SSHG Prompt Fest Mod (sshg_pf_mod) wrote in sshg_promptfest,
SSHG Prompt Fest Mod

FIC: Happily Ever Afters (PG-13)

Title: Happily Ever Afters
Type: Fic
Prompter: kerravonsen
Creator: [info]Tambra Galid
Beta(s): TLZ and IB
Rating: PG-13
(Highlight to View) Warning(s): one curse word.
(Highlight to View) Prompt: "This is the way you left me, I'm not pretending. / No hope, no love, no glory, no happy ending. / This is the way that we love, like it's forever. / Then live the rest of our life, but not together." -- MIKA "Happy Ending." Hermione thought she would get her happy ending with Ron. She was wrong. Hermione thought she was all out of happy endings. She was wrong about that too (SS/HG).
Note: For the purpose of this story, a geas is an impossible task. The Morrigan, Babd, and Macha are Irish deities who are sometimes portrayed as a triple goddess. This isn’t the case, and the theology is quite firm on that. For the purpose of this story, only three forms of the Morrigan are used, though there are many others. No ancient Celtic gods were harmed in the telling of this story.
Summary: Severus enters a bargain with The Morrigan on the night of the Final Battle. She sets a seemingly impossible task. Will Hermione come and save the day?

Part 1: The Bargain

He hears the dim scream of battle over the rushing of blood out of his body. The boy and Granger have left, taking his shame and his most precious memories with them. He closes his eyes against the pooling darkness. It will seems like minutes/hours/days before he feels the tug of his soul exiting his enfeebled and hated body.

Even though he expected this end, he doesn’t want to die. Not really.

He doesn’t so much awaken as he is in an area that is filled with diffuse light. He recognises the washed-out landmarks around him. That swing set is where he first confirmed that Lily was like him… that copse of trees is where they spent their summers before that last disastrous comment… that road leads to his miserable childhood… the other to her family…

He becomes aware of a scintillating warm presence coming towards where he exists in this brightly lit underworld. He has no illusions that he will receive a reward for his service to what Albus termed “the Light.” He failed in that. He knows he did because as his hearing failed in life, he heard the Dark Lord give the boy a choice, and Severus has no faith that a certain seventeen-year-old will make any better choices than Severus did at that age.
Death is not an entity to be embraced lovingly at any age but the most ancient. It is obscene to expect a child to do so.
The figure draws closer. Although he cannot look on the shape of the being directly, he knows that it is a woman of great beauty and a fearful horror comes to him. Her features are at once fixed and fluid. She is many things at once. Severus recognises her from her cloak of raven feathers and the acrid stench of bile, blood, and the fear that one only knows from battle. She is The Morrigan, and she’s come for him.

He cannot look on her even though he knows her face intimately; twenty years of war will give a man that kind of sight to see a goddess of war. So when she holds out her hand, at once cadaverous and plump as a stripling girl’s, he hesitates only a millisecond. He sealed his fate when he took the Dark Lord’s cursed mark, when he chose to pervert his magic into a twisted dark thing. He’s expecting her hateful embrace.

What he doesn’t expect is her melodious laugh or the lightness he feels in it. “Don’t let’s start out with any misunderstandings, Mortal. You are not mine. Not yet.”

She waves her other hand and the bright white mists clear. His body is as he left it in that stinking shack, twisted, bloody, and fragile. A form hovers over it, a version of The Morrigan, a particle of her being, at once different. “I am/We are here in this place and the one beyond. I/We have come to strike a bargain of sorts with you.”

Severus watches in the place beyond, the filthy shack that was scene to so much of his personal horror. There is a woman that he recognises as Macha, a lush and fecund goddess, but tainted with an underlying vileness. She looks as if she’s the warm earth above and the festering monstrous constructs below it. As she touches his face and his neck, she sings a song of making and unmaking. He feels the faint whisper and heat of her touch against his phantom self. The battle crow, Badb Catha sits on her shoulder cawing impatiently. After some time Severus remembers The Morrigan who holds his hand in a disjointed type of memory. “What is your bargain, Madam?”

“Such impatience.” The Morrigan waves her hand and the scene beyond dissolves back into white. There is a buzz of irritation in her voice. In the distance an infant cries piteously and over that Severus can hear two voices talking. He can’t make out their words or who they are, but they are familiar. The Morrigan says, “Very well. I/We give you two choices, my/our Prince.” She holds up her finely sculpted, claw-like hand, one finger thrust up, “The first, you may choose to die this night, unmourned. If you make that choice, you will immediately return to the beyond as an infant to relive your mistakes until you learn the lessons you should have in this life.”

She holds up another finger, forming a V with the two digits. “The second, you may choose to go back. To do that, you will live under a geas, one that if you break will result in your immediate death where you will be my/our slave for eternity, a state to which I/we know you are accustomed if not quite comfortable.”

He knows she looks at him, the heat of her gaze burns the skin it touches. He says after a moment, “And if I do not break your stricture?”

She bends to him, finally drawing his own gaze to hers. Her eyes are the black of the darkest void, they are filled with triumph and despair. There in the black is the knowledge of all things in creation and chaos, those eyes will allow him go mad if he chooses. Her crone’s smile curves into a supple bow of mirth. Her teeth are white, her lips full and red, her skin is satin over a framework of decay. He finally tears his eyes from hers with a sickening whimper. “If you do not break the geas, you may live your life as you see fit, and when you come to the summer lands, it will be as a sovereign, a king, if you will. I/We will be as old friends, and you will feast at the table of warriors, bards, and kings. The glory you so richly deserve will be granted in both life and death.”

She lets go of his hand and suddenly he is bereft. “You must decide quickly. This day’s candle has nearly come to an end.”

