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A Long Vernal Season

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A Long Vernal Season

Chapter One Hundred-Seventeen: From the Primrose Cottage to the Shell Folly
Thursday, 8 April 1999

Severus returned Poppy’s embrace, nuzzling her hair. When he was with her, he was grateful for his life, his second life.

Poppy lifted her face to look at him. “That was what you’d planned, then. The roses.”

Severus nodded slightly. “They were to greet you in your rooms when you returned from your holiday. A surprise.”

“They were a surprise still, Sev,” Poppy said softly. “Though perhaps not the feeling behind them.”

“I’m in love with you, Poppy.” He caressed her face. “And I want you to know it and to trust it … even if you can’t quite trust me yet.”

“I do, though.” She laughed slightly. “It’s me I don’t really trust, I suppose. Or us, or … I don’t know. Sometimes, it seems perfectly natural. Almost as if we’ve been together forever. Other times, I … I suppose I freeze. I can’t quite believe …” Poppy shrugged. “I don’t know. But I do love you, Severus. Whatever happens. I love you.”

Severus kissed her lips gently. “I’ve never wanted to believe in anything as much as I do now. I want to believe—” his breath caught and he swallowed “—I want to believe in us. That we will be together. Forever.”

Poppy leaned into him, resting her head on his chest, listening to his swift heartbeat and feeling the deep thrum of his magic. “We can have forever in each moment we’re together. Right now.”

He wasn’t sure what she meant by that, but it wasn’t a rejection of his sentiment. And she loved him. Poppy loved him.

She gave him a squeeze then stepped away and turned back to the roses. “They are beautiful. I will have to save one of them.” She picked up the card and reread it, a smile settling on her face. “And this, of course. A memento.”

“I will tell you every day that I love you, and show you, too. But,” he added, “I am glad you will keep the card.”

“There’s another note.” Poppy indicated an envelope propped against the lamp on one of the bedside stands.

“From Minerva,” Severus said, recognising the handwriting even from across the room. He went over and picked it up. “Addressed to us both. Would you like to open it?”

“You go ahead; you can read it to me whilst I begin unpacking our things—if you don’t mind my unpacking for you.”

Severus shook his head and slit the envelope open with a nonverbal spell. There were a few pages of parchment in it, the first, a letter.

Dear Poppy and Severus,

I hope you enjoy your few days at the cottage. Feel free to use anything you need and borrow any books you would like —

Severus snorted. “I doubt we will be spending much time reading.”

“We may, Sev! At least some. Just think, cuddled up together in the reading room, a roaring fire in the fireplace, a couple glasses of wine …” She smiled. “I’m looking forward to it already.”

“All right, you have a point,” Severus said. He supposed they couldn’t spend all of their time at the cottage making love. He continued reading aloud:

… and borrow any books you would like. You can return them to me at Hogwarts if you don’t finish them there.

I’ve enclosed a couple maps of the estate. One of them has some of our favourite walks marked on it—it’s the map that Malcolm made, Poppy. I’ve charmed them different colours to help you choose where you might like to walk. The routes that I’ve charmed red you should avoid entirely. The snow and ice in that area of the estate makes them rather treacherous until later in the year. The ones marked in blue are probably still somewhat snowy and icy, at least in spots, but not as dangerous—but do be careful on them, nonetheless, if you choose to walk them, as they have difficult sections. Those walks that I’ve marked in green are good trails that are usually fairly clear even this early in the year, as well as being not too taxing with very little scrabbling. They’re comfortable walks but still enjoyable, and there are a few very good views from them, and some good spots for picnics.

There are skis in the cupboard under the stair if you enjoy cross-country skiing. There are still many acres under snow there. Johannes is an avid skier, and he can tell you where he enjoys going. You might want him to join you for a while, if he has the time.

Be careful, in any event, whenever you are out. If the weather changes suddenly, you should head back—or even Disapparate for Hogwarts, if you have to. I’ve arranged to have the Prophet delivered to the kitchen every morning. One of the house-elves will pop it over for you. Check the weather forecast before you go out. The weather around the cottage can be deceptive, since it is in a protected spot and Johannes has enhanced its natural microclimate with charms.

