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 held his cup of tea with both hands and stood by the front window overlooking the snow-covered streets. The dismal weather that had been plaguing London the day before had finally managed to travel to Cokeworth, and seemed to have done so with vengeance. It had snowed massively during the night and the iridescent flakes, tossed viciously by the icy wind, continued to hit the windowpane in a silent assault that nearly blocked the view of the street completely. He could no longer see the pockmarked pavement under the unnaturally clean blanket of white, but knew it was there, waiting to reveal itself again with the first cold rain. In his youth, Severus used to enjoy this view. Rain or shine, he would hide behind the sheer curtains and watch strangers come and go. The world that lay beyond the shadow of the Mill had always intrigued him, but that was before he found out what it was for himself.
Same tune, different song, he thought.
He took a long pull from the tea cup and frowned. Two days home and he had already come to despise it. For years, Severus seldom had anything to do with his childhood home and since being granted full ownership of the property had only visited it a few times during a year, mainly during the summer holidays or when he simply needed to time to himself during school terms. He had, following a rather unfortunate trip to Diagon Alley, spent the better part of the previous evening settling into what was to become his permanent residence for the foreseeable future. He had partially unpacked his black trunk. He put the properly-fitting clothes in the front of his wardrobe. He left the substandard stationary and the picture from Augusta Barnes inside the trunk and slid it out of sight under his bed. The rest of his night and part of the early morning had been spent picking at a mediocre order of greasy takeaway and straightening the mess that remained on the first floor. The floors were methodically swept, the surfaces dusted and washed by hand. It had only been an excuse to stay busy, albeit a tiresome one.
Severus had turned off the lights and dragged himself to bed shortly after three, and had simply lain there listening to the freezing rain beat against the bedroom window. He had not prepared himself for this, at least not in the way he believed he had. Everything familiar and accepted had been ripped away, and in its place there was something he could not quite define. He could hear it in the slow, rhythmic ticking of the clock on the bedside table, could even feel it in the stillness of the house. Uncertainty was the name he would have liked to have bestowed it, but the word only proved to be a poor synonym that could not be stretched to fit the unsettling sense that he had absolutely no direction in his life now. The last thought that occurred to him before he fell asleep was that he was floating— almost listlessly so—with nothing but a strange woman in a black-framed portrait to act as his anchor.
Not quite three hours later, he emerged from a restless sleep only to be greeted by utter silence and a bitterly cold room. Severus had lain there imagining his breath condensing and evaporating as it collided with the chilly air, and waited to slip back into unconsciousness. It was still black as pitch and snowing quite hard outside when he had finally crawled out of bed with a blanket draped around his shoulders and descended the stairs to stoke the fire.
Severus had sank in the deep chair by the hearth and idly poked at the burning wood for the remainder of the early morning, scowling into the firebox, his eyes seeing through the flames to somewhere far, far away. His gaze had strayed from the firebox on occasion to wander restlessly around the shadowed room, but never seemed to fall on the Silhouette portrait lying on the arm of the sofa.
Even in the current moment, as he stood before the single sitting room window watching the latest snow squall pass over, he would not allow it, though he was not quite certain of the reasons. Truth be told, he was still uncertain about a great many things, and had absolutely no idea where to even begin to make sense of them. It was enough to give him a headache, to call back the uncomfortable anxious feeling that had troubled him the night before.
With a single swig Severus drained the last of his tea and turned away from the window in a fashion that would have set his cloak flapping had he been wearing it. He stalked off toward the kitchen, his socked feet silent upon the cold wooden floors, and wondered how he was going to survive the remaining days of winter at Spinner's End without thicker socks and a decent pair of thermal underwear. Despite his hatred of St. Mungo's, the hospital, with its reliable heat and considerable staff of House Elves, had softened him. The nearly constant mental concentration required to keep a simple Warming Charm functioning was becoming tiresome, and hardly worth the effort given his increased pacing about the house.
He had to find some way to amuse himself, or at least make the time pass faster until he could crawl back into bed, lest he run the very real risk of going stir-crazy or simply freezing to death. Severus considered returning to Diagon Alley for the potion supplies he had left behind the day before, but decided he was not in the mood to brave the weather—or more accurately— the crowds. Instead he settled for the hard kitchen chair, a pot of freshly brewed tea, and the morning edition of the Daily Prophet.
