It was their fifth and last day at Skegness, and the boys had opted to go and play in the arcade and ride the rollercoasters one more time at Fantasy Island. Albus wished to go with them, leaving Severus alone to walk along the beach and enjoy the sun and the sound of the waves upon the shore. He walked lightly over the sand, leaving hardly any footprints.
It was early in the morning, and the sun had just cast its light over the horizon. He recalled another sunrise, long and long ago, in Rome, back when he was a newly made Potions Master, and he still saw the world through somewhat innocent eyes. Where he had met the only other woman he had ever dared to give his heart to since Lily. The woman he had loved and then left, for duty and honor.
He turned and stared out over the water, lost in memories and past regrets that he could never ever let go . . .
* * * * * *
International Potioneers' Conference
Rome, Italy, 1981:
He had noticed her immediately, and not because she was the only woman attending the conference, for there were others there, but none of them half as young or half as attractive. He had expected to be the youngest there, and it was a bit of a shock to see a young woman of twenty sitting not five feet away, busily taking notes on the lecture. She was dressed in the unrelieved black typical of a potions maker, for it had long ago been discovered that black was the easiest to get stains out of and looked good upon almost everyone and the color commanded a certain amount of respect. Professors and judges traditionally wore black as did priests in the Muggle world, and the wizards didn't mind stealing from ancient traditions.
He also saw that she did not have the full cauldron of a Potions Mistress upon her robe, but rather a small smoking green vial, signifying she was still an apprentice and had not yet earned her Mastery. Still, she must have been a brilliant apprentice to have been allowed to attend this most august body, but he knew she was not an English witch, he would have known her. Had she been a student at Hogwarts, he knew that Potter and the Marauders would have most definitely tried copping a feel at the very least.
She had long flowing black hair, nearly as black as his own, but her face was slender and olive skinned, with an adorable nose and sensuous mouth. Her features and behavior spoke of good manners, family, and elegance. It was something that was inborn, either you had it or you didn't. She had it in spades.
She turned then, and their eyes met. She had beautiful eyes, a deep purple, the color of grapes ripe enough to be picked.
A jolt went through him like fire. Those eyes . . .he recognized them somehow, but could not recall where he had seen them before.
They had smiled at each other and then she went back to taking notes and he turned to listen to the speaker on the podium.
He introduced himself to her after the lecture had ended, feeling awkward and clumsy, for he had never really spent time in a girl's company since he and Lily were going to school. And look how that had turned out. "Hello. My name is Severus Snape. Pleased to make your acquaintance."
"You're British, I see."
"I am half-British, I get that from my father's side, though my mother was pure Italian. Thea McGonagall." She shook his hand. Like him, she had long fingers, but they were smaller than his. "I'm here with my master, Marco Vilaggio. It's my first time at a real conference!" Yours too?"
He nodded. "It's also my first time in Rome."
"Really?" Her eyes sparkled. "Do you have any other lectures to attend this afternoon?"
"Because that means you're free to walk about the city and experience the wonder that is Rome. I grew up here. Come, let me show you around!"
She had the most charming accent, he thought as he followed her. It was soft, with liquid vowels and gently rolled r's. Her eyes tilted up at the corners and crinkled when she smiled.
"A moment. You said your name is McGonagall? I had a teacher named Minerva McGonagall at Hogwarts. She taught Transfiguration. You wouldn't happen to be related?" He asked, thinking it would be a small world indeed if that were so.
Thea nodded. "Yes, as a matter of fact, I am. She's my aunt, my father's sister. I was supposed to go and visit her this summer, but couldn't because she said it was too dangerous with that madman—Voldemort—running around killing people."
"Yes, but we have recently defeated him, though not all of his followers have surrendered." Then he abruptly changed the subject. He had enough of talking about the Dark Lord and his sudden death. It brought back horrible memories of Lily's death. "Are you enjoying the conference so far?"
She nodded. "I am very excited. It's an honor to have been invited here." She looked at him speculatively. "I have heard that you were the youngest Potions Master over here."
"Yes. I only received my Mastery two weeks ago." He followed her out of the hall and into the large square that fronted the Spanish Steps.