If you are stuck indoors, there are board games in the reading room—you know the cupboard, Poppy—and there’s both a wizarding wireless and a Muggle radio there, as well.

Be sure to let Siofre know if you need anything at all, or tell one of the house-elves.

Enjoy yourselves!

~ Minerva

“Better than a Muggle B and B, hmm, Severus?”

“Indeed. Although …”

“Yes?”

“It just feels a bit odd to be using someone else’s home.” He shrugged slightly.

“She wouldn’t loan it to just anyone, you know, Sev,” Poppy said, closing the wardrobe door. “I don’t think she lets anyone outside the family stay here on their own—well, I have, obviously, and there may be one or two other people—but I think that you should feel comfortable here. It shows that Minerva feels close to you, that you’re like family to her.”

“She probably did it for you, then,” Severus said.

“Oh, I suppose that was part of it,” Poppy admitted, “but if she had wanted, she could have just arranged for us to use one of the vacant cottages up the coast. There are a few that are kept for guests, visiting Tyrees from abroad or friends of the family.”

“You’ve been to their island—the one Professor Gamp brought me to on Sunday—what’s the house there like?” Severus imagined it must be somewhat like Madam Gamp’s cosy home, though perhaps larger.

“It’s quite small. Just a few rooms. Rather … primitive, I suppose you might say, although they do have a normal, if basic, kitchen, and an indoor bathroom. And there’s Albus’s work shed where he plays with his potions and alchemy and so on. At least, that’s what it’s there for. Minerva says he hasn’t had time for it much in recent years. It’s not like Gertrude’s house, other than being built of the same island stone, but then she lived there for quite a long time and needed something a bit more comfortable.”

“Minerva told me that Aberforth had lived on the island for years before he gave it to Albus.”

“Yes, he had, but he’s a very simple fellow with simple needs. He probably spent as much time with his goats as he did in his house.”

“He’s a strange one.”

“I like him,” Poppy said. “And he took good care of you—well, he helped Egeria and Hermione, but he did offer the pub as a haven for you, and he walked up to the castle with you when …” Poppy stopped and turned away, pretending to straighten the bedspread, which didn’t need straightening. She swallowed hard.

Severus put his arms around her from behind and nuzzled the top of her head. “Thank you, Poppy, for taking such good care of me while I recovered,” he said softly. “I know I was not an easy patient.”

“You were fine, Severus. Easier than Minerva was in some ways, actually, and when you were in a mood, it was quite understandable.”

“You mean after the visit from the newly unmasked Dumbledore.”

Poppy nodded. “I understood why Minerva wanted you to know as soon as possible—it had been kept from you for so long, and everyone else knew, and anyone could have slipped up at any moment, but … I wish you’d been able to recover more before you’d had to deal with that shock.”

Severus snorted lightly. “It was a shock. But I’m glad that Minerva didn’t wait any longer. I was becoming paranoid. I knew something was being kept from me, but didn’t know what. And after a period of adjustment …” He shrugged. “I am glad the old bugger’s still with us.”

Poppy turned and put her arms around him. “I’m glad you both are. We lost so many … and I was so worried that Minerva would be one of them. For a while, she seemed worse off than you did, Severus. We were afraid that even if she lived, she’d be an invalid, her brain damaged. But Healer Baton was wonderful. Melina called him and he came immediately; didn’t leave the castle until he was certain that she would recover completely. Of course, Minerva had taught him, too … I think it was her first full year teaching. He was very fond of her.”

“She still gets those headaches,” Severus said.

Poppy nodded. “She does. But she’s doing what she needs to to take care of them.”

“And Albus looks after her, I’m sure.”

“When she lets him. They’re a stubborn pair, those two!” Poppy said with a laugh.

“I wonder if people will say that about us,” Severus said. “Of course, if we’re lucky, they won’t be saying other kinds of things. Or leaving pubs just because you’re with me.”

