Severus Snape was an intriguing wizard, thought Bill Weasley, as he observed the man pull himself together after the floo ride that must have been dreadful to the least. The professor proceeded effectively to greet the Aurors, and to start studying a map with great intensity. It lay spread out on the table in the middle of the room which right now looked more like a head quarter than the combined library and living room it was intended as.
Bill had, with Fleur’s help, constructed a map over the surroundings of Shell Cottage. He smiled briefly to himself. His wife, too, was full of surprises and had proven to possess an accuracy at three dimensional understanding that was equal to his own, and yet he had had several years of professional training in the matter, while she had not. Also, since she passed more time at home, as she studied and worked here, she had explored the grounds more thoroughly than he, and was able to provide more details of the geography. As tracking spells needed to be very finely aimed if they were to give any useful information, a map was invaluable to locate the magical person you were searching for, provided you got a magical response to the spell.
Bill had always admired Severus’ ability to focus on a task one hundred percent. It was as if once the peculiar wizard had decided which way to go, objections no longer existed in his mind, and he put his full attention on the matter at hand and focused all his power on solving it as neatly as possible. Most people Bill knew would somewhere, in a corner of their mind, continue to reevaluate the situation and question their choices in one way or the other. What if this or that happens? Did I make the right choice? If I do this now, how will it benefit me? If I do that, what will I lose? Severus, however Slytherin, seemed exempt of that kind of assailing doubts and calculations. He always went all in, and right on spot. During the war, he was the most reliable Order member Bill could think of, the one with the highest pre-probability to fulfil his task. And yet Dumbledore repeatedly charged him with the most difficult missions.
Of all the Order members, only Bill knew the extent of Severus’ sacrifice during the war. Unlike the others - who if they did not downright think that Severus Snape was double-crossing them, all without exception, to various degrees, questioned his motives for agreeing to join Voldemort’s Death Eaters again for spying, suspecting him of still harbouring a fascination and an affiliation for the Dark Arts - but unlike them, however, Bill was all the time convinced that Severus’ heart was in the cause. It was only to look at him receiving orders from Dumbledore - the way he hang upon Albus’ words, both analysis and orders, and the determination in his eyes.
Although Bill trusted Severus Snape at an early stage of the war, he did not, however, understand the often disagreeable, sullen, sour and to various degrees downright mean man. He couldn’t say that he fully comprehended the wizard until Harry revealed, during the duel with Voldemort - which Bill Weasley and hundreds of other wizards and witches witnessed - that Severus Snape had quitted the Death Eaters because of the faithfulness of love for his childhood friend, Lily Evans.
That particular piece of information hit Bill like lightning, and he instantly believed it. Lifelong commitment and consistency was exactly what you might expect from a man like Severus Snape, he thought. And only a powerful, painful conflict like the revelation that his Dark Lord was about to kill his childhood love could have decided a man like Severus to abandon a chosen vocation. What a dedicated follower of Voldemort’s Severus Snape would have made had it not been for Lily Evans, Bill thought with a shudder.
And now, since the resurrection - which Severus deserved without any doubt, according to Bill - Severus was a new person. The same intensity, but the impatience and the constant irritation at others gone. The new Severus was attentive, made an effort to provide verbal affirmation when he agreed with you and formulated his objections politely when he did not. It was so far from his fulgurant body language from before, far from his cutting remarks, discontented grunts and withering glances, that the journalists were almost right to speak of a new man, with a new personality. But not quite, thought Bill, because he recognised the same determination as before, only it had been given new aims since the resurrection.
Bill was for example pretty sure - and secretly amused at the fact - that Severus must have sworn to himself never to be impolite again. It did not mean that Severus compromised with his expressed opinions. He agreed and disagreed just as before, only in more patient expressions.
This was obvious, right now, as Bill watched Severus interact with the Aurors on agreeing on the best way to continue the research for Harry. Severus had some new ideas and explained them with forbearance to the Aurors who obviously were reluctant to deviate from their own principles. But Severus’ determination and precise argumentation were wearing them down, Bill noticed smugly. The Snape of the old days would have sarcasmed and threatened his way through with it, however. There laid the difference.
That Severus could keep his courteous countenance now was all the more admirable as Bill had not been fooled by Severus’ stone face earlier in the floo when he told him the news of Harry’s disappearance. He knew Severus’ physiognomy, and the brief reeling, the flicker of dread in the eyes and the slight tremor of the hands that gripped the fur coat were enough for Bill to realise that Severus was deeply shaken and afraid for Harry.
When Severus Snape asked Bill Weasley to invite Harry Potter to live at Shell cottage during the autumn, Bill never hesitated. Naturally, he too was affected by Fred’s death, but perhaps the least so in the Weasley family. Bill had a realistic outlook on life and was probably the most prepared for such a loss. He realised, however, that his parents were not prepared - how could they be? - and that the loss of a son had plunged them in a despair where they were no longer able to live up to their usual supporting and accommodating selves. How were they to be of any help to Harry Potter, like they used to be, in that state?
