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Severus Snape had always been given to understand that his life after death, if any, would be the place where the Almighty would reward or punish him based upon the virtue he had shown while alive.
For this reason, when he closed his eyes for the last time in the Shrieking Shack, he was rather hoping never to open them again.
This wish, like so many others, was not granted. Snape opened his eyes and discovered that he had a pen in his left hand and a spoonful of creme brulee in his right. He was in a restaurant. There was a strange hush about the place, and people seemed to be watching him furtively.
He was not unaccustomed to this, so he took another taste of the creme brulee. It was a trite choice, but quite good.
There was a pad on the table. On it, in his own handwriting, was written: "Trite choice, but q. good."
The Almighty had seen fit to send him back as a food critic.
He looked up and discovered that his window had a view of the Eiffel Tower.
The Almighty had seen fit to send him back as a food critic in Paris.
Evidently the Almighty had an eccentric definition of virtue.
Reincarnation had always sounded to Snape like a dull business. Nappies, tears, spots, girls, boys, lines, revising, all over again. So he was pleasantly surprised, in the days that followed, to find that he seemed to have been dropped into this body at roughly the same age at which he'd been forcibly removed from the old one.
It did make him wonder at times. Had this person, this Anton Ego, simply not existed until he, Severus Snape, had appeared to take the role? But then how to explain the memories of a French country childhood, his mother winding a scarf round her hair, the smell of lavender? Had he put someone else out of this life in order to take it for himself?
Perhaps the person who'd had it before had died, and the life of a food critic in Paris was simply too good to disappear. Or perhaps this body was to let, like a cottage in the Lake District. Perhaps the Almighty kept a variety of lives open for anyone who chanced to find himself dead and at loose ends.
At any rate, there was very fine Afro-Cuban on Tuesday and insufferable Italian on Thursday to occupy his mind. And really, it was none of his business.
He knew he'd been reborn into a different world. For one thing, there was no magic. For another, he was in France and no one was smoking.
Most significantly, there was a great deal of mediocrity (which once again it seemed to be his thankless life's work to eliminate), but no actual evil.
Naturally, he didn't see this as a reason to cease telling the truth as he saw it. But he'd spent his former life on the outskirts of a truly epic occurrence, and he understood enough about how such things worked that he felt sure that any day now something would happen to induce him to, as it were, 'mellow' -- to 'take it easy,' to 'stop and smell the flowers.'
When they brought him the cooking rat, he didn't even try to act surprised.
The rat's restaurant, of course, made money hand over paw. In a matter of months, Snape's initial investment had been repaid with interest. The rat turned out an ever-changing array of magnificent cuisine, and Snape had nothing to do but eat it all.
Therein lay one of his only three sources of dissatisfaction. This body had fond memories of the foods of a provincial childhood, pot au feu and cassoulet and so on, and the rat was very ready to produce exquisite updates. But Snape's mind yearned for greasy chips and takeaway curry and other such stodge, and the cheeky rodent flatly refused to attempt them.
"Can't, can't you try, little chef?" begged Linguini with a nervous glance at Snape. (Everyone said the erstwhile Anton Ego seemed like a new man after that one life-changing meal, but some of them still retained a respect bordering on terror, of which Snape saw no reason to relieve them.) But the rat turned its back pointedly and went away to do something glorious with veal shanks.
The other two sources of dissatisfaction? First, this Anton Ego apparently had no sex partners whatsoever -- not surprising, as the only friends the man had were the ones he had made since Snape took residence. And second, a life of fine food and no responsibility was idyllic without being in any way interesting.
So it was more boredom and misdirected libido than any remaining spy's instinct that made him snap to attention upon seeing a telltale blush in a shipment of olive oil.
"Throw it out, throw it out. Were you unaware that you had enemies?" he sneered at Linguini and the rat.
"But this supplier was our secret!" Colette cried. "None of the other restaurants knew of him. His plantation is very small, and he will supply only the kitchens that are the heritage of Gousteau."
"Then he is known to no one ... no one at all ... except for the dozens or hundreds who have at one time worked in the kitchen of Gousteau's!" Snape spat at the foolish girl. She quailed in a most satisfying manner, and he relented, slightly. "Anything that is the slightest bit questionable, you must bring to me. This nose can detect a leaf of lettuce harvested one hour past its prime. This mouth can taste the difference between a grape grown on the north side of the valley and one grown on the south side. Only I can keep you safe."
