Beta'ed by Badgerlady!
It's my birthday, so I'm posting it as as a present (to my readers or myself, whichever you decide).
"Ginny?" Harry paused at the door, his hand on the doorknob, to look at her questioningly. "Are you sure you don't mind?" he asked for the fiftieth time that morning.
She rolled her eyes. "Don't be stupid," she huffed irritably. "James is here and Ron is dropping by later. Phoebe said she'd be over around three o'clock. Just be home in time for that. Honestly, I think we can cope without you for five minutes." And then, because Harry looked like he was hesitating, "Oh, for...just go!" she exclaimed in exasperation, making shooing motions with her hands.
Dudley and Harry generally had a standing lunch meeting on Mondays. Harry had been going to cancel it, but Ginny wanted to keep the household routine as normal as possible. It wasn't going to do Tim any good to feel like he was getting in the way.
Besides which, it was likely that Dudley would be very helpful for Harry to talk to right now. It was hard to imagine now how they'd gotten along without Dudley and Philip's presence in their family.
"All right, all right I'm going." Harry sounded like it was against his better judgement but he headed out the door, regardless.
"Boys?" she called down to James and Tim. "I've got some writing to get done this morning. Don't bother me unless the house is burning down. And then only if it seems like it's going to get to my parchments, all right?"
Tim's answering giggle and James' chipper, "Yes, Mum," were music to her ears. It was such a relief that Harry and James had worked out their quarrel.
Albus and Lily were gone for the day to meet Eleanor and Scorpius at Diagon Alley. Narcissa had offered to chaperone the children after Molly had hosted them at her house the other day. Philip was going, as well; Ginny thought she'd love to see that meeting. She'd have to owl him later to see what he thought of the Malfoys.
She sat at her desk and pulled out the journals from Minerva. They were all the journals the headmistress kept during the War, along with letters back and forth from Dumbledore and members of the Order. Minerva had sent them along to help Ginny with the writing of her book.
The one from the last year of the War was thicker than the others. Minerva had confided to no one but her journal during that year.
Ginny opened to the last page she'd read:
December 24, 1998
I just passed Severus in the hallway-I don't believe he heard our conversation or else he is so sure of his master's ascendency that he does not care.
I don't know how I can go on with this much longer. One day I will simply challenge him to a duel and that will be the end of one of us. And even were I to win, that bastard will certainly send someone more competent than the Carrows after me.
Were it not for the children, I would have done it already. I feel I am going mad.
There are days when I have to remind myself who it was who killed Dumbledore because Severus will suddenly seem to become almost the man I used to know. Other days...I have no doubt of what he is.
I do not know how I will face Molly and Arthur again. Ginny has become reckless and I am sure it has to do with the hours she has spent in Severus' private study. He has made no secret what it is that he does to the girl there, but at least she is spared the attentions of the Carrows.
According to Poppy, that is a mercy-Severus' taste does not appear to run to violence. Well, not to any violence beyond the act itself.
Ginny shivered, remembering. Sometimes her nightmares still featured the Carrows.
She picked up her quill.
We will never know what it cost the professor to protect the students, but
She could go no farther. She wrote and crossed out her phrases several times before she put her quill down with a sigh.
After twenty-five years, she still couldn't easily speak of it.
The only time she had ever talked about it publicly was just before and during Snape's posthumous trial.
Ginny picked up the Prophet article that covered the Order of Merlin ceremony. The clipping was starting to yellow with age, but Harry's picture was there. He saw her looking and blew his nose so he could give her a watery half smile.
It had only been a week or two after that that her mum had invited Harry back to the Burrow. It was hard to remember those days now, but there had been funerals, memorials, award ceremonies, speeches and dinners with the Minister. All with ample coverage by the Prophet and the WWN.
After the Order of Merlin Ceremony, Hermione and Ron set off for Australia to see what could be done for her parents. And Harry…
Harry had been a wreck.
In some ways they had all been wrecks, but after Ron and Hermione left for Australia, Harry had retreated from the world in a most alarming way. They'd had asked him to come with them of course, but he'd refused, saying he wanted to get used to living in one place.
Actually, he needed to get used to living at all. He'd hidden out alone at Grimmauld Place for three days before Ginny had gone over there to pry him out. She'd found him in the most cliché position possible, throwing his guts up after a night of solitary drinking.
