Chapter 17: Out of the Ashes
Snape stood in front of the fireplace, regarding the doppelganger for some time. Finally, he said, "How long will you stay, spirit?" Another pause. "Jonathan?"
"How long will you stay?"
"Not long," Frost said in a wistful sort of voice.
Snape snorted. "Days? Weeks? Minutes?"
Snape stood, observing the doppelganger, Jonathan. There was, Snape reasoned, no need to have qualms calling the thing Jonathan; Jonathan Frost had never been real. He had been like this doppelganger – a beautiful thing, illusioned. Its skin was very white in the light. It looked, Snape thought, like marble, the skin hinting at the muscle underneath, running gazelle-like down the sides of its body. Jonathan was regarding him too. "You've been drinking."
"No thanks to you," Snape said coolly. "Are you of flesh, spirit, or only immaterial substance?" The doppelganger did not answer. "Idiot! Are you pretending not to hear me when I call you spirit? You are spirit."
"You're good at pretending that I'm not what I am," Jonathan said evenly.
"But you are but a doppelganger."
Snape felt his heart – even after all this, irrepressible, unlearned – sink, releasing something that had been like hope. "You were Kissed by the dementors?"
"Go on – " Snape gestured irritably. "Elaborate. Frost."
"I made a deal with the dementors. They would take his power and his soul. My power and my soul. Then the power would release them and be dissipated back to the wild, the sea and the earth and the skies, to which it belongs."
"I see," Snape said drily. "And you have come back to pester us because?"
"The power Voldemort stole belongs to each of the living. I went to each of them only to complete what had been begun. Gathering must be followed by dissipating. The living see me take the form of something that was powerful to them – a memory, a mute image."
"And you've decided to add voice to image in my case because?"
"His mind was always on you. My mind was always on you."
Snape looked away. He felt exposed, even though it was only a shadow in the room with him. And yet there was the sense of sea rushing through him. "Is that what's true, or what he – you – believed?"
"It doesn't matter what he thought. It doesn't matter what I thought. The past is the past. He was the only one who could change it. Now he is gone," the doppelganger ended wistfully. Snape felt, at last, a surge of irritation from the doppelganger's wistful tone and the persistent third person usage. It was as though he were dealing with a puppet, an animated mockery – but that was, after all, all that was in front of him. A mockery.
"Where is your body, Jonathan?"
The doppelganger shrugged its shoulders. "I don't know. I left it in a place of power, and then I couldn't feel it anymore."
"Is it dead?" Snape asked, bracing himself.
"I don't know."
Snape felt annoyed. "What do you know?"
Jonathan looked at him. Snape felt disturbed; he couldn't decide whether he was staring at a puppetry, as he thought he had been, or something with its own mind. In this moment he felt that it was a mind that he was looking into, one whose properties were terribly alien. "I am here because I had regard for you. He had a regard for you, Severus. But I will go."
"You're not a ghost, then."
Jonathan shook his head. "I'm the magic he possessed. I'm not his soul. I'm not my soul." Jonathan paused. "This is rather confusing. If only I didn't need to use pronouns."
Snape let out a grunt. "But you are an impression of Jonathan, and have his memories? Your own memories, I mean. You do. Then you remember – " Snape paused. "You remember the Birthing Spell in St. Mungo's?"
"You remember what you asked me there? It was the last thing he – you – said to me."
"Very well. I tell you now – even though you're only his shadow – that the answer – " Snape's breath hitched. "The answer is yes."
Jonathan's doppelganger shook its head. "Severus, there's no need to tell me that."
"Yes, I know," Snape snapped, "which is why I said, 'even though you're only his shadow' – "
"There's no need," Jonathan said quietly. "There's no need for unscrewing the past. There's no explaning that needs to be said. In this moment and this position, here in front of you, I am… different. Removed, if you will. I am," Jonathan frowned, "only the magic, I think. I am an image."
"You are an image," Snape repeated.
An image… Studying the form of a face and neck, the vase-like shape of the forearms that smoothed into hands, the delineations of individual ribs, Snape, perhaps, felt lonelier than before. He was staring at the mirror to find company. When, in the years behind, had Jonathan not been more an image than man? When had he – Snape – accepted the living thing?… The living thing had sparked the image but the thing that was etched with acid inside of him was image – not thing. What he left now and forever was also image, not thing; image animating image.
"Do you have long, here?" Snape asked.
"Are you…" Snape paused, hesitating. "You happen to be of sound as well as shape. That is unusual in a doppelganger. Are you also of seeming solidness? Can you be touched?"
