Failure To Thrive

Snape Returns - Part II

The Order still gathered on random evenings as necessary. Their current ranks no longer included the aurors. Those former members had abdicated their memberships to dedicate their energies to service under the highly respected leadership of the newly reelected Minister Shacklebolt. The New Order of the Phoenix had played a major role this past year in the rebuilding of businesses in Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley, and to the restoration of Hogwarts. It had become a community organization now, and membership in the Order meant connection to the progressive efforts to advance wizarding society into the new millennium.
Minerva McGonagall stood at the head of the magically expanded room and surveyed the active members. She cleared her throat to signal that the meeting was beginning. The room became silent at once. "I have some news..." she said, her eyes bright with emotion. "One of our lost comrades has returned to us." She turned to look towards the back entrance of the kitchen at Number 12 Grimmauld Place.
Severus Snape entered the narrow interior and solemnly surveyed the shocked faces before him. His dark eyes darted about in the typical dramatic fashion that he had trademarked as his own so long ago. He scanned the room, cataloging those who were present: Granger, the Weasleys minus Fred and Charlie, Lee Jordan, newcomers Lovegood, Longbottom, as well as several others from Potter's circle. Every set of eyes was riveted to him, taking in the sight of the seemingly resurrected former Headmaster and reviled potions professor. He knew what they were seeing: his hair was a shorter length that complimented his face and made him appear almost handsome, and it was clean and healthy. His teeth were white, his nose straightened, his coloring normal, and his physique more filled out. The scar on his neck was significant, but he'd managed to magically bleach the horrid redness from it, leaving flesh colored jagged lines that were less dramatic. His clothes fit him well, showing off his long legs and broad shoulders. It was a deliberate presentation of himself as the man he was now free to be.
Free.
Granger clasped her hands tightly in her lap as she addressed him. "Professor Snape, we thought you'd died the night of the Final Battle!"
"Obviously not," Snape returned blandly. "And, I am no longer your Professor."
Severus looked her over. She was openly gawking, a slow stream of unchecked tears tracking down her face as her eyes assessed the flesh revealed above the neckline of his jumper. Rather than react as if his privacy had been invaded, he found himself feeling comforted that she'd been present when he'd received that scar, that she knew how horrific it had been. She looked strained, but as if she'd weathered the war-induced dramas fairly well. Hermione Granger had crossed over into adulthood, and was quite lovely. Severus nodded at her, and she managed a tiny smile at his acknowledgement. He definitely wanted to speak with her, to hear her retelling of the trials the Golden Trio had suffered to get the Chosen One to fulfill his destiny.
Next, Severus looked over at Ronald Weasley and found a man where he expected to find a boy. The youngest male Weasley had already grown up and his gaze held a peer's guarded respect, but it was quite clear that this former student still retained a significant amount of resentment for the way Severus had treated them all while they were in school.
Addressing the group, he spoke slowly and purposefully, "I survived Nagini's bite by means of an antivenin that I'd developed in anticipation that Voldemort would use her as a weapon. Ironically, I ingested it to deem it safe, never intending that I'd be her target. The potion stayed in my system, and put me into a deathlike stasis as her venom entered my bloodstream. That was to continue for up to twelve hours, or until the snake's magic could be countered." He turned to address the Golden Trio, sans Potter (where was he?). "Several hours after the three of you left the Shrieking Shack, I came out of the paralysis I'd fallen into... It seemed that someone had sliced the head off of that god forsaken reptile, thusly ending her magic and reducing the toxicity of her venom quite drastically." At this, he inclined his head towards Longbottom, noticing the slow flush creeping up the younger man's cheeks. Severus allowed a small smile to grace his lips as he nodded his regard to Neville. "I was then able to dose myself with blood replenishing potions until I could regain my feet. I fled the country without hesitation for reasons I don't care to share at this time. Suffice it to say, I've taken the opportunity over the last year to experience life without a master."
"Bloody hell, Severus," Bill Weasley said in astonishment. "We had a funeral for you!"
"Hmmm," Severus replied with a mild smirk. "Touching."
"Rumor has it, you owe me an ear," George said in an uncharacteristically bland tone.
Severus could read no underlying threat behind the claim, but would be sympathetic to any need for revenge the younger man may be entertaining. For now, he nodded his agreement and allowed his regret to surface into his expression as he held George's gaze.
George studied Severus, and the rest of the Order seemed to hold their breaths in the silence. "Can we call you Severus then?"
