A/N: This story diverges from canon sometime during the Battle of Hogwarts. There are OCs, and touch of voyeurism a little latter, and perhaps more sentiment than is customary for Severus, but otherwise, no warnings.
My unending thanks to those best of betas and therapists, The Real Snape and Tetley the Second (tetleybag on FFN).
Disclaimer: I'm no more JKR this week than I was last.
By Kelly Chambliss
The World was all before them, where to choose
Their place of rest, and Providence their guide:
They hand in hand with wand'ring steps and slow,
Through Eden took their solitary way.
- - John Milton, Paradise Lost
Tucked into a dingy back street in Sofia, the little wizarding café was dingy in its own right, which was one of the reasons that Ivo Dobrev had suggested meeting there. He still wasn't sure that he wanted to do this, and he was half-hoping that the grimy tables and dodgy-looking neighbourhood would put the girl off. Perhaps she wouldn't even appear.
Well, she was not a girl, really, since she was already an historian or something. A professional. "Diantha Morris, Researcher, Dark Wars Oral History Project," or so her card read.
It was quite an official-looking card, with her picture on the right (smiling and nodding, but not waving, so that she could be taken seriously) and on the left, the insignia of the Dumbledore Institute. Impressive credentials, to say the truth: the Dumbledore Institute had become a prestigious organisation in post-war wizarding Britain.
But it wasn't prestige that had made Ivo decide, after all these years, to speak about his war experiences. It had been seeing the name "Dumbledore" in the Svetŭt Sŭvetnika - the Bulgarian Wizard World newspaper.
The advertisement had been just a small one, in the classified pages: a group of British researchers from the Dumbledore Institute were looking to interview Europeans about their experiences during the Dark Wars.
Part of Ivo was exasperated by this insistence on talk and more talk. It had been over thirty years since Hogwarts and Britain had fallen to Lord Voldemort and his Death Eaters; over twenty years since Voldemort had finally been overthrown, and still the Brits had not come to terms with it all.
Well, no more had the Bulgarians, he supposed. Or the Europeans in general. Before it ended, the dark regime had spread far beyond British shores.
But it had started there, in Scotland, at Hogwarts. And as a student from Durmstrang, Ivo had been at Hogwarts on the night the second war had essentially begun - that long-ago night of the Triwizard Tournament, when that boy had died. The night Voldemort had made his return to the world of the living.
That's why Ivo had decided to speak - because he had been there, and because he had known Dumbledore. Had met him, shaken his hand. When Dumbledore had smiled at Ivo and said, "I am pleased to welcome you to Hogwarts, Mr Dobrev," Ivo had believed him utterly. That had been part of the man's great magic, the way he could make even a lonely, awkward, foreign boy feel important.
But after Ivo had answered the advertisement and received the owl with Diantha Morris's card and her offer to meet him anywhere in Sofia that he liked, he had second-guessed himself. He was fifty-two years old now, and he felt every day of it, even though his wife laughed at him and pointed out that, in fact, he was barely middle-aged.
Yet she had looked at him with worry, his Bilyana; she knew the dark days when depression clouded his eyes, and she did not wish to see them again.
Thinking of Bilyana made Ivo feel a bit disloyal: if he had never told his wife about his war years, why should he now talk to an English girl who had not even been alive when Hogwarts fell and the real war began?
At the corner near the café, Ivo stopped and used the comforting solidity of his fingers to tally again his reasons.
- -He would talk for his own son, who was now eighteen - only two years younger than Ivo had been when he'd found himself in the Vanda refugee camp. Yet Pavel knew almost nothing about the war. Ivo had been shocked recently to hear him talking with his friends, and only one of them could even say when Dumbledore had died. They needed to know, these young people. They needed to know what had been sacrificed for them. What they had escaped.
- -He would talk for himself, so that when the day came that he ceased to be - and it would come, something he had not understood when he was Pavel's age, not even in the worst days of the war - when that day came, his life would not be like a line drawn in sand, soon smoothed away as if it had never been. He, Ivan Marinov Dobrev, would be in the history books.
- -Last and least, he would talk for the sheer kick of it - the kick of knowing that it would be he, this same Ivan Marinov Dobrev, this ordinary, unknown Bulgarian, who would answer for the British one of the enduring mysteries of their war: what had happened to two of their most talked-about fighters, who on the night of the Battle of Hogwarts had vanished without a trace.
He would tell them about Severus Snape and Minerva McGonagall.
Yet when Ivo opened the door of the café, the doubts assailed him once again. He was a private man and preferred to be so, and part of him was afraid that by putting his memories into words, he would be giving a piece of himself away. And what if this Diantha Morris refused to believe him, if she scoffed at him? Or if he opened himself up to her, and she laughed?
