Severus Snape hated to admit anything was wrong, but wrong it was and there was nothing for it. His skin practically itched with loneliness, which he was pretty sure was medically impossible. Still, his body and brain seemed delighted to remind him of the fact that simply acknowledgeing these things couldn’t save him from the torture of isolation he found himself in.
Had it truly been over two years since the nightmare that was supposed to end with his death simply...hadn’t? Even now, Severus had no idea who had saved his life, but he made sure to curse the anonymous idiot with every spare thought he could offer and hope that some sort of cosmic judgement would be wreaked upon them.
The facts were these: after a trial in which he was mostly still comatose and unable to advocate for himself, Severus Snape was placed under house arrest during a secret session of the Wizengamot.
For the foreseeable future.
Wizards tended to live for a long, long time, so it had been decided that he would remain in enforced solitude for as long as the Wizengamot deemed it necessary.
At least, that was what he had been told, and Severus’ last bit of fight against the inevitability of his suffering had died with Dumbledore.
Now, for all intents and purposes, his cage was better than the stinking holes available to prisoners in Azkaban. But for all intents and purposes, even though Severus’ things had been moved into his new cottage after all “contraband” had been sorted out, it didn’t feel like home. There were books, sure, but they sat unread on their shelves. He couldn’t bear to look through them and come to the places where pages had been removed or charmed illegible. And what little energy he had didn’t inspire him to experiment with potions as he had in the past. He was allowed to go outside for a short jaunt around the property when he wished. However, if he went any further than the white fence around the exterior of the small yard a plethora of wards would incapacitate him and alert the authorities who would then provide “alternative incarceration arrangements” (solitary confinement in Azkaban).
Severus has been to Azkaban a few times with the former Headmaster on business. Even visiting that hellhole had been more than enough to turn his stomach. And besides, he should have been happy to finally get some solitude. He was allowed a copy of the Daily Prophet, owled to him daily, and he was not fond of the horde of fair-weather friends and admirers who had popped up after the war and gushed in the Letters to the Editor about how they’d “always known” that Severus was working for the Order. It was a load of rubbish. Severus watched Harry Potter, Hermione Granger, and Ron Weasley enjoy meteoric rises in various high-ranking offices, only to see them burn out within a couple of years. Ron Weasley was the first to go— citing his brother George Weasley as needing someone to help run their joke shop business due to expansion plans in Hogsmeade and a pilot shop in Ireland’s Goblin Market.
Harry Potter, too, quickly seemed to realize that the Aurors were little more than a thug army for the Ministry’s pet squabbles and a cudgel for the various factions therein to use with impunity. He’d disappeared from the papers for several months before a front page headline exclaimed in large letters: HARRY POTTER BACK AT HOGWARTS! Unsurprisingly, he’d become the Defense professor, and if the papers were to be believed, Professor Potter had become a legend yet again by solving a mystery his first year and saving the school at the end of his second.
Oh, and of course Potter was beloved by all and sundry.
It was enough to make Severus sick.
Hermione Granger was stubborn enough to hold on longer than the other two. She seemed to truly believe that she could do some good and save the world by fixing the government. It took her over five years of failed reforms before she finally left the Ministry and began her own Magical Law consulting firm.
The Ministry provided packages of basic foodstuffs by owl. Other than that, his diet was supplemented by a small garden patch and in the winter, he was able to utilize the tiny greenhouse added on to the back of the cottage by the previous resident, whoever that had been. He wasn’t allowed any animals. No chickens, not even for eggs, and even when he plied them with treats, the few owls he received appeared to be under orders to leave with haste after making their deliveries.
Though for all intents and purposes, his basic needs were largely met, the lack of any living creature to speak to, or to touch was maddening. The sense of isolation pressed down upon him like a vice. He found himself hugging his pillow in the morning, a pronounced crick in his neck because he needed something, anything to hold. Eventually, even the pillow wasn’t comfort enough, and he found himself sitting up late into the night, unable to sleep.
“This cannot continue,” he said to himself. “I will go mad.”
And so, Severus wracked his brains for the recipe for a Sleeping Draught. He’d brewed it for years, of course, and it didn’t matter that it was likely purged from his books. He could probably brew it in his sleep...if he could sleep, that is.
