Rating: PG-13 (slash)
Beta thanks to fearlessblue
Summary: The trauma of war catches up with Severus Snape. Who can help him?
He should, of course, have seen it coming.
He knew, in a detached, intellectual way, that he had been through hell; that in the past year he had seen things beyond his own darkest imaginings, that he had experienced pain which would have driven others to gibbering madness.
And worse than that, he knew the things he had done, the decisions he had made. Things justified by their ends; perhaps. Accepted by the Wizengamot as 'reasonable force applied judiciously'; indeed. But forgivable, forgettable? Never.
It still took him by surprise -- sneaking up on him on a peaceful Thursday afternoon. One minute Severus Snape was demonstrating to a class of first year Gryffindors and Slytherins the correct method for cracking doxy eggs on the edge of a cauldron without getting any eggshell in the mixture. The next minute there was egg oozing between the fingers of his clenched fist, jagged edges of shell hurting his palm as he squeezed tighter and tighter.
A few of the students tittered at first, as they might when another teacher made an error, but the sound fell flat as the shocked class watched their potions master while he stood stock still in front of them and fell apart.
He couldn't seem to move at all. He could feel the mess in his hand, the tremors running through his limbs, could hear his own breath hitch in a single gasping sob. If he didn't know better, he might have thought himself hit by a rogue hex, but logic told him this had been a long time coming.
At long last one of the students had the sense to duck out of the classroom, returning a few minutes later with a frowning Professor Vector in tow.
Albus Dumbledore tried tea.
The headmaster's study, with its deep, soft chairs and endless enchanted knick-knacks, was held by most staff and students to be a cosy place, but it was hardly likely to be a comforting spot to Severus. It was here that he had been disciplined for vicious pranks on Gryffindors, here that he had been told of his mother's death by a brusque auror who seemed more embarrassed than sorry about the news he bore, here that he had begged for freedom from the consequences of a foolish and angry decision, and had been granted instead an even more binding slavery.
And it was here that he sat, a few hours after the Egg Incident, waiting to discuss his future.
"Here," said Professor Dumbledore, handing over a cup of steaming brown liquid, "a nice cup of tea always makes things feel better."
Not for the first time, Severus wondered how someone so credited with wisdom, so intelligent and experienced, could spout such clichéd hogwash. But he accepted the cup and took a tiny sip, subjecting it to a careful and detailed tasting. Only when he was certain it did not contain any kind of cheering or sleeping potion – or worse, veritaserum – did he swallow the hot tea and take a larger gulp.
"It was a momentary lapse, headmaster," lied Severus, knowing full-well that in reality he was as shattered and useless as the crushed doxy egg – reduced from a powerful ingredient to a sticky mess no-one wanted to touch. Even now it was an effort of will to sit in the chair and form polite words rather than to fall on his knees and weep.
Mad. He had, at last, gone mad. Only it wasn't the blissful escape from pain into oblivion that so many -- too many -- others had managed. There would be no long rest of quiet blankness for him, as the chaotic whirl of screaming memories finally made their presence known in his psyche.
So he sipped the tea and stared at the wall – the same stupid jauntily papered wall that he had stared at far too often while fighting back boyish tears – and listened to Dumbledore wittering about 'understandable exhaustion' and 'a short break, a well deserved holiday'.
Minerva McGonagall tried telling him to snap out of it
"Severus! Open the door!"
He had faced the Dark Lord in a fury, he had faced repeated cruciatus curses, he had faced teaching third years last lesson on a Friday. So why was he hiding under the bed clothes from Minerva? For that matter, what protection were the bedclothes going to be from her, other than to make the scene all the more embarrassing when worry finally got the better of her and she burst through the door? This had to be the worst piece of self-preservation instinct ever.
"Just a moment, Minerva," called out Severus, gritting his teeth and forcing his unwilling body out of its useless sanctuary. He was annoyed by the way his heart began pounding as he approached the door, but he managed to open it nonetheless.
Minerva looked him up and down, an appalled expression dawning on her face. It took him a moment to realize his own state of disarray and he made a futile effort to straighten his robes.
"Severus Snape, you're a mess," snapped his colleague. "Just look at yourself."
"Minerva..." he started, in a warning tone, but it was hard to be properly daunting while feeling so dishevelled. He shrugged, lacking the energy to make excuses for his appearance.
"Honestly, young man," went on the witch, as if twenty years had never happened and he was still her bright but wayward scholar, "you need to pull yourself together. Sitting around feeling sorry for yourself isn't doing anybody any good."