As if on cue, the bright world shakes and dims, the infant in the distance gives a final howl and is silent. “The geas, Madam, I would know what it is before I choose.”

Suddenly next to her is a ragged wolf. It is unblinking, yellow-eyes and half starving, a fearsome creature of massive height with strong, rangy muscles. As she pats the beast’s head, absently she says, “You know that is not how these things work, mortal. Choose now and then I will tell you.”

Without thought he says, “I choose to live.”

He wants to take back the words, but they are wrought in far stronger magic than he can conjure.

She bends gracefully at the waist and draws a knife over the hapless dog’s throat and then butchers it. When she has relieved the still twitching creature of its skin, she turns back to him. She places the steaming, bloodied pelt around his shoulders and full purse in his hand. He feels the stricture of the geas settle on his shoulders as she does, heavy as Atlas’ burden. As the pelt sinks into his skin, she says, “What is agreed upon is bound. What is said, so may it be. You will return to life, but not as you were. You will appear as twisted and ugly in the mirror as you think yourself to be. In that time you must convince the one who would deny your humanity to accept what and who you are. At the end of the seven years if you fail, you will die.”

As the words are spoken, a bell peals in the beyond and once again the bright world shakes. The woman with the crow materialises beside the Morrigan. All three creatures say, “It is done. Live as you will, Severus Snape.”

Severus awakens to agonising pain and weak limbs, but he is alive as The Morrigan promised. The world beyond the walls of the shack is quiet. He knows his time is short. If Potter did as Albus hoped, the Dark Lord is dead and Severus will pay for his betrayal to the light. It does not bear thinking upon if Potter failed. Either way, he must flee. He has a new, if more selfish, quest and only seven short years to accomplish the deed.

Part 2: Snapshots of the Living

15 July, 2004

It had been six years since Severus fled Hogwarts. Six years in which he came to know that in supposed death he was a hero, but in life he remained the same bitter, twisted thing that circumstance, genetics, and bad decisions had made him.
In that time, he had travelled the world, as much a hermit as he had ever been in his native land. In the twisted, gnarled form he had been given, he found that he still despised most other humans as much as they seemingly did him. His natural disposition did not allow for even the most fleeting of romantic attachments to form, and he refused to pay for what might have been freely offered if it had not been for his misanthropic nature. He had changed scenery but nothing had changed substantively within him, even though he had tried to guard his tongue and smile at the appropriate places when he did interact with other humans. The shadow of eternal servitude subsumed any joy he might have gained from the fantastic vistas he haunted across the broad earth.

His only moment of relief in those years had come when a raven, strangely marked for the Southern climes in which he dwelt, dropped a missive in his lap. The letter, mechanically printed on thin, Muggle-style paper, in an envelope stained from travel, read that one Severus Tobias Snape, former Headmaster of Hogwarts, Master of Potions, Death Eater, and Spy for the Order of the Phoenix, had been cleared of all charges in a recent war crimes tribunal headed by Auror Potter. It also stated that a generous stipend awaited him along with an Order of Merlin second class should he or his beneficiaries decide to claim it. The impersonal language allowed Severus to spin the fiction that no one knew he remained among the living, and thus he could continue living as he wanted with no immediate infringement on his freedom.

It was in Thailand that his past caught up with him irrevocably in the form of a carelessly discarded Daily Prophet: International Edition.

“Headmistress of Hogwarts To Retire”
Dennis Creavey/WWN

Headmistress Minerva McGonagall, head of Hogwarts since the 1998 fall of Voldemort, will step down as Head of the school. She will serve out the 2003-2004 school year, but said, “This will be my absolute last year.”

Minerva McGonagall took over as Head of the school after the embattled Headmaster, Severus Snape, fled the post during the Battle of Hogwarts, May 2, 1998. It was widely reported that he died during the battle, but sightings of the former Headmaster are still reported in locales as far-flung as Antarctica.

Severus crumpled the paper between his fists, his heart pounding so hard he could feel his scar throb. A sloe-eyed Thai peered at him over her cup of cappuccino, concern marring the perfect line of her brow. Severus absently scowled in her direction as he began the process of smoothing the paper out until he was able to slow the erratic pounding of his heart. Once he had his emotions under control, his eyes scanned down the rest of the article. Nothing could be substantiated about his continued existence, especially since the geas had twisted his physical form to such a degree that sometimes even he didn’t recognise his own reflection. The thought calmed him substantially. The Prophet continued to be fit only for lining the cages of small animals. He turned to the second page of the story and was arrested by the picture at the top of the page.

A marginally older Minerva stood beside a young woman dressed in the dark robes of a potioneer, her offensive hair pulled back sloppily. He recognised her immediately, of course he did, no matter how time had eased over her, maturing what had once been an inadequate body for all that frizz. He ran his finger over the shapely, if somewhat ordinary, lips even as his gaze took in the blunt, some would say stubborn, chin. Miss Granger, no doubt affianced to either Weasley or Potter by now, moved closer to Minerva as he touched the photo. The caption underneath stated that Granger had been appointed to Deputy Head after the death of Aurora Sinistra and the retirement of Filius Flitwick in the same year.

He snorted. Of course Minerva had appointed the most Gryffindor know-it-all over any other candidates Things had obviously not changed after his brief, disastrous stint as Headmaster.

Severus quickly folded the paper, prepared to discard it when his eyes landed on an advert. Hogwarts was looking to fill the DADA position.

He scoffed as he put the neat square of paper into his trouser pocket. There was nothing in this world that would make him consider returning to teaching. Nothing in this world whatsoever…

Over several weeks Severus found himself returning to the yellowing scrap of paper, a strange sense of longing washing over him more each time he viewed it. It had been six years since he had been at the only place that had ever really been home to him, and his mind increasingly turned to the Morrigan’s words. Soon his time would be up, and the stricture of her curse remained unfulfilled.

