STAVE V: The End of It
He became aware of his physical body slowly. Intuitively knowing he'd been completely still for too long, he experimented with moving, a centimetre at a time. He began with his head. Relying mainly on gravity, he turned to the left, groaning audibly at the painful creak of his neck. When he realized he would survive future similar endeavours, he wrenched his head toward the right, and then went through the process again. After nodding from side to side three times, he found he could do it without the ache.
Feeling a bit more optimistic, he wiggled his fingers and toes, then concentrated on moving his hands, feet, arms, and legs. Sitting up could wait, he decided, his recent efforts having depleted his energy. Instead, he opened his eyes, seeing the dim light from someone's wand light the room only enough to see he wasn't in hospital, nor the hospital wing at Hogwarts.
And not in his bedchambers.
He licked his dry lips and shifted his hips against the bed coverings. As if his visitor had been waiting for signs of life from him, footsteps approached his bed, and he felt his shoulders being supported as he was lifted to a mostly sitting position. He drank gratefully from the glass put to his lips, and once his thirst was slaked, he took a closer look at his new friend.
"Oh, Severus, you've certainly put us through the wringer," she said, the tears in her voice belying the admonition. "It's been months since you've moved from your own efforts."
"Where am I?"
At her frown, he realized his voice wasn't working properly. It must have sounded as rusty to her as it had to himself. He tried again after clearing his throat. "Where am I?"
"You're in your new bedchamber," she said. "You've missed six months, you know. Six months when none of us knew whether you'd ever come back to us or not. Do you remember anything of the war?"
"I do. I will never forget," he croaked out. "What day is this?"
"It's Christmas Eve. Oh, the changes that have happened since the war! When you feel up to it, I'll try to fill you in on everything. But one thing you must know at once: Voldemort is no more. Harry, bless his heroic heart, had defeated him. The darkness that had shadowed us all these years is history now. Already, the event has been chronicled in the new textbooks."
"All the vital details skewered by the Ministry, no doubt."
"Yes, well, these days, debates about what really happened are encouraged instead of squelched. That's not something we could have said six months ago."
He took a closer look at her, relieved to see the Minerva he remembered, and not the prematurely aged witch he'd seen in the future. His heart began to lighten, and he threw her a brilliant smile. She lurched back a step, plainly shocked to see it.
"And what has become of Potter?" he asked her as he shifted to sit more comfortably.
"He's on a speaking tour, by popular demand," she said, watching his reaction carefully. "We all saw your memories, Severus. He showed them to some of us immediately after Voldemort's demise. Let me be the first to apologize. It breaks my heart to have learned the truth. I feel horrible for all the extra pain I must have caused you all the year before the war. Not trusting you... Albus had tried to tell us how loyal you were, that he never doubted you..." She broke off to wipe away the tears that began falling down her face.
"Minerva, you must realize that your distrust was vital. If ever you gave any indication that you trusted me, that you were aware I wasn't really Voldemort's lackey... My life would have been forfeit."
"Yes, logically I know that, but how alone you must have felt!"
"Minerva, it was nothing I hadn't experienced all my life."
It was a pitiful thing to say. He knew it as soon as the words left his mouth, and at once felt contrite. He looked up to her quickly, confirming that his words only added to her self-enforced guilt. He rubbed his eyes, trying to think of the right words to say that would make it all better. Then his hand froze as he remembered the dreams he'd had... the hallucinations... or were they?
Had he really been haunted by Albus and the three spirits of Christmas?
He slowly moved his hand to his throat, feeling the puckered scar tissue. Well, he hadn't imagined Nagini's attack, anyway. And imagination or not, he had things to do, a life to re-route. Filled with a new energy, he threw back the duvet and forced his weakened legs to the floor. Looking at Minerva over his shoulder, he shouted gleefully, "My clothes, Minerva! I don't know how much time I have to take care of things, but I know how much I need to take care of!"
She fussed over him all the while he dressed, even while averting her eyes as he pulled on his trousers. She helped him with his shoes, and he gave her a verbal list of places he wanted her to take him.
As they made their way out of the castle, Severus' legs finding more energy with each step, his entourage increased to Poppy Pomfrey, who argued all the while that he needed to get back to bed; Hagrid, who picked him up by the collar of his frock coat each time he started slouching; and Rolanda Hooch, who figured Severus waking up was the most exciting thing to have happened since the war.
