There was a time when Harry wouldn't have been surprised to hear Severus Snape declare himself to be the next Dark Lord. He would have felt vindicated—would have taken every syllable as the absolute truth. Now, Harry chuckled to himself as he listened to Snape lob threats at the guardian of his private quarters. The portrait in question was a snake named Sophia who spoke English, French, and Mermish, but not a word of Parseltongue. Having found neither Sophia nor Snape where they should have been, Harry had gone searching for the latter, led by the portraits whose frames Sophia had slithered through in her pursuit of the Potions Master.
"If you don't stop following me, I swear to you that I will become another Dark Lord," Snape said. "I'll start a campaign against stubborn, meddlesome portraits. My followers will call themselves the Canvas Eaters, and you will be their first meal."
Maybe Sophia had used a certain slur for Muggle-borns one too many times. Harry certainly wouldn't start weeping if Snape chose to break out the magical white spirits and do away with the snake. Plus, Snape deserved to get his revenge on reptile-kind after Neville stole his thunder.
Rounding the corner to offer his assistance in portrait destruction, Harry greeted his former professor with a grin. Snape stopped cold and pointed his wand straight at Harry's chest. This was not at all alarming or new; Snape tended to react badly to being taken by surprise. The way Snape didn't lower his wand upon seeing Harry's face… that was new.
"Sir?" Harry said, feeling faintly ridiculous. He hadn't been the man's student for over a decade. It was well past time he started using Snape's first name. Now didn't seem quite the right moment to try it on for size. Not unless Harry wanted to get hexed.
"What are you doing here, Potter?" Snape asked with a scoff. "And… Sir? What are you playing at?"
"What are you talking about? I've always called you sir. Err, almost always. Are you feeling all right?"
The wand didn't move. "Since… What?" Pausing, Snape pressed his free hand to his narrow chest. "I don't feel it anymore."
"The Life Debt." Snape leaned closer. "Oh. Are you a relative of James Potter? The resemblance is… but the eyes. Who are you?"
Oh, hell. That couldn't be good. What had happened to him? Snape looked fine. Just as surly and pale as when they'd met for tea the previous month. But speaking of eyes, there was a strange, unsettling light in Snape's. It reminded Harry of that night Snape had confronted Sirius in the Shrieking Shack: all hunger and desperation and malevolence.
"It's me," Harry said. "Harry Potter."
Snape looked blank, as if the name meant nothing to him. Had someone Oblivated him? Surely not. Even after so many years of peace, Snape's instincts were honed to the point of paranoia.
"You know him," Sophia said. "Everyone knows The Boy Who Lived. I don't think you know yourself right now. You're acting very peculiar. Too much time around the Mudblood, no doubt."
Snape didn't snap at the portrait to never say that word. Beyond the slight tightening of his jaw, there was no sign that the slur bothered Snape at all. This, more than anything else, sent chills up Harry's neck. Something was horribly wrong.
As Snape's left hand rose in a familiar gesture to pinch the bridge of his nose, his sleeve drooped down to his elbow. Staring at the faded grey Dark Mark with wide eyes, Snape gasped.
"What has happened?" Snape asked.
"The Dark Lord is dead, you silly boy," Sophia said. "And good riddance. Never did like him. All the finesse of a bludger."
"It's true, sir," Harry said when Snape looked as though he didn't believe it. "Not about the finesse—although, yeah, Sophia has a point. I meant it's true that he's dead. It happened years ago."
Finally, Snape's wand moved. It wasn't the relief it should have been; he aimed it at Harry's temple.
Harry didn't resist. He could, now. He still wasn't great, but he did pass Auror training. Letting Snape see the truth of his claims seemed like the best option. It had absolutely nothing to do with instinctive panic at feeling Snape in his mind for the first time since his fifth year. Nothing at all.
The first memory Snape found was one from a few days before: Ginny holding Albus on her hip. Snape lingered there until Ginny turned around and looked up at Harry with her warm brown eyes. Her hand rested on her rounded belly. Harry felt Snape pulling back and almost flicking the memory aside until Hermione chased James into it, laughing and tickling him as they both collapsed on the daisy-spotted grass. Focusing on Hermione, Snape chased down other memories of her. They flipped past so quickly, Harry wasn't sure he had the ability to redirect Snape to the more relevant Voldemort-based memories.
