Part 14 - Light in the Darkness
Thanks to ladyclover, rainkatt, emmessann and Wee Hob for fantastic beta work. Remaining mistakes are, of course, my own. Thanks also to everyone who read and commented. The response has been somewhat overwhelming. But as feedback is the only payment a fanfic author can receive, I must say I feel very well-compensated this time around. Thanks, all.
David Dursley was back to class within another week, though he was sidelined from the Quidditch team until the Christmas holidays, after which time Madam Weasley promised to reevaluate his fitness to play.
Professor Snape went back to a slightly adjusted routine. No more mirror gazing-- now that he knew the danger, he was quite able to withstand its siren call, though some nights were more difficult than others. The two children came to study in his lab nearly every night, often accompanied by Professor Longbottom. Snape found the young professor-- now almost his own age at death-- to be a surprisingly intelligent and agreeable colleague.
Snape made himself available whenever David needed to talk about his dreams, and he found that processing those old horrors was as healing for him in some ways as it was for the boy. They also discovered that a number of the disturbing images David was seeing were not from Snape's memories at all, but were a kind of spiritual residue from the events of the final battle with Voldemort's forces, here on the grounds of Hogwarts.
One night, a few days prior to the end of the term, he was in his lab brewing what he hoped would prove an enhanced formulation of Pepper-up. Madam Wesley had promised to test it for safety and efficacy, and Longbottom, no, he reminded himself, Neville, had promised to add it to the school's stores if she gave her approval. Before, he hadn't much cared about the waste his brewing had generated, but now, he found himself pleased at the prospect of making some contribution, however minimal.
Behind him, Rose and Davey were laboring over their end of term essays at a nearby worktable, and Neville was silently perusing a journal article Snape had recommended to him. A strange contentment washed over him, and he paused in his stirring to savor it in a way he never had when he'd been a living man.
Looking over at the children, their heads bent close together, he overheard Rose saying, "No Davey, look, bloodwort's spelled with an 'o'..."
"Thatis an 'o', Rosie."
"Most o's don't have this little tail trailing down, David. That's an 'a'."
"Is not. You need stronger glasses..."
"I swear I'm getting you an enchanted quill for Christmas..."
Snape covered a smile out of old habit, then caught himself and grinned openly, though nobody was looking up just then to see. It was really quite remarkable. He might choose to conceal his emotions at times, for he was still a very private man. But he no longer had to worry that some slip in his emotional control would have disastrous, perhaps deadly consequences.
He glanced up at a motion caught out of the corner of his eye. Harry Potter stood in the doorway, a slight grin on his own lips. Snape turned his attention back to his cauldron and said gruffly, "What do you want, Potter?"
"Good evening, Professor Snape. Neville. Kids." He folded his arms, leaned against the doorway, and winked at David and Rose.
Neville smiled. "Hey, Harry." He pulled a pocketwatch from his vest pocket and made a show of examining it. "My, look at the time, Professor. In about 9 minutes, one of us will have to deduct points from the noble Houses of Gryffindor and Hufflepuff, for two of their own being out after curfew."
Davey and Rose were packing instantly, though their grins indicated this was something of a familiar ritual by now. Snape replied smoothly, "Now, Professor Longbottom, you know I am no longer a faculty member in good standing. You will have to perform that duty yourself, however painful..."
"You just love making me take points from my own House," Neville shot back. Snape smiled malevolently at him.
"Not at all, Professor. But if you are incapable of carrying out your duties..."
The children were headed out the door then, calling cheerful good nights over their shoulder. Neville packed up his own bag, saying, "I'll bring this article back tomorrow, if that's all right, Sir."
"I am not a lending librarian," Snape grumbled, not hiding his pleasure for a moment.
"Yes, Sir. Thank you. Good night, Professor, Harry."
Snape looked irritably at the remaining living occupant of his domain. "Well, Potter?" he said, when the Auror made no move to break the silence, seemingly preferring to stand there with a smile still ghosting his lips.
The smile faded and Harry turned serious, looking at him searchingly. "How are you, Professor?"
Snape blinked, surprised by the concern. After a moment, "I'm dead, Mister Potter. And you?" As he said it, he noticed the fatigue lines still evident upon the man's face.
"I'll be all right, Sir."
Snape realized that in his concern for David, he had quite forgotten the effects this bout of dark magic poisoning might have had on the third person involved. "If you ever wanted to talk to someone, Potter..." the ghost began, awkwardly.
Harry was shaking his head. "Thanks, Professor, but Hermione got the Department set up with Muggle-style trauma counselors years ago. I've even used them on occasion. I really will be all right."
