SPOILERS FOR DEATHLY HALLOWS
SPOILERS FOR DEATHLY HALLOWS
SPOILERS FOR DEATHLY HALLOWS
SPOILERS FOR DEATHLY HALLOWS
...and a note to those who are claiming that "the Snape-loved-Lily thing" is a last-minute plot-solver concocted by Rowling to tie up loose ends: I cordially direct your attention to the very first film, and to the candle-holders standing against the wall, clearly visible flanking Snape as he teaches that memorable first class.
A sequel to " 'Round Midnight... "
THE FIVE PEOPLE YOU MEET AT KING'S CROSS by Jinx
He returned to consciousness, and found himself surrounded by thick gray mist which was wonderfully cold and so dense he wondered if he might sculpt things from it.
The mist seemed to be supporting his weight, and this made no sense until he realized he was naked and there was a floor beneath him. He was lying sprawled atop... cement. Reflexively he sat up, curling 'round his vulnerable parts, and noticed that he was no longer in pain. The venom coursing through his veins had stopped burning.
Which must mean that now nothing coursed through his veins, and so he was dead. At last.
Only sixteen years later than I should have been.
They had not been good years. Although good was done with them.
It was some comfort to admit this.
Eventually, as everyone must, he wondered: What do I do now?
And had not the foggiest idea.
Ultimately, he determined that he would have to move. And he would need clothes. As he decided this, the mist draped itself over his starveling's frame and accumulated into lush, gray wool approximating a cleverly-cut suit he had once seen Lucius wearing. He thought this would do well enough, no matter amidst what circumstances he might find himself; Lucius had always had excellent taste and the truly wealthy man's eye for casual, timeless elegance.
He began to suspect that "timeless elegance" was appropriate to his present whereabouts.
Which began to resemble King's Cross Station.
In which he stood, alone, in the great empty cavernous Mugglewrought space which strangely did not echo. And it was utterly silent, with nary a click nor a ping nor a buzz...
He shifted his weight restlessly, wondered why he had weight, decided he well should, and rolled his shoulders uneasily trying to get used to the flow and flex of his new clothes. They were easier to bear than the constricting burden of his mourning garb and somehow, daringly, he began to allow himself this feeling of liberty.
And then she was there, she must have approached quiet as a doe, and she stood there silently watching him and when he saw her he could not help saying for the third time, "I'm sorry."
She nodded, accepting his apology. Finally. But she was waiting for him to say something more, and he told her, "Your son is alive." He was when I left him. When I died, to save him. To save the school and the world and whatever else was truly good.
His heart stopped.
He did not mind this.
She came to him then, embraced him the way she used to, joyfully, as a dear friend. And then she kissed him as she never had, full on the mouth, not with passion but with true love. And she said, "Thank you."
And he realized the awful weight of a debt had left him too.
She released him, stepped back demurely and there was James Potter, taking her easily into the shelter of his arms.
Severus thought of a doe vanishing into concealing greenery.
And James smiled at him.
Severus froze like a doe.
James held out his hand. He was smiling as he said, "Thank you."
Because he could not think of anything else to do, because the war is over for us now, whatever its outcome, Severus took his erstwhile rival's hand and shook it. He kept silent, having nothing to say to James Potter even now, when they looked upon one another for the first time as equals.
As they loosed their grips, a pearly white light turned the gray mist to clouds, and as this illumination increased, Severus squinted towards the ceiling and tried to remember whether there were any skylights at King's Cross Station.
When he looked down again, he was alone.
He stood waiting awhile, but no one else came to meet him and so he began to walk, pacing the length of the station, noticing without concern how much longer it seemed than it ever had before, and how his footsteps made no sound at all, and how details filled themselves in as he passed by benches, clocks, a newsstand-
Phineas Nigellus snatched a magazine from its holder, waved it at Severus while reading gleefully aloud the banner headlines: "WAR IS ENDED! HOGWARTS STILL STANDS! RIDDLE ANSWERED!"
Phineas looked at Severus and smiled like a cobra, saying, "We did it! Turned the tide
and saved the day! Let them remember that, when they slather calumny upon Slytherin House and her proud sons!"
