A/N: This story is Post DH, but I take a few liberties with things. For the flow of the story, in this world the Battle of Hogwarts in which the Dark Load fell occurred around the end of December. Obviously, as Severus survives, this is AU. Xenophilius Lovegood is dead. This focuses on the relationship/friendship between Severus Snape and Luna Lovegood as it might have happened, under certain extraordinary circumstances that are only possible when you throw Looney Lovegood into the mix. Happy reading.
Part I: the Black Knight
A dour-faced Severus Snape laggardly trudged up the sweeping grand staircase of Hogwarts, trying to tune out the dull roaring filling the atmosphere around him. His footfalls were uneven, staggering, and unsteady, made even more so by the need to sidestep the pieces of rubble and bodies that littered the stairs like confetti. The bodies, sprawled and numerous as they were, proved somewhat more difficult to dodge than the mason debris, and he found himself stumbling over several sets of legs as well as trodding on a few fingers. Somewhere, in the back of his mind, he recognized that these people- these corpses- he was stepping on had been his students, his comrades in arms, and his dubious colleagues. Children, young adults, men, women . . . all reduced to similar lifeless masses in the rubble.
Death. Death underneath my feet. Death on all sides, because death takes no sides. The greatest equalizer, unmerciful and fair.
Such thoughts had always been something of a comfort before; cold, but a comfort nonetheless, something to soften the edges of reality, of the devastation that clung to his life like feathers to tar.
Now he felt nothing.
He was sure that if someone were to take a mallet to his chest, they'd hear nothing but the clank of metal on metal.
At long last, he set foot at the top of the stairs, and immediately took a sharp right. He had, in actuality, no clue where he was going: he simply let his feet take him where they were wont to, away from the crowd, and the crying, and the clamor, and the people hanging onto Potter's every word as the bloody brat betrayed the confidence Dumbledore had lent him all those years ago- and, Merlin, the school was half-destroyed and word of mouth still managed to spread like a particularly vicious and contagious case of dragon pox.
Let his aching legs and his bruised feet lead the way. His mind was elsewhere. Caught. Suspended somewhere between what should have been a fatal bite and the sacrilege of his failed martyrdom.
He didn't know why he was here.
He had been twisting, winding through hallways, hurtling up moving staircases (some of which were lacking in a step or three), not knowing where he was headed, conscious of nothing but the low, incessant buzz that had begun quietly and was rapidly increasing in volume, a headache pounding with every fresh pump of blood to his brain, roaring in his ears. He had been running-limping-jogging-lunging forward blindly, reaching out with both hands like a blind man-
And suddenly, he had latched ahold of a doorhandle and threw himself into this room.
He stood there, cold-sweat stricken back pressed up against the door, breathing heavily, nostrils flaring as wave after wave of vertigo washed over him. his eyes rolled back into his head and for a few moments he thought he might pass out. It was tempting, the blackness tugging and pulling, like a cod with a hook in its lip, reeling him in with the soft, breathy threat of neverending night. . . .
Until the looming presence of a cluster of large objects to his right caught his eye.
It was then that all his dizziness, his weariness, his ache dissipated.
As he unsteadily approached the monolithic army of gargantuan chess pieces, he felt nothing but sense of dumbfounded awe.
And that was how Luna Lovegood found him.
He didn't know how long he'd been standing there, staring into the featureless face of a black pawn, gaze focused on the indent beneath the brow, the implied eyes seated there. He dimly felt the "eyes" of all the other pieces on him, a lone man in the middle of the battlefield: the white set behind him, scorching his back, the black pieces before him looking down, judging with their uncarved mouths and eyeless sockets.
There he was again. A single man caught in the crossfire, looking himself in the eye.
Without thinking, he raised his right hand, bring it up and letting the tips of his fingers rest in the pawn's eye sockets. The dark stone- marble, perhaps, or basalt- was chilly and smooth under the pads of his fingers.
