Her old Renault was crawling across the prettily iced roads as she tried to keep her speed down and the wheels on what little there was of the tarmac. In places, dark patches taunted her with the fact there was something solid beneath the ice and snow, and she added another item to her ever-growing list of hated things: driving in inclement weather to her parents’ house for Christmas. And now it was snowing again. She grimaced as she flicked the windscreen wipers on, watching as they slid purposefully across her field of vision.
Who wanted to live in bloody Wales, of all places? Mountains, sheep and cantankerous old men that waved sticks – or worse, shotguns – at you if you dared set foot on their precious land. This was a desolate landscape, remote and isolated. You could go for miles and miles and never see another human being. Still, her parents seemed to like it up here, and it meant they were far removed from her small flat in Canterbury. She sometimes thought she’d taken that job just to be as far away as possible from them. The car’s heater appeared to be stuck on high, and no matter how much she twiddled with the knob, it wouldn’t stop blowing a furnace-like heat out of the vents. Perspiration bled over her forehead, making her wonder what the chances were of her being able to remove her sweater and keep the car in a straight line. Removing one hand from the wheel, she gingerly tried to manipulate an arm from its sleeve, but the car wobbled alarmingly to her right. She gave up on the idea and thumped the heater controls viciously.
The first question her parents would ask, after her mother had pointed out that she’d put on just a little more weight this year – “Honestly, Hannah, if you carry on like this you’ll be a balloon!” – would be “Where’s your young man, then?” There would then follow the sickening ritual of explaining that she didn’t have a boyfriend – “Have you ever had a boyfriend, darling?” – and her father tutting at her unmarried status. Bridget Jones thought she had it hard; she had it easy compared to life with Hannah’s bloody parents. Maybe one day she would surprise them, but given the dearth of interesting and attractive young men in her immediate social sphere, she didn’t think it would be anytime soon.
And the presents. The presents were usually toe-curlingly awful. Last year had been a particularly vintage year, resulting in a large patchwork porcelain cat the size of her sofa being stuffed into the back of her car. She had carefully covered it with the oddly constructed jumper that old Mrs Gowdie had knitted for her specially. She needed a bigger wardrobe for all the things that her family foisted on her in the name of generosity and goodwill.
And there were still miles to go before she reached their village, a raggle-taggle collection of houses that sat along the line of a hill. Lord alone knew how she was going to get the car up the steep incline that led to the place.
Hannah slowed a little as she approached a bend in the road, mentally crossing her fingers that she didn’t lose control. Her route was now cutting through open countryside, and she was only a small dot in the sea of white. There wasn’t a soul in sight on this godforsaken route, so she hoped she would make it all the way without incident. Her phone was depressingly without a signal, and she didn’t want to think how long she would be stuck for if she did leave the carriageway at any point. Her fingers reached out to turn off the irritating screech that was coming from the radio. Who were the fools buying this Country and Western rubbish?
As she looked up from the radio, she was alarmed to see a mass of black spiralling through the air in front of her. In the brief moments she had between first sighting it, and skewing the car away from it, she almost thought she saw a man’s face looking at her in alarm and annoyance. But it couldn’t have been a man, could it? And why was he holding a sweeping brush? But these questions would have to wait; she was too busy trying to deduce where her skidding car would end up, the ditch or the hedge.
Hannah breathed very deeply, listening to the fragile silence that always surrounds the aftermath of an accident. She relished the sensation of being alive as she reached down to remove the key from the ignition. Her windscreen was full of ditch and mud and dirty-white snow, and she looked to her side to see, thankfully, that her exit was clear. The door opened smoothly, allowing her to step into the cracking, ice-filled channel with a little trepidation. The car was a mess; the front bumper was a crumpled muddle of metal, headlights smashed, spreading their coverings out on the ice. Gripping handfuls of frosted grass, she clambered from the ditch. Her choice of clothing was fortunate; jeans and flat boots seemed eminently suitable for scrabbling about in snow-filled ditches.
