Disclaimer: I'm not muscling in on JK's turf - just gambolling on it, like a spring lamb, having fun working out the literary and psychological puzzles which she is having fun setting us
Minerva's words burned like a brand - coward, coward and she would never know, as Lily had never known, that he had tried to save her. He would go to his death with her scalding contempt for company, as he had Lily's, and she would never see that he had fled rather than fire even the mildest of hexes at an elderly woman he had once called friend, and who had already spent time in St Mungo's with spell damage. He would die with Filius's hatred and none of them would know that he did it to save them, unless Hagrid or Aberforth survived to tell them - and how likely was that?
And die here he certainly would. Here, on the same cursed spot where he had seen the werewolf - and how much less painful it would all have been if James had simply let Remus eat him, he could have died at sixteen and never been the cause of another's death. He had tried, was trying, to get permission to leave the Shrieking Shack so he could send his Patronus - her Patronus - to the sainted brat but as the thing which had once been Tom Riddle paced the moonlit room, speaking in his high, ridiculous, girly little voice about a wand which would not answer him, Severus knew his own doom.
He had had a year to work it out, after all. The mastery of the Elder Wand should indeed have come to him but Draco, the little fool, had been there before him. He could not say "Draco is the Wand's master, my Lord", even if he would, because his Vow to Narcissa would kill him but he could have said something else, he could have claimed that Hennessy had disarmed Dumbledore and that the Wand answered to whichever Order member had killed Hennessy that night. He could have saved himself, probably - Tom was taking time to work himself up to the murder and he should be flattered not to be killed completely out of hand but if he said anything, if he let Tom know by word or deed that he was not the Wand's master, then Tom would be forewarned. Far better to send Lily's murderer into battle with a weapon which he thought was his but which answered to another hand, perhaps even to Potter's hand, since Potter had in some sense defeated Draco. Certainly not to Tom's.
If only he had kept his mouth shut in front of Tom, all those years ago, Lily would have lived. All he had to do was keep his mouth shut now and let himself be killed, and Lily's killer would walk into battle with a weapon he could not command.
But oh, God, he was frightened. Minerva's contempt and his own terror coiled in his belly and turned his guts to ice and slime, twisting like the great snake in its bag of stars; he wouldn't give Tom the information which might save both of them, he wouldn't, but he couldn't keep from stammering in his terror, he could hear his own voice, incontinent, shaming, pleading and for a moment as the Wand waved and nothing happened he thought he was reprieved, that by some chance he really was the thing's master and it would not fire on him and then Nagini was on him, that horrible muscular length was about his face, her coils against his lips as he staggered back, screaming, shamed by fear as pain and fire lanced into the side of his neck and he fell with the snake still suffocating him, tearing at him -
And then Nagini was gone, Tom fucking Taradiddle and his stupid little reedy voice was gone and he was alone, alone in the house of the wolf with his life running out between his fingers, trembling in shock and fear as he tried to keep the red life inside his veins - tried in vain, fuckit, he could feel the venom coursing through him and he was going to die here, he had dropped his wand, if he could find his wand in the half dark he could send Potter one last Patronus, instructions to send Lily's brat to his own death but at least then he would have done his duty, he would not deserve so much of Minerva's contempt, and then the boy was there, somehow, melting out of thin air to gaze at him in shock and God, please God, let the brat do as he was told just this once, just this once....
By a last supreme effort of the will which he had never lacked, non-verbal, wandless, he sent his memories gushing out with his blood, all the carefully-selected information which Potter would need but also key memories of her, the last confession he would never now make to the priest, how he had loved her, how he had betrayed her, how he had earned her contempt and her son's.... As the emotional clarity of the memory of Lily's pitiless contempt flowed away from him, leaving only an outline of itself, something in him eased and he could allow himself a grim moment of pride as the brat and the other brat, Granger, Granger who was Muggle-born-brilliant-Lily-not-for-him-never-for-him obeyed him at last, as they caught his memories in a flask of magic and moonshine and he knew that he had lived alone and was dying as he had lived, without help or hope of reward but he had done his duty, and that nihilistic streak of dark romanticism which had led him down troubled paths to begin with was oddly content to die an unknown soldier, unheralded and unrewarded, known only to the dead.
