Chapter 30 : Twenty-Six: Ending of a Story
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The room was neither bright nor dark, just perfect for its single occupant. This figure sat at a desk, sifting through a pile of papers and old assignments never again collected by errant students. There were streaks of grey among the hairs of black, with too many wrinkles of past sufferings lining the face. Minerva McGonagall eyes looked up from their search to glance at the shelves on the walls and the neat rows of desks lined up in front of her. Where had she put it...?
The beady eyes flickered towards the back cabinet with its brass lock.
She kept the key in her pocket, just in case. The door opened easily, with much use, revealing a small pile of letters, tied up with a spare bit of twine, some books, other odds-and-ends, as well as a box. It was a plain thing, like the boxes Muggles used. The sides were unmarked, but the inside was heavy with memory. Pushing aside the letters and other objects, Minerva pulled the box from its position and pried it open. The contents were all she had left of those days.
Perhaps what she was looking for would be found here.
Among the things she had collected from his office, she had taken some of those which could not be trusted to the girl. And good riddance, with the way things had gone, first with her going off on her own to live like a nun – to live like he did, part of her said – then vanishing into thin air with only the strange story told by Sirius Black to give it any authority. No one had returned to the cottage since the Aurors had left off investigating some months before. All his things were left to rot in that building.
Of course it didn’t matter all that much to Minerva. She didn’t let herself be bothered by such trivial, materialistic things. If no one else cared for his belongings, then there was no reason she should.
A cloud of dust emerged from the box. Coughing, she managed to find her handkerchief and covered her nose and mouth.
Had it been that long since he had died?
The pile of papers was there, covered in grey clouds of dust. What had he called them, dust bunnies? Peculiar, but that’s how it had always been. She picked through the thin parchments. The one she needed was an onion skin sheet, so thin you could see through it, scrawled upon with browning ink. It had been hidden in one of his books, one he must have known she would look through.
There it was. She held it in her fingers, eyes tracing the ripped edges, then tracing the lines of writing. The words and numbers were the cause of his problems, even his death. And now the girl had returned out of nowhere: pregnant and scared with something strange in the back of her eyes. Madness, perhaps. It had been in her father’s blood and had likely passed to her. Nothing anyone could have done would have....
Maybe Grimm. If he had known....
A knock at the door caused her to put a hand over her heart, twice-broken by the same man.
“You got it, Minerva?” Moody’s voice was strangely quiet. Still gruff, but somehow softened.
She nodded, rising with the paper still pinched between her fingers. She didn’t dare crumple it.
“Dumbledore will be wanting to read it.” When she hesitated, Moody added, “Come on, then.” He reached forward for her arm.
They were silent as they walked down the hall, his hand still strong on her arm. Had she become so infirm that she couldn’t find Dumbledore’s office on her own? Yet even with her indignation, Minerva could not break from Moody’s grasp. A mirror in the hall revealed her face to be sickly pale, like she had seen a ghost. The paper fluttered in her hand.
Dumbledore sat behind his desk, slowly flipping the pages of an ancient book. He looked up at their entrance, eyes searing into Minerva. There was no hint of a sparkle in his eyes; there, only seriousness could be found.
Minerva pulled away from Moody, still drawn to Dumbledore’s presence.
“I found it.” But she did not offer him the paper.
“May I see it, Minerva?” As he rose, she could see the slightest stiffness in his joints. That knowledge scared her above all else. Her hesitancy failed.
His fingers brushed against hers when he took the paper, but no electricity passed between them. Sometimes she still wondered about him.
“Ah,” he said, taking his seat once more. “It is certainly enlightening to know how he did it, even if this knowledge cannot help Emma, poor child.”
She took in a breath.
Moody’s brow fell further over his eyes. “Nothing at all? So what are we going to do about her then?”
She watched Dumbledore glance back at the ingredients to Grimm’s potion. It was more simple than she had expected – Dumbledore must have felt the same about it. The weariness upon him increased as he set the paper down upon his desk, less gently than she would have hoped.
“Let time take its course.” He leaned back in the chair, looking up towards Fawkes. “There is nothing else we can do for her. It could not have been the potion that caused her ill-health.”
