DISCLAIMER: Severus Snape and other Potter-characters mentioned belong to J. K. Rowling. Others are all mine but I do owe some of the names to Laura Joh Rowland.
SUMMARY: The War is over, and things change in the name of "Progress".
NOTES: Part of the Severus Snape Fuh-Q Fest: Second Wave Scenario #60: after the defeat of the Dark Lord, Severus questions his future.
ARCHIVING: The Severus Snape Fuh-Q Fest; Ink Stained Fingers after Fest concludes. Others, but please ask first; I just want to know where this is going
BETAS: The tolerant and incomparable Rhys. Thanks for the redirection on the clothing. The Lady Mondegreen, who caught the joke.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Rhys has indicated to me that some of the characters which appear in this story may not be known to all. (Scandalized gasp!) According to FANTASTIC BEASTS & WHERE TO FIND THEM by Newt Scamander, a KNEAZLE is "a small cat-like creature with flecked, speckled or spotted fur, outsized ears and a tail like a lion's" (Page 24) and a CRUP "closely resembles a Jack Russell terrier, except for the forked tail... which crup owners are legally obliged to remove... with a painless Severing Charm" (pages 8,9). Both of these animals are incredibly loyal to the wizard of their choice. Kneazles have the added ability of being able "to detect unsavoury or suspicious characters" (page 24). So now you all know! Oh, yes.
WARNING: this is another of those experiments.
The small house was as he remembered it from his childhood, his grandfather's retreat from the world when he needed time away from his argumentative family. He'd come up here several times with the old wizard whose hobby had been Muggle-style fishing. Snape had not liked the activity, but he had found the barren hills appealing.
The house had been left to him specifically when the old man had died; since no one in the family had wanted to visit the back of beyond, they had not contested that part of the will.
He had pretty much forgotten the existence of the property, let alone that he owned it, until he was going through his papers and found his copy of the property deed.
He had been going through his papers because he had been fired. Point blank. Told by the newest Headmaster that his teaching "style" was not acceptable. That in today's world, students had to be encouraged to learn at their own rate rather than have learning forced into their heads. That things had changed in the ten years since Voldemort's defeat.
One by one, the old staff had retired. He was the last hold out, believing that someone at the Ministry would finally clue in to the fact that lower standards of education meant a lower standard of wizard. He had ignored the "hints" that it was time for him to move on to new challenges, to widen his horizons, etc., until he had been told that, with the new term, his services would no longer be required.
Told by one of those pimply, self-satisfied American-trained Ministry-arse- kissing golden boys who had nothing but disdain for the "old ways".
"You were given several opportunities to adjust to modern pedagogy and you refuse to understand that today's young witches and wizards must learn at their own rate, that they absorb information by osmosis, not by being forced to learn by rote. That they..."
That they couldn't put a decent potion together because the colour was displeasing to them, or because certain ingredients stank and offended their sensitive little noses. Who grumbled and whined to their parents, who in turn grumbled and whined to whichever Headmaster was around that there was no reason for learning the old ways of brewing potions, not when the Ministry's new line of instant portions sachets "Just add water and stir while casting a spell to ensure a lump-free texture!" were so much easier to use. (Not to mention the fact that such potions were inferior to the real thing, which point, however, did not put galleons into Ministry coffers.)
He had never been popular, even after all that he had done to help in the victory against Voldemort had been openly acknowledged. Oh, he had been given the requisite awards and medals, but always with a sense of reluctance. They had wanted his help, had needed it far more than they had liked, and they had resented the fact that he of all wizards had been among the survivors.
He had known that there would be no one at the Ministry to challenge his firing and so he had packed his workshops, taken all of his ingredients...
The final insult. A member of the Ministry had accompanied him in what had been his rooms as he packed, verifying that he didn't take anything for which he had no receipt. The pompous bureaucrat had been irritated and then livid to discover that Snape had kept all of his receipts going back to the first day of his being hired as Potions Instructor, and that the rare potion ingredients the Ministry had its eye on were in fact unequivocally legally his. As was the entire content of his library.
And so it was that he had come across the property deed for the small farm near a trout stream in the Northwest Highlands.
And now here he was, his possessions all around him, staring at the small two storey house of gray stone with its even smaller attached barn.
The interior was as his grandfather had left it all those years ago, warded with a Protection Charm. Nothing grand, and yet there was something soothing about the slight familiarity of the place.
