(And the student body thought I was a harsh taskmistress. Granger made me look like a pushover.)
After Neville left the compartment to hunt down the trolley, she beat her head against the window in frustration.
"He's never going to pass this year," she moaned. "I just know it. He does fine when we work alone, but in class...."
I knew how she felt, but I was more laid back about it, at this point: two and a half years of teaching and I'd learned the futility of despair. "Hasn't he improved at all?"
She considered it. "He has melted fewer cauldrons this term," she said cautiously. "But the written exams terrify him, and by the time we get to actually brewing, he's so rattled he forgets everything."
"Hmmmm. There ought to be something that might work.... Have you tried mnemonics?"
"No. I didn't think he'd remember them, either," she admitted.
"My favourite in Biology was 'King Phillip Conquered Over Faulty Greek Systems.' Although we substituted something else for 'Faulty.'"
She thought briefly. "Kingdom, Phylum, Class --?"
"Exactly. How did you -- Oh. Herboogy?" I guessed, and she nodded. "Perhaps if the mnemnonic were tailored specifically to him? Something he likes a great deal?"
"It might," she said thoughtfully. "But if Sn-- Professor Snape tests on something we don't expect, it will be useless."
I snorted in amusement. "Miss Granger, I think you probably have an excellent idea of what Professor Snape will include."
She blushed with pleasure. "Please, Professor Hunter, it's Hermione."
"Very well, Hermione. Now, what does Neville particularly like?"
"Besides Quidditch and Yorkshire Pudding? Trevor."
"Trevor?" I asked delicately, and frantically went through my class rolls in my head.
Good God. I hadn't expected that of Neville.
"His toad," she explained hastily. "It's Trevor II, actually."
Whew. Not that I'd have cared for him any less, but there were some things I didn't want to know about my students' private lives.
"He remembers numbers all right, for some reason -- his proportions usually aren't badly off, but it's the ingredients and the order," Hermione reasoned.
"So, what's a common potion he has trouble with? Start with something easy, something with a 'T' ingredient."
"Burn Healing Paste," she said promptly. "Ground trillium root, crushed aloe, nettle juice, water, dragon spleen, flobberworms. In that order."
I frantically scribbled the list in the margin of my book as she rattled them off, and stared at them for a moment. "'Trevor Ate Nine... Wild... Dragonflies Friday?'"
"Not bad," she mused. "But will he remember it's for Burn Healing Paste?"
"Heartburn," I said promptly. "Or rather, the dragonflies burned Trevor's tongue. Don't want him confusing it with an anti-acid."
(And in case you're wondering, yes, magical dragonflies really do spout flames.)
"What about Wit-Sharpening Potion? I wouldn't put it past Professor Snape to set him that one. Ground scarab beetle, cut ginger root, armadillo bile, yarrow, lacewings."
I wouldn't put it past Severus, either. And I had my own reasons for being sour about him, at the moment.
That was iffier: the best I could come up with was, "'Say, Gran, Any Yorkshire pudding Left?' Pudding might throw him off, though."
"Maybe...." She looked distinctly pleased. "This might work, if I can be creative enough." She pulled out a scroll and proceeded to scribble away at top speed, totally enrapt.
I smiled and returned to my book. And to my regrets of a couple of days ago.
Severus had been livid when I'd told him I'd be gone for a five days over Yule.
"Good gods, woman, what don't you understand about the necessity of staying at Hogwarts?" he'd thundered. "The students aren't the only ones safer here."
"I'm going -- on the Express -- to Longbottom's grandmother's for two days, Severus," I retorted. "The place will be crawling with his aunts and uncles, several of whom, I happen to know, are highly respected Aurors. It's perfectly safe."
"Two days?" He shot back. "What about the other three?"
Shite. He'd caught me. Or rather, my honesty had tripped me up.
"Then I am flooing to Miss Climpson's flat, and taking the Tube from there to Lucy's," I said with as much reason and dignity as I could muster.
He nearly turned purple. "You must know how I feel about this flitting around, particularly with the Death Eaters in Diagon Alley," he said warningly, in that low voice.
Unfortunately, while that low voice could in certain circumstances turn my legs to jelly, in this instance it made me more stubborn.
"I am not going to remain here through the entire holiday, Severus -- I feel like I'm under bloody house arrest. I've already accepted Beatrice Longbottom's invitation well before you had a right to insist I stay -- if you have a right to do so -- and I want desperately to see Lucy and Paula."