Poppy shook her head. “Don’t worry about any of that. If anything of the sort happens, we’ll deal with it at the time. Right now, we only have to decide what to do for the day.”

Severus looked pointedly at the bed.

Poppy smirked. “I suppose we could try out the bed at some point,” she said, “but I’d like to get out whilst the weather is still fine.”

Severus nodded. After all, he had agreed to a hillwalking holiday. He let go of her and Summoned the map of the estate. “You should choose the walk today, since I don’t know any of them.”

Poppy spread the map out on the bed. “This is a nice one,” she said, pointing to a long green line near the southern edge of the estate. We couldn’t do it all in one day, but we could start it. Or we could do it in stages and even Apparate for some of the sections. Malcolm would do that sometimes.”

“All right. We’ll do that one—or start it, anyway.”

“Or we could just take a nice ramble from here down to the shore today. There’s a little shell house where we could bring a picnic. Then tomorrow we could begin the hillwalking in earnest.” She looked up at him, a smile and expectancy on her face. “What do you think?”

Severus cupped her cheek and kissed her. “Anything you plan will be fine, Poppy, as long as we are together and in peace.”

“Very good! We can call Duster about putting together a lunch for us—I don’t know what’s in the kitchen, and I don’t want to take the time to investigate everything and then make the lunch, but I will do that for us tomorrow.”

“Speaking of Duster …” Where to begin?

“Yes?”

“What’s that mark on his face? It looks like a curse scar, or is it a birthmark?”

“It is a curse scar.”

“The Tyrees do not appear … that is to say, it does not seem a common accidental injury.” He was certain that neither Siofre nor Johannes were the sort to use curses to discipline their house-elves, and Duster had seemed friendly and not at all obsequious. Hardly behaved like a normal house-elf at all, full of chatter about his poetry and the joys of house-elf work.

“Your old friend Crabbe cast some kind of wandless hex. Nearly killed the poor little fellow, but he recovered well, much to Johannes and Siofre’s relief.”

“Crabbe was not my friend,” Severus said stiffly.

“Oh, I didn’t mean it like he really was. More like saying, ‘that bloke you used to know and hang about with and wasn’t he really a pathetic sod’ sort of ‘old friend,’” Poppy said.

“Hmpf.” He stuffed his sensitivity down his gut, hoping it would disappear. Of course Poppy wouldn’t believe he was actually friends with that troglodyte. Then he remembered something. “He’s the Death Eater that Madam Tyree cursed, isn’t he? The one with the, um, testicular difficulty.”

Poppy grinned in a way that Severus had never seen from her before—there was more than just a shade of malice in her smile. “Yes, he’s the one. And given his character, he’ll never be rid of the curse. Not unless he surprises us all and develops a conscience.”

“And she cursed him because he hexed Duster while trying to escape.”

“Yeah, that’s it. He shouldn’t have messed with a Tyree.” Poppy grinned again, and this time, there was more humour and less schadenfreude in her smile. “Must be where Minerva gets a lot of her backbone, not to mention her temper.”

Severus frowned slightly. “Minerva seems fairly even-tempered to me. Aside from times when she is extremely provoked, and even then …”

“When she was a girl, she had a terrible temper, Sev, and while I wouldn’t say she had a hair-trigger, she was much more easily provoked. Of course, we were teenagers at the time, and teenagers are always more moody, but Minerva worked hard to control and channel her temper. So I suppose you’re right, she’s developed a more even temperament over time.”

“I shall use her as inspiration, then, in my attempts to control my own temper.” Severus paused, thinking. “Actually, she did tell me that she once cursed the Dar— Tom Riddle when they were both in school.”

Poppy shuddered. “Oh, he was a terror in school. Cruel, nasty, controlling—a miniature version of what he became. He never was expelled though—just the opposite, in fact. He ingratiated himself with your Head of House and became a prefect. Didn’t manage Head Boy, though, thank every mercy! But I remember when Minerva did that. We didn’t know each other well at the time, but the story made the rounds in Hufflepuff. Everyone was pleased that Riddle got jinxed, but we were all in awe of Minerva for doing it—and half of us were afraid of her after that!” Poppy said with a laugh. “Minerva was one of the few who ever got the better of Riddle, and, as far as I remember, the only one who seemed to get away with it.”

