Characters are property of J.K Rowling and the Harry Potter Universe. Thankfully, she allows me to borrow them for a bit of fun.
There was another fly in his room.
The insect had not yet been seen, but it could be heard well enough. The faint drone of its tiny wings disrupted his train of thought and his reading. Severus Snape pushed himself up in his seat with a wince. Convalescence had not been kind to him, and he would be the first to admit that unfortunate fact. He had only turned thirty-nine a few weeks prior, but he felt like a man stretched far beyond his years.
Of course hours of sitting in the same chair would do that to a person, but he would have much rather dealt with the troublesome pain in his back than the sad state of life that existed beyond his closed door. Severus rarely left the confines of his room, and when he did it was after the halls had gone still. He liked it best when he was surrounded by silence instead of madness, when he could quietly slip away unnoticed for a moment or two.
After all, the Dangerous Dai Llewllyn Ward of St. Mungo's was not a pleasant place, least of all when its patients were awake. The cold stone walls amplified the screams that echoed down the long corridors. When Severus had finally regained awareness of his surroundings, those screams had set the hair on his arms on end and reminded him of countless he had heard before. Over time, he had learned to tolerate the shouts and shrieks that would taper off into pitiful cries, but he knew he would never get used to them. In the meantime, and on particularly breezy nights such as the one currently beyond the hospital walls, he settled for leaving the only window in his room slightly ajar, allowing in the sounds of London and the occasional fly.
The current fly in question had found its way inside through that same window and could not seem to retrace its path. It bounced stupidly across the windowpane in search of an escape. Severus contemplated the ignorant thing as it moved back and forth as though it was testing the glass for weakness. It would stop a moment to scuttle a few inches up or down only to hurl itself moments later at the window almost as if it intended to put itself out of misery. It was an oddly sad spectacle, but once upon a time it would have angered him. In the earlier days of his recovery, Severus would have smashed it with his fist out of a fit of black, poisonous jealousy more than annoyance. The insect would eventually find its way back out into the world, and he would still be trapped, powerless to leave the sterile walls of St. Mungo's.
It was all monumentally unfair in his eyes, but he had learned to deal with it as he had everything else. He had smashed a fair few flies—and hospital staff, though that was much more in a verbal sense than physical— in his time at St. Mungo's, which was almost well-behind him now, and rightfully so. The road had been difficult, and to say otherwise would have been an obvious lie.
Severus could scarcely remember the days shortly after he had been found in the Shrieking Shack by a third year Hufflepuff student, whose name to this very day he could not recall. He vaguely remembered, almost as if the entire experience had been a dream gone fuzzy with age, a set of startled blue eyes staring down at him and the wand that trembled just outside his field of vision before the world disappeared.
The girl, that much he knew, had hexed him to prevent another great escape—as if the gaping hole in his neck and the puddle of blood fanning out around his head would not have seen to the job—and had set off to find an Auror. By the time she had returned, a throng of Ministry officials in tow, Severus was hardly lucid, dreaming of grotesquely-fanged snakes and a set of red eyes that he could not escape. Another fifteen minutes, he had been told, and he would have suffocated on the fluid that was beginning to well in his lungs.
At first, he thought it would have been easier to die, to leave it all behind, but the fates, as they most often did, paid no mind to what was easy. Severus shifted in his chair, though he knew his discomfort did not fall to the standard issue infirmary furniture this time. It was his earlier memories, and in times such as these, when they somehow managed to weasel their way into the present, that he had no other choice but to face them.
"Do you know that I would have envied you not so long ago?" he told the fly, as if talking to an old friend. The insect crashed into the window again.
Harry Potter, through the guise of Kingsley Shacklebolt, had put a quick stop to the talk of sending him straight to Azkaban, insisting that all was not as it seemed. A team of Aurors had Apparated him directly St. Mungo's after that, and after he woke, two armed wizards stood outside his door for nearly two months.
"It is for your safety," Shacklebolt had said to him, though Severus knew they would leave the moment his innocence had been proven. Until that day came, however, he was to be watched around the clock like a child prone to misbehaving. It was in those very early days that Severus had developed a habit of naming the flies unfortunate enough to find their way to his room after Potter or Kingsley or the Dark Lord, but that soon lost its appeal. Killing the idea of something proved to be far more tedious and a lot less rewarding than he had first imagined.
Severus continued to watch the fly as it moved slowly and uneasily toward the edge of the glass, as if it thought one wrong move would cause it to vanish. The similarity was almost painful. We're more alike, you and I, than I care to admit, he thought.
