Title: Picketing For Peace
Age-Range Category: Three
Character(s)/Pairing(s): Severus Snape, Tobias Snape
(Highlight to View) Warning(s): Strong lanugage/blasphemy, references to past child abuse.
Summary: Severus Snape never expected to go back to Spinner's End. But when news of the 1984 Miner's Strike, and subsequent sympathy picket in Cokeworth, hit the Daily Prophet front pages he couldn't help himself, even if that meant facing his estranged father.
Severus stared down at his breakfast; he was not in the mood to eat this morning. It was hot enough to feel the weather turning towards summer, and the thought of returning to the dungeons in this heat with a full stomach only made him feel more nauseous than usual. With nothing to do Severus was more alert and couldn't help noticing the somewhat tense buzzing from his students. He glanced over, and the Slytherin prefect caught his eye and signalled that he'd like to speak. Severus nodded slightly, the boy stood. He was carrying what looked like the morning paper. Severus frowned and glanced sideways; Minerva and Pomona were buried in it and clicking like a pair of dolphins.
"Sir, have you seen the morning paper?" Severus held out his hand, and the boy handed it over. "Front page, we have some students affected."
POLICE AND PICKETS
Muggles at war as ongoing picketing spreads.
Severus vaguely recognised the name of the town as somewhere he'd seen on a map at some point. He scanned the article, ignoring the blatant inaccuracies that highlighted it as written by someone with no knowledge of muggle politics or lifestyle.
"The muggles— my father, he's been on strike for two months, Sir. First the miners, a lot of mill towns turned out for them as well. They're saying it's a revolution." Severus nearly dropped the paper as the boy's words filtered into his consciousness, and he snapped it open to the list of affected towns; scanning the list automatically for anything familiar. He didn't follow current muggle affairs anymore, and the strike was news to him. He looked up, carefully hiding the building panic in his chest. No wonder Minerva and Pomona were clicking, they had enough half-bloods and Muggle-borns for this to be a significant issue.
"How many have we affected?" Ascot was a Prefect because Severus trusted him to think things through, pre-empt a question like that, and act accordingly.
"We have some from Babbington; they're drafting letters home now. Some more from other towns, I put together a list after Eyre got the paper from his uncle last night." Eyre's uncle was the editor; he got the paper early which meant Slytherin house always knew the headlines in advance. Severus took the parchment and glanced down at the names. His heart dropped. Twelve students, in Slytherin alone, whose parents might have been striking for weeks already.
"Liaise with the kitchens, Mister Ascot; You'll be responsible for arranging food hampers for the families, use the school owls to send them. Do that today." He instructed almost automatically. "Prioritise families with young children and expectant mothers at home. Muggle food only." The boy nodded sharply. "Potions will be cancelled today for all years; I will be away from the school this morning and return in the afternoon. Any students affected can see me then."
"Yes sir," the boy moved to step away.
"Ascot." Severus bit out sharply. The boy jumped back to attention. "No student is to be held responsible for their father's actions in this matter, anyone found to be bullying on that basis will be punished to the full extent the school rules allow. Understood?" Severus watched the tension drain from the boy. "This school supports the families of its students but remains neutral."
"Yes sir," a beat. "Sir, Speaks’ Father's a pi—;" Severus raised an eyebrow pointedly, and Ascot tripped over his tongue in his haste to correct himself, "police officer; the Gryffindors, if they get to him," Severus's heart sank. They'd kill the boy if Minerva didn't come down hard on this, and experience said she wouldn't.
"Then ensure they do not." Ascot nodded and absented himself as Severus stood. Half the teaching staff stopped to watch him approach the head, and he couldn't help feeling his youth under their gaze. "Headmaster," he murmured in the old man's ear, "I require a day's leave." Albus looked up at him questioningly. "Family emergency."
"Family? Severus..." The accusation was implied in his tone— Severus had no family he cared for anymore. He dropped the paper on the empty plate in front of his employer and indicated the list of towns.
"Cokeworth." He said shortly. Understanding bloomed in Albus' eyes.
"Of course, I will announce your classes cancelled." Severus nodded his thanks.
"Albus," he managed tightly, "keep the children under close watch; you do not want police children and striker's children left unattended." Albus frowned in confusion. "If you think keeping order over my cohort was difficult..." he told the man.
"They are children." Albus began.
"Headmaster," Severus managed to hiss; he could feel Minerva listening behind him, "make no mistake, the muggles are at war, and we have children here from both sides."
"You don't think it's that serious?"
