16 Years Ago (1980)
Nepal has attracted the daring and adventurous ever since Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay ascended to the top of Mount Everest in 1953. To the east of Mount Everest, on the border where Nepal, India, and China converged, lies Mount Kangchenjunga. There, the third highest mountain peak was posing a challenge to a tall youth clothed only in black.
The man was gangly, thin at best, and struggling somewhat in the deep snow. He had long discarded the walking stick he had bought from a villager and was trudging along, wondering if red khair flowers got their colour from the blood of the idiotic dunderheads trying to harvest them.
The man shook his head as if to clear his pessimistic thoughts. The flowers were prized for their efficacy in healing potions – particularly those meant for curse victims – and he needed to harvest as much as he could find. The current market price fluctuated between 60-80 galleons an ounce for the dried flowers. With this thought to fortify him, Severus Snape marched with renewed determination. His parents had left him nothing but debt when they had blessedly passed on; selling the flowers would provide the much needed funds to cover the debts, save the miniscule house at Spinner’s End, and provide the capital needed to start up his shop.
Snape was young, ambitious, and had just recently completed his three years as a potion’s apprentice with one of the foremost minds in Britain. At the tender age of 20 he officially became a potions master. He was a consummate Slytherin – poverty and the humiliation of being relegated to a job at Slug’s and Jigger’s apothecary was simply unacceptable. Severus Snape was utterly determined to prove to the world that he was nothing like his poor, weak, drunken coward of a Muggle father. He may have been overlooked or rejected by certain members of the female sex, but he would prove to them that he was a wizard to be reckoned with, a powerful and successful man in his own right. One who was desired by women and envied by men.
“Bloody natives and their secrecy,” he muttered. The first two villages he visited outright refused to even hint at the location of the flowers and the last village had tried to cleanse his soul of evil demons when he had cast a reparo on his snowshoes, unaware that he had a village hunting party as audience.
Magic, it seemed, was rare in these mountains. Those that wielded it were either deemed under the influence of evil demons, or, if lucky (or possessing particularly powerful parents) were deemed spiritual leaders or shamans of a sort. He shuddered slightly at the memory of the second village. He had been pegged as a powerful healer and shaman almost right away and was dogged by fathers presenting their daughters and daughters flaunting themselves shamelessly before him.
A crooked smile graced his face and his black eyes glittered at the memory of one pretty, nubile young woman who had been particularly forward. Nera had snuck into his tent during his first night at the village, had stripped naked, climbed into his sleeping bag and had waited for him to return from the baths. She was two years his junior, slim, with dark hair and eyes. Her full lips had held sensual promises that she fulfilled eagerly. Her eyes held no judgment at Severus’ fumbling attempts and somewhat awkward kisses. Nera had schooled him patiently in the art of physical pleasure for the duration of his weeklong stay. Severus had seriously considered asking her to accompany him back to Britain until he had discovered that she was married to the village leader’s eldest son.
The smile turned into a sneer at the thought of the bumbling fool Nera had been shackled to. Priam did not live up to his mythical namesake. He shied away from confrontations of all kind and had not even batted an eyelash when he discovered his wife in another man’s bed. Nera deserved better. She was, at heart, a Slytherin. Or, at least, possessed several remarkably Slytherin traits. She had engineered her own wedding to the future village leader and thus ensured her own place as the most powerful person in her community.
“Namaste, visitor,” a soft voice called from behind him.
Severus spun around, drawing his wand quickly and aiming it at the source of the greeting.
A short, elderly man, swathed in the ceremonial garb of a village spiritual leader observed him with some amusement. “My name is Roshan, visitor. You are welcome to our village to make repast. There is a storm on the horizon and your plants will await you all the same should you find them today or tomorrow.”
“Who are you?” Severus demanded. He was naturally wary, a sentiment only heightened by this man’s apparent knowledge of him and his quest.