He found more often that his fingers traced the picture of the Headmistress’ Deputy, than that he read the actual words of the article, which, if he were honest, he had memorised early on. Often he would find his digits tracing the curve of Granger’s cheek, or he would observe the air of resignation that seemed to cling to her subtly. He often caught himself poring over the almost imperceptible lines that creased the know-it-all’s brows, the way her lips pursed when he touched her image, or the way her shoulders hunched against the unknown burden of grief or depression she might carry.

His thoughts on the girl always led to a sense of dissatisfaction with himself. He had wasted the opportunity he had been given simply because he had viewed it as yet another obligation. Six years had passed and he was still playing the bastard and he was thoroughly sick of himself.

He could return to Hogwarts. With the curse upon his appearance he could begin fresh and possibly do something worthwhile whilst he waited for his imminent servitude to the Morrigan. The May second anniversary of his disastrous choice loomed.

So, on a rainy tropical afternoon he wrote a letter to his former colleague enquiring about the DADA teaching position. He disguised his distinctive writing with a spell he had learnt during his days as a spy, and he signed it Claudius Brewer. By the end of the week he had secured an interview.

For better or worse, Severus Snape was returning home.

18 August, 2004

Severus Snape, now Claudius Brewer, was in the midst of setting his classroom to order. It was located in a relatively busy corridor adjacent to a newly constructed gallery. He found that the noises of everyday human activity that had disturbed him in his first incarnation as a teacher he now welcomed. Perhaps it was that feeling of welcome he had received when he first crossed the threshold of the castle, or maybe he was just getting old, but he found himself pausing during his labours to listen to the cheerful greetings of colleagues both old and new. He even welcomed their hesitant and strangely bemused greetings as he moved into his nearby chambers. Even the know-it-all hadn’t got up his nose during the interview the previous week.

He did wonder how long his equanimity would last. People did tend to give him pitying looks when they thought he was unaware, and more than once Minerva had tried to usher him to see Poppy, citing the need to insure his health or some such rot. He avoided the mediwitch’s clutches by forging very official looking papers, sure that Poppy, who had cared for him more than once during his days as Albus’ pet spy, would recognise his various scars and injuries. He knew that the Dark Lord’s foul brand, while faded, would still register as dark magic, not to mention the fact that Pomfrey had catalogued his many injuries and curses throughout his tenure as a spy.

At noon he had finished the last of his tasks and decided to head to the Great Hall for a quick lunch before he tackled his office. As he passed the corridor that housed Granger’s office, he heard a male voice and two sets of approaching footsteps.

Curious, he paused, listening to the flow of the conversation even before he could make out the individual words. As the two drew nearer, he slipped into a nearby alcove, damning himself for succumbing to the instinct to gather bits of information. His new start should also mean that he did away with his paranoia, shouldn’t it?

Granger was the other person, and as she drew nearer, he heard her say, “I’m not concerned about safety per se, Harry, it’s just that … he doesn’t remember who he is. It’s been six years since the end of the war and he’s still affected by whatever it is that caused his memory loss. He’s been wondering around in a fugue state or whatever for all that time.”

“So what do you want me to do about it?” Potter asked.

“Can you just see what he’s been up to for the last six years, please? In an unofficial capacity of course.”

Potter scoffed. “You want me to use my office to look into it off the record, you mean. You know there are laws in place against that kind of abuse now. Hell, Hermione, you helped draft most of them.”

She remained silent as they passed Severus’ hiding spot. Potter finally said, “This doesn’t have anything to do with… your feelings for him, does it?”

Severus held back a sigh. So they were talking about the youngest Weasley male. He seemed to remember something about some sort of romantic drama in their sixth year. The fact that Weasley had been cursed explained Granger’s presence at Hogwarts.

“No,” she finally said. “Not really…”

“Hermione…” Potter’s warning tone raised Severus’ hackles. He could not abide the condescension in it.

“Shut it, Harry.” Hermione answered with a playful tilt of her head. “I know you’re curious too.”

“I have to admit that I am.” Potter bumped her with his shoulder. “All right, I’ll look into it, but don’t be disappointed if I don’t find anything. He’s always been good at covering his tracks.”

“Thank you Harry. I don’t know why I care so much. It’s not as if I can actually do anything with the information. The Healers I spoke with said that trying to force him to remember could cause serious mental harm.” Hermione sighed. “He just deserves so much more…”

“You’re not still looking for that happily ever after fairytale bunk, especially not with him, are you?” Potter asked, concern tingeing his voice.

“You know I don’t believe in that.” Hermione paused. An errant shaft of light limned her features in gold, gilding the faint lines of grief drawn permanently on her face. “Not anymore.”

Their conversation continued into the adjacent hall. Severus retreated back to his classroom oddly disappointed.

1 September, 2004

He settled into his seat at the head table. He purposefully chose the seat between the Gryffindor and Ravenclaw tables. It was the one with the most cover so that he could see what the little blighters’ reaction to his cursed deformity. So far, the older students largely ignored him. They had probably been warned about his appearance, but he knew they were still, at best, monsters when it came to perceived weakness. He was grudgingly impressed with how Granger and Minerva had apparently handled his difficult situation, no matter that he knew at some point he would overhear vulgar comments about his person. That had certainly been the case during his first incarnation at this venerable institution. He didn’t hold out much hope that children would be any more civilised now.

He waited patiently for the feast to begin, his eyes drawn to Granger as she fit the ancient and inexplicably charred Sorting Hat on each first year’s head. As the line came to an end and the last child was sorted— a Gryffindor, of course— she turned as she flicked her wand at the hat with a silent banishing spell, sending it back to the Head’s office, no doubt, before she made her way behind the table.

