Disclaimer: JK Rowling, Warner Bros, Scholastic & Bloomsbury Books all own the Harry Potter universe.
Warnings: You should avoid this fic if you are claustrophobic.
Author's Notes: Post-DH, not a romantic story. Based on a dream I had.
There was nothing left to do. Time had frozen for Severus, the pouring of memories distilled into Potter's hand, his last act. The Granger girl, her eyes wide and frightened. His gaze sought the green eyes that he had done his best to protect, and then time swirled away.
Surely this cannot be death, this murky consciousness. He struggled to understand why death involved such a pain in his neck.
"Don't move, professor."
The voice shocked him. A girl's voice, familiar, and he tried to understand what was happening, but nothing seemed to fit together at all.
"This will hurt, I'm afraid." The voice was all steel now, determined, and he opened his mouth to say something, but then it did hurt. A lot. He was shrinking and flattening and becoming thin as paper, and the walls receded until his only view was that of a face illuminated by wandlight. More words spilled from her mouth, nothing he recognized, but then he could feel the flat metal behind his back, and the last thing he saw was a metal lid blocking out everything beyond it.
He could not move. Pinned, confined thusly, his mind could not even begin to process this turn of events. A feeling that might have been Apparition washed over him momentarily, adding another unwelcome layer of suffocation, and then there was a strange sound. Water, splashing, perhaps?
The tin began to fill with water.
Horrified, he tried to move, to escape, anything, but he was held completely powerless, sandwiched firmly within.
His mind rebelled. He could do nothing except rage against everything, everyone, the girl who had imprisoned him, the Dark Lord, Nagini, the girl, Potter, the girl, the girl. Some small part of him feared that he would go insane. He could feel the tin floating, end over end.
Locked in a litany of rage. It seemed an eternity. It could only be half a minute. He had no idea, in this confined consciousness. The only thing he knew was that he vastly preferred three dimensions to two.
Another eternity or two passed before he realized that he still breathed. Despite the water. The girl wanted to keep him alive. She wanted him to endure this. He didn't know if he could. How much she must hate him.
Dark thoughts consumed him. The devils of his past paraded in the utter mindless dark of the tin. He felt it in his paper-thin heart, all fury, all pain, all fright.
He nearly forgot his name.
Brilliant, brilliant expanding light. Blind until he heard a whispered spell. Expanding, rushing, water pouring from his body, all too much to believe.
"I had to see." The girl's voice.
The voice he'd heard in his head forever. He squinted. "Granger?" he rasped.
"I wasn't certain if it would work," she said. But she was no girl now. She was a woman, her face thinned, her eyes full of something sharp. "I had to know--I lay awake at nights, wondering if you--if you were still--"
"What have you done?" he said in horror.
A motion of her wand, and he saw it then, the battered, thin tin, and the lid, rising to cover him again. "No!" he screamed. It was to no avail. His arms and legs would not respond. He had no time to react as the world grew larger around him, as the metal rushed toward him, as the light was eclipsed, as he sank anew into water.
A wave of despair. The knives of his mind still functioned, and he scraped at himself, tried to suffocate, tried to destroy his own sanity.
It didn't work.
The next wave of despair was even worse.
After an eternity he came to himself. He floated in darkness, the inky shapes of regret indistinguishable from the sable shadows of hatred. He only remembered her face, the look of concentration fierce as she pinned him back in his tin prison. He could not weep, fixed as he was. He could not twitch. Only the feel of his breathing, imagined as it was, reminded him of sanity. Only the counting of his breaths could convey time to him, and it was not to be trusted. The numbers wriggled and swarmed.
Granger. The thought rose to the surface of his mind. Why had she done this? What was her goal? The very thought of her name drove him into another rage which swirled about him and shivered on his paper-thin body.
Again he fixed on her name. Granger. It made no sense. Heal him and imprison him. What crime could he have committed against her? How could she have done this?
A tingle of magic. The tin moved. His mind roared with tension. This could be his chance. Overpower her, crush her, tear her to pieces with his bare hands.
Granger stood, studying him. A twirl of her wand, and he twirled before her, mute with rage. She examined him, close enough that he could put her eye out with his thumb, but his arm wouldn't respond. His hand twitched, and the resulting pain nearly undid him.
