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A Hogwarts Carol by jessicadamien [Reviews - 1]

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STAVE IV: The Last of the Spirits

Severus drew in a deep breath, sitting up and trying to shake off the grogginess. He must have passed out, and upon realizing it, he froze. Before any more of his movements could give away his mental status to anyone lurking near, he tried to assess his surroundings. He remembered Hagrid and the two revolting urchins under his robe...then...

He opened his eyes, looking around. At first, he saw nothing, but as he let his eyes unfocus, a dark shape seemed to materialize just off to his right. He trained his eyes in that direction, and the shape began to take on form. By the time Severus got his feet under him, the shape suggested the skeletal structure of a man, though no features could be seen. There was a shroud or hood hiding what should be the face, and the part that should be feet never touched the ground. It undulated just far enough above the surface that Severus imagined it hovering, waiting to see what its reception would be.

"Will you not speak to me?" he asked it.

There was no answer, but Severus sensed it was listening. "Are you the one whose appearance had been predicted to me? Are you the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come?"

Still Severus could not hear an answer, but it did seem to him that the hood contracted slightly, as if the spirit nodded. The chilling fear had not left Severus, and it was too much, all too much for a single night. He dropped to his knees on the hard, unforgiving ground, allowing his wretched and exhausted soul to lay bare for anyone or anything to see.

"Spirit, it seems unfair to save you for the last," he moaned piteously. "I should have been able to deal with you when my strength was at a high, but to have two other spirits prey on me before you...it seems an unfair prank to play on me."

Immediately, Severus felt a bolt made of a thousand razors hit his mind, as though the most horrifying sight in the world had flashed without warning before his eyes. He felt his breath leave him in a rush, and as he struggled to draw in a new one, he vowed he would do nothing to upset the ghost who haunted him now. In a way, it was worse than being confronted by a dementor. Giving up on his sense of hearing, he tried to use his mind to tune into the ghost, who seemed to be using a communication method that had so far been denied Severus Snape.

Perhaps his overactive and tired consciousness was playing tricks on him, but Severus thought he heard hissing. Darting his eyes all around, he saw nothing but the desolate land, yet the hissing had seemed to come from a direction other than the spectre hovering before his face. Still, it was enough to get Severus back on his feet, and he turned, defeated, to the dark, flowing and ebbing shape.

"Spirit, I fear you more than any of the others. I know you have things to show me, things I'm to learn from the experience. But hear me: I have learned. I have compared what has happened to what is happening, and I know I must be a better wizard in the future. Surely because I've learned these lessons, there is no need to follow you now?"

He discerned part of the shadow moving away from its center, elongating until it formed a limb, and this now pointed forward. Mesmerized, Severus stared at it until he began to see a long-fingered, bony hand. The rest of the shadow dropped slightly down from it, resembling a loose sleeve. If he stared at the being long enough, Snape wondered, would he finally see a familiar face?

But it gave Severus no time for idle mental wanderings. It emphasized the direction Severus must take by thrusting its hand again toward it, and Severus nodded once before dragging his feet onward. As he tried to imagine what unbearable sights he might now see, he also recalled some of the things he'd already seen.

His steps quickened almost eagerly now, for he wanted to see how Ginny Weasley had fared, and what had ultimately happened with the Dark Lord and the Malfoys. Even wishing to see what fate befell Harry Potter, his eyes searched the horizon, looking for any sign of light, any movement at all.

He was disappointed as the land around him began to take shape. With almost no difference in lighting, he could pick out buildings, a cobblestone street under him, and the slow movement of people in dark clothing walking about. He looked to his right, and his shadow ghost was there. Severus could see by the shape of its hood that it was looking at him. It discomfited him to know he was being watched without having a specific target, such as eyes, to watch back.

"Is this place supposed to be familiar to me?" he asked it. "I don't recognize..." His voice trailed off as realization hit him. "Of course!" he muttered. We used to meet here..." He concentrated on the secret address, number 12, Grimmauld Place, and felt relieved to see the decrepit old house materialize between the two tenement buildings in front of him.

"Spirit! How strange you should bring me here!" he exclaimed almost happily. "This is the one place where my voice was heard, the only place anyone even came close to appreciating my efforts, recognizing the risks I took for them all."