He easily foraged the various herbal ingredients, but that left him with trying to figure out how he was going to substitute for flobberworm mucus. It wasn’t as though the creatures were native to his back garden. After much searching, he was able to trap a number of snails in a jar. Harvesting their mucus was tricky, but he figured it would do in a pinch. In any case, Severus was fairly certain that if it turned out to be poisonous, he would at least no longer have to suffer the torture of sleep deprivation.
When all was ready, he set to brewing. A tin pot wasn’t ideal, but he placed a pewter paperweight inside and hoped it would be enough. The resulting potion was technically purple, but it was more of a sickly pale lavender colour than it ought to have been.
Still, Severus was sleep deprived enough not to particularly care. He measured a dose in a small glass and held it out at arm’s length.
“Bottoms up!” he said, and choked down the foul-smelling concoction.
Three minutes later, he was snoring away in his chair.
Severus found himself in the Headmaster’s Office. The layout of the room was different in subtle ways, but Severus thought that the changes were decidedly for the better. The individual velvet coverings over the paintings was a definite improvement, and Severus could honestly say he wished that he had thought of that while he was forced to be Headmaster. Someone sat at the large, imposing desk, their face obscured by the stacks of paper and parchment that had piled up all over it. Feeling slightly unnerved, Severus crept around the side, his curiosity outweighing his caution. There, bent over some obviously superfluous Ministry bureaucratic nonsense, was one Minerva McGonagall.
“Minerva!” Severus’ voice cracked a little as he said her name, and he found he didn’t even care.
She turned her head, her eyes widening behind her glasses.
“Severus!” she exclaimed, her hand going over her heart.
Before he could move, she stood and ran to him, throwing her arms around him tightly.
“Oh, you stupid, wonderful, infuriating man!” she said, and he could practically feel the warmth of her tears against his cheek as she squeezed him tightly. “Why did you have to leave us?”
“I’m here now,” he said.
“Yes, yes, I guess that’s true.” She drew back and looked him up and down. “You look thin. Have you been eating?”
He scoffed. “I’ve done my best.”
She shook her head. “Do better, lad.”
They sat, her in the Headmaster’s overstuffed chair, and him in a similarly plush seat that he sank indulgently into with a long-suffering sigh.
“I’m glad you’re on that side of the table,” he quipped.
“To be honest? I am too.” Minerva summoned a decanter of firewhiskey with her wand and began to pour a drink for them both. “Plus, my new Deputy does most of the dirty work. I just give speeches and fill out all the tedious paperwork that Albus had me doing for years anyway, the old coot. And anyway, you always looked so miserable and shut yourself away in this stuffy old office.”
“It’s not so stuffy anymore,” Severus remarked, looking appreciatively at the large, sensible, cherrywood bookcase that took up most of the far wall. “The room is quite a lot more cheerful, now. It suits you.”
“Here, if you want it,” Minerva said, pushing one glass in his direction. It was only a fourth of the way full, and Severus appreciated that this wasn’t the beginning of one of Minerva’s epic drinking competitions. “If you don’t, I’ll probably drink it later, so don’t feel any pressure.”
Severus took the offered glass of firewhisky, though he couldn’t taste it in the dream. Banter was something that had been missing from his life for so long that he allowed his inhibitions to slip away and found himself laughing aloud as Minerva sipped her drink with a bemused expression.
“I miss you, Severus. I miss this .” Minerva’s eyes seemed a bit watery, and Severus wondered what he’d done wrong. Awkwardly, he stood, firmly reminding himself that this was a dream. It wasn’t like she was actually there. And so, perhaps it was because he had been touch starved for so long, but he opened his arms and wrapped them tightly around her.
“Oh!” Minerva chirped with surprised delight, then fell still as he pressed her to his chest.
“I miss you, too, Minerva,” he said fondly, wondering at the faint lavender scent of her robes as the dream faded away into darkness.
The next morning, Severus awoke unusually refreshed. He congratulated himself on a potion well-brewed, though the dream stuck with him for most of the day. There was something about Minerva’s embrace and their subsequent conversation that comforted and embarrassed him in equal parts. Perhaps it was the fact that he’d gone and hugged her . He’d never done that before. While they’d had plenty of moments over the years where they’d been friendly, he’d never so much as touched Minerva outside of potentially bumping into her while getting situated at a staff meeting or in the halls during the chaos of the night after the Sorting.
Still, he found his mind was rather a lot more settled and calm than it had been before. He was rested, and his joints even seemed to be quite a lot more well-oiled than before. Moving about wasn’t a hardship. He didn’t find himself wanting to drink until he forgot he was still alive.
