Chapter 1: The Door
Hugo was the one who found the door.
Lily would have spotted it way before him, but she was, as always, preoccupied with making a decision about her character. When they played in the forest behind Uncle Ron and Aunt Hermione's houses, she became whatever she wanted to be. Some days she was a powerful Auror tracking down Dark Wizards, like her dad. Other days she took on roles she'd seen in storybooks: a goblin queen, a daring knight, a peasant girl who was secretly a princess.
Hugo ran ahead, chasing after the balls of light that shot from the old toy of Uncle Ron's he'd found. Lily dawdled, holding up her skirt and taking delicate steps like she was a lady from centuries ago. The type of lady who concealed a dagger in her voluminous petticoat, but a lady all the same. Thick mist curled over the carpet of dead leaves, making her think of that morning at Kings Cross. She dropped the skirt and held her head higher. No, not a lady. She was the newly appointed Head Girl at Hogwarts. Her brothers, who had both left school without even becoming Prefects in this scenario, burned with jealousy.
"Lily!" Hugo shouted, ruining her moment. "Look at this!"
Lily decided Hugo would not be permitted to be Head Boy, as he'd interrupted her imaginary triumph. She rushed to his side to see what could possibly be so important.
The door was made from weathered, unpainted wood, set back into a tangle of brambles. It was short enough that even Lily and Hugo would have to bend down in order to squeeze through. The brambles arched over it in a way that made it invisible from the main path. They must have walked right past it hundreds of times.
"Should we open it?" Hugo whispered.
Lily reached out for the carved doorknob before he finished the question. It was tingly and warm under her fingertips, like the irresistible rush of accidental magic. With a click, the doorknob shimmered and turned under her grip. The door creaked open.
Lily and Hugo stared at each other for a beat, but neither had to ask whether they were going inside. Of course they were. Lily led the way, brambles catching at her clothes as she wriggled past. They emerged from the leafy green tunnel into a clearing with a murky pond and a crooked wooden cottage. A lopsided bridge stretched across the water.
Like the door, both the cottage and the bridge were built for someone much smaller than the average witch or wizard. Fortunately, Lily and Hugo were both still little enough that the bridge held up under their weight. Upon reaching the front of the cottage, they exchanged another look. Hugo knocked. A sparkle of magic spread out from his touch. Another click sounded, and this door, too, opened for them.
"We can't just go in," Hugo said. "Right?"
The wind pushed at Lily's back as if urging her into the cottage, lifting her hair into a red halo.
"Of course we can," she said. "Both doors opened for us. We're supposed to be here, Hugo. I just know it."
Because he was Aunt Hermione's son, Hugo said, "Or we're supposed to walk into a trap."
Lily sighed. "It'll be fine. If it isn't, you can say that you told me so a million times, OK?"
"I'm going to haunt you if I die," Hugo said, but he took her hand when she reached for him.
Together, they crept across the threshold and into a warm kitchen. All of the furniture was miniature as well, from the cast iron stove to the easel set up next to a window, inspiring Lily to change her mind from Head Girl to Snow White. She had once watched most of the film at Cousin Dudley's house. Dudley's son, Vernon, had turned it off so he could watch something with a lot more punching.
Once Lily had thoroughly explored the cottage… Well, she wouldn't clean everything like Snow White had. Even if she was inclined to pick up a mop, it looked tidy enough. She would just sing and make friends with the animals of the forest until the dwarves came home from the mines. Hugo could be the huntsman or the evil queen, depending on his mood.
A narrow corridor branched off from the kitchen, leading to several other rooms. The first door to the left was already open. Tiptoeing forward, Lily and Hugo peeked inside. The contents of the room made them gasp in unison. Someone had already claimed the role of Snow White. A long glass box held the still, silent form of a man with black hair and pale skin.
"Is he dead?" Hugo asked, squeezing Lily's fingers.
The man did look as if he'd already encountered the poisoned apple. Unwilling to move any closer, Lily squinted. There. His chest moved.
"He's breathing," she said. "See?"
Hugo let out a long breath of his own. Something about the man was familiar. It took Lily a few more seconds of studying his large nose and thin lips to place him. This was Severus Snape: a man she'd only ever seen in photographs. The bravest man her dad had ever known.
"Hugo!" she whispered. "That's Snape! The Snape."
"No way. Are you sure?"
"Of course I'm sure. I saw his face all over Flourish & Blotts last week."
Hugo grimaced. "Yeah, Rita's book. He does kind of look like him, I guess."
"That's him. Oh my gosh. Do you think he's in an enchanted sleep? He must be, right? No one just has a nap in a glass coffin. My dad said Snape used to call himself the Half-Blood Prince. Oh my gosh. He's a prince in an enchanted sleep. Should we try to wake him?"
"How? We can't exactly cast Rennervate, can we?"
Lily wrinkled her nose. "Kiss him? That's how it works in the stories."
"Erm, I don't think either of us should go around kissing sleeping men who used to be friends with your gran. It's weird."
"Yeah, I guess, when you put it that way. Hmm. Maybe we should get your mum? She'll know what to do."
Hugo shook his head. "Granddad Granger and Rita are coming over sometime today."
Aunt Hermione was out of the question, then. Rita Skeeter would latch onto the story and spin it into something different before they could say a word to contradict her. And anyway, Hugo and Lily would probably get into trouble if they told Aunt Hermione that they'd gone barging into someone else's house. She'd make them write an apology letter to the owners, even though said owners were clearly up to no good. They kept an unconscious war hero in their spare room, for goodness' sake.
Eventually, they decided to bring Hugo's dad to the cottage. Lily pilfered a tube of paint from the easel in the kitchen and dabbed splodges of bright blue onto the trunks of trees as they scurried back through the forest, to make sure they could find the door again.
Uncle Ron and Aunt Hermione's houses were on opposite ends of the same stretch of land, separated by an apple orchard and Uncle Ron's vegetable patch. Lily and Hugo sneaked past the pumpkins, ready to dive to the ground if they spotted Hugo's mum, but they made it safely inside. The air in Uncle Ron's kitchen smelt sweetly of ginger, cloves, and dark treacle. Grinning, he waved an oven-gloved hand at them.
"Uncle Ron," Lily said, tugging on his arm, "you have to come with us. We have something to show you."
"All right," Uncle Ron said. "Give me just a minute. Do you kids want some gingerbread? The first batch should be cool enough to eat by now."
"Dad." Hugo huffed, taking the other arm. "This is important, trust me. We have to go now."
"More important than gingerbread?" Uncle Ron raised his eyebrows. "That is an emergency. We'd better hurry, then."
Lily didn't care that he was humouring them, as it meant he followed along as they traced their way back along her blue marks. When they reached the door in the brambles, Uncle Ron confirmed that he was the best choice out of all of the grownups they knew, except for Uncle George: he didn't pause for a second before crouching down and clambering through. He did grumble about being scratched by the thorns, and he went around the pond instead of taking the bridge, but Lily let that slide.
"Err," Uncle Ron said as they neared the still-open door of the cottage, "tell me you didn't go inside a stranger's house."
"Fine, we won't tell you," Lily said, not at all intimidated by his crossed arms and disapproving frown. "You can punish us later if you really have to, but right now, someone really needs our help."
That last bit was the push Uncle Ron needed to stoop over and enter the cottage, though he muttered about how Aunt Hermione was going to flay him alive if anything bad happened. To Lily's relief, Snape was just as they'd left him: still in the glass coffin, still breathing.
"OK," Uncle Ron said, "where is this person—"
His words died on his tongue as he caught sight of Snape. Lily knew her uncle was an Auror, of course, but she'd never seen him in Auror mode before. In that instant, as he drew his wand and his expression hardened, she could easily imagine him deflecting deadly curses and rushing in to save the day.
The fact that he was still wearing an apron that said, "Bake the world a better place" only slightly spoilt the effect.
"It's him, isn't it?" Lily asked. "That's Snape."
"Sure bloody looks like him," Uncle Ron said, "but it can't be. I watched him die. It has to be some sort of trap."
Hugo puffed out his chest. "That's what I said. I told Lily it was probably a trap."
Not allowing Hugo to be Head Boy was definitely the right choice.
"You still came in here with me," Lily said.
"Right," Uncle Ron said. "First things first: you two are going back to the house, and then I'll get some Aurors out here to help me deal with this." Raising his hands up and placing his palms out in a placating gesture, he talked over Lily's protests. "I know it doesn't seem fair, since you're the ones who found… whatever this is, but I care more about keeping you safe than being fair. This isn't up for debate. Come on. Now."
As he turned to usher them away, one of his hands moved across the threshold of the room. A bright flare of magic shot from the tips of his fingers, colliding with the glass box. The lid of the box rose lazily, as if waking from a long sleep.
Uncle Ron froze. "Shite," he said under his breath.
Snape opened his eyes.
Chapter 2: The Sleeper
Previously: Something about the man was familiar. It took Lily a few more seconds of studying his large nose and thin lips to place him. This was Severus Snape: a man she'd only ever seen in photographs. The bravest man her dad had ever known.
Severus reached for his wand before he tried to make sense of his surroundings. The pocket in his sleeve was empty. A silent Accio yielded no results.
Sitting up, he made eye contact with the tall, ginger man in the open doorway. The man wore an absurd novelty apron, but that didn't detract from the obvious threat of the wand he aimed straight at Severus. Attaching a name to the face proved impossible, but Severus had seen those blue eyes wide with shock before. He was sure of it. Maybe the perceived familiarity stemmed from the fact that the man looked like a Weasley.
"What spell did Harry Potter cast on Draco Malfoy in his sixth year, and where did he learn it?" the man asked.
Severus blinked slowly, his eyelids staying closed longer than planned, as if parts of his body were not yet fully awake. What the hell was going on? Was the man attempting to confirm Severus's identity? As his wand didn't lower, it seemed prudent to reply.
"Sectumsempra," Severus said, his voice thick with sleep. His mouth tasted like death. "Potter found the spell in my old Potions textbook and idiotically cast it on Draco without first learning what it did."
"Merlin," the man breathed. "It's really you?"
Two little faces peeked out from behind the man: a girl and a boy, both a couple of years too young for Hogwarts.
"I told you it was him," the girl said.
"What's the last thing you remember?" the man asked.
It took Severus a moment to find the answer. Green eyes and pain, but the image felt far more distant than expected. Raising a hand to his neck, he prodded the scarred, healed skin there. How much time had passed?
"A rather unpleasant encounter with a snake," Severus said. As soon as the words were spoken, he remembered something else: fitful dreams and a loving voice telling him he was safe. "And you are?"
The question was meant for the man, but the girl leapt in with a reply before anyone else could.
What the fuck?
The man groaned. "Lil, you can't just… She is Lily Potter, sir—err, Snape—but not that Lily."
"Obviously," Severus said.
"Yeah. Well. She's Harry's youngest kid."
Potter had multiple children? Severus scrutinised the man who had stumbled over calling him sir. He couldn't be Ronald Weasley, could he?
Of all of the questions swimming around Severus's head, the one that came out was, "Potter is alive?"
"He is." The man beamed. "He did die for a bit, but it didn't stick. Oh, and we won the war, by the way. You-Know-Who is gone for good. Maybe I should have led with that, now that I think about it."
Christ. Why couldn't it have been Granger who had found Severus? After the expected surprise at his survival, she would have fallen into a predictable monologue about everything he'd missed. A tedious, lengthy monologue followed by a barrage of questions.
On second thought, perhaps it was better that it had been this Maybe-Weasley.
If Severus was neither dead nor locked up in Azkaban, and Maybe-Weasley was using phrases like we won and smiling as if he had nothing to fear in Severus's presence, perhaps Potter had shared Severus's memories with the rest of the Order. Potter would go spreading secrets when he had no right. Severus clenched his hands into fists.
As if he'd conjured Granger by thinking her name, an almost familiar feminine voice came from elsewhere in the tiny building.
"Hello? Ron? Are you in here?"
"Yeah," Definitely-Weasley shouted. "Come here. And, err, brace yourself. The kids found something really, really surprising."
"Whose house is this? Please tell me Hugo and Lily didn't—oh my god."
Granger had not adequately braced herself. Clapping both hands over her mouth, she stared at Severus. Like Weasley, she was years older than the student he'd once known, but he recognised her in an instant. No one else could look at him with so many bottled up questions written all over her face. He half expected her hand to shoot up into the air.
"I think it's really him," Weasley said, recounting their conversation up to that point as if Severus wasn't even there.
"I believe protocol dictates that I ask you a question in return to confirm your identities," Severus said. "Granger, what ingredients did you steal from my private stores in your second year?"
Granger pressed her lips together. "Boomslang skin and bicorn horn."
He knew it had been her—not Potter, and certainly not Weasley. Stepping into the room, Granger approached the bizarre glass box that had been Severus's bed.
"You look exactly the same," Granger said. "Like you haven't aged a day."
"I will reveal the secrets of my skincare regime later," Severus said, eliciting a surprised breath of a laugh from Granger. "At the moment, we need to leave. I've no idea who kept me in this place, nor when they might return."
Every instinct he had said that he was safe, but he couldn't trust those feelings. Too many potions could have been poured into him, too many charms could have manufactured a false sense of security. And he needed a wand.
"I'm on board with that plan," Weasley said. "Let's go."
"You can come to my house," Lily said to Severus. "My dad won't mind."
Severus rather doubted that.
Granger cringed. "I don't think that's the best idea, love."
As Severus climbed out of the glass box, Granger hovered like Poppy used to, ready to catch him if his legs proved to be too weak to hold his weight. A flake of rust fluttered down from the latch on the lid and settled on her shoulder. Severus's muscles were stiff and sore, but everything appeared to be in working order. More or less.
"I have my own house, thank you," Severus said, moving as quickly as he could towards the door. "As it is mercifully free of former students, I shall go there."
"You don't have a house, actually," Weasley said. "It's gone. The whole street is."
"Ron," Granger whispered. "You could try to have some tact."
Severus doubted Weasley's capacity for tact even more than he doubted a warm welcome from Potter.
With one hand near Severus's elbow, as if only his glower was holding her back from assisting him, Granger added, "Spinner's End is gone, I'm afraid. Cokeworth Town Council razed the neighbourhood a few years back to make way for new houses and a leisure centre. I'm so sorry."
Severus tried and failed to imagine bland, identical new builds replacing the two-up two-down hovels on Spinner's End. What had happened to his possessions? He'd left no will, so if he'd been presumed dead, the Ministry must have given everything to his next of kin. That was, of course, assuming Eileen was still alive.
Stepping out of the cottage and into the open air felt like his long ago wobbly first attempt at riding a broom. Shivering against the cold, Severus looked around at the changing leaves on the trees and the fat, ripe blackberries hanging from a tangle of brambles. Early autumn, but what year?
"I'll drop the kids off at Harry and Ginny's and get the investigation started," Weasley said. "We'll find out what was going on here."
"But I don't want to go home," Lily whined.
"Yeah, do we have to, Mum?" the boy asked.
"I think you know the answer to that," Granger said.
"I don't believe we've been introduced," Severus said to the boy.
"Hugo Granger-Weasley," the boy said, smiling in a way that suggested he thought they were on the same side.
Turning back towards Granger, Severus sneered and said, "And everyone always claimed you were so clever."
"See if I ever wake you from an enchanted sleep again," Weasley muttered.
With an admonishing look at Severus, Granger sighed. "Yeah, you're definitely Severus Snape."
"Good luck," Weasley said with a chuckle before turning on the spot and Disapparating, both pouting children in tow. Severus wasn't entirely sure whether the statement was meant for him or for Granger.
"Where should we go?" Granger asked. "St Mungo's?"
Severus grasped for options and came up empty. Where could he go, if not Spinner's End? Even if the Malfoys had, by some miracle (or, more likely, some trick of Lucius's), managed to escape imprisonment, they almost certainly hated him now. Minerva definitely loathed him. Charity was the only colleague who might have… Well, no point in speculating about that. She was gone. His mother had developed a rather nomadic lifestyle since Tobias's death; Severus wouldn't know where to begin looking for her.
"What about Grimmauld Place?" Granger asked. "It's empty right now. Luna stays there when she's in the country, but she shouldn't be back for a few weeks."
Black's house was so far down Severus's list that he likely would have placed it several notches below young Lily's offer of shelter, but Grimmauld Place was Secret Kept by members of the Order, and it was within easy reach of Diagon Alley, which held Severus's vault, a new wand, and information. It would do for the moment.
"Very well," he said.
He only hesitated for a second before accepting Granger's outstretched arm. The number of former students who could be trusted to transport him Side-Along was vanishingly small, but Granger was nothing if not precise—as she proved when he landed on the doorstep of the Order's former headquarters in one piece.
Severus readied himself for the inevitable screech, but dusty silence was all that greeted them when Granger opened the door. Not a single hateful word disturbed the quiet. Instead of a portrait of Black's harpy of a mother, the frame stuck to the wall of the entryway was filled with spiky cacti.
"Luna's doing," Granger said with a lopsided grin. "She still won't tell me how she did it. All she'll say is that the plants thrive there because they match Walburga's personality."
Lovegood, Severus guessed, was also responsible for the rainbow pedicure that the troll's foot umbrella stand had received. All of the decor looked more Lovegood than Black. The dour portraits and House-elf heads were gone, replaced by elaborate diagrams of plants and beasts that Severus didn't recognise. Everything around him had been brightened, dragged out of its former gloom.
"Let's see if we can find you a wand," Granger said.
A wand? He followed her up the stairs to the drawing room, where she bent over to rifle through a wooden chest. She was wearing Muggle jeans. Severus stared at the wall.
"Good Lord, Luna," Granger said, her voice muffled. "What is all of this? I had better not find another erumpent—aha! Here we are."
A somewhat more rumpled Granger emerged from the chest with a handful of oddly shaped wands. Severus blinked.
"Luna collects them on her travels," she said. "I don't actually know whether all of them chose her or if she just bought them because they were weird and she wanted to show them to Mr Ollivander. She's become good friends with him since the war."
Knowing what he did of Lovegood, Severus would say either option was equally likely.
"And how much time has elapsed since the war?" he asked, accepting the first wand she offered him: a spiral shaped thing made of pale wood. It felt too light, the magic slippery when he cast Lumos.
Severus did not know what to do with that information. Why did it feel familiar? Like something he'd already known.
Filing all of that away for later, he tried out two more wands, both too sluggish and oily. The fourth wand, a pointed length of heavy ebony, had almost the right feel to it, falling just short of the quick power of his own wand. The tip was sharp enough that even a Muggle could use it as a weapon. Like the house, it would do for the moment.
The first spell he cast was a mouth freshening charm, banishing nineteen years' worth of morning breath.
"That wand, really?" Granger asked. "That's surprising."
"I'm pretty sure that's the one Neville chose to borrow a while back when he fell over and snapped his."
Severus looked askance at the pointed ebony. What sort of wand would perform for both him and Longbottom?
"Would it be all right if I examined you?" Granger asked. "I'm a Healer now."
As he had no idea what had held him in a forced slumber for the better part of two decades, he nodded.
"If you must."
Granger cast diagnostic spells the same way she used to brew: efficiently, methodically, by the book. When one of her hands circled his wrist, her skin was soft and cool against his.
"How do you feel?" she asked.
Somewhat apprehensive about going to sleep later.
"Well enough," he said.
"Do you remember anything?"
Only dreams and that comforting voice.
"Nothing of significance, no."
Sometime after he'd lost count of how many spells she'd cast, Granger said, "Everything looks normal, as far as I can tell." She worried her lower lip between her teeth. "This is all so bizarre."
"Indeed. Is it safe for me to appear in Diagon Alley wearing my own face, or will I be arrested on sight?"
"Well, you were given a posthumous pardon. Which wasn't so posthumous, obviously. Harry insisted. If—"
"Excellent. I assume you have a Floo connection, should I wish to contact you?"
