter of knowing how to go about it."
Severus rolled his eyes.
Hardwood looked about the plain. "I was about there when the End came."
Holding onto a concentrating Severus, Philistone Hardwood called out to his wand. It took a second attempt but it too came to him. The expression on his face equaled the joy that had filled Harry and George and even Neville on finding theirs.
"By the way," Hardwood told only Severus before he left, "Lupin is having trouble with the full moon. His personality undergoes a change and he's...difficult. Only Millicent seems to be able to deal with him that day."
Severus sighed. "I need to get to my old rooms."
Hardwood said nothing.
"Before Malfoy," added Severus.
Hardwood nodded gravely, then tossed out a few names of survivors who might have more power than they were willing to admit aloud.
"Hardwood is going to see whom he can convince to come out before he announces the Gathering." Severus snuggled against the warm body of his lover. Harry shifted so that Severus's leg slipped between Harry's two. Though still not capable of getting an erection, Severus's cock was showing more signs of life than it had in years. "Even previous years," Severus had admitted one night as hands had warmed cool skin.
Harry stroked the dark head on his chest, his hand gliding down to a shoulder and then back up to clasp Severus's nape as he claimed a kiss. "We can start excavating the area," he murmured against the skin of a throat that bore his love marks.
"Cleaning it up," the tip of Severus's tongue drew the whorls in Harry's ear, causing him to shiver. A hardening length twitched against his hip. Severus smiled and, teasing, his hand made its way down to encourage greater hardness.
Harry sighed and nuzzled a pebbly nipple. Some parts of Severus's body were more responsive than others. As the Magic was slowly gaining power, so was Harry's touch. He didn't see the fact that Severus had not yet achieved orgasm as a deterrent. It was giving him time to learn his lover's body, what pleased him. It was giving them time to heal wounds each of them had and had carried for far too many years.
Severus's hand lightly played with Harry's erection, making him moan. Fingers teased the sensitive skin of his balls and taunted his arsehole. He rubbed himself hard against the man raising the heat in the small tent.
The spring had been fairly mild. Still, body heat was a marvelous invention, Harry had confided to Severus one particularly memorable night when Severus had decided that at least one of them should come from their explorations.
He came now, smothering the sounds of his orgasm against Severus's shoulder. George had teased them for days after Harry's shout of completion had awakened the two men who shared - platonically they had hurried to specify - one of the tents on the site.
Severus grinned and managed to pull up his hand without wetting the covers. "Hmm," he purred, licking his fingers, "crme de Harry."
Harry snickered. "Absorb all the protein that you can, Severus Snape, because, so help me, the night I get you hard, I have no intentions of allowing you any sleep."
"Arrogant Gryffindor," murmured Severus, passing Harry the old towel they used for wipe up.
"Optimistic Gryffindor," Harry countered, nestling as close as possible.
Hardwood appeared one April day without warning. He came with Lupin, with three members of the former Order of the Phoenix: Arabella Figg, Mundungus Fletcher, and Pheodore Millett. All of whom had their wands.
And with a surprise that stunned everyone of the Guardians.
"I believe you all know Viktor Krum."
They all stared at the former Seeker for Bulgaria.
All Harry could do was shake his head at Krum who was smiling rather bashfully at them all.
"Viktor! What... How?"
The smile grew more confident. "Thought I should come remind you about the proper way to catch a Snitch."
And Harry laughed as he hugged the man.
"Word has leaked out that Magic is coming back," explained Hardwood. "Remus thinks that someone must have mentioned it in a letter to family who reside in Europe. Viktor here flew by plane into Manchester. He feels that the ban on travel is confined to magical means. At least, that'll be his defence if he's called on it."
Severus shook his head at the grinning Bulgarian while the others laughed. "What is it about Seekers that they feel the rules never include them?" But he smiled at the only wizard who had dared come help them.
"They told us we would lose our Magic if we stood on British soil," Krum shook his head in disgust. "It weakened. I could feel it weaken, but it hasn't left me."
"Yes, well, be careful with it," Hardwood counseled. "It may be weaker but it is still stronger than anything we have combined. And we will have need of all that you can provide this afternoon."
And then Hardwood took Severus aside. "Remus's lycanthropy is growing more pronounced. He's not yet changed, but it will happen at some time. He, and the others, need your wolfsbane potion. No," he held up his hand, forestalling Severus, "we both know that you may not have the Magic needed for proper spelling, but they need to know that the eventuality is there. For their own sanity and peace of mind."
Severus looked to the spot under the trees where Remus was standing, staring at the wand in his hand.
The werewolf shrugged sadly. "I kept it in a drawer in the store. Until I picked it up to come here, it hasn't been in my hand since... All of this... It's...frightening."
Severus went and put his arms around Remus. "I know what you mean," he said softly. "We were just getting used to the changes and now, there's all this...
Remus sighed as he leaned into Severus's comfort. "I missed the Magic, Severus, but I can't say the same about the lycanthropy. If I get the one back, I have to deal with the other once again."
"It's all about losses and gains," agreed Severus. "I lost my Potions but gained Harry. Harry lost everyone who was important to him and gained me. What a bargain!" he said ruefully.
Remus kissed Severus on the cheek, taking him by surprise. "A great bargain. And a great one for all of us. I'm so glad that you survived, Severus."
Severus's eyebrow rose high. "The Greasy Git?"
Remus nodded. "The one who brought us hope, Severus. Even if nothing more happens, you made us believe again."
Severus shook his head. "Please, no more responsibilities."
Remus slipped his arm under Severus's as they went to rejoin the others. "We wouldn't have given them to you if we'd thought you couldn't handle them."
Harry was showing Krum around their camp, introducing him to the others who were all delighted to learn that their visitor had no trouble whatsoever seeing the stones.
"That will make things so much easier," he smiled at the Bulgarian who was staring wide-eyed and shaking his head sadly at the destruction around him.
They were off by themselves, by the lake where once a masted ship had risen out of the water.
"Viktor. What's the real reason you've come?" Harry smiled at the man's expression of innocent surprise.
"Can I not be here pulled by the sense of adventure? The thought of breaking the rules, as your Severus has said?"
Harry said nothing, only shook his head slightly.
Krum shrugged, turned so that he was looking out at the former Quidditch pitch.
"I... We had no idea who was alive and who was dead. We had heard, of course, about the big names, but..."
He went silent, and Harry waited.
"I..." He sighed loudly. "I needed to know if Hermione..."
Harry placed his hand on Krum's shoulder. "Oh, Viktor, I'm so sorry. I didn't know that you and Hermione..."
Krum stared at the ground. "No reason for you to know. We had been keeping in touch, but only as friends. You know, birthday cards, Hallowe'en cards, that kind of thing. The occasional letter when we had news to share. Friend stuff."
He shrugged but Harry had the feeling he would have liked it to be more than friendship. That on Viktor's part, it had probably been more than friendship. Harry found it hard to swallow all of a sudden. He had to clear his throat.
"Still..." and Harry could hear the loss in his soft voice, "I would have liked my parents to meet her, at least once."
Harry squeezed Viktor's shoulder; Viktor turned to face him, his eyes sad but with a small smile on his face. "Once I got here and knew for certain, I also knew she would have wanted me to stay and help as much as I can."
