Author's note: Two things I want to say: first, please take the 'hospital' section as affectionate teasing, not criticism. My son has spent a lot of time in hospital and the NHS staff have all been fantastic.

Second, I know that my portrayal of Lily here is controversial. If it offends anybody, I apologise.

So, Harry was planning to take Luna's hallucinogenic cocktail to give him an out-of-body experience to enable him to enter the underworld and meet Sirius... Everybody at Hogwarts (except Luna) thinks he is dead...

LOST PERSPECTIVE III : REPERCUSSIONS

By Bellegeste

CHAPTER 15: A MOTHER'S LOVE

The lights came on at six, waking him up when he had finally fallen into a deep sleep. He tried to ignore them, and creep back into that inviting cave of oblivion, but it was too late now; he was awake. He lay with his eyes still shut, listening to the routine start of another day on the ward.

First the shift-change as the night nurses clocked off to go home and slump in front of Breakfast TV, or go to Sainsbury's, retire to their coffins, or do whatever these nocturnal creatures do during the hours of daylight. He heard the humourless, efficient voice of the ward Sister as she stopped at the end of each bed, summarising the case notes, commenting on any special requirements, while the group of daytime staff trailed along behind her, already counting the minutes 'til their first coffee break.

"This is Johnny... this is Davy... this is our anonymous visitor..."

They had reached Harry's bed.

"Still no ID. No leads from police, social services or missing persons. Police are now working on the hypothesis that he may be an illegal immigrant. He's still our mystery boy. Condition: stable; I.V. drip and enteral feed same as yesterday; amnesia - no change. On hourly 'obs'."

They were wrong about the amnesia. When Harry had first woken up, it was true, he had had no idea who or where he was, or what he had been doing for the past fifteen or so years of his life. He was locked in an immediate present which consisted of a lot of tubes, bleeping monitors, unfamiliar, faraway voices, strange hands moving his limbs, rolling him over and tapping his reflexes.

That had been three days ago. It had taken him a couple of days to remember that his name was Harry and that he was a wizard - so what was he doing in a Muggle hospital? And then he had remembered that too. He hadn't told anyone. All in all he thought it was better to remain anonymous.

The routine here was very different from the restful calm of the Hospital Wing at Hogwarts. Every hour someone would wake him up to stick a gun-shaped gadget into his ear and wait a few seconds for it to bleep; they lifted up his eyelids and shone a beam of light into his oddly dilated pupils; they transferred a tight, crocodile-clamp from one squashed forefinger to the other; they did things with tubes and syringes that Harry didn't want to know about.

Then they would all disappear. Just when Harry was beginning to doze off again, someone else would arrive to disturb him with more meaningless questions. It was like a cleverly calculated form of sleep-deprivation - all night he was kept awake by screaming babies (once one started, it set them all off), or asthmatic toddlers gasping at their puffers or wheezing into whirring nebulisers; every twenty minutes or so his own monitor would beep, and a nurse would come to scientifically flick one of the tubes and patiently press the re-set button. And, just as everything had finally settled down and gone quiet, it would be six a.m. and all the lights would come on.

Now it was the pharmacist. She was a tall, healthy, bouncy girl who looked as though she should have been playing basket-ball.

"Any meds? What are you written up for?" She took a shufti at his charts, commenting, "Docs not been up yet? I'll come back later."

Of course they hadn't been. Ward round didn't happen until at least eleven o'clock. Every day. Somebody should tell her.

Then there was the chunky lady in the peach-coloured apron, who, ignoring the 'nil by mouth' sign, brought Harry the menus for the following day and insisted that he tick several boxes. It was bizarre having to make a choice between Golden Topped Cod and Lamb Cobbler, when he wasn't allowed to eat either.

In the brief lull that followed, Harry would gratefully drift off again. Once the staff were sure he was sleeping, the tea-lady would sneak in with the breakfast (or lunch or dinner, depending on the time of day. Her modus operandi was always the same), and place it silently on the trolley table just out of reach at the end of the bed, thus ensuring that by the time Harry - or any of the patients; they hadn't singled him out for special attention - woke up, it was stone cold and inedible.

