Title: A Spell of Liking
Characters: Severus Snape, Harry Potter, Luna Lovegood
Word Count: 3542
Summary: Severus doesn't believe that he should be free, but his opinion on the matter wasn't sought.
Disclaimer: This piece is based on characters and situations created and owned by J.K. Rowling; various publishers, including, but not limited to: Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books, Raincoast Books; and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.
Author's Note: Thank you, eaivalefay and xanthophyllippa, for beta'ing.
Severus walked into the Three Broomsticks expecting a hush to fall over the patrons, or the patrons to scream at him and throw things—hexes, most likely—but nothing happened. Nothing at all happened; there was no lull, he did not become a target, and no one looked at him. No, that wasn't true: some people did look his way, but their eyes quickly slid away from him—as if he were just anyone entering a pub anywhere—and this galled him.
It had taken most of his nerve to Apparate to Hogsmeade from the Ministry after his trial, the results of which had shaken him. He was free—exonerated—with precious little explanation given, and he wanted to fight. Waiting for months in a Dementor-less Azkaban had made him restless; he had been prepared to fight. When no fight was offered by the Wizengamot, however, he knew he could slake his shock and anger on some idiotic pub-goer—to have been accosted by several, in fact, had been his hope—and now, it seemed as though he was to be denied even that small release.
"I shouldn't be free," Severus said, to no one.
No one replied.
"I shouldn't be free!" he insisted, more loudly.
No response was offered.
"I SHOULDN'T BE FREE!" Severus shouted, turning on his heel and storming from the pub, furious with himself and Albus and Potter and the world.
He should not have been free, but he was, and he had no idea what to do with his freedom.
Severus spent the next week at Spinner's End ripping up the back garden; the plants had been infested by powdery mildew in his absence, and there was no saving them. While he worked, he wondered why Albus hadn't told him about the letter or the Pensieve full of memories that had served to exonerate him at his trial. He wondered why Potter had, albeit ungraciously, given testimony on his behalf. He wondered why not one of his judges had questioned him. He wondered why no one had paid him any mind at the Three Broomsticks. He wondered why there were no articles about him in the Daily Prophet, which was, for some reason he could not fathom, being delivered to him. He wondered why Minerva had sent him that letter, that letter he had almost burnt out of sheer certainty that it was some sort of joke.
People hate me. Minerva should most of all.
Severus wondered many things angrily and at length, at last coming to the realization that, despite his every expectation and fear, against all logic, no one appeared to hate him—and that was when he knew that he was not, in fact, free.
"Someone's cast a spell. Yes, that has to be it. Someone's worked some sort of spell for my 'benefit'," he spat, tossing aside his spade and rising to brush dirt from his knees.
He knew it had to be Potter. A spell of such magnitude couldn't have been cast by anyone else.
"Why?" Severus demanded, bursting into Potter's room at Twelve, Grimmauld Place.
Potter blinked up at him sleepily. "Don't you knock?"
"Why haven't you reset the wards?" Severus asked, as much stunned by the fact he'd been able to enter Potter's home as he was by Potter's bizarre non-response.
"Why would I have? You're an Order member. This is still headquarters—but I am trying to sleep, so could you—"
"Potter, Severus Snape is standing in your doorway holding a wand on you, and you're complaining about trying to sleep? Don't you see anything odd about that?" Severus asked, wondering if he were dreaming.
"Go away," Potter said, turning his back to Severus.
Severus did, but only as far as the kitchen. If Harry Potter didn't mind him knocking him up just after dawn, then the brat wouldn't mind his making a cuppa. He thought the better of drinking it, however, and rooted through the cabinets until he found a jug of wine. He'd been looking for something stronger, but the wine, he decided, would do.
"I shouldn't be free. None of this should be happening. What the fuck is happening?" Severus asked himself, before downing the glass of wine he'd just poured and pouring another.
He was drunkenly staring at the up-ended, empty jug in annoyance when Potter appeared in the kitchen.
"Oh, you're still here," Potter said, his expression one of distaste rather than hatred.
Severus exploded out of his chair, dropping the jug and rushing Potter to pin him against the wall. "WHAT DID YOU DO TO ME?" he raged, spitting invective in Potter's gratifyingly startled face as his hands wrapped around the younger wizard's throat.
"Mouth . . . wash," Potter croaked out, jerking himself out of Severus' grasp and bringing a fist up to smash the underside of his jaw.
Severus woke up with a headache in an unfamiliar bed. He made a quick inventory of his person and found himself clothed but without his boots. Sitting up, he realized that he was in Potter's bed.