And Harry took the man into his arms and offered the only comfort that he could: silent support and a whispered, "Thank you."
That afternoon, they all made their way to the part of Hogwarts the Guardians had been clearing up. Stones had been carefully numbered before they were moved and the top of a stairway had been revealed.
"Those were right by my office door."
More than that, Severus couldn't say. There had been a door from his office to his rooms and another to the small laboratory that he had used for his personal experiments.
This was to be a test of the new Magic. Everyone was nervous, aware that if something should go wrong, the cost would be high.
Hardwood took up his place at the top of the stairway. Amanda, wand in hand, with Novus in his bundle bag, stood next to Hardwood. On her other side, Tom smiled at his son who was gurgling happily from all the attention he had been getting. The Guardians stood side by side to the right of Hardwood while Remus and the remnants of the Order of the Phoenix claimed the space on his left.
Viktor Krum stood with Severus, ready to go down with him if this plan worked.
Severus took one last look at Harry who smiled at him, the fear he couldn't hide in his eyes.
Severus turned his attention and focus on the stairs.
At a gesture from Severus, all wands were raised, hands reached out to form a link between wizards and witches.
After some discussion, it had been decided that it might prove easier simply to raise the stones that filled the stairway rather than have them reassemble. They couldn't just remove them, there were far too many of them.
Faces frowning with concentration, those focusing on the stones pointed their wands and spoke the spells with firm determination.
At first...nothing happened. But as the spells grew in confidence and assuredness, the stones shifted slightly...then more and more. A rough grumbling broke the silence of the air, as though the stones were petulantly protesting their being awakened from their deep sleep. Then slowly, one by one, they rocked...and pulled away...and began to rise, reluctantly revealing more of the stairway.
Krum took a deep breath and, chanting, began the descent. Severus followed, his constant murmur echoing the same spells. A Muggle torch in his hand, he lit the way for both of them. He concentrated on the steps, trusting the others to keep the stones that rose over his head aloft, ridding his mind of all thoughts of being under those stones should they drop.
In front of him, Magic radiating off him in re-enforcing waves, Krum loudly spelled the way clear, carefully raising the stones until the others took control of them.
It was painstaking work. The stairway was deep, over sixty steps down. The way cleared barely allowed Krum to descend without brushing the stones that hadn't been moved. Now and then he would touch them and they would groan as though thinking of collapsing onto them. But his Magic continued strong enough to prevent them from doing so.
Both men were dripping with sweat by the time they reached the floor of the once hallway.
The light of the torch showed them the door to Severus's office hanging on a hinge. After a moment's thought, Severus dropped to his hands and knees and crawled between Krum's legs to get access to the door. With some effort - he couldn't ask Krum for help as the Bulgarian was spelling stability into the stones around them - Severus managed to push the door open enough for both of them to slip in. Amazingly enough, the thick beams of hemlock, petrified over the centuries, had held: there was a roof to his office.
And there was a sense of Magic filling him as he walked over the bedrock that composed the floor in this part of the school. He found his desk crushed under some secondary beam which hadn't held. Carefully, he found its secret drawer and in it the small gold cask that held his grandfather's library, a library that he had miniaturized long ago to keep it from the wrong hands.
"Quickly," murmured Krum. "I don't know how long the others..."
Severus nodded. Another door, one that had held. His laboratory was covered in dust but it had more or less survived intact. "Krum, I need you. Cast a miniaturizing spell and then call all the contents to you."
"Faster that way. And you have the power."
Krum nodded. "Well," he whispered, "if the roof continues doing its part..."
He cast a quick spell and though response was not as quick as he would have liked, beakers, cauldrons, instruments, bottles of dry and vials of liquid, jars and bags of unknown ingredients, all reduced in size and came to his call. All were quickly stored in a small basket that Snape had pulled out of a cupboard.
Severus took a last look at this room that had been the centre of so much of his life and then turned his back on it and, with Krum spelling tiredly behind him, they both ran out and up the stairs to the clean air.
They no sooner stepped onto the ground than the others allowed the stones to drop.
Faces white with exhaustion, clothing soaked with sweat, hands trembling and bodies aching, the group barely found the energy to grin at the two men. Even Novus was silent.
Harry staggered over to Severus who had dropped to his knees. He held onto Severus, rubbing his cheek against the other's. He needed to reassure himself that Severus was truly in his arms, not a puddle of bloody custard under tons of rocks.
"It's all right, love," Severus whispered, holding the young man as tightly as he was being held.
"The bedrock pulses Magic," Severus told them as they sat around the campfire, mugs of broth in their hands. Amanda had settled the pot onto the embers before setting out so that they would have something warm to drink.
Krum nodded. "I could feel it as well. I think the castle may have fallen, but the Magic in the bedrock is still there, still strong."
Remus grinned tiredly at Severus. "See, I told you. Hope."
For the rest of the day, Harry barely allowed him out of hand's reach. It was as though he needed the constant reassurance that Severus was truly there.
Once, Severus would have found that annoying, stifling, but now he too felt he needed the reassurance that he was not buried under a pile of stones.
So he wasn't all that surprised when, no sooner inside their tent, Harry attacked him.
He'd barely had time to pull off his sweater when Harry was on top of him, pushing him down, rubbing himself against Severus, his hands all over him.
Severus held his hands away from his body, slightly taken aback by the intensity of Harry's actions, but then his hands buried themselves in Harry's hair and all he wanted was to taste his lover, to know that they were both alive. He hauled Harry's head up so that he could claim his mouth.
They didn't speak.
Harry's hands rubbed hard against Severus's hips, forcing down the clothing that prevented his hands from touching skin.
Severus growled as he tried to pull Harry's sweatshirt over his head, finally succeeding when Harry was busy wriggling down Severus's chest, his mouth ungently biting here and there.
Harry yanked Severus's jeans open. Severus raised his hips for Harry to shove his underwear down enough to reveal his cock and balls.
And then gasped as Harry went down on him, sucking his cock hard, rolling the balls almost painfully in his hands.
Severus took hold of Harry's head and pressed downward. Hard. Not caring if his lover choked on his mouthful. All he wanted was the heat and the suction.
All Harry wanted was the cock hardening in his mouth.
He sucked hard, playing his tongue against the thick pulsing vein, rubbing his cheeks on the thickening cock whenever he pulled it out in order to breathe.
Severus buckled, raising his hips, demanding that his cock be taken again in that hot, wet mouth.
Harry suddenly seemed to understand just what was happening. He eyed the hard cock in his hand and, with a salacious grin at lover, he slowly, teasingly, licked the now purpled glans, flicked the foreskin with the tip of his tongue and at Severus's bellow of frustration, finally took his lover's cock deep within his mouth and swallowed.
Severus's hips rose, forcing his cock deeper into Harry's throat. His hands clawed Harry's head in his effort to increase the pressure on his erection, grunting, his libido finally awake and demanding appeasement.
Harry pulled back one more time, and Severus roared in angry need. He was so close, so close, so very close...
Then Harry took him back into his mouth, lightly scraping his teeth along overly sensitive skin, and deep-throated his lover once more.
And Severus screamed as he came.
He lay panting, eyes shut, barely aware of anything other than the throbbing in his body as his internal system continued reacting to his orgasm.
"Open your mouth, beloved. Taste yourself."