As the last of the memories flowed out of him, mingled with his blood, he clutched at the boy's robes with one last order, one last plea, look at me, look at me so I can fall asleep looking at her eyes and, God, the boy did as he was told, the room was fading to grey, the pain was fading with it and he was flat on his back on the hard floor of the wolf's house and he was dying but there at last were Lily's eyes - Lily's wonderful leaf-green eyes which had burned with hatred and contempt of him for six scarifying years of the boy's schooling - and there was nothing in them but a kind and puzzled concern, they could have been her eyes when they were both little, before it all went so horribly wrong, although the hideous NHS spectacles were an unexpected hurdle....
...there was a sense that something very large which was inside his head, or which was in some sense behind him, had just been folded up small and stowed away where he would henceforth only be able to access it with conscious effort....
He was flat on his back on something cold and unyielding, and he had just time to realize that he was mother-naked before somebody pinched the bridge of his nose, hard. He opened his mouth on a yelp of indignant protest and somebody else tipped a choking great slosh of liquid into his mouth and then clamped his jaw shut, forcing him to swallow what his taste-buds automatically recognized, through long practice born of far too many spells in the hospital wing, as Blood-Replenishing Potion.
As the world swam around him and began to fall back into focus fire and agony blazed into being where Nagini had bitten him. He struggled to speak, to demand to know what the hell they - who? - thought they were doing handling him like this although a dim vestige of common-sense at the back of his brain told him that saying "Don't you know I'm the Headmaster?" while he was stark bollock naked was going to make him sound like a wanker (and in any case it wasn't true, it wasn't true, Minerva had driven him out to die with her scorn ringing in his ears); but the choking undignified process was simply repeated, this time with - some sort of anti-venin? - and then again with more Blood-Replenishing Potion. Then somebody's careful fingers were binding a pad of something firmly against the side of his neck, the pain began to ebb away under her hand and a kind, motherly-sounding female voice (why did he somehow expect it to be shriller than that?) said "Professor Snape - Severus - it's all right. We're just going to move you to a bed, now."
And he was floating, flailing, the hard surface under him had disappeared and he was insecurely, embarrassingly stranded in mid-air and then his hip hit the soft surface of a bed and a woman's arms came around him, supporting, comforting and something inside him twisted and broke and he was miserably, horribly sick all over her, and himself.
As he heaved and retched, scrabbling for support, he saw his own arm, and the splash of burn-scar across his wrist was still there but the Dark Mark somehow wasn't - did that mean that Potter had succeeded, that he had taken Tom down into death with him? - but as he watched, dazzled, his flesh faded to translucency, and a fine dapple which somehow looked like a cloud of bell-shaped flowers pulsed in and out beneath his skin and back to solidity again as another wave of nausea wrenched at his gut.
When he had nothing left to throw up with, the motherly-seeming woman drew him close and patted his back as the dry, painful spasms eased away. His cheek was resting on her shoulder and he realized that beyond her he could see a man-length altar of black stone, scattered with more of the bell-like flowers - belladonnas, he realized suddenly - behind which a tall, gangly, vaguely familiar red-headed man of about his own age was watching his embarrassing spasms with an expression which clearly said "Eww...." He thought he recognized what hand had held his jaw shut and forced him to swallow.
A second female voice, placidly competent, said "Tergeo" and the revolting evidence was wiped away. Still feeling horribly grey and wobbly, he looked around for the source of the new voice and saw - good God. There was no mistaking her, from the dreamy, slightly protuberant eyes to the peculiar dress-sense, but when did Luna Lovegood get so thick in the body, her hair cut short and straight and boyish and the fine beginnings of crow's feet wrinkling the corners of her eyes? She looked scarcely any younger than he was. Confused and frightened, he pushed himself away from the motherly woman and for the first time really looked at her, properly - to find himself confronting a similarly aged Hermione Granger.
The thing in the back of his head unfolded briefly, like origami, and there was a sense of - not time, time wasn't the right word, but something had passed, and now there was once more time, but different time -
"I was dead," he said, frowning. "Why aren't I dead?"
Suddenly-thirty-something Lovegood (was she still Lovegood?) tweaked the sheets up to cover his embarrassment (at least, that was one word for it) and then perched herself comfortably on the end of his bed. "It's like this, you see. I was doing some research - I'm a research naturalist now, you know." Severus raised his eyebrows but forbore to comment - he could only imagine what kinds of nonsensical creatures she was studying. "I was working with owls, trying to breed back to the bloodline of Blodeuwedd - you know about Blodeuwedd?"
"She wants to be flowers but you make her owls," he whispered, swallowing. Lovegood gave him a slightly blank look but Granger (? was she still Granger?) nodded approvingly, recognizing the reference.
