Severus Snape opened his eyes. The first thing he saw was the ceiling of the Hogwarts infirmary, which matched well with the smells of various potions and liniments that typically populated this department, as well as the soft cotton sheets he currently lay between. He remembered being dead. It was hard to forget being struck over and over again by the serpent Nagini at her master's command, and feeling the horrible burning pain of her venom coursing through his veins, destroying his tissues. The last things that slipped through his mind as consciousness mercifully faded were satisfaction that he'd done what was needed, and a last, fleeting thought of Lily Evans.
Lily Potter, he corrected himself. She had died the brief widow of James Potter, protecting their son Harry.
He wasn't sure what had happened; Nagini's venom was so potent that even if there was a cure there was no way it could have reached him in time. As it was, he didn't even have the residual ache that followed a standard detoxification remedy, just a sensation of purging in the recent past.
Well, Poppy Pomfrey should be nearby, in any case. This was her domain, and accordingly she would know what was going on. He sat up with a bit of effort and glanced around. He didn't see Poppy anywhere. Odd.
In the heels of this, he became aware of something else, something wrong with himself. He pulled back the covers and looked down. He was still as lean as had always been-adolescence was never kind to wizards like himself-but now his chest and abdomen were corded with taut muscle. He was never a Quidditch champion. In fact, the only exercise he'd ever gotten was tring to get away from the Marauders, when he wasn't developing spells and charms to discourage them entirely. He was still pale though, which was something.
"Good mroning!" chirped an unfamiliar female voice as its owner, a sixteen-year-old girl in Ravenclaw robes entered the infirmary. Instinctively, Snape snatched the covers back around himself as he studied her.
Her hair was the colour of flames shot with metallic silver streaks, cascading down her back like a flow of lava and easily reaching to the back of her knees. Her eyes gleamed like emerald orbs, but even from halfway across the room he could see the silver flecks in them. Her face was parfectly heart-shaped, with smooth skin that had never known the ravages of acne, and perfect lips the exact pink colour of roses. She was tall and statuesque, with an athletic figure enhanced rather than hindered by a pair of bosoms that suggested she'd crammed two cantaloupes down the front of her robes. Seeing that he was awake, she smiled, flashing her perfectly straight, white teeth at him. She looked exactly like the sort of person who would greet someone with "Good mroning" and not think anything was wrong.
"You're awake!" she chirped, "I knew it was only a matter of time."
"Who are you?" he demanded, and though it hardly seemed plausible, her smile broadened.
"I'm Andromeda Merlina Francesca Tiffany Morningstar Brighteyes," she replied.
He closed his eyes and grimaced. Bloody hell, he thought, one of those.
"I'm so glad you're awake," Andromeda continued, "Now you can see all the good I've done since I got here. I bet you'll want to get dressed first, though."
"Where did you come from?" he asked. The Ravenclaws were his best students, academically, and he was sure he would have recognized someone like that.
"I'm a half-veela exchange student from America," she said.
He cringed. There were no veela in the States. In any case, he'd seen half-veela children, and while they were indeed overwhelmingly female, they didn't bloody look like that.
"I got here just in time, too," she continued, fetching his robes from a closet, "Do you have any idea how many people would have died in that war?"
"The War's been going for over a year," Snape protested, "People have already died. Including me."
Oh yeah," she said, "I found you all crumpled and tragic and almost dead in the Astronomy Tower and I brought you back to life."
She handed over his clothing, but the bundle just fell through his boneless fingers.
"Oh, looks like you're still not quite better yet," she cooed, retrieving his clothing from the floor and placing it on his lap. "My mom gave me an heirloom spell before I came here, and told me that it was only for emergencies. I didn't know what it would do, but I used it on you and it cleaned all the poison out of your system and brought you back to life! Who knew?"
No wonder he felt vaguely like he'd recently shat himself into unconsciousness. He was starting to develop a headache, though.
"After I brought you back to life, I went out onto the battlefield and called out Voldemort."
"Why?" He asked not because he wanted to know her reason, but because it had been shocked out of him. Nobody would be stupid enough to just arrive at Hogwarts and immediately try to call out Voldemort - with the possible exceptuion of...
