(Finding) Life After Voldemort
"I refuse to apologize, I'll have you know." Minerva sat in the chair at Severus' bedside, her legs crossed at the knees and her arms folded over her chest. She fixed Severus with a stern expression that he still remembered from his days as a student.
"That's because you have more sense than the other maudlin nitwits around here," Severus said, privately relieved beyond measure that she didn't intend to moan and dribble at him.
"Other maudlin nitwits?" Minerva delicately raised an eyebrow. When it came to conveying messages with eyebrows, Minerva was the only person at Hogwarts whose ability had ever rivaled Severus' own. Just then, her eyebrow was indicating that he should tread carefully lest she hex him thoroughly enough to set his recovery back by a week.
Never having been one to back down when threatened, Severus said, "I would exclude you from that category, but you're a Gryffindor. That makes you a nitwit by default."
"It's largely Gryffindors who are responsible for the fact that virtually all of the Death Eaters are either dead or in Azkaban, you do realize."
"As I said…"
Although she was clearly trying to appear unamused, Severus saw the corner of Minerva's mouth twitch up for an instant. "By that logic, you're the greatest nitwit of us all."
"You've no idea," Severus lamented.
Turning serious, Minerva said, "We realized that you were on our side in the end. Well, Filius did. When you chose to leap out a window rather than really fighting us, your allegiance became fairly clear. To a cerebral Ravenclaw, at least."
"But less so to a hotheaded Gryffindor nitwit?" Severus smirked.
"Quite," Minerva said, her tone dry. "As if you've any room to speak of someone else's temper," she sniffed. "Anyway, we did put it all together, but by then he was coming and everything was happening all at once. We're very fortunate that we were able to get to you in time once the worst was over. I've no idea how you managed to hold on for as long as you did."
A strict potions regimen combined with an obstinate streak a kilometer wide was likely the cause, but Severus didn't bother explaining. Instead, he shrugged. "Believe me, it's as much a surprise to me as anyone. I never expected to survive the war."
Sadness shone in Minerva's eyes, and Severus looked away. Pity was the last thing he wanted from anyone.
"Well," Minerva said, "like it or not, you have survived. So what do you intend to do now?"
"I haven't a clue." Severus had never dared to plan that far ahead. "You can be bloody certain it won't involve teaching."
With a snort, Minerva said, "I believe that could have gone without saying. At any rate, I suspect you'll have a number of other options. Word of your heroism is spreading. And you have friends who will help you in any way that they can."
Although Severus cringed at the notion of being regarded as something so absurdly Gryffindor as 'heroic', a tiny spark of hope flared within him at Minerva's words. It would do him more harm than good to be unduly optimistic, though, so he said, "Not many, I should imagine. I haven't given anyone much reason to wish me well."
"Poppycock," Minerva declared. "Learn to accept praise, assistance, and your freedom with grace, Severus," she advised him firmly. "You’ve earned them."
Severus hadn't had room in his life for the sort of mundane things others took for granted in many years, nor had he thought himself deserving of them. But now the Dark Lord was truly gone and Severus' debts were repaid. Perhaps -- just perhaps -- he could allow himself a few luxuries.
"So tell me, Pomona," Minerva said as she picked up her teacup, "how is your new protégé shaping up?"
"Splendidly," Pomoma replied. "Neville's always been a natural with Herbology. He only needed to gain a bit of confidence."
"He found it when it was most important. No thanks to Augusta," Minerva added a bit tartly.
Pomona's cup paused halfway to her lips, and she turned her head to gaze out her office window. "You know, for the longest time I thought he should have been in my House. But then in that last year, well, he showed us all why he'd been Sorted into Gryffindor."
"He certainly did," Minerva said. "I'm proud of him." Neville had come a long way from being the clumsy, forgetful eleven-year-old she'd first met. It seemed that he was one of those rare people who discovered the best of themselves amidst trying circumstances.
"We all are. If we told him, though, he'd stammer and blush ten shades of scarlet, poor boy!" Pomona said, chuckling.
"Isn't it ridiculous? He can wield Gryffindor's sword in battle, but he still can't take simple praise."
Pomona laughed outright at that and shook her head. "Still, he's gaining more faith in himself by the day. The plants love him. So do the students, for that matter. He'll make a wonderful professor one day soon."