They woke him up again to make the bed.

"Dr Deacon is a stickler for hospital corners," said Tracey. She wore a round 'smiley' badge which said 'My name is Tracey. I am your Day Nurse'. She bundled him into a very low, leatherette visitors' chair at the side of the bed and told him not to trip over his drip stand. Then she began to fold the sheets crisply, gift-wrapping the bed like a white Christmas parcel.

The culmination of all this activity was the Consultant's ward round. As far as Harry could tell, it was a total anti-climax. Standing at the foot of his bed, the demi-god, Dr Deacon, perused Harry's notes again, flicking through the blank pages as though hoping to find a secret biography stapled to the back cover. Finally he passed sentence:

"Maintain routine observations."

Oh great, thought Harry, another day of prodding and no sleep. He was just starting to feel strong enough to think about escaping, but he was wired up to so many tubes and devices that he was afraid of what might happen if he went unplugged.

After that another form of torture was added to the prescription: television. The main screen at the end of the ward was switched on at noon and blared until bedtime. It was permanently tuned to the Shopping Channel. In addition, each bed had its own portable TV, and each child had theirs turned up to full volume to drown out the noise from the next bed. The girl in the bed opposite Harry possessed one video - 'Stuart Little' - which she watched over and over, about four times every afternoon. Harry wished Snowball would eat the mouse at the beginning and save everybody a lot of embarrassment. Slightly further away, but still very audible, was the roaring, revving, gear-crunching, crashing sounds of 'Grand Theft Auto' - some kid had brought in his own personal Playstation. As for the rest, they seemed to have the Tweenies and Teletubbies on a continuous loop.

Harry put his pillow over his head. Why was he the only teenager in a Muggle ward full of kiddies?

X X X

Harry could remember it all now - the ecstatic, unencumbered, out-of-body flight, and then later, reclaiming consciousness, and walking with the weight of his flesh again. He remembered it acutely, up until the point where he had collapsed on the pavement outside the Ministry of Magic. He had managed to get as far as the street; he had stepped out into the fresh air, his head was swirling and pounding, he had needed to breathe; he was hot, burning, he had to take off that stifling Invisibility Cloak...

He could remember Floo-ing to Snape Cottage and presenting Quig with his hallucinogenic shopping list. The old elf had read it, his wrinkles yawning to chasms of disapproval. Harry didn't have time to write an essay on 'the ethics of intoxication for the purposes of spiritual enlightenment', so he had merely scrawled on a scrap of paper, 'My friend is a Shaman.'

Quig shrugged, his expression clearly saying, 'Pull the other one, young Snape...' and stumped off towards the herb garden. He returned with two paper bags: one contained a large orangey-red mushroom, its curved cap dotted with white flecks; the other a sprig of leaves, similar to a potato plant. Tapping the first bag, the elf rolled his eyes and, pointing at his head, drew a series of rapidly decreasing circles in the air, then flung his hand up, skywards.

Harry grinned encouragingly and picked up the second bag. At that Quig shot both short arms out wide and shuffled round the room, flapping - a crude but effective mime. Harry signed 'Thank you'. The elf watched him as he prepared to Floo back to Hogwarts. At the last moment his wizened, old face creased into a conspiratorial smile and he saluted Harry with his characteristic double thumbs up. Harry felt he had gained a secret ally.

Luna had disappeared with the two bags into the 'Bin'. After only a few minutes she reappeared and gave Harry a conical, stoppered flask.

"I've mixed it with some Glogg to hide the taste. You'll need to drink it all."

Harry viewed the milky liquid with some trepidation.

"This stuff isn't going to kill me?"

"I can't guarantee that you'll feel brilliant afterwards, but it's not poisonous, no. Take this too."

She handed him a packet of what looked like crushed pot pourri.

"Do I have to eat it or smoke it?" Harry didn't fancy either idea, but Luna was hugely amused and honked with laughter. Harry made a mental note to avoid saying anything in future that she might find funny.

