by Liz Barr
universe: Harry Potter
rated: Say a strong PG-13. Possibly an R. Depends how much angst you can tolerate.
disclaimer: characters are the property of J. K. Rowling. I like them, which is why I'm making them so miserable ... no, that's not right at all...
acknowledgments: an earlier draft of this story was posted to Glass Onion; thanks to Sarah Parsons, Christina Davis and Christinecgb for their feedback.
feedback: yes please. email@example.com
HP fic: http://www.envy.nu/lizbarr/snape.htm
summary: He has eaten death, darkness and oblivion, and now there's only memory and madness.
He had no name. Or perhaps he'd had one once, but it was gone now. He'd had a life once, been a different person, or several different people, but that was long ago, and he had no name now.
Now there was only screaming. Darkness.
Darkness all around.
He screamed again, until he couldn't recognise his own voice. Someone was screaming, and for heaven's sake, couldn't somebody shut the poor bastard up?
His arm burnt, as it had never burnt before. The Dark Mark was Voldemort's tie to his Death Eaters, and their tie to him. They were bound together: the Dark Lord and his supplicants, all bearing the same scar. Even a traitor --especially a traitor -- felt the terrible, glorious pain of Voldemort's presence.
In his ever-rarer lucid moments, he knew that this was his own fault. He had chosen, and then he had changed his mind.
Treachery was rewarded with torture. It was Voldemort's way.
He'd known this when he made his choice, and he'd remembered this at every subsequent juncture, when the choice had to be made again. But he'd never imagined that it would be like this.
He'd imagined failure, when he imagined failure at all, in terms of death, not capture.
Severus Snape screamed.
He couldn't remember how he got here. He couldn't remember why, except that they laughed when he begged them to stop. He hated the begging, hated the laughter ... he was supposed to be better than this. He remembered having pride. Once, in another lifetime, he'd valued his hard-won dignity above all else. But the pain was excruciating, and he came to hate it more than the humiliation.
He couldn't quite remember his name, which was strange, because there were so many other things he remembered. He lay on the stone floor, the cold stone never soothing the burning in his arm, and listed everything he could remember.
Hands in his hair, and the scents of lavender and sandalwood. His mother. Hearing her voice, singing to him. The bubbling of the potion, the winter sunlight reflecting off the cauldron, the crackle of the fire and his mother's voice.
His mother crying.
His aunt, angry. "The Ministry's gone too far. We're a very old family; they have no right to accuse my brother of dark magic."
She was lying. He couldn't remember how he knew, except that it was as certain as the stone beneath him. She was lying, and his mother had known it too. It was a show. His aunt believed in appearances.
She had poisoned his mother. He didn't know how he knew that, either, but there it was.
He had lain lavender blossoms by her grave, and burnt sandalwood.
A round office, a man who was both older and younger than anyone he'd ever seen. The man looked down at him, somehow both serious and amused, all at once. His blue eyes had twinkled at some memory.
"Your parents were students of mine," he said, and now his eyes were sad.
His mother's name in a textbook. "One of the foremost potions specialists of our time."
He remembered his surprise that she was special to anyone but him.
Flight. Broomsticks. Unsteadiness, fear, amazement at the ease with which the others seemed to pick it up.
An older boy, blond and handsome. Much older, but willing to spend time with a brilliant child. Lucius.
Why could he remember that name, and not his own?
A red haired girl with green eyes. Twelve years old. "It wouldn't kill you to be civil once in a while, you know."
It was wrong: the wrong girl, the wrong crowd, the wrong blood.
(A few years later: sixteen years old, infatuated, guilty and angry about it. "Mudblood bitch!" It was the first time that a fight with Potter's crowd had left him in the hospital wing.)
"We're not supposed to be friends."
Few people could argue with her and win. "I thought that Slytherins weren't supposed to care about the rules."
The twelve uses of dragon's blood.
The seven stages of Transfiguration.