The Weasley siblings closed ranks after the battle and did everything for their parents. Everyone except Bill himself lived at home - even Charlie did, temporarily. It was true that Ron left with Hermione for Australia later on in the summer, and it gave him an aura of a traitor, at least in his sister’s disapproving eyes. Ron owled his mother and father every single day, however, and according to Bill those letters, which brought life into the Burrow, did his parents just as much good as the tender care and sacrificing attentions of his sister.
Bill’s heart ached most and for all for the remaining twin, and he channelled his own grief by taking care of the bereft twin brother to the best of his ability, inviting George over to Shell Cottage as often as he could, to give him a change of scenery and a rest from the heavy atmosphere at the Burrow - an atmosphere that was cherishing and choking at the same time.
Therefore, Bill had no second thoughts on his own account, about helping out Harry Potter. He even thought that his parents would be grateful that he did, later on when they recovered. He only felt that he needed to discuss the commitment with his wife first.
Bill married Fleur in the crescendo of war, contrary to the advice from his elders, allowing himself this one moonstruck passion and act of spontaneity, not to say defiance, in the middle of the square and tense existence that he led as an undercover agent at Gringott’s and as an active member of the Order. Fleur had endured the terror of risking to lose her husband every day since their marriage, and had supported him whole-heartedly in the resistance movement against Voldemort. But perhaps now that the war was over, she wanted peace and quiet, and to be alone with her husband?
Fleur proved to be just as generous in this matter as she had proven to be in all matters of importance, which were part of the reason why Bill loved his wife so much. She was a proud woman, on the verge of being haughty, and her beauty made her cocky - she was part vela after all, and french at that - but she had a good heart, and she had never forgotten what Harry Potter did for her little sister in the Triwizard Tournament. She was intensely loyal and stead-fast that way.
So housing Harry had turned out to be no problem at all. Arrangements had been made so that Harry could lead a largely independent life at Shell Cottage, because naturally the young wizard insisted on disrupting the household as little as possible. At the same time, since Fleur spent long days at home without her husband, when she studied, and did some translation work at home, it turned out to be a beneficiary arrangement for both parties as it assuaged Fleur’s loneliness and at the same time it guaranteed that Harry did not lose himself entirely in his creative activities of painting. To Bill’s relief, the two of them got on well and supported each other in a nonintrusive and respectful way, and life had progressed steadily and tranquilly, until now.
Bill observed his wife as she repeated her statement from before in front of the new Aurors and Severus. He read the small signs of worry in her face and in her gestures. Fleur was scared for Harry, and she was the last person to have seen him before he disappeared.
”We had lunch together,” she said. ”Afterwards, he left for his atelier to do a bit of painting. He was supposed to return a few hours later, because he needed to work on his Hogwarts assignments. But he never came back and that was why I went down to fetch him. He would easily lose track of time when he was painting, and even disregard his own remembral charms if he was in the middle of something. I usually let him take responsibility for his own schedule - I’m not his mother after all - but today with the storm gathering force, I thought that he should come back to the house.”
”So you only saw him at lunch?” replied the Auror. ”What was his state of…?”
”We always had lunch together,” explained Fleur, interrupting the Auror. ”We seldom saw each others for breakfast because I most often get up at the same time as my husband and we have breakfast together before he leaves for work, whereas Harry has very irregular habits, or no habits at all I should say…”
One of the Aurors raised an eyebrow.
”What do you want me to say?” said Fleur. ”He’s an artist.”
The Auror did not look convinced at the statement which, to Fleur, seemed to be self-explanatory.
”My uncle used to live at an artist community in Paris,” she continued. ”As a young girl I found it so different from our ordered family life. It held all the attractions and excitement of how I pictured the freedom of adult life.” She met the disapproving Auror’s gaze. ”But I know it had it’s drawbacks,” she stated soberly. ”Artists are sensitive creatures, and not necessarily… interested, you know…” Fleur sought the right words. ”… not interested in keeping order, or striving for cleanliness, if you know what I mean?”
The Auror had an air of listening to a huge understatement.
”Creativity comes before everything to them,” explained Fleur. ”And they are so easily disappointed. This dawned on me when my uncle left the place all of a sudden and moved in with us for a short while, because one of his best friends committed suicide. My uncle was really upset and claimed that the other artists at the community had driven his friend to such a desperate act, which must have been an exaggeration, because in the end, a suicide, you know, is always the result of that person’s own, deliberate decision.”
One of the other Aurors cleared his throat.
