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Chapter 4 : Hogwarts and Snowdonia
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Author's Note: Thanks for joining this AU journey. I hope you continue to enjoy it! I'm always interested to hear readers' thoughts and suggestions.
This chapter is shorter than my usual, and the sudden veer toward a direction Snape/Lily fans will probably enjoy was driven by listening to the song "Friend Out in the Madness" by Nanci Griffith. Even though I've frequently sworn off writing songfics... heh. Enjoy!
Hogwarts and Snowdonia
Easter holidays had come to Hogwarts. The laggard Highland spring softened the stark hillsides, and broken clouds let through enough sun to warm the ground, yielding the enticing fragrance of damp earth. Even Severus Snape found his eyes wandering to bright clumps of heather and gorse scattered among the boulders; his conscious mind turned to their usefulness in medicinal preparations, rather than their beauty.
Severus walked behind a herd of chattering children, chastising a pair of snogging sixth-years and pulling a dawdling first-year Hufflepuff back into line. Quietly, he enjoyed the girl's panic as she squeaked an apology and scurried forward to join her friends.
"You're quite cheerful today, Severus," said Minerva McGonagall. "Going away for the holidays, I hear?" He nodded tersely. "You're going to Lily Potter's, aren't you?"
"Melora Spring is still under my care."
"Oh yes, we all know that's who you're going to see."
The corners of Severus's dour mouth turned up in a barely perceptible smile. It would hardly do for the students to see him looking cheerful; they might think they could get away with something.
Minerva pursed her lips. "Lily is very vulnerable, Severus… she's been a widow barely five months. Please don't take advantage of her."
"Is that truly what you take me for?"
Minerva wavered and placed a slender hand on his forearm in apology. Truth be told, Severus would rather be clucked at than shunned; he was relieved that his colleague had surmounted the awkwardness that ensued when she thought he had kidnapped Lily and the baby on the Dark Lord's orders. Minerva's relief at Severus's loyalty was embarrassing to recall: Poppy had had to give her a Calming Draught.
Minerva brightened suddenly. "I nearly forgot, I have something for Harry's Easter." She tapped her wand against her palm and a velvety Golden Snitch appeared. She squeezed the soft toy and placed it in Severus's hand. "Tell the little poppet it's from Aunt Minnie, and that I'll be there to teach him all about Quidditch this summer."
With Hogwarts more than nine years off, Minerva was already planning Harry's sporting career. Severus laughed as the last of the students passed into Hogsmeade station. Two older Gryffindors turned around in surprise at the sound. When Professor Snape laughed, it was generally an extremely bad sign.
"Aunt Minnie?" Severus murmured.
Minerva tapped him sharply on the arm with her wand. "Hush, you. We mustn't ruin our reputations as fearsome Heads of House." A chilly breeze blew off the Black Lake. Minerva tucked her hand tightly under Severus's arm. "I hope you understand where I'm coming from, dear."
"I believe I do."
"Excellent. As soon as we get these vagrants loaded on the train for London, you're free to depart for Wales, and I'll see you first thing Monday morning... Carrington! Step away from the tracks immediately!" The Ravenclaw boy flinched at Minerva's reprimand. "And do enjoy your Easter, Professor Snape."
"You as well, Professor McGonagall."
"Look, Harry! Look who's here!" Harry Potter clung to Lily's shoulder and refused to take his face out of her rumpled red hair. "Come on, it's Severus! You two used to play together all the time."
"No!" The toddler wrapped his legs tighter around his mother's waist, his bare feet clinging simian-like to her side. Severus's heart constricted at the sight of Lily adjusting the baby's weight on her hip. Gods, he'd forgotten how beautiful she was, even with Potter's cranky, drooling boy-child stuck to her like a thistle.
"Harry's cutting some more teeth. He's been in such a Mummy phase of late; I can hardly put him down. Hence, this place is a disaster." Lily kicked an ancient stuffed bear out of her way as she carried Harry into the bright sitting room. "Put your things in the spare room and come in the kitchen, I've got tea nearly ready."
Lily's eyes moved anxiously to the greenhouse door. "She's been in the greenhouse all day. She's acting strangely."
"She's recovering from a powerful curse; she's well within her rights."
"She's worse than before."
Severus stepped toward her. "Why didn't you tell me?"
Lily faltered. "I wanted to wait until you could see her. I knew you'd charge off in the middle of term if you knew."
Severus's voice took on the calm and quiet tone of particular irritation. "It's been going on for a while?"
Lily's response was stubborn. "I can handle it, Sev."
"Let me see her."
Lily set Harry down on the floor. The little boy howled and clung to his mother's leg, looking fearfully at Severus until she picked him up again. "Be my guest," she said tersely. "She's in the nightshade. Tea's in ten minutes."
Bloody hell, now I've done it. Maybe I should just give Harry his gift from Aunt Minnie and cut my losses. Severus reproached himself for fatalistic thinking as he opened the blue painted door to Myra's greenhouse.
The greenhouse felt achingly hollow. The soothing and powerful sense of Myra's presence had gone, and the greenhouse was like an empty grave.
Each of these plants were raised from seed by Myra's Druid hands: the plants and Melora herself were all that was left of his teacher. Severus loved Myra Spring in the way he had never permitted himself to love his own broken mother, and Melora was like a little sister – sometimes a companion, sometimes a source of irritation.
