Disclaimer: Characters etc. belong to JK Rowling. These words belong to Josan.
Summary: Severus Snape finds out there's more to life than potions.
Warnings: Contains non-con situations including rape. NC-17
He was beyond tired.
Severus Snape sat at his desk in his classroom, numb and almost somnambulant.
The War was over. They had managed to defeat He-Who... Voldemort. And permanently, this time. That which had been the Dark Lord had been immolated; fire for the body he had possessed, Unforgivable Curses for the spirit.
There was no way he was going to find a way back, this time.
But at such a cost!
Dumbledore was dead. He, along with several of the most powerful wizards and witches, were no more. Others were alive, and barely that. Many were only slightly better off. The elimination of Voldemort had drained too many of them of their resources.
And here he was, in his classroom. He was supposed to be preparing for the new influx of students under the Minister for Magic's orders to return life to as near normal as possible, as quickly as possible.
Snape looked around the room in which he had spent so many years trying to imbue youngsters - who were not interested - in the subtle science and exact art that was potions making. The best he had ever managed was reluctant appreciation on the part of far too few students.
He wanted to sigh, but found even that beyond his capabilities.
Facts had to be faced. One reality was now over and done with. A new one was beginning.
Was he interested enough to try and find a place for himself in this new world?
It was Madam Hooch who finally realized that no one had seen Snape for several days. The man was not gregarious, but he did usually come out of his rooms for the evening meal.
She knocked on the door of his quarters after having checked his classroom. Something about the state of that room bothered her. It was as neat as it always was before the students arrived - yet there was an aura of emptiness about it. Well, that, she told herself as she walked down to the lower dungeon level, would disappear after a few cauldrons had been blown up. Neville Longbottom had not been the sole disaster in that course. It seemed there was one every year. Mind you, she thought, poor Longbottom had been more so than the average.
There was no response from Snape's private rooms. Normally, Hooch would just have assumed that Snape was busy doing something at which he refused to be interrupted. But the sense of unease that she had brought with her from the classroom made her try the door, only to find that it opened at her touch.
She stepped cautiously through the portal, not certain why she was suddenly holding her breath.
The room was bare. As was the bedchamber. And the bathroom.
Snape had done more than use these rooms during the school year. Unlike the others, who had homes to return to or family to visit during the holidays, Snape lived here in his quarters year-round. The furniture and other items in them - including the library - were all his. And now, apart from the bare built-in shelves, there was not a speck of anything that remotely indicated that someone had once lived here.
It was on one of these shelves that Hooch found a scroll addressed to Minerva McGonagall. Just that, her name and nothing else. Not even her new title of Headmistress.
In the teachers' lounge, all those who had arrived early at the school watched as McGonagall carefully broke the Slytherin seal, unrolled the parchment and read.
She closed her eyes and sighed deeply. They should have seen this coming. She should have seen this coming.
The Headmistress looked around the room at the battle-weary members of her staff. Even those who were new to the staff were veterans of the War. She would have to remember that not just the students would need special attention this year.
She read the letter aloud to them.
I hope you will understand when I say that my obligation was to Albus Dumbledore and not to you. I did as he asked, no matter the cost, because I owed him my compliance. But he is no more, and I feel that, with his death, my obligation is over.
I have taken only what belongs to me.
I would like to thank you and the others who tolerated me during these past years. I hope that my replacement is better humoured. The fact that he won't have two roles to play should assure that.'
"It's signed `Severus Snape'," McGonagall said to the staff. "And there's a footnote.
`The notes, lesson plans and tests of the past years are in the bottom drawer of the desk in the Potions classroom.'"
The big Harley-Davidson made its way knowingly in the dark, down the badly maintained streets, avoiding the rain-filled potholes, and turned down the alley that led to the loading dock of one of the smaller warehouses. With practiced ease, the driver steered the big bike over the curb, onto the ramp. He brought it to a standstill at the first of the three doors, reached into an inside jacket pocket and pulled out a remote. The door lifted and he steered the bike inside, using the remote to lower the door behind him.
He switched the bike off and reached for a small parcel that rested on a bench. It must have been delivered while those members of the local food bank, who used part of the lower warehouse to store their non-perishables, had been here either to pick up or to drop off.
Balancing the parcel on the seat, he pushed the bike into the open freight elevator. He muttered some words as he pulled down the slatted guard and hit the button for the next level up. Once the elevator came to a squealing stop - he must remember to add oiling the braking mechanism to his list of things to do - he steered the bike to its corner with the tarp, which was there to catch drips of any sort. From the storage compartment under the bike's seat he removed three books wrapped in a clear cellophane, propped them on top of the parcel and moved into the living area.
He dropped his packages onto a small table, his keys into the bowl that was there for that purpose. His helmet went onto its hook above the table. He removed the black leather bomber jacket and hung it up on its peg, then the heavy black boots that he wore whenever he drove the large Harley and placed them on the mat.
Severus Snape passed a hand through his now much shorter hair, scratching his scalp, and sighed at the feeling of no longer having the helmet on his head. With his other hand, he opened the small drawer in the table and removed his wand. In the area that he used as a kitchen, he filled the kettle with water, muttered as he waved his wand and, instantly, the steam of a rapidly boiling nature found its way out of the spout. While his tea steeped - he preferred the Muggle method to the magical - he opened the biscuit tin and placed a half-dozen of Marks & Spencer Almond Biscuits on a plate. When the tea was as he liked it, he poured himself a large mug and, with the plate of biscuits in hand, settled into his armchair, socked feet up on the ottoman.
The parcel proved to be the herbs he had ordered from a herbologist who guaranteed confidentiality, usually for those who wanted `herbs' whose possession was frowned upon by the authorities. In his case, for a variety of perfectly legal items that he did not care to have traced to him. Yes, all were there, even the hard-to-find special order he had submitted. He placed the opened parcel on the table by his chair, and quietly enjoyed the hot tea and the slight bitterness of the almond biscuits.
Snape looked around his quarters, safe in the knowledge that, from the outside, all people could see were the tall windows - ten feet high - of the second storey that were in need of a good washing. Actually, they were spelled to look that way. And to be opaque in the night light. In actual fact, they were crystal clear and let in both sun and moon light.
The whole warehouse was spelled not to look or seem different than any other that inhabited this section of Dock Road. And the Stealth Spell that he had used to overlay all his spelling guaranteed that no one, other than a wizard standing right in front of the building, could sense that spelling.
This part of Liverpool had avoided the renovated, refurbished trend of the 1980's and looked like what it was: run down, abandoned, and long past any modern usage of its original function.
Dock Road ran parallel to the coastline for several miles, with lots of warehouses, access gates to docks, and back streets leading off on the opposite side of the road into more warehouses, factories, and terraced housing, most of which were in need of repair. The only `cheery' spots in the area were the pubs, which seemed to inhabit most of the street corners. There were still plenty of rail tracks criss-crossing the roads where they used to run steam trains that carried all the freight in and out of the dock gates.
Well, there were no more steam trains, no more cargo ships using the now empty docks. Just the occasional dubious business that needed storage space, squatters who had taken residence in some of the vacated and unguarded factories and warehouses, and the rare person like himself who had found in all this insalubrity a fairly cheap place to live and to conduct `business'.
He'd been surprised just how inexpensive the warehouse had been. Especially when he converted his money from galleons to pounds. Oh, there had been repairs to be done, but as these had been on the inside of the building rather than the outside, they had been easily accomplished with a wave of his wand and a spell or two.
