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Life After Death

Chapter Text

Snape always expected the war to be a hideous, gory affair that would eventually culminate in his own death. That this death occurred without his treachery being discovered was only mildly surprising, and quite a relief; the snake bite was painful, but it paled in comparison to the hours of torture and humiliation reserved for traitors. Of course, he would have liked to see the Dark Lord's face, but that was not to be helped. He'd at least succeeded in getting the boy the required information before he died.

What really surprised him was waking up again.

At first, he'd thought the wretched boy had some sense after all. He'd not been beyond help, though those wild green eyes seemed hardly in a fit state to do anything but stare. And the fate of the world rested on him!

But no. This was not the ceiling of the shrieking shack. This was a plain white ceiling, brightly lit by sunlight streaming in upon it. Severus could even hear birdsong.

Well, if this was the afterlife, it was restful, at least. And soft. There was a duvet under his fingers, tucked up to his armpits. He turned his head, apprehensive, but his neck did not spasm – that, more than anything, made him feel sure he was dead. Yet his head felt slow, sluggish, and his arms were like lead.

He tilted his head. The room was small and pleasant, and the window looked out onto bright blue skies. It was slightly crooked. There was a door immediately in front of him, that also looked slightly off-kilter – then it opened, and a tray appeared, balanced with a bowl, a glass and several potions vials. Behind it stood the last person Severus would have expected; the Weasley girl, bright hair glaring, face uncharacteristically solemn.

"Oh!" she said, and set the tray down. Then she vanished in a flash of red hair.

"MUUM!" she cried, and suddenly the wonky windows made sense. Merlin, he thought, the Weasley house? A Weasley bedroom, even!

He tried to pull himself up, and was still struggling when Molly Weasley bustled in and very nearly knocked over the tray.

"Oh, good gracious, what's that doing there? Oh, the silly girl. Did she have to leave it in the doorway?" She levitated it to his bedside. "There, that's better! How are you feeling, Severus dear?"

Severus stared. Had the woman forgotten he had been systematically torturing her children?

"As though I should be dead," he said, and it came out as a croak.

"Well, that's no surprise," said Molly. "You should be. Here, drink some water."

To his irritation, Molly moved him upright by magic as she handed him the glass. His arms felt impossibly heavy as he lifted them.

"Why am I not?" asked, voice still rough, and Molly sighed.

"It was a close thing, but you had something watching over you," she said. "When Harry went back to the shack to collect your body, your wounds had been healed and there was that." She pointed at the bedside, where a bright gold feather lay shining in the light, beside his wand. A ghost of memory, of bright song and Lily's face, floated through Severus' consciousness.

"And to Harry's fright, you had a pulse! Not much of one, of course, with the blood you lost. You were very close to death – if Harry hadn't been so keen to retrieve your body –"

He could hardly analyse that one. Had Potter forgiven him so much? Had they all? He had expected Azkaban, if he survived, and damn any work he'd done for the light.

"But why on earth am I here?"

Molly smoothed her skirts uneasily.

"Well, we could hardly let you go to St Mungo's, could we? They'd have you arrested before you could even open your eyes, and stuff Harry Potter's word." She spoke as though Harry Potter's word were immutable, but for once Severus could hardly complain. "And Hogwarts wasn't suitable, it's not very secure at the moment and nearly everyone has gone home to – spend some time with their families." Something sparkled in her eyes for a moment, and to his surprise he felt his heart clench. Had any of them failed to make it? The Weasleys, red hair and all, were something eternal and good, wholesome in a way he had never known. It did not seem possible that any of them could fall to evil.

"Molly," he murmured, and she smiled sadly.

"Hush, Severus, your throat won't thank you for it," she said. "So yes, we brought you here – well, first Harry and Ron and Hermione brought you to the hospital wing at Hogwarts, but of course you stirred up a bit of debate. We concluded it was not safe for you there and so, here you are!"

"Molly," he said again. "I... thank you."

She beamed, such a warm smile that he wished for a moment that he could deserve it.

"It should be me thanking you, Severus dear," she said warmly. "You protected my youngest, and you helped Harry save us all. We are all in your debt."

He snorted.

"Molly, I tortured them," he said. "Yours especially, as I'm sure she's told you."

"Yes, I believe she wishes to talk to you about that," she said, a cold note emerging in her voice. "But you protected them all the same. They've told me enough – who knows what the Carrows might have done to her."

