A/N: Originally written for Hoggywartyxmas at LiveJournal. Many thanks to my fabulous betas Kellychambliss and Tetleybag, who make everything I write so much better.
In the beginning, Heaven was perfect.
Then it was not bad, considering.
In the end, it was Hell. And yes, the change was brought about by Others.
In the beginning, there were just sensations. No pain. And something beyond the mere absence of pain; something actively pleasant. Softness. Floating on something wonderfully soft, that followed the lines of one's body. Funny, that there was still a body to feel with. Heaven, clearly, was a place where that body was finally, utterly, supremely comfortable. There was crispness, too, covering him. The crispness was pleasant as well. Severus didn't know whether he actually had a head to smile with, but some part of him smiled as he remembered the advice he'd repeated to generations of exam-wary students: "Don't change things – the first choice is often the best." True. So very true.
If this was Death, he could eat it. With a spoon.
Then, there was a voice. A deep, booming voice. Severus wondered briefly if this meant there was a God. The rich bass seemed to imply that it was, indeed, a God as opposed to a Goddess or a neutral Guiding Principle.
Then he recognized the voice, and he nearly smiled again. Shacklebolt would be flattered. That was a good thing. Too many recent leaders of the Wizarding World would have thought it a "very logical misunderstanding, my dear fellow! " And then a hearty laugh or a merry twinkle, and the dangerous conviction that they were given their due. Not Shacklebolt. He would be surprised, and a bit embarrassed. Good Minister Material, as Minerva and he had agreed before.
That he had just heard Shacklebolt meant Shacklebolt had died, too. Pity. Minerva could have done with a decent Minister. Taking over Hogwarts would be quite complicated enough. It was worrying. Surely, Heaven shouldn't contain worries? On the other hand, whatever chap they came up with, Minerva would have him house-trained in no time. It wasn't his concern – not really. Hogwarts was now another country. And besides, the lad was dead.
Pity about the voice, though. It was disruptive. Still, Heaven was not bad, considering …
And then, one morning, he woke up to find that it was Hell. The physical comfort was delicious as always. He had got accustomed to the voices, sometimes near, sometimes far off. He had stopped trying to recognize them. But now, they were too close to ignore. Worse, it wasn't just voices, it was words. He was listening to what could only be described as The Dialogue from Hell.
Well, that put him in his place, then.
"… has had a very bad time, but he's healing."
Poppy Pomfrey. Poor Poppy – she here? She didn't deserve to die. And Minerva – it was hard to think of Minerva in terms of 'broken', but if anything could achieve that, it would be losing Poppy. At least, Poppy had her idea of Heaven: a place where everyone would heal.
"Oh, dear, I doubt it. I wish you were right, of course, but I'm afraid the Inner Eye foresees a different ending. All the signs tell me quite clearly he won't be with us for long …"
Sybill Trelawney. Merlin's scrote, he was in the same place as Trelawney. Now, if Heaven did have a Management, he wanted to see Him, Her or It, and he'd have quite a bit to say about this.
And then the full horror dawned upon him. Sybill Trelawney had just predicted his death. That meant he was actually alive. Worse, it meant that his remaining chances of kicking the bucket were null and void. He was alive, with the full guarantee of a ripe old age that came with a Trelawney Death Sign.
Alive and in the Sick Ward.
Alive and in Hogwarts, therefore.
Alive and in the Post-War Wizarding World, as a consequence.
Now, what was his position, exactly? Once the first shock ebbed away, Severus found himself thinking analytically again. There was some relief in that. Fact: he had heard Kingsley some time ago. Therefore Kingsley had been in Hogwarts. If the Dark Lord had won, Kingsley would have been dead or in Azkaban. Ergo: Potter had made it. That was good – he supposed.
Now, his personal position. Currently prostrate in the Sick Ward. If Poppy managed to patch him up, and he wouldn't put it past her, then what? A trial for being a known Death Eater? That would mean Azkaban. He briefly considered the Dementors. Say of them what you liked, they did keep a very clean prison – with private cells. On the other hand, Fate and its sick sense of humour would probably ensure that his imprisonment came at a time when demand outstretched availability to the point where cells would have to be shared.
The other option was that Potter would have told them all about those final moments in the Shrieking Shack. Come to think of it, if Potter hadn't, then Minerva had. They had worked together well for most of the year – once she'd realized the truth about Albus's death. She would want to clear his name – trust a Gryffindor. He might be a war hero.
With a groan, Severus buried his head deeper in what he now knew to be a plump pillow.
Hell is The Others. The man who wrote that, Muggle or not, had his head screwed on right.
In later years, when he thought back to the events of November 1998, he often smiled at the irony of his Muggle playwright comparison. The weeks following his realization that Hell was, indeed, The Others, his life seemed to turn into a play, all right. And every scene of it was etched on his mind with astonishing clarity. Was it because of the weeks of semi-consciousness that had preceded it, or was it merely that the daily routine of a sick ward had been boring in the extreme, and that, for that very reason, he had gone over the events again and again?