In any other Muggle area of the Isles, his behaviour might have been construed as `suspicious', but here, in Dock Road, apart from the regular nosiness of his `neighbours', no one paid much attention to his comings and goings. He did nothing to stand out. He wore rough trousers and sweaters, his bomber jacket - all in black, of course - whenever he left the security of the second storey. He drove what seemed to be a battered Harley until one heard the engine and knew that, in spite of its look, the bike was well maintained.
By hand, not wand. Snape found that assuring himself that his method of transportation in this Muggle world was always at its most efficient was a soothing and relaxing ritual. Besides, it was of Muggle fabrication and worked more dependably with Muggle-type care.
To avoid being too standoffish and thereby guaranteeing that his neighbours would be all too interested in him, he went to the nearest pub, the Pickled Heron, a couple of times a week and stayed long enough to drink a pint or two, lose at a game of billiards, and then go home. Once in a while, to add authenticity to his persona, he growled about a repair that his landlord refused to deal with.
The only thing he had done that had garnered any neighbourly interest in the eleven years he had been here was to allow, in his fourth year of residency, the local food bank to take over the unused first storey for their storage centre. Its location was not particularly convenient for the food bank, but its lease was more than reasonable: Snape rented it to them for one pound a month, telling them that since he really had no use for the space, he was more than satisfied with that. He called it his contribution to the community, such as it was.
His protection spells covered not only the elevator and the stairwell, but all of the warehouse so that anyone trying to break in suddenly found themselves at the doors of the Catholic Cathedral - irreverently though affectionately known locally as Paddy's Wigwam - with no memory of how they came to be there. Or what they had been doing just prior to their arrival. There had been more than a few attempts to break into the warehouse when the food bank had first arrived, but after a couple of months, no one bothered.
Snape had rented the space out for two reasons. One, the presence of someone other than himself meant that his presence would be less under scrutiny. And second, the woman in charge of the food bank could have been Minerva McGonagall's twin. Once he had recovered from his War fatigue, he had felt some remorse - though only a little - at leaving the Headmistress with a Potions instructor position to fill at the last minute.
Alys Jones not only resembled McGonagall in the physical sense, but she had a glare that would have affected even a Slytherin. As it had. She saw to it that he received his pound rental on the first Thursday of every month, the day they came to restock for the food bank, that no one approached the elevator to his residence, and that should any parcel arrive while they were there, it was, as today, placed on the bench by his door of entry.
Snape finished his tea, popped the last bit of biscuit into his mouth and, picking up the parcel, went to store the herbs and plants in their proper places.
The top storey was Snape's workshop. Though it was accessible by the elevator, he preferred to use the set of stairs that were off his kitchen. If anyone asked, he would explain that it had not been included in the rental as the owner of the building used it still for some storage purposes. Its windows were indeed blackened with both paint and spells.
Here, in the darkness, Snape had replicated his dungeon at Hogwarts, including the small fire that magically burned in a corner whenever he opened the door and entered. Here, Snape worked, dressed once more in his wizard robes, by the light of candles that hung suspended wherever he needed to work. He had far more space than he'd ever had at Hogwarts and so was able to keep his library of wizarding books and manuals on the wall furthest away from his actual worktables.
He loved this space where he worked at perfecting old potions, experimenting with new ones to his heart's content, never having to think about leaving something in progress to go teach or to deal with a demand from Dumbledore... No, he had to be fair: Dumbledore had never demanded, had only requested. It had been his sense of obligation, of reparation, that had insisted that he do whatever the Headmaster had asked.
Snape may have left the wizarding world behind physically, but he had not done so intellectually. He published his findings in the usual wizarding journals, wrote articles for them, participated in the testing of potions that other Potions Masters wished to have published, but did all of that under a different name and address.
With Dumbledore's help, he had long ago set up his Potions Master Pontefract cover since, at that time, it had not been acceptable for a former Death Eater to publish. It had held him in good stead when he had developed the wolfsbane potion and published his findings under the name. So far, only his representative in Gringotts knew that Pontefract and Snape were one and the same and, with luck, it would remain so.
Since leaving Hogwarts, Snape had discovered a freedom that he reveled in.
Strangely, he had found this warehouse soon after leaving Hogwarts. He had known that if anyone decided to look for him after his disappearance, they would think he had gone `home' to rest and recover from the nightmare of that year of War and the double life he had been leading up to it.
He had also known that `home' would not welcome him. He had always been the child who was not like the others, the one who had dared challenge his father's expertise and question his authority, the one who had shamed them when he had - not surprisingly, as had pronounced his father - become a Death Eater. The fact that it was now known that he had been one of the reasons for Voldemort's downfall would not have made him any more welcomed. His father immensely disliked being proven wrong.
He had made his way to Gringotts, had had a meeting with his representative, had converted some money and had tried to think of the last place anyone would think of looking for him. Part of his persona had been this dislike of Muggles that his role as a supporter of Voldemort had forced upon him. He really didn't hate the creatures. He had very little use for them, but he didn't hate them. He had been having a cup of what passed for tea in a small Muggle caf when his neighbour at the next table had tossed a newspaper onto it - missing - and ignored its descent over Snape's tea. Having nothing else to do right then, he'd picked it up and read it, including the article on warehouses and factory buildings being a `steal' in the northern part of the Isles.
And on no more than that, he had found his way up here, had walked through the area one night, spelled just enough to pass unnoticed by any of the two-legged inhabitants, and had come upon this warehouse, a small - as compared to its neighbours - three storey building that had once been the way-centre for tapestries from the factories in France and Italy.
He finished refilling the jars and jotted on a list several other ingredients he would have to reorder soon. He checked on a couple of experiments and made note of their progress or lack thereof.
Then, once more checking that all the wards and spells were at proper strength, he waved his wand. All the candles snuffed themselves out and the fire diminished then banked itself.
Snape returned to his living quarters and prepared for bed.
The bed was the same four- poster he had had all those years at Hogwarts. It had taken up most of the space in his bedchamber there, but here, in the open space that was the loft, it barely filled one of the corners. It had taken Snape time to add items to his living quarters. Since he hadn't wanted - still didn't - to garner any notice in the wizarding world, he was stuck with Mugglely things when he did venture forth. There hadn't much that appealed to him until, one night, as he was exploring the side streets of his chosen exile, he'd heard music which had drawn him. To a small pub which was hosting a blues festival.
He stood outside, listening to the music, and found himself quite moved by some of the mournful tunes. He went inside, found a seat in a corner, and listened for hours until the last note faded. For the duration of the festival, he sat in the corner, nursing a beer, and was bewitched by music that spoke to his battered soul. The pub alternated its annual musicfest between blues and jazz and the corner seat became Snape's for either one.
He used some of his converted funds to purchase a system that played vinyl, cassettes and CDs. Rummaging in the bins of eclectic selections in Liverpool's second-hand music stores, he was slowly amassing a collection of classics, from Billie Holiday to Miles Davis, which appealed to him. That he enjoyed listening to or having in the background while he read or worked on the Harley.
He'd had to add several shelving units to handle this new hobby of his. And then bookcases for the Muggle books he bought in those second-hand enterprises. He was astonished to find that, in their way, the Muggle creatures had quite a history of their own in herbology and natural remedies. He didn't keep these books in his workshop - they didn't belong with his serious texts - but he did enjoy reading them at his leisure. Pomfrey would have been astonished to discover how many Muggle remedies had a wizard basis. He developed an interest in trying to determine just when Muggles had split from wizard belief and the reasons for it.
And since he had decided to live among them, he also collected books dealing with the Muggles' own past. It had been interesting to discover that this culture, too, had its Dark Lords, and how the Muggles had dealt with them.