“Seemed to get away with it?”

“Well, Dumbledore didn’t punish her, did he? And as far as I know, Dippet didn’t put his oar in—didn’t like doing that if he wasn’t pressed to—and Riddle never retaliated.”

“There was probably some strategic reason he didn’t retaliate.”

“Probably.

“Would you like to call that house-elf, then? Arrange for our picnic?” Severus asked.

“Yes, but what would you like, Sev? I appreciate that you want everything to please me, but remember that I want you pleased, as well!”

Severus shrugged. He hadn’t arranged many picnics. None, really, though naturally he’d been on many. He and his dad used to go to the park, bring stale bread to feed the ducks … “Malteasers.”

“Hm? You want Malteasers? I’m not sure—”

“No, just that when my father and I would go to the park, he’d always buy me Malteasers after our lunch. I was just remembering …”

“Oh, good—I doubt that Siofre keeps Malteasers at the house, though she might. What else did you have on your picnics with your dad?”

“Cheese and mixed pickle sandwiches. We’d open the sandwiches and compare the pickle in them. Dad always pretended not to like the red bits so I could have the one with more peppers in it.” Severus smirked.

“My gran had the best recipe for mixed pickle. I’m sure Violet still has it. I could make you some.”

“You can buy mixed pickle, Poppy,” Severus pointed out.

“Still, I’d like to make it for you. It always tastes better home-made.” She tugged at his lapels and gave him a light peck on the lips. “And it takes a year before it’s ready.”

Severus smiled. “I would like that, then.”

“So, cheese and pickle sandwiches?”

“We don’t have to have them. I was just thinking of what one normally eats on a picnic.”

“Well, I’m sure they have cheese and mixed pickle, so we can ask for a couple of those and for a couple others that Duster can easily get together for us. Biscuits?”

Severus shrugged. “If you’d like. Anything is fine, really. Hot coffee, though. The coffee at the house was good.”

“Duster!”

Duster popped into the room a minute or two after Poppy called him. He seemed quite pleased to put together their picnic lunch, grinning and assuring Poppy of the availability of both cheese and mixed pickle sandwiches and the shell house.

“And we’d like a carafe of coffee, too, please,” Poppy added, “and any other little snacks that you might have on hand that would be good for our picnic.”

“Very good, Madam Poppy! I will prepare the shell house for your lunch!” He bowed with great flourish, then Disapparated with a crack.

“Does he really write poetry?” Severus asked. “And does Morgan actually publish it?”

“Yes, Duster writes poetry … poetry of a sort, anyway. And Morgan doesn’t precisely publish it. He prints up a limited run of books and Duster gives them away.”

“It doesn’t seem financially prudent,” Severus replied.

Poppy laughed. “I’m sure it doesn’t cost Morgan much. He does little projects like that for family on occasion. He’d probably be happy to sell them if there were a market for them—and if Duster’s mother would allow it—but house-elf poetry occupies a very tiny niche, I’d say!”

Severus chuckled. “A niche of one, most likely.”

“I bet that Minerva has his books here. We’ll have to look at them. I’ve only seen one of them before, and it was rather amusing—although I didn’t say that to Duster; I don’t think it was meant to be.”

“It’s peculiar, certainly; even before having laid eyes on it, I can say that.”

“Now, I think we should change for our walk—I want to, anyway, and you might be more comfortable in a pair of those jeans you packed.”

“You were going to Transfigure my shoes so they were more suitable,” Severus said as he took a pair of faded denim jeans from the wardrobe.

“You have your trainers, and I think they are all you need today. Tomorrow I’ll fix you a pair of hiking shoes, though.”

“I brought my desert boots. I thought you could Transfigure them.”

Poppy grinned. “I wish you’d brought the rest of your Lawrence of Arabia outfit. Mmm, you were delicious in that.”

Severus smirked. “We could have our own private fancy dress party.”

