|Beth H (bethbethbeth) wrote in hp_beholder,|
@ 2009-04-21 12:09:00
|Entry tags:||beholder 2009, fic, het, millicent bulstrode, severus snape|
FIC: "A Sort Of Fairytale" for cat_goddess
Title: A Sort Of Fairytale
Pairings: Severus Snape/Millicent Bulstrode (background Dudley Dursley/Ginny Weasley)
Word Count: 7,795
Warnings: EWE. AU-ish. A bit of snark (Millicent isn't exactly a 'people person').
Summary: Millicent is perfectly happy acting as a spy for the Order, but when Headmaster Snape, the object of her hidden affections, suddenly vanishes without a trace, she decides to go searching for him, not caring whether he wants to be found or not.
Author's Notes: I hope you'll enjoy the story, cat_goddess. I had a lot of fun writing it.
"I can't believe he's lumbered us with all this homework. There is a war on. Has he forgotten? How the hell are we supposed to concentrate under these circumstances? And furthermore, why should we even care about this school lark right now? We could all be dead tomorrow! The castle's wards won't hold forever. Sooner or later, the Dark Lord will...."
I shake my head, grit my teeth and try to block out her shrill voice as it rings through our Common Room; Pansy Parkinson, ever the drama queen. So she misses her precious Zabini ever so terribly, but that's no excuse for that kind of racket. Zabini isn't the only absentee, for Salazar's sake, and besides, he only left to be with his mother in the South of France. He's quite safe there; not like Vince and Greg who went traipsing after Draco; their little venture won't end well, you mark my words.
I turn my attention back to my book. Potions. It's not too difficult an assignment. In fact, if Pansy had started working on it ten minutes ago, rather than scream and rant to all and sundry, she'd have hers halfway done by now.
Oh. Great. Now Daphne has joined her. Maybe I should say something to them, request them not-too-kindly to put a bloody sock in it. It's not like I'm intimidated by those vapid tarts.
On the other hand, I'm supposed to be nice, quiet and above all, inconspicuous. I made a solemn promise to the Headmaster, and it's one I intend to keep.
Low profile is the way to go, at least until this is all over.
I take a deep breath and begin to read.
"The most important thing to keep in mind when harvesting Mandrake is that not only does this plant...."
Later, much later, when all of my dormmates are already sound asleep, I quietly sneak out through the Common Room and make a beeline towards Headmaster Snape's office.
I don't bother to knock. For one thing, he's expecting me, and for another, the less noise I make, the better; I mustn't draw any unwanted attention to myself.
Tired, sunken eyes look up from behind a thick book. "Ah. Miss Bulstrode," he says. His smirk doesn't hold half the fire it used to; it's a mere shadow of what it once was, and frankly, the sight is more than a little disconcerting. When I stop to consider it, he always has such a knackered look about him lately. The life of a double agent is clearly taking its toll. It'll only get worse, too, I expect, over the coming weeks, once this war reaches its conclusion.
"Here," he continues, getting straight to the point while he pulls a small stack of documents out of a desk drawer and hands them to me. "Usual time, usual place, usual contact."
I nod. "Understood. Will that be all, Sir?"
"No." He seems to hesitate, just for a second. "There is one more thing; it concerns...snake venom."
I look at him quizzically. "I beg your pardon?"
"Here." He hands me another note. To my astonishment, it's made of ordinary paper, the kind Muggles use. "Give this to Longbottom and tell him to deliver it to Molly Weasley. Be sure to emphasise" - just then, the fire in his eyes is back, but it fades just as quickly - "that he's to give it to her personally, and to her alone. No one else must get the chance to catch even a glimpse."
I frown in confusion, casually skim the note-it appears to be a list of ingredients-and nod. "All right."
"Thank you, Miss Bulstrode. Goodnight."
I hesitate a beat, and study his face again, briefly, before I leave. I have nothing but respect for this man.
No, wait, that's not entirely true; my feelings go beyond respect, quite a way beyond it, and all things considered, it's pretty embarrassing, really. I'm too down to earth to be harbouring a crush on one of my professors.
Besides, which bloke in his right mind would be interested in me? I'm no Cho Chang. Sweet Salazar, I'm not even a Pansy Parkinson!
I'm large in every sense of the word, and I couldn't be farther from pretty if I tried.
Still, I make a damn good spy, and when all this is over and done with, I hope I'll at least have earned Professor Snape's respect in return. I'm not yearning for more than that; not really.
I'm a realist at heart, you see.
When I arrive, punctual as always, at greenhouse number three, Longbottom is waiting for me in his usual spot, shifting from one foot onto the other and rather reminiscent of a lost lamb. I certainly hope Potter's lot know what they're doing, trusting him with such an important task. Fair enough, he's hasn't mucked anything up so far, but I can't shake the feeling that it might be only a matter of time before he will.