This had led him to the Muggles' libraries, and he'd joined the Picton Reference Library, which allowed him to research all day if he wished. The people at the desk had become used to his perusing old herbals and one of them, a young man, delighted in hunting out all sorts of obscure references for him, sometimes even anticipating him.
Of course, there was no reliable Muggle method of getting from town to the warehouse, especially if he missed the last bus that came into this area. For some reason, taxi drivers were not keen on dropping him off at his door. The one time he had apparated, he had startled one of his `neighbours' who was pissing against the side of his building. Fortunately, he'd been too drunk to remember, but Snape took no more chances. Hence, the motorcycle.
His eldest brother had used one of the magical variety in context with his work for the Department of Transportation, and had allowed a young Snape to drive it a couple of times, one summer. The Muggle version was not that much different, and Snape found the Harley a reliable method of transport that he quite enjoyed driving, almost as much as his broom, which was now gathering dust in a corner of his workshop. He did take that out, now and then, just to keep the broom in working condition and not to lose his skills. However, in order not to be seen, he needed a particularly black night to ride and these were few and far between, even in his underpopulated part of town. The city lights never seemed to dim, even during what the Muggles referred to as the `witching hour'.
Snape tossed his clothing onto a chair that he used mainly for that purpose. Naked, he padded over the cold floor to the bathroom he had set up for himself in what had once been the warehouse office. A quick shower to wash away the dirt and dust of foraging in a particularly decrepit library of an estate sale, searching for books to add to his collection of Muggle herbal and magical knowledge. He pissed, brushed his teeth. He pulled on the nightshirt that hung waiting for him on the nearest post of the bed, dragged on a pair of thick socks over his icy cold feet - he now understood Dumbledore's fondness for the things - and slipped under the thick duvet. He settled under the covers, pulled the pillows just the way he liked them and, arms crossed under his head, he sighed.
Strange that so far from his own world he had found a place of peace and, yes, even contentment.
He slept, not knowing that this, his hard-won peace, would soon be disturbed.
The sound of a horn constantly blaring finally got his attention.
He put down the book he was reading, turned off the stereo as he passed by and went to glare out of the window at the idiot disturbing the peace of the late night.
He was surprised to recognize the food bank truck, the driver's side door open. The inside light reflected on the determined face of Alys Jones, whose hand rested on the horn.
"What the..." Snape muttered under his breath as he used the elevator to descend to the lower level. Had it been anyone other than Alys Jones, he would have ignored the summons, for he knew very well that's what all the noise was about.
He turned on the small outside light and unlocked the narrow door that opened up onto the loading dock.
"You called, Miss Jones?" His Slytherins would have recognized the tone and braced themselves in preparation for some scathing remark.
Miss Jones did not seem bothered in any way. She slipped down, shutting the door of the truck, and came calmly up the stairs to face him.
"I have something that I need to discuss with you. Shall we go inside?"
Snape wanted to tell her to get lost - and something in her eyes told him that she knew this very well - but the mere fact that she had come to this neighbourhood by herself after sunset told him that she had not done so on a whim.
He stepped aside and followed her into the part of the warehouse that she had set up as her office. She sat behind her battered desk and indicated that he should sit in the equally battered armchair that someone had rescued from a trash pile.
Cautiously, face grimacing at the thought of the discomfort of broken coils, Snape sat down.
"I shall get right to the matter," Alys Jones said in her usual brusque manner. "We have a problem at the food bank with a man."
Snape shook his head and stood up. "I do not see how this possibly could concern me, Miss Jones. I bid you good night."
She waited until he was several paces away before she spoke. "It concerns you because, like you, he is a wizard."
Snape came to a standstill. Back to her, he growled, "I have no idea what you're talking about. Again, good night."
As he took another couple of steps away, she added, "Would it help if I explained that my mother's maiden name was McGonagall?"
Snape stopped, shut his eyes, and swore under his breath. Damn, the resemblance had been too coincidental. He should have thought about that. He turned to glare at the woman watching him with such a familiar demeanour. He wanted to challenge her, to tell her to go away and never to return, but instead he sighed loudly and reluctantly returned to the armchair.
"I shall answer some of the questions that I am certain are concerning you before we begin. No, I have not told anyone that you are here, not even my cousin Minerva. It is none of her business. I know that you left Hogwarts suddenly and I assume you had a reason for that. I have also assumed that if you wished to be in contact with anyone there, you would be."
Snape merely glared at her. It passed through his mind that she hadn't expected anything more.
"No, I had no idea who you were when you were approached for this space. If you remember, it was a member of the Board who is a frequenter of the Pickled Heron who first discussed the matter with you. You had agreed to allow us the use of the warehouse before we even met."
Snape grunted, reluctantly giving her that. She didn't seem to care about the concession nor about the glare that he was still shooting her way.
"No, I am not a witch, though I do have some very faint power. My mother married a...Muggle and I was born with just a touch of magic. I had to make a choice between being scorned as an almost Squib in the wizarding world, or having a full and respected place among Muggles.
"I can, however, sense magic, especially if it is very strong. And I was nearly bowled over - literally - the first time I came to this warehouse. I honked tonight because, well, quite frankly, I did not wish to suddenly appear in front of the Catholic Cathedral, as I understand a few disreputable sorts have done."
Snape's eyebrows rose high. Miss Jones allowed herself the hint of a smile.
"My personal beliefs lean more towards the Anglican. When I learnt your name, I remembered Minerva talking about a Severus Snape who was brilliant - " Snape's expression grew incredulous. " - but impossible to live with."
Snape's expression returned to his normal frown. That sounded more like McGonagall.
"The next time we all got together - Yes, Professor Snape, I, a Muggle, am very welcomed at family gatherings. As I was saying, the next time I saw Minerva, I casually slipped your name into the conversation and discovered that you had played quite a role in the defeat of the Dark Lord. Yes, I know all about the War; we must discuss it someday.
"I am not a fool, Professor: I recognize spiritual exhaustion when I see it. Even when we first met, you were still carrying around with you the deeds and dealings of the War and I decided to keep my knowledge of your whereabouts secret. I was pleased to note when you finally resolved those issues."
Snape was uneasy with the way this discussion was going. He growled, "How did you..."
Miss Jones smiled openly. "How did I know? You looked more your age all of a sudden, no longer as though you were carrying the weight of the world. Your eyes were less shadowed. You moved differently. About three years ago."
She grew serious again. "But now I am afraid I must disturb that peace. I am in need of your skills, and even of your knowledge, because something has occurred that I think only you can deal with."
"Miss Jones, as much as I appreciate your keeping my presence here secret, if you are having trouble with another wizard, all you need do is contact McGonagall. She will contact the proper department and the problem will no longer concern you."
"I would do exactly that," she sat back in her chair, "if the problem were one of harassment, or violence, or anything along those lines. No, this problem is one that I think you have the experience to deal with. The wizard is one of our regulars. A young man. At first, from his behaviour, I thought that he was an addict, either of alcohol or drugs. It is not unknown for a wizard to have dealings with either of those. And the community here suffers greatly from both. He would come once in a while for food, and was never a bother. A few months ago, he asked to help out."
Snape sat back in the armchair, shifting his weight slightly to avoid a particularly `sharp' spot in the seat cushion. He listened, interested in spite of himself. So another of his kind had been attracted to this part of the Isles. He wondered who.
"Now, then, though we serve the addict community, we do not permit them to help unless they have forsworn their addiction. However, on discussion, no one could ever remember smelling any kind of alcohol on the young man, and when we asked him to roll up his sleeves, there were no needle tracks. There were scars, but they resembled more those of burns than anything else.