“You should not be surprised, visitor. It is not as if you are unfamiliar with the magics of the world. We do not seek to cause you harm or halt your journey any longer than necessary to ensure your safety. Follow me,” he beckoned. “And do tell an old man what he should call you.”
Severus sheathed his wand hesitantly. “Namaste, elder. My name is Severus Snape,” he said, bowing formally. “I would be honoured to accept your offer of hearth and home until the weather clears.”
Roshan’s eyes twinkled brightly. “Follow me.”
The village was small, populated by thatched homes and several larger, log cabin-styled buildings. Small children played with large balls on mounds of snow, barking dogs standing guard over them. Women, swathed in bright garments, cooked over nearby fires and old men sat in a circle nearby, arguing vociferously over something or the other.
A small, brightly coloured object hurtled toward Roshan’s legs. “Ooof,” the man exhaled sharply, trying in vain to keep his balance. “Shana, have mercy on an old man!”
The bundle of vivid reds, oranges, and gold detached itself grudgingly. Shana shook her shiny black hair braided with gold and turned kohl-lined black eyes to face Roshan. “You are not old, grandfather. You are merely well seasoned,” she retorted.
Roshan threw his head back in laughter and even Severus felt his mouth twitch. “You are impertinent in your youth, little Seba. Is this how you show your respects?”
Shana followed her grandfather’s gesture, noticing Severus for the first time. He noted, with amusement, her eyes widen even further.
“Namaste, little one,” Severus said gently. “I am Severus Snape. And you are, Shana? Or Seba?” he questioned.
The girl, only about 7 or 8 years old, he thought, flushed and bowed formally. “I am Shana, Severus Snape. My grandfather calls me Seba, it means ‘reward’ in our tongue. It is an honour to have another spirit-guided one in our village.”
Severus frowned at the two visitors. This was the second time he was identified as a wizard after little more than 1 minute of contact. “How is it that you know I am a wizard?”
“Your magic surrounds you, Severus Snape. It is strong. Even a barely trained devadasi can see it.”
“And what is a devadasi?”
“I am!” Shana said with a small grin. “Grandfather is training me to wield the magic as he does. It is my role to take his place when I am old enough.”
“That is what your father tells me,” Roshan said mildly. “Now go back to your maharis, you and your friends must dance for us at the welcoming feast this eve.”
“Yes, grandfather!” she said. Shana bowed quickly to the two men and ran off, giving them a cheeky grin.
“Children are a joy to the aged, Severus Snape. I only weep that I cannot see my Seba fulfill her destiny. Now, come,” Roshan said, shaking his head. “Ignore an old man’s ramblings and follow me. You may rest in the house of my daughter and her idiot husband. They have a room that will suit your needs.”
“I do not wish to be an inconvenience,” Severus murmured.
“It is no inconvenience. It is an honour. Come, Severus Snape. Rest. You will need your strength on the eve.”
Severus surveyed the small room appraisingly. It was clean, though cramped, and suited him well enough. It was the first time in almost a month that he had been able to sleep under a roof more stable than his tent. He fingered the fabric of the robes Roshan had provided him. They were similar in style to the shaman’s, but a respectable black with only thin threads of gold running through it. It was the least ostentatious piece of fabric he had ever seen owned by the Nepali natives.
“Come! It is time for the evening feast and the mahari dance, visitor.”
Severus followed the man to the largest of the wooden buildings. Roshan was correct, he reflected idly. His son-in-law was a first class idiot. He was a small, pompous and self-important man, who made his role as village leader abundantly clear within the first minute of introductions. What was it with good women marrying fools?
“If they did not, Severus Snape, we men would never marry,” Roshan said quietly. “My own wife was of the highest caliber. I have yet to comprehend her decision to marry me, but there is not a day that passes that I do not appreciate it. There will be a time when some will ask such questions about you, see to it that you do not undervalue what has been granted you.”