“What did?” Moody demanded, shifting on his wooden leg.
Minerva moved to the window, resting her hands on the worn stone ledge. “Whatever happened to her there. Something terrible.”
“The Dark Lord has the power to do such things.” Dumbledore absently strokes Fawkes’ feathers. “He has ways of tricking the mind into believing what is not true.”
Moody snorted. “So this whole thing she says about being in a different time could be a lie, eh?”
“It could be.”
At the tone of Dumbledore’s voice, Minerva swung around. “And how do you explain the child? She claims that it’s Snape’s.”
Dumbledore scrutinized her expression whilst maintaining no set expression on his own face. However, it was Moody who answered her.
“There have been attacks on women by Death Eaters, and she is a pureblood....”
A spark of anger reached Dumbledore’s eyes. “It is too simple an explanation for her condition, Alastor. You may find that Minerva knows more about Tiberius’ potion than you could suppose.” He raised his voice a touch so as to address her, and only her. “You have seen it work, have you not, Minerva?”
Her sharp intake of breath should have been enough of a response.
“He came to me, after his own funeral.” She looked towards the two wizards. “He was not a ghost.”
Before Moody could speak – there was much suspicion in his gaze – Dumbledore spoke.
“One would think it impossible, travelling through time without the use of a timeturner. How much did it rely on the person’s own desires?”
Her memory was far away, remembering. “Entirely. He could only go where he wanted.”
“Not a bad deal,” Moody grumbled.
“What time do you think Emma desired to travel to?” Dumbledore was using his soft, persuasive voice once again. The voice of a Headmaster, interrogator, not a friend.
Moody’s eyes narrowed. “Before Grimm died, likely. Try to save him.”
Minerva shook her head. “No. Not to save him. There was something else....”
Another moment of hesitation. She would be a doddering old woman before the day was out.
“She would go back to change Snape, perhaps to the very day he and Potter fought on the grounds in their fifth year.” Her hand balled into a fist. “I had the power to stop her, when she left here. I could have done something to help her.”
Moody let out a harumph of distaste. “Doubt that. Too much like her father.”
Dumbledore raised a weary hand. “Stop, stop. We cannot change what has been, no matter how much Tiberius desired it.” His eyes shot over to Minerva, quickly removing themselves again. “We can only work towards the future and what it may bring.”
“We must fight for the common good,” Minerva said, a sneer growing on a face unfamiliar with such an expression. She saw the recognition in Dumbledore’s eyes.
“We must all be rational,” his said quietly.
“Reason and war never work well together.” Moody’s wooden leg banged on the floor.
Minerva looked out the window once again. Nothing in those beloved mountains and lakes could stave her growing temper. Everything Dumbledore was telling her only fuelled the fire. Anger, burning frustration at all that had gone wrong and could never be the same again, ran through her body, flushing her cheeks in a way that even Grimm could not have found flattering.
“Reason? Albus, think!” Her robes whipped around her as she flew towards Dumbledore’s desk. “Try to explain the girl’s story in a rational way, if you can. Time travel, different worlds, how can any of that make sense or be used for the common good?”
Although silent, Moody gave a brief nod and looked to the Headmaster, awaiting the answer.
But no suitable one came. Dumbledore closed his eyes.
“We must do what we can for her, that is all.”
However many times Emilia had asked to see Severus, she had been denied. The Healer had shaken her head, otherwise providing no information. Dumbledore had come and gone many times, but he had gotten no more out of Emilia than she from him. Her mind pulling itself apart at the seams, she wanted only to find some pillar of sanity in all the mess surrounding her. Even Professor McGonagall, if she ever came....
Footsteps. Someone in the corridor, coming this way? Perhaps, it was hard to tell quite yet. Hers was not the last door, that would have made it easier to tell if someone was coming to see her.
The door opened, Emilia strained her eyes to the lightened doorway, so bright against the darkness of her room, the darkness of her mind.
“Hello?” Her voice felt plaintive, beginning for communication.
The figure stood, silent, watching her. Shocked, perhaps? Not expecting to see the jaundiced skin, the hollow face, the empty eyes. She had only seen herself in the mirror once, by accident. She’d never thought herself pretty. No one else had thought her that way, either. But now... now....