It was all he had ever been. A pawn. A disposable piece.
Such a bloody cliché.
"This one looks like you."
There was a definite and sickening crack to be heard coming from his neck as he whipped his head around.
Bright, sky-blue irises slid from where they had been focused on the piece directly in front of them, tossing a twinkling glance his way out of the corner of impossibly large eyes. It was a lingering glance, and blue locked with black for a few long seconds before the former returned to their original source of interest.
Severus stared, trying to still the beating of his heart, which was thundering so hard he felt his chest might be shaking. He looked the intruder- student- up and down, his confusion-addled brain trying to draw up more than a blank.
He recognized her, this girl- surprising, considering that most of the student body had begun to blend together for him, this past year transforming them into a singular, expressionless face. But this girl, this oddling child dressed in her light-violet pants and indigo shirt with its ridiculous fabric flowers; he recognized her wide, robin's egg eyes, her long, fly-away blonde locks, the way she swayed slightly where she stood several feet to his right, as if rocked by a breeze. Recognized that voice, calm and serene, even when he had been forced to bark questions at her during her stay at Malfoy Manor-
"Lovegood," he rasped.
She turned from the black knight piece in from of her to him again, studying him fully this time. She smiled at him, a secret smile like the curve of a waning moon. It reached out with silver light, touched his mind. He was vaguely away of the floor beneath him turning dark as pitch.
He opened his mouth to reply—
But he choked on his words, black rushing at him from all sides. As his knees buckled and gave way under the astounding gravity of exhaustion, he marveled, just before darkness took him, how he had never fallen unconscious to a happier voice.
He was drifting.
His body felt huge, a deadweight. Dead. Everything ached. And though the pain was evidently his, nothing else seemed to belong to him, for he could move neither limb nor digit. And helpless though he was, it was also strangely unconcerning to him. Immovable as his loathsome body was, he felt as if he were floating, hovering in thick, soft air, trapped physically by gentle paralysis, trapped mentally behind his heavy eyelids. It was all darkness and tender weightfulness, and heavy comfort. He could have easily drifted back into complete unconsciousness. . . .
Save for the fact that someone was staring at him.
He couldn't explain how he knew that. It was niggling feeling, tickling at his mind. He could feel the person watch him, their eyes monitoring the rise and fall of his chest as air eased in and out of him. the flickering of his eyelids as he tried to remain in the pitch.
And, jesus fuck, it was annoying.
Feeling as though he was prying apart his eyelids with tiny metal claws, he slowly opened his eyes.
Instantly, he hissed, squinting, face screwing up. It was too bright—painfully bright. So bright he found himself gasping at the sting.
Beside him, a soft voice murmur:
It was like night had fallen—half night. The searing brightness of his surroundings dulled, dying down from a blinding whiteness to a warm, yellow-gold glow. Still, his eyes wanted to clamp back shut.
Kicking himself, calling upon every reserve of willpower within his foggy mind, he forced them open.
Opening his eyes seemed to awaken his other senses as well. Whilst he sat blinking, trying to clear his blurry vision, he inhaled deeply, immediately placing the starched and septic smell of the infirmary. The sound of tense voices floated to him over the stolid air; he strained to make out their words, but they were muffled by a layer of stone – which meant that whoever put him here had remembered his dignity enough to give him the only private ward, a room unto itself instead of just drawing the curtains around another sickbed. Finding that his extremities were again mobile, he reached out his long fingers, brushing them over the comforter on the sickbed, which he perceived to be charmed. A glance at the clock on the opposite wall told him one last detail of his present situation: it was three o'clock.
all this took him perhaps five seconds to take in.
it took him nearly half a minute to realize that seated next to him in a chair was a curious-looking blonde young woman.
When he turned his black gaze on her, the small smile that touched her mouth widened. He gaped, perturbed by her ungodly sereneness, mildly fascinated with the dimple that had appeared on her right cheek.