She reached the grass verge and looked ruefully at the tyre tracks as they traced the route of her disaster. Pushing red hair out of her eyes, Hannah glanced around to see if she could find the apparition that had been the cause of this, not entirely convinced that she had really seen what she thought she had. Apart from the skewed trail in the snow that had been left by her car, nothing appeared to be out of place. Just as she was beginning to believe she really had been hallucinating, she spotted a flap of black that had been snagged by a thorny-looking bush. Walking through the crunching snow brought her to the hedgerow that had provided her with an alternative to the ditch. Looking at it now, with its vicious thorns, she was rather glad she had ended up in the ditch.
Peering over the top, she followed the river of black to its source and found that her flying vision had, indeed, been a man. He was lying now, right arm slightly askew, with his face resting on a pillow that looked suspiciously like a cow pat, although the crusty coating of snow softened that particular blow somewhat. What in the name of all that’s holy, she thought, was he doing wandering around with a broom? She was still in denial about the fact that when she had swerved, he seemed to be flying, although in the back of her mind a memory was stirring from a long slumber.
Finding a small gap in the prickly problem that was the hedge, she pushed her way through and approached the prone figure. Had she not been the practical sort, this might have been the moment when she started to panic. Middle of nowhere, strange – potentially dead – man, no phone, not a soul in sight… And to cap it all it was getting late, the sun dropping steadily from the sky.
But Hannah was not the panicking sort. She was the better-get-on-with-it sort, and so bent down to take a closer look at the man. He wasn’t particularly pleasant-looking: black hair that could have been attractive was clumped to his head in thick strands, a complexion that had never seen sustained sunlight and a nose that was, well, impressive in its size. She reached out a hand to feel for the pulse that should have been disturbing his wrist, but jumped back in alarm as his eyes flew open.
Well, she thought in surprise, there’s a compensation for that disaster of a nose. With eyes that dark and engaging, a person would be naturally distracted from that long beak.
“Hello,” she said, for want of anything better to begin the conversation with. “You all right?”
He coughed and immediately frowned. Hannah was beginning to think he might have something wrong with his head. If he’d hit it as he fell then he might be a bit confused.
“I’m Hannah. I think you nearly hit my car when you… when… dear God! You really were flying, weren’t you?”
He grunted, raising a hand to his neck. She could see the bewilderment from his loss of consciousness hamper his efforts to collect himself. The broom that he had been waving when they almost collided was sticking up in the snow, now in several pieces, its fall broken by a nasty-looking set of rocks in the grass.
“Look, maybe you shouldn’t move,” she said, as he struggled to sit up. “I should call for an ambulance, but my phone doesn’t work and I’m not sure what to do. Maybe if I wait by the roadside someone will come past. But this is a fairly quiet road so I’m not sure how successful that will be. If I had only seen you sooner I would have been able to stay in control and we would be able to use the car. But it’s in that ditch and…”
“SHUT UP!” he roared, and Hannah closed her mouth with a snap. “What an infernal racket.” He tried to stand then, and staggered a little. Hannah moved to support him, but he glowered at her so she let him sway for a few moments before folding her arms across her chest crossly.
“You know, you’ve had a shock and all, but you could at least be polite,” she snapped. “We’re both stranded out here. Least you could do is not get stroppy.”
The man groaned as he noticed his broom. He hated the bloody thing anyway, but this mission had called for it, and Dumbledore wasn’t taking no for an answer as far as locating these bloody caves went. The place had been deserted for the past few days, so the last thing he had been expecting was to find a car pottering along the road. His broom skills hadn’t really been up to unexpected vehicles appearing out of the snow and he had swerved far too late. He reached into the pocket of his robes and looked horrified. Whirling round, he began to comb the ground for something and Hannah watched, fascinated, for a few minutes.
He looked up at her and gave the appearance of having forgotten that she was there. “What?”
“I said, have you lost something?”
“Yes, I have. My wa…” He stopped again and seemed to see her properly for the first time. “Who are you anyway?”
“I’ve already told you,” she said, with a roll of her eyes. “Hannah Jones.” She stuck out her hand to be shaken, and he looked at it as if he would catch something if he touched the warm flesh. He muttered something under his breath that Hannah couldn’t catch, but it sounded suspiciously like ‘bloody muddles’. A strange feeling of déjà vu settled over her, of something read and long forgotten.
“Piece of wood,” he said. “About ten inches long, dark.”