A woman turning into a cat.
The proper method for creating Engorgement Potions. Dissolving Potions. Soporifics and stimulants. Polyjuice and Wolfsbane.
A lot of memories, really. Truly, he was lucky to have so many memories. There were people who'd be grateful to have that many memories.
Of course, what they lacked in memories, they probably made up for in sanity.
He was still laughing at this, although he couldn't remember why it was funny, when they came for him.
Above all, he remembered potions. He remembered the recipes, the gathering of ingredients, the precautions. On the cold floor of Lucius Malfoy's dungeon, he nursed his damaged body and ran through recipes.
There were gaps in his memory, he was sure of it. For days, he tried to remember whether it was four or six measures of monkshood in a sleeping draught. He agonised over it, trying to remember, because he needed to be sure about something other than the dungeon floor and the lingering aches.
"He's been babbling for a week," he heard someone say. It was a surprise; he hadn't realised that he was speaking out loud. "But only about potions. Nothing about the resistance, or Dumbledore's plans."
"Typical. Nothing's more important than his precious concoctions."
That was a lie, he thought. Many things were more important, but he couldn't remember them properly, and he didn't think Voldemort would care about sandalwood and lavender over his mother's grave.
Even after the pain of the Cruciatus curse dissipated, the Dark Mark ached constantly. It was dark and clear against his white skin, a malevolent presence.
He scraped at it with ragged fingernails, but it didn't move or change, although he eventually drew blood.
The bleeding changed the pain slightly, and he kept scratching at the Mark until the novelty of the new pain wore off.
He chose this. He can almost remember the choice: stand or leave.
A boy. No, a young man, although he can remember him as a boy. But now he's a young man, and he's important.
He needed to be protected. He needed to be saved, and there was the hideous realisation: there was a debt, and it would never be repaid.
Stand or leave.
Escape or absolution.
Dumbledore had always been disappointed in him. His failures, both subtle and spectacular, were a betrayal of Dumbledore's trust.
He remembered wondering whether that trust was truly as infinite as it seemed.
It wasn't important now. He'd made the choice, and it was the right one. He didn't know how, or why, but he'd done the right thing. Saved the son, repaid his debt to the father.
It would be over soon.
He wondered why he was still alive. They should have killed him. They should have killed him long ago. But they'd kept him sane -- after a fashion (the word "longbottom" popped into his head, although he couldn't imagine why) -- and they hadn't killed him yet.
Through the pain, he asked them. The laughter didn't surprise him. It barely bothered him anymore.
The high, inhuman voice said, "Not yet, Severus. Soon, but not yet."
Severus, he thought as the Dementors led him away. So that was his name.
He had a name again.
With a name of his own came other people's names, and memories to go with them.
A fight in the corridors outside the Charms classroom.
"At least my father isn't in Azkaban!"
A flash of anger, not because it was cruel, but because it was true. Spinning around and hurling a hex, unthinking.
The high voice. Voldemort. "Your father was one of my earliest lieutenants, Severus. One of my most faithful. He supported me long before my name was known. I shall expect great things from you."
He'd always wished that Potter had been lying.
Cesare, swinging him up, up towards the ceiling, while his mother shouted and laughed all at once.
"My son, hey? My son, the great potions master, the great wizard ... you'll be the best, Severus. How could you be less?"
His mother. Margaret. Poisoned.
His aunt. Adelaide. Poisoner.
They were an old family, a wealthy family, one of the best families. As he'd gotten older, he'd realised that they weren't a particularly nice family.
He didn't want these memories, but they came anyway.
A full moon, the Whomping Willow, Lupin (a werewolf, my God, all this time he's been a monster).
Potter, pulling him out, expecting gratitude.
Seventeen years old, looking Voldemort in the face and wanting to be judged worthy.
The Dark Mark, being burnt into his arm. Under his skin, a scar on his soul.