"Police and picketers clashing, violently." Severus quoted the article softly. "Hundreds arrested, more injured. The situation is very close to all-out civil war."
"What must we do?"
"Headmaster," Minerva's interruption couldn't have been timelier, "these families will have lived without an income for weeks already, the children cannot be expected to know that and concentrate on their education. We must do something!" Severus sighed, Minerva meant well, but she was clueless about issues like this.
"I have my prefects arranging food hampers for the families affected," Severus cut in. Minerva looked hopefully at Albus who seemed surprised but nodded anyway. Severus didn't comment on her asking his permission to do it— He'd have taken the hit on his salary if Albus had taken issue; it wasn't like he ever spent it. "I expect the students will be arranging collections; I would suggest donating directly to the unions rather than individual families as they can buy wholesale and provide support." Minerva seemed surprised how much he knew and was willing to share. He didn't care, he'd seen strikes before, and he knew the impact of them. "This strike is currently indefinite; some students may be returning to school without proper uniform and equipment next year." Of course, that had been his normal, but he knew he had kids whose parents scrimped and saved to keep them out of second hand or year old robes every year. "Any students with family in the police force—"
"The what?" Pomona didn't have much contact with the muggle world.
"Muggle Aurors," Severus supplied absently, "will be targeted by the rest."
"What makes you say that?"
"This is a class war; the police have joined with the upper classes, they'll be viewed as traitors. The article, hundreds arrested but only two police injured. No numbers for the strikers."
"Meaning?" Apparently his tone had revealed that there was something behind his words without being clear enough for them to grasp it.
"Meaning;" Charity finally looked up from her copy of the paper and said, "the information is being suppressed, muggle governments usually do that out of fear of what will happen if the information gets out." Severus shot her a grateful look; it was difficult being one of the only half-bloods on the staff at times like this and her help in clarifying issues was appreciated.
"I still don't understand how any of it affects the students," Severus snorted pointedly.
"Children fight their father's wars, which is the way of the world." They had all been professors long enough to have seen it happen before, or in Severus's case had been one of those children dragged into the Wizarding world's blood feud.
"If you'll excuse me, I must ensure my own father is not yet broken by these events."
Cokeworth hadn't changed much save the lack of rise from the factory. Severus had stopped only to change out of his robes into something resembling muggle attire (jeans and a dress shirt) and pick up food hamper, before heading here. He made a point of avoiding the main roads as he approached the house his parents had lived in when he was young. He didn't bother knocking on the front door, the chances of his father being sober enough to answer were slim anyway.
He was halfway through the door when the empty bottle flew past his head, and he had to jump out of the way so it didn't kill him.
"Jesus Christ!" He spent so long pretending to be something he wasn't at the school that he was more surprised at the curse escaping him than the smash of glass against the door. "Don't leave your door unlocked if you don't want anyone coming in!" He yelled out at his father. The man looked like death warmed over and was thinner than Severus had ever seen him. His eyes were dark and his jaw slack.
"What the fuck do you want!" He seemed unusually sober and, surprise of surprises, not hungover. He was wearing clean clothes, and the room, aside from glass on the floor by the door, was clean and reasonably well kept. Severus banished the hamper to the kitchen absently.
"Strike hit our news this morning." Severus had no intention of being polite; he wasn't here out of any genuine concern for the man. "And I don't trust you." Tobias glared at him.
"You got a lot of nerve showing up here, boy!"
"I'm not here for you," Severus finally snapped, being around Tobias always brought out the worst in him, "food in the kitchen, I'll send more if strike carries on." Tobias looked shocked. "You'll cross a picket over my cold dead body." And that was the crux of it. "I worked to make a name in this town I'll be damned if you fuck it up."
"You think I'm that low?" Severus was acutely aware that his father was a violent man and apparently hadn't mellowed with age if the way he was flexing his hands was any indication. "I'm the union rep! Course I'm not crossing the picket!" That was a shock. Actually, a lot of this was a shock; his father, clean, sober and not screaming too many obscenities and now apparently working for the union. It took him a moment to piece it all together.
"Who is she?" Severus finally asked. There was no way Tobias Snape changed this much without the involvement of a woman. Tobias looked offended and then resigned. "Or did you catch religion?" That might be a possibility, but Severus doubted it, and his scepticism dripped from the tone in which he asked.
"Ted's widow." Severus didn't bother hiding his disgust.
"Piss on his grave while you're at it." He snarled, Ted had been a good man, and his wife didn't deserve to end up as Tobias Snape's skivvy.
"I'm sober," the elder offered it as if he expected a reaction.
