Severus re-read the letter, then tossed it to the table in front of him and looked out over the passing crowd. He’d known it was only a matter of time before he had to turn back. Lacing his fingers together, he thought about what was waiting for him; after a few moments’ contemplation, he shook his head sharply and stood up, dropping several coins onto the bistro table and tucking the letter into the inside pocket of his jacket.
It seemed that Severus Snape was going home.
Meeting with the publisher in London was easier than Severus had expected. He’d anticipated being back in England would be stressful and upsetting, but it felt oddly like coming home. The weather was cool, and he spent one entire day out in parks around the city, watching the people: families with small children, playing and laughing, retail workers spending their short lunch breaks eating or using their silly electronic devices, everyday people living their every day lives.
In the late afternoon, he looked up to find Harry walking towards him.
“I heard reports of a giant scary bat,” Harry said, when he drew closer, “so I knew you must have come into town.” He dropped onto the bench next to Severus. “When did you get in? Why didn’t you owl me – I’d have met you at the Floo Station. Ginny’s expecting you for dinner, by the way.”
Severus slid his hands into the pockets of his trousers. “How long has it been like this?”
Harry looked at him, curiously. “Like what? Cold? We’ve been having a cold spring, why?”
Severus was still for a few moments, trying to formulate thoughts just beyond reach. “These are just people. Muggles, yes, and they seem to be living small lives, but their lives are," he paused again, "happy. Content."
Harry's face tightened in confusion. "They've always been like this." He looked around the park they were in; there was a small play area for children, with swings and sand. Two girls were playing on the swings; their mother was reading a magazine on a nearby bench. "What did you expect?"
Severus felt frustrated. "Did no one notice anything? Have they all gone on, like this, leading their busy, empty--"
"Ah." Harry's voice was knowing and Severus felt his temper spike. "You think no one missed you."
Severus turned away from the sisters on the swing set, hiding his face. He didn't care if anyone thought of him or not. Taking a breath, he tried again. “I fought – we fought, in so many ways, and yet,” he gestured to the city around them, “there’s nothing to show for it.”
Harry was silent and Severus eyed him. If he was going to mock…
“I think you’ve been away from home too long, Severus. There are things to show for it. Come home for dinner. James would love to see you.”
Severus flinched, but gamely stood up and followed.
Ginny actually seemed happy to see him. After an unexpected hug, she ruthlessly dropped a sticky James in his lap and went back to the kitchen. James, not at all unhappy to have a new person to play with, proceeded to slide off Severus’ lap and pull out his toy broom. Severus sent a flat look at Harry.
“Well,” Harry ran a hand down the back of his head, “it seemed like the thing to get. Quidditch star for a mum and all.” He burst out laughing at Severus’ clearly visible surprise. “I’m not making him into my dad, you know. I outgrew all that ages ago.”
Chat over the dinner table was kept light, as James tended to become an active part of any conversation and Ginny said she’d no desire to explain to him the differences between a wand and a … wand. However, after dinner, and after the tornado had been bathed, read to, kissed and tucked up with a stuffed erumpent under his arm and a live Kneazel at the foot of his bed, the conversation turned to slightly more adult topics.
“I don’t know what the Germans are thinking,” Ginny said, waving her hand and nearly spilling her wine, “to be allowing the gatherings at Nurmengard. There’s no reason to think the prison is anything other than an ugly reminder of past deaths – why do these idiotic people want to make it some sort of shrine?”
Severus shrugged. “I have ceased to be amazed at the depths of idiocy to which humanity will sink. I didn’t stay in that city, though, and I’ve told my editor I won’t go back. Merlin knows what the cretin of a innkeep would have done to me if he’d known what I had been.”
The room was silent for a minute, then Harry chimed in. “Where are you going here? I know you have to go everywhere in the country, just about, but where were you thinking of starting?”
Severus sipped his wine. “I thought I’d start in Bath. It’s nearby, and quite touristy. I’d like to get that struck from my list before I go to more amenable cities.”
Harry looked thoughtful and leaned forward. “Are you taking suggestions?” At Severus’ raised eyebrow, he said, “One of my Aurors went to a place there, said it was wonderful. Er, I think he said it was called,” he paused and his brows drew together. “The Wolf’s Rest. That’s right.”
“You’re sending him to—“ Ginny choked and spluttered. At the others’ concern, she croaked out, “Sorry. Must have gone down the wrong pipe.”
Once she was breathing normally again, Severus nodded to Harry. “I’ll start there. I have to start somewhere; that’s as good a place as any.”
“I have one final item of New Business.” Rachel Wose raised her voice slightly and Remus winced. He’d been up all night with Teddy, who had a minor case of silver poisoning. He hadn’t realised that his friends’ grandmother used actual silver utensils, and had licked several mouthfuls of jelly off his spoon before he began to get sick. Remus was tired and he desperately needed to get back home and rest. However, being a part of the Bath Hotel and Merchant’s Association had often been helpful, and he couldn’t really walk out in the middle of this month’s presentation, so he rubbed his face and hoped the final agenda item would be short.
“My sister Janine, who works for Persephone Books in London, says that the Travelling Curmudgeon is going to do a book on Britain. She thinks that he’ll be coming to Bath—“
“He’s never done Britain,” interrupted Reg, the owner of the Bag End Bakery and Tea-shop. “He said in his last book on France that he’d never do Britain. Are you sure Janine’s got the right end of the stick?”
Rachel glared at him. “She was quite certain.”
Reg crossed his arms. “Good. Only remember that time she was certain the Prince of Wales was going to come for a visit?”
Remus stood. He knew that this would just deteriorate – Reg and Rachel had been feuding when Remus had bought the old Beard Hotel five years ago and the intervening time had only served to increase their animosity. “I’m very sorry,” he said, “but Teddy has the ‘flu, and I’ve got to get home.” He nodded to Rachel, waved to Reg, and the rest of the group, and edged out of the tangle of chairs towards the door. “If anything else is decided, please come by and let me know.” With a smile, which brightened at the looks of frank envy on the faces of the rest of the group trapped in the room, he escaped.
The fifteen minute walk from Rachel’s pub to his own bed and breakfast, which he’d immediately re-named The Wolf’s Rest, was pleasant in the late summer warmth. He thought the Travelling Curmudgeon would skip most of Bath, even if he did travel through Britain; no matter what, he was sure that his small place wouldn’t be mentioned. Putting the caustic but amusing travel writer out of his mind, he let his thoughts turn back to Teddy.
The boy had stayed home from school on Friday but Remus thought he was finally feeling a little better. The fever had gone down, at least; he hoped that by Monday, Teddy would be back to his loud boisterous self. No matter how often he asked his son to calm down, secretly he loved watching Teddy’s natural exuberance. It reminded Remus terribly of Tonks.
The saddest part, for Remus, of watching Teddy when he was sick, was that his old invisible friend would come back. When Teddy had been very little, he’d always told Remus about his “secret friend” Verus, who knew everything, and would only talk to him when he was playing alone. He said that Verus told him he didn’t want Teddy to ever be alone. Remus was glad his son had someone looking after him, but wondered at the reasons behind having an invisible friend who seemed to know that he was invisible.
The next day was filled with chaos. Teddy crawled into Remus’ bed in the middle of the night and stole all the blankets, which meant Remus woke early, shivering. The pipes in the bath in the upper hall clogged, and, since it was Sunday, there was no way they could get a plumber in. Remus resorted to a hopeful “Reparo” aimed at the pipes, and a mental note to research plumbing charms. By the time tea-time rolled around, he was exhausted. He was content to sit at the reception desk, standing, or in this case, sitting in for the girl who normally worked the front desk but who’d gone home sick.
Just before he left the front desk to have his tea, the last guests for the day came in. One was a couple who came on a regular basis, Helen and Roger Atwood; they had met in Bath thirty years before, and had come to this bed and breakfast for years longer than Remus had owned it. As he checked them in, happy to see them again, his eyes caught those of a single man standing near the front door. He had bags at his feet, so Remus assumed he was the last guest; he’d reserved one of the larger rooms that looked out over the back of the property for a week. His light brown hair was cut long and was currently dishevelled, as if he’d run his hands through it. He was wearing thin-rimmed glasses and casual Muggle clothes: a dark charcoal button down shirt untucked over slim, well-fitted black jeans.
He was staring at Remus; he looked stunned, then, briefly, pained and dismayed. When he saw that Remus was looking back, he composed his face to something calm and bland. Remus' chest clenched – the stranger’s pain had seemed so strong.
Remus was distracted by Teddy coming out from the kitchen and hanging onto his waist. Helen smiled; she and Teddy spent several hours together every time she visited. Remus stopped paying attention to the last guest in the rush and conversation of getting the Atwoods settled.
Teddy had climbed onto his back by the time Remus started to check in the final guest. The man was polite, quiet, but seemed upset about something. He couldn't take his eyes off Teddy. Teddy, being the friendly little boy he was, offered to help the man carry his bags to his room. He seemed startled and took several steps backwards; hastily, he shook his head, muttered “no thank you”, snatched the map and key which Remus held out and bolted for the stairs.
Remus looked after him confused. Then, tired, he shrugged, took Teddy by the hand, and they went to have their tea at home.