* * * * * *
Within a few days, he found himself talking to her as if he had known her all his life. He, who was usually reserved and shy around women, had discovered a kindred spirit. Thea shared his love of potions and creativity, they attended all the lectures and seminars together, and usually came away with new ideas for inventing solutions and drafts. He had never met another since Lily that could match his enthusiasm. Until now. But Thea also challenged him, and he loved her for it.
By the second week, he had fallen quite in love with her. Besides her fine mind, she also had a vivacious personality. She sparkled like a fine Chianti, and in their impromptu tours of Rome, she showed him just how to have a wonderful time without magic. They toured the markets, sampled figs and fruit and homemade breads fresh from the oven dipped in olive oil and spices. They ate sandwiches of prosciutto and fresh mozzarella and drank cappuccino in the small cauponas.
They visited the Colesseum and the Castle of Angels, she taught him Italian. "You are bellissimo, Severus."
"What does that mean?"
She smiled slowly. "It means that you are very beautiful," she answered, her finger gently tracing his jawline.
He goggled at her. "Me? Thea, I'm not—"
"Shh." Her finger moved to his mouth, shushing him. "You are. Why do you not believe me? I wouldn't lie."
"You're not seeing me clearly. I know what I see in the mirror."
"Do you? Then you're not looking hard enough, cara mia."
He chuckled. "They say love is blind."
"Because love sees what is within, and not only what is on the surface."
"My nose is very—"
"Roman." She tweaked it playfully. "I adore it."
"My face is too long."
"All the more for me to hold."
"My hair is too long and greasy."
"I like long hair," she purred and ran her fingers through it. "There is no grease here. It's perfect. I like everything about you, Severus. You are bellissimo."
"No, that's you."
"Both of us. Who has told you you're not?"
He looked away. "Many people."
She snorted. "Then it is they who are blind. As a bat. Your face has character, it is unique and so are you. That is what I love best about you, Sev. You are one of a kind." She slipped her arms about him and he pulled her close, unable to resist. She was almost as tall as he was, so he had only to lower his mouth and then he was kissing her ardently.
The first girl he had ever kissed had been Lily. That kiss had been sweet and hot and memorable. Kissing Thea was not just memorable, it was mindblowing. It ignited a fire within him that threatened to overcome his carefully honed control, a wildfire that swept through every nerve ending and shocked it into awareness. He had always been careful to not get too close, since Lily's death he had felt dead inside, frozen, unable to feel anything save bitterness and sorrow. But Thea had made him come back to life, coaxing him into the world, and her kisses awakened him into a whole new realm of possibility.
He kissed her slowly, wanting to absorb her into him, she was fire and light, she warmed the cold spaces, melted the ice about his heart, brightened the darkness that surrounded his soul. With her he was not Severus Snape the spy, but only Severus Snape, Potions Master. She tasted of strawberries, Chianti, and chocolate, luscious and irresistible.
"Thea . . .God . . ."
"No . . .but if you kiss me like that again I'll certainly feel like a goddess," she murmured against his lips.
He was no fool. "Yes." Then he kissed her again. There was no hesitation, no awkwardness. He felt as if he had done this a thousand times before. . . .and he never wanted to it to end.
That had been the first time they had kissed. It had not been the last.
Inbetween sightseeing, they took long walks beside the Roman ruins, where Thea admitted that she always felt a connection. "I suppose you think I'm crazy. But I can't explain it. Something within me tells me that once I stood here, when the city was new . . ."
"That's not crazy. This city has so much magic within it, I'm not surprised you feel echoes of the past. You are a very perceptive witch."
She smiled up at him. "And you are far more understanding than my first boyfriend. Tonio called me a silly little girl with a head full of dreams and potion fumes."
"This Tonio sounds like an ass." Severus said bluntly. "Why did you go out with him?"
She shrugged. "He was cute and the first one that asked me to have dinner with him since I tested into Adavnced Potions." She sighed. "Sometimes I think men are afraid of a smart woman."
"Some men are. The stupid ones."
"But not you."
"No. I need a woman who knows how to talk intelligently. And one who doesn't—" he halted abruptly.
"Doesn't what? Please, won't you tell me, Sev?"
He stared into her eyes, that were at once youthful and wise, and said quietly, "—one who doesn't throw me over for an arrogant ass because she thought I was going dark."
