STAVE II: The First of the Three Spirits
Severus knew not what had awoken him. He lay quietly, his arm covering his eyes, trying to assess the situation without looking. He heard the distant sounds of thunder from outside the Shack, and realized it wasn't the weather he was hearing, it was the sound of the terrible war that was being waged down the road at the school. Then...the memory of his...his chat with Albus and his chains came back to him at the speed of light.
Lifting his arm, he looked about the room. He moved his arm, noting how the pooled blood caked his sleeve. It was tacky now; he'd been out for a while. Becoming at once aware of a foreign presence in the room, his heart began a slow thudding in his chest.
He squinted to focus on the shape materializing before him. As his eyes adjusted to the trick of light emanating from the form, he perceived the pale oval of a face. It was framed by long hair, and the more he looked, the redder the hair became. His eyes moved downward, and he could make out a flowing gown, with flowers circling the waist, the white dress covering the shape all the way to the floor. He could see the apparition was barefoot, and the feet were decidedly feminine. His eyes moved slowly back up to the face, and his heart hammered more quickly as he recognized it at last.
"I am the Ghost of Christmas Past, Severus," she answered. "That I look like Lily is your own doing."
"But why would I expect to see Lily's face on you? There must be a reason. It is you, isn't it? And it was Albus who came to me?" He saw that her head seemed to be crowned with a wreath of flowers, and they seemed to glow, as if there were hidden embers buried in them. She held in her hand a funnel-shaped hat, which she attached to her flowered belt as she took his hand to urge him up from the floor. He followed, stupefied, amazed that he could move. He could feel no real pain from the vicious bite on his neck, but the drying, clotting blood was uncomfortable. He could smell and almost swallow the hot, coppery taste of it.
"We are who you see, Severus, but we are not the same people we were in life. I will have you come with me, to visit the shadows of your past." She pulled him toward the high window, in which nothing but the sky could be seen from this angle.
"But, Lily...I mean, Spirit...I'm a mortal wizard. I can't travel as you apparently can. I'll fall, or collapse. I have been bitten by a vile serpent."
"Touch my robe, Severus. Trust me to lead the way."
He complied nervously, still staring at the face he thought he'd never see again. He'd follow her anywhere.
She pulled him toward the window, and he was only slightly surprised to feel his feet come up off the floor. As they passed through the dirty glass, he shut his eyes and held his breath. After a moment, he opened his eyes again, wondering where the town of Hogsmeade had gone. Instead of seeing the familiar streets and shoppes, he saw a dark and dreary room, a kitchen. His feet touched the floor, and he stood next to Lily-the-Spirit and watched his father and mother arguing. Glancing in the corner where he knew he'd find his seven-year-old self, he once again felt the helpless hatred toward the shouting man. Both his childhood self and his present, invisible self cringed when his mother ducked under the violent attack of his father.
"Why show me this, Lily?" he asked. "It's not a memory I will ever forget."
"You must see all the puzzle pieces that made you the wizard you are today, Severus. You have to become aware that you have shaped your own destiny. The feelings you had from childhood onward have all taken a part in your decisions."
"I know exactly why I made the decisions I made over the years," he replied testily. "What good does it do to take me back through these memories?"
"Such a sad, lonely, and frightened child you were, Severus," Lily remarked sadly. "Had you no friends who could show you that life wasn't always going to be this way?"
"Funny you should ask," he said, looking directly at her. "You were that friend."
She didn't answer. Instead, she took his hand, and he savored the contact. So fully was his focus on her touch that he didn't notice the change of scenery until she turned away, gesturing with her free arm to the surroundings. He looked around, seeing the castle grounds, the childish faces of the students who'd been part of his educational years. He dropped her hand in surprise as a memory he'd lost until this moment began playing out before him.
It was a young Lucius Malfoy in the center of a group of boys, and Severus was on the outskirts of the group, trying to be a part of it without drawing attention to himself. His middle-aged self looked on, his stomach churning, but he knew he was helpless to stop what was about to happen. He turned to Lily beseechingly.
"Take me away from this place, Lily," he asked. "Whatever lesson I must learn from this memory is better told to me instead of shown."
