As middle class Muggle neighbourhoods went, Spinner’s End was not what Hermione had expected. There were the twin chimneys of the long ago shut-down factory that shadowed the street, but it did nothing to diminish the subtle charm contained below the brick towers.
Over one of their conversations, as they shared tea upon the porch, Severus had told her how the shutting down of the factory - an assembly line for workers boots and nurses shoes - had affected the once very busy neighbourhood of Spinner’s End.
Once a place of affluence, the house at the end of the cul-de-sac, the Snapes home, held a position of being the most luxurious of all the surrounding homes. Unusual for the times, but Tobias Snape, if not a good father, had once been a practical and frugal man. Instead of settling his new wife under a mortgage he had bought the over-large house that dominated the cul-de-sac of Spinner’s End.
Eileen, in those happier days, did not mind when Tobias indulged in ‘men’s night out’ with other men who worked at the factory with him, and had families at Spinner’s End. Eileen would brew her potions, often with Severus at her side, inquisitive, thoughtful, careful, and very helpful. There were potions for home, the basics - Burn Paste, Allergy Tincture, Pepper-Up, Sweet Dreams (a derivative of Dreamless Sleep for home use that had dosing for adults and children), Eileen’s own blend of Witch Hazel, Antiseptic Paste for minor cuts, and Throat Pops - another invention of Eileen’s that was a lollipop of fruit syrup and herbs to soothe sore throats and mild coughs. The other potions were for their Muggle neighbours and utilised Eileen’s extensive knowledge of Herbology; something she also taught to her son.
Tobias, meanwhile, was a foreman at the factory. He oversaw the Quality Inspection Department that made sure that all shoes and boots assembled at the factory were up to the standards expected by the corporate office. He was well liked by those men and a few women he considered his team of quality checkers, and they often socialised. In addition to his men’s night out there was at least once a month barbecues attended to by all in the neighbourhood.
The close of the factory came when the company was acquired by a bigger company somewhere in Canada. It had come as a shock to most of the residents of Spinner’s End; those that had come with the prosperity promised by working at the factory. They were forced to leave their homes as they could not afford the high mortgages any longer.
Tobias was pleased at his forethought in buying the house at Spinner’s End, but he still had a family to support, and though he did try hard early on it was a depression and jobs were scarce to come by. Eileen earned money from the potions she sold to Muggles out of a small shop in the town, but that was barely enough to purchase groceries, new clothes for the fast growing Severus, and those ingredients for potions that could not be easily gathered.
It seemed it was not long before Tobias gave up hunting for a full-time job and settled for odds and ends work - mundane things like landscaping, mowing lawns, weeding gardens, sometimes construction that took him away for weeks at a time. It was all back-breaking work for a pittance that tired him out, and this added to his temper, and led to his drinking.
Severus had not gone any further into his family’s travails but told Hermione that nearly two-thirds of the neighbourhood was empty by the time he was six years of age. There were no children to play with as those residents who remained either had retired to their homes, or were couples that had seen their children off to university.
There was a park, that had once swelled with children but was now virtually empty. The park was behind his own house and Severus did admit to spending hours in and around the park entertaining himself as he gathered potion ingredients for his mother.
As local government tax money used to maintain streets and pavements, beautification, and so on, dwindled, it was the remaining residents who kept their neighbourhood from dying. Empty houses decayed for awhile, but were then torn down since it seemed there was no other reason to keep them. The empty lots were kept clean, the grass mowed. On better days Tobias helped out, sometimes recruiting little Severus to assist as well. Eileen was not able to brew as much for her neighbours as she once had, but she did make sure to look in upon her neighbours that were left at Spinner’s End.
It was these simple Muggles, most who had grandchildren, that had kept their neighbourhood a cosy place. Those empty lots had either become part of properties they were near, or had become various little parks where one could sit and read, walk, or just enjoy the outside. Hermione sighed with contentment at the Victorian quality of Spinner’s End despite being surrounded on all sides by the 21st century. She was not at all startled to see residents relaxing on their porches, or walking their dogs, and smiling at her while waving lightly at Rose.
One of these neighbours, more inquisitive than the others apparently, left her porch, her yard, and walked out onto the pavement to introduce herself to the new faces of Spinner’s End.
“Hello. I just had to come over and introduce myself. I’m Dorothea Gale. Everyone calls me Dotty.” Dotty was probably in her 60s with mostly greying hair, but some strands of amber still showing in wisps from the heavy braid down her back. Her eyes were brown, welcoming, kind, and open. Her face had some wrinkles to reflect her age, and there were faint age spots on the backs of her hands, but she had the look of a woman who enjoyed being outside. Her clothing was a comfortable pair of denim overalls stained with dirt, a plaid flannel shirt with the sleeves rolled up to her elbows, and a pair of comfortable looking trainers.
“Hermione Granger,” Hermione smiled. Dotty stuck out her hand and Hermione took the hand and found the woman’s grasp to be firm, even strong. Not at all hesitant. “This is my daughter, Rose.”
Rose’s hand swiftly entwined with her mother’s fingers and she leaned against her mother’s thigh. “Hi,” said Rose quietly.
“Movin’ in to our little paradise, are you?” asked Dotty.
“We’re… uh…” she glanced back over her shoulder at Severus’ house, not really sure what to say to anyone about her new relationship with the Potions Master.
Rose supplied the answer. “We’re living with Severus who likes my mummy.”
Hermione groaned very softly and her cheeks coloured to scarlet. Dotty chuckled. Hermione stammered, “It’s not… well, Rose and I recently became homeless, and Severus… he’s a good friend… and… uhm…”
Dotty laughed and patted Hermione’s hand. “Oh don’t get all flustered, girl! I’ve seen you having tea a time or two with Severus and you don’t have to get all squirrelly with me. I lived with my Beauchamps for three years before we married.” She winked. “I can tell you that back then, living as we did, wasn’t looked upon kindly.” Dotty leaned a bit closer, and her voice lowered. “You be good to Severus an’ I won’t have a problem with you.”
