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
He wasn't sure about the concept of kindness as it applied to himself: it was true that he had experienced very little, but he had never expected to, and he had an uneasy feeling that if he permitted it he would in some sense be becoming a client, a patient, a poor thing.... But he undoubtedly was a patient at present. Nagini's venom and his own jarring reconstitution had left him still feverish and queasy and sore; he was still grey about the gills from a combination of blood-loss and the adrenalin-rush of sheer terror which had surged through a body which had been reproduced all too accurately; and he had to admit that curling up in bed in one of the soft charcoal-grey nightshirts which Lionel had (thank God) brought for him, sinking gratefully into the mattress and just watching the sunlight and leaf-shadows dappling Luna Lovegood's curtains had a lot going for it.
Pleasant scents wafted in through the open window, along with the warm breeze, and he realized that Luna had taken the flat above the baker's on the high street, next to the Post Office. This seemed to be a deliberate choice to further her work with the Blodeuwedd owls, many of whom worked for the postal service, but it also ensured a ready supply of fresh bread and sticky buns.
When he wasn't simply dozing, Luna talked to him softly, telling him what was going on in the world of 2018 - although he was never sure quite how much of her conversation he could trust, and tried discreetly to check the more incredible parts with Lionel or with Hermione, who came almost every day, usually with Ronald in tow, although he was at a loss to understand why she should bother. For the first several days, his life was circumscribed by the twin limits of bed and the bathroom. The constant seepage of blood from his neck, and the necessity of being woken every hour or two to down more Blood-Replenishing Potion, left him permanently exhausted and faint: but the blessed thing about being constantly woken was that it gave the nightmares little chance to take hold, and he was able to loosen the reins of himself a little and fall into sleep without fearing what might await him there.
According to Luna, Kingsley Shacklebolt had taken over as Minister, and had finally ended the immemorial pact whereby the wizarding world sacrificed prisoners to the Dementors in order to keep them on their offshore island. The Dementors were not pleased, even though they had broken the contract first by swarming ashore at Riddle's behest, and much of the work of the Aurors was now taken up with fending off Dementor attacks on wizard and Muggle alike. On the basis of a childhood spent listening to cop shows through a cupboard door, Potter had introduced the Aurory to revolutionary ideas like collecting actual evidence of guilt, cautioning suspects and not roughing them up unduly; and Hermione was doing her best, with mixed success, to persuade the Department of Magical Law Enforcement to adopt the concepts of innocent-until-proven-guilty, equality before the law (even for non-humans and poor persons) and not slinging people into prison for twelve years without a trial.
All of which only served to bring back vivid memories of the six weeks which Severus himself had spent in Ministry custody, spanning a miserable, freezing Christmas and his own twenty-second birthday, being put through the mill first by human interrogators and then by Dementors. Those six weeks had haunted his dreams ever since, and still made the palms of his hands ache with remembered pain: even though Poppy Pomfrey had done a beautiful job of re-setting the smashed bones. He should be glad, he supposed, that other boys would no longer suffer the same fate, although he couldn't help but feel bitter about a scarring experience which, at the time, he had seen as just punishment for his failure to save Lily.
Yet, his bitterness was less than he had expected, almost a numb thing, like a foot which had gone to sleep. He wondered if it came of having been dead, or of Luna's unwonted and, in his view, unwarranted kindness (but not unwanted, oh no, if he was honest with himself it was oddly soothing to have somebody who wasn't a house-elf bring him a cup of coffee and a Danish pastry, and stay to talk to him almost as if they wanted to).
Luna's awareness of the Muggle world was limited, but Hermione was able to supply that deficit. Climate change in Britain was now an established fact, with cool wet summers and comparatively warm, windswept winters now the norm rather than the exception. Heavy flooding occurred almost every summer, now, especially in the English south-west, and Glastonbury frequently became an island again, as it had been in the Middle Ages. Small, amphibious hovercraft sold as well as cars in some areas, and Arthur Weasley was the proud owner of one which had some very unique features. Flowers and crops matured late and then kept going well into November, and the production of root crops and legumes in southern England had largely given way to rice and tomatoes; whilst the south coast was increasingly famous for its wines, and the soft-fruit-growing zone in Scotland was extending further north with every year.