"That explains the improved aim. Thank fuck their kids are grown enough to punch you back." Was the only response Severus could think of. He'd gone to primary school with the oldest. The youngest was about ten or slightly younger, if Severus remembered correctly, the older brothers should have been able to protect him well enough.
Tobias looked embarrassed as Severus turned to leave. He had nothing more to say.
"They tell me you're a teacher at that school you went to." Severus froze. There was no way for Tobias to know that, no one who should have been in touch with him. "Doctor Evans put me in touch with the AA."
"You're lucky Doctor Evans gives you the time of day. His daughter certainly had none for me." Lily had died, and Severus hadn't had a chance to speak to her, to clear the air or let her know that he'd switched sides. She'd died believing him a death eater. It still burned.
"He asks after you when he comes ‘round."
"The man is either a saint or a fool. The outcome is the same. Tell him not to trouble himself on my account. I have classes to teach." He didn't, but he'd had his fill of being in this house and speaking to that man. He took another step towards the door.
"Lise's—that's her—" Severus remembered her name, "the youngest, he's eight, is like you." It sounded like some kind of plea; desperate, fearful. "...I think." Severus's heart nearly stopped in his chest as he whipped back around.
"If you touch the boy—" Tobias made a disbelieving sound, and Severus realised he'd drawn his wand without thinking.
"He's not like you either." Severus wasn't sure what that meant. "His father raised him to fight back before he died."
"Good." Severus wasn't sure whether it was an insult or not and he didn't care. Tobias was alive only because Severus hadn't been hard enough to kill him when he'd had the chance. He'd told himself it made him the better man, but he'd never quite believed it.
"He'll get a letter, the same way I did, if there's any chance." Tobias nodded mutely; he was eyeing Severus's wand as if it were a dangerous animal.
"Nearly killed his mother last week, blew the toaster up in her face because he was hungry." Severus didn't want to get involved, he didn't, but if Tobias had harmed the boy for having a perfectly natural reaction to a problematic situation, then Severus might not leave here still able to convince himself he was the better man of the two of them.
"Children are volatile at that age. Do not enrage him; he could very easily kill you."
"I know, he's got a temper like you did." The boy had lost his father young, it was expected. "That thing your mam taught you, to get a handle on it— think you can do the same for him?" Occlumency, he was asking Severus to teach the boy occlumency. Severus wasn't sure how his father could imagine that would be appropriate; given the lack of patience and violent temper they both shared, knowing it had been the main driving force of most of the friction between them over the years.
"I learned from her books," he said softly, "you should still have them. It's called occlumency."
"Can't expect an eight-year-old to read those things, not every kid is as smart as you." Severus ignored the comment, mainly because he didn't expect his father to be able to read them either. He'd taken enough beltings over the years because his father had been threatened by his intellect; everything from his ability to think critically to his ability to read had been grounds for Tobias to lay into him in those days.
"Green cover, black writing," he'd learned how to describe a book to an illiterate over the years without seeming to be patronising, "the book is called Core Control, has a picture of an apple on the front. Start him there. It should be simple enough for him." Severus had no intention of ingratiating himself into his father's life by having anything to do with the boy. "It is aimed at children," he reassured the man when he opened his mouth as if to argue. They stood in silence for several tense seconds.
"That school— does it just take people who've got parents who went there or...?"
"No," Severus didn't feel the need to point out that Tobias had met Lily Evans, and apparently knew her parents well enough to mention them, "all the school wants is kids powerful enough to make a wand work."
"Right," Tobias seemed wary but also like he was fishing for something specific, it was making Severus nervous, "and all the books and uniform, they're the same?"
Severus wasn't sure where this was going, but he nodded anyway.
"What's the going rate on it all nowadays?" Tobias would remember that it was expensive because he'd refused to pay for it.
"He won't need new books, second-hand you can pick up a set for a first year in the for a few crowns dependant on quality." Tobias's blank look revealed Severus's mistake; he'd had little contact with muggle money since before decimalisation and still automatically calculated money as pennies and shillings. It was easier that way because the system was similar to wizarding currency; a knut had always been worth a penny, a sickle was worth a crown and a galleon rounded up to five pounds. He could almost see Tobias struggling to work out the exchange rate, "It's been a while since I've discussed finances with a muggle." He found himself explaining, and Tobias nodded, Severus only realised afterwards what he'd said and why his palm had gone slick with sweat. There had been a time Tobias would have knocked him out for daring to mention magic so blatantly in this house. "Ours is different." He made an effort to appear nonchalant as he pushed his wand back up his sleeve and dropped his hands into his pockets.