He took over his grandfather's bedroom with its huge four poster (he had been a large man), hanging his robes, suits and shirts in the wardrobe next to those the old man had left behind. He turned the parlour into his library, the overflow going into the small second bedroom he had used as a child. The kitchen... He shrugged; even though his Potions mastery assured that he was not incompetent in that environment, he was fairly unimaginative. His wand would have to suffice.
In the barn, he found his grandfather's fishing equipment still in perfect condition due not only to the charms cast on it, but also from the hours that his grandfather had spent maintaining it by hand and moved it out of harm's way to the unused pantry in the kitchen. The barn became his workshop. He put up special wards on both buildings, having lost whatever trust he once had towards the Ministry.
He forced himself to walk the hills every day, no matter the weather, telling himself that it was necessary to know the territory. Gradually, the anger, the disillusionment, the insults he carried in him dissipated and he discovered that he enjoyed these walks over his land for their own sake.
And, gradually, it also dawned on him that, for the first time in far too many years, he had only himself to look after. No living a double life on the edge. No House arguments to settle. No mouthy, disrespectful students to try and instruct. No "modern" administrators to deal with. His time was his own. He could work uninterrupted on perfecting old potions in the traditional manner for however long he wanted and experiment to his heart's content on new ones.
He had been in what he termed exile for five months when the owl arrived. He looked at the invitation he received every year to attend the International Potions Masters Convention and tossed it aside. He never had the time...
He stopped and picked it up again.
He did have the time. He'd always had to turn the invitation down because it arrived in the middle of term, but this year he had no commitments to hold him back.
He looked to see where it was being held. Japan. He had never been to Japan.
He liked Japan.
Oh, at first he was slightly uncomfortable. It was a foreign land and he was worried that he might inadvertently place a foot wrong he seemed to have done far too much of that in past years! because he didn't know local traditions and customs. Never mind the language!
But the organizers were well prepared. They cast a Language Translation Spell on each attendee as he or she arrived and, even if the sentence structures were sometimes a little weird, those attending could understand each other. For the presentations there were official translators so that nuances would not be missed.
Moreover they had asked for local wizards and witches to volunteer as guides so that those visiting could see some of the attractions away from the site, even a bit of the country. Some of the locals went so far as to invite the visitors into their homes for a traditional meal. Snape discovered in Sano Ichiro a fellow Potions Master with not only an excellent grasp of the English language, but also a man as interested in experimentation as he was. After the conference, they became faithful correspondents.
At the conference, Snape was surprised to learn that he had a reputation among his fellow Potion Masters. Wizards and witches were pleased to meet him. They wanted his opinion on matters, sought his counsel with some of the problems they were having with potions. He found the fact that he was
a traditionalist, now a dirty word back home, something that others here respected. He was suddenly far more at ease than he had ever thought he could be in an environment that was not familiar to him.
He was taken aback when the organizers approached him and asked if he would be willing to give a talk on the Wolfsbane Potion he had developed. And though he hadn't expected more than one or two wizards to show up at his impromptu presentation, they had to move him into one of the larger halls to so that everyone who signed up could have a seat.
He apparated back to his farm with a restored sense of self-worth and a colourful man's kimono black with gold and red dragons that had been presented to him by the organizers. Next year's conference was to be held in New Zealand and he would be one of the official presenters.
And then, one day, his household grew. By one.
The house elf came out of nowhere. Trembling with fear and nervousness, eyes larger than the norm in his far too thin face.
Snape was coming back from a walk when he spied something in the high grasses that surrounded his house. Wand at the ready, he challenged, "Come out or I'll blast you."
A house elf, wringing his hands, emerged in front of him.
Snape didn't lower his wand right away. He looked over the elf who was wearing a torn tea towel and one sock. It took him a moment to realize the tea towel had the Hogwarts emblem on it, faded to almost invisibility.
"Your name?" growled Snape, wondering if this was a trap of some kind. Why would the elf be wearing both the tea towel and a sock?
"Struy, Mas...Sir." Tears suddenly streamed down the elf's face.
"Who gave you the sock, Struy?"
The tears increased and the elf's voice broke. "The ...Mast ...sirs ...Hog ...warts ...cut-backs ... sah ...sock ..."
Snape lowered his wand. Another victim of modernization, he thought. "You'd better come in and calm yourself."
