Grapplegore was well-named, it seemed, for the task before him: the wizard lying on the floor of the ramshackle once-dwelling hadn't much left of a throat.
And someone has stolen his dreams, the young clerk-of-all-work thought, noting the cloudy droplet glinting in the corner of one of the wizard's eyes.
One droplet a memory did not make and the issue of the blood was more pressing, so Grapplegore got to work. If he'd been a wizard, it might have been a job for dittany, but he was not a wizard. He pulled out his assignment envelope; reading its address aloud with one finger pressed to its seal had allowed him to travel to the moment in question, but his instructions remained within it. They were brief.
"I am a man out of time and in possession of the appropriate paperwork," intoned Grapplegore, waving a wand above the near-corpse, "and I take charge of Severus Tobias Snape."
Swirls of purple smoke rose from his wand and floated towards Snape before bursting into a cloud of enveloping fog.
The fog was thick, and with a few more swishes and flourishes of Grapplegore's wand, it became glassy.
The glass began to shrink against Snape's body, forming a shell-like cocoon.
"[Shrink!!] Grapplegore cast in Gobbledegook, one last time.
He then reached out a hand and caught the tiny capsule he'd made, examined it to his satisfaction, and pocketed it.
"That's a job well done," he told himself, for no one else ever did.
He wondered, not for the first time on a job of this nature, if he had time to take in the sights, and then chastised himself for thinking about warfare as a "sight."
Of course it most certainly is, but . . . but no, I'm too peckish to be careful enough today. Best be getting out of the Anywhen and back home. Somewhere, it's almost teatime.
"Why are you dressed like a dead man?" Bonetwister asked, glaring over both his axe and the remains beneath him.
Grapplegore swallowed, hard. "The suit is customary. What are you playing a—agh!"
"Something's gone wrong, so wrong! But what? I didn't dally. I did everything right and within the proper amount of time within the proper span of it. This is not my doing!"
"You always say that, you unthinking clod."
Grapplegore stiffened and swallowed again, his throat as dry as one of his supervisor's jokes. "Severus Snape?" he asked, not turning to face the owner of the voice he'd just heard address him.
The response he received was a snort. Grapplegore turned.
Snape glowered down at him. "The last time you 'saved' me—was that the first time, I wonder?—you weren't as stupid looking. What have you done to yourself?"
Looking down, Grapplegore saw that his fine, well-tailored togs had been replaced with rags. He patted himself, feeling for his wand. It wasn't there. And Snape, well, there wasn't a trace of a scar visible on his person anywhere that he could see.
"By my great grandfather's thigh mistress! I've made a dreadful error!"
Snape sat down upon the leather chair in the middle of the unfamiliar and comfortable-looking room. "Yes, you lost your wand, somewhere out there in the Anywhen, didn't you? You lost all your wands."
"No, I couldn't have! I've only come for you the once. We won, we win our freedom! We win our right to wield proper magic again in . . . in but three score years and two from now!"
"Yes, you did, in your once-future, but that was before you took me home with you, wasn't it?"
Grapplegore paled. "What . . . what did you do?"
Snape grinned, a truly horrifying sight, and practically purred as he replied, "Oh, I had the time of my life, Grapplegore. I changed history. Repeatedly."
Without a wand, Grapplegore popped more than swished, but he managed to get himself out of the twisted Anywhen without delay.
"And now I'm sitting here in my bed on the morning before, is it? Yes, yes, I'm sure! The morning before I was sent to collect Snape, a dying man. A man whom Time wouldn't miss! How am I here?"
As he wondered this, an envelope materialised on his bedside table under his snow globe of Gringotts.
My assignment! Grapplegore reached for it and paused. Slowly, he pulled his hand back under the blanket.
Perhaps he'd merely awoken from a daydream, perhaps not.
If I open that envelope, he thought, things might change for the worse.
But he didn't have to open the envelope, did he? He could tell Bonetwister that he never received it. He could let someone else deal with Snape, couldn't he?
Thus seized by indecision, Grapplegore failed to notice that the snow in the globe on his bedside table had begun to fall, or that a dark figure had exited from the bank within.
And quickly, too.
It didn't take long for his earlier self to open wide, panicked eyes, and then pass out from the pain. Severus took that away, as well, before speaking.
"You need to get up, Headmaster."
"Not anymore, you're not," Severus of the Anywhen told him firmly. "It's my turn, I think."
"What," the Headmaster said, rather hoarsely, "what the hell are you talking about?"
Severus pulled himself up from the floor, not at all gently, and pushed himself down into a recently conjured chair, taking the other one in front of it. "Drink, Headmaster. This will—"
"Give me my strength back," snapped his younger self, snatching the glass out of Severus' hand. "Who the fuck are you?"
"You'd never have swallowed any of that if you hadn't believed I wasn't truly you."
The Headmaster sat back in his chair. "I shouldn't believe it."
"But you do," said Severus.
"I'm you, older, wi—more knowledgeable—and here to save both of us, in a manner of speaking."
"Oh?" asked the Headmaster, who was, or so Severus thought, taking the fact that he was talking to his very real other self—and so recently after his own attempted murder—quite well.
"Sixty-two years from now, give or take, the goblins will overthrow wizarding control of magical Britain and take back their magic."
The Headmaster raised his blood-encrusted eyebrows.
"Here," Severus told him, conjuring a warm, wet cloth and passing it to himself. "Blood."
"Did Potter received my memories?" the Headmaster asked, straightening.
"You played your role well. 'We' won."
Snorting, the Headmaster replied, "So it seems," in as sarcastic a tone as Severus had ever heard himself employ.