Severus stared at the woman. Had she no idea? Didn't two generations of her precious Gryffindors stand before her in dream each night and accuse her of failing them? No, of course not. How nice it must be to be so self-righteous, upright and honourable. How snug and smug she must sleep.
"The war is over Severus. It's time to put all that behind us."
"Get out," he muttered between clenched teeth.
Minerva stepped towards him, an arm raised. He wasn't certain if she was going to attempt to hug him or slap some sense into him. Either way, he reckoned, she didn't have the right to touch him. How dare she flaunt her shining white clear conscience in the face of his ruined darkness?
He saw the fear flare in her eyes before he even realized he had drawn his wand on her. She backed towards the door, hands raised in surrender.
"Out," he repeated, his voice dead flat, and he was pleased to find a spark of menace in the word.
The pity in Minerva's eyes as she closed the door was almost enough to make him retch.
Hermione Granger tried books.
The walls of his own rooms were plainer and calmer than those in Dumbledore's study, but it wasn't for any particular liking of his plain, calm walls that he was staring at them. He just seemed to be having difficulty doing anything else.
Everything was being arranged around him – every now and then someone would give a soft knock at the door, to which he would grunt 'uh-huh'. Then they would enter and tell him some news; that his classes were being supervised until the end of term by two apprentice teachers, Sam Nettlestone and Hermione Granger, or that lodgings had been arranged for him at 12 Grimmauld Place, still the property of the Order and occupied by one Remus Lupin.
He wondered briefly whether these arrangements were designed specifically to irk him out of this fit of despondency, but nevertheless could only muster up another 'uh-huh' in response.
House elves brought him food, which he picked at. On the evening of the second day after the Incident, he decided to shake himself into action and jumped from his chair, looking around for something to do, some distraction. There was nothing. He had never been a man with hobbies, and with no war to fight, no classes to teach and no-one needing any potions, there was nothing for him to do.
His own bookshelves proved uninspiring and to go to the library he would have to get properly dressed – not to mention running the gauntlet of people asking if he was feeling better. He retreated to his chair and returned to his close study of the wall.
A few moments later there was a sort of half-hearted knock at the door -- actually less like a knock and more like something bumping into the door. There was no response to his 'uh-huh', nor to the more peremptory 'hello?' So he got back to his feet and traversed the room to open the door.
There was no-one there, but on the floor lay a book. It was not a dark-leather bound, golden-lettered library book, but a shiny-covered floppy Muggle paperback. To the front was attached a pastel blue square of paper bearing a note reading:
Dear Professor Snape,
I hope you feel better after a break. I thought you might find this Muggle perspective helpful.
The note peeled easily from the cover and for a moment he was distracted by the ingenuity of the sticky paper as it uncovered the title Recovery from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
He wanted to be annoyed at the bloody know-it-all Granger girl for having the temerity and idiocy to diagnose some kind of medical condition purely on the basis of hearsay about his breakdown. But he couldn't help his heart making a little leap of hope, grasping at the promise contained in the first word of the title.
At the very least, he thought, it saved him a trip to the library. He was about to start reading when there was another, much more definite, knock at the door.
Hagrid tried a cute furry animal.
He pulled open the door and found the immense form of Rubeus Hagrid filling the dungeon corridor.
The half-giant studied him, one eye-narrowing in suspicion, apparently judging how close to approach, as if Severus were an edgy hippogriff with too little experience of human contact.
"Yes?" said Severus, wanting to get whatever it was Hagrid wanted over with, even though there was, of course, little else he had to be doing.
"I 'eard you was goin' to be takin' a bit of a break over at Mr Lupin's place."
Yes, no doubt it was the talk of the staff room. Snape's finally flipped. Better take a last look before they cart him off to the funny farm.
"So I was wonderin' whether you might be willin' to take this little fella off me hands," went on Hagrid, fishing in one of his vast pockets and lifting out a wriggling ball of red-brown fur. The creature had big, black eyes, a pointed white nose and was almost small enough to sit in Hagrid's oversized palm.
"It's a fox," said Severus.
"A fox cub," corrected Hagrid. "'E's an orphan or abandoned mebbe. I found 'im in the forest, weak and starving. 'E's recoverin' nicely now, but I don't have much time for hand-rearin' 'im. And foxes have somethin' of a reputation for being cunning-like, so I thought..."
"You thought you'd foist him on the mad Slytherin ex-spy with time on his hands."
Hagrid edged backwards towards the door, already looking cowed. The fox whimpered a desperate plea – take me, take me – its eyes enormous, needy. Severus met its gaze with his own, cold and contemptuous. The creature in Hagrid's hands didn't flinch; it tipped its head to one side and, damn it, the thing appeared to grin.