Grasping his head, he murmured, "Hells."
"All four of 'em would probably be happy to have you, you bastard," Potter said, sending a phial toward Severus with a finger-flick. "Don't swallow it. Swish and spit."
Although he had no intention of imbibing the potion, Severus asked, "What kind of pain potion is—"
"It's not a pain potion."
When the phial shattered against the wall, it was almost musical.
"I hate you," Severus declared, rising shakily to his feet.
"And I couldn't give a toss. Why are you here?"
"That's all you can say? After I throttled you? What is—"
"Did you know that you talk in your sleep?"
Severus, gobsmacked, sank back down on the bed. He doesn't care. He doesn't care? How is it possible that he doesn't? he thought, trying not to move because of the pounding of his head and the ache in his jaw. Giving in to the absurdity of his situation, however, he asked, "What did I say?"
"Some rot about not being free," Potter replied, his tone neutral.
Severus hated the lack of affect. He'd grown used to Potter hating him, thrived on that hatred, in fact, so to hear the boy calmly not caring about him was more than galling: it was almost frightening.
"You also nattered on about a spell that was making you practically invisible. But the thing is, Snape, I can see you, so there is no spell. I think that people just don't like you, so they aren't paying you any attention—mouthwash might help with that."
Despite his unsteadiness, Severus bent down and reached for his boots. Once they were on his feet, he left the room, the house, and then the city, Disapparating back to Spinner's End—where he had no mouthwash, nor any intention of brewing some.
The following week, Severus prepared fertilizing potions. He didn't bathe or clean his teeth, and he wore the same worn black trousers and white shirt. By the time his garden's soil was ready to accept seedlings, however, he'd grown to despise his own filth and decided it was time for a proper washing up.
He was soaking to his neck in hot, sudsy water when he heard the knock fall upon his door.
Stumbling out of the tub, into his robes, and down the stairs, he opened the door to discover two Girl Guides. They took one look at his scowl of disappointment and stammered out apologies—while fleeing from his front step.
Severus slammed the door. "Damn it, Potter! What. Have. You. Done. To. Me?"
"I think you scared them off on your own, but it's your business if you want to blame Harry," a feminine voice answered him. "Is it a good idea to leave your back door standing open?"
Severus spun around to find Luna Lovegood standing in his lounge—staring at him in interested astonishment.
With an angry growl, he closed his robes and demanded, "What do you think you're looking at?"
"One of the . . . benefits of Girl Guiding?" Lovegood asked, grinning and raising her eyes.
"'Benefits'?" Severus repeated, too shocked by the circumstances to be angry anymore. I am dreaming, he told himself. I am. I must be. I—
"You look as though you could use some tea," Lovegood continued, taking in the book-lined room. "Do you have any? I could make it while you dried off."
"You could make it."
"Tea isn't so hard."
How do you know it's Lovegood? Severus suddenly asked himself, feeling like a fool. He'd never been so careless before, and he was alarmed. "Through there," he answered, pointing Lovegood toward the bookcase he'd caused to open.
"Don't be long," Lovegood said, disappearing through the doorway.
Severus was dressed and clenching his wand when Lovegood entered the room. She was carrying a tray and smiling, smiling as if she were a frequent and expected guest in his home.
Feeling a bit mad, he pointed his wand at the witch and demanded, "Why are you part of my dream?"
"You're not asleep, Mister Snape," Lovegood replied, not appearing to notice Severus' wand as she set the tray down on a table. "Cream and sugar?"
"Cre—cream and SUGAR?" Severus spat, his hands trembling.
"Don't shout. It's rude. Besides," Lovegood continued, taking a seat and setting about making the tea, "I can hear you perfectly well."
Severus watched in amazement as Lovegood made her own cup of tea, poured another, and raised her head, her expression inquiring. "Lemon," he said finally.
He couldn't think of another response.
As Lovegood passed him his cup, however, something to say did occur to him: "You drink yours first."
Lovegood laughed. "I could have put the poison in the cup. The leaves in your strainer could be tainted—are you feeling well? It's not like you to be so—"
"What do you know about me, Miss Lovegood—if that is who you are?"
"I think it would be the polite thing to stop pointing your wand at me, you know. I am myself, and I'm not going to hurt you. I was only teasing about the tea. See?" she asked, taking a sip from her cup, and then reaching out to take Severus' so that she could sip from it, as well. "No poison."
Severus made no move to retrieve his cup or lower his wand, and Lovegood sighed and set it on the tray.
"Shall I tell you why I've come?"
Severus nodded in the affirmative, not trusting himself to speak, not trusting anything.