"Just keep it in your pocket. It's a protective herbal mixture to enhance psychic energy: Heliotrope, Lemongrass, Mugwort, Sandalwood and Dittany of Crete. It's to keep you safe, Harry. And so are these..."

In her hand were two long, brown leather bootlaces. Without saying anything more, she took Harry's left arm and carefully pushed the sleeve up to his elbow. Then, with one hand round his wrist and the other circling his forearm, she closed her eyes...

Harry felt the skin beneath her hands tingle and grow warm and then hot. A rush of heat travelled up his arm, through his shoulder, around his chest and settled like a Vindaloo in his solar plexus. Luna was wrapping one of the leather cords around his wrist. Handing the second one to Harry, she held out her own bared arm and indicated that he should do the same to her. He fiddled about tying it up. Knowing my luck, that's probably a slip-knot that'll cut off her circulation, and by the time I get back she'll need to have her hand amputated...

"If anything really bad happens to you, Harry, I'll know - this bracelet will come untied and fall off."

Harry was immediately worried.

"But I'm rubbish at knots, Luna. That won't last five minutes."

She gave one of her vague, inscrutable smiles.

"It's not the knot that's keeping it together, Harry."

It was almost time to go down to Snape's office. Luna had become thoughtful.

"Harry," she said bluntly, "you know they only did the séance because they care about you - Ron and Hermione and everyone."

"Yeah, I know. I know. I'll talk to them later."

"There's someone else you have to talk to."

"There's no way I'm apologising to bloody Malfoy, not after what he did!"

She was silent for a few moments, thinking, then she said,

"Harry, can I ask you something? If Professor Snape went through the Archway, how would you feel?"

The curry suddenly seemed to have worked its way into Harry's sinuses. He stared at Luna wretchedly. His face said it all.

"Then you should tell him," she had said gently.

X X X

Harry lay back, trying to block out the noise. Stuart Little was, yet again, single-handedly winning the Americas Cup. Please, mouse, sail off into the sunset... join the Foreign Legion... go find some nice wainscoting to live in...

A group of med. students had just woken him up. They had gone through the same, boring routine of questions as the Consultant - but with more tact. Did he remember his name? Where was he from? Had he recently been involved in an accident? Had he deliberately ingested the mushrooms? Had he known what was in the packet in his pocket? Had he been intending to consume the herbal mixture? Had he ever felt suicidal? Was he experiencing any side-effects? Had he ever had his stomach pumped before?

Taking pity on them, Harry had answered with 'Yeses' and 'Noes', and they had gone away delighted at having made a communicational breakthrough.

The Truth lay curled beside him on the covers, exposed, exhausted, poignant, but less painful than he had expected. It was more sad than shocking. He could accept it, live with it; learn from it. He had stroked it and it did not bite...

...As Luna had predicted, it had been remarkably easy to get into the Ministry of Magic. The queue of witches and wizards by the Fireplaces had hardly batted a broomstick when Harry's Floo had spluttered him into the Lobby. He was already invisible in his cloak, and the momentary disruption to the flames could have been a downdraught of wind in the chimney, or a vein of volatile sap in the logs...

Harry made his way to the lifts, waiting for another person to open the doors before he slipped inside, unseen. When he was certain no one was looking, he had pushed the button to go down.

Then he was walking along the deserted, windowless corridor with its rough stone walls and glimmering torches. He went past the plain black door, heading for the doorway and the stone steps leading down again into the Department of Mysteries. Everywhere was empty - where were the 'unspeakables' who worked in this part of the Ministry? He walked on, more worried about mistaking the way than about being discovered. Cautiously, he pushed open the door into the black, circular room - black walls, black ceiling. The blue candles flickered, reflecting off the black marble floor like the flashing light of a police van parked on wet tarmac.

There was no evidence that, months previously, this building had been a battlefield; no sign of the devastation that had resulted from Harry's last visit. Everything had been restored, replaced, renewed - the gouges in the walls, the scratches, the burn marks on the doors; the cracks and scars of explosive spells; the searing destruction of ricocheting curses...