“I’ve brought your medicine, miss.”
Just another Healer, with more of that stuff they gave her. Not like Grimm’s potions used to be.
“Fine. I’ll take it.”
She struggled to sit upright, her balloon-like belly hindering every move, every breath. The Healer offered a hand, but Emilia shoved it away. She couldn’t even say why she let them give her medicine, why she let them keep her here. There were so many hours that were just blanks in her memory, times when she knew she existed, but she could never remember. They were only dark, like this room. That dark cloud ventured nearer to the last bit of herself she had, threatening to take it all away. Perhaps the medicine was supposed to help. It stopped the pain, helped her to sleep.
The Healer gently placed the vial to Emilia’s lips. She coughed once after the Healer backed away.
“You alright, miss?”
Emilia took in a deep breath. She stiffened, her hand going to her abdomen. Her face transformed into a grimace, soon changing again into a mask of pain.
The scream reached the ears of all in the hospital, waking patients and startling Healers.
In the waiting room, Minerva woke from a snooze, her heart leaping in place. Hand over that sensitive instrument, she rose and rushed down the corridor, her robes billowing around her.
The Healer met her at the door to Emilia’s room.
“It’s begun again.”
“Can I see her, Professor?” Lily, her own abdomen swollen tight, brushed a strand of hair from her eyes. “Maybe it would do her good to see a friend.”
Minerva shook her head. “It is best if you do not go in.” How could Lily ever hope to understand Emilia’s ravings, her sudden bouts of blankness, the cries of pain tearing her apart? “Her health is too delicate.” Those had been Dumbledore’s words.
Lily frowned, a distant snap of temper flaring in her eyes. “So she has to lie there alone for how much longer? Keeping her alone is the worst thing!”
Straightening her spine, Minerva glared back. “Her mind is nearly gone, Lily. If she sees you in your present condition, she will hate you.”
“Hate me?” Her brow fell into a deep furrow.
With a sigh, Minerva added, “He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named made her believe that you and Snape....”
Lily’s eyes widened. “No.”
Minerva placed a hand on the younger witch’s shoulder. “You must understand me. To see her is to inflict pain on both of you, and neither of you are in the condition to withstand such a shock.”
The green-eyed gaze dropped. “How much longer does she have?”
“Not long. A week at best.” Minerva removed her hand from Lily’s arm. “I will make sure that you know when it happens.” She stepped back towards the closed door to Emilia’s room.
“Thank you, Professor.”
Minerva listened to Lily’s footsteps disappear down the corridor. She had been tempted to go against Dumbledore’s wishes and let her into the room. No one could be sure just when the dark mood would arise, leaving her raving about betrayal and revenge. Just what He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named had put into her mind, not one, not even Dumbledore, could do anymore than guess at. But why Emilia? Why not someone who was involved in the war, whose demise would send a shock through the system of the Order? If it had been Lily instead of Emilia....
If He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named had wanted to harm the Order’s work with this crime, he had not succeeded all too well, and perhaps that was the greatest tragedy of all, how little many of them seemed to care, or even notice.
Hours passed. She remained in a chair by the doorway, having moved there after the last emergency. Dumbledore wanted news of any problems as soon as they occurred, and she was the only one who could spare the time. Imagine being useless for battle, not that she would ever want to take part in them. She wasn’t much different from Emilia in that way. Each had to win the war in their own way.
Her eyes were closed when a new set of footsteps approached. Heavy, wearing thick-soled boots and filled with fury, or some similar emotion. Minerva opened to eyes, though she knew who had finally bothered to make an appearance.
“She’s been asking for you.” There was no need to hide the coldness in her voice.
The sneer on his face appeared to be frozen in place, a permanent fixture. “Then she is a fool.”
He closed the door behind him with a sharp click. Minerva stared at the wood, not daring to guess what would occur within. However much Emilia dreamed, speaking of that other time in which she and Snape had been together, she could not change the reality of this world. He would never loved her. Probably he never had. If there was any ability in his cold, solid heart to love, he would not give any to Emilia.
The door was not thin enough that Minerva could hear their words.