Over a cup of tea, Struy explained that he had not wanted to leave Hogwarts but had been forced to accept the sock and thereby his freedom. He'd tried to find others to serve, but since he'd been socked... He sniffed, tears dripping into his mug of cooling tea. He finally had no place to go other than home, a disgrace to his family, to learn that someone else from Hogwarts had settled in the area.
"Please, take Struy's sock from him. Struy will serve you well."
"Struy..." Snape looked at the desolate house elf.
"Family not want Struy back. Hogwarts was for bragging. Now Struy has sock and family ashamed."
Well, thought Snape, he could use someone to do his laundry, and to clean up. But more importantly...
"Struy, what position did you hold at Hogwarts?"
The elf straightened his shoulders and held himself with pride. "Struy kitchen elf." Then he seemed to deflate in on himself. Tears began once more and he wrapped his hands in the bottom on his tea towel, twisting the badly worn material.
Snape stood up. Maybe the world was progressing ahead into new realms, but there were still those who belonged in the old one. Like himself. Like Struy.
"Give me that sock, Struy."
The elf stopped weeping. His mouth dropped open.
"You understand that if you obey me in this, Struy, that you will belong to me. To this house. If that is what you want, then give me the sock. Of your own free will."
Snape stored the sock safely away, along with the faded tea towel. Struy bustled about his duties, smiling, happy, garbed in a heather-coloured flannel pillow case. He often hummed some silly refrain, which once would have irritated Snape to no end, but which now only seemed to belong to the house.
The next members of the household also came out of the high grasses. Not the ones around the house. Struy saw that there was now a cleared area around the front and sides so that it didn't look so desolate. Snape even granted him permission to replant some heather as a sort of a garden along the gray stone walls.
No, these came out after one of his fishing sessions. Snape had been drawn to the gear Struy had stored in a corner of the parlour when he claimed the pantry for himself. One day, he had taken it out along with the well-read fishing book from the drawer of the night table in his bedroom his grandfather's copy of THE COMPLEAT ANGLER by Izaak Walton, a witch who was the first published compiler of such lore. He had discovered that there was something very soothing in tossing out a line and waiting to see what might happen. Snape found he was acquiring a certain skill and a healthy respect for his grandfather's ability, as well as an appreciation of fresh trout served as Struy prepared it.
He was on his way back from what was becoming his favourite spot when he heard rustling in the high grasses to either side of the path. He paused, listening. Silence. He went on and the rustling began again. Yes, definitely from both sides of the path. So he was prepared for the attack when it came, just not the source of it.
He turned, wand ready to be used for any spell, including the Unforgivable ones. By the time he understood that his wand had been aimed too high, his creel was being dragged off his shoulder by one assailant while the second was trying to bring him down by gnawing at his ankles.
A quick immobility spell and there they were: a kneazle and a crup. Snape didn't know what startled him the most: that they had attacked him or that they seemed to be working together. Kneazles and crups got along as well as ...as modernists and traditionalists.
One good look at them showed why they had attacked. They were small and thin, ribs showing on both. With a sigh, Snape rescued his creel, slung it over his shoulder, then picked up the two animals and brought them home.
Struy prepared a bowl of milk with bread and Snape mobilized them again. The animals were terrified but drawn by the food. Side by side, teeth bared, growling, they made their way to the bowl where they took turns eating while the other kept watch on the Potions Master and his house elf.
"Well, not only getting along, but working as a team. I wonder how that came about?"
But since they didn't speak, Snape never did find out how it had come to pass that a kneazle and a crup had bonded the way they had. They took over a corner in the kitchen by the stove and watched intently whenever anyone came near them. They ate together, went out to the yard together and at night cautiously, as though afraid of being kicked or having the door slammed in their faces, together returned to their corner.
As they became more confident, they inspected the whole of the house, eventually the barn, and gave every indication of staying. They made themselves useful. Any pest which might have been thinking of invading either house or workshop thought twice when it became known that a kneazle and a crup took special exception to such plans.
Still, thought Snape, if they were joining the household, he would need to have a license for both of them, according to the rules of the Department for the Regulation and the Control of Magical Creatures.
Easier said than done. The idiots at the Department kept insisting he could have a license for one or the other, but not both. One correspondent went so far as to call Snape's sanity into question with his insistence that he wanted a license for both. Finally, one of these new type of lower level bureaucrats with delusions of importance insisted on seeing for himself. Snape had barely finished reading the letter when the man apparated into his yard.