"Hello, Millicent," he says and flashes me a grin so gawky it takes me all my self-control not to roll my eyes and laugh in his face.
"Longbottom," I reply curtly, refusing to be on a first-name basis with him. He and I may be on the same side, technically speaking, but calling him 'Neville' would be entirely too bizarre after everything. "I have the usual stuff for you," I tell him, "and something else as well, something equally important."
He looks at me with wide eyes; from lost lamb to frightened deer in mere minutes, such a versatile chap, our Longbottom.
"Oh? Really? What is it?"
"Listen very carefully," I tell him. "You don't want to bugger this up. Professor Snape would be very, very cross..."
The poor sod gulps audibly, and I suppose I should be nicer to him, but what can I say? Old habits die hard.
Returning to the dungeons, I'm quite curious what that business with the snake venom might be about. They haven't discovered another Basilisk lurking around the castle, have they?
I haven't heard any such whispers amongst my housemates, and whisper about it, they certainly would. Some of them are only too keen to discuss their precious Dark Lord and any secret plans or rumours they may have caught wind of. So much for Slytherin cunning and discretion.
I often wonder whether those idiots even realise what they're in for, the sheer horrors that will await them if that maniac does emerge victorious. He won't rest until the whole world either bends to his every whim or burns if it refuses, and it's our world, too, not just the Muggleborns'.
On my way back to my Common Room, I pass Snape's office. I can see there's light seeping beneath the door. I allow myself to linger and I ponder for a moment. What would happen if I knocked at that door, and...?
I shake my head. He'd never get involved with a student. That would be unprofessional, improper, and I respect him too much to try to seduce him, assuming I even knew how.
The rather embarrassing truth is that, at seventeen, I've only ever had one boyfriend, if one could even call him that. His name was David. We were both nine and even though we'd decided that we rather liked each other - whatever such a thing meant at that age - we also agreed that kissing and similar 'icky stuff' was best left to grown-ups.
No, I decide. Severus Snape is definitely out of my league.
That night, I dream of fire and snakes. I blame it on an overactive imagination and remind myself that Divination is a load of cobblers and that there exist no such things as omens.
The following morning, I'm rudely awakened by shrill, frantic shouting all around me.
"W-What's going on?" I mumble, sitting up in bed. I bite back a yawn and rub the sleep out of my eyes.
"Snape has disappeared," Pansy Parkinson says with a decidedly unattractive chunk of sensationalism to her tone. "He must have left sometime during the night. All his personal stuff is gone from his quarters and he didn't even write a note to say goodbye or to explain or anything. He just...vanished without a trace. McGonagall must be having kittens right about now."
At any other time, I'd sneer at her stupid attempts at humour, not to mention at the unmistakable glee that's fast spreading all over her face like a violent rash, but I'm too concerned - no, make that overwhelmed with worry-to start an argument. "Any clue as to where he went?" I ask, struggling not to let my distress show.
"No," she says. "There are lots of rumours, of course, but no one actually knows anything. Personally, I reckon he's gone and joined the Dark Lord; he'll probably be sent on some secret mission, something dangerous and cunning." She lets out an arrogant laugh. "It's only a matter of time now before the tide turns completely in our favour. Just imagine it, Millie, we'll soon be rid of all that...scum!"
I clench my teeth to stop myself from screaming in her face, and I hope with all my heart that Snape is all right, wherever he is.
Two weeks crawl by at a maddeningly sluggish pace, and still there is no trace of him.
At night, I barely sleep a wink, and come morning, I dread the delivery of a new Daily Prophet even more than I do my dormmates' inexhaustible gossip. I'd be devastated to learn he's been captured, or worse. I simply wouldn't know what to do with myself.
On more than one occasion, I head up to McGonagall's office to attempt to find out more. She's the Headmistress now, but not terribly helpful in my case.
"You're better off not knowing," she tells me on my tenth visit. She sounds tired, but no less strict for it.
I cross my arms. "Oh?"
She nods slowly, pressing her lips together into a thin line, and then adds, "I realise you're very trustworthy and you fully understand the need for discretion, Miss Bulstrode, so rest assured, my withholding information is certainly nothing personal. However," - she pauses, giving me a pointed look over her small, round reading glasses as she does - "He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named has some extremely unorthodox and highly effective methods for extracting the truth from even the most resourceful of people. For your own safety, ignorance is the more preferable option in this instance."
"I see," I say, temporarily dumbstruck. I don't think I want to know to which 'unorthodox methods' she's referring.