Severus looked at him puzzled, but offered a curt nod in acquiescence. The old man’s cryptic comments confused him. He vacillated between polite hospitality and strange, seemingly unrelated sentiments that spoke of the future. Severus had never put much stock in divination. The art was far too vague and unwieldy. There was little denying Roshan’s seeming omniscience, however, and coupled with his twinkling eyes, Severus was sure he was in the presence of Albus Dumbledore’s secret Nepali brother. The only thing he missed was the horrible predilection for incessantly offering candy to everyone within sight.
“All will be revealed in time. Pay an old man’s mutterings no mind and enjoy the welcoming feast. Shana has been practicing her dances all day in preparation.”
“Of course, Roshan. I’m sure your granddaughter will perform admirably.”
“I must leave you now, Severus Snape. Please be seated with my daughter and her husband.”
“I will. Thank you again for your hospitality,” Severus said, bowing slightly.
Roshan hesitated a little. “Severus, I would ask you one boon. Promise an old man that you will keep an open heart and an open mind. Love is not a weakness, Severus Snape. Love is the greatest strength we mortals can wield.”
Severus frowned. The old man really was Dumbledore’s Nepali twin.
Shaking his head, Severus walked to the front of the raised platforms where Shana stood, patiently listening to her wildly gesticulating father.
Noticing his approach, she stopped and smiled sweetly to her father, despite the tears slowly descending her face. “Baba, it is time for you to show our honoured guest to his seat.” She bowed deeply to Severus and made her way to the small, curtained off stage.
The child’s father gritted his teeth in annoyance and gestured towards Snape. “Come, stranger, it is time to be seated. Please ignore my daughter’s disgraceful, disrespectful behaviour, I fear that she will bring shame to our name.”
“I assure you, there is nothing for which you need apologize, children are naturally…spirited.”
“Yes, she is yet young,” the man grudgingly acknowledged, “but she is devadasi and should share the knowledge gained through her foresight.”
Severus looked up, startled. “Shana is a seer?”
“She has the foresight, but it is weak. She sees only short flashes of things that come presently.”
Severus frowned. “She saw something that will happen shortly and it made her cry?”
“So you see! Such knowledge would prepare us for tragedy. We could stop the tragedy before it happens. But she is a stubborn child, and her grandfather encourages her to keep the gift to herself.”
“Divination is a wooly magic,” Severus said. “The child probably had a daydream that scared her.”
Shana’s father glared and huffed angrily. “You do not understand our magicks, stranger. Do not condemn that which you do not understand.”
Severus sneered, but his snide comment was interrupted by the sound of drums, bansuri flute and the rhythmic jingles from the dancers’ anklets.
A scantily clad teenage girl, perhaps only 2 or 3 years his junior, sashayed onto the stage, her hips moving quickly to the beat of the drums. She wore only a tight top that stopped just below her breasts and a long, flowing skirt that was slit to the thigh to permit freer movement.
Severus shifted uncomfortably and looked away. It would do no good to gawk at the girl like some puberty-stricken teenage boy. He crossed his legs again, looking up only when the sound of her footsteps and the jingling of her anklets neared him. The girl smiled invitingly at him, swinging her hips in his direction. Several men in the crowd laughed and someone clapped him on the back in congratulation.
“It seems that Raina has taken a liking to you, stranger,” Roshan said with a small smile playing about his lips.
Roshan’s eyes were twinkling again, Severus thought with distaste. He rolled his eyes at the older man and quirked an eyebrow. “Really, Roshan. I had not noticed her forwardness at all,” he said drily.
Roshan smiled. “Now it is Shana’s turn to perform the mahari.”
The sounds of the tambourine crescendoed and stopped suddenly. The drums built up to a frenzy and ceased. A flutist played a quiet, mourning dirge as Shana slowly made her way to the centre stage. She wore long, flowing white robes and had divested herself of jewelry. She had smeared lines of ash on her face and hands and her bare feet made no sound.
“This is quite different from the first performance,” Severus remarked quietly.
“She has chosen to change her mahari to a song of mourning. It is one danced after a burial to honour the dead.”
