Chapter 1 : Enigma
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The sun rose. How bizarre that normally welcomed and expected event now felt! It climbed toward its zenith, illuminating all below it – living and dead. The wounded were tended and tucked into soft pallets, the shellshocked escorted to quiet rooms to be comforted by St. Mungo's volunteers, and the merely exhausted sent off to what was left of the dormitories to sleep.
Pomona Sprout toiled on, shifting piles of rubble from room to room as order was assembled out of chaos. Minerva took on the task of notifying the next of kin. Filius cast charms to keep out the weather until the castle could be repaired. Pomona would have preferred to let the rain wash the blood from the floors. She delighted openly in the warm light pouring through the holes that had been blasted through so many of the castle's cold walls.
Her greenhouses had all caved in, and so she moved the plants that survived the rains of glass and fire into the deserted first-floor classrooms. Her mandrakes mewled pitifully as she carefully repotted them in kettles and whatever other vessels she found to replace their broken pots. She didn't even need her earmuffs today. The flutterby bush quivered in shock as she gently trimmed off its crushed branches. Only the fanged geraniums seemed unaffected, snapping viciously at her face as she patiently toted them one by one to the History of Magic classroom, where Cuthbert continued to moan that he could have done more if only he'd still had a body.
Hagrid had carried in the last of the bodies from the grounds by the time her babies had all been rehoused. Minerva saw that they were sorted into two rooms. Hogwarts' fallen protectors rested next door in the Transfiguration classroom, now. Severus, wrapped in his ubiquitous black cloak, was the very last to make his entrance.
He now lay next to Remus who lay next to Tonks, her rose pink hair the brightest spot of color in the room. Pomona saw the blushing strands and couldn't help thinking that the poor girl must be happy, wherever she was. The two men beside her looked similarly at peace; their loose limbs recalling memories of the skinny, awkward boys they once had been. A quarter of a century was easily rewound, and Remus was once again caught in the crossfire when Severus and James Potter decided they would rather squirt bubotuber pus at each other than into their collection vials. Now they lay shoulder to shoulder, their fingers nearly touching.
Her eyes trekked the dry river of blood up the sleeve of Severus' robes to its source at his throat. His cloud of squid ink hair had fallen away from his face, and for the first time she saw the shadows darkening his lily white skin. Those shadows may have gathered unnoticed under his eyes for months, because none of them had deigned to meet his gaze since Dumbledore's murder.
“How could we not have known?” Minerva had wailed. But how could they have known, when Voldy himself hadn't? Pomona found herself giggling, even as tears streamed down her face. Thanks to Peeves she would think of him only as Moldy Voldy for the rest of her days.
With her students and what remained of her plants safely bedded down, Pomona had entirely too much peace and quiet for her current state of mind. Aurora, Filius and Minerva had all gone off to bed, Hagrid had slumped off to his cabin with his brother and his dog, and Horace had wandered off with Aberforth – presumably to the Hog's Head for a nightcap that would last all night long.
Unable to sleep, she cracked open a bottle of cloudberry wine and walked with it out through the school grounds to the lake to sit and attempt not to think. Crickets and frogs chirped all around her, interrupted only by the occasional scream of a barn owl. The lake itself was still, reflecting the stars like a mirror. Thoughts of the slain invaded her mind with every sweet-tart sip, and the idea that floated in and nestled into her brain, germinated, and took root was what to do to honor them.
There'd already been talk of a massive stone monument, a sterile pantheon of death. What she dreamed of now was a verdant garden to remind everyone who visited of life. By the time she'd finished her bottle, she had the entire scheme laid out in her mind. She stood up stiffly, and tottered back to the castle and down the stairs to her bed; its sanctuary kept sound and inviting by the solid earthen walls. In the morning she would begin working on Minerva.
There was no way around it: some sort of stone would have to be included, but mist had clung to Minerva's eyes as Pomona's vision unfurled on a scrap of parchment.
“Leave the governors to me,” Minerva said, and so Pomona rolled up her sleeves while plans for the memorial service were still taking shape. She asked for volunteers to assist and Neville Longbottom was the first to stand up. He was soon followed by a dozen others. She assigned everyone a task, whether it was digging holes, hauling compost, or fetching the plants from their temporary housing. Neville, naturally, became her second-in-command.
The garden would spread out from the white stone that had already been erected for Dumbledore, expanding around him in a circle. She trained flitterbloom vines to wind themselves around the base, tying him to the grounds that he had once walked in reverence. She traced winding dirt paths that would lead from the center to multiple entrances, circling the new graves as they went. Fragrant white asphodel and fragile pink dittany flowers lined the paths: death and healing springing up side by side and intermingling freely. Then they planted yew hedges to create an eternal and transcendent outer ring.