"Because I knew that if someone just showed him love and compassion that he wouldn't be evil anymore."
Snape rubbed his throbbing forehead. "And you were that someone?" he asked flatly. Voldemort didn't understand love. He didn't understand the point of being willing to sacrifice yourself so that someone else might live. He wasn't capable of understanding it, and this had only gotten worse as me made Horcruxes in his search for immortality. He'd willingly turned himself into a soulless monster, and -
"Of course I was!" she chirped, "After all, my veela blood allows me to make anyone I want fall in love with me."
"That's not the same thing!" Snape exploded. Magically induced love wasn't real. That was how the whole thing started with Tom Riddle.
"Of course it is!" she retorted, with the surety of someone too dense to see other points of view. "And once I showed him what true love was, his shattered soul was restored to wholeness and now he's all better!"
Snape groaned. There were so many things wrong with that statement that his brain wanted to escape out his ears and go hide under the bed.
"Excuse me," he said, "but I need some privacy while I dress."
"No problem, Severus! Once you're done I can show you how happy everyone is now that everythings all better!"
With that she skipped out the door and shut it behind her.
Snape rubbed his forehead, hoping to ease the headache that was blossoming there. Sixteen-year-old girls didn't go hoppity-skip unless they were on drugs.
He got dressed, occasionally having to push back hair that was suddenly a lot longer and silkier than it ever had been, without a trace of grease, and trying very hard to ignore the fact that he now had the build of an Olympic swimmer. He would have to look in the mirror eventually. The fact that his Dark Mark was gone was not really all that surprising, considering he'd died no matter what she tried to tell him, but the fact that he didn't even have any scarring from the multiple snake bites was troubling. He usually didn't pay any attention to his appearance, but now he had to weigh his usual practical habits with the possibility that things had been meddled with. He would have to see what he was dealing with. He finished buttoning up his frockcoat, shrugged into his outer robe, and turned to face the mirror.
He was handsome.
He didn't possess the sort of universal beauty that might make men forget their heterosexuality, but he had the sort of eye-pleasing charisma that he could have used to get his female students to pay more attention to their lessons. In all, he looked like an actor in the Muggle cinema.
Alan Rickman, age thirty, perhaps. With the sort of hair you'd see in a shampoo advertisement.
He shook his head. He wasn't supposed to look like this. He wasn't the dashing Potions Master with the voice that could make women swoon by reading off Flamel's Fifth Theory of Transmutation. And the hair - no self-respecting Potions Master could maintain silky-smooth, waist-length hair like this without taking away from his research or being Gilderoy Lockhart.
Well, he supposed it was about time to find out what else had changed since he'd died. Sort of died. Died-ish.
He opened the Infirmary door and saw Andromeda Merlina Francesca Tiffany Morningstar Brighteyes waiting for him, her broad grin still nailed onto her face.
"You look so dapper!" she gushed, and, ignoring his grimace of distaste, grabbed his hand (his elegant pianist's fingers now free of potion stains or old burn scars) and pulled him down the hallway. It wasn't so much that she was strong - something about her made him want to follow along. Perhaps it was an attraction charm that she had cast on herself. Had he been prepared for this he might have been able to fight it off and dig in his heels, but he resolved not to be caught off-guard next time.
However, he had no time to plan this further, as they presently reached the door to the Great Hall (which he had sworn was further away from the Infirmary), and she threw the doors open to reveal a crowd of witches and wizards, young and old alike, were gathered there. He saw people that he knew for a fact had died during the War alive and well, as well as many people he couldn't help but feel shouldn't still be alive nonetheless.
The sprawling Weasley clan sat in a red-haired cluster at the table nearest them, save for Ginny Weasley sitting slightly closer than conversational distance to Neville Longbottom while they discussed herbology. Harry Potter and Hermione Granger sat just over there, right across from Ron Weasley and Lavender Brown. Over there, Draco Malfoy discreetly made out with Pansy Parkinson, while in yet another direction Nymphadora Tonks (her hair a happy shade of pink) and Remus Lupin were discussing something while he rubbed her abdomen protectively. Minerva McGonagall was talking not to Voldemort but to the promising wizard that Voldemort had once been, Tom Riddle, now a well-adjusted adult with a full head of hair and a nose since he'd been redeemed.