Instead of taking the hint to leave, Granger flopped down on a fuzzy pink sofa. "Yeah, I do. So does Ron. I, err, would generally try Ron first, if I were you. At least until your survival is common knowledge. There's always a slight chance that my dad and his wife might be at mine, and—oh! Hey. Do you happen to know of any secret ways to detect the presence of love potions or the Imperius Curse? Some method I might not have found in books?"
"Hmm. A love potion would explain why you're with Weasley."
Granger rolled her eyes. "Ron and I aren't together. Did you miss the part where I said we had separate Floo connections?"
He had. Clearly, his mind was still clouded with sleep.
"Why do you ask, then?"
"I placed a memory charm on my parents and sent them away for their own protection during the war. By the time I found them again, they had split up. Rita Skeeter interviewed my dad about the whole memory loss experience a couple of years ago, and in spite of my best efforts to uncover her ulterior motives, the vile little beetle is now my stepmother."
"I doubt I know of any methods that you wouldn't have discovered in your research," he said, smirking at Granger's scowl.
"You could probably invent one." Looking at her watch, her scowl deepened. "I'm meant to be having dinner with my dad and Rita soon. I should let them know I might have to reschedule."
"You needn't cancel your plans on my account."
"I can't just leave you alone with a barely adequate wand. Not until we know more about what happened to you."
"My wandless spells are more than adequate. I neither want nor need your protection. I realise I've been out of commission for some time, but I believe I can manage to remain safely holed up here. Even Black was capable of that. Well, almost capable."
The barb about Black did not have the desired effect. Rather than storming out, Granger stood up, placed her hands on her hips and gave him the same look she used to level at her friends when they'd neglected their schoolwork.
"I'm staying," she said. "At least until we hear from Ron. It shouldn't take him long to get things started. He's an Auror."
"You must be joking."
"Nope. Neville used to be an Auror as well, but now he teaches Herbology." Taking a step closer, she gave him a smug smile. "And Harry is Head Auror."
It was official; the entire world had gone mad during Severus's absence.
"I should have stayed asleep."
Previously: "That wand, really?" Granger asked. "That's surprising."
"I'm pretty sure that's the one Neville chose to borrow a while back when he fell over and snapped his."
There was something off about him.
Hermione trailed her fingers along the dusty spines of books, pretending not to watch Snape out of the corner of her eye.
Upon finding out nineteen years had passed since the end of the war, he'd barely blinked. All right, yes, he was a spy, and he was unlikely to vent his feelings to her in any way other than biting sarcasm, but missing out on nearly two decades of his life merited more of a reaction.
As she pursed her lips and wondered how he would react if she proposed a more extensive exam, Snape shoved a thick book into her arms.
"Sleeping spells," he said, reaching up to a higher shelf for another volume. "This is not the library I would choose for my research, but it is somewhere to start. If you insist upon staying, the least you can do is make yourself useful."
In hindsight, Ron should have cast Silencio on the kids before they entered Harry and Ginny's house. Both Lily and Hugo ran straight to Harry, shouting over each other about how they'd found Snape.
"What?" Harry said. "That's not funny, you two."
"It's true, mate," Ron said, outlining what had happened. When he got to the part about Snape being asleep in a glass box inside the tiny house, Lily chimed in with something about a poisoned apple, which made no bloody sense.
"Trust me, Lil," Harry said, slumping into a chair, "Snape is not Snow White. Ron, you're sure it was him? Really, really sure?"
"I'm sure," Ron said.
From the look of the kitchen, Harry and Ginny had been in the middle of cooking dinner. Ron swiped a warm bread roll from the basket and took a bite. Buttery and soft—they'd used his mum's recipe. Heavenly.
"I wouldn't have left Hermione alone with him otherwise," Ron said. "Actually, hmm, now that I think about it, maybe that wasn't such a great idea. He's still a git. That's what really convinced me: how much of a git he is. Anyway, I'm going to get an investigation started and find out who was keeping him there. Wanna tag along?"
Of course he did. Ron wondered if Hermione had told Snape about Albus's middle name yet. He hoped not. He wanted to see that reaction.
A crack of embers signalled an incoming Floo-call. Hermione's face popped into the flames, announcing that she and Snape were at Grimmauld Place and asking Ron to send news as soon as he had any. Ron had definitely got the better end of the deal, not being stuck waiting around with Snape.
When the call ended, Ron said to Ginny, "Don't let these two have any fun. They just walked into a stranger's house. Hugo is definitely grounded."
"Got it." Ginny gave her daughter a sharp look. "Sounds like Lily is, too."
It was bloody unsettling when Ginny glared like that. It made her look just like their mum. Percy had once claimed that Ron's disapproving parent look was also identical to Molly's, but what did he know?
Someday, Ron's kids were going to find out about all of the dangerous things he'd done during his time at Hogwarts. If he had his way, they would be about eighty years old when that time came. With Snape walking around, and both Lily and Hugo keen to talk to him (poor kids didn't know any better), it'd probably happen sooner, rather than later.
He dreaded to think how such information might inspire Hugo and Rose. It would definitely inspire Lily to greater heights of mischief, and where she went, Hugo followed.
As he trailed after Harry to the Floo, Ron mulled over Snape's words to Hermione: And everyone always claimed you were so clever. Snape probably thought they'd had a post-war wedding followed by a couple of kids and year after year of predictable arguments. In actuality, Ron and Hermione's romance hadn't lasted a single summer. They'd been broken up for years when Hermione had brought up the subject of parenthood.
"I want to be a mother," she'd said, "and I'd like it to happen quite soon. Dating is slowly making me lose my faith in humanity, so I've decided that you should father my children."
Ron had been taking a sip of tea at the time. It had gone down the wrong way. If he hadn't known better, he would have asked whether George had put her up to it.
"Hermione," he'd said once he'd finished coughing and spluttering, "you're one of my best friends, and you know I'd do anything for you, but I really, really don't think we should get married. It'd be a disaster. You know it would."
Hermione had laughed. "Who said anything about getting married? Fathering children doesn't require marriage."
"It does if you're Molly Weasley's son."
"You know she'll get used to the idea once there's another grandchild in the picture. And more than anything, she wants you to be happy. Anyway, I'm obviously not suggesting we try to conceive a baby in the traditional way."
"You're not? What other way is there?"
With a prim expression, she had delivered a lecture about turkey basters and ovulation and the unconventional ways in which some Muggles went about becoming parents. It sounded a lot less fun to him. Always prepared, Hermione had presented Ron with what had looked like a grownup version of a homework planner. The woman had a schedule for everything.
Ron had agreed to go along with her mad plan, and before he'd quite managed to catch his breath, Rose had arrived. It hadn't seemed so mad, then.
"Mate?" Harry said, dragging Ron out of his thoughts. "Are you going to wear your apron to the Ministry?"
Bloody hell. Ron had forgotten all about that. At least he'd remembered to turn off the cooker. Chucking the apron at his laughing sister, he called out his destination and stepped into the green flames.
If this business with Snape made Ron late for his plans for that gingerbread, he was going to be very cross.
Only Harry and Ron could walk through the forest door. The Aurors they'd brought along both turned away, claiming they could only see brambles—like a pair of Muggles trying to find Hogwarts and discovering nothing but a crumbling ruin.
Great. Wards like that would require curse breakers, which meant even more paperwork. Sometimes, Ron really missed the days when he could talk Hermione into helping him with his homework. He had subordinates to slog through most of it now, but it wasn't the same.
"Hugo and Lily had no problems?" Harry whispered as he and Ron crept around the edge of the pond on the other side of the door.
"They're the ones who found it. And Hermione got through just fine, too."
There was something to that—something Ron couldn't quite piece together. When he and Hermione had first viewed the plot of land that now held both of their houses, they'd taken a few steps towards the line of tall trees and agreed that yes, this was the place. He remembered it being like the sensation of finding the right wand.
Had it had something to do with this magic that only seemed to admit Grangers, Potters, and Weasleys? In several years of wandering the woods, he'd never found the door, but the feeling that he belonged there had never faded.
When Ron told Harry all of this, Harry got that look he used to get when he thought Draco Malfoy was up to no good. Harry had felt the rightness of the forest, too.
"We definitely shouldn't linger here," Harry said. "Not until we get those wards down and people other than Hermione and the kids can provide backup."
Ron was already halfway through casting Homenum Revelio. Nothing. The place was still deserted.
A quick sweep of the kitchen didn't reveal any identifying information about the owner. All they knew for certain was that at least one resident liked to paint landscapes, and anyone who lived there had to be a great deal shorter than Snape. Goblins, maybe? Elves? The tiny items of clothing in the wardrobe would suggest the former, or maybe a Free Elf. All of the finished landscapes had been hung around the cottage, encased in intricate golden frames.
Stepping into the room that had held Snape, Ron took a closer look at the glass box. All of the metal hardware—hinges, latch, screws—that was attached to the outside of the box was flecked with spots of rust. The few metal components inside the glass looked almost new. On the side of the latch, there was some sort of mechanism that had stuck. After a bit of wiggling the catch back and forth, a button popped out and magic sparked.
"Listen to Severus," a familiar voice boomed. "You do not know the full story."
Ron and Harry gasped in unison. A few seconds ticked by in silence.
"Was that… Dumbledore?" Ron murmured.
"It sounded like him."
Ron prodded the catch again. "I think that was supposed to happen when the lid opened, but it's all old and rusted. I guess it probably wasn't intended to sit around this long. You think Dumbledore arranged all of this? I mean, he'd have needed help, obviously, but it makes sense, doesn't it? Who else would've wanted to save Snape?"
"I meant back then. Calm down. You didn't think Snape was on our side, either."
"Yeah, I suppose so."
Well. That explained why they were drawn to this forest. They must have missed some clue that was supposed to lead them to the cottage—something Dumbledore had set in motion before his death that hadn't gone entirely to plan.
If Snape could still give them detention, they'd be scrubbing cauldrons for the rest of their lives.
Deciding it was time to move on, Harry and Ron combed the rest of the house and planted magical bugs in several plant pots (more paperwork), just in case it was a trick.
Ron clapped Harry on the back once they were safely back through the forest door. "Want me to go with you to Grimmauld Place?" he asked, because there was no question that was where Harry would head next. "I was going to meet up with Neville, but…"
Harry gave him an odd smile. "No, don't worry. I'll handle everything. Tell Neville I said hi."
Thank Merlin. Ron didn't need to be told twice. He Disapparated straight back to his house to collect the gingerbread. There was no time to decorate it; plain would have to do.
Like always, Neville stood waiting to let him in at the gate. These monthly catch ups had become a tradition of theirs since Neville had left the Aurory years before. Sometimes they went to the pub, but these days Ron usually brought along his latest attempt at baking to test out on Neville.
"Hey, mate," Ron said, beaming at his friend. "You aren't going to believe the day I've had."
"Same here," Neville said. "I don't think I've ever handed out so many detentions." Reaching out, he brushed something from Ron's shoulder. "Sorry, you had a bit of flour or something on you."
This didn't surprise Ron in the slightest. He'd always been a messy cook. Wearing an apron was a bit like trying to protect himself from a hurricane with an inside-out umbrella.
"Thanks," Ron said. "None of those detentions were for Rose, were they?"
Neville's chuckle was warm enough to make the wind slicing into them feel not quite so cold, even though Ron hadn't thought to grab a jacket. "No. She's just like Hermione in class, always trying to answer every question. It's early days, though. Scorpius Malfoy and Al might eventually convince her to break some rules. Those two did get detentions."
Not wanting to talk about Snape's return out in the open, where they might be overheard, Ron kept Neville chatting about his misbehaving students as they made their way into the castle.
Neville's quarters were near the kitchens. On the few occasions they'd met up in the morning, Neville's sitting room had smelt like the bread that the elves always baked before breakfast. Now, it held the lingering caramely sweetness of whatever had been served for pudding that evening.
Stepping into Neville's living space was almost like standing at the edge of the woods at home. The space had nearly enough plants to make it qualify as a forest. Vines climbed the walls, plants crowded every windowsill, and potted trees spread their branches into a canopy that hid the ceiling. The light in the sitting room was always tinged green—like the Slytherin Common Room, but more cosy and peaceful.
Ron helped himself to his favourite spot on the sofa and cracked open the tin of gingerbread while Neville brewed the tea. With the first bite of the perfectly baked biscuit, Ron relaxed into the cushions.
"So," Neville said, adding a splash of milk and three sugars to Ron's mug, "what was so unbelievable about your day, then?"
"Unbelievable doesn't even begin to cover it." Ron waited until Neville sat down before he delivered the news. "Snape's alive."
"What do you remember about the voice?" Granger asked, sitting forward in her chair.
Severus already regretted bringing it up. Snippets of dreams and conversations kept coming back to him, all filled with the soothing cadence of that voice that had promised safety.
"Only the vaguest of impressions," he said. "I think its owner may have told me about the outside world. When you informed me how much time had elapsed since the war, it wasn't the shock it should have been."
Severus took a sip of tea, just for something to do. It was stale, having been in the cupboard of the basement kitchen long past its best by date. Across the table, Granger tapped her fingers against her own teacup. The same ink stain that had been a constant presence in her school days still marred her skin, as if writing so many too-long essays had created a tattoo on her middle and index fingers.
Several books lay open between them. Thus far, the only thing their research efforts had yielded was a tension headache that made him close his eyes and pinch the bridge of his nose.
Crossing to the worktop, Granger opened a radish-shaped biscuit jar. The biscuit she found inside looked like a ginger snap, but it bent in half in her hands, soft and stale. She threw it in the bin.
"Do you want to hear about some of the things you missed?" she asked. "See if anything sounds familiar?"
Not a subject likely to improve his headache, but he had to hear it all at some point. He motioned for her to go ahead.
She started with the Battle of Hogwarts, naming those who hadn't survived. She recited the list from memory, but it was nothing like the way she used to parrot back information from her textbooks. Her voice was softer, more hesitant, not seeking any sort of approval.
The Marauders were gone; Severus had outlived them all. And so, so many students had fallen, but they'd been children with an inadequate Defence education fighting against experts in the Dark Arts. It was a small miracle any had survived.
Severus couldn't have summoned up the names up himself, but every single one felt like revisiting somewhere he'd already been. The news that all of the Malfoys had avoided Azkaban was the same. Upon being informed of this, curiosity lit up Granger's expression. Before she could pelt him with questions, a bespectacled man with messy black hair let himself into the kitchen.
Meeting those knowing green eyes, Severus wanted to dive back into his glass box or lash out or both. Potter had seen far, far too much of him. If he'd known they would both live, Severus would have kept it all to himself.
"Hello," Potter said. "Ron said you're really you, but…" He teetered on the edge of speech for a moment before sighing and adding, "Why did our Occlumency lessons end?"
Oh, they were playing the identity checking game again, were they?
"Because you are incapable of not sticking your nose where it doesn't belong," Severus said. "What would I get if I added powdered root of asphodel to an infusion of wormwood?"
"Err, no clue."
Some things never changed.
"You are definitely Potter, then," Severus said.
Potter let out a nervous exhale of laughter. "Yeah. Err. I brought these." He placed a jar full of silver clouds on the table. "Thought you might want them back, so… Anyway."
Drawing in a slow breath, Severus stared at the swirl of his memories. There wasn't a hole in his mind where they had once been. He could recall every moment, every mistake.
"We think we might have found out who was responsible for what happened," Potter said, rubbing the back of his neck as he launched into his explanation.
Severus gritted his teeth. Albus. Of course. The second-biggest source of all of Severus's headaches. What the devil had the old man been thinking?
"We're going to go talk to his portrait tomorrow morning," the biggest source of his headaches said.
"Potter, the day I allow you to lead an investigation that directly impacts my life will be the day I declare my eternal love for Dolores Umbridge," Severus said. He would conduct his own search for information.
Instead of snapping at him and getting defensive, Potter shook his head and huffed out a laugh.
"Unlike the Malfoys, Umbridge is in Azkaban," Granger said with a grin that spoke of nineteen years' worth of Schadenfreude. "I don't think they offer conjugal visits, but it doesn't hurt to ask."
"It hurts to even imagine," Severus said.
"On that, we definitely agree," Potter said.
It took the writing of two witness statements (Granger used three times as much parchment as Severus) and several glances from Potter that promised unwanted future conversations, but eventually, they left Severus in peace. Claiming a bedroom on the first floor, he cast multiple wards and tried to sink into the familiar rhythm of solitary research. With all that had happened that day still buzzing in his mind, he found himself rereading the same sentence a dozen times.
Beneath Severus's pillow, as the words on the page blurred and his eyelids grew heavy, the borrowed wand began to glow.
Extra thanks to Vitellia this week, as she read about a thousand versions of this chapter. The line "What would I get if I added powdered root of asphodel to an infusion of wormwood?" is from HP and the Philosopher's Stone.
Previously: Beneath Severus 's pillow, as the words on the page blurred and his eyelids grew heavy, the borrowed wand began to glow.
Neville stared at his reflection in the mirror and tried to remember how to breathe. Waking up at Grimmauld Place with no memory of how he got there had been unsettling enough, but this.
Snape's features had replaced his own. Nose, hair, body—all of it was Snape's. When Neville swore out loud, the voice, too, was Snape's—albeit with a slightly different tone, heard from within his own head. The first few buttons of the shirt he'd woken up in were undone, revealing unfamiliar scars on pale skin, a few of the jagged lines disappearing into sparse black chest hair. A strange sensation rippled through his head, there and gone again before he could put a name to it.
This had to be a dream—a nightmare brought on by late-night gingerbread snacking and Ron's story about Snape still being alive. Neville pinched his arm hard. It hurt.
It had been years since his time in the Aurory and even longer since the war, but Neville still slept with his wand under his pillow, ready to spring up and defend himself if necessary. The wand he'd found beneath his head that morning was not his own. It was one of Luna's, and even though he'd used it in the past with no problems, it now refused to cast any spells for him. It was as if the core had dissolved, turning it back into an ordinary stick of wood.
As Neville ran towards the Floo to summon help from his friends, an alarm rang in the back of his mind. Someone had crossed a ward he didn't remember setting.
Frowning, Hermione adjusted the bundle of newspapers under her arm and attempted to overtake a group of slow moving tourists. They shifted position, taking no notice of her as they claimed every inch of the pavement.
"I'm really sorry I had to cancel yesterday, Dad," she said into the two-way mirror she'd charmed to look like a Muggle mobile phone. "Something came up at work."
Lying to her father was a skill Hermione had mastered during the early days of the war. After finally finding her parents and restoring their memories, she had resolved to never again speak anything but the truth to both of them. She hadn't been doing so well at remaining committed to that goal since her dad had taken up with Rita. Those lies were often necessary; Rita was as eager as ever for any gossip about Harry. And if Rita knew who Hermione was on her way to see that morning, there would be no shaking her.
Other times, the lies weren't so necessary. Hermione tended to grab onto the flimsiest excuses to avoid meeting up with her dad, since his wife always tagged along. Daughter of the Year, she was not.
"It's OK," David Granger said, though he followed it with a sigh. "We were a bit disappointed, but we understand."
Hermione held in a scoff at the idea of Rita being anything but elated at not spending time together.
"Well, I'll see you on Saturday," Hermione said, speeding up as she turned onto Grimmauld Place and left the tourists behind. "You're both coming to Hugo's birthday party, right?"
"Yeah, of course. Is it Saturday? I thought his birthday was the tenth."
How could he forget that? He'd always been so good with dates. Being with Rita was clearly doing horrible things to him.
"No, trust me; it's the ninth," Hermione said. "I remember it vividly."
David chuckled. "All right, I guess we'll see you then."
Guilt gnawed at Hermione's stomach as she neared Number 12. At Hugo's party, she would make it up to her dad by having a civil conversation with her evil stepmother for at least ten minutes. She could do that. Probably. And if Hermione was finally able to uncover how Rita had tricked David into marrying her, all the better.