Worldwide, there had been a spate of serious terrorist attacks, including an especially traumatic one in the U.S., and various Islamic Fundamentalist organizations had achieved power and then had for the most part settled down and sobered up, having discovered, like countless extremists before them, that when you are the ones responsible for paying the civil service and making sure the drains work it alters your priorities. There had been a war in Iraq, begun some years after his death, which had ground on messily for a decade of civil unrest before the combatants had worn themselves to a standstill and settled into an uneasy but fairly stable truce; while the rather similar situation in Northern Ireland had by now definitely stabilized at the occasional bout of brawling and name-calling, instead of bombs and murders.
India had overtaken Japan as the main hub of technological innovation, having been forced down that road by increasingly heavy monsoons which wrecked its agricultural economy. The American economy had also got into difficulties owing to a mass die-off of bees which had had a serious impact on farming, but the source of the infection had been discovered and American apiculture - and agriculture - was now gradually recovering. The government of Zimbabwe had collapsed and South Africa, already overstretched by its own problems, had ended up trying to oversee an interim legislature, with limited success; but the Aids epidemic in Africa had largely burnt out, with the deaths of the most susceptible individuals and the introduction of new, affordable immuno-modifying treatments. Hong Kong culture had over-run China to the point that China now had a recognizable if limited democracy; and North Korea had imploded under the weight of its own incompetence and was currently under UN administration as a famine-relief zone.
At home, the union between Scotland and England was looking increasingly shaky, and it was perhaps only a grim awareness of the incompetence of the Scottish Executive which had caused the Scots to vote, by a very narrow margin, to preserve Britain as a political entity. In England, the beleaguered Liberal-Democrat government lurched from economic crisis to economic crisis as it tried to deal with crop-failures and floods, although it was difficult to see what it could have done differently or better. There had been a huge wave of migration from Eastern Europe into Britain, but the Polish economic boom which began in 2012 had led to most of the migrants returning home again, along with many Britons who had seen their homes become almost worthless due to repeated flooding.
Once, talking quietly to Luna after a light, shared breakfast of fresh croissants and scrambled egg, he asked her about her private life, and she told him that she had spent six years married to a fellow naturalist, before the relationship drifted apart. "We had a lot of interests in common, of course," she said dreamily, "but common interests turned out to be all we had in common."
"An excellent basis for a friendship, I would imagine, but a poor one for a romance."
"Quite. He still writes to me, of course, and tells me all about his latest creatures."
Specimens from her own explorations were organized impressively neatly, laid out in drawers in dark-wood cases, rank upon rank: he had seen them, lining the corridor, whenever he wavered unsteadily across it to use the lavvie, or to soak himself in her ample bath, easing the burning ache in his bones and experimenting cautiously with the parameters and sensations of his renewed body.
She smiled one of her odd smiles. "I'd almost rather have Rolf just as a friend anyway. People may love you for all sorts of reasons which don't really have very much to do with you, if you see what I mean. Being liked is so much more personal, don't you find?"
"How the hell would I know?" he snapped, turning his back on her as far as he could do whilst sitting up in bed. "You know damned well that you lot bloody-well picked me as a test subject because you knew I had no-one I was close enough to to mind seeing them age twenty years!" Once, he would have thought of some of his colleagues as friends; but Charity had died screaming to him for the mercy he dared not give her, and Minerva had driven him out into the dark, and Horace had been too much older - a mentor rather than a friend - and was now older still.
Luna's small, firm hand appeared on his shoulder and refused to be shrugged off, even when he bowed his head and let his hair swing down to hide his face. "I'm sorry," she said seriously. "Hagrid always speaks of you as if he liked you a lot: I didn't know you hadn't noticed. And these things come in waves. I didn't really have any proper friends until sixth year, and now I have lots. Your portrait is really quite popular, especially now that - well, that people know you were so bad-tempered because you were dreadfully unhappy, rather than just nasty."