”There usually is, in the case of a suicide, various circumstances that might explain, or might have prompted the person to proceed to the act of killing himself,” he said cautiously. ”Personal tragedies, betrayals, arguments, lost love, mental or physical diseases, for example.”
Fleur nodded in agreement, but looked elsewhere unwary. The Auror cleared his throat again.
”Were there any such signs present in Mr Potter’s case?” he asked and Fleur started.
”What do you mean?” she said nonplussed. ”I didn’t think of Harry when I told you about my uncle’s friend. Harry would not… would never…” her voice rose in indignation and her cheeks flushed. Her demeanour suddenly lost the coquetry that she almost always applied subconsciously in the presence of other men and that Bill had learnt to regard as a natural way for her to behave. Now, however, she appeared more threatening than seducing, affronted by the Auror’s implication.
”I believe that maybe, subconsciously, you did think of Mr Potter. You must see that there might be a parallel. A deliberate act of disappearing in the storm is after all a real possibility. There were no signs of intrusion into the wards of the cottage, no signs of battle at the atelier, and he did leave his wand behind,” the Auror stated calmly. Fleur sneered.
”Harry was so absentminded. He would often leave his wand behind when going for a stroll,” she said.
Bill watched Severus shake his head, not in disbelief, but in knowing disapproval. Severus was acquainted with Harry’s oblivious habits. Bill, too, had been surprised at first by Harry’s blatant carelessness about security matters, but had come to understand, as he learnt to know the boy better during the autumn, that it was not a deliberate defiance of death that made the young wizard so disregarding of his own security, but the mere fact that terrible things had happened to Harry in a rather haphazard way over the years. Whether he had his wand or not would, in most cases, not be the determining factor as to solving the situation. Harry relayed more on instinct, circumstances and on the help from fellow wizards and witches, or on that of other magical creatures, than specifically on his own wand. Considering this tendency towards absent-mindedness, it was a good thing, however, thought Bill, that the young wizard no longer aspired to become an Auror.
”It is generally known that Mr Potter was ill for a considerable length of time after the battle,” insisted the Auror. ”We need to take the whole picture into consideration. Please tell us all you know. Was he completely recovered, or were there still symptoms present?”
Fleur hesitated and searched Bill’s eyes. Bill in his turn exchanged a gaze with Severus. How to answer the Auror’s question? Did they really know the answer, for once? It was Severus who spoke first into the taut silence after the Auror’s words.
”Mr Potter made a steady recovery over the summer,” he said. ”He did however show a few resilient symptoms and chose to lead a secluded life rather than attend school this term and, to my knowledge…” Severus’ voice wavered the least little bit as he looked back at Bill ”…he has shown no deterioration.” Severus’ tone rose slightly as if there were a question mark in his words and Bill hurried to fill in.
”Harry has lived under my roof for three months and even if he surely is a more vulnerable person now than in the midst of the war, he has not appeared depressed or mentally unstable in any way,” he said.
”Harry is a strong person,” said Fleur defensively.
”You know what I mean,” answered Bill mildly. ”You’ve seen his paintings.”
Fleur nodded reluctantly. The Auror who had seemed disapproving of artists in general knitted his eye-brows.
”Flash-backs from the war,” explained Severus. ”But it’s salutary that he channels them through his paintings. It helps him process the events.”
”And lately there has been more of the harmonious scenes, and less of the horrific ones,” supplied Fleur quickly.
”Yet, you acknowledge that there was an unsettling darkness in Mr Potter’s mind, as in remains of the war?” asked the Auror who had inquired into Harry’s frame of mind at the point of his disappearance.
”There is darkness in all of us,” said Severus, so tranquilly and with such conviction that all the Aurors were silenced for a short lapse of time.
”Harry behaved as usual at lunch,” supplied Fleur, and she now seemed near tears. ”But…” She looked as if she just thought of something. ”He received a couple of letters.”
The Aurors' heads snapped up as they looked at her intently. Fleur almost began to stutter.
”It was after we had eaten. Harry did the dishes - it was his turn - while I was having a cup of coffee. Two owls arrived at the same time. They were pretty ruffed up and rather exhausted, because the storm was already quite violent. We were surprised to see that both of them were Hogwarts owls. The two persons who had written must not have known of each other’s letters, or they would have coordinated their post, but then why would they? There are so many wizards and witches at Hogwarts.”
”Do you know who the letters were from?” asked one Auror. Fleur hesitated.
”Harry didn’t tell me,” she said. ”He only unfastened the paper rolls from the owls’ legs and said that he would read them later. I didn’t want to pry, but I think that I recognised your sister’s handwriting on one of the letters. I didn’t see the other.” Fleur sought Bill out apologisingly with the eyes. Bill couldn’t say why she would think that he had any objections to her disclosing that his sister was writing to Harry.
