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
Raising her wing as if to strike at him and shifting her great talons along the board at the foot of the bed, the barn-owl turned her flower face, opened her beak and made a roaring, rushing sound like all the demons in hell exhaling at once.
"There there" Luna said vaguely, holding out her gauntleted wrist for the owl's grip. "I know it's disturbing, but he won't harm you." As Severus clawed his way into wakefulness she smiled at him. "Good morning. I'm sorry if Ermengarde was rude to you, but she can see that your body was made with the same magic as her ancestor's and it scared her."
The owl turned towards her, bobbed irritably and made a rattling noise. "Oh, I apologise," Luna corrected herself serenely. "She was afraid that your... condition meant that Gwydion was back, and might do something nasty to her. It's all right" she added, addressing the owl. "We used Gwydion's spell but it was myself and Bossy-Frizzle and Tall-Flame who cast it: Gwydion is still dead, so far as I know."
"I don't want to know what they call me, do I?" He levered himself up on one elbow, reflecting on what a luxury it was not to have to snap awake, anticipating threat. And he had better make the best of it while he still could, before he was exiled to make way for Luna's twin brats. She, he noted, was wearing sugared-almond-mauve pyjamas and lime-green bunny slippers except that the bunnies, on closer inspection, turned out to be Fwoopers. She showed him the newspaper which the owl had brought. "Mystery Man's missing memory:" shrilled the headline: "the riddle grows".
Severus rubbed his forehead with the heel of his hand. "Oh, God. Did I really agree to review my memories in Potter's sainted presence?"
"Yes" Luna said, nodding vigorously. "Harry said he'd be round at eleven, so I thought I'd better wake you for breakfast."
"Are you quite sure you want to do this?"
"No - but that's probably beside the point. Most of my life has consisted of doing things I wasn't sure I wanted to do - and before you read me a lecture about how tragic and pitiable that makes me, if I only did things I was sure I wanted to do I'd spend most of my life in bed, as would most people."
"I'm sure I want to do a lot of things - but not all of them are practicable, of course."
Severus snorted. "I can imagine."
"Don't laugh at me," Luna said severely. "You learned how to fly without a broom and you came back from the dead: that puts you in a poor position to laugh at other people for wanting to do the improbable."
"And I managed to get Potter to do as he was told for once, which is the crown of my achievements - if I'm going to go through with this I want you there," he said in a rush. "Not just Potter."
"That would be nice." She gestured vaguely with a piece of toast and crabapple jam.
"'Nice' doesn't come into it: I want you because I know you won't be biased."
"You think Harry might judge you too harshly?"
He pulled an irritated face. "I don't think he'll judge me harshly enough - but whatever you say, I'll know you mean it. You won't pussyfoot around and sugar-coat it."
"You're assuming in advance that an honest opinion will be a harsh one, then?"
"I... yes. No. I want to be able to know that if your opinion isn't harsh, it's because you sincerely think that harshness isn't merited - not because you're being kind." He grimaced, hearing himself. "I don't mean -"
"That's all right." She smiled sunnily. "You didn't mean to be rude."
The Floo had been blocked against incoming messages for the duration, so that they wouldn't be interrupted by any unexpected callers. He had taken what was, he hoped, his last dose of Blood-Replenishing Potion the previous night, but he still felt unpleasantly light-headed as he lowered himself carefully onto the sofa, staring at the chalcedony bowl on the coffee table as if it might attack him. Clouds drifted across the silver surface of memory as if driven by an unknown wind.
Potter flashed him a nervous smile, which Severus did not return. "Shall we, um...."
Severus nodded curtly, not trusting himself to speak. Luna's hand crept into his as the three of them slid forwards onto their knees on the rug, surrounding the Pensieve, and Potter cast the Engorgement charm which would render it wide enough to take their three faces at once. Then he was falling forward, the terrible silver nothingness was rushing towards him like an oncoming train and // he was nine again, hot and dirty again in the ragged, outsize clothes which his mother thought approximated to wizard attire, and his father didn't care enough about to tell her she was making their son a laughing-stock. He wiped his runny nose on his sleeve and peered through the bushes avidly, while the more recent iteration watched himself watching himself and, distractingly, another part of himself seemed to be having an argument with painted-Dumbledore about -
He wrenched his eyes back into his head and was himself, his flower self, watching the little guttersnipe in the bushes, but the memory of what it had felt like to be that boy was still blindingly intense, spooling back into place in his own heart as he reviewed the embodied past. In theory he should, he knew, have been wholly outside the experience, looking at his own history as at a film and unable clearly to connect with the emotion associated with a memory which had been excised and bottled like a diseased appendix: but his re-created, cobbled-together self was raw, incomplete, absorbent and the memory had its hooks in him as soon as he saw it. In the corners of his eyes he could see Potter and Luna on either side of him, solid and yet slightly insubstantial, like Christmas-tree baubles; but now as then his eyes were fixed on the flame-haired girl on the swing, soaring, flying, landing like a dancer.
He could feel the watching child's hunger, too young for desire but wanting beauty, wanting company, wanting another wizard brat he could talk with and not be a freak anymore, who would share his language: wanting - his older self grimaced - someone he could show off to, to whom he could be the wise all-knowing dispenser of knowledge instead of the awkward freak at the back of the classroom, too obviously clever and too ill-mannered and odd-looking ever to be accepted.
Standing again on the scrubby, half-derelict playground, in the shadow of the disused chimney-stack, he saw again Tuney's fussiness and recognised the genuine anxiety and the longing behind it, as Lily held the flower in her hand and forced it to open and shut in a way which his child self thought was marvellous and his adult self felt was both deeply creepy and disturbingly reminiscent of the giant squid. But Lily, Lily was the torch he had followed since he first caught sight of her and the sight of her now burned in his breast like flame. The fire of her hair burned and crackled around her freckled, slightly square-jawed face and he felt, he had felt, that one kind look from her vividly green eyes would transform him into the prince he secretly knew himself to be, and make him invulnerable.
