Ghost of Christmas Pastby shadowycat
Snape stalked down the length of Knockturn Alley in a cold drizzle and bitter wind and grumbled to himself. The last thing he should be doing tonight was shopping for potion ingredients to make life easier for that mangy, worthless werewolf. If there was any justice in the world, he should be settled comfortably in front of a nice warm fire with an interesting book and a snifter of brandy while Lupin haunted cold, lonely street corners and froze to death in his rags.
He smiled a venomous smile for a brief moment as that welcome image blazed brightly in his mind. Then the smile faded as he conceded that justice was not something that ever seemed to come down on his side. Indeed, justice seemed to be truly blind as well as ignorant of her responsibilities in regards to his life, so here he was pounding the frigid pavement while Lupin remained snug and warm back at Hogwarts.
With a black scowl of annoyance, Snape shifted the bag of crushed scarab beetles in his hand and then jammed it deeply into a pocket. He still needed to obtain some powdered nightshade, though where he could go to get it now, he wasn’t at all sure. Why the hell was he bothering anyway? After the mockery and scorn that Lupin had directed his way with his little Boggart hunt earlier in the school year, he’d told Albus that he wouldn’t make the potion anymore. Lupin was on his own. Yet here he was again, wandering the cold streets trying to obtain last minute ingredients instead of working on projects of his own that he really wanted to work on or relaxing in the comfort of his rooms.
Well, he’d done his best. This month’s batch simply wasn’t going to be ready in time, and both Lupin and Albus would simply have to deal with that. The Shrieking Shack was still there. Or, if that idea was no longer palatable to them, other potion makers did exist. If Albus wanted his precious Gryffindor freak to take this complicated potion every month, then he could just make other arrangements to obtain it. He was through being used like a damned house-elf. It was dark. It was cold, and he was going home.
As Snape mounted the steps that took him up out of Knockturn Alley and into Diagon Alley in the heavy darkness of the early evening, a once familiar sound caused him to pause. He’d come to the entrance of the square in front of the Wizard’s bank with its alabaster pillars stretching high into the darkness. A fairly large crowd was gathered around the wide staircase that led up to the entrance of the bank. On the steps, just as they’d been for countless Christmas seasons was a small brass ensemble playing carols for the enjoyment of the evening shoppers and stragglers who moved along the confines of the broad alley.
The first piercing notes of the horns caused a lump to form in his throat, and he found himself suspended within the prism of his memories as images from Christmases of long ago flitted wraithlike through his reluctant mind. Without consciously making the decision, he moved slowly across the square, edging closer to the crowd as his restless eyes scanned the mob of merrymakers in vain. He knew she couldn’t be there, yet he also knew that if fate had been different, she would be.
A faint smile crossed his lips as he remembered standing just like this many years ago, mesmerized by the music as it reverberated through his very bones, while a small bundle of joyous energy tugged at his hand and begged to be picked up and held above the crowd where the view was better. This had been one of the favored outings of her often restricted life and one of the few good memories of his own.
He sighed, dropped his eyes away from the cheerful crowd and began to turn away from the musicians in front of him, but before he could move off, he felt a small hand sneak into his own, and a soft voice carried up to him on the golden thread of the music.
“Hello, Severus. Happy Christmas. Isn’t the band wonderful this year?”
With amazement freezing the very heart in his chest, he found himself looking down into a pair of sparkling brown eyes set in a small oval face and framed by hair of the blackest night. His mouth went dry, so the words that forced themselves from his lips did so as no more than the barest whisper.
“Dabria? How? It can’t be you. I must be hallucinating.”
The warm smile that sparkled up into his stunned face spread across the childish features as a musical voice laughed at his confusion. “Of course it’s me, silly. Who else would it be? Don’t you recognize your own sister anymore? I realize that it’s been quite awhile, but I didn’t think it had been that long.”
“How?” his frozen lips managed to gasp.
“You were thinking about me. That was the last piece I needed, along with the magic of Christmas, of course. I don’t have long, though, so let’s not waste it.”
