For the first time he could recall, there was a warm protective bubble around him that made him entirely aware that he was dead. He hadn't felt warm, truly warm, in years. For him to be so now; surely he had to be dead. He died protecting Lily's son. It was the least of what he could do considering what he'd done to her.
"You never owed me anything, Severus," Lily whispered in his ear as she brushed some hair from his forehead, answering his unspoken thoughts. He opened his eyes to see her looking down at him; his head lying in her lap as he'd done years before. They were by the shores of the lake at Hogwarts, in their own quiet spot where they'd spent so many afternoons together. The grassy earth was firm and comforting on his back.
"So I am dead," he said, barely daring to move.
"Not yet," she replied, taking his hand between hers. Her hair swept around her head like a halo and her green eyes radiated warmth and love. "Harry's doing all he can to get you help. Your poor body's going through a battle to be certain, but you really ought to decide to live, you know. You've still got the chance to have a life of happiness and contentment. The life you deserve."
"I've done everything to make up for my mistake, Lily," Severus said as he quickly sat up. "I never really got to make you believe that I was sorry for what happened. I love you and I am so sorry that I hurt you. I have lived and died for you."
Lily took Severus' face between her hands. The touch on his cheeks sent an electric jolt through his whole body. It felt as though love were flowing through ever centimeter of his being, chasing away all remnants of despair, though the energy made his heart ache. "We all make mistakes, Severus. No one leaves life without at least one. I made the mistake of dying before telling my best friend in the world that all was forgiven and I could do nothing but watch as you punished yourself for years on end. How could I do that to someone who I cared for and loved so much? You're a good person, Sev, and don't you forget that."
"I'm not," he countered. "I've watched so many good people die and did nothing. I didn't save you. I shouldn't..."
Lily put a finger to his lips. "Hush now," she said so softly that he wasn't certain that he'd heard it at all. "You couldn't have saved me, but you've saved countless millions by helping Harry defeat Voldemort. One life pales in comparison. Look at all you did for my child, including being the harsh taskmaster that taught him what he needed to survive his destiny. There were enough people coddling and manipulating him. You taught him to rely on his abilities and all those skills that he required. Come with me."
They walked away from the lake shore where they'd dallied so many times as students and she pulled him toward the Forbidden Forest. He instantly felt as if they were both eleven again and stopped. It seemed dark and even more foreboding than it ever had to him before.
"Don't worry, you'll be safe, Severus. You need to see."
"See what?" he asked. "We've been there before and got into a great deal of trouble for it, as I recall."
Lily chuckled, her green eyes flashing merrily. "Yes, I remember that as well, but we must go in together. You'll not be harmed, Sevvie. I promise."
He felt his entire face flush red, all the way up to the tips of his ears. He rolled his eyes at the childish nickname but smiled despite himself and went alongside his dear friend as they passed further away from the light and security of the lake and into the deepest ravines of the forest. They approached a well and stopped. The walls were crumbling while small sprites continually rebuilt the well by shoring it up with small stones. He looked at the fluid that threatened to overflow its containment. One normally expected water to be in a well but this one looked like it was filled with a dark black ink or oil. Nothing but never ending agony filled the screams that erupted from the well; the place where the truly damned existed without hope or salvation. The cries sent an involuntary shiver down the man's spine. He noticed a large rock that would fit the hole that the small sprites were attempting to fill and picked it up, shoving the rock tightly into place. Lily smiled widely as the tiny sprites cheered.
"Now you know you don't belong among that dark and desperate throng," she said, drawing him into a comforting embrace.
"I only put a stone in place," he replied, relishing his lost Love's embrace.
"Stemming the flow of evil from its containment," Lily said warmly. "It was a small task for you but a monumental one for them. Come away from there now and despair no longer, my dear friend. Our time together is growing short. You need to return to the land of the living and I must move on for my next life."
"I don't want to live without you, Lily," he said as he tried to grab her in his arms again; unwilling to let go so quickly. "It hurts too much."