The first stop was the Weasleys' Burrow, after Minerva assured him Ginny was still hanging on, if only by a thread. They were met by Arthur at the door, who'd spotted the group heading over from across the yard. He greeted them, congratulating Severus on coming back from the near-dead, but his voice seemed hushed, as if by habit.
"I'd like to see your daughter, Arthur," Severus requested quietly. "It is my hope that I can help find out what happened, and perhaps lend whatever skills I can to her recovery."
Arthur blinked away the tears gathering in his eyes, then turned to lead the group into the house. Leaving Severus to find his own way up to Ginny's room, he turned to ask the others why Severus was being so generous with his time and skills. "I would think his own recovery would be his highest priority," he finished.
"He would hear none of it," Minerva said. "He kept going on and on about making up for lost time. I couldn't make heads nor tails of it, really."
"Yeh s'pose his time in a coma had somethin' to do with his offer?" Hagrid mused aloud.
Molly, meanwhile had come into the kitchen and was bustling about, preparing tea and cakes for her guests. "I won't get my hopes up," she said softly. "The Healers and other experts have been at it for all this time... I know Severus is skilled, but..."
"I'm sure we understand, Molly," Rolanda said kindly. "You've been disappointed so many times. But he did seem to have a definite purpose in coming here today. Perhaps something... a dream, maybe..."
"Yes, Molly," Minerva added. "Almost as soon as he'd come to, he spoke of seeing her, seeing if he could figure out something. And we all know there's more than a likely chance it has something to do with a Dark Curse. We all know he did things for Voldemort no self-respecting Potions Master would admit to. If a Death Eater had cursed her, Severus is her best chance."
They all turned to the stairway as Severus' footsteps descended, holding their collective breath. He entered the kitchen smiling, and at once, Molly began to cry. "You know, don't you? You know what might help? Please, Severus..."
He, to the surprise of all in the room, including himself, wrapped an encouraging arm around her shoulder. "Molly, there is no doubt in my mind what has befallen Ginevra. I will return at once to my lab; I know which potion to brew. I won't guarantee success, but I will guarantee no Healer at St. Mungo's will have tried it. I'll be back this evening with the potion, and if it works, your daughter will be back to her usual self by morning."
This was the beginning of the rest of Severus' life. By morning, Ginny was back to flinging Bat Bogey Hexes at her brothers, her incapacity of the past several months barely remembered. The Ministry had long ago decided, during Severus' coma, that they need not concern themselves with suspicion over Dumbledore's death and Severus' involvement in it.
Severus had been devastated to learn of the deaths of Lupin and Tonks. He knew he'd carry his guilt over his uncaring attitude over their last request to him, but he dedicated several hours of his week to working with those despised Muggle institutions whose function was to help those Muggles in need. With a secret flick of his wand, or the surreptitious infusion of a potion, he managed to help many. It didn't erase the guilt, but it kept it in check. It was all he could do.
His visit to the Malfoy family resulted in a much more satisfying friendship. Without the Dark Lord to impress and ingratiate themselves to, the relationship between Severus and the Malfoys blossomed, and when a dinner invitation was offered, Severus tended to accept it with heartfelt thanks, and genuinely enjoyed himself. When he felt the pull of his love for Lily, he reminded himself of the lessons her spirit had taught him, as well as the things Hagrid had shown him, and he gradually learned not to dwell on the past.
During his recuperation, Minerva had been appointed Headmistress, and Severus was more than glad to formally relinquish his position, as if he'd never been sacked. He went back to teaching Potions happily, and his current students wouldn't have believed the horror stories the now-graduated, former students might tell them of their experiences with Snape. That couldn't be the wizard who so patiently walked them through their first potions experiments, and who pointed out errors in their grammar and punctuation in their essays, but didn't deduct points because of them.
And Minerva never had to ask him to get involved with things like Yule Balls and Halloween feasts. He embraced these opportunities to let loose and have fun, and when pranks were pulled on unsuspecting students in the hallways, it was always an even bet to find out if it were Snape or Peeves who'd done it.
And whenever Severus felt the old stirrings of intolerance, ignorance, and want burning in his heart, he only had to touch his scarred throat to remember the lessons the spirits had taught him on the night of the Battle of Hogwarts.