"You are. You are a witch." As he watched his childhood self trying to build a bridge, floundering, ruining the moment in his clumsy eagerness for contact, being mocked, being rejected, being ridiculous, the old pain and the new pain left him gasping and dizzy: he was floating, falling sideways, and only Luna's hand in his kept him from running after Lily as she strode away from him, scorning him, he wanted to stay forever in a past in which Lily was still alive.... Potter's sudden firm grip on his elbow guided him to step back, away, and then he was kneeling on the carpet in Luna's living-room, and the past was dead and lost with Lily somewhere under the silver surface of the bowl.
"You'd better take the memory back now, si- Severus," Potter said quietly. "While it's still fresh. So you don't have to, um, relive it again."
Severus glared at him wildly, gasping as if he had been running. "Maybe I want to - to relive - to see her -"
"I'll draw her for you," Luna said. "Then you can look at her whenever you want. I'll draw her flying. If you like."
The memory unrolled from the surface of the bowl like a wisp of glittering smoke, following his (Cadwallader's!) wand as he drew it towards his own temple - and then it was there, the overwhelming rush of feeling as he re-felt what it had been to be that boy from the inside. And what was he, after all, but a dead boy who had never grown up?
As he braced his hands against the edge of the table, breathing hard, almost drowning, he knew what Potter had been trying, however ineptly, to say: to have set the bowl aside and waited hours or days before reabsorbing the memory would have been like allowing a wounded limb to stiffen, and then forcing it to move again. Better to get it over with while the wound was fresh and flexible.
Flinching from the memory of Lily's scorn and his own clumsiness, his chest hollow with loss, he felt behind himself for the sofa and tried to lever himself back onto the seat. His muscles felt like spaghetti, limp and stringy, but when Potter took him by the elbow again and gave him a boost he snarled at the younger man like a dog. But he shouldn't, oh, he shouldn't - thanks to his own stupidity, Potter and Tuney and Tuney's muscle-bound oaf of a son and all their dubious spawn were the only fragments of Lily still living and the memory of his painted self reminded him that Albus Severus, at least, was a child any grandmother could be proud of; even one who had died as a shining girl and never known him. And whose fault was that?
"I can't -" He shook his head, not sure what it was he couldn't. This was one single memory, just one, and already the pain of seeing Lily again was overwhelming, he was drowning, choking on loss but he was damned if he was going to cry in front of Potter. It was one thing to let the boy see that he had wept for her in memory, when he hadn't expected to survive to endure her son's pity or his scorn.... A movement at his elbow resolved itself into Luna, proffering a mug of hot tea which he made a clumsy grab for and then nursed against his chest, inhaling the sweet-smelling steam. Through the mist he saw that Potter too looked pale and shaken and accepted his own mug almost mechanically, without looking at it, and Severus experienced a pang of empathy at the thwarted hunger in his face, recognisably the same longing he himself had felt as a child, looking at Lily from afar.
Luna, of course, looked no paler or more shaken than usual. Her gaze was slightly detached but calm and warm, accepting him into the circle of her unshakeable placidity: but she too, he thought, would soon send him away. But not, surely not, from dislike: he could hardly complain because she needed his room back for her twin sons, and he trusted that she would be kind.
"Was it from Lily that you learned how to fall without hitting the ground until you were ready?" she asked interestedly, sniffing appreciatively at her own mug, which contained something vaguely purple which smelled of raspberries.
"Um - ah - in a manner of speaking." He was aware that she was deliberately manipulating him better by giving him an intellectual problem to focus on, but he was so used to being manipulated by Dumbledore that he barely resented it. "It was Lily who sparked my interest in flying and gave me a starting point but although, as I told you" - he was re-iterating mainly for Potter's benefit - "I am not able to soar with the kind of powered flight which the - which Mr Riddle achieved, still I can glide for long distances with a high degree of control, whereas what Lily did was more - um -"
"More like a parachute jump or a bungee cord, as opposed to a hang-glider," Potter cut in. He still had an unpleasantly ashen blue chin, but his breathing had steadied.
"Yes." Severus nodded jerkily, trying not to flinch from the sight of Lily's vivid eyes in her son's face. In truth he had only a very vague idea what a bungee was, but "hang-glider" seemed fairly self-explanatory - obviously some kind of manned kite. "Well-observed, Potter. She set out to achieve a delayed and softened landing which would enable her to leap from a great height without breaking bones, rather than travelling very far horizontally, so although she was my - my inspiration, in this as in so many things, A-Loft is primarily my own work. And don't think," he added, "that just knowing the name will enable you to perform the spell."
"I'm sure it's all in the wrist-action" Potter murmured, with a suggestive leer which left Severus fighting not to blush. "Don't worry - I prefer my own broomstick."
"Well-polished, I'm sure," Severus muttered. He took a swig of tea, still very hot. "You saw, I'm sure, that I was not... prepossessing or of the same, um, social class and she - Lily - she wanted better. Was entitled to better."
"I thought you looked sweet," Luna said happily. "But of course, I always did." Harry snorted and she gave him a brief, penetrating stare. "And the robes were really cool."
"Is that what they were?" Harry exclaimed, and Severus favoured him with a reflex glower.
"Of course," he said, rather coldly. "What else should they be?" He took a deep breath. "My mother - she wanted me to be as much of a wizard as I could be without attracting attention."
"She, um - she wasn't really all that familiar with Muggle fashions, was she?"
It had been one of the great dreads of his boyhood, that the elder Potter and his cronies might find out how his mother dressed him when he was at home. Extending gentle feelers of Legilimancy, Severus realised with some surprise that the younger Potter's amusement was more sympathetic than mocking. He pulled a wry face. "Sadly, no, she was not."
"I thought they looked fine," Luna said brightly. "A lot like the ones I used to wear." The two men exchanged shifty eye-contact.
Potter snorted suddenly. "You should have seen the clothes Aunt Petunia was going to send me to the local comprehensive in. She did dye them the right colour grey - so I suppose she wasn't trying to make me look stupid on purpose, any more than your mum was - but they were hand-me-downs from Dudley in his pig-in-a-wig phase, and so much too big I would have looked like a baby rhino. One of those ones with the all-over folds."