If the woman had not already been there, sitting at a table against the wall, he might very well have left and thereafter never said a word. But she was there, and she spotted him at once, and so the die was cast. Nothing to be done about it then.
"Mr Dobrev?" she asked, smiling and standing up to extend her hand. "Diantha Morris. Thank you so much for agreeing to be interviewed. I'm really looking forward to talking with someone who was at Vanda Camp. There's so much about it that we don't know in my country, and I think that's very unfortunate. We need to know everything we can about the history of the Dark Wars if we have any chance of avoiding another Dark Lord in the future."
Ah, but we have no such chance, my dear, Ivo thought as he shook her hand, human nature being what it is.
But this he did not say aloud. Bilyana would have said he was being a cynic, and he had no wish to discomfort this girl. She would learn the world's truths soon enough, or she would not, but either way, it would not be the words of a greying, diffident old man that would teach her.
Aloud he said, "I am pleased to meet you. I'll do my best to answer your questions."
"Thank you," she replied, sitting down again and busying herself with a set of Dicto-Quills. "I know you've read our brochure, but to summarise - with your permission (just sign here, please), I'll record our conversations. I'll be asking you things, but do feel free to respond in any way that is comfortable for you. Just talk to me in your own words; there are no right or wrong answers, of course."
She was naïve, this Miss Morris. One thing Ivo had learnt - there were always right and wrong answers.
He dutifully wrote his name on her parchment and thought again that Bilyana was wrong: he was getting old; why else was he nowadays always noticing how impossibly young everyone seemed to be?
"May I get you anything?" Miss Morris offered. "A coffee, or. . .?"
"Coffee, thank you," Ivo said. He didn't want any, but he knew that the café owner was unlikely to let them sit without buying.
Miss Morris waited until the coffees appeared, and then she nodded, suddenly all business.
"Right, then. Why don't we start with some of the details of the Vanda refugee settlement. What it was like, how you ended up there. In Romania. . ."
He had ended up there because Bulgaria in those days had been no place for a one-time protégé of Igor Karkaroff, someone who was trusted neither by the side that Karkaroff had betrayed nor the side that he had betrayed them for.
And by that time, not long before the Battle of Hogwarts, Ivo had come to realise that even if he had still believed that the wizarding world needed to be ruled by purebloods, he had nothing like the stomach necessary to bring that rule about.
And so he fled over the border into Romania, hoping to make his way to the dragon preserve where, rumour had it, supporters of Dumbledore could be found. But the going had been far more dangerous than he had ever expected, and when he had come across a group of refugees headed towards a safe, unplottable sanctuary deep in the countryside, he had asked (in fact, he had practically begged) to be allowed to join them.
Vanda camp had been chaotic in those early days, and no one spared much attention for a quiet Bulgarian wizard with no visible wounds, a young man who made no trouble, who lent a hand when asked but otherwise kept to himself. He was given a bed in the main dormitory building, an enormous cavern of a place called the Cattle Shed, and thereafter left mostly alone.
He wasn't unhappy, not really. Just numb, mostly. And relieved. At Vanda, for the first time since that dreadful end of the Triwizard year, nothing was expected of him, nothing was up to him. His basic needs were met, and he didn't constantly have to watch his back. There were a few camp gangs and thugs, but compared to his years at Durmstrang, they were nothing.
He was content to live at Vanda day by day, looking to neither past nor future. Nearly everyone else, though, was desperate to move on, to get out of the camp, or at the very least, to get out of the Cattle Shed and into one of the private tents. But those were usually assigned only to families: even magically-expanded camps reach finite physical space eventually, and the Cattle Shed was an efficient way to house the many single people.
It was in the Cattle Shed that he first saw Professors Snape and McGonagall.
"We know that magic was rationed at Vanda," Miss Morris said, consulting some notes. "Why was that? Wasn't the camp unplottable? And more or less smothered in wards?"
"Yes, it was," Ivo replied, watching the Dicto-Quills as they scratched quietly along. He found it easier to look at them than at his questioner's eager, interested face, which served only to remind him how difficult it would be make her understand what the camp had really been like. "But the wards took a lot of energy to maintain; they could have thinned or cracked, and then there were so many of us - people feared that such a large concentration of magic could be detected, no matter how unplottable we thought we were."
He was quiet a moment, thinking. "How realistic were these fears? I cannot say. But the rationing. . .I think it made us feel as if we had a little control. It gave us a way to protect ourselves, even a little bit, and we were afraid. If there had been spies in our midst, or if the Death Eaters had found us. . .you must understand, no one knew what Voldemort's plans were, whether he would try to exterminate the Muggle-borns or enslave them or what he would do."