"You may have noticed that no one hates you," Lovegood said.
"You. You did it?"
"Me? Of course not. I'm not that powerful. Well, I suppose I could be, under the proper circumstances, but—"
"Tell me. Now. What's happening?" Severus asked, completely out of patience with the turn that his life had taken and longing to understand it.
"People should hate you, of course, but your mother—"
"WHAT?" Severus demanded, leaping to his feet. "What does—"
"You're the one who wanted to know, so sit down and be quiet!" Lovegood snapped, her eyes narrowing.
"You . . . you don't like me," Severus interrupted, almost pleased.
"Not really, but then, I don't know you very well. Do you want to know, or don't—"
"Mother died months ago just before Potter dispatched the Dark Lord. She could have had nothing to do with any of this," Severus insisted, beginning to pace the room. "Why did you come here if all you were planning was to lie to me?"
"It must hurt to pull one's hair like that. I think you should stop doing it."
A strangled laugh escaped from Severus' throat. "Bothering you, am I?"
"A bit," Lovegood admitted, before sipping her tea.
"I've never liked the surreal ones," Severus groaned more than said.
"This isn't a dream, Mister Snape."
"Why are you—no, never mind. Just get on with it!"
"You're not a professor or a spy anymore, that's why you're 'mister', and this isn't a dream—it's a spell."
Severus balled his hands into fists and counted to ten. "I know that. What. Manner. Of. Spell?"
"Madam Pince's," Lovegood answered. "Well, I suppose I should say now, since you know, anyway, Mrs. Snape's."
"What did Mother do? When did she do it? Why do you know about it? And how is it that she came to tell you who she truly was?"
Lovegood rose and moved to stand before Severus. "Your mother cast a spell to keep you safe. She did it before she died. I know about it because she left a journal, which I found. She never told me who she was. It was in—"
"Her journal," Severus said, taking a deep breath.
"You shouldn't hold your breath," Lovegood chided him.
"If you weren't a child and a witch, I'd—"
"Throttle me like you did Harry? That wasn't very nice. He could have hurt you—if he'd wanted to, you know. It was stupid to attack him, and mean. He did offer you—"
Looming over Lovegood, Severus threatened, "If you say 'mouthwash', I'll—"
The girl wrinkled her nose. "I was going to say 'hospitality', but that other thing isn't a bad idea."
Severus gave into it, to the absolute nonsense of his circumstances, and began to laugh. He laughed so hard that he lost his balance and sank in an ungainly heap on the floor, wrapping his arms around himself and rocking with it.
He knew that he was dreaming. No matter how learned his mother had been from time spent alone with her books, there was no possible way she could have cast such a comprehensive spell.
"Im . . . im . . . impossible!" he choked out, between ragged peals of laughter.
"No," Lovegood insisted, kneeling before him, "it's not—because she had this."
Severus fell utterly silent in the face of the object Lovegood held before him, a blackened, broken locket with a cracked and half-melted ess.
"It was Slytherin's locket," Lovegood explained.
"I know that perfectly well, but how did Mother come by it?"
"We don't know, but we think that she was looking for Horcruxes on her own. Her journal seems to indicate it. I don't know if you were aware of it, but Mrs. Snape was—"
"The archivist of the Order. Yes, I did know that," Severus interrupted, taking the locket from Lovegood and staring at it.
"She didn't write down many particulars about the spell, just that it would keep you safe from people's anger if you survived. Hermione thinks that it was based on love, though, and that's what destroyed the Horcrux—and your mother, when she cast her spell."
The locket's chain slid from Severus' fingers. "Mother . . . destroyed . . . ?"
"Her spell did, yes," Lovegood said, laying a small warm hand on one of Severus' thighs.
"Oh, I'm sorry."
"I didn't know. I thought . . . . I didn't know," Severus murmured.
"Well, I thought you should. After Harry told me you'd been to see him, I didn't think it was right for you to be confused—and it was nice, what your mother did."
Severus pushed himself off the floor and stood, feeling dazed. I had no idea that Mother . . . . Why did she never—of course, how could she have told me? I was away, buried within the Dark Lord's ranks. I was away . . . when she died.
Lovegood's voice intruded in his thoughts then, as if from far in the distance. "Only Hermione and I know—well, only Hermione, I, Headmistress McGonagall, Mister Filch, and Mrs. Norris. It was Mrs. Norris who found your mother in your old quarters, and—"
"You contrived to make her death look like an accident."
"No, the Headmistress and Mister Filch did. I was placed in charge of the library afterwards. I'd been planning to stay on at Hogwarts anyway, as a research assistant for the Headmistress and the Order. When I found the journal, I told Hermione, and we both told the Headmistress."