Harry continued purposefully. He didn't want the clicking, ticking Room of Time, the Brain Room or the cavernous Room of Prophecies with its rows of new, but already dusty, shelves. He headed straight through towards the Arch Room, even though every step strained the elastic band of dread, already over-stretched, that was pulling him backwards and away.

Then he was there. He was once again on the set of his nightmares, preparing to act out another drama. It was just as in his worst dreams: that dimly lit, rectangular room, shaped like an amphitheatre with the stone benches on a steep rake up from the central pit. In the centre of that pit stood the ancient, cracked, monumental dais and, above it, the pointed, Gothic stonework of the Arch.

Harry's legs buckled under him, as though he had been kicked behind both knees, and he wobbled to the top step to sit down. In his pocket, the conical flask clutched in his fingers was beginning to feel warm.

Then the drumming began. It was a slow beat in his wrist, gradually increasing in speed and intensity until it became an insistent rhythm, throbbing from the twisted thongs of the leather bracelet, pulsating through his whole body. It was Luna, far away in Hogwarts, drumming up the trance; it was the sacred branch of Yggdrasil. It was time to drink the infusion.

It tasted vile. It could easily have been reindeer pee. Glogg could not mask the pagan acidity of the potion that would lead him to the very threshold of death and beyond.

Within his veins the soma spores dispersed. They sprouted. Buttons of energy pushing their way up through dark consciousness; soft, pinky white caps with the force to split flagstones, spreading their gills and filling Harry with unnatural vigour. He was shifting, moving, tapping, riding the rhythmic pulse of the drum, invigorated... Luna had said he would feel this way, feel like dancing, like laughing, like whirling... what had she said? She'd said... She'd said...

He stumbled down the gyrating, spongy steps, down each plushly cushioned tier of undulating, pillowy benches towards the dais. He knew he had to reach the base of the dais and wrap himself tightly in his Invisibility Cloak before...

...his vision exploded into a rush of living arabesques, countless points of white fire, a chequerboard of filigree, jewelled cobwebs, Spirograph circles, squares, patterns; a dazzling, kaleidoscopic butterfly of light.

As the fiesta enraptured his earthly form, Harry slipped into a realm of smooth shadow. Before him the Archway beckoned, the curtains rippling open invitingly, blown by otherworldly breaths. He felt himself flying, lured by siren spirits, floating through the Arch...

...through a funnel, a curved cone of space, a tunnel... rushing downwards into darkness, weightless, timeless, disembodied, to a place he recognised...

"Sirius," he called, surprised to hear his voice sounding in the vacuum of eternity. "Sirius, I'm here. Where are you?"

There were whispers. They flitted round him like invisible insects' wings, brushing his skin; whispers, whispers...

"Sirius!" Harry cried out again.

The whispers seemed to echo the name, a sibilant sea of sound:

"Sirius, Sirius, Sirius-s-s... Sirius is gone... ...is gone. Sirius is gone."

"No!" Harry cried, "No, he's not gone. He was here - I was here - I was somewhere - he spoke to me..."

Harry felt a surge of panic. Sirius couldn't be gone. Gone where? If Sirius were gone, what was he, Harry, doing here? How could he get back? Where was his mother? If she had a message, why didn't she contact him now? Would she know he was there?

"Mother!" he shouted. He didn't even know what to call her - Mother? Lily?

Then a voice seemed to be separating itself from the whispering shoal, swimming through the vast emptiness towards him.

"Harry? My Harry?"

"Mother!" he shouted again, more loudly. "Where are you? I can't see you!"

What had Luna told him? You must summon the spirits; they cannot enter the half-world unbidden. The Shaman flight will take you part of the way; you must call them to meet you...

"Mother!" he called, "Show yourself to me. Are you there? I want to see you."

He sensed, rather than saw, her presence. There was an iridescence in the air, a texture in space, a consciousness speaking in a soft voice several sizes too big, which kept slipping off at the shoulders...

"Harry? My child?"

Slowly the voice grew into itself, until Harry could hear her quite clearly.

"You are my child. Look at you, Harry! I see myself in you, my Harry, and I see... him. I tried to get a message to you: I couldn't cross the boundary, even on Halloween. I could not control the Ouija; it was too hard; I had not been summoned; you had called up another."