"She had a nerve, then, to sneer at me for being - ragged, but she always did give herself airs. But I suppose I - I drove them away, with my... clumsiness."
"Rushing in with both feet - but you weren't to know, I guess, that 'witch' would be taken as an insult and, well, Aunt Tuney's snobbery didn't come out of nowhere. You can see she was already like she was going to be, all that stuff about you coming from the wrong side of the tracks, and my mum...."
"Your mother was good to me, she didn't mind that I was -"
"She overcame her upbringing," Luna said, nodding, "and that's good. But if her sister had been brought up to look down on anybody who wasn't a pure-blood, probably so had she, so I suppose it took her a while to get used to you."
"Yes, 'xactly," Potter said: "I think that my grandparents must have been - well, too like Aunt Petunia for comfort, except that they seem to have accepted magic when it was associated with their favourite child. Not that you were much better" he added, with a dour look: "sneering at her for being a Muggle like that."
"She sneered at me first," Severus replied sulkily. "And I didn't mean - if I had meant that Muggles were lesser beings would that have been so very terrible, or unexpected? Hagrid says 'Muggle' as if it was the same as 'Flobberworm' and you've never held it against him, have you?"
"That's, um, well...."
"People don't tend to mind what Hagrid says," Luna said brightly, "or to take him seriously, because they think he's a bit - you know. Slow. But really he's just immature - giants mature very slowly, you know - and he was already old enough to know better when Harry met him. I mean, not when Harry met him as a baby, really, but at Hogwarts."
"In human terms" Severus said, "he's probably still only about twenty - but I was ten, and I didnít mean it the way Hagrid means it: at least, I like to think not, although perhaps I'm deceiving myself. I just meant - I think I meant - that she wasn't what I was looking for, she didn't have the skills - "
"Oh - I see." Potter pursed his lips thoughtfully. "Like me when I was at school, not being really interested in anybody I couldn't talk about Quidditch to."
"Yes, except that it was more - more desperate. I was more like - like the only Francophone child in town looking for somebody else who spoke my language, and not being interested in anybody who did not. Plus, of course, I already resented her like hell, because she had humiliated me in front of Lily by pointing out what an unwashed, socially-inferior little guttersnipe I was."
"She's easy to resent," Potter said, nodding.
After picking over a desultory lunch they gathered around the bowl again, quiet and rather subdued. This time, the rush forwards and down into the past was vertiginous, and Severus had to fight the urge to be sick as he landed on his feet in the smoke-stained, sun-dappled copse where he had been, however briefly, as happy as he would ever be in life. He was aware, dimly, that the other two had come with him but was unable to look aside from the scene in front of him.
He had forgotten that he had ever looked so confident, glowing as he had been then in the glory of Lily's regard, of her presence, as he held forth about Azkaban and its dark guards who had seemed, then, thrillingly Gothic: and he had not known then that he would come to send people who trusted him to be soul-sucked, in a vain attempt to save his shining Lils from the consequences of his own folly. The sleepy drawl of the childhood accent they had shared unfurled drowsily in the dappled light as the young boy half sat, half flopped against a tree-root in the green shade, looking happy, open...
Or maybe not so open after all; he saw himself assuring her with such confidence that being Muggle-born would make no difference to her power and ability, saw the slight hesitation, the shadow as he avoided mentioning the difference it might make to her social standing because that was not, he thought that it was not, what she had been asking and he didn't want to tarnish this perfect afternoon. And they would be, he had thought, he remembered that he had thought, in Slytherin together, the Muggle-born and the half-blood; they would be students under the Potions master and head of house his mother had told him about, who didn't care what your bloodline was so long as you showed talent and promise and he knew Lily had both and so it would all be all right, Professor Slughorn would see to it that her star shone....
He had not been so open, as it turned out, as to go into the depressing details about his parents' quarrels or the fact that they nearly always ended with one or both of them taking it out on him, but the mere fact that Lily had asked, that she cared, had filled him with a baffled, embarrassed warmth. And she had cared, there and then among the springtime trees, and he had been her friend, her teacher, the dispenser of knowledge, his name in her mouth had been the name of a prince....
Even so, being asked about his parents, having to think about them, had made him tense. As his adult self paced, fretfully, obsessively, around the little tableau, unable to intervene to prevent what he knew was coming, he could see the boy's nervous energy from the outside, the grim set of the shoulders, the hands unconsciously shredding at whatever they held, but he had been so sure, so very sure that when they got to the mythic world of his mother's stories it would all be all right, he would be free and powerful and respected and Lils would be his friend forever and then they had been moving towards some fragile grace, back there in the almost fifty-years-gone past he had nearly, nearly managed to tell her how beautiful and glorious she was to him, how far above any fault; in another moment he would have overcome his shyness, his leaf-shredding tension, and then everything would have been different -
And then Petunia had come crashing in, had ruined his one perfect afternoon: the only chance he would ever have, as it had turned out, to tell her sister how he really felt about her. His memory of his time with Lily, of all those meetings whose image was in his head and not out there in a bowl on the table, showed him that he had never again screwed up his courage to the point of telling Lily how beautiful she was: the memory of Tuny's jeering voice, of Lily's anger and his own rage and bitterness and general unworthiness had always risen up between them, until he was a teenager and too awkward and tongue-tied and hormone-addled to stammer it out anyway.
Now, with the benefit of an adult's hindsight and (don't think about it) twenty years of disembodied contemplation in the afterlife, he could see that Tuney had probably been spying on them because she wanted, despite her scornful insistence that none of this was real, to know more about Hogwarts and about magic: he could see that she had always been the plain one, the less favoured one, and now this was another marvellous thing which Lily was to have and she was to be excluded from and she wanted it as earnestly and as hopelessly as he had wanted the train-set in the toyshop window, pressing his nose against the glass to see the engine whirring through the tunnels. But at the time he had seen nothing but her jealousy and possessiveness, she had trampled his fragile romantic awakening into the dust, jeered at him and humiliated him, reminding him of how ridiculous he looked and how ridiculous his mother was, with her total lack of any sartorial common-sense, and in pain and humiliation and the smouldering weight of his own ambiguous feelings about his parents the power had lashed out from him -
He had told Lily that the magical authorities "let you off when you're a kid and you can't help it", but he had not been let off, and no allowance had been made for whether he could have helped it or not.