He made a numb, wordless noise of acquiescence and the hand patted him solicitously. "Of course, I always did know," she said serenely, "but some people don't notice these things. I could always see the Soul-Leeches, following you."
"My life if you want to call it that Lovegood is quite bizarre enough at the moment, without invoking your father's bloody fantasies."
"Oh, most of what Daddy writes is sort-of true, he just - tends to go for the most dramatic interpretation. For example, I realize now that Minister Fudge never did put any goblins in pies, but he did threaten three prominent goblins that he'd eat them for breakfast, which they took him to mean literally because, well, they would, and he did turn a blind eye when Dolores Umbridge had one of them assassinated. And I can see the Soul-Leeches. They're like Dementors, only smaller and damper and less dramatic, and they feed on pain and fear and shame - stuff like that. You usually had at least three."
Severus let himself slump back against the stacked pillows and stared at her through his lashes, hoping that she was wrong. But just as she had, or claimed she had, seen his misery and shame from the outset, so he had always known that her appearance of harmless dottiness hid a ruthless practicality and an incisive if slightly skewed intelligence. As her teacher he had rarely found much to criticize in her work, and when he did so she accepted it with a lack of rancour which was positively frustrating, and adjusted her working practices without fuss. If he had had more students like her he would have given up snarling as a strategy long since, since attempting to terrorize Luna was like biting cotton-wool.
After a moment he said quietly, "I was - sorry, when they took you away. I would have protected you if I could."
"I knew you would have done. If you could."
She smiled at him. "A little. But not a lot. I talked about things they couldn't see which were standing behind them, until they got so weirded-out they left me alone. Of course, some of the things I told them that I could see weren't really there."
"You amaze me." She did, too, that was the trouble. He blinked up at her and gave her the fleeting smirk that passed for a smile in his case. "Did you ever find your Crumple-Horned Snorkack?"
"Yes," she said, still smiling, "in a manner of speaking. But it was only an ordinary Snorkack with diseased horn-buds, and much less interesting than Daddy thought it was going to be."
On the fifth day, his neck had almost stopped oozing, he was down to one dose of Blood-Replenishing Potion every four hours, and Lionel declared that tomorrow he would be able to get up and sit in a chair, and even to walk about a bit if he felt up to it.
That was an advance, he supposed, but the fact that he was now permitted to sleep four hours at a time meant that the nightmares had a chance to take hold again, as fresh and yet traditional as they had ever been. Lily falling backwards, her hair fanning out in death like a crackle of flame; the whistle and crack of his father's belt or of the cane which broke across his bruised skin; Charity begging him for help he dared not give her; Dumbledore falling backwards over the battlements of the tower; the narrow metal edge cracking down across his palms over and over as he struggled and begged; Mulciber, his friend Mulciber, wading up to the knees in blood, turning to him with a smile and opening his fingers to show a child's eyeball nestling in the palm of his hand; the Carrows cackling with insane glee as they forced a terrified Slytherin third year to Cruciate her own brother; looking down from a balcony into a round room where a fussy little man was doing paperwork, there were rank on rank of other men and women standing behind similar balconies, all staring down into the same room, but he did not know if any of them was a friend excepting Phineas, and somewhere over to his right Dumbledore's eyes twinkled at him like the fires of hell; the thing that used to be Remus Lupin twisting, changing, howling at the mouth of the tunnel which was too dark and too long and much too low to run down; Lucius's smile, more hungry than the wolf-thing's and boding almost as ill; Riddle's high, fluting voice presiding over wrenching horrors; the Marauders whooping like hounds as they cornered him, panting, against a dead end; the Dementor breathing moistly outside the cell door as he nursed his broken hands in the dark; Lily, falling backwards, dying - Only now he had two new images to add to the jumbled litany of pain: the hot muscular weight of the snake coiling around his face as fire lanced into the side of his neck, and Minerva's voice calling coward, coward....
On the plus side, although he had woken several times to find the sheets soaked with sweat he hadn't actually wet himself in his terror, yet, and neither had he embarrassed himself in front of Luna by whimpering loudly enough to wake her.