He eagerly headed toward the back stairs that led down to the kitchen, where the gathering of Order members had taken place. He pulled up short as he saw the wizards and witches sitting around the table. It wasn't until he heard her speak that he recognized Minerva. How far into the future had the spirit taken him? How Minerva had aged! Her hair was snow white, and she trembled with palsy. Her voice was feeble, but in spite of that, he could see the rest leaning forward, straining to hear her every word.

"We should not be surprised the Ministry didn't see it our way. Even Harry's pleas fell on deaf ears. In spite of everything that happened during the Battle of Hogwarts, the Ministry just will not acknowledge what happened. We'll just have to make sure we do things our way, as we have always done. Albus would have done the same."

"That may be, Minerva, but not all of us bought into that misunderstood hero nonsense. Still, I'll attend the memorial service if you provide a lunch." Severus struggled to put a name to the face, and though the years had played hell on the features, it had to be Kingsley. But he'd never heard Kingsley speak so ill of anyone before.

"I can't help but think it's best all around if we let it go, Minerva." This from Arthur Weasley. "Too many would rather forget he ever existed, you know. He stirred up ill feelings, whether those feelings were from mistrust or guilt."

"How can we ignore him?" Minerva protested. "No one's passage from this world should be ignored like this!"

"It's simply not worth the trouble the Ministry will give us, Minerva, not for him. It's nothing he would have wanted anyway, the antisocial being that he was. Just let it go, eh?" Severus recognized Charlie Weasley, and wondered why he looked no older than when Severus had last seen him, when Minerva looked so much older. Could the war against Voldemort and all it entailed have aged her so?

"You're right," Minerva said at last, sighing heavily. "The public doesn't want to know, do they?"

Who was this unfortunate soul they were discussing? And why was there so much controversy in allowing a simple memorial for it?

As the spirit beckoned to him, Severus took one last look over his shoulder, but couldn't find his own face among those at the table. So, in the future, he was no longer a member of the Order? Or...had Voldemort been victorious at the war? Perhaps that's why he didn't see himself in attendance here. Had he, once and for all, gone completely over to the Dark Lord?

The kitchen faded out as Severus and the spirit passed the doorway, and instead of the stairs leading back up to the hallway, he saw Malfoy's sumptuous sitting room. Yes, here then, he would find himself, he decided. Here is where he must be in this uncertain future.

"It were inevitable, weren't it?" a small, hump-backed wizard was saying. "I hear tell he was always mixing with those rough types, and they always turn on their own."

"Serves him right, I say," added another. "He shoulda stuck to his cauldrons, and not meddled in things what didn't concern him."

"I hear he was in it up to his neck," argued still another. "He done sold his soul to that lot, and he weren't right ever since."

Severus stepped back reflexively as they spoke, wondering where the Malfoys were, and why these strange wizards were sitting in this room as if they owned it.

"Was it horrible?" the hump-backed wizard was asking. "I hear the whole room was awash in blood."

"Well, it wan't pleasant," came the answer. "We was slipping and sliding all over the floor, but weren't as much blood as they say. The stench were awful. 'E musta been there three days afore we came cleanin' up. All dead bodies smell, but this one had the added stench of Dark evil, not to mention the three-day delay. He didn't resemble anything he'd been while alive, I know that."

"We was all fer magickin' the whole room clean, body an' all, but Shacklebolt wouldn' hear of it. He made us do it the hard way... figured there'd be some evidence he needed, or somethin'."

"Glad it's all over," hump-back said. "Hey! I hear they're searching for 'is home. Do they think he's got riches stashed away?"

The others laughed heartily. "Him? Rich? You think he'da been so wretched if he had money?"

When the spirit moved toward the door, Severus eagerly followed, anxious to be away from the blatant lack of respect for the dead.

They left the manor, Severus still wondering what had happened to the Malfoys, and instead of the lush grounds of the estate Severus would have expected, he saw the dingy and filthy cobblestoned streets and depressing buildings in Knockturn Alley.

He picked up a few words from the voices around him. Turning suddenly, he confirmed that particular tone was coming from Augusta Longbottom. She was near the corner, arguing with the landlord of the pawn shoppe over the contents of the sack she'd emptied in front of him.

