cosmos bipinnatus

Dawn had nearly broken when Severus returned from his expedition across the empty, midnight streets of Brussels.

After cleaning the mess Potter had spewed over the room, Severus had departed, locking the door and layering over it what paltry wards he could muster without a wand. His first stop had been a closed apothecary, entering through the back, a touch of magic shorting the electric locks on the door and the bulky Muggle cameras on the ceiling. He plucked a canvas bag from a rack and tossed different boxes of medicine into it—paracetamol, antiemetics, analgesics, creams for rashes, and just about anything else that came to mind.

Non-magical medicine worked well enough on witches and wizards—usually. Severus once had a Muggle-born student end up in the hospital wing after consuming a stomach soother that turned his skin as pink as a flamingo. Poppy had also relayed stories of other incidents she'd encountered in the past.

Severus would simply have to deal with any potential side effects until he could produce the proper potions. It was better than Potter sicking up on his shoes.

Next into the bag went whatever toiletries he could swipe from the shelves—shampoo and soap, razors, toothbrushes and paste, deodorant, and a bottle of concealer Severus hoped would better obscure Potter's scar. He stared at a package of hair binders with undue scrutiny before snatching them up.

After the apothecary, Severus had continued his crime spree at a shabby department store, gritting his teeth and thanking Merlin no one was about to see him trying to pick clothes and undergarments for a young girl. Everything was so bloody pink, and what in Morgana's name was he meant to do with all those numbers on the label? Were those sizes? How was he supposed to know that for either him or Potter?!

The pseudo clothes shopping took longer than he anticipated, Severus struggling with figuring out what to take and what was needed. He discovered a backpack sturdy enough to hold a wobbly Extension Charm, and he stuffed the new attire and the canvas bag from the apothecary inside.

He had started on his way back then—only to stop by a grocer and a convenient store, hunting for food Potter could eat. Finally, he returned and found the girl still blissfully fast asleep.

"Thank God," he muttered on an exhausted exhale, dropping the backpack and shutting the door.

An hour after the sun properly breached the city skyline, Severus had showered and shaved while Potter slept, now dressed in plain Muggle jeans and a pale blue buttoned shirt he didn't care for. He gently prodded the girl awake, using one finger to poke her bony shoulder. Potter sat up in a fright, fuzzy and confused, but she blinked and looked around, calming down—somewhat—when she remembered where she was.

"Come," he told her. "Have your breakfast."

Potter rubbed the sleep from her eyes and disentangled herself from the sheets. "I can have breakfast?"

"Yes," Severus replied, torn between yawning or sighing. "You may have breakfast."

She climbed into the chair opposite Severus at the tiny, crooked table, and she accepted a small bowl of granola and a plastic cup of plain yogurt. Not a particularly vibrant meal, but the girl looked happy enough.

Severus forced himself to choke down the same thing. The stress and lack of sleep still had his stomach twisted into knots, and even the plain, flavorless granola felt like swallowing gravel. He poured her a cup of apple juice.

"Where are we going today, Mr. Snape?"

Severus finished chewing and answered the girl. "Cologne."

"Co-loan?" she asked, puzzled. Yogurt dribbled onto her shirt, and Severus ignored it, guessing it was all well and good he'd gotten her new attire. "Isn't that perfume for boys?"

"It can be. It's also a city in Germany. One that includes a magical quarter." His eyes drifted over the ugly curtains, the lamp with cracks in the aged shade. "I do not know where the quarter is, so patience will be needed on your part while I search." He laced his fingers together, leaning his elbows on the table's edge. "Do you believe yourself capable of that?"


Severus wasn't convinced she'd heard the question. But then again, he doubted the girl would protest any request so long as it meant she didn't have to return to England and live with her extended relatives.

He lowered his head to his folded hands to knead his brow, then straightened. "There will be three rules for today that you will follow. Firstly, you will do as you're told when you're told. I am not as concerned for our safety in Germany as in France, but my orders are not suggestions for you to consider. We are still in danger, and it is a danger that will never fully fade."

Potter studied her plastic spoon in silence and only looked up when Severus sniffed in displeasure. She couldn't quite meet his eyes in her nervousness, but she did nod.

"Secondly, you will inform me immediately if you are feeling ill, or if you grow too fatigued or need sustenance."


