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Dark Angel in the Guardian Host
Why is Professor Snape such an unpleasant person? And does the ‘arch Slytherin’ have any vulnerabilities?  Whatever happened to kindly Professor Lupin? Can the great Professor Dumbledore make any use of Snape’s Slytherin temperament, or must heroic attempts to bring down the terrifying Lord Voldemort rest only with Gryffindor acts of bravery and chivalry? Can Voldemort actually be defeated, or has he found a means to make himself invincible?

 All these questions are answered here.  Read on … but at your peril – if you have not read the first four Harry Potter novels, reading this first will spoil them for you !

 Irreparably.

 And you will also find this story impossible to follow.

 You have been warned…

Bookmarks

Introduction & Disclaimer

Part 1 - Chapter 1 - 2 - 3 - 4

Part 2 - Chapter 5 - 6 - 7 - 8 - 9

Review


Introduction

 

Disclaimer

The inspirational basis of this work of fan fiction is J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter stories.  Undisputedly, J. K. Rowling owns those – including their wonderful characters and incidents, and the world of my fan fiction is taken from J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter novels – specifically the first four novels.

I make no money from my fan fiction, nor do I intend to.

Censorship Rating – PG

In accordance with the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) criteria I rate this story as appropriate for reading with Parental Guidance.  It contains no explicit descriptions of sexual activity and any bad language is mild and infrequent.  But, like the fourth Harry Potter novel, it has its darker moments, and, towards the end, contains some violence.

What My Story Covers

My story starts in April 1991, the year of Harry Potter’s 11th birthday and Snape’s 35th.  It is principally a Professor Snape story.  It parallels the first four Harry Potter novels, and then continues with my account of the battle against Voldemort and some of the consequences for the wizards and witches involved.  Throughout my story some situations are as related by J. K. Rowling, some can be deduced or perhaps inferred from her books and some are entirely my own invention.

Also, wherever there is a mismatch between the books and the films, I have remained faithful to the books.

This story will not be understandable to people who have not read and paid reasonably close attention to those first four Harry Potter novels.

Dark Angel in the Guardian Host is not a “Harry Potter” story – it focuses on the adults; the students are incidental.

Here it is.  I hope you enjoy reading it…

Afictionado
Sussex, England
May 2003  (with slight revisions July 2004)


Part One

Chapter One - The House with Two Front Doors

The defining feature of the houses on ‘The Shrubberies’ estate is that they are ordinary.  Built in the mid 1930s and with orderly roads named after shrubs and trees, the houses, which range from large 4-bedroomed detached to modest 2-bedroomed semis, are typical of the pre-war suburban house building styles prevalent across much of southern England.

The people who live in The Shrubberies are typical too – hard-working, reserved, unimaginative, well-behaved.

The man who climbed out of the white Vauxhall Cavalier in Laurel Avenue that sunny April morning was glad about this.  He liked these sorts of houses and these sorts of people.  Patiently, clipboard in hand, he made his way from door to door.  There was no reply from many houses but he seemed undismayed; he merely scribbled on his clipboard and moved on.  At number 16 he was lucky.  A dumpy, late middle aged woman with a cloud of greying ginger hair opened the door.  She eyed the young man in the smart suit and driving gloves, and said a very guarded ‘Yes?’

He peered carefully back through heavy black-framed spectacles and proffered a business card.  ‘Good morning, Madam’ he said politely.  ‘I represent Chiltern Forest Power.  I’m conducting a survey about consumer gas supplies.  Can you spare me just two minutes to help with my survey form?’

His questions were few.  Who currently supplied their gas?  Would they consider changing?  He wasn’t pushy.  Soon he seemed satisfied and appeared ready to move on.

‘You’ll be wasting your time next door’ the woman said helpfully.  ‘She’s err, well a bit strange, the old lady at number 18, not quite all there.’  She gave the polite young man a meaningful look.

‘Well, I wouldn’t want to miss her out if she’s at home’ he replied conscientiously.

‘She probably won’t answer anyway’ the woman explained.  ‘She’ll be there, most likely.  Doesn’t go out much.  I’d give number 20 a miss, too, if I were you.  That young madam’s always abroad.’

‘OK, thanks, that’s very helpful’ he replied carefully.  ‘I’ll bid you good day then.’

He hurried off and with one last look at his neat black hair and shiny retreating heels the woman closed her front door.

However he didn’t take her advice, the young man called at both houses, but received no reply from either.  He stood on the doorstep at number 20, glancing idly up and down the silent street and behind him to Forsythia Way which formed a junction with Laurel Avenue almost opposite.  At that point he seemed to be in need of a break.  He abandoned his survey and drove away.

A short while later a white van drove up Forsythia Way and reversed carefully near to the garage door of 20 Laurel Avenue.  It took only a couple of seconds for the overall'd, blond man who got out of it to climb over the side gate and disappear towards the back garden.  He fumed as he looked at the windows of number 20.  They were all of the modern, multi-locked variety, double glazed in toughened glass.  A tiny Velux window was open in the roof but it looked extremely small and wouldn’t be easy to reach.

Number 18, the semi-detached partner, had been much more promising.  He looked around.  High bushes screened him from view.  Conversely the fence that ran down the back garden between numbers 18 and 20 was very low.  He stepped over it and examined the next-door windows.  This looked a far easier target – single glazed and in fragile replacement wooden frames, probably installed in the late 1960s.  Behind the windows the interior looked deserted.  He would risk it.

A sharp tap with a stone cracked the French window and he was through in seconds, laying the large fragments of glass onto the lino on the dining room floor.  He glanced into every room and then made his way swiftly upstairs.  The dingy house was unoccupied, if you didn’t count the number of cats that scurried out of his way.  However, it was for his purposes disappointing.  There was no sign of the bits of treasured jewellery, antiques or military medals he was accustomed to finding in older peoples’ properties.  He could see nothing of value upstairs and went back down.  The ground floor was as bad – a television that looked as if it was barely 625 line, 1950s furniture, and amazingly little of it.  Not much of anything except cats and a smell of cabbage.  But on his way back, the dining room gave him the shock of his life.  There was a hole in the party wall – an archway leading through to the dining room of the house next door.  How could he have missed that?  It was as if a door had opened by magic, and almost not believing what he was seeing he crept through to number 20.

This was more like it!  All the wood in number 20 had been stripped of its paint, and waxed to a glossy honey-coloured finish.  The floorboards sported several large exotic rugs and the kitchen gleamed with modern appliances and chrome gadgetry.  A quick glance into the sitting room revealed a Bang and Oulfsen television, video recorder and hi-fi.  Even number 20’s cat was chic - a glossy tabby, striped in black and a dark copper-red.  Draped on the beige sofa, it was observing him carefully through unusual dark eyes.

He tiptoed upstairs.  No one asleep, no lovers enjoying a daytime romp.  No jewellery either, unfortunately!  But more sumptuous rugs, more Bang and Oulfsen electronics, and a wardrobe full of strange but expensive looking clothes.  A loft ladder, topped by a glazed hatch, lead to a close-boarded but virtually empty loft where light seeped in through the Velux window.  The back bedroom was clearly an office and contained a home computer, printer, scanner and an unusual camera.  Excellent!  Bigger stuff this time, not what he was used to, but clearly marketable.  Time to open the garage door and the van, and get loading!

He made his way back downstairs, turned, and came face to face with a woman disconcertingly taller than himself.  He had just time to notice that she had long dark hair, a pale utterly fearless face and she was holding a pathetic wooden stick as if it was a weapon.  She pointed the stick at his heart and gave him a withering look.  ‘Stupefy’ she sneered.

Checking his height and shoe size, the witch looked sourly at the inert Muggle body in grubby white overalls that now littered her hallway.  The wig of collar-length blond hair had slipped from the man’s head as he fell.  Not wanting to touch him, she employed the Mobilicorpus spell to float him into the kitchen, where, magically, she gagged and bound his body.  Then she plucked a few genuine brown hairs from his close-cropped head and went to the kitchen of number 18.  The saucepan at the back of the stove contained a suitably fresh brew of Polyjuice Potion.  She ladled some into a cup, added a hair, removed her clothes and shoes and was very soon the image of her intruder.

A search of his body revealed that he was carrying no wand or anything of importance and his arms bore no marks.  She donned his wig, overalls and trainers to go outside and check the van, noting details from the few documents within it and from the vehicle itself.  However she felt this was largely a waste of time – this man was very probably nothing more than the Muggle housebreaker she suspected him to be.

Knowing he was unlikely to be intimidated by a piece of wood, she charmed her wand to make it resemble a small automatic handgun.  Finally she brought him round and smiled at his horrified face as he stared at and armed “man” who looked exactly like himself and was dressed in his outer clothing.

‘Don’t make any noise’ the tall witch commanded.  ‘Don’t try to run.  I won’t hurt you unless I have to.  I just need a few questions answered.  Are you ready to talk sensibly?  (He nodded.)  Remember, don’t yell for help.  I’m going to un-gag you now.  OK?’  He nodded again.

She spoke a word he didn’t understand and the gag loosened enough to enable him to speak.  He lay slumped against the door of the freezer, watching every move his captor made and puzzling at the woman’s voice that came out of the man’s mouth.  If he had had any ideas that he would refuse to answer ‘her’ questions such foolish notions were soon wiped from his mind.  He explained how he carried out his surveys to select unoccupied houses.  He told her the type of objects he usually stole – small antiques, object-d’art and jewellery.  She was most interested in what sorts of properties and locations appealed to him, and how he usually gained entry.

When she thought she had learned everything of any practical use and that his story at least made sense, the witch stopped his narrative and retightened the gag.  ‘Now, I’m going to give you a piece of advice’ she said, thinking furiously.  ‘And I’m going to have to make sure you remember it so I’m going to have to hurt you a little bit, to ram it home – a traumatic learning process.  Don’t worry, I won’t hurt you that much.  Nothing illegal – not within my terms of reference anyway.’  She levelled her wand and delivered short jolts of pain as she said ‘Don’t return to this estate.  Give it a miss.  Better still, stay away from Little Whinging altogether.’

Eventually she took his photograph and performed a memory modification charm that she hoped her programming would withstand.  Then she stunned him again, rolled him in a rug and placed his body in the back of the van.  There was a decorator’s dust sheet in the van and she decided to retrieve her rug and use the sheet to hide the body.  She repaired the French window, secured both houses, collected her own clothes and shoes, and got ready to leave.  Finally she checked the time, topped up her Polyjuice Potion and took spare doses with her.

She drove the stunned Muggle in his van to the Watford Gap motorway services on the M1 and chose a busy car park.  Freeing him of his bonds and enervating him just enough to start him on the route back to consciousness, she then forced herself in his guise back into her own clothes, and abandoned the housebreaker with his overall, vehicle keys, wig and all his possessions alongside him in the back of the van.  Once outside, she took a quick glance around to ensure she was unobserved and then focused her mind on the Forbidden Forest near to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.  Taking a deep breath, she Disapparated.

*

By the time she was walking through the Forbidden Forest, the Polyjuice Potion had worn off and it was a haughty witch who held her head high as she prowled through the trees.  As the Forest gave way to parkland and the castle came into view she saw Hagrid working in his vegetable patch.  She headed in his direction and called out to him.

‘Blimey, wha’ you doin ’ere?’ he called back, throwing a hoe aside and strolling over.

‘I need to see Albus’ the witch explained.  ‘Can you take me up please, Rubeus?’

Dutifully, Hagrid conducted her to the foot of the spiral staircase and spoke the password to the stone gargoyle.