There was a snort of amusement, probably from Lee Jordan. Severus raised an eyebrow, feeling a significant wave of relief wash through him. "I believe I'd greatly prefer that to Bloody Arsehole," he drawled.
"Severus!" Molly and Minerva admonished simultaneously, as Ronald and Neville burst into loud, tension easing laughter.
"My apologies, mesdames," he said with a small bow. His eyes darted around the room again, checking to make sure there were no surreptitious glares directed his way. He met Hermione Granger's eyes and found her trying desperately not to laugh as well, and himself pleased to see the sight. He then turned his regard back to George, who was still watching him. "I have carried the deepest regrets over the injury I caused you, Mr. Weasley. It was not intentional. I am at your disposal if you know of a way for me to make amends. Any time."
George smiled, but it was a sad, empty smile. "I'll take you up on that, Severus. Probably along the line of advice on some potions Ronnie and I have been concocting."
Severus gave the youngest Weasley male his most classic sneer of disbelief, but the light sarcasm in his tone softened the effect as he replied, "Good grief. Allow me a chance to practice my defensive shields first, will you?"
Ronald Weasley simply rolled his eyes and leaned back casually in his seat with his arms folded across his chest.
Minerva stepped forward and placed a hand on Severus' arm. He turned to her with a raised eyebrow. "Severus will need time to acclimate to our post-Voldemort world. He left with only the knowledge that Voldemort had fallen. I've filled in some of the details of the final battle, but there is much more to be shared." Severus watched the play of grief on Minerva's features with a sense of dread. "And, there are many misunderstandings and deceptions to be addressed," she added, unable to keep that grief out of her voice.
"You missed the first memorial," Granger pointed out.
Severus nodded solemnly. "And I'm yet to fully comprehend the losses suffered. But I will attend the upcoming memorial." He looked her over, contemplating. "Is this not where Potter is residing currently?"
"Yes, sir," she told him. "He's running late tonight, but should be here shortly."
Minerva stepped closer to Severus and slipped her arm around his waist, tugging him against her side as she smiled up into his face. "You will come see me tomorrow, then?" That was the second time she'd hugged him in twenty-four hours. The war, it seemed, had affected them all rather significantly.
"Of course." He surprised Minerva by returning her one-armed embrace. He was feeling a deep sense of relief at her happiness to have him back, and the gesture came easily.
"Then let's adjourn for the evening. We'll reconvene in a few days, once Severus has had the time to reclaim his place amongst us."
The Order of the Phoenix filed out, each taking the time to shake Severus' hand or clap him on the shoulder. Severus knew they were responding to him much differently than they would have a year ago, and that it was a reflection of his own recovery. The dumbstruck reaction to his congeniality was palpable throughout the room. He took special care to acknowledge Neville Longbottom, Ginevra Weasley and Luna Lovegood, feeling he owed it to them. Longbottom gripped his hand in a confident shake and welcomed him back. The youngest Weasley had a smirk on her face that told him she could see right through him, in a good way. He simply raised an eyebrow and bowed over her hand. Luna smiled as she shook his hand, and he couldn't stop a smile in response. Something about that girl made him want to laugh. Some of the more senior members waited to leave last so that they could exchange a few words. Molly hugged him, of course, and he whispered his condolences for Fred in her ear as he returned the embrace. Arthur took his hand and held it for a long moment but seemed unable to speak, so he clapped his other hand on Severus' arm, squeezed hard and left with his wife.
When it was finally down to Potter's best friends, Hermione Granger also gave his arm a warm squeeze. "I think I'd better give Harry a warning that he's in for a shock," she said softly, waiting for him to agree.
"As you wish, Miss Granger," Severus replied, tilting his head and allowing the corners of his mouth to tilt ever so slightly upward. He enjoyed the way her chest heaved as she caught her breath in shock. She held his gaze for a moment and her sweet smile broadened happily when he squeezed her hand with his own before releasing it.
"I'll just send him a patronus. Will you wait here to see him, or return tomorrow?"
"Perhaps I'd better wait," Severus judged, weighing in the way Ronald Weasley was lingering a few feet away as a sign that this was going to hit Potter hard.
"Just be prepared, Professor-"
"Severus, Weasley, I'm no longer your teacher."
A small vestige of the boy that Ronald Weasley used to be rose to the surface as he hesitated for a long moment before giving his head a quick shake and trying again. "Uh, right, er, Severus, sir. Harry, uh, he's had a pretty rough time of it. Blames himself."
