Chapter 1: Walking Down Memory Lane
‘You look tired, Severus. Mea culpa. I kept you up too long last night. Maybe, it’s time for you to retire? I will send an elf to your quarters with some sandwiches and tea. And maybe some brandy?’
Snape looked up from the stack of essays in front of him, contempt for the headmaster edged into every line of his pale face despite the old man’s kind offer.
‘Do not try to make me believe that you suddenly care for anyone or anything beside the greater good, Dumbledore,’ he snarled. ‘As long as it serves your purpose, I could be shaking from exhaustion, you would not care.’
Dumbledore inclined his head. ‘This is your tiredness talking, Severus,’ he said softly, as if he were talking to a petulant child. ‘Take a relaxing herbal bath. I recommend lavender and rosemary. Or go for a stroll. Or…’
Snape slammed his quill down onto the table so violently that the tip broke and the ink spilled and splattered all over the essays.
‘Or what? Tantric yoga?’
A bemused smile flitted over Dumbledore’s wrinkled face before he opened his mouth to respond, but Snape didn’t stick around long enough to hear. He Vanished the essays with a wave of his wand – they had been so bad that they would need to be re-written anyway – and left the staff room in such a hurry that his billowing robes could have been mistaken for a cloud of black smoke. He did not care that him slamming the door resulted in three portraits falling from the wall. Neither did he care about the students who scurried out of his way with terrified expressions on their faces or Filch’s outcry that he had just mopped the floor in the corridor Snape was striding through. He did neither have the strength nor the will to care. He didn’t even trust himself to lift his gaze and look at anyone. If he did, he would most probably pull his wand and start throwing hexes and curses to the left and right, not caring whom or what they hit or how much damage they caused.
He needed to get out of the castle, he repeated to himself. He needed to leave the grounds, even, to be able to breathe fresh air that had not been polluted with lies and deceit. He needed to get away from everything: Hogwarts, Dumbledore, Potter, the Dark Lord, yes, even the Wizarding world. And he knew just where to go.
He Apparated to the edge of a forest, a good half hour’s walk away from the village he hadn’t visited since he had been a boy. Back then, he and his father had arrived there by bus. It had been a long and bumpy ride, and little Severus had been ever so uncomfortable. His father had not told him where they were headed, and even though Severus would have much preferred to stay at home with his mother, he had not once protested. He had known better than to talk back to his father, and when the man had said that they’d go away for the weekend, Severus had it deemed best to obey. But he had been terrified during the whole journey, scared to death that he would never see his mother again. Yet when they had gotten off the bus, all Severus’ worries had disappeared. They had been melted by the rays of the spring sun, carried away by the gentle breeze. His father had taken him to the lake, and they had spent the day fishing, and when they had retired for the night, his father had not touched a single drop of alcohol, not even for dinner. And for the first night in many years, young Severus had slept soundly, without having to fear either his father’s harsh words or his fists.
Had his father known that this village, wedged in between a dark and eerie forest and one of the greenest lakes he had ever seen, was the only village in Britain where not a single witch or wizard resided, Snape wondered now as he walked along the dusty gravel road that led towards the village. He himself had not learnt about this fact until years later, when his Muggle Studies professor had taken his class on a field trip to this particular village. They had Apparated to the edge of the forest then, just as Snape had done tonight. They had handed over their wands to their teacher who in his turn had given them to an Auror for safekeeping, and then the youngsters had spent the day amongst Muggles, studying them and marvelling at them. Young Severus had recognised the pub where his father had bought him fish and chips and had spent quite some time by the lake, while his classmates had engaged in Muggle activities such as going to the cinema. He had once more breathed in the fresh air and turned his pale face towards the spring sun, remembering the only weekend from his childhood when he had not been afraid of his father. Of course, he had never told the man about it. It would surely not have earned him anything else than a good thrashing.
Before entering the village, Snape paused in the shadow of the church wall, carefully tucking away his wand in his boot. He was not supposed to bring it to the village at all, he knew that. Doing any kind of magic within the village was severely punished by the Ministry, and there were Aurors patrolling the outskirts of the village at any hour of the day, making sure that nobody broke the law. But Snape did not feel comfortable handing over his wand to any of them, even if it was only for the short time it would take him to walk through the village and down to the lake. These were perilous times, with danger lurking around every corner, and a man like Severus Snape could not afford to be caught without his wand.