Drawn back into the future again, removed once again from a past in which he seemed to be always running after the torch of Lily's hair - her shining hair which was always receding into the distance as he tried to call her back to him - he leaned his cheek awkwardly against the edge of the bowl, breathing deeply. After a moment he felt Luna place her hand lightly on his shoulder.
"Are you feeling unwell?" she asked quietly, and he shook his head.
"Yes - no - bit dizzy" he mumbled, as she fussed a cushion into place behind him so that he could lean back against the base of the sofa, half sitting on the carpet and half sprawled back, as he had been in the wood.
"You sure you're up to this, mate?" Potter asked dubiously, and Severus pulled an irritated face.
"I'm just a bit... blood-pressure's still a bit low." Moving rather jerkily, as in a dream, he extended his wand over the bowl in front of him and scooped up one end of the swirling silver cord which bound him to his childhood's soul.
As the memory entered his mind he felt the fragile, baffled elation of Lily's regard and of his own chance to shine, to be the wise elder brother in her eyes, thrilling both of them with flesh-creeping stories of Azkaban and Dementors which had not yet become a scar burned into his heart. He felt his heart (then and, still, now) contracting in painful, choking anxiety at the thought of his parents' particular combination of rage, bitterness and depression and then in painful hope as he nearly, nearly told Lils that that heart beat for her as a lodestone follows its star and then there was Petunia, stamping his hopes into the mud with her patent leather shoes, jeering at him, reminding him that after all he was only dirty and ridiculous, the stupidly-dressed son of a ridiculous mother, and he was certain now, as he had not been then, that pain and rage had lashed out from him and become a weapon as the dry branch cracked like gunshot and fell on her, as he stammered confused denials to Lily and she rejected him, as she walked away from him once more....
Seeing the other two watching him in concern, he gave them a dour, straight-mouthed look. "Please carry on, Mr Potter: I just want to get this - over with."
"If you're sure.... Did you know that it was you who dropped the branch on Aunt Petunia? At the time, I mean?"
"I - thought it might have been, but no, I wasn't sure - there was nothing definite to prove it hadn't been Lily, she was better at wandless magic than I was and if it was me I didn't know how I'd done it or whether I'd meant to. Or - or how she'd meant the question. I couldn't explain - "
"Mm." Potter gave him a measuring look. "As I recall, that seemed to be a general problem - you not being able to explain things to Mum, I mean."
"Boys need special coaxing to be able to say anything about anything which isn't Quidditch," Luna said brightly, "and Lily was a bit impatient, wasn't she?"
"You don't think that I was - that I was the one at fault here? I must have lashed out - I didn't mean to, that is, I didn't consciously will it, but I must have hated - "
"When I was two years older than you were there I blew up my other Aunt Marge - that's Uncle Vernon's sister - I mean... I don't mean that I exploded her, just, um, inflated her, but - same sort of thing. She was a horrible old bat, always going on about beating children and badmouthing my mum and dad and I just - "
"If you have a strong power," Luna said, "like you both have, then the thought can become the deed," and Severus remembered, as in a dream, the staff dining-table disappearing in a cascading shower of porridge and scrambled eggs in front of his horrified twelve-year-old eyes, overlaid with his portrait-self talking sourly to Minerva about the same scene.
"I remember, Lily, just before she and I - she told me that Tuney had left school at sixteen and started working for Vernon and that she - that she couldn't stop talking about him, and what a hard childhood he'd had." He pulled a face. "She thought that it was quite funny, but I think that was just because it was so obvious her sister was smitten and yet she was denying it."
"I suppose that would make sense..." Potter said slowly. "I mean, if his sister was so obsessed with beating children, their parents probably beat them."
"He probably thought," Luna said, "that so long as he wasn't hitting Harry, he was being nice to him. He didn't hit you, did he Harry?"
"Well - not a lot. Boxed my ears occasionally if I didn't duck fast enough, but if I did duck he didn't come after me with a belt or anything - nothing like the sort of thing Marge was drivelling on about, so he probably was being nicer to me than his family had been to him."
"Yes," Severus said with a sigh, remembering conversations his portrait had had with Potter and with Longbottom. "If one has - low standards in one's own upbringing, it's hard to adjust to other people's expectations. And I too felt that so long as I wasn't actually hitting the students - which, please remember, was the norm when I started at Hogwarts, as well as at home - then I was doing all that could reasonably be expected of me, and I never expected that the students would take my - my purely verbal tempers so seriously."
"I never did," Luna pointed out.
"She remembered you," Potter said. "Tuney I mean. She told Vernon she'd heard you telling Mum about Dementors - she called you something like 'that awful boy', but there are some people from whom an insult is a compliment. I noticed you didn't actually hit her," he added thoughtfully. "I mean, I know you dropped a branch on her, but that means you didn't throw the power actually at her like - well, like I did with Auntie Marge."
"I don't know. Not sure if I - if I turned aside from striking at her directly, or whether I saw the branch as a way to strike at her directly. I was just - angry."
"Not angry enough to throw the force straight at her," Harry repeated, and Luna nodded.
"Professor Snape was never physically violent, was he? Verbally, yes, sometimes, but not physically."
"He dragged me away from a Pensieve once," Potter said, "and then threw a jar of cockroaches in my general vicinity: but he was very provoked, and I imagine if he'd wanted to hit me with the jar, he could have done. And he slapped - " He stopped abruptly.