Dorothea “Dotty” Gale, once married to Beauchamps Chevalier of Lourdes, France, was a very down to earth Muggle woman. She and Beauchamps, also known as Beau, were old to the neighbourhood of Spinner’s End when it was ‘brand spanking new’. They were a stubborn couple who would not give up the old Victorian at what was considered the entrance to Spinner’s End.
Beau had money from his parents in Lourdes, but at heart he was a truck driver and so he was often away from home, a situation that suited Dotty. She had begun a nursery out of her home and even now her greenhouse was the jewel of Spinner’s End. She remembered Eileen and her little boy, and often had both over to help with the gardening.
“Severus,” she laughed and then gave Hermione a mock hard look. “Never Sev or Sevvy, you mind. From the first day we met he hated nicknames.”
“What was he like as a child, Dotty?” asked Hermione.
They had stopped at a thin creek that babbled along behind Dotty’s large Victorian, not far from her glittering glass greenhouse. Rose was seated on the bank watching the water and staring avidly at the smooth pebbles.
“Ohhhh, Severus was a deep little boy. Not really a mama’s sort of boy, though. He liked his mother because her talents and her intelligence fascinated him. He always carried a book, a pen, and a small notebook with him. I’ll admit I was annoyed with his constant dry notes and so I had him sketching the growing plants for me. Took to drawing rather well. That, and climbing.” Dotty broke into a storm of laughter as Hermione looked at her curiously.
“Climbing?” She tried to imagine Severus climbing trees, in his dragon-hide boots, teaching robes, and his long hair, and could not see it. She giggled.
“Yep. Climbing. Regular little monkey that one was with his skinny legs and arms. I think he managed to scale every tree on our street. Of course, once up he tended not to want to come down.” Dotty sighed and smiled. “I expect that the world seen from the height and branches of a tree must be a wondrous thing for a child.”
Hermione nodded. She remembered the tall tree in her family’s backyard that she had climbed as a child. “It was freedom,” she sighed.
“Severus has a big, huge oak tree that I want to climb,” interrupted Rose.
Dotty clapped her hands together as her eyes widened, “You mean Merlin, Rose!”
Rose tore her attention from the pebbles in the creek to turn her head to look up at Dotty in confusion. “Is there a wizard in the tree?”
Hermione tightened just barely visibly. She hoped Rose wasn’t going to reveal what Severus was; a wizard.
Dotty shook her head and hunkered easily down by the girl. “Noooo, there’s nobody in the tree, Rose. Severus named the tree Merlin when he was ‘bout your age. That oak has the honour of being the oldest resident in all of Spinner’s End. Fine old thing managed to stay put as houses grew up around him.”
“Why Merlin?” asked Rose.
“I asked him the same thing, once. Severus told me there was an odd looking knot surrounded by the base of the heaviest limbs. It was old, dark and wrinkled that he said had the face of the legend, Merlin. I went to take a look, a good hard look once, an’ I have to say that knot does have a kindly look to it. Long hair and beard, big thin nose, big eyes. Pretty.”
Rose stood quickly and Dotty followed. “Mum, I want to go see the wizard. Can we?”
Hermione smiled and shrugged. Truth was, she was a bit curious to see what the old oak held secret.
The cul-de-sac, also known as Spinner’s End, was not a true cul-de-sac - a circle of homes within an enclosed street. It was a single, long street that had long ago been cut off at either end. The Snape home occupied the largest of all the original lots and was a three-story brick constructed home that could almost qualify as a manor-style home. On either side were homes, those still occupied, that had a quaint and now faint cookie-cutter-style to them. Only a few were like Dotty’s home at the other end of the street that was a beautifully painted Victorian of blue and green. Beau, Dotty had declared, had always wanted a kitschy yellow and pink for their home, but she put her foot down on that. Not to mention, she hated those colours.
On the closing of the factory, which loomed far back and to the right of Severus’ home, Dotty’s end of the street had simply been chopped off from the main thoroughfare. It had made life difficult for families leaving whose trucks, cars, and moving vans, had to follow the remains of a twisted, single lane road of dirt.
So, it was not a great distance back to Severus’ home to see the great, old oak tree.
The huge tree, and it really was impressive, took up nearly the entire right corner of the property and straddled the fence that separated Severus’ home from the entire street. The tree also served to nearly block out the sight of the front portion of the factory and the fence that had been erected long ago to separate the property from Spinner’s End.
With the coming of Spring the oaks branches were beginning to sprout lush, green leaves. Dotty ducked under one heavy and low branch to lead her two new friends to the side of the tree that faced the corner of the house. There, just at the base where all the limbs began to form and writhe outward and up into the sky, was the big old knot. Hermione gasped. The knot was not a simple and coincidental confluence of whorls of the tree’s age showing where once there had been a huge limb severed. It resembled more a deliberate carving, although it followed the grain of the oak, of the face of a benign looking man with long hair, and beard. He did have a large and thin nose, and wide open, trustworthy eyes. And, Hermione could feel a thin thread of magic that obscured the carving in such a way that to a Muggle it would look simply natural. Only a witch or wizard could see the true face that peered like a guardian over the Snape family home.
Dotty waved farewell suddenly with a smile and an invitation to tea. Hermione studied the face in the tree and felt a little sad that her daughter could not see its true beauty.
“Merlin’s real, Mum,” Rose breathed with wonder as her fingers stroked the wood-satin cheek.
Hermione gaped in shock. How could Rose see through the obscuring magic?!
(via Hermione at the bayou by *perselus on deviantART)