This piqued her interest a little, but it also made her feel that there was something distinctly funny going on here.
“Is this a wind-up?” she asked. “Some stupid Welsh custom of flinging men through the air with bits of wood and broomsticks?” And the memory that had been slumbering sat up, scratching its head and wondering where it was.
“I have no idea what you are talking about. Out of the way.” He moved her to one side as he continued to look for his missing possession. “If you are going to stand around being useless, you could at least do it elsewhere.”
“Charming,” she said, making vague gestures at the ground that suggested she had decided to help him. “But you were flying, weren’t you?”
And the memory gave a shriek of alarm as it blasted, fully formed, back into her consciousness.
Her mother, in her opinion, had been and still was slightly barmy, always going on about the ‘others’ and Hannah had always dismissed the notions as the products of a flaky mind. She had had a book, a book she closely guarded, allowing only Hannah to look at it, and even then, just once or twice. It had been bound with mellow, green leather, the gilt tooling aged and faded. Hannah had been told, in hushed, reverential tones, that this was a relic of the other world and that if ‘they’ knew it had existed ‘they’ would have destroyed it. All its companions had been hunted down and removed by ‘them’. Hannah had handled the book in the way she would have handled any old book, with respect, but its contents had made her smile rather than gasp in astonishment. There were images of robed men and women on broomsticks, cleverly mocked up so that they appeared to be flying. She also vividly remembered a scarlet steam train with a name that Hannah had forgotten written in golden letters on its side, standing proudly by a station platform, but since when did stations have platforms that were labelled nine and three-quarters?
And the language had been strange; talk of non-magical and magical worlds, strange alleys that sold all manner of unlikely things, ridiculously named people that were revered in their society. Special schools that taught magic… Really, Hannah had been too amused to take any of it seriously. Of course, it had been a wonderful work of fiction, but that was all it was. And yet, she had remembered it. The man that now faced her was making her think, dredging at her memory. She had thought it had been a trick of the light that made the pictures move in that book, thought it had been her eyes playing silly tricks. But could the people in the photographs have actually been moving? Was she really standing face to face with someone who would have felt quite at home in that book?
On more than one occasion, she had found her mother roaming the hills and caves around their house, convinced she had seen one of ‘them’. Hannah had never discovered who the ‘them’ her mother believed in really were. She had not seen the book for many years, and had never taken it seriously enough to do any research on the nonsense it contained. But this man certainly had the look of those people in that book about him. But that didn’t make it real.
“Who are you then?” she demanded, kicking through the snow with the toe of one of her shoes.
“It’s none of your business,” he said, reaching down in triumph only to pull up a smooth twig. “You can imagine you never saw me.”
She sighed pointedly, looking at him with scorn. “But I have seen you. You’re not a figment of my imagination and you were flying. On that.” She pointed to his broken broom. “And you’re looking for your wand, aren’t you?” The words, glimpsed briefly in the book, came tripping easily off her tongue.
He stopped his frantic search and walked across to her. “What do you know?” he snapped.
She smiled. It was a gesture of the shift in the balance of power as he glared at her. “Not much,” she grinned. “But I know you’re not like me. Interesting clothes.” She nodded to his black garments, which covered him from head to toe.
“Personal style wouldn’t appear to be your forte either,” he observed waspishly. “And I repeat, what do you know?”
“I don’t really know anything,” she admitted, feeling the snow begin to seep up the legs of her jeans. In some ways this was quite disconcerting, not just his strange appearance, but bumping into anyone on these remote roads. Her head was spinning slightly from the apparent confirmation that her mother had been right in all her wild mental wanderings. “My mother was convinced she knew all about your sort, always wandering round the local caves.” Hannah shrugged. “I’d always thought it was nonsense, but you don’t look like nonsense to me.”
“Caves?” he asked sharply, his face trying to conceal the interest, and failing. “Do you know where these caves are?”
She narrowed her eyes and watched the flame of inquisitiveness burn behind the darkness of his eyes. “I might,” she said slowly.
“Well? Do you or don’t you?” The curiosity about the caves seemed to have temporarily halted the frantic search for his wand and Hannah watched as he scoured her face with eyes so penetrating she broke the contact and turned away.
