’And what happens when I flip this switch?’ the blonde girl asked.
‘The lights will go off,’ the boy answered. His hair was mousy brown.
‘Without magic? Wow! How do you know all that stuff, Dennis?’ the girl asked, obviously in awe.
‘I’m Muggle-born, remember?’ The boy was positively beaming. ‘Do you want me to show you how it works?’
‘Mr. Creevey! Get away from that light switch! You know the rules, don’t you?’
Quickly, the boy withdrew the hand he had extended towards the light switch, looking slightly guilty, and his teacher looked around, worrying that someone might have overheard the somewhat odd conversation. But even though the landlady was looking in their direction, she didn’t seem to find anything to be out of the ordinary. Thankfully she seemed neither to have heard the words magic and Muggle-born nor had her attention been drawn to the fact that a seventeen-year-old girl did not know how to work a light switch.
Thank Merlin, Professor Khasan thought, making a mental note to speak to the Headmaster once he returned to Hogwarts with his students. It didn’t matter that they were in their last year. Having them running around in a Muggle village was just too dangerous. They were too distracted, couldn’t behave themselves! It was a miracle that nothing serious had happened yet. Really, the excursion had to be taken out of the curriculum! The children could learn about Muggles from books and by asking their Muggle-born classmates. There was no need whatsoever to visit a Muggle village and risk the exposure of the Wizarding world once a year!
‘Lemonade and apples are being served in the backyard now. And you look like you need a cup of tea.’
Professor Khasan turned around, looking at the landlady who was holding out a steaming cup towards him. Her fingers were slender, her nails perfectly manicured, and her black hair was pulled into a neat bun at her neck. She seemed to be out of place in the little pub somehow, Khasan thought. But what exactly it was that gave him that feeling, he did not know.
‘I would offer you something stronger, but I guess you are not allowed to drink when on duty.’
‘I might get back to you about that,’ Khasan replied, sighing. ‘If they keep behaving like this!’
‘I find you have a very well-behaved class there,’ the landlady pointed out, and Khasan sent a prayer to the heavens that she would not have any reason to change her mind during the next few minutes. Merlin forbid that any of the children performed magic! Khasan did not know, of course, that the village pub was one of the safest places in the village to bring his Muggle Studies class and that the landlady would be more than forgiving should anything magical happen in her backyard. For he did not know that the landlady of the little pub was, indeed, a witch.
With the tiniest of smiles playing around her lips, Hope now looked after Professor Khasan as he nervously checked up on his students, making sure no one was levitating their apples or turning their glasses into mice. Why the professor was so nervous, Hope didn’t understand. He and his students had been in the village for almost three hours now, and none of the children had done anything forbidden. They were indeed well-behaved and blended in just nicely with their Muggle clothes. In fact, had it not been for the faint tingling on her skin, Hope would not even have noticed that Wizarding folk had come to her pub.
She would always sense magic, she thought to herself now as she stood in the doorway, watching the Hogwarts students eat their apples and drink their lemonade and their teacher sip his tea. Always, even though she herself had not done any magic for almost three years. Not since the day she had saved Severus Snape.
How she had done it, she could still not fully understand. She had, after all, not performed any magic for half a lifetime. But maybe doing magic was indeed like riding a broom. Once you’ve mastered it, you’ll never forget how to do it. But still, she was to this very day amazed by what she had done.
When she had bewitched his key on New Year’s Eve, when she had linked it to hers to ensure that Severus would always be able to return to her pub, she had not been too confident that it would work. And when her key had started to glow that night in the beginning of May three years ago, she had thought that she was imagining things. But when she had heard a thud downstairs in the pub, the sound of something soft and heavy hitting the floor, she had understood that her charm had worked. She had also understood that something had happened, something terrible that had made Severus flee the Wizarding world. She had hurried downstairs, her heart hammering in her chest, and had found him by the door, lying in a puddle of blood. So much blood! And he had been so pale, so terribly pale and still, and for some moments, Hope had been convinced that he was dead. He couldn’t be alive, she had thought, not with that wound at his neck. But when she had bent over him, when she had looked into his beetle black eyes, he had called her name.
At first, all she had been able to think of was that he would die in her arms and with her name on his lips, just like Elisabeth had. She had felt her heart break in two and wished that she could die with him. What would she have to live for if Severus died? How would she be able to go on? She would be left with nothing. No future, no hope, nothing at all. Then she had come to her senses. Grabbing on to his blood-stained robes with one hand, she had pulled her wand – his mother’s wand – with her free hand, had closed her eyes and concentrated hard on her destination. She hadn’t allowed herself to feel anything, neither fear nor sadness, and when she had opened her eyes again, she had not even allowed herself to feel triumphant over the fact that she had managed to Apparate. There hadn’t been time.
The healer at St. Mungo’s had been marvellous. He had not asked any questions, neither about how his patient had been injured nor his name but taken charge immediately, respecting Hope’s wish to not call any nurses. He had been worried at first that it was too late, that there was nothing he could do, but then he had found the phials in Severus’ robes. They had been carefully labelled and contained just what he had needed. When he had found the Bezoar, he had almost levitated with happiness.