"Keep watching." There was ice in her voice, and Severus shuddered to hear it. In all the years he'd known her, even when she'd spurned his apology for calling her a vile name, he'd never heard this tone before. He moved his eyes back to the tableau before him.
Lucius waved the young Severus to the center of the group, and Severus watched helplessly as his boyish self nervously drew nearer to his then-idol. Lucius showed him a photograph, and smirked along with his cohorts as the young wizard gazed at it.
Severus, standing beside Lily, closed his eyes as he remembered what he'd seen in the photograph. It was as though he were looking directly at the photo now, and his face contorted at the memory. The photo was one of Lily, and Lucius had used magic to enhance it. Lily of the photo began pulling off articles of her clothing, one piece at a time, smiling provocatively at the photographer. By the time she was completely naked, the boys around young Severus had been rolling on the ground, laughing at the shock and dismay showing on Severus' face. They'd known just how to hit him hard.
The too-young Severus--only a second year at the time--had not harbored any wish to see his cherished friend in this light. It was unsettling, to say the least, and the very idea that these older boys were entertaining themselves at the expense of Lily's modesty was too much for him to take. He'd thrown the photo at Lucius, then had turned and run away from the crowd, his face hot as he'd heard the jeering laughter behind him.
He'd never told Lily about the photograph.
As Lucius must have known it would, it had colored his relationship with Lily ever after. He could not see her afterwards without remembering how she'd looked in the photo, and wondering how close to reality the magically-enhanced striptease could be. Had Lucius ever seen his Lily naked?
"Did you ever find out about that photo?" he asked of her now.
"I knew, Severus. I knew you saw it as well."
"Why did you never mention it?"
"If it embarrassed you to see it, how do you think I felt?"
"I would not have looked at it had I known what it was, Lily, I promise you."
"This isn't about me, Severus."
He looked at her, trying to divine her meaning from her eyes. But those green orbs gave nothing away, and she reached out once again for his hand. He clasped her fingers, noticing that three of the flowers in her hair were burning. Before he could comment about it, a busy street loomed up before him. He looked around at the people walking about, at the shops they went in and out of, and recognized Diagon Alley.
He followed Lily down the street, wondering at the incongruity of seeing her near the decrepit Knockturn Alley. As they walked down the decaying steps leading into the dark alley, he moved in front of her, as if to shield her pure soul from the filth and evil which surrounded them and permeated the very air. She smiled indulgently, then nodded toward the bookstore ahead. He followed her gaze, and saw himself as a young man, just about to enter the store. Lucius Malfoy was directly behind him, one hand on Severus' shoulder, guiding him inside.
This could be any number of memories, and so Severus did not hesitate when Lily urged him inside to witness what was about to happen.
"I really don't see why not," Lucius was saying. "You have a talent for potions; that much is obvious, if not to your employer. You're limiting yourself, you know. You could do much better than that apothecary. Use your talents for a master who would better appreciate them, and could offer you so much more than that paltry wage."
This, then, was the meeting that would prove to be a pivotal point in Severus' life. He'd met Lord Voldemort that day. He'd been interviewed by him, much like the interviews he'd had ever since leaving Hogwarts, and by the end of the meeting, he had secured a place in Voldemort's organization.
"You know, it wasn't until months later I realized what he had in mind," Severus confided to Lily.
She leveled a look at him. "Will you try to convince me you had no idea what that wizard was all about?"
Severus lowered his eyes, knowing he couldn't lie to her. "I knew he believed in pureblood supremacy. I knew he wanted me to help him in his quest to rid the world of those who did not follow him. But it was so distant at the time. It never hit home until..."
"Yes, until," she murmured. She touched his arm, and Severus blinked, then found himself sitting on a park bench, in the very park where he'd first met Lily. She sat by his side, and both Lily-the-Spirit and the older Snape moved nearer to where the two bowed their heads close together in conversation.
"You used to love me," the young Lily was saying. "Until a new idol took my place."
"What new idol?" he argued. "There's no one else."
"There are your friends, and that evil wizard they all follow. Those are the ones you love now."
"Nonsense, Lily. They are the means to an end, that's all. I know they're using me, but I'm using them as well. It will get me what I want, what I need."
