Characters are property of J.K Rowling and the Harry Potter Universe. Thankfully, she allows me to borrow them for a bit of fun.
Severus let out a low groan and blinked through the throbbing pain bouncing off the inside of his skull.
When he regained enough of his senses, he found that he was sitting on the top step with his head between his knees. Home, he thought, the idea floating through his mind trying to find some semblance of meaning. I'm home.
Sitting straighter, Severus cradled his head, pressing the heel of each palm into his closed eyelids. The events leading up to his arrival, though dim, were slowly gathering clarity the longer he coaxed himself back to levelheadedness. He remembered the crowds, he remembered the sudden, shocking feeling of nausea, and he remembered seeing his front door. He looked down and saw one of the Mediwizards vanishing the resulting vomit that covered the steps, and recalled that too.
"You're alright, yes?" one of the Mediwizards asked, stooping to look him in the eye. He was a rather tall fellow with a receding blond hair and slightly misaligned pupils. "You've been out of commission for a while, so it's only a natural response to the Apparation." A strong hand clapped Severus on the back, nearly knocking him off the step, and the same voice said, "Hell, Denton over there still turns green at the very mention of it."
"Shove off, Oren," rasped a rather winded voice. "I've got a condition, and besides that much vertigo nearly turns a man inside out."
"You've got a condition alright," answered his companion. "It's called being a pu—"
"I beg your pardon," Severus said with impeccable restraint, "but is there anything else the two of you need to do?" The Mediwizards immediately fell silent, as if suddenly remembering a thing called professionalism, and Severus hoisted himself to his feet, dusting off his trousers as he stood.
"Not unless there's anything thing else you need from us," said the Mediwizard named Oren.
"We tried to bring your personal effects by earlier, you know to make things easier," offered Denton. He pulled a small sachet from his robe pockets and emptied it upon the stone steps. Out spilled Severus's black trunk, shrunken of course, and a miniature version of the box containing his Silhouette portrait. They grew back to their original size with a simple, sharp arch of his wand. "We couldn't get in, obviously. You've this place locked down tighter than a Goblin's fist 'round a Galleon."
"Impressive spell work by the way," added Oren. "I would expect you'll need your wand to set it all straight." The Mediwizard dug around in his pockets for a moment before finally producing Severus's wand. "Impressive wand, too," he said, giving it a quick appraisal. "No doubt one of the reasons you're standing here today."
Severus had nothing to say to that, but simply held out his hand to receive what was his. The Mediwizard smiled, and dropped it into his opened hand. "Of course the wand is only as good as the wizard," he supplied.
"Hear, hear," the other agreed.
Oren clapped Severus on the back again, then said, "Well then, Mister Snape, I suppose we'll leave you to it."
"Good afternoon gentlemen," Severus replied, turning without another word.
They Disapparated without the slightest sound after that, and Severus could not have been more grateful. He stared down at the wand in his hand, and for the first time in a very long time, felt relieved. It felt good to have it in his hands, to feel the familiar grit of the Blackthorn wood and the sound connection with the dragon heartstring core. It had been torture being separated from the one thing that had been a constant part of his life since the day he bought it, nearly thirty years ago.
Severus glanced over his shoulder—out of habit more than precaution; the streets of Spinner's End were hardly traversed now, especially at the current hour— then trained his wand on the black trunk and the box. With a single, swift, upward motion of his hand the trunk rose effortlessly from the stoop. Severus turned his wrist slowly, as if testing an old wound, and the trunk and box mimicked the movement, turning upside down entirely. The trunk back to the ground with the slow lowering of his hand, and at the snap of his fingers the lid sprung open, allowing the box to drop inside. At that, Severus felt a truly genuine smile take shape on his face.
The spell work preventing unwanted trespassers was precisely as the Mediwizards had described; impenetrable and still quite strong despite Severus's extended absence. Any Muggle that strayed too close as they passed by would have suddenly found themselves filled with an immense sense of dread that bordered on the primal instinct of self-preservation. It worked surprisingly well on witches and wizards—the effects similar to sticking one's finger in a live Muggle light socket should they try to thwart the precautions.