Hermione had wrapped the back issues of the Prophet in brown paper in order to avoid any Muggles seeing the moving photographs as she made the short walk from Percy's. Since going into magical printing after the war, Percy mostly did things like measure margins, as far as Hermione could tell, but he'd kept every significant issue he'd ever worked on. The first issue—the one that recounted Harry's final speech to Voldemort—was going to go over like a lead balloon with Snape, even if that mysterious voice had already told him.
Ordinarily, Hermione would let herself into the house, but as this was Snape, she rapped the brass eagle knocker against the door. He answered seconds later, dark eyes wide.
His feet were bare. Hermione didn't know why this struck her as being too intimate. Seeing him in anything less than his usual armour of frock coat and dragonhide boots felt almost indecent, somehow.
"Good morning," she said. "I brought you some… some old issues of The Daily Prophet to get you up to date. And I went to a Muggle library and printed out a few bits and pieces about what's been going on in the Muggle world as well. Things have—"
"Hermione," he said, grabbing her wrist and tugging her inside. As her brain short-circuited at his use of her first name, he placed his hands on her shoulders, easy and familiar, as if he touched her all the time. "Merlin, am I glad to see you."
His accent was off; it had shifted about a hundred miles to the North. Hermione's stomach dropped.
"Severus?" she said, trying to subtly reach for her wand. Snape wouldn't let the two of them transition to this level of familiarity without some sort of comment. "Are you—"
"No," he said. "Not Snape. I'm Neville. And are you really calling him Severus now? That's just… Never mind; now's not the time. I woke up here, like… this—" he gestured at himself, "—and I have no bloody idea how it happened. If you need proof, I…. I don't know. When Trevor died, you went with me to bury him in Uncle Algie's garden, and you ended up lecturing Uncle Algie about that time he dangled me out of a window. Will that do?"
Swallowing hard, Hermione nodded. "I don't suppose Snape is still here?"
"Not that I've seen so far. What do you think happened?"
Like Neville, Hermione had no bloody idea.
Sleeping didn't feel right. The house was too quiet, the bed too open. By the time Severus woke up with the duvet pulled over his head, he was still exhausted, but he'd had more than enough sleep of late. His plans to battle the ancient plumbing for a lukewarm shower came to a screeching halt as he sat up.
Everything was green, overgrown with plants. The walls beneath the tangle of vines and leaves weren't the pale blue he'd expected, but sturdy stone.
Severus's pulse thudded in his ears. Reaching beneath the pillow produced a wand, but not the pointed ebony one he'd borrowed from Lovegood. This wand was cherry wood, cold and defiant in his hand. The Homenum Revelio he cast was too weak, barely trickling through the room. Severus pressed his back against the headboard of the bed.
This was the second day in a row he had woken up somewhere unexpected, and he'd had quite enough of it. Glancing down at himself, he recoiled. Why would anyone dress him in Chudley Cannons pyjamas? He certainly wouldn't have done it himself; he could resist the Imperius Curse. Clearly, he was dealing with an unhinged individual.
And was he… broader? The hand he raised to touch his orange-clad chest froze in midair. The fingers were shorter, the knuckles dusted with blond hair. Severus's mouth went dry.
What the hell was going on? Polyjuice? A glamour?
There was a mirror against one wall. Upon peering into it, Severus was met with a face he didn't recognise. His fingers rasped against the sandpaper roughness of stubble and traced a long scar across one cheek. The hazel eyes were almost familiar, but he couldn't place them.
Trading the hideous pyjamas for the least objectionable set of robes in the wardrobe, Severus crept out of the overgrown chambers and found himself near the Hogwarts kitchens. That was almost a relief. Minerva would be here, and even if she still hated him, she wouldn't stand for whatever nonsense had taken place.
Movement caught his attention at the end of the corridor. Granger hurried towards him, panic in every step. A hooded figure pursued her, its face in shadow.
Severus fired an Incarcerous at her attacker, but the ropes fell to the ground in front of him, useless. Granger held both hands up in a gesture of peace, as if Severus hadn't just attempted to come to her aid.
"Prof… Snape?" she said. "Is that you?"
"What the fuck is going on, Granger?"
"I'll take that as a yes, then."
While Severus gnashed his teeth, Granger explained what little she knew. Severus took an involuntary step back when she revealed that the face he'd seen in the mirror belonged to Neville Longbottom.
No. Absolutely not. This could not be Severus's real life; he wouldn't allow it. It was too horrifying.
Granger's companion—Longbottom himself—shifted his hood back, revealing Severus's own face. Gods.
"Follow me," Severus said, setting off in the direction of the dungeons. "Longbottom, keep that hood up. I won't have anyone impeding our progress by screeching about my return from the dead."
There was only the slightest chance that it would still be there. Some other teacher might have uncovered his hiding place and sold it, but it was worth a try. Upon reaching his old office, Severus made a sweeping gesture at the door and turned towards Granger.
"Care to do the honours?" he asked. "You do have some experience at breaking into this office."
"We could just wake Theo," Longbottom said. For Severus's benefit, he added, "Nott. He's the Potions Master now. I'm sure he'd let us in."
"And deprive Granger of this trip down Memory Lane?" Severus said. The children of those he'd betrayed were best avoided. "Granger, if you would."
It didn't take her long. She didn't even need a distraction from her sidekicks this time. Severus crossed to the desk, opened the top drawer, and removed its false bottom. Astonishingly, the bottle of brackish liquid was nestled inside, still nearly full to the brim. Standing next to Longbottom, Severus dumped it over both of them.
Nothing happened. Fuck.
Longbottom spluttered. "What was that?"
"Is that Thief's Downfall?" Granger asked.
Severus nodded. "I thought it prudent to obtain a small supply after the events of your fourth year."
Slughorn had not reacted well to being spritzed in the face in order to confirm his identity. That had, in all honesty, been one of the high points during that train wreck of a year.
If Longbottom didn't know that Thief's Downfall was used to remove the effects of Polyjuice and various enchantments, he didn't let on.
"Is your magic behaving strangely, too?" Longbottom asked, holding up Lovegood's ebony wand. "This thing won't work for me at all."
Had he not seen Severus's pathetic Incarcerous in the corridor? Strangely was putting it mildly.
When Severus took the ebony wand from Longbottom, he agreed that it felt dead. It wasn't rebellious, like the cherry wood wand. There was simply nothing there to channel his magic.
"Here, try mine," Granger said. Pulling her own wand from her sleeve, she held it out to Severus.
Offering him a selection of Lovegood's spare wands was one thing. Trusting him with her own wand was something else entirely. Wrapping his fingers around the warm vinewood felt like standing far too close to someone who had once been his student. Granger's wand didn't fight his Lumos, but the flickering result was still dim.
Perhaps it was just the wands. Returning them to their owners, Severus tried to summon a quill from Nott's desk with a wandless Accio. It barely twitched.
Severus's hands trembled. This couldn't be happening. He had always had magic, as far back as he could remember. His magic was him.
"Lumos," Longbottom said.
The cherry wood wand flared to life with a light so bright, it left Severus seeing spots. Granger's wand produced the same result. When Longbottom attempted wandless spells, they were effortless, powerful.
"Can you usually perform wandless magic?" Severus asked. Maybe it was this body, maybe—
"Yeah, of course," Longbottom said. "Not like this, but I had to learn when I became an Auror."
Bile rose in Severus's throat. He hadn't seen Longbottom before this… this switch. They'd had no contact for nineteen bloody years. Except, hadn't Granger mentioned that Longbottom had also borrowed Lovegood's wand? The wand that was now dead?
Severus glared at the ebony wand, and then at Granger.
They gathered in the Headmistress's Office. Neville stood near the Pensieve while Snape conducted a tense interview with Dumbledore's portrait.
"I'm afraid my subject did not fill me in on the details," the portrait said. "He did mention wanting to find some way to ensure your survival, but that discussion took place the day before the events on the Astronomy Tower. I assumed he never got the chance."
On more than one occasion, Neville had been forced to remind himself that the portraits of Headmasters and Headmistresses only knew what their subject told them to pass on to future holders of the office. It was easy to forget, speaking to Dumbledore's portrait, that it was not truly the former Headmaster; it did not have all of his memories.
Neville crossed his arms, awkward and uncertain in this lankier body. The rest of the portraits and Minerva kept staring at him. He couldn't blame them. Their scrutiny made something in the back of his mind feel strange—almost like the floating, disconnected sensation of having a bad cold.
Minerva had called Mr Ollivander to the discussion to examine the ebony wand, but he had yet to arrive. Harry was off attempting to track Luna down, though Neville didn't hold out much hope for his success. In her last letter to Neville, she'd said she was either going to Norway or Brazil next; she hadn't decided. She had probably ended up in neither.
"How are you doing?" Hermione asked, touching Neville's shoulder.
"Oh, I'm fine. Do you reckon Snape will attempt to brew while he's in my body? I kind of want to stand over him and critique his technique when he tries to get my hands to chop anything finely."
Chuckling, she wrapped her arms around him.
Neville was well acquainted with hugs from Hermione. She always felt comfortingly soft, and she always smelt like the umbrella flower oil he gave her every Christmas. It was how he imagined a hug from a sister would feel.
He was unprepared for the return of that disconnected sensation, and even less so for the sudden, sure knowledge that Snape wasn't accustomed to this sort of casual physical affection from a friend. There was a bubble of anxiety there, and Neville thought this body wouldn't know where hands should be placed or how long the embrace should be maintained without Neville there as a guide.
Snape's discomfort wasn't something Neville felt; he just knew. It was like the difference between whispering a word and overhearing it from someone else. Like Snape's body had retained some echo of his emotions.
"Granger, stop manhandling me," Snape said in an affronted voice.
An almost-laugh breezed against Neville's neck as Hermione stepped back and released him.
As an experiment, Neville concentrated on thoughts of Harry and tried to tune in to the floating sensation. Yes. There. Animosity, frustration, and was that regret? Interesting.
Wait. If Neville could sense how Snape felt, then could Snape…
A stooped woman with greying hair and the same sharp features as Snape entered the office. That part of Snape that had been left behind was both unsettled and comforted by her appearance. The woman stared at Neville even more intently than the portraits and the Headmistress had, her eyes shining with unshed tears, and guilt blared from that distant spot in Neville's head.
Snape cleared his throat. "Hello, Mum."
Real life has unexpectedly started kicking my arse, so I'm afraid updates will be a bit sporadic for a while. I'll still post chapters whenever I can, but it won't be happening weekly. Sorry! xx
Previously: Except, hadn't Granger mentioned that Longbottom had also borrowed Lovegood's wand? The wand that was now dead?
Severus glared at the ebony wand, and then at Granger.
Reuniting with his mother in front of Granger, Longbottom, Minerva, and dozens of nosy portraits made Severus's borrowed skin feel too tight. He had spoken to Eileen only once or twice since the Dark Lord's return. Keeping anyone close had been too risky, too likely to end with her being captured and used to force him into obedience. Now, Eileen kept alternating between staring at Severus and staring at Longbottom.
Severus didn't know what to say to her. He'd already used up his only idea of, "Hello, Mum."
"I brought this for you," Eileen said, pressing a familiar length of English oak into Severus's hand. Her voice was strained in that way that meant she was Occluding. "It was all they found in the Shrieking Shack."
Warmth tingled up Severus's wand arm, but the Lumos he cast had all the strength of a guttering candle. Everything in him sank.
Granger gave him a look that was so pitying, he wondered if she intended to start an organisation to aid him against his will, as she'd done with the House-elves. Insufferable.
"And these," Eileen said.
The Tesco carrier bag she thrust at him was mercifully thick and opaque, so no one but Severus saw that Eileen had seen fit to present him with several new packs of underwear.
"Mother," Severus said, "explain."
"Well, I just thought, you know, you'll need to borrow Neville's clothes until this is sorted, but there are some things you simply should not share."
Granger looked suspiciously like she was trying to hide a smile. For fuck's sake. Thus far, Severus's post-awakening life was entirely too populated by Potter and Company—as Weasley proved by tromping in at that very moment, wearing crimson Auror robes and a concerned frown.
Something in Severus's current body lifted at the sight of the ginger menace. Distantly, separate from his own thoughts and emotions, it whispered about a sudden lightness in the chest and swooping in the belly. It was like a splinter beneath his skin—something irritating and foreign and not his.
Baffled, Severus looked at Longbottom and had the unpleasant experience of seeing his own face contorted into a disgustingly besotted expression. Well, then.
For his part, Weasley took a few steps towards Severus as if on instinct before catching himself and turning to face Longbottom.
"Neville?" Weasley said. "Are you really in there?"
"Yeah," Longbottom said. "It's me."
Weasley straightened his shoulders and spoke in the Serious Auror Voice he'd used at the cottage. "Don't worry. We'll work out how to fix this. Here." He thrust a biscuit tin at Longbottom. "I brought more gingerbread. Thought you could use some cheering up."
Longbottom gave him the warmest smile he could manage with Severus's face. "Only you would stop to grab biscuits in a situation like this."
Their fingers touched as Longbottom accepted the offering. Gods, they were as obvious as a pair of third-year Hufflepuffs. Severus didn't need the impression left behind by this body's former occupant to tell him what was plain to everyone in the room. Plain to everyone except, perhaps, Weasley.
"Granger," Severus whispered, just to be certain. "Are they together?"
Granger shook her head. If they'd already been involved, Severus realised, he might have had an even ruder awakening that morning: next to Ronald Weasley. It didn't bear contemplating.
Hmm. Could Longbottom uncover Severus's emotions as well, or would his body automatically Occlude and bury everything too deep to be seen?
"Snape," Longbottom said. "Could I talk to you for a minute? Alone?" With an apologetic smile at Eileen, he added, "It won't take long."
Minerva offered up her lounge as a venue for their conversation. As he passed her desk, Severus sneaked her letter opener into his pocket. Longbottom was unlikely to attack his own body, but being essentially unarmed around someone who had many, many reasons to hate him was out of the question.
The instant they were alone, Longbottom whirled towards him. "If you say a word to Ron, I swear I'll get this body a face tattoo that says Go, go Gryffindor."
Severus raised an eyebrow. "Do you really want to start a contest to see which one of us can more thoroughly damage the other's body?"
Raking a hand through his hair, Longbottom grimaced. "No, probably not. You can feel my emotions, though, can't you? I can feel yours."
Severus's jaw clenched, what little magic he had itching to lash out at such an invasion of his privacy. Insults crowded for space on his tongue, but he swallowed each jagged word and forced a quick nod.
He had to solve this, and then he could deal with the emotional voyeurism. Was their connection due to that piece of Severus's magic that had been left behind in his body? Perhaps it was like Potter and the Dark Lord, though Severus didn't think any souls had been split by the borrowed ebony wand.
What little free time he'd had during that harrowing year as Headmaster had been spent searching for a way to separate a soul from a body—to rid Potter of that shard of the Dark Lord. Severus had started his research the instant he'd realised why Albus had insisted that Lily's boy had to die. Some of what he'd found would not be applicable to this case, but it would provide a jumping off point.
Without his full powers, he would need assistance. He glanced at Longbottom, but that was a nonstarter. Longbottom would be motivated to see this set right, it was true, but Severus needed a competent brewer—someone able to follow his instructions.
Well. He could think of one candidate who fit that description. Severus grimaced. No, first he would try seeking his mother's help. He had inherited his talent for Potions from Eileen, after all.
"I will say nothing to Weasley," Severus said.
Longbottom nodded. "Good. Thank you. I won't… If I feel anything from you that seems like it should be a secret, I won't tell anyone, either."
Obviously. Why would Severus promise to keep quiet, otherwise? And it wasn't as if Longbottom would detect some hidden love lurking in Severus's bones. Not for anyone living, at any rate. Likely, the most interesting thing Longbottom would observe would be an overabundance of irritation.
When they returned to Minerva's office, Weasley had a dusty book open and his brow furrowed in thought.
"Come here, Neville," Weasley said. "I've been reading up on enchanted sleep, and I have a theory I'd like to test on that body." At Severus's disbelieving expression, he added, "What? I can do research."
"Since when?" Granger muttered fondly.
"Weasley," Severus said. "If you harm my—"
Weasley took no notice of Severus's objections. Blue light streamed from his wand and wrapped around Longbottom, forming ancient runes over his head. Weasley scrambled to the back of the book for the rune dictionary, but Granger and Severus both translated them before Weasley could muddle his way through it.
"Thirty-eight years old," Granger said. "Huh. That's how old you were at the Battle of Hogwarts, right?"
Severus's body was barely a year older than Granger, Longbottom, and Weasley. He hadn't missed out on nineteen years of his life; it had merely been postponed.
"I did think you look obscenely young," Eileen said. "Certainly not as if you're closing in on sixty."
"I got the idea because of that glass box," Weasley said. "There was rust on the outside of the hinges, but not the inside."
Severus decided it was best for his sanity if he pretended that Ronald Weasley had not noticed a detail that he, Severus, had missed. He'd had enough disturbing news of late.
When Ollivander finally arrived, he confirmed what everyone else who handled the ebony wand had already guessed: it was no longer a wand. The core had dissolved.
"I haven't seen this one before," he said, turning the useless stick this way and that. "The last time Luna was in the country, I was away. Hmm. I'm sorry I can't be of more help, but there is really nothing here."
"Do you think Luna is OK?" Weasley asked. "We haven't found her yet. If she used the wand—"
"Oh, she wouldn't have used this wand," Ollivander said with a chuckle. "Luna never uses her souvenirs to cast spells. She says she doesn't want to make her wand jealous."
It sounded as if Miss Lovegood had not changed much.
"Are we going to keep this switch a secret?" Longbottom asked. "It's only a matter of time before people find out that Snape is still alive, unless I hide out at Grimmauld Place or something. Should we pretend to be each other?"
"By all means," Severus said. "I could dearly use a laugh."
Minerva snorted. "I think Neville will have an easier time impersonating you than the other way round, Severus." She gave him a sad, strange smile. "Though you are an excellent actor. It's almost time for Neville's first class. How do you two want to handle this?"
"I am not teaching," Severus said. "And yes, Longbottom, I do think we should keep this a secret for now, given my reduced magical ability. Can Pomona be tempted out of retirement until this is sorted?"
"Possibly," Minerva said, though she looked doubtful. "She's living in Spain now; she says the cold aggravates her arthritis. Neville could always teach his own classes. We could say that Professor Longbottom has taken ill, and Professor Snape is covering for him."
"I would prefer that," Longbottom said. "I promise I won't ruin your reputation by smiling or awarding points, Snape. And if anyone asks how I survived, I'll just glower. I won't be cruel, though, so if that's a problem, we should fire-call Pomona now."
"I suppose that will do," Severus said. It wasn't as if his reputation could get much worse than he'd left it in 1998. "But I reserve the right to change my mind."
As everyone prepared to leave, Granger sidled up to Severus.
"It's Hugo's birthday this Saturday," she said.
"My congratulations to him on surviving another year of Weasley's parenting."
"Can you have one conversation without a barbed comment?" Without waiting for his reply, she added, "Neville is Hugo's godfather. They've always been very close. I don't think it's a good idea to tell the kids about the switch if we're looking to keep it quiet, but Hugo will be upset if Neville doesn't come to his party, so I'd appreciate it if you could make an appearance. If you need extra incentive: Rita will be there. You could find some way to get even with her for that dreadful book."
Severus blinked. "What dreadful book?"
Severus and Eileen landed in a narrow snickelway in York. He shook his head. Her Side-Alongs always left him dizzy. Eileen led him between timber-framed buildings, emerging onto a quiet street with several shops and restaurants. Stopping in front of a closed shop with a window display of sparkling crystals and a sign advertising palm reading and reiki, she pulled a set of keys out of her pocket.
Severus recoiled. "This is your shop?"
"Mhm. The Muggles love it. This way, dear."
A beaded curtain at the back of the dim shop concealed a steep staircase that led up to the flat. Like their old house in Spinner's End, every wall of the flat was covered in bookcases. Tucked underneath the window overlooking the street was a window seat. Shifting the cushions on the seat around, Eileen lifted the hinged lid.
