Aurette's Most Epic Author's Note Ever: Surprise! It's me again. I will be taking time off from fanfic in November, and wanted to get my finished stories up before then. Therefore, they will be spammed up rather quickly. I know, what a bummer. However, there is a caveat. This one has been alpha'd every step of the way, by my glorious team of Hebe GB and Dressagegrrrl, but it has not been beta'd. Therefore, you are stuck with my lack of comma sense throughout, and my addiction to taking up lost clauses, which Dgrrrl keeps trying to break me of, but I cannot seem to get the hang of. (Example!) I promise I will get it ironed out at a later date. However, this will give you an understanding of the Majesty that is my Betateam… Or something.

In this story, I not only tossed out the Epilogue for DH, but I decided to toss 99.9% of DH completely. It occurred to me that many of my favorite fics were the ones written after HPB, when we didn't know why he did what he did, or how it would end. I've decided to take a stab at it, for nostalgia's sake. This twisted tale has elements of both humor, and horror. I've dubbed it Flark, because that sounds much better than Duffy. It contains strong violence, but I leave most of the gross to your imaginations. There are also elements of Hurt/Comfort, Drama, Angst, Romance, Tragedy, The Kitchen Sink, and a Cat, for good measure. I was bored…

Righto, on with the fun… Not Mine, No Money, all chars belong to Herself.

Professor Snape lifted his head from the essay he'd been marking and went still. Whatever had disturbed him neither repeated nor announced itself. After a silent moment of listening to the quiet of the castle at midnight, he returned to his marking.

It was most likely nothing, but everyone's senses were on alert. Dumbledore had left Hogwarts with the Potter brat hours ago, and Snape didn't need the pricking of his thumbs to know something wicked was coming. Even Dumbledore had felt it and warned him. The other staff members were patrolling the hallways, supplemented by two Order members. Snape stayed in his rooms. He wasn't sure which Snape would leave them, the teacher, or the Death Eater. Certainly none of his other carefully constructed personas were needed tonight, so he kept his Occlumency shields in place and his psyche poised between the two.

It made marking essays interesting at least.

He was in the middle of Granger's tiresome essay on the uses of, and defense against, Soul Magic. The girl was on the right track, but, as usual, she lost herself in minutiae and missed the nuance. The girl was admirably bright and, given time, might really make a difference in the world, not that he would ever tell her, but she could be utterly obtuse in the most frustrating manner.

The teacher marked harshly, but slipped in clues to further her research in the form of disparaging remarks because it amused him to do so.

The Death Eater, hovering just at the edges of his mind, sneered and knew she would never get the chance. Her kind would be destroyed, and she would have no use for such knowledge. A waste of resources to be sure, but hiding clues to direct her research was a foolish and weak attempt to ignore the inevitable.

Snape shuddered and pushed the Death Eater farther back into its box but kept the lid cracked open. Years of practice made him adept at juggling the personas—a needed ability in order to survive his role as double agent—but even years couldn't make him comfortable with it.

His Death Eater persona, built up and maintained with impulses normal people either denied they had or kept submerged, had become stronger and more than a bit addicting during the last few years. There was always the temptation to embrace it, to allow himself to devolve. He was wise enough to know that only folly and ruin waited down that path. He had let his darker side rule him once and had spent the rest of his life trying to make amends.

It was equally tempting to lock that box forever. Eradicate all of those violent and petty thoughts once and for all. But that way also led to ruin. He needed it to survive even five minutes under the Dark Lord's scrutiny. He needed it to hold his own against the constant and unending tearing and pulling from the ambitions of the other Death Eaters. All of his self-protective instincts were bound up in his darker side. If he lost them he'd probably end up in St. Mungo's next to Lockhart.

A shout in the hall brought his head up, as his body shot up out of the seat. Wand in hand, he stepped around his desk, as his door burst open, and Filius raced in, short legs pumping.

"Severus! Death Eaters! There are Death Eaters in the school! You must come, there's fighting everywhere!"

Snape closed his eyes for only a moment. When he opened them again Filius shrank back from what he saw. The diminutive teacher's eyes rolled up as the silent Stupefy hit him. Snape winced as the man hit the floor hard. He shook off the impulse to see if his coworker was injured and shoved the simple teacher farther into its box. Donning his cloak, he raced out of the room and right onto two students hovering outside his door.

Lovegood and Granger stared at him with surprise and… concern. The concern twisted like a knife in his gut.

"Professor Flitwick has collapsed. I want the two of you to take care of him. Stay with him. There's danger in the school and I must go see to it."

The Lovegood girl turned immediately and went after her Head of house. Granger stared at him with her enormous brown eyes and lifted an unsteady hand towards him.

"Be careful, sir," she said.

He recoiled from the outstretched hand without a reply and raced away.

