Failure To Thrive

Snape Returns - Part I

It was late evening when Severus Snape quietly popped into view just outside the gates of Hogwarts. Dressed in a long, heavy brown coat over black jeans and zippered V-neck gray jumper, he imagined he would not easily be recognized should he be seen. So, he stood and stared for a long while. The scents in the early spring air were familiar, and he was waiting to see if they would trigger the old negative emotions that he'd been free from feeling for nearly a year now. There was an underlying edge, but it was not powerful enough to make him turn back. I've come this far, after all, he thought as he hitched the strap of the leather bag he carried higher on his shoulder. He didn't want to shrink it down to pocket size because there was a laptop computer packed in it among the rest of his clothing and random belongings, which he had shrunk. He tapped his wand on the gate handle and was actually quite surprised that it opened for him. He'd already formulated the message to send with his patronus to Minerva. But now he could say it in person. She was the first one he'd come to see, because she was the one who'd endured the worst of him in those final days. How many times had she told him over the years that she knew damned well there was a nice person under those layers of hatred and prickly responses, and that she herself would just have to hold out until he was ready to share it?
So, here he was.
He unbuttoned his coat as he hiked up the grounds. He noticed the plume of smoke coming from Hagrid's Hut, and was surprised to find that the thought of seeing the half-giant again was not so off-putting. Now that there was nothing left to pretend about or to hide, Severus Snape was able to enjoy virtually everything that had been an utter pain in his arse in the past. Even the likes of Hagrid. The castle was in full view and he could see the lingering signs of disrepair. The destruction was quite extensive, then. He caught the sight of the white tomb encasing Albus' remains and he stopped for a moment. Greetings, Albus. His chest tightened, but on he went. Severus reminded himself that he was going to hear about all who had been lost in that battle now. He'd not allowed himself to wonder about the extent of the human carnage while he'd recovered. The past eleven months in the States had been about getting to know that side of himself that Minerva had spoken of. And he'd done just that, and had experienced a lightness of heart that had eluded him entirely until he'd left this place behind.
But I am glad to be back. And I will stay as long as I can maintain this mindset.
He reached the front entrance and strode up the stairs, all at once realizing that the dramatic swirl of robes was absent and that what he currently wore was going to shock Minerva as much as his sudden reappearance. Stepping into the Entrance Hall, he saw that great lengths had been taken to restore the interior completely. His eyes rested on the House hourglasses and the sparkling gemstones within. He felt that sense of home that used to come over him as a boy and smiled.
"Severus Snape, you wretched, treacherous-" Minerva McGonagall startled him from behind. He spun to face her, smile still intact. "Severus?" This time the anger was gone and her voice broke.
"It is I, Madam," he said, and bowed to her. She shocked him completely by rushing up to him and throwing her arms around his neck, nearly knocking him off balance. He awkwardly responded with a pat on her back, and she quickly pulled away and collected herself. They had never shown affection beyond a squeeze of the hand in the past, after all.
"I've hoped all of this time that you hadn't perished. Your portrait remains stagnant, and I've dearly wished it to mean that you lived on." She wiped her eyes with shaking hands and glared at him. "But you are a wretch for not letting me know!" And then as if recalling all of the awful, horrible events and discourse between them before he’d left, she added grimly, "Although I can certainly see why you fled without a word."
"I could not have recovered my sanity if I had stayed," he told her, allowing the strain of his plight to surface in his voice. "I've most regretted how things were left between us. And you are the first person I have sought out."
"So you've only just returned?"
"Indeed," he said, indicating his bag with a tilt of his head. "I apparated directly here. Thank you for not warding me out, by the way," he smiled again as he said these words, and could see how much impact this had on his old friend.
Minerva smiled widely in return. "Scotch?"

They'd each taken a fortifying sip of Minerva's private stash of 25 year old Glenlivet Single Malt Scotch, and now sat facing each other in the Headmistress' quarters, out of sight of the headmaster portraits for the time being. Severus had said hello to them all, stopping in front of Dumbledore to stare up at him in silence for a long while. Dumbledore had smiled triumphantly down at him, but they'd not spoken. It hadn't seemed necessary.