It was a Slytherin creature alright.
"Fine Hagrid, I'll take him. Just tell me what he'll need."
The remaining hours of the evening were therefore taken up with finding an appropriate box and charming some extra-absorbent straw with which to line it. A battered cushion finished off a cosy den. Hagrid dashed off and returned laden with dog food and dead mice.
"You'd best be givin' 'im a name, professor," said Hagrid as he moved to leave.
"I don't hold with such anthropomorphic nonsense," snapped Severus. Hagrid just shrugged and closed the door, not letting on whether he was baffled by the terminology or just disdained his colleague's viewpoint.
"No, I don't, do I Fox?" went on Severus, as the small creature curled up on his knee.
Remus Lupin tried to be a good host
"I only tried to eat you the once Severus, are you going to hold it against me forever?"
If he hadn't been drunk on the elation of victory, tipsy on champagne and more than a little out-of-it on painkilling potions, Severus might not have laughed at the unexpectedly flippant question – because Severus Snape was not, as a rule, a man who laughed.
As it was, he had roared.
That had broken the ice and within half an hour he and Remus Lupin had exchanged a whole catalogue of chuckling accusations and apologies, before shaking hands and declaring – or at least slurring – an oath of undying friendship.
Reviewing his absurd behaviour on the morning after the victory feast, Severus had been relieved to discover that there were at least certain things he had refrained from letting slip. "I had a massive crush on you back in school," would be one of those things. "I dreamed once of flying with you, it was the happiest I've ever been," would most certainly be another.
'Undying friendship' had so far consisted of being civil to each other at school events, lurking in a corner to discuss ministry policy or international wizarding affairs.
And that was... something.
As much as Severus had hoped to evade efforts at cheering him up, he had to admit to himself that he was somewhat disappointed. Remus was definitely avoiding him.
Well, that wasn't exactly fair, since Severus had spent his first day at 12 Grimmauld Place holed up in his room. The other wizard had been polite and helpful on his arrival, a comfortable room had been aired and prepared, meals had been sent to him and day-old chicks were provided for Fox.
So, technically, Remus was only avoiding him by failing to knock on his door and pay an irritating visit to pat him on the head and offer stupid Gryffindor truisms about looking on the bright side. It was still disappointing.
Severus leafed through the only book he had been able to find at Hogwarts on hand-rearing fox cubs. That great oaf Hagrid had already done it all wrong, allowing poor Fox to become far to habituated to human contact. It would impossible to release the animal back into the wild now, when his trust in humans would almost certainly get him killed.
"So, Severus," said Remus over breakfast the next morning. "Are you feeling rested?"
"Rested?" snapped Severus. "Did Dumbledore ask you to spy on my sleeping patterns then? Report back to him on my nightmares?"
Damn. Over-reaction, he thought as Remus' eyes widened in shock, then realisation.
"Oh, dear. I had no idea. Dumbledore's instructions were just that you were exhausted and needed rest."
"I don't know what it is that I need," said Severus, hunching his shoulders over his mug of coffee, "but I doubt it's rest. An entirely different last twenty years might work."
"Hmm," said Remus, leaving his guest surprised and grateful for not trying the expected "surely, it's not all bad" because it was all bad. All of it. "What are your plans for the day?"
The question didn't make sense for a moment -- Severus didn't have any plans -- no lessons or dangerous missions. But actually there was something he needed to do. "I need to build an outdoor run for this fox cub Hagrid's got me looking after," he said. "He'll be able to go outside by the end of the week."
"I'll lend a hand," said Lupin. "If that's fine with you. Transfiguration or carpentry?"
Out of some ludicrous idea that physical work was good for the soul they opted for carpentry, which took hours since neither of them was particularly skilled at it. By the time they had added some spellwork to ensure the wire was actually bound to the frame, the day was almost over.
Over dinner they stuck to safe subjects of conversation, such as the new taxes on potions ingredients and the recent raids on illegal dragon breeders in which young Tonks had suffered a severe singeing. The nagging sense of disappointment crept back – did he actually want Remus to ask him about his mental state? Yet it didn't require leglimency to see that the other wizard was desperate to pry. Apparently he was not going to ask until Severus indicated that he wanted to discuss things. And he didn't. Most certainly not.
As they finished the last of the wine bottle, Remus yawned. "Well, it must be bed time," he said, rising to his feet and stretching out cramped limbs. "Good night, Severus."