Everything was fixed. Everything was resolved. Everyone was happy. Everyone was smiling.
His observation of this last point sent a chill up his spine. Every single person in the room, mo matter what they had done, no matter what they had just experienced up to this point, was grinning broadly from ear to ear.
Andromeda Merlina Francesca Tiffany Morningstar Brighteyes had made everything right. Yet everything was Wrong. Not just wrong but Wrong. Albus-Dumbledore-dancing-the-can-can Wrong.
Suddenly McGonagall noticed the two of them and broke off her conversation with Riddle to approach them.
"Severus!" she greeted him, "I see you've met the Savior of Hogwarts."
"I have," he acknowledged cautiously. McGonagall's smile was getting unnerving.
"Everything's been resolved so decisively," she said, "I couldn't have expected one witch, especially one so young, to fix things up so tidily, considering the chaos that had nearly engulfed the British Isles."
"Indeed," he replied, marking his possible escape routes. "It almost boggles the mind."
"And you're looking much better as well - just in time for you to meet someone very special. Lily?"
Ice went down Snape's spine as the woman he had always loved approached him with the same smile on her face. He remembered her smile to be beautiful and comforting when they were young, but now it only added to the sense of Wrongness.
"Lily…" he gasped, "But… you're…"
"I found a way to bring her back," Andromeda said, "I got a lot of talent from my mother's side. I wasn't able to bring James back, but he was horrible anyway so it's all okay."
Lily Potter, nee Evans, approached Snape and cupped his face in her hands. He closed his eyes, having long craved the opportunity to feel her touch him, just once, in a way that didn't involve a slap to the face.
"I've always loved you," she said quietly, "And I forgive you for calling me a Mudblood." She kissed him, and her lips felt as soft as rose petals against his mouth. It was like every single thing that had gone wrong had been made right. He could live forever like this.
Andromeda spoke, breaking through his bliss.
"Aren't you happy, Severus? Everything's the way it should be."
He opened his eyes and glanced over at her, noticing as he did so that everybody in the Great Hall had stopped talking, and had turned to stare directly at him, grinning steadily all the while.
"You should be happy, Severus," McGonagall affirmed, but above her grin he noticed the rest of her expression, the part in her eyes that was untouched by her apparent happiness. While her mouth smiled on and on like the world would never end, her eyes held a look of sheer terror.
"I am happy," he tried to reassure her, his heart hammering.
"You don't look happy," Andromeda chided perkily. The others in the Great Hall continued to grin at him like dolls.
"Severus," Lily whispered against his cheek as she hugged him, a wavering edge to her voice, "What's going on?"
His eyes locked onto Andromeda, whose grin was starting to remind him of a tiger's.
"I don't know," he murmured back, "But I intend to find out."
"There's nothing to be sad about," Andromeda said, and there were razors in her voice. "You. Should. Be. Happy."
It wasn't a suggestion.
It wasn't an offer.
It was an obligation.
It was a command.
It was a mandate.
He forced his mouth into a smile, on the near-certainty that it was either that or get torn apart. He knew how pissy veelas could get if they didn't get their way.
"Ah. Yes. Of course." Snape desperately grinned wider, using muscles that hadn't gotten much exercise since his school days. "You've done… well. Very well." It was praise that he'd only given to his very best Potions students, and it made him queasy to offer it to her - but he would have to keep her distracted while he found out what the hell had happened while he was… indisposed.
The fact that he didn't see Dumbledore anywhere in the Great Hall suggested that perhaps even her powers had limits. This was a relief, honestly; he would probably have gone crazy if he'd seen Albus in the Happy Happy Club grinning like a moron.
His stomach twisted, all the same. Getting Lily back was a dream come true, as were the apparent resurrections of several of his colleagues and students, but it felt blasphemous somehow. He needed to get back to the Dungeon so he could properly investigate, but he wasn't about to leave Lily there. There had been something in her voice…
"Headmistress McGonagall is throwing a party in my honor!" Andromeda chirped further, "Everyone's invited, even you, Severus! It will be such a wonderful celebration!"