What he felt was not fear but relief. An enemy. A poisoner! Now this was something with which he was intimately familiar.
Next it was a crate of Chassagne-Montrachet, seals still intact, which captured his attention. This time it was nothing so obvious as a color. No, the very viscosity of the liquid was subtly, almost indetectably wrong.
Under ordinary circumstances he might have suggested trying some on a rat. As that was clearly out of the question, they offered a glass to one of the mimes that infested the street. The fellow took a sip, opened his kohled eyes wide, and ran away clutching his stomach. Next day he was back in the public square again, but when he saw Snape or any of the others, he peppered them with invisible buckets of water, invisible rotten tomatoes, and invisible hand grenades.
"But ... who could, you know, hate us?" Linguini was, if possible, even more bereft of common sense than Potter.
Colette, though, was a born Slytherin. "We will trace these shipments, and we will send the rats as spies, and when we catch the culprits, then we will give them a taste of their own medicine. They are trying to ruin us. They shall not succeed."
"No," he agreed, steepling his fingers and thinking hard. Whoever had done this thing was highly intelligent and understood a great deal about food and wine. "Let me handle it for now. I've an idea this may be more complicated than we think."
The third effort would have succeeded had Snape not noticed that the young man who drove the de Mougins produce truck one early morning was not the usual slope-shouldered ape but something much more fascinating. Tall, fair, and saturnine, he passed baskets of beets and bunches of spinach to the produce boy, but his attention was on the door into the kitchen, where he stared with narrow-eyed fierceness, not at all as if he wished it well.
On impulse, Snape stood, shrugged his sweater onto his shoulders, and sauntered out of the covered courtyard to the truck. (He had learned to saunter menacingly; it required a walking stick, and one had to speak French while doing it.) "I would like to look more closely at the turnips," he said in tones of silkiest malice. "If they are not up to my standards, you, monsieur, will wish your parents had remained strangers."
He pushed the reading glasses down his nose and held one purple-blushed globe close to his eye. It was chilly from its night in the field and still carried a pleasant smell of soil, as well as the mouthwatering earthy-sweet scent of the vegetable itself. (Snape's other body had had a keen sense of smell, but this one was very nearly magical.) And hidden in a wrinkle in the flesh was a tiny hole, as of a syringe.
He looked up, straight into the glacial stare of the stranger. "They have root maggots." He thrust it into the produce boy's hand without breaking eye contact. "Take them away. And I would like to speak to you in my office."
And this is where our story properly begins.
"Sous-chefs lose jobs, ja? It's no surprise. Chefs are idiots, they're drunks, they turn a beautiful fresh herring into some sort of foam out of a canister, they attack the sous-chef with a meat knife -- this I could bear. I would be angry, but it would not be the first time. But a rat --"
"So you thought you'd poison the vegetables, did you?"
"A mild emetic only. Many would vomit, but none would die. The restaurant -- that would die. The customers, no." The corners of his mouth pulled down, stretching his narrow barbered goatee out of shape. "I did not bargain for a nose like yours."
"This herring," Snape said. "Tell me more."
The stranger's lips pursed. "You are French. You cannot have any appreciation for a Schmandheringsalat. Turn me over to the police now and save time."
"Take a short walk with me. I've a case of '70 Chateau Haut Canteloup in my flat. And I may have a better idea." He stood up, making it impossible in all politeness for the stranger to stay seated. "And tell me again what your name is?"
" 's not even proper food," Horst said across Snape's kitchen table, sipping on the start of their second bottle of wine. "I haven't had a sausage worthy of the name since I left Munchen."
It was so very true that all Snape could do was take a drink of his own. "A chip butty," he moaned. "How I long for it when I'm served another terrine!"
"My grandmother's spaetzle," Horst said over the dregs of the bottle, eyes shimmering with tears, "were lighter than air. To this day I can taste them. Lighter -- than -- air!"
Snape nodded morosely. The particular scent of his gran's bubble-and-squeak had clung to the flat so fiercely that weeks later one might unfold a tea towel and catch a whiff. It was scant surprise to find that the smell of potatoes and grease had survived death and rebirth. And no one in the entire populous nation of France had seemed to understand. Except this Horst.