"Sirius? Yes, I wanted to talk to him. Is he here? Can you fetch him? I want to talk to both of you."

"The whispers are right. Sirius is gone."

"But he spoke to me..." Harry felt confused and cheated.

The gentle voice wrapped around him, cradling him in an echo of the mother's love he had never known.

"We stay here, Harry, while we have a link to life, a link that ties us to the past. When the link is broken, we have to move on. For some it is a wrong we must redress; for others it is a task we must complete before we can go forward. Sirius was here; he had been waiting; he had a destiny to fulfil. And now that link is broken; he has achieved that goal; he has gone on..."

"No! He spoke to me!" It was all Harry could say. It was not possible that his long quest should end in nothingness. He had wanted to say goodbye.

"That was his task, Harry," said Lily, gently. "It was written that he should guide you back to safety; you travelled here too soon; it was not your time. Once Sirius had sent you home, his work here was done."

"What if I hadn't gone to Snape Manor? Would Sirius still be here?"

"The paths of our destiny are mysterious, Harry. You did go there; you would have died; Sirius brought you back. And, once his link was broken, Sirius could not stay in limbo..."

Harry was wondering just how many spirits were lined-up in the after-life, waiting their turn to save him from an untimely death.

"And did you stay for me too?" he asked his mother. This wasn't at all how he had envisaged meeting her. He'd imagined more hugs, and a cosy chat in a celestial Madam Puddifoot's, swapping life and death stories over a cup of ethereal nectar. He had thought he would be able to see her.

"Is this your task? Talking to me now? Will you have to go too?" How could happiness be so fleeting, so insubstantial?

"I have stayed for you, my child, but my task is almost done. I know now you will be loved, Harry... I stay for another, but he has never summoned me, in all these years... You did not summon me, but I hoped I might reach across to you while the thresholds were open. Did you get my message? It was so difficult trying to manipulate that glass - I couldn't say all that I wanted. Did you give him my message?" Lily's voice brimmed with entreaty and hope.

"You stayed for Snape?" Harry was incredulous. He knew he was being slow, but his brain was having trouble processing all the implications.

"Yes, for Severus. I know the message was cryptic, but I didn't have the power to spell out my name too, let alone anything else. I thought you would understand."

"So there was a message in the book?"

Harry sensed a caress, a stroking, smoothing his hair, a gentle touch drifting across his face. Can spirits sigh?

"It was all so long ago."

Lily sounded like the young woman she had been sixteen years before; Harry still imagined her that way: beautiful, vibrant, with her red hair falling loose about her shoulders and her bright green eyes fiery with intelligence.

"I wrote to him in that book, on one of the blank pages - isn't that terrible? We were taught never to write in books! - and I highlighted some poems that seemed to say what I felt. Oh, I know it was a silly, romantic thing to do - perhaps I was a little crazy at the time. Everybody thought I was... And then I got shy at the last minute, and I put a Concealment Charm on my note - I'd said too much, been too honest, too forward. But I still sent him the book. I thought he would read the poems and realise that I wanted to talk to him... Did he read them?"

Only about ten thousand times.

"Yes, but..."

"...but then I was killed. Before we had a chance to speak to each other. And in all this time he has never summoned me; I have never been able to tell him."

"Tell him?" Harry felt weak with anticipation; the tumblers to his locked life were dropping into place.

"Tell him how I felt. Oh, Harry, my darling child, I have watched you from afar; I have tried to be with you. From this side we can see through to your world, but it is so remote, so distant; we cannot get involved. It has been so hard, watching you cause each other so much pain..."

Lily's voice went very quiet, fading, growing softer, and Harry was suddenly terrified that she would disappear for ever, that she had delivered her message, that the link would be broken and that she would be lost to him for all time.

"Don't leave me!" he cried. "Don't go! You must tell me now. Tell me everything."

"I recognised him," she said. Harry didn't need to ask to what occasion she referred. There could be only one. "How could I not? Even with my eyes blindfolded. He had a kind of smell; I knew it from school - it was in his very skin, a sort of herbal, chemical, antiseptic smell...not unpleasant..."