"Concentrate on your schoolwork, Miss Bulstrode," she continues, addressing me as though I were a child. "Grades are important, even now. Your assistance will be called upon if and when it is once again needed. Now, might I suggest you return to your dorm, before either Miss Parkinson or Miss Greengrass becomes suspicious and unleashes even more far-fetched rumours on the student body at large?"
A few minutes later, I stomp back to my Common Room. With every step I take, I grow more frustrated and angry. Then, suddenly, something occurs to me.
I nod to myself, not needing much time to make up my mind, and go straight to the Owlery.
I've heard whispers that he's planning to leave soon, sneak out of the castle with Loony Luna and probably the Weasley girl, too. Of course, that might just be unsubstantiated gossip as well, but I won't know for certain unless I investigate, will I?
I pull a quill and a piece of parchment out of my robe pocket and jot down quickly: "Tomorrow. Usual place. Usual time. M.B."
I watch the small brown owl as it flies off, the flapping of its wings eerily loud in the late-evening silence.
Satisfied with my course of action, I nod to myself once more. I may not be a Gryffindor, and I mightn't rank amongst the ten best students - or even the twenty best, but nobody's counting - in my year, but I can hold my own, and I will help Professor Snape, whether he wants me to or not.
That night, I stand in front of the bathroom mirror and practice.
"Voldemort. Voldemort. Vol-de-mort."
On the sixteenth attempt, my voice no longer wavers, and by then, I'm also convinced of one thing: saying the name of a great evil aloud doesn't necessarily summon it.
Longbottom is most reluctant to help, and about as intimidating as a big bunny rabbit in his arguments. "Why would we even take you along?" he demands in what I assume must be his angry voice. "Just give me one good reason!"
"Snape wants me there," I reply simply.
He frowns, disbelief written all over his pale face. So he's not as gullible as I expected him to be; ah, well. "No one told me anything about that," he says. "It wasn't mentioned during yesterday's briefing, either."
I give him a small smile and take my cue. "Of course they didn't tell you. The less people know about all this, the better."
He remains unconvinced. "Why?"
I don't even have to think about my answer. "Voldemort"-it's mildly satisfying to see how he flinches at the name-"has some extremely unorthodox and very effective methods for extracting the truth from people; hence, for their own safety, everyone must be kept in the dark about matters of a highly sensitive nature."
There. Even in the half-light, I can see him turn a deathlier shade of pale.
"Oh," he mumbles. "A-All right, then, I suppose. If you really want to come."
"Snape demands that I do," I insist.
"Right, er..." He takes a deep breath. "We leave the day after tomorrow, just before dawn."
"Brilliant," I say. "That should give me more than enough time to prepare. In the meantime, I can count on your discretion, can't I? You won't breathe a word of this to anyone?"
"N-No," he says quickly. "Of course not." A lopsided smile emphasises his words, and I have to stop myself from sneering it into oblivion. Daft, goody-two-shoes Gryffindors..
A few days later, I'm safely settled in at The Burrow. I'm surrounded by Weasleys small and tall, Order members who aren't Weasleys, and a varied group of other people who seem to come and go. None of them appear to like me very much, and I can't exactly blame them.
I tricked poor Longbottom into bringing me here, after all, and the loudest of the Aurors - that Moody bloke who was held captive at the bottom of his own trunk in Fourth year; I expect the Ministry keeps him around as a living example of what not to do - has decided it would be too dangerous for me to return to Hogwarts, a reaction, I admit, I was hoping for. "People will ask too many questions," he tells anyone who dares question his decision. "It's a risk we certainly can't afford at this stage."
So they're stuck with me while I wait for news and keep a close eye on the other occupants of the surprisingly homely Weasley house.
Potter spends most of his time either training or running around like a mental case, Ronald Weasley's glares would freeze hell, Luna Lovegood is forever cheerful, and Granger spends her days sitting around with her nose in a book.
I soon discover that I'm not the only less-than-desirable guest present. Potter's cousin, Dudley, is staying here, too. He's a Muggle, apparently, and they believe his life may be in danger. I can't say I'm terribly surprised about that last bit; Potter's relatives do have this pesky tendency to expire at the drop of a hat.
On the whole, Dudley seems a quiet sort of fellow. He keeps to himself most of the time and only ever seems to talk with Arthur Weasley, who has managed to set up a Muggle contraption they call 'the computer' for him. Dudley spends a lot of time with this 'computer'. I suppose it keeps him occupied, and out of everyone else's hair.
On the fourth day of my stay, I finally manage to catch Molly Weasley all by herself. I suspect she knows a lot more about where Snape went and why. She was the one Longbottom had to give that note to, after all, the one that looked like a list of ingredients.
I walk towards her as she's standing by the sink, cutting carrots. I allow myself a slight smirk; proper wizarding families have elves to handle such menial chores.