"You, a dark wizard? Ridiculous!"
"Once I almost did."
"Almost doesn't count. Tell me?"
"Why would you want to know? It was one of the worst mistakes of my life."
"Sometimes talking helps you look at things differently. I promise I won't judge you. I'm not exactly white as the driven snow either."
So he told her all of it. Then he waited for her to tell him to walk away, that she didn't want to see him again.
She didn't. Instead she hugged him hard and kissed him as if he was the last man on earth. "Severus, you made an awful mistake, but you realized it in time. Sometimes it takes more courage to admit a mistake and try and fix it than it does to act as if you are above temptation. We all have things we regret, that doesn't make you less of a man. It makes you more of one. To err is human . . ."
"To forgive divine. . ." he finished the quote and kissed her again. Sweetness so sharp it hurt stole through him. He broke off the kiss and asked curiously. "If it had been you . . .would you have forgiven me?"
"No. Because I would have never rejected you in the first place, and made forgiveness necessary. But then, that was probably the worst mistake of her life." Thea said impishly. "One that I am happy she made. Very happy."
He gaped at her. "You are?"
"Of course, cara. Because now I have you all to myself." She laughed and snuggled closer to him. "I know. I'm terribly selfish."
"Me too," he murmured. Only she didn't. For he was bound by the chains of duty and even love was not enough to shatter them.
* * * * * *
And I let duty dictate to my heart, and I walked away, and left my heart behind in Rome, broken to pieces again. Severus opened his eyes and gazed out at the ocean. It was still early, the only thing to disturb the peaceful morning were the seagulls.
He shut his eyes again, for the sun dazzled when it reflected off the water. The sun had dazzled off the Fountain of Trevi too, after they had thrown the customary three coins in the fountain . . .and then had returned to the apartment Thea had rented expressly for the conference. . .
* * * * * *
"Are you sure you wish to do this?" he had murmured in her ear, as they lay half-sprawled upon the bed, her head on his shoulder. "I'm not . . .that is I don't need to sleep with you to know that you love me . . ."
Her hand reached up and traced his ear. It sent shockwaves through him. "I know. But I want this. I want you, Sev. I know your mind—so wickedly sharp, and the same could be said about your tongue . . .!"
She smirked up at him, her violet eyes dancing. "Have I shocked you out of your British reserve, love? Yes? Good." Her hands slipped down his shoulders. "Now I want to know your body . . ."
He chuckled and pulled her right up against his chest. "I'm nothing special to look at. Too skinny, not enough muscle . . ."
"From where I'm lying, cara, you have plenty of muscle . . ." She ran her fingers down his chest teasingly. "Just the way I like it."
He sucked in a breath. "Thea . . .Merlin help me . . .but I've never . . .felt this way before . . .Lily and I, we never . . ."
"Then I'm the first?"
She kissed him gently upon the nose. "You're my first too."
He smiled, delighted. "I had hoped so." Then he gently removed her arms from him and stood up. He was still wearing his trousers, and he quickly skinned out of them. He picked up his wand and chanted something quickly, running his wand over himself. "Protection," he explained at her curious look.
"Oh. You didn't have to . . .I took a potion before . . ."
"Can't hurt. Better safe than sorry." He crawled back upon the bed, and this time he undressed her with more than just his eyes.
He closed his eyes and breathed in the scent of her. Ripe strawberries and espresso and something that was uniquely her own, rich, earthy, and totally tantalizing . . .
Their eyes met and suddenly he was no longer hesitant. For he could see the love and desire shining in her eyes, that he had never known, and he threw caution to the wind. He wanted her more than he had ever wanted anything, she was like rain falling upon the parched desert of his soul, turning it warm and green again. As a spy he had forced a part of himself to die, to never feel, or else he would have been torn apart by the hell he had witnessed. For so long he had been a shadow, hiding in the dark. This had been his one opportunity to become something else, his reward for a thankless job done well. He had come expecting to broaden his mind, expand his horizons.
Instead he had found someone to chase away the shadows, someone who loved him, flaws and all.
He trailed kisses down her neck, feeling desire pulse through him. "Thea, I love you."