He closed his eyes and concentrated intently on the spell that would lower the protective enchantments. He repeated the words over and over in his mind before daring to say them aloud. As the words finally left his lips, he moved his wand in a sweeping motion from left to right. If he were being honest with himself, he would have to admit that he felt an embarrassing amount of nervousness as he took the step onto his front landing. He let out a sigh of relief when he felt the solid boards beneath his feet. It had worked. He could at least take some solace in the fact that he had not lost all of his magical ability. He flicked his wand toward the door and it swung open wide to allow him and the objects he was once again levitating to pass through.
The sudden staleness of the air reached out of the darkness of the house's interior and seemed to smack him in the face. The house certainly smelled as though it had been uninhabited for almost a year but there was something else, like he had forgotten to put out the fire in the hearth and it had slowly smoldered itself out. He reached over, tapped the lamp nearest him with his wand, and immediately regretted the decision of turning on the light.
Upon the floor and nearly every flat surface in his sitting room were the remnants of Howlers and year-old copies of the Daily Prophet. Shredded, dingy newsprint, and red envelopes covered the floor, mixed with ash and singed bits of whatever the letters happened to have been near when they finally exploded. Severus looked over rather warily to his favorite chair—a lush, broken-in thing with dark brown leather upholstery and matching foot stool—and saw a hefty pile of soot and bits of grey stained fluff sticking from between the seams. Never once had it occurred to him to the need to block the post in addition to potential intruders. In hindsight, it was a rather large and particularly messy oversight.
Severus surveyed the rubbish heap that now took the place of his living room and saw one Howler that had not yet exploded. He picked it up and examined it, hoping that it would bear its sender's name. To Severus's dismay, however, the seal on the Howler had apparently grown weaker with age and the blood red envelope sprang open to release a cacophony of angry shouting.
"Snape, you miserable coward!" an unfamiliar female voice screamed. "I've just read Rita Skeeter's book. If half of what she says about you is true, you are no better than the scum between a troll's toes! It's a tragedy—an absolute tragedy— that you get to live free while so many brave witches and wizards gave their lives. I hope what you've done haunts you the rest of your wretched days!"
With that, the Howler gave another earsplitting shriek of anger and mercifully burst into flame, leaving a fresh dusting of ash covering his shoes.
"Well, fuck," was all he said, and tapped the lampshade again as if the abrupt darkness would make it all go away. Severus stood there in his darkened parlor for a long moment contemplating the ringing silence the Howler had left in its wake, then finally turned for the kitchen. Truth be told, he had no idea what to do next, so he decided to do the one thing that always made sense to him, and that was make a fresh pot of tea.
The kitchen was, much to his surprise and relief, free of any soot of singed debris, but had its fair share of dust. He swiped his fingers across the table, tracing a semi-clear path through the grime, and knew the following day would involve a hideous amount of cleaning. "But tea first," he insisted aloud, and began gathering what he would need.
It had been almost nine months since he had a proper cup of tea, but it did not take him long to fall into the familiar rhythm he found when brewing in his very own kitchen. There was something oddly therapeutic in the preparation. He did not have to think about the process, but rather let his hands lead him through the motions as they had always done in the past.
Severus stood at the cooker listening to the sound of the kettle tick as it heated. The silence cleared his head, made him see things less cynically—which was rather hard at the moment, considering his entire day seemed to have risen up from some heinous pit of hell. He did not feel angry about the unexpected mess, the Howlers, the numerous delays of the day, or even Zella Shrout and her ridiculous Silhouette program, but comfortably numb. That surprisingly brought him a great deal of satisfaction.
Severus took a moment to survey his home and made a mental list of things that he would need to do now that he was back. First on the list was to do something about the mountain of red and white confetti that littered his floor. He had never been a particularly well-liked person to begin with, he was aware of that. He was also aware that people were going to be angry with him over his involvement with the Dark Lord even though they had no idea as to the whole story. He had failed to realize, however, the sheer quantity of people that would go through the trouble of informing him of the disdain personally.
