Chapter 18 – The Color of Peace

I'm just a poor wayfaring stranger

A-traveling through this world of woe.

And there's no sickness, toil or danger

In this bright world to which I go."

- Traditional American folk song

Severus Snape stayed at St. Mungo's for three more weeks, undergoing intensive counseling by healers Asphora, Sib, and Aloysius.

Because of a breakthrough into a deeper and darker layer of the boy's memories, Severus went through yet another Obliviation Ceremony. He was still an abused child whose boyhood had been irrevocably blighted, but it was fortunate that this last trace of abject horror vanished from his mind. He was still a troubled young soul, but the ceremony itself and the caring people surrounding him brought further relief.

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Severus had been napping when a visitor came to see him. He would have been happy to know that the guest passed Asphora's scrutiny, but such details hardly mattered to tired boys who needed their rest in order to heal.

"Hello there, dear," the visitor said, smoothing his hair from his face.

Sev jerked away from the touch, as he always had.

"We were so sorry to hear about what happened to you, poor child. I know that you're exhausted and you've been through a lot, but I did want to bring you this little present. Just know, Severus, that we care for you and we'll be very happy when you return to Hogwarts."

Another touch – soft hands patting his thin face with total gentleness. He suppressed the urge to jerk away.

He sensed love in the touch, and smiled up at her.

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Severus woke with a start. His eyes moved, taking in all the corners of the Kiddie Snuff Ward and seeing no visitors anywhere.

Funny, how dreams can appear so real –

Sev looked down and was shocked to see a wrapped package tucked in between his side and the bedrail.

Sitting up, he first palpitated it to see if he could guess what it was.

Soft. It was very soft.

He put it on his lap and took a deep breath. His fingers gently undid the bow and slid under the layers of tissue paper.

It was a red garment of some type.

It was his Yule sweater!

Much to Severus Snape's surprise, he clutched it and buried his face in it, confident that the happy memories it contained would further speed his recovery.

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The next morning, he sat with Albus Dumbledore and Asphora LaChance in the Sunny Meadow. They spent a few minutes watching the ongoing Quidditch game, which was especially spirited today.

"Isn't that a new sweater, Sev?" Asphora asked.

"Well – "Severus said, smoothing the red garment with his hands. "James Potter gave it to me for a Yule present, but I gave it back."

"Then how did you get it?" Dumbledore asked.

Severus smiled. "Mrs. Potter brought it to me. I thought it was a dream, but it was real. When I woke up, there it was!"

"It makes you happy then, dear child," Albus said, smoothing the boy's long dark hair.

Sev grasped the kind hand and held onto it. "It does. I don't know why. It made me happy that they were thinking of me, especially after how rotten I was to James and Lily."

"I think it's clear to everyone, honey, that you were very ill when you said those things. When people get that desperate and that depressed, they frequently take it out on family and friends," Asphora said.

"And I think the Potters know that," Dumbledore finished.

"We have some special news for you, Severus," Healer LaChance said. "We wanted to wait and tell you here because we're not sure how you will take it."

Severus frowned, his anxiety obvious in his facial expression. "Is it bad?"

"We don't think so, honey," Asphora replied. "And – well – here it is. Your father was convicted of using an Unforgivable, and received the Dementor's Kiss last night."

Sev was absolutely silent for a while, his face unreadable. Then he got up on his feet and took off running.

Asphora began to get up to go after him, but found Albus Dumbledore's hand on her arm.

"It's all right, Shonsey," he said. "He does this."

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Severus ran and ran and ran. This place – wherever in the Southern Hemisphere it was – was lovely, no matter how far he traveled from the Sunny Meadow. He raced over open fields and past small houses; he sprinted over hills and past verdant orchards. He ran until he could run no more.

He saw an apple tree and collapsed under it. He liked apple trees because he used to hide from his father in the boughs of one they had at Snape Mansion. Severus lay on his back, panting with exertion and removing the few apples that proved to be rather uncomfortable under his back.

His father had been given the Dementor's Kiss. That bastard. He was good as dead. To Sev's surprise, he began to cry. That was all right; there was no one around to hear him.

He lay there under the tree's cool shade, smelling its sweet apple smell, and grieving that Fate had allowed him to be born to such a monster.

His father had been an evil man, and his evil nature was what led to his downfall.

If he hadn't abused him, Severus wouldn't have tried to kill himself.

If Severus hadn't been taken to St. Mungo's, he never would have been seen by the shaking man in the wheelchair whose testimony sealed his father's fate.

Funny how Fate worked.

"I'm – free," the Dark child sighed, wiping his eyes. He closed them, enjoying the warmth of the sun and the sweet smell of the ripe fruit surrounding him.

Relaxing at last, Severus Snape curled over onto his side – head resting on his upturned arm – and fell into a blissful sleep.

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Three days later, Severus was discharged from St. Mungo's. When he came to pick him up, Albus Dumbledore brought him a Slytherin school robe and his school uniform to wear.

"In for a penny, in for a pound," the Headmaster said. "We'll be back in time for your Potions Class if we time it right."

Severus said goodbye to the other residents of the Kiddie Snuff Ward and made his farewells to Sibelius Hammer and Aloysius Bede. He clung sobbing to Asphora LaChance for quite a while.

"It's not goodbye for us, dear sweet boy," she said, kissing his forehead. "I shall see you again, wait and see!"

Albus and Severus disapparated and found themselves in Hogsmeade. It looked foreign to Severus, and he said so to his mentor and guardian.