"Not too soon, I hope," Minerva said, giving Pomona a pointed look.
"Oh, tosh. Not for another year or two, you know that. But what does it matter? You plan to retire within a couple of years as well. And you've earned it, dearie."
"I won't disagree with you on that point." Minerva said. "It just feels strange, so many of the old guard leaving more or less at once. You, me, Rolanda, Poppy, even Severus. The children have grown up and are about to usher in a new era for Hogwarts."
"It's the way it should be. If you'll recall, we old guard were the new watch once upon a time," Pomona said.
"I do recall. Which is precisely why I'm nostalgic."
Pomona gave Minerva a broad smile, the one that made the lines around her eyes crinkle. "Well, me too. But," she said, setting her teacup aside, "I don't intend to allow myself to become covered in dust and cobwebs just yet. I have plans for my ample free time."
"I'd like to build a greenhouse for myself and then fill it entirely with plants of my own choosing. Can you imagine, me growing something as mundane as tomatoes and cucumbers?"
"I can, but only if there's a Venomous Tentacula or two at the other end of the greenhouse."
"You know me too well," Pomona conceded. "Now enough about my silly ideas. What do you plan to do?"
Funny, Minerva thought; hadn't she asked Severus the same question not so long ago? "Besides give a new meaning to the term 'old cat lady?'"
"Oh, stop that," Pomona said, though she laughed.
"I could help you with that greenhouse if you like," Minerva ventured. "You might have heard; I'm not half bad at Transfiguration."
"I'd like that very much," Pomona said. "I don't see any reason at all why we should stop spending time together simply because we're no longer colleagues. In fact," she leaned in closer, "I think we might even be able to see more of each other once we no longer have to live for the job." With her last words, she reached towards Minerva and slid her fingers over Minerva's hand. There was nothing demanding in the gesture; it was a tentative, questioning touch that Minerva was free to accept or refuse.
Minerva's heart fluttered in her chest in a way that was surely absurd for a woman her age, but she found that she had no desire to reject Pomona's offer. Quite the opposite, in fact. Rather than withdrawing, she twined her fingers with Pomona's and clasped their palms together.
"We might at that," Minerva said and smiled. It was never too late in life to find new pleasures, it seemed.
The room was too crowded, the lights were too bright, the food was too rich, and his dress robes itched. Alastor never had liked these fancy affairs. This was a special Ministry event, though, celebrating the end of the war and honoring its heroes, so Alastor had felt somewhat obligated, and even perhaps a little proud to attend.
Of course, any sense of obligation or pride had entirely vanished halfway through the tedious ceremony. Escaping to the reception afterwards had been a relief, but that had quickly grown tiresome as well. Alastor intended to leave just as soon as everyone important was too drunk to notice.
Pushing his way through the throng, Alastor spotted Snape in one of the quieter corners of the hall, one hand holding a champagne glass, his other arm crossed over his chest, and his mouth turned down in a frown. Alastor wasn't terribly surprised to see him sitting alone. No doubt he'd chased off any poor fool who'd shown interest in chatting with him.
Not bothering to ask if Snape minded, Alastor stumped over and fell into the chair beside him. "You look like you can't decide who to hex first," he said, jostling Snape's arm with his elbow.
"I'm approximately two minutes away from saying to hell with propriety and bolting for the nearest exit," Snape replied without taking his eyes off the offending crowd.
Although Alastor shared the sentiment, he said, "They just gave you an Order of Merlin, boy!"
"Yes, they did, and now I'm ready to take it home."
Alastor snorted. "Can't say I blame you. I've been to a lot of Ministry functions in my day, and let me tell you, this one raised the bar for long, boring, pompous speeches."
"Indeed. It was so tiresome that the Aurors stationed at the doors were virtually being lulled to sleep. After a while I was certain the officiating individuals were in league with rogue Death Eaters and that any moment Dark wizards would burst in and kill us all. And the worst part is, I wouldn't have minded overmuch."
"Christ, Snape, and I thought I was a paranoid bastard!" Deciding that the smirk on Snape's face meant he was joking, Alastor snickered. Then he reached into his pocked, withdrew his flask, and spun the top off.
Raising his eyebrow at Alastor, Snape said, "They have a free bar here, you are aware."
"Bah! I shouldn't have to tell you how easy it would be for someone to poison the punch bowl, so to speak!"