A shiver traveled up Severus’ spine at Roshan’s words and he shook himself. Divination was a wooly sort of magic. It was anathema to the scientific mind and thoroughly inexact. The child was probably still scared from her daydream.
Shana’s movements were slow and graceful. The dance, if one could call it that, told the story of a mourner at a grave. She beat her chest, fell to her knees, arms raised high in supplication to the gods.
The crowd members moved restlessly, disturbed by the grief she portrayed. Whispers and murmurs spread as they speculated on the reason for the dirge. Nevertheless, they paid rapt attention as Shana held her face in her hands and rocked her upper body to and fro.
So spellbound were they that no one noticed the rumbling sounds, like thunder, that grew louder and louder.
Severus heard it first and trained his eyes to the fields behind the stage. “Roshan, there is something coming.”
“Yes, Severus, they come.”
“And what, precisely are they,” he questioned.
“Fate, of course.”
The thundering grew louder and several people sprung to their feet in alarm. Shana’s dance had come to an end and she was staring mournfully at her grandfather. Roshan smiled sadly to her and spread his arms in invitation. The girl ran, embracing him tightly. “I will miss you, grandfather.”
“And I you, little Seba. Do not weep so. Though our paths be different, at the end of the journey we will be reunited once more, child.”
Severus stood with his wand held tightly. “What is going on, old man?! And do not say, fate,” he spat. “I want specifics.”
Roshan ignored him for a moment, relishing his last moments with the child who had brought him joy since the day of her birth. “Prepare yourself for battle, Severus Snape. The giants come.”
Severus paled, “giants? There are giants coming and you did nothing?” he asked incredulously. “Your people will die! You could have evacuated them. You knew, and you did nothing?”
“And where would we run? It is better to sacrifice the few to save the many.”
With that, he moved away from Severus and gestured for the people to return to their homes. “All will be well, my people. All will be well.”
“No! All will not be well! Run you fools! Run! You are no match for giants!” Severus screamed.
The people looked undecided, they were clearly afraid and defenseless. “Roshan, this is not right. I can hold them back for some time with a shield while the people leave.”
“Go, Shana. Go to your father,” Roshan said gently.
The girl nodded and walked quickly to the waiting man.
Just then a whirring sound was heard as a large object came flying through the air towards them. “Diffindo!” Severus cried. The tree trunk exploded, falling harmlessly about 50 feet from them.
“Go, Roshan! I cannot hold them back forever.”
“They want only me,” the elder said quietly.
Severus whipped his head around to stare at the man. “What?!”
“They will spare the village when I go with them. No one need be harmed. Please,” he gestured, “put your wand away.”
“Absolutely not,” Severus snarled angrily. “I refuse to have your death on my hands. Now either help me hold the giants away from the people or fall back and stay with them!”
Roshan smiled wanly, “I will stay here with you.”
“Then make yourself useful and reinforce my shield.”
“As you wish it, Severus Snape.”
The old man knelt slowly, tracing runes into the earth with the tip of his finger.
“What are you doing?” Severus asked, keeping his eyes on the incoming dust cloud that heralded the giants.
“You required help. Now, stand back.”
Severus looked at him dubiously and took a few steps back.
“Yes, yes, a little more. Just a tiny bit more. Ah, there. Stop.”
Severus jumped back in surprise as the ground where he once stood rumbled. First tiny fissures opened, widening only when thick columns of earth sprang forth, forming a protective barrier around the village.
The projectiles were no longer reaching them, simply falling a few feet short of the earthen columns as if hitting an invisible barrier.
“What is this?” he asked.
Roshan’s eye twinkled brightly, “magic, my boy. Just magic.”
Severus glanced at him sharply. “What else are you capable of, old man?”
“Now, now Severus,” he said mildly, “let us not lose our manners. They are very important, even when in dire straits.”
With that, Roshan rose and walked towards the giants. “Come.”
“Are you mad?” he asked incredulously. “You’ve just created a barrier than can keep the giants out. Why are you leaving it?”