He shook his head in confusion. “You’re a ghost? But I thought… Why haven’t I seen you before if you’re still haunting the earth?”
“Oh, I’m not a ghost like that. I moved on when I died, but I’m really not supposed to talk about that.”
“Because the living aren’t supposed to know too much about what comes after. It’s one of the rules.”
“Then how can you be here now…talking to me like this? Why can I touch your hand?” He grasped it firmly and raised it to his cheek. “It’s even warm.”
She nodded. “Yes. It’s hard to explain. I’m real and here with you for the next hour, but once the clock in the bank’s tower chimes eight, I’ll have to go. It’s all the time that the magic will allow me.”
“Why are you here, Bria? Why now?”
“Because I’ve missed you, Severus, and you seemed so unhappy. And this was the only way I knew of to see you again. Christmas releases a lot of magical energy into the air, and this is a nexus for it. It concentrates here. When I saw you here tonight, I hoped you’d think of me. You see, that was the last thing that was necessary. When you did, I was finally able to open a door and step through it. But the door will only stay open for an hour, so do we have to waste the time standing here in the cold rain or can we go somewhere warm and talk?”
He smiled at the faint air of complaint in her tone. It was as if she’d never gone. “Do we have to stay here in Diagon Alley?”
She nodded. “Yes. The farther I get from the nexus, the shorter the length of time I can stay.”
“Then let’s go to the Leaky Cauldron. We can get a private room there.”
She nodded her agreement, and they set off together down the Alley towards the pub.
Snape closed the door behind them and turned to look once more at his little sister. She hadn’t changed a bit since the last time he’d seen her. Naturally not, he chided himself sharply. The dead don’t continue to age. She was forever frozen at ten years old, though her manner made her seem much older. He considered that thought. Perhaps it was only her appearance that was frozen in time not her personality.
Dabria looked around the room in satisfaction and crossed to stand in front of the fire, sticking out her small hands and turning them in front of her to absorb the heat. “Oh, that fire feels glorious! I’d forgotten how nice it felt to be warm. That’s not really a concern for me anymore.” She flashed an impish smile at her brother, and he felt his heart contract at its beauty.
He cleared the sudden lump from his throat and removed his sodden cloak, draping it over a chair before he joined her in front of the fireplace. Spontaneously, he knelt down next to her to bring his tall frame into a closer height with her much shorter one and said quietly, “It’s good to see you again, Bria.”
Instantly, she threw herself into his arms and hugged him tightly, and he could feel the furious staccato beating of her small heart against his chest as he buried his face in her softly fragrant hair and allowed himself to hug her back…hard. The feel of her in his arms took him sharply back in time to their childhood. She’d been the only truly happy thing in his life then. The only spark of light in an altogether somber life until he’d lost her when he was fourteen…and she’d taken the last of the light with her.
Twenty years. It had been twenty years since they’d been together. Double the lifespan she’d been allowed and far longer than the one he’d often wished to be allowed since her passing.
As he held her close to him, he realized that he didn’t want to let her go. That he could happily spend the entire hour, forty five minutes now, that they had together doing nothing but holding her tightly in his arms. But just as this thought crossed his mind, he felt her pull back and begin to draw away, and reluctantly, he released her.
They both dropped down to sit on the hearth rug by the flames just as they’d often done at home on cold nights when they were the only ones around. She smiled happily at him once more. “It’s so good to see you again, Severus. I mean…I see you a lot, but I don’t see you…I mean talk to you…oh, I’m not making sense, am I?”
He smiled at her. “If you mean that you can watch me from wherever you are, but you can’t usually interact with me then I understand.”
She nodded seriously. “Yes. That’s it exactly. I can often see you, but I can’t talk to you or touch you like this.” She reached out and recaptured his hand, which he surrendered willingly. “I miss that. I miss you.”
“I’ve missed you, too. I’ve so often wished that you…that you… That that creature…that it hadn’t happened.” His voice dropped low, and he looked away from her as anger and hatred tinged his features.