"Tired. Food. Water," he cut her off. "Or if you need the loo. I need to know if you're not feeling well."


"The third rule is not to wander off. We are in a strange place where we don't speak the language and can't ask for directions. You cannot get distracted and wander away from me."

"Yes, sir."

He studied her for a moment as Potter poked granola into her yogurt. "Repeat the rules to me, Miss Potter."

"I have to do what I'm told, and—." She paused. "I have to say if I'm hungry, and I have to stay with you."

"The second rule is to inform me if you are unwell, hungry, thirsty, tired, or if you need the loo. All of those issues, Miss Potter."


She returned her attention to her food, and Severus sighed. He drank his own cup of juice, wishing it was coffee or a shot of straight firewhiskey. He thought about the pricey bottle of scotch in his desk at Hogwarts, a gift from Lucius when Draco was born to thank Severus for his potions. Narcissa had described the scotch as an entirely inappropriate gift for a child's birthday, but Severus hadn't complained.

Huffing, Severus forced down his breakfast, then cleaned up the mess, eye twitching when he noted the girl had barely eaten a third of what he'd given her.

"Come over here."

Severus jerked open the stolen backpack as Potter slipped off her chair and came to stand next to him. "What's that?"

"Things we require," he said, jerking out two articles of clothing. "Here. Pick one."

Potter gawked, squinted, and then got down to the serious business of choosing between the dress patterned with yellow sunflowers or the t-shirt with a small green dinosaur on the front. She settled on the t-shirt, and Severus shoved the dress back into the bag, finding a pair of shorts and underthings. He quickly placed them in the girl's arms.

He retrieved the canvas bag from the apothecary and peered at the items inside, attempting to make sense of the Dutch. "Take this as well." He gave her a bottle of shampoo and a bar of flowery soap. "Go bathe."



Potter went, quietly shutting the lavatory door behind herself, and Severus waited until he heard the taps squeak and the water turn on before he set about eliminating any trace of their stay from the room.

Ten minutes later, the girl returned, changed into fresh clothes and holding out the soap, shampoo, and laundry for Severus to take. He did so, ready to shove everything away into the backpack and move on—but then he took a moment to study Potter's hair.

Closer inspection revealed it to be barely damp aside from the fringe, which she'd wetted down to conceal her scar better. It looked as if Poter had dunked her head into the sea and had come out with a clumpy seaweed creature attached to her scalp.

"You didn't wash your hair," he said, and Potter's gaze jumped to his face, then away, her cheeks glowing pink. Annoyed, Severus muttered formless invectives and dragged the toiletries bag out again.

He knew his own hair didn't present itself as a perfect paragon of personal hygiene, but that was due more to poor genetics and lack of attention than any dearth of cleanliness. He never let his Slytherins out of the dormitories unless properly bathed and attired, and he wasn't about to have his unfortunate ward wandering about resembling a ragamuffin. It would attract far too much attention.

Severus studied the bottles again until he found conditioner, then waved his hand, sending the bottles and a comb drifting into the bathroom. He followed, and a snap of his fingers brought a chair from the table skidding to a halt in front of the chipped counter. It was only then that he looked up and realized Potter had remained in the other room.

"Miss Potter," he said, stepping past the threshold. The girl stood at the foot of the bed, looking as if she either wanted to sink into the floor or find something sturdy to hide behind. "Come over here. We haven't all day."

The girl didn't move for a long moment, and when she did, she dragged her feet and stopped a whole arm's length away.

Severus exhaled. Be patient, be patient, be patient—.

He stepped closer, and Potter squeezed her eyes shut—only to blink in surprise when she felt Severus tap a finger under her chin. Their gazes met, and he skimmed the surface of her thoughts, sneering as the dim outline of Petunia unfolded. Petunia's hand twisted in Potter's hair. The sting was no less dim for it being a memory, the echo of old bruises aching against Severus' own hipbones as Potter remembered leaning over the too-tall counter at Number Four. The freezing water seared against her skin as Petunia held her in the sink.

Severus blinked, and the scene cleared, Potter none the wiser to his brief intrusion. "I am not going hold your head in the sink, girl," he said with a huff, Potter flushing scarlet. "Nor will the water be cold. What was the first rule, Miss Potter?"