He pounded through the castle, ignoring everyone until he saw Gibbon. He grabbed his arm and barked out, "Where?" Gibbon pointed him in the right direction and turned away. Snape raced toward the Astronomy Tower, right through the thickest fighting and up the stairs. He paused for a moment and listened to the voices of Amycus and Alecto urging Draco on with the deed.

So. It had come.

He slammed the lid down on every thought or impulse that could ruin everything and fully embraced the Death Eater. He shoved the box into the furthest reaches of his psyche and threw open the door.

The Dark Mark hung in the sky like the rotted sail of a ghostly ship, illuminating the tableau. Dumbledore was disarmed and at the mercy of the four Death Eaters and his godson. The critical part of his mind assessed his mentor and employer and saw his time was much more than limited, it was upon him. He pushed past Draco, shoving the boy roughly out of the way.

"We've a problem, Snape," said Amycus. *

Snape ignored him. He had eyes only for Dumbledore sagging against the parapet next to two brooms and looking at him with hope.


Snape's anger and sense of betrayal grew. It swelled and engulfed him. That this man, whom he'd come to love as a father, would ask such of him… The Death Eater sneered. This is what love brings you.

"Severus… please…"*

The hatred slipped its leash.

"Avada Kadavra!"*

Time seemed to slow. Snape stared in numb fascination as the light faded from Dumbledore's eyes and his body pitched backwards towards the edge of the parapet. An intense pain, a wrongness, spread from his chest outwards towards the tips of his limbs.

Time stopped. Dumbledore's body hung suspended in the air as a roaring, tearing, cracking sound blocked everything else from Snape's ears. Pain like no other seared his bones. Fear clawed at him. A primal terror overwhelmed him. Images assaulted him.

It was then that he understood. He saw himself black and swollen with power, ruling at the Dark Lord's side. He saw himself paralyzed with fear and unmanned by his failure to get his message to the boy, as the Dark Lord's murderous serpent floated closer in its cage. He saw the bodies of all the Muggleborn students lying in a heap and knew he had ordered their deaths. He saw the last of the Marauders, Lupin, and his future wife lying dead on the school grounds and knew they had a child they would never see again. He stared into the dull, flat, dead eyes of his favorite Know-it-All and reveled in the knowledge that she would never discover the secrets of Soul Magic. He heard Albus's voice gently chiding him. "You alone know whether it will harm your soul…"

Soul Magic. That was the pain. That was the fear. He'd made a terrible mistake. He should have done it with love, instead he'd locked love away in order to be able to do it.

As if understanding triggered the return of time, he saw Dumbledore's body start to slide away from him. He reached into the recesses of his mind and scrabbled frantically in the dark for the correct box as the pain tore through him. He clawed the lid off the box just as his soul started to burn. He couldn't find love. He whimpered as he fumbled through his own mind. The pain was overwhelming and he screamed and lost control of all his boxes—his carefully tagged and filed emotions and feelings, his needed constructs. His vision blurred and he knew he was faced with two possible futures. One, to die for the Light a failure—he saw himself accept that fate. Watched himself grab Draco and flee from the castle. The other future was to embrace the Dark and cheat death itself—he watched himself accept that fate as well. Watched as he searched for the owner of the second broom and captured the boy he'd sworn to protect. He felt his soul tearing and grabbed desperately for anything that would give him a third option. He could no longer see anything at all.

"Oh, Albus, what have I done? I've done it wrong!"

Severus Snape felt himself descend into the dark and clawed at the bright, broken straws of light that lay all around him, searching for the least bit of love. An image of Granger, lifting her shaking hand towards him, floated across his wildly spinning mind. For a moment he felt such a surge of hope and purpose. He reached out to grab her hand, as his mind shattered with a thunderous crack, and he slid into the darkness clutching burning straws in his hands.

Five Years Later…

"And next on our list we have Miracle Man. Now, he's an interesting case. We keep him in good physical shape and the lights are on, but he's not home at all, if you know what I mean. He follows orders, so it's easy to put him through the exercises, but he won't stop unless you tell him to. So you need to remember that. You might want to make a note of it. He needs to be told to stop what he's doing or he'll over do it. Sad really, he's a bit of a zombie. Oh hi, Mike. I thought you were on nights."

"Morning Jen. It still is night for me. Who's this then?"

"Mike, meet Meg. Meg, this is Mike. He's one of our HCA's. Meg here's the new Physio on the team. Means I might actually be able to get a holiday soon. She's shadowing me today."

"Pleased to meet you, Luv. If you ever need a hand, just give me a yell."

"Thank you. Mike, right?" Meg shook the young man's hand and smiled.

"You got it. So who's your next victim?"

"Be nice. I'm about to introduce Meg to Miracle Man."

"Oh ho! You'll like him. He's not much for conversation, but he's easy enough to work with. I was about to take him for his bath."