Severus, unable to stomach the image of himself on the front cover and the related articles, had cancelled his personal subscription to the paper four months after he had been instated as Headmaster of Hogwarts. He had not considered paying the monthly fees to resume service until he found himself waging a fierce battle with boredom in the early days of his convalescence.
The newspapers from the past two days had been delivered on schedule to 'Mr S Snape. Ward 1, Room 919, St. Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries, London,' only to be bound tightly with twine and forwarded to his new permanent address by the brown owl belonging to Augusta Barnes. Severus had opted to throw the edition containing the obviously caustic article detailing his release from the hospital straight in the bin.
The Sunday Prophet he held in his hand was thicker than the standard weekday editions, complete with its twenty-five pages of features, ranging from Good News and Bad News columns, to politics, sports, and obituaries. Unlike the weekly editions which were designed to quickly deliver the news, the Sunday Prophet seemed to expand exponentially in order to keep the reader intrigued and fend off boredom largely associated with lazy Sundays.
Severus purposefully skipped the public opinion and comment sections, certain there would be residual remarks in response to the article from the day before. The Spell and Potion sections proved lackluster, as did the Sports feature, which detailed the lopsided and not particularly surprising Quidditch win Norway held over Ivory Coast. Between intermittent sips of tea Severus continued to thumb through the remaining features, skimming the headlines for anything remotely interesting. It was not until he had finished his third cup of tea and turned to page sixteen that a headline caused a flash of cold fire to streak down his back.
Silhouette: The American Brand of Rehabilitation
By: Royia Coyle; Chief medical correspondent, The Daily Prophet
London— Imagine, if you would, if you knew the exact moment your life would come to its end.
It would not do to dwell on such things for obvious reasons that need no explanation but, for the sake of perspective, imagine yourself moving forward—or in the unique and unfortunate case of some, backwards—to this allotted slice of time designated for your death. The questions that may arise, the unimaginable scenarios your mind may conjure will make no difference when the time comes, whether you go peacefully in your sleep or at the hands of another, because once it is over, it is precisely that.
Dying, in and of itself, is easy.
Now imagine a different scenario: You have faced your supposed death, but rather than passing beyond the Veil you wake to find yourself to be still among the living. You have, against the odds, not only survived, but you have survived with the proper mental capacity to acknowledge this fact. It is this knowledge of what you have faced, it is this knowledge of what you have overcome, and it is survival in its most basic form, with its abundance of emotion—good and bad—that is the most difficult to rationalize.
Surviving, according to those who witness it every day, is the hardest thing you will ever do.
"St. Mungo's Hospital, since the final deadly battle of Hogwarts, has seen a monumental influx of patients and families alike who struggle to overcome memories they cannot forget," said Miriam Pye, Chief Healer of the Spell Damage ward, during a recent Daily Prophet interview.
In the weeks after the fall of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, the hospital staff found themselves in the midst of unexpected disorder.
"We admitted the wounded and their families so that they might receive relief and respite, but soon discovered we could not properly give that," Pye went on. "Bodies of those who perished were brought to St. Mungo's as a precaution against Inferi. They lined an entire corridor and part of another for nearly a week before the Ministry deemed them fit for burial. It was a deadly reminder of what had transpired and of the potential dangers that still lurked."
While Healer Pye was adamant that St. Mungo's was more than adequately equipped to treat the physical injuries of the multitude of war casualties that came through their doors in the days after the Battle of Hogwarts, she admits that they found themselves ill-prepared to deal with the mental and emotional trauma that many of the victims had suffered. "There were so many dealing with scars to their psyche, more than ten times the normal amount of psychiatric patients we would typically house at any given time, and many of those scars went far deeper than we could have imagined."
Luckily, help soon came from a group of American healers who had heard about the plight of the survivors of the Second Wizarding War. "We were sent word about an exciting new program they had developed called 'Silhouette.' The concept seemed so foreign at the time, but we were so desperate that we accepted their invitation to help."
The Silhouette Initiative, as described by those behind its conception, was initially developed to be a personal assistance device for witches and wizards who found themselves unable to manage their busy schedules or as a tutor to schoolchildren. However, after hearing about the situation at St. Mungo's from some of the Healers in the American Wizarding community, those behind the Initiative saw the potential for Silhouette to take on a new, unexpected role – to help survivors of the war find a smooth transition back to normalcy.