"It's all in here," she said, beckoning Severus forward to see his shrunken possessions: miniature books and robes and journals. It had the look of a memorial—something she could open and unpack when she wanted to remember him. Several photos of Severus, from infancy to adulthood, had been tacked to the underside of the lid. "You can stay with me if you like. There's only one bedroom, but I don't mind sleeping on the sofa."
His mum was eighty. In no possible scenario would he make her sleep on a sofa.
"No, thank you. I'm fine at Grimmauld Place until I can find somewhere of my own. Do you have the key to my Gringott's vault?"
Eileen squirmed in a way he had previously only seen from first years who hadn't done their homework.
"Now, you have to understand," she said, "I waited a long time for you to show up and let me know you were alive. Everyone told me to give up, but I kept hoping. It was only three years ago that I accepted you were gone and, err, bought the shop."
"Bought… the shop." Severus bit the inside of his cheek as angry heat climbed up his neck. "Mother. Tell me you did not spend my life savings on a new age shop for Muggles."
"I'm afraid I can't do that, dear. I kept everything else, though. The Guild of Potioneers wanted to buy your notes, but I wouldn't let them. If I had known you were—"
Severus held up a hand to stop her. "It's fine," he said tightly.
"Why do I not believe you?"
"Because I'm obviously lying. Merlin, Mum. If you had spent it on an apothecary, I could underst—"
"Darling, you have no idea, do you?" Eileen's lower lip trembled as she crossed to the tiny kitchen and grabbed a book from the cupboard under the sink, of all places. "Here. I told you I had a copy of that book Hermione mentioned. Do you know how Muggles joke about therapists always blaming the mother? Skeeter is quite good at that as well."
Severus went cold as he accepted the copy of Snape: Scoundrel or Saint? by Rita Skeeter. His own face scowled at him from the cover. The pages smelt of mildew.
A few paragraphs in, his anger multiplied and settled on a different target. Skeeter knew things she shouldn't have known. While much of it was technically true, Skeeter had twisted every word to fit her agenda. It hadn't been like that. Eileen hadn't been like that. Severus didn't recognise this unloving, neglectful mother on the page. And his mum had liked Lily. Severus seldom had his friend over to Spinner's End because he'd been embarrassed for her to see it. Also, because of Tobias. And how dare Skeeter imply that Eileen had actually celebrated Lily's death?
Tobias, on the other hand, had been captured with perfect, painful accuracy.
"Very few people in the wizarding world want to know me," Eileen said. "Skeeter used Veritaserum on Bathilda Bagshot when she wrote that book about Dumbledore, according to Harry and Hermione. They tried and tried to prove that Skeeter had done so on someone else when she wrote about you. They were both quite determined, but they came up with nothing."
You could find some way to get even with her for that dreadful book, Granger had said. Oh, he would find more than one way. He would start with a dozen and then see how murderous he still felt.
Severus slammed the book shut. "Mum, can I borrow… I don't even know how much. What has inflation been like? Enough to buy a present for a smallish child."
"Err, yes, of course. Why?"
"It appears I will be attending Hugo Granger-Weasley's birthday party."
Thank you all for your patience while I wrote this chapter. And thank you for Vitellia for getting it back to me so quickly so you didn't have to wait any longer. Credit for the idea of Severus waking up next to Ron goes to Q_Drew, who mentioned the possibility in a comment. I hadn't even considered it, as I knew Neville/Ron were still in the mutual pining phase, but it made me laugh so much that I had to include it somehow.
Chapter 6: The Party
Thank you again for your patience, and thank you to Vitellia for the speedy beta work! At the rate I'm currently writing, I think we can safely say that updates will happen once a month. xx
Previously: Severus slammed the book shut. "Mum, can I borrow… I don't even know how much. What has inflation been like? Enough to buy a present for a smallish child."
"Err, yes, of course. Why?"
"It appears I will be attending Hugo Granger-Weasley's birthday party."
George Weasley was a mad genius. Not that Severus would ever admit the genius part aloud. Sidling past a particularly garish display, Severus added an Extendable Ear to his already full basket. Legilimency was currently out of his reach, but thanks to Weasley, Severus could meet Skeeter at least somewhat armed. Ah, Instant Moustache Powder. He definitely needed some of that. Weasley had almost certainly formulated it without a fixative, though. If Severus added a pinch of dried goosegrass, he could likely render its effects permanent.
"Neville?" a familiar, feminine voice said. Granger stood at the end of the aisle, her eyebrows drawn together in confusion. As she stepped closer and noticed the teeming basket in his hand, she winced. "Please tell me that isn't for Hugo."
Severus waved a hand. "No, I bought his gift months ago." Longbottom had a stack of books already wrapped and tied up with a bow for his godson. Lowering his voice, Severus added, "A Muffliato, if you would, Gr—Hermione."
The ease with which she cast his spell was infuriating, in his current circumstances, but Severus shoved the feeling down.
"All of this," he said, "is for Skeeter."
Granger looked at him as if he'd just professed a newfound passion for Divination. "You think a temporary moustache is sufficient punishment for the things she wrote?"
"Of course not. This is simply to amuse myself while I find a way to destroy her."
"Well, then," Granger said with an almost-smile, stretching up to reach the top shelf. "You'll need some U-No-Poo."
Severus let out a low chuckle. "Yes. Yes, I will."
"But I will thank you to not slip her any Puking Pastilles or Nosebleed Nougats during the party. With that many children running around, there's already a risk that Ron and I will have to clean up vomit or blood or both. No need to make it a certainty."
"Granger, are you a witch or not? Simply Evanesco the vomit. Be a team player, for Merlin's sake."
"A team player?" She crossed her arms, that almost-smile warming into an almost-grin. "We're on the same team now, are we?"
"Against Skeeter, yes. Well, we were on the same team years ago, you'll recall. You were simply unaware of it at the time. And unless I am mistaken, you have been on the anti-Skeeter team for years." Just in case, he added a second box of U-No-Poo to his basket. "I always wondered how you forced her to write that article for The Quibbler."
Granger's expression didn't change as she said, "I held her prisoner in a jar and threatened to tell the Ministry that she was an unregistered Animagus."
Severus blinked. "Marry me," he said in a deadpan voice.
She laughed. Joking with her like this—teasing, rather than cruel—felt familiar to this body, but alien to him.
George Weasley crept up behind Granger, one ginger eyebrow raised. His face had fewer laugh lines than Severus might have expected; even without taking the missing ear into account, he was instantly recognisable. Severus nodded to alert Granger to the other man's approach.
"What were you two talking about under a Muffliato?" Weasley asked once Granger dropped the spell. The words were innocent enough, but his tone made it sound as if he'd caught them groping each other next to the display of Weasleys' Wildfire Whiz-Bangs.
"If I wanted you to know, I wouldn't have cast it," Granger said.
"Hmm." Slinging an arm around her shoulder, Weasley winked at her. "I'll just assume it was something that would have made me blush, then."
Severus decided he did not want to know what could possibly make George Weasley blush.
"All right, Neville?" Weasley said, giving Severus's basket an approving glance. "I heard about Snape taking over your classes. Is all that to prepare your students for battle with him?"
Of course he would jump to the conclusion that any class with Severus would be a battleground. Severus could not snarl. What would Longbottom say in this situation?
"I couldn't very well let them face him alone," Severus said in what he thought was a fair approximation of Longbottom's Northern accent.
Was Longbottom friends with this particular Weasley, or just friendly acquaintances? Severus's closest male friend before his "death" had been Lucius, but that hardly seemed a fitting example to draw from in order to feign the sort of friendship George Weasley would have. George was unlikely to talk for thirty tedious minutes about his shoe collection, for instance.
Something about the idea that Lucius was his closest male friend didn't quite fit. The thought was like trying to squeeze his feet into a pair of Lucius's precious shoes: it pinched and chafed. Trying to pin down why that was, Severus thought back to that comforting voice he'd heard during his long sleep. It had been nasally and high-pitched, but also a bit rough. Masculine?
"How are you feeling?" Weasley asked.
"Not too bad today, thanks," Severus said.
The excuse they'd used to explain Longbottom's leave of absence was Starkey Syndrome, a condition brought on by a bite from an infected Fluxweed Beetle. Symptoms tended to come and go, leaving sufferers fine some days, but with misfiring magic on others. This way, it wouldn't seem unusual for Longbottom to be out and about in Diagon Alley now and then when he was supposed to be on extended sick leave. There was no cure, but most of the time it ran its course in a few months.
Severus picked up what looked like two spiral bound Muggle notebooks. They were made for passing notes during class; the messages appeared in the twin notebook, then vanished when read. He would have despised such an invention during his time as a professor, but happily, those days were behind him. The notebooks might come in handy. He put them in his basket.
Severus didn't know what to do with small children if ordering them to go read a textbook and leave him alone was not an option. Upon Severus's exit from Ronald's Floo, Hugo leapt at him for a hug. A distant echo of protective, warm affection ricocheted around Severus's chest, clashing with his own discomfort. He patted the boy's back.
"Come on, Uncle Neville," Hugo said, tugging on Severus's hand. "I want to introduce you to my new kitten."
When Draco had been little, Severus had mostly avoided him. Draco had always been inexplicably sticky, in spite of the House-elf's best efforts—a trait Hugo mercifully did not share, it seemed. Perhaps Hugo was past the age of stickiness. Severus's only other friend to have a child… Well. That had been a non-starter. She had been a former friend, for a start, and the father of said child would not have welcomed Uncle Severus into their little family. Not that Severus would have wanted it.
Hugo led Severus through a picture-lined corridor (all photographs of Granger tended to wave at him, while the younger ones of Ronald made faces) and into a kitchen that smelled of chocolate cake. In a frilly basket next to the oven, a tiny white kitten dozed. It was quite possibly the fluffiest creature Severus had ever seen.
"This is Norberta," Hugo whispered. "She's my present from Mum."
Severus raised his eyebrows. "Did you name her after Hagrid's dragon?"
"Yeah. I think it suits her."
Norberta blinked up at them and let out a pitiful mew.
"Yes. She's clearly ferocious."
"Hey, mate," Ronald said as he entered the kitchen. He was wearing that ridiculous apron again, but that didn't stop Longbottom's belly from giving a phantom somersault. There was no accounting for taste. "When did you get in?"
"Just now. I—"
Severus cut off as an unholy roar of chatter came from the front of the house. That many young voices all talking over each other sent him right back to his dungeon classroom.
"I think your cousins are here," Ronald said to his son.
Hugo apparently did not want to face them alone. A wise choice, in Severus's opinion, but an inconvenient one for him. Keeping a tight hold on Severus's hand, Hugo raced back to the front of the house, where a hyperactive crowd of Weasleys awaited them.
Molly and Arthur's children had been busy.
Lucy Weasley wore an expression that Severus had seen countless times on Percy's face. In the past, it had always meant a relentless pursuit of House Points.
"It's my turn, now," Lucy said, snatching a toy broom out of the hands of little Aurelia Finch-Fletchley.
"You just had a go," Lily said.
"I did not," Lucy said. "She's had it for ages."
"She has not! Right, Uncle Neville? You saw."
Why the devil was Lily trying to bring him into this? He didn't give a damn who had possession of the broom. Wasn't this a job for one of their parents?
"Err," Severus said. "I suppose it hasn't been very long."
There. That sounded suitably Longbottomesque.
Lucy scoffed. "She can play with it when I'm done."
Her tone made it sound as if she believed herself to be generous beyond compare. Lily gave Severus an impatient look. Apparently, more was expected of him in this situation. Gods. He needed the ability to assign detention for this.
"Give it back," he said.
"But I don't want to. It's not fair."
Severus narrowed his eyes. Had he been in his own body, he would have told her just how fair life could be.
"It is exceedingly fair, and you will return the broom to her," he said.
A bit too much of Professor Snape must have seeped into his words. Lucy's lower lip wobbled. Throwing the broom to the ground, she stomped away.
Aurelia stared at the broom. Bending down, Severus scooped it up and offered it to her, as he suspected Longbottom would have done. Perhaps he should have added an attempt at a smile, because for some bloody reason, the child started crying. Leaving her in Lily's care, Severus went in search of adults.
"Don't worry about making Lucy cry," a voice said off to his left. Not an adult, but Rose Granger-Weasley, home from Hogwarts for the party. She sat on the grass with a thick book open on her lap, looking like a more freckled version of her mother at that age. "It's what she does."
"Right. Good to know."
"And Aurelia just doesn't like conflict. It was nothing to do with you. Probably." Wrinkling her nose, she looked across the garden. "Oh, Rita and Granddad are here. And, hmm, so is Professor Snape. This party might be more interesting than I thought."
About bloody time Skeeter showed up. Mr Granger—a balding man with the same kind brown eyes as his daughter—waved and smiled at Rose before disappearing into the house.
Severus should have known that Longbottom wouldn't be able to stay away from the party, given what he'd sensed of the man's fondness for his godson. From what Severus could see, Longbottom had Severus's default facial expression (annoyance) mastered, but the walk he attempted was absurd. Far too much swooping robes and drama. Hugo beamed when Longbottom presented him with what looked like a children's book about Potions.
"All right, Neville?" Potter asked, appearing next to Severus. Where had he been during the broom debacle?
"I've made two children cry without even trying. So yes, thank you. I'm fine."
Potter snorted. His face turned as defiant and stubborn as it had ever been in Potions class as Skeeter approached them in a cloud of overpowering perfume. A thousand hexes perched on Severus's tongue.
"Harry," Skeeter cooed, barely sparing a glance in Severus's direction. "It's so good to see you again. How are you?"
"I'd be a lot better if you would have left your Quick Quotes Quill at home," Potter said, gesturing at the wiggling tuft of acid green that stuck out of Skeeter's handbag. "You know Ron and Hermione have banned it at their houses."
A wave of Potter's wand summoned the quill into his palm. While Skeeter was distracted by claiming she had no clue how that got there, honestly, Severus slipped a dose of Instant Moustache Powder into her cup of lemonade. With the fixative he'd sprinkled in, it wouldn't be quite so instant. He estimated about half an hour before her upper lip started to sprout stubble.
"Hermione," Severus whispered. Using her given name still felt strange. "Muffliato."
Granger sighed. "I am half tempted to ask you what the magic word is, but I suspect that would get me nowhere. Muffliato."
"Everyone knows the magic word is Imperio." He paused, one corner of his lips quirking up when she rolled her eyes and tried to hide her laugh. "Now. You should invite me to dinner at your father's house. Skeeter hardly takes any notice of Longbottom. The only time she's acknowledged me thus far has been to ask questions about Potter. I could conduct a thorough search of her home right under her nose."
Granger crossed her arms. "You think I haven't snooped around there on multiple occasions?"
Keeping his answer in the neighbourhood of diplomatic was a struggle, but Severus thought he just about managed it.
"I imagine she likely keeps a close watch on you, given past events, and a fresh set of eyes is always useful," he said. "Particularly when that set of eyes belongs to a former spy."
"Hmm, fair enough. I was thinking we should do something like that, actually. Every time I'm there, she—"
Granger's words broke off as a shriek pierced the air. Ah. Skeeter had finally conjured a mirror to examine the tickle on her face. Excellent.
"I haven't even used a fraction of my arsenal," Severus said to Granger. "I believe doing it little by little will be best. A slow descent into madness, rather than a sudden onslaught of attacks. I wonder if I know anyone currently working at the Prophet. Having someone on hand to top up her dose of U-No-Poo would be ideal."
Granger laughed. "Are you devoting this much energy to getting your own body back?"
"Of course I am. Brewing starts first thing tomorrow, assuming the imbecile now running Slugg and Jigger's has finally managed to procure the specialist ingredients for me."
"Mm. I see." Smirking, Granger raised her wand as if to banish her Muffliato. "Excuse me a moment, I have to let Neville know. He said he'd very much like to see you attempt to finely chop Potions ingredients with his hands."
Severus sneered. "I won't be doing the bulk of the brewing myself, obviously."
"No. I'm practically a Squib at the moment. I have an assistant."
Chapter 7: The Assistant
Previously: Severus sneered. "I won't be doing the bulk of the brewing myself, obviously."
"No. I'm practically a Squib at the moment. I have an assistant."
"No, not like that."
Reaching across the table, Severus attempted to adjust his mother's grip on the knife. She was going to butcher the unicorn hair into unusable shreds at the rate she was going.
"Severus, honestly," Eileen said, dodging him with far too much ease. "I have been brewing longer than you've been alive."
"Well, you've been doing so incorrectly."
This earned him the sort of glare she used to reserve for when he'd tracked mud into the house or sneaked up to the loft to read her old Dark Arts books. The way Eileen brewed reminded him of her Muggle shop: full of unnecessary flourishes and superstition. Why in the name of Salazar would she need to use the exact knife she had been using since the age of eleven? Severus had offered her several (far superior) knives that were suitably sharp, nonreactive, and clean, but no. They would not do. Eileen had to have a whole production.
How had someone who claimed to have a lucky knife given birth to someone like him? Also, if anything, the knife was unlucky, as it had been in use for less than an hour and needed to be sharpened again. Severus's eye twitched.
Leaning over the golden cauldron, he scrutinised the bubbling of the murky green potion. It was nearly ready for the powdered bitterroot. After the way she'd mangled the preparation of the other ingredients, Eileen could not be trusted with such a delicate task.
Well, no matter. Minimal magical power was required for this step; it was more about the timing. Measuring out two drachms of the powder into his palm, Severus waited for the right moment. The powder needed to be warmed ever-so-slightly between pinched fingers as it was added a few grains at a time. Longbottom's body ran hotter than his; he would need to adjust his speed.
In hindsight, Severus should have been more concerned with the challenge of adding it a few grains at a time. Longbottom's fingers were thick and strong, more suited to packing down soil or cutting back unruly vines. A bright stream of magenta powder dropped into the cauldron before he could stop it. The liquid inside darkened, rising over the brim in a violent wave.
Eileen's quick reaction proved that Severus had not, in fact, been switched at birth. She cast a containment charm over the cauldron with as much ease and instinct as a tenured Potions Master at Hogwarts. Inside her conjured bubble, the potion continued to thrash and swirl.
"Not like that, darling," Eileen said.
Yeah, he was definitely her son.
"Mum. You will not, under any circumstances, tell Longbottom about this."
"Merlin, have you always been this bossy?" Wrinkling her nose, Eileen took another stab at ruining what had once been a perfectly good unicorn hair. "Of course I won't tell him… Unless your attitude doesn't improve."
What had he been thinking, selecting his mother as his assistant? That enchanted sleep had clearly addled his brain. He should have known better than to ask her. As the contained potion finally calmed, Severus peered at the unicorn hair.
"Maybe I'll be able to obtain a few more hairs free of charge in the Forbidden Forest," he said. "A unicorn might let this body approach it."
Eileen cackled. "Are you saying that you think Neville Longbottom is an untouched innocent? Darling… No. Gracious. If he wasn't young enough to be my grandson, I would have—"
"What? I might be old, but I'm not dead. You should have seen how many admirers he had after his heroics with the Sword of Gryffindor and that horrible snake. I believe he even inspired a slang term among those who were in the war. Longbottoming. It's used for someone who grows up to be stunningly attractive after an awkward adolescence."
Severus had been joking about the possibility of Longbottom being a virgin—the man was thirty-seven, for Merlin's sake—but Longbottoming? Between this and the Muggle news clippings Granger had brought him, he was quite certain the world had gone insane.
A knock sounded on the front door, saving the second unicorn hair from Eileen's less than tender handling. Severus knew who it would be before he answered: Granger. She was the only one who requested entry to Grimmauld Place instead of waltzing in.
"Hi," Granger said, giving him a bright smile. "I'm here to discuss Team Anti-Skeeter business." Pausing, she sniffed the burnt plastic smell that lingered in the air. "Is this a bad time?"
