Oh, what a void there is in things.
Aulus Persius Flaccus
Naked but for a small blue towel around his waist, damp and soft after a twenty-minute soak in the bath, prodigiously foamed and gloriously ready for a very close shave, Severus reached for his razor and found an empty space.
He blinked at himself in the mirror and looked down at the shelf below. His shaving soap and brush, a pot of Macready’s Magical Tooth Powder and a rather sad toothbrush were the only items in view. He turned his head to check the edge of the bath and drew a blank. He sighed deeply, towel giving way under the strain and dropping to the floor. Once he’d picked it up and rewrapped his loins, he glared at the shelf again. The razor, inherited from his father, fitted with the sort of double-edged blade favoured by cocaine users, sat in its usual place.
Severus frowned. Then he picked up the razor, twiddled the handle until he was happy with its feel and lifted his chin.
His door keys lived in a bowl on the coffee table. They had a little wooden key ring in the shape of a Niffler that had worn to a dull shine with use. They were there when he sat down on the sofa to put his boots on. They had gone by the time he donned his coat.
Accio didn’t work. Revelio didn’t work, either. Striding around the house, opening and closing drawers with loud bangs and the occasional “Fuck!” yielded nothing.
Much as a wizard had means other than keys for securing his household, nobody in Spinner’s End ever, ever, simply shut the door behind them and walked away. Standard practice involved a Yale and at least one deadlock. The nearest sharp-eyed youth would strip a place of valuables in minutes otherwise, and Severus was loath to draw attention to his home via a gang of disgruntled and slightly spell-damaged burglars.
He kept searching half-heartedly. When he went back to check the bowl ten minutes later, the keys were there. The tiny snout of the associated Niffler twitched eagerly at the prospect of joining the loose change in his pocket.
“I need half a pint of Lobalug venom, three packs of Tebo hair, an Erkling tooth and… and… Hold on, I’ve got a list.”
An assistant hared off to the controlled section of the stockroom for the venom. The owner of the shop smiled obsequiously as he waited for the rest of the order and began to do mental arithmetic involving Severus’ lovely shiny Galleons.
Jacket pockets, trouser pockets, overcoat pockets. All were thrust into and scrabbled through with long fingers.
None of them held the scrap of parchment that bore the list.
Customers gathered in a crooked line behind Severus. Patiently at first and then sighing quietly. Shuffling a bit closer together. Occasionally clearing a meaningful throat. Applying quintessentially English pressure.
“I’ve definitely got it with me!” Severus exclaimed. “Merlin’s balls, it’s been one of those days today. One of those weeks, in fact.”
He grinned ruefully at the shopkeeper and patted his coat. Rueful had never worked well on his features, and it certainly didn’t then. Mr Jigger scowled back and gestured that Severus should stand aside to let others be served while he behaved like a disorganised pillock.
“Lacuna!” a voice declared brightly.
Severus glanced to his right. He saw a woman with a mane of tousled, blonde hair who had edged right up to him in the queue. She was staring at his winter overcoat in apparent fascination; the light in her eyes swirled and dimmed as she lifted her gaze to his face.
“Adding a syllable for etymological emphasis these days?” Severus snapped. “It might suit you, but it’s pretentious as hell.”
Luna raised her eyebrows for a moment and then dissolved into honking laughter. She clutched his arm for support and flapped her other hand helplessly.
“Oh, that’s a good one!” she gasped. “Not me, Severus. You! You’ve got a Lacuna. More than one, I’d say. They breed so easily when they get comfortable.”
He tilted his head and set his shoulders in a manner that spoke of massive scepticism. She began to run her hands over him, evaluating the heavy wool of his coat as if he were a thoroughbred for sale. For some reason, he couldn’t bear to pull away.
“What are you nattering about?” he mumbled awkwardly.
“Check your inside pocket,” Luna replied, tapping his chest.
Finally, she stopped touching him. Severus pulled his coat open and felt inside. He withdrew a crumpled piece of parchment.