"But I was always owls...." (clawing, screaming, full of rage) -
"Not any more," Lovegood said calmly. "Hermione did some research for me - she works in Magical Law Enforcement - and she turned up a document trail which led us to the original spells Gwydion used to create Blodeuwedd. And, well, we found out how to make up a new body for you using flowers and stones and a lot of - well, it was all a bit - ritual."
"Which explains the altar." He clutched at the bed, feeling light-headed, and maybe-Granger gripped his shoulder to steady him and handed him a glass of water which he knocked back in one, although raising his head made the wound in his neck pulse unpleasantly. "My sex life may never have amounted to much, but I'm not quite qualified to be a virgin sacrifice." The gangly ginger bloke - Ronald Weasley, he realized suddenly - snorted. "How long was I...?"
"Twenty years", Lovegood said calmly.
"Oh, God." He had known it, but it still felt like a Bludger to the gut and he curled up, pressing his face against his knees and rocking, shaking. "Why me? Why now?"
"It's like this," Granger said, behind his shoulder. "Lionel Carver, one of the research healers at St Mungo's, got interested in Luna's Blodeuwedd study and he's been doing some work on - well, it's a bit like what Muggles call cryogenic suspension. That means - if somebody's dying of something you can't cure now but you expect to be able to cure it soon, you can preserve them at point of death and see if you can revive them later. Or if - well, if somebody's like you were, with injuries they could survive if they were in hospital but you can't get them there. Lionel was meant to be here but he was called away to an emergency - we decided to go ahead anyway, because it's not very difficult really once it's set up, and if we didn't do it tonight the conditions wouldn't be right again for another year, and probably the worst that it could do was do nothing. We were pretty sure if we got you alive we could keep you that way, because we know what worked when Arthur was bitten."
"Lionel thought if you had somebody's memories taken at point of death," Lovegood said, nodding, "and some of their tissue, there might be enough information there to make a new body for them, using Gwydion's flower-spell. And, well, since we already had your memory from just before you died, with a little of your life-blood mixed into it, it didn't seem right to experiment on someone else."
"But it was all right to experiment on me," he said bitterly. "Oh God. Why couldn't you just leave me dead?"
"We thought that if anyone deserved a second chance, you did," Granger said seriously.
"I had my second chance, and see what - " The memory of Charity Burbage's upside-down face, weeping, pleading, of the hating green eyes of the boy he and Dumbledore had raised to die, of Minerva's voice calling out coward, coward as he fled from her and the hot smooth weight of the snake landing about his head and shoulders and the sick pulse throbbing in his neck surged up all together in one vast horrible jolt and he curled forwards, retching again, spewing up the little water that was all that was left in his stomach.
"It's all right," Weasley said suddenly as Lovegood cleaned him up again. "You don't have to stay if you don't want to, mate."
"Ron's right", maybe-Granger said, patting his arm, and Severus noted the affectionate, approving way her voice trailed across the name and marked her down as maybe-Weasley, with a flinching pang that nobody except the one lost little girl had ever, would ever speak about him in such a tone. "The ceremony has to be performed again after a year and a day, if you want to stay. If not, the new body will go back to flowers and you'll be free. We realized that - well, that you might have mixed feelings, all things considered, but we thought you'd want to be here for a bit so you could know - not just your portrait, but really you - how much everyone appreciates what you did for us. And the, uhm, your portrait thought you'd probably want to."
He turned his head, pressing his sharp cheekbone against his updrawn knees, and squinted at her sideways. "If I lived... I expected still to be doubted, hated even. I thought I might die in Azkaban."
"Well, there are people who still doubt the wisdom of some of the decisions which you and Professor Dumbledore made -"
"I doubt some of them myself."
"Yes. But the fact that you gave those memories as a dying testimony, that you helped Harry to win - almost nobody doubts that the memories were true. You're a hero, Severus. You're on the Chocolate Frog cards."
"Huh." There was still a horrible, cold ache inside him and he still felt light-headed and swimmy, but the nausea was beginning to recede. "Scowling, I presume."
The corners of probably-Hermione-Weasley's mouth twitched upwards. "Ferociously."
"She wants to be flowers but you make her owls": quote from a very creepy 1967 children's novel called The Owl Service by Alan Garner, in which the spirits of Blodeuwedd, her husband and her lover possess people through the ages and force them to relive the pattern whereby one of two rivals for a woman's affection must die and the woman be turned from gentleness to savagery. Half-blood Severus and Muggle-born Hermione have both read it: pure-blooded Luna hasn't.
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