"No, not at all. That is simply the odour of my assistant being sacked."
"You can't sack someone who has already quit," Eileen said. "I want to help you solve this, Severus, but I don't think being your Potions assistant is the way to do it. Our energies clash too much to brew together."
Their energies. Merlin help him.
If Granger saw any resemblance between Trelawney and Eileen, she was charitable enough to keep it to herself.
"I'll leave you to it," Eileen said, touching Granger's arm as she passed. "Good luck, dear."
Once the door had shut behind his mother, Granger held up a thick three-ring binder and said, "I'm sure you'll want to gather your own information as well, but I brought you a dossier on Skeeter."
Of course she had. And of course the thing was lengthier than even the most long-winded of Lockhart's books. Severus chuckled when he discovered that the mountain of papers in the binder had been separated into colour coded categories by neatly labelled dividers. He would have known who had compiled this information even if it had been offered to him by someone else.
"I have missed a lot, it seems," he said. "Have you secured a date for dinner at the Skeeter-Granger household?"
"This Saturday, if that works for you."
"I believe I can squeeze it into my busy social schedule."
Setting the dossier on a side table, Severus took a moment to scrutinise Granger. She would need to restrain her hair, of course, and she would undoubtedly pester him with questions, but she had always been adept at following his instructions. There was nothing for it. What other choice did he have?
"Granger, follow me."
She trailed after him to the basement kitchen without comment. Thankfully, Eileen had cast an Evanesco over the makeshift brewing station, removing all traces of evidence that might have caused Granger to ask impertinent questions. With his hands on Granger's shoulders, he manoeuvred her in front of the cutting board.
"You will be slicing a single unicorn hair into thirty equal segments," he said. "Choose a knife."
"I passed my Potions NEWT quite some time ago, Professor," she said, but her hand hovered between two knives with 4-inch blades. After a few moments of consideration, she chose the one with a shorter, curved handle, better suited to her smaller hands.
"Good," he said, almost laughing at the way the mild show of approval made her smirk. "Now, prepare the unicorn hair."
She was as precise as ever, measuring and cutting exactly as he would have done. Yes, it was the right choice to use someone he had taught—someone who had formed her ideas about proper brewing techniques in his classroom.
"Have I been volunteered for the role of your assistant?" she asked.
"Hmm." Her tone slid into gentle mockery, warm and amused, as if they were friends. "Are you sure our energies will cooperate?"
"I am sure neither of us believe in that nonsense."
"You never know. I might have had a change of heart about Divination at some point during your extended nap."
Severus scoffed. "If I actually thought you meant that, I would demand proof that you are the real Hermione Granger."
Making the final slice, she grinned at him. "I think that might be the nicest thing you've ever said to me."
Longbottom's body had the strangest reaction to that smile and the way Granger bumped her elbow against his. Quite against Severus's will, his face heated and his gaze dipped down to her mouth. It felt different from Longbottom's reactions to Ronald. More immediate, not some fuzzy, far away thing that had nothing to do with Severus.
It had to have come from Longbottom, though. The alternative was ludicrous.
Severus cleared his throat. "Your work is adequate."
"Stop. I may swoon from the onslaught of praise." Her voice was soft and full of laughter. Longbottom's body decided to glance at her lips again. "I suppose that makes me your assistant, though you didn't actually ask. I'll be happy to help, for the record."
"Again, I would demand proof that you are the real Hermione Granger if you said otherwise."
The way she looked at him, then—like he had said something lovely—made an answering brightness stir in Longbottom's chest.
No wonder the man had left things unspoken between himself and Ronald, if he was so torn between two of his friends.
"How will the potion work?" she asked. "Or is it potions, plural?"
"Two potions. The first will transfer Longbottom's magic back to this body. I only have a rudimentary sketch for that one. The other is based on some research I did starting in your sixth year, when I worked out that the Dark Lord had unwittingly made Potter into a Horcrux."
"I did not manage it in time, obviously, but I did try. Where I ran into difficulty was extracting a specific soul. I couldn't be sure it wouldn't target Potter himself. Our situation is somewhat easier in that respect, at least. We will use the potion to transfer our souls into inanimate objects, and then move the souls to their correct bodies."
Granger worried her lower lip between her teeth. "During all of this souls shifting around business, your bodies…" Her hand brushed his arm, almost as if to steady herself against the obvious conclusion. "It'll be like you've been Kissed by Dementors."
"I imagine so, yes. Happily, you will be there to set that right. Now, have you ever worked with powdered bitterroot?"
"Professor?" Rose said, hanging back as her fellow students filed out of the greenhouse. "Do you have a minute?"
Neville almost groaned. He loved Rose—really, he did. She'd held a large piece of his heart since the moment Ron had placed a pink-wrapped bundle in Neville's arms eleven years before. When Neville was in his own skin, Rose's thirst for knowledge made him smile at how very much she reminded him of her mother. But as "Professor Snape," he was starting to plot ways to avoid her.
"Make it quick, Miss Granger-Weasley," he said.
"I was just wondering about the benefits of harvesting certain Potions ingredients at different points in the lunar cycle," she said. "Why does it matter if fluxweed is picked at the full moon?"
Hell if he knew. Rose smiled up at him, all innocent curiosity. She kept doing this, asking him questions he didn't know how to answer.
"And why, may I ask, are you not directing this inquiry to Professor Nott?"
Neville was really starting to get the hang of pretending to be Snape, he thought. He even had the walk perfected.
Rose shrugged. "He's all the way down in the dungeons, and you're an expert at Potions, aren't you?"
"Quite, but teaching Herbology leaves me with more than enough work to do. I don't want to go back to teaching Potions as well. Please save your Potions questions for Professor Nott in the future."
"All right." Rose toyed with the end of her Ravenclaw tie. "Fair enough. I'll see you tomorrow, sir."
Waving at him over her shoulder, she hurried to catch up with Albus and Scorpius. Finally. Silence. Neville sank down onto a bench next to the potted cowbane. Even though he was getting better at it, this Snape act was exhausting. It didn't help that this body's temples were prone to ache after too much time spent around students.
Gods, he wanted to be himself again. Before the switch had happened, Neville had been on the verge of telling Ron about his feelings—of risking their friendship by confessing everything he'd been keeping bottled up for months. Years, if he was honest with himself. He definitely couldn't tell Ron now.
"Well," a horribly familiar, drawling voice said. "I guess the rumours are true. I didn't quite believe it, even after the article in the Prophet backed up Scorpius's story."
Draco bloody Malfoy stood in the open doorway of the greenhouse. Fucking hell. That distant part of Neville's head that was home to Snape's emotions came to life with an odd blend of exasperation, fondness, and guilt.
"Draco," Neville said. "What are you doing here?"
"I was curious. And when it became apparent that you weren't going to visit, I decided to come to you."
Neville made a fervent wish for Draco to talk about enchanted sleep or Scorpius's progress in class or pretty much anything except the war. They should have seen this coming. Of course at least one Malfoy would seek Snape out.
"How are you, Severus?" Draco asked.
"Well rested," Neville said in a dry voice.
Was that Snape-ish enough? Neville couldn't decide. Looming and being stern with his students was easy, but Draco knew Snape. They had gone on the run together after Dumbledore's death.
Draco coughed out a laugh. "I can imagine. Mother wanted me to ask if you—"
"Professor!" Rose said as she burst into the greenhouse. "Come quickly! Albus is vomiting slugs!"
Neville and Draco exchanged a look. Neville was half tempted to ask if Al had been using a broken wand.
"You'll have to excuse me, Draco," Neville said. "It appears I have some detentions to assign."
Severus wrapped his hands around the soothing heat of his mug, quietly relieved that his mum had offered him a proper cup of tea, rather than some hippie-dippy herbal nonsense that tasted like grass and potpourri. Patting his arm, Eileen went to answer the knock at her front door.
Severus's pocket warmed, indicating an incoming message from Granger. He had given her one of the notebooks he'd bought from George's shop, so they could communicate about their Potions experiments and Team Anti-Skeeter business without always sticking their heads into fireplaces.
Draco Malfoy came to see "Professor Snape" at Hogwarts, apparently.
Severus's eyebrows shot up. He had expected to receive the cold shoulder from the Malfoys. Narcissa had cut ties with her own sister when Andromeda had fallen in love with a Muggleborn wizard, after all. Thanks to Potter, it was no secret that Severus's love for Lily had played a huge role in his choice to fight against the Dark Lord—and against the Malfoys, for that matter. Draco owed Severus a Life Debt, so he wouldn't turn up seeking revenge, would he?
That could be a problem, Severus replied. Tell Longbottom to act aloof and to keep putting the Malfoys off until some later date if they suggest meeting up. I do not wish to let them in on the secret, considering our past.
Yeah, Neville and I both thought it was best for him to avoid them. Is it OK with you if Hugo tags along for dinner with The Enemy, by the way?
Severus wrote back, Yes. He can provide a distraction, if necessary.
Her response was almost instant. You are not using my child for your nefarious schemes. Or our nefarious schemes. Whatever.
Chuckling to himself, Severus replied, Is he or is he not on Team Anti-Skeeter?
He has been since birth. Also, I suppose he does have an advantage over the two of us. He's related to George. Hmm. Maybe we should bring Lily as well.
Eileen's voice floated in from the stairwell. "You go sit with Severus, Harry dear. I'll get you a cup of tea. Do you still take two sugars?"
Harry? She couldn't mean—
"Only one these days, thanks," Potter said. "I'm trying to cut back."
Severus scowled. Why on earth did his mum know how Potter took his tea?
"Hi, Snape," Potter said, helping himself to a floral armchair. Almost as if he had a preferred seat in this flat.
"Potter. What brings you here?"
"We found out who was keeping you in that cottage. Would you like to meet him?"
Previously: "Potter. What brings you here?"
"We found out who was keeping you in that cottage. Would you like to meet him?"
Ron expected shouting when he and Ernie Macmillan opened the door. Goblins weren't the most cheerful creatures at the best of times, and being placed in a magic-dampening interrogation room would make anyone a bit tetchy. What Ron didn't expect was what, exactly, would be shouted at him.
"Which one of you took my cerulean blue?" the goblin asked, pointing an accusing finger at Ron's chest.
"Err," Ron said. "I'm not sure what that is, sorry."
The goblin stomped his foot. "Paint. It's bad enough you made him wait so long. Did you have to steal from me as well?"
Ernie and Ron exchanged a look. Ernie was supposed to be their goblin expert. He'd worked at Gringott's and was fluent in Gobbledegook, but he looked as clueless as Ron felt. Paint?
Oh, wait. Hadn't Lily used some blue paint to mark her way back to the cottage?
"We didn't," Ron said. "My niece took it. Sorry about that. We'll replace it."
The goblin harrumphed. "See that you do."
With that, he turned his chair around, as if the conversation was over.
Ron coughed. This was going well. Really productive.
"Excuse me," Ron said.
"What do you want?" the goblin asked, not bothering to face him. "You can't possibly have my paint already."
"No, not yet."
"We would like to speak with you first, if you wouldn't mind," Ernie said. "Before we start, you should know that you're entitled to have a goblin solicitor present."
The goblin snorted. "I don't need you to tell me my rights, wizard. And I don't need a solicitor, either."
"Great," Ron said. "Now that's settled, we just have a few questions about Severus Snape."
"Why? Ask him yourself." The goblin turned a wrinkled face towards them, his beady eyes widening. "You do have him, don't you? He isn't hurt?"
"He's fine," Ron said. Being trapped in Neville's body was a very broad definition of the word fine. "What we want to know is why he was in your house. He doesn't seem to have any idea."
At this, the goblin huffed.
"I'm sorry," Ron said, "I didn't catch your name."
"That's because you didn't ask." The goblin scowled in a way that suggested prying a smile from him would be like trying to coax kind words out of Snape. "It's Kraggok. You needn't bother introducing yourself. I know very well who you are, Ronald Weasley."
Kraggok refused to talk any further until Ernie and Ron sat on the cold floor, so their eyes could be level with his and he could "see if they were planning anything."
"So." Ron rubbed his temple. "Why couldn't any Aurors but me and Harry get past your door?"
"It's keyed to Harry Potter, Hermione Granger, and you. That was the deal."
"The deal?" Ernie asked.
Kraggok's answer didn't surprise Ron in the slightest. They would have to circle back to that.
"Our kids got through," Ron said. "Both doors unlocked for them."
The goblin version of Hermione's most exasperated glare was sent his way for that comment.
"Of course your children were allowed in. It's keyed to your magic. They got their magic from you." His tone and expression, if not his words, called Ron an imbecile.
"Why didn't you come find me or Harry or Hermione when we didn't show up?" Ron asked.
"Dumbledore said to keep Severus safe and wait for you to come, so that's what I did. If he wanted me to gallivant all over the country looking for you, he should have mentioned it."
Ron raised his eyebrows. "And keeping Snape safe meant keeping him knocked out? I mean, don't get me wrong. I had him as a teacher for six years. I get it."
Ernie's elbow dug into Ron's ribs as Kraggok's expression darkened. Huh. All right, then. No badmouthing Snape. Noted.
"What was this deal you had with Dumbledore?" Ernie asked.
"I owed him a Life Debt. He offered me a way to repay that debt. Saving Severus seemed a small enough price at the time, but if I'd known it would end with me being trapped in this room with you two dunderheads, I would have passed on his offer."
Honestly, had Kraggok absorbed Snape's opinion of Ron during all those years they'd spent in the cottage together?
"Even if we'd known you had Snape, how were we supposed to find you?" Ron asked.
"Dumbledore said he was giving his Deluminator to one of you. It was supposed to guide your way once the lock was in place."
Shite. Ron cringed. He hadn't used the Deluminator since the war. In the all-consuming grief that had followed the final battle, Dumbledore's gift had been tucked away and forgotten in his old Hogwarts trunk. Hugo had unearthed it the morning they'd found Snape, and he must have sneaked it into the woods to play.
Ron could have found Kraggok's cottage years ago. Snape was going to kill him.
Severus followed Potter into the little interrogation room, still fuming over what Potter had told him. What the devil had Albus been thinking, leaving the key to finding Severus in the hands of Ronald Weasley?
If Albus hadn't been so convinced that his plan would succeed—if he had let Kraggok keep Severus awake, for fuck's sake—Severus would not have missed the past nineteen years. Albus used to be as bad as Poppy about pestering Severus to stay in the Hospital Wing instead of tending to his own wounds. Likely, the old man had thought Severus wouldn't have willingly stayed in the cottage if he'd been conscious. Which was an accurate enough assessment, but it should have been Severus's choice.
As Potter left the room, Severus steadied himself. Kraggok's face was unfamiliar, but that rusty laugh… That, Severus knew quite well.
"You've changed," Kraggok said.
Another laugh. "They told me, but I didn't quite believe it. How are you?"
Severus had imagined that he recognised Kraggok's voice because Kraggok had talked to him absentmindedly, the way some people chatted to their pets. The reality was somewhat different.
"Dumbledore designed the enchanted sleep to allow us to have conversations," Kraggok explained when Severus asked about it. "We talked about many things over the years. The war, your parents, the idiots who were supposed to come and find you."
"Why did Albus not tell you to wake me up once my name was cleared?" Severus asked.
Kraggok paused. "I did suggest it to you, once. It was perhaps a month after the war. Potter was going around telling all and sundry what a hero you were. The Wizengamot issued a posthumous pardon. It seemed safe enough for you to leave."
"And you told me no. I believe your exact words were: The Wizarding World can go fuck itself. They only think I'm a hero because I'm dead. I should turn up and spoil their fun, but quite honestly, I can't be bothered. I'd rather sleep." Kraggok shrugged one bony shoulder. "You were still quite angry at that point. I didn't bring it up again, and neither did you."
The words did sound familiar, even if Kraggok's impersonation of Severus's voice was absurd. It all had the hazy, half-remembered quality of a dream. So. This goblin had been, what? Severus's therapist? Why would Severus have discussed his parents with anyone?
"Are they going to keep me here?" Kraggok asked.
That voice still felt like comfort. Like a friend. Severus's throat felt tight.
"No. I asked to stay in that enchanted sleep, apparently, so how could they?"
Kraggok chortled. "You have more faith in wizards than I do, lad. Never thought I'd say that to you, of all people."
Severus almost blurted out the Secret that would allow Kraggok to see Number 12 Grimmauld Place—almost invited him to visit, if he wanted. Instead, Severus called for Potter.
Somehow, Hermione always half-expected Snape's own voice to come out of his mouth. It was something about the different curve of Neville's lips. The real Neville grinned and beamed at his friends without restraint. Snape in Neville's bones only let his mouth twitch up at the corners when he greeted her and Hugo.
"Hello, Hugo," Snape said, definitely in Neville's voice. As he returned Hugo's hug, Snape looked almost natural.
"Hi! Guess what, Uncle Neville."
Hugo scoffed. "You have to guess."
Neville's face looked all wrong arching a single eyebrow. "Rita Skeeter has been thrown in Azkaban, and dinner is cancelled?"
Hugo giggled. "Why would she be thrown in Azkaban?"
"I'm sure there are a multitude of reasons."
"Well, that's not it."
"Then what is?"
Snape let out an exasperated sigh. "You do realise that the odds of me guessing correctly without any sort of clue are…" Trailing off with a frown, he reached forward and poked the belly of Hugo's puffy coat.
Coats, in general, were not supposed to meow.
"Hugo," Hermione said, crossing her arms. "You cannot smuggle your kitten to Granddad's. You know Rita's allergic."
"Is she?" Snape asked. "In that case, I believe Norberta should be our new mascot."
Delighted as Hugo was by this idea, he still obeyed when Hermione told him to go put the kitten back in her basket—albeit with plenty of sulking.
"I have a feeling you're going to be a bad influence on him," she muttered to Snape.
"Granger, you've known me for years. Surely you didn't expect me to be a good influence."
When Hugo returned (and was searched for stowaway felines), Hermione took his hand and Snape's arm and Side-Along Apparated them to her dad's back garden. The house David Granger had purchased with his second wife was the sort of bland cookie cutter new build that Petunia Dursley would have adored. Though Petunia would no doubt have turned her nose up at the block-paved "garden," which didn't have a single living plant in sight.
"Hermione, my goodness, you're so brave," Rita said, looking askance at Hermione's Muggle jeans and top. "I wish I could be like you and just say to hell with it, I don't care what I look like. Who cares what anyone else thinks, anyway?"
Hermione's jaw ached as she clenched her teeth. David was, of course, out of earshot for this greeting. Rita was all sweetness and light in front of him. She had even, on one horrifying occasion, called Hermione love while David smiled at the pair of them.
Unlike David, Snape caught every syllable. And Hermione caught the way Snape's eyes narrowed.
It was just as well that Severus was trying to avoid putting Skeeter on her guard around him, or he would have made several barbed comments about Skeeter's appearance when she'd belittled Granger. Insults based on someone's looks were so unimaginative.
And he didn't need to go around defending Granger when she was perfectly capable of doing so herself. No matter how much Longbottom's body wanted to stand up for her.
Now, Severus prowled around upstairs. The first doorknob he tried turned easily. The wardrobe inside the room was full of Muggle men's shirts and trousers—and nothing else. Mr Granger and Skeeter didn't share a bedroom? Interesting.
The next door was locked. Damn. Crouching down, Severus pulled out his set of lockpicks. He had been working on this skill during dull moments at Grimmauld Place, and he didn't quite have the knack yet, but—ah. There. Skeeter hadn't even bothered with a magical lock. Amateur.
Looking back over his shoulder, he crept into what could only be Skeeter's bedroom. It reeked of her perfume, and the bedclothes were the same acid green as her beloved quill.
Opening the wardrobe, he sprinkled just enough shrinking salt on her clothing and shoes to make everything reduce by a size or two. To the bottle of noxious perfume, he added a drop of distilled dungbomb. Not enough to be immediately noticeable, but as it warmed on her skin, the stench would start to make itself known, even over that perfume.