Severus stood in the window, staring out at the idyllic scene below him. A wide expanse of grass, the late afternoon sunlight pouring gold through the trees, making shadows, playing along flowerbeds. A young boy dancing and laughing, holding his father's hand. Another boy who should have been his but who would never call him father.
Severus turned his back on the past, and prepared to choose another hotel to review for his book. It wasn't as if the city of Bath were lacking in hotels. Bath was a tourist trap after all. He'd find another place to go in the morning.
But in the morning, things looked less bleak. He'd slept better than he expected. The mattress was the most comfortable he been on since he lived at Hogwarts. His private bath was large and well appointed, the towels were fluffy, and easily large enough to accommodate his frame. In a much better frame of mind, he went down to sample the breakfast.
Breakfast was individual asparagus omelettes, with an almost bewildering array of meat choices on the side. Severus ate three crisp pieces of bacon before he realized it. He caught himself up short when he realised he was planning on eating some of the delicious looking sausages the next morning. He wasn’t staying. Only, while he was here, he might as well check into the rest of the accommodations – his editor was sure to want to know why he’d decided not to review this bed and breakfast, especially as it came so highly recommended. He didn’t think his editor Jason would be willing to accept, “I was in love with the proprietor’s wife before she died and can’t bear to be in the room with him or his son whom I would love to meet again and see if he’s still ticklish behind his ears and …”
He found himself standing in the centre of the large library. Had he really just been thinking about whether or not Teddy Lupin was still ticklish? He’d thought he’d buried all those emotions and thoughts years before. It had been almost eight years since he’d seen Teddy – surely that was long enough to purge all thought of the boy from him?
Thoughtfully, he scanned the bookshelves. The books ranged from various copies of Austen to travel guides of the city and local places of interest to children’s books. He picked up a copy of Forme of Cury and settled down to read confusing Medieval cookery recipes. He spared a thought of surprise that this B&B would have so esoteric a book, but then lost himself in the ancient cooking.
Severus spent part of the first day trying to investigate Bath as if he were a tourist, then gave up. Everywhere he went, he thought about Remus at the hotel, or Teddy, who would be in school now. He stood in front of the window of a bakery and saw only the bright look in Teddy’s eyes when he climbed on Remus’ back, and the way his fingers curled so tightly into Remus’ hand. With an angry shake of his head, he went to find the first of the restaurants his editor wanted him to try.
Breakfast the next day was as delicious as the first. Severus thought about his list of places to visit, shops to frequent, teashops to try and felt rising distaste. He’d take a day off, he thought, and spend the day in the grounds here at The Wolf’s Rest. The grounds appeared quite extensive from his window, and the morning light glowed on the stone walls in the gardens. There was a stand of trees in the furthest part of the grounds from the hotel; the trees seemed to be moving gently in a soft breeze. Leaving his list, and his plans for the day, in the room, Severus wandered out to the patio.
The couple who’d come the same day he had were sitting at one of the tables, drinking tea and reading. They glanced up and nodded when he passed them. The grounds were as beautiful as they’d looked from his windows. Severus walked through the two walled gardens, admiring the way whoever Remus had hired to take care of them had separated out the useful plants for potions from the ones used for general cooking.
As he wandered closer to the stand of trees, he saw that there was a bench situated so he could look out over the hill, facing away from the trees, and look over the vista of Bath’s downtown. After sitting and watching the city for a few minutes, something he’d just seen began to bother him. There’d been something odd about the trees. He turned sharply to look and saw that they were still shifting, as if in a breeze; it was a perfectly still morning everywhere else.
Feeling curious, he started to rise, but sank back down as Remus, and then Teddy behind him appeared between the trees. Straining his eyes, he could just see the end of a stone wall. When he looked again, all he saw was tree trunks. He smiled to himself; that must be where Teddy’s house was. He eyed the trees again. Except for the intangible breeze, the illusion was perfect.
Teddy was running across the grass in his direction, stooping every few steps to grab something from the ground. Remus followed behind at a more sedate pace. Teddy reached him, face bright and holding out a sloppy handful of daisies.
“Here, Mr Kerry,” he said. “I picked these for you.”
Severus wrapped his fingers tightly around the edge of the bench seat. “Thank you, but your … father might want them.”
Remus, having just caught up to Teddy, smiled down at him and placed a hand on his shoulder at the curve of his neck. His fingers were long and strong looking; Teddy looked smaller next to him. Severus was struck by a sudden memory of how much smaller than his friends Remus had been when they were in first year. He was a tall man now; doubtless Teddy would grow up to be as well-favoured, with long legs and broad shoulders.
“Thank you, Mr Kerry,” Remus was saying in his deep furry voice, “but I have my share and more of floral offerings. We saw you sitting here all alone, and wondered if you wanted company. If not, we can let you be.”
Severus reached out and took the daisies, thoughtfully cradling them in his hand. “Company would be acceptable.”
Teddy grinned up at him. “Wanna come and see the dragons? I have dragons.”
Severus looked up at Remus, trying not to pay attention to his lips, but he didn’t seem startled by this at all. “Dragons? Surely not.”
Teddy brightened. “Yeah, I have dragons. They’re this big.” He held out his hand with his fingers stretched as far as possible. “They’re magic, and they—“ he stopped and glanced up at his father.
Severus had seen the gentle squeeze Remus had given Teddy. “I don’t believe in taking the magic from children’s lives,” he said and stood. “Where are these dragons?” Without thinking, he pocketed the bundle of flowers.
Teddy galloped off towards the furthest part of the garden, where the ground dipped. Severus found himself strolling next to Remus as they both followed Teddy.
“He’s … er, eight or so?”
Remus smiled over at him, his face calm. “Yes. He’s just turned eight a month or so ago.”
They followed the boy down to a small creek, where there were, in fact, dragons. They were large, brilliantly-coloured dragonflies, hovering and floating in the semi-gloom of the shade from the trees. Teddy plunged directly into the water, and Severus found himself lurching forward to try to stop him from injuring himself.
He pulled up at Remus’ chuckle. “He’s perfectly safe. The creek is—“
“He is your child, and therefore you can make any determinations regarding safety.” Severus tried to soften his tone and extended a hand halfway to Remus. “I mean, I’m certain you are taking good care of him.”
Remus’ smile now looked a little uncertain. “I’ve never let him come down here alone, and I’m never far away when he’s in the water.” He paused, watching Teddy chase a brilliant red dragonfly. “We have to trust that they’ll learn to take care of themselves.”
Severus turned to look at Teddy, now squatting down and letting the water run through his fingers. A stray sunbeam lit his head, making his blue hair glow in the undergrowth. “He seems young for you to let him dye his hair.”
Remus glanced sharply at him. “His mum was a fan of bright colours; he saw a pic of her once and liked the idea.”
“Mr Kerry! Daddy!” Teddy was standing in the water, holding something in his hands. “I found a baby frog.”
Severus glanced back and forth from Remus to Teddy. After a moment, he sighed deeply and said, “Please, call me Gilbert.”
Remus nodded, then followed him to look at the wildlife his son had found.
The next morning at breakfast, Severus asked if Remus could recommend any of the restaurants or activities in Bath. Remus nodded and said he’d bring some flyers to the library after everyone had eaten. Severus watched him go back to the kitchen and was surprised at his desire to follow Remus. It must be that he just wanted to see how Teddy was doing.
However, when he entered the library and found Remus just about to leave the brochures on the table with a sticky-note with Gilbert Kerry written on it in bold letters, he reached out and took hold of Remus’ sleeve.
“Wait,” he said, not sure he was really going to ask this. “Would you show me?” And when Remus reached for the papers, he rushed on. “No, I mean, show me where you like to go. Show me your Bath.” It wasn’t until Remus’ eyebrow nearly hit his hairline that the words he’d used hit him. He flushed. “I mean—“
Remus’ lips twitched. “I’m sure.” He broke into a smile and Severus braced himself for the inevitable mockery, but all he said was, “I would be happy to show you around. I can’t get started for at least another hour, though. Would that be too long a wait?” He seemed honestly anxious, which made Severus feel much better.
“An hour? I’ll meet you here, then, when you’re ready.” Severus ignored the rush of relief and pleasure he felt at the thought of spending the day with Remus. He was interested in Teddy, nothing more.
“I brought brochures for you – I wasn’t sure exactly what you were looking for,” Remus said a little later, as they walked down the street towards the main part of Bath. “Did you want to see the Pump Room and the other main attractions at all? They’re just down there.”
Severus, trotting after Remus’ quick steps, paused to push up the glasses that were part of his glamour. If there was one thing he hated about glamours, it was the way it took him days to get used to each new body.
“No,” he said, after he caught up to Remus. “I think … if it’s okay with you, I’d like to see the Bath that the locals see. I mean, things like, where does Teddy go to school? Or, the places the local… erm, young people go to have tea or coffee after work?” He looked away from the curiosity on Remus’ face. “I’ve been travelling for a while, and it seems like all I’ve seen is the outside, the public face of the cities I’ve been to. I wanted to see—“ he broke off and stuck his hands in his pockets.
Remus’ smile, when he looked back over at him, was gentle. “Ah. A private tour, then. That’s easily done.” He folded the brochures and stuck them in his arse pocket. “I’ll assume, for the benefit of my kitchen, that you’re not hungry yet. You seemed to enjoy the creek yesterday. Would you like to see the best park we’ve got? It’s got dragons as well, and the creek slides back underground in a grotto that looks like naiads live there.”