On the sixth day, he was down to one dose every six hours, and was able to dress himself in the plain black robes which Luna had set out for him, waver down the corridor to her elegantly comfortable sitting-room and flop untidily across her sofa. Luna herself had had to go out early to a naturalists' conference in Glasgow, but Hermione had come to keep him company instead - or possibly to keep an eye on him in case he started to turn back into flowers, although apart from a slight translucency of the skin his body now felt, and reacted, exactly as if it were real. He had ascertained that she had taken two weeks of annual leave from her job at the Ministry in order to help with his reconstitution, and he supposed he should be flattered, but instead he felt only flattened and depressed. Now that that horrible year of his Headmastership was over - long over, as it seemed - the blind determination to do his best and to protect what he could from the Carrows which had kept him going had run its course, and left only loneliness and exhaustion and the memory of his colleagues' closed, hating faces in its wake.
Hermione was prattling on about her children, who would soon both be home for the summer, although Hugo's Muggle primary school didn't close for another three weeks. It had been Midsummer's Eve when Severus was reconstituted, so Saturday 30th June was only a few days away, and Hermione was wondering whether to join Rose and travel down to London on the Hogwarts Express with her, for old time's sake, or did he think that that would embarrass her? - until he had to bite back on the rising wave of envy and shameful self-pity until he almost choked on it, remembering his own childhood spent seesawing between dread of school and equal dread of home, when the Hogwarts Express had been the only neutral haven, and that only if the Marauders didn't find him which, in fact, they nearly always did....
Restless and disturbed, he lurched unsteadily to his feet and walked across to the big window, seeking for some distraction, and leaned his palms heavily against the windowsill. As the leaves tossed and parted in the wind he glimpsed the castle looming against the skyline in the north-east, its walls a patchwork of different hues where chunks of stonework had been ripped out and replaced, and before it the boundary-wall and the fields where the breeze parted the long grass like fur and flipped it from green to silver and mauve - and then the trees shifted again, opening like a curtain, and off to his left he saw the smaller, nearer hill and the ruined house that stood on it -
Caught unawares, he made a sharp noise as if he had been punched and began to shake, staring at the scene of his own miserable, exiled death. Behind him, Hermione paused in her relentless chatter and moved swiftly to his side. When she saw what he was looking at she drew in a sharp breath and laid her hand lightly on his arm. That small contact was enough to break the hypnotic pull of the Shrieking Shack, so that he was able to jerk his eyes away from it and look down at her instead, trying to muster a sneer with which to meet the concern he could see in her upturned face although he could feel his own features sliding randomly, threatening to reveal his real feelings for all the world to see.
"I did try, you know," Hermione said quietly. "This time. When you were injured before, in third year, I was stupid, I just assumed you were OK and that Remus would know what he was talking about, but when you - all the time Harry was collecting your memories I tried every healing spell I could think of, to stop the bleeding. But nothing would help, and I remembered what happened with Arthur. You needed Blood-Replenishing Potion, as well as anti-venin, and even if I could have Summoned it without it smashing into a wall it wouldn't have got there in time."
"It can't be helped," he said gruffly.
"I should have been able to help. I've never forgotten feeling so - so helpless, watching you die."
"It was a better death than I had anticipated," he answered in a subdued tone. "All the time that I was spying, I expected to be discovered, to be tortured horribly to death over days or weeks, and after - after Dumbledore's death, even if Riddle lost I expected to end my days in Azkaban. Believe me, a few moments of pain and Lily's eyes to look at as I was dying seemed like a profound mercy, in comparison to what I'd been expecting." Except that it had hurt so much, to know that he had been driven out from the nearest thing he had to a home, the nearest he had to family....
"Harry said that you were - were frightened. He could see you through Riddle's eyes," she added apologetically.
"Of course I was bloody frightened!" he responded roughly. "I was bloody petrified. I was petrified every moment I had to be near that - that - Him. And every moment in between, because I knew I'd have to go to him again soon. But it was still - not as bad as I had expected."
