Part 1/14 - Visions of the Afterlife
Summary/ Notes: This story is actually the main story for which "Two Dads" was backstory. Four years later, the past and present are about to meet in the dungeons of Hogwarts. Set not long after the epilogue to Deathly Hallows.
Thanks to ladyclover and clavally for comments on early versions of this section, and to sniggs for a fascinating extended discussion that helped me quite a lot.
The shadowy figure who haunted the sub basement of the castle's dungeons could not remember how he'd come to be there. He just knew he liked the cold, and even more, the quiet. No children underfoot. Once in a very great while someone might venture down this far, but his silent, invisible malevolence quickly drove the miscreant back up into the world above. He could not remember the last time he'd had cause to speak aloud -- possibly it had been prior to his own death. This also pleased him a perverse sort of way, though he wasn't sure why.
He was vaguely aware there were others like him in the castle, but they steered well clear of his chosen territory, and he certainly was not about to venture into the world above. He had deduced that he was, in fact, dead, and beyond that he had no real curiosity about his state. His memories were hazy and fragmented, but he sensed that once he had been charged with terrible burdens and responsibilities. It was a relief to know all that was behind him.
Now, he spent much of his time in a peaceful, drifting state, not unlike that of a man having a well-earned lie-in on a Sunday morning. Not that, he was fairly sure, he himself had ever experienced such a thing in life. It was a state of not marking or much being aware of time at all, and he found it suited him quite well.
But an intelligence as keen and restless as his could not drift always, and then he would rouse himself and begin his careful observations and experiments. What could he do now? What could he make happen? As it turned out, quite a lot, once he developed the knack. He could move objects, even pick some things up in his misty fingers. He could use his ghostly wand to wield some magic-- it didn't feel quite "right", but he could cast simple spells and charms: lumos, alohomora, wingardium leviosa.
He could also perform some minor wandless magic-- again, he felt he had once commanded considerably more power, but now, he found the ability to light candles with a negligent wave of his hand more than enough. Even if the act always reminded him of someone. He couldn't quite remember who it was. Someone who had been important to him, once. Then he would scowl at the missing memory and wave his hand impatiently again to extinguish the flame.
He could also affect the few living creatures brave, or stupid enough to enter his domain. He could make the corridor temperatures rise or drop at will. He was especially fond of the cold. Something about seeing one's breath suddenly mist up in the damp chill made the living quite deliciously uncomfortable. Plus, he could weave abstract patterns of frost on the damp corridor walls. He loved to watch the jagged white tendrils spread across the stones like some living thing. And he quite enjoyed projecting fear into his hapless victims, watching them scramble to get away. It was a pleasant enough pastime, all the more for being so very infrequent.
And he would explore. That was how he added a third activity to his timeless routine. When drifting brought no peace, and experimentation no diversion, he would seek out a certain room, a room only he could enter by passing through a sealed door not even magic could unlock. There was a large mirror there, very old, with ornate lettering around its heavy frame. He never bothered to puzzle out the letters. He simply gazed into the glass, and beyond.
Sometimes he saw a woman with red hair and bright green eyes. Familiar and lovely, but though the image filled him with vague regrets and sometimes unbearable sadness, he could never force his eyes to look away until the mirror showed another scene or image.
Sometimes he saw a boy in the mirror, with untidy black hair and similarly intense green eyes. The boy was sometimes quite young, at other times, almost a man. Whenever he saw the boy, felt equal parts anger, worry, and, oddly, pride. He knew he had once been responsible for the boy in some way. He could taste his old frustration, how he had despaired of being able to keep the foolish child safe, or at least, alive. These scenes he could usually walk away from, and he often did, seething with a rage he could not understand.
Sometimes, afterward, he would cast his mind back through his fragmented memories wondering what had made this boy so important-- a task, he rather thought. Something he himself had devoutly wished for and had not lived to see. Something he believed that the boy had, in fact, managed to do, in the end. The idea mollified him somewhat.
Sometimes, he saw an old man, with a long white beard and regrettable taste in robes. The garish colors were somewhat muted in the dim light of the room. But the ghost retained some hazy memories of this man, enough to supply from memory the colors clashing on those ornate robes.
The sight of the old man filled him at times with a kind of exasperated affection, at other times with terrible rage and sorrow. He knew this man had relied on him. And he knew that at the last, he had done something the old man had wanted, something so terrible that it had torn a part of his own soul away to do it. He found himself glad, then, that he could remember no more. And he drifted away, trying not to see the love in those deceptively innocent twinkling blue eyes.
And of course, he sometimes saw his own form in the mirror staring back at himself. Long black hair framed a sallow face. Black robes. Hooked nose, impressive sneer. He must have been a terrifying sight in life. That thought also pleased him immeasurably. All in all, it was not a bad afterlife, especially when he considered that he'd expected (probably deserved) much worse.