Disclaimer: The characters are very much not mine. All the work of JK Rowling.
This is a sequel to Games of Skill and Chance.
A Playground for Alchemists
Part 1 - The spy who came in from the cold
Remus Lupin grabbed a copy of the Daily Prophet from the neat pile laid out by the house elves on the end of high table and took a seat. Pouring a cup of tea with one hand, he flicked his wand with the other to summon a pile of hot toast and set a charmed knife to smearing them with butter and blackcurrant jam.
Finally he turned to the newspaper and as he unfolded it, very nearly dropped his tea in shock as stock photographs of two very familiar faces nodded to him in formal greeting, alongside a story reading:
POTIONS EXPERT AND RIGHTS CAMPAIGNER HURT IN BOMB BLAST
An explosion ripped through a cafe in the wizarding quarter of Strasbourg yesterday injuring two well-known heroes of the war with Voldemort. Professor Severus Snape, known to many of our readers as the former authoritarian potions teacher at Hogwarts school and Hermione Granger, a close friend of Harry Potter, the famous Boy Who Lived, were both hurt in the attack. They were taken to St. Fiacre’s hospital where both are in stable condition. A number of other people suffered minor injuries.
Euro-aurors say they have no leads on who was behind the attack, nor whether the British pair were its target. The explosion was certainly magical…
Remus stopped reading and glanced up as the headmistress approached the table. “Have you seen…?” he started, but it was obvious from the grim set of her pale face that she had already heard the news.
“I really thought it was over, this time,” said Minerva, her voice thin with strain. Her hand shook a little as she poured a cup of tea from the teapot and took the seat next to the other teacher.
“You think it’s Death Eaters then?” asked Remus, before making a listless attempt to chew on a piece of toast which suddenly seemed dry and flavourless.
“Who else?” she sighed. “I’ll get one of the prefects to cover your classes for the rest of the week, and then you’ll have the Easter break.”
“Sorry?” asked Remus, baffled by the non-sequitor.
“We need to know what’s going on and I’m not going to wait around for the French authorities or the Daily Prophet to tell us. Plus, I’m sure Hermione and Severus would be pleased to see you.”
The previous day…
Huge pile of work. Lunchbreak. Huge pile of work. Lunchbreak. Lunchbreak? Yes.
Not that the huge pile of work wasn’t tempting - it was in fact, some of the most fascinating work Severus Snape had ever encountered. But trying to work through lunch seemed to offend his French colleagues, so the easiest thing was to nip around to Chez Michel for a light choucroute and a café crème.
“Hold the fort, Marco,” he said, heading for the door.
“Signor?” asked his assistant, a young Italian with a talent for potions and a catalogue of nervous habits, the least annoying of which was cracking his knuckles. His English was improving, which was lucky since Snape spoke next to no Italian, but idiomatic phrases tended to baffle him.
“Look after the office, I’ll be back soon.”
It was sunny outside the Federation building, the first really warm day of spring, and the ex-teacher gazed at the streets of his newly adopted home with a fresh affection. He turned the corner and lent on a green bollard, twisting it slightly clockwise, then slightly anti-clockwise to access the Rue Lardarrière.
At first he didn’t realise the voice was addressing him, but as the clatter of feet grew closer, the breathless voice called out again: “Professor Snape!”
It was a young woman with short cropped brown curls and wearing sensible plain blue robes. She was deeply tanned except for a red and white blossom of scar tissue on the side of her face.
“Good grief, Miss Granger, what are you doing here? I thought you were in Africa.”
“Nice to see you too, sir,” replied Hermione, with a teasing laugh.
“Sorry,” he said, with an answering huff of amusement as he realised how abrupt and rude his question had been. It was still strange getting used to people no longer being his students and at the mercy of his snapped questions, but at least Granger didn’t seem offended. “Er, how are you? I’m about to get some lunch, would you care to join me?”
They took pavement seats outside Chez Michel and Hermione explained about how her funding for volunteer work in Africa had run out. “I’ve just started work with Rights Of Magical Persons, working in the prison reform division. I’m here for a meeting with the Federation tomorrow.”
“Prison reform?” Snape was genuinely surprised. House elf rights, werewolf rights, even fairy rights he might of expected of the campaigning Gryffindor, but she herself was responsible for putting several people in Azkaban.
“There’s a muggle expression that a civilisation should be judged by the way it treats those it wants least, such as prisoners and criminals,” said the young woman, toying with the menu. Snape recognised the signs of suppressed anger – her eyes were burning with indignation, her shoulders tense – she was obviously desperate to burst into a furious tirade about the injustice of any punishment based on hatred. He was impressed by the control she had gained since she used to harangue the whole school about SPEW. Obviously she had learned to bide her time and make the right argument in the right place.
“Hmm,” said Snape, uncertainly. Fear of Azkaban was a powerful force in keeping wizard society under control – most of the time. Powerful people needed a powerful deterrent, surely? But dementors?
Maybe the issue needed more thought before he debated it with such a fierce advocate. He decided to change the subject. “The exploding fluid you gave me was very helpful – it was used to destroy a collection of Dark artifacts gathered from Death Eater homes. They won’t be able to do any more harm.”
“Oh, that is good news!” She put the menu down. “Are you ready to order?”
It was at that moment that Snape heard a small crack, like the sound of a house elf apparating. The noise came from under the table and was followed by a very quiet fizzing. He glanced down. By his foot was a black marble-sized ball.
“Get out of here!” he shouted, jumping up and dragging Hermione to her feet. But it was too late. He felt the shockwave thud into his body and then all was blackness…
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