"You look quite fit, Severus," Minerva told him. "And I see that you share in the very strong trend to dress in muggle attire. Indeed, it's become the norm. Especially for the younger generations. Those of us who are too set in our ways are sticking to robes, but I believe for the rest, it's a proclamation that there will be no more tolerance of hatred for those who dwell outside of the realm of the pureblood wizard."
"Either that, or everyone merely likes to show off their physical attributes," Severus drawled.
She snorted into her scotch. "Is that what you're doing?" Her crooked smile told him she was teasing.
"What else?" he quipped. "Although I will admit, I was looking forward to the shock value of the sight of me in something without buttons."
"There will be shock value, I assure you," Minerva smiled into her glass. "And likely a fluttering heart, or two."
"Will you tell me where you've been?"
"I have been residing in the United States, mostly on the west coast," he told her. "The American wizards are a younger race, so their traditions are not nearly as ancient as ours. They model much of their lives on muggle practices. And with the technological advances of recent times, they feel they'd be fools not to take advantage of muggle computers and transportation, so why try to reinvent fashion?" To illustrate his point, he opened his bag and removed the laptop computer he'd purchased a few months ago and opened it. "It's a small computer, the current rage. I don't think it would work within the castle - unless you've changed the warding to allow electricity to flow through here?"
"We haven't, but I am beginning to see that it may need to be done," Minerva told him. She reached out and ran her fingers over the keyboard, fascinated by the clicking sound the action created. "How extraordinary. And how very brave of you to go to someplace so different. But then, your bravery is in a class of its own, Severus." This last was said with deep conviction, and they both recalled her last words to him as he'd flown out the window: Coward. She reached across the table and squeezed his hand. "Harry told us that you'd played your part all along, as Albus had directed. He taunted Voldemort for his stupidity to think you'd ever aligned yourself with the dark." Her eyes filled as she held his gaze. "I cannot really relay what went through my mind as I heard this, other than intense relief."
"It was an unthinkable set of circumstances," Severus murmured. He sipped his scotch. She still had his hand, her thumb swiping gently back and forth in a comforting, maternal way. "My world as I knew it ceased to exist that day. I've since been learning what it's like to experience basic emotions, like amusement and admiration. Being in a state of perpetual irritation is no longer my lifestyle."
"No one will recognize you," Minerva said lightly. She pulled her hand back to cup around her glass. "You have been publicly exonerated from any responsibility for Voldemort's evil deeds. You can thank Harry for that."
"And what did that boy do, exactly?" Severus asked softly. He'd thought a lot about Harry Potter recently. While his old prejudices against the boy insisted Potter had likely broadcasted his memories on a massive, cinema style screen to every wizard with whom he could find an audience, deep down, Severus had known better. "Obviously, the boy survived the battle, although I'm baffled to know how he possibly could have."
"You knew his scar was a horcrux then?" Minerva began and at his nod, continued, “And that piece of Voldemort had to be destroyed, along with all of the others that Potter, Granger and Weasley had hunted down, as you know. They succeeded in that quest, but there was still Albus' wand, which Voldemort had taken. Harry knew that Voldemort had not mastered the Elder Wand. He taunted Voldemort for having killed you so that he could be its master. He told us all that you'd never disarmed Albus. Draco Malfoy had. And Harry had disarmed Draco a few weeks prior. When Voldemort cast the Avada Kedavra at Harry in the Forbidden Forest, it killed the horcrux, not Harry. The Elder Wand considered Harry its master."
"So that brat has survived the killing curse twice now?" Severus demanded. His tone held ironic wonder, rather than his traditional disdain.
Minerva smiled her approval. "Three times, technically. Harry faked his death in the forest and managed to get away. He turned up to face Voldemort in the Great Hall, just as Kingsley, Horace and I lost a duel to him. Harry faced Voldemort yet again, called him Tom, called him a fool, told all of us that you'd betrayed him to the end. They shot curses simultaneously-"
"Potter used expelliarmus?" Severus interrupted knowingly.
"Of course!" Minerva confirmed with a laugh. "That inhuman, reptilian maniac cast the killing curse again, and it rebounded off of Harry's spell and killed him instantly."
Severus stared at her in awe. "I shouldn't be surprised." He felt a touch of pride for the boy's bravery. "How is Potter doing?"