"You'd better be prepared to hand over some serious coin for this lot," she said authoritatively. "He got these from Grindelwald himself! Not directly, of course, but he inherited everything Dumbledore had, and Dumbledore's the one who stole them from Grindelwald. It was part of the ingredients list to make the Sorcerer's Stone."

"Yes, Missus Longbottom, but not a rare part," the shopkeeper said slyly. "I have a hundred of these rocks. Now, then...can you hand over the Elder Wand?"

"You know bloody well no one knows where it is," she spat. "Except Harry Potter, and no one can find him, either."

The shopkeeper smirked, then calculated the price he'd be willing to pay for the rest of Augusta's loot. "You're a brave soul, milady," he said, picking up a mask Severus would recognize for the rest of his days. "Flaunting a Death Eater mask about like this."

"Jamming it down into a sack full of junk isn't exactly flaunting it," she replied. "Have you the nerve to display it here?" Her own smirk challenged his.

"Well, everyone what comes in here probably already has their own," he said, chuckling. "Ten Knuts, no more for that one. What else is in here?" He continued picking through the trinkets. "And what's so special about this ladle? Did it brew the Elixir of Life or something?"

"No doubt," she said. "It's supposed to be his favorite, so whatever potions he brewed, this ladle has touched it. Clearly, it's worth a bit more? He did brew some fine potions."

Severus leaned as close as he dared to the dark spirit. "Tell me there's another Potions master they know, Spirit. Those aren't my possessions, are they?"

The ghost pointed his cold bones toward the counter. "No, I can't," argued Severus. "Just tell me what I need to know; I can't bear to look."

The ghost only jerked his hand harder toward the counter. Severus lurched to the door instead, throwing himself out of it and waiting for the ghost to join him. Wild thestrals couldn't drag him back in there, ghost or no ghost.

When the spirit silently took a place by his side, Severus looked at it in gratitude, not knowing what it was thinking. Was it feeling pity? Or was it sneering at him?

He realized it didn't matter. As long as he didn't have to confirm what he suspected, the ghost could be as smug as he wanted. Severus dragged his weary body along as the spirit led him away.

As they began to climb the stairs that would take them out of Knockturn Alley into Diagon Alley, Severus blinked uncertainly. Instead of the shoppes and crowds of wizards and witches he'd expected to find, all he could see was a dreary room in a house that must be about to fall down. Though he sensed it should be familiar to him, he had no time to think. On the floor was a shrouded body, clearly dead. The sheet covering it was blood-stained, and the dizziness he suddenly felt forced him to grab hold of the table to keep on his feet. Without seeing it, Severus knew the spirit was pointing to the body.

"No, no, don't ask it of me," Severus moaned, his free hand covering his eyes. "At the risk of my eternal soul, I will not look. You've tried to do your duty and educate me, but I was a teacher! I know you can't force one to learn. Let's just call this a good try, and I beseech you to return me to...to wherever it was you found me!"

Hearing nothing, and more importantly, sensing nothing, Severus slowly withdrew his shaking hand, opening his eyes. They were gone from the dark room with the dead body, and he recognized the staff lounge at Hogwarts. Minerva was sitting quietly near the fireplace, a cup of tea warming her hands.

As he watched, the door opened, admitting Rolanda and Sybill. Rolanda poured two cups of tea, offered one to Sybill, then joined Minerva on the sofa. Sybill took a chair opposite.

"Does it seem to you that we're no better off than before the war?" Rolanda asked rhetorically.

"How do you mean?" Sybill asked.

"Well, we've no more worries about the children's safety, but when's the last time you saw any of them smile?"

"The smiles will come back soon," said Minerva. "They just don't know how to feel, I suppose. Was he a hero or a villain? The poor dears must be told how to feel."

"If you ask me," Rolanda put in, "those were dark times. Especially once he was appointed headmaster. We could have done so much better without that complication, you know."

"Has the Ministry ever decided whether or not he'd altered those memories?"

"I don't know, Sybill. They never tell me these things."

"You know," added Rolanda, "if he would just have been more human with us, I wouldn't have cared what his allegiances were. All it would have taken was a smile now and then...maybe some small talk. Why did he always have to be so cold toward us? We'd all been working together for so long, and for him to be such a stranger. It's not natural."

"Well, it's all in the past now," Minerva said, rising and going to rinse out her cup. "Let's let the wounds heal."