"Really, Snape," the intruder sneered. "Just because you are mentioned in a footnote of the most recent edition of THE HISTORY OF MAGIC, you seem to think that the rules concerning Magical Creatures do not apply to you. There is no recorded case of a wizard or witch being licensed for both a kneazle and a crup. They are mutually exclusive. It just does not occur."
While he had been talking, the kneazle and the crup had slowly come out of the house Snape had refused to allow the twit inside and waited until the man had taken notice of them.
"You've spelled them somehow. That is strictly again the law! I shall have to report this to the..."
But the bureaucrat didn't have time to say any more. The animals, sensing that their saviour was being attacked, that the man did not belong in this place, went on the offensive, teeth bared and claws unsheathed. The kneazle leapt up onto the man's shoulders and dug in at the same time as the crup aimed for his ankles. While the kneazle tore at the man's head, the crup slipped under his robe and went for his genitals.
Snape had to transport the Ministry man back under the Trasporto Spell as he was a blathering shambles by the time Snape managed albeit very slowly to get the animals off him. As was their nature, the two had been doing their best to eliminate what they saw as a threat to their master.
Snape got his licenses as well as a letter from the Department for the Improper Use of Magic indicating that the incident was being added to his dossier. Snape was not surprised to learn that he had a dossier. He knew that there were many who still thought he should have been sent to Azkaban instead of rewarded after the War was over. In their minds, once a Death Eater, always a Death Eater.
They all congregated in the parlour after he had sent the Ministry man back. He sat in his favourite chair by the fire; Struy, cross-legged on his pillow on the window sill. The animals were in front of the fire, busy cleaning the blood off themselves and each other.
"Well, since you seem to have made yourselves at home, you really do need names."
Two heads looked up from their grooming as though they understood him. They glanced at each other, sat up and waited.
In the weeks they had been part of the household, they had gained weight, grown a few inches although they would always be smaller than the norm and allowed some of their personalities to show. That they were loyal to Snape was without question. And through him, to Struy. That they were well behaved indoors was also without dispute. After that first inspection, neither would enter the workshop, so that was not a concern. But once outdoors, well, nothing was safe, whether it be gnome, knarl, or bird. Or laundry. Snape had to create a platform for Struy out of a second storey window from which to hang the clothes so that they would be out of the reach of sharp teeth.
Snape suddenly chuckled to himself. Why not? He pointed to the kneazle. "Your name is Fred." And then to the crup, "Yours is George."
The animals seemed to think that over and then, nodding as though with acceptance, went back to cleaning themselves. George liked to sleep at the foot of Snape's bed while Fred preferred the pillow next to Snape's.
Before leaving for New Zealand, Snape taught Struy how to send him a message using floo powder and the fireplace. Just in case the Ministry thought it should interfere in Snape's business.
New Zealand was a success. Once more he found himself sought out and listened to. He was thrilled though he didn't show it when a publisher approached him, wanting Snape to produce a manual on the brewing of simple, traditional potions.
To his surprise, the book sold well.
Certain factions within the Ministry were not pleased with this popularization of old-fashioned potion making. Snape received a letter from a representative of the Ministry wondering if he understood that modern ways were replacing those of older times and did he not think that this tome of his was hindering the advancement of wizarding? (There was no mention made of the Ministry's line of instant potions.)
Over the next five years, his books were translated into seventeen languages, the one on exotic potions even going so far as to sit at number one for seven weeks on the New York Review of Wizarding Books best seller list.
Though he did not again hear directly from the Ministry, he knew that he was followed at all the conferences he attended. Each of his books usually garnered negative reviews in the Ministry-supporting wizard papers and journals. But since his publisher was non-Isle-based, there was little the Ministry could do. It couldn't ban his books outright, as this went against their official policy of tolerance and non-censorship, but there were many aggressive and even belligerent challenges to his philosophy of potions during conference question-and-answer sessions. After the third such occurrence, Snape merely refused to do a presentation at any conference taking place in a country without a strong traditional culture.
"Have you thought of moving away?" asked Sano Ichiro, now Potions Master to the Imperial Court of Japan. "In the Isles, you are barely tolerated, my friend. Some other country would be honoured to have you."
They were sitting on a patio under some palm trees on a South Pacific island, the location of this year's conference.
Snape frowned. "I have a house elf to consider and two creatures who are attached to me. Not to mention a workshop and thousands of books."
Ichiro shrugged. "Not insurmountable. Yes, it would mean giving up the familiar, Severus, but the familiar is unfriendly towards you at this time and growing more so with the success of each of your books. They are afraid of you."
