Severus Snape hated being dead.
In the few moments before he had died, he had lain on the floor of the Shrieking Shack, finally feeling that he was at peace. He hadn't known quite what to expect from death, but he had been pleased in the beginning.
It was similar to being alive—his house was exactly the same and he had access to all the books that he had owned when he had been among the living. Everything else was the same too—even Hogwarts. When he had first arrived, he had been shocked to realize that the world of the dead mirrored the world of the living—the only difference was that here there was no pain or suffering. It was a utopia of sorts.
And that was what Severus hated so much about it.
In the beginning, he had been impressed by the conversations that he could hold with various famous people from the past. Debating the Theory of Relativity with Einstein, discussing the properties of the Elixir of Life with Nicolas Flamel and having chats with other Muggle and Magical scientists were all perks of being dead.
He figured that his mother would join him as soon as she died. None of the other Death Eaters, or even his father, were in the same place as he was. Was he in Heaven? It didn't feel like it.
Sure, he didn't have to deal with acting as a double agent, but he didn't have any of the pleasures that he had always longed for. He still had no friends (not that he had wanted friends in the first place) and the woman he loved still preferred the company of her idiotic husband and his idiotic friends.
He saw Lily Evans rarely. The first day after he had died, she had come with her husband to thank him for all the help he had given Harry. In the beginning, Lily had visited him often. In the beginning, she had seemed happy to see him. However, over time, her visits had become more and more sporadic until finally she had stopped coming altogether. He wasn't certain why, but she now seemed to be nothing more than an acquaintance. He would occasionally see her, but they would only speak in passing. It was apparent that she did not want to resume the friendship they had had as children. Lily's aloofness didn't bother him so much as the knowledge that he would be alone for an eternity and James Potter wouldn't.
In addition, all of the long-dead Muggle and magical scientists who had interested him in the beginning preferred to spend time with their spouses, lovers, and various family members. Not with a crusty Potions Master who had died young. They had made discoveries and inventions during their lifetimes that had changed both the Muggle and Wizarding worlds. All his work, though, had been in vain—he had died before he could share it with the world.
He could still brew potions here, but it didn't hold the same appeal. Dead people had little need for potions. He couldn't save anybody's life or help anyone. Even something as basic as a Hangover Potion was useless—the dead could binge every night and never feel it in the morning.
There were many days when he wished that he had been a social butterfly while he was alive. Then maybe he would have friends, a wife, even after he was dead.
Not bloody likely, though.
Of course, even in his wildest dreams of being born in an alternate universe where he was raised by happy parents who loved each other, he couldn't imagine anyone describing him as "social", let alone a "butterfly". Had he done things right as a teenager, avoided joining the Death Eaters, he still knew that no woman would ever want him.
Severus sighed as he looked at the potion in front of him. The color had just changed to turquoise, which was exactly the way it was supposed to look. He didn't know why he was brewing the Draught of Living Death. He couldn't think of anybody in his world that could possibly have any use for it. But it was something to do. He really had no other way to occupy his time.
Severus finished bottling the potion and set it in a large, bottle-filled room next to his laboratory. Each time he made a potion, he put it on one of the shelves in the room, never to be touched again. He had accumulated so many that sometime in the next few months he would either have to cast a charm on the room to make more space for new potions or dispose of the potions that were in there in order to make room for new ones.
After quickly cleaning up his laboratory, he went into his small library and picked up Moste Potente Potions. Perhaps he could do the Invisibility Potion next? Sure, he already had several vials of it, but it was one of his favorites to make.
As he was pondering his next brew, there was a knock on the door.
"Severus!" a voice called.
Damn. It was Albus. The old man had been coming to visit him all too frequently and was peskier than when he had been alive. Severus briefly considered pretending not to be home. But Albus had known him for years—twenty-six while he was alive and another five after Severus died. He knew that Severus would be home at this time because where else would he go?
