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
Horace Slughorn might have been the first auld acquaintance to attempt to make contact, but he was by no means the last. The run-in with the Dementors had occurred on a Saturday and had been reported in the Sunday Prophet, which not everybody took owing to its bulk which required the services of an eagle-owl; and in any case the wizarding world was old-fashioned enough still to regard Sunday as a day of peace and privacy - a pause before the hurly-burly of the week to come. But on Monday morning the story was re-issued in the weekday edition even as Severus was getting to grips with his new wand, and by Monday afternoon he was more in demand than he was at all comfortable with - even though Luna had taken the precaution of warding the Floo so that nobody could actually enter through it, or fire a wand through it, without her permission.
The first disturbance was just after a late, post-Ollivander brunch, as Severus was moodily Transfiguring cereal-bowls into bowling balls and back again. Neville Longbottom's round, anxious face appeared suddenly in the flames at knee-height, startling Severus so much that he lost control of his latest creation, which rolled off the table onto the floorboards and shattered into metallic-looking china shards.
"Oh um, sorry Hea-Sn-Severus" this apparition mumbled as the older man tried to get the pieces to make up their minds what they were and reassemble; "'lo Luna - Hermione said you were OK but I wanted to see for myself and, um, thought you'd like to know that Minerva is asking after you both and would really like to talk to Severus as soon as she can."
Severus let his hair fall forwards over his face as he Summoned the mended soup bowl - which still had three finger-holes in it - and laid it carefully on the table, where Luna stuck her fingers through the holes and waggled them happily. Today, she was wearing a necklace made from carefully graded colours and sizes of snail-shells. "Does she - does she realise what I am?"
"Mmm, I think your - your portrait explained it all to her."
"Ah." He remembered that Minnie had inexplicably commissioned a small portrait of himself so he could visit her in her retirement. He wondered whether he ought to get such a portrait made for himself and carry it with him, so his two selves could always stay in touch - but would the mind that informed a new portrait be the portrait-self that already existed, split away from the original Severus at the point of his death as it had been, or would it show the person he was now, and remain almost inert until this new self died in its turn to leave him forever bifurcated, even in the portrait realm? He could feel a cold shudder of nausea beginning somewhere under his artificial, recreated breastbone, and his head was beginning to throb. "I - I don't think -"
He took a deep breath. "It's not that I bear her any ill will" - he didn't, he didn't, she had only believed of him what he had wanted her to believe and she had hated him because she had thought that their partial friendship had been a lie all along - that the colleague she had sparred with over tea and biscuits in the staff-room had never been real, but only a glib mask over something terrible. But even if he had been the deceiving betrayer in Riddle's service that she had thought him (instead of the deceiving betrayer in Dumbledore's service that he had really been), the accusation of cowardice would still have been grossly unfair and it ate at his gut, even though he knew that his other self had come to quite warm terms with her. But his painted self was simplified, less conflicted, and it had had nineteen years to deal with a raw pain which for him was less than two weeks ago. "I just -"
"Tell her not yet, Neville," Luna said calmly. "He needs more time to get his bearings first - especially after Saturday, with the Dementors I mean."
"He needs to put his memories back in, if he hasn't already," Neville muttered. "I'm sorry si- Severus, but there's been research. Leaving memories out too long isn't good for your - um, stability." The thought that Severus's stability had never been much to write home about at the best of times hung, unspoken yet lit up in lights, in the air between them.
The second caller was a fresh-faced, annoyingly bouncy young man who announced that he was Hereward "Hawk-Eye" Hunter, a reporter with the Daily Prophet. "...tried to call on you earlier this morning," he chattered brightly, "but you were out."
"Imagine that I am still out," Severus replied balefully, and swept from the room.
It took some time to get the measure of the ancient wand, so that he was neither bearing on it too hard nor holding back and crippling himself. It had, nearly literally, a mind of its own: shaped to another's hand it had its own biases including a tendency to pull to the left, if he didn't jam his thumb against it; but once he had learned to temper his own energy just right, it channelled his will with a force and purity which was as disturbing as it was exhilarating. Every new thing, every difference from his old life, however benign, reminded him of the vast dislocation he had suffered and called his own authenticity into question.
On the other hand, the things which had not changed could be pretty disturbing too. The third person to Floo-call Luna's flat that day was Draco Malfoy. Nowadays many houses, Severus had been told, had special talking-Floos set into the wall at chest-height but Luna was away from her flat so often that she had not bothered to have one fitted, leaving Draco with his head sticking out of the flames at shin-height even though he might well be standing up, on the other side of the fire. It made Severus feel at once both excessively old and unexpectedly young to see that his handsome godson now had a definite receding hairline, while he himself was still as shaggy as a spaniel. But the sharp features and waspish expression were as they had ever been, and the pale eyes measured him warily.
"Good afternoon, Draco," Luna said happily, pre-empting the moment, and suddenly-middle-aged-Draco wrenched his gaze away from his godfather and said "Oh, ah, yes. Scamander. I must apologise..."
"Must you?" she said brightly. "It's quite natural you know - that you'd want to speak to him."
"Yes, well... I had to see if - look, don't mind me saying, but who the hell are you?"
Severus tucked the wand carefully into his belt and frowned at the carpet, avoiding his godson's silver gaze. "I am - that is, I am intended to be - who I look like. Whether I am the real Severus Snape, or merely a very good copy, I have no way of telling, but I have at least some of his memories. I remember -" He looked up then, searching for a memory which was personal and private enough to prove his identity, without embarrassing Draco beyond measure in front of company. It wouldn't do, for example, to mention the stack of girlie mags which had stretched the canopy over the boy's bed into a tell-tale belly. "Look, this is ridiculous - come through, do, if...?"
He looked at Luna questioningly and she nodded and made a sharp gesture with her wand, opening the wards to allow Draco to scramble through onto the hearth although he still stood with his back against the mantel, rigid with suspicion. Severus noted, with a mixed pang of both sorrow and smugness, that thirty-eight-year-old Draco was beginning to thicken a bit about the middle, while he himself was still whip-thin.