"I remember, coins the size of bloody dinner plates." He was exaggerating, and maybe it was nerves, but Severus actually heard himself make an amused sound.
"In old money, if you buy the books and some other bits second-hand you can do it on about a hundred pounds, that'll drop to thirty every year after, make his uniform last and you can do it with about twenty as long as he doesn't take any specialist subjects."
"Hundred! That's three month’s good wages!" Severus made the conscious decision not to pass the scathing comment that was on the tip of his tongue.
"The school has a hardship fund for students from low-income families, it pays around twenty-five old pounds." Tobias pulled a face, and Severus knew exactly what he was thinking, he'd have slit his own throat before taking handouts from the school even when the man before him hadn't cared how much it cost. "Realistically, the only thing he actually needs new is a wand which costs around thirty. New robes will make his life easier, but he won't be the only first year without them," and despite himself, the words were out before he could stop them, "I certainly wasn't." Tobias had that same embarrassed look again.
"You used yer ma's old wand?" The words were posed as a question, but there was something else there. He wouldn't look Severus in the eye.
"Still do," Severus admitted, he'd never seen the need to change it after it had switched allegiance to him and he'd broken it in. "Sometimes it works that way, I wouldn't make a kid use a wand he hadn't inherited from close family and even expect it to work."
"And if we could get one second-hand that worked?"
"About ten pounds?" Severus guessed, "And it would never work as well for him as his own." Severus pulled his own wand back out, and Tobias flinched. He shot the man a curious look; if he'd wanted to start throwing curses Tobias would already be screaming. "This took several years, a few illegal runes carved onto the handle and many mishaps before it began to feel natural in my hand." He turned it over in his hand as he spoke, fingers tracing over every carving and mark on it. Turning a unicorn tail hair wand to dark magic had not been an easy task either. His mother's wand had not been meant for him, and it had taken years before he had learned to properly manage the lack of chemistry it had with him. He would occasionally get some vague notion into his head to get his own wand, mainly when he was experimenting and something went wrong but never followed through. Severus wasn't sure he trusted himself with a wand that would do what he wanted it to and didn't require strict self-control to direct.
"So what you're saying is that if we want him kitted out properly start saving from now." Severus hesitated, the whole conversation just felt wrong and out of place.
"If one hundred pounds is three month’s wages then I would say so; where is the boy?"
"In school," Tobias glanced at the clock on the wall, "his brother will be in from picket in a minute if it's been quiet." Severus nodded mutely. This all seemed too surreal, too wrong. He was stood having a civil conversation with his father in his childhood home. It was too normal.
"I have students arranging collections," he knew they would be, "and colleagues doing the same in their houses." Tobias clearly didn't understand what that meant but nodded anyway, "I'm advising that they send funds directly either to the main headquarters or local reps so they can buy what's needed wholesale and distribute accordingly, the hampers are temporary until that gets organised." Tobias nodded.
"Sound. This one going to go for a while, we think; Scargill got his teeth in and Maggie ain't backing down." Severus wasn't sure what to say, he'd heard vaguely that the muggle Prime Minister had a tough reputation. After what she'd done to the Minister for Magic it was hard not to know of her, even for a wizard.
"Other than food, what is needed?" Severus felt he had to keep this conversation going because if it fell into silence, they would never escape the awkwardness between them.
"What we usually need, toiletries, nappies, baby food for families with young kids." Severus nodded. "I'm doing what I can here, right now we've got fair bit of funding from central, but you know as well as I do..."
"It won't last." They lapsed into another silence.
"You been up to yer mam?" Severus nearly flinched. That had been the last big argument they had in this house when he'd finally upped and run to Malfoy Manor.
"Not since they put the stone on, got caught up in a war and some other..." He trailed off awkwardly; he wasn't about to spill his guts to this man, "doesn't matter."
"War?" Tobias didn't seem surprised.
"It's over, I survived," Severus answered shortly. Tobias seemed to take the hint.
"Well, there's the proof of it." He commented, and Severus' brow knitted together in question. "My old man never wanted to talk about it either." Severus still wasn't sure why Tobias had felt the need to say that. Maybe he was feeling the awkwardness as much as Severus was. "I drop by sometimes, after church or work," Severus wasn't sure why he felt guilty all of a sudden, "...stone's good." Tobias hadn't wanted to bury her (which was to say, hadn't wanted to pay for burying her) and Severus hadn't wanted her turned over for a state funeral.
"Better be for what it cost."
"You never asked me for a penny." Tobias finally said. "Not for any of it."