And somehow he found the focus to tell his mouth to open.
"Crme de Severus." Harry knew that he was ginning foolishly, but he didn't care.
Severus slowly opened his eyes as he savoured the taste Harry had transferred into his mouth.
"Personally," he said in a breathy voice, "I prefer crme de Harry."
Harry shrugged. "To each his own, I guess."
He brushed the sodden hair off Severus's face. "Well," he murmured into his lover's mouth, "if you don't want any, that's no reason for it to go to waste." Harry diligently licked the last of Severus's come from out of his mouth.
"You haven't come," Severus finally muttered into the hair resting just under his chin.
Harry laughed. "Tonight's yours."
Severus snorted. "Optimistic Gryffindor."
Harry raised his head and licked his lips while watching the heat grow in Severus's eyes. He allowed himself a lecherous smile which caused Severus to shake his head, refuting the chances of coming yet again.
Harry allowed the smile to widen into a grin. "Arrogant Gryffindor. And I'm arrogant enough to think I can get a couple more of those screams out of you."
Severus closed his eyes and groaned. "Oh, Merlin! George will never let me live that down!"
But George and the others were diplomatically silent on the subject the next day. Though there were more than a few knowing grins and nudges when they finally exited their tent late the next morning. And George did noticeably bite his tongue all day.
Using the network that Remus had set up, Philistone Hardwood let it be known that there would be a Gathering at what had been Hogwarts the last weekend in June. It was the beginning of Muggle holidays and so the people arriving would not attract all that much attention. Remus's documents had paved the way with the local Authorities to allow camping on the site.
Those who had found a way of earning a decent living - many had Muggle relatives more than willing to help them find jobs - arrived in Inchgrundle in cars, using the path to carry their tents and supplies for the weekend meeting to the plain. Those on scooters or motorcycles carefully drove them up to the camp site. Others arrived as Severus and Harry had, by a variety of buses to Tarfside where many with cars had volunteered to taxi people back and forth.
Molly Weasley and Zanna Lestrange, who was nearly Molly's age, were the first who arrived, a couple of days early, along with their charges. Twentythree youngsters from the ages of two to seventeen.
Zanna Lestrange and Severus stood looking at each other warily while Molly hugged her son tightly, greeted the others and cooed over the new babe.
The niece to the Lestranges who had been confined to Azkaban before being released to join their Dark Lord, Zanna Lestrange had also worked for Voldemort, but had not been one of the inner circle. She looked at the man whom she would once have called traitor and, raising her chin, offered him her hand.
Severus took it in his and, feeling how cold it was, knowing that she was courageous to have come and face unknown repercussions for her links to Voldemort, he placed his other hand on top of hers. "May I suggest that until all is as it once was, we put enmities aside and deal with the matter at hand?"
She smiled at him, a bit sadly. "You seem to think that there will be an asit -once-was."
She cocked her head and gave a small nod. "I think I prefer merely to put enmity aside and wait for a better-than-it-was."
Then a loud scream and the outbreak of an argument between two tired children claimed her attention.
As families arrived, it immediately became obvious that the children born after That Day had no trouble seeing the stones, even playing on them. By suppertime, the children who were older but hadn't yet hit puberty could see them faintly. But as the hours went by, they seemed to be absorbing some power from the stones themselves and, by the afternoon of the second day, were playing on the stones, moving about them about as easily as were the younger children.
Casual conversation revealed the women who had borne new babes had Magic to a greater degree. Magic that all agreed seemed to be strengthening as they walked the grounds of Hogwarts. Even the teenagers and adults felt something within them change.
Severus crawled out of his tent early one morning before dawn, to find Molly Weasley sitting on the ground where the Whomping Willow had once stood, holding a fragment of stone between her hands and silently weeping. He wasn't surprised: there had been many tears shed when newcomers had arrived, both from friends greeting them and from a welling of grief at being back here.
He was wary of intruding on her grief. The old Severus would have walked away, leaving her alone, but the new one went to sit next to her and put his arm around her shoulders. They sat and watched the sun rise, not a word passing between them.
"I miss them so," she finally murmured. "The children help, but it's not the same thing. At least, they died fighting for something they believed in. Their deaths weren't wasted, were they?" She looked anxiously to Severus for reassurance.
He shook his head. "Not even those who died after," not having the courage to go any closer to Arthur's death.
Until then Molly had always referred to him as Professor Snape; afterward she called him Severus.
Though she and Zanna Lestrange insisted that the children address the adults by their proper titles: Severus was always Professor Snape; Harry, Mr. Potter.
So when the others arrived, the remnants of one family at a time, the pattern had been set. Men and women who had once been Aurors were referred to in that manner. Philistone Hardwood became Auror Hardwood, Remus was Professor Lupin once more. It added a formality to the Gathering which kept its purpose in the forefront of everyone's mind.
Being addressed as professor brought out a great deal of Severus's old self. A kinder version, Harry confided loudly to Molly. But because he expected to be obeyed as he once had been, he was. He rarely had to repeat a request.
The morning of the official start to the Gathering, a Range Rover made its way up the pathway and pulled up to the gathering crowd. Surprised looks were replaced with, in some cases, wariness; in others, subdued looks; and in yet others, anger.
Lucius Malfoy ignored all responses as he went around the car to the other side, opened the door and, after a moment, straightened with a toddler in his arms. Silence followed Lucius Malfoy and the small blond boy all the way to the group who had called this meeting.
Malfoy ignored Hardwood, Potter and Lupin and sought out Snape instead. The two old classmates, lovers, rivals, finally turned enemies stared at one another in the midst of growing disapproval.
"I take it," said Malfoy, with a hint of arrogance, "that I wouldn't find your grandfather's library now even if I knew where it had been."
Severus merely raised an eyebrow.
"But it is good to know that you are as hard-headed as you ever were."
After a moment, Severus nodded, acknowledging the only apology he would ever have for the concussion Malfoy had given him.
Malfoy smiled lovingly at the child who was excitedly looking around. "This is Draco Lucius Malfoy the Third." His pride in his child was easy for those near-by to hear. "Named for myself and his elder brother." He looked back at Snape. "He has Magic. Stronger Magic than I have."
Molly Weasley sighed loudly. "Oh, dear," she said, coming up to the child and holding out her hands to him. He grinned at her and, after checking with his father as though for permission, happily went into her arms. She smiled at the child. "Well, it wouldn't be Hogwarts without a Malfoy, now, would it? Come, my sweet, let's leave the arguing to the adults." Over her shoulder, she asked, "What do you call him?"
"Luke. My...ex-wife...preferred it." To Snape, he explained. "She won't have anything to do with him. She thinks he's damaged in some way. Says he gives her `the creeps'."
And, for a moment, his hurt for his child showed.
There was some argument among the adults.
They weren't many compared to what they had once numbered. Once over 5000 in population, they had lost over two-thirds that amount during the battles with Voldemort's forces, including That Day. Then without magic, most of the elderly had quickly died thereby adding to the grief of families and to the loss of wizardry knowledge. There were very few witches and wizards alive over the age of ninety. According to Remus's tally, there were about 500 adult witches and wizards left in Britain, most of whom had either shown up or were represented by someone who had.
While the older children watched the younger ones, matters were discussed.