Fortunately for him, he didn't have the constitution to be a drunk-no tolerance whatsoever. Even now he could never drink more than one without getting sick.
The fact was, they'd almost lost Harry. Every funeral, every memorial, every interview, every speech seemed to drive him into a deeper depression.
But that's not what she was writing about. Except it was.
The last year of the War had been a strange interregnum that seemed like one long nightmare. At the time, no one really realized no one was in charge at the Ministry. No one had thought that the Battle of Hogwarts would be the only battle. No one had foreseen that with the death of Voldemort, the entire Death Eater army would just collapse.
Well, Harry had, but no one else believed it. The new regime had seemed unassailable. They had all gone into the Battle believing they were going to join Shacklebolt's resistance, or flee the country, or just die in battle.
At least the ones who had thought about it had.
It had ended so suddenly that no one had any time to process it. Even after all this time, it seemed unreal.
Ginny had never been one to keep journals, but there were memories from that year that were as clear now as if they'd happened yesterday.
For some reason, Tim's first year at Hogwarts had brought it all back up in a way the others hadn't for her. Well, Tim often brought things back up.
She leafed through some of the other parchments, a stack of old letters. One was a letter from Luna about the Malfoy hearings. Luna had been instrumental in keeping Narcissa and Draco out of Azkaban and had even asked for clemency for Lucius.
She'd forgotten that Luna had written so candidly about her captivity. She'd have to drop Luna an owl and see if she could use the letters in the book.
A passage from the letter caught her eye,
I hear Harry wants to clear Snape's name. Do you know I wondered about him when I was at Malfoy Manor? He came to visit Mr. Ollivander a few times and it was strange how concerned he seemed about us. He told Draco to be sure we had enough food and water and everything because it would go badly with Voldemort if we died.
Snape again. Protecting those he could. Even when he would have been better served by just throwing his lot in with the Death Eaters.
A timid knock at the study door. "What's burning?" she asked, not looking up.
James poked his head around the door. "Nothing yet," he said. "Tim's gone to sleep again. Do you have a minute?"
Sighing, Ginny put the letter down. She just couldn't get any writing done, worrying as she was about Tim, anyway. "Yes, love. What is it?" She gave him her full attention, dismissing the long-ago memories.
James came in and pulled the door shut behind him, pulling up the spare chair. "What's going on with Tim?" he asked without preamble. "You said it was his head, but head injuries don't have you hearing voices and I don't know what else."
His face was very grave and worried-he never looked so much like his father as when he looked concerned.
"Phoebe says she doesn't know yet," Ginny admitted quietly. "She said it was probably brought on by the concussion."
"But its not going to go away by itself?" James asked. He looked out of the window at the grey day, fidgeting uncomfortably with his wand.
"Well, Phoebe went to do some research. She said…" Ginny paused, then took a deep breath and admitted, "She thinks there might be something odd going on. She'll be back this afternoon."
"Odd?" James asked sharply. He shifted his gaze back to his mother's face. "Odd how?"
She shrugged, feeling helpless. "She didn't say."
"She wanted me or Dad or someone here, though?" James pressed her.
She nodded. "The Dark Man's been back and she's still not sure what the Dark Man is."
"Yeah, that's what Dad said," James replied quietly.
Ginny remembered the first time James had ever laid eyes on Tim, the day of Mary's funeral. He'd been quiet and serious that day, listening to his father and his Uncle Ron discuss Mary's case. Ginny often thought that Tim was the reason James had decided to pursue the career of Auror.
"She's pretty sure he's benign," Ginny said, as much trying to reassure herself as James.
The young man nodded. "How's the book coming?" he said, clearly to change the subject.
"It's hard going," Ginny sighed.
They were quiet for a moment, neither sure what else to say. They both gazed out the window at the gray sky.
"Mistress Ginny," announced Kreacher's bullfrog's voice from outside the door. "Madam Phoebe has returned."
The woman herself stood next to Kreacher. She smiled, which told Ginny that her news must be good, or at least not terrible. Or so Ginny told herself to calm her own anxiety.
"Sorry if I'm interrupting," Phoebe said in her slow American lilt. "I didn't think you'd wanna wait on this."
She was dressed in soft green and black robes today, with a thick silver necklace encircling her throat, contrasting beautifully with her dark brown skin. Her long, manicured nails were painted green with silver filigree patterns. Her tiny, neat dreadlocks had reverted to their natural silver to match.
