Oh, and strangely enough, this is not crack!fic (no, I don't know what happened either). No warnings, though. Trust me, if there should have been one, there would have been one - except...let's just say I'd maybe be earning points for Team Angst with this one.
(Many thanks to femmequixotic for the speedy beta)
Lost and Found
by Beth H
© May 2006
There is a moment of horror in that instant when a person understands for the first time what losing somebody forever is really going to mean.
For most people, this happens the first time they experience the death of a loved one.
That's what happened to Neville Longbottom, whose mother and father both died within hours of each other in the winter of Neville's seventh year. His friends - those who knew his family history - all sympathized, of course, but most of them couldn't really understand how those deaths could have hit Neville so hard, not when they knew how the Cruciatus curse had already, well....it wasn't as if Neville could possibly have thought that his parents were going to come back to him someday.
Except, of course, it turned out that's just what he had thought, or at least what he'd hoped, somewhere deep inside, and when Headmistress McGonagall called him into her office to say how very sorry she was that Frank and Alice had passed on, he'd broken down and cried and wasn't able to stop, not really, for weeks after, because no matter what, they had been his mum and dad and he had loved them, and knowing he was never going to be able to touch them again was almost more than he could bear.
For others, understanding the true meaning of loss doesn't necessarily stem from the death of a person.
Take Hermione Granger, for example. It was not true that Hermione cared more about books than she did about people, despite the fact that she always seemed to have her head buried in a book. She loved her friends and she loved her family - and as tensions in the Wizarding World escalated, Hermione worried about the safety of her loved ones all the time. She didn't waste time worrying about books. One might as well worry about whether the universe would still be there when one woke up in the morning. Books were eternal - as much a part of the natural fabric of life as breathing, and they had been ever since Hermione was a toddler. Books would always be there...until one day, they weren't.
Harry had received a warning from an anonymous source about Death Eater activity detected in the vicinity of Hogsmeade, and even though he was suspicious of the motives of his anonymous correspondent, Harry set off for the castle, with Ron and Hermione close behind. By the time they arrived, the rogue Death Eaters who had apparently decided to stage an attack with no instructions from above, had been captured (thanks to a few well-placed Petrificuses from Ginny and Luna) and then taken taken away by Ministry Aurors, all without the staff and students of Hogwarts suffering a single casualty. The wing of the castle in which the books were housed, however, hadn't fared so well.
The joke in the Gryffindor common room had always been that Hermione had read every book in the library stacks, but of course she hadn't, nor had she even come close. However, she had always known - as those few who loved books the way she did all knew - that the greater part of the Hogwarts collection consisted of books and scrolls and maps and indices that were available nowhere else in the Wizarding World. That were, in fact, irreplaceable. Hermione stood in the middle of the still-smoldering ruin that once had been Hogwarts library and mourned.
There are still others - a very few others - who only start to understand the significance of losing something forever when...
Harry Potter was one of that very small number who take just that little bit longer to understand what loss truly means than most other people do.
It is not that Harry was an insensitive young man. In truth, he was perhaps more sensitive than the average eighteen-year-old male (at least he displayed his sensitivity more readily than did most of his peers), and he cared deeply about people.
Nor was it the case that Harry had never suffered losses. Of course, he had. However, it was a peculiar fact that the losses Harry had suffered throughout his young life had somehow become inextricably entangled with feelings of blame and doubt and guilt in his own mind. His parents, Cedric, Sirius, Dumbledore...each of them had died, at least in part, because of him, and if Harry wasn't yet able to acknowledge his complicity out loud, he found it equally impossible to shake the feeling that, in some strange way, they were all haunting him.
You can never fully mourn the loss of that which refuses to leave.
Three hours after death finally came for Voldemort (a death for which Harry was at least partly responsible - but one which, for once, came with no concomitant guilt), Harry was walking slowly towards the school. Kingsley had sent a message by owl, asking him to come in for a quick debriefing "as soon as he could find the time," which Harry knew was a thinly-disguised way of saying 'right away."
With Voldemort gone, Harry had nothing but time.
To be honest, Harry thought, as he made his way across the curse-scorched Quidditch pitch, he didn't mind having an excuse to get away from Ron and Hermione, at least for a little while. He loved the two of them - he always would - but somewhere during those long months of looking for the Horcruxes, Hermione and Ron became incapable of keeping their hands off each other, and for the past three hours, it seemed as if they'd finally stopped trying to keep any body parts off each other.