"Harry always says you were probably the bravest person he ever knew - that it takes much more nerve to stand still and pretend in front of someone you know may any moment kill you on a whim, and to go on doing it for years and years, than just to charge into battle whirling a sword."
Severus drew a rather shaky breath. "He got some sense and some bloody gratitude in his old age, then?"
"A bit. I see you didn't get any grace or any manners."
"I," he replied severely, "am no older than I was twenty years ago." He resisted the urge to add "So what's your excuse?" and was glad that he had done so, when she suddenly smiled at him.
"I wouldn't recognize you if you were polite - and it was you we wanted back, prickles and surly temper and all, not somebody - tame and bland."
Severus stared at her with his mouth open, trying to process that, and she grinned at him. "That was why - well, Neville grew the flowers for you, purple and yellow belladonnas, I thought that that was... appropriately Goth. But he added a couple of arum lilies, for - for her, but also because they're, uhm...."
"Vaguely phallic," he said with a nod of encouragement. "Go on."
"Yes, well, quite, he said you ought to have something a bit - masculine, to counteract all the 'beautiful ladies'. But he put in a handful of bramble blossoms, as well - for the prickles."
"How did you...." He made a vague gesture indicating himself. How did you summon me back from death, how did you turn a handful of flowers into me, how did you know who I was well enough to summon me, am I still Severus Snape, the grubby unloved little guttersnipe from the mill houses, or am I just a poor simulacrum which only thinks it's Severus Snape....
In reply, she pointed wordlessly towards a set of broad shelves in the corner of the room, cast into shadow by the brightness of the window, and he saw it for the first time - a shallow bowl of waxy blue-grey chalcedony, not as big as the one in Dumbledore's office but he knew it at once for what it was. "We steeped the flowers in your memories - and in your blood. There was enough blood caught in the flask...."
He had hardly needed to be told what was in the bowl - it was the part of himself which he had poured out for Potter, which he had given up, and he knew now why his habitual bitterness had been dulled. He still had the outline of those memories, they left a shape in his mind, but the taste of them was missing, and he knew that what was in the bowl was the root of bitterness, the core of pain, and he would have to drink it down even so.
"Not today," Hermione said gently, as if he had spoken aloud. "When you are rested, and you have your wand. But not today. And I should think you'll have enough to do with talking to your portrait."
On the Saturday that the Hogwarts Express set out for London, while the children on board it were neither here nor there, one of the Thestral-drawn carriages came to carry him up to the castle. The ominous, vaguely reptilian horse-thing stood in the shafts in the cobbled high street, staring at him with its blank, milky eyes as most passers-by gave it a wide berth. There had been a lot of death in Hogsmeade, and Severus supposed with a shudder that his own body now lay in the little churchyard, along with Remus and Tonks.
The same faces, puzzled and wary, stole covert glances at the gaunt, sickly, oddly-familiar-looking man with the Slytherin scarf wrapped around his neck, making his unsteady way to the carriage as Luna kissed the Thestral on its scaly nose and offered it a Scotch egg. It lipped the delicacy off the palm of her hand and sighed heavily, spraying breadcrumbs.
The carriage rattled noisily over the cobbles, past the courtyard where Zonko's lay (although a quick glance through the window showed him that it had been taken over and was now a subsidiary of Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes), past the Three Broomsticks, re-painted but otherwise unchanged, past the narrow, ominous lane which led up to the Shrieking Shack, all on the right; then Gladrags on the left, although the fashions were strange to him, and the petshop, and a specialist broom-shop which was new to him and which was displaying a broom called the Starchaser3; a string of newsagents and grocers and other local services; Dervish & Banges on the left again and then the road branched away towards the castle. The main road continued on ahead, winding all the way to the foot of the mountain; but they took the track that bore right across the fields, bending around the base of the hill the Shrieking Shack stood on, where he had met the werewolf, where he had been flung into a wall and left to bleed, where he had died....
When the narrow lane turned first right and then left between its hedges, sloping upwards to join in with the road around Hogwarts and leaving the Shack behind it, he heaved a sigh of relief and Luna smiled at him. But as they approached the twin pillars tipped with winged boars his throat tightened again: for him it was little over a week since he had been driven out to die in exile, and the wound was raw.