Severus pushed trailing tendrils gently out of his path, dislodging them when they twined around his wrists. Lily had cared for the plants in the greenhouse to the best of her ability, but they had gotten away from her. Much as Melora has, Severus realized as he saw the strawberry-blonde girl sitting motionless in the midst of a jungle of deadly nightshade. Melora's blue eyes were shadowed and bloodshot, her cheeks hollow. Even in the sun-warmed greenhouse, she shivered.
Severus cursed himself. He had failed Myra; he had failed Lily and Melora herself. He should have cared for the girl himself and not let Lily struggle on alone. To hell with Potions, to hell with Hogwarts: to hell with Albus Dumbledore. Severus reached slowly for the girl's wrist to check her pulse. May I?"
Melora blocked him with one hand, clasped the other to the lightning scar on her forehead, and snarled.
"Traitor!" she rasped out. The girl leaped up with a sudden rush of strength, knocking Severus to the bare earth floor.
"Levicorpus!" Melora jerked toward the glass ceiling, her upthrust foot cracking a square pane into a shattered starburst.
"Where's my wand? Where is my wand?" shrieked Melora. "Faithless half-blood! Muggle-loving scum!"
"Petrificus totalus," said Lily softly behind him. Melora's imprecations froze in mid-air.
A theory came to full formation in Severus's mind; he hadn't wanted to consider it, dismissing it as pure conjecture. Melora's ravings cemented it, and he could no longer avoid the truth.
Lily threw her arms around Severus's waist, interrupting his dark imaginings of Dumbledore foaming at the mouth when he brought the news. Startled, Severus dropped his arms around her.
"I should have told you, Sev, I know I should have, but I was afraid I wouldn't be able to stay here if I did. I've learned so much from Myra's notes. I wish I'd really known her the way you did. I have so many things to show you... I can't quite translate some of the runes she used. Did you bring an older syllabary like I asked?"
"Madam Pince will have my ears if it's not returned in tip-top condition." Severus smiled. Lily hadn't changed since they were children, so curious and enthusiastic. She sounded just like she had when they first started at Hogwarts, when everything was new to her. He lowered his face to the crown of Lily's ruby head and spoke into her hair. "It was pretty bloody stupid of you to try this on your own."
"I know." Lily made no move to leave his arms. She didn't even cuff him the way she liked to. If Severus could freeze time the way Lily had frozen Melora, he would hold this moment. Lily was so real and so warm.
Minerva's admonition stung in Severus's mind. He released Lily gently, placing both hands on her shoulders and holding her at arm's length. Lily's cheeks and throat flushed bright magenta: she couldn't look him in the eye.
"I've made such an arse of myself."
Severus raised his wand. The spiderweb cracks in the glass ceiling sealed closed with a silent spell. "Maybe just a little bit."
Lily punched him in the upper arm. "Bastard. I'm glad you're here, though."
Together, Severus and Lily lowered Melora to the floor. Lily caught the girl's head in one hand, cradling it as tenderly as if Melora were a child. Severus's mind couldn't help imagining that hand curled around the back of his own head. He forced himself off that train of thought.
"I'm going to take her to bed. When she takes a fit like this, she'll sleep round the clock. Poor thing, she was so looking forward to having an egg hunt for Harry." Severus followed her, wondering at the idea of the curse-marked girl hiding Easter eggs.
Harry was not at all pleased to see Severus at the table when Lily rousted him out of his playpen for tea. The toddler kicked and yelled, refusing to be buckled into his high chair. "You stop it this instant or no treats," said his mother.
"Mummy made a cake."
Severus's mouth twisted in a smile. The boy's vocabulary had certainly expanded in the months Severus had been working at Hogwarts. Lily tried to coax her son into taking a bite of shirred eggs – one of Severus's favorite dishes. Something inside him flipped over to realize Lily had remembered.
Lily would be that thoughtful for anyone. She invited you to check on Melora because this is the only time you could leave work before the end of term.
But she remembered the eggs. Her mum used to make them, and you said you'd never had anything better. She hugged you: not because she was glad you weren't dead, just because she wanted to. Because she needed to.
"…I'm so glad you've come this weekend, Sev. It's been so bloody lonely. I miss James so much. Some days it's all I can do to just get us all fed.
"I get these flowery letters like 'Oh, Mrs. Potter, we're so sorry for your loss, blah blah, is there anything we can do?' I absolutely hate being pitied. It's like being a stray cat… everyone's clucking at you, and nobody's doing a thing about it. I think people are scared my bad luck will rub off on them… that they'll suddenly be twenty-two-year-old war widows living in the back of beyond with a baby and a crazy person to take care of.
"You'd think Remus would at least drag his arse back from wherever he's been all this time. No owls or anything… James would've been so angry! I'm about to send Sirius after him."
Lily barely took a breath before launching into her next tirade. Severus listened patiently and polished off his plate of eggs before starting on Harry's portion, which the boy clearly wasn't planning to eat.
"Some babysitting would be nice. Or just sitting with Melora for a few hours so I could take Harry out for a walk in the woods… I don't dare go any further than the garden. Melora is good company when she's feeling well, but some days I'm scared to have her in the same room with Harry… Like today. The way she looks at him when a fit's coming on… Sev?"
"What?" he asked with his mouth full.
"Were you listening to me at all?"
Severus wiped his hands and mouth on the rough linen napkin. "You're afraid to leave Melora with the baby? You should be. I have a theory about the curse, and after today, it's the only thing that makes sense." Lily put her hand to her mouth in surprise, and for a moment, she looked just like her sister Petunia. "Melora Spring is possessed."
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