"We concluded that his physical behaviour - the shakes, the tremors, his thinness, his difficulty with speech - was linked to some medical ailment and he was allowed to work in the packing area. We noticed that, though he worked diligently, he had memory problems. Sometimes he didn't show up for work and when he did, his memory was worse, though it would gradually improve. He was also physically worse at those times. Often as he worked he muttered to himself. This we are used to, but one day, I overheard him mention the words Death Eaters. I stayed close to him. It was soon after one of his disappearances and he was obviously very ill, his mind and speech rambling, but I could make out something about the return of Death Eaters and how they were gathering again. That no matter how he tried, he wasn't able to fight them."
"Miss Jones, this is definitely a problem that needs to be referred to the proper department..."
Miss Jones held up her hand. "Professor, I know. My problem lies in that if the proper department had been called in when you first arrived here, I have no doubt that you would have been a prime candidate for St. Mungo's, and we both know that would not have done you much good.
"If this young man is merely delusional, he is doing no harm here. Even if people overhear him and his comments, they will just assume that it is his illness talking. However, if there is a chance that what he is saying is based on truth, then yes, definitely, the authorities must be informed. But how am I to know the difference?"
"Miss Jones, I must ask. What makes you think this man is a wizard? He sounds to me only to be an unfortunate young man."
Miss Jones leaned forward. "My magical skills as I mentioned are not very strong, extremely weak compared to others in the wizarding world, but I see auras, Professor Snape. Yours, like Minerva's, is very strong. That of the young man is fainter but definitely there."
Snape scowled at the woman watching him. Damn, but he owed her something, just for keeping quiet about him. Would he never stop owing people?
"All right," he growled in his best Slytherin tones, "I'll see him."
Miss Jones smiled, looking very pleased with herself. Like McGonagall did whenever she had had occasion to dock house points from a Slytherin. "Thank you."
Snape stood up. "I'll come over to the food bank the next time he's there."
She smiled beatifically at him and Snape found he was bracing himself. "No need. He's in the truck."
Eyebrow raised high, he scowled, "I see. If I hadn't agreed to this, I wonder what form the blackmail would have taken."
She came to stand by him and patted his arm. "No. If you had refused, this would have been the end of it. But I was counting on your generous heart."
Snape shook his head, surprised at her comment. "Generous? I'm certain," he growled, "that Minerva would tell you that I haven't a generous bone in my body."
Miss Jones continued to the door, but tossed over her shoulder, "Then she would be wrong. You are one of the most generous people that I know, Severus Snape."
Snape watched her move out of the warehouse and down the stairs to the back of the truck. "Then you can't know many people, Miss Jones," he grumbled then followed her.
"Professor!" Miss Jones's shocked tone echoed McGonagall's when she caught some male student masturbating behind the draperies at a Quidditch match. Then it changed and became concerned. "I take it you know this young man?"
Snape leaned against the frame of the truck and stared at the man wrapped in a blanket, sleeping uneasily on the floor of the cargo area.
"Well, I know the family. I have no idea which one this is."
With peeved reluctance, he managed to scoop the man into his arms, blanket and all. He wasn't heavy, thought Snape. He scowled at the unconscious face propped up on his shoulder. For the length and size of him, the man was underweight. He was easy to carry, in spite of the tremors which constantly shook him.
With Miss Jones dealing with doors and the elevator, he carried the man up to his quarters. But once there, Miss Jones refused to enter. "I have already invaded your life, Professor: I have no intentions of invading your privacy." She pulled a card out of her jacket pocket and placed it on the man Snape had in his arms. "Call me if you need me. Good evening, Professor. And thank you." With that, she pulled down the safety gate and hit the button for descent. "I'll see to it that the door downstairs is properly locked."
Snape said nothing, merely glared at the bundle in his arms, and then, with a sigh, went to lay it down on his bed. From the window, he made certain that Miss Jones got off without any trouble and then went to deal with the one lying on his bed.
The man did look ill, no doubt about that. The whiteness of his skin made the freckles more noticeable, made the red hair more brilliant.
He picked up the card Miss Jones had left behind and glanced at it. Then took a second look. Damn, the woman popped up everywhere in his life! `Miss Alys Jones. Chief Reference Librarian. Picton Reference Library.' He placed it in the drawer with his wand on his way to making a pot of tea.
As he sipped his tea, he examined his visitor. So which Weasley was it? Not Charlie. Too tall for him. Not stocky enough. And though the face looked old, he didn't think it was either Bill or Percy. Which left the younger ones, boys the last time he had seen any of them. Boys without the experience of War upon them. And now there was that and eleven years between them.
He tried to remember if he'd heard anything about one of the twins or the youngest boy being injured in the War. The Death Eaters had been so certain of winning that, at first, they had spelled for disability, thinking of their pleasure at having victims to play and amuse themselves with later, at their leisure, after victory. Then, when things hadn't gone the way they had expected, the spells had changed and they'd gone for death.
Snape had been far away from Hogwarts by then, in the deep of it, still balancing on the thin wire of deception until the moment when the Lestranges, released from Azkaban by the Dementors, as were all of its inhabitants, revealed that they had heard Minister Fudge talking to someone about the fact that they had a spy deep within Death Eater ranks and that it was Snape.
Snape had escaped only by a quirk of fate. The Lestranges had wanted to execute him immediately, while Lucius Malfoy had pulled rank on them and wanted Snape to be brought in front of their Lord for Voldemort's punishment of this betrayal. While they had been arguing, Snape had managed to apparate away. Later, they had discovered that Fudge had been in Voldemort's pocket all along and that this disclosure of Snape's role had not been due merely to Fudge's ineptitude.
Snape had joined Dumbledore and the others to plan and conduct a full frontal assault on Voldemort's inner circle and then on the Dark Lord himself. When the spells had cleared, he had returned to Hogwarts only to leave before the students had returned.
He unwrapped the blanket and tossed it to one side. The man was dressed in what Snape recognized as a frayed Molly Weasley jumper, worn jeans, and runners that had seen far better days. Mind, the clothing was relatively clean. Snape waved his wand and the man's clothes vanished, reappearing on the chair next to the bed.
The long body was clean and far too thin. Snape could easily count ribs, could probably hang a sweater on the hipbones and collarbones that jutted out. The arms and legs were bone and sinew, lightly covered with skin.
Snape sat on the bedside and paid more attention to the condition of that skin.
There were no track marks anywhere, not even between the toes, but there were scars. As Miss Jones had said, burn marks. Some old. Some fairly recent. Snape checked the man's genitals and found marks there as well, small round ones. He pushed him over onto a hip and gently pulled an arse cheek from the other. Yes, definite signs of penetration. And rough ones at that. There were more of those small burn marks on the buttocks and on the perineum.
As he let the man back down onto his back, his arm flopped over and on the inside, near the elbow Snape saw a burn that brought back far too many memories. His had been more refined and had disappeared once Voldemort had died. This one was crude and fading.
"What the bloody hell is going on?" Snape charged up the stairs to his workshop, to the cabinet where he kept his medical potions and brought out an ointment for burns and another for the man's torn anus.
The Weasley was still sleeping though his body seemed to be trembling more and more, the small shakes growing in intensity as Snape dealt with the swollen and torn tissues of the man's anus.
They increased as he anointed the healing slave on the burns. The man woke, screaming, when Snape touched the burn on his arm with the medication.
"NO! ST...STOPIT! ST...STAY A...WAY...FROM...ME! NOOOOOOOOO!!!!!"
Snape quickly pulled the covers over the man, whose arms and legs were now flailing as though fighting something off.
"Easy, easy now." Snape found that, thin and ill as the man was, his fear was giving him more than enough strength to injure himself.