She returned his gaze levelly, smiling that silly, clandestine little smile of hers.
"you know, I don't think I've ever seen you look so boggled as you do now. It doesn't quite suit you."
He stared at her. He searched for a name.
"Lovely?" the sound crawled out of his throat like a wounded animal.
She beamed, folding the Prophet she had been presumably reading before her bout of unabated staring (upside down, no less, but he could still make out the headline "Dark Lord Defeated At Last") and placing it on the floor under her chair. "Why, thank you sir. I'd return the compliment, but, truth be told, you have seen better days."
"—that's not—I mean," he struggled, tongue doing a poor job of juggling words, "—Lovegood," he finally managed.
She nodded enthusiastically.
Taking his eyes off her (impossibly chipper) visage for a few seconds, he let his focus dart around the room, circling back to the clock before returning to the girl again. He narrowed his eyes, swallowing, trying to force some moisture into his dry, raspy throat.
"How long . . . been out?"
"Only five days, sir," she answered brightly, tucking a strand of flaxen hair behind one ear. Perhaps in response to the horrified look on his face, she added, "Madam Promfrey suspected you'd be out at least a fortnight, if you woke up at all."
If he woke up . . . and suddenly, everything came rushing back at him in a tsunami of memories that made his head quake and spin. He closed his eyes, fighting off a wave of nausea that accompanied the swirling images.
When he opened his eyes again, Lovegood was still watching him eagerly. Again, he narrowed his eyes.
Swallowing painfully, he spoke, wincing at every syllable as they pierced his throat. "How . . . did you find me?"
Her expression changed, from bright to thoughtful, yellow to baby blue. "oh. Quite by accident. At least, at first. I was wandering around, you see. Looking for friends that might still be alive . . ."
She trailed off, eyes clouding; her expression changed only slightly, shifting from dreamy to a languid kind of stoicism, as of one lost in distantly unpleasant thoughts. She blinked several times, then continued in the same airy tone:
"I didn't find anyone. Alive. I wouldn't have found you either, if not for the trail."
He looked at her, bewildered. "Trail?"
Her lower lip slid out somewhat, and she pointed both finger and candid stare at his half-naked torso.
It was only then that he looked down at the burgundy-soaked bandages covering his otherwise bare chest and arms, and realized exactly how much he had been bleeding. Unconsciously, he reached one hand up to his neck. Where there should have been cold, dry skin, his fingers met with soft, slightly damp gauze. His hand fell away.
"Oh," He said softly. Oh? How eloquent.
Luna nodded slowly. "I felt like Gretel." A twitch of a smile. "Actually, you're lucky, Professor—"
Lucky? He opened his mouth to retort—
"—that you weren't attacked by a Blood-Sucking Whumpscuttles."
He gaped at her. Blood-Sucking Whump-whats?
"Most older castles in Great Britain have had an infestation at some point—but I suppose if there was one here, it would've been taken care of already, given the tendency of students to grievously injure themselves. They're drawn to the smell of blood, you see."
Severus gaped at her.
Perhaps taking his gawking for worry, she made the addendum, "But, as I said, you needn't worry. If there were any here, you would have already died." She smiled at him.
If it were possible, his eyebrows would have disappeared into his hairline by now. He was trapped in a room with a stark-raving, cornsilk-haired lunatic of a waif- child. Wonderful.
"Do you think I'm bonkers, Professor?"
He continued to stare at her; it seemed that he'd lost the capacity both for rational thought and speech.
"Everyone tells me I am. Completely batty. Professor McGonagall likes to say 'touched'. Touched by what, I wonder—? "
"Lovegood," he interrupted, "why are you here?"
She stopped. It seemed it was her turn to stare at him as if he had tentacles growing out of his head. He felt himself be eclipse by her swirling blue-silver eyes surveying him out of the hollow of her face, her pale lips pressed together in what may or may not have been a frown.