“But I looked there!” he almost squeaked. “Three times! Did you see me? You must have seen me.”
Luna smiled triumphantly. “Definitely Lacunae,” she said. “How long have you had them?”
“I have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about,” he admitted grudgingly.
“How awful for you! Ignorance is such a trial, isn’t it? Get your shopping done, and then I shall put you out of your misery. Do you like soup? I like soup. Let’s have lunch together.”
He regarded her face, searching carefully, noting freckles on her nose and the half-inch scar that war had left on her cheek. But there was no trace of sarcasm to be found in her expression.
“Your house is too empty,” she said as they strolled towards the Leaky Cauldron.
“No it isn’t.”
“Yes, it is.”
Severus puffed out his chest and shook his head dismissively. “I have a fully-furnished, eighteen-thirties end of terrace in Bolton. I have a world-class potions laboratory in the cellar. I have fifteen-hundred-and-sixty-three books. I haven’t got an empty house!”
“How big is the lab?”
“Forty foot by twenty-five.”
“Undetectable Extension Charm?”
He grunted in assent as he opened the door to the pub for her and bowed slightly. She was still gazing gratefully at him when Neville Longbottom hailed her from behind the bar.
“Oh! Hello, Neville. Can we have soup?”
“Pea and ham?”
“Perfect! And cake?” Luna looked at Severus thoughtfully. “You like carrot cake, don’t you.”
Severus felt his jaw working silently. How on earth did she know? “Well, yes, actually,” he stuttered eventually.
“The snug’s all yours, Sunshine,” Neville said, shooting a glance both amused and speculative in Severus’ direction. “I’ll come and build the fire up as soon as I’ve given Hannah your order.”
Luna led Severus around the end of the bar and through a door into a small, oak-panelled room with a fireplace at one end. In it, a single log smoked lugubriously. She took off her cloak and hung it on the hat stand that had toddled over obligingly. Then she stood on tiptoe to help Severus out of his coat and held it up for further inspection.
“You’ve extended the pockets of this, as well,” she said thoughtfully. “All your shopping went into this one here,” she added, gesturing.
He didn’t understand why it was important, but something about her compelled him to answer. “Yes. All the pockets of all my trousers and coats will take a ten-inch wand, and that one will carry a suitcase if need be.”
“The cupboard under the stairs. My wardrobe. My bathroom.”
“Do you live on your own?”
To his astonishment, Luna put her nose against the collar of his coat and inhaled deeply before she hung it up and patted the hat stand affectionately. Then she walked past him towards the single table near the fireplace and an ancient-looking settle that stood against the wall. “Bags I sit nearest the fire,” she said. “Since the war, I always seem to feel chilly.”
“By all means,” he replied quietly. An elbow of guilt jabbed him in the ribs as he remembered her father’s scrawled note, informing him that Luna would be absent from school for the foreseeable future. Something he’d already been uncomfortably aware of. “I’m sorry. Really sorry. About the cold…”
She curled herself up in the corner of the settle by the fire. To Severus, she looked like some sort of Persian cat, corn dolly hybrid. Her pale features were remarkably blank until they reformed into an incandescent smile. He felt better. He could see exactly why Neville called her “Sunshine”.
“I hope that was sympathetic, not apologetic,” she said. “An apology from you would be incredibly silly. You might be a bit odd, but you’re not entirely lacking in brains.”
Neville bustled in with Butterbeer a moment later and found his erstwhile nemesis chuckling and sliding onto the bench next to Luna with every sign of friendliness. He wasn’t surprised at all.
After they’d eaten, Luna gazed sleepily at the roaring fire that Neville had coaxed forth with a lot of kindling and not much wand-work. Her shoulder rubbed companionably against Severus’ shirtsleeve. Soup, beer, cake and flames had caused him to shed his jacket, too, and turned his cheekbones rosy.
“Isn’t this comfy?” Luna murmured. “Do you need to leave straightaway or can you stay for a while?”