The garden would not reach its full glory for another two or three years at least (it would take that long for the plants to mature) but it would be completed for the memorial service in three days time. Eventually the flora would overgrow the stone markers, roots digging deep into the ground, binding the inhabitants enclosed within their caskets to them and to the earth. If Pomona had had her way, and not the next of kin, then there would be no containers for any of them. Their bodies would be allowed to decompose naturally, returning to the base matter from whence they'd sprung. They would intermingle, be unmade, enrich the soil, nurture the plants, and be made anew. At least the garden would root them all here, she sighed, surrounding them with life and serving as a reminder that from death, life sprung.
Each of the fallen would receive their own plant. She picked out the hardiest of the greenhouse survivors, then trekked through the forest to seek out the wild ones that refused to grow indoors. She chose wolfsbane for Professor Lupin, the purple blossoms harmonizing with the chameleon fluxweed she chose for Tonks. The many small flowers on that plant shifted from pink to blue to red as the sunlight shifted from morning to afternoon to evening. She gathered a large patch of water sprite daisies for Fred Weasley; the fragrant blooms would spray anyone who leaned in too close. Leaping toadstools would greet visitors of excitable little Colin Creevey.
When she came to Severus, she drew a blank. As enigmatic as he'd always been, within the last 24 hours he'd proved himself to be even farther beyond her understanding than she'd ever imagined. She thought fleetingly of lilies, but then dashed that idea as cruel. Truthfully, any kind of flower felt wrong. He'd never shown the slightest interest in flowering plants as anything other than potion ingredients: raw materials to be dried and ground and heated and stirred and transformed. She briefly considered planting crab grass and calling it a day.
The dungeon bedroom he'd abandoned the previous spring had been utterly empty when they'd searched it, though there was a suspicious amount of ash in the fireplace. As he'd never been one for lighting fires for warmth or comfort, they'd assumed he'd burnt anything that might give away the plans he's made with Voldy. Now she realized that he'd burnt anything that might give away his allegiance to Dumbledore. The Headmaster's office was left in much the same manner, the only sign that he'd inhabited it being a few extra sets of black robes and boots. Nothing of a more personal nature was left behind.
Sitting there now, her tree stump legs stretched out after a day of toil, Dumbledore's portrait wasn't much help, either.
“Devil's snare would discourage visitors,” he said, “Severus might appreciate that.”
She chuckled, sipping another glass of the cloudberry wine.
“Remember the devil's snare that I grew to guard the Philosopher's Stone?” she said with an impish gleam in her eye.
“Devil's snare would discourage visitors,” Dumbledore repeated.
“Yes, it would,” she murmured. Dumbledore's portrait was just sentient enough that she had momentarily forgotten that it wasn't actually him. She wondered whether Severus had grown lonely with no one else to talk to for all those months, or whether he had preferred it that way. Then she thought of the riddle Severus had concocted almost seven years ago.
He'd been so secretive, keeping his office door locked whenever he worked on it. He'd always come to her for the ingredients one at a time and in a random order, so that she couldn't guess what potions he was brewing to put in those mismatched bottles he'd assembled.
And then he'd asked for nettles. Again and again. No one could possibly have need of so many nettles.
“The last ones were a bit too tough,” he said, “Do you have any very young ones that are tender, still?” She'd given him the youngest, tenderest ones she could find, and yet the next week he'd been back for more.
Exasperated, she'd finally demanded what he was doing with them. “The entire forest will be cleared of nettles if you keep this up!”
The look of terror on is face slowly gave way to resignation. “Fine,” he'd said, and shown her the fermenting and filtering system he'd constructed in his office to make nettle wine. “The first batch made my tongue go numb, the second was a bit too bland, and the third...” He paused to scowl. “Peeves destroyed.”
“Why does it matter if the wine for your riddle is a little bland?” she asked, earning a glare. He hadn't needed to say what he was thinking out loud; she knew from that look that it mattered because anything he made had to be perfect. She'd always thought that his parents must have done a number on him.
The fourth batch had been perfect, and after he'd bottled some to guard the stone they'd drunk the rest. It was the first time they'd ever visited with each other on a purely social level, and as she thought back over the past few years she realized that it had also been the last.
Pomona walked into the forest once more the next morning, Neville at her heels. They made no sound as they walked, their footsteps muffled by the same dried pine needles that filled the air with a scrubbed clean scent. He was the only one she trusted to gently grasp and lift the young nettles from the ground while keeping their roots intact. They knelt side-by-side, knees soaking up water from the loamy soil.
