It is a dead spider caught in the bottom of a wineglass.
Somehow it had become trapped in walls of sheer, curving glass and neither the creature's life-long patience nor all its frantic scurrying had been able to save it. Dead and dried out; only the persistence of the hard black exoskeleton gives the appearance of life.
He blinks sweat from his eyes.
Not a spider: a man: curled in agony, reflected in the bottom of one of the tall, ornate mirrors of the Malfoys' Ballroom.
A little distance across cool, grey marble, a headland of dark robes extends black finger bones towards him - tiny islands in the sea of their owner's deliquescence. Bellatrix had been loyal and the Dark Mark had eaten her alive. Lucius Malfoy's loyalty was only ever to himself and he'd scarcely been harmed. Severus, of course, had been loyal once. The sleeve of his poisoned left forearm hides bursting, dripping flesh. It is only a matter of time.
He hears footsteps returning: Potter.
The little bastard had finally got the drop on him and now there's no way to prevent the 'Chosen One' from discovering what happens to weapons once the war is won. Swords into ploughshares and what won't bend must break or else be safely locked away. And now the brat's standing over him, wand drawn, demanding answers but it's hard to concentrate and so Snape ignores him. Anything Potter does to him will only speed the process.
I'm so sorry Albus, he thinks. I tried.
It had always been the same thing. Even, at the very last, on the tower. 'Severus, please . . .,' the old wizard had begged. Severus, please protect Harry. When it would have been so much easier to die he had saved himself in order to draw those who would have harmed the boy away. He tries but is too tired to really care about fighting Potter's Legilimency. Yet again, he is watching Dumbledore, and all hope with him, tumbling out into the night and his grief overwhelms him.
He lets it.
He has done what needed to be done and his reputation is unsalvageable. Nothing matters and then Potter's hand is grasping his and the world turns inside out to become somewhere that is not the Malfoy's hall of mirrors. 'Apparently you're the world expert at keeping Harry Potter out of trouble. I need a teacher.'
He has taught the boy to make an acceptable Béchamel sauce.
On the other side of the bar, the woman hisses in disgust and moves to wash the glass. Snape leans across and stays her hand. 'Let me,' he says. He glides to the window and gently decants the eight legged contamination onto a vine leaf beneath the sill.
He attempts a smile but the locals are wary of the older man and the boy who have moved into the ramshackle house down by the beach. He could go to another tavern but it wouldn't be any different and there would not be the superb view of the main street.
He looks outside to see the boy they suspect him of abusing together with the young Aphrodite wandering, hand in hand, half dazed with love. Magic is roiling off them both like heat off a summer road and seeping into the stones like a blessing. Even to muggles it must be obvious what the seventh child of a seventh child is. The woman at the bar begins to make a sign against the evil eye and then, remembering who is in the bar, stops. She eyes Snape warily.
Having travelled more than a thousand miles by bus and train the girl had turned up this morning. 'How long can you stay?' Harry had demanded. (Naturally, he had not been consulted). Ginevra Weasley sees Snape, comes into the bar at a run and hugs him. And then stops to blush. They sit beside him and the young witch talks about her family in general and unimportant things in detail and, as she talks, flowers around the door are bending, into the shade of the tavern, towards them.
Eventually the woman brings the requested lemonade and then, unasked, she brings bread and olives. Over in the corner, the old priest watches wide-eyed.
When they go, carrying the groceries that Snape has spent the morning buying; as Potter and the red haired girl pass out of sight, he realises that he feels no bitterness or anger. It is an effort to think when he last did. The woman accosts him. 'Professor? You are a teacher?
'I was a teacher,' Snape shrugs. 'I have been many things.'
He brings his index finger to his lips, 'Shh.'
A heartbeat, and then the woman smiles in complicity. Snape takes out his book and notepad and settles down, tucking hours into the interstices of the afternoon, until he can decently go home. As blue deepens over the distant headland, the old priest comes to sit beside him. They drink together in silence.
When darkness finally falls, Snape tells the priest about his project: about summer sun caught in wine and all the long years of emptiness and cold. Back then it had seemed a small ambition but quite unrealisable. And yet he has drunk his way all the way back to 1981. The priest goes away and comes back brushing dust from a bottle.
Outside, a tiny spider rests between the green, helical curves of a vine tendril.
Author's note: Vivid flashbacks are symptomatic of Post Traumatic Stress (PTSD).
Story revised (and hopefully clarified) following reviews. Thank you Apothecaria and Padawan Jan-AQ.