"Why don't you try?" Jonathan said. He smiled as Snape drew near. "In your bathroom, I touched you."
"Yes," Snape said. He settled hands on the naked shoulders of the man. Closer now, the face gained life as though Snape really were looking down – here, in his living room – into the face of Jonathan Frost. Eyebrows rose in an amused sort of way, of their own accord.
"Severus," Jonathan's doppelganger said.
Snape did not answer. He bent down and put his lips on the doppelganger's. They were warm and soft, and moved against his lightly before Snape pulled away. He continued to regard the image before him, keeping as still as possible, because he felt himself as a heavy ball balanced on the summit of a smooth, ruinous slope.
But Jonathan got up. "Come on. Follow me."
"Where are you going?" Snape felt himself pulled gently, inexorably. The doppelganger, stepping out of the bright sunlight into the hallway's dark, and then into the dim light emanating from the kitchen doorway, looked as though it were flickering in and out of existence.
"Your bedroom, of course."
Snape pulled away a few steps from the doorway. "No," he said while wondering, wondering was this truly the image as he saw it? Was this what was in his mind?
"Severus," Jonathan repeated. He stood in the doorway, irresistable.
"It will be even worse for me…" Snape's breath hissed through his teeth. He had gone to the doorway and now Jonathan's body was firmly against his. There was closeness between them. They went, almost stumbling, to the bed, and now they were lying on it on top of the fresh sheets. (Tibby had washed them while he was gone.)
"Severus," Jonathan said again.
The name seemed to break a spell. Snape felt keenly aware of the brevity alloyed in this closeness, this image. He was touching something smooth, warm, solid – skin – but it was as though he had a sixth sense that was experiencing the image; it was the sense of loss, and every touch and contact registered keenly within that sense. Jonathan swept his hand down Snape's back. His back felt scalded.
"Do you remember when you brought him here for the first time? Brought me here for the first time? I think I slept on the couch."
"I thought you said," Snape said, "there was no need to unscrew the past."
"Hmm. But the past continues in the present, doesn't it?
"Sophistry. When will your time be up, spirit?"
Jonathan did not answer. He continued to run his hand up and down Snape's back, and it was like having his nerves pulled out from around his spine. Snape's face had nestled in the pillow when Jonathan had shifted his shoulder aside; the darkness became him. He thought he should repeat the question and address Jonathan by name, but he was almost too afraid to do so, in case an answer came.
But finally, his impatience won. "Jonathan, how long do you have left?"
Snape's breath hissed through his teeth. He hated vague answers, which were typical of the supernatural, and had been typical of Jonathan Frost. "You are always leaving me, spirit." There was no answer; Snape had, in fact, hoped for silence. "Two and a half decades ago. When you went to North Rona, spirit, and now."
The doppelganger stirred but remained mute, an image.
Snape's fingers stiffened. "I don't want you to go, spirit. I want you to stay," he muttered into the pillow. It didn't matter that the doppelganger heard him because it was an image, a thing that didn't exist. Snape opened his mouth to say more, but the words that he intended to say, which were against his nature – that he loved Jonathan – Harry – though he hadn't decided on the name he'd say, before realizing he'd only need to use the second person pronoun – failed. And yet this failure was forgiven already; the doppelganger, doppelganger had said so.
Jonathan moved again, and Snape wondered fearfully if the doppelganger was preparing to leave. He could feel it shifting restlessly. Perhaps it would slip out of the bedroom, step out the front door like a guest, or a stranger. Likelier, he thought, it would simply disappear, as was the wont of doppelgangers. The doppelganger continued to move – languidly – and Snape wanted to look up: what if this was the moment before its disappearance? What if in another moment he would be holding air, blankets, sheets?
He didn't lift his head. He would regret it. He would be spared the image of the image's death. He remembered that when he was small and lying in his bed at night, he believed faeries would come into his room and look at him, but only if he remained very, very still. He had pretended to be asleep, though more made of stone than asleep, listening, listening. Keeping so still.
Snape jerked back in surprise. The sound was from his sitting room. He looked down instinctively, and saw that the side of his narrow bed was empty. Jonathan's doppelganger had gone.
The voice calling him ("Professor Snape!") recurred. Snape tilted his body so that his feet brushed the ground, and, leaning himself forward onto his feet, he felt old, old. The hallway was blurred as he walked through it. It was his tears, he knew.
"Professor Snape!" Ginny Weasley's head said, looking absurdly excited.