The Headmaster’s office was as the witch remembered it, still a haven of calm, and full of its charming portraits and intriguing instruments.  And she was much as Dumbledore remembered her when she was a Ravenclaw student and finally Head Girl in 1971-72.  Being very tall, her typical style of dress made her looks as painfully thin as ever.  Today it was a long-sleeved black over-blouse thickly embroidered in silky dark red threads, in a pattern inspired by Indian designs, and this was worn over narrow, plain black trousers.  At first glance the witch’s hair looked black but it was full of copper-red glints that caught the light.  Her eyes were dark – almost black – a certain red-brown hue softened them, but anger brought out a fiery gleam and this witch was quick to anger.

Having studied the photograph of her intruder and heard her evidence, Dumbledore was inclined to agree this was an ordinary attempt at house-breaking and nothing to do with Dark forces.  ‘But you were right to come to me’ he insisted.  ‘Well done, Arabella.  I know how much you hate all of this.’

‘I hate being the Dursleys’ idea of Mrs Figg’ the witch explained, as she removed the charm from her wand.  ‘If only I could be my real self.  And they’re such bloody awful people to deal with.  How Petunia could be Lily’s sister amazes me.  I never feel Harry’s really safe there.  That Dudley boy does bully him.  I mean it, Albus!  I don’t know why you ignore me about this!  And although they don’t actually starve him, they get too damn close to it sometimes.’

‘It is still the safest place for him’ Dumbledore insisted.  ‘The Muggle bullying will be good training – he may need to face far worse things in years to come.’

‘But they’re so cruel–’

But the Headmaster waved her objections aside.  ‘Cruel in small-scale terms, Arabella.  Mean and small-minded.  Cruel in relatively non-dangerous ways.  You wait and see what a powerful wizard he turns into.  Muggle-borns always find the adjustment difficult, and Harry will start off in the same position as a Muggle-born.  He will need all his toughness and resourcefulness to hand, especially if Voldemort targets him again.’

‘Ohrrr, I suppose you’re right’ Bella conceded grudgingly.  ‘You can always talk me round.’

The Headmaster smiled.  ‘It won’t be many more weeks now before Minerva starts sending out the letters’ he said soothingly, ‘and no matter how they try to avoid it, Harry will soon be here.  You will help us with that, because I expect there will be some resistance.  Then, once he’s here, you can rest for a while until he returns home.  Severus will keep an eye on him.’

Bella snorted.  ‘Is he here?’ she asked.

‘No.  He is in London for a few weeks.  I believe he is staying at The Leaky Cauldron.’

‘Hmh’ she retorted.  She returned her mahogany wand to her sleeve and consulted her watch.  ‘I must get home soon to feed my cats’ she explained, ‘but may I pop down to the common room before I go?’

‘Of course’ Dumbledore replied.  ‘You may go anywhere you please.  As to your burglar, do you want Filius to do anything about Muggle-repelling charms?’

Bella thought it over carefully – did she want Flitwick’s expert help?  ‘Thanks, but I’d better say no’ she decided.  ‘I’ll keep a closer eye out from now on, but it’s probably best that all the houses are absolutely normal on the outside.  Any spells around them might draw the wrong attention.’

‘Indeed’ Dumbledore agreed.

Graciously the Headmaster showed her to the foot of the staircase and Arabella Figg set off for the Ravenclaw common room.

***

Severus Sebastian Snape dumped his green canvas holdall onto the marble floor of Gringotts Bank with a thump.  ‘Daylight robbery’ he complained to the bank teller as he changed a handful of wizard gold for Muggle notes and coins.  ‘Your exchange rate is outrageous.’

The Goblin bared his teeth in a cruel smile as he gathered up Snape’s gold and pushed the Muggle money across the counter.  He didn’t actually say ‘take your business elsewhere then Professor’ but his expression was sufficient.  Angry that there was no sanction he could impose, Snape counted his money, distributed the notes and coins between the pockets of his black jeans, grabbed his bag and left.

Snape had had enough of Diagon Alley in August.  Once it got hot and filled with students, the irascible Potions Master wanted to be gone.  He slipped through The Leaky Cauldron into Muggle London and merged with the crowds.  After a little shopping at a greengrocer’s, a health food store and an off licence, he grabbed a taxi and headed for Victoria Coach Station.  Very shortly afterwards he was climbing aboard a Beeline bus.  The lady driver hardly glanced at the pale young man.  She would never have guessed he was a teacher and House Master at a renowned residential school for wizards hundreds of miles north of London.

Ticket in hand, Snape marched almost to the back of the bus, swung himself into an empty double seat and arranged his holdall and carrier bags beside him.  The traffic was fairly light and the bus was slightly ahead of schedule as it sped towards north Surrey.  The sun beat in through the windows causing Snape to screw up his eyes as he glanced with little interest at the Muggle houses, petrol stations and occasional rows of shops.

By the time he was walking down Laurel Avenue, Snape’s white silk shirt was sticking to his back and he was hot, tired and thirsty.  He rang the doorbell at number 20 but got no reply.  ‘Damn, I wish I’d Apparated now’ he muttered.  Hoping no one would notice, he gathered up his bags and stood as unobtrusively as he could by a conifer near the porch.  Next minute he had disappeared.

He Apparated in the hall.  Bella’s house was exactly as he remembered it, polished wooden floors with huge rugs, pine furniture and a gleaming high-tech kitchen.  He secreted his holdall in the under-stairs cupboard, took his purchases to the kitchen and made himself at home.

Food was very much on his mind as lunch was already overdue.  Snape decided to prepare a meal and spent a busy hour in the kitchen and the garden, choosing vegetables and herbs, chopping peanuts, cashews and sunflower seeds, grating vegetarian cheddar and parmesan cheeses, and shallow-frying a mixture of chopped leeks, mushrooms and green peppers.  He knew there would be no butter or milk, but the larder-fridge yielded soya milk and organic sunflower spread.  Using an assortment of spells and Muggle utensils and gadgets, finally he had the nut roast mixture ready.  He poured it into a greased and lined baking tin, covered it with cling film and stored it in the fridge.  He had brewed a pot of coffee and snacked as he worked, so he was not desperately hungry now.  He looked at the cats that were milling about the kitchen.  There was a black one who was a particular nuisance, pressing itself against his legs and threatening to trip him up.

‘Do I feed you lot?’ he asked sombrely.  He looked for cat food, found a sack of a dry food called Nutro, put down several small bowls of it and topped up their water bowl.  ‘That’s got you from under my feet’ he smirked.  ‘Now, a bath I think.’

Not knowing whether the cats were all genuine or whether one or two might prove to be Animagi, Snape was tempted to shut the bathroom door, but finally he decided to be brave.  The Muggle bath was rather short for tall wizards.  It was also not really deep enough for his liking but he filled as full as possible and clamped a foot over the overflow as he lazed in the warm foamy water.

Almost an hour later he was still soaking when Arabella Figg returned.  She entered through number 18, closed the portal between the two dining rooms and walked into the hall of number 20.  ‘Is that you, Bella?’ he called.

Old Mrs Figg almost jumped out of her skin as the familiar baritone voice boomed down the stairwell.  ‘It just might be’ she yelled back.

She noticed signs of cooking in the kitchen.  She checked the wine rack and opened the fridge.  Bottles of Cellier des Dauphins Cotes du Rhône, Chateau neuf du pape and Sancerre caught her eye.  How many days is he thinking of staying, she wondered.

With a sigh she climbed upstairs, and found his Muggle clothes neatly folded on a chair in the bedroom.  Pushing the bathroom door fully open, she lent against the frame.  ‘You’re the second burglar I’ve had this year’ she drawled.

There was a sharp swirl of water as Snape moved his thigh to preserve some modesty, but although her eyes searched his face, Bella paid his naked body no attention.  She sat down on the cover of the toilet seat and said ‘Now, just remind me.  Who invited you?’

‘Aren’t you pleased to see me?’ Snape asked.  ‘I thought we might have dinner.  I’m doing us a nut roast.’

‘Yes, I saw.  Thanks very much’ Bella replied.  ‘But what if I’d had other plans?’

‘Have you?’

‘That’s not the point, Severus.  By the way, are you planning to stay here?’

‘No.  Well – you don’t have a second bedroom, do you’ he retorted.

‘There’s always next door’ she pointed out.  ‘If you’re desperate.  Are you in trouble?’

‘Of course not!’ he barked.

‘OK.  Good.’  Bella seemed relieved.  ‘I don’t want Harry seeing you’ she explained.  ‘He only lives two streets away, and sometimes he gets dumped on me.  Actually, I wanted to talk to you about him–’

Snape’s lips curled.  ‘Must we?’ he asked warningly.

‘As you barge into my house and help yourself to a bath, yes!’  Bella saw his mouth turn down with distaste but she pressed on.  ‘He starts at Hogwarts next month, as you know, because Albus has given you the job of keeping an eye on him.’

‘Oh, I’ll keep an eye on him’ Snape replied savagely.

‘You’ll take care of him, Severus!’ Bella commanded.  ‘You’ll do right by him.  It’s not his fault.  He has an awful life with those Muggles.  I’d have him here but Albus says no.  Says he can only go into number 18 when it suits the Dursleys and the house must always be totally uninviting.  As must I be.’  She looked down at her dusky pink cardigan over the drab box pleated skirt.  She looked at her old hands, at once puffy and wrinkled, and marked with brown spots.  ‘I’m still “her” aren’t I’ she said.

Snape looked sadly at the blue eyed, elderly lady who wore unfashionable Muggle clothes and had a wealth of rather tangled grey hair.  ‘Yes’ he said.  The potion’s not worn off yet.  If you ask me, we are all required to do far too much for precious Mr Potter.’

Bella’s eyes narrowed.  ‘All I’m asking is for you to treat him decently’ she warned.  ‘This year’d better go well, Severus.  If I find out you’ve been up to your old tricks–’  She glanced at the bath water and drew a wand from the sleeve of the cardigan.  Dipping it into the water she said ‘Relashio’ several times.

Jets of very hot water shot towards Snape’s legs, and as the whole bath grew progressively hotter Snape swore, finally abandoning all modesty, standing up and lifting each leg in turn to limit his contact with the water.  He tried to grab his own wand but she had moved it just out of his reach.  He gave her a look of fury.  ‘I promise you I’ll do nothing to hurt Potter’ he said finally.  ‘Now clear off and let me finish this bath in peace.’

*

Snape cooked roast potatoes, broccoli, runner beans and Julienne carrots to go with the nut roast.  And he rounded off the meal with fresh fruit salad and plain yoghurt.

‘That was lovely.  You always did cook well’ Bella admitted.  ‘But I don’t know why you don’t like the wines I keep in stock.’

As he shared out the last of the Cotes du Rhône, Snape considered the witch who was now her proper self and dressed in a long emerald green evening gown.  If he was honest he had no valid reason for disliking her wines.  They were actually very fine and quite to his taste.  He was prejudiced against them because they were organic, free from animal ingredients and marked “suitable for vegetarians and vegans”.  His irritation about them went hand-in-hand with his dislike of Bella’s vegetarianism, her ethics, her fearlessness and her magical prowess.  He also disliked her propensity to point out his faults, and her big-sister attitude.  He realised he couldn’t really blame her for the latter, since she was in fact his sister and older than him by just over two years.  He decided a change of subject would be opportune.

‘Where were you today?’ he asked.

She grinned.  ‘Having my plaster removed.’

‘What?’ he gasped.

‘Having my plaster removed’ she repeated.  ‘I broke my leg a few weeks ago.  Next door.  Tripped over Hamish at the foot of the stairs as I went to answer the front door.  It was a disaster!  It turned out to be Mrs Hughes from number 16.  Hadn’t seen me for a while and wanted to know was I all right?  I was all right until she called!  Trouble was, she summoned an ambulance and they whipped me off to casualty and put my leg in plaster.  No chance of getting to my Skele-Gro.’

‘And where was your wand?’ he demanded.

Bella looked embarrassed.  ‘In here’ she admitted.

‘You FOOL, Bella–’ Snape began.