“But I don’t think I’d wear that Madame Curie costume.”

“No. Not unless I could rip it off you immediately.”

“I could wear a Mata Hari costume beneath it.”

Severus’s black eyes shone. “I believe that would be appropriate. You are quite the seductress.”

Poppy laughed. “Hardly.”

“Oh, yes. Yes, you are. I just look at you, and I am seduced.” He reached out and pulled her to him. “Perpetually seduced.”

Poppy, her fingers entangled in his hair, drew him down into a kiss.

Despite being distracted by temptation, Poppy and Severus made it out of the cottage and had a pleasant walk down to the sea. The breeze was cold but refreshing, and Poppy was glad of her heavy tweed skirt and jacket beneath her cloak.

“It’s even more beautiful later in the spring,” Poppy said. “This entire area becomes just a carpet of flowers and delicate greenery.”

Severus bent to look at the emerging leaves. “These are a variety of orchid, I believe.”

Poppy nodded. “Yes, I think so. I wouldn’t know, but Malcolm … when we would hillwalk with him, he was full of information.” The corners of her mouth turned up slightly. “And full of stories. Sometimes it seemed that everything reminded him of a story, and that anything could be made into one. A story, or a song.”

“Gareth told me a story of his once, though he said he couldn’t tell it like his father did.”

“Oh, which one?”

“About Quin. I believe he meant it as a cautionary tale.”

Poppy shook her head uncomprehendingly.

“About Quin’s revenge upon Flatiron, the publican at the Three Broomsticks.”

“Ooohh. Yes. Caused quite a stir at the time. But Flatiron is doing well enough now. And, well, he did cheat a lot of people, not just Quin, from what I remember.”

“I’m surprised that Quin wasn’t Sorted into Slytherin. He managed to sabotage the man’s life thoroughly with no repercussions to himself.”

Poppy just shrugged. “We’re almost there, but I’m starving. If we walk up to that ridge there, we can see the folly, then Apparate to it.”

“Very well.”

A few minutes later they were looking down on a rocky cove, and Poppy pointed to the shell house. From their vantage point, the small building blended in with its surroundings. If he hadn’t known it was there, Severus might not have noticed it.

“Ready, Sev?”

“Of course.” The prospect of relying upon Madam Tyree’s charm to allow him to Apparate within the Tyree grounds did give him pause, but he was not going to let on to Poppy. Rationally, he knew that there was no reason Madam Tyree would have deliberately given him a faulty amulet, and she seemed to be a competent witch. She’d made such charms before. Dumbledore, who was as independent as he when it came to Apparition, had relied upon one in the past. To trust the amulet was logical. It still felt wrong.

Poppy put her hand in her pocket to touch her wand, then she disappeared with a crack. A moment later, Severus followed with a slight, hollow pop.

Poppy turned to him with a smile. “What do you think?”

Severus nodded. It was an excellent example of a shell house. From where he stood, he could see that the folly had three rounded sections, presumably different rooms, and with the exception of the roof, the entire edifice was studded with shells of all sizes, colours, and shapes. Deep blue shutters were open, and a few of the small leaded-glass windows had been cranked open to the fresh air. Severus presumed the house-elf had done it in preparation for their arrival. Three round chimneys emerged from the roof, and white smoke curled out of the central one.

“It is pleasingly made,” he replied. He turned to her, his gaze softening. “An excellent location for our picnic.”

“If it were warmer, we could eat out here,” Poppy said, walking up to the cottage and pushing the blue door open. “We still could, with a few charms, if you prefer.”

Coming up behind Poppy, Severus shook his head. “No, this is quite acceptable. And I believe you would be more comfortable in out of the wind.”

Insisting that Severus sit down, Poppy bustled about, finding their lunch stowed in one of the cupboards. Severus examined the designs in the table, floor, walls, and hearth. The shells had not simply been placed in mortar willy-nilly, but had been used to create mosaics, all depicting scenes set at sea or shore. It must have been a very lengthy and labourious work, even with magic.