Severus was glad to hear it, but he had to ask: "Did Harry survive?"
Phineas sneered at him. "You always were a sentimental twit."
Severus only stared back, waiting to know the worst... or the best.
Phineas smirked at him and said negligently, "Yes, yes, whole and hale... " He gave a bored shrug which Severus knew he had practiced for centuries.
Severus replied politely, "Thank you."
Phineas narrowed his eyes and scowled at him, then snapped, "I should be thanking you, for everything you've done for Slytherin House... all the awards, the Quidditch victories, the unfailingly met high standards of accomplishment- "
Severus was glad to hear this, too, but did not feel he ought to linger listening to a long list of his triumphs. They were well documented, he had made certain of that, and when Phineas paused for breath in his pompous proclamation, Severus said simply, "You're welcome."
To which Phineas replied acerbically, "We all are, now... but only just."
"It is only just,"Severus agreed, and took his leave of his colleague.
He walked on, along the platform, which seemed as if it might stretch forever into the mist. When he came to a kiosk which was harlequined with candy wrappers, he was utterly unsurprised to see Albus Dumbledore nestled in the attendant's chair, surrounded by a brilliant clutter of empty packages.
At once the old man rose to his feet and strode forward and embraced Severus as if he had just been saved from drowning. "My dear friend," Albus said thickly, as if his heart filled his throat, "My dearest, best friend."
Severus had no words to answer this appellation. They all crammed together in his own throat and he couldn't speak.
"You have done all you could," Albus said softly, certainly, proudly. "No one could ask more."
Typical Gryffindor sentiment. "No one can do more than that," Severus pointed out logically, and Albus laughed delightedly and took a step back to look at him better, letting his two whole, halehands rest upon Severus's shoulders as he smiled approvingly at his erstwhile pupil and colleague and ally.
And Albus agreed with him, quietly, "Yes. We're done now."
And then Albus sighed, and with a scowl of regret and an oddly schoolboyish look he said, "I'm sorry about the snake."
"So am I." Severus said, and truly meant it.
But this was ridiculous, was simply a concern of lives past, in which they had done all they could... and when they recognized this truth, suddenly they were laughing together, which they had never done before.
It was wonderful and when they slowly subsided, wiping tears from their eyes, they discovered they were blinking in a brightness which now summoned sharp details from the purling mist.
They were standing by the pillar which led to Platform Nine-and-Three-Quarters.
They looked at it, and when Severus looked again at Albus, the old man smiled curiously and inquired, "Back to school?"
Severus shook his head, wearily, summing it all up: "I have been student, Professor, and Headmaster. I do not wish to be a ghost." He realized, "It is time for me to move on."
Albus smiled wider, with approval and what might have been relief. "Then good luck," he said as he had before, and this time he could offer his whole, hale hand.
Severus shook it gladly, and Albus looked into his eyes and said honestly, "If we should meet again, I will be pleased indeed to know you.".
"And I you," Severus agreed wholeheartedly. Then, carefully, certainly, he slipped from his friend's grasp. Turned decisively on his heel and walked away, down the platform, until he came to a pillar marked with the number 11.
He halted, and looked at it, and then smiled because it was so simple, and walked to the pillar and almost went to walk through it before realizing at the last moment that he could take hold of the raised numbers, one in each hand, and pull these handles to open the hidden doors.
He pulled them wide, and strode onward, and did not look back. Only looked forward, curiously, to whatever he might find on the other side.
As he stepped onto the platform, he looked up instinctively to see the huge, gleaming, green train awaiting him. Upon its engine was writ in gilt script, "The Elevated," and the paint shone vibrant green, like a Killing Curse and the emeralds in Slytherin's hourglass and Lily's eyes living on now in her son.
He would not have been surprised to see the boy here.
But he was alone, and he was glad. The boy still lived.
Sounds came now, of someone struggling, and he turned swiftly to see a shabby, trench-coated figure lurching into view, wrestling a huge trunk across the platform. The man was striving like a Muggle and Severus was puzzled until this individual came close enough to be seen clearly and promptly stopped, rather ostentatiously, to mop his sweating brow and scruffle his spiky, bleach-blasted hair into fresh disorder, and then Severus knew him for what he was and greeted him cordially, "Fool."