"You are still in good working order," she said crisply, and for one surreal moment she sounded like Minerva. She raised her wand.
"Please!" He had no time to say another word before he was reduced and imprisoned once again, dropped neatly into water.
This wave of despair was different. Less rage. More pain. He didn't bother to breathe.
Eventually his thoughts converged. Granger. Her hair was graying. Just a few, but there were lines around her eyes that hadn't been there before. Her robes had been professionally elaborate.
How much time had passed?
Numbers spiraled around him, falling and cycling in turns, trailing black in their wake. After an eternity, he came to himself again and thought, thirty years. Thirty years I have been in this tin.
How many breaths? How many endless moments? Wasn't that an oxymoron?
Another wave of despair. Ebony spots swarmed his vision.
A gradual stilling. No breathing. No numbers to count. His mind pulled together. Focused.
The water was warm.
He could feel it, then. A turtle. Another fish, its maw extended, gobbling up a frog. A frog, being gobbled.
He could stretch only to the edge of the pond before it greyed out and became a hash of nonsense. But the pond, now, that he could feel. Morning and night, dragonflies tickling the water lilies. A song from a monotonous cicada. Other things, prickling, feasting, jumping.
This eternity stretched on and on. Winter froze, winter hurt, ice frosting over his tin. He slowed the cycles of his mind.
Spring brought him life, energetic water gliders, a tadpole who was quite determined to become a frog. A bird splashed on the water occasionally. The dead fish rotted away. The snails hummed methodically as they crossed from one side to the other.
Another winter. Another spring. Counting was futile. There were still moments of panic. She had abandoned him. He would be trapped there forever.
Forever ceased to be a meaningful word. Eternity. Endless. He said them all in a useless litany, reciting within his mind. His heart did not beat.
The motion of the pond became his motion. The life within the pond became his life. Born, dying, born, dying, every new moment a rush toward the end. A fish or two, a grey dove, a pale flower. He could not see it, but he could feel its paleness like a spiderweb on his cheek. There was nothing to do except be still. There was everything to feel. The vibrations of the rain, filling and renewing. The glow of a moon.
This eternity passed and became part of the next eternity. Winter and summer, melding within each other, the music of the rushes.
The explosion of light was crippling.
Blind and soaked through, his first breath was a horrible gasp, painful and swollen. His mind struck out against this force. The pond teemed behind him and diminished, growing smaller and pulling away. He could not open his eyes. His heart pummeled his ribs. The dirt under his hand stabbed his palm.
"Severus." Whose voice? Granger, of course, it had to be, because everything revolved around her, everything flowed from her, she flowered and dissipated before him, revealing herself as a very old woman.
"You're free," she said, and then coughed. She leaned on a cane.
His mind had to search for a very long time before he could locate the word.
"Free," she repeated.
His mouth tasted the air, cloying and fetid. His head spun.
"You can start again." Her eyes drew him in.
He wanted to vomit. His lungs brought in another gasp of air and he coughed and coughed. There was blood on his lip, not fishblood nor frogblood but warm blood.
"You haven't aged at all," she said in satisfaction. "The spell held."
He squinted at her. She was stooped over, her flesh wasted. Her eyes were dull and the skull showed beneath her skin.
"Severus, you have a chance now. To live your life." She waved her cane at him. "I'm the last one. Ron, Harry...they've gone on." She coughed again. "I'm not long for this world, myself. I can hear them calling me. But you...you need to live in a world where no one remembers you."
He could only stare at her in horror. "This is why--"
"Perhaps not at first," she said, leaning more heavily on her cane. "Perhaps...I only wished to protect you. But that was a dream I haven't had..." She shook her head. "You have the whole world ahead of you." She drew her wand and he flinched and tried to slide away from her. "I give you my wand." She dropped it on the ground in front of her and turned away.
He stared at it. Such a simple thing, lying there in the dirt. He could hurt her--he could kill her--
"I will not hold it against you if you should choose to revenge yourself upon me," she said, turning back to look at him.
His body, rounded, no corners, he could barely understand it at all. But this he could understand. A wand. A way. A new path.
The girl. He watched as she shuffled away slowly.