"...I was going to say, you can damned well find someone else, as it's harrowing enough doing it for your young cousin," the ghost finished smoothly. But there was no heat behind it, and he saw Harry do a double take before grinning back. The man would eventually come to appreciate his humor, Snape supposed, and the thought did not bother him nearly so much as it should have.
"So, Potter. What brings you down here tonight? Nostalgia for Remedial Potions?"
Harry went solemn, but there was still mischief in his bright green eyes. "No, Sir. Official Business." He reached into the vest pocket of his robes and drew out two rolls of parchment, one small, one quite thick, both fastened shut with the green wax seal of the Ministry of Magic.
Snape took the parchment with some trepidation. Whenever a Potter looked that pleased with himself, he was bound to be up to no good, whether his name was Harry or James. Laying the smaller roll aside on his worktable, he broke the seal of the other, unrolled it, and sniffed disdainfully.
"I see your penmanship is not much improved," the ghost observed. Then he began to read. After the first lines, he drew his wand from his robes and extinguished the flame under his cauldron absently. He read the whole document twice, then rolled it up and said, a trifle unsteadily, "Quite a little work of fiction you've penned here, Mister Potter."
Harry managed to keep a straight face. "Really, Sir? In what way?"
Snape scowled. "Quite extraordinary, in fact. A Hogwarts student, poisoned by Dark Magic, by means of the Mirror of Erised and an unnamed ghost. Which ghost, conveniently, vanished as soon as the intrepid Aurors Ronald Weasley and Harry James Potter destroyed said Mirror."
"Amazing," Harry agreed lightly.
Snape hesitated. "Is it destroyed, then?"
"Not yet. You haven't been back, Sir?"
Snape gave him what he hoped was a withering look. "After all the trouble it's caused, I've given it a rather wide berth, Mister Potter. Nonetheless, I will be... relieved, when it is beyond reach."
"We'll probably need your help to get into the room. Albus didn't think to record the specifics of his ward design into his portrait, but I believe you may know some avenues we haven't thought of yet."
"You'll also have to use Living Fire to completely destroy the Mirror, you realize," the ghost added thoughtfully. "By now, it's almost a sentient being in its own right, though more like a vampire than a human consciousness. It only knows what it needs, or can consume."
Harry nodded. "I had hoped to consult with you about that, as well, Sir."
Snape's lips quirked upwards slightly. "I am at your disposal, Mister Potter," he replied. "And this unnamed ghost-- any ideas who it might have been?"
"None. Too bad, really."
"Yes." Snape looked hard at him. "You know, Mister Potter, I realize I have been a bit out of touch lately, but I seem to recall that deliberately falsifying a Ministry report was a serious matter."
Harry shrugged in the way that used to annoy Snape most. "There was no compelling reason to reveal your presence, Sir. Enough Death Eaters died in the Battle of Hogwarts who could easily have been responsible for the symptoms Davey suffered. There was no reason to drag you into it."
Snape pursed his lips, then said slowly, "I see. In that case… thank you, Mister Potter."
Harry inclined his head, looking a little more insufferable than before. "Aren't you going to open the other one, Sir?"
Snape examined the smaller roll suspiciously. He opened it, examined the contents, then sat down slowly on the nearby stool, stunned. In his hand were three documents. A business type card bearing Harry's name and Ministry title: Senior Investigator, Auror's Department, Supernatural Anomalies Division, Ministry for Magic. A legal document identifying the bearer of same as a Hogwarts Ghost, and conferring on him all the "rights and privileges appertaining thereto." And a gold-embossed rectangle that looked like a train ticket, reeking of magic.
"What... what do you mean by this, Potter?"
"I understand you and the Baron have had a few talks lately. About your new state, and the legal ramifications of it."
Snape nodded. The Baron had come down the day he had returned to his laboratory alone, when David had gone up to breakfast and his first day of classes since his illness. Snape had been surprised to discover that wizarding ghosts had their own society, and that ghosts connected with Hogwarts, especially those who died on its grounds, were especially well-regarded. Apparently the Shrieking Shack counted as grounds, if only because Dumbledore had warded it thus years ago, during the student days of a certain young werewolf. It still irked him that, in a roundabout way, he owed anything to Remus Lupin. Merlin rest his mangy bones.
"Then you know, Sir, that being recognized legally as a Hogwarts Ghost gives you an enormous amount of freedom, should you choose to exercise your rights. Here, lay those on the worktable." Snape did so, and Harry tapped each one with his wand. The parchment and card and ticket turned misty white, and Snape found he no longer needed to concentrate to handle the physical objects. They now felt the same to him as his own wand, or any of the oddments he found when he examined the contents of his pockets.
But Snape was not diverted by the unfamiliar, if fascinating, magic. "What do you mean by this, Potter?" he asked again, a little more firmly. Harry grinned.