Severus spent the day making improvements to his living space. He straightened his things, dusted a bit, did some laundry. He hummed a little while he read his paper, then took a whole stack that had been gathering dust in the corner and set about a task he hadn’t thought about in ages. He soaked the paper in a mixture of water and bleach until it was gray and pulpy. Then he rolled and flattened it out, using the barest bit of wandless magic to help snap the sheets into place. When he was finished, he had a long roll of light gray parchment. He then set about looking under rugs for a loose floorboard. None seemed to be forthcoming, so he “helped” one along a bit. The space was just big enough for his new roll of parchment, which he tied in place with a long silk ribbon he’d salvaged from one of his Ministry-approved packages. An idea had begun to grow in his heart, but he was still not ready to put it into action.
And so, that evening, he mixed another batch of the potion together and took it. Part of him was hopeful, but the largest part of him fully expected that it would fail miserably, and he would finally have some sense knocked into the part of his heart that still had a sentimental nature. The last thing he thought before he lost consciousness was, ‘I must work on that absolutely revolting flavour.”
The scent of earth and green growing things filled Severus’ nose, and he sighed with pleasure. There was only one place in the world with such fertile soil, and when he opened his eyes, he knew he was dreaming. She was singing one of her growing songs, as usual, completely uncaring as to who might hear her.
“It is I, Pomona,” he said, pushing aside a large frond and seeing the rotund Herbology professor bent down at the waist, rooting around for something that he couldn’t see.
She stood, wrinkling her nose as she squinted at him, then held out a spade. “Come along, then. You can help.”
Severus helped to repot seedlings and Pomona snuck little odds and ends into his pockets. A few flowers. A sprig of wolfsbane. Juvenile tentacula tentacles. She was the only one who ever could, he mused with a wry smile. Who ever dared. It was happy, mindless work. Eminently satisfying and in the end, Pomona dusted him off with a spell and beckoned him over to a small table that had been set with small finger sandwiches and a decadent tea service.
“Humor me, it’s a new blend,” Pomona said, smiling sweetly as Severus tried to excuse himself.
The flavor was not unlike a mixture of plums and strawberries, but it also held a rich darkness almost akin to coffee, and a hint of cloves. Severus added a tiny splash of milk and found himself wondering at the creaminess it brought out in the tea.
“You know, it’s not been the same without you to assist,” Pomona said, studying him. “You look well.”
“That’s not what Minerva thought,” Severus replied, feeling silly because of course, his ridiculous, dream-addled brain wouldn’t care about this. None of this was real.
“Oh, tosh!” Pomona replied, reaching out to pat his hand.
He let himself be patted. Relished it, to be honest. Pomona was like the warm and soft antithesis to his cold, angular mother, and Severus had lapped up that bubbly kindness like a boy dying of thirst when he’d first encountered her as a professor all those years ago. All his years at school, he’d stopped by her office after classes, asking to help out in the greenhouse. At first, it had been true curiosity, and later it had been to get away from bullies. But the cheerful warmth of the greenhouse and Pomona’s open arms had welcomed him. She was not his mother, of course, but he’d felt a similar affinity for her— she never judged him, and she listened. Even though she was a bit silly and eccentric and plant-obsessed to boot, she was always there for him, always willing to hear him out, to believe the best of him.
“I never believed you’d gone bad, Severus,” she said. “You’ve always been a kind soul, it’s all in how you look at it.” “I am afraid that we shall have to agree to disagree on that point,” Severus replied, taking a bite of a buttery scone. Its flavour was a pale imitation of what he imagined a real one would taste like. Still, it had been ages since he’d had scones of any sort, so he wasn’t going to complain. “I am rife with flaws, and I’ve done terrible things in the name of the supposed Greater Good.”
“Ah, but a truly evil person wouldn’t find fault in their faults, Severus,” Pomona said with a knowing smile. “The fact that you’ve owned up to what you’ve done wrong is only proof that I’m right about you.”
“Yes, but if I’m paying for my sins, it certainly feels like I’ll never stop paying for it,” Severus lamented, shaking the scone at her as though to accentuate his point. “Death Eater, Spy, Hated Professor, Loathed Headmaster. Am I missing anything?”
“Dumbledore’s murderer?” Pomona added helpfully.
“Oh, yes. How could I forget?” Severus replied, rolling his eyes.
“We all know the truth. Potter told us,” Pomona said.
“Fat lot of good that did me in the end.”