He saw Hermione tearing up and smiling so, so wide when she'd held James for the first time. That led to her crying over Crookshanks's death, which led to Crookshanks protecting Sirius, which led to Snape protecting Harry and his friends from Remus. Snape paused there, black eyes boring into Harry's, before moving on to a memory of Snape and Hermione reading quietly together at an Order reunion while others zipped around in a pick-up Quidditch game. Then Harry was beneath the blue skies of his wedding day. Hermione whirled around the dance floor with George, and—
Yanking away from Harry's mind, Snape stumbled back. Blood dripped from his nose as he collapsed to the ground. Harry started to approach, wand drawn, but stopped at the sound of familiar, sensible boots clicking towards him.
"Severus?" Hermione said, kneeling next to Snape. "Are you okay?"
Snape blinked up at her.
"He's gone barmy," Sophia said.
Hermione ignored this. Leaning closer, she brushed the long, lank hair out of Snape's face and looked into his eyes. To Harry's complete astonishment, Snape blushed. Harry filed that under things to think about at a later date. Preferably when he was drunk.
"What happened?" Hermione asked.
"I hardly know," Snape said. He squinted at her, looking more confused than ever. "I know you."
"Of course you know me." Fluttering worriedly around him, Hermione cast a barrage of diagnostic spells. "I'm going to call Poppy."
She'd improved since their DA days. Harry had received plenty of messages via Patronus from Hermione over the years, but it had been ages since he'd seen her cast the charm in person. The otter flowed effortlessly from her wand and swam through the air towards the Hospital Wing. It was a bizarre thing to notice, given the circumstances, but Harry would take silver linings where he could find them. Hermione having more happy memories was definitely a silver lining.
"Hermione," Harry whispered, tugging at her sleeve. "He thought I was my dad."
Harry ran a hand through his messy hair. "He didn't seem to realise the war was over, either."
Hermione looked as if all of those happy memories had just vanished. "Severus," she said, her voice quivering. "What year is it?"
Harry recognised the sneer that transformed Snape's face. He'd been on the receiving end of it often enough in his school days, whenever Snape had thought Harry was being particularly thick. So basically every day, then.
"1980," Snape said.
Harry groaned. "Oh, hell."
The Healer had something green stuck between her front teeth. Parsley? Spinach? Severus was so distracted by it, he nearly missed her ridiculous diagnosis.
"Well, it's not a curse," the Healer said. Her voice rose to the sing-song, high-pitched sort of tone that imbeciles used when speaking to toddlers. "I think we had an accident while brewing something with Ashwinder eggs, didn't we?"
A potions accident. The incompetent woman was claiming he'd had a potions accident? The last time he'd so much as melted a cauldron was when he'd crafted his first experimental potion during his first year at Hogwarts.
"I beg your pardon?" Severus said.
"Are you certain?" Hermione asked. "That seems… unlikely."
Hermione. Severus knew her name now. The James Potter lookalike—Harry—had said it. And it had been in some of those memories. The name didn't seem right for her. It was like a potion that needed a few more stirs or a dash of fluxweed or something he couldn't quite pin down.
Severus remembered her, this Hermione who shouldn't have been called Hermione. No details or even what her face looked like, but she felt familiar. When she'd approached him back at Hogwarts, he'd felt a tug in his abdomen, like a Portkey aimed at a person instead of a place. He knew that feeling well enough. Severus was intimately acquainted with the pull of a Life Debt.
He couldn't yet untangle the emotions he'd felt in Potter's memories. Hatred and love, admiration and disdain. Some belonged to Potter, some belonged to Severus. He didn't know which was which. It hurt his head to think about it too much. The last thing he remembered that made any sense was being chucked out of the Hog's Head by Aberforth Dumbledore. He'd been trying to work out how he'd ended up at Hogwarts when Potter had found him. The sooner he could get away from these people and either prove or disprove their claims about his inactive Dark Mark, the better.
Oh, the Healer was talking again.
"I would say it was the result of a memory charm," she said, "except he has traces of Ashwinder eggs in his system. The good news is I have every reason to believe the effects will not be permanent. The bad news is it will take some time to restore all of your memories. Do you have access to a Pensieve?"
She didn't use that babyish voice when speaking to the others. Only Severus received that special treatment.
"I have one," McGonagall said.
Severus marvelled over so many people crowding around his hospital bed. Hermione, Potter, McGonagall, Madame Pomfrey. He would have thought only Madam Pomfrey would have accompanied him to St Mungo's, and that she would have done so only to see that whichever Healer took over for her was briefed on what she knew. Leaning back against the pillow, Severus turned over his emotions towards McGonagall and Madam Pomfrey in his sore head. They seemed different. He couldn't quite work out how—couldn't put a name to the feelings. He thought he might trust the two witches, but that couldn't be right.
