Chapter 17 : New Neighbor
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December 15th, 1993:
I had just uncapped a new jar of ink and trimmed a quill when I heard Lily calling for Harry. She sounded testy, as she often did now that she was in her seventh month and growing bigger every day. Since I hadn't seen her when she was pregnant with Harry, I couldn't tell if she was normal for seven months, but she swore she was huge, and her ankles had begun to swell, making it difficult for her to move about. She was due for her maternity leave soon, and crotchety because she hated to quit work, even if she did feel better at home with her feet up.
"Harry, where are you?" she called up the stairs. "You were supposed to come and help me decorate the tree half-an-hour ago."
"Aww, Mum, do I have to? I was sleeping," came Harry's response, sounding just as annoyed as any teenager would woken from a nap. "Decorating the tree is boring!"
"You used to love decorating the tree with me," she objected, sounding a bit hurt. "I'll make popcorn and we can eat some and make popcorn strings with cranberries for the tree too." She persuaded. "I need help, it's hard for me to reach the top of the tree now that I'm Mrs. Bowling Ball."
"I don't feel like it. Ask Dad."
"Your father helped me put the lights on and the fake snow. Now it's your turn."
Decorating the tree in our house was a family thing, and had been started by Lily years and years ago. Harry had never minded it before, but now he was reaching a difficult age, and seemed to be getting bored with the old family activities, and also whiny and uncooperative. I stuck my head out of my bedroom. My son was standing in the hallway, his hair tousled from sleep, a sulky look on his face.
"Harry, go and help your mother."
"But Dad, I'm tired!" he groused. "And decorating the tree is for babies."
I frowned. "Do your mother or I look like babies?"
"No, but . . .I just don't feel like it today." He grumbled.
"Come here," I crooked a finger at him.
He eyed me warily. "What for? I'm not sick, I don't need any potions."
"Just come here," I ordered irritably.
Dragging his feet, he came over by me.
Lowering my voice, I said, "Remember what I told you yesterday? That your mum was going to be cranky and out of sorts and we needed to do our best to be patient and help her?"
"Well, this is what I meant. Now go humor her and help put the damn ornaments and popcorn on the tree. It'll only take you fifteen minutes if you use a spell."
"But I suck at levitating objects."
"The more you practice, the better you'll be." I said. "Now quit whining and just help her. I've done my part for now." I said, indicating my pullover, which still had bits of fake snow stuck on it.
"You have snow in your hair," Harry pointed out. "Makes you look old, like Father Christmas."
"I'll show you old, brat!" I mock-growled, playfully tussling with him. He had gotten taller and somewhat filled out, but I was still bigger and stronger than he was, so in the end I won. I got him in a headlock and said, "Do you surrender?"
He struggled a bit more before conceding defeat. "Okay. I surrender!"
"Smart boy. Now go and help your mother."
"Think of it this way. This is one of the few times you'll have to spend with your mother alone before the baby's born," I said, but he still looked unconvinced. "Why don't you invite Hermione over to help? Then you'll be done even faster."
"That's a brilliant idea! Thanks, old timer!"
"Cheeky brat!" I growled.
Laughing, he ducked the smack I aimed at his backside and then bolted downstairs. "Mum, I'm going to invite Hermione over to help us."
"That's a great idea, Harry," Lily exclaimed. "It'll be like old times then."
I allowed myself a smug grin. I could remember many a December when Hermione had come over to help bake or trim the tree as a child, she had always loved the holiday season, and Lily loved having a girl around to shop with and all that. I was very grateful for Hermione, because then I wouldn't have to be dragged to some godforsaken mall or Diagon Alley to stand on endless lines in the chill wind for hours to get Harry the latest toy, game, broom, or whatever.
I returned to my desk, and sat there for a moment, wondering what I had done before Hermione had moved in down the street. Been miserable, I supposed. I could clearly recall the day she had arrived, as I had been standing on the front lawn, watching Gabriel play with Harry when the moving lorry came down the street . . .
August 5th, 1986:
It had been a trying morning for all of us. Lily had gotten reassigned to go after a ring of international magical bank robbers, her mission was to infiltrate them and then get enough proof and their true identities to make an arrest. It would probably take her most of two months to track them down and then get them to allow her to join before she made the collar. But then, this was what she was trained to do as a Special, and I knew she was looking forward to her first "real" assignment.