Initially, she's as tight-lipped as McGonagall was, even going so far as to deny all knowledge of the list I gave Neville - honestly, I'm not that forgetful or gullible - but I'm persistent in my questioning, possibly even pushy. I don't exactly have much choice in the matter, do I? Not if I'm to find out the truth.
"Now look here, young lady," she finally says, her hands on her hips and her expression dangerously close to murderous, "I have no idea what you've been told, but everything relating to" - she looks around as if she expects someone to be eavesdropping in her own kitchen - "Severus Snape is highly classified information. Assuming I was in possession of more facts, I couldn't possibly..,," She shakes her head. "Besides, why is it so imperative for you to know this, anyway? I don't see how Professor Snape's whereabouts and wellbeing are any of your concern." She gives me a pointed, almost challenging look. Truth be told, I've been anticipating that question and I have my answer ready, too; it's snippy and poignant and... Bugger! It won't work, not with this woman. She raised six sons; she must know every trick in the book by now. There's only one thing for it..
I take a deep breath and say, "I'm worried about him."
Her eyes widen as she studies my face, and then, to my great surprise and immense relief, her expression softens and her eyes are filled with something like empathy, understanding.
"The list was a precaution," she says softly. "Just in case."
"Yes?" My heart is in my throat; all this is affecting me far more than I realised.
"I cannot reveal any details. The truth of the matter is, I'm scarcely familiar with the specifics myself, but the note Professor Snape wrote me contained a list of ingredients I needed to find for him; some of them were quite rare."
I nod slowly. So I wasn't far off.
"He is about to undertake something extremely dangerous, and it's not entirely unthinkable that he might...." She hesitates.
"Go on," I say and add, hoping I don't sound as desperate as I feel, "Please?"
She nods. "Very well. Once he had all the ingredients, he was going to brew an antidote."
"An antidote?" I parrot.
"Against snake venom," she explains. "In case he was ever bitten."
"Bitten?" I ask, horrified but not exactly surprised now I've put two and two together; he did mention snake venom to me when he gave me the note, after all. I just never thought he might need it for himself; I was certain it had to be some kind of.. Oh God. I swallow hard and stammer, "B-By a snake?"
She nods gravely. "And not just any old snake, either."
I swallow hard. I haven't a clue as to what she means by that, exactly, and although I'll admit to being curious, something about the look on her face stops me from asking further. A chill runs up and down my spine and I'm certain it's just my imagination, but suddenly it seems like the temperature in the kitchen has dropped by quite a few degrees.
The following morning, Potter and his gang leave, talking animatedly amongst themselves about tents, picnics and other outdoor activities that, on the surface, don't sound like they have all that much to do with warfare. But then, of course, what do I know? So much here still seems completely surreal.
I notice Ginny Weasley lingering on the landing. I assume she's sulking because Potter didn't say goodbye to her.
Someone should hit that girl with the truth, or at least tell her about the way Dudley's been looking at her.
I suspect she'll feel a whole lot better once she realises there's more to life than Harry Potter.
Potter and his lot have been gone for three weeks, and mother and daughter Weasley for almost one.
Most of the time, it's only Dudley and me home at The Burrow, save for the occasional injured Auror who needs to convalesce for a few days.
"The hospitals are full and unsafe to begin with," I'm told. "Assuming we'd even make it that far."
It's not what I'd call terribly reassuring news.
Sometimes, I consider leaving. I could take my chances and try to make it to the coast - I'm hardly important to the outcome of this war, so I highly doubt anyone out there is actively searching for me or even gives a damn about my whereabouts - but I don't know this area, and have yet to find a map; Granger probably took them all with her.
Besides, if I leave now, I may never find out what happened to Snape, or whether he's even alive. I still shudder every time I think about snakes and I'd rather not consider the kind of tragedy that might have already occurred.
On the second day of the fifth week, Molly Weasley bursts into the kitchen where Dudley and I are having baked beans on toast; thank Merlin, Dudley turned out to be a half-decent cook and he can operate Arthur Weasley's strange Muggle appliances, too, so we don't have to starve to death.
"Millicent," Mrs Weasley says, sounding out of breath and quite frantic. "I thought you should know, h-he's been found."
I don't need to ask to whom she's referring. "Really?" I manage, my heart racing a mile a minute.
"Minerva is tending to him now," she says, almost tripping over her words. "I mean, Headmistress McGonagall. I thought you might like to come. It's not far away from here; a derelict barn by the stream."
I all but jump up from my chair. "Yes," I say. "Yes, of course I do."
"Right. Off we go, then," she says, grabbing my arm.
The last thing I see is Dudley's puzzled face while she Apparates me away with her.