Severus blinked at him. Was he trying to ask if he was a Wizard? “That sounds lovely,” he said, “Lead on.”
Remus nodded and started walking down the hill. “It’ll take a bit of a walk to get there, but it’s always been worth it. I’ve been there in all weather – it’s one of the few places that’s just as beautiful in the rain as it is dry. Er, if it isn’t too nosey, may I ask what you do? You said that you’ve been travelling – are you a salesman of some sort?” Severus watched the sun glint on Remus’ hair and realised it was almost entirely silver now. His eyes slid down Remus’ body, taking in the way his body tapered down from his shoulders to his hips.
“I, er, no. I write, and find that sometimes I need a new … view.” Severus hoped he could avoid any more questions, so he plunged on. “You are the owner of the Wolf’s Rest? It seems like a large establishment – how long have you owned it?”
To his relief, Remus seemed willing to discuss the ins and outs of running a hotel. He had several amusing stories of other guests, as well as some hair-raising stories of disasters narrowly averted; Teddy was in almost all of his stories. Severus couldn’t help but soak up the stories about the boy – he hadn’t realised how much he’d missed him.
By the time they reached the park, the conversation had shifted to parenthood and raising children. Remus seemed both happy to have his son and sorrowful about something that Severus felt unable to ask about. When they reached the grotto, however, Severus was stunned silent. Remus hadn’t been exaggerating – the place did have the feel of a magical area. He looked around, seeing the way rocks sparkled in shadows, and the way the shadows didn’t quite fall in the direction they should. He turned to see Remus looking at him with an odd smile on his face.
“Magical, isn’t it?” Remus almost whispered. “When I’m feeling upset or depressed, I’ll come here and just sit.” He curled his fingers around a branch of one of the slender trees surrounding the grotto. Severus, watching the sunlight play over his face and spark in his eyes, slipped on a rock and slid down into the water, splashing water up to his knees.
“Bleedin’ hell,” he shouted. Above him, he saw Remus’ face contort for a second, but then he saw nothing but worried sympathy. Before he had a chance to be really angry, Remus had slid down to meet him. Remus reached out and pulled him up and out of the water, warm hands steadying him as he tried to shake the water out of his shoes. This was the problem with being under a glamour, Severus thought. He couldn’t just pull out his wand and use a drying charm on his trousers. Gritting his teeth, he said, “It’s just water, Lupin. You don’t need to fuss.”
Remus blinked at him, his face suddenly gone very bland, then he smiled. “True. I guess I’m just used to Teddy – when he slips it scares him sometimes.” He turned and started to climb out of the grotto and back into the park. Severus averted his eyes from the sight of Remus’ arse flexing just at eye level.
That afternoon, after they’d stopped back at the Wolf’s Rest for Severus to change into dry clothes, Remus took him to meet Teddy at school and then to a bakery that Remus said was the best one. Once they turned the corner onto the street where the bakery was, Teddy slipped his hand from Remus’ and ran off pell-mell towards the shop door.
“He’s gone to see if they’ve éclairs,” Remus said under his breath. “If they don’t have any now, they’ll have some in about half an hour. That boy is the most spoilt—“
“He seems perfectly well behaved to me,” Severus said, knowing he sounded sharp but not knowing how to control it.
Remus’ eyebrows rose. “He is. Just, he can go into almost any shop and get whatever he asks for. If Reg is sold out of éclairs, they’ll go in the back and start a new batch, just for him. Most customers have to wait until the next day.” His smile was a little wry.
Severus nodded. “He’s a lucky boy, then.” He’d been about to try to say something about how well Remus was doing as a parent, when he was startled by a small body thumping into him.
“Mr Kerry? They have éclairs! Do you want one? They’re really big and Reg makes them with the best filling. It’s custard. Do you like custard? I think they have cream filling as well, but I like the custard.” Teddy tipped his head back and looked speculatively at Severus. “If they have only one of the custard, I’ll share it with you.” He grabbed Severus’ wrist and started tugging him down the street. Severus looked to Remus for intervention, but was met with a reassuring smile.
“I’m right here. He can’t kidnap you – not if he’s going to feed you Reg’s éclairs.”
The next morning, after breakfast, Severus followed Remus down the hall that led to the kitchen. “Er, Remus? I was wondering… I enjoyed the places you showed me yesterday. Would you, I mean, could you tell me about more places like that? It’s been a long time since I—“ To his surprise, Remus chuckled.
“I’d be happy to show you more of my city, Gilbert. Just let me finish up in the kitchen and I’ll be right there.”
Severus nodded happily and went to his room to gather up supplies for the day. Less than five minutes had passed, when he heard a knock on his door. Remus was there, smiling at him.
“Did you have anything in particular in mind? Only there’s a lovely library and museum we could visit today.”
Late in the evening several days later, Remus was leaving the kitchens where he’d been discussing the menus for the next few weeks with his staff; he had several of the younger Hogwarts House Elves working for him, along with a witch named Rose. She’d finished school in the first few years after the War was over, and, as her family was from Bath, she’d come to work for Remus almost immediately.
As he passed through the reception area, he was surprised to see the door open. He didn’t think they were expecting any other guests, and they rarely got drop-ins. He was even more surprised to see who walked in.
“Harry,” he called, startled but pleased. “It’s good to see you, but…”
Harry smiled. “Hullo, Remus. I was just, I mean, I’m really here to see—Teddy!”
Teddy, who’d been in the kitchen with Remus, had come out and pounced on Harry.
“Harry!” He squirmed to be put down and then gripped Harry’s belt. “I learned to wiggle my ears, look.”
Harry grinned down at the boy and ruffled his hair, now glowing orange with excitement. “That’s great! Did you learn that in school?” He wrinkled his nose and Teddy giggled, then changed his own nose to match. Harry looked up at Remus. “I, er…”
There was a movement in the shadows leading to the library at the front of the building. Remus stiffened, all his senses alert. “Severus,” he whispered. Harry looked shocked, and then Gilbert Kerry stepped forward out of the darkened library. Remus felt a deep rush of disappointment wash through him leaving him empty and tired. He rubbed his eyes. “I’m sorry, I must be more distracted than I thought. Harry? Were you looking for something specific?” Teddy came and slid his hand into Remus; the feel of the little fingers curled so tightly around his made him feel a bit stronger.
Harry seemed to hesitate, then he said, “No, I was just dropping in—in the area for work. I can come by again later.” He stepped forward and gave Remus a hug. “You look done in. Go on home and I’ll let myself out.”
Remus nodded, waited for Teddy to hug Harry, scooped his son up onto his hip and walked home. Half-way there, under the bright stars, Teddy, who’d snuggled his head into the corner of Remus neck and shoulder, whispered, “You said ‘Severus’.”
Remus sucked in his breath. “Mmm. Yes, I was thinking of … I’ve told you about the man I went to school with, right? The one who taught your Mum?” He felt Teddy’s head nod. “Something reminded me of him.”
“Oh.” They made it almost to their front door before Teddy continued. “You said Mum was friends with him.”
Remus paused and shifted Teddy so he could look at the boy’s face. “I did. I’m not sure what he thought of her, but she used to like him quite a bit.” He sighed and started walking again. “She thought he was funny.”
“Can I have pudding?” Teddy yawned as he asked and Remus suppressed a chuckle.
“No, little cub. It’s your bed time. You don’t want to be late for school tomorrow, right?”
It wasn’t until Teddy was tucked into bed, his stuffed seahorse under the covers with him, that Remus was able to think about what had happened. He’d been so sure that he’d sensed Severus. He knew that the man was dead, but something had never felt right about that. He’d never had a chance to tell him the things he’d needed to, to make the connection he had wanted to.
Remus groaned and fell onto his own bed, knowing that he’d be up half the night with memories.
“Severus?” Harry’s voice wasn’t above the barest whisper. He looked uncertain, standing in the darkened hallway.
Severus nodded, his eyes still on the door Remus had carried Teddy out through. “He knew it was me?” His voice was harsh in his own ears.
Harry relaxed. “You know, your glamours are pretty good. I wouldn’t have known it was you.” He turned to look in the direction Severus was. “I don’t think Remus did, actually. I think he was reacting to other things… He knows you pretty well.”
Harry blinked in his direction. “Severus, you do know you’re still alive, right?” He paused and Severus found himself hoping he’d let himself out, the way he’d told Remus he would. For some reason, he felt as if he were teetering on an edge; as if having the two halves of his life – his past and his present – interconnect would change everything. He looked away from Harry’s too-bright green eyes.
“Yes,” he said, aware that his inner confusion showed in his voice. “Except, I’m not, as you well know. Severus Snape is dead.”
Harry waved his hand negligently. “You know what I mean. You can get to know Teddy again – he’s really great now. I don’t know why you never wanted to hear about him all this time, but now’s a good time to get to know him.”
Severus crossed his arms and glared. “I am working, in case you have forgotten that. I have a job. I can’t just drop what I am doing and run off to visit with the son of a man who never thought twice about me.”
Harry cocked an eyebrow at him. “I was rather thinking of Teddy as Tonks’ son, but if you want to concentrate on Remus, I’m not saying not to.” Something about the smug look in his eyes put Severus’ back up. “I think you’re wrong about him, though. He asked about you almost first thing when he… woke up.”