She looked at him conspiratorially. “You really had a lot of people fooled, but not me!”
Severus stared at her, deadpan. “You knew all along that Albus intended for me to end his life?”
“Not exactly,” Pomona admitted, “but then again, there have been times that I wished I had the courage to push the old coot off the Astronomy Tower.”
Severus thought back to a particular staff meeting in his third year as a professor. Albus had vetoed Pomona’s greenhouse expansion plans in lieu of installing that bloody gauche solar system display in his office. He then proceeded to have bouts of explosive diarrhea for over a month afterwards. “Note to self— do not mess with a Hufflepuff when greenhouses are on the line.”
Pomona smiled cheerfully. “Good lad. Remember, we may not be as memorable as you Slytherins, but we will single-mindedly work towards our goals.”
“And woe to anyone who crosses your path who forgets that a particularly poisonous variety of deadly nightshade is most definitely grown in your personal greenhouse,” Severus said, laughing darkly.
“It’s my own personal strain, you know. Perfected it myself after many painstaking generations. Has the most beautiful tricolour leaves.” Pomona smacked her lips and then blotted them with a napkin. “Of course, you and I had quite a time perfecting that werewolf-strength sleeping potion.”
“Pity it didn’t kill the bugger,” Severus growled. “You’d think that Albus would have learned after Lupin nearly mauled several people while I was a student.”
“You weren’t the only one?” Pomona was surprised at this.
“Has Poppy ever showed you the scars on her leg?” Severus sipped his tea, waiting for Pomona’s horrified look to fade into outrage.
“I mean, she’s asked for ingredients for poultices after you...well...after. But I didn’t realize it was for that .” Pomona grabbed a chocolate biscuit and crunched it noisily.
Severus figured that it couldn’t hurt to tell her more. After all, this was just a dream, albeit one of the most vividly realistic dreams he could remember besides the one he’d had the night before. “Luckily, she was never infected, but cursed scars like that still follow the moon. The pain increases exponentially when it’s waxing.”
“The poor dear!” Pomona shook her head.
“There’s nothing we can do now.” Severus took a last bite of the scone, his eyes widening with surprise at the vivid flavour. “Say, this tastes—”
Severus didn’t even have time to finish his thought before the dream burst into blurry blinking as he was roughly awakened from his dream by a thundering clatter at his window.
“I’m coming, I’m coming!” he grumbled, swearing as he banged his shin against the bed frame. He’d been so focused on the potion that he hadn’t even had the chance to change into pyjamas. Luckily, he had the forethought to hide the mostly-empty potion flask under the bed before he reached the door. Standing and peering through the cottage windows with a grim countenance was an Unspeakable clad in a strange mask and voluminous robes that made Severus feel underdressed.
“Yes?” he asked. The Unspeakable held up a white stone tablet and words rose upon it like smoke.
Here to check on your physical status. Must ensure that you are not sick or dead by order of the Ministry.
Severus was glad that his dreams had brought his loneliness down to a manageable level, or he might have hug-tackled this stranger out of desperation.
“As you can see, I am as well as can be expected,” Severus replied, gathering himself up to his full height. Sadly, with the mask and (Severus assumed) their Ministry-issued boots the Unspeakable was wearing, Severus’ full height was still a few inches shy of being truly intimidating.
The Unspeakable nodded, and a strange wheeze escaped the front of the mask, as though the Unspeakable were wearing a gas mask underneath. It pointed to the sign again.
Remember, you may not leave the bounds set by your contract. You may not enter the forest. You may not have visitors. You may not keep any pets. Otherwise, you will be sent to Azkaban.
“Did you merely stop by to berate me about things I already know, or are you trying to imply that I have been doing something...illegal?” Severus asked, his eyes narrowing. “If that is the case, then out with the proof. Otherwise, I bid you good day!”
The Unspeakable shrugged and turned to leave, but then turned back, pointing at the stone tablet.
Someone has been talking about you.
“I wasn’t aware it was a crime...to be talked about,” Severus muttered darkly.
With those ominous words, the Unspeakable Apparated away.
“Bloody Ministry bullshite!” Severus spat, then glowered at the spot where the Unspeakable had been as if he might summon said Unspeakable and burn them to ash with the force of his glare. The anger sputtered in him as his belly gurgled with hunger and Severus finally turned and went to fix up some breakfast.
