Severus broke his journey at the Castle Arms Inn, which was located near his ancestral home. He wasn't looking forward to surveying the improvements, but with the Reception in mind, it seemed negligent not to inspect them. Discharging his Muggle driver, he realised that he would find it nearly intolerable to host a round of parties at his "home" after enduring the ones he'd need to attend during the Presentation, and he wondered if it might be possible to persuade Blaise to dispense with the second stage of the Courtship Ritual and move directly on to the third.
That would give me a two-month period of relative peace before the Convivium, he thought, entering the establishment.
"Good evening, Sir John," called the publican.
The greeting wasn't unexpected; the Snape locals knew him as Sir John Ropner, the current owner of Snape "Castle," as they called it. They also believed it to have passed through many hands over the years, despite the fact that the Snapes had always owned and lived in the place. Wizards being naturally long-lived, some of the Snape grandfathers had pretended to be their grandsons—or other men altogether—to avoid suspicion, and all of Snape Castle's inhabitants had developed reputations as great travellers to explain their frequent absences from home.
"Good evening, Sam. A pint, if you please."
"Coming up. It's good to see you home, sir."
"Thank you. I'm here to observe the improvements."
"And we're that grateful you take the time for them, sir. The tourists love it."
Severus nodded as Sam smiled and moved down the tap to see to his other patrons. I suppose someone should receive joy from that collection of ill-mortared stones, he mused dispiritedly; although, he did admit to himself that he was looking forward to seeing the restoration of Antonio Verrio's ceiling in the chapel.
In 1707, Verrio, a wizarding artist, had been commissioned to create "Wonder and War in Heaven," an epic, moving painting replete with battling angels and devils. Severus had whiled away much of his childhood unhappiness underneath of it by lying on the floor between pews, contemplating the battle and telling himself that things could be worse.
I was wrong, wasn't I? he thought, snorting into his beer. I lived out that scene in later years in many respects, didn't I? Only I was merely a minor devil in my own story.
The major devil in his Family, he knew, was Sir John Neville, who had taken as his third, Muggle wife one Catherine Parr. The lady had married Henry the Eighth after Neville's death, but while the earlier Sir John had lived, he'd invited Catholic rebels to take refuge in Snape Castle for the purpose of collecting intelligence on them to provide to King Henry during that monarch's suppression of the monasteries. Sir John had lined his pockets handsomely in payment for this betrayal, and he'd furthered it by murdering the "Pilgrims of Grace" as they'd attempted to flee from his false protection.
Their bones rest under the chapel even now, Severus thought, feeling a pang of remembered loneliness, for the lingering souls of those betrayed by Sir John had been his most constant company as a boy. I suppose I should be grateful to my rapacious and superstitious ancestor for interring his victims in Holy ground.
But he wasn't—his father had known the ghosts, as well.
The gold gifted to Severus' ancestor by King Henry had been invested in various enterprises, both Muggle and magical, and the Snapes had enjoyed a very high style of living until Tobias Snape had come into the fortune. A Catholic, and a bitter, drunken man, Tobias had refused to spend the "evil gains of Godless ancestors," and Severus had spent his childhood with a persistent cold caused by the dreaded rising damp of his neglected home. He and the Dark Lord had in common the bane of a bad father, though Severus' had only pretended to be a Muggle, being too weak a wizard to find much prestige for himself in his own world.
I doubt Blaise's improvers will have had much luck making the place habitable, Severus thought, paying his shot and making for the manor.
"Disconcelarus!" he cast, when he turned down the avenue of lime trees that led to it, for though the place was lived in, his Family had always thought it best to allow the house to appear more "romantic" than it actually was.
He was surprised to see the fairy lights leading up to the entrance on either side of the cobblestone walk, and that the two small shrubbery beds had been removed in favour of leaving the lawn, now green and healthy, unbroken save by the path. The moss and mildew that had covered the stones of the edifice had been scrubbed away, and the white wooden window frames had been given a fresh coat of black paint, which Severus decided was more in keeping with the manor's Gothic appearance. The glass of the windows sparkled, and a welcoming light shone from them.
It looks alive, Severus thought of the house, if a bit naked.
All of the trees and bushes that had lined the outside walls had been removed, but Severus could see that this was temporary because several trees in sack-wrapped bottoms sat before what he surmised would be their new positions. The air was redolent of lime, and, peering closely at some of the as-yet planted trees, he realised that the current gardener had plans to continue the citrus scheme in which the original landscaper had invested. He decided that he approved—and the localised weather charms that served to protect the plants within the manor's warded grounds also met with his approbation.