"Cruciatus or worse, in a fit of enthusiasm," he said. "Knowing them." God knows, they'd done enough the times he was unable to stop them. There would be too many damaged children graduating in the next few years.

Molly looked ill at the thought.

"But Ginny... she was spared the worst?"

"Yes. I insisted that all rebellion members be taken directly to me."

Molly smiled.

"Then I can't express my gratitude enough. You should drink your potions, perhaps we'll manage a full dose with you awake. And there's soup."

She offered an unstopped vial of healing elixir and he tossed it back. It was a good batch, though not his own; Severus felt better almost instantly. A blood replenishment potion, which flushed warm through his system, and finally a rehydration solution. Molly perched on the edge of the bed, soup in hand, and attempted to feed it to him. He protested, appalled, and she rolled her eyes.

"Who has been caring for me?" he asked, struggling to hold the bowl in shaking hands.

"All of us," said Molly. "I've been sending the kids up with the food when I was busy, and Harry's sat up here a few times. I bathed you and dressed you, if that's what you're worried about."

He really was far too old to blush. And God knew he'd been in similar positions with Pomfrey too many times.

"How long was I –"

"Well, you were in the Shrieking Shack for two days, Hogwarts for one, and here for the week. Poppy put you in a healing sleep, which she said might take anything from two to ten days to wake from. Then she recommended you stay in bed for at least another two weeks."

"Two weeks? Molly, that's unacceptable. I cannot –"

"Got somewhere to be, Severus?" she said fondly. "Relax. There's absolutely nothing that needs to be done now. Except healing. Eat your soup."

A soft hand on his, a kind squeeze, and Molly Weasley left. Severus ate his soup with something warm coursing through him, something he feared he had not felt in a very long time.

He did not manage as much of the food as he would have liked – he was just setting it down when there was a knock on his door. He cleared his throat.

"Yes?"

"It's Ginny," said a voice. "May I come in?"

"Yes," he said, though he would have dearly liked to send her away. She came in, politeness in her manner but defiance in her face, and pulled a chair from the corner.

She crossed her arms. She was quite as formidable as her mother, even at seventeen. Good lord, he thought, and she could do magic now. Was she after revenge?

"Look," she said crossly, and stopped. "Oh, I don't know how to do this. You're a total bastard, Professor Snape."

Part of him nearly snapped, 'ten points from Gryffindor, Weasley, and detention for a month.' He bit back his instinct and settled for a sneer instead. It felt good, to shake off that painful ache Molly's kindness had given him.

"Well," he sneered. "There is a revelation. Thank goodness you told me, Miss Weasley, or I never would have known –"

"Oh, shut up," she said, and smiled a small satisfied smile. "You're a total bastard, but you were protecting me, and I see that now. You didn't have to do it so bloody well, of course, but I get it. If we'd thought you were being soft, if we thought you were trustworthy, they would have noticed. We should have known, though, when you kept making a fuss about all that Veritaserum. And when you hit me that time –"

She paused to wince, and Severus did the same. She'd been caught stealing potions ingredients, but the Carrow woman had found her first. Severus had given her a vicious backhander that had sent her flying across the room – only coincidentally knocking her from the path of Alecto's Cruciatus, of course. A petty triumph, but that was all there was to be had.

"I remember she had her wand out, now," she said. "She was going to do something horrible, but you smacked me across the room and she put her wand down. You didn't have to say all the things you did, though –"

"I meant very little of it, and I did not take as much pleasure as you may imagine," he said, surrendering to the wisp of not-quite-admiration he'd felt as he'd watched the little rebellion fighting at Hogwarts. She'd caused him untold trouble, of course, but if the rebellion had not formed too many might have fallen into despair and taken to the other side. She'd earned an explanation, however much he wished otherwise. "It was necessary, and I knew you were perfectly capable of hearing it."

To his astonishment, Ginny blushed.

"I – thank you, Sir. I'm glad you thought so." She paused. "But, I have to ask – why did you go after Neville so much? I mean, you never thought him worth anything, and you were so cruel, his detentions were the most creative and evil..."

"Partly," he said, "Because it was expected. Partly, however, it was because I am as you say, a total bastard, and Longbottom has driven me up the wall since his very first day. The first time I punished him, I thought he would be easily cowed, and perhaps deterred from crossing my path again. I was gravely mistaken, as I learned almost immediately. To my surprise, Longbottom grew a spine, and continued to cultivate it every time he came out of a detention unscathed."