Snape looked up from his fruit drink, eyebrows raised high in incredulity. "Afraid? Of me? Sano, why would they be afraid of me?"
Ichiro shook his head slightly. "They have thrown out the old ways for many reasons. But mainly because the old ways remind them that, because of their inaction, they almost allowed the darkest of the Dark Lords to vanquish them. That without you and others like you, he would have been the victor. Their past embarrasses them and they would like to pretend that time never happened. They fear that one day someone like yourself will want to write their memoirs, and then all that they have struggled to bury will rise from the grave to haunt them.
"Think about it, my friend. I have more than enough space on my land for one small stone house and workshop."
Snape didn't want to believe him except that, one day, on a shopping trip to Diagon Alley, someone tried to kill him. Fred, draped around his neck like a fur collar, suddenly growled and Snape turned in time to avoid the green ray of a distinctive spell. The rebound killed the sender and the authorities merely shrugged it off as a robbery attempt.
"Probably had been following you about, Snape. The stuff you were buying doesn't come cheap. Maybe," the voice of the representative from the Ministry took on an ominous tone, "next time, you should be more careful of what you're buying."
Back home, Snape thought a few days then held a meeting with his household. The next time a Ministry spy tried to see what Snape was up to, all he found was a hole in the ground where the house and workshop had been.
In Japan, Snape did exactly what the Ministry had feared one of the survivors of the War would do: he wrote his memoirs. It had not been easy reliving the old days, remembering the betrayals, his own stupidity and foolishness, the humiliations of Voldemort and living daily with the fear of being uncovered as the double agent that he was. Remembering those who had not survived. But there was also the chance to discover the sense of victory, of something almost impossible accomplished that he had been far too exhausted to celebrate when it had all been over. To realize, looking back from a perspective of sixteen years, that the Ministry had worked even far less enthusiastically than he'd thought at the time for Voldemort's loss and had, in fact, been prepared for his victory.
His publisher read his manuscript and refused to publish it as was.
"You'll be a hunted man. I like you, Severus Snape. I refuse to be responsible for your assassination. Redo it as a piece of fiction. Make it the memoirs of a fictional character, change the names of the guilty and the innocent, change the names of the places. And that I will publish. Under the name of the fictional character."
"What good will that do?" snarled Snape.
"It will keep you alive. It will allow you to look innocent if...when they challenge you, and it will make you rich beyond your dreams. Nothing like a mystery to add to the sales."
MEMOIRS OF A DEATH SEEKER owned the number one spot on the London Wizarding Times and the New York Review of Wizarding Books best seller lists for one hundred fifty-six weeks.
Now that his only excursion into the realm of "fiction-writing" was over, Snape found himself at loose ends. For fifteen months, he had done nothing but write, go for long walks with Fred and George to deal with his memories, eat whatever Struy handed him and sleep whenever the nightmares allowed him to.
His small house of stone was not the kind of building that did well in a country with more than its share of earthquakes. Sano Ichiro and a few of his fellow wizards had spelled it and the workshop so that they floated some twelve inches above ground, but now that his book was finally down on parchment, Snape knew that if he was going to remain in this country he didn't bother to fool himself that he would ever be welcomed back in the Isles he had better adapt to the local customs.
On the suggestions of Ichiro and his friends, he had himself a new house and workshop built on a part of the Ichiro property that most resembled his hills back home. He moved his personal items and his household into the new residence and spelled the old ones so that house and workshop now sat on a shelf in his new library. At Ichiro's recommendation, he also packed away his old suits and robes, replacing them with the traditional kimono, hakama and the longer wizard haori, all in black of course.
To his surprise, one night at a small private supper that Ichiro was giving for several of his wizard friends, the Headmaster of the School for Magical Abilities asked if he would be interested in giving one or two special seminars for some of the Potions students.
"We have an excellent professor in our own traditions, but we feel that it would be to the benefit of a select few of our students to learn of other traditions. Merely because a certain potion has been done in a certain manner for thousands of years does not mean that a similar potion mixed with different ingredients, in a different manner should not be explored."
Snape wasn't certain he wanted to return to the classroom. It had been almost ten years since he had been told his services were not required. But he felt he owed his host something and so he agreed.
Struy hid his smiles at Snape's nervousness.