"I'll bring them up here myself, if it will make you happy," he snapped.
"It's not fair to expect them to disrupt their plans and leave home at the hols," I said indignantly. "It's all well and good for you -- you've been running all over the place the past six months. I've been stuck here, mostly by myself."
He wasn't going to get me to budge on this, and he finally realised it.
"If anything happens," he said, face set and grim, "I am going to say 'I told you so.' Assuming you're still alive to hear it." And he spun on his heel and left my rooms, not even bothering to use the floo.
I managed to wait for three hours, and then I pulled together a stack of Slytherin essays as an excuse and went down to the dungeons. He wasn't in the classroom or his office, so I knocked at the door of his rooms: the door swung open without human aid -- he must have warded it for me -- and I closed it gently behind me.
He was sitting on a stool at the table, bent over some solution that simmered delicately over a portable gas ring. I waited until he was done muttering an incantation over it and had laid down his wand, and then slipped over to stand beside him. (It was always fascinating to watch him: in his hands, the blending of potions truly was an art form.)
"Thank you for the offer," I said quietly. "But it really isn't fair to ask them to come up at this late date. You could always come with me, you know. Lucy would be pleased."
Surprised, but pleased. I hadn't told her of the marriage yet, in case Patty had been intercepted (his fear, not mine).
He grunted a negative and adjusted the flame under the cauldron with rather more concentration than was necessary, seemingly oblivious to me.
Well, fine, be that way. I can't change your stubbornness and paranoia or the promises I've already made to others, but at least I can be conciliatory.
"I leave Saturday with the students, and I'll be back on the 26th," I volunteered. "And I'll say goodbye now, in the event you're called away and miss it."
His shoulder tensed under my hand when I leaned down to kiss his temple, but he tolerated it -- though he didn't reciprocate or call me back when I left.
He held out longer than I. Late Friday night I heard him pop in through the floo, slowly make his way to the bedroom and quietly shed his clothes before slipping under the covers. He started a bit when I wrapped my arm around his as it cautiously slid about my waist.
"Potion was part of today's exam," he mumbled tiredly into my hair. "Couldn't leave it last night."
Universal Snape Translator: I have every right to act the git, but that wasn't why I didn't join you last night.
Not quite an apology, but the best I could expect, in the circumstances. I'd have hated to leave with him still not speaking to me. And I knew, the overbearing manner notwithstanding, that it was concern rather than control that motivated him.
But I would have done it anyway, I have to admit. I was going batty, being confined to Hogwarts and the occasional trip to Hogsmeade.
Neville slipped back into the compartment, carefully balancing three hot chocolates.
"Take a look at this, Neville," Hermione pounced on him, not even letting him get the cups distributed. "What's in Burn Healing Paste?"
"Uh... dragon spleen, ginger, ah, aloe... um, water, I think, and, uh...." he said as he passed me a cup.
"Trillium, aloe, nettle juice, water, dragon spleen, flobberworm," she sighed. "In that order. Now, look at this." She shoved her scroll under his nose.
"'Trevor Ate Nine Wild Dragonflies Friday?'" he puzzled, and then his face cleared. "Oh."
"Now, tell me again, with the proportions."
"One ounce trillium root, 16 ounces crushed aloe, 3 ounces nettle juice, one ounce water, two tablespoons dessicated dragon spleen, seven ounces mashed flobberworm. Simmer until reduced by half and a bright orange and allow to cool to a paste," he said slowly.
Hermione shot me a triumphant look and promptly began to quiz him on the ones she'd come up with.
Thankfully for Neville we pulled into Leeds soon after, and he and I scrambled to grab our things and bolt before the train pulled out.
The Express -- somewhat contradictory to its name -- made three stops on its way down to London: Carlisle, Leeds, and Coventry, and students took branch lines to their corner of Britain, or their parents Apparated them home.
I still hadn't figured out exactly where Hogwarts was, but I was guessing in the mountains west of Aberdeen due to the climate and given the somewhat eccentric route the Express took down to London. It didn't really matter: Hooch had told me that had I tried to reach it by Muggle methods, all I'd see would be the ruins of an old keep. Someone might eventually notice me hanging about -- it existed on an entirely different plane, due to the Unplottable charms, in part -- but there was a good chance I wouldn't be able to contact anyone at all.