"Actually, I need to, uh…" he faltered, glancing at Lily for a plausible excuse.
"Ohhhhhh, you need some alone time with Lily!" Andromeda giggled knowingly. Several others within earshot also chuckled, as though Snape had somehow gained a reputation as a raging love machine.
Snape inwardly facepalmed, but it was as good an excuse anyway… and it wasn't exactly false. He took some minor comfort in the fact that whatever was happening to everyone else hadn't happened to him.
"Yes," he said, "Lily and I need to spend some time in my office."
"Don't do anything I wouldn't do!" Andromeda encouraged them, waving.
Snape put a guiding arm around Lily, swallowing his revulsion for the whole situation as the two of them headed off towards the lower levels.
He made it as far as the last flight of stairs before a skull-splitting spike in his headache made him have to stop, leaning against the wall.
"What's wrong?" Lily asked. Her smile was still in place, but behind her eyes he saw genuine concern.
"Everything," he stated flatly. "I'm not sure what it is, but once we get down to my laboratory I should be able to remedy things… temporarily at least."
He suspected he knew what the sensation was; he'd felt it during his many meetings with Voldemort, though not nearly this intensely. It was like the entire castle was bearing down on his mind, trying to crush his will and mold him into something else. It burned at his mind with the intensity of the Dark Mark that once graced his forearm. He bolstered his mental shields, reinforcing them where they seemed to be weakening.
He lurched into his office, but noticed that it was only vaguely-defined, with generic stone walls, a generic desk with generic writing materials, and generic bookshelves lined with untitled volumes. Blast. He would have to do this from memory, then. He turned to Lily, whose smile had taken on a note of confusion.
"Lily, I need you to sit in the center of the floor, just there."
She did so obediently without so much as a note of protest. Where was the intelligent spitfire he'd known in school? He shook his head to clear it; he couldn't let himself worry about the extreme change in her personality right now.
He couldn't specifically remember whether Andromeda had put his wand with his bundle of clothing, but decided to take a gamble as he reached into his sleeve where he always kept it. His fingertips touched the smooth handle, and he relaxed marginally as he drew it out. Focusing his mind, he called upon his personal stores of magic, channeling energy into the slender device. The tip glowed weakly, and he frowned.
"Defigo," he murmured, and his mind cleared and sharpened. The light at the tip of his wand glowed brighter. He would need all the magic he could scrape together if this was going to work.
Starting at the door, Snape started weaving a fabric of protective wards around his vaguely-defined office. He took his time, as rushing this process would leave gaps he couldn't afford and possibly spoil the matrix. Once it became avident what he was doing, he was certain he would not get another chance.
Not avident. Evident. Once it became evident what he was doing. His head felt like someone was hammering railroad spikes into his temples. He couldn't break off the spell to cast another Concentration Charm, or else what he'd built so far would be spoiled. Instead, he delved into his limitless willpower and powered on. A ward such as this usually took five to ten minutes to properly construct; as it was, it took him fifteen, and he felt like his nose should be bleeding afterwards.
Once the barrier was sealed, he rallied the remaining shreds of his concentration and closed his eyes. In his lifetime of learning the ins and outs of the Dark Arts, both how to construct them and tear them down, he had become an expert in the best ward to handle them. He whispered a single word to safeguard his office, at least, against whatever baleful influence had infected Hogwarts: "Tutis."
The oppressive mental weight seemed to evaporate, popping like a soap bubble. It was an immense relief to no longer have such elephantine pressure on his wards. He opened his eyes and glanced around; his office was again as it ought to be, with the proper number of bookshelves filled with such tomes as Mercavin's Compleat Book of Remedies and Lisander's 1001 Curatives. His desk was again carved of mahogany, with the seal of Slytherin House emblazoned upon its front, overseen by the stern gaze of Salazar Slytherin from his portrait on the wall. The dank smell of mold and basement greeted him with its familiarity, and all seemed right, at least locally.
Then Lily Potter started screaming in abject horror.
End Chapter 1.