Without warning he stooped and dropped a kiss on Severus' cheek. Before the potions master could collect his wits together, Remus was out of the door, his footsteps audible on the stairs.
What was that supposed to mean? wondered the baffled wizard who remained on the sofa. The kiss had been too soft and light to be seductive, yet far too intimate to be merely a gesture of friendship and sympathy. He raised his hand to the spot Remus' lips had touched, holding it there as though he could trap the ticklish sensation of breath against his cheek.
Was it possible? Was it at all possible that Remus returned the feelings he had long ago locked away as a foolish fantasy?
Perhaps it really wasn't all bad after all.
The kiss was seductive, sensuous, all-consuming.
He didn't put up any resistance as it drew out of him every meagre ration of happiness he had ever known. Leaning into the dementor's embrace, he allowed it to suck on his memories – and good riddance to them. He cried aloud in the ecstasy of loss.
He woke up screaming.
Kingsley Shacklebolt tried to pick a fight
"No wands," said Shacklebolt, laying his own in plain view on the garden table.
"Tell me again why we're doing this?" asked Severus, placing his wand beside the auror's and testing the weight and balance of the weapon in his hand.
"Because. I'm out of practice. I'm told you're good at this and hardly any wizards are skilled in non-magical combat..."
"Ah. It's one of Dumbledore's 'keep the mad potions master entertained' schemes," sneered Severus.
Shacklebolt's shoulders sagged, his eyes studying the floor as he started, "It's not like that, Snape..."
He stopped mid excuse, scurrying backwards as he belatedly realized his opponent was approaching at speed, sword drawn.
Severus barked a laugh, mentally chalking up two points to himself; one for spotting an obvious attempt to distract him from his melancholy, the other for using that to catch the auror off guard and get the upper hand early in the contest.
He was good at fencing, or at least as good as he could be given the dearth of useful opponents in the wizarding world. For a brief while, before the pressures of serving two masters had become too time-consuming, he had taken lessons at a private London sword club and it had been his secret pleasure.
Despite losing the initiative at first, Shacklebolt soon found his feet and started to put up a decent fight. It was fortunate that they had transfigured the swordpoints and cast safety mask spells, because Severus found his skill was well-matched by his opponent's less-trained fitness and agility.
Parry, feint, lunge.
Adrenaline surged through his veins, an old friend, quickening his reactions, reawakening forgotten instincts... and treacherously uncovering thoughts long-suppressed as inappropriate in a world without battles.
You like this, don't you? whispered his taunting conscience. How can you ever really be a teacher, a thinker, at peace in the quiet of the library? This is where you belong; in the thick of the fight, where you can turn your hatred into power.
And the endless deceptions, pretending you enjoyed the cruelty – until you were so convincing in the performance that even you weren't sure where the act ended and the rush began. Until you had to pretend that the enjoyment was pretence. But it wasn't, was it?
Stop-thrust, defend, thrust, remise.
In the end, all you really knew how to do was fight. All you could do was hurt and kill and you weren't good for anything else anymore. To defend alone was never enough, because you would always be stepping backwards, giving ground. So you had to attack, strike, hurt -- drive forward, no mercy, no quarter, no thought.
Counter-parry, Fleche. Hit, hit, hit.
A heavy weight sent him flying sideways, knocking the air out of him as he crashed to the ground. Hands gripped his arms, pinning him to the earth, restoring reality.
"Severus! Severus! Do you know where you are?" After a long moment, he nodded mutely but Remus didn't relax his grip.
Shacklebolt was staring at him open-mouthed, gasping for breath, a bloody gash visible through the torn fabric at the shoulder of his white shirt.
"You should see to that, Kingsley," said Remus, and the auror took it for the dismissal it so obviously was, heading for the garden door with no more than a nod.
Once he was gone Remus released his hold, still leaning over him, looking concerned.
Without the firm hands on his own arms, Severus immediately began to feel untethered again, the accusing voices of his conscience urgently whispering that he had no place here. No place reaching out and grabbing for the safety of Remus, no place relaxing into the protecting hold of Remus, no place kissing Remus' soft, innocent lips.
He pulled back suddenly, expecting to see utter revulsion, but instead encountered dreamily dilated pupils and a surprised but giddy smile.
"Maybe we should go inside," said Remus.
Remus Lupin tried again
"So is this another of Dumbledore's distraction schemes? Seduction?" Severus regretted the poor joke as soon as it was out of his mouth. The last thing he wanted to do was ruin this moment, yet he could find no other, softer words and he had to say something while Remus peeled off his socks with such agonising slowness.
"Severus, you kissed me first," teased back Remus, not in the least offended, throwing the socks in the vague direction of a laundry basket.