There had been a time when Severus Snape was uncertain of moving forward, fearful of that one wrong move that could bring on a flood of setbacks. It never came, of course, but that was thanks in large part to his Healer. Augusta Barnes had been his primary caregiver and the resident Healer of the Dangerous Dai Llewllyn Ward since he arrived the previous May, and Severus disliked her from the beginning. As fearless as she was blunt, Augusta Barnes told him precisely how it was from the moment he laid eyes on her, some four months after he had arrived.
He remembered that day much more clearly than most, though not because he had opened his eyes for the first time in seventeen weeks, but because that was the day she had barged into his room without so much as an introduction to tell him that he would never be able to leave.
"The damage is far too extensive, she had said, in a tone he found infuriatingly indifferent. People don't walk away from this, Severus, and it's best you prepare yourself for the reality of the situation.
At first he believed she carried all the kindheartedness of a Hungarian Horntail, and worked with the same sort of deadly efficiency. Severus had not known it then, and was likely not to have cared if the truth was told, but she had given him exactly what he needed: A harsh dose of honesty and someone to prove wrong.
Looking back, Severus found it hard to resent Augusta even if she had been overly severe with him. She saw in him, more clearly than most, a streak of self-loathing and apathy that, if left alone, would fester into something she could not cure. While she saw the worst in him, she also had sense enough of his potential, and thus chose to be stern, at times even overbearing. Severus could easily recall how he had fought her every step of the way, though that was more out of his own nature than her methods.
Those who did know Severus Snape knew how hard it was to simply get to know him considering he was reserved, mistrustful of nearly everyone, and downright unfriendly out of habit. Luckily, Augusta was equally indifferent to all three of those traits and prone to fits of stubbornness that rivaled any mule. More dumbfounding, though, was that he found it a challenge to rattle her. As a result, they fought hard and often, but it had been for the best, and Severus knew that fully now. She had pushed him and, in turn, he had pushed himself, digging into the reserve of stoic resourcefulness he thought had been lost.
The recovery had been miserable, even when Augusta was not barking in his ear every time he turned around. More than that, however, it felt as though it spanned the ages despite only taking a little less than nine months to reach its conclusion. When he regained feeling in his legs—almost three months after waking—he stood, though not without aid and agony. When he could move his feet he took small, lumbering steps, ignoring the traitorous tears that welled in his eyes each time his feet fell upon the floor. When he could step without tiring and support his own weight, he walked until he had blisters on his feet and stitches in his sides.
The fly on the window suddenly caught his attention again as it dashed in the opposite direction of its only means of escape, and at that Severus nearly felt compelled to leave his chair to give the dull creature the guiding hand it desperately needed. It seemed only right to add another link to the chain of empathy; God knew a few had been added in his name by the Healer's hands.
Augusta Barnes had been there every step of the way, tolerated every single harsh word he flung at her or himself, and on those occasions when he had stumbled slightly, figuratively or literally, she had been there to hoist him back to feet and saw to it that he continued down the road to his recovery. Severus had never thanked her for any of it, and she had never expected him to. Regardless of that, the appreciation was still there, hidden in the occasional good-natured barb they would exchange or the ghosts of smiles that they would pretend not to see on each other's faces.
Severus had never considered her a friend, but rather the maternal figure Eileen Snape could have been had the world and his father been kinder. Severus might have admitted, had he and Augusta found themselves in different circumstances and with a different association entirely, that he admired the Healer for her tenacity and her guile simply because they were lost to his mother. This fact was never mentioned to Augusta or anyone else, and it would remain unsaid as long as he had anything to do with it, secretly providing solace as needed.
Pushing that thought aside, Severus went back to the book in his hands, casually casting a sideways glance at the fly when its noise grew tiresome or the words on the page no longer held his attention. This was the sort of game he played himself every night, as he dolefully went through the steps of his routine. His opinions had been different in the beginning, though. It had not been hard to endure the routine he had developed during his extended stay, and, at one point and on a good day, he would have gone as far as to say he had welcomed it gladly given the turbulent existence he had managed to escape by the skin of his teeth.
Now, however, with his freedom a little less than fourteen hours from fruition, Severus found the wait monotonous and, above all else, mind-numbing. He had already packed what little belongings he had collected over his nine month stay; a hospital-issue toothbrush, seven rotations of clothing, a few mediocre books purchased from the visitors' shop, a bit of stationery and ink, and small photograph that Augusta had taken of him in secret the first day he stepped outside the hospitals walls since arriving. It was the only thing he owned that was not completely anonymous aside from the boots he had been able to salvage.