Severus assumed Harry was going to pretend that Remus hadn’t asked after him in order to make sure he was dead. He couldn’t think of any other reason for any of his old colleagues to mention him.
“He seemed disappointed when we told him you’d died,” Harry continued, oblivious to Severus’ shock. Harry grinned and stepped closer. “Listen, there’s a pub I wanted to try, down the street. You could review it, you know, curmudgeonly.”
Shaking his head and trying to think of a way to get the conversation back around to Remus’ apparent lack of anger at him, Severus followed Harry out the door.
The week passed more quickly than Severus expected; long before he was ready to move on to the next hotel and neighbourhood, his reservation had run out. He’d spent the rest of the week with Remus, wandering through the back streets of Bath, meeting the other merchants and learning about their day to day lives. They were all very welcoming to him; he was surprised at how much he enjoyed feeling like he was part of their community.
He came down from his room in the afternoon of his last day, trying to convince himself that maintaining a connection to Remus was ridiculous. He’d cut almost all ties with the British Wizarding World, and it was clear that Remus was still connected. He’d have to be, with someone like Teddy in his family.
He checked the library, and the two open sitting rooms, but couldn’t find Remus. Finally, he heard low sounds of conversation and followed the sounds to the kitchen. When he got closer, the conversation became clearer.
“— is definitely in town. Rachel’s not the only one who has friends in high places,” the speaker paused, “and it looks like Britain will finally get its own book.”
Remus’ voice was thoughtful. “Really? Any idea if he’s coming here?” Severus stood so he could just see into the room. Remus’ eyes were on the carpet in the hall and he winced. “I’ll have to clean up if I want him to be impress—“
Severus wondered who might be coming, and glowered at the thought of Remus having to work to impress some posh tosser. He slid back from the doorway and called, “Remus? Are you there?” Without pausing, he stepped into the room and pulled up short. The person who’d been talking to Remus was one of the other local business owners. Remus had introduced him as Reg Wills; he was the owner the bakery with the incredible éclairs.
Remus stood to greet him and Severus tried to ignore how his emotions lifted at the smile of welcome on his face.. “Please, Gilbert, come in.” He turned to Wills. “You remember Gilbert, right – he and Teddy have hit it off splendidly.”
Wills smiled and nodded as Severus sat down. The conversation remained general for a few minutes, as Severus filled a cup with tea and chose a pastry from the bag labelled with the logo from Wills’ shop.
Remus took a bite of his brioche. “Do you have any idea when we’re to be … er, descended upon?”
Wills shook his head. “No. All my contact knew was that the news is right – there will be a book on Britain, and it’s being worked on now.”
Severus glanced around. “What’s descending?”
Wills re-filled his teacup. “Oh, we just heard that the Travelling Curmudgeon – he’s the one who writes those funny travel books, the grumpy ones? Anyway, he’s finally going to do Britain.”
Severus paused as he brought his cup to his lips. “You—how do you know this? Are you sure?” He could see that Remus was startled at the tense sound of his voice.
Wills nodded. “I have a friend who works for a publishing house in London – she said there have been rumours for almost two months about the Travelling Curmudgeon coming to Britain. I don’t know that he’s really coming here, to Bath, but it makes sense that he would. We are a tourist destination.”
Remus sighed. “I’ll start this weekend. Maybe he’ll come here after he does London.”
After a moment, Wills turned back to Remus and asked, “What’ll you start with? Cleaning, I mean, for the upcoming event.”
Remus leaned back in his chair and rubbed the back of his neck. “I think I’ll have to start with the rooms. Gilbert’s leaving tomorrow, and I think his room’s empty for a week or so after that. I’ll have time to get something done in there. After that, who knows.”
“What would you do?” Severus felt angry. He’d been impressed by how hard Remus worked, and the variety of jobs he had to do just to keep the bed and breakfast running.
“I haven’t replaced the carpets in years,” Remus sighed, “and I should probably look into painting all the rooms. I don’t even want to know what it’ll cost.”
“You shouldn’t have to do all this work, just for one person. There’s nothing wrong with what you have now.” Severus knew he was snapping, but he didn’t like the thought of Remus working harder than he had to.
Remus smiled at him, and Severus flushed and looked away. For one minute, he’d forgot that he was the Travelling Curmudgeon. He bit the inside of his cheek and took a too-quick sip of tea. After another uncomfortable moment, he replaced his cup on the table and stood. “I will be checking out this afternoon. I was wondering,” his eyes rested on Remus’ face, then shot to Wills’ for a second, “if I could ow-send you post. Er, or phone, of course.”
“Of course,” Remus said. The wide smile on his face made Severus feel dizzy for a second. “I’d love to keep in touch, Gilbert; I was hoping to get a chance to ask for your home address.”
Severus’ dizziness increased and for one dreadful minute he thought he might actually fall. He kept forgetting that Remus didn’t know who he was, that Remus thought he was Gilbert Kerry. His hand closed over the back of his chair. “I, er, I’ll be in another hotel, for the time being. In Kent. Er. I think it’s called Honey Garden.”
Wills said, “I’ve heard of them, I think. They’re small, if I remember correctly. Are you there to visit family?”
Severus blinked slowly. “I haven’t heard anything about them, except the name. An acquaintance of mine suggested I stay there. I—“ he took a deep breath, surprised he couldn’t look away from Remus’ face. “I have no family.” The look of sorrow and pity on Remus’ face made him straighten. He didn’t want pity from anyone, least of all the man who… who… least of all from Remus.
“I know of them, at least a little.” Remus looked thoughtful. “I haven’t heard much, but Reg is right. They’re much smaller than we are here, and, well, I’ve heard that the main draw is the area, rather than the bed and breakfast. Not,” he hastened to add, “that I’ve heard anything bad, but…” He trailed off, sounding a bit uncertain.
“I’ll leave the you the address,” Severus said, then, nodding to Wills and to Remus, he spun around and stalked out the door. He hadn’t ever thought that he’d want to be Severus again, to anyone besides Harry. He’d been content to let his past remain in the past. He couldn’t understand the urge he felt to expose himself, to step back into the life he’d left behind.
In his room, surrounded by half-packed cases, he sat in the chair he’d begun to think of as his, near the window, and let his head settle into his hands. How had he got here?
“We’re only here for a long weekend; how is it that we have this many bags?” Remus dropped three heavy bags onto the floor of the room he and Teddy shared in Andromeda’s house, then unwound the long straps of the last bag from his shoulder. Teddy, bouncing on his bed, beamed at him and fell backwards.
“Dunno. D’you think Gran’ll have sticky toffee for pudding?”
Remus shook his head, smiling. “I have no idea, you voracious monster. Why don’t you go pester Melley about that?” He chuckled as Teddy shot off the bed and down the hall to the kitchens.
“Still the little hellion?” Andromeda stood in the doorway and Remus smiled at her over his shoulder.
“He’s finally over that silver-poisoning thing. It’s good to see him this wild again.” Remus shoved the bags against the bed and followed Andromeda downstairs. “How have you been? Has anything interesting come in at the shop?”
Later that evening, after dinner, the three moved to the sitting room at the front of the house. Teddy lay on the floor in front of the fireplace, engrossed in a new book about Egypt his grandmother had given him. Every so often, he’d shout out something from the book.
Andromeda, sitting with her feet curled under her, smiled indulgently down at his bright blue head. “How have things been? Your owls have been rather thin in the air, you know.”
“Well, I’ve been busy—“
“With this Gilbert Kerry person Teddy was so informative about?” Remus glanced away and Andromeda’s tone changed. “Remus, stop. It’s okay to be interested in other people.”
He crossed his arms and glared at her. “How can you say that? You know that I loved—love her and that I didn’t want—“
“You did love her. You do.” Andromeda reached across and gently curled her fingers around his arm. “I am sorry my reactions were so dreadful at first. But I was wrong, you know. It’s not your fault that she died. I knew that, even when I was most upset. She was….” Her breath caught for a second and Remus covered her hand with his.
“She was brilliant, always shining and glowing,” he said. Teddy had fallen asleep at Remus’ feet; his hair flickered slightly in his dream.
“She was.” Andromeda’s voice was soft. “She was. And she was very loved. She knew that. Everyone around her loved her. You and me and Ted, and—“ she chuckled. “I’ve never told you this, but I think Severus Snape was in love with her.”
Her laugh was a little wry. “I saw him once, oh, it must have been a few years before things went wrong, but he was watching her. We were all in Diagon Alley for lunch and he was just coming from Knockturn Alley. I was the only one of us who saw him. His face,” she paused, “his face was a study in desire.” She saw the look on Remus’ face and shook her head. “Not physical desire, but, well, I guess… Wanting might be a better word.” She shifted in her chair and poured more tea into their cups. “You had that same look, you know, when you thought she wasn’t looking at you.”
Remus closed his eyes, trying to picture Severus looking at Tonks – Tonks – with longing. He was surprised by the rush of jealousy he felt; he wanted to be the focus of that look. He shook his head and opened his eyes, only to see Andromeda’s face looking at him with compassion.
“Sometimes I’d catch that look on your face when you saw him as well,” she whispered.