"Of course he does," Severus said with a touch of his old snide tone.
Both Ronald and Hermione took a step towards him, mouths opened simultaneously to set him straight, neither immediately registering the wide, satisfied smirk that had spread across his face because they had risen to his bait. Severus held his ground, watching as if in slow motion as they advanced. But the scene changed instantly as the door to the kitchen swung open and Harry Potter swept in.
"Harry!" Granger's voice hit that infamous shrill note that only she could achieve just as Ronald and Severus registered his arrival.
Potter stopped in his tracks, mere feet away from his former potions professor. His flushed face paled instantly. They all heard his reflexive gulp as he blinked his wide green eyes in shock.
Severus took in the sight of Lily's eighteen year old son, and a lump formed in his throat. Harry Potter no longer wore glasses, he immediately noted, and now looked so much more like his mother. He was slender and fine featured, still overtly boyish; still not finished growing; still looking vulnerable and full of anguish. The difference between his physical appearance and that of all of his friends was shocking.
Hermione and Ronald exchanged looks and quickly exited the kitchen while the two former adversaries stood very still, eyes locked. Severus waited to let Potter make the first attempt to communicate, but his former student just continued to gape at him with suspiciously wet eyes. Severus suddenly flashed on a series of regrettable memories, times when he had been ruthless with this boy, times when he had refused to show compassion or acknowledge the boy's goodness. He remembered accusing Potter of stealing the missing Polyjuice ingredients from his stores during the Tri-Wizard Tournament. He'd never apologized for that time, and he'd always regretted it. He'd also regretted not going to him after Voldemort had returned in the graveyard. He'd stood in the doorway of the hospital ward, watching Molly Weasley try to comfort the distraught 14 year old, and had had a very strong urge to go to back later that night and check on him. But he had not.
Perhaps if he had, it would not be so difficult to face him now.
"Minerva warned me, but… you look like you've been caught in a time-warp, Potter," he finally said.
Potter's eyes filled as he stared back, his jaw working as he tried to clench away the rising surge of tumultuous conflict. "I..." he huffed back a sob, and gulped hard. "I walked away from you, and left you for dead. I didn't even question it!" He gripped his stomach and turned away, heaving in deep breaths.
"Enough of that, Potter," Severus said sharply. "Is it not possible to consider that I did not want to be saved? Must everything always be up to you to resolve?"
Potter had turned back, pained eyes glued to his while he pressed his lips together, trying to control his emotions.
Severus stepped closer to him. "I believed myself to be dying as well, not yet knowing I'd actually taken strong enough preventative measures to save my own life. I awoke to a return of strength and realized he was gone and I was free. I thought of no one but myself and left as quickly as I could, never expecting to return." And since the boy was still gripping his stomach, he asked, "Are you having issues with your stomach?"
"I'm working on it," Potter said curtly. He had no desire to have yet another authority figure admonishing him for his health.
"Uhmm, yes, I can see that," Severus said softly, but his sarcasm bit as sharply as it always had.
"Where did you go? Did you leave the country?"
Severus inclined his head. "Impressive guess." Severus gently clasped Harry's chin. "It was not up to you to save me. I was not part of the cross you've had to bear, alright?" He was pleased when the boy nodded, but the same pained expression was still haunting his miserable face. He assessed the young wizard, still holding his chin, knowing that he was defensively shielding his mind. But Severus wasn't here to torment his former student. He'd been uncertain of what he would find when he reacquainted himself with the Boy Wonder, but it hadn't been this small, overwrought whisper of the past, packaged in a flashback of his younger body. "Your magic is quite strong in spite of your condition. I could tell by the wards here. I was surprised to find that I was granted entrance."
Harry pulled Severus' hand from its grip on his face and stepped backward. His stomach was roiling with conflicting emotions. He simply was not prepared to handle this development. "You could have told me you were okay," he rasped and then scrubbed furiously at his eyes. "I've kept far worse secrets in my life."
"I don't know that I could have," Severus disagreed softly. He hadn't expected to feel this much guilt during their reunion. "There is much to say, Potter," he spoke softly and genuinely. "I trust that after witnessing my memories, you can understand that I was full of suffering and self-loathing right up to the bitter end. I had nothing left of myself, except the will to leave this life behind and start anew. I was surprised to feel homesick and instinctively knew I would not ever feel settled if I didn't at least speak to Minerva, and to you, although I was not certain who had perished and who had survived."
