Alone. Blissfully, wonderfully, gloriously alone. Snape sank gratefully into the comfortable armchair by the fire and surveyed his new domain with a deep, satisfied sigh. True, the cottage wasn't large, but it suited his needs admirably, especially his need for privacy. The cellar provided ample space for his potions research, the second bedroom was large enough to contain the books that wouldn't fit in the parlor, and the grounds were sufficiently overrun with brambles and weeds to discourage any but the most determined visitors.
All his life he'd longed for solitude. Other desires had come and gone; power, fame, fortune, love, respect, some fulfilled and others simply forgotten. The one constant, the dream that had survived through it all, was this: a haven from everyone and everything he'd ever known, from orders and responsibilities and repercussions. He answered to no one now.
He poured himself a third glass of Old Ogden's just because he could, kicked off his shoes, and propped up his feet on the raised hearth. No one would care if he got drunk tonight.
It was his mother's drinking that first sent him into hiding. Snape himself barely remembered his father, but if his mother was to be believed, Marius Snape had been a villain on par with Voldemort himself. A supporter of the Dark Lord, and of Grindelwald before him, he'd forced his young wife into marriage (or so she claimed), forced himself upon her, and forced her to raise Severus, to whom she referred as "that bastard's foul spawn."
He never got to hear his father's side. They don't allow visitors in Azkaban.
Severus had the misfortune to strongly resemble his father, and his mother took out all of her anger and loathing on him -- especially when she'd been drinking, which was most of the time. He spent hours, and sometimes days, holed up in root cellars, garden sheds, and any other refuge he could find. The alley behind the apothecary shop became a testing ground for the curses he learned from his father's Dark Arts texts. By the time his Hogwarts letter arrived, the shop's neighbors could be heard to remark on the surprising decrease in the local rat population.
He'd envisioned Hogwarts as an escape from his mother, but soon found himself once again seeking out places of sanctuary. He quickly discovered that his classmates could be as vicious as his mother, and the professors were, for the most part, disinclined to accept the word of the homely, withdrawn son of a suspected Dark wizard. While he served undeserved detentions, he nursed his hatred, channeling it into his covert Dark Arts studies.
The dungeons were full of concealed chambers, and Snape found most of them during his time at school. He used them to hide out, to study, and more and more to simply be alone. By this time, he'd come to view other people with contempt; they had value only as tools he could use to achieve his own aims. He used Lucius Malfoy for protection, and then for his Death Eater connections. Eventually he was able to finagle a University scholarship, with the promise that after graduation he'd apply his newfound knowledge on behalf of the Dark Lord.
When he read Potions at Oxford, he knew every forgotten room and private nook of Wenlock College. He remembered his years there as the best of his life. His fellow students were, for the most part, too devoted to their studies to pay attention to him. If he'd been able to afford his own flat, instead of living in student housing, it would have been nearly perfect.
Most of his time as a Death Eater was spent at Malfoy Manor, and there was no hiding from Lucius in his own home. Malfoy's flagrant perversions -- and the Dark Lord's encouragement thereof -- had played a not insignificant part in his defection to Dumbledore and the Order. He'd become a Death Eater to dedicate himself to the Dark Arts, not to facilitate the insane fantasies of that pair of egomaniacal sociopaths.
And then he was back at Hogwarts. His rooms in the dungeon provided some measure of solitude, but it hardly counted when he had to spend most of it marking the papers of congenital idiots incapable of producing even the simplest potion, much less understanding the complex and beautiful theory behind them. When his deception was exposed, the whole of Hogwarts became his hiding place from Voldemort.
That was all over now. Done. Finished.
Snape closed his eyes and listened to the glorious quiet. Here he needed no silencing spell to quiet the sound of shrieking children in the corridors. All he could hear was the crackle of the fire, the creaking of the cottage, and the wind rattling the branches of the barren trees outside. It was two miles to the village proper, and no one there would be mad enough to disturb the notorious spy and Potions Master.
Relaxed, full of firewhisky, basking in the warmth of the fire and the comforting sound of the cottage creaking around him, the Potions Master smiled.
Finally, he was alone.
A/N: I was inspired by the One-word Challenge on Fictionalley, but didn't actually meet all the requirements. I'd been reading a lot of angsty Snape stories, and it seemed to me that after all we've put him through in fanfic, he deserved a little peace and quiet. (Although I am idly considering the entertainment value of sending Hermione to disturb his peace... If I succumb, it'll be posted over on Ashwinder.)
I'm in love with the idea of a Wizarding college at Oxford; I named mine Wenlock College after Bridget Wenlock (1202 - 1285), the Arithmancer who first discovered the significance of the number seven.