“Coffee, tea, sandwiches, dessert, and a lot of little nibbles,” Poppy said, setting everything out on one of the tables with a wave of her wand. “More than we can eat, I think! Duster laid on quite a feast.”

“Coffee or tea?” Severus asked as he set two large mugs next to each other.

“Coffee, thanks,” Poppy said. “Want to eat in front of the fire? There are cushions and blankets in some of the cupboards. I think we’d be quite comfortable.”

Severus agreed. It was, after all, a picnic, and one often sat on the ground while eating a picnic lunch. He remembered his picnic with Helena. He caught one of the pillows that Poppy Summoned from a cupboard, then snagged a blanket as it flew past him.

“Did you get the impression last night that Gareth and Helena will be seeing more of each other?” he asked as he helped Poppy arrange their picnic in front of the fireplace.

“I actually did. I thought that they already felt like a couple, to be honest, though I don’t know whether either of them is thinking in that direction yet. But it wouldn’t surprise me.”

Severus nodded. He hoped that Gareth wasn’t simply rebounding from one Quidditch player to another. Helena was still in a fragile state after losing Viktor and might be easily hurt.

“What’s the frown for?” Poppy asked, handing him a bowl of potato salad.

“I was unaware I was frowning.”

“Not much, but you seemed displeased with something. Isn’t this all right?”

“It’s perfect, especially the company,” Severus said, reaching over and catching her hand before she could pick up the plate of sandwiches. “No. Just thinking of Gareth and Helena.”

“Oh.” Poppy looked subdued as she picked out a sandwich then handed him the plate.

“It’s none of my business,” Severus said, hoping to reassure Poppy that she need not be jealous of Helena, “but I hope that if they do enter a relationship, it is for the right reasons. Ms Benetti has suffered a recent loss. It might not be a good time for her.”

“You’re right about that. Hopefully, if they are heading in that direction, they’ll take the time to get to know each other.”

“And not just jump into bed before their first date, like one couple we know?” Severus asked with a smirk.

Poppy chuckled. “Well, we have known each other for a long time, Sev, and we were friends of a sort already.”

Severus smiled. “We were. I don’t know if I realised it then, but we were.”

“I may confess that I did have … not romantic feelings for you, not exactly, but … sometimes I would look at you and find you rather attractive, and sometimes I wished we were better friends.” A vision of Severus sitting by himself in the corner at the Christmas party flitted into Poppy’s head; just as she was considering joining him and trying to cheer him up, Vector had gone over and sat down on the arm of his chair.

“We’re better friends now,” Severus said. He couldn’t help it: he broke into a broad grin. “I think we’re even better than friends.”

“I love you, Sev,” Poppy whispered. I love you and it terrifies me, she thought.

The sound of the surf had been growing louder, and now the shutters rattled against the shell cottage with a sudden strong gust of wind. Two of their candles, charmed though they were, went out in the sudden draught.

Poppy stood and looked out one of the open windows. “I think it’s about to storm.” Clouds that had been just a thin grey line on the horizon when they’d begun their walk were now a dark, threatening mass over the water.

“Let’s get the windows shut,” Severus replied, Summoning his wand from his coat pocket. The roar of the wind grew louder, and there was a distant boom of thunder.

“Lightning,” Poppy said, shutting her window by hand, cranking it tightly closed. “I just saw lightning out at sea.”

“It’s good the house-elf provisioned us well,” Severus said, examining the stack of wood by the fireplace. Particularly using magic to extend the fire’s life, they could easily spend the night if they had to.

“Hopefully, it will blow over quickly,” Poppy said. “But storms here can be quite fierce.”

“Perhaps we should close the shutters.” Severus stepped over to the door and opened it. The wind almost tugged it from his hand. It wasn’t raining yet, but the air was wet with sea spray. He waved his wand, and one by one, the shutters closed and hooked themselves shut.

Severus slammed the door against the weather just as icy rain began to lash the shore. He turned to see the little room seemingly transformed into an enchanted, candle-lit grotto. Poppy stepped toward him. He gathered her in his arms and she snuggled against his soft black sweater.

The storm raged around them. There was nowhere he would rather be.