Snape continued muttering what he hoped were soothing sounds as he tried to reach for his wand, which was on the night stand by the bed. If necessary, he would spell the man back into sleep.
But as quickly as the man had wakened, he now sagged, weeping to himself, head rocking back and forth as he moaned, "Nooooooooooo, nooooooooo."
Snape sat up and took one good look at his uninvited guest. He had seen this kind of reaction before, on the battlefield. He handled it now as he had then.
"Weasley!" he snapped, his tone officious and cutting. "Weasley, pay attention to me! I don't want to hand out detention, but I will. Weasley, do you hear me!"
The eyes opened and Snape caught his breath at the emptiness in them.
"Yes, it is I. Professor Snape. Your poor abused Potions instructor."
The eyes closed again but accompanied with a small scoffing sound. "P..poor." A slightly hysterical snicker. "Ab...abused." Then discouragedly, "Ah, shit, a...nother de...ten...tion."
"Yes, there will indeed be another detention if you don't look at me, Mr. Weasley."
Snape held his breath as the eyes slowly opened and this time they turned to his voice. He was somewhat relieved when some life gradually returned to them, followed by what was obviously disbelief.
"Good evening, Mr. Weasley. Do you remember me?"
There was a sigh and once more the eyes closed. "Y...yes, I re...mem...ber you. Pro...fessor Snape. What...are...you...doing here?"
"What am I doing here? I live here, Mr. Weasley. What are you doing here?"
There was a moment's pause then, with yet another sigh, the man said, "Ha...ving a night...mare."
Snape raised an eyebrow. "Yes," his voice dry, "I can see where you might think that."
Weasley opened his eyes once more and stared at the man watching him. He seemed to finally wake up completely. "Pro...fessor Snape?"
The eyes looked wildly around the room. Weasley tried to get up but Snape placed a hand on his chest and gently pushed him back down onto the bed. "Now then, none of that. I'm certain I'm the last person whom you care to see, but Fate seems to have other plans for both of us. By the way, which one are you?"
"Huh?" Weasley allowed his head to drop back down.
"The red hair gives away the fact that you're a Weasley, but which one are you? Fred? George? Ron? I'm sorry if I can't tell. It has been a number of years and that scraggly beard doesn't help much."
"It's Ron. Fr...ed and Ge...ge...ge orge...were k...killed in the... War."
"I'm sorry to hear that." And Snape was surprised to find that he wasn't just saying the words. The Terrible Twins had been a thorn in his life for seven years. They had been wild, undisciplined, but never boring. He was sorry to learn that they'd never had the joke store they had been planning from fifth year on. So many lives ended and - looking at the man in his bed - ruined.
"What happened to you?"
Weasley's stutter made him hard to understand, but Snape quickly caught on to the missed, the half-swallowed or the lengthened syllables. He noticed that when Weasley was calmer, his body shook less severely and the stammers and stutters were easier to decipher; both were worse if he were upset or tired. "Subitomoves Spell. I was lucky." His laugh didn't support that. "He missed me and hit a rock so it fractured and I was hit with only a part of the ricochet."
"He? Who is `he', Mr. Weasley?"
Weasley wrapped his arms around himself and waited through a series of bone-rattling shudders. "D..Dr...Dra...co Mal..."
"Malfoy," finished Snape.
Weasley nodded jerkily.
Snape waited until Weasley was only trembling again. A full-strength Subitomoves Spell caused the muscles to jerk in perpetuity until the body literally shook itself to death. There was no counterspell. It was a horrible way to die, as it was a race to death between the heart giving out or the brain being turned into mush. It explained the perpetual stutter and stammer. As he watched the youngest of the Weasley boys deal with the involuntary movements of his body, he mentally went through his potions, trying to find one that might help. As least for the moment.
He stood up. "I'll be right back. Stay put."
He found what he was looking for amongst the potions that he had tested for replication of claims before publication. It was a small red bottle, a sign that the potion had worked, but not as claimed. It had not cleared the warts from the toad he had tested it on, but it had rendered the amphibian immobile. The muscles hadn't stiffened, but merely refused to work. The toad had had no trouble with its breathing; its heart had kept on beating. After a few hours the effect had worn off. The toad had lived through the experience and was housed in a terrarium, still demanding its fair portion of bugs.
Would it work on a man? Would it react differently than it had on the toad? The potion was made to be ingested by humans and had done the toad no harm, other than to immobilize it. There was nothing poisonous in the potion. Still... It was a gamble. But Weasley shook so much that it hurt to watch. Surely...
Snape found the notebook he had kept on the testing and the amount he had administered the toad. Returning down the stairs, he mentally computed the minimum dosage for a man of Weasley's size and weight. He fixed the potion with some water in a small glass.
"Here. I can guarantee the taste will be horrid, but you might find some relief with it."
He fully expected Weasley to refuse, or to challenge him at least. Instead the man stared at him intensely for a breath or two, then nodded. Snape slipped his arm under Weasley's head and helped him raise it enough to drink without choking.
"Ohhh!" Weasley made a face that had nothing to do with spasms.
"Tastes like hippogriff piss."
Snape caught his smile. He held the small glass to Weasley's lips until he had finished its contents. "I hope you have noted my restraint in not inquiring just how you would know something like that."
Weasley shut his eyes. "Duly noted, Professor."
Snape sat once more by the bedside and watched to see if the potion would have any effect. Gradually the movements lessened in severity and in frequency. After fifteen minutes by Snape's wristwatch, the man lay motionless. Snape found himself relieved and worried at the same time. The potion seemed to work. Weasley lay unmoving: but at what cost? "Are you still with me, Mr. Weasley?"
There was a small sound.
"I'm sorry. I wasn't certain as to the dosage. Can you make any other kind of noise?"
Another sharper sound.
"Well, I think it's safe to say that you can hear me."
The first sound.
"Are you breathing well and easily?"
Again the affirmative.
"But you can't move?"
The second sound, which Snape took to be a negative answer.
"Can you open your eyes?"
It took some time, and not fully, but there was a glimmer of shine from under eyelids.
"Are you cold, Mr. Weasley?"
"Ah, yes, warm. I see. I apologize. I had tested it on a cold-blooded creature. You, as a warm-blooded one, might require less than the dosage I administered."
Snape thought that the next sound was - unbelievably - that of laughter.
"Yes, I agree. Trials can be very ambiguous. Still, this does seem to have properties worth investigating. Go to sleep, Mr. Weasley. The dosage should wear off in a few hours. We'll discuss this matter, among others, then."
Ron Weasley woke knowing that something was wrong, but not having any idea what it could be.
He was alive, as usual. Unfortunately. And since, also unfortunately, he had promised his mother he wouldn't actively try to put an end to what passed for his life, it was a wrong he couldn't right.
He was lying in a bed. A bed not his own. A comfortable bed. These days, his was a pallet on a board in a room that barely housed the bed and a chair. There were times he regretted the fact that he had refused to accept the money his parents and family had offered him, that he lived off the pittance the Ministry awarded wounded survivors. Pride was a stupid thing, but pride, what he had of it, was all he had left.
He tried to remember where last he'd been. His memory these days was growing worse and soon he knew he would probably forget his own name. Maybe then he would also forget that promise he had made.
And then that's when he realized that he wasn't trembling much. Just a small shiver that wriggled under his skin like a small ripple in a stream.
He opened his eyes and stared at the canopy of the bed. Oh, a dream. It had all been a dream. Well, a nightmare. He was in his bed at Hogwarts. What day was it? What books was he supposed to take with him for the morning classes? Shit! Had he done last night's assignments yet?