"In your second year," Severus said, "you boasted openly about how Slytherin's Heir and his pet monster would be no threat to pure-bloods like the Malfoys, but when I walked up behind you quietly and cleared my throat you screamed -"
"You started away from me so hard you bruised your shoulder against the door-frame and had to be sent to Madam Pomfrey."
"You were always creeping about -" They eyed each other warily.
After a moment - "You can't be," the other said flatly. "How can you be? Severus - Severus would be nearly sixty and he - Potter said you were dead. The Dark Lord said you were dead, and he was an expert on dead things." He flinched slightly, and shuddered.
"I was dead." Severus studied his own hands as if they were suddenly fascinating. "And now I'm alive, or something is. It was - an experiment, but the details are meant to be classified for the moment. They made a new body and animated it using memory and blood from the original but whether that means I am the original, even as much as a painting is, I'm not sure. I feel real to myself, but I doubt if that can be considered proof."
"How - how long -"
"Eleven days ago. And I was...." He felt the need to explain his silence, why he hadn't contacted his godson at once. "They brought me back as I was - with half my throat torn out." Unconsciously he put his hand up and touched the paired scars - the twin knots where the fangs had gone in, and then the long, ragged ridges where they had torn their way out again, opening the jugular vein and giving him, the first time around, the mercy of rapid unconsciousness, and a slow convalescence the second time. "It's only been a few days since I've been well enough to be out of bed." Overcome by the realisation, he moved so he could lean against the back of the sofa without it being obvious.
"My father," Draco said jerkily, "it wrecked him, more than he already was I mean. He always says he wouldn't have summoned you to the Dark Lord if he'd known - if he'd known He was planning to kill you. But you were always flavour of the bloody month, he never thought -"
"'Flavour of the month' was always ripe to be eaten. I can hardly believe...."
"Mrs Malfoy saved Harry's life," Luna said in her best dreamy voice. "If she hadn't, the Death Eaters would have eaten the whole world. He - the Dark Lord, that is - he told her to check that Harry was dead and she lied and said he was when she knew he wasn't." She smiled brightly. "Of course, she did it really because she thought Draco would be safer if Harry won than if Mr Riddle did, but a lot of people chose sides, or changed them, according to what they thought was safest for people they cared about."
Severus winced, knowing that it had taken Lily's danger to crystallise his unease about the Dark Lord's methods into action, and Luna gave him a tiny, conspiratorial smile. "Regulus Black, you know, " she said, "he wasn't a bad boy, and Harry said that Sirius said he hadn't realised what the Death Eaters were willing to do to get their own way until it was too late to back out, but he didn't actually turn against them until the Dark Lord showed he didn't care about the life of Regulus's favourite house-elf; and of course Regulus knew and Mr Riddle didn't, because he'd been raised by Muggles, that the loyalty between house-elves and their wizard family has to go both ways." This time it was Draco's turn to wince.
"My father," he muttered, "he'll want to - to see you, if you really are.... It would mean a lot to him."
His godfather stilled, then unfroze himself with an effort of will. "I'm not sure that that would be -" He had memories of Lucius Malfoy, both from school and from their time as Death Eaters together, which still haunted his dreams and made his skin try to crawl off his bones; yet the older man had shown him genuine patronage and had always seemed oblivious to the fact that his protegé might feel anything other than unalloyed gratitude for the attention - all the forms of attention - he had showered on a penniless half-blood. "He must know that I betrayed him, and all of them."
"He - well, the way things turned out, he can see your point. He realises that the Dark Lord was - well, insane."
"Familiarity bred contempt? Having the sodding psychopath actually in the family home getting blood on the nice expensive carpets was too much for him, was it?"
"Don't!" Draco shuddered. "We knew he sometimes killed but we had expected it to be - well, rational, a matter of military necessity, of strategy to achieve a goal: not just frothing and shooting people at random like Aunt Bellatrix just because he'd had a bad day. My parents were lucky to get out with their lives - sorry."
"Some of us weren't so bloody fortunate."
"Draco had a very bad time, though," Luna said in her don't-mind-me-I'm-not-really-here voice. "Mr Riddle used to make him practise torture curses on Sandy and he didn't like doing it at all, Sandy said, and tried not to do them too hard. That was before I came and looked at them, of course, but it must have been horrible for both of them."
"It was. He - he begged, pleaded -" Draco looked grey about the gills, and Severus's stomach lurched at the memory of Charity Burbage, hung by the heels and crying to him for a mercy he couldn't afford to show her. In the event the Dark Lord had at least killed her cleanly but Severus hadn't known in advance that he would do so: yet to answer her plea and finish her - the only mercy which was even within his power at that point - would have cost not only his own life, which he would have thrown away willingly, but his utility to the Order. Draco had been there too and seen one of his teachers killed and fed to the snake as his house-master watched impassively, although at least the boy had never been in Charity's class.
"If you had refused," Severus said roughly, "you still would not have saved Ollivander from pain. Once the Dark Lord had decided he should be hurt, he would have been: once he had fixed on a victim there was no turning him from his course." Luna made a sudden movement which drew his eye, and he tcch'd irritably. "At least, those of us who weren't valuable hostages and who hadn't perfected the art of 'looking at him funny' until it made him forget what he'd been thinking about had no way of turning him from his course."
Draco gave him an unhappy little smirk. "Some of us," he murmured, "are better equipped to 'look at people funny' than others. Those of us who were not...."
"I'm sorry," Severus muttered; "sorry that I wasn't there to help you to deal with - with afterwards."
"I'm sorry. If I'd only known that you were - were injured I would have come, I would have tried - why didn't they bloody-well do something, why did they just leave you there -?"