The horrible, sickening realisation that it had been a mistake. That there was no great Muggle threat, that there was no real cause for fear and -- most horribly -- knowledge of what the Dark Arts really were: not forbidden treasures, kept out of reach by a hidebound and meaningless tradition, but truly, thoroughly evil.
That was almost the worst thing: that he could be forgiven, when he knew he could never forgive anyone who had hurt him.
Once again, he ran through the recipe for a sleeping draught. It was four measures, he realised. Six turned a sleeping draft into something more potent. Eight made it deadly.
It was good to remember that.
He heard footsteps outside his cell.
"Severus. You seem much more sane than usual."
"Benefits of a healthy lifestyle."
"My son sends his regards."
Lucius bent down, his pale face looming over Snape's.
"I just wanted you to know," he said, "that when the Dark Lord does decide to kill you -- and he will, I know that -- when he does, I'll be there. Old friend."
He couldn't remember what he had done, that Lucius felt the need to take revenge. He suspected that Lucius was offended by his betrayal.
Lucius did hate to be made a fool. He was a pureblood, after all, and they were supposed to be above that sort of thing.
They left him alone for a long time. The house-elves continued to bring him food, but no one else bothered him. He thought about refusing food, starving himself, dying on his own terms.
As always, he was weak. In the end, he accepted the food.
The lingering Cruciatus pain faded, but his arm throbbed continually. He wondered what was happening outside of his cell. People were dying. He sensed Voldemort's power growing with every death.
He wondered whether the boy was dead yet.
Another name returned.
He was here because he had chosen to protect Harry Potter.
Once, he'd chosen to go free. Others had paid the price.
("Avadra kedavra." His voice, his wand, his conscience.)
This was his penance.
His death was inevitable. The Dark Lord never forgave treachery.
Severus Snape waited to die.
Pain. Aching, deep inside him, radiating outwards from his arm, taking over his body.
He was alone.
It felt as though a needle had been inserted into his skin. (But why would Voldemort, of all people, resort to Muggle methods of torture?) At first, it was only a precise sting, but instead of dulling to an ache, it intensified, became a million needles covering every inch of his arm, and then his chest, and his entire body. It was so intense that thought was impossible. His fingers curled, as if tensing his muscles would push the pain out of his body.
So much pain.
He'd once thought that a human could become immune to pain, but that was long ago, and he'd been young and stupid once.
He passed out.
"He's alive. Barely."
"Alive? Sirius, he's been in here for nearly a year. That's impossible."
"You know, Remus, that's a word I've learnt to use with extreme caution."
"The Aurors have finished securing the Manor. Everyone's dead."
"Even the house-elves." A pause. "It looks like they all killed themselves. There's nothing living here."
"This is my fault. Dumbledore. Percy. My mistakes ... I should have found another way. Voldemort, the Death Eaters ... now the house-elves." He laughed. It didn't sound sane. "Everyone's dead."
"Harry, Snape's alive."
Sharp inhalation. Hopeful and afraid.
"Alive? It's been a year ... Dumbledore said--"
"Dumbledore isn't -- wasn't omniscient. Severus is alive."
A note of steel. "I'm fine, Sirius. I just -- I need..." A deep breath. "I need to contact Hermione. Let her know that ... he'll need ..."
Lupin. "I'll contact St Mungo's. You need to rest your hands."
"I don't want to rest my hands." Sharp, angry. Then, softly. "Thanks, Remus. Hermione -- you should--"
"Speak to Hermione, I know. She'll be there by now, won't she? She'll be able to deal with this." Reassurance. Typical Lupin, always the peacemaker.
"It shouldn't be like this."
"What did you expect? A parade? Muggle recognition? One hundred points for Gryffindor?"
"We won. We did win, didn't we, Sirius? He won't come back?"
"He won't come back. We did win, Harry."
"The price was always going to be high. Dumbledore knew this."
"Dumbledore chose to use an army made up of children."