"Live and be happy, Severus," Lily said suddenly seeming so far away. "If ever I am to return, you must. I promise to be with you again, though perhaps not in the way you might imagine."
Severus felt himself falling away from the warmth and a myriad of voices and noises assaulted his senses. The smell of antiseptic overwhelmed him. He was being forced back. He was alive and he felt hot tears falling onto his cheeks. He was alive and completely alone. Who would befriend a man who betrayed everyone he ever met?
"Lily," he called out. "Don't leave me."
A hand rested on his and gave a squeeze of reassurance while a soft cloth dabbed away tears. He stopped struggling and felt his body go limp. He tried to retreat back into his dream state hoping that he could find Lily once again. He wasn't ready to leave her yet. No matter how he tried, however, his dreams offered him no more glimpses of her angelic face.
Finally accepting the futility of his dream search, Severus slowly pushed himself to awareness. He didn't know how much time had passed from his first realization of consciousness and his current thoughts. Everything in him ached unmercifully. Every muscle felt as though it had been stretched in the most wretched of angles. Against his better judgement, he coughed and immediately regretted the action. His eyes fluttered open and squinted against the light.
"Too bright," he growled. A skeletal looking woman, with mousy brown hair that hung loosely across her face obscuring most of her features, moved over to the window and drew the draperies so that he could adjust his eyes to the light. He looked around the unfamiliar room that was strewn with boxes and instruments that he was entirely unused to. "Where am I?"
"Safe," the woman replied in a whisper, handing him a potion. "Drink."
Severus handed the potion back. "I prefer to brew my own. What's your name?" She shoved the phial back into his hand and closed his fingers around it.
"Drink," the woman managed. "N... now."
"For Merlin's sake, Woman, speak in sentences," Severus growled, throwing the potion across the room, shattering the phial against the opposing wall. "Speak!"
She scurried out of the room in a fashion that reminded him how Wormtail used to cower and scuttle after Voldemort. He couldn't resist the urge to smile cruelly. He sat up in the hospital bed and looked around the darkened room. He had an inkling that he was somehow at Order Headquarters though how he'd gotten there and who the idiot that was caring for him was were beyond his comprehension at that particular moment. Her disappearance was short lived, however, and she returned minutes later with another phial. The scowl returned to his face with her reappearance.
"P...please, P...p...prof...?" she said, handing him another potion.
Severus downed the potion in one quick swallow. It burned like fire whiskey going down but he began to feel less achy and sore. "Happy now?" he asked bitterly.
"It...help," she nodded, as she set down a washing bowl and cloth.
"Take that blasted thing away, Woman. I am not so incapacitated as to require bathing like an infant," Severus growled, almost immediately realizing that she was likely the one who had done so for him while he was unconscious. "You didn't answer my question. What is your name?"
In the doorway, a lean figure leaned against the jamb. The dark unruly hair was an instant giveaway as to the identity of the man standing before him. He'd grown tall in the last seven years, and attained a stature much like his father's though perhaps no longer with the strut that so plagued the elder Potter. In fact, the younger walked with a distinct limp. The woman whose name he still did not know nearly ran out of the room past Harry.
"Welcome back, Professor," Harry said. "I heard you were awake. I would have been here earlier except that I had to finish with my classes before I could get away. How are you feeling?"
"You are injured," Severus commented. "From your fight with the Dark Lord?"
Harry shook his head and came into the room. "Nah, the Quidditch game last night got a little rough. Have you been busy tormenting your healer?"
"She's an imbecile, Potter," Severus replied. "She can't even manage one full thought."
Harry laughed. "Try reading her notes; they tend to be less confusing than waiting for her to spit it out."
"And they call me insensitive," he said, wryly.
"How are you, Professor?" Harry asked, genuinely concerned.
"I'm alive," Severus said. "Thank you, Potter... Harry."