"There was a time I thought I could give you those."
"I mean security...recognition...simple appreciation for my talents. But it's you I love, Lily."
"You don't love me enough to give them up, Severus. I can't live my life, knowing the sort you're associating with. I don't want to raise a family while always having to look over my shoulder to see if your friends are upset with something I do or don't do. Besides, I'm Muggle-born, and one day, they will force you to make a choice. If your love for security, recognition, and appreciation is stronger than your love for me, what will become of me? Of our children?"
"Lily, I will never give you cause to regret marrying me," he swore.
Severus-the-current groaned, pulling Lily-the-Spirit backward, away from the couple on the bench. "Please show me no more," he begged. "I see the folly of those words, I need not see more of this conversation. Take me from here now, before I relive all the hurt that came from this. Why do you torture me so?"
"These are but the shadows of your past, Severus," she said calmly. "That they are what they are, do not blame me."
He looked over to the bench, a single tear trailing slowly down his face as Lily the younger rose from the bench and walked away from young Severus, never looking back. He shut his eyes in pain, and when he opened them again, he found himself inside a house he didn't recognize.
But he recognized the people in it. James Potter was settling back on the sofa, lifting his socked feet to a footstool as Lily sat next to him, a bouncing baby on her lap, pulling her hair. She chuckled as she disengaged the baby's fingers.
"I saw an old friend of yours today," Potter was saying.
"Sniv...Snape," he replied. "He was in that apothecary in Diagon Alley."
"I'd heard through the grapevine he was apprenticing there. Did he say anything to you?"
"No, and he doesn't apprentice there anymore. Haven't you heard the latest? He got involved in research or something. Malfoy fixed him up in some posh position. Besides, I didn't stop in; I only saw him through the window. He saw me, as well. If looks could kill..."
She laughed gaily. "Stop it, James. He always has that look on his face. I'm sure he means you no harm."
"Sure. The first chance he gets, he's going to serve me up on a platter to his friends. Speaking of which, Albus Dumbledore says he has a safe house for us. We'll have to decide on a Secret-Keeper..."
Severus turned to look at the spirit by his side. "You knew? You knew I'd gone to the Death Eaters and instead of trying to talk me away, you were content with your family, laughing with James and Harry while I sold my soul to the devil?"
Lily smiled sadly. "I couldn't let your decisions ruin my life, Severus. None of us knew what was in store for us."
He dropped to his knees, pulling at her gown. "Lily, please forgive me. Had I but known what the information I took to Voldemort would result in, I never ... Please tell me you forgive me!"
From the corner of his eyes, he saw a swirl of shadows, and startled, he looked fully at his surroundings. "No, no, please not here," he begged Lily. "This is a memory I relive every day; what is the point of bringing me here to see it yet again?"
She turned to watched the scene unfold before them, and when Severus realized his pleas were wasted on her, he slowly made his way to the nearest parapet of the Astronomy Tower and looked down at the ground, feeling a touch of vertigo as his eyes adapted to the distance.
He patently refused to watch the scene play out, but he couldn't help but hear Albus' dying plea, and his own voice utter the Killing Curse. He shut his eyes tightly, but even from the top of the tower, he could hear the awful thud as his mentor, his friend, his would-be savior hit the ground.
He slowly turned to look back at the spirit. She calmly waited for him, then led the way through the door. Once he crossed the threshold, they were in the headmaster's office. Looking around, he realized this was probably the last thing she could show him of his past. She might wish to show him all the mistakes he'd made in the War of Hogwarts, but since the battle was probably still going on, even while his hallucinating self was dying, surely that would be something for the next ghost?
He snorted in disdain as he saw Arthur Weasley writing in his journal across the room from the headmaster's desk. Though the Minister had reluctantly approved of his position as headmaster, due to the Death Eater-riddled Ministry and the pressure they put upon his unknowing mind, he had wanted to let Severus know he was still being investigated under suspicion of murdering Albus Dumbledore. The only way he'd escaped Azkaban was by agreeing to be under 'castle-arrest'. Until further notice, he'd been under orders not to leave the castle unescorted, and all his activities had to deal with the running of the school and the supervision of the staff.