“I said I might,” she repeated, once again shifting the snow with her toes. He lolloped across to her, his feet slipping on the sodden, snow-caked ground. As he did so, he hit a particularly slippery spot and flew backwards, sliding away from her just as she caught sight of something black and slender resting by the root of a tree. While he was preoccupied with gathering up his dignity from the ground, she reached down and scooped up the wand, shoving it up the sleeve of her sweater while at the same time hoping that it would stay there.
“And where might they be?” he said, brushing a soggy lump of grass from his cheek with a frozen-looking hand.
She looked back at him and found that, once again, his gaze was too much. Hannah gazed off towards the road, determined to stop looking him in the eye. “Why do you want to know so badly?” she asked, directing the question towards the hedge.
“They are of interest to me.”
The sun’s lazy descent had become a little more urgent now, and already the clouds were uplit by a wash of orange. She looked anxiously in the direction from which she had come and realised that no one had been past in the last ten minutes, and probably wasn’t likely to. They really needed to make plans.
“Look, it’s getting dark and it doesn’t look like anyone is going to come along. We really should make arrangements to either get warm or go for help.”
“I’m not going anywhere until I find my wand and you tell me where these caves are located.” He looked so earnest that she gave a little hiccough of laughter, before recovering herself again.
She was never going to get to her parents’ house at this rate, and if she just handed over the wand and told him that the caves were in the direction she was going, then maybe he would help her. She was about to pull it from her sleeve when another, more interesting, thought poked her brain. Hannah looked at him slyly again; he was once again casting around for his missing wand. He wasn’t hideously ugly, just a little different, and he was male, and of marriageable age. She wondered what her parents would say if she turned up with this black-clad anti-socialite on her arm for the holidays. Not that she had any intention of getting involved with anybody, least of all such a wet blanket as this, but it would be amusing to see her father have an apoplectic fit when they opened the door. And there was the added advantage that she would be bringing someone her mother would be flabbergasted at meeting. That would, albeit temporarily, shut her up.
“I could show you,” she suggested, her tone mild and disinterested.
“Oh?” He paused again and tried to make eye contact.
“But there might be a few conditions attached.”
“And what would they be?” he asked coldly. Severus didn’t like conditions. They usually proved to be inconvenient and, in some cases, unpleasant.
“Do you celebrate Christmas?”
“We mark the festivity. I can’t say I have ever attempted to celebrate it.”
Hannah nodded her sympathy. Celebrating Christmas had never been her thing either. “Have you ever spent it in a non-magical household?”
He frowned at the way she seemed to have slipped easily into his world, using terms that Muggles would normally find unpalatable or silly. He shook his head, a slow, measured motion that made his hair shift on his collar. Severus had a nasty feeling his suspicions about conditions were about to be confirmed.
“Would you like to?”
“Of course I wouldn’t!” He looked astounded by the suggestion. “Why would I want to spend time with Muggles?”
He tutted, aware that he was inadvertently letting a few of the wizarding world’s secrets out, and him a spy. But what did it matter? She clearly knew something of his world anyway. Sighing, he scowled at the girl as she stood there with the dying sun setting fire to her hair in an almost attractive manner.
“Never mind,” he snapped. “It doesn’t concern you.”
“What’s your name?” she asked, changing the subject with bewildering speed.
“You don’t need to know,” he said, as snow began to fall again from the mustering clouds.
“I hardly think that’s fair, do you? You know mine.”
“I didn’t ask for the knowledge. You forced it upon me, if I remember correctly.”
“Oh, just tell me your name!” she shouted. “We’re stuck out here in the middle of nowhere and you’re being absurdly coy over your name. Is it something ridiculous, like Englebert Shufflebottom?”
She stopped the giggle that had bubbled up over her invented name and looked at him. “Excuse me?”
“My name,” he said through clenched teeth, “is Severus Snape. And you might be interested to know that I happen to be acquainted with Englebert Shufflebottom. He’s a fine Herbologist.”
“Wow,” she said, speechless.