"No need to thank me yet," he said with a cheeky grin. "You're going to be backed up for months on paperwork when you're ready to return, Headmaster, and if you thought that I was trouble... well, let's say you should get a look at your newest Gryffindors."
Severus looked at the younger man confused. "How can I possibly have that post?"
"Several of your colleagues had a meeting with the board of Governors and by unanimous vote, you were not ousted. Professor McGonagall has taken the position as temporary Headmistress."
"I suppose you had no small hand in that, either," Severus snorted.
"I only added my voice in support. As did many other students from all houses," Harry replied, as the woman returned to the room carrying a tea service obviously made for two. Harry gave her a nod of appreciation. "Thank you, but I should be returning to Hogwarts. I only received special permission to come as you woke up, Professor. If you are up to having visitors, Christmas holidays are only a week away."
"No," the woman squeaked in protest. "He needs... rest."
"Amazing, nearly a complete sentence," Snape mused. "I can decide for myself whether or not to accept company, Woman. Leave us."
The woman left the room quickly, nearly cowering as she shuffled away. There was a certain gratification that he could still intimidate, even in his weakened condition. "Where am I?" he asked.
"You're at Grimmauld Place," Harry replied. "We thought that the Order's headquarters would be the best place to have you healing. I was beginning to think you were never going to come around, just to be difficult. Seven months is a long time to not wake up."
Harry looked at his watch which had begun reminding him that he was due back at school. "You're going to be late!" the watch scolded loudly. "You have a test in fifteen minutes!"
"I really have to go now," Harry said, as he extended a hand to the Potions Master. "Thank you, Professor, for everything."
Almost reluctantly, Severus shook Harry's hand. "Thank you, Harry," he said finally.
"If you need anything, Kreacher and..." Harry began.
"Kreacher and the woman are both here," Severus finished for him, waving the young man off. "I assure you that I have more than enough experience taking care of myself."
"Camelot's her name," Harry said as he left. For the briefest of moments, Severus wished that Harry had bothered to mention whether that was her given or surname.
"You, Woman," Severus called, looking into the corridor. "Where are my robes?"
From her supposed position of safety several feet away, she looked as though she were about to say something but was getting hung up on some concept she couldn't convey.
"It was a simple request for my clothing," he groused. "Well, if it's not too great a task for your addled brain, would you kindly transfigure that hospital thing into something more appropriate?"
"I will... bring... robes," the woman said. "Krea-cher, please?"
The small aged house elf popped into the room, made a few small utterances, and finally transformed the simple hospital cot into a much more luxurious four poster bed bearing the Slytherin colors. "Is this to Master Snape's liking?" he asked miserably.
"Yes," Severus replied. "But I asked her to do it. Is she incapable of even the smallest magical tasks?"
"Her is a useless witch now," Kreacher explained nastily. "Is Master Snape wanting anything else?"
"Take that washing up bowl and tea service out of here. I will take myself to the bath and attend to my own toileting needs," Severus ordered. "Have some fresh tea when I am out."
"As Master Snape is wanting," Kreacher responded, scowling as he bowed low.
Severus walked unsteadily to the bathroom where he removed what passed for a hospital gown. He looked up and caught his reflection in the mirror. He was paler and thinner than he could ever remember being, his eyes were sunken and he looked old. His hair was streaked with strands of silver and he had a very full beard. Vanity had never been one of his greater concerns but his appearance was startling. Of course, he was amazed he was alive at all with that woman in charge of his care. Silently he used a spell to turn on the water in the bath and stepped in, soaking himself up to his neck in a bath that was nearly hot enough to boil the scales off a dragon's arse. He was beginning to relax when he heard a knock on the door.
"What?" he snarled.
"Your robe," the woman called through the door.
"Leave it on the bed, for Merlin's sake," he yelled back. "Surely you're not too stupid to figure that out?"