After a filling breakfast, Severus retrieved the parchment and sat down to write. First, he decided on a cypher. Old habits died hard, and Severus’ desire for secrecy was stronger than his penchant for messy handwriting. He finally decided on a deceptively simple cipher he and Lily had created in their third year. It wasn’t hard to use, yet it was nearly impossible to decipher because the other creator was dead.
He needed to get things in order. He wrote down the ingredients, amounts, and steps he’d taken to make his first potion. Then, he documented the dream in detail. He even made a rough sketch of the office.
Once that was complete, he wrote down the second brewing, including some of the additional changes he’d made. The dream, too, was described, and the room sketched roughly. Severus wondered at the length of the second dream compared to the first.
Slowly, he compared his recipes and searched his mind for answers.
Ah, there it is. The crushed snail shells. And if I were to stir in a counter-clockwise manner for two minutes instead of one and a half…
It was as though his mind had been asleep, and somehow through dreaming, had awoken for the first time in ages.
Suddenly, he found his mind sparking with that old, familiar glimmer of obsession to perfect his craft. The Ministry was filled with fools and madmen. Again and again, he had lost everything and tried to pick up the pieces. Again and again, the cruel fates managed to take everything from him.
But he would have his dreams.
Mine. All mine.
Severus’ next dream involved flying on the backs of hippogriffs with Hagrid. It was exceedingly silly, even for a dream, as Hagrid looked comically large on the back of his steed, and the creature seemed to exhibit herculean strength as it soared through the air. Severus normally did not care much for flight of any sort; too many bad memories. However, Hagrid’s booming laugh had always set him at ease.
Though they seemed an unlikely pair, Hagrid had come to Severus’ aid again and again, especially when it came to carefully collecting ingredients for some of Severus’ more advanced potions experiments. Hagrid knew how to get permission from the magical creatures that he harvested from, and this was a skill worth its weight in gold. Severus, not being a very wealthy man even as a professor, had fallen into the habit of creating various intricate baked goods shaped like various magical creatures. Hagrid especially loved dragons. Once, after Hagrid had somehow obtained an entire phial of happy unicorn tears, Severus had gone all out and baked a dragon cake that belched tiny charmed plumes of purple flame.
However whimsical some of the dreams may have been, the connection he felt when he awoke filled him with a renewed sense of energy. He set about his day with a sense of purpose that only grew as the days went on. Each night, he perfected his potion and each night he dreamed of someone important in his life. Some of his dreams troubled him, and hard questions were asked about his hand in the events that led to the Dark Lord’s rise and fall. Others left him in a stormy mood, filled with unsatisfactory answers.
Twice more, an Unspeakable came, doing additional intensive sweeps of the house, being careful never to stop by at the same time of day. This tactic was unfruitful, however, for Severus was used to hiding things. He was also careful to prepare only one dose of his sleeping potion per day, which made it easy to hide while brewing.
He’d added other things to his dream scroll. Sketches of the smiling faces of friends. The frown that had broken into a massive smile on Hermione Granger’s face when he’d appeared in a dream about an infinite library. The amused sneer that Lucius had given him when Severus had complained about the Ministry. Not to mention the amount of dream-pie that Molly Weasley had practically shoved down his throat.
Each was a dream, and yet, even if they weren’t strictly real, they felt like a concrete thread connecting him to the world. If anything, the house felt like a purgatory in its own right. Nobody save the Wizengamot and the Unspeakables knew where he was.
But the dreams…
With each change and tweak to his potion, Severus came closer to perfection. Tastes, colours, scents— everything was more and more vivid, more tangible in each successive dream. His mouth began to water when he thought of the smoky, tangy flavour of the drought on his tongue. Soon, he only ate what he could scarf down quickly to keep up his energy. The rest of the house law gathered dust as he feverishly toiled to escape into dreams once more.
Severus didn’t delude himself about the reality of his situation. He knew that none of his dream buddies would be quite so chummy if faced with him in the flesh. And yet, his heart refused to fully believe that this was so.
Surely, he thought, surely they would not hate me forever. Surely they would be able to forgive my wrongdoings.
But experience had taught Severus that he was probably deluding himself. There was no forgiveness for ugly greasy gits. Such things were reserved for beautiful martyrs.
“None of that matters,” he muttered to himself, holding up his latest iteration of the potion to examine in the waning light from the window. “Only this matters anymore.”