“So, now that you have drawn that information for me, would you…”
“You’re bleeding,” she said, noticing for the first time that he had cut his hand in the fall. A small reservoir of blood had collected around his knuckles and was just now beginning to taint the white snow with its scarlet warmth. Or perhaps the thick fluid was as cold as the ice; he didn’t exactly look like the warm-blooded type.
He glanced down and his brows knitted at the unexpected sight. Severus was beginning to really miss his wand now, as he regarded his hand with something close to bafflement.
“Here,” she said, pulling a tissue from her pocket and walking across to him. He took an involuntary step back and she reached her hand out.
“Jumpy little whippet, aren’t you?” she smiled. Severus watched, disgruntled, as she dabbed at the cut with her white tissue. He sincerely hoped it was a clean one. Her touch was not unpleasant, bringing a little heat to his hands, hands that he hadn’t realised he could no longer feel.
“How about we stop regarding each other as the enemy, and get on with finding some warmth and cover for the night?” She tried the reasonable approach, not expecting it to work.
“And what do you suggest?” His shoulders sagged a little; although why he suddenly seemed defeated she couldn’t tell.
“We could set off walking, but I doubt we’d get far. I think we should get back into my car and wait there until morning. I have picnic blankets in the boot, and the remains of my lunch.”
“If I could find my wand… ” he mused, aware that as the light died, so did his chances of finding his missing wand.
“If you found your wand, would it mean we could get out of here?”
“Of course.” He looked scornful.
“And you wouldn’t leave me stranded?”
There was a hesitation before he replied. “No.”
“Will you come to my parents’ house for Christmas Day? It’s tomorrow, so you wouldn’t have to stay long.”
He blinked against the fall of light and considered her for a moment. “Why should I?”
“Because I think you’re interesting. Miserable, but interesting. And I really want to shut Mum and Dad up this year by turning up with a man. It’s nothing personal, you understand, but this is a great opportunity for me to get back at them.”
He chewed over her words for a moment before making his reply. “Let me just clarify: you would like me to accompany you to your parents’ house in order to enact some sort of revenge on them. My presence would be that revenge?”
“Ermm… Well, that’s a little stark, but yes… I think you have the general idea.”
“And why should I do this?”
“Because then I’ll show you where the caves are, and I’ll give you your wand back.” There was a hint of mischief in her eyes and, although he was staring at her again, she held his gaze this time. His eyes flicked to her sleeve and he gave a little curl of his lips.
“You thought yourself clever,” he said, reaching down and grabbing her arm. She squealed in surprise and winced as he pushed up her sleeve to reveal the dark wood, raw against her pale skin. “But it does not do to mess with wizards. We have ways of finding out what goes on in the minds of others.”
There was a loud pop, and suddenly she found herself completely alone in the dying day. The cold was now insistent without the warmth of another human to keep her company. She wasn’t angry, not really, just upset that he had given his word not to leave her and had done just that. And now that he was gone, she realised something that was ludicrous: she actually missed him.
The car was her only hope of keeping hypothermia at bay, so she scrabbled back to it, using what little of the light there was left to make her way through the snow. Struggling to open the boot, she hauled out a blanket and struggled round to the driver’s seat. She tipped it back and sat down, wrapping the blanket around her. It was still cold, but at least the ice couldn’t get at her, and with the face of Severus Snape still hovering in her subconscious, she allowed a restless sleep to overtake her. Driving up had been tiring and, although the hour was early, she was ready to allow sleep to take her.
She was startled from her dreams by a lurching sensation, and she shot up, flinging the blanket from her. There was light around the car, and she realised, with relief, that some passing motorist must have seen her upended vehicle and called for the emergency services.
But wouldn’t they have woken her first, before moving the car? The thought made her suddenly nervous. And that light, it was gentle, not like the harsh halogen lamps that the emergency services used. Looking around frantically she could see that there was nothing actually attached to the car. The lurching sensation steadied and she saw the landscape move slowly as she was pulled back towards the road. With a sinking sensation, the car was lowered onto the road and as she stared, petrified, through the windscreen, the passenger door was yanked open and Severus Snape’s lean figure filled the car. He sat down and pulled the door closed again, his face looking resolutely forward.
“What in God’s name are…”
“Don’t ask,” he said, in his now familiar, clipped tones. “I think I have taken leave of my well-developed senses.”