"There was nothing they could do," he said tiredly. "I've discussed it with Miss - with Mrs Weasley, and she did try whatever healing spells she knew, to no good effect; but they had used up their supply of dittany ointment when they were scalded earlier in the day. They already knew from what happened to Arthur Weasley that when Nagini bit with venom the wounds tended to keep on bleeding, and they had no timely way of obtaining either Blood-Replenishing Potion or anti-venin." And even the anti-venin would have taken time to work that they did not have, he knew. It had worked fast for Arthur, when the healers at St Mungo's had finally developed it, because by that point all the venom had left his system and it was simply a matter of repairing the damage; but he himself would have been left bleeding and choking and in need of days of continuing treatment as he had been, later, at Luna's flat.
He held up his hand as Draco opened his mouth to question him. "I had no reason to carry such things with me: it would have attracted suspicion if discovered, and frankly I expected that if the Dark Lord ever decided to kill me it would be either by a simple Avada Kedavra or by far more... protracted means. He did not often use Nagini actually to kill. And Potter and his friends - even if they had carried me outside, beyond the anti-Apparition wards, St Mungo's was in enemy hands and in any case they still believed that I probably intended them harm. The - Voldemort had issued an ultimatum, and they had more pressing concerns than a probably futile attempt to save what they thought was an enemy."
"But to die alone like that...."
"Harry thought that the Headmaster was already dead when they left him," Luna said, and Severus nodded tiredly.
"I don't know if I was dead or not, but I was certainly unconscious by the time they left and I did not, so far as I recall, wake again to the living world until - well, as a portrait. Or eleven days ago, depending on how you look at it. And while I was conscious they were doing as I had told them, by some bloody miracle, and when they had finished doing as I had told them, only a second or two elapsed before they believed that I was dead, or at least beyond intervention.
"It was...." He pushed off from the sofa and paced a few steps. "I hadn't wanted to die, and I was in despair at the thought that I had failed, but then Potter came and I was able to do my duty and he was - surprisingly efficient and not - not hostile. It was...." He moved his head restlessly, easing his still-sore neck but also with a little preening lift of arrogance, of dark satisfaction. "It was a soldier's death, among allies."
"They - oh, this is surreal" Draco muttered, rubbing at his face. "They buried you in a soldier's grave, with so many flowers, enough to fill a garden - I'm going to wake up if I pinch myself I - ow."
"Apparently not." The idea that he had been mourned, even celebrated, made his ribs ache with confused pain, even as it soothed the hurt Minerva had inflicted. "I haven't been down to the churchyard: I don't know if I could bear to see...."
"Oh, you're not buried here," Luna said. "Didn't we tell you? Harry made sure you were buried in Godric's Hollow."
After making confused apologies to Draco, and managing to sidle out of promising to speak to Lucius and Narcissa anytime soon, Severus blundered out into the hallway, feeling disoriented and dizzy. Being out of his place and time and forced forwards into an alien world was comparatively easy to cope with, since he had never felt at home anywhere anyway; but the idea of his own corpse, left behind and rotting back into earth, gave him a sickening sense of being balanced somewhere high and precarious with nothing to hold on to. He had always been sure of who and what he was, even if his idea of himself was jaundiced; but now every shadow that flickered across his skin made him think of flowers, made him fear that he might melt at any moment, and he did not even know who or what would be lost if he did.
He wondered if Longbottom had been right. Would he feel saner, more real, if he drank the bitter brew of memory? He recalled enough to know that all of those memories would cut him like knives: one way or another they had all warped his life in pain, but if he truly was Severus Snape then he was the thing those memories had made of him and without them he was incomplete. And even if he was only a copy of the original Severus, he could at least be a complete one.
With senses sharpened by years of terror and danger he heard Luna, behind him, rise to her feet and start to come after him, only to be interrupted by a syrupy voice he recognised with alarm to be that of Rita Skeeter, older and huskier by twenty years of gin and cigarettes but still unmistakeable. He had already glanced uneasily - no, queasily through a copy of Skeeter's hagiography and seen himself presented as some sort of virginal Arthurian knight, a selfless martyr cloaking his "noble, bleeding soul" within a shell of bitterness and pain, allowing himself to be used and abused by Dumbledore out of what the author seemed to think was some darkly erotic need to be punished, and living and, at the last, dying with no thought or motive but his "burning devotion to the memory of she who had been his light and hope, who had given him the only joy he had ever known in this vale of tears".
The fact that it was, if you squinted at it and glossed over the "virginal" bit, fairly close to the truth just made it worse. Having spent his life secretly longing for sympathy and understanding whilst persuading himself he didn't need it, he felt cheapened to receive it at last and find it so tawdry and, well, sticky. And whoever he was now, he knew Severus Snape well enough to know that the man had had far more pep and vinegar and spite and texture than Ms Skeeter's sappy re-imagining.
Then again, Arthur's knights had probably been more interesting and textured in real life than they were in the stories - but he was quite certain that he didn't want his first public statement after his return from death to be given the Skeeter treatment. Hearing Luna trying unsuccessfully to put the blasted woman off, he was seized by a sudden irrational conviction that the journalist could sense him out in the hallway, even without using her wand - could hear his breathing, maybe, through the partially open door, and in a moment of claustrophobic panic he pushed open the nearest door on the other side of the hall and went through, putting as much distance as he could between himself and the Prophet's best bloodhound.
He found himself in some kind of small study or office he hadn't seen before, lined with more of the same dark wood specimen-cases he had seen in the hall, with jars and bottles and filing cabinets and a desk bearing a magical enlarging-lens and something that looked like the bastard offspring of a Victorian steam-engine and a Muggle computer. He was about to back out of the room and make his apologies for the intrusion when he saw the pictures.