And when she answered him, it was with a tone of surprise, as if the answer was all too obvious:—
"Because you're alive, Professor."
For some unfathomable reason, that statement, soft and bleak, mangled-feathery, made him turn his eyes downward, as if in shame. Truth be told, he did feel something inexplicably akin to guilt. He would have made an effort to feel ridiculous for this subtle reaction, if not for the fact that it would have exhausted him. Hell, he had only been awake for a few minutes and he was already nearly drained of energy.
So, unable to keep her hypnotizing gaze, he let his eyes drift downward, past her chin, the milky curve of her neck, the neck of her blue sweater; down to her knees, where they poked out like wide-eyed bushbabies from the holes in her worn blue jeans. He gazed at them, transfixed. They were red, creased with dirt, as if she'd been crawling around on all fours. As were her hands where they sat, clasped loosely in her lap, wrists and fingernails caked with grime.
And, looking back up he found that, if he squinted, he could see traces of dirt and leaves in her hair; there was a small cut on her lower lip, and a dark smudge on her left cheek, just above that elusive dimple.
She looked like she'd just come out of the rabbit hole.
Severus blinked. Suddenly, he felt very woozy.
The girl watched him cautiously.
"You can go back to sleep, if you like, Professor Snape. I know everyone will be anxious to see how you are . . ."
His stomach tightened at the thought of everyone swooping down upon him, and maybe he actually grimaced.
". . . but it's three in the morning, so they're all conked out. I won't tell anyone that you woke up."
It was odd, then, how he felt an extraordinary amount of gratefulness towards this girl—this mad flower child for whom he should have nothing but disdain, who was pestering him at his bedside at three in the fucking morning, who had prevented him from dying there in the room of chess pieces, who was talking to him as if everything was coming up roses, who had mocked him by comparing him to anything but a pawn. But his gratitude knew none of this. He simply breathed a sigh of relief.
Before he knew what was happening, he had sunken back down into the bed, his eyelids pulling closed, his mind wandering away, down, down, down, into blackness. . . .
When he awoke six hours later at 9 a.m. he found himself alone in the private ward. He sat up and looked to his right, where Lovegood had been sitting, finding only an empty chair in her place.
She had not left completely without a trace, however. For, as he turned to the side he found, sitting inconspicuously on the hospital nightstand, a single black chess piece.
If he had forgotten to be an insufferable prick when he had awoken at the Witching Hour to the unabated stare of Ms. Lovegood, he certainly did not shirk his duty to be as much in the hours following.
For example: when Maggie, Poppy's young trainee, came into the private room he'd been confined to in order to check his vitals and run more diagnostics, she nearly jumped out of her skin to see him sitting up in bed, staring curiously at a magazine that had been left on the folding table near his bed ("The Quibbler" the strange rag was called—the other bit of evidence Lovegood had left of her presence). The startled shriek of Madame Pomfrey's young mediwitch-to-be nearly gave him a heart attack; to his disgust, he jumped violently at the sound, dropping the magazine onto the floor with a thick slap. Looking up, he saw the young girl gaping at him, having dropped a tray of potions, which all lay broken and sizzling violently on the ground where they were running together.
As if it was not enough to have a trainee mediwitch gawking at him with huge bug eyes and an open mouth, the sound the young girl had emitted had inadvertently attracted the attention of others. Before he knew what was happening, Madame Pomfrey herself was in the doorway; a loud gasp, and she was swooping in on him like some great white bird of prey. He was fairly certain that he grimaced visibly, but Madame Pomfrey took little heed of this particular symptom.
Whilst she hovered over him, muttering diagnostic spells and writing in her chart, he managed to shoot a glance off over her shoulder; his intent had been to warn away the bimbo trainee with a harsh glare, but it melted off of his face the instant he saw the crowd gathering in the doorway.
To this, Poppy was oblivious. She was all in a tizzy, so excited that he almost didn't get her attention with that useless, raspy voice of his.