Severus rarely went out, except to get Potions supplies or go on sporadic visits to acquaintances. In the first two years after he had died, Severus had frequently visited with long-dead Potions Masters and Mistresses, and Muggle chemists. But he had realized that to all of them, the living world was of little interest, as they had been away from it for a long time. Spending eternity with their loved ones seemed to be more important. He felt like he was the only dead person who was all alone.
"Severus!" Albus said again. Pretending to be away wouldn't work. Albus would rap on the door until Severus finally conceded. What's more, Albus came to visit him every week, something that Severus could just barely tolerate.
"I'm coming, you crazy old coot," Severus mumbled to himself.
"Good morning, Severus," Albus said when he opened the door.
"Good morning, Albus," Severus said in a voice that held none of the cheerfulness that Albus' had. Albus looked exactly the same as he had when he died—like Severus, his hair hadn't grown and his features hadn't aged a bit. Not that the old man could have possibly done much more aging in his lifetime.
"I've have some great news!" Usually, "great news" meant that someone new was dead.
"Oh?" Severus said. "Who died this time?"
Severus nodded, showing little interest.
"Severus, we can go visit him right now. I'm sure that he'd be happy to see two of his old friends."
Calling Severus and Slughorn "old friends" was a bit of a stretch. Although he and Slughorn were both Slytherin Potions Masters, there was little for them to talk about. Every time they had spoken, Slughorn would always brag about his dunderhead students. The last time they had spoken—a year before the war—Slughorn had spoken of nothing except Harry Potter and Hermione Granger. Although his opinion of Potter and Granger had improved as they matured, he did not like how so many people treated Potter and Granger like they were the king and queen of the Wizarding world.
He ireally/i hoped that Slughorn wouldn't mention any of his old students when they met, although he knew that his wishes were in vain unless Slughorn had undergone a major personality change in the last five years.
Slughorn's house was crowded when they arrived. When a new person died, there was always a huge ado. Even when Severus died, he had been visited by many people.
Horace Slughorn was sitting on the sofa, sipping a cup of tea. He looked a little bit older than he had five years earlier when Severus had last seen him, and his large belly appeared to be even larger. He appeared radiant with happiness.
"Hello, Severus, Albus!" Horace said.
The men shook hands, and Horace gestured to two armchairs. "Please, sit down. Loretta!" he called loudly to an elderly woman who had been talking to some of his old friends. She walked over to them. "Severus, I'd like you to meet my beautiful wife Loretta. Albus, I believe that the two of you are already acquainted." Severus felt even more pathetic. Even Slughorn had a wife!
"Severus, it's so nice to meet you. I've heard so much about you." Her eyes twinkled in the same annoying way that Dumbledore's always did. How had she heard about him? The man had died only recently—when would he have possibly spoken of Severus to his wife?
Loretta Slughorn laughed then kissed her husband on his wrinkled cheek. Severus felt a pang of envy.
They exchanged pleasantries and Loretta brought the two men tea. Slughorn almost immediately turned the conversation to rather unsavory topics.
"Severus, I have some exciting news." Severus tried to pretend to look interested. "Do you remember Hermione Granger?"
Severus cringed. Of course, he would have to bring up Granger. Next would probably be Potter and Weasley, followed by Longbottom. "Regrettably, yes. I had the misfortune of teaching the girl for six years."
Slughorn laughed. "Ah, Severus, you always did like to joke around." Severus didn't bother to tell him that it wasn't a joke.
"Hermione is one of the best students I've ever had. Imagine my surprise and delight when I found that she was pursuing a career in Potions." Potions? Hermione Granger's performance in his classes had been acceptable, certainly better than that of her friends, but did she really have the magical ability to create? She could probably recite the list of ingredients for any potion that she had ever encountered, but Potions required so much more than that.
"Hermione studied at Oxford, earning a Muggle degree in Chemistry and a Wizarding degree in Potions. It's quite amazing really—the girl attended classes and earned degrees in both the Muggle and Wizarding departments of the university."
Severus scoffed. "I hardly find that amazing. Certainly Miss Granger is not the first witch to attend a Muggle university."