"I know, he was a great man, great wizard, all of those things. But ... he sacrificed himself, and I know it was important, but it seems so selfish ... he died, and left us alone..."
"There's so much damage..."
"It's over, Harry. We can rebuild now. We can heal"
"Ron ... Ron said that Hogwarts was destroyed."
"It can be rebuilt."
Footsteps, Lupin returning.
"Mediwizards are on their way."
"She's coming too."
Warmth. Peace. Movement nearby.
There was no pain. He opened his eyes, squinting in the light.
"Too bright," he said.
"It's actually quite dim. But your eyes will need to readapt."
Reluctantly, he opened his eyes again. Granger, yes. Older, now, and worn. There was a scar on her neck, near the collarbone. It was harsh against her pale skin. She was till young, though. Resilient. Smart.
He remembered when he had been those things.
She smiled. "Hello, Professor."
"You're ... a mediwitch?"
"No. Just a quick learner."
"He was defeated five days ago, Professor."
"I heard ... in the cell ... Dumbledore is dead?"
She looked away. "Yes. A month ago."
"Potter, then. Defeated Voldemort."
"Yes. They fought ... it was ... I thought it would never end. It seemed to go on for days."
"You were there?"
"We were all there. Everyone who lived."
"Who survived? Professor McGonagall. Professor Flitwick. Madam Hooch, although she'll never fly again. The Weasleys, except for Percy. Neville. Remus. Sirius. There were others..."
"That's enough. Hogwarts?"
"Nearly destroyed. But most of the towers are standing. It's a thousand years old. It's been rebuilt ... dozens of times."
He could remember a girl who would have known the exact number, who would have rattled it off just to prove that she had that knowledge, whether or not her audience cared. He hadn't liked her. He wasn't sure if he liked this woman, too exhausted to care about such things, any better.
"Potter...?" he asked. "His hands -- I heard--"
"Voldemort cursed his hands. All the Death Eaters did, the ones that survived long enough ... he couldn't hold his wand. They couldn't kill him, but he was bleeding so badly..."
"Lots of them. There's more scar tissue than flesh on his right hand."
Hogwarts was in better condition than he'd feared, but the sight of the rubble and ash in the shell of the Great Hall was still shocking. People scurried around, carrying equipment and material, patching the old castle up.
"At this rate, the next school year will only be a month late," said Minerva, leading him through the corridors. She was walking with a cane, and looked every minute of her seventy-odd years. The door to her old office was marked headmistress. Snape looked away.
"Will you be joining us then, Severus?" she asked.
During his year as a prisoner, he'd craved nothing more than his familiar, secluded dungeons. But he couldn't say yes. Not yet.
"I'll understand if you don't want to answer right away," said Minerva. Her eyes looked unnaturally bright. "We were all worried," she said. "We thought you were dead, and ... well, losing a staff member ... it took so long to find a replacement, and there was an empty space at the table, and we couldn't forget why you'd been taken."
Potter. Stand or leave. His choice.
He stood up. "I need ... I need to take a walk."
Minerva nodded, but didn't join him. He recognised that, and appreciated it.
"Where is he now?" he'd asked Hermione. They were sitting in the gardens at St Mungo's, finally free of the hospital walls.
"Hogwarts. He could go anywhere ... I mean, who'd turn him away? But the Weasleys ... well, they're all mourning for Percy, and they don't blame him, but then, they don't need to, because he blames himself. So he can't go to the Burrow, and Sirius has gone somewhere ... I'm going abroad with my family next month, if I can get the time away, and he's promised to come with us. But until then, he's at Hogwarts. Rebuilding."
He was up on the astronomy tower, alone in the rain. Snape saw him standing at the edge, arms outstretched, face upturned, and for a second, he thought of James. Then Potter turned, and Snape saw Lily's eyes staring back at him.
"I'd heard you'd come home."
"I believe you'll find that my family home is at Dartmoor, Potter."