He and the animals had also had to adjust to the local differences. At first Snape had used the Translation Spell on the elf, but with his Master so focused on his writing, Struy had not had much to do. He had cautiously approached the house elves who cared for the Ichiro household, asking for their help with the language, the customs and the cooking. On learning that the Ichiro children had all inherited their father's fondness for sweets, Struy brought gifts of gingerbread cookies, treacle pudding, trifle, and custard tarts. He soon found that one of the female house elves was very interested in spending time with him. At first they exchanged recipes then, as Struy's own language skills grew, discussed the different customs in their respective households. Aoi introduced him to the markets and to the methods of finding the best of ingredients.
Struy had been very moved when Snape had asked him if Struy wanted to return to the Isles as it was probable that he never would. And he had been pleased to refuse.
Fred and George had settled in fairly well. Fred had been absolutely fascinated by the carp in the ponds that were scattered over the property. He even fished a few out until Snape was approached by the Chief Elf of the Garden who very politely pointed out that the fish were very old and should be allowed to die in peace. Snape had a little talk with Fred. He now spent hours watching them, and only watching them.
Snape noticed that his animals were quite well tolerated. Kneazles and crups were not native to the country and so were looked upon as exotic species. He knew they were popular with the Ichiro children, who loved it when the animals joined in their games. The Ichiro house elves often slipped them treats after they realized that Fred and George were very good at ridding the gardens of their version of knarls and jarveys.
Snape took a good look at himself in the long mirror that graced his sleeping chamber. The hair, he noted, was not as black as it had once been. Over the years he had been gradually graying. His face was less hard. More relaxed. His back was still straight and his slimness did the Potions Master's haori he was wearing proud. It was black and decorated with designs that denoted his expertise in his field.
"Well," he shrugged, meeting Struy's eyes in the mirror, "I shall apologize right now for the bad humour that you'll probably have to deal with over the time of these seminars. I never had a sweet disposition while teaching and I doubt that will have changed."
But it had. These students had been specially selected. The Headmaster had wanted Snape's knowledge but was wary of the fact that he came from another tradition. The students were not impressionable youngsters but were from the post-graduate program, come to gain mastery of their chosen field.
There were only four of them in the first set of seminars and, by the time the second set was over, Snape had been offered a permanent position as the Professor for Foreign Potions in the post-graduate program. He suddenly had several new correspondents, as his students wished to remain in touch, and was to become one of the reasons the School for Magical Abilities Specialized Program was so popular with other foreign students in that region of the world.
Snape found the fact that he was dealing with only the best and brightest with witches and wizards who loved his subject matter as much as he did, who did not see it as merely dropping ingredients into a cauldron and stirring but who appreciated, as he was so fond of saying, "the subtle science and exact art that is Potions making" made teaching and experimenting far more interesting and satisfying than it had been. His next book on the adaptation of ingredients from one tradition to another was a best seller in the Eastern Wizarding world.
When the International Potions Masters Convention asked him to present his findings at their next meeting in St. Petersburg, he discussed the offer with Ichiro and the Headmaster then agreed.
He apparated as did his fellow Potions Masters in the entry of the Hermitage which was officially closed for repairs for the duration of the conference. His reception was much different than theirs. There were cameras flashing, Quick Quotes Quills flying over parchment, reporters clamouring for an interview.
It had not taken the readers in the Isles long to decipher the identities of those mentioned in MEMOIRS. Nor to realize the identity of its writer, in spite of the many refusals to confirm on the part of the publisher. Snape, safely ensconced in his Japanese residence, in his position at the School for Magical Abilities, with a connection to the Imperial Court, and now with increasing influence of his own in his chosen world had not really thought of the consequences of his sudden reappearance in this one after five years. Sano Ichiro stepped aside and watched his friend deal with the situation.
The Snape of old made an appearance. He stood straight as he always did, slipped his hands into the folds of his haori sleeves, face bare of reaction other than a raised eyebrow of haughty disdain. Without saying a word, he moved through them all, as though not aware of the effect he had.
Ichiro hid a grin behind his fan. As always when he left the security of his residence or classroom, Snape had Fred draped around his shoulders. The kneazle had saved his life once and Snape never ventured out without him. He had also brought George with him. The crup heeled at his side, growling lowly, ready to snap out at any who came too close to his beloved master.