With the Dark Lord vanquished, I may well be the most hated wizard in Britain, he thought. He recalled what the Howler had screamed at him minutes prior and his thoughts turned to the book Rita Skeeter had penned about him.
He had been recuperating in St. Mungo's when he first heard of Snape: Scoundrel or Saint?. Despite never laying eyes on the book personally, Severus was sure which of the two titular portraits Skeeter had chosen to paint of him. His tea kettle whistled loudly, but Severus had already decided that he would need something a little stronger than Earl Grey to make it through the evening. He left the kettle of boiling water on the counter and walked to his liquor cabinet to fill his empty mug with Ogden's Old. He raised the mug high in mock salute and said aloud, "Here's to you, Rita, you miserable cunt," as he downed his drink in one swallow.
Severus's toast was followed immediately by the arrival of an unexpected visitor. A tawny owl appeared at the kitchen window and began pecking away at the glass most incessantly. Annoyed, Severus raised the glass and took delivery of a rolled up piece of parchment. After he had shooed the bird away, Severus unrolled the message.
I'm sure you're quite busy settling in, but it is of the utmost importance that you activate your portrait tonight. Zella and her team cannot complete the registration process unless your portrait is synchronized with the one belonging to your Silhouette. This is important, so don't ignore me. If I hear from Zella tomorrow that your portrait has still not been activated, I won't hesitate to pay you a visit to see that it's done properly.
If not for me, do it for yourself.
"Not even through the bloody door fifteen minutes…" Severus crushed the parchment in his fist, and launched it down the darkened hall leading to the sitting room. Rather than retrieving the box containing his portrait, he reached for the bottle of Firewhisky and poured himself a liberal amount. "You can sod off as well, Barnes, you and your Silhouette portrait."
There was a sudden commotion coming from the dark sitting room, and Severus nearly choked on his Firewhisky. The muffled noise echoed throughout the empty house, a sharp pounding of footsteps or perhaps a fist upon a wooden door. The crowds have come to run me out of town on a rail, he thought, not caring much for that particular scenario. Severus could not properly recognize the sound, but it seemed as though someone or something was trying to burst its way out of the wall. With nothing better to do, and the childish urge to hex someone to oblivion, he drew his wand and eased himself down the hall in search of the noise's source.
His feet managed to carry him solidly for a few strides before they connected with a hard, rectangular object and sent him barreling forward to catch his balance. Severus spun around once he found his footing to see his black trunk—the same trunk he was certain he had left sitting by the door when he arrived. He took a cautious step back only to have the trunk lurch forward as if kicked by an invisible foot.
"What the devil…"
He almost nudged the latch with the toe of his boot but thought better of it. Instead, Severus took another step back and watched with a fair amount of unease. The trunk gave an abrupt heave toward him a second time, stopping just a few feet shy from where he stood. This time, curiosity won the battle against common sense and self preservation, and he released the single latch from its hook with a wave of his wand. The lid flew open at once and up rose the black box containing his Silhouette portrait. Severus looked at the velveted box unhappily, as if he had only discovered its primary function was to cause him unimaginable misery.
The box floated closer to him, coming to hover within arm's reach, and he suddenly understood the concept of artificial intelligence as Zella Shrout had described it. The thing was sentient or at least semi-sentient as far as Severus was concerned, and he had just unwittingly activated it, though how he had achieved such a feat was still lost to him. He made a mental note not to toss the instruction manual Shrout had given him into the rubbish bin as he seized the box from midair and slid the base from the lid.
Freeing the contraption from the box, Severus held the frame to the light streaming in from the kitchen to give it a proper inspection. There was no sign of life other than his reflection in the shiny, black center, but it felt aware in his hand. More than that, the double spiral marring the flesh above his wrist thrummed as though a live current was coursing through it. Without realising what he was doing, or thinking of the possible consequences, his left hand took the frame from the right, and in that moment several things happened at once.