It was sod’s law in action that the seat she chose to utilise was the one next to Severus.

As Minerva gave her opening remarks, Granger turned to him and said, sotto voce. “I haven’t seen you about much, Professor.”

Severus nodded tightly. Since his eavesdropping he’d been quietly keeping tabs on Granger. He wished to get a fuller picture of the woman, rather than dwelling on their shared past. He had a niggling suspicion that his years had been wasted abroad, that The Morrigan had intended for him to break the geas with a person much closer to her home. He’d been having what he could only term as prophetic dreams since he had found the Prophet and Granger had featured most prominently in them.

“I suppose you’ve been busy settling in.” She reached for her glass and poured a small bit of wine. She motioned questioningly at his cup.

“No, thank you.” He covered his cup with his hand. “I don’t indulge.”

Granger peered at him, a sympathetic moue ghosting over her face before she said, “No, imagine you don’t.”

The food appeared and Severus reached for the roast beef whilst Granger occupied herself with a salad set between them. He watched with some derision as she tucked into the greens. “Don’t tell me you’re one of those witches.”

“Whatever do you mean, S… Professor?” She toyed with an errant tomato as she asked, a sharp note to her tone, “One who is conscious of her health?”

“Mm… Perhaps.” His mood sank. He steeled himself to suffer an hour of stony silence.

“So…Are you finding your rooms to your liking? They are quite different from your previous chambers.” She flushed unbecomingly and took an overlarge sip of her wine. When she seemed recovered from whatever had afflicted her, she added “That is, where ever you lived before… I’m sure you never lived in a castle, coming from Australia.”

Severus patted his lips with a serviette to cover the smile at the reprieve he’d been given. “No. I can definitively say that there are no castles in Australia.”

30 October, 2004

Samhain was not a good time of year for him especially when it was in conjunction with a Hogsmeade weekend. Severus picked his way down the path next to the very reason he had been roped into chaperoning.

Granger was to blame for the entire situation with her continued friendly advances towards him. He knew not to read anything into her interest in him. Even if the hadn’t twisted his body, he was still difficult on most days. Just the previous week she’d taken him to task for his punishment of a Ravenclaw third year who mucked about in his class one too many times. To make matters worse, he couldn’t use his years of teaching experience to win the argument since he had listed only private tutoring on his CV, because reference letters were relatively easy to forge. Severus Snape had years in the minefields of hormone riddled learning, Claudius Brewer had none. He had slammed the door of his office in her face that day.

Yet, even with his fits of pique, she still continued to seek him out.

Oh damn, what had she just said? He nodded absently and directed his attention to a pair of Seventh years ahead. If they were any closer to each other they’d switch clothing.

She clutched his arm as she laughed, “You didn’t hear a word I said, did you?”

“I… did not. I do apologise.” His skin tingled where her hand rested. Alarm wormed through his mind. He was becoming mildly attracted to Granger, a fact which, with his history, he knew he should not encourage. He had come to terms with his obsessive love for Lily. He vowed never to make the same mistake, and yet another Gryffindor was showering him with the same friendly attention. He must not misconstrue her motives. She was in love with the hapless Weasley. He knew this.

“I asked you if you had any errands to run, or would you like to step into the Three Broomsticks for a bite before we start patrol?”

The Ravenclaws ducked off the path. Severus knew where that particular trail led. He narrowed his eyes. “I will meet you at The Broomsticks.”

He strode off to ruin someone’s day. New beginnings could still allow for the occasional striking of terror in young hearts.

16 November, 2004

Severus had spent a pleasant evening in his office grading essays. He had not mellowed in his estimation of student intelligence or skill, and his more acerbic comments remained almost painfully off the margins of student work, new beginnings being what they were. His evening had been made pleasant nonetheless by the presence of a certain former swot, who had, to his delight, a similar penchant for tart, slightly derisive comments on substandard work. Once they had parted, he decided to settle in for the night.

He was no longer driven by his myriad demons to wander the halls searching for a hapless victim for his foul temper. Thus he found himself lodged in an uncomfortably soft chair, a pink one on which he was certain he could sometimes still catch of whiff of that foul toad, Dolores Umbridge’s, sickly flora scent. He longed for the more workman-like, and much more masculine, furnishings of his old rooms. He wondered idly if he might contrive to have one of the house elves retrieve some of his former pieces for him.

As if on cue the one called Gwinny, who was assigned to him, appeared by his elbow. She wore the customary tea towel emblazoned with the Hogwarts crest. “What does the Headmaster Snape sir wish?”

It had come as some surprise that the elves of Hogwarts could see through such a powerful bit of magic as the one wrought by the Morrigan. “We talked about this, Gwinny. I am Professor Brewer now.”

Gwinny twisted her attenuated fingers, her ears drooping almost to her shoulder. “Yes, Headmaster, but you is in your private rooms. Can’t Gwinny call you by your real name, not the one that you think keeps you secret?”

“I’d rather you didn’t.” He put his book aside, and pinched the bridge of his nose absently.

The house elf’s shoulders sagged, “Yes, Headmaster Brewer Sir.”

Severus closed his eyes against the glare of the light. An incongruous bubble of mirth rose in his chest and escaped his mouth in a bray of laughter. Headmaster was not a title he ever aspired, although it seemed that it was to be thrust upon him by an equally obstinate creature again. He could almost feel Albus’ damned twinkle across the gulf between life and death. It took him moments to regain his composure as chuckles escaped him every time he opened his eyes. He was struck by the sight of the house elf who was wreathed in a satisfied smile much like Albus’. The damned elf had followed his direction.