"Shouldn't you be going home? Annie's in charge this morning. You look wiped out."

"I wanted to get Miracle Man and Splatter Bob done before I left. Things were a bit wild last night and I ran behind."

"Well, we're about to put Miracle Man through his paces. You should go home, and we'll let Annie know he still needs a bath when we're done."

"We'll see. Nice to meet you Meg."

Meg watched him walk away.

"He seems like a nice bloke."

"Mike? He's the best. He takes his job seriously, too. A little too serious for such a young man, perhaps. He'll still be here when we go on break if we don't watch out. He tends to be a little possessive of his favorite patients and Miracle Man's one of his favorites."

They walked down the ward towards their next patient.

"Why do you call him, Miracle Man?"

"It's his story, see? He's a bit mysterious. He's been here for three years now. A tramp with no ID that they found in an alley. He was severely epileptic. Seizures around the clock, bad ones too. He suffered from dementia, back before the surgery. He'd say the strangest things. We were never quite sure to start with whether he should be with us, or with the Mental Health lot in Broadmoor. Seemed to always be going on about how he'd murdered all these people although the police never matched him to any crimes. He was never violent with us—seemed as harmless as any in his condition, so here he stayed.

"At first the meds worked, seizures were infrequent and he had lucid moments. Although he still had no idea who he was, poor man. Unfortunately, he built up a tolerance to all the medications and fell back into frequent episodes. Eventually, no medications worked for him. They had no choice but to consider surgical options, try and remove the damaged areas causing the seizures. And even though they couldn't see any damage on scan, they went in anyway and removed the two small sections of the brain that were where his seizures always started.

"It was the only option left to try and give him some small quality of life. By that point he was constantly episodic. The surgery worked. He was cured. He still had no memory of anything before he arrived, but we were all set to release him to one of the Council run care facilties."

"What happened?"

"Well, he started to lose certain functions. Fine motor control first, then speech. Finally he slipped away into a coma. It was dreadful, we'd all had such hopes for him."

"I'm not seeing the miracle here," Meg said.

"It was after he spontaneously woke up, wasn't it?. They ordered a new set of brain scans. MRI, PET, the works. That's when they found the miracle. The parts of the brain they'd removed? They'd grown back. Like magic."

"That's impossible. How long was he in the coma?"

"Four months."

"That's just not possible."

"I know. That's why we call him Miracle Man. Sadly, it wasn't a complete miracle. We can help keep his body as fit as we can, but his mind is gone. Unless he has another miracle up his sleeve, he'll be with us or in some care home for the rest of his life." Jen said, pushing open the door with her hip.

"What did you call him before the miracle?"

"Sir Nose, but not when Sister Annie or the Unit Manager's about, they're sticklers for protocol. If she's on duty address him as Mr. Smith, John Smith. Original, isn't it?"

Sitting in a chair, staring at the wall, sat Miracle Man. He wore a pair of khaki trousers and a light-blue jumper. His chart said he was between forty and fifty. Tall and slender, with a slight stoop to his shoulders, he had fine, black hair, shot through with grey and long enough to cover his ears and get in his eyes. He had sharp features, high cheekbones, with an angular jaw, and a razor slash of a nose that accounted for his previous nickname.

It was his eyes that were disturbing. They were nearly black, surrounded by the thick lashes women would kill for. They were also flat and lifeless. Meg shuddered. She'd seen many patients in varying stages of dementia and unresponsive waking states, but she'd never seen one that looked like he didn't know he was already dead.

"He's a bit scary, isn't he? He wasn't always like this. He used to be a bit of a terror. Nasty, but with an ungodly wit.

"John, stand up."

Meg watched as the patient rose smoothly from the chair.

"What's he got in his hands?"

"His sticks. Sister Annie calls them his magic wands. He's had them since he was first admitted. They used to calm him. Actually, the knobby looking one does seem to soothe when you rub it. He'll put them down if you ask. About the only thing he'll do for himself is pick them up again if you wait too long to give them back or if you seem to be too interested in them."

"John, walk over to me, please." As the man walked over to Jen, Meg was struck by his gait. He didn't shamble or shuffle as she'd expected. He moved with a steady grace that was highly unusual in cases such as this. "Hold your arms out." The patient did. "Stretch them up to the ceiling for me." Again, he followed orders easily. "Very good. Hold them out to—wait, may I have your sticks please?" John Smith held open his hands and Jen plucked the sticks off his palms. "Now, hold your hands straight out to your sides and point your fingers. Yes, that's perfect. Now with your right hand, touch your nose. Very good. And back. Now your left, touch your nose. Excellent. You may relax your arms." Jen turned to Meg. "You see? Balance, coordination—he's as graceful as a ballet dancer. But he's just not there. Not that we can reach, anyway."