The most noticeable of those things was the unyielding and completely involuntary grip with which his hand grasped the frame. In spite of his initial panic and struggle, in spite of the fierce aid his right hand tried to provide, the fingers of his left would not let go. The second thing, which quickly moved to the forefront of his mind, was the throbbing ache that was beginning to surge around the mark on his wrist. The double spiral swirled slowly, almost hypnotically on his skin until it started to dissipate, following the veins running down his hand and through the fingers clutching the frame.
The frame started to tremble—it might have been his hand, but Severus could not truly tell—until his entire left arm was quaking from the force.
Then, as if he had simply imagined the entire ordeal, everything stopped.
The ache in his wrist and hand lessened, and Severus's fingers relaxed on their own accord. The frame, which did not fall to the floor when he released it was left floating rather listlessly in front of him. The urge to blast it to bits was difficult to control, but the prospect of going back to St. Mungo's to face Augusta should he destroy the thing was even more overwhelming. Instead, he gazed indignantly at its black surface, trying to decide what to do next.
He did not have to wait very long at all. A thin whine erupted from the portrait and a white light flared around the edges. The surface was no longer black, but slowly glowing brighter and brighter as the seconds passed. Severus had no idea who he expected to appear in the frame, but it certainly was not the image of the person starting to slowly come into focus.
The woman in the frame was fair in complexion. She had kind features and dark hair, complete with deep-set, blue eyes, and a set of rounded lips. As the image sharpened, he could see that the woman's bottom lip was pinched between her teeth, though Severus could not help but notice that it was out of nervousness. She was completely foreign to him, and given the softness of her face, younger as well—perhaps in her mid to late twenties if he had to venture a guess.
He wondered if she was doing the same to him, studying his face, trying to decide if she recognized the person staring back at her. If she was from Wizarding Britain she would have had to have lived under a boulder for the last twenty years not to know who he was, especially given the press he received following the end of the war. If he were even remotely close to the age he thought she was, Severus would have undoubtedly taught her during his tenure at Hogwarts.
"Hello," she said. "Please call me Adelaide." Her voice was quiet, but it carried an unmistakable touch of warmth and sincerity, like she was eager and perfectly willing to talk to a complete stranger. It was terribly uncomfortable, if not irritating.
Adelaide? Severus was almost certain he would have remembered a name like that; it was not very commonplace, even in the Wizarding world. "Adelaide what?" he demanded.
"Forgive me," the raven-haired witch said. "My name is Adelaide Harlowe." She smiled, revealing just a hint of her teeth and the subtle gap between the two in the front. It somehow made her look younger, innocent even. "What may I call you?"
Adelaide Harlowe. The surname, Severus found, was even less helpful, but what he did know about her was exactly what he feared. She was far too keen for her own good and a complete and utter stranger. Add to the mix that she was most likely ten years his junior and the opposite sex, and he was certain they have little to no common ground.
"You will call me Mister Snape," he told her, and even to him his voice sounded harsh. "This arrangement, as I'm sure you've been told by your superiors, is not something I have agreed to willingly. Like it or not, here we are, and we have no other choice but to see this farce to its end. I am supposed to open my home to you, to see you as a companion of sorts, and I find no advantage or merit in either of those things. Don't expect me to call upon you, and don't seek me out." Severus paused, searching for any hint of a reaction, only to find nothing giving away her displeasure, her intimidation, or her shock. She simply let him talk and she listened. "I'll do whatever is necessary to keep from going back to St. Mungo's but nothing more."
"The program logs the number of hours our portraits are active and synchronized, Mister Snape," Adelaide said, her voice calm and collected despite his discourtesy. "I'll see that we meet the minimum requirements prescribed by your Healer. No more, no less."
"If it were possible to do less, I can assure you I wouldn't hesitate." It isn't likely we have much in common to fill the imminent silences we're both about to endure, he almost added, but decided against it in the end.
The witch smiled a smile that caused her oval face to go from ordinary to radiant in an instant, and Severus looked away abruptly to keep from staring at her. "I do hope to change your mind."
"If life has taught me one lesson, Miss Harlowe, it's that hope very rarely makes what we want so. You'd be wise to remember that." Severus stalked off toward the sitting room, leaving the portrait floating in the hall and the unfamiliar Adelaide Harlowe staring after him.