He surged to his feet, stepped carefully over Teddy and walked to the other side of the room to stare out the windows. It was dark and cold out, with heavy fog curling along the street. “He’s dead, Andi. They’re both dead.” He ran his fingers through his hair and bit out, “They’re all dead.”
Andromeda came to stand beside him. “You’re not, Remus. It’s okay that you’re not. Come back to the fire and tell me more about this Gilbert fellow. Is he as funny as Teddy thinks he is?”
Remus rubbed his nose, suddenly shy, and nodded at her. “Yeah, I think he is. He’s awkwardly cranky, too, which just makes him funnier…”
She chuckled, and he thanked the stars that he was lucky enough to have such a caring family.
“Sir? Hoggle is finding this in the Back Garden Room.” The House Elf held out a pile of papers, neatly organized.
Remus glanced over. “Thank you, Hoggle. I’ll see which guest forgot them and see about forwarding them on. Put them on the desk right there, if you please.”
Hoggle didn’t move. Remus sighed and put down his pen. “What is it, Hoggle? I’ve fallen behind on the bills and I’ve got to …” he trailed off at the unusual look of worry on the elf’s face. “Hoggle?”
Hoggle shoved the papers at him. “Sir is to be reading these now.” Hoggle nodded fiercely and then disappeared. Remus shook his head at House Elf oddities, set the papers aside and dived back into balancing the bills to pay against the moneys coming in.
Several hours later, he shoved his chair back and stretched. He’d got everything to balance and it was time to take a break. Maybe Teddy would be home from school soon. Seeing the papers Hoggle had brought, he picked them up and began to scan through them on his way up to the hotel. Halfway there, he stopped, caught by what he was reading.
“Oh god,” he whispered. “This can’t.. no. No.” He stared over his grounds and saw only the imperfections. His hands clenched in the papers, crumpling them. He walked to the kitchen, hands still fisted, then couldn’t unclench his jaw enough to say anything at first. Hoggle saw him and came forward with a cup of tea, but when Remus automatically put out a hand to take it from him he saw how badly the papers were creased.
Gritting his teeth, he pressed the papers down onto the counter, smoothing them out and holding them down. “Hoggle,” he said, aware his voice was tight. He tried again. “When did you find these?”
“Wolley is finding them when he cleaned that room. He is saying that the last guest to be in that room is—“
“I’m perfectly aware who was the last guest in that room,” Remus snapped. Then, when Wolley’s face crumpled, he sighed. “I’m sorry, Wolley. Really. Um, this is very good tea. Are there scones?” Wolley’s face cleared, but Hoggle still looked upset. He shoved Remus into a chair and stood next to him, watching as Remus drank half a cup of tea and shredded an entire iced scone.
“Sir,” he said, his voice soft, “I is reading who wrote those papers. How bad is he going to be?”
Remus looked up sharply. The sympathy in Hoggle’s eyes made him realise how many people this could affect. He had to find a way to fix this.
“Oh, Hoggle. I have no idea. Maybe he won’t mention us. He did seem to have a good visit – maybe there won’t be anything he can complain about.” He smiled at Hoggle’s frankly unconvinced expression. “Well, all right, that’s unlikely. He seems able to complain about an awful lot.” He paused as something in that description reminded him of something else, someone else. Who else did he know like that? After a moment, he continued. “I’ll have to tell everyone else. God.” He buried his head in his hands. “He saw inside every one of my friends’ shops. Some of them won’t survive one of his reviews.”
Hoggle patted his hand. “Hoggle will bring you another scone.”
Remus was sitting in the library making a list of the shops he’d brought Kerry to and therefore of people he’d need to warn and apologise to when Harry startled him by dropping into the chair next to him.
“What’s this?” Harry tilted his head around to see what was on the paper.
Remus sighed. “Well, I found… no, Wolley found some papers that a guest left. Um, I think you met him. Gilbert Kerry? Anyway, he left some papers in his room and I read them.” Harry face looked slightly startled, and Remus rushed on. “I was looking for the name of the person who’d left them – all I knew at first was that they’d been found in a room. I just… anyway.” He pushed the list away from himself and tossed the pen he’d been using on top of it. “Harry, I think I’m in trouble. Kerry asked me to show him around Bath. I did – I mean, I’ve done stuff like this before. He seemed alone and Teddy liked him…” Remus groaned. “God, Teddy. I’ve got to tell him, too.”
Harry, who now looked oddly calculating, said, “Tell him what? You still haven’t told me what’s wrong. Did this guy not leave a forwarding address?”
“Oh! Kerry is the Travelling Curmudgeon.” Harry froze. “I know,” Remus continued, “but it’s true. Here are the papers – you can see he was taking notes. Plus, there’s a letter from his publisher. I can’t believe it.”
Harry scanned the papers, then glanced up at Remus. “What’s bad about this? Er, it means you’ll be in the next edition of his books, right? Plus it’ll be the first one ever on Britain, so that’s good, right?”
“Harry, have you ever read the books? They’re never nice. Even his good reviews are laced with venom. Look around this place – the carpets are stained, the walls are old, the stairs creak, the rooms are…” Remus pulled himself back and held his breath for a minute. “Honestly, I think this place can absorb whatever review he gives, but Harry – I took him to see my friends’ places. I thought he—Jerry let him see his kitchen and help making some of the next day’s bread. He went everywhere, Harry, and I can’t imagine that he’d be universally kind to those vendors simply because he was pretending to be my friend.”
Harry’s eyes glinted for a second, then he looked down at the papers he was still holding. “How was he with Teddy?”
“Teddy?” Remus stopped, startled. “He was fine with him. They seemed to get along well, actually. You know Teddy likes most people, but he really seemed taken with Gil—Kerry. How am I going to tell him that Kerry was just lying?”
Harry was silent at that. After a moment, he said, “Well, it can’t really change anything, but Ginny’s asked me to have you and Teddy come to dinner on the 8th. Can you make it? James’ll be delighted to see him.”
Remus chuckled, dryly. “I’ll be there, with Teddy. We’ll have to see how delighted he is when James insists on him reading every story in the shelves again.”
Harry smirked, handed the papers back to Remus and turned to go. “I’m sure you’ll figure something out about that writer guy. See you in a week.”
Severus never knew what to expect when he came to dinner at Harry’s house. From the looks of the table, there were at least two other people expected, which could only mean Kingsley and possibly Minerva. It was past the time of year when Harry usually had what he called his “Keeping In Touch” dinner; Severus just wished he’d had some warning. One nice thing about being at Harry’s house was the fact that he could be himself again – no more glamours for a while.
He’d spent the past week in Kent trying to get into the right mood to review hotels and restaurants. Usually he enjoyed the opportunity to find the flaws, and there were always myriad flaws, but he kept thinking about Teddy. And Remus. Nothing he’d written seemed to be right, and he couldn’t find the notes he’d taken on the places Remus had shown him in Bath.
With an irritated grunt, he pushed away from the window and strode to the kitchen. Maybe Ginny could use some help.
When the doorbell rang, he glanced up, but Ginny called for help with the roast, so he ignored it. Whoever it was would be more happy to talk to Harry than to him anyway.
Severus spun around at the sound of Teddy’s voice, only barely keeping the beans he was carrying in the bowl. Ginny, behind him, crouched slightly, hugging the boy. He leaned up to whisper something into her ear, laughed and started to run out of the room again, when he saw Severus.
“Hullo,” he said, his voice bright. “You must be ‘Verus.” He ran out of the kitchen, shouting something about treacle. Severus stared after him, heart in his throat.
“You invited Rem—Lupin?” he whispered.
Ginny tugged at the bowl in his hands. “Yes, didn’t Harry tell you? I’d have thought…” she trailed off and set the bowl down on the table. “Severus Snape, don’t tell me you haven’t seen him yet? It’s been almost eight years – as long as that boy’s been alive, and you haven’t … oh!” She crossed her arms, high above the curve of her belly, and glared at him. “He asked about you as soon as he could. He was devastated that you were dead – never tell me he still doesn’t know you survived.”
Severus covered his eyes with a hand, his chest clenching. Sometimes, he’d catch sight of Ginny, just for a second and see other people, other times – places lost to him forever. Seeing her now, her eyes narrowed in anger, made him feel small and ashamed. He responded the only way he knew how.
“I loved Lily, because she was beautiful and magical, and kind, but she loved someone else, someone nicer,” he snarled. “and then I saw Tonks and her brilliance blinded me to the essential truths about myself. Once again, she loved someone else, someone kinder. Somebody like that could never love—“ He took a deep breath and stopped his runaway mouth. He wished he could stop his runaway thoughts.
“You love someone else now, don’t you?” Ginny’s voice held no pity, just the compassion her look-alike used to show him. He felt it burn through him, showing him all the places he’d been hiding, all the fears he’d refused to see.
“Yes,” he said, too softly to even be a whisper. “Yes, there’s someone else, but Lil-Ginny, it’s impossible. Why is everything I want always—“
Severus looked up, and saw Remus’ face, filled with horror. His own face twisted for a second, he didn’t know what he was going to say. Remus, horrified to see him… Remus’ hand gripped the door frame so tightly Severus could see every bone through the skin.
“You’re alive? Why …” he turned to Harry, standing behind him. Harry looked a little surprised, but he seemed to rally quickly.