"This ticket will get you on any wizarding conveyance in the world, including those that have exorcism charms and wards on them, and most Muggle ones as well. As long as you cause no disruptions, you can, quite literally, go anywhere you like."
"And this is my card. You produce this if you ever get into any difficulty, and if I can't come myself, I will see to it that someone does." Harry paused, then added, "I don't know if the Baron has made you aware of the Ministry Regulations governing ghosts, but malicious haunting of the living is strictly forbidden. So, um, if you were planning to do such a thing, I'd have to ask you not to." He paused again, considering. "Except for Malfoy, of course. I might be inclined to look the other way on that. As long as you were discreet." His grin grew broader.
Snape continued to look at him, stunned beyond words.
"You have choices again, Professor," the man told him, serious now. "You've more than earned them. That legal document identifies you, not only as a Hogwarts Ghost, but as having the right to keep your actual identity secret. Produce it at need, and no power on this earth can force you to reveal your true form to anyone unless you wish it, nor are you required to give anyone your true name. You're free, Sir."
Snape shook his head slowly, as if to clear it. He stared down at the glowing, translucent items in his hand. Then he found his voice. "Thank you, Potter," he said softly.
Harry grinned and pulled up the stool Neville had vacated a few minutes before. Snape felt him studying his face, and his old habits kicked in automatically. "Well, Potter? What do you want now?"
Harry seemed unperturbed by his tone. "I was wondering, Sir, what plans you had for the holidays."
Plans. He really could have plans if he chose. But after so many years attending to the plans of others, he couldn't even bring an idea of his own to mind. Aloud, he said drily, "I have not had plans for the holidays, Mister Potter, since well before you were born."
Harry inclined his head, as if this were not news to him. Then he said, a little hesitantly, "I was wondering Sir, if you would come to my home, at least for Christmas Day."
Snape stared at him, dumbfounded. "Why on earth would I do such a thing?" he asked.
Harry shrugged-- did the boy know how irritating it was? "It's become something of a tradition, to have the family gather together on that day. Even the more unpleasant members of it. Vernon and Petunia will be there—you remember her..."
Snape didn't even take offense at "unpleasant members"-- he was still back there trying to wrap his mind around Potter's unaccountable use of the word "family" with reference to him. "You-- wish me to come to your home?"
Harry nodded. "Yes, Sir. Davey will be there, as well, and it will mean a lot to him. But there are some others you might not find it painful to see. Minerva McGonagall is getting on in years, but she still comes over for dinner. All the Weasley clan—well, no getting out of that one, as I married their youngest, and they live next door. You needn't reveal yourself unless you wish-- only we who know you would be able to see you."
Snape looked back down at the documents in his hand. "Thank you, Mister Potter, but, really, I..."
"Please, say you'll come," came a new voice from the doorway. Snape turned to see David standing in it, watching them hopefully. Harry smiled, as if he'd been aware of the boy's presence for some time.
Snape slipped back into professor mode instantly. "Ten points from Gryff... Hufflepuff, Mister Dursley," he said, catching himself. "What are you doing back down here?"
"You really have to come, Sir," David said. "What will you do here all alone?"
"Well, I'm not, that is... You explain it to him, Potter."
"I think my mind must be too feeble to grasp your reasoning, Sir. All those bludger injuries, wasting my time playing Quidditch at school, no doubt."
Snape looked from one to the other. "You're serious about this, aren't you?"
Harry extended his hand. "Yes, Sir, we are."
Snape still hesitated. Harry said, "If you need some task to perform, someone will probably need to keep David company. He tends to wake up in the night, you know. And he does like to talk."
Snape glanced over at David with an unreadable expression on his face, then said slowly, "I suppose I could do that." He took Harry's hand and shook it firmly.
David's smile was as broad and open as a sunrise. Snape scowled at him on principle. "And you had best come along with me, Mister Dursley. Apparently, your bludger injuries have rendered you incapable of finding your dormitory. Good night to you, Mister Potter."
"Good Night, Professor."
Harry watched them go, heard their teasing banter echoing down the corridor. It was still strange to think of Severus Snape as a man capable of having a friend. Friends. He glanced over at the worktable, where the wires and glass had been fashioned at last into one of Davey's lamps. It shone brightly in the room, giving off a warm glow quite distinct from the other lamps scattered around the room. An old proverb came to him then, and he smiled.
It is better to light a candle, than to curse the darkness.
Want to read a commentary on the writing of this fic? Go to my web page and navigate to 48717.html, or the entry for October 27, 2007. For some reason, it's not taking my link.
I think adding it as a chapter is against the terms of service I agreed to. Thanks for reading, and for reviewing. I worked on a sequel to this as part of Nano07, so there may be more eventually in this universe.