The drawers in her bedside table yielded nothing interesting. Her bedtime reading was apparently her own books. How predictable.
Severus checked everywhere, but there was nothing incriminating. Defeated, he returned to the landing, only to come face-to-face with Hugo.
"Uncle Neville?" Hugo said. "What were you doing in there?"
"I was looking for the bathroom."
Hugo pointed over his shoulder. "It's right there. Were you snooping?"
"Of course not."
"That's what Lily always says when she's been snooping."
"It may have escaped your notice, but I am not Lily." Remembering Granger's words about being a bad influence, Severus added, "And snooping is wrong. When you go to Hogwarts, you should listen to your teachers and never go snooping around where you aren't supposed to be."
Hugo wrinkled his nose. "Of course I won't. I don't want to get expelled."
A little of the smile that tugged at Longbottom's mouth possibly belonged to Severus, too. Perhaps.
Hermione cast the Muffliato before Snape asked. He had a certain look he got when he wanted to speak to her in private. Half anticipation, half resentment at not being able to cast the spell himself.
Gods, she hoped they were able to restore his magic to full strength soon. Snape without magic was like Quidditch without brooms.
"I didn't find much," he whispered, mouth close to her ear to avoid any lip-reading mishaps. "They have separate bedrooms."
"Really? That's interesting."
"I thought so."
It was so odd, being this close to Snape. The body was Neville's, but he didn't feel like Neville. And under the Muffliato, Snape let his imitation of Neville's accent lapse, going back to his own precise way of speaking.
"I think we should search her office at the Prophet," Snape said. "Well, I should conduct the search. You said Percy Weasley works there, yes?"
"Percy won't help with something like that."
An exhaled laugh tickled her ear. "Granger, I taught Percy Weasley for seven years. Believe me, I know. Happily, we do not require his cooperation. All we need is some of his hair."
Thank you, as always, for your patience. And thank you to Vitellia, who got this back to me in record time! I used an online HP goblin name generator to come up with Kraggok's name.
Previously: "I think we should search her office at the Prophet," Snape said. "Well, I should conduct the search. You said Percy Weasley works there, yes?"
"Percy won't help with something like that."
An exhaled laugh tickled her ear. "Granger, I taught Percy Weasley for seven years. Believe me, I know. Happily, we do not require his cooperation. All we need is some of his hair."
Someone was in the house.
Granger had set the wards, linking them to Severus so an alarm rang in his head when the boundary of 12 Grimmauld Place was breached. Ordinarily, he would assume that Potter or Ronald had misplaced their manners and let themselves in, but it was four in the morning. Not even those two would show up before sunrise. Flipping open his notebook, he scrawled a message to Granger.
Someone crossed the wards. Going to investigate. If I do not get back to you in ten minutes, kindly do me the favour of coming over to either free me from the invader or help me hide the body.
Likely, the intrusion was nothing, but as Mundungus Fletcher was still alive and one of the Secret Keepers, it seemed prudent to alert someone who could fight back.
In Severus's current state, he couldn't cast a convincing Disillusionment Charm, but George Weasley sold Disillusionment Cloaks. Even better, the old notes Severus had retrieved from his mother's flat had provided him with several potions to patent, bringing in a modest income. He'd been able to afford the cloak without once again borrowing from Eileen. Draping the cloak over his head and arming himself with a knife, Severus crept into the hall.
The two violently yellow suitcases that had been left at the base of the stairs may as well have been emblazoned with the owner's name. A bit of tension eased out of Severus's shoulders. Sneaking down to the kitchen confirmed his suspicions. Even nineteen years older, Luna Lovegood was unmistakable. She flitted around the kitchen on bare feet, wand tucked behind her ear, examining the contents of the cupboards and humming to herself. The things Severus had purchased received extra scrutiny.
Donning a pair of multicoloured glasses, Lovegood turned in a slow circle. When her gaze landed on the space where Severus stood, she paused. Like a Disillusionment Charm, the cloak wasn't perfect—not a patch on Potter's thrice-damned Invisibility Cloak—but Lovegood stared as if Severus stood out in the open without any protection at all.
Another bell chimed in his head. Of course Granger wouldn't wait before rushing to his rescue. No floorboards creaked, no doors clicked shut. If not for the ringing of the wards, he wouldn't have known she was there until the moment she saw Lovegood's suitcases.
"Luna?" she shouted.
"Hello, Hermione," Lovegood called. "We're in the kitchen."
Granger was wearing baggy pyjamas, her curly hair sleep-rumpled and somewhat squashed on one side. She hadn't stopped to put on shoes. Something warm spread through Severus's chest and tried to lift his mouth into a smile.
Gods, being stuck in Longbottom's body was insufferable.
"Sorry to barge in like this," Granger said. "Snape has been staying here, and… It's a long story, which I will tell you in full once I've had some coffee. The short version is he currently looks like Neville."
"Ooh, is that who that is? I did wonder."
Lovegood took the news of Severus's survival in her stride, opening a box of cereal with a flick of her wand. The neon purple flakes inside were shaped like dragonflies and smelt of gurdyroots. Severus's new housemate needn't worry about him pilfering any of her food, then.
He removed the Disillusionment Cloak. Smiling serenely, Lovegood pushed the glasses up to rest on the top of her head.
"It's good to see you, Professor," she said. "Or should I call you Severus now?"
"As I am no longer a professor, I suppose Severus will do."
For some reason, this made Granger frown.
"Lovegood," Severus said, "where did you get that pointed ebony wand in your collection?"
Tapping her chin with one finger, she tilted her head to one side in thought. "Bulgaria, I think. Did you want to borrow it? It has the most marvellous energy. Perfect for warding off Aquavirius Maggots."
The look Granger exchanged with him was fond, if long-suffering.
"I must introduce you to my mother," Severus said. "And no, thank you. I have already borrowed it, regrettably. That is how I found myself in this body."
"Oh, that's interesting. I wonder if your body will repel Aquavirius Maggots now." Another wave of her wand sent a mountain of the noxious cereal tumbling into a bowl. "Help yourself to as much coffee as you like, Hermione. I'm going to go leave some food out for the moon frogs."
"What, may I ask, is a moon frog?" Severus asked once Lovegood had gone.
"I would say nothing that actually exists, but it's hard to tell with Luna these days. She sometimes brings things back from her travels. Things that she temporarily houses in the second floor toilet without warning her friends." Leaning against the worktop, she placed a hand on her chest. "Merlin, my heart is still racing. I couldn't think of anyone who would be crossing the wards at this hour. If I'd paused to wake up, I would have realised it was probably Luna coming home."
"And then you would have come rushing to her rescue instead of mine?"
"No. I'd have gone back to sleep."
Severus chuckled. "You're awake now, so we may as well help ourselves to Lovegood's coffee and start brewing. The lacewing flies will be finished stewing for the Polyjuice, and I have an idea for the transfer of magic potion. We will need to make a trip to Diagon Alley once that sorry excuse for an apothecary is open."
Granger arched an eyebrow. "If it's all right with you, I'd like to put a bra on first."
"If you must."
Exhaling a soft laugh, Granger studied his face as if trying to work out some hidden meaning behind his words. After a moment, she turned away from him and started making the coffee.
Ron stomped across Neville's office, waving a copy of the Daily Prophet.
"I would expect this from Skeeter," he said, jabbing a finger at the by-line, "but Parvati? How could she?"
"I don't see why it should be a big deal," Neville said mildly. "Let me see the picture."
With a huff, Ron shoved the offending paper at Neville. In the photo accompanying Parvati's article, Snape in Neville's body leaned in close to Hermione and whispered something in her ear. Resting a hand on his shoulder, she caught her lower lip between her teeth.
Neville knew that expression. He had once seen it right before being hit by Hermione's Petrificus Totalus. It was how Hermione had always looked when she broke the rules. If Snape had caused it with whatever he'd whispered, there was no telling what the two of them were up to.
"Parvati apparently thinks you and Hermione are having some sort of secret love affair," Ron said. "She should know better."
"Not particularly secret if we were seen out in the open in Diagon Alley like that," Neville drawled. Snape's voice was great for drawling. "And why should Parvati know better? I haven't seen her in at least five or six years."
"Well, you and Hermione? It's just… It's ridiculous, is what it is."
Ron's red cheeks and deep scowl were as familiar to Neville as Hermione's rule-breaking lip-bite. Ron had often worn that exact frown when the subject of Viktor Krum had come up after the Yule Ball.
"It's not me and Hermione, though," Neville said. "It's Snape and Hermione."
The scowl contorted into a disgusted grimace, but some of the red leached out of Ron's face and receded down his neck.
"He shouldn't be doing anything like that while he's in your body," Ron muttered.
"He's not. And even if he tried anything, Hermione definitely wouldn't go along with it as long as he was in my body. Remember the lectures she's given to Rose and Hugo about consent? I'd bet a year's salary that she and Snape were scheming. Probably something to do with Skeeter."
The stormclouds cleared from Ron's expression, but not from Neville's thoughts. Who was Ron jealous of: Snape or Hermione?
Hermione paced around Neville's office. Unlike Ron, her steps were light, pausing now and then as she examined one of his many plants.
"Snape thinks the potion to restore his magic should be ready within a week," she said. "Well, technically it's your magic. It's all quite fascinating, really. His theory is that you took some of your magic with you when the two of you swapped bodies, leaving him with weakened powers. He thinks it was a deliberate feature of the wand. If you wanted to steal someone's identity, you could make the swap, giving you all of their magic plus most of yours, and then conveniently do away with them. It'd be an easy fight."
"Merlin. That's horrible." Neville tried a sip of his tea, scalding his tongue. He'd never been able to wait long enough for it to cool. "How have you been getting on? Brewing with Snape, I mean."
"Not bad. Certainly better than his mother got on. Though our trip to Diagon Alley the other day ended up more scandalous than intended." Rolling her eyes, she flopped down next to him on the sofa. "Did you see Parvati's column?"
"I did." Neville opted to not tell her about Ron's reaction, slinging an arm around her shoulders and smirking instead. "How serious are we, darling? Should I be shopping for a ring?"
Laughing, she leaned into his side. Neville was accustomed to sensing Snape's emotions by this point, but as Hermione pressed close to him, warm and soft, he was unprepared for Snape's whisper of interest.
What the hell?
"Only if it's some sort of prank ring for Rita," Hermione said. "That's what Snape and I were discussing, for the record. Rita. He was hit by a bolt of inspiration when we were shopping for Potions ingredients."
Ha. Neville had been right. He couldn't quite revel in his victory, given the way his mind was racing. The feeling had been slight, but since when was Snape at all attracted to Hermione?
Maybe Neville and Snape's bizarre emotional connection wasn't due to some fragment of themselves they'd left behind in their respective bodies. Maybe it was more fluid, able to change along with them. Maybe it had to do with the fact they were currently sharing Neville's magic.
Whatever the cause, it was unsettling.
Extra, extra thanks to my beta, Vitellia, as she helped me with figuring out how to end the opening scene. And thank you to all of you for your patience. xx
Chapter 10: The Magic
Previously: "Snape thinks the potion to restore his magic should be ready within a week," she said. "Well, technically it's your magic. It's all quite fascinating, really. His theory is that you took some of your magic with you when the two of you swapped bodies, leaving him with weakened powers. He thinks it was a deliberate feature of the wand. If you wanted to steal someone's identity, you could make the swap, giving you all of their magic plus most of yours, and then conveniently do away with them. It'd be an easy fight."
The warmth of Snape looming close behind Hermione had become a familiar presence to her as she brewed, as much a part of her process as tying her hair back and sterilising her cauldron. That morning was no different, though he did perhaps scrutinise her stirring and measuring more than usual. One final sprinkle of hair from both Neville and Snape, and the potion turned the sky-blue colour Snape had predicted. A relieved sigh from the shadow at her back tickled Hermione's neck.
"It appears adequate," he said.
Hermione tsked. "What have I told you about making me swoon from an onslaught of praise?"
Glancing over her shoulder at him revealed a smirk that looked all wrong on Neville's face.
Across the room, the real Neville cleared his throat. "If you two are quite ready."
He really had mastered Snape's unimpressed tone and precise accent. If Hermione hadn't known the truth, she wouldn't have been able to spot the difference.
Careful to not spill a drop, Hermione ladled the potion into two tall glasses. The lemony scent of it was so sharp, it stung her throat. Snape motioned for Neville to come closer.
"We will need to join wand hands," Snape said, extending his arm.
Linking his fingers together with Snape's, Neville raised his glass. "Cheers."
Hermione was interested to observe the effects as they downed the potion, but not particularly concerned about any harm coming to them. She trusted both her own brewing and Snape's ability to create an effective, safe potion. The aim of this potion was to return the magic that had followed Neville when they'd swapped souls. If they'd done everything correctly, Snape would soon have Neville's magic as well as Neville's body.
Her stomach twisted and her blood ran cold at the thought of the potion they had yet to complete—the one that would return Neville and Snape's souls to where they belonged. No amount of trust could chase away her trepidation whenever she pictured them both slack-jawed and hollow, as if they'd been Kissed.
A steady golden glow started in Neville's chest, thrumming like a heartbeat. It was unlike any magic Hermione had ever seen, but she felt as if she knew it, somehow. It was as familiar as the shape of Neville's Patronus or the timbre of his laugh. Snape's grip on Neville tightened, knuckles white, as the glow spread down Neville's arm and into Snape. The beat changed tempo in Snape's chest, puzzle pieces rearranging themselves. Only after the light had completely absorbed did Snape release Neville's hand.
"Lumos," Snape murmured.
His wand responded instantly, glowing as bright as Neville's magic. He smiled at Hermione—an actual smile, with no wry twist of his lips or quirk of his eyebrow. A wild urge to give him a celebratory hug shot through her, but she managed to rein it in. Just.
"That's amazing," Neville said.
Snape nodded. "Yes, I can perform magic I mastered at the age of eleven. Truly astonishing. Cast a spell, if you would, Longbottom."
Neville's wand lit up as expected, completely normal.
"I wonder," Snape said after they had completed several more spells without any trouble. "I am currently using your magic, and you are using mine. Our magic may be more effective if we switch wands."
Neville shrugged. "It's worth a try."
It was jarring to see Snape place his wand into Neville's outstretched hand without a hint of hesitation. Hermione couldn't know for certain, but she doubted Snape would have done that so easily back when they'd first switched bodies.
"Accio," Snape said, pointing Neville's wand at the quill he had used to jot down notes about the potion. It twitched in place before reluctantly flying towards him. Neville had similarly mixed results. Both found it easier to perform the spells wandless than when in possession of the other's wand.
"How interesting," Hermione said. "Maybe when the wand chooses the wizard, it chooses the soul, not the magic. I wonder if any studies have been done. How would you even study something like that?"
"Mr Ollivander thinks it's the soul," Luna said, skipping into the room on bare feet, holding something that looked like a tuning fork. "Ooh, Severus, did something happen to your magic? You have much stronger readings today."
Snape did not ask what sort of readings Luna might mean. Hermione bit the inside of her cheek. She had been working with Snape for hours upon hours in her very limited spare time, and he had yet to offer her the familiarity Luna had been granted on her first day back in the country.
The sensation of being watched drew Hermione's thoughts away from Luna and Snape and towards Neville. He stared at her with a look of such intense concentration, she almost wondered if he was trying to perform wandless magic on her.
"Oh, thank Merlin," Neville said, his entire body sagging in relief.
"What?" Hermione asked.
"Well, we could… kind of sense each other's emotions before. I wondered if it was because we were sharing my magic. It's gone now."
And what, exactly, had Neville felt from Snape to make him so glad to have that connection severed?
One glance at Hermione, and Snape huffed. "It is still there, Longbottom."
Hermione crossed her arms. Snape felt something above disdain for her and thought it must be Neville's fault, was that it? With all of their brewing and plotting against Rita, she'd thought they had started approaching something that, if not quite in the neighbourhood of friendship, at least brushed the outskirts of it.
"Are you sure?" Neville asked. "Think really hard about—" pausing, he looked at Luna and Hermione, "—about Ron."
An entire story played out on Snape's face, but Hermione felt as if she'd missed a few pages in the middle. He went from exasperation to stunned realisation to unease. His efforts to school his expression into something more neutral were far too obvious, like he still wasn't sure how to pilot Neville's body.
"How long will it take before you can switch your souls back?" Luna asked.
"Not quite as long now that I have a more reasonable amount of magical power at my disposal," Snape said. "A month, perhaps." Flexing his fingers, he scowled. "Though I will still require Granger's assistance with brewing. Longbottom's hands aren't suited to it."
"I can't believe I am agreeing to this," Longbottom said. "I still say you should let me watch you try to brew something in exchange. It's only fair."
Severus did not grace this with a reply.
Longbottom sighed. "Tell me again why this is necessary?"
"I am trying to work out the extent of my powers in this body, now that I actually have some power to speak of. Legilimency is one of the more challenging legal spells. I did ask Granger, but she refused."
"Hmm. Can't imagine why you'd want to read her mind." At Severus's glare, Longbottom held up his hands, palms out in a gesture of peace. "Hey, you know I won't say anything to her—or anyone—about what I felt from you, right?"
There was nothing to tell. Any attraction Severus felt towards Granger was a side effect of working so closely with her. And, perhaps, those Muggle jeans of hers.
"I know no such thing," Severus said, which was a blatant lie.
Longbottom was Gryffindor to the core—the type that valued honour and loyalty, not the far more common braggart variety. Plus, Severus had secret knowledge of Longbottom's emotions at his disposal. That would keep Longbottom's mouth shut, even if his moral code didn't.
"Yeah, you do," Longbottom said with a scoff. "Right, are we doing this?"
"Whenever you're ready. You had some Occlumency training as an Auror, yes?"
"I did, but it's been years. I'll probably be rusty."
They sat facing each other on a pair of stools, knees almost knocking together. Longbottom had scrubbed his hands until they were pink, but he still smelled like the greenhouses—like damp earth and green things and not at all like Severus's body should have smelled. Raising his wand to Longbottom's temple, Severus drew in a deep breath.
The spell felt wrong, jagged and barbed, like trying to bend magic the wrong way. Stumbling into Longbottom's mind, Severus slammed hard against an impenetrable wall.
For fuck's sake. Using Legilimency against Skeeter was likely out of the question, then. Severus had wondered if that would be the case, as the magic he was using belonged to Longbottom. More suited to encouraging plants to grow than slipping into someone's thoughts. Sometimes, Severus hated being right.
"That was a lot easier than it ever was in Auror training," Longbottom said, blinking rapidly. "Like muscle memory, kind of. I guess it makes sense that your body would automatically know what to do. Wow."
"Your turn," Severus said. "I wish to test my own shields. You know how to perform the spell, of course?"
"Err, yeah. Sure."
"Your confidence is most reassuring."
Longbottom raised his wand. "Legilimens."
The second presence in his mind arrived gently, as if asking for entrance rather than demanding it. It took more effort that it should have, but Severus was able to throw up false, distracting memories when Longbottom pressed harder. Keeping his emotions level did the trick, even if the walls he was working with weren't as sturdy.
"That didn't really happen, did it?" Longbottom asked with a half-grin once he'd released the spell.
"Ask Minerva," Severus said mildly.
"You really want me to ask Minerva if she flirted with Gilderoy Lockhart while I'm still using your body?"
"Hmm. Fair point. No, it did not happen."
Pushing his lank hair out of his face, Longbottom frowned. "I've been thinking about the wand. Hermione said you thought it was designed to make it easier to steal someone's life by weakening them during the process of switching bodies."
"But they'd be able to feel each other's emotions, wouldn't they? Like we could until you and Hermione fixed our magic." Longbottom shuddered. "I don't know how anyone could have done away with someone when they could feel their fear like that."
Severus hummed. "Some would, undoubtedly, relish the chance to feel their victim's fear."
"Yeah, I know. I fought against plenty of them. Doesn't mean I understand the mindset."
Severus did—all too well—but he said nothing.