"So you were what – building character? You had no right!"

"Of course I didn't. But you did keep waving that blasted teenage army of yours under my nose."

Ginny, to his surprise, laughed.

"Alright. I'm not sure if Neville will forgive you though. No, I think he will. He'll be here next week with Luna, I think – we're having a sort of celebratory supper. Half the Order are coming. We're planning to tell them all slowly about you, gauge their reactions or something, so you're coming too. And Hermione has sort of taken up a role as Harry's official PR agent, she's got a big plan to make the media do what we want for a change."

"Merlin," said Severus, unable to hide the horror crawling up his spine. "A party. With Weasleys and werewolves and terrifying know-it-alls. I may remain here."

Something froze in Ginny's face.

"I'm not serious," he assured. "I am not so ungrateful as to cast aspersions on a family who have been quite irrationally kind to me."

"That's not it," she said, though she blushed. "It's Lupin. He – was one of the ones who didn't make it through the battle."

Severus was not quite prepared to feel as he did at this information. Lord knows, he'd never cared for the man. But it began to awaken him to reality – Lupin was dead, the war had really happened, and for some absurd reason he'd survived it. He was free, and men like Lupin who deserved more had fallen.

How could he have died, but Severus Snape, who'd committed dreadful sins, who'd tired of living long ago, have endured?

He almost cursed Harry Potter. If Potter had left him alone, he would have faded away in peace.

"Who else?" He asked. Ginevra looked out at the sky.

"Tonks, too," she said. "Teddy's alright, of course, but I think it bothers Harry."

Teddy. Presumably the child of the werewolf and his silly metamorphmagus. An orphan, like Potter, but at the same time utterly unlike him. He would not be sent to muggles, for a start. And he would never be devoid of love and attention, from his grandparents and the Weasleys and Potter himself. He'd be positively spoiled.

"And her dad," she said. "And – and Fred."

Ginny turned her face away to hide her eyes. He felt strangely blank. Fred Weasley? That couldn't be true. Nothing could silence that insane double act, and certainly nothing could separate it. Perhaps he could have accepted one of the older boys, maybe the strangely out-of-place Percival.

Severus didn't say anything. He was not accustomed to offering condolences. Or kindnesses of any kind. He had already been complimentary enough to set an itch in his bones.

"There are others," said Ginevra, suddenly fierce. "There's a list. Order members, though I didn't know any of them. And a few students, not that many luckily. I only knew Colin Creevey."

"Creevey. The boy with the camera and the crush on Potter?"

"Ew," she said, then had the grace to look guilty for speaking ill of the dead. "It wasn't a crush."

"Wasn't it?" said Severus. "I once had the dubious pleasure of walking in on a Harry Potter fanclub. He was the only male member. He was chairing, and he was showing off pictures of Potter in the shower."

"Oh my God!" said Ginny, clapping her hand over her mouth to stop her giggle. "You're joking. What happened to the pictures?"

"Because I am a man of extreme restraint, I did not sell them to the highest bidder," he said.

"Harry would be horrified," she said, with a slightly wicked grin he approved of immensely. "Do you think he knew about Colin?"

"The Boy Who Lived To Be Oblivious? Certainly not," he said. This obviously struck a chord, as she laughed and tossed her hair. Then she sighed, expression darkening.

"He's certainly oblivious at the moment. He doesn't talk to anyone or listen when we talk. Mum reckons he's grieving and he'll get over it with time, but he's frustrating, he shuts everyone out. Even me!"

She glanced at him, self-conscious.

"Sorry – I know you probably couldn't care less about him –"

"Not at all. I have no objections to hearing that Potter is an insensitive idiot."

"He's not!" she said, and her eyes flashed fire. "Don't say that. It's just difficult for him. I should go."

She rose and turned to leave, spinning her hair for maximum effect.

"Miss Weasley," he said impatiently, halting her at the door. He sighed dramatically. What was he thinking, trying to comfort a brat?

"I'm sure Potter is utterly besotted with you," he said, sneering. "In fact, I have no doubt you will marry and have many shortsighted redhead babies."

Ginny laughed in the face of his sneer and left. He heard a voice on the stairs, possibly an elder Weasley, asking her whether she was alright, and what on earth she was laughing at.