Maybe Lerner and Lowe were onto something with that Brigadoon business, after all -- just not the appearance once every hundred years.
We struggled down the platform toward the station, and Hermione popped her head out the window. "I'll owl you some more over break, Neville," she called, and then abruptly jerked her head back inside. Working on more, no doubt.
"Professor Snape's right about her bossiness, isn't he?" I murmured, and Neville laughed.
"Gotten worse since she's been teaching the Firsts. She's nothing compared to my grandmother," he puffed as we trotted along. "You'll see."
"Ah, Neville," I said cautiously, "is Hermione close to anyone? Does she have a boyfriend, I mean."
"Don't think so," he said in surprise. "I mean, she's always with Harry and Ron and sometimes me. She dated Viktor Krum for a while, but that's been it."
I grinned to myself: it looked like I might win the beginning-of-term wager after all -- not that a pocketful of Galleons would do me or anyone else a blind bit of good if the new currency went into effect.
"Just wondered," I said casually. "She's turned into a stunner this year, hasn't she? Brains and beauty."
"Ummm hmmmmmm," Neville replied distractedly, but with definite appreciation.
I wonder.... I'd gladly lose the wager if I thought it might mean a Granger-Longbottom match. But I had no business meddling in my charges' private lives: I had a stronger ethic than Albus Dumbledore in that respect, bless him.
Great-uncle Algie was waiting for us in the station: a tall, thin man, with a rough-hewn, craggy face and a blackthorn walking stick. Put a flat cap on his head, and he'd be the epitome of a Lancashire/Yorks gentleman farmer.
"Professor Hunter," he greeted me with a handshake and in that thick northern drawl. "Bea would like to have been here, but she's got a touch of gout. Neville, lad," he said, clapping a large, bony hand on Neville's shoulder.
"Well, now, we can take the train to Clitheroe, but it's a bit of a waste of time. Are you used to Apparating, Professor Hunter?"
"Not exactly used, but I've done it, with Arthur Weasley, mostly," I offered with amusement.
"Good man, Arthur." Uncle Algie gallantly took my bag and we walked to a secluded spot outside the station. "Reputation's entirely unfounded, as no doubt you discovered -- Neville hasn't said you've been splinched. Let's go, then."
He gave me his arm, and put the other around Neville's shoulders, and in seconds we were there: a grove of trees near a rambling stone house.
"Welcome to the Forest of Bowland," Uncle Algie rumbled in my ear. "Bit of a misnomer, more fells and moors. Family's been here for millennia."
"You'll have to come back in the summer, Professor Hunter," Neville said with a grin. "It's fair beautiful then." He'd instantly slipped back into a thicker dialect, I noted.
We walked up to the house and into a cozy hall, garlanded with winter greenery.
"Algie?" a sharp, querrelous voice called from a room to the left. "Do you have them? Bring them on in here."
"Nowt to worry about," Uncle Algie said under his breath to me as Neville trotted on ahead. "Sounds like a dragon, but you're her fair-haired girl after last spring."
She looked likely to breathe fire, too: a small, plump, fierce woman with her foot propped up on a pillow, but she exuded the strength common to effective matriarchs, and I sensed not a little magical power coming off her. She Who Must Be Obeyed, indeed: give Molly Weasley a few more years and a bit more dignity -- well, a lot more -- and she could turn into this. Neville was already curled up beside his grandmother on the sofa, and her arm was wound about him.
"Come here, child," she ordered me, and pulled me down for a no-nonsense buss on the cheek. "Welcome to the Forest. Have a chair, and be mother for me with the tea things -- I can't move without this blasted thing aching."
Apparently a member of the family as well, Uncle Algie, I thought to myself as I dutifully poured and handed out the tea.
I still had a headache when I flooed to Climpson's flat (I wasn't desperate enough to resort to Arthur's hangover remedy). I took the long Tube trip to Lucy's, and after quick hugs from and to Lucy and Paula (who'd grown about a foot, it seemed), I headed straight for the medicine cabinet and the aspirin and bismuth.
Never, ever floo with a hangover. It's not pretty.
"I knew it," she gasped when she could speak again. "That day we met him, it was like every nerve in your body went on high alert."
"Oh, stop it," I said irritably. "Nothing had even happened then."