"You never had one to give," Severus answered a touch too sharply. Tobias actually winced and nodded. "I paid for it honestly; if that's what you're asking."
"Yeah, ‘spect so. You always did have yer own code 'bout things like that."
"My mother raised me right." Severus couldn't help the dig. To his credit, Tobias just nodded in agreement.
"Definitely nothing I did."
"I don't know," Severus started to say. "Some lessons in life are better learned under father's boot than mother's skirt."
"Some lessons in life shouldn't need to be learned at all." That definitely sounded like an apology. Severus couldn't bring himself to either deny it or make any further direct comment that wouldn't seem entirely petulant.
"Ensure the boy in your care doesn't learn it this time, and we'll say no more about it." Tobias seemed to understand that Severus had hit his limit and didn't want to get into it. "If he does, well..." he didn't have to elaborate as Tobias's eyes skipped back to his wand."I will not need a wand to kill you."
"That's more than I deserve."
"It's no longer about what you deserve, that boy has already lost his father," if Tobias was anything resembling a male role model for the boy then Severus knew he had no right to take that from the child.
He knew they were expecting him to speak, and it was times like this he felt his youth most keenly. He just didn't have the experience to handle situations like this. He looked around at them and couldn't help the spike of pride in his chest, Speaks was flanked on either side by two other boys who, by all accounts, should have been beating him senseless.
"When I was a student; my first night in this common room," he started to say, "I stood there," he'd all but hidden in the smallest nook he could find, "in second-hand robes and carrying my mother's wand," a few students murmured in surprise, "our Prefect stood before us and spoke the same truth I see before me." He had to be careful with how he worded this. "Slytherin house is a family within these walls." Severus was sure Lucius hadn't meant it the way he had taken it back then, or the way he meant it now. The whole room seemed to hold its breath. "Your fathers, on both sides, could learn from this." He was struggling for words.
"Sir," Severus nearly hexed the boy he was so tense and the interruption unexpected, "I've got three younger brothers at home," Speaks' face was flaming with shame, "police don't have a union, my dad has to do as he's told or they starve." A few others began to murmur. Severus fixed them with a cold glare. "He can't be seen to support the strikers," Speaks’ voice was thick with feeling, "but I can." Absolute stillness, Severus half expected the world to end in a sudden flash of light. "Ascot has enough to do," the prefect was staring, as dumbfounded as everyone else, "with your permission, I'd like to take responsibility for the organisation of the collection." One whisper, two, and then a third. Severus couldn't think of any reasonable argument against it. He nodded tightly, the boy had just single-handedly made his job far easier than he had expected and saved his own skin in the process.
"Hey, Speaks, put me down for ten Galleons," sometimes Severus forgot the kind of money his students came from and then someone said something like that, and he was reminded, "fifteen if I can guilt my father into sending me some more spending money for the next Hogsmeade weekend." A few students laughed and the tension broke slightly.
Ascot had sidled up to him and was just watching the scene unfold. "Well, that was easy," he commented, and Severus nodded.
"Speaks has an excellent skill for self-preservation." The professor agreed softly.
"Is that true, sir," Ascot seemed quietly curious, "about when you were a student?" Severus fixed Ascot with an almost equally curious look, the boy was just about old enough to potentially remember Severus as a student.
"You presumed otherwise?" Ascot seemed hesitant.
"Well, I mean, I've read Nature's Nobility... and there's no Snape family in there. All I remember when you were in school was the scary looking seventh year who could brew anything you wanted as long as you had the galleons to pay for it and the nerve to ask him." He said it in a rush as if expecting to be hexed for daring to even think such things.
"Ask the question you truly wish to have the answer to." Severus directed coolly.
"You had second-hand stuff, and you know how muggle strikes work..." Severus was very close to swatting the back of the boy's head to make him hurry, he resisted, barely, "was your father down the pit or at the loom?"
"He is the union representative at a moderately sized mill in the Midlands," Severus responded; pointedly using the present tense as he did so. Ascot lapsed into an awkward silence.
"Oh," he said eventually, "I assumed, I mean—" Severus didn't make any attempt to ease the boy's conscience.
"If Slytherin house teaches you one thing in all your time at Hogwarts, Mr Ascot, let it be this. Having one's name in a genealogy text is not a prerequisite for ambition or achievement."
"Do you, um, do you get on with him?" Severus wasn't sure how to answer that question after today.
"He is alive, and we communicate occasionally." Severus wasn't sure why he was so open with the boy. Eventually, Ascot bid him goodnight and slipped back into the conversation with his friends.