He had administered the Phoenix Tears first and shoved the Bezoar into his patient’s mouth. Then he had made him swallow the Blood-Replenishing Potion, and by the time he had applied Essence of Dittany to Severus’ neck, the sweat on his brow had all but dried.
‘I think we’ve done it,’ he had said, a note of relief in his voice. ‘He needs to rest now to regain his strength. There will be scarring, and I cannot yet say if there will be any damage to his vocal cords or any of his organs, but he’ll live. He will live!’
Then he had looked up at Hope, and the last he saw before his memory had been erased were her emerald green eyes.
Hopefully, she had not done any permanent damage, Hope thought now. She had been thinking of the healer many times over the years, had wanted to thank him and apologise for her actions, but she had never gotten in touch. In fact, she had kept away from the Wizarding world altogether. Any contact would have jeopardised not only her secrets but also Severus Snape’s.
She stayed at the pub until Professor Khasan and his students had left and then put up a sign on the front door saying Closed. It was in the middle of the week, and there would be no guests until it was time for tea. No one would mind if she spent the afternoon down by the lake.
She let her hair down, and it fell over her shoulders like curtains of black velvet. The soft spring breeze tucked at her skirt, and the sun warmed her face, and by the time Hope came to the lake, her cheeks were all rosy. Her heart felt light, and had it not been unladylike, she might even have taken off her shoes and wandered barefoot through the grass.
She paused a few yards away from the shore, her eyes on the two swans that soundlessly glided through the water, side by side, every now and then lovingly rubbing their heads together. It was the third year the two nested together. The first year, only one of their young had survived until the end of summer. The rest had been taken by foxes and owls. The next year, two more had made it. How many there would be this year, remained to be seen. It was still early spring, and the pen had not even laid her eggs yet.
Seemingly aimlessly, Hope walked along the shore, looking back over her shoulder every now and then to watch the swans. They were beautiful, majestic, and as they took flight, heading for the sun, Hope could but gasp. She loved those birds and would never get enough of them.
‘Swans mate for life. Did you know that?’
A smile tugging at the corners of her lips, Hope came to a hold, squinting. The willow’s branches hung low, and had she not heard his voice, she would probably not have noticed the man who was leaning with his back against the tree trunk. But then again, she had been quite sure that she would find him there.
‘As a matter of fact, I did know,’ she replied and then tilted her head, looking at the man under the willow. Black clothes, black eyes and black hair streaked with strands of silver.
‘The children have gone now, you know,’ she informed him. ‘You can come home.’
Home. Severus Snape smiled. He had called the pub his home for almost three years now, but still it seemed unreal at times. He had a home. A real home. A place where he was safe. A place where he was welcome. A place he longed for when he was away.
‘I’d rather stay here for a little while longer,’ he replied. ‘And I wouldn’t mind some company.’
The sunlight was reflecting in Hope’s eyes as she approached him, and as so often, Severus was mesmerised by those two sparkling emeralds and the smile that lay hidden within them, visible for no one else but him.
‘Will you ever reveal yourself?’ Hope asked as she came to stand beside him, so close that her left shoulder was touching his right.
‘One day, maybe,’ Severus answered. But for the time being, he had no intentions whatsoever to let the Wizarding world know that he was still alive. He was content with his life as it was now. For the first time ever, he was his own master. He could come and go as he pleased without having to answer to anyone, and the only duty he had was to lock the front door in the evening while Hope counted up the till. She never asked anything of him, never had and probably never would, and Snape hoped that one day, he would find the right words to express his gratitude. For a simple thank you would never be enough.
She had taken good care of him. During the first couple of weeks after the war, he had rarely been awake but slipped in and out of consciousness as both his body and mind had struggled to heal. But every time he had awoken, no matter the hour, Hope had been there by his side, wiping the sweat off his brow or cleaning his wounds, never too tired to gift him with a smile. She had fed him, washed him, nurtured him, and when the nightmares had come, when he had dreamed of snakes and gleaming red eyes and woken up screaming, she had held his hand.
He still had those dreams, every now and then. Most probably, they would never vanish completely, and there were nights when he feared that his demons would one day devour him. But he didn’t need to explain. Hope understood. She always had. For her scars were as deep as his, her demons just as powerful. But her gentle touch was all it took for Severus to go back to sleep, just like his touch was all she needed to find the strength to chase her wraiths away. On those nights, the white candle on her nightstand burned for both of them, and they both knew that there was light to be found on even the darkest of nights. They both knew that there would always be hope.
A/N: A big THANK YOU to my lovely beta, my readers and reviewers. Some of you have become very dear to me over the last year. Thank you for all your support, your criticism and your love. You make writing worthwhile.
I’ll be leaving the fandom for a while now in order to concentrate on my original work. My first novel is to be released in a month, the second one is in the making. PM me if you’re interested.
Take care out there, wherever you are. I am sure we will see each other again one day.