Having never truly cared for the sentimental value of things, Severus had almost thrown the photograph away. The image was a simple one, only his silhouette against the fading light as he watched the sun recede on a brisk twilight four months prior. He was sitting upon the ground, his face upturned to the remaining light, staring out into a cloudless, pale, lilac sky. One would have thought, after giving the photograph a cursory glance that it was ordinary, that the form in the background had been carved from stone, unmoving and unchanging. It was not until Severus moved, his shoulders slumping suddenly as he exhaled and his head moving to his hands, that the magic of the photograph was revealed.
Severus had always viewed that one simple movement as a captured sign of weakness, a reminder of how low he had sunk, but Augusta was quick to remind him that it represented far more than that. She had not said it aloud—she never did—but had rather shared her thoughts with a single sentence written upon the back in her swooping handwriting: Keep your face to the sun and you will never see the shadows*.
Her words had struck him as particularly profound—she did have a subtle way of encouraging him to see things far less cynically, though he would be loath to admit it—and for that reason alone he kept it.
The photograph, as well as the rest of the items, was locked away in a small, black trunk that sat at the foot of his bed, and he would often catch himself looking to it, as if to make sure it was not just a figment of his imagination. Even then a smile began to tug at his lips at the prospect, and Severus turned in his chair to give it a proper look. It was not a dream. It was not something he had made up out of boredom or desperation. He was truly leaving, and it was for good. It was a consoling thought, and one that was dashed away far too soon by the familiar sound of knuckles tapping upon the outside of his closed door.
Severus turned his head at the knock, divrting his attention from the black trunk. It was a wonder the staff of St. Mungo's bothered with the customary knocking etiquette. Whether an occupant was decent or not, Healers and Mediwizards alike would barge in with their closed fist still going for the door.
Broad shouldered and short, a young Mediwizard poked his head in his room as he rapped on the door a second time. Severus recognized the wizard as Thomm Curwood, the lumpy shadow that fell behind Augusta. He was her errand boy, and would often be sent in her place if she found it unnecessary or too tiresome to speak to Severus directly.
Curwood shuffled into the room looking anxious, as if he had selected the short stick in some perverse game of whisper down the lane. Severus pretended to go back to the words printed across the book in his lap, but cast a sideways look in his visitor's direction. The wizard was shifting his weight from foot to foot, and after a moment, he cleared his throat.
Severus looked up, deliberately this time, and sighed. If one thing was known of the Mediwizard, it was his lack of nerve. Some called it politeness, but the truth of the matter was that he was as delicate as a field mouse. "What is it, Curwood?"
"I'm sorry to interrupt your evening," Thomm said, his tone painfully adenoidal, "but I have something for you, sir."
Severus closed the long-forgotten book in his hand with an abrupt snap, and the Mediwizard tried to hide the fact that he nearly jumped out of his skin. "From whom?"
"Augusta, sir." Curwood produced a parcel of parchments from under his arm and placed them on the bedside table. "Seeing as that tonight is your last night at St. Mungo's, she wanted you to be prepared to leave right after your meeting tomorrow. Everything in the packet there is just the customary documents you'll need to complete before Healer Barnes can release you from her care."
Meeting? This is news. Severus knew his chances of escaping an impromptu meeting were little and less, but he felt as though he should at least give it an honest try. "That's funny, I was under the impression that I would be free to go once you lot had your paperwork." He paused to appreciate the queasy look that had flashed across Curwood's face. "What's the purpose of the meeting? I hardly think Augusta believes me to be one for goodbyes."
"She didn't say, sir." Thomm picked at invisible lint on his sleeve, expertly dodging the question. "However, she did mention that she'd fetch you personally in the morning."
That was met by silence and a scowl. Severus stood, tossing his book in the chair as he walked toward the stack of parchments sitting atop the night stand. Curwood pinched his bottom lip between his teeth and made a studied effort to not retreat from the room as he advanced. It did not go unnoticed how his stumpy, fat fingers lingered on the door latch, but Severus found no pleasure in his unease. The parchments made sure of that.
The stack of wheat-coloured documents was nearly an inch thick and bound at the top with three sturdy prong fasteners. By the look of the pile, it would take a long while to sort through, read, and sign every piece of parchment the hospital deemed necessary to grant release. Severus thumbed through the first few sheets of the bureaucratic red tape, irritated. The clock on the night table only read a quarter past seven, more than enough time to complete the signing given his eagerness to be rid of the place, but that fact aside, Severus was determined to repay Thomm for his earlier lack of disclosure.