"Despite the trials and tribulations of surviving, people fail to realise that most things are forgotten with time. It happens easily, but it is even easier not to notice when it occurs.Memories of our survival become lost in our everyday lives until they become distorted, until we forget how they have changed and molded us into who we are," said American witch and Chief Advisor of the Silhouette Initiative, Zella Shrout. "Even now, with the first anniversary of the Second Wizarding War looming over the horizon, people have forgotten what it was like to live moment to moment; they have forgotten what it was like to endure the nearly daily life-and-death struggle to make it out somewhat intact. Those people should consider themselves lucky, because there are still a fair few of who have yet to find their place within Britain's Wizarding community."
Staff from St. Mungo's, while unable to disclose information concerning individual patient's cases, were able to confirm that the Silhouette Initiative is now out of the preliminary stages, and discharged patients are now becoming acclimated with the new brand of healing magic. The Silhouette Initiative, Shrout explains, will pair patients with carefully-selected individuals coined as Matches that will communicate with them through a portrait. The Matches will be available to assist recovering patients with any tasks they need assistance with, or, Shrout says, just to lend an understanding ear should the patient need someone to talk with.
"This is a very exciting time for the healing arts," said Shrout. "The results we are collecting already show a successful number of Silhouettes being bound with their patient Matches—the strongest bonding experiencing I have witnessed to date took place a mere two days ago. The evidence and testimonies we are seeing so far is very encouraging, indeed."
Could this American magic really be the cure-all for the mental ailments of those who survived one of the most tragic events in the history of Wizarding Britain? Only time will tell, but for their sakes, as well as the sake of our community as a whole, we should hold out hope that it will be.
Severus grimaced, as if struck by a sudden bout of nausea. He closed the paper, laid it on the table in front of him and simply sat there. This was a circumstance he had not planned for, and it was hardly pleasant. The article had not mentioned him personally, but any idiot off the street could easily put two and two together, what with the slanderous article the day before and now this only a day later. It seemed, at the very least, as though someone was attempting to cause speculation.
Before he could help it, Severus found himself imagining the gossip, the rings of convoluted conversation and hearsay. There had been a time in his life when other people's opinions would not have bothered him in the slightest, but whether or not the wreck of the man he used to be was hiding somewhere deep inside remained to be seen.
He peered down at the newspaper as though he had just discovered it was a previously unknown enemy, then frowned. Severus realised he was being thoroughly ridiculous and a touch suspicious, but also felt as if he had earned that right.
Why was it so difficult for people to leave well enough alone?
Severus stood from the table, and as he did so, he seized the newspaper and chucked into the bin by the backdoor, eager to be rid of it. When it disappeared from view it was almost as if the weight on his shoulders had went with it. Out of sight, out of mind, he decided. He would handle the matter of his sudden, unwanted celebrity the same as he had his recovery: allow it to simply run its course. Something bigger, something more exciting and newsworthy would eventually come to pass and his discharge from St. Mungo's would be nothing more than a distant memory.
Somewhere inside Severus a haughty, skeptical voice pointed out that he was a fool to think it would be that simple. His life had never been that simple, and it was nonsense to believe it had changed. He promptly ignored it and instead settled his attention on finding something suitable to eat for dinner.
With a saucer of partially-blackened toast and tepid beans and a fresh pot of tea and tea cup floating effortlessly behind him, Severus returned to the sitting room. The faint smell of Muggle floor cleaner and just the slightest tang of burned parchment still lingered, but he refused to allow it the chance to ruin his supper, lackluster though it was. He ate a bite of toast and chewed in silence, half expecting the act to provide some sort of amusement or at least satisfaction. It did not happen.
For a fleeting moment, his eyes caught the Silhouette portrait balanced on the sofa arm, and he contemplated calling upon Adelaide. Severus dismissed the idea just as quickly, thinking don't you dare go there, not now. He shook his head, as if to jostle the notion back to where it belonged, and took a rather large bite of toast. It was unexpectedly repellent. He forced himself to swallow, and chased the mass of chewed bread and beans with tea.
What the hell was he thinking?