It might have been that Harry had shaken his head at the thought of his two friends just at the exact moment that the sun's last bright afternoon rays chose to shine directly in his eyes. It might have been fate. It might have just been a coincidence. But whatever the reason, Harry happened to be looking in just the right direction at just the right moment to notice a body, shielded almost entirely by the banners which hung raggedly from the Quidditch stands.
It was not just any body.
It was a body wearing the garb of a Death Eater, although the robes had clearly seen better days and the distinctive skull mask was torn and hanging from the man's face.
As Harry drew nearer, he could see that the body - the still, bloodless, unbreathing body - belonged to Severus Snape.
"Oh no you don't, you bloody bastard," Harry said icily. "You do not get to be dead. Not yet."
He pulled his wand from his robe pocket, then took one step closer and prodded the still body with a mud-covered boot, but there was no reaction.
"What happened, Snape? Did you step in front of a stray curse? " Harry tried to laugh, but it sounded like something very much unlike laughter to his ears. "Not very Slytherin of you, was it? I thought the motto of your House was self-preservation at any cost?"
For an instant, Harry thought he saw Snape move, and he gripped his wand more tightly, but it was just a thread from Snape's robe, fluttering in the breeze.
"Move," he said, nudging the body again, less gently this time. "I said move, dammit!"
Harry dropped to his knees and grasped the edges of Snape's robe, pulling him up off the damp ground. A long moment passed, then Harry dropped Snape's body back down to the damp earth again, drawing back slightly as Snape's head lolled in Harry's direction.
"It wasn't supposed to be like this," Harry said in a low, angry voice. "Do you seriously think I didn't know who was sending me all those messages? That I wouldn't be able to smell your vitriol, clinging to your oh so helpful words? I knew it was you, you greasy bastard."
He yanked on Snape's robe, jerking the lifeless body toward him. "Did you laugh? Did you laugh at the irony of seeing the fate of the Wizarding World resting in your blood-spattered hands?" Again, Snape's head fell forward, but Harry pulled it back up to face him, greasy hair held tightly in Harry's curled fingers.
"It wasn't supposed to end like this, dammit!" Harry was breathing hard, his chest heaving. "We were supposed to...it was half my life, you bastard! I've known you half my life. How dare you not be here now! This wasn't supposed to end!"
With each word Harry spoke, his voice grew more ragged. He lowered his head, pressing his forehead against Snape's white forehead. "We weren't supposed to end."
And then it wasn't Harry's forehead touching Snape's forehead, but his lips ghosting over Snape's cold lips and Snape's mouth had the slight onion scent of asphodel and his lips tasted bitter...and Harry drew back in horror, both at the realization of what he'd just done and at something clawing at the edges of his memory...
"What would you get if you added powdered root of asphodel to an infusion of wormwood?"
It was the first question Severus Snape had asked Harry, but now, Harry knew the answer was the Draught of the Living Death.
Thanks to the Half-Blood Prince, Harry knew how to make it - that the most effective way of squeezing the juice out of the sopophorous beans was crushing with the flat side of a silver dagger rather than cutting, and that a clockwise stir should be added after every seventh counter-clockwise stir. He didn't have bloody clue what the specific antidote was, but he damned well knew where to get his hands on a bezoar.
Harry stood up, cast Mobilicorpus, and - with Snape's body floating behind him - continued on his way to the castle.
He was quite looking forward to shoving a bezoar down Snape's throat.
In the end, Slughorn's bezoar collection remained intact.
Neville (who knew enough about love to recognize it when it walked through the doors of the infirmary) and Hermione (who still mourned for Hogwart's lost books, but had made good use of them before their untimely demise) worked with Poppy to brew the antidote, and saw to it that Snape swallowed all fourteen doses of the vile potion before being allowed to leave the Hospital Wing.
When he finally left, it was in the custody of Kingsley Shacklebolt.
He didn't thank Harry, who had (in a manner of speaking) saved Snape's life with a kiss.
But he had recognized the lingering aftertaste of Harry's mouth on his own.
And when Severus Snape was finally brought to trial, the first person to speak in his defense was the Boy Who Lived.
(Bonus: the drabble which sparked-but-is-no-longer-very-related-to this story.)
Two Out of Three
by Beth H
© May 2006
Eileen Prince sat by the window, daydreaming of the day she might give birth to a babe with skin white as snow, lips red as blood, and hair black as ebony.
Nine months later, she gazed down at the wee one in her arms. His lips were red as blood, his hair black as ebony, but his skin, well...many babies are jaundiced at first.
When eleven years passed, Eileen watched as her still-slightly sallow, thin-lipped, greasy-haired son strode angrily toward the Hogwarts Express for the first time.
Oh, Severus, she sighed, will you ever find your happily ever after?