John Constantine nodded with a monarch's condescending grace and greeted him in return, "Magician."
They bowed briefly to one another. Then John grinned and thumped a fist against the side of the trunk, and declared with an air of exasperation, "I wondered why Zee left this bloody great paperweight at my flat. Turned out to be yours, see, the labels peeled up all of a sudden to show your name." He indicated the faded, scrolling letters which spelled out PROPERTY OF SEVERUS SNAPE. And then suddenly John laughed, and with a knowing shake of his head offered his opinion, "It's got either books or a body in it!"
To Severus's bewilderment he winked, and said with a grin that bared street-cur's teeth, "Whatever it is, it's all yours now!"
When John laughed again, with a sharp quick sound like glass cracking, the Fool hastened to add too brightly, "You'll need it, where you're going!"
He thrust out his hand, and Severus had to shake it. The flesh felt strange, almost hot, heavy and dense like a statue's hand... but of course John is still alive, somehow.
Somehow, yeah,John answered Severus's questioning gaze. The Fool let go of the Magician's hand extremely quickly, and bent down and seized one end of the trunk, saying gruffly, "Let's get you on your way."
Together they managed to manhandle the marvelously heavy trunk onto the train. Severus walked backwards up the steep stairs, treading carefully and certainly. John didn't set foot upon the train, didn't pass so much as a fingertip through the doorway.
But John did hold out his hand one more time, and when Severus leaned down from the stairwell to grip it, the Fool pressed two coins into his palm, saying, "You'll need those, to pay your way."
"Thank you," said the Magician, and felt the train begin to move.
As he stepped back and shut the door, he heard John call out with soldierly cheer, "See you around, mate!" A last glimpse through the window showed John offering a jaunty wave as the train pulled away.
Severus chose the nearest compartment, squeezed the trunk into it and squeezed in after it. Dawn turned the mist to honey as the train gathered speed, and this golden haze filled the windows so that nothing more could be seen. He pulled the shades down to soften the light, and settled down to rest awhile and consider everything that had happened to him.
Eventually, curiosity enticed him to open the trunk.
He found it full of books. Eagerly, he started extracting texts from its surprising depths. The titles intrigued and excited him, and once he commenced reading he could not stop himself. Somehow he felt as if he had been starved for all this knowledge. All the words, the illuminations, the very ideas seemed to fill him up and he was glad, because there had been a hollow in him for a very long time.
When he finally, carefully, closed the cover of the last Compendium Arcanum, the torch overhead flared to life and the train began to slow. Reflexively he began to gather up his possessions, stacking the books back into the trunk neatly so that the weight would be balanced.
He found his wand, jammed between the seat cushions. He took it up with relief and tucked it safely deep within his pocket. He thought that wherever he was going, he would want to be a Wizard.
Something on the floor glinted at him in the torchlight. He knelt upon one knee to collect it and discovered it was a medal, rather densely inscribed: ORDER OF MERLIN, FIRST CLASS, POSTHUMOUSLY AWARDED TO SEVERUS SNAPE, HEAD OF SLYTHERIN HOUSE (1981-1996) AND HEADMASTER OF HOGWARTS SCHOOL OF WITCHCRAFT AND WIZARDRY IN 1997, ITS WORST YEAR EVER.
Nearby, beneath the seats, lay a crumpled sheet of parchment bearing scrawly handwriting he had seen on many homework assignments completed with mediocre effort. He smoothed it out across his knee and read it:
Dear Severus, I don't know if you will ever find this,
but it seems like letters have a way of getting to the people
they're meant to reach. I wanted to say, "Thank you."
This is how I've done it.
Enclosed was a photograph of Hogwarts, looking bandaged and splinted amidst a mass of scaffoldry, still standing proud and tall as she faced the future. Just visible upon the lake's far shore was Albus's white tomb.