Weasley paused, as though she were struggling to contain herself. "There's something you should come and see immediately. I'm in the main entrance of the Ministry of Magic, the lobby."
"What are you talking about, Weasley?"
"There's something you should see right away," she said again. Snape didn't know whether to summon invectives or not, but it was unlikely that Weasley orchestrate some kind of prank – she had been part of Potter's Gryffindor posse, after all.
He nodded. Weariness nearly overcame him. "If this is one of your inane Gryffindor games, Weasley…" Snape threw a pinch of the Floo powder into the fire. "Ministry of Magic!" he announced and stepped into the grate. The magic whirled him around – and in the split-second that his back was to the fire, his front to his sitting room again, he saw a movement – thought he saw a movement – Jonathan's doppelganger, was that – ?
Snape stumbled and, embarrassingly, had to be caught by Weasley. The Ministry atrium was a mess. Each of the entrances had been barred, and, before them, journalists (Snape felt his ire rise) clustered in packs. A few were talking to wizard cameras, as though giving reports. Snape crossed his arms over his chest and stepped towards the wall. The back of his eyes hurt from receded tears.
"This way," Weasley said, in her element. "Excuse me, please! Auror orders! Out of the way!"
Snape followed closely. He was recognized right away. Someone grabbed his elbow; he was in no mood for courtesies and snarled at the man. He decided that he was going to hex Weasley if this whole affair turned out to be for something inane, which it likely was. Things eased when he took out his wand in a very visible manner.
"Thank you, and the Minister will issue an amended official statement shortly," Weasley shouted. She turned. "This way," she said, and led Snape, suspiciously, in the direction of the Auror offices.
Weasley said quickly, "I'll tell you why we're here as soon as I can. But we're still too close to the atrium – we haven't swept this area very well. There might be a Hearing Spell from a few days ago, when we weren't as careful."
"If this is a ploy of yours, or Granger's…"
"No, Hermione's still at the Burrow. Her doppelganger really did a turn on her."
"Have you seen your doppelganger, Weasley?"
Ginny hesitated, but then said evenly, "Yes. It was my father. I saw him in the Burrow garden."
"I see," Snape said. They were going around a corner, and as he looked down the corridor, his eye drawn by its long vertices to its end, he saw someone disappear behind the mirroring corner. His throat constricted – was that – ?
"He's alive, Professor Snape, and he still has his soul." Weasley was talking now through a smile that looked ready to take wing and fly off her face. "Harry's okay."
"He's lost his magic to the dementors – all of it – Aaron said there was so much of it that the dementors didn't have space for his soul, if that makes any sense. But he'd been under one of the dolmen arches of Stonehenge. There was an even bigger magical disturbance there, than around North Rona. Aaron found it, actually – he used a variation of the trolleriometer – Professor Snape?"
Snape dropped the hand he'd reached to the wall in order to steady himself. "Potter… Where is he?"
"Mad-Eye insisted on scanning him. I told Cormac to make sure he's not being too ridiculous about it. They're in the Auror wing break room. We're almost there."
"You're taking me to him?"
"Of course!" Weasley said. "A Muggle tour group found him and filed a missing person report. But by then Harry was already trying to get to London without giving himself away… We're trying to keep it as quiet as possible, of course. The journalists are all insane."
Snape faltered. "He's there – ?" They were in a short hall with an open door on the right side. He could hear voices – Moody's voice. A voice replying. The wall his hand sought and found felt subtly rough; it had been sprayed with a texture before it had been painted over, a technique to cut albedo. Snape exhaled – air hissing through his teeth. He felt afraid, he felt lost. He felt like a dog, cornered, barring its teeth and ready to bark.
But the moment existed only for an instant. Weasley was saying something, but he went ahead, without once looking back.
" – wanted to be released, so I guess they didn't want my soul. How many times do I have to tell you?" Harry Potter was talking. He was talking to Moody in an exasperated tone, his hands gesturing about in a Gryffindor way, and his back to the door.
That was how Snape saw him in that moment. He saw Harry not as an image, but as something a thousand times more alive than an image: the ruff of messy hair aimed at him, unaware, alive, alive. He paused, letting – more than letting: willing the moment to sink into him. Weasley would catch up with him soon. Then Weasley would speak, call Harry's name. And then Jonathan would turn. And Jonathan would turn to him. And Jonathan would turn.
A/N: Thank you, reader, for reading, and having read. Another hearty thank-you needs to go to Procyon for the support and help given me over a couple hundred thousand words. Now, let your indulgence set me free: a review would be very, very much appreciated.