When she'd stopped fussing over his physical condition, marveling over his miraculous recovery of consciousness, he barked at her as best he could with his damaged larynx, and told her in a decidedly very irritated manner that if she didn't usher the onlookers out this instant, he would shut his eyes and go back into a bloody coma.
At this, she stopped long enough to look over her shoulder at the crowd. Among them, she could spot Flitwick, a Weasley, a few Hufflepuffs, and Potter—all in the infirmary visiting friends and comrades, not expecting the awakening of the war's other great hero.
"Severus," she said, turning back to him, "Severus, they're only concerned—"
"Get—them—the bloody fuck—out." He seethed hoarsely, coughing a bit. The bandages at his neck jostled slightly, and a searing pain shot through him. Involuntarily, he gasped.
Fortunately, these negative effects of his attempting conversation with her caused Pomfrey to reconsider her zeal about his recovery. She conceded that he was right, that no one but Headmistress McGonagall ought to see him, furthermore instructing him not to speak unless absolutely necessary.
Thankful, but not quite placated, Severus sank back into the bed with a half-sigh, half-growl, and watched Madame Pomfrey herd out the nosy crowd. Not wishing to look upon the scene any longer, he closed his eyes.
Hearing the door to his private ward close, he was just about to breathe a sigh of relief when he heard a voice to his immediate right.
"Good morning, Severus."
Groaning internally, he opened his eyes again. There, in the chair occupied hours earlier by a blonde sprite, sat the grave, greying figure of Headmistress Minerva McGonagall. Dressed crisply in flowing green robes, bearing the seal of Hogwarts on a badge over her heart, she was authoritative in countenance, and hard-won wisdom gleamed in her eyes.
If he were in a brighter mood (but when was he ever?), he might have found it in him to appreciate the subtle transformation from Deputy to Headmistress. As things stood, he did little more than glare at her petulantly.
"Can't this wait?" he asked irritably. Merlin, his voice sounded awful.
"I am not about to interrogate you," Minerva told him, although something in her voice told him that had been nearly foremost on her mind. He refrained as best he could from rolling his eyes.
"Good. I—believe Potter can provide you—with an apt account. If he—" hack "—hasn't already," he coughed harshly.
Minerva smiled slightly. "Yes, Mr. Potter has gone through a great deal of trouble to make sure your part in all of this was understood—by all. You will be glad to know that, in light of recent truths, you will not stand trial for any misdemeanors or charges previously alleged against you. The Ministry would like nothing from you save for a formal statement of events—and to honor you with the Order of Merlin, First Class."
Severus took this in silently.
"The press may be of issue to you for a while," Minerva continued conversationally after a pregnant pause. "But I imagine that you are more than capable of fending them off. You could make quite a sport of it—once you're properly healed of course."
Absently, he rubbed the thumb and index finger of his right hand together, his attention having drifted from Minerva to the door. "Of course," he muttered.
Minerva watched him for a moment, her stern lips pursing and un-pursing, as if debating on whether or not to speak. After what seemed like a long time, she drew in a long breath and sighed.
"I do have some things I must discuss with you," she admitted. "But, I think I shall broach those subjects to you when you've made more progress towards recovery." Placing her hands on her knees, she stood slowly, smoothing out her robes.
The movement recaptured Severus' attention, and he brought his gaze back to her. It occurred to him how exhausted she looked, how battle-worn and fatigued and wizened and old. As if she had gained fifty years in the last few days.
Surveying her slowly, he nodded. "Yes, I know . . . Thank you," and it felt strange coming from him, voice so devoid of its usual vitriol, the off-handed sentiment thick and talcy on his tongue.
Minerva shook her regal head. "No. Thank you, Severus." Her eyes shone like polished moss-agates, reverential and sincere. It was a look he was unaccustomed to receiving: sympathy, and unadulterated gratitude. He couldn't decide which was worse to behold; he almost looked down.