"I slapped your face with a spell," Severus said quietly, "because you had called me a coward, and I - "
"I'm sorry," Harry said. "I realised afterwards that - that that must have burned you, because it was so untrue and the whole - Dumbledore-thing - "
"Was very traumatic, yes." He tilted his head back and shut his eyes. "Even though - even though I knew he had at best a few weeks to live, and we had arranged it in advance in order to prevent the mastery of the Elder Wand from going to Riddle, still it went against every instinct I possessed to actually kill the manipulative old coot and I couldn't - " He tipped his face forward again into his hands, scrubbing tiredly at his eyes as his lank hair swung down like curtains. "I couldn't bear - "
"You should rest," Luna said. "Lionel will be cross with me if I let you tire yourself out. Let me help you up onto the sofa and then you can sleep for a few hours. I'm sure Harry and I will have lots to talk about - I haven't told him all about my expedition to find the giant rat of Sumatra yet, and it was just so sweet."
The words "dear little paws" and "really enormous teeth" drifted through his semi-consciousness, and in his dreaming state he had begun to apply them to himself when a different and more discordant note derailed his train of thought. Half-waking, he froze rigid, literally keeping his head down as the back of the sofa screened him from the heated conversation out in the hall, in which he recognised the voice of Hereward Hawkeye-Whoever. Damn blast and buggery: they had warded the Floo against incoming calls but had forgotten, even him, that the Prophet's finest might simply turn up at the front door, and he supposed fuzzily that he was soon going to have to make up his mind what to say to the press, especially as he would almost certainly be much more vulnerable to their intrusion once he left the shelter of Luna's flat. A ghastly breathing hiss followed by a sharp and unmistakably human yelp suggested that Ermengarde had lent a hand. Or, he supposed, a talon.
After an unknown interval he woke again to hear a child's voice on the far side of the Floo say "Maman" and Luna murmuring in French, something about calling them to let them know that they wouldn't be able to call her from their side for a few hours more, and promising them an expedition to the Welsh dragon reserve in a voice which made him ache shamefully for his own childhood, when a good day had been one in which he didn't get clouted - he supposed he should try to tune her out, not to listen, but he was too Slytherin to turn down information which was offered up on a plate and he heard her say "until the twenty-second, then, Scamander salamanders: that's only twenty days away...."
"How long was I asleep?"
"About three hours... are you quite sure you want to go on?"
"If you have no other pressing engagements, Potter: I want to get through as much as I can today, at least the - the early years." He did not say, although the thought was hammering in his brain, that he would be homeless in less than three weeks and would have to get through all the memories, if he was able to do so, while he still had access to a Pensieve.
He knew that he should raise the matter, that he should discuss with them where else he could go: Potter was, amazingly, an important official now and might even be able to find him a place to stay. But he was reluctant to sound whiny and pathetic in front of Lily's son, and he supposed Horace would probably be able to put him up, at least for a few weeks. He wouldn't have to launch himself into this alien, twenty-years-on world without a guide, or face the hounds of the press without any defence, at least for a little while. And it was not, he realised, as bad as he had feared, letting two former students who - amazingly - he found himself sort-of nearly almost trusting review these memories with him. It was like retroactively having other friends, friends aside from Lily, with whom he could have discussed his situation - even if doing so would simply have given him a forum in which to praise her.
This time it was like falling, a collapse downwards rather than a leap, and he knew he must stay down as long as he could for he would not survive another ascent and descent today, and he did not know when Potter would be free again. He staggered as he landed - not from emotion, no, surely not, but because the weakness of his still-convalescent physical body was reflected in this projected shadow self - and when Luna threaded her fingers through his he accepted the support, briefly, until he had his balance again.
There was his mother, thin and sour in her worn-out robes which had drawn all eyes when they caught the local Muggle train from New Mills Central to Manchester, where there was a walk-through portal connected to King's Cross: although in retrospect he supposed that the other passengers must have assumed that she was a rather dowdy, left-over hippy, or a nun from some uniquely depressing order. He would have preferred to have gone in the car with Lily, but Tuney's hostility towards him (and his to her, if he were honest) made that difficult and his mother had had an unexpected access of maternal feeling and decided she wanted to see him off on this first day.
He could walk over to Lily and almost, almost touch her, could hear it all beginning to go wrong: right on cue there came Tuney's toxic case of sour grapes, sneering at the thing she wanted and couldn't have, and Lily's clumsy attempt at understanding which instead made things far worse, as she revealed how they had seen Tuney's correspondence with Dumbledore....
This time, he refused to surface as the memory fractured and skipped ahead; he stayed with Lily so that her son and Luna had perforce to stay with him and now they were on the train, crowded into the corridor and peering through the glass into the little compartment, watching the cold distaste on Lily's face as she blamed his earlier self for having encouraged her in something which they had both done - and for his failure to understand how important her sister's affection was to her, although with the benefit of hindsight and knowing how that sister had treated Lily's son, he thought that he had been right after all.
With that same hindsight, he could see that he had not understood Lily's need for Tuney's regard because to him it was normal that family members should be at odds; nor had he cared much about her scornful glance, so long as she didn't walk away, because it had seemed normal that even the people he was closest to should treat him as negligible and he had known dimly that he had lost the chance to be anything else to her, that day in the copse when he had failed to tell her his true feelings. And he had been so selfishly happy to be going away at last to his mother's parallel world, away from blows and anger to the place where he would be free and equal, acceptable and accepted; so filled with soaring joy that even Lily's displeasure or her unhappiness could not tarnish it.
And, oh, God, there were Black and the elder Potter there from the outset, the worm in the bud, poised to tell him that he was to be ridiculous and despised here too, that nothing had changed for him or could ever change because he carried his own exile with him but thank God, thank God that he had already changed into his new robes, as he followed Lily like the obedient dog he was with the hated nickname "Snivellus" already ringing in his ears, and Potter's foot already there to trip him....
Again, a final time, he held on, he refused to be moved although he could feel both Luna and the younger Potter tugging at him with insubstantial hands as the memory fractured again and jarred forwards, leaping past his settled, internal memory of the train and of his own half-hearted and temporary resistance to the idea of Lily treating him to fourteen different kinds of wizard sweets, of the scarlet engine galloping and snorting like a horse through the gathering dusk, the little station in a vast nowhere and the climb down the narrow path through the close-set pines, which opened onto silvery water lapping at the little beach and the small boats bobbing in the darkness towards the ranks of yellow lights, high up there in the blackness above the cliff as he and Lily clung together, squeaking with excitement....
