Written for the snuna_exchange (2009 edition) on LiveJournal|
Summary: All he was looking for was a new wand. What he found was much, much more.
Note: The title is taken from Luna's farewell to Ollivander in Deathly Hallows as he's leaving Shell Cottage: "You were an inexpressible comfort to me in that terrible place." Many thanks to Femme for beta!
An Inexpressible Comfort
The sun shines on the cobblestones of Diagon Alley, but the sun's rays give only a weak sort of heat, and Severus Snape turns his collar up against the wind.
The healers have told him repeatedly that he's lucky to be alive, that if he doesn't conserve his strength, he'll undo all the work they've done over the course of his year-long convalescence, but there is a debt to be paid, and Severus always pays his debts.
He makes an appointment to buy a new wand. He needs one of course, but going to the wand shop is really just an excuse to satisfy his curiosity. Only when he comes face to face with Mr Ollivander will he learn precisely what the old wandmaker expects in return for the items that were regularly delivered to Severus's room in St. Mungo's, carefully wrapped in paper bearing the mark of the wand shop. Books, journals, specialty potions, even his favorite shortbread. All unasked for, but not unwelcome, and the fact that each item was suited so precisely to Severus's tastes has made him suspicious. How is it that Ollivander knows him so well on so little acquaintance?
"Ollivanders: Makers of Fine Wands since 382 B.C."
Severus steps inside the tiny shop and pauses a moment in the entryway to allow his eyes to adjust to the gloom. Ollivander looks up from the account book he's examining and nods at Severus.
"Mr Ollivander," Severus says in greeting.
"Young Severus Snape, unless I'm very much mistaken. And...you're here for a wand, no doubt?" Ollivander laughs his old man's laugh. "Of course you are. Of course he is, isn't he, my dear?"
Severus turns sharply toward the corner of the room. There, partially obscured by shadows, sits Luna Lovegood, holding an infant in her arms. "I believe you're right," she says. Then she smiles and although it must be an illusion, it seems to Severus that the shadows lift, just a bit.
Ollivander looks at the wand boxes which are, as always, stacked from floor to ceiling, and he frowns. "Perhaps...some tea first? Yes, it's definitely tea time," he says, then offers a vague smile to Severus before wandering through the open door to the store room beyond.
The minutes pass. Severus waits for Ollivander's return, growing increasingly impatient. He turns to the Lovegood girl. "Shall I come back at a better time?"
She sighs, then rises from her chair. "I'm not sure what time would be better. Perhaps I'd better assist you." Without a word, she places the child in Severus's arms, then climbs up the ladder, one rung at a time, until she reaches the top row of boxes.
Severus has never held a baby before in his life, but the child, its silvery-grey eyes clear and unafraid, blows a bubble, then settles back down in the crook of Severus's left arm. When Lovegood returns with a selection of wands and takes the baby back from Severus, he feels oddly bereft.
Buying a wand goes far more smoothly than it did the first time Severus was taken into Ollivander's by his mother. The wands seem less confused about who Severus is this time around, and after trying just three wands, he ends up choosing - or being chosen by, as Lovegood reminds him - an interesting specimen of black walnut with a chimaera scale core.
There is an uncomfortable moment when Severus realizes he's left all but a single Galleon - far too little to purchase the wand - back at the cramped room he's letting above the boot repair shop, but Lovegood simply smiles and tells him tomorrow is soon enough to pay.
"Come by in the afternoon," she says, glancing in the direction of the store room. "Maybe by then he'll be ready with the tea."
The following morning finds Severus at the greengrocers. He casts a modified disillusionment spell on himself, just enough to discourage people from noticing him. Less than a fortnight out of hospital, and Severus has already discovered that the unaccustomed public adulation which has come as a result of being awarded the long-coveted Order of Merlin can be quite as unwelcome as being the object of detestation.
He takes a bunch of seedless grapes and three cooking apples up to be weighed and priced, but stops short when he hears Luna Lovegood's name being mentioned by the familiar voice of Arthur Weasley.