Rita's tea was as weak as Zacharias Smith's spine. Hermione didn't bother to conceal her grimace as she took another sip, even when her dad shot her his third or fourth meaningful look of the evening.
Where the hell was Snape? Having another dinner at the Granger-Skeeter household had been his idea, and now he'd run off and left her alone without even Hugo as a buffer. Hermione glanced at her watch. No, surely Snape had been gone longer than two minutes.
Reaching across the table, Rita wiped a smear of apple and blackberry crumble from the corner of David's mouth. Ugh. Another unconcealed grimace tugged at Hermione's lips.
"That was lovely, thank you, Dad," Hermione said, motioning to her empty plate. Granny Granger's recipe. Unlikely Rita had anything to do with it. "Let me do the dishes."
Doing the washing up the Muggle way gave her an excuse to stay in the kitchen, and Hermione found the ritual soothing. The sound of hot water filling the washing up bowl, the clean scent of Fairy liquid, and the feeling of soap bubbles between her fingers sent her straight back to her childhood. Fitting, as she tended to behave like a spoilt child during these visits, no matter how often she told herself she would be better and rise above Rita's backhanded compliments. This time, it had started with Rita gushing about how gracefully Hermione was aging, embracing her wrinkles and grey hair.
Wrinkles and grey hair, indeed. Hermione wasn't middle-aged even by Muggle standards. And there wasn't a bloody thing wrong with grey hair and wrinkles. Hermione would embrace them when they actually arrived, thank you very much. Which they hadn't.
"If you scrub any harder, you'll wipe the pattern right off of the plate," a familiar voice said behind her shoulder. Ah. There he was. "All right?"
"Yeah, fine, thanks."
He said the spell with such emphasis, Hermione found herself grinning instead of grimacing. All of his magic had been like that since the potion, laced with an air of thank fuck I can do this again.
"I cast a spell on Skeeter's chest of drawers," Snape said. "The next time she opens them, one pair of her socks will transfigure into an incredibly realistic rat. I was going to make all of her socks do so, but I thought she might blame you for any pranks that are too obviously pranks."
"Considerate of you. And what happens if she kills the rat and discovers it's made from cotton?"
"Oh, not to worry." Snape picked up a tea towel and started drying the dishes Hermione had set in the drainer, his elbow brushing hers. "The rat will be dead when she finds it. That's where some of the realism comes in. The charm has a smell component. And I cast a few spells on the walls of her bedroom to create scratching sounds at night. She'll think there's an infestation. Which there soon will be, if the charmed bait I put under her floorboards is at all effective."
Hermione chuckled. "Remind me never to cross you."
"I should think you don't need to be reminded of something so obvious."
Hermione liked when they talked side-by-side under a Muffliato like this, with Snape using his real accent. If she didn't look up at their reflection in the dark window, she could almost forget he wore Neville's face.
"I likely won't see you again before I leave for Bulgaria," Snape said. "You will check on the Polyjuice and the soul switching potion during my absence?"
Hermione swallowed a strange lump in her throat. She couldn't believe that Harry had agreed to Snape tagging along on Harry and Ron's search for the original owner of the ebony wand. At least Snape was able to defend himself now.
"Of course," she said. "I'm having lunch with Percy and Audrey next week; I'm going to get some of his hair then."
"Good." A swirl of the koala patterned tea towel wiped the water from the last plate. "Keep your notebook on hand. I'll write to you with any developments."
Previously: Hermione liked when they talked side-by-side under a Muffliato like this, with Snape using his real accent. If she didn 't look up at their reflection in the dark window, she could almost forget he wore Neville's face.
"I likely won't see you again before I leave for Bulgaria," Snape said. "You will check on the Polyjuice and the soul switching potion during my absence?"
Sinking into the squashy cushions that lined the window seat, Hermione sipped her mug of tea. Strong, near-scalding, with just a drop of milk—exactly as she liked it. She had been concerned when Eileen and Luna had started enthusing about their mutual love of gurdyroot infusions.
It had been Hermione's idea for them to visit Eileen and keep her company while Snape was out of the country. Well, she had suggested it to Neville, and Luna had thought it sounded like a marvellous idea and decided to join them. According to Luna, York was teeming with some imaginary creature or other.
Snape's body looked at home in Eileen's flat. Apart from the new age Muggle shop downstairs, this was the sort of place she could imagine him living: an old building tucked along the edge of a cobbled street up North, every wall lined with sagging bookshelves. The only thing missing was a Potions lab, though from what Snape had told Hermione of Eileen's brewing techniques, that was likely for the best.
Neville paced to the Herbology section of Eileen's library, his posture Snape-straight. Long, pale fingers tripped along the spines of old books. Dusty memories of watching those hands brew blended with more recent ones of huddling with Snape under a Muffliato and wishing his voice was his own.
"Are you all right, dear?" Eileen asked, placing a hand on Hermione's forehead. "You look a bit flushed. Hmm, not feverish. Is it too warm in here?"
"No, no. I'm fine, thank you."
The casual, motherly touch made a pang of longing tug at Hermione's chest, the way it sometimes did during dinner with her dad or chats with Molly. Hermione's mum was still in Australia, living her best life (which, apparently, involved rather a lot of handsome surfers). Hermione and the kids visited as often as they could, but it wasn't the same as being able to apparate to her doorstep on a moment's notice.
As Neville plucked several volumes from the bookshelf, the notebook in Hermione's pocket heated, signalling a message from Snape.
Granger, make sure you have a rock solid alibi tonight. Two of your former paramours are about to meet an untimely end. As the only link between them, you will be an obvious suspect.
Swallowing a laugh, Hermione wrote back, Nothing of the sort will be happening. You know I won't help you if you kill them.
Snape took a few moments to respond. When he did, it was only one word: Fuck.
The laugh escaped this time. How is Viktor? she asked.
Krum seems blissfully unaware that I am plotting his demise, so I imagine he is well. Weasley has paused in eating his way through the country long enough for the two of them to take turns stomping on my very last nerve. I used to enjoy Quidditch, but I have now heard far more than I ever wished to hear on the subject. And how are the potions, Hermy-own-ninny?
Fine, she wrote. I've acquired the hair for the Polyjuice, and the other potion has that moonstone shimmer on the surface that you predicted.
Hermione hesitated, her self-inking quill hovering above the notebook.
If you're going to use my first name, she continued before she could talk herself out of it, I'd rather you do it properly, rather than taking the piss out of someone's accent.
Regret pressed down on her chest the instant she dotted the end of the sentence with a full stop. It was far too obvious. He would know that she'd been… not jealous, but somewhat irked by his decision to allow Luna to call him Severus. Taking it back now wasn't possible; the words were already out there, heating the twin to her notebook far away in Bulgaria. Gah.
When his reply scrawled across the page, she could almost sense his smirk through the spiky letters.
Very well, Hermione.
"Is that Severus?" Luna asked. "Did they find Maria yet?"
Maria was the shopkeeper who had supplied Luna with the ebony wand. Luna had given Snape—Severus—a sketch of the witch's face, an approximate location, and told him that Maria was both extremely skilled at spotting Nargles and able to put her feet behind her head. He had not found that information as useful as Luna had anticipated.
"He didn't mention finding her." Hermione shrugged. "So I suppose not."
"Her shop is always moving," Luna said. "Hmm. Maybe I should have gone with them."
Hermione nearly choked on her next sip of tea. The mental image of Severus dealing with Harry, Ron, Viktor, and Luna together on one trip was deliciously hilarious. Only Hermione tagging along to see it all unfold could make it better.
Perhaps she would swing by Diagon Alley later to see George and pick up a Patented Daydream Charm.
Severus was still asleep. He was locked in that glass coffin and having a nightmare, because Harry Potter was his most tolerable travelling companion. If not a nightmare, then surely it was a hangover from all of those weeks he'd spent feeling Longbottom's emotions. It had left him vulnerable to semi-positive thoughts about Potter.
He should have come alone. It would have been faster, quieter, and there would have been no dunderheads asking questions whenever he wrote to Granger. Hermione.
Leaning back in his chair, Severus thumbed the edge of his notebook. He had noticed Hermione gritting her teeth now and then when Lovegood used his first name. Her obvious jealousy was… interesting.
"Did you know there's a magical park near here?" Weasley asked. He directed the words at Potter, but his gaze slid to Krum. "Cloaked from Muggles, big enough for a pick-up Quidditch match. If we finish early…"
Good gods. This was the seventh time, by Severus's count, that Weasley had oh-so-casually mentioned the possibility of playing Quidditch with Krum.
"Early would have been last week, mate," Potter said.
Potter's work ethic had improved since his Hogwarts days. More than improved. Hermione's influence, no doubt, though Severus was half-tempted to interrogate Potter to prove he wasn't some Polyjuiced impostor. Severus's eyes felt scratchy from the constant late nights and early mornings that Potter demanded. The jitter of caffeine in his veins was an even less welcome companion than Weasley and Krum; the sensation sent him right back to that tightrope he'd walked during the height of the war.
Krum smiled. "You are velcome to visit me and my vife sometime, Ron. Ve have a Quidditch pitch in the garden. Bring Hermy-own-ninny and the children."
Of course he had an entire bloody Quidditch pitch in the garden. Ostentatious. And why in the name of Salazar would Krum and Weasley think Hermione would enjoy such a holiday? She would be more interested in something like the Bibliotheca Alexandrina—the replica of the Library of Alexandria that had been built during Severus's long sleep. Like the original library, it had a magical wing with ancient texts from all over the world. If Severus was planning a trip for her, it would start there.
Not that he was planning a trip for her. She could do her own holiday planning. Severus had nothing to do with it.
After the four of them finished their breakfast of coffee and mekitsa, Weasley made no further mention of pick-up Quidditch matches. They followed a lead they'd received from another market stall operator the day before, taking them to a part of the city they had yet to visit, through streets lined with blocky, Soviet era housing.
Krum talked their way into the building the shopkeeper had indicated. Such a pity all of the Time-Turners had been destroyed. Severus could have used one to squeeze months into a week, learning basic Bulgarian. Hmm, was there a way to enhance language retention with a potion? He would have to look into that upon his return.
The notebook heated in Severus's pocket as they climbed several flights of cement stairs. He read while he climbed.
I 'm sorry in advance.
Sorry? Why the devil was she sorry? Had she spoilt the potions? Before he could find his quill and demand answers, Hermione wrote a few more lines.
Your mother wants me to ask if you remembered to pack long underwear. It 's supposed to snow there.
For fuck's sake, Severus scribbled back.
That was all the reply that question deserved. Following Krum down a dimly lit corridor, Severus recalled a passage in Skeeter's book. Skeeter had claimed that Eileen used to send Severus out to play in the snow and ice with nothing more than a moth-eaten old jumper for protection. She hadn't. Tobias had. Eileen couldn't have sent Severus anywhere during the day; she'd been too busy working. As far as Severus knew, Skeeter's book was the first Eileen had heard of it. Severus intended to find out exactly how Skeeter had come by such information.
Like I said, sorry, Granger wrote. She can be quite persuasive. I'll tell her that you are suitably toasty. Also, Luna asked to tag along when she found out Neville and I were going to visit Eileen, and I think Luna and Eileen have bonded. It may become a regular thing. And now Arthur is coming over so Eileen can show him all of the stuff in her Muggle shop. Not quite sure how that happened.
She was visiting his mother? Before Severus could think too deeply on this information, Krum knocked on a door at the end of the hall. The woman who answered had the dark eyes and smiling face that Lovegood had sketched on a scrap of parchment.
"Maria?" Potter said.
"Yes," she said in Bulgarian—one of the handful of words Severus had picked up.
Her next statement was directed at Krum. Severus understood little of it except Krum's name, but the lift of her voice at the end suggested it was a question. Most likely a variation of the same question everyone else had asked: Are you Viktor Krum? Why Potter thought it was a good idea to be escorted around by a celebrity instead of hiring a translator was beyond Severus.
"Finally," Weasley said. "Viktor, ask her where she got the wand."
"I speak English," Maria said. "Vat vand?"
Lovegood 's vendor claims she bought the wand from someone in Lille. We travel to France first thing in the morning.
A dot of ink appeared below Severus's message, spreading out from the nib of Hermione's quill. They were going on another trip?
I hope it doesn't take too much longer, she wrote. Who will translate this time?
Why hadn't she learnt French? It had always been on her list of things to accomplish someday, right behind writing a decent Muggle Studies textbook and discovering a cure for Dragon Pox.
Happily, Snape replied, I will be our translator.
You speak French? she wrote.
Lucius taught me when we were at Hogwarts.
The Patented Daydream Charm she'd bought (from Verity's till, out of George's sight) sat unopened on her bed, but Hermione didn't need its assistance to imagine Severus's deep voice murmuring in French.
Good luck, she wrote. You'll be back before the soul-switching potion is finished, right?
I expect so. We have two weeks remaining.
Yeah, I know, she said. I'm not ready.
Not eager to give up the frequent view of Longbottom 's face?
She rolled her eyes. He would interpret her words that way.
I would rather you have your own face, thank you, she wrote. What I'm not ready for is the process of getting your souls back to their proper bodies. There are so many ways it could go wrong, and then I…
With a little squiggle, Hermione pretended her capital I had been the start of a W.
We'd lose you both, she wrote.
Severus took so long to reply, she began to wonder if he was going to say anything at all.
I have a few failsafes in mind, he said. It is not without risk, but I prefer it to the alternative. It's late. We will speak tomorrow.
Hermione placed her notebook on the bedside table and let out a long sigh. The last time she had used one of the twins' Patented Daydream Charms had been right after the war. One too-quiet afternoon at the Burrow, she had scraped her fingertips against the bottom of her beaded bag and discovered the forgotten gift from Fred. Fred hadn't told her that the Daydream Charms could be controlled, but if not given a clear path, they tended to show what the user most wanted to see. A pocket-sized Mirror of Erised.
Sitting on Ginny's bed, Hermione had activated the Daydream Charm. She'd found herself in a sunlit field, at a DA reunion of sorts. Colin Creevey had taken rolls of photos, Lavender had giggled and gossiped, and both of the twins had smiled and teased Hermione—all of them so convincing and alive that it had taken several stomach-dropping, throat-tightening moments to reorient herself upon coming back to the real world.
But that had been nineteen years ago. Since then, George had described exactly how to get the daydream she wanted. The key was to hold a thought from the start to get the Charm onto the right path and prevent it from wandering. There had been an instruction sheet she had missed the first time. Allegedly.
Hermione took a sip of the wine she'd brought upstairs. Hugo was having a sleepover at Harry and Ginny's house. She had two days off from work. The soul-switching potion wouldn't require any attention until morning. She had nothing to do and nowhere to be for hours. And wouldn't it be fitting to use Fred's creation to give herself a memory that was as funny and light as Fred had been? Holding tight to the image of Severus going on a journey with Luna, Harry, Ron, and Viktor, she tapped the Charm with her wand.
"Hermione. Hermione, wake up."
The whispering voice was Severus's. When Hermione let her eyes flutter open, the face was his, too. Not Neville's. He sat close, his leg against hers. Moonlight spilled into the train compartment, illuminating the four snoozing bodies that occupied the other bench: Harry, Ron, Luna, and Viktor.
"Come with me," Severus said, taking her hand.
Well. This wasn't exactly what she had expected, but fine. Lacing her fingers together with his, Hermione trailed after him. He led her into a carriage that was lined entirely in windows, giving an unobstructed view of starlit fields of snow and mountains that looked close enough to touch.
"I thought they'd never drift off," he said.
Hermione hummed. "You're on a trip with them, but they're all unconscious? Is this my daydream or yours?"
Glancing down at his body, Severus raised an eyebrow. "If I was in control of this fantasy, I would not be wearing my teaching robes."
Oh. So he was.
"Really, Miss Granger," he said. "Should we be having this meeting at Hogwarts? In detention, perhaps?"
"You know me well enough to know that no daydream of mine would ever feature me getting in trouble and being assigned detention."
He chuckled. "Quite. And I've no desire to see you as my student."
"Because you don't want anyone to be your student?"
Severus made no reply to this beyond a slow, barely-there smile. Shifting closer, he brushed his thumb over the back of her hand.
There was something wrong with the Charm. George had made a mistake somewhere—fumbled a wand movement or botched the pronunciation of the spell. Why else would Hermione's heart race at such a small gesture?
"Why did you bring me in here?" she asked.
Severus's gaze locked on her mouth. "You know why."
"I really don't," she whispered.
That teasing ghost of a touch moved up to her wrist, fingers pressing over the hammer of her pulse, reading the truth in every rapid beat. "As I have already mentioned, it's your fantasy, Hermione."
He was right; it was a fantasy. She had nothing to lose. Her belly flipped.
Severus acted before she could, catching her face between his hands and pressing his lips to hers. And, oh, this was no mistake. The Charm was perfect. Every stroke of his hands, every taste of his mouth—perfect. Hermione lost track of time, savouring all of it. She could have spent the entire length of the Charm kissing him, but cold glass met her back, Severus's arms caging her against the window.
"Is this what you want?" he asked, nipping at her neck, one strong leg pressing between her thighs. "Is this what you secretly wish for every time you try to pretend I'm back in my own body?"
Hermione returned to her bedroom—to her real life—gasping. Her skin tingled with the phantom heat of his body.
Thank you, as always, to Vitellia for her speedy beta skills. Things have calmed down in my real life, so I am going to very cautiously say that updates will be happening every other week from now on. Thank you all for being so lovely and supportive while I took ages to update. xx
Chapter 12: The Golden Girl
Previously: "Is this what you want?" he asked, nipping at her neck, one strong leg pressing between her thighs. "Is this what you secretly wish for every time you try to pretend I'm back in my own body?"
Hermione returned to her bedroom —to her real life—gasping. Her skin tingled with the phantom heat of his body.
A goblin. The vendor in Lille had purchased the ebony wand from a Gringott's goblin.
The goblin wasn't the original owner, of course. He had been acting as an intermediary for someone in the UK. Who would trust a goblin with such a task? Their (honestly, quite rightful) dislike of wizards and witches meant a goblin would hardly seek out a fair trade. Only someone who wanted rid of the thing at any cost would resort to that.
Perhaps Albus had managed to once again fuck Severus over. It was not out of the question. The vendor had said he'd purchased the wand around twenty years ago, and Kraggok was evidence that Albus had dealings with goblins. Albus had dealings with bloody everyone. Merfolk, the second most dangerous Dark Wizard of all time, centaurs, werewolves. Petunia.
"Ugh," Weasley said, heaving his rucksack onto one shoulder. "I can't believe we went through all of that just to come back here. We could have stayed home."
"If you will excuse me," Severus said, "I have places to be. Namely: anywhere you two are not."
Potter muttered something about it being wise for them to take a break from each other, but Severus didn't catch all of it. He was already on the move. A different St Pancras Station than the one he had known greeted him. At some point during his sleep, it had been given a posh makeover. Flashy and unimaginative. He hurried past a champagne bar and a saccharine statue of a couple embracing, exiting onto the street through the archway.
It was a twenty minute walk to Grimmauld Place. With Longbottom's sturdy, long legs, he made it in fifteen. Both potions were as Hermione had described. Flawless. Dropping his suitcase in his room, he grabbed the tube of cerulean blue acrylic paint he'd set aside and spun on the spot. Merlin, it was good to be able to Apparate again.
He landed in the clearing near Hermione's house with a shiver. It was colder than London, frost blanketing the grass and clinging in half-melted patches to the thatched roof.
Hugo bounded towards him, his mittened hands extended for a hug. Severus obliged him with an awkward pat on the back. This part of his act had become routine, as Hugo apparently thought it was unacceptable to greet Longbottom in any way other than clinging to him like a limpet.
"Guess what," Hugo said.
Oh, gods, not this again.
"What?" Severus asked. If Hugo replied with you have to guess…
"Professor Snape came over, and he taught me how to make a potion."
Severus blinked. "I beg your pardon?"