Ginny knew that Phoebe's favorite color was green, but she always wondered if Phoebe frequently wore Roz's House colors as a kind of reminder to the Aurors she worked with that not all Slytherins went Dark.
She stood and crossed the room to the other witch. "Thank you so much." She gave Phoebe a hug, which the woman returned. She drew her into the room. "What can you tell us?"
Phoebe gave James a little look. He took a second to catch on, then he jumped up saying, "I'll let you talk, then. Do you want me to go wake him?"
Phoebe shook her head. "Give him a few minutes. I wanna talk to your mama. But I'll probably wanna talk to him before your dad gets home."
James nodded, hurrying down the stairs.
Ginny's study was at the very top of the house. Originally it had been an attic garret decorated in Early 19th Century Mad Wife complete with barred windows, but it was now a neat little room painted a cheerful cream that caught the afternoon light. It was quiet even without the help of silencing charms and cozy for two people to sit and chat, although any more than two people and it very quickly became crowded.
She closed the door and ushered Phoebe to the chair James had vacated, then sat down at her desk chair, resting her elbow on the desk.
"So?" All her anxiety seemed contained in that single word.
Phoebe clasped her hands on her lap and leaned forward slightly. "I'm sorry to be so mysterious," she said. "I been trying to figure out how this happened and how to fix it."
"How what happened?" Ginny demanded. "You never said what you thought it was." She clenched her fist on the desk.
The black woman sighed and looked away. "I'm not sure how to explain...I think Tim is playing host to…"
Her worst fear confirmed, Ginny sucked her breath in sharply, both hands rising toward her mouth. "Playing host to? You mean he's possessed?" Her voice rose in pitch and volume, "How can that be? The ke revele…"
Phoebe's hands leapt up to take both of Ginny's. She had half risen as Ginny had. "Now you listen, honey, we'll figure this out. I just need you to sit down and let me explain."
Distractedly, Ginny noticed that Phoebe's American accent had become more pronounced.
"So, explain." She hated the way her voice shook and she took a deep steadying breath.
Phoebe didn't let go of Ginny's hands. "Have you ever heard of a potion called Heart's Ease?" she asked, her dark brown eyes holding Ginny's own.
Ginny shook her head; she was dismal at potions.
"It's used for people with severe depression sometimes. They try it after everything else fails." She paused. "It can be addictive and it has some...weird...side effects."
"Are you suggesting we try this with Tim?" Ginny was not following. Did she mean that one of the weird side effects was cancelling possessions?
Phoebe shook her head, took a deep breath and said, "I just got through talking to Madam Pomfrey. See, in 1997 she gave Professor Snape a dose of it. On Christmas Eve. Twenty-five years ago."
"What does that have to do with anything?" demanded Ginny. She pulled her hands away and stood up to pace.
"Well see, there is another presence in Tim's head, right now. Tim says it's his Dark Man, but I think…" She trailed off, took another slow breath and seemed to steel herself. "The presence in his head claims to be Severus Snape."
Ginny felt all the blood drain from her face and anything else Phoebe might have said was lost in the roaring in her ears. Her vision narrowed to a dark tunnel. All she could think of was waking up with no knowledge of where she'd been and blood all down her front.
She flashed on a scene of lying cold and stiff, staring at the ceiling of the Chamber of Secrets. Harry beside her, covered in his own blood and the ink of that diary.
Darker memories lurked there, too. Memories of things that never happened really, but were the implanted fantasies of a sixteen-year-old Voldemort. Uglier than anything that had happened to Ginny in truth, but those nightmares had dominated her life for years.
Distantly she heard Phoebe's voice calling for Kreacher. Something was pressed to her lips that she recognized as firewhiskey. Reflexively she swallowed, feeling the heat of the drink go right through her.
She was in her own home, not Hogwarts. She was safe. She was not the one possessed this time and she needed to pull it together for her son's sake.
Her son. An entirely different sort of alarm jolted through her.
She wrapped her hand around the drink Phoebe was holding, realizing that she was sitting in her chair again. She swallowed hard and swiped at her cheek with her free hand. "Th-thank you." Her teeth chattered with a deep chill. The whiskey was dispelling that, though.
"Better?" asked the witch cautiously. She sat back, taking her hand away from where she'd been holding Ginny's shoulder.