Yeah, I know it. No Firewhisky in those days, then?

"...and I recognised his eyes. Those black, flashing eyes. That day they were filled with anger and torment. I thought he was going to kill me. Well, we'd all heard stories about the Death Eater raids... they didn't drop in for a chat and a cup of tea. You were lucky if you escaped with your life. I was frightened, Harry; really frightened. It's funny, you know, I'd imagined what I might do in a situation like that, and I'd always seen myself as being a real heroine - putting up a struggle, screaming, fighting. But when it came to it, do you know what I did? I froze. The feisty, independent Lily Evans froze like a mouse in an owl's talons. And, of course, James wasn't there to help me. It's lucky, in a way, that he wasn't - he would surely have been killed. But sometimes, when I think back, I wonder what might have happened if he had died that day... Oh, that's a dreadful thing to say. But, Harry, I've had so long to think about it; so many years to go through all the permutations in my mind... It never gets any easier.

"Harry, I can't talk about this - it's not the sort of thing a mother tells her child. I don't know what Severus has already told you. But you must know one thing: he didn't really hurt me; well, he could have hurt me a lot more than he did... I can't go into details here, child, it wouldn't be right. It's not the sort of thing that a son should hear ..."

Lily's voice clouded with memory. Harry felt a stab of guilt – he, after all, was urging her to recall that painful day. Snape too had been cagey about the details, but Harry knew enough to relive, vicariously, that vicious Death Eater attack. Inwardly he cringed at the images of brutality and degradation that would be forcing themselves upon her mind. Yet, when she next spoke it was not with abhorrence but sadly, in tones of resignation, almost regret.

"Do you know, I think he hardly realised who I was. He barely noticed me. It was as though he had a job to do, but his thoughts were elsewhere. I didn't understand it at the time. I was too scared to care. But days afterwards, when I read that his parents had died in that horrible accident, I understood the pain I had seen in his eyes..."

"But you didn't say anything for months - for nearly two whole years! He told me you sent him the book just days before you were killed. Why wait so long?" To Harry it still didn't make sense.

"Why do we do anything, Harry? Because, at the time, it seems the right thing to do. You may not understand this, Harry - how could you? - but when a woman is attacked like that, it has a huge impact on how she feels about herself, about everything. I hated him, I wanted him to die in hell, but for months I hated myself more; I felt degraded and worthless and unclean; I didn't think anyone would ever want me again; it was as though I was dirty, soiled. I felt like scum. I felt that in some absurd way it was my fault, even though I knew, logically, that I was the victim; I felt that the child I was carrying - you, Harry - was sent as a punishment. For weeks I just wanted to die too; I wished that he had killed me. There didn't seem to be any point in living. I was so depressed; my life was in ruins.

"And then you were born, Harry, and I loved you. I adored you. I couldn't help myself. It was as simple as that. From the moment I held you in my arms, I knew you were special. Suddenly it didn't matter to me where you had come from. But, of course, it mattered to other people. It mattered to James. He couldn't tolerate the idea that people might realise you were not his child. It would have been a disgrace; his precious family honour would have been sullied. Even when you were tiny, you looked so like your father... one look at you and everybody would have guessed the truth.

"James insisted on the Patersimilis Charm. It smoothed things over; it salvaged his pride; as long as he could maintain the charade in the eyes of the world. Keep on playing 'happy families'. He'd had long enough, himself, to get used to the idea that I was carrying another man's baby - I couldn't pretend you were his, Harry - things had been going wrong between us for some time...

"James didn't really care about me. Perhaps he thought he did, at first, but it didn't last. He didn't know me; he didn't see the real me: he saw what he thought he ought to see - but he only ever really cared about himself. He cared about his image and reputation, and his appearance and popularity, and his money and his honour, and about having a good time and impressing his friends - but it was all superficial. James was a beautifully wrapped box with nothing inside it.

"Oh, he was good to me, kind enough, in his own way, but it was all a convenient, conventional façade - marriage by numbers - there was no true tenderness, no meeting of minds.