My compliments to the landscaper. He must be a wizard of some skill.
The dark wood of the door was highly polished, and unexpectedly, it swung open as Severus approached it.
"How good of you to arrive in time for dinner," his older sister, stepping out, said, as if he'd known she was present and expecting him.
"Evessa, I'd no idea—"
"You didn't think I'd allow strangers in the place without being here to supervise, did you?" she asked, leading him through the front hall, which was filled with paint pails and well-ordered tools, to the refurbished receiving room directly before them.
"Blaise's improvers have been busy," Severus remarked, taking in the comfortable furniture—nothing too ostentatious, but all old and of good quality—and the family portraits that hung on the cleaned and re-papered walls.
"Yes, they have. I can't complain about their service, and you simply must meet the delightful young artist whom Blaise hired to restore the artworks. She's an absolute gem! I've invited her to dine with us this evening."
"How very democratic of you."
"Well, it's not as though the girl's a house elf," Evessa replied, arranging herself on one of the two burgundy velvet sofas that were set before the hearth.
Severus sat on the one across from his sister and wasn't surprised when a silver tray bearing refreshment levitated towards them; no one could organise matters like Evessa.
"Your gala seems to have gone well. I trust you've removed some of the lesser candidates?"
"It did, and I have," Severus said heavily, liberating a glass of Scotch from the tray.
"An exorcist, I should think."
"You'll want an exorcist to remove some of the spectres—the ones not so congenial to a grand home."
"But the more frightening ghosts are the ones the tourists depend upon."
"So you intend to leave the chapel open to the public?" Evessa asked, frowning.
"I do. Tell me, why aren't you with your husband? I'm surprised he could spare you so soon."
"He has enough with which to occupy himself."
Evessa's mouth tightened into a bloodless line, and Severus didn't press her further. It suddenly occurred to him that, if she and her John were having difficulties, she might wish to take up residence in Snape Manor on a permanent basis, and that disquieted him. He didn't know his sister very well, and he found her personality to be a bit overwhelming at times.
As if she knew what he was thinking, Evessa laughed. "No, Severus, I have no desire to quit my own home. I just wanted to assist you in making this place habitable. Castella Di Armonia may not truly be harmonious, but it certainly isn't this drafty old pile—and its views are incomparable. I'll return home as soon as the renovations here are complete and you're married."
"Perche' sei cosi' preoccupato?"
"I'm not disturbed, merely tired."
"Come, indulge your sister. I miss hearing Italian already."
"Allora, dovresti tornare a casa immediatamente."
"You are in a dismal mood, aren't you? I've no desire to return home at once, as I've said. Someone must look out for our Family home as you're too busy to live in it as you should."
"It's not preoccupation that's kept me from home, Evessa, and I am planning to remain here over the hols."
"What? Why? Surely you've friends with whom you'll want to celebrate?"
"Visto che non ho ancora comprato uno sposo, non c'e' ne uno."
"You've 'not yet purchased a spouse'—how can you think of matrimony in such an irreverent light?" Evessa asked, her expression disapproving but her tone concerned. "Almeno avrai l'opportunita di fare le tue scelte."
"No, I won't make my own Choice any more than you did, and I'm not looking forward to the Courtship Ritual."
"Oh, I made my own Choice," Evessa replied quietly. "I merely chose poorly. As for you, it's a necessity that you wed, and I'm certain that you'll choose an Eligible who'll please you—just do avoid one who has . . . a streak of cruelty running through him or her. Mr Parkinson is not the strong man I thought he was. He's merely autocratic and cold."
Severus couldn't imagine Harry displaying either trait. Not that it matters. "He doesn't want me."
"Of course Mr Parkinson doesn't want you."
Severus didn't smile at Evessa's attempt to rally herself and him.
"Ah, so that's why you object to the Courtship Ritual. Your Choice is being difficult? No matter. He'll come around in time—if you behave yourself."
"I have my doubts."
"You wouldn't want him if he were easily wooed."
"Severus, you know it's true. The easy road has never been your path. Enough of this maudlin contemplation! Let's walk to the chapel. I fear Miss Lovegood is too preoccupied with her task to remember dinner."
Severus sat up straight. "Luna Lovegood?"
"You know of her? Excellent," Evessa said, rising to quit the room without waiting for his response.
Severus followed her, saying, "She was a student, as was her cousin, Miss Lorelai Lovegood, who is one of my Eligibles."
"I see. Why didn't Blaise include both young ladies on your Scroll?"