The rest of the day was quiet. Severus dozed, woken occasionally by movement in the house or on the stairs, and he did not wake properly until he realised with alarm that he needed the bathroom. What had they been doing when he was asleep? Bladder emptying charm, he supposed, how disturbing. Also not a charm he wished to perform awake.

He pulled the duvet back, already feeling weakened. What he recalled of the Weasley house was all narrow stairs and floors piled unsteadily, and he had never been to the bathroom. It could be anywhere in this warren – no, Burrow, he remembered. He peered out into the small corridor that curved into stairs at each end, and was almost crushed by two people half–tumbling, half–running down them. One of them was screeching and giggling, and had an alarming amount of hair. He considered backing away and slamming the door, but unfortunately he had become dependent on the door frame to keep him upright.

"Stop it, Ron, you'll disturb Snape!"

The Weasley boy did not stop tickling the wretched woman, and Severus fought the urge to gag.

"Don't worry, 'Mione, he's bedridden anyway. What's he gonna do, take points?"

He leant in to kiss her.

"Urgh," he said loudly. The pair froze.

"Professor!" squeaked Granger, having the propriety to be embarrassed. "You're up! Should you be standing?"

He barely was, but he would not tell her that. He had the sudden recollection that he was dressed only in ill-fitting striped pyjamas.

He would have to find some way to hint about a dressing gown. Preferably a long black one.

"Ten points from Gryffindor for inappropriate behaviour in the corridors," he said, and Granger went a little blank, as if she was unsure whether she should smile or not.

Weasley just glared. Youngest boy Weasley, at least. In a house full of Weasleys, what were you meant to call them all?

Girl Weasley, he conceded, was just tolerable enough to be Genevra.

"You can't take points," he said irritably.

"He knows that, Ron," she said, and allowed herself the smile. "Are you alright, Professor?"

"I'm not a professor, I'm a few degrees below 'alright', and I would like to know where the blasted bathroom is."

"Oh!" said Hermione. "Of course." She gave him a suspicious look, no doubt noticing just how much he was leaning on the door frame. "Shall I show you, sir?"

She offered her arm in a polite way, a thinly veiled support, but it was just veiled enough that Severus could tolerate accepting it. He'd mastered grace in the face of pain before, so he managed to make a slow hobble look far better than most, but he was irritated when the gormless Ronald still looked surprised and concerned. Before he knew it, he had a Weasley at his elbow and a know-it-all's hand guiding him up the stairs. He very much wanted to brush them away, but had to content himself with composing scathing comments in his head, holding them back in case they took him at his word and left him to tumble and break his neck.

He succeeded in getting to the bathroom, a relief in many senses, and as he attempted to wash his hands whilst depending entirely on the taps for support he listened in on Granger and Weasley's hushed conversation.

"If he comes out and sees us waiting to help him he'll hate it," hissed Granger.

"Oh, so we just leave him to fall down the stairs, is that it?" muttered Weasley. "Would be a bit of a shame, really, what with all this effort we've gone to."

"We? You've managed to avoid going anywhere near him!"

"Too right, I'm not insane. What if he'd woken up while I was there?"

"Oh, for Christ's sake. You fought in a war, but you're too afraid to face a sick professor?"

"He must be terrible," said Weasley, surprisingly sympathetically. "He's not been mean at all. Ginny said he was actually nice to her. She was always alright at potions though."

Severus realised that they would get worried very shortly if he did not emerge, and he did not really want a houseful of Weasleys and Company bashing down the door. He unlatched the door with heavy hands.

Weasley and Granger looked up from their conversation and looked guilty.

"Okay, Sir?" said Hermione awkwardly. He could only bring himself to nod. He longed to do something crueler, to crush that awkward sympathy out of her voice, but a small voice of his own remembered that it was neither necessary or appropriate, and would certainly not get him down the stairs.

Hermione gave him a shrewd look and stuck her hand in her pocket. To his surprise, his limbs felt lighter.

"Feel better then?" she said, more brightly.

"I suppose," he said resentfully, which seemed to make her smile even more. She took his arm without asking, and the bumbling Weasley hovered behind him uselessly. He was immensely glad to return to his room, and pull the covers up to his chin.

"I expect someone will come up with supper in a bit," said Granger kindly, and Severus sighed to stop himself snapping. "Um, in the meantime, we've been meaning to say..." she nudged Ron.