Would Emilia tell him of her adventures? Of the things she had seen?
Or would she actually tell him that she carried his child?
Minerva hoped it would not be so. Telling Snape such a thing would....
A yell from him. A cry from her. He burst through the door, his sneer changed to a snarl. Teeth bared, he rounded on Minerva, dark eyes burning with more hatred than any being should have.
“She’s mad. I won’t be making the mistake of returning again.”
She did not watch him leave. She could hear Emilia’s sobs from inside the room, her eyes on the figured curled in one corner of the bed. Was this how things had to end? She, too, had once been abandoned by a lover, a child growing within, yet a second chance had come. For Emilia, she doubted that such a second chance would come. Snape was no Grimm, and the world was not as it had been then. There would be many deaths before any form of peace could settle over the land. Within that peace, there would be no place for Emilia and Severus. They would forever be separated by their own follies, their own stubbornness, their own refusal to accept the roles they should have performed.
And now their child would grow up as alone as they had been, and would be, all their lives.
Minerva quietly shut the door. Nevermore.
“We must. It is best if she never knows.”
“You should not let your own past cloud the present, Minerva.”
A shining tear upon a cheek. She held the swaddled child close.
“Where will you take him?”
“To a safe place. You can see it in his eyes.”
He stood over her bed, watching. How many times had he watched her in her sleep? So many times, so many reasons. And this was to be the last time. This would be the last time he would ever lie to her, to himself. What he had come to call her madness was more substantial than anything he had ever known. It was passion, it was reason, it was love. The love she had for himself, for Grimm, even for Lily, whom she should have hated most of all....
No, it was not Lily’s fault. It was his.
His hand reached to smooth out the sheets covering her wasted frame, so different from how she had appeared after returning from that other time. The glowing cheeks had transformed into purple hollows. The soft flesh had fallen away to skin pulled tight over bone. There were grey hairs among the brown. He felt a shudder run through his body as he stared down at her, the woman he had destroyed. All that had happened, all that she had become, all that she had lost, was of his doing. He heard his words echoing through the room still.
The news of the child came soon after. They had told him of its nose, so much like his, and of the eyes that were more green than gold. There had been no doubt as to the child’s parentage, yet he had doubted, he could not believe that he, in another, distant, time, had fathered a child. Instead of embracing the news, he had thrown it away with the rest of the things he’d wished he’d never heard. They were the things that now haunted him. She had become a ghost in his mind – the girl he had scorned and loved and wished had never been there, always loving, always loyal – and now she was a ghost in body too. Yet she would outlive him, she would go on with her life and he would go onto his death.
She moved, the small hands pulling at the sheets, the body shaking with every breath, as though she was sobbing without sound. Watching her, he let himself forget the flashes of red hair and green eyes blocking his sight to look down at the plain brown hair and hazel eyes – a washed-out reflection of her rival. He sat on the edge of the bed and took up her hand in his, like he had long ago as a boy. Only now, he could not forget, however much she could forgive.
The fingers beneath his moved, taking in the texture of his callouses.
“Severus? What are you doing here?”
Her eyes opened. He could see the dots of green within the gold irises.
“You recognized me.”
A weak laugh emerged from her throat. “The Healer would call this a good day.”
He looked down at the floor, his hand receding. She refused to let it go.
“It’s gotten to that point, hasn’t it?”
There was no hint of insanity in her voice. How could he have ever believed her mad?
She rubbed a finger against his hand. “You’re cold, Severus.”
The words struck him with more memories, more ghosts. He moved her gaze to her face and remembered what he had always, and never, wanted to forget.
“Why are you looking at me like that?” Emma asked him, waking him from his thoughts.
When he didn’t respond right away, as he was trying to think up a suitable answer, she reached her hand up to his face, gently brushing his pale cheek. He closed his eyes, not wanting her to see his weakness, but she knew. She could see what he felt written across his features.
“Severus,” she whispered. “Your face says many things your voice can’t.”
He took her other hand, the colourless one, in both of his. “You are cold,” he told her.
“I don’t feel it.” Her hand lowered from his cheek and rested upon his shoulder.
“But you feel something else?”
Her caress on his hand was comforting.