”My sister and Harry were in a relationship in sixth year at school,” explained Bill without any signs of contrariety to the Aurors. ”I believe that they wanted to pick it up, although they were hindered by my brother’s death, and by Harry’s disease during the summer. Ginny started to attend her last year at Hogwarts this autumn, however, and I believe it has at least improved her state of mind. She needed to get away from our mother’s grief. She got far too involved and took a huge responsibility at running the household at the Burrow during the summer. She needed space to get on with her life.”
Severus looked as if he wanted to say something, but was preceded by Fleur who spoke thoughtfully.
”Neither of them were sure whether to proceed with the relationship or not,” she said. ”There was so much ambiguity on both parts. So much have changed since they were together last time.”
”There’s a rumour I heard quite recently,” intervened Severus and Bill thought that the wizard looked pale. ”I haven’t thought about it until now, because there’s always rumours about at the school and some of them reach the teachers, but I make a rule to turn a deaf ear to them. I could not avoid noting, however…” Severus glanced at Bill. ”There was a rumour that Ginny Weasley had responded to a declaration of love from another… another witch,” he said. Bill raised his eye-brows.
”Responded… responded favourably?” he asked, incredulous because to his knowledge his little sister had never given any signs of being interested in women. Severus nodded.
”Not unheard of,” he said briskly. ”Nothing spectacular in itself, if you ask me - if it’s true that is. I thought not at first. It didn’t even struck me that Harry would take offence if the rumour reached him. I never thought of warning him since I thought him capable of handling all kinds of slander. But if your sister herself wrote to tell him that she had met someone she loved and got involved with, that would probably… I honestly cannot say how that would affect him.” Severus shook his head and looked at Fleur. ”Their past and… and potential future relationship was far too complicated, as you said before,” he finished a bit lamely, as if puzzled beyond his understanding.
So his little sister might be a lesbian, or at least bisexual. Bill felt amused on Ginny’s behalf, but slightly worried about what their mother might think about such a development. But then, now-a-days there were well-developed insemination charms if Mother wanted to watch her only daughter carry her grand-child. But that kind of wish might be too old-fashioned even for Molly Weasley, Bill sniggered to himself. Moreover, if he thought about it, Ginny might perfectly well be the type who would like to be the supportive non-biological mother. Or maybe not, Bill reconsidered, she would probably like to experience a regular pregnancy. It would ultimately depend on Ginny’s girlfriend and what they agreed upon, Bill thought, before he caught himself and blushed. Merlin, Ginny was only seventeen years old, she might want to wait a little before forming a family.
Bill and Fleur was trying to have a baby since the end of the war, but had not yet succeeded and Bill might just be getting a tiny bit obsessive about it. Bill sobered up and observed his wife who looked equally lost in thought, a deep furrow between her eye-brows.
Severus, on the other hand, looked so uneasy that Bill had the time to think that the former spy must not have extensive experience of long-term relationships to be so utterly confused by the romantic turnabouts, until he realised that the man was simply apprehensive for Harry. Was it possible, Bill asked himself, suddenly feeling his guts clutch, that Harry would deliberately walk out into a snow storm out of desperation from having lost Ginny?
”There still is the second letter,” said the third Auror who until now had been busy testing tracking spells in various directions, according to Severus’ scheme. ”Someone might have written to lure the young man out to a meeting and abducted him. That is a possibility.”
”In the middle of a storm?” Bill shook his head in disbelief. ”And in that case Harry would have brought his wand, wouldn’t he?”
”It’s of vital importance to keep tracking, in order to establish whether Mr Potter is still in the nearby reach of the area. What I want to point out is that if he has been abducted, then he might be far away from here and we had better involve other investigating channels. If possible we should contact Hogwarts and try to establish who sent that second letter,” replied the Auror. Severus cleared his throat.
”I think I might enlighten you, as that letter must have been mine,” he said. ”I sent an owl late yesterday night. Normally, it should have reached Shell Cottage early in the morning, but it was probably delayed due to the gathering storm so that it did not arrive until lunchtime.”
”You wrote to Harry?” asked Bill dumbfounded. ”Why, when you speak to him on the floo every week as you give him his assignments?” Severus blinked, but otherwise he kept that exasperatingly inscrutable expression which Bill knew from the Order days, when Severus didn’t want to betray anything more than precisely what he said.
”Some things are better told in written,” Severus contented himself to reply. The Auror scrutinised him.
”Was the content in that letter susceptible to upset Mr Potter?” he asked.
”No, not at all. There’s no reason to believe it did,” said Severus, and Bill thought that he sounded completely honest. Apparently the Auror thought so, too, because he dropped the subject and suggested that they concentrate on a systematic magical tracking.
”Most likely, Mr Potter walked out of that atelier on his own initiative and got caught in the storm - accident or not,” the Auror summarised their discussion.