Harry Potter looked up into his former professor's eyes. "You don't owe me anything, sir. I only meant earlier that I just wish I'd known you hadn't died. I understand why you'd want to get away from here. I'm glad you're alright, Professor."
That left Severus unfooted. "Generous of you, Potter," he said softly. "I made you miserable on countless occasions throughout your school years. I'm surprised you can stomach the sight of me."
"You deserve to be happy. You've done enough," Potter said in a very strained voice.
"And you have not?"
Potter blinked. He seemed to have no words, so he shrugged and dropped his gaze away from Severus'.
It was a relief that Potter was not openly hostile to him. "You should call me Severus from now on. The mean and prickly potions master of yore no longer exists... I hope."
"But if anyone could bring that part of you back to the surface, it would be me?"
"Your words, Potter."
"I was wondering why you hadn't tried to force a potion on me for my stomach," Harry muttered.
"Indeed, as I regularly walk around with an apothecary in my pocket," Severus snarked. "Don't think I won't in future. I simply haven't brewed the one I have in mind for ages."
"I've already tried all of the common ones in Madam Pomfrey's stores over the years."
"Years?" Severus asked in concern.
But the boy didn't directly respond. "It's not actually my stomach, it's my abdominal muscles cramping. I'm a clencher, apparently."
"Ah," the older wizard acknowledged. "Then I'm now quite confident my potion will work for you. I'll brew it in the coming days. Try to think pleasant thoughts in the meantime, will you?
That earned a reluctantly amused grin from Potter. "When did you actually return, sir?"
Severus conjured two glasses, filled them with a silent aguamenti, handed one to Harry and took a long drink before answering. "Just last night. I went to the castle first, to see the Headmistress." The boy before him was registering how easily they were speaking with each other, sizing Severus up and down as he listened. "She told me that you had grown close to the Malfoys this past year. That will take some stretching of my imagination to truly take in."
Potter shook his head as if to clear it, but smiled slightly. "I know. When I think about it, it's like the world's gone pear shaped. Maybe it has... I'm actually friends with Draco." He blinked a few times as his thoughts wandered before returning to the present and looking Severus in the eye. "It's been good for me. Lucius especially has tried to help me." Harry huffed a tiny laugh. "Believe me when I say, I've been a trial."
"Oh, I do, Mr. Potter. I've no doubt that you have." Severus was smiling as he said it, enjoying the way the teen was openly gobsmacked at such a sight, but still seeming to trust that he was genuine. "Is that where you were this evening?"
"Yes, sir," Harry answered somewhat distractedly. "It's going to be a shock to them that you're back. They've missed you a lot."
Severus nodded, regret tugging at his heart. "And I them." He banished their empty glasses. "But before I give them a shock, I would like to have a discussion with you. If you are amenable, I'd like to rent a room here, or perhaps two, to live in while I renovate Spinners End. I can't live there again until some major reconstruction has been done."
"That would be great, sir. There's plenty of room here, you can have your pick of which part of the house you'd like for yourself." The boy actually lit up at the idea. "It's funny that you want to renovate. It's becoming a bit of a thing to know how to magically alter interior design. And the exterior too. The Malfoys are probably going to start a professional business now that they've gotten so good at it. I've been learning some painting and furnishing transfiguration charms from Narcissa. I might end up working for them, you never know."
"What happened to being an auror, Potter?" Severus asked.
"Harry."
Severus smirked. "What happened to being an auror, Harry?" Then he deliberately tested the boy by asking, "Have you not prepared for your NEWTS?"
That was indeed the wrong question, because Harry suddenly glared pure rage at Severus. The boy's mouth quivered as he opened it to shout, stopped himself just in time, shook his head and just as quickly had to fight back tears.
"What have I said that upsets you so?" Severus asked carefully. But Harry turned to leave. "Harry?"
"I can't do this right now," the boy rasped brokenly. "You're welcome to stay on here if you wish, sir. As long as you like. But I'm not… I can't-"
"Mr. Potter, look at me," Severus commanded.
The distraught teen looked up at him, revealing a very deep anguish in his eyes before turning and rushing from the room.
"Bloody hell," Severus muttered. He sat heavily in one of the chairs, debating his next move. He should not delay his reunion with the Malfoys. They should not hear from another source that he lived on. He checked the time. Half nine. He should go right now.
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