“Are you afraid of dying, Severus?”
He shook his head. He should not have come, even though it was the last time.
“I suppose you have everything prepared?” Her voice was as soothing as her touch, even as the words struck him. Of course she would have known; she had all of time at her fingertips, the same ones that touched him now.
“I will not ask how you know.”
A fragment of smile appeared on her face. “I wouldn’t tell you, even if you did.”
He straightened his back and stared at the blank asylum walls. They were not the place for her. She belonged in rooms lined with books and filled with all sorts of old and wondrous things. They need not be beautiful things, only nice. She would not have asked for more, yet he had given her this place of blankness and nothingness. And she still forgave him, just like she always had.
It was too much. He pulled her hand to his lips, letting it rest there. So many mistakes....
A single tear fell upon her hand as he remembered all the things he’d once told her.
“I can’t leave him. What if–“
There was a sharp intake of breath. “He won’t wake up? How can–“
He put his hands on her shoulders and forced her to look up at him. “He won’t die, Emilia!” He hated the words as soon as he said them. The lie within them was all too obvious.
The tears spilled over and she moved closer to him, wanting him to hold her close and make it all go away. She didn’t want to see through his lie. “What would I do without him? He’s always been there to look up to, to worry about me....” She sniffed, choking on her tears. “Merlin, I’ve missed him so much. He’s always busy, but at least he’s there. But now.... now....”
He pushed her face against his robes so that she could not speak. There was another way, but he would not do it, not at this moment. “You have me,” he whispered into her hair. “You have me to worry about you.”
She pushed herself into a sitting position and, gasping for air, leaned her head against his back, her free hand hanging from his shoulder.
“Don’t cry, Severus. Not for me.”
“I never answered your question,” he said, still keeping her hand close.
“You don’t need to. I always hoped–”
Her voice cut off into silence. There was no sound in the room save their breathing.
He took a chance and said, “The potion is ready. Whoever finds me will find it as well.” He squeezed her hand. “There is nothing of you within it.”
“They will forget you, one day.” He turned, slipping his arm around her.
“But they won’t forget you.” She sighed against his chest, closing her eyes. “You’ll get to see him before I do.”
It took him a moment to understand whom she meant. “I am sorry, Emilia.”
Pulling away, she looked up at his face, studying every feature. She did not miss the newly-formed lines, or the despair in his eyes, or the dullness of his hair. Part of him was already dead. He, too, was a ghost.
She used all her strength to raise herself to his height, so that they were face-to-face, so that they could see death in each others’ eyes. She rested her weight against him, touching her dry lips to his once last time. His arm tightened around her, but he also struggled to maintain balance. Neither had strength for passion, for anything more than a meeting of lips. It was not a real kiss, but it was all they had.
He was the first to pull away. There was no clock here to tick away the minutes, but he could feel the thread of his life shortening with every breath. He wanted to make use of each last breath, and there were not enough to include her. There had never been enough of him for her, just as part of her had always been with Grimm.
“It’s not you, Severus,” she whispered, her bottom lip trembling. “If I could, I’d do anything to be with you, to finish what we started, but things are different now.”
He glared at her. “Because of Grimm’s death?”
She shook her head. “No, not that....”
“You loved him, didn’t you.”
“Different from you.”
His hand caressed her feverish cheek, every emotion spent after the years of suffering, the months of battles, and the few days that he had to live out whatever life he still had in his grasp. Time was ticking past too quickly. He would face it, but he was not prepared for it.
“I must go.”
Her eyes rose to meet his, the yellow irises so dull.
“I wish I could come too.”
With a nod, he placed her back underneath the sheets.
“I’ll see you when it’s over, Severus?”
She must have been losing herself, the “good day” fading into darkness.
“It’ll all be right again in the morning.”
He leaned down to kiss her eyelids, wishing he had never come. Turning away from the bed, he stopped when she spoke one last time.
“See you at King’s Cross.”
The words meant something – they triggered a distant memory that he could not recall. When he looked back, she was already asleep, her breathing steady and even, as though her body could transform as quickly as her mind.
“You were always a good man.”