"Oh, that one," he hears the grocer sniff as she puts Arthur's purchases in a bag. "No better than she ought to be. Getting up to who knows what mischief with that strange old man she lives with."
"Come now, Bernice," says Arthur in his gentlest tones. "You're not being entirely fair to the girl. My Ron says the two of them were held together in a dungeon during the war. Only natural that they'd take comfort from each other."
"Oh, I suppose you're right and all," the woman says. "Still, it does make you wonder."
"That it does," Arthur says agreeably. "That it does."
Severus leaves the shop, the grapes and apples left behind on the counter.
At two that afternoon, Severus returns to the wand shop, but Ollivander is, once again, nowhere to be seen. Luna, holding the baby with one arm, attempts to find the right wands for identical twin boys who appear to be the right age to be starting Hogwarts in the autumn.
Severus has no interest whatsoever in engaging the two rambunctious brothers, but the well-behaved infant is a different matter. He takes the baby from Lovegood who smiles gratefully at him.
When the boys and their mother leave with their purchases, Severus asks Lovegood what the baby's name is.
"Xerxes," she says. "The 'X' is for my father. He would have liked to have shared his 'X' with my son, I think."
Severus isn't sure why the news that Xenophilius is dead comes as so much of a shock. He was an old man, and in any case, Severus was far closer to Xenophilius's late wife - or at least he had been, many years ago.
"I'm sorry. I...didn't know your father had died," he says, then all at once his knees buckle and he feels as if he's going to pass out, but he tightens his hold on Xerxes so he doesn't drop him. Lovegood helps ease the two of them down onto a chair.
"If you'll just stay put for a moment, I'll fetch something that should fix you up right away,"
If Severus weren't feeling so dizzy, he might have worried more about what absurd quackery Lovegood has in mind to cure him, but in the end, she returns with a very un-eccentric pot of hot, sweetened tea and a plate of the shortbread Severus recognizes as the brand Ollivander sent to him during his stay in hospital. It takes two cups of tea and two of the biscuits before he's feeling right again.
"These are excellent," Severus says, taking a third piece of shortbread. "Where did Ollivander purchase them?"
"Oh, he didn't," Lovegood replies, then leans forward and brushes some biscuit crumbs off the top of Xerxes' head. "I baked them...my mother's recipe. They're the same kind I used to send to you while you were recuperating."
And if she sent the shortbread, she must have sent the rest of it, as well. What, Severus wonders, does she expect in return?
The next evening, Severus is invited to join Lovegood, Ollivander, and Xerxes for dinner at their home, and despite initial misgivings (he can't remember the last time anybody wanted his company in a purely social setting), he accepts.
The food is unusual, but good. The wine is intriguing and plentiful. The conversation is lively, even given Ollivander's tendency to drift in and out of focus and Lovegood's...no, Luna's occasionally odd utterances, and Severus finds it surprisingly easy to rein in his usually acerbic tongue.
Somehow this single invitation is repeated the following week, and soon becomes a regular occurrence.
Ollivander has his good days and bad days, and on the bad days - those times when Ollivander seems particularly lost and confused - Luna cares for him, reminding him to eat and helping him prepare for bed. One night, Ollivander starts to drift off to sleep at the table while Luna is bathing Xerxes, and Severus decides he might as well help Ollivander ready himself for bed instead.
He discovers that Ollivander does not share a bedroom with Luna.
Severus returns to the dining area and clears the table as he waits for Luna to come back. It would be the matter of a simple swish and flick to charm the table clear, but Severus prefers to do domestic chores the Muggle way. Everything has been set to rights by the time Xerxes is asleep, and Severus and Luna sit down to share a final cup of coffee in restful silence.
Severus wonders for the first time - but does not ask - if the persistent and widespread belief that Xerxes is Ollivander's child might actually be false.
The question is answered less than a month later.