“I thought I’d told you we were having company for dinner,” he said. Severus could hear Ginny muttering under her breath at his side.
He cleared his throat. “I am as you see. As for why, I believe that can’t be answered. Arthur Weasley is directly responsible for how, however.”
Remus’ face had gone neutral. “I see,” he said. “I, er, I’m glad to see you. Looking so… well. If you’ll excuse me, I have to … find Teddy.” He turned and pushed past Harry, who looked after him.
“That went well,” Harry said brightly, then raised his hands defensively against Ginny’s angry expression. “Sorry, really, but I had no idea for how to tell him, it’s not as if we’re taught Seven Secret Ways to Tell One Friend that Another One Was Still Living.”
At the dinner table, Severus had to keep forcing his hands, and then the rest of his body, to relax. The conversation at table was largely carried by Harry and Teddy and James, who seemed to be continuing a long-standing argument about whether or not it was possible to create a mix between a flying carpet and a broom. From what Severus could piece together, it seemed that someone had given Teddy a set of Muggle Arabian Nights fairy tales, and he’d been very taken with the idea of flying carpets.
Severus concentrated on eating his own meal and not staring down the table at Remus, who appeared to be having no difficulties at all. He was chatting quietly with Ginny, eating smoothly and occasionally interjecting in the discussion about flying mechanisms. Severus glared at his plate. He wasn’t wanted, that was clear.
However, he knew that, no matter what happened, no matter what else in his life could be ruined, he’d keep going. At least this time he had a place that was all his, something he’d done that this disaster couldn’t touch. Then, the image of Remus’ face as he’d shown Severus the new shop, the one his friend had sunk her entire savings into rose in front of him and he knew that even the writing had been poisoned by his own inability to keep his heart away from those who wouldn’t want it.
“So, Severus.” Remus’ voice startled him and he stared up into his eyes. “You haven’t been, I mean, what have you been doing? Everyone thinks you’re dead.” He licked his lips and Severus tried to look away from the quick flash of pink.
“No,” he said, slightly distracted. “Not everyone. Only those who were important, who needed to know, were informed.” Remus’ mouth tightened for a quick second and then his face smoothed into the old expression of placid agreeableness. Ginny choked on something and started coughing; in the commotion to help her, Severus forgot to answer Remus’ question.
After dinner, they gathered in the living room to drink after dinner coffees and, in Teddy’s case, work on a tremendous puzzle with Harry. Remus stood near the book cases, his back to Severus. Ginny came back into the room, her movements slow and heavy. Remus turned to smile at her.
“You must be ready to have that baby out,” he said. When he smiled, his eyes creased at the corner—Severus looked down.
“You men have no idea,” she said, pressing a fist to her lower back. “Umph. I think I’ll sit down.” She slid down into the largest over-stuffed chair in the room and nodded at the book Remus was holding. “What did you pick up?”
He grimaced as he looked at it. “Oh, it’s the last of the Travelling Curmudgeon’s books. I wanted to see if it’s as bad as I remember.”
Severus froze, halfway across the room.
“Bad? You always used to say that you loved them.” Severus saw Ginny glance at him and he forced himself to start moving again. He hadn’t used to be so bad at hiding his reactions.
“Oh, no. I mean yes, they’re very funny and I do love them. It’s just that, suddenly they’re not as amusing. I was … thinking, a few days ago, that it must not be very funny to the person who owns any of the places he reviews.” Remus sounded tired.
Harry looked over. “Well, it’s not as if he doesn’t make valid complaints. And I’ve heard of people who deliberately go to some of the worst places, just to see if they’re that bad. Kind of like the opposite of luxury tours.”
Remus laughed and Severus winced. “Surely he gives good reviews of some places,” Severus said.
Remus, still smiling, shook his head. “No, not really. Every so often he’ll say something nice, but most of the time, he’s so scathing and vitriolic. It’s as if he’s built up a lifetime of anger and is honing his wit and ferocity on these dreadful hotels and restaurants.” His smile turned wry. “And they are dreadful, I can’t deny that. Maybe he’ll ignore—“ he paused for a second. “Maybe he ignores the nicer places, or just doesn’t mention them, even if he stays for a visit.”
“Something like that,” Severus said in a low voice.
Harry said, from his position on the floor, “I’ll bet he picks and chooses, as well. Reviewing only the worst places in each city, or giving a good review if it’s a small enough city that there aren’t any bad places to choose and display.”
Remus tilted his head. “That makes sense, but what kind of person would willingly submit to staying, for months at a time, in wretched, insect infested hotel rooms and eating the worst, greasiest, foulest food? I’d think he’d be disgusted and go home.”
“You’re assuming he has a home to go back to,” Severus responded. “What if he’s wandering forever? What if he doesn’t have a home at all?”
Remus looked thoughtful. “Well, he has to have some sort of home, or at least something like a home base. Where else would he do the actual writing?”
Severus smirked. “He could write it all out at night, in each hotel room. Take notes on each place, then once or twice a week, compile them all into a complete set of recommendations, or in this case, anti-recommendations for each area.” Remus spun to face him, his face dead white, and Severus flushed slightly.
“Notes…” Remus sounded a little choked, but he cleared his throat and went on. “I hadn’t thought of that. I’d assumed that he took notes at each place, but did the compilation and writing once he got back home. If he does it all… on the fly, so to speak, then his writing is even better than I thought.” His hands clenched and opened.
“Daddy,” Teddy called. “Come see! I got the entire corner finished.” Remus smiled tightly at Severus and went to look at his son’s accomplishment. Severus, feeling abandoned, looked at the book Remus had shoved sideways into the bookshelf. It was his book on France. He tipped it over and it fell open at the section on Paris. There was a list, in Remus’ handwriting, of places they’d chosen to visit and phone numbers or floo addresses for shops. Glancing up, he caught Ginny’s eyes. She blinked, smiled slightly and turned to look at the three people gathered around the puzzle. As soon as she turned away, Severus shoved the book back onto the shelf.
A few minutes later, Remus started gathering Teddy up to leave. There was a bustle and lots of noise, but within a quarter hour, Remus was holding Teddy by the hand in the doorway. They waved and Teddy called, “Bye Harry, bye Auntie Ginny. Bye, Verus!” Severus, shocked at being addressed, surprised himself by raising his hand to wave goodbye when he saw Remus’ startled face.
“Verus?” he mouthed, silently. In one smooth movement, he scooped Teddy up, stepped back and Apparated out. Severus stared at the empty space and wished he knew how to have control over his own life.
Remus put Teddy to bed, then went to bed himself, all in a deep fog. He had had no idea that Severus had survived, and to find him alive was almost more than he could accept. And, the fact that Harry had known – known for the entire time and not told him – hurt more than he expected. Severus’ words returned to him, “Only those who were important were informed.”
“I guess that puts me in my place,” he whispered to his bedroom ceiling. He lay, under the thin summer blanket, staring at the blackness above his bed until he realized it wasn’t black any more, but a light grey. The sun was rising.
He managed to go through several days operating on autopilot, not able to think of anything past the strange cottony feeling in his head. Teddy was his normal, exuberant self, and Remus made a strong effort to pay the same amount of attention to him, but each night he barely got any sleep, and if he tried to finish a task, he’d find himself at the end of it with no idea what he’d done or whether or not he’d done a good job.
Late on Friday evening, he sat with Teddy in the garden, watching the stars come out. He’d had Wolley make them hot chocolate, and as they watched, the sliver of moon rose over the trees, and drifted into the open sky.
“Mr Kerry hasn’t sent any postcards,” said Teddy suddenly, into the silence.
Remus felt the cotton wool begin to shred. “No,” he said, keeping his voice calm. “He hasn’t.”
“He said he would.”
“I know. Sometimes people say things that they don’t mean.” Remus tightened his hold on his chocolate mug.
“He meant it, though. I could tell.” Teddy turned away from the sky and looked at Remus. “Why was Verus pretending to be someone else?”
Remus’ breath hitched. “I’ve no idea. He always was a …” He closed his eyes. “I don’t know, Teddy. I’m sorry.”
“I liked him. I liked him as Mr Kerry and as his real self.” Teddy shifted around so he was leaning on his father’s leg. “Do you think he didn’t like us?”
“Oh, Teddy,” Remus sighed. “Severus was—is a difficult person. I’m not sure he likes anyone, really.” He tried to think of a way to ask if Teddy was just unable to say Severus’ whole name, or if he actually thought Severus was his invisible friend.
Teddy yawned. “He likes you, I think. He kept watching you at dinner with Harry and Ginny and James. Do you think we can go back again soon and do more of the puzzle?”
Remus shook his head. “Maybe soon, kid. School’s almost out. I’ll see about planning a longer stay in summer, how about that?”
Teddy grinned up at him. “That would be brilliant!”
The next Monday night, feeling a dreadful mix of calm and bone-shaking anger, Remus stood in the front garden of his cottage on the grounds of the Wolf’s Rest and raised his wand.
“Expecto Patronum!” He stared in amazement as his wand poured forth a silvery white bat which flew around his head once, then winged its way off towards the north. It carried only two words. “Come now.”
Remus stood outside, watching the night wheel around him, waiting. He wasn’t exactly sure what he was waiting for, if he expected Severus to come or not. He watched the stars turn and dance, the horns of the moon make their way across the sky, until the quiet was shattered with a sharp crack. Severus appeared on the lawn of the hotel’s back garden.