And the one they'd assigned to be his warden, for some obscure reason, had been Arthur Weasley.
He supposed he should have been grateful it hadn't been an Auror; this new breed was notorious for displaying their opinions of suspected murderers by using excessive and needless force whenever necessary, and Weasley, at least, wasn't that sort.
But it still burned that he couldn't even slip away to the Hog's Head on occasion for a much needed drink of spirits and a relief from the oppressive atmosphere of Hogwarts. He'd once brought it up to the Dark Lord, on a rare night when the foul wizard had seemed in reasonably good spirits. His reply had only served to remind Severus he was but a mere pawn in the overall scheme. "Think of it, Severus," he'd said. "You'll be in the perfect position to pick up anything Weasley might inadvertently drop about the Order. I never could find out if he was a member, but with his connections to the Ministry, he's bound to know something. We'll keep him there, I think. Besides, getting past the incarceration wards to meet with me has never proven difficult."
He tuned into the room now, hearing Weasley's scratching of his quill. His past self was sitting at the desk, brooding. Albus of the portrait was dozing.
"It's bloody cold in here, Snape," Arthur protested. "Can't we have a fire in the grate?"
He hadn't elaborated. Let Weasley freeze his bollocks off. Snape hadn't wanted a fire, because he hadn't wanted to encourage anyone to Floo-call him. For some reason, it seemed folks were less likely to do so if his grate was empty. Bad enough the owls always found him.
His past self called out, "Enter," at the knock on the door, and he watched Draco enter the room, a dreadfully cheerful smile upon his face. It was nice to see it, after all the turmoil Draco had been going through lately, but it still unsettled Snape.
"Merry Christmas, Headmaster," he called out. He nodded casually to Arthur, wishing him well, and Arthur smiled warmly before returning to his writing. This, too, was odd behavior for Draco, and Snape had waited with bated breath to see what was putting all the cheer into Draco's normally Weasley-hating heart.
"Codswallop," he'd replied to Draco's greeting. "Making merry at Christmas is only for fools who don't see the world around them. Or those who insist on ignoring it. What reason have you to be merry? You're in enough trouble."
"And what reason have you to be so gloomy? You've saved me from enough trouble. I've come to ask you to the party at home tomorrow."
"I spend enough time with that lot, and I should be allowed one day per year to ignore them."
"We have so much more to be forgetting this year than normal, though, don't we?" Draco asked, tongue in cheek. "Please come. Mother and Father would dearly love to have you."
Past-Snape sneered, and pretended interest in a book he took from his drawer. Draco, unperturbed, walked nearer to Weasley and began chatting with him, as if the two were old friends. "And how are all the little Weasleys, Mr. Weasley? Alright, then?"
"Mostly they are, yes, thank you. All excited about the hols, and even Bill and Charlie will be around to enjoy the season with us."
Snape filed away the information about the two elder Weasley boys in case he ever needed a tidbit of information to appease the Dark Lord. He shamelessly continued eavesdropping on the conversation across the room.
"Mostly?" questioned Draco. "None are ill, are they?"
"Well, Ginny is away from school; I don't know if you're aware of it. We don't know what's wrong. The Healers don't even know which tests to perform on her."
"Nothing serious, I hope."
"It seems so, I'm afraid. She hasn't any energy, no appetite, and she's not sleeping well. It just seems she's aging beyond her years, and just doesn't have the strength to go on. No one can explain it."
Draco looked up at Snape, catching his eye. "And are there no potions that could help? Perhaps she's merely depressed because Potter isn't here. He's off gallivanting around, doing who knows what, and she's missing him."
Snape looked away. He couldn't be arsed to be concerned about one of the many Weasley brood. And he'd be damned if Draco's suddenly genial mood would heap yet another burden upon his stressed shoulders, anyway. The watching Severus hung his head, feeling the guilt he knew Lily-the-Spirit had intended him to feel at his callous attitude.
"Well, St. Mungo's has all the potions to heal, I suppose," Arthur continued. "We can only wait to see if any of them help."
