Title: Loyal Servant
Age-Range Category: Five
Character(s)/Pairing(s): Severus Snape, Winky
(Highlight to View) Warning(s): None.
Summary: We can probably agree that house-elves are helpful creatures, cleaning and cooking for their masters, following their orders. But sometimes a house-elf may be something more. (No owls were harmed in the writing of this story.)
Many people think that being confronted with death or almost dying changes a person. But Severus Snape had almost died too often to believe that. Maybe in his case it was because he had really died, there in the Shrieking Shack.
Severus Snape knew that he would definitely not have come back from the dead without the help of the infernal house-elf, Winky.
He remembered Winky from her service at Hogwarts. She had been drunk so often that he had rarely even seen her about. In his year as headmaster the other house-elves had complained about the free elf. The way they had said that, as if it was a swear word, had made him growl. (Free elf, Death Eater, traitor.) The house-elves had learned quickly and only called her by her name in his presence. He had been to the kitchens frequently that year and he had seen her there, slumped on a small stool in front of a fireplace, an empty bottle by her feet, slurring and babbling under her breath.
She had been out in the castle's corridors on the day of the Battle (the day of his death), when he hasted to follow the call of the Dark Lord. For an instant their eyes had met, both hurrying in different directions but stopping for a brief moment when their paths crossed. He remembered the frenzy of his thoughts, for he had to reach the boy, yet. In a split-second he debated whether to send her off to fetch Potter or rely a message to him; however, she had once been loyal to the Death Eater son of Crouch — he dared not trust her. But there was something she could do, after all. 'Go and help,' he snarled at her and prayed that she would help Hogwarts and its residents, as was her duty as an employee of the castle.
Later, Winky told him that she had indeed understood his order and, more crucially, his intention. She said that she had wanted to help the students — and most important, Potter — because her good old friend, Dobby, would have wanted it. 'Dobby is been a good friend to Winky. A very good friend,' she would often say. (Severus was thankful that she had stopped bawling her eyes out every time she remembered or spoke about the dead house-elf.)
What Severus had not anticipated was that Winky would find him in the Shack, search his robes for potions, pour what she found into his mouth or rub into his wound. She had learned how to care for an incapacitated person during her service for the Crouches, otherwise her attempts at helping might have had no effect. She admitted that she did not know the different potions and ointments he had been carrying with him, but their scent and viscosity had given her an indication of their use. Thus, she had somehow managed to slow down the blood loss enough to keep him from bleeding out. Moreover, Winky had either understood the difficult situation he was in (Severus was only somewhat inclined to believe that the obnoxious elf would have been able to understand his precarious position) or she had still followed his earlier command, and as soon as she had staunched the bleeding sufficiently apparated him to a half-forgotten property of the Crouches, where they had stayed until Severus had been out of danger to die (again).
Once, Severus tried to speak with Winky about those first hours after she had come to tend to him. She had looked at him with those large, brown eyes that quickly started to fill with tears. 'Winky was doing all she coulds to help,' she wailed and blew her bulbous nose in the handkerchief Severus handed her. They shared a long, silent look and Severus had never asked her again about what exactly she had done to save him (bring him back from the dead).
The house-elf glared and banged a full plate onto the desk. Severus rolled his eyes and pulled the journal he had been reading out from under the plate. He must have lost track of time again, seeing how agitated the little elf had become. She stood before him, arms akimbo, her little apron clean and neatly pressed, like a smaller (but only marginally less intimidating) version of Molly Weasley. 'Master Severus needs to eat!' (Severus wanted to roll his eyes again, but once an hour had to be enough.)
At first Winky had tried to call him Master Headmaster Snape, then Master Potions Master Snape, finally Master Snape — when he had made it clear for once and all that he was not to be called that! (He had meant being called Master; it had made him uneasy. And besides, he was definitely not her Master.) So she called him Master Severus. (The nerve! At least she had never tried to call him Master Sev. Small favours, gift horses and all that.)