He heard nothing more from outside the door and figured she must have put the robes on the bed and scurried away to some dark corner of Grimmauld Place which suited him just perfectly. He had every intention of dressing and making his way to Diagon Alley to begin brewing his own restorative potions since the woman was obviously not competent to keep him from ending up in this ragged condition. He scrubbed himself until he was sure that the months of body filth was gone. Finally, he felt fully relaxed and alive. After nearly an hour and a half in the tub; meticulously washed, shaved, and cleaned beyond any doubt, he climbed out and wrapped a towel around his midsection and had stepped into his bedroom when he heard Molly Weasley in the outer corridor.
"Hello, Lottie," she said in her warm and motherly way. "Do eat something and try to keep that hair out of your face, Dear. You look so much better when we can see you and a smile every now and again couldn't hurt. Have you been practicing your conjurations? Good. Well, I've brought you groceries for the next week. I wanted to drop this book over for Severus now that he's awake and I brought you the Prophet and the Quibbler. Do take care of yourself, Dear."
He heard Molly's footsteps stop outside of his door and she knocked. "Severus, may I enter?" she sang sweetly through the closed door.
"One moment," he returned picking up his robes and sniffing them. They were perfumed with a lavender scent and he wrinkled his nose. "Oh Merlin's hairy arse, it smells like a bloody dress shop," he grumbled, using a cleaning charm to get the smell out of them. After he managed pulled his robes on, he settled himself on the freshly made bed and said, "You may come in now."
Molly bounded in with packages of books and newspapers, not to mention a set of dark muggle style clothes that looked as though they would fit his currently much thinner frame. "I heard you were back among us and thought you would grow bored here far too quickly while you're still weak from your ordeal."
She looked at him far too sympathetically for his own liking and he scowled accordingly. She also seemed much older, worn and sad. He couldn't help but ask, "What happened? I saw Potter so I know he was successful but what the Order?"
"The final battle was horrific and the losses were great," Molly said, sniffing as she held back tears. "Remus and 'Dora as well as the little Creevy boy was killed. My own..."
"Not Ronald," Severus blurted out and felt a tinge of embarrassment come to his cheeks.
"No, my Freddie," she said, a few tears escaping despite her attempt to hold them in check. "George has been in a dreadful state without him."
"I am sorry, Molly. They were both very good at potions, if a bit heedless in their uses," he said, attempting a tone of gentility which he was certain was not. "Which one lost the ear?"
"George," she said, dabbing the tears from her cheeks. "The wound isn't as bad as it was originally but the healers said that there's nothing they can do to reconstruct it."
"I may be able to help, Molly," Severus said. "I'll tell that woman to pick some things up from Diagon Alley to reverse the condition."
"Her name is Lottie," Molly scolded. "And don't you dare be unkind to her!"
Severus blinked in surprise at the plump, ginger woman. He wasn't one of her children and she'd hardly gone through the trouble to treat any of the Order in such a manner before. "Molly..."
"I'm sorry, Severus," she replied. "I forgot myself for a moment."
"Don't trouble yourself over it," Severus said, concerned about his own reactions. Kindness was never one of his strong suits but now, the absence of anger that sustained him through the years worried him. "Why did you have such a strong reaction about the woman?"
"It's not important," Molly said in an obvious lie. "Nor really for me to say. She's been devoted to your care these many months and I'd rather not see you abusing her just yet. You can be a rather difficult man, Severus."
"I am perfectly aware of that, Molly," he answered. A thought came to him suddenly. "What happened to the Death Eaters? Were they all apprehended or killed? Some of them are just as dangerous as the Dark Lord."
"Many have been arrested, some killed, and others are still being searched for. Some of the battles to bring them in have been brutal. The muggles by and large blame it on hurricanes or some other such natural phenomena," Molly explained.
She hesitated for a moment before she continued. "There's something I should tell you about the Wizarding World that you're entitled to know. Harry went about clearing your reputation immediately after the battle and Rita Skeeter got wind of the story and you know how she twists everything around."