Remus watched as he staggered, then ran full tilt towards the hidden gate. Remus whispered the spell to allow Severus access to the private part of the grounds. Severus barrelled through the gate and up to Remus, where he stopped, panting and blowing.
“What is it? Is Teddy injured? Are you—“
Remus felt the last of the cotton wool tear away, leaving him nothing but rage and betrayal. “My son is fine. This is not about him at all. I want to talk to you – and I want you to stop lying to me.”
To Remus’ surprise, Severus glanced down and away before answering. “You found the notes I lost. Did you read them?”
“Yes,” Remus hissed, “I found them. Do I have to read them? Yet again, I’m the blind one, the one who is unable to see the truth of his companions. I’m tired of being the ‘nice’ one, Severus, and of having that taken advantage of.” He breathed deeply, trying to control his emotions. “Why did you come here? Why did you choose my home to destroy?”
“I wasn’t—I didn’t know The Wolf’s Rest was yours until I saw you behind the desk.” Severus passed a hand over his eyes and Remus tried to ignore how dark the circles were under them. “I nearly left the next morning.”
Remus crossed his arms tightly. “Why didn’t you? Couldn’t resist one last opportunity to dig at your old enemy?”
“No! That wasn’t it at all. I—it’s nice here. You’ve done a good job, with the hotel. With Teddy, too…” He shivered sharply and Remus noticed that he wasn’t wearing any shoes. The naked vulnerability of his pale feet against the dark grass bled away Remus’ anger, leaving him feeling adrift and suddenly cold.
“Yes,” he said, “about Teddy. There’s something I wanted to talk to you about.” He paused, then turned so he was facing halfway away from Severus. “Come in.” Not waiting to see if Severus followed him or not, he started walking towards his front door. The grass under Severus’ feet made a soft sound, calming after the emotional storms raging through Remus.
In the house, Remus led Severus to the kitchen, gestured for him to sit down and started to make tea.
Severus sat at the table, finally inside the one place he’d give just about anything to be in, and waited for the inevitable rejection. He knew he wouldn’t be able to stay; he never got the things he wanted. He hoped it would be enough for him to have been here at least once.
He looked around at everything, to impress it on his memory, so he could reproduce it later, dwell on it later. He wanted to be able to remember every detail. The rooms he’d come through, the front hall and the sitting room, had been warmly furnished and filled with everyday paraphernalia and clutter. The kitchen was bright and welcoming, clearly the room where the family ate. It looked as if Remus did his own cooking, which Severus thought a little odd. There were House Elves in the kitchens up at the bed and breakfast – why did none of them want to take care of their family?
“Severus.” Remus’ voice was low, but it brought Severus’ wandering attention back sharply. He tightened his clasped fingers in anticipation. “I don’t know how to tell you this,” Remus continued, “but you’re Teddy’s invisible friend.”
Severus blinked at him, completely startled. “Invisible friend?”
Remus ran a hand through his hair. “Yes. He used to play with ‘Verus’ whenever he was alone – he said that Verus told him he never wanted him to be alone. I don’t know how he got any information about you, although clearly he’s confused about what you’d want, but he’s very attached to … to Verus.” He stood and turned away, leaving Severus alone at the table.
Severus tightened his fingers around his tea mug, trying to pretend that the prickling in his eyes was from the hot steam. One of the last things he’d ever said to Teddy, in the times that Harry would bring him over when Teddy was still just a baby and Remus had been recovering in hospital, was that he wanted Teddy never to be alone. He’d no idea that the boy, the baby, would remember anything of him.
“Severus,” Remus said, and the slow sorrow in his voice made Severus know what was coming. “You can’t come back. I can’t let Teddy get hurt.” Severus was surprised that the sound of his own despair didn’t fill the room. “I’m very sorry.” Remus’ voice made Severus ache.
He stumbled to his feet and started for the door, blind with frustration and misery. He’d known this was coming, but he hadn’t realised how much it would hurt. He must have lost the knack of being rejected.
Out on the lawn, he turned to look at the house. He’d left the door open; the interior was bright against the dark night. He could see the glowing kitchen, with Remus’ bent form… He turned away and Apparated.
Several weeks later, while preparing for his and Teddy’s trip to stay at Harry’s for a few weeks – Teddy to play and Remus to help Ginny with the new baby, mainly by watching James while Harry was at work – Remus came across the notes about Bath that Severus had left. Without thinking about it much, he put them in his case. He’d read them over while he was at Harry’s; maybe there was something he could salvage from them.
It wasn’t until they’d been at the Hollow for three days that Remus had time to read the notes. He settled down with a glass of lemonade under one of the trees outside, with Teddy and James playing on the grass nearby, and unfolded the sheaf of papers.
The first few pages were informational; lists of places visited, proprietors, addresses, contact information and other basics. The notes didn’t get interesting until the third page. There, they shifted from a short and crisp list to an almost conversational style unlike anything else written in the Travelling Curmudgeon series. It almost read like a personal journal.
He wrote about the éclairs at Reg’s shop, and how it had felt to have Teddy want to share so much with him. He spent almost two pages describing the grotto; he’d gone back, apparently, when Remus was working and spent several hours sitting and watching. He described Remus’ friend’s new business with a concern for her upcoming trials that made Remus feel upset that he hadn’t seen these potential difficulties coming himself.
Everything he’d written was positive; it was more than positive – it was kind. Remus sat, staring at the papers in his lap, feeling as if every assumption he’d made, every belief he’d based his world view on, had shifted. He didn’t know what to do now. He’d sent the man away, and Severus was not the type of person to whom an apology meant anything. Remus had been apologising for Sirius and that awful incident since the day after it happened and he’d never gotten anything but hatred and vitriol in response.
He could owl the notes back, with an apology, but that seemed so cold and not enough to make up for how petty he’d been. He leaned back to think, and the way Severus had looked the last time he’d seen him—the fact that he’d come running, even though he’d no idea what Remus had been calling for, the way it was clear that he’d come as soon as he’d gotten the message, not even taking time to put on his shoes—paraded itself in front of his eyes. The man who’d do that was a man who Remus could rely on; the thought of having that much instant concern for his needs made Remus flush.
He looked up to see Ginny walking across the grass towards him. She had Lily on her hip, and was followed by a cheerful Winky, carrying a tremendous tray of food.
“Ginny,” he said, standing, “let me help you!” She raised her eyebrows at him and he realised how silly he sounded. Winky was doing everything but carry the baby.
“I thought it would be nice to be out here in the sun,” Ginny said, carefully lowering herself to the ground and watching Teddy and James dig holes to see if they could find Nifflers. “They look like they’re having fun.”
Remus laughed. “Yes – I usually don’t let Teddy dig as much as he wants to. The gardens at home need to look good and he always leaves behind such a mess.” As he spoke, Winky went to the boys and collected them for lunch. They looked reluctant at first, but when they saw the sandwiches and pumpkin juice, they shouted and raced up to the tree where the adults were sitting. Remus smiled at Teddy when he saw his son deliberately slow down when it looked as if James would fall behind. He was lucky to have such a good son, he knew.
After lunch, when the boys had dashed back to their sunken fortifications and Lily was asleep across Ginny’s lap, Ginny glanced across at Remus. “I saw you reading something when we came out? Making plans for work?”
Remus sucked in his breath. Of course! Harry and Ginny had always known that Severus was alive – they seemed to be his main contact with the Wizarding World entirely. They’d know what to do. He tried to look casual. “Oh, I was reading over some notes that I found in one of my rooms – the guest had left them behind and I was trying to find out who it was.”
She smiled. “Notes about what?”
“About the hotel, actually, and the …” he trailed off. If he couldn’t even be honest with Ginny, who had no reason at all to mock him, how could he ever approach Severus to say the things he needed to say? “They’re Severus’ notes, actually, Ginny. He left them, forgot them, in his room. Ginny… there are things I don’t understand here.”
She looked at him, and something in the sparkle in her eyes, the way she held her face steady - as if hiding laughter - made him think of lost friends. With sorrow that his friends hadn’t survived to see the world they’d fought so hard for, he smiled back. Somehow, the thought of Lily, and of how much better things were now than they had been for so long made his tension disappear. Whatever this was, whatever his relationship with Severus turned into, it was something he could reach for.
“So,” he said, leaning back and feeling happier than he had in months, “tell me about Severus.”
Ginny’s laughter filled the air around them.
“He wasn’t dead, in the Shack—“
“Somehow I’d gathered that,” he murmured, and she laughed again.
“Harry worked it out with Kingsley – Severus got a full pardon – amnesty, I think it really was, but then Severus didn’t want to come back. It took Harry ages to convince Severus to not just disappear. You were in hospital then, and Harry had Teddy with him. He used to take Teddy to visit Severus; they’d spend hours together while Harry worked on finding something to make Severus stay.”
Remus stared at her. Severus had played with Teddy, spent time with him?
Ginny adjusted Lily on her lap, so the baby was lying in a slightly less slumped position. She smirked at Remus’ expression. “I think Severus had a thing for Tonks, actually—“
“Andi said the same thing,” Remus said. He wondered, suddenly, if his own feelings for Severus would be rebuffed. If Severus had been in love with Tonks, then wouldn’t he not want to be connected with Tonks’ widower?