My head is reeling, partly from the Apparition, which always leaves me feeling woozy, but mostly from the sight that awaits me as I step into the small shed.
Snape is lying on the floor, immobile, with large, gaping wounds on the side of his neck. He's as pale as a ghost and there is blood everywhere. I'm not particularly squeamish, luckily, but nonetheless, I shudder from head to toe and I'm certain, in this very moment, I must be at least as pale as he is.
Through my shocked haze, I vaguely hear McGonagall say something about Voldemort's snake and how Longbottom killed it with the sword of Gryffindor; he chopped its head clear off.
At any other time, I'd certainly be laughing at the irony-I suppose I really should have given the poor sod more credit, though; he proved himself in the end-but here and now, I'm too overcome with anxiety to be amused by anything. Snape almost died. My heart skips another beat. He is still alive, though, isn't he?
"You've already administered the antidote, haven't you?" Molly Weasley asks McGonagall. They both look as concerned as I feel, and McGonagall appears to be even more exhausted than she was the last time I saw her, back at Hogwarts.
"Yes, of course. I gave him the whole vial, as instructed, but I expect it takes a while before it works."
Molly Weasley nods. She schools her features into an expression of fierce determination, but even in my distress, I can tell it doesn't come easy. She's scared, too. We all are.
Nothing happens for what seems like an eternity. Not a word is spoken as we stand and wait and the thick tension in the room becomes almost unbearable.
Finally, I decide to speak up, because someone has to, and painful though the realisation is - truly, it hurts me more than they'll ever know - we have to start facing the fact that this situation is hopeless; perhaps the venom was too strong or the antidote wasn't potent enough or we simply got there too late. Either way, whatever the specifics, Severus Snape is gone; another pointless casualty.
I blink back tears, take a deep breath, and just then, a pair of dark eyes flutters open.
"Severus?" McGonagall says, sounding choked up, and hunches down next to him. "Severus, can you hear me?"
The man on the floor makes an unintelligible noise. Molly Weasley lets out a long, deep sigh, and I'm certain I've never felt so relieved in my entire life. I feel like laughing and crying at the same time, and I'd probably do precisely that if it weren't for the other people present. Besides, I doubt Snape would be impressed. I wouldn't be, either. If there is a place where emotional outbursts are actually appropriate, this isn't it.
"Don't try to speak too much," McGonagall continues in a gentle tone. "You mustn't overexert yourself." She pulls out her wand and carefully casts what I assume are a few diagnostic and healing spells. I watch in awe as a large gash on Snape's neck slowly fades until it vanishes completely.
Snape looks at me, then. "Miss B-Bulstrode?" he says, his eyes wide as though he can hardly believe I'm here.
"Hello, Professor," I say and again struggle not to let my emotions get the better of me.
He closes his eyes again, but not before he nods at me, just briefly. He has always been difficult to read, of course, that gesture was definitely one of approval.
The general consensus is that Severus Snape needs to disappear as soon as possible, play dead, flee to the Muggle world and preferably get out of Britain, too.
Without thinking - the way I see it, there is nothing to think about - I volunteer to accompany him; he's in no fit shape to travel alone, and furthermore, I'm not leaving him again, not unless he were to force me to.
On a sunny Tuesday morning, we prepare to board the ferry to Calais.
On the other side of the Channel, someone will be waiting for us, a friend of a friend, and aren't they all?
"Is there anyone to whom you'd like me to say farewell on your behalf?" McGonagall asks me. She and Molly Weasley have come to see us off.
I think about my family; some of them are missing, presumed dead or defected, others are in Azkaban or well on their way there, and my parents, last I heard, are staying in St Petersburg, safe. No doubt once this war is over. I'll get in touch with them again.
"No," I reply simply, and shake my head. "There's no one, but I appreciate the kind offer, Professor."
She nods, her eyes shining with empathy. "Good luck," she says.
"Have a good journey," Molly Weasley adds.
The two of them are no longer on the dock when the ship sets sail.
I've never travelled by ship before and am relieved to discover I'm rather enjoying the experience. The weather is sunny, the sea is calm, and most of the other passengers are holidaymakers.
It's bittersweet to realise that as far as the Muggle population is concerned, this is just another summer like all others. They haven't noticed much of our war, and anything they might witness, they are soon made to forget. It's for the best, really. The alternative would only lead to tragedy.
During the three-hour voyage, no one pays me much attention, and Snape spends all his time in the cabin, resting. He'll need to do a lot of convalescing over the coming weeks. The potion he brewed, though extremely effective, is still far from a miracle cure.
McGonagall told me that upon our arrival in Calais, we'll be taken to a cottage in Saint-Jacut-de-la-Mer, a tiny seaside village in Bretagne. It'll be our new home for however long we may need it.