"…I haveta do as I'm told."

Severus jerked his chin once in affirmation. "So come do as you're told and wash your hair. Quickly."

Potter shuffled into the lavatory with an expression torn between consternation and stubbornness, stopping just inside the door. Severus moved to the sink and gestured for her to kneel on the chair next to him, and she did so, seeming more relaxed by the furniture's presence.

No struggling to stand on tip-toe while a mad bitch holds her under the faucet.

The girl shot an uneasy glance in Severus' direction.

Exasperated, he said, "I'm not going to drown you, for Merlin's sake," and twisted the handles by the tap, waiting for the water to warm. "Here, feel."

He stuck Potter's reluctant hand under the faucet, and she ceased her efforts to pull away, surprised by the warmth. Severus sneered, and she wrinkled her nose before leaning forward so he could use a cup to pour water over her head.

Severus rolled up his sleeves, then upended the shampoo bottle to squeeze a large dollop into his palm.

As he rubbed the soap into a lather and sniffed at the smell of honeysuckle, Severus was viscerally reminded of a summer long ago when he'd helped Lily bathe the family dog. He conceded it probably wasn't the best thought to have while assisting a child in washing her hair, but really the experiences were quite comparable.

"Keep your eyes closed," he grumbled. Then, to alleviate his own discomfort, he started to speak, treating this like a potion class in need of instruction. "You need to rub the shampoo into your scalp to get the hair clean. Then, rinse thoroughly to remove the soap and dirt."

Potter hummed in understanding as Severus filled the cup and poured it over the girl's head several times until none of the white bubbles remained.

"You apply the conditioner to the hair itself rather than your scalp." He repeated the process, and Potter remained mostly quiet and still, her elbows firmly planted on the counter as if to prevent Severus from suddenly shoving her face-first into the water. He would have rolled his eyes if he'd not been in a rush to complete his task.

When finished, Severus turned the water off and summoned a towel with a negligible flick of his fingers, dropping it over the girl's head.


"Dry off," he instructed, taking a step back. Severus crossed his arms waited for her to squeeze the excess water out of her wild hair, and when Potter emerged from the towel, she blinked at him. She blinked again, then squinted in the vicinity of his chest—and Severus realized that crossing his arms had bared the Dark Mark. He jerked his sleeves back down to his wrists.

"There," he told her, taking the towel and tossing it aside. "Your hair is clean, and you no longer resemble a grubby urchin I unearthed from the gutter."

"What's an ur-chin?"

"Never you mind." He turned her to the mirror again and muttered a small drying charm to siphon what water remained in her hair and in the shoulders of her shirt. The obstinate mess curled in whatever direction it pleased, the fringe standing on end, but the matted strands had been washed out with the oil and dirt.

Mustering his courage, Severus tackled it with the comb. "Repeat the rules for today one more time."

"I gotta do what you say, and I have to tell you if I'm hungry, or thirsty, or—ow!"

"Keep still."

"And I have to stay with you, like when Mrs. Langford made us use the buddy system on a group trip!"

"What the devil is the buddy system?"

"You haveta hold hands!" She winced again when the comb caught on a particularly determined tangle. "I got in trouble. No one wanted to hold my hand cos' I'm a f—."

"What did I say about using that word?"

She shifted on the chair. "…That I'm not supposed to?"

"Correct." Severus finished her hair off with a binder and decided it was acceptable, if a bit untidy. How Narcissa had made it so neat and pleasing, he'd never know. "Come along now."

He gathered the toiletries together, ready to put them away. He and the girl had a long day ahead of them, and the longer they lingered here, the longer Severus gave their pursuers time to search. The Order would not assume he'd leave France, not when Perrault and his necessary services remained there, but they were not as stupid as to ignore potential leads. Someone would follow the train into Brussels to make sure.

He shoved the bottles away and struggled with the bag's zipper. He bloody hated zippers.

"Mr. Snape?"

"What now?"

"Erm. I need to use the loo."

Severus sighed and covered his face with his hand.