He managed to turn his head and knew that the dream was his bed at Hogwarts and that the nightmare was his reality.
Severus Snape was sitting by the bed in an armchair, a book on his lap, watching him. He nodded and Ron wondered how come the man didn't look much older than he had back in the `good old days'.
"Ah, you're awake." Snape checked his watch, picked up a pad and made a notation. "Excellent. You slept a straight seven hours."
"Im...impossible," croaked Ron, his throat dry. "Never...more th..than an hour or so...at a time."
Snape slipped an arm under his shoulders and helped him to sit up against the pillows that Snape pulled over to support him. "Really? I must make a note of that." And to Ron's amusement, he did. "Now then, what is your preference, coffee, tea, juice? Mind, I don't think that any form of caffeine will do you good. I believe I have some apple still unopened."
Ron just stared.
Snape raised that famous eyebrow of his but his voice was almost gentle. "Yes, we will talk, but later. I think we should take advantage of the stilllasting benefits of the potion for you to eat something. The tremors are returning, but they do not seem to be as severe as they were last night. Miss Jones told me that you have very little appetite. I assume that has something to do with the Subitomoves Spell."
Ron nodded. "Loo, too, but after."
Snape brought him a mug half filled with juice and helped him place both hands around the mug. He watched as Ron carefully brought it up to his mouth by himself. There was some spillage; Snape said nothing, but left Ron to get on with it by himself. By the time he'd managed to empty the contents, most of it into himself, Snape was back with a bowl of porridge that was swimming in brown sugar and cream. The spoon was large, a serving one, with a good-size handle. Snape seemed to understand that holding anything small was impossible, even at the best of times. He also brought with him a small towel which he tucked under Ron's chin, covering his chest and the top of the covers.
Ron again appreciated the fact that Snape didn't offer to feed him. The tremors were stronger and he had trouble getting the spoon to his mouth without some of the contents staining the towel. All Snape did was sit in the armchair with his own bowl of porridge and watch him eat. His expression never changed. It was neither approving nor disapproving. Not disgusted. Not pitying.
It was, thought Ron, as though he were an experiment that Snape was evaluating. It was actually a relief to be viewed in such a way.
By the time the bowl was empty, with a good third littering the towel, the trembling was back in full force as though it had never left him long enough for his first solid night's sleep since the War.
Snape took the bowl and towel away.
"Much as I am certain you dislike this, I will help you to the loo. I trust, however, you are experienced enough in this ailment to hold your own cock while you piss."
Arm over Snape's shoulder, Ron awkwardly made his way to the bathroom of the loft. A loft. Who the hell would ever think that Severus Snape, of all people, would end up in a loft? He wanted to check out the furnishings, the things that his former Potions instructor collected about him, but placing one foot in front of the other required too much of his attention. Mornings were the worse, when his centre of gravity rearranged itself and here there were no walls to keep him from falling on his face. Just the steady form of the man who was rumoured to be dead.
Snape was as good as his word. He let Ron down on the toilet and then left the room to go stand at the windows looking out over...over where? Ron had no idea. He managed to urinate without making a mess, then, holding onto the sink, washed his hands and face. He stared at himself in the mirror. His hair was sticking out, long and in need of a good cutting. He hated the beard. It had never grown well and was patchy and ratty-looking at best. But he shook too much to shave it properly and going to the barber meant spending money he didn't have.
And that was what was different about Snape! He'd cut his hair. It was short on the sides, the top long but nowhere near the length it had been. Pushed off his face instead of hiding it. Ron sighed. So many things had changed.
He opened the door and hung against the frame watching Severus Snape come to rescue him.
"Do you like yourself in that beard, Mr. Weasley?" Again, not the usual Snape tone, but as if only curious.
"Hate it, but..." He held out a hand which was now shaking, and Snape nodded.
"Wand?" Snape helped him lie back down on the bed.
Ron shook his head. "Destroyed in the War. I never replaced it."
"Then you have no objections?"
Ron looked up to see Snape pick up a wand and point it at his face. For a moment, another wand flashed into Ron's consciousness and he caught the whimper before it made it out of his throat.
"You trusted me enough to feed you an untried potion last night, Mr. Weasley. Surely you can trust me not to shave you too closely."
The tone was pure Snape, but his hand closed on Ron's and the comforting clasp helped him push that other wand away.
"Sorry," he choked out.
"Not at all, Mr. Weasley. Shall we do something with the hair as well? Back to the way you wore it at Hogwarts?"
Barely wondering how Snape would remember what his hair had been like back then, Ron closed his eyes and nodded; suddenly felt the air on his cheeks, a light touch of air on the nape of his neck.
"Much better. Now then, let's prop you up properly and here, a nightshirt..."
The nightshirt was far too big for him, but the softness of the linen was gentle on his skin. He looked up at the man who was tucking the covers around his legs and shook his head.
"What is it?" Snape looked up.
"Are you certain that you're really Professor Severus Snape? Potions Master who taught at Hogwarts? Head of Slytherin? You're supposed to be dead. Maybe I am, too."
"So I'm dead, am I? And how am I supposed to have died?"
Ron leaned back against the pillows and waited through a series of particularly violent jerks. "Depends," he continued when he could speak without biting his tongue; his stammer was much worse, and he was surprised and appreciative when Snape allowed him to say everything he wanted to say without interrupting. "Depends on who's...telling the story. Her...mi...o...ne thinks you...faded away. `Arry says you died of...spite...when he was given...all those...medals. Mom thinks...you...just went away."
"And what did the Staff at Hogwarts have to say about the matter?"
"No...thing. Ginny said...Head...mis...tress just intro...duced the new Po...tions instructor."
Ron managed a smile. "Wimp. Too easy. Neville would have...walked all over him." Then he opened his eyes and turned to face Snape. "You know that Neville died?"
"Yes, I had heard. He went after Crabbe Senior for torturing his parents. I understand that Longbottom managed to kill him before the others got him."
Ron let his head sag at an angle. "Said that after you...nothing could scare him."
Snape nodded. Ron closed his eyes. He didn't want to see the look of loss that Snape couldn't hide. They had won, but had lost so much in the winning.
Snape explained where they were and how Weasley had gotten here. He patiently listened as Weasley tried to explain what had happened to him after he had taken on Draco Malfoy and lost.
"Didn't go back to Hogwarts. I couldn't do anything for myself at first. Then, I decided to kill myself, but not at home. That would have hurt them all the more. Mom clued in to the reason I was forcing myself to learn to walk all over again. She made me swear on the heads of Fred and George that I never would do anything purposely to shorten my life. She and Pop wanted me to stay home with them, but after a while - " He looked up at Snape and knew that the man would understand. " - I couldn't take the pity in their eyes any more. This is as good as it'll ever get and they can't..."
Snape nodded and picked up his notebook.
Over the next two hours he asked questions and Ron did his best to answer them. About the intensity and frequency of the tremors, what made them worse, when they were at their least, his responses to medical remedies that had been tried and spells which never did anything to alleviate the condition. Snape wanted to know what he ate and drank, how often. Whether food and drink stayed down or did it come back up immediately. His sleep patterns.
"Well," Snape waited until another of the extreme spells was over, "you have given me a lot to work with. I thank you. Now the question for you is would you be willing to test whatever potion I attempt to put together? It is obvious that last night's potion may allow you to sleep properly, but you don't want to spend your life sleeping. There are things you once wanted to do with your life that you might still be interested in doing, if you had the capability. And we would have to experiment with dosage."
"Your own personal guinea pig, Professor?"
"If you want to call yourself that, Weasley."