Harry Potter had never had a shouting match in a dream before. He’d had dreams that terrified him and dreams that left him full of longing and plenty of stupid dreams that he put out of his head at the first possible moment. But one night when he closed his eyes, he found himself back in the DADA classroom the way it had been when Professor Lupin had been at Hogwarts, only he was alone.
Harry only had a short time to close his eyes and breathe in the herbal scent of the room, and the soothing sound of the grindylow tank before Snape had arrived. The dour Potions professor seemed to slowly materialize into view in a mist of ultimate disapproval, and Harry was struck silent, staring at the scowling man with his jaw hanging open.
“You’re staring,” said Snape.
“Is this how it’s going to be, then? Are you still so truly gobsmacked, Potter, that you cannot manage a polite greeting?”
“Er...I’m just…” Harry stood, wiping back his unruly hair with one hand, unable to complete his thoughts.
“Shocked to be dreaming about me? You are not the only one surprised by the appearance of someone you find irritating.”
It was strange. Now that Harry was fully grown, Snape wasn’t looming over him any longer. Harry nearly let out a laugh when he realized that Snape was ever so slightly less than eye-to-eye with him.
“I’m sorry I didn’t know,” Harry said, trying to keep himself from losing composure. “You— you were a hero—”
“Oh come off it!” Snape rolled his eyes. “I’m a miserable, unpleasant old git. I wasn’t trying to be your friend. I was trying to save my own skin and repay my debts to your mother and the old man. You were the least of my concerns.”
Harry’s eyebrows knit together into a confused frown and he felt the old ire stir in his belly again. “Is that so? I seem to recall you doing your best to single me out from that very first class.”
“Hmph! There you go again, acting like you’re special just because you were the chosen one!” Severus sneered.
“You called me a celebrity! I had only just found out a few days earlier that the entire wizarding world existed! So excuse me for not having the time to learn everything in the span of one night!” Harry was shouting. He didn’t like to shout, and he actually prided himself on his composure due to a daily habit of meditation that Ginny had roped him into after the war. She said it helped her feel “centered” and Harry agreed that it was quite a lot more helpful than a cup of coffee when getting ready for the day.
Harry had diligently petitioned for Snape to be honored as a hero after the war. The man had died after sacrificing so much, after all! But all the exonerating memories in the world could not change one important thing—
Snape was the biggest git Harry had ever met in his life.
Even in this oddly realistic dream, Snape antagonized Harry with every fiber of his being. From the dismissive way he stood, to the tone of voice he used, Severus Snape was a weapon of humiliation fixed upon Harry, just as he had been on that very first day in Potions class.
And yet...as Harry found himself bickering and arguing with Snape, the general insults and cruel remarks fell away and he found himself having what he might call a serious debate with Snape over whether the Ministry’s existence was worth the trouble of having to interact with it. Harry, while disillusioned with the politics, still believed in the general goodness of people and that there were more well-meaning people than Umbridge-esque individuals.
Snape, on the other hand, maintained that if tomorrow a giant crater appeared where the Ministry building now stood, it would already be a vast improvement to its current state.
Harry wasn’t sure when it had happened, but he soon found himself having fun. They both agreed on a couple of rather coarse nicknames for a number of departments and ne'er do wells and general attitudes in the Ministry that had driven Harry from working as an Auror.
“You know,” Harry said, “If this absurd dream is any indication, I think I’d actually enjoy talking to you if you were actually alive instead of a figment of my imagination.”
“Last I checked, I was actually alive, and you were just the dream figment,” came the reply.
Harry frowned. Was that the sort of thing a dream-version of Snape might say? Was this all coming from Harry’s (admittedly) sleep-deprived brain? A stand-in for many of Harry’s own opinions? Or...maybe…
Harry stood suddenly, his feet slightly unsteady and difficult to move as though he was swimming through sludge. There was only one way to prove his theory.
“What are you— Potter?!”
Harry flung his arms around Snape and squeezed him tightly. “Don’t move. I’m trying to prove something.”
“Seriously, get your hands—eep!” Snape went suddenly silent.
Harry used his inch or two of additional height to quickly kiss Snape right on the tip of his long, hooked nose.
Harry stepped back quickly and looked at Snape’s scarlet, speechless expression. He was struck with a sense of feeling that he’d done something very, very foolish, but couldn’t quite explain why. Snape was dead after all...wasn’t he?
The hook-nosed Potion master covered his face with his hands as though trying to block out the sight of Harry altogether, and Harry watched as the man faded away, leaving his dream room empty once more.