I was both proud and upset by her promotion. I knew she was a very capable Auror, we had practiced dueling each other at the Auror Training Center while my mother watched Harry, and she was an excellent duelist once I had gotten her to quit being noble and put me (or any other opponent) down for the count. Aurors weren' t supposed to hex to kill, but a Special was given leeway, since they infiltrated and hunted the most deadly criminals. She had joked once that I would make a damn fine Auror. But I had just shook my head and told her I'd rather stick to being a Potions professor and apothecary.
Even so, I still worried about her. These were hardened criminals, and wouldn't hesitate to kill her if her cover were exposed. "Be careful," I told her the previous night, in the afterglow of our recent lovemaking. "I know I can't tell you not to go, nor would I attempt to tell you what you should do with your life, but just remember that you have a husband and a son waiting for you."
"I would never forget you, Sev. You and Harry will always be in my heart. But I need to do this. I need to make a difference, to make the world safe for ordinary people. It's my Gryffindor complex, as you would say."
"Bloody knights in shining armor," I half-growled.
"You love me for it."
"Too right I do. Fool that I am." I pulled her to me, all too aware that this would be the last night I would spend with her for a long time. "You cannot cage a wild falcon. She must be free to fly as she chooses." Potter had never understood that. But I did. I would let her go, even though it terrified me to do so.
She put a finger to my lips. "But she shall always return to you," she promised. "I may not be able to write you, but know that wherever I am, you are always in my thoughts. It's not forever, Sev. Only two months."
"I know. But it will seem like that long. Especially for Harry."
She sighed. "I wish I didn't have to be away for so long, but what can I do? Somehow, we'll have to make him understand."
That proved more difficult than either of us had anticipated. Harry had not spent time away from Lily since he was born, and had grown used to her always being there. So he took her leaving for an extended period of time very hard. Lily had tried to explain to him why she had to go away for so long, but he didn't want to hear it.
"Tell 'em to send somebody else, Mum! I need you here."
"I know, luv, but I have to go. It's my job, sweetling. This is what I do. Now give me a kiss and behave for your father." Lily had told him firmly. She had hugged and kissed him goodbye, and me as well, before Flooing away, and I saw the tears in her emerald eyes as she vanished.
Harry started howling then, and trying to follow her through the fireplace, I had to stand in front of it so he wouldn't try and throw himself into it. "Harry, stop it. She's coming back."
"Mummy! I want you to come back now!" he was shouting, tears falling down his face. "I don't want you to go!" He glared at me angrily. "Why'd you let her go? Why didn't you make her stay here?"
"Harry, she had to go. That's her job, catching dark wizards, like mine is teaching potions." I began, trying to explain once more to the distraught six-year-old.
"She should find a new job!" he sobbed.
"Harry, sometimes parents have to do things that you don't like—"
"I hate you!" he burst out suddenly. "I hate you and I hate her and . . .and everybody . . ." he cried raggedly, tears and mucus dribbling down his face. Only to get washed by along pink tongue. Gabriel had come down from his usual spot at the head of the stairs to see what Harry was so upset about. My son threw his arms about the great collie and cried, "I hate everybody . . .'cept Gaby!" Then he buried his face in Gabe's ruff and sobbed for a good ten minutes.
I just stood there, feeling useless, but I didn't think he'd want me to hold him, he was too upset, but neither did I dare leave him alone and risk him trying to Floo after Lily. I missed her too and yet at the same time I felt hurt, because Harry didn't seem to think I was good enough for him. This was going to be a long two months.
Finally his sobs died down to hiccups and he lifted his face from my collie's fur and looked at me. "Did she really have to go?"
"Yes, son. But she'll come back home."
I sighed. "Come here and let me show you on the calendar." I held out my arms.
He came running, and I picked him up and held him. "First, let's wash your face and your glasses."
Once I'd done that, I showed him the big wall calendar with the pictures of various fantastic beasts on it that we had Stuck to the wall in the kitchen. "Now, remember how I taught you the days of the week and the months?"
"Uh huh. Today's Monday, and it's the first week of August." He sniffled.