I gaze out over the rolling waves, breathe in the salty sea air and think a change of scenery might do us both the world of good. Besides, if anyone deserves a break, Severus Snape does.
Severus Snape turns out to be a terrible patient. Not that I was expecting anything different. The concept of 'rest' appears to be entirely foreign to him, too.
Five days after our arrival, he starts making small trips to the nearby sandy beaches and their surrounding dunes. He gathers plants, herbs and even the occasional seashell.
When I ask him what he's up to, all I get in response is, "An idle mind is prone to decay, Miss Bulstrode," or something equally daft, so I leave him to it while I take care of the cosy cottage and its small garden. Thankfully, there was also an elf present when we got here, an old female by the name of Cartouche who belonged to the previous owner. She's almost deaf and doesn't speak a word of English, but her cooking is excellent.
"You should be able to leave soon," Snape tells me on our eleventh evening abroad.
"And why would I want to do that?" I ask him with a slight smile.
"For one thing, Miss Bulstrode, I no longer require any medical attention," he replies, no detectable emotion in his tone. "For another, the war back home is finally over. It was practically over when we made our escape, save for the rounding up of certain undesirable elements." He pauses briefly, like he's waiting for some kind of reaction on my behalf. When none is forthcoming, he continues, "Furthermore, I'm an old man, solitary and set in my ways. I imagine you'd rather prefer the company of people of your own age group, wouldn't you?"
"Well, your ways are my ways too, now, Sir," I reply as neutrally as I can, "and to be quite frank, people of my own age group have never held much appeal to me, so unless you feel I have outstayed my welcome." I give him a questioning look, but take good care not to appear as though I'm pleading with him; I don't want to reveal how sad it would make me if I were sent away.
"You're certainly more than welcome to stay if you wish," he tells me and then smirks in a way I haven't seen him do since Sixth Year. Something tells me he's definitely getting better.
One Wednesday afternoon, three months later, he walks into the kitchen, plops a large stack of parchments down on the table and informs me of his plans.
"Herbal remedies and 'natural medicine', to use a Muggle phrase, are becoming more and more popular," he tells me. "And rightfully so. We could set up a small establishment in the village centre-a 'parapharmacie' they call it in these parts, or so I've heard-and sell potions, herbs, tea, ointments, and similar products."
My eyes widen. It's no surprise to discover he's been up to something. He even took out a subscription to an English Muggle newspaper last month. I just never could have imagined it would turn out to be something like this. I assumed he was planning on enjoying his retirement, and that all his potion brewing and research were for a book, or for his own benefit, because he'd hate for his skills to become rusty. It's not like he needs the money a new job would bring him, either. I know he has money, even if I don't know where it comes from; an inheritance, I expect.
"You can help me with the business side of things, Miss Bulstrode," he continues, either not noticing my befuddlement or choosing to ignore it. "Provided you are interested, that is?"
My eyes widen further; he's certainly full of surprises today. "Business side?" I blurt out. "Me?"
"You know how much I detest paperwork," he replies dismissively, "and to be fair, you've been handling the housekeeping budget most splendidly. I must concede you're far better with figures than I am."
I bite back the wide grin that threatens to burst across my face. "All right, I'll handle the business side, but under one condition."
He raises a questioning eyebrow; yes, he's definitely becoming more like himself again. "And what might that be?"
"It would be quite nice if you finally started calling me 'Millicent'," I reply without blinking. "I'm not your student anymore, after all. There's no longer any need for such formalities."
"Hm." He smirks again. "Millicent. Very well. As you wish. I expect it may take some getting used to, however."
When I hear him say my name, my heart leaps into my throat. No, in case there was ever any doubt, my crush on him hasn't gone anywhere. In fact, it would be correct to say I love this man.
With a little help from magic and a few surprisingly accommodating neighbours, our shop takes about three months to set up, supplies, fittings, decorations and all.
It's odd how people pull together here. I can't tell whether that's a Muggle thing, or simply due to the fact that it's such a small community and most families who live here have been friends for generations and helping one's neighbours is simply the done thing.
For a small shop in the middle of nowhere, our sales are going staggeringly well. I assume our customers must be quite pleased with the merchandise, to the point of recommending it to all their friends and acquaintances, because in no time at all, people from far and wide, some of them tourists visiting the abbey and coastline, some of them Muggles who claim they're witches - Severus, with whom I'm now completely on a first - name basis, has informed me they follow an ancient Muggle religion that has nothing to do with our kind of magic and thus it would be most inappropriate for me to enquire after their wands; not that I would, honestly-flock to our shop.