He was beginning to see that perhaps he did have a better idea.
"You -- you are smiling." Horst was squinting at him.
"What of it?"
"Never saw you smile. We always used to say you couldn't." He blinked sagely. "You look -- handsome when you smile."
There was a perfectly serviceable mirror in Anton Ego's bath, and Snape was aware that his new face, while bluish rather than yellowish, was not much of an improvement over his old one. "Really," he said quellingly.
Horst had had too much wine to be easily quelled. "It is true," he said. "You are not aware. Your eyes get large -- ja, like that -- as if you are shocked to find you are happy. And it makes me want to --"
He stopped abruptly, his own eyes widening, and then he lurched half out of his chair, upsetting his empty wine glass, and pressed his mouth to Snape's.
That was genuinely how it seemed to Snape, as the last time he'd been kissed had been decades ago and in another body. It wasn't until Horst's large hand fell warmly on the nape of his neck that his body recalled that it was ravenous for this, and he let out a hoarse groan and flung his reading glasses on the table and threw himself into the kiss with all he had.
They bumped and careened around the corner and into the bedroom. Snape was unable to focus on so simple a task as walking under the onslaught of such delicious sensations, one after another -- Horst's hand on his waist as his shirt fell away, the bristle of Horst's goatee against his neck, the scent of the skin just behind Horst's ear and the rough syllable he uttered with Snape licked there. It was a wonder they ever got there at all.
Anton Ego appreciated the finer things, so the light in the bedroom was warm, the rugs soft, the thread count astronomical. He placed Horst there as another luxury, what with the fineness of his skin, the delicacy of his blush; the oath he spat as Snape tore his trousers from him was that hint of bitterness one required to throw sweetness into relief.
A man's cock in his mouth, this he had not forgotten -- the heady power over his pleasure, the acclaim hidden in every groan and writhe and thrust -- but he rather thought this body was more adept at appreciating the smoothness and the heat, the scent and flavor that could not fruitfully be compared to anything else.
He followed these newfound gourmet instincts into the longest, slowest, most artistic blowjob he had ever performed. His tongue, after all, was famous for both discernment and sharpness, and he trusted he knew how to put it to good use. And, as with a fine meal, the exercise of his facilities was itself pleasing -- exciting -- thrilling, to an extent that he had never before experienced with this act. When Horst began to climax, and switched back into a comprehensible language -- "You are a devil -- a devil, man, a god!" -- Snape felt that he was indeed all that and more.
It was only moments before Horst was making a meal of him in turn -- a quick one, which was good, as he was at such a fever pitch now that he could not have borne anything slower. And while swift, it was of the highest quality, with one dexterous thumb exactly where it could do the most good, and Horst watching him as though his surrender were somehow worth something.
A truly fine wine, of course, produced no ill effects next day, so naturally Snape awoke full of well-being. Horst had already awakened and was pulling the short strands of Snape's hair between his fingers. Snape peered at him shortsightedly and was gratified to see that he appeared relaxed and happy and not at all like a man who was still determined to embark upon the short and unhappy life of a professional poisoner.
"What is it, this better idea of yours, eh?" His fingers wandered over the outer shell of Snape's ear, delicately, as one would touch a ripe nectarine.
Snape shivered. "I happen to have a little money to invest. And it seems we've identified a deficiency in the cuisines of Paris. If you can make a tolerable spaetzle, and know your way around a plate of mushy peas --"
Once again Horst interrupted him with a kiss. "Bratwurst," he said reverently.
"Yes, and shepherd's pie --"
"Pear kuchen -- oh, ja, ja, do that --"
"Scotch -- mm -- eggs --"
A long time later, Snape raised his head from Horst's chest. "I suppose you can't fry a tomato, though. I haven't had a proper tomato since I was in England."
Horst looked at him with narrowed eyes. "You," he said, "stay here, and I will prove you wrong." He took Ego's satin robe off the hook, turned up the sleeves with precision, and stalked out.
Moments later the sweet smell of hot oil wafted into the bedroom, and Snape lay back with his head on his folded arms, feeling agreeably sore and hungry.
It was good to be alive. He thought perhaps he'd be better at it this time around.
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August 11, 2009