Thank you to Jesse Damien and to Rakina for help and Beta skills!
Severus switched off the computer and wearily rubbed the bridge of his nose. On the whole, he found his life as a Muggle reasonably satisfying, but today had been a long day. Forced to run once the Dark Lord had fallen, hunted by both sides for treachery, he had ducked out of the magical world altogether. Of course, he still kept his wand, but he had not practised magic for anything other than the most necessary of purposes for sixteen years now.
Contrary to popular belief, he was not a wealthy man; neither Albus Dumbledore nor the former Mr Riddle had ever been the most generous of employers, so as well as being left with no choice other than to build a new life, he had had to build a new career as well. At first he had thought to go to America; it was a huge country, he spoke the lingo - it seemed the obvious choice. Too obvious. Instead, he had moved, along with hundreds of other British ex-pats, to the Costa del Sol, or rather a remote old cottage that lay inland from the touristy bustle of the busy coastal resort. It suited him to a tee, he could slip into Almeria or Malaga whenever he needed to buy groceries and blend seamlessly into the chaotic hurly burly of Brits. He could even treat himself to fish and chips if he wanted to, but he could live in blissful solitude, seeing no one unless he wished to, and nobody questioned him; the locals left him alone. He paid for his idyllic little hermitage by working on the internet as a freelance editor and proof-reader for several scientific journals, a job for which years of teaching potions to dunderheads had eminently prepared him, but he far preferred his current employ, since there were no students, no annoying colleagues, and certainly no explosions. He liked living alone; he had never been one to whom social graces came naturally. There had been one, once, long ago, with whom he would gladly have shared his solitude; perhaps he could even have lived happily in the world outside for her, but she had been taken from him, murdered before she had had the chance to truly cast her light into his dark soul. He had given her his heart and she had taken it with her to the grave; he was not capable of loving more than once.
He stood and went to the kitchen for a glass of wine to help himself relax. He was startled as he passed through the hallway, as he was startled almost every day, by his own dusky reflection in the mirror that hung there. It had been a necessity to change his appearance, and he still did not recognise this almost handsome man who inhabited the mirror when he brushed his teeth, with his short blond hair, tanned skin, beard, white teeth. It was remarkable how these small changes seemed to counteract the effect of his enormous nose, making him unrecognisable even to himself. Plus, soft living and middle age had added a few pounds to his bony frame, making him look far less imposing, more ordinary, and ordinary was good these days.
Severus helped himself to the last bottle of Tempranillo and a glass; he was running low on supplies and it was time to venture forth once more, but that could wait until morning. For now he would sit on his veranda and watch the sunset, drinking his wine. The cottage itself was as unremarkable as his new appearance, but the views were spectacular. Perched high on the slopes of the Sierra Nevada he could see as far as the blue green Mediterranean; a visual opiate of the senses greeted him. He knew that there were risks involved in staying here in his own personal Nirvana for so long, so he countered them by letting himself be seen. Once or twice a year he would drive his car far away from his home, sometimes as far as France or Portugal, then Apparate several times until he reached some random magical home or small community. He would glamour himself back to his old appearance, adjusting it so that he looked like a shabby fugitive from the justice that he no longer had faith in. It amused him to think of Sirius Black as he made his robes shabby and his hair matted. Then he would allow some hapless witch or wizard to fleetingly glimpse him before making his convoluted way back home. Yes, this really was home now. He rested his wine glass on his growing pot belly and breathed in the scent of the mountain air, knowing that this was the closest he could ever hope to get to happiness.
Severus chose Malaga this time. He never went to the same town more than once a year, since he had no desire that tradesmen should begin to recognise him and ask questions, or worse, try to make friends with him. He had never liked driving, but in his current situation it was a necessary evil, so he had made an early start and had driven into town for his shopping. Fresh things such as bread, eggs, vegetables, meat and wine were delivered to his door by the old woman from a neighbouring farm, who would leave supplies on his veranda and take the money that he left out for her without asking any questions, for she assumed that he spoke no Spanish and he did not bother to disillusion her. Today though, he needed things that she could not offer: computer supplies, paper, chocolate, new shoes and light bulbs, a couple of entertainingly trashy spy novels wouldn’t go amiss either, and there were several shops in Malaga that could supply him with English versions.
As the midday sun began to fry the skin from the backs of English tourists who considered sun block to be an unfashionable afterthought, Severus settled down in a shady, air-conditioned café with a copy of The Independent for which he had paid an exorbitant sum at an international newsagent, and waited for his fish and chips. In his shabby jeans and old shirt he looked just like any other ex-pat who yearned for a taste of home; the only difference was the myriad of shopping bags that clustered around his feet like eager puppies.
Severus rubbed the bridge of his nose in exasperation as he read between the lines of the news articles on the page before him; he would never come to terms with the overwhelming stupidity of politics. Finally, his lunch arrived, borne on a perfumed waft of salt and vinegar. There was only one thing he really missed about Hogwarts, and that was the food; much as he enjoyed the local cuisine that his neighbour supplied him with, he was an Englishman at heart. Every time he made one of his forays into so-called civilisation he would find an English cafe and eat fish and chips for lunch and roast beef and Yorkshire puds for dinner before he headed home; sometimes he would even hit the jackpot and find a place that served spotted dick with custard for afters.
As he savoured his meal, Severus became aware that a lone woman three tables over was watching him. Without interrupting his feast, he surreptitiously observed her from the corner of his eye, suspicious as to why she gazed so intently at him. She was younger than he was, perhaps mid-twenties, tall and fashionably slim, blonde-haired and blue-eyed, no one he recognised, and too young to know him, unless she had been a student? He studied her again, trying to allay his growing feeling of unease as her eyes raked over him. If she had been a student, it would have to have been in his last years at Hogwarts. He didn’t recognise her at all. Catching his eye, she flashed him a dazzling smile that he did not return, pretending instead that he hadn’t seen her and concentrating on his chips. The smile eased his suspicions a little though; he had never been a man whom women chased, but he was observant enough of human nature to recognise a flirt when he saw one.