I handed him a tissue. "Good. Blow your nose. Now look here. I'm going to put a big red X on today. Then—" I flipped the calendar pages. "—I'm going to put a big green X on the day Mum will be home again. I put a green X on the first week in October. "See? Now we can cross off each day until we get to the green X. If you count them, you'll see how long it will be before your mother comes home."
He started to count, he had learned how to read and do basic addition and subtraction. " . . .fifty-eight, fifty –nine . . .sixty. Sixty more days! Aww, that's so long!"
"It just seems that way now. Let's eat breakfast and after we'll take Gabe for a walk."
That day passed rather quickly, after breakfast and a walk, we had lessons, then dinner, and then Gaby and Harry played out in the yard while I graded papers for an hour. But when darkness fell, and it was time for bed, he ended up sleeping with me, with Gabriel lying atop both our feet.
The next morning, I was standing outside while Harry walked Gabriel on his lead when we saw the moving lorry go down the street and stop at a house three doors down from ours. A gray car pulled up soon after it and three people got out, a man with light brown hair dressed in navy slacks and a polo shirt , a woman in a yellow sundress, she had curly blond hair, and a little girl who looked around Harry's age, she was wearing a purple shirt, white shorts, and lavender sandals. She had long brown hair that was very wavy.
"Who're they, Dad?" Harry asked, staring at them.
Gabriel's tail started to wag as he caught sight of them.
"Looks like our new neighbors," I replied.
The moving men had already begun to cart boxes up to the house, and the man had unlocked the front door and opened the garage as well. The woman appeared to be directing the men, telling them where to put the boxes.
Gabriel barked, his plumed tail wagging, and he trotted to the end of his lead and stood at the edge of our property, looking wistfully at the new neighbors.
The little girl looked up and saw my dog, grinning happily. "Oh, look, Mum! Look at the beautiful collie! I want to go and pet him."
"Honey, you know you shouldn't pet strange dogs without permission," began her mother.
So her daughter ran halfway up the pavement and yelled to Harry, "Hey, can I pet your dog?"
"Sure! He doesn't bite," Harry called back.
She ran up to Gaby, her hand held out. He sniffed it gravely, then sat and offered her his paw. "Oh, what a clever dog! What's his name?"
"Gabriel." Harry answered. "Like the angel. I'm Harry. That's my dad over there. His name's Severus Snape."
"Pleased to meet you. I'm Hermione Granger." She pointed back towards where her parents were. "That's my mum, Anastasia, but Daddy just calls her Stacy, and Daddy's name is Andrew."
"Neat. My mum's name is Lily, but she's away right now on business," he told her, which was what I had told him to say if anyone asked where his mum was. "So it's just me and my dad home. He's a professor at a university."
"Wow! Mum and Daddy are dentists, they're gonna open up a new practice near here." Hermione said. She was still petting Gaby. "What a gorgeous collie!"
"Yeah, and he's smart too!" Harry bragged. "Dad taught him all sorts of tricks. Watch." He gave Gaby a hand signal, and the dog lay down.
He snapped his fingers and Gabriel sat up and barked.
Hermione watched in delight as Harry put the collie through his paces. "That was lovely! He's much cooler than Lassie."
"'Course he is!" Harry rumpled his ears. "You're the best dog, right, Gabe?" He turned to me and asked, "Dad, can Hermione come over and play?"
"Fine with me, but why don't we ask her mother?" I said, just as Stacy Granger came up to me.
Before I knew it, Hermione and Harry were playing in my yard and I was offering refreshments to Stacy in the kitchen. She declined politely, saying she had to oversee the movers, and then went back to her new house.
It wasn't long before Hermione was a familiar face at my house, and Harry was the same at the Grangers. Gabriel accompanied them back and forth, he was comfortable everywhere. By the time Lily returned home, her mission a success, Harry and Hermione were fast friends, much like another little girl and boy I could name.
Lily was delighted that Harry had found a friend, and often remarked on how cute the two of them looked together. I was just glad that Hermione wasn't your average squealing hyper child who touched everything. She was mannerly and polite, always greeting me or Lily before asking to go outside, play upstairs, watch TV, or whatever plans they had for the day, though she did tend to ask a lot of questions.