Snape eyed the glass in his hand suspiciously.
Barking out a hearty laugh, Alastor said, "It was a joke, Snape! Do you really think I wouldn't take advantage of an open bar? Where do you think I filled up the flask?" He shot Snape a wink with his good eye and then took a swig of Firewhisky.
"In that case," Snape deadpanned, "Can I buy you the next round?"
Before Alastor could answer, a bang, a shout, and a thud came from the opposite end of the room. Both Alastor and Snape were instantly on their feet with wands in hand. Alastor turned both eyes towards the source of the noise and realized that, rather than an influx of Apparating Dark wizards, the ruckus seemed to be nothing more severe than a couple of stuffed shirts getting into a drunken brawl. Alastor reckoned they deserved whatever black eyes and broken noses they ended up with, and at least it broke up the tedium.
He and Snape looked at each other, shrugged, pocketed their wands, and sat down in unison.
"The Aurors can deal with it," Snape said, waving his hand in a dismissive gesture.
"Aye," Alastor agreed. "Something needs to wake them up. Getting soft, the lot of them."
"Quite. I weep for future generations."
Looking over at Snape, Alastor spotted something on his face that he'd never seen there before: a tiny but genuine smile. Alastor couldn't help but grin back. Well, he thought. If an uptight sod like Snape could learn to take the broomstick out of his arse and relax a bit, maybe there was hope for Alastor yet. Constant vigilance was all well and good when they were at war, but it might well be a waste of valuable time in the coming era.
From the doorway to the potions workroom, Remus watched as Severus carefully sliced a pile of shrivelfigs, added the pieces to his steaming cauldron, and stirred clockwise. He wasn't entirely certain what he intended to say to Severus, and the fact that he was there at all was probably a sure sign he'd lost his mind. But since Minerva had told him that Severus meant to remain at Hogwarts only until his other plans were solidified, Remus hadn't had much time to ponder the sanity of visiting him. Regardless of Remus' mental state, it was too late to back out, so he took a deep breath and then cleared his throat.
Severus' head snapped up, and when his gaze landed on Remus, he frowned in obvious displeasure. "What do you want?"
Remus had expected a reaction of that sort, but he was disappointed by it nonetheless. He forced himself to maintain a neutral air as he shrugged, shoved his hands in his pockets, and stepped into the room. "To talk."
"What could we possibly have to talk about?"
"Quite a lot, actually," Remus said. "Given that we have twenty-eight years of not talking to make up for."
"Did you take a blow to the head during the battle?" Snape snapped. "I'm not interested in a stroll down memory lane."
"Nor am I. That's more or less the point. Now that Voldemort's finally gone, I'd hoped that perhaps we could put the past behind us." Remus' heart pounded in his chest at the very notion of saying such a thing to Severus. It was what he wanted, though, and he was determined to stand up for himself and make his desires clear from then on.
"And you're suggesting, what, that we should be friends?" Severus sneered the word. "What's the matter? Lonely and looking for a replacement now that all of your school chums are dead?"
"No one could replace them," Remus snarled. "I'm not foolish enough to look for substitutes. I want to move forward, not back. I thought you might be ready for that as well. My mistake." As he spun to leave, he caught sight of Severus' stunned expression. Not long ago Remus would have been ashamed of such an outburst, but now he felt a sense of smug satisfaction at catching Severus so off guard.
Before Remus had made it out of the workroom, Severus called out, "Lupin, wait."
Halting and turning around, Remus saw something on Severus' face that he hadn't seen in a very long time. Uncertainty. It reminded him of Severus in their school days, when he'd been an awkward, earnest youth who'd worn his heart on his sleeve. Upon further reflection, Remus thought that perhaps a little bit of going backward wasn't always a bad thing.
"Yes?" Remus said, raising one eyebrow in challenge.
Severus spoke hesitantly. "I am. Moving forward, that is."
Accepting that as the closest thing to an apology that Severus had ever offered him, Remus allowed a small smile to play about his lips. Approaching Severus' workbench, he asked, "How long will it take you to finish here?"
With a shrug, Severus said, "I should have this potion completed and bottled in approximately an hour."
"Good. Then there's plenty of time for you to meet me for drinks at The Three Broomsticks afterwards."
Surprise flashed through Severus' eyes again, and he turned a searching gaze on Remus for several moments. At last he said, "Very well. I suppose I've no better plans for the evening."