Minerva's glow for her favorite lion shuttered noticeably. "He manifested the Failure To Thrive Syndrome. It had probably already set in by the time he returned to the castle. Within a matter of days after the battle, he'd de-aged back to what I remember of him after the third task in the Tri-Wizard Tournament. He's made some progress, but his recovery has been very sluggish. He's shut out anyone who tries to intervene. Except the Malfoys, oddly, who have taken a strong interest in his well-being and have helped him get to the point he's at now."
Severus' jaw dropped and he could find no words. He couldn't imagine either one of his old friends taking a nurturing role in Potter's life. He could imagine Lucius using a cane on the boy, however. He cleared his throat and shook his head, noticing Minerva's amusement. "And he's improving, you say? How is his emotional state?"
"Delicate, is the best word I can think of," Minerva told him. "He's the same old Harry in most ways, but all of the traumas of his past have taken their toll. His emotions are a heavy cloud that visibly shows at times. He had been spending a lot of time here at the castle helping however he could, but we got to the point where he's only been able to observe and learn these past months, and that's taking a toll on him as well. He needs a new focus."
"And his education? I thought he wanted to be an auror?"
"I asked him once if he would return in the autumn and the change in his manner went from sunshine to thunder in the flash of an instant. I've not asked again."
"Hmmm." He took a fortifying swallow of his drink. He wondered how much of his own abuse toward Potter was behind his heavy cloud? And how in the world had Lucius gotten Potter under his wing? He shook his head. "And where do the Malfoys stand in your eyes?" he asked, narrowing his own eyes and tilting his head.
Minerva sipped her scotch. "They've earned my trust, and not just because of the way they've worked with Harry. They really have changed quite dramatically, as you will see."
He could only raise his eyebrows and show his reluctance to believe such a fantastic claim.
"What are your plans, Severus? Will you stay on?"
"I've yet to set a plan. I wanted to spend some time reacquainting myself with this world before I make any decisions," he answered. "Is there a room I can use here for tonight?"
"Your old quarters are as they were, still warded. The elves have kept them intact for you. I suppose that was also the reason I suspected you lived on. Your wards are as stubborn as you are - virtually impenetrable!"
"Yes." Severus smirked. He was enjoying the lightness of their banter and was loathe to move past it, but he needed to hear the worst. "Perhaps you will tell me now about the souls that we lost in the battle?"

Severus stood in the sitting room of his Hogwarts quarters, staring at the fire, wiping distractedly at the tears that rolled down his face. It had been difficult to hear about the deaths. Lupin. Tonks. Fred Weasley. He'd never let any of them into his heart, it would have been too dangerous, but he felt their absence strongly, realizing he would have been able to be friends with each of them now. It was easy to understand why Potter was so troubled. He imagined the Weasley family had taken their loss quite hard. It had at least been a relief to hear that the entire Malfoy family had survived unscathed. And he was glad for Potter that his closest friends had come through intact as well. As for the losses on the dark side, what a relief to know that Bella had met her maker. And how impressive that Molly had been the one to send her off!
The crackling of the fire permeated his reverie and Severus realized he felt no sense of rightness being in his rooms again. In fact, spending the night here held little appeal. But he would do so, if only to keep out of sight until the Order meeting tomorrow night, when he could make his appearance to the group and be done with it. Then he would go to the Malfoys. And then, probably, the Ministry of Magic.
He sat heavily in the armchair, facing the flames, remembering final conversations he'd had with Albus. And after he'd ended his oldest friend's life, Severus had lost touch with all of the people he'd considered to be sane until his return to this school as the new Headmaster. But he'd not been able to let any of them know he could be trusted. It had been a terrible, terrible time. A time in which his perspective on Harry Potter had changed, and he'd worried about the Golden Trio and their quest. He'd been concerned for their safety when he'd heard the snippets of what they'd gotten up to. If things had played out differently, and he'd been able to participate in the fight, he might have been able to stay beside Potter while he faced Voldemort. Maybe he'd have been the one to help Potter through his health issues this past year.
"Hah!" He barked an ironic laugh at that thought. I would have traumatized him into de-aging back into his first year, maybe worse…
Now his smile turned bitter. I need to go see Petunia, and find out more of Potter's backstory.
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