It was a quiet, starless night. The moon was nothing more than a thin crescent in the dark sky, and Snape enjoyed the solitude by the lake. It almost seemed as if he was all alone in the world. There was no Dumbledore, no Dark Lord, no duties, no obligations. There wasn’t even any magic, and that night Snape thoroughly relished that feeling. For what good had magic ever done to him, he contemplated. His father had hated it and never missed out on any opportunity to let his son know that he thought him to be a freak, and young Severus had often wondered if his father would have loved him if he had turned out to be a Squib. He would never have come to Hogwarts, never been sorted into Slytherin House, never become acquainted with Lucius Malfoy and never met the Dark Lord.
Now Snape sighed. Not knowing magic would have spared him a lot, he could not deny that, but not knowing magic would also have led to him never getting to know Lily. They had been drawn to each other since they had been two of a kind in a world where neither of them belonged, and for a short while, at her side, young Severus had been allowed to be happy. But then he had destroyed that happiness by calling his best friend a Mudblood. Dark magic had taken a hold of him and he had let it happen. He had been seduced and taken in, and in the end, that same dark magic had destroyed everything he had ever held dear.
The whimper that escaped Snape’s lips that night was so tiny that it could have been mistaken for the whispering of the wind in the trees, and by the time he left the edge of the lake, even the treacherous tear that had run down his cheek had dried. It was too late to cry for Lily now, too late to have regrets. Dumbledore had revealed his plans, and all Snape could do now was what he had been doing for almost six years: protect the boy who had his mother’s eyes, keep him from harm until the day he had to die in order to fulfil his destiny, to keep the Wizarding world from plummeting into darkness. When that was done, he would be allowed to mourn and beg Lily for forgiveness.
He was frozen to the marrow when he returned to the village. The last winter winds were pulling at his cloak, yet even though he longed for his bed and the crackling fire in his quarters, Snape headed for the pub. He was not yet ready to leave the non-magical world, the village where he was free of everything that had ever burdened him. And maybe, a glass of Muggle spirits would give him both the strength and the courage he needed to face the nightmares of which he knew that were bound to haunt him that night.
Things hadn’t changed much in the little pub. The furniture was the same and so were the pictures on the wall, and Snape thought that he even recognised the old fishermen who sat at one of the tables. They had been sitting there the night his father had bought him dinner, and most probably, they still told the same tales.
He slipped into a booth, hid away in the shadows and was almost surprised as the barmaid approached him only moments later. He had not seen her when he had entered the pub, and her steps had been so silent that she seemed to have appeared out of thin air.
‘What can I get you?’
‘Scotch,’ Snape muttered.
‘With some water?’
Snape just nodded, barely lifting his gaze.
The barmaid returned less than a minute later, putting a crystal tumbler onto the table that seemed both too exquisite and too expensive for an establishment like this pub, and Snape contemplated the glass for quite some time before he even considered nosing the amber liquid that it contained. Then he stuck his nose into the glass and gently sniffed the whisky, inhaling its warm, peaty aroma before pulling away again, rolling the glass as he did so. It was too dark to really appreciate the spirit’s colour, but Snape imagined it to be the shade of molten gold or honey dripping from a comb at midsummer’s eve.
‘Let me light you another candle so you can see what you’re drinking.’
The barmaid produced a box of matches from her apron, and Snape watched her hands as she lit one of the matches. Her fingers were long and slender and her nails perfectly manicured, and just as the glass she had put in front of him, her hands seemed out of place in the shabby little pub.
‘No need to bother,’ Snape pointed out and put his hand over the little glass that held a half-melted, dusty tea light. ‘I prefer the dark.’
He heard a sharp intake of breath and saw how the hand that held the match started to tremble, and when he looked up, he managed to catch a glimpse of the barmaid’s green eyes before she blew out the match and the booth filled with darkness once more.
Snape blinked. He had been thinking about Lily a fair bit over the last twenty-four hours, and as he had now looked into a pair of green eyes, he had thought that he recognised them. But surely, his tired mind was playing tricks on him. Lily was long gone and her eyes forever closed.
As the barmaid left him, he started sipping his whisky, trying to forget, but however hard he tried, however hard he blinked, he was unable to block out the eyes he had just seen. Almond shaped and green as spring clover, almost hidden behind thick, dark lashes. He did know them. They were more than just a memory. But could it be? Could this woman be the girl he had lost almost fifteen years ago? How would she have ended up here, in a shabby little pub in the only village in Britain where witches and wizards only existed in fairy tales?