But the camera's gaze, fringed with beech leaves, was fixed upon the near shore which bore a black tomb, inscribed as the medal had been, with the addition of this epitaph: HERE LIES SEVERUS SNAPE, A TRUE FRIEND AND DEFENDER OF HOGWARTS. The tomb was surrounded by Fire Lilies which would hold their blazing heads high even in the bleakest winter, and according to the letter:
Neville Longbottom got the garden to grow so well.
We think it looks right.
Then, after a pause, uncertainly, came this script:
Wherever you are, I hope you're happy now.
And after another pause it was signed:
and Ginny Potter
Severus folded the letter neatly around the medal, and carefully tucked the packet inside his robes. He thought he had all he needed now, to be getting on with. He got to his feet and closed the trunk securely, locked it up tightly, and went to pay his fare and find someone to help him carry the trunk off the train.
There was no one else on board.
When he was sure of this, he pocketed the coins and opened one of the doors, and looked out at a neat little station nestled amidst a teeming midsummer's eve. Beyond the honey glow of the station's lanterns ran a riot of greengrowth ringing with the vivid cries of the night's inestimable denizens.
Fireflies darted through the darkness, bright and busy sparks. He did not think these were insects.
Then an owl hooted and he looked up immediately, in case there was another letter coming to him, but there was not. Only the vast night spreading all around him, and a full moon hung so low he could see the rabbit tracks crisscrossing it. The stars twinkled like possibilities and he wondered if they were wishes or souls.
He shivered then, and thought that he should have a traveling cloak, and the mist which had followed him inside the train curled around him and draped itself into dense, gray wool which settled softly onto his shoulders.
When he looked around for someone who might help him, he saw an elf smiling up at him.
"Dobby!" In surprise he heard himself ask, "Have you been waiting for me?"
Dobby nodded and asked quickly, "Is Harry Potter all right?"
"Yes," Severus told him. "Whole and hale."
The elf grinned up at him, and raised one long-boned hand, palm open with invitation. "Will you be getting off the train, now?"
"Yes." Severus hesitated, thinking about that trunk full of books. Then, decisively, he stepped down from the train. The instant his boots touched the platform, the train vanished and so did the station. He was standing in the middle of eternity, the summer night spilling endlessly around him...
Dobby grasped his hand firmly. "This way," the elf said confidently, and led him into the teeming night, past chirring, brambled woods, onto a road of crushed white shards which shone brilliantly reflecting the moonlight.
Their footsteps crunched on the path and the night sang all about them.
Eventually, Severus had to ask, "Do you have any idea where we're going?"
Dobby laughed like a child. "We is already being there!" He grinned up at his companion, and his great green eyes glowed with moonshine and hope as he declared, "This is the place those go who is being freed!"
They walked for a long time into abundant mystery and then they found an inn sprawled beside the road. Its crazy-quilt construction was almost shockingly familiar somehow, and told of many centuries' work, and looked impossibly cozy. It was surrounded by a ramshackle fence that looked as if it was only holding itself together as a courtesy, and Severus thought this must be because travelers must decide to pass through its twine-trussed gate and rest awhile.
He was not sure that he would bother to do so, until he saw Remus Lupin hurrying across the innyard, wearing a wide grin full of relief clearly visible in the light of the full moon, and waving encouragingly to welcome visitors.
When they reached the gate, Remus waited patiently in the yard and watched while Dobby hurried to open the gate using his untethered hand. The elf held the way wide open and with a reassuring tug urged Severus to follow him into what they now found to be a wildly overgrown garden. Its scents and colors seemed impossibly vivid amidst the towering tangle of vines and boughs bowed low with aestival treasures.
Remus hastened now to shake their hands, grinning still, looking well and cheerful as he never had in life. "Welcome," he said warmly, and asked eagerly, "What's the latest?"
"Harry is alive and well," Severus answered. Bewilderedly he heard himself asking, "What happened to you?"
"Bellatrix LeStrange hit me with a Killing Curse," Remus answered, calmly, as if he were discussing a change in the wind's whim.
"She got me, too!" Dobby piped up. "Hit me with a knife! But she missed Harry!" he declared gladly. "I saved him!"
"Thank you," said the Wizards, in unison.
They looked at one another and Remus asked quietly, "What happened to you?"
"Voldemort decided I had outlived my usefulness."