Though the news of the newer generation being born with Magic reassured many of them, others worried that it would take years, maybe generations, for the Magic to replenish itself.
During a pause, Severus had a quick word with Hardwood. "You might like to remind how much stronger their own Magic has grown since they've arrived. And that it is likely, as with Amanda, once it's gained a foothold, it remains."
Some families, such as Malfoy, had found a means of surviving happily in the Muggle world.
"Seems there are advantages after all to being Mudbloods or in some way connected to Muggles." Harry spoke just loud enough for those nearby to hear, smiling innocently at Malfoy who ignored him. But Severus noticed that his eyes went to his son who was happily playing with other children
Many of these families were less confident of once more depending on Magic though it was understood that if they could in any way help, they would.
"Can't blame them," muttered Lupin. "They've lost everything once: I doubt they could survive losing all a second time."
Others, a very few, refused to have anything to do with any new project if those who had once opposed them were included. There were glares cast on the group composed of Zanna Lestrange and Lucius Malfoy who were sitting among the few other Voldemort supporters who had survived.
Severus calmly stood and went to sit next to Zanna Lestrange. Malfoy's eyebrows - among many - rose high as Harry then Remus Lupin, George Weasley, and Neville Longbottom joined them.
Auror Hardwood shook his head, calling attention back to himself. "We do not have the freedom to ban those we feel were against us. All of us, supporters of the Light and the Dark, are here today on a level playing field. We have all lost and we have all suffered. If we are to have a chance at rebuilding, at reclaiming our Magic, we must be united. Infighting will only weaken us."
There were some who continued to disagree.
It was taken to a vote - Malfoy diplomatically abstained, causing Severus's eyebrows to rise - and passed easily. Much as some would have liked to see those who had supported Voldemort gone or even punished, it was time to unite. Those who continued to disagree packed up and left. In a gathering of some 500 men, women and children, forty-five went.
The discussions of what to do went far into the night and into the early morning. Men and women rose to speak and offer support, propose new options or point out concerns and weaknesses.
It took a day longer but by the end of the Gathering, several matters had been determined with the full support of those present.
"All right, to reiterate," Auror Hardwood's voice was rough from maintaining control over the sometimes inimical discussions. Just because they had agreed on the necessity of uniting didn't mean that witches and wizards would agree to everything.
Severus looked around at the tired and strained faces. He sighed: there had been times it was like being back in Hogwarts, referring disputes between Houses.
"It is felt that Diagon Alley needs immediate attention. It has always been the centre of our commercial life and it will be needed to take up that role once Magic has been re-established. Since he is already at the site, it has been agreed that Professor Remus Lupin is to be in charge of Diagon Alley. Moreover, he has been given the authority to contact people he feels will be of help in the Alley's regeneration."
Harry leaned over and whispered in Severus's ear. "With Millicent as his second in command. Slytherin and Gryffindor working together. Could be the start of a new tradition."
Severus cocked his head and looked at his Gryffindor. "Who knows? It is new times for us all."
Hardwood continued. "We have all agreed that help may be in the form of physical assistance, financial assistance or something as small as the offer to billet someone who has come to help."
He help up his hand, forestalling any comment.
Severus and Lupin exchanged glances: there had been far too much discussion on that topic before the majority had been satisfied.
"Anyone contacted has the right to refuse to participate without penalty of any kind. It is accepted that Muggle employers may not be understanding. That there are bills to be paid in Muggle money among other responsibilities. That flats are already filled to their maximum. However," he looked at them all sternly, "that should all be balanced with need of the wizardry community at large."
Hardwood took a deep breath, coughing to clear his throat, and waited until those who were acting as secretaries to catch up with him.
Zanna Lestrange tossed him a bottle of water and he caught it with a thankful nod.
"Secondly, there are those who feel Hogsmeade is also a priority. It once housed several hundred of us and, if what has been reported to us by those who went out to the site and tested their powers proves true, the houses should return in a state where they can be used."
"Would be nice to have room to ourselves and a place for a real bed," Harry spoke low, not wanting to attract anyone's attention. "With a door so I could make you scream and not have to endure those looks the next day."
Severus elbowed him, none too gently.
"Once more, it was determined that those in charge will be those who live in this area with a claim to Hogsmeade. Tom Thompkins and Amanda Honeyduke will share those responsibilities. As does Professor Lupin, they too have the authority to call on those they feel will best help in the regeneration of Hogsmeade."
Severus smiled at the young couple. Novus lay sound asleep in Tom's arms. He shook his head a little, thinking how the hopes of so many rested on the small shoulders of their newest members. Would they have the strength and the courage to bear up under such expectations?
He looked over at Malfoy whose son also lay sleeping against his father's chest. He wondered if Draco had ever been held so tenderly by his father. If he remembered well, Narcissa had been the one to deal with the child Draco had been, not Lucius. He guessed that there had been changes there as well, hopefully for the better: Lucius had been the one to tend to his son's needs whenever the boy had come to him.
"It has been agreed to by all that those who have a family right to commercial enterprises and houses will be allowed the right to claim them first. Should they not want them, they will have to relinquish all rights of themselves and their descendants to the property in writing, no later than a month after they have been notified of its availability, also in writing."
Hardwood and several of the others glared tiredly at the small group of entrepreneurs who had tried hard to have the ruling be those who got there first could claim ownership.
They would need watching, Severus thought. He wondered if Hardwood had considered that and decided, all things considered, he probably had. There were already several members of the old Department of Aurors who had assumed policing duties on the site, calmly and patiently keeping order during the breaks.
"To that end, Amanda Honeyduke has already laid claim to Honeyduke's."
Hardwood nodded at the young woman who smiled tearfully at him. Tom put his arm around her.
"Now then, as for Hogwarts."
Severus grew very still. Harry placed his hand on Severus's arm, silently reaffirming his support.
"At the moment, Hogwarts seems to be the location with the strongest Magic, though it is also proving to be the most recalcitrant."
Lupin exchanged a sympathetic glance with Harry. Severus ignored them.
Hardwood's voice deepened in its seriousness. "Hogwarts is important to all of us, not just for its Magic. In its ruins are the history of our people, the accumulated knowledge of all of us. For the thousand years it stood, it taught us who we are, it trained us, it prepared us for our world. We need it as much as we need commerce and homes."
There were many heads nodding, turning around to look at the stones that most could now see, even if only faintly.
"Professor Severus Snape has elected to remain here and find a way to bring Hogwarts back into our lives. As do the others, he too has the authority to call upon whomever he needs for help."
Harry gripped Severus's arm. "Gryffindor and Slytherin," he whispered.
Severus turned and looked into his lover's eyes. "Slytherin and Gryffindor. Together."
Then he stood up and took over the meeting from the obviously exhausted Auror.
Severus looked over the group of people ready to hear him speak. They were good people, people who were doing the best they could with all the changes in their lives. He'd taught many of them. He understood their fear and grief of past times and their anxiety of the new times ahead. They had, on the whole for this Gathering, managed to put differences aside and work together for a chance at getting their old lives back. He wondered if they knew that no matter how much Magic came back, those days were gone. A new world was being born and he could only hope that they could all adjust their hopes and dreams to that reality.