She arched up to him. "I love you too." Her hands wound in his hair. "Sev, don't be afraid . . .let go . . ."
His hands cupped her, pressing her against him. She was so fragile, so vulnerable. And so beautiful it scared him. "I don't want to hurt you . . ."
"You won't. I trust you."
The words were a balm, they healed his aching heart, soothed his weary spirit. Her hands caressed him, found the scars, and gently stroked them, acknowledging them and then she moved on. Her touch made him burn, slow and sweet,and for the first time he understood what power passion held. "Thea . . .bring me to life."
Then he drew her down on top of him and let the fire consume them both. It was glorious and unforgettable, joy without end. A little bit of heaven.
They had fallen asleep in each other's arms, dreaming of a future together.
But then he had woken up and received an urgent letter from Dumbledore, requesting he come home as soon as the conference was ended. His duty as a spy was not yet done, he was needed to infiltrate the rest of the ranks of the Death Eaters, to keep a close eye upon Lucius Malfoy, and to allow the Ministry to question him about his actions during the war. He understood what Dumbledore did not say. The old wizard had cut a deal with Crouch and the others in the Ministry, to keep them from putting him away in Azkaban. And this was the price they required. Or else he would be hunted down like a fugitive.
He turned and looked at Thea, asleep upon the bed, one arm tucked beneath her head. She slept the sleep of the innocent, rosy with the afterglow of their lovemaking. He wanted nothing so much as to crawl back into bed with her and forget the whole bloody world. He longed to scream his frustration to the heavens.
Why now? God help me, why now, when I have finally found peace, finally found the best thing in my life? WHY?
He turned away, he could not bear to look at her, knowing their idyll was ended. Had to be ended. He would not risk drawing her into his secret life, risk losing her to his enemies, to destroy her brilliant light with deception. She was the one good thing in his life.
He loved her with all that he was.
And that was why he had to let her go.
A spy had no time for love. And he still owed a debt. No matter what he had become, he still had his word. It was his bond, and he would not be foresworn.
His hand gently caressed her cheek, and she moaned softly in her sleep.
Thea, beloved, we were supposed to have forever. I should have known better. Forever is not for the likes of me. I am only allowed a glimpse of heaven before being sent back to hell. Tears slipped down his cheeks to fall in her hair. I am sorry. Sorry I cannot stay.
* * * * * *
He had tried to explain, as best he could, why he could not stay as he had originally planned. It sounded trite and with every word he spoke, he tore out a piece of his heart. And hers. He could not explain everything, for his occupation as a spy must not be compromised, and without that crucial piece of information, he sounded like a bastard. One who had used her and now would leave her.
He had hated every minute of their parting, had been prepared to dodge a few hexes or punches, for Thea was no meek kitten, but a tigress when her temper was up. But she had not attacked him. She had only looked at him, a world of loss and hurt in her eyes. "Perhaps . . .we shall meet again someday." She said, her voice steady, only the trembling of her chin betrayed her.
"Yes. If the fates are kind." He swallowed hard. "Thea—"
"Go. Now. Before I lose it totally and smack you senseless. Or lose my dignity and beg you to stay."
Then he had walked away, and discovered that a broken heart was just as painful the second time around.
* * * * * *
He opened his eyes, blinked twice, and brushed a hand across them. So many regrets, but that one had been the worst. Out of all the sacrifices he had made, that one had hurt most of all. And now his greatest regret was coming to teach at Hogwarts. Did he dare try to find the pieces of his heart he had left behind? Or was it too late? Once he had promised her forever. Once she had promised to forgive him his greatest mistake. But that had been before he had shattered both their hearts with the sword of duty and honor and left her to pick up the pieces.
He sighed. Only time would tell what would be.
He kicked off his shoes and dove into the pounding surf. Perhaps he could drown the memories with a decent swim.
When he emerged from the water some twenty minutes later, some eighteen-year-old girls were standing at the water's edge, daring each other to go in. They stopped talking when he came out of the surf and he stiffened, waiting for the scornful look and the laughter. He gave them a nod and started walking past them.
Then he heard a whistle. "God, but he's so hot!"
Severus paused and glanced surreptitiously around for the eighteen-year-old boy who must have been walking down the beach right then.