"Oh, yes, it had -- the two of you were just doing your bloody best to ignore it. I caught him glancing at you at one point -- looked like he wanted to dip your pigtail in an inkwell."
"Bollocks. I doubt he'd have done anything that undignified, even as a boy -- besides, that's something a Gryffindor would do, not a Slytherin. And he guards his emotions too well, anyway -- you just want to have a good cackle at my expense."
And a quite Hooch-like cackle, to boot. I snagged Paula's hand as she returned from the kitchen with a bowl of crisps and pulled her over to me.
"Aunt Miranda --" she protested.
"Oh, shut it," I groused. "The day you're too old to -- oh, bloody hell, you are too big to sit on my lap. Well, here," I compromised, pulling her down next to me, "I need a squidge. Your mum's being insufferable."
"I told you so," Lucy crowed. "Told you when you fell, you'd fall hard, didn't I? You've lost it, my girl."
"She does this to you too, doesn't she?" I muttered to Paula.
"All the time," she said morosely.
"Well, you have my commiserations, but better you than me."
And Lucy continued being impossible for the whole visit. It was almost a relief to get back to Hogwarts and a sulky Severus.
I swiveled 'round in the chair. "What?"
"Pack. You have two minutes." Severus turned on his heel and made for the door.
"Wait a minute." I glared at him. "Where am I going?"
"I'll inform you when we get there -- Must you be so obstinate?" he growled, as if I were the unreasonable one in the room.
"I just got back from London and I have quizzes to write for next term --"
"Let the dunderheads' torture wait, for once."
"It would be helpful if I knew what to pack," I sputtered. "Do I need dress clothes, or--?"
Men. No common sense.
He considered that, allowing that I might have a point. "A pair of those disgusting denim trousers. Sensible shoes. A warm pullover and jacket -- you won't need your heavy coat." He turned to leave again, and threw over his shoulder, "Yes we shall stay overnight, and no, you shan't need a gown." And he swept from the room.
It would appear we might be going on honeymoon. Or at least as much a one as Severus Snape was inclined, or had time, to take.
(Or it could be an overnight camping trip in the middle of nowhere, with a testy Potions Master ignoring me in favour of collecting obscure ingredients buried under two feet of snow. He'd actually pulled that on me already one rare, free afternoon. I hadn't even got a decent snog out of it.)
I had a pang of remorse. It was quite possible he'd had this planned before my Yule trip and simply hadn't told me, assuming I had no plans. You couldn't take abruptness as indication of a spur-of-the-moment decision, not with him.
On the other hand, it served him right for taking my availability for granted.
I grumpily turned off the computer -- I'd splurged and bought myself a Christmas present despite the financial mess, a new laptop with all the bells and whistles, and internet access -- and scrambled to throw some things in a bag.
Don't look at me like that. I'd been saving for months before the siege for a new one, as the old hard drive had given up the ghost. I was not going to copy out all those quizzes and marking reports by hand, as I couldn't charm quill and parchment like the rest of the faculty. The internet access was a luxury, as the dial-out had to go through a mobile phone (I don't know how Filius and Vector managed to fiddle the wards to allow that, but they did it somehow, and relatively easily). And it allowed for frequent conversations between Lucy and Paula and me (via email), something I'd missed badly.
I managed in the allotted time, though I was still tying up my trainers when Severus came back: he made a great show of impatience.
"Oh, calm down," I muttered. "Some of us can't Transfigure any old thing we want if we forget something, you know."
"Some of us should live more simply," he retorted. "I should really like to leave before that harpy McGonagall finds some other asinine duty for me this week-end."
I'd take that seriously if I didn't know he had immense respect for her.
"All right," I hissed, pulling on my jacket. Severus snatched up my bag, pulled me to the French windows, and nudged me through, warding them from the outside.
"Please tell me you left her a note, at least," I huffed as I followed him across the grounds (trotting: he wasn't in a mood to slow his pace for me, today).
"Of course. Though she may not find it for a few hours," he noted with satisfaction. "I left Lenore with her as well. She'll be able to find me if there's a real emergency."
Lenore was his messenger-raven -- the one who'd visited me, shortly before this mad little experiment in matrimony began. Nothing as mundane as an owl for Severus Snape.
We stepped through the gates, and he pulled me to his side with no ceremony. "Hold on."