“I can stay.”
“All my friends have to dash back to work when we meet for lunch.”
Severus shrugged. “I don’t even stop for lunch, usually. In the lab, I work from ten ’til seven and then stop to make dinner.”
“You’re lonely,” said Luna. She didn’t even try to make it sound like a question. “In your house, the air is still.”
He leant forwards and rested his elbows on the table so he could look at her face again. Her stare pulled in abruptly as she turned to him, a Hitchcock zoom from silver to slate grey.
“You’ve distorted the proportions of your surroundings,” she continued slowly, “but you haven’t got enough going on in life to fill the space sufficiently. There is emptiness… Lacunae are moving in.”
He snorted. “And how does one make Lacunae move out again?”
Luna flicked a carrot cake crumb off the table and into the fire. “Do you really want them to go? It’s a bit mean to just kick them out.”
“Mean?” Severus exclaimed. “They hide my wallet and steal my handkerchiefs! I’m down to my last two shirts! I couldn’t find my wand for a whole day, once.”
“Severus! They don’t steal. It’s just that if one of them happens to settle down on one of your belongings, then its existence goes on hiatus until the Lacuna moves! You’ve had them for a while, haven’t you? There must be whole families by now.”
He stared at the ceiling in exasperation and decided to confess.
“After I got out of hospital, I spent a year or so getting used to normal life again. I redecorated the house and just chucked all the old furniture and curtains and rugs into the cupboard under the stairs. I got a plumber in and had the brickwork repointed. Double-glazing, new gutters, that sort of thing, you know?”
“I suppose the place used to be relatively busy. Harry visited from time to time to check up on me, but as soon as he could see I was coping alright, he left me to it, thank goodness. Filius often came to stay during the school holidays, though. He… he died last year. Things have been going missing ever since. I thought I was just absent-minded. Then I thought I might be getting forgetful.”
“I know Filius used to stay with you and that he died last year,” said Luna flatly. “I saw you speak at his funeral, but I couldn’t bear to socialise so I borrowed Harry’s cloak for it.”
Severus grimaced, forgetfulness forgotten in the face of her obvious grief. “I suppose you knew him pretty well, too. I saw the dedication in your latest book, by the way. I think he would have been tickled pink.”
She blushed. “Do you think so? Oh, I hope so!”
“Definitely,” said Severus firmly. “We discussed your work from time to time. He loved your enthusiasm.”
Her face lit up again. “You read my latest book!”
“Luna, you’re the leading cryptozoologist in Europe and have been for years. You write extensively on the properties of many species I use as ingredients. Of course I’ve read your bloody books!”
“I hadn’t really thought about it like that. Your ingredients. I suppose a lot of things are, aren’t they.”
Awful, awful anxiety struck him. “Do you mind?” he asked carefully.
“Mind?” Luna repeated, considering the question. “That some of the animals I study are of practical use to you? No. Not if you don’t waste them. Not if you’re grateful for their existence. Not if they were collected humanely and responsibly.”
“I am both careful and grateful,” Severus said fervently. “But I have to admit, I don’t often think about collection practice or how it varies. I’ve always dealt with Mr. Jigger and assumed he used reputable suppliers.”
Their eyes caught, hovered, dipped and caught again. Something important was happening.
“I’ll do you a deal,” she said. “Start thinking about it, and doing something about it if necessary, and I’ll show you how to remove Lacunae.”
A week later, Luna sat at her desk carefully studying a map of Tajikistan. The Yeti population had been steadily growing and increasing in range with many individuals settling in the Pamir Mountains since the end of Muggle civil war in the region. They had begun to express an interest in reclassification from Beasts to Beings, and she’d been contracted by the International Confederation of Wizards to carry out a feasibility study.
The literature on the species was woefully outdated. Luna knew for a fact that Yetis didn’t devour everything in their path. At the age of twenty, she’d silently shared her goat stew with one in the foothills of Makalu. The next day, the Yeti had returned with a huge handful of almonds and grunted something unintelligibly polite.