Most were on the wall he had come in through, so that he had not seen them until he half-turned to go out again. Somebody with considerable skill had painted them, although for the most part they were not animated, indicating that the subjects were still alive. There were many landscapes and animal subjects, some of them quite bizarre, but also several of human sitters; including one of a woman in her thirties closely resembling Luna herself, who smiled and waved, confirming her own death. He thought that he recognised her as a Slytherin who had been in seventh year when he was in first, and gave her a stiff, hesitant nod.
And there were Potter, Granger, Weasley and his sister, and Longbottom, all as they had been at about the time of the end of the war - Longbottom with ragged, singed locks straggling across his eyes, clutching the sword of Gryffindor and looking simultaneously heroic and acutely embarrassed. And there, Severus realised with a jolt, was himself: a strongly-drawn charcoal and pastel sketch of his own haggard, sleeping face, pale as milk against the equal pallor of the pillows on Luna's guest bed. The drawing was stuck to the wall above the desk, its corners decorated with bind-runes of healing and protection drawn on in thick, raised threads of gold wax.
On a table at the side of the room, a portfolio spilled open, displaying a fanned-out series of sketches of strange beasts - some of them probably the product of Luna's overwrought imagination, he thought, but others appearing to be drawn from life. Guiltily fascinated, he began to leaf through them, admiring the clean draughtsmanship and the clear, luminous colours. There was a small easel set up on the desk, he noticed, and by it several framed photographs all showing the same handsome twin boys aged between about three and eight years of age, their oval faces framed by identical feathery, red-blond hair. The artist had roughed out some different sketches of them, trying for an ideal pose.
"I'll be seeing them in a few weeks" Luna said, drifting up behind him, "and then I'll be able to paint from life, but I wanted to practise to be sure of getting them right."
Severus whipped round, opening his mouth to stammer an apology for his trespass, but an apology didn't seem to be required. Luna smiled at him and patted his arm. "I thought about telling Mrs Skeeter that you were a trained Boggart pretending to be you, but we don't want to annoy her - she might decide to 'monster' you when she found out I'd lied. Probably not, because she's invested so heavily in portraying you as a hero, but I didn't want to take risks; so I told her you were a Man of Mystery and I'd only known you for a few days, and I wasn't sure who you were because the Soul-Leeches had eaten your memory."
"That's... at least as true as most of the stuff she writes." He glanced awkwardly at the sketches of the two boys. "Are they...?"
"My sons," she said, with an inwards smile. "Lorcan and Lysander."
"You didn't - I didn't know you had children." That information had not been included when she had summarised her post-war life for him, but he didn't want to sound as if he was accusing her. Even if he was.
"I forgot," she said. "That you wouldn't have seen them, I mean - usually some of these photo's are in the sitting room, but I brought them in here to work from." He made a vague sound of dissatisfaction and she cocked her head at him. "I suppose I didn't tell you before - when I told you about being married, and then not being - because, well, I didn't want you to feel too sad. About not having a family."
"I have never - you can't seriously think I was ever cut out to be a father."
"Why not?" Luna said serenely. "Your Slytherins always spoke very highly of you. They always said you were quite kind really and surprisingly trusting."
"Did they now."
"Mm." She patted his hand. "Anyway the boys live with Rolf's parents in France, so they can get stability in their primary schooling - Rolf and I move around too much, with expeditions you know, and my father and stepmother have become rather... eccentric."
"You don't say." He made a conscious effort, forcing himself to unbend. "You said you were seeing them...?"
"Oh yes - they usually stay with me for five or six weeks over the summer holidays. They'll be coming over in three weeks. I need to get these -" she gestured at the sketches of unlikely beings "- finished and off to my publisher before then."
"They're very..." He struggled for an adjective that would express his admiration of her paintings without suggesting that he was surprised by her ability but his heart wasn't in it, knowing that he had just heard the limit of his own stay here. "Informative." And where on earth could he go then?
The fifth caller was Lionel Carver, come to assess the health of his creation. By that point Severus had retired to bed for the afternoon, still physically and mentally exhausted by the horrible eleven months following Dumbledore's death which had ended, for him, less than a fortnight ago, as well as his own death and unlooked-for resurrection and now the brush with the Dementors. Sleep itself had always been a minefield but it was an unexpected luxury to be able to nap when he needed it, and the nightmares were less frequent and intense if he dozed during the afternoon.
In any case, sleep was an escape: a way out of having to think about where he would go once Luna's sons came to occupy her spare bedroom. The house at Spinner's End must have been sold or pulled down years since, and his rooms in the dungeons given over to another teacher; and he had no income with which to pay for bed or board. Perhaps Quincy Dobson would let him sleep in one of the empty rooms at the castle, at least until the students returned in September.
He woke to find the healer tut-tutting gently as he ran his wand back and forth over his patient's skull and torso, watching the quill which scribbled busily under its own power. "Good afternoon, Headmaster," the older man said, "and I think I can say with confidence that it is good. You've had a remarkable escape, my dear sir - remarkable. Considering that some of your memories are still externalised, the risk of having your mind fragmented in the Dementor attack was very high, very high indeed - you must have a remarkable will. And if that happened, of course - well. The body would revert."
"To flowers, you mean." Outside, a gust of rain blew against the window, scattering it with drops.
"And stones, yes. Ordinarily - if a soul is stripped out of its body by a Dementor the body still has enough basic functions to survive if it is guided to feed itself, but in your case we think that the body is being held in shape by a template which exists in the soul, even though it behaves as if it had physical reality. Remove the template, and...."
"What would happen if I were to fall into a coma?"
"Oh, so long as the soul is still tied to the body there shouldn't be a problem, even if it were to, as it were, venture away from the flesh. It's only when the, ah, the cord joining the soul to the body is severed that there would be reality issues, but of course Dementors do break the cord, in order to absorb the considerable amount of energy which is released when that occurs."
Severus shuddered, remembering the sucking mouth bending down to him from the roof of the carriage: a shiny new addition to his catalogue of night-time terrors. "I always understood that they ate the soul itself...."