Some days, this whole way of life almost seems like something out of a fairytale, even if I look nothing like a princess, the prince isn't exactly mine, most likely never will be either, and I'm willing to wager he wouldn't be seen dead on a horse, white or otherwise.
Of course, it's entirely possible that in my happy daze, I've become somewhat careless and have abandoned the realism that kept me grounded for so long. I suppose I should have stopped to consider that when things appear too good to be true, they generally are.
On a foggy Friday morning, I head to the shop at dawn, to finish up some paperwork I forgot to take home the previous night.
Severus is still at the cottage when I leave. Sleeping, I presume. I've left a note for him and expect he'll join me when he's had his breakfast.
I've been in the backroom office for about an hour when I hear loud, persistent banging at the front door. "Au sécours! Au sécours!" someone yells.
My French is still nowhere as fluent as it should be, but this sounds like an emergency to me, a matter of life and death, so I run to the door, unlock it and pull it open as fast as I can.
It turns out, in some twisted way, I was right about life and death, but I don't notice the approaching danger until a hear a violent blast, and the next thing I'm aware of is the floor coming towards me at neck-breaking speed. Then everything goes black.
When I open my eyes again after what feels like a very long time, the first sight to greet me is Severus Snape slumped in a nearby armchair, sound asleep.
Slowly, my eyes adjust to the lack of light until I finally recognise my surroundings. We're in my bedroom. The curtains are drawn, and the only source of light is a small, waning candle on the bedside table. I have no idea what day it is, or how I even got here. The last thing I recall is an ominous, ear-shattering noise followed by silent darkness.
I cough loudly, to draw Severus' attention and also to try to get rid of that dry, prickly feeling in my throat; it's as if I've swallowed a bucket of sand or something; terribly unpleasant.
Severus' eyes fly open and he's on his feet in no time. "Millicent, you're awake," he says, sounding relieved and pleased and something else I can't quite put my finger on, but there's a definite undertone of sadness to his voice as well. Actually, there's more emotion in it than I've ever known there to be before. Usually he just switches between mockery, disdain and disinterest, or rather, he used to do, back at Hogwarts. "How are you feeling?" he asks, walking closer to the bed.
"A-All right, I guess," I mutter hoarsely. I try to sit up, but a sudden onslaught of dizziness and nausea immediately forces me to lie down again.
"All in good time," he says, worry plainly written all over his pale face. I've never seen him this unsettled before, and frankly, it frightens me a little. "First you have to regain your strength. You've been unconscious for quite a while."
"W-What happened?" I manage. A series of images flashes in front of my eyes, all of them are vague but definitely unpleasant.
"You were the victim of a surprise attack."
I swallow hard and silently remind myself I'm not the type who allows herself to get scared or intimidated. Still, I can't suppress the shudder that makes its way down my spine. Well, it was a valiant effort, at least... "D-Death Eaters?" I ask in a whisper, needing to know the truth no matter how much I dread the thought of hearing it.
He sneers. "No, just two ordinary Muggle thugs. They were searching for. mind-altering substances, or failing that, any money that might have been lying around. The duo has been apprehended by the authorities in the meantime, however, so you needn't be anxious about a possible return."
"Oh, they were caught," I mumble, not sure what else to reply. "That's, um, good at least."
"Yes, thankfully the curse I cast incapacitated them for quite a while, long enough for the Gendarmes to come to the shop and catch the villains red-handed. My only regret is that I wasn't there to prevent those miscreants from harming you in the first place."
I give him a reassuring smile. "You weren't to know, Severus. Besides, who'd have expected a daylight robbery? Especially in a little remote place like this..."
"One must always be vigilant, Millicent, especially when it comes to those one cares about. Rest assured, I shan't let my guard down again."
Suddenly, my head is reeling for different reasons; those one cares about?
I give him what must be an incredulous look, but he doesn't seem to notice. "Get some more rest," he tells me. "I'll have a word with Cartouche; see if she can prepare some light broth for your supper."
He's out the door before I can say anything else.
It takes me a whole week to recover fully, and Severus stays with me the entire time. He is keeping our shop closed so he can take care of me properly, he says. I'm touched, flattered, and not to put too fine a point on it, completely gobsmacked at this unexpected turn of events. Something has clearly changed, a balance has shifted, and I'd swear that there's something resembling affection in his eyes now whenever he looks at me.
Of course, it needs saying that I'm by no means an expert when it comes to matters of the heart. I never understood what all the fuss was about either, to be honest, Parkinson and Greengrass giggling over whichever Quidditch celebrity happened to be flavour of the month amongst most of the female Slytherins, and don't even get me started on that week where everyone seemed to be besotted with Oliver Wood, of all people.
Still, I can't shake the impression that there's something in the air and that, perhaps, unless my medication is muddling my mind, my feelings for Severus Snape have at last been reciprocated.