A determined flirt, by the looks of her. She stood and walked over to his table, sitting in the chair opposite without waiting to be asked. Severus regarded her appraisingly.
She smiled seductively. “Has anyone ever told you that you look like that actor? You know the one, terribly English, ever so handsome; he played the sheriff of Nottingham in that old film?”
“I don’t go to the pictures. What do you want?”
“Straight to the point; I like that in a man. Listen, I’ll be honest with you; my handbag was stolen this morning and I was kind of hoping that since you’re alone too, that you might like to help out a fellow Brit by buying a girl a spot of lunch - since I'm in the middle of a temporary cash flow crisis? I wouldn’t normally be so brazen, but I’m starving and those chips look fantastic.” As she said this, she cheekily nicked a chip from his plate. He raised a brow as he watched the suggestive way that she consumed it.
He considered her for a moment before he answered. She wasn’t his type at all - too thin and too bottle-blonde, plus she was dressed far too tartily in short skirt and high heels with a bikini top; clothes that left nothing to the imagination. Severus had never been one for fashion; he liked his women covered up, so he could have the pleasure of uncovering them, and he liked them curvy. Well, truthfully he liked them fat and cellulite turned him on, but it had been a while and beggars can’t be choosers, so he replied, “What’s in it for me?”
“Oh, don’t worry, I'll make it worth your while; my hotel’s only round the corner.”
Brazen indeed. Why not? he thought. It’s only a throwaway holiday fling for her; I need never see her again. I’d be a fool not to.
So Severus bought her lunch. He told her that his name was Steve, made the expected tedious small talk and found out that his prospective fuck went by the unremarkable name of Mandy, a shop girl from Goole. His brain switched to auto pilot as he listened to her twitter away, and he merely nodded whenever it seemed to be required of him; he had no desire to be her friend and he could not have been less interested in her dull, little life.
Finally, she finished stuffing her face and led him back to her hotel, one of those ugly white monoliths that lined the shore where tourists were stacked one on top of the other in order to experience two annual weeks of sun, sangria and shagging. The room was as unremarkable as she was, and as soon as the door shut behind him he grabbed her around her narrow waist, and kissed her. He had no desire for pleasantries; all he wanted was to scratch and itch and collect upon a debt, so he closed his eyes, tasting the salt and vinegar on her lips and remembering a time when another woman had tasted so. He imagined that the skinny girl in his arms was the one he had once loved, that her bony frame was soft and cuddly, that she kissed him because she loved him as much as he still loved her. He imagined that the woman in his arms smelled not of cheap perfume liberally applied, but of subtle spices and roses, and that she had lived on, with him, and that he was happy.
His head hurt, which was strange because he didn’t remember having wine with his lunch since he needed to drive home that night, and Mandy must have turned on the air conditioning; it was cold in here. His aching back told him that the hotel bed was uncomfortable too. Simultaneously, Severus both opened his eyes and made to stand up, suddenly filled with the desire to leave Mandy’s presence as quickly as possible.
As he moved his legs he heard a metallic clunk, feeling the weight of chain dragging at his ankles.
With abject horror, he realised that the bland white walls of the innocuous hotel had been replaced with ones of damp, mouldering, undressed stone.
He knew without doubt where he was.
He fell back onto the unwelcoming bed with a groan, giving in to the tiny spiders of fear that scurried under his skin.
An irritatingly cheery voice broke from a shadowed corner as a figure stepped forward into his line of sight. “Wotcher, Snape!”
Nymphadora bloody Tonks! Wearing her real face for once, sneaky little Hell bitch! “How long had you been following me?”
“I hadn’t. I was on holiday, and there you were! It took me a while to realise it was you; I actually fancied you at first.” She said this with unrepentant revulsion.
“I’m flattered,” he sneered. “So how did you know it was me? Oh, and please don’t tell me it was your astonishing powers of observation!”
She snorted with derisive laughter. “Actually, it was. It was your mannerisms that caught my eye; that fastidious way that you eat, and the way you rub the bridge of your nose - I remember you used to do that in class whenever I messed up my potion. You’ve done a good job of changing your appearance though; the blond hair works for you, even if your roots are starting to show a bit.”
“I’m in no mood for fashion tips!” he snapped, weary of her smugness. He had never liked her. “When is my trial?”
“My trial, you stupid cow! I am entitled to a trial, an opportunity to clear my name; when is it?”
“It isn’t. You were tried years ago in your absence. You were convicted of being a Death Eater, of murdering Dumbledore. . .”
“You know that isn’t true!” He cursed inwardly at the tone of his own voice, always so steady and controlled he suddenly sounded like a whiny child, but he couldn’t help himself. “I was working under Albus’ own orders! Without my information, Potter would never have defeated the Dark Lord!”
“Dumbledore’s portrait kept insisting that that was the case; in the end they had to destroy it because it had quite obviously gone mad.” Tonks smiled at him again, forcing him to suppress a shudder as he glimpsed a sudden resemblance to her aunt Bella. As Tonks turned and knocked upon the door to gain exit, she spoke again, almost cackling with delight. “You’re not going to like your next snog very much, Severus!”
There was nowhere to go. He sank, hopeless and helpless, back onto the lumpy mattress as it drifted through the door, its breath scraping his ears like fingernails upon a blackboard, reaching out for him with its scabbed fingers as he heard the memory of another woman’s voice, screaming for mercy as Lucius Malfoy slit her throat.