There would have to be a census and lexicographical survey within the next six months. The prospect of Apparating though the Himalayas wasn’t nearly as exciting as it had been in her youth, and the only Yeti she’d found who could speak Nepali had an ego the size of Everest. Luna profoundly thanked Merlin for field assistants.
A tap at the window provided a welcome distraction. Baleful yellow eyes stared through the glass from under heavy white eyebrows.
“Diurnal?” she muttered, letting the Little Owl in. “Who’s that careful?”
The owl merely held out its leg. A message canister similar to the type used by pigeon fanciers awaited her pleasure. The tightly rolled parchment inside revealed a tiny, slanted script.
Did you know that Jobberknolls have declined by 60%? I have found a non-lethal feather collector so I can still make Veritaserum with a reasonably clear conscience. I have also lost my shampoo. Perhaps you could bring some over and tell me how to remedy the matter. 14 Spinner’s End, Bolton. SS.
Luna smiled to herself and fondly remembered the scent of Severus’ collar. She decided to visit the Apothecary immediately.
“Welcome to my humble abode,” he drawled. “Abandon materialism all ye who enter here.”
“I think I’m safe,” Luna replied.
Severus regarded her eclectic clothing and silently agreed. Her necklace, of what appeared to be Muggle dice, adorned an amazingly graceful throat. He tried to keep his focus on little threes and sixes but discovered that his eyes preferred the smooth skin nearby.
Luna observed the raging inferno that was his fireplace appreciatively. On the dining table in the corner, a Poinsettia blinked in and out of existence briefly. She held out a bottle of Sleekeazy’s Spicy Scalp (the hair sensation for the active gentleman) and sniffed loudly.
“Do I smell soup, perchance?”
“Tuscan bean,” Severus said nonchalantly, taking the shampoo. “The chap at the pizza place on the corner gave me the recipe. Says his wife swears by it.”
She grinned delightedly and twirled a lock of hair around her finger. “Professor Snape, I think you’ve been making an effort.”
He went bright red and began to pass the bottle from hand to hand. “Do you mind keeping an eye on the soup? I’d rather it didn’t vamoose while I have a quick shower.”
“For soup, I can spare two eyes.”
As soon as he’d shown her the kitchen and hurried off to the bathroom, Luna began to explore. She hummed to herself and experimented with tap dancing on the slate kitchen floor as she looked through cupboards and peeped into the oven. The noise was most satisfactory, and the apple pie she found looked delicious.
By the time Severus emerged, barefooted, black-trousered, white-shirted and slightly drippy, a tub of vanilla ice-cream, two dirty wooden spoons and an empty baked bean can had appeared on the work surfaces.
He cautiously lifted a corner of the ice-cream lid. “This is still frozen!” he said wonderingly. “I swear I got it out of the freezer a month ago.”
“It’s been on hiatus, not just hidden,” Luna explained, dipping a finger in and holding it in Severus’ face. “It should be fine. Try it.”
As he gripped her hand, frowned with curious concentration and gently sucked her finger, Luna let out a very quiet “Oh.” Next to them, the soup continued to simmer gently. A pair of tartan slippers winked into existence on the floor near the sink. Neither of them noticed.
“It’s good,” Severus mumbled.
“We can have it with apple pie,” Luna replied huskily.
“What? Yes. Right. The ice-cream. I’d better put it away for the moment,” Severus blustered, turning away to open the fridge-freezer and rumbling plastic shelves rather frantically. He shifted bags of peas and sweetcorn aside, threw the carton in haphazardly and slammed the door. “Luna, what’s happening?”
“There are things going on in your kitchen. Heat, movement, noise, conversation… emotions. Lacunae are retreating from it all.”
“If you want to get rid of them completely,” Luna said calmly, “the best thing to do is have a great big party.”
Severus scowled. “Absolutely not.”
“I thought you might say that.”