He shut the door on her last words, feeling as though he had shut the lid on her casket. His ink-stained fingers removed an unsealed letter from his pocket. There was just the epilogue to write, and then it would all be over.
Some weeks later.
The young man arrived after the funeral had ended. He hung behind the crowd, observing their actions and noting their words. It was the usual funeral-talk, the assertions of having really liked the dead person and having always admired their work. Lies. All lies. Now more than ever at the funeral of the most-hated Headmaster of Hogwarts, even more hateful than Phineas Nigellus. The dead wizard had managed to save them all, yet they could not forget their hatred of him. The young man’s lips twisted up into a smirk. If only they could see the lies on their faces.
As the attendees went their separate ways, the young man stood aside, keeping his face turned away from their prying eyes. It would do no good for them to see, and wonder about, his appearance. He made his way towards the grave, eyes never leaving the ground. He did that a lot. His aunt had told him his mother did it as well, but he’d never believed her. How could he, if he’d never known either of his parents?
Until the letter had come.
It was in the pocket of his borrowed robes, the heavy parchment pushing against his chest, reminding him of all the lies.
The monument was closed, so he was unable to see the dead wizard’s face. Perhaps it would have meant more if he had – it would have revealed the truth that no person could speak. He read the name over and over in his mind, catching the alliteration of the first and last upon his foreign tongue. But he was not foreign by birth, the letter reminded him of that strange fact. It was just where he lived.
He squinted down at the casket which hung over the open grave. There would be no great monument for the dead wizard. Even his last act of heroism, and all the things he had done outside of their knowledge, could not grant him that privilege. It would not be right to give it to someone bearing the Dark Mark on his arm, not when the next nearest tomb was that of the most highly-regarded and brilliant Headmaster of all. Evil always outweighs the good, even in the best of men.
The letter was in his hands, unfolded, when he heard a voice beside him.
“Did you know him at all?”
Another of those funeral questions. Meaningless.
“No.” His voice was damning.
“Oh,” the other voice, that of a wizard his own age, said.
The young man tapped the letter. “He wrote to me not long ago.”
He would not say why unless the other asked for it.
“Were you related?”
The young man raised his eyes to look at the wizard. It was the person he expected – the glasses, the eyes, the face, the wizard was as all the stories claimed him to be. Here was what should have been his mirror image, but the reflection was so distorted. Just like it must have been for his mother, the mother he had never met.
The wizard nodded and looked at the grave. “You look a bit like he did.”
“So I am told.” The words were uncertain on his tongue, revealing his accent.
They stood in silence for a few moments, as though waiting for the other to speak. There were others still about, including the group the wizard had originally been with. They were probably talking about the strange young man with the pale skin and long, hooked nose that seemed so out of place on his otherwise plain face.
The wizard held out his hand. “Sorry, my name’s Harry Potter.”
Half as second passed before the young man touched his fingers to the wizard’s hand.
Harry laughed, but it was guarded. His eyes were upon the letter.
“I am Marius Grimm,” the young man said. He folded up the letter, replacing it in his empty pocket, the one most convenient for storing wands, but not before the wizard had recognised the handwriting. It was a difficult hand to forget.
“Want to join us in Hogsmeade for a drink?” Harry asked.
Marius shook his head. “Forgive me, but I cannot stay for long.” He absently waved his free hand, a light flush appearing on his face. “Perhaps another time.” He could not look at those green eyes any longer. They held within them all that Marius had never had. All that he never was.
He turned away.
Harry came up beside him, his hair rebelling in the still air. “Who are you, really? Why did you come to Snape’s funeral?”
A smile crossed Marius’ face. Some would have said it was his mother’s smile.
“I think you already know, yes?”
Their eyes met. Gold meeting green for the last time.
Harry was the first to look away. “I see.”
The smile broadened. “I knew you would. Good day, Monsieur Potter.”
He walked off towards the school, where his surrogate aunt waited, perhaps to tell him the rest of the story that had been left unfinished for too long. Half-way, he paused, his hand reaching into another pocket and removed what appeared to be a silver cigarette lighter. The smile on his face had changed. Only his mother could have said whose smile it was now. She was, after all, one of the few who had ever seen a smile on the face of Severus Snape.