Severus found he was undergoing a small internal struggle upon entering the sitting room. The prospect of dealing with the mess and possibly finding another unopened Howler in the process was off-putting; he found manual housework tedious at best, and knew with certainty that the magical properties of the Howlers prevented the use of a simple Vanishing Spell. Still, that made no difference in the cold practicalities of the situation. It was either make small talk with a complete stranger or use manual labor as an excuse.
"Incendio," Severus mumbled, the words escaping him sourly, and the remnants of the dried logs in the fire box were ablaze. He scrutinized the disarray underfoot for a long moment, and decided it looked almost manageable in the muted firelight. Rolling up his sleeves, he set to work with only the solace of knowing it would buy him time to think of how to address the issue of the unwanted guest still floating in the hall.
Fireplace shovel and brush in hand, Severus was quickly reminded of how uncompromisingly plain his home was once the soot and debris were swept away; the sun and age faded carpets covering the floor, the threadbare sofa with its musty, uncomfortable cushions, the rickety table whose top was littered with crescent shaped water stains. This was a pitiful sight, he knew, but it was all he had left.
Severus strode over to the fireplace, dumped the shovelful of ash, singed carpet fibers and parchment into the fire box and then stood very quietly and gazed into the flames. The double spiral on his wrist ached relentlessly. The emotional numbness he had felt only minutes before—relished even— was beginning to wane, and in its place the misery of his current situation seemed to rear up in front of his eyes.
Hardly aware that he had moved, Severus found himself standing next to his chair. He gathered the grey fluff protruding from the damaged leather upholstery between his fingers and carefully tried to tuck it back where it belonged. Each time he withdrew his fingers, he only seemed to dislodge more of the stuffing or damage the broken seam further. That simple, seemingly unimportant action was all it took for the faint signs of an impending panic attack to descend upon him.
Severus sank to his knees, his hands jutting forward to catch his balance. He could feel the heat rising high in his face, the trembling that was slowly beginning to work its way upward from the soles of his feet. Augusta's voice was suddenly in his head, as clear and stern and forceful as if she had been sitting directly beside him.
A chair, Severus? You're going to let a popped seam reduce you to whatever this is?
He buried his hands in the layer of burnt parchment covering the floor and forced his eyes shut. It's not just a seam, he thought, trying to rationalize the episode. It's not being able to fix this… How am I…"How am I supposed to mend my life when I can't— "
The words died on his tongue, and Severus turned slowly to see the portrait floating in the shadows of the hall. The young woman looked ghostly in the frame, her eyes fixed on him intelligently though somewhat cautiously. The portrait floated forward steadily until it crossed the threshold of the sitting room. They stared at one another, unnerved and apprehensive before Adelaide finally spoke.
"Are you well?"
"Fine," he managed to articulate, not daring to look her in the face. His subconscious, all the while, was still entangled with the unexpected surge of panic.
"I beg your pardon," she pressed softly, "but you look the furthest thing from well at the moment."
Severus said nothing and kept his line of sight level with the top of the frame, certain he would die from the look of pity he would find in her eyes. For a few moments there was silence, except for the thumping of his pulse in his ears and the crackling of what wood remained in the firebox. What the hell is wrong with you… he thought, watching the glow from the portrait encroach further toward him. Pull yourself together.
"Should I send for someone?" Adelaide asked after a while, and those five words had an effect on him similar to being doused with iced water.
"No!" His head snapped up, and he noticed Adelaide's curious gaze roaming over him. Severus started to stand slowly, as though he had just found himself face to face with a dangerous animal. Thankfully, the quaking in his legs had subsided a great deal; he could hide it easily enough, blame the unsteadiness that remained on his extended convalescence if need be.
Adelaide's expression hardened; the corners of her mouth drawing up in a thin, skeptical line. "Are you certain?"
"Yes," he answered in a sudden flash of irritation, and when the girl in the portrait did not respond he went on. "Please, I only need a minute." Severus gestured toward the mess that remained, in a last desperate attempt to draw her attention from him to the state of his sitting room. He lowered his head, concealing his face, and wiped away the anxious sweat that had formed on his brow.