When the creature, with much feigned patience and sighing, deemed him calm enough she asked again, “How may I help Headmaster Brewer?”

Severus stifled another bout of laughter. “I should like some of the furnishings from my dungeon apartments, if you could, Gwinny.”

The elf nodded and disappeared silently.

The clock chimed midnight. Severus rose and went to the loo. As he washed his hands after, he noticed a slight change in his features. His face had smoothed a bit and his mouth was no longer canted to the side. He wondered at the change wrought in his visage, but lost the thread of his thought as a chair appeared in his seating area.

21 December, 2004

Severus picked his way across the slushy mess of the courtyard to the newly built potions laboratory. It was a light brick and mortar structure with windows all around it, and had been constructed after the war in his memory. He would have never wanted so much glass against flying cauldron shrapnel or whatever fresh new hell an inattentive student could create with a careless addition to already volatile potions.

He had taken to walking with Granger to the Great Hall for lunch. Since Minerva had made lunch-time duty mandatory at least three times a week he’d signed up to be on duty on the same days as Granger. He’d done so with more than a few misgivings.

He was mindful of his penchant to become obsessed with females who were merely nice to him, and he could safely say that Granger had placed him firmly in the friend category. Maybe.

She did have a tendency to touch him, but from what he remembered of her days as Potter’s brains, she had been quite demonstrative with him and the Ginger Menace. He couldn’t draw any conclusions from her casual arm clutching, or the occasional shoulder squeeze she might bestow upon him when she was particularly pleased with something he said or did. Women, and this one in particular, had always posed a conundrum to him, though to be honest, he had never actually attempted more than casual acquaintance with another woman besides Lily.

As he drew close to the doors, a loud boom came from the interior of the building. Severus rushed intothe building which comprised the large room that served as both laboratory and lecture hall. Sixth years massed around what Severus assumed was the epicentre of the mishap. Granger had already cast a containment spell, and she said, “Phelps, Mars, you two will stay after class. The rest of you, on your way! I know I promised you a free day to work on your own projects, but instead, we’ll finish this lesson Thursday.”

The rest of the students filed out amid expressions of disgust aimed at both their professor and the two dunderheads that caused the explosion.

She held her wand aloft and banished the steaming cauldron and said, without looking at the two boys, “What have you two got to say for yourselves?”

Her tone was clipped. Had Severus not seen the way she favoured her arm as she cast her spell, he might have thought her merely angry.

Mars, the taller of the two, and a Slytherin, shuffled his feet. After a whispered tête à tête with the Ravenclaw Phelps, he stepped forward, his head bowed and said, “It was my fault, Professor. I-I thought I had diced the mugwort, but I guess I shredded it.”

“Well, I suppose it’s a good thing you’ll get practice tonight doing both shredding and dicing,” Granger said. “Your detention will start at seven. Now off to lunch, both of you.”

The boys exited the building with the appropriate show of both teen-aged defiance and dejection. Severus observed dryly, “Did I just observe Professor-Don’t-Be-So-Harsh-Granger give detentions?”

“Bloody dunderheads. If they weren’t so busy flirting with the girls across the aisle, they wouldn’t have made that mistake.” Granger blew a thin stream of air through her lips as she began unbuttoning her sleeve. The back of her hand was blistered and raw with small patches of deeper burns. She slipped the loosened sleeve back on her robe, exposing a lurid, second-degree burn that extended to the back of her wrist. “Damn, I’m out of my burn paste. All I have is the student stores. I suppose I’ll have to go to the infirmary.”

“It’s an easy enough fix.” After a moment of consideration, where Severus weighed whether his brewing skills might expose him, he said, “I know a bit about potions. I’ll make the paste.”

He made short work of gathering the ingredients as Granger summoned an elf to fetch lunch for them both. She watched silently as he started the brewing process. Severus settled into the familiar rhythm of brewing whilst Granger sent a Patronus to Minerva about their absence at lunch. In less than a second, a plate of sandwiches, pot of tea, and the accoutrements of civilised dining appeared. Granger played mother for Severus, preparing his tea with the precise amounts of sugar (a great deal) and milk (a splash.) He suddenly felt as if he belonged there with Granger, along with that feeling hovered a vague feeling of guilt at his deception.

He took the cup and the small plate she’d prepared for him as he came to the end of the first portion, the stirring rod set to rotate for the requisite two-hundred-fifty turns.

Granger nibbled at her sandwich, a bacon buttie with her particularly abhorrent addition of sliced tomato,mayonnaise, and lettuce. It was when he’d first seen her eat the abomination that he’d learnt she had spent time after the war in the States and had picked up at least one of their questionable eating habits. He gave a mock shiver as he bit into his own perfectly acceptable ham and Gruyere with just the right amount of Chinese mustard, before he turned back to the potion to monitor its colour.

Granger said, “You know, I used to enjoy watching our Potions Master brew whilst I was in class.”

Severus made a noncommittal noise in the back of his throat, not sure if he was willing to hear what she had to say about Severus Snape, bastard, git, and murderer, even with his new beginning as Claudius Brewer.

“When I was younger, I hoped one day to be as graceful as he was… and as passionate.” He heard her take another bite, chew, and then swallow. “In my sixth year, I fancied I was quite in love with him, even though he could be… difficult… at times.”

He glanced at Granger. She wore an expression of mild accusation, but her eyes shined with an almost hopeful gleam. Severus returned to the potion, noting that it was a tad off-colour. He modified the spell on the stirrer, slowing it. The potion returned to the slightly pearlescent green that it was supposed to be at that stage. He ventured, “Difficult? How so?”

“Well, as it turned out, he was in a rather complicated position.” Hermione said, “During my fourth year my friends and I found out that he was a double agent. There was so much going on in his life that he spoke unfairly to many students. He said things about their minds, their parentage… and at least once, about my looks.”