“But you left,” she said, stating the obvious. “So why come back?”
“I don’t know. Call it madness, or stupidity, if you prefer. Just drive.”
“But I don’t even know,” she began, scrabbling in her pocket for the keys, “if the car will start.”
“I’m sure it will,” he grimaced. “Fate seems to have her rather sharp claws out tonight.”
And sure enough, the engine rose cheerfully to Severus’ challenge.
“What are you doing?” she asked, puzzled.
“We are going to your parents’ for Christmas,” he said, the word “Christmas” dipped in venom. “And after that, you are going to show me where these caves are.”
“You would put yourself through that, just to find these caves? Christmas at my parents’ is something of an endurance marathon. Those caves must be important.” She switched the lights on, and was unsurprised when nothing happened.
“Not only to find these caves,” he said, opening the door once more and withdrawing his wand. The headlights and bumper smoothed themselves out at the muttered spell, and the lights flickered on, “but because I am a man of my word. I have my wand back, therefore I will keep my end of the bargain.” He gave an imperceptible sigh. “I have spent three days up here searching, and it has proved fruitless thus far. The idea of spending a little time in your company in return for their discovery is not unappealing.”
“Well,” she said, not sure whether she should be flattered or offended, “that’s nice to know. Days spent out in the cold wilds of Wales, or dinner with me. I suppose I should be grateful that you chose me.”
“Yes, you should. Now, I’m tired and cold, wake me when we get there.”
And with that he allowed his head to fall back and closed his eyes, his face not relaxing, even in sleep. Hannah steered the car gingerly along the dark road, hoping that she could conclude the journey without incident and pondering on the sudden re-appearance of Severus Snape.
The car was chastened by its outing into the ditch and clung to the carriageway well, its wheels finding the right places in the road to hold onto. The deep vastness that surrounded them was unending, or so it felt, until she negotiated a particularly narrow part of the road and realised that, high in the distance, she could see the first puncture marks in the night’s tent. Hannah wondered if she ought to wake him, but just as she began mulling over the idea he gave a slight groan and opened his eyes.
“Almost there,” she said softly, watching him snap back into the physical world around him.
“How delightful,” he grumbled, sitting up stiffly and peering into the night. “This is where they live?”
“Not that you can see much of it, but yes, this is where they live.”
“And what will they expect of me?”
She took her eyes off the road and the car wobbled a little. He didn’t seem the sort of person who would care what people expected of him, or the sort to deliver the expectation. “Nothing. Just be yourself.”
“But you don’t even know what that is.” He looked at her and nodded towards the road. “Watch the tree.”
She jerked the wheel to avoid the overhanging tree, wondering if the Highways Agency actually knew there were roads out here, and the car gave a little shimmy on the ice. “You know what I mean.”
“Not really. I prefer people to be explicit in their statements. You don’t really want me to be myself, not unless you despise your parents.”
“What are you?” she laughed. “A mad axe-murderer?”
The silence expanded to fill the car and he sat perfectly still, so still that Hannah thought he had been turned to stone.
“You’re not, are you?” she asked, timid in her uncertainty.
“Oh my god!” she shrieked, tempted to throw her weight behind the brakes but realising the car would skid. “Oh my god…what are you?”
She did, finally, slew the car to a halt. Her hands gripped the steering wheel, trembling in their indignant fear.
“I am the person you invited to Christmas dinner,” he said simply. “I am what I was when you met me, nothing more, nothing less.”
“You are a murderer,” she hissed. “You didn’t deny it. You…you…”
“I killed people in the course of a war. You have such people in your world. People who fight for what’s right, and sometimes for what is wrong.”
Her fear was startling, and Severus was depressed by it, depressed to be once again what he always was: a man with an unsavoury past.
“I will let you be,” he said, opening the door and allowing a blast of cold air to circulate. “You do not need this charade.”
The door slammed on his retreating back and Hannah listened to the emptiness for a moment. No, she thought, as a strange hotness fluttered in her stomach; this wasn’t something she had imagined she could ever feel. A strange, strangled sensation tore at her throat as she felt the loneliness in the car. Why was she so unsettled by his removal? Why did she want to step out into the night and bring this murderer back to her? Was he even a murderer?