"Was it Augusta," Severus asked, picking up the parchments and pointing them at the Mediwizard to punctuate the words, "or perhaps you that thought I had somehow mastered the skill of osmosis?"
Thomm made a sour face and took a solid step back out of reflex. "Sir?"
"How am I to properly see to all of these tonight?" Severus gestured to the clock sitting upon the night stand, his lips set in a thin, grim line. "I would like to sleep sometime tonight, despite what either of you believe."
"The sheets that require your signature are marked for your convenience. There aren't many," Thomm finished lamely. He offered a weak smile, though his eyes were ripe with nervous misgiving, like someone who had found themselves face to face with a venomous snake keen to strike. "Should you need assistance with anything at all, I would be more than happy to help you."
"I'm sure you would, but unless you can add hours to the day, I'm afraid your usefulness has run its course." The parchments hit the tabletop with an emphatic whack, and Severus crossed his arms over his chest, his expression one of deliberate annoyance. "Now if we're finished here, I have work to do."
Thomm opened his mouth as if to speak, but no words came out. Instead, the stout wizard grimaced and gave a sheepish bow, quickly turning for the door. Unfortunately it was far too quickly. The heel of his shoe caught on the tail-end of his robes, and Curwood stumbled, reaching desperately for the doorjamb to keep from falling face-first out into the hall. The Mediwizard stared back at Severus once he gained his footing, his forehead covered in a light sheen of nervous sweat and meek smile on his face.
This was met with more silence and a glare that rivaled the last, and Severus thought Curwood might have mumbled something oddly familiar to 'good evening' as he scuttled through the door, but the hurried cadence of his voice made it sound more along the lines of 'good riddance.' He found, for the first time in quite a long time, that he was inclined to agree with the oaf.
Severus closed the door, locked it for good measure, and set to tending to the documents. It would be a tedious endeavor, and one that would almost certainly intensify the dull thrum of tension building behind his eyes, especially considering the fact he would be without the aid of his wand. Wands belonging to patients in the Dangerous Dai Llewllyn Ward were kept under lock and key as a precaution, even for those who were not a danger to themselves or others.
He had been tempted to ask Curwood for authorization, but decided the amount of hovering and satisfaction on Thomm's part would far exceed his own benefit. I shall have to ask for a Calming Draught before this is over, Severus thought as he retrieved the inkwell and quill from the trunk and set to preparing the makeshift workspace.
The hospital room was without a proper desk and chair, which meant he would be using the bedside table so long as his neck could tolerate the strain— and he had a few solid hours of paperwork ahead of him if he gave each page a thorough reading. From flipping through the first dozen sheets or so Severus could see there were parchments detailing the discharge policies, parchments detailing the release of his personal effects, parchments explaining liabilities falling to both the patient and the facility.
Severus pulled the wingback chair up to the small table and sat down with a sigh. The fly, which he had forgotten all about, came to join him, sitting atop the mouth of the generic ink well. He gave the insect a narrow, assessing look and decided the stupid thing actually seemed to be tittering at him, with its two front legs rubbing together in some obscene clap.
He nearly smashed it then, envy and annoyance flaring, but chose to swat at it instead. "Away with you."
The fly shot away in a panic, making a frantic, erratic line toward the window. Apparently that was all it needed to remember how it had arrived inside in the first place. It slipped through the crack and was carried off by the brisk evening wind, leaving him behind just as all the rest before it had.
* Is a variation of a quote from Helen Keller: "Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see a shadow."
Author's Notes: Can I just say how good it feels to finally post something again?! Seriously, I am ashamed of myself for going so long without posting, but real life, in all of its glory, had sank its teeth into my backside and refused to let go for nearly six months. I've managed to fight it off long enough to bring you the beginning of a new story that is nearly complete. I was going to wait and post the story in its entirety when I finished it, but I have missed fan fiction and the people who read it terribly. That said, updates will occur once a month, and will be toward the end of the month most likely. Of course, as I sit here and type this, I know real life is lurking in the shadows, and it will find me like the hell hound it is, and so I'll just throw out there that this timeline is tentative. This story will see its end, I just ask for your patience as it happens.
This story is written for Thorned Huntress, who has listened to me whine and complain about a great number of things. I hope you enjoy it. My dear friend, Meladara, acted as my second pair of eyes for this story, and I could not have done this without her.