"Of course I do. The woman is incapable of producing anything that resembles truth," Severus said. "What has she done?"
"Well, she's gone out of her way to make you seem very much as a tragic symbol of the war and hmm... how shall I put this? You were voted The Daily Prophet's Most Eligible Wizard. You have months of fan mail in the study. You know the sort, requests for photos and autographs, some marriage proposals and well, let's say not every young lady is known for deportment and good manners," Molly finished with a chuckle, trying to shuffle off her earlier sadness.
Severus Snape groaned loudly and made a face that looked as if there were something extremely unpleasant beneath his nose. "Remind me to choke Mister Potter. And here I thought that the woman here was addle brained."
Molly handed him a copy of the Prophet where they had obtained a copy of a photo from when he was named Headmaster. Someone had enchanted the image to look much softer focus and made him seem less... him.
"This is the most ridiculous thing I've ever seen," Severus growled. "I'll go down there and set this nonsense straight."
"You really should wait until you're a little stronger before you try doing anything strenuous, Severus," Molly sighed. "What would you like me to do with your... ahem, fan mail?"
"Find the fires of hell and dump them in," Severus replied heading over to the door. "Woman...?"
"Goodness, Severus," Molly scolded, standing behind him. "She has a name. Lottie dear, would you come here for a moment please?"
The woman came down the hall carrying a fresh load of laundry from the yard. "Yes... Ma'am?" she asked as she eyed Severus nervously.
"Severus has something to ask you, Dear," Molly said delicately before adding, "Nicely."
Severus cleared his throat, "Ah, yes, I find myself in need of traveling to Diagon Alley and require assistance so that I'm not wasting more time on frivolous nonsense than absolutely necessary. Would you go along?"
Molly coughed something that sounded suspiciously like 'please' and Severus felt his back stiffen. He was used to expecting to be obeyed, not pandering to some simpleton. "Please."
"You need... rest," the woman said and Molly smiled widely at her. "You... are... weak from..."
"Insolent woman, weak is the last thing that Severus Snape is," Severus yelled, sending the woman retreating several steps until she was out of the room and away from the man's temper. He stumbled a bit and sat on the edge of the bed. "What have you done to me? There's no reason why I should be..."
"Severus," Molly said as she helped him settle back onto the bed. "Lottie has been working on keeping you alive for the last seven months and getting yourself worked up so soon will hardly do you any favors. Now promise me that you'll get some rest and be nice. She's not good with loud noises."
"Molly, you know that I cannot promise to be... nice," Severus said, reluctantly accepting her help. "I will, however, endeavor to be civil."
"Thank goodness for small favors, I suppose," Molly said. "I'm sure that you'll have more than enough company soon enough from the rest of the Order."
Once Molly had left, Severus found himself with little to do and, perhaps most frustratingly, far weaker than he preferred. He perused the newspapers Molly left, but quickly tossed them aside in disgust. He picked up the book and started reading, finding comfort in the safe familiarity of potions. After an hour, Kreacher appeared with a luncheon tray of broth, toast, and tea alongside a phial of bluish green potion for him. "Miss said to give Sir only this to start on but Kreacher will bring Sir whatever he wishes."
Severus looked over the tray with an appraising eye. She'd chosen nothing that would upset his system so soon after waking and the replenishing potion. The thing must have just finished brewing as they had a notoriously short shelf life. He took the potion and immediately felt revitalized. "There's no need. This will suffice."
He then started in on his liquids and finished them with gusto. It seemed an age since he'd tasted anything half as good as the delicate broth going down his throat. Once he was done, Severus decided to look about the house. There was no change from the last time he'd been there; less dusty, perhaps, and not quite so shabby. He chuckled to himself. He supposed that it had indeed changed.