She abandoned the safety of the car, fumbling hastily with the door, and stumbled out into the darkness.
“Wait!” she cried. “Wait… Severus!”
Her feet flailed against the slipperiness as she tried, and failed, to see her way in the darkness. There was no moon to gentle her path, and no comfort to be had in the coldness. She was struck by the lack of something, anything, in her life and ached for what he had briefly brought to her. Was this feeling of certainty, this feeling of calm in another’s presence, a foolish illusion? Was she bewitched?
Her foot found thin air and Hannah collapsed into the rut that she had inadvertently stumbled across. Feeling the sharp slap of the earth on her cheek, she felt more dejected than she had ever felt. She had tricked him, bribed him even, and made a mockery of him with the wish to humiliate her parents. Hannah knew she had been wrong to do that. People cannot be bought and sold on a whim.
“Severus!” The cry echoed through the brittle night, bouncing off surfaces that were icy and unreceptive. “Severus, please!”
Hannah lay there, wondering at the mystery that she had uncovered in herself. Wondering if everyone unfolded this mystery at some point in their life, and if they did, what did they do with it? Love was unexpected, unfair. It crept up and attacked you with no regard for normal rules of engagement.
There was a whisper of fabric beside her and she felt his presence once more. A disgruntled mass of black, he leant down and offered her his hand.
“You should be more careful,” he said, keeping hold of her hand even after she had righted herself. “In many ways.”
“I know.” She wondered when he would let go of her hand, not really wanting him to at all. “I’m sorry. It was a really stupid thing of me to do. No one deserves my parents at Christmas, and you certainly didn’t deserve to be bribed with it. I’ll show you were the caves are in the morning, if you like. There’s a bed and breakfast in the village that you could stay in.”
He had his wand lit now, and she was fascinated by the luminescence coming from the wood. It revealed a masculine face that was filled with a reckless light, and Hannah caught the whiff of his sudden lack of control. She couldn’t have known that this was most unlike Severus Snape; that the very idea if doing something unplanned, wayward and involving a woman was an anathema to him.
“I have no money on me,” he growled. “At least, I have none that your places would take.”
“I have,” she said eagerly, wishing to please after having burdened him with her machinations. “I’ll pay for your room. I don’t know why these caves are important to you, but I don’t mind taking you to them.”
“The caves are something I have been asked to find.”
“Mum was always fascinated by them. She said there was something mystical about them.”
He snorted at that and gave a smirk. “Mystical! They are probably no more mystical than your car. But they do have some interest for the person I work for.”
Both of them were aware that their hands still nestled together. And Hannah wiggled her fingers slightly, enjoying the sensation of the smooth skin of his palm. His hand tightened around hers, and he was watching her closely again, peering into her mind with a good deal of interest.
“There is much in you that I could grow accustomed to,” he commented dryly. Every fibre of his unravelling being was counselling him against have anything further to do with the girl. She was a Muggle, and he only had to look at the trouble his parents’ marriage had endured to know that Muggle and wizard matches seldom worked well. But there was a spark in her eyes and a dry humour in her mind that he was finding it very difficult to turn away from.
She blushed a little under his kind wandlight, a smile brightening her features. “The feeling is mutual.”
“Perhaps we should return to the car. It is snowing again.” He brushed a thin layer of flakes from her hair, and she laughed as the drops of water fell on her face.
“Okay,” she agreed, and they walked back to the car still holding hands, enjoying the connection that bound them in this harsh, snowbound landscape.
Caerwyddan was slumbering, no one noticing the car as it wound its ponderous way up the incline, fighting against the ice that made the ascent difficult. Hannah frowned, her mouth slightly open as she concentrated on nursing the car to their destination. Severus was busy taking in his new surroundings and wondering what on earth he was doing. Staying in a Muggle inn was madness, complete madness, and allowing this attraction to grow and fester was even worse. He watched her, the curl of her hair against her face framing her pale skin nicely. She flicked her eyes towards him and the ready smile that stole the frown from her face warmed him. How long since he had felt this warm?
“Stay with me?” he asked, his voice low and unsure.
“What?” she said, not sure if she had misheard.