The previous evening they had agreed, after Severus had finally managed to gain control of himself and the situation, that she would only activate her portrait in the evenings, promptly at a quarter past five. He had informed her that he had things he needed to do, though he had no earthly clue what those things might be, and insisted that she go about her daily business in the same manner. Throughout the entire conversation, he had visions of Zella Shrout and her blonde assistant pop into his head, and he refused to allow himself to stoop to that level of codependency.
It had taken a serious amount of negotiation on her part for him to agree, but in the end he relented, satisfied with the terms. Adelaide had made it quite plain throughout their discussion that if he needed her—to which he made it quite plain that he was a grown man capable of taking care of himself—that he was free to seek her out no matter the hour. He was not about to take her up on the offer, determined to see that his ego would win out over his sanity and his incredible boredom.
Severus's gaze found the clock above the mantel, and he watched as the tiny brass hands dutifully tick down the minutes. "All hours wound; the last one kills," he told the empty air, in a humorless tone—only an hour and six minutes remained before Adelaide would appear for the evening to complete their predetermined time of interaction. Still, Severus did not think he could bear the mind numbing silence for that length of time without something to occupy his attention.
He left his partially eaten dinner on the side table, and walked over to the nearest bookcase and stood, staring at the old, tattered bindings of the books. Severus had fully intended to hold off on the task of rifling through the old texts until he could be rid of the ones he did not want. It was not in him to simply throw them out with the rubbish, and it certainly was not in him to take them to a secondhand store in the current weather. In the end, he simply sighed at the collection of books, deciding to wait, and turned his attention to what looked to be a small table beside the case.
Tobias Snape was never able to afford both being in his cups and the finer things in life, but had, on one rare occasion that Severus could remember, spent what was left of his wages on a used record player from a local secondhand store. The store had long since boarded up its doors and windows, but the record player still remained like a steadfast pillar of familiarity in the corner of the room. The previous evening, Severus had taken special care to clean the dust from between the wooden grooves, feeling a creeping mix of sentiment and antipathy as he had done so. It was the one trifling thing—the only thing—that he and his father ever shared an appreciation for.
He had tried to hate the thing at first, and for the very simple reason his father adored it so. When he was nothing more than elbows and knees swathed in hand-me-downs, Severus would often find himself seated out of sight on the stairs, and listening to the pop and crack of the speakers as the machine hissed to life. He would wait, listening as the stylus slid into the groove of the record. Sometimes he would play a game with himself, trying to guess which vinyl his father had placed upon the turntable as the needled bounced off the invisible furrows, searching for a melody. He was never correct in his guesses, but that never stopped him from playing the same, private game each time the record player was switched on.
Severus thumbed through records stacked neatly in the side rack before closing his eyes and picking one at random. Without looking, he removed the worn thing from the cardboard sleeve and placed it on the turntable and flipped the switch. A faint, mechanical whine rippled out from the speaker, and he waited, impressed in spite of himself that the machine was still working after all these years without magical interference.
Severus concentrated on the series of pops and cracks emanating from the speaker and tried to recall which of his father's records produced that exact pattern. He found himself horribly out of practice. The years since he had listened to the record had caused the memory to fade from his mind almost completely. His thoughts raced to remember the name of one of the opening songs on the albums he had heard so many times as a child. He remembered one of the Rolling Stones records beginning with a song called "Gimme Shelter" and made that his official guess. When he heard the melodic tone of the acoustic guitar ringing out, he knew at once that he had guessed incorrectly.
The song was "Here Comes the Sun" from the Beatles' Abbey Road. As the music swelled and grew and filled the room, Severus made his way to the chair and listened to the lyrics "Little Darling, it's been a long, cold lonely winter. Little darling, it feels like years since it's been here," and discovered that he was content with being wrong despite the ridiculous irony in the words.
Severus closed his eyes, a single socked-foot tapping out the beat, and allowed the words to weave in and out of his thoughts. It had been too long since he had indulged in one of his guilty pleasures, and he realised just how much he had missed the Muggle music from his youth. In times when he had no one to turn to, in those dreadful moments of turmoil— in childhood or adulthood—the music was always there as his safe haven. He found he could disappear between the words; he could leave behind the world and all of its problems, even if it was only for just three minutes and a handful of seconds…
But, as the Fates would have it, he was not able to slip away for even that long.