"He knew better."
"Don't be cross. It may suit you, but it isn't polite," Evessa lectured.
When they entered the chapel, it was to find a paint-spattered Lovegood lying on a scaffold underneath the ceiling and handing her used brush to the ghost of a small male child, who was whispering excitedly.
"That's right, Edmund. The angels are very angry, but they'll win, you know. The angels always do."
"Good evening, Miss Lovegood," Evessa said, loudly.
The ghost disappeared, and Lovegood's brush clattered to the floor.
"I hope that Edmund didn't splatter you, ma'am," she said to Evessa, climbing down from her perch.
"Not at all. How singular to find you speaking to one of them, but all artists must have their eccentricities, I suppose. You name them, do you?"
"Oh, no. Edmund came named—most ghosts do. If you ask them, they'll often tell you. Of course, I didn't have to ask Edmund. He's quite the chatterbox when he isn't being startled. Oh, I'm chattering, aren't I? Have I missed dinner?"
"That's why we're here, my dear, to remind you. Severus was looking forward to your company."
Lovegood glanced at Severus and laughed. "Of course the professor wasn't, but I'm glad you've reminded me in any case. Just let me change," she said, drawing her wand and Transfiguring her outfit into a long, pink dress and her hair into an untidy bun. "Now I'm ready."
"That's a lovely dress, but before we dine, I did want Severus to see the ceiling. . . . Severus?"
From his position on the floor, Severus looked away from the ceiling to see Evessa and Lovegood staring down at him in surprise and felt somewhat abashed; he hadn't been able to help himself from falling into his childhood habit.
Lovegood smiled and remarked, "I was fortunate to find so much of the painting intact, and it is easier to see it if one lies down."
"Yes," Severus agreed, rising. "It's a wonder, Miss Lovegood. I'm impressed by your work."
"Thank you, Pro—"
"Do call him "Severus," my dear," Evessa interrupted.
Severus nodded in response to Lovegood's questioning glance at him.
"Severus," she continued, "and you must call me 'Luna'. Antonio's work is always a joy to repair."
"You sound as if you know the artist," said Evessa, before Severus could speak.
"Well, I do, after a fashion. Dad bought me a Verrio portrait when I left Hogwarts. Of course, Antonio hadn't yet painted this," Luna said, gesturing upwards, "before he'd sat for it. He was quite excited to see my sketches, however, and he sent me forth with a great many injunctions against ruining his older self's work and an equal number of paint recipes, for which I'm grateful. I do like to please an original artist when I can, and magical paint tends to degrade in tricksome ways."
"How charming," Evessa replied, her tone gracious but bored. "Come, let's see if the house elves have managed to plate a decent meal."
That's Evessa—more interested in Art than the artist, and more interested in being a patron than an aficionada. "Tell me about these paint recipes, Luna?" Severus asked, finally able to get a word in edgewise.
The evening passed pleasantly enough, for Luna was an engaging conversationalist, and Evessa elected to retire early. Over coffee and dessert, which Severus and Luna took in the chapel with Edmund shyly looking on, the two of them fell into a discussion about Snape Manor's history and its current "inhabitants."
"I understand that you were a great friend of Edmund's once."
"He talks about you all the time. He seems quite put out about having no one about with whom to play. He says," Luna continued, lowering her voice, "that you used to practice magic in here, which I told him was rather naughty, indeed."
Severus smirked. "I spent quite a bit of time in this chapel as a boy."
"I can understand. It's certainly very romantic—I've had so many ideas for paintings while working on this ceiling! I almost feel guilty about making this place less gloomy. Your children may not find it nearly as interesting as you once did because of my restorative work."
There was nothing presumptuous in Luna's tone, so Severus didn't take offence at her assumption; he was seeking a spouse, after all. "You must apply to Evessa, then, for she's always looking to sponsor new artists."
"Mrs Parkinson has already commissioned me to paint her portrait while she resides here. Her offer was quite generous—it will go a long way towards helping me to open my own studio-cum-salon."
Imagining the sort of people Luna might include in any salon of hers was amusing, and Severus very nearly smiled. "Have you any of your own work with you, Luna?"
"I've several sketch pads in the Undercroft. Shall I get them?"
Severus nodded, and Luna left. The Undercroft was the name of the small apartment under the chapel that his solicitor rented out to tourists.
"She's a pretty lady," Edmund observed, walking through the altar towards Severus.
"You think so?"
"I like pretty ladies. Nice ladies. Ladies who don't yell. Painting ladies—are you come to stay? I miss your tricks, Severus."