I hate Apparating almost as much as floo travel. It's very disconcerting to pop instantaneously from one point in space and time to another, particularly when you've no idea where you're going. (I'm sure physicists would be fascinated with it -- assuming they could get a useful scientific explanation for it. Like many of the magics in common use, the best explanation I'd ever gotten was a shrug of the shoulders and 'Don't know. It just works.')
We popped into a glade; I was guessing we were rather south of Hogwarts -- quite a lot, possibly -- as the air was significantly warmer, and there was rather more sunlight than there had been, even in Lancashire four days ago. And much less snow, blessedly: just a light dusting.
"This way." Unfazed by the experience, Severus took my hand and led me through the trees and brush, and across a gap in a stone wall.
We stood at the very top of a hill, looking into a valley. Down below was a house -- a manor, really; not a Great House, but of a respectable size, and decidedly Elizabethan. It was dark and ill-tended, and even from this distance I could see that one of the two side wings had burned.
"That, my Lady," Severus murmured in my ear, nestling up behind me and placing his hands on my shoulders, "is Snape Hall."
He'd sprung that little tidbit of information on me one night when -- well, I'm not going to tell you the circumstances, but it was quite embarrassing. Suffice it to say that Severus was entitled to be called Severus, 20th Lord Snape, and as his wife I was Lady Snape, much to my chagrin. Or I would be, were the marriage common knowledge and Severus in the habit of using the title. It was quite older than the generational numeral would indicate, by the way -- remember, wizarding generations were close to twice the muggle average (until recent improvements in health care and longevity), and a couple of his ancestors had come close to besting Albus' lifespan. (I know that because after His Sneakiness had confessed, I'd gone back to consult Alexander's Guide.)
The Hall must have been beautiful in its heyday.
"Not the original building, of course, the only remains of that are the foundations of the central wing. The Queen did not sleep here, but John Dee did. And Flamel. And Christopher Marlowe, in 1619."
"He was dead by --"
"No, he was not. And that's a tale for later in the week-end. Mild as the weather is, I've no intention of satisfying your curiosity immediately." He pulled away and searched his cloak pockets, and drew out his wand and a miniature broom -- and promptly set an engorgement charm on it, blowing it up to full size.
"Come on," he ordered, swinging a leg over it and holding out an impatient hand to me.
"Oh, no. I'm not getting on one of those things."
He raised one eloquent brow. "Are you telling me Hooch hasn't chivvied you onto one before this?"
"No, she hasn't. But I didn't like my first experi--"
"And what," he drawled, "was your first experience?"
It would have been far more effective a tactic had he not been standing there straddling a broomstick. Even Severus Snape couldn't pull off that undignified visual.
"Let's just say it was something more stable and solid than a broomstick, and I still didn't like it."
His eyes narrowed. "Not Weasley's automobile -- that's still running wild, in the forest...." His eyes widened. "That bloody motorcycle."
"It was before you restricted me to grounds," I said hastily, "and there was no harm done. I just didn't care for it."
He snorted. "He's crashed that sodding thing more times than I've been Crucio'd, I hope you know, and that's saying a great deal -- oh, Merlin's balls, never mind, woman, just come here."
I didn't budge.
"There are anti-Apparition wards in place so either you trust me, or you take an hour-long hike down there. I shan't be happy about having to wait for you."
That didn't impress me as a terribly high price, considering, and he realised it.
"He raced it and frightened you, didn't he?" he asked resignedly, and I nodded. "I should have known. Bloody show-off." He paused, and decided he'd get more cooperation by exercising restraint. "I may be more a scholar than an athlete, but I'm perfectly capable of flying both of us down there without dropping you. I won't go fast, and we won't go high at all."
That was exceptionally reasonable, for him, and I owed it to him to try. "As long as you swear not to kill him when we get back," I muttered as I stepped toward him.
"Killing's too good -- but I can't promise I won't damage him a little. No, don't worry about -- just sit side, I'll hold onto you. Keep your feet tucked up." He wound an arm about me and shoved off.
He kept his word. We barely skimmed the ground, and he kept to a sedate, rather enjoyable pace, arm pressing me against the reassuring solidity of his body.
He managed a gentle touch-down, too, after flying us around the undamaged wing, over a garden wall, and into an open, south-facing plot.
"All right?" he murmured, and I nodded -- and had to unclench my fingers from his arm before he could release me.
"Good." He propped the broom against the wall, tossed my bag beside it, and began to walk the perimetre of the garden.