One night, when I'm unable to catch a wink of sleep, I decide to go down to the cellar where Severus has set up his potions lab. I don't go there usually, not unless there's some urgent business he needs to take care of, because I'm well aware how much he needs his solitude when he's working.
In my defence, this feels urgent, too, in some ways.
I take a deep breath before knocking at the door.
"Yes?" a familiar voice calls out. He sounds surprised, and perhaps a little bit anxious.
I step into the room and spot him pouring purple liquid into a bubbling cauldron. Whatever he's brewing smells like mint and strawberries, nothing like those foul concoctions he taught us to make at Hogwarts.
"Is there something the matter, Millicent?" he asks, looking at me quizzically.
I shake my head and smile. Now I'm face to face with him, I suddenly don't know what to say; I suppose I never stopped to think this far.
"In that case," he continues, "shouldn't you be resting, getting your beauty sleep?"
"No," I reply with a small smile, "I already tried that a few times when I was a kid; I still look exactly the same, albeit a few years older."
He frowns. "I'm afraid I don't quite follow.."
"I'm no beauty, Severus," I point out, "and no amount of sleep will ever change that."
"Millicent," he begins, sounding...is that shocked? "I certainly never meant to imply...."
I shake my head and hold up a hand to stop him in his tracks. I suppose he assumes he offended me and should apologise, but he didn't and he shouldn't. "Not being beautiful suits me just fine," I tell him firmly. "Some girls are Chos, while others are, well, more like me."
He remains silent for a good few moments, and then says, without even a hint of irony to his tone, "You have many attractive qualities, Millicent. Physical beauty is merely that and will inevitably fade in the end. You, on the other hand, have proven yourself to be brave, dedicated and intelligent, traits that are far more worthwhile and more likely to stand the test of time."
Rendered speechless, I can only blink.
"In fact," he continues in a matter-of-fact tone, "I have grown rather fond of you."
I manage not to gawk, but can't stop myself from blurting out, "Fond of me?"
"Indeed," he says, unwavering. He steps away from the cauldron and walks towards me until we're face to face. "I was wondering, if, perhaps you would care to join me for dinner tomorrow evening?"
I don't catch on right away. "Er, I always join you for dinner, don't I?"
He nods. "Quite. But what I had in mind was a different kind of dinner, one at a restaurant, one of the kind that is generally associated with" - he pauses; there is some hesitation in his expression, a sight I rarely see - "courtship."
"Oh." I give him a smile so wide I hope my face won't split in two. For an undetermined amount of minutes, I don't say a word. I can't. I'm too busy basking in the glory of the one moment that I was certain would never come. Then, however, I realise he's still waiting for an answer. "Yes," I say, deciding not to be coy about it, "dinner for two would be very lovely, Severus."
"Excellent," he replies, before he leans closer and kisses me.
I suppose I should have seen that coming. If I had, the moment would have been more dramatic or romantic or something. Instead, it's sweet and quite chaste, but at the same time, it's also perfect.
It's more than I ever dared hope for.
Two years have passed since our first kiss. I'm starting to believe I've found my fairytale ending after all.
What began as a small parapharmacie in a tiny town has since become a thriving franchise with branches in Lille and Marseille and if all goes well, we'll be setting up shop in Paris next spring, too.
Back home in Britain, not many people know about us, or rather, they're unaware of my whereabouts and believe Severus Snape perished in the war, died a hero's death. He even got a life-sized statue in Wizarding London; it's something that both annoys and amuses him, in more or less equal proportions.
My parents visit us whenever they can. They, too, have left wizarding Britain. A year after the war, they moved to the Netherlands. Mum loves bustling Muggle Amsterdam and its many shops, cafés and art galleries, and Dad....Well, he's perfectly happy just so long as she is.
Occasionally, we hear from McGonagall. She sends us letters via Muggle post to inform us of the latest news and gossip. A new missive arrived this morning. Apparently, Dudley and Ginny Dursley are expecting their second child. Three days after victory was officially declared, the two of them eloped, much to everyone's surprise, particularly, I assume, Harry Potter's. It's a shame I wasn't there to see the speccy git's face.
I grin at that thought and then my smile softens as I have to conclude that in hindsight, nothing really turned out as expected, and yet everything seems to be exactly right.
"How do you feel about children?" I ask Severus that afternoon because it's something I've been wondering about a lot lately.
"Well.." He seems to seriously consider the matter for a moment. "Now that I'm no longer teaching, I admit I harbour a significantly less murderous attitude towards them than I once did."
It's not exactly the answer I was hoping for, but still a far better one than I anticipated.
"Why do you ask?"
"Just curious," I reply with a small smile and pour us both another cup of tea.