Severus knew the cure for memory loss from accidents involving Ashwinder eggs, but the Healer prattled on as if she believed him to be a moron. To save himself the additional headache of explaining it to everyone else, he let her babble. Not that he believed he'd actually had an accident while brewing, of course. Someone must have dosed him with something. Potter, if he was anything like his relations, was a likely suspect.
"I want you to view one or two memories per day, taken from those who know you," the Healer said. "If you start getting headaches, give yourself a rest. Some people find it best to start at the beginning and work their way forward. Others jump around. The order doesn't matter. Legilimency works, as you discovered today, but a Pensieve is better. It's less tainted by the emotions of the person who gives you the memory. Your emotions will be confusing enough without that added difficulty." She directed her next question towards the others. "I'm to understand he's changed significantly since he was twenty years old?"
The assembled crowd huffed out a chorus of laughs.
"Very much so," McGonagall said.
The Healer gave a brusque nod. "Right. I thought as much, but you never can believe everything you read. Well, Mr Snape, you will almost certainly feel things that don't make sense. Your emotions will belong to your current self, not your younger self. Your mind may have forgotten, but your heart still knows who you have become."
What sentimental rubbish. Severus rolled his eyes. The Healer was as oblivious to his disdain as she was to the greenery between her teeth.
"Once you've accumulated enough memories, you will create a bridge that will fill in all of the holes and make the memories truly yours again," the Healer continued. "The formation of that bridge can sometimes cause an involuntary eruption of magic that can be upsetting to some people, I must warn you. What constitutes enough memories varies from person to person. Given how much time you've lost, I imagine it will take at least a year, maybe two, to get you back to normal. The memories aren't gone; they're just buried."
During this speech, Hermione tensed for some reason. Potter wrapped an arm around her shoulders in a consoling half-embrace. Hmm. Severus had thought the redhead he'd seen in those memories was Potter's wife. Well, until she'd turned around, he'd thought she was Lily. What were Potter and Hermione to each other?
McGonagall did look very old. She'd never been young in all the time Severus had known her, but now she was so grey and frail. If they were telling the truth and the war had ended eleven years ago, where was Lily now? All Harry had said was that he was the son of Lily and James Potter.
Pause for intense nausea.
If Severus spoke with her son on a semi-regular basis, were he and Lily friends again? And how had Severus avoided Azkaban if the Dark Lord really had fallen? If he owed Lucius a mountain of Galleons for paying his way out, Severus was going to be very cross.
The Healer continued to yammer on.
"You can talk about multiple memories all you like, but only view one or two per day. It's the viewing that causes the healing, and you need to take it slowly. Sometimes, particularly powerful memories might come to you as dreams or nightmares. If that happens, I would encourage you to find someone who was present and view the actual memory in a Pensieve. Dreams exaggerate everything. Also, no Apparating for you, Mr Snape. Not to places you haven't visited since your little accident. You cannot trust your memories of places to be accurate. Side-Along, Floo, broom, or Muggle means of travel only. I mean it."
Severus scowled. He'd been the first in his class to manage Apparition. He had never splinched himself.
"And, most important of all, maintain a positive attitude," the Healer said in a chirpy voice. "Now, I'll go fetch you a few headache potions, and you can be on your way."
Severus would be tipping said headache potions down the drain in favour of brewing his own. As soon as the Healer was out of earshot, Hermione snorted.
"A positive attitude," Hermione said. "She must have meant it when she said she doesn't believe everything she reads."
Dumbledore's portrait stared at Severus. He tried to ignore its painted gaze, focusing instead on the mirror he'd conjured. Trying to wrap his mind around his age was proving difficult. Forty-nine. Survived two wars, apparently, and turned spy. At least he didn't owe Lucius a debt for keeping him out of prison. Never married (hardly surprising). He could verify all of this in back issues of the Daily Prophet, allegedly, though McGonagall claimed that during the final year of the war the paper had been full of lies.
Lily was dead. Dead, and it was Severus's fault. The information he'd heard at the Hog's Head had killed her. His first friend. It should have hurt more. The Healer had warned about emotions that belonged to the version of him who possessed all of his memories, but what he felt now made no sense. It was a softened sort of grief, like a photograph that had been taken out too many times. Something sun-bleached and curled up around the edges. The fact that nearly 30 years had passed shouldn't have mattered. His older self's emotions should have matched up with what his younger self would have felt. This forty-nine-year-old Severus Snape should have wanted to rage and scream and resurrect the Dark Lord just so he could kill him all over again. Healing from such a blow shouldn't have been an option.