And then there she was again in the externalised, three-dimensional projection of memory, being Sorted to Gryffindor, going away from him again, going to sit (however reluctantly, at this point) with Black and Potter, with the werewolf who would one day stalk his dreams and soft, flabby little Pettigrew who would betray her to her death, who would be even deadlier to her than he himself had been. And he himself was sent to Lucius, to set his feet on the path which would lead him down dark roads to a bitter death, bleeding out his life on the cold floor of the wolf's house.
This time he had no resistance, no physical reserves; he staggered again and found himself embarrassingly supported in the younger Potter's arms - except that this one was thirty-seven now and the other was only eleven, back there in the past they were stepping away from.
Collapsing forward against the table, he scooped the three separate threads of memory up almost blindly and shovelled them back into his head, trembling as the remembered emotions jolted through him again and the faint dapple of flowers came and went beneath his skin. In surreal nightmare he saw James Potter again, too close, reaching for him and he jerked his wand up, the new/old wand which projected such killing force, before his attacker could draw his own weapon -
Iron fingers gripped his wrist and removed the wand deftly from his grasp. "Enough!" Harry said firmly, as he scooped the older man up with embarrassing ease and poured him onto the sofa, more or less in a sitting position. "If you do any more tonight you're going to fry your brains, you really are."
"I though'th'ole point wash - " He drew a shuddering breath. "... point was that leaving the memories outside my head for much longer might compromise my sanity."
"There's such a thing as going from the sublime to the bloody ridiculous, though," the other man said, tucking the wand back into Severus's robes. "Though I suppose I should be flattered if you mistook me for my Dad - since it must mean that I could still pass for a teenager in a dim light. D'you think you feel any saner?"
"Um...." He felt at the reinstated memories, worrying at them like a sore tooth. Bitterness and loss had settled on his soul like a heavy, sodden cloak but he knew that bitterness and loss belonged there, and the burden was not as bad as he had feared now that he had been able, at least in some part, to view the past more objectively and was no longer quite so alone with it. "Maybe. More, uh, solid, anyway. More me, if 'me' is really the right term - "
Luna drifted back in from the kitchen and handed both men a mug of hot chocolate, as if they had been exposed to a Dementor. "Are you up to tackling the inquest, do you think?" she asked as Severus sipped rather unsteadily at the sweet warmth. He nodded curtly.
"That's good," she said gravely. "Only I was wondering why the Hat put you in Slytherin? Not that there's anything wrong with being in Slytherin, but you've never seemed to be especially ambitious."
"I'm horribly competitive, though: I always wanted to win any game and if I wasn't good it burned me, which I suppose is ambition of a sort. But the Hat - the Hat said I could be in any House, that I, uh - 'partake of all their qualities, and so you have to choose', and I chose Slytherin."
"You didn't want to go where Mum was?" Harry asked, and Severus gave him a wild look.
"Of course I - but it would have meant sharing a dorm with P- with your father and Black, and you saw how they were already treating me, how they turned on me from the start because they could see I was low class - "
"I didn't think it was that," Luna said. "I thought it was because you were friends with a girl. Boys that age think being a girl is contagious."
"I dunno," Harry said. "I thought Sirius already looked a bit - developed for his age. He was nearly the oldest boy in his year, did you know? And although I think he was probably mostly gay he was probably bi enough to be annoyed that a scrawny little oik like you - sorry - was hanging around with a classy-looking girl like my mum and he wasn't."
"With your father, certainly, sexual jealousy was a factor - when we were older, anyway."
"The Hat wanted to put Harry in Slytherin too, did you know that?" Luna said brightly.
"No. I didn't."
"I dunno if it was really me," Harry said, "or - you know, the chunk of Voldemort that I had sticking out of my forehead that it wanted to put into Slytherin, but it said I could do really well there. But - well, same thing, I'd met Draco Malfoy twice already, once in Madame Malkin's and once on the train and he'd done that whole creepy people-like-us thing and sneered at Ron for being poor, and I really didn't want to have to spend seven years sharing a dorm with the obnoxious little twat." He frowned. "Plus, of course, Hagrid had told me that there wasn't a witch or wizard who went bad who wasn't a Slyth which, of course, was less than completely bloody honest of him, since he knew one of my dad's Gryff friends had gone to the bad even if he was confused about which one."
Severus sighed. "Draco really felt quite inadequate vis-à-vis the Weasleys, you know, because in the pure-bloodedness stakes they outrank the Malfoys by several centuries. And Scorpius and young Albus Severus seem, amazingly, to get along very well."
"Yeah, Al told me. I used to tell him about you and the headmaster I mean the other headmaster when he was little, you know: I had to remind him about it when his brother was bullying him about maybe ending up in Slytherin. Especially as they've, um, improved a bit." Seeing Severus's glare, he shrugged slightly. "Well, they have. That puzzled me, I have to say, that you didn't know there might be a problem with Mum Sorting to Slytherin, what with her being a Muggle-born and Slytherin being like - well, like it used to be."
"I didn't really know that much about it - Mums was a Ravenclaw. I think one of her uncles was in Slytherin but I never had much contact with the Princes: they treated me as if I smelled, even when I didn't. That was why... calling myself the Half-Blood Prince, that was my pathetic attempt to rub their noses in the fact that I was still one of them and they were still related to me even though I wasn't 'pure'."
He sighed, foreseeing the next question. "I wanted to be in Slytherin because Mum had told me that the Potions master who was head of Slytherin at Hogwarts was an 'angel', in the theatrical sense you understand; a patron who promoted the careers of talented young potioneers even if they were ugly little brats like me, and who didn't care about blood-status. I didn't know that Horace Slughorn didn't really care about house-allegiance either - that he would have nurtured my talents just the same whatever house I was in - and besides I, I wanted to be sure my house-father would be somebody who cared about my abilities instead of my mixed blood or my shabby clothes."
Harry, he saw, looked dubious. "I always thought he was a bit... he told me that it was 'funny', in the oo-er sense, that a Muggle-born could be a top student."