He opened one of the many doors on the second floor and found a small potions lab and the woman hunched over a cauldron measuring ingredients. He cleared his throat to announce his presence and was greeted with the woman holding up a finger in the universal 'wait a minute' gesture as her robe draped down, exposing her skin over bones arm. Once she'd finished her measurements, she looked up and away again quickly; appearing desperate to avoid his gaze.
"I am sor...ry," she stammered. "Do... you... n... n... need me?"
"Your potion was adequately done," Severus said as he looked around at her lab and stores. Keeping to the good form of a Potions Master, he touched nothing within the lab. She snorted in response to his statement and he cocked an eyebrow. "Something you'd like to say?"
Instead of speaking this time, she wrote on a tablet. He picked it up and read the quickly scribbled note. It bothered him that she refused to lift her gaze to meet his. Of course, the lab, aside from the workstation, was far too dim to get a good look in any case.
'That is high praise, indeed, Professor. Far better than the 'not dreadful' that you used to throw my way on occasion,' the note read.
"You attended Hogwarts?" Severus asked, trying desperately to search through his memories of a scrawny ugly kid that might have been her.
"Where... else have... you taught?" she asked as if he were being completely dense. Color tinged Severus' cheeks as he realized it was a rather stupid question. He cursed under his breath for being less than his usual self. He resisted the urge to yell as he recalled Molly's earlier statement about loud noises. "When, and for heaven's sake, write it down. I don't have an eternity to wait for you to spit it out."
The woman grabbed the pad back and wrote down another note. It's not important. Did you need something?
"Yes, I still have need of going to Diagon Alley," Severus said. "Would you come along?"
She nodded as she turned the fire off from under her potion. "Let me fin-ish."
Snape extended his hand as if to say 'By all means'. He would be the last person to cut short a well brewed potion. Once the woman had bottled her work and seemed satisfied, she picked up a ratty looking, far too large second hand cloak and tossed it over herself, adjusting the hood over her face to which Severus rolled his eyes. "Oh for God's Sake, Woman, you look like some tragic figure from a dime store novel. Lose the hood."
"You... are one... to... talk," she stammered out straightening herself upright.
Severus grinned wickedly seeing that he still had a good eight inches of height on her as he roughly yanked the hood from her head and finally managed a good look at her. She was emaciated and gaunt with an upturned nose that was far too small for her face. What struck him most were her eyes. They were a hazy, milky look with only the slightest faded green ring of what used to be her irises.
"I was wrong," he said replacing the hood. "Leave it up. You will cause less of a panic that way."
He strode through the halls with a purpose and that was to leave for Diagon Alley as soon as possible. It was perhaps fortunate for the woman that he did not see the one fingered salute she offered once his back was turned.
"I suppose apparating will be the best way to go," Severus said, decidedly. "You are capable of at least that simple little bit of magic, are you not?"
"Floo," she said, shaking her head.
'You need at least a dozen more restorative potions before your core will be well enough, not that you'll take them from me, you great greasy git. Maybe you'll be happier brewing them yourself, even though it'll take all the energy you get from one to make the next, you miserable son of a...'
"What did you call me?" Severus asked, rounding on her unexpectedly.
"I did... not say... any-thing," she answered timidly but looking flushed.
"Oh, for the love of..." Severus growled. "Don't lie about it. I heard..." He stopped realizing that the statement had been far too fluid for her to have said it. "Never mind, we'll floo. You go first."
Lottie managed to get herself through with only a little difficulty and Severus Snape called out, "Diagon Alley!" and was on his way to appearing in public for the first time in almost a year.
Author's Note: This is a re-write of the first chapter and the others will follow with revisions. I've had this story in my mind for years now and I want to make it as enjoyable as possible both for my readers and for myself. I've found an amazing editor/beta reader, Lady Ruatha, who is a friend of mine and I finally found the courage to show this story to someone I actually know.
Obviously, this story isn't everyone's cup of tea and that's cool. I just hope that those who DO appreciate it like the changes and for those who don't, please send me a private message and let me know where it is that you think I'm going off the rails.