"I was taken, from this floor, cocooned in a goblin Healing spell. When I awoke, my chambers—for anyone to see—were large and comfortable and locked."
The Headmaster, now somewhat cleaner, scowled. "They put you on display? The goblins? Which goblins?"
Severus laughed. "That's what I hoped I'd see in you. Spirit."
"Given that death was too much to hope for, a little vengefulness seems reasonable."
"Given the fantastical quality of my tale," Severus replied, "I'm surprised to find that you believe it."
"I believe you—me. That's what I believe."
"Headmaster," Severus said, shaking his head, "you believe that you're hallucinating while death claims you. Nice entity, Death—don't try to fuck her."
"I beg your pardon?"
"To get to the point," Severus pressed on, "my captor, my goblin captor, was quite taken with me as a prize and gave me access to the kind of books that even we would never have permitted in the Restricted Section."
"And you learned to travel through time?"
"Severus," the Headmaster said, rubbing the raw-looking skin of his throat and flinching, but only just, "this is paradox. There cannot be two of us."
"No," agreed Severus.
"So why did you sa—revive me?" asked the Headmaster.
Severus sighed. "I'm tired. I've . . . I spent years trying to undo what the goblins did, and that achieved, I . . . I made up for lost time. I made up for lost life."
The Headmaster rose, his dusty robes sending a fine mist of filth up into the air as they billowed around him. "Do you mean to tell me that you . . . you . . . you—"
Suddenly angry and defensive, Severus rose to face the Headmaster. "I travelled! I travelled through the Anywhen! I relived our life. I relived our lives, remade them, even. Tens of times over, yes!"
"That is forbidden! Worse, it's stupid! You are—we are not stupid!"
"Oh, how can you say that, Headmaster?" Severus spat. "We killed Lily! We got the Longbottoms worse than killed! We got ourselves—ourself—locked into service to two totally insane masters! And then I woke up to captivity by a sodding goblin! To discover that the goblins had refought a war that everyone had forgotten. We were slaves, Headmaster. Slaves. . . . I couldn't let that stand."
The two Severuses stood, breathing hard, staring at each other with harder eyes until, at last, the Headmaster spoke.
"Have you altered time in an irretrievable way?"
Severus swallowed. "I don't know. I . . . I don't care."
"What, precisely, did you do?" asked the Headmaster.
"I killed a lot of goblins, and I had a lot of sex. Ate a lot, too—oh, and drank. I drank so much good wine that I even had occasion to bathe in it once."
"You. Are. A. Profound. Dunderhead."
"No, I'm only human, and after what I suffered—"
"Do not tell me that you look upon what you did as a holiday!" thundered the Headmaster.
Severus laughed. "It's been a long time, Sev. I'm a lot less duty bound than once I was."
"So I see." The Headmaster put out a hand.
Severus drew back. "No. It's mine. I like this wand."
"You're here because of the paradox you created, or worry that you did. You know as well as I do that there cannot be two of us."
I do, and you're right, thought Severus, that's exactly why I'm here.
He remembered well how ready he'd been to die in this moment. Now ready to let it all go again, he had wanted himself to have a purpose.
If that purpose is cleaning up after me, well, then so be it, Severus thought, wishing he'd done half the things he'd hinted at doing to the Headmaster.
"Our wand, Severus," the Headmaster told him.
Severus gave it, as well as a phial, to his younger, more responsible self. "Do your worst."
The Headmaster shook his head. "No. This time, I believe that I'll do my best."
The light emanating from the Shrieking Shack was green, and then red, and then Hogwarts' former Headmaster took himself to Albus Dumbledore's tomb. Within it, he knew that he would find a Pensieve.
Filled with purpose though he still was, he remained bitter about having found himself saved. He'd been so looking forward to his death—but after feeling something akin to the shock that his time-travelling self must have felt upon awakening to captivity, Severus could well understand something of that wizard's desire for revenge.
I hope you're just as unsettled to see me as you were to see him, Severus thought in the goblin's direction, as he prepared himself.
He wasn't planning to travel through the Anywhen as if on holiday, of course; he never did that. He wasn't mad.
But I must know everything that Severus did. I must discover it all and fix it.
Grapplegore would help him to do that whether the goblin wanted to or not. On this point, Severus was firm.
Some things shouldn't be fucked with. Time is definitely one of those things.
Ah, but the library that Severus had spoken of . . . . Severus wanted to see the inside of that library once he'd corrected his other version's mistakes.
Severus permitted himself a small smile within the safety of his Bubble-Head Charm to think of some of the more lacivious of those mistakes.
Perhaps it wouldn't hurt to—no! No, you've been over this. He may have done those things, but you cannot!
He sighed. Even within the relative safety of the falling snow of Grapplegore's bedside globe, the things he'd seen his other self do were tempting. He'd been worried that he might repeat them as he'd watched the goblin awake to his own concerns on more than one occasion. He'd had to teach himself how to travel through time, after all, and after the things he'd seen, the time had finally come to prepare Grapplegore to assume his own measure of responsibility for the work to come.
Grapplegore will help me learn, help me fix everything—but there will be no foolish time-travelling during this lifetime, no matter how long it lasts. No matter how many times I must live it.
Severus looked at Grapplegore's bed and saw that the goblin had thrown the bedclothes over his head.
He's elected to hide this time. He's afraid that Severus, that I, will catch up with him again even though he doesn't believe that he's changed anything.
Between the two of them, Grapplegore and Severus had changed a great deal.
I shall persuade him to help me make it right again, and then . . . the books!
After everything he'd been through, it was only right, that. It was only one library. Severus deserved at least that small reward, didn't he?
After all, if I don't reward myself, who will?