As usual, Snape was dressed all in black, an imposing figure in his formal garb. The wizard's haori was a new one, especially made for this conference: so heavily embroidered with black-on-black symbols of his field that the silk rustled as he strode through the crowd to the welcoming committee. A committee who had indeed been expecting this kind of reception. Snape and his fellow attendees from the Far Eastern Tradition were housed in a special area with a higher level of security. Those who had had to answer questions based on the information revealed by his book had not been pleased. There was the real possibility of an assassination attempt and the organizers, thrilled that Snape had accepted the offer not only to attend but to present, had also been aware of that possibility. Snape went nowhere without a personal guard composed of his animals, several of his present and former students who were attending, and three beefy wizards supplied by the KGM (The Committee for Magical Security).
At the organizers' suggestion, Snape agreed to hold a press conference in which he repeatedly indicated that MEMOIRS was a work of fiction and that it was not his problem that people read more into it. No, he had no intentions of returning to the Isles. No, he had not been aware of the death threats made against him: his publisher dealt with all of his mail. Yes, there had been an assassination attempt many years ago; a robbery so he had been told that had gone wrong. But it had not been the first nor had he been the only one to survive such an attempt: he was no different from anyone who had lived through those times. No, he was not in contact with anyone from those days. No, he was not aware that Harry Potter had been made the youngest ever Headmaster of Hogwarts. He wished him well. No, he had no intentions of writing another piece of fiction: he was far too busy with his students and his own experiments. No, he was not aware that he spoke English with a foreign cadence. Yes, he did have licenses for both a kneazle and a crup. No, he didn't find anything strange in their getting along. No, he would not tell the reporters why he had named them as he had.
From his usual place on Snape's shoulders, Fred scrutinized the room as though seeking his next prey while George, sitting on Snape's lap, seemed particularly interested in a bespectacled witch in the front row, the one in the magenta robe.
MEMOIRS returned to the number one position on the best seller lists and was now translated into twenty-one languages. There was a sudden flurry of resignations at the Ministry. Using some of the money he had made from the sales of the book, Snape endowed a Chair of Comparative Potions Study at the School for Magical Abilities and another at the International School for Magic in Paris.
Snape sat on the back steps of his home and looked over the garden that Sano Ichiro's gardener had made for him. Struy had been taught the proper way of maintaining it so that his Master would find it peaceful, an aid in relaxation and meditation. When it had been finished, Snape had held another of those talks with Fred and George so that they would leave it alone. The animals lay tangled together, snoozing on the porch as Snape contemplated his life.
He was sixty, still young by wizard standards, but an age he had at one time never expected to reach. Though he still did not read any of the papers from the Isles, he expected he was probably reviled there. Nothing really new, when he thought about it. He was respected and honoured both as Potions Master and as Teacher in the country which had chosen to open its arms to him. He had a position in its wizarding society. He had friends who enjoyed him and whom he enjoyed. He had work that he really loved, students who thought that being in his classes was an honour.
All in all, a good life.
Pity that apart from Fred and George, Struy, and Aoi, who had joined his household on Sano Ichiro's request, he had no one to share it with.
Oh, he had had lovers. He had not been celibate all these years. But he had met no one with whom he wanted to share his house, his gardens. His bed.
Well, he now had so much more than he had ever thought to have. He would be content with that.
The loud rumble sounded about a month later at sunset. At first he thought it was thunder. But a glance at the cloudless sky had him taking his wand to hand and warning Struy and Aoi to stay indoors. Fred and George were on the porch by his side when the rumbling proved to be a motorcycle that was slowly descending from the sky. Snape recognized the vehicle from his youth: the rider then had been Sirius Black. He wondered if Black had been sent here to eliminate him.
The rider brought the bike to a skillful stop, well within easy reach of Snape's wand, and turned the engine off. He was dressed completely in black leather. It was impossible to tell who the rider was, as the visor of the black helmet was also blackened. For a good minute, the face of the rider was turned toward Snape as though waiting for him to make the first move. Slowly removing his hands from the handlebars, palms open to show that he was not carrying a wand, the rider brought his hands up to the helmet and removed it.
The first thing that Snape noticed was the hair. Red. In a long, thick braid that drooped over a shoulder. The eyes that were watching him were a yellowish brown. The freckled face long, lean and familiar.
"A Weasley," said Snape, wand still poised for action, "but which one?"
The head cocked, the mouth grinned, the eyes crinkled at the corners, and suddenly, in the face of the man, Snape found the boy.
"Ron Weasley. What are you doing here?"
Weasley swung a leg over and sat against his bike, hands on thighs.