I see no difference… The exact phrase came to his mind along with the feeling of suffocating pressure, and inescapable grief. He remembered exactly how Miss Granger’s face crumpled, exactly how the look of unholy glee flitted across young Malfoy’s face, the righteous anger radiating from both Potter and Weasley. Above all he remembered how low he had felt when he said it. He had wanted to take it back, of course, but he walked such a thin line between success and failure even before the Dark Lord regained his body…

The stirring count came to a close. As Severus added the final ingredient, he said, “I’m sure if he were here, he would tell you how much he regretted taking his anger out on you.”

Granger remained silent and Severus didn’t dare look at her. He didn’t want to see how his thoughtless words still scarred her.

It was only later that evening as he lay in his bed that he realised what Granger had said.

She had been half in love with him.

Even though it had been a school girl crush, at least someone had loved him in those dark days.

It surely wasn’t his imagination that he felt the stricture of the geas lessen on his soul, nor was it entirely improbable that he felt his twisted body lengthen. He would have to check his image the next day for alterations that he both welcomed and dreaded with greater frequency in the last few weeks.

31 December, 2004 -1 January, 2005
Granger had roped him into this.
He might not be able to forgive her for it, at least not tonight. He lurked against the wall in the painfully familiar, and little changed, kitchen of Grimmauld Place, nursing a seltzer water whilst Granger, who had practically begged him to attend, flitted about in lepidopteran fashion chatting with various friends and acquaintances, leaving Severus to dodge Potter.

Not that Granger would expect the increasingly tiresome— to Severus at least— Claudius Brewer to have feelings about Potter one way or the other. So, no, he couldn’t blame her when Potter finally made his way through the maddening crowd of Weasleys, Order Members, and Ministry staff, to Severus. He came to rest a little unsteadily by Snape, his eyes surveying the crowd.

“It’s nice to see you here, Professor,” Severus remained impassive as Potter spoke, “I-I never thought you’d come to a party at this… I mean, my party at my house… well, I mean any party, not just mine.” The man flushed unaccountably, “What I mean is… Hermione says you’re not one for crowds and such… Oh, bugger…”

The room’s noise level dipped as yet another person came through the door to the already crowded kitchen. Ronald Weasley stood framed in the doorway, looking as fit and handsome as his youthful physique had promised. He turned and drew a woman of surpassing loveliness in before him. Snape watched Hermione’s cheeks pale as she drew her lip through her front teeth, the reaction was fleeting and painful for Severus to watch. Granger raised her hand and motioned Weasley and his lovely companion over. Weasley cleared a path for them both and they made their way to Granger, Potter excused himself hastily and moved to Granger’s side.

Jealousy clawed at Severus as Weasley embraced Hermione and then gestured to the woman who seemed attached like a lamprey to his side. Granger gave the woman a watery smile and hugged Weasley again. It was obvious that she still had feelings for him, no matter that he had putative curse damage or that he paraded about with another woman. Severus had been deluding himself since the day he’d prepared the burn paste, a thing he hadn’t allowed since he’d become the Order’s spy.

He had seen enough.

He stalked, as well as he could, from the crowded room hoping to find escape in the only place he had ever liked in Black’s childhood home, the library. It was close enough to the New Year countdown that no one would miss him. He would make his escape in the crush afterwards.

He opened to heavy oaken doors to the room and let a feeling of painful nostalgia wash over him. The furnishings remained the same with their dark leather and ornately carved wood, the vaulted ceiling had a fewer cobwebs, but still carried the soot from candles burnt in its interior for at least three centuries. He crossed to the bookshelves. There were some new titles amongst the old, but overall even the order in which they were kept was preserved. Potter probably hadn’t even entered the room since he took over.

Snape ran an acquisitive hand over the slightly diminished number of Dark Arts tomes until he came to the one he had read the last time he was in this mausoleum. He picked it up and opened it to the place he had marked with a spare bit of parchment that had always seemed to find a place in his pocket in those days.

He’d been so exhausted that night, a fatigue of both his body and soul. He fancied he could feel an echo of that fatigue in his bones even now. He’d been to one of the many torture sessions visited on the ranks of the Death Eaters during that time. Lucius had been the Dark Lord’s focal point, but Severus himself had not escaped Bella’s notice. He shook as he remembered the excoriating feel of the Cruciatus under his skin, down his nerve endings, before it rattled into his bones. All he had wanted that night was to retreat to his bed at Hogwarts and nurse his injuries, but barring that, he had needed just a few moments to regroup. Black had been drunk that night, ranting about Snape’s presence at the Order meeting, calling him a coward. He had burst into the library, screaming about Severus’ choice in reading materials, his parentage, his greasy looks. They had come to physical blows that night, both made stronger and inured to pain by either their state of mind or inebriation. When the fight was over, Severus had placed the book back precisely as he found it, his place marked for when he would return.

A week later Black was dead and there was no doubt that the Dark Lord had returned. A year later he murdered Dumbledore, and the following year he was given a choice that wasn’t one. He’d fled like the coward both Black and Potter had named him.
Severus put the book back in its slot with shaking hands, gulping for air against the feeling of dread that assaulted him. He grabbed the glass-slick shelf before him with both white-knuckled hands, his head down as he took deep, dusty breaths in and attempted to blow out the darkness. He was barely cognisant that the door opened and closed to the room.
Strong feminine arms guided him to a couch, a cool hand brushed his brow as he fought the panic that held him in thrall. He felt himself sink onto a soft breast, not hearing anything above the rush of his heart’s blood, even though he knew that it was Granger who held him and murmured a gentle stream of words into his ear.