"Also known as tea, in most circles," Hermione said.
She approached from the dormant garden, her face brightening with a grin. Snippets of lines she'd written in her notebook flew through his mind, unbidden, at the sight of her.
I would rather you have your own face, thank you.
We'd lose you both.
Severus's stomach gave an alarming flip. His lips curved up without thought, returning her smile as Longbottom would have done. Another routine. As familiar as standing behind her, watching her brew.
Hermione snatched the fuzzy pink bobble hat (a Molly Weasley creation if ever he'd seen one) off of her head and stuffed it in her coat pocket. There was something off about her—a breathless, fluttering sort of quality. Like she was hiding something.
"Hi," she said. "Good trip back?"
Hugo tugged on Severus's sleeve. "Professor Snape said I was going to be better at Potions than you."
Severus snorted. "I have no doubt. If not for your mother's help, I likely would have caused numerous explosions. She was always there, whispering in my ear when Professor Snape told her not to. He should have given her detention far more often."
For some reason he couldn't quite work out, this made Hermione blush.
"Mum, you got detention?" Hugo asked, brown eyes wide.
Ah, if only he knew. Hermione was saved from giving a reply by the arrival of Weasley further down the grassy slope, near his own house.
"So much for being anywhere I'm not," Weasley said, bending to scoop his son into his arms when Hugo ran at him. "Hey, mate. Miss me?"
As they retreated towards Weasley's house, Hugo launched into another telling of his visit with "Professor Snape." Visiting children and handing out compliments. So much for Longbottom's promise to do no damage to Severus's reputation.
"You saw the professor?" Weasley asked. "How was he doing?"
Now and then, on their trip to Bulgaria and France, Severus had caught Weasley giving him a wounded puppy expression. Like he thought Longbottom's soul could be brought back to its rightful body if he pouted sincerely enough. The pair of them deserved each other.
Hermione touched Severus's hand, her skin soft against his. "I have something for you," she said.
He followed her into her house: a warm, light space that she mostly seemed to share with overflowing bookshelves. Hugo's kitten dozed next to the fireplace, curled up in an old armchair.
"Muffliato," Hermione said. "Just in case Hugo comes back."
The something she had for him was an envelope with a few ginger hairs.
"You shouldn't have," he drawled. "If memory serves, I already proposed when you told me of your adventures in blackmailing Skeeter. You needn't continue to woo me with such generous gifts."
She had laughed that first time, when they'd been sheltered beneath her Muffliato in George Weasley's shop and Severus had said marry me in a deadpan voice. This time, her gaze slid away from his as she chuckled, one hand reaching up to toy with the necklace that rested at the base of her throat.
There would be no reason for them to brew together any longer. The Polyjuice was complete. The soul switching potion required time to mature, but no further attention. The sudden realisation settled like a weight in Severus's chest.
"You are certain this hair belongs to Percy Weasley?" he asked. "Does he have any pets? A ginger cat, perhaps?"
She groaned. "I'm not likely to make that mistake again. No, Percy doesn't have any pets." Shifting around so they stood shoulder-to-shoulder, she added, "We have plenty of extra Polyjuice. Do you think it would work if you used some of your own hair?"
"I see no reason why it wouldn't."
"It's a shame we didn't have some sooner." Her eyes stayed focused straight ahead, never once darting in his direction. "Like I said: I'd much rather you had your own face."
Severus hesitated, his stomach performing more idiotic acrobatics. Hermione likely meant nothing by the statement. She wanted Longbottom to have his own face as well. It was disconcerting when people went gallivanting around in someone else's body. That was all.
Kraggok greeted Severus with the same expression Eileen had given him on the few occasions he'd sought her out after the Dark Lord's return. That I'm not angry, I'm just disappointed glower. The offering of a replacement tube of paint helped to untwist Kraggok's scowl by a few millimetres.
"So you do remember how to Apparate," Kraggok grumbled. His voice still sounded like a safe place. "I was beginning to think you'd got locked in another box."
"I thought you would have had quite enough of me after nineteen years," Severus said mildly.
"Hmm. Just about. Now, what is it that brings you here?"
Severus had been remiss in not visiting sooner. All of those conversations they'd had during his sleep—long talks that had somehow untangled things that used to be knotted up inside him. Salazar knew how many of his most secret, private thoughts were known to Kraggok.
"First, the Headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix can be found at Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place," Severus said. The Secret travelled down his wand hand, tingling in his fingertips as he spoke it. "Should you wish to visit me, that's where I'm currently staying."
Kraggok nodded. "Yes, make the elderly one do the travelling. The next time one of us gets their body put in stasis for a couple of decades, I vote for it to be me. I could use the rest."
Wincing, Kraggok placed two hands on his lower back and bent from side to side. His spine let out a symphony of pops and cracks. Severus shuffled through what he knew of potions meant for goblins. Goblin ailments were covered in an optional course for Healers, unless he was mistaken. If he knew Hermione at all, she had taken it.
"Noted," Severus said.
"Well?" Kraggok said. "What's the second reason I have been graced with the pleasure of your company?"
Severus decided it was best to tell him plainly, not trying to come at the issue sideways in an attempt to make Kraggok volunteer his assistance. That method was better suited to dealing with Gryffindors. Kraggok would see it coming.
Kraggok's wrinkly forehead grew even more lines as his grey eyebrows rose. "Never heard of a wizard trusting a goblin with a wand."
"Quite," Severus said. It sounded like the sort of thing Hermione would do. Only, she wouldn't be trying to rid herself of the thing. She would do it because it was right and goblins were oppressed and everyone should buy badges with dodgy acronyms in order to help them. His lips tried to twitch into a smile, but he suppressed it. "I hoped you might help me discover the wand's origins."
Opening the new tube of paint, Kraggok pierced the seal and squeezed a bit onto his palette. "Hmm. I don't often keep company with the Gringott's set, but I can try. Sounds dark, this wand. Twenty years ago, you say?"
"Give or take. That was the estimate the vendor provided."
Kraggok grunted. "Well. We'll see."
Severus had never seen beige Polyjuice Potion before, but somehow, it suited Percy Weasley. He'd half expected it to have pinstripes.
Percy's body was closer in build to Severus's own: lanky and tall. After spending so long in Longbottom's skin, the lack of bulk felt foreign. Walking into the Daily Prophet offices with his head down, Severus cast a quick repelling charm on himself. Hermione had assured him that Percy was not much altered from his school days. Colleagues weren't likely to approach unless they had to, but it never hurt to be certain.
This early in the day, the corridor that led to Skeeter's office was empty. Casting a ward to alert him if anyone approached, Severus loosened the lock with a quick Alohomora and slipped inside.
Unlike Skeeter's bedroom, her desk drawers were a mess: papers everywhere, notes scribbled on receipts, and all of it coated in the stench of her perfume. How did she manage to complete a single newspaper column in this chaos, much less entire books?
George Weasley sold a marvellous concoction that welded its victim's arse to a chair for thirty minutes. It only took a second to apply, so it would have been rude of Severus to not douse Skeeter's chair in it as he rummaged through the drawers. A thick sheaf of parchment—a manuscript—caught his eye.
Hermione Granger: Golden Girl or Gold Digger?
A familiar coldness splintered through him. If Skeeter dared to publish a single word of this, she was going to pay.
"I should have turned her in when I had the chance," Hermione said. Leafing through the copy of the manuscript that Severus had made, she huffed. "She can't intend to stay married to my dad if she publishes this. How does she know half of it? There's no way she could, unless my dad…"
Unless he had told her. Hermione didn't want to think David would do so willingly, but Rita was his wife. Hermione had shared things with previous partners that—oh. Oh, fuck.
Hands shaking, she slammed the manuscript down on her kitchen table. Towards the middle of the detestable thing, there was a detailed account of her relationship with a Muggle man named Matthew. They had dated for a few drama-filled months before Hermione had chucked him and asked Ron to father her children. The last in a string of bad relationships. There were bits and pieces about the others—a scattered breadcrumb trail that Rita had followed far away from the actual truth. But Matthew? Every fight, every whispered secret had been captured.
Her dad knew very little about that whole affair. Had Rita spoken to Matthew? If they could prove she'd used Veritaserum or some sort of spell on a Muggle, Harry and Ron could arrest her.
Severus regarded her with Percy's serious face. With him looking as he did, it was a little easier to keep her traitorous mind from drifting back to that daydream (that kiss, that press of his body against hers, that hardness against her hip). But only a little. She needed copious amounts of chocolate, a Pensieve, and about a year to unpack how she felt about all of it.
Stupid bloody subconscious.
"I realise," he said, "that as a Healer, you took a vow to do no harm. I am willing to brew the necessary untraceable poisons as soon as I am able."
She laughed. "Severus."
"Don't pretend you aren't tempted."
She should not have been tempted by anything while he was speaking with Percy's voice. It was perverse and wrong. And yet, that dark look in his eyes was pure Snape.
"What I'm tempted to do is get out my unbreakable jar and relive old times," she said.
"Granger," he said, and the way his lips curved around both syllables, she didn't mind him going back to her surname. "I can only propose so many times before I start to look ridiculous."
This man was going to be the death of her.
Previously: "Granger," he said, and the way his lips curved around both syllables, she didn't mind him going back to her surname. "I can only propose so many times before I start to look ridiculous."
This man was going to be the death of her.
"I think I fancy Snape."
Hermione let her words hover in the air for a moment before she turned to face Harry. He blinked. There was a certain expression he used to get when writing Potions essays: eyebrows pinched together, frowning as if nothing would ever make sense again. He looked like that now.
"Bloody hell," Ron mumbled into his pillow.
Hermione had thought Ron was asleep. He was usually the first to nod off on their annual "camping trip." Instead of lugging the Weasleys' tent to a damp field and reliving their Horcrux hunt (no, thank you), their version of camping now consisted of the three of them escaping to a luxury hotel. This year, with all that was going on, they'd opted for a single night in London.
They always booked a suite, but inevitably ended up piled on one bed, eating outrageously expensive snacks and talking late into the night. She saw Ron most days and Harry at least once a week, but somehow there was always plenty to catch up on now that they weren't all living in Gryffindor Tower.
"Right," Harry said. "Okay. Gonna need a moment to absorb that." In spite of this claim, he carried on talking. "Like, Snape's personality in Neville's body?" He wrinkled his nose, as if to say this could not possibly be the answer. "Or you fancy Neville's personality in Snape's body?"
"I like Snape's personality in Snape's body," she said.
He blinked again. Reaching up, Hermione rubbed her thumb over the furrow between his brows.
"Severus Snape?" Harry asked.
Hermione laughed. "Yes. Is it really that shocking? You're the one who is always telling everyone that he's the bravest man you've ever known."
Rolling onto his back, Ron yawned. "Bravery does not make someone fanciable." His eyes went a bit distant, his mouth curving into a slight smile. "Doesn't hurt, though, I suppose."
"Ron," Harry said, chuckling, "I swear, if you tell me you also think Snape is—"
Ron made a choked noise of indignation. "Not Snape. Neville. I was talking about Neville."
Hermione's face creased into a grin. "Neville's personality in Neville's body?"
"Well, obviously. What sort of person would want Snape's personality or Snape's body?"
Decades of playing Quidditch didn't help Ron dodge the pillow Hermione chucked at his head. Harry and Ron's combined laughter surrounded her, warm and so familiar it was like coming home. She considered telling Ron she had seen this coming—and Harry likely had as well—but decided against it. It was his news, to handle how he liked. She would even wait a while before giving him the Muggle books that she'd purchased for him, if for no other reason than he would complain about the size of the stack and ask why she was assigning him homework for admitting he fancied a man.
"I'm happy for you," she said. "Even if you are an arse."
"Me too," Harry said. He made the Potions essay expression again. "Err, Hermione, do you think Snape would want…"
He didn't seem able to finish the question, but he didn't need to. Did Severus feel the same? Multiple proposals aside, Hermione wasn't sure. Sometimes it seemed like he might, but he was still Severus. Inscrutable, clever, consummate spy Severus.
"Oh, Snape absolutely would," Ron said. "Remember how much he scowled whenever Viktor asked about her?"
Hermione's stomach did a somersault. "Severus scowls at everyone."
"Yeah, fair point," Ron said. "He took an instant dislike to Viktor, though. Plus, he can't stand me."
"That doesn't prove anything other than he remembers being your teacher," Harry said.
"Or does he hate me because I've seen Hermione naked?"
"Charming," Hermione said flatly. "I have never been more thrilled that I chose you to be the father of my children."
Ron kissed her cheek. "Thanks."
Harry gave a laughing shake of his head. "Well, err, I can't say I understand the appeal, Hermione, but… as long as you're happy?"
"Yeah, same," Ron said. When Hermione gave him a sceptical look, he smirked. "Our friendship has survived a war, potty training Hugo, and you seeing me naked. It can survive you taking leave of your senses and falling for Snape." Leaning across her, he grabbed a handful of sweets. "I'm not the biggest fan of the idea, but honestly, he's preferable to Michael. Oh, any luck tracking Michael down by the way?"
"Matthew," Hermione said. Both Ron and Harry had always got her ex-boyfriend's name wrong. Ron had even once called him Weatherby, his reference to Percy's old boss confirming that he was absolutely doing it on purpose. As if there had ever been any doubt. "And kind of. I found him on Facebook. I sent him a message, but I haven't heard anything back yet."
"The hell is a Facebook?" Ron asked.
Harry snorted. "Be glad you have no idea, mate."
My ex said he thought I had the wrong person, as he has no idea who I am. The pictures are definitely him. Could be he just doesn't want to talk to me, but that seems a weird tactic to take. Also, his profile says he lives in New Zealand now.
New Zealand. Severus knew another Muggle who had been inspired to move far, far away after having Hermione erased from his memory. As Hermione's looping cursive vanished from the page, Severus rubbed his forehead. Skeeter had to be behind this, somehow. Her tell-all book about Hermione contained information that could have only come from the ex, and now the ex was living overseas, blithely unaware that Hermione existed? All of Severus's headaches from this day forward would be named Rita.
And perhaps there was something else going on. Something to do with her marriage to a man who had once had his memories rearranged. Severus wanted to see how Hermione's spell worked, but using it on a witch or wizard wouldn't provide accurate results. The minds of Muggles were slightly different. Where could he find a test subject who knew about magic? Mr Granger might alert his wife. Hermione's mother was an option, but she lived all the way in Australia.
There was one family Severus knew of, down in Surrey, but gods. Breaking the Statute of Secrecy would be preferable. Then again, Petunia would only cooperate under duress. That could prove to be entertaining.
Does Potter's detestable aunt still live in Little Whinging? he wrote to Hermione.
She doesn't still live at all. She passed away a few years back.
Severus gaped at the page.
Hermione, he wrote, why did you not greet me with this glorious news the instant we became reacquainted? Were you saving it for my birthday or Christmas?
It was going to be your wedding present.
I beg your pardon?
Don't tell me you weren't serious with all of those proposals. I've already bought my dress!
His laughter was short-lived. Hermione's next message stuck in his throat, making all amusement evaporate.
It's my fault, isn't it?
Her fault because she created the spell? Preposterous.
Whatever Skeeter has done, her actions are her own, he wrote back. Will it assuage your Gryffindor conscience to hear that you did the right thing? Very well. The spell you created saved your parents' lives.
Her reply took a long time to arrive. When it did, the four words made something both alarming and wonderful flood Severus's chest.
Can I come over?
Severus and Hermione stood together in the postage stamp that passed for a garden at Grimmauld Place. Lovegood had replaced the patchy grass and weeds with what looked like some sort of purple moss with a winter-blooming rainbow of flowers. Keeping close to Hermione, away from the plant (there was no telling what something cultivated by Lovegood might do), Severus leaned against the rough brick wall of the house.
"It's a waste of expensive ingredients," he said.
Hermione held the tumbler of Polyjuice up to the light. It was a dark, glittering blue-black shade. Essence of Severus, apparently. Not bad. Certainly an improvement upon others he'd seen.
"Come on, Severus," she said. "Aren't you tired of seeing Neville's face when you look in a mirror?"
A coaxing half-smile was her only response. The potion was already prepared. Severus's fingers brushed hers as he accepted the glass. The thick potion coated his mouth, the flavour of aniseed clinging to his tongue. Ugh. He loathed aniseed.
The telltale twisting of his insides began, followed by the familiar burning sensation engulfing his whole body. When the discomfort receded, Longbottom's clothing was looser. Hermione stared at Severus's face as he flexed his hand—his own hand. Gods. He almost wanted to rush inside and brew something, just because he could.
As Severus took stock of his body—his body—he realised that everything felt… different. Like a pair of shoes moulded to the shape of someone else's feet. Looking up, Severus frowned. Granger was still staring at him. She had been demoted from Hermione back to Granger, due to the staring.
"He's changed it," Severus said, examining one of his arms.
"My body, obviously."
"Doesn't look like it to me." Another stare, but this time he caught the stain of a blush on her cheeks. "It's good to see you being you again."
Did she mean that? Severus almost dismissed the comment as pointless flattery—as her wanting something from him—but studying her expression, he found nothing but open honesty. His face warmed.
Well. Perhaps she could be Hermione once more.
"Do you think Rita used my spell on more people?" she asked.
That it had been Skeeter who had wiped her ex's memory was a foregone conclusion.
"Yes," Severus said. There was no point in dissembling. They both knew the answer.
Hermione tilted her head back against the brick wall. "Why would she do that?"
"I imagine she was getting rid of them in order to hide something. At a guess, it has to do with the way she obtained information about you. And me, come to that. I've given Potter the task of tracking down the Muggles who used to be my neighbours. Skeeter could have used any number of them for information about my childhood. Potter is also working with the New Zealand Ministry of Magic to bring your ex in for questioning in a way that will not violate the Statute of Secrecy."
"You trust Harry with all of that?"
"Doing it myself sounded exceedingly tiresome."
Her chuckle faded quickly, leaving the air around them hushed and still. Given the subject matter, it was bizarre that Severus should feel at all relaxed, but as the seconds stretched on, his limbs felt loose, his mind calm. He almost let his eyes drift shut. There were so few people he could be quiet with. He could be silent with anyone. Icy distance was second nature at this point. Being quiet was something else entirely.
"So," Hermione said, so softly it barely disturbed the quiet. "Untraceable poisons."
"What about them?"
"I believe you offered to brew some for me, to save me from breaking my Healer's vow to do no harm."
"Ah. Well, you have twelve options to choose from. Possibly thirteen. I've made a few notes on a new formula, but I have yet to actually brew it, for obvious reasons."
Hermione's beautiful, fragile smile didn't quite reach her eyes. "You've been coming up with new poisons?"
"I am not currently employed. It passes the time."
"Mm." She bumped her shoulder against his. "You could always fill your hours with wedding planning, since you keep proposing."
"I cannot possibly neglect Team Anti-Skeeter business for such frivolity. We will elope to Gretna Green."
She laughed, as she always did when he made the joke. It was why he kept doing it. There was something addictive about making Hermione Granger laugh like that—like she didn't have a care in the world.
"If Skeeter has done anything to harm my dad," Hermione said, sobering, "I might actually take you up on that offer of untraceable poisons."
"If Skeeter has harmed your father, you will not even have to ask."
There was that stare again, only this time it didn't make him want to call her Granger. She stared as if he was something miraculous.
"I am really glad you took that potion," she said.
She moved slowly, cradling his face in her hands, rising up onto her tiptoes, giving him plenty of time to back away. Severus stayed put, heart racing. Everything in her body language announced her intentions, but somehow, surprise still trembled through him when she gave him a shaky smile, leaned in close, and kissed him.
I realise that in the films, Hermione used Obliviate on her parents, but I like to pick and choose what I keep from the films, so that's getting thrown out. Thank you to Vitellia for her amazing beta work, and to all of the smut monsters on Discord for helping me out with a few things for this chapter. And thank you to all of you for reading. I hope you're all safe and well. xx