But he held her gaze for several seconds longer, matching her with his own consuming stare. A stare that ate up any apology she might have tossed at him, a stare that begged silence and nothing more.
After a long while, she nodded. And it was not Severus, but Minerva that then looked away, casting her eyes downward, as if in shame. Or as if she was unworthy to look at him. Directly her voice at the floor, she asked quietly:
"Is there anything else you require?"
He shook his head once, with great effort.
"Only bed rest I . . . would assume," the last words were nearly inaudible, coming from his raw throat.
She nodded again, flicking her eyes up briefly to meet his again. "Of course, Severus. I shall return when you are rested."
When he said nothing in reply, she took that to mean that he was tired, and the conversation was over. Steeling herself, the new Headmistress was about to turn heel-
She halted. Turned back to him.
Sitting up in bed once more, Severus gave her a curios look.
"Minerva . . . was there . . . a student in here?"
She felt her forehead wrinkle. "No. Not according to Madame Pomfrey and her aide. Why do you ask?"
She watched his black eyes slide from the empty chair, to his bedside table, to the floor, and back at the chair again. His face remained expressionless, save for the tiniest purse of his lips.
"Never- nevermind." He coughed.
Choosing (mercifully) not to press the subject, she inclined her head. "Just get some rest, Severus. I shall see what I can do about having some articles from your library brought to you, if you find yourself in tedium." She gave her best attempt at a wry smile.
He didn't have the strength to return her grimace. Because Merlin forbid that, after years of spying and war, I become bored. . . .
He was surprised to find that, despite having been unconscious for several days, sleep came easily and quite readily to him. Minerva had not been gone for more than an hour or two before he fell once again into the abyss of unconsciousness.
Around four that afternoon, he awoke again. Poppy came in, inspected his wounds, changed his bandages, and administered to him three potions. One was for tissue regeneration and repair; and the last was a simple nutritional supplement, to compensate for the food his body would not be able to presently handle. Again, he fell rather quickly asleep once she had left him.
Dreams plagued him constantly. It was the one thing his coma—and months before that, nightly doses of Dreamless Sleep elixir or a few shots of Firewhiskey—had blissfully shielded him from, the wildcard that normal slumber was now taunting him with. He dreamt of blood, of giant snakeskin, of water cold and dark as ink, of large black stallions and armor that weighed him down like lead. When he awoke alone in his private ward, his back was often drenched in a cold sweat, the smell of rotted flesh in his nose.
That night, as he sat in bed, awake, feeling his eyes grow heavy and dreading it, he looked again at the figure on his bedside table. The black knight chesspiece stood there inconspicuously, the piece turned outward to face the room. As if to protect him.
Hazily, thoughts bogged down by the painkiller, he found himself thinking on the strange blonde girl that was responsible for his present existence. The little chit who had found him and willed him to live, who placed him in the hands of those who might try and mend his broken body. He wanted to thank her. He wanted to spit at her.
He sank down into the hospital bed and waited for his eyes to drop closed.
In this dream, he was chained to a horse—a threstral, possibly, a dragon horse, with a soft, velveteen body and scaly wings. His entrapments were silver manacles woven into the beast's lush black mane. In this dream, he pulled and pulled at his restraints—but the chains only became shorter, pulling him closer to the horse until his hands were buried in the animal. It sang ferociously, snarling at him like a hellhound, pulling him around like a rag doll. It was taking them across a marsh, towards the sound of rushing water, the sound of tall, steep waterfall. He could see the edge approaching, the sharp drop visible through the rising fog. The steed bucked, nearly throwing him, but he held and they drew closer and closer—
Eyes snapping open, he shot up, breathing catching in his throat.
From beside him, a soft voice floated out of the dim:—
"Trouble sleeping, Professor?"
He didn't recall ever being more gratified to hear another person's voice.
So? Comments? Questions? I attempted to make them not too OOC, but it's kind of inevitable. A post-war Snape is bound to behave differently.