The dream environment changed to an odd desert filled with chartreuse rocks where he ended up playing chess with winged pandas, and Harry didn’t think much about it until Minerva pulled him aside and asked him if he’d had any vivid dreams about Snape recently.
As Minerva confided some of her suspicions, Harry felt as though his stomach were about to drop into his foot.
Because if that dream had featured some sort of real version of Severus Snape, then that would mean…no, it couldn’t be…
“I tell you, there’s something unusual going on.” Minerva was pacing again, and even though she was in her human form, there was a suggestion of a twitching tail as she moved.
Pomona tried to hide a conspiratory smile but failed miserably. “Whatever do you mean?
Minerva stilled, and fixed Pomona with a suspicious look. “I’ve been having strange dreams.”
“Strange, you say?” Pomona’s voice went up an octave, and she quickly tried to hide a giggle behind her hand.
Minerva’s eyes narrowed and she put her hands on her hips. “Yes, and each of them has the exact same focal point.”
“Ooh, you don’t say! Let me guess. Is he tall, dark and mysterious?” Pomona giggled again, and elbowed Minerva in the ribs
Minerva let out a huff and rolled her eyes. “Pomona, I’m being serious here.”
“I’m as deadly serious as a Venomous Tentacula bite and you know it. So. Tall? Dark? Mysterious?” For once, Pomona looked like the cat that had eaten the canary, and Minerva was obviously not having it.
Minerva stamped her foot, her cheeks reddening. “Is that your way of telling me that you have been having similar experiences? Why in Merlin’s name have you not thought to tell me about them?”
“Well, begging your pardon Minerva, but maybe I liked spending an afternoon with him without a war at our backs or Albus playing some ridiculous cloak-and-dagger game with him as the patsy.” Pomona was grinning openly now, like this was some sort of game.
“They’re just dreams! They aren’t real!” exclaimed Minerva, her voice tinged with exasperation.
“Then why should I disclose the contents of said dreams?” Pomona feigned a coy look.
“You’re perfectly insufferable , do you know that?” Minerva’s voice was shrill, and she took a deep breath to calm herself before she began pacing once more.
“Now, now, Minerva, I know that you are perfectly capable of suffering me. You have for years, and you’re still around.” Pomona looked a little cowed at having worked Minerva up so much, but she was still smiling.
“Hmph! Well, I’m going to get to the bottom of this funny business, and mark my words, funny business it most definitely is !” Minerva shook her finger at Pomona to accentuate her point.
Pomona rubbed her chin pensively. “Have you spoken to Professor Potter about it? Perhaps it’s some sort of potion or spell that’s grown out of hand?”
“I have. He turned three shades of crimson and had to be somewhere urgently, so he was not particularly helpful at all.” Minerva smirked at the memory of his expression.
Pomona caught onto the change in the Headmistress’ demeanor and raised her eyebrows. “Oh, really ?”
“You say that like it means something.” Now it was Minerva’s turn to play coy.
“Don’t mind my tone. I’m just a fat, old witch with a permanent layer of dirt under her fingernails. But, you know… ” The question hung in the air unasked.
Minerva nodded sagely. “...I see your point.”
“Dreams are dreams until they’re not dreams.” Pomona replied, nodding as well.
“Until they’re something more .” Minerva’s eyes lit up, and the tension in her shoulders seemed to melt away. “Pomona, you’re right. I think we have a stronger case of something more than I’ve seen in quite some time.”
“I could send an owl to my niece,” Pomona suggested
“If you think it might help.”
Pomona grinned viciously. “Oh, I think you underestimate Hufflepuff tenacity.”
Minerva grinned toothily at this. “Would you like to make a little wager to back up your claim?”
“Oh, stop it! You look like the cat that ate the canary! I’ve a few galleons up my sleeve that I’ll be happy to wager in support of my House.” Pomona let the sound of the coins in her sleeve jingle merrily to accentuate her point.
Minerva pursed her lips and looked rather like a cat trying to appear dignified in the face of a very distracting catnip mouse. “Very well. Let us see what we learn before we tell the others.”
“Of course... wait... there are others ?”
Severus wasn’t sure how long it had been since he had last left his bed feeling happy about being conscious. It must have happened once , he thought to himself, but he couldn’t be certain that such a time had ever existed.