Remus nodded sympathetically. He looked as if he wanted to ask more, for a moment, then shrugged as if refusing some burden and instead said easily, "Bellatrix got 'Dora, too. C'mon inside, she's just bringing out the pear soup. It's delicious!" He set off with brisk strides through the sprawling greengrowth, somehow walking through all that tangle without stirring a leaf.
Severus gripped Dobby's hand tightly and they followed.
Inside the patchworked building they found themselves within a huge hall, its woodwork dark as wildflower honey with the smokestains of bygone eras. An enormous hearth was blazing merrily. Dobby made for it at once and Severus turned aside to take a seat amongst the dozens of mismatched chairs gathered along the feasting-table all but buried beneath a banquet of food.
Nymphadora came over to greet him, dusting floury hands against her apron, skirting all the varied chairs with the ease of a confident hostess. She grinned as she eagerly shook his hand. "Weird, isn't this!" she declared, almost proudly. "I mean, I never was particularly domestic." She crinkled up her nose and it changed shapes as she laughed as if sharing a joke with herself. Her hair looked like a tropical sunset, acquired fuchsia streaks as she said wonderingly, "Only this place just feels... like home, somehow. At least for awhile, anyway." She shrugged goodnaturedly, set a plate of soup in front of Severus. "I mean, we're free to go, after all... but I'd like a word with Teddy, first."
Severus wondered who that was until she saw his puzzlement and explained softly, "My son, Teddy."
He said honestly, "I'm sorry you won't be there to see him grow to be a man."
She laughed at that, knowingly, assuring him, "Oh, we'll keep a lookout. There are ways, you know." She surveyed the dining room, with an easy, proprietary air and another ready grin. "You just have to be a little creative."
With a wink which she apparently supposed to be a hint, she left him and hurried back to the hearth.
Severus surveyed the smothered table and decided he wasn't hungry. No one came near him in the quiet, shadowed corner he had chosen, giving him time aplenty to think until he realized he was waiting to discover whether Dobby would go on or stay here in this cozy, merry, busy place.
He himself would move on.
From his dim corner, he watched Remus for awhile, saw him eagerly greeting guests, garnering news, flitting from one traveler to another with the busy purpose of a bee gathering pollen.
He watched Nymphadora sharing a drink and a laugh with the latest arrivals, her hair and apron bright with hibiscus blooms. A flash of light and cheering alerted Severus to the presence of Colin Creevey, who was snapping photographs of the assembled good company.
All at once someone hailed him, "Severus!" And Horace Slughorn dropped into the chair beside him. The old man grinned with a babyish joy and avidly shook Severus's hand. "Well done, dear boy! Well done! We couldn't have done it without you!"
"No," Severus agreed, "you couldn't have."
"Quite right! And I made sure they remembered that! Such an exceptional soul! Devoted Headmaster! The lynch-pin on which the battle turned-"
"Would you care for some treacle tart?" Severus pushed it at him, not wanting to speak now of the stress a lynch-pin must endure, how it moved only to bear its burden so that progress was possible.
"Oh, thank you, yes! And that gooseberry trifle looks simply delightful!" Horace pulled it closer, and then cried out rapturously at a new discovery: "Aha! Crystallized pineapple, I just knewthere had to be some, lovely, lovely... "
Horace exulted over the bountiful table, explaining the various dishes' origins, enumerating their respective merits, expounding upon great moments in history at which these very same foods had been served. He seemed to savor the tales just as much as the fare, and it was not until Horace looked over the rim of his third cup of wine that he said to Severus with very particular care, "I brought your body back from the Shrieking Shack. Made sure you laid in state in the Great Hall, with all the others. And I made sure we had a superb funeral for you, absolutely everyone was there, let me see now-"
"Absolutely everyone is here," Severus told him, and the old man looked eagerly down the table to see who else had arrived.
An instant later Horace was roaring cheerfully as the hearthfire: "Minerva!" He jumped up and beckoned her with an extravagant, welcoming wave.
Severus stood up, too, quickly, to offer his chair to the wizened woman making her way as gracefully as a cat through the carousing crowd. Minerva stopped when she saw him, then came forward and reached to clasp his hand in both of hers and say, "Thank you. Well done." She seemed as if she could not say more, and he decided that her bright-eyed look of respect was enough to be getting on with.