Another two-hour trip by train brought Potter and Severus across the border and into Germany, then straight into Cologne—or Köln, as the locals called it. Without any idea of where to start their search, Severus leaned into the idea of being foreign tourists, deciding to utilize the kitsch English maps available at the station kiosks. The maps displayed popular landmarks in the city, and that would give them their best chance at navigating without appearing too overly gormless. That was the hope, at any rate.

He nicked dark sunglasses and a camera off an inattentive bloke to complete his own sight-seer appearance and slapped a floppy sun hat on Potter's head. He made certain the girl did not see him stealing German marks off the other travelers. Merlin help him, he didn't need to be setting an even worse example for the brat to emulate.

Concerning the maps and guides, Severus crossed out modern Muggle attractions or anything outside the city limits. If the German wizards were anything like the British, the entrance to their magical quarter would have been grandfathered into an area that saw regular foot traffic, an older place where missing land might go unremarked if discovered on ancient surveys. If he remembered correctly, the British Ministry of Magic had utilized the Great Fire in 1666 to vanish whole blocks from the Muggle purview, blaming the blaze for the confusing mess of streets in the aftermath.

Their first stop was the Kölner Dom, a bloody massive cathedral looming over the city only a five-minute walk from the station. Living at Hogwarts had mostly inured Severus to the grandeur of such a building, but Potter kept stopping to gawk. She tipped her head so far back to stare at the soaring front, she nearly toppled onto her backside.

Severus indulged the girl and explored the area and went inside to study the religious iconography, but he detected no traces of magic and spotted no wizards moving about the morning crowd. They moved on.

He walked them several streets south from there, paying careful attention to the locals they passed, stopping at every crossing to study the walls and buildings. They came next to the Römisches Praetorium, a series of old ruins left by the Romans and preserved in bits and pieces below the foundations of modern buildings. The educator in Severus couldn't resist seeing the place, though Potter initially seemed less than enthused by what was essentially some very old crumbling bricks.

"Look," Severus said, taking her tiny hand and pressing it to a bit of plain, gray stone under his own. "Do you feel that buzzing sensation? It's faint."

Potter squinted, concentrating, then nodded. "I think I can! What is that?"

"Ancient magic," Severus said as he let her go. "The remnant of a very, very old ward. Older than Hogwarts, even, but not what we're looking for. Let's move on."

He ventured a guess on another Gothic church built on Roman ruins, the Groß Sankt Martin, past the Stadt Köln, closer to the Rhine and Old Town. Potter found particular humor in the place because its name was "Gross," which sent her into giggles and had Severus rolling his eyes. His interest lay in the fact that the church and much of the surrounding area had only recently reopened after suffering damage in the war. The wizards could have used the excuse to expand their own quarter.

Unfortunately, he sensed no magic there, ancient or otherwise.

Frustrated, he walked them outside and pulled the heavy camera from around his neck, rubbing at the sore skin. He took one breath, then another to clear his head, and peered down at the girl clinging to his sleeve. Much of the morning had already passed them by.

"Are you hungry, Miss Potter?"


Severus searched for something to eat and settled on a small park nearby crowded with street vendors. He haggled for food to split between himself and the girl. Then, they rested on a bench beneath a flowering tree and picked over their kartoffelpuffer—some kind of potato pancake Severus deemed light enough for Potter's stomach.

The girl fussed with the brim of her floppy hat and nibbled the food. She peered down at Draco's shoes, which probably appeared odd coupled with the casual shirt and short trousers, but no less odd than the overlarge black coat that had once been Severus' robes, shrugged onto her shoulders. She kept the purple plastic toy in one of the pockets, and unearthed spare vials and ingredients he'd forgotten.

"Mr. Snape?"


She waffled for a moment, popping another small bite of crispy potato into her mouth. "What happens if we can't find what we're looking for?"

"Then I locate a place for us to rest, and we resume our search tomorrow. It's not terribly complicated to understand."

"But what if we can't find it tomorrow, either?"

Severus arched a brow at her defeatist attitude, but decided little orphan girls who'd been abused for much of their lives probably didn't have much use for optimism. "We are not hunting for the lost city of El Dorado, Miss Potter. We will find the quarter sooner rather than later."

She fiddled with her napkin. "What's—El Dorado?"