"How was the rationing managed?"
"We all had a trace put on us, such as the children have. We could still use magic, just not often and not much."
It had been more difficult than he'd expected, the restriction of his magic - like the loss of a limb. But he had managed. They all had. What else could they have done?
Miss Morris now changed the subject rather briskly. "Were there any British refugees in the camp?"
"A handful only. I'm not sure how they got there. But the way things were then. . .it's hard to explain now how confused everything was. The war had escalated so fast. We had so many months of tension, of waiting, of nothing happening, and then suddenly, it was as if the world exploded. Death Eaters everywhere, more and more Muggle-borns disappearing. And then we heard that Hogwarts had been lost, and the British Ministry taken over. . . People just fled, any way they could, and a few British ended up in Vanda."
Not long after his own arrival, Ivo ran across a Hogwarts boy he'd known during the Tournament year, a Slytherin named Blake Walford. Walford had left school by the time of the Battle, but his younger sister had been there; she'd been one of those evacuated from the castle when the fighting began. The family had collected her from the evacuation point and come almost directly to the camp, although Walford was vague about the how and the why. Ivo, of course, did not press for details; at Vanda, people's secrets were their own.
Walford was brash, and he liked to shock, but he wasn't Dark at all, just a bit of a loner, like Ivo himself, and Ivo felt a kinship with him. It was no easier to be a Slytherin in those days than to be from Durmstrang.
For his part, Walford seemed delighted when he spotted Ivo at breakfast one morning in the camp mess.
"Well, if it isn't Ivo il Divo," he said, using the silly nickname from their schooldays, and Ivo found himself grinning. His year at Hogwarts had been difficult for him, away from home among such strange people and food, yet for a moment he wished for nothing more than to be back there, spending his nights being rocked to sleep on the lake. Those days had been strange, yes. But simpler. Or so they seemed now.
He and Walford spent time together, lazing and talking, but neither confided much in the other. And then one day, a few months after their arrival, Walford and his family were simply gone. Ivo never heard of them again.
That had been the way of it at the camp: people got their chance to leave and took it.
Ivo often wondered what had become of them all.
"Did you meet any of the other Brits?" Miss Morris asked, naturally more interested in her own people than in his. "Or recognise any of them?"
Sipping the remains of his coffee, Ivo let the silence stretch out. He was aware that he might yet come to regret revealing what he knew, but he'd begun it, and there was no going back. So if this was to be his chance to strut his brief hour upon the stage, he wanted to miss none of it.
"Just the Slytherin boy," he said carefully, leaning back in his chair. After what he judged to be a sufficient pause, he added, "and the professors."
"Professor Snape. And Professor McGonagall. From Hogwarts."
Miss Morris's reaction was all that Ivo could have hoped. Her eyes widened to an almost comical degree, and she lost her professional veneer as she stammered, "I. . .you. . .what? Do you mean. . .? Please. Let me be sure I understand you. At the Vanda refugee settlement, you saw Severus Snape? And Minerva McGonagall? After the Battle of Hogwarts?"
Ivo nodded a brief assent to each query, but she was hardly satisfied. The questions came faster than he could answer them: "Are you sure? How did you know who they were? When did they arrive? How? Did they acknowledge each other, speak to each other? Did they know you? Are you sure?
"I am very sure, Miss Morris," Ivo broke in finally. "I knew who they were because I saw them often during my year at Hogwarts. I know what has been said of them: that they were rivals, even enemies. That it was she who drove him from the school on the night of the Battle, duelled with him."
He lifted his hands in a gesture of ignorance. "These things may be true, I do not know. But Professors Snape and McGonagall were not enemies during the Tournament year. In fact, until the Hogwarts students assured me that I was mistaken, I thought they were friends. Certainly they spoke often together. And if they fought each other during the Battle, they made it up, for they definitely were not enemies at Vanda."
"You saw them speak together at Vanda?"
"Daily. And nightly, they slept together."
Miss Morris seemed almost to stop breathing. "In the same tent, you mean."
Ivo was enjoying himself. "No. In the same bed."
But there was a price to pay for his little moment of drama: as he had feared, Miss Morris did not believe him. Her eyes flashed, and she snapped, "Oh, I see. You're taking the piss. I suppose you think this is funny, to drag me all the way over here and then - "
"Miss Morris. I assure you. I would find no humour in ill-treating you so. I understand that my story must sound fantastical, but I am telling you the truth. The professors from Hogwarts, Snape and McGonagall - they were two months in Vanda camp. This I myself saw."
Something in his face or tone must have convinced her, for she sat back and looked at him for a long minute. Then she fitted fresh parchment under her Dicto-Quills and waved her wand to refill the coffees.
"Tell me," she said.