She squeezed his hand and smiled. “Oh, Severus, you mustn’t blame the werewolf. He couldn’t help what happened. It wasn’t his fault.”
His head shot up, eyes blazing with anger. “Not his fault! That creature murdered you, Bria. He ripped out your throat with his claws. One of the only times I’ve ever agreed with Grandfather was when he killed that animal for taking your life.”
Her face crumpled into sorrow as she watched the anger and hatred play across her brother’s features and knew that the blackness it represented laid claim to his soul in return. In a small voice she said, “You’re wrong, Severus. The werewolf didn’t kill me. Grandfather did.”
Shock froze the breath in his chest, and a buzzing began to echo through the suddenly empty corridors of his mind. “What?” He sat stunned and stared at her. “Grandfather didn’t kill you. That monster killed you, and Grandfather destroyed it in his grief and rage.”
She shook her head. “He didn’t feel any grief for what happened to me…only shame. He couldn’t stand the idea that his grandchild, a child already sullied in his eyes by having a Muggle for a father, had become even more tainted by the curse of a werewolf. The werewolf was reacting out of instinct when it attacked me, but even then, he somehow held himself back because he only bit me on the leg before backing off.”
“Grandfather was there. He was the one who’d insisted that we take the woods path to get home because it was closer, and he wanted to be on time for supper. You know how insistent he always was about punctuality at meals. Anyway, when the werewolf leaped out of the woods and bit me, Grandfather chased him off, but when he realized what it truly was that had attacked me and what it would mean… He…he strangled me with his bare hands. He apologized to me the whole time he was doing it, as if that would make it all right, but he couldn’t stand the thought that one of his blood had become so defiled. This way was easier for him.”
Snape just sat there absolutely stunned and listened to his little sister recount the circumstances surrounding her death in a calm and matter of fact manner. As he listened, he was the one who began to feel like a disembodied spirit, too numb and dazed to move, much less think straight. Could this possibly be true? Was his Pureblood grandfather really capable of such depravity? He’d certainly been a very cold and cruel man. Position and power had been all that had mattered to him. But this? This was monstrous beyond belief.
“After I was dead, he used his knife to rip up my throat. Then he tracked down the werewolf and killed him. No one ever doubted the story. Who would ever doubt Grandfather about anything? No one would dare.”
Snape just sat there staring at her in horror, and she threw herself into his lap and hugged him tightly. “I’m sorry, Severus. I shouldn’t have told you that. I didn’t mean to make you upset. All I really wanted tonight was to enjoy spending a little time with you again, and now I’ve ruined it all.”
He grabbed her and held her against him, burying his face in her hair once more. “No,” he whispered hoarsely. “You haven’t ruined anything. I’m glad that you told me the truth. I only wish that Grandfather was still alive so I could have the pleasure of killing him myself.” He added after a pause for thought, “I don’t suppose he’d consider visiting me as you have?”
She pulled back. “I don’t know. I can’t go where he is, and I’m glad.” She brightened slightly. “I have spoken to the werewolf, though. He’s really a very nice man. His name is Magelius. He hadn’t even been a werewolf very long. He never meant to hurt me. He didn’t even fight Grandfather very hard when he went after him because even through the animal mind, he felt really guilty. What happened to me wasn’t his fault. Just like what almost happened to you wasn’t your friend’s fault.”
Snape’s features darkened again. “He’s not my friend.”
“He’d like to be. I know he’s very sorry about what happened. It wasn’t his fault either; he couldn’t help being bitten…any more than I could,” Dabria said as she watched her brother with earnest eyes.
His eyebrows drew together in a thoughtful frown, but he didn’t say anything.
Dabria glanced up at the clock on the mantle that showed that her time was growing short. “One of the things that drew me to you tonight, Severus, was the unhappiness and bitterness that inhabit your heart. When we were young, you were more open. Your heart was full of curiosity and love…at least for me. Grandfather was the first to start taking that away from you. Bit by bit, he chipped away at you, darkening your soul and causing you pain. As you grew up and the world disappointed you, I’ve watched as more and more of the real you has disappeared under the blanket of anger and coldness that you wear as a shield. It makes me sad. I want you to be happy, Severus. I love you.”