Hagrid met them at the gates, walking down the long slope of the lawn with Hermione and Ron, who Severus knew meant to accompany him into the castle and then Floo down to London in time to meet the train. Even within his own subjective time-line, he had not seen Hagrid for months; and the half-grown black-and-white Newfoundland puppy running at Hagrid's heels was a reminder of how much time had passed - the remainder of Fang's lifetime, evidently, and another dog in between.
The half-giant had been the only living person in the school who had still believed in him, other than the house-elves and Horace Slughorn's wary "I'm sure I don't know what you're doing, Severus: I just hope that you do." He still wasn't sure which attitude he had preferred: Hagrid's firm belief that he was still on the side of the Order, or Horace's willingness to be at least cautiously friendly whichever side he was on. Either way, Hagrid's necessary exile, whilst it had protected the gamekeeper from the wrath of the Carrows, had left Headmaster Snape even more isolated and miserable than he already was; and the revelation that Hagrid had actually harboured some affection for him made that retrospective loss seem even more acute.
But he was here now: they were both here now, as strange as that seemed. Hagrid's face had a few more crinkles around the eyes and there were streaks of grey in his furze-bush of a beard: but since the man must be pushing ninety Severus supposed he was entitled. The gamekeeper's long legs strode beside the window, all the way up the sweep of the drive, past the Quidditch pitch, past the end of the lake and round towards the forecourt of the castle where a nondescript, round-faced man with thinning brown hair, of middle height and about his own age, stood waiting for them, smiling. Severus had to look three times to be sure that what he was looking at was Neville Longbottom.
[Longbottom whose father Frank had held him down, sneering at his cries, while the Aurors broke his hands. Longbottom whose parents' mind-destroying torture he had caused almost as surely as he had killed the Potters, when he revealed the partial prophecy to his erstwhile Lord, and he felt guilty that he couldn't feel more guilty about Frank but Alice had been a delightful girl, who had deserved far better....]
He was still wobbly enough on his feet that Ron had to help him down onto the gravelled track, where he was promptly and unceremoniously seized by Hagrid and caught up into an almost-literal bear-hug. "I was so sorry - so sorry to hear that yeh died," the half-giant's deep voice buzzed in his ear, with a breaking sob in it, and he thought about struggling against the iron grip and the bristling thicket of beard, but it was oddly comforting to go limp and just let himself be held, even when his feet left the ground and long black beard-hairs insinuated themselves into his mouth, and Hagrid's tears trickled damply over his hand where it clutched at the man's woolly jumper. "If anyone deserves a second chance, it's yeh. I always said yeh were a hero, an' yeh went an' proved it."
"Thank you, Rubeus," Severus murmured awkwardly into the beard, far more unnerved and uncertain in the face of praise than he had ever been when confronted by jeers and insults. "But I fear I shall make as big a mess of my second chance as I did of the first."
"Don't talk daft" Hagrid replied firmly, setting him back on his feet, and patting him on the shoulder so hard that he could feel his knees buckle. "Yeh'll do just fine." Severus realized that everybody else - Ron and Hermione, Luna, Neville, even the puppy and (so far as it was possible to tell) the Thestral - was beaming at himself and Hagrid with equally soppy, doting expressions. Neville took a step towards him, holding out both hands with a manner so warm and open that Severus took an automatic step backwards.
"If you try to hug me too, Longbottom," he hissed, "I won't be held responsible for the consequences" - but the boy (man!) only beamed fondly at him as if he had done something "cute". Perish the thought.
The man who met them at the top of the steps was of a rather similar type to Neville, although shorter and more balding, and Severus realized uneasily that he recognized him: this was the wizard he had dreamed of, scratching away at his paperwork in the round room which ought to have been familiar, if he hadn't been seeing it from such an odd angle....
The little man seized Severus's hand before he had time to withdraw it and pumped it vigorously. "Headmaster Snape - I'm Headmaster Dobson - Quincy Dobson - so pleased to meet you in the, ah, in the flesh, so to speak, your portrait has always been a great favourite of mine...."