Snape could see that Weasley was exhausted. He had been concentrating for several hours and, even though he had remained in bed, it was obvious that the strain was telling on him. He shook constantly, managing to get out maybe two words at a time.
"I would prefer that you call me Ron."
"Then, Ron it shall be." Snape went to get the vial with the wart potion. He filled a small glass with water and added seven drops. "This is slightly more than double the dosage I used on the toad. I have no idea how and if it will help right now, but it is a beginning."
He helped Ron sit up to swallow the medication. "By the way, you will probably find Snape much easier to handle than Professor or Severus. Good, all down. Now then, we must work out a system for your answering my questions should your voice continue to react to this potion. That grunt of yours for yes, the growl for no?"
Thursday came, and with it Miss Jones.
Snape went down to inform her of the situation. "As near as I can tell, there are blocks of time for which he has no memory. He has no idea what happens during these time losses, only that they seem to be more frequent at certain times of year than at others. And he recovers from them with physical injuries of a particular kind. The best guess he can give me is that they began occurring about three years ago. He was living in Manchester then, and thought the place might have something to do with that. But no matter where he's moved to, they still occur."
"And the illness?"
"The effect of a spell that was meant to kill him. And he has no memory of the speech you overheard about Death Eaters. Possibly the after-effects of a nightmare about the War. Miss Jones, I was wondering if I might impose on you? I need to go to his place of residence and get his possessions. He doesn't have many, and he is worried that they might disappear if he's gone too long. If you would go up and stay with him?"
The room that was all Weasley could afford on the amount that the Ministry allotted to injured War veterans - wizard families were the main provider, except in special cases - gave Snape the shivers. It was tiny, dark, in a house that stank of urine, poverty and grime. The bed was a thin mattress on a board resting on bricks. The chair had uneven legs so that someone who couldn't control the movements of his body would never be able to sit in it comfortably. There was a cupboard with a deep bowl, a large mug, utensils that had thick handles for holding, that thickness being provided by layer upon layer of packing tape.
In a corner of the room, he found the knapsack in which, like a turtle, Ron Weasley carried his house. It contained a change of clothing and two small books; one on wizard chess, the other about Quidditch.
Snape found himself swearing every foul oath he knew in both wizarding terms and Muggle. If Draco Malfoy had not died in that last assault on Voldemort, he would have enjoyed tracking him down and killing... No, not killing. That would be too quick. Of using the Subitomoves Spell on him and then walking away.
Ron Weasley had not been the most brilliant of students. Nothing like Granger. Or the most competent, like his pompous brother Percy. But he had had talent, and would have made a good, solid wizard in whichever area he would have chosen as a career.
And now, the fact that he could walk to the toilet by himself - Snape had lined up some of his heavier furniture to serve as props - that he could feed himself, even with all that spillage, were major victories.
He couldn't read as his head jerked too much. He had trouble with concentration. He did like listening to music, and Snape noted that, with soothing instrumentals, his body movements seemed less frequent and less intense.
And he was willing to be used as a guinea pig in an experiment that might have consequences yet unknown.
Ron was pleased to have his possessions back with him, but not happy that Snape had felt that he had needed a `babysitter'.
"Don't be an idiot," snapped Snape. "I used you to get her off my back. She would have wanted to know how you were and what I was doing about the situation. Her name may be Jones, but she's definitely more of a McGonagall."
Ron sighed and nodded, eyes focused on his hands, which he held tightly together on his lap. "Sorry. She wanted to know if my family knew where I was, and I made the mistake of saying that it was better for all concerned that they didn't." He looked up suddenly. "McGonagall? Our McGonagall? Is she a witch?"
"A cousin," Snape scowled. "And no, she has very little magic in her, though she has enough to recognize us for what we are. She wisely chose to make a life for herself among the Muggles. As for your fear that she might inform on you, she won't. She has and will respect our decisions on that. Though I don't doubt for a moment that she will take any occasion to nag on about it."
He was making for the stairs and his workshop when Ron asked, "Would it be possible for me to accompany you? I won't get in the way, I promise. And I won't talk."
Snape used the elevator to bring Weasley to the third storey. He helped him over to the corner closest the fire, so that the light and heat would ensure that he would be able to see what Snape was doing and that the floor would not be too cold for him. He even draped one of his older robes over him in case he felt chilly. He made a mental note to bring up one of the armchairs.
He was checking on the progress of one of the experimental potions when he looked up and caught the reflection of silvery lines that streaked down Weasley's face. He hesitated, not knowing the reason why Weasley was silently weeping, but, afraid it might have something to do with what he now thought of as the Quietus Potion he was working on, he carefully approached the man.
"Ron?" He crouched down to Weasley's level. "Are you in pain?"
Weasley, face turned away from Snape, shook his head. He rubbed the side of it against the robe covering him and finally managed to face Snape. His speech was more hesitant than usual. "B..been...so long. For...forgot...ten the..sm...smells." For a moment he had trouble even with his breathing, then sobbed, "I...miss...this...so!"
Snape pulled Weasley into his arms, awkwardly offering comfort to the weeping man. They sat, Weasley almost in his lap, as Snape rubbed a soothing hand up and down Weasley's back, around in small circles, not knowing what the hell he could say to the man that wouldn't sound like a platitude.
He held him through the worse of it, when he seemed to have trouble catching his breath between sobs, through the lessening until finally, head resting against Snape's shoulder, Weasley managed to dig in deep and find the strength to get himself under control.
Snape reached into his robe pocket and pulled out a rag that he used to keep his hands clean. He wiped the tears off Weasley's face, held it against his nose until he blew, and then helped the man to sit up.
Still silent, he rose and went to a cupboard. The deep mortar he removed was not one that he used regularly. It was heavy enough that he used his wand to levitate it over to Weasley and lowered it, carefully, so that it rested between his legs. He carried over the thick pestle, picking up a bag of what appeared to be dried leaves. Dropping the bag next to Weasley, he handed him the pestle, making certain that it was something he could handle without too much trouble.
"The leaves need to be ground up, not too finely. I don't want them powdered."
And he left Weasley to get along with his work while he went and did his own.
The Quietus Potion was a problem of major proportions. The dosage Snape had given Weasley that first night had stopped the tremors, but had rendered him totally unable to do anything. Lesser dosages did not seem to work any better than a session with a quiet instrumental piece playing on the stereo. Moreover, Snape had not yet identified the actual combination of ingredients from the original wart-removing potion that produced this effect. Not to mention what side effects long-term usage might bring.
Weasley was more than ready to take the full dosage at night in order to sleep. He was sleeping better than he ever had, he informed Snape, and he didn't care if one morning he woke to find that he had turned into a toad. But Snape did.
This was not going to be resolved overnight, thought Snape, probably not even in weeks. So far Weasley had, after that first night, refused to sleep in Snape's bed. He had insisted that the couch was more than comfortable enough for him. And now that the potion saw to it that he didn't move about, there was no chance that he would fall off it.
But Snape remembered the look of pleasure and relief that first morning when Weasley had awakened and noticed the canopy over the bed. And it was obvious that the man was going to be staying, at least until they had found a formula that would work. Snape contacted his representative at Gringotts and soon a large crate apparated inside the warehouse at the agreed time.
Miss Jones smiled at the crate as she walked around it. "What an efficient system of delivery. Just how do you intend to get its contents upstairs?"
"Elevator and wand, Miss Jones."
Though Miss Jones had been horrified at the thought of Ron's family not knowing his exact whereabouts, she assured both of them, as Snape had predicted, that she had no intentions of betraying their trust in her. She did, however, take any opportunity to indicate that she was not pleased with this decision of theirs.