Scene 1, Hogwarts's sick ward. Severus is in bed with his eyes closed – that is, he closes them as soon as he hears footsteps approaching his room. Enter Minerva McGonagall.
MINERVA: Good morning, Severus. I hear that you're making progress. Severus? There's no need to lie there like a dying swan. We know you would rather be dead; you made that perfectly clear. You're not, so stop sulking.
(Slowly, Severus opens his eyes)
SEVERUS: I'm not sulking. I'm trying to recover from nearly-fatal wounds, and I need my rest.
MINERVA: Not any longer, you don't. You needed rest when we found you. And you got it – months of it. Right now, you need to take an interest in things again. That's why I've come to see you.
SEVERUS: And what am I supposed to take an interest in? The Potter-worship? The memorial services? The trials?
MINERVA: Yes, at some point you'll have to take an interest in the trials – you are the only reliable witness of many Death Eater activities. But the Ministry fully realizes that you can't attend court sessions yet. No, for the moment it would be best – Poppy agrees on this – that you limit your interests to some small, manageable project. I was thinking of Hogwarts.
SEVERUS: Hogwarts? I've no doubt you're a highly efficient Headmistress – you've all but run the place for the past thirty-odd years. But Hogwarts is neither small nor manageable, and we both know it. After all, I was Headmaster for a year.
MINERVA: And you made an excellent job of it, under dreadful circumstances, too. I didn't mean that you should take over Hogwarts. Sound job though you did, I wouldn't say that the Headship made the best use of your talents. Let me explain myself. As you'll realize, Hogwarts is half in ruins; rebuilding it will cost a lot of money.
SEVERUS: Surely the Ministry will provide?
MINERVA: The Ministry is practically penniless as well. They had major reconstruction to do after the Prophecy Incident, remember?
MINERVA: A smile, Severus? This is progress, indeed.
SEVERUS: No, it's what being a weak invalid does for you. But to hear the night in which Dumbledore's Idiots and the Flaming Phoenixes had their wandfight with the Boys in Black described as the Incident is rather irresistible.
MINERVA (smiles back): Well, what with that and various other things, the Ministry is penniless. Gringott's used to be a rather substantial donator, but they, too, have their little difficulties.
SEVERUS: You mean, such as having the premises done over by a half-blind, half-mad dragon?
MINERVA: Exactly. So the net result for Hogwarts is that we must manage on our own. A massive effort at fundraising will be made. The effort will involve everyone in the castle, students and staff alike.
SEVERUS: Minerva, much as I dislike adding to your burdens, I must tell you that I plan to resign. No-one will force me to teach yet another load of dunderheads. If I'm to have a life sentence, I'll spend it alone. In my own home, in my own company – and that of my books.
MINERVA: Severus, I can't accept your resignation – not yet, at least. Firstly, because you're not your old self yet. You might regret your decision at some point. And secondly, because you can't manage on your own. You can just about feed and clean yourself, but everything else needs to be done for you.
SEVERUS: I had hoped that you would allow me to recover here.
MINERVA: Oh, I will! Of course I will, Severus, you can't doubt that. But you must see that I can't let you be idle during convalescence. It would show preference. Since you're well enough, you'll have to contribute like everyone else. Now, about the various fund-raising projects. They have all been chosen with the combined aims of raising money and promoting inter-house collaboration. We feel that the emphasis on House rivalry has done more bad than good. And now, especially, with the offspring of former Death Eathers and the families of their victims …
SEVERUS: You mean the Slytherins risk being lynched on account of their being Slytherin. Don't worry. They'll survive. They're used to it, after all.
MINERVA: The anti-Slytherin attitude is one of the things that'll have to change. But so does the Hufflepuff-is-the-dregs school of thought. And the all-Gryffindors-are-reckless-idiots idea. Even the every-Ravenclaw-is-a-bookworm theory could do with some new insights.
SEVERUS: And what, exactly, did you have in mind for me?
MINERVA: That was quite a difficult choice; there are several projects. The Christmas Party, for instance - lots of important people have accepted. It's bound to be a success.
SEVERUS: But that's nothing new –an End of Term feast…
MINERVA: Not a feast. A party. For adults – the students will serve the drinks, man the cloak room and such, but it's to be quite a society event.
SEVERUS: Well, I can barely lift a spoon; you can't ask me to serve nibbles. Or dance.
MINERVA: Indeed, no. Nor would you be much good on the Mixed House Sports Event that Rolanda is organizing with her team. And in your current state, you couldn't work in the hothouses, either.
SEVERUS: The hothouses?
MINERVA: Yes, Pomona and some students grow rare plants from seed, to sell them. They're making quite a neat profit, and they expect to do very well at the party. No, what I had in mind for you is an idea we got from Rita Skeeter – she was in your house, I think?
SEVERUS: You know very well that she was. I have the strongest memories of her and her ideas. I'm almost afraid to ask …
MINERVA: She has suggested we put together a Twelve Months of Hogwarts calendar. With pictures of various Hogwarts people. She's convinced it will sell quite well, especially if the pictures are a bit … unexpected. And the theme will be "Let's all have fun together".