The door opened once again, this time without a warning knock, and past-Severus groaned under his breath as Lupin and Tonks entered. Tonks gave a jaded look over her shoulder to Draco, nodded at Weasley, and followed Lupin to Snape's desk. Lupin, without being asked, took a seat in the comfortable chair before the desk, grinning at Snape.
"And to what do I owe the pleasure, Lupin?" He didn't bother to hide the tone.
Tonks popped her gum and wandered around the office, glancing into each portrait and sometimes exchanging words with those who bothered to greet her. Lupin settled back in his chair and seemed to force himself to relax.
"I've come to ask your assistance, Snape," he answered. "I don't know if you've heard--" And here he glanced quickly at Snape, then back down again. "--but there has been another Death Eater raid in Muggle London. So many this time. They've lost their homes, many of them, and there have been deaths. More injuries than deaths, however, and none of these families will have any sort of Christmas this year."
"Is there no Muggle welfare system?"
"Of course, but under the impression that they scarcely furnish Christmas cheer of mind of body to the multitudes, a few of us are endeavouring to gather wizards to Transfigure and repair homes, feed them, conjure up some clothing and blankets, and perhaps a few gifts for the children. What shall I put you down for? An hour of your time? A few potions?"
"You wish to remain anonymous?"
"I wish to be left alone," Snape said acidly. "Since you ask me what I wish, Lupin, that is my answer. I don't make merry myself at Christmas--"
"That's certainly true," Draco cut in.
"--and I can't afford the time to make idle people merry."
"That's certainly not true," Draco contested, smirking.
Snape sent him a glare and continued as if uninterrupted. "They have shelters and hospitals and welfare agencies. Those who are badly off must go there."
"Many can't," Lupin argued, "and many would rather die."
"If they would rather die," Snape said nonchalantly, "they had better do it and decrease the surplus population."
Snape had the pleasure of seeing Lupin's eyes bulge at this, and without further word, he pointedly held his book up before his nose. Lupin's chair scraped over the floor as the wizard got to his feet, and Tonks moved past his desk to follow Lupin out the door. Draco leapt to his feet, following them, and making it a point to speak loudly enough that Snape could hear him.
"Professor Lupin!" he called out, joining them. "Put me down for five hours. I'll help wherever I can." He shot a last triumphant look over his shoulder to Snape, waved to Weasley, and closed the door behind them all.
"Codswallop," Snape murmured under his breath.
Arthur stood, pulling on his outer robe, preparing to leave for the day, to go home to his brood at The Burrow. Snape ignored him, but Arthur approached his desk anyway.
"Good night, Severus," he said softly. "As Christmas is tomorrow, I won't be in, so I'll wish you a Happy Christmas now."
"I suppose you'll want the whole day off," Severus grumbled.
"Why, of course. And surely you don't want the annoyance of my hovering on the holiday? You almost make it sound as though you'll miss me." He ducked his head, hiding his grin.
"It only means I'll be confined to the castle. And it won't be quiet this year, with all those annoying students around, whose parents think they'll be safer here."
"Well, surely they are safer here at Hogwarts than at their own homes," Arthur replied. "The Dark Mark has been showing up in far too many places, even in Muggle towns, over Muggle homes. Oh, I see," he interrupted himself. "You had plans for the day? Going to Christmas dinner at a friend's? I'm sure the Ministry will allow you to leave the castle on such a day as Christmas. I'll make sure to let them know your plans."
"Friends are for the idle," Severus snapped. "I only resent that I can't come and go as I please, that's all. You will no doubt be here all the earlier the next day, won't you?"
"No doubt. Well, then, have a good one. I'll see you on Boxing Day."
As the door closed behind Weasley, Severus-the-current glanced at Lily, but could not discern her thoughts from looking at her eyes. He noticed that the flowers in her hair were all burning now, and the flames seemed to grow bigger even as he watched. He grabbed the funnel-shaped hat from her belt of flowers, and before she could move, he brought it down upon her head, snuffing out the flaming flowers.
As he followed the hat down to the floor, wondering where she had disappeared to, he suddenly found himself back in the Shrieking Shack, pressing his hands flat to the filthy floor. Dropping his head in defeat, he allowed his emotionally exhausted self to collapse.