Snape found it hard to tell her to mind her own business, as she rarely intruded on the second floor, and, besides, had asked Ron if he would be interested in continuing to work for the food bank. She wanted him to use the time during which no one was in the warehouse to empty some of the boxes of their contents, and to check those off against the incoming inventory list. Ron couldn't handle something as thin as a pencil, but she had found some thick chalk that he could use and set up the inventory on a chalkboard. Her people filled in the outgoing inventory board, calculating what was left.
Snape guessed that this was really only busy work, but Ron enjoyed working by himself. Snape had gone out and purchased an infant's intercom system so that if Ron needed help, all he had to do was call out. And in the workshop, Snape found things for Weasley to do. It had taken four visits for the bag of leaves to be ground up and then, having the man work over a deep tray, Snape had him bottle the groundings. That had taken longer, as capping the containers was a matter of hit and miss for shaking hands, but Snape was in no hurry and Weasley worked at finding a pattern that allowed him to get the stoppers in.
Snape was always impressed at the focused concentration Weasley could find when assigned a task. His face was almost fierce with it. Such concentration would have made a powerful wizard, thought Snape, and became all the more determined to find him the right potion.
The bed, one similar to those at Hogwarts, set up in the corner by the officebathroom, had produced another weeping bout but Snape noticed that after each, Weasley was somewhat calmer in spirit and in body. Snape doubted that the man had felt comfortable allowing himself to cry at home where he would have upset his parents. Or even, often, by himself. But here, with Snape, who didn't do more than offer a shoulder, who was there to potion him if necessary, it was almost as if he felt safe to do so. And he had eleven years' worth of tears to rid himself.
Since being in Snape's care, sleeping several consecutive hours at a time at night, Ron discovered that he ate more and better. He was putting on weight. The potion itself seemed to be having some positive effects in the daytime. The bone-rattling shakes, which still terrified him after all this time, were occurring with far less frequency.
He had been there five weeks when the nightmares returned. When he woke at night, unable to move, with a desire...no, a craving...an obligation...to move, to go somewhere he was being summoned to.
He did think of mentioning them to Snape, as these nightmares were something that occurred often. But with their return, he found his memory lapses had also returned and the burn on his arm seemed to come to life. And though Snape made certain that his potion was always by his bedside when he was ready for sleep, the Potions Master didn't stand around, hovering over him to see that he took it.
And, one night, he didn't.
Snape was upstairs, working overnight on a potion that required constant attention, and so didn't notice that Weasley's bed had not been slept in until late that morning when the potion had been bottled.
The elevator was still at the second floor and so Snape assumed that Weasley had used the stairs to descend to the warehouse. A challenge, but he had noted that Weasley often did challenge himself. He used the intercom, asking Ron to check in. Nothing. Still not worried, Snape took the stairs down and found no one in the warehouse. A hurried inspection found the small door unlocked and not completely closed.
There was no sign of Ron Weasley anywhere.
He went back to the living quarters and found the card Miss Jones had left.
No, she had no idea where Ron would be, but she would immediately go see if he were at the food bank or if anyone there had seen him.
He wasn't, and no one had.
Snape got on the Harley and went through the neighbourhood. Every time he saw one of the locals, he stopped and asked if they had seen a man with red hair and a spastic body.
No one had.
It was very late when Snape returned to find the lights on in the warehouse and a very worried Miss Jones waiting for him.
"Where could he have gone? He couldn't just disappear into thin air."
"Well, he could have," said Snape, leaning tiredly against the bike as they rode the elevator upstairs, "if he were a practicing wizard, but he isn't. He looked tired the last couple of days, as if something was bothering him. I didn't ask; I didn't want to push. I should have."
Miss Jones only shook her head. "He's done this before. Remember, I mentioned it. He disappears and then shows up again, the worse for wear and very disoriented. Let us hope that this time is no different."
Twenty-four hours later, Snape received a call from Miss Jones.
"It's Ron. They found him at the food bank, by the back door. He's unconscious."
Snape was on his bike almost before she hung up.
Ron was indeed unconscious. There were signs of a beating around his face and his hands were swollen as though they had been tightly bound for many hours. Which they must have been as his wrists bore signs of abrasions. His clothes were dirty with mud as though he had dragged himself through puddles, yet there hadn't been any rainfall in the area for several days. His shudders were equal to the worst Snape had seen.
Snape carefully tucked the blanket back around the man on the stoop. Miss Jones had refused to allow anyone to move him and had offended several of her volunteers with her refusal to call for emergency help. There was less grumbling when she introduced Snape as "the young man's doctor".
"I have my car," said Miss Jones. "We can use that to bring him back to your quarters."
With Miss Jones making certain that no one was watching them, Snape used a Mobilicorpus to move Ron carefully into the back of her car without further injuring him. It was easier back at the warehouse. There was no light, and no one was around.
Once on his bed, with Miss Jones delicately averting her eyes, Snape spelled Ron's clothing off him and began to swear. Miss Jones turned to take offense, then saw the marks on Ron's body and actually said, "Merlin! He's been whipped!"
Snape covered the trembling body and passed his hands over his head in frustration. "Damn it! I noticed signs of abuse the first night he was here. And I never really questioned him about them. What the bloody hell is going on?"
While Miss Jones made a pot of strong tea the traditional way, Snape gathered medications and his wand.
"What are you doing with that?" Miss Jones watched from the kitchen area as Snape moved the wand over Ron's unconscious body.
"Trying to find out what other spells have been used on him besides the ones I used tonight to get him here. Ah, he was sent back to the food bank with a Remitto Spell...and there seems to have been some sort of memory cleansing spell - only minor one, thank Merlin - and an Imperius Spell used as well. Ah, so that's how he was taken. An Accio Spell. I must ward against that as soon as I can."
Miss Jones had watched, eyes almost popping out of her head. As Snape's wand had hovered over Ron's body, there had been lines of colour rising from it, inhaled, so it seemed, by the wand. Though she did attend McGonagall family gatherings, she had not been privy to many magical sessions. Nothing like this one. She had a sense that only a wizard of superb skills would be able to do what Severus Snape had just accomplished.
"So now we know how this was done. We just need to find out why. Unfortunately, Ron is not going to be able to help us with that for some time, if at all. Though minor, the memory spell was well cast. Probably the reason he returns from these disappearances disoriented and with gaps in his memories."
"Professor! His arm! Look at his arm."
Snape carefully turned Ron over and saw what Miss Jones had seen: the burn on his arm looked fresh.
And it was clearly the mark of a Death Eater.
Snape sat by Weasley's bedside and mentally tallied up the man's injuries. Apart from the whip marks on his back, buttocks and legs, there were more of those burns. Cigarette burns, according to Miss Jones.
And he had been raped.
Weasley had awakened once, incoherent, not recognizing either one of them. Then he had become terrified and had tried to pull away from them, all the time making sounds that belonged more to an animal than to a human being.
They had finally calmed him enough for him to accept some water dosed with a strong sleeping potion from Miss Jones: he wouldn't allow Snape anywhere near him. Snape wasn't certain what he'd been given to ingest while he was gone, but they had to take the chance. The sleeping potion was better than the Quietus because Snape didn't want Weasley waking up and not being able to move. He needed to be calmed, and it was the sleeping potion or restraints. And Snape had found abrasions around Weasley's ankles that matched those around his wrists. There was no way that he was going to restrain the man.
Medicated, drugged, Weasley slept uneasily, moaning and muttering, still inarticulate, body trembling like a nervous hound.
In the dark by his bedside, Snape made Ron Weasley the promise that whoever had done this to him would pay. And pay hard.
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