"Muggle-borns come to Hogwarts with no prior magical education or knowledge, Potter, years of study behind the wealthier pure-blood families with their tutors and their libraries: of course it's remarkable. Just as it's remarkable when one reads in the Muggle press about some refugee who arrives from Indonesia without a word of English and goes up to Oxford to read astrophysics two years later - you know they've had to overcome great cultural and linguistic barriers, on top of the actual academic work involved."
"It's quite true, Harry," Luna said, "if you think about it, that Professor Slughorn - he could be quite callous about not taking much interest in people he didnít think had any sort of long-term potential, but family status was only one of a lot of sorts of long-term potential he was interested in. If he thought you had real talent he didn't care what your background was, and even if you came from one of the best families it didn't count if they were Death Eaters - no offence."
"None taken." He was starting to feel a little less light-headed. "Horace had Lils and me both in the Slug Club as soon as he saw what we could do in the lab., and it wasn't his fault that that took me into Lucius's bloody orbit. And he loved Lily: he always wanted her for Slytherin, Muggle-born or not. When she took up with your father, Potter, he told me he didn't think James Potter's crowd were worthy of her. Except the werewolf - he had a little time for Lupin because he did at least work hard, and I suspect now also because he knew what he was and he wanted to collect hair and body fluids off him to use in potions, but he always said that your father and Black 'squandered their considerable God-given talents on self-absorption and hair-gel', and that Pettigrew had 'something of the night' about him."
"He wasn't wrong there," said Harry: "about any of that, if I'm honest." He scowled. "But if you were so right-on about Mum being Muggle-born and you didn't join Slytherin for all the purity rubbish, how come you nearly told Mum that her sister was 'only a Muggle'?"
"Making unjustified assumptions again about what you think you know about me, are we Potter?" Severus said bitterly. "The next words, as far as I recall, were going to be 'snidey little cow', but I had just enough social sense to know that that wasn't going to make your mother feel any warmer towards me."
"She did seem a bit - well, frosty. I mean not just then but - well, in general."
Severus sighed. "Donít make the mistake of thinking that these memories are all there were, or that they are typical. These are the memories which I chose in order to show you where I had gone wrong, what fault I was atoning for, so that you would believe me about the... tactical issues. But I have a head-full of memories of your mother which have never been anywhere other than in my head: memories of her kindness when I - when I was bruised, physically or otherwise; memories of wading in the stream and collecting frogspawn together, and then scaring ourselves silly by convincing each other that it was radioactive because of all the pollution; of making ourselves both sick trying to smoke my Dad's Woodbines...." He glowered, seeing Potter's barely-suppressed grin.
"Irradiated frogspawn is a common cause of frogmen," Luna said gravely. "And was she right," she went on in an interested tone, "to lay the blame on you for looking at her sister's letter?"
"She was upset, understandably so, but - " He found himself reluctant to admit that she had been at fault in any way, yet it was difficult to avoid doing so. "It was her idea to go into her sister's room, she - " He blushed slightly. "Tuney, you understand, she was nearly thirteen and her parents had just bought her a - I think it's called a 'training bra', but she wasn't wearing it all the time - she hardly needed to - and Lily wanted to have a look at it. It was me - it was I who then found and opened the letter, but it was for the reasons Lily said. Mostly."
"You were interested in how the Muggle and wizarding postal services could be connected."
"Yes. And I - for all I knew, she could have written to Dumbledore to warn him against me."
"Dumbledore wouldn't have held it against you just because you'd dropped a branch on somebody, when you consider some of the things that I did," Harry said.
"Yes, but I did not know that at the time, and besides which you were granted... special allowances which weren't extended to the rest of us."
"Because I was an important pawn and he needed me to be at Hogwarts, yes. Forgive me for saying this but you didnít look... when you were on the train you were all happy to be going, at least until my Dad and Sirius stuck their oar in, but you didn't look all that ecstatic when you were standing on the platform with your mum. You looked - "
"As if I was braced for her to hit me, yes. That sort of learned response - it becomes a habit. That was something...." He leaned his head back against the soft padded back of the sofa and shut his eyes, not to have to look at them. "You would think," he said remotely, "that I would have been jealous of Lily, that I would have envied her for having parents she could stand next to without having to brace herself for a clip round the ear, but I just accepted that in a general sense it was because she didn't deserve to be hit, and I did."
"I envy you, a bit," Harry said. "You got to spend so much more time with my Mum and knew her so much better than I ever did. Even you," he added to Luna. "It must have been absolutely awful losing your mother like that, but at least you knew her long enough to remember her."
"If," said Luna, spearing a herby meatball with her fork and then twirling it expertly to pick up the spaghetti, "Harry had been Sorted into Slytherin, d'you think you would have felt any differently about him?"
"I -" The past was a dead weight, error upon error piling up to crush him. "He would have been my child then as much as Lily's - as much as his. I could have loved him, even if...."
"Even if he had still been as arrogant and, um, chippy and slightly delinquent as he was in Gryffindor?"
"Yes. He would have been mine - which, in fact, would have made my position vis-à-vis the Dark Lord even more bloody difficult than it already was, because Riddle would have expected me to make use of my influence over the brat."
"Harry told me once," she said, "that the first time he saw you, at his Sorting Feast, he looked up and saw you at the staff table and then his scar burned like fire and he thought it was coming from you, but really it was because you were talking to Professor Quirrel who had Voldemort under his hat, facing Harry. I never met Professor Quirrel, of course."
"The Dark Lord invaded his soul and made a puppet of him: only the strongest of us could spend so much time near him and not be broken." He did not say that he had been the strongest of all, although the implication hung in the air and he was well aware of it. "I saw the boy, scowling at me with her eyes and I assumed that Tuney had raised him to hate me, that she had told him that I had lured her sister into the wizarding community and brought her to her death. It never occurred to me that he was in pain -"
He banged his fist down on the table, suddenly, sharply, making the plates rattle. "All my life, all my life that creature has stood in the way, ruining everything. I should never - but he was different then, handsome, plausible, he spoke about the threat from nuclear weapons, that Muggles were going to destroy the world, and I didn't - I should have known what he was."