Severus told her honestly, "You're welcome." He pulled free of her grasp and walked away, wending through the babbling throng, pausing once to greet Filius and receive his courteous thanks before directing the little man onwards toward the knot of laughing people gathering around Horace Slughorn, who seemed to be settling in comfortably.
With something which felt akin to an electrical shock, Severus realized: This is the place we go to remember what it feels like, to have someone to laugh with, and stories to share.
He began to search for Dobby at the hearthside, not knowing whether he would say to the elf, "farewell," or "well met." As he wound his way carefully through the crowd, he caught his foot in a tangle of yarn and when he had extricated himself and collected the thread to return it to its origin, he found himself face-to-face with Molly Weasley. She looked as if she had been here awhile, was ensconced in a kind of nest made from heaps of hats and jumpers and scarves.
She looked up at him, startled for a moment, and then surged up from her bench and hugged him furiously. "Oh!" she exclaimed, releasing him just as suddenly, her hand flying to stay her stitches as she insisted, "I'm so glad to see you! I've been wanting to thank you!"
In a thrice she had pulled out a sheaf of pocket-portraits and commenced proudly showing him all of her grandchildren and her first great-grandchild, who was blinking at the world with wide green eyes. She didn't pause in her narrative until with an umpteenth reflexive glance past his shoulder she gasped, "Oh!"
"Mollywobbles!" Arthur Weasley pushed past Severus and seized his wife in an exultant embrace. Severus stepped aside courteously, looked whence Arthur had come and saw Dobby waiting beside the doorway, next to a heap of satchels and wineskins.
Severus hastened to join him, was delayed for just one moment more in accepting Arthur's enthusiastic handshake and hearty, "Thank you!" To which Arthur added brightly, "The snakebites have gone!"
"Yes," Severus told him certainly, "all the marks have gone."
"I'm so glad!" Arthur wrung his hand again, and then Molly pulled him back to her side.
Severus went to the threshold.
Dobby was ready, wearing a knitted traveling cloak brightly spotted with bobbles, and a cap with holes wrought in it to allow his ears to move easily. He had slung a satchel and wineskin over his sturdy shoulders, and now with a smile he offered similar provisions to Severus.
After a moment's hesitation, Severus accepted these with thanks, and slung them over his shoulders. Their unfamiliar weight was still not so constricting as that of his mourning garb. Severus shrugged experimentally, was pleased to discover he could move fluidly.
He looked down at Dobby and had to ask, "Have you been waiting for me?"
"No." Dobby smiled. "But I is going with you." Eagerly the elf reached up and opened the door onto the lavender blush of dawn. All the birds were starting to sing in their inimitable language, welcoming the light.
He thought he heard a phoenix.
Was sure of this.
Heard himself say with wisdom and certainty, "It will be all right now."
Heard Dobby answer surely, "Yes."
He took Dobby's hand in his, held fast as he stepped across the threshold. Together they crossed the greengrown yard. Severus opened the gate and held it as Dobby led him through the boundary, and together they walked to the road.
And stood beside it, staring into eternity.
Severus had to ask again, "Do you have any idea where we're going?"
Dobby shivered, like a colt about to bolt, and Severus gripped his hand more tightly. The elf subsided, searched for words, and said at last, "In this place... where we are free... it is so big, this place... There is so much... it never ends... "
Severus shivered and had to agree, "No, it doesn't."
Dobby smiled shyly up at him, and said softly, " 'Tis good, then, to have a friend, to share the journey for awhile."
Severus managed to answer, "Yes, it is."
Together they stepped onto the dawn-gilded path, and began walking, slow and steady, their pace allowing time for curiosity and wonder. As they walked along, Dobby grew taller, became more boyish. Severus lost height and at one turn in the road he was startled when his own hair blew into his eyes; it was soft as cornsilk and red as tiger lilies.
Surprised and delighted, he laughed and exclaimed, "Wonders will never cease!"
And his friend grinned at him and agreed wholeheartedly, "Quite right!"