Severus eyed the shovel and brush lying beside the chair, then shifted his gaze to the floating frame and saw that the girl's expression was grim. He picked up the wrought iron tools and began to sweep away pile of parchment without really concentrating on the task; he was waiting, dreading the onslaught of questions that were sure to follow her notice of the debris and disarray.
"Those are letters," she said at last, her voice becoming brittle.
He did not reply, but it would not have made a difference; she figured it out soon enough.
"Howlers—all of them—" Adelaide looked about the room, her eyes never lingering in the same spot for too long, as if she had accidentally glimpsed a part of him she had not been meant to see. "There must have been hundreds of them," she said, making a feckless attempt to hide her bewilderment. "But why?"
"This is the embodiment of nearly nine months of hatred," Severus said before he could stop the flow of words. He emptied the overflowing shovel into the firebox and set to working on another pile to keep from looking at her as he spoke. "Bitterness and resentment flows deep."
"I don't understand—"
"People always want someone to blame, don't they? People need a remedy, a solution. Anything to help them deal with their own guilt or loss. Someone has to take the fall, someone has to become the villain so that others can feel vindicated for what they've lost or whatever they did or did not do." Severus chucked another shovelful of debris into the firebox, disgruntled by the sudden soliloquy, then fell silent. Why was he telling her—a complete stranger—any of this?
"But you were cleared of all charges," Adelaide persisted, which told Severus she knew who she was dealing with after all. "You were even awarded an Order of Merlin. First Class."
"But I lived, Miss Harlowe," Severus snapped, banging the brush roughly against the shovel, as though to show his annoyance. "People vilify what they do not understand, and as a witch it shouldn't be hard for you to understand that unfortunate fact. The general public does not understand or know half of what I had to do, and those that do know don't care, because of what I did to see the farce to its end." He almost made mention of Skeeter's poison-penned book, but decided that would open far too many doors that he preferred to keep shut.
"That… That is ridiculous," she protested. It was not hard to tell she was grasping for something to say in retaliation, the look on her face said it all. "That isn't—"
"That is life," Severus interrupted, this time his irritation more subdued. He propped the shovel and brush on the tool rack and regarded the frame and the girl inside. He had said too much to her already, and he had let the situation arise in which she felt she was free to ask him questions about personal things that he had no intention of discussing with someone he trusted, let alone a stranger.
I ought never to have indulged her prying, Severus thought, and resolved right then, as she watched him intently with those ridiculously considerate blue eyes, that she need not think it could become a habit. "How is it that you're able to manipulate the frame?"
Adelaide seemed to be thrown by the sudden change of topic. She blinked several times, as though to clear her head and said, "I'm not sure what you're referring to."
"The fact that you can make the portrait move about," Severus clarified, his tone accusatory. "I certainly didn't invite the thing in here."
Adelaide gave a thoughtful nod, taking the cutting remark in stride. "It just happens. I can think certain things, like moving across a room, and your frame, the one you see me in, responds accordingly. It's impressive magic," she added as somewhat of an afterthought, and grinned at him.
"It's an invasion of privacy," Severus answered, his voice flat and deliberate. He had meant for the words to sting, had hoped they would get the point across and save them both the awkwardness of keeping up with the charade.
Adelaide gave him a level look, which Severus found irritating and said, "I understand this situation is not to your liking, and if I have offended you in some way I apologize. However, you are not in this situation because of me, Mister Snape. I do wish you would give me a chance."
"I don't want to give you a chance. Don't you understand?" Severus rubbed at the side of his head as though he had developed an intense and unexpected migraine. "I may not be in this situation because of you, but I still have to deal with you despite my blistering desire for you to be elsewhere."
That shut her up, and Severus wasted very little time taking the opportunity to escape from her once more. He stalked off toward the kitchen, only casting a half-hearted, sideways glance in Adelaide's direction as he passed, and immediately wished he would have kept his eyes off of her.