‘Yes, I know’ she replied.  ‘In fact it’s worse.  I was wearing my bathrobe.  It’s a new one, a trace too long for Old Mrs Figg and I hadn’t adapted the sleeve to take my wand–’

‘So you weren’t equipped, and not properly in character!’ Snape pointed out.

‘You’re loving this, aren’t you’ Bella spat back.  ‘Well, you’re quite right, but I don’t think Mrs Hughes noticed the robe, she doesn’t often see Mrs Figg’s quilted housecoat.  Anyway, luckily I carry a lot of Polyjuice Potion in the Old Figg handbag.  The day was a shambles.  I was supposed to be having Harry.  I had to phone the Dursleys and put them off.  Fortunately it wasn’t a bad break and after a few hours I persuaded the hospital to let me go.  Then I re-grew the bone and had to put up with a pointless plaster.  They were amazed at my recovery – “a woman of your age, it’s unheard of” they said.  And that idiot Dudley ran into me on his bike a few days ago.  Still, Harry had a nice day, that day I broke my leg.  He got a trip to the zoo.  Told me all about it.  They never take him anywhere…  Would you like some cheese?’

Snape said yes to cheese and biscuits, and he made a pot of coffee.

They spent the evening listening to BBC Radio 3 and some of Bella’s audio cassettes, Snape trying to educate Bella in Mahler, and Bella trying to get him to appreciate Joan Armatrading.  ‘You can’t not like Love and Affection’ she insisted.  Then she laughed, thinking about what she had just said.  ‘I suppose you’ve spent yet another summer sampling the business witches of Knockturn Alley’ she observed wryly.  ‘I saw Mother a few weeks ago and guess what she said – “It’s time Severus settled down with a nice witch”.  She never gives up hoping.’

‘And what about you?’ Snape replied, refusing to be drawn on the subject of his own love-life.  ‘Do you see anything of your husband?’

‘My former husband’ Bella pointed out.  ‘No.  I don’t.  Nor do I want to.  Well, we’re divorced aren’t we!  And it’s not as if we had kids or anything.  That’s definitely all over.’

‘And is there anyone else?’

‘There is from time to time, yes.  I don’t live like a monk, do I.  That’s why I can’t have you turning up whenever the whim takes you.  Sometimes, Severus, it just won’t be convenient.  More coffee?’

Snape declined.  It was getting late.  Finally he got ready to go.

‘I’m not looking forward to this year’ he admitted.  ‘Can I drop by sometimes and cry on your shoulder?’

‘Yeah, OK then’ Bella replied.  ‘We’ll drink the Chateau neuf next time you come to dinner.  But you may have to put up with whoever else you may find here, if you can’t give me any advance warning.’

‘OK.  Point taken.’  He gave her a rueful smile, took up his holdall and stood ready to Disapparate.

She hugged him.  ‘Take care, Severus’ she said kindly, giving him a kiss.

Snape returned the kiss.  ‘You too’ he said.  ‘Bye, Bella’ and with a last embrace he was gone.

Review

 

Chapter Two - Sunshine and Shade

They were lucky to get a free table outside Florian Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlour on that sunny August 1st afternoon.  Dumbledore ordered a knickerbocker glory and a very agitated Bella finally calmed down enough to settle for a choco nut sundae.  ‘Now.  Can we talk?’ she demanded.

‘Yes, go on’ the Headmaster said.

‘They’ve locked Harry in his bedroom’ Bella announced dramatically.  ‘Something happened yesterday evening.  ‘I had that idiot woman pouring out her heart to me on the phone for over an hour after her dinner guests had left.  I don’t know what Harry did, but the evening was a disaster.’

‘Have they hurt him?’

‘I don’t think so, not physically, but they’re planning to keep him locked up.  They’ve put bars at the window’ Bella explained.  ‘I Apparated in and out in the middle of the night.  I’ve seen it all for myself.’

She stopped talking as the ice creams were served and Dumbledore tucked in enthusiastically.

‘We must do something, Albus’ she pleaded.

‘Mmh!  I’m thinking, I’m thinking’ he replied, amid hasty spoonfuls.  ‘It may take a day or so to get the message through’ he said at length.  ‘I don’t want us to storm in officially.  Not unless Harry’s at physical risk.  It must look more like a – a prank.  A schoolboy prank–  Can you get into the house Arabella?  I mean in the guise of Old Mrs Figg?’

Bella thought hard.

‘Not easily’ she decided.  ‘If they don’t have Harry for odd jobs, they may look for help with gardening, perhaps, or shopping.  But they might not ask, there’s no guarantee of it.  I could keep popping round on some pretext – any shopping wanted as I’m just going into town – that sort of thing.  Maybe make them think I’m in need of a few odd jobs – they do pay me.  Just about.’  She grinned.  ‘Not quite on the scale you do’ she said fondly to Dumbledore.’

She began to eat her sundae.

‘I may get someone else to visit the house’ Dumbledore mused.  ‘See how the land lies.  A suspected gas leak is the usual thing.’

‘Why can’t I just go in as me, see what’s happening, and modify memories afterwards?’

‘It may come to that’ the Headmaster agreed.  ‘Yes, if you think they are actually harming Harry, do go to those lengths.  But I don’t like doing that, it seems too much of an intrusion, that’s why I say only do so as a last resort.  So for the moment, give me a couple of days.  Four at the most.’

His light blue eyes twinkled at Bella behind their half moon frames.  ‘Prepare – to be – amazed’ he chuckled.

***

It was a hot and rather muggy night in north Surry.  Unable to sleep, Bella opened all the windows and internal doors, and sat clattering at her computer keyboard, updating her accounts and expense claim to Dumbledore, so when the owl delivered the letter she heard it drop onto the glass loft hatch.  As she climbed the ladder to retrieve the correspondence, the Hogwarts bird was already slipping back out through the Velux window.

She lit her wand, sat on the floor of the loft, and opened the envelope.  It contained a brief letter:

Hogwarts,  10:00pm,  16 August, 1992

Dear Bella,

I trust this finds you well.  I should like to visit for a day in late August and suggest Friday 21st.  Please let me know if this will be convenient, or suggest an alternative date.

Do you want me to collect anything from Diagon Alley en route?

Much love,

Severus

Bella smiled at her brother’s typical style.  His personal correspondence was always like this – at once courteous but business like, giving her options and yet subtly boxing her in – foreseeing obstacles and minimising the chances of excuses.  She grinned, reached for a fibre-tipped Muggle pen and an envelope from the emergency supply she kept near to the hatch, and wrote back using the reverse of his parchment:

from the floor of my loft,  4:30am,  17th August, 1992

Dear Sev,

Great to hear from you.  Turn up whenever you like on that Friday, and Apparate into the house.  If you arrive before half-eight, you’ll get breakfast.  We might dine out – nothing posh – but even so, bring a tie.

Harry has escaped from the Muggles and doesn’t plan to return this summer, so I’m free for ages.  It’s brilliant !!!

As I’m not babysitting Privet Drive I don’t need any shopping, thanks – I can pop out for whatever I need.

See you soon.

Fondest love,

Bella

Gingalin, her tawny owl was still hunting, so Bella had to wait for almost an hour before she could despatch the note.

***

Dutifully, at two minutes past eight on Friday 21st Snape arrived in the hallway at 20 Laurel Avenue.  Although not wearing wizard robes he was still dressed, as ever, almost entirely in black – a silk shirt loose over his jeans and his pale bony feet thrust into very dark brown leather sandals.  He carried a smart silver-grey Donegal tweed jacket, the pockets of which held a pair of black socks and a bright yellow silk tie.  Carefully he placed the jacket on a coat hanger on the coat stand in the hall.

At breakfast Snape used a crushing spell on the oranges and poured Bella a glass of the freshly made juice.  She watched her brother busying himself about the kitchen, not realising that he fussed around his Potions classroom in much the same way.  However she did realise it made a change for him to do these mundane things, instead of being waited on by House Elves.  And Snape was a restless type who could not sit still; if he did not have some diversion he could never unwind.

Inevitably their conversation turned to Hogwarts and the success of Harry Potter’s first year, and equally inevitably Snape was in an irritable mood…

‘Harry’s had a great year’ Bella said brightly, propping an elbow of her white bathrobe on the table as she munched her organic muesli.

‘Potter may have done.  Mine has been awful’ Snape drawled bitterly.  He chose cornflakes in preference to muesli and poured himself more orange juice.

‘You did a great job saving him at the Quidditch match’ she pointed out.  ‘Minerva told me.’

‘Humh!  Minerva told you!’ Snape sulked.  ‘Did she also tell you that she got Potter into her House team?  Did she also tell you, she got him – or somebody got him – a Nimbus 2000 racing broom?  And, after Quirrill trying to kill him at that match, I had to referee the next one!’

‘You?’ Bella blurted out.  ‘You don’t play Quidditch.  You hate flying!  Who said you had to?’

I said I had to!’

Bella was doubled up with laughter at the thought of her brother on a broom.  He was a hopeless flyer and usually felt sick after five minutes.  She was surprised he knew Quidditch well enough to act as an umpire.

‘Actually, it wasn’t so bad’ Snape conceded.  ‘Potter caught the Snitch in minutes.  But he almost knocked me off my broom in the process.  He shot by me at a hundred miles and hour.  I just happened to turn and swerve in time–  It’s not funny Bella!  I nearly passed out when I landed.  And what did Albus say?  Well done, Harry!’

‘Awh, we are in a bad mood!’ Bella chortled, scraping the last of her muesli from her bowl.  ‘Are you sure you don’t want a boiled egg?  OK.  I’m going to have one.’

As Snape made himself some toast and chose grapefruit marmalade to spread on it, Bella used a spell to heat a saucepan of water and was soon dropping her egg into it.  ‘Well, come on’ she added.  ‘What has Harry literally done that’s so terrible?  Apart from the fact that first years’ aren’t normally allowed to play Quidditch and bring posh brooms to school?’

‘He meddles!’ Snape snarled.  ‘He interferes!’

‘Aah!  He beat you to Voldemort’ Bella observed accurately.

‘It’s dangerous, Bella!’ Snape retorted.  ‘This is no game!  The boy knows very little.  And Albus indulges him.’  He sighed.  ‘I was onto Quirrill.  I was almost home and dry.’

‘OK’ she said.  ‘I understand that you’re hurt.  I understand that you’re disappointed.  But don’t take it out on Harry.’

‘I do not’ he spluttered, “buttering” more toast and reaching for the coffee pot.

‘He hates your lessons most of all.  You pick on him.’

‘I don’t.  He simply can’t answer my questions.  He knows so little.’

‘Given his background, that’s not surprising.  I think that rather proves my point’ Bella said.  She thought about Quirrill as she fished out her cooked egg.  ‘I rather liked Quirenius’ she said sadly, returning to the table.  ‘He was a nice young man once.’  She noticed her brother’s sneer.  ‘He was very good looking’ she added.  ‘He had the most engaging smile.  Well– anyway–  What are you going to do today?’

‘Lounge about’ Snape replied.  ‘Read the Muggle papers.  Maybe look at a couple of your videos.  Do things I don’t normally do.  If that’s alright?’

‘Yes of course’ Bella replied.  She was glad he was going to relax.  ‘I’m going to be gardening most of the time.  I may need your advice about a plant I’m trying to grow.  You’ll be quite safe – Harry’s definitely staying at The Burrow with no plans to return here.  Hey; he had the most amazing escape from Privet Drive.  They locked him in his bedroom.  And Albus–’

Snape picked up her teaspoon and smashed it onto the top of her 4-minute egg.  ‘I don’t want to hear any more about that bloody boy!’ he snarled.

After breakfast he sorted through her collection of videos.  It was a very wide ranging collection and included quite a few famous World War II films, a few notable romances such as Brief Encounter and Doctor Zhivago, and some classic British comedies.