"Then, as the months passed, I found myself thinking more and more about Severus. I couldn't help it. I had you with me every day reminding me of him. Reminding me that he was a part of you, so how could I hate him? I detested myself for it. I couldn't explain it, not to myself nor to anybody else. How could I possibly be thinking that way about a man who had shamed me? It was depraved and sickening; it wasn't natural; it was perverse. I should have loathed him. But I didn't, Harry. I didn't know how I felt, but I couldn't stop thinking about him. I thought about him all the time. I couldn't tell anyone; I didn't want to admit it, even to myself - it was obscene, insane. I felt I was betraying myself, and all the other women who have ever had to go through what I had endured. As though I was belittling our suffering.

"Perhaps I was demented, who knows? James told everybody I was emotionally disturbed - perhaps I was. James really did think I was mad - he couldn't believe that I was dissatisfied with him, with our life. He was so complacent! But I just wasn't happy with him. All I know was that I found myself longing for Severus - Oh, I'm embarrassing you! I'm sorry! I wouldn't normally say all this, but you did want to know the truth. I pretended it wasn't happening. For months I tried to convince myself that this was some peculiar 'coping strategy' that my brain had come up with - that if I stopped hating him, it would lessen the impact of the attack itself. Or something like that. But I knew it was a lie.

"I tried to turn my back on those feelings, to live a sham of a life with James, but in my heart I was yearning for Severus. There was something so dangerous, even thrilling about him! Everything with James was too 'nice' - when I met him at school he was a bit of a wild child, but he was getting so preoccupied with his status in the world, becoming so unadventurous - I couldn't believe he was the Marauder I married. But I put up with it for years.

"I was too ashamed to confess that, now, when I thought about Severus that day, I found it exciting. I started to make excuses in my mind, trying to persuade myself that he hadn't really wanted to, you know, 'rape' me.... I needed it to be acceptable for me to want him. Maybe I was just a bored, unhappy, repressed witch craving attention. It didn't feel that way. I know there was a connection. I felt he was my soul-mate, or he could have been; we should have been together. It might have worked. I began to dream of making him love me. I ached for him. And he never knew.

"I wanted to speak to him, to see if there was any chance for us, or if I was deluding myself - was it just a sad, escapist fantasy? I probably would have left James, if Severus had given me any sign. I was prepared for any scandal, any censure. But in all those months he never visited the house, never came near me. He never allows himself to believe that anyone cares for him: he even tried to rationalise the poems instead of listening to his heart. And then I died and it was too late. He never knew. So much wasted passion!"

Lily's gentle voice was misting, dispersing into wisps of ethereal tenderness.

"I still go to him, you know. I try to make him sense my presence, but he does not trust himself. I sit with him sometimes, in the evenings. I keep his Absinthe chilled..."

"And doesn't he realise that you're there?" Harry asked tremulously.

"No, he always thinks he is completely alone."

X X X

"Harry? Sweet Merlin! Child, what are you doing here?"

The voice itself was familiar, the affectionate tone less so. Harry reluctantly left his parents to their separate solitudes, and opened his eyes. It was disorientating to find himself staring into the concerned, caring, very surprised face of Madam Pomfrey.

"They've been searching for you high and low, boy - how did you get here?" she whispered.

"I could ask you the same question," he answered back.

Quickly she drew the bright, bunny-print curtains all around the bed, screening him from the view of the rest of the ward. He was embarrassed when she gathered him into a very un-Matronly hug, and dabbed a tear from the corner of one eye.

"Oh, Mr Potter, there are some people who are going to be very glad to see you. Everybody thinks you're dead, child! They're saying you went through the Whispering Archway..."

"It's a long story."

"Your friends have been so upset - Miss Granger, the Weasley children, all of Gryffindor... and Professor Snape has been worried sick, poor man!"

"Have the Ministry let him go?"

"In the light of new evidence, provided, as I understand, by young Mr Malfoy, they were obliged to drop all charges."

Draco had confessed, to save Snape?

"What about the other attacks? What about Voldemort? What about...?" began Harry, sitting up anxiously, needing to know.