It was wildly overgrown in spots, with the specimens spilling out onto the gravelled paths; other patches were bare, where less hardy plants had died back without reseeding.
"Is the kitchen plot --?" I asked him.
"No," he threw over his shoulder as he bent to examine a particularly virulent snarl or something-or-other. "That's on the other side of the burned wing; the kitchens were there."
I wandered along the periphery, picking out a few familiar plants. "Well, the feverfew hasn't minded the neglect --"
I stopped to think a moment. Feverfew, costmary, hyssop -- and that was a huge clump of comfrey, over in the corner --
"This is a medicinal garden," I said in surprise.
Should've guessed that right off.
He stood and nodded. "And Potions. It was my responsibility, growing up. You've helped Sprout, of course --"
"No," I said distractedly, bending to look at something else. "I mean, yes, but Gran kept a practical garden. Cheaper than going into Leenane for the doctor -- is this betony? It looks familiar, but not quite right."
He strode over for a look. "A very old dwarf variety. I don't believe it grows anywhere else. It has some interesting properties, but nothing that can't be duplicated with other substances."
"Ah. Pity about the neglect. Lord knows what's been lost," I said with a look at the mess around us.
"I do," he said grimly. "The family developed their own hybrids for years and I see that several have gone, even without consulting the journals."
He shook off the regret and toward the other wing. "Let's see how the culinaries have fared," he said, and ushered me through an arch in the wall, across the snow-dusted lawn, and around the end of the burned wing.
It wasn't much better. The herb beds were in the same state as the others, and the berry bushes were a tangled mass of dead canes. The currants had run wild, sending tendrils through everything.
"I remember those pippins well," Severus said absently, staring past where the wall abruptly stopped, leading down to a barren orchard. "They weren't beautiful, but they had the most extraordinary taste -- a perfect blend of sweet and tartness. Better even than Summerisle apples."
"It probably wouldn't take much, you know," I said gently. "A great deal of pruning and time to recover. A few years, perhaps."
"If we have that," he noted distantly, still intent on his memories. He shook himself back to the present. "I want to visit the Stillroom to check the damage."
We went back into the potions garden: he unwarded a small, thick door along the wall, and we went inside.
"Floor seems stable enough," he muttered, and lit the lamps with a mumbled charm and an unwanded wave of his hand; we left the door open to let in the chill, fresh air.
It was smallish, but comfortable, with a long row of diamond-paned windows, slightly soot-streaked, above a work counter. Closed cabinets (to protect the contents from light) stood along the interior walls, which were only broken by a single door to the rest of the Hall. There were two mortar-and-pestles, a chopping block, a small still, and several very old cauldrons, all thickly overlaid with dust and soot, but no fireplace or gas ring.
"How did you brew?" I asked. (I knew the best modern cauldrons were self-heating and I'd actually considered buying him one for Christmas -- after all, what do you get the Potions Master who has everything else? But a casual question about them only got me an emphatic 'They're a bloody cheat, and renewing the charm is exorbitant,' so I saved my money.)
"Kitchen," he replied. "This wing wasn't modernised when the rest of the house was."
'Modernised' was a relative term, of course, in the Wizarding World.
He ran a finger along the counter in disgust, bringing up a layer of filth, and then crossed to the cabinets and checked their contents -- cautiously. One never knew what boggart or other nasty creature might have taken up residence, though most of them liked inhabited places.
"All useless," he sighed. "The active principles and oils are gone, by now. It's been more than thirty years." I crossed to look from around his shoulder, and noticed that the labels were written in his hand -- a younger, less self-assured version, but unmistakably his.
"So you were the last to use it, then?"
"Yes. It was a dying art in the family by the time I came along -- my cousin certainly wasn't interested. It doesn't really matter, there's nothing irreplaceable or unusual here. I was adept at basic tonics and simples only by the time I left for Hogwarts, though that was more skill than most First Years had." He pulled a few bottles from a shelf, broke the wax seals and unstoppered them, and sniffed the contents gingerly. "Hmmmm. I'd thought these would be rancid by now. Might as well take them. Merlin knows when we'll be back."
He handed them off to me, and I checked the labels as I set them on the counter: oils of rose and thyme, essence of marjoram. Common things one could get at the apothecary's or the herbal supplier in Hogsmeade.
It was a disturbingly sentimental gesture for him, disguised as practicality.