"You should have known that plausible political demagogues are nearly always up to no good, yes. Like Minister Fudge - everyone thought Daddy's ideas about him were mad but he really was involved in a Secret Conspiracy, even if some of the details were a bit off - or at least Madam Umbridge was and he let her. But you were very young, you know, and teenage boys are prone to simplistic politics they haven't really thought out."
"You think that was why most of Riddle's followers were male? I always assumed it was just because he didn't like women - in any sense."
"Girls tend to go through the simplistic politics phase rather younger - about ten or twelve - which is too young even for Mr Riddle. But he certainly does seem to have treated Mrs Lestrange very callously, despite her obvious attachment to him."
"Yes." He wasn't accustomed to thinking of Bellatrix as a victim but he could see, looking back on what was still, for him, the recent past, that the Dark Lord had sneered at her inexplicable passion for him and had subtly - sometimes not so subtly - mocked her in front of the others, and she had accepted his abuse of her like a darker, more contorted and destructive shadow of his own faithfulness to Dumbledore.
Feeling deathly tired, he addressed himself to the spaghetti, hoping that the sense of grey desperation would lift a bit if he got some fuel inside him. He had cleared half his plate in silence when an abrupt, attention-getting movement by Luna caused him to pause, his fork halfway to his lips.
"I've been meaning to talk to you about the arrangements when the boys come" she said delicately, and his stomach knotted up on the instant in choking apprehension so that the food stuck in his mouth, unable to be swallowed. He couldn't look up; he couldn't meet the silver-grey eyes which were watching him with the same detached, measuring regard he had seen a subjective ten months ago, as he condemned her and Longbottom and the Weasley girl to a detention with Hagrid which was really no punishment at all, but more of a covert reward.
"I thought," the inexorable voice went on, "if it was all right with you of course, that the most sensible thing would be for you to sleep and wash at the Three Broomsticks - I'd pay of course - and then come back here for meals and so on. You'll understand, I can't really put the boys up at a pub, even though they'd probably quite enjoy it: at nine they're...."
"Too young to drink alcohol but old enough to try to?" Light-headed with relief, he saw Luna's pale gaze linger on him thoughtfully.
"Yes. And not really old enough to sleep without supervision. But you still need a bit of looking after too, at the moment: we wouldn't abandon you, you know."
"That's... thank you. The Three Brooms would be - an admirable solution." And it would be: sleeping only a few doors up the street, he would still feel a part of this new home, not an exile or a visitor. A strange sensation washed over him, loosening his joints, as it occurred to him that he had, quite unexpectedly, been granted a reprieve.
Angry or frightened barn owls make a terrifying noise which sounds like a special effect for a film about demonic possession.
JK Rowling's own drawing of Harry's parents, glimpsed in the mirror of Erised, shows adult!Lily as short and slightly stocky, with a small bust, a rather square jaw and a thick, fluffy-looking mane of hair.
Although it has become synonymous with "attic", "loft" was originally a dialect word for the sky and things which were near the sky. "Aloft" means "towards the sky" and the loft of a building is the highest or sky floor, the opposite of the ground floor. Since the name of young Sev's spell Langlock has a Norman French rather than a Latin vibe, I thought his flying spell might be Mediaeval-British as well.
Hagrid refers to the Dursleys as "the biggest Muggles I ever laid eyes on" and it's pretty clear he means something more insulting than just "non-magical persons".
In the scene in The Prince's Tale where Sev and Lily are talking in the copse near Spinner's End, they are described as "[sitting] facing each other, cross-legged on the ground" and then a few lines later it says that young Sev "struck an oddly impressive figure sprawled in front of [Lily]", with no suggestion that he has changed position. I suspect JK wrote that scene in two lots, days apart, and simply forgot how she'd described their position, but taking that scene as it stands the only way I could think of that Sev could be seated cross-legged and sprawling at the same time was if he was slumped against a tree-trunk.
It is difficult to work out what season that scene is intended to be set in: it's sunny and warm enough for Severus to have taken off his coat, so it's probably not late autumn or winter; there are leaves on the trees, so it's not winter or early spring; and yet there are also fallen leaves on the ground, still intact enough to shred, so it's unlikely to be summer or early autumn. I'm guessing it's an unexpectedly hot day in April, which would fit with Sev expecting to go to Hogwarts fairly soon, and yet not imminently.
The giant rat of Sumatra is mentioned as some sort of mysterious horror in the Sherlock Holmes stories, but the real-life giant rat which was recently found in Papua New Guinea was covered in fluffy grey wool and allowed itself to be picked up and dandled like a pet cat.
I suspect Sirius of being mostly gay, despite his soft porn posters, because there's never any mention of a girlfriend, his primary emotional attachment seems to be to James, and we are told that a girl eyes him up after his OWLs and he doesn't notice, suggesting he has no radar for female attention.
I had originally speculated that Severus and Lily might come from the mill-town area between Salford and Derbyshire, and had credited Severus with the Derbyshire habit of calling his parents Mums and Dads. The revelation on Pottermore that Spinner's End is in Cokeworth, which is either a city or the outer suburb of a city, combined with the presence of a Cocker River two and a half miles south of Lancaster and four miles north of Snape Wood Farm, led me to think of Cokeworth as more probably a(n in our world) non-existent suburb on the Cocker just south of Lancaster, in the vicinity of Galgate, and I originally wrote this chapter on that basis, with Severus catching a train at Lancaster, and having a rhotic accent. Subsequently, however, Pottermore has specified that Cokeworth is in the Midlands, so I've changed Sev and Lily back to Derbyshire and given them the Midlands Drawl which sounds sarcastic even when it isn't meant to be.
Giving Extras was written mainly to amuse my friend John Nettleship, who was Rowling's Chemistry master and the main real-life model for Snape, and whom you can read about in the essay A true original. His death from cancer in March 2011 has left the story orphaned, but I eventually decided that it would be a pity not to finish it.
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