"Ah yes, it used to be thought so, but - you'll understand that since your, ah, your death our little world has had a great deal of experience with uncontrolled Dementor attacks and the thinking now is that rather than devouring the soul they strip it of energy, turning it into something like an earth-bound ghost but without the strength left to manifest or to, ah, anchor itself."
Severus shivered again, and remembered that he had once threatened Black and Lupin with the Kiss. He had been sorely provoked, not to mention terrified half out of his mind, and had believed sincerely that Black had betrayed Lily to her death and then come back to finish the job by murdering her son, but even so....
Healer Carver patted him on the shoulder. "Of course," he said, "your case is unique: not only because of your status as what we are terming a 'whole-body replacement' patient, but also because you have both a living self and an animate portrait at the same time. It may be that even if you were to be Kissed, your portrait would serve to anchor you - would serve as a Horcrux, in fact, although the death which split you was your own."
"It's not an experiment I'm eager to try, believe me."
"Oh, nor am I. As fascinating as it would be, the risk to yourself...." He tucked his wand back into its holster, frowning. "I'm not sure if I should tell you this, Snape" - Severus looked up sharply, struck by that precise intonation which recalled their schooldays - "but I've always felt that I owed you a - a debt. An apology. When we were boys -"
"It doesn't matter," Severus said flatly. Lionel Carver had never been a friend, being far too conscious of their age and house difference to do anything but condescend to the younger boy, but nor had he been one of his tormentors - and there was no point in blaming him for having been a bystander, when there had been so many. Nor was he interested in opening old wounds just to salve this man's guilt.
"I fear that it did matter. Not only were we in the Slug Club together but I was a prefect - Ravenclaw - and I could and should have done more. Especially by the lake, when they -"
"When they hung me up and stripped me," Severus muttered, flushing dully at the thought that that miserable humiliation could still reach down through his life, even now, and expose him in front of this man, as it had exposed him in front of both the Potters, father and son. But the humiliation itself was blunted - the detailed memory of that searing day was in a bowl at the far end of the flat, leaving only a bleached outline of itself, and common sense told him that there was no point in worrying about his pathetic teenage body having been laid bare to the gaze of a healer who had later helped to reconstruct that body from the ground up, genitals and all. Realistically, Lionel Carver must know a great deal more about his body than he did, including the bits like behind the ears and under the balls that you couldn't really see for yourself.
"Yes, ah, quite," Carver said. "Of course, I was a seventh year, so I no longer had full prefect duties; I had just come out from an exam and I told myself that it was Remus Lupin's duty to intervene, not mine. But I should have known that he would not: I was afraid enough to antagonise Black and Potter myself, and I didn't have to share a dormitory with them. I should have stopped them or summoned a member of staff to do so, instead of skulking away."
"Yes. You should have." He shut his eyes, feeling suddenly deathly tired. He tried to summon rage, to feel that if only Carver had done his duty he might never have quarrelled with Lily and she might never have been killed - but it sounded as though the Ravenclaw prefect had only come on the scene as he was being stripped, and by then it had been already far too late.
"Ah, yes. Afterwards I was afraid that - well, that if I had intervened that day your life might have turned out differently and you might not have been killed, so I was delighted to have the chance to... put things right, perhaps."
"It will take a bloody sight more than that!"
"I fear so, yes. But at least you have a chance, and the world has a chance to thank you for your - your heroism and sacrifice. As it were."
"You shouldn't believe everything you read in books," Severus said darkly. "Have you practised this - experimental procedure on anyone else yet? When may I admit publicly to existing, if exist I must?"
"It is... difficult. Your own case was unusual in that by chance you gave a memory sample and a few drops of blood seconds before you, ah, died. Recreating that...." He scratched absent-mindedly at his ear with the point of his quill, leaving a smear of ink.
"I was surprised," Severus muttered, "that you made me without - without the memories I had given to Potter. Why were they not simply incorporated into -" He gestured rather numbly at his own torso. "This?"
"It was the - somatic memory that we needed, to reconstruct your body, and we thought - correctly as it turned out - that what we would get would be a Severus Snape who had already removed at least some of those narrative memories. If we poured them all into the reconstruction and it went wrong, then they would be gone: we might try again later and get a viable construct but the memories would be lost to you." He smiled awkwardly, making the ridiculous fluff over his ears waggle slightly. "We could have taken copies, of course, but there is always some degradation of detail, and I gather that they were very... formative memories. Better to be safe than sorry."
"Yes." Even the memory of those memories cut like shards of glass and he couldn't make up his mind whether he wanted to seize them to him like treasures or fling them as far away from him as he could, after the Wizengamot had trampled through them and exposed them to public view.
"As regards other subjects, we have taken simultaneous point-of-death memory and tissue samples from two patients with incurable diseases, but you will understand that by the very nature of their condition we will not seek to reconstruct them until a cure becomes available, and that could be decades away - or never. There's no point in experimenting on a non-verbal, sub-sentient model such as a rabbit or Kneazle because we wouldn't be able to get an accurate measure of how closely the revived soul resembled the deceased, and to experiment by killing and reviving a fully sentient being would be - unethical."
"So... basically, you have to wait until some unfortunate comes in who's so mangled you haven't got time to prepare the equipment needed to save them before they die."
"Quite. In that case we would take memory and tissue samples as the patient died, then prepare a theatre with all necessary equipment and potions and bring them back again - and hope to be able to keep them alive when we had done so. But such incidents are, perhaps fortunately, rare." Ignoring Severus's raised eyebrows, he fussed out another piece of parchment. "The technique is really intended for battlefield use and battles are, at the moment, in short supply. Now: Luna tells me that your magical force appears to be flowing well...."
The sixth caller was Harry Potter. The first Severus knew about it was when Luna breezed into the bedroom without knocking and announced "Guess what: Harry is here!" in an offensively cheerful tone. He contemplated hiding under the bed-covers and pretending to be asleep, but that would be too much like running away. And he had already run from Skeeter today, but that was different: he had definite reason to think that an interview with her might be damaging, but Potter was merely disturbing, and he was damned if he was going to give the boy any reason to think that he really was a coward.