When the worst of the storm passed, Severus extricated himself from her grasp. He scrubbed his hands over his face and made to rise, only to halt his action as Granger said, “We all have demons to overcome, Professor. There have been times I wish I had someone to help me ride out the worst part of a bad memory.”

She ran a hand up his arm. “Please sit here for a moment, and then we can leave if you want. I never meant to cause you distress with my invitation to this party.”

Severus slowly relaxed against the couch, coming to rest with his shoulder next to hers. He looked at her mutely, looked at each of her plain features that, when viewed as a whole, were becomingly pretty. She returned his frank stare as she ran her finger over his hand which was resting next to hers on the sofa. A hot frisson of desire shot through his hand straight to his groin. She licked her lips nervously before saying, “It was nice to see Ronald Weasley tonight. I didn’t expect him to come or for him to have a wife.”

“I suppose it must be difficult to see that a paramour has moved on,” Severus answered. “Especially when one’s heart is broken by them.”

“He didn’t break my heart. I broke his.” Hermione gave a soft puff of laughter. She looked down at Severus’ hand, her lashes covering the warm whisky colour of her eyes as she took his hand in hers, lacing her fingers through his proprietarily. “I know it sounds ridiculous when you consider what a little house wren I am compared to him, but I was in love with someone else, someone unattainable. I couldn’t love Ron the way he needed to be and it wasn’t fair of me to try to string him along. And well, since the man I thought I was in love with disappeared, I decided that some of us just didn’t get the happy endings we hoped for.”

Severus clamped down on the small burst of triumph her words elicited. She had said she was in love with him in sixth year, surely she hadn’t held out hope that he… no, it was a ridiculous thought. Regardless of how impossible the thought might be, hope wormed through him.

“I did tell you that I was…” The sound of counting from the milling crowd outside the cocoon of the library interrupted her thought. She leaned closer, a smile ghosting over her lips as she counted along. On the count of three she closed her eyes, by the count of one, Severus had covered the distance between them, his lips claiming hers.

In the history of kisses, it was clumsy at best. Their lips clashed bruisingly against teeth at first, he didn’t know how to place his prodigious nose so that it didn’t prod her face, his free hand hovered in the air over her face, but it was magical nonetheless as she took over and made all those problems disappear. His heart hammered as she slid her tongue across the seam of his thin lips and past them into his mouth where they each stroked the other. He moved over her, asserting himself, drawing a long moan from her as he raked his fingers past the pins that held her hair in check. He drew back long enough to see the honeyed halo that her frizz created around her face and once he was satisfied that she was in proper disarray, he returned to her taste her swollen lips, to drink in the light champagne flavour of her mouth.

He resolved to speak to her of his deception and of the strange turn his life had taken almost seven years ago. The Morrigan could have his soul afterwards as long as he could hold onto this memory for the rest of eternity.

2 January, 2005 - 30 April, 2005

He put off speaking to Hermione about his true identity choosing instead to selfishly create a hoard of memories in case he failed to fulfill the strictures of his curse.

He found himself tongue tied when she would accept and even initiate contact between them. He had come to appreciate her mind, even if he still thought her a swot, he enjoyed the quiet hours they spent together, marking abysmal papers, discussing the state of the world, reading together, her feet tucked under a blanket he kept in his seating area just for such a time. He didn’t even mind when her horrible hair littered his clothing or when she talked overlong about a topic that bored him, and she didn’t seem to mind similarly irritating things about himself. He still marveled at the fact that they could disagree, even have shouting rows where doors were slammed (by him), and angry tears were shed (by her) and still they could come back together in the end. She had shown him what true friendship could be.

Several times they had come close to making love, but he had resisted. He couldn’t continue lying to her if they furthered their intimacy, and he didn’t want the end of his deception to culminate in his death if she did not return his regard. He enjoyed, rather than endured, the living of his life in the past months, and he took control of that joy with both hands. He was still a selfish bastard in that respect.

Over the months his appearance changed without remark from anyone. He wondered at that, but assumed that the changes wrought were so subtle that only he noticed because he was looking for them. His altered appearance gave him some hope that he might survive The Morrigan’s curse. He thought that Hermione might be the key to that survival, and so on Beltane, after the children had danced around the Maypole, after the blessing fires had been lit and Hagrid’s creatures run through the smoke, and the Horned God had pursued Macha, he would tell her his true identity. He would tell her about his strange visitation on the night of the Final Battle and of the choice he made that was no real choice. By and far the most frightening thing he would do would be to lay his soul bare and tell how he had come to love her, house-wren pretty, frizzy hair, swottish tendencies and all.

He spent weeks crafting the perfect spot for the telling deep in the Forbidden Forest. He fortified the spot with wards to keep out unwanted creatures and magicked a bower enchanted from the forest itself. Inside the area were chairs fashioned from twisted willow branches, a table made from leathery fungi, a fourposter bed made from wisteria vines dominated the scene, complete with fairy lights. He arranged for Gwinny to bring champagne, chocolate, and strawberries on Beltane night. Finally, on the last day of April he dedicated the space to The Morrigan. It was she, after all, who had brought Severus to this juncture, it was she who he hoped would relent and allow him to finally live after forty five years of merely existing.

He just hoped that he could love himself enough to actually take the chance that he had planned so meticulously. Albus might have said something about that aspect being important. All he knew was that he would not leave anything to chance, so if he must love himself then he would at least attempt it.

1 May, 2005

He dressed in new robes made of forest green wool with embroidered with silver runes around the hem, sleeves, and down a placket on the front. He watched in dread filled anticipation as she took part in the festivities. He admired her trim figure weaving in and out with the younger children as they completed the May pole. He laughed along with her as the seventh year chosen to pantomime the Horned God who was clad in ridiculously outdated formal robes, chased her half-heartedly, pawing at the air and letting out strange whinny-snorts as he did. Severus took her hand as the Beltane fires were lit and the herds of creatures kept by Hagrid ran through. He fell to silence as the Thestrals came for their blessing and she shivered against him, tears running down her cheeks unchecked.