Severus went quickly to Minerva's side, and though he knew she couldn't see or feel him, he rested his hand on her shoulder. She trembled, then pulled her shawl more tightly around her. "This room has picked up a new draught," she muttered. "I thought the reconstruction crew took care of all the cracks."

"The elves aren't as good as they used to be," Rolanda said, rolling her eyes. "They've been S.P.E.W.'ed, whatever that means."

Severus drew back his hand, crossing his arms over his chest and hanging his head. When he looked up again, he and the spirit were in The Burrow. His head was beginning to ache from all the sudden changes in scenery, but his heart quickened. Rushing up the stairs, he burst into the room he knew to be Ginny's and looked at the empty bed.

He stared, unbelieving, until the ghost entered behind him and moved to his side. "Where is she?" he demanded of it. The ghost aimed his ossified hand out the window, and Severus ran to it. Down below, in the garden, he could see Weasleys of all ages and sizes, all gathered around a willow, whose branches languidly stirred the pond behind it. As the crowd of redheaded relatives shifted, he could make out a white coffin, draped in rose garlands, and he staggered back, falling onto Ginny's bed.

"It didn't have to be that way," he said, his impotent voice breaking. "Had I thought about it for a while, I would have figured out which potion..."

He looked up at where the spirit's face should have been. "Arthur... he once asked me... I told him I was too busy keeping his son out of harm's way... I was so cruel... Spirit, tell me. Who owned that body in that dark house? Whose blood stained that sheet? I must know!"

The spirit backed toward the door, but even as Severus demanded knowledge, he knew he didn't have the nerve to go back there. He reached out for the hood, grasping, but his hand came back empty. The spirit was out the door, and Severus had no choice but to follow. He feared he'd be left in this future realm, and he'd spend eternity without answers.

As he began descending the rickety stairs, he began to hear the wind whistling through weeds and cattails. Looking around, he could see a blanket of fog obscuring the weak lamplight from down the road. The hooting of an owl sounded muted, and there was enough light only to show him flat and tilted stones. A churchyard then.

He saw to his left a freshly packed mound of dirt, and with a sinking heart, he followed the spirit nearer to it. "Is this the final resting place of the poor soul we saw in that shack? The one who was all alone? The one who was covered up with a shroud, but left alone there?"

The spirit stopped at the new headstone, facing Severus silently. He approached slowly, one cautious foot at a time, as if by delaying, he could be ignorant forever. But his thirst for knowledge drove him onward, and for each step he took forward, the spirit took another sideways, until Severus was all alone with the newly-dug grave. Turning toward the ghost, he tried one last time.

"What you've shown me, Spirit... might those be the shadow of things that will happen? Or could they be shadows of things that only might happen?"

The ghost stood motionless, not giving any indication he'd heard the question.

"Of course," Severus continued fervently, "what would be the point in showing me anything? You were to provide me with a lesson about my life and how I'm living, weren't you? There must be a point to all this, or I'd be asleep in my bed at this moment! I'm being given an opportunity to make amends, Spirit! I can alter the future! Why else must I suffer this torment? There is a reason! It couldn't be anything else!"

With his own words giving him the needed strength, he forced himself to turn and look at the grave. The fog had caused a mist to settle over the surface of the stone, and he shook his hand to stop it from shaking, then deliberately smeared it across the stone, revealing the name etched under it.

1960 - 1998

"No... no... no... NOOOOOOO!"

His anguished moan filled the lonely boneyard, and he fell against the accusatory stone and wept. Hot scalding tears poured out of his tortured heart, and instead of cleansing him, he felt the acid eat away at him.

He pounded his fist over the rough edge of the stone, blindly hoping to substitute one less debilitating pain for the other, but to no avail. He struck out at the stone until his blood mixed with the rain, now coming down around him and mixing with his tears. He kept slamming his fist, again and again, until he dimly became aware it no longer hurt. He gasped, struggling for breath, and realized he was dry.

He turned his head, which felt as though it hadn't been moved in a very long while, and slowly, slowly, the room around him came into focus. As his breath stopped in his throat, he began to remember...

a/n: The Latin epitaph on Snape's grave is translated to mean, "Hell leads to hell." In other words, one misstep leads to another.

A Hogwarts Carol by jessicadamien [Reviews - 1]

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