"Coming to see you. I have something to discuss with you, but, first, I was wondering if a shower might be possible? I've been on this thing for some twenty hours and I can smell myself."
Fred and George moved closer to the visitor and stunned Snape when they allowed Weasley to touch them. He scratched Fred between the ears and George under the chin then grinned up at Snape. "My brothers were delighted to hear that you hadn't forgotten them."
Snape lowered his wand and shook his head. "Struy" he called over his shoulder, "prepare the bath for Mr. Weasley."
Struy set up the evening meal on the porch overlooking the garden. "I thought you were involved in the Auror program." Snape was sitting, watching his uninvited guest, dressed in a borrowed yukata, stretched out to his full length on the padding, feeding bits of a dessert biscuit to the animals.
"Started. Didn't finish. I discovered it wasn't for me. Harry and Hermione had the talent, I didn't. It was too frustrating trying to stay in step with them. Bill offered me an apprenticeship with the Treasure Seekers and I was better at that." Weasley looked up from George to grin at the man watching him so seriously. "But not by much. Then one day, one of the Goblins was going to a meeting with his counterpart in South America and he needed a cover. So he took me with him. Turns out that I'm good at security. Planning it, preparing for problems, dealing with surprises. Sort of like a wizard chess game on a larger scale."
Snape nodded slightly, watching Fred attack the end of Weasley's braid. "I see. So, have you come here to kill me, Weasley?"
Weasley grew very still and very serious. "No. I can see why you might think that, but no. I work for Gringotts, not the Ministry. I'm here because they want to set up a new bank in partnership with the local Goblins. That will require liaison between themselves and their partners. Even some dealings with Muggles. And they need people they can trust to handle all the security this new project entails."
"And you shall be involved in this?"
Weasley sat up. "I shall be the one in charge of all this."
Snape nodded his appreciation of the situation. "You have engaged yourself in a very delicate dance. I compliment you on the trust Gringotts has in you. It is not something they often show non-Goblins." He examined the man sitting in front of him. A man. No longer a boy. "That does not explain why you have sought me out."
"This will be a long-term posting. I know that you have a position here. In the course of my work, we will be meeting each other. Will this bother you?"
Snape blinked in surprise. "You don't need my permission to work here, Weasley. Nor my approval."
"Yes, I do. You got a raw deal after the War. You should have been supported by those of us who survived it but, for various reasons, we failed you. You've made a new life here for yourself. I will not be responsible for your being discomforted by my presence. If you are... I haven't accepted the position yet. I told my supervisors that I needed to discuss this with someone and they agreed to allow me a week."
Snape slowly stroked George as the crup settled in his lap. "Surely I am not the one with whom you need to discuss any of this. What does your wife think?"
"My wife? Snape, just whom am I supposed to have married?"
"I was under the impression that you and Granger..."
Weasley laughed. "No. Hermione is married, but not to me. Not to Harry either, if that's what you're wondering. No, she married a near Squib who's more than happy to stay at home with the kids while she makes a name for herself in Auror ranks. She'll probably be head of that Department within the next ten years. Harry's married, but to Ginny, my sister. They're very happy together. They've got twins, a boy and a girl. By the way, Harry's revamping Hogwarts, bringing back the old O.W.L. and N.E.W.T. tests. At the insistence of the Department for the Improper Use of Magic."
"Really?" Snape's voice was sarcastically cold while his eyes warmed with vindication.
Weasley grinned again. "As for me, my tastes run differently. I like men. And no, there is no one in my personal life with whom I need to discuss this move. So, Snape, may I stay?"
Snape helped him through the period of adjustment, explaining how things differed in this society, the nuances of the language. He invited him to meet those from his circle of friends who were interested in financial matters and then those who were not. He was pleased to find that, though Weasley was still Weasley enough to have retained a sense of humour, of fun, he had also matured into a serious professional. Into a man who knew what he wanted and went after it until he got it.
In this case, Snape himself.
Snape carded his fingers through the flame-coloured hair that covered his chest. Weasley, head on Snape's shoulder, arm around his waist, smiled sleepily at him.
"You're a man of many surprises, Severus. You've quite worn me out."
Snape felt the self-satisfied smile grow on his face. "As I have always tried to teach my students," he said in his lecturing voice, "practice makes perfect."
From their new bed in a corner of the room, Fred and George shared a look at the sound of the soft laughter, snorted, then curled up tightly around each other and went back to sleep.
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