A loud pecking noise suddenly punctured the notes and whatever temporary respite they had provided. At first, he thought it might have been the stylus skipping over a crack he had not seen in the vinyl, but it seemed to come from beyond the record player, and even beyond the walls themselves. Severus, not without a moment's hesitation, and a hasty look toward the clock—he still had time to deal with whoever was outside his door before Adelaide appeared—flicked his wand at the record player, and the voice belonging to the Beatle named George Harrison cut off abruptly.
The condensation on the front windowpane coupled with the blowing snow outside made it nearly impossible to recognize the human-shaped blob. Whoever was there was most definitely someone that was not there by accident. His first thought, much to his disappointment, was that Augusta had decided to make a house call or worse, send Thomm Curwood in her place to see how he was settling in.
More off-putting, though, was the prospect of a Daily Prophet reporter dropping by to get the latest scoop on his recovery and release. Severus thought of the article he had read not an hour before and flashbulbs from the day he was escorted home, and decided that he would much rather find Thomm, crimson-faced and wheezing, standing out in the cold.
Severus stood and strode quickly to the Silhouette portrait on the sofa and stashed it beneath the cushion as a precaution. There was no need to fan the flames, after all.
He peeked through the window coverings, still unable to see the figure clearly, though whoever it was appeared to have their back to the door for some reason. Severus decided in that moment that there was no point in prolonging the inevitable confrontation. He seized the handle and all but threw the door open, hoping the unfortunate fool outside would take the hint.
"What do you want?" Severus demanded, and in an instant his stern expression turned into open-mouthed dismay. The hooded figure turned around the moment he addressed it, revealing windblown tangles of brown hair and a set of brown eyes. He quickly shut his mouth; his lips setting in a severe line, and hoped Hermione Granger had not noticed that she had caught him off guard.
"I asked Professor McGonagall for your address," Hermione said at once, and Severus lost his train of thought at the unexpected declaration.
"Wha—what?" he asked, pulling himself together. "Why would you do that?"
"It's a funny story, actually. The apothecary clerk and I had a bit of a row after you left, the idiot. He said something along the lines of me running away business. He was shocked stupid when I offered to pay for these." She held out a purple paper bag with the Culpepper Apothecary emblem printed on the front. "I figured there was a reason you were about to pay for them."
"Please," she said, and put the bag at their feet. "I know I shouldn't have, but I wanted to. I felt awful after—well, you know."
"Be that as it may, it is unacceptable, not to mention a touch uncouth to show up unannounced," he scolded, sounding very much like the Professor he had once been. It sounded odd, even to his ears. "Minerva should have known better than to freely give my information."
"She said you would probably say that." Hermione smiled as she looked down at his socked feet, utterly unperturbed. "But she also told me to do it anyway."
Of course she would, Severus thought. He considered closing the door in her face in that moment, and his hand even made it so far as the door handle, but Hermione broke in before he could resolve in following through with it.
"I know I am overstepping my bounds here, Professor Snape," she said. "But please. I came all this way, and it would be a shame if the ingredients spoiled in this weather."
After a moment Severus stared down at the paper sack with a resigned look, then back to Hermione Granger. He did need what was in the bag, but also knew he ought to decline the gesture based on principle alone; the whole situation was absurd. Severus did not say anything for a long time, just stood there at the door while the wind whipped snow around them, fighting the silent battle between his reasonable side and blistering urge to shut the door in her face.
Hermione smiled up at him. There was nothing insincere about that smile, but she looked almost disappointed. "I'm sorry," she said unexpectedly. She took a deep breath and picked up the paper sack. "I shouldn't have—"
"How much?" Severus asked, cutting her off. He turned without waiting for her to answer, and went to retrieve a means of payment.
"I don't want your money, Professor," Hermione stated matter-of-factly. The closeness of her voice, told him that she had taken it upon herself to follow him inside. The front door clicking shut confirmed it.
"Don't be any more difficult that you already are," Severus replied, hurriedly trying to locate his wallet. He found it sitting atop the mantel where he had left it the previous evening, and fished out the last of the Muggle money he had on him—a Fifty pound banknote. "Purchases would normally be charged to my account at Gringotts, so this will have to do. This will need to be exchanged. I trust that won't be an issue?"
"No, really," Hermione said again, her protest becoming more adamant. "I'm glad to help. I don't need any—"
"Miss Granger," Severus cut her short, the banknote still extended toward her. "Your capacity for generosity is duly noted. However, I simply do not have time to squabble over something this trivial. You will take payment for it or you will keep it—case closed. I have no interest in becoming a charity case."