‘You ought to try Oh, Mr Porter!’ Bella advised.  ‘Don’t underrate it, just cos it sounds twee.  It’s got a brilliant script.  Listen out for the ‘change to British Summer Time’ and the ‘rabbit and the ferret’ conversations.’

However, Snape set aside The Hunt for Red October and Doctor Strangelove for his viewing later in the day, and turned his attention to the newspapers.  Suddenly he noticed her copy of ‘Witch Weekly’.

‘What do you think of Gilderoy Lockhart?’ he asked.

‘I don’t know what to make of him’ Bella replied guardedly.  ‘He’s done so much, he almost seems too good to be true.  There isn’t anything he can’t do.’  She looked at the smiling photograph Snape was scowling at.  ‘Ah, that famous smile’ she added.  ‘Personally I don’t find him attractive.  I know he’s conventionally handsome, but he doesn’t do it for me.  But then, I have a bit of an unusual taste in wizards.’

‘Albus has just taken him on as the new Defence Against the Dark Arts Master’ Snape said scathingly.

‘Oh!  Has he?’  Bella sounded surprised and a little put out.  ‘Has Albus actually signed him up?’

‘Oh, yes’ Snape drawled lazily.  ‘I’m afraid that toothy smile will soon be twinkling all round Hogwarts.  And everyone will think I hate him because I want his job.’

‘Do they still think that?’ Bella asked in disbelief.

Snape sighed.  ‘If you remember, it was my cover for always hounding Quirrill.  Unfortunately, as a legend, it seems to have stuck.  If anyone ever re-writes “Hogwarts: A History” it will no doubt be chronicled.  I reckon Granger could do that, she’s read the bloody thing from cover to cover.  She sounds as if she’s read every damn book from cover to cover.’

Bella hid her smile at her brother’s resentment of the budding young witch.  She pottered in the garden, came in at eleven o’clock to make tea, and found him stretched out on the sofa, watching the end of The Hunt for Red October and with her black cat, Hamish, lying by his side.

‘Is this the cat you tripped over?’ Snape asked.  He stopped the video tape and rewound it as the closing credits appeared.

‘Yes.  That’s Hamish’ she said.  ‘He suits you, being all black.’

‘That one-eyed thing is black, as well’ Snape pointed out.

‘Jasper, that “one-eyed thing” as you so graciously call him, may look all black, but if you take the trouble to stroke him you’ll find his under-fur is white’ Bella replied.

Snape looked at Jasper.  Had he known the cat Hermione Granger was eventually going to have and call Crookshanks, Snape would have realised that Jasper was quite similar, but with straight legs and a broad, handsome and un-squashed face.  He was a fat cat with sumptuous semi-long fur and he had one brilliant turquoise-green eye.  The other eye was blind, damaged and shrunken, and a dull reddish-brown – injured in some unknown accident before Bella took Jasper in.

All of her ‘genuine’ cats were strays and there were currently only four of them – Hamish, Jasper, Benny and Percy.  Bella would take in any animal she could manage, but cats seemed to be the pets that got abandoned on her estate.  As she was at home so much of the time and naturally kind hearted, any animal in need of a home usually ended up at her door.

Snape’s gaze moved from Jasper to a lanky, grey tabby.  ‘All your cats are male, aren’t they’ he remarked.  ‘Only that tabby thing–’

‘Percy.’

‘Percy – reminds me of Minerva.  It’s quite unnerving.  I don’t think you should be allowed grey tabbies.’

Bella arched an eyebrow.  ‘I’ll make us some tea’ she retorted.  Idly Snape followed her to the kitchen.  ‘Yes, they’re all male’ she confirmed.  ‘Apart from Benny, they were once all entire toms.  Percy was starving, a bag of bones.  Jasper, as you can see, was injured.  Hamish was OK, just very nervous – he’s much better now.’

‘And who is Benny?’

Bella indicated an immature, short-haired, mischievous cat, whose immaculate coat was a mixture of very pale ginger and creamy white.  His fur colours looked like Bailey’s Cream Liqueur poured over vanilla ice cream.  ‘He just wouldn’t stay with his family’ Bella explained.  ‘He left them and tried a house in Magnolia Crescent, then went back home for awhile, then wandered again and ended up here.  Seems to want to settle here.’

They chatted for a while about the film Snape had watched and Bella offered to lend her brother the book.  Soon she returned to her gardening and Snape took a second cup of tea to the sitting room.  He skimmed through the Tom Clancy novel and decided he would borrow it.  Then he contemplated starting to watch Doctor Strangelove but changed his mind in favour of making a start on the lunch.

Using the food processor, he prepared mushroom burgers, which he grilled and served in crisp rolls, accompanied by jumbo fries and crudités with a selection of dips.  They ate in the garden and Snape looked admiringly at his sister’s collection of plants.  He knew the garden well.  Both it and number 18 were given over to growing vegetables, herbs, and plants for potions.  Although Dumbledore paid her a salary and allowed her to purchase potion ingredients and charge them to Hogwarts, Bella liked to be as self sufficient as possible and keep her costs to the minimum.  She also liked having key potion ingredients immediately to hand.

‘Is this what you want to ask me about?’ Snape enquired, seeing some clumps of Aconite soaking in a bowl of rainwater.

‘Yes’ Bella replied.  ‘Shall I put them here in full sun, or over there?’

Snape thought it over.  ‘They can tolerate partial shade very well.  They don’t like the soil to be excessively wet.  (His black eyes gave her a strangely piercing look.)  Start by planting them here in the sun.  You’ll need to divide the clumps every so often, maybe starting in autumn next year.  If you need more space they’ll probably cope in that shady patch as well.  But you might as well start here if both sites are available.  Why are you growing Wolfsbane?’

Bella gave him a knowing smile.

‘You never know when it may come in useful’ she replied cryptically, and for the time being wouldn’t be drawn on the subject.

After their meal he stacked the dishwasher and left Bella to carry on gardening.  He preferred to be out of the sun and decided to laze indoors, finish the Sancerre and watch the second video he had set aside.

They ate out that night at an Indian restaurant in the town.  While Snape waited for his Lamb Passanda and Bella for her Vegetable Dansak, she explained about the Aconite.

‘Do you remember Remus Lupin?’ she asked.  Snape scowled but said nothing.  ‘He’s come to the end of his contract at Durmstrang and he’s got the offer of a supply job at Beauxbaton.  But it’s only one year.  He’s thinking of moving back to England and doing tutoring.  He asked me if I would supply him with Wolfsbane.’

‘Can you make the Wolfsbane Potion?’ Snape asked haughtily.

‘Of course’ Bella replied.  ‘I’ve made some batches for him at odd times before, but mostly with bought ingredients.

Snape looked shrewdly at his sister.

‘I don’t know why he doesn’t simply buy it ready-made’ he sneered.

‘You know perfectly well why, it’s a very new development and fearfully expensive.  He’s not a rich wizard.’

Snape’s lips curled with distaste.  The arrival of their main course distracted him for a moment but he spent much of the rest of the evening wondering just how involved his sister was with his old enemy, Remus Lupin.

***

Apart from birthday and Christmas cards, Bella didn’t expect to hear from her brother until the following summer so she was most surprised when a letter arrived in mid-December.  He called for an urgent meeting and sounded quite upset.

Hogwarts,  almost midnight,  18 December, 1992

Dear Bella,

I need to see you urgently for a very private chat, but I don’t want to travel far from school.  Can you dine with me on Monday 21st at The Three Broomsticks, at 7:00pm?  I’ve booked a table.  The tavern is usually quite empty on Monday evenings, and as term will have ended it should be exceptionally quiet.

Please do turn up if you possibly can – I’m very worried.

Much love,

Severus

Bella owled back her acceptance immediately and sorted out her warmest winter robes.

*

Snape was already at the tavern and gazing into the fire when Bella arrived punctually on the Monday evening.  She hung up her cloak, accepted a goblet of red wine, and they settled at the secluded corner table Snape had stipulated.  She looked carefully at her brother, thinking he looked older, possibly because he was worried.  Snape noticed her glance and remembered the state of his hair.

‘Yes, I know’ he said, thinking to anticipate her criticism.  ‘It’s the potion fumes.  I didn’t get time for a bath before I came here.  There’s a lot going on.’

But Bella had not been poised to criticise the lank ropes of greasy black hair.  ‘OK, fire away’ she said.

Knowing time was at a premium Snape began to outline his concerns.  ‘Some very alarming things have happened, this term’ he explained.  ‘Some crass, reckless things too.  You know about the boys and the car?’

Bella squirmed with embarrassment, wondering just how much she had said last August, about the Headmaster’s clever idea for getting Harry rescued.  She seemed to remember explaining he had fed information to Arthur Weasley and got the whole family worried about Harry.  Fred and George’s natural Gryffindor spirit had immediately kicked in, and they had devised their own rescue plan.  It had all looked as Dumbledore intended – a schoolboy prank, untraceable to any adult.  The fact that some weeks later Ron and Harry had inexplicably taken it upon themselves to fly the car to Hogwarts, had then been spotted and reported, and Arthur was to face an enquiry at the Ministry, was a disastrous chain of events neither she nor Dumbledore had foreseen.  ‘Yes, I know about the boys and the car’ she said sadly.

‘Right, we’ll leave that aside’ Snape said and Bella almost visibly sagged with relief.  ‘The first genuinely odd event happened at Hallowe’en…’

Madam Rosmerta came over and he stopped his narrative to give their food order.  Then he told Bella about Harry Potter, Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley being absent from the Feast.  Finally he explained they were found near to Filch’s petrified cat and the message written on the wall.

Together they puzzled over the implications of the writing on the wall, as they both knew very well the legend of the Slytherin monster.  ‘And Harry, Ron and Hermione didn’t write it?’ Bella asked.  ‘And they were nothing to do with what happened to Mrs Norris?’

‘They may have had time to write it, but they said they were at the Gryffindor ghost’s Deathday Party’ Snape replied.  ‘They were!’ he added.  ‘It’s confirmed.’  He gave her a meaningful look and Bella nodded.  ‘I don’t believe they could petrify the cat’ he continued.  ‘Not even Granger.  Then, the first Quidditch match–’

Snape suddenly remembered his remark to McGonagall about trying to get Harry suspended from the Gryffindor team.  He decided to say nothing about that, as he knew his sister would berate him for being petty.  He hoped McGonagall would not have occasion to mention it.

‘…The first Quidditch match’ he continued ‘was between Slytherin and Gryffindor.  Potter attracted a rogue Bludger.’  He noticed Bella’s suspicious look.  ‘No, it was nothing to do with me’ he growled.  ‘If I’d wanted to do that, I could have let him fall off his broom last year.  Potter broke his arm and was taken to the hospital wing.  That same night Colin Creevey, a Gryffindor first year, was attacked.  Petrified.  He’s in the hospital wing.’

‘Blimey!’ Bella exclaimed.

A ripple of a smile twisted across Snape’s face as he recognised his sister using the expression Hagrid often used.  ‘Once that happened’ he added ‘Albus was sure.  The Chamber of Secrets has been opened.  Minerva seems very shaken by it.’

They sat in silence, sipping their wine almost without tasting it.  The food arrived and they began their meal.  The silence continued as they ate.

‘Is everything OK?’ Madam Rosmerta asked.  She almost had to repeat the question.

‘Mmh!  Yes.  Fine.  Sorry’ Snape said quickly.

Bella smiled and nodded her agreement, and at Snape’s request Madam Rosmerta refilled their goblets and left the wine bottle.  Once she had gone, he continued.  ‘Now we come to Lockhart’s Duelling Club fiasco’ he smirked.

‘How are you finding him?’ Bella asked.