"Well, of course he was told that the locket had been found and destroyed, but I'm not sure how Headmistress McGonagall explained its destruction. Honestly, by that point, Harry didn't much care. He was just relieved it was gone."
"Why would Minerva lie to Potter?"
"Because, when I told Hermione, it broke the spell. She doesn't like you anymore—but she doesn't want to kill you the way Harry did."
"Ah. I suppose that would explain Minerva's bizarre invitation that I return to Hogwarts."
"I think she's probably always liked you, Mister Snape."
"Stop calling me that. You're making me feel ridiculous."
"All right, but I'm not calling you 'professor' unless you're planning to return to Hogwarts."
Severus rubbed the bridge of his nose. "Severus will do."
"You're welcome," Lovegood replied, making as if to leave.
"You're welcome for the information—oh! And call me Luna. I suppose that would be all right. I don't think 'Miss Lovegood' suits me."
"Wait!" Severus exclaimed, as Luna began to leave. "I don't . . . I think that . . . ."
"You shouldn't be free?" Luna asked, cocking her head to one side.
"You were there? That night at the Three Broomsticks?"
"No. Mister Filch was. He likes you, as well."
Severus raised his eyebrows, furrowed them, and then wiped a palm over his face. "I don't know what to say now."
Luna grinned. "You might begin with 'thank you'," she suggested, reaching her arms behind herself and stretching them.
Severus' eyes went directly to the straining cloth of Luna's blouse, but he averted them quickly. Has it been so long that you'd consider a former student attractive? he chastised himself.
It had been. He did. But he wasn't about to dwell on it.
"Thank you," Severus said, making a point of looking Luna in the eye.
"Well, why shouldn't I? You're being nice to me. I like that in people."
It occurred to Severus then that Lovegood had never been one for artifice. While her professor, he had found the girl's atypical behavior exasperating, but now that he was not in a position of authority over her, now that she was no longer a child—a fact which he was still trying to ignore—he decided that he genuinely appreciated her matter-of-factness and inability to allow anything intimidate her.
It makes a refreshing change, he thought, rubbing his palms on his trousers. "One of the benefits of Girl Guiding," she said. That's—
"And I'm sorry about before—about saying I didn't like you."
—a compliment, isn't it? "But you don't like me, do you?" The kind of compliment a woman gives a man.
Severus had not thought of himself as a man for some time. There had been no point to surrender to the desires of his body, not when he was in no position to do other than pay for his release, and he had never been the sort of man who could swallow his pride and open his purse for a prostitute. Lovegood's inadvertent compliment, however, caused him to hope that he might yet, given the circumstances of the spell, be able to find companionship.
"I don't know you, but, if you come back to teach, I'll get to know you, so I don't want you to think I dislike you. Truly, I don't want you to think that—"
"I don't." But it won't be a relative child's companionship, Severus thought, suddenly eager to be free of Luna so that he could take stock of himself.
"You don't even know what I was going to say, Severus."
"It's been . . . a very strange afternoon for me," Severus answered, feeling odd, relieved, and free—and calm enough, finally, to realize he'd broken down in front of a person who might not understand how embarrassing his behavior had been to him. Hells! "Luna, you won't . . . I am a private man, I wouldn't like it if—"
"Oh! You think I'll tell people that you laughed?" Luna asked, blinking. "People do that, you know."
Luna issued a laugh that was more like a snort. "All right, yes, Professor Snape doesn't laugh. I'll consider it a rule."
"Well, you are going to answer the Headmistress' letter, aren't you?"
"Yes, but I have no idea what I'll tell her."
"I do," Luna replied, walking back the way she'd arrived and calling over her shoulder, "I'll just lock the back door, shall I?"
Severus stood in his lounge listening to the echoing "click" of the door latch, thinking, It isn't a trick. It's not a trick. People don't hate me anymore. I'm— "I'm free now. I can do anything."
It was difficult for him to comprehend; he hadn't been free in years, but the thought of being free no longer seemed worth fighting about—he'd never won an argument with his mother when she'd been alive; following her death, it seemed reasonable not to expect that to change.
I suppose . . . I'll finish my bath, Severus thought, summoning a cup of tea and Minerva's letter to follow him to the loo.
Later that evening, Severus still hadn't formed a complete idea as to what to do with his freedom, but he did have a pot of stew—light on the onions and garlic—simmering on the stove, a response to Minerva half-completed on his lap, and plans to find out just where his mother had been buried.
I'll begin with thank you, and decide the rest in time.