Her parents had enrolled her in the local primary school, she was rather surprised when I told her that I taught Harry at home. "I wish my mum and dad could teach me, but they work all day."
She had even more questions when she learned she was a witch, and we revealed to her family that we did more than just teach and work for law enforcement. Stacy and Andrew actually took the news rather well. It turned out that Stacy had a great aunt on her mother's side that lived in Russia who was also a witch, and that was probably where Hermione's talent had come from.
"I never had it, my mother never had it, or my sisters, though Kyra used to claim she had the Sight once in awhile." Stacy had told Lily one afternoon. "So when Hermione started doing odd things I thought maybe the magic had finally shown up again."
Hermione had had several incidences of accidental magic before moving to Spinner's End. She would be a strong witch. Little did the Grangers know that Harry was yet to have one, and Lily and I prayed every night for his magic to finally awaken. But it didn't, and so we had resigned ourselves to the possibility that our son was a Squib. But it could have been worse. The rebounded Killing Curse could have left him in a coma, or brain-damaged, or dead. He had been lucky.
He did notice, however, that Hermione could sometimes make things happen, like a chair move, or a fork fly through the air. "How come I can't do that yet, Dad?"
"Well, sometimes it takes longer for certain people's magic to awaken," I hedged. I didn't want to tell him his magic might never awaken, because nothing was certain, and doubt was often fatal for a wizard. You had to believe in yourself and your magic, or else your spells would go awry. "Someday it'll happen."
"Someday, someday. It's always someday!" he whined, kicking a chair across the kitchen. " I hate someday!"
"And I hate whiny brats who kick chairs for no reason," I snapped. "Go pick up that chair and put it back where it belongs."
"What for? I like it there."
"Now, young man. Stop this attitude or else you can spend the day in your room."
"You never let me do what I want!" he stormed. "It's not fair!"
"Life's not fair. Do as I told you."
He pouted. Then he marched over and dragged the chair back by the table, making an awful screeching noise.
Gabriel howled and ran into the den to get away.
"Harry! Pick it up!"
"Okay! Merlin, Dad!"
My eyes flashed. "Harry James, you are just asking to be turned over my knee and given a sound spanking," I threatened. "Keep it up and you're going to be very sorry, I promise you that."
He looked over at me, his expression a mixture of sulky defiance and surprise. I hardly ever lifted hand to him. But he saw something in my face that told him I meant business, and he picked up the chair and set it down next to the table. Then he said, his lower lip trembling, "I just wanna know how come Hermione gets her magic first and not me?"
"Son, that's just how it is. You're going to have to accept it and be patient."
"When did you get yours?"
"I was seven," I lied. I had actually shown incidences of magic when I was five, but I wasn't about to tell him that and make him feel bad. "Your mother was too." That was true.
"Then maybe next year I can make stuff fly?" he asked hopefully.
"Maybe. Don't worry about it, Harry. Your magic will come when it's ready." I hope. I said. If it didn't emerge by the time he was ten, I wasn't sure if it ever would, but there was no sense in borrowing trouble.
"Can I help you brew a potion?" he asked eagerly.
"Yes. But mind you do exactly as I say down in the lab. You pull a tantrum down there or break anything and you'll be over my knee quicker than you can say Quidditch. Clear?"
Just then, the doorbell rang, and I rose to answer it, Gaby accompanying me. It was Hermione.
"Hi, Mr. Snape! Can I come and play?" she asked, giving me her best crooked smile.
"Hermione, we're gonna make a potion!" Harry sang.
"Cool! Can I help? What kind of potion is it?" she asked.
"It's a Hair Tonic. To make your hair sleek and straight," I said quickly.
"Can I have some when we're done, Mr. Snape? I hate my hair. It's always so snarly. And Mum hurts when she brushes the knots out."
"We'll see. Come, walk quietly down to the lab. No running."
They obeyed, and then stood where I told them to while I chopped up the necessary ingredients. I allowed them to each place an ingredient into the cauldron and then to stir it the required number of times. "Now you have to let it simmer."
"What's simmer mean?" Hermione asked.
"It means to bubble slowly at a low temperature."
"Like when you cook rice. You have to simmer it for twenty minutes." Harry put in.
"How do you know that?" I asked.
"I helped Mum cook supper the other night. She let me stir the rice and put on the cover while it simmered."