“The nettles' hairs only grow upward. They won't sting so long as you don't rub them the wrong way. I don't mind the sting so much, it's a bit like a static charge,” she said with a giggle. “These are young enough that they haven't grown hairs yet, but its good to get in the practice, now.”
He nodded impassively, depositing each nettle into a burlap sack. She never mentioned retirement to him, but he seemed to have caught on to the implicit meaning of their informal lessons of the past few days. They replanted the nettles in their new home in similar silence, and Pomona was not surprised that Neville's granite eyes remained dry.
“Severus left a will in his Gringott's box,” Minerva told her that afternoon over hibiscus tea. “Everything to Hogwarts, including all the books he had amassed at Spinner's End. Irma's sorting through them, now.”
“He had no living relatives, then?” Pomona asked idly, thinking again of the nettles, patted down into a shady patch of soil to the right of Dumbledore's tomb just hours before.
“None to speak of,” she sighed. “The Daily Prophet wanted to sponsor a memorial in exchange for an exclusive interview on the real Severus Snape! Can you believe that?”
“I can't believe that conversation ended well,” Pomona replied with a snicker.
“Flames! It ended with flames!” Minerva exhaled sharply through her nose, and Pomona half-expected smoke rings to shoot out.
“Who will handle the arrangements?” Pomona asked softly, then.
“I suppose I will,” Minerva replied, her storm cloud eyes flooded close to overflowing. “I thought Horace might, but he's never handled this sort of thing very well, and under the circumstances...”
Pomona nodded. She hadn't seen the Head of Slytherin sober since the battle. “Let me handle it. You've got enough on your plate.”
“But you've got your hands full with the garden.”
“It's nearly done. I don't mind, really.”
“Thank you,” Minerva said, patting at her eyes with her napkin.
His burial took place just before dawn, with only a few staff and students present. Several of those who had been notified opted not to attend. Natterer's bats were still foraging along the edge of the forest as the small procession made its way across the grounds, their high-pitched chirps carrying far on the feather-light breeze. A flock of ravens descended from the indigo sky, calling back and forth and snapping their bills as they settled into the surrounding hedges to watch the proceedings. No box contained him, just a plain black shroud. No words were spoken, no songs were sung. Far too many words would be uttered throughout the day, and if there was one thing Pomona was sure of, it was that Severus despised unnecessary chatter. The whole affair was completed in five minutes. Emerald flames flared briefly, enveloping but not consuming him, transporting him into the ground, then dying themselves. The ravens lingered long after everyone else had moved on.
There was no marker erected over Severus Snape's grave. Instead, word of mouth ensured that no one who knew to pause by the nettle patch that day had any doubt of who rested beneath. Pomona stopped by again just before sunset. She had been constantly distracted during the memorial services scheduled throughout the day by stray weeds that needed plucking and runaway branches that needed trimming. She made mental notes of them all, and returned for them once everyone had gone. She enjoyed the garden better on her knees, moist dirt squelching between her fingers. She paused now to rest in the long shadow of Dumbledore's tomb. Without work to do she had nothing. She thought that she and Severus understood one another in that regard. The day she stopped working all together would be the day her heart stopped beating.
A stray raven alighted on the marble tomb to eye her curiously. The wind rustled the flitterbloom's tentacles, which were already stretching out to investigate their nearest neighbors. The nettles she and Neville had planted stood vulnerable and green, not toughened enough to sting any insensitive visitors who might attempt to break the spindly stalks. They were at just the right stage of life for making nettle wine, in fact, but the thought of cutting them seemed indecent. She would watch them grow and mature, instead. As the days passed they would grow taller, stouter, stiffer; stinging hairs sprouting out from the stalks and reaching for the sun. Soon, merely brushing against them would result in stabbing pain. As they grew their stings would cut deeper, leaving blisters on anyone who might carelessly reach out to touch the tiny green flowers. Then would come the small, hard and bitter-tasting fruits. No bird would care for them, and they would drop uneaten to the ground in the fall. There they would decompose under the leaf litter, the seeds protected throughout the frozen winter months, when the yew hedge would appear to be the only remaining living thing in the garden.
Spring would come, the snow would melt, the ground would soften, the squirrels and birds would dig for nuts and worms, and the nettle seeds would sink into the freshly turned earth. Meanwhile, the roots of the established nettles would dig themselves deeper and wind their way farther around the bones they sheltered. The rains would come, and the nettles would spring forth anew; green and tender and more plentiful than now. Next May, while the new crop of nettle shoots were still tender, she would clip a few of them. Then she would make nettle wine.