“Have you ever seen a raccoon attack a turtle?”
Severus blinked at the non sequitor. “No.”
“A turtle, once attacked, will retreat into its shell until its attacker leaves. The raccoon, once the turtle has hidden, continues playing with the shell, hoping that the turtle will come out once more. After a while, it tires of waiting and leaves.”
“I fail to see your point, Roshan.”
“Giants, my friend, are not easily bored.”
Severus stared at the man in shock. That was, quite possibly, the worst story he had ever heard. “Do you, by any chance, have an English twin brother?”
If anything, the man’s eyes twinkled even brighter. “None of which I am aware.”
“Pity,” Severus drawled. “Now, what are we doing?”
“I, am going to give myself up”
“And you,” Roshan continued “you will be a stubborn man and continue to needlessly antagonize Alfgeir and his clan.”
Severus frowned. There was no logic to what the old man was saying. He was clearly very powerful and, with his help, could probably defeat a small clan of giants.
“The clan is one of the largest left in the world. Western wizards have hunted them almost to extinction,” Roshan said sadly.
“For good reason! They kill and destroy thoughtlessly.”
“As do we. Now,” he said briskly, “stay true to yourself Severus. I wish you well in life. Remember that love is choice and do not be afraid to choose. Also, forgive an old man his actions out of love.”
“You are mad!” Severus replied incredulously.
“Yes, my wife said so with some frequency. Namaste, my son. I look forward to the time when our souls meet again.”
Roshan strode out of the earthen enclosure, his robes whipping in the wind, seemingly content to wait for the giants and confident that his sacrifice would guarantee the safety of his people.
“Roshan! This is insanity. Think of your people! Your granddaughter. Surely we can defend the village from a few giants.”
The elder turned and shook his head sadly. “Severus, please be still. Alfgeir will be satisfied only with me. When I am gone, I ask only that you use your magic to renew the charms on the village well, the stream, and reinforce anything you think requires it. Shana,” he continued conversationally, “is still quite weak at her charms and transfiguration. She as yet lacks the ability to couple her imagination with focus.”
Severus grimaced at the man’s calm discussion of what to do once he had, inevitably, died. “I will do as you ask, but I still do not agree with your methods.”
Roshan smiled. “Of course. You are yet young. Youth often fail to realize the need and importance of sacrifice for the greater good.”
“Sacrifice is well and good. But there’s little use for it when it does nothing that cannot be accomplished with a hard fought battle,” Severus said.
“Ah, well, a philosopher from the great country to the east once said that ‘to fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy's resistance without fighting.’ My sacrifice will mean that the giants shall never again rise to attack my people. They want only me, the magic wielder, the threat to their people, to be removed.”
“Rooooshhhhhhaaaaaaannnnn!” came a call from beyond the next rise.
“Rooooshhhhhhaaaaaaannnnn! Are you come?!”
Roshan’s voice rang out as if he had cast a sonorous. “I come, Alfgeir. I come!”
“Remember your promise , Severus Snape. Remember!”
With that, he disapparated, leaving Severus alone in the vast field beyond the village. The old man would likely be dead by the night. The village would remain in the hands of his idiotic son-in-law and the people would have to learn how to cope without the talents of a wizard until the girl had come fully into her powers.
And what would happen then? Severus turned to head back to the village, flicking his wrist almost negligently, to return the protective columns back to the earth.
Severus shook his head as if to clear his thoughts. He was an Englishman from a northern mill town. He was a half-blood Slytherin from Spinner’s End. He had no reason to worry about the future of a group of crazy Nepalese villagers who lived idiotically close to giants.
This was not his problem.
Forcing himself not to turn back, he braced himself and continued on to the village. There, the people were waiting for him and would rely on him to renew the charms that would keep their village alive until another would take Roshan’s place as elder.
They would treat him with reverence and direct him to his precious khair flowers.
He would return home, to England, and finally prove that he too, was someone important.