Slinging his robes back on, he shook his hair into rough order and advanced cautiously on the sitting room, where Potter was standing by the window, talking to Luna. The men eyed each other stiffly, like two wire-haired terriers. After a moment Potter cleared his throat. "Headmaster Snape" he said, managing to sound at once courteous and dubious.
Severus bared his teeth in something loosely resembling a smile. "Approximately."
Potter coughed, and Severus smirked to himself at his obvious discomfiture. "Yes, well, uhm, Hermione said that you... did seem to be you. If you see what I mean."
"Unfortunately 'seeming' and 'being' are not necessarily the same thing, and I have no objective way to tell - being inside myself. And to what do I owe the... pleasure of this visit?"
"Um, well; now that your return - or at least the suspicion of it - is common knowledge I need to discuss improved security arrangements with yourself and Luna."
"Merlin help us!"
"I am head of the bloody Aurory!" Potter snapped. "I do know what I'm doing!"
Severus eyed him balefully. The fact that Potter at thirty-seven was greying and badly in need of a shave reduced his resemblance to James and made it easier to look at him without flinching in dread, but the memory of how he had died (!) gazing into those grass-green eyes was mortifying. "The last time I saw you before - before the end, you were trying to find an unscabbarded sword by feeling for it with your bare feet underwater in the dark, and I was poised on tenterhooks to stop you from bleeding to death if you sliced your own toes off. It did not inspire confidence."
"Yeah, well." Potter had the grace to look embarrassed. "It was a long time ago. I've done a lot of growing since then, and got a bit more sense."
"One would certainly hope so." He realised that Luna was frowning at him, insofar as Luna ever frowned, and that Potter looked sad rather than amusingly angry; and he remembered a painted room, beautifully designed for his comfort and privacy. "I realise that I have - a lot of catching up to do."
Luna smiled happily. "He hasn't really got used to us not being students any more," she remarked to Potter: "especially Neville. I'll leave you two to get acquainted while I make the tea."
After she had wafted out of the room, her chartreuse-coloured robes chiming with little bells and mirrors, Severus looked away, embarrassed. "I'm sorry," he said shortly. "I have to sit." Turning his shoulder to Potter he made an unsteady lunge for the sofa and subsided into the cushions.
"I'm sorry. I'm used to talking to your portrait, I was forgetting that the, the blood loss and - you know - was still very recent for this, um, version of you."
Severus was tempted to make a cutting remark about how little Potter had ever cared about his suffering and injury before, but he had the sense to bite it back. It would be unfair to tax a grown man with his childhood faults of a quarter of a century ago when he seemed - unlike Sirius Black - to have probably outgrown them. Instead: "I, ah, did examine some of the portrait's memories. I am aware, for example, of the existence of Albus Severus...." and couldn't resist adding: "He seems to be an able student, and a credit to Slytherin."
Potter made a little chuffing noise and sat down in the armchair across from Severus. "Ginny had conniptions when he was Sorted - nearly as much as Malfoy did when Scorpius ended up in Hufflepuff." He put his hand up in an absent-minded, abstracted way and pushed a flop of pewter-coloured hair back from his forehead. "I was actually thinking of calling him Severus Albus, but Ginny put her foot down. Said we couldn't condemn the poor kid to going through school with 'SAP' stencilled on his kit."
"Hah, yes. I can see her point."
"I'm sure that he'd like to meet you at some point if - if that's acceptable. He seems to be very taken with your portrait."
"And what a turn-up for the books that must have been."
"I was pleased," Potter said quietly, "when he told me he'd been talking to y- to your portrait. When I was a kid I used to see you as a, a sort of monster, something out of a nightmare, but now I can see that you're just - just this guy who was a friend of my mum's, you know? It's good that, well, that at least somebody in the family can be on good terms with you."
"Luna told me," Severus said cautiously, "that you had me - buried at Godric's Hollow?" and, blast it, he could see the blasted boy's ears prick up at the use of Luna's first name.
"Well, uh, yeah - as near to Mum as I could get you. I thought you'd both want that. Uh, probably."
"You buried me... next to Lily?"
"Well - not next to her exactly: there wasn't a space. But in the next row."
"Parallel or perpendicular? That means, lying in the same direction as her, Potter, or crosswise?"
"I know what it means. Uh - crosswise, I think. Yeah, crosswise."
"So that I could spend eternity lying across her feet like a stone dog on a tomb...."
"Yeah - pretty much."
There was a thoughtful silence, broken only by the distant drumming of the rain. Severus could feel again the cold, shuddering terror he had felt as Nagini struck, the knowledge that his own death was before him: now it was behind him but the terror was somehow still there, sickening and pointless. It took him some time before he was able to force it away and continue with this... whatever it was they were having.
"Your father -" Severus sighed and tipped his head back, letting the cushions buoy him up as if he were floating. "Your father was a monster to me. I realise now that he wasn't the worst bully he could have been - there are bullies who rape, who extort money, who beat their victims bloody almost daily and he did none of those things but he had a, a manic persistence and all-pervasiveness which made my schooldays into one long bloody unending game of run-the-gauntlet. And you - you were a rotten student, you really were, but I was more... disturbed by your faults than I would otherwise have been, in part because your resemblance to your father made me feel that you too were... nightmarish."
"That was nearly an apology, wasn't it?" Potter said in an interested tone. "For what it's worth, I nearly-apologise too. You were a bit of a bastard, but I've been thinking about this for twenty years and I can see now that I was a pain in the bum too, and I shouldn't have treated you as if - well, as if you didn't have any feelings."
"Most people did," Severus replied bitterly. "You were hardly the only one." He drew a deep breath. "Very well. I... nearly accept."