"But there have only been two others in the past hundred years who have done both Muggle and Wizarding schools simultaneously. And neither of the other two studied in Potions. And her Master's Thesis was published in Potions Quarterly. The Wizarding world will see another Potions genius yet. I only had one student whose talent for Potions surpassed Hermione's, and he's sitting in this room with me."
Severus stood quickly and began pacing. He was absolutely furious. The Granger girl, with her limited skills, would spend the next hundred-odd years of her life brewing and creating potions, getting the fame and prestige that he had never received as a Potions Master. He had been too busy working for Voldemort and Dumbledore and trying to save the lives of her and all of her ungrateful Gryffindor friends.
"Severus, please sit down," Albus said with disapproval in his voice.
Severus took a deep breath. "Thank you, but I prefer to stand."
"Severus, you didn't hear the rest of my tale. Hermione is now going to be teaching at Hogwarts. I really think it suits her, don't you?"
"I'm sure that the girl has no idea how to handle a classroom full of hormonal and uninterested teenagers. I doubt that she'll last longer than a month."
"Now Severus, this is Hermione Granger that we're talking about. She can do anything she puts her mind to," Albus said.
Severus felt irritated. He didn't really give a damn about Hermione-bloody-Granger. One of the good things about being dead was not having to see Granger, Potter, or Weasley until one of them died. Although, with his luck, one of them would probably murder the other two in a fit of passion and then commit suicide.
"You know, while she was in her apprenticeship at St. Mungo's, Hermione came to visit me nearly every week. It was so nice of her. We had many interesting conversations about—"
"Horace! Enough about Granger!" Severus growled. Slughorn was momentarily taken aback.
"Very well, Severus," Slughorn said after a moment's pause. "Another piece of gossip, for you, though—did anyone tell you that Neville Longbottom was hired as the Herbology professor? It'll be so nice for Hogwarts to have more young people on the staff."
Severus kept silent but began wishing that he was drinking something stronger than tea. One thing was certain: he was most definitely not in Heaven. Listening to two old men talk about Granger, Longbottom, and the others in their year was worse than any sort of physical torture.
Severus left fewer than fifteen minutes later, after faking a headache. Albus, of course, knew that he did not really have a headache because dead people didn't get headaches, but he didn't say anything.
However, Severus knew that if he were alive, all the talk about the "Golden Trio", as the media had dubbed them, would have made him physically nauseous. There were so many talented wizards and witches in the world who had contributed to the fall of Voldemort, yet one would think based on the Daily Prophet that three teenagers had done it without any help.
Severus returned home to get some peace. He took the Stasis Spell off one of the long-term potions he had been working on. It was one that he had started three years earlier after a dinnertime conversation with Nicolas and Perenelle Flamel about the Philosopher's Stone. On average, he worked on it about two hours everyday. On days when he felt particularly inspired, he would work on it for the entire day, on other days, he would make simple potions just to pass the time.
His special potion was an attempt to reversing death. Everybody he had ever spoken to had said that one cannot go back to life, but Severus Snape was going to prove all those people wrong.
As Severus stirred, he began thinking about his life and his death. His life had been wasted, and his death—which should have been paradise—was also a complete waste. He had to go back. He couldn't live like this forever.
Severus knew that there was an option for people like him—the same that had happened to Voldemort, his father, and many others. All of them were in an eternal sleep, never to awake. He could sleep forever—but did he really want that?
The idea of making a potion to cheat death was not uniquely his. Many others had tried and failed before him. It was impossible. But if there was one thing that Severus Snape was capable of doing, it was the impossible.
Severus spent the rest of the day stirring and chopping, only taking a short break for dinner. Sometimes he enjoyed the small, tedious tasks involved in potion-making. It was rather therapeutic.
As he was cleaning his laboratory and getting ready to sleep, he heard a Pop, similar to the sound of Apparition, but slightly higher in tone.
He whipped his wand out and turned in the direction of the noise.
Hermione Granger was standing right in front of him.