As he watched Winky turn and disappear from the room Severus wondered how different this life had turned out to be in the end. He had never even dreamed of having a house-elf when he had been growing up. As a young man he had not had the money (or the family) needed to get his hands on one. Then later yet, a house-elf would have been a liability, a potential threat. (And a helping hand, a loyal companion, trusted…)
Staring at the empty spot where Winky had just been, Severus realised that he had come to trust his strange little companion. He could not pinpoint the time when he started to rely on her. He had been forced to do so in the beginning, when he was still incapacitated, but not later. Once he had gotten back his bearings he could have sent her away, back to Hogwarts. Somehow it had never occurred to him, though. Now, more than ten years later, it somehow didn't matter anymore. (She belonged with him.) With a small curl of his lips he started to eat. (Better not to upset her. Who knew how she would act out her revenge this time, the mean fiend.)
After some minutes the elf returned still glaring, but her features softened when she spotted the empty plate. 'There be post for you, Master Severus,' she announced and deposited a small envelope on the table before clearing the dishes away and disappearing again.
When they had received the first owl they both had been in similar states of disarray. Winky had squeaked and howled, terrified that they (Severus) had been found (by anyone — it did not matter who, all of them were ill-disposed towards him). She was waving her arms and shooing the owl off, almost knocking it against a wall with a broom in her frenzy to chase the bird off (to protect him). Severus had turned ashen, but was outwardly as composed as the elf was distressed. Only his hands shook when he reached for the parchment that the owl had dropped before hurtling off. Winky had then turned the broom against him in one swift move, pushing his hand back. 'No, no! You mustn't touch the letter, sir! Do not touch!' Winky had screeched, wide-eyed and shaking. 'It be poisoned! It be a portkey! No, no!'
Fortunately for all involved, they very rarely received owl post. And the longer they had stayed undiscovered, the more they kept calm whenever another owl would come by.
Severus opened the envelope and read the short message. With a sigh he leaned back and idly played with the letter. Winky's head peered from behind the door, an apprehensive frown on her face. 'We will have a guest, Winky,' Severus addressed her smoothly. 'Could you prepare a meal for us? Something light, maybe the delicious vegetable broth and the crunchy bread you make?' She stepped into view fully and nodded silently before she started wringing her hands. Her chin wobbled and Severus knew she was one breath away from bursting into tears. 'It will be all right, Winky.' (He placated her only because he could not stand to hear her sniffling and wailing. Even worse, she looked disgusting with eyes that were red and puffy from crying.) She straightened her back and sniffed. 'Yes, Master Severus.'
They had moved often and irregularly in the first years, relaying on their memories of deserted buildings. But one could only find so many uninhibited houses that would be secure enough for them to hide in for a longer period of time. The house they lived in now had been a surprise find. Three years after Winky had brought them to Crouche's house Severus had met a woman on his search to find a new place to stay. She had just divorced her (ungrateful, cheating, son-of-a-) ex-"hubby" and wanted to hurt him as good as he had hurt her. Severus could relate. Two days later she had sold him the house with all legal documents for a handful of Pounds.
The next days were spent much as the days before. Winky puttered about their house, cleaning, washing, and cooking for them. Severus hadn't eaten as many of his favourite foods in such a short time since… He could not remember. (Never. Not ever had someone doted on him like this. Not even when he had been bed-ridden and weak, for at that time Winky and he had not yet been this close.) Severus used the time to brew some potions, read and bring his affairs in order. (One should be prepared, even if nowadays one didn't have many affairs and open ends anymore. He had no connections to the wizarding world.) He still brewed potions, though, but these days he made his money by brewing 'all natural' remedies and 'organic' ointments that he sold to Muggles on the weekly market every Saturday.
On the last evening Severus bade Winky to join him during the meal. She agreed solemnly and served for two. Severus transfigured the second chair to have two small steps so that she could climb it more easily. (He thought that it would not fit the occasion if Winky would have to wiggle onto the chair like a hapless urchin.) They sat quietly at the small table, speaking quietly. After she had cleaned up Severus took her to the armchair in front of the fire and told her that any wizard would have need for such a formidable house-elf. There was a letter of recommendation for her (she might not need it to find another master, but he wanted to make sure, just in case, that she had something to help her find a good home) which he tucked into the pocket of her flowery apron and she was not to loose or hide it. Then he pulled her into a halting embrace. Winky threw herself at him and squeezed and held him for a long time. Neither made a sound.
At noon sharp there was a knock on the door. Severus, dressed in his best robes, stood in the small sitting room and nodded for Winky to let their guest in. She smoothed out her pristine apron, bowed once to her Master and did as he asked of her.