SEVERUS: Minerva, please, let me retain some shred of confidence in humanity. Tell me it wasn't you who came up with that sickening, saccharine, sherbet-like slogan.
MINERVA (smiling): Nice alliteration. And it wasn't my idea, but it was, in the end, the least objectionable.
SEVERUS: It can't have been.
MINERVA: How about Hogwarts is Love and My House Cup Runneth Over? Or A Hoggy Warty Year? Sorry, Severus, I shouldn't have sprung that last one on you without warning. Do you need … a receptacle of some sort …?
SEVERUS: No, I don't need a bucket. I'm a Shrieking Shack survivor. And thank you for reinforcing my death wish. How am I supposed to fit in? My well-known aptitude for all things fun?
MINERVA: No, your status of war hero. You'll be able to secure the collaboration of the people they need to photograph. And, of course, you can keep the project team on track.
SEVERUS: The project team being?
MINERVA: A Hufflepuff with great talents for drawing and graphic images. A young Ravenclaw who is a very good photographer, and …
SEVERUS: A Ravenclaw? Surely that young man from your House, whatsisname? Creevey! That's it. He was born holding a camera.
MINERVA: He died holding a wand.
SEVERUS (genuinely shocked): Oh, Merlin. Minerva, I'm sorry. I had no idea … he was a child, dammit!
MINERVA (softly): He was. (after a brief pause, a bit more business-like) : They plan to use one of his pictures, as a tribute – one of you, in fact. He caught you while you were grinning. Rather sardonically, but a Grinning Snape picture qualifies as 'unexpected'. But to complete the list, the Gryffindor participant will organize things, come up with ideas, do research, and write the short biographies to go with the pictures.
SEVERUS: I see. I suppose the idea is that I assist and carry part of the burden – exercise some authority, when the youngsters try to do their own thing too much?
MINERVA: Exactly. Would you? It's a job you can do from here – you'd just have to liaise with the Gryffindor – no need to exert yourself too much.
SEVERUS: I don't have much choice, do I?
MINERVA: No, not really. Getting involved is good for you – it's Healer's orders. I know that you now want to suggest that I, or the world in general, screw all Healers, but it's my orders, too. And don't even think the obvious retort; you should be so lucky.
SEVERUS: And who exactly is the unfortunate boy who'll work with me? You were right to assign that task to a Gryffindor. It'll take courage.
MINERVA: It's Miss Granger. And she has courage in spades.
(Exit Minerva McGonagall)
When he thought back to that first scene, he chuckled. It had been good to see Minerva again. And their banter was enjoyable as always.
But he had given in far too soon. For various reasons.
Creevey was one of them. One of the most annoying children it had ever been his misfortune to teach. Perpetually bouncy and optimistic. Often, when seeing Creevey, he had thought of the old saying The child is the father of the man. A horrifying idea. Even the prospect of O.W.L.'s hadn't subdued the child. Nor had the Carrows, which had made him think that the man Creevey might turn into something halfway decent, after all. Had he died grinning?
But more than the news about Creevey, it had been Minerva's reaction to it. She had told him with perfect composure and a flat voice, but he had seen the look in her eyes. It had made him realize just how much the Battle and its aftermath of death had done to her.
It had changed the disappointment into a form of understanding. For he had been disappointed, oh, yes. Especially when he had heard that Miss Granger was the one running that ludicrous calendar-project.
Look at it rationally. Miss Granger didn't need his war-hero status to get people to pose. She was one of the Golden Trio. Nor did she need help with the research or writing: she could spout O-rated essays faster than Moaning Myrtle could spout tears. And she didn't need any help in controlling her team, either. She had steered Potter and Weasley towards victory; anyone who could keep those two on track had the makings of a General.
No, this whole ridiculous ploy was a fine specimen of half-baked Muggle psychology. They must have discussed him, Poppy and Minerva. "Poor Severus, he has simply lost the will to live. If only he could get interested in something. Isn't there anything he could do?" That would have been Poppy. "I know, he just isn't his old self anymore." Minerva's contribution.
And together they had hatched this little idea. Poppy was optimistic enough to believe that it would be the making of him, and Minerva had agreed. Physically she might have come through unscathed, but she was clearly one of the Walking Wounded, too. Severus Snape tearing up his resignation letter, with a smile, stammering, "Hogwarts Saved Me," preferably with some violins in the background? The Minerva he knew would never have agreed to such a pitiful plan.
He'd go along with the idea for now. In due course, Minerva would realize that it was a failure. She'd back out gracefully. And then he'd resign, he'd wrangle a war-pension out of the Ministry (Shacklebolt owed him that much, at least), and he'd retire to Spinner's End and his books.
All he asked of Heaven (and Heaven owed him quite a bit, too) was that Miss Granger wasn't aware of the double agenda. If the self-appointed Saviour of the House-Elves would start a Snape-Out-of-Depression campaign, the fourth Wizarding War would start right here in this Sick Ward.
A/N: As always, posting on Sundays, so next week you'll get the next chapter.