Aside from breaking up the odd scuffle and the strange feeling in his chest that he should probably write to Tobias, if only to check on the boy and make sure he found the correct book, life continued as it always did at Hogwarts for Severus. At least, until the weekend, as it invariably did, rolled around. Eventually, Severus could put it off no longer and after double checking the address for Speaks' parents, he ventured away from the school for a few hours on Saturday morning.
Eleven o'clock found him outside the house Speaks' Hogwarts letter had been sent to a few years earlier. It wasn't much different from Spinner's End, a little cleaner perhaps and opposite the local park. Severus had expected that. Speaks' father had written twice before school even started when the boy had been a first-year. He'd been asking for advice on how to shop on a budget and to confirm that it was safe for his son to attend; he was a muggle born who had fled the magical community at the height of the last war. Severus was not looking forward to this meeting. He knocked and waited almost nervously, again he'd chosen muggle attire of blue jeans and a deliberately long-sleeved polo shirt this time. A woman with blonde hair slipping out of loose working-woman's updo style answered the door, she looked harried.
"Who the hell are you?" she was definitely the same kind of woman Severus was used to mixing with outside of Hogwarts if the brash accent and hard tone was any indication.
"Mrs Speaks?" she nodded, eyes narrowed suspiciously, "My name is Professor Snape, I teach your eldest son... At Hogwarts." Her eyes went wide, and she opened the door. Almost as soon as he was inside, she closed it behind him and slipped the chain onto its hook. Catching him staring she flushed and glanced away.
"Sorry, can't be too careful with the strike on. Never know who's going to decide to hit back at my husband."
"He's a police officer," She must have caught the heaviness of his tone because she flinched.
"And you're a union man." It wasn't a question.
"I am a professor at a private institution, we don't have unions." He supplied evasively, his political leanings weren't relevant either. "What I do have is a fourteen-year-old boy, whose wellbeing has been entrusted to me, unable to focus on his studies for fear of the condition of his family." She blinked slowly at him.
"Your son would probably appreciate a letter occasionally," he clarified shortly. Her flush deepened again.
"His dad's busy, and he knows I can't..." Severus deliberately gave her a moment to compose herself.
"And his siblings?" he was trying to be diplomatic. "They cannot?"
"They're in school, we don't have an owl or money for stamps." Severus was sure the father knew that they didn't need them. "Plus, Joe said not to, said he'd be better off no one knowing he had a, what did he call it—? Anyway, someone like him for a dad, especially in the house he's in." The word fell readily from Severus' lips.
"Muggle-born." she shook her head, and Severus frowned.
"No, something else, something to do with his blood." Severus's heart sank as he realised, he couldn't say the father carried any blame for thinking that way but it still hurt, he was always angry to hear that any child had been told such things.
"That word is not appropriate for polite conversation," he sniped almost automatically. "I, as head of your son's house, make a point of being particularly strict on the matter." She looked surprised.
"It can't be that bad?"
"Well, sorry I didn't—Joe just uses it."
"He is entitled to reclaim it if he so wishes, those of us it doesn't strictly apply to, however..."
"Sorry," she said again.
"Don't be, I only came to be able to reassure your son. Do not be put off writing to him if you can; write his name and the name of the school clearly on an envelope and it will arrive." He assured her; it was how he'd managed to communicate with his mother for most of his own school career, and she certainly hadn't had the few pennies needed to buy muggle stamps.
Glad to escape the Speaks's home and get back into the open air Severus wasted very little time in apparating to Cokeworth. As usual, he picked a spot down a snicket, which even in daytime was forbiddingly dark to all but the bravest of residents, to arrive in. The short walk from there to Spinner's End cleared his head nicely and focused his mind back on the task at hand. The boy should be home, observing him for a few moments would determine if he was magical, and Severus could be back at Hogwarts for lunch. This time he knocked on the front door rather than just walking in; that felt so strange, he'd never knocked on this door in his life.
"Since when do you knock?" Tobias had opened the door, spotted him and made the exclamation with such feeling that Severus almost apologised.
Severus caught the apology just in time to stop it slipping from him and answered almost haltingly. "Since you're sober enough to answer." Tobias stepped aside with an almost sly smile. Severus glanced askance at him; there was nothing funny about this situation. "I'm just here for a quick visit."
"He's in living room," Tobias clearly knew why Severus had come back. He found himself pulled into a conversation he would remember nothing about as the woman bustled around the kitchen, the kids sat and watched tv and Tobias returned to polishing his boots over yesterday's newspaper. For a while, nothing happened, but Severus was still confident Tobias was right about the boy.