‘Lockhart?  A total, total prat’ Snape replied.  ‘He’s the one bit of light relief in this whole business.  On Hallowe’en, Albus carried Mrs Norris into Lockhart’s office.  I don’t know how I kept a straight face.  The room is full of portraits.  Of him!  They were all in curlers and hairnets, and all running for cover.  I’m sure he dyes his hair.  Anyway…’

He told her about the duelling club and about Harry’s ability to speak Parseltongue.  He didn’t admit that he had put the idea into Malfoy’s mind to conjure the snake but he did say that Lockhart’s vanishing spell merely enraged it, and it was he, Snape, who finally restored order.

‘So Harry is a Parselmouth’ Bella said thoughtfully.

‘Indeed’ Snape replied.  ‘And almost at the end of term there was a double attack – Justin Finch-Fletchley a second year Hufflepuff, and Sir Nicholas, the Gryffindor ghost.  They are both in the hospital wing.’

‘Petrified?’

‘Petrified.  The school is almost empty now.  The students are terrified.  They all signed up to go home for Christmas.  Minerva’s only got Potter, Granger and the Weasleys, and I’ve only got Malfoy, Goyle, Crabbe…’  His voice tailed of mid sentence as he noticed Bella was deep in thought.

‘I can’t understand it’ she said finally.  ‘I can’t see any particular connection between the attacks.  Two Muggle-borns, a ghost, a cat, and Harry chased by a Bludger.  And Malfoy conjuring that snake…  No, that’s Malfoy just being Malfoy.  But it did reveal that Harry is a Parselmouth.  Did you let Albus know?’  She sat back and savoured another mouthful of wine.

‘Yes of course’ Snape replied.  ‘By the way, how was the cannelloni?’

‘Very – very – nice’ Bella replied emphatically.

She chose Black Forest gateau for dessert but Snape just wanted cheese and biscuits.  They both decided to skip coffee but finished the excellent Merlot Syrah Madam Rosmerta had obtained on Snape’s very particular instructions.  Snape settled the bill and before he left he asked Madam Rosmerta for her spinach and mushroom cannelloni recipe as he thought he might prepare it for his sister at some future time.

***

Later that night, as Bella assembled her Christmas cards ready for despatch, she wondered how things were at Hogwarts.  Snape’s card had just arrived and there had been no note, so presumably there was no further trouble.  She decided to delay his card and send Lupin’s first.  ‘Do you fancy a trip to France, Gingalin?’ she said as she offered her owl a bit of raw cat meat.  Moments later he was winging away, glad to be out in the open air, and flying high above the last of the homeward bound commuters.

Two days later Gingalin returned with a card and letter from Lupin.  After a day’s rest he made for Hogwarts.

Review

Chapter Three - Cat, Wolf and ‘Rat’

When, in May, Bella received a birthday card from her brother a few days too early, she noticed it was delivered by a Hogsmeade Post Office high-speed owl and bore a tiny S rune at the point of the flap.  It was a signal she shared with Snape, it indicated that the contents were password protected.  It also meant open immediately.

Inside was a standard village Post Office birthday card, not the style of card Snape usually chose for her.  There was also a blank piece of parchment which, once touched with her wand and the password spoken, blossomed into a letter.  Unwittingly, its contents explained her brother’s choice of card:

Hogsmeade,  12:00noon,  22 May 1993

More very serious events have been happening, hence this letter as I cannot leave the school for any length of time.  Let me try to relate chronologically:

Granger was in the hospital wing from Christmas to the beginning of February and I cannot find out why.  Now she and Ravenclaw’s Penelope Clearwater have been petrified – another double attack.

We are escorting the students between classes.  They all have to stay in their common rooms from 6:00pm while we and the Prefects patrol the castle.  It’s an awful drudge, but the only way.

Albus has been suspended, by order of the Governors – mainly LM’s doing I think.  Rubeus has been gaoled, ostensibly for a short term, on suspicion of letting loose the monster.  I don’t believe he did – I think CF needed a scapegoat.  Rubeus may like monsters but he’s not the heir; nor, I’m sure, even an heir.  This smells more of turban than moleskin.

Amy insists the Mandrakes are not yet ready, so we cannot revive anyone.  I am poised to make the potion the second they mature.

Talking of potions – I forgot to mention this when we met before Christmas.  There had been an incident in my classroom about a week before the end of term.  Someone threw a firework into a cauldron of swelling solution and caused chaos.  I thought it merely a dangerous prank at the time, but I wonder now if it was a diversionary tactic, because I seem to have lost Bicorn horn and Boomslang skin from store.  I’m sure in my heart of hearts Potter threw the firework, but he would not own up, and I have no proof.  As to why he did such a thing I have no idea, but Potter has always been a law unto himself.  Potter, Weasley and Granger are turning into a troublesome gang.

On a slightly lighter note, and believe me we need one, Lockhart gave us all his idea of a treat on Valentines Day – turned the Hall lurid pink and had Goblins delivering Valentine Cards.  That man is a menace!  Albus of course though it was highly amusing, but everyone else seemed annoyed.  Filius was quite embarrassed.

I finally finished that book – didn’t have much time for reading last term.  It was excellent – better than the film of course.  I’ll bring it back on my next visit.

I think that’s everything.  Please acknowledge but without detail.  I will write again if any more news.

Bella read the letter three times, committing the details to memory.  Then she laid it in the sink, pointed her wand at it, muttered ‘Incendio’ and the parchment burst into flame.  Once she was sure it was reduced to a fine powdered ash she washed the residue away.  She took a fresh piece of parchment, and, using standard wizarding quill and ink, wrote:

from my dining room,  9:15pm,  23rd May, 1993

I have been able to follow all your detailed instructions about the Monkshood.

Bella worried about her brother as she watched Gingalin take flight for Hogwarts.  A series of attacks, and now no Dumbledore, and Hagrid in Azkaban.  She felt suddenly powerless and afraid, and a long way from what little family she had.  She wondered about going to Hogwarts in her Animagus form, but Mrs Norris had been attacked, so it seemed no safer than being human.  There are many highly skilled wizards there, she kept telling herself – Minerva, Filius, not to mention Severus himself!  No, I’ll only be in the way if I turn up.  But she couldn’t help thinking that is was cowardice that really held her back.

*

She looked fondly at her birthday cards as she arranged them on the sitting room mantle shelf on Thursday 27th May, and when the owl clattered onto the hatch in the early hours of Saturday 29th she wondered if it might be just a further belated card.

But it wasn’t.  It was a short, password protected note from Snape:

Hogwarts,  1:00pm,  28 May, 1993

Ginny Weasley has been taken into the Chamber itself.  We are sending all the students home tomorrow (Saturday).

Bella kept the school owl, and within minutes had sent it back with a reply.  She destroyed Snape’s note, got dressed, put down a large amount of food and water for her cats, secured the house and Disapparated.

It was half-past three in the morning when she Apparated in the Forbidden Forest.  She was struck by the coldness of the countryside compared to home and was glad of her warm trousers and the sweater beneath her cloak.  She strode up to the castle with no plan in mind, just determined to see for herself what was going on and to do whatever she could.

‘A party – that’s what’s going on’ she muttered.  And indeed it was.  The Great Hall seemed to be full of people in their night clothes.  There were no signs of security in place so she decided to go straight into the Entrance Hall, but she changed into cat form before slipping into the Great Hall.

Dumbledore was saying something about Professor Lockhart not returning.  Everyone then gave a great whooping cheer.  Bella heard Hagrid’s unmistakable boom and her brother’s deep sneering guffaw.  Taking care not to be trodden upon, she wound through pyjama’d legs and fluffy slippers, making for the latter sound.  And there he was, with his black cloak pulled about a grey nightshirt.  He glanced down at her and his eyes narrowed.  He scooped her up and melted back into the shadows hissing ‘I hope we’re not seen.  I’m not known for being kind to cats.’

But he had been seen.  McGonagall had noticed, and she was puzzled.  Feelings of tenderness or compassion were things she did not normally associate with the cunning and sarcastic Head of Slytherin House.  Yet hadn’t this now occurred twice in less than twenty four hours?  Wasn’t it only yesterday morning that she had watched Snape fight to control his emotions when she made the announcement about Ginny Weasley?

Meanwhile, with the cat in his arms Snape strode to his office and placed her on the rug by the fire.  Bella transformed again, once she saw him lock the door.

‘What are you doing here?’ he demanded as he hunted in a cupboard for a bottle of Ogden’s Old Firewhisky and two glasses.

‘I was worried about you’ Bella began.

But they couldn’t argue for long.  Bella gulped down her firewhisky, put the glass on the mantle shelf, threw her arms around her brother’s neck and burst briefly into tears.

‘Oh, Bella’ he groaned, not knowing if he was cross or pleased to see her.  They clung together for a few minutes.

Finally she pulled herself together, sat down and listened to his tale of the latest events.  As it drew to a close a crafty look crept over Bella’s face.

Knowing that look only too well, Snape’s eyes glittered with alarm.  ‘What is it?’ he demanded.

‘Lockhart’s gone’ Bella gasped.  ‘Albus said he won’t be coming back…  So they’ll be a vacancy.’

Snape’s eyes narrowed.  ‘So what?’ he asked.  But he was sure he knew.  ‘No, Bella’ he moaned.  ‘No, please, not him.  It was bad enough with Lockhart.’  He saw her manic grin and knew it was no good, nevertheless he went on pleading.  ‘No – Bella – wait–’

But it was too late.  Bella stood up, grabbed his face in both her hands, placed a kiss on his greasy forehead and then stepped back.  ‘Bye, Severus.  Take care’ she said, and with that she grabbed a handful of Floo powder from the pot on the mantle shelf, threw it into the fire and stepped into the green flames.  Laurel Avenue’ she cried and she was gone.

***

Snape Apparated into the hall, unannounced, on a muggy Wednesday morning in mid July.  Immediately he regretted his action when he called Bella’s name and a mild and gentle wizard’s voice answered from the dining room ‘Is that you, Severus?  She’s not here.’

Snape walked slowly into the room and found Remus Lupin finishing a late breakfast.  Lupin stood up and proffered his hand, but Snape scorned it, pulled out the chair at the far end of the table and sat down.  His pale face twitched and he was at a loss for words.  He stared at Lupin’s empty plate and thought he could detect faint traces of scrambled eggs on toast.  ‘You’re a vegetarian werewolf now, I suppose’ he sneered.

Deeply hurt by the callous, throwaway remark about his dangerous medical condition, Lupin merely gazed sadly back.  ‘Bella never said you were coming here’ he said.  ‘Is she expecting you?’

‘Actually, no’ Snape replied honestly.  ‘I usually drop by in August.  Where is she?’

‘Shopping with Petunia’ Lupin explained.  ‘They’ve taken a bus into town.  Would you like some tea?’

‘No, I won’t stay’ Snape replied as his mind raced.  He fished a paperback book out of his jacket pocket and laid it on the table.  ‘I’ll just return this and, err, use the bathroom before I leave.’

On the pretext of needing to use the bathroom he bounded lightly up the stairs and glanced in the bedroom.  Percy, the tabby cat, lay curled in the exact centre of the neatly made, double bed.  Jasper and Hamish lay in oval fabric cat beds on the dressing table, indeed its pine surface contained little else.  Hamish looked up in alarm as Snape jerked a wardrobe door open and spotted a spare robe of Lupin’s hanging inside.

He closed the door carefully and glared at the cat on the bed.  ‘Feline on top and canine between the sheets, no doubt’ he growled.

The bathroom contained an extra toothbrush and flannel, and toiletries Snape knew were not his sister’s.  He decided he had seen enough.  He flushed the lavatory, pelted down the stairs, said a very cursory farewell to Lupin and returned to his room at The Leaky Cauldron.

‘I must say Severus was not at all pleased to see me’ Lupin admitted as he made coffee for Bella almost and hour-and-a-half later.