"It's not…" Hermione stopped herself, apparently realising this was a battle she was not going to win. She reached out and plucked the note from his hand. She looked down at the money, then took a deep breath and said, "If you insist, Professor. But it didn't cost this much, and I don't have any Muggle money at the moment to give you change."
"That won't be necessary," Severus said. His eyes darted toward the clock, then back to his unexpected guest. He was running out of time. "Besides it is likely not to amount to much in terms of change."
"Eleven pounds…"Hermione said absently, running the calculations through her head. "Yes. Eleven pounds give or take a few pence."
"As I said, keep it."
She seemed to be on the verge of another protest, but then she slid the money in the back pocket of her jeans, and said, "Thank you. Not just for that, but for accepting the offer. I was afraid you wouldn't after what happened yesterday."
Yesterday, Severus thought, and felt himself beginning to slip into a black sulk. Yes, Granger. As if you weren't intrusive enough, bring up yesterday while you're at it.
"It was better than the alternative," he said, in a bored tone.
"There are people far worse than you: A nameless stranger, someone with a score to settle."
Hermione looked shocked, as though she were trying to puzzle through whether she ought to take the statement as a compliment or a passive jab. "I read the paper yesterday morning," she said at last "And I remember thinking how horrible that must have been. Then I saw you at Culpepper's and I knew. I knew when I looked at you, that you hadn't seen it yet. I know I probably shouldn't have because it was none of my business, but I still didn't think it was right, you know?"
Severus felt as though he should say something to her: stop talking, or don't meddle, or even more surprising, thank you, because he did know, actually. They lived in a world now where it was common place for the hot topic of the day to be last to know—even about themselves— what was considered truth by the media. And if the truth was not particularly grand, it was augmented enough to cause notice but never speculation. Still, he did not trust his tongue not to betray him, so he just stood there with his hands in his trouser pockets and said nothing at all.
"Anyway," Hermione said, and Severus noticed she allowed herself to look around the room for the first time since entering. Her eyes caught on the record player at the last second and she bit back a smile. "I need to get back to work on my N.E.W.T. project, and I'm sure you'd like to get back to your evening."
"The Alihotsy root fluid is overkill." The thought had popped into Severus's head and out of his mouth faster than he could stop it. Hermione looked back at him, her head cocked to the side, with what could have been genuine surprise.
"How do you know that?" she sputtered. "I mean if anyone knew it would be overkill it would obviously be you, but how do you know I'm even using the fluid?"
"The entire apothecary overheard your conversation with the clerk," Severus said, in the taut voice of someone who tired of explaining the obvious. "Though I can't say that particular exchange was a surprise. You were never one to take naturally to suggestions that weren't your own, but you ought to have listened to him when he told you the leaves would have been sufficient."
Hermione made a face. "But if the draught is weak—"
"It will have absolutely no bearing on the success of a properly-brewed antidote," Severus said. "Any Potion-maker worth his salt will tell you that."
There was a brief moment of puzzlement, and then Severus thought he saw a slight bit of recognition enter her eyes. "Thank you, I think," Hermione said slowly, apparently trying to marshal her thoughts. "I'm pretty sure I'll have to find new resource material to reference now, but you I think you might have just saved me some trouble down the road."
Severus almost took his hands out of his pockets to applaud her sudden epiphany. Instead he just stood there without expression. He wondered if she really understood what he was talking about or if she would even listen to him if she did, but then he realised it was not his problem, and decided to leave it at that.
With out furthering the conversation, Hermione cleared her throat, thanked Severus again, and saw herself out of his house. He watched her through the window as she walked down the walkway with the all the casualness of a spoiled house cat. She turned just as she reached the end of the property and stared back at the house, not seeing the pair of black eyes watching her from the shadows. Hermione stood there a long while, the wind tugging at her hair, and for a moment she looked as if she was considering turning back. Instead, she simply shook her head, pulled her cloak more securely around her, and Disapparated with a sharp crack.
For the first time in the last twenty minutes, Severus felt himself relax. He rubbed absently at the sides of his head, trying to make sense of what just had happened. When he left St. Mungo's, he knew that he would inevitably find himself in the presence of those he knew previous to his time in the hospital. He had not, however, expected it to happen so soon and with someone with whom his prior relationship had been so tenuous.