Severus' assent made Remus feel giddy with triumph. No doubt that was what gave him the courage to do what he did next. Bracing himself with his arms, he leaned over the workbench and said, "Good. Then if you'll let me, I might even buy you dinner." As he stood upright again, he flashed Severus a wink.
That time Severus didn't seem to have any response at all.
The entire encounter was so unlikely that Remus wanted to laugh. He knew that Severus would almost certainly take that as an affront, though, so he waited until he was out of the castle before falling into fits of mirth. On his way to Hogsmeade, he felt lighter than he had in years. Being true to himself, he realized as he walked, might improve his life in ways that he hadn't even dared to imagine.
There was a great deal of Eileen Snape in her son. They both had the same long, homely features and pitch-black hair that was prone to oiliness and disarray. They had both mastered the sort of withering glare that made the recipient feel approximately ten centimeters high. And they were both capable of holding a grudge for decades.
Lily had found herself on the receiving end of one of Eileen's grudges from the day she'd died. Evidently Eileen blamed her for Severus' unhappiness. Lily refused to feel guilty, however; she hadn't been responsible for Severus' poor choices, nor had she done anything to encourage his infatuation with her after she'd broken ties with him. She did sometimes wonder, had she known then what she knew now, whether she might have done things differently. It was too late for "what ifs," though, so she ignored Eileen's glares even as they grew darker with each passing year.
Or she had, right up until the moment Eileen asked Lily to have a talk with her over tea.
That was how Lily found herself and Eileen sitting opposite each other in a pair of overstuffed armchairs at the center of a sunny glade. Teacups hovered beside them, flowers released colorful streams of bubbles, and the occasional dragonfly whizzed by. It was a bit odd, perhaps, but it was the afterlife, and one could have pretty much anything one wanted, within certain limitations. Being dead, however, didn't appear to make uncomfortable silences any less excruciating. Lily grabbed her cup out of the air and took a sip, refusing to be the first to speak.
At last Eileen said, "It's really over, I suppose."
Lily knew what Eileen meant, and all she could say to that was, "Yes." Tom Riddle was well and truly gone. There wasn't even enough of him left in the afterlife to make a whole soul. Perhaps in time he could grow into one, a new version complete with the parts that were missing from the original, and get another chance. Perhaps.
"I never really blamed you," Eileen said, her voice hard and matter-of-fact. "Not really. I wanted to, but deep down I knew it wasn't your fault."
Eileen's words were a surprise, but they also filled Lily with a peculiar sense of relief. "Even when I was angry with him, I never wanted him to be so unhappy and bitter," Lily said. "Certainly not because of me."
"You didn't do it to him. He did it to himself, the hard-headed idiot."
"He definitely didn't become less stubborn with age, did he?" Lily asked, attempting to hide her smirk behind her teacup.
"Not a bit," Eileen said.
Than Lily discovered another thing that Eileen had in common with her son. The tiny smile that barely lifted one corner of the mouth and crinkled the edges of the eyes. Lily used to think of it as Severus' secret smile; the one that he only allowed to come out when he thought no one else was watching.
In a flash, Eileen's amusement was gone. "I didn't teach him to hate Muggles, you know. His father did."
"I know." Sensing Eileen's need for reassurance, Lily said, "It wasn't your fault any more than it was mine."
Eileen nodded. "Well. I think he'll be all right now."
"Yes. I think he will. Of course," Lily said archly, "I'm not sure how much that process will be helped or hindered by the fact that you ordered Remus to 'look after your son' and then shoved him headfirst out of the afterlife."
"Someone bloody well had to do it!"
"Do what?" Lily asked, lifting an eyebrow. "Throw Remus out, or keep an eye on Severus?"
"Both. That Lupin friend of yours isn't finished yet. And while he's figuring himself out, he might as well help get Severus sorted too. They'll be good for each other, just you wait and see."
Laughing, Lily said, "As absolutely bizarre as it seems… I think you might be right about that." After all, Severus and Remus finally getting along wasn't a great deal more implausible than Lily and Eileen becoming friends.
As Lily toed off her shoes and curled more comfortably into her chair, she thought about how much had changed in just a few weeks, and how many more changes were likely still to come. It seemed that Voldemort's end signaled new beginnings for many people -- both the living and the dead.