It was at that point that Luna returned, levitating a side-table bearing a teapot and mugs and an assortment of small cakes and sandwiches which Severus (who privately suspected that she had waited in the hall until she heard that he and Potter were "getting along") eyed with caution. He had already learned that Luna's cooking could be as eccentric as Hagrid's and her kipper-and-seaweed paté, in his opinion, tasted altogether too much like what you'd expect kipper-and-seaweed paté to taste like.
"Of course," Potter said around a mouthful of individual goat's-cheese-and-onion flan, "it probably didn't help - with the feeling-I-was-monstrous I mean - that I had a chunk of Voldemort stuck to my forehead."
Severus folded his hands around the warm china of the mug and let his eyes drift shut, listening to the rain. "I suppose," he said remotely, "that we each felt a taint of - of the Dark Lord in the other. I certainly felt that you were - dangerous, potentially even a new Dark Lord and I donít think that it was only my sensitivity to your father. And you may have sensed - or the fragment of Riddle in you may have known - that I was... Marked. That's one good thing to have come from this." Setting the mug down, he shook his sleeve back to show a pale, bare forearm, innocent of anything except the scars of a lifetime's brewing and the momentary, subliminal dapple of flowers.
"I don't suppose that it helped," Luna said in a suddenly focused voice, "that we - the other houses, I mean - were all so against Slytherin all the time. I didn't really think about it at the time - and I should have done, because I knew about people ganging up on people - but whenever there was a match, the other three houses always all supported whoever was against Slytherin, and that canít have been very nice."
"It wasn't." He suspected that the comment related to the conversation about the effects of bullying that he had been having with Potter while Luna had been out of the room: proof that she had been listening from the corridor. "It made me feel as if I was still being singled out, bullied, through the medium of my students."
"That's because you were," she said calmly. "Although it probably wasn't personal. And you should eat."
"The worst thing was when Dumbledore took away the House Cup which my house had won - which I had won, through them - and gave it to Potter instead." He took a sip of tea, letting the sweetness revive him a little, and accepted a slice of carrot cake. It seemed like a week ago that he had stood in Ollivander's little shop, trying out wands, and yet it was still only late afternoon of the same day. "I know that we had won it for several years, but to whip it away as soon as Potter came - it was as if James Potter was still jeering at me, taking away what little I had...."
"That wasn't why he did it, though," Harry said. "He did it because he felt guilty about setting me up to probably be killed - not to mention sticking me with the Dursleys for ten years - and he wanted to make my last few years happy ones. Like being nice to a dog you're going to put down soon."
"I was - so angry and distressed, when I found out - I thought we were protecting you! But I think -" He took another sip of tea, frowning. "As I told you, I have examined many of my... my portrait's memories, and it - he - has discussed these things with Dumbledore's portrait, and these conversations are now in my memory too." He was beginning to lose track of what he was saying himself, so Merlin alone knew what it was doing for Potter's cut-price intellect: and even thinking about it was making his inner vision swim, nauseatingly, and try to tell him that he was looking down from a high wall into the Headmaster's office, where Quincy Dobson was having an irate discussion with someone who looked like an accountant. It took an effort of will to wrench his eyes back into his own head.
"Anyway," he went on, gritting his teeth against the sense of dislocation, "I believe now that from the point at which Dumbledore realised that Riddle had used your blood to reconstruct himself, he knew that there was a good chance of your surviving any attempt to kill you. But you had not to know that, because he still needed you to be willing to die - because you might have to anyway, and because from an 'old magic' point of view it might prove to be only your perfect willingness to sacrifice yourself which would give you the power not to need to - and he didn't tell me because... well, you were always suspicious of me, there was always a risk that you would demand to see my memories before you would trust me, or force-feed me Veritaserum beyond even my ability to combat it, especially after the debacle on the Astronomy Tower; not to mention the risk if Riddle were to break through my Occlumantic shields.... So, he sacrificed my peace of mind, such as it was, and my own regard for him in order to improve your chances of survival."
"It was a price I would have been willing to pay, had I been asked - which by its very nature I could not be, of course."
"Uhm, that's - uh, thanks." The former Boy Who Lived (Twice) had gone rather pink: Severus thought that this inarticulate gratitude ought to have made him glad, but instead it left him feeling deathly tired.
"I didn't do it for you, as you must know if you've viewed the memories I gave you. Perhaps I should have."
"Hermione said that - well, that as far as she knew you hadn't taken the memories back yet."
"And Longbottom thinks that my failure to do so is affecting my mental stability, although he didn't put it quite so bluntly." He bit at the cake as though it had affronted him.
"So, uh - why haven't you? If - if it's not too personal to ask."
"I don't know if you've ever taken out a memory, Potter -"
"I've, uh, had memories of mine duplicated by someone at work, while giving evidence, but I've never had one actually removed."
"I didn't have the luxury of such niceties, and besides which, I hardly expected to have any future need for them. Tear your memories out by the roots the way I did and what's left... well. I remember enough to know what it is I don't remember, but it's like something read a long time ago in a book - one you weren't very interested in. All the, the colour, intensity, the immediacy is gone. But take them back -" He grimaced, unconsciously making a gesture as if to ward off the chalcedony Pensieve, waiting on its shelf across the room. "Take them back, and you have to review them, relive them - would you be eager to relive -?"
"Not eager, no," Harry said soberly. "But if it gets worse the longer you leave it for...."
"I am only obliged to stay for a year and a day!"
"But if you don't fully settle into yourself," Luna said, "how will you know whether you want to stay longer or not?"
"But it hurts," he said, distantly appalled by the childish whine in his own voice, "it will hurt, I don't know if I want to be him...."
"Headmaster Snape was a good man," she said seriously, "I mean not pleasant exactly but like a - a lighthouse. Standing up straight in all weathers, trying to protect us: you should be proud of being him, even if it's not very comfortable. And, well, it was partly so you could sort out what you felt about things and see that you weren't so bad really that we brought you back."