It is Luna's birthday. Severus prepares the meal, and Luna has been given a number of gaily-wrapped and patently useless gifts, which pleases her immensely. Not long after she makes her wish and blows out the candles on her birthday cake, Ollivander retires, as does Xerxes (though with rather more assistance).
Luna returns to the table, extinguishing one candle after another until only a single small flame remains to provide illumination.
"It was always cold in the Malfoy dungeons," Luna says without preamble.
Severus wants to tell her to stop, that he doesn't want to hear any more about the war, that she doesn't have to say anything, but of course Luna does have to, and so Severus must listen.
"There was usually food to eat and water to drink - that was one of Draco's assigned tasks, I think - but it was always cold. We tried to huddle together for warmth when we slept, but it was never enough. Only twice were warming charms cast on us, both times by Rabastan Lestrange who had somehow discovered that Dean was an artist and was intrigued by the fact that a Muggleborn could create things of beauty.
"His brother, Rodolphus Lestrange, had no interest in Muggleborns at all, except to see how loudly they could scream when he tortured them."
Severus's breath catches in his throat, and Luna pats his hand. The thought that this woman, who'd suffered so greatly at the hands of his erstwhile colleagues, would try to comfort him fills him with self-loathing.
"Prisoners become privy to all kinds of information their captors never imagine they know. We knew, for example, that Bellatrix hadn't slept in her husband's bed since the first time Voldemort allowed her to share his. And we knew that, loyal to the Dark Lord or not, Rodolphus wasn't at all pleased with this state of affairs.
"When he was least pleased, he came down to the dungeons and...took his displeasure out on me. He was displeased a great deal, but it wasn't until the day before our release that he was able to actually bring himself to completion."
Severus nods, then clears his throat. "So, Xerxes - - "
"Yes," she says. "Xerxes."
Luna looks fragile and oddly transparent in the flickering candlelight, but Severus knows just how strong she is.
"I know everybody thinks that Xerxes is Mr Ollivander's son," Luna says. "It's not very brave of me to let people believe something so very untrue, but...he's my son."
Luna, Severus thinks, is the bravest person he knows.
Severus notices that few customers come to the wand shop between the hours of three and four, and he thinks it might be wise if the shop closed between those hours, if only to give Ollivander an opportunity to rest. He mentions this to Luna one day and she tells him she thinks it's a fine idea.
From that day forward, 3:00 p.m. is the time at which Mr Ollivander and Xerxes Lovegood take their naps.
Although he has no particular interest in a career as a wand merchant, Severus helps Luna run the shop, taking on additional responsibilities as Ollivander's ability to concentrate on his work diminishes. He and Luna take advantage of the daily break to catch up on whatever tasks have fallen by the wayside, and they work surprisingly well together. However, Severus foresees the end of an era, for although he and Luna are still able to satisfy the customers' needs, Ollivander has made no new wands since the end of the War, and the inventory is shrinking daily.
Every now and again, Severus and Luna ask the woman across the road to mind Xerxes during his nap-time, and they take a stroll through Kew Gardens in Muggle London, discussing what Severus plans to do once he's back to full health. One afternoon, Luna suggests - quite enthusiastically - that he should consider going back to Hogwarts to teach potions. "You were such a wonderful teacher," she tells him.
Severus has barely begun to work himself up into a tsunami of rage ("Not if Hell froze over!") and abuse ("Cretin! Dunderhead!") when Luna starts to laugh. "Oh Severus, you really do need to work on developing a sense of humor," she says.
He refuses to accept her subsequent apology until she promises to bake two trays of shortbread for him.
On the afternoon of the 15th of October, an owl arrives bearing an invitation for Severus to attend the Ministry's annual Halloween Ball. It promises to be "...a night of laughter and merriment, a chance to greet old friends and make new ones," which all but guarantees that Severus will refuse to attend.
Nobody has ever accused Severus of being in any way adept at reading social cues, but he does notice that no Ministry invitation arrives for Luna. She doesn't appear to be particularly unhappy at the prospect of missing the Ball, but thinking back over the past months, Severus realizes with some surprise that Luna has received no invitations, not even to attend the wedding of Neville Longbottom to Hannah Abbott.