"Maybe you're the thing that's different, my boy," he said.

Severus clung to the wizard, and Albus stopped to hold him.

"I sense that something is on your mind," the Headmaster said after a little while.

The Slytherin boy looked into his face. "I was thinking – when I turn eighteen, you won't be my guardian any more."

"Well, Severus, that's not for another few years yet, and I think it's best to take life a day at a time, right?"

Sev nodded, continuing to look in the old man's eyes, an insecure feeling still crowding his heart.

They didn't call Albus Dumbledore the greatest White wizard in the world for nothing. He read the child's thought as readily as if Severus had spoken it.

"I will stop being your guardian, that is true," Dumbledore replied, resting both hands on the boy's bony shoulders. "But the gods gave me a great gift when my Dark child was brought into my life. You will be my son forever."

Severus clung to him again, shaking with relief and gratitude. "I love you," he said.

"And I love you. You'll grow up, Severus, and you will become a guardian of the Light as well as being my son," Dumbledore continued.

"I don't understand," said Severus.

"You will someday, child," the old man returned. "Now kindly slow down a bit; I can't keep up with your sixteen-year-old legs!"

Severus grinned, resuming their walk and turning to the old wizard. "Don't want to be late for Potions!" he said.

"Quite right," Dumbledore replied, returning the boy's happy smile.

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To say that Severus Snape created an uproar when he entered his Potions Class (where the Headmaster made his excuses to Professor Sartoris) would be an understatement.

To the boy's great surprise, his fellow students crowded around him. Also to his surprise, Severus did not flinch at the many friendly pats to his head, his back, and his hands.

"Here comes trouble!" Evan Ryper exclaimed, laughing.

"Welcome back," said Remus Lupin.

"Want to partner me today?" asked Lily Evans.

Severus turned to her and the room grew quiet.

"Why not?" he replied.

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Sirius Black and James Potter stood in the row behind Severus and Lily. "Oh, great, Slithery Snapped is out of the Nuthouse at last," Black jeered.

James looked at Snape curiously. The back of his robe had been twisted somehow, so that the underlayers of his school uniform were exposed to view. The Gryffindor saw just the hint of the boy's sweater. It was bright red.

"Shut your head, Padfoot," Potter returned.

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Lily Evans and Severus Snape received the highest marks of the day on their potion. That made the two of them very happy. Severus was also happy that he was wearing his Yule sweater and didn't seem to mind that the Yuletide had come and gone. For the Dark child whose life had been plagued by hurt and disappointment, wearing it was like wearing friendship.

For the bulk of humankind, red signified anger. For Severus Snape, however, red was the color of acceptance and peace.

And another session of rock-and-pebble Quidditch and the total decimation of another Pig Cake did not seem out of the question.

The End

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The sequel – "The Best Actor in the World" – is coming soon!

And now, some comments for my dear reviewers -- I hope you all enjoyed reading this story as much as I enjoyed writing it. My next stories will have more twists and turns than the Mississippi River!

Dearest darling daughter Sarah – I freely admit you got me started on those Harry Potter books. Do I appreciate it? Does a hen want a flag? You know I'm just being sma'at.

Roy, dear heart, thank you for all the encouragement and support you've given me.

And dear Ilmare, who inspired me to try a little Snape-angst writing myself – you are a terrific writer and person. Many thanks!

Barbara Kennedy – What can I say to such a faithful reader and reviewer? Hope the story and drawings are up to snuff! You are so special!

Catmint – Dear Catmint. The wind beneath my wings! You make writing a joy!

Moro the Wolf God – Bless your heart, kiddo. I so enjoy hearing from you.

Logospilgrim – Mysterious and wonderful lady! I'm so happy that you like my stories. What a compliment that is!

Silverthreads – I think I've gotten a few more of those writing this tale (laughs) – your comments have helped me keep going – I so appreciate it.

Marauder3Moony – Your comments are always delightful, and I'm always happy to read them! The one about Lucius absolutely cracked me up.

Savvy the Pen-Nameless – I came to look forward to reading what you had to say. What a flair for the language you have, my dear! Thanks very much!

Mooze – Wow, you have really been so good to me and such a support! Hope you keep reading and reviewing! I always like to hear from you.

Tall Oaks – there's nobody like you, my friend. I swear you must have a touch of the psychic – you are that close to how I write the way I do and why. Your reviews are a deep inspiration and your support has been absolutely wonderful. And btw – you will LOVE where I am going with this fanfic series....but you'll have to waaaaaaait..... ;p

Dragonmaster Kurai, Freakish Lemon, Cat, excessivelyperky, Nsnape, MistressCoCoLoVeR and my other dear readers – Thank you thank you thank you!

Now, to answer a few questions some of you had.....

I'm not Wiccan myself. It seems to have become a convention to use it in Snapey Angst stories, at least the ones I've read, so I just jumped into the fray.

"Tenebria" Snape was named from the Latin for "hanging on" or "clinging on" – which is certainly what she did to that idiotic husband of hers. Tsk, woman. What a cheesebrain!

I went to New Hampshire recently and had myself a pistachio ice cream binge. Woohoo! Now you know how it came to be Sevie's favorite flavor!

Whatever happened to Martis Vox? Well, my best pal Tess is busily creating her next magnum opus. Fear not! Our fearless Minoan heroine will be back!

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the song "Wayfaring Stranger", email me and I can send you the url to a great site that automatically plays it. wouldn't let me type in the bleeping web address. Ah well!

And now, my darlings – did you like the ending?