“He doesn’t any more, you know,” Ginny said, reaching out and running a hand over Remus’ shoulder. “He was very upset when you were here and he thought you didn’t like his writing.”
Remus pulled the notes back into his lap. “His writing is … it’s not what I expected.” He handed it to her to read. “That’s not what he’s ever written for a Travelling Curmudgeon piece. He can’t intend to put that in the book.”
She smiled at him for a moment, then started reading. When she finished, she set the papers aside, her smile a little bittersweet. “He doesn’t know what to do, does he?”
Remus looked at her, confused. Seeing his confusion, she chuckled. “He’s lonely. Honestly, from the things I’ve heard him say, I think he’s … erm, been aware of you for years. Now, he finds you again and you’re attractive to him in many ways, not excluding Teddy, of course, and he can’t approach you.”
Remus winced. “I, er, I might have made things worse, then.”
She looked at him, her eyes steady. “When you threw him out?”
He flinched. “Yes. He told you?”
“He told Harry, actually,” she said, her tone mild. “I think Severus has decided that Harry’s safe, now, to be friends with.” She paused. “It would be good for him to have other people he can depend on.” With a last smile, and a significant look at Remus, she stood up. “Winky can stay out here for a while, if you think you’d like to … run some errands.”
Remus stood, tucked the papers into his back pocket, nodded to Winky and then realised he had no idea where to start looking. He turned to follow Ginny, when Winky tapped his wrist. He glanced down, startled.
“Hoggle called for Remus. He is saying that he needs something.” Her face was worried, so he smiled at her. He could easily go home first, before trying to find Severus.
“Thank you, Winky,” he said, then started walking to the street to Apparate home.
Severus stared out the window of the room he’d taken. He hadn’t been outside in days, but he couldn’t muster up the energy to think about going anywhere. He’d known that Remus would never want him, would never want to see him, but it hurt so much more than he’d expected to hear him say it.
He dropped his head into his hand, covering his eyes. He felt worse now than when he’d learned that Tonks had fallen in love with Remus – somehow he wanted Remus more than he’d wanted Tonks, or maybe it was that he’d thought he had more of a chance with him.
For some reason, his mind insisted on replaying the times he’d watched Remus, the times he’d wanted Remus to pay attention to him instead of everyone else. With a groan, he realised that he’d wanted Remus for far longer than he’d ever allowed himself to know.
Some time later, there was a knock at the door. “What?” he shouted. Harry pushed the door open, looking first worried, then amused.
“You’ve got comfortable, haven’t you?” Harry picked his way through the piles of scattered clothes and papers to come and lean on the wall next to the window. “It took some work to find you – are you hiding from something?”
“You know very well what I’m—I’m not hiding.” Severus crossed his arms.
Harry smirked. “Well, I was thinking – since you seem to be taking a vacation from the writing, something I wholly endorse, by the way, working for seven years straight is never a good idea – I was thinking that you could come and stay with us.”
Severus rolled his eyes. “You just want help with your new infant. I don’t have time to be your au-pair.”
“Busy, huh? Doing what? Not bathing, that’s certain. Come on – I’ll bet you haven’t eaten recently either. Take a shower and I’ll take you out for fish and chips and you can complain about life again.”
A few hours later, fortified by fried food and several glasses of beer, Severus stared at his hotel room. Shaking his head at his foolish emotions, he began to clear up the mess. Harry stepped out of the loo and grinned.
“Feeling better?” He leaned against the wall again, out of Severus’ way.
“Yes,” he replied, unwillingly. “But none of this solves the actual problem.”
“I know.” Harry’s voice was uncharacteristically sombre and Severus looked up at him. “That’s why I’m having to do this.” He tossed something at Severus’ whose hands rose automatically to catch it. As the unsettling feeling of a hook behind his navel shocked through him, he shouted, “You scheming little—“
Remus landed hard in the kitchen of his cottage. He’d have to figure out how to track Severus as soon as he dealt with whatever it was that Hoggle needed. As he pushed through the gate in the stone wall and started to walk up to the hotel, he wondered what Hoggle couldn’t deal with on his own. Loud thrashing sounds and shouting coming from the creek distracted him. Hoping that Hoggle could wait a bit longer, Remus turned and trotted towards the unexpected noise.
What he saw surprised him more than anything else would have.
Severus stood, ankle deep in water, shouting imprecations that should have made the air catch fire.
“Severus? What are you doing here?” Remus stood, panting slightly from the run.
Severus whirled around so quickly he nearly fell onto his arse in the stream. “I was…I am,” he flushed a deep red. “I’m leaving. You were perfectly—“
“Wait, please,” Remus said. “I’m so sorry I said those things – I want to talk to you. Erm, do you have time?”
Severus stuck his hands in his pockets and looked at his wet feet. Remus’ eyes slid down his long legs to his feet. He wasn’t wearing shoes, again.
“How about if you come back to my cottage and we’ll get you some dry trousers. Or at least a towel for your feet. I can make tea—“ he saw Severus wince. “Or, maybe coffee? Hoggle …” he trailed off, something stirring in his mind. “How did you get here? I mean, clearly you Apparated, but—“
“I was Portkeyed here,” Severus snapped, “by one of your cronies.”
Remus raised his eyebrows. “Cronies? What do you mean – they’re all dead.”
“Potter! Harry, he…” Severus looked up from the patch of muddy bank he’d been burning with his glare. Remus stared at the dark eyes under lashes he’d never realised were so long. His breath hitched; he shook himself and held out a hand.
“Come out of the water, Severus. I’d never tell Harry to do something like that to you. Kidnapping is not one of my interests.”
Once in the kitchen, listening to Severus spell his trousers and feet dry, Remus realised that he’d gotten rid of all the food before they’d left – he didn’t have anything to offer Severus to eat. Out of sheer habit, he checked the cupboards and found fresh pastries inside, with several early pears and a small container of berries. Raising an eyebrow at his growing suspicions, he turned to Severus.
“I’ve a selection of fruit here, and it looks like there are some pastries to choose from as well. Did you want coffee, or tea?”
“It doesn’t matter what I want,” Severus snapped, his face still slightly flushed. He sat down hard into one of the chairs and let his head fall to meet the table. “You were very clear, the last time we … you – just say what you think you need to say and I’ll leave again.”
“I’m sorry.” Remus paused. That didn’t seem quite strong enough. He tried again. “I’m very sorry that I misunderstood you. I, er, read those notes.” Severus’ head came up; he met Remus’ eyes for the first time. Remus tried more. “I didn’t expect you to …”
“You didn’t expect me, the Death Eater, the evil, Dark murderous fiend to be capable of any human understanding or kindness.” Severus’ voice was flat.
“Erm, not exactly.” Remus sat down, deliberately choosing the seat next to Severus. “I didn’t expect the Travelling Curmudgeon to have anything nice to say at all.” Severus relaxed, just slightly, and Remus felt the tension in his stomach release. “At first, I assumed that Gilbert, that you, would only have negative things to say, and … well, I’d got close to Gilbert rather quickly.” He looked down at his hands, curled on the table, so close to Severus’. “I was even beginning to hope that he and I could… It was painful to think that he’d only been using me to get inside information – and then that he’d be using that inside information to damage my friends.”
Severus looked around the room, as if seeing where he was for the first time. “Where is Teddy?”
Remus chuckled. “He’s at Harry’s. We’re staying there for a few weeks, as a holiday—“ Severus’ muttered, “Blast that boy!” startled him, but he kept going. “He and James were doing something with digging for Nifflers.”
A smile drifted across Severus’ face, and, without thinking about it, Remus stroked his fingers over the curve of Severus’ mouth. Almost immediately, he pulled his hand back, but Severus didn’t look angry.
Severus stared, unable to believe that Remus had just touched him. His lips tingled, and he licked them. Remus’ face was a little pale, but he looked determined. Severus wished he knew what Remus was determined to do.
Closing his eyes for a minute, he took a deep breath, took his life in his hands, and leaned forward, pressing his lips to Remus’. Remus stilled; then Severus felt him move forward into the kiss, as if he were melting around Severus, melting into him. He felt Remus’ hands slide up his arms and around his shoulders, fingers pressing into him.
He moaned and broke the kiss to press his lips against Remus’ cheeks, his eyes, his neck. Remus’ panting breaths filled the air. Severus surged to his feet, dragging Remus up with him; he wanted to feel more, to stroke his hands along Remus’ skin, to taste the hollow behind his ear…
Remus wound one arm around Severus; the other slid under his untucked shirt and Severus gasped at the hot touch of his hand. Severus shifted, so the hand could slide higher. While it mapped out his ribs, he occupied himself with kissing Remus – he didn’t think he could get enough of the feel of Remus’ mouth under his, or the delicious taste of him.
Remus twisted slightly, tugging the buttons of Severus’ shirt open. He ripped his mouth away, but before Severus could complain, he fastened that hot mouth to Severus’ chest, licking and nipping and sucking until Severus thought he might overflow just from the sensations alone.
“Remus,” he moaned, “Oh Merlin, please—“
“Severus,” Remus said, pulling away slightly. “What—I mean, are you sure you—“
“Never more sure,” Severus whispered, pulling Remus back in for another kiss. “Never more sure than this.”