His attempt to keep from betraying the anger he feels on Luna's behalf (totally justified anger, he believes!) is less successful than he would have liked it to be, judging by the fact that, once again, Luna pats his hand and smiles comfortingly at him before saying, "It really isn't important, Severus."
He wants to believe her, but it's difficult to do so when she spends the rest of the afternoon sitting on the window seat, cradling Xerxes in her arms.
The odd thing about Luna, Severus thinks as he watches her with her son, is that she doesn't actually appear bitter or angry or any of the emotions he knows he would be feeling in similar circumstances. However, she is pensive, and while Luna often spends a lot of time in her head, this time she seems to be thinking about something a bit more significant than the migratory patterns of invisible flying hedgehogs from Peru.
He considers - and discards - the notion of using Legilimency on her; when she's ready to share her thoughts with him, she will. Instead, he bundles Ollivander up in a woolly robe and walks with him on snow-covered cobblestones to the fresh fish market at the end of the lane.
By the time they return, red-nosed and shivering, with two pounds of salmon, Luna has dressed Xerxes and herself in turquoise and lavender robes. Xerxes wears a tiny matching wizard's cap on his head, and Luna holds two larger, but otherwise identical caps in her hands.
"Put them on," she says to Severus and Ollivander. "They'll make things seem more festive."
As he prepares an early dinner, Severus - glumly wearing the ridiculous headwear - is inordinately grateful that nobody 'just drops by' Luna's home.
After the dinner dishes have been cleared away from the table and Ollivander takes Xerxes out to play in the snow, Luna kisses Severus.
It is the first time they have kissed.
It is not the last.
A fortnight later, Luna asks Severus if he'd like to marry her.
He checks her for spell damage, for the after-effects of the Confundus Charm, and for any indication that somebody might have cast the Imperius curse on her. It is when he suggests they try Veritaserum "just to be on the safe side" that she puts her foot down.
"Isn't it possible that I just want to be married to you, Severus?"
"Would you like to be married to me?"
Severus crosses his arms over his chest and takes a step back. "That's neither here nor there."
Luna rolls her eyes and flicks her hair back over her shoulders. "Well I'm sorry, but I think it's both here and there."
"What the hell does that even mean?" Severus snaps. "'Here and there.' You just say things, don't you? Whatever pops into your head, you just say."
"If you mean I'm honest when I speak, then thank you."
Severus shakes his head. "That's not what I meant, and you know it."
But the truth is that it is what he meant, at least a little. Luna is one of the most honest people Severus has ever known, which means that if she says she wants to marry him, then she really does. But knowing that and accepting that are two different things.
He considers and rejects each of the arguments he's learned Remus Lupin used (without success) on Nymphadora Tonks. 'Too old' is meaningless to a girl whose father was forty-seven years older than her mother, and 'too poor' is utterly untrue, thanks to the stipend that came with the Order of Merlin.
'Too dangerous,' on the other hand...
"Have you forgotten what I was? What I am? I'm a Death Eater, Luna. I can no more change that fact of my existence than I can erase the Dark Mark from my arm. Is that the kind of man you want acting as a father to your son?"
She laughs until tears come to her silvery-grey eyes.
"You...dunderhead," she says, shaking her head. "That's exactly the kind of man who was the father to my son. I was hoping to give Xerxes a better man for the rest of his life. I was hoping to give him you."
Severus swallows the rest of his objections.
Luna thinks he's the better man, and even though he knows she's probably as wrong about him as she ever was about Nargles, he wants to be that man, for her and for Xerxes and even for that fading old wandmaker who's absolutely nothing like the last old man to whom Severus pledged his service.
"Will you marry me, Severus?" Luna asks once more.
The moon shines its light through the casement windows. Outside, new snowfall turns to ice in the chill of the December night, but inside, with Luna, is all the warmth Severus needs.
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