He pitched his voice so that all could hear him. "It has also been determined that all of us who are in charge of a site need to report on a regular basis to a supervisor who will see to it that all families are also kept up to date on any successes and failures. To that purpose I nominate Auror Philistone Hardwood, who has already proven that he can gather and lead us all in a mutual endeavor."
Hardwood glared up at him from his place on the ground. The role of a supervisor had been discussed, but nominations were to have been requested from the floor.
"Responsibility," murmured Lupin. "There's no getting away from it." And he smiled innocently at Hardwood as he seconded Severus's motion.
There was no argument from anyone on the nomination. It passed unanimously. Even Malfoy voted.
Then Molly Weasley, who had been very quiet throughout the days, raised her hand and stood up.
"Enough of this. The man is not going to be a supervisor, he's our new Minister for Magic. Let's give him the title and authority he deserves and let him get on with the job."
There was a stunned silence then the cheers began slowly and gradually grew.
Hardwood was embarrassed. "Molly..."
She pulled him up to his feet. "We need a Minister for Magic far more than we need a construction site supervisor, Philistone. Remember, those who can help will be called upon."
"She's right," Severus smiled as Hardwood stood next to him, not at all certain he was pleased with these developments. "We need hopes and dreams for this to work, but most of all we need a sense of normalcy." He turned and bowed to the man weaving tiredly on his feet. "Minister."
Lucius Malfoy had kept uncharacteristically silent throughout all the discussions. He'd sat, listening, only leaving to see to Luke. The boy had slept in his arms while the other children had napped in the area set up for that purpose under Molly's supervision. At night, he and the boy had moved into the Range Rover to sleep.
Now that the Gathering had broken up, he remained behind.
"You'll need funding," he told the small group who had been given the power to work on behalf of them all. "Muggle money until Gringotts is up and running again. I'll set up an account - within limits - that Hardwood can access whenever needed."
"That's generous of you, Malfoy," said Hardwood cautiously.
Zanna Lestrange and Molly Weasley shared a look that had Hardwood thinking he understood where their funding originated.
"Why?" asked Lupin, not trusting this new Lucius Malfoy.
Malfoy grinned at Lupin's challenge. "It's simple. I want Hogwarts back in full service by the time Luke is eleven. The Malfoys have always attended this school since its inception, and he will not be denied his birthright. Besides," he shrugged as though he really didn't care, "we are all aware that my money is not only very much needed but it is also the only thing you'll accept from me."
He turned to find Snape watching him with less belligerence than the other Guardians. "But I want something in return."
"Ah," Lupin rolled his eyes. Hardwood just watched.
Malfoy ignored them, eyes meeting Snape's straight on. "When the buildings are back up again, as I am certain they will one day be, I want a memorial plaque put up with Draco's name on it, in Slytherin House. In an obvious location, not hidden behind some drapes. He died protecting his mother and for that he should be remembered."
Snape released Malfoy's eyes to confer with Hardwood's and then he nodded. "In the common room," he said to Malfoy. "At the side of the fireplace."
Malfoy nodded. He should have known that Severus would understand that he loved his sons. Both of them, he thought, looking at Luke who was playing with some future school-mates.
"Does this mean that once we are re-established you'll stay out of our business?"
Malfoy's attention returned to Snape and he grinned at him. "In your dreams, Professor Snape. But until Luke is old enough to fend for himself, I'll mind my Muggle businesses - just in case - but then..." And his grin grew positively wicked.
He turned to Hardwood. "I lay claim to Malfoy Manor and its contents and its lands. I will also see to the regeneration of it myself. Minister. Professor." He acknowledged them both with a small gesture of his head, ignoring the others, then reached out his hand to his son. "Come, Luke, time to go home."
"So we have truce until Luke's majority," Hardwood watched the Range Rover disappear down the pathway.
Severus slipped his hands into his jeans pockets. "We'll have what Lucius considers to be a truce. And I seriously doubt it will last until Luke is eighteen. "
Hardwood nodded. "We'll have to find a way to keep an eye on him, just in case."
"Your first decision as Minister," smiled Severus.
The first thing Severus did once the Guardians were once more alone was go through the contents of his basket of spell-shrunken items taken from his dungeon laboratory. He'd taken them out once before, squinting to determine just what had been rescued, knowing that until he had the Magic to use them, they would stay as tiny as they were.
Viktor Krum had remained behind, staying out of sight of the Gathering in Inchgrundle, but now he'd returned to join them. It took him no time at all to enlarge the ingredients and utensils that Severus needed.
While Severus decided what he needed to replace - wondering if he could in fact replace anything - Viktor used his Magic to delineate the parameters of Hogwarts and the site of Hagrid's hut. That way precious Magic would not be wasted on areas that were not part of the old school.
"You're working on the wolfsbane?" Harry asked as he sat besides Severus at supper.
Severus sighed and passed his hands in frustration through his hair. "Remus is increasingly difficult to handle with the full moon. Millicent told me that he bought a tranquilizing gun and darts through some werewolf connection and ordered her to keep it at hand, ready to shoot him if he should become a danger to her or to anyone else at any time during the full moon."
"But you have everything you need, don't you?"
Severus shook his head. "Some of the ingredients need to be fresher than these, others can only be gathered at the last minute. I don't have Sprout's greenhouses at my disposal."
"May I see?" Neville pointed to the list of ingredients that Severus had been working on.
Once Severus would have snapped at the young man to mind his own business, but he'd come to understand Neville Longbottom more over the months. A low-level wizard, forced by family expectations to try to be what he wasn't, doing his best and not succeeding very well. And having to put up with the slurs of his then Potions instructor.
Severus handed the list to Neville and thought no more about it.
By late afternoon the next day, Severus was staring at all the ingredients on his list. "How..."
Harry and George didn't bother hiding their smug grins from him.
Neville shrugged. "I used to accompany Madame Sprout on her forays. Many of the plants she grew were local. They were easier to find and to harvest in the greenhouses. But she usually replenished her seed stock from original sources."
Harry leaned over and pretended to whisper into Severus's ear. "See what you'd have learnt if you hadn't been in such a foul mood all the time." And he kissed the side of Severus's jaw, all the time giving Neville a thumb's up.
Severus tried to remember that lesson as he dealt with Viktor Krum who, of all of them, was the only one with sufficient Magic to actually prepare the wolfsbane.
His first two attempts were not particularly successful. Thankfully, Neville had no trouble replenishing the ingredients that ended being thrown away, buried in a hole, for safety reasons.
"I am not a potions maker," he protested when Severus told him to start a third batch. "I am a Quidditch player."
Severus growled at him, "Don't give me that, Krum. You went to Durmstrang and I know you didn't flunk out of there. Just concentrate on what you're doing."
As a reward for his success, Krum, accompanied by Neville, presented his wolfsbane to a joyful, relieved Remus in person. He was to stay in London with the Professor, helping him with Diagon Alley.
"Professor Lupin said to tell you he's frozen enough of the potion so that this batch should last three months," Neville reported back. "He's contacting all known werewolves with the news. Oh, and that it tastes as beautifully horrid as it ever did. Viktor said he'll come up if you have need of him to make another batch, but he wants Harry to sit with him, to keep you from yelling at him."
"I did not yell at him," muttered Severus.
Neville grinned. "Of course not, Severus."
"I HATE BLOODY CELL PHONES!"
Harry ducked his head and wisely hid his smile.