Snape glanced away from her sincere dark eyes and frowned even harder. “I can’t help how I feel, Bria. Life hasn’t exactly been the happiest of experiences since you died and left me alone with Grandfather’s expectations. And I’ve made some very unfortunate choices. It’s really far too late to go back and change anything. I am who I am. That’s the way life works.”
She nodded a bit sorrowfully. “Yes, you’re right. You can’t change the past, but you can change the future. Wouldn’t you like to be happier? You can, you know. You just need to let go of the past and give yourself a chance. This might be a good place to start.”
“What do you mean?” he asked cautiously.
“You could forgive Mr. Lupin, just as I forgave Magelius…just as I forgave Grandfather.”
Snape clenched his hands into fists and stared rigidly into the fire. “Grandfather doesn’t deserve forgiveness.”
She frowned consideringly. “No, maybe not, but I didn’t do it for him. I did it for me.”
Snape’s forehead twitched and doubt shadowed his eyes for a moment before he drew his brows down firmly.
“What if I don’t want to let go of the past? The past is certain. It’s real. I can depend on it…”
“But it doesn’t make you happy,” said Dabria softly.
“Happiness is overrated. I don’t want to be Lupin’s friend.” His voice drew out the final word nastily.
“You’re working together now at your school. Wouldn’t it be easier if you got along?” she asked.
“No. It would be easier if he’d just go away.”
“But he isn’t going to, is he?” Dabria watched her brother seriously with her head tilted to the side, the firelight glinting off her dark hair.
Snape sighed as he looked at her. “No. Apparently not,” he murmured in resignation.
Suddenly, the small clock on the mantle made a clicking sound that heralded the striking of the hour. How had the time gone so fast? Snape’s eyes widened, and he reached out and pulled his sister back into his arms as the hour began to strike.
“Please, don’t go,” he gasped softly, faintly appalled to hear a tremor in his voice.
She hugged him tightly. “I have to, I’m sorry. I’d stay if I could. Just remember that I love you, and I’ll be watching over you. Try to be happy, Severus.”
At the last stroke of the clock, her warm little body dissolved and Snape found himself holding nothing but air and memories.
Snape stepped out of the Leaky Cauldron and turned his pale face up towards the sky. The air was colder than it had been when he’d gone inside well over an hour ago, and the rain had turned to snow. With a shiver, he turned up the collar of his cloak and walked stiffly across the thankfully empty rear courtyard. Automatically, he opened the magical arch in the blank wall of bricks, walked through it and headed back down the cobbled street of Diagon Alley, pausing at the first corner he came to.
Crowds of evening shoppers moved gaily past him without even noticing his silent presence. Still preoccupied with the recent past, he stared into the lighted window of the closest shop without seeing its contents. As he began to contemplate his dim distorted reflection in the glass, he suddenly felt a faint brush of warmth touch his cheek for a brief instant. Without thinking about it, he raised his hand and pressed it to the spot protectively, swallowing reflexively to reopen his suddenly constricted throat.
Then with a sigh, he lowered his hand and glanced up at the flakes of white that spiraled down out of the darkened sky. Making up his mind, he turned on his heel and stalked off down one of the narrower side passages that split off from the main alley.
If he hurried, there was just enough time to make it to Cavendish’s Apothecary. They might have the powdered nightshade he needed. They tended to be rather overpriced, but the quality was good, and if Albus wanted his pet werewolf to have his precious potion then he could just come up with the money that it cost to provide it.
Besides, life would be pleasanter all around if he simply made the Wolfsbane potion. It was good practice concocting something that complex, and if he made it, he didn’t need to be concerned about coming face to face with a monster down some long dark tunnel on the night of the full moon. Peace of mind was worth quite a lot.
A smile stretched itself across his lips, besides if Lupin drank the damned stuff, he’d have the pleasure of watching him wretch pitifully over its vile taste…always a bonus. Happiness, like beauty, was in the eye of the beholder, after all.