Severus drew his wand and caused a shower of colourful sparks to rain down upon and through Edmund's spectral form; the little ghost laughed delightedly.
Applauding, Luna said from the entrance, "Marvellous."
Severus turned to see that Luna was levitating a pile of sketch pads before her.
"You're very kind to play with Edmund."
By way of response, Severus sent glowing streamers shooting from the tip of his wand, which flew about the chapel with Edmund in pursuit of them. Luna laughed and pulled a pad from her pile.
"Here you go," she said, offering the pad to Severus. "This one has my latest ideas in it."
With Edmund's squeals of delight in the background, Severus leafed through the pad, saying eventually, "You have a way of capturing expression that is very fine, Luna. Is it merely portraits that interest you?"
"Not exclusively, but I do love faces. In fact, I'd like, that is, if you wouldn't mind?" she asked, holding open another pad on her lap and taking up a quill.
"You want to sketch me?"
Luna blushed. "I've always liked drawing you, Severus. Your facial geography is very mysterious."
My what? he thought, feeling flattered but bemused. "Then by all means," he agreed, flipping further through the pages of the pad he held and discovering several scenes that were familiar to him. "You attended the Recognition of Excellence Gala?"
"Don't look up, please," Luna said, her gaze shifting rapidly from Severus' face to the pad as she worked. "Yes, briefly. Lorelai had never been to London, you see, and I wanted to show her the sights. She's thrilled that Advocate Zabini included her amongst your Eligibles."
"Lorelai doesn't get away from the dirt much. Oh. Oh, that didn't come out—"
"I believe I understand. She was happy to be thrown into so much company."
"Exactly," Luna replied, sounding relieved. "I spent some time watching, and then I went into the garden to draw. Did you know that Neville Longbottom is planning to do the gardens there, as well?"
"He's doing yours. Didn't you know?"
"Longbottom is my landscaper?"
Luna giggled. "Neville's a genius with plants, Severus, so you needn't sound so alarmed."
"I hope so," he replied, turning another page. "Oh."
"You've found Harry, then?"
Severus had. Luna had sketched Harry standing next to Blaise and before Marazelle and Hermione in the Ministry's hall. Harry looked furious, as did Hermione, and Blaise held his wand pointed at Marazelle, who was clutching her face.
"What did he do to her?"
"Silenced her rudeness."
Severus snorted. "I'm not surprised. . . . Your figures are remarkably life-like."
"Thank you—and that's done," Luna said, passing her sketch to Severus.
Oh. I look . . . I'm . . . . "Do you truly see me like this?" he asked, staring at the image of himself.
Severus would never have called himself handsome, but Luna's drawing of him was undeniably striking. His newly softened hair hung down over his eyes, and his nose looked strong rather than imposing. His mouth appeared firm and relaxed rather than thin and compressed, as well. His attention, however, was primarily drawn to the lines set into his face; the way Luna had drawn them, they became part of him, rather than marring what he considered to be his indifferent features. He looked younger than he would have credited himself, but this did nothing to diminish the air of experience which radiated from his features.
"You've made me look the hero, the hero at contemplation."
"I only draw what's there, and you are a hero."
I wish Harry could see me this way. "I'm hardly—"
"You shouldn't argue with your portraitist, particularly not when she's always found you rather handsome."
Severus looked up at Luna in surprise. "Have you?"
In response, she handed him another pad. When he opened it, he found that all of the sketches were of him.
"I'm afraid I had a terrible crush on you as a Sixth Year," Luna said, without a trace of embarrassment. "I suppose I probably shouldn't say so, but Lorelai found my sketches of you fascinating. 'A man like that would never look at me'—that's what she said after looking at them."
Lorelai Lovegood is a right stunner. I can't believe she thinks I'm attractive, Severus thought, finding it no less flattering but a tad more bizarre that Luna should share her cousin's sentiments. Perhaps I do set my value too low. "Thank you, Luna. Seeing these pictures has been . . . an education."
Luna beamed at him. "Funny that, my teaching you something that you should've already known. I wasn't the only one to fancy you back at school. In fact, I always imagined that you dressed like a monk to repress our attentions."
"I've been told," Severus replied, the tips of his ears warming, "that my sense of fashion is sadly lacking."
"Well, you appear to have corrected that 'defect'," Luna said, her gaze moving from his head to his feet and back again in an unguarded examination, "so now I suppose you'll just have to get used to people's admiration."
Severus favoured her with a genuine smile, deciding, I like 'painting ladies', as well.