But the beach was empty of everyone save himself and the girls.
Could they be . . .talking about him? Surely not. He was twice their age! Almost.
"Sharlene, he's like the age of your uncle!" one giggled.
"Like, so what? I like older men!"
"More than Leo DiCaprio?" her friend squealed.
"Oh, hell yeah!"
Severus continued walking, he felt both flattered and embarrassed. And he wondered if Thea would agree with them.
* * * * * *
They arrived back at Spinner's End late that same night, since Albus had convinced Severus to put the car under a Notice Me Not charm so he could drive faster than the speed limit and make it home quicker. First they dropped off Paul at his house, before continuing onto the Snape residence.
They found Minerva sitting on the couch sipping a cup of tea while Major curled on her lap and purred. "Well, welcome back!" she greeted them as soon as they had walked in the door. "How was it?"
"It was marvelous, Minnie!" Albus said, going over and hugging her. "I had the time of my life!"
"I'm glad, Al," she said, bussing his cheek. Then she blushed like a schoolgirl. "My, you look tan."
"Spent some time at the beach. On a surfboard."
"You should have seen it, Minerva," Severus said.
"Did you take pictures?" the elder witch asked.
"I didn't have a camera."
"I did," Harry said. "On my phone."
Major jumped down off of Minerva's lap and wound himself about Severus until the Potions Master picked him up. "Hello, old soldier. I hope you've been behaving yourself for Minerva." Major rubbed his head under Severus's chin.
"Of course he has. He's been the perfect gentleman." Minerva reassured him, chuckling. She did not bother to explain that she had actually spent more time in her tabby form than her human one. She found that she had more fun with Major as a cat, hunting all the mice around the neighborhood, along with Hedwig. The two cats had acted like spaniels, flushing out the mice so Hedwig could swoop down and gobble them up for dinner. They had made a good team. So good that Minerva thought a mouse wouldn't dare show its whiskers around Spinner's End for years.
She laid a hand on her former student's arm. "Did you enjoy your vacation, Severus?"
"As a matter of fact, I did," he answered and found that it was true. "It was exhausting, but good."
"And guess what, Min?" Albus asked excitedly. "Severus has agreed to be my unofficial son, and call me Dad. What do you think of that?"
Minerva beamed. "Well, it's about time!" Then she hugged both Albus and Severus. "I'd love to stay and chat, but you must be tired, Severus, from all that driving and probably want to sleep. So I'll just have to wait to hear all about your escapades." She took Albus by the arm, for he was eying the refrigerator. "Come along, Al, the boys need their rest. You can have a snack at home."
"Thank you for taking care of Major, Minerva."
"Anytime, Severus. We rub along quite well." Minerva said, scratching the gray cat behind the ears.
Major yawned. Farewell, Lady Huntress. Come back soon and hunt with me again.
"It would be my pleasure," she whispered. Then she hauled Albus over to the fireplace and activated the Floo.
"Come by tomorrow for tea if you'd like," suggested Severus. "There's another matter I need to discuss with you. Good night!"
"Good night!" the witch and wizard chorused before disappearing in a flash of green flames.
"What other matter?" Harry asked, rubbing his eyes.
"That's for me to know and you to imagine," Severus returned. "You look like you're asleep on your feet. Go to bed."
Harry yawned. "Night, Dad."
"Good night, fledgling." Severus gave him a hug.
Then, after Harry was safely out of earshot, he whispered to Major, "I need to start planning his surprise party. He'll be sixteen. Makes me feel damn old." He grimaced. Then he recalled the way those three girls had looked at him on the beach. "Then again, maybe not."
Severus headed upstairs, Major riding on his shoulder. He intended to make this party one that Harry would never forget.
Well, how was that for a Severus-centric chapter? I felt you all needed to know a little about his past with Thea.
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Thanks so much for all your wonderful reviews! The story has over 2100 reviews and all I can say is--WOW! And thanks again for reading and reviewing!
I also have a request to make of you. I'm having trouble deciding what Harry should get for his birthday from his friends (I already have Sev's present to him) but I need presents from Ron, Hermione, Meadowsweet, Marietta, Paul, Vince, Jace, and Ginny. Just give me a list and I can pick from them. Thanks so much!