"Do you realise what I -"
"It was all in Skeeter's book," Harry said, "even the - what you did as a Death Eater, which wasn't really all that bad considering, and as for the - the memories, you were a bit of a prat when you were at school, but probably no worse than I was."
"And what a wonderful testimonial that is."
"It's just - being a teenager, isn't it? I can't think of anybody male I was at school with who wasn't a bit of a prat, except maybe Neville. And Skeeter - I know she laid the treacle on with a trowel, and when she wrote about your noble profile and flowing, ebony locks I snorted coffee back down my nose, but she wasn't that far off the mark, was she? If I was a hero, you were at least as much of one."
"I can't - see myself in that light. I was nobody's idea of a Prince Bloody Charming."
"Neither was I - in fact as far as I can make out, most of the great heroes in history have been barking mad. It probably helps, if you think about it. I read somewhere that Orde Wingate - that's a famous Muggle military commander, in case you didn't know - used to comb his pubes with other people's toothbrushes."
"How... delightful of him."
"It's the kind of thing that sticks in your mind - although hopefully not in your teeth. And Godric Gryffindor - he had this really strange exercise regime which is supposed to have proved what a self-denying hero he was, but I suspect he was just a bit loopy. Not that I'm saying that you -"
"I can more easily see myself as 'loopy' as you put it than as a hero, although not the - the toothbrush thing." If he was honest with himself that wasn't entirely true: there was still that streak of dark romanticism, forced down yet irrepressible, which saw himself as a tragic martyr and liked it; but with most of himself he feared that that was only childishness. "At least, if - if I ever had an idea of myself as a hero, what's in that bowl would be a bloody good antidote."
"You don't have to go through it alone if you don't want to," Luna said. "If you like, Harry and I - and the others too, if you wanted - could review it with you and tell you when you're being too hard on yourself."
It was all too much. Past and future were pressing down on him in a smothering weight: part of him snarled "Private, private, mine!" and wanted Potter and his halfwit friends to keep their sticky hands out of his head but the whole bloody world, it seemed, already knew at least the gist of it, and he didn't know whether he wanted to rub their sentimental idiot faces in reality and say "It wasn't like the book, it was all my own stupid, wicked fault," or whether in his heart of hearts he really did hope that they would persuade him that Skeeter had been right.
Formless dark emotion was rising in his chest like a bubble, crushing his lungs, and he opened his mouth and gave a great bark of bitter laughter. "Why not? Why ever bloody not?"
Apologies for the long delay in updating this. This was due in part to computer issues (including an upgrade from Win98 to XP which coincided with a dying hard drive, followed by a dying motherboard); in part to a group of reviews for Lost and Found which urged that Snape should become a torturer like his captors, and which freaked me out so much they put me off fanfiction for several months; and in part to work on a series of essays which examine the likely real-world locations of various places mentioned in the Potter books, such as Grimmauld Place, the cave where the locket was stored and Vernon Dursley's offshore island. These essays include illustrations so that non-British fen can get an idea of what these scenes would look like.
"Auld lang syne" is of course Scots for "old long-since" - in plain English, "long-ago days". It forms the title and most of the chorus of the famous Burns song about remembering and renewing old friendships (although in fact Burns copied the chorus, including the "Auld lang syne" bit itself, from an older song).
I had originally made the day after the last day of term, the day the students travelled back home on the Hogwarts Express, which was also the day Severus made mind-link with his portrait and the day he and Luna were nearly Kissed by Dementors, Friday 29th June 2018. However, I examined the ending of GoF again and saw that Harry had tea with Hagrid on the last Thursday of the school year and there's no mention of that very day being the last day of term - that seems to be a day or two later. Therefore, I deduced that the last day of the summer term is the last Friday in June and the day they go home is a Saturday, so I went back and changed the date of Severus's meeting with his portrait to Saturday 30th.
The Shrieking Shack must be warded against Apparition, otherwise any enemy could Apparate into it and then use the tunnel to get into the school grounds.
Hagiography is a sort of idealised novelisation of the life of a saint. JK Rowling said at interview that Rita Skeeter would write a biography called Snape: Scoundrel or Saint? We know she wrote one called Armando Dippet: Master or Moron? and we are in no doubt, I think, that in that case the second option was the one she was leaning towards. The implication is that in Snape's biography she would lean towards "saint".
Bind-runes are signs made by overlapping two or more Norse runes so that they share some of their strokes, creating a composite letter. If the original runes are ones believed to have magical, protective powers then the bind-rune combines and reinforces those powers, and the act of designing and drawing it becomes a spell in itself.
"Monstering" is the process whereby low-grade British tabloid newspapers set out deliberately to portray somebody in the worst possible light and twist every fact about them to make them seem monstrous.
"Conniptions" is actually an American word - but it's such a good word that I'm going to assume that Harry knows it. Perhaps he learned it from Dumbledore.
A "turn-up for the books" is an unexpected or improbable event which has nevertheless happened. The "books" in question must be in the sense of a "bookmaker" or "bookie", a person who accepts and pays out on bets on horse-races.
Running the gauntlet is a rite of punishment or of initiation whereby the victim has to sprint down a long path between two rows of tormentors, who try to knock him off course by buffeting him with non-lethal but fairly hard blows as he runs. Traditionally, heavy leather gloves were used for this purpose: hence, "gauntlet".
Kipper-and-seaweed paté - I was actually thinking of the eccentric beers made by the Scottish Heather Ale brewery. Their beers flavoured with heather, elderberries, gooseberries and even pine-needles are all extremely pleasant, but the seaweed one tastes like seaweed.
"Prince Bloody Charming" - the primary meaning of the word "hero" in modern Britain is "rôle model", and I'm sure that that was why JK Rowling initially said that Snape wasn't a hero - she thought she was responding to the question "Is he a good rôle model?" rather than "Did he behave with exceptional courage, competence and self-sacrifice?"
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