"Er," said Ron. "Yeah. We'd just like to say – um, about the war and everything –"

"Please, don't," he said heavily. "I'm sure whatever you want to say is excruciating for both of us. Not to mention, I didn't do it for you. And if you're excusing any of my behaviour in the hope it was just an act, I assure you it wasn't."

"Oh, we know you're a git," said Hermione brightly. "But we forgive you."

With a sense of dramatic effect that was rare in Gryffindors, she left it at that, and swept out.

Ron stood for a moment with his hands in his pockets, smiling slightly at her back.

"You are a git," he agreed, looking satisfied, and Severus could only roll his eyes.

"But I reckon you're better than you pretend, so we're going to ignore it," He continued. "Unless you cross the line, in which case you'll get the Weasley wrath. Bill will curse you, Charlie'll set dragons on you, Percy'll bore you to death, George'll fill your bed with tricks and Ginny'll hex you."

"And what will you do?" he said, snorting.

"Probably punch you in the nose," he said. "I like the simple way, me."

Severus snorted again.

"I'm sure you do, Weasley," he agreed dryly, because it was only polite to follow up on such a set-up. "Lord knows why you're with Granger."

A shy smile, not a terribly good look on the Weasley face.

"Yeah, she's not simple, is she?" he said, and shook his head fondly.

Severus shook his head with less fondness and more despair.

"I'm glad you're not dead, Sir," said Ron. "You didn't really deserve it. That much."

He grinned and followed Granger out the door. A muttered comment, obviously from the waiting Granger, and he heard a soft laugh.

"I'm never going to get over that," murmured Weasley, pulling the door to.

"What?"

"Snape in dad's pyjamas," he said, and they giggled their way down the stairs.

Severus slumped into the pillows and vowed never to open his eyes again.

*

The next few days were ridiculously dull. Apart from sleep, which he seemed to do entirely too much, his day consisted mostly of sitting up in bed feeling dreadful, staggering his way to the bathroom and being served increasingly large meals. Mostly these were presented by Molly, who bustled in much like Madame Pomfrey and took about as much notice to his protestations, complaints and outright insults as the Hogwarts nurse had ever done. She'd tidy the room or bring fresh pyjamas (never robes; he suspected she knew that the paisley and stripes were all that were keeping him in the house), and make a great deal of fuss over how thin he was.

"Just like Harry, all skin and bone, I try to fatten him up but every summer it just drops off him! Thankfully he'll never have to see those dreadful muggles again, but he's not eating now..."

He found himself unsurprised over Potter's condition. A great many loved ones were dead, including everyone he would have considered a male mentor (save Arthur, perhaps, but he was hardly the dominant force in the household). Potter, himself, had died, and he knew from personal experience that could be exhausting. Not to mention, having one's life purpose eliminated tends to throw one off. Again, he knew from personal experience.

Still, he would get over it quickly, and then he'd do the predictable thing and marry Genevra and have those bespectacled redheads, busily making up for the happy family he'd never had by marrying the girl from the only decent family he'd known. And maybe Potter would even be content with that.

What on earth was he going to do?

Arthur delivered the food one afternoon, and chatted for half an hour about the Ministry's recovery efforts. Genevra delivered lunch the next afternoon, and talked in the manner of one unburdening herself – she wanted to try out for Quidditch, but Harry was uninterested in training with her, and George seemed like he was getting ill and kept looking round desolately all the time, waiting for people to finish his sentences. And Percy kept fighting with Ron and Charlie, and Fleur kept sweeping about distracting Ron which irritated Hermione, though she'd noticed Harry never even looked any more, which she thought was much worse. She'd tried to tell Hermione she had it easy and Ron adored her, but she'd taken it all wrong and now they were barely talking. And her mother was being frantic, pouring all her grief into mothering them all horribly, and while it meant they always had great breakfasts it also meant they were all going slowly insane. And Ginny, as the youngest, got bossed around most of all.

Severus had evidently created a monster, holding back on his bile to Ginny Weasley, but mercifully her complaints were interesting enough for a sick man going slowly insane with boredom.

Five days into his stay, he was visited by yet another well-wisher – a slightly surprising one.

"Oh, Sev'rus!" said Fleur Weasley, sweeping in in a dazzle of hair and planting a kiss on his cheek. Had he not been disturbed, he would have smirked at how jealous the straighter members of the household would have been.