He had been in the camp a little over a week, and already his life had taken on a routine. There were many jobs to be done, so he had been assigned a work detail, doing Muggle-style washing-up after breakfast and lunch - only the heaviest of the cleaning and construction jobs were done magically. He knew how to wash up the Muggle way, courtesy of a non-magical grandmother, so he did not find the work as onerous as some did. But it was tedious.
Yet even the washing-up soon became something - not to look forward to, exactly, but to focus on, to give shape to his day. Despite all the work to be done, there were a great many empty hours to fill, and not much to fill them with.
Sometimes in the afternoons, newspapers would arrive - the local Romanian paper, the Bulgarian Svetŭt Sŭvetnika, occasionally The Daily Prophet - and often half the camp would gather round to hear the front pages read aloud.
That's how Ivo had learned about the fall of Hogwarts: in the Voldemort-controlled Prophet, the fall was presented as a great triumph, but everyone in the camp understood how much had truly been lost. Not even the fact that Harry Potter had escaped (or, as the paper would have it, '"deserted his deluded followers") could do much to cheer them; everyone assumed that of course he would be arrested soon, if he weren't dead already.
The article also contained a list of missing "traitors." Most of the names meant nothing to Ivo, but he recognised a few: Minerva McGonagall, Filius Flitwick.
And Severus Snape. The Daily Prophet had a great deal to say about him: How Voldemort had become suspicious of him and had discovered him to be a spy. How Snape had cravenly cursed several Death Eater colleagues as he fled the Dark Lord's righteous wrath. How, even though Snape had managed to escape, the Ministry of Magic had every confidence that the cowardly betrayer would soon be apprehended.
Ivo remembered Snape as a dark, angry man, constantly sneering, of whom many students had been afraid. But a spy for Dumbledore? Whoever could have guessed?
This unexpected news had been enough to occupy Ivo's mind for much of the afternoon, but soon even its interest palled. Hogwarts was a world away, and his knowledge of it came from a lifetime ago. The boy he had been then seemed a stranger to him.
When dinner time arrived, he waited in line for his food and then wandered back early to the Cattle Shed, weary but not sleepy, wondering how he would fill the evening, unwilling to let his thoughts move too far from the here and now.
And in the Cattle Shed, there they were - Severus Snape and Minerva McGonagall, standing side by side near the bed next to his own.
He recognised them at once, although he wasn't sure he would have done so had they not just been brought to his mind by the newspaper articles. They were dressed differently than at Hogwarts - no emerald-green robes or high hats or distinctive billowing-bat sleeves. But their plain black robes didn't conceal Snape's nose or his disdainful eye, McGonagall's stern mouth or knot of dark hair.
They both seemed a little worse for wear: McGonagall had a long scratch on one cheek, and Snape was thinner and paler than Ivo would have thought anyone could be and still remain upright; his dark eyes were like shadowed bruises in his white face.
But both of them looked as fierce as Ivo remembered, and he stepped back into the shadows, not wanting to be seen staring. Not wanting to be seen at all.
The professors were accompanied by a harried camp worker who was pointing out the loo and the shower rooms and explaining about rules and meals and reminding them about the restrictions on magic. Then she showed them the low-energy spell that would erect privacy wards around the bed, turning the atmosphere opaque, so that no one could see in or out, but air could still circulate.
Ivo didn't expect that they would use the wards often; the misty white walls made even the huge Cattle Shed feel claustrophobic and clammy, and not only that, but they didn't work well. They faded out and had to be constantly renewed, at a considerable expense of rations, so after a day or two, few people took the trouble.
The worker watched as McGonagall was able to raise the wall on her first try. "Yes, quite good," she said. "Well, I believe that's everything. I know it all seems a little overwhelming at first, but you'll adjust quickly. I think you'll actually find yourselves fairly comfortable here."
Snape scowled. "Of course we appreciate the pep-talk and the platitudes," he said, and then, glancing pointedly around the warehouse-like sleeping room, added, "but I would say that 'here' is just another term for hell on earth."
Professor McGonagall shot him a look. "Thank you so much for your assistance," she said to the worker. "I'm sure we'll be fine."
"Well, if you have any questions," the woman gestured vaguely, "someone is usually around."
She walked off, leaving the professors alone, and McGonagall turned to Snape.
"You might allow us at least a day, Severus," she said tartly, "before you set about alienating all and sundry."
But the look she gave him this time belied her tone, and if Ivo was shocked to see her lean over and kiss Snape's cheek lightly, he was even more shocked when Snape pulled her into his arms and rested that same cheek against her hair.
"I'll set about alienating Merlin himself," he said, "if that fucking Potter dies before he bothers to deliver us all from this nightmare."