Ginny nodded, embarrassed. "I'm sorry. That...gave me a bit of a turn," she whispered. She cleared her throat. "G-go on. What do we do about it?"
The mind healer nodded, although she still looked concerned. "I think the presence isn't so much possessing Tim as he's just kinda...along for the ride."
"But...Snape's dead," Ginny said flatly, "And Luna said that wand was clean as anything, so what could Tim have found that contained some fragment of Snape?"
"Well, this is where the potion comes in." She pushed her silver hair back over her shoulder and sat back in her chair. "See, it seems like the Professor Snape I talked to isn't dead at all." Phoebe's eyes never left Ginny's "The last he remembers is Christmas Eve, 1997. The night Madam Pomfrey gave him that potion. I think he's displaced in time."
"Oh, Merlin." Ginny' hands went to her mouth, covering it.
"Now, just calm down. He wants to cooperate with us. Honestly, he's as worried about Tim as we are, going by what he was saying. He thinks Madam Pomfrey poisoned him and he just wants some peace."
"Well, if what Madam Pomfrey says is right, the spell's actually self-limiting. Her guess is that he'll be pulled back to his proper time on Christmas day, or thereabouts. I think the best thing we can do is tell him that and he can just wait it out."
"Why would she say that?"
"She said that she spoke with Snape on Christmas day. She said he never told her what he dreamed of, though. Just that she should tell anyone who asked that 'It'll all be done by Christmas'." Phoebe stood, finally pulling her eyes away from Ginny's. "That potion is pretty drastic. You can't ever predict it." She turned, putting her hands behind her back and walking to look out of the window. "Sometimes it kills." She paused, just staring out the window, before continuing, "You know that's what killed Frank Longbottom?"
"No. I didn't," Ginny replied quietly. "I mean...I knew it was an experimental potion that killed him...Neville told me that Augusta finally gave her permission for them to try it…That was why they hesitated with the Snape Potion."
Phoebe sighed and nodded, "I consulted on that case. At the time we didn't think it did anything at all for Alice, but it turns out that it did help her. Unfortunately, I'm guessing the only thing that Frank wanted was peace. There's really no predicting what will end someone's pain. I mean," she turned back to smile wryly, "I got the idea that Professor Snape is pretty damned confused at being here." Her faced sobered again. "I think that the spell won't pull him back till it's satisfied, though. I'm guessing that he's here for more than just a joy ride through a happy Christmas."
"Harry," Ginny asserted. "I bet he's here to see Harry." That made far too much sense. "But...why is he in Tim's head? Why isn't he here in the flesh? And why Tim?"
"Tim and Snape clearly have some kind of affinity. Otherwise Snape's wand would never have chosen him," Phoebe said, speaking in a low tone, as though fearing to be overheard. "Minerva and Madam Pomfrey both told me that Tim reminded them of Professor Snape when he was a student. Time travelling someone that far in the flesh would take a crazy amount of magic, but if just Snape's mind was brought forward that makes more sense. He's like an echo. Probably drawn to Tim's wand. Although…" she hesitated, "from what I understand, there's some pretty serious indebtedness between your family and Professor Snape."
Ginny nodded. "We couldn't ever repay him, even if he was alive." Her voice was quiet. "I expect half of magical Britain could say the same. But why didn't the spirit reveal work?"
Phoebe pursed her lips. "I had a few thoughts on that. The most obvious being that Professor Snape's mind was brought forward, but his soul is still firmly in his body. He was alive in 1997, after all."
"So...what? He's just sort of an observer?" Ginny's stomach slowly began to unclench. Perhaps this wasn't a complete disaster after all.
"I'm thinking that we should talk to him before Harry comes back. Kreacher says he's out seeing his cousin?"
Ginny nodded, her stomach clenching up tight again. This was going to hit him hard, most likely.
Phoebe called for Kreacher as they made their way down to Harry's study-Ginny's wasn't warded against dark magic and the mind healer wanted to play it safe, "Would you go tell Tim that his mama and I want to talk with him?" she asked the house-elf. "And do you think you could make me some coffee?"
Kreacher nodded and disappeared with a crack.
Tim came up the stairs, yawning a little. James came up behind him, looking tense.
"You go on, James," Phoebe said kindly. "We'll probably be a while."