The remark had cut a little too deeply it seemed, and her subsequent expression gave him a horrible chill. She looked on the verge of tears, her mouth hanging slightly ajar from the initial blow of his words. It had to be done, he told himself, though it did little to quell the growing feeling of shame in the pit of his stomach. No, only Firewhisky would see to that properly.
He went straight to the vintage bottle of Ogden's Old sitting on his liquor cabinet and took a rather impressive swig straight from the bottle. Severus knew he ought not to drink it, had even been advised against it during his extended stay at St. Mungo's, but he also knew nothing else would ease his agitation the same as Firewhisky.
Against his better judgment, he poured himself a mug - neat, the only way someone with even a modicum of self respect would drink something as pure as Ogden's Old. Just as the harsh, amber liquid touched his lips, however, Severus was startled by her voice coming from over his shoulder.
"Why do you do that to yourself?" Adelaide asked without even the slightest attempt to hide her disapproval. "It's a vile, poisonous drink that turns even the most respectable men incorrigible."
Severus regarded the mug in his hand as though he were looking at it for the first time, then looked to the witch in the floating frame, whose blue eyes studied him with sharp seriousness. There were still faint traces of hurt on her face—the colour high in her cheeks and the glistening tear track she had not fully succeeded in wiping away— but he refused to think on any of it. He raised the glass to his lips to take another gulp, grimacing as the liquor scorched a burning trail down his throat and said, "Because there are things inside me that I need to kill."
He may have been on his way to a state of solid drunkenness, but Severus knew he had said too much the moment the whisky-soaked confession slipped his tongue. Still, he found he had very little energy to care. He was nothing to her, and she was even less to him.
"Mister Snape, please—"
"Leave me be," he said, the words a low hiss.
"If that is what you want." Adelaide looked at him for a moment, as if patiently waiting for him to reconsider what he had said. "Is that what you want?"
"Yes, I would like some peace and quiet."
"It will be quiet, but you won't find peace like this," she was quick to say, and Severus found himself searching for any hint of pity or judgment in her voice. That would have been the perfect escape, her harshness, her cynicism. Perhaps it was the alcohol and fatigue already toying with his perception, or perhaps she was simply the quintessential essence of patience—he could not really put a finger on the true culprit—but whatever the case, he found no such escape. Somewhere, buried deep down inside of him, where the rational side of his mind had gone to hide, Severus was sure there was truth to what she had said, but who was she to tell him that?
"I can't promise that I'll be able to solve all of your problems," she went on, skillfully ignoring the deep scathing noise she received in turn, "but I can promise you that you won't have to go at them alone."
There was a moment of cold silence before Severus drew a deep breath to clear his head. "And how do you intend to do that exactly? What could you possibly have to offer me? I am not some case to figure out, Miss Harlowe, despite what your insipidly dimwitted supervisor has led you to believe. And if you think for one moment that you will be more help than hindrance, then you may very well trump Zella Shrout in stupidity, which is a true feat in and of itself." Severus downed the Firewhisky, then slammed the empty coffee mug against the liquor cabinet with an emphatic smack. "Do us both a favour and leave me the fuck alone."
The lingering pause was suffocating, and for a moment, Adelaide's face twisted in a manner Severus found difficult to witness. He had seen it countless times in his tenure as a professor, even more times in his stint as a Death Eater. It was the grimace of pain that came from beating back an onslaught of angry tears.
"Very well," Adelaide answered in a biting, impersonal voice. "Have a pleasant evening, Mister Snape." Her image began to shrink and fade into nothingness. Blackness soon took over the center of the frame, and as Severus's portrait gave a tiny ping, sounding the deactivation of her connection, it fell from its suspended height to the floor.
The sound of it clattering across the hardwood was the sweetest he'd heard in a very long time.
Author's Notes: Hermione is coming, I promise. I know 20,000 words seems like a lot of words to read without any mention of her, but she is coming, and it is in the very next chapter as a matter of fact. I wanted to use the first few chapters to introduce Severus and his current situation.
Also, to those of you who have been following along with The Beginning of Truth, I have a happy surprise coming in the next week or so. :)
As always reviews are welcomed and greatly appreciated!