Meg pointed at the treadmill in the corner. It looked to be twenty years out-of-date and badly in need of a service. "Why do you have this ancient thing? And why keep it in his room?"

"Oh, John here is the only one that uses that, don't worry. He has a tendency to break the fancier models. Too many computerized gizmos and he ruins them."

Meg laughed. "He breaks them intentionally?"

"No, they just short out around him. That's why we do this in here rather than near the other equipment. They have to sedate him completely to do a scan; the machines won't work properly if he's awake.

"Alright, John. Let's get you walking. Walk to the treadmill in the corner—you always have to clearly state where it is or he'll just stand there. Step up on the treadmill. Let me just get you set here."

"Hello ladies, how's Miracle Man coming along?"

"Mike, you should be on your way home."

"I just thought if you were going to be done soon—"

"Go home," Jen ordered firmly

Meg had been facing Mike in the doorway, so it wasn't until Jen said, "No, John," that she turned her head and saw it. The patient had plucked the sticks out of Jen's hands. She'd only managed to snatch the knobby one back before the John Smith started to spin, like he was going to do a pirouette. There was a loud crack, as if lightning had struck just outside the walls, and then the patient . . . disappeared.

Doris Shunpike was working the police dispatch when the call came through from the Susan Freedman Rehabilitation Ward. She was good at her job. Both of them. Born a squib, Doris was one of those precious few in the Muggle world that were paid by both worlds. She'd taken calls like this a handful of times before in her fifteen years on the job and knew exactly what to do.

Meg drained the cold cup of coffee that she'd been nursing for almost three hours now. She looked over at Mike and Jen and saw the same dazed disbelief that she knew was still etched on her face. The hospital administrators had threatened them unless they told the truth. Security had separated them and questioned them individually. Finally, they'd been allowed lunch and shoved into this small conference room until the police arrived. They'd compared notes briefly but conversation had faded fairly quickly after that. How did one talk about what couldn't possibly be real?

The door opened and two gentlemen came through. The first was a tall black man, bald, with a musical voice and a kind smile. The second one was younger, about twenty-three. He had black hair, that tended towards messy, and round glasses. He also had a pleasant, reassuring smile.

"I'm sorry you all had to wait so long. We needed to clear a few things up with your superiors before we questioned you. I'm Chief Inspector Shacklebolt and this is Inspector Potter."

"Shouldn't we have some kind of representation?" asked Jen, nervously.

"No, no. That won't be necessary. You're not going to be charged with anything. We just need to ask you some questions to clear the matter up before we find your missing patient. We've been briefed as to his medical history here at the hospital. We were just hoping if you could do us a favor and describe Mr. John Smith for us?"

"I can do better than that. Here." Mike pulled out his cell and started to scroll through the functions. "I've got a picture of him. I always take pictures of my favorite patients." He handed the phone over to the younger man. Meg watched as the young man reacted to the picture with a gasp. He handed the phone over to his Senior Officer who also seemed shocked. There was a spark, and the cell went dark. The Chief Inspector handed the phone back to Mike with an apologetic wince.

"Do you know him?" asked Jen. "He's been here for years. You blokes checked him out from top to bottom when he first arrived."

"Yes. Yes, we know him," said the older man. "Tell me, do you have anything of his? Did he leave behind any personal effects?"

"Just one of his sticks," said Jen. "He's always had them. He never put them down unless we asked and only for a short time. I took this one away from him just before he–when he vanished." She held up the lighter-colored knobby one.

Again, the younger Officer seemed surprised. "That's Dumbledore's!" he blurted out, taking it from Jen.

The older man turned on them. "I need you to explain exactly what you saw happen today. Don't leave out the slightest detail.'

"Is he in trouble?" asked Mike.

Both men exchanged a look before the younger one answered. "No. No trouble at all. We just need to get a better picture of what's happened."

Meg didn't have to be a psychic to know when she was being lied to.

Meg got home a bit late from her first day at her new job. She was exhausted. The day had seemed to go by fairly quick. All she'd done was follow the other Physio, Jen, around and didn't do much besides take extensive notes, but for some reason she was overwhelmingly tired and her head felt like it was trying to explode. She sat down on her sofa and fell into an exhausted sleep.

In a run-down area on the outskirts of Manchester, a man sat on a rusty swing-set and stared, with flat, lifeless eyes, at a partially-demolished block of terraced houses. The sound of car horns didn't disturb him. The wail of an unhappy infant didn't affect him at all. The sound of a drunken fight floating out on the evening breeze didn't faze him in the least. But at the barely noticeable pops of two people Apparating a block away, his head snapped up and his dead eyes came to life, full of glittering malice. The swing let out a quiet squeak as the man stood up and slipped away into the night, clutching his last remaining stick.

*Dialogue from JK Rowling.

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