"Good grief, has he?" Severus said, surprized into spontaneity. "Why?"
"So, ah, honest, you know, and so young, not that that's - I mean, it's terrible that he - that you - died so young, but he's the only one who doesn't make me feel as if I was still damp behind the ears...."
"So pleased to be of service," Severus muttered, reclaiming his own hand and resisting the urge to count his fingers to make sure they were all still there. He followed his successor into the castle: the others, excepting Hagrid who stayed behind to tend to the Thestral, came with him. When Longbottom looked pointedly at Headmaster Dobson's back, rolled his eyes and flashed him a conspiratorial grin, he surprized himself by smiling back.
The school was almost as he remembered it, and he was thankful never to have seen the Great Hall used as a morgue, the bodies laid out there row on row, including his own. But parts of the front of the building had been extensively remodelled, after the giants and the Acromantulas had finished with it. The corridor from which he had fled after Minerva drove him out had been replaced by a gallery in which portraits of the former Headmasters and -mistresses, of the four Founders and of other famous figures from academic history were set out in a long line. "So that the, ah, students can come and consult them," Quincy Dobson explained, almost apologetically, "but we try to limit access to two hours a day so that the, ah, the portraits aren't pestered too much...."
Most of the frames were currently empty, including Severus's own, but he was intrigued to see that he had apparently been painted gathering herbs in a shadowy glade at the edge of the Forbidden Forest, the sunlight streaming in long bars between trees through which the playing fields of Hogwarts could be glimpsed in an eternally shining distance. A golden sickle, a pair of pure silver secateurs and a rush basket lay discarded against the roots of an oak tree. Somebody seemed to have put a lot of thought and possibly money into the image - it was a work which had actual artistic merit, which was worth looking at because it was fine and it was striking, not just because it was an accurate portrayal of an ugly, unhappy man - and he was vaguely unnerved to see the white eyes of a Thestral gleaming at him between the trees on the night side of the glade.
He wondered whether students who had not yet seen death would be able to see this painted Thestral or not; but when he opened his mouth to ask, the words stuck in his throat.
Along the corridors and up the stairs, and he shouldn't feel as if he was walking to his own execution - he'd had the execution, and this was some sort of reprieve, or an extra punishment, he still wasn't sure about that point but it hurt anyway, walking to the office which had been his for almost a year under such terrible circumstances and from which he had been driven out so painfully. Still he couldn't resist cautiously patting the gargoyle when he hoped no-one was watching, and it arched its stone neck for him, and then skipped aside when Dobson uttered the password ("Meles meles meles").
Up the spiral stair, which turned under their feet: he drew a shuddering breath, trying to nerve himself up to face what he had never truly felt was his office, and felt Luna's fingers slip into the curve of his own hand and grip it firmly. The landing, the heavy oak door, and then they were in the office which was all the same and all different, the massed portraits were muttering among themselves and he could see at the edge of vision that the painted Dumbledore had risen to his feet but he wouldn't look at him, he wouldn't - He hunched his shoulders, looking down resolutely at the floor to let his hair hide his face, and Neville at his side touched his fingertips lightly against his former terror's upper arm, turning him gently to face in the right direction, and gave his shoulder an encouraging little pat.
Severus drew a deep breath and jerked his head up to face the shadow of himself.
The flower called deadly nightshade is also called belladonna, "beautiful lady", because it used to be used to make eye-drops which caused the pupils to expand in what was considered an attractive way.
In case anybody doesn't already know, a Scotch egg is a hardboiled egg encased in sausage-meat and golden breadcrumbs.
I'm deliberately not planning to give the new Headmaster much character development: that way, if and when JK announces the name and background of the new Head I'll be able to go back and tweak him to comply with the new canon without too much difficulty.
Meles meles meles is the Western European badger: Dobson is obviously a Hufflepuff.
I am currently working my way through a series of minor revisions to Mood Music and Sons of Prophecy, in order to bring them in line with the new canon backstory revealed in Deathly Hallows. When that's done, normalish service on Sons of Prophecy and on Lost and Found will be resumed.
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