It could have been worse, Severus thought, but then he decided that was nothing but a lie.
The clock on the mantle chimed, signaling the arrival of five o'clock, and Severus went to retrieve the portrait from the sofa. He hated to think of the conversation he would have to have if Adelaide Harlow find herself tucked between the cushions.
He laid the portrait face-up on one of the sofa and he took the seat on the opposite end, staring at the flames glowing in the grate. Once or twice, Severus allowed himself to dart a quick glance at the paper sack sitting by the front door. It troubled him to find it sitting there, a reminder that he had not imagined the impromptu meeting with his former student.
A quick flick of his wand brought the bag over to the side table next to where he sat, but he could not make himself look inside, not yet anyway. There was a part of him that felt irritated; Severus wanted very much to toss the entire bag in the rubbish bin and be done with it. He had not asked for it, yet he had accepted it all the same. The most irritating thing, however, was the fact he could not even begin to guess her motives for doing such a thing. Fingers drumming on the armrest, Severus thought of the article he had read in today's paper and frowned. Maybe she wanted to see if he was part of this newly-famed program? Maybe she was genuinely sorry for the current state of his life…
A thin whine issued from the opposite end of the sofa, and Severus glanced at the clock; five fifteen on the dot, just as promised. The portrait drifted off the cushion, the image growing sharper as it rose, and instead of seeing his reflection staring back at him, he saw a wide-set pair of blue eyes and an absurdly infectious grin.
"Good evening, Mister Snape," Adelaide said, in a voice that sounded almost singsong.
Severus did not answer.
"Is this a bad time?" Adelaide asked, this time much more reserved. "It was five fifteen by my clock."
"It's fine," Severus said at last, not bothering to look at her as he spoke. He pointed to the side of his head and said in a rather tired voice, "I have a lot on my mind."
"Oh, well, would you like to talk about it," Adelaide inquired; she was still far too eager for her own good.
"Not especially," Severus replied dryly. "It was just one of those everyday annoyances one must endure. May we just get on with what we need to do and be done with it?"
"This is what needs to be done, Mister Snape," Adelaide said firmly. "It's the reason I'm here – to help you adjust to your new life, including everyday annoyances."
Severus hesitated before deciding to tell the truth. "Someone came by unannounced. She was a student of mine, not so long ago—a dreadfully annoying girl. She had potential, but she unfortunately possessed an annoying habit of regurgitating facts."
"She was one of the charges in your House?" Adelaide asked, and Severus could tell she was reaching for more information.
"God no. She was and remains a Gryffindor to the bone." He gestured to the purple bag sitting upon the side table and shook his head. "She took it upon herself to buy and deliver an apothecary order."
Adelaide gave the bag an assessing stare, then finally smiled. "That was thoughtful of her."
"Hardly," Severus said. He reached into the purple paper sack and withdrew a frosted blue bottle, eyed it scornfully, then sat it to the side before retrieving another. "It was presumptuous, to say the very least."
"When did doing something nice for someone become presumptuous?" Adelaide asked.
"When it is not their business," Severus said. "I never asked her to do it, and I wish she would have went about her day and left me alone."
"Forgive me," Adelaide said, "but that is ridiculous. Kindness, in this day and age, shouldn't be taken for granted."
Severus stalled, potion bottle in hand, and stared at her with a narrow, assessing gaze. "What a brilliant outlook you have on life, Miss Harlowe. There really is nothing quite like true naiveté, is there?"
Adelaide sighed. "I could easily say the same about you and that incredible stroke of cynicism that follows you like a second shadow. Believing that there are kind people still left in this world does not make me naïve, Mister Snape. It just proves to me that the world hasn't gone entirely down the toilet."
Severus thought on this, and after a moment of serious reflection said, "Kindness is a ruse. People, on the whole… people are all the same: dense, irrational, and self-seeking."
"You don't trust easily," Adelaide said. It was almost a question, but she seemed to know the answer from her tone."
"I don't trust anyone," Severus answered. "Not anymore."
It was not what he had meant to say at all, and it took him by surprise to hear the words come tumbling out of his mouth. He did not know what he intended to say, but now that it was out, there was nothing that could be done about it.
"Well," Adelaide said, "if it makes you feel any better, you can trust me."
Severus frowned. "And why would I do that? I know nothing about you that would warrant that level of confidence."