"There's no need to look so appalled, Severus," said Remus tugging his dumbfounded companion toward the large white-blanketed bed by the fabric of his half-unbuttoned shirt. "I know you were dazed out there and didn't really know what you were doing, but I've had an inkling that you were as attracted to me as I am to you for a while now. I've been a complete coward about it for fear I was wrong. Tell me I'm not wrong."
"You're not wrong," groaned Severus, as Remus' tongue ran along his collar-bone.
He wasn't aware of the passage of time, but it must have passed anyway, since when he opened his eyes, the quality of light in the room was markedly different, having faded to evening grey.
Remus was watching him, a soft smile playing on his lips.
"Stop it. Stop looking at me like that."
"Like what?" asked Remus.
"Like you're trying to see if I'm fixed. All better now. Sex as the ultimate panacea, I suppose. It's not. One quick shag – however good – doesn't put the world to rights."
The hope melted from Remus' eyes, replaced with bitter distaste. He rolled away and shuffled into a seated position, leaning against the headboard, frowning in thought, eyes focused on the far wall.
"That's not what I was doing," he said tersely. "That's not what this was about."
Right, chimed a sarcastic voice in Severus' head, but he held his tongue and was thus surprised to hear Remus muse a moment later: "Well, maybe a part of me did think for a minute back there that this was happily ever after. A foolish dream I suppose."
"Ever after?" asked Snape, almost breathless at what the two words suggested.
"But it was just 'one quick shag', right?" said Remus, still not meeting his eyes.
Severus decided to put him right on that score, but not with words.
"World's still not put to rights," whispered Remus into his ear, much, much later. "We're going to have to keep working on it."
Severus Snape tried.
He wasn't certain when recovery became a project, but he applied himself to it with dedication, as he had approached all the other great projects of his life, from hating the Marauders to being the greatest potions master of Voldemort's new order to keeping Harry Potter alive.
Granger's book suggested that it might help to write about his experiences and as much as he scoffed at the phrase "reclaim the narrative of the trauma" he started a private memoir of his messed-up life. He started several times, in fact, each time obliterating the damning document. The first silently accused him in his own bitter words – tormentor, murderer, Death Eater. The next was hopelessly self-pitying, filled with weaselly excuses about how little choice he had ever had.
He began again and thought things were going well until he re-read his account of the attack at Withering Cross. It wasn't just the level of detail that disturbed him; it was the nature of the description, which picked out in sensuous detail the aesthetics of orange and green tongues of devouring magical flame, wholly ignoring the fact that the thing ablaze was, in fact, not to put to fine a point on it, a wizard – a living, screaming, dying, wizard.
That time he tore the parchment to shreds. He was still holding on to the tattered remains when Remus found him and knelt beside him, coaxing his hands open so that the rotten words tumbled to the floor.
"Don't touch me, Remus," he snapped, snatching his hands away and hugging them to his chest. "I'm a monster."
"Splendid," said the other wizard, lightly. "Me too."
"I'm not joking Lupin. The things I did. I don't know how you can bear to be near me."
"The things you did," said Remus, shaking his head. "Severus, you saved the world."
"I think you'll find that was Potter."
"And he'd have been dead in his first year if it wasn't for you. He wouldn't have stood a chance without the Order. We all played a part, but yours was vital. That counts." He picked up a fresh sheet of parchment and laid it in front of Severus. "Write it again. Tell the truth."
And with that, he walked out of the room. Severus stared at the blank page for long minutes.
Eventually he looked up. Gazing through the window he could see Remus clowning around with a ball in the sunshine, while Fox yipped in delight at the prospect of a game.
He dipped the nib of his quill into the inkwell and wrote, the large letters scratching their way across the sheet:
I, Severus Snape, did what had to be done.
Then he laid down the quill and went outside to lay claim to his future.
Of course that wasn't the end. One burst of optimism is not the same thing as recovery.
There were setbacks. Nightmares. Panic attacks. There were dark days when he was swallowed by guilt-ridden inertia and even Remus' apparently endless supply of patience reached its limit and he snapped that it was time for an end to "this stubborn, attention-seeking self-loathing". There was still the terrifying return to teaching and the monthly rigmarole of full moon to get through.
But there were also comfortable evenings spent in companionable silence and long mornings spent in bed, which most certainly weren't silent. Mostly there was living, and mostly it was good.
Severus did not return to live in the castle, but apparated home each night, making sure his young Slytherins could floo him if there was an emergency in the night.
It took him a while to realize that he had started to think of somewhere as home.