Since having been "railroaded" - Hardwood's term for Severus's nomination - by the site supervisors into becoming Minister for Magic, Hardwood had presented his people each with his or her own cell phone, with orders to use it to check in on a weekly basis if not more often when trouble arose.
His younger daughter worked for a mobile phone company and had no trouble finding enough for anyone who now needed to report in to him.
Lupin and the Thompkins were delighted with theirs, using them to stay in touch, not just with the Minister, but with each other.
Severus loathed the things.
First of all, because his wouldn't work anywhere near Hogwarts land and it meant he had to trek into Inchgrundle to use it, and even there, the reception was not all that great. He yelled into it a lot. He longed for owls but the others weren't certain that owls were going to be the main deliverers of messages, even if all went well.
George, Harry and Neville often discussed the changes that were probably going to accompany witches and wizards back into their old world.
Computers for the Internet. It seemed that mailing lists and instant messaging had become major necessities for many of the younger members of the community. After the Gathering, they had set up an exclusive list for them to stay in touch with each other at Yahoo called TBTM - Take Back the Magic. Lupin and Hardwood finally admitted that they too had set up a list for interested adults and had joined the younger list under pseudonyms: Lupin, because he loved anything to do with computers; Hardwood, as a way of keeping in touch with the hopes and needs of the next generation.
Computer games. Arabella Figg's grandnephew was making a Muggle fortune with a "For Adults Only" game based in a world where witches and wizards fought against Dark Forces, losing, then having to negotiated through the maze of non-wizardry life. He was now developing a version geared towards the very young, where the violence was minimal, but where a knowledge of past Wizardry history - provided in an accompanying manual - was needed to negotiate to the treasure trove at the seventeenth level.
Muggle music, much to the discouragement of some parents. During the Gathering, while the adults had been dealing with their futures, some of the teenagers had been playing with the guitars they'd brought with them. Besides leading the younger children in songs they themselves had learnt as children, they sat around discussing music and demonstrating their own compositions. The result was two groups who were going to give the Dreadful Grates a run for their money and another which was more interested in what Muggles called "Classical" music.
"What's wrong this time?" George was braver than Harry, but then he wasn't living with Severus.
Severus dropped onto the ground, joining the others. "Actually, things seem to be going well in Lupin's domain. Some Ollivander nephew has shown up and he had no trouble at all walking through the Alley to the store. The place is still filled with wands and he's told Hardwood that, as a gesture of solidarity and good-will, he's going to offer free wands to replace those lost. All people have to do is show up and let the wand pick them."
"That's very generous of him," said Neville.
Severus scoffed. "The Ollivanders are among the longest lived of any of us. Hanging around wands has that effect. He'll profit from this, eventually."
Word of Krum's visit to Britain - with minimal effect on his powers - had spread rapidly throughout the continent and the rest of the Wizarding world, spurring other adventuresome witches and wizards to arrive and offer their services.
Some of them were not totally altruistic in their offer. They came from families who thought they had the right of claim on some of the businesses in the Alley. Minister Hardwood accepted their help and made it very clear that any British witch or wizard, belonging to the same family, had first right of claim, no matter whether they helped or not. But in many cases, there would be no claimants, and the expertise of these visitors would be needed.
"At this rate, it looks as though Diagon will be the first to be fully regenerated," sighed Severus, his frustration easy for all of them to hear.
The others shared in his discouragement. The stones were beginning to respond but only to their combined magic, and only for movement to the ground or up into the air, away from the other stones. Much as they had done the day Severus and Krum had descended to the dungeons.
They stubbornly refused to reassemble.
Eight months after the Gathering, the Guardians made their way to London, to witness for themselves the world that now opened from the blind alley next to a used record store.
They all nodded to Doris Crockford who had taken up her old chair in the corner of the Leaky Cauldron.
"We have to refresh the spells on a daily basis so the buildings don't fade out," explained Lupin as he escorted them into the back yard of the Leaky Cauldron, "but we've noticed that any store with a good stream of visitors remains clearer with each passing day. We're optimistic that within the year, we may not have to refresh more than once a week."
"And," he grinned as he hit the proper sequence on the brick wall, "wait until you see our newest surprise!"
Some of the stores were still empty, either because no one had yet claimed them or because there was still no great demand for their supplies. Magic was still fairly weak and so it was not used foolishly. If a Muggle item or service could be used, it was.
But Severus was delighted to see that Ye Olde Apothecary Shoppe was operating once more and Harry, that Quality Quidditch Supplies had its doors open. The broom in its window was an antique, but the wizard working on the display under the banner "Historical Brooms" was Viktor Krum.
"Only helping out," explained Krum once everyone had exchanged greetings. "The new owners played for Britain when I played for Bulgaria. We all know that it will be some time before a serious league can be set up, but we thought for the youngsters, to remind them that there are games other than those on computers."
"The Minister is thinking of lowering the age at which training may begin," said Lupin.
Severus scowled. "And just whom does he expect to begin this training? Parents? Basics teachers? I need to have a talk with him. Eleven year olds are hard enough to train properly without having to break them of bad habits on top of that!"
Lupin grinned at the others who suddenly found many things of interest in the store. "You can tell him yourself. He's waiting for us at the surprise."
As they continued down the Alley, there were calls of hello and so pleased to see you. Harry noticed that Severus was always greeted as Professor and with cordial respect. Many who had been his students came up just to shake his hand and introduce him to their families. Fortunately no one mentioned Hogwarts, a tactful move on their part since Severus was taking it quite personally that the stones were not more co-operative than they were.
"Fortescue's is open!" George grinned happily as he went to read the menu hanging outside. The outdoor patio was not yet open as it was still too cold.
"We were refused permission to spell the area warm," explained Marise Fortescue. "Papa was quite discouraged. He wants things back as they were as soon as possible. We've managed to make him understand that it would be a drain on the spells but we think that by next winter, the patio will be once more functioning."
And she handed them all free ice creams. Harry noticed that the one she handed Severus was larger than theirs, that it was a deep red with dark purple swirls. And that she hadn't needed to ask him for his preference.
Severus took a lick and his eyes closed with pleasure. "Cassis and cranberry, delicious."
And Marise Fortescue beamed at him.
There was activity in Madam Malkin's Robes for All Occasions.
"She's come out of retirement to train a niece," explained Lupin, as he licked his peppermint ice cream. "And that one's as strict as Madam ever was about entering the premises with ice cream."
Severus nodded, "And then there's the matter of payment. How are all these enterprises functioning without currency?"
"Ah, my surprise," grinned Lupin and pointed to a tall greyish white building that had come into view.
"One day the lot was empty, the next Gringotts was back. Seems the Goblins had sunk the bank the day...of the final battle. To keep it safe should Voldemort's forces win. Now that there's a need for it, the Goblins are back, ready to do business." He laughed happily. "Accounts are now accessible, with proper interest compiled. However, they have changed the locks on all the vaults and new keys are being handed over on proof of identity. And of course, there are forms to be filled."
The line-up for keys and forms was not all that long, but one of the Goblins came running up to the group, growling that since they were with *Professor Snape*, he would be delighted, he snarled, to deal with them immediately.