"Sometimes I think you forget that I am more than a face in a frame," Adelaide said, shaking her head. "Believe it or not, I know what it's like to experience betrayal, maybe not on the level you've experienced—don't look at me that way—but betrayal, big or small, is the one thing that we all can understand." Adelaide paused for a moment, apparently waiting to see if he would respond. When Severus simply went on inspecting the potion bottles in the bag she went on. "Yes, people are spiteful, stupid, and self-centered. But you can't let everyone that has hurt you, or lied to you, or used you ruin your trust for everyone else. That is the worst thing you could do."
This conversation, Severus decided, was a mistake. It had moved beyond foolish, slipped over the line into uncomfortable and appeared to be barreling straight toward inappropriate.
"The worst thing I could do is place my trust in someone that does not deserve it," he said, hoping to put an end to the discussion. "And very few people, if any, deserve it,"
"How do you know," Adelaide began, and Severus could sense she was trying to keep her tone strictly conversational rather than scolding, "that someone doesn't deserve it, if you won't even give them the chance?"
Severus sat a potion bottle down on the table with a little more force than necessary, and sighed. "I have been burned too many times, Miss Harlowe. I have no desire to feel that sting again."
"I suppose I can't fault you for that," she replied, " but I still think you are being unreasonable."
Severus gave her a deeply scathing stare, but Adelaide pressed on, unperturbed. "Ask yourself, honestly now, if you truly think this student of yours came here today to gain something for herself. Is she the type of person that would do such a thing?"
No, Severus thought almost instantly, though he refused to say it aloud. He did not think Hermione Granger had a malicious streak in her, but he did not have the best track record when it came to judging someone's character.
"How should I know?" he said instead. "She and I were never on what you would call speaking terms."
"Do you want to know what I think?" Adelaide said. Her tone gave every indication that she was going to tell him regardless of what he said, so Severus just kept his mouth shut. "I think you have trouble accepting people when they're kind to you. You don't know how to handle it, so you shut down and just assume the worst of everybody."
"Genius," Severus muttered under his breath, and Adelaide gave him a pointed look.
"Don't make fun of me, Mister Snape, especially when you know I'm right."
"I never said you were right," Severus snapped. "You don't know the first thing about—"
"Tell me I'm wrong, then," she interrupted. He fell silent.
Severus sat back on the sofa, his fingertips kneading at the corners of his eyes. How in the hell did she manage to do that to him every time? How could she unravel him like an old sweater in a matter of minutes? She knew the exact thing to say to wear him down so much that he was forced to see himself clearly, and he hated it with such passion that it almost made it unbearable.
"You are, by far, the most insufferable person I think I have ever met," he said after he had counted to ten and collected himself. "How do you stand yourself?"
"Again, I could say the exact same thing about you," Adelaide said, taking the remark in stride. "In all seriousness, though, you've got to let people in, or at least trust them not to do you wrong. You might surprise yourself with what you find."
"It may have escaped your notice," Severus said, "but people are not lined up in the the streets to have me as their friend."
Adelaide smiled, looking at him with a mixture of care and caution. "I can think of one."
"You don't count," Severus said. He went back to unpacking the bag of potions, trying his level best to give off an air of boredom and apathy. "I'm required to deal with you."
Adelaide bit back a laugh. "Are you always such a gentleman?"
Severus looked up from the potion bottle in his hand, and felt something in him give a little. Perhaps it was his resolve, perhaps it was his patience, he might have even called it his guard. Whatever it was, it was no longer wholly intact, and Severus was surprised to find he did not entirely mind. He looked at her with absolutely no reservations, and said in the driest tone he could manage, and just a ghost of a smile, "Sod off, Miss Harlowe."
First order of business, I need to give credit where credit is due. All hours wound; the last one kills is the English translation of a Latin motto found on a sundial. Not sure where said sundial is or if it still there—all we need to know is that the words stuck, and I decided to borrow them. Here Comes the Sun needs no explaining, unless you didn't know it was a Beatles song—but now that I've told you, go and give it a listen. It is quite nice.
As always reviews are welcomed and appreciated, should be so inclined to leave one. Thank you to everyone who has read, clicked the favorite button, and left a review. It means a great deal to be able to share this story with you. The next installment will come at the end of March or early April. Until then, happy reading!