‘Don’t let it worry you’ she replied, as she slipped the Tom Clancy novel back into its place in the bookshelves.  ‘This is my house and I invite whoever I like.  I have warned Severus not to keep turning up unannounced.’

Lupin’s soft grey eyes were full of concern.  ‘I don’t want to make trouble for you’ he pointed out.  ‘The last thing I want is to cause a breech between brother and sister.’

‘And the last thing I want is to let my spoiled baby brother run my life’ Bella replied firmly.  ‘I get to see Severus once or twice a year when he feels like it.  In the middle of August usually, after he’s exhausted himself in Knockturn Alley.  I do love him, but he’s high-handed and likes his own way too much.  You won’t drive him off, don’t kid yourself.  He’ll drop in again when it suits him, wanting to play in my kitchen and criticise my tapes and records.  Then, a few hours later when he’s had more than enough of the Muggle lifestyle and misses his airy, spacious castle and his fine robes, he’ll be off and I won’t see him for ages.  So, Remus, if you want to leave by all means go, you’re not a prisoner here.  But I’d like you to stay at least to the end of the week as we planned, and longer if you’d like to.’

‘If you’re sure, Arabella.’

She nodded determinedly.  ‘I’m sure.  I’m also sure I must get that birthday card.  If I forget Sev’s birthday now, it will really be rubbing salt into the wound.’

They decided to go to Diagon Alley after a quick lunch and once Bella’s Polyjuice Potion had worn off.  The weather was hot, but a storm was threatening and at times there were rumbles of thunder.  Lupin wore lightweight wizard clothes, but Bella had chosen to wear a loose, pale blue, embroidered T-shirt over a long dark blue skirt.  She had scorned the idea of a coat or cloak but regretted her decision once the rain began.  They ran, laughing and splashing among the cobbles as huge rain drops fell in the narrow, crowded alley.  The fierce summer storm was making everyone dive for cover and they sought a momentary shelter in the doorway of the Magical Menagerie.

‘What can I do with this birthday card?’ Bella gasped.  ‘It’s going to get wet.  Do I stuff it up my T-shirt or turn it Impervius?’

‘I’ll take it’ Lupin said.  ‘No I won’t’ he countered, ‘I’ll give you my cloak instead.’  He swung his thin cloak off his own shoulders and swirled it around Bella’s, putting his arm around her to keep it in place.  ‘Now’ he said, ‘let’s nip across to Florean’s and be the only two idiots sitting under a sun umbrella in the rain.’

They tried to pick a moment when the rain had eased slightly and then raced across the Alley.  Hurling themselves into chairs, they dragged them tight to the table and sat leaning forward, just out of reach of the raindrops.  Mr Fortescue himself came out and commented on how brave they were to sit out in the summer storm.

‘Sure you wouldn’t be more comfortable inside?’ he asked.  ‘OK.  What can I get you?’

Bella ordered a mint choc chip sundae and Lupin a Mont Blanc avalanche.  ‘And what do you want in your avalanche, sir?’ Fortescue enquired.

Lupin chose fresh strawberries.  The couple sat chatting and laughing, waiting for their ice creams, not caring about the weather and oblivious of the people around them.

From the dark apothecary’s doorway Snape glared in their direction.  The ice creams arrived and he watched Lupin pick up a long silver dessert fork, choose the most perfect strawberry, plough it through the ice cream and fresh cream, and, when it was heavily loaded, reach across to pop it into Bella’s mouth.  She did the same for him with a brandy snap loaded with mint chocolate ice cream.  The rain stopped as abruptly as it had started, and watery sunshine gleamed along the cobbles.  Snape didn’t stay to see who paid the bill for this intimate confectionary indulgence.  He turned and headed up the Alley.  He had made up his mind.  He was going to speak to Dumbledore.

He seethed with anger as he marched through the Forbidden Forest.  Much as he loved his sister, there were times when he could almost say he hated her.  He had certainly always resented how she had been treated throughout their childhood.

Arabella had been born in the May of 1954, the eldest child of the powerful wizard Arrabin Severus Sebastian Snape and the beautiful Sibella Augusta Francesca de Winter.  As they had combined their very beings to produce their daughter, Snape’s parents had combined their first names to name her.  Arabella had everything – beauty, intelligence, talent, popularity, and authority that never seemed to be challenged.  Their cunning father, a secret associate of the Dark Wizard Grindelwald, was finally captured and imprisoned a few months before Snape was born in 1956.  Broken hearted by these events and the attendant shameful revelations, Sibella their mother died in 1958.

Young Arabella withstood both of these tragedies and adjusted quite well to being brought up by their fearsome great grandmother Ilexandra Snape.  Young Severus did not fare so well.  He deeply regretted that he could not remember his mother, and he felt dishonoured by his father.  He did not have his sister’s good looks and easy popularity.  He felt he was her intellectual equal, but that it went unrecognised.  In his seventh year at Hogwarts he missed out on being Head Boy – that accolade went to James Potter, a Gryffindor whom Snape had come to resent even more than his fêted sister.

During his school years Snape had had to fight for every inch of the prestige he felt should be his, because, with the possible exception of the Headmaster, no one seemed to recognise his abilities.  Having inherited much of his father’s temperament it was perhaps no surprise when he secretly joined Voldemort’s Death Eaters in his final year at Hogwarts.  Snape felt it might hold the key to his ultimate recognition.  It hadn’t taken him long to learn how dreadfully wrong he had been.

Back in the present, in a mood of anger and resentment, Snape emerged from the trees and strode across the parkland.  Now his sister was consorting with a werewolf, and a wizard who had been a friend of James Potter.  How dare she!  She could hardly have chosen a worse person, except possibly Sirius Black.  At least Black was safely locked in Azkaban!  Unlike Arrabin Snape, Sirius Black was not a soulless shell, but it hardly mattered – the once handsome braggart of a Gryffindor, friend of James Potter, Lily Evans and Remus Lupin – had been safely incarcerated for twelve years.  No one ever escaped from Azkaban.

Snape searched the castle to no avail.  He could not find the Headmaster anywhere.  Indeed, apart from a House Elf he spotted on the second floor, the building was deserted and eerily quiet.  ‘He’s gone!  Gone on holiday’ the Bloody Baron rasped, as Snape walked through the trophy room.

‘Are you sure?’ Snape boomed back.  ‘Has Minerva gone too?’  But the ghost ignored him and turned aside, slipping through the wall.

Snape made his way to the library.  Although the door was closed he was almost sure he could hear someone inside the room.  He flung the heavy oak door open and saw the Grey Lady – the Ravenclaw ghost – sitting by the empty fireplace.  She was not alone.  She was talking to a witch who was dressed in a black robe.  He could only see her back, but if her black hair had not been so very straight and so very black he could almost have believed it was his sister.  Certainly this living woman was of the right age.

The ghost looked up in surprise.  ‘Severus’ she cried.  She rose and glided towards him so quickly, that his view of the live witch was obscured.

‘Ah, I was hoping to find you’ Snape began but he stopped in disbelief as the ghost stepped aside.  Not my sister, more like Minerva’s daughter, he mused as he gazed into the long, aristocratic face of a tall, attractive witch.

The strange witch’s eyes were as blue as pale sapphires and they held an expression that was at once both anxious and apologetic.  To his horror, Snape saw she had drawn her wand and was pointing it directly at his heart.  ‘Obliviate’ she commanded.

*

Moments later Snape found himself sitting in a chair by the empty hearth with the ghostly Grey Lady sitting opposite, watching him.  ‘How are you, Severus?’ she asked.

‘Um…?  I’m perfectly well, thanks’ he replied.  He felt a little light headed but it gave him no reason to be concerned.  It felt like being drunk but without the poisoning effect of the alcohol.

He chatted to the ghost for a while and then said he had to return to Diagon Alley.  Finally he heaved himself out of his chair and wandered away towards the Forbidden Forrest.

***

It was Tom who brought Snape his post and wished him a ‘Happy Birthday’ as the Potions Master sat reading the Daily Prophet and shovelling down eggs and bacon on the morning of 31st July.  The newspaper carried an update of the Sirius Black case and Bella’s birthday card enclosed a note saying everyone was concerned that Black seemed to be after Harry but fortunately the boy was still safe.  ‘They’re releasing some details to the Muggle community’ Snape said gravely to the innkeeper.  ‘They must’ he added, tapping the paper, ‘Black’s a dangerous menace.  Could kill anyone.’

‘Whoever captures him will be quite a hero’ the innkeeper observed.

‘Yes, won’t they!’ Snape agreed.  A shrewd look gleamed in his eyes.  ‘Well, I must get packed’ he exclaimed.  ‘Thank you once again for your hospitality…’

An hour later he had checked out of room eleven, settled his bill and was on his way home to Hogwarts.  He contemplated calling on his sister but he was still angry with her about Lupin.  ‘No, I need to get home’ he said to himself.  ‘I must see the Headmaster.  I don’t know why I have left it so long.’

Dumbledore however was still absent from the castle.  Snape lunched with McGonagall, but she had little to say to him.  ‘Albus is seeing Cornelius sometime today’ she remarked coldly, and would not be drawn into further comment.  She disappeared in the afternoon, and, having found the castle empty of everyone except Peeves, Snape sat alone on the grass near the lake, filling in the Daily Prophet’s crossword and wishing he was back in Diagon Alley or watching a film in his sister’s sitting room.

*

Dumbledore returned to school two days later and Snape buttonholed him about Lupin.  ‘I have already appointed him, Severus’ the Headmaster said.  ‘I have made the offer.  It has been accepted.  That is the end of the matter.’

‘Damn!’ Snape fumed.

‘Do you want the job?’ Dumbledore asked pointedly.

‘You know I don’t’ Snape snarled.  ‘I just don’t think it safe to appoint a werewolf.  Especially now Black is on the loose.  They were very close friends.  Headmaster, is there no chance–’

But Dumbledore cut across his objections.  ‘I have made my decision.  The matter is closed, Severus.  If you wish to prepare the Wolfsbane Potion for Remus I will be most gratified, you are after all my Potions Master, and pre-eminent in your field.  However, if you find that is asking too much, supplies will be obtained from other sources.  You may simply get on with your job, and let Remus get on with his.  The choice is yours.  And now you must excuse me, I have many other things to attend to before term starts.’

Snape finally gave in.  He would have to accept the Headmaster’s appointment.  He decided he would supply Lupin’s potion; he could not bring himself to refuse to do so, anymore than he could contemplate making a faulty brew.  Nothing, he decided, would put a question mark over his reputation as a master potion maker.

As he sat in the empty staff room, deep in thought, the Grey Lady seeped through the panelling.  He looked up as she took a chair opposite him.

‘Hello, Mother’ Snape said.

‘I’m sorry you’re so upset, Severus’ the ghost replied.

Snape poured out his heart to her, but in practical terms the ghost was of little more comfort than Dumbledore had been.  She was rather frightened by Bella’s involvement with a werewolf, but felt her daughter must be allowed to lead her own life.  ‘Did I make such a good choice of partner?’ she asked.  ‘At least while Remus is here, Bella will not be seeing him.’

‘Yes, that’s true’ Snape conceded.  ‘I suppose it’s preferable that I put up with him.  I’m going to have a busy time.  Keeping his condition under control.  And I’ll have to help with covering his lessons while he’s indisposed.  It’s all so unfair.  If Potter’s gang get up to anything this year, I swear I’ll strangle them!’

Review

Chapter Four - The Surface of the Quicksand

The year turned out to be far worse than Snape could have imagined, and in this respect the autumn term, which at the time he thought so bad, seemed in retrospect to be relatively serene…

As a result of Lupin’s first Defence Against the Dark Arts lesson with the Gryffindors, the story of Neville Longbottom dressing the Boggart-Snape in his grandmother’s clothes ran around the school like wildfire.