Harry wondered if there would be some grumbling from those waiting in line but they all smiled and nodded. Still, he wasn't all that surprised when Severus shook his head, politely refusing to be taken ahead of anyone who had been waiting. The Goblin thought a moment and then signalled for as many Goblins to appear as there were people in line.
As they came out of the vaults, pockets filled with galleons, sickles and knuts - George had offered to return the Triwizard Tournament purse, what was left of it, to Harry who had refused - Minister Hardwood was coming down the stairs that led to the Director's Office. The Goblin escorting him was wizen and probably as old as the building itself.
"I was just telling the Minister how pleased Gringotts is to be back," growled the Director.
Hardwood smiled diplomatically. "And I was telling the Director how pleased we will be to have Gringotts' understanding support as we rebuild our resources. The Director, in the name of Gringotts, has made a generous contribution to our maintenance fund, thereby freeing even more witches and wizard to help in the regeneration of Hogsmeade and Hogwarts. I have thanked them on all our behalves."
Lupin and the Guardians bowed deeply to the Director. Lupin and Severus exchanged a look on the way up, both wondering just how much blood had been shed in the Director's office for the generous `contribution'.
They retraced their steps, back to Madam Malkin's.
Severus stared at himself in one of the mirrors as the new Madam Malkin made certain that the hem of his new robe hung properly. Hardwood wondered if he was even aware that one of his hands was slowly stroking the black garment, as though verifying the reality of its presence. He'd spent the first few hours after purchasing his own touching it, checking it was really there in every window or mirror he passed.
"Like coming home," he said to Severus as he stepped down off the hemming block.
And Severus, throat too tight to say anything, could only nod.
Harry's eyes got suspiciously bright when his new green robe was draped over his shoulders.
Madam Malkin was prepared for such moments. She surreptitiously passed him a tissue.
George picked out a robe in Gryffindor red while Neville hesitated even to look at one.
"None of that," snapped Severus, in his classroom voice. Hardwood noticed that all three younger men stilled immediately. He smiled: training held true, he thought.
"Neville, you are as much wizard as any of us these days. And even if all you ever find again are your old levels of Magic, you are an important member of this group and you will represent us properly. So select a robe and allow Madam Malkin to get on with her work."
A blushing Neville was fitted with one in earthen tones of brown.
Now that they had an idea how to go about it, Hogsmeade was easier though no less complicated to regenerate.
As the success of Diagon Alley became known, some of the rules restricting travel by witches and wizards from other regions were lessened. As long as one was visiting relatives, and was willing to sign a document stating they understood that on return their Magic would be tested and if found weakened or damaged in any way, they would have to return to Britain.
Molly Weasley had a cousin who had, when barely sixteen, eloped with a continental travelling broom salesman. Now a widow, she arrived along with a shipment of brooms for Quality Quidditch Supplies, indicating that she was setting herself up as the local representative for the company which dealt with non-racing brooms.
Zanna Lestrange had distant cousins in the south of France who had refused to condone the British branch's involvement with the Dark Forces, though they had spasmodically kept in touch with Zanna. But now, having heard that she was involved with the revival of Hogsmeade, the three witches suddenly apparated one night in the back yard in Sheffield, terrorizing the local stray cat.
"Eh bien, after all, ma chre Zanna," said the eldest, who was many years the senior, "it is not every witch who has the opportunity to help raise the dead."
Zanna contacted their benefactor who sent a bus to drive them all to the end of the road at Loch Lee. The visitors found the ride to be a delicious adventure, their enthusiasm for this strange mode of travel delighting the children.
They were not the only visitors who stood behind Amanda Honeywell and Tom Thompkins the night Hogsmeade was regenerated.
Minister Hardwood stood behind them, with as many members of the Order of the Phoenix as who could make it, with his new Department of Aurors.
Viktor Krum had contacted select former Quidditch players of various national leagues whose sense of adventure and daring almost demanded their presence. Besides, for many of them, the thought of being in on the ground floor of a new Quidditch league was incentive enough to have them apparate to help.
Severus and the rest of the Guardians were heading smaller groups who would eventually break away to deal with side streets once the main thoroughfare had been brought back. Even Lupin and Millicent Bulstrode were there, ready to provide the benefit of their experience with Diagon Alley.
The children were an important part of this evening and were standing quietly, even the youngest aware of the seriousness of the occasion. People who had once lived there were depending on their presence to augment the staying power of the spells once the village appeared.
Wands in one hand, the other linking to the witch or wizard next to them, voices as one chanting the spells of regeneration, those assembled slowly made their way down what had once been the main street of Hogsmeade.
It required an exhausting amount of intense concentration, of focus, of merging of powers between those who were visiting and those whose powers were still returning, but by dawn, Hogsmeade had emerged and slowly stabilized.
Not all the houses had been regenerated undamaged. Many had been ruined before the moments of implosion. But Molly, Zanna and the children were able to move into the old mayor's house which was the only regenerated one large enough to hold them all.
Amanda, Tom and Novus moved into her old home of Honeyduke's. Tom took over the store next to the small local apothecary for his practice. As the only medi-wizard in the Hogsmeade-Hogwarts area, his medical skills were already much in demand.
The Guardians found a vacant store to use as headquarters for their work with Hogwarts. George and Neville insisted they preferred remaining on the site, at least during the warmer months, to continue their work as protectors but Harry and Severus moved into the rooms above the store.
"The cell phone is easier to work from here," said Harry.
George nudged Neville and sighed loudly. "At last, we'll be able to sleep through the night without anyone's screaming waking us."
And ducked as Severus threw the cell phone at him.
Slowly, what had been thought lost was found. And life in Wizardry Britain took up again.
It took another two years and a Gathering for the stubborn stones of Hogwarts to rise and reform themselves into the warren of turrets, halls, staircases, classrooms and dormitories they had once been.
On the order of the Minister for Magic, all British wizards and witches, no matter what age, were requested to present themselves. The stones refused to respond to the Magic of one not born to the land they had once stood on.
And even then they had done so reluctantly, draining the Magic out of those who insisted they reform themselves. After all this time, only some of the smaller out-buildings had been re-established; among them, Madam Sprout's greenhouses - now Neville Longbottom's domain.
"But what about the day when they responded to Viktor?" Neville shook his head in confusion.
Minister Hardwood also didn't understand it.
"Probably had something to do with the fact that I chanted the same spells as Viktor did while we went down," Severus finally offered.
"So his Magic was channeled through you to the stones," Harry said.
Minister Hardwood thought a moment then shrugged. "Sounds logical."
Lucius Malfoy participated. He arrived, at the last moment, in his Range Rover - under Ministry orders, no one was to expend any Magic getting to the Gathering - robed once more in his favourite silver blue, Luke a smaller version of his father.
With a smirk, Malfoy claimed the space to the left of Minister Hardwood, forcing Lupin and Bulstrode to make way for him. Severus stood glaring from the Minister's right.
"The Dark needs recognition equal to the Light," he explained to Minister Hardwood and the others watching him with surprise and some wariness. Malfoy Manor had been the first of the private estates to be regenerated. "Without the two," he bowed arrogantly to Severus, "there can be no balance."
Severus said nothing, only shared a knowing look with Philistone Hardwood, who nodded in agreement: the truce was officially over.
Standing to the side of Lucius Malfoy, a small hand on his father's hip, Luke Malfoy pulled out a wand and aimed it as did all those about him with wands.