He was peering over the Poinsettia at her. After five spoonfuls, he broke.
“Is it all right?”
Luna chewed slowly, letting the moment drag out and deliberately keeping her expression as vacant as possible. Eventually, she put her spoon in her bowl, propped her elbows on the table and rested her chin on her hands.
“This is the best soup I have ever eaten. Lesser soups bow down in its presence,” she declared. “Henceforth, other soups will be known as ‘oup’ because to deserve an ‘s’ in their name, they must be made by the mighty chef, Severus Snape, and contain at least three types of bean.”
He tipped his head forward so his hair fell across his face. The occasional silver strand glittered in the afternoon light. “Now you’re just being silly,” he said, trying not to smile.
“I am deadly serious,” Luna replied, taking up her spoon again. “Soup and oup are nothing to joke about.”
He gave her the tour. Laboratory first, then garden, then upstairs. He was quite proud of the colours he’d chosen. Of the fact that his home was in no way gothic, grim or grey. Luna’s Lacunae had shaken him. He felt deeply offended that his quiet, peaceful life, his grief for Filius Flitwick, his very loneliness had been taken advantage of by a bunch of physics-law defying, kleptomaniac squatters. He’d explained this to her over lunch, but she’d told him to stop feeling sorry for himself and just accept the fact that what he’d done was create an ecological niche for a rare magical organism.
“There’s not much in here,” he said, pushing a door at the top of the stairs open. “Mostly books I don’t use all that often. It used to be my bedroom when I was a child.”
Luna walked into a small room with a single bed and cream walls. There were no books or shelves in sight. Behind her, a sound of dismay ripped out of Severus’ mouth.
“All the shelves! How many of the fucking things are there?” he wailed, striding across the room and pawing at thin air in desperation. “I don’t want to have a party; I detest parties. But if I do, it’ll be the biggest rave since the end of the nineties!”
A single book appeared, hanging weirdly in space. Severus grabbed it quickly and hugged it to his chest like a teddy bear.
“Let me see,” Luna murmured soothingly, moving close and lifting the book out of his arms. “Look at that! It’s one of mine. Hermione Granger was so pissed off I got a publishing deal before her with this.”
He leant over her shoulder and read the title: Just Because You Don’t Believe It Exists, It Doesn’t Mean It Isn’t Out to Get You.
“I have mellowed a bit since then,” she said.
“So have I,” replied Severus. “The rest will come back, won’t they? I don’t really have to start conjuring dozens of glasses and borrowing Weird Sisters LPs?”
“There is another way,” Luna admitted hesitantly, turning to look up at him.
“I thought there might be.”
“Well, yes. But I’d rather it not be wholly dictated by your bibliomania. Or your desire for multiple shirts.”
“And it involves?”
Luna lowered her lashes.
Severus lifted one hand and gently traced the scar on her cheek with his thumb. He let his fingers ghost over her forehead and down her nose until they began to shake at the delicacy, the softness, the implications of what he was thinking.
“Do you ever use the cupboard under the stairs?” she asked suddenly.
“Not really. It’s just full of cast-off furniture.”
“Pop downstairs and open the door, then. If you’re still keen when you get back, I’ll be waiting.”
He buried his nose in her hair and found her ear with his lips. “Luna, you’re not doing this just because you want to save my Lacunae from eviction, are you?”
She laughed. “Have a little faith, Severus.”
When he returned, he found her leaning against the wall by the window. One whole bookshelf had already returned from the void. Ignoring it, he marched over to her, placed his hands against the wall on either side of her head and leant in. Their first taste of each other lingered softly. The second eliminated all space between them.
In the sitting room, a threadbare wing-backed chair appeared. Sofa cushions, three empty mugs, an oil painting, a set of keys with a Niffler key ring and Filius Flitwick’s affectionately bequeathed gold fob watch followed shortly after.
Lacuna, plural lacunae: a gap or missing part, an interval during which continuity is suspended, hiatus, empty space, deficiency, void, break, interim.