He was sorry that she could see the beasts.

As the festivities came to a close, Severus drew Hermione closer to the Forest and kissed her in the shadows. She responded to him with the taste of smoke and the feel of fire on her lips. When they broke, she touched his face and sighed, “That was unexpected.

Severus drew her closer to whisper in her ear, “Come with me.”

With a silent Accio, held out his hand for his broom. She laughed nervously but mounted in front of him after he extended his hand to her, beckoning. He snugged her against him and they rose above the trees. Her hair whipped back against his robes, he had never wanted her, or any woman, more than he did then.

He sighted the bower and slowly circled around it, letting her view what he had made for her, for them. They finally landed and he helped her down from the broom, as gallant as any valiant knight in rusty armour could. She entered the circle of the bower and spun around delightedly. “Did you do this?”

He nodded. He hadn’t stepped into the sanctum, once he did, there would be no half-truths, no outright lies.

“It’s lovely.” She smiled at him, a beaming one that showed her delight in his handiwork. “But why are you over there?”

He strode a few paces along the margin of the bower, never feeling more a coward than at that moment. He said, “Before I join you, there is something I must say.”

“Tell me then.” Hermione’s mobile face smoothed and she dropped her outstretched hand.

“I am not who you think I am…” He began. “There is no Claudius Brewer.”

“I know… Severus,” she answered. “I don’t know if you were cursed and your memory was destroyed, I don’t know if you were in a fugue state, and frankly, it doesn’t matter to me. I love you regardless.” She lifted her hand to him, “Just come and let us enjoy this beautiful night together.”

He stared mutely at her for a moment before joining her, fear and relief warring in him.

They made love in that place dedicated to The Morrigan. Their cries of ecstasy filled the night air as they coupled under the spell of the forest. When they lay sweating and sated in each other’s arms, Severus told her of the story of his near death and the that was laid upon him and the years he wasted before returning to the only place that had ever been his home. He mentioned his fear that until she had told him of her love for him that he had failed, that he had wanted one night more of love before he was taken. He was sure she was the key to breaking the geas. When he was through with telling, he waited for the swotty Muggleborn to appear in Hermione, to have her dismiss his experience as hallucination from lack of oxygen. She merely asked, “How did she exactly word the geas, Severus?”

He repeated The Morrigan’s words verbatim, “You will return to life, but not as you were. You will appear as twisted and ugly in the mirror as you think yourself to be. In that time you must convince the one who would deny your humanity to accept what and who you are. At the end of the seven years if you fail, you will die.”

“Severus, I never denied your humanity,” Hermione said. “I don’t remember a time since sixth year when I didn’t believe in you, even after… you know.”

It felt as if his heart skipped a beat at her admission and then the crawling horror of incipient death returned to him. He had failed.

He felt like weeping, he wanted to destroy what he had made. He rose, stiff and angry that his life with choices and love would end the next day. Instead he said, “I wish you to know… that I will always love you, Hermione, even after death, you will be… my everything.”

Hermione crossed to him, “No, I don’t think you understand, Severus. I think… well, you’ve changed since you first came here. You’ve become more accepting of yourself…”

She paused peering at him closely. “You did say that you noticed changes, an easing of the curse, right?”

Irritation knifed through him, “You know what I said, fool that I am.”

“I don’t think the Goddess meant that you needed to look for outward acceptance, Severus,” Hermione answered. “Youwere always your harshest critic. Minerva told me so after I hired you. That’s why she thought you lost your memory.”

“Well, fuck.”

“Yes, lets.” Hermione’s throaty laugh filled the bower as she stalked once again to the bed. “I want to know if I can get my second happy ending this evening.”

Part 3: The Morrigan

She/they watch them couple through the mists of beyond. Macha and Babd Catha take bets on how long the man will last when the woman switches the game about and sits astride him. His moans and straining face bring howls of laughter from the other two. The Morrigan is losing patience with her sisters/herself. There is work yet to do, wars to maintain, warriors to take to the Summerlands.

The Morrigan feels a soul beside her. The mortal who used to be known as Eileen Prince, the mother of the man in the beyond, says with asperity, “It’s impolite to watch this.”

Babd Catha cackles, “Unless there are cameras...”

“Porn is the best invention that these mortals ever created.” Macha adds.”So entertaining.”

The Morrigan waves her hand gracefully and the world beyond disappears.

“I told you he would break your spell, Madam,” Eileen says with a note of pride.

The Morrigan merely dips her head whilst Babd Catha howls with laughter. “It took him long enough!”

“We/I certainly didn’t need yet another recalcitrant servant.” Macha adds as she slaps the mortal on her shoulder nearly sending the mortal sprawling.

The Morrigan laughs, “No, one is enough, isn’t it, mortal?”

Eileen remains silent, but The Morrigan can see her heart.

The mortal is proud of her son, and is happy to fulfill her obligation of servitude to the goddess/es so that the child of her loins can finally live without the extreme fear, pain, and heartbreak from his choices. The Morrigan once again opens a portal to the beyond, smaller this time so that the others/she cannot see the only truly divine act that mortals can do, especially when it’s enacted in a space dedicated to her/them.

The Morrigan commands, “When they are finished with their exertions and are sleeping, fetch my wolf form from your son. I/we will need it where I/we go next.”

The Morrigan strides away, knowing the mortal will do as bidden. It is her/their will.
Tags: 2015 summer fanwork, fic
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