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Two Steps Forward by Wildmoon
Chapter 1 : The Leaky Cauldron (August, 1999)
 
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Severus Snape stepped out of the summer sunshine of Diagon Alley and into the dim light of the Leaky Cauldron. Those who noticed him stopped their conversations to stare at him, and then continued to talk in hushed tones. More than a year after the war, a year after his name had been cleared; he was still treated with suspicion and distrust. He didn't care. He walked over to a solitary figure sitting alone idly plucking at a bowl of soup. Several boxes from shopping and a new broomstick sat next to the woman. He stood over her. "Good afternoon."

"Severus!" Alara Ayoni said as a smile broke across her face. "How nice to see you! Please! Join me." She looked genuinely happy to see him, though her sapphire blue eyes looked like shed had very few reasons to smile lately. "How are you?"

Snape lay the latest copy of The Daily Prophet down on the table as he sat down across from her. "Better than you, I gather, I just read about your situation." The front page had a picture with a three story structure. Half the building was gone; the other half was emanating thick streams of black vapors. The headline read Liquid Unlucky in London. "It must have been terrifying. Just tea please," he said to Tom the Landlord as he approached the table.

Alara shook her head. "I wasn't even home at the time, though I'll admit to being frightened until I found Maggie in the rubble."

"Lucky for you, Felix Felicis disasters have been known to kill."

She held up her hands to the tavern. "Lucky me, welcome to my new sitting room."

He stared at Alara for an awkward moment, evaluating her. He was grateful to see she was uninjured. His heart had skipped several uncomfortable beats when he first realized it was Alara's flat that had been directly above the explosion. "I presume from your tone that your House-elf will live?"

"That's the bit of good news. She'll be in St. Mungo's until tomorrow." Alara said softly as she continued toying with her soup. "I spent all last night convincing her that I wouldn't sack her because of her injuries. By this morning her leg had grown back as far as her ankle and the healers say that by tomorrow it should be full grown again. That's calmed her down some. You know how excitable she can be."

"Hysterical I believe is the word you're looking for." Snape looked again at the picture, mostly to avoid staring at the raw emotions playing across Alara's tired face. The building was a small Muggle pub on the first floor, two floors of flats rose above it. Outside of some minor memory modifications, the recovery was in Muggle hands. It was a risk that those in the magical world took when living amongst Muggles, as Alara did when on holiday from Hogwarts. The inherent slowness of Muggle construction left her homeless. He grimaced at the picture. "Liquid Luck should be left to professional Potioneers. It goes wrong more often than it goes right."

Alara nodded. "Well, now the old wizard below me who was down on his luck knows that. So do six other people, and so does Maggie."

Snape nodded his thanks to Tom for his tea then nodded to her myriad of packages. "How much did you lose?"

"Everything that wasn't in summer storage up at Hogwarts. All my clothes, all my notes from my trip to the States last month, two full trunks of my favorite books. Oh, and I lost the bracelet you repaired for me last Spring. Im so sorry, Severus. I know how hard you worked on it."

Snape eyed the new broomstick as he sipped his tea. She had left that item off her list. He knew full well that she hadn't lost it in the explosion. Firenze's 2nd had broken it when she strayed onto Centaur lands chasing his assassins last April, but they had never discussed what he had seen in her memory, and he wasn't keen to start now. As for the loss of the bracelet, he doubted very much that she realized his desperation to save her life. He had worked too hard to keep his feelings locked away deep down inside his stomach where neither of them would have to confront them.

Alara interrupted his thoughts. "We've done nothing but talk about me. How was your trip to Ireland? Did you gain any new insights on Hags?"

Snape's raised eyebrows communicated his displeasure. "Oh simply delightful. Outside of the fact that my war reputation preceded me, all I got were questions about how much more could I possibly add to the study of Hags that the magnificent Gilderoy Lockhart hadn't already discovered." Snape slouched in his chair not really wanting to talk about it further.

Alara put her spoon down and grimaced at her soup as she pushed it away. "Lockhart? Seriously? I heard he was a fraud."

"Tell that to the women of rural Ireland," Snape grunted into his tea.

"Surely you must have some new insights," Alara said.

"Munchkin!" A voice interrupted them and Snape groaned. The one man worse than Gilderoy Lockart was Brandon Brewer and his insufferable Hufflepuff optimism. Especially given that he was a Werewolf.

Snape turned to see Brandon looking thin, but smiling broadly at Alara.

She looked delighted to see him. "Brandon! What are you doing here?"

"Severus," Brandon acknowledged Snape with a simple word, then turned his attention back to Alara as he pulled up a chair from the table next to them. "I saw the story in the paper and just left from seeing Maggie at St. Mungo's. How are you faring?"

"Fine." Alara answered, then she changed her mind. "Well, momentarily at least. Maggie will get out of the hospital tomorrow morning, but she's got another day of this noxious leg strengthening potion she needs applied to the leg she's re-growing. Slug and Jiggers doesn't carry it because it must be fresh brewed. Tom has said he won't let me brew it here because of the smell it will make, so I'm kind of stuck for some emergency housing until we're due back at Hogwarts on Monday. I don't suppose we could stay with you?"

Snape's blood began to boil with jealousy. He quickly stuffed the emotion back down into the pit of his stomach.

Brandon scowled as leaned in closer so he could whisper. "It's the start of my cycle tomorrow night. Now, I've taken my Wolfsbane, but you'll be spending the evening with a large, if dashingly handsome werewolf. It will be safer if you spend the night in falcon form."

"That's problematic with Maggie's needs," Alara thought out loud.

"What's the potion you need?" Snape asked as he calmly seized on the opportunity.

Alara reached into her pocket and pulled out a parchment which she handed to Snape. "It's some kind of Essence of Mooncalf Dung derivative that her healer came up with. He left me the recipe before he went on holiday. If I can find a place to brew it, she could be fully healed by day after tomorrow. If not, her re-grown foot may never settle in properly."

Snape reviewed the unorthodox potion. "Yes, I'm afraid the odor would offend even Tom's uncouth sensibilities. However..." he paused and glanced up at Brandon Brewer with a smug look plain on his face. "Unlike Mr. Brewer, I happen to have a home with a guest bedroom and a Potions Cellar that is operational regardless of the current lunar phase. As for the odor it will no doubt create, I am not so easily offended."

Brandon Brewer snorted his displeasure. Alara, however, looked like her savior had just dropped out of the sky. Snape stuffed his glee down into the pit of his stomach where it could keep his jealousy company.

"I also happen to have a kitchen, and while I'm certainly not a gourmet cook, I can guarantee that your meal will not attack you." He glanced down at Alara's soup, which was moving by itself. "Unlike here."

"Severus, are you sure I wouldn't put you out? I know how much you like your solitude."

"That's an understatement..." Brandon muttered, earning him a glare from Alara.

"Do you have a quill on you?" Snape asked calmly.

Alara reached down into her bag and pulled one out handing it to Snape.

Snape scratched out his address on the back of the recipe and returned both items to her. "I have a few more errands to run, but if you purchase your ingredients and check out, we can do a trial run on the potion this afternoon before you recover your House-elf in the morning." He didn't wait for her agreement, he simply started walking away. He was delighted to overhear the werewolf ask, "Alara is this a good idea?"
~~~


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