‘Thank you so very much’ Snape raged to Lupin.  ‘That’s done wonders for my authority within the school!’

‘Oh, be fair’ McGonagall cut in, as Snape sat snarling by the staff room fire, ‘Remus could hardly know what Longbottom’s Boggart was going to turn into.  If anything, it’s your fault for being so awful to Longbottom.  You should be ashamed of intimidating the boy so much.’

‘Oh, so I’m to blame, now’ Snape roared.

‘Well… yes’ McGonagall said reasonably.  As she gazed at Snape, his black robes melted away to be replaced by a vision of a long, green, lace trimmed dress and a crimson handbag.  Her lips began to twitch at the corners, and she pressed them firmly together.  She caught Lupin’s twinkling eye and dimples began to form in her cheeks.

‘Oh go on, bloody well laugh!’ Snape roared.  ‘You’ll be laughing on the other side of you face when my House flattens Gryffindor at the next match.’  McGonagall glared at him.

But Slytherin didn’t play Gryffindor as planned at the next Quidditch fixture.  Malfoy had an accident in his first Care of Magical Creatures Lesson, and from then on nothing seemed to go as expected…

*

Snape stirred his cauldron of Wolfsbane Potion and ladled the foul concoction into a goblet.  He smiled nastily as he looked at the smoking brew – it was said to taste revolting.  Hope it is, he thought grimly.  Faithfully he carried the goblet to Lupin’s office, knocked on the door and found Harry Potter sitting inside drinking tea and examining a Grindylow.  Snape watched both of them carefully – appearances could be deceptive whenever Harry was around.  Eventually Snape had no choice but to withdraw, leaving Lupin and Potter to whatever they might be plotting.

Snape enjoyed that evening’s Hallowe’en Feast and was impressed with the balletic display the ghosts put on to entertain them.  His mother was very graceful, and Snape always enjoyed seeing her glide and dance.  It had been a busy and wearying day, and he was thinking fondly of retiring when the alarm was sounded.  There had been an attack on Gryffindor Tower and the school had to be searched.

Dutifully Snape took charge of a group of staff and sent them to search the areas he was detailed to cover.  They reported back that all was clear.  ‘Very well’ he replied haughtily.  ‘Now we will double check, and with different pairs of eyes.  Rea, this time you search the Divination Tower, Nocawe you take the Astronomy Tower, Sybil, the Owlery for you, and Argus – the dungeons.  I’ll do the third floor.  Then all report back to me, here, once again.  Off you go.’

Unquestioningly they carried out the House Master’s orders.  The searches still proved negative, and Snape reported as required to Dumbledore in the Great Hall.  He tried yet again to raise his concerns about Lupin but the Headmaster would not countenance them.  Snape glared after Dumbledore’s retreating back and finally left the Hall.  He glanced at his watch and ran a hand over his stubbly face.  It was almost half past three in the morning and he hadn’t yet had any sleep.  And all thanks to precious Potter, he fumed.  He contemplated writing to his sister, but then he realised it might trigger a visit to the school.  He didn’t relish enduring her sarcasm if she heard about the Boggart.

***

Malfoy was still complaining about his arm injury when the Quidditch season started, so the Slytherin / Gryffindor fixture was changed to Gryffindor versus Hufflepuff.  As he sat in the torrential November rainstorm, hardly able to see the players, Snape wasn’t sure if he was sorry or glad.  He had been robbed, at least perhaps for the time being, of his vision of seeing his House “flatten” McGonagall’s, but now Slytherin had more chance of getting through to the final.  That had to be better.

He flicked his streaming hair out of his face and idly watched the players descend to take a few moments Time Out as he tried not to think about the previous day’s Defence Against the Dark Arts lesson with the Gryffindor third years.  He couldn’t believe young Weasley had been so insolent to him!  The memory gnawed at him like a rat.  As did Lupin’s popularity; it was unbearable.  Jealousy and resentment churned inside him so much that he didn’t even noticed play resume.  And then a coldness began to creep about him.  He couldn’t hear the game any more, it was as if someone was turning down the volume.  A new sound replaced it – a woman’s voice calling faintly as if from a vast distance.  Snape could hear his own voice too, his own voice demanding, imploring…

‘Leave him!  Come on Lily.  There isn’t much time.  Leave him!  There’s no point – he’ll get him anyway.  It’s all he really wants…’

GO, Severus’ the woman shouted back.  ‘Don’t be caught here.  This is madness!  Get yourself away.  I’ll NEVER leave Harry…’

With an effort Snape pulled himself together.  He saw Dementors had flooded onto the Quidditch pitch and noticed Harry’s broom was angled down and starting to drift.  Snape fumbled for his wand but he felt as if his lungs were full of ice.  He was hardly aware of Harry slipping off his broom handle.  Finally the Head of Slytherin found his wand, forced himself to take a breath, and he fixed his mind on his happiest memory – the moment when the Council of Magical Law had announced they had accepted Dumbledore’s evidence and Snape would not be arraigned.  ‘Expecto patronum’ Snape cried and a silver Sphinx erupted from the end of the thirteen-and-a-half inch sliver of ebony.  The sounds of the present flooded back to him, and his brain seemed to reconnect with reality.

Far below, Harry was lying on the ground and Dumbledore was conjuring a stretcher.  Snape’s pale face blanched whiter than ever.  If Potter’s dead, what will Bella think of me, he wondered?  He remembered the voice he had heard a few moments earlier.  ‘At least I won’t have to face Lily’ he murmured.  ‘Only in my mind.’  He raised an arm and used the cuff of his cloak to wipe away the rain that was glistening on his face.

***

It was a few days later, yet, although he buried himself in work, Snape couldn’t blot out his memory of the Dementors.  The Potion Master’s expression was unfathomable as he watched the Gryffindor and Slytherin Third Years prepare their Confusing Concoction.  He gazed for a while at Malfoy who was surreptitiously performing impersonations of a Dementor.  Yes, highly amusing, Malfoy, he though bitterly.  Snape could still feel the horror of the Hufflepuff / Gryffindor match.  Were it not for Potter, the Dementors would not be here, he reasoned.  Were it not for Potter, Voldemort would not have killed Lily.  He would have killed James – that’s a certainty.  But then, perhaps I…

Splosh!  A crocodile heart, thrown by Weasley, hit Malfoy squarely in the face, and Snape’s thoughts bounced forward to the present – he had to admit it had been accurately aimed.  ‘That’s fifty points from Gryffindor, Weasley’ Snape said silkily.  ‘Now, gather it up and attend to your potion.  Otherwise you’ll get another detention faster than you can say Archosauria.’

What was the point, Snape wondered, as his mind slid back to that dreadful day at Godric’s Hollow.  Did she not believe me about the Fidelius Charm having been broken?  She didn’t try to run – even with Harry.  Did she think she could make Voldemort change his mind?  Or persuade him to spare a child?  Perhaps it was that, or perhaps she simply didn’t trust me.  Even though I turned up and risked my life to get her away, she couldn’t find it in her heart to trust me.

He suddenly realised he had been holding a stick of chalk and it was now crushed to a column of fragments.  Snape opened his fingers and let the powdery remains patter onto his desk.  He stood up and began to pace the classroom.  ‘Right’ he barked.  ‘Let’s see how you’re doing with this…’

***

In the middle of December Snape contemplated writing to Bella, but he decided against it and merely sent her a Christmas card.  If I write, she’ll expect news of Potter and probably of Lupin, he realised, and my only good news is that Black’s attack has failed, and Hufflepuff have beaten Gryffindor in the first inter-House Quidditch match.

Bella’s card to Snape bore a note saying she had put her cats in a boarding cattery and was going to Tenerife for ten days while “Old Mrs Figg” ostensibly visited her second cousin in Alberta.

***

As January faded in to February Snape felt less confident about Slytherin winning the Quidditch Cup.  His House had beaten Ravenclaw but only narrowly.  If Gryffindor now beat Ravenclaw, the final would be between Slytherin and Gryffindor, and, since the addition of Harry as Seeker, Gryffindor fielded a very strong team.

*

The staff room was empty but for McGonagall, when Snape took his morning break on that Thursday in early February.  A House Elf followed him in and set down a fresh pot of coffee on the refreshment table.  ‘Shall I pour it, sir?’ he asked politely.

‘No, you may go.  I’ll see to this’ Snape replied haughtily.  ‘Coffee Minerva?’ he called across the room.

‘Err, yes please.  Thank you Severus’ she replied.

Snape poured two beakers of coffee and added milk to one of them.  He handed her the white coffee and watched her as she sat engrossed in her Daily Prophet crossword.  He didn’t expect conversation.  McGonagall didn’t particularly like Snape and he knew he made little effort to endear himself to anyone.  He stretched out his long legs, took a gulp of unsweetened, very black coffee and tilted his head back in the high backed armchair.

Funny that we don’t get on, he thought.  In some ways we’re quite alike.  Both unrivalled in our fields.  Both strict disciplinarians.  Both loyal to Hogwarts.  Both dedicated to our respective Houses.  But there’s the difference – I will do anything to advance Slytherin, Minerva has “scruples”.  She’s concerned about “fair play”.  And she is more emotional than I am.

Snape faltered on that last point.  He knew it was not necessarily true, he was simply more adept at hiding his feelings.  Doesn’t that amount to the same thing, he wondered.

From her pained expression and occasional mutterings it was clear McGonagall was having difficulty with her puzzle.  ‘Find the festive feast under tyre ink’ she murmured.

‘Stuck are you?’ Snape enquired, with a certain smug satisfaction.  ‘Can I have a look?’  McGonagall held out her newspaper, and Snape leaned forward to study the clue.  ‘Six, six’ he drawled.  ‘And you haven’t any of the letters…  Under tyre ink…  Festive…  Turkey dinner!  It’s an anagram.’

Her blue eyes lit up.  ‘Awh!  Thank you Severus’ she exclaimed, and hastily inked in the letters.

Snape lapsed into silence again.  He took another mouthful of coffee, and, triggered by the crossword clue, his thoughts turned to the recent Christmas dinner.  It was certainly entertaining to see Minerva in action against Sybill, he mused.  Yes, that’s a rare treat.  Minerva’s got a tongue as sharp a mine when she bothers.  And a quick and witty mind.  Pity she’s such a frigid old frump.

His reverie was interrupted by the arrival of Hooch and Flitwick.  Hooch was carrying a broomstick and Flitwick was almost dancing for joy.  ‘It’s fine, Minerva’ Flitwick cried.  ‘It’s clear.’

‘It’s a beauty’ Hooch said eyeing the broom enviously.  ‘I’m really looking forward to seeing Harry in action on this.’

‘What’s this?’ Snape demanded icily.

‘Harry’s new broom’ McGonagall replied, hardly able to hide her glee.

‘Did you buy him this?’ Snape thundered.

But although it seemed she did not, McGonagall would not be drawn on the matter of where the Firebolt came from, and Hooch and Flitwick were rather cagey about why they had been examining it.

Blast!  Why did I taunt Minerva about Gryffindor being out of the running, Snape fumed?  I didn’t think she’d go to these lengths!  He took a deep draught of coffee, and as he swallowed, his lips curled in anger as bitter as the beverage itself.  With another determined gulp he drained the beaker and strode out of the staff room.  The other three teachers grinned at his retreating back.

How could she have afforded it, he wondered as he pounded down the corridor.  He recalled her clothes – robes usually in emerald green velvet, or sometimes plain black fustian, or varieties of dull greenish woollen or worsted tartans.  Black stockings that were always too thick to be attractive.  And black shoes, never high-heeled enough to be fashionable.  Good quality, serviceable, unremarkable clothes, and little in the way of jewellery or any other form of personal adornment.