"A mythical city of gold in the Amazon that perpetuated endless European greed for free riches." He slumped against the bench, resting one arm across its top. Severus relaxed more than he'd been able to since the beginning of this mess, but he still kept his attentive gaze sweeping the area, primed to sense anything amiss. "Even magical society was not immune to the draw, though rather than gold, the legend spread of powerful totems or items of mystical value just waiting to be claimed." Severus scoffed. "Any of the idiots who managed to come back did so cursed or irrevocably impoverished."

Potter nodded along with him, though he doubted she'd grasped the conversation's thread. "So, you're saying it's not—it's not hard to find? The magic place here?"

"In a manner of speaking. It'll be concealed from the Muggles—the non-magical people—but not from us."

Muggles milled about the area, many of them tourists as he and the girl were pretending to be, visiting the street vendors or the public facilities, families out enjoying the weather. Heat already settled along his cheekbones and the tops of his ears, the skin undoubtedly pink from the sun. He'd spent much of his life in the dungeons in cloudy Scotland; the sun was not his friend.

Their afternoon continued similarly to their morning, a long and winding expedition over many city blocks, Severus operating on far too little sleep, and Potter not well enough to undertake such an arduous venture. She made good on her promise to inform Severus if she felt thirsty or tired or needed the loo, but she failed to mention the large blisters forming on her heels until he asked why she was limping.

He decided to count it as progress that she'd said anything at all.

Though the day was not without its difficulties, some nebulous part of Severus' brain found their exploration enjoyable, especially in comparison to the rather hellish sprint across France and the English Channel he'd endured over the past few days. He couldn't suppress his interest in the culture and history they came across, and though Potter fatigued quickly, she seemed to enjoy herself as well. Severus allowed her to play with the camera he'd taken, and she ended up nearly blinding them both with the flash in Saint Gereon's Basilica.

As the hour grew later and the girl's flagging stamina dwindled to nothing, Severus searched for another hotel he deemed appropriately safe and inconspicuous, checking them in with the money he'd stolen. He hardly thought Potter needed it, but he fed her another small measure of his pain potion to ensure she'd fall asleep, then covered the girl in the thin hotel blanket.

He left the backpack by her bed, warded the room, and then returned to the streets.

The evening descended in earnest, and Severus' search intensified. He didn't have to concern himself with Potter's well-being and so could stalk the alleys and long roads at a faster pace, not shying away from areas he may hesitate to bring a child after dark. He passed through several pubs and locations less friendly to tourists, though anyone who thought to meet his gaze had enough brains in their head to look away.

In the end, Severus made an odd choice—guided by either blind luck, good intuition, or sheer serendipity—and headed west toward an area called Melaten-Friedhof, a large, wooded cemetery. A wall of dense, towering trees barred any view inside from the street, and it would not have occurred to Severus to pass through the gate if hadn't of been for the bloke carrying a tawny owl.

You can always count on wizards being intractably obvious, he mused as he stopped in the shadow of a larch tree, blocking sight of him from the line of lit streetlights. The wizard—a short mustachioed man in an overcoat too thick for the season—chatted in animated German to the bird perched on his shoulder. He paid no mind to Severus as the taller wizard followed through the gate at a distance.

Graves lined the maintained path, most of them eccentric and sizable, and several bearing the tell-tale patina of age in their weathered busts and cracked tablets. The foreign wizard strolled for perhaps five minutes, heedless of what few Muggles glanced in his direction, and suddenly stepped off the path into the encroachment of a mausoleum.

Severus blinked, and the man disappeared.

Brow furrowed, the Potions Master quit the shadows by the trees and crossed the path, stopping just shy of the last place he'd seen the wizard. The tall front of the gray mausoleum bore the faded name of "Ernst Kaspar Klaproth" and the chipped face of a man weathered by the elements. There were no dates, and there did not appear to be a door.

Severus hadn't any idea who Kalproth was, but magic practically seethed from the site in a living veil of energy and heat.

He stepped nearer, placing one booted foot on the bottom stair, coming between the old columns and the angels that watched atop them, and the letters of Kalproth's name began to distort.

As he took the second step, the name had gone completely, replaced by a plaque of glowing runes spelling out the words "Gasse des Zauberers." Below it, the stone wall and frozen face had vanished from view, replaced by an arch and a set of stairs leading into the dark below.

Severus grinned, and took the plunge.