Bill Weasley stood in the doorway, grinning, and it was only then he had a moment's trepidation. He was frighteningly much the same as he'd been in his class, tall and confident and attractive, but he'd obviously suffered at some time in the war, because there were faint diagonal scars across his face. To Severus's considerable irritation, they succeeded in giving him an heroic air rather than marring the looks he'd been graced with in seventh year.

"Alright, Snape?" he said, and nodded.

"Mr Weasley, Mrs Weasley." He eyed her warily in case she tried to kiss him again.

"Oh, Monsieur," she said. "I am so 'onoured to see you again! We 'ave been reading all about your bravery!"

"Pardon?" he said blankly.

"In the newspaper," said Bill, and tossed one over. "Harry held a press conference last week, told everyone the basic story. He talked about you. A couple of people asked him a few questions, and Hermione proposed they do an entire piece on you. Lots of people put in their word."

"Do they know I'm alive?" he asked.

"No, but we have a plan for that, I believe. I expect Hermione will want to discuss it with you at the party tomorrow. Aren't you going to read it?"

Bill was smirking in a most charming – that is to say, Severus corrected himself, unsettling – manner. Fleur merely beamed.

He unfolded the newspaper. A large picture of a younger him stood sullenly against a backdrop of Hogwarts, a very old photo he could only presume Minerva had given them.

"SEVERUS SNAPE: UNSUNG HERO OF THE WAR?" said the heading. He reflected that it had not been so very long ago that he would have desired exactly this, but now it made him cringe.

Was the late Hogwarts' Potions Master a lot more than a sneer and a shady past? Moira Cocklebottom investigates in this four-page spread on the life and times of Professor Snape, the Side of Light's secret weapon.

He opened up the paper. There were two more pictures of him in similarly sullen poses, and headshots of various familiar faces with testimonials beside them. Potter's was by far the largest picture, smiling tiredly at the camera, and his testimonial filled most of the first page. He couldn't bear to read it – he dreaded to think what details of his private life were splashed all over the page. Below were Weasley and Granger, shorter testimonials, and Longbottom, Lovegood and Ginny had brief quotes. He paused a moment to read them.

"I was never very good at Potions, and I don't mind telling you he terrorised me for it," writes Neville Longbottom, Hogwarts alumni and hero of the Battle of Hogwarts. "He was a bully and he was cruel, but I realise now that in my last year, he protected more than he hurt. He always made a point of dealing with the worst rebels himself, but I realise now that had the Carrows been set loose on us, I might well be in St. Mungo's. He was a horrible person, but I think he was working for the greater good."

Ginny Weasley, seventh year student and Harry Potter's young love, says: "There were signs all along that he was on our side, but it was imperative he wasn't discovered, so he could never tell us. Still, he protected us as best he could. I remember he once slapped me across the face, which hurt quite a bit, I can tell you – it was not 'til later that I realised that Alecto Carrow had been about to turn the Cruciatus on me. A slap round the face seems a pretty fair trade."

"He was a very sad man, I think," Luna Lovegood, another Hogwarts hero and friend of Harry Potter, confides to us. "He was very cruel, but lots of people are, and they're usually very sad. Perhaps he never learnt how to be nice. It's not like he had any friends to show him. I'm glad he was on our side, though. It just shows that sometimes nasty people are good and friendly people can be bad. I mean, wasn't Voldemort very charming at the beginning?"

He groaned. What was that loony Lovegood babbling about? He sounded positively tragic. This would bring nothing but ill. He was not making nice and playing the mysterious hero to misguided strangers.

The only other testimonial he cared to read was McGonagall's.

"He was no great teacher," Professor Minerva McGonagall, former colleague of Snape, confides to us in a mournful tone. "But he was a good man. He did a great many terrible things, in the first war and the second, and I was first inclined to argue that this was unconscionable, that no circumstance legitimised his actions. But as the final threads are tied in Harry Potter's battle against Voldemort, I begin to see how vital he was – to Dumbledore, to Harry himself, to Hogwarts and the safety of its members. He was a loyal man, Dumbledore's man, and he was nobler than he'd have any of us believe. He did terrible things because he had to, because if he didn't we would all suffer, because if he didn't, we would be under a regime of terror and persecution. I cannot say we always got along, though many times I remembered him as a student, so very angry and hurt, and couldn't help but feel a little more understanding. And I can't say that what he's done does not make me feel ill to think of it. But in war, drastic measures need to be taken, and Severus was the man who took them so that we didn't have to."