Snape shook his head at himself. The chances of this woman being Nadezhda McKibben were more than slim, and even considering the possibility was ludicrous. But still, he could not stop himself from tentatively looking back over his shoulder.
The woman was now standing in front of a door that was marked with the words “Staff only”, conversing with a stout, balding man, most probably the owner of the pub. She was a good head taller than the man and was bending down in order to whisper into his ear. Her dark hair obscured her features, bereaving Snape of another chance to see her eyes, and he could not help but think that she did not want him to see her face. Then she noticed him looking at her, turned on her heel and disappeared through the door behind her, and only moments later, the front door opened, causing Snape to sink back into the shadows of his booth. He knew the two men that had entered the pub. They were both Aurors, Ministry employees, and Snape had no desire whatsoever to be seen by any of them. He had done nothing wrong, but if they saw him, they would still wonder what he was doing in this Muggle village, and Snape did not want to answer any questions.
The two Aurors chose a table in the middle of the pub, next to the old fishermen, and ordered each a cup of coffee, one with milk, the other with sugar. They looked alert, scanned the room with attentive eyes but didn’t seem to notice anything out of the ordinary. And within fifteen minutes, they had finished their coffee and were heading out.
Maybe he should leave as well, Snape considered, even though he had barely touched his whisky. All of a sudden he was not in the mood for alcohol anymore and longed instead for fresh air. Most probably, the walk back to the forest would do him much better than any drink ever would. But when he rose to leave, he saw the landlord coming towards him.
‘Wasn’t the whisky to your liking, sir?’ the man asked, eyeing Snape’s almost full glass. ‘I’ll get you another brand, if you like.’
Snape shook his head.
‘It was quite an exquisite drop,’ he said politely. ‘But I realised I am not in the mood for whisky.’
‘May I get you something else?’ the landlord asked. ‘Brandy? Gin?’
Snape frowned. It almost seemed as if the man didn’t want him to leave.
‘Please, sit,’ the landlord urged. ‘I’ll bring you a glass of Bunnahabhain. On the house, of course. You’ll love it. Sit, sit.’
Still frowning, Snape sat back down. He had rarely encountered a landlord so eager for a patron to stay and was now far too intrigued to leave. Certainly, the landlord had good reasons for wanting to treat him to a fine glass of Scotch.
The man returned with two glasses, and as he sat down opposite Snape, there was no doubt that he had something on his mind. He looked curious, even excited, and Snape had barely time to nose his whiskey before the landlord started talking.
‘I saw you talking to my daughter.’
‘Your daughter?’ Snape asked.
‘The barmaid,’ the landlord clarified.
Snape slowly put down his glass, feeling almost a bit disappointed. So the woman wasn’t Nadezhda McKibben. Of course not. Chances of Hufflepuff winning the House Cup this year were bigger.
‘We weren’t really talking,’ he said now. ‘I simply pointed out that there was no need to light another candle.’
‘Oh, I see.’
The landlord looked crestfallen and the excitement had all but vanished from his face.
‘I thought… I was hoping that… that you knew her.’
Once more, Snape frowned.
‘You see,’ the landlord continued, leaning in slightly and dropping his voice to a whisper. ‘She isn’t really my daughter. She came wandering into the village one night, a little more than fourteen years ago. Nicely dressed but in quite a state. She had no idea where she was or where she had come from, and so the cops took her down to the hospital. My wife, may she rest in peace, was a nurse there, you see. She took pity on the girl when she was released. Poor thing had nowhere to go. So my wife brought her here. We gave her a job and a place to stay. And when my wife died… The girl is the only family I have left, and I am the only family she knows.’
‘Fourteen years ago?’ Snape wondered. Surely, by now the woman must remember where she came from or someone must have come looking for her, but the landlord firmly denied this.
‘You know, it’s quite strange. The cops took her fingerprints and everything but found nothing at all. It’s almost as if she appeared out of thin air. We tried everything. Therapy, hypnosis. We even sent her to a medium one day. But nothing. All she seems to remember is her name.’
‘And what, if I may ask, is her name?’ Snape enquired, once more optimistic.
‘Hope,’ the landlord answered. ‘Her name is Hope.’
Dear reader, old and new,
I am very glad that you have read this first chapter and hope you enjoyed it. I know I let you wait a long time after His First, and I apologise for that. I also have to ask you to be patient. This is not an easy story for me to write and as fluffy bunnies are far and few between, I hope you will forgive me if I need to take a breather every now and then. I promise I will not let you wait too long for the next chapter.