"Right, I'm heading over to the picket for a bit, check on everyone."
Lise (as she'd insisted Severus call her after the first time he'd addressed her as Mrs Ackroyd, in the same manner he had as a child, and it had gone over about as well as a lead broomstick) let out a low groan.
"Toby you promised me you'd be here for dinner for once!" Severus nearly drew his wand, it took all of his self-control to let this play out without interfering to stop Tobias going mad. It must have shown in his expression because the man looked straight at Severus, and deliberately tried to smile, as if expecting the younger man to need reassuring that this wasn't going to descend into a domestic incident.
"I will be, I'll be back for one, I promise." He looked back at Severus. "You coming?" Anything to get out of the stifling awkwardness of sitting and observing a family he had no attachment to who were being painfully polite in his presence. It was worse than a dinner with the Malfoys. He didn't hesitate to follow.
"Oi Toby! Nice of you to show yerself!" Tobias laughed, and Severus deliberately didn't comment.
"What's the latest?"
"Water's warm and pigs are out in full gear."
"Shite." Severus was struggling to follow it all, he'd lost most of his accent years ago along with his ability to decode it when spoken at natural speeds.
Tobias pointed across the road to a small green that sat right across from the factory gates, and Severus understood. The whole thing was heaving with police, and not beat bobbies either, they had full riot gear, and Severus was almost sure he could hear dogs barking as well.
"Are they expecting..." he hesitated, "trouble?" Tobias made a derisive sound and Severus tilted his head slightly in question.
"Not from us, order came down from central. No trouble unless they start first."
"That makes sense."
"Gotta keep people onside, lotta miners depending on us not to make them look bad on the six o'clock news." It took Severus a moment to understand.
"So all of that is simply," Tobias shrugged absently even before Severus said it, "showing a presence?" Tobias grunted lowly.
"Toby, mate, we've got a problem, they're getting restless, and that riot gear is starting to look pretty friendly." Severus barely recognised the man his father was speaking to as someone who lived a few streets from Spinner's End. "Could get nasty."
"No. Tell them. Not happening, Dave." The man shrugged and slouched off with a pointed look.
"Is there anything to be done?" Severus asked softly, he could see men here who had been the epitome of role models for him growing up, and they were all beginning to look browbeaten and aggravated. Tobias shook his head.
"That hamper of yours fed three families, you've done enough."
"I'll send more tonight when I'm back at the school, it'll come by owl," Tobias was shaking his head already.
"You don't have to do anything." Severus fixed his father with a nasty look.
"The school has a large surplus of quality food, it won't be missed and could be of real use here." Tobias half smiled and wholly ignored the glare. Severus didn't ask what was so funny.
"Right now we're all alright for food, it's gas, electric, rent; that's where we're feeling it." Severus sighed. "Bloody council sold house from under me a few years back, claimed someone with an older tenancy on it had right to buy, and they had." Severus winced, he'd bought the house because it was convenient and the kind of price he'd paid had been laughably low when they had agreed to calculate it based on his mother's tenancy under the new scheme. They had wanted to be rid of it anyway.
"Landlord's not too bad, runs everything through an agency." Severus hadn't thought to check if the agency were actually earning their fees. "Seems he pays them enough we don't have any issues with getting stuff fixed when we need it." Severus had the strangest feeling like Tobias knew that he couldn't quite explain. Maybe it was guilt.
"Why not contact the landlord? Explain... this?" He asked evasively. Tobias shook his head.
"He's a landlord, pro'lly a Tory." Severus half shrugged.
"Buying property here under the government scheme?" He let his tone carry just enough question that Tobias stopped to consider it.
"Cheap housing and people who pay their rent on time and keep houses clean and well looked after. Landlord's dream." Severus didn't push. He didn't actually want to admit the truth to Tobias. It felt wrong somehow. He'd bought the house on a whim for reasons he hadn't fully understood at the time; maybe because it was cheap, maybe because— despite everything— it was home, maybe because some long buried part of him was still a boy who wanted to keep his father housed and safe in his old age, or maybe because he'd gained some vindictive pleasure from owning his father's house.
"I'm the landlord." Tobias stopped stock still.
"I don't spend my salary," he said softly, "nothing to spend it on, and it seemed like a sound investment at the time."
"Yer twenty-four years old, how the hell?"