And then there was Dumbledore, dead by Severus's hand. Glancing up at the portrait, Severus had a go at working out his emotions on that topic. He quickly decided he didn't want to feel whatever it was that scrap of canvas made him feel. He shoved it back down and buried it under a layer of denial. It was too much.
"Why was Potter here?" Severus asked, needing to focus on something—anything—else. "Is he a teacher?"
If he had to put up with another Potter at Hogwarts, so help him—
"No," McGonagall—Minerva, she had insisted he call her—said. "He's an Auror. Head Auror now, actually. He comes round to see you sometimes. You tolerate him for as long as it takes you to drink a cup of tea, and then you banish him for the next month or so." She paused to laugh heartily at his disgusted expression. "Don't worry; you don't enjoy it."
"I cannot imagine what would make me suffer the presence of James Potter's son."
"He admires you. Quite a lot, actually. And he's not only James Potter's son."
Severus's hand itched with the urge to hex her. Good. At least some reactions were still predictable.
"Hermione, however, is a teacher," Minerva said. "History of Magic. Binns lectures to an empty classroom these days. He hardly notices the difference." The way she cleared her throat, Severus knew something she didn't want to say was coming. "The board of governors have been notified of your condition, and they have decided that while you certainly had the knowledge and ability at age twenty to teach Potions, parents would react badly if it got out that someone who believed himself to be a loyal Death Eater was teaching their children unsupervised. Well, most parents. Some would still be thrilled, no doubt."
"I don't feel a shred of loyalty towards them. Not if what you said about… Not if it's true."
How quickly he became a turncoat. Severus wondered if it had gone that way the first time around, or if he'd agonised over the decision. He guessed the former.
"I know," Minerva said, her expression softening. "Nevertheless, as a precautionary measure, they've arranged for an Auror to be on hand to monitor your actions. The Auror will stand guard outside your quarters and be present during your lectures until you are returned to yourself." She winced. "I'm sorry, Severus. It's temporary. They're rather desperate for you to stay on once you're well, or I doubt they would have consented to allow you around the students at all. If you ever wanted to demand a pay rise…"
It wasn't just the board of governors. Severus was certain. Minerva was the one who had contacted them. She didn't trust Severus. Not the twenty-year-old him, at any rate. What memories he still possessed said he should snap at her, tell her she could just find some other Potions Master, and he'd be on his way. For some reason, he did none of this. He found he didn't give a damn about the lack of trust. Whether he was genuinely not offended or whether he was just too exhausted to care, he couldn't say. Either way, he probably wouldn't trust himself, had he been in their shoes.
He would be asking for that pay rise. Just as soon as he knew what he was making now.
Severus descended the spiral staircase from the Headmistress's office. At the bottom, Potter stood waiting for him with an elderly man in Auror's robes who had more hair sprouting from his ears than his head.
Before any introductions could be made, Hermione marched up to them with a purring armful of comfort. Severus was far more interested in being introduced to what looked like a grey and black half-Kneazle. He didn't understand why until he held out his arms and Hermione passed the animal to him.
"This is Lois," Hermione said. "She's yours."
Oh. So she was. Severus had never had a familiar before. His emotions where Lois were concerned were blessedly unambiguous. Only the presence of other people prevented him from actually cuddling her. He settled for a indifferent pat on Lois's head. She didn't seem to mind. And now he had an explanation for the grey hair he'd noticed on his robes. At least he'd been able to solve one mystery, if not the more pressing ones.
"And this is Ernie," Potter said. "He's one of the Aurors assigned to your case."
His case. Charming way to put it. Severus gave a curt nod to his new babysitter.
"They're really going through with this?" Hermione's wild hair whipped around her head as she seemed to summon up all of the rage Severus had been lacking. "Do you really think that Severus, of all people, couldn't give Ernie the slip if he wanted to? No offence, Ernie."
"I'm sure you're a fine Auror…"
Potter gave Ernie a pat on the back. "Ernie's an excellent Auror. Caught hundreds of Dark Wizards in his time, and there's no one better when it comes to doing paperwork. He and his partner, Bert, are both gearing up for retirement in a few years. Longest serving Aurors we have."
"Wait," Hermione said. "Bert and Ernie? You paired them together on purpose, didn't you?"
"No. That was a happy coincidence." Potter grinned at her. "It's going to be a real pain in the arse to have to do my own paperwork while they're on this assignment. You'll meet Bert tomorrow, sir; they're going to take it in shifts. I'm hardly going to sacrifice any of my active field agents to watch a man who doesn't need watching, but if anyone gives you any trouble, Bert or Ernie will be there to give you backup. They're more than capable."