His bland waking existence consisted of pretending to live within the confines of his sentence and keep his body alive in order to dream once more. The dreaming potion had been perfected to the best of his ability, barring some kind of secret apothecary hiding in the cottage that he hadn’t yet discovered. He still could not control who he dreamt about, but the connection he felt was addictive, despite the lingering feeling that none of it was quite as satisfying as real human interaction.
However, it did mean that it was safe to have flown at a very unforgivable height with Hagrid, gossiped with Pomona, hugged Minerva and even endured a very undignified nose kiss from Potter (of all people)! He’d received a flower crown from Luna Lovegood and walked on giant lily pads with her as she had simply listened to him vent and gripe about his lot in life. She’d kissed his cheeks before the dream had ended and told him to whistle three notes if he wished to see her again. He didn’t dare to do so, but he sometimes hummed the tune to himself while preparing the ingredients for his nightly potion.
There were many, many others he had visited in the past fortnight, and yet he was struck with a strong sense of hopelessness to know that each fantastic experience was merely a trip within the confines of his own subconscious mind.
“Aren’t they?” The words, spoken aloud, were scratchy on his unpracticed tongue.
Before he could dwell on it further, a soft knock came at the door, followed by a quick, excited rapping in a familiar time signature.
Severus’ heart soared and then set to jittering at a terrifying pace. It couldn’t be. I’m imagining things.
A different, rapid-fire knock. Impatient now. His mind spun as his heart dared to hope.
“I’m...coming…” His voice broke, and he struggled to throw on some decent clothing.
He reached the door, steeling himself for the worst, but nothing could prepare him for what awaited him.
“Hello, Severus,” Minerva said, smiling slyly at him. Pomona bobbed next to the Headmistress looking pleased as punch, and Harry Potter hung at the very back looking as though he were about to be sick.
“Harry brought your case in front of the Wizengamot again,” Pomona said brightly.
“Yes,” Minerva said with a sniff. “The full Wizengamot, not just the Umbridge-brown nosers .”
“You’re free, sir,” Harry said, looking as though he’d swallowed a bug. “And, er...let me be the first to say that dreams are strange things and not indicative of real life whatsoever.”
Minerva and Pomona gave Harry an odd look, then turned back to Severus with expectant expressions.
“Well?” he asked. “I must ask, is this a dream?”
Before he could pull away, Pomona pinched him hard on the back of the hand.
“Ouch!” he yelped.
“Is this real enough for you?” Minerva produced a scroll that Severus read intently, looking in vain for some sort of catch.
His sentence had been dissolved altogether. It was almost too much to believe. Severus briefly considered pinching himself again.
He slowly turned back and regarded the inside of the little cottage for a long moment, his fingers curled around the sides of the parchment like a drowning man holding fast to a life preserver. He could hear Pomona nattering on with Harry Potter about something involving mandrakes but everything was muted as he thought about getting his potion and going back to the world inside his mind where he would be safe from the judgement and cruelty of the outside world.
But then again, Severus Snape had never taken the easy road his entire life when he knew what he had to do, and he wasn’t about to start doing so.
Taking a deep breath, Severus turned back around.
“All right.” He steeled himself. “I’m ready.”
Stepping out into the sunshine, he blinked with confusion as Luna placed a real flower crown atop his head with a musical trill. Hagrid ran up to him, his voice booming with pride as he told Severus that he was looking forward to showing him the newly hatched hippogriff foals. Pomona grabbed him and whispered to him that she wanted his opinion on her new top-secret hybridized Venomous Tentacula project and that he was absolutely not to tell Minerva about it. The world had not, in fact, forgotten him at all.
Still, Severus could not help but allow himself to feel a gloomy haze overtake his spirits. Perhap they had forgotten him— the flawed man behind the stupid fluff pieces in the Daily Prophet hailing him as the second coming of Merlin for his part in the war.
“I suppose you all expect me to be a changed man. All kind and noble. A heroic figure, as it were. Well, I’m not. I’m just me. The cranky bastard you all have come to know.” He crossed his arms, trying to look imperious, but his shoulders drooped and he found himself lowering his head, unable to meet anyone’s eyes.
“We didn’t miss you because we saw you as some mythic hero,” Minerva said, patting his hand as they walked to the Apparition point. “We missed you because we care about you. The stubborn, grumpy, brilliant you that we all know and love.”
“If you insist,” Severus said with a long suffering sigh.
With each and every step away from the cottage, Severus felt his heart grow lighter with the knowledge that even though nothing would ever be perfect, he was truly loved.
It wasn’t perfect, but it would do.