"I am a teacher, my salary runs to, I imagine, possibly double a working man's wage," Tobias didn't answer, "I have no children or bills, my food and housing is guaranteed, and my personal expenses are almost nil." Tobias was staring at him. "The mortgage is paid, or will be next year." He almost babbled, now he'd started he wanted to say it in full before he lost his nerve. "Do not attempt to pay the rent until the strike is over, it will be refused." He wasn't asking he was telling. The money was nothing to Severus, and his salary more than covered the mortgage; or so the goblins said, he let them deal with the finances on his behalf. Tobias was gaping at him.
"Bloody Hell, son!" He didn't seem to want to say anything more than that. "Apparently, you're paid well." He commented.
"As I said; probably more than double a working man's wage."
"Go on, surprise me?" Severus raised his eyebrows, he didn't usually discuss money so brazenly with anyone.
"In old money?" He still hadn't managed to accept that shillings and guineas just didn't exist anymore, "Just over three figures a week." Tobias looked scandalised.
"So more like triple what I earn?" Severus had no real idea what his father earned, but he suspected that the annual rent on the house took about a third of the man's income and it still barely matched what Severus earned from Hogwarts in a month.
"And our taxes are— significantly less than what you would pay." Tobias stared at him, entirely at a loss.
"Bloody hell..." Severus couldn't bring himself to look at the man.
"Promise me," Severus said softly, "do not try and pay the rent." Tobias finally closed his mouth and nodded. They lapsed into an uncomfortable silence surrounded by the chatter of factory men and the echo of dogs barking from across the way.
"I should," Severus said eventually as they lined up, still under that heavy silence, for a cup of cold water from a Styrofoam cup, "get back to the school." He started.
"No way, come back for dinner first." Severus nearly fell over from the shock. "Steve's been asking about you all week since I mentioned you'd been ‘round." Steve was Lise's oldest son, the one Severus had been to school with. "And you've not said anything about Bobby yet." Severus hadn't realised that he hadn't known the boy's name until this very moment.
"To the eldest, say hello for me," Tobias pulled a face knowingly, "as for the youngest..." he'd seen the boy do things that no muggle child could do when he thought no one was watching, "expect an owl."
"How do you know?"
"I didn't just fight in a war," he admitted quietly, "I was the spy in the enemy camp." He let a moment of pregnant silence fall between them. He didn't have to elaborate to tell his father that he knew how to observe people. "Expect an owl." Tobias nodded. "Do not let him near my mother's old books, they are not appropriate," Tobias looked surprised.
"You read them."
"Exactly, they were not appropriate then either." Tobias let out a low laugh, he apparently didn't understand what Severus meant. The knowledge in those books was advanced, and the tone of them glorified a lot of the dark stuff Severus had sought out in a bid to learn to protect himself. A healthy, happy, child should have no need for them.
"I was the spy because I turned from them," Severus pressed, "I joined them seeking more of the type of knowledge in those books. They would have wiped all of this from the map." He gestured to the mill and the men emphatically. "Do. Not. Let him read those books." Tobias's expression darkened, and he nodded.
"Make it sound like they were some kind of, I don't know..." Severus didn't answer, the words he wanted to say wouldn't dislodge from his throat. He took the cups and handed one to his father automatically.
The woman turned away, and the garden tap she was drawing water from sputtered before resuming an almost constant stream. The second she turned away for was all he needed to spell the cups in the box to keep the drinks cold or warm as needed. Tobias didn't notice either.
"Answer me something," Tobias said a she sipped the water, "what made you come here, really? When you heard of the strike?" Severus didn't speak for several seconds.
"I would not have seen you starve." He said finally. "And, actually," he fixed his father with an almost wry smirk, "I am pleased to find you… thriving." Tobias nodded.
"Well, makes you a better man than I ever showed you how to be." Severus found the denial came readily.
"You didn't do too badly," he commented and dug into his pocket for the muggle wallet his mother had bought when he was fifteen as a birthday gift, he slipped a small red party membership card out of one of the slots. Tobias let out an almost hearty laugh when he saw it.
"My landlord's not a Tory then." He clapped Severus on the shoulder as the observation slipped from his lips, the card and wallet disappeared back into a pocket.
"No. I make a point of not forgetting where I came from."
"Next week you'll come back?" Severus nodded, he'd already decided that. "Then don't plan to go back before dinner. Got it!" For the first time in his life, Severus felt no fear at that almost stern tone from his father, a small smile escaped him. "Lise'll have my guts if you don't." It felt more like banter with a colleague or associate than with his father. Severus supposed he could live with that. He waved and stuck his thumb momentarily in the air as he walked away and slipped into an empty side road. By the time he dropped his hand back to his side, he was on the high street of Hogsmeade.