"You seem very certain that I'm going to behave myself," Severus said.
Potter gave a boyish shrug of one shoulder. "I don't exactly trust you when you're without your memories, but I sincerely doubt you're a danger to anyone associated with the Order now that Professor McGonagall has filled you in on why you defected to our side."
Severus almost wanted to fire a dark spell at Potter just to prove that he didn't know Severus as well as he seemed to think he did. Maybe when he wasn't in the presence of an Auror—no matter how aged—and a Hogwarts professor.
While Potter left Severus in Ernie's questionable care, Hermione opted to accompany him and Lois on their path to the dungeons. They found another half-Kneazle waiting in the corridor to his quarters. It looked almost identical to Lois, save a few slight variations in the markings around its face.
"This is Boudica," Hermione said, scooping the animal into her arms and snuggling it shamelessly. "She's Lois's sister. We got them together."
Severus's eyebrows jumped up towards his hairline.
"You took me to see Mrs Figg after my cat died," Hermione said. "She breeds half-Kneazles. You got fed up with me moping around the castle. You said it was impossible to discuss the latest issue of Potions Quarterly with someone intent on sobbing into their porridge, and although I possessed little skill in Potions, I was at least capable of comprehending the latest research, which was more than could be said for the rest of the staff, so I was getting another beast whether I liked it or not." Stepping closer to him, she gave Lois a scratch under her fuzzy chin. "You didn't intend to come away with a familiar of your own, but then your beast chose you. I'll show you the memory once you're feeling up to it."
Ernie conjured a chair that resembled a Muggle recliner and settled in with a stack of paperwork. Severus doubted Potter would actually be doing any of his own paperwork after all.
"I don't know where we're going to start with these memories," Hermione said. "So much has happened."
"So I've heard."
"Trust me, that's only the beginning."
The snake was back in its own frame. It sniffed haughtily as Hermione approached. Severus loathed the thing, as well as all other snakes. He had known it earlier, even before he'd heard the story about the method of his near-demise. He used to feel ambivalent about them. His temples throbbed.
"Oh," the portrait said with as close to a sneer as a snake's mouth could manage. "It's you again."
"Good evening to you too, Sophia," Hermione said in a syrupy voice. "Don't worry; I'm not staying."
It hissed when she patted its frame. Hermione went up in Severus's estimation, since the portrait disliked her.
"Well," Hermione said. "Goodnight."
The tug in his gut followed her as she turned away. The blasted Life Debt. He needed to find a way to get rid of it.
At the sound of her name, Hermione jerked in surprise.
"What?" Severus asked, his question about the Life Debt momentarily forgotten.
"Nothing, really. You just never call me by my first name."
"What do I call you?"
"Miss Granger when I was a schoolgirl. Granger since we became colleagues. In nearly twenty years of knowing me, you've only called me by my first name once, and that was when we were in the middle of a war and you thought you were going to die."
Ah. Granger. That fit her so much better than Hermione. It was the extra pinch of fluxweed that made the potion simmer into its proper form.
"But you call me Severus?" he asked.
"I do. The closest you came to giving me permission was to say you supposed I would do whatever I pleased, the same way I always had. I don't think you really mind, though."
Severus doubted this. "I see. I was your teacher?"
"Yeah. Potions for the first five years, then Defence and Occlumency in my sixth year, then Potions again in my seventh."
"And now? Are we friends?"
"I think so?" She gave a self-deprecating laugh. "We meet up outside of work. I consider you a friend. You seem to think of me as a friend as well, but who can tell with you? You might just see me as one of your less bothersome colleagues. But I trust you. I would trust you with my life. I have, on more than one occasion."
Severus thought she was likely a fool for doing so.
His chambers consisted of a bookshelf-lined sitting room that reminded him of the Slytherin Common Room with its underwater windows, a bedroom with the biggest four poster bed he'd ever seen, and a bathroom with a bathtub to rival the stories he'd heard of the Prefects' Bathroom. As he explored, Severus decided he would sneak away from the Auror as soon as possible. He needed to get the other side of the story and verify what he'd been told, as well as obtaining whatever information they might have tried to conceal from him. Narcissa would be a good choice. Last he remembered, she'd been pregnant. Severus had apparently saved that baby's life by taking Dumbledore's. Narcissa had to be grateful for that.
And he would Apparate there on his own, no matter what the Healer said. He could trust his memories of Malfoy Manor. It hadn't changed in centuries.