"Shh, Harry." Madam Pomfrey interrupted him. "Everything that can be done is being done. Until You-Know-Who shows his hand, there is little that anyone can do. The Order - yes, I know about the Order - is taking every possible precaution. There's a lot of talking going on, planning, preparation for resistance. It is not up to you, child, to save the wizarding world single-handedly. When the time comes, you will play your part, as will we all. Your priorities now are to get well, and to sort out your own problems, starting with your friends and the people you love."

Madam Pomfrey had been seconded to a Muggle hospital as part of her participation in the WHIIMP programme. She had lasted the course much better than the cherubic, psychological creep, Mr Lardon. She had been asked by Dumbledore to find excuses to visit other Muggle hospitals, as part of her project perhaps, to see if she could discover any news about Harry. Already she had come across the entire Dursley family, recovering from the poisoning, in another hospital not far away. Harry congratulated himself on a very narrow escape...

"We need to get you home, Harry - get some Strengthening Solution and Pepper-Up Potion into you. Let's get rid of all these Muggle annoyances."

So saying, she expertly removed the drip and feed lines - Harry hardly felt a thing - covering the wounds with strips of sticking plaster.

"Get Professor Snape to dab a drop of Better Balm on those when you get back," she advised. "I'm sure he has something of the sort in that 'pharmacopoeia' he calls a classroom. You can Floo straight to his room; I've managed to find one fireplace here that is connected to the Network. Now, how are we going to get you out of here? Be brazen, I suppose - pop you in a wheelchair, and make a run for it!"

"I can walk," Harry assured her, "and I've still got my Invisibility Cloak - I'll follow you."

X X X

Snape was sitting in the dark, the poetry book on his lap, open at page 214. A glass of Absinthe stood untouched by his side. Despite the glow from the embers of the fire, the room was icy cold. The loving words bled from the page, staining his existence in ever darker shades of regret and wasted opportunity. In all his life he had never felt so profoundly alone.

A tell-tale shower of preliminary green Floo-sparks, a warning that someone was coming, brought him angrily to his feet, wand at the ready, resenting the intrusion on his sadness.

Then there was a brief commotion in the flames, and from the fireplace a figure staggered, and stood swaying dizzily on the hearth.

"Harry? Bon Dieu, c'est toi?" (1)

Snape's strong arms stopped the boy from falling. They encircled him and pulled him to his chest. Harry's cheek was pressed against the rough fabric of his jacket: he could smell the herbal muskiness; he could feel the man's heart racing.

"I thought I'd lost you. Harry, I thought I'd lost you," Snape murmured, his grip, if anything, growing tighter, crushing the breath out of the boy, holding onto him as to life itself.

Then he let go.

"Come and sit down, Harry." He helped him to the couch. Harry noticed the open book.

"Sir, there's something I have to tell you."

Snape smiled sadly at his son.

"I know, Harry. I think I know, now."

END OF STORY

(1) Bon Dieu, c'est toi? : God, is it you?

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Extract from 'Si tu savais' by Robert Desnos (1900-1945)

Loin de moi et semblable aux étoiles, à la mer, et à tous les accessoires de la mythologie poétique,

Loin de moi et cependant présente a ton insu,

Loin de moi et plus silencieuse encore parce que

je t'imagine sans cesse,

Loin de moi, mon joli mirage et mon rêve éternel,

tu ne peux pas savoir.

Si tu savais.

('Far away from me, seeming like stars, like the sea, and all the trappings of poetic mythology; far away from me, and yet still here, without your realising it; far away from me, and more silent than ever, because you live constantly in my imagination; far away from me, my beautiful fantasy, my eternal dream - you cannot know... If you only knew...')

Thanks for reading, and a special thank-you to everyone who has taken the time to review. I hope you liked it.

Bellegeste

P.S.

Don't know if you're all sick of this scenario by now, but there is a Lost Perspective IV ... I'm still tweaking it, but basically it is a bit of a reprise, carrying on from where this leaves off, picking up a couple of threads and twisting them in a different direction, but from the perspectives of Hermione and Snape rather than Harry... (Well, mainly Snape, actually...). NO plot, all introspection...

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