Minerva. Her testimony was simultaneously harsher and kinder than he had expected. He wouldn't have been at all surprised to learn that Minerva could never forgive him for what he'd done at Hogwarts – after all, she knew that not all his cruelty had been protection, and not all of his pleasure had been faked. But for her to forgive him in such a way, not as a person but as a weapon of war, sharply underscored how much he had never been his own man.

But no more of that. He was a free man, and he would behave how he felt best, now.

He glanced over the names a final time and to his surprise, saw Lucius smirking at him from the bottom corner.

"The man was undeniably a Death Eater," says the infamous DE Lucius Malfoy in an exclusive pre-hearing interview with the Prophet. "I don't know about a spy, but I know he saved my son from being killed by the Dark Lord, risking His displeasure to do so. I certainly know he was clever enough to fool Him. But then, that goes just as well the other way, doesn't it?"

Thank you, Lucius, thought Severus bitterly, for that stirring conviction. There may have been ten people's names on the page, but this would surely be the one people recalled.

He suddenly noticed a timeline snaking around the edges of the page – an illustrated flowchart of his life. It was disturbing to see such monumental things as 'becomes drawn in to the Death Eaters' and 'Kills Albus Dumbledore' in neat boxes with Gothic cartoon Dumbledores plummeting endlessly from the edges. He turned over in disgust, only to be confronted with Lily's bright, beautiful eyes, and the horrifying headline: Severus Snape and Lily Potter: a Classic Tragedy?

He would kill Harry Potter. He could barely stand to read about his 'childhood sweetheart', whose tragic sorting into an opposing house threw them apart, who found herself torn between an embittered Severus and the charming James Potter, and who could never quite bridge the gap between the Houses – could never quite save Severus from being drawn into a nasty crowd.

Trust Potter to get it completely wrong, and trust the papers to make it out into Romeo and Juliet, thought Severus. Any amount of implying that he and Lily were soulmates was quite counteracted by the pure and simple fact that Lily had wanted him for precisely as long as he had; approximately two months, at that inevitable teenage point where you begin to wonder if your friendship should be something more just because you were a boy and a girl, and you ought to. He'd loved her dearly as a child – she had been the personification of everything good to him, the only person he knew whose affection was honest and true, and in school she'd seemed like the only friend he could trust. But that had not lasted; she'd hated Avery and Mulciber, and Severus needed them to protect and accept him – and he hated James and his marauding friends, with whom Lily eventually and inevitably became fond. Their friendship was not built to last, and although he'd felt fiercely protective, fiercely adoring, it was merely the fact that he had never cared about anyone as much as Lily that made him confuse it for sexual love, and even then only briefly. Sexual love, he realised quite soon after, was quite different and possibly more akin to insanity. Though he had never had the best of partners.

"Urgh," he said, the only thing he could think to say. Bill Weasley grinned.

"You're going to get fanmail, I reckon, when they find out you're alive," he teased. "No doubt there will be a few women who'll wish to console you."

"Oh, I will murder that boy, and I've no reason not to now. Trust him to get things so wildly wrong."

"Oh, is he mistaken as to your loyalties, then?" joked Bill.

"No, but for heaven's sake, Lily Potter was not my Juliet. She was very much in love with her twat of a husband, for a start, and I never wanted her like that anyway."

"Oh!" said Bill. "And here I thought we'd finally put paid to the speculation."

"What speculation?" asked Fleur curiously, and Severus rather agreed.

"Oh, the usual sort of speculation older students do about their teachers... men? Women? House Elves? Is Snape McGonagall's kinky sex slave?"

"Oh God," said Severus in genuine horror, and Bill laughed. "If you were willing to consider such a thing, you are a braver man than me."

Fleur smiled sweetly.

"So, which is it, Sev'rus?"

"You can't ask him that, Fleur," said Bill, attractive eyes sparkling at Snape. "You can only imply outrageously and hope he does something to confirm or deny it."

"Well, I'll do neither, Mr Weasley, and you can clear out of my room."

Bill caught Fleur around the waist and drew her to him, still grinning at Snape.

"Your teacher voice doesn't work on me, you know," he said. "You're really not that much older than me. Shall we leave the man in peace?"

"Certainly," said Fleur, and smiled a bright smile. "Good to see you again, Sev'rus."

The pair left. Bill shot him a wicked look as he left.

It was only when they had one a few minutes that Severus recalled. The dinner. Tomorrow.

He was never going to survive.