Well Minerva might be wealthy, he supposed.  She has little upon which to spend her Deputy Head’s salary, moderate in he own tastes, and no family so far as I know.  Perhaps she’s taken Potter under her wing – her protégé.  Poor orphaned Potter, brought up by his dreadful relatives.  A lot of fuss about nothing, I know what it’s like to have no parents.  Bella and I had to cope.

In a mood of jealousy and self-pity, Snape headed angrily for his next lesson.

*

‘You have to admit it was a most unworthy trick, Severus’

‘I do indeed, Headmaster’ Snape replied.  Surreptitiously he glared at McGonagall who glared back.  Nevertheless he had to agree with the Head and Deputy Head – much as he hated Harry Potter and resented his new racing broom, Snape would never have encouraged any of his students to dress up as a Dementor.  He was relieved McGonagall had only taken fifty points from Slytherin and he agreed to punish the culprits by means of suitably severe detentions.  Glad of an excuse to leave Dumbledore’s office, Snape went away to make arrangements with Argus Filch.

On his way into dinner Snape puzzled over Harry and that day’s Ravenclaw / Gryffindor Quidditch match.  The boy had produced a Patronus, and that was a very advanced piece of magic.  Who had taught him to do that?  McGonagall?  Lupin, more like.  Mild, inoffensive, butter-wouldn’t-melt-in-his-mouth Lupin.  And there he is, Snape fumed.  He glowered at the slender wizard in his shabby, darned robes.  Lupin looked up and bid the Potions Master a courteous good evening.

‘Is it?’ Snape replied savagely, settling himself in his chair.

‘Is something wrong, Severus?’ Lupin enquired.

Snape redirected his fierce stare to the empty Gryffindor table.  He sighed.  ‘Oh, nothing in particular’ he growled.  ‘I’m just pissed off with these never ending security arrangements and scares.  Can’t even go into Hogsmeade for an evening drink, the Dementors are everywhere in the village.  Had enough of it last year – having to play sentry, and nursemaid.  At one time we used to be a school!  Now we’re more like a fortress kindergarten.’

***

As the knocking sounded on his office door, Snape slammed Warrington’s Aging and Juvenating Potions essay back onto the unmarked pile of fifth year homework.  ‘Enter’ he barked.  A breathless Malfoy burst in and faced the angry House Master.  ‘Mr Malfoy’ Snape continued nastily.  ‘After the stunt you pulled at the last Quidditch match, this had better be good.  I’m very bus–’

‘But sir!  This is urgent, sir.’ Malfoy cut in.

Annoyed as he was at being interrupted, Snape took in his student’s excited and rather scared expression.  He noticed a smear of mud on his cheek.  ‘Go on’ he drawled, as he got up and walked around the boy, examining him.

‘I was in Hogsmeade, sir’ Malfoy began, ‘with Crabbe and Goyle…’  Hastily he informed his House Master of the meeting with Ron Weasley and the mud throwing incident.

Snape had already noted the mud plastered quite thickly on the back of his head.  ‘Are you sure about these details, Malfoy’ he demanded.  ‘You saw Potter’s head?  Just his head?  What did his face look like?’

‘Err, surprised, sir.  Scared.’

‘And you came straight back here?’

‘Yes sir.’

‘Very well.  Thank you.  You may go.’

Hurriedly Snape left his office and sealed it.  He bounded up staircase after staircase and walked briskly along the third floor, making for the statue of the humpbacked one-eyed witch.  He wasn’t quite quick enough to see where Harry emerged but there was the golden boy, once again near that statue.  It was just too much of a coincidence.  ‘So’ he said, fighting hard not to sound too jubilant.  ‘Come with me, Potter.’

However, to Snape’s extreme fury the interview was only a partial success.  Harry would not admit anything, indeed he seemed to be prepared to lie outright, and he was certainly impertinent.  Snape discovered Harry was carrying a most curious piece of parchment, but he could not unravel its secret.  Calling upon Lupin’s assistance proved to be a mistake.  Ron Weasley turned up shortly afterwards and Lupin eventually made off with both boys, and with the parchment!  All in all it was a rather unsettling experience – as if he had started out standing on a rock which had gradually fluidised to a quicksand.

Snape brooded about the matter for weeks.  He was annoyed that McGonagall had made a fuss to Dumbledore about Malfoy’s “Dementor” trick.  He had long resented the fact that she had secured Harry a place in her House Quidditch team in his very first year, had somehow supplied him with a Nimbus 2000 and had now got that replaced with a state of the art racing broom.  And they call me the sly one, Snape raged.

Snape also found it unbearable that Harry was displaying his usual cavalier attitude to school rules, and in spite of the fact that the irksome security arrangements were in place for his – Potter’s – protection.  He also couldn’t bear it that Harry had lied and been extremely rude to him.

And he couldn’t bear Lupin!  Lupin, who had come to Harry’s aid when the boy was struggling in his clutches.  Lupin, who he was sure was involved with that curious piece of parchment.  Lupin, who had probably taught Harry how to produce a Patronus.  Lupin, for whom Snape dutifully had to make the Wolfsbane Potion and whose lessons he had to help cover when the werewolf was “indisposed”.  Lupin, whom Bella took to her bed!

Several times Snape raised the matter of Lupin’s possible involvement with Black, but Dumbledore did not seem prepared to listen.

As he sat in the front of the Slytherin stands at the start of the Quidditch Final, Snape debated for the hundredth time whether to write to Bella.  But again he decided ‘no’.  He feared his sister was too fond of Lupin to pay proper attention to his concerns.  No, I’ll just have to catch him, Snape decided.  He’ll slip up eventually.  Maybe I’ll get them both – Lupin and Black.  What a triumph that would be.

He smiled a grim smile and the match began…

***

The Ravenclaw ghost floated along the stone corridor in her long, late-Victorian dress.  She always dressed in the style that was fashionable in 1895, the year of her birth.  The beautiful Sibella Snape spent most of her time in her House common room, but occasionally she visited the staff room or strolled through the dungeons.  She liked to keep an eye on her son.  Not that he liked her to do so; Snape was not a sociable person and he was also usually extremely busy – either quietly grumbling as he ploughed through piles of marking, or swishing around his classroom amid steaming cauldrons, or bawling-out someone in his office.  He is so like his father, she mused, he spends so much of his life in anger and resentment.  The resemblance at times is uncanny.

Sibella turned and slipped through the stone wall.  Snape was hunched in front of the fire on the only item of seating in his small bedchamber – an oak pew he had salvaged from a ruined Muggle church.  He was staring into the flames and didn’t see her enter.  But he felt her presence.

Sensing the coldness he turned.  ‘Mother?’

‘Severus?’  Taking care not to touch him, she sat down beside him.  ‘Unhappy again, my boy?’ she observed.

‘If this is going to be one of your ‘It’s high time you found yourself a nice witch and settled down’ speeches, I’d rather you left now’ Snape said ungraciously, but he didn’t want her to leave, and his mother sensed this.

‘Why don’t you just tell me what’s wrong?’ she suggested.

So eventually Snape told her.  He told her about ‘Potter the wonder-boy’.  He told her about Lupin, ‘Dumbledore’s tame werewolf’.  He told her about sentry duty, and Black’s attacks.  He told her about the disastrous Quidditch Final where his House had lost to McGonagall’s.  Finally he told her about not being able to slip out for an evening drink without running into Dementors.

‘Oh dear!  It seems this year is worse than last’ Sibella observed.

‘It’s a bloody awful year so far’ Snape agreed.  He paused.  ‘No, not worse’ he said, ‘Not worse than last year.  I thought Hogwarts was going to be closed down last year.  That would have been the pits.  No, on balance this is not quite so bad.  I just wish Bella hadn’t inveigled Lupin into a job here.  I just wish Potter–’

‘Wasn’t so good at everything’ Sibella said, finishing his sentence for him.  ‘His parents were very talented, Severus, it’s not surprising he is as he is.  James was a great flyer, Seeker and then Chaser.  Harry’s bound to have inherited those abilities.’

‘He has other abilities too’ Snape said darkly.  ‘Potter is a Parselmouth.  I’m sure he never inherited that from Lily or James.  And now he can produce a reasonable Patronus.  And he’s a shameless liar.  What will he end up as – a new Dark Lord?’  In despair, Snape propped his elbows on his knees and rested his forehead on his hands.  His fingers clenched his jet black hair.  ‘I am badly in need of your embrace, Mother’ he mumbled.

‘Are you sure?’ Sibella asked.

Snape’s whole body suddenly stiffened and he seemed to be bracing himself for an effort.  ‘Yes, I’m sure’ he said.

He turned to her and opened his arms.  Sibella glided close and slowly locked him in a fierce hug.  Snape gasped as his body was wrapped in ice.  His mother was an exceptionally cold ghost.  For a moment he almost passed out, but gradually his body adjusted to the sensation, and he relaxed, laying his head “on” her shoulder.  She tried to smooth his jet black hair.  She was tempted to say ‘you need a live witch to do this for you’ but she knew it would only annoy him and make him pull away.  And this was such a rare and wonderful event that she didn’t want to give it up too soon.

If only he hadn’t fallen in love with Lily, she reasoned, he wouldn’t resent Harry quite so much.  If only Voldemort hadn’t been determined to wipe out the male Potter line.  Lily would not have sacrificed her life for little Harry.  She would still be alive.  Would that be better?  Would Severus still be in love with her, or would he have found someone else, and stopped idolising a dream?  A phantom.  Lily would have been a warts-and-all reality, not a memory of a witch he knew probably less well than he cares to admit.

*

The following day the Ravenclaw ghost made a brief trip to Little Whinging and visited her daughter.  Arabella Figg was painting the sitting room and got quite a shock when her mother suddenly materialised, causing the room temperature to plummet.

Sibella greeted her daughter and floated around the ground floor of the neat semi-detached house.

‘Are you sure this needed doing, dear?’ she asked as she returned to the front room where Bella stood using a roller to coat the walls with apple-white emulsion.

‘Well, I do use Floo powder now and then’ Bella pointed out.  ‘And I won’t get much chance to do this in the summer.  When Harry’s home I have to look for opportunities to keep an eye on him.  Besides, the oil seed rape is in flower across the way.  I’d rather smell paint than that.’

Sibella remembered that the housing estate bordered a farm and Bella’s house was quite near to the perimeter road.  The flowering rape triggered her daughter’s mild hay fever.

‘Very well my child, you work while I talk’ Sibella suggested.  ‘I’ve come to speak about your brother…’

She tried to explain how miserable Snape was, and the difficult circumstances at Hogwarts, but Bella was not sympathetic.  ‘It’s a bit rich Sev moaning about how unhappy he is’ she said.  ‘If he had his way, Harry would be expelled, and living permanently with those Muggles.  I don’t get much chance to talk to Harry, but I have learned Sev’s the only Master he hates, and he and his friends get picked on.  I know it’s possible Harry’s exaggerating, but if you want to check, you can always drift into a Potions class.  You can see for yourself, Mother, if you want to.’

Sibella had to agree her son was far from perfect.  She turned instead to the matter of Lupin, but to little avail…

‘Look, I’m very fond of Remus’ Bella explained.  ‘He’s a kind and gentle man.  I know he’s a dangerous companion, but, compared to Sev, he’s had a very raw deal in life.  Severus didn’t like it when he found Remus and I were sleeping together.  Now Remus has a full time, live-in job, so I don’t see him.  But this still doesn’t suit my precious brother.  Well, too bad!’

‘And it doesn’t bother you that I’m worried’ Sibella remarked.

‘I don’t set out to upset you, Mother’ Bella replied in a voice of concern, ‘but I’m a big girl now.  I’ll be forty in a few weeks time.  I’m not a child anymore.  And neither is Severus, although sometimes he acts like a moody teenager.  I do take care when I’m with Remus.  Honestly.  I brew his potion – I know when he’s about to transform.  Please try not to worry.’

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