“Stay at the inn with me.” His eyes wavered a little. “Not in the same room, of course, but it would be… pleasant, to have you there.”
“Pleasant?” she grinned. “Well, just so long as you don’t think I’m that kind of girl. I’ll have to call Mum to tell her I’ll be arriving tomorrow, but I think a nightcap in the Bells and Motley would be quite nice."
They lapsed into silence again until Hannah pulled off the small lane that snaked through the village and entered a pub car park. The large building loomed large beside them, a grand confection of mullioned windows and Tudor beams. Its sign creaked slightly, although there didn’t appear to be any wind, and was painted with a Harlequin.
“Interesting choice of venue,” he commented, opening his door.
“It has a certain charm,” Hannah said, slamming her own door. “I’ll go and book the rooms then.” A glance at her watch told her it was already almost nine o’clock and she hoped there was room for them both.
Severus waited outside, trying to talk himself out of the whole farrago. He was failing spectacularly, a fact that was re-iterated when she stepped back into the cold night with a sheepish smile on her face and somewhere in the depths of his heart a lightness despatched the gloom of self-denial.
“All sorted,” she announced, “with just one small glitch.”
“And that is?” He arched an indolent eyebrow at her. Surely there would be room for them?
“They only had one room left.”
“Oh.” This was something he had not anticipated, and again his common sense screeched at him to run as far away from this situation as he could possibly get.
“But it is a twin room, so we’ll have separate beds. Gladys in reception was rather surprised that I was wanting a room though. There’ll be the most scandalous gossip in the village tomorrow.” She opened the boot, grabbed her overnight bag, and set off in the direction of the warmth of the pub.
He groaned at his own inability to get a hold on this situation and trudged after her towards the door.
They reached their room without meeting anyone else, a blessing for which Severus was extremely grateful, and Hannah threw her bag down on the bed.
“We should go down and see if we can persuade Liz to rustle us up a sandwich, and a nightcap,” she suggested. “Or we could have something brought up, if you’d prefer.”
“I’m not particularly hungry,” he said truthfully, “but a night cap sounds palatable. I’ll have a whisky.”
Hannah smiled at him. “You’re not one to be bothered by a woman paying your way, are you?” she teased. “Not that I mind.”
“I have money,” he snapped, and then instantly regretted his intractable tone. “I’ll return the favour for you one day.”
“I’m counting on it.”
She ducked out of the room and returned ten minutes later to find Severus trying to turn on the television.
“I shouldn’t worry about it,” she said, putting two glasses and a half-bottle of whisky down on the table. “It’s full of rubbish.”
He looked a little ashamed of his interest in the Muggle contraption and walked across to help himself to a glass of the golden liquid that she had purloined from the bar. It did sometimes help having family who were well known in a place; without that connection, Hannah doubted the bar staff would have been quite so accommodating.
“What shall we drink to?” she said, bouncing onto the bed.
“I don’t know,” he said, flustered by the intimacy of the situation.
“How about we drink to Christmas and all its silly nonsense?”
“Is that worth drinking to?” he said, wishing she would hurry up. He had never felt in more need of a swig of something fortifying.
“Well, what about chance meetings. Or visiting caves on Christmas day. Or avoiding parents.”
“How about,” he said carefully, “we drink to the future and what it might bring?”
“Yes,” she beamed, lofting her glass into the air with gusto. “And we could drink to us.”
Severus looked at her sharply, his glass poised before him. And then, with a low moan that indicated he had finally quelled his common sense, he tipped it towards her. “To us, whatever we may become.”
And as the church bells lamented the passing of another hour, they sat together sipping whisky and talking about what had been in their lives and what may yet come. Christmas Eve slowly slipped away, heralding in a quiet, winter-white Christmas Day, and Hannah was happy to say that she had a decent present, one that she would not be stuffing away in her wardrobe any time soon.
A/N I know that this is fluffy, and that Snape is really not as well developed as I would have liked in order to give him some romance, but I needed to get them together and connected in a really short space of time. Would Snape fall for a Muggle? Who knows… but love is blind…even for Snape. This is very much one of those loveatfirstsight fics, but at least they didn’t kiss…or worse. ;-) This was written for a gift exchange at Christmas over on MNFF.