"I'll be in my room if you need me," the young man muttered, slouching off, looking nervously at Tim. He only went so far as the second floor landing, judging by his footsteps. Ginny had no doubt that the minute the study door was locked, the young man would be sitting outside it with his wand drawn.
Tim sat in his favorite spot on the little settee and Ginny sat next to him. He gave her a nervous glance and she wondered how much her face was showing.
"What's wrong, Mum?" Tim asked, his voice high-pitched and tense.
It was Phoebe who answered, "I think I figured out who and what your Dark Man is." She said gently, "And I think he's been scared and angry because he's lost."
"Lost? How can he be lost? He's always been here." Tim objected, "Where does he come from, then? Is he a hougan? I wondered about that."
Phoebe glanced at Ginny, who nodded minutely. "I think he comes from the past." The witch told the boy, "I don't think he sent his mind out on purpose. Anyway, I think we need to speak with him."
Tim got a curiously pensive expression, his gaze drifting off somewhere to the right of Phoebe's shoulder. He shook his head, bringing his eyes back to her face. "He doesn't want to talk with Mum here," he said apologetically.
Ginny was just about to get up to leave but Phoebe shook her head. "I think he needs to talk to your mama and your dad, both."
Tim's blue eyes grew wide. "He really doesn't want to."
"Sweetheart?" Phoebe said with her gentlest voice, her brown eyes intent, "Can I put you to sleep for a bit?"
"Promise you won't do anything without telling me?" Tim checked.
"Absolutely." Phoebe asserted, "But, I should warn you, he might get pulled back to where he belongs without me doing anything. I'll give you a chance to say goodbye if I possibly can."
Phoebe muttered a charm and Tim slumped against Ginny, sound asleep.
"You're not going to get back to where you belong by hiding," Phoebe said tartly. Ginny was surprised; Phoebe never spoke so sharply to the children and rarely so to an adult.
Tim didn't stir for a few seconds, then his body stiffened and drew away.
He stood, suddenly seeming somehow taller, his movements no longer those of an eleven-year-old boy, but more graceful, more deliberate.
Putting his hands behind his back, he strode towards the fireplace, stopping in front of it. Ginny saw the almost unconscious movement of his hand, checking that his wand was in the sleeve of his sweater. Harry did the exact same thing.
"I am not sure what you expect to accomplish with this conversation," said a voice that was Tim's and yet not. It was deeper, almost reaching a baritone, although Tim's own voice had not yet begun to change. It was also more precise and quite polished, the product of years of practice.
He turned and Ginny felt as though the ground had fallen out from under her. The curly blond hair and blue eyes were still there. The baby face that was just beginning to thin towards puberty, the sweet cherubic mouth. However, the sneer upon her son's face was no expression she'd ever seen there before.
He looked towards Phoebe. "I suppose this is some variety of…" He hesitated. "What? Vengeance? Justice? Why not merely cast me out?" He crossed his arms over his chest, his eyes narrowing. "Perhaps you feel that she deserves some sort of…" he searched for a word, "closure? Isn't that what you mind healer types call these sort of confrontations? Don't you prattle on about how important it is for healing?" He sneered the last with a cold sarcasm that Tim could never have managed on his worst day.
The truth of Phoebe's words were there in the boy's every gesture and word. He held himself like the Potions master had that last year. A coiled spring that could erupt into viciousness or violence at any second.
But there too, behind the anger, was something that Ginny had also seen in that last year that she'd been too young to understand.
He moved Tim's blue eyes to gaze narrowly at her. "Go on then, Miss Weasley." He smirked in the most unpleasant manner possible with Tim's attractive childish features. "Or, I suppose I should say, 'Mrs. Potter'." He inclined his head as if she were the one who was eleven years old, and he was mockingly humoring her pretense. "Level whatever accusation or diatribe you feel you must and then we can get on with this."
"Th-this..?" stuttered Ginny, looking at Phoebe for help.
The person speaking with Tim's voice growled in a very Snape-like manner, raw fury visible for one bald second before being covered by a more manageable contempt.
"This!" He waved his right hand sharply, as if to take the three of them. "This-this exorcism." he spat, "or banishing or whatever-it-is that you have planned."
The fury returned, the young voice rising to a shout, reminding Ginny of the professor shouting at someone who was remiss in lab safety precautions. "The sooner you have someone competent cast me out, the sooner I'll be decently dead and you can all get on with your charming little lives!"