Severus closed the cabinets and pulled a stool over to the counter, scrabbled in a drawer and came up with a stick of sealing-wax, and proceeded to reseal the bottle stoppers tight.
"Well, as it would have to be modernised anyway, couldn't you expand it? Make it into a working lab?"
"I suppose," he said absently. "Though why you think I'd want to move to the middle of Wiltshire is beyond me."
"So that's where we are."
He grunted, intent on sealing the bottles thoroughly, and didn't provide futher information.
"I don't suppose it would take as much as I expect. I imagine labor costs are lower, with magical methods."
"No, but it does take far less time," he muttered. "And materials are still dear, as they're Muggle-provided. We've not got around that."
When he'd finished he extinguished the flame and stood.
"There's one thing I need to look for in the house -- but I don't know what condition the structure's in, so I want you to wait in the garden."
I nodded, picked up the bottles, and left.
It took him a good twenty minutes to return: by then I'd wrapped the bottles in my extra pullover and tucked them in the bag and, with nothing better to do, wandered about the garden for a bit.
"It's not in horrible shape..." he said as he closed and warded the Stillroom door. He hesitated, and then glanced at the evening sky. "... but a tour can wait until tomorrow. We can't stay here, it's uninhabitable."
He tucked a little bundle in the bag -- good thing I hadn't packed much -- and slung it over his shoulder as he mounted the broom: I sat without protest this time, and he flew us down the long drive, away from the Hall.
We stopped at a little cottage at the very edge of the estate, buttressed up against the stone wall: the great gates before us were rusted shut.
"Gatekeeper's cottage," he said tersely. "I sent Dobby and Winky ahead to clean and bring supplies, but we're on our own. Don't expect much -- it hasn't been improved since 1850 or so, and it was built for Muggle use." He unwarded the door and I stepped though, bending my head -- the door was low, even for me.
The front door led directly into the main room. It had been cozy once, I guessed, but even the Elves' efforts of one morning couldn't banish the unlived-in, neglected air, despite a good fire burning on the hearth. The few furnishings -- a wing chair, sofa, table and desk -- were shabby almost beyond belief, and qualified as antiques of dubious quality. While bookshelves lined the room, they were empty.
An arch was set in the far wall, and I wandered through it, leaving Severus behind to ward the front door. It led to a tiny Victorian kitchen with a battered table and coal stove -- though they'd left the old fireplace intact -- and off to one side was a cramped spiral stair to the second floor. No taps at the sink: I was betting there was no running water upstairs, and likely a privy out back. A quick look out the window confirmed it.
I hoped there weren't garden gnomes in Wiltshire, though it was undoubtedly wishful thinking. I didn't want to wrestle with one on my way out to the privy in the middle of the night -- or worse, in the privy. Gnomes weren't particular about what body parts they went for -- ankles were simply the most accessible, usually.
On the whole it was much like Gran's cottage, though hers was a bit larger: that had been expanded by the time Beth and I came along, and had the benefit of hot-and-cold running water. And electricity, it goes without saying, though we still had turf fires.
"This is it," Severus said softly behind me, having entered the kitchen silently. "This is where I grew up. You, dear Fool, married the Gatekeeper's son."
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Menhir: an ancient form of tomb consisting of several upright slabs of rock for "walls" and usually with another humongous slab over the top as roofing. From roughly the same period as the henges.
As I noted in the Billywig cookie, yes, I've gone in the direction of a Wizarding aristocracy, despite the use of "Mr. Malfoy," etc. (at least in the films). I think the muggle and wizard societies mirrored each other pretty closely before the split.
Christopher Marlowe: Shakespeare's brilliant contemporary and equal (some would say superior), and thought to be a spy: he had some funny, unusual connections in Elizabeth's government. Supposedly killed in a Deptford tavern brawl in 1593.
Rebecca: yup, I chickened out on the matter we discussed. It would have bothered me, funny as it was at the time. And no, I'm not telling the rest of you what that means.
If you run your mouse over the picture of Snape Hall, you should see descriptive tags on each wing. I hope.
'Stillroom': the herbal store in the old houses, kind of like an apothecary, in a way, where herbs and simple medicines were mixed and preserved.
'Summerisle apples': my nod to The Wicker Man. If you're a Christopher Lee fan, find it -- it was recently re-issued. (Christopher Lee would have made a great Snape, about forty years ago.)