"Ah. That's a good analogy, Harry."
I explained what an analogy was, then I went on to explain how important it was to measure and chop things precisely, or else the potion wouldn't turn out right, or be at full potency. I also stressed that potions were never to be made alone, only with an adult witch or wizard present.
By then, the potion was done simmering and I carefully ladled it into some beakers and sealed them, leaving two vials for Harry and Hermione to drink.
When it was cool, they both took a vial, clinked them together, and said, "Cheers!"
"Bet I can drink mine faster," challenged my son.
"Can not!" Hermione disagreed, then she swallowed hers in one gulp. "Mmm! Tastes like a lemon fizzy drink."
"Cheater!" Harry stuck his tongue out at her, than he drank his. "Yuck, lemons!"
But then he pointed at Hermione. "Hey, your hair's changing. It's . . .getting straighter."
"It is?" She put up a hand to touch it. "I can't see!"
I held out a small hand mirror. "Look."
Her hair was indeed growing sleek and straight, just as the potion had promised. "Yippee! No more knots!" She bounced up and down. Then she looked at Harry's hair. "Harry, your hair's straight too! It doesn't stick up anymore. Now you really look like your dad."
It was true. With his dark hair straightened, he did look like me as a boy, save for the green eyes and glasses. Too bad it only lasted twenty-four hours. I gave the mirror to Harry and he laughed. Then he said wistfully, "Can we make another potion? Please?"
"Please, Mr. Snape?"
I hesitated. I hadn't planned on spending the day making elementary potions, but then again, far be it from me to discourage would-be potioneers. "Very well."
Lily came home from work to find me and my two young apprentices happily brewing, and all she said was, "Now who does this remind you of, Sev?"
I glanced up and said, "Us when we were eight, and my mother taught us how to brew a Color Change potion."
"Exactly," Lily smiled, and offered to stir the cauldron.
December 15th, 1993:
The sound of laughter echoed up the stairs and when I came down to snitch a gingerbread man off of the platter Lily had sitting on the counter, I found Hermione and Harry stringing popcorn and cranberries and draping them across the tree. They were laughing and joking about how crooked Harry's string was and Harry teased Hermione, saying she sewed better because it was a girl thing.
"That's a lame excuse, Harry! My string is straighter because I was paying attention and you were hurrying. Right, Lily?"
Lily, who was sitting on the divan with her feet up, chuckled. "You're right, Hermione. But the tree looks good anyhow."
"Ha! Take that, Miss Perfect."
"Harry, sometimes you are such an insufferable twit," Hermione smirked.
"Takes one to know one," he shot back, then he pulled out his wand and began making the ornaments levitate themselves onto the tree.
Hermione joined him and within ten minutes the tree was decorated.
"Well, Mum? How's it look?"
"Beautiful. Now come and have some gingerbread and cocoa. Or popcorn, since there's plenty left over."
"Don't mind if I do," I said, then stole a handful of popcorn from the bowl on her lap.
"Severus!" she swatted my hand away. "Get your ink-stained fingers out of my popcorn."
"My fingers are not ink-stained, Lily. They're perfectly clean," I argued, wiggling my hand in front of her. Then I saw a small ink blot on my thumb.
"You were saying?" she indicated my thumb.
"So I missed a spot. So what?" I passed my wand over my hand and the spot vanished.
Then I helped myself to her popcorn again. "How are you feeling?"
"Tired, as usual. I swear, Sev, I think I'm carrying an elephant around in there and not a baby." She patted her stomach.
"Maybe that's what we should call it. Elephant," Harry teased.
"I don't care what you call it, I just wish it was born already." Lily said, mopping a sheen of sweat from her brow.
"You're halfway there, Lil. Nothing to it."
"I know. But Merlin save you if you tell me that in the delivery room, Snape. I'll smack you so hard you'll be seeing the stars in another galaxy." She warned.
"Can I watch?" Harry asked impudently.
I would have smacked him on the back of the head for that comment, but he was too far away to reach.
So Hermione did it for me.
She really was the brightest witch of her generation.
Hope you all enjoyed this one! The next chapter will have a lot more of Gabriel in it, as well as some complications for Lily and Severus with the pregnancy. How soon would you like to see the next chapter?
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