"Yes. Your aunt has been sent to Azkaban, by the way. I understand she was your guardian once."
("At least my father isn't in Azkaban!")
"She killed my mother," he said.
"I have an aunt. I don't think she's homicidal, though."
"Your mother thought otherwise. She once told me that her sister had decapitated all her dolls and buried the limbs in the garden."
"I didn't realise that you knew my mother that well."
"We were friends before either of us even knew your father existed." Not completely true, they'd met on Platform Nine and Three Quarters, watching a black-haired boy and his friends jumping over trunks. But they had been friends before the Sorting, and only half-hearted enemies afterwards. For a while, at least, until his infatuation -- a memory he cringed from -- had finally driven them apart.
Potter looked at his hands. They were ugly, painful looking. Heavily scarred. Potter carefully flexed a clawed finger.
"I never thanked you," he said, "for saving my life."
"I never thanked your father for saving mine."
They stood in the rain, looking out over the devastated grounds. The quidditch pitch was black; Snape could see the skeletal remains of the stands, silhouetted against the sky. Smoke still lingered in the air.
"I don't know what to do now," Potter said.
"You can always teach. I imagine the Defence Against the Dark Arts position is available."
Potter laughed bitterly. "I'd need magic for that." He held up his hands. "I can't hold a wand. I can't lift most things. I'm useless."
"Granger said you defeated Voldemort without a wand."
"I did. But I haven't been able to do anything since."
"Wandless magic is rare because it's difficult and exhausting, Potter. Dumbledore had a century to become proficient. You're seventeen."
"Dumbledore. Why does everyone expect me to sprout a white beard and become Albus Dumbledore?"
"People like to have a hero. Congratulations, Potter, you're it."
Snape moved away from the edge and sat down in one of the chairs used by the astronomy classes. The climb up the stairs had left him more exhausted than he liked to acknowledge. He wondered whether it would ever leave him, this lingering pain, this phantom Cruciatus. Looking into a mirror at St Mungo's, he'd been shocked by the lines on his face and the grey in his hair.
"Your hands will probably heal."
"Hermione said the same thing. If not this decade, then definitely next."
"Your self-absorption has grown irritating."
Potter looked faintly amused. "Are you telling me to snap out of it?"
"In so many words -- yes."
"Remus said the same thing. And Sirius."
"Granger and Weasley can't be far behind."
"I'll add you to the list, then."
"For Merlin's sake, Potter. You're alive. Scarred and damaged, but alive. Stop wallowing in your dungeon. Go abroad with Granger's family. Live as a Muggle for a while. Forget about Voldemort, and Dumbledore, and the scars, and all that 'Boy Who Lived' nonsense."
"And you, Professor? How are you finding your dungeon?"
"You pulled me out, remember, Potter? I'm just repaying the debt."
The dungeons, when he reached them at last, were much as he remembered. The new Potions master had changed little, although the shelves on his old office had been rearranged. The walls were cold, but he didn't bother lighting a fire.
His bedchamber, too, was largely unchanged. He'd never bothered much with decorating it, and it was as Spartan as ever.
His body ached in the cool, damp air, and his face in the old mirror was gaunt, shadowed. He felt old.
He'd never expected to leave Malfoy's prison, and now he didn't know what to do. There was no war to make demands of him, no Death Eaters, no Voldemort, no Dumbledore with expectations of him. Even his family was gone.
He thought of the house in Dartmoor, of sandalwood and lavender on his mother's grave. There were laboratories, well-ventilated laboratories with large windows and sunlight. He had something Potter lacked: a family home, a centuries-old anchor, waiting for his arrival.
He could go home, put the memories back in order.
Let the memories fade. Let the phantom cruciatus dissipate.
Let it all go, after all these years.
Darkness all around.
He woke up screaming, but it was over, it was a dream, it was fading. Outside, the sun was rising.
A glorious shrine to self-indulgence. And fanfic. And chocolate. Mostly fanfic, though.
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