Where the bloody hell had a four year old gotten a wand? thought Severus. He and Hardwood were still trying to finalize a curriculum of training for the Basics teachers so that students would not arrive at Hogwarts with more bad habits than good. He refused to accept that this day would not see the stones of Hogwarts filling up the sky line as they had for a millennium. The alternative was too horribly depressing to contemplate.
Out of the corner of his eye, Severus watched as the child's face grimaced in concentration as he said the words of re-formation along with his parent with an intensity that belied his years.
The stones were reluctant to obey the summons. As on the day with Viktor Krum, there was much moaning and groaning from them that soon overrode the sounds of the chanting.
Severus worried that they were draining the power from all those present. Whatever people had was still so new, so fragile. It had never been submitted to such strenuous testing. He cast an inquiring glance at Hardwood who was obviously wondering the same thing. Malfoy shook his head, his voice deepening in his resolve. Luke leaned against his father, almost angry that the stones were defying him.
Then, suddenly, as though released, a surge of power rose from the ground and the stones began obeying with alacrity. Foundations reformed, tossing the upper stones to the heavens where they seemed to wait until they could descend and settle one by one, back in their rightful places, their home for centuries past.
Since the roofs had not yet taken shape, those chanting - now with a sense of victory, their Magic replenished and even augmented by the power released - could see that the interior stones were also reclaiming their proper places. Hallways and rooms appeared, classrooms and dormitories, fireplaces and alcoves, nooks and crannies. Staircases groaned to life and sought niches on which to rest.
Statues and armour found their places and, here and there, suddenly reappearing on a wall - if one looked quickly enough - a personage in a picture, jumping up and down, waved ecstatically at them, cheering them on.
Then as the walls grew too high to see inside, all eyes were on the towers and turrets that went up, on the slate tiles that descended to form the coned roofs, and lastly the cathedral roof of the Great Hall.
Still, it took most of the day but, by late afternoon, the towers of Hogwarts once more dominated the sky line as they had for over a thousand years.
Witches and wizards, re-energized yet drained, wept openly at the sight.
Severus lowered his wand and turned to Hardwood.
"We did it," he said, his tone revealing slight astonishment.
Hardwood grinned at him. "I never doubted that you'd find a way to give Hogwarts back to us, Severus. Never."
And the two men hugged.
Lucius Malfoy picked his son up and tossed him into the air. "We did it!" they both shouted.
And the cry was taken up, working its way around the Gathering until the heavens rang with, "WE DID IT!"
At the double-wide entrance doors, once more standing in all their glory after being buried for the past seven years, Minister Hardwood held up his hand until he had everyone's attention.
"I think it only fitting that the new Headmaster of Hogwarts be the first to enter."
That announcement was met with much nodding of heads.
Minister Hardwood turned to the man who had become more than a colleague, had become a dear friend. "Headmaster Snape. If you will?"
Severus opened his mouth to protest, but the cheers that rose behind him made that impossible.
Lupin leaned over and had to yell to make himself heard. "Another responsibility, Severus, but I think this is one you'll truly enjoy. My friend."
Severus swallowed the thickness in his throat. This was not something he'd sought when he'd agreed to head the Hogwarts site. At best, he'd hoped that whomever Hardwood would select would allow him to return to his dungeon classroom.
This meant finding staff and...dear Merlin!...dealing with the politics of the position. He had never been good at politics. Even now with Hardwood, he was more wont to snarl his point than make it subtly.
And tact. He would need to find tact to deal with parents and... He caught sight of Malfoy grinning wolfishly at him, already looking forward to the arguments they were bound to have over Luke and his obvious powers and training.
Albus should be here, he thought. How the hell could he be expected to follow someone like Albus Dumbledore in the position?
Harry seemed to understand. He reached out and gripped Severus's arm then leaned over and nudged him. "Sherbet lemon. That was the last password for the stairs." His eyes shone with pride.
Minister Hardwood indicated the doors then stepped aside and went to stand next to Harry.
Taking a deep breath, feeling the burden and, yes, the honour of the position settle on his shoulders, Severus stepped up to the doors.
He turned to face those cheering him.
What a difference seven years had made. Once, many of them thought him if not on Voldemort's side, at least untrustworthy. No matter what anyone had said. He tried to tell himself that they accepted him now because, well, what choice did they have: he was the only regular staff Hogwarts had had who was still alive.
But the thought was hard to maintain when so many faces obviously approved.
Raising his hands, asking for silence, he murmured, "Albus, wherever you are, please, spare the occasional thought for me."
Once he had as much silence as he was going to get in a group ready to celebrate, he raised his wand and chanted:
Magic be with us in every pass,
Magic be with us on every knoll,
Magic be with us over water's roll,
On headland, on ridge, and on grass;
Each sea and land, each moor and each mead, Each eve's lying-down, each rising's morn, In the wave-trough, or on foam-crest borne, Each step which our journey doth lead.
With that, Headmaster Severus Snape turned, pushed open the wide oak doors and entered Hogwarts.
The Cameron was walking with his dogs, enjoying the pleasantness of the early day before the summer sun made it too hot and uncomfortable.
As it always did, this walk took him near the Snape property where he and others would pass, checking that it was still uninhabited and in good repair. It had been almost six years since the hut had been closed up and Snape and his companion had taken the bus for Tarfside.
Today, there was something about the hut that made him stop and take a really thorough look at it. Even the dogs sensed something and made for the yard, sniffing around one of the support posts then blatantly marking the wood with urine, both of them.
As he approached the front, he noticed that the door was ajar. He cocked his rifle and started up the stairs quietly, using the nose of the barrel to push the door open more widely.
He listened carefully but heard nothing. The fact that the dogs were still sniffing the yard and not acting on guard gave him clearance to enter the room.
It was not as it had been the last time he'd checked on it. There was a fire in the stove, with a kettle lightly steaming on it. And the table was stacked high with books and, of all things, scrolls. There were what appeared to be two academic robes hanging from the hooks, one black and the other a dark forest green.
The laird approached the table and picked up one of the thick volumes. The cover was old leather whose lettering was faint through use. Still, with some effort, he could make out "Guide to Advanced Transfiguration".
He stared at it for a long moment, then read the title of the volume it had been resting upon: "An Appraisal of Magical Education in Europe".
He stared thoughtfully out the window then slowly a smile spread across his face. With a nod of pleased satisfaction, he set the first book back down and stepped out onto the porch as his dogs lifted their heads and looked off to the left. He quickly jumped off the porch and went to their side, a brusque order keeping them there.
Off in the distance, he could see a man striding towards them, a small dog joyously running around him, expending high energy as Jack Russells were wont to do.
The Cameron smiled and broke his rifle. With a loud "Hello!", he waved to the man who stopped, raised a hand over his eyes to see more clearly, then waved back.
Severus Snape whistled loudly for his dog, who was off chasing after a rabbit that had dared invade his territory. "Toby! Come on, Toby. We have visitors."
Author's final note:
Severus's spell at the door of Hogwarts is not mine. It comes from the Gaelic collection of prayers called Carmina Gadelica. The original prayer is "The Pilgrim's Aiding", for travellers setting off on a journey, and has been modified by myself for this story, with no disrespect intended.
| Harry Potter Index | Fiction Index | Main Page |